This is a preliminary posting that marks sort of a prelaunch for this site, in order to celebrate Day of the Ninja!

Moon devils, night spirits, subtle demons in human form… these and many other names have been used to describe the Moonshades, all of them missing the mark while still getting some details right.

The Moonshades are a mystical order of spies, saboteurs and assassins working inside the Empire of Solerne and beyond its borders. Trained in the arts of stealth and deceit as well as practitioners of their own martial and mystic arts, Moonshades work in the shadow of political power, pursuing the goals of their order with ruthless efficiency: guarding the night to keep the Empire safe.

There are many myths and mistaken beliefs about the order, rumors that the Moonshades care not to disprove and some which they actually spread, maintaining their secrecy and mythical status among the common folk. Some of the myths are:

-Moonshades are supernatural creatures.

False. Moonshade are predominantly human, it is their own practices and well-placed hearsay that gave birth to all the myths that attribute a supernatural origin to their abilities and nature.

-All Moonshades are female.

False. While female agents are the most active and receive special training as befit the order’s religious principles, male agents do exist, although mostly in a supporting role.

-All Moonshades are deadly in combat.

False. Only Moonshade enforcers are fully trained in martial arts, with other field agents specializing in other areas. In addition, Moonshade support agents are not even combatants, their roles being to provide the field agents with all kinds of support, from the farmers of Moonshade villages to the managers of safehouses.

-Moonshades are killers for hire.

False. While Moonshades practice assassination, they seldom take clients. The loyalty of the Moonshades rests ultimately behind Solerne’s Imperial Throne, even if regional conflicts may arise between Moonshade clans. Any outside “job” that a Moonshade clans accepts will always serve their ulterior motives.

History

The history of the order is murky even to themselves, obscured by myth and half-truths, their own practices of secrecy making it difficult even for Moonshade scholars to keep an accurate track of the order’s past.

Like many things in Solernian culture, the Moonshades have their true origin in the Demon War, when the bodyguard and espionage bodies of several small kingdoms merged together under a single command and for a single purpose: to keep tabs on the plans of the Demonspawn armies and report back.

Before the Demon Wars, the kings of the dissolved Ametzi League each kept their own spies and assassins with several degrees of organization. The Shadow Guard of King Petrigai of Jasokaritzan was by far the most efficient, although they were mostly an order of scouts and rangers with the side-business of espionage.

Once the Demon War was over, King Petrigai married Queen Ederra of Belaritzan, founding the Imperial bloodline that continues to this day. Under the auspices of Zuze’en, the Lady of Dawn and patron goddess of the new empire, Petrigai and Edarra made a clean distinction on each other’s duties in the governing of their lands: the Emperor would be in charge of the bussiness of daylight, the everyday work of managing Imperial resources and laws, while Ederra would be in charge of the business of night, the secret vigilance of the citizens’ safety. For this, Petrigai handed over control of the Shadow Guard to Ederra, who made some changes in how the scouts functioned, pairing them up with the village seers of her own birthland.

Ederra recruited from a pool of talent seldom tapped by daylight politics: the lords’ wives and daughters, who were in a supremely privileged position to watch over the operation of the provinces that had -some even grudgingly- accepted vassalage to the Imperial Throne. The noble ladies, flush with the new sense of empowerment, were loyal to the Empress as they received the task of keeping their kingdom and the whole Empire together despite the fractiousness of their husbands and fathers.

The Empress and her new espionage network met regularly during festivals and parties to discuss the state of the lands under the guise of mere social gathering between noble women, and in these meetings the Moonshades were consolidated as they are, slowly integrating the existing agents into their new command structure, creating their traditions and the way they worked.

Matriarchy and Empire

The nascent Moonshades were the force behind the strengthening of the Imperial bloodline system in Solerne, where all emperors are chosen from Petrigai’s extended clan, while all empresses are chosen from Ederra’s descendants. Whether either of them was chosen by clan politics or as consorts of the incumbent monarch is irrelevant to the Moonshades. What they care for most is that the heir to the Empress’ crown is a Moonshade herself.

For this reason, the Moonshades have been manipulating the marriage and ascendancy of all empresses since Ederra II. Even in the odd event of an emperor choosing a bride from outside the order, the Moonshades are quick to induct the newcomer because, as is their law, the supreme leader of the Moonshade order is Empress Ederra, whatever ordinal number goes after her name.

Despite careful planning, maintaining a monolithic and unchangeable structure for centuries is a nigh impossible task, and also anathema to the tenets of change taught by the Goddess of Dawn, and so the Moonshades evolved as they grew. Following the example of the Noble Houses loyal to Emperor Petrigai, the Moonshades splintered in regional Clans that exist in the shadows of the real families of the noble ladies who lead the order in their territory, gaining a degree of autonomy from each other.

