The players finished their play, and took their bows. The audience was silent, until a small polite clap grew to a crescendo in the small tavern.

The actors quickly thanked the crowd and ran back stage. The farcical comedy of the Empress Teleri and the Archmage of Summer was one of their most popular plays. The paragons knew, the people of the Marches needed cheering up as grim curses ran riot among their farms and the first stories of the battle for Mournwold began to filter in from the south.

They had performed the plays countless times - even reduced the dour Highborn in Necropolis to tears of laughter during one triumphant, golden night. It was simple enough and suited their style - one act, set in the Chamber. Always the Chamber. Exposing weakness was such a key theme of the play, empowering the humour that comes from playing the Prince against the Mountebank.

Jane of Sutton asked the question first. When the heck had they decided to use the Tomb set instead? Mummer dramaturgy tended toward the improvisational but they usually at least blocked out the main thrust before each performance. This time everything had just ... changed. Midstream, as it were.

None of them could agree who had first shaded the dialogue to include the mausoleum, nor when the throne had become the sarcophagus of the pious martyr. Each one of them had become so caught up in the scene, and then somehow the play had changed.

The comedy had still been there, but it had been darker. Blacker. The not-quite-romance between the pious Empress and the bawdy Marcher had an edge of tragedy about it, of loss. It was certainly not the play they had rehearsed, and it wasn’t at all what they had intended to present to the drunken patrons of the Horse and Six Buckets.

The crowd appeared to have appreciated it, so no harm down. Yet it was still a little worrying. They were due to perform the play again tomorrow at the Widderson Fair … this time with a few more laughs , hopefully.

Overview

For inscrutable reasons, it is the dramaturgists who first become aware of the change. Actors are sensitive at the best of times, and it does not take a genius to notice that as Autumn turns to Winter everyone seems to be setting their plays in the Tomb. The majority defend their artistic decisions vociferously, of course, but a rare few admit that it just "seemed like a good idea but now I can't remember why".

In some cases it is quite jarring - the tomb represents tragedy and transition; to see a romantic tryst, a stirring oratory, or a tense political scene in the context of a mausoleum, cemetery, or graveyard is occasionally offputting and invariably warps the context and implications of the scene. The theatre-going patrons of the League troupes (and the fairground audiences of the guisers, and patrons of the mummers open-air shenanigans) tend to be nonplussed ... but broadly positive. The plays are still good after all. Just occasionally a little .. odd. Scholars of dramaturgy however are a little less sanguine. In a mystical context, the Tomb represents curses; condemnation; conclusions; oaths and promises; weakness, fear, and poison after all.

As the Winter Solstice draws near, however, the hints at something significant occurring finally resolve themselves as information about the peculiar events at the Imperial regio begins to filter out to the magicians of the Empire. And shortly after that, the first heralds begin to appear.

Significance

There is a second regio at Anvil. This is a new magical aura, strongly aligned to Winter magic. Those who spend more than a few minutes in its presence find themselves subject to disquieting thoughts. More importantly, the regio appears to open into a hitherto unknown chamber, close to the realm of Winter itself. Finally, this new regio does not appear to have been cut from whole cloth - which has some unsettling implications for the Imperial regio.

Power of Winter

The new regio is considered a strong Winter regio for purposes of performing rituals. It allows any magician who already possesses the knowledge of Winter lore to spend one more crystal mana than normal when performing a winter ritual. Perhaps more significantly, however, it does not have the same sympathy with the entire Empire that the Imperial regio does. As a consequence, it cannot be used to target rituals on other parts of the Empire.

OOC Explanation

This strong winter regio allows the performance of rituals such as Whispers_through_the_Black_Gate, but it will not allow rituals to target territories other than Casinea.

Any draughir character can sense the presence of the winter regio once they are in Anvil by concentrating for a few moments; any such player can ask a referee for its location. A draughir may do so before time-in if they wish, but are asked to refrain from discussing the location of the regio out-of-character.

Any character can confirm if they are in presence of the new regio by performing the detect magic spell with the assistance of a referee.

