The War of the Guilds
The Free City of Vallor has been an important hub on the continent even in the old days. For Signum it became a repository of ancient knowledge, a bright spark of hope in the growing darkness. And at the same time – an Apple of Discord for the greedy gods. The power and untold riches hidden beneath the city attracted mercenaries of all kinds and simple adventurers.
Impossible as it may seem, the powerful cataclysm that has befallen the lands of Signum because of the Chaos Dragon Vortiris, the same one that has changed the face of the ancient continent, barely touched the Free City. Citizens of Vallor have taken their miraculous survival as a sign of divine patronage. But perhaps this was merely a cruel joke of fate.
It all began with the sudden death of the Duke. Important families of the Higher Cities observed each other with suspicion. The Guild of Merchants accused the Guild of Shadows and demanded to conduct a thorough investigation of their assets. The Guild of Shadows also brought a similar accusation in return.
“We are protecting the rights of the thieves, but it doesn’t mean we are to blame for all the crimes that happen in Vallor. Assassination of the Duke is quite different from cutting a purse.” Read More...
Accusations were thrown around from all sides: the Guilds of Mercenaries, Jewellers, Architects. Wild rumours spread across the city – the Duke died after being stung by a specially bred assassin bee; the Duke was cursed by a powerful necromancer and died in horrible agony; the Duke found out his future from a fortune-teller and committed suicide. Some were completely ridiculous, such as the rumour that the Duke has fled the city with his mistress and left a dead double in his stead. But all these rumours agreed on one thing – Vallor no longer had a Duke.
Before all that, the Duke would serve as an arbiter in the endless disagreements between the Great Guilds. And now each guild attempted to promote their own candidate for that role in order to increase their power over the city. As always, there were far too many claims. Arguments broke out, followed by mutual insults and threats and very soon it all ended up in armed conflict. Units of city militia were unable to restore order when faced with well armed private armies that served the Great Guilds. Entire blocks were set ablaze across the city. Not a single fief managed to avoid being dragged into the war between the guilds and the usual course of life in the city was completely disrupted.The Guild of Shadows against the Guild of Merchants, the Guild of Architects against the Guild of Blades and so on. None of the sides of this conflict could gain a decisive advantage.
No one was concerned about defending the city from external enemies. And disaster did not take long to emerge. Hordes of disgusting spider-like Akkary elves swooped on Vallor from the west. Fiefs, weakened by internal conflict, could not resist the seemingly countless swarms of invaders and fell one after another. The Lower City was completely destroyed and sacked by the Akkary army. Most of its citizens was slaughtered and the few survivors fled behind the impenetrable walls of the Upper City.
Facing the danger of total destruction, the Great Guilds were forced to make peace with each other. As a result of prolonged and tiring negotiations that lasted for three days and three nights, the City Assembly was created, which included representatives of all the Great Guilds along with the representatives of the Leagues and lords.The Assembly was meant to make an important and fateful decision, specifically – elect a single commander, the Lord of War, that would lead the army of the Free City in the battle against Akkary elves. It was decided by the majority of the votes that the title would go to lord Khan Dir. In truth, it was hard to say who really received the title of the Lord of War – Khan, or Dir after all? The thing is that lord Khan Dir was a two-headed ogre, two and a half meters tall, whose body contained two different personalities. Lord Khan had a mind for high politics and possessed a semblance of cultured social skills as well as the cunning and ambitions of an ogre. His brother Dir, on the other hand, was stupid, stubborn and cocky. Read More...
When the single commander was finally elected, the matter of financing the army became apparent. Enormous funds were required on a very short notice and Marquis Teebo de Bazan, who had the official position of the Master of Ducats, or put simpler – a treasurer for the previous Duke – has graciously agreed to deliver them. Officially Teebo was never part of any guilds. However rumours had it that he was somehow connected with the Merchant Guild and his word carried a lot of weight for them. Most powerful families of the city trusted him with managing their riches during times of peace.
