- Plane Weaver
It's been plaguing your dreams for ages, but it got worse since the city's upheaval. The sound of weeping, long, raw weeping that never wanes. Sometimes you even hear it in the waking world. Something is suffering. Something has been suffering for a very long time.
Vera, Xenon, Quinn, Cloth, and Florean Dorean Delorean awaken in a clearing in the Forest, with no memory of how they got there, and scars on their arms spelling out 'IT'S THE ONLY WAY'. Understandably disturbed by this turn of events - and without any weapons, including the Icon that Xenon needs to be even remotely functional - the party have only moments to process the situation before an ominous, foresty figure clad in funeral cloth arrives, giving off an aura of pure terror. Florean tries to fight the creature and is disintegrated instantly, and despite an abortive attempt on Vera's part to kite the creature, it proceeds to pursue them through a surreal path into the Forest. Seeing a hurt adventurer off the side of the path, Quinn attempts to help them only to be grabbed by a changeling and killed. Vera is also killed trying to protect the bodies of more fallen people, and Quinn is bought low by giant mantis creatures and finished off by the pursuer.
Carrying on further down the path, Xenon and Cloth encounter Quinn, Vera, and Lyra Averick, who claim to have been wandering the Forest for close to a month, and have the scars to prove it. Quinn proposes that they are all in Dream, and the inconsistency of time seems to prove this. While they are discussing this, though, both Vera and Xenon start to develop keyhole-shaped scars on their foreheads, and are exhorted by a strange voice to find the key - which is currently in possession of the Forest.
Exploring the Forest in their search, the party's efforts are complicated by the reappearance of their unstoppable pursuer. In the long and drawn-out fight that follows, heart-eating creatures kill Cloth, Vera, and Lyra, who find themselves somehow deeper in the Forest, deeper in Dream. They consider that even dying in order to let their Blessed mark carry them to safety might not work here. Xenon and Quinn survive, though they become separated in the Forest, and when the others reappear - this time having spent months in the hellish wood - they are able to kill the hearteater with the key, and Xenon inserts it into his head.
Everything twists as everyone is pulled inside Xenon's mind, a strange place filled with Forest infection and also the presence of a powerful Ichor-creature that resembles a prowling panther. Informed by the strange voice that they can travel from the Forest to a dreaming mind to the material world, they seem out exits from this place - but each exit is only good for one person, and as the party are whittled down, Xenon and Vera are reclaimed by the hungry Forest.
Arriving in what feels like the material plane, the survivors are shocked to discover Rastaban encrusted with the Forest and ruled over by Forest-touched, with banned muses and shunned ichorwerkers. Vera and Xenon are there, but appear to be part of this reality, with memories to match. The party are examined by the Viridian Inquisition over lunch, where Vera and Xenon are eventually convinced that this reality is not their home and Quinn puts two and two together and concludes that they are still in Dream. Vera says a tearful farewell to her dads, in this world underground worshippers of the Wheel, Lyra grabs a book of heresy, and Cloth takes the opportunity to kill and eat this reality's version of her sister. A strange, long-haired woman observes proceedings, but does not quite seem to fit.
Eventually the group make contact with another interloper, who introduces herself as Planar Interface Device 18, an item created ages ago by a planar research group/cult known as Threshold. Lost to the Forest years and years ago, her cries for help from her dream-prison sometimes reach dreaming minds, who are pulled in to rescue her. The Forest allows this to happen so it can horribly torture them. She apologises for dragging the party here, but asks if they really do want to leave; this version of Dream is not so bad, and their escape attempt has clearly failed - if they try to get out, the Forest will only hurt them more. Nevertheless, the group agree to leave, and using Unit 18's powers in conjunction with Quinn's command over dream, they depart Viridian City, taking with them 18's physical form, a circlet, and an amulet designed to detect the presence of Threshold's four planar patrons.
