Dancing lights off in the distance, what can they be? No, they aren’t swamp gas or ignus fati or aliens. They’re will-o-wisps!
Don’t follow them, kids. They’ll trick you into falling down a ditch!
Strictly speaking, a will-o-wisp is simply an autonomous bundle of spiritual energy. A wisp does not possess enough energy for self-awareness and has very little in the way of initiative: mostly it just floats and glows. Some make a low, resonant warble. Wisps occur naturally as the expression of the power of greater spirits, but may also be created by magic users manifesting their own spiritual power or that of others. Outside a vessel, will-o-wisps are transient and rarely last more than an hour.
Will-o-wisps are especially associated with genii locorum, mostly because their wisps reliably manifest in the same place. Usually this manifestation is quiet and unobtrusive, with wisps coalescing and dissipating without fanfare, but there are always exceptions. The Sainted Trio volcanoes, for instance, erupt not only lava but also torrents of will-o-wisps. Particularly prolific genii locorum in Loratha are ensconced in groves dedicated to the wisps they produce.
All kinds of spirits generate wisps. Nearly any exercise of a spirit’s power is accompanied by a swirl of these lights, dissipating as they are consumed by the spirit’s actions. Spirits who find themselves with an excess of power shed that overbrimming power through will-o-wisps. When a spirit invests its power in an object or person, it does so by embedding a will-o-wisp. The craftmasters of elven groves wear crowns of wisps to denote their role and authority.
Wisps can also be extracted from people, a painful process that siphons off their innate spiritual energy. Some wizards manifest wisps from themselves; less scrupulous practitioners draw these motes of power from unwilling subjects. The wavespeakers of the Hurra accomplish astounding feats of sea magic by drawing wisps from their entire crew.
The glimmer and movement of will-o-wisps is fascinating to most people, who instinctually recognize its spiritual essence as more than just a trick of the light. Unfortunately, this often leads to people assuming the dancing light has more intelligence than it actually does, following the light to see what it is “trying to show us.” This often leads to tragedy as the guileless wisp leads its unwitting pursuers into danger. Children are admonished to never follow will-o-wisps, but even adults have fallen prey to the entrancing lights.
As literal motes of power, will-o-wisps are used in a number of magical processes and industries, although transporting them is difficult. Special vessels can be constructed to transport wisps, but most are fragile, awkward, and obtrusive. The vimstone, a creation of the jewelshapers of Tallus, can hold a wisp indefinitely, but requires a sizeable jewel and is cost prohibitive. In Mergather, the glimmerfish has been modified to eat will-o-wisps and stores them in its body. However, the ingested wisps dissipate a few days after the fish dies—about the same time that it rots—which makes trading wisps via glimmerfish a suboptimal and malodorus proposition.
Let’s make a deal: for next week, let’s choose a less-stinky entry: