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Reuben stared at the makeshift stockade and wondered at the Virtue of it all. Normally they would just push on past a settlement like this - there were barely a hundred people living here, perhaps half a dozen of whom were now armed and manning the defences. Armed was pushing it a little, bows yes, but they were short hunting bows, not the long war bows normally favoured by the Druj. He seriously doubted they'd have the strength to punch through armour at anything beyond short rage. An assortment of knives, one or two with axes. There was no threat here to an Imperial army. Truth was, there was barely a threat for one unit here.

But the location was just too close to their supply lines to risk leaving behind them, so here he was, "conquering the Barrens". When he'd signed up to join the Valiant Pegasus with Hannah and Levi he'd imagined something more Courageous than fighting peasants with hunting implements. He ought to be grateful he told himself. The war against the Druj was a murderous grind, they'd pushed the orcs back, but only just. The Barrens was a vast land and the enemy were making them bleed for every inch.

He hailed Tamas as the man walked back, still carrying the white flag he'd used to parlay. The priest had been talking with the Black Wind Orcs for nearly half an hour. He'd used that time to get his hopes up, surely it was a sign he might be making progress. But Tamas only shook his head, and confirmed what he already knew - the orcs were refusing to surrender.

He let out his breath slowly... nothing for it then. They'd have to storm the settlement. "Why do they do it? They hate the Druj. Why fight for them? " it was a rhetorical question intended for the wind, but Tamas assumed an answer was expected.

"Oh they told me that. In no uncertain terms. Over and over. They loathe the Druj with every fibre in their being. It's a burning passion that fills every waking moment for them. It's the one constant in their lives. There's just one thing in this world they hate more than the Druj."

Reuben closed his eyes, he didn't want to hear what he knew Tamas was going to say next.

"Us. They fucking hate us. They hate the Empire with a fervour beyond anything I've ever seen. They'd rather die to an orc than surrender to us. Their leader knows the odds. He's certain they're all going to die today. And his only wish was to take just one of us with them before they all go. He told me that several times. Said it would be worth it if everyone of them died, the children and all - if they managed to kill a single one of us."

Reuben ground his teeth together in frustration. Liberating these people was like chewing raw nettles. His spirits sagged and his head dropped but then he felt his friend's hand on his shoulder.

"It is better, by far, to try and fail, than fail to try."

He looked up, and his priest locked eyes with him, refusing to look away. Tamas repeated the catechism again, his deep thoughtful voice reaching deep into Reuben's soul. He felt the power flowing from the priest, felt the confidence and certainty welling up inside him. He could feel his doubts falling away like Autumn leaves. His own objections to the impossibility of his orders paling into insignificance.

He nodded his thanks to Tamas. "Give the order to attack. But tell them to save every life they can."
Grief as wains.jpg
If grief and rage were measured in wains, the Barrens would be the richest Bourse seat in the Empire.
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Imperial armies have invaded the Barrens, aiming to carve a steel causeway straight through the middle of the territory. The attack caught the Druj off balance and they quickly captured the Carmine Fields and Hope's Rest. In response the Druj gathered their forces and counter-attacked seeking to drive the Empire out, but the Empire refused to be cowed and their forces advanced towards the Fangs in the Bitter Strand.

Were it merely a matter of steel, the Empire would have proved victorious, taking the Bitter Strand and capturing the Fangs, the strategically vital mithril resource on the edge of the Bitter Sea. However, the Imperial forces have embraced a more subtle strategy, one that forgoes military conquest in favour of sending a message to the inhabitants of the Barrens. While the Imperial armies hold the line, scouts attempt to deliver a message of hope asking old enemies to forget the wounds of the past and forge a common destiny against the Druj.

Given the bitter history of recent campaigns in the Barrens, this attempt is "challenging" at best. The inhabitants hate the Druj, but they have many reasons to hate the Empire, blaming them for their current plight and not without due cause.

Soldiers of the Pride! These are my final orders. It has been an honour to serve as your general for the last several years. You have been my pride and my family. It is time to push in the Barrens. Free the slaves as our troubadours have encouraged and show them the Way. For Glory! Death to the Druj!

Garravaine De Rondell, General of the Gryphon's Pride

Soldiers of the Valiant Pegasus. The Druj are broken and fleeing our siblings in the Seventh wave and the Granite pillar will remain in Zenith to cleanse the Druj remnants. We will take up Dawns challenge and head to the Barrens. There are tribes subject to the Druj that need liberation. Let the beacons of Virtue we lit in Zenith shine bright on our continued fight for liberation. Death to the Druj.

