Winds of war : blood and stone

https://scontent-lhr.xx.fbcdn.net/hphotos-xpf1/v/t1.0-9/10988506_782204921875490_8475417377936301677_n.png?oh=bb2c0b194e1c4450d7b9586d17b7b06e&oe=55FDC01A

[size=200]BLOOD AND STONE[/size]

Three Imperial armies engage the Druj in ruined Reikos. The Granite Pillar leads the offensive, with the Quiet Step and the Valiant Pegasus spreading out to recruit and relieve what few defenders remain in hiding amidst the shattered chapterhouses. Where they pass, the Highborn cut down the tattered remains that decorate the crosses and stakes along the roads and around the broken chapters. They lay them to rest with what reverence they can muster. It slows their advance a little, but there is no attempt to tell the champions of the Granite Pillar and the Valiant Pegasus that they should leave the bodies of their countryfolk behind.

At least there are few fresh bodies - it is as if the Druj have simply run out of Highborn to murder.

In a way, it is just as well these remains are skeletons rather than flesh. When the Valiant Pegasus arrive, marching from mountainous Spiral to the east, they are accompanied by a thousand flesh-hungry walking corpses. Bloodless husks in tattered Urizen robes shamble alongside the animated cadavers of battered orcs from the Broken Shore, and unidentifiable bodies whose provenance is difficult to determine. The Highborn champions seem less than happy with the cohort of barely-controlled unliving horrors.

As to the Druj, beneath their white toad banner, they are on the defensive … although this does not stop them trying to make the Empire pay for every inch of ground. There are multiple engagements across the southern territories that, while they end in defeat for the barbarian orcs, still cost the lives of Imperial soldiers.

In the end though, the Druj forces fall back east to their great, dark citadel at High Chalcis. They abandon baggage trains, maim human slaces and sacrifice injured or weary troops - whatever it takes to slow the Imperial advance.

The Empire siezes the ruins of Tabernacle and claims Riverwatch, purging the left-behind Druj ambushers. They push westward into Haros Water, and the devastated remains of Haros town. After three nights of fighting in the broken streets, the Druj fire the remaining buildings to cover their retreat. The broken town burns through the night, like a beacon of sorrow.

Next, the Empire liberates the Vigilant Swan. Once, the lands around the great white granite quarry were a rolling parkland, carefully planted stands of trees expertly placed to conceal the stoneworks and preserve the beauty of the landscape. Now Imperial forces advance through a wasteland dotted with blood-dulled stakes and mass graves. A year under undisputed Druj control has turned it from a carefully maintained source of fine white granite blocks to a twisted open-cast scar in the surface of the earth.

As their last act before withdrawing, the Druj do their best to butcher and cripple the remaining quarry slaves. Only a few dozen survive to be freed by the Imperial forces. The last, vicious fighting here takes place among the bodies of the warm dead and the freshly maimed. Some of the casualties suffered claiming the Swan are from wounds not to the body, but to the spirit - soldiers whose will to fight died behind their eyes when they saw what the Druj had done to their victims.

Which is not to say that the ony wounds are spiritual - the orcs of the white toad banner are Druj, after all. When their weapons are not envenomed, they are coated in filth, or designed with jagged edges to tear flesh and rip through muscle. There is no particular spring magic to spread disease here, but there does not need to be - conditions are ideal for sickness to prosper, and wounds not dealt with by a chirurgeon tend to fester and rot. The Highborn are less vulnerable to these dangerous conditions than the Navarr, due to their peoples’ traditions of cleanliness and washing. In this case, he practicality of the Navarr sometimes plays against them, in a way; too many soldiers end up needing a physick because they did not think “a little bit of mud” would harm them.

Progress in reclaiming Reikos remains slow, even after Riverwatch and the Swan are freed. Over everything hangs an almost physical pall of dread and despair. It weighs on the Imperial forces like a dead weight It is in the air, in the water and the soil. It claws at the spirits of the liberators, slowly grinding away every positive emotion and threatening to undermine every virtuous thought. At night, it is so much worse - in the long watches after midnight dark thoughts might overwhelm the strongest mind. It becomes too easy to dwell on the surrounding horror, too easy to imagine the tormented spirits of the dead crying out their anger and despair.

The stars are wrong. It is easy to remind oneself that this is just magic, just a penumbral veil of illusion designed to counter magical scrying. But on clear nights when one looks up to the sky to see dark constellations seen nowhere else it is easier still to imagine that Reikos is a world of it’s own, an empty tortured world where there is no light and everything, ultimately, will be dragged down into the cold mud and a darkness that never comes. Even the most rational must worry, in the last hour before the eastern sky begins to brighten, that no dawn will come.
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Reikos! Victory! Woooooo! For a given value of “wooo” obviously.

The Empire has retaken the wretched, mud-soaked and almost certainly pestilent ruins of Tabernacle, and made some inroads into the still-smouldering, rubble-choked, mud-covered, almost certainly cursed ruins of Haros!

The “good news” is that the Vigilant Swan has been liberated! It’s now a horrible, tainted, mud-drowned, almost certainly haunted open cast scar full of dead and maimed slaves! Unfortunately, there’s no white granite to claim. The Druj have made off with whatever they’ve dug out recently, and were a bit busy murdering slaves and fighting off invaders to put much effort into quarrying this season. Still, the quarry appears intact - apart from having been turned into a hellhole.

This means that now the Empire has the chance to allocate the Bourse Seat that goes with it. Even I’m slightly unclear how this works when you don’t control the territory, but I think it means the Senate can do a motion of Allocation to make it either National or Imperial - regardless of what it’s status might have been previously. I’ll triple check with the boss how that works and let you know. Watch this space.

Oh and you may notice some reference to the mild dangers of disease and infected wounds when fighting in Reikos. This is largelly narrative flavour (there;s no rivers of blood up at this time), but I would particularly like to draw the attention of @Emma Rowden and any other Navarr who might, for whatever reason, think they are particularly likely to have spent their whole time in Reikos suffering punctured lungs, torn ligaments, poisoned spear gashes, fractured skulls and other hilarious badges of honour.

Right. Onward and upward. This one was a bit depressing, but I’m confident theres no way things can get worse from here on in!

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The picture is from: libreshot.com/people/handprint-on-the-stone/ but I put a border round it. Just saying,