The Shift Debacle that centered around Empathic Shifting and other forbidden powers.
To fully appreciate these events, you need to know the history of the Empath guild. Some of this is described in the books Jomay's Story and Khalo: A Student's Primer. Other details come from recent statements by Annael, Eksharo, and Salvur.
Early History of Empaths and the Imperial Healers' Guild
Long ago (during the time of the Empire or possibly even earlier), the First Empaths developed supernatural empathy. Every child born since that event was born with a small degree of inherent empathy, but most have suppressed it (through acts of violence) by the time they reach adulthood. In time the First Empaths grew incredibly powerful and achieved a state that we refer to as ascension. They secluded themselves, barely able to tolerate each others' presence, much less that of society.
In their absence, the Imperial Healers' Guild was formed during the reign of Emperor Lenvuc (son of Morganae) some time between 894 and 670 BL. One of the founders was Mauk, one of Akroeg's greatest soldiers, who "abandoned his thirst for violence for the more peaceful task of gathering and cultivating the healing talents of those around him." Little else is known about the early history of the Imperial Healers' Guild.
Fast forward a few centuries. An Elven girl named Jomay was born. She was born deformed, with neither a nose nor ears. The midwife who delivered Jomay had "to create impromptu nostrils and ear openings with a spare knife." As a result, she had a grotesque appearance that has been likened to an Elf/S'Kra crossbreed. Her childhood was made even more difficult by abuse at the hands of her father. She ran away at the age of 15 and joined the Imperial Healers' Guild, the only guild that would accept such a deformed child.
At first, she devoted her life to trying to find a way to look normal, but over time, she developed other interests. She worked under Niedave, the most brilliant guild researcher of her day. They were working with ristan'dias, a type of insect. Unexpectedly, Niedave was found dead, her body covered in what appeared to be insect bites and purple hives. Suspicion surrounded Jomay, because she was the last to see Niedave alive, but no one could prove anything, and Jomay denied it. She seemed to be in shock over the loss of her mentor, the one person who had the potential to help her figure out how to overcome her deformity.
But people began to see past Jomay's grotesque appearance and recognized her talents. During the next five years, she rose rapidly through the ranks, becoming the Khalo (leader) in charge of research and ultimately Khalo'rae'Fand (the head of the entire guild) by the tender age of 50. This was during the reign of Empress Surleerik (337-330 BL).
During Jomay's brief tenure as head of the guild, she became increasingly absent. At the time people believed that Jomay was trying to perfect the link ability, which allows an Empath to connect with another person's mind to gain his abilities. However, that changed two months later, when a group known as the Liva'anneg began spreading ristan'dias throughout the countryside. These insects spread a plague that maimed and disfigured. Hundreds died. Witnesses claimed to have seen Jomay spreading the plague-bearing insects. This went on for three months until Jomay's brother (a wanted murderer) led villagers to a cave where they found Jomay and 16 accomplices bound and gagged.
Jomay blamed her brother, Jimohe, but would say no more. The 17 were brought before Empress Surleerik. They were convicted of spreading the plague and trying to assassinate the empress. They were all executed. After the execution, it became apparent that Jomay had shifted her brother, Jimohe, to look like her. (Presumably, Jimohe's appearance reverted to normal upon death.) Jomay's current whereabouts is unknown.
A New Empaths' Guild
The plague threatened the very existence of the Imperial Healers' Guild. People feared the Empaths, and the Empire felt like it could no longer ignore them. Apparently, the First Empaths began to regret the power of empathy that they had unleashed. They knew that empathy could not be completely removed, so instead they decided that its power should be "channeled only into the transference of injuries, so as to prevent it from growing too great, as it has with us." They attempted to eradicate knowledge of all other empathic powers from the public record.
The Imperial Healers' Guild reinvented itself and became known as the Empaths' Guild. The secret history and lore of the guild were divided among the leaders so that no one person would possess all of the knowledge. (Each Khalo "inherits" the lore of his predecessor and does not share notes with the other Khalo.) Meanwhile, members of the Empaths' Guild would be taught only to heal. They would never be allowed to learn the other applications of empathy. (If asked, guild leaders would feign ignorance.)
As Salvur (a guild researcher) put it, "Through study and the application of empathy, we can hold more power than any other guild could care to imagine, even the Warrior Mages." However, despite this immense potential, the guild has a propensity "to walk small and quash innovation" due to Jomay's actions.
The guild's attempt to reinvent itself has been largely successful. Most Empaths think of themselves as healers, and few outside the guild have any inkling that there is more to being an Empath than healing. Many go out of their way to protect Empaths, seeing them as defenseless.
The Spread of Forbidden Knowledge
Within the past few decades, cracks have begun to form in the guild's carefully manufactured façade.
One such crack formed when one of the First Empaths, Trylaine, reemerged to teach Empaths how to manipulate creatures to switch their allegiance to that of the Empath. (There may be other applications of this ability, as suggested by both the syntax and Eksharo's threats to compel Annael.) Trylaine's presence also gave Empaths an idea of what was possible through empathy. He could sense every death on the planet. He is able to shift himself, an ability that still eludes modern Empaths. So powerful was this ability that he could assume any form (even that of a tortoise). Witnesses say that his physical form continually shifted to mirror the forms of those around him.
