- Plane Weaver
The Imperial Bureaucracy would be grateful for investigators able to look into the reported disappearances of Finch Street, Telemere Lane and the housing complex known colloquially as The Warrens. All these locations do not appear on any official documents and as such Do Not Exist, but the amount of citizens insisting in spite of this that they very recently did exist indicates that something unusual may be afoot.
The party are briefed by bureaucrats who make it clear that they don't expect much to come of the investigation, and are hoping that they can come up with something to placate the increasingly frustrated and violent citizens of Rom, who are running low on resources and faith in the city.
Moving toward the location of the first missing street, the party encounter a bureaucrat handing out food rations to a crowd of near-riotous citizens, who have suffered greatly from the many cataclysms that have befallen the city and Rom in particular. Though violence seems likely, Vera is narrowly able to negotiate a nonviolent solution with the promise that she will organise a proper solution with the aid of her Order within the week. This is aided by Chance convincing some of the rioters to climb a building, distracting them long enough for the others to share the food between themselves.
Chance uses his rations to employ the services of a nearby citizen to lead them to the next missing street. On examining the location, it looks as if the street has somehow been sucked out of reality, and the city has simply spread to fill in the gap. Joshua uses a connection ritual linked to one of the missing people to turn an abandoned cloak into a proximity detector, and they set off toward the final missing street. On the way, however, they encounter a cannibalistic Want cult, who take umbrage when the party refuse to join and try to eat them. They are fended off, but the fight is then erupted by bizarre conflict denizens riding enormous lava-spitting spiders - the Wild Hunt.
The hunters seem to have a particular hatred for the marks borne by Joshua, Florean and Chance's buckler, which makes diplomacy very difficult. After much duelling and lava, however, an agreement is reached. It transpires that the Wild Hunt have been hunting something they call the Shining Prey, which they know is hiding from them somewhere in the district. Several members of the party agree to join the hunt, and gain a strong sense that their destination is in the centre of the triangle drawn by the missing streets. Florean seems to put two and two together about the mysterious forgotten master the Hunt serve, but wisely keeps quiet about it.
Joshua insists on leading them to the third street first, though, and on the way they are stopped by an exceptionally powerful Perfection weaver and a quartet of ominously hooded plane weavers. The group claim that the last street contains a secret research station, containing an exceptionally dangerous artifact shaped like a pair of scissors. When pressed to identify themselves, the lead figure gives the name Threshold, but it isn't quite clear if this is their name of that of their organisation. When pushed further, they claim to work for the department of Extraplanar affairs, which has long since become Great House Rom. Once the figure disappears again, warning them not to touch the scissors with their bare hands, they begin to move to the centre of the triangle.
Within, they find an abandoned manor surrounded by a graveyard, and on their way through they are accosted by strange disturbances in the fabric of reality, along with two dazed and strangely mutated paladins. The paladins are defensive and strangely reflective, and the fight that follows is long and brutal, as the enemies who fall simply mutate further into houndlike, shining forms whose claws scar not just people but the fabric of reality itself. Several members of the party are left with great cracks across their body. Once the fight is done, Chance attempts a seance with one of the dead paladins, and discovers that they were the investigative team sent to the area before them, something the bureaucracy kept mum about. He also discovers, to his surprise, that though he has contcted the spirit of the paladin it is not in fact dead, but somewhere else entirely. It becomes apparent to the entire party that they are speaking to something inhuman and alien, a reflective entity that takes on the images and personas of each person it speaks to. Eventually, after expressing confusion over a great many things - time, personhood, identity - it dissipates into a puddle of silvery liquid, which Chance eagerly takes a sample of with commissioner's tools.
Pushing on, they find a strange maze before the manor, which only those in the party who feel themselves to be lost are able to navigate. Inside, they find a group of citizens gathered around a huge floor-to-ceiling mirror. These citizens include Averick Goodie and a strange Shroud devotee. It transpires that these citizens found the mirror a few weeks ago, and discovered that anything placed within was taken and a gift given in exchange. They started offering possessions in exchange for food, and have been doing so ever since when the mirror becomes briefly active at the stroke of midnight. It also transpires that much of the food they have, and perhaps the reason the district has not gone under completely, is the result of a decision to send a child through the mirror, returning them a vast array of food. The child's mother regrets her decision, even though her daughter, Scarlett, volunteered - but then, what choice did any of them have?
