On Nyteshades

Nyteshades are the most shadowy of all wizard orders. Taking after their Originator they are dark, solitary and mysterious creatures, more at home in the woods than in the cities of men. Representing the aspects of Night and Chaos above all else, they are unashamedly cynical in most matters of civilization – particularly those of Light and Order. Often isolated from people – or spending most of their lives in their heads – Nyteshades are quick to anger, ill-tempered and extremely impatient. Their expectations of people are unrealistically high, fueling feedback loops of expectation and disappointment. This in turn leads to the grim faithlessness, lack of cohesion and cynicism which is the great flaw of this order.

Yet despite the endless struggles of their lives, Nyteshades tend to be very intelligent, cunningly wise, songful bards and delightfully unpredictable company. Folk would think twice before risking the sardonic tongue of these umbrageous sorcerers, yet equally glad that they were not on the wrong side of their staves! They are powerful presences, their deep rage and sacred anger translating into warrior spirit – if not ill-disciplined berserk wrath – when strife calls. Trained to deal with the anxiety of their lives, they can face crisis with confidence. In times of need, most of these dark veterans can be relied upon to come out of their shells and cooperate with the resistance, until the battle is won or the problem solved. Often they will slink back to their hiding holes immediately after the dust settles, leaving no trace that they were ever around.

Shunned by most other orders, Nyteshades have nonetheless made a disproportionately large contribution to all fields of Lore. Their lack of dogma or hierarchy allows for free thinking and thus immense levels of discovery, even in spite of their low numbers. As expected of such a solitary, scattered order, they have no central shrine, no great gathering, no chapters and no permanent dwelling in any city. Nyteshades meet in the sacred groves, beneath the earth in crystal caverns or among the ancient stone circles of the Old Races. It is these places that this normally-irreverent order consider sacred and powerful, unimpressed by the pretense and symmetry of ‘high civilization’.

The Order of Nyteshades consider the Black Swords to be the most sacred of relics, longing to have one fall into their hands again. They take the Raven or the Cat as their totemic sigil, juxtaposed against the light of the moon or the glow of the crystal. Every incarnation of their Order sigil is similar but different, representing that every Nyteshade follows the pattern, but none so dogmatically. And always imperfectly.

Beneath a bright moon

Beneath a bright moon last night

I stared up on my knees.

A religious experience, of awe and connection.

Trembling, tormented contrition

For becoming an addict of petty stimulation

Going nowhere, shutting off nature

Needing the pain of another sleepless night

Beneath the bright moon to remind me

How I once shared its glory

And walked much more freely

Through winter cold

The scrape of bramble-thorns

On my clothes.

 

I feel sometimes a traitor to the cause

Of life on earth, natural gods

Yet I do not spite myself

Or feel much more than disappointment

None of us can afford to take the whole world

On our shoulders

No one is fully responsible

For the themes within us

For the madness of civilization.

All we can do is recognise this

Gradually realigning ourselves

To the order and chaos of gods such as bright moon

For we are half a chaos race

Chaos a necessity for our hearts to beat

And our souls to taste vital forces.

This the ego, seeking security

Seeking eternity, cannot accept

And so the gentle war inside me

And all of us who are not wholly wolf!

 

Beneath a bright moon last night I found a god

That was as much me as I was it

One of many, an ancient force.

I will not forget you again, my celestial

I will remember that I am a shard of your power

And eventually be magnanimous again.

Gylfanon and the Black Drake

On the eve of Lammas, Gylfanon crossed the Gnarred Plains and first reached Mawrend’s cavern, gazing down at the entrance. Smelling the sick scent of sulphur and burning bones, he turned his steed and sheathed Nightcleaver, bringing his cavalry bodyguards with him.

On the eve of Imbolc, Gylfanon again reach Mawrend’s cavern. This time he dismounted, handing the reins to his page, drew his broad black sword and ventured down the first corridor. Something inside his skull urged him to turn, to turn back with haste. He followed that impulse.

Half a year passed and again on the eve of Lammas, Gylfanon reached Mawrend’s cavern. With little fear he dismounted and made his way along the first, natural cavern corridor. Skulls and bones and scorched armours lay all about, at the portal to the deeps of the reptile’s lair. Gylfanon pondered sending in scouts, but decided not to risk it. Mounting his steed, sheathing Nightcleaver, he returned to Castle Gylfax.