Strange Thoughts

Anyone who spends more than a few minutes at the new Winter regio finds their thoughts being influenced by it. Those of the draughir lineage are most strongly affected, finding all of their usual instincts and tendencies greatly enhanced. Any orc, or human without lineage who interacts with the regio will find themselves picking up mild draughir characteristics - becoming emotionally cold; experiencing a strong affinity for their friends and allies and antipathy for strangers; becoming calculating with a reduced sense of ethics and morality; and never being entirely satisfied with any plan. Those of the naga, cambion,briar, changeling, or merrow lineages may feel a vague sense of one of these traits, but it is extremely mild. In all cases the roleplaying effect fades after five minutes of being away from the new regio.

Threshold of Winter

Beginning at 4pm on the Saturday of the Winter Solstice, any magician can use the operate portal spell to open the portal at the heart of the regio, allowing them to travel to the "winter chamber" that lies in some indefinable way "nearby". This does not follow the same as the portal from the Imperial regio - performing operate portal allows one to enter the chamber, but must be repeated each time one wishes to enter, and repeated again to allow one to leave. In each case the magician will need to expend one personal mana - again, this is not the portal to the Hall of the Worlds but an entirely separate portal that operates using the standard rules for portals.

The portal closes permanently at midnight on the same day.

The portal is in all ways a normal regio portal - it may be tricked with a Pauper's Key or The Ambassadorial Gatekeeper; it may be sealed temporarily at either end by Pakaanan's Iron Shutters; and so on.

A Sense of Loss

The Imperial regio has been impacted significantly by the presence of this additional regio. Analysis of the regio has indicated that until Sunday morning of the Winter solstice, the Imperial regio effectively has no winter component. It does not count as a powerful Winter regio; it does not empower the performance of Winter magic; and it will not allow Winter rituals to target other Imperial territories.

At sunrise on Sunday morning, the Imperial regio should return to normal. Probably.

The Heralds of Winter

This is not a natural phenomenon. For seven days leading up to the event, hooded creatures identifying themselves as messengers of the winter eternal Tharim have been seeking out Winter covens and powerful practitioners of Winter magic and delivering public declarations, reading from scrolls inscribed onto pale leather. The content of the declarations is the same in each case:

Scions of Atun and Atuman; the royal houses of the Dawn; the tribes of Kallavesi and Suaq; the heirs of Aldrei the Fair; the scions of Terrunel; the masters of the High Peaks; the Princes of Jarm; the descendants of the Sorcerer-Kings; the tribes of the Dragon; and the sons and daughters of Naguerro. Hear the words of the King Bound in Chains.

I have created a regio that will allow travel to a Winter Chamber from the fourth hour of the afternoon on the Winter Solstice until midnight of that day. Let magicians who are skilled practitioners of winter lore come to that chamber to speak with the sovereign-lords of the Wasteland.

Let it be known that this chamber is neutral territory between your nations and any others who may come before us as ambassadors of their people; any violence or theft against another guest will see that nation earn the ire of all the sovereign-lords of the Wasteland. Do not test our will; we are united in this regard. So swears Tharim, Skathe and Surut, Rangara and Kaela, Agramant and Sorin.

During this time we will accept tribute from your people in the form of Dragonbone. Each of us has prepared boons. We will magnanimously grant these boons to you in return for your tribute. Whichever among you gives the greatest amount of dragonbone for each of the boons we have prepared shall gain sole custody of that boon.

I trust that each of the nations we have invited will decide who will be giving tribute for their nation. let none who does not rightfully claim to belong to that nation offer tribute to us lest they incur the wrath of their ancestors.

So is my word given

Tharim, the King Bound in Chains

Many of the "nations" described no longer exist - have not since the formation of Empire. There are some interesting exceptions - and also some significant questions, especially around exactly who Tharim and the other "sovereign-lords of the Wasteland" are treating as scions of Atun and Atuman, and who they think the "heirs of Alderei the Fair" might be.

Regardless, there appears to be a significant magical event taking place and it appears that Imperial magicians - or at least some of them - have been offered front-row seats.

Resolution

Shortly before the Spring Equinox 380YE, heralds of Tharim again visited the Empire to reveal who had gained the favour of the winter eternals. Details of this event are listed here.