Podcasts/Episode 195

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The Letters Page: Episode 195
Creative Process: Underworlds

Original Source

Primary Topic

Æternus

Intro

Let's make some under/outer/extra/other/etc.worlds!

Show Notes:

Run Time: 1:05:32

At the top, we tease a piece of mail, but Adam rightly notes that we should open it in the Letters section, as it is a letter.

Then, we dig into a few places, none of which are the sorts of places we should visit! Whoops! Probably nothing bad will come of that...

OK, at the end of the Letters section, we open THIS!

We're very honored to have gotten this REAL mail! Thanks, Tres!

Join us next week for Editor's Note #50??!??!?! Can that be right? We've been in this format for 50 months? Sheeeeesh!

Characters Mentioned

Summary

Overview

  • The Spooky Month continues with a Creative Process episode about various underworld and underworld-like things. What are the things that we’ve already established?
    • The Egyptian Underworld - the remnants of the destroyed home dimension of the various “gods” that gave rise to Ra, the Ennead, etc. It’s not really an “underworld” so much as it’s a graveyard of an entire dimension. It’s a place of decay, torment, and madness. This is probably the most stereotypical example of what the prompt for today was about that they’ve previously established.
    • The Realm of Discord qualifies as a “demon dimension” as they’ve talked about previously, even if it’s not strictly an “underworld” or a “hell dimension” - or if the latter, it’s more in terms of chaos than torment. It’s at least worth mentioning today.
    • The demon bug dimension that’s part of Myriad’s whole thing.
    • The Host dimension doesn’t really qualify as any of the prompting categories, but is also worth mentioning as a kind of “spirit plane” and that is at least adjacent to a definition of an underworld.
  • The thing that they probably need to figure out is Hell - like, the one that people imagine when you use that word. The one that Apostate is totally going to open a portal to that’s full of demons/devils. Does Apostate make a whole dimension? Can he make a whole dimension? He probably can’t. This is likely just a place that exists that he knows about and lies to say that he’s from there. It’s convincing enough in terms of being a place full of fire and whatnot to fool Fanatic. That’s where “the jeans demon” is from [that’s apparently the term they use between themselves to refer to Granuum, the demon on Apostate’s Fiendish Pugilist and Fanatic’s Chastise cards - he’s visibly wearing jeans in the art of the latter], oh and the Nahropt, the Imp Pilferer is from there too. The Relic Spirit isn’t - that’s some other spirit that’s been bound to his various Relics. [This actually retcons stuff we were told way back in the early episodes regarding what the “demons” in Apostate’s deck were - back in the day we were told that they were people that Apostate corrupted/turned into “demons” by using Host powers the same way that Fanatic changes things about herself by believing them.]
  • Anyway, so there we go. Plane of fire and torment that a few different “demons” are from and that Apostate claims to be from there/that he rules it. Does it actually have a ruler? Who knows. Not all of Granuum’s “type” of demon wear jeans - that’s just an affectation he’s made. If he’s going to be here on Earth, he wants to at least try to fit in. They like the idea of him first showing up in comics without any clothes (either just smooth like a Ken doll or tastefully wreathed in smoke or otherwise obscured by elements in the scene) and somebody complained and the artist responded by just putting him in jeans from then on. What else do we have? There’s the goat demon that Fanatic fought. Oh, and Ruin - but he’s specifically Discordian, like he was one of the rulers of the RoD before GloomWeaver took over and made him a lackey.
  • What’s this place’s specific shtick? Is everybody mean there? Probably. There’s likely at least some trickster-like demons who pretend that they’re the nice ones to get you to let your guard down. Maybe this place is “torment” in the way that the RoD is “chaos”. It gives an easy explanation for why there’s all the demons and fire and whatnot. It’s likely got a specific name rather than just being something descriptive like “The Realm of Discord” is. Or maybe it’s had many names over the ages. Hell, Gehenna, Tartarus, The Abyss, etc. This is that place. You don’t just go there when you die or anything, but there are probably more or less “stable” ways/portals to get into it all over the world. Like, there’s one in Stull, KS, probably at least one somewhere in Greece, etc. Like many things they’ve done for Sentinel Comics where they come up with a thing that’s the “real” inspiration of other legends and whatnot, this is the place that inspired those tales.
  • Having a unique name for it would still be nice, though… It could be really useful to have a Sentinel Comics-specific name that they can use that refers to this specific iteration on the concept they’re playing around with. Like, the writer for its initial appearances in the ’70s probably just called it Hell and meant it to be just that and has been called all of the other names they mentioned previously over the years too, but those are all pre-existing names with their own baggage and it’s only somewhat later that it’s decided that this place is really more akin to the Realm of Discord.
