At the end of the First Age, when Titan and Wyrm rose to domination, not all aelvar resigned themselves to the yoke of bondage. Some fled through natural gaps in the veil surrounding the Mortal Plane and approached the Center of Worlds in the Astral, begging for admission and refuge. The exact request and the response of the Great Mechanism and its guardians is unrecorded, but Cysgor lore contains the following fragment:
And thus spake the Bright Ones
To the assembled Septs:
"All that Mortal lives must die
And lie forgotten in Shadow.
In our halls Death cannot walk
Nor can memory fade."
Responded the Septarchs proud--
"Then betwixt and between we shall dwell--
With Death we shall make a pact
And in Shadow walk, remembering."
However it happened, those early dissidents chose to create a home for themselves in the newly-forming Shadows, where they have stayed for the ages since then. Despite their ancestral boast, they are still mortal. And many resent this fact. The fabled response of the Septarchs to the Bright Ones still rings true in the ears of the Cysgoroesi leadership. The two major strains throughout Cysgoroesi culture are gathering memory and cheating death. As a result, Cysgor culture has changed very little over the ages. In part because time runs oddly in Shadow; in other part because preservation and retention of what went before is the driving force behind their way of life.
Personality and Appearance
Most cysgor are calm, orderly people, at least on the surface. Their lives are circumscribed by tradition dating back millennia and by their rank. To outsiders they appear mysterious and passive, almost apathetic. They show little facial expression and their body language is subdued. This detachment is a facade, a mask of iron self-control. The Shadows have emotional effects on those that dwell there for long, and few dwell in Shadow as long as the cysgor. Those who spend too much time in the Beastlands, with its soporific effect, often seek out strong emotions and new sensations to keep themselves awake. They become hedonists and often become manic when blood is shed and pain is felt. Those who dwell in Mirrorhaven, with its bright colors and constant stimulation, seek peaceful oblivion in dreams and drugs. Failing that, they require extreme forms of pleasures to become excited, and frequently fall into sadism or masochism. Those in the Shadow Border often are infected with wanderlust, never able to settle down in one place; those from the Wastes become paranoid and are quick to resort to violence.
Physically, the depiction of the cysgor largely matches that of the shadar-kai from other Dreams. Sallow, pale skin and dark hair and eyes. Slender, almost emaciated frames. Those in the creches look more normal, with a tendency toward paleness. Exposure to the Shadows leaves its mark on the bodies. Those who have joined retrieval teams usually shave their heads and are tattooed all over their bodies with silvery lines forming something akin to circuit traces. These glow when they use their powers, especially the shadow-related ones.
The primary organization of the Cysgor people is by Sept. Each sept interprets the original charge to "make a pact with death and walk in shadow, remembering" differently. The septs cut across monasteries, acting like philosophical or fraternal organizations. Bonds between sept members are generally as strong as, or stronger than, bonds between members of the same monastery. The major septs are detailed below. Each sept has a formal name and an animal nickname--the nickname is the more common one and is the one that outsiders might know.
Bran Vras (Magpies) believe that the best way to survive is to stockpile as many powerful items as possible. They do this both to gain power for their race (to counteract their lacking numbers) and to reduce the strength of the outsiders. They work closely with the Ravens to build and modify their golem guardians.
Myji (Ravens) believe that the best thing to stockpile is souls. Specifically, they harvest the souls of powerful individuals who are on the brink of death, much like the Earth legends of the Valkyrie. These souls are housed in soul-gems and given a choice to serve as the guiding intelligence of the shadesteel golems that act as the eternal guardians of the monasteries. Those that refuse are housed in the monasteries and interrogated for memories and information.
Derevel (Beavers) are the least conservative, least tradition-focused, and least Shadow-oriented Sept. They believe in building both structures and communities. Unlike the other septs, they rarely venture outside the monasteries, and most of them never reside in Shadow at all.
Oula (Owls) are the most conservative sept. They preserve the memory of the past and of events. This is done by sending observers out in teams. They watch on the fringes of major events, memorizing the events. They interview the participants, using mind-magic to wipe their memory of the interview and of the observer's presence. These memories are then recorded back in the monasteries.
Orsa (Bears) are the protectors of the people. They pledge themselves to defend the monasteries and creches from all who would threaten the people, and take a very wide scope for things that would threaten. They often roam about, killing those that discover the secrets of the Cysgor or become too comfortable in Shadow. They are by far the most militant sept. Fortunately for everyone else, they're also the fewest in number.
