Bella Omnium Contra Omnes
Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan
The collapse of Llael into a failed state is seen by many to have a single catalyzing act: the destruction of Merywyn Palace on the day locals now refer to as the “Day of Balefire.” The truth is that the small nation was made more and more fragile, both in its occupation and its eventual liberation, until the terrorist act the destroyed its tottering government was little more than the wind that blew the whole house of cards over, leaving a rich land in anarchy.
In 606 AR, the nation was riven by multiple competing powers. The Khadoran Empire, having conquered Redwall Fortress, Elsinberg, and Laedry, moved its armies and bureaucrats into Merywyn. They controlled the breadbasket of the nation and, for all their Imperial bluster, had actually stabilized many parts of life in the country that had become a bureaucratic mess by decades of corruption amongst the nobility. The Northern Crusade of the Protectorate of Menoth owned a small part of the kingdom, centered around the city of Lleryn. The Menites were, if anything, harsher taskmasters than the Khadorans, and their establishment of military outposts had irrevocably strained their previous alliance with the Llaelese resistance. As for the resistance itself, they were barely a remnant of the former kingdom, holding onto only the port city of Rhyden, and the “Highborn Covenant” seemed to spend more time in mercenary activities for coin than in efforts that might help drive the hated Khadorans out. The projections for the future were bleak for an independent Llael: the Khadorans had the military might to eventually choke off Rhyden, leaving Llael destined to be partitioned by two greater powers, even as the nation’s oldest ally, Cygnar, looked on impotently, desperately trying to shore up their own defenses against the Khadoran onslaught.
Time can be an ally or an enemy
In this desperate hour, the Llael resistance received an offer of aid from a most unexpected quarter: Eiryss, a famous mercenary and mage hunter, approached the Highborns with an offer of aid from the noble houses of Ios. The elves would lend military power to the deteriorating resistance in exchange for a promise: that the nobles of Llael would allow the elves to search their treasures for an Iosan artifact. The so-called “Angel of Retribution” was cagey about the exact nature of the artifact, but she assured the Llaelese that the Iosans, unlike their former human allies, had no designs on the nation itself. The Highborn Covenant took the offer of aid and, before long, Myrmidons and warriors of the Dawnguard were falling on the Khadorans with an unparalleled ferocity. The Llaelese never learned what the Iosans were looking for – Eiryss had, in fact, found evidence that the body of Ossyris, slumbering as the other vanished Iosan gods did, was somewhere in Llael. Indeed, several Iosan seers believed that the unending conflict in the country was evidence of the War God’s presence. In any event, the Khadorans were disrupted by the new player and their advance through the nation was brought to a standstill. The new phase of the war might have dragged on for years, but Khadoran politics played a hand in undoing the conquerers.
Much of Khadoran-occupied Llael was comprised of the ancient nation of Umbrey. The old ties to southern Khador were a part of the invasion’s pretext and they now touched on one of Khador’s most powerful and controversial warlords, Great Prince Vladimir Tzepesci. The Prince took direct command of the Khadoran armies, unleashing a storm of protest amongst the Khadoran High Command. While the horselords of the old nobility flocked to the Great Prince’s banner, the military veterans and their Kayazy allies in the capital turned public opinion against the war, portraying the Great Prince as a threat to the Empress’ authority. Gradually, the Khadoran army was starved of resources and materiel, until even the mighty warcaster’s military brilliance could not hold it all together. But the grimly resolute Prince and his devoted retainers fought a bitter retreat across the land and countless lives were spent in driving the invaders out. In 606 AR, the last Khadorans retreated back across the old border. Llael was free, but it was also spent.
The Highborn Covenant went to work trying to rebuild a state that had been ground underfoot by years of relentless magitech warfare. Two complicating factors made this herculean labor into a nigh-impossible one. First, the Protectorate of Menoth had carefully marshalled its own resources in this time, providing minimal aid to the resistance and continuing to shore up its strength. When the Khadorans retreated, there was no possible way the Llaelese were ready to fight the firmly entrenched churchmen. The Iosans seemed less interested in giving battle to the Menites than they were in securing their end of the bargain with the new Llaelese government, which became the second complicating factor. Returning nobles had little interest in allowing the elves to pick through their family treasures like goods for sale in a market. Harsh words became harsh accusations that, in turn, became hostilities.
