1. The Republic of Arakesh
“I still remember when Uncle Ibrahim announced the Empire’s withdraw in Schala’s Square. I mean, that goes without saying. Everyone knows where they were when they heard we’d won. And everyone’s read the speech these days — it’s a good speech. Nobody’s going to be forgetting that in a hurry. No, what I remember is when he finished, and they burst out cheering. And, with Arakesh free for the first time in hundreds of years, he muttered to me: ‘And now for the tricky part.’”
– Armad bin Zahn, Memoirs of a Revolutionary
The Empire pulls out of Arakesh, and shows no signs of intending to return. Arakesh stops being a rebellion, and starts being a nation. The leaders of the Rebellion establish a democratic republic in Arakesh, making it the first nation since ancient times to grant universal sufferage to its citizens.
There is still much to do. Arakesh’s infrastructure has been gutted by the war; there are dissident factions within the Senate; there is the prickly international situation.
In time, the Blazer population of Arakesh grow rapidly: Neumann’s Blazer soldiers who fought in the rebellion are recognised as heroes, and wear their Etherite crystals as a badge of pride.
Blazer deserters from the Legions and refugees flock to Arakesh. They prove an increasingly influential demographic. Arakesh becomes the first nation to legally recognise a marriage between human and Blazer.
2. Victory in Riverport
“And oh, did you see all the dead of Malacalta?
All the bellies, and the bones, and the bile?"
– excerpt from ‘Malacalta’, concept album by political musician Jack of Riffs
Unladen by heavy weaponry, Imperial troops move through the Riverport countryside at a lightning rate for two days, and it looks as though they will be at the city gates by the time the Jack of Flights arrives. Granted, the troops no longer have any of their siege weaponry, but the gates of Riverport are defended by only a token force in the aftermath of the battle between Vito and Roderigo, and the Jack of Flights is still returning from Seflheim.
On the second day, however, something happens. Somehow, news of the missing crown has reached the Imperial Legions, and they hesitate. The army billet themselves in several rural villages while the brass plan what to do next, including a fairly unremarkable place called Malacalta.
This is the move that loses them the war.
In what historians will later dub the Malacalta Massacre, a group of Jacks infiltrate the village and do what they do best: kill the commanders, light the place up, and execute people as they flee.
It’s not a war-winning move, by any reach. The Jacks don’t get all of the army’s command, and they don’t kill even a tenth of its troops. What they do achieve, however, is slowing its advance. By the time the Legions have sorted out a chain of command and spent time rooting out potential saboteurs from their own ranks, it is four days later and the Jack of Flights is raining firebombs onto the villages where the Legions are billeted.
Malacalta, Osterizzia, and Calpo aren’t rebuilt. The ruins, and the mass graves by the villages, are said to be haunted by restless spirits to this day.
“We wanted freedom, and he gave it to us. Perhaps we should have asked what the price would be. But if we had, there is always the danger that we wouldn’t have been willing to pay it.”
– excerpt from Thorni Snevisson: Granite King, by Tarkin Igreksson
The Dwarven uprising in Dourmoor has made staggering gains over the past few weeks. They now hold most of the countryside, and have the four major cities of Dourmoor under siege.
But it is now that they start to run into problems of their own. Dourmoor becomes plagued by strange insectoid wolves: although they are little threat to a fortified military unit, they breed rapidly, make lone transport hazardous and ravage Dourmoor’s farms, hitting Netherfael’s supply lines hard.
Meanwhile, the Doomguard, some sort of magitech golem, starts to roam the countryside slaughtering anybody it comes across. Netherfael sends a crack troop of agents to defeat the golem, consisting of Duch, a trained tracker, Oglaf, an expert in magitech, and Mod 32, a golem of their own.
Duch’s first shot drives a hole inches wide right through the Doomguard’s chestplate, but the golem’s power is immediately revealed: with a flash of light there are now two Doomguard where once there was one. Both wearing identical scars from Duch’s volley, but both also charging towards her an an alarming rate.
Then with a tinny-sounding Dwarven war anthem, the Doomguard are intercepted by several tons of angry, charging robot. Mod’s razor claws rapidly wrestle them to the ground, but the Doomguard continue to replicate and rapidly dogpile Mod, methodically taking it to pieces.
The Doomguard, now a small crowd, rise to their feet and continue their charge towards Duch, a target eminently unsuited for melee. Realising the danger she’s in, Duch darts away, but the horde are too fast for her.
