Lore of the Night Witch

The following was written for the DragonStorm sourcebook about the character background of Night Witch.

Night Witches are solitary witches who specialize in obscurity, stealth and secrecy.

“Notes on the Nightwitch’s Craft”
–Simon Bellreeve, Adept of the Prismatic Circle

Nightwitches are the most secretive of creatures. Their origins are obscure, and it is suspected that they themselves do not know the entire story. Yet it is noted in many reliable historical references that Nightwitches were known and respected long before DeathDay. Much of what is known about them is learned from observation, as they are notoriously close‐mouthed, even in the days before the coming of the necromancers. Perhaps they were guided by some foreknowledge, or by the lore handed down in unbroken chains since the beginning of the witch’s craft. Certainly their lore has remained unchanged for centuries.

The Legend of the First Nightwitch

At every Great Holiday, one story is always told: the story of the first Nightwitch.

“A lone girl was wandering in the woods. She was thinking long and hard about the lifepath she was to choose, as she was facing the naming of that path on the coming morn, the morn of her thirteenth birthday. She was partial to the witching craft, as her mother and mothers before her, but she found her solitary comfort in the enveloping night and the face of Elethay upon the changing moon, and so felt unwelcome in the bright and communal worship of the daylight and the temple.

“Lost in her thoughts, she wandered far, until she came to a clearing she did not remember ever seeing in her wanderings. There, in the center, stood a tall woman, wearing a cloak of dull grey, the hood shadowing her features. The woman was singing, the song a wordless croon in honor of the full moon rising over the trees.

“The girl knew not how she stood, listening to the song, but at its end, she started, and so broke the branch at her feet, the sound unmistakably loud in the sudden silence.

“The woman turned as the sound echoed across the clearing. The girl could see two bright eyes in the depths of the shadowing hood, watching her and measuring her, to her very soul. ‘Come,’ said the woman, ‘by Elethay’s name I welcome you.’ Her voice was the music of the wind among the trees. The woman sat down on a log and invited the girl to sit with her.

“‘What brings you to this place,’ asked the woman of the girl, and the girl, without any further prompting, told the story of her dilemma. She ended the story with a plea for guidance: ‘Whatever shall I do?’

“‘Seek a new lifepath,’ the woman said, ‘a lifepath to suit your needs and your desires, a lifepath of your own making. If you would choose such a lifepath, what would that be?’

“‘I would choose a path of the witching craft, but a path of solitude is what I want, a path of silence, a path of service in the shadows of the night.’

“‘And so you should have it,’ the woman said. ‘And what would that lifepath be called?’

“‘A witch of the night, or nightwitch,’ the girl replied.

“‘And so it shall be done. Return to your home, and on the morrow, choose that as your lifepath, and all shall be well.’ With that, the girl looked, only to find the woman had disappeared, and she found herself in a familiar clearing in the woods close to her home. She ran quickly and quietly through the night to her home and her bed, thinking long and hard on her encounter.

“The next morn, in the temple of Elethay in the center of town, the priestess called the girl forth to name her lifepath. The girl said ‘I would be a Nightwitch,’ and the priestess and the people stared. Such a lifepath was unknown, and the selection of such quite unheard of: even if she were allowed this choice, none knew who would instruct her in such a calling. The priestess began to voice her questions, when a voice called out from the edge of the crowd: ‘A Nightwitch she has chosen, and a Nightwitch she shall be.’

“Through the crowded villagers strode the tall woman, her cloak billowing out behind her as she walked. ‘I will take her, and, through her, found a new lifepath. A lifepath of solitude I offer her, a lifepath of silence, a lifepath of service to the Goddess in the shadows of the night.’ As she stepped forward, the sun darkened and the sky became as night, the stars emerging from their daylight slumber in honor as the villagers murmured amongst themselves.

“‘And who are you?’ asked the priestess, not knowing who this stranger was or what her intent might be, but then she gazed into her eyes. They were not the eyes of anything mortal; they were eyes the darkest night, showing the stars in all their glory. The priestess fell to her knees, bowing before her Goddess, and the villagers, seeing this, also knelt.

“The woman, Elethay in her guise as Guardian of the Night, took the girl by her shoulder. ‘Come with me, my daughter in the witching craft. I shall teach you the lore of the Nightwitch, so that you may pass it down to your daughters of the craft and their daughters.’ Then she gathered the girl underneath her cloak of night and together they walked out of the village into the darkness. And, as they walked, the sun returned to the sky, and the two vanished from sight along with the night.”

The Origin of Nightwitches

Historical records indicate that the legend of the “first Nightwitch” recounted above is largely fable. Actually, it can be reliably assumed that the source of the Nightwitch tradition comes from three different witch traditions, all of whom converged into the formal practice and tradition we know today.

The first source was a long‑standing tradition of witches known as “solitaries”. These witches preferred to work alone, as opposed to being members of large witch covens. They were also wanderers, adept at disguising their professions for reasons unclear at this time. These solitaries would only take one initiate at any one time, although there are stories where a solitary witch would take on more than one initiate, if the potential initiates were of the same family or clan, and some disaster had struck the rest of their family or clan. Like most witches, many of these solitaries were associated with the Skyrider dragon clan.

