In the past decade, the Compact has been no stranger to war. The memories of those battles ache like scars all over the continent from fealty to fealty. And it seems that war is not done with the Compact just yet.
The situation in the Mourning Isles, brewing for years as the end of thralldom as declared by Prince Victus Thrax and other changes to the closely-held traditions of the Islanders met opposition, boils over into civil war. Under the military leadership of Anders Nightcove, the traditionalist Houses of the Isles have attacked several Houses loyal to Thrax and promise to attack even more as a massive fleet of the allied traditionalist Houses prepares to take on the Thrax Leviathan in a war that is sure to leave the Mourning Isles devastated no matter who is the victor. Dagon Thrax has been placed a figurehead for the traditionalist movement after declaring his intention to reclaim his inheritance after having it usurped by Victus Thrax nearly a decade ago.
The Antidominus Waldo has been suspiciously quiet, leaving people to wonder what's up his sleeve or if he even has sleeves. Most of the members of the Faith have thrown in their support behind Dominus Aureth, but there is concern that the most Orthodox of the faithful, angry over the changes in the Faith in the past decade with the addition of new Gods and the rapid cycling of Faith leadership, could be persuaded to throw in with the Antidominus if he manages to present a convincing argument. The Faith can ill afford a widespread schism in such perilous times and so most hope that Waldo quietly disappears. Or at least stays quiet.
In the Oathlands, and the Crownlands, brutal attacks by the Abandoned on outlying villages have left the people anxious and fearing that their home might be the next to be destroyed. Princess Liara Grayson seem to be in a stronger position than ever, but few who saw what happened in Bastion can begrudge House Grayson their recovery even if the people of the Crownlands fear what might be to come from these emboldened Abandoned. As multiple attacks shake the Oathlands, Princess Alis Valardin finds herself facing similar fears and anxieties. Some take these attacks as a warning that the Abandoned are preparing for a war, just at the time that the Compact can least afford it. Many of the traditionalists in the Oathlands and Crownlands point to these increased Abandoned attacks as even more reason to secure the traditional Compact way of life through promises from the nobility to curb some of the most egregious of progressive behaviors that have swept through the Compact. Any commoner seeking elevation is quietly advised to put said hopes on hold for the foreseeable future.
In the Lyceum, many of the Hundred Cities are facing economic collapse as many Houses discover that their coffers are mysteriously lower than expected. In the face of a war on mutiple fronts in Compact and the predicted economic troubles that result, many Lycenes aren't just concerned, but outright panicking at the thought that one of the richest fealties in the Compact appears to have been built on an economic house of cards that has started to crumble. Many look to Archduchess Jaenelle Velenosa and the other ducal Houses of the Lyceum to see how the leadership will deal with this crisis.
While war can be devastating for many, those involved in the shadier dealings of the continent are seeing increased opportunities as their expertise in getting things in the right hands at the right time is sought out more than ever. Commoners, already exhausted by the wars of the past decade, aren't eager to fight in yet another, but take up arms willingly to protect their way of life and restore the fragile peace that has made the Compact so successful in the past.
On 11/19/1017 the loyalist houses of the Mourning Isles, following Prince Victus Thrax clashed with the rebel houses being spearheaded by House Nightcove. The battle occurred in the waters just north of Darkwater Watch. At first it was 'just' the Thraxian fleet versus Nightcove, Dredcall, Navegant, Bloodbrook and a mercernary fleet. But then more and more ships arrived to re-enforce the rebels original numbers, and as vassals of vassals arrived in open defiance and full rebellion, so too did other allies. Minor Crownlands houses, mostly vassals far down in House Shepherd's fealty chain that had marriage contracts arrived to fullfill their duties of 'military aide'.
And if all this wasn't enough, House Bloodbrook let loose Thraxian Fire into the naval battle. It raced through the ships, causing massive damage to both sides. Casualities were high and in one instance, Prince Romulius' ship exploded into flames moments after he and his entire crew lept into the water. Many are still eyeballing that incident with much curiosity but other wartime gossip has eclipsed it.
The rebel forces boarded and attacked the hospital ship manned by the Mercies of Lagoma and Knights of Solace. Some truly intractable people claim that the ship should have never sailed in with Prince Victus' fleet as it 'sent' a message. However the vast majority are utterly appalled anyone at all would attack the Mercies. The sentiment is so strongly held by both sides that it reportedly caused a massive fight at Nightcove's next war meeting. Lord Anders' was quoted as reportedly saying, "What kind of absolute idiot attacks the Mercies of Lagomas" which was very unusual for him because he usually keeps his temper firmly in check.
The next day, the captain and his firstmate are drawn and quartered. The rest of the crew is sentenced to a long period of thralldom that most likely will outlast their lives. A heft donation is also sent to the Mercies from House Nightcove.
In total, the losses to both sides exceeds 50,000 lives and dashes any remaining hopes that this conflict will be ended quickly and decisively. The waves of the Mourning Isles is tinted red with the blood of her people.
News starts to filter through the city that Marquis Magnus Stahlben and several House Stahlben guards have been killed by what is presumed to be bandits during a walk in the Gray Forest not too far outside of Arx. The Marquis himself is said to have been shot through the throat with an arrow.
It's a slow murmur through the city, the story of a Crafter walking through the cathedral courtyard and spying something spectacular attached to the bell-tower: a golden web of wire and lead crystal that stretches to the roof from the tower itself and how it caught the morning light in a spray of shimmering broken rainbows.
