Vinclav, the Master of Keys
Vinclav (a.k.a. The White Death, the Master of Keys, the Corsic Shyster, and the Dark Gatekeeper )
The idea that gates are fundamentally connected to enlightenment, power, the Great Clockwork, and rebirth is so old that it is thought to date back even past the Reshaping of the World within the lore of the Nine Realms. In fact, gates are such a fundamental truth that they have been a common theme on many past worlds. When one asks an enlightened or religious man, no matter where, they will usually, with little deviation, utter these words:
A dark, empty space; and in that space there is only the great gate...
It is this core concept that has made the idea of Vinclav so terrifying to the people. He is the sly, the charming, the evil trickster; shyster, grifter, con man, master of magic and minds, the holder of the heaviest keys: keys that can lock or unlock any gate in the world and beyond. He goes from place to place and carries a smile on his face: with a round of Midas Creek poker or a friendly wager to offer. But beware, for he'll take you for more than your worth. He'll take his key and lock your gate, and you'll be reborn here nevermore.
A Legend Begins
The Historic Vinclav
A real man named Vinclav once lived on the islands of the Corsic Ocean around the 4th Century AID. He was a monster worthy of the legend his life would one day spawn. Vinclav Van Dastraat was what is known in educated circles as an animancer and in the common vernacular as a necromancer (a less than accurate description of the art). But even though animancers have arisen every now and then throughout history, it is believed that none ever matched Vinclav's skill, magical power, and evil character. Animancers deal in the manipulation of souls to extend life, to empower themselves, and, in rare cases, reanimate the dead, though this does not usually work in the way one would imagine.
Vinclav himself became infamous for a powerful magical item he had created: a strange, golden key that felt cold to the touch and drew a strange longing from those who gazed upon it. With this key, he claimed that he could unlock people's potential, and indeed he was able to garner some with impressive magical power by using this item. But more terrifyingly, he could use it to sequester parts of a person's soul, and he did so by gaining that person's consent, usually through tricking them into wagers and games.
When he died at the age of around 300 in the seventh century AID, he had traveled all over the Ocean Belt many times over, forcing the terrible spellblight on countless people by sequestering their soul power. He became known as "The White Death" (referring to the white hair that signified spellblight), "The Master of Keys", "The Corsic Shyster", and "The Dark Gatekeeper", and his legend never followed him to his watery grave as a ship he traveled on sank during a storm. In the end he was felled by nature, or so it seemed. Most people believe it was the hand of the Great Clockwork that pulled his ship into the depths despite his magical powers.
The Mythic Vinclav
During over two-hundred years of soul sequestering, Vinclav built a legacy of terror in his wake that would echo through the ages until this very day, over two thousand years later. Some among the great pirate houses of the Corsic Ocean began to worship the wanderer in fear, erecting little bone shrines in the pirate coves of Porasta and the lawless ports of the Ocean Belt, taking to sacrificing old rusty keys to crude drawings of Vinclav painted by those who claimed to have seen him. Throwing keys in the ocean became a custom to ward off evil and misfortune among pirates, a custom that eventually spread all over the Corsic Ocean.
As the legend spread, more and more fantastic tales of Vinclav's exploits were spun by eager story-tellers, and his magical powers became more and more exaggerated, going even so far that he was seen as an antipathy to the Great Clockwork; a shyster that could, on occasion, outwit even the powers that be. News of his eventual death were not well spread at the time and rarely believed.
At night, old pirates would spin yarn about the kindly old man with the long grey hair, the full white beard, the gleaming yellow eyes, and the weather-worn hat, who would wander the world from island to island, making wagers with the unwitting, looking to steal their souls.
Heinrich T. Borgerat's Glint
In 132 AA, the famous poet and author Heinrich Thadeus Borgerat wrote his most influential work: Glint. Glint follows the exploits of Dr. Glint, a brilliant but overambitious polymath professor at the Van Maxwell School of Logic and Sciences with a focus on mathematics. She is based on the real-life person Dr. Tasmia Glint, who lived between 390 AID and 540 AID and did indeed have a tenure at the university. It is believed that her recordings of experimentation with soul-based machinery, which was still a very new and barely explored field at the time, were the main inspiration for Borgerat's story, though the cautionary tale of 'making deals with the Vinclav' is likely strongly influenced by the terror of Estverde that Hestia Bygate had brought onto the world around three decades prior, the consequences of which were still widely felt as no one felt save from magic anymore.
