Dream and Nightmare
The sylvari are the youngest race in Guild Wars 2, awakened with the rise of the new age in Tyria. They may be unfamiliar with the world, but they have dreamed of it, and they share a rich and compelling vision that guides their path. From the day of their awakening, each sylvari feels called to defend the land and fight the Elder Dragons. They are united in this purpose beneath their mother, the Pale Tree.
In the brilliant light of noon, a petal moved. A pod opened. A sylvari rose, stretched, and hesitantly entered the world.
The twelve firstborn, called by their mother's summons, stood breathlessly to greet their new brother. They had lived for so many years alone, believing that they were all the sylvari that would ever be. And now the awakening had begun again. Other pods in the garden moved softly, gaining ground but not yet ready to open. It was the first flowering of a new generation.
"Welcome, Brother." Aife greeted him, always the first with a question or a smile. She approached the stranger, holding out a cloak so he could wrap himself.
"Do you know us?" another broke in. "Did you dream of us?"
"Hush, Dagonet," Aife shushed her over-eager friend. "You'll frighten him." She turned to the sapling again and spoke in a gentle tone. "Like you, we are sylvari. I am called Aife. What is your name?"
"Name?" The newcomer considered the question for a moment. At last, he said, "Cadeyrn," but his tone was uncertain. He took the cloak and pulled it about his shoulders to ward off the sun. "What is this place?"
Aife smiled and tousled the sylvari's hair, sending soft, black-willow fronds dancing around his shoulders. "This is the Grove. And she..." Aife gestured toward the massive tree beneath whose branches they gathered, "...is the Pale Tree. Our mother. Your mother too."
Cadeyrn regarded the tree curiously, finding no strangeness in the explanation. With a nod, he looked to Dagonet. "I did dream."
The scholar brightened, snatching up a scroll and quill. "Tell me of your dream. I have studied all of ours, but yours will be the first new dream in many years."
Standing taller, Cadeyrn offered him a smile. "The first?" He looked around at the other pods, as yet unawakened. "Yes, I am the first, aren't I? None of the others in my dream have awakened. The Pale Tree must have wanted to see me right away. She knew that I was special." He puffed up like a dandelion. "I am first!"
"No, Cadeyrn. You are secondborn," a deeper voice intoned. Malomedies was a tall, slender sylvari, with smooth hair that shone in iridescent color like the wings of a dragonfly. His proud bearing was that of an ancient oak, massive branches unyielding against the storm.
"Second?" Cadeyrn frowned. "Why am I second? I have awakened before the rest."
"We were here first."
The Pale Tree
Nearly two hundred and fifty years ago, a human soldier named Ronan found a strange seed during his journeys and tucked it away to give to his daughter when he returned home. Sadly, by the time he reached his village, it had been destroyed, wiped out by the White Mantle. Ronan planted the seed upon his family's graves instead.
Twenty-five years ago, the first sylvari awakened. These firstborn knew comparatively little of the world, having experienced only the Pale Tree's memories of Ronan, the centaur Ventari, and those who had visited during her first years. They knew, because the tree taught them of the tablet that Ventari had left behind, carved with lessons of his wisdom. Born as mature individuals, not children, the sylvari were curious, inquisitive, and eager to explore.
Some of the firstborn, like Caithe and Faolain, roamed far from the tree. Others stayed close, exploring briefly and spending their time in study and learning. Four took up the duty of guarding the Pale Tree and keeping her company: Aife, Kahedins, Malomedies and Niamh. One, and one alone, traveled into Orr. For a handful of years, the firstborn were the only sylvari in Tyria. When the next generation flowered and awakened from the tree, they had new dreams: memories of the skills and emotions that the firstborn had discovered, mixed in with the Pale Tree's own memories.
Unlike many races, the sylvari have an intimate sense of their own history, having lived through it. They can name the first sylvari that ever died—Riannoc, one of the firstborn. They can tell you who first learned how to write and who, specifically, developed the methods to grow houses. They tell their stories and legends as if they personally witnessed them, because for many, they have at least dreamed of it.
The Dream of Dreams
In essence, the Dream of Dreams is a vast collected subconscious. The Pale Tree holds the race's collected knowledge and emotion, like a lake into which is poured the sum of sylvari experience. When a new sylvari is born, it's as if they draw a bucket of water from that lake, a small portion of the whole. Only a few memories reach the Pale Tree: the most important or those that have the greatest emotional impact or meaning. They can include entire scenes from a sylvari's life, such as their first battle or their first time cooking an apple pie. They can also be a single poignant moment such as pain, fear, or the face of an enemy.
