The Near Umbra

Beyond Earth’s atmosphere in the physical world, man-made satellites orbit the Earth, and much farther, the Moon circles the planet as it cycles through its phases. In the spirit world, the Near Umbra lies beyond the Penumbra. The most common method of reaching it is by a Moon Bridge, a gateway that originates in a Garou caern in the physical world. Sometimes a pack may find a path to the Near Umbra by crossing a Domain that’s similar to a place in the Near Umbra the Garou are trying to reach. Spirits may also act as guardians and guides, if approached properly. (For more details, see “Umbral Travel” below.)

The Near Umbra is a swirling haze where many realms drift, great and small, beneath Luna’s light. Just as the moon orbits the Earth, these realms orbit the Gaian Realm, though their paths are not as limited by mere physical laws. Some werewolves travel here to petition their totems or speak to powerful spiritual entities; however, these ruling powers are as unpredictable and dangerous as they are wise. Gnosis is vital in the Near Umbra, since these realms are full of mysteries, enigmas, and hidden wisdom. Garou heroes leave the physical world they know to find revelations in strange realms, but the knowledge is never truly valuable unless they can bring it back to their septs and caerns. The physical world is a valuable frame of reference in many ways, especially for distinguishing between useful revelations and delusional bouts of madness.

There are twelve major Near Realms circling the Earth in the Near Umbra. They’re pockets of immense spiritual power, each contained by a thin membrane. Each one feels as natural and real to spiritual travelers as the physical world feels to physical travelers. Each realm has its own “internal logic,” its own set of rules and laws for its version of “reality.” A Garou’s senses all function here (with some slight modifications), but her instincts and intellect are just as vital. There may be more major realms, but there’s no way to know what has remained undiscovered, of course, until it’s found.

According to legend, the Near Realms where formed when powerful forces of the Triat from the distant Deep Umbra collided with the most powerful spirits of the Gaian Realm. This would explain why some Near Realms are dominated by one of the forces of the Triat, while others have been heavily influenced by spiritual forces on Earth.

The Twelve Near Realms

Cosmologists speak of the twelve largest Near Realms in the Umbra; they’re allegedly strung around the Earth in the spirit world like pearls on a string. Their positions aren’t static, however, and despite the best of attempts of shapechangers who visit them repeatedly, no two journeys to them are ever exactly alike. Each realm’s internal logic and laws tend to remain the same, but what travelers find in the Umbra often depends on what they seek. (Storytellers who want more detail about the respective realities of the Near Realms should consult “Rules of the Realms” at the end of this chapter.)

The Abyss: A tear in the fabric of creation, the Abyss is a yawning chasm that consumes everything that has been lost or abandoned. Paths snake down its cavernous walls, descending into darkness and madness. In its depths, travelers may find things long gone and things best forgotten. Some believe that at the nadir of this chasm, a ravenous maw of the Wyrm devours and annihilates anything that falls into darkness. No one can prove this, of course, since anything that falls into the pitch-black void is never seen again.

The Aetherial Realm: The Aetherial Realm reaches across the Umbral heavens, forming the farthest expanse of the Near Umbra. Powerful Garou tend to gates called Anchorheads here, guarding gateways that lead into the endless space of the Deep Umbra. Celestines and aetherial totems (described below) manifest their avatars within the Aetherial Realm; in some ways, this dimension is a microcosm of the Deep Umbral cosmos. Helios and Luna are among the most influential Celestines here, manifesting in several different forms with different names. The apex of every Moon Bridge passes through this realm.

The Arcadia Gateway: This realm is a relic of a bygone age. It’s a spiritual reflection of the past, an emanation of the fae in the Near Umbra. The landscape is separated into kingdoms of Spring, Summer, Autumn, and Winter. Unlike the modern world of changelings, reality here reflects a time when the Fae Folk were far more common on the Earth. Emanations imbued with fae energy act out classic tales from changeling myths and faerie tales. According to legend, the trods through this realm once meandered towards a gateway to the fabled realm of Arcadia, but the path has long-since been lost. Some loremasters insist its destination was an alternate manifestation of the moon; others argue that Arcadia was only an ideal too transcendental to have ever existed; a few drunken Fianna insist they’ve been there,fervently denying such claims later. In a way, the spirits here also serve as a portent of the future: A chilling Endless Winter has begun advancing across the land.

The Atrocity Realm: Millennia of suffering have created the Atrocity Realm, a nightmarish landscape where spirits relive the worst cruelties and horrors of human history. No Garou comes here for glory, only to learn from the past. Human atrocities can be more brutal or tragic than the soul-scarring events of the Impergium, a time so horrific it scarred the human psyche with the Delirium for all time. It’s said that the only way to escape this realm is to sympathize with its victims. One of the hardest ways to learn from history is to relive it in the spirit world, hopefully so the lessons learned here will never be repeated in the real world.

