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SEVRIN LORE: Lodestone Oil

Sevrinspire, the port city of Heartstone, Sevrin’s central and largest island, is a haven for artists who work in stone.  Over the past ten years, dozens of commissioned statues have taken up residence near public buildings, along busy streets, and beside the harbors. All are carved from blocks of dull grey stone, provided by the adept Rhendish, who also pays the sculptors and provides the  pedestals on which the statues stand.

One of Rhendish’s most closely guarded secrets is the nature of this stone, and the purpose of the clockwork hidden in the pedestals. The stone is a strong, selectively porous mineral that becomes highly magnetized when it absorbs a certain oily substance, one of Rhendish’s alchemical creations. Inside the pedestals are clockwork pumps that will force this oil up into the stone. This enables Rhendish to turn these statues to powerful lodestone guardians, capable of bringing clockwork devices to an abrupt standstill. It’s a secret line of defense, protecting Heartstone against possible attack by his fellow Adepts’ clockwork warriors and war machines.

This also explains why Adepts avoid protective armor and wear loose, simple garments without metals trim. This was not always the case. The Adepts led a successful war against the sorcerer Eldreath, and for years they wore clothing that mimicked ceremonial armor.  Rhendish was wearing just such a garment when he discovered, quite by accident, the substance he later named Lodestone Oil.

One of the tables in his workroom was topped by a slab of stone mined on Skyorn, of the the small islands on the northeastern side of the Sevrin archipelego.  While he was working at this table, a vial tipped over. As Rhendish moved to wipe up the spill, it seemed to him that an invisble hand reached out of the stone, seized him, and slammed him face-down onto the table. When he recovered consciousness, he found himself securely pinned to the table by his decorative breastplate and bracers. Wriggling free of these garments cost him an entire night’s sleep and more than a little skin.  The only garment Rhendish that could comfortably wear over his scrapes and scratches was a loose saphire tunic.  This new “fashion” immediately caught on and very quickly became the Adapts’ standard wear.  To this day, Rhendish seldom dons his Adept garb without remembering the origin of this “tradition” with a small, wry smile.

SEVRIN LORE: Nimbolk

Nimbolk is an warrior of Mistheim, the elven settlement hidden deep within the mainland’s northern forests.  Though he has never set foot on Sevrin, he is well acquainted with one of its current residents. He grew up with the elf who calls herself Honor. Throughout their youth they were friendly rivals who competed at arms, feats of skill, and nearly everything else. But the thing Nimbolk most desired, the role of queen’s champion, went to Honor.

Honor was raised to be a warrior. Her twin-born sister, Asteria, was destined to be queen and had a very different training. Though the sisters did not spend as much time together as they might have liked, theirs was a close and powerful bond.  When Honor disappeared from the forest, Asteria kept searching for her and refused to name a new champion. Nimbolk acted as Asteria’s unofficial champion.  His hope of gaining that title were shattered last midwinter, when Asteria received a message from Honor urging her to call a tribunal in the Starsingers Grove and bring the Thorn, a ceremonial dagger capable of unveiling an elven traitor.

Nimbolk was numbered among the elves who gathered in the Starsingers Grove. According to the adept Rhendish, Honor was the only elf who survived when the gathering was attacked by a band of rogue Gatherers. If Rhendish is mistaken (or if he lied), Honor’s old friend could be her most implacable foe.

SEVRIN LORE: Fairy paths

In Sevrin’s folklore, moonbeams and sunbeams provide pathways for the fey, who travel quickly and invisibly along the beams of light.  The young, the highly credulous, and the intoxicated have been known to take to the woods with fairy sieves–wooden hoops that resemble hand drums, but with fine mesh rather than solid hide–in hope of capturing a traveling fey in mid-slide.

The pixie folk find it both amusing and insulting that humans believe they can be trapped in this fashion, and they are not above messing with those who attempt it.

