Noctern

From shadow, light

N
octerns are a human race who have inhabited the vast underground realm known as the Ontorlands since the beginning of recorded history. More than anything else, this single characteristic has ensured their status in oplander society as feared and despised boogeymen.
 
Racial Slur
The name Noctern is really only used amongst oplanders. The Noctern people tend to see it as a pejorative racial slur, although most people on the surface use the term only because they know no other name for these people. Nocterns know full-well the implied connection between Noctern and nocturnal - as though they are somehow "creatures of the night" - and they don't much appreciate the connotation. Amongst themselves, they refer to their own culture as the Nokkmeun, which, in Nokmeni, translates to "from shadow, light".

Origins
N
o one knows exactly when the first casterways found their way into the Ontorlands. A few, scant, archaeological discoveries have indicated that some of the first refugees on the planet probably made their way into the caves early during the Age of Darkness. This makes sense, given that those initial stragglers would have had no shelter and questionable survival skills. But it would be a mistake to think of these original, desperate pioneers as Nocterns. A Noctern isn't merely anyone who falls into a snyre or wanders deeper into the Ontorlands. Nocterns are a full culture and society in their own right, and there's no logical reason to believe that those early cave-dwellers had anything resembling a culture of their own.
 
So-Called "Menace"
The historical record is silent on Nocterns until late in the Age of Cervia. The first references to them as a group make only fleeting statements about "the Nocternal threat" or "the looming Nocternal crisis". It's worth noting that these initial, scattered reports talk about Nocterns in foreboding tones as a mounting emergency - but they never make any mention of specific threats posed by the Noctern peoples. By the time of the Age of Expansion, there are extensive records of conferences and government forums whereby cognoscenti gathered to discuss strategies on how to deal with the Nocterns. But once again, it's hard to find any record of the specific problems caused by these people.   It was several hundred more years before anyone even bothered to write a detailed account of them. Up until that point, someone scanning the ancient texts would have no idea whether "Noctern" referred to a country, or a guild, or any other semi-organized group of individuals.

Appearance
T
he Nocterns are, by far, the palest race on the planet. The easy assumption is that their milky complexions are a natural, long-term adaption to the subterranean environments they inhabit. But since no one knows if there was a particular group of people who formed the first Noctern society, it's impossible to conclude that such a group may not have already been just as pale before they ever descended into the Ontorlands.
 
Hair
Nearly 50% of Nocterns have stark-white hair. But this should not be mistaken as albinism. The other 50% have hair ranging from jet black to almond to silver/grey to amber. Most Nocterns have no bodily hair other than that which is on top of their heads, and in their wispy eyebrows. All Noctern hair is curly, although the degree of curl ranges from gentle waves to tight kink.
 
Stature
Noctern frames are often "slight" - potentially, an adaptation that helps them to better squeeze between narrow tunnels and rocky passageways. This belies the "hearty" features of their faces, which often consist of broad cheekbones, wide noses, and full pink lips.   The average Noctern is short, by oplander standards. Noctern men rarely grow taller than 1.6 meters and women average 1.4 meters.
 
Eyes
Their irises contain the full range of "normal" colors, but there are no whites in their eyes. The area outside the iris is pure black. Perhaps, more than anything else, this one particular trait tends to make oplanders feel completely unsettled.   Whether it's because of this unusual pigmentation, or completely unrelated to it, Noctern sight is renowned for its incredible acuity. This does not mean that they have any superhuman ability to see "in total darkness". In the absence of any ambient light, the Nocterns' vision is no better than any other human's. And despite some of the more fanciful old-wives' tales, Nocterns have no magical ability to see through anything. But given even the faintest glow to guide them, they can often travel easily and naturally through inky landscapes that would stifle other humans.
 
Unsettling Glow
The most legendary aspect of Noctern appearance is actually true - but not for the reasons that most assume. Nocterns glow. This is typically attributed to dark magic or evil genetic experiments. But the truth is much more mundane. The Noctern diet includes many subterranean mosses that emit varying amounts of phosphorescent slime. And the waters they drink are often rich with bioluminescent algae. Over a period of months - or years - many of those phosphorescent compounds accumulate in the body. They don't have any known, negative side effects on human biology. But they do bestow a faint glow on the carrier. That glow is further aided by the Nocterns' typically-pale skin tone. The resulting luminescence has been described as ethereal, supernatural, or, depending upon one's perspective, downright freakish.   The extent of the Nocterns' glow is frequently exaggerated in oplander folk tales. It is, in fact, so faint that it is indiscernible in the presence of light sources of medium-or-greater strength. Even in darkness, the Noctern glow is subdued, with its greatest concentration being at the fingertips.   It's also a mistake to assume that this glow is an inherently-Nocternal trait. Nocterns are not born with this glow. If they never consume phosphorescent sources, they will never acquire a glow of any kind. If they stop consuming such sources, the glow will completely dissipate in a year or so. For that matter, any human who indulges in the same diet will, eventually, acquire the same glow. Nevertheless, oplanders are almost never exposed to such luminescent food sources. And Nocterns consume them almost daily. Therefore, this eerie condition has come to be associated almost entirely with Nocterns.

