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Prepare for difficult choices.

Overview

Summer ripens the fields, lades the trees with blossom, ushers in long days and short nights... and lets loose the wildfires of war. As the days lengthen toward Autumn, human and orc clash across the boundaries of the Empire. Peace is secured with the Thule of the north - for now - but that may offer scant consolation as the wars continue in the east and the west.

In the south-east, in Morrow, the Highborn armies fight to protect Urizen from the onslaught of the Druj. The fighting is fierce but the Imperial forces are pushed back time and again, and the Druj destroy anything of value that falls into their hands. A pall of ash and despair hangs over eastern Urizen as the Halls of Knowledge - among other irreplaceable treasures - burn.

To the north-west, Imperial forces withdraw from Sermersuaq leaving the Jotun to claim the entire territory uncontested. The northernmost territory is now entirely controlled by orcs - the Silver Peaks still controlled by the Thule and everything else in the hands of the western orcs. At the same time as the Jotun complete their conquest, there are muddled stories of the dead rising and falling on orc and human alike. It is hard to separate fact from fiction but something unexpected is happening in the land of lakes and seals.

The situation could not be more different in the south-west. In Kahraman, Jotun and Imperial forces clash again and again, back and forth throughout the season until finally, in one last concerted push, the orcs are driven back across the border to Reinos and Serra Damata is freed entirely from their grasp.

The Druj and the Jotun are not the only barbarians active in the Empire this season. The Grendel send a great armada up the Brass Coast to Sarvos with magical speed. They do not invade - not yet - but instead issue a chilling ultimatum. Unless the Empire pays, they will take advantage of the chaos to pillage and loot one of the rich territories along the Bay of Catazar.

Finally, in the north-east, the armies of Dawn and their Varushkan ally take the battle to the Druj. Marching across the Golden Causeway from Semmerholm, they launch a surprise invasion of the Mallum, conquering not only several regions of the new territory - Ossium - but also taking control of a mithril mine in the process.

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Only actions are virtuous.

Lost in the Echo (Morrow)

Highborn soldiers watch the passes between Morrow and Zenith. The Granite Pillar, the Seventh Wave, and the Valiant Pegasus stand ready to protect the Urizen from the wickedness of the eastern orcs. Perhaps twelve thousand strong, give or take, they do not stand alone. As well as the people of Morrow, they are supported by an enchanted castle of glacial ice and pale stone. Raised by the Eternal Family of Navarr to stand vigil over the ancient spires of central Operus, it is garrisoned by pale knights in moonsilver plate, armed with great two-handed spears. The Highborn forces make great use of its central position to bolster their defences. They believe themselves ready for the Druj, should they come.

And come they do.

There is a trod that runs north through Peregro from Proceris in Zenith. Once, it brought Navarr stridings, and scholars from Therunin traveling south to study at the Arch of the Sky. Now, it brings only ruin.

The Wretched Druj lurk across the border and threaten to spread their filth into Morrow. If they should dare to move upon our positions, we will find and destroy them. Hold the border defend at the fortress of Operus and resupply so we can be ready to sweep them before us.

Cuth, General of the Seventh Wave

For the last three months the Druj have held their position in Zenith, consolidating their gains. Enslaving, butchering, burning, devouring everything that comes within their grasp. It seems that they have slaked their cruel thirst, at least in Zenith. As dawn breaks three weeks after the Summer Solstice, some twenty thousand Druj orcs pour northward along the trod from Proceris, down from the peaks where the Arch of the Sky now stands in ruins. A Seventh Wave patrol manages to get out a warning of their approach before being overwhelmed, but they are utterly unable to slow the flood of orcs as it washes down into Peregro.

At roughly the same time, another twenty-five thousand orcs, more or less, push north from the sodden lowlands of Proceris and Clypion into Caeli. Here again the patrols are quickly overwhelmed, but the great central Heliopticon tower is able to send a warning to every spire in Morrow within hours of the first reports of orc movements.

The three Highborn armies move to intercept the orcs. The Granite Pillar takes the lead again, precisely orchestrating the defence of eastern Morrow. The Seventh Wave provide intelligence about enemy movements, working to identify opportunities to counter the Druj advance. Sadly, they are unprepared for the sheer numbers of orcs pouring into Morrow from Zenith - all the strategies in the world are no help when one is outnumbered four to one. For their part, the Valiant Pegasus are well prepared for the bloodbath that is to come. They have seen what the Druj can do, and have erected a central hospital in the shadow of the magical fortress in Operus. Their physicks and healers are overwhelmed, however, by the sheer number of casualties they must deal with and stretched almost to breaking by the need to offer succour to frightened refugees as well as injured soldiers.

The Highborn are able to slow the Druj, but not much more. The Granite Pillar have the upper hand, up to a point, but much of their strategy is undone by the presence of orcs fighting beneath a scorpion banner. This is not the first time the two armies have clashed. As in Zenith, the scorpion army is adept at countering the disciplined strategies of the Highborn, ruthlessly outmaneuvering and flanking their defensive positions. Still, in this regard at least, the fact the Druj have greater numbers plays into the Highborn hands. The Druj find it difficult to coordinate their strategies among so many troops, while the Highborn are more able to respond to the shifting Druj advance...

Make a strategic defence of the Morrow. The Druj may try to beachhead so keep your eyes open. Make use of the Fort at Operus. If we are not attacked, resupply.

Mathayus, General of the Granite Pillar

But it is not enough.

Caeli falls first. The Seat of the Arbiter, and the spire that watches over it, are claimed by the Druj after a vicious battle with the Pillar and the Wave that sees five hundred Imperial soldiers fall beneath poisoned blades and withering arrow-shot. Work had already begun here on a central stele, part of Lorenzo Macelliao von Temeschwar's most recent great work. The site is overwhelmed, defiled, the stele destroyed. The workers at least are spared - when it becomes clear the Druj advance will not be stemmed they are evacuated west to Operus along with most of the magicians of the nearby spire. Sadly, there is not time to bring the grand library of divination magic, collected over centuries by the magicians of the Arbiter's Seat. It burns, along with the spire.

At the same time as the Highborn fight to defend the Seat of the Arbiter, the Druj attack the Gardens of Morrow. As with the Gardens of Pallas before them, the Druj loot the herbs and then fire the beds, reducing the once beautiful garden - and its defenders - to winds-bown ashes in a matter of hours.

The Highborn fall back to the foothills beneath the heart of the Heliopticon. The relentless rush of the Druj cannot be stopped, however. Led by those who march beneath the banner of the great crane, the orcs lay siege to the tower and after five days of bloody fighting the central pillar on which the entire Heliopticon hangs... is lost.

The magicians who operate the tower, inspired perhaps by the example of Hadrian of Apulian, refuse to leave. At the last moment, with the Druj breaking down the doors of the central chamber itself, they draw down a column of burning light in an outpouring of energy that shatters the tower and immolates two hundred orc soldiers in a single instant. Nothing remains of the tower, the orcs, or the courageous defenders, save a perfect circle of black glass.

The Heliopticon goes dark. For years uncounted the Urizen have relied on it to communicate between their spires, separated as so many of them are by the broken land and treacherous mountain roads. Now, the voices of the magi fall silent. For twelve days, there is nothing. Then, a fortnight after the loss of the central tower, the Heliopticon flickers into life again. There have long been contingencies in place for just such an occurrence, unthinkable as it might once have been, and as soon as the Druj cross the borders into Morrow the preparations began. The Heliopticon is much reduced - slower, more limited in scale - but the light of Urizen refuses to be extinguished.