A sylvari has no control over what experiences are gathered. They cannot communicate with the tree in this manner; the Mother Tree is drawing in hundreds of thousands of fragments from her children. Nor can an unborn sylvari choose which memories they will experience while within the Dream. When a sylvari awakens, the direct connection to the Dream becomes weakened. No longer surrounded by the Dream, their connection to other sylvari becomes more of an empathic bond, capable of receiving and sending strong emotions, but no longer detailed or communicative. It is nothing more than a subtle buzz.
They gathered by the Pale Tree, and rain swelled upon her upturned leaves, dripping in slow sparks to the earth below. Her roots cradled the firstborn that lay among them, his body covered in a dark blanket like moss over a grave. Malomedies was only sleeping, struggling against exhausting nightmares. From time to time, he called out, and Kahedins soothed him, placing a damp compress to his forehead in the hope that he would find rest. The healer looked up to the others, face filled with worry.
"Will he survive? Or will he...die? As Riannoc did?" The question whispered in every heart, but it was Niamh that gave it voice.
"The Mother says he will live," Kahedins murmured, but it was little comfort.
Malomedies had been beautiful, as graceful as a willow kneeling by a stream. Now his face bore the carved scars of ill-treatment, and the branches of his once- iridescent hair had been broken and pruned into splintered, colorless pieces. One leg was withered as if kept too long from the sun, and where his fleshlike bark still clung to the vines of his torso, there were a thousand small holes.
"We must kill them all." Cadeyrn's eyes flashed dark gold, and his hand clenched around the hilt of his sword.
"The asura have offered peace. They did not realize that he... They thought he was simply another of the strange plants of the deep Maguuma, mimicking sentience," Aife told them. "When they realized he was truly aware, they returned him to us."
"It is not enough! How will Malomedies find peace if he does not take revenge?"
Kahedins stared disapprovingly. "Revenge? Revenge is not our way. Have you not studied Ventari's tablet?" As the secondborn lowered his head belligerently, Kahedins lectured, "It is written, 'The only lasting peace is the peace within your soul.' You should meditate on that, Cadeyrn, and consider its meaning."
Cadeyrn glanced at Trahearne, whose expression was as black as his own. No soldier would say such things. No one who had ever lifted a blade to stop oppression, or placed themselves in danger to free innocents, would say that revenge was unfitting. If Faolain and Caithe were here, they would argue his side, he was sure of it.
Abruptly, Trahearne looked up toward the spreading boughs. "Yes, Mother," he answered a whisper only he could hear. Chagrined, the necromancer unclenched his fists. "The Pale Tree says we need to concentrate on our true enemy: the dragons. Every ally will be needed." Gritting his teeth, Trahearne finished, "We make peace with the asura."
Cadeyrn was not sure what was more troubling, that Trahearne had given in or that the Pale Tree had spoken only to the firstborn. Following suit, he bent his head. "As the Mother wishes."
The sylvari believe that the portion of the day during which you were born speaks to a person's personality, interests, and special talents. They pay close attention to this, and each of the four cycles—Dawn, Noon, Dusk and Night—are guided by one of the firstborn. Those four firstborn, called the Luminaries, tend to be the most active in the governance of the sylvari race. They work together to bring new knowledge into the Grove, defend the Pale Tree, and build political relationships with the other races of Tyria. Although the other firstborn are considered wise mentors and have certain authority, the Luminaries fulfill the primary tasks of maintaining society and guiding the sylvari as a whole.
The Cycle of Dawn
Sylvari born during the Cycle of the Dawn, from midnight to 6 a.m., are natural talkers and planners. They are the diplomats of the sylvari race, and tend to be gregarious and friendly types. Their Luminary is the clever Aife, whose skill with words is only equaled by her keen aim with a bow. She is a diplomat and has traveled to each of the large cities of Tyria on behalf of her people. Those sylvari who wish to see the world would do well to speak with her and gain her wisdom before they begin their journey.
The Cycle of Noon
The Cycle of Noon extends from 6 a.m. to noon, during the blazing rise of the sun. On the whole, these sylvari prefer actions to words and are skilled combatants no matter how they choose to fight. They like to experience things firsthand, attack problems head on, and enjoy the rush of warfare. Niamh is their Luminary, a bold and experienced warrior that has fought many battles. She leads a company of sylvari called the Wardens, who are the guards and protectors of the Grove.