In Borgerat's Glint, the Dr. Glint uses the souls of lesser creatures to forge a real golden gate meant to open the path to the clockwork for her, highlighting the dichotomy of attaining knowledge of the metaphysical by looking within oneself and by tearing into it through the physical. While the Clockwork itself seems to look fondly upon her exploits, Vinclav, the evil shyster of yore, sees his opportunity to make a quality soul his own, denying the Great Clockwork said soul, which seems to ever be his game. In Borgerat's writing, Vinclav and Sanatana, the avatar of the Great Clockwork, take on opposed roles, with Sanatana being far superior in power and wisdom but Vinclav believing he can still outwit him, making a sport of the deception. Vinclav teases Sanatana into striking a deal with him regarding Glint, and off Vinclav goes to seek the good Doctor and convince her to hand over her soul in exchange for his services.
The Vinclav Divergence
After the publication of Glint, the popular beliefs and stories surrounding Vinclav began to change and more closely fit Borgerat's vision. The kindly old man Vinclav with the dark motives and the great white beard slowly faded from the collective minds of the world, only remaining alive in the traditions and shanties of the Great Pirate Houses that had fallen derelict after the systematic pirate hunts of the Maritime Stratocracy of Guantil-ya, only resurfacing in the advent of the current age. Still, by then the image of Vinclav had taken on the prim and proper gestalt of Borgerat's evil but well-groomed gentleman. No more long, gray hair and white beard, no more weather-worn hat. Instead Vinclav now wore a suit, a well-trimmed and groomed coal-black beard, and short, barbered hair to match. He was no longer the aimless wanderer, going from place to place, coming to town like a plague that reaped its souls, but a cold, calculating demon that wrote his master plans like operas, forging sinister alliances, just to stab his allies in the back at the last moment, though never losing his Vinclavish charm.
The Church of Pure Souls
In the wake of Glint, a wave of belief in the Great Clockwork and fear of Vinclav spread throughout the Corsic Oceans, gaining additional footholds in the Saltplains, Aquaris, and Arda. In this almost religious new climate that arose in the second century of the Age of Awakening, a new church was founded on the island of Rastrowel. A community leader and scribe named Gustav Nacravler was inspired by Borgerat's work, the scriptures of Yilik, and several monastic and philosophical writings from the Yamato Kingdom to spread a new word among his peers, which was later popularized as the Gospel of Nacravler.
This work already heavily featured Vinclav and Sanatana as opposing forces of the universe but at the same time different facets of human desire, Vinclav representing the worldly and Sanatana the spiritual. Even after Nacravler's death in 314 AA, the Gospel of Nacravler was circulating on Rastrowel and parts of the Corsic Ocean, and a church was erected out of Nacravler's old home. This concluded the founding of the Church of Pure Souls, which urged its followers to spread the Gospel of Nacravler and moderate, or ideally give up on, their worldly desires to give Vinclav no chance of tarnishing and sequestering their souls. The faith spread like a wildfire in the 4th century AA, and churches were built on many of the Seventeen Yonder Islands and some even in the Saltplains, Aquaris, and Arda.
The faith, though teaching charity and kindness in most things, had a zero-tolerance regarding spellblight, seeing blighters as fools who squandered their souls right into the arms of Vinclav, calling them his servants. This view, at least mentioned in the Gospel of Nacravler, was likely inspired by the Yamato fear of yasha (their word for blighters), which was reflected in many contemporary writings during Nacravler's time. The church's view of magic also worsened over time, and it was more and more seen as a reckless use of the gift of the soul and one of the temptations of Vinclav. To better understand the image of Vinclav perpetuated by the church, taking a closer look at a few scenes of Glint will serve the task best.
