A Shadow Betrayed
A cursed mix of wings, talons, and a vampiric stag's head, the Peryton is a monstrous entity. It is depraved relentless in its vicious pursuit to maim and devour the hearts of other creatures, holding a specific hatred for humans and elves. Even injured, these creatures will hunt down detected foes, until at least one of them is dead.
Their feathering from a distance could be considered beautiful, and with wings tucked, settled upon the ground, the Peryton might pass for a lesser woodland being. The moment one gets closer, though, you'll notice a good many things are off.
First, actually, would be the smell. In this case, a lack of one. Less sensitive noses would identify the creature as human, but those with a modicum of training or enhanced primal senses would pick no smell at all, coupled with an overwhelming sense of dread.
Standing over 7 feet tall, the Peryton's demonic stag face smiles with rows of razor-sharp teeth. The plumage of their chest might tell you their gender (males tend to be blue, while females are a pale white), but soon you won't care. Their antlers, jet black and harder than steel, are used to rend and impale, and their depraved form is resilient to all but magical weapons.
As their eyes of orange flame pierce through the fog, any light that passes over them lies about their true form.
For you see, the most peculiar element of a Peryton is their shadow. This winged, evil beast will hiss before you, but its shadow will present as human. Always. Human.
This oddity presents a plethora of curious theories, but few had evidence to match.
Some Loremasters believe the false shadow to be an echo of the last creature the Peryton killed. Given its penchant for violence against humans and elves, this was the prevailing theory for hundreds of years. It wasn't until the haphazard findings of one Grenaldi Mayweather, a gnomish priest under the cover of twilight, who one night happened upon a nest of the creatures in the Ghastshadow Mountains. She observed the flock tear into a pack of roaming Aarakocran, ambushed or set upon as they slept. Just as history told us, the Peryton ripped open the chests of their victims, consuming the still-warm hearts with grim satisfaction. Mayweather watched in dread curiosity, eager to solve the riddle of the shadow... But the humanoid echo remained. No winged shadows manifested.
Mayweather was lucky to escape with her life, but returned soon after for more observation, this time with an elite guard to watch her back; the knowledge was too important not to be careful...
Hearts and Minds
It would also be Mayweather that would witness the first instance of a Peryton being born. Though there are documented family units of a male and a female Peryton (though they'd be hard-pressed to care for their young, if not kill them), this instance within the nest involved two females.
Both left to hunt, smelling blood on the wind. They were gone for hours. When they returned, blood dripping from their claws, they delivered several chunks of flesh to the next to feast upon, and a still writhing human man! Mayweather watched as her lookout - a young brown-eyed ranger - was clutched by one of the pair and pulled toward the other, like it was presenting a gift. Firey smoke and twisting gray tendrils spilled from the one in waiting, before its teeth sank into the man's chest, ripping his beating heart from the cavity. His body went limp, and Peryton female scarfed down the heart, her eyes shifting translucence in the penumbra.
Then Mayweather heard a sound that sent chills down her spine.
Like an echo of a child's laugh. A giggle in the gloom, small and innocent. Then it grew, warping and dancing along the walls, raising in pitch and warble, until it is a chorus of cackling. The other eyes in the nest rise and join in, their necks convulsing and twisting backward with the sound, a malevolent inversion of mirth and satisfaction. The sound becomes a beast in and of itself, a roiling mass of whoops and hollers, striking chords and stark dissonance. Vibrations spill out the mouth of the cave, whispers at the ears of the hidden spies, and shouts upon the walls that surround them.
The guards around the gnome begin to clutch and claw at their ears, the cacophony bringing a few to tears. Mayweather instinctually covers the sob of her closest ranger, insisting that he get himself together.
The smell of dread hits Mayweather's nostrils as she dares to peer into the nest. All the Peryton stare straight ahead, their mouths gaping open - a frozen, terrifying smile. Until they all snap their eyes...to her.
They made it out with one casualty. Her second blue-eyed scout, snatched by a rogue talon before he could slip into the wooden door of a magnificent mansion.
Safe within the dimensional space, Mayweather vigorously wrote down her conclusions:
1. New Peryton are born by a female consuming the heart of a freshly killed humanoid.
2. Their shadows flicker into monstrous forms during the process of incubation.
3. When incubation begins, nearby Peryton gain heightened senses to protect the pregnant female, becoming even more violent. The more there are, the stronger the pack's senses.
