Influence of the Shards Condition in Istralar | World Anvil

Influence of the Shards

Shattered Blessings from the Broken Gods

Reality is what they make it. What is there to resist?
— victim
  The Shards of the Void are incredibly powerful artefacts with the power to shape reality, and in the course of the war waged by the Champions on them, much has been learnt of their devastating effects. From the Unbroken March's subtle nudging of wars to the Gift's Lament, mortal history has indelibly and utterly unwittingly been shaped by the Shards.  
Fragment's Focus by Hanhula (via Midjourney)

The grandiose influence painted across Istralar's worn canvas is never obvious enough to notice - until it is far, far too late, when the black shadow of lasting corruption has long since sunk deep fangs into their weary veins. And though each fallen god - as some claim the Shards are - scars their own unique signature into the bodies of those they sweep into their orbit, the signs of the Void's grasp are unmistakeable.   It must be noted, prior to deep discussion of Shardic corruption, that there are two distinct kinds: direct and indirect. Direct corruption is inflicted by a Shard's full attention and often physical intervention. This is the kind sown in the blackened wounds the Spiritblade deals and the mind-rending songs the Harp of Virtue scores into minds. It is the most dangerous of the two types, and by far the most deadly.   Indirect corruption is, then, a Shard's overarching influence on an area; it is more comparable to radiation. This is the pollution spread by the Gift in Takawaoku's waters, and the Harp's more widespread songs of doomed inspiration.

Causes

Causes of Direct Corruption
Y'know the weirdest thing? It felt... right.
Despite the implications of the name, direct corruption is not necessarily dealt through contact with the Shard itself. This is certainly the case for each of them - indeed, the Spiritblade and Justitia Aeternum are both usually in forms to deliver this specific form of their curse - but rather demonstrably, it may also be caused by their directed intent.   By far the most clear example of this is the influence of the Harp of Virtue. As the Harp is able to play itself, songs it directs towards specific persons will deliver corruptive influence as strongly as playing the Harp itself might. The instrument's shattered blessings are delivered audibly, and corruption begins directly in the brain.   The Spiritblade demonstrates a less-obvious version of this direct corruption through deep compulsions placed on specific individuals, often once they have laid eyes on it at least once. It seems to regularly instill an obsessive drive to return to the blade - either to obey its current wielder, or to seek the blade by whatever means necessary.
Corruption Takes Hold by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
 
Causes of Indirect Corruption
We knew there were famines, yes, but the waters had long since worn down the edge of our concern. We had worries, but we thought they were just normal ones. Not... this.
Dark Scales by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
Determining what causes indirect corruption is somewhat more vague. Largely, it boils down to the general presence of a Shard or their corruption.   Most of Iskaldhal was under the indirect influence of the Harp of Virtue prior to its defeat by the Lost Ones, and similarly, all of Takawaoku must endure Gaia's Lament - the most jarringly obvious display of Shard corruption in modern history.   Some outside signs that an area or its people may be under a Shard's influence are the rejection of clearly proven concepts of reality, strange dreams, and unusual motivations. Whilst there are a thousand and one reasons for an individual to act out of character, a Shard's involvement may always be a possibility - however remote the chance seems.   No distance or mundane protection offers any ability to hide, after all.

Symptoms

Blackened veins that crawl like vines, milky white that tints the eyes. Crimson blood to stain your hands, sharpened points in tooth and fangs. Monster, whispered, kept so quiet. Saviour, dreamlike, when they're silent.
— whispers of a Shard's victim
  Indirect corruption shows precious few symptoms unless one is intimately familiar with the signs put forward by a specific Shard. It is the most common form of corruption, and affects far more than any would expect.  
Nyctria Jhaldrin, as one of many under the Gift's influence in Takawaoku, demonstrates very little discernable difference between her behaviours during, and post Shard influence, for example. It can be assumed that the Lament's influence was therefore more to direct interest and attention rather than to actively control a continent of peoples.   Direct corruption is far more severe in its visible symptoms, most immediately with the black wounds or marks that spread across those afflicted. Shard-inflicted or adjacent injuries bleed black and spread fast as voidal energy begins to embed itself in mortal flesh. Black cracks may emerge in the individual's flesh as colour begins to drain from them completely, leaving them forever stained greyscale.   As the corruption progresses, it gouges lash-like black patterns through their skin as it corrupts core systems in a mortal's body. These marks are reflected in their very soul.
Void Reigns by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
  Mental symptoms, as inflicted by direct corruption, are more generally reflective of the Shard's individuality. A mortal stabbed by the Spiritblade would gradually bend to the Spiritblade's cravings for war and vengeance, whilst one wearing the Gift might be given entirely over to the Gift's twisted desire for protection and isolation. An immortal affected by the same might yet behave differently again, for mortal and immortal minds are often very different - and a Shard may have other uses for an immortal under their power.  
Gemstone's Glee by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
Lack of evidence makes it challenging to compare exact examples from each Shard, but it can be assumed that these changes will be comparable to the actions a Shard takes.   For instance, whilst it is not known if any individual was directly corrupted by the Unbroken March, one can guess that the March would likely have bent minds towards manipulation and knowledge.   Left unchecked under the influence of direct corruption - and sometimes indirect, as well - the body, mind, and soul may be erased entirely from existence if their use is deemed done, their soul subsequently consumed by the Shard.   Alternatively, they may be manipulated as a living puppet, with little sway over their own motions and yet believing themselves to be in control all the same. This is rarer, for a Shard has little need to do so when the right tools can shape a mortal into doing the work utterly willingly.
  These advanced stages of corruption are often compared to that which Champions may endure as they continue to wield deific power. Whilst Champions endure great physical and soul-level changes, they do not appear be influenced on a mental level by their god's powers - something attributed to the strict distinction between god and mortal that deities adhere to.

