- Plane Weaver
Life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.
- Kahlil Gibran
Limula Egmont (of law firm Egmont, Egmont and Eg) is looking to enlist investigators to assist a client of hers, Spiridon Argyris, a nobleman of Esteban. Argyris is dying of a mystery affliction - in spite of all the efforts of an
expensive experienced team of doctors, he does not seem to be recovering. Argyris and his family suspect foul play and will extend their gratitude to whomsoever reveals the culprit… provided that they can do so before the old man dies.
A group of investigators - Commissioner Zosime Draconis, Aspirant Iri Voronaya of the Order of the Rod, Aspirant Doublethink Stingelhelm of the Order of the Shroud, the conflict weaver Florian Dorian Delorian of Rom, and a couple of forest touched by the names of Sowe Nayoung and Quinn Marshston - assemble at the law offices of Egmont, Egmont and Eg. There, the Argyris family lawyer, Limula Egmont, explains the situation to them: Spiridon Argyris became afflicted with a severe mystery illness a week ago; his doctors are doing all they can to keep him alive, but his prognosis is not good, especially in light of the fact that the cause of his affliction remains unknown. Owing to the sudden onset of Spiridon's affliction, the family suspects foul play. Egmont emphasises that the investigators have been called in for the sole purpose of identifying the culprit and the means of poisoning; they are under no circumstances to interfere with the patient's care. Their first point of call should be Spiridon's home, where most of the family are assembled.
On their way, our heroes run into a group of drunkards who are entertaining a variety of paranoid and rather Erroneous conspiracy theories. Speculating that they’ll all be murdered in their beds by foreign agents, the drunkards acquire an air of nihilistic bravura, proposing vigilante justice against anyone who looks suspicious… such as the adventuring party, for example. A scuffle ensues, but our heroes quickly emerge triumphant, releasing their defeated foes into the care of the city guard before heading to Spiridon's home.
As they wait in an antechamber, the investigators have their first real chance to talk among themselves. Observing that Sowe has recently experienced the loss of an arm, Zosime uses Guided Mutation to ameliorate this problem, growing a crab claw in its place. This intervention is not a complete success by any measure, as the Forest begins to try to tear apart the mutation to gain control over it, rendering Sowe in near-constant pain.
A butler appears to admit the party to Spiridon Argyris's chambers. The old man lies abed, surrounded by his family and trusted family doctors Blom and Fulmar. He explains to the investigators that his illness began as a sudden intense pain in the middle of the planning meeting for a building project - it started in his chest, causing him to fall to his knees, and almost immediately spread to his whole body. A rich humanitarian, Spiridon has spent much of his fortune on public works. He seems resigned to his fate, hoping that his architectural works will serve as his legacy - although he is sad he never got to see the sea, and is eager to find out who is responsible for his deteriorating condition. Florian observes that there seems to be some kind of planar influence on Spiridon.
The old man's immediate family offer a few leads. His sister Coralia - who seems on edge and has clearly had a recent row with her spouse, Charis - offers up the name of Aemilius Vitreus, another lordling who, like Spiridon, is interested in creating architecture, and who recently lost out to Spiridon on a big development project. Silas, Spiridon's brother, seems coldly dispassionate about Spiridon's imminent demise and clearly has his mind on the inheritance, but suggests that our heroes investigate Walpurga Pfiff, a hotheaded noblewoman who recently accused Spiridon of having insulted her (Spiridon had stepped on her foot), and threatened to kill him.
The party heads to the Vitreus mansion first. Aemilius Vitreus reclines on a divan in a marble courtyard. He is surrounded by attendants, including a small team of Perfection Weavers who ensure any blemishes he develops are quickly taken care of. Vitreus readily admits that, yes, he is bitter about losing out on that big development project, and yes, he has been planning revenge. Ah, but they are too late to stop him! With a flourish, he directs a servant to remove the dust-sheet from his magnum opus: a statue of Spiridon Argyris, horribly caricatured.
