Exalted: The Sun Also Rises
The Grey Wasteland
The land of the dead is no place for the living, but with the existence of shadowlands, there are occasionally ignorant, mad or desperate people who pass alive into the Underworld. Those few who return to speak of their travels are usually marred by their encounters with the dead. Whether it’s a ghostly, unhealing pallor or mad wanderings of the mind, the living carry the scars of their journey for the rest of their lives.
For the living, travel in the Underworld is fraught with peril. Without powerful and unique spells or Charms, no ghost will mistake a living soul for a dead one, and the taste of living blood and living passion is a temptation few ghosts can resist. The dead have their own alliances in the Underworld, and the rulers there fear neither the Princes of the Earth nor the gods of Yu-Shan. Even the food of the dead is dangerous the living, as it can tie the souls of the living to the land of the dead. Those who eat the food of the dead are quite likely to become ghosts when they die.
Based on what’s been gleaned from those few travelers and the unreliable tales of the dead, it seems that the Underworld is a strange, dark reflection of Creation. There are dark and gloomy Eastern forests, bitter Northern snowscapes, Southern deserts and the glassy black shadow of the Great Western Ocean. Even the Blessed Isle has its own dark reflection, supposedly home to the most powerful of the dead and the greatest city in all the Underworld, the Isle of Stygia—as the dead name it—has never been seen by the living. The dead claim that, within that Isle, there are darker secrets than even they dare mention.
Scattered across Creation, except on the Blessed Isle, shadowlands are places where the Underworld and Creation touch. Here, the living and the dead can meet on equal footing and engage in everything from commerce to affairs of passion. Stepping across a border—usually marked with tall white stone plinths—into a shadowland is unmistakable. There are many people who turn back after that first step, and most animals will not willingly cross into a shadowland either. The grass underfoot is lank, pale and vaguely greasy to the touch. The trees, if there are any at all, are scrawny, the bark black as pitch or bone white and the leaves a dull, brownish green. The sun seems to dim, as if hidden behind a pale mist. Even the air seems still, hushed and less lively. There are no birds, save raitons, vultures and the occasional owl, and the other animals in a shadowland are few, sickly looking and skittish.
At night, it only gets worse.
Shadowlands become part of the Underworld at night, and should a traveler pass the border at night, he will not return to Creation, but instead, enter the Underworld. The shadowland moon is heavy, huge and red-tinted; the stars seem strange, like watchful eyes; and a land that is quiet by day seems full of whispers at night. Buildings appear, illuminated by greenish lanterns, while flowers unseen in the daylight bloom, releasing a sweet narcotic mist. There are often more people present in a shadowland at night—ghosts who have come to do business.
The living inhabitants of shadowlands are touched by the Underworld, even before death. They have the look of ghosts, pale and thin. Few children are born there, lives are short, and leprosy and other withering diseases are common. All who dwell in shadowlands are familiar with ghosts and may have ghostly lovers, customers or masters. Death cults and ancestor worship are the only religions that thrive in the shadowlands.