Noah stared at the great curving arch. Above his head the wanderer gazed down at him, mocking him and his failures it seemed. His strength was exhausted, he and the other magicians would need a good nights rest before they could continue.

He briefly contemplated using their precious stocks of crystal mana to conjure a Chamber of Pallas, that would allow them to keep searching for the missing conjunction but he knew it would be pointless. They weren't failing to find the conjunction because they'd missed something. They were failing because it wasn't there.

Of course, everyone knew that conjunctions could and often did move. Sometimes they waxed or waned in size, sometimes they would move a day earlier or later. Sometimes, very rarely, the destination of a conjunction might even move by a few miles or more. To ensure they delivered the best information to the Empire's heroes, meant the prognosticators had to check and recheck the conjunctions regularly. Otherwise something might be missed.

Or... as in this case... go missing. The conjunction to Hotters Mire had been one of the larger ones he'd seen. Large enough for ninety people to travel, it should have taken them just outside the palisade wall of the newly established Feni settlement of Hotters Mire in Liathaven. It offered the tantalising potential to disrupt the plans of the Empire's enemies, the Heirs of Terunael, stopping them from allying with the Feni and breaking the curse the Empire had put on the territory. Everything was all set.

And now... it wasn't there. It just wasn't there. They'd searched every possibility - and they'd keep searching. But Noah was certain of it now. The conjunction to Hotters Mire was gone. It had been there, it had been part of the Empire's great destiny.... and now it wasn't.

That could only mean one thing. Something... someone... had changed fate.

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On the run-up to the Spring Equinox, Imperial spies operating from Liathaven brought back information about the situation there. They discovered that the Feni were in advanced negotiations with the Heirs of Terunael. The Heirs were offering to help the Feni break the dreadful Winter curse, Wither the Seed, that hangs over the territory smothering the life from it. The Feni want to have children (something the curse makes very difficult) while the Heirs most likely just wanted to free the Vallorn from the curse's grip.

There is a tiny window of opportunity to stop the Heirs before they can put their plan into action. A chance for elite military units to slip into Liathaven, surround Hotters Mire and wait for the Heirs to arrive to do the ritual. Once they turn up in force, the Empire can attack, wipe the settlement out and end the threat the Heirs pose for a generation.

The plan is simple. All it needs to succeed is to make absolutely sure that nobody gives the game away to the Feni...

Giving the Game Away to the Feni

A massive military force of Navarr thorns accompanied by scores of Marcher beaters and a smattering of allies from Dawn, Highguard, Wintermark, and the Brass Coast creep stealthily over the border into Liathaven. With skills honed through the years, the Navarr and their allies creep silently through the woods until they are in position surrounding Hotters Mire. It is an extraordinary feat, one no army could ever hope to replicate, and it takes weeks to complete. Units have to move in small numbers, finding spots to hide in the dangerous forest. It's only possible at all due to the coordination provided by the spy network and the ability of the Empire's elite military units to move independently of each other. The risks are high, a single mistake could give the Empire's plans away to the Feni and the Heirs, but everyone plays their part to perfection.

So it is with some considerable surprise a few days before the attack is due to begin the Empire's elite military forces discover that the Feni are out for looking for them. Something, someone has tipped them off. There are dangerous moments of panic - but they quickly give way to confusion as the Feni indicate they know the Empire are there and that they have come not to fight but to talk.

The Feni have a letter, warning them of an incipient attack on Hotters Mire, and signed by three Imperial citizens. Watt of Lambrooke - Imperial Advisor for the Feni, Travid Longest Path - Senator for Therunin and Lleu Tarw - General of the Black Thorns have all put their names, signatures and titles to the letter to the Feni. They write warning them that "Imperial scouts will be re-entering Liathaven to stop the reversal of the curse and to stop anyone responsible for this threat. In all likelihood this will mean the fall of Hotters Mire...".

Many great stories begin with a sudden reversal.

A Surprising Development

The Feni are clearly not pleased to discover that Hotters Mire has been surrounded and threatened with destruction, but in the spirit of dialogue created by the Watt's letter, they ask the Empire's representatives to sit down with them and talk. Since the element of surprise is gone, there seems to be little reason not to take the offer and in a bizarre turn of events, a sit-down meal is soon being readied.