Teebo has organized a collection of donations for the defense of the city and convinced the richest bankers to contribute significant sums of money. Some say that the Marquis has built himself quite a fortune in no small part due to this arrangement. Nonetheless, the funds that he managed to obtain were enough to organize a fairly effective defense of the city. The advance of Akkary elves was slowed down, however the situation still remained too dire. The numerous army of spider-like warriors was still a significant threat to the Upper City.
Among the defenders of Vallor, Brissa de Molforn was the most lucky and courageous commander. Before becoming an adventurer, Brissa served the Church in the Griffin Empire. She was an assassin initiated into the powerful Illuminati Order. Serving the Order was a life-long oath. Brissa was sent to Vallor with a secret assignment: to find and return an ancient artefact, the Heart of Vortirus, that once was kept by the Inquisition. But when she arrived to the Free City, Brissa to her great surprise discovered that this is perhaps the only place in Signum, whee anyone, no matter their past, could get a second chance. All they had to do was call themselves a freelance adventurer and enter of the city leagues. Wanting to forever escape her past, Brissa took the name of de Molforn, that supposedly belonged to her uncle twice removed.
Brissa found fame as an excellent shooter and an experienced warrior. With her valour and courage she inspired the defenders of the Upper City. When the most intense fighting of the siege was behind them, Brissa suggested a bold plan – to attack the Akkary themselves. Followers of the Spider Mother would not expect such a risky action from the besieged defenders. Given the danger and recklessness of such a mission, Brissa was ready to lead whatever detachment was to be assigned to it. Lord Khan Dir was against the whole idea to begin with, however. He considered the very thought of abandoning the mighty fortifications of the Upper City and facing down the hordes of spider elves to be complete and utter madness. But during the war council where Brissa had announced her plan, she was unexpectedly supported by Marquis Teebo de Bazan.
“I agree with the young lady. It is impossible to win a war being on the defensive all the time.” He said. “And if I were a warrior and not a banker, I would have led this undertaking myself.”
Khan Dir was clearly displeased with Teebo’s speech, but the Master of Ducats was too influential in Vallor, and getting in a spat with him was not part of the ogre’s plans. Therefore he was forced to agree with Brissa’s plan. Or rather pretend to agree in front of the rest of the council. In reality he thought that this errand would fail and the girl’s chances to survive were low.
As the Lord of War, Khan Dir made sure that Brissa’s troop would only get the most unfit warriors, barely suited for service. Most of them had disciplinary issues and were considered to be completely unruly. The detachment that was thus assembled was nicknamed the “Demented Bastards” by the defenders of the city and that name stuck to it even in the official historical records of Vallor. Khan Dir unknowingly did Brissa an invaluable favour. For a plan such as hers, only true madmen or hotheads who did not value their own lives would make suitable troops.
Besides that, the young woman found several unexpected allies. A small group of wolfens under the leadership of Roar Ironsides decided to join her. In the past Roar had served as a Captain in the wolfen fief and had a lot of experience when it came to war. Apart from Roar, the sorceress Zema, dwarf-centaur Grir the Stubborn and a goblin by the name of Krir joined the troop. As it turned out, despite their questionable reputation, they were worth an entire company of elite soldiers.
Using the underground tunnels of the Free City to sneak behind its walls, Brissa suddenly attacked the Akkary encampment. At the time only a token force of elves remained here, mostly servants and nobles, trained to pamper to the Queen-Mother’s every wish. The main forces of the Akkary were locked in the assault of the city and could not assist the camp in time. The “Demented Bastards” managed to destroy the majority of spider matriarchs. The Queen-Mother herself survived by a miracle, though she did suffer an injury in her fight against Brissa. She was so frightened by the boldness of the defenders that she ordered her daughters to lift the siege immediately and return to the dark forests of the Akkary.
