Zeta Era Story

News of the world - and other stuff that happened.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 9:24 am   Subject: Re: Zeta Era Story

Prologue - Spring is Coming

With thanks to the Voice.

Another winter comes to an end.
As the days stretch out and the sun climbs higher each day over the horizon, the snows begin their long retreat to the north pole. Zanzibar basks and stretches in the new warmth, a dozing giant returning to life.

Around the warming waters of the central sea, trade and commerce resume in earnest. At the gateway of the world the great city of Conzanz sits, the threefold jewel of the civilised world. In its winding streets and great docks, hawkers and merchants fight to be heard in a dozen tongues.

Beyond it, on the great southern continent of the world, lie civilisations young and old. The Raeyu Tradewinds sprawl across the low- and highlands of the Buukie rainforest that mark the southern shores of the Narrow Sea, home to two peoples born anew into one nation. Aerostats fly the trade lanes carved in the clouds by ambitious merchants, bearing news and goods between shining new cities that bear no trace of the scars of eras past.

To the south lie the rich, wet swamp forests of the Sergo, gentle giants and healers nonpareil. Flat barges laden with the fruits of the rich terrain ply the winding rivers between mangroves and island farms, whilst bands of well-armed youngsters stalk undead for sport in the wilder reaches of the Sergo domain.

East from this land winds a paved road, one of the few, which stretches out through the Buuki rainforest and over the Spine Mountains into the lands of Illuminex. Here the Church of Cassander rules a people proud and pious, golden-skinned and silver-haired. In the rich basin north of farm-studded highlands lie the great temple cities, the largest of which – Phosnata – rivals even great Conzanz to the north for size, if not for cosmopolitan spectacle.

Across the Narrow Sea lie yet more hospitable regions. The Biric Hegemony, third sponsor of the world city, play their intricate social games in the comfort and plenty of their fertile and clement realm. From their handsome but labyrinthine cities merchants and politicians, unmatched in Zanzibar for charm of subtlety, ply their crafts against both domestic rivals and the more self-confident foreign traders.

West along the coast lies the new kingdom of the Albed. Their lost and nightmare-haunted halls beneath the earth have never been forgotten, but the dwarfs have built new homes of solid stone and ingenious clockwork. Their capital, built into the mountains bordering the searing deserts of the plateau, is the only section of the realm closed to outsiders, a lingering reminder of an ugly history. The rest serves as a vital string of ports and roadside taverns, linking the merchants of the straits to the markets of the west, even if the Albed themselves aren't always enthusiastically welcoming.

The first of those markets is Biscayne. An exotic land by southern standards, this ordered and communal people live across the fertile, lowland jungles that lie on the Narrow Sea’s western shore. They are an industrious, charitable and welcoming race, as keen as the Sergo on the healing arts and as pleased as any to sample goods from all over the world. Their southernmost port, Othenielia, is held in particular affection by merchant sailors about to embark on the long, unbroken trip around the southern cape into the far west, savouring their last (or first) night ashore in weeks.

Those who make the trip find themselves in a strange country. The vast demesne of Karth sprawls the southern spine of the great continent, encompassing both a vast range of forested highlands and the jungled lowlands to the west. For much of the journey sailors encounter only the small towns in scattered farming districts, for the great cities of Karth lie inland, farther up the numerous rivers that define the region. Eventually, after a further long stretch of fishing hamlets and empty coastline, vessels can turn into the yawning mouth of the fat, broad river that snakes inland to Karaka, capital of the Scions and last outpost of cosmopolitanism in the West.

There, most journeys end. Few then turn their ships north, and who would? The north is a haunted place. On the beautiful, fertile island of Volkanos the temple-bureaucracy of Zauflak festers like a cancer, priests of a corpse god leading a nation in litanies of hate and paeans to the purity of the human race. Merchants are tolerated, at least those of human blood, but orcs and those with animal traits are less than slaves.

And the Zau would well keep those hated races in mind, for their realm lies within the arc of an alien realm. Stretching from the scorched and sand-blasted central plateau to the frost-rhymed taiga of the far north lies the dominion of Yunva, the God Star, and eldritch divinity of the Dahric Faith.
Southernmost, in the warm plains and desert, the satrapies of Mikadosh wend their way along the great river that commands the steppe. Long secluded within the silent embrace of the Shuttered Empire, the remnant of the fire-worshiping orcs of history have once again come into a kingdom of their own. Dour and focused where once they were brash and ostentatious, their realm nonetheless permits outsiders, and some hardy merchant adventurers brave the trip to bring back artefacts of this other world.

Of those few, fewer still make it all the way to Cheodahru, the marble gateway to the Unification, the mist-shrouded empire of the Shadows of the Sun. Here the Dahra crawl on winding paths between organic architecture, buildings sculpted into the bulbs and needles of plant life, festooned with plant life from across the world and lit at night by strange lights, pulsating across the Shadow architecture in a hundred shades. Beyond that, unseen by outsiders in living memories, lie the fabled hive-temples of the grey race, some inhabited even since Epsilon.

South of the eastern reaches of this silent empire, known to scholars as Morningside, lie the plains of the Rhudaur. A final outpost of civilisation in the heart of the great continent, the horse lords of Fornost command a great city, expansive farmlands and wandering tribes of nomadic horsemen, an unending stream of caravans picking out the paths to the warm plains and Birin cities off the south.

East of the plains, beyond the river that marks the unofficial border of the civilised world, no paths go. Beyond that frontier stretch vast, virgin forests, wracked by hurricanes and mottled by mountain ranges untouched by man. In these green depths, in the tangled undergrowth and the spaces beneath the roots of trees, the mythical Fae soak altars to the patron of murder with the blood of innocents from across the world.

South of these plains and forests, before coming full circle to Conzanzinople, we finally come upon the Archipelago. Several clusters of hilly and forested islands, starting to sigh in the sweltering heat and oppressive humidity towards summer, the Archipelago is home to the elves of Fuzou, every so different from their cousins in Illuminex. Where the latter are gold skinned and silver haired farmers and soldiers within a temple state, these insular elves are yellow skinned and black haired fishermen ruled by militant noble clans. What they do have in common is plenty of pride in their superiority as elves, Fuzou being a relatively isolated kingdom under the aegis of the Narhû, a cloistered king and demi-god.

While the suns slowly grow bigger in the sky, priests across the world grow nervous. A tumultuous period is ahead. Some dream fondly of the glorious epics of the past. Others fear death and destruction on a massive scale, like in the past. Some remember stir the embers of old grudges. Others see new opportunities. But everyone agrees. Spring has come. And a new Era has come with it.
"On the fourth day the earthquakes hit."
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 9:24 am   Subject: Re: Zeta Era Story

Turn 1 - Year 1, Spring

With thanks to the Voice and Ratphink.


Diplomacy

The port city of Barak Varr thrummed with activity, hundreds of excited dwarfs crowding the streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of their distinguished guests. Efirts Om, Chairwoman of the Council of Biric, was in town.

She was greeted by Faust, High King of the Albed, astride a hulking warboar. Another of the bristling swine was proffered to Om, and together King and Chairwoman rode about the bustling port city, which almost gleamed in the bright spring sunshine save for the long shadows cast by the Torrent Gate, the fortress and bridge which squatted over the river that divided Barak Varr neatly in two.
The two potentates are visibly, deliberately friendly towards one another, engaged in quiet conversation with each other and select members of their retinues. Rupert Gal, the High King’s economic advisor, takes no little pride in explaining to Om just how many goods and deals were being traded and struck all about them.
The dwarfs were particularly proud to demonstrate some of the great clockwork bridges which spanned the river Dal Zhuf, guarding the entrances to the great river fortress.

After this the delegations embarked on comfortable rivercraft and made their way inland to Greg’s Brewery, a place of pilgrimage for discerning drinkers from across the Albed kingdom and beyond. After sampling its delights a while, the two leaders at last turned their minds to business and announced, in front of a cheering crowd, a non-aggression pact between their two nations.
In the next few days a lot of Albed, most of whom actually can read, read in the new Daily Rhun all they needed to know about Efirts Om's visit to the great Kingdom of Albed.

--
A smaller world?

The world was getting smaller, and merchants couldn't be happier. With the four corners of the world discovered, creating easier means to travel has quickly become the focal interest of a great many people. What is being hailed as the Great Biri Highway is opening the way for all Merchants seeking easy, safe travel through the Biri lands. The two port cities of Pilehara and Mehran Ammar now connect directly with the nation's capital, Sahara Nam, seated at the heart of the Biric. Sailors and merchants alike now able to transport their goods directly from one market to the next, as well as opening up easier routes to for the West and East of Zanzibar to travel. While there aren't any tolls currently attached to using the Portals, they do remain guarded to ensure the security of those who seek to use the Highway.

Not ones to be completely overshadowed, the Rhudaur have also been busy setting up their own, more international Portal network. The thriving metropolis of Fornost now connecting to the multinational port of Conzanzinople in addition with a portal connecting the small port community of Dorwinion with the Illuminexi city of Adventus. While less altruistically minded in their ventures, requiring tolls to be paid for the use of their Portals, they have made up for it with heavy security measures. The Portal connecting Conzanzinople to Fornost being stationed in a Rhudarian Stronghold. These Portal networks in Rhudaur and Biric are still new, Merchants only now beginning to make use of them it's hard to say how they will effect Trade within the heavily populated Core of the World.

While the new Portal Networks are not to be underestimated, Nataksi Inc. has created a dedicated airline between the city of Tsneriva Rising and Conzanzinople. The Airships have become a common sight in the bustling metropolis as they carry goods to and from the Raeyuan capital city. Nataksi Inc. is quickly fortifying their position in the Tradewinds as the largest Airline Company now that they're extending beyond their Domestic lines within the Tradewinds territory. While many of these routes remain untested, they present Merchants globally with new opportunities to trade with the rest of the known World.

--
Houses of healing

Across the many nations of Zanzibar, houses of healing have been opening their doors to the masses. The Sergo, famed healer giants, have spread far and wide, bringing their arts and services to every corner of the globe.

On the southern continent, they set up shop in Conzanz and the Illuminex city of Phosnata, as well as Tsneriva Rising in the Raeyu Tradewinds. To the north they established themselves in Fornost, the Rhudaur capital, and the Birin city of Pilehara, as well as the independent port of Rat’s Nest.
Even the Biscayne, noted healers in their own right, welcomed a team of Sergo healers to fresh quarters in the city of Erketu even as they opened their own foreign hospital in the Biric capital, Sahara Nam.
Particularly adventurous Sergo even ventured far into the north, to the lands of Yunva, and established outposts of the healing arts in the Devotion and in Cheodahryan, western gate of the Shadow Unification.

Everywhere they went the Sergo hospitals organised a grand opening, with the staff – all in clean, white uniforms – giving guided tours and demonstrations to anyone who was interested.
In light of the ominous times, houses of healing such as these give hope.

--
From the forest

A pest on Rhudaur
The Rhudaur of the Gadolinun tribe had always lived in the shadow of the vast, trackless forests to the east. Even the boldest and most impetuous of their squires, riding out in search of adventure, shied away from venturing far into the trees. A dour and warlike tribe, their minds were never far from the monsters that sheltered in those green deeps. Yet as spring broke on Zanzibar’s sixth era, the stuff of the forest came to them.

A dozen families had been struck before the first word reached the tribal seat. Males slaughtered, women and valuables vanished, homesteads torched. Another dozen or more would fall whilst the Gadolinun rallied their forces.
Yet rally they did. Well-armed troops of riders were dispatched to the outlying farms and hamlets, escorting the scattered population to a valley further west. Guarded by squires and Rangers, the elite horse-archers of Rhudaur, the wave of destruction is partially checked.
However, outlying populations continued to be slaughtered, and on several occasions troops of escorts are ambushed. Survivors claim to have been attacked by hordes of Fae, malicious little devils from the deep woods, conjured by Gadolinun mothers to frighten unruly children, who pour through cracks in the air.

The arrival of mages, accompanied by a force of elite troops from the Thalla tribe under orders from Fornost, finally managed to bring the situation under control. The force had actually been intent on mounting a pre-emptive raid against the Fae, and welcomed an opportunity to test their methods in friendlier terrain.
The Rhudaur rode out in force, mounting extensive scouting screens on multiple planes whilst the famed pegasus riders swept the plain. Caught in open country and robbed of the advantage of their sorceries, the raiding parties were swiftly hunted down and exterminated.

A murder of mischief
As the last bands of marauding imps were being hunted down, the Rhudauri interrogated those Fae they had taken alive. The little creatures were not hardy, and in squealing voices told everything they knew. Not that this information was always useful: it profited even the finest trackers little to hear of a settlement at the old gnarl-tree, at the bend of the jump-frog stream-brook.

Nonetheless, in the latter half of a season an expeditionary force set out from civilised lands into the trackless forest. Joining the horse warriors were squadrons of the golden-skinned Illuminexi, eager at a chance to wreak vengeance unto evil. The host rode south, and forded the river that marked Rhudaur’s eastern boundary at the point where it ran closest to their home plains.

The elven magi, alongside their Pegasus-mounted celestarii, embarked on an attempt to set light to portions of the forest with airborne tarbombs and pyromancy, hoping to smoke out the evasive creatures. Their efforts bore little fruit, however, with the wet spring and frequent hurricanes of the eastern climate conspiring to slow the advance of their blaze to a crawl.

Whilst the first group was waging this uphill battle against nature, a second incursion force entered the forest from further south. This consisted of a half-thousand elite Rangers, supported by Rhudauri Pegasus riders and cadres of Rhudauri and Illuminexi sorcerers. At the head of this column rode Dearden Ascuta, the very Cassander of Illuminex himself, accompanied Aelius Merovingus, the childlike chosen dwarfed by the warriors around him.

This force set no fires – the rangers knowing better than to set light to their own path – and instead move into the forest in a wide skirmish net. This is fortunate, for the single settlement they are looking for does not exist: instead the forest is riddled with the well-disguised, mobile campsites of the Karuli Fae.

For their part the Karuli take to guerrilla warfare with some glee. Not daring to confront the gigantic horsemen face to face, the widely-dispersed coalition troops are subjected instead to incessant night ambushes. The resulting grind produces mounting casualties, with a great many ramshackle Fae fighters (if one can call them that) being crushed under-hoof, feathered, torched with magic and hunted down by anomalous monsters, but an increasing number of allied troops, including officers and even magi, falling prey to the ceaseless ambushes.

After a fortnight or so of this, the force moves out of Karuli territory, leaving behind a lot of torched camps but having found little sign of settled population, and turns west towards the welcoming, open country of the plains. There the leaders conferred, and ruled out a return to the forest before the season turned.

--
Nobody likes a Bastard

The heavy stomp of iron clad boots as they marched along the cathedral's tower. Oathkeeper's eyes glaring at the priests scurrying out of his path in a flurry of red robes. The Rogtar behind him marching in unison, halberds propped against shoulders even as his scribes waited with baited breath to jot write the first word being spoken. It seemed there was a small gaggle of priests ahead, wirey humans well past their years peering past the doorway.

"Time of death?" The question Oathkeeper asked as he approached the small crowd filling the already claustrophobic hallway. How these humans could stand these small enclosed environments never failed to confuse the orc.

"We suspect at about noon, sir." The nearest guard answered, his eyes darting nervously to the man leading them.

"Truly? And where were his guards?" Oathkeeper came to a halt, he needed only to glare at the Zashan priests to send them off in a flurry of curses and less than savoury comments about his heritage as they fled. The sudden silence allowed Oathkeeper to turn about, to regard the man who spoke. "Captain rank, yes? Are you not responsible for his retinue?"

Coughing, the man tugging at the collar of his uniform as sweat began to bead under the sudden attention turned to him. Every eye now on him and waiting his answer, "I... um... I apologize, sir, but ti seems his guards had been ordered to find him something to eat. Or so they tell me."

"So they're lying?" The question barely gave the Captain enough time to digest it as he quickly shook his head.

"No. Well it's always a possibility, sir. He's not exactly loved." The silence that followed that remark was thick enough to cut through. The orc seemed to weigh his comments a long moment before pushing the solid oaken door open to view the body sprawling across the smooth, worn stones of the chamber within. A knife protruding from the back of the emaciated figure, a pool of blood congealing in the mid afternoon light that filled the cramped living space. Not far from him, a glint of silver could be seen. A circlet crafted of now tarnished and warped silverware.

Oathkeeper's sigh revealed his own irritation at the situation. "I want all the servants questioned... violently. Also see if you can strangle some kind of information out of these wretched priests. Somebody must have been seen in this blasted temple." At his orders men jumped, but just as they were about to depart he continued on his tirade, eyes looking up to stare down the Captain, "This man is to be stripped of his rank for negligence of duty and failure to ensure the Bastard was protected at all times. I don't care how hated the man is, he's your bloody messiah. Act like it."

Suddenly he was alone, the smell of death beginning to fill his nostrils. His mind told him he should have ordered somebody to clean up the mess, but no doubt he could leave such trivial things to the clergy. Standing over the Bastard's cold, lifeless body, he'd lean down. The man's cheek pressed into the cool stone beneath him, the orcs eyes staring into those empty mirrors of death. The bastard's face, frozen in that last moment before the attacker had slammed a knife into his spine, was left with a chilling grin in death.

"You always were a sick bastard." Snorting in derision, Oathkeeper left. He had better things to do than to babysit a dead body. Besides... not like he even had the decency to stay dead.
"On the fourth day the earthquakes hit."
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 9:25 am   Subject: Re: Zeta Era Story

Turn 2 - Year 1, Summer

Last goodbye

By the end of spring the Biric commander Odelin Sayus mysteriously disappeared from the face of Zanzibar. Persistent rumour has it that Lo finally got her chilly hands on him after all. While a funeral couldn't be held for lack of certainty, a military parade was held in his honour, led by the elite Daksa Navi and the crew of his Illion. Chairwoman Efirts Om held an incredible emotional speech, moving Biri and foreigners alike.

The day after the ceremony, home secretary Pitaka Ankhem was installed as the new commander with an appropriate but sober ceremony.

--
The Tribunal Treaty of Conzanz    - by Voice

The midsummer sun beat down on Conzanz, the thronging markets and ports more subdued than normal as all but the most determined bargain hunters sought succour from the baking heat. At the apex of the metropolis it shone through the great glass windows of the hall, which cut off cooling breezes even as it amplified its attentions, to the increasing discomfort of the assembled delegates.

On a stage which elevated them above the assembled crowd of finely-dressed dignitaries and merchant princes, two small figures stood. Efirts Om, Chairwoman of the Council of Biric, was resplendent in robes of yellow and blue, the fine Birin silks cooling her despite the heat. Opposite her Aelius Merovingus, child chosen of Voryn, strutted irritably, sweltering in the plush purples and heat-trapping blacks of his formal robes.

The three founding powers of Conzanz had come together to sign a new compact to govern the metropolis, one that better recognised the increasingly dangerous world around them. They had expected other delegations, but none had arrived from Sergo, Rhudauri and Biscayne. These were of no great consequence to the event, although the implied slight of the unexpected absences did not pass unnoticed by those assembled. More troubling was the apparent delay of the Raeyuan delegate, whose presence was essential.

The pampered priestling looked close to snapping when a flurry of activity by the main doors brought a hush to the crowd. A delegation of ostentatiously dressed Tradewinds representatives strode into the hall, the assembled witnesses parting as they cut a path to the stage. At their head strode a man in particular finery, a pair of ornate pilots goggles bouncing on his chest like medals. Taking to the stage, he bowed first to Om and Merovingius, then to the audience, and introduced himself in the carrying fashion of his people as Gaion Tymona, the official representative of the Tradehood.

This set the crowd abuzz again: they had been expecting a Chosen. The better informed amongst them recognised Tymona has a prominent businessman from New Spes and leader of a Tradehood faction based in that city. It seemed likely that is presence here, whilst more senior members were engaged elsewhere, represented some kind of internal Raeyuan power play.

For some little while the delegates retreat to their advisors and hold muttered counsel on whether to accept him, and to allow more time for other delegations to arrive. Yet the holy child of Illuminex, horrified at the idea of further hours in the oven of a guildhall, threatens to walk out unless business is brought to a swift conclusion. Unruffled, with the perfect smiles of politicians firmly in place, his fellow delegates join him in bending to the treaty before them, signing before hundreds of witnesses the Tribunal Treaty of Conzanz.
The signatories commit to;
1. Tolerance of the mores and ideals of other cultures, whilst remaining intolerant of cultures that either publicly state their intention to commit, or do commit, the following:
a) Slavery, or any manner of restriction of freedom not consented to by the subject party, except in response to the restriction of the liberty of an individual to make use of their faculties or property, such as theft, murder, etc.;
b) Pillage and murder, as well as targeted genocide;
2. Action to condemn the perpetrators of such atrocities, including, but not limited to, trade embargoes, political limitations and military action, or active economic or logistical support of such action, if parties are unwilling to take part in them as a result of moral imperatives (this is not necessary in cases of military action);
3. Action to support and succour the victims of war, either through the hostile actions of nations not tolerated by our principles, or those displaced by our own punitive action, including, but not limited to, accepting refugees of war, harboring those fleeing oppression, and providing economic and logistical support to those undertaking such action;
4. Setting up a Tribunal to determine whether or not a nation is deserving of punitive action, and to determine the contributions nations should make to support clauses 2) and 3).


--
Cyclic overtures

The Church of Cyclism has dispatched diplomatic missions to major ports around the world. To Kek and Cheodahryan in the west, to Erketu, Tsneriva Rising, Barak Varr, Daksina Sahar and Sholf around the inner seas, even as far east as Phosnata and Dorwinion. These missions have brought with them merchants laden down with all the manner of crafts and goods unique to Karth as well as diplomats armed with gifts of books on cyclicism and Karthian culture for the local authorities. While the merchants go to great lengths to buy and sell their wares, the diplomats attempt to convince local authorities to allow the establishment of embassies (both to variable degrees of success).
For example, in Tsneriva Rising...

The Raeyu douncillor stood waiting with the rest of the entourage whilst the Karthian diplomats disembarked from their ship. They had been informed of the ship's pending arrival a few days ago - and everything was perfectly in place. As the last of his guests departed their vessel, he stepped forward onto the peer to greet them.
"Greetings, honoured guests of Karth. I am Unitsna Nopiens, member of the Tradehood Council."
It was a woman who first approached him, a little young and unsurprisingly rather attractive. Unitsa struggled to avert his gaze.
"I am Na'al. Head of the diplomatic party of Karth. It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance"
Gesturing towards the city, Unitsa Nopiens continued where he left off.
"I must apologize ahead of time, for there are no Chosen in the city at this time. Thus the rest of the councillors and I will be your host. We are terribly sorry for the incon-
"Nonsense!"
Na'al blinked. Where once had stood the Raeyu councillor now stood a handsome man in rather eccentric purple garments, a rather large - and mostly empty - bottle of rum in his right hand. Unitsa, for his part, was thrashing in the waters below the dock, having been tossed aside by the man with relative ease.
"I ah, heard youuuu were coming my lady. Came fast as I could"
"And who are you?"
"Your dream come true."
Na'al rolled her eyes, and tried to help the fallen councillor from the waters - only to be rudely shoved aside by the drunken brute who had assailed him in the first place.
"Ne'er let a lady do a man's jawb"
The man reached down to grab the struggling councillor.
"Forgive me Sir..." the councillor said, spitting out water he had swallowed. "I did not know you would be present."
"Nor was I told there would be such beaufitul- beautiful women here"
Having finally pulled the councillor out of the water, the drunken man turned towards Na'al once again.
Na'al watched, struggling to keep from showing her disgust as the man approached her again - and promptly spewed puke all over her.
It was going to be a very long day.

--
Conzanz: quagmire of suspicion and tragedy

While the signing of the Tribunal Treaty at midsummer was a move towards cooperation and common principles, the high spirits didn't last. Later in summer scandalous rumours and allegations spread that Biri mages were messing with the heads of the custodes of Conzanz, the city guards of Illuminexi blood. The faeces hit the fan when by the end of summer a man murdered one of the custodes. He did this in vengeance of his own family. See, his wife and children had been brutally murdered and mutilated earlier this year. The man had accused the custodis all along, but his accusation had been denied. Making this worse was the quagmire of racial tension this happened in. The vengeful father was a well off Karthian. During the season came to light a prolonged string of murders among the Karthian minority, starting with vagrants and escalating to whole families, with increasing brutality. Suspicion between Karthians and Illuminexi is rising, and the custodes are dealing more harshly with the resentful Karth. Then, after the father killed the guardsman, another guardsman killed the father in cold blood. When he was taken however, the guardsman claimed innocence, that someone had taken over control of his body at that moment.

--
Strange happenings in Illuminex

Merchants, travelers and diplomats have taken to avoiding Illuminexi ports whenever they can following tails of a spate of disappearances in the nation. According to rumours ship captains and diplomats, especially Biri and Karthians, have been vanishing in the night during as little as overnight stopovers. Disappearances, however, are nothing new in Zanzibar, what is unnerving travelers is that the people who disappear are reappearing weeks later deeply changed. The people who resurface are devout followers of Voryn and eerily loyal to the Illuminex, no matter their original affiliation. Near the end of the season several Illuminexi low tier priests and scribes turn up stabbed to death.

--
Meanwhile, in and around the Albed kingdom...

Royal troops sailed to the towns of Mingol and Umgak, where together with local troops they rounded up the Raeyu minorities. A thousand Raeyu were contained and shipped off to the Bileya island before the coast, while many more remain in concentration camps awaiting deportation. Both the deportees and the Raeyu tribe of Bileya were warned to leave the island, which king Guldan has declared to be no-man's land. If the island has not been vacated in a year's time, force will be used.

The Biric minorities in Mingol and Umgak were left alone ... until that is, skirmishes erupted between the Albed Kingdom and the Biric Hegemony, following murderous raids on villages. During the skirmishes the Albed royal army moved north, and rounded up all Biri in Umgak after all, putting them into a prison camp, citing security reasons.

--
In less depressing news, airships!

Twice the time frame...

Beseke Ksitsniteretubobu, more commonly known as Bobu, Boss, and ‘Oi! You! Airhead wearing a hardhat!’ was a little smug. He’d warned his superiors that constructing the foreign depots for the air route would take more than the projected season: construction always does. Never mind that the short route from Tsneriva Rising to Conzanz had been done in that time: that was when you had Raeyuan workmen, Raeyuan products and Raeyuan expertise going for you. Here in Avalonia…

“What sort of rope do you call this?!”
His counterpart lifted up some sort of vine twine in her hands, picking at strands that already came loose under a gently tug. She turned a furious gaze on a sheepish runner, a rather young girl who’d only just arrived from across the water.

“I asked for twenty pavons per length quality!”
“And did you take into account yutsini?! Pavons ne itenaska Bisecayenu senkei! Vinti!

Bobu decided now was a good time to intervene.
“Seletsnu! Common, for the sake of the locals who want to know what you’re dressing little Sami down for.”

Seletsnu deflated.
“Sorry, forgot myself. Don’t worry kid, I’ll sort it out. Next time though, remember that costing like that may be standard in the Tradewinds, but Kasi’ll burst into tears before anyone here’ll recognise it.”

Sami took the opportunity to make herself scarce, but was quickly replaced with the next problem: a rather bemused local priest. This particular man was wearing bright green and red sashes, which glinted in the sun so often both overseers considered putting on their tinted construction goggles.
“Excuse me, sorry to interrupt, but could you keep it down over here? I was just finishing my afternoon nap, and a good number of my fellow…”

The man’s voice trailed off as he looked at the piles of plain leather and unvarnished timber laying next to the half-completed cloth lift bags and inadvertently useless rope. A stack of floating platforms sat held beneath numerous pinned down sheets, giving the impression of some elaborate scheme kept under wraps. Bobu and Seletsnu shared a weary look. Coming right up was another delayed week of convincing the locals that yes, this was how they built, yes, we will dye the fabric, yes, we do know how to deal with fire, no, this won’t cause your children to swell up and float away, we’ve already been over this three times, no, thank you we don’t need someone to lay down ‘proper bricks and mortar’, no, we’ve had enough tea to last us a year…

... Half the Progress

Minera and Nataksi looked at each other from across the room as the last of the Rudauri locals left the room for the day. The silence grew, the steady clatter and noise of Fornost dying away as the door closed.

Minera blinked.
“I thought you were exaggerating.”

Nataksi raised an eyebrow.
“I’d sooner limabu than fake difficulty to call in a fellow Tradehood Council member, especially a chosen like yourself. I even sent messages to my old professors at the Pilot’s Academy, asking for their advice.”

The two women hummed a few tones irritatedly. Minera tapped her arm.
“Do you think it’s how we’re phrasing it? Maybe they have a different version of common?”

Nataksi shook her head.
“No, definitely not. If anything, I reckon they came in here thinking one thing, and took a look at everything through misaligned goggles.”

Minera tugged on her goggles.
“Ugh. How many times will we have to say ‘airships are great, we want land for depots, then you get lots of business’ in fifty different ways?”

Nataksi let a grim look cross her face.
“As leader of Nataksi Incorporated, I’d have to say… no comment.”

--
Fae troubles

A pest on Rhudaur    - by Gaebril

In Rhudaur all three eastern tribes suffered harassment, Fae style. They butchered small families out in the expanse of the eastern grasslands of the Riders' territory. Rare survivors that escape told of small bands of stabbing little devils suddenly killing everyone. The Gadolinum were largely fine, having gathered last season and now well protected by horse archers gathered from all over the realm. The Roentga and Thalla did suffer. A force of rangers returning from the forest managed to intercept one of these raiding bands on its way back. Then it was revealed that the Fae came for the children...

Into the forest    - by Eom

Another season, another raid against the thrice-cursed Fae.
A banner of Rangers from Rhudaur ventures east, supported by a cadre of mages and Daerden Ascuta, Cassander of Illuminex, in turn supported by Illuminexi mage-priests. A bit of a tight situation occurs when Ascuta apparently assumes to have high command over the force, but is rebutted by the captain of the Rangers. After some discussion Ascuta agrees to follow Rhudaur orders, and the force heads further east to swing around the westernmost Fae territory to approach it from the south, near the Huunhuurthu nomadic area.

The going through the forest is rough. The forest is extremely dense as a result of the continuous rain all year round, and the lack of larger organisms having cleared any paths. The tiny Fae are hard to track down in the huge forest, yet the allied force does their best and manages to find and obliterate a number of camps.

Mages call forth enormous creatures of fire from some other plane of existence. The creatures immediately start setting ablaze all that is around them. The soaking wet forest doesn’t easily catch fire, but eventually it does and whole swaths of forest are reduced to ashes.

After a two month trek and a month of raiding, the allies withdraw from Fae territory. They have met no stiff resistance, but they wonder whether the raid was worth the effort. At this rate, it may take a while before they can finally put a halt to the devilish little creatures.


--
Going around and around and around… Wait is it just the room?    - by Gaebril

*tap, tap, tap*
Went a small stick on the sleeping fisherman’s head.
“Wha? Who…?
“Hello! Thee brave man of the sea! You have boat for rent I see?!”
“Boat? Rent?” The fisherman rubbed the sleep from his eyes.
When his eyes finally focused he saw a dark figure leaning over him and a few others looming behind that one. What little light the candle in the corner of his room shed, showed a large grin of yellow teeth and skin black and red chequered, even more terrifyingly green eyes with green chequers around them.
“No…” The fisherman whispered.
“YES! Yes! A boat for rent! You have a boat I need a boat, so you rent it!” The Jester exclaimed.
“No… I need it… For my livelihood, you see…”
“I see, I see! Most don’t but I see!” The Jester snarled “I am all the good will of the Zau, sweet dear lamb! I see and I know, now rent me my boat!”
“No! I need it!” Now the fisherman was struggling to get onto his feet, but a sharp kick to his chest kept him down.
The Jester straightened: “All yours, lads…”
Who knows what went on after, but The Jester had his boat from Kek to Karaka.

Well at least Jeffrey drowned at sea but who know what happened to Bob and Steve? Got lost in the woods on the way to Karaka, passed out somewhere after the exhaustion or lack of booze finally got them. Weaklings. Why even travel with them…
But now the city of Karaka lay before his eyes. Thousands of people trading, living, chatting away, loving, being all sorts of disgusting. The Jester and the small group of idiots and drunks still following him entered. Bustling streets filed with people, how loathsome. A deft pinch of a lady’s or a mister’s behind here and there made for a most pleasant commotion. But… the time had come… On the market place The Jester jumped on a vendors table selling cabbages and began his act: “Oh people of Karth and beyond! ….”

Following the storm of boos and hisses The Jester moved on to Karth itself.

At Karth The Jester was welcomed by some petty diplomats and bureaucrats showing no interest in him more than the usual pleasantries for one of their equals.
“Where!? Oh where is the proper hospitality of Karth!? Oh where, dear Zasha!?”
He was handed a glass of wine
“Ah, there it is.”
“Welcome, fool, to Karth.” A woman in her late twenties, with a lithe form and short, roughly chopped hair contrasting with her soft, pleasant eyes and smiling face said.
The Jester drank deeply and then gazed upon this visage of beauty. His heart skipped a beat.
“Yes, thank you. It was about time I met someone of importance! I am the good will of the Zau after all!”
“So I have heard. Though you don’t look or smell like it.”
“Well, it’s the travelling, yes, the horrid travel! You know the fisherman that brought us from Kek to Karaka threw his spoon into the corner!”
“I see” The Grand Cleric smiled.
“Yes, yes! Threw his crankshaft, straightened his legs, kicked empty space, threw his spoon into the corner... at mid-sea! ”
“Uh... how... quaint. And un-understandable.”
“Ah, but to take a bridge of a donkey, I will be here a few days, maybe more, perhaps the woman from under the stone might show me around the church-town?”
“Oh, well I do have other duties to perform and this was mostly a courtes-”
“No mind! No mind! I’m used to living in a field, nor am I riding a hare! Go! Go! I’ll follow!”
“No. I think it would be best if you followed our escorts to some bet-“
“Nonsense! You go! I‘ll be a horse running away!”
“Eh... what?” The Grand Cleric asked confused.
The Jester pulled himself close to her and whispered:
“Well, you know, if you open the stable doors the stallion will have some fun.”

*wink*

“GUARDS!!” The Grand Cleric yelled while punching The Jester. A small crowd, however, had formed around them, it’s not every day another Chosen visits after all, and by crawling away amidst the feet The Jester disappeared not to be found in the city despite comprehensive (and furious) searching.

The Jester walked on to his next destination. Unfortunately still within Kart territory. Or fortunately. He would not mind meeting The Grand Cleric again, though perhaps in more pleasant circumstances... NO! What foolishness! She is a despicable being - with a very fair features and a nice smile, but despicable nonetheless.

“Hey! You!” The Jester Shouted at a goat herder he saw lower down the hill.
“You left something!” The Jester picked up a handful of goat faeces and threw it at the goat herder. It flew in a perfect arc, sailing across air like a smelly hawk and hit the herder right on his face. The herder let out a roar of rage and chased after The Jester, who had quite smartly decided to run. Unfortunately the herder was more experienced with moving in the terrain (no cobblestones of Korvasch or Kek here) and he was catching up with him. The final straw was when The Jester stumbled on a root sticking out of the gound and fell into a muddy ditch. After being beaten and defecated upon The Jester sang an all too familiar verse:

“A pile of filth,
Made of spilth,
Stirred at morn,
With none to mourn,
The black and red,
No tears shed,
‘cept on field of green around green…”
Birthdays are good for you, the more you have the longer you live

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PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 9:26 am   Subject: Zeta Story - turn 3

Turn 3 - Year 1, Harvest



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Of feasts and festivals - into Harvest


Not A Knight's Tale - by Silvermane

Throughout the Rhudaur Kingdom many small jousting fields were erected and tournaments held for honour, glory, and to prove personal prowess. Two grand stadiums were of note, both located in Fornost, which was to be the jousting capital of the nation – and currently of the world.

