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Iomedae in the Eastern Empire!
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It's not every day that Iomedae gives you permission to take over an empire. Not that said permission is strictly necessary, when it would be so hard for Iomedae to even go back without Alfirin's help, but it's nice to have anyways.


"I have only had three spare hours to work on it. Ninth circle for sure, I'm confident it'll stabilize but I will need more time to actually get it there. As for the souls in Velgarth - scry won't work at that range but if you can describe a dead person well enough to target with a scry I think I have another way to check that should work. It'll take about an hour but I can start now while we talk."



Is it horrifying necromancy? It's probably horrifying necromancy. 


Iomedae has spent these three weeks fighting a war, a war the rebels were winning but not one they were winning without taking losses her healing couldn't fix. She can describe some dead people in uniquely-identifying detail.


First, a telepathic bond, because she's going to be busy chanting and that can make it hard to carry on a conversation the traditional way. Then she can prepare and start casting soulseeker, which is useful for some research projects that might be described as "horrifying necromancy" but in isolation is a quite benign divination.

(It's also not a spell that any other wizard has been able to stabilize before but of course very few have tried and even once you have tried the reasons it fails are nonobvious. Certainly it's not going to be something a couple of paladins will know.)

:It's two wish diamonds, to get there and back, unless you have good reason to expect to be able to find one easily - just because they haven't all been mined and burned already doesn't mean they're just lying about - We can probably get one in a week, the second might be trickier. Might get easier when you reappear, I think people might be hoarding from expecting Tar-Baphon to take all of Avistan -:


:Yes, I'm getting the sense I should reappear immediately, and show off Arazni's Prayer spell where it's not fucking Wail of the Banshee, and participate in what it sounds like is a prepared operation to retrieve some ghouls. - I do want a more complete accounting of what went so badly wrong. You knew I wasn't dead. You could have hired a comparable amount of combat power on a temporary basis.: It would have been much less good, of course, not fully integrated with her forces, but on the other hand nearly every powerful adventurer in Avistan has travelled with the crusade at least for a few of the most recent twenty years, and plenty of them for most of it.

             :That's approximately what went wrong: says Karlenius flatly. :We talked it through and determined that while being without you in the long run would be devastating, being without you in the short run meant some fairly minimal tactical adjustments. The most important effect would be the effect on morale, but it wasn't obvious that an orderly retreat - and we would've needed to retreat very, very far, most of the way to Urgir - would wreak less havoc on morale than pressing on. We spoke to the men. Assured them that you were fine, and up to something more important or you'd have given yourself to Aroden at once - which turned out to be true -:

:Mostly true. I'd have acted differently if it didn't seem quite high priority to get a Church of Aroden set up locally, but I also don't actually ....possess a means of suicide. I should probably carry one. Drowning might work but there has never been a paladin of my power who left records and it would be unfortunate and not actually wildly surprising to learn that I become unconscious through drowning but don't die of it.:

             :- all right, well, mostly true. Anyway. The men held up all right for a week or so, but when they crumbled they really crumbled.:  His is the tired expression of someone who hasn't felt fear since he was a teenager and who is used to accounting for it, but as a phenomenon like smallpox, which occasionally and contagiously afflicts the troops for unfathomable reasons that are probably Urgathoa's fault. :We had no alternative to the retreat, at that point, aside from spending diamonds we might need to retrieve you, and it has been - as we anticipated from the beginning it would be - two full weeks of hard fighting -: As they fell back, hopelessly demoralized, through ground they'd spent the last year taking. There are endless details but they hardly need spelling out, from that broad picture.