When the defenders of the Upper City saw that the elves were quickly retreating from the captured districts, Lord Khan Dir was quick to use this success as his own. Surrounded by a powerful retinue of bodyguards and at the head of a large army, he marched from the gates of the Upper City. If he acted more decisively that day, the threat of Akkary elves would vanish once and for all. But Khan Dir was never gifted with the wisdom of a warlord. He only pretended that he was going to attack the Akkary elves with all his forces, but in reality he allowed them to leave the smoking ruins of Vallor without retribution.
The New Duke
The very next day in the Ruby Arcana Palace, Lord Khan Dir announced that he had won a great victory in the battle against Akkary elves. He only briefly mentioned the bold sortie that Brissa carried out and did not spare words to describe his own deeds. Hearing all that, Brissa de Molforn was furious. She was not afraid to accuse Lord Kahn Dir of lying.It is well known that despite their less than average intelligence, all ogres are very good at carrying grudges. Khan Dir could not simply tolerate an insult like that. The heads of the two brothers even argued between each other while discussing how to handle this. Dir demanded to punish the offender immediately, Khan on the other hand thought that rushing this matter would only be detrimental to them. For Vallor needed a new Duke, and Khan Dir was one of the candidates for that position.
Not all lords of the Upper City supported the ogre’s claim, but Khan managed to negotiate with the representatives of the Great Guilds, promising them numerous privileges in case of his election. The support of the Grand Masters of the guilds turned out to be decisive, and Lord Khan Dir became the next Duke of the Free City. But along with power Khan Dir received a huge amount of problems. After the invasion of Akkary elves the Lower City was in ruins. According to Teebo de Bazan, the war completely emptied the city’s treasury. Troubling news continued pouring in from the west, the south and the east. Old alliances no longer seemed reliable, new dangers, which had not been known to anyone before, now loomed on the horizon. The world of Signum was changing rapidly and no one could trust their old allies anymore. Read More...
As one of his first decrees, the new Duke announced that the Free Leagues were to be disbanded. Additionally, the Council of Lords was significantly restricted in its rights. That way Khan Dir strengthened his own power and influence over the city and the Great Guilds.
Brissa de Molforn openly spoke against the new laws. She considered the Great Guilds to be at fault for all the grief that had befallen Vallor and called for them to be punished for it. This naturally caused quite a stir of indignation among the Grand Masters and they demanded immediate action from Khan Dir. The young woman was saved from prison or, more likely, from a poisoned blade of an assassin thanks to her old friends. The fellowship the “Demented Bastards” remained unshaken. Its members helped Brissa to escape the pursuit in time and to avoid a prepared trap. A new conflict was growing in the city that had not yet recovered from the recent slaughter. Brissa’s popularity among the common soldiers and defenders of Vallor was still very high and Khan Dir was forced to search for someone to do his dirty work.
Brissa’s old nemesis – a wolfen called Hidrex – was held in the city prison “Thousand screams”. Long ago Hidrex was part of the wolfen clan of Vallor, but betrayed and killed many of his former brethren. Brissa helped to capture the traitor and he was put behind bars for life. He was not executed only because the former Duke considered a quick death to be far too lenient for this traitor. Lord Khan Dir promised Hidrex his freedom and even the title of the Lord of War if he manages to capture Brissa and deliver her to the Duke’s palace. Upon hearing Brissa de Molforn’s name the wolfen growled furiously. He dreamed of taking vengeance for his humiliation and imprisonment himself.
Hidrex had gathered a gang of real dregs of the city and got to carrying out the mission given to him. He started to hunt each and every member of the “Demented Bastards” and ruthlessly slaughtered everyone who refused to help him.
After learning what was happening in the city through his spies, Teebo de Baza warned Khan Dir:
“You are making a mistake by playing with fire, My Lord. What if one day you wake up and find Brissa’s blade at your throat? You would do well to call back the insane wolfen before it is too late.”
