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Overview

As the year 381YE dawns, the campaigns against the barbarian orcs continue.

On the southern coast of Urizen, the Eastern Sky support the garrison of the Court of the White Fountain, eager to repel any Grendel advance - yet no such advance materialises. Indeed, it seems the main bulk of the southern orc forces has quit the territory, leaving a token force behind to maintain their presence among the captured spires in Naris.

In the west, the Black Thorns withdraw from southern Liathaven along the Paths of Lan Thúven, protected by Spring magic and leaving behind them a thousand ravenous winterbound cadavers to harry the Jotun. They are not retreating - they launch an attack into northern Liathaven, meeting the Freeborn Fire in the South in an attempt to liberate West Ranging. They come within a hair's breadth of doing so.

Shore Leave (Redoubt)

The Grendel have expanded into Redoubt. Now is the time for the Eastern Sky to do what they do best. We will match to redoubt and harass the enemy, slowing their advance by giving ground.

General Vincent Vexille of the Eastern Sky

The Eastern Sky march out of Spiral into Optarion, in eastern Redoubt. Blue and gold tents pool around the Court of the White Fountain, supporting the Urizen garrison. The knights, war-witches, and yeofolk of the third Dawnish army are ordered to avoid major engagements, but to slow the Grendel advance wherever possible. Some of the commanders are a little nonplussed, but for the most part the soldiers are more than happy to enjoy the hospitality of the Urizen.

While the army rests, the Heliopticon is busy. Light and dark flicker, bringing terse messages from the spires of the storm-tossed southern coast. From the fishing town of Elos comes news of a major raiding force turned aside by a warband of Imperial heroes. While the town suffered some damage, the orcs were prevented from burning it to the ground.

The remaining fishing boats and trading ships of Elos take shelter from the magical storms in their deep harbour, but with their spyglasses they keep as close an eye as they can on the orc force. They report that the majority of the Lasambrian ground forces have made a disciplined withdrawal back to their ships. The Grendel vessels have set their sails - some crimson, some emerald-green - and swiftly departed for open waters. They are not quick enough to outrun the wild Spring magic already taking hold across the southern coast of Urizen - some of their sails are tattered and torn by the time they pass beyond the ken of the watchers at Elos.

Not all the barbarian forces have departed. The Winter Solstice surprise attack left the orcs in possession of several southern spires. Rousting these remaining orcs would provide little challenge for an Imperial army, but while they remain the southern orcs have a foothold in Naris. Should the Grendel return, the forces left behind would aid them in seizing a beachhead here.

The main focus of the remaining forces appears to be the spire of Evenstar - the hospital where Urizen practitioners of Spring and Day magic worked their magical arts to treat the sick. This spire fell to the barbarians during the Winter solstice - one last desperate flickering of the Heliopticon marking its fall. "The orcs are here. The gate has fallen." Then silence.

Redoubt Game Information

The Grendel forces appear to have left Redoubt. While they do not control a region, their attack has established a foothold in Naris. It would be a simple matter for an Imperial army to use an appropriate attack order to clear the region of the remaining orcs, but while they remain they will make it easier for the Grendel to take a beachhead here should they return.

In campaign terms, victory points accrued toward conquering a region do not go away naturally and count toward future attempts to take that region. Victory points are only removed if a campaign army attacks the conquered areas.

Balance of Terror (Liathaven)

The Black Thorns walk the Paths of Lan Thúven. Bound with a powerful enchantment woven from Spring magic by the vates of the Voice of the Quiet Forest, they pass from the battlefield of Western Scout into the heart of the Westwood, bound for West Ranging.

Behind them, they leave chaos, and dead Navarr. Two hundred thorns sacrifice their lives to slow the orc advance long enough for the army to gather at the ruins of the Jotun-burnt steading of Hidden Walk; without the magic of the Quiet Forest, many more would have died. Yet as their new protective enchantment takes hold, the hungry dead bound to the Navarr army are let loose. A thousand spirit-ridden husks, a thousand slaughtered Navarr given a chance at vengeance against their murderers, a thousand winter horrors set free to follow their true nature...

As the Black Thorns enter the Paths of Lan Thúven, the dead let loose a single terrifying howl - a single cry voiced by ten-hundred unliving throats - and race through the woods toward the advancing Jotun. Unleashed, their furious hunger is indiscriminate - they fall on their former brothers and sisters with the same abominable relish with which they assail the orcs. While the potent magic woven to protect the Black Thorns blunts the worst of the attack, the last huddled groups following the Black Thorns through the Paths bear savage wounds, marks of the gluttonous hunger of the creatures they have unleashed.

Leaving the Jotun behind to face the unbound wrath of the dead, the army passes into the vallorn-choked Westwood. Shrouded with the Night magic woven into the pathway, four and a half thousand Navarr walk into the very jaws of their greatest foe. Through the asphyxiating miasma they walk. Through the green hell that is the riotous depth of the Doom of Terunael. No thorn who makes this journey will ever forget it - it is one thing to range into the vallorn as scouts, as small bands; quite another to march an army into the deeps.

