This group is worth noting because they are so unique, and those are the Colonies. Within these vast, forbidding, very much out of the way places are small groups of people who devote and dedicate themselves to mastering some form or other of martial art, both armed and unarmed. Each of them has a slightly different take, a different style, but all of them are still very much organized in a manner similar to the other factions.
There are four Colonies: Onisaman, Eridian, Thunderheart, and Diaspore. The first was founded by Onisama herself around the time of the second Skyfall. One of her pupils later left and founded Eridian Colony. A fortuitous meeting between pupils of the two led to the founding of the Thunderheart Colony after that, and the Diaspore was the final Colony established and is the least well known. Each colony has a host of people present. They are entirely self-sufficient, and they seem to draw in travelers and outcasts, those who seek something more, something different, and those who seek to prove themselves.
They are called Monks, and they are engaged in a life-or-death struggle that seems to consume them called the Dire War. They live ascetic lives, with few comforts, but they are seemingly unflappable and able to defy much, and they have peculiar powers that are not always magic in derivation. Each colony has around 400 people or so, who tend to all the many tasks and chores, while also all training, at all times, and all of the colonies are located in out of the way places among the mountains, with very few who are not of great power or great wisdom ever knowing exactly where, for they do guard the knowledge carefully.
Like Mystics, they are a group that seeks to aver and avoid scrutiny and prefer to remain inscrutable and mysterious. They do enter the broader world, and some will leave the Colonies for years in order to hone their skills and help provide through tithing.
It is important to note that each Colony has a particular focus to the arts they teach. Onisama teach something called the Way of the Open Hand. Thunderheart teaches the Way of the Peaceful Hope. Eridian teaches the Way of the Shattered Heart. Diaspore teaches the Way of the Brilliant Mind. What they mean and how they mean it only seem to make sense to the Monks themselves.
They are, much like the House of Eld, reserved and have a strong focus on training and competition and self-improvement, and always focused on something that they are doing in those isolated places, some sort of massive combat challenge.
During the second Skyfall, shortly after the founding of Sibola, the still new Colony hidden away among the Mountains was beginning to teach a new way of fighting, to escape the violence of the old wars and forge a new path. Onisama, the woman who founded the colony now named for her, and her way of doing things, was visited by a strange man, whom many say even today was a Warlock of exceptional skill and talent.
He claimed that those he served would like to come to our world, and asked if Onisama, in her wisdom, would grant them safe passage and a place to rest. Suspecting a trap, she offered a counter: if they could defeat her best with their best, she would let them come and learn and take shelter from what they sought to escape.
With a wicked gleam in his eye and a wrathful smile on his face, the Warlock agreed on behalf of his benefactors, who were from another dimension and sought to find a path to ours, that they might take it over. This was the origin of the first of the Dire Wars.
Dire War is returned to every six years, with the next known one scheduled to happen in 301. It is a contest of martial strength and skill, of creative effort, of absolute perfection, and of absolute importance, for should the Colonies ever lose, should the Monks ever fall, then our world will have a gateway to the Nightmare dimension and all the nightmares of the world will be released to wreak havoc. It is generally agreed by most on Wyrlde that we have enough nightmares already, and do not need any more. Generally. Some folks are less certain.
At that very first Challenge, the future of them all was established as dire, as mortal, when the first victor slew the chosen champion instead of merely taking a victory (at the behest of their wicked leader, who declared both fatality! and It has begun!), and since that moment, all the challenges have been Dire and it has erupted through efforts to cheat, to manipulate, to corrupt into true warfare fought for the sole purpose of saving the world.
Each bout in dire conflict is to death or to absolute incapacitation. Fatalities, often gruesome, are common. The contests are held every sixth year from Windy 1st through Windy 28th. The first week there are 128 bouts. The second week there are 64 bouts. The third week there are 32 bouts. The first day of the last week has 16 bouts. The second day has 8 bouts. The third day has 4 bouts. The fourth day has one bout. The fifth day has one bout. And the final bout is the sixth day – the 27th of Windy — with the victory declared on the final day of the month. The next scheduled Dire War rounds are in Windy of the year 301. One hundred twenty-eight of the finest, greatest, bravest, most capable warriors are tested every six years, with few surviving the experience.
Combatants can only use what is inherent to them. They can bring into the venue no weapons, wear no armor, and they must possess impeccable honor. At least for our side. The nightmare side seems to have folks who have weapons as part of them.
To prepare for this in the time between, the many Monks and now other warriors called by the Colony masters to these contests compete in far less fatal contests of skill, tactics, strategy, and mastery to determine who will fight the bouts. This testing begins in Windy of the second year following the Dire War. In that year, each of the four great Colonies choose 128 of their greatest, usually through volunteering or recruitment of outsiders. Note that the Grandmasters of the Colonies are not above using their mysterious powers to encourage outsiders to fight. Qetza is particularly fond of Grand Warfare, and it is said that Lamia and Timur have taken stakes in the past as well.
The following year, the Colonies have their champions face off against the champions of another Colony. The order is a rotating one. This continues in the fourth and fifth years, as well, until there are 128 warriors chosen. They all then travel to the mysterious tropical island that was set aside for these events following the 13th cycle when an entire Colony was nearly destroyed.
This island has 128 discrete fighting areas, that are cleaned and prepared for a year, decorated, and sometimes adjusted, so that none of the contestants are aware of what venue, or what the venue will look like or consist of. The particular venue is randomly selected, and all are named and designed to look like some place elsewhere on Wyrlde, and bounded by strong wards that will let someone in but will only let one person out unless they know the particular rituals to enable leaving (such as when dragging a body out).
Entrants must be at least Adepts and are typically well known and deeply honorable in all their actions. They must represent the best Wyrlde, after all, and stand firm even though those they fight will try to cheat, and sometimes succeed. It is noteworthy that Adventurers are rarely chosen, though many have volunteered after hearing about it. The finality of the events means that those who choose to do so must be aware that they will be facing their own mortality, their own death, in the form of a nightmarish being, and that once committed there is no escaping, no turning back, and it is final. Death in the Dire War removes one from the Cycle, and so resurrection is not possible.
These events, over the many, many years, have come to be watched closely by many in power. Some from great distances, others will make the journey to the Island of Venues. It is said that even Denizens from other dimensions will make a special journey just to watch, for it is one of the most brutal contests within all that is known, and it is said even the Three Old Ones turn a blind eye to the Warfare.