Opening Shots

It was a wet, cold, shivery, gray afternoon at the dying end of autumn. Fog blanketed the waters of the bay and veiled the other towers in a manner that made them look almost respectable; almost. The harbor towers had been little more than frameworks of heavy, rejected ship-timbers and bamboo lashing when they were new, and they hadn’t been new for more than a few years.

We shivered in our thick coats of upriver fur, stamping our feet to keep warm, and watching the clouds of our breath blend with the fog. Even our sniff-hound was shivering, and he had more fur than both of us put together. With fog lying heavy, not even the usual traffic of small traders and fishers wanted to navigate the bay shoals. Nothing to look at, nothing to do: welcome to the Harbor Guard.

Until Meijis, my partner, spotted them. Five or six ships incoming, glimpsed through patches in the fog. Unusual, at the best of times, and unheard of in this weather, the more so because they looked to be, best as we made out, in staggered line ahead; a battle formation.

Pirates, we thought, or some other kind of raiders. Lost, we presumed, since the harbor was well-defended, but better to be safe than not, so I sent Meijis down to ring the warning bell, and heard it picked up by the other towers in the chain.

His eyes were wide when he climbed back up top. “They’re coming in fast. Too fast for than any ship I’ve seen moving against the wind.” The view down there must have been better, but at that moment the fog drew back, and I saw that he was right, and more. These weren’t like any ship we’d seen – low-slung, sailless and mastless, gray as the sky and water, undecorated but for the sharp-angled writing the azik use. At first I thought they were afire, for smoke – hidden by the fog – billowed from their squared-off sterns…

“Quor! What do –”, Meijis’s voice yanked me out of my stupor.

“Sink ‘em!” We leapt together for the largest ballista and swung it around to bear, lighting the slow fuse on its charge and yanking back the lever. The great bolt flew straight and true, hitting the foremost of the ships just aft of the midline, then bouncing from its unmarked hull with an oddly subdued clang and vanishing below the waves. The sniff-hound yelped at that, and leapt from the tower into the harbor waters. He was the smart one.

Thunder spoke the ship’s reply. The tower fell away beneath us.

Sar Anpeng fell to the Imperials before dusk.

– recorded in The Southern Consolidation: Viewpoints

Civilized Warfare

From Storm-General Galen Claves-ith-Lelad, Warmain of the Dawn, Strategos of the 33rd Imperial Legion, the Fists of Lightning, to Ironlord Qorran Cieng, commanding the Third Army of Ochale, greeting.

I have the honor to command the forces of my Empress, which even now approach the strongpoint you have made of the city of Echiran from the south, as your scouting parties will doubtless have confirmed for you. I regret that I must further inform you that we have successfully secured the outlying villages to the south, and our five-furnace dragons have taken up position along the Chiran Ridge, from which they are able to successfully range upon your position.

Despite the regrettable necessities of war, I wish to assure you that neither I nor Her Divine Majesty have any desire for the devastation of cities, the deaths of your people, or any unnecessary effusion of blood.

To that end, it is my wish to offer to you an alternative to bombardment, house-to-house fighting, and other such barbarities. If you will vacate the city, we will meet you in the valley to its west. In deference to your current superior defensive position, I give you my personal assurance that we will permit you one day beforehand to establish your positions in the valley, and will refrain from engaging you there with our five-furnace dragons.

In the event of our victory, we would require that you withdraw from the city of Echiran, without sabotage, pillage, or further engagement, a minimum of three days’ march; likewise, in the event of your victory, we will undertake that neither we nor the 55th Imperial Legion, the Doom Hammers, currently approaching from the west, will attempt further engagement nor pass north beyond the city of Echiran for the three days following the battle.

In surety of our good faith, I pledge you my personal word, my word as Warmain of the Dawn, and in the voice of my Empress. May I have your response before daybreak?

Given under my hand and seal this day, 11 Cálith,

Galen Claves-ith-Lelad