A horn resounding
"How do you know?" he said. Not his best question ever, but hopefully enough to get Kirsa talking.
"How do I know what?" Kirsa responded, without so much as breaking her stride.
"How do you know now is the right moment?" he expanded, casting a pointed glance at the great horn slung across Kirsa's back. The scop smiled at her young protégé's question but she only coughed meaningfully. Reet sighed heavily, screwed up his face in concentration, and tried again.
"A hundred wild... winters... weathered..." his voice haltering as he picked over each word before picking up speed. "What sparrow sighted... now signals spring?" He beamed up at Kirsa, that was pretty good!
The tall woman kept walking but she grinned back at her apprentice in obvious approval. Still she didn't respond, if anything she increased her pace and Reet had to scurry to keep up. "Not fair!" he protested, "I did it so you have to answer..."
The older woman laughed and then filled her lungs with air, allowing her voice to fill the glade as she recited the stanza.
"Wind the horn,
as winter comes,
to summon Summers might.
But hold your breath,
til battle breaks,
for aid is loaned not lightly."
"That's not fair!" Reet shouted and he stamped his foot causing a splash of muddy water to cover him and his teacher. "I know that verse... I know the whole thing. You received the Horn of Hope from your master, and so on and so on - I know that bit. What I can't work out is how do you know, after all these years, that this is the moment to use it?"
Kirsa looked at her student with evident disapproval but the look melted as he pleaded with her. "Please Kirsa... just tell me."
Kirsa resumed walking, but she veered off the path towards a fallen tree. Sweeping her cloak wide over the rough bark she sat down and indicated for Reet to sit next to her. He hopped up on to the trunk, happy for a break from the walking as much for his success in getting Kirsa talking.
"Do you know what a hero is Reet?" She paused for a moment to let the question sink in. "A hero is someone who doesn't know." She stopped again for a moment before continuing. "There's no heroism in throwing away your life in a doomed charge. And there's nothing heroic about a triumph that could never have failed." She looked at her apprentice, but it was clear from the blank face staring back at her that more was needed. "Doubt and fear come from the unknown. A hero is someone who doesn't know.... but who chooses to act just the same."
Reet stared at her, a look of horror on his face as he caught her drift. "So... you don't know?" He spoke slowly struggling to take in the enormity of what Kirsa was saying. "We're walking all the way to Rundhal. The Horn of Hope - it's been kept safe for over a century. You've decided now is the time to use it... But you don't know?"
"How could I know Reet?" she responded. "Can I speak with the the ancestors in the swamp? Will a mystic give me the answer?" she asked rhetorically. "We were told to keep it safe and only use it at the darkest hour. Well the Orcs have Skarsind, and the Jotun have the ice flows. Wintermark is half what it once was. That seems pretty dark to me! But how would anyone actually know if this was the moment that was foretold? We can only know for sure that we should have used it after the war is lost and we're all slain. Do you want me to wait until then?"
Reet wrinkled up his nose trying to take it all in. It made sense when Kirsa said it like that - but still. It seemed like a pretty terrifying decision to make.
Kirsa pushed the young lad off the fallen tree and stepped down into the shallow water. "Now - no more stops til we stand at Rundhal. And... no more wasted words - not til the final feast is fed!"
Reet grimaced but Kirsa only laughed. "What else makes a hero Reet?" she demanded of her student. "Practice" he responded glumly. "Hours and hours and hours of practice..."
"That's right!" the scop exclaimed. "It's two more hours to Rundhal and you can talk as much as you like all the way there... provided everything you say is in verse!"
Kirsa Wordsmith is a scop from Woodheath in Hahnmark. The latest in a long line of scops, she bears the Horn of Hope, a powerful artifact won from the Knight of the Long Road sometime in 273YE. According to the legends, the horn could be winded only when Wintermark faced its darkest hour, but if that should be done, then the realm of Summer would hear the call and provide heroes to aid the Empire.
Kirsa and her forebears have guarded the Horn for over a century, until the scop decided that now was the moment to draw on its power. Accompanied only by her apprentice she travelled to Rundhal in Kallavesa to discuss the matter with the mystics there. There she found a coven of Summer magicians willing to perform a powerful ritual, to magnify the horn's effect. At the height of the Summer Solstice they performed the ritual together and at its conclusion Kirsa winded the great horn. According to onlookers, it gave forth a single note so loud that the horn shattered in her hand.
And then... nothing. No Summer heroes marched forth from the regio. Days turned into weeks and then to months. And still there was no sign of any aid issuing forth from the Summer realm to help the Empire. Most people eventually concluded that the Kirsa must have chosen the time unwisely and the horn's magic had failed as a result. Only when everyone had completely stopped looking did a response come... and it was not where people had looked for it.
