Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The War of the Bull, In Detail


A follow-up to my first post about the War of the Bull, inspired by this summer's vacation in Gettysburg.

It will help to have a map, and so I recommend opening tabs to my two recent posts.

Prelude to the War

In general: The Solar Empirate of Tlan (assorted known as the Second Empire, the Tlanic Empire, the Heliobasileum) sits at the height of its expansion, controlling all territory south of the Dayrmonts and north of the Tiger's Spine (with the exception of Kara Koren, which resisted assimilation, and the Empty Quarter, which is claimed as imperial territory but is [almost but not actually entirely] fucking empty), as well as the Belt of Fire and colonies in the Jantoo Reach and Copper Shore. Orlei and Themiskrya are tributaries within imperial borders, and are permitted to keep their own governments. This will be important later.

A generation ago: The Acephavaran capitol was rendered uninhabitable due to arcanonuclear disaster and the surviving city-states were incorporated into the Second Empire as "technically independent" tributaries. This was the end of what is known as "Old Acephavara".

A decade ago: Pelai's mage-kings break their adzat compact and open on and off hostilities that will last for decades until it is re-established.

A few years ago: Anti-imperial and anti-aristo sentiments boil over into violence in Kvaare, kicking off the Golden Revolution. Outbreaks of disease occur in the Heartlands and Olabeth.

A year ago: A teenage goatherd from Orlei arrives in the court of the king, claiming to have visions of impending war and a mission from the Gods of Man. She is, after some time, accepted, and preparations are made. More sickness in the Heartlands and Olabeth.

A few months ago: The emperor of Tlan dies during a solar eclipse, without an heir (the closest branch would be the descendants of a bastard prince exiled to Draga three generations ago and stripped of title and inheritance. Civil war is inevitable. Plague in the streets.

Now: Coreolana, wealthiest of the Hespermontane provinces and compromised by the Red Law, makes its first attacks.


Phase 1 (Years 1-2)

Coreolana, now in the opening stages of thralldom to the Red Law but not yet transformed into Dis, launches a double-headed attack up the Mora-Pono and Arivienne rivers. Securing the two major waterways of the region would allow Coreolana to easily box in and subdue its rival imperial provinces in the Low Country, which remain its primary focus at this stage.

The the east, Orleian resistance led by the Sable Maid stymies Coreolana's advance in a series of bloody battles, eventually repulsing the siege of Fiore and securing the upper Arivienne.

In the north, Corleolanan forces easily take Redgate and sweep up the Mora-Pono. They proceed nearly unopposed until they reach Tanniclen. The attempt to take the city is met with disaster when the Black and White Queens take direct action and obliterate the incoming Imperial forces. 

As the Plague spreads, the war falls into the lull of a stalemate.

Interlude (Years 2-7)

The Plague Years in the Hespermont hit full stride as it sweeps through its southern port cities and into the Low Country. The river blockades prove a boon to the Maid and her allies, slowing the spread of the plague and sparing the north the worst of the pandemic.

Imperial holdings in the Low Country dissolve into chaos; fracturing along their many inner political fault lines, engulfed in constant brushfire wars, or collapsing entirely. many that fall are Devoured up by larger neighbors.

Coreolana and its allies are not immune to the plague, and their ability to wage war at distance is crippled - it spends most of this period sparring with the provinces of Austros and Fea Rodesh, while conflict with the Maid's forces and allies is limited to small skirmishes along the Mora-Pono and the lower Arivienne.

The Maid and her allies, now provided some breathing room, are able to solidify their position in the northeast, securing the territory between Orlei and Tanniclen as well as passages into the Dayr, and building a series of fortresses along the Arivienne between Orlei and Fiore. The irregular mix of local militias, Orlei's small military, and the assorted auxiliaries is organized into the Army of the Arivienne, and a similar consolidation forms the Army of the North. These years of preparation and training prove vital in the conflicts to come.


Phase 2 (Years 7-11)

By this beginning of this stage the Plague has faded on the continent, and the situation has transformed into the bedrock that the rest of the war is built upon. 

Dis proper has at last emerged from the corpse of Coreolana and continues its predecessor's campaign in the Low Country. Fea Rodesh collapses. Austros clings to life but grows increasingly desperate and refuses to join with the Maid, citing that it would rather be totally destroyed than admit defeat to an inferior, non-Imperial culture.

Beyond the Hespermont, Hell strikes out across the sea, launching attacks on the Belt, the Imperial colonies in the Copper Shore and the Jantoo Reach, and south towards Reniriya.

On the Maid's side, allies from the Eostremont are now able to bolster the Hespermontane and Dayrine forces. Most important of these is Themiskrya, which supplies the Maid with her first proper naval support. Amazonian ships are able to secure the Bay of the Horn, preventing Dispaterian forces from landing in Acephavara and severely weakening the force dispatched to Reniriya.

