Pay in blood
"The great beast pursued them down the corridor, ichor dripping from its jaws, its terrible eyes filled with rage. The two ran for their lives, Mila at the front and her guide a heartbeat behind her... could they make it to freedom?!?"
Darko stopped his mock run and his story with it - ostensibly to draw breath. He looked around at the sea of young faces seated before him, wrapped in shadows discarded by the dying sun. The silence commanded their attention; every tongue was still, every eye was on him. It was time for the finale.
"With a great roar the beast leapt into the air and pounced on the lad. He was seized in those terrible jaws - and the monster shook him so violently that his neck snapped like kindling. Dead before he could utter a scream." There was a low moan of terror from the assembled children so the storyteller took the opportunity to remind everyone present that the same gruesome fate would await any one of them should they wander abroad at night.
"As soon as Mila saw what had happened, the clever Volhov stopped in her tracks. She cast her fear aside and turned to face the terrible creature. As she did so the Masquerade that had hidden the young lad's milk white skin and sharp teeth faded leaving his lineage plain for all to see. Demon Beast! - she cried - you swore an oath to protect the draughir of this vale. Now one lays slain by your own hand!"
Darko mimed the Volhov's motions as he raced to the end of his story. This was one of his best tales, but he didn't want to be on the road again before the bad weather passed, so he needed to make this good.
"The beast shook and screamed - but it knew in that moment that the sly Volhov had tricked it! The argument, the pursuit, the lad's death - all by clever Mila's design - to trick the creature into breaking its oath. As it screamed - it shook so violently that the fur flew from it - and then an instant later, it lay stone dead. Mila had defeated the terrible Skinchanger of Bogdan's Vale and saved the people."
He straightened up, letting the tension of his story fall from him. A moment later the kids were on their feet, clamouring round him, begging him for another story. "Tomorrow, tomorrow!" he cried laughing with honest joy. A hard rain had been falling all day - it would be a blessed relief to perform here for a few days.
Shortly after the Spring Equinox, magicians across the Empire begin to report problems performing ritual magic. It soon becomes apparent that it is only Spring rituals that are affected and only those that are attempted using a regio. Magicians in Urizen quickly identify that their Spring regios have lost their power entirely. Winged messengers fly back and forth across the Empire but this communion only confirms the worst. All the regios of the Empire have been affected - no Imperial magician is able to call on the power of the regio to power a Spring ritual.
Initially, magicians are at a loss to explain the phenomena. If this is some fell curse it is not revealed by the Wisdom of the Balanced Blade - indeed it seems impossible to discern with any form of magical divination. Eventually though, historians pouring over books of magic discover a description of a similar event from the reign of Empress Deanne. Apparently, during her reign, a formal parley between the Archmage of Winter and representatives of the eternal Wendigo (then under enmity for ... well the usual reasons) was disrupted by Highborn magisters. In the excitement, both representatives of the eternal were destroyed.
Within a week of their destruction, Imperial magicians found it impossible to access the power of Winter regio. The magicians of the time tried everything imaginable to resolve the problem - but there was simply nothing that could be done but endure the loss. Even those regio in foreign lands were closed to them... though they functioned as normal for others.
The catastrophic state persisted for a year before it finally abated. Eventually the power of the regio returned four seasons later as if nothing had happened. The research carried out at the time indicated that that this was the "terrible price" paid by the Empire for disrupting a formal parley. The reports say that the year was plagued by reports of a surge in activity by agents of the Howler in the Wastes although whether that was a result of the magical effect or just Wendigo causing trouble was never established with any certainty.
Citizens of the Empire have lost the ability to draw on the power of Spring regio. The regio are still there, as are the portals at their hearts which can be used freely, but Imperial citizens cannot access their power to work ritual magic.
This has two primary effects.
Firstly, no Imperial citizen can draw on the power of a regio to enhance their ability to perform Spring rituals. For purposes of performing Spring rituals, the Imperial regio at Anvil is considered to be a Spring regio.
Secondly, no Imperial citizen can use the Imperial regio to target a Spring ritual at an Imperial territory, nor use a regio in a territory to invoke Spring magic to affect the entire territory. This has a profound impact on the ability of Imperial magicians to use rituals such as Foam and Spittle of the Furious Sea, Forge the Wooden Fastness, Rivers of Life, Rivers Run Red, Thunderous Tread of the Trees, Mountain Remembers Its Youth, Thunderous Deluge, The Dance of Navarr and Thorn, and Hallow of the Green World. In effect, these rituals have become impossible to perform.
These disadvantages apply to Imperial magicians everywhere - even regio in conquered territories such as Liathaven are affected. However, they only apply to Imperial citizens - nothing will prevent a coven of Thule (for example) from using a Spring regio inside the borders of the Empire.
Furthermore, these disadvantages apply to any attempt to use a regio. For example, the ritual targeting ability of the Citadel Guard to focus a Spring ritual into a territory as if it were at a Spring regio there will not overcome this problem. Using a ritual such as Align the Celestial Net to transform a regio into a Spring regio will not work. Any object or magical effect that allows a ritual to be performed as if a coven were at a strong Spring regio will fail. And so forth.
How long this problem will persist is unknown at this time. It is likewise also unknown if there are any actions the Empire can take to reduce or remove the effect.