The artisan swore he was caught for a brief moment in its light, felt himself fill with euphoric warmth. Others speak of a similar experience, some vague in their descriptions and others verbose, mostly those of Crafters and artists of all paths, rambling about a sudden burst of ideas and needing to work -right now-, only to return later to stare at the web in open contemplation.
The guards and attendants stationed around the square, when questioned, offer no details other than to say that it's a piece of art, and 'sanctioned by the Dominus himself, of -course-'.
Somehow, the predictions of how bloody civil wars can be never quite live up to the actual horrors when one is faced with reality.
On 2/09/1018 House Redreeef and her assorted allies met at the sea forts protecting the county, putting together a formidable line of defense against the amassed forces of Dagonites en route to attack them. Military strategists will look back over the battle later and confirm that Baroness Ember was amply prepared for the struggle ahead of her, but sometimes external conditions prevail and a fight ends up bloodier than anyone could have predicted.
Houses Nightcove, Bleakshoal, and Bloodbrook arrived with forces equal to the loyalists and promptly engaged at sea. Nightcove landed troops on the strip of rocky land where House Eswynd was holding the sea fort. They were overwhelmed, with the rebels driving back the prodigal house, taking prisoners of war for thralls, and capturing Lady Medeia Eswynd. Her status remains unknown.
The rebels suffered the most serious losses, strangely enough, at the hands of House Halfshav. Commanders on both sides will be speaking of Lord Mirk's prowess at sea in the dead middle of winter in poor weather for months to come. Some Dagonite leaders are hiding behind the thin excuse that 'Northerners don't know how to sail properly, how were we supposed to prepare for that'.
Meanwhile, House Halfshav is receiving a lot of mail inquiring about Lord Mirk's military acumen while at sea. From both sides.
While bloody, the battle was turned on its head when Lord Baltus Darkwater arrived. His appearance was at first hailed with good cheer by the progressives, until he promptly turned his fleet of ships onto the //other// Darkwaters, creating a good deal of chaos and forcing the loyalist members of House Darkwater to call for a retreat.
With substantial losses being faced by all on the waves that day, House Redreef called for a retreat as well. There are none in the Mourning Isles who feel she should have stayed a second longer, and while the inevitable siege is not ideal, it is even less ideal to fight until the very last man is lost. Her decision is viewed as shrewd and practical; because everyone knows how difficult it is to take a holding that is entrenched in their castle.
Strategists point to the campaign to reclaim Whitefrost as a comparison point, where Grimkin has dug in and become a festering wound on the island.
With Redreef falling back, all others begin to disburse as well. Houses Halfshav, Proscipi, and Blackshore are the last to retreat and make the heroic decision to hold the line until the last second in order to cover their allies.
They're joined by Lord Wash Kennex, who sacrifices his own ship to buy more time. Significant losses are taken across the board, and the Kennex caraval that Lord Wash captains is lost fully, but what remains of the loyalist forces is able to escape. It's this decision that prevented the bulk of the fleet from being harried as they sailed to safety.
During and even in the wake of the battle, the Mercies are given the space to attend to the many injured that are taken from the sea or their ships. Their services are invaluable and are attributed to the great preservation of life.
As the war progresses, it's clear they'll be dearly needed. And now? The siege of House Redreef looms, an ominous inevitability.
While the Battle of Redreef Shores and the terrible losses suffered there dominates conversation in Arx, several reports filter in over the next few days that prove strange enough to find their own hold when that topic is briefly set aside.
The residents of Arrowrun, a sizable village roughly a day's ride from the Cloudspine, are awakened in the wee hours of the morning by a mild, yet inexplicably lingering earthquake that grows in intensity in fits and starts, lasting for nearly forty minutes and eventually becoming violent enough to collapse several buildings and split the main cobblestone street running through town so completely that carts and wagons are unable to use it at all. Quite a number of people report hearing a strange, nearly musical hum beneath the chaos. When the quake has ended and the villagers are able to assess the damage, they find two massive sinkholes nearly side by side at the edge of town that have half swallowed several houses. Even stranger, the quake appears to have been highly local, as Bearwell and Dustpoint, the two nearest settlements, claim they felt and heard nothing.
Stranger still, at least a dozen more sinkholes of varying sizes (though all of them large) are found in scattered spots throughout the Stoneburner Hills, along with numerous patches of flattened and shattered trees, and in one case, a barn torn completely from its foundations and left lying on its side, half of the building (and its entire contents) simply gone.
Strangest of all, however, is the half filled sinkhole found some distance from Pridehall. And the smaller, though still significantly sized sinkhole several days ride from Graypeak. And the hill that collapsed into a small valley near Gemecitta. When notes are compared, all agree that it is very strange indeed that these incidents seem to have occurred over the course of the same, single night.
News of what appears to be a mass abduction of villagers between Leaholdt and Graypeak makes its way to Arx. The actual number of people taken from their homes is unknown although estimates place the number within the range of 35 to 75. While a disappearance of that scale would surely be assumed to be staggered, reports indicate that the kidnappings were carried out around the same time across those regions.
A company of armed men and women followed the culprits to a village north of Graypeak in an attempt to rescue their loved ones and claimed to have been ambushed by many more of their number forcing a retreat. No rescue attempts or attempts to infiltrate the bandits' holding have been successful as of yet.
