Forests of the night
He held out a finger, and one of the moths alighted on it for a moment, cleaning its antennae. He studied it minutely, his golden eyes reflecting the gentle effulgence of its wings. After a moment, it took fight again leaving a thin layer of alabaster dust where it had lain. He sniffed the residue, licked it with a long slow lick from his impressively large tongue, and let out another happy grunt.
He was about to return to his observation of the images unfolding in the depths of the midnight pool when he suddenly cocked his head, his large ears twitching this way and that. He closed one eye and sniffed the air loudly. He was no longer alone - always a risk when visiting a Place like this (he capitalised it in his head, and part of him chuckled at the pompousness of it all). He didn't like it.
"I know you're there," he said without turning, his voice cold.
There was a rush of fluttering, like a thousand wings beating, but somehow in reverse, and a rush of movement, and then a second figure was standing on the other side of the pool. It was tall as he was squat, thin as he was fat, clad in a gown of rainbow feathers where he was naked. As androgynous and beautiful and ethereal as he was .. homely. Their eyes shimmered, pools of colour, and he was careful not to look into them. His lips twisted, almost in a snarl. He did not appreciate the interruption, and he did not want company. Particularly not from one of them. From a rival.
"I expected to meet someone here," said the newcomer in a quiet voice.
"Of course you did," grunted the fat man, grabbing his rod and rising as he did so. "Are you here for the pool or ... are you here for something else?"
The slender figure inclined its head, then looked down into the water, ignoring him. He tried to stop his hackles rising.
"How long has it been?" the intruder asked, gesturing smoothly but vaguely with a grace that set his teeth on edge.
In the depths of the pool, shapes flickered and danced. A succession of images, one fading into another, splitting and reforming in a relentless cavalcade. Here a forest, haunted by dancing lights; there a scaled actor declaiming his passionate speech before a rapturous crowd, gone and replaced with an image of a bloodied captain exhorting her soldiers to stand firm against the foe; now a bedchamber where an old, old man slumbered dreaming of moths and tigers.
The fat man raised his impressive eyebrows. "In the Empire? It's not a mystery or a secret is it?" he said, a little smug. He knew how long it had been down to the hour, but he was not interested in sharing that knowledge with this creature. "How long has it been since you last bothered me?"
"Long enough that there will be unexpected outcomes," said the newcomer, disregarding his second question. "Especially if anyone has been particularly meddlesome."
"Again, not a secret or a mystery, and so hardly worth discussing." He pretended to ignore the feathered guest, looking back to the pool, but he could not hide his irritation.
"It has attracted attention of course, and something has happened that is a mystery, and a secret. I am surprised you are unaware."
He growled, low in his throat, and made himself a little larger. "Oh is that why you've interrupted me then? To be smug? Honestly, I can get that at home whenever I want."
The feathered figure did not respond, but he could see its lips quirked into a smile. So very, very irritating.
"Look closely, you can see the echoes of the future rippling back along the river, shaping the events that are their cause before they happen."
He flared his nostrils, and tried very hard indeed not to snarl. He tightened his grip on his implement. Then something caught his eye. He crouched again, touching the surface of the water.
"Oh." he said to nobody in particular. "Oh that's ... unexpected."
"The wheel turns," said the figure opposite. "The river flows, and the time for things that were cleft to cleave together has come round again. Another opportunity to study an enigma, one more important than any magical ritual."
His face lost all expression, and he looked up, meeting their eyes for the first time. His own were black as the pool, as the night above, and through clenched jaws he spoke very slowly, very clearly.
"No." he said with finality. "Nothing - nothing - is more important than this magical ritual. Don't insult me unless you're prepared to deal with ... just don't insult me."
There was a sudden unfolding, and stretching, and he was gone back among the trees without a single backward glance.The newcomer's expression did not change. With the uncouth creature gone, it was able to focus its full attention on the images unfolding in the midnight pool. Perhaps a smile played across its lips as it rested its head on its hand and gazed unblinking into the depths.
During the Winter Solstice, the Coven of Umbral Reflection and the Spire of the Auric Horizon combined their powers to weave the powerful enchantment known as the Wondrous Forests of the Night. Working with consummate magical skill, the Urizen magicians laid a delicate network of mystery and imagination across the entire Empire.
