In Mysteries of Bjora Marches, Amala looked at some of the new lore revealed in the first chapter of the Icebrood Saga. Now, let’s turn our attention to the new antagonists which we encounter in the Bjora Marches.
The opening chapter of the Icebrood Saga proper brought with it two new enemy groups, which together with the Sons of Svanir, provide the three corners of the new Rock-Paper-Scissors-esque mastery. Within this trio, each is infused with the essence of a virtue which grants power over one of the others at the cost of being vulnerable to the third. These are the Fallen and the Aberrant.
One of the first observations to be made is that, despite the oppositional nature of their essences, all three seem to be ultimately loyal to Jormag. The three groups do not seem to be hostile to one another, and during the siege of Jora’s Keep, the Fallen and Aberrant join in on the northern and southern assaults respectively. Additionally, in the strike mission against the Fallen Voice and Claw, the Claw claims “the dragon steadies our hand”.
So who, or perhaps better, what, are they?
In the case of the Fallen, we see that their ranks appear to be primarily filled with the more spiritual of the inhabitants of the Shiverpeaks. We see various kodan soldiers, and shamans of each of the primary animal spirits of the norn, albeit always in their animal forms. It’s not clear if they’ve been trapped in their animal forms (similar to the Nornbear in Guild Wars: Eye of the North) or whether this is simply a battle form, as is often the norm for norn shamans. Despite their apparent allegiance to Jormag, though, the Fallen do not appear to have started sprouting icicles as is common among those who have accepted Jormag’s “blessing”.
Additional hints can be found by the locations in which they are found – typically, in the vicinity of some place which is sacred to one of the animal spirits. Furthermore, a common event involving the Fallen occurs when the Fallen open a series of Mists portals, which the players need to destroy. We’ve been told several times over the course of Guild Wars 2 that the Elder Dragons do not naturally have the power to enter the Mists, instead needing to consume or hijack the power of a Mists-related being (such as a god or animal spirit) to be able to open such portals. It’s also interesting to note that in the events to investigate the massacre at Jora’s Keep, it’s the Fallen that appear in response to attempts to collect evidence, appearing apparently out of nowhere in a similar manner to how the Nornbear was able to traverse the spirit realm in Guild Wars: Eye of the North.
This suggests that the Fallen are some form of corruption of the worship of the animal spirits and of Koda among norn and kodan that have fallen under Jormag’s influence in the far north. Such a phenomenon would be comparable to the corruption of the priesthoods of the Five Gods seen amongst the Risen in Orr, and fits with the overarching theme in Whisper of the Dark of the fraenir having corrupted Raven’s power for his own use. The animals seen fighting with the Fallen might simply be explained by the corrupted shamans using their powers to “befriend” the wildlife of the Shiverpeaks and bend it to their will.
It’s also worth noting that the Fallen appear to be somewhat translucent in appearance. This suggests that they might no longer be flesh and blood, but ghosts from the past that Jormag has somehow recruited. Alternatively, it might be another indication of their ability to enter and leave the Mists, where they still remain partially in the Mists even when interacting with the corporeal world.
One final observation is that the Champion Fallen Leopard Shaman occasionally speaks the line “Join the dream… Sleep…”. This could be an indication of how Jormag controls the Fallen – essentially putting them into a hypnotic state and influencing them to do his bidding. This could make the urging of the whispers to “sleep” and “rest” more than simply an invitation to commit suicide by hypothermia – it may be part of Jormag’s recruitment process, either as a means of being able to control creatures that fall asleep in Bjora Marches without suitable shelter who don’t simply die of the cold… or the Fallen may be the bound spirits of those who have died under those circumstances.
The Aberrant, on the other hand, seem to be mostly constrained to a specific region – the Aberrant Forest and the ice caves nearby. Most of the Aberrant seem to be creatures that would be typical of these regions, with the exceptions of the Aberrant Haunts – which appear to resemble Vigil soldiers – and, of course, the Boneskinner. Bright Shore, when asking for the meat of an aberrant warg, describes it as ‘tainted’, but thus far we have little direct information on how they are tainted.