The leader of the Feni is a nondescript-looking woman called Urhalin. Dressed in the simple garments of the Feni, she bears no evidence of her seniority or authority, but she is apparently the most skilled mage among the Feni in the territory and that makes her the leader. Those who talk with Urhalin quickly discover there is more to her than it appears. She may be ignorant of much of Imperial life but she is shrewd and thoughtful and careful with her words.

She is frank that the Feni have little affection for the so-called "Heirs of Terunael". How could they? The Feni loathe Terunael - that Empire enslaved the gods and then killed them when they had no more secrets left to share. The Feni were less than slaves - treated like animals. They escaped Terunael when the vallorn emerged from the Land of Rivers and Rain to destroy everything in its path. The last thing, the very last thing the Feni want to do is cooperate with a group who call themselves the Heirs of Terunael.

The Heirs of Terunael's offer to show them how to live with the Vallorn does not impress Urhalin one iota. She has seen how they live: a pathetic, primitive existence, with no homes or camps. She frequently refers to the Heirs as "animals who have learned how to talk" in tones that make her contempt for them plain.

But they were desperate, and out of choices. The curse that lingers over the land - the one the Heirs claim the Empire put there - has rendered their people infertile. Such a curse can be endured for seasons... but not for years. Life here is bleak and without any hope of a future. Either the Feni find a way to break the curse - or they must flee these rich fertile forests and return to the open lands where the orcs and the Empire harass and attack them. They would do anything to break the curse - even consider allying with the hated Terunael, otherwise their attempt to build a life here will be for nothing.

They know that breaking the curse will allow the vallorn to become more active. Urhalin does not hate or fear the vallorn - her people call it the "Rain That Washed The World Clean". In their eyes the vallorn was a flood that swept Terunael away, freeing the Feni in the process. But they are not fools, they understand that the vallorn is a terrible danger - they know the risks they take living so close to the edge of its territory. But better to risk death and have hope of a life, than to wither to nothing without hope.

The dialogue is guarded but respectful and at the end of that fateful meeting Urhalin makes an offer to the Empire. The Feni will not give them away to the Heirs, they will tell them they are ready to do the ritual now. And when the Heirs come to Hotters Mire to help the Feni break the curse, the Empire can attack them and slaughter every one they can catch. So long as no member of the Feni are harmed, Urhalin and her people will not lift a finger to stop the Empire wiping out the Heirs.

A Quick Battle

The Empire have assembled a significant force of military units, with an effective strength of just over ten thousand. Enough to destroy Hotters Mire and overpower a large fighting force of Feni. The Heirs of Terunael, by comparison, bring just ninety people to Hotters Mire. Given the odds, it's not really fair to call it a fight... it's more like a massacre.

Still not everything goes the Empire's way. Druss, the leader of the Heirs is surprisingly spry for a man of his age, and is away like a startled cat at the first sign of trouble. If the Empire had sent more military units they would have had enough to catch him. As it is he only just slips through the fingers of the circling forces and one particular dedicated band of Navarr chase him all the way back to the very edge of the heart of the vallorn.

Most of the rest of them are not so fortunate and they quickly get what they deserve. Every single one of the survivors from the Cabal of the Green Mother who arrives at Hotters Mire is cut down. They have with them some great tree herald creature that lashes out with mighty branch-like fists... before it goes down under a hail of blows surrounded by a score of Navarr warriors. The Children of Yaw'nagrah do a little better and several of them manage to make a break for it but a hail of arrows from a contingent of Marchers ensures only one is able to get away.

Within an hour the Heirs of Terunael are no more. A handful manage to flee back towards the Vallorn, mostly Navarr but the number includes a few Varushkans and an Urizeni, so it seems unlikely that Druss can perform a ritual of any great magnitude with the forces he has left. All that remains now is to deal with Drustan, the leader of the Heirs of Terunael and the source of so much misery.

A Slow Aftermath

  • The Feni of Hotters Mire give warning to the Empire that they intend to seize control of Liaven's Glen
  • Henceforth the "Ambassador to the Feni", Watt of Lambrook should send any communication by winged messenger to Urhalin of Hotters Mire
  • Urhalin is sending two representatives to Anvil to discuss how to end the curse on Liathaven with the Navarr. They expect to arrive on the final day of the summit
Urhalin, Hotters Mire, Liaven Glade, Liathen.

