The Darklings (also called
"Cavern Brownies" or "Piscinites") are a very recent and thoroughly exciting
discovery which this researcher has had the very great pleasure of documenting
for the first time. In fact they are so new that these names are simply
translations from dwarfish
or nicknames the Compendiumists
have grown fond of! They have survived for thousands of generations deep in a
selection of caves and caverns underneath the Western Bay in the north of
Nybelmar, which are also home to the
Trumatyreon, or "Black Oil Dwarves". The
Thergerim’s famous secrecy, coupled with the fairly inaccessible location
of this tribe, will go some way to explaining why the existence of these
Brownies has been a secret for so long.
Although their strange appearance might lead them to be thought another troop
of Rat Brownies, they neither
practice ritual sacrifice nor worship dark, evil spirits. Their own myths and
legends suggest that the change of looks was self-inflicted, rather than a
punishment from the Birni era or the
spirits as the Rat Brownies’ was.
The people are quiet and secretive and speak a language of deep, guttural tones as well as a little Thergerim to communicate with their dwarven neighbours. They are also highly superstitious and place a lot of importance on the number three. The most obvious example of this is their way of measuring time as they have a system of 27-hour days, 27 day “months” and a 9-month year. A few groups train flittermice as mounts, although most prefer to hitch rides on the Paprabaabs, an age-old custom requiring a great deal of skill. They show the same resourcefulness and natural caution as any other Brownie found on Sarvonia, as well as an intelligent curiosity.
Appearance. Although the Darklings are still recognisable as Brownies, their features are very different to those usually found above ground. The tribes’ oral legends claim that they used life magic to alter themselves when they came to the caves, in order to be more naturally suited to the dark, barren environment. They tried to take on the look of the fish around them, and gave themselves the tools to swim well in the thick oil lakes. Their faces are most reminiscent of the fish, or at least of ugly, many-teethed varieties present there. The bottom jaw juts out like that of an orc, with two long sharp teeth sticking upwards over a smaller upper lip. The jaw bone is in fact lower than the chin, making the whole lower face into a very angular muzzle. A thin, slightly upturned nose sits between two over-large, bulbous eyes, which are slightly rounder than normal and seem to almost stick out from the face. The ears are small and discrete, placed directly behind the overpoweringly large eyes.
The Brownies’ bodies are shorter than normal, although their chests and hips are still wide, giving them a slightly stunted look to the eye of a Sarvonian Brownie. The limbs are short but very thick and well-muscled, which is probably the result of swimming through the dark thick oil lakes from such an early age as well as their natural stockiness. Their fingers and toes are long, a little longer than their hands and feet, and webbed with a section of thick, tough skin, which is several shades lighter than their normal skin colour. Despite the webbing’s strength it is common for an older Piscinite’s to be ripped or missing in places.
Both sexes have far less hair than other Brownies and are almost bald, with just a few dark, thin tufts along the ridge of their head. It is common for Brownies to plait these into two or three thin strips, often when they are a young unmarried adult. Anyone who has enough to make four or more braids is thought a real beauty. They thread small white beads, roughly cut from fish bone, into the braids to show it off. The females use vaguely round beads, whilst the men tend to go for thin splinters attached by one end. The spines stick back across the head, looking something like the spines along a fish’s back.
Younger Darklings are smaller and skinnier, without the muscle tone of their parents. They seem to shoot upwards as soon as they are born, and then fill out between their tenth and fifteenth year. In the first few years their eyes seem incredibly too big for their face, especially as they are often carried wrapped in a bundle of swaddling with only the eyes staring outwards.
The Cavern Brownies do retain the usual colourings, but these seem extremely muted and dulled when compared to True Brownies, as if the subject has a bad case of Baked Brownie Disease. There are also a noticeable lack of Redbarks, Yellowbarks and Birchbarks, the later two probably due to the need for effective camouflage in this harsh environment. Greybarks are overwhelmingly predominant and make up over a half of the population. It seems strange though that so few magically inclined Redbarks remain, but at least one of their legends suggests that their mages were driven out in the past.