The link and shift abilities are other powers that are not taught by the guild. As these unsanctioned abilities were rediscovered, the guild tried to suppress the knowledge, but the genie could not be put back into the bottle. The guild simply denied their existence, forcing Empaths who wanted forbidden knowledge to go to unofficial sources. (Shifting must be learned from an NPC who lives in hiding, whereas the ability to link with other Empaths and to manipulate wild creatures must be learned from a fellow Empath.)
The forbidden knowledge that the guild has tried hardest to suppress is the shift ability. Recently (as of 34 Shorka 406), the guild managed to convince two provincial governments that shifting is so dangerous that they should use the criminal justice system to enforce the guild's decrees. After all, as Annael put it, "shifting, is dangerous. To governments. You might shift someone to look like a ruler, or an assassin to look like a trusted guardsman. But none of those things have actually happened." Currently, Empaths who are caught shifting within the justice zones of Zoluren and Therengia are charged with the crime of forbidden practices and punished accordingly.
Asrea, Eksharo, and Annael
Eksharo is the Khalo rae Moda (or leader of the mouth) for Zoluren. (The Khalo rae Modien are the highest ranking members of the guild. There is one for each province.) The Modien speak for the guild and hold the most knowledge of its lore. The third and lowest ranking tier of leaders is the Khalo rae Wen (or leader of the young). They are responsible for training members. Annael was one of these Wen.
Recently, Asrea has been making it more difficult for the guild to suppress knowledge of empathy's potential. She has been telling anyone who will listen about her role in the ritual that helped to bring down Lyras, how it changed her, and the guild's lies. The guild has denounced her as a madwoman, although Annael confirmed (after she resigned as a guildleader) that much of what Asrea has been saying is true.
Little is known about the ritual that Eksharo performed on Lyras except that it nearly killed him and caused him to lose his empathy. (Asrea claims that she was used as a conduit for Eksharo using the "link of life" to disrupt the "link of unlife" of Lyras, and that as a result, she aged rapidly.) Even without his empathic powers, he is a "powerful personality." According to Annael, Eksharo used to be a good Moda, but the ritual changed him. She said that something is also wrong with Asrea as a result of that ritual.
Despite the guild's denunciation of her, Asrea continued to try to spread her message. She arranged a gathering in Langenfirth and apparently kidnapped Mirinn (a former Moda and current Aev or eye of the guild) and tried to force her to disclose something. However, Asrea's efforts were hampered by Therengians who were enforcing the provincial ban against her. (Asrea has apparently been banned since Outcast times, and many of her supporters believe that the newfound zeal for enforcing her ban has something to do with the guild's attempt to silence her.) During the gathering, Mirinn was killed by a Cleric.
Eksharo has been trying to get Mirinn to give him a list of all of the Empaths who were present at the gathering so that they can be "rounded up and punished," alleging that by their mere presence they were "complicit" in Mirinn's murder and that they should have known better than to go "nosing after knowledge that is not for [them] to know." Mirinn has refused to cooperate with Eksharo.
Knowing that Mirinn and Annael are close, Eksharo tried to get Annael to meet with him secretly, but she refused to meet with him unless it was in public, in front of her students and assistants. Eksharo appeared and ordered Annael to give him the list of names, but she refused. Annael resigned (or was forced to resign) as Wen in protest. She said that the guild "should be teaching [Empaths] how to be responsible with this knowledge], not viciously suppressing them."
In protest of the guild's policy and in support of Annael, several Empaths have called for a boycott of the guildhall in Crossing. They are healing people outside the guildhall and asking people who want to be healed to go there instead of the Infirmary.
Eksharo appointed Salvur (the guild researcher who was studying the vela'tohr) as Annael's replacement. Salvur had apparently run afoul of the guild before, and as punishment, they "ruined his life with a smile" by banishing him to study plants in the middle of nowhere. He says that he does not want to be Wen but feels like the alternative would be worse.
Apparently, Salvur has discovered that the vela'tohr have some latent empathic abilities but that the current population (in the southern provinces) are blighted with madness. Salvur was trying to establish an untainted population of vela'tohr from seeds, but so far the plants have failed to thrive without others of their kind. Annael hinted that one goal of this research was to find a way to restore Eksharo's lost empathy. (This foreshadowed the shock rewrite that allows Empaths to undergo a quest to recover from permanent shock.)
During this time frame an unknown assailant began to bomb the Crossing guild Empath Infirmary. Many adventurers were killed or injured in a series of strikes on several occasions. Aev Halfrida began to investigate the bombings.
Later the bombings escalated from thrown bombs to those tied to cats.
Through visions, it has been discovered that the Elpalzi were involved in the cat-related bombings, however it was later discovered to have no connection to Empath politics. The Empaths guild was simply a vulnerable location for the Elpalzi to attack.
1) Your vision blackens momentarily, and you find yourself in a dark room, a young Elpalzi tinkering with some sort of explosive device, with cages of various small animals stacked behind him. The last thing you see is a pair of Elpalzi hands removing a spitting and hissing cat from its cage. The vision ends.
2) Your vision goes hazy and you find yourself looking at a village with a large gathering of Elpalzi. A small group has broken off, and looks to be standing away from the bigger cluster. From the large group, one, clearly an elder steps forward and says, "No. We want peace." Your view changes, and you find yourself looking at the smaller group, all appear to be younger and angrier. One of them, his piercing crystal blue eyes blazing, spits on the ground before the small knot turns their backs and disappears from the village.