Still grumbling she picked the basket back up and carried on towards the grove, balancing it expertly on her hip as she unlatched the gate one-handed and shut it carefully behind her.
The trees were just beginning to come into their true Spring glory - healthy green leaves unfurling and heavy buds that promised fine blossoms in summer and then fine juicy apples afterward. She was not here for apples, though. Today she was here to check the cocoons. If she had judged right, the first grubs should have finally completed their long transformative sleep and be spreading their wings, leaving their beautifully woven sleeping blankets for the first time.
Sure enough, hanging from the underside of the lowest branch on the tree, a nine-inch long cocoon that looked a little like a withered leaf. She put the basket at the bottom of the ladder, and carefully climbed up until she was level with her prize. She hooked one arm around and leaned out with her pruning shears ready. The fibrous strands that attached the cocoons to the trees were often quite tough and she was taking no chances.
There was something odd about the cocoon now she came to see it a little closer up. It seemed to sparkle slightly in the dim pre-dawn light, as if dusted with brown sugar or chocolate-coloured glitter. A slight coil of worry unfurled in her stomach. Could this be the blight she'd hear about? By all accounts the disease had ravaged the iridescent butterflies in Faraden, ruining those whose livelihood relied on the vibrant dyes made from the silken cocoons the grubs wove. She'd heard that the Empire was protected from it thanks to the Archmage of Night, but she'd learned long ago not to put too much faith in rumours...
Not worth worrying about right now. She'd be able to check the thing more thoroughly when they were both on the ground. Double checking she had placed the basket correctly she snipped the frond and let the cocoon tumble into the basket below.
There was a loud cracking detonation that set birds squawking into the air from all directions. Splinters of wicker flew, and bits of something sharp and fast moving peppered the roots around the base of the tree. The burst was not powerful enough to shake the ladder - Tamsin did that herself in her shock. Luckily it was secured to the tree, otherwise she might have toppled over as she jerked away from the sound instinctively. As it was she dropped the shears and nearly lost her grip. With a grim comedic timing her breeches fell down round her knees, complicating her position even more. She fought to keep her dignity and maintain her balance, and had to abandon the one to secure the other.
No further detonations forthcoming, she carefully descended the ladder and recovered her composure.
Gingerly she approached the basket and carefully, tentatively, examined the area around it.
The cocoon had exploded alright. ruptured violently when it hit the basket. She picked up one of the brownish-red shards gingerly, wrapping her hand in the front of her shirt first to be on the safe side. It glinted in the dawnlight like a dirty icicle, with deep mocha and cinnamon flaws coiling around inside the crystal. If she did not know better...
... she collected a few more shards and then with even more caution ready to leap back at any moment, propped the remains of the cocoon. It was hard to the touch, the fibrous material that formed the exterior ruptured and torn open to reveal... yes. A shard of tempest jade. Dark red-brown, unpolished, tempest jade.That was most definitely not what she was expecting to find. But she was a practical woman. She cast around for a minute or two to find her shears - she had dropped them in the excitement - and with a resolute expression moved to the next tree she had marked with a cocoon hanging from it. This one was oozing a thick yellow gunk, like glutinous honey, and she had a sneaking suspicion that like its companion it would prove to be something very different to the iridescent gloaming she had expected to harvest when she got out of bed this morning.
Over the last six months or so, something has clearly been happening with the eternal known as Murit and Soghter. From harvesting corpses in the Mournwold, to the sealing of regio and the disappearance of heralds. Whatever has been going on, however, it seems to have finished - or at least begun to progress in a different direction.
As near as anyone can tell, Murit and Soghter have ceased to exist as distinct entities and a new eternal of the Night realm has arisen in their place.
The Blossoms of Multiplication
Over the last month or so something odd has been happening to mines and forests across the Empire. A liberated orc in Skarsind strikes what she takes to be a vein of fine copper and thick, glutinous ambergelt gushes out. A cowled Varushkan tending a grove of beggarwood trees finds peculiar glistening fruit growing where not fruit should be; beneath the tough rind lie spheres of unrefined weltsilver. A tired Marcher dragging a cart of ore from the Green Iron mines beneath Whittle Hill is startled by a great cloud of multicoloured insects that pour up into the late evening sky leaving behind fibrous cocoons. A Navarri gathering dragonbone from beneath the trees in Miaren discovers that the soft clay has crystalised into crimson tempest jade.
Until the start of the Summer Solstice, every mine and forest in the Empire effectively loses 6 ingots or measures of production. Instead, it produces 6 measures or ingots of random materials. Rituals intended to improve the production of a mine or forest will still work as normal, as will spending money to increase the amount of material produced.
As near as anyone can tell, while the effect is magical in nature it is neither a curse nor an enchantment. The closest magical scholars can judge, it is similar to the result of the conjunctions of the stars that sometimes effect the tides of magic across the Empire.