Persecution
T
he most galling aspect of Noctern persecution is the extent to which it happens freely, completely out in the open, and rarely (if ever) carries any threat of legal retribution. When in marksmanship training, rural oplander children are actively encouraged to loose an arrow in the rare event that they spy a Noctern sliding through the forest. Nocterns moving within oplander cities are always in grave danger of being lynched if their cover is blown. Lumberjacks have been known to post flayed Noctern corpses at the outskirts of their logging operations as an implicit warning to stay well away.   "Penalties" for violence against Nocterns range from slaps on the wrist to outright encouragement. Although there is no oplander society that can claim to treat Nocterns with anything approaching full decency and human rights, the range of aggression seems to be worst in the eastern regions, with the Inqoans making no secret of their desire to hunt and kill every Noctern they can get their hands upon. When they are "fortunate" enough to make a kill, their prize is frequently dragged through the streets in a public display of hero-worship for the slayer. In Inqoan literature and folk tales, the antagonists are almost always Noctern or in some way affiliated with the Nocterns.
 
Tolerance by Region
Central regions seem to be more-or-less indifferent. This is borne out in the nations of Islemanoton, where the Nocterns certainly are not hated (or hunted), but neither are they respected. After ages of constant tension, the Tallonai peoples (and to a lesser extent, the Elladorans) finally seem to have reached an exasperated state of live-and-let-live. They have no love for the Nocterns. But neither do they commence any overt actions to destroy them. The thinking seems to be that, "As long as they stay in their holes and keep to themselves, we'll have nothing to do with them."   The nations of Isleprimoton are the only place where Nocterns have something that is mildly-approaching "security". The Jontzu, Sontsu, and Lumidari peoples certainly don't appreciate the Nocterns - but they won't do much to mess with them either. For several thousand years, they've been getting their asses handed to them every time they deign to stir the hornets' nest that is Noctern civilization - and they're tired of it. They're tired of getting educated in military tactics from "those filthy mole people down below" and, at this point in their long histories, they just want to leave the Nocterns alone. They've grown overtly afraid of the society below them that simply will not go away - no matter how much they wish that it would.   This does not mean that Nocterns can move freely amongst the population centers of Isleprimoton. Far from it. But most oplanders give Nocterns a wide berth when encountering them in the wild. There are even isolated cases where Nocternal merchants have ventured to the edges of western cities without being attacked. But they're too wily to think that they can get away with simply walking through the middle of town.
Do not squander anger on the viper, for the viper was always going to strike. Instead, channel that anger within yourself.
Gopaj Vreshnu, Noctern elder, 3004 AoR
Self-Reliance
For their own part, Nocterns certainly don't condone the violence and persecution that faces them across the planet's surface. But they also don't burn too many mental cycles worrying about the potential attrocities they could face across oplander civilization. They fastidiously teach their children that those on the surface are inherently dangerous - and not to be trusted. They seem to have accepted the hatred of the surface dwellers as, almost, an everyday matter-of-fact condition of life that cannot be changed, and must simply be "dealt with". Under this way of thinking, they have affected an air of aggressive common sense and self-reliance. They preach amongst themselves that the surface world will never truly be "theirs", and that the only way to ensure their continued survival is to defend - to the death, if need be - the Ontorlands, and to only range above ground when absolutely necessary.

Naming Traditions

Feminine names

Kalsang, Legshey, Sonam, Karma, Padma

Masculine names

Bhakto, Choden, Rinchen, Yangdon, Dolkar

Unisex names

Jinpa, Jorden, Krendal, Tansin, Bhutin

Family names

Omia, Mahrooz, Vazirov, Zaurgil, Abbasova, Baghirova, Aslanova, Hasanova, Salehlı, Cemilli

Culture

Major language groups and dialects

N
octerns are the sole progenitors of the Nokmeni language. As far as the cognoscenti can tell, they crafted the language entirely from scratch, as unlikely as that sounds. Few other races have ever even attempted to speak it, or to learn its written form. Oplanders typically find it challenging to distinguish one Nokmeni letter from another, and many have mistaken it for simple art.
 
Multilingualism
When they are not communicating amongst themselves in Nokmeni, Nocterns are remarkable for their command of numerous languages. Although it would be an exaggeration to think that every Noctern is fluent in every other casterway language, it's generally accepted that all Nocterns speak Nokmeni, Komon, and at least two or three other major languages. There is no other culture that is known to foster such a high percentage of polyglots.   Nocterns are not simply known for the number of languages they speak, but for the proficiency they display in those languages. If a Noctern claims to know five languages, it's a good bet that they're highly fluent in each of those languages. In the rare occasions when an oplander deigns to interact peacefully with a Noctern, it's not uncommon for the Noctern to correct the oplander on the finer points of his own speech. Having an ingrained love of language, Nocterns don't seem to understand why anyone would ever pass up a chance to have their own communication skills improved. Unfortunately, those making contact with Nocterns are rarely grateful for the chance to be corrected by cave-dwellers.

