Chesed of High House was not used to the Commonwealth style of religious observance. He wasn't sure if this was the way they all did it, or just how the people of Leerdam came together. The congregation sat in a big circle on benches, in what looked like a converted warehouse. The windows in particular were rough and ready - clearly holes beaten into the bricks - but beautiful in their way. Vibrant, colourful, and framed with thin slabs of white granite. He did not recognise any of the paragons or exemplars depicted there, although the virtues each represented was clear at least.

From the heavy oak rafters hung a simple, yet effective, Labyrinth cast of what looked like an alloy of iron and orichalcum. It was obviously heavy, with seven thick chains holding it in place. As he stood beneath it, he could not help glancing up at it every few moments, irrationally concerned it would fall on him. It was hard enough delivering a sermon in another language without worrying about being crushed flat at any moment.

There was something else nagging at him as well, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. Some detail that was out of kilter.

There were some forty people in the congregation, including a dozen children, and one orc. All were comfortably dressed in practical clothes of dark colours, and each wore a simple medallion marked with the same design as the Labyrinth that hung above him. He had started his sermon almost an hour ago, and had managed no more than five continuous minutes before someone interrupted him.

He couldn't fault them on their focus, however. Everyone - even the children - was paying close attention to his words. It was just that if he said something they disagreed with or did not understand, they immediately stood up and expected to have their questions answered. It was disrupting his oratory. In some ways, he felt more like he was addressing a business meeting than preaching about Doctrine.

The real problem was that their questions were generally relevant, and difficult. They wanted to hear proof, they wanted to understand. Sometimes these interruptions would cascade - he would make a point to the satisfaction of one, and then someone else would interrupt to ask for clarification on his clarification. He imagined that without his merrow spirit, he would have lost patience half an hour ago. He felt a little guilty - but then he was among people who did not even seem to notice the taint of Day magic in his skin and his eyes.

He finally finished, with a rousing call to embrace Wisdom that at home would have encouraged his congregation - twice the size of this - to applaud and perhaps call out their agreement and support. This crowd however absorbed his words in expectant silence, simply nodding - or in a few niggling cases, frowning. When it was clear he was finished, Brechtur, the priest, came forward and shook his hand thanking him. The meeting broke up, people moving their benches to make it easier to socialise. Platters of hearty food, and a barrel of small beer, were brought out. Conversation swelled - much of it, he was heartened to hear, about the Doctrines of the Howling Abyss and the Ancestors. Not all of it though - there was also an undercurrent of local news that he did not understand the context for, and unless he missed his guess, a surprising amount of flat out gossip.

Brechtur brought him a clay mug of frothy beer.

"All of this about Ancestors and the Abyss is very interesting," she began. "But I have several questions,"

He quickly swallowed his mouthful of beer. He had not realised how dry his mouth and throat were..

"We agree that slavery of the body is wrong, of course, but how do you reconcile that with slavery of the mind? By which I mean, of course, the use of powerful auras in public places? The ones that influence the minds of people who have not actively consented to their use?"

Internally he groaned. That was what was missing! At home, a church like this would have been consecrated as a matter of course. But here, in the Commonwealth, it was a very different matter.

" Is that not in some ways a form of oppression?" prompted Brechtur. "And even more wicked, of course, because it does not appear to be oppression?"

He had prepared to discuss the nature of the orc soul, not debate the flaws of Lucidianism with his host. It was going to be a long, thirsty night.

The Fire Spreads

Perhaps the most significant development in international affairs in the last few months has been the work by Bonewall Rek, and the missionaries. They have worked with to spread the Doctrine of the Howling Abyss and the Doctrine of the Ancestors to those followers of the Way who live on foreign shores. Imperial wayfarers have visited communities in Asavea, Jarm, Sarcophan, and the Commonwealth to spread the understanding of the orc soul among pilgrims in these distant lands.

It is important to realise that while foreign congregations that follow the Way look to the Empire for guidance and support, they are largely made up of local people and not migrant Imperials. The Synod has no legal power over them - in practice they are entirely independent. Just as the practice of the Way differs from Imperial nation to Imperial nation, so the way that foreign congregations practice the Way can differ from the traditions of the Empire. Yet any true follower of the Way acknowledges the same Doctrines and the same Virtues, wherever they may live.

