Handful of magic
"And what else?" he asked.
"Another, similar storm rages on the coast of ..." his apprentice double-checked his notes. "Madruga? No! Feroz. It's one of the coastal ones in the ..."
"I know where Feroz is," said the Golden Magician mildly. His apprentice fell silent, looking stricken, Meraud ignored him and made another gesture. Another tiny tempest snapped into existence on the other side of the Bay of Catazar. He crouched down, bringing his head down to the level of the table, and watched the little maelstrom churn for several moments with a pleased smile.
Then he stood up and grabbed a tall, thin glass of iced apple cordial from the tray that floated effortlessly in the air nearby. With another absent gesture he sent the unseen servant away to fetch another pitcher.
"Now we have two of That Damn Woman's fortresses in Kahraman, I see. And one in Spiral. Were there any others?"
"No, master. Not as far as we are aware. Not even one of the twisted mazes in the marshes."
Meraud nodded several times, studying the panoramic view spread out before him. The table was nearly a dozen feet across, beautifully sculpted to mirror the territories, rivers, mountains, forests, and cities of the Empire. Yet rather than mundane stone or water, each feature was picked out in precious materials, some of them unknown in the mortal realm. Here and there, tiny phenomena were picked out in the form of clouds, diamond towers, tiny marching golden soldiers ... here and there entire sections of the map were covered with undulating black shadows, scattered with tiny moving stars. The air above the table was alive with magic.
The Lord of Summer Stars absently trailed his fingers over the Bay of Catazar, then made a face as they came away sticky with liquid quicksilver.
"And we're sure this thing is still there?" he asked, not looking at his apprentice. The golden-skinned youth nodded quickly.
"Yes master. Agamen went to make sure with his own eyes. The entire northern part of the bay is still mired in the stuff. The Empire appears to have little interest in removing it - its just possible that they made it themselves for some reason. It could be an attack on the Grendel, says Agamen."
Meraud had stopped listening. He moved round the table to where silver and jet mountains towered over great jade forests, each tree carved with exquisite skill by tiny hands.
"And this aura, it is certainly magic with the tang of Spring you say?" His hand hovered over the forests of central Varushka. Tiny green sparks danced and twirled around his delicate fingers. He took an absent sip of cordial.
"Yes, master. As is ..." The apprentice looked back to his notes. "The curse on the Barrens, both storms, and the healing waters in western Freeland, and eastern Urizen."
"The people call it the Brass Coast," chided Meraud. His apprentice looked confused.
"But they are called the Freeborn, so I just assumed ..."
"I understand it is a long story. You may want to go and read about it before you accidentally call it Freeland and outrage one of their hakima."
Meraud straightened up.
"Is that everything?"
"As far as we know, yes master. Only ... Lytemna has not returned yet. She sent word that she would be delayed with the deCasillon - apparently they have some fascinating guests she wants to get to know better. Should I have word sent to her to ..."
Meraud laughed, a sudden bark of amusement.
"By no means! If Lytemna fancies a dalliance with the Navarr, then it would be rude to interrupt her. That will be all, Cassa."
The apprentice tucked his scroll under his arm, and inclined his head while clasping his hands together, and withdrew. Meraud barely noticed. He continued to prowl around the table, peering at some drama only he could see. He finished his apple cordial, and placed the empty glass on the tray that had slipped up to his elbow in anticipation of his needs.
From somewhere among his robes, he withdrew a golden-skinned apple. He polished it on his sleeve for a moment, inspected it, and took a bite. As he ate, a broad smile spread across his face, causing his eyes to dance, and he began to chuckle."Well, that is an interesting development," he said to nobody in particular.
The Empire is nothing if not a magical place. Much of the magic is scaled to the personal, but some is outrageously potent and spills out across the world in a torrent.
Redoubt and Spiral in Urizen, and Segura in the Brass Coast all experience a particularly vibrant Spring. Powerful Spring magic resonates in the waters of these three territories. The waters are full of energy and life, and any wound that is not immediately fatal heals practically overnight.
Powerful magical storms batter the coast of Spiral in Urizen, and Feroz in the Brass Coast. For all their power, they do nothing to disrupt the magical fog - but they play havoc with local shipping. All fleets based in these two territories finds their ability to trade, privateer, or support a navy penalised by as much as a quarter.
More importantly, any navy beginning the season, ending the season, or passing through one of those territories during the season, will suffer some damage from the rough seas, fog-ghosts, and lashing tendrils and serpents of animated water. It is fortunate, no doubt, that The Freeborn Storm is still safely docked in the Atalaya shipyards in Madruga.
