1996 to 2016: 20 Years of Heroes, the story so far

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 1096 to 1101 The Factions at War

The Wolves of Norsca and the Vipers of Teutonia were engaged in a war over territory. The Lions of Albion were still recovering from their most recent civil war and the sinking of the city of York, caused by the mysterious creature known as the Nything as it made its destructive way into the world. The Fir Cruthen of the nations of Erin, Manx, Caledonia and Cymria were struggling against the forces of the Traitor King, Fergus Donaghal. As the summer of 1096 drew to a close, the factions gathered to celebrate the festival of Renewal in Norsca.

The factions were attacked by three creatures they referred to as Nything demons. The Nything itself was in control of the ritual circle, demanding a blood sacrifice each time a ritual was performed. It was believed that performing the Ritual of Renewal would help to contain the Nything and his destructive minions. While the Nything appeared to be confined as a threat, the tensions between the Wolves and Vipers flared and they fought against each other.f

Following their defeat at the hands of the Wolves, the Vipers retreated back into Teutonia. Reaching one of their outpost forts, Lord Viper decided to make a stand. Pursuing them came the army of Norsca. Winter left their supply lines stretched to the limit, but as the snows melted and the spring of 1097 began, Lord Wolf decided to press his advantage and attack. The other factions sent their own representatives to the fight, keen to find their own advantages in the situation. The Lions camped close to the Wolves, a clear indication of where their allegiance lay. The Gryphons of Estragales camped further away, there to serve as mediators in this ongoing conflict. The Fir Cruthen of Erin had also made the journey, but as yet had not chosen a side. The Malandanti had not sent representatives, preferring to stay out of this conflict to resolve their own internal affairs. Also present were those known as Nomads, of no fixed abode or allegiance.

The Gryphons made overtures to act as mediators, offering their skills as paid escorts to ensure the safety of emissaries as the Wolves and Lions attempted to convince the Vipers to lay down their arms. From the safety of their fort, however, the Vipers refused to surrender, so it seemed inevitable that battle would be joined and when news reached the Wolves that Lord Viper’s magical halberd had been stolen, Lord Wolf made the decision to attack.

The Vipers remained secure within their stronghold, while the Wolves and their allies surrounded them and laid siege to the fort. Despite their numerical advantage, the Wolves were unable to unseat their enemy and eventually the siege was broken.

After the siege, King Carl Trueheart of Albion invited all to travel to his kingdom for a great Fayre. Competitions, games and entertainments were laid on for his invited guests. It was a chance for the factions to gather and discuss the recent events in peace; to gather knowledge, to understand the implications of having the Nything in the world once more.

Armed with the knowledge that the land demands obeisance for the use of magic, the factions congregated for their annual festival, the Renewal of Magic. Political relations between the factions remained tense, as the Gryphons and Wolves began to discuss ways to bring their factions closer together, with the suggestion of a political marriage between Cyak of Norsca and Lady Zreth of Lyonesse being used to tie them together. The Malandanti crumbled as a result of military action by the Fir Cruthen and a new group, led by the beastman Sticksss and supported by strong Drow houses, rose to take their place. Meanwhile, tensions mounted between the Lions and the Wolves, as King Trueheart’s advisor Calseris was found murdered on the paths. Overwhelmed by their loss, the King and his new Queen entered the ritual circle and attempted to return Calseris to life. While successful in returning his spirit to his body, Calseris was no longer a living being, instead becoming a being of the Plane of Undeath.

Despite the obvious differences between the factions, they were at least partially united in common cause as all camps were threatened by attacks from the Nything’s forces. The Ritual of Renewal was performed for the second year in a row and this seemed to help in keeping the Nything at bay. The factions were able to return to their homes for the winter secure in the knowledge that their lands would be safe.