On the eve of Imbolc, Gylfanon returned to Mawrend’s cavern. Fearless he strode into its maw and along the first corridor. Tentatively he made his way through the portal, and there slumbered the great drake Mawrend. The beast slept, but the Black Prince thought better than to try his luck, trusting in his twisting gut. Ordering his impetuous knights to stand down, they left grumbling.

On the eve of Beltain, Gylfanon returned to Mawrend’s cavern. Never had his men seen him so confident as he dared the cavernous entrance, bestrode the dark corridors, ducked through the portal entrance and drew Nightcleaver, brandishing the terrible blade and roaring in defiance. Mawrend, woken from a deep dream, instantly bowed his neck in service.

All of the bones lying about the Reptile’s lair, they belonged to the ones who did not listen to their fear. They were the ones who understood not how to battle the unknown. Gylfanon was wiser, the alpha and the omega. He won a powerful reptilian ally and a lifelong friend from his understanding.

Hospitality (A dialogue between Irekus and Gylfanon)

Gylfanon grimaced as the fire started to smoke. Rummaging through a crumbling sack, he found only a few onions and rock-hard bread.

‘My hospitality is poor. Forgive me old friend.’

Irekus smiled, learning his birchwood staff against the uneven wall. ‘Think little of it. This hardy stone keeps out the wind, and bread fills my stomach as well as meat.’

‘I think you humour me. Ah I am ashamed here, to share my room with the wretched. To serve poor fare to esteemed guests, to have not even a room for holding court.’

‘I thought you despised pomp and grandiosity?’

‘Aye I do – in other people!’

‘Ha, perhaps it threatens you. Modest Gylfanon, not so’ said the old wizard, with a knowing smile.

‘No mentor, modest Gylfanon is not. Not at heart. I ought to be, but cannot. My heart still yearns for place, and the power to come. Maybe that is why I feel so deeply troubled here, though there be not troll nor raider in sight.’

‘It is natural. That was the rhythm you used to live by. Your conscious mind is now, but your body is trailing behind.’

‘These mercenaries I surround myself with, they know not the glory I led House Gylfanis. They know nothing of the Battle of Darkfel, nor my rallying cry at the river sern. The respect I did command, the triumphs laid upon me. To them, I am a mere paymaster, without history.’

‘Oh friend.’

‘Nor do they know of my atrocities, the beast inside me.’

‘Time will forgive those.’

‘I cannot forget them.’

‘Gylfanon, this is a passing phase. A mere road upon a greater destiny. This path may lead you away from that you long for, but it cuts through the silent land. You will not be ronin for-ever.’

‘Yet it feels like an eternity. This prison, these desperate faces. I cannot take it much longer! I once kissed the necks of star-lit nymphs in the Sacred Glades. Now I lie beside snoring old men.’

‘By the looks of things, you have done well by these people. Even at your worst, I heard tell of your finding a lost  clan of Gylfans. Grateful townsfolk told me how your took and held SIlmootil and Corsk with a small band of men. You restored the chapter of the Serpent Brother knights, and took many bandit claws off the roads, bringing safety to many.’

‘Then why does it feel like I am weak, powerless and constantly insulted? That every day is the same, with no promise or future. How easily I can be separated from the love of my friends and allies.’

‘Mayhap you forget that you stand not alone. This Winter has been harsh on many. All share a common destiny.’

‘To Hades with such notions!’

‘Pray, my black prince, push not against Fate; for it has brought you to this. Your loyal knights have grown scarce, yet much have you achieved and learned about yourself. You cannot always rely on providence to give you great deeds. Often times, you must seek among the mud and the roots for sustenance.’

‘But why me! I was happy. After a hard life, I found something. We were growing, expanding.’

‘It seems old friend that you long for a still world, where one cannot be found. Does not the sea weather the greatest cliff? Does not the Great Moon circle the world, growing and shrinking? Does not the dragon awaken from its slumber-spell of centuries?  All things change, my friend. They grow, wither and die – but it is never certain in which order.’

‘Then we are a doomed race. For we will live in misery and think it eternal, or be excited into joy, only to lose it. For what? Why bother living for anything if Fate will come and take it all away from us.’

The old wizard stroked his wispy beard, pondered, then continued; ‘Why but for these things mean something in the moment they occur. And who is to say that your deeds will come to naught, or whether history will maintain you for a thousand years. And who is to say that when Gylfanon or Irekus perishes, another will not take up our souls.’

‘Rebirth…’

‘Aye. When you consider that nothing is ever wholly destroyed, it seems logical. Infinite, yet not eternal.’

