|Nicknames:||The Glacial Axe, The Umbral Court, The Court of Dooms|
|Heraldry Colors:||White, black, Red, Dark Blue|
For some Lost, all that keeps them going forward is the cherished (and perhaps futile) hope that today may be a little better than yesterday or that in the end all of their suffering, fear and pain will be relieved. They see escape, driven by the same hope for freedom and release that pushed them back through the Thorns and into the human world once more. To them, the idea that one's existence is nothing but an inescapable path to destruction would take away all motivations. The burden of such knowledge would weigh them down until they could no longer function, let alone make an effort to accomplish anything. Not so for the Court of Dusk.
These intrepid changelings accept that their Fate is sealed, that slowly but surely danger is building to a cataclysmic level and that nothing they can do will change that. But this belief also tells them that they have carte blanche to shine in the growing darkness. There are no happy endings, they believe, so all that matters is the epic story that is told along the way.
Inspired by their surety that the end is coming and that whatever lies ahead of them it is most certainly worse than today, Dusk Courtiers see no reason not to strive to do, be, and accomplish whatever they are inspired towards. They are not drawn to procrastination, because any endeavor put off until tomorrow will only be one day's more challenging to achieve. Nor do they tolerate laziness, weakness or cowardice. Night is falling, say those of the Dusk Court, and there will be time enough to rest, mope or cry after it falls. Until then, make the most of what time you have left.
The Dusk Court waxes and wanes over the years, growing and ebbing in popularity. When things are going well and the Lost of any given generation become more optimistic, fewer are driven to find comfort and strength in the Umbral Court's fatalism. At times, the Dusk courtiers' numbers have grown so few that Lost society has all but forgotten that they existed at all.
But when things go badly (and eventually they always do) there are always those changelings who respond to the growing darkness not by being frightened or intimidated into inaction, but by rising up to meet the challenge. They laugh boldly in the face of adversity and set out to take the proverbial bull by the horns and make certain that their lives, no matter how short, have a great impact on the world around them.
This waxing and waning has led to a great deal of contradiction in the history of the Glacial Axe. After a particularly long waning period when things turn forth worse again, the Court often experiences a seemingly spontaneous revival as the core principles of Dusk once again become popular and pertinent. Sometimes these resurgences were, in truth, spontaneous -- the drive for some to stand strong despite the growing odds is one that Dusk Court claims and recruits into its numbers as much as it fosters and inspires it. But in some cases these "new" incarnations of the Court were seeded by those who had heard of the Court in the past, or even belonged to it formerly, and knew the time was right to plant the seed of fatalism-spawned-defiance in a new generation.
Because of this, there is a great deal of controversy, even among Dusk courtiers, as to the origins of their group. Some believe it to have been started in countless eons past, when the first brave (or foolhardy) Lost stood his ground against a Keeper intent on taking him back across the Hedge. Those who credit this history claim that when his defiance proved futile but provided his motley time to escape the same Fate, their stories of his bravery inspired the creation of the first group of Dusk courtiers in his honor. Others claim the Court's history began at other points and locations: in Iceni during the first century of the Common Era, on the steppes of the Eurasian plain during the late 1100s, or on the Indian sub-continent in the early 16th century.
One group even claims the Court is, in its modern incarnation, a "copycat court" of an older now-lost group, whose true roots are less than a hundred years old, and that each resurgence of the Court is not actually a waxing of its numbers, but the advent of a new group, unrelated to those who used the name before. These "modernists" are, for the most part, ignored, however. Regardless of the true time and place of origin, or whether the Court is one seamless organization or a series of unique ones all sharing the same name, Dusk seems to do what Dusk has always done -- it perseveres and thrives, regardless of the challenges that seek to destroy it.
Unlike the traditional seasonal courts which rotate in power and leadership as the year passes, Dusk's power (and popularity) waxes and wanes as tragedy befalls Lost society. During a time when the Others' predations are light, or where life as a Lost seems to be "not so bad", Dusk rarely finds individuals with the particularly fatalistic mindset that suits their Court. In fact, during such times, they often lose many of their members to their sister court, or to one of the greater Seasonal Courts. It is not unusual to find former Dawn courtiers (especially those who were formerly Gallants) among the ranks of Summer, where their seemingly boundless bravery often makes them premiere candidates for the Red Victor. The Unfettered, on the other hand, often join the Autumn Court if they leave Dusk, using their innate understanding of the dark Fate that all Lost face to spur others into vigilance.
What drives someone not only to recognize that their Fate is sealed, but then to stand defiantly in the face of that certain doom and strive to accomplish great things within that fatalistic framework? Dusk courtiers are often recruited from other Courts when the normal ups and downs that face any freehold slowly but surely morph into downs and further downs. When dream-plagues bring nightmares for months on end, and even the strongest oneiromancers are powerless to stop the onslaught. When the local trods are patrolled not by Lost, but by packs of Briarwolves, and their marauding hunt is only interrupted by a Border Reaver Hedge-siege.
