Sorrow and death
"I do not know what I can tell you, Arbiter Papiria. She is among neither the dead nor those confirmed fled. I worry for her, I really do."
Papiria narrowed her serpentine eyes in the gloom. She ground her teeth.
"How will this look, Healer Escius? Do you think it will look good?"
Escius seemed taken aback.
"I'm not sure I..." he started to say but she cut him off.
"My tenure here has been wracked with problems, and now a dozen patients have just vanished. People will talk. They will say I am not fit for my duty. They will challenge my authority. They will try to replace me. After all I have done for them! After all I have sacrificed."
She stepped closer to the startled healer. He backed away, nervous, looking around for some sign of help.
"Who put you up to this Escius!" Papiria hissed his name, stressing every sibilant. She had stopped blinking. "That smug, soulless merrow. You are in league with him. Admit it!"
Escius was frightened now. Papiria stepped forward again, and he stepped back again, and then his back was to the cold wall of her office, and yet she was still coming. She stopped just short of touching him. His skin crawled.
"Nobody has put me up to it, Arbiter! It is as I said - Cella of Imperus is nowhere to be seen. You know the danger. If she finds anything she can make a fire with, she will do it without care or concern and watch as it spreads. What if she makes her way to the kitchens! We need to..."
Papiria stopped him, pressing one finger against his lips. His eyes widened, he struggled for words, torn between concern over her peculiar behaviour, and the distress caused by her unexpected touch.
"How dare you tell me what to do," she rasped. Her rage was unmistakable but her voice was quiet. She put her hand on his shoulder. He tried to pull away but her grip was surprisingly strong.
"He warned me this would happen." She spoke as if confiding something, but Escius was sure she was not talking to him. "I didn't want to listen, but he warned me. You know what he told me, Escius? Do you know what he told me last night when he came to me?"
Before Escius could answer, she jammed the silver letter opener from her desk into his left eye. He screamed, the shrillness grating across her heightened naga hearing like a thousand nails down a blackboard the size of a barn. She shrieked as well, and stabbed him again - this time in the throat - an then a third time in the heart. The blood was hot on her hands, the smell sweet and coppery. She dropped the letter opener, turning her blood-soaked hands over and over, marveling at the way the fresh blood glistened in the dim light, rebelling in the feeling of the heat against her skin. She raised a finger and delicately tasted it with her tongue. A shudder of pleasure went through her.
She grabbed her winter cloak, then, and stepped towards the balcony. She opened the door What a beautiful night, she thought absently.
On the threshold, the last Arbiter of the Spire of Twisting Shadows paused. She looked back at Escius. She doubted he could hear her, but she spoke to him one last time.
"He told me that things end."And with that she stepped out onto the balcony, high above the mist shrouded forest valley, and was gone.
During the Spring Equinox, a riot engulfed the Spire of Twisting Shadows in Zenith, in the isolated forest foothills of Lustri. The spire was a place of treatment and succour to those who have had their minds and spirits damaged by exposure to powerful magic - especially for those who have been seriously damaged by misguided contact with potent astronomantic tulpa.
The Urizen made a brave effort to contain the problem - specifically to round up certain especially dangerous individuals who had been kept safe within its walls. Unfortunately, their efforts were not entirely successful. Some of the most fundamentally damaged, tragic patients escaped into the woods below the tower. The Spire was damaged, but the staff were able to restore a semblance of order.
Unfortunately, the day after the Spring Equinox one of the escaped patients, Nazares Praesidio returned, more powerful than ever. This wicked madness of this deranged but powerful individual represents a growing threat to the territory if he is not dealt with.
Nazares had been a patient at the Spire of Twisting Shadows since shortly before the death of Empress Britta. A former warmage, he became increasingly obsessed with the idea of protecting Urizen and the Empire by "extinguishing the foul Druj." As with many permanently damaged by exposure to a powerful tulpa, what the exposure took from him in terms of his sanity, it more than repaid him in terms of poorly understood magical power. He manifested a particular facility with influencing the malign Winter spirits that hunger for the flesh of the living. In recent months, his facility has waxed dangerously - he manifested the ability to raise the recently deceased as shambling husks under his control.
Similar in nature to the unliving horrors created with grim Winter magic, they appear incapable of distinguishing friend from foe. While the corpse-herd is nowhere near the scale of the unliving threat currently marching through Weirwater, Nazares' legion is growing. He has sent out his "soldiers" to "recruit" several times, attacking several of the spires in eastern Lustri. Those they kill are soon "raised" to join their own gruesome ranks.
The entire situation is complicated both by the isolated location of Lustri, by the difficulty of gathering information with magic, and by the pall that has fallen over Zenith in the last several months. A heliopticon report from the scholars of Gatherwood Spire suggest that a week ago Nazares began to move. He and his swollen husk-legion are moving north - perhaps heading for the border with the Mallum. Their final report indicated that the insular and xenophobic Embersfall Spire lay directly in the path of the unspeakable hordes, but that they were unable to learn anything more.