~

Over the course of the winter, plans for the marriage alliance between the Gryphons and Wolves moved ahead. As the Gryphons returned from Norsca at the beginning of 1098, they were attacked by a Goblin war band. Most were killed and the Gryphon princess was captured. Believed to be held prisoner by the Unseelie Fae – allies of the Goblins – at their stronghold on the borders of Teutonia, the Gryphons and Wolves mobilised to send a rescue mission. Lord Harriatta of the Vipers also dispatched troops, both to aid the besiegers and to protect his own interests in the area. Rumours of items of power held by the Fae brought others to the area.

Despite the apparent alliance between the Goblins and the Unseelie Fae, the rescue mission was successful and Lady Zreth was rescued from her captors; the marriage pact between the Wolves and Gryphons remained intact.

Eager to form new alliances and secure old allegiances, the newly formed Jhereg invited all to travel to Siberia to a great Fayre on their southern border. Many travelled the long distance to the games to see this new faction for themselves and to trade goods and information.

As the summer of 1098 reached its peak, the factions came together to celebrate the festival of Renewal. The aim was to deal with the threat posed by the Nything, although none were too certain that this was something the factions could achieve.

While the war hosts gathered information on their foe, various factions engaged in diplomatic negotiations. The outcome of these talks was the signing of a treaty of non-aggression between the Vipers, Lions and the newly formed Jhereg.

Having researched the nature of the being known as the Nything, the factions were able to forge a weapon in the ritual circle which had the power to destroy it. The factions took to the battlefield and were successful in achieving their objective. The Nything was slain.

However, victory does not come without a cost. The noble Gryphons had lost their leader, Lord Cathaan Holborn, so it was with heavy hearts they returned to Estragales, while the other factions returned to their homes to celebrate the great victory.

~

After a quiet winter, the factions travelled to a strange fortress in the spring of 1099, located somewhere between the lands of the Vipers and the Gryphons in the centre of the continent. The bastion was held by a group of Fae and the factions spent several days attempting to wrest control of it from them. Ultimately, they were successful in taking the bastion, but during this action King Carl Trueheart of Albion was captured and taken by the Fae.

Following the events at the bastion, the factions travelled to Fir Cruthen lands for a great Fayre. It was a chance to relax and pursue diplomatic relations between the factions. These diplomatic discussions culminated in the factions travelling to the Free Nomadic People’s Council, where those who were known to the factions as ‘Nomads’ were to sign a historic agreement and establish themselves on equal footing with the rest of the factions. The Nomad Council was recognised by all of the factions, although not all of the people who were known as ‘nomads’ chose to sign the agreement. They either found homes within another faction, or remained unaligned.

For the festival of Renewal the factions travelled to Albion. It was truly a festival of celebration, as two marriages were celebrated. The first joined the Lions to the Vipers, as King Carl Trueheart married Lady Elizabetta du Vrai of Teutonia. The second joined the Wolves to the Gryphons, as Cyak wed the daughter of the King of Lyonesse, Lady Zreth. For the Wolves, however, their joy was tinged with sadness, for Finian, Lord Wolf, was killed in an altercation with the Covenant of Fenris. Finian’s second, Valarkin was almost lost to the Covenant as well, as they took control of the ritual circle. The honour of leading the Wolves fell to Lord Cyak.

Relations between the factions were not all cordial, however. On one side, the alliance between the Lions, Vipers and Jhereg and on the other the new alliance of the Wolves and the Gryphons. Historic disagreements between the Vipers and the Gryphons over land and the disintegration of relations between the Wolves and the Lions over various infractions between members of the war hosts had created a divide. As the Vipers and Gryphons formed up to fight each other atop a large flat hill, with the Wolves present as witness, a Fae force appeared from the tree line and marched on the factions. With no choice but to work together, the Vipers, Gryphons and Wolves formed up and fought off the enemy.

After the festival of Renewal, word reached the factions of a mysterious island which had appeared in the middle of the ocean. Lord Cyak of the Wolves sent a delegation to claim the land for Norsca. Unfortunately, the Vipers had also sent people to the island. After some altercations, it was determined that the island had been used as a prison to house the enemies of the Fae, so it was agreed the factions would leave it alone.

