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Fantasy The Dark Travelers

"Fight me- jus me! If the gods think yah boot belongs on my neck then they'll put it there!"

Adanach's grimace was replaced with confusion for a moment, was he really asking for a duel? The barbarian chieftain knew that if he was defeated, it would stain his reputation with his horde and would lose valuable followers, but dueling is one of the most honored traditions amongst the many warrior cultures of the Druadach, and if he won, he would prove to Faska that he's not an imperial lapdog.

After a moment of consideration, Adanach looked down, laughing. "Ya' know Faska... I really hate yer guts, I hate the way ye treat some of our traditions..." but then, Adanach pulled his steel long sword, and aimed it at his goblin opponent.



"But it is undeniable yer amongst the strongest warriors of the Druadach! No man, mer or beast can ever say yer not brave!" Bjorga made a few steps backwards, while there were some concerns in her mind, she knew her husband would emerge victorious somehow. "I'll show ya what I'm made of..." He said with a grin. "Now show me if yer worthy of becoming the King of Mors Gobonach!"
 
Declan's War Camp, Tidiaus

It was very fortunate that the campaign had begun in Spring, for the winter had melted away and gave rise to an abundance of growth in the halfling realm. The lands were primed for a great harvest later in the year, which would be essential in feeding the armies of Saarus that would camp in this region. For someone as meticulous as Declan, he was taking direct charge in ensuring the supply lines were established and maintained for his forces. His was a standard army of men, both retinues and professional, with footmen, knights and archers making the bulk of his forces. But there were also sellswords among his ranks, useful for their scouting abilities and capability to work without wearing the banners of their liege.

A large war camp had taken root in a clearing, with tents lining the area in large clusters as the army relaxed and enjoyed hot meals and ample entertainment with one another. Spirits were high, as they knew later in the year they would begin their march into the territory of Lacans. As Declan walked with Dennor, he couldn't help but let out an approving nod. "Things seem to be going well. Bellies are full. Minds are at ease." Declan commented.

"The quatermasters assured me we have ample supplies for the long haul." Dennor spoke, his thumbs curling into his belt as he walked next to his employer. "The men aren't restless yet either. Most are content to relax after the march through those damn woods. Place gave me the damnable jitters."

"I thought nothing fazed the mighty Dennor?" Declan quipped, "Except for your mother's ire."

"Hah! As if..." Dennor said, before shaking his shoulders. "But something about that place rubbed me the wrong way."

"Next time we return to Saarus, it won't be through that region hopefully. But that's not my major concern." Declan then spoke, passing by a few men who were playing cards and gambling some coins from their own purses. "The point of a campaign is to win. And we can't win if we're simply sitting on our asses here. Lacans is too well defended to take it head on, and so we'll need time. Time that, perhaps, the Emperor is less than inclined to give graciously."

"And if he isn't?"

"Well, I suppose our heads would look good together on spikes." Declan joked dryly, bringing out a chuckle from his companion. "You know, it WOULD help if you participated more in the war council."

"The fuck am I going to provide to a group of rich bastards who read books on these matters?"

"Books don't win wars. Experience does. You have a brain, might as well use it."

"I'm not paid enough to think, your shortness."


"You do think more with your groin than anything else." Declan quipped again, before seeing a messenger dash towards them. The young lad looked out of breadth, having practically sprinted with news towards his liege-commander as he skidded to a halt in front of the two. He planted his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breadth, bringing out a head tilt from Declan. "Catch your breath, boy. What news?"

A few deep breaths taken helped him to secure his voice as he looked up towards Declan and pointed to the distance behind him. "Escaped slaves! Our scouts came across them and brough them back here."

Declan looked up towards Dennor with a satisfied smirk, knowing his luck had provided him with yet another gift. "And... Commander Moldive asked to see you."

"She can always see me another time. I'm going to speak to these newcomers." Declan stated bluntly, walking past the messenger and making his way towards his latest finding. Dennor followed closely by, but was a bit concerned about blowing off their allied army's commander so quickly. Regardless, he kept his mouth shut as the two paced themselves towards the edge of the camp. There they were greeted by the sight of a group of haggardly clothed people, all of whom held the remnants of their chains around their necks and arms. Some even held brands on their faces, marking them as property in a gruesome manner, signified by poorly healed melted flesh.

There were quite a few of them that had arrived, a large company's worth at least. They were currently looked over by some of the camp guard, so as to stop them from causing trouble possibly. The largest among them, their leader, noticed the arrival of Declan and Dennor and gave a wave. His copper skin glistened in the sunlight as he let out a sigh of relief.

"And who might you be?" Declan asked.

"Leos, son of Petros." the slave leader spoke with some hesitation. "We fled from our master's whip in Lacans, but some were caught before we could cross the mountains. Others perished on the journey."

"Where were you planning on going?"

"If the people here would have us, we would stay... but I'm not sure if they would tolerate our presence. Perhaps to the free-lands."
Declan cocked an eyebrow, signalling that he didn't know what Leos meant by this term. "Sorry... I think the name is... Druadach?"

"You're better off staying away from there. They hold slaves there too."
Declan commented.

"Well... where else are we supposed to go?"


"With me." Declan said, prompting a surprised look from Leos. "You said your people are still in chains, no? Many others are too. All of whom hate the masters who took your freedoms away. Fight for me, and I will create an army of freedmen that will topple the masters' order. Your freedoms will be fought for, not languished in suffering."
He then offered a hand to Leos with a straight face: "Do you accept?"

A worried look crossed Leos' visage as he turned to the people he had led to relative safety, before agonizing in thought. However, it didn't take long before he shook Declan's hand.
 
"I'll show ya what I'm made of..." He said with a grin. "Now show me if yer worthy of becoming the King of Mors Gobonach!"

There was a brief pause, and then Faska snickered, stepping in with a heavy lunge that brought his greatsword down on Adanach, who knocked it aside with his sword rested against his palm before attempting to bash the goblin on the crown of his head with the pommel. Instead, Faska ducked his head and turned away, driving the momentum of his sword around as his feet traced a circle underneath him. By the time the blade swung back around, Adanach had already stepped back, deftly avoiding the swipe before thrusting his blade in and catching it against the chest plate of Faska's armor.

Undaunted, the Bloody Bastard rolled with the blow, halted his rotation and pushed a forehand strike toward Adanach's ribs. This time, Bjorga tensed up as she recognized a swipe like that would leave Adanach without his entrails if the blade found its mark, but still, her feet remained planted; the Son of the Druadach was not a novice, and he parried the maneuver by using his offhand again to brace his blade and deflect the strike. However, Faska never intended to kill the man; as soon as Adanach turned his sword to defend himself, he exposed his side, and Faska drilled him in the abdomen with a front kick which knocked him clean off his feet.

As Adanach's back hit the ground, he barely had enough time to defend again as his foe leapt off the ground, bringing his blade around like a hammer with such a momentous rotation that it may have prolonged his airtime. "Reaaagh!" Faska grunted as the two blades clashed, driving the broad side of Adanach's sword into his chest at the point of impact as he defended himself once again. The heavy greatsword sliced into his chin, drawing a stream of blood, but the barbarian grit his teeth and summoned all his physical strength to push it backwards, lifting the goblin's arms up slightly, before Adanach twisted his wrists and turned both blades aside in order to strike Faska in the face with the edge of his sword. Although Faska's helmet took the punishment, he was still dazed by the blow and stumbled backwards, his visor clattering open and closed as he regained his balance.

But now Adanach was pushing off the ground like a wolf pouncing on wounded prey, utilizing his relative agility to slash at Faska several more times in quick succession. There was a loud clang as the blade met the helmet's chin, causing it to rip loose and fall off the Bastard's head. The next hit slammed into his back, driving him downward until he caught himself with his dominant hand, but Adanach quickly kicked him at the elbow, causing him to drop the weapon and roll over. Before he could regain his grip on the blade, it was already over- Adanach had placed the tip of his longsword at Faska's throat.

"Shit! Yah made yer point; I- I yield!" he stammered. The Son of the Druadach hesitated as the Bloody Bastard's life was in his hands. Faska closed his eyes, as if expecting an execution.

---
When word finally reached the Imperial Spymaster that the Sandachians were able and, if the envoys were to be believed, eager to speak with an Imperial representative, Veno set off for the republic on the southern sea. She was ushered across the barrier, an aged but nonetheless imposing wall along two riverfronts which diverge from Canar to form the eastern and western half of Sandach's borders. Inside, the landscape was verdant and full of life, as if the eeriness and malaise from Canaresch's abandonment, which still hung heavy over the countryside surrounding it, had been halted by the wall itself. The way of life was vibrant in the republic, and business was booming, as despite Sandach's "alliance" with Briggun's empire, they still traded often with states which considered themselves enemies of Saarus.

In the capital city of Sansey, Marshal Swybeck nervously paced in a room lit by twilight. "If they come any later, we'll be meeting in the dark of night," he complained. "Do we have enough oil for a prolonged meeting, if it comes to that?" he asked.

"Yes sir," a young aide replied. "A shipment arrived this morning. We can keep the lamps on all night if need-be," she said.

"Oh," Swybeck replied. He sounded almost dejected to hear that all was well.

Nearby, the Grand Chaplain of the Army laid down his fork and knife after finishing his meal, dabbing the grease from his lips with a cloth napkin. "I'm certain that the meeting won't be a long one," he said calmly to Swybeck. "The Empire is renewing its hostilities with Erevan, undoubtedly, and they'll expect us to contribute what soldiers we can spare. We will tell them that we cannot afford to send more than a hundred or so men, like we did last time. Until they're ready to honor their side of the alliance and help us with our foes, then we cannot be expected to lay down our lives so one-sidedly."

"Are you absolutely certain this is all they would of us, this time?" Swybeck questioned. "What if they demand something else?"

The Grand Chaplain shrugged. "Then we will make promises, as per usual, and then delay and obfuscate until they grow weary. But they will not come for us."

Swybeck grunted, looking down at a map of his tiny country next to the goliath that was Saarus. "Maybe you're right. If they wanted to crush us, they would have done it by now. Maybe they actually think we're on their side."

"Sir," the young aide said, having just been speaking to the porter. "The envoy has arrived."

The marshal nodded. "Let them in."
 
"Shit! Yah made yer point; I- I yield!"

Adanach breathed heavily, saliva dripped from his mouth like a rabid and starving beast looking at its prey. He wanted to drive his blade right through Faska's neck, perhaps as retribution for the death and desecration of chief Otor or to help Leena achieve some sort of peace knowing the man that had taken everything away from her was dead, but Bjorga's voice snapped him from that murderous trance, Adanach's widened eyes looked at his wife.

"Remember what you've told me, all of us. You wish to unite the tribes... and this miserable cur, who disregards our traditions, is the strongest warrior of this land." She is right, he can't kill him just because he disliked him, Adanach thought of the repercussions of killing Faska for a moment, his oldest children and most loyal warriors would most likely fight amongst each other to become the next chieftain, while also fighting with the other independent tribes of the regions who might seize the opportunity to seek freedom from Faska's tribe iron grip on the region. Even if Adanach conquered the whole region and squashed these tribes, he would not be getting an army of hardened goblin skirmishers, but an army of tired and starving thralls.

Adanach looked down at the wound he gained from the fight, and thought how close he was to death. He then looked at Faska, who had opened his eyes now, probably questioning why he wasn't killing him. "You know... I almost did it, I almost drove my blade through your neck, I know a lot of people who'd be celebrating your death, Faska." muttered Adanach as he offered his hand at the goblin chieftain to help him get up. "But then I realized that if I killed you, then you'd be right, I'd be making Mors Gobonach weak, it would make the empire roll through these lands untouched and unspoiled." He grinned. "We can't let that happened now, do we? Join me, Faska, and we will take our tribes across the Druadach and unite this land and make the southern realms quake in fear."
 
Damian0358 Damian0358 Abstracty Abstracty (if anymistakes my mind is gone so blame fhat or say irs in character for yz)
Yz had chose to join the little meeting within Baba Voyka's camp along with Borok in order to supposedly discuss plans and strategy, albeit they weren't fairly interested in the concept of logical conversation as they had heard out the point of staying put as a unit. Deciding to humour them, they chose to offer their agreement only somewhat and in a questionable manner as they stood slightly leaning back and pondering on it.

"This is possible for a twenty-seven, only that we only have three-fourths of an orange. I don't suggest that anyone should go and tickle the toes of whoever is in charge of the land of Tambourines. Although, Yz would like and demand a tambourine. Yz likes tambourines, they make nice noise and are fun" Yz spoke as they became more interested in something else rather than the suggested strategy, before returning to the initial point as they gestured to Baba Voyka.

"My grandfather here is correct, we should not go to the underwater tea party today, but perhaps when the consumer of little baby-babies in the other land has begun doing whatever it is that they do mediocre when nobody's looking. I was not paying any attention to what my potential next pair of shoes was saying right here, but I will assume he was in agreement. That way, he can remain a mouthwatering skeleton in a crocodile dress for a few moments longer" Yz continued as they hummed gleefully to themself for a short moment, visibly eyeing Borok as they had thought about his delicious untouched skeleton.

"But anyway, Yz will not steal a tambourine yet. Yz has other plans... " Yz spoke as they rubbed their hands together mischievously.
"Yz will be a very peaceful toasted fishing hook in the lands of the gummy-fishies and will make sultry hand-holders with the named-namers that do big-names. Yz believes that Yz will not explode in the next 3 seconds and be an extreme danger to those in close proximity, because that's what the Yz of 6 seconds would do" Yz finished as they had nodded and gave a small bow.
"Issues are no issue. They ask me: Yz, how do you do? But they never ask Yz, WHERE IS THE MONEY? PUT IT IN THE BAG. And it's very saddening" Yz said to excuse themself as they simply gleefully giggled and gave a small wave.

"Don't ask what I do with the ones that know too much, goodbye little darlings~! I must CONSIDER MY HONEYMOON WITH THE LIGHT-BEARS NOW, FOR I HOPE THEY DON'T PANIC, HAHAHA" Yz calmly answered as they over-dramatically spun on the spot before dictating which way they will leave the encampment. Yz did not require discussing their plan further, it made clear sense.
 
In the following days after their conquest, the pirates made the main island of Teralia into their new home. Slowly but surely it would form their fortress, but for now there was a need to rebuild and prepare for their next move. In her captain's cabin, Cordia was performing a few rituals of her own. Curses for some, boons for others. A hag needs to be prepared. Much to her annoyance however, one of the crew would walk into the cabin as she worked.

"Captain!" The ghoul panted...somehow. "We spotted a ship approaching."

"Really now? A ship in these waters?" Cordia put down the talisman she was etching. "Describe it."

"Ehh, red. Almost black. Sails absolutely black. Has a bell and bright red lanterns."

"I see." Cordia answered and pinched the bridge of her nose. Not the brightest and absolutely not the most helpful "Call for Mr. Gribbs and Sawtooth as quick as you can before I scoop out the rest of your brain."

The banshee captain stood up from her desk and walked with a brisk pace outside the cabin onto the deck. She stood with crossed arms and and a curious look as to who exactly was coming all this way. The colors and lanterns made it clear it was one of Alexandre's vessels. What exactly they wanted was unclear. Considering their forces were on land terrorizing their enemies, ship vessels were unexpected. A few moments later her first mate and toolbox imp would join her side as they awaited their guests.