It hasn't been long since news of the mass abductions in the Crownlands reached the ears of the citizens of Arx. Tales of what happened when an intrepid group set off to the Crownlands in an attempt to rescue these commoners spreads fast across the city. The adventurers, among them - Katarina, Ailys, Ezra, Thea, Eirene, Ian, Felicia, Raven, Alantir, Preston, Caspian, Tesha, Vitalis, Giorgio and Gaspard, traced the bandits to a modest holding north of Graypeak which was heavily guarded by some of their number. Fighting their way through when it became clear that a parley was not in the cards, they found the victims tied to altars within the holding, surrounded by their captors. While they found themselves overwhelmed when the chief of the band of shavs arrived to dispel the would-be heroes, a turning point came when Dame Felicia Harrow forced the leader to retreat (although the specifics are unclear), sacrificing herself in the process. Though they did not emerge unscathed, the adventurers were able to rescue the vast majority of the captives and offer their wounded aide before returning them to their loved ones. Save for the leader, not one of the vile bandits escaped with their lives, with the surviving shavs awaiting judgement.
News from the Mourning Isles is bleak, as would be expected from a civil war spanning across the entire region. Bloodshed and fighting has erupted in numerous domains, with no end in sight.
New Hope in particular faces a grim struggle. Blackshore's army has faced dwindling numbers and support in trying to recapture the capital of Tresova, and still needs to take the strongly defended Bloodstone castle. Greywalke still dominates the waters around New Hope, rumors of collaboration with the Dagonites and discontent at home over the Tresovan campaign plague the Blackshores.
Some hope can be found in the campaign to reclaim Whitefrost. The Leviathan annihilated Grimkin's fleet south of Whitefrost and has established a war camp outside Tidewatch. Grimkin continues to control the capital, but lacks access to critical supply lines and is preparing for a siege once the ice thaws. It's rumored the Grimkins have withdrawn to their home march in hopes of buoying their ship numbers by spring.
At Scorched Rock, the Windfires remain a neutral voice in the civil war. Scholar Timofey Navegant, who currently does not want to be associated with his family of origin and reminds everyone he is GODSWORN now, weighs in on the implications of a neutral House Windfire. While all three of Helianthus' vassals are dangerous in their own right, Scorched Rock is particularly wealthy. To have that monetary support thrown in with Dredcall and Nightcove (along with their fleet) would spell near certain disaster for Sungreet.
Scholar Timofey goes on to comment that the march could swing their support to either side at any time, but that it's notable they did not after the last ball. There are still surprises in the world.
As the smoke clears and the fires finally gutter out in Artshall, the extent of the damage becomes clear. Nearly a third of the city's population has been lost to the attack and the subsequent fires. The city itself is little more than rubble and melted stone, but salvagable, especially since many of the initial surveyors notice that the soil in the wake of the fires is richer and darker. How strange. The outlying villages and farms were virtually unscathed which means that Artshall doesn't lack the resources to rebuild. House Laurent only needs time and labor.
Rumors abound about the battle itself, with many dismissing the horrifying accounts of the traumatized survivors regarding monsters roaming the streets at the behest of a woman with a blood red bow and a deadly wasp attack led by a strange man with a cigarillo in his mouth. The Traditionalists of the Oathlands and beyond see this attack as retaliation against Duke Cristoph for his successful quelling of the Abandoned threat within his own borders. They simply believe that the shavs, already dangerous, are simply growing more sophisticated and reckless in their attacks. Any reports of dragons assisting in the battle on the Compact's side are waved away as pure nonsense and the result of a chaotic night leading the minds of those who suffered to create fantastic explanation for the horror and trauma they have suffered.
In the days following the attack, the Compact, and, surprisingly, many of its foreign allies, reach out in support of House Laurent and Artshall, just further proving that no matter how far the fall, the Compact stands again.
In the weeks following the defense of Eswynd Rock, a new battle report circulates. This one is penned entirely by Godsworn Scholar Timofey Navegant and he writes: "If the accounts are even remotely accurate, the battle was a furious and bracing affair! The combined fleets of Eswynd, Saik, Igniseri, Tyde, Thrax, Kennex, and Proscipi met and defeated a large showing of Navegant, Dredcall, Greywalke, and Nightcove forces! The traditionalist fleets were already at a slight disadvantage from the repeated harrying of their approach, a directive given and executed by Lord Haakon. But one of the largest surprises of the fight came when Giorgio Proscipi entered the fray, somehow managing to surprise an enemy that is normally well informed. We're /still/ trying to work out /exactly/ /how/ he hid ALL of those ships."
The report goes on a bit longer talking in even greater specifics, "Lady Neilda Saik is credited for her spectacular command in battle, as exciting a showing as Lord Mirk's sudden brilliant work on the sea outside of Redreef Shores. Still, we're all a little less shocked because at least House Saik has a /proper/ navy."
And then, "And if this report should fall into the hands of my idiot brother Lord Dewy Navegant, I have just this to say: WHAT ARE YOU DOING? GET OUT."
Actually, that's stricken from the official report but it still manages to make its way into circulation anyhow. There's more still, "The capture of Lord Isar Dredcall is an interesting move on the part of Prince Jasher. We wonder if he'll use him to attempt to reclaim Reafian? Or extract vital enemy information? News on both House Thrax's lost blade and the Dredcall man are slim. Rumor from Maelstrom is that he's is still gravely injured, and that it's taking him longer than expected to recover from his injuries. But his loss, along with the loss of Greywalke's commander saw to it that the tide of battle was turned that day. Grave injuries were attributed to both sides, but Eswynd Rock stands free, and eyes turn to Stormward. Where word circulates danger may strike next."
