Conclave of Trees and Shadow
Night Magnitude 20
Performing the Ritual
This spell is an enchantment. A target may only be under one enchantment effect at a time.
This ritual calls forth a band of shadowy warriors drawn from the darkness beneath the boughs of the target forest, and imbued with a vital essence that comes from the trees there. The warriors form a powerful military unit under the control of the character who controls the target forest, and fight under that character's command during the coming season.
The target forest produces no special materials during the coming season. At the end of the season, or if they are destroyed, the warriors return to the forest and melt back into its shadows, restoring its production to normal.
The military unit created consists of supernatural troops that can be assigned any of the tasks that a normal military unit can undertake. While they are effective at all these tasks, the warriors are especially well suited to taking independent action and receive a five rank bonus (equivalent to an additional 100 fighting force) when they do so.
This ritual can affect additional forests in the same territory. Each additional forest increases the magnitude by 15. The character who controls each forest must be present throughout the ritual, and each receives control of their own military unit.
The shadow warriors called forth by this ritual ooze forth from between the trees into clearings and across boundaries. They begin as shapeless forms of living darkness, but quickly take on more physical forms. Scholars who have studied the magic believe that they are made partially from darkness, partially from the vital essence of the forest, and partly from lesser spirits of the Realm of Night. They are usually armed-and-armoured in a fashion that reflects the kind of raw materials commonly gathered from the forest that spawns them. For example, a forest that produces iridescent gloaming tends to form warriors with pole-arms and robes, while a forest that produces ambergelt spawns warriors with great two-handed axes and dark furs. A forest that normally provides dragonbone tends to produce warriors in hides armed with one-handed spear and shield, while a forest that produces beggar's lye spawns warriors in blackened chain with great shields and maces. These effects are by no means universal.
The shadow warriors invariably appear to be in medium armour. They can speak, and appear to be intelligent although there is something ... hollow about them, as if they are not entirely present. They follow orders well, but tend to shy away from fire and bright lights. They maintain a slightly incorporeal quality, as if they are not entirely physical, but they can be hurt and even disrupted by blows as easily as any other warrior. They tend to move quietly, even in a group, and excel at remaining unobtrusive. This quality makes them equally effective at fading into the shadows when guarding a business establishment, or at taking small groups of enemies unaware when raiding into barbarian territories, dealing with bandits, or exploring a ruin.
Magicians who have spent time as guests of the eternals of Night have reported encountering very similar beings as guards, servants and even courtiers in those realms. The enchanter Chretien l'Incroyable wrote a well-researched treatise on them and claimed that these creatures were actually formless - that like the eternals themselves they are shapeshifters who take on forms based on the expectations of observers. This ritual, he theorised, used the energy of mana to summon these spirits and clothed them in a form of animus or eidolon drawn from the target forest. He further theorised that the warriors did not actually die when 'killed'; the essence drawn from the forest returned to it, and the warriors' spirits returned to the Realm of Night. Regardless, it is reasonably well-known that several Night eternals are prepared to offer materials or items that assist with the performance of this ritual, although they rarely do so lightly.
In Highguard this ritual is called Call Forth the Hollow Men and is frowned upon; there is some suspicion that some of the shadow warriors are capable of remaining in the world for their own reasons, especially when they have been summoned with the assistance of an eternal. In Varushka the ritual is used carefully; some wise ones are concerned that it would be better if the darkness-under-the-trees remained there, in a land where that darkness may already be haunted by malign spirits. The ritual remains popular, however, because it offers a way to call up a band of warriors in a time of need - there are several stories of volhov, cabalists and Marcher landskeepers who have used this ritual to great effect when vales or villages have been threatened by monsters, Feni or bandits.
In the past, this ritual has been used to call up warriors to take part in a tourney or to test the mettle of soldiers or knights. The expense of performing the ritual means that this is a rare, magical activity that attracts warriors from all over when it is attempted, especially in Dawn. Like several other summoned creatures, the shadow warriors cannot pass through the Sentinel Gate at Anvil. As with creatures such as the husks conjured by Quickening Cold Meat, magicians theorise that this is because the gate cannot latch-on to the spirits of Night that empower the shadow warriors, and when they try to travel through the gate their spirit-less 'bodies' are simply shredded back into darkness and the vital essence of the trees.
(OOC Note: This might make an interesting event for a player-event, but under most circumstances the shadow warriors summoned during Profound Decisions events will unfortunately have to remain primarily as a downtime or plot resource rather than something that can be used on the field.)
The ritual often involves a map of the forest to be enchanted; in the case of the Navarr a map of the trods near the forest may be studied, and the shapes worked into new designs suggesting swirling tendrils extending from the trods to embrace and surround the target forest. Other common features include samples of the raw material most suited to the forests; wood, leaves or flowers taken from the forest; symbols of Loyalty; weapons and armour, especially those appropriate to the shadow warriors likely form are also a strong element.
As with many Night rituals, music and dance are common elements. The character who will control the summoned shadow warriors may be symbolically girded as a warrior or general, or even crowned with a circlet of leaves from the target forest.