Called the underfolk by many, the sluagh (SLOO-ah) are often pariahs even among other fae. Though rumors persist of underground catacombs and mazelike lairs, many sluagh prefer crumbling Victorian mansions to dank sewers. Places dark and forgotten, often with a mushroom garden, attract them. Those who intrude into their inner sanctums often leave with nightmares. Just as they value secrets and mysteries, sluagh treasure their privacy, and do a great deal to foster reputations that discourage visitors.
A Night's Worth of History
As long as the sluagh have known enough to name themselves, they have walked with the dead and in the shadows. This is as much a part of what they are as who they are. Sluagh and death, sluagh and fear, sluagh and pain... they are all bound up in a knot of years and darkness. Telling their history, therefore, is in some sense an obituary. No other kith is so obsesses with the truth of their origins. They search for the moment and place where the first sluagh raised her head to the star-filled night and said "I am." you see, they do not lie to themselves about what they are or where they come from. They have no comforting myths of glories or sunny prophecies of a bright future. They instead want to know the past and what it means for the future. While they use illusion to frighten others, they have few of their own.
The sluagh were born from fear; on this they all agree. Every time a grandmother gave a name to the creaking of a floorboard or the groaning of stone, a sluagh was born. In the primal forests of Eastern Europe, the shadows and the noises came alive when they're given names and they knew their purpose. They were the terrors of the night and that was all they knew. Born from what causes fear, they knew they were to continue more of the same. Tappers on windows continued their scuttling; creatures of night noise made the same. In this way their numbers grew rapidly. As they made more noises and shadows, there were more noises and shadows to name, and the more named, the more that wakened. As their stories grew more complex, they too became more complicated. Their minds grew clearer, their purposes sharper, their cunning deeper. Tales assigned servants to them and creatures like the vodyanoi or Awd Goggie emerged to fill the roles.
The one thing the sluagh didn't know, though, was why, and this gnawed at them. Why must they inspire fear night after night? Why did they receive more pleasure from a scream than a smile? Why was silent slithering more enjoyable that crafting art or plying more reputable trades?
The instant of self-realization, when it finally came, was the decisive moment for the sluagh, even more than their initial awakening. The moment they realized that they were to put fear to a good use created the kith as it is known today. They were no longer a collection of ragtag spirits haunting specific areas or houses. Instead they had purpose. Fear became their tool, not their master; a means, not an end. For countless centuries, sluagh researchers have worked to pin down the exact moment of this revelation came to every sluagh in existence simultaneously. None have succeeded. When it happened, though, they all knew they were not alone.
And so they came, slithering and gibbering, to a great stone ring they all somehow knew how to find. Deep in the Russian forest, far from human habitation, these children of nightmare met their brothers and sisters for the first time. All night long, they danced around the twisted gray pillars that had called to them, indulging for the first time in the sort of bacchanalia the other kith regularly subscribe to them.
At the height of their festivities, they received a visitor. Nameless and crowned with an antlered casque, he rode out of the blackest part of the wood on a white stallion. The horse's eyes and ears were red as blood and its hooves seemed to touch the earth only lightly. The sluagh fell silent, sensing the importance of his arrival.
He spoke to the assembly briefly, bestowing a blessing and extracting a promise. The blessing none of among the sluagh will relate; the promise was that no child ever be truly harmed in their frightenings. The sluagh, one and all, agreed to the compact. The knight, in turn, agreed that the promise should be kept for a number of years equal to 13 times 13 generations. Then, business concluded, the knight of the Tuatha de Danaan rode back into the forest. The festivities continued through the night and at sunrise, the sluagh dispersed almost magically to their homes across the face of Eastern Europe.
No one has ever found the stone ring again, which isn't surprising. It was not a part of the world and was given to the sluagh for that night only. Many still do not realize this and search fruitlessly. Wiser ones merely treasure the legend.
The Golden Age
With the discovery of their purpose, the sluagh became a much more formal kith. They arrogated the role of the last guardians of virtue, choosing to punish evildoers (especially children) with fear. Sluagh justice was ruled to be better than no justice at all and so a clandestine alliance between parents and sluagh was struck.
Simply put, the sluagh became secret allies to parents all over Eastern Europe in the never-ending war to make children behave. If a child would grow too unruly or disrespectful or vicious, the parents could summon the sluagh to enforce the lesson they could not. By signs and portents the sluagh let it be known what offerings pleased them in attracting their attention and before long the cracked bowl of sour milk and the loaf of bread (burned, moldy, or baked with inedible like insects) became staples for harried parents across the continent.
The sluagh were more than happy to enter into this relationship and receiving parental sanction motivated them to greater heights of creativity. They soon became artists of fear, with legendary fright-spinners striving to outdo each other in achieving epic terrors. They also began moving westward at this time, scuttling down Finland and along the shores of the Baltic into the lands of the trolls, who at first did not know what to make of them. Initial meetings were cool, to put it mildly, and relations never improved that much. Remarkably, it was the trolls who inducted the new arrivals into the Seelie Court despite their disdain for sluagh techniques.
Back in the forests of the East, disaster brewed. One glorious Highsummer Night, the worst happened. For unaccountable reasons, the sluagh lost their voices. There are legends among them about what happened that night; those secrets are always kept away from outsiders. Some mysteries are for the sluagh alone. (For more information, see the article Slaying of the Voices)
Their sudden inability to talk above a whisper confirmed certain scurrilous rumors about the kith in the minds of many trolls and other fae. One by one, the other kith turned their backs on the crawlers. Still the sluagh kept to their purpose. Fear had been their friend for long years before they met the other fae and it would be their friend still.
So they continued to spread, boldly ignoring the contempt of others. From Scandinavia they reached England, tucked in the hidden dark places of longboats and knorrs. Through German forests and mountains, up the Danube and across Northern Europe they slithered. Soon the children of the entire continent slept less soundly, at least those who had something to fear.
Abbey Lubbers & Buttery Spirits
During the Middle Ages, certain sluagh in northern Europe, especially in the British Isles, took it upon themselves to punish a particular subject of wrongdoers. Specifically corrupt innkeepers and monks. Human histories from the time are full of tales of monks growing fat on worldly pleasures and innkeepers who put sand in horses' feedbags and water in the wine. Fae historians speculate that the two species of humans were explicitly breaking promises by this sort of behavior and were excellent targets for vengeful sluagh. The fact that the falsifiers were adults, and so could not claim the protection of the secret sluagh oath, helped make them easy targets. Thus was created the order of sluagh called by mortals the Abbey Lubbers, the Buttery Spirits, as well as other less complimentary names.
Two major repercussions followed the advent of these sluagh. First, it became popular belief that the sluagh actually devoured the cheap foodstuffs provided by dishonest tavern hosts and soon enough this perception became reality. While before the bowl of sour milk and inedible bread had been a token offering that could be taken or left, the choice began to disappear. Even the sluagh who had feasted on the best food of the monasteries found themselves increasingly drawn to watered wine, stale bread, and sour milk until it was all the sluagh could subsist on.
The second change of this period was perhaps more devastating. For the first time, sluagh began defecting in large numbers to the Unseelie Court. The apparently ineffective campaign to frighten others into proper behavior wore down many a crawler's patience, particularly when corruption was so evident to the bottom of society. It may have been the greed and sensuality of the monasteries that finally pushed many sluagh over the edge. Efforts to frighten wrongdoers into reform transformed into punitive expeditions against the worst culprits. The reputation of the sluagh among mortals began to darken around this time and matters have continued apace ever since.
About the same time as the Abbey Lubbers and Buttery Spirits were forming, a subtype of sluagh also appeared. For more on these fae, see the article Killmoulis.
Dwelling Among the Dead
Sluagh have had a long association with ghosts; their very name links them to the Restless Dead. Alone among the Kithain, sluagh are able to see and converse with spirits of the dead. This isn't a recent development either. They have been talking to the dead as long as they can remember. The first recorded conversations between sluagh and ghosts date back to the days before the sluagh encountered even the trolls and still restricted themselves to muttering and slithering in the forests of Eastern Europe. Supposedly Aleksei of the 13 Toes was the first sluagh to actually stop ignoring the dead as harbingers of bad luck and talk to one. He recognized in these ghosts the tremendous potential for bringing new heights to fear and chose a respectable-looking ghost with whom to open line off communication.