With war in the Mourning Isles raging all the hotter, it's no surprise that it's the reigning topic of conversation in Arx. For a time the more prolific gossips attempt to one up each other with increasingly sensational stories of sea battles, heroic ship-to-ship duels to the death, and the unfortunate fate of all the rebels that attacked Eswynd Rock (eaten, of course, as is House Eswynd tradition), only to grow frustrated when they find those stories repeated back to them. In what must have been a truly desperate grasp for relevance from the originator, a story circulates briefly about a hunter from the Telmarch who claims that a sudden earthquake left her half sunk, and she was forced to spend hours digging herself out while the ground continued to shake, and some sort of incomprehensible thundering and smashing went on all around her. Once she finally managed to get free, she found the entire surrounding area full of shattered trees and cracked boulders, along with what she swears on her life was the massive skeleton of...something, with arms longer than its legs, long curved canines and a skull that looked very vaguely human - though certainly nothing so large could actually be - freshly and completely picked clean. Of course, the very idea is absurd, the entire matter swiftly dismissed as the result of a prank or far, far too much drinking, and while the gossips delight in saying so, they can't help but pile on more and more details with the telling, and the size of the fake yet mysterious skeleton is somehow larger every time.
This almost entirely drowns out the brief flutter about a few more sinkholes (and one shallow, collapsed cave system), newly discovered a few days north of Blancbier, as these are, apparently, bereft of fictional skeletons.
A report comes from Arx, penned by Scholar Timofey Navegant once again:
"A formidable battle took place outside of Stormward where House Kennex rallied to meet the rebel forces hoping to drive them back to their keep. Their allies stood with them, fleets from Houses: Darkwater, Grimhall, Saik, Thrax, Malespero, Blackshore, Telmar, and Igniseri, as well as the Isles Canines.
They were faced with ships sailing the flags of Nightcove and Greywalke and, much to my sorrow, House Navegant. Lord Arseny Greywalke commanded the fleet of his house in place of his late father, who was lost in the battle for Eswynd Rock. Lord Waylan once again sailed for House Nightcove. And Marquis Turo, as well as Lord Dewy, sailed in command of their respective armies.
Lord Wash Kennex, a sailor with few peers, is primarily credited with an opening gambit that was so successful it set the stage for the rest of the encounter.
Traditionalists across the Mourning Isles have expressed surprise to see Lady Tesha Telmar commanding a fleet, and even more to the degree of capability she displayed. Her prowess at sea is associated with loyalists maintaining an advantage at a critical time in the battle.
Rumors are circulating from House Navegant of a madman that rushed Lord Dewy's ship, fought his way past numerous well-armed soldiers, and broke into the galley's hold to begin releasing thralls.
They say it was Champion and Liberator Caspian Wild that dared such a feat. But no one stopped and asked him for his name at the time, too stunned were they by the man's nerves."
Scholar Timofey goes on to write:
"Stormward deftly repelled the attack at their doors, buying them months of safety and security to hold onto as the war continues to churn on. But there was one notable development that should bring concern not only to Duke-Regent Aethan Kennex, but to his immediate family.
The Duke brought low Lord Waylan Nightcove, killing him in battle. It's a fate that could happen to any participant in this war and one that's to be expected. But the Marquis of Eastcrest has taken the death of his youngest brother poorly and has issued a statement to the leader of Stormward. It's short, simple, and concerning:
"As you have torn from me something beloved, I will take from you the same. Before this war is over, I will deliver the heads of both your brothers to your door."
That one of the Duke's brothers is an Archlector of the Faith means the Faith likely won't take too kindly to this threat. And gossip from Eastcrest is that the only thing stopping the enraged Marquis from immediately raising a force to sail to Stormward (again) personally is Lord Anders, somehow talking his cousin down from such a catastrophic mistake.
I'm afraid that the wounds the Mourning Isles will suffer in this war may not heal for generations to come."
The civil war in the Mourning Isles has dragged on now for months and months. The landscape is looking better for Prince Victus and his followers than some might have originally anticipated, but it's far from a winning one yet. There will be more battles and acts of war before this is all through.
Redreef Shores itself is under imminent attack. Landing parties from Houses Nightcove, Dredcall, Greywalke, Bloodbrook, Grimkin, and other less important houses that have not distinguished themselves, have been spotted finding places to secure a toehold before they make a move on the keep itself. Trade is drastically down in the area as they attack any that look like they might be on their way to relieve the Redreefs.
Stormward and Eswynd Rock succeeded in repelling the forces in their waters and are likely able to launch a quick counter-offensive for the time that their waters aren't infested with the enemy.
Grimkin are bogged down in a nasty fight with what's left of Whitefrost's resistance, finding them far more difficult to deal with than anticipated. Their hopes to launch an attack on Tyde from such a close stronghold seem to be dashed for now.
Meanwhile, it sounds as if Dredcall and Blookbrook may be interested in treating for their captured soldiers and relatives. But what changes that bring remain to be seen.
Some wonder where Prince Dagon and Lord Anders have been throughout the last several months as they haven't been witnessed at any of the primary battles. Word eventually circulates from one of Scholar Timofey's war reports, that both of the men have been spotted in numerous reconnaissances missions, indicating most large tactical decisions have been coming from them.
Further, Lord Anders has been witnessed leaving Eastcrest, and his cousin the Marquis, has ceased his threats against the Brothers Kennex.