Common Etiquette rules

So long as it is clear that you are trying not to offend the Noctern, it is pretty much impossible to offend the Noctern.
Anolina Anolinia, Morvatian translator, 2221 AoR
N
octern etiquette is a complex affair. Greetings and other social interactions are governed by a great many detailed, and almost always unwritten, rules. The codex of this process is daunting in its complexity, but the first rule - the golden rule - is simply: "You must try." In other words, there is much in Noctern society that than can be - and often is - forgiven, so long as it's clear to the recipient that the sender is making an earnest effort to try to adhere to the highest standards of etiquette.
 
Efficient Communications
The "trying" is often perplexing to novice observers. Nokmeni is an incredibly efficient language. For those who don't know or understand all the nuances, they may believe that a given interaction was terse - maybe even, rude - because in many oplander societies the formality of an interaction can be gleaned from its length and complexity. But the precise nature of Nokmeni means that there is no need for such elongated and splendorous exchanges. As long as both participants are fluent in Nokmeni, there is a good chance that a great deal of etiquette and formality can be communicated in merely a handful of words.   For example, there are 17 different Nokmeni words that translate in Komon as "hello". But of course, those 17 different hello's are not merely different ways to say the exact same thing. Each of the 17 variants has a unique connotation. Some of those connotations are highly targeted and should be used only in very specific situations.   The efficiency of their language tends to make Nocterns less forgiving of those who simply cannot (or will not) try. In other words, in Komon, a proper, formal, and completely-polite greeting may take minutes to complete. But in Nokmeni, a perfect, exactly-targeted greeting may still only require a small handful of syllables or words - assuming the speaker is sufficiently fluent to grab the exact, proper words. So for those who are well-versed in the Noctern culture, and in the Nokmeni language, the thinking is, "If you could have communicated a proper exchange, using all of the preferred etiquette, by merely choosing a precisely-targeted word or two... then why in the world didn't you do just that?"
 
Avoiding Offense
This can lead to a conundrum for outsiders. On one hand, they are expected to "try". On the other hand, Nocterns don't consider a slew of poorly-targeted words to be "trying". They actually see it as lazy. The presumption is: The speaker may be trying (mightily) to find the right word(s) to convey proper deference - but they obviously didn't do much trying before this encounter to actually learn the nuances of Nokmeni or of Noctern culture at large.   For this reason, Nocterns generally advise outsiders to take a passive approach. In those rare instances when a foreigner has truly made the effort to learn Nokmeni and to ingratiate themselves into Noctern society, the most common advice is to, "Sit back. Shut up. And listen." This advice comes from the fact that it's much easier to offend the Noctern by the clumsy things that you have said, rather than by what you haven't said. So it's generally more effective to make it clear to the Nocterns that one isn't an active participant in the conversation at all - at least not until that person has truly mastered the language and can understand all the nuances inherent in word choice. This is much more likely to earn the foreigner a "free pass" when it comes to Nocternal rites of etiquette.

Art & Architecture

T
o a neutral observer, the quantity or the quality of Noctern artistic output may be neither trivial nor impressive. Whether Nocterns create "more" art or "better" art than any other culture is a qualitative question with no true answer. But for any oplander who feels compelled to truly investigate Noctern art, they would most likely be astonished.   The surface conception of Noctern artistic endeavors is that they either A) do not exist, or B) they are primitive and entirely unsophisticated. It's safe to say that "real" Noctern art satisfies neither of these conditions.
 
Prolific Creators
Noctern society is so prolific in their artistic output that the occasional ambassador has wondered whether Nocterns, on a daily basis, do anything but create art. After descending through the initial, cursory levels of the Nocterns' Ontorlands strata, it becomes clear that the entire environment is an artistic expression. There is no art form in which they do not indulge. Their caverns are practically littered with statuary. They manufacturer many different materials solely to serve as canvases. Given the fluorescent and iridescent pigments readily available to them, their palettes often dwarf those used by oplander artists. They coordinate great festivals dedicated solely to dance. They lend great cultural heft to the intellectual crafts of acting and playwrighting. They labor for many hours just to perfect choral arrangements. But, their writing...
 
Sophisticated Literature
Nocternal literature, for those fastidious enough to research it, is a treasure trove of eternal themes, conflicted characters, and finely-layered plots. There are no words in Nokmeni for "protagonist", "antagonist", "hero", or "villain". In fact, when Nocterns are first mastering other languages, they have a very difficult time even conceiving of these concepts. To the Nocternal mind, the idea of a "hero" or a "villain" is so one-sided, so simplistic, so vanilla, so boring that they cannot understand how other cultures accept such precepts in their so-called art.   This mindset is reflective of their overall society. It is a common precept of Noctern society that there are no truly heroic or evil people. They would argue that on many occasions, people behave heroicly or evilly, but that does not make them innately heroic or evil. They are also fond of pointing out that, outside of the fictional worlds of oplander literature and folk tales, many of the real people performing heroic deeds are the same ones who have also performed evil deeds.
 
