381YE Summer Solstice winds of war
As Summer 381YE approaches, the Empire continues to fight against threats both external, and internal.
Imperial forces are engaged with the Grendel on the southern coast of Urizen in Redoubt and Spiral. In the west, a large Imperial force launches a major assault against the Jotun forces occupying the Mournwold, while the Navarr launch a risky offensive of their own. And in Weirwater, a lone Dawnish army fights a force of living nightmares.
Unfinished Business (Redoubt)
The Grendel have a foothold in Naris, in Redoubt. This cannot stand. We are to set out and take that land back! We've been inactive for too long - time to bloody our axes. Have Fun!Admiral Edgardo i Ruiloba i Guerra of the Freeborn Storm
The Freeborn Storm - the grand Imperial navy - arrives in Redoubt like a comet from a clear sky. Supported by independent Freeborn and Navarr captains, and by several vessels from other nations, it assaults the beaches of Naris with the intention of driving out the Grendel insurgents who have captured several of the southern spires. Supported by the garrison of the Court of the White Fountain, the kohan and corsairs engage in a spirited campaign to liberate as many Urizen, and kill as many orcs, as they can.
The orcs are not prepared for such a concerted attack - without the support of their own armies, they are swiftly overwhelmed by the Freeborn tide. Spire after spire is liberated, until a final vicious battle takes place at Evenstar, the base-of-operations for the Grendel invaders. Rather than engage in a lengthy siege, the Freeborn Storm and their allies launch a full-frontal assault against the hospital. It is easy to see how Evenstar fell to swiftly to the Grendel - it is a spire built to encourage healing and convalescence, not to defend against a naval assault. Beautiful gardens are no substitute for stout walls.
In addition to the orcs, there are a dozen or so freakish creatures of the Spring realm defending Evenstar - hulking humanoid horrors with cruel serrated spears and gaping maws full of razor teeth. Heralds of the eternal Siakha, they are dangerous and hard to kill - striking devastating blows with their barbed weapons - but they do die eventually. Their presence is not enough to stem the tide of Imperial attackers and within a few hours the spire - and its associated Spring regio - is recaptured.
The Grendel took many slaves during their initial invasion. Sadly, few of those slaves remain to be liberated - a significant number have already been carried away across the Bay of Catazar to who-knows-what dark fate. Tragically, among their number are most of the Urizen healers and physicians that made Evenstar a place of powerful healing, as well as perhaps as many as a score of wealthy patients from various parts of the Empire.
Of possible interest to the liberators is news that several Grendel ships - not war vessels but fast pirate ships - were supplying Evenstar in the months since its capture. They took many slaves away with them, and several treasures from the captured spires of southern Redoubt. Some of the Urizen have an interesting story to tell their liberators. Several of them were pressed into service unloading these swift Grendel pirate ships. They report that in addition to the expected cargo - weapons, armour, food and drink - but there were also occasions when they were restricted to their barracks, and the Grendel soldiers unloaded the cargos - on each occasion, it is believed they were bringing in wains of building materials. Yet there is no sign of this phantom cargo anywhere liberated by the Freeborn storm.
At the same time the Imperial navy is mopping up the Grendel defenders in the south, the Northern Eagle is hard at work repairing the roads and bridges in the north. It is perhaps fitting that a Vaurshkan army is at work rebuilding roads damaged in the recent turbulent storms - the folk of that northern nation are known for their roads after all. They have made good progress - another season and the essential infrastructure should be rebuilt sufficiently to allow smooth passage through the territory again.
The Granite Pillar are also present, taking defensive positions in the north and around the Court of the White Fountain, ready to resist any further potential invasion by the southern orcs. They offer assistance to the Northern Eagle - but it proves unworkable to employ both forces on the task at the same time.
Game Information - Redoubt
The Freeborn Storm have liberated the spires captured by the Grendel during their recent invasion - the victory points in Naris accumulated by the southern orcs have been neutralised.
The Northern Eagle is half-way through the task of repairing the roads and bridges in Redoubt. As detailed in last season's Wind of Fortune, it will take another season of work by an Imperial army to completely restore movement through the territory. While an army with the Siege quality could have repaired the roads in one season, it is not possible for two armies to combine their efforts to match that speed.
Flesh and Bone (Weirwater)
The Golden Sun will march to Weirwater. There we will grind the winter driven husks back with Iron and Fire.General Zoran Orzel of the Golden Sun
Shortly after the Spring Equinox, the dead rise in Weirwater.
The night is dark indeed when the corpses of dead Dawnish pull themselves from their graves. The stars are still hidden, and the moon is little more than a thin silver sliver when the first shambling ghouls begin their assault. Choked in dark earth, some of them incongruously garlanded in the flowers that adorned their graves, they lurch towards the nearest human habitation, hungry for the flesh of the living. The curse that calls them is egalitarian; noble and yeoman alike are dragged from their slumber and sent stumbling to prey upon their countryfolk. The freshest corpses are the most dangerous, but those who endure the assault of the ravenous husks talk of ancient, withered dead lurching alongside the more recently departed - some barely more than skeletons cloaked in tattered parchment skin, dull red flames burning in their empty eyesockets.
A night of horror ensues across Weirwater that leaves dozens dead. The nobles are well equipped to deal with these ambulatory cadavers, but it is easy to forget that many yeomen have served in the armies of Dawn in their time. Where people are not taken by surprise, they are generally able to survive until sunrise. Yet across Weirwater hundreds die. While a single solid blow is often enough to deal with the average husk, there are a great many of them. Worse, a number of the corpses are those of Dawnish knights and nobles, buried in their armour, often with their shields. Even the mightiest blow is to no avail when it is turned aside by rusted plate, earth-clogged chain, or a clumsily interposed shield.
There is no warning, but the people are not caught entirely unprepared. Ever since the horde of unliving horrors emerged from the Semmerlak, there have been people in Weirwater predicting an event of this nature - although they have severely underestimated the magnitude. There are stories of glorious courage and vigilance across Weirwater. The witches of Applefell and their criminal allies materialise out of nowhere to protect the town from a hundred or so corpses, only to disappear again with the sunrise. The war-witches of Spiral Castle join with House Griffinsbain to drive off a terrible force of withered Varushkan warriors and Dawnish soldiers that rise from an ancient battlefield in northern Weirmoor. The troubadours of Culwich rally the people of the village against a sodden cohort of drowned fisherfolk and stranger things that drag themselves, dripping and stinking, from the mud of the Semmerlak. Axe-wileding lumberjacks from the Weirwater Vales, many of them dour Varushkans, create a no-nonsense perimeter around their camps and chop any husk foolish enough to attack them into bloody pieces.
