Lore Spotlight: The Cairnkeepers
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If there was ever an unlikely place for life to persist in Dema, a contender would be in the eternally black hinterlands of the Tenaybre, located deep in the far northwest of the Moon Realms. Here the light of the sun is merely a pale dot on the horizon, obscured by cloud and unbroken shadow. The vast expanse is only traversable thanks to the light of the moon and glowing illumite crystals that are stacked in cairns throughout the territory.
The wastelanders who maintain these waystones are proud and hardy. Here, a whole tribe of Nightriders called the Cairnkeepers dwells at the bottom of a thermally heated crater, one of the few bastions of safety in the subzero darkness of the taiga. Originally founded by a band of exiles from the main Nightrider tribes, the culture of the Cairnkeepers holds to a mistrust of outlanders and a devotion to the survival of their settlement at all costs.
Their unlikely metropolis of Tallon is home only to those with the will to survive perils like razorhail storms and avalanches off of the mountain chain known as the Walls at the End of the World, named for the inability to see the top of their peaks. The government and might of Tallon is shaped by its most important practice, The Frostrite. On the most important dates of the Wandering Moon, the young adults of the tribe depart on their coming-of-age rite deep into the Tenaybre. The fewer supplies they take with them, the more esteemed they will be when, or if, they return home after surviving in the wastes as long as possible.
To rise in positions of power requires partaking in additional Frostrites. In this way, every leader of Cairnkeepers must ensure they stay at their mental and physical peak. Every man, woman, and child has the survival skills and warrior might to not only survive, but thrive in the face of death’s chilled grip.
Legends have spread to the other realms of the Nightlands and Daylands of the beastmasters of Tallon. In a land of howling sabrewolves, snowlions twice as large as a bylak, and Iskar-kin woolly primates that can rip the arms off a warrior, the Cairnkeeepers tamed these and dozens more creatures to their control. More intimidating cavalry is rarely seen, especially since the climate is known for generating the strongest virses. The image of a line of long-haired virses, war mammoths, and snowlions charging headlong into an opposing Hegemony legion is a site forever burned into the memory of humanity.
The craftsmen and metalsmiths of Tallon can produce tools of war and creation that rival the industrial might of the Solar Hegemony. The Tenaybre is abundant in access to rare resources like illumite, shadowstone, and caverns full of precious gems. With centuries to perfect their technique, everything from diamond sharp tenebrium blades to sapphire encrusted tiaras makes its way to the far markets of the known world. In the Heroic and early Uprising Eras, much of this trade was facilitated by the Freesteed nomads and their undertribes willing to escort caravans. More often than not, the Freesteeds would seize these valuables for themselves, creating periods of intense rivalry and mistrust between Cairnkeepers and Freesteeds.
Briefly united under the banners of The King of Darkness in the final years of the Epoko De Mallumo and his daughter The Queen of the Night in 19 LS, the Cairnkeepers changed the fate of Dema on far-off campaigns before they returned to their isolation. There they would endure up until the thermal heat of Tallon suddenly and mysteriously ceased in the Exodus Era. The Shivering March was the name given to the sudden, desperate exodus of the entire population out of the Tenaybre, by this time overrun with previously unknown monsters that rendered The Frostrite too deadly to continue. Precious few survivors made their way on to Yaras and Mundi, where they would integrate remnants of their proud culture.
Your character could be looking forward to the day of their first Frostrite, or tracking big game monsters through other parts of Dema as an expert hunter. The wars against humanity saw many Cairnkeepers travel to different parts of the world as warriors for hire or emissaries. Travel throughout the Tenaybre is fertile ground for adventure. Will you breathe deep from the air of the forever night?
"My daughter, my son, my two treasures that shine in my life like the moon above us and the illumite below. You are about to undertake the greatest challenge you can imagine. I cannot help you any further. On the Frostrite, there will only be you and death, a specter in the snow seeking to wrap you in its embrace.
The longer you survive out in the Tenaybre, the higher your station will be when you return. I do not need to remind you that the weather itself conspires to kill Cairnkeepers. You will stand in pitch night one moment, then have your furs cut to shreds by razorhail if you do not seek shelter ahead of the first cloud. That shelter may be the carcass of a bear you will need to kill and strip with nothing but your dagger. Its pelt will keep you warm. Its meat will nourish you. Its cubs must know they are in your territory, not the other way around.
Afeard? I hope you are. The thump of your chest is how you know there is still heat in your heart to guard. Bear hunting is still a safer option than exploring the ruins of the ancients. Monsters lurk there. Monsters not even Sawsayda the Beastmaster could tame. The shamans predict an especially cold moon cycle on this Frostrite. The wildlife will sense the coming pall. They will be on the hunt. Sabrewolf packs will corner mighty mammoths. The bircraat will descend from their lairs at the feet of the Walls at the End of the World and swing through the trees, howling in their hunger. Ice spiders big as hounds will weave webs that slice clean through your skin should you not see strands as thin as a whisper in the void.
All these and more will try to take my children. All these and more will fail. They will not end the line of Hayberos. It did not end with me, nor my mother before me. Nobody is exempt from the Frostrite, and I have raised you in the spear and the bow as best as I could without your father. I know this for a fact. Just as I know what you will feel every second you outwit the Long Shadow. It is what every Cairnkeeper feels. The despair as your muscles tire and the cold encroaches. The desperation as your traps and snares are sprung by bylaks. The hope as you finally see the passage back to Tallon through the Caverns of Bounty. And when you return, it will be with the rights and privileges of a grown woman and man, into my arms and a seat by the fire in our hearth.
Unless, of course, you attempt to cheat on the Frostrite. Head out in advance of The Summons and cache food, or plant markers to some hidden shelter. If that happens, believe me my children, you will have to fear the tenebrium of my blade more than the bircraats. The honor of the Frostrite is what guarantees we can follow the best. To trust the responsibilities of our peoples’ survival in the calloused hands of the fittest. Any threat to the credibility of our ways is dishonor, and dishonor is death.
I know you still seek high station in the cavalry, my son. To tame and ride a snowlion into battle against the Daylanders like your grandfather did in the horde. To earn the chance to dream that dream means living weeks longer on the Rite than what is expected of a craftswoman in training like your sister. And you will have to complete the Rite again years hence, to prove you have not become soft in your high station. Again and again, until old age or fang and shadow take you.
If the voices of doubt speak to you now, listen to them. I believe you can live to pass the Rite. But to excel, and to return to the Tenaybre with each group of children coming of age? That merit is reserved for the likes of King Bartra. Yet who knows? Perhaps one day I will bow to you, my son, like nature bows to us.
We came to this land as exiles. We rule it as riders of the night. Go now. Go and return with your shields or upon them."
- Matron Hayberos to her children Seyllin and Oreyn, on the eve of the 218th Frostrite
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