Deception and Madness Unleashed

Chiku Swiftpad had never really been outside the Shanthmark Lodge. She was devoted to her studies, and more than a little determined to exceed the others in their meditations and their trials. It was a pleasant surprise to her, therefore, to be called before the Soothsayer Adaeze with a personal mission - and one that would take her far away from Shanthmark at that.

Adaeze explained that the Lodge had been in possession of a box, or more specifically the parchment contained within it. None of them had ever been able to read more than a few words, for it was in the Divine script, but nonetheless they had kept it guarded and protected. Long ago, it was said, the Lodge had made a promise that they would keep it safe - and that on the appointed day, at the appointed time, they would bring it to those that could help.

So Chiku Swiftpad took the ancient parchment and made her way towards Avechna's Peak. There, she knew, gathered those who had passed through the Portal of Fate. They would be able to help - they would be the best people to give the parchment to.

But on her way, she was waylaid by fink bandits who leapt out of Newton Caverns and dove to snatch her treasure from her. At once she began to shout for help - desperate for aid, and aid she did get, though it took more than a moment for her to be found. Those brave adventurers fought off her attackers and, grateful, Chiku began to explain to them what it was that she was doing. Despite a few scuffles with Enadonella of Gaudiguch - the training of the Hallifaxian protectorates overcoming Chiku in her distress - Chiku was eventually calmed by Nelras Shevat.

Confirming with her that the parchment was a Verse of Magnora, the adventurers decided that an expedition into Newton was required. Xalfiin of Hallifax successfully located the one novice in the realms, but alas that they did not understand his request. All was not lost, however, for Tridemon Regalis of New Celest returned armed with Newton Pale Ale. Alone he ventured into those Caverns that had been home to all adventurers in their youth, where he spoke with Mother Mucka. When speech proved not to be fruitful, he turned then to desperate begging - or at least, a performance of it.

Eventually Mucka capitulated, and the Verse was returned both to Tridemon and then to Chiku. Those present read from that Verse, which was numbered MXXIX, the following fragment:

In hate the serpent has begun so heed this gift from through the years: the ways shall close, each one by one, when death embraces war's own spear.

Debate raged at once as to its meaning, but Chiku was focused on her mission. She had, she said, to ensure that it reached as many people as possible. So at the suggestion of Prince Kreon Zayah, she was taken to Weeky Pedia that the Verse should be archived for all to access. Weeky Pedia confirmed the origin of the Verse, and placed it there on display for many adventurers to see - and a few more to miss as it stood there under their very noses. Thanking her saviours and assistants, Chiku Swiftpad returned to the Shanthmark Lodge.

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A month passed, and with it came visitors to the organisations of the Basin of Life.

Serenwilde was first to receive such visitors. Sakima Stonemane, leader of the Hifarae Herd, came to pay his respects at Master Eurytus's cairn. He was led there by Tamsin of the Listeners and Urdnot Strongleaf of the Sowers, who stood by him as he paid his respects. Overwrought by emotion, Sakima began to rage at the cairn, at the loss, at the death that had pervaded the Serenwilde in the passing months. To that his escorts had little to say that could truly comfort him - for it was true. They believed in a better world, but it was true that they had suffered much.

They were grateful therefore when an elderly centaur joined them and offered some measure of calm to her younger compatriot. Clearly a stargazer by her dress and ritualistic staff, the centaur spoke with the three of them of the future of the Herd, of augury and of Fate, of seeking life where there seemed only to be death. During this time they were joined by Selenity Sweetpaw of the Wodewoses, and briefly Eadeol Sweetpaw of the Listeners.

Together the group calmed Sakima, and to him the stargazer offered a solution - or a way towards one. There was a ritual of the centaur, she explained, that would give them insight in this time of unknowns. Sakima protested at once - he was not an augur but a warrior. He knew nothing of such things, and would leave it to the wise such as she to puzzle out. But the stargazer rebuffed his protest, and explained that her age made it impossible for her to complete the ritual alone. Filled with gratitude and buoyed by the support of the Shelterfolk, Sakima agreed to assist and the two of them departed.

In the empty space that remained, Selenity made an offering to Eurytus, begging his insight and his wisdom in these troubling times. Perhaps even then she had a sense that something was wrong; perhaps it was simply the culmination of months of pain and panic.

Either way, she was right to seek wisdom - for not all was as it seemed.

