It was amazing what a single battle could do. Kristoff was a diplomat as much as a warrior, and wielded words as well as a blade. Better, perhaps. But no matter how well-spoken, words could wheedle and they could nudge, but they could not truly change things. Not the way violence could.
A single battle, the attack on Cryophoenix, had started the conflict that would come to be known as the Great War. A mere 50 units had been involved, over half of which had croaked in that icy level 2. Two turns later, 6 of Erflia's 7 sides were openly at war, with Moppits glowering in the background.
And a single battle, in the city of Savage, had ended it. Oh, there'd been combat leading up to it, at Vingerdell, at BBCamp, at Panag, at the Crossroads... but spectacular as those had been, they'd had merely cleared the way. Power shifting this way and that, units clashing and croaking as their sides manoeuvred. Winterview's strike at the Savage Capital had been the culmination of all that destruction, and it had been... satisfying. Kristoff had lead it personally, stacked with Deer and Veshtu, Luscia by his side as Winterview's Megawits darkened the skies. He'd seen Sour Ron himself on the frontlines, fighting off uncroaked knights, before he was bitten in half by an enraged Reigndeer. The battle had been over at that point, and the war had soon followed suit.
A Downtown courtier by the name of Durkon had, miraculously, survived the slaughter, and been taken into captivity in the ruins of the city. Once Kristoff had gotten past his accent, the bearded diplomat had been surprisingly helpful. The destruction of Savage had left a convenient power vacuum in the East, and the sides suddenly found that the land was big enough for both of them. Two cities were ceded to Wonderland, as a matter of course, but Downtown was left mostly intact. It had been agreed that the war had been primarily caused by Savage's scheming, and while neither side believed that for a minute, it was a convenient lie. It allowed Wonderland to keep a buffer side to the east, and allowed Downtown to avoid being crushed under the hooves of Wonderland's deer. Politics was a matter of convenience, after all.
And convenience, or perhaps fear, had triumphed in the West as well, as Whedawall's Amura withdrew from CNNest and left it to the Voyerans. Kristoff had been vaguely disappointed at the news, but the relief on Luscia's face had been obvious. Whether their decision was motivaed by a sheer change of heart, or worry that Savage's fate might befall them next, Whedawall's withdrawal had signalled the end of the conflict. Peace, fragile as it was, had settled over the continent.
It was turn 30, now, and the fragile peace had held. Whedawall and Voyera stood strong in the West, on 4 and 5 cities respectively. They supported armies of 40 natives each, along with their side's units, and Wonderland had contributed several 8-stacks of Deer to their defence. The war had left the West mostly unscathed, and the sides had used the intervening turns to build their cities up further, leaving level 4 fortresses all along Erflia's Western border. Even Moppits had started contributing a steady stream of Gonzos, though they were reclusive as always. Waste of a city, in Kristoff's opinion, but that was firmly in Voyera's sphere of influence. If Voyera let the puppets abide, the Snowmen would not interfere.
The Fae had been nigh-on forgotten after their ignoble end, as the continent left the war in its past. Voyera had taken Faeton for themselves the turn after Savage's destruction, leaving Vingerdell and Fassen to Wonderland. Generous as ever, though they would be well-paid in return. A few deer were only the start.
The East, finally, belonged mostly to Wonderland. Downtonwn's cession of Goanna City and Warhead had boosted the side to the prophesied 11 cities, and Wonderland was bringing its newfound economic clout to bear. Aiur, finally level 5, contributed Slays and Nutcrackers to Erflia's growing armies, while their remaining cities, mostly level 2, popped stack after stack of Reigndeer. 60 of the beasts paced beneath the walls of Savage, under Chief Kristoff's command, even as more streamed East, to reinforce Downtown's garrisons. Wonderland's new allies to the east had proved themselves surprisingly amiable, and Kristoff was glad they bore no grudge. Their losses had been quickly replaced, and their armies were fearsome when supplemented by Wonderland's Deer.
There was no real doubt in anyone's mind that this buildup had a purpose. It had been impossible to avoid revealing the War's end to the Empires, and their reactions had been troubling. Nuremdorf's attempts at negotiation had ended, and the units they'd been so eager to sell had been withdrawn to their cities. Scouting indicated that they were building up, too, as F- and G-class units from other Imperial sides joined Nuremdorf's defenders. Jotuns, Stuggas, Matildas, all unknown, all fearsome.
The East looked similar, as the Raj's silent, towering fortresses, filled with units, turn by turn. Their buildup was slower than the Confederacy's, but belied their size. There was more to the Empires than met the eye, that much was certain. Even as stealthed Snowgals crept past the borders, and revealed city after Imperial city, there was no end in sight. And the espionage almost certainly went both ways, as Voyeran patrol flights found and croaked infiltrators almost every turn.
The grim truth seemed to be that, 11 cities or no, the Empires each had only slightly fewer forces than Erflia as a whole. And while those forces were still largely spread out, more were amassing turn by turn. Amassing, it seemed, to nip Erflia's fledgling alliance in the bud.
But there were bright sides. After all, this time, Erflia wasn't helpless, was it? For once, the Empires were scrambling to prepare a defence against them, not vice versa. For once, Erflia had the initiative. And Kristoff did not intend to squander it.
The rulers were still uncertain, as was their nature. There was so much left to upgrade, to negotiate. Reserves of units and Smuckers to build up, more intelligence to gain. Even his own Lady Tassadar had to hesitate before starting a conflict that would make The Great War look like a skirmish.
She was wrong to, of course. Erflia was on a war footing, the Empires were not. Every turn they spent preparing was another turn for the empires' armies to ammass, for their buraeucracy to react to the threat on their borders. They had an opportunity, and it shrunk with every turn they squandered. The Rulers didn't see it, couldn't see it. But that was okay. That was what Chief Warlords were for.
Voyera's Chief Smiles had already agreed, how could he not. Chief Hammer of Downtown as well, eager to prove himself worthy. Whedawall's One-Eye was on the fence, but he'd fall in line soon enough. The plan was hardly complex, after all. Armies were already standing by, units were popping, border fortresses bristled with ferocious garrisons. Erflia was, once again, set for war, ready to overwhelm the foes on their borders. The avalanche just needed one little push to get going.
Kristoff would be that push. Next turn, he was set to march his Deer east, to link up with Downtown's forces in their capital. The turn after, he'd be within strike range of three Raj border cities. 60 Deer would do the rest, the city would be conquered... and at that point, what could the Raj do but counterattack? What could Erflia do, but commit? And what could the Confederacy do, but attempt a strike of their own?
There would be war. Tassadar would be enraged, for sure, and the other rulers wouldn't be much happier. But that was duty, after all. To his side, to his alliance, even to his ruler, much as she'd protest. There would be war. And that, Kristoff hoped, would be that. Downtown and Wonderland could overwhelm the East, defeat or turn the Raj's vassals one by one, destroy that blasted empire in detail.
Voyera and Whedawall would hold in the west, their mobile units tying down the Confederacy's units for fear of deep strikes and encirclements. Eventually, the Armies of the East would come to aid the valiant defenders, and allow a counterattack against the Confederacy. And eventually, in maybe two dozen, three dozen turns, they'd have won. They'd have peace. And they'd have vengeance.
Kristoff watched the sun set in the east as Savage was bathed in red and gold. Then he turned abruptly, cloak swirling around him as he returned to Savage's garrison with swift steps. A very keen observer might have heard him singing softly to himself as he walked.
"And at night,
As we plot,
by the fire.
Our mission to make,
the empires pay.
Walking in a Winter Wonderland."