Pushing the Wheel
During the next event, the Empire could make this effect even more pronounced. If either Wondrous Forests of the Night or Bright Eyes Gleam in the Depths are laid across the Empire the effect will be doubled - and random - but only for one type of resource. If Wondrous Forests is cast each forest will produce four extra random ingots of mine materials. It Bright Eyes is cast, each mine will produce four extra random measures of forest materials.
As with any enchantment that targets the entire Empire, there may be additional unexpected results if one of these enchantments is used.
The Wheel Turns
During the Spring Equinox the two rituals The Eight-spoked Wheel and The Retrograde Wheel will be slightly more effective. Under normal circumstances, these rituals target three ingots or measures. During the Equinox, the rituals can be used to effect five ingots or materials instead. All other elements - including the use of a Mask of Gold and Lead - remain the same.
Gone but not forgotten
- Murit and Soghter have disappeared.
For the last nine months or so the only heralds of the two eternals anyone has seen are Centimani, herald of Soghter, and Alkahest herald of Murit, and they seem to be appearing only on the field at Anvil. Now they appear to have disappeared as well. Indeed, all the signs indicate that the two eternals themselves are no more.
Regio associated with the two eternals have been sealed; now the magic that infuses these places has returned but in many cases it has subtly changed. A quiet glade of night-blooming flowers in Semmerholm now causes anyone who sleeps there to experience incredibly vivid dreams of living wildly different lives. A grove of beggarwood trees in Kallavesa where mystics once met with heralds of Murit to discuss the secret properties of herbs comes alive at night with drifting balls of iridescent light that whisper in a dozen unknown tongues to anyone who comes near.
OOC Note: As with the Autumn Equinox, the Archmage of Night cannot use their plenipotentiary power to contact either Soghter or Murit. Any rituals, special abilities, or magic items that would allow communication with either of these eternals will simply not function - no mana or uses are expended, there is simply no effect.
The Alchemical Laboratory
In Winter 380YE, The Imperial Senate constructed alchemical workshop in Holtford, Miaren. The peculiar tower of white granite was apparently dedicated to the eternal Murit that functions as an workshop for studying "the transformation of base matter". A week before the Spring Equinox, the entire structure undergoes a sudden and marked transformation. Collapsing in on itself, over the course of a few minutes the tower simply disappears leaving behind only a circular pool of painfully cold water. The water appears entirely mundane, but anyone who looks at their reflection in the pool sees themselves as they might have been had they made different choices at some point in their lives. At night, the night skies reflected in the pool bear no relationship to the actual stars in the skies above them.
According to locals, a peculiar creature frequents the pool, emerging from its depths on nights of the half moon to speak to scholars of night magic who visit the area.
Meeting the new master
- A new eternal has appeared
The eternal Azoth claims to be the alchemical recreation of Murit and Soghter. A week before the Spring Equinox it sent a single herald to the field at Anvil, a pale skinned orc-like figure draped in multicoloured cloth. The message the herald delivered was couched in metaphor and enigma. Azoth has arisen from the crucible. It has been born from the essence of those who went before it, unifying their principles through the power of alchemy to create a new expression of the endless cycle of the universe. It is grateful to the magicians who helped to turn the wheel of transformation through their desires - both Imperial and otherwise. The lotus opens, and it will bring change, but there is no need for fear.
The herald explains that Azoth is busy ordering its new realm, and completing the sublimation of its remaining spirits. It will send those spirits to Anvil during the Summer Solstice to return what was given, and to offer friendship to the mortals who attended upon its alembic.
It is anyone's guess what all this means.
Distill the Serpent's Stone
- The properties of Distill the Serpent's Stone have permanently changed.
For the last six months the ritual Distill the Serpent's Stone has been producing shadow eggs instead. This change to the ritual appears to be permanent - but it appears that the ritual has also become slightly easier to perform. It now no longer requiring ingots and measures of special materials, "only" a ring of ilium.
Matt black in colouration, the oval stone is easily broken open in bare hands. Anyone who does so immediately gains a temporary boost to their Realm lore skill of 6 effective ranks for purposes of performing a single ritual, provided they already possess at least one innate skill rank of that Lore. These additional ranks do not grant any additional mastered rituals, and a character's total effective rank can never be more than three times their innate skill (the number of ranks of the appropriate Realm Lore they have gained by spending experience points).
At the same time, these shadow eggs appear to have no effect on poisons or curses, and do not allow materials to be transformed. Serpent's stones that have already been distilled keep all their old powers and can be used freely - they do not seem to have undergone any change at all.
It has also become clear that this ritual is directly connected to the new eternal, Azoth. What this implies about its original properties - whether it was directly drawing on the power of Murit or Soghter or both - is a matter for speculation.