  • Name options: something Latin-ish. Like, not an actual Latin word, but something that gives that feeling. They’ve used real Latin for naming stuff before (Insula Primalis). Maybe avoid “mal-” words as they’ve already used that in Malavox. Well, here we go. Christopher looked up “eternal” in Latin and got aeternus which is fun. Rather than adding more to that, let’s keep it simple. However, let’s also use the ae ligature and make it Æternus.
  • So, Æternus just looks like “regular Hell” with all the fire and screams and everything. Adam thinks that not all of the denizens are bad, though, otherwise who’s being tortured? Christopher counters with the idea that people from elsewhere get trapped there. We’ve already decided that there are hellmouths that connect our world to this place that are more or less stable, so people wander in occasionally and denizens of Æternus make forays out into other realms occasionally (Earth and elsewhere) to capture people. Like, everything native to Æternus is about torment in the same way that things native to the RoD are about disorder.
  • A potential wrinkle is that there’s somebody from Æternus who’s not evil. Like, it’s interesting for a single character to be an exception for weird/magic/something-went-wrong reasons for there to be one person born of compassion in this place who was then tormented for a century or something before they could escape. Adam gets an idea here: what if there’s somebody on Earth who was born at the same moment as this thing and their souls are bound together somehow? Christopher riffs on that with: somehow a person and a demon somehow get swapped out with one another and both give birth in the wrong place at the same time and those offspring are the ones who are linked. A human child is born in Æternus and raised in that environment, but are at their core still a human and there’s a demon child raised in the mortal world as a human would be and the two of them are bound together somehow. They’re not sure where they’re going with this, but it’s neat and that’s fine. That’s for later.
  • Back to Æternus in general: we’ve got demons and imps, there are probably “monsters” as well. Like, take a look at Revelation and note some of the more out-there descriptions of weird creatures. That’s likely something that lives here. Here’s a thought, though. The Realm of Discord gets a rather substantial exploration in the pages of Sentinel Comics. A bunch of important stuff happens that’s in/related to the RoD. Æternus not so much. Sure, some stuff happens in it, but not nearly the volume of coverage that RoD got. Like, this is just the catch-all “hell” setting that gets used whenever that’s the place to go.
  • Okay, so we’ve got this “hell” place that gets used occasionally, but who’s in charge? Where’s “Satan”? We probably see some “demon ruler” guy who looks exactly how you’d expect, but every writer that touches this place adds their own detail to how it works that’s promptly forgotten when the next writer uses it, so any given appearance of a “ruler” doesn’t necessarily match previous issues. It’s handwaved as just being a different guy as that one was an imposter or the old ruler was defeated or something. This is generally a Fanatic story element where she gets to fight “the ruler of Hell”.
  • That being said, after they codify Æternus as its own thing, they should also have the actual big boss. They don’t want it to be Lucifer/Satan/Beelzebub/etc. (although those could be names he’s used occasionally and/or were useful pretenders that he’s gotten to do things for him in the past). All of the various names, categorizations, rankings, etc. that people have used to define “demons” over the centuries are “true” in that the denizens of Æternus just run with whatever ideas people come up with.
  • Playing with the idea of a supreme evil, they consider having some nebulous omnipotent Evil being, but one that’s trapped away in some other dimension and can only manifest much less powerful proxies anywhere of interest. It uses one to “rule Æternus”, but it wants that place to be a true plane of torment and that means having people to torment, so it will also manifest in other dimensions to get victims. Hmm… what if this entity is Æternus? Like, the place and the being are inseparable. You’ve got all of these lesser demons jockeying for position and everything, but Æternus itself has a dread will and can manifest.
    • That suggests that maybe the Realm of Discord also has a central will and that maybe the Oracle of Discord communicates with it and/or that they’re its mouthpiece - if the RoD has this kind of will, it has no ambition. It’s satisfied with the chaos. The will of Æternus is that of torment and destruction and it has demands of its denizens to those ends.
  • So, it can definitely manifest within Æternus itself, but it can also influence things near portals or when people are doing the right kinds of rituals or whatnot. What are its limitations? Maybe it has none… it can do anything it wants within Æternus, and if some demon sets himself up as “the King of Hell” that’s all well and good, but he would really still know who’s in charge. Maybe the goal is expansion. Æternus can wage war on other realms and if there’s enough hellmouths/portals/etc. the fabric between the two just wears away and the victim becomes just another part of Æternus. The various portals that connect it to other places like Earth and the RoD are parts of that mission. It’s successfully done this many times in the past and there’s a hint that maybe there used to be separate Hades, Gehenna, or other similar places. That gives an opportunity for there to be ruins or other indications that people used to live in parts of this place and those people are now the ones being tormented for eternity.
