The Exarch stands in the library of the Chapterhouse, lost in thought. She looks at the framed document on the wall with a pensive stare. The silence here is deafening; in this, the inner sanctum, none but her and the most trusted of the Chapter ever venture. The books that line the shelves have never been read by the living; the Chapter will fall before they ever will.
She stares and thinks, until suddenly there is a clatter at the doorway and a guardian dressed in gleaming armour emblazoned with the chapter symbol - a finger to a mouth, a silent exhortation - stumbles through. They’re panting.
Have you seen, Zipporah?” It’s Lev, the Captain of the Chapter’s Guard. They’re clutching a set of papers in their hand. “Does this mean…?”
The Exarch turns. “I have seen.” She gestures to the parchment framed on the wall opposite. It, too, is sealed with the seal of the chapter. “I’ve made my assessment. Yes; this is a breach. The oath compels us. Virtue compels us. We act. You will leave with my chosen delegates tomorrow for Anvil."
Lev stands to attention. “Ma’am.” They nod quickly, their long curly hair bobbing oddly; it would almost be funny were the solemnity of the act not so clear. “Thank you.” They’ve got their breath back, and turn to leave.
“Lev.” They turn back. The Exarch speaks again. “If you fail, you know what it will mean.”
The guardian nods, grimly, and leaves their Exarch standing once again in the silent library. Motes of dust spiral around her in the disturbed air, but she remains still, gazing once more at the oath before her.
Many troubles have beset the Department of Historical Research in recent times. However, the recent reaffirmation of the Imperial Senate of the continued importance of this Imperial institution and the open publication of its findings mean that the past can once again shed light upon the present.
It is not just the Department for Historical Research who have been engaged in this business. For some years now, Livia Cascade has been the Seer of the Gateway, diligently recording the accounts of those who have experienced the gift of True Liao, who have sallied forth into the Labyrinth of Ages and - by their Virtue - been borne safely back again. These, too, are a light to be celebrated.
Then there are the Heirs of Lepidus, supported by the benefactors of Highguard in their quest to illuminate the lives of the exemplars and paragons, and restore those inspirations whose deeds have been lost to history to the light of day.
Finally, there is the Anvil Library, perhaps the leading organisation in this new renaissance of truth. With their diligent archiving work, they are a first port of call for many at Anvil who want to read uncovered texts, new researches. For any new to Anvil, or those who are veterans of it, this work of this Imperial sodality represents a lantern at the heart of the Empire.
Not everybody agrees, however.
War of Whispers
The actions of Aarne Ceorling, Gatekeeper of Vigilance, in treating with The Whisper Gallery to obtain evidence to further our understanding of The Way, were motivated by Virtue. Whatever the outcome of his trial for treason, the Imperial Synod should make use of the evidence so obtained.Aarne Coerling, Statement of Principle, General Assembly. Spring Equinox 382YE, Not upheld 328 - 627
The Whisper Gallery - declared enemies of the Empire by the Imperial Conclave nearly three years ago - continue their campaign of woe against all those who facilitate the open publication of precious secrets. The archmage of Night, Elyssiathain of Endsmeet, has taken steps to try and resolve the situation with the eternals themselves - one way or another. In the months leading up to the Summer Solstice, however, the Whisper Gallery continue to prosecute their "war" against the Department of Historical Research (among others).
This season alone, a masked individual attempted to murder Leontes the Scribe (member of the Constitutional Court and head of the Department of Historical Research) in his own garden. Swift intervention by the Senate-assigned bodyguard meant the assailant was forced to flee before they could complete their task, leaving the garrulous scholar still with a knife lodged in his side. "It missed owt vital," he is reported to have said while being treated by a chirurgeon. "Good thing Sellas saw t'buggers off afore they could go rootin' round inside me for summat important."
There have been other near misses. Tragedy nearly struck the family of adventurous Marcher scholar Peter of Hintown. At a family gathering in Hintown, his husband Dorcas was seriously poisoned when he accidentally drank from Peter's mug of beer instead of his own. Tragedy was averted thanks in part to the quick work of various family members - herbs were acquire to brew an antidote just in time - and to the fortunate happenstance that one of Peter's bodyguards (a Temeschwari woman named Alva) recognised the symptoms of Virus Lunarae poisoning before they were too far advanced.