The empire of Stygia had not yet reached out its iron claws to "organize" this region of the Shadowlands and so the wraiths of the Slavic lands were disorganized, chaotic, and more or less friendless. Happy to cling to any structure at all, the native ghosts were glad to talk with these strange, pale creatures who seemed half-dead themselves. The rough organization this alliance generated also enabled these wraiths to meet the advancing Stygian armies on reasonably equal terms; no war of conquest among the dead was fought in the lands of the sluagh. While the ghosts with whom the sluagh originally dealt kept their mouths shut regarding their relationship with the fae (reliable Skinland allies was a solid advantage), word spread of fae that could see and speak to the dead spread from ghost to ghost. Communication with the sluagh was never officially sanctioned by Stygia but the fact that certain wraiths and crawlers were speaking together remained an open secret. Now wherever the sluagh spread, they found talkative ghosts waiting for them. The problem was particularly bad in the British Isles, especially in Ireland and Scotland. In some cases, sluagh were driven out of freeholds in these countries because of all the wraiths looking to speak to them.
Some sluagh, though, managed to gain some benefits from this presence of friendly ghosts. As the lines between wraiths and faeries were already somewhat blurred in Celtic Europe, sluagh deliberately obscured them even further until that line between sluagh and wraith was essentially nonexistent in mortal minds so that ghosts were thought to dwell in local síds and as mortals liked interfering with the dead even less than the fae, this kept human distractions to the sluagh at a minimum. Hiding behind a graveyard mask, the sluagh distanced themselves from human culture while still remaining close enough to affect it. Most faerie mounds associated with the dead were close to towns and these places, the sluagh took for their own so they could still confound those who needed a good scare.
As the years passed and the Shroud thickened and laws of the dead forbade commerce between wraith and sluagh, relations grew strained. What had been formalized became informal and sporadic; only the odd ghost talking to the odd sluagh.
Dealing With Devourers
The other kith with strong ties to the northern part of England is the redcaps and there has never been any love lost between the two. As the redcaps kept mainly to their ruined peel towers and the sluagh to their síds, friction between the two was minimal. Conflicts did erupt when the frighteners were blamed for some redcap atrocity. Having their subtle work confused with redcap crudity insulted the sluagh to no end while the redcaps, in turn, found sluagh tactics incomprehensible and the sluagh themselves disturbingly devious.
Adjudications of quarrels between the two were surprisingly spotty in their nature and quality and often developed into free-for-alls. Many legends of "war beneath the mound" that mortals told on hearing sounds of fighting coming from the síds were really evidence of sluagh and redcaps settling their differences the old-fashioned way. Unsurprisingly, redcaps liked this approach while the sluagh preferred less direct conflict.
The closing of the gates to Arcadia was both a good and bad thing for the Sluagh. While they had as difficult time as any other kith in adjusting to changeling existence, they had a couple other complications to deal with. With the sidhe gone it meant that the courts' institutionalized discrimination against the sluagh was a thing of the past but the new era ushered in a more chaotic type of discrimination form the other kith. Without the sidhe present to control their worst impulses of some of the others, the sluagh became convenient targets for the resentment, fear, and panic that set in after the Shattering.
The inevitable happened. Other fae, looking for scapegoats, settled on the crawlers. As few sluagh were foolish enough to reveal themselves to the scorn of the other fae, the few who did received more than their fair share of abuse. They suffered insults, slings, arrows, bottles, stones, and rotten vegetables hurled at them by their so-called kin, and that on top of all the Glamour-spawned malice they could stand. Sometimes, the violence would get out of hand and an unfortunate sluagh could find themself the recipient of physical assault or worse.
Eventually, equilibrium was reached. The angry mobs didn't notice any improvement in their status even after hanging every sluagh they could get their hands on (an admittedly difficult proposition) and found other amusements and arrangements. There was a sudden power vacuum at the top of fae society and the scramble to fill it became more pressing than assigning blame for past catastrophes.
The crawlers wisely stayed out of the other kith's maneuverings, at least publicly. As changeling society settled into a bizarre cross between feudalism and socialism, former petty nobles and commoners adopted into noble houses struggled to keep their places atop a much-reduced pile. A few freeholds carried on as pale shadows of their glory days, complete with courts overseen by knights and baronets. In other places, strength was all that mattered as motleys settled fonts of Glamour and evolved their own local governments.
And the sluagh? They got out of the way; funneling clandestine support to the few leaders they felt deserved assistance. It wasn't long after the new politics settled (and the memories of the pogroms had grown cold) that the crawlers felt comfortable re-entering into fae society.
Reasons & Lies
Rumors that the sluagh had in fact been responsible for the Shattering have persisted for centuries. Modern fae apologists for the predecessors have pooh-poohed these claims as invented justification for the abuse heaped on the sluagh during the early days of the Interregnum. In the depths of their cups, drunken trolls still occasionally mutter about how it's all the damned sluagh's fault.
Once started, such a story never goes away. The sluagh have learned this lessen better than anyone.
Country sluagh grew more and more few as the mills sprang up and the railways brought every little town days closer to the cities. Most rural crawlers were virulently anti-technology and not a few could be found among the followers of the mythical Ned Ludd. Their fear, one which would soon be realized, was that industrialization would soon turn laborers from artisans to automatons and drain the world of even more Glamour.
While the possible benefits of technology, notably improved medical treatments, were lauded by the sluagh, most refused to trust that these advances would be used for good rather than for the sake of profit. Time, sadly, proved them right.
Two Tales of Cities: the 19th Century
For the sluagh, it was the best of times and the worst of times. It was a time of the great migrations to the cities across the Atlantic, the time of sweatshops and huddled masses in the tenements. The era of Industrial Revolution, Dickens, and the explosion of cities had a profound effect on the fae as a whole but the sluagh bore the brunt of the changes.
Cities are havens for secrets of all sorts; filled with hiding places and unexpected treasures. It's hardly surprising that as soon as the sluagh woke up and started skulking about, they flowed into the cities in relative droves. Of course cities of the Middle Ages and colonial period were relatively puny things with rigid population ceilings enforced by the laws of economics and sanitation. Rome and Paris, massive compared to other hamlets, really didn't house that many people or that may hiding places.
Once the Industrial Revolution went into high gear, the equation of cities changed. Now there was work for millions in the factories and mills and those millions needed places to live. More, they needed places close to where they worked. As the factories tended to grow near shipping centers (like major cities) those cites grew exponentially. Land, people, and money: cities swallowed them all.
At the same time the cities were metamorphosing, railway men were pinning down the land with wooden ties and iron rails. Lay lines were irreparably damaged by this cavalier treatment and, slowly but surely, the living countryside found itself vivisected by time-tables and steel.
The cities didn't take care of what they swallowed, either. New factories belched smoke and vomited filth day and night. Tenements and company "villages" were overcrowded, filthy, and rat-infested. And their inhabitants were underpaid, overworked, desperate, and poor.
In these horrid conditions, dreams died; killed by smokestack fumes, the cancer of poverty reducing visions of glory to hopes of having enough for another meal. Foul water and insufficient food, with despair at a dead-end existence that seemed to stretch out far into the future.
Mines & Sweatshops
The cities swallowed children as well. The garment and mining businesses were particular villains. Small hands meant delicate stitchery on fancy ladies' garments that owners could charge for more. Small bodies could squeeze into smaller tunnels, saving owners from blasting full-sized shafts. Most of all, small hands took home smaller checks and small voices raised in protest were easily drowned out. If a child's hand was mangled in a machine or a few coughed their lungs into bloody scraps in the mines, there were always more desperate for work to help put food on the family table.
Under such conditions, generations of children were brutally stripped of their wonder. They slept dreamlessly when finally allowed to totter home from the factories. Many dreams left the world at this time because those who would have dreamed them were otherwise occupied.
Many sluagh, particularly in England, the United States of America, and the more industrialized German states simply gave up at this point, surrendering sadly to Banality. As they saw it, their role as punishers of bad children had been usurped. What terror could they present worse than what so many were already facing every day?
Other less defeatist sluagh changed tactics. They focused on the children of the rich; their logic being that if these youngsters benefited from the torment of other children, they deserved some torment as well. This approach got out of hand somewhere along the way, and the intent of the punishing sluagh changed. Where they originally intended to use the children of the rich as abject lessons and impress upon the rich the horrors of what their factories were doing, the lessons devolved into simple missions of punishment, guilt or innocence be damned. It's little wonder then that so many of the heirs of the robber barons and manufacturing tycoons were mad; even centuries removed from their golden age, the sluagh had forgotten none of their tricks.