Subterranean Galleries
Nocterns deploy a great many media to compose and display their creations. But it is quite natural to leverage, and to even elevate, their most plentiful resource - cave walls - in the production of this art. However, it would be a grave mistake to lump such efforts together with the common perception of "cave art". When Nocterns are finally ready to present their art on such walls, those walls no longer bear any relation to the caves from which they were hewn. Over their long history, Nocterns have cleared out hundreds of kilometers of caves solely as cultural showcases. They typically grind the walls down to smooth, flat, polished surfaces. Or they plaster over them to the point that a random observer, teleported into the edifice, would have no way of knowing that they were in a subterranean environment. Only once this environment has been properly and thoroughly "prepped" would most Nocterns even consider installing art within it.
 
A Sensitive Subject
For this reason, one of the fastest paths to a physical confrontation with a Noctern is to tell them, to their face, that their productions are "cave art". Nocterns understand - all too well - the implications inherent in other oplander languages. And they fully realize that the term "cave art" is nothing resembling a compliment.   Nocterns are famously taciturn. They appreciate all the forces that are aligned against them above ground, and they are typically loathe to spark any conflict if such could be avoided. But one of the few exceptions to this general rule-of-thumb entails those times when oplanders have dismissively referred to Noctern art. Many Nocterns simply have no patience for it, and they have made many rash decisions in the past to make this point painfully clear to their opponents.
 
A Cautionary Tale
In 1207 AoE, the decorated Charian general Berrion Bellion stood at an armistice meeting after 5 years of bloody, brutal conflict with the Nocterns. As he was signing the cease-fire paperwork, he looked to his Nocternal counterpart, smiled, and said, "You know, now that we're putting this whole thing behind us, I'm really hoping to get down to those pits of yours and take in some of that fancy cave art." His counterpart smiled, said nothing, signed the paperwork, and led his troops out of the encampment. Later that night, the full Noctern force returned, having encircled the Charian camp. In less than two hours, they managed to slaughter more than 2,300 troops. The war continued for 20 more years, and the Noctern general, who is only recorded in modern records by his pseudonym - the Dawn Reaver - is still considered a national hero to this day.

Birth & Baptismal Rites

A
lthough Nocterns can look quite different from oplanders, they should not be mistaken as a separate species. Nocterns are perfectly capable of procreating with all other ethnicities on the planet. Although it is widely viewed by oplanders as a stigmatizing taboo, children have absolutely been born as the result of pairings between Nocterns and other cultures.   Cognoscenti reports indicate that such children are typically strong and vital, with no increased rates of deformities or handicaps. However, the life of a nonbreed on the surface is one of sorrow and isolation. There are very few societies on the planet's surface where children of Noctern descent are tolerated. In the more "forgiving" cultures, these children are simply treated as pariahs. In more brutal societies, they are banished to the wilderness to fend for themselves. In the most extreme cases, they are killed outright.
 
Bi-racial Animosity
Some of the most tragic stories of oplander society are of those children who are not born with any Noctern parentage, but due to natural genetic variations, they ended up as exceptionally pale, unusually short, or having dark-set eyes. These traits, especially when found in combination, can be enough to ensure that anyone would be suspected of having Noctern genes, regardless of their publicly-identified parents. And once that stigma has been placed on a child, it will rarely ever wash off.   For this reason, oplander children born of Nocternal parentage almost always end up living in the Ontorlands. They are viciously shunned above ground. But the Nocterns have a long history of embracing and fostering these children. This even applies to those offspring that had no true Noctern blood in them in the first place, but were still accused of being Nocternal due to their own natural features.

Funerary and Memorial customs

W
henever it is feasible, Nocterns lay their dead to rest in the Ontorseia. This gives them one of the most unique funerary traditions on Excilior.

The distinct qualities of the Ontorseia mean that there are millions of deceased Nocterns resting peacefully in the deepest underground regions of the world. These individuals do not last forever. Even in the preservative and protective confines of those mysterious waters, bodies do have a tendency to disintegrate - very slowly - over millennia. But a corpse deposited in these waters will probably remain recognizable for well over a thousand years. And it won't completely disappear for a couple thousand more.
 
Journey Into Darkness
Funerals amongst the Noctern are not just family events. They are considered to be culturally significant to the community. As such, the entire community is considered, by default, to be invited to the proceedings, and a good majority of them will end up attending. As supportive and communal as this may sound, Nocterns have commented, amongst themselves on many occasions, that an entire month can pass with them having accomplished almost nothing, because nearly every day was dominated by yet another funeral originating from their local, but extensive, neighborhood.   More than half of the journey takes place in near-complete darkness. Designated guides will carry small, yet very faint, lights to aid in the navigation - especially for the frail and the elderly. But every effort is made to keep their travels in the dark - as much as is feasible. When deceased Nocterns are carried so far down, to the edge of the preservative ocean, the darkness itself is considered to be a valued and sacred part of the ritual. In this process, Nocterns are, literally and figuratively, carrying their loved ones, by hand, into the darkness. This is seen as the last - and the most loving - gesture that one can provide to a friend or family member who has passed. The Nokmeni word for "death" translates to "returned to shadow". Once the broad funeral party reaches the shores of the Ontorseia, the sight is remarkable. After so many hours of groping through narrow, abyssal caverns to reach the underground ocean, the funeral party is typically met by the fading-but-still-visible glow of the other Nocterns who have most-recently passed away. The newly-deceased is set afloat. The light emanating from within this newest-voyager is more brilliant than any of the others who are already at-rest.
 