For the time the Heliopticon is silent, the Imperial armies are forced to rely on more mundane means of communication. Runners from the Seventh Wave, and sentinels from the citadels of Morrow carry messages by hand between the spires and the Highborn defenders. Some are intercepted - the war of crane-and-frog that has been played in the mountains of Morrow becomes increasingly bitter in the absence of the towers of light. Where most of the Druj forces seem to be focused on death and destruction, on butchering the defenders of Urizen and destroying their hope, a faction among them is sending tendrils out across the territory gathering information. Probing for weakness. Hunting their next target. Desperate encounters between the scouts beneath the winged-serpent banner and the Seventh Wave take place as far afield as Ravion in the far west of Morrow. Indeed, there are reports of spies in the foothills below Canterspire - most likely leading to the regretful decision by the Academy to relocate to Astolat. While the Seventh Wave do their best, gathering vital battlefield intelligence of their own, it seems inevitable that the Druj scouts have likewise discovered a great deal about the forces arrayed against them.

Further east, in Peregro, the fighting is no less fierce. The wonder that was the Glorious Fountain of Dawn and Dusk falls quickly before one band of advancing orcs - those who bear banners showing a baleful lizard. They seize its mana, and then tear the beautiful pipes and basins apart in search of more. A beautiful, unique work of art and artisanship destroyed in a day, the hot springs permanently damaged by the rapacious onslaught of the Druj.

In Peregro, the Highborn are aided by warriors from an unlikely source. The once-scattered sword scholars have gathered in the foothills to oversee and assist in the rejuvenation of the Temple of the Winds. Once a centre for their particular philosophy of Wisdom, and the study of their false-paragon Sulemaine, work had already begun on restoring the place when the Druj began to move. Five hundred sword scholars, give or take, are camped around the construction site in tents and pavilions. As the Druj inch closer, they help the Valiant Pegasus set up a field hospital to deal with the stream of injured soldiers fighting desperately to slow the orc advance. Then, when the Druj come in force, they fight courageously to keep the Druj at bay. Scores of sword scholars give their lives to protect their sacred place - and to allow the injured to be moved to safety. Arrayed in mithril plate and wielding great two-handed swords, they fight alongside the Highborn, slaughtering every Druj that comes before them. In the end though, it is not enough. The Druj overwhelm the Temple of the Winds. The warrior-priests are devastated by the attack - easily two-thirds of their movement lost. Dozens of scrolls concerning the teachings of Sulemaine are seized by the Druj. Those sword-scholars who are captured are forced to watch as the cruel orcs tear apart the Temple of the Winds; they are then impaled in a rough ring of wooden stakes around the rubble.

The final, most vicious battle of the campaign is yet to come. Until a year ago, the Halls of Knowledge stood in Clypion to the east. Between the Autumn Equinox and the Winter Solstice last year, the premier college of Urizen magical thought somehow moved from Zenith to Morrow - just ahead of the Druj armies sweeping west through Zenith. Since then, the Halls have stood on the shores of the largest of the hot lakes of central Peregro. The Druj were furious when they discovered the Halls had escaped them, so it is perhaps no surprise that the orc strategy seems focused on them, now that they have rediscovered their location.

The army will be preparing in case the Druj try to invade, we will be ensuring that field hospitals are ready for any casualties that occur. Making use of the fort at Operus to strengthen our defence.

Brother Lucifer, General of the Valiant Pegasus

The Highborn make a stand here, draw a line in the sand in the hills south of the college. The Druj smash against the Highborn wall, and after two days are pushed back... but only for a day. A trickle of reinforcements from Caeli becomes a flood, nearly the entire force of the orc invasion brought to bear against the beautiful, ancient buildings of the Halls of Knowledge.

Over a week of bloody fighting, two thousand Highborn lay down their lives to secure time for the professors and librarians to escape west to Altis. Many refuse to leave their books, desperate to carry with them as much of the lore accumulated here as they possibly can. Among their number, architects and builders engaged in expanding the college to allow for an increased focus on Autumn magic - indeed, work had already begun when the Druj were first sighted. By the time the Temple of the Winds fell, however, most of the labourers had already fled. They are forced to abandon much of the white granite, mithril, and weirwood dedicated to the new construction, however.

A week of fighting follows, in which the Highborn battle first in the foothills, and then in the Halls themselves. This open, airy college was never intended as a fortification. Beautiful glass domes and windows, wide arcades, and sweeping balconies alike were designed to allow the students and scholars to bask in the majestic views of the heavens, to contemplate the intricate order of the natural world, to engage in grand debates about the nature of magic. The libraries were built for ease of access, to hold great collections of books, scrolls, and works of art. The site is practically indefensible.

In the end, with librarians still loading the scrolls into ox wagons, the Highborn are forced to retreat.

Those who remain behind are butchered in a frenzy of bloodletting and torture by the Druj as they pour through the beautiful building like ants. Several civil service prognosticators are among those unaccounted for - brave people who would not leave their fellow scholars behind to face the Druj alone.

The Highborn regroup, preparing to launch a counter-offensive to reclaim the college... but before they can do so, the first smoke is seen. A white pillar, then a second, rise from the shores of the hot springs. After a single day of murder and looting, the Druj set the libraries and galleries aflame. As they have done so many times before, it seems they are more interested in destruction than conquest. The fires burn for two days. Two and a half centuries of learning lost to the flame, turned to ashes. The survivors can do naught but weep in silence, and then turn to begin the long trudge west towards the dubious safety of Highwatch.

The Halls of Knowledge burn, but the Druj are not done. They harry the retreating Highborn armies from Peregro, and from Caeli, and push forward to Operus. There at last the Druj advance is slowed, and stopped, and reversed. With grim determination, in the shadow of the frozen citadel, the Highborn fight. The orcs are understandably hungry to take Operus, to claim no doubt the bounty of the Canterspire Circle. Their hunger remains unsated - for now. Aided by the Auric Horizon, the knights of Cathan Canae, and the magicians of Canterspire, the Highborn are finally able to hold against the Druj.

The bulk of the orc force withdraws to camps in Peregro and Caeli, no doubt preparing themselves to renew their assault. A pall hangs over Morrow. The Halls of Knowledge are gone. The Glorious Fountain is gone. The great central tower of the Heliopticon is gone. The Seat of the Arbiter is in the hands of the Druj. Four thousand Highborn soldiers lie dead or captured by the Druj. More than three hundred sword scholars have been slain. Many of the scholars of the Halls of Knowledge have either been killed or enslaved. Spires across eastern Morrow, spires that had stood since the height of Terunael, are in ruins, their people scattered, or enslaved, or living their final moments in agony as the tormented victims of the wickedness of the Druj.

Game Information - Morrow

The Druj have conquered Peregro and Caeli, but have managed to take only a fingerhold in Operus - a few spires on the south-eastern borders of the region - representing barely a tenth of the region. The Empire still controls the territory, but if they lose a third region, Morrow will fall under the control of the Druj.

The Urizen have already lost a great deal in the fall of Zenith. Now they have lost even more.

The Halls of Knowledge have been destroyed. While the Provost still technically possesses their title, their powers were based entirely around being custodian of the Halls themselves and thus they are Provost in name only. The title will not be reappointed again. Any work that was being done this season on formulating rituals has been lost along with the college of magic. Likewise, the expansion to the Halls of Knowledge has failed. Half the materials provided by Agrippa had already been assigned to the project; the remainder will be refunded. With the destruction of the Halls of Knowledge, the commission cannot now be completed.

The sites of the Temple of the Winds and the Legacy of Wisdom have likewise fallen to the Druj. These commissions have thus failed. half the materials and monies contributed by Lorenzo, Nikolovich Drakov, and Edmundo of Damakan's Forge have been lost. Again, the remainder has been refunded to those characters. If the regions of Caeli or Peregro are recovered before the start of the Summer Solstice 382YE, work may be completed without the need for another commission but must begin from scratch.

The Glorious Fountain of Dawn and Dusk has been destroyed. The Keeper retains their title (unless they choose to step down), but the sinecure of which they had custody has been destroyed so their title likewise is now an empty one. The title will not be reappointed.