  • Okay, so that place is terrible and was fun to come up with. A reason that they chose to put this topic up for a vote in the first place was that they’ve kind of hinted occasionally that there was some “hell” place in the comics, but they had never defined it. This was a good excuse to actually do so. What else can we do on this theme now that that’s out of the way?
  • Is there an inverse of Æternus that’s the inspiration for “heaven”? That’s probably the Host.
  • How about whatever it is that was the source for all of the very weird Old Testament angels? It could still be something like a hell dimension, but one that’s not necessarily Evil. Or Good for that matter. It’s not “chaos”, but it’s not something you could recognize as “order” either. We’ve got this bright, airy, cloud-filled place that’s also full of an overwhelming, maddening Radiance. Witnessing it will unhinge your mind. Sometimes you might see it and be okay, until one of the things there speaks and it ruins everything that you know or something.
  • What’s this place’s purpose? It can’t just be “madness”. Oh, how about this place is a failed Realm. It was meant to be Enlightenment, but it didn’t have good limiters in place and so the enlightenment it gives you is just mind blasting in intensity.
  • Now the problem is that somebody has to go there for a story. Okay, so we had those other “angels” that had appeared in early Fanatic stories that got handwaved away after Fanatic’s story got retold in a more coherent way in the late ’70s into the ’80s. Some time after that more “angels” show up, but they’re not more Host-related entities; it’s these things. There’s initially some “we’re all angels here” conversation with Fanatic until they realize that she’s not like them at which point they become antagonists. That gives more Fanatic angst regarding having to fight other angels, which is always fun.
  • Speaking of fun, there could be a time where Fanatic and NightMist wind up in this dimension and NightMist asks “Is this Heaven” and Fanatic just gives a very flat “Yes” response without further explanation or anything.
  • Naming time: off-the-air they come up with a boring old English word as the name of this place - Clarity.
  • So, they’ve done a hell and a heaven. Do they need to do any more today? Maybe a silly one - like in the “it’s kind of silly for there to be an entire dimension of demon bugs” sort of way. Well, they joke about a dimension of mild discomfort where your socks are always a little wet and loose so they sag down around your ankles, but that sort of thing might be better for some Æternus story where some imp just isn’t that great at the torment thing and that’s the best he can come up with, but it goes on long enough that it starts being real torture.
  • Adam proposes a kind of “unknowable space” thing, but that’s kind of Clarity’s thing (minus the space-specific aspect). That prompts the question of what the “Thorathian version of Hell” would be, but as they’ve said that the RoD is accessible from Dok'Thorath, it seems reasonable to assume that Æternus is as well.
  • The Egyptian Underworld is just a fun exploration of these things as it was a whole Realm of the type they’re talking about that died and turned into this terrible hellscape. Clarity is also on that spectrum as it was a Realm that failed in being what it “wanted” to be. Æternus on the other hand is extremely successful at being what it is trying to be. They really like this idea that’s crept in over the course of the episode that these Realms can have wills and personalities of their own (although Clarity and the RoD have very quiet/inactive/unambitious ones - Æternus being so active is a bit of an oddity).
  • Oh! A possible thing to consider then is “what’s a place that even Æternus takes a look at it and won’t even try messing with it?” Maybe someplace that is so antithetical to Æternus that trying to merge with it or bringing its denizens over would cause real problems. Probably something not as overtly “scary” as Annihilation as a concept. How about the total death of emotions - something on the dark side of Stoicism such that even the worst torment evokes no response. Nothing feels anything here. Just the pure essence of Apathy. The danger in going there is that you won’t want to leave, because you won’t want to do anything. It’s called The Grey. Æternus sent a manifestation of itself there once and felt everything draining away from that portion of itself. No more of that, please. It couldn’t even reclaim that portion of itself and basically had to amputate it - there’s this dead piece of Æternus just wandering around The Grey for eternity without remembering who/what it was. That’s a possible plot point in that you can get at Æternus if you can extract this piece of him from The Grey and use it, but getting it is supremely dangerous in its own right given where it is.
  • As a final bit they ask one another which of the three they’d like to go to for a couple of hours. Like, after 2 hours somebody opens a door for you to leave. They agree that The Grey is the worst as you wouldn’t leave once the door was open. Adam suggests Æternus as he figures you have the best shot at getting out in reasonable shape (he’s dealt with 2 hours of torment before: a root canal - people deal with pain and come through okay), but Christopher proposes that Clarity could have you leave with a fun “They call me mad; they know not what I see!” street-corner prophet vibe. Adam likes that too. Not for him, but the idea of a “Prophet of Clarity” character.

