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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.

SEVRIN LORE: Emblem books

“Alchemy isn’t for everyone,” Sorvin said as he dipped his brush into a paint pot. Several moments passed in silence as he applied spiceberry red to his sketch of a whale-sized serpent. “That is why so many of our writings take the form of emblem books. The pictures work with the text, sometimes illuminating, sometimes obscuring or even contradicting.”

“And sometimes distracting.” Henderkin pointed to a painting of a female figure caught in a moment of transformation, not to mention nudity.

The alchemist smirked and shrugged.  “A man should enjoy his work.”

Henderkin picked up a book and turned several pages filled with strange runes and stranger woodcut art.  “This makes no sense to me.”

“And that, my dear brother, is entirely the point. Alchemy is the science of transformation.  It cannot be understood at a glance.  Understanding the true nature of things requires effort and discipline; seeing things as they might become requires far more.”

“And what’s wrong with the way things are?  The way they always have been?”  Henderkin dropped the book and folded sun-browned arms over his chest. “I’m a fisherman, like our father and his before him.  I notice you’re not too grand to eat the herring we catch.”

Sorvin glanced at the page he was illuminating, and the pattern of tiny fish half-hidden in the shadow of the great serpent. They swam in a mindless circle, oblivious to both the danger and the possibilities above them.

“Alchemy isn’t for everyone,” he repeated.

SEVRIN LORE: The lute (Overheard in "Cat and Cauldron")

Storyspinners, scalds, and minstrels gather in the Cat and Cauldron to ply their trade, raise a mug, and chat with their fellow entertainers.  A minstrel widely known as Crazy Jorgen sauntered in, wearing a proud smile and carrying a second-hand lute.

Two scalds exchanged knowing glances.  Jorgen’s smile dimmed. “What?” he demanded.

The older of the two scalds nodded toward the lute. “Planning on settling down, I take it. Giving up the road.”

“You never heard the stories of a man setting off for adventure and glory, a lute on his back?”

“Heard the stories.  Never met that particular breed of minstrel, though.” The skald paused to slurp his ale and dash the foam from his mustache. “I’m betting you haven’t, either.”

Jorgen frowned. “Now that you mention it.”

“Good reason for that. For starters, lutes are damed awkward to carry. And they don’t like the weather. Any weather. The tuning pegs pop out when it’s dry, the gut strings soak up the damp. Either way you’ll spend more time tuning than playing. The good news? You won’t have to keep at it for long. That wood isn’t much thicker than parchment.  It’ll crack if you look at it wrong.  But let’s say you get where you’re going with the lute in one piece. The sound doesn’t carry far outside, and it won’t be heard in a noisy tavern. The lute’s a fine instrument, if you’ve got a room that’s small and warm and dry and quiet, but it’s not meant for the road.”

The minstel slumped into a chair. “Then where do all the stories come from?”

“People got to sell their old lutes to someone, don’t they?”  The scald winked and signalled for another round of drinks. “But enough about the lute. Let me tell you about this fine old pair of self-patching boots….”

SEVRIN LORE: The lute (Overheard in “Cat and Cauldron”)

Storyspinners, scalds, and minstrels gather in the Cat and Cauldron to ply their trade, raise a mug, and chat with their fellow entertainers.  A minstrel widely known as Crazy Jorgen sauntered in, wearing a proud smile and carrying a second-hand lute.

Two scalds exchanged knowing glances.  Jorgen’s smile dimmed. “What?” he demanded.

The older of the two scalds nodded toward the lute. “Planning on settling down, I take it. Giving up the road.”

“You never heard the stories of a man setting off for adventure and glory, a lute on his back?”

“Heard the stories.  Never met that particular breed of minstrel, though.” The skald paused to slurp his ale and dash the foam from his mustache. “I’m betting you haven’t, either.”

Jorgen frowned. “Now that you mention it.”

“Good reason for that. For starters, lutes are damed awkward to carry. And they don’t like the weather. Any weather. The tuning pegs pop out when it’s dry, the gut strings soak up the damp. Either way you’ll spend more time tuning than playing. The good news? You won’t have to keep at it for long. That wood isn’t much thicker than parchment.  It’ll crack if you look at it wrong.  But let’s say you get where you’re going with the lute in one piece. The sound doesn’t carry far outside, and it won’t be heard in a noisy tavern. The lute’s a fine instrument, if you’ve got a room that’s small and warm and dry and quiet, but it’s not meant for the road.”