Coming of Age
While most of the Empire's attention is on the peculiar fog, there is a second strange effect that slowly permeates the land. A number of young people - almost invariably those under sixteen years of age who have yet to come of age - have evidenced very noticeable growth spurts. The effects vary wildly, but in all cases they share one key detail in common - the child experiences a burst of energy and growth that lasts around a month or so, at the end of which time they have physically aged by between one and three years.
These spurts are clearly supernatural in nature. Every well-designed divination reveals similar information - that each child is experiencing a coming of age due to a burst of Summer magic. There is nothing particularly harmful about the magic, rather it seems to encourage each child to grow swiftly towards their full potential. The children are simply blossoming with the aid of some powerful but subtle Summer magic.
The changes are not merely physical - those experiencing them show the same mental and emotional development as they do physical development. As a result, after determining that the effects are permanent, the Academy has been working closely with the Imperial Civil Service to prepare emergency tests of citizenship for those whose physical and mental age now marks them as adults.
The Academy are far from the only people who are interested in this strange Summer magic. A Highborn chapter named the Seers of the Barren Tree are happy to acknowledge that a Wintermarker may have provoked the effect, but they believe that something much more profound is happening and they have a way to prove it. Likewise many others are taking keen interest in what this development might portend.
Coming of Age in Play
All of our young players who attend Empire are now two years older than they used to be, despite the fact that no time has passed in game. While this is clearly also true of all our older players, this is easier to explain away in play as a result of a long, harsh Winter and the worries of recent events. Any player who is still under eighteen who wishes to can choose to roleplay that their character was affected by this flare of Summer magic even if they are not at this summit. This means their character has grown rapidly this winter, gaining all the physical and mental benefits of having aged a few years or so in the span of a few months.
This effect is completely optional, players who would prefer to simply ignore the fact that they are a few years older than last time they played are absolutely free to do so. A parent with a toddler is free to state that this is a different child to the one that accompanied them last time they were at Anvil if they choose. This plot provides everyone with an explanation they can use, but you don't have to. There's no requirement for this to have affected any young player, and there are no lingering aftereffects - it's not our intention to do any further "plot" with this occurrence. No-one will miss out by choosing not to be a "Summer Child".
Any player who is now sixteen or older can be assumed to have completed their Test of Citizenship over the last month or so, in much the same way any other adult player character is assumed to have passed their citizenship test before they enter the game.
The common view of most Imperial citizens is that these "Summer Children" have grown into the heroes the Empire needs, just a little quicker than anyone expected. A few people assume that the magic marks every member of this cohort as significant in some way, suggesting that they have some great role to play in the Empire's future. There is no evidence to support that guess though, and participants are free to take any view of this they choose.
The Barren Tree
The Seers of the Barren Tree were founded in Woodbury in 317YE by a charismatic preacher called John the Watcher. John was a scholar who came to Highguard to study and catalogue past life visions. He was inspired to found the Seers of the Barren Tree, after studying the life of Tarsus of Casinea. As a young man, Tarsus managed to secure a dose of True Liao. Although the details of how he came by the liao were lost, the vision was extraordinary, with Tarsus discovering that he was the reincarnation of a legendary Wintermark hero named Marjatta of the Three Spears, a contemporary of Empress Richilde. Stories of Marjatta's life paint her as a larger-than-life figure who achieved many remarkable deeds including the destruction of the Crimson Artok in the mountains above Sermersuaq; the defeat of Agramant's terrible champion Jedza Toothunger in the forests of Hercynia; and serving as Field Marshal during the Battle of the Golden Groves, a key engagement during the conquest of Karsk. This extraordinary revelation created a great deal of expectation - wonderful things were expected of anyone who was the reincarnation of such a legendary figure.
In fact Tarsus appears to have achieved no notable successes. He remained cloistered in his chapter-house in Casinea, tending to his fruit trees and never returned to Anvil. While such disappointments are not unknown, John became convinced that there was a reason for this particular failure. He believed that this great heroine had been reborn too early. The chapterhouse at Woodbury was based on John's teachings that the greatest heroes of the Empire are usually reborn when the Empire needs them most.
This view is not exactly orthodox, but the articulate philosophers of the Barren Tree have always skilfully parried any criticisms on that front. In fact their engagement with the Synod was so successful that in 343YE one of them was made Gatekeeper of Wisdom. With some effort he was able to persuade his fellow gatekeepers to provide the chapter with a dose of true liao so that they might test their theory. However, rather than employ the previous liao immediately, it was instead secured in the chapter house in Woodbury, with the gatekeeper's chaptermates claiming that now was not the right time.
It now transpires, that this was the moment the Seers were waiting for. The Seers accept the Horn of Hope as the common explanation for the Summer Children, but they claim that Kirsa's ritual only worked because so many great heroes have now been reborn. Few can deny that these are tumultuous times for the Empire - but the Seers believe that many of the great Imperial heroes of the past three hundred years have been reincarnated as a result. In effect the Summer magic only served to highlight a truth that might otherwise have gone unnoticed for many years.