The Gardens of Morrow have been burnt to the ground by the advancing Druj, destroying that great work completely.

With the loss of both Peregro and Caeli, coupled with the loss of the entirety of Zenith, the already precarious ability of the Urizen to support the Citadel Guard is again in jeopardy. Until at least two more regions of Morrow or Zenith are recovered and assigned to Urizen again, the nation is considered to be exceeding their ability to support armies.

The central Heliopticon tower has been destroyed. The Heliopticon still functions, albeit barely, but its ability to quickly convey messages across the whole of Urizen has been impeded. Messages are slow, and can no longer be routed quickly though a central point rather relying on individual spires to pass them along. This leads to more miscommunications and garbled messages going forward.

There is plenty of evidence that this situation could have been considerably worse - without the frozen citadel in Operus, and the strategic defence of the Granite Pillar, the massive orc force would have been well on their way to taking the third region this season, potentially destroying even more of Urizen.

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Born to battle.

Keys to the Kingdom (Sermersuaq)

As Summer lengthens into Autumn, Imperial forces withdraw south from Sermersuaq into Kallavesa, the Mournwold, and even distant Astolat. That is not to say there is no fighting on the plains of the north; Winterfolk of all three traditions do their best to hold back the Jotun advance - but without Imperial forces they have little hope of victory. Refugees fleeing across the border into Hahnmark bring bold stories of the heroism of those still fighting - but they do little to mitigate the grim reality of absolute conquest. Tens of thousands of orcs sweep through East Floes, Suaq Wastes, and Suaq Fount.

The halls of Sermersuaq are swept before the Jotun like leaves before an Autumn storm. Fjellreven, Saker, Sussivari, Nanuk - none can hold against the orcs for long. One by one, they fall before the western barbarians, just as Atalaq before them fell.

Within six weeks of the Summer Solstice, all of Sermersuaq is in the hands of orcs. Everything save the Silver Peaks, where the Thule continue to hold dominion, is under the control of the Jotun. Word-of-mouth suggests that while the loss of land has been absolute, the loss of life has been comparatively light. True to an agreement forged in the recent peace treaty, the magicians of the Thule have laid down a veil of Spring magic across the territory, filling the lakes and rivers with healing power. For their part, the Jotun have come as conquerors and not butchers; their focus is on claiming the territory, not on slaughtering its people. All Winterfolk who come under the aegis of the Jotun are given the Choice: some choose to fight - and die - but many submit to live as thralls. Their lives will be hard, but they know the Jotun will not harm them as long as they honour their choice.

Along with news of conquest comes a stranger tale. According to those fleeing before the orcs, on the first night of the new moon after the Summer Solstice, the dead rise in Sermersuaq. There have been recent problems with the unquiet dead already - the still unresolved matter of the Finfolk and the drowned dead - but this is something different. From beneath fresh barrow mounds, dead orcs and humans alike tear themselves from the soil and lurch in search of warm flesh and hot blood.

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Conquerors by nature.

At first the Winterfolk wonder if these are dead heroes returned to aid them, but this optimistic fantasy is soon dispelled. The husks are ravenous, without thought, as eager to feast on the Suaq as on the Jotun. They are a terror in the night, drawn to the gathering places of the living - Jotun camps and Wintermark halls alike face their unliving fury. Many of the fleeing Winterfolk weep openly - the fighters who died as heroes in the fall of Atalaq are among the first to rise, the first to assail the very people they gave their lives to protect. By all reports the Jotun in Sermersuaq are filled with fury, enraged by the dishonour shown to those who have died, whether human or orc. They fight as keenly to defend their new Winterfolk thralls against the blood-thirsty horrors as they fight to protect their own people.

It is clear who both groups believe is to blame - and the Empire's decision to withdraw its armies just ahead of the dead rising is seen by many to provide conclusive evidence of Imperial culpability. Luckily, the magic of the Thule minimizes the slaughter - but many lives are still lost on all sides to the ravening dead.

There is some minor good news. As the Autumn Equinox approaches, word comes that the miners at the Pride of Ikka's Tears have escaped the Jotun advance. Continuing to work until the final hour before being forced to withdraw, a huddled caravan crosses the Suaq Fount eastward, a bare handful of miles ahead of the orcish advance. The mine itself has fallen into Jotun hands - there was no way to prevent it - but this season's bounty of mithril has not. Reports filtering south are confused, but it seems that the miners are now guests of the Thule in the Silver Peaks, and they have received significant aid from heralds of the eternal Ephisis in reaching this (slightly dubious) safety. By all accounts, thanks in part to negotiation by the representatives of the City of Gold and Lead, the Thule have agreed to allow the caravan to pass through the peaks to Crow's Ridge and thence to Torfast, without exacting a toll or a tithe for their trouble. The Ambassador to Otkodov may know more.

Sermersuaq is clenched firmly in the fist of the Jotun, but it is clear that they are by no means finished. Three weeks before the Autumn Equinox, bands of raiders begin to press into Pakaanan's Pass, Northspires, Bruckland, and Skymark. Unliving horrors notwithstanding, the western orcs appear committed to continuing their conquest of the northern Empire.

Game Information - Sermersuaq

The entire territory of Sermersuaq is now in the hands of the Jotun. As such, any personal resource owned by a player in Sermersuaq now suffers the conquered territory penalty going forward.

Many of the inhabitants of Sermersuaq have chosen to flee south rather than surrender to the orcs. Any player whose character controls a personal resource in Sermersuaq may choose to e-mail admin@profounddecisions.co.uk and swap their existing resource for one in either Hahnmark or Kallavesa without paying the usual 2 crown penalty. Bear in mind that this will, of course, be an undeveloped rank 1 resource and that the previous resource will be lost.

The Pride of Ikka's Tears has fallen to the Jotun, but thanks to a combination of plucky miners and the aid of an eternal, enough mithril has been transported east that a final shipment has been saved in its entirety. The Thule are not claiming any of the mithril - perhaps due to residual good will from the recent peace negotiations, perhaps due to a desire to stay on Ephisis' good side. The seat will be appointed as normal during the coming equinox, via its current method. After that, there will be no more mithril forthcoming unless it is liberated from the Jotun - at which point it will again need to be allocated by the Imperial Senate. ...

The dead that have risen across Sermersuaq tend to be the fresher corpses - orcs and humans that have died within the last year - including a great many of the warriors on both sides killed during the recent fighting with the Jotun.

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Smarter than you. / Everything is on show, like a mask on your face.

Castle of Glass (Sarvos)

Last season a single Grendel vessel approached the docks at Sarvos, bearing an emissary of the Salt Lords. The emissary approached under flag of truce, although their message seemed to be little more then a series of barbed accusations, calculated insults and veiled threats. At the same time the Broken Shore orcs increased their efforts to pirate Imperial shipping but were again comprehensively stymied by exotic magic of unknown origin. This season, Grendel ships are again active on the Bay of Catazar - albeit in a somewhat different context.

A little over a month and a half before the Autumn Equinox, fisherfolk and corsairs in Madruga and Feroz begin to report sightings of Grendel ships in unprecedented numbers.The corsairs recognise pirates when they see them - the game of minnow-and-shark between Freeborn privateers and Grendel raiders shows no sign of letting up - but these are something else entirely. A great armada - several times larger than the tragic Freeborn Storm at the height of its strength - sweeps along the Brass Coast heading north.

Those few who see the armada up close and escape to tell the tale are unable to keep echoes of breathless awe and and blood-freezing fear from their voices when they speak of it. Even the most hard-headed find themselves waxing lyrical about the sheer splendour of so many ships under sail - orc ships though they be. Red and yellow, green and blue the sails, taut in a wind that unaccountably fails to move the ships of Imperial fishing vessels or corsair ships that come near. Some report the presence of a great crowd of seabirds around the armada - not the usual mob of gulls but rather a flight of immense white albatrosses larger than any seen on the Coast in living memory. They glide, vast wings outstretched, over the four largest warships, the ones carving through the waves at the head of the fleet.