Thus, under the shadow of every major Noble House in the empire, there was a Moonshade Clan with members infiltrated on all levels of government, some even at the top.

The Moon’s Patronage

The true ascendance of the Moonshade into what they are today came from an unexpected source. As an organization with a mostly political purpose, the Moonshades were not very religious. That is, until religion found them.

Argizar the Night Lantern, Shadow Hunter and Lord of the Moon was never very comfortable to join the pantheon ruled by Zuze’en, but grudgingly followed his brother, the Lambent Falcon. As the Lambent Falcon married Zuze’en during the Demon War, and later surrendered his godly spark to be devoured by the Goddess of Dawn, Argizar holds a mild grudge against his sister-in-law, and saw the activities of the Moonshades with certain amusement from his hunting paths high above in the night sky.

The story of how Argizar descended from the heavens and chose a lowly novice in the Moonshades to be his bride is only told amongst those within the order, but it’s one of the greatest literary works in Solerne, despite there being only a single written copy in existence.

Argizar’s Bride eventually ascended to the position of Empress, being Ederra VI, and chose from the order a few who would share her status as brides of the Moon God, and also was the first to induct males into the order, thus laying the groundworks for the Moonshade Clans to be born, amongst many other Moonshade traditions, powers and also the two most distinguishing features of the Moonshades: their shadow tattoos and their martial arts prowess.

Organization

The Moonshades have grown greatly in the few centuries of their existence, a true product of Solernian culture as they are as large and encompassing as they are flexible and dynamic. The Moonshade Order has adopted several traditions that go from their worship of the nocturnal deities and the favors they recieve in return, to the complex Clan structure that makes them a shadow nation of their own.

Clans

Mirroring the daylight governance of the Empire, Moonshades divided in several clans, existing under the shadow of the noble families whose land where they operate.

Clan activities vary wildly between clans, and depend on size, membership, the personal outlook of the leaders and the activities of their province of residence. Some are devoted to their appointed mission to serve their provincial throne with espionage and assassination, having revealed their existence to the rulers; others are independent from official government, working for their land’s prosperity in ways that the true rulers may not agree with. On the other end, there are a couple of smaller Clans that now operate as criminal groups, tapping on the underworld’s resources and networks.

Clan Structure: A Moonshade clan is ruled by a central family led by its Matriarch, who also may or may not be the head of the noble household of the territory. in which case the family consists on the Matriarch’s cousins and their lines, receiving family members who are either not expected to occupy a position in the Noble House, or who are meant to infiltrate it. The Matriarch shares responsibilities (but not power) with the clan’s high priest of Argizar (always a male), who offers advice and is responsible for the moral wellbeing of the clan.

Under these rulers, a Council of Elders is comprised mostly of female agents, but also male officers who have distinguished themselves and offer a balancing view of things.

Under this council, the several masters and support personnel perform their duties with utmost loyalty, as the punishment for betraying the clan in any way or form, however slight, is always death. Half or fewer of the clan’s members are actual field agents, who mostly work alone but nonetheless belong to a “family”, a group of agents managed by a senior agent who can be a retired field agent or support staff. This “parent” sees after his or her agents’ needs and obligations, receiving orders and deciding who will carry them out, but also securing training, livelihoods and rewards.

Noteworthy Clans: The following are the largest or most prominent Moonshade Clans in Solerne.

Silver Petal: A small but very well-organized clan that protects and is served by the village of Yaucuri, deep within the eastern mountains of the Empire. They are a prime example on how the Moonshades can win the loyalty of the civilian villagers under their protection and the symbiotic relationship of the order and its support network.

Chrysantemum Cradle: A very small and mysterious clan that occupies the seat of Belaritzan, the original homeland of the first Empress. As Beldatz, its capital and only city, enjoys a position of relative isolation, the clan is free from regular check ups from other clans. There are rumors, however, that this clan is exploring dark paths of sorcery that could spell treason against the rest of the order.

Obsidian Moon Forest: The largest and most important clan, led directly by Empress Ederra herself. They operate in the labyrinthine political landscape of the Imperial capital of Jasokari, and keep tabs on all the other clans to keep them in check. They also train the Moon Guard, elite enforcers who are a legend even to other Moonshades, in charge of rooting out corruption within the ranks of the Moonshades and dealing with it.

Onyx Cloud: This clan splintered from Obsidian Moon Forest Clan in the past decades with the Empress’ permission, and is struggling to justify its existence. It operates a village and a boarding house in the nearby city of Tokoyocan. Unbeknownst by all but the clan’s matriarch, the reason the Empress allowed them to splinter is due to the Argent Crescent Prophecy (see below), which is unfolding within the Cloudy Onyx ranks even now.

