- Plane Weaver
It is a time of strange omens.
A week ago: A weeping figure appears in the middle of the Imperial Boulevard, melting into silvery mercury within moments before dissipating entirely.
Last Night: You dreamed a strange and awful dream, where two distorted figures sat at a table and played a never-ending game of cards, unable to win, to quit, or to make peace.
Today: The Circle of the Enlightened Mind and the newly-recognised research group Threshold seek volunteers for an attempt to explore what lies beyond the veil of death.
There was an Empire, once. But nothing lasts forever.
Before the group meet up, Paragon contacts the Fool, who informs them that preparations have been made. Once they reach the First Death and convince it that it wants to be inverted, they can themselves be inverted from deep Erosion to high Perfection, and with the help of their party fend off the Forest for long enough to perform the resurrection ritual.
Arriving at Magister Audata's laboratory, the group are led down into a deep pit that brings them closer to erosion, where they find the Magister herself, along with a number of Rom technicians and several Threshold weavers, setting up equipment. The party are given a crystal of dead souls, held in stasis, so that they might be released down the river of erosion and drag the party in their wake. They are given drugs to induce a near-death state, and told that in order to circumvent their Blessing restoring them to their bodies in the event of their death and undoing all their progress, they must loop the strands of the Blessing around one another defining their nature and relationship. As such, Never becomes the Fisher, Knives becomes the Survivor, Paragon becomes the Seeker and Sofia becomes the Weaver.
Drifting off into death, Knives and Sofia take some time to contact their Muses. Knives demands that the Rod fight her, which it would love to but sadly can't. Sofia asks the Throne how it feels about the First Death, and receives a cryptic vision about a prison cell surrounded by monsters and an unwinnable battle. Waking up, they find themselves in deep Erosion, wading in freezing water and under attack by Heralds of Erosion. They push the payload of souls forward under sustained assault, with Knives eventually forcing it forward with the power of the Rod, eventually destroying it in the process. Fortunately, the party are by now close to the riverbank, and are able to pull themselves out of the river.
Finding a ruined, ash-covered city spiralling endlessly downward, the group come across an old woman at a spinning-wheel, who introduces herself as Atropos. Sending that the party are treading in the footsteps of many who have sought Death, she warns them that their quest is futile but allows them to proceed nonetheless. They encounter broken parts of people within the city: bodies without minds, and minds without bodies. The fight is lengthy, but eventually the group triumph, and the lost souls are decomposed into ash. The ruins spiral downward to a precipice, below which a strange circular shape can be seen. Knives jumps down to it immediately, followed by Paragon and Sofia. Never tosses her familiar ahead to test the waters, before following herself.
Arriving below in a strange arcane laboratory, the party find their fall broken by more ash, and are immediately set upon by a pair of benthic horrors, which switch between offensive and defensive forms. The fight is long and intense, claiming Knives' life in the process. When the second monster falls, Never invokes the power of the Firebird to resurrect Knives, altering her physical form and leaving fiery marks on parts of her body. Paragon takes the opportunity to diplome with Sofia on the subject of the Seeker, but is cut off when the fallen monster rises again, overflowing with the power of Erosion. In a fit of rage upon her resurrection, Knives opens a hole in reality inside the monster, horribly wounding it, but also briefly creating a rent from which sinister butterflies emerge. As the monster recovers, Knives finishes the job with the Boon of Patricide, putting it down for good.
This done, the party investigate the laboratory and find strange slabs and machinery that seems somehow impossible to understand. It does little until Never accidentally connects a Dreamer Skull to it, whereupon it recognises the presence of an administrator and offers some degree of information. The group wisely do not ask that it manufacture more 'weapons', but do ask for information on the state of the war. It transpires that the war is not going very well. Never attempts to link the location to Grand Magister Isabella, and Paragon uses a ritual to extract information from the devices, breaking through anti-perfection wards which inform them 'The Undying Are Not Welcome Here'.
