Friday, July 25, 2014

Starfall: Miracles

Soundtrack: [1]
Blessings of the World Spirit
The World Spirit seeks to protect itself in many ways.  It allows casters to work magic through its life force and serves as a medium for mystical powers, but it also works in more direct ways.  Those who truly align themselves with the purposes of the World Spirit in the defense of the natural world against all threats find that they can petition the World Spirit for miracles with a degree of reliability.  Moreover, they are often gifted with supernatural abilities that rival any magic or mystical ability.

The divine powers of miracle working require both the consent and presence of the World Spirit.  It will never allow a power it bestows to be used to harm nature, and it cannot grant powers where it has no influence.  Similarly, it will not answer prayers that do not further its own goals or that are beyond the reach of its power.

While not every person chosen by the World Spirit as an emissary of the natural world is a paragon of righteousness – the World Spirit often acts in mysterious ways – almost all exhibit a handful of traits.  The divinely blessed seek to uphold the rule of nature wherever possible, always oppose the enemies of nature, seeking out threats against the natural world, and generally serve as wardens of the world.  They tend to be altruistic, peaceful, and generous among their people, but fearless, tenacious, and ferocious in their fury.

The blessed call down their miracles by praying to the World Spirit.  Prayers take many forms, despite formalized religious views on the matter.  A prayer can be a whispered plea for help, a prostration facing the rising sun, an hour of nude dancing around a massive bonfire beneath a full moon at midnight, or a fleeting thought in a time of need.  No matter the manner of prayer, if the World Spirit hears it, it may decide to take action.

Prayers are answered when the World Spirit takes action in response to a plea.  This can result in anything from a sourceless breeze extinguishing a candle to the waters of a lake parting so that a champion may pass.  While prayers may take many forms, certain characteristics and circumstances seem to increase the likelihood of the prayer being heard.  Praying en mass, praying for longer periods of time, or otherwise putting more effort into a prayer makes it more easily heard.

Assuming the prayer is heard, the World Spirit will decide what course of action to take, regardless of what the prayer requested.  The more dire the circumstances, the more likely the prayer will be answered, but repeated petitioning for help will quickly exhaust the World Spirit's willingness to help.  Similarly, bothering the World Spirit for menial tasks may even result in punishments.

Sainthood is a term used to describe the state of some people who are blessed by the World Spirit with supernatural powers beyond simply having a more direct line for requesting divine intervention.  Saints can perform miracles themselves, albeit on a much smaller scale.  They might bless water, purify springs, heal wounds and diseases, walk among wolves unharassed, speak to plants, or repel the undead.  In all cases, despite still being alive, they are transformed into a spiritual entity trapped within a mortal shell and may continue to exist in discorporate form long after their deaths.

Saints are not usually selected for their own devotion to the World Spirit.  Many saints have been far from upright citizens at the time of their canonization, but sainthood changes a person.  Just as green magic alters a person's way of thinking and aligns it more strongly with nature, sainthood slowly alters a saint.  Whether it is the circumstances he finds himself in, his own personal struggles to handle the power given him, or some divine insight possessed by the World Spirit that suggested this person would rise to the occasion is unclear.  Still, no one is ever the same after such an investment of divine power.

Blessings of the Spirit World
The myriad spirits of the world can often be entreated for assistance.  While their efforts on a petitioner's behalf are not truly "miracles," they do impart a measure of supernatural power to shamans, totem warriors, and their like.  Because spirits are so numerous and pervasive throughout all parts of the world, spirit-working is often more consistently accessible than both miracle-working and demonurgy, if not more limited in power.  The spirits' responses to prayers is always limited by the power of the spirit responding and never rivals the awe-inspiring grandeur of some of the miracles of legend.  Still, a lowly air elemental is capable of a great deal, even if it cannot topple mountains.

Spirits pervade every aspect of the world.  Anytime a shaman prays, he can be assured that a spirit hears him.  Getting them to pay attention is another matter entirely.  Spirits tend to be wrapped up in their own world and often ignore the mortal realms.  Even if they do take notice of a prayer, they are a fickle lot who may choose to simply ignore the prayer.  This is where a shaman's training and lifelong dedication to the spirit world comes into play.  He knows how to get their attention and make them willing to help.  A powerful shaman is never without his spirit allies, and this is the key to his power.

The spirits usually demand relatively little of their mortal intermediaries.  A few gifts from time to time, proper respect, a favor occasionally, and generally looking after those who lend a hand are the minimum requirements for spirits to be willing to work with a shaman.  He must still learn to get their attention, usually with gifts, sacrifices, and ritualistic ceremonies.  Once they are listening, he must curry their favor with more offerings, and should they feel it worth their while, they will do what they see fit to assist the shaman – this may not be what the shaman wants, however!

Shamans must develop basic skills in order to even work with spirits, however.  They must learn to see the spirit world, commune with it, and sway spirits to his cause.  For most, this training begins at a young age, although one can manifest this ability naturally at any point in life.  Once a shaman can do this, he has learned the most difficult part of spirit-working.  From there, he must spend time regularly communing with the spirits, building a rapport among them so that they heed his calls for assistance when the time comes.