Until Oglaf steps out from behind a rock and unleahes a magitech missile at the centre of the crowd, scattering them. The magitech device at the core of one of the Doomguard cracks, and arcs of power leap between the charging golems. The Doomguard collapse to the floor as one…
…however, Mod 32 is still in pieces. Oglaf gathers the remains and returns to Thorni’s headquarters, where he announces his resignation. Duch goes with him. Thorni barely lifts his head to listen to the report — the responsibilities associated with the war are weighing heavily on him.
“Ultimately, it was a kindness. We could have pushed for harder terms, we could have forced them to grovel and beg and abase themselves before us. But if we had done that, then there was always the chance they would have chosen their pride over their survival. The Empire would have fallen apart, and a lot of people would have died. So instead, we have shown them how adults handle these things.”
– editorial in the Akhrat Times
The Empire, clearly feeling its losses at this point, offers ceasefire agreements to Riverport, Arakesh and Netherfael, pending more concrete negotiations. Riverport and Arakesh sign but Netherfael refuse to even consider a ceasefire: the dwarves refuse to believe the Empire’s line that it has no control over the beasts ravaging Dourmoor.
What remains of the Seflheim, Elfholm and Mocte Legions are relocated to the Ramaslu border, ready to hold against Afareen bin Zahn’s undead legions.
5. Dourmoor (Continued)
The campaign in Dourmoor slowly grinds to a difficult, unpleasant halt. The human armies are lost and leaderless following a series of high-profile assassinations, but the Netherfail forces are continually beset by the scorpion-wolves.
Thorni’s leadership becomes more and more distant — initially, people assume, from the stress of losing the companions he travelled to Dourmoor with. Before long, he barely leaves his office. Then, one day, the door locks from the inside and never opens.
The malaise at Netherfael HQ is interrupted by a ragged, bearded Dwarf calling himself Jal, and carrying a package to deliver to Thorni personally. By this point the general malaise seems to have spread to everybody present: growing more and more frustrated by the obstuctive refusal of Thorni’s honour guard, Jal finally takes an axe to the door and kicks it out…
…to discover with horror that the office is blanketed in solidified Etherite crystal, a heavy layer of which has crystallised around Thorni. Crouching behind him is a hideous figure, something which might once have been a Blazer but now looks more like some awful spider, coccooning Thorni’s body in threads of raw Etherite. With a sickly wail it tries to flee, but Jal is already charging across the room in the Thunder Hooves Rage, burying his twin waraxes deep inside the foul creature.
Thorni recovers from his ordeal, but by then the human forces have had time to rearm and resupply. Worse, the Rose Knight Andrew Alderton has arrived and taken over leadership of the human military forces, renewing their determination to win.
The fight for Dwarven liberation is brutal, exhausting, and bloody, and it drags on for a very long time. But King Thorni doesn’t stop fighting until it is won. History remembers him as the Granite King, who led his people to freedom on a road of their own bodies, and he remains a divisive figure to Dwarven historians to this day.
Andrew Alderton himself is brought down during the final battle of the war: Jal himself leads a final, heroic charge to capture him after he is spotted trying to escape the battlefield. Though he tries to go down fighting, Alderton is taken alive, tried in front of a Dwarven committee, and executed by Skornaxe.
6. The Church
Crowning Federica Belacqua bin Zahn as the Divine Vessel created a schism within the Church, but there was no reasonable doubt over whether the ceremony was done correctly. Freddie was clearly the Vessel.
People expected many things of Federica I when she was crowned. Some people had expected a stooge of the Council of Cardinals, or of the bin Zahn family. Some people had claimed she was a servant of Afareen herself.
Nobody expected this.
A few weeks after her coronation, Federica Spoke with the Voice of the Divine for one last time. She declared that the Divine had judged the world unworthy, that it had abandoned it entirely. That the Church, which had claimed to act in its favour, had abused its power and shirked its responsibilities, and was judged corrupt beyond redemption. That never again would the Divine speak through a mortal vessel, or seek control or rulership. And that perhaps, after many years, it would return and see whether mankind had abandoned its lust for power and dominance, and judge whether the world was worthy for it to return.
But that personally, she doubted it.
And then, as the high chamber of the Great Cathedral of Seflheim’s erupted into confused shouting, she removed the Crown from her head and hurled it into what everybody had assumed was an ornamental brazier.