Even as the fae felt the loss of Glamour in the rise of cities, some benefits did come to the sluagh. While the cities may have been rats' warrens of filth and poverty, the number of places to hide and secrets to learn grew greatly. Plus, with the rapid construction came chances for enterprising sluagh to create their own hiding places and mazes.
Even more there was the explosion of literacy. Magazines and penny dreadfuls were everywhere and novels came into vogue as an acceptable literary form. With everyone reading, the demand for reading materials (mostly periodicals) grew by leaps, bounds, and slithers. The sluagh made themselves impressive players in the publishing industry. Newspaper reporters, magazine editors, publishers, from the lowest print setter to the mightiest publishing tycoon, the industry was rotten with sluagh. After all, the more magazines and newspapers, books and dime novels that were out there, the more sources of information there were, and that, to the sluagh, was a good thing.
They also played fast and loose with their own rules by helping the careers of their favorite authors. Dickens, Scott, Le Fanu, and Maturin all received boosts from crawler publishers at one time or another. A few sluagh were also active in the theatre, though never onstage. Instead they patronized playwrights, brought worthy scripts to the attention of theater managers, and, most importantly, thronged to the backs of theatres, well out of range of the footlights' glow, or into the audiences from where their word of mouth could make or break a play.
Spiritualism became a boon to the crawlers as well. Their innate ability to see the dead made the rigamarole of séances unnecessary (and embarrassing), but the spirit of inquiry that serious spiritualists possessed impressed the more socially minded underfolk. One of the most comfortable livings that a sluagh could make in a city like London was that of spiritual advisor. Reading cards, palms, and tea leaves, gazing into crystal balls and occasionally facilitating a real contact with the dead, sluagh fortunetellers lived well off the belief in the spirit world.
On top of all that, Victorian manners struck a chord with the crawlers. The stiff formality, the emphasis on dignity and reserve, strict rules of courtship and social interaction, and the importance placed on embarrassing secrets... all these resonated with the highly formal sluagh, especially those of the Seelie Court. If these rules were honored as much by breach as by observance, it didn't matter. The perception was more important than reality to the sluagh.
So they threw themselves into the social spirit of the age. They even ventured into social circles where they'd never ventured before. Certain daring sorts learned to dance and threw balls that attracted the cream of both mortal and fae society. The Gothic sensibility of the early 19th century especially lent a sort of chic to sluagh-ish affairs; readers who shuddered their way through Udolpho or The Monk had wonderful imaginations and produced flavors of Glamour the sluagh found delightful.
As avid watchers of the human and fae conditions, the crawlers knew that the glorious period of manners would soon pass. Some more enterprising sluagh set about to do something about that inevitability. While rumors of sluagh involvement in Queen Victoria's abnormally long reign can be dismissed as pure fantasy, there's no denying how well the sluagh effort to codify and immortalize the glories of the Victorian period worked.
5 Secrets of 19th Century Sluagh
- Poe was not a sluagh. He should have been but that's neither here nor there.
- Charles Dickens wasn't a sluagh either, though he knew several. He did have the rare privilege of sitting in on High Tea but he monopolized the conversation so thoroughly that he was never invited back again.
- Contrary to the propaganda spread by the other fae, many sluagh were instrumental in the movement to enact child labor laws. A great deal of the money poured anonymously into the coffers of the movement came from crawler purses.
- One of the great conundrums of underfolk existence is that while they love water, they hate sea travel; something about not having a bolt-hole when in the middle of the ocean, but in any case, the result of this is simple. While any major city's dockside positively drips with slough, the number who go to sea can generally be numbered in the fingers of one's foot. A shipboard sluagh is an oddity ranking up with a quiet pooka.
- Despite rumors to the contrary, sluagh hate pollution and found the killing fogs of Old London Town and the stinking Thames to be abhorrent. There's a fine line between rot and petrochemical disaster and the crawlers stand firmly on one side of it.
Victorian London and fog are inseparable. Deep, pea-soup blankets of yellow and white, these legendary fogs were initially a godsend to the city's sluagh. With their already legendary powers of concealment, the nightly fogs enabled the sluagh to vanish with ease, confounding foes and policemen alike. Sluagh assassins functioned virtually unhindered by the thick clouds. A cantrip, now supposedly lost, made the fog clear as day to them. The Unseelie frequently indulged in sadistic games of cat-and-mouse with targets or even innocent bystanders. Harrying travelers through foggy mazes into bad neighborhoods and watching them attempt to find their way home with life and purse intact was a favorite pastime. One variation involved silently replacing unsuspecting coachmen and hijacking carriages into the night.
Other kith said the crawlers owned the fogs, even claiming they could conjure them. This later was an exaggeration (the fogs were in fact an increasingly unbalanced combination of precipitation and pollution), but they certainly took full advantage of the opportunities presented. Nightmare chimera born of mortal fear of the fog quickly became servants of the underfolk, prowling the streets to deliver messages of more or less sinister sorts. Other sluagh did learn to modify the fogs to an extent; thickening or slowing them to suit their needs.
It wasn't until the industrial fog grew to absurd toxic levels that the crawlers realized their plaything had turned on them. Sluagh constitutions are rarely robust and they suffered from all the respiratory ailments the fogs brought with them. The fog chimera grew twisted and feral and many broke free from sluagh reins. As the fogs grew to legendary status, sluagh mastery of them faded into the realm of legend.
In the end, the underfolk were as glad to see the air cleaned up and the worst fogs scrubbed away as anybody else.
Despite the bone deep hatred of sea-travel all sluagh possess, a hardy few did manage to emigrate to the Americas. Most who did so were independently wealthy form their mortal endeavors and could afford private cabins; the rest were stowaways. The crawler who can stand the psychological horrors (specifically the crowding) of traveling steerage has yet to be born.
At first, the sluagh were at something of a disadvantage in the Americas. While other kith were migrating by the boatload and being born there, the sluagh mostly huddled in the Old Country, unwilling to dare the ocean crossing. Sluagh were born in the new world as in the old, but very few emigrated. As such, the other kith drastically outnumbered the sluagh in the New World. This continued until well after the turn of the 20th century by which time sea-going accommodations had improved to the point more sluagh felt comfortable.
An interesting fact is that from the middle of the 19th century until the 1930s, a disproportionate number of sluagh entered their Chrysalis. Basically, the American "birth" rate for sluagh for that period of 80 years was higher than any other kith. The imbalance continued until the underfolk population was roughly equivalent to that of the other kith. This coincidence had certain more religious fae making dire commentaries about how the Tuatha de Danaan must be interfering with the cycle of changeling souls, holding up some of their souls' great journey to "even things out" in the mortal world. Oddly enough, five years after the Accordance War ended, the number of new sluagh started rising again and no one yet has an explanation for that.
Unlike the other kith, the sluagh were prepared for the consequences of the lunar landing in 1969. The space program and print media were both riddled with sluagh; they knew what was ahead and what the results might be. Emerging from centuries of minimal contact with the commoner kith, the underfolk attempted to warn the others of the coming changes. No surprise, they were ignored or dismissed. Others deemed it more likely the progress of science to the moon would usher in a new era of Banality and rudely told the crawlers to go back to their holes and die.
This slight wasn't forgotten. The underfolk kept their prophecies and projections to themselves, restricting their efforts to minimize the coming disaster to helping themselves. Texts that would have prepared other fae for the Resurgence of the sidhe were locked away and when the gates of Arcadia blew open and the sidhe came pouring through, the sluagh watched from behind locked doors, cantrips ready, and needle-thin swords in hand. The tyrants were back and the sluagh knew better than anyone what was coming.
The War & What Came After
A few token sluagh, mostly Seelie, responded to the sidhe's impudent call for vassalage. The rest stayed hidden, seeing what would happen. And happen they did, along the lines many sluagh predicted. Sidhe arrogance clashed with commoner independence. The growing independence of the earthly Unseelie Court added to the friction and relations between noble and commoner deteriorated. The Night of Iron Knives was a shock even to the crawlers. When several influential underfolk were immediately contacted by the wraiths of those slaughtered fae, demanding justice and vengeance from beyond the grave, the sluagh attempts to let history pass them by proved futile.