Rumours fly wildly. The Grendel are sailing to Oran to sack the Temple of Balo and the Black Bull. Or they are on their way to Madruga to loot the Lyceum and burn the Salt Guard before it can be completed. Or perhaps this is a fleet come to rescue Innevia, daughter of Moorvain, the Grendel captain captured by the Drakes during their liberation of Free Landing. Or perhaps their aim is to destroy the Spider's Dream, as they tried once before, to cut the Brass Coast off from the rest of the Empire. Or perhaps...

Yet the Grendel do not make any attempt at landfall along the Coast. They stay as far from the shore as possible, in fact, bypassing the larger islands in a graceful curving arc. They crush any Freeborn ship that gets too close, almost as an afterthought. A few fleets fall away from the main armada - smaller vessels smoothly detaching and gliding through the deep blue waters like sharks, elite privateers looking for prey of their own no doubt. The armada does not slow, their attention clearly fixed elsewhere.

Three weeks before the Autumn Equinox, the armada begins to slow, and finally come to a stop in the deep waters off the coast of Sarvos.

As soon as the first reports of Grendel on the move began to spread east along the shores of the Bay, the garrison at Our Lady of Pride were mobilised. They are already in position along the shore when the first Grendel ships are visible to League spyglasses. Slightly fewer than three thousand soldiers set to defend Sarvos against a naval force that is significantly larger.

Yet the expected attack does not come. The Grendel ships remain at anchor, barely visible from the shore, well out to sea. Any Imperial ship that leaves Sarvos, or attempts to return to it, is fair game but even then the orcs seem barely interested in intercepting individual merchant vessels or fishing boats. They seem to be waiting for something, some signal. The waiting becomes almost too much to bear. An oft-voiced sentiment in the city itself suggests it would be better to be invaded than to be kept waiting like this. It's worse than threatening, it's rude.

In the meantime, a number of citizens quit the city, certain that it is about to be invaded again. Remembering what it is like to be in the grip of the Grendel they take their families and their most precious possessions with them. Some flee as far as Tassato, while most head for Foracci and Riposi. The inns there do the best business they have in a decade or more. Others refuse to move, doggedly arming themselves and preparing as best they can for the invasion to come. This time the Grendel will not find the Sarvosan people so easy to cow, they tell one another.

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Masters of the Deal / Coin counts, and everything costs.

A fortnight before the Autumn Equinox, a single ship built for speed and manoeuvrability rather than war approaches the docks of Sarvos. Again, it flies a flag of truce. Yet this is a much finer ship than the last one, a sleek vessel of weirwood with a golden figurehead in the shape of a leaping manta ray, and deep purple sails trimmed with gold. The orc at the prow watches the docks with a spyglass, then stands coldly at the side of the ship as it draws up at the quayside, striding down the gangplank as if she already owns the entire city.

A delegation from the Sarvos chamber of commerce accompanied by soldiers from Our Lady of Pride greet the emissary with a ring of steel. She seems barely impressed, but keeps her distance nonetheless, a lone orc in delicate purple and gold silks surrounded by armed and armoured humans. She wastes no time on pleasantries or gloating. She has a message to deliver - but it is not the demand for surrender that the people of Sarvos have been expecting.

The Salt Lords are aware that the Empire is beset to the east and the west by foes. The Empire may have secured a flimsy peace to the north, but the Grendel control the Bay of Catazar, and can strike at any point along the Empire's southern coast. This grand armada is a promise that after the Autumn Equinox they will do so. They will sack the rich towns of Madruga, or Feroz, or Sarvos, or Necropolis, or Redoubt, or perhaps even Spiral. And there is nothing the Empire can do to stop them...

... unless perhaps they are prepared to put their hands in their pockets and pay for the privilege of being left unmolested.

Four hundred thrones should be sufficient to ensure a season of peace during which the Grendel leave the Empire's coast alone. It is a cheap enough price - a mere hundred thrones each from the Freeborn, the League, the Highborn, and the Urizen will easily cover it. It could be done in just four coins, even! The alternative is another invasion, one the Salt Lords believe the Empire can hardly afford at the moment.

The emissary allows her words to sink in. The crowd erupts - angry, indignant - this is extortion! The emissary does not deny it.

Questions are shouted, threats, weapons drawn. The emissary glances back toward her ship to reassure herself, outwardly remaining calm. She produces a smooth package which she tosses on the wooden planks of the quayside. It is addressed to the Empress. According to the Grendel emissary, it contains a copy of the demand, along with details of how the tribute can be paid, and sufficient crystal mana that the Throne can arrange for her seers to scry the armada and determine that the emissary speaks the truth.

She presumes the Sarvos chamber of commerce will be happy to deliver it for the Salt Lords.

With that, she withdraws up the gangplank. Even before the package she has deposited is picked up, her ship is already leaving, oars straining to move it away from the quayside before a riot can break out. Once away from the docks, the purple-and-gold sails fill with wind and it speeds like an arrow south into open waters, back toward the great Grendel armada.

Game Information

A Grendel armada rests at anchor in open waters south of the city of Sarvos. The emissary has delivered an ultimatum to the Empire - pay four hundred thrones or see one of their southern territories sacked or even invaded. From their position, the Grendel navies can easily reach any of the Imperial territories along the Bay of Catazar.

The package left by the emissary will be delivered to the Throne in time for the start of the Autumn Equinox.

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Land matters above all else.

One Step Closer (Kahraman)

Fresh water is precious in Kahraman. The hills are dry, and the fast-flowing streams that cascade down the jagged rocks from the north are few and far between and jealously guarded by one dhomiro or another. This season, their bounty is doubly precious. Healing power surges in every drop of water, restoring any who drink it or bathe in it. Orc and human alike partake of its supernatural medicinal qualities, and in the months following the Summer Solstice the Spring magic laid over Kahraman by the Voice of the Quiet Forest saves the lives of more than a thousand Imperial soldiers.

Nearly thirty thousand Jotun push east from Serra Damata into Serra Briante and Gambit. They are matched by roughly the same force of Imperial troops pushing west. Two waves of soldiers smash together in the foothills, and on the plains, neither prepared to give an inch to the other.

Now then my merry lads and lasses, our sojourn is over. We leave with our prisoners in tow, fresh from victory. The Jotun are back and it's up to us to drive the buggers back across the border into them blasted Lasambrian hills. We've out fought the Jotun before and they will not stand before our bills and bows as we overwhelm them. This fight will be the sucker punch that knocks them out of Kahraman. Now, no rest for the wicked, time to march!

Will Talbot, General of the Drakes

The Drakes fresh from Madruga join the Strong Reeds, tired and dusty after the long march west from Astolat. The Quiet Step come down past Fort Braydon from Upwold, bolstered by the garrison that has spent the last season slowing the Jotun advance. Between them the Drakes and the Quiet Step are also accompanied by fifteen thousand troops under the banners of heroic Imperial captains. The lion's share fight with the Marchers, but enough captains rally to the Navarr army to nearly double their numbers. All three armies are woven with potent enchantments that grant them supernatural clarity of thought, easily allowing them to divine weak points in the enemy advance and take advantage of them.

A glacial citadel - an edifice of ice and black stone- is raised over Serra Briante by the power of Dawnish witches. It serves as a base of operations for the Imperial push westward, and a potent protection for the town and the mine that bear the same name. Perhaps ironically, it seems to be the same citadel raised by the Jotun in the same place two years ago, complete with a garrison of massive orc-like warriors in fur and leather, marked with spiral tattoos. Now these heralds of Cathan Canae hurl their deadly barbed spears down from the walls onto the orcs they once supported.