A better hint might come with the fight against the Svanir necromancer, who has been capturing Vigil soldiers and performing a ritual to do… something… to them. A hint as to what might be happening comes when the Pact Commander comes to interfere: a portion of the PC’s soul is wrenched away (creating the Split Spirit status effect) and used to create a doppelganger that attacks the PC and any allies nearby. The game likely assumes that, one way or another, this doppelganger is defeated and the stolen portion of the PC’s soul reclaimed. But this raises the question, what happens if the doppelganger is the one that emerges victorious? It’s possible that this is exactly where the Aberrant have come from – if the doppelganger is victorious, it claims the body of the original and converts it into an Aberrant. The same effect is seen with the Vigil prisoners in the ritual, suggesting that it is not a coincidence that the Aberrant Haunts appear in Vigil gear. This would fit with the wendigo-like nature of the Boneskinner (which appears to itself be one of the Aberrant, albeit an exceptionally powerful example) since wendigos in mythology are often regarded as being hostile spirits that possess the body of those who are transformed into a wendigo. Which, naturally, brings us to…
In Guild Chat 95, Clayton Kisko accidentally refers to the Boneskinner as “the wendigo”. Even without this mishap, though, the source of inspiration for the Boneskinner seems clear, despite its quadruped posture being quite different to that typically associated with wendigos.
Typically, wendigo folklore has it that when a hunter is isolated, freezing and starving to death in the cold wilderness, the wendigo spirit enters the hunter and inflicts them with a supernatural hunger. This hunger drives the victim to seek increasingly taboo forms of sustenance, until the wendigo is able to force some extreme of depravity that triggers a transformation.
The Boneskinner works in a similar manner. What’s Happening, a diary apparently written by one of Bright Shore’s former companions, seems to describe the final stages before becoming the Boneskinner’s new host. Additionally, the relief scout storytellers in the Southern Mountains (well, “southern” relative to Bjora Marches…) offer the following:
Veteran Relief Crew Scout: Those who give in—those who eat the flesh of their own—become the boneskinner.
Veteran Relief Crew Scout: It doesn’t just consume you. It takes your voice, your last words, your dying screams…
Veteran Relief Crew Scout: And it uses you to hunt.
Interestingly, this suggests that there may be just one Boneskinner, a spirit that uses its host to hunt, and then possesses a new host once its former host is destroyed.
Which brings up an interesting question regarding the fate of Bright Shore. This kodan shows all the signs of being in the early stages of wendigo possession. He’s alone, in a ruined hut surrounded by snow, and towards the end of his collection, he’s clearly craving food that kodan would probably normally avoid: bear meat (keeping in mind that the kodan believe themselves to be bears uplifted by Koda), the corrupted meat of an aberrant warg, and finally, meat from the Boneskinner itself… which the aforementioned book suggests was possessing the body of a kodan at the time.
So, in completing the collection, has Bright Shore been saved… or doomed to become the next host of the Boneskinner?
Wendigo folklore seems to be silent on what happens when you eat meat from a wendigo itself. The intuitive answer is that Bright Shore is doomed – he’s eaten meat from his own kind which has undergone the ultimate corruption, and may well contain the remainder of the Boneskinner spirit to complete the transformation. His apparent satiation may simply be the calm before the storm as the Boneskinner prepares to assert total control – or it may already have done so, and only claiming that the hunger is gone to avert suspicion from the PC so it can transform Bright Shore’s body in peace.
That said, it is possible that Bright Shore’s apparent reprieve is genuine. There are some things which, if consumed in the early stages of wendigo possession, are said to drive the wendigo spirit out, such as boiling fat (not the most pleasant of meals). Perhaps, then, eating the flesh of the past Boneskinner might be something that shocks even the Boneskinner spirit enough to force it to abandon its prospective host. In this circumstance, it is curious that the Boneskinner spirit would have driven Bright Shore to crave the cure to his condition, but it is possible that this final craving came not from the Boneskinner, but from some flash of inspiration within Bright Shore’s own instincts which supplied the cure to his affliction.
While on the topic, it is worth noting that creatures called Berserking Wendigos were present in Guild Wars: Eye of the North. However, those appeared to be purely corporeal creatures and were found in large numbers, while if the Boneskinner isn’t actually a unique entity as hypothesised above, it certainly does appear to be a lone hunter. Thankfully.
Further Developments to Come?
With the essence masteries promised to continue to play a role in future chapters, it’s likely that we can expect to see more of the Fallen and Aberrent over time, possibly including more exceptional examples such as the Boneskinner. As we go deeper into the Far Shiverpeaks, it’s likely that we’ll learn more about these new enemy groups and their origins.
Edited by Aerolyn and Miko.