The Noonshades: Not really a clan, but a group of renegades who split from the Moonshades after stealing several secrets to act exactly as what the Moonshades avoid becoming: spies and assassins for hire. The bad blood between the Moonshades and the Noonshades is strong to this day, although the actual responses depend on the clan or gang that meet: some respect a worthy adversary, others are rather more homicidal. As a mirror image of their parent order, the Noonshades are predominantly male, with few females playing support roles.

Religion

Since the rule of Ederra VI, the Moonshades worship Moon Lord Argizar, and he is their patron. The elite female operatives of the order are considered to be his (non-exclusive) brides, a ritual union consecrated by their shadow tattoos. All Moonshade enclaves have a shrine to Argizar somewhere, and priesthood offers male members the highest positions of power and influence they can achive within the order.

As their activities diversified, Moonshades included the patronage of two other nocturnal deities: Isketzira the Eater of Filth, temptress and seductress, lady of enticement and deceit, and Miraketsu the Night Wind, master of sorcery and the dark sciences. It is up to each individual Moonshade to which deity to offer her prayers and offerings, mostly depending on the actual duties within the order: the leaders, warriors and enforcers favor Argizar, the spies and infiltrators prefer Izketzira, and the mystics and seers revere Miraketsu.

The Living Shadow Heresy: It is rumored that certain clans have been using living shadows instead of moonlight as the main component of shadow tattoo ink. This is considered heresy, for pure darkness is incredibly dangerous to the bearer’s soul and can stray the Moonshades from their duty as the night servants of Solerne. The enforcers of Moonflower Clan are hard at work trying to locate this practice, but given the insularity and autonomy of Moonshade clans, it is very difficult.

In the comic, Lady Matzidari, leader of the Chrysantemum Cradle Clan of Beldatz, is a practitioner of the living shadow heresy, and all Beldatz Moonshades bear living shadows instead of moonlight on their skins.

The Argent Crescent Prophecy: There is an old prophecy that speaks about the Moonchild, a girl who would be born from a mortal woman, but impregnated by Lord Argizar himself. This girl would be able to manifest shadow tattoos at will and become the first leader of the Moonshades who would not be the empress. Most Moonshades consider this a fairy tale at best; those who believe it are divided in those who would wish the Moonchild killed to preserve Moonshade tradition and those who believe it would be a good change to keep the order sane.

Villages and Safehouses

The Moonshades operate out of two types of bases of operations: villages and safehouses.

Moonshade Villages: Most clans literally own a village that is usually out of reach, isolated and with very hard or limited access so that it receives very few visitors outside expected traders on their routes and government officials in their routine inspections and collection duties. All villagers are honorary members (a large number graduate to full members at some point) of the clan, serving as menial support staff providing the Moonshades proper with food, maintenance and other such benefits, while the Moonshades in turn provide protection. A Moonshade village looks like any regular village, and in fact it is except for the Moonshade Enclave some distance from the village proper, a manor, fort or other similar structure where the actual operatives live, keeping themselves apart from the daily life of their supporting village except on festivals, markets and errands.

Villagers are loyal to the Moonshades and sworn to secrecy, often meting out punishment for betraying such trust even before the Moonshades find out about the transgression. Villagers provide many a new recruit for the order, as well as welcoming families when the spies and assassins decide to settle down.

Safehouses: Built inside cities and large towns, a safehouse operates behind the fa├žade of another type of establishment, usually a tavern, trading or boarding house. All Moonshade villages are associated with a safehouse, but not all safehouse receive resources (human and material) from a dedicated village. Since very few safehouses have the space and privacy for true training for field agents, most Moonshades are sent by a village to take up residence under their new controllers.

Safehouse staffers are full members of the order, unlike villagers, since they work actively in the procurement of the other agents’ needs as well as keeping the safehouse’s true purpose concealed. The nature of a safehouse weighs heavily on what kind of missions its agents specialize in. Agents living in boarding houses are low-level infiltrators as well as assassins who mingle with the population, while those operating from a brothel will have their hands deep in the criminal underworld as well as infiltrating the high levels of society.

Gender Roles

The Moonshades are an organization that is as egalitarian as it is discriminating. Males and females fulfill important roles for the order’s operation and are equally valued, but the tasks of one gender are seldom, if ever, fulfilled by the other.

Males operate mostly in the background, providing support, training, intelligence analysis and resources, in addition of dominating the religious aspect of the order through the priests of Argizar. Males are also the best practitioners of magic in the order, and are in charge of researching, creating and imprinting the shadow tattoos the female agents depend on. Most mission controllers and managers of villages and safehouses will be male.