Teebo turned out to be right at least partially. Brissa indeed appeared in the Duke’s palace, but not to kill Khan Dir. She agreed to surrender herself to the authorities in order to save those, who would still defend her with their own lives. Brissa’s noble decision did not move the ogre at all, however. He ordered to chain the woman and throw her into “Thousand Screams” prison. Brissa’s unexpected imprisonment stopped Hidrex from carrying out his long-plotted vengeance.
“Give her to me, Mylord. And I will make her truly suffer.” The Wolfen demanded when he found out that his prey had slipped through his fingers.
Khan Dir was not used to ultimatums and gave the wolfen a rude warning:
“Begone and do not dare to show yourself in my sight ever again. Otherwise I will return you to the hole you crawled out of, that I swear by the Gods.”
This answer only served to anger Hidrex further. However he realized that arguing with the ogre was useless. Hidrex decided to carry out what he already attempted many years ago – to take power in the city by force. An annual City Assembly was going to take place in Vallor soon, and every Grand Master of the Great Guilds and the Duke himself were going to take part. It was hard to imagine a better time to strike.
But Roar Ironsides found out about the planned attack.
“We need to rescue Brissa!” He said when all remaining members of the Demented Bastards gathered. “And for that we must attack the city prison.”
“Storm “Thousand Screams” prison? It is impossible!” The goblin Krir exclaimed.
“But the impossible is our specialty.” The Sorceress Zema said thoughtfully, stroking her disembodied pet Flick.
Before the day when the Assembly was planned to begin, Roar and several members of the troop had infiltrated the prison. At first Brissa refused to leave her cell, thinking that this would bring the Duke’s wrath upon the heads of her comrades. However when she found out what danger threatened the city now, she agreed to take up her weapon once more.
Brissa and her friends made it to the palace just in time – Hidrex’s cutthroats had locked all the City Assembly members in the meeting hall. A small detachment of city militia under the command of Constable Ogrok could not offer sufficient resistance to the well-armed bandits, but the sudden reinforcements, which Brissa’s people provided, tipped the scales. After a short, but bloody fight the Demented Bastards won. All members of the Assembly including the Duke were released.
But Hidrex himself was nowhere to be seen, neither among those killed, nor among those arrested by the militia. The senses of a former Illuminati assassin made Brissa realize that Hidrex was somewhere nearby. The young woman found the wolfen in a small room near the very roof. Hidrex was planning to destroy the Duke and all guild Grand Masters in one fell swoop, with the help of a magical bomb called “Destroyer”. This was the most destructive weapon ever to be created in the Free City.
“Step away from the bomb at once, or I will shoot.” Brissa ordered. She was armed with two pistols, one in each hand. From a distance like that the young woman would never miss. But madness could be easily seen in eyes of the wolfen. Hidrex laughed wildly – he had already activated the bomb. Brissa had but a few moments before “Destroyer’s” spinning movement would reach the required acceleration, and once that happened the burst of magic energy would destroy everything within a two hundred meter radius. Stopping it was no longer possible.
Brissa managed to break a window and perform a breathtaking jump to the roof of the adjacent building. The following explosion completely destroyed the Ruby Arcana Palace. Hidrex’s body was pulled from under the rubble. His arm was torn off by the shockwave, his face was scarred beyond recognition and fur was coming off his body in smoking clumps, but the wolfen’s heart continued to beat by some miracle. Perhaps even the Gods of the Underworlds refused to take him.
The Ortus Automaton Corporation
The Architect Guild of Vallor was under control of the High Elves, native to the dragon lands of the East. They found their new home in the Free City and used their collected knowledge of architecture and engineering arts here. Not only that, but in recent days many dwarves made it to the rank of Master in the guild. Mountain-dwelling grumblers had trouble living alongside the arrogant elves, but dwarves had the reputation of incredible mechanics and specialists in metal, so the elder Masters of the guild tolerated their presence. There was not a single human to be found among the higher ranks of the Architect Guild, which was no coincidence. The High Elves guarded their secrets with jealousy and considered humans to be incapable of understanding the impeccable accuracy of mathematics and the hidden harmony of engineering and architecture.
