I have never felt more closely monitored than the month I spent stranded, alone, in the desolate forests of the Watcher Peninsula.
Nolanga Mahola, Quillian saltfoot, 2244 AoR
The Watchers are a mythical group of... something. Presumably, sentient beings, of some sort. They gained cultural prominence because they were referenced repeatedly in Cervia's Logs and supposedly guided her during her period of self-imposed exile.
Like all myths, there have been storytellers, throughout the ages, that swore the Watchers were/are real. But as with vampires and dragons, the cognoscenti and other "rational" folk have long debunked such claims. Owing to their legendary nature, there's great disagreement about the simple facts of what Watchers are. Depending upon the source, they are presumably:
- Sentient, and possibly, highly-intelligent.
- Not human, but possibly humanoid.
- Motivated to see Cervia Polonosa succeed, as witnessed by the many ways in which they allegedly interacted with her and provided skills that would serve her well upon her return to Islemanoton.
- Either native to southwestern Islegantuan's rain forests, or comfortable inhabiting them in an extremely primal environment.
- Mute, or willfully silent, or just unlikely to say anything interesting enough that Cervia felt compelled to reference it directly.
Taint nothin that turns the learned folk into blathering idiots quite like askin'em to splain where Watchers come from.
Adelar Encke, Goddite bailiff, 2398 AoR
Exhaustive efforts have been made to research the legend and ascribe to it some form of tangible truth. While modern cognoscenti no longer ascribe any hard truth to the Watcher legend, recent scholars have opened new lines of research into them (and many other myths) under the premise that many ancient legends hold at least some kernel of fact and that historical insight can be gained by carefully studying the genesis, and the evolution, of these tales over time. Along such veins, the following theories have all been presented and/or accepted at some time:
- They were a fiction of Cervia's.
FictionThis is a simple solution that requires no otherworldly or magical premise. But nowhere else does the content of her logs read as fiction. If she was prone to fiction, it would be hard to know by reading her journal. Most of her entries seem to be straightforward, matter-of-fact observations and explanations of her life.
- They were a fiction of someone else.
Historical TinkeringCervia's logs are a conglomeration of her journal entries that have been compiled over centuries. Although the people and events that she described are now accepted as history, there is no way to absolutely verify her authorship of any of those writings. Furthermore, the works that are collectively thought of as her logs consist of numerous caches that have been unearthed, sometimes with many years passing between the discoveries. Therefore, it's always possible, with regard to any of her putative logs, that any words and findings attributed to her are, in fact, the bolted-on work of a creative, devious, and ultimately deceitful quasi-historian. Indeed, some previous "discoveries" that purported to be her work, were later debunked as hoaxes or outright frauds. That being said, the logs from her time on Islegantuan have long been accepted as "canon", and there is no other material from her writings of this time period that have given anyone reason to question their authenticity.
- They were a delusion of Cervia's.
HallucinationGiven the otherwise practical nature of her accounts, some have hypothesized that she experienced hallucinations during her time on Islegantuan and the Watchers were a product of those hallucinations. This is a tempting theory, and one that can't be wholly disproven or discounted. There are several species of flora native to southwestern Islegantuan known to have psychedelic side effects. Even if she was exposed to nothing that would induce hallucinations, it's theoretically possible that her gross isolation and extended time with little-or-no human contact may have fostered periods of psychosis and such a state could explain her references to the Watchers. However, most find these explanations unsatisfying. She documented a great number of the flora and fauna that she discovered, yet she never documented any of the plants known to have psychedelic effects, so she is not believed to have encountered them. And although isolation can cause a mental breakdown in some, everything else about her records from this time, and about her activities after she returned to Islemanoton, consistently indicate that she had a keen mind. It's also important to note that the Watchers are often mentioned with regard to specific, tactical discoveries that directly aided her survival during this time period and, ultimately, were a boon to casterway society. If the Watchers were Cervia's hallucination, they were a very practical hallucination indeed.
- They were just another group of casterways.
