One of the treasures of the House of Nuisphais, the most influential house in the Hegemony’s Curial Council, this massive sphere was once shown widely as a symbol of the corruption and madness of the arrogant astrologer Magnus Magisterius. In the current political atmosphere of the Hegemony, it has become something of an embarrassment to the Nuisphais, thus it has not been shown publicly in some decades.
“A Most Splendid Instrument”
The Orbis Caelestis itself is a magnificent sight. A sphere nearly nine feet in diameter, its exterior is covered with mosaic work of inlaid glass and lapis lazuli, which form elegant pictures of ancient gods and goddesses of the sky and stars. Several bands of gilt bronze circle the sphere at different angles, each decorated with numerous astrological sigils and alchemical signs. A careful perusal of these bands’ symbols will find that each band is associated with a different season and ancient god, and can be adjusted to reflect the (now largely forgotten) feasts and festival days associated with the god.
In one side of the Orbis is a small hatch or portal, constructed of petrified wood and graven with an image of Huevus, the ancient 20-headed god of portals and pathways. The many-headed god’s portrait has been accented with gold, and his 40 tiny eyes of inlaid ivory seem to closely observe any entering the strange device.
Within, the Orbis’ appointments are no less impressive. Soft silken cushions with a deep black velvet pile cover the device’s small seat and the rest of the interior is covered with midnight-hued Sablewood, rarely found in the lands of the Empire. Elaborate bas-relief carvings fill the interior of the sphere, each representing various constellations and celestial figures. Once the small hatchway is secured from within, no light penetrates into the luxurious sphere.
Soon after it was seized, Sieur (Lord) Horaseus, then head of House Nuisphais, commissioned an elegant carriage to transport their magnificent trophy. A masterpiece of elegant craftsmanship, the carriage features an open chassis of white-painted hardwood, decorated with gilt arabesques that twist and curl over its delicately carved frame.
History of the Orbis Caelestis
In the last years of the Empire, a succession of mad or incompetent emperors sat upon the Throne of Bronze, bringing the Empire to its knees. Their ill-conceived military adventures, arbitrary political favoritism, and religious persecutions triggered outbreaks of rebellion in several provinces. One of the worst emperors was the tyrant Setentian. He justified his capricious rule with frequent references to astrology, claiming that the victims had been “doomed by decree of the stars” and thus were “fated to die”. At his side during Setentian’s savage purges of “rebels” and “malcontents” was the astrologer “Magnus Magisterius”, a man regarded by succeeding generations as one of the era’s most despicable sycophants. The astrologer’s conveniently enigmatic and bloodthirsty prophecies were used by Setentain to justify his terrible slaughters and other caprices.
The Orbis Caelestis was constructed to be the centerpiece of the mad Emperor’s triumphal celebrations after his XXIII Legion annihilated the inhabitants of the rebellious core Province of Chesellus. At its unveiling, the toadying astrologer decreed that it would grant the Emperor the “wisdom of the stars”, enabling his reign to endure “through all time”. When he uttered them, he had no suspicion that his prophecies would be proven false within two months. At the Midwinter Festival, the Emperor was poisoned, along with many of his courtiers. The astrologer disappeared the same night, suggesting to some that he was involved in the poisoners’ plot.
Several other emperors emerged in the chaotic years that followed, but the Empire itself fell to pieces within a decade. In the battles for control of the Capitol, the Orbis was captured by partisans of House Nuisphais, who displayed it in the ensuing decades as a reminder of their role in the overthrow of the corrupt tyrants that had once oppressed the people.
With the Hegemon’s rise to power and the reunification of many of the Empire’s balkanized lands under his “Unity Banner”, the tyranicidal sentiment of those times became a political liability. None of the current ruling houses wish to display symbols of political overthrow, so the Orbis has been hidden away for decades, an embarrassment to the very house that once gloried in its possession.