But among the junior ranks of the guild there was a genius, whose talent remained unseen for a long time. No one could say for certain, what Varga Quark’s lineage was. Some say that Varga was a child of a High Elf and a female human, others said he was related to the dwarves. But almost everyone agreed, that Varga was a genius engineer, quite ambitious and perhaps a little insane. In the Architect Guild, Varga was a junior engineer. Despite his burning desire to find recognition, he remained unnoticed for a long while. Varga continued to stubbornly work on his own projects and at last a day had come when he was allowed to demonstrate his achievements during a meeting of the Senior Masters of the guild. Varga Quark was so self-assured, that he almost did not doubt his success. He prepared for this day for many years, and now he thought that his goal was within his reach, and all he had to do was to grasp at it. Read More...
When all Senior Masters of the Architect Guild gathered in a dimly lit hall, Varga felt his heart clench in a worry. Such a pity that a living clump of muscle was beating in his chest, so imperfect, so vulnerable in comparison with any mechanism of gears and springs, which knew no fatigue or doubt.
Varga began his demonstration by showing the venerable audience his first unique creation – a mechanical butterfly. He put it on a small table and the butterfly opened its azure wings. Varga took a thin flute out of his pocket and began to play it softly. The butterfly took to air and started fluttering around, following the tune’s rhythm. The next item was a mechanical servant. He could stand on one foot and juggle heavy rocks. On Varga’s command, the servant built a small tower out of these rocks within a few seconds. The Senior Masters, who remained silent until then, gasped in awe.
“Enough!” The Grand Master, who was a pureblood elf female, raised her voice sternly. “An artificial butterfly that follows a flute, a builder-juggler, what’s next? It seems you have mistaken this place for a circus, young man.”
“Not at all, My Lady. You are, of course, absolutely right, these toys are not worth your attention. Here is my true invention!” Varga said and cast off a long cloak that covered his entire body.
The audience gasped again. Varga had six arms and all of them were completely mechanical. Varga bowed and all six arms came to life at once. One part worked on his hairdo, the second started counting and scribbling the results into a notepad, the third grabbed a thread and a needle and began to put back a button that had fallen off.
The silence hung heavily in the hall, buy was interrupted by a furious Grand Master.
“How dare you profane yourself and our entire guild? Madman, I exile you!”
Thus, the success planned by Varga Quark turned into his worst failure. He was exiled from the Architect Guild in shame and now not even the most rundown guild in Vallor wanted to do anything with him. But this did not stop Varga. He was sure he had made the greatest discovery of all – he learned how to change biological limbs for better mechanical ones. To continue his favourite research, Varga needed funds. And as he was exiled from a guild, he decided to create one of his own and called it the “Ortus Automaton Corporation”. Varga did what he did best and started inventing mechanical body parts for humans and other races. Now those who lost their legs could walk again, the deaf and the blind could hear and see better than ever. Of course, his mechanical inventions were not cheap, but Varga had never experienced a lack of clients. Very soon he learned how to replace not just limbs, but important organs. He could make a new heart for a rich man out of gold and gems or return a noble lady’s favourite lapdog to life, making it into a mechanical construct. Money poured into his Corporation and very soon Ortus Automaton grew from a small workshop into a huge enterprise with its own factories and labs.
Varga tried to make his every new invention perfect whereas his own biological body he considered to be a cruel joke of nature. With the stubbornness of a maniac, Varga changed and enhanced his body, re-building it, making additions and modernizing. He surrounded himself with hundreds of mechanical servants who worked day and night. He considered his main purpose to be the creation of mechanisms that would possess intelligence, even soul. Many claimed that Varga Quark did not just create an enterprise, he started a whole religion in the city. In his teachings, Varga claimed that the Gods were not perfect. Just like humans they could make mistakes and were subject to emotions. Mechanisms were much more perfect when compared to them and that was where the true God could be found in his opinion. Therefore Varga called upon everyone to change and modernize their own imperfect bodies on the only true path to the God of Machines.