The collapse of the Church mirrored the collapse of the Empire. Confidence in the Church was shaken to its very roots. The Church of the Little Mother became the voice for those who just wanted their faith to carry on as it had before. Estarritism became a prominent force, denying Federica I’s divinity or the validity of her decree, and gaining a significant foothold amongst the Jottenar family. The Senescent faiths, too, gained ground, especially the cat-cults of Mocte. In Dourmoor, the beginnings of a resurgence of faith in the Order of the Rose was seen briefly before falling to pieces upon Andrew Alderton’s death.
The next few decades were dominated by religious strife. Sectarian violence was common, dividing streets, dividing neighbourhoods, dividing everybody in the face of the undead advance from the South.
But that was the price, and it was one Federica had been willing to pay. Better divided in liberty, she would say many times over the next decade, than united in oppression.
7. The Principalities of Riverport
“Okay, look. Yes, of course he’s dead. Nobody lives for over a hundred and fifty years. But in this city, there are two choices. You can nod and smile and pretend that some immortal old moblord coot whispers advice into Vito and Isabella’s ears every morning, or you can wake up one day sinking into the Vassa in a weighted coffin.”
The first shipments of grain from Arakesh arrive in Riverport shortly after it declares for the Republic, to wild celebration. The city is no longer starving; the Empire has been kept from its gates; the Stellazzo have time to rebuild.
Vito struggles, initially, to keep his side of the city in order, and for some time Isabella is clearly in a position to take Riverport for herself if she so wanted. She doesn’t. It’s unclear whether this is an act of kindness, whether she is genuinely fatigued by Stellazzo infighting, or whether Vito has been able to somehow placate her. Some theorise that Riverport’s refusal to join the Republic of Arakesh, and to remain a separate political entity, might have been the price Vito paid. Others note the absence of Vito’s most capable lieutenant, Angela Mariano-Stellazzo, from Riverport.
Whatever the case, the Stellazzo family are united. Vito and Isabella capably administer the city, ably advised by Papa Stellazzo from his rooms at the manor.
And Riverport becomes rich. Even before there is talk of a permanent peace treaty between the Empire and Republic, the Stellazzo have signed their own agreements under the table with either side, and make a considerable profit trading Arakesh grain for Elfholm magitech and Seflheim firearms.
8. The Jottenar Empire
Seflheim is confused, lost, and leaderless. Various factions of the Jottenar family struggle for power. Simon Estarr, sole surviving member of the University’s board, begins to flex his political muscle. And the older noble families who had been pushed aside by the Jottenar rise to power start to claw their way back.
Things settle down, eventually. An agreement is reached, Seflheim portioned out into districts, a coalition formed. But things are not stable, not for a long time, and every day more people cross the border.
It is, perhaps, the first time in the history of the Empire that people have emigrated to Riverport seeking stability.
9. The Negotiating Table
And finally, it happens. The ceasefire becomes peace talks. The Principalities of Riverport, the Republic of Arakesh, and the Jottenar Empire agree to send representatives to discuss a more permanent peace, and an alliance against Afareen.
But travelling with the Arakesh contingent is a surprise guest.
A surprise, skeletal, guest.
The negotiations nearly fall to pieces when the Empire learn that Afareen has sent a representative and that Arakesh have granted it their protection, but the Imperial representatives are quietened down. The Empire’s power was broken weeks ago: their presence at this negotiating table only confirms it. They are here to listen, not to dictate terms, and they all know it.
The negotations carry on long into the night. Finally, an agreement is reached. Afareen claims Ramaslu as her own, but will refrain from entering Seflheim.
It’s not the most comfortable of compromises. Nobody is happy about the continued undead presence in Ramaslu. But with Seflheim ripe for invasion, with food still scarce, and with continued infighting among the military as Jottenar factions jockey for power, a respite from the undead has likely saved what remains of the Empire from total destruction.
And uncomfortable compromises are, after all, the price of peace.
10. The Great Work
Ahead of the undead marching steadily onwards, a lone figure reaches the impromptu defences prepared by the People of Earth, at the base of their valley.
The Mistwalker returns to his people at last. The people of Earth are ready to fight the final battle against the undead, to carry out the strategem they have prepared for years. They will sell their lives as dearly as they can and buy the People of Air the precious minutes they need to complete the Great Work, the art that will create a new world.
Nyke’s position isn’t to fight alongside them, though. Nyke is of the Air. Always has been, always will be. His job is to help finish the Work.
Nyke works quickly. Everything he has learned in his time with the Rebels: the weaknesses of the Empire, the power of deception, the use of its vast, bureacratic strength against it. All of his experience is summarised in a few short, beautiful, vital brushstrokes that complete a tiny corner of a mural bigger than a cathedral.