Her fourth note she added weeks later, when her guards - while out hunting - were set upon by a pair of Peryton, seemingly tracking them for miles. When they finally confronted the creatures, they were surprised to see two young Peryton, newborns - one with brown eyes and the other with blue, both with shadows of human form. ...Felling the creatures was tough, but much worse for their psychology. Poor guys.
4. Newborn Peryton share the eyes of the creature whose heart they were born from. As they get older, and kill more for their own survival and pleasure, the blood tarnishes the eye color, shifting it to match the orange-red of the others.
Mayweather and others theorized that the first Peryton was a cursed human or elf, twisted by a god of chaos. The bards of old expanded upon this, marking its origin to infidelity, curses, and carrions feasting on cursed corpses.
Given Mayweather's most recent expeditions, however, the clearest line exists through pure vehemence. These aren't cursed humans - they were MADE by something. Sometime in the first age, when great magics could be wielded by mere mortals, a wizard general - whose name is lost to time - sought a tactical edge against the elven and human alliances. So he juxtaposed what he had on hand with fiendish blood. An intellect unmatched, the alchemist rivaled the gods for a moment - before his heart was ripped from his chest...
Mind the shadows. Watch the skies.
See you next time.
On the edges of the Autumncrest, flowing down from Astrazalian is the once ruined bastion of Harrowhome. A piecemeal, patchwork fortress of scorched stone and new construction, this half-sunken memorial is a testament to an ages old war and a memory not forgotten.
The Battle Of Autumn
Verenestra, the mad Summer Lady, had once coveted the far realms of the Fey as an extension of her mother's dominion. This action was not sanctioned, and vibrant, faction-less Eladrin rose against such tyranny. The war was devastating.
The final blow wrought upon the Eladrin was in the form of a godly blight suffered upon the grand beacon city of Cendriane, darkening its grasslands to a pitch black and forcing its populace to evacuate. After this grand insult upon the summer, King Oberyn himself banished Verenestra to the Farplane, where she may wait out her days in exile. But her armies were proud, and continued their march downriver, seeking to secure the Mithrendain province for the court that abandoned them. They believed that if they could take Harrowhome, a place of neutrality and refuge, that their position would be immutable.
And her armies marched on the ruined bastion with speed and volition...only to be met on the lush fields at its gates by the regiments of the Wild Hunt. Thousands of primal warrior spirits under the orders of the Erlking himself. Bound by purpose, the disavowed summer forces fought anyway, and were slaughtered, their bodies cut down by the vicious precision of the Wild Hunt. Those upon the city walls watched Elven soldiers fall with a breath, like leaves falling from trees.
The walls of Harrowhome remember the battle that carved the Autumn Court into being, and beyond its walls it welcomed every creature upended and scarred by war. And continue to do so to this day.
Any wanderer that walks under its arches and through its gates, no matter their make or manner, will be treated to a warm bed, a hearty meal, and a safe rest. You see, even before the Autumn, Harrowhome was a place of spirits. Not haunted, mind you, but inhabited and cared for by creatures long dead. Spirits of cooks, caretakers, healers, and one particularly crotchety jarl care for its visitors as if they were their own citizens.
Not going to lie, it is a bit off-putting at first. Seeing the smiling, humming halfling maid that floats through the wall carrying a platter of fine kippers and tea as she drifts over to your bedside and kisses your forehead goodnight.
And yet, Harrowhome is a place of comfort. Weary travelers find assured rest within its walls without trickery (though the child ghosts can be a little mischievous); visiting guilds catch their breath and count their coin; and even an occasional warlord takes up residence once in a while.
But any who pass through know the laws. I - No violence will be willfully committed within the city's walls, not by its keepers nor its visitors. II - Under no circumstances will these halls or their denizens be exorcised, for this place is under the watch of the Erlking, and thou shall not rob him of his subjects, lest they wish to join the Wild Hunt themselves.
Though most of the citizens of Harrowhome hail from the ethereal wastes, a physical presence has found its way to the city. This tiny sect of protectors, survivalists, medics, and old adventurers have sworn an oath in service of the caretaker spirits of the ruin. Not only will they defend the neutral ground from invaders, but they will endeavor to follow the spiritual example of safety and protection for all those within its walls.
It is this sect that has learned from their spectral hosts the ancient discipline in constructing sacred grounds of warding; small sanctuaries of sculpted stone and balanced energy that carry with them the same unspoken accord of the city itself - a bond stronger than steel and respected by gods.