Cordia allowed herself an amused smile as Gertraud introduced herself. She politely joined her skeletal crew with the applause. Finally someone else who understood showmanship.

"I don't know captain." Gribbs spoke. "She has one eye. Maybe if you pair her up with Sawtooth she can stand in front of him and warn him in case anyone comes at him from the front." Crassus bared his teeth as he growled towards the imp.

"Quiet you." Cordia cut him off before turning her attention to their guest "This is a surprise. We didn't expect naval assistance from Rocher. Tell me-to what do we owe the honor of such services and what exactly are they?" Gretraud smiled widely, her fang prominently showing.

"Oh, your highness, my allegiance to Rocher has been a mutually beneficial affair. Our dear Patriarch has long held interest in knowledge and artifacts that some would consider... contemptible. I, on the other hand have never held any such notions and he has paid me handsomely to acquire said items for him" she said, fishing a gold coin out of the inner pocket before tossing back onto the deck of he ship. Her skeleton crew dashed to where the coin landed and promptly began brawling for it, while Gertraud gave Cordia a smirk.

"But riches brings comforts only for so long. During my inqueries for my patrons wants I have sailed around the world and seen a great many things." She said, "And during those travels I found something far more interesting". She once again reached into her coat and took out a small booklet that she held up between her thumb and indexfinger.

"And if you will grace me with a private audience, I'm sure you'll find my services worthwhile, Just as my previous employer did" Gertraud concluded with her head tilted back, adorned with a knowing smile.

"You have my interest, Gertraud." Cordia smirked "While I have been wreacking havoc on the waves for the past little while, there is much that has transpired between my demise and inevitable return. If you have intimate knowledge of the events and their consequence, then you are welcome to accompany us." She turned her head to face Sawtooth "Tell the other captains that their ship is one of ours now."

"Aye, cap'tn. Will she be needin the same accommodations as Ashryn then?"

"No need, Crassus. They have their own ship and its crew is already assembled." The banshee turned her attention to Gertraud once again "Would you care to join me in the cabin for some tea? As a note to seal the deal and maybe speak in private." Gertraud put her booklet away and gave another curt bow.

"The honor would be entirely mine" she replied, then nimbly swinging herself around the rigging and onto the deck of the ship. As her boots hit the floor, the skeletons halted their melee over the coin to look up at their captain with slight hesitation.

"Well?" She yelled, arms resting firmly on her hips "Hop to it you sorry sacks of bones!"

With rattling bones they scurried away across the deck and set to work throwing hooks over to the Butcher Blade. When they pulled the ships closer, another group of them lifted a ladder for their captain to use to embark onto the vessel. Gertraud climbed the ladder like a cat, positioning herself at the top as her crew pushed it towards the railing. As they made contact, she jumped off and corrected her outfit after landing.

"Thats the spirit, mon amis" she shouted back towards her crew below "You'll have time for wagering until I return" With their Captains approval, the skeletons could be seen making a clearing on the deck and bringning out a table, which they promptly gathered around for Liers Dice. Having seen to their occupation, Gertraud turned to see Cordia descending down onto the main deck. Flashing her another toothy smile, accompanied by a moderate bow, she motioned towards the doors to the Captains quarters, "After you"

Cordia opened the door to her cabin and let Gertraud in, but as the other captain came inside, the sea witch would swing her leg and kick the imp that was following them.

"Private meeting, Mr. Gribbs! You daft toolbag!"

"Hey, you can trust me!" The creature protested from the barrel he slammed in.

"About as far as I can kick you." She shut the door behind them and turned to more pleasant matters. "Good help is hard to find." Cordia fixed her coat as she walked forward. "Sit down, dear. Make yourself comfortable." She motioned with her hand to one of the chairs. The cabin itself was by no means modest. The walls were decorated with paintings, tapestries and stuffed heads of the ocean denizens. The furniture was made of expensive material and decorated with trimmings made of noble metals. The common idea that a hag would live a humble hovel were rather offensive to her. Why bother with trivial modesty when you can enjoy your surroundings?

But there were of course those details that pointed to her other occupation. On Cordia's desk one would find talismans, trinkets and a row or potions each marked with labels describing a concept. Sea legs, Ill winds, In irons etc. To the right of her desk, was a globe with the known lands scratched on, along with specific spots marked on them-Covens, sacred sites and lay-line convergence points. Next to it was a small table with a kettle and a small fire burning under it. To the right one would find a bookcase stacked with books. Some mundane, others full of knowledge privy only to specific people, but all of them stolen from their original owners.

"Kettle should be boiling any second now." As if on que, the rather humble kettle started letting out the whistle as the steam began to escape its mouth. "I hope you weren't expecting something like a cauldron. Baba Vojka can afford to have hers, but one just wouldn't fit here." Cordia poured two cups for her and her guest. "A kettle is much smaller, but can brew just as well." She snapped with her fingers and the fire went out. The banshee smelled the concoction she had poured and felt it was satisfactory. "I love the special chai blend Pianti grows." She said as she put the cups on a tray along the sugar and honey. "Its not as strong as what Labrovo use for their blends, but has that same kick you'd expect from Weildach and their spices." Cordia set the tray down on the small table near the chairs and comfortable sat next to Gertraud. "Now then, what did you find while you were adventuring?"

Gertraud removed her hat as they entered the captain quarters, and looked over it's various content with deep fascination. Even the decorations were suitable to her taste, her own cabin on board the Morbihan being of a similar lavish style. Taking her seat in the chair that was offered, she placed her hat gently onto one of her legs as Cordia finished up the tea. As Cordia explained about her love for tea, Gertraud took a que from her host and smelled the brew before taking a sip. Personally, she preferred the coffee the was made in Arnone, but being so far away she would not refuse the tea she had been offered.

"Well, our dear Patriarch has taken quite the interest in the occult over the years." she began, "And anything related to such knowledge has been of great interest to him." She paused to take another sip of tea before continueing, "Particularly manuscripts, artifacts and hearsay regarding an entinty known as Charnel. I have personally only acquainted myself a little regarding this, but from what I can surmise he seems to be an old deity of Death." Gertraud took out a long ivory pipe, and a pouch of tobacco with a red hue. "Perhaps I should say the most impressive of all the various talismans and trinkets I brought back was something known as the Iron Crown", she continued, packing the pipe and lighting it with a match. "I wont bore you with the details of how I came across it, other than the fact that it had once belonged to a Gantar scholar named Khalid al Amin, before the artifacts terrible powers made itself known and brought ruin to his library at Khanaqin on the Northwestern coast, near to Druadach." she mused as she puffed on the pipe. "There I found it almost swallowed up by the shifting sands, shunned by the Gantar explorers and Druadach raiders"

"But enough about my past exploits and allow me to divulge to you why I've come to you on this day." Finishing her tea, Gretraud took out the small booklet she had shown Cordia earlier, flipping through the pages while puffing away at her pipe. Once she found what she was looking for she rose from her chair and showed it to the Banshee. On the page of the book was a transcript of one of the Queens lost shanties.

Cordia listened to Gertraud talk while she sipped from her cup. A renown adventurer with much to tell, but was polite enough to get to the point quickly at this time. As soon as she showed the pirate queen the transcript however, the room got just a little bit colder. Her eyes traced along the text and she recounted the words. Letter by letter. Everything was where it should be.

"If I were to sing this song, bad things are to follow." The banshee spoke with a serious tone as she read the text with "Where did you find the original? Who had it?" Gertraud turned the booklet to herself and read through the song in silence.

"A Lacans portmaster told me of it some 20 odd years ago, but he did not have the original. However, he had seen it in the possession of a some Weildach merchant." Gertraud took a long drag from her pipe. "I always wondered if it was genuine" she continued, "As I've not been graced with your gilded tones."

Getraud then told Cordoa briefly of the meeting with the portmaster, whom since then had regretably been tied to an anchor and bid adieu to a watery grave over some unpaind debts. She offered Cordia to try to pick up a trace of the shanty once more, which would no doubt be challenging, gonsidering the circumstance. Which was exactly what Gertraud wanted, having sailed idly within the Gulf for some time when the Patriarchs acquisition of the occult had slowed. She did not how long it would take, but she would promise Cordia to return once she had come up with any promising leads.

"It could take years" Gertraud said with a slighty sigh as she emptied the remaining embers of tobacco into a small can. "But don't worry, I'll send you some letter now and then" she concluded with a wink.

"If you seek my blessing to seek out the original, then you have it." Cordia picked up the cup she had placed down while reading. "But I assume that none of this comes free." She glanced towards one of the paintings. A memento from when she returned to the Bone coast and took the first step of her revenge. The blood stains still splattered on the canvas. "You would know that this would be of great value to me. What would your price be, I wonder?"

Gertraud eyed the painting, a motiff of a stormy beating the steep cliffs of Primosten, a famous landmark in the Bone Coast.

"My liege, what kind scoundrel would I be to deprive you of such a sentimental item?" She said while flashing Cordia a wry smile, "No, I can take my payment in gold and precious stones, which I'm sure you will acquire while sowing terror in this sea."Getraud took picked up her hat from the chair she had been sitting in and twirled it onto her head. "When I return, I'm sure we can agree on a price for the information I may have for you." She continued with her arm extended for a handshake."Do we have a deal, your highness?"

"That we do." Cordia extended her arm in turn and firmly grasped Gertraud's hand. "You have this sea hag's guarantee." Getrauds smile seemed to become even bigger as the two shock hands.

"Rest assured, I will return as soon as the trail reveals itself again. And with your conquest underway and occupying the Piantian Navy, I shall come and go like a shade in the night".

"Then I'll put on a show from shore to shore." Cordia's wicked smile returned. She finished off the tea in her cup, "Feel free to stay for a while, my dear. I can always brew something else." She spoke as she got up. "I have a few tasks that I have to perform." A look to the desk as the talismans remain unfinished. "A coven to grow, a fleet to organize and I do wish to write a letter to here and there." She looked back to Gerthaud. "Rather mundane business, but work that needs to be done."

Getraud positioned herself by the door as Cordia looked over the items on her desk and mused over her current tasks.

"That won't be required, my liege." She said, offering the captain a deep and sophisticated bow, "I shall set sail and see to our new arrangement post haste." Exiting the Cabins quarters, she found Gribbs evesdropping outside the door. She tossed the gremlin a gold coin. "There's more where that came from, should you refrain from such poor manners in the future. And if monetary instentives are not your fancy, I'll ask your gracious Captain to just keelhaul you instead." Passing Sawtooth she gave him a tip of the hat, before jumping onto ladder onto her own ship. The ladder tumbled back onto the ship, crashing down onto the skeletons as they were still in the middle of a game of dice. Gertraud landed squarely on the deck, a further testament to her agility.

"The time for leisure is over, you soaked curs!" She shouted "We make sail towards Lacans!"The skeletal crew picked themselves up, and a few even had to re-assamble some limbs following their captains dramatic entry. Once organized, they set to work pushing the brigantine away and rowing with great speed out of the harbour. Once the vessel reached deeper waters and was turned to their new course, it's black sails unfurled to catch the wind and sent the ship on its way with great speed.

As the Morbihans red lanterns moved away, a jaunty fiddle tune could be heard echoing across the waters.
 
Voyka listened as she watched Borok and Yz make their statements. She nodded with respect to Borok, as it was clear to her that the two were in agreement. She had no reason to interject what she would want him to do, he is trustable. But as the floor was given to Yz, the same confusion from the previous time they spoke arose, though this time, given how much more sensitive the situation is, she tried to decipher their meaning.

Parsing it together, the tambourine in this context referred to Elevan, or perhaps more specifically Sabersval. She could only assume that the underwater tea party was the tunnels, and the baby consumer was Falwyn. She had no idea what it was they were referring to in the remainder of their speech, but what mattered was that they agreed to stay put. She just watched Yz departed with a muted expression. Once it was clear they were out of earshot, she approached Borok and spoke silently to him.

"...it seems they're in agreement," she remarked plainly, "let's hope for good news from Falwyn. Good luck with your work on the tunnels, I'm going to deal with the thieves," she finished, before departing from the meeting herself. There was hell to pay for messing with her supply line.
 
Borok remained remarkably silent throughout the bizarre rant. Yz sure knew how to raise new questions with every answer they provided, but the Sauroid forced himself to remain stoic, so as to listen very carefully for some hidden meaning behind the words. It was still a mysterium to him how Yz functioned, but as soon as they were on the other side of the mountains, it would have been worth enduring the crypctic answers.

"I agree... they are on board, which is all we could have hoped for...", he finally grumbled, no longer hiding some disdain for the way they were kept guessing. Perhaps Yz was playing a game with them or perhaps they really had no other way of communication, it was tedious to him either way. In contrast, he did appreciate Voykas plain approach and he slightly lowered his head to pay respect. "A good hunt to you. May those thieves make for a fine stew to replace your losses...", he concluded, before also departing. The meeting had been short, which was very welcome to him, as it meant more time to work in the tunnels.

As soon as he was able to, Borok returned to stare down a fiery abyss. Even the most experienced miners and anvil guards were hesitant to continue their surveying work near the strange opening nicknamed "The Demon Gate". The grand runesmith, however, had carefully prepared himself to lead a small expedition into the north side, where the mountain itself appeared to be steadily breathing. Before they would enter into the fiery depths, another message delayed them and Boroks eyes boiled in a rage that matched the fire of the hell in front of them. "Foolish dragon...", he snarled, as a young Sauroid runner delivered news of heavy casualties sustained by Falwyn in her initial campaign. "Our plans need adjusting! Carve up all nearby softskin villages for slaves and expand our efforts! If we can't rely on Falwyn, may the Depths be more generous!", he fumed and as soon as the runner departed, their descend began. The hot air would have boiled other being alive, as they made their way past sulfur vents towards a golden and red shimmer, unsteadily flickering from all sides of the vent. Soon, Borok couldnt believe his own eyes. "Withdraw our engineers from the regular tunnels... we need pipes and smoke powder here... Erevan will burn..."
 
"But then I realized that if I killed you, then you'd be right, I'd be making Mors Gobonach weak, it would make the empire roll through these lands untouched and unspoiled." He grinned. "We can't let that happened now, do we? Join me, Faska, and we will take our tribes across the Druadach and unite this land and make the southern realms quake in fear."

Faska, breathing hard through clenched teeth, glanced back and forth between Adanach and Bjorga with a mixture of hope for his survival and resentment for the insults dealt to him in his defeat. He briefly considered the long and unhappy road ahead, serving a human master who in turn would serve the warlock, and knew all at once that the freedom he treasured had already escaped his grasp. He held little hope that he would ever have it again, but he still wasn't ready to die. If he joined this ludicrous attempt at uniting the Druadach, then there would at least be meals, and women, and the excitement of combat to lift his spirits while they walked the long road to destruction.

"Fine," he mustered. "If yer a dog, you're no pup, Adanach. I'll tell my band that we'll be takin' our marchin' orders from you, now on." He calmly lifted himself off the earth as Adanach pulled his blade away from his throat, and after gathering his own weapon, he looked back at his lone horse and wondered about how his camp would react to the news. "Yah know, there're gonna be some who won't come easy-like. It'd be a surprise if we wake on 'morrow an find 'em all still ready tah serve ya," he warned plainly.

