How The World Came About
In the beginning there existed the Mind, and nothing yet was intelligible, for there was naught to think of. The forces of nature moved upon the void, and the Mind had His first Thought, and she is called Sophia. From Mind and Thought did all the Passions come to be. From the interplay of Mind and Thought all Magic came to be. Some Magic entered the Bright worlds of curves and took up residence there under the leadership of Sophia, and Wisdom bequeathed to her children the desire to Name and to Know, and her children are called namegivers. Other Magic went to the worlds of cacophony where, without Sophia, they became Horrors.
Sophia loved all that she had created, but her deepest love was the place that reflected her beauty most, and this place was called Wyrm Wood. There she held court and surrounded herself with the most beautiful of her children, the Elves. One day she called her children the Elves together and said to them, "The time has come when I must hide from the world. Before I go, I tell of the world's beautiful symmetry, for you are the most beautiful of my children. By knowing the Harmony of the World you shall cast powerful magics.
"Outside the circle of the world stand my twelve strongest children, called the Passions. Nine are steadfast, three may fall. Inside the circle of the world live nine races of power who act to hold the world in place.
"The world itself is made of five elements, which are Earth, Air, Water, Fire and Metal; and four forces, whose name the wise of the Name-givers will someday discover. Learn these numbers and the harmony of all things. You have a special destiny to bring the world to harmony, after it has known the ravages of time. Remember the Wyrm Wood and keep it holy, for here the last choir will sing at the end of time."
Sophia hid herself, and the balanced and harmonious rule began: the Passions ruling beyond the earth, and the Queens of Blood Wood ruling upon it. No matter what discords strike upon the world, we shall gather in the holy place of Wyrm Wood to sing them aright.
"The so-called Elfs who live away from the true Elf home have no idea what we wrought. We did not hide away. We faced the Horrors. I gladly pierce my cheeks with obsidian needles on festal days. I can take pain. Pain is my ofering to the ansestors, whose blood brought back the holy wood. We fulfilled the destiny of the Elfs. We held onto this place. Nothing else matters. So we dont swoon at the sound of a panpipe. We are harder than the obsidimen. Eternal vigilance is what elfs are really made for."
"I went to the Blood Wood once, for something deep within pulled me to the holy place. I have hardly stopped crying since. Despite the lushness of the forests, despite the mad labs of madder magicians (the Blood Warders are truly a curse), it is a place of the dead. The dead should bury themselves, and a bonfire should scorch away the Corruption. I do not want to see that place in my dreams, and I hope I can avoid the pull of the ancient magics they do there. I hope that my children do not see it, until it has been restored. Mark my words, dwarf, as surely as dragons fly, we will restore it!"
We learn our letters from an ancient poem. When Wyrm Wood accepted dire Corruption, four letters we ceased to use, because they had special meanings. Although the elves of the Defiled Queen still employ them, the untainted make do with other letters combined with diacritical marks. I record the letters here, that they might be understood if encountered in ancient texts.
AOTH. The Aoth-Betha Poem says, "Aoth is for Apple, which holds the sweetness of Wyrm Wood." Now we substitute the letter Abraoth with a curve above it, indicating that it is pronounced as it were Aoth.
DUNEEN. The Aoth-Betha Poem says, "Duneen is for Duel of the Singers, that is fought for our Queen's Heart." Although the annual competition survives in the Corrupted Court, it mocks what once it was. We use the letter Betha with a line drawn through it for the "d" sound.
VISAR. The Aoth-Betha Poem says, "Visar is for the Virtue of our Noble Queen, who has more Virtue than Virtue itself." We now use Wyn with a line drawn through its center for the hard "V" sound.
THAO. The Aoth-Betha Poem says, "Thao is for the fine Thinking of the Court's magicians." We now use Teta with a curve drawn under it for the "th" sound.