She nods. Doesn't apologize; there'd be no point. :Well, I suppose I'll walk you back to Urgir, if Alfirin thinks she can get the Teleport when she has time to try it. And if she thinks it'd take her months or years then I'll appear for the next few days of the fighting, tell everyone there's substantial additional help on the way, go shake down some people in Oppara for a return diamond, and next campaign season we'll have some Gate-sorcerers and some people with a Telepathy range of hundreds of miles and some with at-will scrying.:


:At least a month. Maybe not two. Probably not a year, and if it takes that long it means I've misjudged the problem so far and I'm less confident it can be done at all. I'm worried Urgir's not a great place for our army to be if the Tyrant comes at us in force, but retreating farther and abandoning the siege would be even worse for morale. If you're planning to go back to Velgarth on your own you should make Karlenius let me into the command tent, he does not trust me as far as you do and - in all honesty I don't know that I would have made the call to retreat earlier in better order, but the faltering morale was a lot easier to notice as someone who doesn't banish all dread just by standing near people.:


:I - don't know if it's worth two Wish diamonds to get to Velgarth a month or two sooner. 

I will ask Aroden if He can use the church.: Because if He can't, then it's probably not worth it, no matter how much every part of her twists in horror at leaving Oris to be crushed, everyone who believed in her singled out to die for it when she could have saved them.

Twenty, thirty thousand people. They don't use Wishes that lightly. 

:...and I'll ask Him if He can just tell you where He hid His notes with the Even Greater Teleport. I'm sure He hid notes with the Even Greater Teleport. - I'll want, if it's something you wouldn't have developed otherwise, your word on how you'll use it if we give it to you.:



:I had not particularly planned to follow Aroden's lead in exploring the stars this century, but I do expect to get to it eventually - don't give me that look Karlenius, I have age resistance and druid friends and no intention of becoming undead - and rederiving the spell to do it with would be the obvious first step. I'll give my word not to use the spell in ways I think you'd disapprove of for half again the amount of time I estimate that getting the notes saved me, or some less subjective constraint if you want to propose one. I'm confident I can give a sufficiently accurate estimate for that, I'm less confident that I can accurately guess whether or not I would have developed it at all in time, since that involves predicting my motivations hundreds of years in the future.: And heaven knows her motivations have changed plenty in the last forty years.

:That said, if I'm right that I can get it in a month or two, it doesn't seem like a good use of Aroden's ability to intervene in the Material to speed that up.:


:Unless it gets him an entire new planet. And that may well be what the difference is, between a month and this week, though it could be the case that the Wish is cheaper than Aroden's aid would be.


....we can't send me without a way to get back, or you, but there's people we could send in the hope but not the firm expectation you can make Teleport contact eventually. One Wish, not two. I think it still doesn't pencil out, if Aroden can't operate there, but I'd at least have to check.: 

And to Karlenius, though she copies Alfirin: :She's too polite to say that if you let her into the command tent she'll double the available intelligence there, but it's nearly true, and it matters. Our second greatest advantage is that people who would never be us still have most of their interests in common with us. And our greatest advantage is that I do actually think Alfirin would be us, if it looked like the best way to win.: 

           :I presume you to be correct because of your superior relevant knowledge and experience but from my own instincts disagree: he says. They ended up picking a short formal phrase for that; it comes up a lot.


:If it gets Aroden a planet that was otherwise being run by demon princes I suppose I will not even complain much about not getting to figure the spell out myself. I'm not sure we have anyone we can reasonably spare for an indefinite mission like this and who would be able to accomplish much - unless Aroden can operate there and the mission is just evangelism, but I'm sure you did plenty of that and it's not clear that another dozen missionaries would make a difference.:

She is not going to comment on Iomedae's orders to Karlenius; she's gotten what she was aiming for, (the opportunity to save Iomedae's commanders from their own stupidity, should Iomedae disappear again) and if she's not sure that's something she actually wants she's certainly not going to say so.


:Fifth circle wizard with some scrolls that cost much less than the Wish might be sufficient to buy us a couple months. It depends how much the local gods-or-maybe-demon-princes are able and willing to do, but if they sleep in a Rope Trick and keep a Mage's Private Sanctum up and hit the Empire's generals with a Dominate - or, gods, you could do so much damage just running around with Dispel Magic, given how aggressively the Empire relies on mind control.

 I'd also Sending the Emperor at that point and suggest that perhaps his subordinates have foolishly or disloyally maneuvered him into a war that doesn't serve him, with a people who aren't his enemy, etcetera etcetera.

