Influence of the Shards
Shattered Blessings from the Broken Gods
Reality is what they make it. What is there to resist?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.
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 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.
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.
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 , 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.
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.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.
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.
What is freedom if not the shattering of another reality?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 ShardThe 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.
Currently, the only known Shard to have been destroyed is the Unbroken March, which was destroyed by 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.in 5626 following a three-years-long fight in frozen time within the depths of the
AvatarsAvatars 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.
Deific InterventionDirect 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.
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 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.
What can save you from reality's shaping? What lives beyond the reach of gods?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).