Unknown SocietyAlthough this is another practical explanation, it seems implausible. If the Watchers were simply casterways, they apparently had a knowledge base far superior to those she encountered on Islemanoton. They would also presumably need to have a far-different demeanor than those she had previously encountered. She described the men on Islemanoton as being hostile, desperate, and barely able to scratch an existence from their environment. She specifically came to Islegantuan to distance herself from such men while she gained a better footing in her surroundings. Thus, it would seem odd that she would casually refer to a new group of those same men, living placidly in her presence, providing outright assistance, and possessing skills that were not apparent in any of the other casterways. Finally, although Cervia never explains how many individuals comprised the Watchers, she gives the definite impression that it's not simply two or three. And the existence of any robust "group" on Islegantuan probably eliminates casterways candidates. Excilation does manage to deposit casterways to all landmasses that border the Dropship Seia, but prevailing wind patterns and currents push a vast majority of those men to the shores of Islemanoton. Although there were presumably a handful of souls scattered about present-day Blepi and Cervi, it's almost certain that these men must have been terribly isolated and would have struggled to maintain any kind of "group" for a long period of time. The best current analysis estimates that there were probably no more than 300-400 casterways on the entire continent of Islegantuan while Cervia called it home.
- They were Nocterns.
Of the CavesAt first glance, this explanation seems no more likely than the prior. After all, Nocterns are just another culture of humans - and ultimately, all Nocterns are just casterways living in a different environment with different customs. However, there's at least some feasibility to the Noctern theory. No one knows exactly when casterways began taking up residence in the Ontorlands. There are plenty of snyres providing access to the underworld caverns across Islemanoton and Islegantuan. So it's entirely possible that men had started living below ground during the Age of Darkness. While it's true that Cervia observed barbaric behavior from Islemanoton's casterways, it's at least possible that Noctern society had already begun to develop in the Ontorlands, and that these people had started to conduct themselves in a manner that would make them more likely to provide her with overt assistance. Nevertheless, this idea is still dismissed as a stretch. Although it's theoretically possible that a Noctern society had already developed before Cervia's arrival, it seems unlikely because Nocterns are still just men and they would have been confronted with the same hopeless scenario facing the oplanders. With no means to create any longstanding legacy, it's doubtful that a hypothetical proto-Noctern civilization could have developed - or that they would have treated Cervia in any better way than the rest of the casterways.
- They were Absents.
Of the StarsThis is a compelling theory because the Absents would certainly possess advanced knowledge. They are also humans, so their presence wouldn't be shocking to Cervia and she would, presumably, be able to communicate with them. If a society of Absents actually existed on Excilior at any point in the past, it's not implausible to think that maybe they had named themselves "Watchers"]. But this theory is also problematic on several levels. Cervia, at this time, was still writing about the nascent hope of being rescued from this planet. If she encountered another group of humans that possessed the Absents' technological capabilities, it seems improbable that she wouldn't have implored them to help her - and that she wouldn't have written anything about it. Also, aside from this unsubstantiated theory about the Watchers, there has never been any evidence that an Absent has ever set foot on the planet.
- They were a previous race of intelligent beings that called Islegantuan home.
Ancient RaceThis would be a more creditable theory if there was even a single shred of archaeological evidence indicating the existence of other intelligent races living on Excilior during Cervia Polonosa's lifetime, or at any time before.
- They were homuhns.
Forest CrittersAmongst those who attack this legend with academic rigor, this is perhaps the most accepted theory. Homuhns are known for their exceptional intelligence. They are native to southwest Islegantuan. They are silent creatures. Thus, the moniker "Watchers" seems to make sense. And in one striking chapter in the history of Auld Cervia, The First Mother banned the consumption of homuhn meat. This was done primarily on humanitarian grounds. But it makes some sense that her affinity for them may have been fostered during her time in the wilderness. None of this is to say that the theory is settled or that it perfectly explains the Watchers legend. Homuhns are highly intelligent - for animals. But there is no evidence of them having mastered the technologies and practices attributed by Cervia to the Watchers. But it's at least feasible that Cervia's attributions may be more accurately described as inspirations. Although a homuhn has never been recorded teaching a human about viable food sources. It's very easy to imagine a human watching the creatures eat and assuming that some or all of those food sources are viable for her as well. Homuhns have never been seen curing bloodwood, but observing the intricate construction projects of the arboreal animals may have led to Cervia developing her own building techniques. It may be a bit of a stretch. But as sailors turn dolphins into mermaids, it's possible that Cervia turned homuhns into the Watchers.