Questions

  • When NightMist was thrown into a dimension of mists during her initial curse experience, what dimension was that? What else in there? Has she ever encountered a denizen of the mist dimension? The intention, back in the origin of the character was that it was R’lyeh, but in modern continuity that was maybe somewhere on the outskirts of Clarity - that could explain why she wasn’t able to fully come back from that place and some of its stuff came with her instead. The madness association [and the fact that there are clouds/mist] might be how the connection to the name R’lyeh came about. Much as how Æternus has multiple areas (lake of fire, bees-under-your-skin, etc.) Clarity also has different areas (so in this case the blasting-your-mind-with-the-light-of-knowledge area, and the mists-of-unknowable-time area). Now, they don’t necessarily want to give the impression that they’re trying to make everything “smaller” by conflating multiple weird dimensions, but they don’t think that’s what this is - this is more just giving definition to something that wasn’t really defined before. It might not even be outright stated that she was in a portion of Clarity, but it’s maybe implied or hypothesized somewhere. They don’t think that she was there for very long (subjective from her experience - time may have passed differently on Earth) and so didn’t really have a chance to run into anything that lives there. Like, she was only there for a few moments, but that was long enough to change her forever. However, it seems unlikely that nobody would have had the idea to have her encounter a mist-being at some point later on. As a fun subversion of expectations it shows up and instead of being bad, it’s there to ask for her help.
  • A previous episode mentioning this one made a joke about a dimension with a single demon in it, making it a Demon Dimension instead of a Demons Dimension, but isn’t there one of those already: Hul? Would the Hul-spawn and xxtz’Hulissh count as “separate” entities for demon/demons categorization purposes? Hul is an entity and a place and xxtz’Hulissh’s face is a portal to that place. The Hul-spawn are denizens of that place but are also part of it. Hul is their “cosmic horror” dimension in the same way that Æternus is “hell” - that’s the narrative function. Normal Realms like the RoD, Æternus, Clarity, and The Grey aren’t Singular, but Hul is and that’s worse. Are they “demons”? Well, what even are “demons”? If you say something like “malicious entities from another Realm” then yeah, they qualify. Dictionary definitions seem to lean on “evil spirits” as the angle, but one example is an “objectification of a hostile or destructive force” which kind of fits, so the Hul-spawn might fit under that one.
  • What are conditions like in Hul? You’ve referred to Hul as the Singular Entity of the Unknowable, so is it even comprehensible to a human (probably at least somewhat, given that we look at Hul-spawn and recognize them as malformed alien monsters)? Here’s the deal: we perceive Hul-spawn as malformed alien monsters, but we’re not seeing all of what they are - that’s just the part of them that our brains can attempt to “translate”. There are parts of Hul that are comprehensible to human minds, but we aren’t capable of seeing the real truth of it. If you were to see it, you’d likely get impressions of darkness, writhing, and hints of unknowable shapes, you’d likely feel like you’d being watched the whole time, there’s a pervasive felling of wrongness, and you’d feel the death of everyone and everything you’ve ever loved (as part of the landscape - that’s weird; it’s like in a dream where you’re talking to a friend, but despite knowing that it’s a specific person it also doesn’t actually look like that person - in the same way your brain is telling you that you’re looking at a landscape, but you know that it’s really the death of everyone and everything you’ve ever loved), but that’s still just your brain trying to latch onto anything to make sense of it.
  • How many of the “underworlds” that you’ve discussed today are a better place to live than Rook City? None of them. As bad as Rook City is, these places are all worse. As bad as Rook City is, it’s possible to carve out a space for yourself and live a life there. One edge case to consider: life in The Grey is less depressing to you than living in Rook City, but there’s the trade-off that it becomes impossible to feel anything at all as your sense of self is taken from you.
  • The discussion of who gives what treats for Halloween prompts the thought: does Fanatic hand out that bane of all trick-or-treaters everywhere, the religious tract? No, but she might hand out rosaries. She’s also not the type to wait at the door for them to come by either. Like, this is more likely something like she is leaving the abandoned church that she lives in for the night and runs into a kid in a mask and she just drops the Rosary of the Mysteries in the bag for lack of a better option in that moment.
  • Okay, so “rock” is a generic term, but typically something that is made of minerals (naturally occurring inorganic solids that typically have a crystalline structure at least at small scales that may be jumbled together into aggregates); water, lacking carbon atoms, is also inorganic and, in its solid state is crystalline - does that mean that Rockstar can control/generate ice or should I just let it go? They think that, if there was a big lump of ice, that she could manipulate it a bit, but she can’t really “Elsa” it or create it. And if it started melting she’d lose any level of control.
  • Seriously though - three members of Daybreak got captured during a Biomancer story, so at least one of them is now a duplicate, right? They’re sure it’s fine. What could go wrong? It’s a little surprising that they even bother answering this question given how much of a nothingburger this whole thing was.
  • [Actual, physical letter they got in the mail - see the image linked in the show notes. It’s a Día de los Muertos card and some matching Hot Wheels. The cars just reminded the person of Muerto and he wishes them some happy Spooky Months.]