Not everyone is present to witness this: Doublethink, disguised as one of Vitreus's attendants, has let Zosime, Sowe and Quinn out of a back door to allow them to explore the mansion further. The Commissioner and the two Forest Touched find their way into Vitreus's study, where they find - alongside a few valuable sculptures which they conscientiously refrain from stealing - a plethora of unflattering cartoons, all depicting Spiridon. Vitreus has clearly allowed his professional rivalry to become a fixation, but it is equally apparent that he is too interested in smearing his opponent to have even contemplated murdering Spiridon. Satisfied that Aemilius Vitreus is not the culprit, the three of them prepare to leave, when there is an unearthly shriek from the courtyard-
-where Iri, Florian and Doublethink have been left to endure Vitreus's vanity for the past ten minutes. Having noticed a spot on his chin, Vitreus has directed his Perfection Weavers to erase it using a minor - no, a major ritual! Unfortunately, the ritual has gone horribly wrong, transforming Vitreus into a shrieking monster that looks like a horrific fusion of several broken mirrors. His attendants flee, as do Iri, Florian and Doublethink… but when Quinn, Sowe and Zosime arrive on the scene at the back of the courtyard, the Vitreus Beast is blocking their way. They are forced to fight their way out, a task that appears hopeless at first - Quinn is knocked out by a shower of mirror shards that become lodged in the Forest Touched's eyes. Luckily, Florian, Doublethink and Iri return just in time to help their comrades bring down the monster and revive Quinn.
Vitreus's attendants return to tend to their master; Doublethink - still disguised as a member of the household - is at first enlisted in helping to prepare a sick bed, but finds an excuse to escape and rejoin the retreating adventuring party. Quinn happens to glance into a mirror as they leave the mansion… and sees a reflected Quinn grinning evilly back.
Florian uses his Rom contacts to locate the residence of Walpurga Pfiff, the other obvious suspect. The party finds Pfiff's house in a state of considerable disarray: the door is hanging off its hinges; cupboards and shelves have been shattered, their contents strewn over the floor; the bed is in two halves across the room from one another; a human ear is lying in the middle of the floor (Zosime takes a bite out of it); and the word “RARR!” is written in blood on one of the walls. Pfiff is nowhere to be found, but another of Florian's contacts is able to inform our heroes that she was last seem outside the embrace, heading for the edge of the Forest.
They track her down to the very eaves of the Forest of Loss, where she is just finishing despatching a Crooked Man. Seeing their approach, she turns to wave… at which point, the bushes erupt with monstrosities of various kinds, taking Pfiff by surprise. Everyone pitches in to beat back the denizens of the Forest; vanquishing them at last, they take the opportunity to question Pfiff. She shrugs when they mention the apparent break-in at her house - that was a good night, she says, grinning… and our heroes observe that she seems to be missing an ear. She laughs at the suggestion that she might have caused Spiridon’s ailment - if she wanted him dead, she’d have challenged him to single combat by now… but in all honesty, she’d completely forgotten about the slight. She accuses people of having insulted her all the time, after all.
Pfiff does, however, suggest that they investigate Spiridon’s family - Silas is an ambitious, money grabbing little so-and-so, just the sort to arrange an assassination… and poor meek Coralia is liable to go along with whatever nefarious scheme he’s proposed. Our heroes have already been considering a return visit to check on the Argyris siblings, so they now devise a plan to uncover the truth….
Rather than returning to Spiridon Argyris's residence, the investigators decide to pay Coralia a visit - for all her evasiveness, she seemed to be somewhat conflicted during their last meeting, and Charis, her spouse, appeared to be fuming at her. Perhaps, if they can separate the two of them, the party can extract some answers from Charis. To this end, when Coralia invites them all in for afternoon tea, Quinn, Iri and Florian keep Coralia talking so that Sowe, Zosime and Doublethink are able to follow Charis into the drawing room when she (inevitably) storms out in disgust at Coralia's obvious lies.