Achseh, General of the Valiant Pegasus

The Torch of Freedom

One Imperial army, the Winter Sun, have a natural affinity for those who seek to throw off the chains of enslavement. But they are elsewhere, and in their absence it falls to the generals of the Valiant Pegasus and the Gryphon's Pride to ring the clarion call of freedom. The Valiant Pegasus in particular, have committed themselves entirely to this crusade to bring liberation to the Barrens, devoting themselves to the Virtue of their task.

Virtue is contagious, it spreads from one heart to the next, a raging torrent that inspires allies and terrifying enemies. In its wake it leaves swirling eddies, fever dreams in the hearts and minds of those it touches. Every crusade creates an opportunity for the Highborn Assembly to use a mandate to capitalise on the opportunity and this one is no different.

The crusade itself was supported by a number of important statements of principle passed with greater majorities in the Synod. The Highborn Assembly upheld a statement put forward by Jericho "supporting the knights of Dawn in their ambition to rescue captives from the Druj in the Barrens." The Dawn Assembly were unanimous in support of a statement by Mael Donjeon of House Remys, for Dawn and Highguard to "continue our campaigns to exterminate the Druj and liberate those who are cruelly oppressed by them" while the Highborn Assembly were near unanimous in agreement with the same statement put forward by Tabris, Son of Armisael.

Soldiers of the Valiant Pegasus. The Druj are broken and fleeing our siblings in the Seventh wave and the Granite pillar will remain in Zenith to cleanse the Druj remnants. We will take up Dawns challenge and head to the Barrens. There are tribes subject to the Druj that need liberation. Let the beacons of Virtue we lit in Zenith shine bright on our continued fight for liberation. Death to the Druj.

Achseh, General of the Valiant Pegasus

In fact... there is not one opportunity here - but six. The Empire is faced with many different factions here - rival clans of orcs and humans. Once many of them fought together, but those bonds were shattered when the Empire and the Druj conspired to split the Barrens between them. At present it is impossible to deal with them as one, and impossible to speak with them all. The best that Highguard might do is use a suitably worded mandate to choose which one of these six factions they wish to approach.

Let every word you speak carry meaning. We send {named priest} with 25 liao to urge the the virtuous of the Seventh Wave to reach out to the {named faction} to show them that we are not their enemy.

Synod Mandate, Highborn National Assembly

There is one other opportunity however. Thanks to recent friendships, the words of the Highborn priests echo in the Dawnish Assembly as well as in Highguard. As a result of this and the carefully chosen words of the order issued by the General of the Gryphon's Pride there is an opportunity for the Dawnish Assembly to pass a similar mandate. They too could pick one of the six factions of the Barrens to approach.

The Virtuous inspire others to greatness. We send {named priest} with 25 liao to urge the the glorious soldiers of the Dawnish host to reach out to the {named faction} and inspire them with talk of liberation.

Synod Mandate, Dawn National Assembly

If either of these mandates is endorsed after the coming summit then it will create an opportunity for the Generals of the Highborn armies or the Generals of the Dawnish armies respectively to meet with representatives of the relevant faction at the following summit.

The Great Forest Orcs

The Great Forest Orcs claim the Forest of Peytaht is the remnant of a great forest that once covered most of the Empire and the Mallum. Many of them fled the Barrens when the Druj finally conquered the territory, coming west to seek sanctuary in the Empire. After protracted negotiations, a treaty was signed that allowed these refugees to settle in the Navarr territory of Therunin provided that they are willing to help defend it. Relationships with the Great Forest Orcs have slowly improved since then, at least the Navarr relationship with them has. They remain hostile and deeply distrustful of the Dawnish.

Imperial scouts report that there are still numbers of Great Forest Orcs dwelling in the Barrens, mostly in the Heart of Peytaht. With most of their former leadership in Therunin, they are without doubt one of the weaker factions, few in number with little influence. The fact that may of them fled the Barrens and threw their lot in with the Empire has not improved their standing with the other factions. However they are one of the easiest factions for Highborn wayfarers and grey pilgrims to approach.

The Great Forest Orcs are the least powerful faction in the Barrens, but any negotiation with them would be easier than with any of the other factions.

