Welcome back to more stories...this time related to the holiday season in December (sometimes a little less spooky...but ghost stories are still a Christmas-approved thing)!
Today we'll start with the author we ended with on my 13 Horrifically Silly Days of Halloween Bonus Day of the Dead blog...Steve Bernardi, and his story Realm of Gaiyax - The History of Warowin.
Realm of Gaiyax - The History of Warowin
by Steve Bernardi
Warowin is a Gaiyaxian holiday which takes place during the winter months in the beginning of the calendar year. Also spelled ‘War-o’-Win’, it is short for ‘the warmth of winter’, referencing a shared belief that the darkest and coldest months of the year can be the warmest and brightest through love, joy, and fellowship with your fellow peoples. The tradition was started by Elves, Dwarves, and Humans, but spread to most other races over time.
Typical Warowin traditions vary depending on the culture, but typical festivities include week-long festivals, hearty feasts which can span days, the exchanging of gifts, and the telling of stories, often in big groups secluded in remote and chilly locales. The Orcs of Ardennor stage fighting tournaments all across the continent in tribute to those they have lost in the past year. Pushalai erupts into a frenzy of invention, as its Rock and Forest Gnomes compete to innovate the perfect gift. The Trolls of Trudokar, normally adverse to festive events, select a single one of their riding dragons to dress in finery and travel across the southern pole delivering supplies to Trolls in remote areas.
Which brings us to the origin of the holiday. The centerpiece of Warowin is a figure named Jultmoten, a powerful red Dragon that lives on Gaiyax's northern pole. Every year on Warowin Eve, Jultmoten uses his powerful magics to deliver gifts, food, and riches to the good-aligned souls of the world. With the moniker ‘the Saintly Serpent’, Jultmoten is beloved the world over, but this was not always the case.
Like most Greater Dragons, Jultmoten’s egg hatched on an island in the arctic circle, where his kind are known to spawn. Unlike his fellow hatchlings, who typically leave after a few years, Jultmoten stayed, preferring the terrain to any potential alternative. While this was fine for a while, with the young drake subsisting on marine life and polar bears, spawning season came again. The new Dragon parents were threatened by a mature male living so close to their eggs, and so conspired to chase Jultmoten out, nearly killing him in the process.
Barred from the only home he had ever known or wanted, the spurned and scorned Jultmoten travelled the world as a nomad. To bury his pain and the dejection he felt, the Dragon took to tormenting weaker races and smaller beings. He gained a reputation as a scorcher of forests and hoarder of treasure, with his larger-than-average claws becoming synonymous with destruction. After a long life of tyranny, Jultmoten ascended to an Arch Dragon and gained great magical powers. Giving himself the breath weapon of a winter storm, the prodigal son of the north finally came home.
Jultmoten started by bathing his old spawning ground in cold and snow, wiping out a whole generation of Dragons and creating an island of ice. Out of the island he formed a terrifying fortress, solidifying himself as an emperor of the north. His fellow Dragons were forced out, needing to spawn further south in Elarden, the land of the Elves, and in Dorovan, territory of Dwarves. Already somewhat acquainted with one another, the two races entered into an alliance against Jultmoten to prevent irreparable damage to their ecosystems. After a war that spanned a decade, Jultmoten cast an unbreakable blood curse on the two races. Any child sired by Elf and Dwarf, a symbol of their coalition, would be instantaneously transported to Jultmoten’s polar abode. Despondent and forlorn after such a blow, both races subsided and accepted defeat.
The greatest act of hubris Jultmoten ever committed was what proved to be his downfall. There exists in Gaiyax a type of creature called a Cerapter. Unicorns are horses who have been touched by Fey magic. A Pegasus is a celestial being which takes the shape of a winged horse. On very rare occasions, the two may create offspring, which resembles a Pegasus with the horn of a Unicorn. This intermingling of unique and powerful magics, which would never cross otherwise, makes a Cerapter an extraordinarily rare and powerful creature.
Jultmoten was adept at hunting them.
Wanting a trophy that simultaneously represented his power, kingly stature, and total disregard for the wonders of the natural world, Jultmoten tracked down a Cerapter and froze it solid, trapping it in a state between life and death. When another powerful Dragon by the name of Dadivan visited his court, Jultmoten was furious at their apathy towards this legendary acquisition. In response, he set out to find as many Cerapters as he could, eventually settling on not two, not three, but eight of them, each encased in ice and arranged in a ring in his courtyard.