Gylfanon nodded. ‘So that is why you accept my meagre hospitality now? This is all one big metaphor for you is it not old man!’

Irekus grinned, wickedly; ‘I know that you do all you can to keep me warm and fed. That is enough. When reborn, with your castles restored and your land at your feet and your maiden eager and your foes routed, your hospitality will be greater, and yet no greater, than it is now.’

Gylfanon smiled at this, his heavy, weary face unused to the gesture. It was the last and most splendid act of hospitality that night.

The Dark Crusade of Vengeful Truth (Wyrmheart Saga)

‘It is not the sufferings of winter that cause us to quail in this world

It is the evil of warped good, and the secret slaves of the false god.’

As the shadow of the South creeps ever closer to the realms of men, Winter grows more furious. The forests at the Edge of the World begin to gnarl and die, giving way to flood and landslide. The rivers grow sick with grief, and mountains are torn asunder for the stones and minerals within. Wealthy factors in the cities increase the price of wheat and corn, as Lords tighten their belts and raise their taxes. The ‘Dorian Alliance is tested to its limits as delegations stop visiting the Grand Councils and Calls to Summons, becoming more suspicious of their neighbours. Priests and monks of the Old Faith still attend solstices and celebrations, but pilgrims and fanatics come in lesser number. Corruption in the Temples is rife.

This is an age of cynicism. Trumpets of doom are blown. Brother grows suspicious of brother, peasant collectives begin to fragment and turn against their own interests.

Avagoth raids intensify on the borders, the steeds of many warlords reaching as far as the Inner Cities. With diminishing armies and plummeting morale, the Alliance brings in ever more desperate measures – Orcish mercenaries to quell the anger of their own people. It is a short-term solution bound to spread resentment. People start to question where their civilization is going and whether there truly is an eternal, celestial order to things. Those few who profit from the increasing struggle are the only ones with any power, their miserable souls slowly evolving into demonic aspect, their fangs feeding on millions of poor and desperate.

Only Gylfanon, the Dark Prince of Gylfanys, goes on the attack. Looking to expand his Kingdom, he forges links with the Lorcanians of the sacred wood. He avoids the worst of Avagoth raids by promising his barbarian “friends” power and land in his new domain. Turning warlord against warlord, Gylfanon’s knowledge of Avagothic clan politics spares him much grief. In his own lands he makes it illegal to raise the price of grain, and threatens the wealthy factors and their private guards with his furious league. Many flee to neighbouring lands, and Gylfanon’s council take their wealth and estates, distributing much of it to the needy. Yet more volunteers step forward to take up spear and shield for their prince, yet more weeping maidens stitch great banners of valour to be carried into battle.

At first he only aimed to frighten his neighbours into compliance, but quickly Gylfanon gained in confidence. High-Priest Furion secretly joined him, and advised he begin the Dark Crusade of Vengeful Truth, to turn the armies of evil away by any means possible – even turning the weapons of evil against itself! In a moment of revelation, Gylfanon realized how much his own inner-darkness and suffering was a source of strength. Caused by the evils and inequalities of men, it is rage enough to overturn his oppressors. Deep inside that nihilistic tendency lay the fearlessness to face death.

As news spreads and champions gather beneath the black and red Gylfan banners, the five brothers of the Turcans respect the brazen might of bold Gylfanon and his wise council. The Scyldlings send him gifts from the Northern Ice, mighty frostblades, and a pair of armoured mammoth to serve as his battle-steeds. Many creatures emerge from the deeps, drawn to his pulsing soul, understanding the speech of his beastmasters. And much are his loyal volunteers, among them Thugul and Au Ko, and even a few companies of the hardy Dalf Byorn tired of the decline around them.

On the attack, Gylfanon gains momentum, and the Dark Prince is seen as a hero of Hy-Selasia, even by his enemies. But those enemies are great; The six warped, mind-controlling giants who rule over the still, ancient domains of Ivis. And the King-in-the-Crystal, the single most powerful man of all. He commands no army, yet his believers are many, and they have many armies. Their hearts gripped by tightening despair and irreverence for nature, they know only anxious obeisance to their cruel King.

It is almost time to put ideals to the test. It is almost time for battle.

Gylfanon hands his diamond broadsword to his lieutenant, the silent and bold Halbard. Delving to the depths of the ancient armoury of the Nagothi, he seeks a greater treasure. A dark creature of Elvish aspect waits there, hidden beneath a robe of samite, and he holds in his naked hands a long, serrated sword. Clutching Nightcleaver to his chest, Gylfanon prepares for the ultimate battle, not against the true, inevitable darkness, but against the warped light which casts an even greater shadow.

