22 December

Celebrate Longest Night

By Snipehunter

In our last big lore drop, we mentioned the Eye, a rare comet and its impact on the people of Elyria, but the Eye isn’t the only rare sight in Elyria’s night sky. In fact, the Elyrian system is more crowded than our own! Over the course of Elyrian history, the system’s many planets and comets have moved into brief alignments and conjunctions that have broad implications for life on Elyria. Some such moments weigh heavily on the destinies of the tribes of Mann, while others impact life more viscerally. Perhaps the most notable of these is Longest Night, a three-year-long event that peaks with a night that lasts a year, bringing darkness and cold to the entire world of Elyria.

Just a few years after the Eye appears in the sky, the planet known as Selene begins its move towards Angelica in the night sky. Over the course of a year, it moves into position between Elyria and Angelica, appearing larger and larger in the sky and blotting out Angelica’s light until the world is plunged into night for an entire year. Conditions grow harsh, the world cools and survival itself becomes a desperate struggle without help. The light of Angelica only returns slowly, over the course of the following year, resulting in three years of twilight and darkness.

Yet, Longest Night is also one of the most cherished times in Elyria; the need to cooperate to survive brings people together in ways that no other event in or on Elyria can. Despite its darkness, Longest Night has given Elyria some of its most sublime art and inspired displays of charity and goodwill that are unparalleled in other times.

Though most scholars keep track of the event on their calendar, there is no preceding event that heralds the approach of the long winter in adjacent years, though some do see the appearance of the Eye as a sign that the long winter will come in the next 5 to 6 years. Those who don’t use the Eye as a harbinger, however, take notice of the long winter event during its first year as the sun is slowly eaten away by the dark disc of the gas giant over the course of a year, eclipsing the star entirely at the zenith of the transit before the sun gradually reappears from the giant’s other side over the course of the final year of the event, marking the end of the event and the beginning of another 52-year period of relatively normal seasonal patterns.

The entirety of the known world experiences the long dark winter period simultaneously, making it one of few such events observed or celebrated by every known tribal culture in Elyria without an obvious singular spiritual or religious source. This had led to a diverse range of practices in this time, some solemn and somber, others jubilant and playful.

This event is called the Time of Charity among the Hrothi. They see the period of Longest Night as a test of their virtue. Without the virtue of Charity, they reason, the world would fail and die in the cold dark. They believe the Creator has put them to the task of ensuring the world’s continuation, through the virtue of Hrothic Charity. So, when the Hrothi see the Eye’s return, they immediately throw themselves to the task of growing, baking and stockpiling foodstuffs that will last through the long winter. In the time leading up to the long winter, many often mistake the Hrothi preparations as hoarding, further proof to them that this a test from their Creator: If they can weather the frustration of their trading partners, upset at the severe reduction in trade, they will enter the long cold prepared to offer their neighbors the food stores they need to survive the three-year winter as gifts of Charity. The gifts are offered free of obligation and even left, in cases where it’s possible, for their enemies at the gates of their settlements. There is a saying among the Neran that “Hrothi make good neighbors,” and for many, the Time of Charity is the truth behind the axiom.

The Brudvir call this period Winterswatch and spend the winter fortifying their settlements to withstand the raids and attacks from those facing starvation in the long, cold dark. Brudvir allied with nearby Hrothi settlements will often work together, with the Brudvir working to fortify and secure the expanded stores of the Hrothi and aiding with the eventual distribution of the stored food, in essence “earning” their share. Hunting is scarce in this period, and so the Brudvir in settlements dependent on their hunting prowess often form elite hunting groups that will range further than usual in this period, seeking prey typically too dangerous to consider in normal conditions. These hunts are trials for the hunters, who see themselves as fulfilling a nearly sacred duty to find and dispatch the strongest spirits, to aid them to their ascension to Mann-hood while simultaneously seeing to the safety and well-being of their families and settlements. When the hunters return, those that returned successfully are celebrated in a ceremony, their kills ritualistically butchered, and each hunter presented with a token of their hunt to symbolize their role as a deliverer of the beast’s spirit. The work of butchering the hunt’s kills completed, the ritual culminates in a grand feast, with the hunters gifting the fruits of their hunts to the rest of the settlement, unconsciously mirroring the charity of the Hrothi.

For the Neran, Longest Night is a time for kindness, called the Twilight of Care. As Neran families lay in supplies and prepare for the long dark, they also traditionally set an additional place at the dinner table each night, a symbol of their willingness to offer succor to any who might appear at their door in a trying time for Elyria. And, should any such unfortunate soul in need appear, asking for food, for example, Neran families take it as a sign to show that kindness, inviting the stranger in and offering them a meal and a warm fire. In more modern times, especially in crowded Neran settlements where strangers may be harder to gauge, this takes the form of a nightly communal meal at the neighborhood level. The affair is a grand potluck where each family attending who has the means contributes a dish to the meal, offering mutual support and kindness to aid the entire community through the dark, cold night. Sometimes called the Long Feast, these group meals can become continuous affairs that literally last the entirety of the dark winter.