The minstel slumped into a chair. “Then where do all the stories come from?”

“People got to sell their old lutes to someone, don’t they?”  The scald winked and signalled for another round of drinks. “But enough about the lute. Let me tell you about this fine old pair of self-patching boots….”

SEVRIN LORE: The Cat Tail Crusade

Twenty years ago, the people of Sevrin greeted the formation of the Council of Adepts with enthusiasm and accepted the changes this new regime proposed.  One rare but notable exception was the Cat Tail Crusade.

No one knows how cats first came to the islands of Sevrin, but sages agree they predated human settlement.  Sevrin’s cats are uncanny creatures, and they possess an  inscrutable culture that falls uncomfortably close to human notions of magic and ritual.  Whether ferril or domestic, cats gather under the full moon and again at moondark, “singing” in eerie unison before slinking off into the shadows.

According to legend, anyone who witnesses one of these gatherings will be granted the temporary gift of Sight–the ability to dream of the future, to perceive hidden motives, or to make the right choice in difficult situations. At the appropriate time of the moon, people who feel in need of insight leave lanterns burning in small groves and clearings, hoping to attract a feline coven.

As part of their attempts to break with Sevrin’s magic-laden past, the Adepts decreed a day of hunting and set a bounty to be paid for each cat tail turned in to the local magistrates.  The people responded with nearly universal outrage, and the idea was quickly dropped. To this day, a wrong-headed notion is often referred to as “cat-tailed foolishness.”

SEVRIN LORE: The role of storytelling

Why are exiled fairies sentenced to collect interesting tales from the mortal realm?

There are two reasons.

The fey folk love stories and music. They are expert at telling tales and singing haunting ballads. What they cannot do, however, is create these things. Fairies lure storyspinners and musicians into the fey realm from time to time, but the story-gathering of fairy malcreants is the primary source of new tales. For this reason, exile is regarded as a form of service to the community.

The second purpose of exile is rehabilitation. Fairies cannot compose music or write stories because the structure inherent in these art forms is foreign to their nature. Fairies who are exiled for Deadly Mischief are more chaotic than most of their kind. Transcribing stories and ballads imposes order upon chaos.  After a time, some exiled fairies reach a point where they can safely endure the magic of the fey realm.

Fairy sages debate what might happen if one of these exiles gained the ability to tell stories of her own. Most agree that this would change the fabric of Faerie in ways no one can fully anticipate.

SEVRIN LORE: There’s a fine line between mischief and malevolence…

…and fairies who are in danger of crossing that line are exiled from the fey realm.

For reasons the sages are still debating, some sentient beings of all races are born without certain fundamental shut-off mechanisms.  Most humans can enjoy a goblet of wine or tankard of ale without feeling compelled to overindulge, but for some, a single sip can trigger a binge. For others, bread or sweets triggers overindulgence.  The fey folk, who draw much of their sustenance from magic, have members who are similarly afflicted.

When a fairy is convicted of Deadly Mischief, she is exiled to the mortal realm, where magic is less prevalent. Fairies require some magic to survive; those who cannot find enough usually starve to death in exile. A few, however, find a source of magic so rich that they reach a state of critical mass and change into something twisted and malicious, something that is pure chaos and dangerous, unfocused magic.

Humans have many names for these creatures–demons, imps, will o’ the wisps–and take great pains to avoid them.  Wizards and sorcerers, however, sometimes enter an alliance with an imp. The wizard exploits the creature’s magic, but the imp benefits, as well. Without the structure imposed by the wizard’s will and magic, the imp could not survive very long. Its chaotic nature would quickly expand past the requirements of a physical form, causing the creature to dissipate, either slowly or catastrophically, into a mist of deadly energy.

So how does an exiled fairy survive and gain enough control to reenter the fey realms?

More on this tomorrow.

 

SEVRIN LORE: There's a fine line between mischief and malevolence…

…and fairies who are in danger of crossing that line are exiled from the fey realm.