---
After a long period of waiting, a reply from Iskulia arrives at Akatoria Castle in the form of a letter addressed to Lucafiel.

"To the Imperial scum on my border," the letter began. Lucafiel lifts his eyes from the page and gives a quiet, exasperated sigh.

"There is no welcome for your envoys in our land,
no welcome for your foreign customs,
and no welcome for your evil designs.

We welcome only your death in Iskulia.

Signed,

♈"

Immediately, Lucafiel knew that one of two things would need to be true. Either Ikono Manakles was truly so confident in his army's superiority that he felt it unbecoming of a man in his position to even humor the Hallow Legion, or, alternatively, he was lacking in that confidence or even fearful, and did not wish to display it by meeting in any physical capacity. The handwriting was smooth and looping, clearly the work of a court scribe, aside from the symbol of the ram at the bottom, which was given with a different slope and, based on the edges of each ink stroke, a different quill.

The Imperial courier who had delivered the message to Lucafiel gave a slight bow. "I came as soon as I could, my lord. The horseman who brought it informed me that he will stay only for one hour, and it is nearly half that; I assume he expects a reply."

---
The night air was crisp and dry over Valwake, the city serving as Sabersval's military capital. Aelan Farandel stood at a large map table, reading reports about the enemy's movements as wooden markers were moved about on the map. There was an attack to her east, she understood, but the Imperials were driven back in a brilliant display by the the Viper. Sigurd of Ravgoth stood at the ready in the western pass, but Rotwellain's forces outnumbered the headsman's, and so Aelan felt that it was the east that deserved her attention.

She wiped her brow and shook her head. The fire nearby made the inside of the cabin almost sweltering. There were rumors of other movements; if reports were to be believed, the city state of Teralia had been felled by a sea witch, and Imperials were massing on the borders of Lacans and Piantia. It was as if Briggun had awakened from a long rest, and was as hungry for new territory as he was when Aelan was in her adolescence. She had been waiting for this moment to come, and now that it was here, she felt... overwhelmed. It seemed clear that the best option would be to move east, and support Kande's defense of Ysaval, but the stories of the warlock's subversion were legendary. Any false move could be the straw that breaks the camel's back in Erevan.

She decided to get some fresh air, and so she took only her bodyguard as she stepped out into the brisk night with a lantern for a short walk. Valwake was quiet, after dark, but there were still a few locals and travelers about finishing their final tasks before sleeping. Out in the field at the edge of town, a number of tents poked through the shallow snowfall, with about half of them still lit by campfire. She stood there for a moment and admired her soldiers and all the preparations they had done, and wondered how they would take the news, should she tell them that they were to abandon their home territory and fight a dragon in the open fields of the east. She felt a bit sickened, it seemed like a betrayal.

Unseen in the shadows, a lone traveler approached, one which had slipped through the tunnels and out into the elven land alone, whose face was unknown to any who laid eyes on them. Now, the mask returns to their face, and Yz steps out of the darkness and into the light of Aelan's lantern.

"Who are," she began to ask before gasping sharply. The bodyguard drew his weapon and stepped up, but Aelan called him back. "No, wait, stop," she instructed, even as her own hand fell to the pommel of her short sword, as if to assist him. To attack their foe without knowing how they had reached Valwake unseen was a foolish decision, and even in her shocked state, she knew she needed to act carefully. "What do you want?" she demanded fiercely, although Yz could sense her fearfulness. "You came here alone to speak to me, right? Well, here I am. Be quick with it!"
 
Lucafiel pondered the letter he had received for a moment before, with a slight hand gesture, one of his own scribes brought him a length of paper and a quill. In a clear, flowing script, Lucafiel penned a reply himself, knowing that there was little time for expansive thought or planning. Indeed, in the time it had taken them to receive the letter, their deliberations upon the rooftop of the ancient castle had produced some results - there was plague here in these lands, it seemed, according to locals. Matched to their own observations, it was very likely to be true; and, ultimately, very likely to be dangerous. Lucafiel disdained sickness as a curse of mortals, but even one he could not abide to be inflicted upon them, to some extent. Disease could serve as a useful tool, but one that required finesse, for even among the ranks of the legion were plentiful mortal and lesser races that were liable to be infected themselves. The Yakals may be less prone - or fearfully, more prone - to a human illness, but only time would tell. Only the stringent hygiene practices and discipline of the legion were to be counted on at times like this. And, Lucafiel thought as he dipped his quill in ink and began to write, the possibility of merely burning everything in his path, scouring earth of trees, villages, and people alike, lest any plague survive to haunt those who come after.

-

To Ikono Manakles,

We come not for war, though we are prepared as such. There is much we should discuss in person. We know these lands are sick, and we bring cures. We know the might of the entire Empire is to be brought upon Lacans, and we bring options. Should war come and we find defeat here, there will be more of us, for every month and every year after our passing. Even should you win every battle, every loss of your men and women is a victory for us, for the Emperor does not tolerate such things. In time, you may win every battle and have not a soul left standing. I would, with utmost sincerity, hope to avoid that for the good people of Iskulia.

You do not know me, and I do not know you, fabled Ram. I am the one known as Lucafiel. We should come to know each other on intimate terms. I can assure you it would be far more appealing than the alternative.

But know this, Ram. If we cannot help you save your people, all life will be squeezed from this land. You have your senses and your mind. What have you seen of those who have defied our Emperor? It is true the name your people call you is fearsome, but those who once admired the ram will laugh with derision when it goes mad and bashes its skull upon the mountainside.

-


Lucafiel finished the letter by signing a curious yet elegant symbol upon the bottom. He allowed the ink to dry after a moment before allowing the letter to be rolled into a tube, tied off with a ribbon, and passed back to the messenger to be delivered. At the same time, he glanced in the other direction and spoke to a nearby auxiliary. "Ensure that preparations continue at a measured pace. We may be fighting both man and illness, and only one has known more triumphs than the other."
 
The shift in environs caught Veno's attention quite quickly, her eyes darting about as she peered through the tiny diamond shaped holes in her enclosed carriage's square windows. Growing up in underneath it all, she was accustomed to dreary and bleak surroundings. All she knew from an early age was rocks, fungus, and creatures that dwelled in the darkness beneath. Canar's state was... similar now to what she had grown up with. Dull. Depressing. As if Briggun's rule was draining the very life from the land beneath his empire.

Veno didn't mind. Its what she was familar with.

Veno already knew what the Sandachians were probably expecting. The Empire often asked its 'allies' in Sandach for assistance in fighting wars and other endeavours. Sandach would make agreements and promises, and neither of which they ever kept. Often excuses were given, which could have easily been proven as boldfaced lies. She was the Imperial spymaster, she already knew what was going on. A nation doesn't stay this vibrant and booming without trade with other nations. Some of which were likely hostile to the Empire. Though Veno did wish that she had sent a detail to check in on Sandach's treasury. She wondered just how large of a fortune that the tiny nation had acquired by doing such under the table dealings.

She had chosen for only a single member of her circle to accompany her on this little expedition. Cazna, her second oldest friend in the Cult of Akordia. The muscular drow woman sat across from Veno in the carriage, arms folded and staring down at the floor through the bangs of her off-white hair. Her red eyes gleamed in the brief flashes of fading sunlight that pierced the windows, as she waited. Simply waited.

Cazna was a master at waiting. Minutes, hours, days, weeks... it didn't matter. When the time was right, she would move.

Cazna Barrityl
(Enforcer of the Cult of Akordia, Master Huntress, Left Hand of Veno Dilach)

Cazna the Huntress.png

"I'm glad you made the journey with me, Cazna. It's been far too long since we spent any quality time together." said Veno, flashing Cazna a brief smile before looking back out the window.

Cazna response came in the form of a simple shrug. It was true. The last time the pair had been alone together at any long length of time was during Briggun's opening pushes into Canar. Veno, leading warriors across battlefields with Cazna at her side. Polearm in hand, blood spattered across most of her body. A rather intimidating sight for most of their foes, especially considering Cazna was as large and strong as most of the men on the field as well.

"Though, this will be a diplomatic sort of journey, really. We're here to give Sandach what they really want... instead of seeking out their aid..." commented Veno, her voice trailing off as she watched a couple walk by on the sidewalk outside.

This time, Cazna actually spoke, her voice oddly quite soft compared to her rugged appearance. "We're giving them a war of their own." she said simply, her red eyes slowly rising to look at Veno.

Veno nodded. "Yes. Though, in their terms, it'd be a holy war... to reclaim their homeland from heathens and heretics." she responded, "...Religion, and faith in general, are powerful tools. Especially false religions and blind faith, the kinds Sandach and Weildach both share."

Eventually, the carriage came to a stop. Veno smiled, looking to Cazna before speaking softly. "You know the drill. I am Lady Sarthyra, Imperial envoy sent by Lord Briggun himself. You, of course, are my loyal endentured servant and guard."

And right before Cazna's eyes, Veno shapeshifted into the form of a young human woman with pale skin and firey red hair. Her flowing dress was colorful, but not too flashy. She meant to make herself look like she was of the upper Imperial eschelons. Overdo it and no one would believe it. A balance needed to be struck.

Cazna simply rolled her eyes. Shapeshifting was for those more of the political type, or for those in the magical fields. Cazna was first, and foremost, a warrior. She killed things, and did it well. Shapeshifting wasn't needed in order to drive a sword, spear, or axe through someone.

Soon, the carriage door opened, and the pair climbed out. Cazna, of course, was the one that got more looks from the guards as they were lead to the room where they would be meeting Sandach's Marshal and Grand Chaplain of the Army. Soon enough, the doors to the meeting room opened. Allowing Veno to enter, while Cazna remained by the door.

"Good evening." said Veno as she strolled through the doorway. "I am Lady Sarthyra, Head of House Sarthyra of Saarus. I am here as an envoy sent by Lord Briggun himself."
 
Voyka made her preparations to head out and see what was causing the theft of rations, though as she did, some of her men approached her, ready to follow her to the suspected location on the supply line where the thefts were being made. However, as they spoke their loyalty, she raised her hand to silence them, and insisted to go out alone. As they protested their beloved granny heading out alone, she concerned herself with her hair and headwear. She pushed her long hair down her collar, and wrapped her head in the traditional headscarf kerchief worn by the Horned - partially because it hid her forehead, and in turn, her horn. Once she prepared herself, she grabbed her hunter's knife, sheathed it, and finally turned to her men. She approached the one protesting hardest, gently brushed his hair with her hand, and then slammed his head into her knee.

As she raised his head to look into her eyes, she explained to him why she was going at it alone: "...I'm more than competent to protect myself, boy. Don't worry your precious head over whether granny can take care of herself. Think more about how our suspected thieves might react to a regiment approaching them."

From there, to the rest present, it was clear what she was aiming to do - induce underestimation. She waved them off to return to the others, as she headed to the supply line.

The uplands remained frigid even as the spring thaw began to slowly clear the snow in the area, which made her suspect initially that their potential thieves were animals. Of course, there were some Poggostian villages nearby that could be the source of their thieves, but given that she had recently engaged in the burning down of at least one of those villages, she assumed no one sane would attempt to even approach anything resembling Briggun's forces, at least for the time being, lest they receive immense punishment. However, as she approached the general area that had been narrowed down as the location of the thefts, she began to wonder otherwise.

Investigating the snow proved slightly problematic with the thaw, but it became very clear that no quadruped was walking around in this area. What was harder to tell though was scale - given the state of the snow, she couldn't figure out whether the being(s) involved were long-legged or not. Being careful as she stepped through the area, looking at carvings in the wood, she began to lean towards them being short-legged. As she identified the lack of any imprints suggesting the presence of long tails however, she sensed something in the air headed her way. She turned quickly and caught whatever it was.

She stood straight up and looked at it. It was a rock. She could hear the shrubbery shift. She was no longer alone.

Waiting for the next attack, she passively walked towards the direction the rock had come from, taking slow, deliberate steps, to make whoever it was impatient. Her strategy pays off almost immediately, as she could hear a yell from above her, something jumping off of the trees. She took a step forward, and wound herself up for a turnaround counter-attack. Voyka would kick whatever had jumped to strike her straight in the stomach. Her would-be attacker coughed intensely out of pure shock from the kick, as she kept her leg up to observe who attacked her.

To her surprise, it was a child. The kid let go of the stone in his hand, likely intending to strike her across the head with it. With a smirk, she grabbed the child by his collar, and casually tossed him against the tree. Before she could stare down the kid and question him, she overheard more shushed movement around her - there's more than one of them.

Another rock was tossed her way, which she caught as she had the previous one. Listening to the movement around her, she tossed the rock back. A loud 'ow' was heard shortly after, followed by someone falling over. As she observed more movement around her, she approached a tree branch, and broke it off. Attempting to surprise her, another kid attempted to rush her from behind. As swiftly as they emerged out of cover, Voyka uppercut the kid with the branch, leaving them splayed over the snow.

With her arm up following the attack, another kid attempted to restrict her by tossing a rock wrapped with thin rope and wrapping it around her arm. Chuckling in response, using the hand on the same arm, she grabbed the rope and wanked the kid out of cover, and began twirling the rope around them from a distance. Yet another kid jumped from the trees once more to attack Voyka and save their friend, but she just punches them into the ground with her free arm. Turning her attention back to the kid with the rope, she began spinning the end with the rock before tossing it up onto the tree and pulling it back down, lifting the kid into the air upside down.

As she cracked her shoulders, a sixth child emerged out and twirled a thin rope with a hook at its end as a weapon, aiming it at Voyka's head. The hook catches itself onto her headscarf, and as the kid attempts to pull her down, only the kerchief is removed, revealing her horn. At which point, the children screamed in terror. None of them had realized that they were fighting Baba Voyka until now.

The child with the hook tried to retreat, but they ended up tripping over over some old wood. They turned around to see Voyka approaching them with a menacing cackle, rendering them a blubbering crying mess. It was at that point someone yelled: "STOP, PLEASE...!"

The granny did as was yelled, recognizing from what direction the yell came from. It was from the first kid that she had kicked in the gut, trying to speak as they continued to cough.

"P-please, stop..." the kid seemed to take the initiative, "we, we thought that only Briggun's forces were here... not any of his lieutenants..."

Voyka turned to face the kid, as she noted the other children did the same - it seemed this was their leader.

"...you think just because the Dark Lord's forces were unaccompanied that you all could just steal from him?" Voyka responded plainly.

"We... we thought it'd be noticed less..." the kid responded with further intermittent coughs.

Voyka chuckled. "...where are you kids from, especially those of you still hiding?" she asked, turning towards the shrubs where she could tell there were at least two or more of them hiding, who would peek their heads out in response, fearing what would happen if they didn't.

Another kid would answer her question. "B-Brus, ma'am..."

"Ah, Brus! That's right near Senta!" Voyka commented, to which the kids responded with an awkward groan.

"Y-you were at Senta...?" one of the children asked, remembering that it had been burned down a few weeks ago.

"Senta seemed quite nice. Well-kept place of worship, houses worth living in, a proper village if I ever saw one. But you all want to know what was the best thing about Senta?" Voyka spoke in a twisted tone, "The screams of those doomed to burn for harboring enemies of Briggun were so, so sweet."