Treatment

What is freedom if not the shattering of another reality?
— wistful victim
  There are three known methods of subduing Shard influence: destroying the Shard, using an avatar's power to dominate the Shard's power in an individual, or by the intervention of a true god.  

Destruction of a Shard

  The complete destruction of a Shard, or at least the destruction of the voidal influence over it, is an incredibly challenging process that has had extremely limited success. It is possible, but only with the involvement of Champions - and preferably, the additional involvement of an avatar. The specifics on how this may be accomplished are unknown.  
Gift's Glory by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
Currently, the only known Shard to have been destroyed is the Unbroken March, which was destroyed by the Lost Ones in 5626 following a three-years-long fight in frozen time within the depths of the Endless Archive.   Those with knowledge of the terrible fight may be aware that it took the full power of the goddess Iomedae to finally destroy the Shard and its influence over Xin-Jiyu, and that Iomedae herself now contains the lingering consciousness of the former Shard within herself - purged of its corruptive power.   The Harp of Virtue was similarly fought, but was sealed within an avatar in the hopes of correctly purifying it later on. This has nonetheless had the effect of destroying the Shard's corruptive influence, and has freed the continent of Iskaldhal and many individuals beyond it.   It is hoped that an ongoing struggle against the Earth-Mother's Gift will result in the Gift's destruction or containment, much like the previous two, and thus finally end the Lament.
 

Avatars

  Avatars possess power over unique leyline magic, and deep connections to their people that underscore any connection a god or Shard might establish. As such, if a given avatar recognises an individual as afflicted by a Shard, they may attempt to fight for dominance against the Shard's overwhelming power.  
Unfortunately, this only works on a smaller scale. Azsire, avatar of Jäätta, maintains a protective barrier on Syrin Elathien that successfully keeps the direct influence of the Spiritblade from holding sway over the half-elf; this protection did not manage to also keep the indirect corruption of the Harp of Virtue or the Earth-Mother's Gift from him at the same time.   Additionally, avatars are not immune to Shard influence themselves. The Earth-Mother's Gift has seemingly taken control of at least one major avatar in Takawaoku, leading to the advent of Gaia's Lament as a widespread tragedy.   The part-mortal Azsire has been noted to struggle with Shard influence on occasion - though this may be due to his mortal nature, rather than a flaw in avatars. If even avatars can be influenced, then there is little hope for their powers being a long-term solution - and even less hope for Istralar overall.   Hope, then, rests with the Champions.
Life's Gem by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
 

Deific Intervention

  Direct deific intervention is a severe rarity upon Istralar, owing to concessions made through the First and Second Divine Wars. No true god can directly interfere with mortals of Istralar unless the situation is sufficiently severe enough that the mortal requests may be granted, and even then, must often have oversight from others.  
Strings by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
It is understandable, then, that only the Champions are protected from direct Shard influence through the direct interventions of their deities - and no others.   An individual at risk may be claimed by a deity as their Champion to protect them as a preventative method, if a watching deity feels that this is necessary - indeed, this is what happened to Daeris upon hearing about a highly forbidden topic from Aniks Aliforn, Champion of Pharasma.   Very rarely has deific intervention otherwise been seen in the matter of the Shards, for the divine do not often feel the urgent need to interfere. Two instances have been observed in the past four years: Pharasma's intervention to save the souls of the Lost Ones and their close allies when the Spiritblade was brought down on the Gemstone of Life in early 5623, and the Thief of Time's provision of a Time-bound lantern capable of expelling the Gift's influence in early 5627.
  The latter event marks one of very few recorded instances of any deity of Time ever interfering with mortals, and raises the question of whether they are bound by deific law at all.

