'Eli dumped his bag on the table in front of him. Swiftly followed by his garish golden coat.

'Bloody glad that one is over, I thought I was going to end up turning into a Leaguer. I mean I get that its important to figure out where liao goes missing, but two bloody years on and off.

'He washed his hands in the bowl in front him, pausing to rub a scar on his arm.'I mean when you recruited me it was all 'You will be the eyes and ears of the Empire, hunting the enemies of virtue', what you neglected to mention was how many ledgers I'd have to read, all the bloody auctions and having to dress like a suite of Jarmish furniture. Oh that reminds me, they don't seem to be selling the slaves they have freed'

The old man sat at the end of the table looked up at him smiling, and laugh escaping from him,

'Boy I remember when you changed your name from Elis to Eli. The oaths you took were to serve no matter the danger, paperwork is a danger that many of us have to face... But since you're tired of columns and ledgers, I have something much more dangerous for you. I’m sending you to Anvil to be the liaison to the synod. We are offering our services to the Cardinals - please remember to be polite.'

'Eli stared at the old man who recruited him so long ago with a with a look that would make a paragon balk. 'Fu...'

Overview

The Silent Bell is an Imperial sodality made up of citizens dedicated to the cause of Vigilance. Initially set up in the early years of the reign of Emperor Nicovar, they were intended to serve as an investigative arm of the Vigilance Assembly. Unfortunately, being so closely associated with the Mad Emperor lead to their short-lived order being disbanded in 210YE as the dust of Nicovar's rampage started to settle.

Although disbanded might be too strong a word. The first (and officially, only) preceptor of the Silent Bell, Esther of Sybela, responded to the order to end the Silent Bell with a polite note to the then Cardinal of Vigilance that read simply "be alert to all dangers; within and without." Denied official sanction, the Silent Bell continued to operate in the background, occasionally bringing news of potential threats to the Empire to the attention of the Vigilance assembly.

Over the last year or so, the Silent Bell has been significantly more active, and begun to strengthen their ties with the Imperial Synod. Now, with a resurgence of interest in the exemplar Berechiah, the leadership of the Silent Bell have decided to cement those relations officially. Particularly in light of the challenges faced by the Synod, the leadership of the Silent Bell wish to clarify their relationship with the Synod, so that there can be no misunderstanding of the role they are to play.

During the reign of Emperor Nicovar, the Silent Bell were allegedly used by the Synod to suppress opposition to the increasingly deranged demands of the Throne. In the century and a half since, they have helped to uncover a number of internal threats to the Empire, but at times they have been accused of helping to discredit political and social movements that were threats to entrenched positions within the Empire rather than threats to its way of life. As such they have a mixed reputation. Their commitment to remain apolitical means they are at the same time without politics of their own, but a powerful tool to pursue the politics of whichever cardinal is able to wield them.

Significance

The sodality is small, but committed. Their goal is to gather information about internal threats to the Empire. They operate a loose, but extensive, network of informants throughout the Vigilance sects in the Empire. By drawing on that network, they can potentially track down information about specific threats. They are at their most effective, however, when they operate with a clear focus from the Imperial Synod.

They are not in a position to actually deal with threats - their members are investigators and informants, not effective combatants, but they can often suggest practical ways to deal with those threats and are adept at identifying opportunities for the Synod to use the Sentinel Gate to act on the information they have provided.

Ringing the Bell

The current preceptor of the Silent Bell is Malachai of the Silent Bell, in Casca's Doom. He has laid out the position of the Silent Bell, and suggested a way that the Imperial Synod may wield the Silent Bell effectively, but with some transparency, to allay fears of a "secret militia answering only to the cardinals."

He has proposed that any member of the Assembly of the Nine be empowered to issue a statement of principle instructing the Silent Bell to pursue information relating to a specific topic. Such a statement of principle must begin with the wording "The Council of Nine directs the Silent Bell to investigate...". If the statement is supported by the lesser majority of the Council, then the Silent Bell will turn their attentions towards investigating the designated topic. In the event that multiple such statements are issued in a single summit, the Silent Bell will either take instruction from the one that achieves a greater majority, or the last one that is supported.

Typically a representative of the Sodality will speak with the cardinal (or The Throne) who raised the statement, looking for as many details as possible about the threat. They will then direct their attentions to finding any leads they can, and make them available to the cardinal at the next summit. This will often take the form of a verbal report, occasionally supported by written documentation, but in past years there has been a marked correlation between the investigations of the Silent Bell and the opportunity to directly address a threat through the auspices of the Sentinel Gate.