As the sun rises, the assault of the unliving slackens. At first, it is easy to believe that the bright sunlight has ended the curse - that a single night of horror is all that they will have to endure. This proves optimistic, however. The husks have stopped attacking the living but they have not returned to their graves. Rather, they have begun to shamble and stumble towards Hawksmoor, to join the unliving army there - an army that is already on the move.
The abominable horde begins to move east through the trees, a slow tide of abominations moving toward the nearest large settlement - the hedge-encircled town of Hawthorne. As they march, they slaughter any living being that crosses their path, overwhelming a small village, several farms, and the estate of the Amici, a minor noble house. The witches of Hawthorne begin to muster their defence, sending desperate messengers to Applefell and Culwich, and south into Semmerholm, asking for aid.
Aid is already on its way, however. Two nights after the dead rise, the Golden Sun march into the forests of Weirsmoor from Astolat. Moving with grim determination, the heavily-armoured knights push eastwards as fast as they can. Passing Spiral Castle, the de Casillon nobles bring the commanders of the army up to speed on the terrible events overtaking Weirwater, and offer what aid they can. From the scattered reports, they estimate that perhaps as many as another thousand malign spirits have been unleashed into Weirwater - spirits that defile the fallen of Dawn by possessing the bodies of those who should have been left to sleep beneath the soil and driving them to prey on their descendants, their families, and their friends.
Even as they hurry to intercept the unliving host, they take few chances. As they sweep eastward into Hawksmoor, their forces spread out to ensure as many straggling unliving ghouls as possible are destroyed. The small groups of abominations are no match for a Dawnish army, and barely slow their advance ... until they reach Hawthorne at least.
The army arrives to find the siege of Hawthorne well underway. The poison-thorned hedges provide an effective perimeter, but the hordes of the unliving feel no pain and even as the magical poison is ravaging their flesh they continue to push forwar. Bolstered by every noble knight and war-witch who can reach the town, the witches coordinate a desperate defence. It is not enough to turn the unliving horder aside - the living are outnumbered and overmatched by the dead - but their courage is at least sufficient to delay the unliving long enough that they are only just breaking through the defences as the Golden Sun arrive.
The cadaverous host initially ignores the Dawnish soldiers, focusing their attention on murdering as many of the people of Hawthorne as they can. As the horns sound and the army advances implacably across the torn fields surrounding the town, the ghouls slowly begin to register the presence of five thousand knights and yeoman-soldiers. Their attention turns away from feasting on the civillians, and they lurch forward to engage the Golden Sun.
Previously, the unliving have avoided direct engagements. Even during their ill-fated foray into Astolat, they retreated rather than fight the Golden Axe and the garrison of the Castle of Thorns. That is no longer the case. The desperate moaning howl they voice as they pour out of Hawthorne is like a living thing, assailing the spirits of the Dawnish soldiers that seek to stand against them. Some break - it is too much for them - the terrible hunger, the terrible moaning, the horror of fighting the walking corpses. Here and there among the hordes, on tattered scraps of surcotes and tabards, and even the occasional soiled standard, one cannot fail to spot the heraldry of the nobles of Weirwater; the burning phoenix of House Novarion; the white eagles of House Orzel; the golden pegasus of House Arwood; the red gryphon of House Griffinsbain; the stars of the |De Ledure and the De Céleste; and the hand-and-spiral of the De Casillon. While the army might have begun as a horde of Varushkan and orc corpses, perhaps a third of their number are now made up of the mortal remains of the people of Dawn.
The battle is savage; the unliving hurl themselves onto the Dawnish soldiers without regard for their continued existence. The first wave is quickly dispatched ... but the second wave is harder to deal with. By the third wave, the Dawnish lines start to buckle slightly. Here an armoured knight stumbles, tripping over a fallen body. There a yeoman presses forward a little too far and is quickly surrounded and torn apart. The lines hold, but people begin to die. The fourth wave pushes the line back a step.
But only a step. With the drums and the horns, the magic of the witches and the words of the troubadours bolstering the will of the warriors to keep fighting, with the cry of "Glory!" echoing, the army as one soldier takes a step foward. Then another. The unliving rally - there is no doubt that there is some will at work here directing their strategy - but the onrushing tide slackens. The fields around Hawthorne are littered with the bloodless dead ... and with too many bleeding bodies of fallen soldiers and civilians.
The unliving retreat. Between one moment and the next, they seem to lose interest in both Hawthorne and the Golden Sun. They begin to shamble north, away from the town and the army. After a few steps many break into a loping run. Fleeing. A cheer goes up from a thousand throats, from the Golden Sun and the surviving defenders of Hawthorne. The enemy has broken!
And then the final horror begins. Here and there across the battlefield, and in the town, bodies begin to move. Soaked in blood, eyes filling with an unnatural hunger, they rise again. The vessels have been cut down, but the spirits that drive them are not so easily dismissed. They seek out new hosts, and the nearest hosts are the bodies of those who fell desperately defending their people. They turn their hunger on those who they died fighting alongside. The cheers turn to wails of horror and grief, as those courageous combatants who gave their lives endure a terrible second existence as pawns of the enemy.
Most of the newly risen are dealt with quickly, once the initial shock lessens, but several dozen follow the main body of the unliving horde north. The Golden Sun give chase, and over the course of the season there are several other engagements with the cadaverous horde. In each case, they go roughly the same way. The first few rounds of battle go to the Dawnish, but the unliving wear them down, exhausting them until they make mistakes. Then, on an unspoken signal, they flee the field and regroup, and the whole thing happens again.
The strategy of the Golden Sun minimizes the number of Dawnish soldiers who fall to the unliving, but conversely they give few opportunities to destroy the enemy. And after every engagement, a portion of those who have fallen rise again, reinforcing the unliving and slowly transforming the horde from a mass of Varushkan and orc husks into a mass of Dawnish husks.