The Battleground: This battlefield is dedicated to warfare in all its forms. As long as people make war against each other (regardless of the euphemisms they use to describe it), the battleground steadily grows. Spiritual echoes of history’s greatest (and worst) battles live on. Travelers relive tribal conflicts in the Impergium, the conquests of the Roman Empire, Shadow Lord raids on vampire fiefdoms, two World Wars, violent subjugation in the Third World, terrorist attacks and reprisals, and operations of the First World’s twenty-first century military. Signposts and muddy trails show paths through living history. Spirits, shades, and even werewolf warriors have begun gathering around an empty battlefield in the center of the realm: the Vigard Plain. Its landscape changes, but everyone gathered believes the Apocalypse will begin there.

Erebus: Gaia’s wrath manifests in the hells of Erebus. Garou atone there for their greatest sins, writhing in rivers of liquid metal suffused with molten silver. Their tormentors stalk along the riverside: sinister broods of black or silver werewolves lumbering in their Crinos forms. These psychopomps have centuries of experience in the arts of torture, as they’re careful to make sure the wounds inflicted by the river and their pain-inflicting implements never fully heal. Visitors may pass through and learn from the errors of others… or they may choose to challenge the broods for power and temporarily take their place. An ancient Incarna named Charyss rules here, watching over the agony of her charges from a castle in the center of a silver lake.

Flux: Energy and madness surge in this transitory realm. According to one legend, the Weaver has trapped the heart of the Wyld in this realm. Anything is possible here, and chaos is everywhere. When Garou enter the realm, the Flux Realm can be any conceivable landscape in the cosmos, but periodically, one part of that landscape will change into something vaguely similar. Every frame of reference eventually changes until the pack leaves. Every spirit in the realm is also a variant of an Engling (supplying Gnosis for those with the proper rites), but quite capable of defending itself.

The Legendary Realm: Packs traveling through this realm can experience the lives of their legendary ancestors. Most of the landscape recreates the world of the Impergium, and within it, nearly every homeland of the Garou endures. Events within the realm are not strict historical recreations, however; they may reflect tales altered over time to suit the ideals of the modern world. They may even hold shameful truths that history has never repeated. Galliards give this realm strength when they recite tales of legendary heroes.

Pangaea: Pangaea is a reflection of primal Earth, showing the world as it was before civilization, human history, and even the Impergium. It’s a time when the continents of Earth were as one, a re-creation tempered with anachronism and long-forgotten, atavistic horrors. Dinosaur kings and Mokolé shapechangers claim vast territories of Pangaea, and spirits resembling the many stages of human ancestry hunt creatures that humans never knew. Garou staying in this realm for too long disconnect from their former lives and possibly even from their genetic origins. Some begin to degenerate into more primitive species that may or may not have ever existed, gaining freakish abilities that fade when they leave.

Scar: Created during the Industrial Revolution, this realm was once built on ideals, but those dreams have turned to nightmares. In the Victorian Age, the realm was an expression of a perfect world constructed from the indefatigable engines of industry, one where every aspect of life functioned with clockwork precision. Since then, the reckless ambitions of the Mad Weaver and the inevitable corruption of the Wyrm have perverted it. Every employee’s nightmares come to life here. Fascist enforcers police the streets, and warehouses hide horrific violations of health and safety standards. In rusting factories surrounded by toxic waste and plumes of balefire, the Wyrm’s minions sacrifice spirits to create a never-ending supply of Wyrm-tainted fetishes. Most are armaments for spiritual troops, but a few survive the perilous journey to the real world. In fact, it is said that every corrupt subsidiary of the Pentex corporation that’s endured long enough has a spiritual reflection here. Every victory against the Wyrm and Weaver in the Scar increases the chances of a pack succeeding in their crusade to purge similar malefic influences from the physical world.

Summer Country: The Summer Country is now little more than a myth, as it’s been fading away for decades. Legends say the realm is a reflection of Gaia’s pure and boundless love for Her children. In ancient tales, accomplished heroes and errant aspirants were destined to find it at crucial times in their lives, turning points chosen by Gaia when they could receiving healing, peace, wisdom, and even gifts of spiritual might or insight. When Galliards recite tales of the Near Realms, they always mention the Summer Country in passing, but all their tales of travels there are old enough to have passed into history. Perhaps they should be thankful that such tales have not entirely passed from memory.