Fortress Monasteries and Creches
Birth and growth within the Shadows is not easy, nor safe. As a result, the Cysgor have claimed isolated pockets of the Mortal plane as creches, hidden cities where children are born and raised. In the beginning, the only inhabitants of the creches were the very young, the caretakers, and the mothers giving birth. The rest dwelled in Shadow in the monasteries. Over time, situation has shifted so that the bulk of the population lives in these creches and only the elite classes take up residence in Shadow. As a rule, these creches are placed in areas that are either difficult or impossible to access from the outside; the only access in or out is via Shadow portal. Only one creche remains active; two have been abandoned as the population declined.
Creche Deskinj, the only active creche, is located on a small island between Noefra and Oelfra, about 800 miles from the Devil's Coast region. This island houses about 6,000 cysgor souls, more than half of the total population. About 2,000 are youth under the age of adulthood, the rest are farmers, craftsmen, and caretakers. This has always been the breadbasket of the cysgor people. A plurality of the people here are of Sept Deverel. The island itself is ringed with rocks and has no safe ports, making approach by sea very hazardous. Almost all travel is by portal through Shadow.
Creche Skeud, the more recently-abandoned of the other two creches, was abandoned at the Cataclysm due to near-by volcanic activity. Located high in the Giant-Spine Mountains in north-central Noefra, it is still protected by golems and other static defenses. Before its abandonment, it was a progressive center belonging primarily to Septs Myji and Bran Vras. Here they performed research. A small population of survivors remains as the underclass among the near-by Kharan population; a few escaped and mingled with a local wood elf tribe.
Creche Moger, the first creche, was abandoned at Moon's Fall at the end of the 2nd age. Its ruins, still mostly intact, lie high in the mountains that ward the northern edge of the Great Rift from the Primal Sea. Once home to Septs Oula and Orsa, it was the archive of the Cysgor. Expeditions have recovered some of the material stored there, but much still remains.
In the Shadows are the Fortress Monasteries, inhabited by the elite of the Cysgor people. One major one stands in each layer of shadow, as described below, and several minor monasteries guard the approaches. There used to be many more, but the Cysgor are in decline and have been for centuries. The others stand abandoned by the living; only the shadesteel guardians, spirits of the dead, and traps linger behind to protect the secrets. Many of the Fallen have tried to plunder them, but doing so is very risky.
The known monasteries are as follows. Each is marked active or abandoned as well as by the layer of Shadow on which it stands. Each active major monastery houses about 850 people, while the minor ones house about 100 each.
Active major monasteries
Fortress Brightpool stands in the Shadow Border, overlooking a natural collection of planar portals between realms. Brightpool is the stronghold of Sept Oula, although many members of other septs live there or are based there. It is the most active, with agents coming and going frequently. It does not have any satellite monasteries.
Fortress Deadlands is on a great hill overlooking one of the worst parts of the Waste. Home to the leadership of Sept Orsa, it has a healthy presence of Septs Deverel and Myji--one to maintain the constructs who do most of the fighting, the other to scavenge souls from the eternal battlefields down below. It used to have satellite monasteries; all but one have been overrun by the Waste and are now home to demon-twisted forces.
Fortress Myfryr is buried under a lake in Mirrorhaven on the outskirts of the City. It has the most mixed population from all the septs, but Myji is the strongest. It maintains three satellite monasteries, placed to watch over the areas of Mirrorhaven claimed by the Congregation for their faithful followers after death. They often try to poach stronger souls.
Fortress Cysga is located near the Titan's Throne in the Beastlands and maintains two satellite monasteries. The quietest of the monasteries, this is the home of Sept Bran Vras as well as their core vaults and research center. It maintains 2 satellite monasteries for specialized research purposes, including the golem development center they share with Sept Myji.
Six major monasteries have been abandoned, along with many smaller satellite monasteries. Several have been lost to the Waste; the others were tightly tied to the lost creches and the survivors no longer hold the keys for access.
Monasteries are led by an Abbot chosen from the sigiled population. The Abbot is not usually the head of the dominant sept, although they are usually a member of that sept. The Abbot oversees the work of the monastery and must authorize any outside visitors or unusual excursions. Each monastery has a different tradition for choosing their Abbot.
Working under the Abbot are the Priors and sub-priors, who direct specific aspects of the life and work. For example, most monasteries have a Prior over maintenance as well as one responsible for food production. Other Priors handle the other functional business, whether research, field work, or defensive operations. Satellite monasteries are led by priors or sub-priors and house their respective teams.
Teams of cysgor, each led by a hierophant, are the active working groups. They may have between 8 and 12 cysgor each, and a Prior may manage 10 to 12 teams. Rarely, cysgor may act in groups of as small as two or three. Oula, for example, tend to work in groups of three, each recording the same information as a redundancy check.