Winters were rarely predictable in Lustri. Some years, they were mild enough that when Spring came it was barely noticeable. Other years, when the snow clouds gathered fatly around the mountain peaks and the cold winds blew out of the east, the roads became treacherous. It was easy for outsiders to forget that the forests lay on the edge of the Empire. It had been a long time since the Druj threatened Zenith, after all.

Isolation has its uses of course. Papiria stood on the balcony outside her office, staring down at the trees below. Distance grants safety, she mused; both for her charges and for the Empire. But winters like this with so few new visitors could be hard. Heliopticon messages were adequate, but there was little comfort in them. They carried words but the light lacked anything physical, anything tactile, anything to touch, to hold, to smell.

Lazy snowflakes drifted in the still evening air, settled on her scales and reminded her of that time, years before when she had come to this white marble edifice hidden away within the wooded peaks of Zenith. It had been the beginning of a bad month, she remembered. She had heard the first gibbering scream almost as soon as she crossed the threshold of the spire. When the stars moved in certain ways, they caused difficult days and the spire felt so very cramped.

The atmosphere ebbed and flowed of course. More effort had been made to give the patients more space from each other; even those who weren't Urizeni appeared to appreciate that. Expanding the spire had been costly and difficult, but there had been plenty of people prepared to donate time, money, and materials. Anything to ensure they did not have to deal with the broken magicians. Each patient now had their own lodgings and could where necessary be treated separately from their peers. She had also insisted that extra attention be paid to the acoustics, to try and stop the patients from having to endure each others cries when the wanderer was particularly immanent. She knew the other naga, both among the staff and the patients, especially appreciated that.

The snow began to become heavier. She back stepped inside, her Naga eyes adjusting quickly to the interior gloom. The office was neat but comfortable, restful pastel shades and beautiful dark woods. Everything was as it should be. her eyes rested on a pile of decrypted heliopticon messages on her desk and she frowned slightly. They had not been there when she stepped out. She suppressed a pang of irritation at the idea that someone had been in her sanctum without her knowing.

She sat down to read the latest message come down from the tower, mildly irritated by the fussy, precise, angular handwriting of her secretary. How many years looking at that same, passionless scrawl? Her eyes wandered. She sighed in the heavy silence. She tried to force herself to concentrate on the tedious message.

“While our researches have proved promising, two of our scholars have unfortunately suffered an unfortunate accident. Our own physicks are at a loss, but believe they would benefit greatly from the expertise offered by you and your sodales. As such we have secured suitable guides and dispatched them to your spire. We entrust them with your care. They should arrive tomorrow if their journey has not been interrupted."

She almost growled, throwing the letter onto a pile of similar correspondence. The arbiter had obviously waited until the very last moment to send the heliopticon message - ensuring there was no change that she could try and dissuade them from sending her more patients. Two from Ankra last week, three from Caeli the week before, now another two from Peregro. Where were they all coming from? Had the mages of Urizen suddenly stopped to care about arete? She noted that the nature of the "accident" was unclear but assumed it was unsupervised astronomantic experimentation. As usual.

There was a quiet knock, and the door to her sanctum opened. Her secretary stood primly in the door. He had another neatly folded heliopticon message in his webbed hand. He waited for her to indicate he should enter, and glided across the soft carpeted floor to her desk.

"Another admission." He said. his voice was quiet, a little breathy. It irritated Papiria.

“We're just not prepared for this! Why is this all happening at once - I've run this institute for years and we've never had a problem like this, not even during the Grand Conjunction. Someone is doing this to make me look bad. Just how do they expect us to cope with these numbers? We are not a bottomless chasm into which they can throw so many people!”

She stood up explosively and stalked to the window. The panes of glass reflected the disapproving expression of her secretary fivefold. His thin lips were almost invisible, his black inscrutable eyes like bottomless chasms of their own. When would he try and take her position at the Spire? He was obviously ambitious. When he thought she could not see him he barely bothered to conceal his hunger.

Staring out into the early night, she centred herself, regaining her poise with effort.

“So two more arriving tomorrow, and another ... a day after? Two? We will need to double someone up until we can work out something more permanent. They will need assessed, and we will need to find someone compatible for each of them. I want Sentinels stationed on the open wards, just to be on the safe side. If we must use restraints, we must use restraints. Have von Holberg and Tivia started eating yet?"

She looked back at him and he shook his head.

"No, and now Issi has stopped eating as well. The connection is obvious. All three damaged by tulpa of the Phoenix. There is a message on your desk about the observations of the constellation."

There was no open disapproval in his voice, but she could hear it anyway. "If you had read your messages," it seemed to say "you would know this."

"Continue to force-feed them, then, we have no other choices. Move Issi to the west tower with the other two. I hate to have the three of them in the same place but it will make tending to them easier. Paragons know we are stretched enough as it is."

She sighed, her breath fogging the windowpane for a moment.

"If this carries on we shall have to stop admissions. We're running out of space, never mind staff.” At this rate, she might have to do the unthinkable and speak to someone from Halcyon Spire. She sighed again, wondering how she could avoid looking like a failure, damaging the reputation of the entire Spire of Twisting Shadows.

