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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.

SEVRIN LORE: Takwin

Takwin, the creation of artificial forms of life, has long been a primary goal of alchemists. Most alchemists regard takwin as a metaphor for enlightenment, but others view it as a literal goal.

In Sevrin, the term has been adapted to refer to the development of lifelike clockwork creations. Three of the Adepts  are skilled at creating clockwork creatures of great subtlety and complexity, capable of responding to simple questions and following well defined protocols. The other four Adepts take a dim view toward this practice, believing that it veers too closely toward the ancient and forbidden alchemical practice of creating anthroparion.

An anthroparion is similar to a golem–an animate humanoid creation made entirely from inanimate matter–but with intelligence and will.  They are created by alchemists who willingly subject themselves to a level of torment that causes a schism between their physical and spiritual natures. The spirit is transferred to a carefully prepared construct, while the alchemist’s body, though weakened by its torments, retains mind and memory.

There are tales (most of them ancient, unsubstantiated legends) of this practice going spectacularly awry, with results ranging from the death of the alchemist, to the transfer of the alchemist’s memories to the construct, to the spirit of an alchemist being trapped in his dead body, to the spirit escaping both alchemist and construct to become an uncontained and often destructive force.

The Arcane are against this practice for many reasons, not the least of which is their inability to agree upon whether or not humans in fact possess spirit.  No anthroparion has been created for centuries, so the stories can be dismissed as legends, fairy mischief, or some as yet unexplained alchemical reaction.

There is one thing, however, upon which most alchemists agree.  Fey creatures are dyophysite; that is, they possess a second nature–a magical essence housed in flesh–and would most likely be prime candidates for the creation of an anthroparion.  But for some reason no one has ever discovered, choice is an important element of the process. No one has ever successfully forced the sundering of a dyophysite being.  This is almost universally believed to be impossible. The only people who explore this theme are storyspinners who specialize in dark, improbable tales.

There is one exception to this. Unknown to anyone in Sevrin, one of the Adepts believes that a fey creature can be sundered into two separate beings of flesh and magic.

SEVRIN LORE: Sveonis

Sveonis, the island at the center of Sevrin’s archipelogo, is the most wild and untamed of the seven main islands.  Deep forests sweep down from the mountain range that forms the island’s spine, giving way to thickets of wild berries and stretches of heather-covered meadow before plunging down rocky cliffs to the sea.

Access to Sveonis is limited, as there are no good sites for ports and only small boats can navigate the waters.  The climate is colder and more stormy than on most of Sevrin, due to the higher elevation, and the soil is too thin and rocky to support most crops.  The few inhabitants are mostly hunters and fisherfolk.  The primary trade goods are salmon caught in the cold, swift rivers,  meads made from heather honey, and the luxurious white winter pelts of the grivin, a large and ferocious member of the weasel family.  Some hunters make a living as guides, taking parties of wealthy Sevriners hunting, climbing, or caving.

There is no logging on Sveonis despite its central location, partly because this is impractical–the cliffs are so high and the coasts so rocky that logs dropped into the sea are likely to splinter–but also because of ancient legends that attend the island.  The notion “While the forests endure, so will Sevrin,” is so firmly engrained in the minds of Sevrin’s people that few think to challenge it.  To swear “by the trees of Sveonis” it to vow that your promise is eternal and unchanging.

The wild beauty of the island is celebrated in songs and story. Many of these tales focus on the Fairy Falls, which are located near the southwestern edge of the Sveonis Mountains.  These stories are of particular interest to Vishni, who is collecting them for inclusion in The Book of Vishni’s Exile.

SEVRIN LORE: Lore & legends: Pixie portals

A favorite midsummer sport among Sevrin’s children is searching the forests for pixie portals.  This is far riskier than it sounds, as pixies have been known to lay traps near their homes, or to place them near lairs of dangerous forest creatures.  Adventurous lads and maids sometimes follow boar hunters in hope of finding a nearby portal.  This is strictly forbidden, as it not infrequently ends in tragedy, but children continue to find ways to slip into the forest.