While silent, the spirits and magic of the Cerapters lingered, and they conspired against their captor to stage the perfect revenge. Combining their power, the eight Cerpaters froze Jultmoten’s dark heart, and he fell into a deep sleep for many years. While unconscious, the scarlet tyrant was forced to reflect on his actions and persona through an endless barrage of dreams of penance. Memory of the dreams faded once he awoke, but the profound effect they had remained: Jultmoten’s neutral evil alignment had been permanently changed to one of lawful good.
Jultmoten spent a considerable amount of time incapacitated by the immense guilt and despair he felt over his actions. After concluding that he could not freeze himself, nor end his own life due to lacking the resolve, Jultmoten developed a hasty plan of repentance. He would fly over all the continents of Gaiyax and gradually release his treasure hoard, sending it careening down to the peoples below. He repeated this process for several weeks until his accumulated wealth was nearly depleted. Heroes and villains alike were made by the legendary magic items picked up by peasants, and dynasties were both funded and ended by the gold.
As the Dragon went to work, a curious thing happened. While there were those who still remembered the stories of their forebears about Jultmoten’s madness, many who had forgotten viewed the downpour of gold, gems, and enchanted objects as the actions of a saintly creature. Theories were imagined and shared by the various peoples of Gaiyax, but Jultmoten began to worry about what would happen when his riches dried up.
On that fateful day, Jultmoten collapsed in the courtyard of his fortress and wept in frustration. The descendants of Elves and Dwarves, since dubbed ‘Polar Elves’, regarded their master strangely. Like their cousins to the south they too had heard the stories, but these were a generation born since Jultmoten had been asleep. This was not a cruel and unfeeling monster, but a genuinely remorseful being. Cautiously they approached the Dragon, who had assumed the smaller form of a portly Half-Elf clad in red, and asked if they could help.
When Jultmoten explained that he had no more treasures to give the peoples of the world, the Elves suggested that they could make a new hoard to distribute. It would pale in comparison to what came before, but their people were capable of making unique and interesting magic items, as well as toys and games, and items that would make peoples lives easier. Jultmoten thanked the spritely gathering profusely and helped them get to work.
The next trip Jultmoten takes south is even more successful, with people appreciating the variety and whimsy of the gifts he brings. The venture exhausts Jultmoten, but he returns to the North Pole to the triumphant reverie of his court. His guilt still not fully abated, he wishes to free the Elves from the blood curse he placed on them centuries ago. Jultmoten spends the next week engaged in excruciating physical, mental, and spiritual labor, even putting his own life at risk, but try as he might, the bonds of dark magic are too strong. Polar Elves will continue to be sent north upon their birth until the end of time. As Jultmoten is nursed back to health by magnanimous followers, his efforts do not go unnoticed by powerful forces.
The next few months are marked by an odd occurrence, and a first for Jultmoten’s citadel: the arrival of mail. Through the trek of countless familiars and the casting of various magic spells, not to mention the tenacity of a few dedicated postal workers, hundreds of letters from all across the globe arrive, each one addressed to Jultmoten. Humbled by the requests for tools and food and toys, Jultmoten and the Elves set out to fulfil each one.
Repetition allows for analysis, and one thing proven by this subsequent trip was that such a means of operating would soon become untenable. The Elves worked themselves to exhaustion completing every solicitation, and Jultmoten was likewise drained by his globe-spanning delivery. When he finally returned home, actually believing he could let himself rest, there was another mound of letters waiting for him. While the repentant reptile would have gladly faced oblivion to complete the task, he feared what the added exertion would do to the Elves he had grown to care for.
As if answering his prayers, a mystical voice began speaking to Jultmoten, and told him there was a way to do what he intended. In order to prove himself worthy of such power, however, he would need to complete a series of fantastic labors, setting right the natural order of the world.
His first task was to provide a place in the North for his fellow Dragons to spawn again. The population of Elves living in the citadel was too large to displace, so the matter had no easy solution. Using his considerable strength and magical ability, Jultmoten took hold of several small islands in the northern sea and pulled them together, forming the island of Nordragar and declaring it formally under his protection.
Many other tasks followed, such as wrangling the mischievous spirit Jack Frost, making an alliance with the Old North Wind, and casting out the wicked winter mage Coldspark, who had taken to calling himself the king of the North Pole while Jultmoten slept. Far more personal was the return of Dadivan, who saw the scarlet Dragon’s newfound demeanor to be a sign of weakness and intended to take his kingdom. Jultmoten feared he wasn’t capable of winning such a skirmish, his ferocity now long extinguished. Instead, he challenged Dadivan to a contest of great draconic feats, each one naming a test that the other must complete. After aerial pageantry and creative uses of their breath weapons, Jultmoten bid Dadivan to turn into a brilliant evergreen. Not wanting to back down, Dadivan complied and sealed their fate, unable to change back. The evergreen grew into a massive Drakewood Tree, and its wood was hereafter a source of supplies for the Polar Elves. So large and vibrant was the tree that it brought about a whole new ecosystem to the North, helping to maintain a forest where woodland creatures and the Elves could thrive.