Soldiers of the Strong Reeds, once more we march to fight the Jotun. This time, they have snuck into undefended Imperial lands. We will push them out, inch by bloody inch. But we will not lose our heads. Our attack may be overwhelming - but measured. We will allow the Jotun to treat their fallen, and we expect ours to be treated in turn.

Jack Flint, General of the Strong Reeds

The fighting is fierce around the town of Briante, with the main force of the Jotun clearly seeking to capture the great mine once again. They have taken this route before, and know the hills well. Indeed, it seems that there are orcs fighting under the firebird banner who know the hills at least as well as the Freeborn do - former bandits who once lived in the heights between Kahraman and Liathaven recruited by the Jotun during their last foray into the Cinnabar Hills. This time, however, the Jotun are clearly interested in more than just the mithril mine. They push onto the dry plains of Gambit as well, capturing the town of Rojota that marks the southernmost reach of the northern hills. Forewarned by the diviners of the town - or more likely by common sense - many of the citizens have already fled south along the road through Madruga to seek refuge in Cerevado. The predatory gambling houses and the paradors welcome them with open arms - as long as their coin holds out, of course.

For the first two months it seems certain that the campaign will end in stalemate. Both forces push against one another, a tide that ebbs and flows. At first the Jotun have the upper hand, but when the Imperial forces arrive they drive them back from the land they have conquered. Then the Jotun rally and push back, driving to the walls of Briante itself. The Jotun are clearly ready to deal with a fortification; no doubt they intended to lay siege to Fort Braydon, but their siege towers and catapults are just as effective in facing the magical citadel raised in Serra Briante. Some of the soldiers here have faced these siege engines before - the Tower of the North rained stone and fire down on Orchard's Watch.

I authorise my adjutant, Brennos Brackensong, to submit the orders of the Quiet Step. I will be fighting myself with the army this season, whatever the decision. Actions have consequences. Lisabetta Imperatrix.

We return to Kahraman, supporting a steady advance of the Imperial line. It is the wish of our allies we leave Jotun bodies where they fall. Kill the Honourbound fools quick, and step onto the next. Brennos

Lisabetta Imperatrix, General of the Quiet Step

Last time the Jotun laid siege to Serra Briante, they drove the defenders back even with their frigid allies from the Summer realm. This time, however, they are unable to press their advantage. Six weeks after the Summer Solstice, a concerted push by the Imperial forces decisively hammers the Jotun back. At the same time, a second push drives them out of Rojota. Gaining momentum, the armies of the Marches and the Brass Coast, strengthened by heroes and the garrison of the two fortifications, break the Jotun advance and drive them west.

The orc armies attempt a stand at Damata, but this time they have no magical citadel of their own. Three days of fighting see the town and its beautiful walls alike severely damaged, but the Jotun are defeated and forced to retreat. The Imperial armies give them no chance to regroup, hounding them across the hills of Damata and the plains of Gambit until they are driven at last out of Kahraman altogether and back into Reinos.

All told, thanks to the Rivers of Life, the Empire has lost around a thousand soldiers. The orcs are estimated to have lost around the same number of their own warriors. The Strong Reeds ensure that the priests and physicks of both sides are given time to tend to their fallen soldiers. Unlike the Jotun in the north, the southern forces are more suspicious expecting a trap - they cannot fail to be aware of the Navarr present in Kahraman - but for the most part this détente holds.

The Empire holds Kahraman entirely once more. it was a close-run thing. If not for their magic and the great number of independent captains who fought alongside the armies, it is likely that this season of fighting in Kahraman might have ended very differently.

Game Information - Kahraman

The Empire holds all regions of Kahraman, and has reclaimed the Damatian Cliffs. While the Jotun did not capture the white granite quarry during their initial push into the territory, they were able to seize them during the Summer Solstice while the attention of the Imperial Military Council was elsewhere. As a consequence, the white granite quarry will need to be reallocated by the Imperial Senate which can be done this season, and will be available for appointment next season.

The town of Damata, and its priceless walls, have been badly damaged in the fighting. The civil service are assessing the damage.

In the End.jpg
Nobility is an achievement, not a birthright.

In The End (The Mallum)

Lacre

The time to strike at the heart of our sworn enemy has arrived. With pride and courage we will go down in history as we charge gloriously across the bridge from the Summer Realm. The Druj will know fear at the hands of Dawn.

Vincent Vexille, General of the Eastern Sky

The armies of Dawn gather at the town of Lacre, on the southern shores of the Semmerlak. A great sea of tents and pavilions in all the bright colours of the houses rises around the port. Some nobles come by boat, the majority march overland, gathering at Lacuve to await the signal to march. As always when the Dawnish meet, there is an air of pageantry, almost a fairground atmosphere. Tourneys for love, and challenges sought, and tales of glory and tragedy shared with equal relish. A great number of troubadours take this opportunity to inspire the gathering notables. A great many nobles and yeofolk alike, unable to accompany the armies for whatever reason, come to see the scions of Dawn take their first step into darkness.

In the pre-dawn gloom a fortnight after the Summer Solstice, the Eastern Sky, the Golden Sun, the Gryphon's Pride, and the Hounds of Glory raise their banners. As the sky begins to brighten in the east, they are joined by a small host of Dawnish captains, but the standards of Highguard, the Imperial Orcs, the League, Urizen, Wintermark, and the Marches also flutter in the stiff breeze blowing off the Semmerlak. Three and a half score heroes, come to cross the Golden Causeway with their troops, to join the armies of Dawn as they march into the unknown.

They gather before the great gate of white granite, the pillars woven with mithril sigils of the Dawnish armies and the great houses that saw it built. A dozen silent Summerborn heralds wait patiently on the shore before it, knee-deep in the lazily lapping waters of the Semmerlak. Garbed in red, wearing surcotes marked with a golden sword above a cresting wave, their long hair is bound in tight braids above their high pointed ears, and in their webbed fingers they bear brazen trumpets.

A tourney has been held to select the witch who will rouse the gate, another to choose the twelve who will be first to walk the causeway. As the sun rises above the horizon, the witch stands between the gate and speaks the words that will begin the invasion of the Mallum.

My Glorious knights of the Golden Sun. Our time of rest is done. We will march to Semmerholm, and then over the Magical Bridge to strike at the Heart of our enemies, for the First time in the History of our Empire. We do this with our comrades as a nation. Grinding assault, pushing north to meet the golden axe.

Zoran Orzel, General of the Golden Sun

As the gate bursts into life, the Summerborn heralds rise to stand on the surface of the water, and sound their trumpets. Great pealing notes of challenge and victory ring out across the crowd, setting hearts surging and stilling breaths for a long moment of anticipation and awe. Light gathers around the mithril sigils, bright and golden as the noonday sun, merging together into a surging mass that launches itself with a triumphant roar north-east across the Semmerlak.

Trailing behind the churning light, a great golden bridge rises from churning waters. To those gazing from the shore it seems unreal, hazy, like a mirage. To those who look through the gate, however, it is a solid span of golden stone and graceful arches. The first twelve show no hesitation - they step forth as one onto the bridge and begin to march, march across the great inland sea, and the armies of Dawn follow after as a thunderous cheer rises from thousands of throats united for a moment in the wonder and the splendour and the glory.

There may be a little trepidation among those captains who do not hail from Dawn as their turn comes to step onto the bridge, but they do not show it - how could they in the face of the glory of Dawn? Who could let uncertainty overwhelm them in the face of that wall of sound, that rolling thunder of approbation that does not slacken as the serried ranks of Dawn an their allies march to war.

There is no need for worry. The bridge remains as solid for them as for the nobles and yeomen they march alongside.

Across the Bridge

By all rights the journey on foot across the Semmerlak ought to take several days, but it seems that only a single day passes between stepping onto the bridge and stepping off on the far side. The first twelve pairs of boots crunch down onto the beach on the other side just as the sun begins to sink beneath the horizon in the west. Behind them, the great Imperial host seems to stretch as far as the eye can see.