Now Ortus Automaton has become something very much like one of the Great Guilds. The Corporation has a wide network of contacts far beyond the city reaches and is capable of fulfilling any order, no matter how demanding, as long as it is paid for by hard ducats. Varga barely ever appears from the bowels of his lab. His mechanical servant always handles the clients and sends messages to his master through a likewise mechanical commissionaire. This, however, does not stop Varga from influencing social and political life of Vallor. His corporation is a new power in the city and it desperately requires any allies that can aid it in the fight against the all-powerful guilds.
The Lord of War
After the Demented Bastards saved the City Assembly from Hidrex’s bandits, Brissa de Molforn was elected as Vallor’s new Lord of War. Of course, the name of this title assumed that only men were to be “Lord of War”, but since a woman happened to claim it at this point, the name was kept as it was, even though certain farceurs suggested to change it to “Lady of War”. Under pressure from guild representatives, Duke Khan Dir was forced to lift all the charges and even to award her with the Laurels of Honour. Only a few chosen heroes were given these honorifics since the very day the city was founded.
The enigmatic head of the Ortus Automaton Corporation sent a mechanical servant carrying a personal invitation to Brissa. The young woman departed for the corporation’s headquarters immediately after receiving that letter. She was surprised and incredibly intrigued by the sudden attention to her person. It was well-known all across Vallor that Varga often refused personal audiences even to foreign princes. Before meeting the head of the corporation, Brissa was given an introduction and an excursion through the corporation’s factories. The young woman had never seen before so many working mechanisms and devices of unknown purposes. She was unable to understand even a tenth of the processes that were happening before her very eyes. Nimble constructs, created by Quark’s genius, whisked about, senior managers of the most strange appearance strolled around, observing the work processes. Read More...
Varga met Brissa in his personal office that appeared to be something of a mix between a technical lab and a secret temple, consecrated in the name of an unknown god. Varga’s emotionless voice reminded Brissa about the scraping sound of metal touching metal and his weird shape was tightly wrapped in cloth. Varga explained to the woman that he was one of her old admirers. Her bravery and valour in the face of danger have always inspired him, that’s why Varga decided to present her with a somewhat unusual gift.
“I called for you, Lady Brissa, not to waste your time without purpose on a so-called social courtesy. I have a much more pragmatic goal and I have a gift for you. A gift, that I believe, will be quite useful for the Lord of War.”
On Varga’s order his mechanical servants removed a veil from a large cage and Brissa saw Hidrex. At first Brissa was horrified of the half-mechanical monstrosity that barely even looked like the wolfen it once had been. But Varga explained that from now on this beast would obey her every command. His engineers did a good work on the mutilated body of the wolfen that they pulled out from under the rubble. Now he was clad in iron armour and his right paw was completely replaced with a mechanical prosteshis.
“He who tried to kill you when he was alive will now become your most trustworthy bodyguard. There is a certain irony in that, would you agree? Go on, put your hand in his maw. There is no cause for fear .”
Brissa turned pale, but, nonetheless, extended her arm and put her hand into the open jaws of the wolfen. The monster could just move his head and she would have been left without a limb, but Hidrex obediently remained still, his jaws still open.
“There! You see?” Varga exclaimed triumphantly.
It was no surprise that Brissa found herself awed by such a “gift”. And in exchange Varga Quark only wanted one thing – her loyalty. He did not have any true allies in Vallor and was in dire need of rectifying that quickly, especially when faced with the all-powerful guilds.