It doesn't take long for Charis to reveal all - she is too angry with her wife to hold back. No, Coralia is not responsible for Spiridon's illness - and neither is Silas, believe it or not. But Silas and Coralia both know who the most likely culprit is, and they're deliberately withholding that information from the investigators in spite of the fact that the family called for this investigation in the first place! Silas, it seems, is perfectly happy to let his brother's would-be murderer finish the job; he selfishly wants to see Spiridon succumb to his illness so that he'll gain a proportion of the inheritance. Furthermore, he's blackmailing Coralia into keeping her silence too by threatening to go public about her hostility towards the Order of the Shroud - it seems that she's been privately obstructing the order's activities, and otherwise seeking to undermine them wherever possible - even if it can't be proven that she has slipped into Error, such revelations would severely damage her standing in the city. Charis considers Coralia a coward for placing her own status above her brother's life, and is - but at this point, she realises that she has said too much, and begs Zosime, Sowe and Doublethink not to reveal her spouse's secret.
So… who do Coralia and Silas consider the most likely culprit, according to Charis? A man by the name of Vollux, who was attached to a construction project Spiridon was working on, and who had been seen openly quarrelling with Spiridon not long before Spiridon became ill. In fact, Vollux was present at the planning meeting in which Spiridon had collapsed - when Spiridon fell, Coralia had apparently seen Vollux chanting something under his breath, one arm outstretched towards his victim. Following the incident, nobody had seen anything more of Vollux….
Charis retrieves some of Coralia's papers for the investigators' reference - one of them includes Vollux's address - but Sowe scarcely has time to pocket them before Coralia bursts into the room, fuming. The investigators are ejected from the house - as the door slams shut, they see Coralia and Charis staring one another down.
Their new lead acquired, the party heads directly to Vollux’s house, a towering structure with a flat roof. They are greeted at the door by Evie, the elderly maid-of-all-work, who is clearly flustered to hear that they want to speak with the Councillor-Apprentice. She enquires as to the nature of their business, and shows obvious concern upon realising that their visit has something to do with the Argyris project. Emphasising that she is certain her master has done nothing wrong, she reveals that they’re too late to speak with him - Vollux is dead.
When Florian asks if they can see the body, Evie leads them to the top of the tower - this is where corpses are traditionally left for sky burial. Our heroes pass through the hatch in turn, quickly noting that there is no body up here, but - too late! Evie slams the hatch shut behind them, locking the investigators out on the roof of the tower. Worse still, a crescendo of caws indicates that a large flock of carrion birds are bearing down upon them. Sowe quickly gets to work on the lock of the hatch while the others focus on keeping the birds at bay.
It's a close thing, but Sowe at last manages to fling the hatch open. Our heroes scramble back down into the tower, only to encounter Evie sobbing on the staircase below them. She tearfully apologises, explaining that she panicked and regrets it - she never meant to put them in real danger, just to scare them… ah, but what in the world would Vollux think if he knew what she’d done?
She confirms that Vollux is an Erosion Weaver, a Councillor-Apprentice who was involved in Spiridon’s last big civic work - he helped by tearing down the old building that had occupied the site previously. It had started out as a routine project, Evie believes… but then something changed. Vollux became secretive, irritable. He disappeared a week ago after returning home in a state of considerable agitation - Evie hasn't seen him since. She almost… hopes that Vollux is dead, because… well, Vollux was a good person, for the longest time. He paid decently, and never thought to treat Evie as less of a person after she got touched by the Forest. That’s why she panicked - she didn’t want a stain on Vollux’s reputation; that’s all a person leaves behind, after all.
Zosime has an idea. Transmuting her nose into the snout of a bloodhound, she picks up Vollux's scent and traces his last known movements. Here he is entering the tower… he goes up the stairs, and down, and down again, and - wait! He never left his house! The trail stops in a secret room in the cellar - a ritual chamber! Florian is able to detect the traces of a recent ritual performed here - all evidence suggests that Vollux performed a ritual to pass into Erosion; he may still be there, or perhaps he has escaped back into the world elsewhere. Either way, they have reached a dead end.
The party returns to the Argyris residence to report on their progress. Silas is present, along with Coralia and Charis, who are scarcely talking to one another. Limula Egmont requests a progress update, but - heedful of the presence of Silas - our heroes decline to provide the details of their current lead. Egmont is clearly dissatisfied with the investigators' secrecy, threatening to take them off the case if they fail to deliver clear results soon.