For the most part, the change of Doctrine has been well received. Taking the time and the effort to ensure that people understand the reasons for the changes, and their implications, helps smooth over what might otherwise have been a divisive process. Still, all is not smooth sailing - the Sumaah have their own missionaries and while for the moment they have largely adopted a "wait and see" attitude, that could change drastically.

The missionaries encountered the least resistance in the Commonwealth - unsurprising given that the humans of that nation already accept the orcs as their equals. Indeed, the Commonwealth followers of the Way primarily seem relieved that the Empire has settled the question of orc souls - although there is apparently some heated disagreement as to the precise nature of the Howling Abyss and the ancestors. The fact that orc citizens of the Commonwealth are empowered to join in these debates makes them significantly more constructive than they might otherwise have been. In most cases there is more interest in pursuing the old arguments about the role auras play in the practice in the Way, and "theoretical" discussion of the Lucidian blasphemy.

Those followers of the Way who live in civilized Asavea likewise are open to the change of doctrine - many have never so much as seen an orc, and in the Asavean mind they are already seen as mystical and magical creatures. The new temple, and recent visits from missionaries encouraging tolerance and cooperation have helped a good deal. Unfortunately, this acceptance is not universal - it is extremely difficult for Imperial missionaries to make contact with any of the rebel slaves who claim to follow the Way; the Sumaah have much more sway in this regard.

In the Delves, there is some resistance, but for the most part the people of Sarcophan have more things to worry about than whether orcs have souls, and the nature of those souls. Orcs are not common in that part of the world, and for the most part the people of Sarcophan and the feral orc tribes give each other a wide berth. Accepting that orcs have their own place in creation is easy for people who rarely have anything to do with them.

The followers of the Way among the Jarmish are the least receptive to the new doctrines. Many are familiar with orcs as savage killers. There is also a somewhat stronger Sumaah presence here than might be expected, and their priests are urging the faithful to be cautious - especially in Eastern Jarm where they have recently constructed a prestigious temple of the Way at the invitation of Magician Prince Barbara Radz of Rigia. In the end though, many followers of the Way grudgingly see the wisdom of the new doctrines.

For now, there appears to be no chance of a schism. Minds are not changed over night, but many foreign congregations respond positively to the reasoned arguments of the Imperial missionaries.

Asavean Archipelago

  • Every Imperial Fleet trading with Nemoria receives an additional measure of Iridescent Gloaming

Relations with Asavea remain broadly positive. The Freeborn Assembly decision to embrace Asavean visitors has no doubt helped (and has certainly helped improve the prosperity of Freeborn paradour owners in the vicinity). Work on the Temple of the Way in Nemoria continues apace. The Temple of Balo and the Black Bull continues to provide "spiritual" (albeit idolatrous) support to Asavean citizens in the Empire. Things are looking good.

A Venomous Jellyfish in the Tidepool

There is, however, a problem. The Senate recently commissioned a set of docks in Sarvosan disrict of Caricomare, intended for the use of two Asavean plenum families, to facilitate trade in white granite. Construction of the Cavabianca Dock has been completed, and a ship bearing members of the the Heraclien and the Ragnabe families has arrived on the Bay of Catazar to begin preparations for the first deliver of white granite. Unfortunately, their ship has docked in Oran, in Feroz, rather than in Sarvos. According to the Asaveans, the agreement made with the Ambassador to Asavea was that the docks would be built within sight of the temple, in Oran - not in Sarvos. It is believed a representative of the families is due to attend Anvil during this summit to speak to the Ambassador. Hopefully this matter can be sorted out painlessly, or the Cavabianca Dock may end up going unused.

Citadels of Axos

  • Any character with a congregation can sell liao in downtime for 18 rings a dose (rather than the more usual 12)

Word from traders visiting the Towers of Kantor is that the Axou attitude towards the Empire remains broadly positive. Several of the more well-connected merchants speak particularly highly of Tarquinius of Ankarien (the current Imperial Ambassador to Axos).

The Axou continue to pay over the odds for liao. While there are still some voices concerned about what use it might be being put to, the price remains half again as high as it has been in recent years. The Imperial Synod could still use a statement of principle to encourage or discourage the trade of liao to Axos, and if the statement passed with a greater majority, it might influence the outcome of this opportunity. Likewise, the Imperial Senate may pass a Senate motion to amend the law regarding the trade of liao to the Axou - making it illegal - in which case they could remove this opportunity completely.