The party decide to enter the mirror themselves to try and recover this child and the missing patches of city, and experiment with putting various items into the mirror. It turns out that the mirror will only accept each gift once; after Florean offers a Miyan and receives a very violent wooden box in return, nobody else is able to offer Miyan. Vera yeets her icon in there, and gets back a small amulet depicting a burning chair and the words 'PRAISE THE IMPERIAL THORCH'. This is deeply heretical. Joshua uses a connection ritual to get a peek at the other side and sees a young woman with three eyes, before the mirror shuts him out and curses him for good measure. Chance enters the mirror first, and after a while the mirror responds by throwing a huge connection-aligned sarcophagus back through the portal, containing a two-headed skeleton. After other party members go in, however, the mirror begins to spawn strange monsters not unlike the warped paladins seen outside, and the remaining citizens flee.
Inside, they find no trace of the mirror they came through, instead appearing in a bland white room containing a young woman with three eyes, who calls herself Scarlett. She is noticeably older than the description given by Scarlett's mother, and has no memory of any life outside of this one. Those in the Wild Hunt recognise her as the Shining Prey, or at least part of it, but are understandably reluctant to act on that. They find a strange book that gives those who write in it the power to define Scarlett's surroundings and actions, something they find ethically dubious at best and horrifying at worst. Scarlett explains that people are placed here periodically to act as her 'puppeteer', instructing her on how best to be human. She offers to show them to her friends, and leads them to a maze of identical, boxy rooms, each containing a book and a subtly different version of Scarlett. Some of them contain other, stranger things; an ichor-mutated flower that Vera takes with her, a violent forest changeling that kills the Scarlett in the room it is in - prompting much soul-searching from much of the party, and a series of locked doors. Several rooms also contain a dark reflective substance that forms itself into violent humanoid shapes and attacks the party, ignoring Scarlett completely. Chance does some experiments and discovers that black ichor and the silver substance from before violently fight each other, whereas the black reflective substance and the silver reflective substance engage in a somehow more ritualised conflict, much like the difference between civil and non-civil war. The two reflective substances appear to be in a meaningful sense the same thing. A lost Elect is found, and the party poke it enough to determine that it is a categorically real Elect that has somehow found its way here, rather than some fake or reflection. Brain surgery is performed at the worst possible moment, with only mildly horrible consequences.
Finally, after much exploration, the party make their way out onto a beach with silver sky and silver sea, and the streets and buildings stolen from Rastaban deposited at weird angles onto the sand. A bell rings, and around a thousand Scarletts leave the buildings to go to 'school', where they are apparently learning about law. The Wild Hunt try to compel the party to let them in and help them claim the prey together, but they are not particularly receptive. The Scarletts appear to be prototype people; they are conscious and intelligent, and very good mimics of people, but uneducated and unaware of any world outside of this strange place. One of them, Number 42, wields a strange pair of Awakened scissors that the party recognise as the item mentioned by Threshold earlier. She seems particularly spiteful and controlling, and reigns over many of the other Scarletts in schoolyard bully fashion. Florean and Chance use a trick with ichorwerk to knock her unconscious, whereupon Florean immediately grabs the scissors with his bare hands despite being explicitly told not to do that. Ominous flashes of lightning appear as the scissors glow with dark power and Florean appears overcome with megalomania. There follows a farcical sequence of events in which Florean and Chance are chased around by the other Scarletts, before the fighting infects the entire place with Conflict and the Wild Hunt break through.
The Wild Hunt attempt to eat as many Scarletts as they can, but prove distracted by the party. Chance flees with the scissors and ends up convincing two of the other Scarletts to follow him, naming them Scarlett Alpha and Scarlett Omega. Eventually, after some semblance of order is restored and the party witness the Scarletts killed during the battle being reborn from the silver sea, Florean attempts a conflict ritual to use the power of the dark reflective force against the place they are in. His attempts to start a battle prove moot, since a battle is already going on, and instead he brings the entire party into that battle.