The magic protects those who keep to the path - but the journey is not without its dangers. Stray too far to the left or the right; miss one of the boundary stones; fail to pass through one of the arches... the alien beasts that dwell in the depths of the vallorn strike without warning and the miasma allows little room for mistakes. Yet, still, the Black Thorns are protected; the magic of Spring can bring terrible death, but it also brings life. Those injured by Jotun axes, or torn by unliving claws, quickly recover from their wounds. While the paths do not lie along a trod, the enchanted soldiers find it easy to push themselves forward. Anything to get to the far end of the Paths as soon as possible.

As soon as possible ... Time has little meaning on the Paths of Lan Thúven. The trees grow impossibly thick in the Westwood, blocking out the sky. The fog of the miasma chokes everything. Even at noon, little light penetrates the canopy, leaving everything shrouded in twilight. At night ... at night it is sometimes worse. The plants and insects near the paths possess an eerie phosphorescence, rendering the depths of midnight into that same encompassing twilight. Objectively, it takes a little under a week to pass from south to north. Subjectively ... hard to say. Even measured in sleep, it is difficult to track exactly how long the journey takes. One soldier may be famished, thirsty, stumbling near exhaustion while her companion is satiated, full of energy. It makes little sense.

Eventually, though, the Black Thorns emerge coughing, blinking, into the southern woodlands of Jotun-held West Ranging. They take one night to rest in the ruins of Silent Stand steading. And then they attack.

We have an opportunity, cousins, to make the Jotun pay for their invasion of Kahraman and the brutality they have shown us. March swiftly to join our Navarri cousins and make the Jotun bleed.

General Vrael i Sol-Devorador i Erigo of the Fire of the South

As the Black Thorns strike from Silent Stand into the forests on the southern border of northern Liathaven, a second Imperial force drives into the territory from the north. The Freeborn of the Fire of the South have made their own march, north out of Kahraman, through Tassato, through Upwold, and Mitwold, and down into the marshes of Bregasland. A heroic charge, a testament to the ferocity and the stamina of the soldiers of the Bay of Catazar. They, too, rest for a single night after their mad rush, a sea of rainbow tents along the causeway east of Sallow, and then into West Ranging with the aid of the flat-bottomed boats of the marshfolk.

The Jotun garrisons are alert for a potential invasion, but they are looking north - not south. When the Freeborn enter the woodlands, they are ready for them, ready to fight - but not half so ready for the Navarr who strike from the south, from out of the vallorn. The first engagement is a rout - the orcs fall back as soon as they see the Navarr, clearly mistaking them for some new horror out of the Westwood. They rally quickly, however, once it becomes clear that they are facing a mortal threat.

The defenders are outclassed, but they are stubborn. The two Imperial armies exchange messengers, and moving quickly and with sure purpose meet up and turn their attention to the last Jotun holdouts. They hold nothing back, but in the end it appears that the long years the Jotun have had to prepare for a serious Imperial assault have worked in their favour. The Imperial forces have taken most of the region, but there are still pockets of orc resistance. Worse, as news spreads of the Imperial attack, Jotun bands from Liath Ring and Liavens Glen begin to harry the Imperials from the east.

The Imperials fail to secure the region, but they are very close. The Jotun still control the lightly fortified ruins of the former Navarr steading of Seveneaves, and two or three key points along the route between Hahnmark and the Mournwold. If nothing changes, the Empire could secure these final objectives next season. If nothing changes...

Liathaven Game Information

Imperial forces have gained a very significant foothold in West Ranging - but they have fallen short of the number of victory points required to secure the beachhead by one victory point.

At the same time, the Jotun have removed all trace of an Imperial presence in Western Scout, conquering that region.

As there are no Imperial-controlled regions in Liathaven, the standard penalty to the production of personal resources now applies.

With a second Jotun conquest of southern Liathaven, with the Jotun fury directed at the Navarr, and with the call to rally around the Black Thorns, we assume there is now no significant Navarr presence remaining in the territory. Going forward, we will assume that the only Navarr steadings and stridings still based in Liathaven are player character groups. While this will not prevent spoils of war being assessed should the territory be recaptured, the lack of Imperial citizens and non-Jotun infrastructure means the territory would require extensive rebuilding, regardless of which Imperial nation the Senate assigns the territory to.

Liathaven Participation

Any Navarr character who wishes to roleplay that they accompanied the Black Thorns through the Paths of Lan Thúven is welcome to do so. Any character who assigned their military unit to support the Navarr army may also have accompanied them through the Westwood, or they may roleplay that their troops joined the army once it reached West Ranging. While the Black Thorns were protected by the magic woven into the Paths, and by the enchantment woven by the Voice of the Quiet Forest, passing through a vallorn is not a safe proposition and medical supplies are in high demand. If you accompanied the Black Thorns, you may e-mail plot@profounddecisions.co.uk and request a traumatic wound to represent your exposure to the vallorn.

Devil in the Dark (Weirwater and the Barrens)

The Golden Sun and the Gryphon's Pride withdraw from the Barrens, marching west to Astolat. Murderdale and the Carmine Fields - temporarily under Imperial control - are claimed by the Druj...