She spent seven years in those primordial forests. Utterly alone. I have no doubt she saw Watchers. And faeries. And flying unicorns that shot rainbows from their arseholes.
Anaiah Kropp, Cheian cognoscenti, 2752 AoR
The enduring public fascination with the Watchers legend is driven by the fact that they were repeatedly documented by one of this world's leading lights - a woman solely responsible for all of casterway civilization, in the ongoing logs that she kept of her activities. Although much of Cervia's life itself has ascended into legend and apocryphal tales by this point, the fact that a renowned and central public hero spoke of Watchers as simple, daily fact, in a journal that sometimes documents incredibly mundane minutiae of life in the wild, only serves to strengthen the public fascination with this myth. From 2-9 AoC, she referred to a group - some kind of group - as Watchers on more than 112 different occasions. She didn't write of them in fantastical tones. She talked of Watchers as though they were no different than any other run-of-the-mill neighborhood group, like Retirees, or Street Sweepers, or Farmers.
GuidesAlthough a name like Watchers may sound like a passive moniker, on many occasions she described specific assistance that they had provided for her. Much of this assistance was of a type that was tangible and greatly useful in her current and future endeavors. Some of the concepts she claims originated from this group include:
- Fruits, berries, roots, mosses, and other plant products that could be deployed for nutritional, medical, or tactical uses.
- How to tame, and mount, a bronz horus.
- Arbor dancing.
- The curing of bloodwood.
EtherealThe most conspicuous aspect of Cervia's Watcher accounts is what she doesn't say about them. Specifically, she never makes any attempt to describe them in any way. She refers to them, nonchalantly, as though the reader already knows-and-understands who they are, and what they are. At no point does she ever refer to them specifically as human, but neither does she classify them in any way at all. She doesn't describe their appearance. She never explains their presence. And she never refers to them again after she returns to Islemanoton.
Incomplete HistoryOf course, it's possible that she described them in great detail, but that those logs have simply been lost to history. It's known that there were other times when she was actively logging her activities, but there are gaps in the record when scholars have searched for those recordings. Her (putative) description of Watchers may fall into one of those "lost" periods - trapped inside entries that were subsequently lost or destroyed.
Variations & Mutation
Books, songs, and theatrical productions have all taken wildly-different approaches to the Watchers' representation. They've been portrayed as noncorporeal spirits, fantastical beasts, and even, simply as men. There are as many ideas about their physical form as their are souls on the planet. Everyone who has pondered the legend has brought their own interpretation to it. Some of have cast them as the first incarnation of an ancient, secret society that has always worked behind the scenes of casterway societies. Others see them as divine intervention. These depictions are invariably shaped by the environment in which they're crafted. It's been suggested that the manner in which one chooses to represent Watchers is ultimately a deeper statement about that person than it is about the legend.
We don't concern ourselves with the whimsical fairy tales of withering civilizations.
Arcaina Ahmun, Collian high priestess, 1444 AoE
Watchers are commonly known and referenced often by Tallonai, Elladoran, and Lumidari cultures. This makes sense since the progenitor of the legend, Cervia Polonosa, was Tallonai herself, and Elladoran and Lumidari cultures borrow heavily from concepts and stories that originated from the Tallonai peoples. Those of Jontzu and Sontsu descent know the legends, but tend to dismiss them more as fanciful children's tales. The Inqoans perhaps have the highest degree of willful ignorance when it comes to Watchers. Inqoans who make it a point to study foreign cultures certainly know of the legend. However, it's seen as having little cultural significance to everyday Inqoans and most outside of academic environments would be hard pressed to provide even the simplest detail about the stories. Given the Watchers' ongoing association with homuhns, some critics dismissively refer to the legend as fairly tailed.
A clearly-defined monster is a wonder of its era. A vaguely-defined monster is a wonder of all eras.
Sien Wendels, Ephian writer and poet, 1221 AoE
Watchers have been a recurring theme throughout most of Excilior's history. The fact that they were initially cited by the First Mother herself has only served to heighten their appeal. This appeal is further enhanced by the underlying vagueness of the Watcher legend. The lack of tangible details allows waves of generations to borrow, reshape, and discard previous manifestations, always re-imagining the legend in a way that better fits with modern mores.