To make the situation worse, a pall of sorrow has fallen over Zenith. It appears to have started in Lustri, and spread south and west over the last three months, through Proceris and Occursion. At first it creeps so subtly that even the magicians of Urizen are not fully cognizant of it - putting their grim days and odd impulses down to the very real dangers that threaten the citizens of the Empire - and those whose home shares a border with both the Druj and the Grendel in particular.
As the pall thickens, however, it becomes apparent that it is not at all natural in origin. It feels like a curse, heavy with Winter magic, but woven with great delicacy and subtlety not found in many rites of the Wasteland. The dark thoughts begin as idle fancies in the long hours of the night, but as the Summer Solstice draws near they begin to become more oppressive. Feelings of sadness, loss, and regret become difficult to avoid and even the strongest of will must sometimes make an effort to avoid periods of inaction and introspection. Where ever it appears there comes strange tales. Stories of visions of two figures weeping over another who lays bloodily on the floor.
As with the unliving horde loose in Zenith, it is believed that this pall is the work of another patient - or rather patients - three nameless women who managed to become vessels for the darkest power of the Three Sisters following a misguided evocation as part of a ritual intended to attempt the impossible - to return one of the dead to life - performed during the conjunction of the Three some years ago.
For now, the pall is simply inconvenient - but it is making a coordinated opposition to Nazares quite difficult. Worse, if it continues to spread and strengthen, it could leave Zenith vulnerable to even worse threats. It represents a weakness the Druj would be quick to exploit...
There are two potent magical threats loose in Zenith.
If Nazares is left unchecked, it appears that his forces will continue to grow. The scattered nature of Urizen spires makes them especially prone to being picked off, and each victory prepares his forces to attack more challenging targets. If he continues to build his forces, there is a good chance that they will soon be large enough to threaten spires across Zenith. If his forces grow sufficiently they would eventually be large enough to constitute a magical army apparently bent on "recruiting" all the magicians of Urizen for an insane war against the Druj - it would be Vigilant to nip this problem in the bud before that happens.
The pall of sadness represents a more insidious threat. If it continues to spread at the current rate it will cover the whole of Zenith within a month. If it becomes stronger, it will begin to have an effect not dissimilar to the miasma that until recently smothered distant Reikos. As the people of Zenith find their will to act draining from them, it will also have a significant impact on the production of personal resources.
Replacing the Spire of Twisting Shadows
The Spire of Twisting Shadows performed a valuable service to the Empire, allowing for the treatment and in some cases, seclusion of those whose exposure to dangerous magic had left them broken in mind and body, or a danger to themselves and others. The Spire is gone... but accidents, curses, and the hubris of magicians have not magically disappeared. Someone will need to take up their torch.
The Imperial Conclave can raise a Declaration of Concord to recognize a single, named group will take over responsibility from the Spire of Twisting Shadows. They will accept the responsibility for the treatment of patients suffering magical ailments. While the Spire was in Urizen, there is no requirement that this group be based in the mountains. The group will need to nominate a Custodian of the Lost to look after the patients - the character will benefit from a small additional income of 2 crowns a season drawn from donations given by the family and friends of those in their care.
The Custodian is not an Imperial title, since it carries no formal powers and the only support comes voluntarily from citizens of the Empire. The nomination of the Conclave is sufficient to indicate those who are best suited to treat cases where a magician's grasp has exceeded their reach.
It is important to stress that none of the characters that are described in this plot, and cared for at the Spire of Twisting Shadows and its successor, are mentally ill in the sense that we would define it in real life. These are characters that have attempted powerful magic - which has gone wrong - and as a result they spirit has been irrevocably damaged. The result is that their actions are dangerous to those around - often incredibly so for the damage to their soul often increases the power of their magic.We understand that there are some similarities with real world mental illness - but we are keen to stress that all these characters are categorically not suffering from any kind of real world mental illness. They are not vulnerable and in need of care - they are magically broken, the magic they attempted has ripped a portion of their soul away - and they are dangerous as a result.
The Title in Play
The role does not provide additional information about events in the Empire, nor allow the player holding it to request special reports or downtime actions. These details are assumed to be below the abstraction layer. The title holder and their group are encouraged to create their own stories about their activities within reasonable limits, and to get involved in events appropriate to their title during the game, but they do not have any powers beyond those explicitly listed in the section on powers.
These details exist partly to provide context and character to the role - and partly to allow our writers to use the title as a plot hook. Plot that involves the position will be rare - but all the campaign positions in Empire have these details to create the potential for it to happen.
During the Summer Solstice, husks were attacking Etherbridge Spire in Zenith when the husks suddenly collapsed. All the unliving soldiers in Zenith summoned by Nazares Praesidio had all collapsed. The remains of spire of twisting shadow searched but no trace of Nazares' body could be found. The threat of the dead appears to have ended.
At the same time Urizen priests descended upon the Cave of the Weeping Sisters in Occursion, Zenith and through ministration and reflection on The Way were able to convince a magician trapped between life and death to give up on her sorrow and move onto the cycle of reincarnation. This done, the hold of the Three Sisters fled from the peaks of Zenith.