The children went quiet in shock as they realize that not only were the stories told about Voyka were true, but that she had burned down their neighbors. All watched in abject terror - all but one.

"Y-you...!" one of the kids in the bushes got up, with a vengeful look in their eyes. Voyka turned to face them, seeing equal parts rage and tears. "Y-you...!"

Voyka chuckled once more, realizing that this kid was likely now an orphan from the village. Suddenly, the kid rushed towards her, as if to try and attack her, to which she responded with a boot to the head. The kid tried to crawl away, realizing how much of a mistake they had made, but Voyka pressed her foot on their head to keep them in place, causing them to scream. After a few moments, she released the pressure, but kept her foot where it was, before turning to face the children.

"Looking at you all, all I can think of is how much of a waste it is that you're all wasting away here. Forced to steal from your protectors," she said with an ironic tone, "when you could have simply come to us."

"...but we tried..." the leader answered after a pause.

"Briggun himself is too busy to take your requests, but us lieutenants, we're far more... approachable," Voyka said with a twisted smile, "In fact, earlier today, I had made a big pot of soup for my men. I would be more than happy to share it with you all."

Upon the offer of soup, the rest of the kids hiding in the bushes popped out.

"So, let's make a deal. You all seem immensely competent for your ages. Reminds me of when I was your age, fighting my way up the ranks from slavery into the Canarian military. You all join me at my camp and fight for me, and you will all eat as if your own granny were cooking for you."

The kids looked at one another with concern and curiosity. Times had gotten desperate at Brus, forcing them into this position in the first place. Many of them even lacked parents, whether one or both, for various reasons, relying on communal aid... which some of them rarely got. To have a place to stay at where they could eat at least once a day sounded like heaven in comparison, and they might even have an opportunity to become as strong as granny. Slowly but surely, one by one, the kids began professing their interest in joining her, with some doing so with additional hopes that she might not burn down Brus.

Lifting her foot off of the Senta kid, Voyka looked down upon them, waiting for their answer. After a considerable pause after even their leader said yes, they conceded.

"Let's return to camp then, and get you all fed, my little falcons~" Voyka switched to a grandmaternal tone, as she turned away and began walking back to camp. She didn't concern herself with the thought that these kids might betray her, she had induced enough fear in them that they wouldn't be able to fathom it.

Frankly, she really did want to just slaughter these kids and go burn Brus down, but the 'peace' had ended. She couldn't engage in her usual behavior now that war was once more on the rise. These kids were to her, and to Briggun, more useful alive than dead. If nothing else, the situation proved nostalgic for her - plenty of her men were war orphans whom she raised herself, and one thing many of them shared in common was that they had a rebellious friend who "martyr'd themselves for the sake of the cause".

She looked at the Senta kid with a wide smile.
 
It is a glorious day when two armies meet, especially when they are allied. A mass of troops ready to bring destruction, or at the very least to bring low enemy territory. He was somewhat curious about how the land would be shared between the two once it was dominated. Not that Kolthix wanted for much from what was to be conquered. His eyes were mostly on the people, but only enough to fill the gaps in supplies for what might have been missed from the attempts at keeping his army well stocked with food on the way here.

Thankfully, though shadelings have an enormous appetite, they could go for days without a meal if needed, though such misfortunes were scorned.

"Indeed, Cackler. Even here, I see the ferocity in your army. Their mood appears to be a bloody one." Izaak commented, the cape of muscle fibre flapping against the groaning wind. "There shall be sport here. For both of us." He continued, his icy words hanging in the air. Todor, his hound, clapped its jaw in joy.

Kolthix could appreciate Izaak for the use of undead in his armies. His unique appearance. The lack of passion in his tone. For one, Kolthix enjoyed the lack of waste that came with utilizing the dead in battle. Even he did not leave even a bone to litter the grasses of this world if he could help it. Although he must admit that beyond such thoughts, there was little else the two had in common from what the shadeling lord could tell. Perhaps that would change during the battle to come.

Kolthix turned and started walking, keeping up with his forces and simply assuming that Izaak would do the same.

"Though I am certain this will be a battle worth enjoying, I am afraid that I have so few plans for the conflict ahead. I simply wish to spearhead our way into enemy territory. Perhaps find a town, fort or city to siege, and claim it as a hub from which to operate from. Patience and strategy will have to wait for now. My people grow restless."

Though the presence of flesh and bone wrile the shadeling army up a bit, they show incredible restraint, held back by sheer loyalty to their leader, and eager anticipation for the slaughter ahead.

"My spell caster, Rorika, can receive any spell communications that you have for me going forward. Feel free to use her to forward any pertinent information you may feel inclined to relay to me. I hope that I will be able to do the same through a caster of your own as well. A simple message spell would do, unless you have more pressing matters to discuss, then I can appear before you directly."

Kolthix would continue on, but soon enough his army was marching quicker, running even, across the open lands. The Cackler had been prepared to initiate an attack the moment he arrived. Though he would have announced their arrival far sooner, tending to have a flair for showmanship, perhaps by assuming the shape of a Hell-Bellower and roaring across Gantar land, Kolthix decided to have a bit more restraint for the sake of his ally in this fight. Allow the element of surprise to be utilized in full.

At least, whatever surprise there would be. He was certain that there was a chance that word of the two armies converging on the enemies borders might have already reached them. Whatever the case, this was not his moment for any big moves. His people would spread across the country, like a plague against the people of that cursed land.

"We march now, Lord Rosach. I wish you good fortune in the coming days. If you will excuse me, I prefer to fight alongside my people."

With that, Kolthix began to change a bit. His body warping to assume a shape that can run at quicker speeds. He takes off, leaving the fellow lord for the time being. By the time he nears the front of his forces, a contingent had already begun arranging camp at the base of the mountains and the pass through. Others were continuing to march, having stopped only for a moment to eat and refuel, taking their weapons and arming themselves with equipment.

He had his variety of specialists. One that he was especially fond of were the Daybreakers. They shadelings had already geared up, doning full suits of armor. They were far more disciplined than quite a few of the armies number. They were almost as well trained as fully fledged knights. They each grow their bodies into a similar configuration as well. One that allowed for easier movement despite the weight of their gear, and stronger legs for pushing forward behind their shields, even against the most stubborn of enemies.

It is what Kolthix knew of his people that many forgo when they look at a shadeling. Their potential. What others forget about shadelings was that a shadeling could become anything. They can assume a form that fits their personality or the needs of their comrades. It meant that whatever the enemy might have, shadelings almost certainly had it as well. Because Kolthix and his people learn. They always learn from what the enemy employs, and they are not afraid to send it right on back.

As the hours passed and Kolthix approached enemy land, he searched the horizon for any strong point to hold, and then he continued on. For glory. For bloodshed. For vengeance.



Worthlessplebian Worthlessplebian K0mori K0mori
 
"Good evening." said Veno as she strolled through the doorway. "I am Lady Sarthyra, Head of House Sarthyra of Saarus. I am here as an envoy sent by Lord Briggun himself."

Swybeck stood up straight as she entered, doing his best to appear stern without aggression, especially since Cazna's shadow darkened the door behind the envoy. The marshal spared her a weary glance before putting his attention squarely on "Lady Sarthyra."

He cleared his throat. "A pleasure to make your acquaintance, madam. I'm Marshal Swybeck, and this is Grand Chaplain Danthyn. Please, make yourself comfortable. I'm certain there's much to discuss given the happenings up north."

After giving a stately bow, he sat himself in a wooden chair next to a small, square table, across from which the envoy would be expected to sit in her own chair. The chaplain, meanwhile, continued to sit at his own dining table, even as an aide removed the remains of his meal and offered a fresh round of drinks for those present. It seemed as if he were present to monitor the situation, rather than taking direct part in it.

"So," Swybeck began, "how might we conduct ourselves to best suit this alliance?" His tone harbored an unease, as if any request would be met with yet-unmentioned but also inescapable conditions.
 
K0mori K0mori

Yz calmly donned the mask they always wore as they came into an encounter with Aelan Farandel and giving a small curtsey with their non-existent skirt. Meeting their eyes, Yz overlooked their mix reaction of opposition as well as a hint of fearfulness. Perhaps this encounter would prove more interesting than they initially thought, for they were just planning to walk out here for no reason as they had agreed with some of their more egocentric colleagues in arms that they would not engage in conflict.

"Hello! I am- NOT," Yz began, abruptly cutting themselves off as soon as they began talking. "-in need of an introduction. Ohh, pretty little lady, you shouldn't be worrying yourself. I'm not here to do anything at all~! I was just waltzing through the neighbourhood and thought I'd check in on my dear friend, you!" Yz gleefully spoke as they gave small, rapid claps in delight. Revelling at the experience and giggling like a little schoolgirl, Yz eventually calmed and stared straight at Aelan.

"Do you fear, little lady? I don't have need to do anything to you, after all I don't even have a weapon to my name. We can be best friends, you and I, do you really need to put you and all those you want to help in danger because that's what other people expect you to? What people will think of your namesake? Don't you want everyone to just so peacefully get along?" Yz asked as they hummed in thought, tilting their head slightly.

"COME, we can have a nice tea party, a nice tour of the neighbourhood. Do I truly feel like an enemy to you? I'm just a funny person in a mask. Your friends seem to think so, nobody else has cared that I'm here. Not even my cohorts or superiors know I am here, they just say whatever to look the other way, for they think I'm a little coo-coo. They'd be riiiiight~" Yz laughed as they shrugged.

"But then again, I have forged the stars, and I might salt the earth too. When you put on the mask, naught can tell whether you're smiling or plotting. You can enjoy this with me too, come on my sweet little cupcake. Have a nice evening with me?" Yz offered, making more cohesive sense than they did with Briggun and the other lieutenants for a change, although behind the faceless mask and staring eyes there was not a single thought in Yz's empty mind. This would be evidently clear when they would suddenly twitch violently and proclaim:

"I COULDN'T TELL YOU, DEAR NECROMANCER. Haha, the glimmering roots tickle. Don't let them!" Yz spoke randomly, looking to Aelan for confirmation on... something.
 
"A pleasure to make your acquaintance, madam. I'm Marshal Swybeck, and this is Grand Chaplain Danthyn. Please, make yourself comfortable. I'm certain there's much to discuss given the happenings up north."

Lady Sarthyra bowed as well, to both the Marshal and the Grand Chaplain, before taking her seat across from the Marshal. "Yes, a certain number of things are happening to the north. None of them unexpected, given the relations between Saarus and its northern neighbors over the past decade." she commented as she sat, glancing towards the drink that had been poured and set aside for her.

"So," Swybeck began, "how might we conduct ourselves to best suit this alliance?"

"Ah, straight to the point." she responded, taking the cup in hand and lifting it to her lips. She smelled it first, inhaling the aroma coming from the cup's contents, before taking a sip. A habit she had acquired over the years. Once she had finished, she lowered the cup back to the table and glanced up to the Marshal.

"Well, my lord sent me to ask you the very same question!" she said, with a smile. She glanced over to the Grand Chaplain, before speaking again. "We, over the years, have often made demands and requests from you with little to show for it. I understand the hesitation to hold up your ends of the alliance when we don't hold up our own."

She paused for a moment letting what she said sink in, before continuing. "Lord Briggun wishes to know just what the Empire can do to strengthen the alliance between our two nations. After all, our nations were both born of from rather terrible circumstances... We've both suffered the worst of injustices. We share a common bond."

"And so, my Lord asked me to bring you an interesting proposition."
she then said, returning her gaze to the Marshal. "...Do you wish for your people to be reunited in harmony? For past transgressions to be answered for and corrected? To put an end to a wrong that has been forced upon you and the people of Sandach?"
 
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"I COULDN'T TELL YOU, DEAR NECROMANCER. Haha, the glimmering roots tickle. Don't let them!" Yz spoke randomly, looking to Aelan for confirmation on... something.

Having heard the creature's strange appeal for peaceful dialogue, Aelan was nonetheless certain that she couldn't trust them at all- not for a walk, not for a "tea party," and certainly not to "enjoy" whatever madness was inspiring Yz's actions and speech. The elf glared at her. "...That's enough. I don't care if you're unarmed; I'll only have your company if you intend to surrender. Otherwise, if you got through the border, then there's a breach somewhere, and we need to close it off! Rouse the camp!" she directed her bodyguard before drawing her sword. "Tell them to fan out in case this lunatic has backup!"

While the bodyguard dutifully hurried to alert the elvan army, Aelan carefully kept Yz at the tip of her sword, slowly sidestepping to get closer to her own soldiers. Yz stood unbothered by all this, as despite what Aelan might have believed at the moment, the entity wasn't the least bit phased by her actions. It would be a fairly simple matter for Yz to disappear into the night as easily as they appeared. "...What would you even do?" she asked, her voice dripping with loathing. "You and Briggun's other freaks... what would you do to Erevan if I let you through?"

---
"And so, my Lord asked me to bring you an interesting proposition." she then said, returning her gaze to the Marshal. "...Do you wish for your people to be reunited in harmony? For past transgressions to be answered for and corrected? To put an end to a wrong that has been forced upon you and the people of Sandach?"

The Grand Chaplain seemed to choke on his drink, momentarily, while Swybeck did a double-take between him and the Imperial Envoy. "A- are you...? Are you suggesting that Saarus is prepared to assist us... That you'll help Weildach see the light at long last?" Swybeck stammered.

The Chaplain, having cleared his throat, now interjected. "Now, let's be realistic," he cautioned the Marshal before turning his attention back to Lady Sarthyra. "We all know that Emperor Briggun holds no interest in our spiritual lives, and so we must conclude that a suddenly increased commitment on Sandach's behalf is a front for some other, practical motivation," he declared. "So, what is truly guiding the Emperor's hand this time? Is there some great prize in the mainland that he seeks?"

Swybeck seemed to grow a bit pale as the Chaplain berated the Envoy. Only a member of the church, second only to the government in its political authority and matched by none in matters of morals, could brazenly question the Emperor's motives like this. "Or maybe," he quickly interrupted in order to soothe the tension, "Saarus recognizes that a people reunited under an allied banner will turn Sandach from a minor ally into a major one."
 
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K0mori K0mori

Yz just watched Aelan with slight amusement as they took such serious reaction to their presence. Raising an eyebrow at the intention to awaken her troops, Yz scoffed as they didn't even understand why they were visibly so panicked about one of Briggun's lieutenants crossing the border yet not actually caring about dealing with said lieutenant first.

"Ahah, she thinks I came with backup. Good one" Yz chuckled softly before bending their legs as to imitate that they were sitting on an invisible chair, twirling the contents of a non-existent wine glass in their hand.
"You know, it's often rude to ignore guests and call them a freak, we're all alive and thinking just the same" Yz answered as they took a sip of the air space that was their wine glass before gesturing to Aelan's troops.
"For all you know, I'm just here to get you paranoid into thinking that there's an actual danger. Maybe the danger has already happened. Oh, wouldn't it be so nice if there was someone who had all the answers who was completely unarmed and not a threat at all just ripe for the capturing?" Yz teased as they gently placed down the fake wine glass and stood up, stretching their arms.
"Imagine how impressed your superiors would be if you captured one of Briggun's 'freaks' just like that?" Yz taunted as they held their wrists out like waiting to be handcuffed. Sighing that their jokes and gestures might not get anywhere, they crossed their arms and began acting and talking seriously.