... and that is all anyone in Dawnguard can say with any certainty.

I have everything I wanted. You are no longer my responsibility.

Goran Dobromir

The situation in Weirwater is also a little uncertain. Since they emerged from Karsk and crossed the Semmerlak in Summer last year, the army of the unquiet dead has avoided direct conflict wherever possible. Oh, their march has hardly been bloodless - they are flesh hungry shambling cadavers after all - but for the most part they have actively avoided confrontation with Imperial forces. Even when they were engaged in Astolat by the Golden Axe, and the defenders of the Castle of Thorns, they preferred to retreat rather than fight Imperial forces. They spent the last season spread across south-western Weirwater - beneath the trees of Garthsmoor, Weirsmoor, and Hawksmoor.

On the last night of the Winter Solstice, something happens. According to eye-witnesses from Applefell and Hawthorn, the green corpse-lights and emerald fires that mark the presence of these dangerous horrors suddenly flared up, turning rapidly from green to blue to purple to red. At the same time, thousands of unliving throats let loose an unspeakable, gleeful howling that froze the blood of those who heard it, and sent all save the most courageous fleeing for home.

Then ... nothing.

Some brave knights-errant, and a handful of curious questing knights stride forth to explore the area. A number do not return, but those that do say that the unliving abominations are still there - gathered together in the wild hills and tangled woods of eastern Hawksmoor. They are not shy about attacking and attempting to devour living intruders, and there are a few more garbled reports that farms and homesteads nearby have been found empty or splashed with dried blood. Yet they do not seem to be ranging very far afield and fairly soon the yeofolk of western Weirwater learn to avoid the areas where they are likely to be encountered.

Weirwater and the Barrens Game Information

In the Barrens, Dawn - and thus the Empire - now controls only the region of Dawnguard. The Druj control the rest of the Barrens. There is no further information about what is going on - although there is a spy network in the Barrens and it is possible that any military units assigned to support the scouts there may have more information.

Thanks to the peace treaty ratified by the Empire during the Winter Solstice 380YE, the Druj orcs are now considered foreigners under Imperial law.

In Weirwater, there is still a significant force of unliving husks. They appear similar to those created with a certain dark Winter magic enchantment. The bulk of the unnatural force is focused in western Hawksmoor. It represents a major force, comparable to a campaign army.

Wolf in the Fold (Skarsind)

Find Dogri Thulebane. Bring him to Justice. Alive and Whole.

General Akstis Eigulys of the Army of the Iron Helms

Out of the east, the Iron Helms march. Three stzena lead the way, beating drums. Behind them comes a standard bearer, holding the black and silver banner of the Iron Helms, raised for the first time in many years. Behind the banner march the warriors of Varushka, and their allies. Five thousand soldiers of the hills and the forests, grim faced and implacable. Most are clad in tightly woven scale, the finest the artisans of Karsk can forge. Others prefer the freedom of movement offered by dark leather lamellar. The black plumes on their peaked helms flutter in the cold wind blowing down from the northern mountains. Their round shields are slung on their back. Their heavy swords, their sharp axes, are sheathed.

Ranging to either side of the column are the dog handlers, their muzzled beasts restrained by tough leather leashes. One word will send them racing into the enemy to harry, to trip, to savage. Another word will cause them to fall on downed warriors, tearing at throats and bellies until the enemy is so much bleeding meat. It is a cliché that people grow to look like their dogs... but with their pugnacious jaws, wild hair, growling voices - the houndsmasters of the Iron Helms seem to prove it true. They fight beside their hounds, and there are stories - whispers - tales - that on nights when the moon is dark they hunt alongside them through the forests of Lestasny, wrapped in the skin of wolves.

There are other beasts among the Iron Helms. Toward the rear of the column march a hundred eerie warriors hailing from the hills of Branoc. They wear fur and boiled leather, and they are adorned with black feathers. Their faces are painted white, in disturbing patterns. They look a little more like Kallavesi, or Navarr, than true Varushkans. Many of their fellow soldiers give them a wide berth, and when they camp their yurts are raised a short distance from the others. There are said to be a number of cabalists among them, privy to the unsettling secret lore of the Lord of the Broken Barrow. When they enter Skarsind, they seem fascinated by the Imperial Orcs, and there are rumours that some of them have fought alongside the Thule, as well as against them, during the recent campaigns in Karsk.

Above the column drift night-feathered carrion birds. In the evening and the morning, they crowd in the trees, croaking and muttering to one another. Some of the soldiers - just a few - are seen speaking to the birds as night falls. What they discuss, and who these soldiers are, is not a topic for open discussion.

The Iron Helms come to Skarsind, along the road from Olvanshka to Gildenheim. They camp outside the orc city for a night, then leave the good roads behind them. They march north through Estermark, past the ruins of the Four-Seasons Market, up into the Skogei Glens. They travel quickly, and at night their tents huddle close together - they are Varushkan and do not like much being in the wilds in the dark. They spend three nights and two days at Hengesthal, where the commanders study maps and ask questions of the Imperial Orcs who garrison the fortification. The fortification is also where they meet three magistrates; a Varushkan, an Imperial Orc, and a Suaq from Hahnmark. They will accompany the army as it heads into the hills. Perhaps their presence adds greater legitimacy to what is to come.