Many have awaited a declaration from Prince Dagon in regards to House Thrax's sword, Reafian. But the blade's whereabouts remain unknown.
For now, war marches on. And the Faith sails to Escuma to put heretics to rest, their fleet numbers bolstered by Houses Velenosa and Valardin.
The days and weeks following the Faith's siege on Navegant see a blur of activity on the island of Escuma. The most notable is that Marquis Turo is taken into custody by the Faith, and transported, presumably to Arx, to answer for his behavior.
On the island itself, the Templars of Gloria round up every single Godsworn on Escuma, including the Seraph and load them onto a ship to be dealt with at the Carnifex's leisure,
A new Seraph, with strong ties to Dominus Aureth is installed and the barracks of the Templars of Gloria and the Knights of Solace replaced, again, with people loyal to the sitting Dominus. Rumors swirl that some Orazians have landed on Escuma, mixing in with the Godsworn and lending their assistance.
Marquessa-consort Arcelia, her children, Lord Dewy and others are being kept at the keep under lock and key.
They're the problem of the Kennex family, and the Faith babysits them only as long as it takes for Duke Aethan to arrive with his navy. Once Kennex is in the harbor, the Faith's presence wraps up and returns to a more "normal" volume of troops.
As for who will lead Escuma now, the Compact looks to Duke Aethan for that answer.
As autumn takes hold of the Compact, ships bearing representatives of House Igniseri and House Bloodbrook are reported to have met twice at a small island belonging to the Crown about one day's travel from the capitol. It is known that Marquessa Quenia Igniseri brought Princess Denica Thrax, Lady Zoey Kennex, Lady Scythia Redreef, Lady Tesha Telmar, and Lady Enyo Malvici with her to the first meeting to negotiate the return of about two dozen Bloodbrook sailors that had been captured during the battle at Redreef Shores many months prior. The second meeting, occurring two weeks later, is said to have seen those prisoners exchanged for a near equal number of Eswynd prisoners that Bloodbrook had claimed in the failed siege of Eswynd Rock. This is supported by reports of several days of revelry spilling out from Eswyndol and into Crimson Square.
Around this same time, word comes that Bloodbrook has withdrawn their ships from those that have maintained blockade around Redreef Shores. Though no immediate reason is given, at least one source claims the economic strain has become too much; their navy is spread too thin across too many fronts in the war.
One question in all of this sends Lycene tongues wagging: Why are people whispering "Malvici Menace" in reference to Enyo?
It's been nearly two weeks since the Eclipse of Mirrors, long enough that even those that make a point of not paying attention to such trivial things have started to notice that the moon's looking a bit...reddish. A joke has started making the rounds among the Lycene that this clearly means the Mirror Masquerade celebrations should be ongoing (some of the jokers seem to be joking a bit less than the others), and it curiously tends to be told around particularly traditional Oathlanders. There aren't many scholars that devote significant time to studying the movement and patterns of the skies, it being below concern for most Arvani that aren't sailors or pathfinders, but those that do speculate that the moon's continuous presence coupled with this new occurrence must be part of an extremely rare years-long celestial phenomenon, with some daring to suggest, generally to light mockery, that it may not be a once in several centuries event, but an entirely new one, pointing to the absence of any mention of such a thing in archival records.
Some poetry is written, some songs are sung, and artists have a new source of inspiration. A few people just generally find it a bit creepy. Regardless of how much attention it's given by individuals, however, the general consensus among the populace is that it's interesting, but certainly temporary, even if "temporary" may be a bit longer than is necessarily comfortable. Even if it seems as though sometimes the moon looks just as it did before the Eclipse, before the touch of red returns. Even if it really is a little strange that the moon hasn't started setting again. Even if some of them have started having very, very bad dreams.
Things will go back to normal, they say. They always do.
Somewhere near the border between the Crownlands and the Lyceum, a shooting star streaks across the night sky and falls to earth.
Months pass in Redreef Shores with little change. The rebel forces settle down to besiege the island and cause a blockade. Some strikes are taken from archers from the walls or catapults from ground forces. People start to conserve food to fight off the hunger, fights start to break out, loyalties are questioned. The typical make up of any long siege.
Bloodbrook's withdrawal from the blockade is the first sign that luck may not entirely be against the Redreefs. Malespero manage to ship supplies, food and combatants with a bit of Lycene trickery that leaves Bleakshoal the recipient of permanent mockery. Finally, Kennex leads a full on assault, supported by loyalist Darkwaters, on the rebels besieging Redreef which leaves many dead, even more wounded and numerous ships aflame. In the end only Nightcove and rebellious Darkwater forces remain. The former of which retreated in the face of Redreef's defence and being outnumbered by loyalists.
In the end, the siege is lifted, but some Darkwater ships under Lord Baltus, feigned a retreat to station ships not far from the shores to hit other ships sailing to the domain, impeding trade. It appears not all enemies can be taken care of in one swoop.
It has perhaps felt like an age of bloodshed since the war in the Mourning Isles had started properly. In that time, the tides have turned against the traditionalists after a series of narrowly lost battles and failed sieges. Eswynd's brutal raids on Dredcall lands, along with the capture of their most acclaimed commander, Isar Dredcall in battle, have prompted the leaders of the House to draw back temporarily to recuperate and appease the masses.