The Forest Folk

Compared to the well-groomed farmers in their estate, he must have seemed a barbarian. His matted, gold mane flowed behind him and he was bare chested, covered by a dark cloak and worn trousers. He spoke a dialect of Rilkan recognisable to the farmers, but only with difficulty.

They tended to him in their small but fine house, the pantry filled with foods the forest folk could only bear in spring. The fire always burnt, and the hearth was warm. The local apothecary could tend his outer-wounds, and many of the local lasses were intrigued by the songs of his lute. But they argued among each other, much. And the farmers always made him aware, however subtly, that in their eyes he was landless, penniless, and was expected to toil under them when he recovered. That was their way, out on the fields. Nothing was free here, least of all time.

He tried to remember what it felt like to be here, all those years ago. That was another time. He was less than he was now, troubled, haunted, bored. It was their expectations and hypocrisies which led him to fly, to flee and call out to the forest folk he once mocked. Those hardy woodlanders would take on any vagabond, renegade or wanderer if they seemed honest enough. The woods had nurtured him for nearly twenty years, as much as they had tested him. There he was an elder, respected, paid in the currency of reverence and influence. It seemed so far now, he felt weak. Something had drawn him back here.

Could he ever escape it?

This did not truly feel like home. Not as a child, not as an adult. This was his weakness, his lack of self-belief, his torn nature. Many of his demons were born here, much of his woes also. Here there was little meaning; the farmers with their rugged hands and rugged work for a distant lord they never saw, far less cared for. A heavy price for the basics of their freedom. That was the chain that bound him, and brought him back. They somehow had a power over him.

Yet, they had changed also. His absence taught them a well-learned lesson. They enjoyed his lutesong now, and admired his friends in the woods. Wasn’t that a form of respect? And the farmlands were richer now, and all of them enjoyed a better life. Wasn’t that a form of change?

Life is a complex, knotted thing.

Gothic Wave: Ancient Knight

Something stirred in the stillness of the stone tomb. Granite scraped against granite as a sarcophagus slowly opened, by its own accord.

A dusty, broken hand of bone slowly rose out, moving its fingers as if for the first time. An arm clad in rusty mail followed, and then a being wholly skeletal. Its helmet was dulled by time, heraldry smoothed away by its centuries-long slumber. Its plate mail was rusty and discoloured. Small snatches of cloth, once covered in embalming fluid, were all that remained of his tabard and robes, and his leather scabbard had thinned to a rod of brass.

The ancient knight rose to full height in his tomb and stood alone, his stone home dimly lit by the misty light of the moon. He gazed around with distant longing, then he took a few creaking steps. Stumbling, the knight righted himself, his gait unbalanced by his broken limbs and deathly stiffness. Something of instinct still remained inside, guiding him like a dim whisper. He reached for the arched portal of the tomb, placing his skeletal hand against it. With fury he pushed, his strength mighty, but nothing moved. With a slight shrug, the ancient knight turned and grabbed the double-headed axe hung above his sarcophagus. A brief moment of remembrance filled him and he cocked his head, wrapping his fingers tight around the iron shaft of his old weapon.

The door to the tomb started to splinter and break, until it collapsed outwards. Walking out into the frozen night, the ancient knight heard armour clanking, bones creaking, dusty wails, breaking stone, the flap of a thousand tiny wings and the distant cry of doomful wolves. It was as if vengeance itself was rising. His brothers and sisters too were awakening into dark night.

And they were legion.

Gothic Wave: The Shade

He gasped thinly.

Something began to emerge from the shadows. A vapour trailed out of him into the thing; a thin, ethereal cord which shimmered in the dull light. Slowly it filled out, its edges always hazey and uncertain, shifting like roiling, black sea-waves.

He opened his mouth, but nothing escaped. His spine tingled and his stomach churned. His bowels grew heavy and the back of his throat became dry. No hand reached for a sword, no leg moved into a combat stance.

The thing hissed, a sound wholly ethereal, and then it began to circle him. Tendrils followed its wake like a cloak, brushing against his skin, leaving him chill where it touched him. The shade stopped before him, its eyes flashing, its long fangs bared in a frightening gormlessness. The thing hovered, then slowly lowered its head toward the frozen champion.

How may I serve you, master?’ it asked, and the world began to spin and he collapsed to the cold stone floor, and he fell into a dreamless slumber.