Principalities of Jarm

  • The northern port of Kavor will supply an additional ingot of green iron in the coming season.
  • The southern port of Vezak will supply an additional crystal mana to each visiting ship.
  • The eastern port of Rigia provides no additional materials.

Relations with Jarm remain positive. The completion of the Pallas docks in Cargo; the Lodge in Tassato; the trade of rituals between the Imperial Conclave and the House of Princes; all contribute to an atmosphere of polite cordiality. Imperial captains continue to receive warm welcomes and secure good deals with merchants in Kavor and Vezak. Sadly, the port of Rigia becomes a little less welcoming - the presence of the Sumaah temple there makes it a little less friendly, and while the Eastern Alliance has largely been recognised as a peer by the Princes of the North and South it is easy to see that the older, more established factions have little interest in making life easy for the "upstarts". The steady decline of Imperial fleets visiting Rigia - especially in comparison to the more prosperous ports in the north and south - cannot be helping their situation, either.

Sumaah Republic

  • Sumaah remains at war with the Empire; the port of Zemeh remains closed.

The only significant development is that a Sumaah ship has recently arrived at the docks of Crown's Quay in Necropolis. A small delegation of Sumaah Präster disembarked, and began the overland journey to Anvil. It has been confirmed that this is Tipoa the Insightful, Präst of the Way, Utredare of the House of Wisdom, and their entourage. Last season the Sumaah House of the Way declared their intention to have an inquisition performed on Bonewall Rek and Bonewall Cole; to "evaluate the seemingly blasphemous and heretical doctrines they have propagated." They are expected to arrive at Anvil later Friday or early Saturday, but they have not chosen to share their itinerary with the Civil Service.

While Sumaah is at war with the Empire, the Empire has not at this time declared war on Sumaah and as such this delegation enjoys all the legal protections (and responsibilities) due any foreign visitors to Anvil.

Faraden

  • There is no opportunity to trade with Faraden directly during downtime.

Relations with Faraden remain ... variable. Some Faraden (especially the merchant class and many of their wizards) appear broadly pro-Imperial. Traders are a relatively common sight in the Brass Coast, and in the Imperial heartlands of Tassato and Casinea. They are also slowly becoming more common in the eastern Marches, southern Varushka, and western Dawn - especially where stretches of the Blood Red Roads near completion.

By contrast, most the warrior class, and much of the priestly class, remain deeply suspicious of Imperial citizens and their motives. During the Spring Equinox, the high-ranking priestly investigator known as the Quiet Flame and her apprentice visited the Empire to investigate the deaths of the i Tsagaan sisters. By all accounts they secured testimony from a number of people, and discussed several matters relating to differences in law and Justice between the two nations.

On returning to Faraden, the Quiet Flame is said to have delivered her findings with a heavy heart. She apparently concurred that the death of Laodicia i Tsagaan at the hands of Ephrael of Highguard was almost certainly provoked by the sisters themselves. While there is no certain evidence that the other two sisters took their own lives, everyone involved appeared sincere in their belief it was the case. The people of the Empire certainly appear to believe that the three were involved in some plot to destabilise relations between the Faraden and the Empire. There is no contradiction in accounts of the death of Laodicia - and as the Quiet Flame herself is reported to have said "If someone were to credibly threaten my own family, I would not require a spiritual aura to give me the will to kill them and all who stood with them."

However, the Quiet Flame also reported - supported by others who have recently visited the Empire including the priests Canto and Boma Ogudai who attended the very Symposium where the i Tsagaan sisters met their fate - that the Empire still understands nothing of Justice. Despite the efforts of the Faraden priesthood, they remain stubbornly disinterested in any truths save their own - worse there are signs that many of them barely seem to understand their own code of laws. The Empire certainly seems to consider any attempt to share the knowledge of Justice to be in itself a heinous - even capital - crime. This rankles with the Faraden priesthood particularly.

Barring any damning evidence coming to light at this late stage, the Faraden seem to view the matter of the i Tsagaan sisters to have been laid to rest - albeit uneasily. The situation has deescalated, but relations remain turbulent. It is possible that the Faraden ambassador Tal'Shar i Zabala i Erigo may have additional information on this situation once they receive their briefing at the coming summit.