To answer her question, Yz thought for a moment. "Well, probably nothing at all. If you just decided not to fight, then Briggun would just consider the land as 'his' and move on. Those who oppose might find things less unfortunate, but that's not in my control. If he understood how well I did helping 'take' this land, he may offer it unto my jurisdiction, and it's not like I truly care about having a whole kingdom. I'm not even wholly a fan of all of Briggun's business too, I'm the nicest freak you could be graced with. I even came out here through all the difficulty just to say hello to this sweet little piece of something-something that I'm talking to. Although it's a nice bit of land you have, I'd only want a small piece for a little cute homestead, haha".

"But answer me this, little princess. What do your people and kind mean to you if you WANT to put them in war? What to you makes me the villain? A different name, a different mask? All we both do is work underneath someone who wants land for themselves for their own namesake, and people just fight over this for what? Pride? Leaders will have others fight for them because they regard themselves highly, but are too scared to stand by themselves and do it?" Yz asked as they shook their head, beginning to propose an offer.

"None of Briggun or his Lieutenants even know that I'm here right now, I do not care for such conflict or disputes, I'm just here for my own fun and games. I can assure you nobody is with me or is even planning to attack. And, I'm completely alone and unarmed. So, I ask you once more little cupcake" Yz spoke as they offered their open hand forward in gratitude and friendship.
"Would you like to have a little tea-party with me? Indulge a little, darling~".
 
"So, what is truly guiding the Emperor's hand this time? Is there some great prize in the mainland that he seeks?... Or maybe Saarus recognizes that a people reunited under an allied banner will turn Sandach from a minor ally into a major one."

"Its a combination of the latter and the idea of being wronged. Lord Briggun himself knows that all too well." responded Lady Sarthyra, "You don't have to share spirituality and religious inclinations in order to feel for another person or people on an emotional level."

"Besides, there are those inside Saarus that have been studying the history and relations between your nation and Weildach, like myself. I've always been fascinated by the various religions of the world, and have been reading through various tomes about your beliefs and the history behind them. You could say I'm quite the spiritual type myself. We do have the Emperor's ear at times, like presently."


She then took another drink from the cup, before offering a smile to the Chaplain. "Yes, a united ally is a strong ally. Yes, Lord Briggun believes you've been wronged and wrongs must be put right. But there's even more to it, for those of the spiritual mind in the Empire. Your ancestors believed that the people of the world should live in beautiful harmony. The prophets and their descendants passed these beliefs down through a multitude of generations. You yourselves believe the same. And now, in the present, Weildach strays from the path laid before them and trods the path of heretics. They continue to sew discord and hatred inside the hearts of all its citizens. They cast you and your brothers and sisters out. There will be no peaceful, perfect harmony or true unity among your people unless we act... together."
 
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The twin armies marched forward with the force of an unstoppable tide, footfalls of man and steed alike crunching sand underfoot, Izaak shifted his head to look at his own. A rush of pride came at him from the depths of his cold heart as his eyes picked out the craggy armours of his knights, the padded gambeson of his footmen, and the dead, soulless sockets of his skeletal horde. He arrested such a feeling. It is good that, after all these years, he still feels the fire in his heart. The boons of emotion were not unknown to him, however, the detriments are well-known and he finds them far more disastrous with each passing day.

Sometimes, he wonders if or when these sentimentalities would be the death of him? Perhaps today, or it could be in the distant tomorrow.


"Though I am certain this will be a battle worth enjoying, I am afraid that I have so few plans for the conflict ahead. I simply wish to spearhead our way into enemy territory. Perhaps find a town, fort or city to siege, and claim it as a hub from which to operate from. Patience and strategy will have to wait for now. My people grow restless. My spell caster, Rorika, can receive any spell communications that you have for me going forward. Feel free to use her to forward any pertinent information you may feel inclined to relay to me. I hope that I will be able to do the same through a caster of your own as well. A simple message spell would do, unless you have more pressing matters to discuss, then I can appear before you directly."

"We march now, Lord Rosach. I wish you good fortune in the coming days. If you will excuse me, I prefer to fight alongside my people."

The bone-plated Voivode turned back to Kolthix. Izaak pondered the shadeling Lord for a moment. Perhaps, they had a semblance of commonality beyond the ruthless efficiency. He recalls when a young boy skulked in the shadows of Castle Rosach, snug in the pale shadows of the cold, flagstone halls. When he watched as his father brought in men of high-standing, both far stronger than he and also far weaker. He remembers how his father threw the weight of his power around towards the less powerful ones, then heeled like a mangy dog before the ones who could actually threaten him. He found it pathetic. Young Izaak learnt from his father's dealings. But where Izaak embraced the shadows unnecessarily, for the sport of it, he imagines Kolthix did it out of necessity and survival.

A bitter wind was groaning towards them, snatching at his tough, sinewy cape of muscle behind him, as Kolthix began speaking. He walked in pace with the shadeling, clenching his hands behind his back. Revealing a plain blade sheathed in his leather scabbard. The quickening of his army did not escape the Master of Bones, if he had been a lesser man, he would've felt a tang of fear in his heart. Instead, the man nodded to Kolthix' biting words. He shared the relish.

"I am no stranger to mobile hubs, the cities or towns are yours to do with as you please. Should you find it, my men — the skeletals will join in the direct assault, while the others will flank. I have ample time for strategy, in fact, I'll share once my findings are conclusive. As for communiques, Demetra and her coterie of mages is ready to reply to any message you have in store." Izaak's voice rasped on the wind. Izaak stopped abruptly, looking forward as Kolthix sprinted with his army. He raised his voice a hair higher. "May good fortune find you." Saluting off with his gauntlet.

At his beck and call, a ghastly steed rushed towards him. Each charging step reverberated as though it was summoning a thunderclap, its footfalls echoing through the dry, sun-scorched air. He leaped, grabbed hold of its reins, and slipped a bony sabaton in the bare-iron stirrup. The Voivode soon rejoined his army and retinue, marching at their own pace while seeing off the horde of writhing darkness. A few of the men shamefully breathed, feeling a sense of relief.

It had taken almost two hours for Izaak's army to reach a suitable location to establish a temporary base of operations. The men had begun sharpening their blades with whetstones or inspecting their armours a final time. Demetra and her mages reciting canticles or arcane texts. The dead stood eerily still, becoming like statues over a graveyard's sullen grounds. Standing. Staring at the horizon. Izaak himself had secluded himself in the main tent, investigating the occurrence of the strange omens his men had witnessed a few nights prior. A brief analysis of the bottled water brought to Izaak's attention an unidentifiable impurity within the lake, bestowing hallucinogenic dreams upon the victims. He unscrolled a vellum roll, dabbing a swan quill pen in soot-bound ink. He pressed the nib gently, writing down his discoveries.

He stepped out from the taut flaps of his tent, to convene with his lieutenants about how to best assault their next target. Once their scouts return.

Vexumin Vexumin (Kolthix)
 
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"But answer me this, little princess. What do your people and kind mean to you if you WANT to put them in war? What to you makes me the villain? A different name, a different mask? All we both do is work underneath someone who wants land for themselves for their own namesake, and people just fight over this for what? Pride? Leaders will have others fight for them because they regard themselves highly, but are too scared to stand by themselves and do it?" Yz asked as they shook their head, beginning to propose an offer.

"None of Briggun or his Lieutenants even know that I'm here right now, I do not care for such conflict or disputes, I'm just here for my own fun and games. I can assure you nobody is with me or is even planning to attack. And, I'm completely alone and unarmed. So, I ask you once more little cupcake" Yz spoke as they offered their open hand forward in gratitude and friendship.
"Would you like to have a little tea-party with me? Indulge a little, darling~".

"You're too late to be asking any of these questions," Aelan snapped. "Briggun has already attacked my people with that damned wyrm of his, and now you're asking if we want to fight back? Yes, I serve my King and my Queen, because they treat their subjects with kindness; your Emperor and his pawns are known throughout the realms for their greed and unbridled cruelty. I would have to be daft to think it a mere trifle!"

Aelan's rage flared as she spoke, and it was clear that Yz's misogynistic and infantilizing approach was doing absolutely no good. Aelan was nobody's princess and had never been one to collect dolls or hold tea parties. She had spent her youth honing her swordplay and studying tactics, hardening her mind and sharpening her wit for the moment it would be needed. How dare this stranger trivialize it so? "You... You think this is a game? Why don't you play something else then!? Or better yet, keel over and bleed to death!"

Suddenly, Aelan lunged forward, deftly swiping with her sword at Yz's neck, but the creature effortlessly evaded her without so much as a flinch. Another slash met nothing but air, and soon, several of Aelan's soldiers, led by her bodyguard, all joined the fray. Try as they might, Yz seemed to blink back and forth as they they turn and spun, eventually slipping between two of the guards. A chase began, with Aelan screaming from the rear of the back, "KILL IT!"

Then, quite suddenly, they lost Yz. As they turned a corner into the city market, the forms and shadows of their surroundings became difficult to discern, as if they had entered a wooded area. A shadowy figure in the distance attracted their attention, but as she turned, the soldiers failed to recognize her. They began to spread out, hopelessly searching the city a while longer, while Yz, without a mask, quietly exited the scene.

---

She then took another drink from the cup, before offering a smile to the Chaplain. "Yes, a united ally is a strong ally. Yes, Lord Briggun believes you've been wronged and wrongs must be put right. But there's even more to it, for those of the spiritual mind in the Empire. Your ancestors believed that the people of the world should live in beautiful harmony. The prophets and their descendants passed these beliefs down through a multitude of generations. You yourselves believe the same. And now, in the present, Weildach strays from the path laid before them and trods the path of heretics. They continue to sew discord and hatred inside the hearts of all its citizens. They cast you and your brothers and sisters out. There will be no peaceful, perfect harmony or true unity among your people unless we act... together."

"Then let's act!" Swybeck replied, enthusiastically. Grand Chaplain Danthyn's reservations however were unabated. As far as he was concerned, Briggun's concern for the spiritual world ought to be limited to his own damned soul and figuring out what variation of Hell he would suffer for possessing it. His Envoy was doing a good job of convincing the Marshal, he knew, as the boy was enthusiastic for bloodshed above all else aside from the Gods. Danthyn knew, if he were to press this "Lady Sarthyra" on religious matters enough, he would expose her as a charlatan, and temper Swybeck's spirits a bit.

"We will," Danthyn cautioned him, "when we are certain that the Empire fully understands the righteousness of our cause. We cannot commit to a holy war with anything less than absolute faith, nor should Saarus need involve themselves with an ally whose motives are... let's say... alien."

The Grand Chaplain began with the basics, studying the envoy's responses carefully to see if she knew the myths as a farmer would know his field, or if it was merely an act. But as the conversation wore on, and the candles began to sag under the weight of their melted wax, Danthyn found himself impressed. "She knows our faith better than you do, Swybeck," Danthyn commented. The Marshal seemed shocked, maybe even insulted, but quickly he realized that this was exactly the response he had been hoping for.

The two men shared a toast with Veno, to the alliance - and victory in Weildach.

---

Following his duel with Adanach, Faska led the former to his war camp. Their approach was noticed by the watchmen from afar, and quite rapidly a force was assembled to meet them at the perimeter. Faska's second in command, Urfan, accused his superior of having turned coat, but Faska denied it, telling his raiders that he had tested Adanach's mettle, and that the latter was a superior chief. "None of ya dared put yerselves in my way 'less ya were ready to swallow a heap a yer own teef, an that's why ya took my orders- if I couldn't stop 'im, you can't neither." There was a discordant sound of rejection from the camp, but Faska drew his sword and leveled its tip at the camp as if to warn them. "Adanach rules in Mors Gobonach, now! Maybe one day, all o' Druadach... and Saarus too! You wanna get in his way, then either one of us'll put yah in the ground without a secon' thought, an' that's jus' the way it is. Tough shit!"

Again, another wave of disapproval swept the camp as a few of Faska's best warriors gathered around Urfan, as if waiting for him to meet the former's challenge. Urfan stared his superior in the eye for a moment, his lip snarling at the thought of surrender until, reluctantly, he silenced the others, took out his spear, and threw it to the ground between the two sides in a fit of disgust before kneeling. A few of the others also threw down their weapons, but then proceeded to panic, running to their steeds or away on foot, scattering into the twilight of the day.

Adanach's army would march to meet the dwindling goblin war camp and stay in its vicinity overnight. The following day, a headcount revealed that the majority of Faska's raiders had abandoned the encampment, leaving their weapons and much of their loot behind, as if to signal to their new Imperial masters that they had no intention of fighting the forces of Saarus. Faska and those loyal to him reorganized what remained into a new unit under Adanach's command, and new plans were drawn to tackle the surrounding territories.

---
Although Lucafiel's letter was carried dutifully to the border and taken by the courier, the Redeemer Prince received no reply from Iskulia's commander.

---

Turn 1 (Part 1 - The Northern Campaigns) - Year 735 - Late Spring

View attachment Corisia 2023-11-13-23-37 1.jpg

"S-sire," Makar stammered, bowing deeply as he entered the Emperor's throne room.

The dark slit in Briggun's horned helm remained fixed on his goblin servant from afar. "Speak."

Makar cleared his throat and stood as straight as he could, although for someone whose bones had been broken and mended many times, this failed to make him appear any less like a gnarled tree. "Your War Council has made their reports. Adanach has won you the land of Mors Gobonach and the loyalty of-"

"Worthless land, squatted on by mongrels," Briggun interrupted. Makar's eyes went wide at the sharpness of the dismissal. He skipped the rest of the report, having realized that the Emperor wouldn't care about the fresh influx of soldiers Adanach had inspired to defect, as they were merely goblins. "...He has suffered no losses, sir, and seeks more valuable possessions in the barbarian lands."

"Good."

Makar pivoted to the south, wishing to keep the good news coming for as long as he could. Eventually, he would need to tell the Dark Lord of their losses, and likely suffer his wrath. "Captain Cordia has taken Teralia; her banshee's screech destroying the enemy without a fight. West of the Strait of Piantia, no vessels may pass through the Southern Sea without Imperial approval. The northern Weildach ports are stagnant, with ships laid up as if winter freeze is in effect."

"And Sandach?" Briggun quickly demanded, his voice booming.

"They are mobilizing!" Makar answered, cowering a bit at his lord's intensity. "The Black Rose has convinced them that we value their alliance, and will honor our word."

There was a bit of a pause, and the a solitary, blackhearted chuckle escaped from Briggun's helmet. Makar knew better than to laugh with him, and instead focused on recalling the details of the more contested struggles. "Our armies clashed with Erevan in Wyldsylvain and Ysaval. The Headsman was successful in the pass, but Lady Falwyn... was... driven back, s-sire."

Briggun leaned forward a bit on his throne, his gauntleted hand gripping the armrest. "...How?"

"Her army was met with ambush and trickery, and was forced to regroup," Makar explained, averting his eyes. "The others in the Sauroid Mountains have made preparations for their great surprise attack, in hopes that one of these two battles would call the Kingdom's attention away. B-but the Wolf of the South, Aelan Farendal- she stands her ground, sire."