Coat of Arms/Sign. As a fairly primitive tribe which has never had need of an official coat of arms, there is no banner or symbol which is used in battle. Fights between different tribes are rare in the struggle for food and survival, but when they do occur they fight in the oil, where any decoration would be fairly useless.
Territory. The Cavern Brownies inhabit a series of caves under the Western Bay of Nybelmar, which are probably most famous for their lakes of oil and the huge cities the Trumarim have built underground. The Piscinites have nothing like the dwarves’ astounding settlement, but instead live in the smaller, often shallower caves around the edges of the city and way into the many tiny tunnels and caverns. The lack of food and water force them to spread themselves thin over the area, and it is rare to find a group which is more than 50 Brownies strong.
Troops of Cavern Brownies look for several things when choosing a new cave to move into. The first is size – usually a larger cave is preferred to maximise the distance between their houses and the entrance where danger could come from. The longer the stretch of clear oil lake, the more time they have to spot the danger before it arrives, and the less likely the creatures are to notice the Brownies’ activities. The depth of oil is also important, especially at the entrance, where it should be deep enough for their own trained fish to go in and out if they have them, but shallow enough not to allow larger predatory fish. Ideally the entrance should be as small as possible across as well, although parts of it can be blocked with bars of fish bones.
There is one thing which makes a cave really special, and almost ensures the presence of a group of Darklings. The special caves are fairly rare, but incredibly beautiful. There are some which are covered in a pale yellow-white stone, with a shimmering, mirror-like sheen which reflects the light of the Brownies’ fires. These caves are often used as meeting caves, where the Piscinites from several groups come together even fortieth day for a religious festival.
People. The uncertainty whether or not these new tribes can be counted as “true” Brownies only shows how new their discovery is. They have the warped look of Rat Brownies, speak a completely unintelligible language and live in such an un-Brownie-like cavern deep away from the forests. However, their religion in particular shows links to the Spirit-Worship of “true” Brownies, and this has always been the most important defining factor in distinguishing them from Rat Brownies and other “lost” tribes. At least it is obvious that they must have also come from that moment when the lighting struck the tree of life. No other intelligent creature has a similar size and skin tone, and their bodies still are recognisable as Brownies.
One of the things which really convinces this researcher that these are some strain of “true” Brownie, and have not descended to the ways of Rat Brownies, is their continued intelligence and love for ingenuity. Although they have a very limited range of resources, they still manage to use every single one to its full advantage.
The Darklings have adapted very well to their strange home. They live in tiny groups of only 30 to 50 Brownies due to the scarce resources within the caves. Despite the danger of the underground caverns they do keep in regular contact with the other groups around them, meeting up every 40th day at a festival. Unless the Brownies want to have children with their own close cousins, intergroup marriages have to be arranged, and they trade small amounts of food and other goods as well. They have very few things which aren’t purely practical, so even something as simple as a pretty stone which glows in the firelight is prized and treasured.
All Darklings are taught a range of necessary skills to survive; starting a fire from scratch and the lake oil, making spears, hunting spiders and fish, as well as which varieties of plant are edible and which not. Being a good hunter is something every youngster aspires to, and is one of the main criteria in when looking for a good partner. Their ideal Brownie is strong, quick, agile, and practiced at landing the big fish which can feed the whole clan for several weeks.
Having lived for so long under the ground, the Darklings no longer are aware that there is a part of the world which is light half the day and has no roof. They don’t believe that such a strange open place could exist, or if it is then it must be some kind of spirit world where only the dead can survive. For who would be able to protect their family with no walls to huddle against, with light illuminating every corner and hiding hole! What would they eat with no mushrooms and no roori?
Darkling Brownies are also highly superstitious. Every change in the oil surface, every movement of fish shoals or pattern of spider eggs has a meaning for them. If interpreted correctly, these signs can let them know if the various spirits are pleased or not, and so whether their life will be easier or harder in the coming days.
