Hammer against stone, with glowing metal caught between. Fast, certain, unstinting, timeless. Strike, strike, strike. The hammer pauses for a moment - the blade is examined critically for a heartbeat and then tossed to the side. Before it lands, sliding down the hillock of identical blades, the hammer is striking again, a new length of metal on the great anvil.
The heat is suffocating.
The anvil stands before a lake of crimson rock, sluggishly stirred to motion by subterranean fires. Squat figures toil on the shore, using the churning lava to melt ingots of metal, pouring them into black stone moulds. Squint against the glare, you can make out their glinting metal eyes in dark skinned faces, their flexible aprons of some peculiar black material. The great gauntlets. Perhaps one scoops up a handful of liquid stone and tosses it playfully at a companion - a handful of fire that would devour flesh shrugged off with a growl and a grunted obscenity.
The air is choking.
Clouds of black smoke and ash billow from the forges, interspersed here and there with columns of windblown white smoke and white ash. Beneath the deafening sound of the hammer, the distant roaring of a wind. A vertical gale, carrying anything it catches up, up, up into the darkness. There are stars here, close enough to touch ... but look at them closely enough and you would realise they are not stars in the sky at all but forges, foundries, smelters, workshops build all along the walls of this immense chamber.
Clank, clank, clank. Between the hammer blows, in rhythm with them, metal footsteps. Approaching the forge is a figure in dull bronze armour - no! a figure that is dull bronze armour. Beautifully forged and sculpted and engraved, a towering figure of living metal. It stands smartly to attention, saluting simultaneously with both pairs of arms.
it provides a dizzying sense of perspective. The squat figures working on the shore of the volcanic lake dwarf it, as they in turn are dwarfed by the figure at the forge. Her hammer does not pause; another blade lands on the pile, a new piece of metal is placed on the anvil and the hammer rises again.
"Speak," she says. Her voice is harsh, cutting through all the other sounds of the immense industrious hive.
"The Imperial Archmage sends greetings. There are requests. The lost Art of the Marches is mentioned. An offer of Amity is mentioned."
The titan woman continues to work, swiftly completing another great blade. In the shadow of the anvil, a smooth skinned figure in a pale lemon toga, its face a mask of white porcelain, makes a tiny mark on a slate. There are several other slates piled at its side, covered on both sides with idential tiny marks.
Then after a timeless moment, the great smith laughs. A short, sharp bark. The workers do not pause in their labour, but they turn their faces toward her for a moment, judging her mood, before looking back to the tasks at hand.
"Yes." she says. "Supervisor Quench. Bring them."
The bronze giant salutes again in a clash of metal on metal, turns, strides away.Another sword clatters onto the pile, another tiny mark on the slate, another length of glowing metal smacks into the anvil, another hammer blow. And another. And another.
The eternals are powerful supernatural beings who inhabit magical realms beyond the reach of the mortal world. Any Imperial magician can speak to eternals and their heralds, but communication with these beings can be a little hit-and-miss even at the best of times. The six archmages represent the Empire to the eternals, and the eternals to the Empire. Each possesses the power of plenipotentiary - the power to send a formal message to one of the eternals of their realm each summit, guaranteed to reach the eternal. No eternal who wishes to maintain relations with the Empire will fail to respond to the missive - even if those relations are currently strained.
The nature of the plenipotentiary missive is such that it serves as a powerful invitation making it easier for the eternal to respond. An eternal who is sent a missive by an archmage of the Conclave is able to enter the Hall of Worlds at the next summit regardless of any state of enmity that may exist. It is not unknown for an eternal to take the opportunity to appear with their entourage in the Hall of Worlds in parley, though most choose a more low-key response. A peaceful response is not the only option however though it is exceptionally rare for an eternal to respond with force.
During the Winter Solstice, five of the Imperial archmages used their power of plenipotentiary to contact eternals, and the eternals have responded publicly.
Eternals do not always respond publicly to plenipotentiary messages, but in this case each of the five has chosen to make an open, formal response. Magicians of the Empire who are politically active have many ways of being appraised of these messages. In cases where the eternal requests a formal parley the civil service plays a role in publicizing and arranging the meeting. In other cases, creatures of the realm about their business in the mortal world will mention the upcoming meeting - or may deliver formal messages to powerful or influential magicians directly.
Rosamund Holt, Archmage of Spring, has contacted the Green Mother, Yaw'nagrah. During the Winter Solstice, Yaw'nagrah was declared an enemy of the Empire by the Imperial Conclave, and it seems the Archmage has called on it to face charges of interfering with Imperial affairs. It is not illegal for an archmage to use the power of plenipotentiary to send a missive to an eternal who is under enmity, although it is possible that the contents of such a missive might constitute a crime - and any resulting parley is likely to be carefully observed.