If the Assembly of Nine agrees to this method, they need merely issue a statement of principle in this format instructing the Silent Bell to investigate a specific topic during the coming summit. If there is nothing they want to investigate, then a properly worded acceptance of the methods laid out by Malachai would also suffice.

Embracing the Silence

This method of contacting the Silent Bell has some flaws. While it openly encourages the faithful to look into a specific topic, it also provides a warning to the enemies of the Empire. A more secretive method may suit the Council of the Nine better. In the past, the Silent Bell answered directly to the Cardinal of Vigilance rather than the Council of the Nine as a whole. The Cardinal contacted the preceptor of the Silent Bell by magical means and (initially at least) only the two of them were aware of the matter under investigation.

The Council of the Nine may issue a statement of principle instructing the Silent Bell to report directly to the Cardinal of Vigilance. This statement will require a greater majority - the will of the Council of the Nine must be unequivocal. If they do so, then the Cardinal of Vigilance will be empowered to instruct the Silent Bell privately via winged messenger, rather than publicly through a judgement.

Apolitical

Malachai, the current preceptor of the Silent Bell is keen to avoid being drawn into the complex political machinations of Anvil as has sometimes happened in the past. The sodality exists to track down and investigate threats to the Empire. While they are not so foolish to imagine that none of those threats are present during the summit, this is not their area of expertise and as such they are determined to ensure that they stay out of Anvil politics.

Because of this, the one restriction they insist on is that they will only investigate threats whose primary source lies outside Anvil. They are happy to follow those leads wherever they go - but they will not investigate the affairs of an individual or band while they are at Anvil.

Endorsement or Rejection

The Imperial Synod recognises the contribution of the Silent Bell and encourages the faithful to remain Vigilant for any sign of threat among their neighbours. It provides (X) with 25 doses of liao to support their work.

Synod Mandate

The Imperial Synod may choose to take this further, and express open support for the Silent Bell. The General Assembly or the Assembly of the Nine may issue a mandate endorsing the Silent Bell. If the mandate is successful, there will be a short-lived burst of enthusiasm for the Silent Bell, and support for the Assembly of Vigilance in general. Over the next season, every congregation run by a character dedicated to Vigilance will receive 2 additional votes and 1 additional liao, and the capability of the Silent Bell will be guaranteed for the immediate future.

The Imperial Synod rejects the Silent Bell, and denounces the idea that the faithful should spy on one another. The empire is committed to the dignity of all its citizens. It provides (X) with 25 doses of liao to encourage respect for other citizens.

Synod Mandate

Alternatively, the Council of the Nine or the General Assembly may issue a statement of principle rejecting the Silent Bell. While they have shown some ability to head off threats to the Empire in the past, they were explicitly created to spy on and inform about the activities of private Imperial citizens as well as visiting foreigners. In the event that such a mandate is issued, in the coming season congregations run by priests dedicated to Vigilance will suffer a loss of 2 votes and 1 liao. This will be matched, however, by an increase in the size of congregations related to Pride and Loyalty. Characters dedicated to these virtues will receive 2 additional votes and 1 additional liao in the coming season.

Unfortunately, such a denouncement will significantly curtail the effectiveness of the Silent Bell as an Imperial Sodality for the foreseeable future.

Resolution

During the Winter solstice, the Imperial Synod declared their support for the Silent Bell, and the Council of the Nine issued their first instruction as to where the sodality should turn its gaze. The Highborn Esau executed a mandate in support of the Silent Bell, leading to improved attendance at congregations of priests dedicated to Vigilance across the Empire.

The capabilities of the Silent Bell

The Silent Bell is most effective when gathering information about threats to Imperial citizens.

The Silent Bell is an Imperial sodality. As such, it is at its most effective when it is working within the borders of the Empire. It has some ability to gather information in places that are not Imperial territories but have a significant Imperial presence - for example, they have some success operating in barbarian territories where the Imperial armies are present, especially if one of those armies contains trained scouts (the Seventh Wave and the Quiet Step are the obvious examples).

By contrast, they are largely ineffective at gathering information outside Imperial borders. For example, they are rarely able to make contact with foreigners or barbarians, or infiltrate non-Imperial settlements. However, they can still investigate the influences such things may have closer to home. The Silent Bell will struggle to provide any useful intelligence about a Grendel Salt Lord, for example, but might still be able to identify someone who has that information within the Empire.

OOC Note: The Silent Bell are also significantly less effective at investigating PvP scenarios. However, regardless of their limitations, their investigations will tend to turn up something for the next event, at least tangentially related to the matter they were instructed to investigate.