The militia believe the attempted assassin to be a League mountebank named Antonia di Sarvos, who is known for their mastery of Night magic and was identified at the gathering masquerading as a distant cousin. Militia investigation in Sarvos determines that Antonia has disappeared from their usual hautns. With a reputation for selling unwholesome secrets garnered through the Whispering Shadow Courtiers ritual, it is likely that this is the means by which they received instructions to murder Henry. They remain at large.
By all accounts, Antonia di Sarvos is not the only person still using the proscribed ritual. The high profile case of the late Aarne Coerling, former Gatekeeper of Vigilance no less, saw him tried for treason after he used information explicitly garnered through Whispering Shadow Courtiers to make outlandish claims about Faraden religon. If even a respected priest of the Vigilance assembly can be lead astray by the lure of secrets... Here, too, it appears the malefactor escaped justice - albeit by fleeing into the Labyrinth through the use of the sinister Secrets of the Empty Heart enchantment allegedly favourd by many Whisper Gallery agents who would rather die than give up their secrets.
This latter prominent scandal illuminates one of the problems faced by magistrates, and the bodyguards who protect the civil servants associated with the Department of Historical Research. The Whisper Gallery are continuing to wage their war against the Empire, but the enmity under which they labour has simply meant that the eternals have shifted to using mortal agents instead of heralds. Agents that are much harder to identify, who could be anyone, anywhere. If even the Gatekeeper of Vigilance themselves can be subverted, how far might the rot have already spread?
Shine a Light into the Shadows
- The Senate could expand the power of the Conclave to restrict access to dangerous rituals
- The Senate could pass a law in support of the Conclave's declaration of enmity.
- The Synod could instruct the Silent Bell to root out agents of the Whisper Gallery.
Casting the ritual is illegal while enmity with the Gallery holds. This is clearly not stopping mortal agents using it illicitly to contact the Whisper Gallery, trade in secrets, and allegedly receive instructions to commit heinous acts. The ritual remains part of Imperial lore and it is quite legal to master it so long as it is never cast. The Conclave has done everything it can to limit the influence of the Whisper Gallery - and if they had not there is no question that the situation would be considerably worse.
Last year the Imperial Senate rejected a motion to|grant the Conclave the power to remove proscribed rituals from Imperial lore. It is no simple matter to remove a ritual that has been placed into lore by the Conclave. The magistrates provided some guidance on how it might be achieved and the vote was close, but in the end it was rejected. Rumours abound that a senator openly stated on the Senate floor during the debate that the Conclave could not be trusted with the oversight of important magics needed by the Military Council.
As a result of that decision, it is illegal to perform Whispering Shadow Courtiers while it is interdicted, but it is not illegal to possess a ritual text for it. Thus the illegal ritual remains available to any Imperial magician who takes an interest in it and there is little the Conclave can do about that.
However it is also illegal to consort with the Whisper Gallery and the Senate could instruct the magistrates to take a more pro-active role in seeking out agents of the eternals of Night. With a suitably worded motion, similar to the one used to make membership of the vyig a serious crime, they could encourage magistrates to investigate any rumours of involvement. The militia could to check up on those who were rumoured to be known associates before the "war of whispers" broke out in earnest, and take a proactive stance in rooting out the remaining influence of these eternals.
Such an action would not be without costs. Just as last time, a thorough investigation of all Imperial magicians would have repercussions. The Whisper Gallery and their agents are careful to hide from prying eyes so any attempt by the militia to identify them would need to be intrusive if it was to be effective. The civil service estimate that the overall impact would be a loss of two mana crystals from every mana site in the Empire for the next two seasons, while the search was carried out.