This is the third enchantment of masterful Night magic to be laid on the Empire in as many months - the stars are still hidden in much of the Empire, and the inspiring aura raised in Winter had barely faded as the first strands of this impressive magic were being woven. It also follows a similarly powerful work of Spring magic worked by the Sherard Hunters of Wintermark a little less than a year ago.
The primary effect of the ritual is to grant additional production to every forest in the Empire - and the effect has "washed over" into several territories not technically part of the Empire at this time (Mournwold and Liathaven have also been affected). Much like Verdant Bounty of the Twilight Bayou, the effect is not so much to effect the forests themselves as it is to grant mysterious insight to the people who work in those forests. Across the Empire, those forests where ambergelt, dragonbone, beggar's lye, and especially iridescent gloaming are gathered are haunted by floating, shimmering globes of purple, green, and pale blue light. They weave between the trees, and lead workers to fine quality material that might otherwise have been overlooked.
The magic also serves to temporarily empower weak Night regio across the Empire, and encouraging the heralds of Night eternals to become more active. Stories propagate across the Empire of encounters with magical creatures from the Night realm - and not only heralds. Such tales include tales of a minor boggart infestation of a barn in the Marches that is dealt with by local children; a rippling shadow wandering the trods in Miaren that steals romantic memories from anyone who cannot answer its riddles; a faceless ebony knight in armour of woven darkness offering a night of hospitality to knights of Semmerholm; and three enigmatic black crows haunting trees in northern Morrow who offer peculiar auguries to anyone who brings them offerings of white stones and perfumed smoke.
Indeed, the eternals of Night themselves have become increasingly active in areas where this enchantment is in effect, demonstrating increased interest in the doings of Imperial citizens. The agents of Sung, Murit, Janon, Sadogua, Soghter, Lashonar, and Sung have all been noticeably active across the Empire, encouraging people whose interests align with their own. It is likely that some or all of these eternals will see the Spring Equinox as an opportunity to speak with powerful and influential Imperial citizens about matters of mutual concern - there are rumours that the Brother of Wizards, the Changer of the Ways, the Shaper, the Rainbow Serpent, and the Shadowed Fire are all intending to either offer audiences or send powerful representatives to treat with the people at Anvil.
Only the Whisper Gallery seem to be ignoring the effect of the powerful enchantment - although it is difficult to say for sure whether their influence is absent, or simply so well hidden that it has not come to general attention.
There is some discussion as to whether the Wondrous Forests will lead to more naga being born in the Empire. Opinions are divided. Naga generally appear entirely human when they are born, untouched by Night magic until they reach maturity. The ritual has not been performed that often in Imperial history, and it is impossible to judge what effect it will have on children born between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox.
There are several enchantments (such as Bright Eyes Gleam in the Depths and Hallow of the Green World) that work at such a level of power, but this is only the second one laid across the Empire since before the reign of Emperor Hugh. While it has not had the same dramatic effects as the earlier Hallow, it does seem to have drawn additional potency from the two recent large-scale workings - and perhaps from the so-called hidden conjunction which occurred during the Spring Equinox.
Every forest in the Empire has produced an additional bounty over the last three months. The bounty is determined by the nature of the forest (an ambergelt forest will have produced additional ambergelt, for example). In addition to the benefits experienced by player-characters, this is also likely to mean an increase in the amount of ambergelt, beggar's lye, dragonbone, and iridescent gloaming available on the public auction.
For the last three months, every inhabitant of the Empire has experienced especially vivid dreams of fantastical vistas, mysterious encounters, romance and adventure.
On comparing their dreams, many individuals of a sensitive nature (especially naga, and those who have a rank of Night realm lore) have found that they have had certain recurring motifs - specifically pale moths, both regular and of immense size; impossibly high mountains cloaked in mist; dark forests of impossibly tall, moss-covered, oaks; unearthly piping music of great beauty that causes mild unease; ancient and weathered statues of white granite, often with a serpentine aspect; pools of water that glow with the light of the full moon; domed beehive-like buildings of white stone; peculiar brown creatures similar to large rats or rabbits but with odd faces; and hooded figures in pale robes carrying lanterns.