~

Over the winter, several more expeditions were commissioned to the strange island, although what these expeditions achieved is unknown. As the spring of 1100 wore on, the factions returned to the bastion of the Fae, now claimed by the Vipers following their victory there the previous year. Supported by his allies, the Jhereg and the Lions, Lord Harriatta wished to consolidate his claim on the area and bring the land into Teutonia. Lord Colwyn Tass , the new leader of the Gryphons, also sought to claim the disputed lands for his own people and brought with him his new allies, the Wolves, although the Wolves claimed their role was to observe, rather than engage.

Various minor skirmishes occurred between the Vipers and the Gryphons, but as the Vipers were safe within the walls of the bastion, there was little the Gryphons could do. The Wolves and Gryphons formed a plan to lure the Vipers out of the fortress, feigning a disagreement between them and sending the Gryphons down to the bastion alone. The ruse worked as the Vipers and Lions left the fort and pursued the Gryphons back up the hill. However, they spotted the Wolves before they could engage and broke off their pursuit. Unfortunately for the Vipers, they had left the fortress undefended, so when they returned they discovered that the Fae had reclaimed the bastion. The Wolves attempted to do a deal with the Fae, offering to assist them in fighting off the Vipers, but the Fae refused and the Wolves ended up attacking the fort instead. The following day, a truce was called between the Vipers and the Gryphons and they joined forces to rout the Fae from the fortress.

Following the fighting over the bastion, the factions travelled to the fabled island of Lyonesse, off the coast of Estragales. Following the death of Lord Holborn at the festival of Renewal in 1098, his widow Lady Yavanna Holborn had retreated to the island in seclusion. Now she had invited all to visit the island, to discuss the current tensions between the factions. It was also an opportunity for the scholars of the war hosts to investigate a great library on the island, home to a vast store of arcane lore. While in Lyonesse, the Lions and Wolves began peace discussions, to try to end the bitter feuding which had existed between the two factions for the past few years.

Once business in Lyonesse was concluded, the factions answered the invitation of Lord Cyak and travelled to Norsca for a Fayre. While on Norscan soil, King Carl Trueheart of Albion made a public apology to the Wolves on behalf of his people; one of the conditions laid upon him by Lord Cyak during the peace negotiations. The Viper ritual team, led by Eremis, suffered a serious mishap in the circle, causing the death of Lord Hargun. Their loss was tempered, however, when Hargun returned in the form of a wraith. While distasteful to some of the factions, the Vipers welcomed his return.

Rested and recovered from the trials of the spring, the factions then travelled to Erin to celebrate the Festival of Renewal. High King Connal Ap Connor had asked the factions to come to assist them in dealing with Malagant and his ‘corruptors’. After a series of skirmishes and battles, the factions were successful in driving Malagant from the isle of Erin. Although the enemy had not been completely defeated, the factions returned to their homelands for the winter.

In the autumn of 1100, a mixed group of individuals from several of the factions travelled to Albion, to attend the re-opened Academy of Arms and Magic, run by an ancient order of warriors known as the Phoenix Guard. Each was able to test their martial skills and learn something new.

~

Before the spring snows had finally melted in 1101, the Phoenix Guard sent out a call for help. They were dealing with a problem just inside the lands known as the Steppe. It was thought that they had been tracking Malagant following his flight from Erin, so the factions sent their best warriors and scholars to assist. While dealing with the local issues of bandits and zombies, an army of ‘corruptors’ was discovered nearby. Too many for the small force to deal with, the remainder of the war hosts were summoned to make an end to the threat once and for all.

While camped in the Steppe lands, the Wolves received a visit from their Gods. They had come to claim Lord Cyak and took him with them when they departed. Valarkin stepped up to become the new Lord Wolf.