"Cowards," he bellowed, "There are three Imperial soldiers for every blade in Sabersval at their command, and they fear the elf!? Send them a decree with my stamp, Makar: 'I will be visiting Sabersval in Summer. Whoever brings me the head of Aelan Farendal shall have a unit of my personal guard at their disposal for the remainder of this campaign."

"Yes, sire," Makar replied, taking a moment to memorize the message.

"What else?"

Makar turned to the only other victory he could speak of. "Our forces skirmished with Piantians in Kaula. Alexandre was victorious."

"Are refugees seeking asylum in Civiceria, then?"

Makar shook his head. "Not yet, sire. More death will need to convince them. And... Weildach's lack of sea trade has made them increasingly reliant on the roads in Petrata. Most of the Piantians are fleeing south, towards their own mainland. Estro will likely need to take a more direct approach if his cult is to infiltrate the Dominion."

Briggun grunted in annoyance, and with the gesture, beckoned a servant to bring him a drink. "Either that, or Cordia will need to sweep the Piantian Navy from the seas, to cut off that southern escape route. What of Lacans and Gantar?"

"The enemy is dug-in, as you know," Makar quickly excused, "and so Lord Declan has begun his work to foster a slave rebellion. The Hallow Legion is in position in Kokaria, and has discovered the enemy is hiding a plague outbreak behind their closed borders."

"Anything else?" Briggun demanded.

Makar jumped a bit. He knew his Lord would be unsatisfied with stalling and excuses. He had little else to say about the campaign, and so he resorted to information bordering on totally irrelevant. "S-Sire, Tidiaus' halfling commander has sent you a private communication!" he blurted. Fishing around in his bag, the goblin eventually produced a letter sent from Munsie Moldive to Emperor Briggun.

The latter held out his hand, and frantically, Makar hobbled across the ostentatious throne room on his crooked legs for an awkwardly long amount of time before finally placing the envelope in the Emperor's hand. As soon as it was handed off, Makar took several steps away, hoping to escape his Lord's fury should the letter upset him.

To the Most Excellent and Triumphant Emperor Briggun,
How should I describe my admiration? What words could capture the deep and stirring feelings which swell in my bosom? I must sing you my praises, oh Dark Lord, you are the only man I dream of-

Briggun crumpled the note into a ball and threw it down on the tiled floor without explanation. "Enough about Lacans. Tell me of Gantar!" he roared.

Makar, having flown backwards an additional ten steps, stammered his reply. "Sire, the Voivode of Skulls has made his preparations and is in position to attack. Kolthix, however, went first, but his shadelings were driven back from Miraq by Zomach, the Trench Digger. Our forces out-number his nearly three-to-one, another attack must soon follow... It... must..."

Briggun had risen from his chair and now loomed over the wretched goblin. He raised a gauntleted hand as if he were about to throttle his servant, but instead he placed it upon his lumpy head. "Better news, next time," he warned with a shake of his free finger. He released Makar, who nodded and thanked him, before quickly hobbling out of the room.

---​

Druadach Campaign

With his ranks bolstered by the addition of Faska's former forces, Adanach marched onward, moving his camp to the northeast. Further north, the mountainous terrain of Mors Darak loomed, where humans and orcs made their homes. To the east lay Cyrmm, the sacred land of the wild elves and their enchanted waters. Along the way, the Son of the Druadach was unsurprised by the relative poverty of his newly-acquired territory. The land provided little in the way of resources, and much of the wealth gathered in Faska's war camp had been stolen from passing travelers. He knew that the Emperor would care little about this acquisition, and that he would need to keep moving.

===Allied Forces===

Adanach, Son of the Druadach
Meals from the Field // Symphony of War // Drenched in Death
Location: Mors Gobonach
Strength: 4

Turn 0 Recap:
Adanach followed the lead "One is Too Few." He met Leena, an ex-lover of Faska, who provided him the location of Faska's sons in hopes that Adanach would help her enact revenge against the Bloody Bastard. Adanach gained the card "Bargaining Chips." He then met with Faska, and after a dialogue, the two decided to fight a duel to determine whether Adanach was worthy of ruling over the Druadach lands. After his victory, Faska swore his allegiance, bringing with him one token of goblin warriors to bolster Adanach's ranks.

Followers:
Faska, the Bloody Bastard --- Meals from the Field // The One and Only // Drenched in Death

Cards:
A Leader of the Uncivilized - Tribal Forces which have dropped below strength 3 have a 1/3 chance of joining Adanach if he attacks them. (Infinite Uses)
Pagan Zeal - In battle against highly religious factions, Adanach has a passive +2 advantage. (5 Uses.)
Bargaining Chips - Gain +1 advantage against Faska after each victory against him. (3 Uses)

Leads:
Trinkets from Abroad - It isn't long before Adanach begins to notice an unusual amount of baubles from the west, as if Tidiaus had begun to trade with the goblins. That doesn't seem likely, and Adanach is captivated by the question of what brought these goods to Druadach (and especially, if there are any more).
What The Rocks Are Cooking - The new goblin recruits have a strange dish that they're accustomed to cooking on stones placed directly over a campfire, which they claim is far superior for feeding an army than what the Empire is supplying. They offer to teach the recipe if Adanach helps gather the ingredients.


===The Enemy===

Gwrtheyrn, Druid King of the Cyrmm
To Weather the Storm // A Master of the Art // Never Surrender
Location: Cyrmm
Strength: 5

An elder wild elf and a keeper of traditions, the Druid King is a spiritual guide to both the people of Cyrmm and the many pilgrims who come to the waters of Cyrmm Da Loch to experience its purported magic. He does not seek to fight with others, but after the fall of Mors Gobonach to Imperial Banners, he must now confront the idea that an army of foreigners, even one led by a barbarian like Adanach, could soon march on and defile the sacred lands of Cyrmm if he does not fiercely guard it. He has his doubts that Adanach would be so bold; the lands of Mors Darak would be more valuable to the dreaded Saarus plunderers, and perhaps even easier to take. But Gwrtheyrn suspects that Adanach might not attack for another reason- that the man is deluded, and truly believes himself to be the savior of Druadach. Such a man would never raise his blade against the Druid King, but would rather seek his alliance. Gwrtheyrn is in an unenviable position, if that is the case, because he must oppose Adanach, even if he cannot hate him.


Torrin, The Ironheart
With Guile and Cunning // Come What May // A Reckoning for the Wicked
Location: Mors Darak
Strength: 4

Torrin, a fanatical half-orc warrior, has established herself in Mors Darak as not only an enforcer of tribal law, but a shrewd strategist. It is said that the bronze helm she wears grants her a certain sight in battle that others lack, and that she attacks as if she had already foreseen her victory in a dream. Outside of battle, she is a mother of two, and ardently enjoys hunting and pottery. She dreams of one day raising a son or a daughter who will become the ruler of all of Druadach. When rumor reached her that a man marching under the orders of Emperor Briggun held the same dream, she flew into a rage, raising the largest army she could in hopes of killing the bastard before he could spoil her hopes and dreams.

Cards:
The Helm of Eimhir - In battle, if opponent has advantage and superior strength, 1/3 chance Torrin wins automatically. (Infinite Uses)

Erevan Campaign

Yz' adventure into Sabersval was not reported to their colleagues, who continued their preparations for the coming invasion while waiting for a prime opportunity. Unbeknownst to them, the masked stranger had whipped up a frenzy of paranoia in Aelan Farandel, who immediately sought approval to stay in her current location, rather than relocating to the east as she was advised. In the end, approval was granted. Aelan thus dug in, but did not find the route Yz used to enter the territory. Meanwhile, Kande has raised an increasing voice of alarm at the lack of reinforcements coming to his aid. With his experience, he knew that his early victory against Lady Falwyn was a fluke, and that further confrontations would be unlikely to go his way. However, the Kingdom's leaders were far more concerned with Rotwellain's minor defeat at the hands of Sigurd of Ravgoth. They have begun the mobilization of their reserves in the capital province, but political divisions have begun to form over who is to lead this force.

===Allied Forces===

Baba Voyka, the Warsome Grandma
Try and Take It // The One and Only // Chessmaster
Location: Sauroid Mountains
Strength: 3

Turn 0 Recap:
Baba followed the lead "The Hungry and the Desperate" and discovered that local children were stealing supplies from Imperial camps by night. She gained the card "Young Scouts" which will allow her to employ these children in future battles, to locate and raid enemy supply caches.

With temperatures rising, frost becomes rarer and conditions become more comfortable in foothills. The Imperial soldiers are restless, but fear and respect the old hag enough not to question her leadership, for now. Her new recruits, the young scavengers from Brus, learn from the regulars how to travel long distances while wasting little time or supplies, and how to efficiently send messages.

Cards:
Dreamwalker - On defeat in battle, Baba has a passive 1/3 chance of costing her opponent a token to draw even. (Infinite Uses)
Tough Skin - Passively immune to being poisoned. (Infinite Uses)
Young Scouts - Grants supply strategy A in addition to the user's selected strategy. (3 Uses)

Leads:
Ancient Kin - Some of the horned are known for their ability to survive in the harsh cold, and as Baba goes about her planning, she occasionally glances at the high mountaintops where, at the fringe where the rocky wall meets the white-gray sky above, there appears to be a line of trees where they might have wandered, many years ago. She wonders whether one could see into Erevan from such a vantage... or vice versa.
Ghosts of the Past - A few of the new scouts have been chattering about the orphan in their midst from Senta. Before their recruitment, he had spoken to them about a relic buried somewhere in the ruins of the village that might help them survive a crossing over the mountains into Erevan, should their famine continue to worsen. Baba wonders if there's any truth to it, or if it's merely the forlorn hope of the destitute which drives him to make up stories.


Borok Ronillson, the Grand Runesmith
Try and Take It // Symphony of War // Chessmaster
Location: Sauroid Mountains
Strength: 3

Turn 0 Recap:
Borok investigated the lead "The Demon's Gate" and discovered that the mountain's "breathing" was caused by volcanic activity below the surface. By manipulating the magma chamber and the secondary vent the Sauroids tapped into, Borok has discovered a way to cause an eruption that would devastate Sabersval, and has gained the card "Volcanic Plume."

As the weeks pass by, Borok grows tired of sharing space with the other lieutenants and their bloated armies. His own diggers have done the lion's share of the work, and he feels a growing sense of entitlement for some kind of reward, once the operation finally kicks off. And it will, now that he has discovered a method to greatly wound the natural landscape on the north side of the range, and its occupants.

Cards:
Tools for Battle - Ahead of battle, Borok crafts weapons specifically targeting his enemy's weaknesses, granting him a +2 advantage. (3 Uses)
Strength through Enchantment - When facing an opponent with attack strategy C, passively neutralizes their advantage. (Infinite Uses)
Heat of the Forge - Passively immune to burning. (Infinite Uses)
Volcanic Plume - Occupant of Sabersval loses one token. (1 Use)

Leads:
Soft Ground - As the Sauroid diggers have reached the shallow ground near the Elvan territory, they have found the ground softening and giving away surprisingly quickly. One day, as the operation nears, Borok pauses and considers the utility of digging even further, rather than simply surfacing and crossing overland as the others intend.
Pests in the Tunnels - Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Sauroids aren't the only ones digging tunnels under the mountains. While digging for extra storage space in preparation for the invasion, Borok's men discover a separate, shoddily-built tunnel system under the rock- a sign that kobolds might be in the area. Borok considers the opportunity to gain some cheap labor.


Lady Falwyn Tholmar, the Dragonlord
Try and Take It // Symphony of War // Break Their Spirits
Location: Ostmajora
Strength: 2

Turn 0 Recap:
Lady Falwyn attacked Kande Abdolon in Ysaval, but was driven back, losing one token.

Retreating away from the deep woods of Ysaval into the rural countryside of Ostmajora, the army of the Dragonlord licks its wounds. Little has changed in the last few weeks, as the mild weather continues.

Cards:
Dragon's Fury - If Falwyn defeats an opponent with attack strategy A, they lose two tokens. (Infinite Uses.)
Dragonflight - If traveling over allied territory, Falwyn can move across two provinces in a single turn. (Infinite Uses.)
Golden Majesty - Upon conquering an enemy territory for the first time, Falwyn instantly gains a free token. (3 Uses.)

Leads:
The Once and Future...? - Somewhere in Ostmajora, a prince of a now (nearly) extinct royal family is rumored to be alive and living under a false identity. His existence might be a legend, as the royal jewels went missing when his kingdom fell to Briggun and the people may have invented his story in order to cope, or maybe, just maybe, there is a very crafty half-elf living in a shack somewhere with a truly impressive fortune under his floorboards.
Tears of the Vale - The great mountains separating Saarus from Erevan feed several major rivers on both sides of the continent's spine. From her vantage point in the air, while plotting her coming assault, Falwyn notices that one of Erevan's largest rivers is fed by an isolated mountain spring on the Empire's side of the border. Perhaps this might be useful...


Vuldar Elegast, Sigurd of Ravgoth
Try and Take It // The One and Only // Break Their Spirits
Location: Poggost
Strength: 3

Turn 0 Recap:
Sigurd launched an attack on Rotwellain's forces in the pass and emerged victorious, costing the enemy one token.

Just as they feared, the elvan border guards were the first to die when Sigurd launched his attack in early spring. The narrow pass meant that Rotwellain's numerical advantage was moot, and so the headsman's elite personal guard made mincemeat of the elvan vanguard. Having beaten them back roughly two hundred meters, the Imperial Forces now face a heavily-fortified wall which will require the use of siege equipment to overcome. The snow is thawing, and the dead bodies from the first attack lay rotting in the pass, stinking the area to high heaven. Sigurd considers his options, to continue pressing the attack, or to seek other advantages.

Cards:
The Fear is Enough - If a weaker foe attacks while this card is active, they lose a token due to abandonment, regardless of the battle's outcome. (5 Uses.)
Unyielding Contempt - At the cost of a token for one turn, Sigurd can bypass an enemy territory without a fight. (5 Uses.)

Leads:
The Howling Dark - Some nights, Sigurd is awoken by the sound of wolves howling, but it is not the normal, mournful call. No, something larger and more frightening stalks these frozen woodlands.
Oracle Bones - While looting the bodies of the fallen, Sigurd's soldiers uncover something unsettling: the body of an elf whose ribs are broken open and exposed to the air. Tiny runes and phrases are etched into the bones themselves.


Yz, Identity Requiem
Meals from the Field // Nothing is Safe // Break Their Spirits
Location: Sauroid Mountains
Strength: 3

Turn 0 Recap:
Yz followed the lead "The Travelling Troupe" and discovered that the actors are quite good at ad-libbing and mimicking Yz's behavior. For a small fee, they agreed to stand in as body doubles, granting Yz the card of the same name. Yz then attempted to parlay with Aelen Farandel in secret, but found her to be too short-tempered and paranoid to agree to a proper meeting.

Although Yz's attempt to have a civilized conversation with the Wolf of the South goes poorly, they return to the south side of the mountain feeling that not all was a waste; Yz has encountered her sort of hot-headed, trust-no-one response before, and knows that it can be worn down. Pig-headed people are driven by confidence in a cause. Take that away, and they quickly lose sight of their supposed purpose in life.