The period of Longest Night is known as Sunsleep to the Kypiq, who believe the sun’s disappearance represents the spirit of the sun, weary from its long job of warming and enlightening the world, growing bored and turning away from its job to focus its attention elsewhere. The Kypiq believe that it falls on them to recapture the sun’s interest, to entertain and delight the spirit of the sun so that it will return its attention to the Kypiq and their forests and bring life-giving light and warmth, once more. The three years of Sunsleep makes a long period of elaborate parties, feasts, and entertainments, capped by the Sunsight Festival, where Kypiq use lanterns, simple fireworks and other lights to recreate a raucous sort of daylight in the middle of Longest Night. Travelers to Kypiq lands at this time are often taken in and fed, the Kypiq inviting them to take part in their festivals to entice the sun back into the sky. These travelers often return with wondrous stories of a forest gleaming with the glow of thousands of paper lanterns, the sky itself alight with bursts of color and sound.

This time of darkness and cold also brings communities together in unique ways that are responsible for breathtaking works of art. These works are rare, captivating works that occur in a unique moment of time, often representing once in a lifetime, or indeed once in several generations, spectacles.

Over this time, the Dras as a culture come together to sing for the Two-Fold Queen in a three-year-long choral performance of rolling duets. It begins with a solo performance in each settlement, a single Dras sings a doleful ballad known as the Light Lament over the course of four hours. As the ballad reaches its climax, the singer is joined by another who overpowers the refrain of the Light Lament with a powerful, nearly celebratory thread of song, the introduction of the lament’s counterpoint, the Triumph of Night. At this point, the first singer bows out and is replaced by a new singer who sings with, and in some ways against, the Triumph of Night’s first vocalist. This process continues throughout the period, such that, from start to end a Dras settlement will have performed a continuous duet, a combination of the Light Lament and the Triumph of Night known as the Duality. For musicians and aficionados, the opportunity to witness even just a single movement of this epic piece is an opportunity that cannot be missed. Despite the dangers presented by the growing darkness in this time, they will make the journey to pure Dras settlements to witness the performance first hand.

For the To’resk, the darkness of this period and the rising tides that come with it are proof of their origins and validation of their faith. They believe that, even now, Mydra seeks her son, To’ran, and the rising waters that come with the long night are evidence of her continued presence and power in Elyria. It’s generally believed that the time, while dangerous, is a necessary and good thing that occurs in the world, as it brings with it opportunities and a renewal and revitalization of the wetlands. The mega-tide often interrupts the usual drought/flood cycle, inundating the wetlands and bringing with it new sources of food and resource. Those animals and creatures of the open sea who find themselves trapped within the wetlands as the tide subsides are not only delicacies to the To’resk, but serve to enrich the muds and soils of the wetlands with an infusion of rich resources that generally ensure a bountiful following year, if not ensure rich harvests from To’resk aquaculture for years to come. During the time, at the peak of darkest night when the sun is entirely removed from the sky, most To’resk settlements will perform the Tragedy of Mydra and Ne’ran or a variant thereof to remember Mydra’s search for To’ran and the reason for the rising tide.

However, other tribes have a slightly darker perspective on the time, choosing to see the darkness as something other than a time to come together in peace and charity.

Far removed from the cold of winter in their tropical homes, this time is called the Night Hunt and is considered an important moment to the Janoa. The jungles become dangerous in the dark and the most powerful predators of the biome roam more brazenly as they stalk their prey in the dark. This includes, of course, the Janoa themselves. It is a rare opportunity for young Janoa to prove themselves and potentially to acquire great renown and, through the spirits of their kills, great power, and wisdom. During the Night Hunt, individual Janoa will set out into the jungle, remaining on their own as they seek out and hunt the most dangerous prey they can find. Those that return clad in the pelts, feathers, teeth, and claws of their catches are celebrated among the settlement. Those that fail to acquire such prizes simply do not return, either remaining lone hermits or leaving the jungle entirely to join mixed-settlements in nearby regions. To the Janoa, this is the way of things, ensuring that the weakness of those failed hunters is culled from the settlement, ensuring it remains strong and powerful for the next generation. Many Janoan myths and legends incorporate the Night Hunt as an element of the hero’s rise to power, their triumph in the hunt used as a symbol of the power they will exhibit in the rest of the tale.

Many among the Waerd believe that the appearance of the Eye does not guarantee the Longest Night that typically follows it a few years later. Instead, the erosion and disappearance of the sun in this period are seen as a sign of the Two-Fold Queen’s displeasure. They believe that if the Great Work proceeds in accordance with her will, this period of twilight which they call the Night of Blood will not occur. Instead, they believe that the Night of Blood occurs when the Great Work falls behind when the Two-Fold Queen’s ledger is unbalanced as a direct result of their failure to accomplish the Queen’s will while they were under her scrutiny during Queen’s Gaze. To restore the balance, then, and see to it that the Queen is once again pleased with the Waerd, they see the Night of Blood as a time of sacrifice. Each Waerd settlement begins a period of intense meditation that culminates in the selection of 6 sacrifices which are then given to the Queen, once a month, during the period of total eclipse. If the sun returns at the end of this period, the Waerd believe the balance to be restored and their work on the Great Work can resume, with the Queen’s confidence in the Waerd renewed.

There was a time where the practices of each of the tribes were far removed from each other, but as the kingdoms of modern Elyrian have grown and the tribes have intermingled more and more, so have their observances and beliefs. In metropolitan cities and bustling kingdoms, it’s not unusual to see several different observances combined, such that, for example, a Sunsight-style festival culminates in an exchange of gifts mirroring Hrothi or Brudvir practice held over a Neran-style feast. But whatever, their individual observances, the time of Longest Night is a period marked by everyone on Elyria.