In spite of all this, the Highborn Covenant made a go of reestablishing Llael. The Council of Nobles was reestablished, and the new government even kept a good portion of the Khadoran law that abated many of the old abuses. However, a large percentage of the population had seen their fortunes rise under Khadoran rule and these people were now suspect in the new regime. If trying to keep the peace with Iosan militants engaging in guerilla actions wasn’t hard enough, neighbor began turning on neighbor in the interest of “punishing collaborators.” Bureaucrats who had made the transition from the Llaelese government to the Khadoran regime now found themselves the target of trials, if not lynch mobs. Even the newly efficient Khadoran systems began to degrade under the loss of personnel and institutional memory. Some of the old corruption began to seep back in, and criminality exacerbated the chaotic civil situation. Cygnaran efforts to mend fences were seen as an effort of a fair-weather friend to exert new influence in a country that had become gripped with an increasingly strident level of xenophobia. The Menites encouraged mistrust of the Cygnarans, as well as efforts to drive out the non-humans.
Such is the way of many revolutions, and the new Council of Nobles might have worked their way, slowly and painfully, out of these dark times, but they would not get the chance. In 607 AR, the Merywyn Palace exploded in a fantastic display of arcanotech that scorched everything for a half-mile around the fabled structure. The Council had been in session, and the vigorous personalities that had held the fragile Llaelese peace together were snuffed out in an instant. The disintegration of the state became total in a matter of weeks as law collapsed and looting and rioting erupted in most Llaelese cities. Even the Menites found themselves stretched to their limits in their efforts to try and maintain a semblance of peace. A bitterly cold winter brought the madness to a standstill, but produced no new order. Reports of Gatormen attacks in the south and Troll highwaymen in the north went unheeded. Even the Iosans, wrapped up in their hunt for their missing god, found new troubles, as their blighted kin from among the Nyss began to appear in the snow, engaging in their own hunts that brought the two elven folk into bloody conflict. As midwinter came and went, many of the Iron Kingdoms made proclamations of their intent, with the coming of the spring, to try and restore order to the beleaguered land. As 608 AR looms on the horizon, Llael has become the chessboard, on which a massive and multipolar war will be fought. It only remains to be seen if such a war can finally end the divisive conflicts that have so scarred the land, or will become the conflagration that shatters it forever.
War is an expression of politics by other means
Each of the major armed forces gathering in and around Llael have their own motivations for engaging in hostilities. Of interesting note are those nations that are not mustering forces. The Khadoran Empire seems to continue to be riven by internal conflict, as well as dealing with threats from another quarter. The Llaelese Resistance, in the person of the Highborn Covenant, is no more, with most of its leadership destroyed. If the nightmare armies of Cryx have taken an interest in the matter, there is no evidence of such.
The Kingdom of Cygnar approaches Llael with a mixture of determination and guilt. On the one hand, King Leto feels responsible, at least partially, for allowing such an ancient ally of his realm to come to this dissolute state. The Cygnaran army, no longer pressured by Khadoran advances, is preparing to launch a massive peacekeeping mission into the country. While the King and the nobility have thrown their support behind the endeavor, no one has said concretely whether the kingdom intends to restore Llaelese independence, or reestablish Llael as an extension of Cygnar itself.
The Protectorate of Menoth is in the odd position of holding the only unbroken line of authority in Llael, although it is only a scant few years old. High Exemplar Kreoss and the soldiers of the Northern Crusade mix their growing fondness for the nation with the religious hatred of the non-humans they blame most often for the disasters plaguing the nation, as well as a determination not to allow Cygnar to profit from those disasters.
The enigmatic Retribution of Scyrah is at their wit’s end with the human nation. The loss of a central government has made their hunt damnably difficult, and the leaders have determined that order must be imposed on some level in order to expedite the discovery of their lost god. If that order must be imposed over the dead bodies of human mages, so much the better. While unused to the role of conqueror, the elves are determined to blend their military power with whatever diplomatic resources they can muster to achieve their ends.
Perhaps most disturbing is the arrival of the forces of the dragon, Everblight. No one is certain, but the effort and resources the Legion is throwing into the nation indicate that the Legion’s spies have discovered the existence of a potent athanc within the war-torn country. Ironically, their own hunt is stymied by the same problems that vex their unblighted cousins. Whether the Legion is hunting for the athanc, the body of the sleeping Iosan god, or both is unclear; however, they must establish an infrastructure of their own to manage the search.
At first, the appearance of the Gatormen of the Blindwater Congregation seems to be utterly anomalous in the chaos of war, but Bloody Barnabas and his worshipers have rarely been more clear-eyed. Barnabas has devoured his way to power, and all signs point to elements of immense power within the broken kingdom. If Barnabas can approach godhood by devouring the souls of his enemies, what sort of power might he achieve by devouring a god or dragon?
Of all the forces, the army of the United Kriels is, perhaps, the most mercenary and bloody in its motivations. Cygnar’s pledge of a homeland for the Trollbloods left them pinned between northern Cygnaran nobles and the onslaught of the Empire of Skorne. The Trollkin are assaulting and seizing land in the failed state solely to improve their negotiating position with the Iron Kingdoms. If honor will not serve to get the Kriels some peace, perhaps control over the rich farmland and trading routes of Llael might.