Barnabas crept forward slowly, carefully placing one foot in front of the other, making as little noise as possible. Gingerly, he reached out with his stick, and tapped the pot on the lid. Then he jumped back, and scuttled across the loamy floor, and joined Hesther behind the bole of the oak.

Nothing happened with the pot. Nothing continued to happen for several minutes.

"I don't think it is a spider jar," said Barnabas, cautiously.

"I tell you I saw something move," said Hesther, adamantly. "I overheard the Exarch talking to Lilian about them."

"We could throw stones at it from behind the tree," said Barnabas sensibly. "That way if it's dangerous we can run for it before... well before anything bad happens."

"I heard that there's monster spiders in these jars, and if you let them out they chase you on loads of legs, and they can run faster than a person can. When they catch you they wrap you up in webs and lay eggs in your belly so that you get eaten alive by baby spiders!"

She recounted the horror with a kind of horrible fascination. Barnabas felt his stomach turn over slightly, and wished he had had less porridge for breakfast.

"We should go and get one of the unconquered then," said Barnabus after a few moments.

"We can't," said Hesther, a little too quickly. "We're not meant to be out here are we?"

The pair had slipped out after breakfast. The chapter was full of bustle and noise today, they doubted they would be missed. Supplies were being gathered together to send to the Urizen in Morrow and Redoubt, people who'd lost their homes and their families to the Druj. Technically, Barnabas and Hesther were supposed to be helping everyone else load up the wagons with food, and beer from the cellar, and sacks of flour, and planks. Instead, they'd decided to go play in the woods and now they were stuck. If this was a terrible spider jar, they needed to tell someone and if they did, they'd get into a lot of trouble for sloth.

"We'll get the switch if they found out we snuck off. Timothy will say we were being lazy, and after the switch we'll get a lecture on Prosperity in the chapel."

She made a face. It was widely agreed among the children of the chapter that Timothy gave the most boring sermons of any priest in the entirety of Highguard.

Barnabas shrugged, and made up his mind.

"You can do what you want," he said. "But I'm going to go and find Lily. So what if we get into trouble. If this thing is full of evil spiders that lay eggs in your belly, then we need to tell people before someone gets hurt."

Hesther made a sour face. "We'll get into trouble!" she whined, and started to sniffle.

"Maybe we will," said Barnabas taking her hand. "But not as much trouble as we'll get into if someone gets hurt and we could have stopped it."

Hesther began to bawl then. He was not fooled by her tears. Hesther cried at the drop of a hat, and the tears dried just as quickly. He sighed, exasperated.

"Shush that or I'll tell the Exarch to send you away to live with the Navarr!"

Hesther stopped sobbing immediately, red faced. She had had nightmares for a week after she'd overheard Timothy talking about the trods, and helping the Navarr. It was still a threat guaranteed to shut her up and he hoped it would continue to work for some time to come. She stuck her tongue out at him. He rolled his eyes.

"Come on we need to get back," he said. As the children left the area where the old farmhouse had once stood, Barnabas glanced back and fancied for a moment he saw something move near the pot. Something small, and quick moving with too many legs. Probably just a normal bird spider, or a centipede. Or something.

He shivered, and quickened his pace, dragging Hesther along with him and causing her to start moaning and grizzling again. It was going to be a long walk back to the chapterhouse.

Overview

During the SpringEquinox 382YE, the Highborn Assembly passed four statements of principle which were upheld with a greater majority. They dealt with a number of diverse topics, intended to offer guidance to the Highborn people. They included a statement stressing the need to support the Highborn armies in the liberation of Zenith; the need to oppose the vallorn as a great threat to the Empire; an urging to welcome Urizen refugees displaced by the Druj; and guidance for dealing with the sinister spider jars.

Each statement was circulated to the congregations of Highguard, with varying results.

The Price of Freedom

The armies of Highguard - The Granite Pillar, The Seventh Wave and the Valiant Pegasus - have fought many wars against the enemies of the Empire. But no foe is more deserving of war than the Druj. The Highguard Assembly recognises the sacrifice and virtue of our soldiers and calls upon any citizens capable of doing so to lend their arm to the destruction of the Druj in Zenith and beyond.

Highborn Assembly, Spring Equinox 382YE, Absalom, Upheld 456 - 48

The Highborn Assembly has spoken clearly and passionately of the need to fight the Druj. Few in Highguard need to hear the message twice, people remember Reikos, they remember the destruction the Druj wrought, the slave labour camps, the charnel pits. Those who hear it are receptive to this message and all it would need is for similar direction to be backed with liao and a clear mandate and the effects would be dramatic.

The armies of Highguard - The Granite Pillar, The Seventh Wave and the Valiant Pegasus - have fought many wars against the enemies of the Empire. But no foe is more deserving of war than the Druj. The Highborn Assembly sends named priest with 50 liao to urge all our citizens to support the sacrifice and virtue of our soldiers and bend their will to the destruction of the Druj in Zenith and beyond.