The factions were able to deal with Malagant and his remaining forces fairly easily, but the celebrations were cut short when an army of orcs, dressed in an unusual style, attacked the war hosts. These orcs were unlike any the factions had faced before; despite the element of surprise, the war hosts were able to form a defence and defeat the army. Rumours began to spread, however, that this army of orcs heralded a much larger invasion. There was fighting in Franconia and it seemed the invading force there bore a similar resemblance to the orcs the factions had fought in the Steppe lands. Scouts were dispatched while the war hosts travelled to Teutonia to attend a great Fayre hosted by King Harriatta.

As the factions celebrated the games at Harriatta’s family estates, word reached the factions that a host of goblins had arrived by ship and invaded the Fir Cruthen island of Erin. Confirmation was also received that the fighting in Franconia was the result of an invasion of a huge army of trolls and ogres. While the leaders of the nations considered this news, ambassadors arrived claiming to represent this new enemy. It was discovered that the army belonged to the Imperial Court of the Golden Isles, recently united under a new Emperor and eager to extend its territory. Four tribes of green skinned races made up the bulk of this Empire’s people; the honourable Draken orcs, the magically inclined Kaladin trolls, sea-faring Tokra goblins and the Culjag ogres who seemed bred for war. The ambassadors invited the leaders of the continental nations to a meeting with the Empire, taking hostages from each host to ensure their attendance and good behaviour.

So it was with some trepidation that the factions travelled south to Franconia. While the meeting did not go well, vital information was gained about the nature of this new enemy. The factions learned that the rulers of this Golden Empire were hobgoblins, who ran the highly bureaucratic Empire from a Palace based within the traditional lands of the Culjag and Kaladin tribes. It was also discovered that the Empire had two very dangerous resources which it used on the field of battle; alchemically enhanced beastmen they called ‘Joinings’ and particularly adept Kaladin magic users known as Blood Hags, for they were devoted followers of the creature known as the Blood Queen – a Kaladin troll empowered through blood magic. The discussions between the factions and the Imperials went badly and the war hosts were forced to beat a hasty retreat when the Empire decided to demonstrate its power and throw a sample of its weight at the war hosts. As the war hosts fled Franconia, the news reached them of the spread of the Tokra to the west; Glasgi on the islands of Caledonia had fallen along with the Teutonian city of Vilinus. The Draken had also made gains in Siberia, so the factions headed east, to celebrate the festival of Renewal and deal with the Draken.

At the great circle in Siberia, the factions prepared to fight the Draken. It was hoped that in breaking the invasion here, the Imperials could be contained to the western half of the continent and be more easily dealt with. Two fierce battles were fought against the Draken and they were severely weakened. However, the decision to travel to Siberia had dire consequences for the other half of the continent; the Tokra continued their assault on Caledonia and the east coast of Albion, while the Kaladin and Culjag army in Franconia managed to invade and capture almost half of Estragales.

With heavy hearts, each Faction returned to its own lands, ready to spend the winter defending their territory from the seemingly unstoppable Imperial army.

 

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1102 to 1106 The Imperial Conquest

As the year 1102 began, the factions were struggling to hold back the Imperial advance. The Culjag forces in the centre of the continent began a major offensive against the borders of Teutonia; at the end of January, the port of Odessa was taken. A key strategic target, the port gave the Imperial army a base from which they could threaten all of Teutonia, Norsca, Estragales, Albion and Erin. The factions united, travelling to Teutonia with one goal – to free the city and port from Imperial control.

Despite facing a common enemy, the historic disputes between the factions were still evident as the war hosts prepared for the siege to come. A series of unfortunate incidents led to the deaths of several Wolves, Lions and Jhereg at each others’ hands; war between the Wolves and the Lions/Jhereg was only narrowly avoided. The Lions, Vipers and Jhereg re-signed the Axis Treaty, bringing these great nations closer together with detailed clauses on trade and mutual defence.

The Jhereg were facing problems of their own. Over the winter, they had accidentally killed one of the Grey Council members who ruled over their lands and in retribution, the faction was forced to endure nightly attacks by a group of Death Knights. Many lost their lives on the first night, including powerful senior members of the war host.