It was still another hot and sticky day. We had spent the morning covering our skin with green mud. It serves as camouflage in this jungle hell, where everything pulsates, buzzes, vibrates, or at least drips. Questor Athandarani gave her usual "back to nature" talk while we ate roasted grubs. I spotted a bear in the woods and asked if we should move into the trees. They laughed at me, chanting a sarcastic song of "Bears, bears, everywhere!" I hadn't felt as humiliated since the day they hacked off my beautiful red hair with their stone knives and rubbed soot and mud into what was left.
Charlelen explained that bears won't attack a group. As she talked, I thought that she must've been at one time a beautiful elf. She hadn't been born to these barbarians, but had left her spellbooks behind for this green, smelly damp. Her tone made it clear she thought she was giving me a valuable piece of wisdom, rather than just survival knowledge. "If there is wisdom in this," I thought, "either I'm not getting it or you're a mudbrain."
Suddenly everything fell silent. The Liaj is never still, and so I knew something bad was about to happen. Quicker than any serpent, a huge green head of a dragon shot through the trees and snapped Charlelen's body in two. The Tamers froze. I think I screamed. I realized that this was Usun, but the descriptions I'd read of Great Dragons had not prepared me for its majesty, beauty, or deadliness. It quickly slashed its head back and forth, killing two more elves and a man.
Then the titanic head shot in my direction. I thought if I must die, this was the most majestic death I could have.
It stopped. It looked at me, and I realized the intelligence behind those blue eyes was far, far greater than any I had ever beheld, greater in kind rather than degree. I felt the dragon knew everything about me.
It said, "You don't belong here. You are not part of this game. You don't understand the mystery of being food. Go."
I ran as far and as fast as I could, crying all the while. I even swung on low-hanging lianas, a method of Tamer transportation that I had scorned. I never went back to see if Usun had finished the small group I had lived with. Yet despite my sorrow, and the cowardice that still shames me, I did indeed gain the initiation I sought. I realized that this path, suppressing the self with all its "unnatural" devices in favor of the circle of nature, was not for me. I would not be food. For that moment of truth I thank that ancient serpent in its garden of Liaj, although I would never again venture within ten days' walk of the place for gold or glory.
North of Throal the adventurers find this sealed, undated letter on the body of a Corrupted elf courier who accidentally fell overside from a Throalic airship bound from the Blood Wood to Throal. The letter is addressed to Tetran Willowleaf, a minor diplomatic envoy to Throal. Inside is another sealed letter, along with instructions to pass it to "Our friend in the market." Though the characters cannot know it, this refers to the uncorrupted elf Jael Green, supposedly a potter in the open market outside the gates of Throal.
If the adventurers can break its elaborate cipher, based on the elven word "obedience," the document reveals the cruel nature of the Court and the existence of possible elven intrigue in Thera, despite the apparently clean break of the Splintering.
How sad Our bedchamber seems without you. We look over the green center of Our dominions, and think back with many a winsome smile at our play. If We could love anyone, Jael, We would undoubtedly choose you.
A very ugly rumor has reached Our ears, Jael. It is said that you haven't been furthering Our cause among the few faithful We have left in Thera. A visitor, a mere windling to be sure, informs Us that you have actually defected to the side of the Theran throne. Now Jael, We are sure that you haven't done so, and We wish you to journey back to the Court at once and report on your activities. We need to know of your success among the faithful in Thera, and especially of that other matter.
Fear not that We have released the windling that brought such horrible slanders against you. You do remember, We are sure, of how much We hate the bearer of bad news. (We do hope that little scar on your side has quite healed up.) Be glad to know that after pulling out the windling's little clear wings Ourselves, We gave him over to the exolashers and told them to have fun for as long as they could. Imagine, the little thing lasted two weeks at their hands! Who would have thought the little creature could have such stamina?
Please hurry back, because if those slanders have a twig of truth, We have a new plan. It seems that Athalcai -- you might remember him -- he was the Blood Warder that you said was too evil to be a true elf (jesting, We are sure) -- Athalcai has developed a new spell, and We gave him some of your love to Us to try it on.