Their attempt to escape does indeed draw the Forest's ire, and it sends them to more dream-worlds, each as vivid as reality. The party experience lives in strange cities, lives as a family, as a small commune of pacifists, as rod worshippers, as malign horrors, and more. Each time, the moment they discover they are still in a nightmare, the Forest appears, kills them, and restarts the loop. Unit 18 tries to solve the puzzle, but eventually gives up in despair as the lifetimes add up. Drowning under the weight of a hundred doomed realities, Vera and Xenon eventually figure out that they are bought back with each reset, but the Forest is not; Xenon uses an embrace of the Rod to strike the pursuing figure, and though this achieves little, as he repeats it in each loop, he starts to damage the creature. Eventually, after countless loops and countless memories, the party break free.
They break free directly into Xenon's mind again, now disturbingly fused with that of the Forest. Searching for the strange orbs that they were after last time they were here, they also find scraps of strangely emotional fabric hanging on a coloured tree, and another strange device, Unit 08, of similar design to Sigma. The appearance of the pursuer within Xenon's mind complicates matters, and Lyra is killed as the group escape.
Arriving on a strange, grassy hill, which Quinn recognises as Dream but not Forest, the group examine Lyra's body. Cloth starts to cut bits off to eat, Xenon disapproves, and Vera tries to use Unit 18 to bring her back to life. This works, covering Lyra in strange metal filigree and giving her the power to steal power from those she kills. Vera feels that Unit 18 is pleased.
Heading up the hill, the party feel a strong presence of Connection and a bunch of unanchored, dreaming minds, caught by the Forest with no bodies to return to. They discover that the Forest is linked to them through this Connection denizen, which claims it is broken and wishes to be fixed. It seems deeply unstable, but it appears to be this that is maintaining the dreamscapes. The other dreamers explain that with no bodies to return to, fixing the Broken One will kill them, but the Forest attacks before they can figure things out further. Vera wishes to fight the Forest enough to draw its attention away from the dreaming minds and give them opportunity to flee into the dreaming, while Cloth stresses the need for them to go unnoticed. Eventually, the decision is made when Vera is knocked unconscious and Xenon drags her away from the fight, towards the Broken One.
Quinn disappears for a moment, And is contacted by the Forest, which promises the safe return of her brother in exchange for carrying a small seed - clearly a very potent part of the Forest - into the material plane. She accepts, and returns to find party cohesion at a distinct low, with Vera attacking Xenon for taking her away from people she needed to protect, breaking her vow in the process. Cloth makes everything worse, while Lyra discovers that she can now hear Unit 18 in her head, encouraging her to grow and expand. Eventually peace is restored and the party sneak through defences at the heart of the Forest, dodging parts of the Wood that are lethal to the touch.
Arriving at a central part of the Forest, the party find the Broken One in full-on mad god mode, plugged into a Forest tree and very glad to see them. It explains that when the two Rastabans were switched, they were both dragged through the Forest, like a branch through spiderweb, and now that web is tangled around the minds of every person in Rastaban. Though the physical form of the Forest is gone, its command over Dream is still unmatched.
The party are then interrupted first by alternate versions of themselves who escaped the time loops in a different manner, and then by the pursuer, which kills a few duplicates before everyone agreed to free the Broken One and get out of here together. Unable to decide collectively on a target location, the Broken One promises to send them to its 'sister', a fellow ex-patron of Threshold, which is inside Rastaban.
A portal opens, leading to a small black room with a skull in it, which Quinn recognises as, at long last, the real Rastaban. The Forest tries to impede their escape, and as it does the funereal shrouds around the pursuer fall away to reveal a seven-foot-tall, purple form with long, ropelike hair - a form known to some as Anata.
Demanding the return of Leliana and the death of Miyan, and apparently unaware that most of the party have little idea of who those people are, the creature faces toward the portal. In a rush, the survivors make for the gateway - but Vera, standing in defence of the dreaming minds, does not make it through.
