A fortnight ago, Folks in both heaven and earth witnessed strange signs and ominous portents stretching from the Upper Reaches of Sky to the lowest valleys of Land. Most of the witness’ reports were vague, redundant, or overwrought. But some of them were…intriguing.
In Sky, broad-shouldered airmen who sailed their snow-white galleon with mainsails rigged like billowing cumulus clouds, navigated across the sea of aether between the ports of call in the constellations of the Upper Reaches and the cloud banks of the Lower Reaches. One night, the sailors experienced a strange phenomena. At first, the waves of aether lapped gently against the hull of their galleon, as is their wont most summer nights at these altitudes. But without warning, a shaft of light as bright as day erupted from beneath the surface of the aether, and continued upward to a particular point in the Upper Reaches. Suddenly, the aether and air and clouds began to circle around the axis of light as if it were the eye of a cyclone, and in turn the hapless galleon was dragged around the whirlpool as well.
Fearing for their lives, the airmen lashed themselves to the gunwales as their ship tossed and turned end for end. But looking over the sides, the airmen swore that the light seemed to originate not in the sea of aether that surrounded them, but far below the Lower Reaches, in the Domain of Land, and then rose far above, into the Upper Reaches of Heaven. So violent was the storm that in the upper altitudes, near the shining axis of the maelstrom, the stars which are otherwise fixed and inviolate, seemed to swirl around the shaft of light as well. The swarm of stars in their traces left myriad concentric arcs of stardust in their wake. But then, just as suddenly as it began, the storm ended; the seas calmed; and the stars returned to their rightful places.
On Land, villagers living at the foot of a great mountain were troubled when they looked up the mountainside to see a strange beam of light as hard-edged and blinding as the beacon of a lighthouse, streaking into the night sky. And at the point where the beam seemed to skewer the sky, the villagers swore the stars themselves began to move, then swirl, and then streak round and round in a great circle.
On Land, keen-eyed stargazers in their observatories and watchtowers thought they were hallucinating when they thought they saw a distant shaft of light rise up from near Mt. Majestic, and then lance the firmament. Moments later, stars which were as bright and numerous as snowflakes in a winter storm, began to spiral around the shaft of light. And then, just as abruptly as it began, the stars ceased revolving madly and returned to their proper places in the night sky.
On Land, word of the strange phenomena in the sky—and whether it portended famine, plague, disaster, or war—spread like wildfire. People were rightfully confused and afraid. “Are the gods angry?” “Is the Cosmos about to die, and then be reborn without even a memory of our expiry?” “Is this the end of the world?” Every person responsible for the well-being and future of their loved ones entreated their sovereign and protector, the King, to answer their fears.
The King’s advisors had made their liege aware of his subjects’ inquiries and concerns, but as of yet he had no answers for them. However, he did know and have at his command, the perfect person to discover the answers to his people’s entreaties. His name was Kevin Galwynn, the King’s own Master of Enlightenment.
Kevin and his apprentices quickly set about collecting, categorizing, and culling the assorted misinterpretations, rumors, hearsay, reliable accounts, and indisputable facts reported about the strange phenomena in Sky, and how that phenomena’s aftermath was affecting life on Land.
News came to the Master of Enlightenment by way of diplomatic briefs from ambassadors to Sky; breathless messengers riding across the kingdom; exhausted carrier pigeons and witch’s owls; quarrelsome gaggles of priests, theologians, and philosophers who could come to no conclusion but wanted answers; irascible noblemen seeking to calm their peasants and tenants; and hapless insomniacs who had been trying to put themselves to sleep that night by counting stars, but now feared they would never sleep again after what they had seen.
Most eerie of all were the spheres of swirling eldritch light that appeared out of thin air and conveyed the ghostly, disembodied voices of witches and wizards, who then whispered reports of the unsettling things that had begun to happen to their spells ever since the stars ran riot.
On this last point, Kevin sought the counsel of his personal advisor on all matters occult, his own wife, the Goodwitch Lady Elspeth Galwynn. “These times are passing strange, dear husband,” murmured Elspeth quietly, over dinner one night, “and getting stranger day by day. The Goddess Moon is the patron of all goodwitches, not just my coven. Our magic and strength is mystically bound to her approval, benevolence, and mood.”
At the other end of the dinner table, Kevin and Elspeth’s young children, a precocious girl and a bright-eyed boy, abruptly broke out into an argument that was destined to surely end with bruises and thrown food. Without looking, Elspeth made a casual gesture in the air, and suddenly a swarm of winged pixies appeared out of nowhere over the children’s heads. The pixies chided the children on their bad behavior and stung their tender ears with prickly spells until they stopped fighting and behaved properly. When their task was done, the pixies disappeared in the blink of an eye, back into the aether.
Now that order was restored, Elspeth continued relating her concerns to her husband. “Ever since that night when the fixed stars wandered from their homes, the potions brewing in the Goodwitches’ cauldrons have begun to spoil like curdled milk,” she said. “Our enchantments sputter and crackle and howl like black match before they take effect. Our healing potions in the infirmaries take three or four times as long as normal to cure the sick, if they cure at all. And when we gaze into our crystal orbs to foresee the future, all we behold is Goddess Moon’s vestments sweeping past our view, back and forth, back and forth, like the flanks of a silver wolf on the hunt.
“Times are indeed passing strange, dear husband,” Elspeth repeated, with a faraway look in her eyes, before she shivered and came back to herself. But by then, Kevin had moved to his wife’s side, and held her. “Kevin…” Elspeth whispered softly, “my coven…and I…are becoming…afraid.”