The second source was the tradition of hereditary witches among barbarian tribes. These exclusively female witches worked alongside the exclusively male shamans of their tribes, providing healing and directing the worship of Elethay and the tribal totems. Just like their male counterparts, these witches passed their lore down through a complicated set of oral traditions, as writing was unknown in these tribes. Because of the relatively small size of the barbarian tribes, witches among them were few, and rarely met except at large tribal gatherings. Like their solitary counterparts, they often only took one apprentice or initiate at a time.

The first and second traditions joined as the wandering solitary witches met with their sisters of the nomadic barbarian tribes. As part of that joining, the solitary witches adopted the oral traditions of their sisters, while teaching them the arts of concealment they had learned from their long wanderings. For their part, the barbarian witches taught the solitary witches the arts of memorization and the herb lore their lived depended on. Yet even this joining alone would not create the Nightwitches: that required the third tradition.

The third and most mysterious tradition was a sect that worshipped Elethay in her nocturnal aspects and trained their initiates in stealth and subtlety. While records are sketchy at best, and primarily altogether missing, it is now clear that the origins and traditions of this sect were with the Blackwind dragon clan. When the clan was banished, a few human members of the sect escaped to the lands of the barbarian tribes, where they encountered the combined solitary and hereditary witch traditions. There they joined their tradition of stealth and silence to the solitary and hereditary traditions. This was especially prevalent in tribes who venerated tribal totems such as the Moon Cat and other nocturnal hunters.

It took several generations for the three traditions to merge, but when it was done, the solitary witches resumed their wandering, this time spreading a new witch tradition, called “nightwitches”.

The Training of a Nightwitch

Nightwitches are solitary practitioners, rarely part of a coven, and, even then, only informally. So when a young girl or boy is initiated in their craft, it is by an elder who will spend the next year instructing the initiate in the ways of the craft. That training includes learning the craft lore, but it also includes more commonly useful information as herb lore and training in stealth and silence.

Much of a Nightwitch’s training parallels that of other witches and acolytes of Elethay, but since stealth and silence is so much a part of the Nightwitch’s training, it is somewhat surprising to discover that their lore is oral, not written as typical of others of the craft: where the others depend on book learning, a Nightwitch depends on memorization. Therefore, Nightwitches are capable of impressive feats of memory and memorization. They know that the lore they memorize is passed down from generation to generation since the earliest days, never written, never recorded. Each initiate learns their lore from their teachers, most especially from the one who initiates the Nightwitch in the craft, and, in turn, he or she passes it to her own students: one of the duties of all Nightwitches is to find at least one student to instruct in their lore, and they depend on Elethay to guide that student to them.

They may never admit it, but it is apparent, at least to this observer, that no one Nightwitch knows the entirety of their lore. It is known that it is the duty of every Nightwitch to collect and share the lore of her sisters and mentors. It is said that the lore will be written down only when the complete lore is collected, but never before. There are also legends within the craft of a book that contains the entirety of the Nightwitch lore, written by Elethay herself, but these legends are also contradictory. It may be assumed that these legends are based on the earlier witch legend of the first Book of Shadows from which all witches’ lore is drawn.

One of the greatest mysteries of Nightwitches is their uncanny night vision. By what art or craft this is accomplished, none say, and any inquiries are simply ignored, although sometimes conflicting and contradictory explanations are given in an attempt to divert investigation. Some simply call it a miracle of Elethay’s blessing, while a few insist that Nightwitches are chosen because of their night vision, calling it a sign of their true calling. But it is a fact that even if they do not possess it at the time of their initiation, all Nightwitches develop this uncanny ability during their year‑long apprenticeship before their acceptance as full sisters of the tradition.

The Life of a Nightwitch

Nightwitches, like all witches, see themselves as guardians and protectors of the holy and secret places within the land. They rarely miss the opportunity to visit these locations during their travels and are guided to these places through subtle trail signs placed there by previous visitors. They also go to great lengths to purify the land polluted by necromancy and restore the natural balance of nature. Nightwitches who retire from wandering often chose a remote location to sanctify and protect, living there the rest of their mortal days and oftimes becoming spirit guardians of these places after their passing.

Nightwitches rarely reveal their true calling except to their closest friends and other members of their craft, whom they identify through subtle gestures and signals. Many pass themselves as ordinary witches, especially those who have learned to read and write the common tongue, while others act as midwives, herbalists and hedge‑witches. A few are found parlaying their knowledge as bards and entertainers, able to recite long tales from memory, including a surprising (which, in all fairness, should not be surprising at all) number of tales where the unassuming heroine defeats the villain at the end of the story through surprise and her witch magic and is thus revealed to be a Nightwitch. But whatever their outward guise, they are still priestess of Elethay, capable of leading worship and tending to Her worshipers.