The Black Wind

By all accounts Rahvin was a powerful orc leader who united the disparate orc clans that dwell near the Fangs, urging them to rise up against the Druj. Decades of brutal oppression by the orcs of the Mallum had stripped these clans of their history and their ancestry, leaving them weak and directionless. Rahvin sought to change that, to forge a new identity through opposition to the Druj. He claimed they would be a black wind that would sweep the Druj from the Barrens. As orcs flocked to his banner, they took the rallying cry as their new name - the Black Wind.

In Winter 377YE, Rahvin and several of his key supporters were killed. Captured by the Druj, they were slain when a force of Imperial heroes used the Sentinel Gate to ambush the camp where they were being held. Their deaths were the catalyst that triggered an armed uprising among the Barrens Orcs. Taking advantage of the confusion sown among the Druj leaders by the raid, the renegade orcs seized the Fangs and begin to arm themselves. At their height the Black Wind were able to muster the equivalent of two Imperial armies, making them the most effective independent military force in the Barrens.

Sadly their efforts were doomed. When the Imperial/Druj alliance agreed to split the Barrens, the impact was felt most heavily by the Black Wind. Those among their number who were most incensed by what they saw as the treachery of the Empire - the Black Wind - switched sides and threw their lot in with the Druj. Those who still believed that victory against the Druj was possible - the Rahvin - fought to the bitter end.

The Druj all but exterminated the Rahvin and now only the Black Wind remain. They are a powerful military force - a martial people with thousands of experienced soldiers who form the majority of a Druj army. They hate the Druj with a burning passion - but the only thing they hate more than the Druj is the Empire. The Empire is the one threat that can convince the Black Wind to side with the Druj. Contact with them will be "challenging."

The Vendarri

A secretive group of orcs who dwell in Saltmarsh, little is known of the Vendarri. Living in the easternmost region of the Barrens, on the edge of the Bitter Sea, they are known to have a relationship with the Druj that allows them a modicum of independence and self-rule. As a result they are widely distrusted by the other occupants of the Barrens who consider the Vendarri to be self-serving and treacherous. They have little in the way of any effective fighting force, but they claim to be powerful magicians. Regardless of the truth, they are known to be skilled scouts and spies and believed to have knowledge of the Druj and their lands to the east. They sought to join the rebellion when the Barrens rose up against the Druj but deftly switched sides once it was clear the uprising would fail.

Of all the occupants of the Barrens, the Vendarri have the least reason to distrust or dislike the Empire. Which is not to say they have no reason - the storms that battered the Bitter Sea have inundated Saltmarsh causing extensive flooding. On the other hand, they apparently pride themselves on being pragmatic. They have never had any significant contact with the Empire and they were the least affected by the failure of the rebellion. Yet the other groups in the Barrens have good reason to distrust them. They play every side against the others to their advantage, turning their coats the moment it benefits them - not unlike the Druj themselves. The Empire might convince them to change sides once more, and while there is hope of victory against the Druj they will stay loyal. But if it looks like the orcs of the Mallum will prevail, they will not hesitate to change sides again.

The Montanians

The Orcs are not the only inhabitants of the Barrens. The Montanians are one of two large groups of humans living in the Barrens. The survivors of the Freedom Heresy they are heretics committed to the false virtue of Anarchy (or Freedom as some know it). They were heavily involved in helping the Barrens orcs put their alliance together in the first place The base of their power was Dourfell Keep in the south, but they were forced to annihilate their home with magic to prevent it falling into the hands of the Druj. Many of their number accompanied the the Great Forest Orcs southwards, using their knowledge of the Empire to smooth negotiations. Some of them remained in the Barrens, however, scattering into the mountains around Hope's Rest. They seem determined to make the Druj pay for conquering their home and reinstating their yoke over the people here. They are implacably opposed to the Druj, thanks to a faith which demands opposition to anyone who seeks to impose their rule over the Barrens. The same faith leads them to distrust the Empire which many see as being only a little better than the Druj.

The recent crusade has opened the possibility for communication with the Montanians. In particular they seem to be impressed by the Empire's stated goal of liberating the Barrens, while remaining suspicious of their motivations. An Imperial scout was able to bring back a message from the Montanians still in the Barrens that said simply "You are fighting without weapons. If the Empire is serious about liberating the Barrens, then you should speak to us. We can show you how to make swords."

The Karass

Like the Vendarri, the Karass are an orc tribe who have never had much history of contact with the Empire. Notably the Karass did not throw in their lot with the orc rebellion, preferring to maintain their position as allies of the Druj than risk it all for a worthless cause. They dwell in the far east on the Barrens, on the Plains of Teeth and the Bleaks for the most part. They are believed to be related somehow to the sept of the Menrothat in Ossium, who apparently "enjoyed" a similar relationship with the Druj there. Distant cousins, perhaps.