Soldiers of the Pride, we do now what we were founded for. We invade the Druj lands across the Semmerlak, marching over the glorious summer bridge/ When we arrive, we will push north along the lake shore to meet our varushkan allies and link to Karsk. Onward! For Glory. For Dawn. For the Empire!

Garravaine de Rondell, General of the Gryphon's Pride

They emerge between a pair of crimson pillars, set with golden sigils, a second gate that mirrors the one on the far side of the lake. Yet where the gate near Lacre is solid stone, this one seems to shift and recede as if wreathed in summer mist. As more and more troops desembark the bridge into the Mallum, it becomes clear that only the Dawnish witches can see the red gate with any clarity - and while it is solid beneath their fingers it is as ephemeral as fog to anyone else.

As the last soldiers leave the bridge, the golden causeway vanishes - but the red pillars remain, ready to call it back into being again at a word from a witch of Dawn.

The armies take stock. They are in the Mallum - the first Imperial forces to enter the Druj homelands in decades, perhaps longer. A camp is set in a semicircle around the pillars that mark the far end of the golden causeway. There is no sign of any Druj forces - the Imperial armies have arrived unremarked as promised by the Lady of the Semmerlak.

There is something else at work here - something that even the least sensitive can feel moving through them. An emanation of the gate. It fills everyone near it with certainty, confidence, a feeling of power. The knowledge that they can achieve anything they put their mind to. An odd side effect, perhaps? It permeates the Imperial camp and as the first scouts begin to return it becomes apparent how valuable a boon it may prove to be.

As soon as one is far enough from the shore that the pillars cannot be seen, everything changes. A cloak of despair and fear settles over anyone moving away from the camp. Those who fought in the campaign to free Reikos cannot help but recognise it. A Druj miasma, an almost physical pall of dread and despair that grinds away every happy thought, every moment of joy. It is to the shroud that lay over Reikos as a downpour is to a gentle rain - the weight of it is the weight of decades perhaps even centuries. An ancient miasma, heavy and terrible, and grim that erodes the will of those exposed to it. The worry of Imperial scholars that the miasma of Reikos was weak, barely formed, are more than supported by the crushing atmosphere of despair that hangs over the new territory.

Ambition calls us to take a risk, not lightly do we charge into the Druj homeland. Set foot upon the Golden Causeway, we are the vanguard of the nation. In a Triumphant Charge take the lands of the enemy. War witches of the army, if regio can be identified mark them as a priority.

Tancred de Rondell, General of the Hounds of Glory

Perhaps a few consider turning back... but only a few and none speak their fears aloud.

The armies do not wait for the main camp to be established. The very next morning, they erupt outward across the new region in every direction. The Gryphon's Pride quickly more to secure obvious strategic objectives - aiming for the largest settlements and the scattered minor fortifications that look out across the Semmerlak, expanding Imperial control east and north as quickly as they can. The Eastern Sky and the Hounds of Glory are less discerning - they simply move to wherever there is resistance and crush it utterly. The Hounds in particular seek out the best defended positions and the strongest foes - easily smashing anything that stands between the armies of Dawn and victory. The Golden Sun for their part follow behind the other three armies, consolidating every gain and dealing quickly and methodically with any resistance. Within days most of the coast of the new region is in Dawnish hands.

Time has come to show the Empire what we can do. We proudly will move through Karsk and follow the Semerlac lake shore south to meet the Dawnish armies. We will forge south with Dawn. We have the chance to show the Empire our loyalty with our allies and take their land for Varushka. For the Empire!

Belakov Zakharovich Prochnost, General of the Golden Axe

The four armies of Dawn are quickly joined by a fifth army; the Golden Axe of Varushka marches south out of Lestasny along the shores of the Semmerlak. They move quickly, seizing land that is ripe for conquest. They bear with them the legacy of the Vard - to conquer whatever can be conquered, to take what can be taken, to kill what can be killed. They travel light, taking what they need from the land and the people of the Mallum, squeezing those orcs who try to fight back between themselves and the anvil of Dawn. They face the miasma of the Druj with the grim determination of soldiers used to dealing with fear, used to facing the unknown, used to hefting an axe against the shadows beneath the trees.

Bittershore

The immediate area around the northern end of the bridge proves to be sparsely populated. Mean, ramshackle villages dotted here and there along the coast, interspersed with the occasional tumbledown tower or lighthouse. Although these villages seem to subsist by fishing there are surprisingly few proper boats. Mostly the orcs use wooden pots and nets, and rafts poled carefully out away from the shore. There is plenty of evidence of agriculture as well - rice on the shores of the lake, as well as a crop of a strange tasting pondweed clearly cultivated by the Druj, with more familiar crops and cattle further inland. As the armies press north and east however, the settlements become larger. While they are still mostly agricultural villages, there are a few larger settlements that approach a small Dawnish town or prosperous Varushkan vale in size.

There is no doubt that the settlements are those of the Druj. The buildings are decorated with banners depicting monstrous beasts, most commonly white serpents and the occasional amber scorpion, usually with twisted demonic faces. Everywhere, yellow and green painted eyes in leering orc faces stare down into the streets, or peer from door-frames, or glower from twisted figures carved of wood and stone that lurk in the shadows or from roofs of black slate or bullrush thatching. The sensation of being watched at all times is palpable.

At the heart of every village there are disturbing wooden poles studded with hooks and spikes, hung with chains, and covered in layers of old dry blood. Each is topped with a coiled white serpent. Their purpose is unclear but it is easy to speculate. The leaders of the Druj rule their people through fear, after all.

The first handful of villages the Empire encounters are empty, the occupants having quickly fled. At first there is some worry that the Druj have been tipped off about the attack, but the reports by the scouts suggest that is unlikely. There are meals left over fires, and other signs of life here recently. It appears that the inhabitants have fled at the first sight of danger leaving everything they own behind. Oddly, though these people are clearly impoverished, in every village the scouts find supplies of dried food, mostly fish wrapped in weed, piled high in the centre of the village as if in some kind of tribute.

In fact it is several days before the Empire encounters the first resistance of any kind. A larger settlement, consisting of around a hundred wooden huts and a dozen buildings made from dry stone is surrounded by a crude stockade of sharpened wooden stakes and a ditch filled with noxious smelling waters. It appears empty, like every village the Empire has encountered so far, but that soon proves to be a trap. Two dozen poorly armed Druj warriors emerge from hiding and attempt to fall on the scouts who are checking the settlement. A running battle through the make-shift streets only ends when a large contingent of Dawnish knights supported by witches comes to reinforce the scouts at which point the Druj turn tail and flee.

From that point on, the Empire is forced to stay on high alert. Scouts and pickets are shot at day and night, arrows launched from hiding by a lone archer are tipped with noxious poisons or javelins are hurled from under cover of darkness. Although individuals are wounded, the Dawnish weavers are more than a match for the enemy quickly healing any who are struck. The main effect of the attacks is to keep the Imperial forces on their toes; it is clear that the Druj simply do not have enough warriors present in the area to mount a serious challenge. Combined with the ever-present miasma of dread however, they contribute to an atmosphere if uncertainty, and the fear that any shadow might contain a deadly assassin.

Once the Imperial forces begin to push forward and secure the region, the inhabitants of the abandoned villages slowly return. Small groups of orcs, families for the most part, with bleak hollow expressions and dressed in long drab tunics and plain trousers. Virtually the only colour are the sashes hung at their belts, which display a crudely painted white snake. They return cautiously apparently expecting to resume their previous existence but they are clearly terrified of the Dawnish soldiers and offer no resistance of any kind when directed by Imperial soldiers.

