Servants of the Children of Winter

The majority of the sect’s adherents (totaling around 1,100) are human, with shifters making up almost all the rest. Those who join the Children of Winter hold to a cruel and unforgiving view of nature, in which only the strongest deserve to survive. They come from harsh environments or have been tested and proven by uncommon challenges. Nondruid members of the sect often have military backgrounds, and some are refugees from Cyre who have seen the rise of winter firsthand.

The Children dictate no formal dress, nor do they enjoin members from the use of arcane magic. Whatever serves the ultimate goal of bringing on winter is acceptable to the sect. It even includes a handful of witches, including the influential leader Raven, which observers attribute to the touch of the Gloaming.

Becoming a Child of Winter

Those who choose to become druids of this sect gravitate on their own to the Gloaming. This dark and savage place is slowly spreading, bringing the cleansing plague to a corrupted world, and they want to be at the heart of it. They usually display disturbing signs of this fascination beforehand, which makes them unwelcome in their communities and encourages their migration. However, the sect is also spreading out from the Gloaming, preparing the world, and so it is attracting new members from other nations. These initiates might never have seen the Reaches at all, but they recognize the coming winter in their own lands and feel the call to join.

The new prospect is drawn into the orbit of the most powerful group in the area (usually the only surviving group) and undergoes a harsh initiation to test his strength. If he survives, he immediately joins the pack and begins the task of bringing on the winter.

Hierarchy

Even more so than the Ashbound, the Children of Winter have no formal organization. They exist as independent packs that rove a chosen piece of territory. Each follows a strong leader, who generally has some levels in a fighting class, usually barbarian, in addition to druid abilities. Some leaders are not druids at all but are attended by druid followers. Strength is the sole criterion by which a leader is chosen, whether it be force at arms or conviction of character. A pack’s leader directs it until successfully challenged; the winner automatically earns the mantle of leadership by virtue of nature’s uncompromising standard of survival.

Individuals with the greatest reputation become known throughout the sect, so they lead the largest and most-feared packs. Word of their exploits travels throughout the sect, inspiring some to imitate them and others to warn against their overzealousness. New followers gravitate to the leader whose outlook most fits their own.

There are no grand conclaves, no central pronouncements within the Children of Winter. Each pack undertakes what its leader sees as its duty and sets its own rituals. The only criterion is the pack’s acceptance; a leader who loses the ability to convince or coerce followers quickly loses her position as well.

In the Fullness of Time

As mentioned above, some Children of Winter believe that the great cleansing is not imminent, but will come only in the fullness of time. This patient outlook, espoused most publicly by the druid Frost, is distinctly in the minority, but it does draw adherents. The common people do not
support even these moderate Children, but they fear them less than the more zealous ones, which helps the moderates spread into new areas and acquire more initiates. Proponents of this viewpoint hope that, in the fullness of time, this philosophy comes to dominate the entire sect.

Religious Duties

All the Children of Winter look forward to the coming doom. For a long time, they were content to observe the Gloaming and worship the mysteries of death in this, their most holy place. Some still do so. For them, maintaining what is natural is their highest duty. They do not interfere, even when the natural world is at its most bloody and cruel, and they ensure that no one else does either. Each Child would lay down her life for this principle, for death too is part of the natural order.

Since the Day of Mourning, though, most of the Children believe that winter is nigh. Their duty is to assist in bringing it on, which they do by encouraging the spread of the Gloaming and its inhabitants. This typically involves spreading disease, poisoning wells, or introducing vermin to destroy crops. On rare occasions, the Children use direct violence to cleanse a region. The most powerful druids lay unhallow spells over the newly cleansed areas to speed its expansion. Should an area require immediate purification and no druid of sufficiently high level is nearby, a delegation travels to the closest pack with a powerful leader and exhorts their assistance. In the view of all Children, purification by any means is the highest duty that a druid owes to the world.

For those few who still believe that winter is not yet imminent, the most important task is to show the others that they are in error. If the Children move rashly, inciting disaster in the name of a catastrophe that was not natural at all, they will betray everything they stand for. These druids travel the land, pursuing any clues that could solve the mystery of the Mournland or prove that it is not yet the time of Winter. Finding that crucial proof is more important than anything else to them.

Fallen Children

To fall from the Children of Winter is to die. In the severe mathematics of nature, one being’s survival requires another’s death. Any member who does not display strength of conviction is quickly overwhelmed—even consumed—by the others. A pack leader can be challenged at any time, and if the challenger wins out, he is the word of nature’s law from that point on.

Sometimes a fallen Child is driven from the pack rather than killed outright. This is done in times of harsh weather or in an extremely dangerous environment; in this way, nature is the judge and executioner. The exile has no equipment, no means of survival beyond his wits, and usually succumbs quickly. The very few who do survive are now even tougher and meaner than they were before. Such an exile usually establishes a new pack, sometimes challenging (and defeating) the leader of the one that expelled him. The more embittered dedicate themselves body and soul to dark forces, sometimes even giving themselves over completely to the evil of the Dragon Below or the Lords of Dust. Fallen Children retain their druid abilities unless they completely abandon the winter’s path. Merely falling in with evil beings is not sufficient, but taking actions that threaten the Gloaming instantly revokes a druid’s powers.

Quests

Besides the initiation quest, which takes the lives of many prospective Children, members of this sect engage in destructive missions that seem suicidal and mad to anyone else.

A common quest is that of the Plaguebird. A Child of Winter volunteers to be the carrier of some deadly disease, then travels into a crowded area to spread this “blessing.” Although Children of Winter have exceptional resistance to disease, taking on this role is still very likely to kill the bearer. They have no fear of such a death, however, since it is in the service of nature’s law.

For those who seek to prove the Mournland is not a natural phenomenon, there is no higher cause than investigating the devastation and bringing back evidence of a mortal hand. Such questers have not ceased their search since the Day of Mourning—unless death ended it prematurely.

Servants of the Children of Winter

Eberron inferno813