There is a little frustration among some of the captains, especially those from the mines of Moresvah. "There are quicker ways to break a castle that to lay siege to it," one of them declares. "You break a castle by breaking the people inside." They have their orders, however, and while they may mutter, they will follow them.

One cold, wet morning at the tail end of Winter, while Spring is hanging immanent in the air, the Iron Helms march up the narrow mountain track that is the only approach to Crow's Keep. They do not come stealthily. Their banners are unfurled; their stzena beat loud and hard on their drums; the soldiers raise their voices in the war anthem of the Empire. Their tone is dark, however; they impart to the celebration of Imperial martial might a certain cold edge, a threat, a promise of things to come.

They have sent runners ahead, to tell the defenders of Crow's Keep that they are coming, and that they expect to be met by Dogri Thulebane, and by the criminals he shelters. The messengers meet them halfway up the mountain, the response of the Winterfolk a predictable silence.

The castle is no great fortification, but the approach is well guarded and difficult. There are a great many people on the walls - heavily armoured Steinr soldiers, leather-clad Suaq archers, and masked Kallavesi warriors. Scouts suggest Dogri's little army of perhaps five hundred disgruntled Winterfolk has been reinforced. How much, and who by, is difficult to say. They are believed to be independent captains, angry with the ceding of Skarsind and the Silver Peaks, hungry for a chance to strike against the hated Thule, bitter that their grievances have gone unheard. Few in the Iron Helms care one way or another.

A second warning is given. "Hand over Dogri Thulebane, and the criminals he shelters, or we will come and take them."

From the ramparts, a voice calls out "You will take no man or woman of Wintermark this day. Go back, or we will make you go back." They are outnumbered perhaps ten times by the Varushkan army, but they seem unbowed by the threat arrayed against them. The heirs of Inge Suvvisdottir truly believe the storm can never break them.

One last time, a message is delivered. One final chance to avoid what is to come.

"Any who wish may leave, save Dogri Thulebane and the criminals he shelters. An oath is given that any who quit the castle now, and offer themselves to the custody of the magistrates, will be unharmed."

Nobody moves. Minutes tick by. One of the Suaq on the wall raises their bow and sends two arrows thudding into the cold earth two feet in front of the messenger. She flinches but does not move. She nods her head to the Winterfolk, turns her back on them, and walks casually back to the army to deliver their final refusal.

Ten minutes later, the siege begins in earnest. It is not quite as one-sided as might be expected. Crow's Keep survived countless attacks by the northern barbarians, survived even the occupation of the Thule, because of its isolated position and the difficulty of the approach - a single bridge over a fast flowing river gorge is the only reliable approach. Further, Dogri has received significant support from the captains of Wintermark - most with their shields and faces hooded, their identities known only to Dogri himself. They fight alongside the people of Crow's Keep with equal fervour, and if they feel remorse at slaying fellow Imperial citizens that does not stay their hands. Any more than it stays the hands of the Varushkan soldiers.

The only approach to the outer gate, the gate that provides access to the stone bridge across the river, is via a narrow pass. Two hundred warriors hold the outer fort against the Varushkans for nearly a fortnight. The Iron Helms probe for weakness, attacking over and over, but each time they find little that they can exploit and are forced to fall back. They are patient, however, and while the loss of Imperial life on both sides is grim it is not half so terrible as it might be had their commander ordered an all-out assault.

Eventually, the pressure of the Varushkan warriors breaches the gate. The fighting in the courtyard beyond is vicious, but the defenders retreat back across the bridge in good order taking advantage of the barricades they have had plenty of time to erect. The Varushkans occupy the outer fort and again probe for weaknesses. The defenders have deep cellars - if the Iron Helms hope to starve them out they will be sorely disappointed. Several sorties across the bridge end in defeat for the Iron Helms, and for a short time the defenders begin to hope that they might hold out until the Spring Equinox.

Yet the Varushkans hold the advantage and they never give up testing the defences. A little over a month after the gate is breached, they launch the final assault. It begins with a dark shadow falling over the keep - as a screaming murder of black crows descends on the walls, talons tearing and beaks seeking the eyes of the marksmen. Covered from the archers, the implacable, heavily armoured schlacta advance, bearing great shields and vicious axes that can maim and cripple. Behind them come the hounds and their handlers, snarling and savage.

The fighting rages for over an hour as the Wintermarkers force the Helms to pay a blood price for every step they take across the bridge. But the Varushkans give as good as they get and their war hounds exact a terrible price, tearing out the throats of those who fall. Both sides keep their discipline and follow their orders - but this cruel Varushkan army was bred for bloody killing and the stones run red wheresoever they tread.