Shamans make use of spirits for all manner of tasks, from healing and protection to housekeeping, sentry duty, and tutelage.  While each spirit has a limited set of powers it can bring to bear, the vast number of spirits in the world ensure that there exists a spirit who can accomplish what the shaman wants.  Thus, he can achieve stunning effects through his spirit-workings, if the spirits abide him.  Still, effects tend to minimal and subtle if possible.  The most useful of spirit-workings involve gathering information.

Totem Spirits
Totem spirits are powerful spirits who patronize a mortal willingly, tutor him in the ways of life and the spirit world, and grant him power.  People are not born with totem spirits.  Rather, they must seek them out and forge a pact with them.  This typically involves the mortal offering some service to the spirit in exchange for the benefits the spirit can provide.  The exact nature of these will vary from totem to totem, but in all cases, the mortal gains great power from this relationship, even if he is occasionally called to perform tasks for his totem or the spirit world in general.

Some extremely powerful spirits favor particular mortals for one reason or another and see it fit to lend them a portion of their power via a possession-like state.  In these circumstances, the spirit partially possesses the mortal – or vessel – imbuing him with a fraction of its power.  In this way, the mortal dons the vestige of the spirit, gaining some of the spirit's personality and some of its power.  The process of donning a vestige varies from spirit to spirit, but most involve the vessel putting on a symbol of the spirit – e.g., a bearskin cloak for a bear spirit, a wolfskin belt for a wolf spirit, a coyote mask for a coyote spirit, etc.

Gaining a vestige requires seeking out the spirit in question and negotiating a pact with it.  Usually the vessel promises to behave in a certain fashion or performing various tasks for the spirit.  Some spirits are jealous of their vessels and refuse to share them with anyone else, while others don't mind some soul neighbors.  A wise vessel will negotiate all of this beforehand rather than finding out the hard way.  Should a vessel ever offend his vestige or otherwise break the pact, the spirit may grow angry.  This never turns out well for the vessel.

The Brotherhood of the Damned
Loathe as any may be to admit it, the Maelstrom can also grant tremendous power beyond merely the black magic it enables.  Those desperate and depraved souls who seek out its whisperings on the springtime's winds and give themselves up wholly to the whims of the dark powers that govern its malodorous melodies may find themselves gifted with more than a chaotic taint on their souls.  They may find that when they raise their voices in the cacophonous hymns and utter their dark prayers in the deep swamps and wastelands of the world, when they reach into the utter darkness of the abyss beyond the world and plead for salvation, something whispers back.

Cultists, demonologists, and the deranged must make themselves heard by the Maelstrom in order to gain its gifts.  This typically requires some form of prayer – although sacrifices, unholy rites of desecration, and other depravities never hurt.  If the Maelstrom has any presence in the area where the prayer is incanted, it may respond.  Fortunate for the madmen of the world, the Maelstrom's reach is long; it is strongest in places where nature is denuded – clear cut forests, wastelands, stagnant swamps, urban sprawl, etc. – and weakest where nature is at the height of her power – virgin forests, secluded glades, etc.

Once the prayer is heard, the Maelstrom must decide whether or not to answer it.  It usually favors any chance to corrupt a soul that otherwise seems unimpeachable – a saint, a devout priest, a lifelong spirit shaman, etc. – although it also responds well to sacrifices and other attempts to spread chaos in the world.  The individual's corruption, deeds, and lifestyle factor little into the Maelstrom's decision to lend assistance, except insofar as it may present an opportunity to defile a particularly pure soul.

Infernal Intervention
The Maelstrom is more than willing to unleash a little chaos on the world, and answering prayers is the perfect excuse.  Miracles – if they can be called that – can take any form and accomplish absolutely anything, but as with any chaotic "gift," it carries the cost of corrupting the petitioner's mortal soul.  That said, the gifts bestowed are powerful.  They may involve magical talent, beneficial physical mutations, or the most remarked upon gift:  mental powers that surpass the most accomplished mystics.  The most famous of these is the ability to move objects with the mind alone.

Where the World Spirit creates saints and spirits manifest as vestiges among their most faithful, the Maelstrom freely grants powers with the intent for the recipient to use them, because the more they are used, the more corrupted the individual becomes.  Thus it is not uncommon for the demons and their ilk to dole out power and ability quite freely with no apparent strings attached.

The Mark of Corruption
It is commonly said that all power has its price.  Nowhere is that more true than in dealings with demons.  Anytime a recipient of dark powers uses those abilities, his soul becomes a little murkier, his mind a little foggier, and his actions a little more menacing.  Every time he taps the power of the Maelstrom, the mark of corruption shines a little more brightly upon his soul until one day, it consumes him.  This mark may not be physically obvious, but it is there for those who know how to look:  the person's aura is festering with inky worms; his smile is a little too wide; his eyes don't blink often enough; his voice doesn't sound quite right; etc.  In the more obvious case of physical corruption, the person may be stricken with a perpetual pox that never eats away his life, or perhaps he becomes disfigured or acquires strange and unnatural features.  Other times, his internal organs all rot and his flesh become riddled with maggots.  Regardless, the person is always marked.

The mark of corruption usually has dire consequences once it becomes widely known.  Any sane community will at least lynch someone who has succumbed to too much corruption, and any agents of the spirit world or World Spirit will react negatively to the corrupt.  Even when they are penitent, their motives are questioned and honor besmirched.  Only after scrubbing the taint from their souls can they rid themselves of the stigma associated with their condition.

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