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Come and sit, friends, and I will tell you the tale of Arthur’s most trusted subjects. The Children of the Lake are known far and wide as the fearless Stormriders. While other mortals cower and flee before the Veilstorms, the Stormriders embrace the coming of the storm and stand before it in defiance.
Despite their bravery, they are not a reckless folk: they bind themselves to Arthur’s code and their own law, called the Rider’s Oath. This code, you see, forms the basis for their whole society, the definition of what it means to be a Child of the Lake.
Stormrider society is divided into five castes: the warriors, the scholars, the merchants, the makers, and the hearth-keepers. Each caste represents a wide range of ability, however. Warriors do not simply fight with sword and shield, but face their realm’s enemies on whatever battlefield they must, meeting their opponents with strength of magic or steel. Scholars approach life’s difficulties with thought and study and share the secrets they discover throughout the realm. Makers build or shape their solutions, while merchants call upon who they know, what they own, or how they can bargain to resolve conflict. Lastly, the hearth-keepers face the world with wisdom and intuition.
These castes are assigned not by birth but by each Stormrider’s choice. This choice is respected and honored by all other Stormriders. There is no greater sin among their ranks than to influence a person choosing a caste. By their freedom of choice and their strength of will are the Stormriders defined.
The Stormriders have a unique mark of their special status: a small jewel in their forehead. This jewel is a mark of the caste and it draws power and color from the Stormrider’s body. As this magic stone may show, while the Stormriders are essentially human, there are strange and subtle differences. A Stormrider’s childhood lasts nearly twenty years, while they are required to learn from the elders and masters of each caste. The elders encourage the young ones to pursue whatever path their heart desires: Girls learn to take up arms just as boys learn to keep the hearth and home. To the Stormriders, the freedom of choice is far more important than gender. They try to embody freedom to all the other races of Arthur’s realm.
When ready, the young one kneels before the elders of the chosen caste and asks for admittance. Once granted, the child is then led to the Lake of Storms itself and commanded to drink deeply from its Veilstorm-infused waters. This taste of magic awakens the might of the soul, and the child’s body begins its transition into adulthood.
During these formative years, the caste elders challenge the young one’s choices. This is intended to ensure that he or she makes the right decision. No shame in changing one’s mind at this stage, for the young heart is fickle and it takes great maturity to listen to a true calling. The elders also instruct the child in the complete Rider’s Oath. In part, it goes like this:
Without faith, our purpose will not shine brightly
Without conviction, our faith is but an illusion
Without honor, conviction can be turned to evil.
There is more, but only a Stormrider may recite the lengthy song in full, for it contains the true history of their people. Only once a child fully embraces the Rider’s Oath are they allowed to face the trial of a Stormrider.
Kneeling once again before the caste’s leaders, the adolescent humbly asks to embark upon the final and most dangerous test. Candidates that are deemed ready spend this night preparing. The Stormrider saying, “As is the mind, so becomes the body” is especially true at this time. For before facing a Veilstorm, the candidate must focus on a single goal: to become a living embodiment of their caste. There is no prescribed way for the young stormrider to accomplish this mental state, and the vigil takes the forms of quiet reflection, recitation of the Rider’s Oath, and even exhaustion through manual labor.
As I have said, the Stormriders embrace and defy the Veilstorms. The name is born from the tradition of the final test: riding out a Veilstorm. It is a terrible and solemn ritual. A pair of elders leads the nearly-grown youth to a secret place where a Veilstorm bolt once split a rock in twain. They strip the youth bare and bind one arm and both legs to either side of the cleft rock. In the free hand, the candidate holds a sacramental knife, forged of the purest steel, and inscribed with his or her true name.
The elders leave the adolescent alone and naked to face the full might of a Veilstorm. Some scream, some shout, some sing, some weep, and the rare, strange few stay silent, but no matter how the candidate cries and struggles, the elders do not intervene.
The storm changes the youth before their very eyes: pulses of light drift beneath the skin, ribbons of energy course through loosened hair, and beams of light shine from the pupils. Subtle lines crisscross their body from the paths of raindrops; each track, they say, signifies a lost impurity.
When the storm passes, the elders rush to the candidate, unbind them, and wrap him or her in warm towels and blankets. Then, they rigorously scrutinize the candidate for any physical mutations from the storm which might lead to abomination. When the elders confirm that the candidate is whole and well, they announce the arrival of the new adult as a Stormrider.
A candidate affirmed in his or her chosen caste discovers that the storm has bestowed gifts: great strength or energy, a swifter mind or sharper senses, heightened talent or impressive fecundity, and so on, as befits his or her new role. Then, a joyous celebration is held with songs of past triumph, dancing and revelry, and such food and drink as can only be imagined.
Know this, though: not all candidates who ride the storm pass their trial. If the candidate uses the knife to cut the binding straps, it is considered a sign of weakness. If the youth is completely unchanged by the Veilstorm, the nascent Stormrider must leave and never return. If malevolent change has taken place, the candidate’s fate is most terribly sealed.
There are also some who enter into the first Riding with a weak will or darkness in their hearts. For this, the storm itself punishes them, twisting their bodies and minds to match the void within. Some of these abominations realize what they have become and beg for a swift and merciful death. These imperfect candidates are given the choice to either take their own life by using the ritual knife, or to die with dignity at the hands of the elders. Regardless of their choice, they are then given a proper burial and the honor of keeping their birth name.
However, there are those who fail completely and become true monsters. For them, there is no salvation. They are put down like the raving beasts they are, and their name and history is stricken from the memory of the people, never to be spoken of again. Harsh, true, but such are the traditions of the Stormriders.
There are also a select few for whom the storm chooses a different caste than the one pledged in their youth. These transformed young folk face a choice between death, exile, and riding the storm again. Nearly all choose the latter. Those who fail the second test almost always become true monsters, but those who pass? They are forged into something new, something chosen by fate. They are called Stormchosen, and it is said that they are destined to do great things.
You must be wondering, friends: Who I am to know these secrets? The storm had plans for me that did not include my chosen caste. Alas, friends, I did not have the courage to face the terror of a second storm, so I chose exile instead. Thus, here I am, cursed to wander this world and share the story of my failing. As to my name, I was once called Medraut.
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