The stadiums were a massive undertaking, building contractors, apprentices and volunteers laboured for three straight weeks to complete the stand erection, the building of preparation zones for as many as fifty jousters at any one time (in each) and stands that could accommodate thousands. Scouts had scoured the land and found the most lush turf that they could, cut sections out and carted it back to the stadiums and rolled it out, brilliant greens and golds could be seen within the stands, a drastic difference to the browning grass outside of them which was half-dead from the scorching summer that had just ended. The stadiums included space for blacksmiths, horse stables, refreshment stands and souvenir shops, selling everything from weapons, armour, horses, saddles and horse-shoes, to horse-meat burgers (which caused some distress to those horses nearby), ales imported from the Albed Grog-Fest, figurines of the famous jousters known to be taking part in the event and children's jousting sets, including rideable wooden steeds.

At the start of the second month, the stadiums opened and spectators poured in. Several fights were broken up and stampedes stopped by the stadium security, but no-one was seriously injured. The stands filled in minutes, an estimated twenty-thousand paying spectators contained between the two stadiums, all of which were paying customers. This was extremely joyous to the jousters themselves, as the winners of each of the two events was promised a massive fifty percent of all entry fees as their winnings. Second-though-fiftieth place earned nothing. This was all about complete victory.

The joust events lasted the entire day. They were first split up into five groups of ten jousters and assigned against each other in one-versus-one jousts, eliminating the first half of the contestants. Afterwards, the remaining twenty-five were grouped together and pitted against four random opponents each with wins and losses being counted, the top ten making it to the final rounds.

The remaining ten riders within each of the two stadiums were then honoured by present nobles for their accomplishments, several were offered positions befitting their skill, and an afternoon banquet was held in their honour, the horses fed fresh apples and crisp, clean water, tended to by the best horse groomers across the land.

After the break, the spectators and jousters alike equally refreshed and ready for more action, the jousters entered into the semi-final stage of the event, each rider being pitted against another, the first to be unseated being knocked out of the competition. This meant that taking a hit and staying seated meant nothing, even though it could have lost you an earlier round. This was an unseating-only round and the crowed loved it. Lances splintered and shields cracked, helmets went fling and horses dragged their riders to the ends of the stadiums, but in the end, five riders remained and advanced to the final round.

The final was a free-for all. There was no two-way jousting field, the fencing having been removed. Instead, this was a last-man-mounted takes the victory event. Some of the riders made temporary alliances to try and reduce their number of opponents, but ultimately there could only be one winner in each event. One of the events lasted a mere two-minutes, aided by the fact that three jousters took each other out in a confused mess, leaving it a one-versus-one event. The second event however last much longer, in excess of an hour. Two two-way alliances had been formed and they swiftly dealt with the solo-rider, and for the next hour the two alliances clashed, weaved, baited and jeered at the others. Eventually one rider was felled and the second, now outnumbered, was quickly dispatched. The two former-allies casually made their ways to opposite ends of the arena, shouting to the spectators for their support. The both discarded their shields – this was going to be a one-run decision. The crowds were in uproar, throwing flowers, banners, confetti and... undergarments... at their preferred jouster. The cheering, jeering and music was getting louder, climaxing with a blast from an array of trumpets. The two jousters charged. One took a hit to his shoulder, spinning away from the blow, the second took a hit to the abdomen.

The noise in the stadium stopped in baited breath as they watched the riders. The first, taking the blow to the shoulder, span from his horse and dropped to it's side, one foot remaining in a stirrup, the second dragging along the floor, one hand still clasped onto the reigns and the other being pulled away by momentum.

The second rider was lifted up and out of his seat, landing on his horse's hind-quarters, hanging on desperately as the horse's back legs kicked out beneath him repeatedly as it sprinted to the other side of the stadium. His hands were gauntleted and it was hard to maintain his grip, he slipped. Narrowly avoiding the kicked hooves, he hit the ground hard and landed in a heap. Spectators rushed onto the field and surrounded him, lifting him up with cheers. Entirely confused he looked around and saw his opponent, also un-horsed, lying further down the field and judging by distance from the point that they met, had fallen from his horse entirely a matter of a few meters earlier than he had. He punched the air in triumph, shouting until his lungs were empty, he'd won and the prize was all his! Ledger was victorious.

Back at the other end of the stadium, the other jouster was flat on his back looking upwards, when suddenly a ginger-haired man appeared and said, “You have been weighed”.
Then a fat man appeared and said, “You have been measured”.
Then a blacksmith appeared and said, “And you absolutely...”
“... Have been found wanting.” finished a nearby scribe.

The next month, another paid of jousting events occurred and many who did not get to see the spectacles first time around piled into the stands to watch the next performance. Deeming this a huge success, the nobles decided that the stadiums would not be torn down, they would remain for future events.


--
Grogfest! - by Silvermane

Across the Albed lands the most joyous time of the year arrived. Grog-Fest. In all it's glory.

The farmers had brought in the hops and produced an incredible yield of brews this year. The ale was plentiful and flowed freely throughout the land, attracting many of the Biri, Sergo, Rhudaur and Illuminexi traders for the majority due to the trade lanes between their lands, with the occasional group of Scion and Biscayne seen to be wandering from bar to bar.

Mostly the drinking was good and competition was ripe amongst the Albed, to see which man-of-men could drink the most and which foreigners could out-drink any of the women. Naturally this was few in number. One contender-species, for which the Albed now hold great respect, is the Sergo. Repeatedly they drank the Albed under the table, many Albed causing themselves to suffer from severe vomiting and alcohol poisoning, in one case one dwarf nearly drowned, his stomach full he decided to start inhaling the ales, claiming “I'll find room in me somewhere!” before promptly collapsing and having to have emergency first aid applied. The medics on standby declared the Sergo victors-through-mass, but made it abundantly clear, the Albed's ale-intake-to-mass ratio was still superior to the Sergo! (they claimed - this is yet to be proven, none participating were in a fit state to do the maths).

The main attractions were found at Greg's Brewery in the north-west of the Albed nation and those who made it there found new-brand ales released specifically for Grog-Fest. Ales such as "Lord Brunsons Blueberry Bitters" (which turned your tongue bright blue upon consumption) and “Just Greg's” ale, which by a miscommunication involved a nation-wide statement being released which greatly altered the brew. The statement should have read “Produced by Greg IV, using any and all ingredients befitting ale-making Greg comes across throughout the year”, the statement released was “Produced by Greg IV, using any and all ingredients befitting ale-making all Gregs come across throughout the year” - This little error ended up with many Greg-named Albed turning up throughout the year dropping off supplies. The Ale was deemed “Funky – but passable” by general consensus, however it was consumed in it's entirety extraordinarily quickly.

Back in Barak Varr, the trading city of the Albed, many Grog-Fest souvenirs were on sale, ranging from the “I outdrank an Albed” T-shirts (which only sold out in the XXXL Size), to steins of all designs, to casks of the various ales, and through to the very popular drinking-hat (which sold out on the first day – 5000 units being distributed within a two-hour non-stop selling frenzy – the inventor promised to bring triple the number next year!).

The most noticeable event that occurred was in Greg's Brewery, where the highly intoxicated High-King Guldan and his Guard-Captain (and owner of this fine establishment of a town) Greg IV. Guldan had around thirty empty ale casks around, consumed over a three-day bender, and Greg IV was drunkenly yelling about him consuming excessive portions of the tax-payers money! As it turns out, this was just the national-treasurer's idea of a little fun, as he was unable to drink to his hearts content during the event, he decided to mess with the higher ups – in actuality the thirty casks made very little difference to Guldan's personal coffers, let alone the national tax funds. The argument eventually ended when Guldan stood atop his cask-mountain proclaiming that he was the king of booze and that no-one could stop him – his boar mount (drinking in a corner from a trough of ale) took this moment to bull-rush his master, knocking the casks from beneath him and nearly goring him. Whilst no-one could quite place it, this event seemed familiar... a fat, drunk, king gored by a boar....


--
The Turning of the Cycle - by Grimview

As the climax of the year’s harvest season approached, Scions from around the great expanse of Karth travelled to and fro. Families flocked both to the cities, and to the outlying villages throughout the land, intent on experiencing both the bounty and the grandeur of the rituals that marked the turning of the Cycle.

In rural areas, huge bonfires were lit in the village centres, and great feasts laid out to celebrate the harvest. Here, revelry and levity led the day, with all attendants leaving the feasts stuffed and satisfied. The priesthood led prayers, chants, and offerings of thanks to the Cycle both before and after the festivities began, and ensured that good spirits were enjoyed by all.

The Scion cities enjoyed similar festivities, but within their more populous borders, a different sort of ritual greeted the harvest. Volunteers, clad in sheer, pale green robes, and violent convicts, clad in black robes spun from wool, lined the main thoroughfares of Karth, Sk’tos, Karaka, and Akorra. Slowly, deliberately, they made their way towards the local temples, where they were greeted by the local High Priests. Crowds gathered around the temple squares in each city, solemn-faced yet eager to bear witness to the yearly offerings.

The temple’s altars had each been relocated to the temple squares for this day. As each man or woman, volunteer or convict, entered the square, they would bow their head to the high priest and kneel before the local altar. Two initiate priests, standing by, would anoint the prostrated Scion’s forehead with water, then their hands, then their feet, before helping the now-blessed individual to lie down calmly on the altar. Once the offered Scion was strapped down, the High Priest of each diocene would quietly – at a volume only they and their restrained companion could make out – say a prayer to the Cycle.

Then, lightning-fast, the High Priest would slice across the prone sacrifice’s belly, and reach a hand within. A moment later, they would sever both ends of the intestine, and hold it aloft for the gathered crowds to see. While the High Priests and the altars with which they worked were covered in the gore and bile this released, their brown robes stained near-black with blood, the initiates who acted as their aids – and the public at large – were kept free of the blood by specially-carved channels that carried it away from the squares.

This ritual was repeated, hundreds of times, for several days as the Scion harvest was gathered. Each night, those in the cities would retire from the temple squares to public markets, where grand harvest feasts were arranged; each day, the temple squares would fill again as the devout bore witness to the necessary recognition of the Cycle. In Karth, in particular, the Grand Temple attracted tens of thousands of witnesses each day, as Grand Cleric Yseult herself led the rituals there – clad all in white at dawn each morning, and all in crimson by dusk. A Cycle in and of itself, repeating in tribute to the coming change of seasons, and Zanzibar’s own cycles.



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Short troubles


The Littlest Infiltratorby Voice

Careful though the Kingdom of the Albed had been to broadcast how unwelcome Raeyuans were in most of its territory, some people clearly weren’t getting the message. As autumn drew on, Raeyuan vagrants began washing up in dribs and drabs in the dwarves’ coastal cities.

Most of these were arrested on the spot, and shipped down to the containment camp at Barak Varr. However a few managed to evade the authorities, either alone or in small groups, and these went on to launch a handful of attacks on infrastructure and important officials – including High King Guldan himself!

However, carefully disguised agents these were not, and their ‘operations’ were as laughably planned and executed as one might expect of genuine vagrants. They achieved precisely nothing, beyond getting themselves caught and put on ships to Barak Varr by irritated Albed officials.


--
Dwarven fleet dis-Albed - by Voice

Having rounded up members of the Raeyuan minority from many of the kingdom’s cities, the Albed navy attached a small task force to escort the flotilla of displaced citizens on the short trip to Numan Isle. It was only a token gesture, four medium-sized cataphract galleys with a scattering of light weaponry. They were in coastal waters on one of the world’s busiest trade lanes, they were scarcely going to need them.

It was thus very much a surprise to the Dwarven captains when their convoy was confronted by a full Illuminexi fleet.

The most cursory assessment suggested a hopeless imbalance of forces: the elves had eight heavy galleys, built for boarding with javelinier platforms in support, backed up by eight smaller support galleys in the lighter aphract style. Four large roundships, heavily laden with artillery, along with eight drake-mounted magi provided ranged support, whilst a huge galley – a giant version of the fleet’s apparent ships of the line – served as flagship. Sea serpents coiled in the waters below.

One of the smaller vessels detached itself from this formidable formation and hailed the leading Albed vessel, explaining that the fleet was there to escort the refugees the remaining distance to Numan Isle.

Knowing full well what Captain Greg IV would think of that suggestion, the Albed commodore declined. And declined again. The elves persisted, and were rewarded only with louder and more robustly worded rejections from the Albed vessel. Eventually, the commander of the Illuminexi fleet tired of the game, and the flagship snapped out orders.

It would be an unjustice to call what followed a skirmish. The Albed galleys tried to retreat, but sea serpents shot forward and neutralised the squadron of royal galleys in short order, immobilising them long before they could bring what weaponry they had to bear. Meanwhile the aerial magi flitted above the ships, using fire magic to torch sails and masts whilst reducing the light ballistae and their crews to cinders.

With the royal navy vessels neutralised, the Illuminex turned to the transports. Barrages of psychic magic stunned the crews, after which the vessels were easily boarded by squads of elven troops from the waiting galleys. Inside the holds, magi opened portals to Bileya, shepherding the confused Raeyuans through them before retreating to their vessels and moving off, abandoning the Albed flotilla.

The dwarves drifted for some time, bobbing helplessly as they were slowly pulled apart by the currents of the sea. Eventually the transport crews were able to rouse their sorcerously stunned comrades, and their captains set about pulling the flotilla back together and tracking down the battered warships.

After rigging lines, the transports proceeded to tow the broken galleys back to Barak Varr. The embarrassment of being publicly towed through one of Zanzibar’s busiest shipping routes did nothing to improve the Albed captain’s mood.


--
Rebellious Raeyuan Rioters - by Naagi

Boris glared angrily towards the center of Barak Varr. It was grog-fest, and he could hear his kinsmen enjoying the festivities even from where he stood. And yet here he was, having run out of ale, yet unable to replenish whilst it was his turn to guard the despicable Raeyu. John was even worse off - the man drank like a true Albed, but his buzz was fading quickly and it was looking like neither of them would be relieved before they were fully sober. A terrifying thought indeed.

Noticing one of the Raeyu attempting an escape, Boris hurled his mug aside and grabbed his hammer, shouting at the man, one whom he recognized from several previous attempts.

"Oy! You! Get back ye hear?! This's yer last warnin!"

The sight of a very angry dwarf was enough for the fellow, who quickly turned tail and fled towards the safety of his kin. Almost instinctively Boris moved his hand towards his face to take another drink, only to remember his current predicament.

Even when they had first rounded up the Raeyu and brought them to the detention camp, the southerners had been far more compliant. But months under Albed stewardship had left the Raeyu discontent and restless and they seemed to be growing more desperate by the day. Nevertheless they had been far more manageable, that is, until the incident with the Illuminex at sea. Ever since the Albed ships had been dragged back to port, rumours began to circulate within the encampment, rumours that the conflict meant that no more deportation ships would be sent towards Raeyu territory, and that the unfortunate souls still guarded in the detention camps would be left there to rot. These rumours had started only a few days ago and already the Raeyu were growing even more restless. Boris snorted, he didn't want to be here any more then the Raeyu did. The faster they were sent home the faster he could get back to his ale.

Another shout shook Boris from his musings.

"Get back! I said back!"

It was John that was shouting. A Crowd of Raeyu were approaching them and even from where Boris stood he could tell that they were concealing something. But John hadn't noticed, he was too sober - too angry. He was waving his hammer at them now. Boris tried to yell at his kinsman. But it was already too late - he stepped forward to threaten the Raeyu, and was immediately beset by a dozen of the taller men, stabbed a hundred times by makeshift shivs. And so died John Emberstone.

There was no time to run and Boris knew all too well that the few Albed guarding the encampment would not be able to stem the tide of restless Raeyu. Determined not to die a coward, the dwarf cried out for reinforcements, and hurled himself towards his comrade's murderers. And so too died Boris Onyx, but not before he had avenged his kinsman, felling four of the Raeyu bastards with his mighty hammer.

---

Despite sounding the alarm, and hurling themselves at their prisoners with all their drunken fury, the guards defending the encampment were swiftly overrun and hundreds of Raeyu rush to scavenge whatever weapons they could from the corpses. Thus the rioters gather nearly a dozen tower shields, their bearers grabbing the hammers that had only recently felled their kin before forming a disorganized shield wall and surging forwards at the helm of their brethren and out into the streets, rushing towards the nearest armoury and attacking whatever dwarves were unfortunate enough to be in the vicinity of the detention camps. Several members of the garrison were caught between the camp and the armoury, and despite several casualties the rioters are able to scavenge a variety of weapons, including a few repeating crossbows, which the novarites gather with glee.

The dwarves, however, are never going to give up their finely crafted weapons without a fight, especially when Grog-fest has been so rudely interrupted. Two dozen brave shield bearers rush to the armoury, and reach it just before the Raeyu, and in the entrance form a solid wall of shields, the foremost dwarves kneeling against the earth while their compatriots place their shields together, and hold them above their heads in a rough tetsudo formation. Again and again the rioters hurl themselves against the beleaguered defenders, but the stubborn dwarves refuse to budge, and the rioters lack any experience in organized warfare.

Nevertheless, their sheer numerical advantage allows the Raeyu to return again and again. Though each time they are repelled, the dwarves begin to grow increasingly tired, and nearly a dozen are dragged from the formation out into the streets to be lynched by the horde, their bodies disfigured by hundreds of stab-wounds. It stands clear that the dwarves will not be able to hold the Raeyu at bay much longer - but luckily for them, they wouldn't have to. They had bought enough time already.

A horn sounded, drawing the Raeyu's attention from the wounded dwarves in the armoury, for they had far bigger problems. From the end of the street, hundreds dwarves marched towards them, their faces a mask of hate and vengeance. These were no mere guards - these dwarves were warriors, and the Baraz formed a single wall of metal with their tower shields, from one side of the street to another.

Rushing to fill in the gaps behind their kinsman came five hundred dwarves armed with strange metal crossbows with over a dozen grinding gears. The Okri pointed their clockwork crossbows towards the rioters, but did not fire. A single voice rang out towards the Raeyu.

"Lay down yer arms, ye bastards"

The dwarves were expecting an immediate surrender, especially from Raeyu, but the rioters waved their scavenged weapons towards the dwarves in defiance.

"This is yer last warnin'!"

It was at this moment that a crossbow bolt grazed Humphry Grutt's cheek. Sighing to himself the governor took another swig of ale, and pointed towards the people who had ruined Grog-fest for him and his men.

"Get 'em lads!"

And so the dwarven host surged forwards, a solid wall of shields slamming into the rioting Raeyu whilst a shower of bolts rained down on them from the skies. The Raeyu have scavenged but twenty shields, and their makeshift shield wall is easily pressed back by the surging tide of dwarves. Yet even whilst relenting ground the Raeyu refuse to break, fighting tooth and nail with shiv, stick and even shovel. What repeater crossbowmen the Raeyu have climb on nearby carts in an attempt to shoot at the dwarven host, but are almost immediately picked off by the more experienced dwarven archers.

For ten minutes the Raeyu refuse to relent, and are pressed further and further back by an immovable wall of angry dwarves, whom eventually overwhelm them. What Raeyu remain alive break and flee, whilst others surrender rather then risk being hunted by the dwarves. Search parties are sent out to find those that escaped the dwarven assault and the dwarven host begins to comb through the bodies, discovering a single dead Illuminexi amongst the fallen Raeyu and dwarves.


--
A rumour from Karthby Ratphink

As night settled in Barak Varr, the Tipped Tankard Tavern on the quay seemed to be busier than usual. Biri could be could laughing and boasting stories of things they've likely never seen, Rhudauri merchants seemed to keep mostly to themselves and what few Raeyuan merchants were still around seemed to be keeping mostly to themselves considering the current political climate in the Albed lands. The dwarves running the establishment were doing everything they could to keep things civil, that or looking for a good excuse to boot those Raeyuans from their establishment with no luck yet. As the last light of day disappeared, a lone merchant pushed his way into the smoky common room, only a handful even bothering to look up to see the stranger push his way through the crowd towards the bar. A baleful green eyed glared given to anybody who blocked his path before finally settling in on a stool at the bar.

"You make trouble Zau, even one peep o' trouble, an yer arse is on the street. I don't care to have my tavern turned into yer personal battleground." The dwarf's voice was cold as he glared at the man, even as he wiped up the counter from yet another tipped over flagon. No doubt a veteran of some sort, judging by the weatherworn face and the scars poking out from behind his braided beard. "Now what's your poison?"

The Zau all but sneered down at the Albed, "I'm just passing through, Dwarf, so don't get your beard twisted over it." The word dwarf all but spat, and the bartender looked just about ready to chuck the man out then and there, were it not for the purse of coins dropped on the counter, "Now fetch me some Zau Fire... or barring that, I will take two X's of your Albed piss. Neat. Keep 'em coming until that purse is empty."

Emptying the contents into his hand, the Albed's head shook. " 'Till it's empty? What? All two glasses? An' considerin' yer attitude, consider that a bargain." Snorting at his own joke, the Albed planted a dusty glass before the man, even as he poured a few fingers of Albed XX. "Don't git many Zau here. I s'pose too many of us 'stunties', eh? What brings ye 'round to Barak Varr, oh noblest of humans?"

"Not that it's any of your business, but I'm on my way back to civilization, back home to Zauflak." Downing the glass, he'd look back at it with a look of disgust, "And the sooner I can get to Kek where they have proper drink, the better. Give me that second glass already, and I'll be on my way."

Eyes rolling, the Albed poured the second glass. "Kek, eh? Well you're in fer some bad news there. Been rumours flyin' out of Karth. Seems them death cultists aren't too kind to merchants lately. I doubt yer glowin' personality will be met as kindly as here, Zau." Shakin' his head, the grizzled old dwarf continued right on, "Everybody's been avoidin' it. Ain't nobody travelin' through Karth lands these days."

"Oh, I've already heard the stories. Elves getting beaten in the streets for selling their wares before getting dragged off into dungeons. Their ships getting confiscated in harbour and all their goods taken by the Karth." Downing his second, and last, drink before offering the dwarf a twisted grin, green eyes seeming to gleam in the flickering candle light of the tavern, "Honestly, it's been the best news I've heard all year. Means I no longer have to compete with half-breeds, sub-humans, and animals for selling my wares. Frankly, it's a Zau's dream come true."

Pushing himself back and away from the bar, he'd make his way towards the door, "Oh. And one last thing dwarf." Looking back over his shoulder, he'd call back, "For all the bragging you damn Albed do, the Raeyuans make a harder liquor than that swill you just served me."

The last sight of the Zau was him running the last few feet to the door as tankards, glasses, cutlery, and curses were thrown at him on his way out of the Tipped Tankard.



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In between


The Globetrotting Miss Omby Voice

After altogether too long at sea, a Birin flotilla sailed into the Zauflak port of Kek. Efirts Om, Chairwoman of the Council of the Biric Hegemony, had come to cement relations with the Empire of Hate. Amongst her delegation were merchants, along with four full ships worth of goods from across the Hegemony.

She was greeted at the docks by none other than The Bastard himself, and the pair exchanged gifts. Om received a pair of stilts, to put her “on equal footing” with her hosts, which she accepted with good grace and wore with not inconsiderable skill. For his part, the master of Zauflak received a rucksack with a special armour plate in the back, “to prevent backstabbing”, which greatly amused him.

The meet and greet done, the two Chosen set off on a tour of the city. The Bastard guided Om to the Temple of Zasha, where the pair paid their respects both to the strange god of the Zau and to Saint Hawk, a legendary figure from the nation’s ancient past.

She was represented by a statue of a sharp-featured elderly woman, clad from head to toe in finely sculpted spiderwebs, clutching in her lap a locked iron box which was said to contain her original copy of the Zashan bible, written on another world.

The Bastard explained that Saint Hawk was the patron saint of scholars, script, and spiders, and was one of the empire’s greatest historical heroes.

Having exhausted the charms of the port city the Birin delegation was escorted upriver to the capital, Korvasch, where after another bout of religious respect-paying at the Cathedral of Hate the two chosen finally sat down to discuss business, particularly trade.

Om’s delegation took the opportunity to try to find out why literally every Zau they encountered referred to their mistress as “Your Shortness”, but were told only that it was the law.

The Chairwoman’s visit to the far west had been intended to end there, but a change of plan saw her flotilla turn north from Kek and sail on, up the arid coast of the Mikad Plain and up to the Shadow port of Cheodahryan.

Even to the Biri, used as they were to labyrinthine architecture, the port was an impressive sight, the smooth white stone and organic lines of the towering Dahric architecture visible from miles out to see. Minarets and wide, flat-topped towers shaped like blooming flowers were laced together by an intricate network of graceful bridges, looking for all the world like cobwebs from a distance.

The flotilla anchored itself in the harbour and was guided by a pilot to the kora district, the portion of the city reserved for outsiders and designed with them in mind. There the Chairwoman was met by a small delegation of white-robed Shadows.

One of whom introduced herself as Seoun, an outspeaker who had been tasked by Yukora personally to greet Om and her delegation. She apologised on behalf of the Dahrach for his absence, but explained that the Biric had not given Dahryan sufficient notice of their visit for Yukora to disentangle himself from commitments elsewhere in the Unification.

Om was presented with a telescope, carefully wrapped and stored, which her entourage gathered was what she had come to collect, and her merchants directed to the city’s outsider offices in the centre of the kora district. Seoun informed the Biri that they were welcome to remain in the kora district for as long as they pleased but not to stray beyond it, then excused herself and the rest of her delegation.

The Chairwoman lingered in the city for a week, wandering the spiralling streets and secluded gardens and soaking up the alien landscape above her to give her merchants some time to try to puzzle out the Shadow bureaucrats who were their only counterparts. After that they boarded their vessels and, as winter drew in from the north, set course for home.


--
Extra! Extra! - by Smiler

Across Zanzibar the cry goes out "Extra! Extra! Rubber ducks found floating through Spes Albion, Albed official accuses city government of duck-based psychic plot! Read all about it only in the Herald International Press Service!" All across the world copies of the world's first international newspaper are flying off the shelves, even in the far-flung, xenophobic nations of Mikadosh and Zauflak. The papers are being read and enjoyed by the literate and the illiterate alike thanks to the ample comics tailored towards the lower classes and colloquially dubbed "the funny pages". Economics pages and ample advertising space, despite being heavily Biric-centric, are turning the heads of big businesses and merchant companies, particularly Tradewinds companies are clamoring for the opportunity to advertise themselves to the world. Headlines include:

Bastard murdered, Oathkeeper investigates in Conzanz
In Spring the Bastard, spiteful ruler of the Zau nation, was secretly murdered in his own chambers. Oathkeeper, the Zauflak lawkeeper, has been seen in Conzanz, reportedly following leads in the investigation of His Bastardness' death. Eyewitness reports state that Oathkeeper was attacked by a group of well known thugs-for-hire in the back alleys of Conzanz, their motives and employers are unknown, what is known is that Oathkeeper survived with attack as he was seen later the same day carrying out his duties in the Conzanz investigation

Illuminexi re-educatees share their stories
Victims of the Illuminexi legal system have given exclusive interviews with the Herald. They all describe having committed some minor, violent crime, becoming injured in the process and waking up in a temple of Voryn. They claim to remember feeling guilty for their crimes and seeking penance, which is exactly what the Illuminex offered in the form of labour and prayer. While not all of them were particularly keen on this idea they found themselves warming to it quickly, and becoming ashamed when they didn't do as requested. They quickly found themselves adopting a more wholesome, if Voryn- and Illuminex-friendly, way of thinking, at which point the Illuminexi turned them loose.

Illumiexi relic stolen
A spate of murders broke out in Illuminex in Summer, mostly of low-ranking officials and priests, culminating in the theft of an important religious artifact, the helmet of Cassandra herself. Shortly after the theft the murders stop as suddenly as they started. Illuminex are launching an investigation into the events.

Chatagai comes to Conzanz
The Omija pf the Rider's of Rhudaur has arrived in Conzanz to include his name among the signatories of the tribunal treaty. While Illuminex were represented by a Conzanz official, Pitaka pulled hisself away from the Conzanz investigation long enough to represent the Biric and Minera arrived with the Rhudauri leader to represent the Tradewinds. During the signing eyewitnesses report a large orc or ogre hanging around outside the council chambers. This ogre is reported to have lent against a lamppost, broken it from the ground, and hurriedly tried to hide it all as the signatories were coming out of session. The ogre announced hisself as the Sergo leader Gorbachief and, after apologising for the damage went into discussion with the Conzanz leaders and national diplomats.


The paper also mentions various other world events, the Albed deportation fleets stopping after the Illuminexi attack, speculation around the detainment camps becoming prison camps being rife; Albed-Biric border conflicts have been resolved, Fae are reported to be implicated; rumours of hidden magical places in Conzanz and a spate of robberies of high-end shops in Tsneriva Rising with no suspects generating rumours of a cat burglar; and the like.


--
A Mission of Unificationby the Voice

In cities across Zanzibar, a strange new phenomenon has sprung up. In the slums of half a dozen cities Shadows have appeared, preaching the word of Yunva and offering free medical care to the poor.

Reaction has been mixed: in Karaka the pious Scions avoid the foreign preachers, although the truly desperate brave the Dahra clinics. In Rat’s Nest the poor districts were even more vicious than the rest of the city, but the Shadows’ fearsome legend spared them the worst of the trouble even as it frightened off potential converts. A mission has also opened in the lowest levels of Tsneriva Rising.

In Conzanz and the Biric capital of Sahara Nam, the missions are slightly better established, with the priests of Yunva preaching to small but regular congregations. The Hegemony’s government has even furnished the missionaries with an abandoned warehouse and surrounding lot to turn into a base and prayer garden, whilst in Conzanz the first converts have helped to knock together a string of former slum dwellings into a make-do monastery and hospice.

From these bases, the Dahra run medical clinics and collect and distribute donations of food to those in need, with some of the faithful being put to work as assistants in exchange for boarding in the mission. In Biric the Shadows have also begun selling their surgical expertise to the city’s wealthier denizens.



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In the eye of the world


De-Re-Un-Educationby Dracomace

"Missive from the Biric Home Office:

Our citizens disembarking from this vessel are here to take advantage of your advertised re-education reversal service. Please do so promptly: attached are a list of their names.

From the office of the Home Secretary.


The harbourmaster looked down from the uncharacteristically short message to the group of unhappy Biri, irritated at being unable to take advantage of the last trading season before winter set in. The harbourmaster gestured towards the sinister red-cloaked figure at the end of the pier: "Follow her, ladies and gentlemen."

Zakat was mildly disappointed at the temple of Voryn. The gigantic complex looked solid, but it seemed to be made of bits and pieces of different rocks and woods, and was indistinguishable from any of the other buildings in the vast sprawl that was Phosnata but for its size.

"Not very nice, is it?" he said to no one in particular.

"That is the temple of our master. Have some respect." The somber voice from his left immediately silenced him. "Our lives mean nothing." The Scion stepped forward towards the Illuminex clergy: "let us do our duty." Zakat followed unquestioningly, and entered the colossal edifice.

---

As he awoke, Zakat was immediately whisked from the large hall in which he, and many others, had been sleeping. "Where am I?" The city of Phosnata stood before him, and he looked back at the temple. "Why would I be here at a temple to Voryn?" His thoughts were interrupted as one of the seemingly endless priests addressed him:

"A ship is waiting to take you home. I am told your cargo sold well the last time you were here. Congratulations."

"Why am I in the temple?"

The priest ignored him. What had he done the last time he'd seen the Illuminex harbour-city. He vaguely remembered a violent, drunken brawl by the docks, but he could recall nothing of the following few weeks. "Strange. I'll need to ask the first mate what happened. I hope that priest was right."

He turned to descend the great steps of the temple, towards the harbour, but was distracted by the angry shouting of the pious Scion he'd seen earlier.

"Unhand me, priest. I wish to confess to your authorities."

"Sir, you must depart. There is a ship waiting in the harbour for you."

"I almost killed someone. I almost broke the cycle. For that, I must be punished, and wish to be put before your judges."

"Sir, you must calm down. Perhaps your gods will grant you their mercy, and the repentance you wish to perform."

The enraged Scion pushed an obviously confused Zakat. The stern-looking priests turned to face him, looking pointedly at the temple gates. Zakat left the temple of Voryn still entirely unaware of why he'd been there in the first place.


--
International investigations -- rising tensions - by Araith

Following the family tragedy, the murders, suspicions, the conversions and the subsequent international outrage, the Triumvirate of Conzanzinople has promised to establish two international investigation teams against Illuminex, expecting full cooperation from Illuminex. One investigation would investigate the murder of Karthians by Illuminex custodes under the direction of Pitaka, home secretary of the Biric Hegemony. Others were called up to join the investigation. The other investigation would look into the brainwashing of foreigners by the Illuminexi: what the victims were guilty of, how their guilt was determined and why everything happened as secretive as it did. Volunteers for this team were welcomed as well, but no such team was formed.

Secretary Pitaka leads the international investigative team with 5 Biran mages and Oathkeeper from Zauflak. Oathkeeper is everything but pleasant, but he is diligent and singularly committed (often undiplomatically so). A group of riders from Rhudaur was announced, but they didn't turn up - though it assumed that this is because of the war that erupted within Rhudaur.
Pitaka and his entire team swear oaths under truth serum that they are there with the best of intentions regarding the investigation, and do not intend to hinder, disrupt or subvert it in any way. Refusal would have resulted in binding in silver during the investigation and questioning afterwards. His mages also swear to not change memories, to be allowed to use psychic magic at all.

The investigation focuses on the second custodes, since both the first one and the Scion family are all dead. The custodes has a severe dislike of Scions (worryingly common under the custodes), but he claims innocence of his revenge killing of the father who revenge killed his squad mate, claiming his body had been taken over at that moment. Through truth serum and light psychic influencing he is found to be truthful: control over his body was snatched away and he didn't know what was going on when he stabbed the father, even if the father deserved it. The team has found no trace of the magical bodysnatcher.

Investigation into the murders' background reveals the earlier stories to be true. The vengeful father's family had been murdered at the height of summer, and in what fashion! One morning the father had woken up, nurturing a headache, and had found his wife, 4 children and servants butchered, mutilated almost beyond recognition. He had claimed all summer that the custodes had knocked him out when he found him in his courtyard late at night. He had taken his accusations to the city's law court, but the custodes had been found innocent. The court happens to be largely made up of elven judges.
This had happened on the background of a pattern of murders that had emerged through summer, of Scions getting killed. Starting with possible street fights, stabbed bums, to shops getting lethally robbed, groups of bar patrons returning home getting beaten and murdered, and workplaces bathed in blood. Throughout summer the murders became more brutal and frequent, and got even worse after the family's murder and the custodes' subsequent trial and vindication. Last season there had been no further direct implications of custodes with the murders, but suspicions, rumours and tensions had risen. The investigative team finds no proof of custodes' guilt either, through both investigating murders and testing various custodes with truth serum. However, the team also discovers many custodes have been reluctant to pursue the murders. Since a large chunk of the custodes consider Scions the least among humans - shitty, lazy good-for-nothing goat lovers with unnatural beliefs, living like pigs. And while no guilt of murders has been proven, only innocence in specific cases, negligence and denigration are common, along with occasional common brutality.