Cards:
Yz-Arts - Yz cannot be taken prisoner. (Infinite Uses)
Without Identity - If not wearing a mask, Yz is unrecognizable to any enemy that has not fought them and can travel freely in their territory. (Infinite Uses)
Body Doubles - If a foe targets Yz with a card, the effect is negated. (3 Uses)

Leads:
Erasing the Traces - While wandering about, Yz chances upon a crumbling graveyard full of headstones. There, the once-living have been relinquished of every possession, aside from their name. An identity that continues to trap them, long after the world has given them up; Yz feels a wild urge to smash the headstones and allow the dead to be forgotten.
Tears of the Moon - Some of Yz' followers have discovered small, sapphire-like gemstones embedded in the stone cliff faces of the mountain range. All agree that there seems to be something special about these gems, but as to what that might be, no one is sure.

===The Enemy===

Aelan Farandel, the Wolf of the South
To Weather the Storm // Come What May // A Truth Unassailable
Location: Sabersval
Strength: 2

Encountering Yz unexpectedly has badly shaken Aelan. She misses sleep most nights, afraid of being caught unaware, and has increased her personal guard. Her paranoia begins to weigh on her army, but they are nonetheless well-situated in the verdant valleys of southern Erevan as they wait for additional action to come their way. Thankfully, her patrols continue to miss the entrance to the Sauroid tunnels, and so she concludes that Yz must have snuck into the country during Lady Falwyn's attack to her east.


Kande Abdolon, Viper of the Reach
Liberate the Materiel // Colleagues in Arms // Never Surrender
Location: Ysaval
Strength: 3

Ysaval remains free of Imperials for the moment, but Kande is nonetheless furious. For all his life, he has strived to demonstrate excellence as a warrior and a leader, and for all that effort, the elves still regard him as an inferior voice in the room. Reinforcements are being mobilized in the north of the country, but in all likelihood they will be sent to Rotwellain, who already commands the lion's share of the Kingdom's forces in a position where sheer numbers are irrelevant, and everyone knows it. It's enough to boil his blood, and only at the advice of his best lieutenants does he avoid sending one-too-many strongly worded letters to his superiors about the situation. He is reminded that the Royal Family is not exactly handling the news of Briggun's renewed attack with a healthy mindset, and until the nobles get their house in order, he's unlikely to receive the support he deserves. Quietly, he considers the unthinkable. If his betters cannot do what's necessary to bolster his vulnerable flank, then perhaps Kande will need to seek an audience with his enemy instead.


Rotwellain Martiel, Gatekeeper of the World
To Weather the Storm // A Master of the Art // A Reckoning for the Wicked
Location: Wyldsylvain
Strength: 4

The attack has come, and from the most obvious and defensible angle! Despite this, Rotwellain's forces suffer staggering losses in the opening maneuvers as Sigurd lives up to his reputation. Rotwellain knows that he cannot suffer another defeat on the heels of his first, and has asked for immediate reinforcements to replace the men and women he lost. While his confidence hasn't waned, the general's ire for the Empire has risen by several notches, and he sorely wants to remind Sigurd, Briggun, and the rest of their accursed loss of whom they're dealing with.


Gantar Campaign

Far away, on the continent's northern coast, the Sultan received word that Miraq was attacked by monsters. He disregarded the news; it wasn't uncommon for creatures of the night to make a sudden appearance now and then at the realm's edge, and nevertheless, the local tribesmen drove them back. It was as if the event never really happened. Instead, the Sultan spent the early spring focused on news from Erevan and Piantia- the former being a bellwether to tell if Briggun's latest offensive would truly, finally threaten the Sultanate with a violent takeover, and the latter threatening to cut Gantar off with its trade partners in Weildach.

===Allied Forces===

Izaak Rosach, The Voivode of Skulls
Try and Take It // Symphony of War // Break Their Spirits
Location: Ostminora
Strength: 3

Turn 0 Recap:
Izaak investigated the lead "Crystal Lake" which revealed that the waters of said remote lake are tainted with an impurity which causes delusional behavior. Knowing this, Izaak bottles as much as he can, knowing that it can be used against his foes in the future. He gains the card "Bottled Omens."

Having found cleaner water sources, Izaak's army made camp in early spring in order to better plan his attacks. The weather was clear, and was getting warmer with each passing day until the sandy expanse in the distance began to shimmer with the bending light of mirages. His scouts, probing Miraq's defenses every day, sometimes returned so dehydrated that they openly begged for more water, even threatening to break into the tainted supply that Izaak has saved for his enemies. The Voivode of Skulls gazed out over the landscape and felt a sense of urgency; his skeletal warriors would have no problem in an environment like this, but the Imperial soldiers sent by Briggun were ill-equipped to survive unless the campaign was short and easy.

Cards:
Skeletal Warriors - If Izaak wins a battle against a non-undead opponent, he will have a +1 advantage on the following turn. (Infinite Uses)
Raising an Army - While occupying territory that was forcibly taken the prior turn, Izaak gains a token every other turn until strength 5. (Infinite Uses)
Bottled Omens - Gain +3 advantage against a mortal target for one turn. (1 Use)

Leads:
The Lonesome Tower - Near the edge of the mountain ridge separating Saarus from Gantar, a shadow juts out from the landscape in just such a way as to convince Izaak that there's a tower on the Gantar side which might be worth exploring.
An Unguarded Caravan - From a distance, the scouts spot a long wagon train struggling to cross the desert. From their dress and heading, Izaak can assume that they're Civicerians, returning from a trade mission to Gantar itself. Why the caravan isn't escorted by soldiers is anyone's guess.


Kolthix the Cackler
Everywhere At Once // Nothing is Safe // Break Their Spirits
Location: Ostminora
Strength: 2

Turn 0 Recap:
Kolthix attempted to attack the territory of Miraq, but was defeated and lost one token.

Although they fought well, the inhospitable terrain and quick response of the tribesmen under Zomach's command were enough to chase the shadelings back into the night. The attack made little difference in the grand scheme of things; Zomach for one wasn't even aware that he was under attack from the Saarus Empire due to his political illiteracy. Having recovered in Ostminora, Kolthix would now have the opportunity to reconsider his leads before the next gamble.

Cards:
From Unbound - Passively defeats any card which presents physical defensive barriers against attackers. (Infinite Uses)
One with the Dark - Unless kept in perfect light, Kolthix cannot be taken prisoner. (Infinite Uses)

Leads:
Gods and Demons - Along the route to the edge of the Empire, the Shadelings discover a crumbling temple dedicated to the same Gods worshipped in southern Gantar by the tribal people. Kolthix can't help but wonder if there are forms depicted within which might aid in the conquest.
A Stitch in Time - Rumors of a skilled weaver in the area somehow reach the approaching Saarus Imperial forces. According to the story, a craftswoman in northern Ostminora knows of a technique to weave a cloth which renders the wearer invisible during the night. Kolthix is reminded of his own abilities, and wonders, with some suspicion, of how the weaver achieved the same effect.

===The Enemy===

Zomach, the Trench Digger
With Guile and Cunning // Come What May // A Truth Unassailable
Location: Miraq
Strength: 2

The day following Kolthix's attack, Zomach simply returned to digging ditches as if nothing was wrong. His followers, however, began to investigate what evidence remained on the battlefield and soon came to understand that their enemy wasn't simply a mob of monsters, but had acted in unison- an organized front. At their insistence, Zomach began to make preparations for further attacks, sending out word to the most far-flung villages to the east to bring up more men to protect Gantar. However, few answer the call.


Lacans Campaign

As the weather continued to warm, it stabilized and the heavy storms gave way to more occasional, gentle rains. Activity along the Kokarian sea coast increased as the fishing villages lurched reluctantly into action, while the farmers further inland began to plant the new season's crop. In Tidiaus, trade increased with the northern realms of the Arantino Republic and Kingdom of Lorei, while Munsie Moldive led recruitment drives for the defense of her realm.

Declan Asquith Elron, First Viceroy of Sathesbury
Try and Take It // Symphony of War // Chessmaster
Location: Tidiaus
Strength: 3

Turn 0 Recap:
Declan followed the lead "Breaking the Chains?" and was joined by a number of escaped slaves. These men and women have been promised a better life if they assist him in causing a slave revolt. He has gained the card "Blinded Liberators."

Setting up camp, Declan's army relaxed after the long march to Tidiaus. While they strengthened their morale for the coming battle, news arrived from elsewhere in the world about their comrades' victories and failures, which the Viceroy studied carefully. The defenses of Lacans were daunting, but if attacked carefully, it would have been possible to wear the defenders down, or perhaps collapse their efforts entirely. Declan would not be goaded into attacking too soon.

Cards:
Soulstealer - If this card is in play and Declan wins a battle, he will possess the enemy commander's soul, instantly defeating their army. (3 Uses)
Diplomat - If this card is in play and Declan loses a battle, he will avoid losing a token. (3 Uses)
Blinded Liberators - If Declan attacks in the same turn as a slave revolt, both armies gain +2 Advantage. (2 Uses)

Leads:
Through the Grapevine - One night, a courier arrives on horseback from Oitvemia carrying a note from Petrokos Aklessia, intended for Munsie Moldive. He hands the letter off to an officer of Declan's camp, however, providing the Viceroy a chance to eavesdrop.
Where None Dare Tread - The melting snow has revealed the entrance to some sort of shrine on the side of a mountain that overlooks Oitvemia. Declan asks around and learns that the locals know and fear the shrine as a place of ancient evil. He ponders for a moment whether it would be prudent to send a party in to explore.


Lucafiel sa Helendal, the Redeemer Prince
Everywhere at Once // Symphony of War // Chessmaster
Location: Kokaria
Strength: 3

Turn 0 Recap:
Lucafiel investigated the lead "Something Rotten in Iskulia" and discovered that the enemy is suffering from a plague. Should the borders be opened, said plague would undoubtedly cross into Imperial lands, but luckily the Lacans are quite insular aside from their trade ships, which carry (among other things) medicine to the territory. Knowing this, he gained the card "Snake Oil." Lucafiel also exchanged letters with Ikono Manakles, who refused to entertain any dialogue which would see the two in the same room, insisting that they only meet on the battlefield.

As the days passed by, Lucafiel was increasingly convinced that his foes would only respond to force. His army would welcome such a decree, as they had become more and more restless as time has gone on, trying to push the local population into becoming more productive for the good of the Empire and for the army's purposes of supply.

Cards:
Red Comet - When played, Lucafiel may redefine his three strategies. (Infinite Uses - Once Per Three Turns)
Hand of Life - Lucafiel can revive a dead character, or kill one who trusts him. (Infinite Uses - Once Per Three Turns)
Snake Oil - False cures for the plague are sent to Iskulia, giving them a disadvantage of 2. (2 Uses)

Leads:
The Lacansic Pantheon - The people of Kokaria express a familiarity with the gods worshipped in Lacans, and openly provide direction to temples in the north of the province which were erected in dedication of the same deities. Lucafiel's curiosity is drawn to these old structures.
Cult of Personality - It comes to the attention of Lucafiel that a small number of Kokarians (and presumably, people in other territories) worship the Emperor as a sort of avatar of destruction. His War Council is likewise to be honored with cultish devotion. Such a thing could prove very useful...

Munsie Moldive, Fox of the Forest
Everywhere at Once // Nothing is Safe // Break Their Spirits
Location: Tidiaus
Strength: 3

Having failed to get a private audience with Declan, and having not received a response to her letter for the Emperor, Munsie feels an increasingly dire need to prove herself. For one, she seeks a power which might separate her from the common rabble, as most of the War Council are more than mere mortals. For example, while there are plenty of mages under her command, her specific request for "wizened witchcrafters of world renowned" has prompted more than a few eye-rolls. In a fit of anger, she declared to one lieutenant that if she doesn't receive a chance to make her mark, and soon, then she will take it upon herself to lead the invasion into Lacans.

===The Enemy===

Ikono Manakles, the Ram of Iskulia
To Weather the Storm // A Master of the Art // A Truth Unassailable
Location: Iskulia
Strength: 6

After his exchange of letters with Lucafiel, Ikono is convinced that the Imperial threat is nothing to be concerned about. He openly brags in the forum that Briggun has sent a "weakling" to beg for dialogue, and that he has only replied with a promise of death. His remarks are met with general enthusiasm from the public, but some begin to wonder whether the young man's hubris will be the downfall of their country's independence.

Petrokos Aklessia, The People's Hammer
To Weather the Storm // Colleagues in Arms // A Truth Unassailable
Location: Oitvemia
Strength: 6

Petrokos is relieved to have not battled Imperial or allied forces so far. Carefully, he plots his next move, quietly penning a letter to the halfling commander in Tidiaus in hopes of gaining some insight into the enemy's designs. Lacans is still officially at peace, the people feel secure, and Petrokos is still very popular, but he still dines alone and ruminates on his every weakness, afraid that some unseen vulnerability will destroy him if he does not catch it first.
 
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Come the passage of several weeks into the later days of a rainy spring, the Imperial forces encamped in and around the remains of Akatoria Castle conducted their time with stoicism. There was much that needed to be prepared for when engaging in a military campaign and the lower territories of Lacans were nothing if not formidable. For the most part, these preparations were little more than mundane labor: their encampment had been fortified upon their arrival, with palisades erected around entrenched tents and cabins within the perimeter while outside extensive pits had been dug to hinder any attack upon their position be it from infantry or cavalry; among the logistical officers, planners, and tradesmen within the Legion, efforts were taken to keep the assembled force well-fed and maintained, though given to their usual tactics, scouts were probing enemy territory to establish watchpoints to supply their eventual advance without the necessity of an immense and burdensome supply line; and lastly, matters concerning the plague were brought to the foremost attention of the soldiers.

This latter point had become a particular focus. Lucafiel knew and understood sickness. In the depths of his mind, in histories nearly forgotten to him and even his surviving people as a whole, there had been those who created illness - crafted it like wicked gods of cosmic apocalypse who bestowed curses upon mortal health with whimsy, sometimes as a demented blessing to their divine inclinations or as a supreme punishment. He didn't think the Forbidden One had been one such creature, for none of what remained of his memories were particularly knowledgeable with bestowing sickness upon other peoples of other existences. The lives of the Vestati had been that of warriors, enforcers, and servants. Eternal servitude to creatures of a higher order, now expunged from their very minds. But still those dark whispers remained, of workshops lost within the space between realms, growing and twisting malign matter to ensure pestilence reigned upon the mortal body.

It was a disgusting and dreadful thing, and while Lucafiel had some level of general distaste for many of the lesser races, he could not abide by the anarchial display of disease. It was as unpredictable as it was uncouth. The Vestati were blessed with sound bodies even as their minds shattered and spun like the crystalline splinters of a dropped chalice, and so when he looked upon those taken with illness, he felt both contempt for the sick as well as wishing to pity them. As such, the Vestati had deigned to implement rigorous policies going forwards while dealing with the Lacans campaign.

Writ upon numerous signs within public areas and repeatedly told to footman and officer alike, the Hallow Legion was engaging in their first proper battle - with disease. Plague had yet to touch them as they had not yet advanced over the border, which had already seen little traffic before their arrival and even less now that they were encamped, but Lucafiel desired the legion to be well-drilled and already accustomed to the rigorous actions needed to stop the spread of the plague, unpopular as some steps would be.