Entities that cultivate this brand of architecture and care earn the right and blessing from their spectral mentors to venture into the wilds of the Fey, erecting safe havens at key junctures throughout the realm. These "Wayfarers" are encouraged to scout and roam until they discover a "place of need." In this place, they use their best judgement to erect a Waystation and pour their arcane will into its stone and structure. Sanctified and solidified by ancient laws, a Waystation kept will ward any malevolence from entering, and all creatures making use of the space must adhere to the rules, clearly posted in immutable script in all languages. Committing intentional acts of violence or malevolence while on this sacred ground will spell more than doom for all participating, as they have broken a sacred vow respected by the greatest of the Archfey. Though she could rage at its borders, not even the Queen of Air and Darkness could enact violence upon such a space, lest she suffer the wrath of the Seelie, Unseelie, and Hunter Courts combined. Passing over the threshold of a Waystation makes a promise to all those that seek you harm or hell, and, in the Feywild, promises are kept.
The Totem Network
Passage through the Wildes can be treacherous and unpredictable for the uninitiated. Rampant quicklings, enchanted campfires, giant mimics, and roaming primal spirits are commonplace under this aurora sky.
Nicholas Falanel, an old tortle of kind face and dreadful past, used his blessings in the arcane and survival to construct minute, portable waystations. He would call these more accurately - totems. Tiny pockets of neutral energy, these carved wood and stone spires would rest on either side of a beaten path no more than ten feet wide, planted at 10 foot intervals. The resulting network of short-form, concentrated abjuration could hold at bay any number of malevolent Fey or Undead creatures.
But the totems are difficult to construct. Though Nick has attempted to pass on his techniques, Wayfarers are a rare branch of an extremely rare sect, so the old tortle appears to be on his own for this endeavor. That doesn't stop "Old Nick", though, and many a traveler has seen him tending to one of his seven Waystations across the Wildes - collecting more materials on his quest to connect the Feywild for any who may wander its beautiful and dangerous landscape.
Stop by for a tune or three, and a bowl of gumbo for thee. And remember the skies before the Harrowed be true; we will always open our doors to you.
Setting: Io (all ages)
Legacies carry weight in the expansive timeline of Io. A name can be earned, or stolen, or bound, or lost, and all carry a legacy of rich history and meaning. Much like the etymology of language, a name's path and purpose can change given their circumstances; heroes become villains, tyrants become priests, and thieves become nobles.
Yet these developments benefit most from a structured timeline. Instances and events of momentous growth and change powered by the metaphorical jet engine of past transgressions. There is a line to follow in this madness.
What if the line were broken? What if your name, your legacy, was taken from you; displaced somehow? Without the benefit of a past to learn from, what new future does a creature forge?
In today's Lore Drop, on November's theme of Legacy Names, let's take a look at one of the most curious of NPCs - the Va'Orodin.
Temporal imbalance in magic and arcanum is a running theme across every Age of Io, but in no other age was it felt more than at the turn of the 4th Age. The event that triggered the turn was the manipulation of an Ancient called the Riftskin - a terrifying creature made up of an endless cloud of indestructible, semi-sentient spikes - who tore through both the Infinite Battlefields of Acheron and the Plane of Water, flooding the Material Plane with volatile surges of magic and gigantic aquatic beasts. The event would usher in an age of steampunk piracy and expand the world and its industry, laying the groundwork for the sky ships of Cloudsinger...and their eventual fall.
But this surge of the untapped Aether sent ripples across the Feywild and Shadowfell, their oceans and tides rising to match their Material parallel, and with them, a torrent of storm fronts buffeted the once forgotten continents at the edges of the world. These storms, though, were special. Echoes of the tears - tattered remnants of the veils between worlds - these screaming tempests were gateways to other planes of existence, and, for some, a path across time.
The Loremasters of Io-Shar began documenting reports of expeditions to the far continents whose fleets were set upon by these temporal storms. Entire sections of ships struck by strange purple lightning; but the wood, cannons, and occupants were not destroyed...they were taken. Chunks of cities missing. Mountains and forests with impossible, gaping holes in their geography, only to be discovered hundreds of years later in Elysium or Pandemonium.
Collected in their archives were also minute entries, many tens to hundreds of years apart, of individuals seemingly displaced by these storms. Their stories are always the same; a thunderclap, a vision in the clouds, a flash, and now they are here. Most do not remember their past lives, but carry knowledge of past ages and their history, general and specific, and when asked their names, they can repeat them, save for one curious addition: first names are recalled perfectly, but each surname is precisely the same - "Va'Orodin."