After the fighting is over, Urhalin asks the Empire to withdraw. She pointedly reminds them that the Feni have kept their word and allowed the Empire to destroy the Heirs of Terunael. Now she wants them to keep their word and leave the Feni be.

She informs the Empire that the Feni intend to lay claim to Liaven's Glen, seizing it by force. She expresses her earnest wish that the Empire not take this as a provocation, but she is clear that they will not be dissuaded. This is their home now, and they mean to lay claim to the whole region.

She also asks that Watt of Lambrook be informed that if he has any further messages for the Feni from the Woods-That-Fell or from any other group of Feni living in Liathaven or the West, then he send those messages by Winged Messenger to Urhalin of Hotters Mire. Whatever his past crimes, his involvement in the butchery of Alderly, Watt has earned the right to speak with the Feni as an equal. Henceforth if he wishes to speak with the Feni, then he will send his message directly to Urhalin.

Finally, she mentions that the Feni are still eager to see the curse broken - if the Navarr are genuine about wanting to lift the baleful magic from Liathaven, then Urhalin will send a pair of Feni to speak with the vates at Anvil to discuss what might be done. The Feni possess... allies... who might be prepared to assist with lifting the curse which is why the Heirs sought their help.

UPDATE: With the conquest of Hotter's Mire following the Autumn Equinox 384YE (as detailed in the No Peace Wind of War, the feni spokesperson Urhalin has either been killed or forced to flee the settlement. As such it is no longer possible to send a winged messenger to them at the former "address."

We, the Navarr National Assembly, refute the claims that the followers of Yaw'nagrah are the "Heirs of Terunael". Terunael is DEAD, and all that is left is ashes and ruins. Navarr herself saw no purpose in bringing that failed empire back. We remind our nation that these cultists are simply that - cultists.

Iniska Ashwood, Navarr Assembly, Spring Equinox 384YE, (Upheld with a Greater Majority, 188-10)

A Change of Heart

  • The Navarr can pass a mandate that will create new opportunities for interactions with the Feni, at the cost of having less opportunities to investigate the past

Iniska Ashwood raised a judgement in the Navarr Assembly condemning the Heirs of Terunael as nothing but foolish cultists. The judgement passed with a greater majority and made clear that Terunael, the ancient civilisation from which all Navarr are descended is dead, leaving nothing but ashes and ruins.

The judgement strongly condemns the Heirs but it could also be interpreted to condemn Terunael itself. Such a condemnation is not uncontentious - more than a few Navarr believe that the great purpose of their nation has always been the restoration of the Terunael Empire, isn't that why they support the Empire? As the best mechanism by which the vallorn might be rolled back and civilisation rebuilt? Others are more sanguine, accepting that Terunael had many failings and that it was undone by mistakes of its own making. They are prepared to accept that the Navarr should move on from their past, that the Empire they are part of now is something new and that they should embrace that future and let the past go.

The Assembly could clarify whether it is their intent to encourage the Navarr to abandon the legacy of Terunael and move on by passing a suitable judgement. Corey Wayfarer came up with a proposed mandate that was much more strongly worded than that presented by the civil service (and so has superseded it).

"The Navarr take Pride in sacrifice and it clear we must sacrifice our links with past in order to gain allies that may help us in our future fight against the Vallorn. We send {named priest] with 50 doses of liao to encourage all Navarr to abandon our shameful past and move forward with new allies."

Synod Mandate, Navarr

If this mandate is passed then henceforth the Navarr will pay less attention to the mistakes of the past. They will be less obsessed with what happened at the fall of Terunael, clear about the failings of that nation and no longer think of themselves as its descendants and inheritors. The oaths of Navarr and Thorn will still bind the Navarr to their great sacrifice, to destroy the vallorn and end its threat together. But henceforth they will look around them for allies in the present, rather than looking backwards for the mistakes of the past.

It is clear that such a mandate will endear the Navarr to the Feni. There are scattered bands of Feni spread throughout the West and North of the Empire (there is at least one large group in Hercynia). According to Urhalin, all the Feni view Terunael as a great evil that the world was better off without. If the Navarr turn away from their history and distance themselves from the legacy of Terunael then there will be fewer opportunities for the Navarr to research the histories of the past, but more chances for potential cooperation between the Feni and the Navarr and any opportunities that might bring.