If the Wintermarkers had had another score of archers or the same for their shield wall they would surely have thrown the Varushkans back once more. But for want of a shield the wall is lost - and the battle with it. The horn sounds and the few surviving defenders fall back to the Keep. Behind them the stones are washed clear by the light rain that has begun to fall. The skies weeping, perhaps.

The main gate of Crow's Keep was built to withstand raiding orcs, not an Imperial army. The Iron Helms bring up a covered battering ram, carefully navigating it over the stone bridge. Carved from a single weirwood tree, swinging on mighty chains, its hideous head of greensteel shaped in the likeness of a ravening wolf bound with runes and oaths. The Hammer, they call it, and when they set it to the gates of Crow's Keep, the gates fall swiftly before it.

Once the castle is finally breached, blood is shed in earnest. These confined spaces still favour the defenders more than the attackers, but both sides sense the final battle has begun. As the Iron Helms struggle to bring the full force of their army to bear, the Winterfolk fight to defend their home. These warriors toughened by the harsh winters of northern Skarsind seek no quarter, as they fight against those who have come to take their home and the last vestige of their pride with it.

Soon the army has secured the fortification. Many of the surviving defenders have fled, ordered by Dogri to escape with their lives through a hidden postern gate when it is clear that the battle is lost. But Dogri and those closest to him make no attempt to flee. Shortly after noon, the last warriors of Crow's Keep take a stand in the Thane's great hall. They do not bar the doors, do not seal themselves in. They wait inside stone walls, walls that have stood for over two centuries, for the invaders to come to them.

The Iron Helms pause; there is a discussion about how best to proceed. One of the captains wants to simply set fire to the hall and let the flames solve their problem. Her argument that this will save Varushkan lives is dismissed out of hand, before any magistrate can intervene. The general has been very clear how this battle will end. Dogri Thulebane and his collaborators will be arrested and will face trial. The order is given. The dogs are leashed, the physicks and chirurgeons are called forth to await the word; once the hall is secured they will fight their own grim battle to ensure Dogri and his lieutenants are whole and hale enough to stand trial.

The Iron Helms of Varushka charge the hall of the last Thane of Skarsind and Crow's Keep falls.

Skarsind Game Information

Dogri Thulebane has been captured - alive - by the Iron Helms along with several of his key supporters. In the process, most of his five-hundred person strong army is killed, with the remainder scattered or arrested. In doing so, however, over two-hundred Iron Helms were killed or otherwise rendered unable to continue fighting. Crow's Keep itself has fallen, and is effectively ruined.

Prior to closing downtime, we had agreed a set of numbers that would determine the outcome. Specifically, if Dogri received the support of 1500 more strength from player characters than the Iron Helms received, he would hold off the Imperial army this season. In the end it was incredibly close - so close in fact that it was effectively decided by a single upgraded military unit supporting the Iron Helms.

The region of Crow's Ridge is now considered to be under the control of the Imperial Orcs.

Going forward, on the back of this outcome, Profound Decisions will assume that there is no remaining significant population of Winterfolk in Skarsind. There remain some player character halls, but they are isolated and exceptional and it is our assumption that their numbers will slowly dwindle. It is no longer possible for new Wintermark players to start with their resources in Skarsind.

Skarsind Participation

If you are a player character who fought alongside Dogri, you are assumed to escape safely and without being recognised. Alternatively, you can choose to have been caught along with Dogri during the final assault on the Thane's Hall. If you choose this course of action, you must e-mail and let us know in advance. You will need to turn up to GOD before going in-character to talk to a magistrate about your situation. You don't need to have sent a military unit to take this option, but be aware that you will be tried for murder and resisting arrest alongside Dogri and his other supporters, and the common sentence for crimes of this magnitude is death.

If you supported Dogri and choose not to be captured, you are free to roleplay the events of his arrest as you see fit, in line with the text above. It is important to note, however, that in accordance with their orders the Iron Helms have not committed any sort of atrocity at Crow's Keep. Nobody has been put on spikes, nobody was tortured, nobody was burnt alive. They have killed people who did not surrender to them, and some of those who fell were killed by trained dogs, and nobody who went down fighting received any medical attention to prevent them dying, but they have all died fighting.

Patterns of Force (Spiral)

We will continue to bide our time, prepare to move in the coming season.

General Coiska Graemovna Sulich of the Army of the Northern Eagle

For three months, powerful storms batter the southern coast of Spiral; Spring magic unleashed against the Grendel. In the north, Urizen citizens begin to cautiously rebuilding. Some return to spires they fled ahead of the initial Grendel conquest, others seek to establish new homes for themselves and their families.

The Green Shield of Wintermark and the Northern Eagle of Varushka defend them. Their orders are to hold fast, and make the enemy work for any land they claim, should they dare to attack. Neither army receives a share of the Imperial Guerdon; neither army is supported by any significant force of Imperial captains. The heroic Wintermark army receives some support, although it comes from no natural source. A thousand crawling corpses inhabited by the hungry spirits of Winter come to join the mortal soldiers. They possess the bodies of dead Grendel orcs and fallen Imperial soldiers alike, bringing the shambling unliving horrors to guard the newly liberated spires.