Writing and Language. Although the Piscinites have no formal writing system, the images they burn into the stone have become simplified and stylised over the years, and certain symbols seem to be recognised by everyone, even though they are now only a collection of lines. They make these indentations in the rock not by carving, but by dabbing on a paste which eats into the rock. This they collect from the K’than, a flying insect that attacks the egg tunnels of the orru worm to get at the eggs. The animal stores the milky fluid in a large pustule on the top of its head and a fair amount of the substance can be collected by bursting this.
“Bad” or “evil spirit” tends to be represented by a jagged line, reminiscent of spiky teeth, whilst “good” or “benevolent spirit” is a smooth wiggle like a rooi weed branch. A large circle is another common symbol, having a variety of connected means like “mother”, “rock oil spirit”, “home”, “safety”. When other figures are enclosed in a circle then it indicates that they are a community of relatives or friends. A filled-in crescent shape seems to be the general symbol for animals of any sort and Darkling Brownies are often drawn as a single, upright, straight line, a sort of very simplified stick figure. In older drawings the dwarves are drawn rarely and with a fair amount of detail to show their large, muscular shoulders and loud stomping feet. In the newer representations, particularly from the clans who trade with them quite often, they are simply an upside-down triangle with a flattened point on the bottom.
The Darkling way of life is often represented by three lines making up a triangle. The first is straight, upright one at the side and represents a Brownie, or the collection of all the Darklings. The other two sides slope off to the left hand side to meet at a point. One is a smooth wiggle, meaning “good”, the other a jagged line meaning “bad”. These can be drawn either way around, because the idea is that the Darklings are trying to find a balance between the two of them, not that one is above and the other below. Groups who live near spider colonies often put the “bad” at the top, whilst those living on deep pools that the huge yoyarr fish might swim into put it below. The symbol is also often simplified to a simple triangle if it needs to be drawn in a confined space.
The spoken language sounds nothing like anything this researcher has ever heard coming out of a Brownie’s mouth. The noises, rather than being high in pitch and birdlike, are low and resonant with plenty of long rolled “r”s and extended vowels. Many short grunts punctuate this rolling flow. There is another form of communication too, for use in the pitch-black tunnels when they’re hunting and can’t make too much noise without scaring off the prey. The Piscinite who wants to talk takes the other’s hand and taps a short simple message onto their palm. There is a fairly large variation of words depending on where the tap is placed or how long it lasts for and how many fingers do the tapping. Mostly it is used for telling each other where the target is, which way it’s moving and the type of animal.
Housing. In order to have a clear view of any incoming danger, the Darkling Brownies make floating rafts in the middle of a fairly large cavern and live of them. There are usually a good number of these circular constructions, each with two or three houses on it. The central one is much larger and used by the whole community as a gathering and cooking place. The clan’s only fire is here, and the group’s cooking pot. Depending on the size of the clan, there could be other houseless bases too, used for communal work or gatherings of children. Flexible floating walkways, made from planks and tied with rooi weed fronds, link the different raft bases together.
The rafts are made from logs of roori weed or planks from an oilbeard tree, around which they interweave a selection of roori vines. Fibrous strands from the tree’s bark are also great for binding these planks together. The bases are always circular, as this shape is associated with the mother rock oil spirit and is thought to give added spiritual protection to all that live on it. It also signifies a sense of clan or kinship, perhaps a mutual sense of obligation to help one another survive.
They make two of these huge flat plank circles each exactly the same size. Next the Brownies gather whatever packing material is available – old clothing, or bedding which has lost its shape, as well as leaves, thinner roori fronds, even spider or bat hairs in certain areas. This padding is soaked in a thick glutinous liquid made by slowly boiling down some oil over half a month. Making this is a horribly smelly process, so they usually try and do it in another cave. The soaked padding is then packed around the two circles as tightly as possible to form a seal which the oil cannot seep through. When these have dried (which takes at least a week or so), they are fixed together, one on top of the other and supported with more planks. The edges are then sealed up, using thick, study roori fronds, and packed and sealed like the two circles were.