The Cycle of Dusk
Those sylvari born during the time between noon and 6 p.m. are members of the Cycle of Dusk. They tend to be intelligent, philosophical, and retiring. Such sylvari enjoy riddles and puzzles, and they prefer to spend their time in study rather than in physical pursuits. In their garden, you will find Luminary Kahedins, whose kind soul and gentle words have often been a balm to troubled sylvari. It is his task to help newly awakened sylvari understand what they have seen within the Dream of Dreams. Lately, he has been studying the written languages of Tyria and determining whether the sylvari should create a writing system of their own.
The Cycle of Night
Lastly, the sylvari born during the late hours from 6 p.m. to midnight belong to the Cycle of Night. Many of these sylvari are inclined to be solitary, preferring to travel alone. They are often secretive, self-contained, and quiet. The Cycle of Night's Luminary is the astronomer Malomedies, credited with charting the skies and bringing mathematics to the sylvari. He was also the first to meet with the asura, a bitter tale that he rarely tells. Although Malomedies is the most private of the Luminaries, those who are awakened to his cycle speak of him as a stern mentor but a caring one.
Despite the signs of long-ago death, the slumbering ruins felt somehow alive; the hush and whisper of tide below the cliff rising and falling like a sleeper's breath. Something low and shadowy, stinking of brine, cast a slender shadow among the crumbling rocks. Cadeyrn watched it pass between the tilted walls and fragmented arches that must have been a chapel. Saw it flicker where an altar once stood. Marked where the shadow vanished away.
"Are you prepared?" Niamh murmured softly behind him, her frond-like hair rustling in the cold breeze. She drew her sword and checked its edge, finding it keen. Eager silver eyes met his dark gold gaze. "It is time to strike." Two others of an even younger generation than Cadeyrn stood with her; both, like them, members of the Cycle of Noon.
Cadeyrn stepped away from the little ledge on which he'd been crouched. "They are ready for us. We must move cautiously."Together, they crept down onto the beach and into the ruins, and there, they found their quarry. Cadeyrn's sword cleaved a krait in two with a single stroke. He spun the weapon expertly behind his back, blocking another creature's claw before snapping down to slice away the extended hand. A krait sorceress's unblinking eyes widened as she wove a thaumaturgic web of slaughter, and two of the sylvari died in her flame. Fiercely, Cadeyrn leapt[sic]toward her, his blade tearing through the krait's flesh.
He left nothing behind but scale and scream.
When the krait were dead, Niamh and Cadeyrn stood in the center of the ruined chapel, blood on their blades and fierce smiles lighting their faces. A sound caught his attention, and he raised a hand for silence, slipping forward to the place where he had seen movement from above.
Cadeyrn tilted the altar aside, and the sound grew louder. Beneath the stone lay a cave, long ago flooded by the advance of the sea. There, in a sea-cavern below the ruins, krait lay in hiding, unperturbed by the icy waters. But these were not warriors. This was a hatchery, filled with krait eggs and terrified young.
He raised his sword to continue the extermination—
"Cadeyrn!" Niamh said sharply.
Cadeyrn paused, looking up at the leader of his Cycle in confusion.
"But...they are krait."
"They are children."
"Children." He frowned, for the word had little meaning. "You mean 'they are small.' They are small, but they are krait. They will grow up to be large krait, and then we will kill them. Why not kill them now, when it is easy and they are undefended? It seems the wisest course of action. Otherwise, we risk losing more sylvari lives when these return fully grown."
"We must take that risk, to give them a chance to change their ways," the firstborn said. "All things have a right to grow. The blossom is brother to the weed." Soberly, she put away her sword and pushed the altar back. Beneath it, Cadeyrn could hear the snakes scrambling, splashing away into the ocean tide.
"Again the firstborn quote the Tablet when I ask for logic." He growled beneath his breath. "I do not agree."
Sylvari biology is very different from any other race. They do not have internal organs, but instead are formed of growing plant matter, sap for blood, leaves and bark for skin. A jaw, for example, can be formed by leaves, vines, or even shards of bark that grow and press together to form the silhouette, but if you look closely you can still see the fibers and holes of the structure. Instead of bones, an arm is a mass of tightly-woven stems and leaves that work together to do the work of such a limb.
Many scholars hypothesize as to why the sylvari look human-like at all instead of having a monstrous form, such as other "vegetable" races possess. Some suggest that the Pale Tree saw mostly humans during her youth. Individuals such as Ronan, who planted the seed, and others around the Pale Tree may have been physical role models for her eventual children. A popular asura theory is that the Pale Tree was planted on the graves of Ronan's daughter and his ruined village, and their "discorporate mass" was absorbed into the ground. The Pale Tree took nourishment from that soil, and therefore, the sylvari are predisposed to be shaped in a humanoid manner.