Doctors Blom and Fulmar, it seems, have done some investigating of their own, following the Florian's earlier pronouncement that there seems to be some kind of planar influence on Spiridon. Our heroes are introduced to Councillor-Apprentice Sagirah, an Erosion Weaver who has been able to confirm said influence as being related to Erosion. Sagirah has the ability to send the party into Erosion, but emphasises that it will be extremely difficult to track Vollux through that plain, even with the help of Zosime's bloodhound snout.
Sagirah is, however, able to offer a new perspective on the situation: certain Erosion denizens, it seems, have the ability to see the fine threads of a person’s life and the threads interacting with them. If the party wants to find out more about the influence Vollux has placed on Spiridon Argyris - and potentially, to track down Vollux himself - it might be worth consulting an Erosion denizen with this ability. The problem is that denizens of this sort are found only in deep Erosion, and rarely even notice creatures as small as humans. Sagirah suggests that the party might wish to seek out a lost city with an inverted lighthouse - from there, they should be able to converse with an Erosion denizen capable of helping them.
Doublethink, alas, informs the others that he won't be accompanying them into Erosion. The revelation that certain members of the Argyris family would prefer that the identity of Spiridon's enemy be kept a secret, and that there are other associated secrets that may be revealed when the investigation is concluded, has caused Doublethink to conclude that his continued efforts to assist the investigation might constitute a breach of his holy vow never to knowingly reveal a secret. As Sagirah prepares their ritual, Doublethink bids the others the best of luck and makes his departure.
Florian, meanwhile, is concerned about the difficulties of travelling through Erosion without the aid of someone who knows the terrain, and asks Sagirah to accompany the party. Sagirah politely declines - they have important business to attend to in Rastaban - but recommends an acquaintance who should be able to help. And so it is that Quinn Alders joins the party.
All preparations completed, our heroes assemble within the ritual circle. Sagirah begins the ritual - there is some hollow-voiced chanting - and then the six hapless adventurers feel the world fall away from them as they are pulled inexorably into the cold, dark ocean of Erosion….
Erosion! The party falls for some time before landing unexpectedly softly. As their eyes adjust to the darkness, they see a flat plane spreading out all around them and skeletal figures lying in the mud nearby. They stagger to their feet… and so do the Erosion denizens. Congratulating the party on their good fortune in coming to see them, the skeletons offer sympathy for the burden of the flesh they’re laboring under, and offer to help liberate them from such shackles. They don't take no for an answer.
Our heroes, however, are rather attached to their flesh, and fight with a ferocity borne of desperation, performing a percussive lullaby to return the bleached bones to their benthic slumber. And then, indifferent to any such poetic rendering of the situation, they start walking.
Passing across the plain, the party comes to the ruins of an ancient city, somewhat reminiscent of Rastaban. It stretches out across the plain, which turns out to be a shelf overhanging a deep abyss below. Part of the city is built under this overhang, suspended like a chandelier over the void. They see a lighthouse tower, an inverted one, upside down on the underside of the overhang, its tip lost in the darkness below.
It is possible that this city was circular once, prior to whatever event caused it to curl itself under the overhang like a Daliesque clock. While most of its structures have crumbled, its walls persist - seven concentric rings of walls that divide the inner districts from the outer ones, giving the whole city an onion-like morphology.
Reaching the first of these walls, they come to a gate - closed - with a stone grotesque perched atop it. It soon becomes apparent that this grotesque can speak… but it only seems interested in remembering the words of the first quatrain of a song it heard long ago, from the mouth of a minstrel passing through the city towards the tower at its centre. Using their intuition along with fragments of verse whispered by giant spider crabs that assail them on the way, our heroes manage to reconstruct the quatrain… and the grotesque smiles as the gate it guards crumbles to dust before them.
They run deeper into the city, pursued by crabs, and come across a second gate with a second grotesque, which has forgotten the second quatrain of the same song - and for a second time, they complete the verse to cause the whole structure to crumble. This continues for five more gates, after which they have successfully reconstructed the entire song (transcribed at the bottom of this page) and reached the tower at the centre of the city, the great inverted lighthouse that hangs like a stalactite above the abyss below.
