In the quiet, abandoned places in the city, where the weeds grow tall and the vines hang low, it’s possible to detect traces of the hidden societies of wallflower firbolgs. Elusive and secretive, these firbolgs spend their days cultivating the growth of nature in between the cracks of urban life, their reclamations of space standing against the totalising influence of civilisation and the state. Wallflower Firbolgs are also referred to as urban firbolgs, or city firbolgs.
Hidden in the Crowd
Firbolgs are a people known for their connection to natural spaces — but in larger towns and cities, it’s not always easy to find places where nature truly breaks through. But while Firbolgs and green spaces may be difficult to find in settlements, it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re not there; they’re just more elusive, and often overlooked.
Adapting to city life by finding places away from prying eyes, wallflower firbolgs use their natural magic to disguise or hide themselves as they pass through neighbourhoods, as well as to hide their sanctuaries. In quieter, well-guarded places, they create reclamations – zones where nature is cultivated and allowed to flourish and grow, where firbolgs can live, work, play and sleep. These reclamations act as homes and community centers for wallflower firbolg societies.
Wallflower Firbolgs are adept at finding the places in the city where nature remains undisturbed or where it grows heedless of attempts to master it. Their ability to speak with the flora and fauna of the natural world means that they can track down abandoned, overgrown or little-used places in the city where they can be safe. A flock of pigeons may lead a wallflower firbolg seeking shelter to the belfry of a long-disused church, overtaken by weeds and vegetation. Phosphorescent fungi on the wall of a city sewer could guide a gang of firbolgs to a decommissioned underground cistern covered with moss and lit by the eerie myco-illumination. The trees along a river might subtly indicate a small gully under a nearby bridge, surrounded by thorny bushes and nettles that the firbolgs making a home there can use as deterrents to outsiders.
Living hidden in the city requires wallflower firbolgs to dress simply and without much flair: they tend to wear neutral or dull colours, to better blend in with the crowd. These clothes tend to be bought or stolen from vendors within the settlement, and, coupled with the magic that allows firbolgs to disguise themselves, it would be almost impossible to tell one from a crowd. However, there’s often a slight trace of firbolg culture in the way they use clothing — a tunic which has been mended with plant fibres, a corsage made from herbs with protective properties instead of bold, colourful flowers, or jewelry crafted from wood instead of metal. These signs are often too subtle and too ambiguous for ordinary observers, but wallflower firbolgs are often able to recognise their kin by these telltale signs, even when in disguise. However, many wallflower firbolgs — especially the younger generation — reject the need for ordinary clothing and drab styles altogether, reasoning that either they can use their magic to disappear when too much attention is drawn their way, or that they should never need to blend in or disappear in the first place.
In lieu of a distinct sartorial look, many wallflower firbolgs bear tattoos. Tattooing as a procedure is a much-revered practice for wallflower firbolgs, and most choose to honour specific parts of the reclamation they attend by having it tattooed on their body. This could be anything from a small glyph on the shoulder of the orchids grown in an abandoned mill at the edge of a village, to a stylised back tattoo of an enormous oak tree at the center of a reclamation hidden behind a long-disused factory. In some cases, these tattoos commemorate places in the city that have been uprooted, torn down, demolished or destroyed — and the tattoos serve as a reminder, itself impermanent, of long lost places in the city where firbolgs once congregated.
Life in the city can be difficult for wallflower firbolgs — many urban spaces are cut-off from the natural world, in places thick with footfall, smog, building construction and urban development. Groves of trees are replaced instead by buildings of unliving stone that cast long shadows across cold cobbled roads. The normal conditions for living for other humanoids are often inhospitable for firbolgs, who are intimately connected with the natural world. Only the more affluent humanoids are able to afford to live in the leafier districts of the city, with a few ornamental trees and carefully-groomed topiaries, and they are rarely open to the idea of any kind of commune squatting in a disused building, let alone transforming it into a place where unsightly weeds and vines can grow.
As a result, wallflower firbolgs tend to establish their own way of living, which also limits their contact with people outside of firbolg society. They may adopt a magical disguise if they need to traverse the crowded streets, or to talk to merchants and tradespeople to buy goods for their friends and family. Every wallflower firbolg has a few friends outside of firbolg society that they trust enough to reveal themselves to, and in some cases this person may be invited to spend time at firbolg reclamations and other secret spaces, but only on the grounds that they don’t reveal the location to anyone. In some cases, the wrong word might incite a mob to attempt to drive out the mysterious group of squatters out of fear or ignorance.
However, wallflower firbolgs are not universally reviled. In fact, many locals with knowledge of their existence seek them out for their wisdom in affairs of the natural world: a concerned parent might ask for their help in finding a herbal concoction for their sick child; a conscientious builder might ask that a firbolg assist them in identifying the correct trees to cut for timber so as not to offend the fey or disrupt the ecosystem nearby. Folktales spread in areas around firbolg reclamations of how to petition them for help: in most cases, this involves leaving a basket of fresh fruit and vegetables in a quiet place in the city that is connected with undisturbed nature, such as on the doorstep of an abandoned, ivy-strewn cottage, under a tree in a silent, grassy graveyard, or atop the stones of an old dry well criss-crossed with plant-roots. The vigilant firbolgs are often easily able to find the person who left them gifts, and will visit the petitioner to see if they can help.