Finally the base can be taken onto the oil lake surface, and often all the clan is needed to transport it to its intended position. The walkways are made to link it to the nearest rafts, and steps can be added on to the sides to provide easy access to the water. Although the Piscinites have no need of protection from rain or snow, they do make rough shelters for privacy and to keep warmth in whilst sleeping. These are often simply a structure for sleeping, a box with padded walls to keep the heat in.
Clothing. Living deep underground, where the temperature is always fairly cold, the Darklings need some sort of clothing. The adults all wear a very close-knit, stretchy body suit which will give warmth even when soaked with oil, and is tight enough so it doesn’t hinder swimming. The bark of the oilbeard tree can be broken down into thick fibres, as can roori weed. However, these are too thick and tough to be used straight away. In order to soften the fibres enough to use them for the clothing, the Brownies make a strange, fatty substance made from the roots of whatever starchy plant they can find. The roots are stripped of their bark and any tough nodules before being mashed and then squeezed in a large press to release the oil. This can be used to baste meat as well, but in this case is rubbed into the fibres. As well as softening and stretching them, this prevents them from soaking up the oil when they are taken swimming, and makes them incredibly good at insulating the Brownie too.
Over this stretchy suit the Darklings often wear a larger, looser garment like a roomy coat, which is then tied at the waist with a roori belt. As this doesn’t need to be so supple and clinging the range of materials is greater. Depending on the available resources around their clan, they might make clothes from spider silk, Oilbeard tree leaves, roori roots, petals from the rryrr flower, or fish skins. These coats are decorated with simple sewn-on designs, small pieces of shell, teeth or shards of bone. Often an adult will spend their whole life collecting the decorations, and when they need a new coat they sew them onto that one instead. Youngsters wear a shorter, unadorned version of this which leaves their legs free, with a simple pair of shorts beneath. The elders generally have a looser body suit, plus a floor-length version of the coat with many more decorations as they have had a longer life to collect them.
Every actively hunting Piscinite also has a belt made from part of an orru worm, which is only donned when they actually go out into the lake. The creatures have a long, thick tube on their back full of some strange-smelling air. This allows them to swim along the surface of the oil without sinking. The Brownies take this and use it as a float so they don’t have to spend energy keeping themselves up, plus can rest immobile in the liquid whilst stalking fish, who can sense the movement of the oil.
Diet. Not able to take the luxury of choosing what to eat, these people will consume pretty much anything they can lay their hands on. They take everything and boil it up in a communal pot to make a soup. Mushrooms and roori weed are the staple foods, with all sorts of lichens and mosses thrown in for flavour. Fish, spiders and a few other little wormy beasts are the available meat, and they eat these surprisingly often considering how dangerous the creatures are to hunt. The amount of plantlife is so little however, that they are forced to hunt for a considerable part of their diet. They usually cook everything in a pot over a low heat, and boil it for as long as it takes to make the ingredients edible, which is fairly long in the case of roori. The young black shoots of this vine are fairly damp when first picked, and release a lot of juice into the mixture. Mushrooms also have the same effect, which gives the Brownies some liquid in their diet and reduces the amount of water they need. Prime bits of fish or spider meat are eaten raw, and the bones added to the ever-boiling communal pot.
The reason that the entire clan cooks on one fire is simply to limit the danger of open flames near the oil lakes. The oil-soaked bases which support the Brownie houses can catch fire very easily, so the flames need to be covered as well. It’s easier to do with just one fire too. A pit is made in the central floating base and lined with something which won’t burn. This could be thin sheets of metal traded for by with the dwarves, or more traditionally, a mesh made from roori roots soaked in Paprabaab goo. The substance seems to reject flames completely, and makes a very useful protective coating. A mesh is placed over the top, again made from metal or soaked roori root. It’s pinned in place and the cooking pot it placed on top, possibly with some extra supports.
However, the fire spirit needs more than just fuel to feed it, it needs to breathe too. So, to bring in aer the Brownies run pipes from the fire pit right up to the top of their caves where the air is fresher. The pipes are made from roori weed vines which have been meticulously hollowed out to leave just the flexible bark. This makes them bendy and light so they can be attached to the ceiling of the cave. As the fire draws breath it sucks the aer down into the pit, allowing it to burn and also creating a flow around the cavern. Apart from making this more pleasant for the Piscinites, it can also be used to spread the tiny seeds of fungi across a wider area with very little effort from the Darklings.