It is doubtful that every mortal who owes a favour to the Whisper Gallery could be identified and prosecuted, but many would be and that would significantly hamper the eternals' efforts. That would mean that the Empire would no longer need to pay for bodyguards to protect people from their mortal agents - at least while they remained under emnity. It would also send a clear message that the treasonous behaviour of those aiding the Whisper Gallery - for whatever reason - would no longer be tolerated. There are some risks - it might drive some agents underground, for example, but as with similar moves against the agents of Wendigo in the past it would eventually drive supporters of the Whisper Gallery out of civilization into the wilderness.
The Imperial Synod could also take a stand against the Whisper Gallery. The Assembly of the Nine could instruct the Silent Bell to root out groups who are still working with the Whisper Gallery. This sodality literally exists to root out internal threats to the Empire, in pursuit of virtuous Vigilance, and while it would take many seasons to track down every group of agents or lone magician, they could certainly identify high-profile groups believed to be collaborating with the Whisper Gallery.
The Problem of Livia
The title of Seer of the Gateway was established by the Senate in the Winter of 379YE. Livia Cascade of Urizen was duly appointed by the Assembly of the Nine, and has served with distinction ever since. The Seer is charged with safeguarding the well-being of visionaries and guide priests partaking of True Liao; recording details of the visions they experience; and disseminating their records and any conclusions. Few can doubt that Livia Cascade has fulfilled her responsibilities in an exemplary fashion.
Indeed, her critics do not complain that she has failed to live up to her duties; quite the contrary in fact.
- A concerned Highborn chapter suggests amendments to the power of the Seer of the Gateway
Hannah’s Silence is an obscure Highborn chapter based out of the Necropolis. They are few in number, and mainly recruit from within - although they are said to have had an influx of new blood after the fall of Reikos left so many chapterless. Their chapter icon is a finger held to a closed mouth and they are known to have a chapter oath that is not spoken of to outsiders - an oath which exhorts them to keep certain secrets, it is said. They are quite an old chapter, apparently created in the first decade after the founding of the Empire. Normally they keep themselves to themselves - but something has caused them to leave their chapter and sally forth.
The Exarch of Hannah's Silence, Zipporah, has been seen in the streets of the Necropolis preaching. She speaks of the heresy of Yael; how it was enabled in no small part by the wanton publication of the most sacred rites and experiences of the Empire as if they were the common weather. She decries, in short, the work of the Seer of the Gateway and her ongoing publications - and the tendency for them to lead to historical research which prioritises grubby "facts" and speculation over the virtuous truth of events.
Zipporah has publicly announced a set of changes that they propose which if taken together could remedy this problem:
- Livia could be replaced, on the basis that another occupant of the position might take a different and more judicious approach to the sacred truths they uncover
- The Seer of the Gateway could be elected by the Highborn assembly, as first guardians of virtue. A similar rationale is offered, but with more guarantee that the appointee is of Virtuous character. This suggestion - that the Highborn assembly cares more about virtue than the Assembly of the Nine - is somewhat controversial, the Highborn assembly having comprehensively rejected foundationalism in recent times.
- It could be made illegal to publish the detail of past life visions except by the Seer - combined with one of the first two, it could help to ensure that publishing of past life visions happens in a more responsible manner.
None of these would individually stop the current Seer from continuing her work, especially given her publication deal is a private one, rather than tied to her office - but in combination they could limit the damage she could do.
Zipporah's ideas are causing some interested local discussion, but it is by the great and the good at Anvil that any decision must be made. As such, Zipporah has announced that a delegation from her Chapter will come to speak to the Highborn at Anvil, to make their case and to lobby the nation's Senators. They are due to arrive on the Friday evening of the summit.
- A publishing house suggests that rather than restraining Livia Cascade, her work should be made available to everyone
The Spider's Vantage Spire of Urizen, Livia’s publishers, are not ignorant of the current hostility to her work. Being Torchbearers of an even more stubborn bent than usual, they have redoubled their efforts - and are offering to expand their operation if they receive Senate support.
At present, the work of the Spider's Vantage Spire is conducted privately, with no support from the Civil Service. This also means that its publishing endeavours are not tied to the Seer of the Gateway but to Livia Cascade personally. This certainly has some advantages - but it also limits the audience. While the well-connected people attending Anvil may well be able to easily get copies of Livia's work, volumes are not that widely distributed beyond these elite readers.