A few children climb trees to search for pixie portals amid the branches, but most legends agree that these are placed too high for even the smallest human to reach. Portals placed near the base of trees, however, are easier game, as are the pixies who live within.  These are not winged creatures, but tiny beings who live primarily on the forest floor.

According to the legends, a captured pixie must grant a boon in order to gain its freedom.  Among the most popular stories are those of Sim Neverslain, a mischievous boy who captured a pixie and asked for never-ending adventures.  An eventful, and not entirely legal, career followed, until the High Kings of Sevrin (this legend comes from the age before the sorcerer Eldreath) banished him from the Seven Islands.

Sim sailed away to seek misadventure elsewhere, and because the terms of his banishment mentioned only the seven main islands, legend claims that he occasionally comes ashore on the small islets.  It’s a custom among the residents of the Crown islands to attribute small thefts, unexplained breakages, and minor mischiefs to Sim.

SEVRIN LORE: Lore & legends: Pixie portals

A favorite midsummer sport among Sevrin’s children is searching the forests for pixie portals.  This is far riskier than it sounds, as pixies have been known to lay traps near their homes, or to place them near lairs of dangerous forest creatures.  Adventurous lads and maids sometimes follow boar hunters in hope of finding a nearby portal.  This is strictly forbidden, as it not infrequently ends in tragedy, but children continue to find ways to slip into the forest.

A few children climb trees to search for pixie portals amid the branches, but most legends agree that these are placed too high for even the smallest human to reach. Portals placed near the base of trees, however, are easier game, as are the pixies who live within.  These are not winged creatures, but tiny beings who live primarily on the forest floor.

According to the legends, a captured pixie must grant a boon in order to gain its freedom.  Among the most popular stories are those of Sim Neverslain, a mischievous boy who captured a pixie and asked for never-ending adventures.  An eventful, and not entirely legal, career followed, until the High Kings of Sevrin (this legend comes from the age before the sorcerer Eldreath) banished him from the Seven Islands.

Sim sailed away to seek misadventure elsewhere, and because the terms of his banishment mentioned only the seven main islands, legend claims that he occasionally comes ashore on the small islets.  It’s a custom among the residents of the Crown islands to attribute small thefts, unexplained breakages, and minor mischiefs to Sim.

SEVRIN LORE: The old gods

The old gods are dead, if indeed they ever existed.

This is the position of Sevrin’s alchemists, who celebrate the wonders of science and their own mastery over the natural world.

Most people of Sevrin view magic as part of this natural world, like the tides and the seasons. There is power in the land which the knowledgeable can harness and shape. Whether or not the practice of magic is advisable is another matter, but few people doubt that it exists.

Unlike many of the mainland cultures, particularly in the lands to the south, Sevrin is by and large a secular culture.  No temples, groves, altars, or other such structures exist on the seven main islands. There are, however, a few communities on some of the smaller islands where ancient rituals honor the old gods, particularly Annivan, the goddess of death, childbirth, and mysteries.  Burial rituals frequently invoke her, and amulets with her image or symbol (three curving waves to represent the sea, sometimes accompanied by a drop of water) are clutched by laboring women. Many divination rituals and prayers are addressed to Annivan by those who seek guidance or wish to know what the future brings.  Priestesses of Annivan are whispered to hold powers that would make a wizard tremble, yet no one will admit to knowing such a priestess, much less being one.

For the most part, though, remnants of the old ways take the form of folk customs and superstitions. A persistent belief in ghosts, for example, reveals the lingering appeal of the concept of Afterlife.  Most learned men are quick to point out the existence of other realms and the likelihood that ghosts, mystic experiences, and signs of divine favor have a perfectly logical explanation:  They are the past-times of mischievous and occasionally  malicious fey.  This attitude has given rise to a common Sevrin proverb is, “No god but science, no demons but fey.”