Glint, by Heinrich Thadeus BorgeratHere are the first scenes of Borgerat's Glint in abridged form with commentary by Jeremy Winterweiss from the 920 GE reprint. The figure of Vinclav as the Church of Pure Souls portrays it has been strongly influenced by this work, and plays of it are often held or sponsored by local chapters.
SCENE: In a Place Beyond Mortal Ken
The way this scene is set up has been subject to a long process of evolution, usually being a reflection of the zeitgeist that signifies the corresponding period. Records of old Guantil-ya plays from the Age of Awakening are said to have used a lot of steam to obscure the stage, having Vinclav and Sanatana step to the front of the stage in alternation to become visible to the audience, while the contemporary staging by Johan Vandervelt in 919 GE went with painted sets of surreal landscapes while deliberately producing noises reminiscent of clockworks and machinery with choirs providing subtle backup.
- J. Winterweiss
SANATANA. What excellent and fine design
That one may find within this place:
Each cog and wheel a clever rhyme
With golden light upon its face.
I see the souls of mortal men
Beyond the veil that masks this world.
Though they may toil time and again,
What wondrous strive becomes unfurled!
While most Yamato philosophers and Clockwork Seekers of old have agreed that the thing the Clockwork most appreciates in human beings is their capacity for “desire”, the Church of Pure Souls claims that there is a fundamental division between worldly and spiritual desires, the worldly being the domain of Vinclav, the spiritual the domain of Sanatana, who is the avatar of the Great Clockwork. In the eyes of the church, it is the human struggle against their lower desires that makes them worthy of the divine.
- J. Winterweiss
But harken now, I do digress,
For I speak not into the wind!
Hide not inside the emptiness,
And speak to me, the one within!
VINCLAV (stepping forth).
It is unclear whether Borgerat initially intended for the play to be performed on stage since he never officially commented on this, but his lackluster stage directions have led to a variety of fascinating interpretations. For example, Bruiner in 48 AH had Vinclav enter not through the steam, as so many directors had before him, but revealed him as a member of the audience that had sat among the ranks in disguise, who at this point in the play stands up and walks on stage. Brilliant.My master, surely you think not
- J. Winterweiss
That I would hide beyond your sight.
Your view is ever in my thought,
And by my form it would be soiled.
SANATANA. Quiet, knave! Your sharpened tongue
May well cut deep in mortal ears
And make them serve you before long,
But I am older than the years!
VINCLAV. Never, I meant disrespect
to one so great and true.
In many performances the Vinclav actors will turn to the audience here in a conspiratorial way, attempting to better frame the defiance they cleverly hide in this line that, when spoken, sounds harmless. I still recall seeing the famous Vinclav actor Heros Mantala on stage, saying that “never” almost shocked to Sanatana, then turning to the audience with a brilliant, sly smile and a wink.
- J. Winterweiss
The harmony you did perfect
Does credit onto you!
Though tell me do you not distress
At humans as they make their steps?
At humans heaping their regrets?
At souls in truly cold and cruel
SANATANA. You speak as one who does not know
The power of the human soul,
Oh, war will man, and suffer down below,
But always will he come here whole.
No sadness, horror, or distress
Can touch that mighty spark
And when it floats onto my breast
I’ll kiss away the dark!
This concept is one of the reasons that the church has such disdain for blighters and magic, thinking that they lessen this ‘mighty spark’.
- J. Winterweiss
VINCLAV. Never, then it must be so;
But I am one to lark.
I hear the words but do not know:
Can nothing harm this spark?
I saw the wickedness of man
Reflected in their eye,
And if a soul they carry then,
it may just crack in time.
SANATANA. Verily, then be my guest,
Oh shyster clad in ashen garb.
And I know one who won’t protest
To be the object of your lark.
Do you know Glint?
VINCLAV. Doctor Glint of Guantil-ya?
She surely has no hint…
SANATANA. My bright and faithful star.
Yes, ever has this one amused:
A scholar so she was ordained,
And praises on her quite profuse
Have all her peers ever proclaimed.
And sciences are not enough
To sate her mental appetites;
She longs to know the very stuff
From which my cogs and gears arise.
