Lucinda lifted her spectacles and squeezed the bridge of her nose. From the direction of the stage came a muffled clatter and the sound of raised voices.

"You imbecile Frederick! You're meant to be the Witch as Gancio and you have all the enigma and allure of a horse apple!"

"And you're meant to be a sophisticated urbanite and not some Tassatan arsehole who has just slid off the back of a wagon from the Marches!"

There were more raised voices, and the sound of something breaking. Lucinda hoped it was nothing expensive. From the sounds of it, the two leads were attempting to stab each other for the third time in four days. She hoped they were using prop daggers for a change; they opened before the Prince in two nights and if the Witch and the Doctor were in the hospital - or worse, under arrest - it could mean a lost patron. Or - unthinkably bad! - an offended one ...

She needed a drink badly, and looked longingly towards the bottle of Amontillado on top of the cabinet. It was probably too early ... but given she had not been to sleep in some time, she thought she could convince herself it was actually very late.

She stood up, grabbing a cup and checking it for spiders, and picked up the bottle.

Someone cleared their throat behind her.

She turned, feeling guilty, until she saw that it was just Amelia. Or "the Black Spot" as she preferred to be called when working.

"It's a little early, isn't it? Even for an actor."

Lucinda put the Amontillado down and scrounged up a second cup. She grabbed a different bottle - an acceptable Black Unicorn vintage from Dawn. She poured them both a generous measure of white wine.

"I assume you've brought my crystals?" asked Lucinda, sipping.

Her guest made a face behind her sable mask. An expensive face, if Lucinda was any judge.

"There's a problem ..." Amelia had the grace to pretend to look uncomfortable.

"Of course there is," said Lucinda. "How much?"

"Even at the cheapest price I can find it, It's nearly double what we agreed I'm afraid. First there was that business after Winter with the peculiar crystals, but now ... it seems that whatever it is that has hit your sources has hit everyone. I even tried old Rigo from up north - he says the same thing is happening in Temeschwar. There's talk down at the Oloroso that it's in both Tassatos, and in Holberg too. Nowhere else though."

Lucinda hid her desperation behind an actors blank face. Her troupe were short - badly short - and she had been relying on Amelia to provide the rest of the mana she needed.

"Have you any contacts on the other side of the bridge? Someone on the Coast who might have the merchandise at a reasonable price?"

Amelia looked thoughtful.

"Not for crystals ... but how does your troupe feel about mixing something up with your slap?" She mimed slapping makeup on her face. "It might be the only way to do it in time, with the money you have ..."

Lucinda finished her wine in a single long gulp. She imagined how much fun it was going to be trying to control Frederick and Alo during a leaden quicksilver rush - especially given the bad mood everyone seemed to be in. But the alternative was disappointing the Prince ... and failing to perform the magic he was paying for was not an option.

She could feel her headache starting again.

"Do it. I'll explain to the troupe what is happening. If nothing else, it will separate those who can act from those who have merely made a profession of moving in an interesting way while looking pretty."

Overview

Shortly after the Spring Equinox, a vicious malaise crept over the cities of the League. Despite their geographical separation, it hit Sarvos, Temeschwar, Tassato and Tassato, and Holberg simultaneously.

Most citizens seemed oblivious but the magicians of the League - whether troupe dramaturgist at the height of their career, or the lowest street mage creating bonds for a handful of rings - were all too aware of it.

The malaise made some lethargic and restless, while others became short-tempered and aggressive - leading unfortunately to several deaths both in common brawls and ill-considered duels. Even those with enough self control to avoid the extremes feel restless, unsettled and short of concentration. Headaches are rife, as are sleepless nights.

The weather does not help - and that is something the mundane population does notice. It is too warm. Even in Temeschwar, where Summers tend to be short and barely distinguishable from the Spring and Autumn that bracket them, the temperatures are soaring. There is no wind to take the edge off; and precious little rain to clear the air. Even with the modern conveniences of the League, a great city is not the best place to be when the weather is too hot. Worse, there is the threat of fire...

The situation is especially bad in Holberg of course - too many years of fighting against the Druj have left the sewers in a dreadful state of repair. Years of bloody rivers have not helped - when the wind is from the south they say you can smell the rot of the Morass from the walls. Those who can are getting out of Holfried for the Summer, looking for cooler climates.

In Sarvos where the Summers are usually hot, this year is one of the worst on record. There have been incidents where people fall down in the street, insensible. People are actually paying for drinking water. Layers are shed left and right, and every eating-house or drinking-den is putting tables and chairs on the streets - which has lead to congestion and arguments about right-of-way, and perhaps inevitably to brawls.

It is only the river that has prevented Tassato exploding in a riot - and that's at it's lowest ebb since the dreadful Summer of 296YE. In some places, things that might better have been left submerged have started poking out of the water. There is a constant worry about what will happen if there is a fire - with the water levels low, there might not be enough accessible to fight a major fire. Coupled with the raids from the Jotun...

While short tempers and poor sleep and the heat can all be endured, there is a more sinister aspect to this malaise - one that hits the troupe magicians especially badly. All the mana sources in the League territories have without warning slackened off and produced only half the normal crystalline mana. It does not matter whether the site was on a well-maintained estate in the forests around Temeschwar or a mean little cellar in Tassato Mestra.

Significance

While the hot weather is a problem for everyone in the cities, the magicians of the League find themselves particularly affected. You may wish to role-play being more short-tempered and aggressive - or more lethargic and despondent. Regardless, your personal mana is not affected. The effects are likely to be muted in Anvil, but may take some time to fade completely.

The decline in magical energies has also caused several weak regio to collapse completely. In one case, the regio was in use at the time and lead to several severe injuries.

After a few days of confusion, the mystery about what is happening is quickly dispelled. Divinations reveal that all four League cities are labouring beneath the effect of the ritual curse known by the voluminous title of Icy Maw Devours the Spark of Essence. The worst of the effect should fade over the Summer Solstice... but until then every magician based in the League will suffer.

The real mystery lies in who has done this. Rituals do not cast themselves, after all. More to the point, the curses must have originated within the Empire - either through the Anvil regio or by a ritual performed in a Winter regio in each of the League territories during the Spring Equinox.

This is not the first time that the League has encountered this kind of problem - several historians in Sarvos have pointed to an incident involving a dispute between magicians in the City of Jewels and neighbouring Siroc which resulted in an almost identical situation - but one restricted to the southern city alone rather than effecting all four great cities.

Others mutter about Agramant, and his cultists but they are generally dismissed as a paranoid ...

Resolution

Shortly after the Summer Solstice, the effects of the curses fade from all four cities and do not recur.