Highborn Assembly Mandate

If such a mandate were passed, every Highborn military unit that did not support either the Granite Pillar, the Seventh Wave or the Valiant Pegasus in the coming season would suffer a loss of morale and support equivalent to a loss of 2 ranks.

The Cost of Victory

The National Assembly believes that walking the trods to weaken the Vallorn now also has a religious calling, and that walking the trods should be encouraged for all nations to save as many souls as we can.

Highborn Assembly, Spring Equinox 382YE, Malachi of the Shattered Tower, Upheld 538 - 0

However the Highborn Assembly also upheld another statement of principle with a greater majority, one whose goals conflict strongly with those expressed by Absalom. The people of the Empire have been traveling along the trods since before the Empire was founded. In those dark days it was incredibly difficult for the Navarr to maintain the trod network, but they did what they could to ensure that a patchwork web of trods surrounded each vallorn. The genius of the trods is that they sap the hideous vitality of the vallorn and pass that strength to those who are walking the Spring-imbued pathways. As a result the fastest way to reach almost any point in the Empire is via the trods - provided you can find your way and there is a trod that leads to your destination.

In the centuries since then, the citizens of the Empire have come to take the magic of the trods completely for granted - but only in so far as anyone who is traveling anywhere in the Empire makes sure to travel by trod whenever remotely possible. The road networks created by La Volpe have had a small effect, drawing some merchants and other travelers away to the roads - but only for short journeys where the roads goes in exactly the direction they need. Otherwise it is still quicker to use the trods. In theory the General Assembly could pass a mandate encouraging the Empire to give up the benefits of the new roads in favour of using the trods, and that might provide a small benefit. But apart from them there is nobody who might be persuaded to use the trods who is not already doing so. They would have to be convinced to make a journey simply for the sake of it...

... and therein lies the one possibility that could work. People would have to be convinced to take a journey for no purpose at all... other than the sake of walking the trods. Of course there is a group of people who already do that; who are sworn to do it in fact. They call themselves the Navarr. To persuade people to take journeys around the Empire for the sake of it, to convince them to abandon their lives in the homelands and take up a life of traveling - would literally mean persuading them to leave their people and become Navarr.

Incredibly - it could be done. Not entirely of course, no nation is about to disappear completely. But the news that those who fall in the vallorn miasma do not die but have their souls trapped instead does stir anger among the Highborn. Such a travesty of the natural order demands a response - something should be done. And no nation feels a sense of destiny more profoundly than the Highborn. If it could be done anywhere - it could be done here.

The monstrous infestation that is the Vallorn is a danger beyond any other that now faces us. There is no sacrifice too great that we cannot meet it to defeat this terror. We send named priest with 500 liao to urge every Highborn citizen to consider if their destiny compels them to make the ultimate sacrifice and join our Navarr cousins in travelling the trods.

Highborn National Assembly

The Highborn people are intensely Proud of their traditions, they are Loyal to their history and to each other. But it could be done - a fraction of the nation, perhaps as much as a fifth could be persuaded to abandon their lives in Highguard and set out to walk the trods.

The impacts would be ruinous, both economically and militarily - with such a dramatic loss of people, taxation in Highborn territories would slump by a third while every business and farm would suffer a permanent loss of 72 rings from their income. Every military unit would suffer a permanent loss equivalent to two ranks due to the loss of fighting strength. And the Highborn nation's ability to support Imperial armies would be immediately reduced by one, meaning they could support no more armies than the three they have at the moment.

But it would mean many tens of thousands more pilgrims walking the trods. The boost would be so significant, it would more than equal the now dwindling opportunity to take ground from the vallorn in Liathaven. Navarr vates estimate it would be equivalent to adding two, maybe three, entire territories to the trod network. Instead of waiting a decade or more for another opportunity to attack the vallorn, they would have good reason to hope that another one would arise within a year or two at most.

And all it would require is the most extraordinary sacrifice imaginable from the people of Highguard. The Proud Highborn boast is that "We made the Empire". Malachi of the Shattered Tower has laid down a challenge to every chapter - do we have the Courage, the Ambition to go further - to do what is needed to oppose a singular evil like the Vallorn?

The Pilgrim's Path

Kerem, Daughter of the Chantry has suggested an alternative, one that confronts the thorny issue of Proud highborn leaving their nation to become Navarr.

The monstrous infestation that is the Vallorn is a danger beyond any other that now faces us. There is no sacrifice too great that we cannot meet it to defeat this terror. We send named priest with 500 liao to urge every Highborn citizen to consider if they could assist in defeating this threat by undertaking an extended pilgrimage to walk the trods.