The Wolves, Fir Cruthen and Nomads set out in force, their objective to intercept and destroy the reinforcements coming to the aid of the Imperials within the city. The fight was bloody, but ultimately successful. With no fresh troops, the Imperials would be forced to defend the city with only the troops they had.

The following day, the Vipers, Lions, Jhereg and Gryphons laid siege to the city. The war hosts were able to break through into the city and rout the Culjag forces from Odessa. The city had been retaken, but the factions had suffered heavy losses. Among those who fell was Lord Emmerich, leader of the Gryphons.

With the Imperials forced out of Teutonia for now, the factions took respite in Albion. It was a chance to recover from the trials of the siege at Odessa, but also an opportunity to gather and share information, not just on the Imperial threat but on other issues facing the free peoples of the continent. Undead activity was on the rise, with the appearance of strange portals to the Plane of Undeath. Vampire Lords, seemingly led by an individual known as Silver, were active in the area, although what they were attempting to achieve remained unknown. Finally, the Principalities were becoming more active; the Nything was seen once again in these lands, as well as the three tied to the poles of magic – Lady Scythe (Corporeal), Beothaih (Spirit) and Trask (Elemental).

Another of these strange beings made an appearance at the Fayre; Fate, the second of Beothaih, visited the Jhereg, returning to them the card of Theda and ending their Death Knight problem, but it came with a cost. Hands, the current leader of the Jhereg, was forced to step down; Ackiatta of the Pack was chosen to replace him as leader of the faction.

While the heroes and scholars of the war hosts made sense of the information they could gather, Lord Valarkin of Norsca and King Carl Trueheart of Albion met in secret and arranged for a summit to be held to lay down the battle plans to try to deal with the Imperial threat permanently.

So the factions travelled to a secret location, far from the front line of the fighting, to discuss the war and make plans for a final assault later in the summer. While the rest of the war hosts dealt with the undead portal which had appeared in the middle of the area the factions had camped in, the scouts and war leaders gathered all information available on the Imperial invasion and drew up their plans. The situation was dire. The Imperials held territory across the entire continent; Estragales, Franconia, half of Erin and Caledonia, parts of southern and eastern Teutonia, southern Siberia and the key mountain passes in the Bashkir mountains which divide Siberia and the Steppe from the rest of the continent. They had control of all the major ports and so controlled the sea routes too. The factions devised a desperate plan. The war hosts would travel to Franconia and attack the Empire’s main deep water port and transport circle, in an area known as the Lonesome Pine. From there, they would be able to launch an assault on the Empire’s islands, attempting to destroy the Empire from the heart of their Imperial Palace.

Before they could set out, however, disaster struck the Wolves as Lord Valarkin was lost, killed by the undead portal as he risked his own life to save others who had become trapped. Lord Bothvar was chosen to lead the Wolves.

With determination, the factions travelled to Franconia. In the days leading up to the final assault, scouts were sent out and as much information on the Imperial movements was gathered. The usual business of the war hosts also continued, with trade and diplomacy between the factions taking centre stage. Disaster struck the Lions, when the Archbishop of York performed a catastrophic ritual; unknown to the rest of the ritual team or to his King and Queen, the Archbishop planned to sacrifice his Conclave ring in the circle in order to make himself immortal. Ritual itself rejected the attempt and the circle was flooded with demons who killed all within the wards. Brother Gabriel, furious at the Lions for the arrogance of their Archbishop, demanded they enter the circle and make recompense. To atone for the Archbishop’s disgrace, the King and Queen of Albion placed their crowns upon the altar and declared that henceforth, there would no longer be a monarchy ruling Albion. Taking the titles of Lord and Lady Protector, they established a Parliament to govern the kingdom.

Following the death of their Lord at the start of the year, the Gryphons undertook a mission to travel by portal to the isle of Lyonesse, where they planted a seedling from the Silver Oak Forest and sought guidance from the Goddess on who should lead them. The Goddess appeared to them in the form of a young girl and confirmed the people of Estragales and Lyonesse as her people and chose an elf named Elsin to lead them. Returning from Lyonesse, the Gryphons put aside their old name and announced themselves to the rest of the factions as the Algaia – the People of the Goddess.