Her secretary placed the most recent heliopticon message on the pile on her desk, pausing to carefully straighten the pages so they were in line with the edges of the desk. Then he left, his slippered feet on the carpet creating a shuff-shuff-shuff noise that made Papiria want to scream. Like chewing wool. She knew nobody else would even notice the insolence in the noise, but to her it sounded like an open challenge.

She looked at the paperwork on her desk, each missive an accusation of failure and inadequacy. She reached a decision, grabbed a fur-lined cloak, and slipped out onto the battlements. Perhaps a relaxing walk in the fresh night air would help clear her head. The work would still be there when she returned.

Overhead, dimly, the Wanderer drifted quietly through the starry sky.

Overview

Something is a little awry in the night sky over the Empire. Most obvious is that there is something happening in the astronomantic constellation of the Phoenix. While it is one of the most easily recognisable arrangements of stars in the night sky, scholars all across the Empire have reported a growing uncertainty as to precisely which stars make up its form, and whether there are nine, ten, or eleven of them. When actually looking at it, the answer is clear ... but the more time elapses from actually seeing it, the more they begin to doubt. This phenomenon has not been encountered before. A few letters have been sent to noted astronomancers in other nations to see if this is a wide-spread situation or something peculiar to the Empire, but no reliable responses have yet been received.

At the same time, astronomancers from several observatories in Urizen, Varushka, and the Brass Coast have reported seeing a new star in the sky. It is too small to be seen with the naked eye - a tiny speck of light that seems to follow the Wanderer on its whimsical peregrinations across the heavens. There is a great deal of disagreement over what to call it - suggestions include "the Pilgrim", "the Traveler", and "the little bit of grit on the lens". Despite initial scepticism, it certainly appears to be there although what it portends (if anything) is difficult to say.

At the same time, houses of healing across the Empire are reporting a small but noticeable increase in the number of people who require treatment for psychological ailments. From the dark woods of Varushka come reports of a capering volhov howling at the sky after a chance encounter on the road at night. In the well-tended rose gardens of Dawn, a cabal of weavers report finding one of their own cackling to their plants and whispering stories to the leaves. Stridings on the trods to the north report meeting a lone blood-drenched vate hanging hideous icons on the path as warnings to ward away danger. No part of the Empire is untouched by this outbreak of mania - indeed, ship captains returning from far off lands report that the Empire is not unique in experiencing this unsettling phenomenon.

Significance

The Phoenix

The constellation of the Phoenix appears almost to be waning. It is becoming increasingly difficult to use the Phoenix in ritual magic - while it still performs its function, ans the law "things learn" is still powerful and apparent, it requires a little extra effort to evoke the power of this constellation. Anyone who feels a strong attachment to, or identification with, this constellation will find themselves prone to periods of listlessness and uncharacteristic introspection. How you wish to roleplay these elements is entirely up to you.

The New Star

The new star is not visible to the naked eye, but anyone with an astronomantic background is free to roleplay that they have seen it themselves - a tiny spark of red light that clearly follows in the wake of the Wanderer.

Despite a few convenient titles, the star itself does not have a name. The Imperial Conclave might choose to formally name it with a Declaration of Concord.

The new star is tiny, and the telescopes the Empire has brought to bear on it are unable to make out much more than its presence. They cannot even be sure that it is red - its proximity to the Wanderer may simply mean that perceptions are being tinged by the light of that crimson eye. As with all other stars, the new star is outside the reach of mortal magic - it cannot be scried upon, and it cannot be directly effected with known ritual magic.

A group of respected scholars from the Observatory of the Blazing Mirror in Iteri, however, are confident that they could construct a device to allow them to get a closer look at the star. While the observatory is an Urizen spire, it has good relations with astronomancers and starwatchers in several parts of the Empire; their artisans are confident that if the Conclave were to provide them with 75 weltsilver and 10 crowns they would be able to complete the device by the Spring Equinox. provided the materials are available, a Declaration of Endowment could be used in the Conclave to instruct the civil service to transfer the materials to the spire. Alternatively, an individual might use a method such as Call Winged Messenger to send the materials directly to Arbiter Horace, Observatory of the Blazing Mirror, Iteri, Zenith. Arbiter Horace also indicated that an emissary or delegation from the observatory will be visiting Anvil, assuming they are able to find a suitable volunteer among their ranks.

Needless to say the benefactor who supplies the materials, either directly or by raising a declaration, is certain to be added to the guest list for the grand unveiling. If they are successful, their intention is to invite the archmages, the grandmasters, and several other guests to a grand unveiling during the Equinox. They are confident that an event of such fateful magnitude will guarantee a conjunction on the Sentinel Gate - after all, is that potent device not crowned with an image of the Wanderer?

Unsettled Nights

If your character suffers from any sort of mental or emotional ailment, they may choose to have that condition intensify during the coming event. Any lineaged character may also wish to review the section on the wiki regarding roleplaying their lineage, with particular regard to the final bullet point on "descent into madness".

If you do choose to explore this opportunity, however, you should remain mindful of Profound Decisions' rules on equality and diversity.