"Is all this really necessary? I mean it seems like an awful lot of expense just to mitigate the effects. There must be a better answer surely?" Megaris was staring at the map and mentally calculating how much mithril was involved. The numbers were staggering - more mithril than she'd ever seen in her lifetime.

"Did you see the latest letter from the magicians still living there? They're barely hanging on. They're desperately waiting for someone at Anvil to come up with something - anything - they can try. I believe they're waiting in vain. We've won Spiral - but if the powers that be don't do something soon - we'll lose it all the same..." Hera's voice trailed off as she pushed her chair away from the table so that she could face towards the map. Her brother Antes, had moved to White Plume Mountain in Spiral just five years ago and there had been no word since. She had steeled her heart to accept the inevitable, but it still ached to talk about it.

Megaris turned to face her colleague. "Sorry. I shouldn't have said that.. I know..."

"It's fine." Hera cut her off - she didn't want to talk about Antes, it wouldn't do to lose her poise in front of her sentinel. "The point is that we have to do something."

"I get that, I just... I dunno. I guess I hoped it would be easier than this." The younger woman groaned to herself as soon as the words left her mouth. How could she have made such a foolish slip? She liked Hera, but the woman was so uptight she would make a Highborn question their virtues.

"Hope? You Hoped did you?" The tone was sharp, accusatory. Hera was animated now, leaning forward in her chair.

"It's just a word Hera. There's no need to call the Inquisition - I'm not about to start my own cult."

"Do you ever wonder why they banned Hope Antes? I mean Hate you can understand, and Anarchy is even worse. But Hope? Why do you think they forbade Hope?"

Antes decided to shrug. There wasn't going to be a right answer to this question and she shoped a shrug might avoid having to give one. The long pause that followed forced her to admit the shrug had failed and some words would be required. "I guess... like... the Virtues are the good ones. And the others are... not good? For some reason..."

"Perfect - you've nailed it." Hera sniggered. "The others are not good. Very insightful. " The woman gestured to her ushabti and the creature shuffled forwards to push the chair over to the map, only stopping to allow the illuminate to collect her stick from the desk as they passed it.

"Hope is the belief that some force is going to solve your problems for you. That somehow everything will just turn out for the best. No need for Courage, no need for Ambition, Wisdom, or Vigilance. No need to take action. Just Hope for the best! Hope is the most dangerous of the false virtues, because it breeds inaction. Why would you bother to build a network of towers to contain the Plateau when you Hope something better is going to come along? Hope is for those just wishing things would get better. The virtues, the true virtues, are what drive us to actually change this world for the better."

"But these towers don't really fix the problem - they're more like a bandage on a wound. Only this wound is not going to heal." Antes wasn't sure she understand what the towers were actually going to do but she'd rather talk about them than have a lecture on the virtues. Anything but that.

"You're half right. My towers won't fix the Black Plateau. But I've seen nothing that can do that. But it will heal - given time. I calculate it will return to quiescence in perhaps nine or ten decades."

"A hundred years!?!" The note of shock and horror in Antes' voice was plain, bitter memories of the last campaign against the Grendel flooding back.

Hera just shrugged. "Well if you don't like it... We can always just - "Hope" - things will get better".

Cursed Luck

Urizen has suffered much in the last two years. The Druj invasion has left many of the people of Zenith as prisoners of the cruel Druj. Great wonders - the Halls of Knowledge, the Golden Cascade, the Gardens of Morrow, and the Gardens of Pallas have been destroyed. Spiral has been poisoned with a madness that may never fade. Morrow has been invaded, its people driven west to avoid falling to the same fate as their neighbours in Zenith. Even Redoubt is not safe - threatened by the Grendel armada anchored off Sarvos.

Shortly after the Autumn Equinox is became clear that someone laid a curse of Naeve's Twisting Blight over the entire nation - well over Morrow, Redoubt, and Spiral at least. The Urizen are not farmers, as a rule, but those who are find their autumn harvests turning to rot and mould in front of their eyes. Dismal weather flattens the fields; a virulent strain of black footrot sweeps through the cattle. Across Urizen people fall sick with an unpleasant strain of influenza

If the situation with the Citadel Guard were not already as bad as it could get... It seems as if there are traitors within the Empire who want to make the situation in Urizen even more terrible, and they are prepared to starve people to achieve it. Without aid from Highguard, and food from the Marchers, many of the refugees in Morrow would have succumbed to starvation.