For once, the Unseelie crawlers took the lead in deciding kith policy. As loathsome as the nobles had been, the insults from the other Kithain could not be forgotten. The sluagh put no battalions in the field; they didn't care if the trolls were cut down in ranks. Instead, they did what they had always done: brought terror to the enemy. The sidhe would know fear.
Whisper-thin swords were blooded in the night. Slings and blowguns claimed victim after victim. Todd the Gray emerged from the conflict as the greatest sluagh assassin and made Lord Dafyll's general staff his project. Being assigned to Dafyll's camp became a death warrant. To this day there are still questions as to who actually killed the sidhe general in the end but not one would be surprised if it were Todd the Gray.
Some few underfolk joined the more conventional struggle. Eleanor Dell and her fellow couriers granted the commoner armies what information from sluagh sources they could and carried messages across enemy lines. Other crawlers actually fought in the ranks, though pitifully unprepared for the sort of fighting the troll generals insisted upon. A few secretly supported the movements of regular troops, springing traps and pursuing sidhe forces.
It was not enough. Perhaps if the underfolk had pooled their efforts from the beginning... But no. the insult had bitten too deeply and the trolls could never bend enough to ask the sluagh for help. So pride and vanity doomed the commoner alliance.
The emergence of the Lion of Tara did not catch the sluagh entirely by surprise. By the time Dafyll forced the 4th Troll Commons back to Manhattan, the crawlers knew the war was lost and had begun looking for contingencies. Certain, wild sidhe prophecies of a new king filtered back to the underfolk elders. Evidence was weighed, truth sifted, and long before Queen Mab recognized David Ardry, the sluagh knew his name and temper.
As soon as it was clear Ardry was the new king the prophecies spoke of, the crawlers sought to learn as much about him as they could. The results were moderately promising; so when the redcaps mutter that their sluagh-carried request for reinforcements to take True Thomas in Times Square was "mysteriously" lost, they speak with maybe more truth than they know.
Ardry's ascent to the throne was anticlimactic, at least for the underfolk. The immediate crisis of the war was done and many fae chose to let any ties they had with the crawlers lapse. Trolls placed themselves at the forefront of the commoner negotiation teams; Unseelie sluagh muttered they could hardly lose as badly at the tables as they had in the field. A few wise nobles and commoners cultivated sluagh allies but generally the political process went on without sluagh input, except when the trollish negotiators needed an odd fact verified. When peace finally came, it was less than momentous for the underfolk. After all, it was the peace of the commoner army and many members of that army were ashamed to admit they'd needed the sluagh's aid.
Curiously, despite their gloomy demeanor (and glum reputation) most sluagh are secretly of the faction that believes a new Spring will supersede the coming Winter. Thus, their frantic quest for knowledge; by capturing and weaving secrets, they ensure that the old stories and tales survive the coming storm. When the new Spring arrives, the grimoires and diaries of the underfolk will hold the secrets that the fae of the new age will need and, in some way, the memories of the sluagh will live on.
The flip side of this desperate rush toward posterity is, however, the ingrained sluagh belief that few, if any, of their kith will survive the coming winter. The coming days promise to be ruled by brute strength, not subtlety, and as such, most sluagh discount their chance of surviving to see the new Spring. It is regarded as the absolute worst manners possible to discuss the promise of winter with sluagh and even among themselves, they only mention it in passing or through euphemisms.
And Who Are the Sluagh?
The Sluagh, Themselves & Others
Everybody knows who the sluagh are. They're nasty, smelly, slimy, creepy weirdos who know everything about everybody. They spy on the other kith, hold forbidden revels in cavernous mazes below the earth, and occasionally sacrifice childlings to whatever dark things they worship. They eat spiders and toads, hate sunlight and the other kithain, and can't be trusted as far as a boggan can throw an overweight troll.
Of course, no one has seen these orgiastic rites or these tunnels. No one has seen them perform a sacrifice, human or fae. Most crawlers are impeccably, if morbidly, groomed. Yes their taste in wine and tea is awful but they treasure spiders far too much to eat one, except maybe as part of a cantrip. And toads? Well they do say frog legs taste like chicken.
So what does that leave of what everyone knows? Very little. If one carefully examines the many charges laid at the underfolk's feet over the centuries, there's almost no evidence to support any of them. What's left? They're weird. They're strange. Standoffish. Secretive. The others fear that, maybe with good reason. But lacking any real bones to build their fears on, they built one of phantasms and half-remembered nightmares. But the image of sluagh as foulness incarnate has stuck in their minds. (The essence of who they are is more set in the minds of mortals, and no gossipy boggan can change that.)
So the iconic sluagh is untrustworthy, predatory, foul, and terrifying. That's the lie the others believe... and the sluagh don't care.
Sluagh are pale and grotesque, if oddly compelling. Some unfathomable deformity seems to cling to them like leprosy. They lack teeth and have small, tired, mysterious eyes. They carry a vague odor of decay that grows more pungent with age.
Very, very few sluagh ever dress in bondage gear or such apparel. Those who do are almost all Unseelie and do it for the shock value more than anything else. What's the point of such gear when they can just slither out of it anyway? Instead most sluagh go for conservative, even formal dress with a tendency toward the Victorian. Top hats, lace, embroidery, clawhammer coats, and the like are the usual for the underfolk who find the formality of that era much to their liking.
- What you will find in a sluagh's home
Books, scrolls, maps, blueprints, suspiciously sharp letter openers, candles, wax drippings, animal skulls, stuffed creatures of all shapes and sizes, pets that make no sounds, spiderwebs, candelabras, brass and silver furnishings, overstuffed furniture that's gotten frayed, vinyl LP's and 8-track tapes, expensive rugs hidden under layers of paper, rolltop desks, crystal wine glasses, brandy snifters turned into ant farms, and flags from countries long gone.
- What you will not find in a sluagh's home
Shiny electronics, two-handed edged weapons (chimerical or otherwise), suits of armor (ditto), friendly puppies, Persian cats, gleaming hardwood floors, skylights, books about self-actualization, winning friends, or influencing people, trendy magazines, cute stuffed animals, mugs that say "Kiss Me, I'm a Changeling", mint-condition comic books, much of anything with a licensed character on it, bottled water, and welcome mats.
Among the Kith
The underfolk hold a well-defined place on the fringes of Kithain society... at least the place they're supposed to occupy has been well defined. They hold a place similar to the witch-woman in the wood or bedraggled Kabbalist emerging from his study to receive petitioners. Everyone goes to the crawlers when they need help. No one admits it.
Of course, you don't just drop by with a request, barging in and demanding attention. Even the rudest redcap and horniest satyr knows better. Those who do often live to regret it. The rest don't.
There is, instead, an elaborate series of rituals, almost a courtship, that has grown up around the event. Those seeking assistance must politely make the proper inquiries. It isn't even necessary to ask the sluagh themself. Drop enough hints and they'll know soon enough you're asking. In fact, the more artful the indirection associated with the inquiry, the more amenable the sluagh will be to their soon-to-be visiter.
Not all requests are heard of course. It's a sellers market for good information and the crawlers can afford to be selective in customers. If the object of interest is something the sluagh can't help with, or information they don't want to share, or if the customer just rubs them the wrong way, there is no sale. The end.
Once the sluagh decides to take a customer, it happens quickly. The client receives an invitation... written, verbal, or by chimera... to meet the sluagh, usually at twilight or so. The underfolk value punctuality; if the client arrives late without a very good reason, the whole arrangement might be cancelled.
Wheelings & Dealings
Business is never discussed over High Tea but usually in a lounge or drawing room (for wealthy underfolk). Business is business, but High Tea is for sluagh only, and even the most trusted clients are not privy to some secrets.
When setting terms, sluagh are first and foremost after information of their own: the latest political maneuverings at court, the rumblings of the unseelie gangs, whether Lady Gossamer has ended her dalliance with Lord Bluster... all of these are of tremendous importance to the crawlers. While any one bit may seem trivial in context, even the fluffiest news can carry great weight. If there are rumors of Lady Gossamer having gone Unseelie, with perhaps darker ties, and Lord Bluster has blustered about changing courts, that's interesting. If it was when Lord B. started going dark that Lady G. found him interesting, then the bit of sidhe gossip becomes more. Add that Lady G. has abandoned Lord B, well... a clever sluagh can piece together a failed recruitment on the part of the Shadow Court.