“The Magick of the Spheres Celestial”
Many astrologers and mages have studied the Orbis in the many years since its construction; most have quickly discovered the first of its magical functions with simple experimentation. When the bronze bands that surround the exterior are shifted so that the festival days of each of the bands’ ancient gods are each aligned with an appropriate calendar date depicted on the golden framework that holds them in place, the initial enchantment of the Orbis is activated. The bands can be set to reflect a particular year, day and time; anyone climbing within the Orbis at that time will find that the interior displays the celestial sphere exactly as it would have been overhead at the set time. The various planets are properly arranged and the stars and constellations are clearly visible. If the time selected would have been during daylight hours, a golden disk depicts the sun’s location without interfering with the clear view of the stars. In other ways, the illusion of a starry sky is complete. If someone within the device reaches out to touch the interior surface, the constellations and celestial figures within will gently fluoresce, showing their patterns overlain by those of the starry sky beyond.
If the bands outside the Orbis are not aligned to reflect a date that could actually occur, the interior of the sphere will remain inert. As the bands tend to shift slightly with any jar or movement into or out of the sphere, they will usually be found slightly out of alignment. Those using the Orbis need to take care not to jar or bump the device when entering or exiting, lest they inadvertently misalign the bands and deactivate its enchantment.
The Secret of the Orbis
Known by the arrogant pseudonym “Magnus Magisterius” (“The Great Master”), the infamous astrologer that commissioned the sphere’s construction was much more than a simple sycophant. In his studies, he had encountered the forbidden and blasphemous Scrolls of Ptesh Na-Khet, in the infamous translation of Lord Graff d’Aumare. Despite the numerous errors and distortions that riddle that accursed text, he learned enough to make contact with “Those That Hunger Beyonde”, demonic abominations whispered of in hushed tones even by the wisest of sages. They taught him secret lore unknown by any other man of his time, but left him twisted and warped within, filled with desires that were only sated by chaos and despair. He became an active agent for the entropy that these creatures showed him, acting secretly to reshape the world around him to resemble the madness that ruled his mind.
The ultimate achievement of a warped mind, the Orbis Caelestis is far more than a simple tool of astrology; its true magic hidden within the puzzle of the gilt bronze bands that orbit it. A small handful of the astrologers that have studied the device have discovered this secret, and have paid with their lives and souls. When the bands surrounding the Orbis were precisely set to one of the dates and times sacred to the blasphemous alien gods described in the Na-Khet Papyri, the unfortunate scholars within were put in contact with Those That Hunger Beyonde, hellish alien monstrosities from beyond space and time as we know it. Stunned by the revelations forced upon their unwilling minds, the Orbis’ victims were unable to resist when the creatures beyond drew them physically into their incomprehensible dimension and devoured them utterly.
He That Waits At Ye Portalle
Worse than that, the vile astrologer responsible for this evil device, Magnus Magisterius, secretly survived his Emperor’s fall. Protected from their alien hungers by the twisted magicks his warped mind had mastered, he fled to the alien dimension of his true masters, where he has been reshaped into a creature of nightmare. No longer human, he has become He That Waits At Ye Portalle, an alien servant of alien masters, constantly seeking an opportunity to return and prepare the world for his masters’ eventual resurgence. Those who discover the settings favored by the warped astrologer may find themselves face-to-face with the thing he has become, an unholy aberration filled with hunger and malice.
The Verses of Madness
The Orbis has a sinister effect on those who dwell near it. Strange nightmares and images haunt their dreams; dark imaginings drive the most sensitive toward despair.
One such victim of the Orbis’ malign influence was the young nobleman Palané Nuisphais. This unfortunate committed suicide soon after his betrothal to a girl of a different noble family was announced: His collected letters were later circulated widely and became a popular critique of ill-conceived arranged marriages among the land’s nobles. Those familiar with the Orbis will soon recognize that the young man had spent a great deal of time studying the magnificent sphere and frequently rested within its quiet solitude, but as his letters progress, the image of the starry sky opening up and devouring him became more prevalent. By the last few letters, he seems to have been obsessing constantly about being swallowed up and losing his soul. Most readers have seen this as a fanciful analogy to his planned marriage to an overbearing, dominating heiress, but those suspicious of the Orbis may see that a more literal interpretation is reasonable. In the end, the lad took his own life while within the starry embrace of the Orbis. His final letter bemoaned that he could not escape his fate, for he was “doomed by decree of the stars”.