The curse has largely run its course by the start of the Winter Solstice, but there is nothing to stop the malefactors repeating their sorcerous assault on the already besieged territory.

Zenith

  • Reports indicate that the Druj have anchored a powerful miasma of despair over Zenith
  • An opportunity exists to launch a surprise strike into Zenith and free some of the people trapped there

Despair

It has been nearly a year since the Druj drove the last Imperial defenders out of Zenith. As the Solstice draws near, scattered reports begin to filter through the passes which strongly imply that the Druj have anchored one of their foul miasma across Zenith. Even the magic of Vale of Shadows offers little protection from it. It is more subtle than the murderous oppression that shrouds Spiral, but in some ways it is more insidious. Like the foul oppression the Empire encountered during the liberation of Reikos, and again during the conquest of Ossium, the miasma erodes hope, tears at the spirit, and breeds despair. All the poise in Urizen is powerless against this shroud of dark thoughts. Without a source of spiritual strength all but the very strongest wills will be overcome by the certainty that the only way to survive is to submit to the Druj. The Druj exploit the miasma at every turn to break the spirits of their miserable prisoners.

Rage against the dying of the light

When the Highborn armies made their slow fighting retreat west out of Zenith, they laid down their lives to buy as much time as possible for the people to flee to Morrow. Many escaped - but many more were left behind and are now enslaved by the Druj. A few have trusted to magic to shroud their spires, but for many the protection of the Vale of Shadows was beyond their capabilities. They now languish under the cruel whip of the orcs of the Mallum. With an aura of despair settling over the territory, it seems that hope of a speedy resolution has been extinguished.

Yet not everyone is prepared to abandon the people left in Zenith. Several bands of sentinels from the spires of eastern Morrow, northern Spiral, and the groups who escaped Zenith have been campaigning fiercely for a strike into Zenith to rescue as many people as possible. They are supported by Highborn soldiers from the Valiant Pegasus and Granite Pillar, and even by a few heralds of Phaleron who have been actively helping citizens of Morrow reach safety over the last season. Taking counsel together, they propose a daring raid across the mountains from Spiral to try and locate and rescue as many people as possible.

Such a raid is not without risk, and is unlikely to impact the Druj armies directly. The sentinels and their allies will need to travel quickly and stealthily, taking advantage of the broken terrain, the forests, and the new marshes. Every direct confrontation runs the risk of alerting the Druj to what is happening and once they realise that there is a force trying to free their prisoners... the cruel Druj are likely to ensure that there is nobody left to rescue even if it costs them slaves.

The sentinels have examined their strategies and are convinced that now is the optimal time to strike. With what they hope is the majority of the Druj force engaged in Morrow by Imperial armies these last three months they anticipate that the eyes of the Mallum are turned westward towards the mountains, not south towards the darkness of Spiral.

Participation

During the coming season, there will be an additional option accessible through the paid work dropdown menu - Strike into Zenith. This may be taken by any military unit captain, and represents an attempt to free as many of the citizens of Zenith as possible from their Druj masters.

Each standard military unit assigned to the "Strike into Zenith" action effectively adds 100 points toward successful resolution of the opportunity. Each additional rank for an upgraded or enchanted military unit adds another 20 points. Rituals and other effects that increase the ranks of a unit performing paid work (such as Shroud of Mist and Shadow or Merciless Wrath of the Reaver) will increase the effective strength for purposes of this special action. In a similar manner to a spy network, the total strength assigned to the opportunity will decide the outcome.