Glowing Corpses on a Dead Sea
Noctern corpses are specially prepared with great care. The organs are removed and the body cavity is filled with a particularly-vibrant mixture of fluorescent mosses. This grants the body a luminous quality that will last for many months in the abject blackness of the Great Below. The grand procession then escorts the body over an arduous path that will end with them being deep in the bowels of the planet. It's only at these great depths where outlets of the Ontorseia can be found.   Over a period of 3-6 months, the fluorescent mosses stuffed within the body cavity will slowly fade out and die. Eventually, the deceased will become completely "dark", although new arrivals will continue to provide an ambient - yet eerie - glow to the overall ocean.
 
Visiting the Dead
Occasionally, over the coming months and years, the deceased's loved ones may make solo pilgrimages down to the Ontorseia to "visit" their beloved dead and even, on some metaphysical level, to "talk" to them. These actions are purely ceremonial, but they are seen as essential to the grieving process - especially when the deceased was particularly-close to those who were left behind.   Oplanders typically understand little about this ritual. They have heard horrific and exaggerated tales about how the Nocterns perform "black magic" on a subterranean sea where they "summon demons and commune with the tortured souls of their ancestors". Yet the few oplanders who have ever been trusted enough to witness and participate in the tradition always describe it as simultaneously "haunting" and "somber", but unmistakably "beautiful".
 
Rejection of Surface Rituals
Although Noctern burial rites feel completely foreign and unnatural to surface-dwellers, this is only because most oplanders simply haven't considered the practical realities of life below the surface.   For starters, the idea of "burying" the dead, to the Nocterns, is absurd to the point of being comical. They spend most-or-all of their lives underground. It makes no sense to them that they could merely dispose of their dead by burying them. In a practical sense, they understand that, nearly every day, they themselves are "buried". By their way of thinking, the proposal of burying the dead is the equivalent of saying, "put your deceased right next to you - where you live, work, and sleep."   Nocterns also have almost no concept of cremation. They certainly burn/cook/incinerate some things in the Ontorlands. But the entire process is considered to be much more measured - much more controlled. For the most part, an oplander can strike up a fire whenever they have the materials (and the skill) at hand. But for residents of the Ontorlands, they are taught, from a very young age, to carefully consider, "Does the smoke have an escape path? Where will it go?" An ill-placed, or ill-timed fire, struck up when there is little-or-no ventilation, and when too many Nocterns are packed into an adjacent chamber, has the potential to asphyxiate hundreds in a frighteningly-short period of time. For this reason, fire is only deployed in the Ontorlands judiciously, with careful forethought. Even when they do build fires, they are almost never large enough to efficiently cremate a full-grown human. And the Nocterns have never seriously considered it to be a viable means by which to dispose of their dead.

Common Myths and Legends

T
here is, perhaps, no other race, culture, or society anywhere in the entire world that is as drenched in myths, legends, and outright lies as the Nocterns. Their subterranean habitation and stunning features have made them an easy basis for all manner of outlandish tales. A small handful of these tales are actually true. Many more have at least some basis in truth (even if they are ridiculously exaggerated). And of course, the vast majority of the legends are just outright fabrications. The following is just a sampling of those stories:
  • Nocterns see perfectly in the dark and can operate in the complete absence of light.
    (mostly) FALSE

    Noctern eyes require light to see, just like any other human. It is true that Nocterns have a demonstrated ability to see far better than most humans when in the presence of faint light sources. But they cannot see anything in pure blackness. And even though they can see better than other races in faint light, the quality is still tied to the quality of the light. So a Noctern viewing something in medium light will still be able to discern more detail than something viewed in scant light. In fact, the Nocterns' proclivity for sight amongst poor lighting can actually be a hindrance for them. When a "normally-sighted" person has adjusted to low-lighting, they can be temporarily blinded when confronted with sudden, bright light. When Nocterns have adjusted to the extremely-poor lighting conditions typical in the Ontorlands, a sudden, bright light will effectively blind them for much longer as they struggle to adapt to the new conditions.
  • Nocterns have fangs.
    FALSE

    Noctern dentition is no different than that of other humans.
  • Nocterns rise up through snyres and feed on humans at night.
    FALSE

    As silly as this legend is, it's at least somewhat understandable how it arose. Some Noctern societies do range above ground, at night, to hunt surface prey. And when they do so, their portals to the surface are almost always snyres. But there has never been a single verified instance of a Noctern hunting or eating another human. However, there are creatures that rise out of the snyres at night and hunt humans, typically dragging them back to the Ontorlands for later consumption. But it's just lazy and racist to conflate such creatures with Nocterns.
  • Nocterns glow in the dark.
    (mostly) TRUE