It seems he can summon a person with such force as to tear the victim from what he is doing and answer the summons -- instantly, obsessively, without thought for food or shelter or transport. Now, We suspect there's a lot of nasty scenery between Our perfect Court and that nasty human Empire. We hate to think of you being forced to walk each and every step ... especially the parts under water. Dear Athalcai -- who has, by the way, taken your place as Our favorite while you have been gone -- assures Us that the summoned one never loses consciousness even for an instant. Such a clever boy he is, really, and so eager to try his spell. Now that you have touched this love note, apparently he can invoke the spell with a whispered word. How remarkable!
So do be a wise lad and hurry back. We wait impatiently!
Over the decades, in lethal secrecy, Alachia has enlisted a few uncorrupted elves, never more than a dozen at a time, as spies. The Blood Queen and her most intimate confidantes call them "Songbirds."
Initially the Queen drew these elves (high-Circle thieves, illusionists, and troubadours) with the promise of high pay, but when they arrived in the Blood Wood, she secured their loyalty using her irresistible wiles. She sent them separately into the Theran Empire and elsewhere in Barsaive. Now they report back to her via carrier pigeon, diplomatic missives, or magical devices.
Through her Songbirds Alachia learns conventional information, such as enemy plots and troop movements. She also keeps her spies alert for more abstract knowledge: how uncorrupted elves currently feel about the Court; what areas seem to recover best from the Scourge; and names and whereabouts of powerful elementalists and questors. The Songbirds do not realize, and probably Alachia herself does not consciously recognize, the true reason she seeks powerful spellcasters: She hopes to guide their research, over the course of lifetimes, to an eventual cure for the Blood Wood's Corruption.
To an observer of Blood Court politics, the Songbirds represent a self-evident risk to the Queen. Court factions wrestle passionately, sometimes viciously, over the wisdom of their self-inflicted Corruption. Some assert that the elves have made their existence into a horror beyond any Horror's doing, but most still profess neurotic pride in their isolated condition. Alachia publicly sides with the conservative majority.
Leaders of Throal seek the courier's body and the letter to avoid a diplomatic incident with Queen Alachia. If the characters deliver the letter to Throalic authorities, they receive a secret mission to the Blood Wood to discover more about the Songbirds and the Irresistible Summons spell (see below). The heroes may instead decide to undertake the quest on their own.
The adventure leads them afoul of the Blood Warders, the exolashers, and Alachia's favorite, Athalcai, a Circle 12 nethermancer. Should they escape and prove the Queen's ties to her Songbirds, the scandal would rock the Blood Court.
Irresistible Summons (Cirle 9 nethermancer spell)
Within a Bone Circle (nethermancer Circle 2 spell), the nethermancer sheds blood on a small item (permanent loss of 1 point of damage). The blood vanishes when the caster weaves the last thread for the spell and names its intended target. If the target touches the item within a year and a day, thereafter the caster may speak a word of command to summon the target. The target immediately receives a Willpower Test against the spell's Effect number. Failure means the target sets out by the fastest possible means for the Bone Circle, instantly and without preparation.
The target cannot voluntarily stop or rest before reaching the Circle. The target feels hunger and thirst but cannot satisfy them except while travelling. Unless a boat or ship is convenient, the target plunges suicidally into rivers or oceans. She tries to climb obviously unclimbable cliffs, and so on. Practically, an Irresistible Summons cast on a distant target results in the target's early death.
The target gets a Willpower Test to throw off the spell's effects every 24 hours after the first Test. Also, if the target has not reached the Bone Circle by a year and a day after casting, or if the Bone Circle is broken, the spell ends immediately.
Homesickness for the Blood Wood may strike any uncorrupted elf, especially during times of depression or anxiety. The elf culture seems to instill this tendency even in those elves who have never seen the Wood. However, few elves fall prey to the Wood Longing, what they call among themselves "going to Wyrm Wood." This incapacitating dementia lasts for weeks, and unless the stricken elf reaches the Blood Wood, the sickness usually ends in death by starvation or exhaustion.