- I don't know if it'd be worth the Wish, but I think it'd work, and I tentatively bet the Empire doesn't have avenues of escalation beyond what they used to kill me.:


And that is, perhaps, the broad shape of the tradeoffs they'll be making; what's left depends on what Aroden has to say, when they have his highest-circle priest Commune tomorrow, and on what the spell Alfirin is chanting has to say about the fate of Velgarth souls.

Iomedae will request and receive a more in-depth update on the state of the crusade. And then, though probably it'll be much cheaper for Aroden to answer the Commune tomorrow, they will bow their heads and pray for guidance, in the fashion Iomedae taught all her senior commanders, laying out the paths in their head between which Aroden could move them with a gesture, trusting Him. 

She does understand how it'd be a dangerous thing, in a world where people were wrong about their gods.


This is, in the opinion of General Salan, the worst campaign he has ever been on.

It didn't start that bad, up north of the Havau Bar mountains; they had the imperial Gate-network for supplies and they had capable officers and the populace was, oh, not unmixed supporters of the Empire, not oh-no-not-anarchy types who'd just take the quartermasters' money for their stores, but they'd never cared much for the central government down in Oris and neither lords nor farmers had lost much by the takeover. But the further south they went - gate-arches destroyed, farms abandoned, cattle driven away; what they had they had to carry, and the few people who were still left acted like they didn't speak Jaconan unless you hit them with compulsions.

(There were graves. Salan guessed they were the ones who supported the Empire, and, occasionally, confirmed it.)

And then the raids started. Where were they coming from? It wasn't Gates, it was just that the hills were not, actually, empty; the few villages hid more. Night after night the raids would come - to burn the stores, to wreck the supplies, cutting the throats of sentries and vanishing into the night, grit in the gears of the huge grinding mechanism that was an imperial army. None of the Adepts' searches would find the stores the rebels hid, but that did not stop proper bloody formally-trained imperial Gates from raining boiling oil onto tents from a mile above the camp, all without an actual battle. It was everything he could do to stop his own people from launching their own retaliatory raids, to bring death and destruction onto even the people who supported them, as his troops' faces grew grimmer and their eyes grew harder and their determination to kill someone for this got steadily and steadily harder.

The worst part was, of course, that this was where they were used to the Empire.

The further south they went, the worse it would get.

General Salan kept the pace steady, and Gated in supplies, and hated the campaign.


Jean was not, frankly, much happier about it, even though everything was going exactly according to plan except for Iomedae's death.

The problem with fighting a battle is that he might lose it. The problem with not fighting a battle - dispersing, heading into the hills - is that he loses the city, and loses all his people in it. 

Eventually he pauses and flips a coin ten times. Steering that sort of question - when he decides to flip it, which sides the coins come up - is simple, for the gods, and he is Their instrument. 

The battle it will be. He's been calling in troops and training them as fast as he can, and with the fresher troops he's up to eighteen thousand men. Which is not, really, enough, if he's not clever.

Well. He's good at being clever.


The imperial advantage is greatest at mages and cavalry and engines. But they need their mages for supplies, and they need their light cavalry to scout and to guard their supply lines. So. Lancers and siege equipment, and to a lesser extent, still adepts. They'll have more pikemen, but not greatly more.

(Their pikemen are better-trained, better-armed.) 

(They've also gotten very little sleep, and are very, very angry. Well.)

(Anger, he can use.)

He tries for assassinations, he tries for raids...

And, one day, a rebel army marches northwest out of the city.


... The imperial army is coming from the northeast.


Yep! Do they want to let an Orisan army just walk in a large circle around them and cut their supply lines, stranding them in an enemy country without reinforcements where the permanent Gate network no longer exists?


No, they do not.

Marshal Orestan has in fact successfully dissuaded them from doing that, and they will instead locate his army, take advantage of the superior marching speed of their better-drilled, more professional troops to catch up with him, and beat him decisively in a field battle.

(Peasant rebellions usually shatter, when beaten; they rely on momentum, confidence that the tide of fate has turned, and they don't have the grit to fight it out with professional armies or to last beyond their first retreat.)