Oathkeeper was the one delving deeper in how the custodes and the law court treat the Scions in Conzanz, who happen to be a mostly poor minority mostly living in a marginal district. His blunt, uncompromising and extremely spiteful approach is not very well received btw; the custodes less than fully cooperative, which too Oathkeeper points out in public, referencing the Triumvirate's demand of full cooperation.
Oathkeeper also delves into the rumours regarding Biri mages messing with custodes' heads. Through diligent work he manages to trace the rumours back to an incident during summer, when one night a group of half drunk men and elves noticed something in a side alley: a Birin leaning over an unconscious custodes, grasping his head. Getting noticed the Birin disappeared into thin air. The custodes in question doesn't know what happened.

***

Enter the Sanction Team.
Late in Harvest a small fleet of the Church of Cyclism sails into Conzanz harbour, immediately disembarking a group of thirty men in coats of mail and dark green tabards coats bearing the sigil of a wilted rose in off-white. Immediately upon the docks and later that day before the city council they brashly presented themselves as Scion magi and the Sanction Team sent by the Church of Cyclism wtih two purposes:
1. To detain and return to Karth with whoever is determined to be responsible for the murders of Scion citizens in Conzanzinople.
2. To halt, with extreme prejudice, any who would do further harm to Scion citizens in Conzanzinople.

Having presented themselves they immediately descended into the Crabs, the district in the western back of the metropolis where most Scions in Conzanz live. It's a poor district, where some are fishermen down the western cliffs (crabbers mostly), others have ties with the surrounding rural hills, and others are just urban proles.
The Sanction Team took to aggressively patrolling and defending the Crabs, claiming the city's security had obviously failed their duties. The custodes had already been careful in venturing into the Crabs, what with all the tensions, but now avoided the district altogether. While aggressive and adamant in their protection of Scions, the Sanction Team also demands that no Scion commit violence or ferment riots themselves, on pain of public execution by ritual dagger.

The Sanction Team wasn't glad with what they found, for no murderers have been found, no thanks to the lax, uncooperative and frequently racist elven custodes, who remained very suspicious to the Scions even if no guilt was found.
The 'international investigation' also seemed a farce: the Biran delegation was only aided by a spiteful and anomalous Zau orc. The city itself left everything in the hands of others, the Raeyu Tradehood as third patron of the city of Conzanz hadn't participated at all, and the supposedly righteous riders of Rhudaur hadn't showed up either.

Then a few Scions turned in a squad of custodes apprehended by them while committing violence against other Scions. Guilt is established and the custodes are publicly executed on the main square of the Crabs, witnessed by an angry crowd of mostly Scions.
That's when things get bad.
In the districts around the Crabs the custodes start patrolling fully armed and armoured in large squads.
Pent up grievances among the Scions are coming to a boil, now they are finally able to fight back against murders and elven oppressors.
A shadow of fear falls over part of the metropolis: murders and riots are on everyone's lips, even if commerce and the lives of the wealthy and powerful continue as if nothing is wrong.
Scions are starting to get eschewed across the city, custodes harassing them and more retreating to the Crabs.
The custodes and the Sanction Team barely contain a several threatening fights on the edge of the Crabs, between Crab Scions and elves across the street in one of the neighbouring districts.
A week before winter matters came to a head when a street fight developed into two great mobs. As taunts, cabbages, then stones got thrown across the street, and knives and clubs were brandished, a company of custodes marched on to separate the mobs with a shield wall, while from other side, out of a Crabs alley, part of the Sanction Team cantered in their horses, employing thundering force magic to throw back the same mobs. The mobs almost exploded into full riot, and the soldiers and magi faced both the mobs and each other, one magus menacing with a fell black scythe exuding abolition. A moment of silence. Then the mobs falls apart and the cusp of carnage is past.
As Harvest comes into Winter an uneasy quiet lies on the streets of Conzanz, even becalming the ever busy market streets of the world's largest city.



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A red harvest


From the dark - by Naagi

It was a bitter autumn night, and its eerie silence was only broken by the rustling of leaves and the occasional whisper of a breeze. Even during the full moon, only a few slivers of light ever pierced the dense canopy of the Dark-wood. On this night, the very sky above was but a void, the stars that illuminated the sky robbed of their light by an unnatural and wicked power.

The undergrowth of the forest was a morass of blood and scattered organs, and death seemed to linger in the very air itself. Slaughtered animals hung from trees, where eldritch runes seemed to pulse, basking the scene in a dull, ruddy glow before slowly fading to the darkness. Only at their brightest did these runes betray the presence of an overgrown altar, oddly untouched by the carnage that surrounded it.

Nearly a dozen demonic figures shifted in the darkness, bickering between themselves as they brought a blood filled chalice towards the center of the massacre, placing it upon the altar. These were the creatures of nightmare. These were the beings who knew of naught but death and despair. The Fae.

The foul creatures ripped open their own wrists, allowing the blood to trickle off of their claws and into the chalice, cackling and chanting in a language unknown to mortal men. Their shrill voices seemed to rise and fall with the glow of the runes, rising with each pulse until finally the light receded, and they were gone. It was only once the chanting faded that the whimpering of children became audible.

From the darkness, ten Rhudauri youths were forced towards the altar, tears streaming down their faces. They were unbound, but terrified, pressed forward by a sea of claws, teeth and glowing red eyes. They had seen what the Fae had done to their parents. Some had had the misfortune of watching the creatures eat them.

The first to reach the Altar was a boy, not six years of age. His cries became more frantic as the red-scaled daemons pressed their claws against his neck - shaking uncontrollably as the first claw dug into his flesh - and then suddenly stopped, reveling in his misery and despair.

The creature grabbed the boys hair and forced him to look into the chalice as it held its clawed hand above, allowing a few droplets of the boys blood to fall into the pool below. Smiling wickedly, the nightmarish sprite forced the boy away from the altar, to stand upon one of the glowing runes.

This terrible process was then repeated with a girl, and then a boy, and so on until ten quivering children stood upon runes at the edge of a circle, surrounding the altar upon which the chalice was kept. Any attempt at movement resulted in an immediate attack by the fae, and so the children stood weeping as the devils began to chant once more.

The Fae danced around the terrified children, lunging at them as they chanted praise to their terrible god, snarling and lashing at them with tooth and claw, but never actually touching or harming the children in any way. For this was no mere slaughter. This was a ritual.

As the chant continued, the eldritch runes upon the forest floor began to pulse slower and slower. Each time darkness enveloped the area, more and more of the fae simply disappeared, yet the chanting did not cease. Instead it grew louder, voices seeming to appear from naught but the darkness. The crying of the children could do little to drown out the noise.

It was only when the Fae disappeared completely that the runes ceased to pulse, and the cries of the children could pierce the sudden silence of the forest. The little ones waited, terrified of what creatures might lurk in the dark. Of what could be worse then their captors. It was as if their inner daemons had come to life - with a cacophony of screams, they tried to flee, and the entire area was illuminated in a sudden burst of red light, which did not fade, but instead seemed to intensify under the writhing forms of the fae's horrified prey. Screams of terror swiftly became those of anguish as the children's own shadows beset them, pinning them to the eldritch circles they had tried to escape, easily overpowering the helpless little ones. But they were not done.

In unison, the shadows began to take hold of the struggling children's fingers, snapping them one by one, almost rhythmically, and in a meticulous order around the circle. Unlike before, there was no reaction to the cries of the children. And then each of the shadows began to attack on its own. Children screamed in agony and despair as ears were torn from their heads, bones were broken, blades pierced their flesh. The shadows tortured them for what seemed like an eternity, until a single, audible note rose above a cacophony of despair.

One by one, the screaming ceased as the children were grasped by their throats and lifted into the air. Those that could still use their arms grasped desperately for air, or kicked helplessly to defy their own shadows. Slowly, surely, the runic light began to fade, just as their futile attempts to escape their inevitable demise gave way to hopeless acceptance. Finally, what little life was left disappeared from their eyes and darkness enveloped the forest once more.

At the very center of the carnage, where the blood-chalice had once stood, a figure writhes in the darkness. Sekis' chosen has at last been summoned to Zanzibar. The Culling is upon us all.


--
Deal with the devil - by Naagi

Even in the distance, the great forest of the Darkwood was a magnificent sight. It was the first month of autumn, and stretched before Chagatai and his cohort was a vibrant sea of colour, a myriad of red, orange and yellow contrasted against a clear, endless sky. The forest was changing with the seasons, and each passing day during their approach Chagatai thought it more beautiful. To think what creatures lurked deep within the confines of such a magnificent land unnerved even him.

Manoeuvering in his saddle, the rider turned to take stock of his men. The Omija’s bodyguards had been growing increasingly restless as they approached the agreed upon location for the exchange. Only when they had joined forces with the returning force of raiders and Daerden Ascuta did their morale seem to improve, and even then, when they saw the likes of their captives – the creatures behind countless myths and tales that they had heard since their youth. It was one thing to be told that the Fae truly existed – but to see the vile creatures with their own eyes – nothing could have prepared them for that.
    Abandoning these thoughts, Chagatai realized that they were almost upon the river, the unofficial, natural border between the lands of men and the domain of the wicked. The Omija had specifically chosen this location – the river frontier an effective barrier between his forces and the Fae, one that would slow any attempt to pursue them after they had secured the children. The Omija sighed – he knew there was no guarantee that the children were even alive, but it was his duty to see them home – no matter how small the odds.

Chagatai motioned to his revenue, and two knights rode forth, planting their liege’s flags in the moist soil in front of the edge of forest sprawling over on the river's western bank, before making quickly retreat back, up the hill and to their lord’s side.
    At first, it seemed as if there would be no response but the rustling of leaves in the wind, until a pair of malicious, glowing red eyes appeared in the shadow of the forest – and then another, and another. The creatures were chittering among themselves in a language which neither Chagatai nor his men understood. But none of it mattered to the Omijah – what mattered was the small boy stumbling out from the edge of the forest. Tears were streaming down his face and his clothes were little more than rags – but miraculously the boy was alive, and from a distance, at least appeared to be unhurt.
    Breathing a heavy sigh of relief, Chagatai motioned to his friend Daerden Ascuta, Cassander of Illuminex, and then to his men, thus splitting his force in half. Half the rangers and most of his mages he left under the ranger captain's command in the presence of his elven ally, while he led the others towards the forests edge, along with their captives, in order to make the exchange – these men approached on foot, for if any fighting were to be done, their mounts would hinder their manoeuverability within the confines of the forest.
    For their part the Fae did not leave their shelter. But once their counterparts were close enough, they nudged and prodded the boy, who ran screaming towards the riders. And then they waited.
    Once the boy was a safe distance from the treeline, Chagatai motioned to his men and in turn single captive was released, scampering away from the towering men and into the safety of the forests. Thus the exchange continued, one by one, until nearly a hundred children had been liberated.

Suddenly Chagatai felt his head expanding; realizing too late what kind of horror had been unleashed. The man next to him screaming in agony as his armour became fire. All around him turned to chaos as blood became acid, the very air itself became fire, or limbs turned into dragons, daemons and wolves devouring the men alive as bolts of lightning shot up from the earth and into the sky. A torrent of wind froze ten men solid while the ground beneath his surviving bodyguards simply disappeared. As his consciousness faded he watched as children were eviscerated as their own bones expanded within their bodies. And then everything went black.

And then it came back.

Chagatai looked around in shock. He had certainly died – his head had after all turned into a cloud, which had then proceeded to rain giant locusts upon his men. To his left he saw Onorah keeled over, puking. The man was one of the most talented mages among his people – had he reverted Pandora’s box? Unfortunately, the Omijah did not have time to think about what had happened.
    Screams of agony erupted from the men as the children whom they had tried so hard to protect from the utter terror that was the Pandora’s box set upon them with crude knives. Laughing maniacally as they plunged their knives into the knees and groins of their victims, who in turn reacted slowly, unable to bring themselves to harm the children. Those children that do not have blades attack their saviours with jagged rocks, and some of them jump at their defender’s throats with their tiny fingers – only to slice through them as though they were claws. Chagatai realized in mute horror what this meant – the children were not Rhudauri at all – they were fae.

Desperately Chagatai tries to rally his men, but now thousands of fae are streaming from the forests, leaping upon their hapless victims in a seemingly endless tide of red. The creatures hurled themselves into the Rhudauri with wild abandon, cackling maniacally, eager to spill the blood of their enemies and revel in the screams of their dying.
    The Omijah turns to order Onorah to assist him in forming a wall of elementals between themselves and the tide of Fae, only to witness his friend grasping at his throat, his own shadow having crushed his windpipe.

It didn’t take long for Chagatai to discover the culprit. A small child, a girl, not ten feet from his dying friend, smiled at him maliciously. Giggling to herself, she raised a hand towards the Omijah, who now felt invisible hands closing around his neck. The pain was excruciating, and the Omijah would have screamed in agony – only now he could not breath. But he could not falter here.
    With an indomitable effort of strength, the chosen hurled his own helmet towards the girl, who was sent sprawling by the force of the blow. Having freed himself of her witchcraft, the Omijah wasted no time in closing the distance between them, slamming the bottom of his shield into the child and shattering her neck. Only when the corpse went limp did the creature’s disguise vanish – but this Fae was not ordinary. It was as pitch black as the heart which it harboured. Chagatai shuddered – he would have more time to think about what this meant later. His men needed him. Even as he took this moment to recover he witnessed a dozen last stands end as his men, isolated from each other by the ambush, were surrounded and cut down.

A great battlecry pierced the cacophony of mutilated screams as Daerden Ascuta arrived with the reserves. Even with these men he knew they would be hopelessly outnumbered, but no Rhudauri would ever sit idle while their kin were being slaughtered – the new arrivals fought with a bitter determination, charging into great swathes of Fae in order to extract their liege, whom was dragged away from the fighting despite his protests, bleeding heavily from a dozen wounds.
    There was no winning this fight, but the raiders fought with a conviction that was alien to the Fae. The elite riders rescued whichever comrades they could, and then fought their way through the cowardly creatures and back up the hill. The Fae eagerly pursue them, but scattered in terror when Daerden Ascuta decides to lead a sudden counter attack.

Only upon the open hill does the Omijah gaze back at the carnage. Of the five hundred odd raiders, not even one hundred had survived the onslaught. The battlefield was littered with the corpses of many hundreds of Fae including the black-skinned creature which had slain Onorah, but the raiders had been decimated. He shuddered to think what the Fae would do with the corpses once the Rhudauri were out of sight.

Gritting his teeth, the Omijah ordered his men to march. If they were still within several leagues of the forest come nightfall, he knew none of them would survive.


VENGEANCE! - by the Voice

On the plains of the Gadolinun tribe, in the far east of Rhudaur, an army of elves amasses. Sped from their homeland by allied portals, six full banners of Illuminex infantry, supported by a sizeable cadre of magi, make camp and conduct drills as they prepare for the return of their masters.

When the Omija and Cassender return, there is uproar. Word of the betrayal at the riverbank spreads through the army like a rampaging sickness, clouding minds and firing hearts. The righteous fury of the followers of Voryn is in this instanced matched, even exceeded, by the disbelieving horror of the faithful of Omroth: the Fae had broken a flag of truce and turned hostages – children – into weapons of war. It would not stand.

As fast as their horses would run, messengers were despatched from Chatagai’s tent to rally as many of his horsemen as could be swiftly reached. His devastated contingent of rangers was soon complemented by a full-strength banner, the knights of the Order of the Shield, and several squadrons of horse archers from the Grisna tribe. Their numbers thus enhanced, the allied army marched to war.
Their plan was simple. Rhudauri planesmasters would conjure portals into the plane of light, or Luxus, whereupon the army would march upon Rael unimpeded by the tangled Darkwood and its inevitable ambushes. The host would then deplane straight into Rael.

Yet there is a problem. The Illuminex had, by some unknown means, crafted visors by which they could guide their steps in the overwhelming brightness of Luxus – but they had not brought very many. Only a handful of troops could be thus equipped, and on these fell the onerous duty of guiding ungainly chains of laden, blind and stumbling men.

The marching pace, expected to be fast due to the easy terrain, slows to a crawl. The few men who can see are worn down, plagued by headaches and led astray by mirages. The many who can’t often fall, or wound themselves, or are struck blind as blindfolds slip from sweat-slicked brows. Others simply disappear, and whether they were snatched by something or merely lost is unknown.

Such is the strain on the scouts that the entire column gets turned about without realising it. After a hellish week, the order is given for the entire army to deplane to Mundus, the material world, to regroup. Expecting to be deep in hostile forest the army instead finds itself in the lands of the Thalla, Rhudauri tribe based to the south and west of their starting location.

This means the army has been marching in entirely the wrong direction, but so glad is everyone to be in friendly territory that nobody really minds. As the pressures of the march recede and soldiers slowly acquaint themselves with sight – the early autumn sunlight is blinding to unused eyes – the Omija secures fresh supplies. After a rest, the soldiers return to their purpose and strike out east once more, this time braving the Darkwood. It will be a long march.

Prior to this ill-fated march, the Cassander dispatched four celestiares, magi mounted on flying drakes, to soften up their target. Their plan was to spend the expected week of the host’s approach raiding the area around Rael, torching it from the sky. This initially works rather well: fields and hamlets are set aflame as they reave the countryside around the settlement, as well as any group of fleeing Fae they catch in the open.

But as one week becomes two, and then four, their mission flags. More time must be spent sourcing food, the number of easy targets shrinks, and the Fae are given space to regroup. The need to camp on the ground is a key weakness in any airborne campaign, and it is on the ground that a Fae patrol eventually catches up with the celestiare quartet. They are never heard from again.

In three weeks, the ponderous host re-crosses the eastern marches of Rhudaur, and fords the river to begin the four week trek to Rael. The going is very slow, for it is never easy to squeeze a large army and its baggage train along the narrow tracks of an ancient wood, but the rangers in the vanguard are adept at clearing the route and dispersing the embryonic Fae resistance.

Deeper into the forest, however, the resistance becomes impossible to guard against as the red terrors mount an escalating campaign of harassment and ambush against the allied baggage train. Strung out along winding paths and watched over only by single files of guards, these raids take a terrible toll as wagons are immobilised, sacks and barrels set alight, and animals driven off, lamed, or slaughtered.

The elven troops are more than a match for their Fae opponents, but the forest and baggage train alike are too big to permit effective defence. Life magic stems the losses to an extent, but despite its aid the allies bleed for every mile.

As the host approaches Rael, however, the situation eases. Meadows and clearings open up, giving the allies more room to manoeuvre and narrowing the opportunities for ambush, whilst improved paths allow for swifter marching. Even as the number of Fae opponents mounts, the favourable terrain allows the elves and horsemen to meet reaps of hundreds or even thousands on much more even terms. Caught between the magefire of the Illuminex and the sweeping charges of the Omija’s knights, any Fae caught in the open were taken apart, and any hamlet or village the host encounters is razed to the ground.

Finally, the rangers report that Rael is in sight. At this half the army disappears, and hours later portals open up across the town, disgorging thousands of gold-skinned Illuminex infantry as the Omija’s cavalry surround it and cut off all retreat. The hatred in the hearts of their men fired white hot, the allied commanders close the trap.

The slaughter is absolute. Thousands of Fae are cut down, and their ramshackle treehouses of fallen logs and binding vines set alight to catch babes and invalids. Amongst the dead lie many bearing arms and armour pieces of Rhudauri origin: the traitors from the ford. These bear the most horrific wounds of any, and many can scarcely be identified as once-living things at all. Whether such slaughter is worthy of concern where it comes to the monstrous Fae may be a question, but not one that quickly comes to mind while tired and hungry but still fired up and coated in mud and blood in a dark forest rapidly growing colder.


--
Like a swarm of locusts - by the Voice

Speak of evil, the superstitious say, and it shall appear. Even as word raced through the scandalised Rhudauri of the betrayal at the river, and their Omija’s punitive campaign, further horror followed in its wake. Across the nation, from the watchful eastern marches to the sleepy shepherds of the far west, a veritable plague of Fae unleashes itself on Rhudaur.

The red-skinned pests, conjured mostly by parents looking to scare their children into sleep or obedience, are made horribly real as raiding bands materialise across the dominion. The horse tribes are fortunate indeed that their warriors had not long since returned from their summer campaign to attend the harvest, but even those experienced warriors could not be everywhere at once.

Moreover, the enemy’s tactics wrong-footed them. Eschewing their usual targets of children and other vulnerable subjects of the Omija, the Fae set upon the nation’s food stores. In the early weeks it was common for a village to frantically band together its women and children, ringed by able-bodied men, only to be ignored as their livestock were slaughtered, stores despoiled, and fields burned.

In the early weeks the conflicts are conducted on the smallest scale: often a family or village defending their smallholdings against a reap of a few score Fae. Most of these are mere rabble, and all are physically outmatched by the Rhudauri peasantry even before the better-armed local gentry can respond.

Yet the raiders are difficult to pin down, and will often have struck and faded back into a sanctuary plane before any effective resistance can be mounted. These small raiding parties would then lead larger reaps, numbering 150 or more and containing both actual warriors and more dangerous shaman, to counter-attack the local militia. Fae shaman punch holes through the skein of the world to leave parting gifts as they retreated, although this is a two-edged sword: for every rampaging fire elemental left to distract and further devastate the defenders, a shaman is slain and their band trapped and butchered.

As fighting blossoms across the plains, each side incurs heavy losses.

The campaign unfolds differently in the various corners of the sprawling demesne of the horse lords. The eastern marches might have been stripped of their warriors by Chatagai’s charge into Darkwood, but they had long experience of Fae harassment and defended themselves ably. However the lack of warriors and magi meant counter-attack was impossible, leaving them little option but to weather continuous incursions.

In the dominion’s populous core, the defence is easier to mount. Much of the harvest is safely gathered in Fornost, and the Order of the Horse – an elite force of unicorn-mounted knights accompanied by some threescore magi – extirpate what raiding forces penetrate so deep. Able to pursue the raiders to the planes and counteract their planar magic, the Order takes a devastating toll. Even the planes of nature and earth offer no protection once the knights begin dismounting before offering pursuit.

Valuable knights and magi are lost, but they have soon cleared the land around the capital of all resistance, and set out to aid the rest of the realm, sharing their magi with the Order of the Sword in order to cover more ground.

In Mithlond, to the north, the harvest is similarly safeguarded in the numerous strongholds of the local aristocracy. To the east, the countryside around the towns of Harlond and Forlond are hard pressed, with overstretched riders supporting the local villagers as best they can, until the Order of the Horse intervenes.

A similar situation prevails in their western counterparts, Lirlond and Evandun, but here reinforcements are later in coming and the villages are more spread out. Those in the eastern hills suffer especially heavily before the military can ease the pressure. The southern and western tribes too are forced to stand alone whilst the core is pacified. As in the east the veteran warriors do the best they can to protect their families, but similarly lack any means of striking back and are bled heavily as the autumn advances.

In Dorwinion, the riders’ sleepy port, the loss of harvest is particularly severe. The locals are used to the occasional raid by seaborne pirates, but are utterly unprepared to be struck without warning from their landward side. They are also a long way from the knightly orders which are spearheading the counter-attack, and thus have no choice but to bear the raids as best they can.

They are blessed, however, by the intervention of a banner of Sergo warriors. These had been seeking passage into Rhudaur, but the lord of Dorwinion had received no orders to admit them. Unable to advance but unwilling to go home, the giant orcs had simply pitched camp, and an uneasy truce was maintained between the city’s ruler and the banner of armed but friendly foreigners on his doorstep.

After the Fae struck, however, the Sergo wasted no time making themselves useful. As the Lord Dorwinion concentrated his efforts on gathering what troops and harvest he could behind the unassailed walls of the city they spread out through the villages in small squads, crushing raiders with their great maces and bringing healing magic to the wounded. Even two of the giants could rout a raiding party, even if the price was a planar hole to the heart. The people hail them as heroes, and rumour spreads that if only the lord of the city had permitted his planesmagi to accompany them, they might have safeguarded the entire valley.

***

As the harvest nears its end, the frenetic tempo of incursion is dying down, although sporadic fighting continues in the outer reaches of the realm. The damage has been great: not only have fields been burned and livestock slain, but more crops have rotted in the fields, their gatherers not daring to spread themselves across the vast farms of the plains. Without crops to sell it is not only hunger which threatens the Rhudauri peasantry, but poverty.

Compared to the rural population, the city-dwellers have had an easier time. Safe behind their walls and close to professional troops, the dominion’s urban centres have been largely unscathed by the campaign – even as all around them burned, as in Dorwinion. But even as it looked as if the storm had subsided, it was against the greatest city of the Omija that the heaviest blow was yet to fall.
On a dark night near autumn’s end, the stars and moon occluded by a thick cloud cover, fires flared across the great metropolis of Fornost. Almost all the city’s granaries and food stores, both public and private, are aflame.

Only a single band of Fae is caught, and summarily lynched by a screaming mob, the rest fading back into parallel worlds even before the city authorities can begin barking orders to set up bucket chains and try to stem the fires. But so great is the disaster that this oversight is soon forgotten. In a year where the harvest was already half ruined, almost all the food stores in one of the largest cities in the world have been reduced to ashes. As a cold sun breaks over Fornost, and the black smoke of a year’s eating is snatched away on the winter wind, the f-word is once again on every lip. Not Fae this time, but famine.


--
Green Cross // the Big Mercy - by the Voice

The Sergo are a caring people. They care for everyone, and are slow to make value judgements about an injured individual before rendering aid. Wherever there is suffering, the giant orcs will go to ameliorate it.
If this means setting up a field hospital in the middle of a swamp to treat casualties from a war between religious fanatics and pint-sized spirits of pure murder, then that’s what the Sergo will do.

In order to stay out of the way of the fighting, a battalion of giant healers skirted what constituted the Rhudaur-Fae border and struck out north, into the vast, trackless swamps of the Depression. They pressed on until they left the relatively dry easternmost fringes into more waterlogged territory and found a small lake, deep enough that it came up to even a wading Sergo’s chest.
On this lake, they build a raft, and on that raft, they build a hospital. The floating house of healing was resplendent with torches, and staffed both by the Sergo’s famous healer sorcerers and a full banner of Bloodletters, battlefield surgeons equipped with tower shields and saps.

Alas, the Sergo hadn’t informed any of the combatants about their venture and thus, whilst it was well positioned to be out of the way of the fighting, it was also a long way from the casualties and saw little business.

The only moment of excitement came when a small reap of Fae, stalking the swamps for small things to hurt, were drawn to the brightly lit raft and tried to attack it. The deep lake and full banner of warrior medics soon put paid to the assault, knocking the wee murder sprites unconscious before fishing them out of the water.

The medics, keen to do something to justify months in a rapidly cooling autumnal swamp, then healed the Fae up good as new, issuing them candied fruit on sticks before having the bemused creatures ferried back to the mainland, where they immediately started to fight over the lollipops.



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Past Harvest


Of Fire and Sunset - by Gutta

“Final roll,” cried the tottering kobolt barman, his face criss-crossed with scars, as drunk as any of his customers, “Order your last and take your dice.”

Hozzi Minkk brought his bottle of Doshi Brown to his cracked green lips and took a swig. News had just reached Sivas by portal that the brass-bottomed canoe had finished its pilgrimage and left Zanzikk for open waters. Toasts with fine Dahric wines, in honour of the sadly departed Commander Breznik, gave way to carousing as the Devotion’s finest celebrated their leave.

With a sigh, Hozzi thought back over the season that had just passed. But a few days before, he had been a guest in the court of Shadows, proudly a member of the retinue which accompanied Cllr Urbrikk on journeys to the north.

As the sun had set over the towering hives of Dahryan, the neat figure of Yukora initiated the rites of Vayaen. His formic countrymen led the dances as vast plates of food were brought forth in celebration of both harvest and the Year of the Evening. Even after weeks in their company, Hozzi had not grown accustomed to the sight of their quivering mandibles, and had busied himself with following the motions of the Shadow hosts.

Each dance a representation of the mover’s relationship with Vayaen, no two steps were alike, and the Dahric bodies twisted in diverse shapes with the falling of the light against the walls of the Night Temple. Hozzi was enchanted with them, watching as tired pilgrims produced elaborate routines with their weary feet; nearby his charge, Gutta Urbrikk, politely courted a silver-haired elder woman with deftness uncommon to kobolts.

In the Sivas tavern, sunset was now hours behind them. A season of processions had taken their toll on the old soldier. He had been at Yukoryan when the city’s namesake first arrived, guarding the gathering of senior Doshi officials who had come to the hive days earlier in preparation for the visit. Yukora, resplendent in perfectly kept white garments, had respectfully observed as the kobolts celebrated the entrance of the flaming canoe along the River Mikad- its first prolonged stop after a long journey from Surk.

Laden high with burnt ears of wheat tossed by pious villagers, the canoe waited - fire softly burning - as the Dahrach carried the Unification’s offering to be lowered from the river banks onto the vessel. His duties in honour of the Material fulfilled, he retreated with bodyguards to the sanctuary of the city’s temple.

Hours later, Yukora had sat in attendance as Gutta Urbrikk led the ceremonies; the latter’s white robes notably more ostentatious in the kobolt fashion. A fierce denunciation of the daemon Pyrus was accompanied by a selection of readings from the Great Red Tome, elegantly translated to Silhalin by Enga Hokzag, the Keeper of the Clocks, telling the history of Mikadosh and honouring the national friendship of the Dahric and the Doshi.

The pilgrimage had then continued along the Mikad, through Ayett, until it reached the great capital of New Mikadosh. Huge crowds descended from the city’s spires to the demonstration grounds outside its walled limits. The elite boar cavalry of the Devotion, with whom Minkk fondly remembered once riding, rode in formation along the river, showing their skill and tossing flaming torches upon the canoe. The best trained of New Mikadosh’s garrison, a spectacle in their finest uniform, danced through the planes, thrilling their audience. Less serious than the celebrations in Yukoryan, Gutta Urbrikk revelled in entertaining his guests, and Minkk’s wizened face was split with a smile.

With a clap from the Dahrach, the kobolt and Shadow officials - except their dignified leader - left the throng and took up seats upon the high table. Enga Hokzag did not flinch as the Dahra beside her tucked into the legs of boar which were laid out before the dignitaries. They watched as Yukora’s retinue, drawn from the best of the Black, marched into the centre of the parade ground. This was what so many had gathered to see, and with a flourish the Dahrach revealed the weapon of which there had been whispers for so long: the Red Blade.

Spinning the mighty halberd through the air, channeling hours of meditative martial training into his performance, Yukora said something in Silhalin and fire rippled across the weapon’s edge. One at a time the soldiers of the Black came towards their leader, carefully avoiding his lunges as they demonstrated their discipline and control.

On the last dregs of his beer, Minkk nursed only the slightest envy towards the Shadows now; the Arsenal of Heaven had been entrusted unto the Dahra by Yunva, and it was only right that the Red Blade should be carried by the greatest among mortals.

After the performance had ended, it felt like a hundred different meetings had been organised in honour of their formic guests. Minkk had attended a few, impressed by Yukora’s eloquence and by the applause of the masses. The same occurred in Yukoryan, to which the delegation returned to by portal. Minkk had been upset at the time to be dragged away from the pilgrimage just as it was enlivened (he had not missed a Chasing of the Cow in Kikok since he was a student), but his queasiness over portal-travel would dissipate during the weeks spent in the Unification.

Stumbling out of the tavern, itself appropriately dubbed The Red Halberd, Hozzi Minkk stopped to steady himself as other revellers passed him by. Fond memories crossed his mind; the last time he had been this drunk was in Dahryan. As he looked up, suppressing a burp, he saw the clocks of the city’s modest temple.

With one magnificent tick, the progress of the seasons was signaled. Winter was coming.
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 9:34 am   Subject: Re: Zeta Era Story

Interlude - Zeta Era Riddles


In churches, shrines and houses across the world, holy people and layperson seers alike began to speak six riddles:

The First Riddle

The heart was removed, hidden away,
without remorse or pity.
Safe now in the sight of the guardian,
in the mirror of the unified city.


The Second Riddle

Truth-bringer, lie-teller, prophet false and true.
Deceitful and trustworthy, both through and through.
Hidden by oak and birch, willow, fir and yew.
Outcasts from their home, where once a great tree grew.


The Third Riddle

Bra Norr Lever

The Fourth Riddle

Out upon the edge, towards the dying of light,
There it waits aimless, without spirit, soul or sight.
If you would lead it: seek it and prove your might.


The Fifth Riddle

With the stone that sleeps,
Where the fire sleeps,
There, still, it sleeps,
Waiting.


The Sixth Riddle

It sees the lie their leaders told,
when their grand quest began.
It sees the lie their corpses tell,
floating in the dark cyan.
It sees the lie they told themselves:
That their path was according to plan.


As of turn 7 the 4th and 6th riddles have faded.
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PostPosted: Tue Dec 01, 2015 10:40 am   Subject: Re: Zeta Era Story

Interlude - Fuzou Fractures


A few years back among the Fuzou islands:

The old Narhû dies.

Her rule had been long and wise. The various noble clans, both the five major clans ruling parts of the realm and their client clans gather in the holy city Tammu for the morning rites. On their way the clans encounter messengers with disturbing news. The Yabun, who's also the head of powerful Shizeta clan, has been murdered by an ambitious courtier. The holy city is in chaos. Later they hear more news that stops them in their tracks. Before the Yabun had been assassinated there had been a storm in the central archipelago that wiped out the Shizeta fleet sailing for Tammu, killing many of the great clan. And now, all this having conspired, the Tenwalve, the Shizeta's southern neighbours were sweeping and crushing the remains of the Shizeta, a despicable deed in this mourning period.

Having quickly usurped the heart of the domain of the Shizeta, the Tenwalve then make a move on Tammu, to claim the title of Yabun and all of Fuzou. However, they are stopped by a mob of peasant monks at the town of Kashu. These Har-ikki monks had built a new fortified monastery on a hill overlooking the harbour in recent years. Now with chaos come to the lands they took the freedom to deny the Tenwalve passage through the straights. The Tenwalve could have razed the temple, but that would have taken more time and effort than they could spare. With the Dishakura bearing south the Tenwalve had no choice but to return to their new homes and consolidate their hold on the archipelago.

Now, a few years later an uneasy balance is maintained. Central authority has collapsed. As it was before the Shizeta united the realm again, the major clans each rule their own domain. Tenwalve in the archipelago, Dishakura up north and the Fahro and Ayashura down south. With two powerful Har-ikki monasteries blocking both routes to Tammu and other clans ready to fall on the back of anyone trying to make a move, the stalemate continues.

In Tammu, chaos reigns. The courtier who assassinated the Yabun has long since died a bloody death himself. Now several factions within the imperial family, the last remnants of the Shizeta, and a number of courtiers from other clans, both major and minor, all vie for control of the holy palace district, for both the office of Yabun and succession of the old Narhû. Some of these factions control parts of the city, including the Shizeta, but the largest power in the city are actually the Har-ikki monks from the monasteries of Mt. Eirya-ji. The countryside is equally fractured.

Such is now the state of Fuzou.
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PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2016 10:52 am   Subject: Turn 4

Turn 4    -    Year 1, Winter



Golem of the Gods - by Eom

Igorina drove her thunder lizard Jill over another ridge. Up ahead she could see the towering figure of Urnagolquor, looking down even on the tallest of her brethren. She didn’t have a clear idea what they were looking for, but Urnagolquor seemed to have a plan so she followed without question. Just like the others around her, it seemed. Urnagolquor had brought hundreds of well-armed Sergi to this deserted part of the planet, the so-called Sunset Isles.

Just as the day drew to an end, the sun descending on the western horizon, the marching column slowed its pace abruptly. Ahead on the western beach, a huge humanoid stood looking out over the sea, its silhouette sharply drawn by the setting sun beyond it. The Ogres approached the figure cautiously, warily even. Though shorter than a Sergo, much harder: it appeared to be made of some light-blue crystalline material, with hints of green inside it.

