The true nature of fate is too vast and too mysterious to be understood in anything approaching totality; but some portents can be recognised - some fates can be averted.
There are omens and premonitions that presage death in the esoteric traditions of cultures all across the world - from banshees to stopped clocks to spectral black dogs - but where some speak to an inevitability, others can be circumvented or forsworn. Fetches, ephemeral doubles who appear as the perfect likenesses of those who are fated to die, are some of the most unsettling, but the unambiguous warning their appearance presents offers a chance to survive. If the presence of a fetch is recognised in time - if it is not mistaken for a trick of the light - and if someone knows enough to be able to help, a Fetchfire can be created to trick and trap a death that is already intended to claim someone.
Even if someone is so fortunate, there is often very little time between the appearance of a fetch and the fate that follows in its stead (and even less time to enact an attempt to subvert the intent of destiny). While almost all the ingredients and paraphernalia necessary for the preparation of a Fetchfire are relatively easy to come by, dried arrowhead root and fresh rainwater that has been collected in an unvarnished oak bowl being the only components that one would be unlikely to find in most homes, the rite is temperamental and prone to failing. Even those most practiced in similar and sympathetic spellworks, the schools by which a Fetchfire is created, would be hard-pressed to carry out the work reliably successfully.
The first stage of the rite is the creation of a focusing flame; a ritual candle that can, in other circumstances, be used to draw poisons and curses out of an afflicted person. In the creation of a Fetchfire its purpose is less specialised, instead extracting just enough of the soul and psyche to create a convincing simulacrum of someone. Focus flames burn white hot and acrid and billow a thick grey smoke that tastes of verdant soil and paper ash, obscuring the working by which it is cocooned within a husk, a hollow replica of the person whose characteristic essence they are intended to house. At their centre, deep inside, their warmth and motive force come from the continued burning of the candle and its focusing flame; simple engines powering complex constructs.
The husks themselves are as thin as paper, dry like desiccated bark, and as light as such seemingly fragile things ought to be, even though they are as hale and hardy as the bodies they are standing in for. The original becomes the shadow, literally and figuratively, of the Fetchfire - a puppeteer who has reversed the typical arrangement of agency and slavery between the real and the representative - and the Fetchfire will inhabit and approximate an everyday existence. Imbued only with a sliver of what made their original a living, vital person, they may seem more easily confused and distracted by anything unexpected or outside of the routine, and an accompanying loss of short-term memory means that many forget what they are and why they were created in the first place.
Even so lessened, and in the imperfect control of an original whose form they have copied and replaced in imitation, the snare has been set: Whatever unavoidable death was coming to take the original is instead caught, the intangible grip of an unwelcome fate trapped impotently inside a Fetchfire. Its purpose fulfilled, the focusing flame ignites and burns up the husk in a white-hot conflagration, taking the unwanted future with it. The blinding glare of its luminescence is believed to serve a dual purpose; first obscuring the fact that someone has cheated their fate (from whatever powers are believed to write the stories in which we live) and then acting as the crucible that reconstitutes and restores the original form the Fetchfire had replaced. Rebirth remembered as a near-miss; a catastrophe narrowly avoided.
Absent the evidence to conclude whether fate is an interwoven tapestry of individual narratives or isolated incidents at the sporadic crux and confluence of coincidence, no-one can be sure of how dramatic or dangerous the interference of saving a life is. Some believe that we are deprived of the best-possible futures due to our overreaching efforts and attempts to exert control on a system so vast as to seem chaotic to our limited perspectives, others that we are taking the same from a system that would seek to deprive us of advancements. There are no great and terrible deeds attributed to those who are known, or who have boasted, to have survived an intended death - at least not in their extended furlough - leaving some to argue that the stolen time only offers one a pale imitation of their previous potential.
If a Fetchfire is created in error, if there is no ill-fate to be consumed, it will begin to draw out more and more of the essence of the person it was created to protect. The original, caught forever in shadow-form, becomes weak and wan as it fights the inevitable transference into a vessel neither suited to - nor fit for - purpose. Their existences are bound, inextricably, with the Fetchfire’s body and the shadow’s soul in a constant and agonising psychic conflict of whose origins they quickly become only dimly aware. From the outside this accursed life, an identity warring with itself, can appear to be an acute and severe depression or another, similarly devastating psychological condition which appears resistant to conventional treatment, its cause beyond the ken of medical science.
Although the creation of a Firefetches cannot be forced on someone, they have been cruelly weaponised at times; the promise of escaping an untimely end used to trick people into living tormented and lesser versions of the lives they would otherwise have had. Some of these are created through the standard rites, the loss and limitation of feeling and faculties considered a harsh enough punishment, but others are adapted to create even more horrendous conditions in which to imprison someone. Using mirrored glass and other additional components as part of the ritual, a Firefetch can trap people’s psyches within living labyrinths that perfectly resemble their former bodies; endless grey and shifting psychic mazes from which not even the most piercing and blood-curdling screams can ever escape.