The adventurers encounter this sickness when it strikes an elf informant with vital information. Toranya the Cooper, a barrel merchant in the local market, knows the password they need to (for instance) infiltrate the Hand of Corruption. (Substitute any goal you have already established for the adventure.)
When the heroes locate Toranya, she is lost in the last stages of Wood Longing, cooing listlessly at imaginary birds. The heroes must cure her, temporarily or for good. To do so, they should research the condition. Bennon Twelvedales, a human jeweler who works not far from Toranya, can tell them of his own experience with the homeless madness:
"His name was Uthar. Uthar the Jeweler, he said. He was never one of my best workers, his mind even in the beginning seemed always focused on something else, but he was always a good second-rate ringmaker, and the elves wouldn't buy from anyone else. Sometimes in the afternoons he would sing one of the old songs, and it did all our hearts good. Of course, none of us spoke Elvish, or whatever you call that tongue, but there was something in it, I don't know, something about the way he put the words together.
"His songs grew sadder and sadder while he worked. I started losing apprentices. I asked him to quit singing, and he did. I thought everything was all right. Then one day, it was a gray chilly day in Doddul, one day he just laid down his hammer and started staring off into space.
"`What's a matter, lad?' I asked him.
"`I can't see my hammer,' said Uthar.
"I went over to him and put his hammer in his hand, but it just fell away, clunk, on the floor. I sent for a questor of Garlen, and she said that nothing was wrong with his eyes. Maybe it was a temporary thing and it would clear up.
"We kind of worked around him. At first he would join us for lunch and we would, you know, try to joke about it. `Found that hammer yet?' But he got to where he couldn't move around the shop, he would keep running into things. I tried to get the Garlen temple to take him, but we had a measles epidemic at the time. We had to build a little pen for him, so that he wouldn't hurt himself.
"Then he started to say things like `Pretty bird' or `What a beautiful blossom' and point to the air, where there wasn't anything.
"Then it hit me. I asked him, `Where are you, Uthar?'
"`I am in Wyrm Wood. Isn't it beautiful?'
"I asked around the city and found a caravan leaving for the Blood Wood in three weeks. Now I don't run a charity or anything, but I paid for them to come by and pick Uthar up. I figured, well, if he can just last till then....
"But he got to where he couldn't hold his food. We tried feeding him. You can imagine how my business was falling off. People thought the shop was cursed. We tried feeding him, but it was no good.
"The caravan took his body away. I hope they buried him in the Blood Wood. I know the homesickness doesn't often reach that extreme, but I'm not hiring any more elves. My heart just can't take it."
Curing the Longing
The cure depends on how the gamemaster views the Longing. If it functions as mundane homesickness, many ruses, illusions, or therapies can temporarily remove the symptoms, merely by making the victim believe she has reached the Blood Wood.
If the Longing has magical characteristics, then the cure requires that the victim actually enter the Blood Wood, no substitutions allowed. Illusions of the Blood Wood do not cure the Longing. After all, the victim already lives in such an illusion. A magical illusion may temporarily clear the victim's mind, or it may provoke a hysterical episode as the magic conflicts with the mental image. Taking the victim to an actual forest, perhaps one cosmetically enhanced to resemble the Blood Wood, may work temporarily.
Questor healing magic can cure the Longing but not protect against its return. Treat the effect as a Healing Potion (page 258 of the Earthdawn rulebook) that heals only the effects of the homesickness. The questor usually requests a donation of 300 silver, the price of a Healing Potion.
Actually entering the Blood Wood should cure non-magical homesickness within 24 hours, and the elf never falls prey to it again. Going to the Wood's edge may work, but the gamemaster may require the victim to go deep into the forest before allowing a Recovery Test. If the Longing works magically, then perhaps only Alachia or a Blood Warder can cure the illness. For this service they "request" a substantial favor in return, such as an espionage mission against a rival kingdom.
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