At their approach the statue came into motion, turning to face them. Igorina just registered that the thing seemed damaged, before it lurched forward, at her leader. Urnagolquor barely had time to deflect the steady thumping strikes. Taking a step back, Urnagolquor, towering over the golem-thing that reached just to his waist, unslung his hammer, solid black steel decorated in silver, and brought it down hard. Igorina winced at the thundering clang. The massive hammer, Igorina knew, had pulverised many Draugr to malleable paste with a single blow, but it just bounced off the golem, which continued its relentless advance.

Urnagolquor seemed to hold his own for a while, until the golem managed to break his hammer. Two solid punches later Urnagolquor was fully on the defensive. His shield had also been mangled and the fists driving into his frame started breaking bones. At this point Igorina decided that enough was enough, and signaled the advance. Surrounding and outnumbering the golem hundreds to one, it didn’t take them long to bring the Golem to the ground.

***

A few weeks later, the Sergi were still stuck on the barren islands. They fully ran out of supplies days ago, and were at risk of running out of potable water soon. Urnagolquor had sent out almost every single Sergo in foraging parties, but the isle doesn’t provide nearly enough to sustain hundreds of hungry Ogres. One evening, while Igorina busied herself with making Jill into a stew, one of the foraging parties returned with a number of allied mages. They were met with enthusiasm by Urnagolquor, and no time was wasted in recalling the other foraging parties from all corners of the island.

***

Igorina climbed over another fallen tree, bigger than any she had ever seen. She knew Urnagolquor to be up ahead, but couldn’t see him through the thick mists. In fact she couldn’t see much further than a few feet. After moving from the Sunset Isle to another 'plane', called Ortus-something by the mages, they had descended into this misty jungle, which at times reminded her of the swamps she called home. The group was beset on a more than daily basis by violent creatures of all kinds, some of whom reminded her of Jill, and others... others reminded her more of the stories the village mothers had told about the monolith, dwarfing even her leader in both size and ferocious appetite. But they were Sergi, and they were numerous, and at least they were no longer starving.

When the march had gone uphill for some days on end, finally bringing them out from the mists again, the mangled remains of the expedition was brought back to Zanzibar, finding themselves in sparsely populated hills by winter's end. Wild eyed, scarred fingers twitching 'round all manner of improvised weaponry, clothes and armour in tatters, all caked in mud and blood, this company was ready to re-enter civilisation. With a golem among them.



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Where the heart still beats


Freezing tensions - by Voice

In order to reduce the mounting tensions in Conzanz the Triumvirate – governors appointed by the three sponsoring nations of Raeyu, Biric, and Illuminex – decide to reform the city’s law enforcement. The Custodes Conzanzi, the elven force charged with keeping order, was disbanded, and its constables ordered to return to Illuminex.
This they refuse to do, for the elves were Conzanzine burghers rather than subjects of the Cassander. Thus when the City Council elected to form a new burghers’ watch, open to members of all three races, the Scion inhabitants remained deeply suspicious that its elven contingent contained many of the very same Illuminexi who had previously served as Custodes, and the Raeyuan and Biran burgher populace had mixed feelings as well.

Meanwhile, law enforcement was reinforced by the arrival of a thousand Firefighters, the highly trained and aggressive enforcers of the Raeyu Tradewinds. This leads to tensions both between the Triumvirate and the Council, each of which is now maintaining a police force, but between the rival forces themselves as they squabble over jurisdiction.
Later in the year another thousand foreign reinforcements arrive, this time in the form of Sergi sentinels. These are especially welcome – word of their exploits in southern Rhudaur having reached the city long before.
Together, the foreign forces form an effective cordon around the Crabs district, separating the Illuminexi from the Scions whilst the Sanction Team continues its watch within the district. The city watch assiduously avoids Scion neighbourhoods, and with the district effectively under martial law no new riots flare up for the remainder of the year.

As winter drew to a close, the City Council started appealing to the Sanction Team to conclude their efforts and leave the city, and for the foreign law enforcement contingents to reduce their strength and leave more duties to the new watch. Outside intrusion also falls under suspicion as rumours begin to spread that Biran mind magi operating in the city.

In a bid to ease tensions, official proclamations are read which declare that the worst of the trouble has passed and that, come spring, the city will once again be a place of peace, laughter, and friendship. But with the various armed forces in the city and tensions still unsolved, few on the street hold out much hope for this.


--
Mercantile matters

The world is growing smaller, in some places at least. Where in cold forests armies trudge slowly through deep snows, as can be read about below, travel around the world's core is growing faster. Inside the Biric Hegemony the grand highway is flourishing: permanent portals between every major city on large, bustling public squares. Both personal and goods traffic is more and more taking place through these portals, except bulk transport, which remains most practical by boat. The grand highway's also joined up with Conzanz, and from there to Illuminex and Rhudaur way to the north. Some are free, others have tolls.
Another means of transportation growing outside of Biric are the rapidly expanding airlines from the Raeyu Tradewinds, linking up towns and cities around the Narrow Sea and even expanding west to Karth and possibly Zauflak. While costly, the fast airships are ideal for long distance personal travel.

More news from Biric: its National Bank has opened offices half around the known world. Though still small scale, this newfangled 'banking' business has raised eyebrows in mercantile circles, expanding moneylenders' loans with the concept of deposits and letters of credit that can be redeemed elsewhere, and this interesting idea of insurance.

And (literally, geographically) in the midst of these new developments one land is in contrast half cut off from the outside world: the Albed kingdom. Throughout the past year the fortunes of Barak Varr-based traders have been waning, with the growing xenophobia among the Albed, with the various skirmishes and clashes with neighbours, with the royal fleet getting its nose bloodied by the silver elves, and now a harsh winter with a sort of blockade by the Raeyu. Not just are Raeyu airships turning away those few merchantmen still daring to head for Barak Varr, it's a widely rumoured suspicion, or public secret, that the Raeyu military presence around Bileya has something to do with the uncommonly harsh winter storms off the Albed coast.



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In between


Editorial - by Gutta

Vasila Gosnom had not been having a very good week.

The Herald’s double-page spread on the Doshi harvest festivals had been well received back home in Biric, and when the chance had appeared to report on their winter equivalent Gosnom had snapped it up gleefully. It had helped that she knew her colleagues in the Zanzikk office would be stuck reporting on progress made in the finance industry, whilst she anticipated taking part in glamorous parties honouring Yunva.

Things had not quite gone to plan. The courteous-but-cloying kobolt interpreter that had followed her from the gates of Zanzikk was apologetic, but there was little that could be done; Doshi winter customs simply did not make for exciting headlines. All the little kobolt children had been tucked up in bed every night for weeks and the only real celebration of winter thus far seemed to be the daily declarations from the observatory in Rivas.

Biri readers did not care for Doshi astrology, as Gosnom’s editor had stressed repeatedly every time she submitted a draft.

Now she had heard her colleagues abroad had landed an exclusive interview with the members of a Zanzibar-trotting riddle expedition, and would surely be winning every award on offer in next year’s ceremonies. And the staff in Zanzikk had got a monopoly on the only winter story which seemed like it might be worth telling; a sloshed Borky Yezzin had dressed up as ‘Papa Clock’ and was distributing clockwork toys to bemused schoolkids.

Staring at the blank page before her, however, Vasila Gosnom was suddenly certain that things were about to improve.

A rumour had come in from distant Yukoryan that the city’s priestly council were bathing naked in a nearby pool, and that the solstice would be celebrated with semi-nude dancing and fiery witchcraft. It was next to impossible that Vasila would make it to the Devotion’s most sacred place, but she was sure she could spin a good yarn about the famous Enga Hokzag’s endowments. Besides, no Biri would be interested in an accurate etching of Doshi eroticism; these things were best left to the imagination of those who’d never seen a kobolt in the flesh.

More promising were the preparations going on in Sivas, the military capital of the Devotion, to which Vasila had gained entry with a promise about her intentions and her fingers tightly twisted behind her back. The poems pressed covertly into her pockets by lovesick soldiers were as unerringly awful as the songs screeched by kobolt troubadours in every tavern, but the reading public back home had developed a taste for snobbery towards Doshi literature and would revel in mocking their uncultured north-western neighbours.

And a garrison on leave was always a recipe for scandal. Gosnom looked forward in particular to the forthcoming appointment of the ‘Winter King’, which seemed to herald a descent into debauchery that her editor would lap up.

Vasila Gosnom glanced at the note which the interpreter was thrusting beneath her nose. She had received special permission to travel on to New Mikadosh at the invitation of the First Councillor. The Biri journalist sighed, underneath her waves of thick dark hair. She was supposed to follow up on a lead from a kobolt dissident, alleging that Urbrikk would be using the festival as an opportunity to engage in extravagant clientelism.

That was the sort of story that got you the Pilehara Prize, but it was also brought the danger of expulsion or worse. Even with everything that had gone wrong for Vasila in the last few weeks, she didn’t much like the prospect of travelling home- and certainly not in a little ornate box. For all their idiosyncrasies and the stench of their beer, the peculiar Yunvaic kobolts had begun to grow on her.


--
Tales of a water beetle - by Archivist

The dust cloud from the day’s ride could be seen hanging in the air as Genghan calmed his horse from a gallop to a trot. He’d made good time from Mithlond, and felt a minor amount of relief that he’d not encountered any trouble along the way.

The camp hoved into view, various horsemen milling about fetching fresh water from a nearby stream that ran down to the sea nearby. There were a few Rhudauri on watch, standing on the top of the dunes and staring out across the water.

A gust of wind brought the scent of salt to his mount’s nose, and she sneezed. Genghan grinned and pulled back lightly on her mane, bringing her to a halt as he surveyed the huge inland sea. Tales told by old grandmothers to the children said that there was a city long since sunk beneath the waves, one that had once been a marvelous sight of stone but had appeared a magnificent ruin before the waters had risen all those years ago. When seers had pronounced the deific hints towards the artefacts of the pantheons, the Arco had pondered the truth of these tales, and had sent a party to keep watch over the coastline.

Then, two weeks ago, he and his wife had been on watch when the storm blew in, a great howler of a gale that caused the waves to reach huge heights and salt spray to rain across the shoreline. Amongst the intermittent downpour and the biting sand that had blown up from the beach, they and the others on watch had seen white flashes amongst the waves, ones which the more eagle-eyed had identified as the battered and beaten tops of white marble towers.

Now he had returned from bearing the news back to the Arco, and was glad to see the camp still in one piece. In fact, he spotted his wife on watch by the dunes…

A few minutes after delivering the details of his trip to the commander, he slid from his horse and landed softly by his wife.

“Miss me?” he asked, cheekily. Jebtsundamba gave him a coy look before pulling him close. After embracing she sniffed.

“You smell of the long ride. Maybe we could go for another long ride tonight…” she said.

Their flirting was cut off however, as a shimmering light appeared in the sky. They and the rest of those on watch squinted at the appearance of an object, observing what appeared to be a glowing fish monster appear from mid-air and dive into the sea elegantly as though jumping from a pier. The water where the ruins had been sighted parted beneath its bulk, and it disappeared with a distant yet audible splash.

“Was that one of the Querosi from those tales nana told?”

“It was much too large. A leviathan of a fish beast, that’s for certain, maybe even one of the Leviathan…”

They lapsed into silence, and they and the rest of the camp spent the rest of the day watching for any further sign of the long gone being.

---

Raveshæ-Silem swam through the water, daemonic energies surging within her flesh and basking in the Aegis of Hruyun, though that quickly faded under wate. The arts of the witch-priests had allowed her to expand her body into the form that carefully mimicked the meticulous sculptures made by her Shadow ancestors. The feelings of water sliding across the slippery skin, the senses inimical to that of the ant-like profile of her race.

Shifting columns of light descended from the surface far above her, the towers she swam through dancing with their dappled textures. The tallest of the stepped pyramids had their roofs not ten feet below the surface, and it was these she had found first, but as she moved her borrowed limbs she descended deeper into the ruins. The map of the era before had been accurate: here lay one of the great cities of Tlatala, and their mottled stonework bristled with life. Here she spotted a shark swimming through a collection of columns, there a whole reef embarked on one of the smaller pyramids. Kelp grew along the roads, the stone paving stones sprouting the green and black strands like a forest. A shoal of fish darted away as she swam through the remains of a market, the solid stone stalls silted over but recognisable.

She was headed for the centre of the city, or at least her best guess as to where that might be. She touched down on the roads, attempting to scrape clean an old milestone only for her claws to smash it into rubble. Raveshæ-Silem swore mentally.

Forgoing swimming for a bounding gait, she kicked up a cloud of silt behind her as she strode the sea floor. Peering at different buildings, wondering if the artefact might be found within, she continued her search.

As she made her way through a thicker patch of kelp, something struck her fins with a hard thump, and only by succumbing to the Leviathan’s instincts did she avoid the skin tearing. Rising, she turned to see at least a score of sea serpents rise from their hiding places amongst the kelp, tearing onto the attack.

Her teeth bared, and she let her own, trained combat techniques merge with the Leviathan’s aquatic aggression. A ball of mobile water tore into the first serpent to approach, the beast seemingly breaking open with the currents in the water, and the rest of the serpents abandoned their headlong rush in confusion to instead circle menacingly.

The aid of animated sections of the surrounding salt water holding off those serpents behind her, Raveshæ-Silem cast the first of her infernomantic spells, a bolt of heat boiling through the water and scorching the side of a green-blue serpent. A touch of blood trailed in the water, stirring up aggression within both her and the gathered monsters. One of them darted between her guardians, nearly slamming into her side. Another nearly got the drop on her from above only to receive a slash of Leviathan claw for its troubles.

She held out for five minutes, then ten. While she’d landed several strong hits, between her arrayed attacks she’d only taken down three of the beasts surrounding her, and the rest were not giving up. The ring of silver tightened again, and she found the dredges of her mana to launch another bolt. Blinking as she nearly touched the bottom of her reserves, she realised what that meant, and tried to strike out for the surface. The serpents darted above her, blocking off the light. She tried to break through, but as she swung her arms began to shrink, her gills returning to hard chitin, she opened her mouth to scream but only water filled her lungs…

---

Genghan poked the insectoid corpse that had washed up on the shore gingerly.

“Where did you come from?” He pondered.

Despite the many mysteries that they had observed, the Rhudauri maintained their vigil.


--
Aelius v gargoyles - by Voice

Towards the latter end of winter, a small merchantman laid anchor off a rocky coast in the Fuzou Archipelago. A boat was launched and, a short time later, a small party of elves disembarked on the stony shore. At their head was Aelius Merovingus, the child-like chosen of Voryn.

Once disembarked, the party started to ascend the mountain that loomed over them. The going was fine for the first day, but as night fell they were encircled by a large crowd of gargoyles, leader of which ordered them to find some other mountain to climb. Mistaking the Illuminexi for Fuzou, he told them that they ought to have known better than to trespass upon the gargoyles’ peak.
Merovingus reacted to this impertinence as well as could be expected, and turned the full power of his pyromancy on the unprepared natives. His entourage followed suit, and those few gargoyles who weren’t reduced to ashes fled for their lives.

Satisfied that a message had been sent, the Illuminexi resolved to continue their expedition and spent another day clambering up the narrow paths and scree slopes of the mountain. That night however they were assailed again, this time in a surprise attack that killed one of the party’s magi immediately. A fellow mage fortunately happened to be awake to see a shadow fall from the night sky, impaling his comrade on a curved blade.

The rest of the elves roused themselves, and there followed a brutal midnight melee, the silhouettes of gargoyles, some equipped in the Fuzou fashion with curved ui-tanki, picked out against the bright, golden light of elven fire magic. With flares in the air to pick their targets the sorcerers take a heavy toll with fireballs and flame strikes – but they could not prevent their enemies from taking out a handful of their own number with dropped rocks, clubs and swords, and the magi were far more valuable.

At last the gargoyles again retreated, but after assessing their casualties the Illuminexi elected to retreat, not knowing what strength the natives might yet bring to bear. As they set out back to the ship, Merovingus vented his temper by unleashing lava flows, which scar the slopes behind them.


--
The globetrotting miss Om - by Voice

Around Midwinter Karth, the secluded interior capital of the Scions, received an unexpected visitor in the form of Efirts Om, the Birin President. She had caught a fancy and abandoned her flotilla as it headed homeward around the cape, docking at Fralt and making the journey overland via Sk’tos.
Despite the lack of customary forewarning she was courteously received by Yseult, the high priestess, and the two women reportedly got on well. In her presence Om toured the cities of Karth and Karaka – including the new embassy from the Hegemony – and took in such diversions as boating on the Kara and hunting in the lush valleys with dignitaries of the Cyclic Church.
One particular spectacle from Karth stuck in her mind: a play put on by a troupe of Zau puppeteers called “Two Half-Men”. It features two fat men of dwarven stature, one a glutton and the other a book-bound bore, who live in a castle and compete, always unsuccessfully, for the affections of several female puppets. It was very funny, although she was thankful that her time in Zauflak had given her an opportunity to get used to their peculiar sense of humour.
With the snows clearing, Om bade farewell to Karth and struck out across the mountains, east.


--
Dead of winter - by Archivist

Howling winds matched the howling wolves as the column of cavalry pushed through the trees, a trickle of mud on a white and black tableau. The snorting of the horses, the occasional twang of a tree branch and the sputtering of the torches were bare whispers against the gale that was blustering above the conifers.
The sky was dark. There were no clouds, and between gaps in the trees those who weren’t half-blinded by staring at torches could catch a glimpse of the stars that, as they had moved further and further north, greedily took part in more and more of the day. The sun now barely escaped the horizon, the shadows of treetops on treetops visible in the weak light once a day before the darkness returned.
A call went up from the head of the column, the Rhudauri riders taking a moment to raise their heads and continue the call. The column turned into an encampment as they filtered out from the treeline, finding themselves faced with a sudden break in the treeline and nothing but undulating dark hills against the stars.

---

Snow crunched beneath the hooves of the horses. Raykar sat in the saddle with his next in command riding alongside, a torch sputtering between them in the falling flecks of white. They passed the body of a horse and rider, the scout’s markings clutched between cold, desiccated fingers.
The sun hadn’t been seen for a week now. This far north, it would never rise, never give what feeble rays the winter could use or the blistering heat of the summer sun to melt the frozen ground. Even if it had, the clouds had been quick to resume their vigil, snow and biting winds cutting through even the thickest furs. Several horses were now wearing their own extra layers, courtesy of the mounts whose health had failed and whose body had been divided up to bolster the dwindling supplies of clothing, fuel and food.
The wolves didn’t hound them either. That howling had been left far behind, the cold forests now a fond memory compared to the bleak, empty tundra they now trekked across. There was life, even here, the occasional moss found beneath the snows or hidden under rocks that were jammed together, but never enough to feed the horses.
The snow lifted for a moment, allowing Raykar to review the decidedly shorter column that followed. He signalled, and the call to make camp was raised.

---

The snow smashed into the canvas as the winds howled around them. What few horses were left huddled amongst the men, equally glad for the shelter as the deadly white sliced through the night on the behest of the storm. The temperature kept dropping, and several more bodies were left unmoving in the open, snow quickly forming into drifts on top of them.
Men and women huddled together, bodies pressed tight in an attempt to keep their warmth. The meagre amount of food left was passed round, more recently cooked horsemeat. A few riders tried to get a fire going, horse fat lumped on the metal pan.
Raykar scratched at his boot. Two fingers and three toes now lay somewhere out in the tundra, frozen solid and cut off before they rotted. He looked at the fifty men around him and gave a few words that they were stuck for another day.

---

The group trudged onwards, thick boots leaving soft imprints in the frozen earth. It was night, just as it was always night, but they had one torch lit and one of them had spotted mammoths in the distance.
Raykar looked at the stars, twinkling in the cold. He gave the signal to the ten Rhudauri behind him to make camp.

---

Raykar fell to his knees, before lying alone on the bare rock that lay on the freezing ground. He looked at the dancing images that taunted him, hunger and thirst perishing in the cold that sapped him to the core.
“Time to make camp.”



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The Fae war - of iron and food - by Voice

As winter drew in, the allied armies prepared to renew their war against the Fae infesting the Darkwood. From the ruins of the Fae town of Rael, the Omija of Rhudaur and the Cassander led their host north to the pine covered mountains.
Meanwhile a second force marshaled on the plains of eastern Rhudaur under the leadership of Illuminexi general Hostius Antamori, and set out to scour the southern reaches of the Darkwood, opening a second front and dividing the attentions of the enemy resistance. This was comprised of Illuminexi infantry and Rhudauri cavalry, supported by a company of Biran light foot.

However, where their scouts had informed them of major Fae nests both allied hosts found instead only ruins. Both Soovaliau in the north and Laur in the south had been abandoned, with trails of destruction to the north and east marking where their inhabitants had migrated deeper into the Darkwood, far from the steel and fire of the civilised world.

Not that all was quiet, however. Whilst ranging out from Laur to try to take stock, elements of Antamori’s host found themselves entangled in a series of vicious running battles between the Fae and the local dryads. At first the allied scouts tried to chip in and hunt down the Fae, but their commanders feared inadvertently angering the guardians of the forest with their army deep in the winter woods, and did what they could to disentangle their troops and withdraw.

The march of the Omija and Cassander’s army was quieter but, if anything, far more perilous. Scavenge was light in the forest, which north of the ridges proved to be in the grasp of a harsh winter, and with Soovaliau abandoned there was no looting to be done. Despite having hoped to press on east against the Fae, in order to preserve their army, in order not to starve and freeze to death in the snows of this tenebrous frozen forest, the two princes had no choice but to take their army back over the ridge as fast as possible and flee to Rhudaur.

But food was scarcely easier to find there. Much of the kingdom of the horse lords was going hungry, the devastation of last year’s harvest already telling in shuttered shops and hollow granaries. The government was scouring the land for additional livestock, but could find none that was not already owned and accounted for.

They did manage to strike an agreement with the Sergo, whereby sufficient food for several thousand people was shipped to Rhudaur via the portal network. No other aid was forthcoming from their allies however, and nobles set out to Conzanz, Adventus and Sahara Nam, armed with royal writs and government funds to restock the royal granaries. Knowing their desperation the merchants charge extortionate prices, but enough are found – especially Raeyuan traders – to stave off actual famine.

As the Omija’s army retreated towards Fornost, they found that hunger was not the only danger that stalked the countryside. Whilst diminished in number, small reaps of Fae still stalked the countryside, burning farmsteads and butchering families. Scouts report that most of this activity is concentrated in the west of the country, and although the eastern reaches of Hithlond had suffered a few large raids the east was mostly free of trouble. In the south the Sergo wardens remained a great help in keeping order.

As they crossed the plains the army was joined by the ogres from the Big Mercy, the Sergo field hospital set up in the Depression the previous turn. They had held out as long as they could, but being far from the action and with the cold drawing in they had struck south in search of food and warmth. Finding little of either, they swiftly moved on.

They found that Fornost had suffered the worst of the famine. The urban population was less able to subsist off the land than the peasantry, and hysteria was mounting throughout the metropolis. Whilst the Sergi supplies are enough to stave off starvation the city still goes hungry, and panic continued to rise throughout the end of the year.

No sooner had the Omija and Cassander arrived in the city than they were forced to move the army straight on to Adventus in Illuminex in order not to overburden the city’s supplies or see further suffering in the ranks of the troops. The ruler of Rhudaur himself remained with his people.
"On the fourth day the earthquakes hit."
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PostPosted: Thu Jul 21, 2016 6:25 am   Subject: Re: Zeta Era Story

Turn 5    -    Year 2, Spring


A new year - by Naagi, a novella

It was the first night of spring, and a cool breeze carried its scent through the beleaguered Rhudauri capital. It had been a long and cold winter, and food throughout the realm remained scarce. Now released from its grasp, the Rhudauri could finally work towards the end of the famine – soon, it would be planting season, a new beginning for the whole of Rhudaur.
    Yet in Rhudaur, spring meant more than just new beginnings - spring was a precious time. Though all of Rhudaur could look forward to the next generation of foals, what the season truly represented was freedom. A time when the people could throw off the shackles of winter and truly be free. The coming of warmer weather meant that the Rhudauri and their steeds could escape the confines of their homes and roam the plains as they saw fit. And so, the people of Rhudaur nestled into their beds full of hope, blissfully unaware of the dark forces that were at work in their beloved capitol that very night.

A reap of Fae stalked the dim, torch-lit halls of the royal stronghold, their nightmarish bodies cloaked in shadow, hidden from the eyes of their prey by foul magicks. Already, several guards lay dead in their wake, their panicked screams muffled by the darkness itself.
    Nazur lowered the body of an unsuspecting guard to the floor, careful not to make any noise that might startle those guarding the chamber beyond the great door. Almost there.
    The accomplished shaman regarded the lantern lit room beyond the gate from a parallel plane. This was it. This was the portal hall. And it was well guarded…but nothing he and his fellow shamans wouldn’t be able to handle. Deciding not to open the door, Nazur merged himself and another fae with the shadows, and was pleased to see that the other shamans were following his lead… Within seconds the entire, invisible reap emerged within the various shadows of the portal chamber, right in the midst of their prey. It was time. He nodded to the other shamans, and each pointed to their target. Smiling maliciously, Nazur brought the shadows to life, darkness lifted the closest guard into the air by his neck, crushing the man’s windpipe with practiced ease. Even if his victim could scream, the rest of the Rhudauri guards had been similarly ensnared. The man flailed wildly, his feet desperate to find the earth below him. Tears were already beginning to stream down the pitiful creatures face as he clutched at his throat, unable to breathe. It was only then that Nazur released his invisibility cloak – if only to see the sudden realization of what was happening cross the tormented man’s face. This was the best part. He savored this moment. The moment he overwhelmed his prey with sudden, inescapable terror. Grinning ear to ear, Nazur flicked his fingers, snapping the Rhudauri’s neck. He had no more use for the pitiful creature now. He would just need to find another plaything.
    Tilting his head, Nazur motioned for his subordinates to loot the corpses, and within minutes, they had produced what they were looking for – a sliver of silver. With a mighty pop, the massive portal at the center of the room ceased to be…everything was going according to plan.
    Yet as the reap of Fae moved to leave the portal chamber, they were startled by a deafening crack. All pretense of stealth was abandoned as the Fae scrambled for safety. Panicked and overwhelmed by terror, Nazur had little time to contemplate that he was experiencing the emotions he was so keen on drawing out in his victims. The portal hall was collapsing. Right on top of them.
    They had been too slow.

A thunderous roar broke Ouru from his slumber, followed by panicked shouts of alarm from his brothers in arms. The weary guardsman barely had his wits about him when agonized screams began to echo throughout the barracks – they were under attack! His bunk-mate, Yekeo, had fallen from the top-bed in surprise. The others were similarly dazed and confused, but a chorus of feral screams made it clear that the situation situation was dire. They did not have the luxury of time. He rushed forth. Shouldering the door, Ouru burst into the hallway and was confronted by a scene from hell itself. Throughout the common hall, his comrades lay wounded and dying, swarmed by a red sea of fae. These creatures of nightmare hurled themselves at the Rhudauri with wild abandon, and there was little the disorganized guardsman could do to protect themselves and trying for the weapon racks as more and more of the creatures flooded in from the first floor. Suspending his disbelief, Ouru regained his senses just in time to avoid a fatal lunge for his throat, a crude spear slicing open his cheek and left ear. Reacting instinctively, the guardsman elbowed the critter as if he had a shield, shattering his attacker’s nose despite the fact that he didn’t and hurling the creature several feet backwards even as two more rushed forwards to take its place.
“STILL OURU!”
Reacting immediately, Ouru froze just in time for Ganbold and Sagra to thrust their spears past him and into his would be attackers, killing the two fae instantly. But there were more to take their place. Beyond them, an ever increasing swarm of fae had all but overwhelmed the others.
“We have to go!” Ouru screamed, decapitating one of the creatures as they renewed their attack.
“Where! The entrance is blocked!” Ganbold cried, trying to defend himself with his shield.
Ouru looked around frantically. The fae had just arrived and the entire barracks was nearly overrun. Already, a number of fae were upon them, and once the bulk of their forces finished off his fellows…there had to be a way! “Follow me!” he bellowed as he kicked the nearest fae back into the horde. Without a second thought he was already bolting down the hallway, determined not to look back as Ganbold and Sagra rushed to keep pace with him. The trio did not even stop when they heard the cries of the unfortunate Yekeo as he collapsed, his ankle pierced by a spear. “DON’T LEAVE ME!!!”
But leave them they did. There was not much they could have done for him, they knew, but tears were streaming down Ouru’s face as he realized that he had just abandoned his best friend. It wasn’t long before his agonized cries fell silent, drowned by the chanting of hundreds of the malicious little creatures which now hunted the trio as they rushed towards the end of the hallway.
Omroth preserve us. We aren’t going to make it. They’re right on our heels.
And so they ran. Ouru was so focused on the end of the hall that he didn’t even notice Sagra trip over himself, and he barely registered his comrades cries to carry on without him before the red sea engulfed him as well.
Omroth preserve us.
Still running full sprint, Ganbold began to knock over the torches they passed, hoping to buy the pair a few precious seconds as fire engulfed the ground behind them.
Omroth preserve us.
The window was in sight. Ganbold cried out in terror as one of the creatures leapt forwards, ensnaring his legs and sealing his fate.
Omroth preserve us.
Ouru prepared to leap through the window…And stopped in his tracks, ensnared by his own shadow.
Omroth preserve us.
They descended upon him.

The whinnying cries of once noble steeds echoed through the night as the favoured animals of Rhudaur were slaughtered in their stables. Mighty creatures upon which the Rhudaur relied lay strewn across the earth, swarmed by the reap of fae that followed his every whim. Several horses, their legs pierced by spears, struggled desperately on the ground as the creatures began to devour them alive. It was like music to Naagi’s ears. It was symbolic in a way. The beasts had been a constant issue for his blood-kin since the dawn of conflict with the Rhudauri, and yet now the mighty animals lay dead beneath his feet, rendered as helpless as their masters against the might of the Fae. The thought of similar atrocities occurring throughout the remainder of Fornost brought a wicked smile to his lips. The Rhudauri were brave and strong, and yet without their steeds, the Rhudauri were truly powerless creatures. If only they could have found the unicorns… another time, perhaps? He was broken from his musings by the stablewoman who struggled against his iron-tight grip. On a normal day, perhaps even she could have broken away from the smaller chosen’s grip. Reaching for the children which his reap held just out of reach.
    Which one first?
    Slamming the woman’s head against the earth, Naagi gestured towards his reap, and within moments the fae began to devour her children alive, their screams intermingling with those of dying horses and their mothers unspeakable, anguished cry. Cackling madly, Naagi took a few moments to enjoy his victim’s torment before slitting her throat with his claws. How unfortunate that he did not have the luxury of time to torment her further.
    Rising upon the woman’s corpse, Naagi looked off into the distance. Pillars of flame rose throughout Fornost, heralding the destruction the barracks and the massacre of those forces sworn to protect it. His mad cackling returned as he realized that everything was going according to his plans.
    Behind him, the last of the horses fell, dragged to its knees by shadow magic and stuck dozens of times with his bloodborne’s spears. They were the finest warriors the fae had ever produced - and he had not come here with his elite – those blessed by Sekis herself - to merely slay the horses of men.
    Ahead of him, the royal stronghold was clouded by dust and smoke, signaling the collapse of the portal chamber and destruction of the Rhudauri barracks within the mighty citadel. Thousands upon thousands of fae were rushing forwards into the dust and smoke, and hundreds had no doubt already infiltrated the stronghold from the planes. The chosen took one last moment to savor the occasion. The sensation of corpses beneath his feet. The screams of the dead and dying, of the terrified children, of the anguished mother, of the soldiers lying in agony. It was all but a symphony to his ears, and everything had only just begun.
    As more and more fires erupted in the distance, Naagi turned to his bloodborne, gesturing towards the stronghold where the ultimate prey still resided. With a feral cry, the warriors of Sekis surged forwards into the dust and flames.
    I am coming for you, Omija. And it will not end swiftly. I shall have you watch as I slaughter your subjects. And then, when the very last of the children you were sworn to protect is dead, you will die knowing you are helpless as they.

Bayard Malz slammed his axe downwards, severing the horn of one of the wretched creatures before piercing finally piercing its skull. The blighted things were everywhere – his family’s entire estate was probably already overrun.
    He was a middle aged nobleman, and speaking earnestly, it had been a long time since he had any formal training with weapons – he hadn’t seen much combat since he had moved to the Omija’s court, but in his youth, he had been quite the ferocious fighter. Luckily for him, his instincts still remained, even if his reflexes did not.
    That makes three, he thought inwardly as he pulled the axe from the creatures’ corpse, allowing it to collapse upon the floor of the chamber with the others.
    “Get back my lord!” one of his guards shouted as he pressed himself between Bayard and the windowsill. Already more of the nightmarish creatures were beginning to clamber through. Screaming praise to Omroth, Kalla slammed his shield into one of them, sending the creature hurtling to its death.
Bayard took a moment to take stock of the situation. His guards, having heard a thunderous noise, had sprung into action just before the fae had assaulted his estate. Thankfully, they had been able to reach him in time. Unfortunately, they were now trapped within his bed chambers. While they had barricaded the doors, Bayard knew they wouldn’t hold back those foul creatures for long. Around him his men either desperately scurried to reinforce the barricade with whatever they could find, or took turns defending the windows from the seemingly endless of hoard of cretins beyond. His men were good fighters, and it appeared as though all but two of the those he employed had made it to his side, but already he could see they were suffering from dozens of smaller cuts, wounds, and bruises. At this rate it wouldn’t be long before the fae wore them down. Once they were fatigued, they would be easy pickings – and it didn’t matter how many of the bastards they slew, because there seemed to be no end in sight.
    Suddenly, his wife screamed in terror as the air around her was displaced, and Bayard instinctively turned to slay the creatures which undoubtedly beset her… only to sigh in relief that her cry had been that of surprise.
“Honoured Taiga,” shee said, gesturing towards the old man, “I don’t suppose an esteemed mage such as yourself came merely to save my estate.”
“How bad is it?” Bayard exclaimed grimly.
“Every barracks, every noble estate, every stable in the entire city is beset.” Taiga frowned “They planned this for some time. Speaking of, time is of the essence. We must act quickly if we are to save the royal stronghold. It is beset by many thousands. We must rescue the Omija. Without him, all will truly be lost.”
Bayard nodded. It was certainly a dire situation, and the people of Rhudaur would need their leader. As it stood, he didn’t have much of a choice but to go with the mage anyways, even though he had always hated the feeling of traveling through the planes. “You have my men and I, just get us out of here before the creatures bring the whole estate down!”
Taiga smiled, and began to chant incoherently as he prepared the spell for their departure.