No information is useless to a sluagh. It just has to be put in the proper context.
Other acceptable trade goods are books (especially hand-set ones), woodcut prints, clever treasures, and Glamour in any way, shape, or form. Money is something in which few sluagh are interested, above what's needed to maintain a reasonably ascetic existence.
What they are willing to trade is a different story. Kithain usually come to the sluagh for a very specific reason, wanting very specific information, and odds are that's what they'll get no more, no less. Which doesn't mean the crawlers don't like wheeling and dealing; even the youngest sluagh manages to acquire a fascinating collection of junk that could prove irresistible to a visitor. Old books whose secrets are plumbed, pointless treasures, bottles of wine too good to drink; an enterprising sluagh will attempt to unload these on an unwary visitor. Just remember, it's not that the things are worthless, they just have no value to the sluagh.
What they get traded for is another thing. Most visitors only come prepared to pay for what they are after.
What the sluagh want is information, gossip, stories, etc. It isn't by skulking and chimera that the underfolk gain their knowledge. In exchange for a rare book, a sluagh may gain a promise on updates to the unusual developments in Count Elias' court. For a chimerical dagger, they may earn the trust of a local pooka pack and gain a conduit for information from the streets.
And so the dance goes until suddenly you look around and there's barely anyone who isn't talking to, listening to, in debt to, or on the enemy list of the local sluagh. How's that for frightening?
Sluagh do fill other important niches in Kithain society besides information broker. Some sluagh get the urge to act; to do, and some even act on it. It isn't hard. The very nature of the sluagh seeming makes the underfolk ideal for all sorts of missions shunned by more savory changelings (who, somehow, don't seem to feel as sullied by paying for a dirty deed to be done in their names by the sluagh).
It's a dirty job and one for which many sluagh, especially the Unseelie, are well-suited. Most crawler assassins are male, though a few of the most (dis)reputable are women, with the occasional childling thrown into the mix to keep things interesting. Most contracts are for chimerical hits only and are usually performed with blowguns, stilettos, poignards, or poison. Very few crawlers will take a Cold Iron contract and those who do are unsavory even by sluagh standards.
Once the sluagh's purpose was to instill fear and that calling isn't entirely lost. Many still make it their profession or the hobby to cause fear in mortals and changelings alike. An elite few are professionals (the High King supposedly keeps one on staff); the rest are talented and enthusiastic amateurs. It is believed that these fae are responsible for the hallucinogenic drug known as Enchanter, which brings mortals into the Dreaming. While crawlers are adept at causing fear without the help of chimera, no true artist works without their best tools.
While the shortest route between two points may be a straight line, it doesn't do any good if a bunch of hungry redcaps are sitting on that line. On the other hand, a sluagh may go by way of points C, D, Q, ¿, and Z, but they'll still get the message there in good time and in perfect confidence. Being able to slither through pipes and down sewer gratings has advantages in the messenger business.
Sluagh make great spies. They're hard to spot, excel at creating chimera for the purpose of information gathering, and have a natural flair for sneakiness. A crawler informant also has the advantage of being part of the sluagh gossip network, which is a formidable source of information. On the flip side, they make terrible infiltrators. No one trusts the underfolk to begin with so trying to win the confidence of the enemy is a battle lost before it's begun. Sluagh spies generally limit themselves to surveillance and the changeling equivalent of wiretapping.
For more in thus definitive sluagh activity, see the article High Tea.
The subsistence of the underfolk on things generally inedible for normal humans is a relatively recent development. While the crawlers have always been able to draw nourishment from unpleasant foodstuffs (the ritual summoning foods of the past weren't entirely symbolic), they did have a wider palette originally. It wasn't until the late Middle Ages and the rise of the Abbey Lubbers that public perception drastically altered sluagh diet. By the time the Buttery Spirits and others were well established, sluagh in their fae mien could eat only the rotten foodstuffs that they had picked at earlier. To date, there is no sign of reversing that reality.
Don't feel bad for them, though. Going along with only being able to eat such food is the notion that they enjoy doing so. To the underfolk, a bottle of vinegary wine is as delicious as a real champagne would be to a mortal, and much less expensive.
Love & the Single Sluagh
Sluagh are solitary creatures for the most part. They accrue their own libraries, furnish their own lairs, groom their own chimera, and live their own lives. Only a High Tea or a rare group terrorizing will serve to draw them together in large groups. Even when the kith as a whole seek vengeance on an offender, it is a community of individuals that mobilizes, not a mob.
That being said, sometimes love will thaw a sluagh heart. Most wilders have a strong romantic streak, if tinged with nihilism, desperation, and a strong dose of Gothic self-deprecation. However, such fae are likely to shy away from any real connection to another. They find angst-ridden loneliness infinitely preferable to real relationship.
There is a small subgroup of underfolk, though who can best be described as detached sensualists. These sluagh shy away from relationships but seek decadence for its own sake. such crawlers are commonly involved in the music industry, comic-book publishing, and fine art, all of which provide a maximum exposure to creativity with minimal expectation of long-term attachment.
Sometimes, though, Cupid gets a couple of rounds in and a crawler finds themself in a relationship. When the underfolk wed, the remain completely monogamous and tend to have whirlwind courtships followed by appallingly sentimental weddings. Hamal of Goldengate once said at a sluagh wedding that he preferred the crawlers morose; when they got happy they really scared him. In any case, a mated pair of sluagh (gender preference not withstanding) usually settles into one of their warrens, blissfully increasing the clutter.
Strangely enough, for a group with a reputation for being liars and slanderers, the underfolk are almost obsessively concerned with the notion of truth. This stems from their need for accurate information in their work more than a pathology for truthfulness.
An informant or trading partner who brings a tidbit that is verifiably true will win respect and favors from the crawlers they deal with. They may even receive gifts of information the sluagh themselves can't use. (Just because they sluagh knows where a belligerent chimera is hiding doesn't mean they want to do anything about it, after all.) Likewise, if someone tries to pass off falsehood, the repercussions will be swift. The usual response is to make everything known about the offender publicly known and the more embarrassing the better.
Should, incidentally, a non-sluagh infer that a crawler is untruthful, nothing will happen. Should the same inference be made about a sluagh who has given their word they are truthful, the pillars of heaven will shake with the severity of their response.
While most sluagh have little or nothing to do with the antiquated ideas of honor the trolls have, they regard their word as sacrosanct, if given properly. They have no problem lying, shading the truth, making painfully cryptic statements, or refusing to answer pointed questions, but if they state something as fact, and gives their word, then that's that.
On some level this is just good economics. If their information is regarded as untrustworthy, no one will seek them out. On a metaphysical level, though, what a sluagh does is what a sluagh is and should they sully their work, they sully themselves. Even the Unseelie hold fast to this notion of sworn truth as inviolate. Should one give their word and them give out falsehood, they will be reprimanded, ostracized, or even (rarely) silenced by having their tongue cut out. This is usually done chimerically but extreme cases can call for extreme measures.
- Childlings - Childlings are street urchins who take very poor care of their appearance. Their clothes are torn, their hair disheveled, and they arouse great sympathy for their sufferings. They delight in all that disgusts human children and hold a strong affinity for hidden places.
- Wilders - Wilders are the guardians of the uncovered spots of the world. As they grow older, their skin grows paler and their hair turns darkest black. They have dark, hollow eyes and elongated fingers and toes.
- Grumps - Grumps age at an alarming rate. Their skin hangs loosely, as if it were too large for them, their hair is soon streaked with shocking gray, and their bodies become warped, stooped, and crooked. Oddly enough, they seem to enjoy this; the underfolk prize decay in many forms and this is just one more.
Birthrights & Frailty
- Affinity - Prop
- Squirm - Dislocating body parts is a popular pastime for the crawlers. Confining them is almost impossible. Though they cannot change shape or mass, they can contort into disquieting shapes with supernatural ease. When using the Birthright, a sluagh is capable of redistributing their body mass within their skin any way they please, so long as there is no deviation from the basic humanoid figure. They may choose to manifest as a grotesquely swollen head attached to a shrunken doll's body, or to dislocate their shoulders and roll them so far behind their back that they meet. This requires a few moments of entertainment and a roll of Dexterity + Athletics with difficulties ranging from a 6 to escape ropes, to 10 to squirm through the bars of a locked cell. They only substance that can bind them completely is, of course, Cold Iron.
