(repost from G+, posted a few years later thanks to timemachine in blogger)
There is a world covered with ice, and ice is full of demons: beautiful, orderly, intricate, merciless demons. The only place of life is a 3000 miles circular pimple on one of the continents, kept alive and burning by the Heart of Fire – the heart of fire goddess who was slain when and because and as reason of why the world went to hell. The fire is highest in the desert of Dara, where the Heart is, in the motherplace of new life coming into existence, in the flamesoul of the world. The lowest inhabitable land is the rim, where life still stubbornly persists even against ten months of winter. There are no wards, no barriers, no holy temples to signify this border between the world and the hell at its doorstep, but it is clear as day and night to anybody able to perceive.
The actual land itself isn't the only one in existence. As any flame casts a shadow, the Heart of Fire in its unconquered power throws the shadow of the real world around itself to create half-worlds, the whole eight of them, each one is smaller, more dim and more lacking than the previous one. The sequence of them – as they are connected one to another – is known as Great Cascade and is usually portrayed as a string of beads despite existing in exactly the same space as the actual world and repeating its topology in a fair bit.
The closest one to the real world is Sildre, the Gilded Leech, the place of fey wonder, colour and song, wyrlwind that looks much like the real world and lacks mostly just new souls and creativity. Sildre makes up for this lack in full with raids and trades onto the world and is better, brighter, wealthier, more beautiful, more elegant that the real world is ever going to be – you better remember this if you want to make friends in Sildre. Gilded Leech is so wealthy and beautiful that it is actually slightly bigger than the real world, inflated in its apparent majesty. All other half-worlds are dependent on what Sildre is able to obtain, and this is the only half-world bloated in divine light of the last remaining godling turtle to even have its own pale sun.
Calavad, the Jewelled Cage, also has a sun, the machine (as everything is an artifice here) powered by stolen shards of divine fire. Creativity is a high luxury in Calavad, being imported from Sildre as innate dwellers are born without such thing, but make for it with good appliance of what they already have, combining and recombining familiar pieces – while nothing is new, everything is serviceable and sometimes, by chance, even beautiful. Soft life and vegetation is gone from Calavad, but the principle of life still lingers in forests of copper and of whimsical stone, in rivers of rust and seas of burning magnesium which feed into each other in paradoxical but yet interconnected ways.
Uilwein is the place where earth lacks cohesion and it breaks down into pieces although the lay of the world is still somewhat recognizable as these pieces are held more or less together by multiple bridges. Eternal twilight is punctuated only by travelling stars, chaotic and indifferent whales whose cries surprisingly sorrowful for predators of this size. Lacking brightness, energy and ingenuity of Calavad, Uilwein is still held together as a world by strong ties of society – everybody belongs to some organization, kingdom, clan, order or a group. While no longer alive in any common sense, many dwellers of Uilwein exist with almost human mind and language, and are able to see each one as part of something greater than themselves. The Temple of Last Resort keeps a monastery here, venerated even among the locals.
Cerro is almost two thirds as small as the actual world and this is a place where most of recognizable things break apart and no longer a commodity. No road or spell will take you further than disjointed lands of Cerro, where organization and communication became a luxury, only available to few powerful lords who use them for their own gain and inflated sense of self, as they are literally become the land and air, law and cause. Emotions, identity and cognition are still available to all Cerro dwellers but with so many other normal things lacking it is difficult to come to understanding with them.
Travel to Malrafel is a danger not only because the sense of direction no longer applies there, not only because the world's magic is all but gone, but because this is where emotions are the most prized, and dwellers of Malrafel are adept of taking those away even from a wary traveller. With all but few colours and sounds gone, things of colour and sound are almost as prized as desires here. In Cerro, at least, there is still a land and a sky – in Malrafel it is easy to become lost in fragmented labyrinth that is this world, and without a desire to find a way or a passion to care for your goals, to be lost forever and then be taken apart layer by layer by Malrafel's dwellers. Each of them, even the smallest one, is their own king and kingdom as there is no sense of community or society in this world at all.
Tommari is where the sense of identity and separation is a luxury, and variety – which was still pretty abundant in Malrafel in principle – becomes almost nil. There is only one land – about tenth of the actual world – one mountain, one river, one tree, all featureless, one and only material for all, because Tommari has no concept of diversity. There are very few dangers there because dwellers of Tommari are all the same, all faceless and without desire to dominate, to rob, to take, to do, to give, without any desire at all. When a stranger from the outside offers them a name, a face, a sound, a color, a thought, the dweller of Tommari will be their forever, in some sense created by such stranger on the spot as if by sculptor who shapes a piece of clay from a block.
Nehshe doesn't even have that. There is no sense of motion in Nehshe, no sense of time, no sense of struggle, nothing aside of ever crumbling island about a half-mile, which always curls back onto itself. Whatever exist in Nehshe exists out of pure concept of existence – mindless, without identity, more shadow than the substance, more idea than something you can touch, it is the very concept of the border between oblivion and not. A traveller from the outside might imagine that they see titanic slumbering shapes in darkness and the very land is another such shape, but is it really a graveyard of gods nobody can tell. But yet, travellers are still able to return from Nehshe back if they so wish.
Tulma, the last shore, comes to existence only when somebody from the outside comes here in their one-way travel. Tulma exists only as long as the soul of the traveller keeps on burning, which is always a subjective time between a moment and eternity. The Heart of Fire cannot reach any further, and there are no half-worlds after Tulma – some even say Tulma is just a fiction, for what can lie after the border of oblivion of Nehshe and who can return from Tulma to tell about it? It is a place to die utterly alone and free of anything, very long way from home.
Such is a Great Cascade of the burning world amidst the icy hell.