Askur and Bejarki, two fishermen who recently ran afoul of the Winter Wolves, found themselves in need of gifts to sooth over a certain misunderstanding with their wives and sweethearts. They discussed their problem over a supper of soup and berry tarts at their favorite tavern, and they stayed to share a pitcher or two (or possibly three) while they listened to the tales of a certain dark-eyed storyspinner. One of these tales convinced Askur that a caged pixie would be just the thing to restore him to good odor with his mistress.  And what better time to hunt? A full moon had passed its zenith and would soon send long rays slanting through the pine forest on the village edge.

The friends fitted some herring net to the rim of an old drum and took to the forest. Promising moonbeams abounded, and they soon had the trap strung up so that streams of moonlight passed through the net. They settled down in a nearby thicket to watch and wait.

No more than a minute or two passed before something hit the trap with a sharp thwap. To the fishermen’s horror, the fey traveler passed through the net and splashed into the snow in a tangle of crimson wreckage.

As they stared, a tiny, winged skeleton rose from the snow and darted toward their hiding place. A chorus of tiny voices filled the clearing, shrieking the fishermen’s names and promising vengeance. The men leaped up and fled the forest as fast as their shaking, ale-soaked legs could carry them.

Behind them, a dark-eyed winged girl fluttered down from a pine tree, followed by a small flock of snickering pixies.  The illusion surrounding the skeletal pixie faded away, and she joined her friends in their moonlit feast–a berry tart, sliced into pixie-sized bits by its encounter with a herring net.

SEVRIN LORE: Winter Wolves

Wolves were last seen on the islands of Sevrin at least two centuries past, but stories persist of a pair of white wolves sighted during the first winter snow. Legend claims that any wish overheard by these Winter Wolves might be granted, but it’s more likely to be turned upside down. As a result, people throughout Sevrin have a deeply ingrained superstition against making a wish, even one made in jest, during the first snowfall.

Even so, the first snowfall brings hunters out in great numbers and festive spirits. No one actually expects to find the Winter Wolves, but the hunt is a fine excuse for spending a few hours in good company, either tramping the woods or sharing a flask and a few tales in one of the hunting huts built on high wooden platforms or into ancient trees.

One year Askur and Bejarki, two fishermen known for their mischievous ways, left off mending nets at the first sign of snow and took to the forest with a jug of spiced mead. They found a hunter’s hut in an old fir tree and settled in. As the hour grew late and the jug grew light, a very tipsy Askur raised his cup and said, “To our wives and sweethearts!”

“May they never meet,” Bejarki said with a grin.

A sharp woof! came from the forest floor, a sound that, though canine in nature, sounded suspiciously like a snort of laughter.  In the clearing below sat two snow-white wolves, tongues lolling from what could only be called wolfish grins.

The fishermen exchanged a look of sheer panic. More worried about wishes than wolves, they scrambled down the ladder and raced back to their village.

Behind them, the illusion of fur and fangs melted away to reveal a slim, winged girl with short brown curls and laughing dark eyes. She settled down on a fallen log and opened a leather volume that proclaimed itself The Book of Vishni’s Exile.  She wrote Winter Wolves at the top of the page and began to record the unfinished tale.

The ending would have to wait until tomorrow.  First, she had some introductions to make.

SEVRIN LORE: Philandra’s Philters

Two doors down from the Cat & Cauldron, which is as cozy and welcoming a tavern as anyone could wish to find, looms a narrow stone building as grim and forbidding as any building has a right to be.

Or rather, it should be grim and forbidding, what with the stone and the looming and so on, but in truth Philandra’s Philters (“They’re Phamous!”) is the sort of place that’s difficult to speak of without a smile and nearly impossible to pass by.

Philandra is a woman in merry midlife, not exactly a wench but no crone, thank you very much. She always dresses in rich shades of sapphire blue–the color reserved for Adepts–but her outfits are so outrageous that they inspire grins rather than censure.  Philandra gets away with things no one else would dare attempt.  Since she is not technically an alchemist, much less an Adept, she markets her wares with a wink. Her concoctions come with a long list of extravagant claims which no one, including Philandra, takes seriously.