Sarcophan Delves

Relations with the Sarcophan Delves remain pleasant, if a little distant. The southern merchants and traders are a common sight along the Bay of Catazar, and many are making adventurous visits inland. Rumours of an agreement with the Grendel to ensure their ships retain free access to the Imperial ports are rife, and the merchants cheerfully acknowledge the presence of an orc embassy in the Delves. There are even a few rumours of Sarcophan captains trading with both the Broken Shore and the Empire. Indeed, some concern is raised that the Sarcophan merchants are cheerfully buying Imperial goods and then selling them at a profit in Dubhtraig! There's no proof - but there are enough mutterings and whisperings to raise concern.

Regardless of their activities in the Empire, news has filtered through visiting captains that the Delves are experiencing a surprise surplus this season. The kruidenkenner of the Delves are adept at the cultivation of the magical herbs, along with any number of recreational and medicinal herbs of a more mundane nature. In recent months however, the Delves have seen a bumper crop ofCerulean Mazzarine, and prices have dropped significantly in the Delves. This season, any ship visiting Sarcophan for purposes of trade will receive 2 doses of Cerulean Mazzarine, but 1 dose each fewer of Imperial Roseweald and Marrowort. This situation is not expected to last beyond the Autumn Equinox, so merchants interested in taking advantage of the surplus will need to move swiftly.

The Commonwealth

Relations with the Commonwealth seem to be stable, albeit frosty. The strategists and generals of the south-east continue to prepare for what many now see as an inevitable outbreak of hostilities between the Commonwealth and the Principalities of Jarm. At the same time, it has not escaped their notice that the Empire appears extremely friendly with the Magician-Princes while keeping the Commonwealth at arm's length. The current situation is best described as tense.

During the Spring Equinox, the Urizen Assembly made efforts to encourage Commonwealth soldiers to join the campaign against the Grendel. The Commonwealth's opposition to slavery is well known - but Commonwealth critics accuse the Empire of continuing to send mixed messages. In the last six months alone, the Empire has constructed the Pallas Docks to explicitly trade weirwood with Jarm, and the Cavabianca Dock to trade white granite with the Asaveans. In the eyes of many in the Commonwealth, the Empire is happy to denounce slavery when it suits them, and condemn the orcs for taking their own citizens as slaves... but more than happy to profit from this corrupt institution when the opportunity arises. Thus, while they roundly condemn the Grendel for taking slaves, there seems to be little interest in getting involved on behalf of the Empire in their dispute with the orcs of the Broken Shore. It is possible the new Ambassador to the Commonwealth may learn more when they receive their briefing during the Summer Solstice (the title is currently vacant, but likely to be appointed during the first Senate session on Friday night).

The Orcs

  • There is no opportunity for Imperial fleets to trade with the Thule, the Druj, or the Barrens Orcs during downtime.

The Empire is technically at peace with three of the nearby orc tribes - although it is not clear how much longer the Imperial Senate will remain at peace with the Druj given recent developments in Dawnguard.

Thule

The northern orcs have declined to recognise the recently appointed Ambassador to the Thule, Juha the Cavespider. Their emissary in Void, Rak Who-Speaks-For-The-Dragons-United has suggested that while the Thule will continue to deal with the "respected Varushkan warlock", they are not prepared to recognise his title until such time as the Empire either builds an appropriate embassy somewhere in northern Varushka, or amends the title such that it is appointed by the Varushkans and not by the Imperial Senate.

The Dragons have not, at this time, withdrawn their offer to participate in the northern trade network, nor their interest in acquiring the remnants of the Runeforge beneath Gildenheim, but their mild dissatisfaction over the matter of the Ambassador is obvious.

The Great Forest Orcs

The orcs of the Great Forest, and their human allies, are still in Therunin. The situation is not substantially changed from where it was last season, save that the orcs and the Empire are now actively involved in discussion of a treaty. For the time being, they show no signs of moving, but that could change at any moment.

OOC Note

As always, these opportunities are significantly more volatile than most. The decisions of Imperial citizens during the coming summit have the potential to significantly alter relations between nations; we will reiterate the exact state of play when Downtime opens after the event.

They tell you "time is money," as if your life was worth its weight in gold.