The Hero's Journey
Kadesh extends along the entire eastern coast of Feloria, and westward almost a thousand miles in places across the central steppes of the continent, although much of its inland territory is extremely sparsely inhabited – and even those inhabitants might be surprised to be told they are subjects of the Empire. On paper at least it stretches from the Stonespear Mountains in the north, south across hundreds of miles of frozen tundra and into the temperate grasslands and fertile coast of Adrak Vel, through the mangrove swamps of the north coast of the Bay of Hrolgar to the sun-drenched deserts of northeastern Feloria Minor.
The imperial heartlands lie in the continent’s north-east, where a cluster of volcanic peaks which the blackbloods call the Thrones of Garaz-Ur rises dramatically above the tundra. There is no more significant site in Kadesh, be it politically, culturally or religiously. The slopes of these great peaks are warm and fertile, in marked contrast to their surroundings, and settlements, fortifications and farmland cluster so closely in the favourable environment that they have grown together into a single massive city. This is Merekorez, the City of Shining Spears, so named for the forest of golden-capped minarets of the imperial palace-fortress at its heart. It is also more popularly (if less formally) known as Merez-Ur-aral, the City of the Burning Sky, though whether this refers to the volanic peaks which dominate the skyline or the permanent pall of smoke from the city’s great foundries is unclear.
The bulk of the Empire’s population is concentrated in and about the provinces of Adrak Vel, Theron and Nazara along the central eastern coast. At least half a dozen of the cities in this region are more populous than Dresda itself.
The vast majority of the population of the Empire are what outsiders call Blackbloods, which is to say Orcs and Ogres. Of the two, Orcs are far more numerous, accounting for over ninety percent of the Blackblood population. Westerners are often surprised to learn that humans are a significant minority group within the Empire, perhaps as much as twelve percent of the total population.
Kadesh possesses immense resources, advanced engineering, Infernium, tremendously powerful sorcery and a massive native population with superior physical durability and endurance. With all of these factors in its favour, its centuries-long tradition of military inferiority seems somewhat counterintuitive.
There are a number of reasons for this; perhaps the most significant is the divided nature of Kadeshi society itself. The vast majority of a Kadeshi army are peasant levies, and few Firebloods would ever consider wasting resources on such troops. Conversely, few Thinbloods are motivated to die for a society which offers them only subservience. Soldier for soldier, a Kadeshi army is significantly inferior to any force it is likely to encounter in terms of training, equipment, and morale. This difference was especially marked in the last war with Qeryon, where tales of Elven troops routinely routing or demolishing Kadeshi forces five or ten times their number were commonplace.
Leadership is the second rotten plank in the Imperial military platform. The military is traditionally something of a dumping ground for the lower-rung children of Fireblood families, and leadership and strategic ability is assumed to be ‘in the blood’. Occasionally it is, of course, but most often these commanders find themselves sent into battle with little or no idea of the job. Since the Fireblooded families are constantly in competition with one another, there is little inclination towards sharing experience with one’s peers; on top of this, those few who are successful inevitably make enemies amongst their fellow officers because of it.
Needless to say, these issues make large-scale operations difficult at best. It is mechanically much easier for two Satraps to fight one another’s forces than co-ordinate with them, which might explain much of the past four centuries.
One should not, however, infer that the Empire entirely lacks capable soldiers; the Empire’s best are the equal of any troops in the world, and in fields such as siegecraft the Kadeshi are (potentially) unrivaled. From the sorcerer-lords of the Imperial Deathguard to the wolfriders of the Uqoi tribes, from ironclad Scorchers to the veteran scouts of the Border Watch, there are many elite troops at the Empire’s disposal. No other power could mount an entire army upon mile-long Crawling Fortresses flanked by hundred-foot-tall war golems under a sky darkened by armoured Sky Barges laden with Marauders. In the absence of an Emperor capable of wrangling Kadesh’s fractious satraps to his will, however, Kadesh seems unlikely to ever achieve its formidable potential.
Overall Imperial military doctrine has changed little since the wars; the politics of the Empire make it difficult for innovation to find a foothold, in warfare or any other field. Perhaps the most significant change is the declining role of the Crawling Fortress – once the very symbols of Imperial military might, their poor performance during the latter part of the Dresdan Wars and especially the stigma of their role in the disastrous Battle of Parvaron led to them being gradually reduced to a rear-echelon role, where they are used at all (It probably doesn’t help that more fortresses are in Keryon hands than Kadeshi ones). The balkanization of the Empire has also proven a major factor in this change – very few satrapies can afford to maintain even one of these behemoths.
This is not to say that no other innovations have been attempted, of course; advanced skybarge designs intended to counter Qeryon air superiority and smaller variants on the Crawling Fortress principle have been trialled on several occasions, and new artifice weapons such as the firebeam have seen widespread deployment. In the wake of the Dresdan Wars, numerous attempts have been made by various warlords and satraps to adapt some of the successful tactics and doctrines of the Dresdan and Keryon militaries, but these attempts have yet to produce much success and have never gained widespread acceptance.