VINCLAV. Oh, now I see, she means to build
A thing that she already has!
And do I not possess a key just for that ilk…
The bet is fair and I say yes!
SCENE: A Lecture Hall in the Van Maxwell School of Logic and Sciences
STUDENT ONE. As ever we are in the thick
Of all too strange arithmetic.
How did the work go for you then?
STUDENT TWO. It was beyond my feeble ken…
Such exercise seems ill advised
For minds so underutilized.
STUDENT THREE. Perhaps you should not speak so loud
When you proclaim yourself as cowed.
Surely, you are in this class
With some idea of calculus!
STUDENT ONE. Yes, such we have, don’t mock us, friend,
I know the tables of Tarîn, the axioms of Bertelsten,
And years I studied every trick
Of glorious arithmetic!
STUDENT TWO. But oh the Doctor, what a mind!
Without ever breaking form, is esoteric’ly inclined.
Her thoughts are trapped in higher spheres
And we are trapped quite firmly here.
STUDENT THREE. And if she is, that means the game
Is then for us to do the same -
As researchers to find her wrongs…
STUDENT ONE. Careful now, here she comes!
This part is heavily abridged and contains a lot of exposition and descriptions of the lecture hall and the university in the unabridged version.
- J. Winterweiss
GLINT. To the front now pass your papers,
I shall find fault with them later.
For now you will find some elation
In closely scanning this equation.
STUDENT THREE. A unit from no written set!
GLINT. No formulary has it yet.
Still, work with it, by my coercion,
Look here, make use of this conversion.
This stage direction is usually taken as “to the audience”.Show me what you all can find
- J. Winterweiss
And exercise your child-like minds.
I’ll gladly look in any place
For vestiges of human grace…
STUDENT ONE. Oh no, I still don’t understand,
The lesson almost at its end!
And blank the sheet here on my desk.
STUDENT THREE. Well, did you do your very best?
It was not past my intellect.
GLINT. Well, let me be the judge of that.
Now off you go, I will collect
The papers put onto your desks.
(After the students have left). Child-like indeed! I spy no skill,
Just wasted paper, ink, and quill!
But what is this? I shall decree
Some merit here with student three…
A novel thought I may employ
And find results quite to my joy.
Now to my office, I hope to find
The parcel from my hapless knight.
SCENE: In Dr. Glint’s office.
GLINT. Now let us see if all is right:
The still, the magic manifold,
The sigil of the night,
And metal gears of solid gold…
In the unabridged version, the description Glint provides paints a much fuller picture of her office that has all the markings of a laboratory. As a young boy I remember being enchanted by the amazing set pieces of Vandervelt Senior’s staging of this play. Each item on the stage was an authentic piece of alchemist’s equipment, borrowed from various friends and contacts, sometimes bought with prime seats. I only later learned how much Vandervelt’s father sacrificed to realize his vision of making the Aerialis Grand Theater what it is today.
- J. Winterweiss
But not my parcel, drat!
YORGEN. Doctor, do not fret!
Your faithful Yorgen has arrived,
And here the thing I have contrived.
The portrayal of Yorgen is one of the most widely varied ones among different directors. Some make their acting choice to make him look ‘hapless’ as claimed by Glint, often slightly disfigured or hunched, appearing as a lesser person compared to the perfect Doctor, while others chose a less crass approach and some portray him in a more flattering light.
- J. Winterweiss
GLINT. Inventor Yorgen, what relief,
Your sight, indeed, is a reprieve!
And oh the parcel, as requested,
My faith in you was well invested.
Now let me see the installation
Made possible by my equation.
YORGEN. A devilish tricky thing to build,
But I am clever and quite skilled.
I bent the gold in five dimensions
And from a soul I added dusts,
Which should serve well for form retention:
Within the real it will not rust.
Where you get such ethereal stuff
Like this, I think I know enough
To make my guesses close.
GLINT. Try not to lose your nose,
When you start sticking it in here.
But if this works, I’ll buy the beer.
YORGEN. Now this I do enjoy to hear;
I ever liked the taste of beer.