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Scorpions crawled within the undergrowth of the Glomdoring Forest, surging their way to the Master Ravenwood and coalescing into a shrouded form.

Aetakyla Ysav'rai was frustrated. She had wanted to learn, and learn more, that she could better serve the Wyrd - so focused was she on her trouble that she did not at first see the figure that rose before her. When she did it was to even more perplexing conversation, a confusion shared by her fiance Grissom when he joined her thereafter. For the figure did not speak plainly, and it assumed knowledge that neither of them - being still young and still learning - had quite formulated.

Eventually the two of them triumphed, realising that the figure before them was some manner of envoy of Grandmother Scorpion, and that she wished to speak with her Voice. They sought the assistance of Dark Seneschal Veyils Ysa'vrai and Athree of the Thornwatch, who had been long in the Grandmother's service and was devout in his following of her. Astonished, but unwilling to risk the Great Spirit that had been his guide for so long, Athree led the figure and the others to the Scorpion Caverns.

There they spoke with Wise Lady, Voice of the Grandmother - who much like Athree was at first incredibly sceptical. Grandmother Scorpion, after all, did not appear in apparitions. She did not come in figures or speak without great effort and great ritual. She challenged the figure before her - who spoke to her as her Grandmother would. Who knew things only her Grandmother knew. Who could see things only her Grandmother could see. Wise Lady prostrated herself before the figure, and the Glomdoring - still overwhelmed - followed suit.

The figure explained that the world was under the shadow of prophecy - that ripples from the destruction of the guilds were buffeting it with rampant winds and that she feared for what was to come. But, she said, even she could not discern that future. Even she, with her great foresight. Wise Lady asked how she could help, and the figure explained that there was a ritual - a ritual that she would grant the knowledge of. Gifting her with this wisdom, the figure faded, and Wise Lady left. She had work to do.

Shaken by what he had witnessed, Athree returned to the Glomdoring and penned to the Wyrd an explanation of what had passed.

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In Gaudiguch, a crowd gathered in a tavern. This in itself was of course quite normal - except they had a guest.

Zortura Iborchi styled herself as an Overseer, but her hosts quickly discovered that she was more than a little unemployed. Showing her to a bar and a drink, Danquik of the Goon Squad, Revellers Breandryn Silvermoon, Kalas Malarious, Kistan, and Eritheyl Ryseni were mildly perplexed as Iborchi explained that she was there to see the Grand Cipher. With a mixture of cheerfulness and sadness, the group explained that the Grand Cipher was no more - not through death, but through destruction.

But this did not dissuade the dracnari - rather, it emboldened her. For if there was no Grand Cipher, was she not off duty? And if she was off duty, was it not time for a drink - and to let down one's tentacles? Despite her hosts' repeated attempts to get her to discuss her work, Iborchi knocked back half a dozen drinks in a Gaudiguchan minute (being that time that it takes to imbibe one drink at the local pace) and requested to be taken to see dancers. She had not seen dancers in such a long time - but she was picky. She wasn't going to take in any low quality Palace of Pleasure show. She wanted the real stars.

So the group of Gaudiguchans took Iborchi to Mount Zoaka, where Master Zuzume and his Apprentice Asaami greeted them with surprise and anticipation. From there, matters proceeded with the speed of a woman determined to kick back and relax - Iborchi handed to Zuzume so great a sack of gold that he promptly decreed that she could engage Asaami's services for an entire month, and urged them into the dressing room.

Breandryn Silvermoon was excited. A real firedancer! She had never seen such a thing, and many of the others shared her enthusiasm. It was a disappointment to them all, therefore, when Iborchi insisted on a private show.

But no matter. They would see Asaami dance. They just didn't know it yet.

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In New Celest, a nervous trill visited on a matter of business and charity.

News had reached Elalioll Wingwhisper of the changes in the city, and knowing as he did that much of his funding came from them - and specifically from the Holy Celestines - he was gravely concerned for the future of the children that he was responsible for saving. Despite his nerves he explained this situation at some length to Meliana and Saoirse Kissane-Ladyyn of the Eccelesiarchy.

The two of them, assisted thereafter by Prince Kreon Zayah, explained to Elalioll that the guilds as he knew them were gone - but that they each lived on in the things that they believed. They had just begun to attempt an explanation of the new guilds, no simple thing given how new they were, when a young merian Archon arrived. Where the Prince, an Archon himself, had just begun to explain the role of the Archons as protectors of the innocent and weak, the young merian stepped in and continued.