In some settlements, particularly smaller villages, wallflower firbolgs are able to live more openly. They may be on friendly terms with the villagers, and though they may still use magic and disguises to obscure their movements, the people of the village will occasionally glimpse them out in the fields, helping at farms, or tending the wilderness at the border of the settlement.
Wallflower firbolg society is structured around reclamations — hidden spaces in the city where the wilderness bursts through, encouraged and cultivated by groups of firbolgs working together. Reclamations are unique confluences of both nature and civilisation, such as an ancient church with a cherry blossom tree growing through the floor, its branches intertwining with the pillars and masonry to create an arboreal paradise. Some reclamations are small and subtle, fit for only a single firbolg to tend, such as an unvisited room-sized mausoleum cloaked in ivy and undergrowth. Some are tended to by a small group of three to eight firbolgs, such as a bricked-off cellar with an entrance hidden by the roots of an old tree. There are also much larger reclamations that sustain between ten and fifty firbolgs, such as a disused factory where flowering vines and shrubs have grown over the metal mechanisms and transformed the industrial space into something more verdant and full of life.
Much of firbolg life takes place in the reclamation: there are often spaces to sleep, prepare food, socialise and play. Those able to tend to the upkeep, maintenance, growth and security of the reclamation do so on a volunteer basis: money is often shared communally, but while firbolgs who make a living outside of the reclamation choose to reinvest it in the continued survival of the reclamation, this is not an obligation, and firbolgs are entitled to keep their own money and goods. The community readily cares for those among them who are not able to provide labour, such as the young, the elderly, the disabled, or the ill: to them, continuing to live, survive and thrive even under difficult circumstances is far more important than everyone in the community being able to contribute labour or strength.
Magic is often used to obscure the reclamation from the view of the public or the authorities. Firbolg wizards might perform a ritual to hide the main entranceway behind an illusion of solid walls. Druids may cause an impenetrably thick topiary hedge around the enclosure. Rogues may set up elaborate traps and trick passageways to misdirect those who would otherwise stumble in. Some reclamations have used peculiar optical techniques when painting the reclamation’s entranceway to turn attention away from it, and others merely position their strongest warriors at the door to their sanctuary to act as bouncers. There are as many ways to hide the reclamation as there are reclamations.
People living near a reclamation often have a sense that there’s an unusual quality to their neighbourhood, but may not be able to pinpoint exactly what it is. Trees seem to be taller and more robust in proximity to a firbolg reclamation, and plant life of all kinds — from herbs, to weeds, to vegetables — will display above-average growth and tenacity. There will often be stories of ghosts, or mysterious yet kindly strangers, in areas where firbolgs live or travel: while they may be elusive, they rarely go completely unseen, and people will share tales amongst each other of witnessing someone walking down a nearby alleyway and completely disappearing, a disembodied voice heard whispering high up in the boughs of a tree on the boulevard, or lights seen in the windows of an old, ruined manor house on the edge of town.
Reclamations do not always remain secret. Eventually, someone may stumble in to the reclamation when there are no adequate defenses, or the strange rumours may prompt the city guard to investigate the area, resulting in the reclamation being discovered. In cases where the city or settlement has leadership that is strict about taxation, private ownership and land use, the governing council may then arrange for firbolgs to be driven out of their reclamation so the city can take back the land. Many wallflower firbolg societies do not give up their reclamations easily, though, and, if diplomacy, appeals or bribes fail to permit the firbolgs to stay, a bloody battle may ensue. It is not uncommon for some authorities, after beginning a seige against a reclamation, to realise the firbolgs are more than capable at defending themselves, and may parlay to avoid further disruption, destruction, or bloodshed. In cases where the reclamation must be abandoned, the firbolgs who once lived there will move on to another reclamation in the same settlement or one close by, or may instead try to find a place to begin their own. It is considered very auspicious for a firbolg society driven from their reclamation in a previous generation to return, reclaim and resettle the space.
It is possible for someone to walk into more open and accessible firbolg reclamations without being aware that is such, especially in more rural areas where the firbolgs who live there are lax about defenses. They may step into a small shrine that has seemingly been abandoned for decades, and find small traces of life — fresh flowers being strung from the rafters, carefully-tended shrubs, or beds of straw and reeds — without seeing a single firbolg in the area. In such cases, the firbolgs who tend the reclamation are often hidden nearby, waiting for the stranger to pass, or to subtly guide them away from the reclamation.
Wallflower Firbolg Names
Wallflower firbolgs take much the same stance about first names as any firbolg does — they tend only to use them when speaking to outsiders. However, firbolg societies in larger cities tend to take on clan names that reference the reclamation they attend to — these clan names poetically describe the attributes of their reclamation, as well as mixing in street names or other local landmarks to create an idiosyncratic mix of names. Some firbolgs share clan names, but many mix and match elements to create new, poetic variations of the name: so, a group of firbolgs who all attend a reclamation on South Street, close to a hidden river surrounded by red ferns may take on the names “Redfern”, “South Fern River”, or “Fern of South Street”. This often leads to firbolgs with cumbersome and ostentatious clan names, but there is rarely any pompousness about names — their wordiness only reflects the firbolgs’ preference to description rather than naming.
Inevitably, many wallflower firbolgs find themselves displaced from a reclamation they’re named after, often as a result of being evicted by city authorities. However, even after finding a new reclamation to tend, these firbolgs choose to keep their old names out of respect for the lost reclamation and the shelter it gave them. These names are woven into the tapestry of firbolg lineage-mythology much like their tattoos, and some even have their clan names tattooed on them in commemoration of their former community.