Unfortunately, after a season of regrouping, the Grendel launch a major offensive in the north and the west. They are supported by marines, and by Grendel naval forces, but even without them - and with the added unliving forces - the Imperial defenders are massively outnumbered. The orcs flood Ossuary, capturing the Legacy and then using it as a base from which to quickly crush resistance in the rest of the territory. Imperial forces are driven west toward Ankra. At the same time, a tide of orcs washes over Ateri - scant days after the Eastern Sky march through the region into Redoubt to support the Court of the White Fountain - and force the Imperial forces there north toward Cinion. The Green Shield and the Northern Eagle do their best to hold, but they are slowly forced to cede ground - as the Spring Equinox draws closer, the orc armies begin to tighten their noose.

A major fraction of the orcs pressing north from Ateri pull back - giving a few scant days of brief hope that their attack is over. That hope dies swiftly when it becomes clear they have moved through Screed to add additional weight to the armies pressing west from Ossuary. Before the Imperial forces can do much more than evacuate a couple of newly repaired spires, they are forced to retreat again, pushed back into Cinion. Both armies rally there, amid the ruins of Damakan's Forge.

The orcs keep coming, probing the Imperial defences. As on several previous occasions, the orc generals demonstrate a remarkable ability to coordinate their attacks, and to respond to Imperial strategy with alacrity. Individual soldiers fight with iron-clad discipline, and on more than one occasion warbands react to events they cannot possibly have been directly aware of, moving to support and relieve allied soldiers with ruthless efficiency. This goes beyond anything achievable with tactics - Urizen seers are left in no doubt that the orcs are making great use of their mastery of Day magic. Ironic, perhaps.

We are to hold our ground. No matter the cost. The power of Winter sent death is with us. The Storm can never break us.

General Iron Osric of the Green Shield Army

For the most part the orcs are concentrating on conquering territory and driving off defenders - but they are still the Grendel. Several thousand orcs are more focused on grabbing anything of value that they can get their hands on. This slows their advance a little ... but that is scant consolation to those they are robbing. In addition to raiding the mithril produced by the Legacy, they have also raided the Dragons Graveyard and the Mavrisma Níki in Ossuary and the Procella_Viridis in Cinion.

They are also rounding up as many captives as possible, and sending them south. Where Grendel and Imperials clash, where the human armies are forced to retreat, the orcs push after them, looking to divide their forces and capture stragglers. Over the course of the season, nearly three thousand Winterfolk and Varushkans are lost - but it is not clear how many have fallen in battle and how many have been captured by the opportunistic Grendel. The fate of those warriors who have been captured is not bright; those who do not die in the salt mines will surely be set to spill out their life blood in the Grendel arenas.

Spiral Game Information

The Grendel have regained control of Spiral. They have captured Ossuary, Ateri, and Ankra. They have made even some minor inroads into Cinion. The territory is now controlled by the barbarian orcs - it is no longer an Imperial territory and the Senator for Spiral has lost their seat. They have also captured the Legacy, meaning that the current holder of that Bourse seat has also lost their seat.

The plundering Grendel armies have intercepted a portion of the mithril produced by the Ossuary; they have also impacted the production of three spoils of war: the Dragons Graveyard, Mavrisma Níki, and Procella Viridis. If they continue to plunder in Spiral, the production of these resources will continue to be impacted. It would be possible to protect them from Grendel thieves using appropriate ritual magic. At the moment the production of the other significant resources has not yet been impacted, but if the Grendel continue their advance that situation may change.

Let That Be Your Last Battlefield (Mournwold)

The Enemy come for us and we will bleed them. Fall back before them, killing as you go. Give Ground. Fall back to Tassato if needs be, They may take the ground, but this is not over.

General Gabriel Barossa of the Wolves of War

During the Winter Solstice, heroes of the Empire made a cunning strike deep into the orc-held territory and recovered a communique from the rulers of the Jotun, detailing their strategy for the coming season. They know when the orcs are coming, and where they will strike. Armed with this information they prepare a brutal trap for the enemy.

At Overton on the Greensward, the Imperial host gathers. Forty-five thousand soldiers, give or take; supported by a further twelve thousand troops loyal to independent captains. All the nations save Navarr are represented. The Red Wind Corsairs; the Hounds of Glory; the Seventh Wave and the Valiant Pegasus; the Summer Storm and the Winter Sun; the Wolves of War; the Fist of the Mountains; the Citadel Guard; and the first Marcher army, Tom Drake's Finest, gather in the shadow of Orchard's Watch to face the Jotun advance they know is coming.

The Golden Axe of Varushka march alone into Freemoor, forging a grinding advance intended to distract the Jotun forces. While the rest of the Imperial forces gather in the south, prepared to blunt the Jotun assault and then retreat to Tassato if need be, the Varushkans launch a risky attack against Jotun forces in the north.

