When the Shadows Came Myth in Istralar | World Anvil

When the Shadows Came

They come for what they seek, and in their wake, they leave only devastation. Keep your fires hot and your candles lit: to invite darkness is to invite the svartalfar.
— telling of the myth
  The continent of Iskaldhal is known for its monsters and myths. Witches stealing children away from the woods, eternally-frozen souls, and even golden automatons fill the ranks of Iskaldhan mythology with their various terrors, some being more real than others.   Of the multitude, the svartalfar are not nearly the most dangerous or outlandish. If their skills are taken into consideration, they hardly rate when compared to the more powerful dragons and demonic beings lurking around. Yet their existence is enough to encourage evil and sow terror, for they are the perfect killers. Perfect assassins, stepping through shadows to kill without being seen or heard. The legends of their comings whisper of how spurned women turned to the dark fey to murder unrequited lovers and those that would dare take what is theirs. They tell of cruel sons using the fey to destroy their fathers, or even of armies of svartalfar encouraged by the Witch-Tribes to exterminate whole villages.

Historical Basis

The myths are not wrong about the svartalfar. They do not show love or friendship, acting instead with pitilessness and practicality in their tasks. However, many killings attributed to them are not their work: they do not bother with excess cruelty, nor do they waste time on extraneous targets. Additionally, their payment must be of a particular type: secrets or knowledge, particularly of obscure topics or as related to the First World. They were expelled from said plane millennia ago, so whether this desire for information is out of some sick sense of nostalgia or a desire to find revenge is unknown.   The suggestion that the svartalfar are working with the Eagle's Shadows is one with no historical basis as far as anyone is aware. If the two are connected, such a connection is likely through cooperation of the two groups in situations that necessitate such.

Cultural Reception

Interestingly, whilst the myths surrounding the svartalfar are overwhelmingly related to their destructive powers and insidious nature across most of Iskaldhal, Naarim has a different view of the shadow-bound creatures. There, they are seen as powerful weapons worthy of respect - for instead of donning a mask and taking to the shadows as most of Naarim does, the svartalfar supposedly mask their emotions and pierce the light with their boundless dark. Few of Naarim carry fear for them, preferring to honour the odd fey in a strange sense of camaraderie.   Some groups may confuse drow with the svartalfar, especially deep within Iskaldhal. The lack of common drow presence means not many learn of the purple-skinned elves, and the few stories that do arise of them are easily confused with the murderous dark fey. The elven appearance of both does also confuse things - and means drow should take care when exploring the Northern Continent.
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Header image by Jeroen Andel (cropped).


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