For reasons the sages are still debating, some sentient beings of all races are born without certain fundamental shut-off mechanisms.  Most humans can enjoy a goblet of wine or tankard of ale without feeling compelled to overindulge, but for some, a single sip can trigger a binge. For others, bread or sweets triggers overindulgence.  The fey folk, who draw much of their sustenance from magic, have members who are similarly afflicted.

When a fairy is convicted of Deadly Mischief, she is exiled to the mortal realm, where magic is less prevalent. Fairies require some magic to survive; those who cannot find enough usually starve to death in exile. A few, however, find a source of magic so rich that they reach a state of critical mass and change into something twisted and malicious, something that is pure chaos and dangerous, unfocused magic.

Humans have many names for these creatures–demons, imps, will o’ the wisps–and take great pains to avoid them.  Wizards and sorcerers, however, sometimes enter an alliance with an imp. The wizard exploits the creature’s magic, but the imp benefits, as well. Without the structure imposed by the wizard’s will and magic, the imp could not survive very long. Its chaotic nature would quickly expand past the requirements of a physical form, causing the creature to dissipate, either slowly or catastrophically, into a mist of deadly energy.

So how does an exiled fairy survive and gain enough control to reenter the fey realms?

More on this tomorrow.

 

SEVRIN LORE: The Thorn

The Thorn is an ancient elven artifact, a dagger grown from translucent crystal. Its most distinguishing feature is the rose in the heart of the crystal blade.  An illusion causes this rose to close at sunset and slowly unfurl throughout the day.  Elven legend claims that the rose will glow with red light if the dagger sheds a traitor’s blood.

Though this is undoubtedly an elf-crafted weapon, many dwarves believe they have a claim to it.  The dagger’s grip is fashioned from carmite, a rare stone that attracts and amplifies certain types of magic.  In particular, it can change the shape or even the very nature of stone. In the hands of a dwarf stoneshifter, the Thorn could be a powerful tool or deadly weapon.

The legends of these two races differ in their accounts of how elves acquired the carmite for the Thorn, and certainly they disagree on who rightfully owns it, but they agree on one thing:  the dagger cannot be allowed to fall into human hands.  Dwarves might not always like or understand elves, but they have no fear that the forrest people will use the Thorn to invade dwarven fortresses or collapse dwarven tunnels.  They have less faith in the motives of any human sorcerer.

SEVRIN LORE: Green-blooded elves

The blood of elves is not literally green, but it does contain a mysterious substance that has more in common with plants than with anything found in any other warm-blooded creature.

Elven blood teems with tiny organisms, so small that they would barely be visible under the strongest lenses Sevrin’s artisans can craft.  These organisms are similar in nature to algae, and like these tiny plants, they can transform sunlight into energy.  They are sensitive to light cycles and multiply quickly as the days lengthen. This explains, at least in part, why the Greening occurs when the long winter finally gives way to spring.

Philosophers might argue whether elves are hosts to this organism, or whether this is simply a part of the elven physiology.  Elves see no such distinctions and would view any such discussion with incredulity.  Humans tend to view themselves as islands with discrete boundaries. This is not a concept elves understand.

Elves don’t understand how humans can be unaware of the tiny lifeforms around and within them.  Elven sages have long studied these barely-visible worlds. They know that some organisms form surprisingly sophisticated colonies in which members take on different functions, and they know that non-contiguous colonies can communicate with each other.  It is believed that sound waves, too high for even elven ears to hear, are the means of communication. But thanks to the sensitivity of their crystalline bones, elves perceive the present of unseen life, and they have learned to communicate with the beings that live on both sides of their skin. Humans often note that elves seem “more in tune with nature.”  This is generally regarded as a metaphor, when in fact it describes the literal process rather well.

The ability of these organisms to communicate with non-contiguous communities is central to elven medicine, hunting, and warfare.  The energy greenblood gathers from sunlight can be shared among elves.  Several elves working together can heal a wounded elf, strengthen a laboring mother through childbirth, grant a sudden burst of strength to a spear-wielding elf facing a charging boar, or send speed and strength to a beleaguered fighter.  Humans have often observed that fighting three elves is like fighting ten men, but they are unaware of the ebb and flow of energy that makes this possible.