Game Information - Weirwater
The unliving army is on the offensive. The Golden Sun have won each engagement, but have not dealt many significant losses to the unliving horde. The situation is complicated by two factors. It doesn't help that in one night the initial horde, primarily Varushkans and orcs, was bolstered by an additional thousand Dawnish troops. Worse, it has become clear that the husks are recovering a proportion of their losses even as they fight - very much as if the spirits that drive them are seeking out new bodies when their old one is rendered unusable. On the plus side, while the Dawnish have lost some manor houses, villages, and farms, the host has not managed to gain any significant ground, and the situation is considerably less tragic than it would have been without the intervention of the Golden Sun.
Blood on the Scales (Spiral)
Stand fast, stand strong, my soldiers of Shield. Hold fast, Hold true, our bloody hands shall not yield.."General Iron Osric of the Green Shield
Shortly after the Spring Equinox, the Northern Eagle withdraws from Spiral into Redoubt. For a few days it looks as if the Green Shields will be defending Cinon by themselves ... but then they are reinforced by the Eastern Sky, marching from the west through the passes of Willstone. A couple of weeks later they are further reinforced by the Towerjacks - the League army refusing to allow the disastrous state of the roads in Redoubt to slow them down. The three armies mount a staunch defence of the one remaining Imperial region of Spiral.
And what a defence it is! Supported by some eight thousand troops belonging to independent captains, as well as the shambling undead shock troops attached to the Green Shield, they face a full assault from the Grendel forces.
The Grendel strategy appears to be three tiered; some of their armies push directly north and west toward Damakhan's Forge from Ateri. A second, slightly smaller force takes a more cautious approach, moving from Screed to test the Empire's defences in southern Cinon. A third force attempts an even slower advance from Ossuary, targeting key spires along the western side of the still-Imperial region. These forces are supported by marines and supplies delivered by the Grendel navies.
Towerjacks, we stood on the walls of Holberg and threw back the Barbarians for twenty years! Now we will once again stand against the barbarians in the defence of the Empire. We make our heroic stand for Virtue and the Empire!General Natalia Barossa of the Towerjacks
As in previous seasons, some of the orc generals demonstrate a preternatural ability to coordinate their tactics, and to engage in unified strategy even though the armies are spread out around the borders of Cinon. They are, perhaps, not expecting the Towerjacks who possess their own potent enchantment, enhancing the discipline of the League army to the point where they are able to predict and counter the direct strategy of the army marching beneath the banner of the black eels. The overwhelming assault the western Grendel armies are expecting to punch through the Imperial defences ... fails to materialise. yet this defence is costly. The Towerjacks heroic refusal to cede even an inch of ground requires tough decisions to be made, and tough decisions cost lives...
The southern orc force moves more slowly, with greater care ... meets the wall of steel and shields that is the Green Shield and the Eastern Sky. They press through the mountains from the Black Plateau, probing, looking for any weakness ... and fail to find it. Week after week they continue to try and fine new ways to push around the Imperial defenders - to no avail. The southern forces stand fast. The Eastern Sky offer and expect no quarter, their fervour inspiring the Green Shield and their cohort of reanimated Urizen and Grendel corpses to hold the line. The Grendel are pushed back into Screed time and again.
The Grendel and the Empire shall know that the Eastern Sky have not gone soft in garrison. Dawnish knights shall win the defenders of Spiral respite from the Grendel onslaught. We shall sally forth in Cinon, force the enemy to take a backward step. Then we will form an unbreakable wall of steel and death! We shall give no ground!.General Vincent Vexille of the Eastern Sky
The price of defending the west and the south is that the eastern force is almost unopposed. Pressing out of Ossuary, the orcs under the turtle banner make some early gains ... and then the Fire of the South arrive. Last engaged with the Jotun in Liathaven, the Freeborn army engages in a heroic forced march across the entire breadth of the Empire. Skirting the northern borders of the Mournwold, they barely pause for breath as they press through Miaren and Casinea, down into Bastion, following the trods as best they can. Resting for one full day, they then press into the mountains. Through Morrow into Zenith, avoiding the trap of Redoubt, they triumphantly tear down out of Occursion into Ossuary, taking the Grendel turtle-banner by surprise. The orcs abandon their assault into Cinon, and wheel to face the new threat.
To their credit, the turtle-banner responds extremely quickly - they demonstrate the supernatural ability to adjust and respond to enemy strategies that has become a hallmark of the orcs during the Spiral campaign - but they are outnumbered. The Fire of the South has brought with then some two thousand additional soldiers - those who were able to keep up. Some of them are clearly magical in nature, including a cohort of crystalline soldiers of a peculiarly insectile appearance. They have also brought with them a force never before encountered by the Grendel. A half dozen immense magical beasts; three massive ram-like creatures, a bear, and two huge boars composed of living fire. The first time the armies fight, these supernatural allies, summoned and bound by Imperial magic, charge straight into the orc army and detonate with an ear-splitting explosion of thunder and magical flame, startling and scattering and incinerating orcs left and right!
Soldiers, we find ourselves once more traversing the breadth of the Empire, this season we will wash into Spiral as a tide, sweeping aside Grendel as we go. We move with a sense of purpose and clarity as one. We will sweep into Ossuary and reclaim the land stolen from the people of Urizen; We are a blaze that will envelop the force of the Grendel and send them howling to their deaths. You will find me fighting among you with my band of Kohan; I shall see you in the field and I pray I fill you with the same Pride you fill me with."General Marciel i Riqueza of the Fire of the South
The turtle-banner rallies, but it is slowly pushed back. As the other Imperial forces protect Cinon, the Fire of the South advances slowly southward into Ossuary, beginning the long slow march toward the Legacy in the south. The Grendel advance has been stymied - more, the unexpected arrival of the Freeborn army has seen the Empire regain a little of its lost territory. A significant factor here - along with the strength of the Empire's defence, and the numbers of troops brought to bear - was surely the victory of the heroes of the Empire during the Spring Equinox. The defence of Damakhan's Forge and the various successful skirmishes with the southern orcs over the course of Equinox clearly interfered with the Grendel strategy. The heroic action put them on the back foot and making it easier for the Imperial armies to position themselves so as best to stop the Grendel attack. The situation might have been quite different if the orcs had succeeded in their sneak attack into Cinon!
There is perhaps one note of caution, sounded by the Urizen watchers who keep Screed under careful scrutiny. The bloodshed, the violence, and the anger that has washed across Spiral these last few seasons has begun to rouse the Black Plateau again. Dawnish soldiers and Wintermark warriors alike hear its echoes in their dreams as they fight on the southern borders of Cinon. What influence the Black Plateau may have on the battles in Spiral is uncertain at best - even the Grendel seem to give it a wide berth - but some of the watchers are concerned that continued violence may see some unpredictable magical emanation in the near future.