They cooperate when questioned, claiming that they are members of the Sand Fisher orc clan, a minor tribe that lives all along the eastern shores of the Semmerlak. They labour under the rule of the Bone Serpents, the strongest clan of Druj who have ruled this land since they took it from the Stone Toad over three years ago. The Sand Fishers profess no particular loyalty towards the Bone Serpents, the sashes apparently denote ownership not loyalty, but they are clearly absolutely terrified of the Druj. They seem to fear the Empire too but they have returned simply because they hope to resume their lives, expecting to serve as obedient vassals of the Empire - at least until the Druj return.

The Sand Fishers are reluctant to talk, apparently fearing reprisals from the Druj, but they are able to provide some valuable information. They confirm that this region is known as Bittershore, that it is the westernmost part of what the Druj call Ossium, a territory of the Mallum. The Bittershore runs until it reaches Bonewood in the north and the Ghalath Fields in the east. None of the clan have ever left Ossium, in fact most of them claim never to have left the Bittershore. The only place of note that they know of is Lomaa, apparently some kind of major Druj settlement situated in the Ghalath Fields. It is not clear if this settlement serves as a central point for the territory, but the Sand Fishers seem to believe it is the seat of the Bone Serpents power and the source of their wealth.

Armed with this new intelligence the Dawnish and Varushkan forces push forwards. While the villages they encounter are still mostly abandoned, resistance to the Imperial advance steadily grows. The night time assaults develop into probing assaults from skirmishers who flee across the plains as soon as the Empire turns to deal with them. As the campaign progresses, these turn into ambushes and raids, striking quickly against the rear and the flanks of the advancing armies and then melting away again. The undisciplined guerillas are increasingly lead or replaced by much more competent troops, with better armour and weapons, particularly as the attacking forces move toward the great forest that borders the village-dotted plain.

There is a castle in that forest, claim the most communicative of the captive Druj subjects, called Tirran Annun. The soldiers are its garrison. They belong to a different clan, a rival clan, more powerful than the Bone Serpent who rule the plains. These Amber Scorpion soldiers do not engage directly, but their presence is enough to hamper the Imperial advance at least as much as the crushing miasma of dread that covers the territory.

As the Empire pushes further into Druj territory, the settlements grow less squalid but the signs of Druj cruelty only grow. Wooden huts give way to stone buildings protected by stockades and dykes. Although the occupants have fled before the Imperial advance, they have left human and orc slaves behind, penned like cattle and chained by the ankle. The slaves are in a horrific state, their spirits completely broken, presumably by a combination of a lifetime's exposure to the miasma and to Druj whips. Many bear horrific disfiguring wounds, apparently punishment for the slightest disobedience - and their skin is branded with the same bone serpent motif that adorns everything else. Their will is so broken that freeing them is a depressing experience, as they stand uncomprehending and unable to do much other than follow simple commands.

Most disturbing to many Imperial soldiers, Dawnish and Varushkan alike, are the number of humans here. It is hard to extrapolate - so many of the villagers have fled before the Dawnish advance - but perhaps as many as two-fifths of those swept up in the Imperial advance are not orcs at all. If anything, they seem even more terrified than the orcs. They cower, they refuse to cooperate with their liberators. They seem as intelligent as any citizen, but none can read or write and react with fear when encouraged to do so. They do not fight back any more than the orcs do - and they are quick to obey almost any instruction given to them, cowering in fear at raised voices or violent movements by armoured knights or schlacta. They are pitiful... right up until some of them lures a patrol from the Gryphon's Pride into an ambush, joining in with the Druj in attempting to murder the yeomen they have cornered.

The effects of the miasma cannot be underestimated. It saps the will to fight from Imperial soldiers, it dampens their belief that they can succeed. Those priests that accompany the armies have their work cut out for them, ministering as best they can to those worst effected and providing what protection they can against the insidious atmosphere of dread. Those with changeling blood seem least affected - or rather they are least affected by the creeping fear. Instead, the miasma seems to make them reckless, furious at the Druj. Many need to be restrained by their comrades from racing off into unknown territory to attack retreating Druj forces, or stopped from burning entire villages to the ground, so great is their fury.

The Bonewood

Inland, the Empire encounters many more settlements, still mostly devoted to farming, interspersed with clumps of woodland. The further north they travel, the colder and more rugged the land gets, and the oak trees give way to dark pines and great stretches of beggarwood. The woods are thick, deep, threatening. Wreathed as often as not in fog in the mornings and the evenings, they are prime hunting grounds for the Druj. There are roads, of course, but they are poorly maintained and obvious traps. Any Imperial troops using them would provide an easy target for the ambushers that clearly wait in the forests. Somewhere in the eastern woods lies Tirran Annun and the season is growing short. In the absence of any vital reconnaissance, the decision is made to push north along the plains and secure the land across the border from Karsk.

Having secured Bittershore, and decided to press north, resistance almost immediately increases. As the armies pass out of Bittershore onto the Ghalath Fields, there are more and more attacks and they are increasingly well organised. These defenders are still no match for five armies but they are dangerous enough that physicks and witches alike have their work cut out tending vicious wounds and treating poisoned injuries. Some of the villages are still abandoned, but there are vicious skirmishes as organised Druj troops lay traps and ambushes. Some of the settlements are themselves trapped - several lives are lost when a small band of Druj fire an entire settlement, casks of oil packed into the thatched roofs and carefully positioned totems that unleash withering curses. The need to check each settlement for signs of guerillas left behind, to ensure that any sack of grain is not poisoned or laced with broken glass, begins to absorb much of the effort of the Golden Sun.

The leading edge of the Imperial advance crosses the plains and encounters more forest to the north and it is here that the Imperial advance comes to a halt - for now. This forest, the Bonewood, is thick and extremely inhospitable. They do not seem especially populous, but there are few tracks. The Golden Axe are both least and most worried by the woodlands. Least, because they remind many of the Varushkan soldiers of the forests of Karsk. Most because... the same reason. Scouts report pale, lean, thirsty figures among the pines glimpsed at night by soldiers on watch. The Varushkans are certain that they are wolves, and not the four-legged kind. What the scouts are also certain of is that this third region is the northernmost part of the territory. Nobody appears to know what lies beyond that, but the guess is that it is probably the southern forests of the Thule territory of Sküld - a forest said to be dominated by a vallorn.

Across the Ghalath Fields

While the vanguard of the Imperial advance are debating whether to press into the Bonewood, the Hounds of Glory and the Golden Sun encounter the first real battle of the campaign. They are advancing across the Ghalath Fields down a crude road when they encounter a Druj force arrayed against them. All those farmers and fisherfolk who fled from the Imperial advance have gathered here to fight. There are perhaps as many as twenty thousand orcs and humans here - but their rank and file have little armour and what they do have amounts to thin leather and hide rather than anything metal. For the most part they are armed with farming tools pressed into service as weapons - which should not be entirely underestimated, as the Marchers have demonstrated time and again. What the yeomanry of the Marches use, however, are weapons adapted from farming implements and wielded by disciplined soldiers; this rabble is nothing like a Marcher block.

There are clearly elite Druj troops dotted through the ranks, dressed in armour decorated with symbols of a bone serpent or an amber scorpion and armed with vicious spears, swords, and axes. Yet for all their martial aspect, the attention of these Druj soldiers is focused more on keeping their own troops in line than on the Empire. The Empire are badly outnumbered - but given the paucity of their opposition, the odds feel like they are with the Empire.

The Druj drums signal the charge and their soldiers almost reluctantly start to advance on the Dawnish lines. Any competent commander can see it ought to be a full-on charge - the best hope for the Druj is to overwhelm the Dawnish with their weight of numbers, but it is clear that they simply don't have the morale or the discipline needed to pull it off. Confident the Dawnish commanders wait until the Druj host have covered half the ground - no point in their knights tiring themselves before battle is joined. Then with a single curt signal the horns are sounded to order the counter-charge. A great cheer goes up from the assembled Dawnish host as they break into a run - eager to claim the glory.