A narrow victory from the loyalists in the defence of the Tydelands forced a retreat or "tactical withdrawal" from the attacking rebel houses. A more decisive victory against Grimkin ended with the death of Marquis Grimkin at the hands of Duke Valdemar Grimhall and the death of Prince Dagon Thrax (formerly Duke Dagon Tyde) - the claimant for the seat of High Lord - by the arrow of Dacian Krosse, allowing Prince Jasher Thrax to reclaim the Sword of Thrax, Reafian. Grimkin's March has been retaken by the loyalists while the rebels allied with Grimkin fled on their remaining ships.
Naturally the traditionalists have taken this series of failures to reconsider their options. There are whispers that a not insignificant number of houses have been contemplating "re-opening negotiations".
In the Northlands, minor tremors were felt coming from the Everwinter. Felt as far as Farhaven, the small earthquake rattled buildings and knocked plenty of things off shelves, but did no serious damage and no loss of life. A relief that it wasn't a major earthquake, however unnerving it might be.
A ridiculous story is making the rounds, though many Arx gossips, suddenly overcome with an unearned concern for responsible reporting, will hardly touch it. A sizable town in House Nightgold's lands named Kinallen is said to have simply vanished, along with all its inhabitants. Some storytellers embelish further, claiming the merchant road leading to and through the town is also gone. Not destroyed, they insist. Gone. And still others claim Kinallen isn't the first; there was some tiny village named Littlebreak that vanished about a year ago, they say, and an outpost of the Knights of Solace that was lost a few months after that.
Both local authorities and suddenly responsible gossips are firm in their declaration that this is absurd, that it's not even an exaggeration of an actual shav attack, but something that has been entirely made up from top to bottom. There never was any village named Littlebreak. There never was a Knights of Solace outpost that far out. There never was any town named Kinallen, and that road has always been a dead end.
Some people will believe anything. That old forest has always been there.
Victory for the loyalists! But not without cost. The events of the second battle at Sungreet are sure to remain ingrained in the participants' brains for eternity, no matter how much they'd wish to scrub the memory. It had seemed an easy victory in the beginning, given the dwindling forces of the traditionalists thanks to the diplomatic efforts that had prompted a ceasefire from many traditionalists houses in the wake of Prince Dagon's death and numerous losses. Houses Dredcall, Nightcove, Lostlan, the Darkwater rebels and some minor baronies seemed willing to keep the fight going. Even if they were to lose, they would lose with honor knowing that they served a righteous cause...
While Waldo's arrival was not a complete surprise given many had expected a confrontation with the so-called 'Anti-Dominus' at some point. Very, very few had expected him to arrive heralded by a storm cloud (which no scholar had predicted) and few hundred ships bearing shavs with their unfamiliar emblems. What had come as even more of a surprise is that the shavs began to fire on their traditionalist 'allies' as well as the loyalists. What had proceeded was a blood bath. Some captains began to drop dead from some malady and/or drown, depending on who tells the tale. Some insist that the malady had caused spontaneous dehydration and that the were drownings due to the expelled bodily fluids but others are pretty sure this madness brought on by shock. Still, they do not seem inclined to rethink what they saw, even after the fact.
The shav ships did not fare much better as an unseen assailant, shrouded by the mist, tore many of their number to shreds in increasingly grotesque ways that many struggle to describe. The assailant seems to have seen the murders as a form of 'artwork' and no one has yet claimed them as their own.
A turning point came when numerous traditionalists, realising their hopes of an honorable victory were lost given their Anti-Dominus was allying with their dreaded enemies, were swayed to side with the loyalists to defeat the shavs and the anti-Faith. All but Nightcove. For while these impassioned pleas were being expressed, Countess Ember Redreef expressed her desire to butcher Admiral Anders Nightcove, followed by the man, along with his soldiers', subsequent drowning. Or as some more imaginative folk would claim, 'dehydration followed by melting into a puddle of goo'. The Nightcove forces, horrified by this turn of events, turned their rage to the Redreef fleet, keen on vengeance for their Admiral's demise. The strange Orazian Loyalists known as the Orazian Sentinels has snuck into battle with Waldo's fleet, only to turn on the man's forces for vengeance for their beloved Dominus.
With a majority of the traditionalists turning their attentions to the shavs and Waldo, Nightcove locked in battle with Redreef and Eswynd, the Orazian Sentinels attacking and overtaking the anti-Faith's fleet, luck seemed to turn around for the loyalists. After an extended and excruciating fight, the Anti-Dominus' ship was overrun and Waldo was brought before High Lord Victus himself. Between calls for justice (in whatever form) from the Orazian loyalists, a fair trial from some of the loyalists and a swift execution from others, Victus had quite a selection of choices. Admonishing Waldo for his acts that had claimed the lives of many, the High Lord swiftly brought his alaricite axe down and freed the man's head from his body, hanging the head on the prow of his ship on his return home.
Traditionalist forces were given the choice of kneeling and swearing to end thralldom in their domains or face a similar justice. Around 30% of their forces had refused to fully submit and were executed to send a message that the High Lord takes abolition very seriously. The surviving Nightcove forces had retreated, presumably to their domain, and seem to be the sole traditionalist house that refuses to submit.
All, in all, it was a successful, albeit costly and very, very confusing endeavor.
Given Arx's location so very near the sea, storms are not unusual, especially during the shift of spring into summer. So, at first, no one seems concerned when dark clouds gather out at sea. As usual, the citizens of the city hunker down and prepare to wait out the storm, which is usually mercifully brief.