    Nearly all Nocterns have some kind of luminescent quality about them. But as outlined above, this is not due to any traits inherent to their ethnicity. Rather, it is driven by their diet. Any oplander would acquire the same physical trait if they ate as most Nocterns do. Conversely, Nocterns would not have this trait if they switched to an oplander diet.
  • Nocterns are lazy, untrustworthy, uneducated, underhanded people.
    FALSE

    Living in an underworld environment in no way equates to having underhanded characteristics. This has not stopped most oplander societies from painting the Noctern people with every disreputable brush they can find. It's hard to identify any undesirable human trait that hasn't, at some time, been applied, in a blanket manner, to all Nocterns. Similarly, it's difficult to identify any of these broad aspersions that have had even a tiny basis in reality. Some of the accusations are so blatantly inaccurate that they would be almost comical - if they didn't represent bigoted views used to foster hatred and unfounded distrust. For example, Nocterns are commonly depicted by oplanders as slow, simple, and dimwitted. In other words, the people being accused of stupidity are the same ones who usually speak more languages than their accusers. These same bigots will claim that the Nocterns have no real culture to speak of, and are nothing but a ragged band of savages who have taken to the caves because they are somehow less than human. But those bigoted claims almost always come from those who don't even speak Nokmeni and have never attempted to read it. If they did, they would realize that the Nocterns have an impressive history in the arts - from literature, to painting, to sculpture, to dance, to theatre. Nevertheless, whenever another society feels the need to rally its people by accusing someone else of any undesirable trait, Nocterns have invariably filled that role.
  • Nocterns are a violent, warlike people who will double-cross anyone to achieve their goals.
    FALSE

    Nocterns are essentially insular and wary of outside contact. They will go to great lengths to keep distance between themselves and other cultures. But this in no way implies that they are pacifist. And when confronted with oplander aggression, they have a long and proud history of defending themselves and protecting what is theirs. While this stance is completely understandable - indeed, honorable - it has, unfortunately, led to a repeated pattern in Noctern-oplander narratives:
    1. An oplander initiates some kind of unprovoked or unjustified violence against the Nocterns.
    2. The Nocterns respond with righteous and devastating force.
    3. The oplander yells, to anyone who will listen, "See!! I tried to tell you! They're a bunch of violent savages!"
    Or, on a similar note:
    1. An oplander strikes some kind of deal with the Nocterns.
    2. Shortly thereafter, the oplander reneges upon the agreed-upon deal.
    3. Seeing that they've been cheated and that the deal is, logically, no longer in effect, the Nocterns stop complying with their end of the (already broken) pact.
    4. The oplander yells, to anyone who will listen, "See!! I tried to tell you! They won't stay true to their word! They can't be trusted!"
  • Rinse, wash, repeat...
  • Nocterns were the Watchers referenced during Cervia Polonosa's self-imposed exile on Blepi.
    (probably) FALSE

    Cognoscenti consider this to be one of the weaker theories regarding the origin of the Watchers myth, but it can't be definitively disproved.
  • Nocterns keep their dead in suspended animation, and believe that they can commune with them.
    (mostly) TRUE

    This tradition is the one that most oplanders find to be unsettling - and it's basically true. Deep within the Ontorlands, vast lakes have been found where no light propagates, no plants (not even moss or fungi) thrive, and the waters themselves have strange preservative properties. These Ontorseia outlets are so far down that even Nocterns must carry light sources with them to avoid becoming hopelessly lost in the black abyss. For millennia, the Nocterns have not buried their dead. ("Burying" is basically a foreign and nonsensical concept to them - because they already spend most of their lives underground.) Neither do they burn the dead, because flame - and thus, smoke - is a dangerous beast when one lives in a series of caverns that can be, for all essential purposes, sealed. So, ages ago, the Noctern began depositing their dead in these deep-and-ancient caverns. And the preservative waters in these near-mystical pools have kept some of their ancestors' bodies in a suspended state for hundreds - and even thousands - of years. Perhaps it's inevitable, then, that Nocterns see it as a sacred rite to descend to these same pools and talk with their departed loved ones. Or to "commune" with their long-dead ancestors. Where this story slides into myth and ignorance is in the suggestion that Nocterns see this preservation as "suspended animation" or that they truly believe they can talk to their deceased. They understand, fully-well, that the bodies of their loved ones are preserved - but that those same loved ones are very much dead and are never coming back. And they "commune" with those ancestors in the same way that an oplander may stand next to the tomb of a dead family member and "talk" to them. No Noctern, aside from those afflicted with mental illness, has ever returned from these sacred pools having believed that they truly had a living, breathing conversation with any of the bodies that float serenely in the darkness. Nevertheless, many oplanders have seized upon these stories to frame the Nocterns as necromancers dabbling in the black arts.
  • Nocterns entrance oplanders with their hypnotic songs.
    (mostly) FALSE