Heading out from the laboratory, the party find themselves in a surreal city, which is surrounded by deepest Erosion but appears defended by a strong, Perfect presence. Though huge leviathans patrol outside, the atmosphere in the city is strange and still, populated by a smattering of human soldiers and an incongruous troupe of giant locusts. It eventually transpires that this well-fortified city was used as a dumping-ground for 'malfunctioning' human soldiers, quarantined here in hopes that their awakening would not spread. The soldiers appear to believe that this city is an eternal reward from the gods for their service, but they have difficulty making sense of their lives as drones. Never suggests that they should try to leave the city and seek a life more satisfying, warning them that the gods are dead and it's up to them to live their own lives. Meanwhile, the party, a locust, and a human worshipping a god it barely understands have a conversation about philosophy, circles, the self-sustaining nature of Empire, and the influence of the Weaver.
Having been warned about more dangerous 'malfunctions' patrolling nearer to the centre of the city, the party discuss their route forward. Never is perturbed that this city seems to be a disruption within the river of Erosion, and suggests going around, although both Meridian and Sofia are insistent that they press onward to find whatever presence has protected this from the flow of water. Moving in, the party are accosted by strange visions, not unlike the dream they had earlier. Faced with a table of cards and an opponent they cannot beat, they each respond differently: Knives flips the table, Paragon continues to play as best they possibly can, Never tries to diplome but gets nowhere, and Sofia consults with her muse and concludes that the best option in this situation is to either kill your opponent, or kill yourself. Regardless, the trance ends and the quest continues.
Heading in to the city, the party realise that the humans from earlier were not kidding: aside from many deadly lost souls, the streets are patrolled by a colossal dragon bearing the cross-mark of the Survivor on its head. While the rest of the party deal with the soldiers, Knives leaps up to the dragon in an attempt to bring it low, and sees in the process that it is covered in wounds, in great pain, and corrupted from extensive exposure to Outsiders. She attempts an Embrace to purify the creature, but is flung from its back before she can finish the job. Having wounded it extensively, the party move into better cover, and after a few more attempts to barbecue them, the dragon flies off.
As they recover, they are accosted by a larger locust swarm, this time manifesting Want, the Erosion Tetrarch. Some attempt is made to diplome with it, though Never decisively doesn't trust the creature. Eventually, Paragon hands it the chronometer they were given by Threshold prior to this adventure, which draws its attention, and also prompts it to give a monologue about chickens. The party are able to determine that it is part of a cabal of denizens, one from each plane, with an 'affection' for humanity, who believe that the barrier must ultimately fall so that humans can rise to godhood. The chronometer is an indication that the leader of the band, Glory, has decided that the time is right for humanity to spread outside the barrier. After much to-ing and fro-ing, Want agrees to guide them to the First Death, which is after all a useful tool for claiming the Outside in humanity's name, in exchange for removing the blockage of this city. It warns them that a tower at the heart of the city houses a sleeping princess, who if woken up will cause the protections of the city to fall to dust. Handing Sofia a tiny locust to guide her, the swarm departs.
At the tower, the party fight their way through waves of primal human guards, eventually finding an elaborate bedchamber in which a bizarre, triple-jointed figure with strange hairpieces and metallic skin reclines on a bed, guarded by particularly elite troopers. The fight is long and hard, with Never hanging back and charging Dust to Dust in preparation. Knives engages the soldiers in the name of the Rod, while Paragon and Sofia argue over whether or not to wake the sleeper. Eventually Never climbs the tower, applies Dust to Dust to the entire building, and performs a rebirth ritual to have some control over the nature of the creature they are waking up. Though this would normally be an excellent idea, the creature - Domitia The Undying - is an entity fanatically devoted to resisting change in all its forms, and this serves largely to enrage it. Thankfully, the situation is somewhat defused, although all can now see that the entire city is crumbling without the healing presence of Domitia's slumber. The party flee, Paragon warding itself with a ritual and leaping into the river, while Sofia stays behind and makes an agreement with the creature that it can persist in her, sealing the deal with an embrace. An explosion of energy goes off as Domitia performs a deal of her own, and when it ends Sofia's body is reborn in its image, as a creature of perfection with responsibility for the city. She sends the remains of the city to the material plane with the last of the energy from Domitia's ritual, before the tower crumbles to dust. Fortunately, locusts appear to drag the party out of the freezing waters that pour in over the ruins.