To test this theory, the group have arranged with the Tribune of the Synod to have them ask the Council of Gatekeepers to allocate one additional dose of true liao. The only proviso being that it must go to a virtuous child, someone who is now a citizen but who on paper at least is under sixteen years of age, and who publicly says they will use the liao to obtain a vision. Their hope is that the resulting past life vision will provide evidence to support their theory.
Obviously the Council of Gatekeepers can choose whether they wish to accede to the Seers' request. However the true liao remains the property of the chapter house until it is gifted to the recipient, who have given strict instructions that it is to be returned to them if a suitable candidate is not chosen. Their expressed hope is that the Gatekeepers will find the right individual by liaising with the Academy and by speaking with young citizens to question them on their virtue and their ambitions.
Profound Decisions have a robust set of child protection policies which we encourage all participants to read. However the single most important element that all event attendees should be aware of is the need to avoid being alone with a child. It is very important that older players make all possible efforts to avoid situations where they are alone with a child. The ideal situation is to have at least one other adult and two or more children present at any time.
The Barren Tree in Play
- At the forthcoming Winter Solstice, the council of Gatekeepers will have one additional dose of true liao that they can allocate
- The Barren Tree will provide this dose of true liao, if the Gatekeepers chose a young participant who has passed their citizenship test
- The Tribune of the Synod will interview whoever is granted a dose of true liao and prepare them to receive a vision at the next summit they attend
At the forthcoming Winter Solstice, the council of Gatekeepers will be able to allocate one additional dose of true liao, provided they choose a young participant, someone who is under 16. The chosen candidate must have passed their Test of Citizenship. The council are not obliged to choose a suitable candidate, but the dose of true liao won't be forthcoming unless they do so.
As with any normal dose of true liao, the chosen candidate will be interviewed by civil servants working for the office of the Tribune of the Synod. If the candidate confirms that they wish to use the dose of true liao to receive a vision, then the Tribune will give them the dose and ask them a series of questions designed to help them prepare for the vision. The candidate does not have to use the dose of true liao to receive a vision, but they will have to publicly confirm that to the Tribune it is their intention to do so.
The chosen candidate will be able to receive a true liao vision at the next summit that they attend.
Elioe, one of the chief attendants of Phaleron has taken every opportunity to discuss the Summer Children with any Imperial magician who is available. The herald is fascinated by the new development and keen to record key information about this moment in the Great Library. To that end she has asked any Summer Child who is able to produce a short written account of themselves, stating who they are, what they think defines them, and crucially what their ambitions for the future are.
Elioe intends to collate these accounts and store in the Great Library for future reference. To make this easier, the herald has arranged for Phaleron to station a small servant at the Imperial regio throughout the next summit to collect these accounts. Any child who casts operate portal at the Imperial Regio while publicly calling on the power of Phaleron will draw this herald's attention. If they provide a single ingot of weltsilver, then the herald will collect a single short piece of writing (up to a hundred words) and deliver it to the Great Library. Elioe's intention is that children will use this opportunity to send her a short précis describing themselves and their intentions.
Elioe has indicated that they will attempt to use the Spring Equinox to respond to every valid piece of writing they receive to thank those who have participated.
Any character who has no skills (either because they have not yet spent any exp, or because they are a child) can utilise the apprentice ability. This ability allows them to use any skill provided they are being actively instructed by another character who knows that skill.
Elioe's Lament in Play
- Any participant who is 16 or under who casts Operate portal at the regio, can use the simple spell to send a single piece of writing (up to 100 words) to Phaleron
- The player must call on the power of Phaleron and provide one ingot of weltsilver
- The player must cast the spell, either they have the magician skill or are benefiting from the apprentice ability from someone who does
- The accompanying writing can be written by anyone. A player who is 16 or under can cast the spell multiple times if they pay the weltsilver each time
At this event, any participant who is 16 or under can send a single piece of writing up to a hundred words in length to Phaleron by providing one ingot of weltsilver and casting Operate Portal at the Imperial regio. They must loudly call on Phaleron during the spell casting. The spellcaster must have the magician skill or be benefiting from the apprentice ability supervised by someone who does have the skill.
A character can gain this benefit any number of times, provided they pay the mana cost and provide one ingot of weltsilver each time. The writing they send doesn't have to be created by them (so a young player could persuade a peer to cast the spell for them if they don't have access to the magician skill).
Every eternal that the magicians of the Empire have spoken with has denied any responsibility for the magic that created the Summer Children. However, several of them are clearly intrigued by the possibilities they present, and have made offers of aid to any Summer Child who will publicly pledge to them. After some initial disarray with many different proposals, the magicians of the Empire have managed to agree a common format with all but one of these eternals.