- Sharpened Senses - The unusual upbringing of the sluagh heightens their senses. The difficulty of any Perception roll they make is reduced by 2, to a minimum difficulty of 3. They may even see through illusory magic by making a Perception + Alertness roll at difficulty 7. The same roll allows them to see wraiths as well, though they must spend a point of Glamour to speak or listen to them. This birthright always functions normally.
- It is impossible for a crawler to botch a Stealth or Alertness roll.
- Curse of Silence - A sluagh cannot speak above a whisper, no matter how hard they strain to be heard. Since they dislike social situations and hold very odd rules of etiquette, they also add two to the difficulty of all Social rolls. While they may not appear to whisper to mortal ears, the individual in question will still be very soft-spoken. But, as they say, a whisper is more terrifying than a shout.
As far as the sluagh are concerned, there is no neutrality between the Courts. One is either Seelie or Unseelie. No middle ground. They do, however, try to distance themselves from the formal incarnations of the Courts. Instead, each crawler's allegiance is a personal thing, reflected in action and thought.
The Unseelie Court
Unseelie sluagh are, at the very least, more sociable than their Seelie cousins, even making occasional appearances at court or the club scene. They have oozed into Kithain social life, but for their own ends. They really have no allegiance to the Court's so-called higher ideals. Seelie crawlers have the undying contempt of their Unseelie kin who refer to them as "shut-ins," "moles and trolls," and other such things. Occasionally an Unseelie crawler will engage in a game of "whack-a-mole," in which they take turns trying to get a Seelie sluagh out of their den, then harrying them back inside. Almost anything goes in the game: Chimera, prank calls, breaking windows, etc. Arson is considered cheating. The only caveat in this game is simple: Not in front of the other kith. As bad as the game can be, it's a sluagh thing. When outsiders are close, the underfolk close ranks, regardless of Court affiliation. Some things belong in the family.
Unseelie wilders are the only crawlers who actively move in groups. Even among the relatively extraverted underfolk of the Unseelie Court, childlings and grumps rarely seek company other than their own kith.
As far as the Unseelie Code goes, most ignore it. Change doesn't matter to them one way or the other as long as they are kept informed of what the changes are. Glamour may be free, but they'd rather slither into someone else's stash of dross and liberate it. Passion may come before duty but when passion and duty are the same (causing fear) the pronouncement carries little weight.
Only the last tenet of the code, "Honor is a lie," carries any weight with Unseelie underfolk. They completely agree with it. For honor's sake, sluagh have taken abuse form drunken trolls and arrogant sidhe, and said nothing. For honor's sake, the sluagh lost their voices even while honoring their promises. For honor's sake, sluagh are spat on by fine and upright Seelie fae who then sneak off to ask the crawlers for blackmail information on a rival or the news of a paramour's nocturnal whereabouts. Forget that! Honor's gotten the underfolk kicked in the place where their teeth used to be and they're done with it. Time to make them all know fear again, fae and mortal alike. The Unseelie crawlers will drag their kith out of the Middle Ages and into a place of respect. And if they aren't respected in the end, at least they'll be feared and that's just as good.
The Seelie Court
Seelie underfolk are of the Court but not with it. They hold the Seelie Code as tightly as the most honorbound troll; they just don't advertise they're doing so. They tend places of Glamour unobtrusively and quietly, trusting that only the deserving will find these wellsprings. While their appreciation of beauty is not to all tastes, why is a dew-spangled spiderweb less beautiful than a Monet? The crawlers may not engage in public romance but do have their moments. And as for never forgetting a debt, the sluagh never do; one way or the other.
Seelie crawlers try very hard to avoid their Unseelie cousins, being aware of the damage that they do to the reputation of the kith. They usually, however, take the high road, ignoring the antics of their Unseelie kin, existing as they have always done.
A few Seelie sluagh ply the Unseelie professions of spy, terrorizer, or assassin, and are engaged in a fierce shadow war with the Unseelie involved in those fields. The bones of contention are many: pride, prestige, treasures, and so on, and the fighting is vicious. Such battles are brief and hidden... in sewer tunnels, libraries, computer rooms, ventilation ducts, and other such places where two crawlers at cross-purposes might find themselves. There are two rules to this unspoken war.
- If you use cold iron, it can be used on you - This is self-explanatory. Only rarely does this shadow war have real victims; most victories are in the lines of counting coup for opponents dispatched chimerically.
- No one outside the sluagh can know about it - It's a family matter and family matters are never put on display for anyone else. Period. Anyone who speaks of it to outsiders... lover, friend, priest, or psychologist, is silenced in the traditional crawler manner, and with Cold Iron. Often the one to whom the secret was spilled is made part of the punishment as well.
The Shadow Court
The Shadow Court holds a perverse fascination for the crawlers. On one hand, it's aims and intentions run counter to the vast majority of sluagh aims and intentions; such apocalyptic politicizing holds little appeal to the underfolk. On the other hand, the astounding amount of unrepentant sneaking the Court engages in holds a strong appeal. Some sluagh, recruited by the Shadow Court, tell themselves they're just in it for the secrets; that they aren't interested in politics. This stance slowly but surely changes, however, and long-time crawler agents are among the Shadow Court's most fanatical adherents.
These sluagh can best be described as like Unseelie crawlers, but more so. A disproportionate number of assassins and spies are found here (stat-at-home types need not apply). Projects of the Shadow underfolk are rumored to include more potent versions of the drug, Enchanter, a doppleganger program targeting sluagh advisors to Seelie nobles, and creating pacts with the twisted wraiths called Spectres. Of course, this could all be hearsay, or true, or a rumors spread to see how the other Courts react.
Nonaffiliated underfolk who interact with the Shadow Court often find themselves falling into its orbit. As they both groups deal in secrets, contact is sometimes inevitable. It is not always, however, the crawler who initiates contact and the odd sluagh has a profitable sideline in the form of an information pipeline to the Shadow Court.
Of course, those who deal with the Shadows are often blackmailed with that fact, leading to them having to deal with the Court again and again and again. These fae usually end up in the full-time employ of the Court, but after a few months of blackmail-inspired cooperation, it's hard to tell the difference anyway.
Seeing the Others
The Sluagh have a distinct disadvantage when it comes to forming communal opinions about the other fae, mainly because the know too much. Ignorance breeds charity but if you know what the neighbor has done and why and where they hid the bodies, acceptance is harder to come by. Which isn't to say they are disdainful of the others. Instead, the underfolk have no illusions about their fellow exiles from Arcadia; seeing their faults and foibles in a harsh and unblinking light. That they share these insights has gone far to blackening their name. The others don't want to hear the truth because, if they do, they can't hide from it any more. So they blame the messenger.
As far as the underfolk are concerned, boggans put on a good front of industrious altruism. They pretend to be happy just being of service. The sluagh know it's pretense. Just because they don't ask for reward doesn't mean they don't want it and expect it. There's a lot of complaining that goes on behind closed doors about how they are mistreated and taken for granted. Crawlers, being privy to this quite often, have less regard for boggan altruism than some might.
Seelie sluagh, however, recognize the boggans as valuable information sources and tend to be more patient with their wiggling for praise. They know the boggans are insecure, not egotistical, and so not worthy of contempt, per se. Most boggan crafts mean little to the underfolk, but the odd, heartfelt bit of craftsmanship offered to them can win a boggan a few points in their eyes.
Unseelie crawlers, though, see boggans as wells: pump them dry then toss garbage in the hole. Unseelie sluagh will take all the information they can get from a boggan, pat them on the head, give them some useless gossip to repeat to make them look like a fool, and then send them on their way... with a Wayfare cantrip if possible to make sure they never find their way back again. They even have a favorite sport called Tobogganing, where each sluagh picks a local boggan to whom to feed a bit of "information" and then check in a fortnight later over tea to see who spawned the rumor the most sluagh have heard. The one with the most is declared the winner.
There is a difference between a liar and a teller of tales. Eshu are the later. Crawlers have nothing but respect for the Elegbara, and maybe a touch of envy. Usually recluses, the underfolk wonder every so often what it would be like to travel the world and sleep under the sky... to be free... before retreating back to their books and studies and dismissing such counterproductive, idle fantasies. Eshu bring those longings to the surface, if but for a moment.