Prevention

What can save you from reality's shaping? What lives beyond the reach of gods?
— victim
  Very little can protect from a Shard's influence - even demigods, avatars, and Champions may be affected to an extent, though the Shard must be significantly powerful to overwrite their divine protections.  
Champions are easiest of these three groups to affect, with lesser influence easily slipping past deific protections undetected. However, both they and the demigods that often grant them power are not usually susceptible to direct Shard corruption unless the Shard in question is able to defeat them completely.   Asimilar effect is possible in reverse, as was demonstrated with the Harp of Virtue - when utterly defeated, a combination of factors were able to safely store it within an avatar's protections.   Affecting an avatar directly may only be done through the severe influence of all in its area, and likely also requires some sort of connection to the leylines themselves - likely by locating a leyline nexus or similar place of power.   Notably, the avatar currently sealing the Harp was only affected by any Shard when Shard influence crept through the leylines, and was able to be protected through the intervention of Champions (albeit not without issue).
Sound of Silence by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
  Temporary protection is able to be bestowed by both avatars and Champions, though rarely ever in concert due to the negative effects of the mixed magics. It may also be granted by demigods, who are permitted to have some level of interaction with mortals. This temporary protection must be highly focused, and may still fail in the event of a direct Shard strike.   This protection can never be granted by true gods, except to their Champions or in extremely exceptional circumstances. In this case, it is very unlikely that even a direct strike from a Shard may cause the shield to fail.

History

What exists beyond their touch? What is history without them in it?
— despairing victim
 
For more complete history of the Shards and their influence, please refer to the Shards of the Void article. The impact of their influence can also be found in Gaia's Lament, amongst others.
Shard's Smile by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
Type
Magical
Origin
Alien
Cycle
Chronic, Acquired
Rarity
Rare
Caused By
Shards of the Void

The Gemstone of Life

The Gemstone was a Shard focused on life, death, and cycles. Signs of its indirect influence included the sapping of colour from the land, the disintegration of bodies upon death, and a slow encouragement of stasis, ignorance, and placidity.   It also, however, encouraged natural growth and the establishment of civilisations, watching for their later ruinous collapse.   Signs of its direct influence were rarer, usually manifesting in leaders who would show great charisma and leadership ability under its sway - until their eventual civilisation-shattering mistakes.
 
Spiritblade by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
 

The Spiritblade

The Spiritblade is a Shard focused on vengeance, war, and death. It is currently wielded by Riven Drast, who shows clear and evident signs of its direct influence. Signs of this direct influence manifesting on him and others include a strong drive for revenge, sharp tactics, and monstrous anatomy that defies species norms.   Signs of its indirect influence include weakened wills and the need to sign up for war, even if no coherent reason remains. These individuals may also be highly argumentative.   As it is now merged with the Gemstone of Life, the Spiritblade now joins their combined effects into one deadly blend.
 
Unbroken, Unending by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
 

The Unbroken March

The Unbroken March was a Shard focused on manipulation, sedition, and drama. Signs of its indirect influence began in written text, where it spread a curse of confusion, sin, and betrayals through the continent of Xin-Jiyu.   Signs of its direct influence were not specifically noted during its existence. However, they likely took the form of individuals positioned well in the March's web of lies, with the power to manipulate and the insatiable need to learn.
 
Harp of Virtue by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
 

The Harp of Virtue

The Harp of Virtue was a Shard focused on courage, music, and adventure, and the signs of its long influence are present thoroughly within Iskaldhan ballads. Through gentle songs that became folk legend, it used indirect influence to call countless adventurers and would-be heroes to their deaths.   The bards, poets, skalds, and heroes who played the Harp itself, in any of its forms, were directly influenced and usually served as the tellers of these tales, and eventually, the members of the greatest epics. Most victories in the Harp's long history that were not immediately followed by defeat saw the victors claimed as puppets of the Harp, to be used in its long tales.
 

The Earth-Mother's Gift

The Earth-Mother's Gift is a Shard focused on protection, duty, and bonds. Currently, in 5627, its influence is the most obvious of all, as its indirect influence is responsible for Gaia's Lament.   Takawaoku, whilst cut off from the rest of the world, now suffers from blind ignorance to the truth of its fate, with those affected losing their grasp over time and holding fast to tradition and family above all.   Those more directly influenced obsess over saving their people and shielding them from the world, with Holy Princess Chandna going so far as to work with the Shard to supposedly birth a new, kinder home world, free of all troublemaking magic.
 