But Varga was not the only one to observe Brissa’s every step carefully and to conceive plans of getting the new Lord of War as their ally. The next invitation came from Teebo de Bazan. The Master of Ducats wanted to speak with her one-on-one with no unwanted witnesses. Having almost limitless financial capabilities, he offered her a friendship and a patronage of the Merchant Guild, one of the most influential guilds in Vallor.
A certain rivalry developed between the Master of Ducats and Varga Quark. In order to rebuild the Lower City after the Akkary elf invasion, Duke Khan Dir addressed the members of the City Assembly. Teebo de Bazan promised to give the city an unlimited credit to help the affected districts. But the city lacked workers to ensure that the reconstruction will be done in time. It was then that Varga Quark made the Duke an offer he could not refuse. He promised to restore the Lower City within one year with his own resources and not take a single ducat from the city treasury in return. If the contract were to be fully observed, Varga wanted the Duke to issue an edict that would give Ortus Automaton the same privileges as the Great Guilds. The Duke, of course, agreed which caused Teebo de Bazan’s displeasure. Nonetheless, the conditions that Varga offered seemed to be so unrealistic, that the Duke’s decision did not cause too much discontent even among the guild representatives.
“Very well then, let this madman Varga attempt to accomplish the impossible and I will observe his failure!” Teebo de Bazan added after giving it some thought.
When the contract was signed, Varga immediately went about carrying it out. In the morning of the next day the citizens of Vallor woke up to a strange rattle. Scores of sleepy faces looked out of their windows surprisingly, observing an army of mechanic workers that were marching out of the factories of Ortus Automaton in neat columns. These workers did not need neither food, nor rest or sleep. During the next several months the construction efforts continued every day and night. As a result, the Lower City was completely rebuilt even faster than agreed and Varga demanded from the Duke to honour his part of the contract.
The Master of Ducats argued more than anyone else, claiming that Khan Dir should completely abandon the promises he made. However Varga had foreseen this turn of events. The head of the Automaton corporation appealed to Brissa de Molforn as an independent arbiter and the Lord of War of the Free City. It was a well calculated decision as Brissa had a sharp sense of justice and considered breaking a given word to be one of the worst crimes. The Duke had to meet Varga’s demands and now his Corporation received the same rights as any of Vallor’s Great Guilds.
Teebo de Bazan felt that he was made a fool of, but it was too late to do anything about it. But he did swear that sooner or later he would buy Varga’s enterprise and shut it down for good.
Recently, rumours about the rebirth of the Grypharim Empire have been reaching the walls of Vallor more and more often. Merchants and ship captains that sailed across the southern seas told the tale of unbreakable legions, forged by the will of Roland Proud. They spoke of uncommon creatures – the winged grypharims, mighty and beautiful celestials that fight alongside the Imperials. Although Brissa was born in the Empire herself, she never heard of grypharims and regarded the tales about them with suspicion.No one considered the Grypharim Empire to be a threat to Vallor. It may have been so before, but everything was about to change. The young Emperor Demian, who had only recently reached adulthood and took the throne, sent his ambassadors to the Free City, demanding they submit themselves to becoming a vassal state. He considered Vallor to be responsible in all the disasters that have befallen Signum and thus it had to be purified. And first among all, the ungodly creation of Varga Quark, who dared to challenge the gods themselves, had to be purged. A refusal of the demands of the young Emperor could mean war. Read More...
“Unheard of impudence!” Khan Dir growled in indignation upon hearing the ambassadors. “Who does this boy think he is? The Free City has never bowed down to any Emperor and will not do so now either.” In response Demian had called a new Crusade with the purpose of taking the Free City. And this undertaking was supposed to be led by the Empire’s first Marshall-Protector Roland Proud.