When the seasonal monarchs' Clarity is slipping and the local Blackbird Bishop is discovered to have been selling her patients across the Thorns in exchange for her own continued freedom. In some freeholds, tragedy upon tragedy means nothing but a slow and painful end for the local Lost community. In others, however, this desperate situation breeds even more desperate response. In these cases, a brave (or terminally stubborn) soul will emerge from the pressure as something greater than he was before, inspired by the certainty that the Fates have forsaken him, and set about doing whatever he can to make the best of a bad situation. That individual, should he live long enough to come to their attention, may well find himself recruited into the Dusk Court.
Far from stoic, the Dusk Court's fatalism often manifests in exuberant, or even rowdy, manners. Many of the Court's traditions are focused on giving its members the opportunity to laugh in the face of doom and embrace life to its fullest while they may. They love life, and the fact that things are bad now and doomed only to get worse serves only as inspiration and motivation to enjoy every aspect of it to its fullest.
Dusk Court gatherings are rarely held at particular times or locations each year. Because the Umbral Court's numbers are small compared to those of any of the seasonal courts, a courtier may be the only one of his kind at a given freehold. The Court accepts this as just another challenge in a game of already overwhelming odds, but it makes holding seasonal or annual ceremonies a somewhat hollow endeavor. This does not mean, however, that the Court does not gather or uphold traditions -- far from it.
When there are enough of their numbers to do so, the Dusk Court attempts to keep tabs on the challenges facing and general health of every freehold they can. The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, it allows those already within the Court to seize opportunities for glory and accomplishment outside of their local areas. A freehold strangling itself under civil war? Prophecies of the Wyld Hunt sweeping out of the Thorns? A plague-carrying Hedge-creature wiping out an entire area? Such happenings draw Dusk Courtiers from across the globe, rallying for a chance to make the most of a dire situation. And, whenever Dusk Courtiers gather together, time is set aside for a ritual known as a "Contention."
Half althing, half bardic circle, Contentions are times for those of the Umber Axe to share information about their local areas, swap stories of their exploits and engage in social intercourse that ranges from wrestling matches to poetry slams. While there is no formal hierarchy among the Court, if one of their members has gone too far, falling prey to low Clarity or suspected of throwing in their lot with the Gentry, this is when such allegations are discussed and appropriate reactions decided upon. It's also a time when prospective new members are discussed, and many new recruits are approached after a Contention has gathered.
The Boast is a part of most Contentions, and is a tradition which harkens back to the earliest days of Lost society. In the past, gathering around a fire to tell tales of past and present glory may have been a necessity. Few other entertainments existed and the evening was a time when most had leisure to gather. Now, however, it has become a matter of pride for the Court and a symbol of their belief that they, more than any other changelings, stand strong against the deepening night, no matter how dark it will surely become.
These gatherings, always held outside at night, and always around a fire, are a time for each of the Axe to inspire the others with her stories of the dangers she's faced, as well as those she expects to encounter next. Other Courts might see this simply as bragging, but the Dusk Court sees Boasts as performing a vital role in their group. Dusk does not believe in false modesty --fame not only inspires those who come after to continue striving in their own dark night, but it grants its subject a kind of immortality that inspires them to keep going as well. In a world full of ever-dangerous peril, lives come and go, but legends last forever.
The Glacial Axe perseveres, even thrives, in situations of adversity. Their pageantry is based on a combination of utility and aesthetics, sending a clear message: "We are here! We may be doomed, but we're not going to go down without a fight!" The Court's colors are strong, simple and enduring. Black representing the ever-deepening Fate they face, and white for their refusal to succumb to it. Clear dark blue for the depths of the unyielding sea, and red for the blood which they will inevitably shed. Like the courtiers themselves, Dusk fashion is generally simple and strong -- Dusk is a court of jeans and boots, simple gowns and sturdy cloaks, or leather and tunics, not lace or heels.
Likewise, Dusk courtiers who use symbols or banners are likely to have simple, clear designs, rather than multi-dimensional or elaborate ones. Symbols common in Dusk Court heraldry include axes (single bladed, although certain feminist factions have adopted a labrys or double-headed axe), red wood trees, glaciers, oceans, night skies (often with moons and stars), drums, badgers or wolverines (renowned for their persistence), carp or koi, ants, tortoises, crosses, mushrooms, mountains, roads (especially those disappearing towards the horizon) or wheels, rings and circles. The Dusk Court feels no small amount of sympathy for the Norse legend of Ragnarök, as well. They have adopted many common symbols from Nordic cultures: Knot-worked animals (especially dragons), wolves, runes (especially Hagalaz, Eihwaz, Tiwaz and Nauthiz), Thor's hammers, Viking longships or Norse helmets.