Game Information - Spiral
The Empire has held their ground in Cinon, but the Grendel still have a presence along the eastern side of the region (a few remaining victory points). The Fire of the South have made some headway into driving the Grendel out of Ossuary, but still have a long way to go (and are effectively attempting to create a new beachhead meaning their progress will be further impeded).
The Road Less Travelled (Hordalant and Liathaven)
It's been many years since Imperial troops laid a claim to the territory of a barbarian orc nation. It is true that the recent Dawnish advances in the Barrens briefly gained new ground but that ancient wilderness was not under control of the Druj when the conquest began - and Dawn has made temporary advances in the Barrens before. Not since the reign of Empress Brannan has the Empire really made a serious attempt to attack the Druj, the Jotun, the Thule, or the Grendel at home. Arguably it has been only a little under two centuries since the Empire last successfully attacked and conquered any new lands claimed by barbarians.
The purpose is to do a lightning strike behind enemy lines, cause some noise and disruption to try and give those Jotun armies in our lands something to think about and try and inflame a reaction.General Ulric Y'Basden of the Black Thorns
Lying just to the west of the Empire, Hordalant has been a staging ground for Jotun aggression in the south almost for as long as there has been an Empire. Spies report that the territory is fortified, with a large population of Jotun orcs. It is perhaps not what the Empire would imagine when they think of barbarian lands. The territory is criss-crossed by well-maintained roads. There are many well-defended settlements; great numbers of farms; watchtowers; palaces and memorials; merchants plying their trades; fisherfolk casting their nets. If not for the fact the people living here are primarily orcs, it would be easy to mistake Hordalant for Hahnmark, or even Mitwold.
Even the best-laid plans oft go awry, and the first major fly in the ointment of this bold plan is when the Black Thorns scouts detect a sizeable Jotun force moving in the opposite direction. But, just as they slipped from Kahraman into southern Liathaven in the Summer of last year, the Navarr use their speed, woodcraft and supernatural strategic sense to avoid any major engagement. It is possible that the Jotun do not immediately recognise their enemies, being set on travelling east into Liathaven. Though a small measure of strategic skill, and a large dose of luck, the Black Thorns are able to avoid the orc forces and enter Hordalant.
Vallorberg is a largely uninhabited region under the grip of what the Jotun term the "Dead Forest" - their name for the great forest that spreads across Liathaven and the eastern borders of the southern Jotun kingdoms. Some of the forest has been cleared for farming - mainly around the Hellis river in the north and the Volg river in the south. The Black Thorns encounter minimal resistance - at least at first. It seems that the farmers of Vallorberg would rather flee than fight. Those who cannot flee are forced to surrender; becoming surly prisoners stubbornly refusing to cooperate with their captors.
Battles are sporadic and short - there are small scattered bands of Jotun warriors on most of the farmsteads and some of them make a stand despite the overwhelming odds arrayed against them. They put up a spirited fight, however, giving their lives to protect what they own - apparently determined to be the last to leave. Only those farmsteads where the occupants have had time to completely flee are undefended.
Some of the thralls are orcs, but there are many humans among their number. Despite the deaths of their masters, neither group seems appreciative of their liberators. Indeed, apart from the obvious physical details, the human thralls are nearly indistinguishable from the others. Both groups appear intimidated by the Navarr, as if expecting summary execution at any moment.
A fortnight sees the Black Thorns make steady gains in Vallorberg ... and then the situation begins to turn.
Two wide scouting patrols fail to return. When the third finally appears, half its number are dead and half the rest are walking wounded. They provide a dire warning - at least one significant Jotun force is camped nearby, supported by the garrison of a major fortification. As near as the scouts can tell, the Jotun force that passed by as they slipped into Hordalant had left one or more armies behind with orders to resupply. Convoys of food and essential supplies are being moved to the Jotun armies including wagons filled with mithril presumably intended for emergency resupply. All those attempts have been utterly thwarted by the expected presence of the Black Thorns in Hordalant - a strategic victory of sorts... but now they are coming for the Navarr in force.
Three days later, the Jotun hammer falls. The first major engagement in western Vallorberg goes to the Black Thorns. A significant force of Jotun move to reinforce a village near the Hellis river, but they are heavily outnumbered and retreat once the majority of thralls have been evacuated. This represents the last gain the Navarr make in Hordalant. Two days later, a much larger force attacks the Black Thorns from the south-east, pushing them back across the Volg. Then at dawn the following day, the force in the north attacks again, pushing the Navarr westward. Their strategy is straightforward - but even though the powerful enchantment on their army provides insight into how best to counter it, the Black Thorns are hard pressed to take advantage of the insight it offers. The orcs attack with the rhythm of the smith at the anvil; a hard strike in one place and then retreat and attack somewhere else the next day. They leave few openings for the outnumbered Navarr to exploit.
Exact numbers of orcs opposing the Imperial army are difficult to estimate even for the Navarr scouts. Independent captains have swelled the depleted Black Thorns to nearly double their size and at first it appears that the orc and Imperial forces might almost be matched in size... but as the days wear on that hope fades. The Jotun generals are carefully rotating their forces driving the Navarr back even while they minimise their own casualties. By the final month of the campaign, there is little doubt that the defenders of Hordalant outnumber the Black Thorns and their auxiliaries; although how many of these troops are part of an army and how many are "home guard" forces attached to a fortification is impossible to say. Hopefully, any scouts attached to the spy network in Hordalant may have more information.
The Black Thorns are outmatched nearly two-to-one, and they are steadily forced back. The Jotun defence is careful but relentless and they harry the Navarr night and day driving them out. Less than a month before the Summer Solstice it becomes painfully clear that they are certain to lose all the gains they have made, and scouts are increasingly assigned to seek out paths by which the bulk of the army might escape Hordalant intact.
Rather than rout, the Black Thorns stage a disciplined retreat. Once they decide to move, they move fast and sure. The best thorns fight a delaying action to let the Navarr gather their forces together, and then the entire army moves back east into Liathaven, abandoning Hordalant to its Jotun masters.
Only then does the true horror of their position become clear.
In West Ranging, they discover an immense force of Jotun orcs. A force that massively outnumbers them, perhaps as much as five to one. A force that has been waiting for them.