The cold sets in, and in the total blackness the party lose track of whether they are underwater or not. Now in the deepest parts of Erosion, the group find themselves in a strange grotto, and almost bump into the sleeping form of the dragon they encountered earlier, which promptly wakes up and attacks them. With less cover from its fiery breath - which also provides the only illumination in this abyss - the party struggle, as hacking at the creature's flesh causes it to slough off into mindless masses of Outsider that pursue the party further. Never pelts the creature with Erosion from a distance, Knives hacks maniacally at it, Sofia strategically detonates a decoy in order to get the rest of the party up again, and eventually, after a series of epic blows, it is bought low and Knives attempts a repeat of her earlier Embrace. This time, there is no interruption, and the Outsider presence is washed away. The wounds still seem to hurt, but at least they no longer fester. After healing Knives up a little, the dragon leaves, turning away from its final destination after all.
As the party travel on, the only light comes from the glowing abdomen of the tiny locust. Eventually, it stops, perched on what looks like a piece of stone. Never ignites, burning brighter to fill the area with light, and they see amidst the blackness three thrones: a jagged, spiny one marked with a cross, a shiny and smooth one marked with a sun, and a fine filigree one marked with a circle. Opposite the ring from the sun-marked throne is a raised dais on which sits an empty arch of ancient stone, marked with a spiral. The faint sound of waves on the shore can be heard coming from the gate, and a sense of great gravity and import emanates from it. By its side, beneath where the locust is perched, a skeletal corpse lies pinned to the wall of the gate with a knife.
Strange figures like shadow-puppets appear, hunched and wounded figures that move like puppets and attack the party, keeping them from the gate. Identifying that these are some remnant of the Fisher, Never attempts to diplome, arguing that she only wants to understand and see death, not change it. Sofia and Paragon soon do likewise, leaving Knives to achieve the herculean task of fending off the remaining hostile puppets single-handed. The puppets explain that they are not truly the Fisher, more of a mechanism left in place for this eventuality. They allow Never and Knives to pass, eventually and begrudgingly allowing Paragon to pass after it invokes respect for its long-defeated foe. Sofia, however, insists she wants an 'eternal empire', and the puppet is unwilling to let her continue until she invokes her right as Strategos of Rastaban. For some reason, this amuses the puppet, which suggests that as representative of Rastaban, she should indeed pass onward.
The world shifts again, and the group find themselves back in the trancelike state from earlier, this time together. Faced with a table, two chairs, and two hands of cards, the party realise they have to repeat history in order to move forward. Much discussion is made about the necessity of death and the legacies of all four Old Gods. Eventually, Never takes a dagger and drives it first into her own heart, and then into Paragon's, killing them both. This appears to be the right solution, and the path ahead clears, taking them - bizarrely - out of Erosion proper, and into an Erosion overlay with the materium instead.
As their eyes adjust to the brightness, the party find festivities in full swing, a sinister shrouded figure, and most bizarrely of all, marked with the same constellation-spiral as the gate and giving off an identical sense of power, Kiara, the Silent Regent, the true form of the First Death.
As they put two and two together about why Rastaban is so adamant about fighting Outsiders, all hell begins to break loose as various plans are put into action. It becomes apparent that the Shroud is influencing the Regent to believe that the war is over, and it soon becomes apparent why - upon becoming distressed, she vapourises one of the revellers, and the Shroud has to step in to calm her down. Invoking perfection to chat in private with the Shroud, Paragon attempts to convince it that they can alter her purpose with the use of an Outsider. Surprisingly, this does not lead to them being immediately stabbed. In fact, it turns out that the Shroud itself went to great lengths to procure an aspect of the Thief in order to have it steal Kiara's purpose from her, only for it to be let out during a a certain prison raid a year ago. As the discussion continues, Knives backstabs the Regent, prompting a wave of destructive power, and Never insists that the war is not over and that Outsiders remain, something that the Shroud has very deliberately kept from Kiara for millennia. Amidst the confusion, the Shroud reaches into Paragon's mind to see if they are lying, and though it sees that they intend to resurrect the Seeker, it is nonetheless satisfied that they are going to help Kiara. Paragon calls down an emissary of the Fool, which to their great frustration has made no effort to disguise itself. Sofia consults her muse in the wake of these interesting discoveries about how the government is run, and is warned that inverting the purpose of the Regent is a spectacularly risky move that the Throne would only ever recommend if they did not truly need her. Sofia takes this ambiguity and runs with it, letting it happen. Knives, meanwhile, unwilling to play this game, slits her own throat, something that Paragon desperately attempts to keep from Kiara's view. As she bleeds out, however, she feels a presence - perhaps from the spiny mutations on her hands from the dragon's blood - that approves of her refusal to play the game, and keeps her from death.