Barien, the Reeve of the Summer Lands, has offered his aid to any child artisan who adds a piece of owl jewellery or an owl design to their outfit. In return he will grant the child a boon that allows them to perform the Timeless Hammer Rhythm without cost on one night during that summit.
Cathan Canae, the Immovable One, has offered a boon to any child who commits to add a symbol of a white bear into their personal heraldry or clothing. The boon will grant the child an additional rank of endurance for the following year.
Eleonaris, the Lion of Summer, offers a boon to any child who creates a favour in her colours, red and gold, and pledges to wear it for one year. The favour can be as simple as a sash formed by twisting red and gold fabrics or as complex and glorious as the child pleases. In return her boon will grant them one additional hero point for the following year.
Jaheris, the Lord of the Forest of Arden, has promised a reward for any child who publicly pledges to defeat their rivals without fear or favour. In return, the Moonsilver Prince will provide the child with a item that will allow them to create a single dose of the Crimson Gate to smooth their path to power.
Meraud, the Summer Enchanter, has offered his aid to any child who proclaims themselves with a suitably grandiose epithet (Meraud himself has many such epithets, such as the Fire Mage, the Lord of Summer Stars and the Summer Enchanter). This name should be something the child intends to employ henceforth as well as something they wish to strive to embody in their magic and in their life. In return the Fire Mage will enchant the child with Noble Mien of the Hawk Lords.
Callidus, the Prince of the Argent Tontine, offers a reward to any child who will publicly state that their heart is filled with greed. In return the Prince will provide them with their choice of either a single ring, a single crown or a single throne. However, he stipulates that they must return to the regio within a year to repay twice the amount given, or else default on their debts to the City of Chains.
Wise Rangara, the Ancient One, has offered a boon that can be claimed by any child who agrees to cover their right or left eye with an opaque patch. In return the Wise One will grant the child a boon that allows them to exchange two doses of any common magical herb for a single dose of another common magical herb required to mix the potion once per preparation. The boon will last for a year or until the child first removes the eye patch. If a child chooses to actually put out an eye, then the ability is permanent until the eye is restored in some fashion.
Ossegrahn, the Cupbearer, has offered a boon to any child who will renounce all violence and dedicate themselves to the healing arts at the Imperial regio. In return, Willowbraid will grant them a boon that will last for one year that allows the recipient to swift cast the heal spell for a single point of mana rather than two
Finally, the Prince with a Thousand Foes, Irra Harah urges the children of the Empire to avoid the schemes of all predatory eternals. If any child standing in the Imperial regio asks Papa Otec for help them he will grant them a small boon that will help them live free for the next year.
The eternals the Empire has negotiated with have made clear that they are interested in providing aid to the Summer Children, however testing has already demonstrated that while they can tell the difference between an adult and a child, they can't tell the difference between a Summer Child and a child who has not experienced a magical coming of age this Winter. They can however identify any child that has gained a benefit from another eternal - no child may receive a second boon from the list presented here.
One final offer has been made by an eternal, and the civil service are certainly not making it public knowledge, but news of it has proved difficult to suppress. Agramant, the Hunter in the Wastes, has let it be known that any child who commits a crime against Imperial law in the coming year will receive a boon from them when he learns what they have accomplished. As he is not omniscient, anyone who seeks his reward must write a short note detailing their crimes, mark it with a bloody thumbprint, and bring it down to the Imperial regio after dark. Speaking three of his names in the regio will cause the message to be transferred to one of his watching servants. Agramant is under enmity so any deal with him would be illegal and will be investigated as treason.
Watchful Eyes in Play
- Watchful Eyes lays out several pacts or pledges that any young character may benefit from
- The player must be under eighteen years for their character to benefit
- You can only benefit from a single pledge, and only if you meet the criteria at the point you make the pledge
- You can make this pledge at any event this year
To complete a pledge from any of the eternals, a character must go to the ritual site and complete a short ceremony culminating in a commitment to meet the eternal's criteria. Once you inform a referee or GOD that you have completed the rite, then they will process your action and you will gain the listed reward or boon.
To qualify a player must be under eighteen years old in real life. Anyone who is eighteen or older cannot gain the benefits. Some eternals have made it clear that these benefits are intended for the Summer Children, but since they cannot tell a Summer Child from any other child, anyone who is under eighteen can claim the benefits.
You can make this pledge at any point this year, however you cannot benefit from two eternals. If you choose to accept an eternal's boon, then you cannot then benefit from any of the other listed deals at any point, even if you also meet the criteria.
Any character who wants to inform Agramant of a crime they have committed can follow the instructions, and hand the message to a referee at the regio. Only one such message may be sent per character.
The opportunity to send the autobiographical notes to Elioe has ended; she intends to reply to any young person who provided such information at the Spring Equinox.