Asch hurled himself at the guardsman, tackling the beleaguered whelp onto the earth where he impaled his victim’s sword arm with his spear. Screaming praise to Sekis, the other members of his reap surged forwards, pinning the guardsman, muffling his bloodcurdling screams as they stabbed the unfortunate Rhudauri repeatedly with spears, swords, and daggers alike. Cackling maniacally the bloodborne pulled his spear from his reaps latest victim. Already his blood-kin were swarming before him, launching themselves at the panicked defenders with a fervor worthy of those who carried the will of their dark mother. The melee was chaotic. The bloodborne, assisted by their dark magics, had appeared from thin air to assault the unsuspecting guardsmen, leveraging the element of surprise to the utmost as they singled out and cut down the panicking Rhudauri. Even now, more of his brood were appearing with each passing second.
    As his kin butchered yet another victim, Asch rushed forward to combat the recovering guardsmen, joined by an ever increasing number of his bloodthirsty kin. As he approached his target, he was forced to evade, weaving as the Rhudauri’s spear glanced off of his shield and into the floorboards. Releasing a cry of joy, Asch brought his own spear forward to pierce the guardsman’s ankle, bringing his opponent down to his knees, before letting go of his weapon to lunge for his victim’s throat. His claws plunged deep into the defender’s soft flesh, severing the man’s jugular cord and killing him instantly. Retrieving his spear, Asch took a moment to grasp his surroundings. The guardsmen fought valiantly, yet all around him a dozen final stands were ending as the Rhudauri were dragged down to earth, brought down by the growing tide of Fae. The gatehouse was overrun.
    Far below him, hundreds of his brethren spilled out onto the moonlit streets, falling upon panicked civilians who had been roused by the alarm. He watched in cruel satisfaction as his kin fell over them, eviscerating the helpless Rhudauri with blade, tooth, and claw. He watched as babes were torn from their mothers weeping arms. He watched as fathers, despite being overcome by fear and despair, refused to abandon their honour and pride, desperately tried to protect their families only to be dragged down and slaughtered alongside. He watched as panicked civilians trampled each other in their hopeless attempt to escape the claws of their hunters. A thousand blood curdling screams echoed through night as pillars of smoke rose in the distance. Asch had never seen such a beautiful sight.
    “We must-must get down!” one of his brothers chirped “We-we are missing all the fun.”
The bloodborne nodded in agreement. There was much fun to be had. Tonight, the streets would run red with the blood of their prey.

Samga ran as fast as her legs could carry her as a chorus of agonized screams and guttural battle cries rang out from behind. They were following in her wake. Killing, slaughtering, maiming everything in their path. And she knew. She could feel it. With each passing moment the screams were getting closer. The monsters were right behind her. But she knew she could not look back. Every second counted. The only thing she could do now was run.
    The red devils were everywhere. They appeared from the shadows at every corner, every turn, immediately hurling themselves at the fleeing civilians, killing man, woman, and child indiscriminately. It was a miracle she had even made it this far. She had been merely feet away when they first appeared. Watched in horror as the creatures pierced her elder brothers throat. If it hadn’t been for Jochi… Rubbing the tears from her eyes as she ran, she pushed her fallen husband away from her mind. And just in time. Before her, another group of fae threw themselves into the masses as others began to leap into the helpless civilians from the rooftops. The roads in Fornost had always been wide, but the Rhudauri were being herded like cattle. There was no room to manoeuver. No room to evade. All they could do is run, and hope they were not singled out.
    Beside her, a man screamed as the shadows themselves came to life, grasping him by the ankle mid sprint and sending him tumbling onto the earth. She didn’t stop. Nobody stopped. Nobody could help him. He was already dead.
    She screamed in terror as a man several meters from her was split in twain as a planar hole was opened within him. In the next instant, a dozen of his companions collapsed as a pulsating black denizen entered the realm of living. And then it was gone.
    She ran.
    Tears continued to stream down her face as a group of horseman hurled themselves at a group of fae in their path, desperate to carve a path for their charges, desperate to uphold their oath to Omroth. They braced themselves for the impact – and then broke as the darkness itself came to life in their path. Their pride, their oaths, their very minds had been overcome by their most primal instinct – fear. While the mere hopelessness of the situation could not overcome them, their will had been broken by the dark magicks of the Fae. And so they fled.
    She cried out as a trident glanced her arm, piercing the man beside her in the chest. She wept as she saw the fleeing guardsmen dragged from their horses, their bodies and minds torn asunder by magic beyond her comprehension. She cried out into the night as she leapt over the mangled corpse of a toddler.
    She screamed in agony as a spear pierced her ankle.
    She fell.

Degei stroked his beard thoughtfully as his mount navigated the scattered corpses of fae and Riders that littered the road. It had only been about a half hour since his estate had come under attack, and almost fifteen minutes since they had managed a breakthrough, but the situation throughout the rest of Fornost looked dire. He had lost a good dozen men before they had broken free of the encirclement and escaped his blazing estate. The remainder were tired and wounded. But the noble knew how lucky he was. In fact, he was thankful. And yet the tinge of magic that surged through the air made the veteran shudder.
Before him, the green robed members of the Scion Sanction Team were slaughtering their way through the hordes of fae as though it were child's play, their magic enhanced by the small frames of their targets. He watched as Regulus walked calmly before his troops, the mages immaterial scythe gliding through swathes of fae with practiced ease. Around him, Deathbolts sizzled through the air, often piercing through several ranks of the monstrous red creatures. Every second, dozens of fae were exploding into hundreds of tiny, fleshy, chunks. With cold indifference, the Scions laid waste to all that was before them.
    Of course, the scion sanction team had been even more unnerving to him at first, but in order to earn the favour of his Omija, Degei had offered them a place in his townhouse nonetheless. Now, he shuddered to think what might have happened if he had not. With his men on the brink, the sanction team were the best chance he had.
    “We’re almost upon the royal stronghold. Just a few more streets” he exclaimed, pointing towards a pillar of smoke in the distance.
Regulus did not even look back, instead raising his free hand to motion to the nobleman that he had understood. Methodically, the Scions proceeded up the street, brutally slaughtering any resistance that met them. Often entire reaps of Fae didn’t even have time to flee before the wave of negative energy ended their pitiful lives. Swallowing nervously, Degei motioned for his men to follow, the entourage proceeding down a street littered with thousands of his fallen kin, many of them mangled beyond all recognition. At first, Degei had averted his gaze, but now, he made certain to engrave the scene into his mind. By Omroth, they will pay for this.
    As the group approached the end of the road, Degei noticed another reap of fae surging around the around the corner – locked in a brutal struggle with a large number of his brethren. Even for a seasoned military veteran like himself, Degei was moved by their struggle – where others had turned and fled, these Riders stood their ground, and fought tooth and nail with the invaders. And how ferociously they fought! But still, his people were dying. Anger welled up inside him once more as he ordered his men to charge. The air surged with magical energies as massive black coils of energy dragged dozens of fae into the sky, draining the pitiful monsters of their lifeblood before hurling their desiccated corpses onto the earth. Deathbolts flew through the air, slicing through Fae as a knife through butter. The Scions continued their assault while his men through themselves into the gaps the mages created, cutting a bloody swathe through the disorganized reap, screaming the praise of Omroth as they rushed to the aid of their beleaguered brethren. Degei had never been prouder of his men. Within minutes it had become an absolute slaughter – with the help of the Scions, the entire reap of fae was completely eradicated.
    He turned to a little girl. She was bleeding heavily from her arm, so he motioned for his men to bandage her. She wasn’t even crying.
“It’s okay now, we will protect you” he exclaimed, reaching out to her. “Come, you can ride with me.”
But she didn’t react. She just stared up at him, tilting her head.
Retracting his arm, degei sheathed his blade. “It’s okay, I’m not going to hurt you. Come.”
But still, she didn’t budge. And then he heard the screams.
    Frantically, the nobleman turned in his saddle, only to witness his men beset by other Riders! Two women had tackled Temuge to the ground, and repeatedly bashing his head against the stone road, his eyes rolling back into his sockets. Ogul lay motionless on the earth, dozens of stab wounds. Chambui’s panicked screams ended when the boy’s throat was bit out.
“By Omroth! We’re on your side!” Degei screamed, but his cries fell on deaf ears.
They mauled much of his men and the sanction team, before instinct took over. The sanction team unleashed their deadly magicks against the humans, scything those in reach while throwing back others with shock waves. Degei watched in horror as a dozens of his countrymen collapsed, their bodies coursing with negative energy. He watched as Regulus turned his immaterial scythe against his brethren. He watched as children exploded into a thousand fleshy bits. But there were too many, overwhelming too few of them in rabid attack. Still Degei hesitated, until the little girl he had approached sank her teeth into his leg and he tore her off. When he looked up, others were on him and he was dragged from his horse.

The Omija slammed the creature’s head against the wall, splattering its brains all over the fine tapestries of the hall. Their corpses lay strewn in his wake. Heads smashed, chests shattered. Their monstrous corpses contorted beyond all recognition. To an almighty chosen of Omroth, they were but ants. And yet still they came.
    His men surged around him, fighting for every inch of ground against the nightmarish horde. Inspired by his presence, they fought like cornered beasts, driving into the fae despite their wounds. Screaming praise to Omroth they pressed into their hated enemies, whom countered with vile, demonic chants to the goddess of death.
    He kicked one of the creature’s so hard that he separated its head from its spine.
    They came.
    He crushed a Fae against the wall with his shield, screaming to his men to push forward.
    Still they came.
    His wife and her chambermaid crouched behind him, surrounded by his most trusted guards. With the flick of his wrist, he cut one of the creatures in twain.
    So many.
    His men began to lose ground as more and more fae poured into the hallway, hurling themselves at the Rhudauri with wild abandon. The tiny cowards had become nearly as stalwart as his own men, consumed by bloodlust and emboldened by their ever growing numbers. He slammed the pommel of his blade down into one’s head just as he heard Bayard scream above the carnage. “My lord! We can’t stay here!” The old man’s once prestigious attire was soaked in blood. And it wasn’t his own.
“We can still save the city” he retorted stubbornly.
“My lord the city is lost!” Bayard cried, splattering one of the creature’s brains against the floor.
    He wasn’t wrong. In his heart the Omija knew it to be true. And yet still. He had sworn an oath to protect his people. While he still drew breath he would do everything in his power to uphold it. He refused to abandon them in their time of need. He was a chosen of Omroth. How could he turn his back on them now?
    And so they fought. Fought to retain every inch. Every foot. At times, they even managed to gain ground. But they were hopelessly outnumbered, and his men, for all their stubborn refusal to give way, were tired. The Omija did what he could, but little by little, he and his loyal men were pressed back into his bed chambers, barricading the doors with everything they could find.
“Where have I seen this before…” Bayard muttered idly, glancing at Taiga.
“My lord,” the high mage began, “we must leave the city. Your people need you.”
“My people need me here.” The Omija retorted furiously.
The two men stared each other in the eyes for a long time. Until a scream of terror broke their concentration.
“My lady!” Sighing, the Omija turned – only to see his wife devouring the eyes of her chambermaid, blood and bodily fluids spilling from her mouth and onto her chin.
“What in the name of Omroth are you doing!” he screamed.
One of his guards tackled her to the ground, but she fought him tooth and nail, tearing his ear off in the process. The poor boy retreated instantly, clutching his missing ear as she swallowed the rest of it whole. Screaming bloody murder, she hurled herself at the boy, but the Omija stepped in the way. It was then that he was forced to raise his blade against his own wife. “Don’t make me do this” he pleaded with her. But she lunged. He cried out in despair.
    And he killed her.
    It was a long time before anyone spoke. The fae crashing against the door seemed but a distant memory. The Omija lay crumpled above his wife, tears streaming down his face, openly weeping. What had he done?
Taiga cleared his throat. “My lord. We must leave.”

Far above the screams of the dead and dying, twin figures stood atop the royal stronghold, their dark, scaly hides illuminated by the moonlight.
    Below them, turmoil had consumed the heart of the city as Rhudauri fell on one another with little heed of their own health. A father turned on his child, beating the toddler’s tiny body against the earth until the boy lay unmoving. Wives turned on their husbands, sinking their teeth into their lover’s throats. Children hurled themselves at their parents with makeshift knives. Sisters’ slit their brother’s throats. Guards turned against their charges. Boys clubbed their elder’s to death upon blood filled streets all while fae and fire alike consumed the bickering Rhudauri.
    A single tear fell from his eyes. It was the most beautiful sight Naagi had ever seen.
    Further away from the city center, thousands of his brethren hunted the Rhudauri through the night. They were consumed by bloodlust, clambering over themselves as their feral instincts took hold. Even his elite, the bloodborne, had abandoned the gates in order to take part in the festivities, allowing hundreds of armed Rhudauri to storm out of the city to safety. They were the lucky ones. For the rest, Fornost would become their tomb. For many, their lives would end not in tooth and claw, but in the vast sea of flame that now raged throughout the city. But death would come nonetheless. It was all the same in the end.
    Behind him, Waggai was playing with the head of ones of his latest victims, seemingly oblivious to the carnage below. His fellow chosen had never really be interested in the larger picture. It was a shame really.
    Sighing, he rose, his large, beady eyes focused directly at the moon. And then he began to chant, archaic words rolling off the tip of his tongue just as his eyes rolled into the back of his head. Around him, eldritch runes began to pulse with his every word, their ruddy glow illuminating the startled Waggai as the chosen of Sekis offered tens of thousands of souls unto his mother.

In the nearby village of Fhol, the Omija stared blankly into the distance, towards the pillars of smoke and flame which rose from the once great city of his people, his greatest failure illuminated by the rising sun for all to see. It was bright, terribly bright. But the Omija could not avert his eyes – no, he would rather burn the sight into his retinas then ever allow himself to forget this day.
    After what seemed like an eternity, a comforting hand pressed itself against his shoulder, and only then could the chosen of Omroth allow himself to turn his attention elsewhere. The hand, as it happened, belonged to Taiga. The mage gestured towards the rest of the Omija’s entourage – those who were fortunate enough to escape Fornost with him. Bayard had set out to secure them horses from the nearest stable. There was work to be done.
Taiga withdrew his hand. “My lord. We must go. We need you. Rhudaur needs you.”
The Omija took one last, long gaze at the ruined capital of his people, unable to suppress the rage that boiled within him.
By Omroth, I will not let this be the end.


A cloud over Bileya - by Naagi

Greg IV stood upon the prow of the Small Fortune, his gaze steadfast on the horizon, a mug of ale rested firmly on his knee. It was a calm night. Good for drinking. Greg IV took to this task with great pleasure as the Small Fortune sliced through the air. The winds were calm, as they had been ever since the winter storms had subsided, and they did little to perturb the Small Fortune’s course. Even now, Greg IV could hear the airships engine’s churning, a sweet melody to the drunken dwarf’s ears. He sighed. For all its comfort, Greg IV still didn’t like the idea of flying. He would much rather have been in the pubs of Holm, but alas, it was not to be. It had been a year since the Albed High King, Guldan, had issued his decree – a decree that the Raeyuans had ignored. Realizing that his mug was almost empty, Greg IV cursed. Why did they always insist on making everything so difficult?
    As he lamented his misfortune, a small dot appeared on the horizon. Sighing, Greg IV finished the rest of his drink, and turned to bark orders at his men.

Bileya awaited them.

* * *

The Raeyu had been expecting company, of course, and their airships had been patrolling the isle for just such an occasion. It wasn’t long before they spotted the Albed air fleet. In fact, it would have been impossible to miss them. The Small Fortune was a behemoth. The largest ship the Raeyu had ever seen. Such was its size, that many of the scouts would later report that the Albed airship would even cast a shadow over Tsneriva Rising.

Before the Raeyu could react, the Albed had already attacked and seized one of the local nomad clan's camps, forcing Admiral Drake to turn the weather itself against the invaders in an attempt to delay them. Unfortunately for the Raeyu, the howling wind was far less effective than they had hoped – the mechanical engines of the Albed airships was more than enough to overcome the weather.

But it was enough. Within the day, the Albed airfleet came under attack by Drake's airfleet, Feather's Flight, and a ferocious battle took place in the skies above Bileya. The brunt of the assault was led by Kasi’s Eagles, hang-gliding troops, who would soar through the air to board enemy vessels.
    One Albed vessel is lost as the Eagles overpower and kill most of its crew. The remaining dwarfs fight back desperately, and while they manage to drive off their attackers, the engine is destroyed, leaving them powerless to control the ship... which is left at the mercy of the raging winds. The dwarfs are helpless to correct its course as the ship drifts into the distant horizon, with their comrades unable to lend assistance due to the ongoing battle. Yet another vessel is captured by the legendary Raeyuan pilot, Mupa, who assaulted the vessel with a handful of Eagles’ under his command, quickly taking the barge's command. Yet a third Albed vessel is lost, engulfed in a torrent of flame as the enginseers desperately fought to drive off their attackers. It was beginning to look as though the Raeyu would be able to drive back the invaders after all. Unfortunately, there was precious little they could do to stop the advance of the Small Fortune. In fact, the battle for aerial supremacy may as well have already been decided. Dozens of Kasi’s Eagles died in their attempts to overtake the vessel, most of them shot down by a shower of scorpion bolts in their approach. Those lucky few who actually made it into the vessel found themselves surrounded by dwarfs, who made quick work of them. Almost single handedly the Small Fortune drives off the pride of the Raeyu air fleets, which scatters in an attempt to avoid the behemoth.

With a heavy heart, the Raeyu admiral Drake orders a full retreat from the isle of Bileya just days after their initial assault, abandoning his people to the mercy of the Albed invaders.

* * *

Down on the ground the Albed ground forces are being seriously hindered by Alahela Wasps, who harass the columns of dwarven troops from a distance. Unfortunately, bereft or air support, these snipers are unable to drive back the invaders, and instead must rely on guerilla warfare to inflict a mounting number of casualties. Ultimately, the Alahela Wasps are unable to halt the dwarven advance on their own, and as the Small Fortune begins to track their movements, the Wasps are cornered by swift moving Albed patrols, cornered like the very people they are trying to defend.
    Weeks later the entirety of Bileya lies under Albed control, and many thousands of Raeyuans are taken as prisoners of war and shipped back to Barrak Varr.

Greg sighed. How were they going to get rid of them now?


Meanwhile, in the east... - by Dracomace

It was a crisp morning. Minera was by now used to the thinner air of high altitude; flying gave her an opportunity to escape the sometimes stifling humidity of the Buuki rainforest she called home. The looming volcano, once a distant silhouette guiding their path, was now enticingly close, the prospect of landfall, and the warmth of southern spring, growing ever nearer. The helmsman had awoken her at dawn, as requested. With any luck, the search party would find the rumoured gargoyles by dusk, providing ample time for discussion with the curious creatures.
    By nightfall, the Raeyuan chosen was far less comfortable with the surrounding area than she had been in the morning. The freshly solidified lava, brought to the surface by Aelius Merovingus the season before, had obscured the entrance to the one of the many calderas of the mountain in which the gargoyles had established their colony. Minera would much rather not have had to try and find it on foot. As they had only a few months before, the gargoyles objected to the trespass of foreign magicians on their mountain, and greeted the small group of Raeyuans with an uncharacteristic show of force, keen to prevent further losses to their number. This did not faze the Tradehood’s most accomplished diplomat, whose songs of wonder and curiosity seemed to reassure the volcano’s denizens that they were not about to be fried.
    Minera’s cautious diplomacy would proceed throughout the coming days; she was even able to explore the caves and tunnels the gargoyles called home, a truly extraordinary privilege, though it did not last long. One evening, she was abruptly removed from the small alcove in which she had been living for the duration of her visit to the mountain’s natives, told only that her kind were not welcome, and that she was lucky not to be executed.
The cause of this abrupt turn in proceedings would soon make itself apparent.

Aelius Merovingus was looking quite happily at the shattered stone surrounding him. The savages native to the mountain had already begun to feel the wrath of those who defied the diminuitive, yet highly dangerous, holy child of Voryn. The fallen sorcerers for whom this mountain continued to serve as a grave would be avenged. The small force of Illuminex mages was making short work of numerous exposed gargoyle dwellings, cracking their protective stone skin, often blasting broken bodies into the cave walls, killing hundreds over the course of a day. The echoes of their reverberations were such that they could be heard for miles around, not least by the crew of the nearby Bird of Paradise Reborn.
    Despite this, Merovingus was displeased. The Rhudauri planesmasters who typically joined him on expeditions had refused to do so. The boy had been considering vowing vengeance upon them, but reconsidered when he imagined what the Cassander’s reaction might be. The Illuminex ruler seemed to like the humans to the north, though Aelius simply couldn’t understand why. Moreover, he was no closer to finding the damn artefact he’d come for than he was last season, though he was hoping that by venturing into the volcano he might find more clues.

    Minera’s search for the cause of the gargoyles’ change of heart was short; many of her airship’s crew had spotted Illuminexi flying mages near the volcano. Approaching the elves’ small hidden encampment on the mountain’s lower slopes, the young woman found herself intercepted by Merovingus, who displayed all of his usual diplomatic tact and deftness in greeting her.
“I have to say, I wasn’t expecting to see one of you airheads so far from home. Have you come to help us, or are you going to persist in your uselessness?”
“Lord Aelius, it is a pleasure to see you, as always. I would be grateful if you were to consider briefly putting on hold your endeavours while we converse. It is imperative that we discuss a sensitive matter at this time.”
Minera brought herself to her full height, echoing in her movements the gravity with which she spoke, hoping that the small Chosen might be less obstinate than his infamously stubborn mentor. In hindsight, she might not have bothered. The little prophet seemed more intent on amusing himself by insulting her than taking anything she said seriously, and upon hearing of her dealings with the gargoyles as she attempted to dissuade him from further attacks displaying total disinterest in refraining from exacting his vengeance. Not even her singing could mollify him.
Aelius interrupted her. “Little girl,” (Minera wasn’t sure if the irony was intentional, or if the diminutive elf had simply missed it) “you must remember that not all of us have had our wits addled by light air. If you think that your dealings with the savages will prevent me from avenging my disciples, you mind has clearly turned to rock. Your encounters might be responsible for that. That and your stony face. Your treachery will not be forgotten. I should have expected it, given your peoples’ past. Get out of my sight.”
The Raeyuan chosen, glaring angrily, briefly considered attempting to fry Merovingus where he stood, before thinking better of it, gracefully turning away, taking flight to return to her airship. She would not rise to the goading of an arrogant child.

That night, Aelius was awoken by the cries of the night watch. Burning skulls lit up the sky, as burning beasts plummeted onto the camp from above, some broken and charred, others swooping down to slay their attackers on the ground. There were hundreds of them, and those his mages were slaughtering dozens of the foul creature, they were quickly becoming overwhelmed. One of the Celestiares was already dead. Jumping onto the dead elf’s mount, Aelius screamed at his allies to evacuate. Only two others reached their mounts. Many others, realising that their deaths were imminent, turned to face to nearly solid mass of flapping wings descending upon them. Gargoyle after gargoyle fell from the sky; some of the Torchbearers were crushed under the weight of the fallen, others eviscerated by the curved Fuzoan blades the volcano’s denizens carried, their own flaming weaponry providing little protection, if enabling them to cause just a little more damage.
    Now in the air, Aelius quickly found himself being followed by many of the remaining gargoyles. The others weren’t going to make it. Thinking fast, he succeeded in confounding his pursuers, who were enveloped in thick smoke and were unable to stop themselves from crashing into one another such was its impenetrability. The two other Celestiares did not follow him out of the black cloud.
    Recalling his encounter with Minera the night before, his desperation turned to anger. She betrayed us, just as the damn horse-men did. He vowed to return, one day. I will have my vengeance. I will inflict upon them the wrath of Voryn. They will all burn.

The following day, Merovingus found that an opportunity to do just that came earlier than he might previously have expected. A dark shadow passed over him, and he soon found himself surrounded by Raeyuan hang gliders, a few of which appeared to spontaneously combust as soon as he noticed them, plummeting to the ground, hundreds of metres below. Most of the fallen died long before they hit the ground. Turning his attention to the source of the shadow, and the hang gliders, for that matter, the great airship Bird of Paradise Reborn, he succeeded in blasting several large holes into the huge vessel’s hull, which, to his surprise, accomplished precisely nothing. The airship wasn’t about to sink as a result of hull damage; it wasn’t seagoing, he realised far too late. His time, and much of his mana wasted, there was little he could do to prevent one of Minera’s crack sharpshooters from making short work of his mount.
    Aelius fell.
    Not very far. The hang gliders had caught the boy in some large net. How they’d manage to unfurl that thing he had no idea, but it didn’t really matter to him. Flames began to creep up towards those holding the net, and after the first of the hang gliders found that flaming flying contraptions aren’t very good at flying, the others wisely let go of the mostly-destroyed net. The holy child of Illuminex began to fall once more. He landed again, much earlier than he’d expected, and much harder than he’d expected. Attempting to heal his injuries, he soon found all mana drained from him. Silver. Bastards.

As the silver netting was finally hauled onto the deck of the damaged airship, the mildly irritating fires had already been put out. Minera contemplated the small unconscious Chosen briefly. It was astonishing that one so young had such magical ability, and the respect of an entire nation. It was a bit of a shame, she noted, about the manner in which he used it.

***

A shortish time later a small angry package was airdropped over Spes Albion, returning a lost child in the most expedient manner possible, with a note requesting to reign him in from future attempts at genocide and such.


Ruckus in Rat's Nest - by the Voice

As the first month of spring drew to a close, morning broke over the harbour in Rat’s Nest. But instead of the usual early-morning fishermen slipping out with the sun, the red light of dawn instead revealed a full fleet of warships, drawn up in battle order, flying the silver star on gold, the sigil of proud Illuminex.

From his flagship, the enormous galley Aggredius, Dearden Ascuta surveyed the run-down yet teeming port before him. It was a deeply distasteful place to the pious and orderly elves, yet he was confident that his fleet could bring it into the light of Cassandra with the fire and steel at their disposal. After the fall of Fornost... this would be a good base for refugees. Arrayed about him was the main fleet of the Illuminex – the same that had confronted the Albed off Numan Isle: sixteen galleys and four large roundships.

Confident that the assorted criminal gangs who called Rat’s Nest home wouldn’t be able to match such a force, a short while later the despot of Illuminex was standing outside the town, parlaying with a motley assortment of gang leaders and syndicate representatives: Marshula Sung, a hulking Sergo who was chieftess of the Docks; Guatam Namia, a Biran; and Joveem Kanin’s-kin, a Raeyuan self-styled “merchant prince” of Novarite heritage, led for the Nesters. Yet to Ascuta's surprise the belligerent Nesters showed no sign of giving in. If they had been prepared to relinquish their independence to the first warlord who showed up with a fleet and an army, after all, they would have been annexed long ago. Frustrated, but also rather looking forward to bringing justice down on this wretched hive of scum and villainy, Ascuta returned to his flagship and the signal flags immediately began snapping out orders, colours on full display in the crisp morning breeze.

The assault began with the celestarii, flying mages, clearing the harbour walls with firestorms, scattering what defenders and onlookers had the wit to avoid being cooked alive. A squadron of light galleys closed on the seawall, discharges squads of aquitiles who secured the defences with professional efficiency. Then the Aggredius led the fleet into the habour. The Cassander proceeds cautiously: being a haven for pirates and smugglers he knows that many of the docked ships may be far more dangerous than they appear, so as a precaution the fleet and circling celestarii torch and scupper every ship in the harbour, not just the squadron of pirate galleys. Numerous merchantmen from a handful of nations, including Conzanz, Biric, and the Tradewinds, are lost to the attack.
    This done, the Illuminexi land their main force: fifteen hundred aquitiles, armoured marines fighting with the same cutlasses Nester pirates are infamous for. After swiftly securing the docks, their officers form them up and the elves advance into the city proper. The plan is simple: crush what resistance there is and make the city safe as a new continental base for Illuminex and her allies.

But not even the simplest plans survive first contact with the enemy: the marines had not got far from the quayside when they begin to run into truly vicious counter-attacks. All manner of scum, mostly human but with a smattering of Biri, armed with anything from gear roughly equivalent to the marines to stones and flung faeces, exploit their knowledge of the streets and alleyways to mount surprise assaults, harrying the disoriented professionals from several directions at once. Most dangerous of all, however, are the hulking streetfighters from the ogre gangs, who wade into the melee with brutal iron-shod clubs capable of crushing an ordinary man. The tight confines of the streets prevent the lighter aquilites from evening up the strength imbalance, and the Sergo start to take a heavy toll on the invading forces.
    Street by street the Illuminexi are forced back to the docks, which afford the space, concentration of force and supporting fire power to re-establish a strong defensive perimeter and regroup. The assault was proving much harder than anticipated, but even outnumbered somewhere between two and three-to-one the elves were not about to be dissuaded by a mob of street toughs. After a pause to heal the wounded the marines sally forth again – but are again pushed back after a protracted and bloody series of skirmishes in the streets of the city.

Realising now that his situation is growing precarious, Ascuta decides to lead the final attack himself into the now burning city. Exploiting his aerial supremacy, he has the celestarii identify the strongest contingent of ogres and leads the charge himself, hammering the Sergo with fire magic before wading into the melee.
    This last push was not without its moments of hope: deep in the brawl the Cassander personally confronted and slew Ublala Sung, a hulking giant even by Sergo standards who was brother to Marshula and under-chief of the docks. But there were still too many ogres, and with mages running out of mana Ascuta realises he risks getting outflanked and trapped in the warren of alleys. Through gritted teeth, he orders the third and final retreat to the docks.

Arriving there he recognizes that the situation is even more dire than he had anticipated: whilst the bulk of the Illuminexi were assaulting the city, gangs of fleet-footed Biran knife-fighters had slipped past them through the backstreets and launched a surprise attack on the aquitiles holding the seawall, who without support were hard-pressed to hold them off. With the risk of entrapment and the possible loss of his entire fleet, Ascuta orders a full retreat.
    The remnants of his devastated marine companies conduct the subsequent fighting embarkation in good order and, again led by the mighty Aggredius, the Illuminex fleet makes a break for the open sea, leaving behind them a smoking city and an awful lot of elven dead.


Return to Fornost - by the Voice

Atop a small knoll beside the road out of Forlond, Chagatai gazed out at perhaps the largest encampment that Zanzibar had known. The neat tents of his soldiers mingled with the tatty shelters of refugees, those who had fled from the great capital of his people which still spat smoke into the northern sky.
    That black plume marked the graves of the majority of Fornost’s population, including almost every local noble and the Omija’s entire court. The rest, tens of thousands, had fled south with whatever they could carry, and this tide of human misery had roused the entire region into panic. This sorry mass now choked the road beside him, flowing south in search of safety and the sea.
    His destrier stirred beneath him, and he set a calming hand on its strong neck. It had borne him down that same road at a furious pace, to Dorwinion and through its portal to his army, camped in Adventus after the winter retreat. Having rejoined the Order of the Shield and a portion of his Rangers he had returned with all haste to Forlond, with messengers sent forth to rally the Orders of the Horse and the Sword as well as the lords and levies of every chieftain in Rhudaur. General Antamori of Illuminex had also been stationed at Adventus, and upon hearing word of the disaster the elves had swiftly formulated a new plan of campaign. Antamori led his army through the portal in pursuit of the Omija, who had not waited to join their counsel, whilst Daerden Ascuta would follow with the Illuminex fleet.
    Elven officials were also dispatched with all haste to Conzanz, where they busied themselves supporting the Rhudauri nobles who stalked the markets, brandishing their royal writs to try and buy enough food to stave off famine. What food they secured flowed via portal to Dorwinion, and refugees flocked to the town. Even with the aid of the heroic ogres in the area the local tribe, the Niobet, were too stretched to spare men for the muster of Rhudaur.

Now the allied host was massed before him. Levies from the settled towns of Harondor, as well as from the eastern nomads. The Gadolinun and Thalla, who had borne the brunt of Fae predations, sent every able-bodied man they had, as well as entire herds of sheep to feed the army. It was the largest gathering of riders in Chatagai’s reign.
    As the host mustered, the Omija and his veterans of the winter past had set out to scout Fornost. They ran down several roving reaps of Fae that had strayed beyond the city, but the rest were content to revel for weeks in the blood and ashes. All the ruler of Rhudaur could do was watch, trying to ignore the hateful laughter that came on the air with the smoke, and guide what refugees he found to Forlond.

Chagatai's eyes catch something on the southern horizon: the banners of elves. The Illuminex host had finally arrived, just as the final elements of his own had trickled in from the farthest reaches of eastern Lebennin. Spying a figure at the head of the column, he set his horse to a trot and drew up beside general Antamori. They had a campaign to plan.

***

Despite each having left troops at Dorwinion (the Omija having excused the Niobet, and Antamori having left a garrison to secure supplies for the army), the allied host that marched on Fornost was over 15,000 strong. It proved more than sufficient to recapture the smouldering ruin of the Rhudaur metropolis, which was deserted. Men waded through ash and bone and made many horrifying discoveries, including many gore-stained feasting areas – but aside from the odd straggler, no Fae.

A haggard rider from the west would soon tell why: undetected by the allied army, the great reap of Fae had somehow slipped out of the city, and had carved a path through the Samarid to the mining town of Evandun. The Samarid chieftain had gathered his men but had been ambushed and slaughtered, after which the swarm had fallen on the home of Rhudaur’s greatest smiths and bled it dry. Another pillar of smoke scarred the spring sky.
    Yet the rider was not Samarid, but had been dispatched from a second host. Following the sack of Evandun the riders of the three south-western tribes – the Roentga, Stadtun, and Livermia – had joined up with the Grisna at Lirlond to prevent the great reap advancing further. The combined strength of these four had since marched towards Evandun.

The allied commanders move with all haste, the Cassander, Daerden Ascuta, now also having joined them. Jebe, chieftain of the Nekhmet and lord of Mithlond, is left with the banners of his tribe to garrison Fornost whilst the rest of the host moves out. The Omija and Cassander lead every mounted man west as fast as possible, varying from proud knights to wiry tribal archers, with the foot under Antamori left to make the best pace it could. Yet days later a second rider confirms their fears: with foul magic the Fae had again ambushed the southern host, slaying three of the chieftains and throwing back their army, the remnants of which had withdrawn to Lirlond.

After several days hard riding, the princes' host crested a rise to find the battlefield in the valley below them. Red shapes danced between the broken silhouettes of men and horses, and beneath the threadbare remnants of pennants and banners. Others simply squatted, feasting on the rotting remains. It was a sight to turn the stomach – and fire the heart.

Chagatai and Ascuta led the riders in a single downhill charge that swept into the scattered and distracted reap like an incoming tide. Scarlet bodies disappeared beneath the churning hooves of horses, or were skewered by spear and arrow - the diminutive and disorganised Fae wholly incapable of resisting the thunderous advance.
    Only on the other side of the valley, where the shamans have time to rally their wits and bully their charges, to knots of red-skinned devils start to disappear into the planes, dozens of new reaps vanishing into the aether.

***

Thus the war returned to its familiar pattern, with Fae ravaging the countryside and the tribal levies dispersing to track them down. The rest of the spring is dedicated to the hunt, led by a furious Chagatai, although a portion of the levies are stood down in order to salvage what they can from the planting season. With a steady supply of food flowing in via Dorwinion and overseen by the Illuminexi, the throng of refugees around the port gradually disperses across their ruined land.


In the Sunlight Sea - by the Voice

The boats slide through the water, carving trails in the calm surface of the Sea of Sunlight, grey-clad figures manning their decks and crawling their rigging. From the bow of the foremost Yukora watches the sun break over the hills to the east, a small cabal of white-clad witches and dryad druids arrayed behind him. If you want something done properly…

They know where the city is, their ships making good time towards the angular reef in the shallows. But they are too direct. The serpents which thwarted the previous effort have not mellowed with spring, and rise of a sudden to assault the flotilla. The waters churn, sinewy sea monsters clashing with the necromantic conjurations that guard the underside of the Shadow squadron as the witches lash them with spells from above.
    Two vessels are overturned before the serpents are driven off, pitching their crews into the white-water melee beneath them. Those who avoid drowning or the jaws of the snakes are ferried to other ships by the corpses of sharks and scuttle up the sides. Yukora shows no great concern: he has his witches, and ships enough for the task. After making anchor a safe distance from the foam-topped tips of the sunken pyramids, the search begins.

Every day, several times a day, a witch dives into the glassy blue beneath the squadron. There they take a new shape and, in the form of an innocuous fish, scour the ruins. It takes several days, and one unfortunate is eaten by the sentinel serpents, but in time one of the witches finds what they are searching for.
    He shifts to a crab, dragging it from the muck and out of the confines of the ruin to a position easier to locate. He considers simply trying to extract it himself, but his orders are clear: return to the ship, and inform the assault squad.

