Visible but distant above the mortal realm, the Aether is an immeasurably vast concourse of stars, where every pinpoint of light is a world unto itself. These Aetheric domains number in the thousands, some ruled by immortals, some reserved for the souls of the virtuous dead, some created by powerful wizards, and some ancient and long-since abandoned by their creators, holding secrets of bygone ages.
Unlike chaotic realms such as the Maelstrom or the Pit, the Aether is a realm of concordance, governed by complex but well-defined laws. The many domains within the Aether dance in a slow, harmonious progression through the heavens, creating a resonance to which empyreans are uniquely receptive. It is a place for things made eternal, where travelers drift weightlessly through an expanse so vast that whole worlds appear as little more than grains of sand.
The Aether is the wellspring of wizardry. By studying arcane principles and devising esoteric formulae, wizards learn to harness the immutable forces of the heavens to bend time and space to their will. Even non-spellcasters can appreciate the subtle but pervasive influence of the stars, however, by learning to read signs and portents in their movements.
Creatures both magical and alien call the Aether home, some disinterested in mortals, others lurking in the darkness between the stars awaiting unsuspecting travelers.
- Aranox - The aranox are dangerous, intelligent arachnids that weave vast, invisible webs in the darkness between aetheric realms. They prey upon travelers, remaining out of phase and unseen as they lie in wait for the unwary to wander into their traps. They also like to hunt in the mortal realm, where they can instinctively sense creatures who are out of phase.
- Nous - The nous are spirits of intellect that appear as floating, glowing letters. They are known to be utterly ambivalent but faultlessly honest, interacting with mortals only to sate their curiosity. Mages often summon them to answer important questions. Because the nous feed upon knowledge, however, mages are often required to offer up equally significant truths to the nous as payment.
- Djinni - Even the mightiest mortal spellcasters pale before the awesome power of the djinni. Djinni are beings of pure magic, capable of assuming many forms and bending reality to their will. This magical nature is also their weakness, however, as djinni are vulnerable to being trapped and controlled by mortal mages. Because of this, they tend to be distrustful of mortals, making them unhelpful at best and highly dangerous at worst.
- Serathine - Named for one of the seven heavens, the serathine are the guardians of the honored dead and gatekeepers of paradise. They typically appear as immaculately beautiful, winged humanoids wearing shining or glowing apparel. They are not typically dangerous unless a traveler attempts to violate the sacred place or soul they have been charged to protect.
- Zod - The zod (pronounced with a long "o", like "zode") are aetheric reflections of mortal wildlife. They appear as shadowy facsimiles of ordinary animals outlined in points of light, similar to constellations in the night sky. They appear and disappear at random throughout the Aether, suggesting they are a magical phenomenon rather than living beings despite their mimicry of natural behavior. Because of their appearance, they can be difficult to spot in their native environment and thus potentially hazardous to travelers.
Because of its size, there are literally thousands of domains within the Aether. Each is a world unto itself, governed by the laws established by its creators. Because of this,
- The Hall of Names - The Hall of Names is a library vast beyond imagining, said to be the birthplace of the nous. Endless shelves of books extend in all directions as far as the eye can see, tended to in silence by beings of living knowledge. All that is known is said to be recorded in the Hall of Names, including the true names of every being in existence. Unfortunately, the nous guard the Hall fanatically, and locating a particular piece of information within the multitude is a nigh impossible feat.
- The Seven Heavens - Reserved for souls that pass through the Path of Paradise, the seven heavens are domains where the virtuous are freed from all mortal pain, misery, and regret and allowed to live on in eternal bliss until such time as they choose to be reborn. Few have seen them, however, because entry is permitted only to the noble dead. The serathine bar access to all others, and are utterly implacable within their realms of influence.
Due to its proximity to the mortal realm, the Aether is easy to reach compared to other realms. Wizards are the most adept at opening gateways to the Aether, which appear as columns of light descending from the night sky. Those stepping into them drift gently upward until they vanish into thin air.
Despite the relative ease of reaching the Aether, travel through it is far more troublesome. Locating a particular domain is impossible without a proper chart or pre-existing knowledge of how to distinguish it. Even then, many realms are blocked or guarded, and travelers may be waylaid by hostile beings that bar their path or stellar phenomena that knock them off course.
Upon reaching a domain, Aetheric travelers can face any number of new problems, as each domain is governed by its own set of unique laws. Certain kinds of magic may be enhanced or fail to work at all, gravity may work strangely, time may flow faster or slower compared to the mortal realm, basic needs like air or food may be temporarily suspended, or any number of other traits may be present.