  • If less than 1000 points of strength are assigned to the action, the project will be unsuccessful. A handful of Urizen will be rescued, at most a tenth of those who are held prisoner, but the Druj will be alerted to the presence of the strike force before it can achieve much more.
  • If at least 1000 points of strength are assigned to the action, the project is partially successful. Up to a fifth of the Urizen currently trapped in Zenith will be freed, and brought back to the (relative) safety of Spiral from where they can make their way to Redoubt.
  • If at least 3000 points of strength are assigned, the project will be more successful. Two fifths of the Urizen currently trapped in Zenith will be freed - either escorted back to Imperial territory or at least given a chance to make their own way back. In addition to the civilians freed, the sentinels will be able to rescue prisoners taken from the Highborn soldiers who fought in the defence of Zenith. The Valiant Pegasus, Granite Pillar, and Seventh Wave will each regain an additional 100 lost casualties at the start of the Spring Equinox - even if they are not currently engaged in resupply.
  • If at least 5000 points of strength are assigned, three fifths of the Urizen civilians currently trapped in Zenith will be freed. The raiders will also may also uncover additional details about the situation in Zenith. The number of Highborn soldiers rescued increases to 250 each, and in addition sufficient Sentinels will be liberated from the Druj to provide the Citadel Guard with 250 resupply.

The purpose of the raid is to rescue people, not to strike directly at the Druj. As a consequence, each military unit will receive half of their normal production, weighted toward a combination of crystal mana, herbs, and valuables (money).

The strike into Zenith is desperate - but if it is successful it may free thousands from the clutches of the Druj. In each case, the effect would be similar to that achieved by evacuating morrow. A portion of the tax revenue generated by Zenith that was lost when the territory was conquered would be moved to Redoubt, along with a similar fraction of the costs as escaping citizens make new homes in the southern territory.

Limited Opportunity

The raid into Zenith is only available following the Winter Solstice. By the start of the Spring Equinox, the situation in eastern Urizen will have changed sufficiently that the sentinels and their allies will no longer be prepared to risk the attack.

Spiral

  • An opportunity exists to provide a measure of protection to the spires of Spiral

Spiral has been liberated, but in the process it was almost as bad as if it had been lost. The Black Plateau is awake, and angry, and its influence is felt across the territory. Urizen have been forced to leave in droves - and the situation shows no sign of improving. It may well be that even if the current terror subsides, Spiral may never return to the relative peace it once knew before the Grendel invasion.

One of the biggest problems at the moment is that it is extremely difficult for anyone to actually live in Spiral, much less prosper. The constant oppression of the Black Plateau invades the dreaming mind and quickly begins to warp the perceptions of those who are awake. The orcs have almost entirely been driven out of Spiral - while they still technically control Apulus but it is not entirely clear who precisely "they" actually are right now. Still it is no surprise then that there is no sign of people wishing to return to the haunted territory.

The Block

A group of illuminates in Cinion believe they may have at least a partial solution to the problem. It will do nothing to alleviate the core problem - that the Black Plateau is active - but it may make it more feasible for people to return to the territory. The Illuminated Circle of Bloodsilver Twilight have been studying the way that the mithril of the Legacy helps to at least partially shield the minds of the workers from the effects of the Plateau. They have also been exploring the effects of a certain burnt circle of blasted and burnt trees that seems to be a powerful locus of Winter magic. Nobody who sleeps within that particular circle reports any problems with the madness of the Plateau - at least in the immediate term.

With that in mind they have drawn up a proposal. Their experiments lead them to believe that a carefully shaped block of mithril, aligned with the Oak an the Lock could be used to harness the power of the regio that lies at the heart of the blasted grove, and send out waves of magic across the territory following the old heliopticon paths.

While it is in no way powerful enough to impact the emanations of the Black Plateau, any spire built in the territory with the correct web of mithril nodes would be able to focus that energy and protect the inhabitants of the spire from the worst of the Plateau's influence.

The project they are proposing will require 40 wains of mithril, 80 crowns, and three months to complete.

This proposal will provide sufficient mithril to build the central block in Cinion, and to provide a suitable tracery of mithril to every major spire in the territory. The effect would be immediate - the current penalties suffered to the production of mana sites, congregations, herb gardens, mines, and forests owned those living in Spiral would be removed.