Not all the Imperial forces are prepared to retreat, however. The Drakes - the first army of the Marches - the only Marcher army present - refuses to retreat. They plant their feet firmly in the soil of the Greensward, and challenge the Jotun to face them. The Valiant Pegasus consider only the wounded - having exchanged the expertise of their war engineers for the mastery of the Highborn apothecaries and chirurgeons. They will tend the injured, and stay in the Mourn as long as there are soldiers to be healed.

Sentinels of the Citadel Guard, we are where we are needed. We are in enemy territory. Here, through me, through you, we will pull down curses and enchantments to cripple our enemies the Jotun. You are the finest warriors of the Empire. We will make them bleed. We will make them break. Make me proud.

General Nicassia Avicia of Phoenix Reach, of the Citadel Guard

The Empire is prepared for the Jotun advance and more than prepared. The presence of the magi of the Citadel Guard has allowed the Empire to focus powerful ritual curses onto the Mournwold. On the first night after the Winter Solstice, the heavy rain thickens with pestilence, turning blood red. The streams and rivers are next - tainted by malign Spring magic that infests the waterways and brings venomous insects, promotes sickness, and causes any wound to fester and rot.

On the second night, a cold wind sighs from the east, bringing with it the promise of worse to come. From that point on, the weak and the sick in the Mournwold begin to die. Most pass silently, painlessly in their sleep. The curse seems to take away the pain and suffering of dying - but at a terrible price. Once the fighting start it is clear that this second curse will take its toll on the warriors as well. Already prone to slow death from rotting wounds due to the Spring magic, even those who might otherwise have had the strength to survive infected wounds quickly succumb, dying suddenly with a single, final, sighing exhalation. There are reports here and there of an odd figure being sighted near some of those who die - a matronly woman with a kind face, and a quiet voice, clad in autumnal browns. She does not speak to the living, only those who later succumb to their wounds, or their sickness, or their exhaustion. Her description is circulated, but it does little to stop the stories of her appearances.

Every step the Jotun take in the Mourn will be over the bodies of their dead. We will give ground, but they will pay such a price, they will never recover. Our unconquered will learn the details of their imminent defeat, and with this, write the first page in the story of how the Jotun were broken.

General Cuth of the Seventh Wave

The Valiant Pegasus does its best to minimise the effects of the twin curses on the soldiers of the Empire, but the people of the Mourn are too dispersed to be given effective aid. Nearly one in five of those who call the Mourn home sicken and die as the baleful magics run their course. The sickness and death are indiscriminate, killing Jotun thralls and Feni hunters just as easily as Marcher yeoman. Greensward, where the fighting is thickest, is particularly badly hit - with more than half the inhabitants of the area succumbing to the disease.

For the first month or so, as the power of the curses takes hold, the Jotun launch several probing attacks against the defenders of the Greensward. They are easily repulsed. Then, five weeks after the Winter Solstice, the Jotun come in force against Overton ... but they are outnumbered. Even with their heroic champions, even with the support of the garrisons of their fortified castles, they do not match the host the Empire has arrayed against them.

This does not stop them, however. Yet this time they are a little more cautious, more balanced in their approach. They provide an escort for the siege weapons of the Tower of the North - a forest of trebuchet, siege towers, and battering rams ready to storm the walls of Orchard's Watch. In the vanguard come the Iron Host and the Hierro, forcing those troops outside the castle to fall back again and again.

The walls of Orchard's Watch, battered again and again over the course of the last year, do not provide much resistance to the orc assault. The gatehouse falls within an hour, and the Jotun do not stop pounding the walls until they have breached them in several places. Only then do the catapults fall silent and the footsoldiers pour in, a raging tide of barbarian orcs thirsty for blood.

Marcher Lasses, Marcher Lads, the Jotun hammerblow is about to fall upon us. We have their orders, we know where and when they are coming for us and we shall make them pay. We will enact a solid defence and yield not one patch of Mournwold soil, unless it is drenched in Jotun blood. It is the will of the council that ground is given, so that the Jotun will be broken. We accept this, but it is not the Marcher Way! Land is our heart and soul, it is who we are - do not blame our allies for their lack of understanding. The Golden Axe of Varushka, they are the only army to stand and not withdraw. Treat their soldiers as you would our own, we will not forget their sacrifices. Orchard's Watch will be our last bastion, if we must we fight and hold there - aye as a last stand if need be. Now - to war! For the Mournwold!

General Will Talbot of the Drakes

It is obvious they are not prepared for the full effect of the Imperial curses, not really. The Thule, the Druj, the Grendel - they would have understood all the implications of the red water, perhaps even the sighing wind. The Jotun are warriors, not magicians. If there are any among their host who understood the true horror that was to come, their voices went unheard.

The fall of Overton takes twelve hours of some of the worst, bloodiest, foulest fighting in Imperial history. The defenders are ordered to fall back rather than fight - to slow the advance of the Jotun rather than halt it. When the walls fall, they continue to fight a slow retreat - an ordered retreat rather than a route - pushing through the Jotun forces that seek to surround them.