As their caverns’ lakes are oil and not water, this resource can be hard to come by. The water is there, it is simply hidden in small underground streams or flowing under the oil. There are several plants which have such long roots they can collect the precious liquid from the bottom of the caves. One in particular is the saviour of the Darkling Brownies – the rryrr flower. This produces seeds throughout the year which are full of water for the seedling, so that the new plant will be able to survive until its own roots have reached the deep sources of life-giving liquid. Through careful cultivation and breeding, the Brownies can produce enough of the little pods to have water for everyone. Its flavour is somewhat like the smell of the lakes, but the Darklings don’t seem to mind this.
Weapons. The materials available for weapons are fish bone or teeth, spider fangs, dried roori creeper and whatever small pieces of stone they can throw. They make a variety of tools from these, mainly around the idea of spears, both smaller, lighter ones for throwing from a vantage point, or short, heavier ones for holding and stabbing prey caught in a trap. There are also crude clubs made from large pieces of bone with sharp rocks hammered into them. These are great for crushing the shells or armour of the many cave insects.
For fish hunting, harpoons are used. These are attached by one end to a long rope which can be held by a group of Darklings so that a larger fish can be caught and hauled out of the water. It is a true group activity, as the fish can be many times larger than the Brownies. They generally try to lure the fish into a trap or enclosed space, so that many Darklings can swim closer without fearing the jaws, and dispatch the huge thrashing creature without fear of its jaws. However, this can be a problem as the fish are often strong enough to brake part of them, so they must be constantly repaired and replaced. Also there is the issue of bait – usually an agile Darkling attached to a long rope so they can be pulled out of the way very quickly.
Occupations. The chores and responsibilities are split according to the age of the Brownie, rather than their sex. Female Brownies only stop their chores during their pregnancy plus the time it takes for the tiny babe to be strong enough to be left for a few hours. This is usually only about 3-3 ½ months in total, after which the child is cared for by the elders whilst mum is away. Youngsters who are old enough are expected to help the clan in any jobs which take place on board the floating raft they call home. They need to learn the skills they’ll want later on and so the more variety of things they can take part in the better. Anything they take a particular interest in is encouraged, such as rock-drawing, building nets or cooking. Often they’ll be sent to help anyone who needs the extra pair of hands, or be looked after by a few of the elder Brownies who can no longer go off the raft.
When a Darkling reaches maturity (after it has successfully hunted for the first time) it becomes a part of the hunting team who work together to bring down any prey they can. Adults may also specialise in a specific craft like cooking or carving, but every able adult is expected to join the larger hunting parties. Sometimes a Darkling can’t hunt for some reason, illness or injury, and then they generally find another way to contribute to the Clan, often becoming an expert in some useful skill. This age group also gather vegetation for the pot, farm the few crops they have and, if the group uses them, train beasts. They learn to make the fine silver mesh that can capture a Paprapaab, and how to hitch a lift on one into the depths of the oil lakes. There are rumours of Darklings using bats as mounts too, and even one clan who are said to use the mighty yoyarr fish.
Once a Brownie has become too old to hunt any longer they become the clan’s teachers and advisors. Children are entrusted to their wise care so they can learn from them, and adults also come to them for help or council. They learn to predict the future using the oldest, whitest stalks of the roori vine, so they can give even better guidance to the group. One particular duty is to determine whether a couple who want to marry will be right for each other in the long term. It has been claimed that real experts can predict things like the movement of fish, where the mushrooms will grow best, and even the gender of a child before it is born.
There is one job which is shared between all the capable Darklings from the oldest children to the elders who haven’t lost their keen sight. This is guarding the camp - watching the oil around the area for movement of fish and the cavern walls for the approach of a spider. Usually two or three Brownies share the task, the older ones teaching the younger what they should look for or simply talking quietly to pass the time.