Minutes later, the sea boils with black fire. Several witches, transformed into the hulking Leviathans of eras past, form a defensive screen around the marked location, laying into the thrashing serpents with all manner of infernomantic witchcraft whilst dead sharks and strange, predatory currents harass them. Screened by the chaos of the brawl, the scout witch leads Yukora to the treasure.
    Fresh flashes of black flame, and the Shadows are gone as suddenly as they appeared. A school of viciously augmented sharks also break off in the direction of the squadron, leaving the few remaining serpents thrashing furiously in the gore-clouded, strangely-swirling sea.
    On the surface of his transport, Yukora holds up his prize. An orange jewel catches the light, and glows like the evening sun.


NEWS

Podeksi Board in Disappearing Act!
Podeksi Drakes in Disarray after Board of Directors Disappears at Winter’s End

The Raeyu Tradehood is in shock this season after the entire board of directors of the highly profitable Podeksi Drakes trading company seemingly vanished into thin air around the end of the winter season.
Leads have apparently been quite hard to come by for such a high-profile case, with friends and families of the vanished sharing no clues and last known locations remaining cloudy at best. With this in mind, it is of no surprise that paranoia is running sky-high, with various parties laying the blame on Mikadosh, Biric, Karth and even elements within the Tradehood itself. While no ransom demands have been made public, it is yet to be made clear as to whether this represents a simple misunderstanding regarding an impromptu corporate getaway, or something much more sinister indeed.
With the disappearance of the board of directors, and the daughter of the vanished Chief Executive Officer having stepped away from the company to further her education, most Podeksi assets have been absorbed by Nataksi Incorporated. No company representatives, nor Tradehood Chosen were available for comment.
If you have any information regarding this case, please contact either your nearest Tradehood representative or Herald International Press Service office immediately.

Tomorrow, you’re going to wake up, work all day, then go back to sleep.
Tonight, you’re off seeking fortune, adventure, and maybe a little fun on the side.
The Black Opal Casino in Mehran Ammar. Don’t bring the kids.


No Justice for Biric?
Illuminex Government Rounds up Biri Citizens Without Trial

In the latest of a series of shocking moves by a government that has repeatedly declared itself a defender of all that is good, the Illuminexi Ecclesia has seized all Birin property in the city of Phosnata, as well as rounded up and detained all inhabitants of Birin descent without trial.
Allegedly the result of unproven accounts of Birin vandals defacing religious artefacts within the city, these measures have been called extreme even by Illuminexi standards, and have led to the Birin Council cutting off all trade with Illuminex, up to and including seizing Illuminexi assets already stationed within Biric.
“Birin ancestry has not been made illegal, nor will it be.” Says the Cassander, Daerden Ascuta. He continued to claim that “No evictions have taken place, nor will take place” despite evidence to the contrary.
“The High Inquisitor’s security operation was intended to seek out hostile elements among the law-abiding Biri in Phosnata, the origin of which is not yet clear. We hope this investigation will restore confidence among other Phosnatans that criminal elements are in the minority.”
The Cassander concluded his speech by saying “The Cassander will not comment on any conflicts at this time, though is confident that the Tribunal, set up at his initiative, will continue to serve as the benchmark for justice and international cooperation.”

Physician, Heal Thyself!
Plague Outbreak in Sergo

More and more each passing month, Sergo hospitals have become a fixture all across Zanzibar. From the established cities of Karth all the way to the forest fronts at Rhudaur, Illuminexi medical care has been a cheap, efficient option for all those in need.
It is ironic, then, that a nation so known for its healers would be suffering from the worst disease outbreak in living memory. There are no definite numbers available at this juncture, but reports suggest that daily life within Sergo territory has ground to a halt, with enough citizens bed-ridden that the maintenance of society has become impossible.
Could this be the unintended consequence of sending so many skilled doctors abroad and leaving so few at home. Only time, it seems, will tell.

When the job needs to get done quickly, cleanly and with a minimum of fuss, there are any number of amateurs you could use.
Or you could contact the Professionals. The Professionals pride themselves on their service, maybe not with a smile, but with dedication, precision and know-how. Maintained by expert tacticians from Karth to Illuminex, the Professionals know how fighting is done and are more than willing to provide a demonstration for a reasonable price. Armies around the world know and trust the Professionals, and now you can too.
So, remember, when you need something killed, don’t rely on an amateur to get the job done, hire the Professionals.


Carnivale in Full Swing
But Can We Handle It?

It has been a troubling and turbulent few seasons for the denizens of Conzanzinople, the thrice-ruled jewel of the Chrysosporos Strait. Strife and war in the east and west, illness in the south and massive racial tensions in the middle of it all. Is it any wonder, then, that the beleaguered citizens of the trading post have embraced the respite of Carnivale so eagerly?
Proposed by a meeting of the Triumvirate and agreed upon wholeheartedly by the Council, the Conzanz Carnivale is a massive, extravagant party and fair designed to allow the people of the city to mingle and enjoy each-other’s company in spite of the pressure and stress of the past few seasons.
For the most part, events seem to have gone as planned, but there are unsettling reports of muggings and murders in hidden corners and alleys, bodies falling from above into the empty streets below and even a few drunken mobs. While the Watch has proven itself capable enough to handle most of most of the lawbreakers and racist who have shown up to tarnish the otherwise cheerful event, Carnivale-goers are advised to please travel in groups and avoid the back ways and edges when participating in the revelry.
Carnivale is going into its final weeks, and pack-up is set to begin on the last week of the Prairieal season. If you wish to attend and have not already, this may be your last opportunity. Come on the final day to listen to a new composition by Ladiq Ni Boothev’n.


FEATURES

Fire and Mayhem!
Riots in Conzanz

The great melting pot called Conzanzinople has been having some difficulties adapting to new ingredients recently, ultimately coming to boil in the last few seasons with the eruption of race riots in the district called The Crabs.
These events have shaken the city to its core, leading to the dissolution of the Conzanzin Custodes, the interruption of the Scion Sanction Team, and the reworking of the city’s governance as a whole. From simply a poor, ethnically homogenous city sector, the Crabs has become known worldwide as a hot bed of racial tension and disorder.
Beginning with the murder of a Karthian woman and her child last year (the latest in a string of such actions), and the act of vigilantism committed by the vengeful husband and father. This was exacerbated by the Custodes reaction to the perceived threat and the arrival of the much-maligned Sanction Team from Karth, pushing the situation over the edge and resulting in a fully-realised riot before Harvest’s end.
The official story regarding the murder has come out in the months since. Burghers under the influence of mind-magic, cast by parties unknown, manipulated into murdering their Scion neighbours and forgetting the events by morning. This verdict has brought little comfort to Conzanzine citizens, paranoia and mistrust saturating the streets, though both the murders and lynch mobs seem to have stopped.
All in all, Conzanzinople, the Hub of the World, still balances on a knife’s edge. “I’m afraid to leave my home!” Says Aifric, a fisherwoman from the Crabs, “Each day, I wake up to myself burning in effigy in front of my shop.” Says, Karan, a glassblower from Hightown, “I’ve not had anyone look me in the eye since last winter.” Says Vitasian, a now unemployed former Custodes officer.
It is yet unknown how and when the city will recover from this tragedy, when this once vibrant and colourful city will return to that state. The advent of Carnivale and the recent withdrawal of the Sanction Team certainly point to progress in the right direction, but even if it is left unstated, there is still a question on everyone’s lips as they go about their lives, heads hung low, avoiding each other’s eyes – will it ever go back to the way it was, or is this the new reality of Conzanzine life?

Slavery Through a Needle
Are Sergo Drugs Intentionally Addictive?

The shocking results of an investigation by the Birin Counicl has shown that the painkillers used in Sergo hospitals is highly addictive, leading to almost immediate chemical dependence. Patients have been shown to falsify symptoms and even cause themselves physical harm in order to remain hospitalised and increase the availability of the sweet narcotic substance passing through their veins.
While there have been no formal accusations, nor enough evidence to afford one, there have been suggestions that the addictive properties are intentional on the part of Sergo doctors. While we here at the Herald would like to take the opportunity to quash these rumours, we recognise that, in the end, we can only report that on the lack of evidence supporting this claim, while the freewheeling of the rumour mill rages on.
The Birin government has offered to sell less-addictive replacements to states making use of Sergo hospitals.

Economists Predict Financial Golden Age
Biric Banks and Banking to Make the World Richer

It is no stretch to say that the Biric nation contains some of the savviest financial professionals in the world, going so far as to have laid the foundation for the financial institutions we have so swiftly come to take for granted. Now that the banks have opened their doors even further and begun holding classes for budding financiers worldwide, what does this mean for the financial world at large?
Very good things, says economist Adah Safaya Qismat, who we sat down with in her home in Karaka.
“Ever since the bank opened its doors here, the average wealth quotient has gone through the roof!” says Qismat, “Karaka was always something of a trade hub, but now with the advent of interest, business loans and financial planning, the city merchants are really starting to climb.”
It’s not only Birin banks anymore, either. Bereol, a recent graduate of the basic course the Birin Bank is now offering to international students, has started up his own financial firm and is already raking in business from the local merchants, who much prefer to do business with a local than a foreigner. “Four constants exit, Life, Decay, Death, and Tithes. We are here to help people deal with the latter.” Says a representative of the Karakan Financial Group, who offer tax evaluations among their services.
Clearly, the Bank of Biric and its graduates and employees have done wonders to the financial situation, both at home and elsewhere, and with individual product on the rise the world over, one cannot help but think that the future looks bright, shiny and gold.

Doshi Spring Celebrations Unfold
From Our Zanzikk Desk

The arrival of spring has been greeted in the Devotion with elaborate celebrations typical of Zanzibar’s most celebratory people. In Zanzikk, populist leader and known drunkard Borky Yezzin presided over the launching of thirty trading hulks. The prices of Bisca sparkling wines in the port city have yet to return to their pre-festival levels. Our correspondents in Sholf report that the diaspora community there has already received the first letters and parcels sent by the fastest Doshi vessels captained by the most capable sailors.

The annual Surk to Zanzikk canoe race passed largely without incident until the competitors reached the rapids between Gurun and Sivas. Huge crowds of kobolts, including a number of priests conducting the spring rites, turned out to watch as canoes were capsized and the unfortunate competitors scrambled ashore.

Doshi reporters attached to our sister paper, The Zanzikk Gazette, describe the comparatively subdued celebrations in Rivas and New Mikadosh. In Rivas, the acclaimed scientist Alekk Boknogg led a procession of academicians in a symbolic display of submission to the city’s priests of Yunva. In New Mikadosh, Gutta Urbrikk blessed worshippers who came to bathe in the Mikad. There are unconfirmed claims that the konstabulary were forced to intervene to restrict the traditional Doshi practice of throwing buckets of river-water over members of the opposite sex.

Reports indicate that the greatest of the spring festivals took place in Yukoryan, but our reporters have yet to gain access to reliable information from that prefecture. Returning pilgrims have mentioned a major event supposedly intended to highlight Yunvaic altruism. Cattle-herders from as far afield as Zanzikk were spotted leading their livestock northwards to present as sacrificial offerings.

The gossip in Zanzikk is that renowned Doshi folklorist, Bozz Geldokk, organised a three day celebration of Doshi history and culture. Bozz Geldokk is quoted as inviting revellers to “give me your [censored] livestock”. There have been controversial allegations that the Doshi donations, intended to alleviate the ongoing crisis in Rhudaur, are only serving to consolidate the power of violent and blasphemous chiefs.

Inside Zauflak
An Extended Look at our Western Neighbours

Stepping from the boat in Kek, the very first thing I saw were the forms. Forms upon forms were thrust upon me the moment I set foot on land. Forms for everything, from confirming my species (though they could surely tell, and I doubt I would have even been allowed on the boat as an Elf or Orc), through to stating my purpose, to buying a house, to signing away all my legal rights and becoming property of the form-holder (these last ones I did not sign, of course), all couched in confusing legal language which even a child of Biric such as myself had difficulty parsing.
Very few of these forms, I suspect, had any real legal value, and as soon as I managed to push them away, I found myself amazed at what I saw. Kek was a bustling port city that, too my surprise, could almost be considered multicultural. Representatives of every human breed on Zanzibar wandered the streets, though they remained armed if they knew what was good for them, and haggled for exotic wares from across the world. Bars, clubs and bordellos dotted the streets of what seemed like the perfect city for the more reckless, adventurous sort of traveller to stop off on their way around the world.
I was then stopped by a guard who informed me that I had failed to fill out my forms correctly and I spent the next few days in a filthy Zau dungeon being summarily beaten in the company of my cell-mate, a large and heavy Zau man called “The User” (he was Employer Caste, I believe, and actually a rather nice chap. We have been exchanging letters since then). It was here I learned that that small mistake would have had me drawn and quartered were I an elf or dwarf, and I revised my estimate of Kek into being the perfect destination for the more reckless sort of human tourist, or perhaps the more suicidal sort of Elf or Shadow.
Still, if one can ignore the outrageously offensive posters plastered on every corner, and the stares and muggings and extortions, then Zauflak does have something to offer as a destination. I do not think I’ve ever been more thrilled than my time there, constantly on the lookout for danger as if I were on safari in the countryside back home, and when that comes too much I would simply retreat to my (well-locked, guarded and warded) room at the inn and relax with a puff of the Zau specialty called Toh-Bako.

Are you a business owner? Do you have a story to share? For a limited time, the Herald International Press Service is offering advertising space in exchange for verifiable news from across Zanzibar! Terms and conditions apply, contact your local office or the main office in Sahara Nam for more details

Courtesy to MrBreaksit, and Gutta for the Mikadosh piece.
"On the fourth day the earthquakes hit."
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PostPosted: Thu Dec 15, 2016 10:03 pm   Subject: Re: Zeta Era Story

Turn 6    -    Year 2, Summer



The Fae war - by Voice

High summer is the traditional season for warfare, but whether through strategy or simple exhaustion the grinding conflict ravaging Rhudaur reached no crescendo, instead settling into a rhythm that changed little through week to week.

Hungering to take the fight to the enemy, Chatagai formed up his riders and led a fresh campaign into the sprawling green gloom of the Darkwood. Less and less has been heard from his forces as they pushed deeper into the forest, but what tales there are speak of endless, disorienting tracts of trees and incessant, monotonous clashes with reaps of Fae that come boiling out of the undergrowth before fading, just as quickly, when the Riders regain the upper hand.

If this new crusade had stalled another grand incursion nobody could tell, but it certainly had little effect on those Fae who still infested the ravaged countryside of Harondor and Lebennin. Those reaps which had survived this long were the wiliest and had started to adapt to their new environment, growing more adept at evading Rhudaur patrols and navigating the open country. The Riders appear to have things under control, but beyond the most fortified compounds and forts not one of Chatagai's subjects sleeps soundly.

--
Ogre flux rising - by Voice

The turn of the seasons was marked by mounting fear in the southern realms of Zanzibar. Reports of a sickness had been coming out of Sergo since the spring, but the advent of a hot summer seemed to have uncaged it.

Flux spread rapidly along the trade routes that criss-crossed the southern continent, with outbreaks blossoming first across the Raeyu Tradewinds. Most seriously affected were the cities of New Spes and Tsneriva Rising, their tightly-packed populations proving easy hunting for the sickness stalking the markets and thoroughfares.

Nor did it stop there. Within weeks there were fresh cases of 'ogre flux' being reported in Conzanz, a city which had hoped to have suffered miseries enough. Not even the straits provided a barrier, for doctors in the Birin cities of Daksina Sahar, Pilehara and even Sahara Nam were horrified to find patients displaying the symptoms they'd read of only weeks before in overseas reports - coughing, fevers, chills, vomiting - walking into their surgeries. Only the high mountains of the Spine seem to have proven something of a barrier, no major outbreaks having occurred in Illuminex, though there as well rumours are surfacing from.

People are afraid, and in areas badly affected are starting to panic. Most people who contract the flux appear to live, but there have been fatalities and the rumour mill is in overdrive. Particularly wild stories circulate about Sergo, most of which centre on the primary entrepôt of Sholf. These range from tales of mass cures, to curfews and quarantine, to unabated misery and mounting fatalities. Few know the truth, for merchants have started to avoid ogre ports.

--
Tradewind troubles - by Archivist

The outbreak of war caused a surge of public protests, mostly focused around whether the Tradehood should go on the offensive or defensive. Cult got involved, and the Eians' more defensive outlook began clashing with the mainstream Kasiites.
This spread even to the Major Tradehood Council, causing an outbreak of filibustering and cessation of diplomacy and deals with foreign nations.

Minera's solution was unorthodox. A small number of people had got it into their heads that the only solution for the religious divide was for Kasi and Eia to literally kiss and make up. Minera took this and ran with it, promoting the idea that the war, with its mix of defensive and offensive strategies, would constitute a 'date' between the two gods, and should all go well perhaps Eia might join Kasi in the pantheon, albeit in a less prominent role.

--
The Tossing of the Mud - by Gutta

Alekk Nitzink, Junior Prefectural Councillor for New Mikadosh, strained under the heat of the sun as he lifted his spade above his head. Thick beads of sweat gathered on his brow, running unpleasantly along his bottle-green nose. He grimaced, imagining ridicule from his colleagues, who had labelled him “Salty” from the moment he first dripped his way into the city’s political scene.

Despite being generally regarded as a scrawny and pathetic little goblin by his fellow councillors, Nitzink had secured just enough prestige to be selected as Senior Caste Councillor for the city’s Grey Council, and consequently an exemption from the nationally-renowned ‘Tossing of the Mud’. As he loaded another spadesful of turf into a wheelbarrow, he thought with amusement of the councillors who had so bullied him, now the victims of a very Doshi tradition.

Whilst farmers from across the plains of New Mikadosh descended upon his hometown to cast buckets of manure in the direction of unpopular officials, he was hard-at-work somewhere in rural Gurun. His council had sponsored an exchange programme which saw him travelling across the Devotion, avoiding the brunt of ‘Tossing Fortnight’ and helping to promote modern agricultural techniques.

At present it was Building Week, and he was assisting labourers from the local commune with the construction of a new barn to store equipment shipped down-river from Rivas. He had travelled with the tools by canoe, having spent the solstice in the Engineers’ Capital. Nitzink regretted missing the bonfires which greeted the solstice in rural areas, but Rivas had its own attractions: he had returned to his alma mater to watch the design of a gifted final-year architectural student receive the blessing of the city’s priesthood. Besides, he was rather appalled at the idea of effigy-burning, even if it was an elf and not a bureaucrat on the pyre this year.

Of course, other officials had been more fortunate in their placement. The First Councillor was reportedly in prayer at a shrine near Yukoryan, avoiding the hustle-and-bustle of the summer celebrations. Nitzink’s partner, a senior figure on the White Council in New Mikadosh, had travelled to Zanzikk to observe the maintenance of order amidst the chaos caused by seasonal incursions of raucous Hekart and their may-poles.

Yet, leaning against his spade, Nitzink knew he had reason to be grateful. In Sivas, Grey Councillors spent the whole week before the solstice in back-breaking and dirty work as part of the ‘Earthing of the Mound’, bolstering the city’s defences. He had only been required to watch them. The labourers of Gurun didn’t expect quite such an effort from a fancy-talking northern dignitary.

And, Nitzink thought with a smile, there was always the fate of his slimy-tongued colleagues, sneaking in the shadows of the summer sun to avoid some rather foul-smelling justice.

--
Yukora's tour in Biric - by Eom

Pitaka drew a long breath. It was a humid summer afternoon in Sahara Nam, capital of Biric. The night had been very warm, and the day had not brought any relief. He strode through a narrow alleyway as quickly as his limping legs would carry him, while above and around him the city awoke from its noon slumber. There were faster ways of getting to the central plaza, shortcuts and even drawn carriages, but it was important that people saw him walking in this area of the city. He knew that people would see him. They were always following him, the informants of the more secretive cults. Even though he could not see them, he knew that at least a dozen eyes were fixed on his every move. Being the Home Secretary, the shady cults had a necessity to keep up with what he was doing. And so they tracked him day and night. He had long learned not to bother trying to shake them off, his limp meant that they would find him again soon enough. Besides, he had nothing to hide.

Rounding two more corners, climbing through a winding street he came to one of the elevators to connect the high part of town to the lower lying parts. Recently reports had come in of a delegation of unidentified flying objects traversing the Biric area heading for Sahara Nam. He assumed they were the highly esteemed guests that he had been expecting. Pitaka had sent out a messenger to also warn the Chairwoman miss Om, but he didn’t expect the messenger to find her. When not in office, miss Om seemed to have her ways of being impossible to find. This infuriated him more than a little, his primary task being to protect her well-being. He didn’t worry though, she’d probably have heard of the Shadows’ arrival even before he had.

Standing at the edge of the central square, keeping away from the beating rays of the summer sun as it crept over the lowest buildings, he bided his time. No sign of miss Om yet, nor of his messenger. Before long he noticed five specks on the horizon. The rest of the people on the square seemed not to notice. Workmen were busy setting up the last market stands for the merchants to set up their goods in, while rich aristocrats were carried over the square in veiled palanquins. Soon this square would be crowded with richly coloured market stands displaying the most exotic goods to be found in Biric, and the daily crowd trying to find the best deals the evening would bring.

As they drew closer Pitaka could make out the details of the five former specks. They seemed to be borne aloft by weirdly armoured hippogryphs. People on the square had noticed them too now, and they hurriedly made way. He could hear a woman shriek out in fear of the hideous beasts and children crying, which in turn caused other people to scream and panic. Just when he thought the situation might get out of control, he saw miss Om stepping out from the crowd. What? Where did she suddenly come from? he thought to himself. The Chairwoman’s mere presence seemed to calm the crowd, and she quickly arranged for a landing spot to appear in their midst. Pitaka made his way there to best protect the Chairwoman.

Four Shadows of the White caste and a inhumanly beautiful dryad dismounted from their hippogryphs, which upon closer inspection looked rather pudgy, still and ... dead, their heads covered in leather hoods with blank iron faceplates, their beaks and talons turned into iron weapons. Pitaka had regularly visited the Shadow Mission in the outskirts of Sahara Nam, so he had grown as accustomed to their appearance and behaviour as possible. He immediately noticed that the Shadow that strode forward first, with the dryad on his arm, was virtually covered in the facial tattoos, or chitinous patterning as was explained to him, that indicate age. He assumed that this must be Yukora, the witch-priest of Dahrya, whose legend was told across all cultures of Zanzibar. He felt a strange sensation of time moving in slow motion as he stood nearly face to face with such an ancient creature, such that he almost forgot the Shadow's companion.

Miss Om and Yukora exchanged compliments, welcome gifts and other pleasantries while Pitaka concerned himself more with national security. He kept a close eye on the four other whites, who seemed rather more uncomfortable than Yukora. From how far he could judge Shadows, he figured they were on edge, not used to being the focus of attention of quite such a big crowd of curious Kora.

Pitaka heard Miss Om talking in a calm and friendly voice, her Highness seemed not to be intimidated by speaking to a creature as ancient as Yukora. Of course she wasn’t, Miss Om never seemed to be intimidated by anything. Or at least it usually didn’t show on the outside. Miss Om guided Yukora away from the busy square, to the luxurious living quarters that she had arranged for them to stay in just outside the city. Meanwhile the Biran delegation was obviously trying hard, and failing miserably, to make the rest of the Shadow delegation feel more at ease, the dryad Nepherë, Bloom of Heaven, excepted, who turned out to be charm herself, positively luxuriating in the attention.

Later that night the Shadow delegation was back at the same square, where a quick stage was arranged for Miss Om to perform a prepared speech on. A large crowd of interested, curious and/or intrigued Biri, as well as a rare few foreign visitors, had gathered to hear Miss Om’s phenomenal speech. She took her time to elaborately underline the good relations between Biric and the Dahra, the perceived similarities between their two cultures and where either could learn from the other. By the time she was finished, the crowd felt inspired to work more closely with the enigmatic Shadows. The announcement that an official Biric embassy was to be opened in Suyan in the Morningside Empire was greeted with cheers. Meanwhile Yukora looked on in what seemed to be genuine interest, both in what Miss Om had to say and the reactions of the crowd below him.

The second day of Yukora’s visit consisted of an elaborate tour through the nation, making good use of the Grand Biric Highway, a network of permanent portals connecting the main cities to Sahara Nam. The tour started down south in Daksina Sahar. Next up was the port city of Pilehara, but the early afternoon Summer heat became unbearable and the party was rescheduled to one of the lush garden parks of Mehran Ammar where they spent the rest of the afternoon seeking shelter. The early evening was spent traversing Sahara Nam with a truly dizzying tour through the city’s maze-like streets. They ended the tour at the Shadow Mission, which had been established a year previous and had flourished with Biric governmental support. Those Biri who had participated in the Mission’s activities were absolutely thrilled at the opportunity to meet the legendary Yukora in person, and much time was spent discussing the finer intricacies of Yunvaicism. Yukora himself had spent the best part of the day observing the alien ways of the Biri in their daily lives, taking great interest in things as mundane as market squares, a Herald Journalist and a mugging which happened just in front of the delegation.

The third day of the visit consisted of a visit to the renowned theatre area in the suburbs of Sahara Nam. The district is a favourite amongst tourists and locals alike given the many theatres of great reputation, including the world-famed Enkulan theatre, and the many bars, pubs and hotels surrounding them. Miss Om led Yukora and his delegation to the Enkulan theatre, where they attended the Summer Show from the prestigious Biric School of Actors. This season the featured show was Wijani, lasting all throughout the day and into the late evening when it finally grew dark. The show was received with much praise amongst Biri spectators, as usual, but the reception amongst the Dahric delegation was much harder to judge.

The fourth day saw Miss Om leading the Shadows to the most highly regarded schools of philosophy, where she and others discussed the similarities and differences between the Biran and Dahric ways and views of life with Yukora. Judging by the latter’s response, this was his favourite part of the four day program. The discussion was quite lengthy, occasionally eye-opening to both sides and generally enjoyable to all who were involved.

After the official program had finished, Yukora and his retinue decided to stay for three more days. Efirts had one more day off her usual business to tour them around the nation. At Yukora’s request they visited the Banking scene in Mehran Ammar, the market places in the Pilehara port and the Herald main office in Sahara Nam. All the while Yukora was eager to learn and apparently genuinely interested in the Biran way of life. He learned loads of this peculiar species of Kora. The other two days filled themselves with exploring the regular life of the Biri at his own leisure. Yukora was escorted by high Biri officials when he wanted, or wandered off alone when he preferred that.

After a week of pleasant activities the Shadow delegation left again. Most foreigners and the rare few xenophobic Biri were happy for that. The majority were sad to see them go, for they had enjoyed the exotic visitors to their lands. Many were honoured to have met Yukora, and there was a rising interest to set up trade relations with the Shadows after this diplomatic visit.

--
The doom of Phosnata - by MrBreaksit

A man-sized chunk of city wall fell into the ocean. Another soon followed suit, large enough that a spike of cracked masonry now broke the surface north of the harbour. Drusilla saw the splash from her campsite further up and idly wondered what had caused the wall to crack. Presumably, another building had fallen on it.

“It was the Biric.” said Albus “It’s always those little bastards. They used some sort of mind magic, or…” He seemed to run out of momentum “or something.”

He went back to looking at the driftwood fire. Drusilla, Albus, and Livia had run across each other that morning, and with very few words spoken between them they had decided to start heading north towards Medara. They had been walking for the better part of the day now, and the sun had begun to set. There had been a light rain sometime around ten in the morning. Drusilla wondered if it had been enough to wash those corpses the rest of the way into the river. Phosnata was still burning.
“Rubbish.” Said Livia, but offered little more.
“They’re in league with the Fae, you know.” Said Albus, “Right up to the top. The soldiers brought them here from Raeyu, then left before the storm hit so they wouldn’t be implicated. ‘Swhy we locked them up.”
He got like this sometimes. Drusilla had known him before, at least from a distance. Unkempt and nebbish, always yammering about foreigners and whatever mad conspiracy had found its way into his perpetually empty head today.

Drusilla hadn’t spoken to him once today. She had tried to kill him last night.

She wasn’t entirely sure what had happened, none of them were. She had been off duty and heading to her dormitory across from the haruspex offices when she saw a man fly through the open window on the second floor and crack his skull on the pavement. The mob of scribes and servants that worked the desks of the building stumbled onto the streets, screaming and crying and laughing. Some were fleeing in a panic; others were manically hunting their co-workers down. Albus was among their number, and in the panic, Drusilla couldn’t tell which group he represented as he ran towards her. Without thinking, she threw out her hand, striking the advancing clerk in the throat and tumbling down with him.
Rolling to the side to keep momentum, she lost sight of Albus in the crowd. Around her, the clerks tore at each other like demons, brutal and disorganised while she retreated into an alley. Above her, feet dangling from the rooftop, a small red figure laughed.

She had met with Livia later that evening when the screams had started to fade. Livia, she learned, was a maintenance foreman in charge of the storm drains along the river in the lower city. She had taken cover in the dank tunnels when the fights had broken out and had not seen another living being until she met Drusilla, huddled under a bridge.
“Living”, it turned out, had been an important distinction. Mutilated corpses lined the riverbank and spilt into the tunnels. In the lack of anything better to do, they began following the dead down the river. At the mouth of the river, they started heading north just to maintain momentum and had been walking since.
Albus they had met sometime after sunrise, moving in the same direction at a slower pace. He matched pace with them and joined their group almost without a word.
Somewhere, in the distance, something else fell, and Drusilla was brought back to the present. Neither of her companions had started talking again. She took a seat in the mud.
The party stared at the fire until it died, with their city, then slept.
In the morning, they began stumbling north again.
"On the fourth day the earthquakes hit."
Araith
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PostPosted: Sun Feb 26, 2017 6:33 pm   Subject: Re: Zeta Era Story

Turn 7    -    Year 2, Harvest



Springtime by starlight - by the Voice

In a wide, starlit clearing deep in the Darkwood, the air rippled as a party of planar travellers flickered into the material world. They were a diverse group: white-clad Shadow and Kobolt priests of Yunva, accompanied by a small group of dryads and a guard of armoured humanoids which moved as no living human would.

As the latter fanned out and established a perimeter, the priests and sorcerers turned to face the enormous tree that dominated the centre of the clearing. Its limbs were bare and broken, the trunk marred with claw-marks and crude glyphs which bore witness to the despoiling attentions of the Fae. They circled it, inspecting damage and pacing distances, as other Shadows unpacked strange instruments and turned their attention to the stars, measuring angles and positions.

The figures conferred again, and then got to work. Four dryads began a slow dance around the scarred trunk of the great tree, moving with fluid grace through the forms of a ritual whilst white-clad priests and priestesses formed an eight-point circle farther out.
    Each knelt upon a compass point. Four held ceramic bowls containing one of the four lower elements of Yunvaic cosmology – flaming oil, spring water, fresh soil, and air. Two others bore ornate lanterns which shone with a soft, blueish light, and the final two hid their faces behind sable veils: light and darkness, the high and holy elements of Yunva - these took their places at the cardinal points of the circle.
    Around them more junior priests began their own dance, Dahra and Doshi alike tracing the familiar stances and patterns drilled into them in the seminaries of Dahryan and Yukoryan.

Within this circle of priests a final figure paced, counter-wise to the dancing priests and dryads. Yukora’s face was lifted, the starlight glittering in the black and orange of his eyes. His right hand held a beautiful dagger, and his left trailed three veils in grey and black and ghostly white. The Dahrach raised his voice, and led the assembled faithful in a prayer that was still almost a whisper:

“Beya Yunva, srauashae wan oeru. Vitae u rasha, sacra dahrrash…”

The ritual continued, the devotees tracing three circles around the skeletal tree. The world seemed to draw back, the sounds of the forest falling away until all that remained were the stars and the dancers and the words of the prayer. More dryads pick their way across the clearing now, calling up strange flowers whose heads glow with a soft, pale luminescence, mirroring the blazing stars above.

As faint traces of grey taint the eastern sky, the ritual changed. The four dryads had been winding their way closer to the tree throughout the dance, and now they seemed to step into it, flesh melding with the vast trunk as they disappear within. Soon after, Yukora approached, leading three Shadows by the veils in his hand. These last, each dressed in tight-fitting robes in the colour of one of the Unification castes, lay against the trunk, after which Yukora laid the appropriate veil over the face of each and offered a final prayer.

"Carna dahr, vita rash. Sacrahra, beya Yunva uos."

Then he slit their throats with the blade in his right hand.
With that he stepped back, the dancers and priests falling still as the ritual concludes, Dahric blood seeping into the roots of the tree. In the soft stillness of the pre-dawn twilight, total silence fell on the clearing. Absolutely nothing moved.

Suddenly, the first fingers of dawn sunlight caught upper branches of the tree and it… changed.
Several of the assembled priests fell to their knees, offering prayers to Yunva. Yukora simply stared.
It was as if it stood in two worlds at once, alive and yet somehow otherwise too. The great trunk no longer bore the scars of the Fae. Instead it stood, smooth and sleek and pale as a willow – or was it gnarled, twisted, a mottled sable? Moment to moment, it seemed to shift. Light and shadow played across the branches – now healed and full of leaves, at least sometimes – in strange patterns, their direction and hue sometimes seeming unconnected to the sun rising over the horizon. Those branches now bore fruit of a strange colour, and where they fell in the dancing shadows they seemed to shine with a soft glow all their own.

The dryads withdrew, lost in their own thoughts, as one by one, the assembled Shadows and Kobolts fell to their knees, joining in their comrades’ ecstatic prayer. Only Yukora still stood, alone amidst the starlight flowers, eyes fixed on the reborn tree, mouth split in a four-cornered smile.


--
(With many thanks to Eom, with contributions by Draco, Grim, Gutta and the Voice.)
THE HERALD INTERNATIONAL

HEADLINE

The Ogre Flu
When faeces hits the fan

The announcement early this Harvest season from the Biric Home Office, placing a moratorium on all new arrivals at all ports and land borders, set the tone for the months to come. As borders across the hegemony began to shut in an effort to escape the ravages of the great Ogre Flux, healthy residents of the largest cities along the Nadi river fled in their thousands for the safety of the countryside around them. The great city of Conzanz, too, has faced a growing number of cases of the terrible illness, but the ever-vigilant Conzanz Council, whose competence has not, it would seem, been affected by the disagreements and disunity of the Triumvirate, reports that the situation is under control. Their troubles, and the terror they face, are slight by comparison to their southern neighbours, however.

The cities of the Tradehood, however, have not been as fortunate. The communities that once defined the Buuki Rainforest are splitting apart as individual casanamas detach themselves from the rest in a desperate bid by the healthy to escape the rampant illness, as the sick and unfortunate as exiled to the ground, quite literally cast down and discarded to the cities’ waste fields below, where hundreds upon hundreds of the victims of the Ogre Flux die by the day, their bodies rotting in the humid air. Reports indicate that the Olman river has been befouled by the carcasses of the dead, and is no longer a source of drinking water. Across the Spine mountains, the formerly safe temple-cities of the Illuminex realm of Aralumé have seen a rising number of cases of the Flux, but it would seem that the priorities of the Ecclesian and Cassandran authorities lie elsewhere.

There is encouraging news from other parts of the globe, however. The Albed Kingdom and realm of Biscayne remain relatively untouched by the Flux, and Sergi diplomats have been reporting to external authorities that they have the Flux fully under control, even in Sholf, where it originally became known to the world. This success indicates the possibility of further achievements elsewhere, but will be little comfort to those who have lost loved ones over the past two seasons. Finally, investigations in the slums of Karaka have concluded that cases of illness with symptoms similar to those of the Flux were observed long before any cases were reported to Sergi hospitals in Sholf, indicating the possibility that the so-called Ogre Flux may in fact originate in the rainforests of Karth.


