In Ehdrigohr there exist numerous smaller orders, touched by the Graces and Songs, who serve the people in much the same way as the Great Societies. Though they may be smaller in number or access the things they do may, in some cases, be even bigger. The Storykeeping Society of Rooks is such an order that wanders across Ehdrigohr. They are favored by the Graces known as Lah-Oh and Mazda. The Rooks are holy librarians who keep stories upon themselves in the most literal of ways. The stories are mystically tattooed across their bodies from head to foot. Not just any story travels with the Rooks. They are keepers of dangerous knowledge and secrets.
It is believed that there is power in stories. Stories are the bridge between the people and what they could be, both bad and good. They are possibilities. They have the power of remembrance, transformation, and becoming. Because they are so closely tied to the people and the cycle of rebirth and experience, like the people, every story has a sicun (a special kind of spirit of possibility) and that sicun seeks opportunity to become more. This is why stories are often called Spirits on the Wind.
Tellers carry many stories and cast them, and their sicun, to others with every telling. This is much like a birth and each human heart is the world that the sicun of the spirit is born into. The storyteller is like a spiritual doula and gatekeeper. They maintain many stories within. These stories, however, have weight and over time they will weigh down the heart and mind of a teller. So a teller partly tells to relieve this burden. Some stories even have season and will struggle to be told and remembered at particular times of the year. This is the cycle of story.
On occasion a Teller comes across a story that should not be told. Such a story only brings sorrow. Tellers will struggle to maintain these stories, burying them deep in their hearts managing them with their own sicun and finding the songs that keep it quiet. Such stories are a type of curse and will not be quieted for long. The weight of them is nearly unbearable. In the past some tellers would seek to put these stories into a book but that turned out to be unwise. Stories have sicun, books do not. With no other sicun to suppress the power of the story it becomes dangerous and infectious much like a curse. There is no filter to translate the story to make it palatable and they cause travail in those who read them driving them to madness or bringing them to sorrow but not before that person has caused great harm to those around them as a result or sought out dark things that should not be meddled with.
Others sought to put such stories into tablets of stone. They found that such things were insufficient. Stone has a power but it is rigid and not flexible enough to manage the sicun of a story or a man. It eventually becomes just as problematic as a book. Really old stones may, in fact, empower the sicun of a bad story beyond belief. There are tales of tablets found in ancient ruins of previous events that upon reading released stories that caused the flesh to fall from the reader and all around like so much sand blown in the wind.
Instead of a book or tablet, it was discovered that the sicun of a person was the only way to handle them. After the Upheaval, when the Thunderers nurtured the Great Societies, La-Oh and Mazda taught a handful of gatherers to take and manifest story. They gave to them, as a symbol of what they do, the small black crow-like birds called rooks who gather at times to share secrets among themselves. La-Oh and Mazda taught them how to prepare themselves for such stories, how to bind a story with song and how the power of their touch could draw the sicun of bad stories out of things and people. These rituals cause the stories to appear as a strange illegible writing that covers their body. By concentrating on a single story the Rook can cause the writing to be readable, or rather, experienced by others. So a teller who has come across a bad story will typically seek a Rook to share the story with. Once shared, the teller can no longer recall the story and it becomes bound to the Rook.
Rooks not only take bad stories from tellers but they will help other identify bad stories within themselves and quiet them. A person who experiences a great deal of sorrow but can’t identify the source can seek out a rook for a special cleansing therapy. They often travel with troupes of Jays so it isn’t hard to find one usually.
When approaching a Rook one must always offer a gift of tobacco and tears. Tobacco draws the poison from the land just as the Rook will draw the poison from your sicun. Approaching a Rook for service is called requesting “A Reading.” The Rook will then prepare a special lodge. In this lodge there is an intimate encounter of touch and breath-sharing which allows the Rook to pull out the root of the story. Once the story root has been extracted the Rook sits in a circle with the seeker, sings songs and smokes the tobacco, while focusing on the story. This causes the story to become understandable to the seeker. They may have buried this story deep in their mind or heart and this is the first time they are forced to confront the truth of the story. This puts the seeker in a dream space and they encounter a vision in which they must battle a manifestation of the story. If they win the hold the story has over them goes away and the story dissipates with the smoke, unremembered by either the rook or the seeker. In this case the rook receives no permanent tattoo of the story.