Yet as the dark clouds sweep over the city of Arx, the strength of the storm is something of a surprise as heavy rain, strong winds, and rumbling thunder make the city streets almost impassable save for the bravest and most determined of travellers. Even worse, the storm lingers, leaving some ships stranded on the docks and preventing the arrival of other ships. Even worse, there are some ships that are missing and have not been accounted for, along with their crews.
The stormy weather is the most common topic of conversation whether it be lamenting a flooded garden or speculating on when the storm might end. Temples in the city see an increase in activity as some choose to beseech the gods to turn off the rain for a bit so that the city can dry out, particularly as the storm rages on and there seems to be no end in sight...
Arx endures the strength of the storm, but the longer that those dark clouds drop endless rain on the city, the more its people begin to suffer the consequences. Flooding and accidents are rampant. While the upper parts of the city also have to deal with the excessive water, no part of the city floods worse than the Lowers and, by extension, the Pravus Ward. Only the valiant efforts of the Lowers denizens keep that part of the city relatively safe while the organization of House Pravus and its vassals do the same for their Ward.
The closed markets, empty for days due to the storm, mean that many merchants and middlemen suffer the economic cost of the storm as well. They aren't the only ones. Dockworkers cannot work in the thundering rain and miss their wages. Ship captains with perishable goods in their ships' holds face financial loss, maybe even ruin. Even the highest eschelons of the city are not spared as the flooding leaves some of the great manors and compounds of the wealthy almost uninhabitable.
Many citizens turn to the gods in such a time. The shrines of Mangata, Gild, and even the Sentinel are crowded with far more supplicants than usual. The Faith may appreciate the increase in the faithful and their generous donations, but even the clergy begins to fear that if their prayers aren't answered soon, the people might begin to blame the gods for the deluge instead.
After a night of the strongest winds and fiercest rain yet in the course of the storm, the dawn comes with sun and the beginnings of blue skies as the dark clouds sweep back out to the sea. Now that messengers are able to reach out to the further reaches of the Compact, it becomes apparent that the rest of the kingdom did not suffer from such a storm. People might find it strange and, perhaps, privately wonder if this is the response of the gods to the recent conflicts that have rocked the Mourning Isles, but as the city of Arx begins to recover from the damage of the storm, most don't try to wonder too hard about the cause as much as cleaning up the aftermath.
It's not at all uncommon for Sunaia to take off with little warning, spending days, even weeks impulsively wandering the wild lands; though, certainly, it's been much less frequent since she married into Malespero. Because of this, it's only the lack of *any* warning that seems a little bit unusual this time.
The guards stationed at Arx's Seawatch gate remember her heading out. She seemed lighthearted, packed for a journey. She even waved to them before disappearing up the road. Nothing about it was particularly strange. She just simply never came back. There's no trace of her passage. No tracks. No witnesses. No body. No sign of any sort of disturbance. It's only several weeks later that a single vague report filters down from a village near Stonedeep that a woman matching Sunaia's description passed through, stopping only to resupply. She told the merchant that she was heading further north, and then left humming an unfamiliar tune.
She's not seen again.
When the sun next rises over Arx, every single elfblight orchid in the city, every last one, is found blackened and completely rotted. Not even bulbs have been spared. The only exceptions to this are the ones that have bloomed in the Grayson gardens for generations, and it inspires a few brief almost-jokes over House Grayson being jealous of the flower's proliferation in the past decade or so. Still, the city's gardeners are at a complete loss as to the real reason for the sudden die off.
The city of Arx's recent storms that brought the city commerce and goings-on to a halt is not the only weather that has made many anxious and worried. In the North, an unseasonable chill seems to have lingered from Winter all through Spring and into the Summer. Of course, it isn't the only cold snap that the North has had to endure, but the length of it sets the people of the Redrain fealty on edge. Late sowing means late harvests. Longer cold seasons are difficult on livestock. No one really worries about widespread famine thanks to the careful efforts of Princess Gwenna Redrain, but how long can even the princess with her head for numbers and prodigious ability to plan ahead hold that off if the cold persists into the next year? Many dismiss these worries as silly. The weather will right itself. It always has before.
On the eve of war, a good leader looks after their people and ensures their safety before seeking out glory on the battlefield. It's one of the first lessons that every noble in the Compact learns about their duties. Princess Gwenna Redrain seems to exemplify the very best of what this lesson is meant to teach. Under her guidance, not only has the North acquired a system of watchtowers and way-stations that are threaded throughout the land in record time, but she contributes a great deal of effort in fortifying the other Houses of the North as well. In addition, with the help of her cousins and house servants and allies, many of the most vulnerable villages and holdings have been convinced to evacuate to safer domains until the threat of attack passes. The sheer logistics of moving people and resources to where they are needed might end in frustration for less capable hands, but Gwenna manages to make it look effortless. As word of what Redrain has accomplished spreads through the Compact, some wonder if the princess might be guiding her House into a resurgence of power after so much loss and suffering, something that many thought would have been impossible a decade ago and now begin to wonder at the possibilities.
The tragedy at Artshall was a blow for the Oathlands. While most assume that even someone as insane as this shav warlord, Helena Thornweave, wouldn't dare attack Sanctum, the destruction of the Laurent city seems just as much of a sucker punch. In the aftermath of the invasion, the people of Artshall grieve and begin to rebuild with the support of House Valardin watching over them as they reconstruct their fallen walls. The presence of the Valardin forces discourages much of the looting and vandalism that occurred in Bastion and the rebuilding of the city continues apace.