WAR!

Further Fae-War Fatalities
As the war continues and rapidly expands

The eastern hemisphere continues to see conflict, as the Fae and Rhudaurim continue to raid each other. The Omija himself leads the campaign within the Darkwood, while his people fight to secure their heartland back home.

The Rhudaur, however, now face a new threat in the northwest, as the Yunvaites - Kobolts and Shadows alike - have seen fit to occupy the corridor between the plateau and sea. Rumours abound that the western Rhudaur tribes have begun a rebellion against the absent Omija, but these remain unconfirmed. What, exactly, attracted the Yunva occupiers, or is happening to their west, is not entirely clear.
On the next page the Most Devoted of Mikadosh, Guta Urbrikk, has supplied us with a public letter explaining his actions, left in Zanzikk before he led the occupation force himself.

Meanwhile, despite their embroilment in the Rhudaur-Fae conflict, reports have arrived of an Illuminexi invasion of the Fuzou islands with a sizable force. While their armies were so engaged, the Fae appear to have taken the opportunity to strike at the elves' homeland, with reports of raiding parties striking at many communities. In particular, the Fae appear to have hunted down the refugees of Phosnata, further haunting the survivors of Illuminex’s port.

Voice of the Devotion
From the pen of the Most Devoted, Cllr. Gutta Urbrikk

For the past year, Doshi volunteers have worked tirelessly to support kora-in-need in war-stricken Rhudaur with donations and favourable trades. Now, as southern Rhudauri farms fail to meet the demand for animal feed to get pastoralists through the coming winter, our caravans will increasingly carry much-needed oilcakes.

Unfortunately the senseless campaigns which Chagatai has launched into the depths of the Darkwood have left our trading caravans at risk. With regret, therefore, the Devotion has been forced to increase substantially their military escort. I have also authorised the establishment of a factory on the southern coast of the steppe.

The stars portend of a renewed ‘Fae’ onslaught in the coming seasons. We anticipate that the Rhudauri refugee crisis will deepen in the months which follow. Such a crisis, on the doorstep of the Union of Yunva, requires management. Doshi diplomats are working to establish a plan for the relocation of Rhudauri tribes as necessary, and for the organised resettlement of displaced Rhudauri farmers. The Devotion of Mikadosh extends the hand of friendship to the official Rhudauri government, and calls upon them to cooperate in Doshi efforts to stave off catastrophe.

However, we cannot ignore the sinister role played in this disaster by the forces of the Cassander. Illuminexi involvement in Rhudaur forms part of an unmistakably imperialist plot to control the southern ocean. The Illuminexi value their Rhudauri ‘allies’ for one reason above all: Dorwinion. When Dorwinion was threatened, Illuminex bid to seize Rat's Nest and thereby establish an independent continental presence.

These campaigns are only a test-run of the true Illuminexi intention: the containment, and ultimately the destruction, of the Union of Yunva and the freedom of worship of Dahric witch-priests. The Cassander's foul obsession with destroying difference forces him to turn his military against innocent Dahra and kobolts and- in the final instance- against anyone whose research challenges Illuminexi dogma, including Rhudaur and Zauflak.

The Union of Yunva cannot allow Illuminex to get away with this scheme.

Down with the Cassander!
Down with unequal treaties!
Long live Dahra-Doshi-Rhudauri friendship!



NEWS

Conzanz tensions
Will the City attempt to break away?

Tensions over the constitutional future of Conzanz are mounting this season, with citizens and neighbouring powers divided over the future status of the metropolis.

Relations between the three realms comprising the ‘Triumvirate’ – Biric, Illuminex, and the Raeyu Tradewinds – are increasingly unstable. The Biri have dissolved their alliance with the elves over the Cassander’s recent belligerent actions, and burghers on the street speak openly of their concern that Conzanz may be drawn into conflict either between their sponsoring masters or with third parties.

As the harvest season began Efirts Om, the Chairwoman of the Council of Biric, visited the city to formally petition the Conzanz Council, the burghers’ own governing body, to expel Illuminex from custodianship of the city over their recent harassment of Birin citizens.

Her petition was debated by the Conzanz Council but ultimately rejected. Although the last elven troops withdrew from the city some seasons past, the shadow of Spes Albion continued to loom over proceedings – elven councillors feared for their community’s place in the metropolis without a sponsor, and others thought it unwise to provoke the city’s aggressive southern neighbour. Upon their ruling Om returned to Biric, to continue fighting Biric's fight through all means possible.

The aftermath of this visit has given the constitutional debate in Conzanz renewed force. A strong and increasingly vocal minority favour outright independence for the city, either via the immediate dissolution of the Triumvirate or by more gradual means. A smaller number of loyalists, predominantly elven, urge the opposite course and closer relations with the custodial powers, whom they say are essential for the metropolis’s defence. Opposed to them are a small group of Om supporters who argue that Cassander’s multiple-front war makes this the perfect time to expel an aggressive and irresponsible Triumvir.

Currently a majority favour a continuation of something resembling the city’s current status, simply codifying the increased autonomy it has enjoyed since the recent upheavals. Others, so-called ‘associationists’, want to go further and allow the city to keep control of a share of its tax revenue in order to pay for its own defence forces. Given the ethnic tensions of recent times, seasoned Conzanz-watchers are heartened to see that most of these opinions aren’t divided on ethnic lines, save perhaps the elf-dominated loyalists.

Not even the onset of winter, and the worsening onset of the ogre flux, is taking the heat out of these issues, and they may come to a head in the months to come.

Beer gone bad
No XXX this year

Reporters in Barak Varr have reported some strange events happening in Albed. Early in Harvest, talk of the town was all about an alleged robbery of the grand dwarven vaults back in Summer. Of the perpetrators there is no sign, and any hints are greatly welcomed by the dwarven officials. Dark tongues have been overheard, saying that there has not been a theft at all; they claim that the costs of liberating Bileya were underestimated, and now the High King came up with a story of theft to cover the extra expenses.

These events were completely drowned out by what transpired during the course of Harvest: A grand proportion of this year’s ale production was lost, causing a huge uproar amongst the population.
Who or what caused the beer production to go afoul is the source of debate both amongst pub goers and the higher echelons of dwarven hierarchy, as this is a matter of national importance. All export of beer has been halted in an attempt to last Albed through the oncoming winter. “There ain’t no tellin’ wha’ happ’ns if this town run outta ale”, as one shocked and downcast dwarf put it.

Whether or not the two events are related is under investigation by our Journalists.

Biscayne stirs
Can we trust them?

After years in which the world heard nothing of the friendly Bisca, things have been stirring down south this season. Small groups of them have been spreading around the world, generally causing no harm and helping where they can. They are widely regarded as strange blokes and gals, but with the Ogre Flu running rampant there are many places happy with their helping hands.

Simultaneously two small armies were dispatched from Erketu, destined to help out the beleaguered people in Rhudaur and Illuminex. Having not communicated their intentions, nor officially asked for permission, they were rebuffed in the Conzanz straits and forced to return home.

Podeksi Drakes on the rise
Phoenix from the ashes!

The Raeyuan airship company known as Podeksi Drakes has magically emerged from its ashes this season, after the vanishing of its board of directors in late Winter and the subsequent decline of the company.

Podeksi’s daughter appears to have concluded her education program, and has returned to Raeyu to claim her place as the heir to the shrapnel of the Podeksi Drakes company. Although initially laughed off by her father’s former competitors, she has been backed by a particularly powerful funder in the form of the Biric National Bank.

Adi Rajata, president of the Bank, was quoted in response: “Pali has been the single most successful international student ever to attend the Biric National Bank courses on economy. We are honoured to finance her lifelong dream to continue her father’s company and re-establish it as the great enterprise it once was. The strange disappearance of her father and his board of directors has been a great source of unrest, both to Pali and in Biric, since we had far-reaching negotiations regarding a joint Podeksi-Biric venture at the time of his disappearance. We will not rest until we get to the bottom of the event.”

Following the acquisition of Podeksi Drakes by Biric National Bank, all other air traffic companies were prohibited in Biric and given until the end of harvest to remove their property from Biric soil. The only airships currently allowed in Biric are those run by iPodeksi Drakes.

The Biric population is generally happy with the turn of events. A call has been made to rename the company the Podeksi Phoenix, after the miraculous rebirth of the venture.

Formation of a unified Yunvaic Council
Birth of a great Yunvaic empire?

Kobolt politics, whilst leaving something to be desired by Biran standards in the excitement-stakes, have long remained shrouded in mystery. The hopes of political anthropologists in the Cult of Speculative Psephology have been raised, however, by recent reports of stirrings in the Devotion.

Whilst little is known of the intricacies of the Doshi councils, the kobolt use of the term is far removed from the open and democratic elections of Biric. The Devotion is governed by a series of councils distinguished according to place or an ambiguously-defined ‘caste’, related to each other through a hierarchical system of delegates. According to renowned expert, Dr. Evon Cela, the one thing upon which doshologists have agreed is the absolute supremacy of the White caste; the priesthood, traditionally loyal to the Unification, are the only caste blessed with a national ‘Council of the Nine’.

Recent reports indicate that this may be changing. Meetings of prefecture-level caste-councils have purportedly discussed the nomination of representatives to national ‘Grey’ and ‘Black’ bodies believed to be selecting representatives to a further council- the Council of the Nine of the Union of Yunva- to which the Devotion will send four delegates. Some validation of these rumours was provided when the office of the Most Devoted announced the retirement of the Fist Councillor’s long-term secretary, Mr. Rubshek, and his appointment as representative to a new organisation intended to foster closer relations between Doshi and Dahra.

If Gutta Urbrikk hoped to stuff the new council with his own allies, however, he will be sorely disappointed, since the national Council of Nine demanded its place in selecting the representatives. Urbrikk’s nomination for the White, Klaga Zekkin, sitting member of the national Council of Nine for Yukoryan, was opposed and defeated by an unlikely alliance of liberals and conservative prefecturalists, even seeing Gutta’s usual ally Josigg Brogg voting against him, raising an ultra-conservative priest from New Mikadosh, Garik Melazgin. Similarly the youthful architect mr Urbrikk put forth for the Grey was defeated in favour of a merchant from Sivas with a slightly greyish skin. It’s said he is a close business partner of Borky Yezzin, boss of Zanzikk and gregarious sailor and champion to some, nefariously libertine troublemaker to others.
There are unconfirmed claims that these proceedings were influenced by our Mikadosh sister paper, The Zanzikk Gazette, which ran a high-profile campaign to bring together supporters of the status quo.

As usual nothing is known about proceedings in the Unification.


FEATURE

The elf behind the mask
An in depth view into Daerden Ascuta’s person

Between having had quarrels with the leaders of Albed and Karth, his entirely unprovoked assault of Rat’s Nest and more recently Fuzou too, his continuously failing campaign against the Fae, his incarceration of innocent Biri, and his many other slights of arguably lesser grievance, Daerden Ascuta has built himself a reputation of a warmongering bull with little sense of tact. His opponents see an rhino in a porcelain chamber, his supporters see him as a strong leader who cares not for international reprisal. Whichever the truth, Daerden Ascuta is beyond any doubt one of the most bespoken personalities of the past few years.

But do we know who he really is? Our Journalists in Illuminex set out to find out just that, uncovering the roots of his perpetual anger in the most in-depth investigation of this remarkable figure so far.

Ascuta’s youth, as testified by an elderly elf who was his maid at the time, was one troubled by bullying and exclusion. He was never very bright, and neither was he good looking or very friendly. As a result he had virtually no friends. The other youths would never allow him to play with them, for they cared little for the ugly boy with no charm or wit. Driven by sadness, Ascuta threw himself onto the one thing he was competent at: Fighting. Practicing day and night with his sword and shield, he became a very proficient fighter, and would often get into fights with others. Eventually he would grow out to be a squire to Cassandra, decades before the catastrophic events of Golden City would lead to her being appointed the dictator over the Argaures. A battle brother of Cassandra in those days notes that not even Cassandra Theoloquora held any affection for this blunt man, but his skill at swords was useful enough for the leader of the legendary Argenti.

A number of intimate friends of the legendary Cassandra are willing to testify to our Journalists that she had favoured others over Daerden Ascuta, who she had never seen as anything more than a simple squire. Although none of these friends want to be mentioned by name, in fear of retribution, they swear that Cassandra Theoloquora had arranged for somebody else than Daerden Ascuta to be the heir of her titles and position. His bluntness and short temper were viewed as highly unfavourable qualities. She had made sure that her favourite was amongst the first to flee through the gates, and when she found that the daemon Kel’Arthas was upon them, she deliberately called upon Daerden Ascutas to join her in her last stand, his life being worth so much less than those who still had to flee through the gates.

As the legend tells though, Ascuta merely stood by as Cassandra fought and perished against the daemon lord. Upon his return, it would appear that his short-sightedness stopped him from feeling guilt, or even remorse. Worse, he took upon himself the role of the hero and took up the mantle of Cassander; the mantle that had never been intended for him.

In this light, his fallacies appear much easier to explain. If we assume that Daerden Ascuta was never meant to rule, never groomed to lead, then his shortcomings are perhaps not as bad as they appear to be. Can we blame a simple swordsman that he continuously seeks war? No, it is simply the way he knows best. He need only step down as leader of Illuminex and all will be fine and forgiven.


--
Harvesting Illuminex - by the Voice

Panic erupted amongst the magi stationed at Spes Albion as they discovered the parallel planes crawling with thousands of Fae. Remembering the horrific conditions the little monsters had inflicted on Rhudaur, the elves scrambled to mobilise their garrison and rebel the invaders.
    Initial panic gave way to deeper unease, however, when they realised that the massed reaps weren’t attacking the city or the surrounding countryside. Instead they were scattering and breaking for the south, keeping out of the material world and avoiding confrontation wherever possible. Messengers raced from the city, trying to catch up with the advancing tide before it broke against the towns and villages of the south.

Hurried scouting by the magi discovered, to their surprise, no evidence of Fae activity north of Spes Albion. They concluded that the horrors must have somehow opened a portal inside the walls, and a house-by-house scouring of the city began. After a considerable effort, they eventually discover an underground lair, accessed by a warren of tight tunnels which criss-cross the underside of an entire neighbourhood.
    The warren is far too small for the elves to fight in, so they smoke and burn out what turn out to be thousands of lurking critters and dig their way in. As expected, they discover a portal at the heart of the nest. A few angry, brave, or foolhardy souls propose a punitive expedition through it, but the briefest glimpse reveals the other side to be teeming with well-prepared murder-sprites, so the argenti breach and close the portal.

In the south, however, the Fae are running amok. The Illuminex lack both the cavalry and the advanced planar magic of their Rhudauri allies, and are faring much worse against the onslaught as a consequence. Crops are burned as pigs, poultry, and other livestock are slaughtered and despoiled.
    Only in the south west, where some of the elves’ few cavalry squadrons are stationed, do local troops have any luck in hunting down the reaps, but even there the impact is small. In the south east the inhabitants have more luck of a different kind, being able to bring the first of the harvest and their most precious livestock with them into the hillforts scattered across the coast and the eastern reaches of the Black Hills. Times are tough – feeding and watering the animals dramatically reduces the effective supply period of a fort’s stores – but by the season’s end they were holding out.
    Those unable to reach the forts flee, either north to Spes Albion or south to the Pearl, where relief had arrived in the form of hundreds of well-armed ogres.

A force of Sergo had set out across the mountains with the declared intent of providing humanitarian relief to the survivors of last season’s massacre in Phosnata. Upon discovering their neighbours plunged into bloody chaos, they forgo this mission in order to bed in and help secure the area around the Pearl, using the lakeside town as a base for further missions of aid. Normally the xenophobic elves would not take kindly to meddling of this kind, but the Sergo’s reputation in Rhudaur precedes them and they find a warm welcome wherever they go.

Despite their efforts however, as winter draws in, the mood across Illuminex is grim. The southern harvest has been largely ruined, and it promises to be a lean winter for both the elves and their northern allies – and in the wild hills, among charred ruins of hamlets and farmsteads, thousands of Fae prepare to strike again.


--
A realm divided - by Lord_Tar

Centuries ago the Old Sage, who lived in the Rukhui Period, had said the following famous words: “A realm united, will divide. A realm divided, will unite.” These words had not been repeated much the last decades, because they were an ill omen in times of peace. But since the Tenwalve betrayed the other clans and the nation plunged yet again into a bloody civil war, the words became again what they had been when they were spoken for the first time: a beacon of hope.

Bukomo Tenwalve Notoyushi was afraid that the stalemate would last forever, but very soon he regretted that it came to an end. The stalemate was broken because Bukomo Dishakura Shangin did something very un-Fuzoulike: he joined forces with the Fuzou's lesser kin from the west: a people who called themselves the Illuminexi. Bukomo Tenwalve Notoyushi was quick to declare this an act of high treason, but bukomo Dishakura Shangin defended himself by stating that even the uncultured barbarians could not ignore the treacherous villainy of the Tenwalve, or as he said it: “Bukomo Tenwalve Notoyushi has proved his lack of honour and ashamed the Narhû, blessed be His eternal name, by ruthlessly slaughtering his elven kin and thereby destroying the peace in our beautiful land. His evil is so great that even the beasts of the sea, the crops on the fields and the barbarians from over the sea are rebelling against his empty claims on power.”

When the many war galleys of the Dishakura had met west of Nikata with the small but heavily armed fleet of the Illuminexi, which was being led by Daerden Ascuta himself, they together set sail to the south. After a few clashes with Tenwalve scouts, they mounted a quick attack on the city of Hinohe. While the Illuminexi blocked the entrance to the harbor, the Dishakura troops landed on the coast and tried to fight their way into the city, but their attack was not succesful. The allied forces did not want to waste their time on this relatively unimportant city, so they decided that the Dishakura would plunder the countryside for new supplies while the Illuminexi destroyed the fleet in the harbor. The Dishakura had no problem with plundering Fuzou commoners, for these people had lost their rights when their Tenwalve masters chose to rebel. The Illuminexi were not allowed to set foot on land. The official reason was that foreign soldiers are not allowed to intrude the holy islands of the Fuzou, where you can't throw a rock without hitting some minor deity. but a more important reason is probably that the Dishakura are afraid that the Illuminexi will desecrate shrines to Tartorus or take captives back home to re-educate them.

Because of the delay in Hinohe, the Tenwalve had time to organize a counter-attack. Their fleet was just a little bit smaller than the combined fleets of the Dishakura and the Illuminexi and tried to catch them by surprise. Illuminex' celestarii, however, make for some very good scouts, so the allied forces had enough time to prepare the defense. The Tenwalve would have had a chance if their enemies were just fellow Fuzou, but the Illumenixi's destructive magic and their orderly defensive tactics made up more than enough for their inferior navigation skills. The Tenwalve fleet, bloodied but still formidable, fled back to Nasaya, left a strong garrison there under Tenwalve Notoyushi's brother Notokatsu, and retreated further.

Tenwalve Notokatsu had just enough time to get as much food as possible inside the city walls before the allied forces started the siege. One of the Dishakura nobles, a man called Gobayashi, volunteered to set his ship on fire and sail into the ships laying in the harbor. With his courageous kamikaze attack he managed to destroy all the ships that were still there, making it much easier to land the ground troops. Bukomo Dishakura Shangin promised that his name would be written down in the history of Fuzou to honour his great sacrafice. The Dishakura tried to overwhelm the city walls, but the resistance was too strong. The nobles within the city were prepared to fight themselves to death. Tenwalve Notokatsu was already sharpening his ceremonial sword, not to defend himself when the enemy would enter the city, but to kill himself if that would happen.
However, all hope was not lost for the Tenwalve. Bukomo Dishakura Shangin's oldest son, a courageous young man called Tunemo, died when he and his man walked into an ambush in the hills outside of the city. Soon after Dishakura Shangin himself got killed - assassinated, or so it's said. The siege immediately came to a halt. The next in line was Shangin's second son Katsega, but he had become a priest of Ithil and was not experienced in matters of war and statecraft. Morale in the Dishakura army decreased.

Dishakura Katsega was quickly escorted from Nagaoma to Nasaya. He officially became the next bukomo in a ceremony which took place in one the countryside temples near the besieged city, so that all the Dishakura nobles could be present. Bukomo Dishakura Katsega was young and inexperienced, but he managed to speak in a clear voice and made a calm impression, although his father and brother had just died. He swore that he would mourn only after peace had been restored to the realm and bukomo Tenwalve Notoyushi had been punished. He also explicitly stated that his ambition was not to become the next Yabun, but to make sure that the next Narhû would be chosen in the right manner. It was up to the Pillar of the Realm to choose whether Fuzou needed a new Yabun or not. A whisper went through the crowd when he said this. The rest of his speech was about restoring the realm to the golden age of long ago and getting rid of 'cultural inventions.' The whispering only became louder and louder, as it became clearer and clearer that bukomo Dishakura Katsega was planning to use the ashes of the civil war to paint a new Fuzou, completely to his design. Who was this young priest? Was he an over-ambitious teenager? A hero sent by the gods to restore Fuzou to its old glory? A madman? They knew not how this would end, but it became immediately clear that they now had a priest as their leader. More than a few of the nobles thought to themselves: “May Tartorus protect us.”
"On the fourth day the earthquakes hit."
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PostPosted: Tue May 09, 2017 11:51 pm   Subject: Turn 8

Turn 8    -    Year 2, Winter

The days grew dimmer as the sun grew smaller in the skies. Winter was come again. The least alive of seasons, this year's had little to recommend it. The world continued falling apart as the ogre flu continued its ravages and its spread, though many a tale is told of the bravery of groups of Sergo medics traveling the world after the flu bearing their name, saving people and cities. It's said it's only them keeping both the Tradewinds and Biric from falling apart, only them keeping Conzanz alive, and only them preventing the massive refugee camps at Dorwinion in Rhudaur from falling prey to the flux as well.
And just as the flu continued its ravages, so did the dreadful fae. Raids continued in Rhudaur and Illuminex alike. Though driven into the hills in both countries, it's hard to room them out. Indeed, some fear the fae are a plague that may never leave them.


--
A dream of spring -- by TheVoice

It had been a ferociously hard year for the Kingdom of Rhudaur. But as the winter drew to a close, many in the lands of the horse lords felt that things might finally be, if not improving, then at least not getting any worse.

There is good news from the east, where the Omija leads his punitive campaign against the fae. Returning veterans speak of a grinding melee fought out in the green gloom beneath the boughs of Darkwood, of flooding half the forest, and establishing a secure base for themselves, deep in the trackless forest, from which to wreak further vengeance on the monsters which infest it.
    Despite the ravages of the fae, the farmlands of Lebennin were now fairly secure and most of the harvest had been safely brought in. Although times were lean, the vital lifeline to the port of Dorwinion – and the aid provided by the Illuminexi and Sergo – made up for any potential shortfalls.
    Beyond Lebennin the countryside was not entirely cleared, and reaps of Fae still preyed on isolated communities and ill-tended herds. But this pestilence was by now mostly confined to the western hills, and in the low countries the townsfolk and herdsmen look forward to the spring and a chance to rebuild their lives and their country.

Yet whilst the Omija must be pleased with his reports he is not – as his counsellors jest – out of the woods yet. The north-western steppes of his land have been occupied by an army of Yunvaï. This force appears to be made up almost exclusively of troops and missionaries from the Devotion, and marks the first major international move by the Kobolts since their absorption by the Dahric Unification.
    Contra to the Shadow style, the kobolts declare the occupation to be primarily about providing food and security for the tribes whilst the steppe was cleared of fae. However there have been clashes between Doshi forces and caravan raiders from one of the more warlike tribes. How to dislodge them, without provoking a larger conflict with the Yunvaïc world, is a matter of intense debate amongst Rhudaur’s rulers.

Finally, and perhaps more worryingly still, rumours have started to swirl up into the horse kingdom from Biric of an army of dwarves from the Kingdom of Albed, marching through the Birin Republic and closing on the border. Optimists claim that they must be here to help see off the hated Shadows… but optimists are thin on the ground in Rhudaur.


--
Fate made and lost at Nasaya -- by Lord_Tar

At long last winter came to the Fuzou Archipelago, but this did not mean an end to war. On the jungle islands it became only a few degrees colder. The only difference this really made was that it became more pleasant and less sweaty to fight.

While bukomo Tenwalve Notoyushi was fleeing to Yodira, bukomo Dishakura Katsega had to face his first challenge as the new clan leader: he had to prove that he was also a capable military leader by capturing Nasaya. To the disappoinment of Notoyushi, Katsega very much succeeded in this. While the Illuminexi attacked the harbour and a large part of the Dishakura soldiers attacked the city from the west, a small force managed to sneak into the city by using magic and opened the east gates. Dishakura soldiers, dressed in the uniforms of the Tenwalve, entered the city, posing as reinforcements. They captured the western gate and let the Dishakura troops enter the city. Dishakura Tobano, the lord of Nikata, managed to be the one who had the honor to capture the palace of Nasaya, for which he was greatly rewarded. He had been ordered to execute Tenwalve Notokatsu, but as expected he had already thrown himself on his ui-tanki.

But here the trouble started. Katsega had explicitly stated that it was forbidden to plunder the city, not wanting to cause needless harm for the common folk. But his soldiers weren't professionals: they were commoners that had been taken away from home to fight a war that they did not care about, and they were starting to want to go home. In the frenzy of the moment, order broke away among the ranks and the troops got to plunder the houses of their fellow peasants. Katsega and the Illuminexi could only restore order that afternoon. The nobles assured Katsega that the plundering had been stopped before it could really get out of hand, but he was in great mourning about his failure to protect the citizens of Nasaya. He did not care about his great victory, for in his own eyes he had lost his righteousness.
    That night, for the first time in his life, he said a prayer to Tartorus, the god he hated with his whole being: “O cursed Tartorus, I don't care about your might! Even if I would be the most successful general in the world, if I would not be able to protect the people, I would be as useless as a tiger. Great claws are nothing to be proud about if you use them to devour your victims. Take back your wretched might! Take it! But give me my righteousness back!” The next day he commanded his soldiers to give a sacrifice to Ithil, to thank him for the gift of magic, which had given them the victory. Very pleased with this, he very soon forgot about his prayer.

A month later, the Tenwalve set sail from Yodira to Nasaya with fresh troops. They were also accompanied by the fleets of the Fahro and the Ayashura clans. Both the Tenwalve and Dishakura had tried to get them to choose their side by sending diplomats, but they chose to support the ambitions of Tenwalve Notoyushi. Because of this, the Tenwalve alliance outnumbered their enemies both in galleys and in manpower.
    The fleets engaged in battle in the bay in sight of Nasaya. The Illuminexi on their flank faced the Fahro and the Ayashura. Even though their fire magic was dispelled before it could be used, their huge ships managed to send these two lesser clans running. But while the Illuminexi were taking care of them, the Tenwalve closed in on the much smaller Dishakura fleet. Nobles on both sides let loose volleys of arrows, and while the Tenwalve volley was magically stopped short of the Dishakura galleys, Notoyushi led on his fleet without pause.
    Bukomo Dishakura Katsega started to panic. Where were the reinforcements? They should be here by now! If only they would come! But no-one came. The young clan leader had to watch his fleet be ripped to pieces by the treacherous Tenwalve. Tears welled up in his eyes when he realized that all his dreams were being torn apart, just a month after him becoming the next bukomo. Hadn't he been chosen? Why else had the gods decided to make him, a priest with no experience whatsoever, the next clan leader? He turned inwards to ask Ithil for answers, but it remained silent.
    Then, unexpectedly, a voice with no light in it whispered in his ears: “You don't want might? Then I'll take it away again. Enjoy the fact that you're righteous now. Your death will bring peace to this country. Your death will end this war and save the lives of thousands of elves. You want to be righteous? Then stop spilling elven blood in the name of your ideals. Are you more righteous than Notoyushi? The only thing that matters is whether you are more powerful: and that you are not.”
    Hearing these words, Katsega fell to his knees and begged Ithil for a second chance. He looked up for a short moment when he heard that the ship of Notoyushi had rammed his ship and the bukomo of the Tenwalve himself had entered the ship with his tomori guards. Too late. He could feel how the enemy mages made sure that he could not use his magic. He stood up and with a faint smile watched how his men were dying to protect their lord and master. Someone should reward their families for their honourable behaviour. With a sigh Katsega drew his ui-tanki for the first time in his life. He had absolutely no idea how to use it. Notoyushi was already walking towards him, his own ui-tanki also in his hand. Notoyushi needed but a moment to disarm his rival. For a moment they locked eyes; then young Katsega threw himself on his rival’s sword. Clutching on to the taller elf, Katsega whispered “Take care of my people.”

Contrary to what both of them thought, Ithil was not yet done with his young Chosen. This was but the beginning.


--
Meanwhile... in another place...

A dozen kobolts and a shadow crept up a mountain under an alien sky, up to the biggest structure any of them had ever seen, towering over a city only few mortals had ever witnessed.
Reaching the top, the building's blind outer walls, raised out of huge ogre-sized blocks of bedrock, rose sixty feet above them. The place felt right. In through the open gateway they entered. A peristyle court stretched before them, its flagstone expanse spanning the size of a small town. At the end, a gateway into darkness, a shadowy hypostyle hall. Most entered. Only one escaped.


--
This is the winter of our discontent -- by Dracomace

The great Harals Makmatar, a founding Conzanzine magistrate of the highest esteem, is once said to have remarked to an assistant that the most difficult thing in politics was “events, dear boy, events.”

At no time since his death has this been truer than the winter’s proceedings in the merchant metropolis, where gossip and rumour prevailed on every street corner by high and low, from the great wine bars of the Elven and Novarite-dominated peaks, which were famed across the world for their lavish fare, to the dingiest watering holes of the portside slums, all discussed only one thing: the future of their city. For some, the opportunity to take their full independence from the oppressive taxation of three squabbling powers was too much to resist, while for others it was a risk many were unwilling to take. The majority consensus seemed to be for the full codification of the increased autonomy, which the bickering between the Triumvirate powers and the weakening of each in recent seasons had offered them, though some resisted even this.

As winter began, the Conzanz Council received word that the Ecclesia of Illuminex had sent one of their most senior figures, Argus Thayn, the ever unexpected high inquisitor, to meet with the Elven members of the Council. And Efirts Om personally addressed a missive to all councillors stating that she would respect any decision the Council made on the city’s future, and sought to ensure that the Biric Hegemony remain the city’s ally in the coming year. Thayn’s meetings with Elven leaders were held in more private settings, though it was rumoured that he reassured the Illuminexi within the city of the Cassander’s intent to protect their rights to Illuminex protection, as well as informing them of the dictator’s firm belief that it was not within the rights of the other Triumvirate powers to agitate for the removal or their rights to take part in the governance of the city. The proceedings of the often fierce debates in the great circular council hall were reported on daily, and given the lack of hostility in the apparent views of the neighbouring Triumvirate powers, councillors from all parts of the city began to consider more seriously the genuine prospect of full independence.

And then the events, oh dear boy, the events happened. As the nights grew shorter and the days ever colder, a new wave of the Ogre flux swept through the city, though the Sergo master surgeons stationed in the city, to the relief of the grateful population, prevented the worst from happening; reports of failures to achieve similar results in Raeyu and Biric lands gave rise to arguments being delivered to council representatives that if they could not control the flu in their own lands, it was not fair that they siphoned off the wealth of the great metropolis in the straits to do so. The Illuminexi fared no better reputationally, as reports of a significant naval defeat at Nasaya coincided with the publication by Biran journalists of a damning and inflammatory report on Daerden Ascuta himself…
EXCLUSIVE! Daerden Ascuta up close and personal!

Our Journalists in Illuminex were invited to spend this season in the personal retinue of Daerden Ascuta, following him on his campaign to secure the lands of Aralumé against the Fae raids. A closer view of Ascuta’s life than ever given before; read all about it in this special Conzanz edition of the Herald!

At the start of this winter Ascuta returns home to protect his land and his people against the onslaught of the Fae. The Herald is invited to remain close to him and get exclusive rights to interview him during the course of this crusade in his own lands. Indeed during those first days the mood was hopeful, despite the grim situation. At the suggestion of his most capable generals he retracts a portion of his infantry from the Legion in Dorwinion in favour of securing the homeland. They are joined by a further thousand riders of Rhudaur. With such a formidable force it was thought the Fae menace would soon be extinguished. Carefully choreographed interviews were given in which Ascuta assured us that the Fae would be eradicated. His strategies were supported by beautifully prepared maps, indicating the hotspots of Fae incursions and banners for his splendid troops.

No plan survives first contact with the enemy though, and Ascuta fared no better. Not only were the Fae not where he expected them to be, they also proved to be able to strike behind their lines very effectively. For every victory there were two setbacks and Ascuta proved to be a sore loser. Annoyance quickly turned into frustration, one messenger even being slapped in the face when he brought news of another farmstead burned. Like a child tired of losing at chess Ascuta seemed unable to grasp the complexity of the situation and produce an effective counter-strategy, despite the generous resources at his disposal.

As is known Ascuta is at his best in the heat of the fight. He is perhaps the most skilled swordsman alive today, and he is eager to show this. More than once did he spur his personal retinue to pursue a Fae reap in the distance, heedless to the warnings of his comrades that they might be a lure. Sure enough casualties amongst his finest were much larger than they had any need to be. At one point he was perilously close to losing contact with the rest of his forces, thereby risking a collapse in central communication and coordination. Only through the shrewd and timely interference of a Rhudauri chief were the Fae repelled.

By the end of the season half the country is in disarray. The Black Hills area has been abandoned, its civilians deserted by their government not for a lack of trying or manpower, but a lack of skill and ability. The hills are infested with the Fae, allowing them to set up a much more permanent foothold than should have been possible. Most civilians have fled, and those who have not are presumed dead or dying. The south east is likewise infested, its strongholds like islets in an ocean of Fae chaos. Even in the forts famine is on the doorstep. The Pearl is kept safe not by Ascuta, but by Sergo interference. In short, only through the importation of thousands of soldiers and reliance upon more capable allies did Ascuta manage to stave off total disaster, at least for half his realm.

It remains to be seen how this newest show of incapacity reflects on the discussions in Conzanz. If he can’t govern his own lands, will the burghers of Conzanz accept him as one of their leaders? It raises the question whether Conzanz needs a reckless, warmongering and racist leader, or if they would be better off without him.

… As tensions rose between Biran and Illuminexi Triumvirs, word reached the city of the ruling Council in Biric’s decision to unilaterally vote to resign from the Tribunal, and formally announcing their departure from its jurisdiction.
    The meeting, at the end of winter, as the sun grew bigger in the sky, was attended by the Chairwoman herself, along with the lord of Dorwinion replacing the absent Omija Chagatai, Karish Eblair of the Golden Rain for the Tradehood, and High Inquisitor Argus Thayn standing in for the Cassander, with numerous other delegates and diplomats in attendance. Chairwoman Om offered the following explanatory speech:

“Dear fellow signatories of the Tribunal Treaty,

It is with a heavy heart that I stand here today. The Tribunal Treaty embodies everything that Biric stands for: Respect for other cultures, lawfulness, loyalty. It is strange then that we see no other option than to resign from this institute that so naturally fits us.

Over the past years we have seen that although the ideals of the Treaty were aimed high, upholding them has proved to be too hard. From our point of view, one of our members repeatedly trespassed upon the rules that we together have signed: With their despicable attack on Rat’s Nest, unwarranted involvement in the Fuzou struggles and imprisonment of innocent, allied civilians, Illuminex has shown time and again that they care not for the mores of the Tribunal.