Critical in this stage is the resistance in the Belt, organized by the newly declared demudem (lit. "man of men"), Iké-Bar-Adogo. He had been instrumental in the overthrow of the colonial government during the Plague Years and likewise served as commander and rally point for both the islanders and the sea-peoples during the War. This successful resistance prevented Dis from ever reaching south of the Belt in any meaningful capacity, sparing half of the Mare Interregnum from the violence. 

Hell seeks to spread through self-replication, but in order to do so it also needs time to spread its roots. Thankfully for all, the many fronts of resistance learned quickly the best methods of prevention. The seeds of factories are dug up and smashed. Evangelists are hunted down

The Maid's forces, bolstered by eastern reinforcement, move into the Low Country, seeking to secure critical positions while Hell is momentarily distracted by its transmarine designs. This period will eventually be called the Liberation of the Low Countries, as part of the Maid's grand strategy was the incitement and support of mass slave rebellions throughout the surviving ex-Imperial states.  

(Some additional context is necessary: The Low Countries were primarily ruled under the Imperial plantation system, with noble landowners overseeing large enslaved and indentured populations. A small Imperial land owning class with a majority Hespermontane underclass. Typical Hespermontane practices of shared land stewardship were uprooted but, thankfully, not forgotten by the time of the Liberation.)

In those places where the rebellions were suppressed, the Maid would take more direct action and send detachments of her own troops to solve the situation. For particularly large or stubborn holdouts, she would arrive in person. Either way the tactic was the same - riders on swift horses would go ahead of the army, crying out "Take heed! The Maid of Orlei approaches! Clemency for manumission! Clemency for manumission!"

Those who heeded the warning and freed their slaves before the arrival of the Maid's forces were spared. Their property and possessions were turned over to the newly-liberated, but their lives were spared.

Those who resisted were executed immediately, their bodies disposed of with minimal ceremony.

(Historians in Draga and the Dragon Republics will describe this period as an "uncharacteristic brutality" on the Maid's part, which is on their part a deliberate omission playing to popular hagiographic currents - the Maid's absolutist antislavery stance had been openly stated before the war had even begun. "A man who would treat his brothers and sisters as objects to be bought and sold has rescinded his kinship with humanity", and other such blunt statements are commonplace in her speeches)

On a practical level (never far removed from the moral, as the Maid saw it) removing the remaining Imperial landowners from power and handing their lands back to the once-enslaved would drastically reduce supply lines and open up a new pool of volunteers.

Additional to the gains of the Liberation, the Maid's forces are able to push south and retake the entire Arivienne. The Army of the North is battered by multiple major assaults. The second battle of Tanniclen eventually ends in a predictable rout of Dispaterian forces by the Queens, though this time the city (sans the wizards' enclave) is left in complete ruins.

Phase 3 (Years 11-13)

The war in the Low Country has devolved into a bloody back-and-forth slog, with neither side able to make any serious headway. Disputed territory changes hands like a clock that disgorges corpses on the hour. 

Then, a breakthrough: a severe storm season in the Mare and a immensely successful series of raids by maritime Belt clans sinks much of Dis' supply fleet and blocks passage for most of the others, leaving Hell's overseas forces critically undersupplied. 

At the same time, however, the situation on the continent takes a drastic turn for the worse as Austros falls at last to itself. The Red Law took root in its desperation, by the end it was nearly impossible to determine a difference between it and Dis.

With the fall of Austros removing the last third party resistance in the Hespermont, Dis makes a concerted push northward, hoping to cut off both Orlei from the North then sweeping south to retake the Arivienne. If successful, this would strand the Maid in the Low Country (easy prey to be killed or forced into surrender) and would render the overseas failures a very temporary setback (as Dis could then expand without resistance).

These Dispaterian forces will meet Northern forces in a gap in the hill country, near the township of Sannakoroq.

The Battle of Sannakoroq

Hoping to deliver a deathblow, the commander of Dis' northward forces makes a critical mistake during the brutal 3-day battle - he gets overconfident in his advantage, and fails to push forward decisively when he has the upper hand. The battered defenders are able to collect their forces and mount a counterassault, and after three days of brutal fighting are able to break the Dispaterian attack and force a retreat.

While it is still two years to the end of the war, this is considered the turning point. 




Phase 4 (Years 13-15)

With northern Dispaterian forces demoralized and scattered by the Battle of Sannakoroq, the Army of the North is able to regroup and retake the Mora-Pono all the way to the sea and liberate Redgate. Reinforcements flow southward to join the Maid's Army of the Arivienne. The momentum has shifted.

Across the sea, Dis' invasions are thwarted, though at high cost to the defenders - the Copper Shore is retaken by Kvaare, the Reach repulses the invasion and miraculously remains stable (the only Imperial territory in the world to do so), and attempts to form beachheads in Reniriya and Amda are likewise repelled.

The Army of the North marches down the coast from Redgate, while the Maid marches from the east. The new Third Army, drawn from recent reinforcements from the Eostremont and Kara Koren, moves southwest across the central Low Country.