But even more so I request
The company that you suggest.
GLINT. Let it be so when I am done,
Inventor, the sooner you are gone
Now, the sooner we shall meet again.
YORGEN. It is my pleasure to leave you then.
GLINT (now alone). So tiresome, this old buffoon,
I hope to cut him loose quite soon.
This parcel holds the final means
For that, the king of the machines!
Within I see as bright as fate,
The framing for a golden gate!
Small perhaps, a book in size,
Such is the price of compromise.
Now let me set the wings in there
That I have made from many souls.
Oh, and the frame, if I do stare,
Makes all grow black as dirty coals!
Though it is naught for me to worry,
Did I not every cautiously
Pick animals to bring no folly
Down on my name and onto me?
There, now the gate is built;
And eerily it stands.
The world that is revealed
Shall soon heed my commands!
What is this? It will not open up!
Even if I pull and drag,
Even when my wrench has struck
It, or my metal sprag!
SCENE: In the lowest reaches of a place beyond ken.
VINCLAV. Well this is rather disappointing,
The quality of souls is poor,
If this is where the gate is pointing.
I’ll place a carpet of velour.
A primly dressed one such as me,
Should not just soil his little feet,
And small they have to be indeed
This gate before me is petite.
Well, out I go, here is the key,
I keep it deep inside my coat
With every other one that be
I pass through door and wall and moat.
To protect themselves from Vinclav’s all-defying key, believers of the Church of Pure Souls often paint little signs of the fifteen-toothed gear on each wall and door of their houses.
- J. Winterweiss
(Stepping through the gate and onto Dr. Glint’s desk).
Now the presentation of this bit is very dependent on stage technique and budget. I have seen amazing performances where actors stood far apart from each other using perspective illusions to make this work, but also shows where skilled mages of fire or lightning caused illusions of light to create a tiny apparition of Vinclav to walk on the desk. In one show I visited in a small town on the Hooper Chain, a marionette was used to great effect.Madam, I pull my hat before thee,
- J. Winterweiss
What a feat you have performed!
You built this gate to come and see me;
I do say that my heart is warmed.
SCENE: In Dr. Glints office.
GLINT. Perhaps I should consult my peers…
But no, it opens! By the gears!
VINCLAV. Now, now these words; there is no need…
Generally, a good Vinclav actor, puppeteer, or projector will capture the essence of this sentence by flinching at the name of the Great Clockwork, but again, this depends on the manner in which he is portrayed during this ‘tiny escapade’.
- J. Winterweiss
GLINT. A little man that walks and speaks?!
From realms unknown onto my desk
You step; the fruit of my first test?
Are you by chance my own creation;
born of synthetic generation?
VINCLAV. Now that is hubris I enjoy;
Though, I could be in your employ.
Just let me first – yes, lock this gate
There, back to its original state.
GLINT. The gate! But you have closed it shut!
You miserable, foolish clod!
Who are you that you’d take my prize?!
I have always greatly enjoyed this bit on how Vinclav brings Glint so close to the fulfillment of her life’s desire, then casually smashes it in front of her, following up with a chilling introduction that I can recite from heart to this day. Preachers of the Church of Pure Souls also enjoy reading his following part to their flocks to instill the fear of Vinclav in them…
- J. Winterweiss
VINCLAV. I am the king of keys and lies.
For all you humans' faith and trust
Is meant to crumble into dust.
Thus all you think is bad and sin
Are qualities that sleep within,
Are me, the master of the mire:
Manifestation of desire.
GLINT. You’re… the deceiver! Vinclav of yore!
From long forgotten pirate lore!
VINCLAV. Forgotten not by you it seems,
The learned Glint, oh how she gleams…
But now it’s time to grow to size
I’m more akin to man than mice.
Again, this special effect has been staged in many ways. I have no specific preference to offer.
- J. Winterweiss
GLINT. And there you go, all tall and grown!
There’s no such spell in scroll or tome!
So, Have you come to take my soul?
As shanties say has been your goal?
VINCLAV. We’ll see, I am quite undecided,
It is the gate that you provided
That sparked my curiosity;
So quell your animosity.