And now it is finished. The undead have breached the People of Earth’s barricade, but they are too late: the new world has been created, and its esssence will survive long after skeletal hands have torn its physical form to pieces.
And in the few minutes before he leaves, before he begins the work of evacuating his loved ones from the citadel before it is completely overrun, Nyke can fully comprehend what his people have created, the shape that their next world will take.
The People of Earth and Air, in every incarnation, have always made one mistake when building their next world. They have tried to build a weapon into the world that can be wielded against the darkness pursuing them. And, crucially, they have always assumed that the weapon has to be a physical object.
What they have learned in this incarnation is that whatever form the darkness takes, whether that be the footsoldiers of an Empire motivated by greed and thoughtlessness, or the mindless undead driven by Afareen, the darkness has always found its strength in numbers, in vast, rolling tides of mediocre minds. And one man, no matter how well-armed, can never defeat an army.
But that fact is just a parameter of the worlds they have built so far.
So the world they have built is an arena, where the People can battle the darkness face-to-face. And it is an arena where the darkness’ armies do not have the advantage. A world where there is no limit to the power one man can wield. Where a single individual with the will to do so can change the face of the earth.
A world of heroes.
Angela does what she does best: she disappears.
Stories begin to trickle in from Dourmoor first. Dwarven freedom fighters are aided by a ghostly gunslinger, who appears out of nowhere and vanishes just as suddenly. Sometimes they share their campfire with her. She doesn’t say much, but she supposedly brings luck.
(She is building her operations in Bierstadt – the Pearl, the Stellazzo headquarters there, the trains out and the trade routes. She’s trying to keep what she started strong. Eventually, however, she’ll tire of it, or she’ll hear word of Zaszperezal, and go hunting again. She wants that hat-trick. Her adventures take her north into the New World, sometimes with new parties of adventurers, sometimes alone.
She must have died on one of those adventures. Certainly she is never seen again.)
Coda: Many years later, in Riverport, an aging woman with failing eyesight and trembling hands opens Ms. Rosenbecht’s School for the Disadvantaged, working closely with the Church of the Little Mother, teaching orphans.
She teaches literacy.
13. The Hordes of Praxia
“This man is ARAKESHI.
He is your ALLY.
He fights BY YOUR SIDE.
EMPIRE AND REPUBLIC: UNITED
AGAINST THE HORDES OF PRAXIA"
– Lot 45, Imperial propaganda poster c.501. One of forty-seven remaining intact.
Afareen takes her time consolidating her position in Ramaslu. She’s in no rush; she’s used to strategems that unfold over decades, not years.
The Empire is confused, divided, and badly battered. But the treaty buys them time, and decades of peace are more than enough to rebuild and rearm. A new wall is built on the Seflheim-Ramaslu border, and the Republic of Arakesh lend troops to man it.
The cooperation doesn’t go perfectly, and in the end Republic and Imperial troops have to be stationed at separate forts to remove the temptation to settle old scores. But with their help, the wall is well-manned enough that Afareen has more tempting targets elsewhere.
There are rescue missions, of course. Ramaslu refugees smuggled out of the province. There is little response from Afareen. She considers the opportunity to slay and raise a talented soldier to far outweigh the cost of losing a few serfs.
The truce doesn’t last forever. Few things do. But when the undead forces finally make their move for Seflheim, they find a refreshed, re-armed, and heavily fortified army more than capable of defending their homeland. Afareen will take her undead no further north.
The battle to push the undead out of Ramaslu will take longer, far longer. There is still much uncertainity about how it will go. And there is much bitter fighting ahead. But for the first time in decades, there is hope.
14. An office in Bierstadt
“The inn? Well, there’s a long story to that. See, the sign used to show a decapitated head being hurled across a barroom. And it didn’t used to be called the Quaint Head at all. I had to step in. There are sensitive folk coming through these days; I wouldn’t want anybody to be offended.
I still have no idea how those BDMS folk could have known the dwarves would rip up the Elfholm railway. Or how they could have figured there was going to be that much of an uprising at all. But I’m not complaining. To think I laughed when they said they’d be competing with the Dourmoor cartels! But Dourmoor needs salt, and so many other things now. And the rest of the world needs Dourmoor steel. And the cartels have been broken, and their railway smashed, so all of that traffic comes through us now. No, I’m not complaining! Not at all.
But, you know — call it a hunch, or intuition, or whatever, but I always did have a feeling there was something a little odd about them."
– Will Wayhew, mayor of the bustling market-city of Bierstadt