Sylvari do sleep, and they can eat both meat and vegetables. They drink, as other races do, and they get tipsy on alcoholic beverages. They gain enjoyment from sitting in the sunlight—and it invigorates them—but can't live on it as plants do. Their blood is a sticky sap, and though they can bleed, they do not have blood pressure or a pulse.
No one knows how long the sylvari live. The oldest of their race are the firstborn, all of whom awakened twenty-five years ago. Sylvari show little signs of growing old, and none have yet died of advanced age. Physically, sylvari are male or female, and the relevant external biology is accurate on both, but they cannot sexually reproduce as the other races do; they have no internal organs capable of creating children. Whether they have their own methods of reproduction outside of the Pale Tree has yet to be seen.
Sylvari grow their armor and much of their clothing. Their bodies create petal-like coverings, vines, and leaves that they shape into pleasing garments. When they wish to remove the garments, they simply shed their petal clothing as a human might cut their hair. Some sylvari wear armor made by other races or weave clothing in a more traditional manner, just out of preference. As an adopted custom, they cover themselves as humans do, concealing certain portions of their anatomy where it seems culturally appropriate.
Cadeyrn stood high on a limb in the center of the Grove, listening to the stillness of night. Crickets chirruped here and there, and night birds uttered lonesome cries, each calling to their own, even as he called to something greater than himself.
"Mother," Cadeyrn murmured, raising his hands in gentle supplication. "I need you."
The wind soothed the leaves at the top of the Pale Tree, and Cadeyrn felt her presence. Softly, the Mother murmured, "Son of my bough, what do you seek?"
"Wisdom." Tears touched his eyes, and he rubbed them roughly with the back of his hand. "I see the evil in the world; I am told to fight it, but the lessons of the tablet shackle me. They prevent me from doing what is right. We put down our weapons when we should go to the slaughter. We turn away from vengeance when we are wronged, even though our spirits cry out for it. We do not take what we desire, or kill whatever we wish, or use our strength to force the world to hear us! These things are within us when we awaken. Why do we turn away from those impulses? Why do we do not follow our instincts? Always, we justify our actions with this tablet. Why do we not do whatever we want?"
The Pale Tree rustled softly. "The most effective path is not always the best one, sapling. As the firstborn have done, you must strive to be good."
The words stung. "Who defines 'good?' You? Ventari? Some dead human?" Cadeyrn retorted. "The firstborn are not perfect."
The Pale Tree paused, and for a while, Cadeyrn thought she might not reply. Mist had risen upon the nearby brook before she spoke again.
"Would you do evil in my name?" The Pale Tree sighed. "Would you cause devastation, as the charr do? Or justify wickedness in the name of knowledge, as the asura do? No, Cadeyrn. We come into this world to destroy the dragons. We must not lose ourselves in that challenge."
"Have we not already lost ourselves, Mother? We are not centaurs or humans. Let me destroy the tablet, and we will see what it truly means to be sylvari." There was no answer. As dawn rose and bathed the clearing in gold, Cadeyrn realized that the tree would say no more.
"She will not hear you." The quiet voice was feminine, but it was not the tree who spoke. Spinning, Cadeyrn readied himself for battle but froze when he saw Caithe, cold and still, standing in the last shadows of night. "She will not hear you," Caithe repeated.
"I am the first of my generation—" he began, raising his voice in argument.
Caithe shrugged and interrupted, "Why should she care? She has thousands of children now, Cadeyrn. You are either firstborn...or you are simply sylvari."
A storm gathered upon his features. "I will never be one among many, Caithe. Not even to the Pale Tree," he vowed, storming away. "I will make you hear me, Mother, like it or not. When I am finished and you are free at last, then I will be first in your heart!"
Caithe lingered in silence and watched him go.
The Nightmare Court
"A true sylvari should have two hearts: one soft and pliable as hot wax, and the other as hard and impenetrable as an icy diamond. The first, he should show to his companions, the second, to his enemy. Woe to the one for whom the two are the same."—Dagonet
The Nightmare Court are sylvari who embrace the darkest parts of their nature, relishing a terrifying nightmare that contains as much horror as the Dream holds inspiration. Their dark vigils are things of legend, filled with depravity, twisted courtliness, and sadistic tournaments that pervert sylvari chivalry. Their greatest ambition: to turn the Pale Tree to nightmare.