For a child to be born expressing the briar lineage is exceptionally rare. Last season, there were reports of eight such children all born in Upwold, most of them in the vicinity of Tower March. In the three months since the Winter Solstice, a further five children have been born with bark - over half the children born in the area over the last season.
At first it appeared that the phenomenon was limited to Tower March, but shortly after the Winter Solstice the first of these eerie briar children is reported in Mieriada in distant Miekarova. The children are supernaturally healthy, but almost all of them are marked with vivid emerald eyes - and with supple patches of bark, of course.
Any character from Tower March or Mieriada who is roleplaying that they have had a child in the last season is welcome to roleplay that their offspring is one of these briar children. The only thing odd about them is that they all appear to be high lineage briars at a time in their lives when it is extremely rare for anyone to manifest briar lineage. It is important to note that these babies are ageing at the normal rate, and are not appropriate character concepts for anyone older than three months (for Varushkans) or six months (for Marchers).
Fog on the Brine
The eerie, glowing fog that appeared from nowhere last Autumn still clings to the shores of the northern Bay of Catazar. Imperial magicians still have no idea exactly what it is or what it does. All they know is that it is an effect of the Night realm, of thirtieth magnitude, which conceals information - including information about its own nature and properties. Magicians still agree that the effect could be examined with a suitably powerful performance of a ritual such as The Eye of the High Places, targeting one of the affected territories, but bypassing a potent shroud of this magnitude is no simple matter.
Veils of Night
The skies above Madruga, Zenith, and Tassato continue to appear strange. During the day the effect is barely noticeable, although during a rainstorm in Tassato residents were charmed by the appearance of not one but seven rainbows that lasted for several minutes and included several colours not normally seen in this sort of phenomenon.
The effect is much more obvious at night however - the skies over the three territories are transformed. The changes are sometimes subtle - stars in the wrong place, or the moon in the wrong phase. On other nights - especially in Madruga - the sky appears entirely unnatural. On one particularly strange night the Freeborn were greeted by a moon that was clearly absent because it had been destroyed - leaving in its place a conglomeration of drifting rocks. Other odd phenomena have included a night when the moon was surrounded by a dramatic green ring of light; a night when the northern half of the sky was entirely empty of stars; a night when half the stars gr bright and then faded from existence on an hourly cycle; and an occasion when all the familiar stars vanished entirely except the nine stars of the Fountain - although in this case those nine stars appeared to have become a virulent emerald in hue that lasted until morning.
Magicians agree that this is caused by Drawing the Penumbral Veil. The shroud over Madruga is the most powerful, its magnitude in the high forties. The shroud on Zenith is also quite potent, in the low thirties, while the shroud over Tassato is the least potent - but still impressive. Any attempts to divine information about or scry these territories must overcome the potence of the shroud or reveal nothing.
The Crumbling Fountain
As the final preparations are being made to travel to Anvil for the Spring Equinox, the inhabitants of the Court of the White Fountain in Redoubt notice the first signs that something is wrong. Built in the foothills of Optarion, the Court is a single massive tower of white granite surrounded by a massive semi-circular wall. It completely fills one of the few major passes between Redoubt and the Broken Shore. The great courtyards of the tower are sufficient to hold the entire armed forces of Urizen, and the open ground they represent creates a deadly killing field for the skilled Urizen archers who man the upper reaches of the tower and the walls.
The White Fountain for which it is named is a great plume of liquid fire that bursts from somewhere deep within the earth and cascades down into a black basin before the tower, before disappearing back beneath the ground ... and this plume of fire appears to be weakening. It has lost perhaps as much as a quarter of its height over the last three months. At the same time, the white granite stone of the tower itself and the encircling wall is beginning inexplicably to crumble.
The magicians who live in and protect the tower are at their wit's ends. At first, there is concern that the Spring magic that blankets the mountainous territory might be to blame, then that it was some side-effect of the eerie conjunction, but with further investigation it is discovered that the tower is under the influence of a powerful curse with the bleak flavour of the Winter realm with a magnitude in the vicinity of one hundred.
The fortification has already endured significant damage, but hopefully the worst has passed.
These large-scale magical effects are perceptible to everyone in the territory, and stories spread across the Empire. In each case, it might be possible to learn more through the use of divinatory magic such as The Eye of the High Places or possibly Dreams in the Witch House - although in the case of some of them, the magic will need to be powerful enough to overcome their shrouding effects if any significant information is to be gleaned.