    This silly legend stems from the well-documented Nocternal love of song. Although they don't perceive their own language as song, it hits many oplander ears as musical. But beyond this, they are enthusiastic singers, and a Nocternal chorus can easily be more than a hundred strong. In some instances, these choruses are conducted at-or-near snyres. And when that happens, their beautiful-yet-eerie tones echo throughout the surface forests. In other instances, even when they haven't organized near a snyre, the acoustics of a particular stretch of Ontorlands tunnels can amplify the sound into the nearest forest exits. The echoing, hypnotic, ethereal sound of their voices has been characterized as atmospheric and mesmerizing. But the trance induced by the beautiful sound of Nocternal singing is no more ensnaring than the "trance" one experiences when walking past a particularly-skilled street musician. The idea that the Nocterns have any "magical" powers to ensnare oplanders is, quite frankly, absurd and entirely without evidence.
  • Nocterns are not casterways.
    (almost certainly) FALSE

    No one - not even the Nocterns themselves, know exactly how or when Noctern society first coalesced. With that in mind, there is no one who can definitively prove that the apocryphal "first" Noctern was, indeed, a casterway. But saying that the Nocterns descended from some... "other" population that was not, in any way, casterway, is no different than claiming that a given population descended from gods, or wolves, or three-headed aliens. It's not, technically, impossible. But there's also no scientific reason to believe that it's true. To be clearer, there is not a single shred of historical evidence to support the idea that Nocterns are anything but casterways. But the "They're not casterways!" narrative has been powerful throughout history. For those tempted to make diplomatic ties with the Nocterns, it has proven easy to undermine those efforts by screaming (to anyone who would listen) that, "They're not casterways!" Unfortunately, it hasn't much mattered whether there is any evidence to support this specious claim. They look different. They live in different environments. So, once the civic leaders take up the (flawed) narrative that they're not really casterways, it becomes difficult - if not impossible - for their supporters to justify maintaining those diplomatic ties. Thus, aligning oneself with the Nocterns can be an expedient path to one's own political ostracizing.
  • Nocterns create snyres
    (mostly) FALSE

    Although snyres are not associated with the same destructive force of, say, a razer, they still have the potential to cause massive damage. In a few isolated instances, they have even changed the course of world history. For this reason, they are viewed, by some, with fear and awe. Given that a snyre is often an underground cavern run amok, and the Nocterns are the most tangible human population associated with underground caverns, it was probably inevitable that some would come to connect the (specious) dots between the Nocterns and snyres. Over millennia, the Nocterns have certainly become highly skilled at underground engineering. And if they felt fit to collapse a few already-weakened sections of forest floor, it's hard to argue that they couldn't pull it off. But there are many thousands of snyres across all of Excilior's continents. The idea that Nocterns are responsible for all - or even, most - of these natural phenomena is patently absurd. There are a handful of targeted scenarios throughout history where oplanders were overtly attacking the subterranean population and that same population found a way to weaken strategic areas of the forest floor in self defense. But it is a great (and illogical) leap to move from "Nocterns strategically hastened the formation of a few snyres throughout history" to "Nocterns are responsible for all (or even most) snyres."
  • Nocterns change their skin color like chameleons.
    FALSE

    It's actually understandable how this legend came to be. Noctern skin, being incredibly pale, serves as an effectively-neutral base upon which all sorts of other pigments can be applied. Many of the planet's best pigments originate from the fungi, mosses, and algae that propagate in the Ontorlands. Over millennia, Nocterns have elevated camouflage and body-painting to an art form. Given knowledge of their target environment, and enough time to prepare, they are masters at crafting skin coverings that can render them nearly invisible in the right environment. They have also been known to apply false tanning agents during those rare circumstances when they actually desire to move amongst oplander society. Their most spectacular work is not when they are attempting subterfuge, but rather when they are deploying body paint purely for the sake of art. However, none of these amazing skills are inherent in their DNA. Nor can they deploy them, at will, as a chameleon might. Noctern body painting is a carefully-constructed and time-consuming endeavor that cannot be done on the fly.
  • Nocterns are nocturnal.
    FALSE

    This is one of the most surprising revelations to oplanders. They frequently make lazy associations that, A) Nocterns spend much of their life living in the darkness of the Ontorlands therefore, and B) we associate darkness with nighttime, so thus C) they must be nocturnal. Indeed, the oplander term Noctern is deliberately a short leap from nocturnal. Nocterns are perfectly aware of this faulty association and they don't appreciate it in the slightest, because nocturnal often means more than just "is awake at night". It is often used to infer "evil or underworld beings creeping through the night". Yet most Nocterns maintain a daily cycle that puts them in line with diurnal rhythms. Exactly how they do this isn't entirely understood. Even while deep below the surface, Nocterns will often say things like, "It smells like dusk is approaching." Or, "It is a midday air." The mistaken oplander legends are sometimes exacerbated by Nocternal hunting patterns. When they go above ground seeking game, they are often spotted around the snyres at dawn or dusk. Those time periods are significant because the hunting is often best in the twilight hours. But when they rise from the snyres at dusk, they will typically return with their catch well-before midnight and go to sleep. If they are seen around the snyres around dawn, it's only because they arose shortly before sunlight, fulfilled the morning's hunting, and returned shortly after full sunrise. But to oplanders who aren't paying careful attention, it's easy to assume that the Nocterns rose from the snyres at dusk, were out all night, and only returned after the sun rose into the sky the next morning.
This list of Noctern myths is far from exhaustive. A great many tomes have been dedicated to the vast subject of Noctern lore. Most of them have been written from the perspective of self-interested cognoscenti catering to unfounded lies against a peaceful people. But no matter the perspective of the author, there is never a lack of myths, legends, and silly fairy tales that have been attributed to the Noctern peoples throughout history.