Within the Barrens they are well known as skilled herbalists, carefully husbanding the scraps of lore the Druj have allowed them. The Vendarri and the Black Wind claim the Karass possess some kind of incredibly rare herb, that is much prized by the Druj. This claim seems dubious. Nobody has ever met a Druj subject tribe who possessed such a thing - when the Druj really want something they take it. Still the rumour persists and there is no doubt that the Karass enjoy a better relationship with the Druj than any other group in the Barrens.

Contacting the Karass is certainly possible, but Imperial prognosticators say that such efforts contain the highest chance that the Druj will be alerted to the Empire's endeavours. Bluntly the suspicion is that the Karass might simply pass any messages straight to the Druj. The only way to know for sure, however, is to make the attempt. Like the Vendarri, while the Karass may be untrustworthy that does not mean that they might not be convinced to side with the other orcs in the Barrens against the tyrants of the Mallum.

The Dawnish

The other group of humans in the Barrens are the Dawnish. The Dawnish heroes who actively oppose the Druj are already visiting Anvil each summit to confer with their allies. This opportunity represents a chance to speak to representatives of the Dawnish yeofolk who are currently labouring under the brutal rule of the Druj and who have little contact with the rest of the Empire.

Parts of the Empire have a tendency to overlook this fact, particularly since the Druj tore up their treaty with the Empire and finally conquered the entire territory. Despite concerted efforts to get people to safety, there are still people in Dawnguard, Murderdale and the Carmine Fields who consider themselves Dawnish. Most are yeofolk; the Druj carried out a series of brutal executions of the Dawnish nobility designed to cow the spirits of those who remained. But there are still a few noble houses who manage to maintain estates here still, surviving as best they can under the spectre of the Druj occupation.

Obviously the Dawnish who live here are supporters of the Empire's attack on the Druj. However it is clear they have significant reservations about the "threat" to liberate the Barrens. They regard this territory as their home. The fact that Dawn has never been able to definitively conquer the territory and claim it as their own doesn't erase centuries of history in which they spilled their blood in defence of this land. The possibility of a glorious conquest of the Barrens fires the spirits of every Dawnish citizen who dwells here; but they are suspicious of the "Imperial politics" that seems to be aiming at something different. They also know that if they actively resist the Druj, and the Empire does not throw its full support behind them, they will be wiped out.

It is vastly easier for the Empire to approach the Dawnish groups who dwell here that any other group. They are keen to support Dawn and the Empire and to play their role in driving the Druj out of the Barrens. They will eagerly accept any help the Empire is able to provide and will rise against the Druj if there is a credible prospect of victory. The more politically astute among their number are especially keen to strengthen their position ahead of any possible vote in the Senate about the assignment of the territory. The longer the Empire ignores the dreams and ambitions of the Dawnish inhabitants of the Barrens, the more trouble they are likely to store up for the future.

The Fate of the Wicked

There is one other opportunity that has arisen in the light of the orders issued by the General of the Valiant Pegasus. In recent times a phrase has become common in the Empire, increasingly used so often that it often goes unremarked. A call to action, a call to arms, it demands a rousing chorus of approval and agreement. A simple phrase, just four words...

"Death to the Druj."

Those words tap into a visceral desire in the hearts of every Imperial citizen who has suffered under the yoke of Druj oppression. They light a fire that burns to see the wicked punished for the horrors they have unleashed. The Druj tortured the people of Reikos to break their spirit - surely it is long past time they suffered for their cruelty?

"Death to the Druj."

No-one could witness the destruction the Druj unleashed in Zenith and remain unmoved by it. They despoiled the libraries simply to destroy everything the Empire held dear. Surely it is time that those who burn books should be consigned to the fire for their barbarism?

"Death to the Druj."

Every land that is forced to endure the Druj suffers under their poisonous touch. They raise pillars of miasma to crush the spirits of everyone they conquer, to allow them to enslave the world. Surely it is now time that righteous judge the fate of the wicked and bring death to the Druj for their tyranny?

There is no Imperial virtue that speaks to such ideals, so there is no virtue Assembly that might best fan this spark into a fire. But the Assembly of the Way could pass a mandate encouraging soldiers engaged in the Barrens to embrace

When Virtue falls quiet, we must hear the words written on the silent page. We send {named priest} with 150 doses of liao to urge every Imperial soldier to embrace the fight against an enemy so wicked it can never be defeated, only destroyed. Death to the Druj!