Contracts of Entropy - The end is predestined; it is only our path between here and there which we have any control over. All things will fail in the end; we can only shine as brightly as we can before the night envelops us entirely. This is the basis of the Dusk Court’s philosophy, and the bargains they’ve struck with Entropy reflect this fatalistic belief. Because the Dusk Court believes that the truth behind their fatalism affects all Lost, not only those of their own Court (and because they believe that the Fate of all Lost is to eventually come to realize the truth in their philosophy), no Court Goodwill for Dusk is required to purchase the Contracts of Entropy. Whatever pact was struck with Entropy, apparently it was a generous one. They are, however, considered non-affinity Contracts for any Lost who is not a part of the Dusk Court. Those with Dusk Court’s Goodwill can also purchase them as affinity Contracts
The Mantle of a Dusk courtier represents the strength and self-determination he achieves from accepting that the cards are stacked against him and still rising forward to meet that Fate. Where other Mantles may manifest in a variety of every-stronger manifestations of the symbols of their Court, Dusk simply goes on, unaffected by its surroundings. Other Court Mantles may war for dominance when those of differing Courts are in proximity to one another, Winter's chill wind pushing at Summer's flames or Autumn's fading touch taking the bloom from Spring's blossoms. Dusk Mantle simply blanks out that of other courts, temporarily stifling music, stilling wind, or erasing visual effects of any other Court's Mantle of equal or lesser dots within a 5-foot radius of the Dusk Courtier. Thus a Spring Courtier with Mantle 3 standing next to a Dusk Courtier of Mantle 3 or higher might be disturbed to discover that her ever-present birdsong dwindles away to an awkward silence, and the flower petals that normally play in her Mantle's warm spring breeze fade away as long as she remains within 5 feet of him.
A member of the Dusk Court with Mantle 1+ is able to call on this internal fortitude to lend him additional strength when exerting his will. He receives an additional die (four rather than three) when making a Heroic Effort. A character with Mantle 3+ is bolstered in his ability to endure hardship. He pays one-half the normal cost for the following Merits: Iron Stamina, Iron Stomach, Natural Immunity, Quick Healer or Toxin Resistance. A character with Mantle 5 finds it easier to resist being influenced (physically, socially or mentally) by outside forces. Once per day, the character's player may re-roll any failed roll using Resolve, Composure or Stamina as a trait. He must keep the second roll.
Perseverance. Acceptance. Striving in the face of overwhelming odds, not to cheat one's Fate, but to accomplish something despite it. These ideas embody Dusk Court. Inherent in the Dusk philosophy is not only the idea that things can only get worse, but also that with the acceptance of that inevitable Fate, one is given the opportunity (within that framework of inevitable destruction) to truly create one's own destiny. If, as Dusk believes, everything will become nothing but dust in the end, why hamper oneself with niceties or limitations? Instead, this is the opportunity to truly shine in the coming night to do, say, and be all that one can, because the end is inevitable. If one cannot hope to survive a situation, why not make the most of it? What have you got to lose?
This viewpoint manifests in a myriad of ways, although there are two major divergent philosophies or factions within the Dusk Court. While neither are formal groups, they represent the two extremes within the Dusk philosophy. Most Glacial Courtiers do not completely embody either extreme, although many lean more heavily towards one side or the other. Balance and moderation are not traits most associate with the Dusk Court.
The first philosophy favors glory and attempts to manifest greatness. Known casually as "Gallants," those who lean this direction tend to picture themselves as the true heroes of the coming apocalypse: Glorious warriors, masterpiece artisans, noble statesmen, passionate lovers. If in the end we all must die, say the Gallants, why not take every risk or challenge and strive to outdo what others think is possible. A martially-minded Gallant may find inspiration in the persona of Leonidas of Sparta or Jim Bowie, fighting or leading others into situations that most Lost would consider suicidal. While many Dusk courtiers die in this manner, their tales are told for decades or centuries at Contentions, a sort of immortality that the Court believes is worth far more than a long life lived in cowardice. Other Gallants might exert themselves in other areas, risking everything to accomplish a task others might think impossible: scaling a never-before-conquered mountain peak, creating peace between two long-warring peoples, or leading a social movement which common sense declares will never succeed.
Desperation, however, does not breed heroism in all Lost -- not even among the Dusk. For some, the freedom that accompanies knowing one's Fate is sealed is not inspiration for great or selfless acts, but instead for completely amoral behavior of the most selfish design. These Dusk Courtiers are frequently referred to as "Unfettered", although those who have run afoul of their schemes may well have less kind titles for them. They lean towards the view that, if everything is destined to destruction, then the niceties of social mores, traditions and laws are really pointless and designed only to postpone the inevitable. They tend to see those who are bound by such constraints as either sheep, slowly but surely being led towards their slaughter, or as pawns, tools and resources to be used by those forward-thinking enough to tap into them.
True fatalism is a difficult emotion to harvest. A person who succumbs to negative emotion tends to fall more into despair. And those who fight on in difficult situations because they believe things can still get better feel more hope than resignation. Accordingly, the Umbral Court tends to rely more strongly on pledges and goblin fruits for Glamour than most other changelings do. Many courtiers tend to cultivate a few potential contacts for that reason, rather than seeking out potential sources. Veteran policemen, paramedics, schoolteachers, volunteer workers and even career criminals are common unwitting allies of the Dusk Court -- those people who have had almost all hope ground out of them by the harsh realities of a difficult world, and yet who continue to struggle for what they believe in. Many Dusk Courtiers go trolling for emotion in the worst parts of town, feeling a certain kinship to the real survivors there.
- Dancers in the Dusk, p. 136-140