A sure sign of a Nightwitch used to be her athame. Most witches create athames of bright steel or sometimes silver, fitted with hilts of rowan wood, ivory or bone, but Nightwitches, who prize stealth, take care to create blades of blackened steel with hilts of ebony or other dark woods, so that their blades will not reflect the light and reveal them in the darkness. However, once this fact became known, many witches began crafting their own athames in the Nightwitch fashion for much the same reasons, while Nightwitches started to create athames of weathered bronze and other dull metals or materials such as obsidian.

It is a common misconception that Nightwitches, as is the case for all witches, are exclusively female and human: for Nightwitches this misconception is especially true, given their extreme secrecy. Experience, however, has proven this false. All races and both sexes are allowed into the craft, but the ratio of women to men is still most likely 5‑to‑1, with a preponderance of humans and elves, plus a scattering of Foxwings and Das Karr and the occasional dwarf and Tigrean. Male Nightwitches of any race are especially circumspect about their profession, all the better to take advantage of surprise in their favor.

While Nightwitches are solitary creatures, they do have grand meetings on the four Great Holidays (the solstices and equinoxes) of the year. There, in secret places throughout the world, either in conjunction with their fellow sisters and brothers of the craft or in isolation, Nightwitches gather to celebrate Elethay, honor the passing of their elders, and introduce the newest initiates to their fellows of the craft. Other witches and acolytes, and sometimes close friends and companions, are oftimes invited to attend these hidden meetings, a sign of honor granted only to the most faithful and honorable followers of Elethay.

With their unusual connection to the land and witchcraft, it is not surprising to find that many Nightwitches were to be found in Skyrider clans. What is not so well known is the relationship between Nightwitches and the mysterious Blackwind clan.

The Many Names of Elethay

Nightwitches, as do all witches, honor and revere Elethay, but Nightwitches specifically honor the Goddess’s nocturnal aspects, such as the Guardian of the Night, Mistress of Shadows, Queen of Stars or Lady of the Lamps. Shapeshifters are more prone to honor her lunar aspects, such as the Lady of Changes or, less frequently, the Lady of the Ever‑changing Face.

Nightwitches also refer to the Moon as Elethay’s secret lamp and the night sky as Elethay’s cloak of night. It is said that Elethay set the stars in the heavens as clues to the Nightwitches’ lore, and both the identification of the constellations and the legends behind them play a significant part in the training of each Nightwitch initiate. It is also said that that no Nightwitch can become lost if she can see the night sky, but practical experience has proven that to be mostly a legend.

Necromancers and the DeathDay Massacre

Witches and necromancers hate each other; that’s a commonly known fact. Nightwitches hate necromancers with just as much passion as any other witch: what sets nightwitches apart is that they tend to express their hatred in subtle ways.

Witches were some of the most heavily persecuted people in the chaotic days after DeathDay. To escape the necromancers who persecuted those who practiced the witch’s craft, the witches fled to the secret places that the Nightwitches had prepared for them. But the Nightwitches themselves had disappeared even further, not gathering together in the circles as was the wont of other witches. Instead, they practiced their craft in solitary, or in pairs of teacher and student, and so their craft survived.

What others say about Nightwitches

Shamans: “Nightwitches be just plan spooky. Spend too much time in the dark, y’ask me.”

– Mondraka Dierra

Witches: “They follow the craft in their own way. If that way were not with Elethay’s approval, they would not wield the powers of Elethay as they do.”

– Mother White

Wizards: “Nightwitches are mysteries, and much of their mystery is their own doing. They’re excellent companions, but don’t make the mistake of ever expecting to learn anything specific about them. If they’re in the mood, they’ll talk you ears off about Elethay all night long, but you’ll get nothing about themselves.”

– Marcus the Archmage

Valarians: “Nobody hates necros more than Valarians, but Nightwitches take it to the extreme. You just don’t notice it until the fight’s all over.”

– Zaras the Mentor

Necromancers: “You can’t win. You defeat a band of stupid Valarians, and just when you’re deciding which shapeshifter you want to drain first, one of these *itches sneaks up on you and plants a dagger in your back.”

– Sorvon Blackwater

“A Nightwitch’s domain is darkness. In darkness, she sees the beauty of Elethay’s creation. In darkness, she sees as if by day. In darkness, she treads the secret ways.

“A Nightwitch’s creed is silence. In silence, she hears the words of Elethay’s voice. In silence, she keeps the sacred lore. In silence, she treads the secret ways.

“A Nightwitch’s demeanor is reverence. In reverence, she holds the wisdom of Elethay’s thoughts. In reverence, she wields the power of Elethay’s magic. In reverence, she treads the secret ways.”

– ‘The Nightwitch’s Creed’, author unknown, circa third century of the First Manillac Empire

 “Night is as she is named, and night is as her companion.”

– from ‘Night and Day’ in “Poems” by Rhydomo the Greater

 “Silence, subtlety, stealth, surprise”

– motto of Ashiya, called “the Steadfast”, Nightwitch

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