The sluagh enjoy Eshu stories. In their own way, the nomads have as much dignity in regard to propriety as they crawlers do and this endears the eshu to their night-walking cousins. Plus, eshu storytelling techniques, a verbal tapestry replete with smallest details, plays directly to what the underfolk want to hear. More information can be gained from a five-minute eshu tale than an hour of pooka-spawned rambling.
So there exists a cautious respect between the two kith. Most sluagh suspect the eshu have no idea why the crawlers like them but dislike having enemies for no good reason. So eshu take the proffered goodwill, politely refuse invitations to High Tea, and make dealings between the two as pleasant as possible (though rarely on sluagh territory... something about claustrophobia).
Unseelie sluagh like playing on eshu pride in their tale-telling abilities. While one strider is a good source of information, two are better, and if a sluagh can get one talking all night... Jackpot! They encourage this through a subtle program of flattery and ego-plays.
Seelie sluagh take a somewhat more respectful approach. They'll milk a conversation for all it's worth, even to the point of offering hospitality to the odd eshu they find particularly captivating. On the other hand, to much company with the striders sets the crawlers wanderlust stirring and nothing makes them more uncomfortable.
Sluagh call the nockers "busybodies," implying that their bodies are busy and not their minds. While impressed by the creative energy that oozes from them, crawlers regard their inevitably flawed constructs as wasteful, unpleasant vanity pieces. If a sluagh does something, they do it carefully and right. The nocker habit of diving in just to see what happens pushes all their wrong buttons. Plus, the nocker tendency toward profanity grates on sluagh sensibilities. Even the most vicious Unseelie assassin among the underfolk has a measure of couth... something entirely lost on most nockers.
Seelie sluagh do often have a grudging appreciation for nocker creations even if they have no regard for the process. If they need something, the request is usually sent by courier, phone, or other impersonal mode and they find nocker insistence on face-to-face meetings unpleasant. It's even possible to find some wheat in the chaff of nocker conversation, but few crawlers will invest the time and energy necessary to cultivate such a contact.
Unseelie underfolk have a better relationship with nockers, particularly the Unseelie ones. As flawed as their work is, they can cook up such wonderful toys for opening locks, cracking safes, and causing pain in inventive ways. Inventors of such things get a steady stream of sluagh clients and even the odd Seelie will wonder by... just to be prepared, of course.
Unsurprisingly, the kith that raises falsehood to an art form does not enjoy the warm regard of the underfolk. Trying to discern truth and falsehood in any given pooka's narrative sends weak-willed crawlers into hysterics. Tougher sluagh would simply grind their teeth, if they had any.
Perhaps what bothers the underfolk the most is that the pooka don't understand the value of words. For a pooka storyteller, one word is as good as another, provided it makes the story good. They have no clue about precision in language to convey what happened and they drive crawlers crazy. The fact that no pooka born understands the concept of linear narrative doesn't help either. At the end of a long, rambling story filled with inaccuracies and outright lies, all leading to a punchline that isn't all that amusing, a pooka with a sluagh audience can expect some rough treatment.
Unseelie underfolk tend to deal with pooka when they need a lie spread, in fact telling the pooka the whole, exact truth, then sitting back and watching the fun. The fact that there will be some truth to be found in the story is the icing on the cake as a little veracity lends credence to the inanities inevitably intermingled into the tale.
For the Seelie, there's little patience with pooka eccentricity. A crawler knows that whatever a pooka tells them is untrustworthy. Still, their way of relating their baloney in ways that sound juicy, or their habit of tossing off pertinent details like trash will send a sluagh scuttling to their contacts to see if anything makes sense. Of course, none of it does and the crawler ends up feeling put-out and a little vengeful. To whit, pooka are afraid of the underfolk and with good reason. At best, an upset sluagh will interrupt the pooka's tale and matter-of-factly dissect it for fertilizer. At worst, things can get ugly.
It's a crawler truism that the only secret redcaps have is who's on the menu tonight. While a sizable minority of sluagh know about the supremacist myth the redcaps spin each other about the "good old days" of Winter, they doubt the beasts have the strength or talent to regain that right, should Winter come again.
What the underfolk hate most about redcaps is their complete lack of subtlety. They can be cunning or sneaky but usually act in the most direct manner possible, cutting through the ritual and decorum the crawlers hold dear and leaving shreds in their wake. On top of that, their approach is almost always noisy and wasteful; anathema concepts to the sluagh. The fact that the seem to enjoy making as much noise as possible (and use depth charges to catch minnows) makes their company... unpleasant.
Only the redcaps earn more hatred from Seelie underfolk than from Unseelie. While the beasts enjoy instilling terror, crawlers take great pleasure in showing those redcaps who offend them the true meaning of fear. Redcaps are too tangible while sluagh specialize in the intangible... noises int he corner, shadows, chills in the air... sluagh have the rare ability to turn redcaps into helpless, quivering heaps.
The odd Seelie redcap is most likely respected by the local underfolk, particularly for their disregard for appearances, but they are usually filed under rara avis; there aren't enough to consider.
Unseelie crawlers and redcaps have an uneasy kind of truce. Both sides are aware of what the other can do and neither wants to risk loosing a squabble. Even the winner, after all, would spend a long time licking their wounds, and so the two parties just sort of circle each other. Unseelie sluagh respect redcaps' power but make certain never to be in a situation where raw power is all that matters.
Satyrs are about sensuality. Sluagh represent a certain icy, intellectual detachment. For all that, though, the interplay between the two kith is anything but dull. Wilder satyrs often regard underfolk as the "unattainable score." This makes them worth pursuing simply because no one ever catches one without lots of Glamour and maybe the Gift of Pan. There are even certain goats who claim that once a crawler warms up, Cold Fish is the best thing on the menu. The bend in so many interesting ways (not to mention the occasional prehensile tongue)!
Now that the prurient parts are out of the way... in truth, satyrs and sluagh have a great deal to talk about and comparisons between ascetic and Epicurean often yields remarkable insights. Older and more restrained goats are among the few outsiders ever welcomed at High Teas and their knowledge of strong passion can give new perspective to information evading sluagh understanding. Plus, pillow talk can produce fascinating secrets and wise satyrs know who their best customers are for such things.
For the Unseelie underfolk, satyrs are regarded as tools for loosening tight lips. Challenging the goats to get a target in bed is a great way to get all sorts of interesting revelations. Perhaps they'll whisper secrets into a lover's ear or the scandal of it all will weaken them in court for months. Whatever happens, Unseelie sluagh will be quick to jump to take advantage of it.
Seelie crawlers, however, tend to avoid satyrs unless a certain level of maturity has been reached on both sides. Most don't want the hassle of fending off unwelcome advances, plus the constant stream of innuendo makes conversation unpleasant. When (If) the conversation moves above the waist, conversations between underfolk and goats become more common and more pleasant.
The underfolk don't like most sidhe. There are many reasons for this but mostly they know too much to like them. They can measure the disdain they have for the "lesser kith." Why else do they struggle not to be reincarnated as anything but sidhe?
Because of this, most sluagh take particular pleasure in making sidhe squirm. When meeting with them, they deliberately play to stereotypes: sibilant speech, distorted bodies, etc... The idea behind the game is too make the sidhe as uncomfortable as possible without driving them off. Since it's hard enough for a sidhe to ask a sluagh for help, it also serves as a way to gage how much they want what they're asking for.
The game is juvenile, though, and usually practiced only by childlings and wilders. More learned crawlers have other, more serious reasons for disliking them but are loathe to reveal it. Young sluagh theorize it has something to do with how the sidhe gained ascendency over the other kith and more than one cryptic reference has been made to a now-extinct kith called the fachan.
Seelie underfolk do have some appreciation for order and so have an understanding of the post-Accordance War system implanted by the Shining Host. It's rare for a sluagh to become part of a noble's court, but some have been granted posts in absentia. A few lucky nobles have a sluagh advisor but it invariably generates backlash from more snobbish sidhe. More likely, a local sluagh will pick a courtier they see as trustworthy to be a contact. Such sidhe are rich rewarded in information and treasures by both sides but they are rarely the most popular member of the court.