Clambering over debris and lowering themselves through a hatch that would surely have had no reason to exist back before the lighthouse turned upside-down, they find themselves inside an elevator whose mechnanism is - quite inexplicably - fully functional. Pulling a lever, they feel the elevator begin its descent, lowering them - and the rotating light of the lighthouse - into the abyss. As they plunge ever deeper, indistinct but horrifying forms slide past them in the darkness. The creatures shrink from the light; Quinn Marshston, who manages to stay within the rotating beam, survives the descent largely unscathed… but one by one, her companions succumb to the darkness.
At last, the elevator comes to a halt with a clank. The beam is now projected onto the wall of the cliff behind them, casting Quinn's shadow across the rocks, greatly magnified.
Once they’ve reached the extremity of their descent, the beam will be projected onto the wall of the cliff behind them, casting their shadows widely across the rocks. And - far away, out in the infinite darkness - something truly gargantuan is moving. Sagirah's words from earlier seem to tremble across the vastness: the greater denizens of deep Erosion rarely even notice creatures as small as humans - but Quinn's projected shadow is seemingly large enough to attract the attention of this leviathan.
But Quinn Marshston is not left to face the monster alone - at her feet, her fellow investigators lie unconscious. Quinn revives them. Florian, Iri, Zosime and Sowe feel colder and tireder than ever before; Quinn Alders, meanwhile, has heard a voice in her sleep.
The deep denizen that is now drawn to the light truly is enormous (although it does, once given the chance, tell them that it avoids venturing too much deeper for fear of the much larger monsters that dwell below). It is far, far too vast for our heroes to perceive its full expanse, and it seems to grow fractally - from out of the gloom, a massive snake-like neck extends towards them, covered in eyes like proverbial dinner plates, and with a mouth full of needle-like teeth. From this mouth, more snake-like necks protrude, with more glassy eyes and huge mouths, from which… you get the idea.
Lakhesis is interested in its small visitors. Why have they shown themselves within its domain?
Plucking up the courage to ask the monster about Spiridon Argyris, they see his image appear in Lakhesis’s eyes. Lakhesis explains that its vision is keen enough to detect the thread of his life, as well as the threads of Erosion that connect to it… although Lakhesis doesn’t feel that there is a meaningful distinction between the stream of a person’s existence and the tributaries of Erosion that feed into it - for Lakhesis, life is the experience of dying. However, Lakhesis does express… surprise when it notices a certain thread, and confirms that, no, that’s not fair. Someone is cheating.
Observing Lakhesis's annoyance at this, our heroes quickly strike a deal with the creature: Lakhesis will use its death-sight to help guide them to the villain who is messing with Spiridon's stream of existence. It provides them with an extrusion of itself - only a fraction of its total being - that can manifest in Rastaban (it extends one of its smaller necks - still the size of a small whale - towards them). This head, it explains, will accompany them as something akin to a familiar. Once away from Erosion, they won’t be able to see anything of it but one of its eyes, which will indicate the way forwards. Together with Zosime's bloodhound snout, they ought now to be able to track Vollux down.
No sooner have they concluded their negotiations than they feel the now familiar pull of a ritual acting upon them, tearing them away from Erosion and back once more to Rastaban.
Aided by the Eye of Lakhesis, the party finds their way down through the cellar of an inn not far from Vollux’s house, through a disguised hatch leading to a hidden second basement, and from there into a network of tunnels beneath Rom. This section of passages is clearly of artificial origin - our heroes walk through stone arches and down flights of steps until, ah! - they find the way ahead flooded… with ichor-polluted water! All is not lost, however - someone has helpfully provided a bell on a pole, not far from the water’s edge.