Elalioll was taken by the Archon's explanation, and the adventurers grateful for his intervention - for they had begun to become confused by what more they needed to do to comfort the trill. But the Archon mentioned the Community Centre and Wingwhisper was at once taken by the thought of such a place. At the Prince's agreement, the Archon led Elalioll away such that he could be given a full explanation and tour.

The two of them departed the city some time later, headed for the Blasted Lands.

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In the Clarramore Cloud Gardens, a cacophony of alarmed swansong rippled out.

Concerned for the welfare of those present, Kiradawea Startail of the Grand Aerie made her way to investigate. There she came across Taelo Aves and one of the Clarramore gardeners. The young trill was greatly distressed at his inability to calm the swans, and there was little that the elderly gardener could say to comfort him, though he tried at length.

Eventually he and Kiradawea were able to calm Taelo enough, and it was then that Kiradawea made an unlikely suggestion. Had he ever, she asked, considered keeping a diary? At first Taelo was confused, but she quickly explained that it would allow him to see when he was making progress with the swans. When he was learning, and making his father happy. Taelo wanted very much to please his father, but he knew only rudimentary letters - it would be difficult for him to complete such a task.

Fortunately, the gardener with him explained that they were required to keep meticulous records, and that he would be more than happy to help. Pleased with this arrangement of things, Kiradawea left the two of them to their work, and expressed a hope that Taelo would feel better about his attempts with the swans.

With her gone, the young boy set about to learning with a passion and fervour.

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A month passed. During that time some few experienced strange visions and strange sounds as they passed through the different regions of the Basin of Life - but since they were fleeting, dismissing them as nothing more than a strange fancy.

Until everything started to go very, very wrong.

Everyone, adventurer and denizen alike, found themselves beset by strange visions and senses. They were convinced that they stood upon the sky, or that the ground was bleeding, or that they were eating sound. They heard colours and touched visions - and when these strange experiences faded away, they remained convinced that they could feel the tattered edges of the Prime Material Plane as it fluttered.

And at that moment, at five locations throughout Lusternia, portals opened - and through those portals transported huge serpentine monsters, three-headed and deadly, surging forward to attack many of the cities and communes of the Basin. Gorgons. At once those present leapt to defend their lands, uncertain what had caused the invasion but sure that it needed to be quelled.

Meanwhile, little by little, the portals began to be discovered. There were five in total: one at each of the locations that had been visited the previous month. It did not take long for many of the investigators to realise that they had been duped - but duped by such unnervingly realistic disguises and cons that they wondered at what sort of person or being could possibly have done so.

Many began to enter the portals that had appeared, finding themselves beset with more strange visions and being flung to the Astral Plane. This, more than anything else, gave the people of the Basin pause. For was it not nigh impossible to open such a portal, a rift no less, between the Prime and the Astral? To travel between those two planes was not a trivial thing - it could not be - the Astral Plane was by its nature required to be separate, to be kept at bay by the Elemental and the Ethereal and the Cosmic. Something was wrong, and it was not just the things that they could see and feel and hear.

In Zoaka, the representatives of Gaudiguch spoke to Zuzume, who at first refused to believe that his Apprentice was behaving out of the ordinary. But at the urging of his interrogators he walked into her room - to discover her dancing around a portal that had not been there before, weaving fire into chaotic patterns that surged forward to fill the portal. Chirbi of the Goon Squad made a valiant attempt to copy Asaami's dance, and in many ways a successful one - but the visions that beset sent her mad, and left her unwilling to risk continuing.

In the Scorpion Caverns, Athree and Grissom led Xenthos An'Ryshe to witness Wise Lady as she murmured prayers to the Grandmother and promised to open the ways. Furious that someone would masquerade as the Great Spirit and take control of her Voice, they went to speak with Asooth'i, the Jade Judge, who agreed with them that the Grandmother would never have appeared in such a form. It was vindication, but too late for comfort.

At the Hifarae portal, Sakima Stonemane chanted in strange tongues, whilst the people of Serenwilde spent a great deal of time bringing the corpses of the gorgons and placing them before the portal. For it seemed no matter how many corpses you brought, all of them disappeared - a sign, perhaps, that doing so would close the portal? Of course, none of them thought to check for Dreamweavers.

