The Autocthonous Depths of Fallcoast are a mix of caverns and crawlspaces. Most Avernian Gates lead directly into a small canal of stone, forcing the person in question to squeeze through into a larger space, not unlike a birthing canal in reverse. The landscape of the Depths before entering any particular Dead Zone is varied and dangerous, with sudden drops and pits with teeth-like stalagmites.
Water permeates the Autocthonous Depths, making it much more precipitous to navigate. The Upper Mysteries stretch for miles and miles, liking up with other cave networks that bend and twist back to other Avernian Gates, allowing the possibility of traveling through the Underworld from the living world via the various Gates.
Occasionally, a cavern has been carved into the wall as a makeshift home for one of the Underworld's denizens. In some parts of the Autocthonous Depths, these "homes" spread through the caverns like a honeycomb, creating a kind of city of the anchorless ghosts that reside here.
The most common thing a potential Underworld spelunker might find are the twisting and winding tunnels that worm their way through the shapeless, black rock. More often than not, tunnels will double-back on themselves, putting a caver back where they started, but from a different vantage. Alternately, they may simply stop, forcing the traveler to backtrack through the tunnel or winding passage to escape. Enterprising dead, maddened by the living, will often wait at the ends of such caverns.
A constant humidity seems to permeate the Autocthonous Depths, though the temperature tends to be fairly cold. If one stays too long in Fallcoast's Underworld, they might die due to the elements, after a fashion.
Once one passes through the depths, the three Dead Zones that have been constructed by the more permanent residents of Fallcoast's Underworld can be accessed by traveling in various cardinal directions.
Walking far enough into the Underworld, one can reach any number of Rivers. It's hard to say which River will be where, considering the malleability of such things. It's possible to stumble across the River Styx as easily as the River of Fire.
Likewise, the Dominions that extend past Fallcoast's upper Underworld are as varied as the Rivers that precede them. These seem to shift and adjust based on the Dominion's connection to Fallcoast. It's assumed by the Underworld scholars that have lived in Fallcoast that the Dominions have a kind of resonance with the city, with some being closer to Fallcoast than others, depending on the actions of the city's residents, living or dead.
While Mementos and other items can be found in the Autocthonous Depths, they are far rarer here than they would be in the Lower Mysteries. There are occasionally a few minor charms or relics that will have been left behind by Underworld spelunkers to be found by passers-by. These usually wind up in the hands of the denizens of the Underworld, making them even more dangerous than they otherwise would be unarmed.
Strange amalgams of the living world and the Underworld, Dead Zones act as a kind of buffer for ghosts who've lost all their Anchors in some catastrophe, creating a swath of ghosts. Alternately, they are "man-made" areas where ghosts have created their own kingdoms beyond the sway of the Dominions.
What Is A Dead Zone
Dead Zones are places that are anomalies in the Underworld. There are two kinds of anomalies known, one being Dead Zones, and the other being physical creatures (also known as the Neverborn). Dead Zones exist as a matter of course due to unmitigated disaster. Often natural disasters, but sometimes due to violence or virulence, a Dead Zone is created in the Underworld when a great number of people – generally over fifty – die without an anchor and are thus shunted into the Underworld.
Normally, when people die, they leave behind Anchors that keep them connected to the real world for a time, locking them in a state of Twilight and forcing them into a kind of semi-sentience. Certain events, such as a flood, volcanic eruption, major earthquake, mass shooting, plague, or fire will cause a Dead Zone to form. Ghosts killed in these events without Anchors left to them will be shunted into these places, where they will live in a similar kind of semi-sentience as they would in the real world, were they still Anchored. As ghosts can't reach transcendence and Pass On without knowledge of what caused them to die and releasing their Anchors, and they generally can't be shunted into a Dominion due to population concerns from the Kerberoi, they wind up in these places.
There are also occasions where very strong ghosts or Unfettered Geists, distressed and angry about not having power over a Dominion, will attempt to create their own personal domain within the tunnels and winding passages of the Autocthonous Depths. It's unclear how this is done, but it can be assumed that such a creature would have a kind of power over the Underworld itself, not unlike usage of the Pit Manifestations. If a Dead Zone is created by a creature of this sort of power, it will be more like a kingdom and may not have anything to do with an event that occurred in the real world. They may simply pull ghosts into the Dead Zone and force them to play-act a part for their whims.
What a Dead Zone is not is a Dominion. They're not surrounded by Rivers, they don't abide by the Laws of Ingress. You never leave the Autocthonous Depths when traveling to one. Likewise, no Avernian Gates open directly into them; they must be sought out and found after entering the Underworld.
Dead Zones are strange places to visit for Bound and non-Bound alike. On one hand, it's very easy to find one: you simply just need to wander the Autocthonous Depths for a time until you stumble across one. They are very similar to real-world necropoli or Haunts, where the ghosts living in it will not realize that they're dead and will continue to play out scenes from their lives. On the other hand, it's also potentially dangerous, as a Sin-Eater may not fit the part that a collection of ghosts wants them to play.