A month before the Spring equinox, two heralds of Yaw'nagrah - walking tree creatures with creaking woody voices - deliver a curt message that the Green Mother will send her Voice to a formal parley in the Hall of Worlds. The creatures seem to have limited understanding of time, but the civil service are able to confirm that the meeting will take place at two-o-clock in the afternoon on Saturday, and will make arrangements to offer support to the Archmage of Spring.
Any magician of the Empire may attend, but it is at the discretion of the Spring Archmage who may speak during a formal parley.
Solomon of the Shattered Tower, Archmage of Summer, has contacted the Queen of Ice and Darkness, Cathan Canae. While relations between the Immovable One and the Empire are strained, they have not deteriorated to the point of enmity. In the months since the Winter Solstice, heralds of Cathan Canae have brought short, clipped messages to the Archmage, but also to covens with a strong Summer focus across the Empire. One even appeared in the Varushkan vale of Volchitrava, with a message for the Gremani - but perhaps rather pointedly not for the Master of Ice and Darkness at the college above.
The message in each case is straightforward enough. Cathan Canae sends the Warden of the Adamant Tower to speak with the Summer Archmage at six-o-clock on Saturday evening. This will not be a formal parley - and the Warden will be accompanied by any of her heralds who wish to attend. They will discuss the Icy Crag of the Eternal Sun, among other things.
Her heralds invite any Imperial magician versed in the lore of Summer magic to attend, but also make one additional, odd request. Cathan Canae wishes William Talbot of the Marches, or their champion, to attend the meeting and speak to the Warden of the Adamant Tower. No further explanation is given.
While this is not a formal parley, the Warden of the Adamant Tower is known to be a high-ranking herald in the service of Cathan Canae. She may not have requested a parley, but she is taking the Archmage's invitation seriously.
Maurice de Gauvin, long-serving Archmage of Autumn, has formally requested a meeting with the Forgemistress, Estavus, on behalf of himself and the magicians of the Marches. A formal reply was delivered a week after the Winter solstice to the Imperial Civil Service offices at Anvil. While Estavus does not request a formal parley, she will send a herald entitled "Supervisor Quench" and several of his assistants to the Hall of the Worlds at four-o-clock Saturday afternoon to represent her interests. The "lost Art of the Marches" will be discussed, as will sundry other offers made by Maurice in the plenipotentiary letter.
Again, this is not a formal request for parley - it is rather a formal expression of interest and advance warning that the eternal intends to send representatives to speak to the magicians of the Empire.
Syrus Skybreaker, Archmage of Winter, has sent a plenipotentiary message to Tharim, the Bound King of the Thrice-cursed Court. A solitary, pale herald has publicly thanked the Archmage for their letter, and vouchsafed that he will discuss the matters involved privately. During the Spring Equinox, Tharim will arrange an audience with the Archmage, and with the Keeper of Tharim's Throne. The latter has caused a little confusion, as Keeper of Tharim's Throne is not an Imperial title. Regardless, it appears the Winter eternal is not interested in a public discussion and will presumably make his own arrangements.
The Whisper Gallery
Elyssiathain of Endsmeet, Archmage of Night, has arranged for the Dawnish yeofolk Ancel Steward, Seneschal of House Vexille to communicate with the enigmatic entities of the Whisper Gallery. As with Yaw'nagrah, the Whisper Gallery are currently declared enemies of the Empire. The magistrates note that the an archmage has special dispensation to treat with an eternal under enmity, but this does not extend to other Imperial citizens.
Regardless of whether an act of treason is about to be perpetrated or not, Ancel Steward was, along with Earl Guisart Vexille, Guiniveve Vexille, Gui Fletcher, and Arlen Weaver, declared a sorcerer during the Winter Solstice. Due to an amendment to the law regarding sorcerers passed by the Imperial Senate in Spring 378YE, "a declared Sorcerer is barred from knowingly interacting with eternals and their heralds." If an accused is found guilty of contravening a declaration of sorcery then the normal punishment is death; anyone who helped a sorceror to break the law in this manner would risk a similar penalty for aiding and abetting the crime.
The magistrates have expressed their intention to investigate this situation during the Spring Equinox, and determine whether the law has been broken, and if it is who is responsible. While the Conclave supported a Declaration of Concord raised by the Grandmaster of the Celestial Arch, indicating that they "understand this to be neither treason nor sorcery", the magistrates have pointed out that this declaration has absolutely no legal standing and will not affect their decision.
The Whisper Gallery themselves. have not replied directly but on the night of the new moon a month after the Winter Solstice, scrolls were nailed to the stones of the Imperial regio at Anvil bearing the Diras rune, a beautifully drawn dramaturgy mask identifiable as the kind worn by silver mask, and a simple message "WE WILL SPEAK TO ANCEL."