After arranging the first meeting of Gaiyax’s children, divine beings which held dominion over the weather and the seasons, Jultmoten had completed eleven labors, but there was one to go before he could have what he desired. An ancient evil lingered in the North, one which Jultmoten had let in long ago. Avarkram, a bestial fiend which represented all the greed and selfishness found in mortal races, who at one point had been Jultmoten’s only friend. Where Dadvivan saw his heel-face turn as something pitiful, Avarkram was confused by it. When confronted by his old ally, the demon actually pleaded with him to see reason and return to his old ways of sadism and mayhem. It was with a heavy heart that Jultmoten realized he could not convince Avarkram to leave, nor could he trick him as he had Dadivan. Their impasse apparent, the two engaged in an epic battle, which sent shockwaves as far as the lower southern hemisphere of the planet. When the snow dust settled, Avarkram was banished to the South Pole, as far as physically possible from Jultmoten and all he held dear. The fiend swore revenge, and for many Warowins after would stage a siege on the North Pole with his hellish minions.
His twelfth labor completed, the source of the magical voice finally revealed itself: the eight Cerapters who still resided in his courtyard! They passed their judgement on the mighty Jultmoten, and found him to be an outstanding example of all that was good and decent in the world. With their magic, they told him they could make it so that he existed in all places on Gaiyax at once. This amazing ability came with caveats, though. It could only be performed once a year; such bending of space and time could lead to their destruction, either by over-exertion or the wrath of the gods. This would also prevent the Elves from needing to overtax themselves, and keep the mortals’ greed from overtaking their gratitude. Furthermore, they would only help him if his gifts were solely for those of good alignments. Jultmoten argued this, making a case that even neutral beings could make a positive impact on the world, and those who do so should be included. Hearing logic in his words, the Cerapters relented.
When all was said and done, the Elves present the jubilant Dragon with a bag of holding, one large and powerful enough to hold their creations. Stepping into the ring, Jultmoten is bathed in a shimmering aurora before being transported all over the globe. What took more than a week to complete previously now happened in an hour. Upon his return, the saintly serpent is greeted by an assembly of Elves, spirits, deities, and all others he has encountered since his long slumber. They commend him on his progress and collectively dub him ‘The Good Saint of Great Claws’. Waiting for him under the Drakewood Tree is a collection of gifts and boons from all in attendance, ensuring that Jultmoten can carry out his duties until the great hereafter of time.
The mortal races of Gaiyax learned when to expect Jultmoten, with many other traditions being pulled in by the gravity of his arrival. It was a human who eventually devised the name ‘Warowin’, creating a title that anyone, no matter their religion or nationality, could get behind. Word of Jultmoten’s various deeds began to trickle southward, creating stories and adding to the traditions. It became commonplace for families to bring in a pine plant when the holiday was near, using the colloquial term of ‘Warowin Tree’. Countless songs and carols were born from the mouths of bards, with ‘The Twelve Labors of Warowin’ being one of the most popular and boisterous. An amusing misunderstanding of events led to one of Warowin’s most iconic images: the Half-Elf Jultmoten in a sleigh pulled across the planet by eight live Cerpaters. Even Avarkram, bitter and alone in his wickedness, became associated with the holiday as a warning to naughty children, who should fear being thrown into his bag of devouring.
As time went on, and traditions became firmly cemented in the minds of generations, many wondered if Jultmoten ever truly existed, or was merely a figment created to perpetuate the holiday. While debate on this topic is unending, there is an undeniable phenomenon that happens every year like the finest tuned clockwork of Mechanus. When skies darken and life begins to wither, and an insufferable chill fills the air, people implausibly fall back on love. Friends grow a little closer, enemies a little more merciful. When logic dictates the world should be full of misery and despair, the fact is illogically otherwise. While the discussions around Warowin invariably change and evolve, the feeling remains eternally.
Steve Bernardi is an author, graphic designer, and York University graduate who resides in Hamilton, Ontario. His works include the Whisper Falls series, which consists of a new original Halloween short story every October, and his debut novel, How to Succeed in Skeleton Business, which will be coming out in early 2024.