Government. Each group of Brownies is fairly independent from the others and rules itself. Although the exact balance of power may vary from clan to clan, most recognise one hunting leader and one spiritual leader. The former is usually a Brownie of either sex in their prime, the later is the job of the most respected (usually the oldest) elder. The hunting leader is a practical position, whose job is basically to ensure there is enough food for everyone. This includes organising hunts, but also making sure crops of fungi are harvested, other food sources are discovered and used and all the produce is stored and cooked properly. It is a job which requires careful delegation and planning.
The spiritual leader is an elder who knows how to read the signs and predict what will come. They have the final decision on things such as whether a young couple can marry (for two Brownies who will be unlucky would bring bad luck on the whole clan) and where and when things should be planted or looked for. They also give advice to any hunters who go out, and a lot to the hunting leader.
Although different clans rule themselves, many of them do co-operate and support one another. These networks are made up of 4-7 clans within a couple of day’s walk of each other, depending on how rich the caves in that area are. They offer what food they have to spare if one clan is in desperate need, or group together to catch and kill any huge predators which wander into their lakes. Most importantly, they meet for festivals every fortieth day to worship together, trade, and for young Brownies of a marriageable age to get together and search for a partner. Discussions of larger issues are also common, although these are far and few between. Piscinite life is normally simple, if a struggle.
Every group of clans has a special place for meeting at these times, a large, dry cave which is kept free from roori weed. Three triangles are marked on the floor, each one inside the next. The inner triangle is about a fore or so wide and normally raised a little above the rest. It functions as a stage for the leaders of the religious ceremonies that take place there, or for couples who are getting married. The three corners are often marked with large stones painted white to emphasise the symbolic number three. The next triangle is larger, over a ped per side, with stones defining each side, normally 3 or six per side. The last is much bigger, enough for all the Brownies to gather, trade and play games without stepping over the line. Naturally it is marked with stones in lots of three. The rock walls of these caves are often carved with scenes of Piscinite life, old myths and legends, or representations of the spirits. There doesn’t seem to be any planning here, the carver simply has to find a piece of wall which has not yet been filled. Caves which have been used for this purpose for a long time are completely and utterly covered in different images, each one having little to do with the next.
Production/Trade. The Brownies trade exclusively with each other and the dwarves who share the caves. The inter-race trade centres mainly on the manufacture of paragems, the stones taken from inside a Paprabaab. When encased in a fine mesh of silver, the stones glow with a bright, flameless light, ideal for lighting your way near the oil lakes. The Brownies can’t extract the silver ore, nor smelt the metal from it, so they need to trade with the dwarves to get it. However, the dwarves can’t make the mesh fine enough to get the gems to glow, so they need to trade these from the Darklings. Due to their size, they are also better equipped to find some things buried deep in the caves, parts of animals that are usually hidden deep in the tunnels for example. In return the dwarves have all sorts of food and medicines which are otherwise inaccessible to the Brownies.
The different Brownie tribes mainly trade food, weapons, decorative items and pretty much anything else they have. Certain areas of the caves are richer in different types of vegetation or animals, and some tribes have better connections with the dwarves. Good quality white roori weed (the kind used for predicting the future) is rare but is usually found in large clusters, so that is often traded when a good stock is found. Sometimes one Piscinite becomes really famous for something, like beautiful drawings, really accurate predictions or healing. Then Brownies from other tribes will sometimes travel from village to village until they get to where these experts live, searching for their advice. They typically bring some delicacies and offerings in return for the help, something which is made especially well by their clan. This might encourage further trading later on.
Most clans also have something which helps them to tell the time, or at least to mark the time of each watch. Some make series of wooden tubes through which oil drips into a balanced bowl. When enough the oil has dripped through the bowl tips and hits something, sounding the end of the watch. However, there are a number of clans who make beautiful clocks from different varieties of fungi. Some types change colour throughout the course of the day, or open flowers, or even take a certain amount of time to move towards a heat source, which can then be moved every time the fungus had finished its movement to measure the time again. These are beautiful things arranged symbolic patterns and coordinating colours.