It should be noted that there are no Old Laws in the Dead Zones. This can be a boon or a curse depending on what's happening, but generally the ghost or geist that's given domain over the Dead Zone will have a collection of things that must be done, and things that cannot be done. This usually causes anyone traveling through them some initial confusion.
Why Would You Want To Go To A Dead Zone?
There are often ghosts in a Dead Zone that have been dead for centuries. They may have information that a Sin-Eater wants, or may have even collected information on a topic that has been long forgotten. Ghosts in these areas tend to be the source of most Sin-Eaters who seek out tutelage of the dead.
One notable reason to go into a Dead Zone is that they're completely ignored by the Principalities. The Deathlords require a kind of sapience for their servants, and ghosts in these places do not have the intelligence that a Deathlord needs in order to enslave them. If a Sin-Eater or non-Bound travels to a Dead Zone, they will be outside of the eye of any Principality, so it serves as a kind of safe place to hide from agents of the Principalities. The leader of the Dead Zone (Geist or ghost) is typically more intelligent than the others, and will generally recognize a servant of a Principality when they enter. They usually will attempt to turn them away if they can, and if they can't, they'll act as though they have no sentience themselves.
Dead Zones often also hold relics from a bygone era, and things like Charms and Fetters can be found here, along with Memorabilia. These are few and far between, and most Dead Zones have been picked clean of these things, but they can still appear. Sometimes Relics will also be here, though they'll be charged with death. As a note, there is no cost reduction for receiving a Memento from a Dead Zone. It just happens as a matter of picking through the place to find something one would want and taking it. This can also arouse anger in ghosts that seek to protect these items, seeing them as valuable or even holy.
This city resembles what Fallcoast or a similar coastal town might have looked like in the 1700s. The buildings are all made of wood, and though all are rotting, some are more decayed than others. This is, perhaps, partially do to the fact that some of them are still being used. The roads through town are largely dirt, though some well-worn stones suggest cobbled streets in places, though they are few and far between.
The town square takes up a full block and is open, though not precisely empty. In the center, taking the focus of the square, are well-made gallows, with enough space to hang five men at a time. The ropes that hang above trap doors are thick and stained from blood from their many victims.
The oddest thing about this city, however, and something that no doubt contributes to its rotted state, is the fact that it sometimes appears underwater, with the water reaching far above even the tallest structures in the town. When it is underwater, ghostly glimpses of figures swim about, caught out of the corner of the eye and disappearing when looked at directly.
Unlike its real world counterpart, there are no signs of life here. There are no fish, no birds, no boats out in search of a good haul. The beach itself is rocky and uninviting, some of the larger boulders stained with what is black now but at one point could have been blood. The smaller stones are jagged and dangerous, occasionally cutting right through leather to more tender flesh.
The water is cold and a dark brownish-green that looks far from suitable for swimming. Even at high tide there is a group of wide, flat stones, and someone mounted a now rotting pillar of wood, topped by a horizontal beam. Frayed and nearly decayed rope hangs from either side, and from one of those ropes hangs a skeleton. Not far out, a little down the coast, are the remains of ships, wrecked long ago and stripped of all that might have once been useful.
The woods that border the drowned city to the west and north are thick and dark, enough that they often appear to be in a perpetual state of night. The trees are almost black in color and tall, though the majority of them appear dead, the only life coming from the thorny or poisonous vines that climb them, choking them.
The aura of death that surrounds the forest is strongest near the center of the woods, though that is where the most life can be found. There is a clearing, big enough to maybe fit twenty people in it, if they don't mind being crowded. The trees that ring the clearing have been marked with symbols, carved then stained by blood.
In the middle of the clearing is a waist high altar made of stone that is smooth and pale in color. There is a spot at the end of the altar that has been worn to suggest that many heads have lain there, and just below it, flowing out to either edge, are bloodstains. A foot in all directions from the altar is full of thick grass, giving proof that, at least here, blood makes the grass grow.
Interesting Underworld Traditions & Rituals
The Underworld has a bad habit of making things deteriorate the further down you go. Delvers and other explorers who are fond of making maps or journaling their progress have developed a short ritual to make 'dead paper'. Dead paper is essentially dead organic material that is ritually killed and restored with the tiniest bit of supernatural essence. Dead paper is impervious to being changed by the energies of death in the Underworld or getting destroyed through casual events. You could rip a page out, but it wouldn't break up in water or burn.
Making dead paper is dead simple: you bring the already-made paper down to the Underworld and ceremonially 'drown' it, 'killing' the paper. This is easily done in the Ocean of Fragments or any suitably water-like Underworld river; the River of Spiders is right out, but the River of Ice or the River of Fate are fine, for example. River water brought up from the Underworld also works fine, with the usual rules for how long it remains effective applying. Regular water brought to the Underworld for this ritual will also suffice.
Once drowned, the paper is then infused with a point of plasm (or essence, or mana, or whatever) - just a tiny amount of supernatural energy to hold it together.
Warren & Frankie
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