They ring the bell. For a moment, all is still, but then a dark shape comes gliding towards them across the surface of the water. As it draws near, it is revealed to be a huge black swan - heavily mutated with the apparent aim of converting it into a living swan boat, flat-backed and passive. Wicked hooks have been driven into its back, anchor-points for ropes that have presumably been provided so that passengers can secure themselves to the creature during the journey -
- which begins gently enough, but soon accelerates into a desperate rapids-ride through the flooded tunnels. Florian takes the prow, concentrating on beating the swan about the head and neck to steer it safely between stone columns and under low arches; the others do their best to fight back swarms of ichor-mutated rats that are now gamefully leaping aboard the boat. The rats are persistent, and it is no easy feat to defend Florian and occasionally rescue one another from the dark waters, all while ducking under each arch they pass. At last, much the worse for wear, they traverse a large underground lake, finally fetching up on the far shore. Ahead, through another ancient archway, they see a light flickering.
Our heroes head towards the light, which turns out to be shining from a single lantern at the centre of a large chamber. On one side of the room, crates and papers have been haphazardly thrown by someone clearly unacquainted with the most basic principles of housekeeping. Most of the floor is covered in arcane symbols - and there, standing at the far side of the room and wearing an expression of intense concentration, is -
- eww. Councellor Apprentice Vollux looks like death warmed up in an acid bath; his body has been horribly ravaged by Erosion. Confronted by our intrepid investigators, he admits that he is indeed responsible for manipulating the flow of Spiridon Argyris’s stream of life… but wait - this isn’t what it looks like! He spent weeks in Argyris’s company, during which the two of them grew closer. They, well, they fell in love. Spiridon's passion for his work was one of the things that had drawn Vollux to him - but it was also the cause of friction between them. Spiridon had focussed on the project to the exclusion of all else, including his health; Vollux had told him to take better care of himself - they'd had rows over it. So when, in the middle of a planning meeting, Vollux saw Argyris succumb to a heart attack and felt the boundless sea of Erosion open up in that room, ready to claim the stream of his beloved's life, he acted on impulse.
As Magister Audata’s apprentice, Vollux explains, he has some experience in Erosion Binding, an art that is little-known in Rastaban. He was able to harness this power in that moment - Spiridon should have died, but no - Vollux is holding back the sea, redirecting the waves of Erosion onto himself. If anything should disrupt the ritual, Spiridon will die in an instant - but Vollux may be able to save Spiridon at the cost of his own life, if those present will only assist him….
At this point, fed by the high concentration of Erosion in the chamber, the extrusion of Lakhesis that the party has been carrying with them - previously only visible as a single eye - is now able to manifest. Lakhesis accuses Vollux of extreme folly: you can’t hold back the sea, and this love he feels for Spiridon is misdirected - he is only causing him to suffer by cutting him off from Erosion. He's not keeping him alive; he's denying him life, which is the experience of dying. The river and the sea are the same.
Lakhesis advances upon Vollux, mouth gaping wide, provoking the party to make a decision. Will they stand in the way of Erosion as it comes to claim its own? After some deliberation (Quinn Alders has particular reason to feel conflicted), our heroes resolve to stand between Vollux and Lakhesis. The Erosion denizen is relatively weak here - the extrusion it has been able to project is only a tiny part of the whole - but still it puts up a vicious fight, extending its maw to feed upon the lives of its foes for strength. Still, our heroes are determined, and at last - after a long and bloody fight - the monster retreats, hissing a single word at its tormentors: “EMNITY”….
A queen there was who loved her king;
The two were seldom far apart
Until one day, by serpent’s sting
He lost his life and broke her heart.
If branches bare may fruit afresh
And embers kindle flames unseen,
May life return to wasted flesh
Upon the dictate of a queen?
Through forests dark and caverns grim
She sought the kingdom of the dead -
If only she could speak with him
She’d bid him follow where she led.
At last, she found the secret way
That drops into abyssal deeps.
There, in the vastness, cold and grey,
Gargantuan Lakhesis sleeps.
Lakhesis, having heard her plea,
Proposed a deal without ado:
“Consign your kingdom to the sea
And I’ll return your love to you.”
She shook her head. “I cannot give
What will persist eternally.”
She turned away, resolved to live,
Returned to land unclaimed by sea.
Atop the highest peak she made
A light to guide him back to shore.
A city that will never fade;
It bears his name forever more.