The ground reverberates as the two lines smash into each other, but the shambolic Druj "charge" has already faltered before the Dawnish even hit their line. Panicked individuals try to turn and flee - only to be cut down by Druj warriors waiting behind them, or trampled under foot as the rear ranks push forwards. The chaos is already spreading at the point where the armoured Imperial knights hit the Druj line smashing into them, lopping off heads and limbs with swings of their heavy great swords.

The Druj desperately attempt to fight back, but their crude weapons are ineffective against Imperial armour and they lack the training to target exposed flesh. The Druj archers fire wildly into the milling host, and their arrows are dangerous, but the large Dawnish shields give them a measure of protection, while their enemies fall to their own arrows. Incredibly the drumming continues - line after line of Druj soldiers keep pushing to drive the line against the Dawnish, as if trying to force them back with nothing but weight of numbers. It seems like madness to throw so many lives away in such a manner, but the Druj keep pushing their subjects onwards, heedless of the cost.

As the Dawnish sun reaches midday, the inevitable happens. The fear of the Dawnish lines finally overcomes the orcs fear of their Druj masters and the rout begins. The Dawnish keep advancing, trying to reach the Druj commanders, but many are already fleeing and those that are not are being cut down by their own soldiers as they try to force them back into the fight. A moment later the drumming stops - and it feels almost as if the grim miasma lifts a little - at least for the Dawnish soldiers. Instantly, the naked fear of the orcs turns to abject terror and now the only challenge facing the Dawnish is to keep pace with them as they flee, weapons discarded in their desperation to escape.

The Dawnish pursue a short way, but heavily armoured knights cannot keep up the pace and the enemy is soon fled from the field. With victory won, the healers are already tending the fallen, while those in command take stock of the battle. Only then does the sheer scale, the enormity of the Dawnish victory become clear. There are more than five thousand dead orcs spread across the fields. In some places the bodies are piled so high that those who fell first died from suffocation more than their wounds. There are hundreds of Dawnish wounded - some of them very badly - but the healing magic of the witches addresses the worst wounds and the chirurgeons that have accompanied every Imperial army since Lisabetta came to the Throne work themselves to exhaustion saving the rest.

But actual casualties... Tom of Barrowdale and Marthe; a pair of stout yeofolk from House Lionsgate; Roland, an elderly Dawnish war witch whose heart seems to have given out under the strain of his wounds; and Igraine, one of the knights who foolishly lost her shield in the charge and took a poisoned arrow in the thigh. A double handful of others executed on the battlefield or succumbing to poisoned wounds before a healer could reach them.

Even given that this wasn't really an "army" that the Empire were facing - just row upon row of farmers forced to fight by their Druj masters, there has probably never been an Imperial battle so decisive. Everyone is struggling to understand why the Druj would attempt such a foolish strategy, throwing away so many lives and for what? At best they have delayed the Empire for a week, while their healers tend to the wounded.

Within a week, though, the Empire have half an explanation as their scouts report back. With the Druj cleared from the field, they have finally discovered the prize they have been searching for. On the eastern half of the Ghalath Fields, stands the largest settlement the Empire have yet encountered in this squalid land. The town of Lomaa, at least the size of Lacre, perhaps even larger, it stands near a great quarry cut into the earth, a wound in the ground from which columns of black smoke rise day and night. Here the Druj wait for the Empire and every hour that delays is allowing them to gather more of their soldiers to their garrison, not the chaff the Dawnish have just cut through, but the elite pakkad, chikad, and others who are the true threat.

Lomaa and the Crawling Depths

There is a makeshift stockade that protects the approach to the quarry and settlement and the Druj are already working to reinforce their defences. Sadly - for the Druj - their efforts to delay the Hounds of Glory and the Golden Sun have done nothing to impede the Golden Axe or the Eastern Sky. The Varushkan and Dawnish forces wash over the town, quickly capturing Lomaa and butchering or scattering the few orcs still in a position to put up any resistance. The clan-seat of the Bone Serpent is now in Imperial hands.

Exploring the area for any hidden threats, a band of questing knights and wagon raiders pushes into the tunnels that lead from the quarry beneath the town. To their surprise and joy they discover that Lomaa sits atop a mithril mine. The so-called Crawling Depths is in a dire state but nonetheless there are rich seams of the precious metal down there ready to be claimed by the Empire. Horrifically, the mines are also home to countless slaves, many of whom have never seen the light of day.

Celebrations are somewhat muted. As the equinox draws closer, scouts report that the forests to the east and north are behaving peculiarly. Trees are warping and shifting, vines visibly growing to choke paths and roads, and a heavy fog spreading beneath the dark oak and pine trees. Druj magic, unleashed at last, turning the trees into a defensive wall against the threat of further Imperial conquest.

But even here there is an opportunity. If the Druj magicians are performing rituals such as these, then there is likely a powerful regio somewhere in the territory. Imperial scouts are sent far and wide to try with orders to try and find it.

Game Information - Ossium

A fortnight before the Autumn Equinox, the Empire has unquestionably conquered Bittershore and the Ghalath Fields, and pushed a short distance into the Bonewood. They have broken the Bone Serpent clan, and established an armed camp around the town of Lomaa and the mithril mine beneath it. The Dawnish and Varushkan forces have only taken minimal casualties.

Representatives of the the Malinov, the Sloev and the Pravin families of Moresvah accompanying the Golden Axe are keen to offer their assistance in working the newly captured mithril mine; there are also several bands of wagon raiders among the Varushkans eager to get to work claiming the Druj's mithril for the Empire. As such, the mine could begin producing mithril immediately, depending on the civil service assessment of the situation.

More information about Ossium, including a rough sketch of the regions Imperial forces have encountered and more details about the Crawling Depths, will be included in Winds of Fortune.

Battle Symphony (Major Conjunctions)

Based on reports by the Imperial war scouts from across the Empire, the Civil Service prognosticators have assembled information on three major conjunctions of the Sentinel Gate at the Autumn Equinox. These will allow the heroes of Anvil opportunities to strike against the barbarian orcs and influence the wider military campaign.

The first conjunction opens close to the ruins of the Spire of Twisting Shadows in Lustri, Zenith. The Spire once tended to patients suffering magical mishaps from across the Empire, but was destroyed with great loss of life two years before the Druj invasion. The Druj's supply lines back into the Mallum pass through this dark, haunted forest. The heroes of Anvil can use this conjunction on the Saturday of the summit.

The second conjunction allows travel to the Monachil Gorge on the border with Reinos in Serra Damata, Kahraman. This wide wooded road into the hills lies beyond the Imperial lines and along to the Jotun's line of retreat. A force of kirkja warriors are preparing a rearguard action to allow the safe withdrawal of the armies from Imperial territory. The Sentinel Gate can be used to travel to the Brass Coast on either the Saturday or the Sunday of the Autumn Equinox.

The third conjunction will permit the heroes of Anvil passage to Bleak Vein, a location half a day east of Lomaa and the Imperial camps in the Galath Fields of Ossium. Here, at the behest of the general of the Hounds of Glory, the war scouts have located a potent, peculiar Spring regio located inside an abandoned defensive stockade. This conjunction will allow travel into the Mallum on the Sunday of the summit.

By the time of the Autumn Equinox summit, the Civil Service will have completed reports for each of these conjunctions, which will be presented to the generals during the muster. The final decision about which major conjunctions to exploit, and who will take part in the battles, is the heavy responsibility of the Imperial Military Council alone.

Imperial prognosticators are preparing additional information relating to a number of smaller conjunctions over the course of the summit that will be of relevance to the Military Council, individuals from the various nations, and other parties. A summary of the identified conjunctions will be provided nearer the time, with additional details passed to national egregores, Herald of the Council, and the Imperial War Scouts.

Audio Recordings

Ian Horne has worked with volunteers to create audio recordings of the Winds of War, and upload them to YouTube.