September’s event is hosted by Johnn Four at Roleplaying Tips. Johnn also co-ordinates the Blog Carnival, so this month is very much a home event.
The topic for September is Curses. Johnn describes the topic as follows:
Whether it’s your favourite ways to use the Curse spell, ideas you have about cursed magic items, or stories you have about the predicaments of cursed PCs in your campaign.
Magic of Summerland
Once again, I shall combine Johnn’s theme with the Carnival I hosted in June. This essay therefore describes the Ever-burning Orb, a powerful magic item which has brought a dark curse to Summerland.
The source of the curse in question is the Ever-burning Orb, a sphere of burning shadow about two handspans in diameter. As suggested by its name, the Orb is wreathed in flickering flames. The size of these black flames vary according to the environment, as the Orb consumes light.
Thus, in a darkened room the Orb has tiny flames which flicker intermittently over its smooth surface. If plunged into magical darkness, then the Orb becomes an inert sphere of solid shadow, slightly cool to the touch.
Under burning torches, or similar artificial light, the Orb is engulfed in flame. The Orb becomes dangerous when in natural shadows of the sun, such as on a cloudy day, or in a room with windows. Now the Orb is an inferno of black flame, equivalent in size to a bonfire. Unless quickly shrouded in darkness, flames from the Orb will ignite any nearby combustible. These black flames will burn as long as light remains, turning affected items or creatures into blackened shadow-matter.
The Orb in Sunlight
The true power of the Ever-burning Orb is only revealed if it is exposed to direct sunlight. This triggers a shadow-flame fireball which converts the location into a nexus of shadow. Creatures caught in the blast become dark matter versions of their former selves. The nexus of shadow is a permanent part of the Plane of Shadow, which slowly expands so long as the Orb remains at its heart.
Meanwhile, the Orb continues to draw power from the sun. It burns with an intensity sufficient to melt rock. Unless somehow removed from the direct sunlight, the nexus of shadow will continue growing.
This is exactly what happened in Summerland. First, however, a brief explanation of how this shadow relic arrived in the land of eternal summer.
History of the Orb
As with so much of the history of this fey realm, the origins of this tragedy lie with the bitter relationship between the Seelie and Unseelie Courts. Each side blames the other, and no fey can ever be relied upon as a witness. Whatever the deeper history, the tale of the Ever-burning Orb begins with a ball held in the Palace of Night.
Either this was a period of reconciliation between King Oberon and Queen Titania, or the Queen had been tricked into appearing. All stories agree that the Queen, and select members of her Court, appeared at the masked ball.
Never had the Palace of Night held such a glittering affair. Enchanted diamonds floated through the air, glowing with silver starlight. Intoxicating perfumes drifted through the warm night, and an orchestra of birds played the finest of waltzes.
The Velvet Dancer
Into this cavalcade of laughter stepped a slim figure dressed entirely in green velvet. The masked figure announced himself to be the finest dancer in the united fey realms, and demanded a dance with the Queen.
By turns charmed and amused, the Queen waltzed with the Velvet Dancer. As a token of his affection, this masked charmer presented the intoxicated Queen with a shining black pearl.
Except this trinket was no simple pearl, it was the Ever-burning Orb. In the magical starlight of the Palace of Night, the Orb was inert. Or perhaps the Velvet Dancer used illusion magicks to make the Orb appear as a simple pearl. Wilder stories suggest the Dancer was King Oberon himself, beguiling the Queen at his own masked ball.
Regardless of the exact source of the Orb, the Queen was tricked into returning the artefact to Summerland. Fortunately, it was past midnight when she arrived back at her own Palace. The pearl was discarded in her boudoir, only to erupt into dark flames at dawn.
The Queen had carried the curse of darkfire to Summerland, and her Palace bore the brunt of the Orb’s initial surge of power. The Queen fled the dark inferno, although hushed whispers suggest she was badly scorched by the experience.
Numerous maids, guards and palace staff were not so lucky. Many were consumed by the shadowy flames, as was one entire wing of the Palace. Only prompt action by Valthalion the Bright saved the Palace from total destruction. Despite taking horrendous wounds from the Orb, the Queen’s Champion carried it safely away from the Palace.
The Ever-burning Orb has brought more than short-term destruction to Summerland. It’s malign influence has cast a shadow into the heart of the kingdom. Even as it lurks in the depths of the Wildwood, the Orb is slowly corrupting the hearts of the summer fey.
None more so than those poor souls it engulfed in shadow-fire when first it burst into black flames. These cursed creatures are known as the flickering fey, for shadow fire ever flickers about their tortured bodies.
Withered and shrunken, twisted almost beyond recognition, these corrupted fey haunt the darkest glades of the Wildwood. Thal the Burnt, the former Queen’s Champion whose very name was consumed by the Orb, seeks to bind the flickering fey to his will. Despite his severe injuries, Thal is certain the Queen’s magic can yet restore his twisted tribe to their former glories.
Many flickering fey share Thal’s vision of redemption. However, the Orb is ever burning in their sight, and ever whispering in their dreams. Doubt is spreading, for the Queen has not yet ridden into the Wildwood to dispense her healing. Perhaps she will never come. Perhaps she has forgotten their plight, and the dark ecstasy of the Orb’s caress.
Perhaps she needs reminding of their fate. Thal the Burnt cannot guard the Orb ceaselessly. If they were to take the Orb back out into the light, let it bathe in sunlight, then this would goad the Queen into fulfilling her royal duties.
Creatures of the Night
The curse of the Orb is not limited to those fey who have endured its fiery blessing. The shadow at the heart of Summerland has affected all the residents. The sun seems less bright, the songs less joyful and the night itself feels longer. Laughter now is forced, and the poems are full of melancholy for a lost idyll.
Many fey believe themselves under siege, from both within and without. There is increased pressure on the borders as the Orb draws more creatures of the night into Summerland. The Queen’s Guard have never been so busy protecting the borders of Summerland from marauders. Nor has the Wildwood ever been so gloomy, and alive with prowling shadows.
A Cursed Queen?
For all the wishes of the flickering fey, it seems the Queen is the most deeply affected by the arrival of the Ever-burning Orb. All the evidence points to the Velvet Dancer targeting the Queen with the Orb, and whatever curse the Orb has brought to Summerland, it bites the Queen most deeply.
Queen Titania has taken to wearing black silk gloves which reach almost to her shoulders, suggesting the scars from her exposure to the Orb are slow to heal. Some courtiers whisper tales of the Queen’s long golden hair showing signs of darkening.
Yet for all the physical changes, it is the heart of the Queen which has suffered the greatest burns. Where once the Queen was lively and joyous, now she is solemn and quiet. As the light fades from the eyes of the monarch, so too dims the sun.
The immediate future for Summerland looks bleak. Princess Mab grows increasingly concerned, as the malady affecting her mother grows. Yet, it is unclear whether the crisis is another move in the eternal battle with the Unseelie Court, or an affair of the royal heart.
How should Princess Mab proceed? What additional threats may the Ever-burning Orb pose to the Kingdom? How can this mighty fey curse be lifted? Share your thoughts with your fellow GMs in the comments below.
Do you need more Tales?