Furthermore, the protection offered by the block would mean that people would be feasibly able to live in Spiral despite the curse of the Black Plateau, allowing for a slight increase in the rate of recovery for the territory and its contributions to Imperial coffers.

Unfortunately the power of the block would not be sufficient to deal with all the problems encountered by those outside the warded spires. The penalties to armies, in particular, and the increased upkeep of the Legacy, would not be affected.

Likewise, the wilderness outside the Spires would continue to be extremely dangerous, meaning there would be significantly less travel around the territory. This means that the penalty to businesses, farms, fleets and military units would remain unchanged.

Morrow

  • An Arcane Projection has peen prepared that can collapse the passes into Morrow, protecting it from outside forces.
  • If the passes are collapsed, it will be impossible to move a campaign army between Morrow and Zenith, or between Morrow and Therunin.
  • The ability to move campaign armies between Morrow and Redoubt will be restricted to the bridge between Operus and Iteri.
  • The arcane projection will be delivered to the Ariadne, the Senator for Morrow, in time for the Winter Solstice.

One of the lessons that the recent Druj invasion, following on the heels of the Grendel invasion as it did, is that Urizen is ultimately vulnerable. Perhaps more so than any other nation in the Empire except perhaps the Brass Coast, now that peace has been secured with the Thule. The relative ease with which the Druj took Zenith and the speed with which they were able to attack Morrow, has left many Urizen concerned for the future.

Collapsing the Passes

One magician refuses to ignore these lessons however. Fausta of the Arbiter's Seat was away studying at the Lyceum, when her home fell to the Druj. In the months since, she has been consumed by a singular purpose. A powerful briar mistress of Spring magic, Fausta has long been inspired by the Highborn heroine Casca. While working with her colleagues on the codification of Mountain Remembers Its Youth she was further inspired to do some theoretical work of her own - work that has lead her to propose a dangerous plan and prepare an arcane projection to support it.

Many magicians who have studied thehot springs of Peregro and the powerful currents in the earth speculate that one day the entire region may erupt in a catastrophic fashion. Fausta's arcane projection harnesses that potential cataclysmic energy - inasmuch as Spring magic can be "harnessed". Her magic will cause a series of earthquakes across Morrow over the coming season, sufficient to cause significant damage to the passes into Therunin, Zenith, and Redoubt.

Once the magic has run its course, all major access from Morrow to the forests of Therunin, and through the mountains to Zenith, will be sealed. As with the high mountains of Spiral, it will be impossible to move a campaign army from Morrow to Zenith or Therunin - or vice versa.

The damage will be less extensive to the southern peaks - it will still be possible to move a campaign army between Morrow and Redoubt but only over the river between Operus and Iteri - and the southern banks of the river at least are currently protected by the fortified town of Cargo.

Despite the destructive forces unleashed, Fausta is confident that the damage to the spires and other structures will be minimal as long as people are sensible. The magic will however be apparent to magicians in the territory, meaning that the Druj will have ample time to retreat into Zenith if that is what they wish to do - but if they remain behind they will find themselves trapped in Morrow with no easy means of escape.

There is one other side-effect that Fausta warns may be relevant - the magic is likely to see strong earthquakes in Peregro, and some upheaval in the ground, and it is likely that the region will become just as hilly as its neighbours by the time the ritual is complete.

The arcane projection will be delivered to Ariadne, Senator for Morrow, in time for the Winter Solstice.

Limited Opportunity

Fausta's arcane projection takes advantage of a specific conjunction of the Wanderer, the Mountain, and the Drowned Man. She predicts that the conjunction is likely to last only until the end of the Spring Equinox 383YE after which it may be some years before that conjunction occurs again.

Redoubt

  • Tulley of Elos has created two arcane projections designed to bring hope to the citizens enslaved by the Druj.

In recent years, Redoubt has remained the most secure of the Urizen territories. In the past, some magicians have looked down on the people of Redoubt - dismissing them as "practical" or "adequately martial in nature". Today, Redoubt is the only territory that is still intact and still completely in Imperial hands, as well as a hub for international diplomacy. That stability has been hard fought for - both the Grendel and the Druj have made limited forays into Redoubt over the last few years but each time they have been turned back.