A week before the Summer Solstice, the situation for the Black Thorns in Liathaven is dire. They are surrounded by Jotun forces on all sides - with an impenetrable wall of Jotun stone and steel at their back in Hordalant. If not for their facility for fast movement it is likely that they would have suffered catastrophic losses already. While the Hordalant adventure only saw the loss of five hundred or so Navarr soldiers, once the Jotun press the attack, they are almost certain to lose many times that number.
If the forces in Hordalant were like the smith's hammer, the forces in Liathaven are like a raging forest fire, eager to reduce the Black Thorns to ashes.
The situation looks ... very bad indeed.
Game Information : Hordalant and Liathaven
The presence of the Jotun armies alongside the fortifications made all the difference here. If not for that they would have been able to secure some territory in Hordalant and begun to take a foothold. If there is one positive to this outcome, it is that the Jotun in Hordalant were clearly not expecting the Black Thorns - instead of being resupplied the armies defending the Jotun territory have taken more casualties (albeit reduced in number by the orders issued by both sides). According to the reports, the Navarr may even have prevented the Jotun armies from using emergency resupply to restore the armies to fighting strength.
As it is, the Black Thorns make no lasting gains in Hordalant and are forced to retreat back the way they came. Into Liathaven. Straight into a massive force of angry Jotun - not, arguably, that there is any other kind where the Navarr are concerned.
There are two problems however.
The first is that the army is now surrounded on all sides by angry Jotun warriors - who immediately attack. Unless something changes during the Summer Solstice, it is likely that by the Black Thorns will suffer several thousand casualties before downtime even begins. Cautious orders or magic might help reduce the casualties but it will take radical action to avoid a bitter defeat; a defeat that might well see the army disband (and as a large army, the Black Thorns disband if their fighting strength drops below 1,500).
The second problem is that the Black Thorns are once again trapped by Jotun armies. Assuming everything remains as it is during the coming summit, the General of the Black Thorns will face some serious decisions. Any attempt to move out of Liathaven would see the army needing to push through a cordon of tens of thousands of Jotun warriors.
A civil service expert will be on hand during the coming summit to discuss the strategic situation with the general in more detail, but a rough assessment of the army's options would be:
- They could stay where they are, taking an attacking order of some sort, attempting to drive the Jotun out of Liathaven. They can't take a defending order because there is literally no territory for them to defend.
- They could try to push north into Bregasland. This would require them to break through the Jotun blockade, resulting in them suffering a significant number of casualties. Given they have the Fast quality, they could even keep moving - assuming they were able to endure the punishment inflicted by the ring of orcs.
- They could again use the Paths of Lan Thúven and move south through the vallorn into Western Scout. Again, however, they would suffer serious casualties - the Jotun now control Silent Stand steading and seem to know enough to make an effort to stop the army reaching it. The army would also need to stop moving once they reached Western Scout - and while the Jotun cannot follow them directly it would still be a risky move.
Listen well my merry lads and lasses, once more, once more we go back into the Mourn and our foe shall tremble at the sight of our banners and the beat of our drums. It is the beginning of the end for the Jotun Horde, their armies are weakened, their morale broken - and if they yearn for a worthy death, we shall be sure to grant it to them. We are the first army of the Marches, we were last out and we will be the first imperials back in ... Remember though we fight this war for the living, show the people of the Mournwold that they have not been abandoned! ... We will, nay must show the people of the Mournwold that we are their saviours and not their bane...General Will Talbot of the Drakes
- They could push west into Hordalant again. This would not result in any additional automatic casualties, but it would leave the Black Thorns engaged in Hordalant against forces that have already defeated them once - and the Jotun armies in Liathaven may well follow them.
It is possible that scouts attached to the spy network in Liathaven might have further information about the situation in that territory, and as always developments at the event may change the situation, but this represents the Empire's best guess as to the starting point of the Navarr army.
You Can't Go Home Again (Mournwold)
During the Spring Equinox, while the heroes of the Empire were fighting in western Liathaven, the Jotun forces in the Mournwold completed their push to drive Imperial forces out of the Greensward. Overwhelmed, the armies were pushed back across the border into Tassato. The Jotun again controlled the entire Mourn. A fleeting victory, but a victory nonetheless. A grim victory, given how much blood had been spilt.The Drakes, the Fist of the Mountains, the Hounds of Glory, and the orcs of the Winter Sun regroup in Tassato and immediately march north through the forests of Madeiras and Tower March into Upwold. The Golden Axe are already waiting for them - as are the Iron Helms fresh from their militia engagement in Skarsind. An armed camp is established on the Heath not far from Sutton Stone Quarries.
Assault Soldiers of the Stong Reeds. The eyes of the Empire are upon you! The task will not be an easy one. The enemy is well trained, well equipped and battle hardened. They will fight savagely but this is a new year, the sees the Jotun armies all but broken. Last season, we laid a deadly trap and paid a terrible price. Now we face the monsters at our door. Now we bring the fight to them. The tide has turned, The Empire is marching to Victory. I have full confidence in your courage. We will lead the way, we will carry the day, we will accept nothing less than total victory. Onwards, for the Marches and for the Empire!General Jack Flint of the Strong Reeds
Some eight thousand soldiers loyal to independent captains swell the already sizable force gathered on the Heath. Next-to-last to arrive are the Navarr of the Quiet Step, and then the Gryphon's Pride. The arrival of a second Dawnish army is met with some muttering - with the exception of the Winter Sun, all the other armies present belong to nations that have declared opposition to the vision of the Land without Tears - but the Dawnish nation has embraced it. The commanders tolerate muttering, but nothing more. Still, there is something tense in the air as one last discussion of strategy gives way to a gloomy morning, and the armies begin to move...
The Imperial forces cross into Freemoor, retracing the route the Golden Axe took last season. Banners snap in the wind, but the soldiers for the most part march in silence. As the Old Pig comes in sight, however, the Drakes raise their voices in the Marches Battle Song. After the first ragged chorus, the Bounders, and the Tusks, and the Strong Reeds join in. The Marcher armies pick up the pace.