It will also influence those Navarr with an interest in history, such as those Fintan Nighthaven sought to address with their statement of principle. Rather than seeking out antiques, relics, and heirlooms that connect with Terunael and the vallorn, they will focus their attention on the heroes of the Navarr - especially those heroes who strove to build and maintain the Empire.

There is a final mandate provided by Fintan Nighthaven:

"The Navarr take Pride in sacrifice but we must not sacrifice our Pride. Pride tells us never to be ashamed of our past. Terunael is dead but from the ashes Navarr was formed. We send {named priest} with 50 doses of liao to remind Navarr of what we have achieved; with the aid of the Empire and since the fall of Terunael. We are Navarr - not Terunael. Take Pride in what we have achieved so far - one day the vallorn will be eradicated and we must plan for that future.

Synod Mandate, Navarr

If this mandate is enacted by the Navarr Assembly then it will encourage those Navarr with an interest in history to seek out antiques, relics, and heirlooms that connect with Terunael and the vallorn, exactly as above, but it won't be enough to persuade the Feni that Navarr have nothing to do with Terunael, so it won't create opportunities for cooperation with those people in the future.

Any Navarr can submit an alternative mandate, but the civil service are keen to point out that any mandate that attempts to engender positive opportunities from improved diplomacy with the Feni without sacrificing opportunities to delve further into Terunael's past will not succeed.

A Lurking Horror

  • The vallornspawn force in Liathaven has an effective strength of up to 15,000 if it emerged and attacked a neighbouring region
  • The forces of the vallorn are continually replenished by the magic that sustains it. Its strength would be ten times that figure if the Empire attacked a region of the vallorn in Liathaven that hadn't been suitably weakened first

After the discussions with the Feni are complete, most Imperial forces opt to withdraw. Any risk that a ritual to break the Wither the Seed curse that weakens the vallorn in Liathaven is ended and with it the source of that threat, the Heirs themselves. Druss remains an issue of course, but he is just one man now. He can be dealt with next time he dares to leave the heart of the forest.

What has not been dealt with is the vallorn itself. A lurking horror, the heart of the forest beats with supernatural life that destroys anything sent against it. When they were here last season, the Empire estimated the enemy's effective military strength at a mere 15,000 and some hotheads have suggested that such a force could easily be overcome. Wiser heads, those who have fought the vallorn before and understand the nature of the enemy are not so easily fooled.

The danger of the vallorn lies not in its numbers but in the speed with which it can replenish that strength. If the Empire attacked the vallorn in Liathaven, it might well be like fighting a campaign against an enemy with "only" 15,000 husks and other monsters - but that figure represents the limit of the strength that the vallorn can exert if it strikes out from its heart. If something (such as the Heirs) caused the vallorn to become active and its creatures to issue forth, then the Empire would be faced with a military force roughly equal to three armies that they would need to stop.

But if the Navarr were brave enough to attack the vallorn in the heart of its strength, they would take terrible casualties from the miasma, whilst the strength of the vallorn would be continually and eternally replenished. If the Empire were fighting the servants of the vallorn in territory affected by the vallorn curse, then every creature they struck down would be replaced within hours.

The only way the Navarr have ever found to take a region from the vallorn is to weaken the magic that sustains the vallorn. Traditionally that has been done using the power of the trods draining Spring magic away from the hearts until the curse can no longer maintain itself. When that happens, the magic tends to retrench, like a wilting plant that has been cut back. Then the Navarr can strike, and they and their allies can drive the vallornspawn from the area.

The only other time the Navarr have had success has been when the Heirs have provoked the vallorn to expand. Ironically, this does seem to make the vallorn more vulnerable - the more waves of vallornspawn that issue forth from the heart, the less life remains to sustain itself with. When the Empire has been able to fend off the attacks of the vallornspawn then there has been a brief window of opportunity during which the weakest region of the vallorn heart becomes vulnerable and can be reclaimed.

Estimates of the vallorn's strength are important in allowing the Navarr to assess what threat might issue forth, but they don't begin to define the horror that would happen if the vallorn were attacked while it was not vulnerable. The only way to attack the vallorn that has any possibility of success is to act when it is clear that region in question no longer provides the vallornspawn with near-constant regeneration. To attack at any other times is to invite certain disaster.