These sylvari reject the teachings of Ventari's tablet and claim that the influence of outside races perverted the true nature of the Pale Tree and the sylvari. They seek the shadow within the Dream, turn away from what they deem false morality, and explore the darker side of their personality. Cold, cruel, and without mercy, they see themselves as true sylvari, untainted by the influence of Ronan, Ventari, and the lessons of the tablet. They consider it to be their noble purpose to bring others of their race away from that forced behavior and into darkness.
With each act of cruelty and evil, they add more nightmares to the tree and hope, one day, to change the balance, turning the Mother to their side. Certainly, as the tree gathers emotions and memories, she draws from the Nightmare Court as well as their kinder brethren, and her pool of memories swells with both dark and light thoughts. The Nightmare Court believe that, if they can propagate more dark emotions, the pool will become more and more touched by nightmare, and new sylvari will tend away from the ethics that were forced upon them by Ventari and his followers.
In order to achieve this goal, the Nightmare Court commit acts of evil both upon sylvari and non-sylvari alike. When their own emotions become too jaded to be likely gathered into the tree, they rely on harming and tormenting other sylvari and giving them memories, horrible emotions, and other traumas in the hope that those memories will be sharp enough to be gathered. The more awful their crimes, the more likely it is that the Pale Tree will carry the memory into her well of emotions, passing those inclinations on to her next generation.
Titles of the Court
When a sylvari joins the Nightmare Court, they are initiated in a ritual pageant designed to awaken the nightmare within their spirit. They spend time as a courtier, learning the ways of the Nightmare Court, acting as a servant to higher-ranking members, and studying ways to break free of the tablet's influence. They may choose to serve under a more senior member of the Court, becoming a squire or an apprentice. Once they have earned the ability to spread nightmare on their own, they become a knight.
It is a knight's duty to spread fear and despair in the name of the Nightmare Court, creating traumatic memories and experiences that they hope will be taken into the Pale Tree and help to turn her—and her as-yet-unawakened children—away from the lessons of Ventari's Tablet. To further enhance the fear they hope to create, they often take a title, and are called such during their time as a knight in the court. Such titles include Knight of Decay, Knight of Blades, Knight of Lies, or Knight of the Shattered Star. The highest ranks among the Nightmare Court are known as the Retinue. Knights who have done well are elevated into the Retinue by the Grand Duchess Faolain, who rewards them with rank and position. Baron, count, countess, duke, and duchess: all bear responsibility and a great deal of respect within the hierarchy of the court. Some knights elect to retain the title they chose for themselves as well, becoming the Count of Blades or the Duchess of Frozen Snow.
All of these titles are chosen to foster the legend and myth of the Nightmare Court. The members choose to associate themselves with evil things, so even the sound of their names might trigger a response in other sylvari. They prefer to leave their victims alive—if they are sylvari—to further spread the stories of terror, as that only increases their hold within the Dream. In the end, most Nightmare Courtiers believe they are justified in their actions. Like Cadeyrn, their founder, they seek to free the Mother Tree from the tablet and the lessons forced upon the sylvari by the shadows of the past.
The Mother mourns her errant children, knowing that they can never return from the evil they have chosen. As new sylvari go forth into the world, she reminds them to hold fast to the hero's path of honor, courage, chivalry and compassion even as they strive for victory over the Elder Dragons. Truly, the sylvari fight not only for their own souls, but for the spirit of Tyria itself. While that battle will be hard-fought, the Pale Tree does not fear difficulty.
Hard ground makes stronger roots.
"...we gather in nightmare. We look to the darkest part of our spirits. The covetous hand, the lying heart, the knife that betrays a friend: we call upon these, and we see their power. For what are we, in the end, if not creatures of power? It will take strength to defeat the dragons, and strength does not come by turning away any weapon, no matter how vicious or how cruel. We will use them all." Cadeyrn lounged on his throne with a careless, prideful slouch. A crown of golden vine glittered on his forehead as courtiers bowed and whispered before him, hanging on Cadeyrn's every word, their eyes as lightless as the space between the stars.
"We, the sylvari, are the future. It is our time. We must leave behind the fears of awakening. Let go the stone that weighs us down. We were born to be more than this. We were born with a darkness in our Dream and in our heart that we could embrace...if only the Mother were not so afraid of the night. It is time to show her that her children are more than even she has dreamed we could be.
"If the sylvari are to survive, we must learn from the poison thorn and the stinging nettle, the vine that crushes the very sapling which holds it to the light. We will raise the nightmare. We will see Tyria remade in our image.
"We will grow until nightmare swallows the world."
- Dream and Nightmare, ArenaNet blog