The people who know fairies best do not find this bromide particularly reassuring.

SEVRIN LORE: Farriandor, Lord of Klimit

Dwarves don’t have kings, precisely, but the regional lord holds all the power and authority of a warrior king.  Among the most famous of these, at least among the old races, is Farriandor, lord of a vast territory encompassing the Klimit mountain range and the rough but beautiful lands surrounding Dragonsdive Gorge, as well as the grasslands that stretch between the Gorge and the elven forest to the west.

Traditionally, dwarves have a strong sense of place.  Ties of family and marriage are important, but the clanholds–the lands occupied, hunted, farmed, mined and defended by a community–form their central point of reference.  When naming themselves, dwarves will first list their clanhold, then, if further clarity is required, a clan or family name.  Among dwarves, “Hrolim of Blue Agate Cavern” will usually suffice, as any dwarf of the northlands will surely know what clan occupies any given cavern or mountain keep.

Each clanhold is ruled by a chieftain, but each chieftain answers to the regional lord. Territories under a lord’s rule are referred to simply as “lands.”  These are nearly always defined by natural boundaries; for example, the Land of Klimit ends where the Starshadow Forest begins.  Dwarves would be puzzled by the notion of defining a territory by the person who rules it. The land of Klimit is what it is, regardless of who bellows orders.

But that is not to say lords are always content with the territories they rule. Dwarves tend to be insular and home-loving, but in their long history some few lords have looked beyond their borders. Farriandor is one such dwarf.

Farriandor is a scholar as well as a warrior, and his particular passion is ancient history. He dreams of reclaiming lost lands, and discovering the truth behind legends. To that end, he has sent out several of his sons to climb unfamiliar mountains and sail the seas in search of  long-lost clanholds. At least one of these is buried deep beneath a thriving human settlement, known to its current residents as Sevrin.

SEVRIN LORE: Meadow sprites

Many children’s stories speak of meadow sprites, tiny winged fey no bigger than butterflies. Indeed, most humans who see meadow sprites take them for butterflies, thanks to the deeply hooded cloaks the meadow sprites wear. When a sprite flicks up the hood and wraps the cloak around herself, she is nearly indistinquishable from an insect.  Even children, who have more time and inclination to study butterflies, seldom catch more than a glimpse of the sprites’ true forms.

Most people describe meadow sprites as tiny winged maidens with short, wind-blown hair. The more common wing colors are, predictably, hues found in meadow flowers:  yellow, blue, orange.  Pure white meadow sprites have been sighted, and a few people claim to have seen meadow sprites with green wings, skin, and hair.

Oddly enough, no one has ever reported seeing a male sprite.  Explanations are a standard part of a storyspinner’s repetoire. A popular ribald ballad tells of an increasingly exhausted “king sprite” who is kept abed by his duties, siring hordes of daughters and dreaming of the day he has a son, who will be traded with the prince of another meadow to begin the cycle anew.

Other tales, more suitable for children, suggest that sprites slip through flower-sized gates from the Faerie Realm, gathering nectar and leaving tokens in exchange. A popular activity at midsummer festivals is the Sprite Hunt, in which small children search meadows (some of them minature meadows in private grounds or public gardens, specially grown for the occasion) in which coins and small small treasures are strewn for children to find.

Because tales of meadow sprites are so popular, particularly with young girls, artisans do a brisk business in cloak pins and hair ornaments fashioned to look like winged sprites.  These are seldom worn outdoors, however, as they tend to draw the attention of angry butterflies.

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Note: The sprite pin depicted here is not, unfortunately, the work of Sevrin artisans. It has a slightly more Victorian sensibility, but it is close enough to piss off any nearby meadow sprites.  For more information, contact  The Jewelry Experts.

 

SEVRIN LORE: Sea serpents

The sea-going people of Sevrin are raised on stories of giant serpents.  Most people have either seen something they believe to be a sea serpent, or know someone who has.