The party see two figures, each reflective, one dark and one pale. It transpires that they are two parts of an entity known as the Mirror, which those party members aware of them deduce to be an Outsider of some description. They explain that they have been observing and imitating humanity, but that there is internal discord; humanity's nature is violent, hateful and self-destructive, the dark mirror claims, while the pale mirror instead insists that these qualities are self-defeating aberrations that have no place in humanity. The party prove unable to stop this conflict, despite Florean's bold attempts to hurt the dark mirror with its own power. Eventually, however, somebody mentions Muses and how they actively guide those in their charge to do better. The Mirror has not encountered Muses - or at least, not well enough to know what they are - and the two halves concede that perhaps this is what is missing from the experiment. Much discussion takes place about the possibility of returning the Scarletts to Rastaban, but the Mirror claims that this would be difficult; there is a barrier around their world, and it has recently turned aggressive and violent, hurting it when it came close. The party prove unable to do much to help, most of them being unwilling and low on power, particularly Vera, who broke her vow earlier when a Scarlett was killed by the Forest monster. Eventually, Vera opens her connection to the Throne, offering some of its power to the Mirror. This is gladly taken.
Awakening from the strange dream, the party find themselves back on the beach, surrounded by Scarletts who put them on trial for disrupting the world. The party conclude that they need to convince Scarlett to reset the world, allowing them to renegotiate what is inside or outside of it. A long and farcical trial continues, in which the party prove easily distracted and not overly convincing. Meanwhile, a sense of devotion in the area begins to gradually build, until it reaches the level of paladin… and then keeps on increasing. Joshua does a ritual to link the two Shroud paladins to their muse to request help from it, which succeeds, wreathing them both in shadows. Aware of a shadowy presence around them, they ask it to send more of its power to them, but it cannot, hinting that the power of paladins does not in fact come from their Muse. It improves their stealth abilities, but regrets that it cannot send more power through the weak connection, and that hiding their world from the Mirror is not possible even for a being of its strength.
There is then an explosion of power, and a silvery creature appears that the paladins recognise as a Muse. At the same moment, every Scarlett on the beach begins to display paladin-like tendencies. The Muse is still in a nascent state, and the players have an opportunity to push it in one direction or the other; Many of them indicate that compassion, protection, and the defence of its people are important values. In conversation with Beatrice, Vera and others, the Muse comes to the conclusion that the world should indeed be dissolved, and that the Scarletts should be able to seek bigger, better lives in Rastaban.
The world dissolves, forming a whirlpool of matter that is Scarlett's world and a mirrored, Muse-y tunnel through an aggressive, forest-like barrier, leading to something recognisable as the real world. The two mirror-halves are here, as are about a thousand Scarletts, and ominous, colourful shapes in the outer darkness which draw hungrily near. Party cohesion splits; Vera and Florean stay near Scarlett's world in an attempt to get the Scarletts to freedom, while the rest of the party dashes to their world and tries to make sure everything meant to be outside stays there. The Painter and the Fool eat many of the Scarletts, but Vera and Florean are able to protect most of them. They are unable to get them through the rest of the party, however, who are blockading the entrance to reality. The Muse-tunnel starts to collapse, and in frustration, Vera attempts to sacrifice her life in a desperate attempt to get the Scarletts to safety. This normally wouldn't generate much of an effect, but since the Muse was mirroring her at that moment, it proceeds to recognise that being a Muse is about sacrificing for your people, and does exactly that, exploding in a mass of incredible power that propels every Scarlett - and Florean for that matter - through into the real world.
The party, sans Vera, appears in the mansion, which has been leveled by a massive explosion. The stolen streets - of which there are in fact more than just three - emerge from the ground at impossible angles, composed entirely out of gingerbread due to an offhand comment earlier about solving the food crisis. More pertinently, they are surrounded by over a thousand identical three-eyed women, and there is a lingering sense of devotion in the air that seems instinctively like the death-throes of a Muse. The Watch arrive to try and impose some semblance of control, but there are far too many people to adequately round up, particularly given their already stretched resources.