Marshal Orestan, who has troops from this region because he has troops from every region and looked over it carefully with Farsight himself, will draw up his defensive line just behind a low ridge on a rise of ground between high hills to the north and a river whose banks are shrouded by high weeds to the south, both blocking a direct advance, with tall, tall fields of wheat between him and the Imperials to the east.


The imperials know where his army is (a whole army is hard to conceal, especially with scrying and Farsight) and suspect that this is a trap, but, also, it is very plausibly just the kind of trap where he thinks he can win, in which case he is clearly wrong. They'll draw up their own line, send scouts to survey the terrain, and discover, to their discomfort, that the low farmland is entirely flooded into a swampy morass.


Well, damn, they noticed.


The imperial officers wish to present three plans to their commander:

First, attack. We cannot possibly not have superior numbers, plausibly have greatly superior numbers, and if the terrain is bad, it could be worse. This is a case where the enemy army is willing to fight us. We want such a case, because the enemy army is not that good, no longer has its invincible divinely-empowered champion, and we need to actually beat them for the war to end. Rebel armies do not beat imperial armies, as a rule, and the one thing changing this rule is gone. Argument against: They're in a pretty good defensive position.

Second, Gate-strike them repeatedly. It will be hard to do blind Gates and the loss of mages will be devastating to our supplies for the rest of the campaign, but, argument for, turning this entire battlefield into a crater would result in comparatively low losses. (Argument against, losses centered in our most important and irreplaceable troops.) 

Third, give up and go home and leave them behind us. Argument for: We might lose if we attack them, and, frankly, their supplies cannot be ideal, either. Argument against: And leave possibly the main rebel field army on our rear?

(Plan #4, "leave a screening force to block them while the rest of our army marches south," has been vetoed in the planning stage as being exactly how they lost the last campaign.)


Altarrin has been watching from a distance, of course, though not planning to intervene unless he actually has a strong opinion that diverges from what his field general, who inevitably has more close-up context, thinks they ought to do. 

...In this case he's leaning in favor of plan #1, because it's just true that they need to fight this army in order to win, these are circumstances where the Imperial troops have various advantages, and they already used plan #2 on Iomedae, which already cost them more of their most important and irreplaceable Adepts than the Empire would normally expect to lose in an entire campaign. 

He's not leaning strongly enough in favor to jog General Salan's elbow by interrupting with his own orders. He watches. 


As it happens, General Salan had already come to roughly the same opinion for roughly the same reasons!

Still, the Empire has advantages that most people don't, in terms of ability to solve military problems with magic. A weather-barrier is a fairly normal technique for drawing heat into an area to stay warm when it's cold out. A reverse weather barrier is the same technique, to stay cool when it's too hot. The ability to use a reverse weather barrier to freeze an entire marsh? That's trickier. Impossible, really; no mage could do it.  Several mages working together, however, could make an artifact to freeze a small section of marsh. Or several small sections, with enough mages.

The Empire's factories have Enough Mages, full stop, and they have a lot of random nonsense. Since they do not want to attempt a river crossing in the face of an enemy army, even with a natural barrier, they are going to use their marsh-bypassing artifact and a lot of force-nets to hold the ground down, while their readied infantry (stabilized, as always, by capable officers, calm certainty in the inevitable victory of the Empire, and compulsions) advances head-on against the rebels, who will, no doubt, crest the hill just in time to still be pointing their pikes downhill instead of up.


This does indeed happen! The soldiers of Oris are not nearly as well-trained as those of the Empire; increasing your forces by half in under a month will tend to do that. But the typical man is a veteran of the battles with Iomedae on their side and the typical man knows in his gut they can beat the empire and every man and woman in the ranks has been treated to a fiery speech by their general; they are not stiffened by compulsions, they are stiffened by Empathy Bardic charisma and by their proven faith in Old Emerald-Eyes.

And unlike the empire, right now, they have mages. With the imperial mages making it possible to cross, they are not throwing fireballs. When the imperials are free they'll have the advantage, but right now the imperial squares are scored with blasts of fire and lightning as they laboriously work their way up the low ridge to meet the charging Orisan pikes head-on.


(There is also a side frontier, where some of the imperial cavalry are attempting a wide flank downriver where it was shallower, but that is unlikely to be decisive.)

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