Originally believed to an ancient, shared lineage across multiple races, the Loremasters of Empyr - the 5th Age - derived through their studies alongside the tribes of Air Elementals and the Skyborn Aarakocran that this name carried great power. In fact, its utterance was once a word of power among the Auran people. Roughly, it translates to "Storm-Touched."
Entities Out Of Time
In every Age of Io, a Va'Orodin has crossed the paths of the dozens of heroes ignited by furious purpose, but few gave their names. Of the ones that did, even fewer stuck around.
Io-Shar: Ja'Naya Va'Orodin was discovered by a pirate crew under the leadership of a stalwart lizardfolk (Ricin) and a grumpy elf (Grim). Ja'Naya was fiercely loyal to Captain Grim, devoting her life to his cause of vengeance and dominance over the flooded world. An adept cleric of some ancient neutral angel, Ja'Naya entered hailed from Io-Sooth, the 2nd Age, and carried with her a terrible sacrifice. The first keeper of the legendary Sunraker Gauntlet, she was surprised to find that when she would remove the item from her arm, her skin and muscle came with it. At some point in her past life, she willingly or unwillingly traded the flesh of her right arm for a legendary item. Whatever the case, though, the Gauntlet would leave her body at her passing nearly 20 years later, and serve the Valenwood family for nearly 100 years before passing into Loremaster care.
Io-Ren / Io-Shar: Once a cleric of Istus, the deity of fate and chance, Straiga Va'Orodin was undeterred by his displacement. An adept tactician and pole arm master, this red trifling would find rewarding work among others like him - the lost and forgotten. He found this home through the mercenary band known as the Knight Owls, and would rise through its ranks to command his own team in the 4th Age (Knight Owls - Season 3).
Io-Shar (Feywild): Yasha Va'Orodin is a creature of subtle, athletic frame, and stalwart reserve. She is one of the Gatekeepers of the nexus city of Astrazalian. Where and when she came from, no one really knows, but she holds great respect for the Fey Court, especially Lady Winter Sarissa. Perhaps we'll see more of her...perhaps not.
In the sky battles of Cloudsinger, during the 5th Age known as Empyr, the Va'Orodin of this age would find a dread purpose to follow. Once called The Smoking Banners, a coup within the ranks of this pirate legion would repurpose its resources to chase the temporal storms that ravaged the surface of the Material Plane. These "Stormsingers" would ride the dark lightning currents and attempt to harness the tears between worlds, trying to shift planes with their ships. Some sought conquest, while others yearned for the astral frontier. Many...just wanted to go home. And many, failed and died.
But one, a charismatic swashbuckler named Gideon Briarios (Va'Orodin), with his fleet of Singing Hammers, found the gateway to Elysium this way. In fact, it was the event that ushered in the 5th Age, when he broke the coveted Seal Of Heaven, and ignited the dormant World Engines in the First Cities of Io-Temm (the 1st Age). It was this event that lifted the old civilizations into the clouds and awakened the dragon lords to reclaim the sky. It is his song that the bards sing when they sing of Stormsingers, and it his banner they rally behind.
Flames Of A Second Chance
And what say the Raven Queen, the one who holds memory and time and antiquity aloft to the thousands of souls that pass her bastion in the planes of shadow? Or the Angels of the Sunrake? Or the Valkyrum of the Evernight? Powerful overlords and dissonant factions pull a curious lens over those in ages without belonging, so what purpose awaits creatures like this?
This old Loremaster is pulled to consider instead the Equation of Potential. As long-lived as I am, I know not everything, nor did my past lives, but if you'll humor a fellow ancient for a moment, we may yet find common ground. There are many across the Ages whose actions have sent ripples unknown; great things, terrible things, powerful things. All without knowledge of the future. Yet, we know there to be entities whose intelligence and memory are ageless; the mere concept of our mortality is a single drop in the river of their understanding. Perhaps, say, they drop a pebble into that river. Each ripple is a lifetime, and three lifetimes over, a ripple shifts a stone ever so slightly, and the river flows a different direction. Such a tiny act can have a tremendous impact. And if that pebble had free will? Yes, I think we understand each other.
So are the Storm-Touched spilled by design of some great entity, or are their fateful tempests random? This one knows not. Only time will tell.
Safe travels, Stormsinger.
-Loremaster Arteza Rainmaker
Professional Game Master musician, music teacher, game designer, amateur bartender, and aspiring fiction author.
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