Synod Mandate, Assembly of the Way

If this mandate is endorsed in the coming season it will cause every Imperial army fighting the Druj to inflict additional casualties in the coming campaign season (casualties caused will be increased by a fifth). This will not increase the impact of rituals such as Knights of Glory or Quickening Cold Meat, nor will it increase the casualties caused by military units. However, in addition to the hallowing, consecration, and anointing auras created through the use of liao, this passionate exhortation is certain to see significant numbers of spontaneous spiritual auras arise in every Imperial army. As soldiers are encouraged to courageously act on their despite of the Druj, or to embrace their ambition to bring freedom to the Barrens.

Alternatively the Synod could go further still - Lenarius Ankarien asks the General Assembly to consider a mandate urging the whole Empire to embrace their desire to eradicate the Druj, and not simply leave this matter to the armies:

The Druj enslave any peoples they can subjugate, and despoil any land they cannot hold. While they exist, the Empire’s dreams of a world without slavery cannot be achieved, and Ambition teaches us that obstacles to our goals must be removed, one way or another. Consequence are the price of Ambition We send {named priest} with 200 doses of liao to encourage to all citizens to focus their efforts on supporting the extermination the Druj wherever they may be found, using any means necessary, until no trace of them is left upon the world.

Synod Mandate, General Assembly

If this mandate is endorsed in the coming season it will cause spontaneous auras in every Imperial army fighting the Druj and cause them to inflict additional casualties as above. It will also create significant numbers of spontaneous spiritual auras throughout the Empire as people are encouraged to courageously embrace their despite of the Druj, or pursue their ambition to get justice for the crimes they have committed. It will provide all the benefits of the original mandate as well as creating a new opportunity for the Empire to seek to annhilate the Druj completely.

The other approach would be to condemn this path. Fintan Nighthaven asks the General Assembly to consider this mandate:

When Virtue falls silent it allows Blasphemy to speak. When Virtue falls silent, we hear 'Death to the Druj'. Complacency has allowed malign forces to take root in the spirit of our citizens. In Deepest Consequence we bring the Bell, the Unconquered and the Arbiter - they know the truth. We send {Named Priest} with 150 doses of liao to inspire every Imperial soldier in Virtue, to question what motivates them - and root out any corruption within. The Empire will defeat our enemies, but we must not sacrifice the Way to achieve this. Let Virtue speak - Victory to the Empire!

Synod Mandate, General Assembly

In the coming season this mandate would encourage soldiers in the Imperial armies to question orders that encourage them to slaughter the Druj. If the mandate were enacted any Imperial General that included the words "Death to the Druj", or words to that effect, in their orders would suffer a ten percent penalty to territory conquered. Any Imperial General could check with a civil servant if their specific wording would be considered to advocate for the eradication of the Druj.

All three mandates are in competition with each other. Only one could be enacted. As always, if multiple competing mandates are raised successfully, the one that achieved the highest margin of success will be the one that is considered to have been enacted.

Death to the Druj (Conjunction)

  • Varag Soulflayer has captured a number of Montanians and is working on creating tortured souls
  • Killing the tepel will stop additional casualties across all Imperial armies in the coming season
  • The Champion of Vigilance is responsible for killing the tepel

Varag Soulflayer is one of the many tepel of the Druj who takes a perverse pleasure in tormenting and twisting their captives into enemies of the Empire. The tepel has taken a number of captives from the Montanians over the last season and is set up in a camp within the the Untrod Groves. A few questing knights, following the orders of the late Garravaine De Rondell, managed to uncover Varag's camp and have relayed the location to the prognosticator's office.

If Varag Soulflayer is not killed then the tepel will be able to corrupt a number of captured Montanians and create tortured souls which will harass Imperials in the Barrens over the coming season, dealing an additional 500 casualties split across all Imperial armies present in the territory. The Montanian captives are already terminal - there is no bringing these people back. But what the Empire can offer them is a death free of the Druj.

The tepel will be accompanied by a combined force of troops drawn from the arkad. Given that it was the orders of Garravaine De Rondell to the Gryphon's Pride that led to the discovery of Varag Soulflayer the responsibility for this conjunction would have been with him if not for his untimely demise. This is a clear example of a poison in a neighbour's field, so the responsibility lies with the Champion of Vigilance; Ravadi Founders' Dance

Further Reading