While peculiar, these dreams are not especially threatening. Unless another effect takes precedence (such as Dreamscape of the Endless Hunt, Excommunication, or a Shackle of the Unvirtuous), anyone experiencing one of these vivid dreams awakens quite refreshed and ready to face whatever the day may bring and may choose to respond to any roleplaying effect that would cause them to feel tired with a burst of energetic enthusiasm that fades within an hour of breakfast.
Any character with the naga lineage may choose to take advantage of the powerful Night magic to strengthen the trappings of their lineage.
Over the last year or so, the naga of the Empire have experienced several odd effects due to their sensitivity to powerful Night magic. The Wondrous Forests is no exception, but in this case, the influence has been both more low-key and more profound. Any naga can choose to strengthen the influence of their natural naga instincts for the duration of the Winter Solstice. In particular, many naga find themselves feeling energised, passionate, and gripped with strong emotions - but at the same time they find it a little more difficult to consider the needs of anyone other than themselves. As with all roleplaying effects, it is possible to overcome this magical influence with a suitable strong will, the aid of a priest, or a carefully chosen magic item.
However, the subtle effect of this powerful magic appears to have had an even more profound effect on naga. Until the end of the Spring Equinox, every naga with the magician skill has their reserve of personal mana increased by one. This additional point can be recovered normally by rest, or the use of potions, or resting in an enchanted area such as a Chamber of Delights. It will stack with any other source of additional mana, and fade shortly after the end of the event.
On the other hand, any naga character who does not have the magician skill gains a different benefit; their naturally discerning senses become even more attuned to mysterious forces. Once each day for the duration of the Spring Equinox, such a character can spend thirty seconds of appropriate roleplaying that includes employing their discerning senses to employ one of the divination, discern enchantment, or identify magical item functions of the detect magic spell, exactly as if they were magicians! They may only do this if they are not wearing armour, however, and may not use this ability if they are weakened.
Every forest in the Empire is haunted by drifting, shimmering lights. They seem to be manifestations of Night magic. Such eerie phantasms are common to several Night rituals that deal with forests - yet these are significantly more potent than is usually the case. As the magic of the Wondrous Forests begins to fade, so too do these lights. Yet before they are extinguished entirely, they present an opportunity to capture their essence and infuse it in a limited way into the forests they haunt.
For the duration of the Spring Equinox, the ritual Verdant Bounty of the Twilight Bayou will have an unusual side effect; it will trap some of the essence of the Wondrous Forests ritual in the trees themselves, making the drifting lights a permanent fixture. In addition to its normal effect of increasing the production of the target forest, it will permanently trap some of the energy of Wondrous Forests in the trees, and the creatures that inhabit them, altering several of them on a profound level. This will permanently reduce the production of that forest by 2 measures of the basic material, but the forest will instead produce a single pawn of green-blue crystal fire every season.
There actually appears to be no way to prevent this happening - any use of Verdant Bounty will automatically cause the permanent change in the target forest. Enchantments placed on a forest that draw on a realm other than Night will not be altered in this way. An arcane projection that uses Night magic to enhance the production of a forest may be effected, and repeating the performance of Wondrous Forests of the Night during the Spring Equinox will force this change on every significant forest in the Empire.
Butterfly Reserve (Opportunity)
The significant boost in the number of iridescent gloaming butterflies also presents an opportunity to the Senate. By selecting carefully chosen cocoons, and breeding butterflies, and setting aside a carefully chosen area of woodland, an Iridescent Butterfly reserve could be commissioned. Such a reserve must be constructed in a region with the forest or marsh quality, and work must begin immediately following the Spring Equinox or the opportunity is lost.
An Iridescent Butterfly reserve would require 15 wains of weirwood, 30 crowns in labour costs, and take three months to build. The resulting sinecure would be a sinecure that would provide 20 iridescent gloaming each season to the character appointed to oversee it. The civil service advise that the well worn path to appoint such a sinecure would be through the Imperial Bourse, although given the circumstances surrounding the opportunity it could also be appointed by Declaration of Candidacy in the Imperial Conclave.