Unseelie crawlers are much more interested in taking a part in court life. They frequently hire themselves out to Unseelie courts (some say the Shadow Court is teeming with crawlers) and are an integral part of such organizations. It's well known they like tormenting pompous Seelie sidhe but even unseelie nobles aren't safe from they sluagh employees' dislike.
The stereotype of the toadying sluagh, doing his best Peter Lorre impression at an Unseelie lord's booted feet, is just that: a stereotype. No crawler of any worth would waste time being an attendant on a lord... not when their are so many secrets to find and mischief to make. Even those who are members of the court are rarely there; usually being off doing the will of their liege or freelancing.
The Trolls know that sluagh are honorless, blackmailing creatures who dwell in labyrinthine caves beneath the earth and that no troll who has gone into them has ever returned. Sluagh wonder how troll knights could have vanished in these non-existent mazes. The sewage and public transit systems under most major cities are home to all sorts of unpleasant Prodigals and that sort of precludes broods of underfolk tunneling away down there. Besides all that, underneath it all, the crawlers like trolls; they've just given up on getting the trolls to recognize that.
The two kith have known each other from time immemorial. When the sluagh first from Slavic forests into the cold Scandinavian light, the trolls were there. It was the trolls who aligned the underfolk to the Seelie Court.
That was long ago, though, and much has changed. The trolls have been betrayed so many times, they have come to see the sluagh as their betrayers. Differing concepts of honor and truth have taken a toll and now trollish hatred is nigh-implacable.
Crawlers who know the truth of troll history (and there are many) find themselves in a quandary. As the trolls chafe in silence regarding sidhe ascendency, the sluagh put up with trollish calumny. With an understanding, however, of all the indignities the trolls have suffered, most sluagh accept the slander without trying to correct it. The trolls have endured enough; let them cling to their illusions. Besides, if the trolls ever directed their anger properly (at the sidhe, say) instead of the sluagh, Kithain society would be shaken to its foundations. It's better for the underfolk to endure the not-terribly-cutting drunken insults.
Unseelie sluagh take a lesson from the djinni and are often experts at manipulating the honor of trolls to their own benefit. If they can trick a troll into swearing an oath that rebounds to crawler benefit, well... it's good to have the big, blue, killing-machine on your side, right? Unfortunately, the accusations of blackmail are often true. The combination of touchy honor and access to the great and mighty makes the giants irresistible targets for curious crawlers. Trolls wear their Frailty on their sleeve and Unseelie underfolk are quick to take advantage of it.
Seelie sluagh, though, tend to gives trolls distance. Even during the darkest hours of the Accordance War, many troll generals balked at using sluagh information and now that the crisis is ended, it makes the trolls happier to be left alone. The Seelie crawlers respect those wishes.
- Nunnehi - Few Nunnehi live in cities; fewer sluagh take to the country. While an individual crawler may have a wealth of information on the behaviors and powers of any given nunnehi kith out of personal interest, by and large the indigenous fae are ignored by them. Truthfully, they have little to talk about with each other and what other reason would a crawler have for spending time with someone?
- Inanimae - The underfolk have more dealings with the Inanimae than perhaps the rest of the kithain put together. The stone faces of the golems see much and are always willing to speak to those who can hear them. FUBARs are less welcomed, as more and more sluagh turn to the computer as a way of communication. Even so, sluagh know how to contact them in need.
The crawlers do make extensive use of subterranean tunnels, they just don't hang out there all the time. They are, after all, the best way to maneuver unseen these days. Plus, there are all sorts of interesting cables - phone lines, fiber optics, and others - sitting down there just waiting to be tapped.
For the most part, that's the extent of underfolk involvement in the underground world (though some do have extensive mushroom farms). Cold Fish don't spend their nights wandering sewers looking for spawning pools, Black Spiral Dancer caerns, or the spot where the local Euthanatoi bury their bodies. That information has limited use to the Kithain and it's prohibitively dangerous to obtain. On the other hand, just because they don't actively go searching for such places doesn't mean they don't find them.
Aleksei of the 13 Toes (in his latest incarnation) has mentioned in passing extensive hours spent in the company of Boston's Nosferatu and has even made reference to some sort of bargain for mutual defense that he's struck with them. But what goes for Aleksei doesn't necessarily go for the rest of the kith.
- Vampires - On rare occasions (rarer than the trolls suppose), sluagh and Nosferatu vampires come in contact. Nosferatu are far less banal than one might suppose; their weird underground realms can be as inspiring as terrifying. On rare occasions a sluagh has been taken to see the fungus gardens and other Nosferatu treasures but in general, the two groups have only professional respect for each other and nothing else. As the underfolk are sometimes in important positions in gathering and storing information, they can get pulled into vampire politics by a Ventrue or Tremere looking to ghoul a convenient librarian. But for the most part, they prefer to travel beneath the bloodsuckers' radar. After all, they know what the vampires are up to.
- Werewolves - The crawlers tend to meet Garou (usually Glass Walkers) online more often than in the flesh. The underfolk tend to see werewolves as variations on the troll theme: big, strong, honor-bound, and bad to annoy, and so stay clear. It's only the rare Silent Strider or Stargazer who attempts personal contact and the sluagh prefer it that way.
- Mages - Only wraiths have more contact with underfolk than the magic workers. As gatherers of esoteric knowledge of all sorts, sluagh have libraries and shops that are veritable beacons to hermetic mages and others interested in learning the secrets of old powers. While the mages who come to a crawler bookstore may be unaware of the owner's true nature, rest assured that the crawler knows exactly who (and what) they're selling to. The underfolk do find Hollow Ones rather amusing; the reactions of many of these "children of the night" to the most innocuous window-tapping leave the crawlers snickering all the way home. The rare Hollower who earns a sluagh's respect is welcome to drop by for a visit and even share a cup of tea... as long as fair warning has been given.
- Wraiths - With the ability to see wraiths, crawlers spend a lot of time in conversation with them. Indeed, a favored sluagh trick for getting rid of unwanted company involves striking up a conversation with the ghost hovering over the unwanted one's shoulder. Jokes aside, though, the Restless Dead and the underfolk have a thriving commerce in information and favors. Wraiths can walk through walls and go places even the crawlers have problems slithering and so have access to secrets that would normally evade sluagh ears. Likewise, the dead have difficulty dealing with the real world where the underfolk can do a lot, like protecting a Fetter. A crawler who wants to keep a good informant will hurry to comply when such help is asked for. Of course, they'll occasionally get ghostly help for perpetrating a good scare. Arts and Arcanoi used together can be quite potent, especially against a recalcitrant redcap or stiff-necked sidhe.
- The Ritual of the Dead
For more on this Sluagh Rite, see the article Ritual of the Dead.
Whispers of the Shadows
There are whispers among the older sluagh about a terrible secret; part of the reason they may dislike the sidhe. It also ties into why they can speak to the dead.
There is a theory that the sidhe, if their soul is properly prepared for death, will reincarnate as a sidhe. If not, they begin a series of incarnations though the other "commoner" kith. Some would say they "devolve" until they reach being a sluagh, at which point, after death, their soul is destroyed. Ergo, the sluagh speak to the dead because they are about to become one. While the few crawler scholars who have stumbled upon such "knowledge" have no proof for this theory, some fear it may be the truth and hold it the closest of secrets... even from other sluagh.
The Sluagh Everyone Knows
- Agnes of the Grayteeth
- Aleksei of the 13 Toes
- Amie Randall
- Anna the Monster Maker
- Arthur Fishlips
- Candle Jack
- Daniel Connelly
- Deena Wanna
- Doctor Coma
- Eleanor Dell
- Gavrel Sturminster
- Jervis Halls
- Kerry Dunwood
- Lillia Greyruff
- Morag Slipcheek
- Morlee Wharton
- Old Boris
- Owain ap Gwyn
- Peigi O'Moor
- Pierre Chazell
- Todd the Gray
- Valerie McKinnon
- Whispering Molly
There are certain items peculiar to sluagh in their usage. Whether because the other kith don't know about them, or don't know how best to use them, or simply won't touch them with a thirty-nine-and-a-half-foot pole is irrelevant. Some of these things could be used easily by non-sluagh but tend to remain signature pieces for crawler work.
Tools of the Trade
- CTD. Kithbook: Sluagh.
- CTD. Changeling: The Dreaming Second Edition, pp. 102-103.
- CTD. Changeling Players Guide, pp. 91-94.