As the chaos continues to unfold, the party debrief to their various handlers. The Bureaucracy receive two a roughly accurate account of the adventure, along with a plausible but untrue account designed by Chance for official distribution, insisting that this was the product of a Connection conjunction and a bunch of Commission experiments. The Commission, however, are quickly alerted to the fact that they could claim the Scarletts as convenient apprentices/test subjects, and move to do so. The Order of the Shroud are given a similar report, and move as one with the Bureaucracy. Joshua makes sure to mention the presence of the bogus Department of Extraplanar Affairs, and the Bureaucracy confirm that anybody claiming to be working for such a department does not do so with their approval. The name 'Threshold' turns up a bunch of papers from hundreds of years ago, redacted above Joshua's clearance level. Finally, Chance and Team Bureaucracy go to hand over the deadly Scissors to the bureaucracy - they are gratefully accepted, and handled with great care.
It soon becomes clear that the result of this is a major diplomatic crisis. The Bureaucracy know that the Scarletts are extraplanar in nature, and want to take them in, but they can't /claim/ that they're extraplanar in nature without letting on that such things exist, and they can't /prove/ that they are extraplanar now that their connection to the Mirror has been severed. Chance augments his senses to track down as many Scarletts as possible, and is quite successful, albeit much less successful than expected - it seems as if the Scarletts have some sort of supernatural ability to avoid pursuit. Nevertheless, the Bureaucracy and the Commission each manage to scoop up around 200 Scarletts, with the rest dissipating either into weird cults, into the Barrens, or seemingly disappearing off the map through supernatural means. The Bureaucracy demands that the Commission surrender its Scarletts. The Commissioners, some of them discreetly sporting mutated flowers, refuse, claiming that the obviously mutated Scarletts are their property, and for anyone other than a commissioner to handle such things is of course Treason. More to the point, they have discovered that though they start off somewhat naive, Scarletts learn at a substantially faster rate than normal humans, making them ideal students. Things rather escalate from there, with neither side willing to back down. The two forces remain at loggerheads, neither of them willing to take action to break the stalemate. It seems that the reckoning between the Bureaucracy and the Commission may be coming sooner rather than later…
Vera, meanwhile, wakes up in the house owned by her fathers, shaken from her trip back into reality and her brush with narrowly-avoided death. To her surprise, she also wakes up with two paladins of the Rod and Throne respectively, who have patchy memories but seem to be recovering. They quickly make their excuses and leave for their respective Sanctums, faint motes of silvery stuff sliding off their bodies and vanishing to nothing as they do so. She leaves and heads directly to the Commission, asking to be allowed to use her Air of Efficiency to increase food production. She finds a bureaucracy taskforce preparing for another full investigation of the Commission, and they promptly recognize her as the Throne Paladin they were warned about and arrest her.
Vera insists that she did all that she did in pursuit of her vow. The Bureaucracy are more than a little unimpressed by this, but as her case is examined and other Throne Paladins are made aware of this, she finds several high-ranking paladins, including the new Grandmaster, coming to her aid, spurred to action by the recent shift in policy prompted by the last Grandmaster's death. The result is a bitterly-fought trial in which the Bureaucracy are eventually convinced to downgrade it from treason to a major infraction, and from there offered favour does the work. The Bureaucracy do note, however, that the Order of the Throne's most famous devotees are increasingly turning out to be somewhere on a spectrum between dodgy and treasonous, and that further infractions on the part of Throne Paladins will be treated severely.
Later, Beatrice leads some Shroud acolytes in rather brutally trying to stamp out the various planar cults and disorder around Rom. She assassinates a few major cultists, but narrowly avoids the physical manifestation of Manifold and concludes that this is a bigger job than she can finish single-handed. Nevertheless, some good has been done. She later encounters Vera organising food handouts. Neither of them can entirely resolve the problem, but they can at least try to do the best they can.