Natural Resources. Considering the fact that the caves are completely underground and mostly without light, there is a considerable range of life and useful bits and bobs. The Pargems gems they find inside the strange almost liquid bodies of the Paprabaab are very valuable as they can be made to glow when wrapped in a thin enough silver mesh. Also, their dwarven neighbours use them in making the quick-burning parfi from the oil. The oil itself is a very valuable resource, as with a little effort it can be made to burn just as it is, or make something else burn a lot longer when it’s soaked in it.
Holidays, Festivals and Observances. As the Brownies have no knowledge of the outside world, they do not regulate their year to coincide with the change of the seasons, or with the movement of moon, sun or stars like most societies. Even their days are different as each one is made up of three 9-hour-long watches, making 27 hours. They also mark out a thoroughly artificial calendar with 9 different periods of worship making up the year, sort of like the months of the Santharian Calendar. Each period of time is dedicated to a different spirit and ends with a big day-long festival. They spend the thirty-nine days prior to the festival paying particular attention to that spirit in their daily worship, as well as gathering the necessary things for the celebration. So including the festival day, each period of time is 40 days long, making the year 360 days. The periods of worship influence the clan’s activities too, for example most Darklings are married at the festival of the Brownie Spirit, as this is thought to be the luckiest for families.
As the Darklings have a similar fertility pattern to other Brownie tribes, most babies are born in the Month of Vegetation or the Brownie spirit rather than scattered around the year. For those only acquainted with human ladies, Brownies do not bleed or suffer cramps once per moon cycle. Both genders are noticeably more interested in their partners (or any other good-looking Brownie) around springtime above ground. This season corresponds roughly with the time of the fire spirit which surely cannot be a coincidence. It may also be the reason why the Darkling’s year is almost the same number of days long as the one above ground despite it’s strange 9-month structure.
Representations of the nine months can been seen carved in the stones which mark out the three different areas in the meeting caves (see Government):
Month of the Small Spirits
...is the first month of the year and a time of change and confusion. No one spirit is worshiped during this time, but it is dedicated to the smaller, insignificant spirits which no doubt need thanking.
Month of the Paprabaab
...is time for paying attention to how one looks, for collecting large amounts of water and washing one’s hair of all the dirt and for making new clothes. Babes born at this time will be beautiful but unlucky as it’s not a natural time for Brownie females to give birth.
Month of the Fire Spirit
...is a time of burning passions. Babes born at this time will be head-strong and wilful although those who learn to control and use this trait can become great leaders.
Month of the Fungi
...is the prime time for planting and tending fungi – new plots planted in this season will be the best and easiest to cultivate. Babes born in this time will be good cooks.
Month of the Vegetation
...is when all types of vegetation spirits are paid homage to, any plant life which is not fungi. Roori weed and rryrr flower spirits are particularly well-worshipped as these are most commonly used. This is the best month for the elders to look into the future and the futures of potential couples are divined in preparation for the month of the Brownie spirit. Babes born in this time will be fruitful.
Month of the Brownie
...is a time to be thankful for the continued health of you and your family. This is a very lucky time for marriages. Babies born in this time will have a very lucky life as well.
Month of the Rock Oil Spirit
...is a time for honouring the oil which feeds and supports all the life in the caves. During the festival day many stone dishes of the stuff are burnt, lighting the meeting cave in flickering shadows. Children often give a gift of some sort to their parents too, in recognition of the parent-child bond between the Rock Oil spirit and them. Babes born at this time will be excellent parents and teachers.
Month of the Tribe Spirit
...is different of every different group of Darklings, as they each pay tribute to the particular spirit which they feel is most important for their tribe. The groups who train flittermice as mounts would spend time worshiping those for example.