On the other side, however, all hell breaks loose. The Forest seed in Quinn's pocket immediately sprouts, growing twisting vines that spread faster than the party can cut them away. Inexorably, as Bureacrats flee - for the party have arrived deep within the Imperial Bureaucracy - the vines hold the gateway into Dream open.
The purple creature emerges - twice, in fact. Two appear, each with their head to one side of their body, as if designed to be a single two-headed creature. One rages at the party and delights in smashing the Bureaucracy apart, while the other simply leaves, heading out of the Bureaucracy toward the city wall. Nobody is inclined to stop her.
Vera emerges, empowered by the dreaming minds she sought to save, and helps the group escort Bureaucrats away from the ever-expanding Forest. One of these, carrying a skull which the amulet identifies as the Broken One's 'sister', is quietly ganked by Cloth, who steals the skull. The party get most of the people out of the building, which they recognise from the outside as part of the Palace complex, but Xenon stays behind. As the Forest gloats that it will make the Palace its own, Xenon decides that scorched earth is the way to go. Pouring the power of all his lives into an embrace of the Rod, he and the Forest watch as a bolt of divine retribution forms in the sky directly above them…
The party are thrown clear by a massive shockwave as the rod comes down. They stand and watch as it comes down again and again on the Palace District, eradicating forest, masonry, and bureaucrats alike. Xenon's staff - Unit 08 still wrapped around it - arcs out of the explosion and embeds itself in the ground in front of the party, glowing with power.
Xenon himself is nowhere to be seen.
As the rod crashes down, it also crashes up - smashing strange unearthly cracks into the sky. Bits of the sky seem to fall away as the cracks steadily widen.
Vera takes Unit 18 off her head, hands it to Quinn, and silently walks away. Wandering the streets for some time, she does not go back either to the Order of the Throne or to her family. Finding that the locket she obtained in Dream has manifested with her, she heads to the Forester's Guild and takes up lodgings there. Given that she appears to have interacted strangely with Dream and appears to have bought some minds with her that are not her own, they are content to let her hang around. When she next sleeps, she receives a vision from the Throne on the subject of ethical calculus and sacrifice.
Lyra stays long enough to disentangle Unit 08 from the staff, before legging it in order to avoid being associated with any of the stuff that just happened. She finds that the extra-heretical book from Dream has manifested with her, and lovingly places it in her designated treason cabinet.
Quinn asks Unit 18 what it wants while Cloth swipes the staff. Unit 18 wants to grow. She asks it how that can be achieved. It acknowledges that the most successful way so far appears to be killing people and feeding them to it, but that other things might work - worship, maybe, or being given items of power. Quinn eventually agrees to trade it to Cloth for Xenon's staff, now empowered with Forest-killing force. She then goes to the Forester's Guild, finding their Dream division in a state of great panic, talking about sudden increased hostility within Dream that coincides with the massive destruction at the heart of the city. She gives some description of her experiences within Dream, and the Guild agree to respond accordingly.
Cloth takes the coloured scarf that earlier caused her to feel great pride, and attempts to use an Erosion ritual to release that pride in an emotional explosion next to the Throne sanctum. To her great surprise, as she conducts the ritual, a voice asks her if she would like some help with that. Upon saying yes, a coloured form falls from the cracks in the sky, crashing directly onto the Throne sanctum, and a constellation-like mark begins to form on Cloth's skin. She legs it sharpish as some bureaucrats arrive to realise that the sudden colourisation of the Sanctum is only the fourth worst thing that's happened today.
At some point, all party members except Cloth - who is going to great lengths to not be found - are visited by a shadowy bureaucrat who questions them on their involvement in proceedings. Some semblance of the truth is arrived at, though the party are sufficiently disoriented and disturbed that the account is a confusing one. The bureaucrat notes that the entire party are highly suspicious, but probably did not actively or deliberately contribute to the disaster.