The Jotun depend upon their champions and heroes for leadership, morale and their path across the Abyss. We will march to Freemoor and deny them those champions, and those champions the honourable deaths they desire. Where they seek honourable combat against the Shield of the 'Mark or Highborn, their leaders will meet our arrows and barbed spears, and the Fires of Spring will burn in their blood.General Brennos Brackensong of the Quiet Step
Initially, the Empire encounters surprisingly little resistance from the orcs. Perhaps the Jotun commanders are expecting the Empire to attack from Tassato again, as they have so many times before. Perhaps they do not believe the Empire will be so quick to engage them again after the slaughter at the Fall of the Greensward.
Either way, it is three days before the first orc forces are spotted - Hierro orcs marching under the Jotun banners. Along with the Skjalderborn, they engage the Empire. They fight cautiously - withdrawing from any major engagement almost before it begins. Even with the support of the two Jotun castles - of Hillstop and the Tribute - the Jotun orcs are greatly outnumbered by the Imperial forces. Battle after battle, they fall back - but they do not rout. They give ground in a disciplined fashion - and whenever they spot an opening in the Imperial strategy they strike hard and fast at the exposed force before continuing their withdrawal. Still, that simmering undercurrent of uncertainty continues to stew. While some of the Imperial armies seize this opportunity for glory or heroism, some of the Imperial forces employ unorthodox tactics that invite open criticism from their allies.
We will fight the Jotun honourably, as noble foes, cleansing the land back for the Empire. .General Erkenbrand of the Fist of the Mountains
Freemoor is liberated. The Chalkdowns are liberated.Those who have fought alongside the Quiet Step in particular notice a change in their behaviour. Navarr thorns have always been fond of poison, of ambush, and of traps. That fondness appears amplified this seasons. They seem to have procured prodigious amounts of oil of blackthorn and redwillow paste. They share their venomous bounty with any who will accept it - especially those Marcher beaters, and warriors from the Varushkan armies who appreciate such things. They create brutal and efficient traps, and lure the Jotun into them. Their scouts seem disinterested in gathering information about the Jotun - rather they sneak out at night to slip through the Jotun armies and assassinate the enemy commanders wherever they can - a tactic that proves especially effective against the Hierro. Whenever the Jotun are engaged with other Imperial forces, the Quiet Step flank them and butcher as many as they can with arrows and poison blades.
The Gauntlet of Challenge has been laid down to the Jotun. No vile curses to steal our glory! We will show them why they wished to fight the Empire without our Intervention. Win a triumph by our charge, worthy of our new Queen! Honour the Fallen and allow the Jotun to reclaim and bury their honoured dead. Do no harm to civilian thralls.General Tancred de Rondell of the Hounds of Glory
My loyal warriors, the Jotun want to try and cross the Abyss by fighting the Empire, so the Winter Sun will help them into it. We do not weep for any Jotun, not even their fallen newborns. They are barbarian scum and deserve a quick death under the shadow of the first Legion Banners. While the second legion relax, we shall charge forwards in an overwhelming assault along side our marcher brothers and sisters.General Bloodcrow Morgur of the Winter Sun
The Jotun are known to place much stock in respecting the dead - so the Iron Helms mutilate and despoil the bodies of their fallen opponents. Bodies are burned beyond recognition and then the charred remains hung from trees and signposts. There are stories of prisoners torn apart by dogs, of captured Jotun warriors impaled on rough stakes in front of their fellow orcs. The Iron Helms are scrupulous in obeying the orders of their general - no civilian is harmed by design - but any enemy who dares to raise a weapon against the Empire finds an agonising death awaits them if they fall into the hands of the Iron Helms. Word soon spreads throughout the territory - the Empire has come... and brought a bloody murder with them to the Mourn.With so few Jotun arrayed against them, the Empire advances quickly; as the Summer Solstice draws closer, the Empire even manages to make inroads into the forest of Alderly. Here they encounter new foes of an entirely different nature, as Feni ambushers attack several patrols. They snipe at scouts and launch surprise attacks against smaller forces camped under the trees. Always, they run as soon as they lose the element of surprise, melting back into the trees. The truth is that they are little more than a nuisance - and it appears they are a nuisance
Iron Helms will perform a merciless onslaught into Freemoor alongside the Golden Axe... (we will) heighten the fear in Jotun hearts and break their morale... (we)will not assault civilians, allowing them to pass unhindered.General Magnus Anatolyvich Prochnost of the Iron Helms
As the days grow warmer and the nights grow shorter, the Empire has driven the Jotun out of two regions and is close to conquering a third - in spite of Feni resistance.Much of the north-eastern Mourn is liberated but if the Imperial forces had expected a joyous welcome they are sorely disappointed. In every settlement, soldiers are met with cold sullen faces. Lines of Marchers in plain homespun clothes stand mutely staring at the advancing soldiers, arms crossed over their chest. Once they have made their point, they return to their houses, turning their backs on the newcomers and barring their doors against them. From that point on, they pointedly refuse all contact with the armies of the Empire, rebuffing all attempts to engage them - whether to buy essential supplies or simply just to talk.
Last season your actions were beyond valour. I swell with pride to be your General! Now I must call upon your resilience and strength again to push forwards in a grinding advance into Freemoor. The Iron Helms will join us there as we push through Mournwold. We will stand side by side with our brothers and sisters of Varushka. If you encounter civilians from either side, you will allow them to leave unharmed.General Nikolai Zakharovic Prochnost of the Golden Axe
In other places, the reception is different but just as unwelcoming. In the village of Charcoal on the edge of Alderly, the Empire is met with a line of tight-lipped Marchers armed with pans and ladles. As the soldiers draw near the wood burners and their families begin beating the pans over and over producing a riot of noise that assails the ears and simply does not stop. Only when the Empire pulls back far enough back that the houses are out of site does the racket finally cease. In Blackheath, a small community of leather workers on the edge of Freemoor, several tanners makes their displeasure plain by heating cauldrons in advance of the column, letting the wind carry the curse of the tanners' craft towards the advancing army.
The shunning is particularly painful for the Marcher soldiers. Many of them try to reason, or argue, with their fellow yeomen. Some get through. Most do not. In at least one case, a group of Tusks are reduced to angry tears by the hurled accusations of "murderer" and "coward" and the oft-voiced hope that the soldiers are reborn as rats and crows.
