At the Assembly of Peers, the representative of the Skykingdom of Cardia is chosen to present their case for an alliance with the Compact. "Cardia is the very heart of the world, and as that heart beats, all under its banner prosper. Not a single invader ever reached our shores during your 'Reckoning', and that is precisely the sort of protection you would be afforded by becoming one of our provinces." The cardian warlord gestures with a hand wide towards all in the Assembly, "Your province is constantly beset by foes, under conflict and internal quarrels. You need not some arrogant and insane so-called Emperor to solve this. You needn't give up freedoms, nor bow to a distant madman. One unified code of law, Cardian law, could settle it all, with our governance setting a fractured land to rights."
Lord Marcus Sulla regards the contingent from the Undying Empire with undisguised contempt, "They would remove your rights, and have you become mere children cowering in an Emperor's shadow. They would shackle your strongest in chains of words. Cardia offers you something greater." The warlord gestures with a hand towards the chamber, "We would bring you the wealth to prepare your realm for what's coming, in steelsilk armor and suitable arms. We would bring you the Art, so you might be trained, and fight as you did in times of old. We would train you. We would give you the might to defend yourselves, while underneath our banners, and no future 'Reckoning' would threaten you."
The foreign warlord turns his attention back to the Voices of the Realm, "All you need do is bend the knee, and become one of our provinces, and you would rise as a mighty province of the Skykingdom, and we would see about your leaders being seated in our senate." A pause, "Refuse us, of course, at your peril. If you accept the Undying Emperor, you would be marked as our enemy. If your province stands alone and falls to darkness that threatens the world, we would have no choice but to invade to restore order, and none of the benefits would be extended to you."
The two Children of the Emperor stand before the Assembly of Peers, dressed in their gleaming platinum-gilded armor. The elder, Kozu, stands with his hands clasped behind his back, nonetheless giving the impression of being on-guard; it is his 'sister' Zulana who steps forward to address the peers of the realm. She bows first to those at the table... and then towards the commoner benches, of all things.
"Long ago, the Emperor entrusted your land to the Great Unbound, the one who he loved as a daughter, and journeyed to build a new beacon of hope in Jadairal. But now the Great Unbound is lost to us all, and though the world grieves, it becomes clear the Great Experiment is at an end."
"In the time since we arrived," Zulana continues, "We have heard of your Faith quarreling with itself over rooting out conspiracies, claiming that one hand does not know what the other is doing. We have heard of those among your leaders consorting with mages of the Abyss. It seems as though while you struggle to walk a path of light, your will sometimes falters."
Now the emissary pauses, turning to glance at the audience for a moment, as though weighing those assembled there. Then her gaze turns back to the peers, the High Lords and their representatives. "And there are greater threats on the horizon!" she proclaims. "Many things long sealed away are stirring, and if they are not defeated or bound, you put the whole world in danger. Without your lost protector, how can hedge-mages and mortal warriors hope to stand against such foes?"
Zulana shakes her head, almost sadly. "I have no doubt that many among you have brave hearts, and would stand against such darkness. And if you do so alone, you will falter -- and fall. And there are always those who seek personal gain, and will sign themselves away to the Abyss; they will work against you from within."
"Out of respect for the one He so loved, our Emperor grants Arvum the right to come to the Empire, rather than simply being added to its Radiant Expanse. As part of the Undying Empire, those among you who display a gift for the Art will be brought to Jadairal for training and bound against service to the Abyss. We, the Emperor's Children, will help to defend your land -- to oppose the threats you face. Together, you can build a shining future, one where no one need fear being forced into Abyssal service."
She pauses here, glancing over to the commoner benches -- her eyes scan the audience until she spots Shard there; the emissary looks somewhat displeased that the sellsword is seated among the commoners, but she offers a respectful bow towards the woman nonetheless. "You will be exempt from such bindings, of course, Your Majesty; the old treaties remain in effect."
Then she turns back to the table of the Compact leadership. "Within the Undying Empire, you will find a life of peace. Our laws are fair, and the Emperor provides for his citizens. The Arts we know will be used to the benefit of Arvum -- to /your/ benefit. We will hold back the darkness, and give you a chance to build a new world in the light."
"If you choose to align with the Black Spire, however, you will be aligning with those who declare themselves above even the gods. Those who would see many of you chained and sold, forced to fight for their own amusement." Her eyes narrow for a moment. "You would be declaring yourself an enemy to the Empire."
Then the emissary's expression turns dark. "And should you decline all aid, you will almost assuredly fall. And when that darkness rises, when your Compact begins to shatter under the weight of the threats... then we will be forced to come and quell the darkness. For the good of the rest of the world."
Spreading her hands, Zulana concludes, "We ask only that you consider what is best -- for yourself, and for the world. And when you do, you will see that His offer is truly the right path forward."
A man leaps from the commoner's benches, unable to stop himself from an emotional outburst of accusation aimed at Praetor Marcus Sulla. And perhaps he did not plan for this, but he makes his own offer. "I once armed a slave revolt that had the entire Skykingdom in fear. I can arm people who have never known the fear of slavery to even greater effect. I am - I was Brass, and I will help you, but there can be /no more slavery/."
A woman stands from among the back of the audience; at first she looks absolutely unremarkable -- average height, average brown hair, average brown eyes -- but then a moment later, she has vivid turquoise eyes and pale blonde hair.
"You've heard the words of those who'd see Arvum bend the knee to foreign powers," the woman remarks. "For my part, I have only a simple plea: remember Copper. Remember my teacher. She argued for Arvum to remain free -- free from foreign influence, and free in our choices as well."
Copper's apprentice shakes her head. "I won't lie; the battles ahead will be hard if we stand alone. Darkness /is/ gathering. And if we stand against it, the battles may be difficult. There may be heavier losses than in previous conflicts. But they are still battles that /we can win/, if we all stand together."
"And never give up hope."
And then the woman seems to vanish into the crowd once more.
As the Assembly of Peers continues to be under discussion throughout the land, as everyone from the most humble to the most highborn debate the various alliances offered and the future of the Compact, a quiet reminder of Copper starts to blanket Arx. Small copper rings, hung from doorknobs and lampposts, left on handrails and in baskets left untended start to appear. Attached to each and every hoop is a single unified message.
The Gods remember Copper.
We must remember Copper.
We must remember the Gods.
The Gods can hear our prayers.
--The Fellowship of Tin
At first it's strange. It's unusual and it's talked about. People remove them, people wear them, people toss them in jewelry boxes. It goes from talked about to commonplace. And then to forgotten, something that just happens sometimes, no one really knows when. The mystery remains a mystery unsolved, but no one seems very curious.
But over time, as it turns commonplace, there's another rumor. If you find a little copper hoop on your door, you'll have good luck. If you give a copper hoop to someone else, they'll have a good day. And what starts as a small gesture becomes a comfort. A superstition. Something to look forward to. A little bit of hope, a little bit of luck, passed from person to person with a smile. Not a joke or a mystery. Something a little special. A reminder. A new tradition. A memory.