These news did not frighten Khan Dir, however. He declared the City’s walls to be unbreakable. Not to mention that Vallor had allies that could help the city in this war. Being a large trade port, the Free City lay on the intersection of several river and sea routes. The Duke called the Sea Brotherhood – a company of pirates and corsairs – before and now promised them a large reward, hiring them to serve as the Free City’s navy.The pirates promised to hinder Imperial vessels that carried military and provisional supplies. At first this strategy had given good results. The attack of the pirate flotilla had nearly paralyzed seafaring in Imperial waters, bringing Demian’s wrath. The steel legions, unmatched on land, were completely useless when it came to sea battles and the declared Crusade was in danger of being thwarted before it even began.
The Empire’s position was saved by Roland Proud. In his youth this famed knight spent some time as a slave of a galley, but managed to free himself and rise to being a captain of a pirate ship. He knew the habits of the corsairs well. Roland made a demonstration of destroying the crown gem of the pirate fleet – the frigate “Harpoon” – with the help of gripharims, who sunk the ship in seconds by dropping heavy rocks upon it from the air. The other ships of the flotilla were given an ultimatum: to be sent to the sea depths or to serve under the Empire’s banner as legitimized corsairs of his Imperial Majesty. The pirates did not need any more persuasion and this is how the Free City lost its entire navy in a single day. An easy victory that seemed so close slipped away from Vallor’s forces. Now the city was left one-on-one with the most powerful army of the continent.
To make matters worse, another trick, which Khan Dir devised, had fallen flat. The Duke attracted a number of mountain orc tribes to the Free City banners. They were supposed to harass the Empire’s main forces in the border areas and at river crossings. But Roland found an effective countermeasure again. He sent patrols mounted on griffins ahead of his army and was receiving timely warnings about enemy attacks. The Free City units and orc mercenaries suffered significant losses in several border skirmishes without being able to slow down the Empire’s advance towards their city.
Vallor’s situation was quickly becoming depressing. Arguments about the next course of action erupted all across the city. Some were ready to take up arms, some insisted on pleading for peace no matter the price. The opinions of the Great Guilds split as well. The Guilds of Shadows and Blades wanted to continue fighting. The Merchant Guild, on the contrary, thought that peace should be concluded as soon as possible by meeting whatever demands the Emperor would put forth. The opinion of the merchants was shared by Teebo de Bazan.
“This is treason!” The young woman announced the moment she entered.
“I want to save the city, save thousands of its citizens and you call it treason? Emperor Demian demands that we venerate his One God. What does it matter if we worship one god or many if it saves our lives? We should meet the Emperor’s demands and get rid of this upstart Varga Quark once and for all.”
“So this is the root of it all.” Said Brissa, “Pathetic need for revenge is all that drives you. You did not forget that Varga outsmarted you and now you want to pay him back. There is nothing else to it. And all these noble words about saving the city and its citizens are nothing but a veil, a cover to hide your ego. Very well then. Know that while I am the Lord of War in Vallor, your plans will never come to true.”
“This will not last long.” The Marquish warned her grimly.
On the hastily gathered meeting of the City Assembly, Teebo suggested that Brissa de Molforn should be sacked from her position as the Lord of War. He hoped that the Duke would support his demand. However Khan Dir surprised everyone by supporting Brissa.
“I never thought I would say this, Brissa, but only you can save the Free City now. I do not ask you to kill Roland Proud, but you must take it to the field against him and make him retreat.” Khan Dir said.
Brissa took the Duke’s offer. Mounted on a half-mechanical monstrous wolfen Hidrex, she stood at the head of the Free City army’s vanguard. The soldiers were still ready to follow her even to their death. The Demented Bastards stood as the first line of defense in the city’s arm, serving as Brissa’s personal guard. Having found out about this decision, Varga Quark ordered to turn all the factories of Ortus Automaton into weapons production. The work of mechanical hammers did not stop even for a minute.
At the same time the lands outside of the Free City walls were covered in an ocean of blue-uniformed Imperial soldiers. The gigantic encampment of Roland Proud lied here.
Will one city, founded on the alliance of such different powers, stand against an entire empire?