We shall sweep the Jotun from Freemoor, then the Chalk Downs and the Alderney. Now Discipline is more vital than ever. Every effort should be made to spare thralls and non-combatants. We will allow the Jotun to remove their dead if the request.General Nedry of The Cullachs of the Tusks
This season we raise our banners and shoulder our weapons once more as we march for Mournwold. We march to meet our brothers and sisters from the other Marcher Armies in Freemoor and we will show them what us Bounders do best as we are relentless in our attack and cut the Jotun down! We will strike blows for our families and strike one for the land! When a Marcher strikes a blow, there's iron in their hand! So now you will pick up your bows and now your bill hooks hone. For when a marcher strikes a blow they never stand alone! Let's be sure to move it along double-time now, can't be letting the Drakes beat us to Freemoor!General Alusair Farstrider of the Bounders
Now is the time, soldiers of the Gryphon's Pride. Our ambitions in the Barrens have been paused but today we begin a new chapter of our glorious history. Today we go to reconquer the Mournwold for the Empire and bring it;'s people back into the Imperial fold after thirty years under Jotun rule. Remember the commands of the Queen of Dawn and treat civilians and non-combatants with the hospitality our nation is famed for. If the Jotun stand against the Imperial host they shall die, if they flee we will flow across marcher land toward the Jotun homelands! For the Empire! For Glory! ConquerorGeneral Garravaine de Rondell of the Gryphon's Pride
Still ... whatever metric one uses the Empire is victorious. Despite the advantages the Jotun had, despite the problems of securing a beachhead and the fortifications arrayed against them, the Empire frees several regions. The orc forces fall back south to their castles in Ore Hills and Southmoor, and west to Green March. Yet it is impossible not to notice that the Empire is facing a significantly smaller force than they fought last season. The majority of the Jotun are conspicuous by their absence.
Game Information - Mournwold
The Empire has conquered two regions and is almost three-quarters of the way towards taking a third (Alderly). They have suffered perhaps a thousand casualties, if that. The Jotun have lost perhaps three times that many troops - probably the only thing that has kept their token forces alive has been their decision to give ground.
What is very clear however is that the Empire may have won the battle for territory this season, but the battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Mournwold has only just begun. The civilians - those folk who have dwelt here all their lives - are extremely angry with the Empire. While this has not particularly harmed the Imperial advance it does not bode well for the future.
Along the western borders of the Barrens are four massively built white granite tower-keeps collectively known as the Towers of Dawn. This ancient fortification has been assailed many times by the Druj, and briars, and bandit orcs alike, but the Towers have never fallen. They have protected Dawnguard since they were first raised, a symbol of Dawn's resolve - that these lands will one day be theirs. They are one of the mightiest fortifications in the Empire, only the Castle of Thorns is larger. But stone walls alone do not make a fortress impregnable - only the resolve of Dawn's armies can do that.
But nothing lasts forever...
The reports of the refugees are fragmentary, confused. Piecing them together, it seems that the Druj split their armies into two forces, sweeping in from Murderdale and the Carmine Fields, driving everything before them. The main body of orcs struck with merciless force, overwhelming the defenders almost before they realised they were being attacked. The second, smaller force fighting under a scorpion banner, followed behind consolidating, rooting out resistance, and rounding up as many yeomen and nobles as they could find.
The two forces met at the Towers of the Dawn. At full strength the great fortification could hold off three Druj armies for a season, but the Towers were depleted by the attacks of the Barrens Orcs over a year ago, and that damage has weakened them disastrously. It would have made little difference if the castle had been at full strength - the Druj host spread out before the walls was clearly intended to overcome at least two Imperial armies and the Towers.
Alone, the Tower garrisons are barely able to slow the attackers down. With siege ladders and siege beasts, the Druj make short work of the courageous - but ultimately doomed - soldiers. Between the confusion of the swift attack, and the Druj living siege engines, the castle itself is torn apart and the walls reduced to rubble. The bodies of the defenders are mounted on spikes thrust into the rubble, and a small force of shrikes left to add anyone who tries to remove the bodies to their gruesome gallery.
There is some fighting at Drycastle, but it is short-lived. Those nobles and yeomen who try to resist the Druj are given no quarter. Their efforts are enough to buy some of the citizens of the Dawnish town the time they need to flee, but those who remain to fight pay the ultimate price. Their heads now stand on pikes mounted along the shattered walls, as the Druj make the settlement their new base of operations in the region.
After their initial push, the Druj forces quickly spread out across the region securing or destroying the manors of the noble households that call Dawnguard home. The lands of House de Carsenere, House Martel, House Aurelius, and House Vexille are all believed to have been overrun by Druj forces. There has been great loss of life, but nowhere near as much as their might have been. It seemed as if the Druj were here to conquer Dawnguard, rather than just to kill Dawnishfolk. Their main focus was on securing Drycastle and the Towers of Dawn, allowing space for refugees to escape north into the forests of Axmure. A few brave nobles even lead a rag-tag band through the mountains into Holmauer. Dawnguard has never been safe, and many households had contingency plans in case of an orc invasion that stretched back decades.
For now, a pall of silence has fallen of Dawnguard. Some minor pockets of resistance still exist, but they are slowly being stamped out by the Druj invaders. While a number of people escaped, a much larger number did not. Their fate is unknown - but veterans of the recent liberation of Reikos shake their heads and look away when asked for reassurance that the people still in Dawnguard will be alright.
Game Information : Dawnguard
With the fall of Dawnguard, the Barrens is now a conquered territory. As a consequence, every personal resource belonging to an Imperial citizen will have its production halved. The ritual Vale of Shadows can be used to protect a personal resource from the Druj, and may also be used to provide an in-character explanation as to how members of a household can continue to operate out of the Barrens. Any Dawnish character whose personal resource is in the Barrens may decide that it has been destroyed or conquered by the Druj by e-mailing Profound Decisions (at email@example.com). If they do so before the Summer Solstice, they may take a new rank one resource in a Dawnish territory (Semmerholm, Weirwater, or Astolat) without paying the usual administration charge of two crowns.
There is a spy network in the Barrens; it is likely that the commander of any military unit that has been supporting it will receive more up-to-date information about the situation in the Barrens and in Dawnguard in particular.
Participation : Dawnguard
Any character whose personal resource is in the Barrens may choose to e-mail in to firstname.lastname@example.org before the event and indicate they would like to begin play suffering the ater-effects of a wound inflicted by the Druj. We will then put a card in your pack detailing the ongoing effects. As a word of warning, the Druj make extensive use of venom and disease when fighting the Empire, and several of those toxins are resistant to the application of the purify spell, being much closer in potency to a curse or traumatic wound than the venom spell-effect.