In the Clarramore Cloud Gardens, Kiradawea Startail and Aramel Shevat of the Serenwilde Sowers were alarmed to discover that Taelo Aves was flying around one of the portals, drawing incomprehensible sigils in the air that traced droplets of ice. As the ice flew into the portal and empowered it, more still arrived to witness the unsettling sight. Zitto of the Skylark Consortium turned to recordkeeping as a form of comfort, attempting to copy down the sigils that the trill child was weaving - but it was the opposite of comforting. It overwhelmed him so much that for days afterwards he could not speak straight, nor fully make sense of the world around him.

For much time the portal in the Blasted Lands went unnoticed, until Tridemon Regalis spoke to Leihm, seeking her wisdom and guidance. He thought that, perhaps, these gorgons may be of some relative to the Naga - that perhaps she would have some knowledge of them. Whilst she did not, she did assist him in finding his way to the portal in the Blasted Lands, where Elalioll Wingwhisper knelt in supplication to an unseen force.

Crowds gathered at each portal. Moments later, almost all of them were dead.

Each of the portal's summoners were consumed by the rifts that they had created: transformed, malformed, distorted by whatever hideous change was rent upon them in the seconds that they sat within the portal's embrace. When they returned they were monstrosities of their past selves, changed as if they had stood within Project Cosmic Hope itself - and they were angry.

The five of them slew all who approached, save those few strong or lucky enough to get away. But with the determination of those who have faced the end of all things almost a dozen times before, the people of Lusternia gathered in armies and slew the five of them one by one. But still the portals remained, and still the power of the Astral Plane seeped into the Basin of Life.

Something had to be done.

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The Black Fist of Urlach was not the first person to have seen the meaning in the Verse of Magnora. That title, if it is such a thing, went most likely to Trueflight Iytha of the Grand Aerie for Harmonious Refinement. But it was Marcella n'Lochli who pursued that meaning with the unstoppable fervour for which she was known, loved and hated. For she knew death, and she knew war - she herself had claimed the spear of war, and knew what it was and knew its ways. It was the solution. She was certain.

So as the Basin fought gorgons and the monstrous forms of the portal keepers, Marcella n'Lochli went to the Meliashmora of Imperial Secrets. Whilst the portal keepers were revived and defeated again and again, with incredible loss of life, Marcella continued her work. She ignored the plights of the other weaker cities, the deaths of those savages in the communes. She had one focus and one focus alone: Klangratch's spear, and Urlach's blessing.

At last she held it within her hands, the Sulfurous Spear of Abyssal Torment. An artifact for the ages, war incarnate, the herald of death. She took it first to Korath Chokuul, seeking the blessing of Urlach that she might use the Spear of War to save creation from the ravages of Kethuru's madness. And though Korath dismissed her, she was not dissuaded - for he did not stop her, nor suggest any other course of action, and that was as good as his approval.

Gathering with her city of Magnagora and their allies in the Glomdoring, they went on a mission to clear a way to one of the portals. Slaying its keeper, the group then began to ponder how the spear would do as the Verse had commanded. Eventually, in many ways by accident, Marcella discovered the solution. The spear did not wish to embrace death in the sense of Urlach's blessing - it needed the power of death. It needed blood, blood that would fuel it, blood for the Vernal God of War that had given it purpose. She offered to it the corpses of the gorgons, one after the other, until the spear was sated and ready - and then with a single thrust of the weapon, she sealed the portal closed, fulfilling the prophecy of the Verse of Magnora.

From there, it was only a matter of time before the others fell beneath the might of the Spear of War. Carefully circumventing an invitation to teleport to the Moonhart Mother Tree, Xenthos An'Ryshe led the group as they tore their way through the remaining portal keepers and their charges. One by one they fell beneath the might of the Spear and its prophecy. But soon they began to lack the bodies of the gorgons, and with so few cities and communes now affected by their invasion, the pickings were slim. Nonetheless with the help of Falaeron Shevat of the Grand Aerie, Auriella of the Sanctifiers and Tridemon Regalis, the necessary corpses were gathered.

Marcella sealed the final portal, and relief washed over the Basin of Life.

In time the madness faded, and with it much of the memory of the terrible visions. The portal keepers themselves, once they returned to life, remembered little of what had happened to them. But for those who had passed through the Portal of Fate, the satisfying end to things was marred by questions. For if nothing else, they were certain that there was no end to the trials of the world. There was no end to Kethuru's insanity, even sealed away as he was. And there was no end to the number of people who would threaten creation itself.

But when they came...when they came, they would find a Basin that was ready to fulfil their destiny.

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