Wolfhome: This realm is a vast expanse of pristine wilderness. Answers to primal mysteries are hidden here. All werewolves arriving in Wolfhome immediately shift into Lupus form, but they cannot shift back from their wolf forms for the duration of their stay. One must master the ways of the wolf to survive. Some travelers attest it’s a realm where wolves are dominant, where the once-great cities of mankind now lie in ruins, overrun by the wilderness. Others describe it as a harsh and unforgiving realm where wolves can become prey as easily as they assume their roles as predators. Spirits resembling human hunters have been seen here, whether they’re laying traps for the unwary or hunting packs from passing helicopters. When lupus elders are angry, they send arrogant homids (or wayward lupus) to Wolfhome, not only to remind them of their lupine nature, but also to prepare them for a world that’s increasingly hostile to the Earth’s surviving population of wolves.

Malfeas, the Heart of the Wyrm

Malfeas is the rent in the fabric of the universe, where torn remnants of reality have been reshaped in the Wyrm’s own image. The more recognizable parts of the realm are twisted parodies of the material world from throughout time, from blasted wastelands to toxic, suppurating industrial labyrinths. The lords of the Banes rule duchies here, and in a blasphemous temple the Black Spiral itself awaits its next dancer. The realm teems with all manner of Wyrm servants, from lowly Banes and luckless mortal slaves to Black Spiral Dancer champions and corrupt Incarnae. As the heart of spiritual power for the Wyrm’s legions, it is a place few Gaian Garou have seen and almost none have escaped.

CyberRealm, the Root of the Weaver

The war against the Weaver is fought within the glass and steel skyscrapers of the Cyber-Realm. As technology continues to rapidly advance, the realm is growing at a more alarming rate than any other. It’s a steadily growing reflection of a twenty-first century city, even as its periphery contains representations of archaic tech. Spirits emulating bleeding-edge technology thrive near the top of these skyscrapers. Spiritual constructs based on technology that’s growing rapidly obsolete tend to fall into the dumpsters and alleyways. In the urban squalor of the streets below, anarchists and idealists gather, driven by fears of human obsolescence. Some are brave enough to scale corporate ladders of Webs reaching towards the higher floors. Their weakest and most expendable allies spew rants that are equal parts ‘90s computer jargon and third-rate cyberpunk dialogue. Weaver-spirits labor ceaselessly in the maze of cubicles and offices ensconced in the middle; some of their computers lead to a sub-realm known as the Computer Web and various ephemeral reflections of the Internet. At the apex of skyscrapers, the Lords of the CyberRealm fight with each other for the fate of the future. Every journey here is either a farce, an anachronism, or a glimpse into a possible future.

The Dream Zone

The Umbra is full of surprises, and some zones defy or transcend the “normal” limitations of the Spirit World. For example, even the spiritual denizens of the farthest realms of the Near Umbra consider the Dream Zone mysterious. It’s a world of unexpected power and potent symbolism, appearing as a multifaceted gem of extraordinary beauty. It lies on the periphery, between the Near Umbra and the Deep Umbra that lies beyond it. Any Garou who seeks it takes a risky journey through dreams. Unlike a chimare, which is attuned to a single mind, the Dream Zone is built from archetypes and recurring images that recur in the dreams of all humanity. Gnosis and psychological insights can mean the difference between life and death and never-ending torment trapped in an ever-shifting otherworldly dimension. Dreamers and travelers, beware.

The Membrane

The Membrane separates the relatively comprehensible realms of the Near Umbra from the endless enigmas of the Deep Umbra. The barrier is like the Gauntlet, but far more difficult to cross. The easiest way to enter the Deep Umbra is through a spiritual anomaly at an anchorhead (usually found within the Aetherial Realm.) Packs of elders guard these gateways, much as septs of Garou guard caerns; these packs often call on ancestor-spirits and powerful Stargazers for aid.

Some Stargazers theorize that the Deep Umbra may be accessible by means other than Anchorheads, such as the Dream Zone, but the unpredictable nature of the spirit world makes repeating these journeys difficult. Rare travelers have found ways to enter the Deep Umbra directly by powerful, lucid dreams, but this possibility is as dangerous as it is promising. Tales abound of things in the endless void, watching and waiting to enter the realm of flesh. Mages have stories of Marauders driven mad in the depths of the Deep Umbra, driven by pure chaos and the need to raid Earth for its spiritual energy. From there, the stories get stranger. Technomancers have documentation of aliens crossing the Membrane to conduct experiments on supernatural creatures, ranging from the intellectual Greys to an impossible gorilloid race called the Zigg’ralur. Suffice it to say that although all things are possible in the Near Umbra, anything that has to be kept out of our reality by the Membrane is sufficiently insane to destroy the minds of the unprepared masses.