If a seeker has a particularly terrible story, or they lose the vision battle, then a Rook can opt to take the whole story from them as a tattoo and then seek out another Rook to perform the vision part of the ceremony with them. If a rook does this for a seeker the knowledge, sorrow, and burden associated with the story are removed from the seeker. A rook can always opt to not carry the story.
Really powerful rooks are able to gather story without even having to touch or breathe with a seeker. These rooks are often feared and shunned because they can walk into a space and catch stories the way a spider’s web collects dust. The stories simply begin to manifest upon them. Such Rooks often ally themselves with waywardens and others who might seek to uncover terrible secrets perpetrated by people. These rooks are good at cleansing whole communities.
Rooks know the stories that they carry. Many cultures consider them anathema and untouchable because they have the ability to gather dark things from people. Some cultures, like the Mictalan, consider the practice perishable by death as such beings are threats to the secrets of the noble families. Since the Rooks know the truth of stories they gather it is not unknown for a Rook to also become a vigilante of sorts acting on the knowledge that he or she had gained. Many a Rook has brought justice in the quiet of the night.
The stories a rook carries are a great burden. A rook typically travels covered from head to toe in black cloth. Only their eyes are visible. When their skin is so covered by writing, as to appear completely black, they will travel north to walk the Line. They will walk and fight among the linewalkers, gathering their stories of the terrible things they’ve seen, and then convene the “Parliament of Rooks” at the end of the Long Night. When the sun rises they disrobe and bathe in the light. These bad stories, revealed to the sun at its strongest, are seared away. Linewalkers who have seen this claim that it’s like the Rooks are on fire and the bad stories literally burn off of their bodies, turn to smoke, and fade away.
Those Rooks who cannot make it to the Line will form smaller parliaments in secret where they will reallocate stories among themselves so no one carries a burden for too long. It is said that in times of great sorrow when many terrible stories arise, La-Oh and Mazdah lend some of their strength to a rook who becomes “The Written” who gathers bad spirits and stories like a sponge gathers water.
All rooks are of the fourth gender called gatherers. A rook must be able to create resonance with any teller or seeker who comes to them. More importantly a rook requires multiple resonant relationships to manage the sorrow that comes with the tattoos. Most are also eunuchs, women who have chosen to live as men, or older women who are beyond their childbearing years.
The reason so few women who can still bear children avoid this path is due to the fact that the sicun of a story can find its way to the womb and give a woman great pain and may even bring death. Luckily, the cycle of a woman’s moon is powerful magic and it will often purge/free a story in the blood. There are rituals for reclaiming such stories from the blood. This must be done quickly, however, as a story that is not reclaimed by the end of the woman’s moon may become “Bad Blood” and form a special kind of lurker (see the spirits section of the core book) which is sometimes known as a “red cap” that cases terrible mischief. The power of a woman’s moon however can be wild and random and will on occasion do more than purge the bad story. On extremely rare occasion a moon will cleans the story, releasing a new spirit into the world that eventually manifests as a kind of lurker who seeks to walk with the people and help them.
Most Rooks who are physically men also become eunuchs. Just as a story can escape in the blood of menstruation it can also escape in the seed of a man. This is worse because such a story will become the sicun of the child which results in a child who is not quite human and terribly disturbed who seeks to enact the essence of the story in everything they do. Accepting the role of eunuch protects others from this possibility. Those who don’t become eunuchs will instead take a vow of chastity while they walk with story.
Aspects of the Rooks
“I take the sorrow from others.”; “I know terrible things that I must not speak of.”; ” Sometimes secrets just appear on me.”; “My heart is too heavy with old stories.”