Justice's Gaze by Hanhula (via Midjourney)
 

Justitia Aeternum

Justitia Aeternum is one of the more unknown Shards, though its focus on justice and punishment is evident from its name alone. Its influence seems to be strongest in some of the bloodiest areas of history, where rebel uprisings have brutally been put down or unfair regimes have been torn to shreds. It is assumed that its indirect influence manifests in a strict sense of law and desire to punish the guilty, with no regard for morality and little care for shades of grey.   Its direct influence is assumed to be, similarly to the others, an individual with sufficient commanding and authoritative presence and position to keep in line those it wishes to maintain. As these individuals must perform injust acts in many cases, they are likely disposed of for their crimes shortly after their service is done.
 

The Last

Another Shard supposedly exists, according to the testimony of some Champions. If what they say is true, then the signs of its influence may be the hasty intervention of deities to prevent any true influence from appearing. Little else is known.


Cover image: Shard Influence cover by Hanhula (via Midjourney)

Comments

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Dec 6, 2023 14:29 by Annie Stein

This was deeply engrossing! The shards are so creepy, gosh.

Creator of Solaris -— Come Explore!
Jan 9, 2024 09:14 by Han

Aren't they just? When broken free of the influence - because yes, it's affecting them too - they're actually far more like their old selves. Unfortunately, when warped like this, all they can be is dark shadows of themselves...


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Dec 6, 2023 20:19 by Chris L

Really really cool world building here, at turns deep and wide and personal and creepy. I'm working on similar concepts currently and you've given me a lot of food for thought here!


See WorldEmber 2023 Hub for my WorldEmber progress.

Check out my challenge winning article: Ghost Boy.

Jan 9, 2024 09:15 by Han

Good luck with it! The Shards have been such a fun major force to deal with over the course of my game.


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Dec 7, 2023 00:27 by Dr Emily Vair-Turnbull

This was such a fascinating read. The Shards are a scary scary topic.   The existence of the Last gives me a deep fear for your players. XD

Emy x   Etrea | Vazdimet
Jan 9, 2024 09:16 by Han

Honestly, the existence of *any* Shard is a major problem for the players. x) The Last might have some greater strength than the rest, though...


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Dec 31, 2023 18:11 by Barron

Gosh dang, you wrote up the drama that these shards cause so well and you framed it perfectly within your CSS. This feels like a winner, and it's absolutely inspiring!


Jan 9, 2024 09:17 by Han

Bahah, thank you :> It's always fun to get to write out more of the lore that my players are so familiar with. I could honestly write thousands more words on the impact of each of these, especially through history, but like... effort. Fucking with players on meta levels is such a fun thing w/ each Shard, though!


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Jan 19, 2024 04:26 by Barron

Nothing better than getting to break those walls down a bit until it makes 'em squirm! Love it.


Jan 8, 2024 18:30 by Barb

Your worldbuilding is very deep and I LOVE the way you've laid out the information on this article! I especially like how you've left a mystery for players and/or readers to ponder on with The Last.

Jan 9, 2024 09:14 by Han

Bahaha, thank you! The players've been dealing with the mystery of the Last since... early 2016 :> They still don't know. It's been driving them mad, so I'm glad to bring that mystery more into WA!


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Jan 10, 2024 16:54

Shards are creepy and a good worldbuilding tool to create major problems and obstacles for players and protagonists alike. Good thing the Harp of Virtue was sealed away. A harp which plays itself is top-notch horror. Splendid article again. :)

You wanna see what we did for the last events? Go, click here: Eddies Major Events
Feb 4, 2024 06:19 by Han

The Harp's not fixed yet, so it's still at risk until they help her :') They're working on it!


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Jan 12, 2024 15:12 by E. Christopher Clark

This is dark and amazing. I love the descriptions of each shard in the sidebar. Well done!

Check out my progress on the Cabinet of Curiosities
Feb 4, 2024 06:20 by Han

Thank you!!


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Jan 22, 2024 22:12

Damm this is spooky, me likey

Feb 4, 2024 06:20 by Han

Spooky is my domain >:)


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Jan 26, 2024 18:49 by Mikey Stevens

I love this so much - it's like you captured the essence of my drag persona and made it infinitely more polished before spinning it into the beautifully dark world - fan. for. life.! I love the way that even your use of language is really in keeping with dark fantasy novels and makes it so easy for the reader to just lose themselves in your work. I can see myself quite happily losing several hours of my weekend just getting blissfully lost in your world.

Feb 4, 2024 06:23 by Han

this is still probably my fave comment ever like I keep coming back to this ♥♥♥ Istralar is at its core a dark fantasy that still celebrates the bright moments, and honestly in light of what you wrote, that's pretty drag of it. x) Thank you so much, I'm still giddy over these lovely words!


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