Wraith

They descended on the festival like a plague of locusts.... The music cut off in a moment and was replaced by screaming. I ran for my home, but I lost sight of my dear friend Marie in the crush of bodies fleeing. I haven't seen her since that night. I fear she is among the ashes now.
— Marie-Hélène Blanc, France, 1787
 
Ghosts aren't scary. Everyone has seen a ghost at least once in their life, and they tipped their hat and wished it a pleasant trip to the afterlife. A ghost can't touch a living person, and will never harm them.   Wraiths aren't ghosts. As far as anyone knows, a wraith isn't even - and never was - human, despite their basically humanoid shape. A wraith is a being of shadows, noticeable in the dark only by their faintly glowing eyes. The shadows writhe through their bodies like black smoke, until they come under bright light. In the bright light, their shadows become clearer, harder, more physical. In bright light, a wraith can kill.   The eyes are the only thing distinct in their faces; the rest is a void of black that occasionally rips open to create a malformed mouth. The only sound that comes from them is a whispered moan, like a death rattle. A wraith doesn't use its mouth to eat. In fact, no one is sure if their form of consumption is even truly "eating".
 
It was... cold. So cold. It was a summer day but my arm felt like ice. I didn't feel pain, just a horrible numbness as my arm was consumed by ash. It was torment, though. I felt... so horribly sad, and lonely, and desperate. My soul was in so much anguish, but I was too paralyzed by the shock of it all to cry out. If Melisende hadn't thrown herself at the wraith to tear it off me, I wouldn't be here today.
— Jeannine Bassot, on an attack that occured in rural Orléanais in 1781. Melisende is her cat
What a wraith does is reach for you with a gnarled hand. They sink their nails into a person's flesh and take in a raspy breath as their darkness infects their victim. The skin beneath their grip darkens to black before flaking away. The darkness spreads, turning living flesh and muscle into ash.   If uninterrupted, the ash will spread through the entire body in about one minute. The entire body is reduced to dust, which falls into a heap with the victim's clothing. After the hamlet of Frégnane was wiped out by wraiths in 1785, the first visitors to discover the massacre said they knew something was wrong when they coughed on clouds of ash on the breeze despite no smell of fire. The clothes left behind are burned, out of fear they are contaminated.   The only things that can fight off a wraith are soul guides or concentrated vesanmer. No matter how solid they look, physical attacks will pass right through them.
 
Due to this, those who can afford them have taken to carrying flashguns whenever they leave major cities. They don't need to be loaded with a lead ball to harm a wraith; the burst of vesanmer a flashgun releases when firing has short range but is sufficient to drive off a wraith. Any during attacks, people often try to steal pathstones from streetlights to use as a weapon. Even an untrained person can get a pathstone to release an unfocused burst of energy.   Soul guides are the other primary defense against wraiths. These cats, which straddle the line between physical and ethereal, will defend their humans with tooth and claw and can often drive a wraith away.

History

The first recorded sighting of a wraith was in 1774. A traveller claimed to have seen a dark, shadowy form drifting through the trees on the road in the province of Berry. At the time, the report was mocked for obviously freaking out over an ordinary ghosts, but more sightings popped up over the following months. In February of 1775, the first death was witnessed and reported, but it's believed more people died in the past in remote regions with no witnesses.   In the beginning, wraiths were rare. They only ever appeared one at a time, and were easily fought off if the targeted victim had friends around with pathstones. In the 1780s, wraiths began appearing in groups of two or three, and after 1785, it wasn't unheard of for large groups of a twenty or more to swarm into a village. Currently, wraiths are rarely seen alone and most attacks consist of at least a dozen wraiths.   Wraiths primarily appear in the countryside and are the reason for a slow migration to urban areas. Those who can afford it are moving to the cities to escape the threat of wraiths. This loss of farmers, along with the drought that plagued France in the late 80s, contributed to food shortages that worsened tensions with the establishment.   The common people of France felt that the state was not doing enough to take care of the wraith problem, and disparaged the monarchy for living safely in their palaces while the masses were slaughtered by demons outside. The failure to address the wraith problem was one of the key points brought up by revolutionaries upon overthrowing the monarchy.
  Addressing the wraiths, however, proves easier said than done. The National Convention, the current government of France, has attempted to address the issue by sending soldiers out with flashguns to destroy wraiths. However, it appears they cannot be destroyed and flashguns only serve to drive them off. Unable to get rid of wraiths, the National Convention instead implemented defensive measures, such as:
  • Mandatory blackouts: Wraiths are attracted to light. After sunset, all streetlights are turned off and windows must have black curtains if any light is on inside. This is meant to prevent luring wraiths to your location.
  • Ban on solo travel: No one is to travel between cities alone. One must always be accompanied by at least one other person when travelling.
  • No festivals: Wraiths are attracted to large, festive events. All festivals have been banned until further notice.
  • Mandatory street cleaning: A leading theory on the origin of wraiths is that they are linked to miasma, bad air that allegedly spreads disease. To reduce miasma, all towns are to regularly clean their streets, cull stray animals, and dispose of rubbish far outside the town.
 
Other than the clean streets initiative, all of these measures have been unpopular with the masses.

Who's to Blame?

Nobody knows where the wraiths come from, but it is clear they are spreading. As of 1787, wraiths were spotted outside of France in the surrounding countries. There are no records of anything like them existing anywhere else in the world, or anywhere before the year 1774. Different groups have proposed different solutions for their origin.   Catholics blame the Arbitrium Church, citing wraiths as God's punishment on France for turning to heresy.   Arbitrists, who see wraiths in the Grand Tapestry and believe them part of God's design, blame the Jews, Christian Europe's favourite scapegoat.   Luddites, who oppose all pathstone technology and see vesanmer as interfering with God's order of life and death, blame Alzamatrists and claim that their mucking about with magic has doomed them all.   Superstitious traditionalists blame witches. Witchcraft has not been taken seriously as an accusation in France since the 17th century, but there are still those who believe in it.   Jacobins and other revolutionaries claim wraiths are a manifestation of the corruption that plagued the monarchy and the church, and that by purging France of their influence, wraiths will gradually disappear. Despite many executions, this has not yet happened.
Lifespan
Unknown
Average Height
5 - 6 feet
Light vs Dark
Wraiths are beings made of shadow. In low light conditions, they blend into the darkness and have a less defined shape. Bright light causes them to solidify. They are, therefore, more dangerous in daylight. At night, they are attracted to lights like moths.
 
An Ill Omen
Wraiths are greatly feared. Even seeing one in the distance is unsettling. Spotting a wraith while travelling is considered a dire fortune. Seeing one close up is also considered a sign of bad luck, but the bad luck is that you are about to be attacked by a wraith.
 
Cloth Scroungers
After someone is killed by a wraith, the clothes left behind are burned as they are considered contaminated. The destitute, however, will salvage whatever clothes they can. After a large wraith attack, responders must work quickly to gather the clothes for burning before scroungers arrive to make off with the abandoned clothing.   To cut back on this, King Louis XVI declared in 1786 that stealing the clothing of a wraith victim is a hanging offense, a punishment maintained by the National Convention today. Cloth scroungers have thus become more sneaky in their activities.

This article has no secrets.