Displayed prominently before the entrance to the main keep of Akatoria Castle was one such familiar sign to those of the legion, in which it read in no uncertain words:

To all who reside beneath the beatific gaze of the Redeemer Prince, such actions as listed below are now to be taken with utmost fervor under strict penalty of rationing, whipping, and forfeit of pay and luxuries.

Primus - Muzzles and mouths are to be contained within wrapped cloth during waking hours. Full body bathing is to be enforced at a minimum of twice weekly at section commander's discretion. Rations of soap are to be free for all legionnaires for the duration of this time. Excess filth will be met with excess punishment.

Secundus - Fraternization between sections is to hereby remain limited to selected officers and delegates only. All sections are permitted increased leisure time and alcohol rationing.

Tertius
- Battlefield and subsidiary looting is prohibited to prevent the spread of animalcules for the duration of seven days upon capture; following a period of seven days departure from a corpse or home, looting of the field or subsidiary will be permitted under direction of section commanders.

Quartus - All foreign bodies are to be burned without delay.


Quintus - Persons are to be quarantined upon affliction for a duration of the illness in addition to three days time upon recovery. As necessary, temporary sections of the ill will be raised to labor in unison without risk to unafflicted compatriots.

These regulations were not entirely new, for the Vestati had long been concerned with the control and mitigation of disease, among other things. From the labor camps, work rotas, and other military detachments, an orderly assembly was a successful assembly. Vestati overseers and their auxiliary companions valued finesse when applicable, but dereliction of higher directives that could compromise the health and efficiency of any operation was perhaps one of the greatest sins that could be committed under their purview.

From a small shaded balcony of the large keep, enveloped with moss and the odd patch or so of plaster to shore up crumbling brickwork, Lucafiel observed the Legion's military encampment with the measured eye of an experienced commander. The rains had subdued to some extent, even granting a few clear days with most being gray and overcast, and he could see hundreds of little plumes of smoke emerging across the perimeter, from cook fires roasting meats and stews to simple braziers keeping sentries and soldiers warm. Sections - comparable to platoons or companies of men - kept to their own spaces as directed, training, resting, and relaxing within their own isolated islands within the camp. At the moment there was more leeway in these interactions - particularly labor teams such as cooks or engineers - but this would become stricter once they entered the plague-ridden lands of their enemy.

Much activity was around the baths, both an item of hygiene and recreation. Shallow pits had been dug and bricked in to serve as bathing spots for the legion, with water constantly being heated and poured in; once one group had conducted their time, the water would be drained to a secondary waste pool where the water was strained, boiled, and recycled. It was a far cry from the iconic marbled baths of their established fortresses in the heart of the empire, where spring waters from the very earth bubbled up in pure clarity, clean enough to even drink. Here while on campaign it was a much more mechanical process, and one that took the heart out of some of the enjoyment of what should have been a good social activity for the Vestati. Lucafiel could see long lines of nude soldiers meandering through the cold air to the baths and reluctantly emerging once the water-masters dictated their time was done.

After a little time of watching, Lucafiel returned to the heated confines of his chamber. His desk was not too far from the fireplace and he returned to penning some letters which had come to mind as needing to be addressed:

Salutations, Viceroy Declan sa Elron,

I hope this missive finds you well. While I am sure your officers and scouts keep you well appraised of the conduct outside your jurisdiction, I am writing to inform you that there is a plague outbreak within the southern lands of Lacans, namely Iskulia. This is a warning. I urge you to take all precaution against the spread of these animalcules infecting the Lacans people regardless of their station. Your hopes to amass an army of slaves is noble, certainly, and with merit, but I caution their hygiene even in the north. Needless to say, plague will spread if left unwatched and it does not differentiate between slave and master, defeated and victorious. Once the business with Lacans is concluded, I would be most dismayed to learn your forces unwittingly carried plague back to the Empire. It would be disheartening to send my legion into villages to burn all once again, as we had done some seasons prior, for the peasants had labored hard that year.

Namely, I caution refugees once the Hallow Legion advances. Appraise all without mercy.


- Lucafiel sa Helendal, Commander of the Southern Front

Over several days of deliberation, and consulting a map of known Imperial positions, Lucafiel decided to write to Adanach's barbarian horde in hopes of bolstering his position with hardened warriors who were capable of wilderness warfare, for there were many spots within Lacans that would not be conducive to the Legion's typical formation fighting. While legionnaire skirmishers would serve well, they were also needed to screen for the main legion itself, and could not be allowed to stray too far unlike those who were of a more... chaotic inclination.

Lucafiel pursed his lips in thought. How did one even address a barbarian woodsman? Ugh....

To the great warrior Adanach and clan,

The campaign to integrate Lacans will likely begin within the year and preparations go well. I, too, hope your activities in the east go well. However, I write with a request. The territory my legion faces is rather mountainous and wooded - ill land for easy maneuvering. If it is so possible, I am petitioning for a small forced of your soldiers to accompany my legion as scouts and skirmishers, especially those who have experience within the realm of Lacans previously. While this is neither a personal nor official request but merely an exchange of military purpose in service to our Emperor, I would of course be delighted to offer later assistance to yourself and your... clan people as you see fit. Do feel free to assemble as many centaurs, orcs, goblins, and the such as you wish. Perhaps you would like to see the value in a Vestati crusader in return.

- with thanks, Lucafiel sa Helendal

Another piece of parchment crossed his attention, and he dipped his quill:

To my most esteemed friend Veno Dilach,

I have exchanged some few letters with the fabled Ram of Iskulia, Ikono Manakles, and have found him... rather unpersonable within the page. If it is at all possible, I would like to see if you have an assembled dossier on his person and those close to him. He seems prideful, arrogant, boastful, and rash. A very ripe personality for exploitation. I suspect by the time this letter finds you, we will have already gone to the battlefield, though I suspect the campaign will be a slow and steady one. I do hope all is well within your life and labors.

I must also bring to your attention that there is plague in Iskulia and I have concerns on the maritime shipping here spreading the disease elsewhere. As I am certain you have a contact in every shadow that stretches on this continent, perhaps raise caution on Iskulian ships and goods. I intend to burn all, naturally. Plague is such a distasteful thing, no? And perhaps you can convince Declan of the foolishness of freeing all slaves of Lacans. The north may suffer less than the south, but plague cares little about boundaries. I will be most cross should he continue ahead heedless of the danger of disease.


- your dear friend, Lucafiel

At last, with the bulk of his missives written, sealed, and distributed for transit, Lucafiel considered a number of reports he had received concerning the existence of those in Kokaria and potentially elsewhere that looked upon the Emperor as a sort of... avatar of destruction. It was amusing to him, but a concept that was not without some merit. Briggun had brought war and conquest to a great many corners of the expanding realm, and those inclined to see him as any divine aspect would certainly see him as one of destruction. Cults and what not were more so the territory of the spiders like Veno and Estro, though neither of them were here, even if they had ears within the wind. Lucafiel saw little reason to cultivate such worshipers here beyond the immediacy of their usefulness, unless they so happened to demonstrate particular competency or usefulness.

He summoned one of his aides and tapped away at a local map. "We shall continue to conduct additional cross border raids - continue to maximize destruction. Burn all fields, homes, and villages encountered. Nothing is to be untouched by flame. Keep the wells untouched, though I suspect the Iskulians will poison them all the same. Regardless, if they are found safe while we advance, one can hardly deny good water," he explained. "As for these Kokarians who see our Emperor as an avatar of destruction, let us bring them out. All of them that we can, and elsewhere, too. Let us see how they wish to serve the divine."
 
Sona Radar Sona Radar Damian0358 Damian0358

In the depth below Erevan, a restless horde kept clawing away at the insides of the world. A constant clattering of pickaxes and shovels was rarely interrupted by ghastly hisses from steam vents or the cracking of a whip. Borok Ronillson had made it clear to his subordinates that work on the tunnels was not to be paused and thus new slaves were dragged from the surrounding villages south of the mountains to feed the ever-growing endeavour of allowing three armies to pass into Elven lands. The Grand Runesmith himself would usually oversee the work or consult with the foremen and engineers, but a rare exception was made as he had ordered for messages to be delivered to Baba Voyka and Yz, as the time seemed right to strike. To honour the guests, Borok would meet them at a newly created forge next to a stream of magma running through the underground, combining the fire of the forge and the warmth of the earth in one place and thus making it a place of hospitality in the eyes of the Sauroids. But Borok wasn't keen on pleasant chatting and friendly welcomes, as he kept pacing up and down like a caged animal whilst he waited.

"There you are!", he bellowed, as the fellow lieutenants were ushered in by the anvil guard, the most scarred veterans he had to offer, clad in heavy plate. "Welcome once more to Erevan. It may not look like it, but we are already below the foes borders. And our time to strike has come.", he could restrain himself to some sort of corteous behaviour, but as he glanced towards Yz, he couldn't help but grind his teeth. He hadn't learned much about her endeavours, but they needed to really pull together now, so as not to anger Lord Briggun any further. "I am sure you are aware that the dragon has got herself stuck and our Lord is growing impatient. We are ready to attack and surprise the Elves with fire und fury. That is why I have gathered you here.", he explained, before waddling towards a large stone plate, smeared with a crude map of Sabersval and the tunnel networks. "I propose to attack our immediate enemy, the softskin they call Aelan Farandel. And it wont just be the weight of our armor crushing them, I intend to destroy the foe entirely in one sweep by unleashign the fires from within the mountain.", the Runesmith kept it very blunt, as usual. To emphasize his point, he held his claw towards the centre of Sabersval, blowing a hole clean through the stone plate by activating the rune inscribed on the backside of it. "That should clear the way for either of you to save the dragons scales. Or head up north immediately, if thats more to your liking. Any objections?"
 
With the weeks passing, Voyka concentrated her efforts in maintaining the supply line and making sure her forces were ready for combat, along with training the young recruits she had nearly beaten to a pulp, her little "Falcons" as she called them. But as the weeks passed and the weather improved, it was clear that what she had said in the previous meeting would prove correct. Though they could stay put for a time, sooner or later, they would have to strike, if not because of the restlessness of their own forces, then because of Briggun. The combination of Falwyn's failure in the East along with scout reports that Aelan Farandel had yet to abandon Sabersval, topped with Briggun's message, indicated to all present that they needed to strike now. She would find herself surprised, however, when she received word from Borok to meet, as she wondered why he would be the one to pursue such a meeting.

As she followed Borok's men to the destination of the meeting, it quickly became clear why. Borok had managed to source magma in the past few weeks. Ushering both her and Yz by the forge, showing both sauroid ingenuity and forcing the two of them to bare the nearby heat, it was very much a show of force. She had no care for the chauvinism present here, instead merely smiling as she entered and witnessed the forge, immensely impressed by the effort beyond that fact. She waved her hand as he bellowed.

As Borok began presenting, she just found herself nodding. Everything was effectively as had been planned. All three of them, now in anticipation of Briggun's arrival, were to strike Farandel, and from there stretch where they can. None of what was discussed was, in her eyes, problematic.

"No objections on my part. A decisive strike would be required more than ever, especially with our Lord's impending arrival. I do request one honor, in exchange for another," Voyka began. "As we all know from the message we received from his Rottenness, he wishes for the head of Aelan Farendal, and for such, he will grant one of us a unit of his personal guard. I have no need to prove myself to him by bringing him her head, but nothing would bring me more joy than to be her executioner. Her death and her body, to be used as an example towards Erevan. Given whom we are to thank for having this opportunity in the first place, I believe that you, Borok, should receive the honor of delivering Farendal's head to our Lord," she explained, showing in this matter her respect for the sauroid for all he and his men had done for this campaign.

"And we cannot risk allowing Farendal to escape. I doubt our Dark Lord would accept the notion that we could not provide her head due to her being buried under brimstone. For all he could ascertain, that could provide a cover for her having escaped, to bolster Erevan's armies with experience against any three of us. Either she dies and we have proof of it, or else," Voyka's tone turned serious for a moment, as if wanting to make sure that the others realize what she's getting at. "If we succeed against Farendal and establish ourselves in Sabersval, I offer myself to head eastward and aid Falwyn in Ysaval, to cut the viper there from both the front and the back. However, for such a maneuver to be successful, I will require someone to follow me up and head northward towards the core of Erevan, whether it be you, Borok, or Yz, or perhaps our Dark Lord himself. The last thing we would need is any of our Lord's forces being encircled, and such an attack would distract long enough to aid Falwyn. And in turn, someone will need to stay and watch Sabersval, whether to watch for attacks from the West if any come, or to ensure no one rises up."

"All this, however, assumes we succeed. Let us, then, discuss attack order," Voyka remarked, her tone softening somewhat, "To ensure victory, we have to consider who strikes first and when. Looking at our forces, I believe that Yz should strike first, followed by you, Borok, and then myself. Yz's unorthodox style striking first should provide ample opportunity for you, Borok, to strike the Elves with fire and brimstone, and then for myself and my men to come in and sweep the remainder of the field. You two may receive the glory's share of battle, as long as the Wolf of the South is gutted by yours truly," she suggested. She recognized that in the next battle, she held the weakest chance against their opponent, so she would rather use the opportunity to raise the esteem of her compatriots, so long as she can enjoy the bloodshed to come.
 
Damian0358 Damian0358 Abstracty Abstracty

Yz nonchalantly ignored the mere scenery that the big ol' lizardpeople had made of the underground place as they joined along to the meeting in order to discuss battle strategy. They were absentmindedly fidgeting and playing around with a random long piece of string in their hands as Borok and Voyka talked what were probably majorly important matters unsure how mad they would be once they told them about their surprise meeting with Air-Freshener Fahrenheit or whatever that silly little funny lady's name was. Hearing Voyka speak that it would be most effective if Yz was to go ahead first, they didn't even look up from their entertaining piece of string as they responded.

"Is okay, I already went, your turn to ride the pretty pony" Yz mumbled as they weren't paying much attention to what was happening before looking up a short moment after, since their answer might raise some eyebrows.
"Yz went to ask for tambourine lessons, there were no tambourines. Sad. This Aelan lady, was not good at tea-parties. I brought flowers but I got hungry on the way there, maybe that was the mistake... " Yz pondered illogically as they shrugged and went back to their funny little string.
"I think they're having a big festival, and we are invited! They're waiting for us right now with the blue carpet- of destiny! Mama, papa, can we go? Yz wants to get first in line on all the rides, imagine the snacks they must have. It is time for FAMILY OUTING in Tambourineland! And EVERYONE is excited. Yippee~!" Yz proclaimed cheerfully as they fiddled with the string, looking at Voyka and Borok with wide eyes in admiration hoping they would permit it.

Knowing they'd probably be mad that Yz went ahead to the cool festival already without them and got early access to Tambourineland's star actor Aelan, Yz explained themself only a little.
"Yz wasn't said Yz couldn't get their picture taken with the funny clowns, gecko and gran-mami said not to bully the neighbour's kids, and Yz didn't! Anyway, they think Yz is only-child anyway. Yz can run circles around the silly clowns, and they need all their parade troupe for cute little meee~! I can just go on ahead and say hello so they'll give me their big, friendly welcome song, and then you can join the party when you feel a little less shy!".
 

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