Eventually, Kiara shakes the Fool's hand, Sofia sanctifies it with Dealmaker, and Paragon throws a major ritual into the mix, while Never attempts to counter with some erosion binding. She is successful in transferring a much smaller, less powerful version of the star-mark to herself, along with a deadly dagger that seems resonant with Kiara's purpose. However, Paragon's power is greater, and the ritual is a success, with Kiara's spiral mark replaced with a resplendent sun. As this shifts, so does the Erosion overlay, becoming a bridge to highest Perfection rather than Deepest Erosion. This suits Paragon's purposes perfectly, and they dash through immediately to get started on the ritual. The rest of the group eventually follow after the Shroud, grateful for their actions but also exceptionally paranoid, insists that they get the hell out of the Imperial Palace.
Paragon finds that certain perfection denizens have already begun the ritual: The silvery, mercury mass of Glory hovers at the apex of the tower, expanding into a blueprint for a brain, the Seeker's emergency backup. Applying the power of the Anti-Death to the ritual, the entire plane hums with power as consciousness begins to grow within it. By the time the rest of the party arrive, hordes of bizarre, angelic entities fill the skies, singing praises to Perfection, whilst masses of Forest descend from the sky to do battle. The War in Heaven has just gained a new front.
As the party argue while the ritual goes on, a familiar purple figure shows up to insist that they cease and desist. Anata insists that this is an act of foolish overreach, that the nature of Death in this world has already drastically been achieved, and that she cannot countenance an Outsider within the barrier. That's enough for Never, who regretfully lays into Paragon - who proves to be a remarkably resilient foe within Perfection, particularly with the Seeker's gaze upon them. Never announces her intention to stab the newly-resurrected Seeker with the dagger she just received in the event that it is successfully resurrected, while Knives and Paragon attack the Forest, for very different reasons. Sofia ultimately makes up her mind and uses Echoes of Self to place the group at the opposite end of the tower pinnacle from the Forest, infuriating the barrier entities. This is proven somewhat moot, however, when Never erosion-binds the dagger to target Paragon rather than Meridian and stabs them with it, disintegrating Meridian's body and killing Paragon outright. As things start to become more peaceful, the Forest avatars kill Knives, who respawns dripping in Magos-blood around the same time that a terrified Meridian also reappears. However, what little there is of the Seeker's consciousness still has enough power to drag Paragon back from death, supercharge it, and implant it back into Meridian's body. The ritual restarts, with Perfection wards proving surprisingly effective against practically unkillable Forest entities. Ultimately, in a fit of frustration, Anata reshapes the battlefield into an arena to stop Paragon running away. As loyalties are tested and the loyalties of the party appear in doubt, Never downs Paragon just before the ritual completes and executes it for a final time. In a fit of pique, Paragon switches back to Meridian so that Never can look into his eyes as she deals the final blow.
This done, the ritual pauses just before completion, and the three remaining adventurers prepare to return home. Anata agrees, bregrudgingly, to take them back to their bodies, and is caught off-guard when Sofia offers her hand in apology for all that humanity has done to her. Touched, she takes the outstretched hand.
That proves to be a mistake.
Sofia calls down an embrace that forces the target to relive all their most painful memories. In Anata's case, that means an entire genocide experienced by a psychically-linked, super-empathic race. That's a lot of trauma. Screaming in pain and anguish, she is unable to stop Sofia from flaring with the power of the Throne and seizing control of one of Anata's duplicates, compelling it to turn on its own. With the Forest now tied up facing its own, Sofia and Never duel one another as the former restarts the ritual. Knives is unwilling to attack Never, but does throw herself into combat against the Forest - and, depleted in numbers and with Anata temporarily unable to fight, the tide is turned. Sofia brings Anata down and executes her, while the possessed Forest-clone does the same to Never before collapsing into dead leaves. Amid the utter desolation, only Sofia and Knives remain standing.
