You want a thrill? Try spending three years on the run, never stopping, always hunted. Now imagine it’s not some infamous villain after you, but your brothers, sisters, closest friends. People who’ve known you your entire life, know how you think, where you’ll go, what you’ll try. Your strengths and weaknesses. And you’ll probably have to kill them, lest they kill you. That, my friend, is a thrill.
The Shadar-Kai are well-known for their bold, intense outlook on life. In order to combat the ennui resulting in generations of living in the Shadowfell, these pale figures live in the extreme at all times, attempting to experience everything existence has to offer. A bright spot in the gloom of the Shadowfell, you will recognized them by their intricate tatoos, brightly-dyed hair, and bold-colored clothing. Passionate, impulsive creatures, Shadar-Kai are always looking for fame and renown, believing that being killed is better than being forgotten.
Of all their traditions, none are more hallowed, more revered than the Vaonata hunt. Reserved for only the most elite of Shadar-Kai youth, the Vaonata (vow-NAH-tah) is the ultimate test, and paves the path to immortality. A hunting party of eight warriors is selected and dispatched from Kaelis, the only permanent Shadar-Kai city, and given three years to accomplish a single task: hunt down and kill one of their own. For the lone Shadar-Kai chosen as the prey, the challenge is even more straightforward: survive.
The first step in the hunt is to select the hunting party, or Praedari (pray-DAR-ee), and the single Shadar-Kai to be hunted, called the Laudo (LOO-doe). Being chosen for either role is a highly sought-after honor, and many young Shadar-Kai sue for the right to participate: those who die in the hunt are celebrated in story and song; those who survive are immortalized in legend.
The Laudo and Praedari are selected based on the outcome of the previous hunt. If the Laudo was killed, their successor is selected from among the Praedari, usually by crowing moot, where each hunter tries to establish themselves as the best choice. The remaining Praedari then selects new members to replace the Laudo, and any hunters who died in the Vaonata.
If the Laudo survived the hunt, he or she will appoint a successor and the first Praedari. Candidates for Laudo can be selected from any Shadar-Kai present, though any surviving members of the Praedari usually have preference. Crowing moots are often held in the presence of the returning Laudo in order to sway their decision.
After the Laudo and Praedari are selected, they must be prepared for the upcoming Vaonata. Each member of the Praedari is given a ceremonial tattoo on their chest. The tattoo is imbued with magic that bonds them together, allowing each to sense the direction, distance, and overall well-being of each other member of the hunting party.
The Laudo is given a much more intricate tattoo, which covers their entire body, save one side of their head, neck, and face, and one arm and shoulder. They are also scarred in numerous places on their body. The Laudo, too, is bonded to the Praedari. In this sense, the tattoo serves as a double-edged sword: It offers some measure of protection, but it allows the Praedari to sense the Laudo’s general proximity at all times (and to know if they’ve passed to a different plane, though not necessarily which plane), and to instantly identify them by sight.
Once all members are tattooed, the Vaonata begins. The Laudo is released from the gathering and given one month’s head start before the Praedari begins pursuit. There are no rules regarding what any participants can do to ensure their victory, save that only one Praedari, consisting of no more than eight Shadar-Kai, can pursue the Laudo at any given time. The use of traps, hiring spies or mercenaries, even joining an adventuring party are all accepted methods for either side to employ to gain an edge.
Accompanying the Praedari is another Shadar-Kai, called the Vaetas (VAY-tus). The Vaetas does not participate in the hunt, and must not contribute to tracking or combat. They are there as observers, to keep a record of the Praedari’s efforts, and the battles that follow. If the Laudo is killed, the Vaetas races back to Kaelis while the Praedari prepare the body for travel. They inform every Shadar-Kai they can find on their way that the Vaonata has concluded, and oversee the preparations for the feast and celebration once they arrive. If the Laudo is victorious, the Vaetas travels home to inform the city, so that a new Praedari can be formed and dispatched as soon as possible.
Conclusion of the Hunt
No matter the outcome, the end of a Vaonata hunt is marked by feasting and celebration of deeds and deaths on both sides of the contest. The Vaetas recounts tales of the Praedari heroism, and how bravely the Laudo faught. All participants are celebrated regardless of who returns alive, and the celebration includes feasting and multiple crowing moots. It becomes a festival of sorts, and can last well over a month. At the end, new Praedari, Laudo, and Vaetas are selected, prepared, and dispatched, and the ceremony begins again, as it has for centuries.