Ideals

Beauty Ideals

The oplanders want nothing to do with me because I reek of Nokkmeun. The Nokkmeun want nothing to do with me because I reek of them.
Vatsa Madhokar, Noctern youth, 2207 AoR
O
ne of the sadder aspects of Noctern culture is their inverted ideal of beauty. There are many small, physical characteristics that are prevalent amongst the Nocterns. But the most common are:

  • Short in stature
  • Broad facial features
  • Exceedingly pale
  • Coal-black eyes
  • A gentle, phosphorescent glow
  • White-or-fair hair
  • Generally hairless, other than the top of the head and the eyebrows
So perhaps it is inevitable that the following traits are considered the most desirable features amongst Noctern society:
  • Taller
  • Aquiline facial features
  • Darker pigmentation
  • As much white in the eyes as possible
  • Little-or-no glow
  • Darker hair
  • Hairy - especially in areas other than the top of the head and the eyebrows
Undermining Their Own
Obviously the standards, for those who are generally accepted as the "most beautiful", run directly counter to the basic traits that define what it means to be Nocternal. Even though oplanders rarely interact with those in the Ontorlands, the few who have integrated with Noctern society frequently comment on just how sad this state of affairs can become. Those who exhibit the most "Noctern-like" qualities are ultimately the same ones who are dismissed as undesirable. In some cases, they are even ridiculed by their community as "primitive" or "feral". They even have a name for these individuals who are somehow too Noctern: "nocto".   The word is far-from-flattering in Noctern society. It would typically be used something like this: "You're not dating that girl as long you live in our household. She's nothing but nocto trash." Even when it's used as a supposed-compliment, it still engenders an underlying insult, such as: "I'm not messing with any of those pretty boys tonight. I'm gonna go out and find me a real salty nocto."
 
Self-Hatred
Of course, Noctern society is hardly the only culture on Excilior to fetishize all the traits that are foreign to the local culture. In fact, one of the most popular stereotypes to be found in all oplander brothels, is the so-called Noctern prostitute. To be absolutely clear, these sex workers are almost never true Nocterns. They are just smallish young men (or, in Islegantuan, women) who have plastered themselves with layers of alabaster face paint and donned black-or-pale wigs. In oplander societies, this overt fetishizing is more of the traditional (and predictable) sexual desire to have that which is "other". But most oplanders only pursue these tastes as "forbidden desires" - hidden fetishes that they absolutely keep to themselves.   In Noctern society, these aren't hidden or sordid fantasies. They are commonly-held standards of that which is more-or-less attractive. In fact, it's generally accepted that a Noctern suitor may be openly rejected because they are simply too short, or too pale, or just too Noctern.

Gender Ideals

O
ne of the most striking features of Noctern society is its unique and almost-unheard-of general practice of gender equality. This gender equality isn't simply codified in Nocternal law. It's clearly practiced in the daily lives of all Nocterns. While this may not sound remarkable to some, it is borderline-amazing in a world where nearly all the nations of Islegantuan and Islemanoton are overtly matriarchal, and nearly all the nations of Isleprimoton are overtly patriarchal.   This in no way implies that Nocterns enjoy gender equality in their birth rates. Nocterns are as locked into the realities of the Plague of Men as any other ethnicity or culture on the planet. As such, the realities of their gender-equal traditions can cause unique frictions amongst a population which is 70% male (just like the rest of Excilior). Eastern cultures essentially "solved" this conundrum with policies that enshrine the minority-but-child-bearing women as authorities and rulers. Western cultures took the exact opposite approach, with policies that enshrine the majority-men as those same authorities. But the Nocterns are, literally, the only true civilization in the world that has chosen to codify men and women as true equals - even if their populations are far from equal, and probably never will be.

Relationship Ideals

M
ore than any other culture, Nocterns have a surprising commitment to lifelong pair bonding. Given the realities of the Plague of Men, this does not work out perfectly. But like most oplander civilizations, homosexuality is incredibly common amongst Nocterns. This means that there are relatively few souls in the Ontorlands who would prefer to have a dedicated, long-term relationship, but simply cannot find one. This arrangement has led to a remarkably stable social structure. Although they cannot claim to be unique in this regard, outsiders have observed that the underworld culture is one of the more serene and peaceful in all of Excilior.

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