The ritual stands very close to completion, but it is crucially lacking the last bit of power needed for full resurrection. As the Forest regroups and prepares for another attack, Sofia and Knives communicate with Glory, which explains that Anata's interference with the ritual has damaged the Seeker's mind. After everything she has experienced on this adventure - and having been convinced by Knives of the benefits of going a bit feral - Sofia offers her own, burning up her body in a powerful Embrace and transferring her mind into the ritual. The tower shakes and shudders, and just before Knives is pulled back to her body at the conclusion of the experiment, she feels a great and terrible presence awaken into power…
Upon awakening, Knives, Never and a very confused Meridian find Audata's lab under attack from a localized but very virulent Forest incursion. Sofia's body appears to have turned to beautiful, gold-inlaid statue, which can neither be moved, nor marred. Fighting their way out of the chaos, the three are separated, and go their separate ways for a while.
Knives thinks on her experiences for a while and promptly decides to get a tattoo. She has a wounded dragon inked onto her collarbone. After some time, it becomes apparent that her actions have been enough to forge a certain psychic link between herself and the creature. She ultimately elects to travel back to the Dreamer laboratory and prevent anyone from doing anything with the technology within, violently if need be.
Meridian, deeply confused by this experience, goes to speak to Grand Magister Isabella, but is unable to gain an audience, partly because he isn't very high-ranking but mostly because she is engaged in what sound like some very heated talks with Threshold. The harried connection weaver he speaks to is able to ascertain that his Familiar has been comprehensively obliterated using some very advanced Erosion magic, but is unable to shed any further light on the experiment - contact with the party through conventional means was lost after they entered the Perfected city, with the only transmission being a very garbled message from Never, claiming that the Strategos had turned into the God-Emperor and was about to kill her. Meridian is unable to contribute much and goes on to debrief with the Honourable Companions, who immediatelt arrest him after he explains the situation, and respond very adversely to the suggestion that the Seeker has returned. He is, however, eventually able to use his surprisingly vast wealth to get all his mental afflictions burned out by a Torch paladin. He also writes a letter to Never during this time. Eventually, and after a thorough examination under the eyes of the Torch which establishes that the actions were indeed Paragon's, he is released, though the Bureaucracy insist they will be watching him very carefully indeed.
Never heads in to see Isabella - narrowly missing Meridian - and explains everything she can. Isabella is rather thrown by all this, and attempts to contact Magister Idris via mindlink. Idris proves to be uncontactable, which suggests that parts of Perfection are already growing unruly. Owing to a degree of confusion and Domitia's resemblance to a certain other dangerous Perfection creature, there is further panic that the God-Emperor has returned and may be somehow involved with Sofia. Isabella opts to call for an emergency meeting of the council. Never also explains the mark on her cheek, and, understanding it to be the last embodiment of Death in this world, Isabella pays her a substantial amount of favour to remove it and store it within a very, very secure vault. She warns, though, that powering it up to its previous level will involve killing an Outsider with it. Never then proceeds to attempt to use her frankly vast social cache to get herself declared Strategos. It remains to be seen how successful this is (i.e this is definitely a LARPO call) but she is definitely in with a good shot. Isabella also organises an expedition to retrieve the Dreamer tech, but they encounter Knives and are rapidly forced to turn back. They also have a discussion about Threshold, how much all of this was planned beforehand and who, apart from Paragon and Sofia, was to blame. It transpires that Threshold are denying any responsibility and are retiring to work on
the Human Instrumentality Project secret projects. Any diplomacy between Rom and Threshold appears to be thoroughly in the toilet.
Never then concludes her business with an erosion ritual to merge the Firebird with herself, assuming its powers under those of She Who Never Burns. This is somewhat successful, but the Firebird's nature is difficult to bend. Ultimately, her essence ends up somewhat split between the two roles. However, at this point she receives Meridian's letter, and rushes to the Bureaucracy in time to see him released. The two have a discussion (which I shall leave you two to roleplay).
A few days later, a number of corpses prepared for sky burial return to life, screaming. The problem repeats the next day, and the next. The Terminus is gone, and the world will never be the same.