People come to Philandra’s Philters to be entertained by her stories and drink a mug of her spiced ale, but few leave without making a purchase.  It’s an open secret that Philandra’s concoctions work. They might not live up to their creator’s more lavish claims, but they do small, practical things such as remove ink stains and cure hiccoughs. If you need a glue to hold things together or a solvent to take them apart, chances are Philandra will have just the thing. Her patrons appreciate her solutions to their small everyday problems, but participating in her cheerful parody of Sevrin’s alchemists is the real attraction.

SEVRIN LORE: Philandra's Philters

Two doors down from the Cat & Cauldron, which is as cozy and welcoming a tavern as anyone could wish to find, looms a narrow stone building as grim and forbidding as any building has a right to be.

Or rather, it should be grim and forbidding, what with the stone and the looming and so on, but in truth Philandra’s Philters (“They’re Phamous!”) is the sort of place that’s difficult to speak of without a smile and nearly impossible to pass by.

Philandra is a woman in merry midlife, not exactly a wench but no crone, thank you very much. She always dresses in rich shades of sapphire blue–the color reserved for Adepts–but her outfits are so outrageous that they inspire grins rather than censure.  Philandra gets away with things no one else would dare attempt.  Since she is not technically an alchemist, much less an Adept, she markets her wares with a wink. Her concoctions come with a long list of extravagant claims which no one, including Philandra, takes seriously.

People come to Philandra’s Philters to be entertained by her stories and drink a mug of her spiced ale, but few leave without making a purchase.  It’s an open secret that Philandra’s concoctions work. They might not live up to their creator’s more lavish claims, but they do small, practical things such as remove ink stains and cure hiccoughs. If you need a glue to hold things together or a solvent to take them apart, chances are Philandra will have just the thing. Her patrons appreciate her solutions to their small everyday problems, but participating in her cheerful parody of Sevrin’s alchemists is the real attraction.

SEVRIN LORE: Hedvig

When you picture a bard, chances are the image that pops into mind is a handsome, lute-playing young man or an elf maiden seated before a golden harp.  But when it comes to music, Sevrin’s dwarves have a long, loud tradtion.

They might be reclusive, but few people are as rowdy and fun-loving as dwarfs among friends. Hedvig makes friends easily, and unlike most dwarfs, she isn’t shy about performing outside of the clan hold.  She enjoys music of all kinds and she’s equally enthusiastic about a good fight. Her strong alto voice blends well with harp or dulcimer, but it’s at its best when accompanied by the clang and clamor of battle. Hedvig takes pride in the fact that she’s yet to experience a tavern brawl, bandit attack, monster incursion, or pitched battle that she couldn’t out-sing.

SEVRIN LORE: Dragon fangs

The clockwork sculpture garden in the shadow of Crystal Mountain, the hill crowned by the manor of the Adapt Rhendish, is popular at any time of year, but as winter approaches and the days grow short and cold, children look forward to a special treat:  Dragon fangs.

Several whimsical clockwork sea serpents are scattered throughout the garden, metal heads poking up through the soil in imitation of sightings at sea. When the sun reaches its zenith, the dragons lower their heads to a child’s level and open their jaws.  The “Bloody fangs” inside are berry-flavored icicles. Children crowd around to reach into the dragon’s mouth and pluck out the tasty fangs.

Of course, there are curmudgeons who grumble about the frivolity and expense, but this is exceedingly popular with the young and their parents. A few people might ponder whether such displays are deliberately calculated to make the Adepts’ clockwork devices appear harmless and friendly, but such people are wise enough to keep their opinions to themselves.

SEVRIN LORE: Winterborn

The islands of Sevrin lie far to the north, so the coming of winter brings an end to the trade season, and, in troubled times, to warfare.  Winterborn, celebrated on the full moon between the autumn equinox and the winters solstice, is a time of peace and plenty.