Biric has always argued that keeping Illuminex on the Tribunal is a serious dent on the Tribunals credibility. If even its own members can’t live by the rules they signed, then who are they to judge others? Since the Tribunal is apparently incapable of forcing Illuminex from its ranks, the Biric Council has decided to resign itself.

The Tribunal Treaty to us represents a beautiful cause, but Biric does not recognise the Tribunals ideals amongst its current signatories. However much it saddens us, we must consider the Tribunal to be a lost cause. Biric will always continue to uphold its ideals wherever we go, and at present we believe the Tribunal is a greater liability than a tool.

We would like to thank everybody for the support they have given us. May all the best come to you in the struggles to come.

On behalf of the Biric Council,
Efirts Om”


Reports suggested that both Rhudauri and Raeyu representatives registered their intense displeasure at this turn of events, though Thayn himself didn’t seem to care all that much; he had seemed to have other things on his mind at the time. Grim acceptance of this failure of an agreement of cooperative intent dominated proceedings.

It was not this news that interested the majority of Conzanz residents. That very evening, the Council of Conzanz held an emergency session, with debate raging throughout the night as the pro-independence faction grew ever stronger. In the early hours of the morning, a motion to indicate the desire of the people of Conzanz to achieve full independence from the Triumvirate powers was tabled. It only passed, however, when a handful of elven councillors, hitherto opposed to the idea, unexpectedly voted for it. It was rumoured that the personal intervention and appeal of the High Inquisitor, on the instruction of the very highest echelons of power in Spes Albion had advocated that they take such drastic action.

The mood in the city the following morning was one of jubilation for some, and of fear for others, as shops and markets closed and the streets were filled with protestors and revellers alike, with many fearing the possibility of looting. The wealthier portions of the city thus duly closed their gates when half of the Burgher’s Watch joined those out in the streets; outside the Ivory towers of the upper districts of the city, only chaos reigned. In the midst of all this, a senior member of the Conzanz Council made her way to the Triune Fortress that served as the seat of Biric and Raeyu military forces in the city and demanded that they honour their promises to recognise the independence of the city, turn the fortress over to Council control, withdraw their forces from the city. Missives were also sent to the leaders of all three Triumvirate powers, requesting that they respect the wishes of the Council of Conzanz and agree to negotiate the terms of independence.


--
Rebirth -- by Dracomace

While the absence of the Cassander in the proceedings in Conzanz was noted... something else was going on in the city of Adventus, the oldest and holiest city of Aralumé.

Winter was drawing to an end in Adventus; the morning growing earlier with each passing day. It was nearing dawn as the Cassander of Illuminex, Daerden Ascuta, entered the great temple chamber. It was here, nearly a century ago, that the great portal that saved his people opened. Here that all those years ago, as the last elf to leave Erda, he arrived in a strange new land, clutching the burning ember that was all that remained of his mentor, saviour, and friend. Here that he lit the first of the great memorial fires that still burned to this day. His palm still bore the burnt scars of that ember. They were the ultimate reminder to him of the sacrifices his people had made, and the fate of Erda. They symbolised his purpose, and his resolve; to ensure that no such tragedy could ever again occur while he and his people still drew breath.
    In the shadow of the carved stone circle that marked the very site of the coming of the silver-haired elves, the elven leader and dictator led the procession through the temple, dressed in the red silk ceremonial garb of a torchbearer, its golden embroidery dancing as if to mimic the flames of the temple fires, and flanked by two black-clad priests of Voryn carrying banners bearing the silver star that served as the emblem of the people of Illuminex. The soldier-priests marched towards the marble altar that had been erected above the oldest memorial fire, whose flames flickered and caressed the shrouded figure lying on the brilliant stone above it.
    It was time to see if their efforts had borne fruit.

The circle of hooded priests around the altar parted to allow the Cassander to join them. Their vigil had lasted nearly seventy days, and now the ritual was coming to an end. As dawn broke across the city, sunlight poured into the temple through glass panes in the domed ceiling, first onto the altar, then throughout the assembled congregation of elven clergy. The torches’ red glare was replaced by the first of the spring sunlight. The circle of priests surrounding the altar linked their arms, mouthing inaudible prayers. A tense silence fell over the cavernous temple hall as the spell came to its end. For a moment, Ascuta thought he saw the body on the altar begin to breathe, indicating success... before the illusion was SHATTERED.
    The altar cracked, and fell into the flames, along with the shroud above it, and for the first time in a hundred years, the first flame of Aralumé was extinguished.

The elderly Cassander was the first to fall to his knees, but rather than sorrow, his shocked face revealed breathless wonder afraid-to-believe.
    Then, when a brilliant light shone forth from the centre of the hall, where the fire had once been, he knew that his eyes had not deceived him. As the painful glare of the light faded, he saw an elf standing proudly above the temple floor, her skin reflecting the light of dawn onto all onlookers; the hall was awash with gold. She held her spear and shield, and was dressed in the armour of the ancient Argaures, as if made by the master craftsmen of Amaurion. Cassandra was here... but not merely resurrected from death to the life she had known. She was one of them, yet apart, transcendent yet present, a mortal become immortal. The great saviour of the Illuminexi addressed the elf who now bore her name, in a voice that only he was old enough to recognize, though all deferred to its authority and wisdom.

“It is good to see you again, Daerden, after all these years, though I cannot remain for long. Know, should you ever be beset by doubts, that you are my successor for a reason. It is you who chose to carry my torch in our fight against the darkness; you who united a divided people, and you who inspired a disheartened one. Your people trust you, and have faith in you. If you hold your course, they will not fail our cause. Your task is more crucial than ever. The fate of the world hangs on the edge of a precipice, as the Well of Souls, forsaken by Sekis, is defiled and corrupted by the foul deeds of witches and infernomancers, who would doom us all. I must go now, to take by place in Empyreum, as Guardian of the Well of Souls. Remember our war and I will not forsake you."

The goddess vanished, leaving behind only flames shining a resplendent silver.
"On the fourth day the earthquakes hit."
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PostPosted: Sat Aug 26, 2017 1:09 pm   Subject: Re: Zeta Era Story

Turn 9    -    Year 3, Spring

Mostly by the Voice, unless noted otherwise.

In another place

A vast, hypostyle hall in a far-away place. By the flickering light of frantic spellwork, a small group of airborne Shadows weave between the vast pillars holding up the shadowed ceilin, their undead mounts jinking and diving. Their spells lash out at the surging shadows around them to reveal giants carved in pale stone, animated and perfectly sized to fill the spaces between the colonnades, their feet lost in the shadows below as their white faces fix on the tiny, flitting figures.

One of the Shadows goes down, snatched from the air by a pale hand and crushed to death, the wings of his bearer twitching feebly in the giant’s grip. The remaining hippogryph swerves again, narrowly avoiding the same fate, the hulking Shadow steering it shouting instructions to a white-clad female behind him. Her hands flicker as she casts following Rukash's command, just as another stone fist sweeps forward to meet them…


Taskforce Thirteen -- by Eom
"Prepare for jump." The call came as the Taskforce had practiced so often before.
Nom Pitarsh readied himself for the familiar sensation of being jumped to another plane. It always felt to him as if the ground suddenly dropped away below you, yet before you have the time to really start falling you'll find yourself on another plane.
A moment later it was done. He opened his eyes to get his bearing. It was the familiar environment of endless jungles. They had been here so often over the past year. Yet this time, Caal had ensured them that they were on to something.

They tracked through the jungle, and Nom couldn't help but feel pride at the skill and professionalism of their Taskforce. Each of them was a highly skilled and experienced soldier, tracker or hunter; the best that Biric had ever brought forth, now united in a single Taskforce charged with the most important missions.

Yet for all their stealth, Nom noticed soon enough that they were being tracked. Now and then he caught a glimpse of their adversaries: Creatures no bigger than fae, but with green fur and definitely less devilish eyes. Caal had sensed their presence too, and with a simple gesture of her hand signaled the Taskforce to stop and hold their breath. Nom could hear his heart beating, and wished it was more silent in fear of giving away their position. He heard Caals voice in his head, the preferred method of communication on missions like this. "We are close now, but so are they. Stand ready." and Nom knew that the rest of the group had received the same message. For a moment it occured to Nom that this was a very peaceful place; birds were chirping, a squirrel flew overhead, the wind brushed the leaves.

With a single sweep of her arm Caal broke the serenity, and the world went mad. A handful of the tiny green figures fell from their trees, several others attacked each other. Nom picked off two more with his bow, and he noticed that so had some of his squadmates. Caal and Shana made a dash for it, knowing the others to follow. And so Nom set off on a sprint. All at once the forests came to life. Vines tried to trap them, roots tripped them, branches swung at them. Nom noticed the thrudging footwork of Bim Manoor behind him, already panting from the extra weight of his fat body. He wondered if he would make it out today.

A shriek to his left told him something was off. He spared a quick glance and noticed that Mimo Kalsuf, an excellent trapper herself, hung upside down in a net of thorny vines. A kick of emotion hit him -- he knew her to be a mother of two back home. There was no time, and so they left her to her fate.

Riftoru Mujikan was the next to fall when they found their path suddenly blocked by a massive treeman. Nom briefly wondered how such a huge creature could possibly have moved through such a dense jungle without having alerted them to its presence -- but his train of thought was cut off when it made its way directly to Caal. Nom was nailed to the ground in horror, but luckily Riftoru was not. Bravely, foolishly, he shot two flaming arrows at the treeman before climbing up its leg and assaulting its head with his two swords. The treeman temporarily distracted, Shana grabbed Caal and ran off in the opposite direction.

More of the massive treemen approached though, and the tiny green fae-like creatures were flocking all around them. They were surrounded on all sides now, and Nom was sure that this was to be their demise. Then, whether it was through some intervention by the creature Shana, a flash of inspiration from Caal or something else entirely, he suddenly found himself and their Taskforce in a wholly different environment. Gone were the treemen, gone were the tiny green figures, gone were Mimo and Riftoru.

In their stead he found himself standing in a bewildering broad leafed forest, very much unlike anything he had ever seen before. It was rather fascinating than beautiful, although there was no denying that the place had a strange kind of fairness to it. The light in this new world was blinding: crystallic like brisk blue morning light through the purest of dew drops. He noticed all his remaining taskforce mates were in equal bewilderment; even Caal seemed to be at a loss for words for once, something Nom had never seen happening. Only Shana seemed to be unfazed, and Nom decided that that was a good sign and that they should all draw encouragement from that.
"We mustn't linger here." he said, and led the ten remaining taskforce members towards a safe place to make camp.


THE HERALD INTERNATIONAL

HEADLINE

Ogre Flux flummoxed by Birin cure!
Finally safe!

Temples across the southern hemisphere thronged with exultant worshippers by spring’s end as it became clear that the terrible Ogre Flu outbreak has been ended, partly thanks to a medical breakthrough by the Birin Hegemony.

With support from Sergi and Biscan experts, Birin doctors made the critical breakthrough that finally ended an epidemic which has wracked half a dozen nations and destroyed thousands of lives.
Armed with this knowledge, and aided by a very effective quarantine instituted by Efirts Om, medics managed to eradicate the Flu throughout the Hegemony before exporting their solution to the nations of the southern continent.

Yet even as the threat of further infection lifts, this plague leaves devastation in its wake. In the Raeyu Tradewinds the central government has collapsed, its shell-shocked towns ruled by local councils or petty warlords and the roads stalked by bandits.

Only in what remains of Tsneriva Rising does the beloved Minera Kasi’s-kin maintain what the world might recognise as a government. Many of her former countrymen have fled the Buuki rainforests altogether, either south into Sergo or across the sea to Biscayne, where they have founded the town of Neuton.

The great cities of Karaka and Conzanz also experienced deadly spikes in their own outbreaks of the Flu in the final months before the Birin cure. Whilst the Conzanz Council sought help from the Hegemony, in distant Karth the Church took drastic action and burned the affected portion of the city to ashes.

When reached for comment, a Church spokesperson told the Herald: “It was only the slums.”


NEWS

City of Fallen Giants
Conzanz wracked by murder and mayhem

Spring has seen dramatic changes in the great metropolis of Conzanz, as the former Triumviral powers unanimously accept the city's independence and withdraw their military forces. Only this week the last Raeyan and Biran troops marched out of the Triune Fortress, watched by crowds of burghers and visitors who now wait to see what the future holds for their new country.

The Conzanz Council has not been idle, and despite the final ravages of the Ogre Flu they have set to work building up the basic infrastructure of a state. They were aided greatly in this by the Sergi medics, whose front-line fight against the Flu held the very worst at bay before the revolutionary new techniques discovered by the Biri were brought across the water to the world city.

Yet it seems not everybody is so pleased with the efforts of these ogre heroes. Throughout the season an escalating campaign of violence against the gentle giants has seen every last member of the Sergo mission murdered, including the medics and all the accompanying magi. A string of mysterious deaths earlier in the season did little to shake a city grown so used to carnage and tragedy, but the horrifying massacre of all the remaining ogres at the Sergo Hospital has caused uproar across the metropolis.

The Council have promised swift action and a thorough investigation.

In other news, the Sergi were not the only giants falling in Conzanz this spring. One night several weeks ago, an enormous, humanoid statue fell from the sky! It crushed the Moon's Mirror, a famous fountain in the well-heeled Peaks district, and half a block of housing besides. The city watch was mobilised, but it doesn't appear to have been the prelude to any further hostility. Experts are baffled.


Grand theft Golem
Shadows thieving artifacts?

A few months back the Sergo lost a divine artifact, known as the Golem of the Gods. This living statue had been won by the ogre champion Urnagolquor a year ago on the sunset edge of this world. A few months back it disappeared one mysterious night.
In the time since, investigations yielded no trace.
Until now!
Until now a group of Shadows was seen in the great port of Pilehara, Biric, making their way home with what might be this headless golem. Did these silent creatures fence the artifact or steal it themselves? The plot thickens.


Doshi Spring Festival gets Political -- by Gutta
From our Zanzikk desk

An uneducated observer might be forgiven for thinking that the Doshi spring celebrations unfolded much the same this year as they did the last. Ships were launched, sacrifices were offered and buckets of water were thrown over unsuspecting bachelors. Fortunately this publication employs only the most expert doshologists, and can therefore reveal the extraordinary politicisation which has shaped this year’s festivities.

“The initiator of the politicisation appears to have been the so-called ‘Most Devoted’,” explains Dr. Evon Cela, “Figures associated with the Gutta Urbrikk faction have been spotted at numerous public events this season.” In spite of the violence at the Doshi entrepôt, Mr. Urbrikk was able to welcome competing teams to Chokka where they delivered parcels and letters. According to our informants on the ground, the scholarly team from Rivas Observatory beat their Zanzikk rivals to the prize, unseasonal weather favouring teleportation over sailing the Sea of Sunlight.

“It would be very easy to see these events as merely a bit of fun, exotic Doshi revelry and nothing more,” counselled Dr. Cela, “but that would be a mistake. For the last few months, Mr. Urbrikk has very clearly been positioning himself at the centre of Doshi religious life. By greeting the pilgrims in this manner, Mr. Urbrikk is ensuring that he is viewed as the single most significant figure in the Devotion, and portraying Chokka as at the forefront of the Yunvaic advance.”

Our senior correspondent in the Devotion, Ms. Vasila Gosnom, was granted exclusive permission to return to New Mikadosh- the scene of her last celebrated foray into investigative journalism. Her findings indicated that the intrusion of politics into the Doshi spring celebrations did not end with Mr. Urbrikk’s grandstanding.

Regular readers will be aware of the recent turmoil in Doshi politics provoked by the formation of the Union Council. With Mr. Urbrikk on campaign, New Mikadosh has become the centre of the controversy. The thorn in Mr. Urbrikk’s side is Garik Melazgin, recently elected to the much-contested Yunvaic Council and now reportedly placed in charge of organising the prefecture’s festivities. Last year’s ceremonies were muted, and some have suggested that Mr. Urbrikk would shoulder the blame for that regardless; our doshologists indicate, however, that Ms. Melazgin’s manoeuvring on the prefectural nine-kobolt council would have been impossible without the Most Devoted’s absence.

Ms. Melazgin, in leading the festival in New Mikadosh, has sent a clear signal about her disagreements with Mr. Urbrikk. In contravention of Mr. Urbrikk’s nationalising agenda, Ms. Melazgin has celebrated the distinctiveness of her prefecture in a display of decentralism which this publication applauds. Ms. Gosnom suggests that even known nationalists in New Mikadosh were drawn into the celebrations, applauding New Mikadosh as a symbol of the new Devotion and not (as Ms. Melazgin had perhaps intended) as a leader of municipal independence.

But, whilst congratulating Ms. Melazgin on her bold move against the centralising ‘Most Devoted’, this publication is concerned by the newly-elected councillor’s dalliances with the forces of reaction. Though an autocrat, Mr. Urbrikk has been willing to distance himself from Yunvaic tradition where it inhibits the progress which his realm so clearly requires.

Ms. Melazgin, on the other hand, has recently been spotted in the company of ultra-conservatives and even loyalists keen to see the kobolts reincorporated into the Unification. If Ms. Melazgin is to fulfil her promise as a liberal Doshi leader, she must break these dangerous connections. The appearance of Dahric priests at the ceremony only served to heighten suspicion. If Ms. Gosnom’s sources are correct, then Ms. Melazgin has already alienated the support of moderate councillor (and one-time Urbrikk ally) Josigg Brogg, whose valiant criticism of Dahricisation has long been admired from afar.


Winter Reforms in Zauflak -- by WarpGhost
The empire of hate is stirring?

Winter had not yet begun to bite when Oathkeeper marched into the halls of the Ministry of Security and began issuing a flurry of orders with a confidence like someone on a mission from the One True God. They came so thick and fast it took a little while for the bureaucrats and generals to comprehend the scale of the changes they would work on whole structure of the empire's security apparatus. Oathkeeper had the right as Keeper of Laws to make life-and-death decisions in the fabric of the empire, but protests and depositions were sent to the Bastard, asking for this vile orc to be put in his place. They all went unanswered, the Bastard seemingly caught up in more important things... The changes continued.

At first, they were called disparagingly the "Orc Reforms", grudgingly implemented and oft-criticised. But as they came better understood, as Oathkeeper patiently explained and demonstrated the practical advantages of the work he was demanding be carried out, the commanders grudgingly came to accept their purpose and necessity. Unable to stomach giving the true credit to an orc though, they simply started referring to them as the "Winter Reforms", after the cold hard season over which the army of Zauflak was hammered and reforged into a new shape. To this day, the new force that marched reborn into spring is sometimes referred to as the "Winter Guard".


FEATURE

Ascuta drives his people into starvation

In the latest of a long series of blunders, Ascuta has managed once more to put his own interests before those of his people. Please continue to read on page 2 to learn how the most bespoken leader of this time jeopardised his people this time.

It’s the middle of winter. Half his nation lies in turmoil from the constant raids of the fae. Thousands have fled their homes, facing starvation or worse. The other half of the nation is buckling under the enormous pressure of having to bring up not only the military drafts, but also compensating for the failed harvest of the raided half.

What the nation needs is a strong leader. One who gets his priorities straight, and restores order before pursuing luxuries. What they get is a narcissistic, egocentric elf who can’t distinguish the primary needs of his people from the tertiary ones. Who spends fortunes (our reports say it was nearly enough to feed a city full of mouths) on resurrecting a goddess whom they have successfully done without for ages.

There is no arguing that the feat in an on itself is a major accomplishment, and nobody is trying to trivialise that. However it should be obvious to anyone that the timing is plain wrong, and that’s putting it mildly. It’s not obvious to the Cassander though, and perhaps given his track record we can’t convincingly argue that we are surprised about that. Obvious insights seem to have a particularly hard time penetrating the thick skull of Daerden Ascuta.

Creating a god is awesome. Particularly when your society craves one, and all your domestic affairs are in order so you can spare the resources. It’s an extremely juicy cherry on a lovely pie.
Creating a god when your country is a mess, when your people don’t particularly need her right now, and importantly when you don’t actually have the resources to spare, is a pretty stupid idea. It’s an extremely juicy cherry.. but without the pie it’s not going to be a party.

With the funds that Ascuta spent on summoning Cassandra, he could have opted to feed many mouths and/or increase his military in order to drive out the fae once and for all. He chose otherwise, abandoning the people who need a good leader now harder than ever. It paints the image of a man who would much rather reap eternal fame for himself as the creator of a goddess, than to actually help his nation in need. How much longer can they put up with him?



The great war

Fortunes changing throughout spring!

Lightning Albed Strike Thrice

The rumours had been rolling in throughout the winter: a great host of dwarves was marching through the high country north-west of the Biric Hegemony, a vast armoured column skirting the edges of the great desert. From their vast airships, visible for miles in all directions, the Albed scouts could glimpse the distant watchtowers of the Yunvaic world. But that isn’t where they’re going.

As spring broke, the dwarves marched into the hill country in western Rhudaur. Nomads scattered ahead of the host as it ploughed northwards towards its target: the famous mining town of Lirlond, the last outpost of settled Rhudauri civilisation in the hills since the despoiling of Evandun by the Fae. Would everyone come to attack them?
    With the Omija’s host just finally returning from the Darkwood, and their elven and ogre allies defending the vital port and portal link at Dorwinion, Lirlond didn’t stand a chance. The seat of the Grisna tribe was cracked open by a withering barrage from an Albed artillery battery, and the town itself near-demolished by a rain of rocks from the vast aerostats floating above the town, casting it wholly into shadow.

If the horse lords had hoped the smoking ruin of Lirlond would answer whatever grudge the dwarf king was avenging, Guldan had other ideas. Glad in his golden-detailed armour at the head of his warriors, the High King had struck camp and marched his warriors on before the fires were out. The Grisna expected him to follow the old river road, which led north by east into Rhudaur's heartlands, via the shell of Fornost, so their women and children hid in the hills. Such did the Omija expect as well as he was just replenishing his troops. When word of the Albed invasion arrived at Forlond, the lord of the horse lords was already gathering his forces there: over three thousand horse, including knights from both the Orders of the Horse and the Sword. The decimated Order of the Shield, which had taken severe casualties in the recent fighting, he folded into the Sword too. Joining him was Illuminex's Legion, thousands of disciplined spearmen and archers under the command of General Hostius Antamori. They moved fast to stop these new invaders, rushing up the road to Lirlond.
    Yet no foe was encountered. The road to Lirlond was clear.
    Instead Guldan force-marched his army straight through the hills to the south east – and before his outmanoeuvred enemies could redeploy their forces, his column had descended on Dorwinion. Preceded by a devastating bombardment from guns beyond the horizon and from the terrifyingly huge zeppelin, the High King’s host took the de facto capital of Rhudaur by storm, parting only to led the Sergo escort the townsfolk and refugees to safety in the remaining towns of eastern Lebennin.

Guldan now held a second ruin, but he had no intention of keeping it. Even as the Omija’s armies closed in on their port, their de facto capital and oh-so precious lifelink to their Illuminexi allies and the rest of the world, the dwarfs prepared for the next step in their lightning campaign. They put what remained of the town to the torch and attacked, striking out from Dorwinion…

… and into Illuminex. The portal to Dorwinion, the Cassander’s path to war with the fae and the source of vital food shipments to his ruined allies, was now turned against him.
    Greg IV, gluttonous descendant of the legendary brewer, and close companion to High King Guldan, led a vanguard of his elite Grudge Settlers through into the portal hall. The hall had been fortified following news of the fall of Dorwinion, though the governor didn't dare cut off Antamori's legion's link home. The Grudge Settlers shrugged off everything the garrison could throw at them – literally breaking through a wall into the rest of the hall before crushing the elves' defence and securing the portalhead. The dismayed elves could only retreat as thousands of armed and furious dwarfs poured into the eldest and most sacred of their temple cities, the very site where they had arrived on Zanzibar and where, only weeks ago, their great former leader had risen anew as the goddess Cassandra.

Few cities are built to defend against an attack from the centre, and Adventus disgorged long streams of golden-skinned refugees as the garrison fought a brutal, street-by-street retreat against Guldan’s vengeful soldiers. Some headed north, up the coast road to Conzanz, while others clogged the southward road which led to Medara and the ruins of Phosnata.
    Inevitably, riders on the swiftest steeds bore news of this disaster to the Cassander, still leading his allied army in an attempt to wipe out the fae now infesting the south of his realm. Already in a precarious position with the fae in the south, the crumbling of the triumvirate and now cut off from Rhudaur, the Illuminexi leader feared that the Albed host might strike south, where a direct route to Spes Albion and the last of the great temples of Voryn and Cassandra lay open. Reluctantly, but inevitably, he recalled his banners and struck out to the north, abandoning the walled towns and hilltop forts of southern Illuminex to the emboldened, triumphant fae.

Whether due to lack of air cover or simple exhaustion, the dwarves had not moved on from Adventus by the time the allied host arrived and this time they were besieged. However, despite seeming to have a great advantage in numbers the Cassander had no choice but to draw up his siege line a long way back from the city: artillery batteries, ensconced in the abandoned buildings and plazas, and aerostats roving the land, laid down punishing fire on any elf or rider who strayed too close.


Back in Rhudaur: the Chokka situation

Realising that the High King had slipped through his clutches, the Omija cleared the rubble of Dorwinion and turned his army north towards a new target: Chokka. Known in Dahric as Cheokoryan, the Kobolt outpost and fortress was an affront to Rhudauri sovereignty that wasn’t about to flee through a portal to another continent.

As winter receded the occupying forces had been embroiled in a protracted conflict with the Vanadia tribe, whom they accused of raiding Devotion aid convoys. Mikaz Tukkazekk, an ambitious kommander in the Devotional Host, had been tasked by Gutta Urbrikk himself with putting down the 'insurgency'. Having sacked the Vanadian chief's camp and executed him and his family during the winter, the Kobolts now set about trying to force the rest of the tribe to capitulate.

This wasn’t easy – the skilled nomadic horse lords were more than a match for Tukkazekk’s Shadow outriders, and without proper scouting it was slow work pinning down the Vanadia as they withdrew before him with their flocks to the high pastures. As he pressed on, the tribe's warriors made a stand to fight him. However, seeing formations of Kobolts phasing out into other planes the insurgents realised they were outmatched and would be surrounded and slaughtered themselves. Losing heart, they fled the field. Ambitious Tukkazekk itched to pursue and finish his mission, but he was under strict orders to return his force to Chokka in good time. Resent it as he did, it would turn out to be a fortuitous order.

Even as Gutta oversees the expansion of the fortress, and makes fresh diplomatic overtures to the Bohra and Neodi tribes, Chagatai was closing in, determined to tackle the one enemy he had not yet found time to deal with.
    They marched up the paved highway, past the shell of Fornost and the charred remains of Evandun, newly resettled by hard-eyed refugees determined to rebuild their ravaged homeland. North of that town the road turned to dirt and progress slowed, but the enemy was close. The Omija's plan was simple: leave the Illuminexi infantry to besiege Chokka whilst he and his riders struck beyond to secure the loyalty of the steppe tribes.

Yet the Kobolts have not been idle. From the mountains to the sea the entire gap is secured by a wide array of blockhouses and redoubts, leaving no prospect of running an allied supply train through the gap even if the elves could circumvellate the coastal fortress itself. So instead of a swift breakthrough, a grinding game of planar cat-and-mouse and of material slaughter began.
    Chagatai and Antamori settled on a strategy wherein the Riders tried to bottle up the Yunvaï defenders, preventing them from reinforcing the outlying fortifications whilst the Illuminexi stormed each in turn. This turns out to be effective, as the mobile riders turn out to be quite capable of intercepting Yunvaic planar forays. Isolated, the outlying fortifications fall one by one, even if each is dearly taken. Even the shining daemons of the God Star, called up as the fighting drew closer to Cheokoryan, only bloodied the relentless allied advance.
    By the turn of the summer the Devoted have largely been forced back to Chokka itself, and Chagatai’s army surrounds the fortress on its landward side. Still, it took most of Spring, indeed giving kommander Tukkazekk the time to withdraw within the stronghold. But with Chokka itself under siege and some Vanadian warriors having joined in themselves with a vengeance, the Yunvaic victory seems less likely than it did a season ago.


And the Darkwood

Yet even as the ruler of Rhudaur pressed his attack in the north and west, far to the east the tide was turning against his war-weary host. Beneath the boughs of the Darkwood, where his veterans had been fighting for half a year, spring had brought little light.

On the road to Chokka, veteran riders tell grim stories to wide-eyed listeners. They speak of grueling, crawling marches through the undergrowth; of constant harassment by reaps of fae much better suited to the tight conditions. They also tell of damming rivers to drown whole communities of the monsters; of Lord Raykar's strange parlay with weird, bloodthirsty dryads desperate to exterminate the scarlet vermin; and of a lonely base on a distant lake where the now-horseless riders had, with the aid of their new allies, endured the winter.

These tales spread when at last the heroic mage Kalthus, having twice crossed the breadth of the Darkwood, managed to open a portal from that isolated peninsula to the town of Mithlond. This allowed the ragged remnants of the original army - royal troops as well as levies from the Gadolinun and Thalla, who had served far beyond their term - to pass back into the warmth of their homeland, and be replaced by fresh infantry to hold the hard-fought beachhead until the Omija had driven back the Yunvaï and could return to the eastern front.

Lord Raykar, staying on in the forest to defend their gains, had no easy mission. The fae had flocked to the lake in huge numbers, swarming so thickly that contact with the dryads became fraught and infrequent. The devious vermin had also learned from their bruising encounters the previous winter, and were growing ever-more adept at staging brutal ambushes against foragers, sentries, and scouts.

This state of siege stretched out for weeks... and then, one night, the Reaper's children stormed the isle. Tens of thousands of red-skinned butchers stormed in through the undergrowth, even whilst hundreds or perhaps thousands more slipped through the veil between worlds into the very midst of the fort.
    Raykar's new foot were no levies, and each man was a match for several of their diminutive foes, but that night the chaos was complete. Foul sorceries snatched the meaning from men's words, stretched shadows long and turned them against their hosts, and made the sound of screaming almost a living thing. The outer perimeter is soon lost, and the shield wall Raykar pulls together in front of Kalthus' gate collapses soon after.

After the decimated remnant of his thousand-strong garrison flee through the portal, the commander is forced to seal it before the swarm of Fae can pour directly into Mithlond. Chagatai's base, the hard-won fruit of a year's brutal fighting and their beachhead into the deep forests, was lost.


Fuzou civil war: of honour and unity

Spring arrived with a boon for the embattled lord of the Tenwalve. After a months-long siege the Dikashura garrison of Nasaya, the Tenwalve clan seat, taken before winter, surrendered. After granting his dispirited foes honourable captivity and reinstalling his garrison, Tenwalve Notoyushi rallied his ships and prepared to press on with his counter-attack.

Only days behind the merchant vessels bearing word of his victory across the isles, the Tenwalve fleet with its Fahro and Ayashura allies struck north towards the city of Nagaoma, the seat of the Dishakura, where the Dishakura and Illuminexi fleets had withdrawn following their bloody defeat at the battle of Nasaya last winter. Tenwalve's swiftness caught them off-guard. And in a repeat of his tactics at Nasaya, Notoyushi pinned down his enemies just offshore of his target.

Even despite the losses each fleet had sustained in that previous clash, the Battle of Nagaoma was one of the largest fleet engagements in the history of Zanzibar. More than a hundred war galleys, crewed and manned by more than 20,000 elves, drew up in two great lines before crashing into each other in a hail of arrows and sorcery. This time the Illuminexi held the center, with the huge and nigh unstoppable Aggredius serving as the tip of a spear that plunged deep into the Tenwalve center.
    Yet even as they pressed onward, the Dikashura flotillas on the wings were being pushed back by the Tenwalve and their allies, some of whose galleys started attacking the Illuminexi's flanks. Anchored by large bardori the Illuminexi line didn't fold, but did suffer under the pressure.

Then, for a moment, it looks as if the battle may turn as the lord of Nikata, Dikashura Katsega's admiral, pulls his battered fleet together and rejoins the battle... but ... to the horror and disgust of the Illuminexi, their former allies instead close the Tenwalve trap, sealing a total encirclement by the now united Fuzou fleet.

Resistance was furious, yet futile. Engaged on all sides, the bulk of its strength hemmed in behind its outermost ships, the Illuminexi collapsed and surrendered. One by one, their captains offered command of their ships to boarding parties bearing the pennants of any of the four major clans. Last to fall is the mighty Aggredius, where the Illuminexi admiral formally surrendered to Tenwalve Notoyushi himself

Yet if he thought the day had seen its fill of treachery, he was wrong. No sooner had the admiral surrendered his sword to his foe than he was cut down with it, supposedly with the words "the Dishakura send their regards."
    At that signal the yellow-skinned Fuzouan nobles began to slaughter their golden-skinned captives across the length and breadth of the fleet. Within minutes, the once-mighty navy of Phosnata is little more than a scarlet stain on the seas of Nagaoma, and its memorial a vast flock of carrion birds.

Word of the betrayal spread from that stain, born on the winds by trading ships to Conzanz, to Rat's Nest, to Biric... and to army camps in Illuminex. In a nation already ravaged by war the news of the betrayal, of the thousands of deaths, of the humiliation of losing their prized navy fell like a hammer blow. Nowhere did it fall harder than on the Cassander himself. Encamped with his army outside Adventus, drawn back from the Albed artillery installed in his people's most sacred of temples and the roving airships, Daerden Ascuta sat silently in his command tent as a halting messenger gave him the news. His dream of dominion east of the straits has collapsed in front of his eyes: without the portal to Dorwinion or his navy he can't even easily recall his primary legion, even as he fights to recapture his own homeland from the vengeful dwarfs and marauding Fae.

Back in Fuzou, the Cassander was completely disowned by his former ally. Dikashura Katsega bent the knee to Notoyushi and acknowledged the Tenwalve as the paramount clan of Fuzou. Whilst staying true to his principles, the priestly lord declared that he placed a higher value on peace and unity, and had come to see that his alliance with the foreign Illuminex had been a grievous mistake. He declared further that Ithil has faith in Notoyushi to lead their nation to glory, and that he would be proud to do his part.

Now united, the clans' fleet sails swiftly to the town of Kashu. After landing their army near the own they take it by storm, driving the local Har-ikki monks back to their monastery where Katsega, a prodigious sorcerer, proves his worth to his new master by reducing every last monk to ashes.

The road to the imperial city of Tammu now lay open. Messengers are dispatched to the imperial guard, but they find them as fractured as the rest of the capital and divided between numerous scheming factions. With the help of one such, led by a courtier related to the toppled Shizeta clan, the clans sailed straight into the holy city's harbour and disembark their forces. Street by street, the battle-hardened nobles and their mass of peasant oarsmen pushed back the monks of Eirya-ji to their mountain stronghold, where once again Katsega reduced them to dust and slag.

His example clearly made, Tenwalve Notoyushi ordered the complete submission to his paramountcy of all the inhabitants of Tammu. Few dared raise their voices with the nobility's troops thronging the streets, and in short order all the prominent citizens of the imperial capital had bent the knee to their new warlord. As the levies were dismissed, they were told to carry word to every corner of the isles: Fuzou is united! A new Narhû shall be chosen by Ithil! Preparations and all the ancient rituals have been started in Tammu. Order, safety and trade will be restored by the four great clans.

The only mar on Tenwalve Notoyushi's glorious ascent to power was the burning of Aiza. While the great noble fleets were off to bring order to Tammu, a similar gathering of flotillas from the freehold of Rat's Nest descended upon the island of Aiza, putting the town to the torch and carrying off many of its inhabitants, including the women and children of the noble house of Izai, in chains.
"On the fourth day the earthquakes hit."


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