The myths about the Moonshades are born mostly from the activities of the female agents. As the night is spiritually related to femininity, it is natural that the active business of darkness is performed by women. The best spies, infiltrators, enforcers and assassins of the Moonshades are female, and only females are allowed to bear the mark of the Moon Lord on their skin.

Enforcers, Deceivers, Mystics

Moonshades can come, or pretend to be, from any walk of life, usually related to their role within the order. Support members deal with the mundane aspects of maintaining the order. The support personel who have the most contact with the more dangerous operations of the Moonshades are the liaisons, who are the bridge between a cell of field agents and the rest of the order; the trainers, masters of stealth, seduction, combat and magic, and they pas on their expertise to the younger generations; the quartermasters, who make sure that the agents have the equipment and material goods they might need, and the priesthood, who are the link between the order and their patron god in addition to being the ones who imprint the shadow tattoos on the agents.

-Training and Operations

As mentioned before, there are three types of operatives who undergo slightly different training to specialize in their different missions:

Phantom Lanterns (Deceivers): Named thus after the ghost lights that lead the way to Izketzira’s mansion, the master infiltrators of the Moonshades are trained in guile and deceit; they learn the secrets of the heart and minds and use the power in their tattoos to twist perceptions and pry secrets from their targets’ minds. Seducers, impersonators and sleeper agents supreme, they mingle with people until the time is right for them to act. They focus in illusion and enchantment magic to do half they work.

Empty Heavens (Mystics): The variety of threats and missions the Moonshades undertake require for at least some of them to study magic beyond the foundations of their tattoos and martial arts. The Empty Heaven is the name of Miraketsu’s domain, the void between the stars, for it is in such darkness that the direst secrets of the universe are kept. They delve in arcane magic and secrets to act as field specialistswhen a mission has unexplained phenomena, but they represent the core of the legends about Moonshade sorcery.

Razor Whispers (Enforcers): The Moonshade warriors and assassins deserve their deadly reputation, for they learn the fine art of killing with minimal effort. Masters of mobility and stealth, they prefer not to engage in combat, and when they do, they want to end it quickly, so they resort to all sorts of trickery and dirty fighting to achieve that. They have the most intimate relationship with their tattoos, making them an extension of their bodies.

-Shadow Crescent Style

The exclusive martial art school of the Moonshades reflects the personality of the order as a whole: It requires nimbleness and speed, but is deceptively deadly, especially when practiced by seemingly weak and slender girls.

Shadow Crescent is taught to every member of the order, but just to the degree that they are expected to find themselvess in combat. The basic levels are all about throws, counters and precision strikes, escalating into acrobatics and feints.

Only females learn beyond this point, as the martial art integrates shadow tattoos, which the Moonshades use to complement their speciality training. Phantom Lanterns feint and weave illusions to deceive their opponents, Empty Heavens unleash magical attacks made more potent by their tattoos connection with the Moon, and Razor Whispers use theirs as improvised weapons to stab, strangle, trip and break their enemies.

-Shadow Tattoos

A field agent is considered a true Moonshade when she receives her first shadow tattoo in a ceremony that welcomes her into the order proper, and offer their bodies and souls to the night in service of the Empire.

The ink used for the tattoos is obtained through a complicated ritual that distils pure moonlight and binds it to the shadows cast by moonlight (hence the name “Moonshade”). Silver needles are dipped in this substance and used to trace patterns into the Moonshade’s skin. While there are fixed patterns that the priests learn, part of the tattooing ritual tips the hand of the tattooing priest here and there so that the design is unique and personal to the recipient.

Shadow tattoos are opaque and are very hard to see under direct light, and almost invisible under sunlight. This protects the Moonshade’s identity from casual observers, but also makes the tattoos’ magic almost useless. The tattoos draw their power from the night, not exactly from darkness, so they are at their strongest when exposed directly to starlight, moonlight or the shadows cast by the night’s absence of light. This property influences directly in the Moonshades’ choice of clothing. They don’t expose their skin to exploit their allure (although Phantom Lanterns enjoy this greatly), but to empower their magical abilities.

The Living Shadow Heresy has replaced moonlight ink for something far more dangerous: living shadows extracted forcefully from the Region of the Dead, where darkness comes not from mere absence of light, but absence of life itself. Living shadow tattoos carry their own darkness and can operate during the day, although they recoils into nonexistence under sudden sunlight. They are more powerful than moonlight ink tattoos, but their deathlike nature seeps slowly into their bearers soul, depriving them of warmth and human emotion until, at the end of their lives, the bearer becomes a ruthless shadow wearing human skin.

The Moon Guard has always pursued any rumor of living shadow use, but the heretics hide very well and have co-opted a couple of chapterhouses and at least one whole clan, although the Moon Guard ignores which one.

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