“When the ancestors began to build houses, each seemed to have a presence distinct from any other, even when the beams of the two were cut from the same tree. Priests and shamans were called upon to discover the intent of these spirits, and it became known that the spirits were drawn to the life-energy of the ancestors and gained strength from it. In return for the power they gained by inhabiting the ancestors’ living-places, the kindly spirits would provide them with assistance and good fortune, and the hurtful spirits would promise to withhold their curses and hindrances. For as varied as were the ancestors in mind and temperament, so too did the spirits span the entire range of emotions.
“After a time it was discovered that while the spirits could influence the lives of the ancestors, so too could the ancestors influence the spirits. A strong feeling, suffered for a time, could cause the other to also suffer the same feeling. Years of this would change both ancestors and spirit to feel this emotion more than others of their kind.
“When the ancestors began to build their houses closer together, a strange thing came to pass. The spirits, who commonly could be counted one to each house, were fewer. A short time after each cluster was formed, only a single spirit would abide in all of the houses, no matter how many or how few. Another strange thing came to pass in the groups of houses. A group with a single spirit grew better crops than those still standing alone, and some ancestors found that the spirit had given them a part of its own power.
“As the towns and cities grew, the spirits within likewise grew in power. Each new birth brought more strength to the guardian spirit, and as the spirit gained strength its feelings strengthened also. No longer could a single ancestor sway the spirit by holding an emotion for a time. The only way for a strong spirit to suffer a foreign feeling was for the entire town to be submerged in it.
“The spirits, who share the ability of all thinking creatures to feel emotions, share also the ability to have friends and enemies. Great and terrible were the wars fought between the ancestors of different cities in the name of their spirits, who caused them to feel the spirits’ own anger towards each other. As it was known that the number of followers a spirit had, the greater its power, these wars were often fought until one side or the other was completely destroyed.
“Other ways were found to lighten the flocks of neighbouring spirits. A traveller between cities is still connected to his hometown, even if he stays in another city for a time. “A year and a day must the traveller stay,” is the rhyme that mothers tell their children, and it is true. After a year and a day without leaving the city, a traveller is no longer travelling, and has found a new home. Treacherous spirits use this to gain more followers, by trapping them inside their towns until the time has passed. To counter this, the symbol of home against the skin renews the spirit’s touch. Some tattoo the mark of their town directly into their skin, others carry talismans or rings, and yet others stitch it into their clothing.
“Much debate has taken place over the origins of the spirits. Some say that they are the souls of long-dead ancestors, others that the spirits are but parts of a single God that watches over all. A third group think the spirits are from another world, a fourth that they are the minds and feelings of those living in the one place. The spirits themselves do not speak of the matter, so any or all of these could be true.
“After a time, the ancestors who had not joined the spirits discovered a different kind of power within themselves. These solitary ones thought of the spirits as no more than leeches, feeding off the ancestors while dribbling scraps of their own power to keep them from revolt. These sorcerers would meet in open fields to discuss their plans, for they knew of the spirits’ love for houses. Between them they invented new ways to increase their powers, and spells of many forms were also made.
“The time came when a group of these magic-users came to a small village to try and drive out or kill the spirit. They had draped themselves with garments of magic to keep them from falling under the spirit’s command, and brought instruments of spellcasting carved of a wood that they had discovered that was partly magic itself. The spirit was distracted by a small group, and the rest of the mages scribed a circle of power around the village. The spirit was unable to pass through the barrier, and could only watch as the spellcasters chanted in unison.
“Four times they tried, in as many years.
“The first village disappeared as the sorcerers finished their ritual, along with all of its people and a twelve-foot-deep disc of earth inside the circle of power.
“The second village and all its people suffered a hundred years in a single minute, all suddenly aged and falling over. Even the spellcasters who were standing too close to the barrier grew old and died.
“All of the wood in the third village burned, consumed by purple and blue flames that were freezing cold and shied away from an outstretched hand.
“The fourth village seemed unchanged, save for a baby’s sudden and painless birth. The villagers sensed the loss of their spirit, though, and killed many mages with stones and clubs. The few who escaped and survived the wizard-hunts hid their knowledge so that their kin from the cities would no longer seek them out and slay them.
“In the centuries since then, few spellcasters have dared to use the forbidden ritual, and many have forgotten it ever was. The last mage to use the spell did not mean to, and was forced to take up the banished spirit’s mantle as guardian of the town.
“This brings the story to a close – for this is that town, and I am that mage.”
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