The three armies push through the last lines of Dispaterian defense and at last arrive at the city, beginning the Siege of Hell. Here the Sable Maid meets Darvatius on the field and strikes him down, but loses her life in turn. The siege is broken, and the army retreats.

The War of the Bull ends here: with both sides so exhausted that they cannot continue, but the Maid's forces carrying the victory - Hell has been contained.




The collapse of the Second Empire

Tlan and Olabeth are lost entirely to plague, the land so poisoned that it is desolate even today. The depopulated Heartlands dissolve into countless squabbling principalities. The Low Country is devastated, and where it is rebuilt Imperial cultural influence dies off. The Copper Shore is retaken by Kvaare, the Belt is independent at last,

In the Eostremont, Imperial territory breaks into Draga in the north, and the Dragon Republics in the south. Draga claims continuity of rule through its bastard line but does not claim political continuity, as a way of distancing itself from the southern Imperial culture it long reviled. The Dragon Republics claim no official continuity at all, but the influences are easy to find.

The only true surviving fragment is the city of Hespir in the Jantoo Reach, supposedly the last remaining bastion of Darvatius' empire as well. The senate is still called to order here and claims authority by right of sede vacante, though the population of the city is more Pelaian than Imperial in their looks, manners, dress, and speech.

The Destruction of the Low Country

Much the Low Country never recovered, despite aid from the north and east, and those places that did came back... strange. A mix of local Hespermontane traditions, old Imperial influence, the scars of the war and the sheer spiritual trauma of it all have formed a patchwork of unique cultures isolated in the wilderness. To the outsider, everything here seems strange, grotesque, and inexplicable. The lingering traumas in the land have yet to heal, and this leads many to treat the Low Country and its inhabitants unchartiably.

The Low Country of today is only a fraction of its old population, and it is the most heavily demon-haunted region in the world. The Folk here shun most human contact, and the folkways are less public and less welcome than they are elsewhere.

The Pact of Pandemonium and the establishment of the Demilitarized Zone

The non-aggression agreement with Hell has been upheld so far, but no reasonable person would trust that to last. And so in the years following its signing, a series of small fortresses and watchtowers was established around the border of the Dead Lands, in case Dis were to mass its forces for another war.

Dis, of course, is more than content to forgo overt warfare in favor of more subversive methods, and its agents crawl around the Low Country and even beyond to this day.

Establishment of the Order of the Sable Maid

What began as a band of Orleian peasants and militiawoman ended the war as a veteran force of demon hunters. Much of its internal structure is Eostremonti in origin, as such religious orders are common there and hardly known west of the mountains. Chapels and monasteries of the Solar Church (those that were not destroyed) were repurposed for the Order, including two magnificent basilicas.

The order soon expanded into non-militant branches - monastics, medicants, hospitaliers and common ordained, which serve as the main backbone of the group. While their reverence for the Maid is great, they have not officially declared her to be among the Gods of Man - though folk practices often differ in this regard.

Today, the Order remains the primary (though not only) anti-demon fighting force in the Hespermont, with chapter houses abroad in Acephavara, the Belt, and the Eostremont and their services are welcome even further than that.

Formation of the Necromantic Socialist Republics

One of the many new cultural movements to emerge in the Low Country in the wake of the war, and the most successful of them. The NSR now fills much of the lower Arivienne and some enclaves to the west. It is not well loved or well trusted by the other inhabitants of the Low Country - a wealthy, unusual culture whose practices are secretive and closely-guarded will always attract suspicion. But, the hordes of skeletal workers have made the place stable and quite peaceful, so long as one always pays respects to the dead.

Unanswered Questions

Was Victory Possible?

The Maid was outspoken and unwavering in her desire to see Dis and its master destroyed utterly. In both of these she failed, though she came closer than anyone else before or since.

If she had breached the city, if Moloch had indeed been destroyed, what then would happen? Would the world have been freed of that great engine of suffering? Or would the Red Law have simply found another scion? Would we have lost the Bull only to have

Is Darvatius truly defeated?

This was not his first death: that happened long, long ago, after he has twice conquered the world. The Darvatius of Dis was a different creature, taking the guise of that ancient tyrant because no one living or dead would associate that name with anything but conquest.

The death of Darvatius the demon lord might perhaps be more important than the death of Darvatius the man. What happens when the god of conquest is killed? There have been wars since then, but none so terrible and none so sweeping in their ambitions. Has the potential to wage that kind of devouring war been excised entirely? Simply weakened? Biding its time, till another god fills the role? No one can say. No god of man has ever been killed before - only faded away, their rites forgotten.


  1. Dan is working on a third part of the triptych, which will be added as soon as it's done.

  2. But the soul is still oracular; amid the market’s din
    List the ominous stern whisper, from the Delphic cave within
    They enslave their children’s children who make compromise with sin...

    1. I wish I didn't automatically associate that poem with Unsong now, but so it goes.

  3. This is rad. Really love what I think I’m reading as ACW-and-aftermath parallels.

    1. Yep that was intended from very early on, my vacation just focused it.

  4. Saint Joan Brown!

    Wonderful world-building.