I think we might be quite well matched:
Two kindred spirits walk the edge
And ever seek to grasp the soul,
To quantify the greater whole.
GLINT. And you would take me for a fool
That throws her own into your pool?
You think I hold such low regard
For this my own immortal spark?
VINCLAV. Perish the thought!
I’d deal for naught.
I have a better wager, see,
One for this little, golden key…
GLINT. The key you used to lock the gate!
VINCLAV. It opens all the doors of fate.
GLINT. A prize I should like well indeed…
But what’s the wager that you seek?
VINCLAV. Your gate has led me to the world;
Since olden days, much has occurred…
There’s too much work, yes far too much
For me alone to handle such.
So come with me, see Aqualon;
To splendid places come along!
The secrets of the world we’ll free
And once we’re done, you’ll have the key.
GLINT. That seems quite fair, but I’m no fool,
Over mine eyes you’ll pull no wool;
I name thee shyster! My attention
Did not let slip: no time was mentioned!
VINCLAV. A minor error on my side,
We’ll make it years, say, three by five.
GLINT. That is no stroll but a career;
Yet I have worked much longer here
To forge this gate and pierce the veil,
So for the key: yes. I won’t fail.
This act has become popularized after Borgerat as a “Glintian Wager”, one where one figuratively “makes a deal with Vinclav”, implicitly giving up parts of their soul, humanity, or human dignity for power. It has been picked up in many pieces of literature and poetry since.
- J. Winterweiss
VINCLAV. Then so be it, the deal is done!
And by the morrow, we’ll be gone.
Pack all the things you think you’ll need,
My doctor, and then sign this deed…
- Divine Classification
- Mythic Devil/Mythic Manifestation of Worldly Desire
- Deep yellow (or just yellow when the light hits right in Borgerat's Glint)
- Grey and shoulder long (from pirate lore), or short and black (from Borgerat's Glint).
Divine DomainsSouls, Gambling, Deals, Trickery, Animancy, Spellblight, Pirates, Thieves, Beggars
Holy Books and Codes
- The Gospel of Nacravler of the Church of Pure Souls
- The Gospel of St. Cerbal of the Church of Pure Souls
- Glint by Heinrich T. Borgerat
- Three by Five Shanties
Divine Symbols, Wards, and Talismans
- A human skull with a key in its mouth as his symbol (for pirate age Vinclav)
- A working pocket watch (also since the pirate age)
- A golden key as his symbol (the Church of Pure Souls)
- A fifteen-toothed gear talisman (the Church of Pure Souls)
Tenants of Faith
Now games and wagers are the life
Of sailors, pirates, fisher's wives;
But do beware the yellow eyes,
Don't bet to serve, your soul, your life
Always beware the yellow eyes.
Of all these things you should abstain:
the hollow pleasures and desire,
the promises of evil games,
of wagers, and the mages' mire.
Customs and Sayings
From the old pirate days these sayings and customs have prevailed or were adopted by the Church of Pure Souls.
When evil times come rear their head,
when dark things creep into your bed,
when thunder roars toss in the sea
for Vinclav a forgotten key
Go make a wager!
There is a key for every lock.
To Vinclav's locker with you!
Once a gambler, twice a blighter.
Vinclav ever aims to corrupt the hearts and souls of man, bending them to his will. In the end, he seeks to collect the souls for himself, one at a time, to one time surpass even the Great Clockwork. And if he has a little fun along the way? Well, what harm could there be in that...
Religious DaysThe Day of Wishing-Keys
On this day, the 4th day of the sixth month, the inhabitants of Rastrowel go to lake Tarrenvel and toss a key into it, speaking out loud the deepest wish they hold in their hearts. Then they literally turn their backs on the lake, saying "Vinclav! I reject your temptation. Take thy key and then begone!", signifying that their faith is stronger than their worldly desires and signaling that Vinclav will find no fertile ground for his schemes on Rastrowel.
There are many thousands of keys at the bottom of lake Tarrenvel, and sometimes, when it is perfectly still and the sun hits it just right, they sparkle like stars.