This stability has also given some opportunity for reflection over the last few months denied to those actively fighting the forces of darkness.

A Message of Hope

There is one last consideration for the magicians of Urizen, and it is raised by a stargazer from Redoubt named Tulley of Elos. The quiet magician was supporting the forces that liberated the Spire of the Arbiter's Seat, and was profoundly effected by what they found there. After discovering that the people of the spire had lost all hope and given themselves over to the power of Kaela in the belief that they had been abandoned, the stargazer has come to believe that the Winter eternals gift is a potentially lethal threat not only to the people of Urizen, but also potentially to the people of Dawn.

The problem, they argue, is that the Druj are adept at inducing feelings of despair - both with their cruel miasma and with the tyranny they bring to bear at very turn. In conditions of absolute despair, even the strongest may seek an escape - and Kaela's gift represents an all-too-appealing escape especially to those who believe that they will eventually be reincarnated. As such Tulley is deeply concerned that unless the Empire acts quickly, there will be nobody left in either Zenith or the Barrens to actually rescue.

The stargazer has produced two arcane projections, one for their fellow Urizen magicians and one for the magicians of Dawn. Each is a ritual of the Day realm of magnitude 40, that focuses power through the egregore of the respective nation. One will target every Imperial citizen in the nation of Urizen, the other to every Imperial citizen in Dawn. It draws on the connection between the egregore and every citizen of the nation - the same bond that the egregore can use to tell if someone is still alive or not.

Over the next week or so, every citizen of the nation will receive a momentary message - a message of hope. A moment of certainty that they have not been forgotten and that help is on the way. The magic is insufficient to break the hold of the Druj miasma, and the effect will eventually fade, but Tulley believes that it will be enough to prevent anyone else from succumbing to despair except in the most extreme circumstances. Those facing imminent torture and death at the hands of the cruel orcs will still be able to use Kaela's gift, but those who simply fear they have been abandoned by the Empire may find enough fortitude to continue.

After a great deal of soul-searching, Tulley intends to have them delivered to Zephaniah the Grandmaster of the Sevenfold Path, who may decide whether they should be used or not.

Tulley could perform the ritual without too much difficulty with the aid of their coven - but fears that doing so may mark them all out as heretics or blasphemers. The problem as Tulley is quick to recognise, is that the Empire considers Hope to be a malign spiritual force that deceives and impedes travel through the Labyrinth. While the magic does not directly focus an aura of spiritual power in the way anointing or consecration might, it still deals with an emotion that Imperial priests consider to be anathema.

Boons for Mages and Sentinels

  • Sadogua offers a boon of magical power to the magicians of Urizen, Dawn, Varushka, and the League
  • He also has three rings of Spring magical power that he will bestow on the Archmage of Spring if the Conclave passes a certain Declaration of Concord.
  • The eternal Janon intends to offer additional power to the rituals Champions Shining Resolve and Still Waters, Running Deep especially when used on Urizen heroes.
The Boon of Sadogua
Sadogua's boon to the magicians of Urizen, Dawn, Varushka, and the League requires a magician to go to the Anvil Regio before midnight on the Friday of the summit. They need to mark the rune Diras on their hand, and affirm their friendship with him with at least thirty seconds of appropriate roleplaying. it must be obvious to everyone nearby what you are doing.

Once the roleplaying is complete, their personal mana is increased by 2 points. This effect lasts until the end of the Winter Solstice, or until they no longer bear the rune of Diras on their hand. This is an increase to both current and maximum mana for the duration of the event . It does not require the assistance of a referee; only the appropriate, obvious roleplaying and the mark of the rune.

Please remember that you can only take advantage of this opportunity on Friday night, and only if you are from one of the four listed nations and have the magician skill. You can only take advantage of this boon once, you cannot gain the benefits multiple times.

Brother of Wizards

Last season, the Brother of Wizards offered boons to help the Urizen against the Druj. He continues to reach out the magicians of the southern mountains as best he can, citing both his good relations with the Imperial Conclave and his personal friendship with Elyssiathain of Endsmeet the Archmage of Night. Last season he offered magic items and support for the Citadel Guard. This season he again has two boons to offer.