Spider's Vantage believe that they could expand their operation with only a little support from the Civil Service. For a cost of 2 Thrones each season to the Imperial Treasury, they could see to it that the accounts of past life visions published by the Seer of the Gateway were widely distributed across the Empire, so that any devout citizen would secure a copy.
This would certainly increase the potential impact of the Seer's writings - comparable to the reach of a statement of principle with a greater majority. Indeed, there is a chance that these records might in themselves provoke mandates and opportunities relating to the experiences recounted. There are any number of people in the Empire who know obscure facts about the doings of their beloved ancestors, for example, who might be inspired to come forward with thier information if they knew of a vision concerning them.
If the Senate were to approve this expansion of the Spider's Vantage operation, however, it would be tied to the Seer of the Gateway officially. This would mean that even if Livia were to be replaced, the publication rights would pass to the next holder of her office.
This is not the limit of Spider's Vantage's ambition. For a cost of 10 Thrones each season, their publication operation could be increased in volume and reach so that it reaches not just the people of the Empire, but all those that the Empire trades with. Copies of the publications of the Seer would become commonplace in ports across the world. The Way, of course, was initially spread by revelation - these reports of miraculous visions might in some small way help the missionaries who work to bring all of humankind into the faith.
This approach would also reinforce the Empire's position as the birthplace and the heart of the Way - the Sumaah Republic is silent on matters of past life visions, preferring to keep the details of those they undertake to themselves. This would be the Empire making a statement that the miracles of True Liao were to be shared with all - it would be highly likely to increase foreign interests in the mysteries of True Liao.
As if all that were not enough... in addition to the ongoing problems with the Whisper Gallery, and the new arguments against Livia Cascade, in the run-up to the Summer Solstice another eternal of the Night realm is showing signs of dissatisfaction with the Empire over these matters in some way.
Sung, the Spiral Dancer, has never worried much about the pursuit of, and revelation of, secrets. Her concern is mysteries - those things which no-one knows, or, sometimes, things which are known by some but which, to others, are something they do not even know they do not know. Or... and so on. Ultimately, what it means is that Sung has never really been an enemy of those who uncover the truth - until now.
Now, the Feather on the Breeze is displeased. Exactly why is not clear - but those who have contact with the eternal have cautiously suggested that some mystery that she has enjoyed has been spoiled in one way or another by one of the groups seeking to uncover scholarly truth. Although which mystery, and which group of scholars is impossible to say at this time.
Regardless, her groeing ire is obvious to those who deal with her or her heralds. Her answers to Clear Counsel of the Everflowing River have become more gnomic and obscure (if such were possible), and in some cases downright sarcastic. Several regio favoured by her have become harder to access, forcing those who wish to enter to answer mystical riddles of increasing complexity. Her heralds have become uncooperative, and even angry in some cases - and there has been a noticable upsurge in sightings of the normally quiet and pleasant creatures around the Empire. Eternal-watchers are beginning to become concerned that another eternal is about to turn against the Empire... and they have no idea why.
- A herald of Sung will be attending Anvil. Probably.
Exactly what has raised Sung’s displeasure is unclear. Some magicians have suggested asking her directly - using the Clear Counsel of the Everflowing River - but wiser mages tut and note that a direct question rarely gets much of use out of the Lord of Illusions even when it is not already irritated. Perhaps a carefully phrased indirect question may reveal a deeper mystery, however?
Regardless, one of her better-known heralds, a normally agreeable creature named Curious Breeze - has made known its intention to come to Anvil and see if a solution to the current problem can be achieved. “Probably” - it is said to have remarked off-hand to an volhov of its acquaintance - “I will arrive on the Saturday evening of the Solstice - unless something happens to mean that I do not. It may not, of course: who can say?”
Those who make it their business to know the affairs of the Whispering Wind might, therefore, do well to seek out Curious Breeze before the Archmage of Night is forced to use their plenipotentiary powers to try and mitigate the anger of yet another eternal of Night.