Rites of Passage. There are three
important stages in Darkling life, each of which has three different marking
points within it as well. The first is childhood, which lasts until the first
festival day after the Brownie’s first
kill. This is the marking point for adulthood for both genders, and will not
happen until they are physically mature for the simple fact that until then
they are not allowed to stray far from the home base. It is around the age of
15 in Brownies, although the elders of
the tribe have the final say. Adulthood lasts until the Darkling retires from
hunting, which is the choice of the individual themselves. Once they move on
from this part of life they will be mainly confined to the home base, but they
will also gain the title of elder and the respect that brings. Most Darklings
sadly do not reach this last stage, as the life is incredibly hard and
The first stage of childhood is a baby, where the youngster is totally reliant on its mother and is slowly weaned from its mother’s milk. Once it is onto solid food it becomes a child, and slowly begins to learn the skills it will need later on. It eventually starts to help with basic tasks which don’t require too much skill, and starts to watch the other members of the clan going about their business. Gradually it begins to pick up the day-to-day routine and learn about how the year works as well. When the elders deem the Darkling is ready, it enters the third stage of childhood. Here it is taught the meanings of the markings they carve into their cave walls, as well as being encouraged to develop a specific skill or interest.
Adulthood is split into three stages, before marriage, after marriage and mastership. Piscinites in the first stage are known for preening and primping their hair and body; trying to look their best and show off to the opposite sex. They are also still apprentices, as they only begin the dangerous task of hunting at this stage. Before they can marry, they need to convince the elders that they can perform all the necessary tasks of the clan well enough to support a family. Once they do, they are given more freedom. They are still thought to be learning and perfecting the skills they have learnt, but they are expected to pick up things themselves rather than being actively taught. Mastership is a coveted position, and if a Darkling reaches it then the event is celebrated at the next festival. This is when a Brownie has become skilled at a certain thing more than is usually possible in the groups. Maybe Darklings of other clans seek them out for advice, or they simply did something thoroughly amazing.
The divisions of elderhood are organised differently. They are not stages which you have to achieve in order, but rather three different paths which a Darkling can choose to specialise in in its old age. The first is hunting and trapping. In this case the Brownie may still go out with the hunting groups but should stay out of the action. They are looked to for advice on every aspect of trapping and finding the prey. The second is looking after the youngsters and teaching them the basics of Darkling life. They aim to become an expert in leading and guiding youngsters to go on to be excellent members of the group. The third is to specialise in the secrets of healing and predicting the future using the Roori weed. It should be noted that choosing one of these paths does not prevent an elder from learning the ways of the others, it simply means that is where their focus lies. So a hunting specialist would still spend a lot of time teaching and still make predictions from the roori weed, only in times of particular need they might go to another clan’s specialist for extra help.
history of the Darkling Brownies is difficult to trace as they themselves have
no knowledge of a world above ground except in legend. Even in myth it is
barely recognisable as the place it describes, which only goes to prove how
long they have been surviving beneath the surface. Unfortunately these are all
that a researcher really has to go on as the Darklings only have a very basic
written language and so don’t record anything themselves. The
dwarves have known about their existence
for several millennia, but they were settled and adapted to the caves well
before that first contact. Their burial caverns alone show that they may have
been there almost as long as the dwarves
The history here has been mainly taken from various myths which still linger around the Piscinites’ firesides. A couple of these legends vary surprisingly little from group to group, considering how hard it can be to travel between the home caves. Two of these are “How we found the Oil” and “The Mages’ Betrayal”. The first is recognisable as the story of how the Brownies came to live in the caves, as it tells of a great journey through the spirit world (which we can assume is the land outside), lasting many generations. Some of the adventures on this journey seem plausible, whilst others are clearly fabrications.
The second tale tells of another important, but much later, point in their history. The clan’s life mages, who had seemingly been the leaders of the society before then, were thrown out of the society for various crimes. Again, it is hard to tell which of these are mythical and which actually happened, but the legend itself is likely to be true. This is partly because it is a common one throughout the clans, partly because other myths from before then tell of mages which later ones don’t, partly because it explains the look of the Darklings, and also because it mentions a certain remarkable life mage. Zrowss appears in reliable writings around the Year of Darkness as a Piscinite who claimed to have lived over 5000 years.
Due to the unreliability of the accounts, and the Darkling’s own lack of a calendar, the dates below are very rough.