Sin Eater: You are especially good at helping people to cope. You gain a +2 to Medicine, Empathy, and Rapport when using them to help others heal emotional scars or confront hidden issues. You may spend a fate point to take a point of sorrow from someone and add to your own pool.
Agile Heart: It is difficult for sorrow to take root in you. Whenever you take sorrow, subtract 1 point from the incoming sorrow. If this reduces the total incoming sorrow to 0 or lower you receive no sorrow. This does not block the use of the Sin Eater stunt. Whever you voluntarily take in someone elses sorrow you cannot reduce it.
Requires (SinEater, Agile Heart, Hearfelt Resonance, Gatherer).
You may perform the rights of the Rooks and may collect stories from people and tellers. The maximum number of stories you may hold is equal to rank of this skill time the number of power level steps that you have acquired. Carrying stories provides the following benefits.
+2 to lore based checks involving secrets or old bad stories and legends.
+2 to investigation or empathy when trying to uncover a secret or interrogating someone.
Rooks are able to freely enter Dream by spending a fate point, which is where they tend to interact with the stories they carry. They may also enter the dreams of others where they can communicate or act to give the other person a vision. While in Dream Rooks can use Empathy with a special use of the Create an Advantage, Attack, and Defend actions to interact with dreamers. The trappings for this use of the skill is the manipulation of dream stuff.
Taking a secret or story from another is a special use of Empathy and Medicine. It is a Challenge where the Rook must overcome opposed rolls of the seeker’s Rapport, Resolve, and Empathy with each skill. Burning tobacco gives the Rook a +1 to the roll, having a vial of tears from the seeker in question add +2 to the roll. Success allows the Rook to remove a severe Consequence from the seeker or 1 Sorrow per shift of success. A tie gives the Rook stress equal to the seeker’s resolve. Failure gives the Rook a consequence at his lowest available consequence.
A Rook can spend a point of fate and make an Attunement or Empathy roll to uncover a secret in the area causing it to manifest on their body. The difficulty of this roll is Good (+3) and it is modified another step for each individual invested in keeping the secret hidden. If successful the Rook also takes two points of stress from the pain of the secret appearing on them. They know what the secret is and must choose what to do about the information. Consider this to be a sort of Create an Advantage use of the Attunement or Empathy skill.
Rooks Among the Tribes
Most see the Rook as a necessary thing though, as a rule, they make most people a bit uneasy. Among the Wiitjasa, Batu, D’Zul, and Urali they are welcomed but asked to live in “Rook lodges” outside of where the main camp lies. This is both out of a little fear and an understanding of the Rooks need for privacy when giving readings. Among these groups a Rook is never asked to pay for meals or perform labor out of consideration for the burden they carry.
Among the Ge’Al a Rook must become a husband to one of the Calleachs if he wants to live in the area. A Rook is allowed to visit but must present themselves to the Calleach of the area or be considered a criminal.
The Barata treat them as revered scholars and have buildings and schools devoted to the study of “Rookery”. Every library among the Barata maintains at least one Rook on its staff.
Among the Beyduun they are welcome much as they are by the tribes of the Shil. However, the Salduun empire treats them as untouchables and it is said that the Viziers have special “harems” of eunuchs who they use to hide their secrets and as courtesans. These eunuchs are not trained fully in the ways of the Rook so they often go mad with the weight of the stories they carry. They are not kind to these eunuchs and have been suspected of kidnapping those from the waste tribes who exhibit a talent for storykeeping. This has drawn the attention of the Great Societies and the Rooks who often seek liberate them, accusing the Salduun in this instance of being no better than the Mic’Talan slavers. The Salduun consider Rooks and those with the talent for sin-eating as non-people who debase themselves. In their opinion they are the human equivalent of a leech – it has a medicinal use but is to be disposed of shortly afterwards.
Opinions of Rooks aren’t much better among the Chi’An who force them to live outside of the Wu Towns as hermits and wanderers.
The Mic’Talan enforcers kill anyone who bears the marks of a Rook. They are considered anathema who seek to steal the blood secrets of the Great Families. The G’Me’era don’t follow this rule but do not openly support the practice of Rookery.