Market fairs are held throughout the islands, with the largest and most festive  on the island of Stormwatch.  Outdoor dances are popular pasttimes.  Puppet shows entertain small children.  The scent of meat roasting or curing in smokehouses fills the air, since winter slaughtering is traditionally done at dawn.

This festival, like any other, has its share of odd customs.  Many of them focus on divination. “Crow chasing” is a fairly grusome form of fortune-telling, and thus very popular with young boys.  After the dawn slaughtering, they “steal” the cast-off bits and heap them in places where crows are likely to gather. They hide and await the birds’ arrival.  Each person will pick two or more birds as “their” crows and assign an answer to each bird. At a signal from the boy designed as Crow Master, the boys storm out of hiding.  The crow who takes wing first and fastest bears the correct answer, which might be a yes or no question, or might be the name of the girl most likely to unlace her bodice behind the cooper’s shop.  It’s not unusual for lads to inform budding damsels of these portents and somberly remind them of the dangers of being crow-crossed. Some girls actually fall for this–or at least pretend to.

Like many other seasonal festivals, Winterborn is considered a gateway, a time when veils between worlds are thin.  People take precautions against fairy mischief, and vendors who sell iron charms do a brisk business at Winterborn fairs.  Offerings to propitiate the fey are left out, but they’re left at a discrete distance from homes and places of business.

Though the day is given to visiting, shopping, and outdoor merriment, people light extra lanterns and candles at twilight and take their festivities indoors. According to custom, people spend the night wherever they might be when the sun sets. Hospitality, always a Sevrin virtue, reaches a zenith on this night, and visitors expect to pay their keep by telling entertaining tales.

The second half of Winterborn is a festival of stories and song. Festhalls employ storyspinners and skalds to fill the long, dark hours. Musicians are welcome guests in any household. Schoolchildren learn traditional tales and practice storytelling skills in preparation.

Many of these tales focus on the Wild Hunt, and the misadventures of those who are caught up in it.  Legends vary, but most tales describe the Wild Hunt as a procession of dark fairies riding ghostly horses through the skies.

In the traditional tales, mortals occasionally outwit the fey and are spared or even granted riches or magical boons. In practice, people avoid looking skyward on Winterborn, as sighting the Wild Hunt is considered an omen of ill fortune or even coming death.

SEVRIN LORE : "Mistwraiths"

If you find yourself out late on a misty summer night, don’t expect to find the windows unshuttered and a light burning to welcome you home. Everyone knows lantern wicks draw more than oil.

But Algin the blacksmith scoffed at the old tales and insisted that his wife light a candle when he was delayed by work, or, as was more often the case, by a visit to the wayside tavern. As he strode along one misty night, lantern in hand, he thought himself not only brave, but sensible. And he held this fine opinion until the glowing mist around his lantern began to peel away.

The bright mist swirled into the shape of a human skeleton with a skull bearing a boar’s wicked tusks–a fiend that grinned horribly as its bony hands hefted a battle axe.

Algin threw his lantern aside, hoping the mistwraith would follow it. Too late. The apparation gave chase. Algin raced for home, hardly noticing when he stumbled and fell and rose agan. His pounding heart lifted when he saw the light ahead–home and safety were almost his!

Even as the thought formed, small glowing shapes poured from the lighted window. A misty swarm of imps swooped toward him and covered him like a shroud, tearing at him with tiny, taloned hands.

The next morning, all that remained of Algin were clean-picked bones, neatly disjointed and arranged in the outline of a lantern.  His wife and neighbors noted the warning and considered it fair. They gave Algin a proper burial, and if they thought him a fool for challenging the night, no one gave voice to that opinion, not even when the third keg was tapped.

Variations of this story are told all over Sevrin, and end with this strange moral:  Before you light a candle, consider what the darkness holds.