To the west of the islands, the creatures sighted are usually described as sea dragons. Inquisitive creatures, they frequently rise from the sea like a standing stone, and the head and long, slender neck resemble pictures (and reports) of land-dwelling dragons.  They are are dragon-like in size, as well; judging from the the portion of the sea serpent above water, most sailers estimate their total length as being between 100 and 250 feet.

Sea serpents seen along the mainland shore are smaller–around 50 feet–and are often called sea lynx because their manes resemble the ruff and ear tuffs of the wildcats who hunt the mainland forest. These creatures lair in caves and are frequently seen in the mainland fyords. They are also reputed to come ashore for short periods of time, usually to steal a goat or calf–and on a few occasion, a child–that has ventured too close to the shore.

That such creatures exist is daunting enough, but sailors suspect them of having a keen and devious intelligence. Though most sightings are of solitary creatures, serpents have been known to gather in pods. On such occasions their behavior can be disturbingly  complex and canny.

The captain and crew of the Blue Selkie, the only surviving ship of a fishing fleet, tell a grim tale of a hard voyage homeward over fog-shrouded seas. Days of foul weather made navigation difficult, so no one was too surprised to see the dark, rocky craigs to the north of the Crown emerging from the mist sooner than anyone expected.  The experienced sailors manuvered past the first of these outcrops with ease, growing worried only when the expected coastline did not appear. The “rocks” then broke formation and surrounded the ships.  Only the Selkie, which trailed the other ships due to a heavy load and a badly ripped sail, was spared.

This ambush is an extreme example, and fortunately such tales are few. Sea serpents seldom seek the company of their own kind.  Their solitary nature makes them far less dangerous than they might otherwise be.

People & places: The Whistling Caves

The island chain of Sevrin has seven main islands and dozens of tiny islands, most of them uninhabited.  The Whistling Caves are located along the coast of Karivala, a small, mountainous island located on the northwestern part of the archipelago.

Strong, steady sea winds blow through the caves, producing an eerie sound that varies slightly with the shifting weather patterns.  During the approach of extreme weather, a “storm whistle” can be heard as far away as Stormwatch Island, the most southern of the seven main islands.

Legend has long suggested that Karivala’s cave system was the result of art, not chance. Storyspinners tell of an ancient culture that sculpted the caves to warn inhabitants of storms, or of shifting wind patterns favorable to invading ships.  Most people assume such tales have more to do with entertainment than history, but a recent discovery suggests that the storyspinners stopped short of the truth.

This spring, herring fishermen noticed a new note emerging from one of the caves–a deeper, more haunting sound than any had ever heard from the whistling caves. Two of the younger men–both of whom had explored Karivala’s caves since boyhood–decided to investigate.

They took a row boat into the cave and found that a section of the cavern wall had crumbled.  Existing pieces of the broken wall were surprisingly thin and smooth.  Stranger still were the gouges along the thicker stone next to the break, as if the thin section had somehow been slid aside.

The two men proceeded into this new opening and found a long, straight tunnel. They saw no other breaks, but at several places, just above the water line, they saw similar gouging on the stone. These “unopened portals” seemed to be placed at regular intervals, giving the impression of a gigantic stone flute.

Though this discovery is a matter of mystery and wonder to the inhabitants of Sevrin, any dwarf would understand the implication immediately.  The Karivala caves are evidence of a long-gone dwarven culture, and the tunnel is exactly what it looks like:  A wind instrument carved into the island’s stone.  A group of stoneshifters could move these portals at will, changing the pitch and volume of the sounds coming from the caves to send messages to the rest of the islands.

Any dwarf who hears of the herring fishermen’s discovery is likely to be very concerned, particularly those dwarves who are secretly laboring beneath the streets of Sevrin. They don’t want to draw human attention to the very civilization they are working to undercover and reclaim.