Princess Alis' decision to send another portion of Valardin's forces to fortify the city of Riva isn't exactly frowned upon, after all the Rivenshari bent the knee and are entitled to the protection of their liege lord as duty commands, but prejudice against Abandoned runs deep in the Oathlands and the protection of a Prodigal House over any of the many traditional ones is regarded warily. There are no outright protests against it beyond whispers, but many within the Compact are watching closely to see if Alis guessed correctly that the Thornweave army might march on Riva and don't dare speculate what might happen if she is wrong and a more traditional House is attacked instead. After all, while House Thrax might have won their civil war, the losses that the Mourning Isles sustained have weakened it for a generation. Can any of the other Great Houses in the Compact afford the same?
Since the Fall of Bastion, Princess Liara Grayson has been seen as a pillar of strength in the face of tragedy that would crumple those with a lesser will and determination. It is no surprise that her vassals come out in force as banners are called and the great army that assembles on the banks of the Gray River is impressive even to those who aren't inclined to view House Grayson very favorably. Most of her soldiers and vassals assume that this shav warlord wouldn't dare attack now that the assembled forces of the fealty are on display. Bastion was a surprise attack. The Crownlands seem determined not to be surprised in such a way again.
Yet the attacks on smaller holdings and villages continue and the slower moving Grayson army only seems to move in the shadow of the Thornweave forces. Despite this, Princess Liara, Duchess Lisebet, and Marquis Thesarin maintain the morale of their armies and their faith that, in the end, the Compact will prevail against this madwoman. Yet, whispers do seep out from the Gray Forest that, while Helena Thornweave might not be advancing on the more powerful Houses, she is still destroying and desecrating the lands of the minor nobles of the more isolated reaches of the Gray Forest. While the taxes from such places are a mere drop in a bucket compared to the mass of House Grayson's wealth, these places have often been the first line of defense against Abandoned incursions in the past. Many start to fear that even when the Compact wins this war, that the Gray Forest is going to be left vulnerable to the shav vultures that are just waiting to exploit their perceived weakness.
As dawn breaks, word begins to spread that Old Oak has fallen to Helena Thornweave. Though no bodies were found, Marquessa Samantha Deepwood appears to be missing as is most of the Deepwood family. A few survivors trickle into Arx and fewer of them survive the day. A pall of fear and uncertainty hangs over the city as it mourns the loss of another holding of the Compact.
Riders arrive in the dead of the night, conveying that there has been movement through the Gray Forest heading toward Arx. As dawn approaches, more riders arrive to deliver the news that the armies of Helena Thornweave have cut a path right through the forest from the west bank of the Mother River just before it empties into the sea heading toward the city of Arx, leaving nothing but desolation in their wake like locusts devouring the harvest. As preparations are made, the Compact holds its breath.
As the battle rages outside of the city walls, those within them, paralyzed by fear, see the rising swarm of huge insects rise and try to push past the defenders and over the city walls. There are screams of terror and yet... well before being able to land, the insects push up against some sort of invisible barrier and disintegrate in a brilliant flash of light that illuminates the night sky for a moment.
In one last huge blaze of fire, hot enough to singe the hair of anyone within several feet of the wall of flames, a huge dome of fire expands like a bubbl, growing and growing until the screams of the insects and creatures dying within it reach a crescendo, but there is one voice that is louder, one voice that screams into the darkness from the middle of that writhing mass of fire and dying monsters out one single word. A name.
The heat intensifies, the fire reaches up as it if would touch the stars and then... it dies.
In the days after the battle just outside Arx's walls, the smoke (both literal and figurative) clears and reveals the aftermath. While the Compact can easily claim a victory, it has not come without a heavy price. Sir Amund Monrosa and Lord Cillian Blackwood were both lost in the fight with Helena Thornweave. Their bravery is lauded upon the lips of every Arx citizen and citizen of the Compact who can sleep a bit easier now, knowing that the world is just a little safer without that woman being in it. Lord Ian Kennex, Princess Katarina Valardin, Raja Culler, Marquessa Dominique Wyrmguard, Lord Vitalis Clement, a woman named Raven, Prince Aindre Grayson, Countess Acantha Clearlake, Lord Kastelon Keaton, and Aksel Nygard also helped fight against the warlord, with several suffering from serious injuried in the fight though all are expected to recover.
It is further said that Auda Florin was also somehow involved in the battle, though her actions are more rumor than fact with many claiming that the woman tricked Helena Thornweave and helped the Compact deliver a victory against her.
Regardless, the people of the Compact are determined to show their gratitude for the sacrifices made.
The armies of the Compact, particularly those of House Riven and House Grayson are also commended by the people of the Compact and anyone wearing any sort of soldier's uniform is likely to find themselves drowning in free drinks should they stop by any of the taverns in the city. Though injuries were sustained, it is believed that the intervention of Cardian Tribune Petraea Livy, who lost her life in the act, was instrumental in limiting the number of lives lost and injuries taken in the defense of Arx's walls. While the area that she set fire is still smoking in the winter cold, many believe that a little bit of charred forest is a small price to pay for the safety of the Compact's citizens.
Somewhere in the Mourning Isles, roughly near Redreef Shores, there's reports of an earthquake. Doesn't appear to be much damage from any large waves afterwards fortunately, just large tremors that faded quickly.
Word spreads quickly that Baroness Lucita Saik gave an impromptu concert at the Black Fox, and opinions are nigh universal that it was very lovely, if unexpected. They're much more mixed on the actual song that was performed. Pretty, certainly, but more than a few complain that the lyrics were rather *dire* for the occasion.