Overton falls, and with it the castle of Orchard's Watch - reduced to rubble. The garrison refuses to flee, ignoring their orders they follow the example of the Drakes. All of them, even the reserves from Whittle new-come from Tassato, stand to the last. Shortly after, Greensward Abbey burns, the defence supported by the old abbot and his loyal monks. They too refuse to fall back, Marchers to the end they refuse to yield their land... until death takes them.

Hour by hour the Empire cede the ground to the orcs... but the Jotun pay an unspeakable price. Perhaps ten thousand of their number die in the attack on Orchard's Watch alone. Another thousand fall taking the Abbey. A further thousand lost trying - and failing - to capture the Singing Caves from the Drakes - those same Drakes who refuse to give ground save where they are forced back by the sheer weight of the Jotun advance. After Overton falls, they make a stand at the Caves - and they hold them against the Jotun.

The battle of the Greensward rages on and off for three days. The soil is churned to mud by the shed blood, and by the thick, bitter rain that continues to fall throughout the conflict. In the end, orc bodies litter the torn fields of the Greensward like fallen leaves.

And not only orc bodies. The twin curses the Imperial have unleashed scythe through the defenders as well. All told, perhaps three thousand Imperial soldiers are killed who would otherwise have survived the orc assault - three thousand men and women succumb to wounds that might otherwise have been treatable. Despite the order to give ground, despite the efforts of the Valiant Pegasus, three thousand soldiers die from the lethal combination of the Spring sickness and the sighing Winter wind.

In the end, although the Imperial host is forced back, it is not forced out of the Mourn entirely. The Jotun control most of the region - but not the whole of the territory. Some of their forces were forced to fight in the north against the Varushkans, rather than aid the attack on Overton. While the Golden Axe is ultimately forced back across the border into Upwold, rallying at Sutton Stone Quarries, they manage to pin down a significant Jotun force that might otherwise have swung the battle in the south.

At the same time, supported by the Valiant Pegasus, the Drakes refuse to give an inch of ground more than they need to, and the Jotun cannot afford to ignore them. The independent captains, the enchantments, the careful strategy ... if any one of these had been incomplete, the Jotun would have gained ultimate victory ... rather than the Pyrrhic victory they have instead secured.

Mournwold Game Information

The Jotun have almost secured control of the Greensward. The Empire has a few holdouts along the eastern borders and at the Singing Caves but their position is extremely precarious.

An absolutely astonishing number of people - orcs and humans - have died. And not just soldiers. The combination of Rivers Run Red and the eerie, sighing Winter wind have killed a sixth of the civilian population across the Mournwold as well as more than half of the remaining population of the Greensward.

As a consequence, the Greensward has gained the haunted quality; the ghosts of those who died in the fall of Overton will not rest easily. And there are a great many of them. Their suffering has sunk into the soil itself - it will take a lot more than a few exorcisms to lay these spirits to rest - and that may well be impossible. Further, the destruction of almost every single significant building over the last nine months or so, culminating in the fall of the only major settlement, has also given the region the ruins quality - although that may be easier to deal with should the Empire ever look to rebuild in the Mournwold.

The castle of Orchard's Watch has been destroyed and with it the sinecure of the Sheriff of Overton. Likewise, Greensward Abbey is in ruins, and the abbot is numbered among the fallen. If you had a personal resource in the Mournwold that you were roleplaying was in the Greensward, and you wish it to be a casualty of the battle for the greensward, you may contact Profound Decisions at plot@profounddecisions.co.uk and we will destroy it for you.

There are too many factors to call out any one specific element that led to this result - the three armies who were not using Give Ground helped to blunt the Jotun advance, but so did the various enchantments and military units assigned to support the armies here. The result was extremely close - as little as one more victory point for the orcs, and the whole territory would have fallen (meaning any future attempt by the Empire to push the Jotun back would have required them to establish a new beachhead. As it is, the Empire still maintains a presence here - at least for the moment.

Major Conjunctions

The civil service has identified five major conjunctions of the Sentinel Gate that are expected to be available during the coming summit.

On Saturday, two major conjunctions have been identified - but the heroes of the Empire will only be able to take advantage of one of them. One opens in West Ranging, in northern Liathaven. The other opens in the Greensward, in southern Mournwold. The civil service are still compiling notes, but anticipate that both opportunities offer a chance to have a significant impact on the campaign against the Jotun.

On Sunday, three conjunctions have been identified that will allow Imperial heroes to engage the Grendel in Spiral - but again only one can be taken advantage of. One opens in Cinion, while the other two both open in different parts of Ateri. The Cinion conjunction offers an opportunity to head off a Grendel attack against the region, and deny them a potential advantage. The two conjunctions in Ateri both offer chances to disrupt Grendel slave-taking operations.

In addition to these major conjunctions, the civil service report a number of smaller, more traditional conjunctions that all seem to open into locations around Ossuary that seem to culminate in a significant conjunction on Saturday evening, one suitable for a use by a large force of Imperial heroes (OOC: a skirmish).

By the time of the Spring Equinox summit, the civil service will have completed reports for each of the five major conjunctions, which will be presented to the generals during the Muster. The final decision about which two major conjunctions to exploit, and who will take part in the battles, is the heavy responsibility of the generals alone.