Firstly, he offers a boon to the magicians of those nations who are actively fighting to punish the Druj. On Friday night, any magician of Urizen, Dawn, Varushka, or the League may come to the Imperial Regio and receive his aid. They will need to mark one of their hands with the rune Diras - which is his favoured rune - and verbally affirm their friendship with him. If they do so before midnight, they will be able to partake a little of his essence. For the duration of the Winter Solstice, their reserves of personal mana will be increased. It is his hope that they will use this magic to bring devastation to the Druj, but he warns that this will be last time he can offer this boon - his resources are stretched enough as it is.

Secondly, he has been consulted by Fausta of the Arbiter's Seat with regards to her arcane projection - and he is aware that there are a number of Urizen magicians who would strike directly against the Druj with the destructive power of magic if they could. The Globbersnotch is not an expert in Spring magic by any stretch of the imagination, but after due consideration he is prepared to offer a small boon to the magicians of the Empire that might be of use in performing Fausta's magic - or indeed any similar destructive magic of the Spring realm. He has a trio of very old rings that he created a very long time ago indeed for another group of powerful magicians, long before there was an Empire. Each has the power to enhance a ritual of Spring magic when wielded by a magician versed in the lore. He has reinvigorated the enchantment on the rings, and will deliver them to the Archmage of Spring to bestow on those who are prepared to use them against the Druj.

All he asks in return is that the Conclave pass a suitably worded Declaration of Concord exonerating Sadogua of any blame in the fall of Terunael, and condemning the decision of the Conclave in the time of Empress Teleri to declare him an enemy of the Empire. If the Conclave passes that declaration, he will arrange for the rings to be delivered the very next morning. If the Conclave is not prepared to make this small gesture he entirely understands, and there will be no hard feelings.

One final thing - once the magic of the rings expires, at the start of the Winter Solstice 383YE, he requests that they be returned to him as they have significant sentimental value.

Fire of War

The Brother of Wizards is not the only eternal offering boons to those prepared to face the Druj. The eternal Janon is not especially a friend of the Empire, but neither is he a foe, and he has a great deal of interest in the passions that drive mortals. Three nights ago, fires in the vicinity of powerful Night magicians in Urizen received a visitation - a voice speaking with tongues of flame offered the boon of Janon to any warrior of Urizen prepared to burn the Druj.

The boon is straightforward, and possible inspired by Sadogua, but a little more tricky to enact. On Friday night, Janon will focus his power on the Imperial regio after sunset. from that point until dawn the next day, he will offer his power to the ritual Champions Shining Resolve and Still Waters, Running Deep. Any Imperial magician performing one of these rituals at that time may invoke the power of Janon - this requires every contributor to verbally acknowledge the eternal by any one of his names and ask him for his aid.

Members of any coven that does so may substitute dragonbone for crystal mana while performing either of the effected rituals. Two measures of dragonbone will count as a single crystal mana. Unlike many similar powers, even those who have not mastered the ritual may make this substitution.

Furthermore, if the target of the ritual is a citizen of Urizen the usual requirement that additional targets be from the same banner will instead become members of the same nation - that is, any number of Urizen characters can be included in a single casting of the ritual using the normal rules for additional targets.

Finally, if the target of the ritual is an Urizen citizen who has the hero skill, then the effect will be significantly increased. Champion's Shining Resolve will provide three hero points, while Still Waters, Running Deep will provide four. Only characters who have the skill innately - that is who have bought the hero skill with character points - can benefit from this significant improvement.

There is a downside however - every member of a coven evoking Janon, and every target of the ritual they are performing, will become subject to the effects of Unfettered Anarchy at the completion of the ritual even if the enchantment created is later removed.

Resolution

The Imperial Senate discussed the matter of the Block, and chose to commission its construction. The ritual to Bring Down the Mountain was not cast - the passes of Morrow remain open and it will be some years before the conjunction that allowed it to work comes round again - assuming it ever does. Likewise, neither of the rituals designed to send a message of hope to the people of Urizen and Dawn were performed.