In addition, we are offering an opportunity for some players to begin the game in the Barrens, besieged by the Druj and on the verge of being overrun. This opportunity is open to any character whose personal resource was in the Barrens at the start of downtime, to any new character whose personal resource is in the Barrens, and to any character whose military unit was assigned to the Barrens spy network this downtime. Anyone who is interested should come to monster (you can get directions from GOD) at no later than half-past-five on Friday afternoon. There is a conjunction on the Sentinel Gate that will be available to be opened after six-o-clock (time in) so any Dawnish characters who are interested in participating in what looks a lot like a rescue mission into the Barrens should ensure they are ready to go bright and early. Be warned - Imperial forces have been soundly thrashed in the Barrens, and the starting positions of those volunteering for this opportunity will represent that. Feel free to bring plenty of fake blood.
Valley of Darkness (Zenith)
A little over a month after the Spring equinox, desperate messages began to dance across the heliopticon. Reports claim there is an orc force in north-eastern Zenith, in the forests of Lustri. Reports of orcs in Lustri are not new - the region is sparsely populated after all. There is clearly something more serious at work here, however. The most coherent report comes from Gatherwood Spire, which stands near the southern banks of the Feverwater. The spire's isolation means they have a lot of practice using the heliopticon, sending messages quickly and efficiently. Before all contact is lost, they calmly inform the rest of Zenith that an "overwhelming force of orcs has come south from the Mallum. Impossible to count. They are everywhere."
Bit by bit, Lustri goes silent. A week later, the same messages begin to fly from the spires of Occursion.
By this time the Urizen sentinels have rallied ... but they are horribly outnumbered. Whatever force is moving south through Zenith appears equally adept at fighting in the hills and peaks of Occursion as in the forests of Lustri. Eyewitnesses report thousands of orcs, marching under Druj banners, storming the spires of eastern Zenith. Each spire is given one opportunity to surrender. If they do not take it, then when the Druj overwhelm them one in five of the residents are brutally murdered, while the spire is looted and then burnt to the ground. The slain are impaled on spikes, left for the birds as a stark warning to others of the futility of resistance. As the true scale of the threat becomes clear, many choose to flee before the Druj arrive. The orcs make no effort to catch them, happy to let them run and spread panic.
It is not just the spires that are their targets. The Starlight Drift is claimed, as is the Tower of the Fall, Origen's Rest, and a dozen other key mana sites, mines, forests, and especially herb gardens.
The defenders fall back to Endsmeet, only to discover that the spire is burdened with refugees seeking shelter. The resources of the magicians there are stretched to breaking point... and then the Druj arrive. Panic spreads. The magicians of Endsmeet try to rally the defenders, but to no avail.
The apparent commander of the Druj forces - an orc woman who stands beneath the banner of the basilisk - offers no opportunity to surrender. Instead, Druj catapults begin to fling balls of burning pitch against Endsmeet, and the Druj attack hell-bent on slaughtering everyone within. As the attack begins, the skies shift and change above the spire - a pall of obscuring night magic begins to spread across the entire territory.
The valiant defenders manage to buy enough time for many of the populace to flee, but the spire itself is gutted by fire. The library burns, the gardens burn, the towers are broken and defiled. Bodies scatter the elegant walkways like so may fallen leaves.
The survivors flee west, across the fields of Proceris.
And the Druj follow close behind.
Game Information Zenith
Lustri has fallen. Occursion has fallen. Proceris is under attack. The spire of Endsmeet has fallen...
The Druj take two regions of Zenith and are about a tenth of the way toward taking a third. The Druj (presumably) have raised a powerful Penumbral Veil over Zenith, a night magic effect of magnitude 38 (according to the magicians of Zenith). What else they might have done is impossible to say at this point - there are no reliable reports of activity in the regions the Druj have conquered, and nobody in a position to get any before the summit begins.
Any character from Endsmeet is free to roleplay they were present during the defence, but they will have been forced to retreat before the spire fell. Any such character who wishes to have died at the hands of the Druj is of course free to do so. Furthermore, while we don't track personal resources by region, if any character from Endsmeet wishes to roleplay that their personal resource has been captured or destroyed by the Druj, they can e-mail Profound Decisions and we will allow them to change to a new rank one resource without the usual two-crown transfer fee.
The sinecures "Starlight Drift", "Tower of the Fall", and "Origen's Rest" provide their usual production before this event, but going forward will produce nothing. The characters who had the titles associated with these sinecures retain those titles, and will start receiving production again if the regions are liberated from the Druj if they still have the titles (assuming the Druj do not repeat their tragic demolition of the Great Pits of Ennerlund, of course).
Participation : Zenith
Any character whose personal resource is in Zenith may choose to e-mail in to email@example.com before the event and indicate they would like to begin play suffering the ater-effects of a wound inflicted by the Druj. We will then put a card in your pack detailing the ongoing effects. As a word of warning, the Druj make extensive use of venom and disease when fighting the Empire, and several of those toxins are resistant to the application of the purify spell, being much closer in potency to a curse or traumatic wound than the venom spell-effect.
On Saturday, three major conjunctions have been identified - but the heroes of the Empire will only be able to take advantage of one of them. Two open in different parts of West Ranging, in north-western Liathaven. The third opens in Green March, in north-western Mournwold. The civil service are still compiling notes, but anticipate that the Liathaven opportunities at least most likely provide opportunities to assist the Black Thorns in some way; they are uncertain as to the advantage offered by the Mournwold conjunction.
On Sunday, two conjunctions have been identified in the Eastern empire - but again only one can be taken advantage of. One opens in Spiral, in southern Ossuary, near the border with Screed. The other opens in Zenith, in the Proceris farmland, not far from the southern border. The Ossuary conjunction offers an opportunity to engage Grendel soldiers, while the advantage of the Zenith conjunction is less clear but may have to do with a Grendel advance force that seems to be closing in on refugees from Endsmeet.
In addition to these major conjunctions, the civil service report a number of smaller, more traditional conjunctions that all seem to open into locations west of Sermersuaq that seem to culminate in a significant conjunction on Saturday evening, one suitable for a use by a large force of Imperial heroes (OOC: a skirmish against the Jotun).
By the time of the Summer Solstice summit, the civil service will have completed reports for each of the five major conjunctions, which will be presented the the generals during the Muster. The final decision about which two major conjunctions to exploit, and who will take part in the battles, is the heavy responsibility of the generals alone.