Highborn National Assembly

If this mandate were upheld, rather than joining the Navar a significant number of Highborn citizens would leave their lives behind and become committed pilgrims. They would travel the trods, and help weaken the vallorn, but in the pursuit of virtue and visiting the many places of pilgrimage around the Empire. They would continue to be Highborn, in word and deed, but would devote the remainder of their lives to an eternal pilgrimage - or at least until the vallorn was defeated.

This would have the same mechanical effects (on the Highborn and the Navarr alike). It would also create a new archetype for the Highborn representing these oathsworn Highborn pilgrims, committed both to the downfall of the vallorn and to actively proselytising the Way and the Virtues throughout the Empire.

The Greatest Cost

The civil service also recieved requests for additional mandates related to this opportunity from both Able of the Shattered Tower and Zastyt, the Feeder. The requests were similar in content, and the civil service has attempted to create a mandate that captures the spirit of these two priests' requests.

The monstrous infestation that is the Vallorn is a danger beyond any other that now faces us. There is no sacrifice too great that we cannot meet it to defeat this terror, but we should never expect citizens to shoulder our spiritual burdens. Let us be joined together by common destiny and send (named priest) with 1000 liao to urge citizens of all Nations to consider if their destiny compels them to make the ultimate sacrifice and join their Navarr cousins in travelling the trods.

General Assembly Mandate

The impacts of this mandate would be absolutely ruinous. With such a dramatic change to the priorities of so many people, taxation in all Imperial territories would slump by a quarter. Furthermore the ability of every nation to support Imperial armies would be immediately reduced by one. The exception would be the Navarr - their people already do everything they can to walk the trods and fight the vallorn.

But it would mean many tens of thousands more pilgrims walking the trods. These pilgrims would be drawn from every nation; fewer people from each nation would respond to the mandate but overall the effectiveness would be even more profound than if a fifth of Highguard all left their lives behind to join the Navarr. The boost would be so significant, it would more than equal the now dwindling opportunity to take ground from the vallorn in Liathaven. Navarr vates estimate it would be equivalent to adding three, maybe four, entire territories to the trod network. Instead of waiting a decade or more for another chance to confront the vallorn, the next opportunity to try and recover land from the vallorn would certainly arise within a year.

Lasting Consequences

It is worth noting that once one of these mandates is passed, and the liao provided, it will be extremely difficult if not impossible to end its effects as long as the vallorn were still a threat to the Empire.

The Wages of Vigilance

Citizens of Reikos, be Vigilant should you find any Spider Jars. Report the location and do not approach without a mage. If possible the Jar should be boxed and sent to Sybela Cross Physic Hall. Otherwise, report the location.

Highborn Assembly, Spring Equinox 382YE, Sela of the Suns of Couros, Upheld 632 - 10

This third statement of principle by Sela of the Suns of Couros causes some understandable consternation in Reikos when it is distributed to the people of Highguard. Many people were previously unaware of the threat of "spider jars" and are concerned that this represents some sort of left-behind tool of the Druj. Bands of vigilant scouts go out to comb the areas around the newly built chapters for any sign of such threats.

For about a month and a half after the Spring Equinox, Sybella Cross Physician's Hall receives shipments of jars about once a week sent by worried Highborn in Reikos (and a handful from Casinea and Bastion as well for some reason). Most are simply old jars, empty or containing rotten perishables. One or two contain a large dead (prefectly natural) spider or two. None appear to be cursed, or dangerous in any way.

After the initial influx, no more jars are received. It appears that whatever the spider jars are, there are none near any settlements in Reikos.

The Offer of Sanctuary

We remember well the suffering inflicted by the Druj. The Highborn Assembly calls upon all citizens of Highguard to remember the Virtues of Prosperity, Loyalty and Pride. To throw open the doors of their homes to our cousins from Urizen and offer them safety and succour for as long as their homes lie in the hands of the Barbarian.

Highborn Assembly, Spring Equinox 382YE, Able of the Shattered Tower, Upheld 550 - 0

Finally, this statement of principle by Able of the Shattered Tower encourages the people of Highguard to offer sanctuary to the Urizen fleeing the Druj in Zenith. The people of Highguard are used to dealing with refugees fleeing the depredations of the Druj, they know all too well what it is to lose everything to the spiteful monsters of the east.

Very few Urizen have sought sanctuary in Highguard however; only those who already have some connection to that nation travel to be with friends or family in Bastion or Necropolis. Instead most of those Urizen who have fled the fall of Zenith remain camped in northern Redoubt and southern Morrow. When they hear of the Highborn offer, some take it up but the majority politely decline. They would rather remain in the mountains of their homeland for now; for many fleeing Urizen would be to admit that they will never return to their homes in Zenith.

Still, this does not prevent a number of chapters sending assistance of their own - food and water, blankets, tools for survival, even tents and shipments of hardwood for building defensible camps are all dispatched to Urizen by those Highborn who embrace the idea of sharing what they have with those they feel deserve it. These gifts are gratefully received by the displaced Urizen, many of whom have lost everything to the Druj.