On the third day, the Wolves, Jhereg, Fir Cruthen and Nomad Council set forth and assaulted the main Imperial port. The Imperial troops put up solid resistance and despite some loss of life, the factions were successful in taking control of the port and the Emperor’s flagship.

The following day, while the ships were made ready to sail, the Vipers, Algaia and Lions attacked the main transport circle. The fighting there was intense; hundreds of Culjag ogres, Blood Hags and Joinings fought viciously to hold their ground. Once the factions gained control of the circle, Brother Gabriel and a ritual team of the Algaia opened the way and the war hosts began pouring through the portal into the spirit realm. The 95th Regiment and the Evil Sunz, both of Teutonia, were ordered to hold the rear and protect the others as they passed the gate; all were slain as the remaining factions entered the portal and began their long journey to the Imperial islands.

~

After a winter of travel, either by ship or spirit path, the factions arrived at the centre of the Empire of the Golden Isles in the spring of 1103. Landing their ships, the Wolves, Jhereg, Fir Cruthen and Nomads fought their way onto the island and established a beachhead. Brother Gabriel opened the way to exit the spirit plane and return to the true plane and the factions established their camps.

Surrounded by the enemy, in strange territory, the factions camped close together, the dismal weather dampening their spirits and hampering their attempts to gain intelligence on the enemy. The Empire utilised every tool they had; extremely effective scouts, doppelgangers and of course their formidable Culjag and Kaladin army.

The Jhereg, Fir Cruthen, Wolves, Draken and various mercenary companies made an assault on the Palace at the heart of the Imperial Compound. It was a difficult battle; the factions faced large numbers of Culjag ogres and several Joinings. Despite the odds, they were successful in achieving their objectives.

The Vipers, Lions, Algaia and Nomads then took the field to face the Blood Queen. Again, they faced difficult odds, but again the factions proved capable of holding their own. They fought their way through the Blood Queen’s formidable forces and were successful in reaching her and striking her down. Following her defeat, the remaining Culjag surrendered to the Vipers.

Returning to their own lands, the factions travelled back to Franconia to the area known as the Heart of Darkness, where they had initially held diplomatic discussions with the Empire back in 1101. The Imperials had come to negotiate and led by Maximus Khallaing of the Jhereg, the factions sued for peace.

The negotiations lasted for days, during which the factions also had to contend with a nearby undead portal, which spewed forth relentless waves of undead until a ritual was performed by a group of Gnolls, which closed the portal.

There was much division between the factions as to the approach to take to the negotiations. Some, including the Wolves, had no desire for peace and wished to continue the war, believing that the small victories won in the Imperial heartland would give them the advantage to sweep the Imperial presence from the continent. Others believed the time for peace had come and were willing to discuss terms. The matter was complicated by the presence of the Emperor’s younger brother, who had designs on his throne. The Jhereg successfully distracted the brother through the final negotiations, which led to the signing of the Treaty of 1103.

The treaty required the factions to give up large portions of the continent to the Empire, with the Imperials taking control of the whole of Franconia and half each of Teutonia, Norsca and Estragales. They also kept hold of the Bashkir Mountains, giving them control of the major land trade route between the two halves of the continent. The Kaladin would be settled in Estragales, the Culjag in the lands taken from Teutonia and Norsca, while the hobgoblin administration retained control of Franconia.

The Draken who had decided to break away from the Empire under Captain Tam were also given land as part of the settlement; on the borders of Estragales near the Silver Oak Forest. Other clauses in the treaty required the Fir Cruthen to build a temple to Krit, the Imperial God of War, on Erin and set out the terms for an honour battle to be held every two years between the Culjag and the Vipers, for control of a particularly fertile valley on the new border between their nations.

The Emperor also declared that the Blood Queen was an enemy of both the united factions and the Empire; having exposed her true identity as a demon of some power and influence who had coerced the Imperials into invading through manipulating their beliefs in their Gods and prophecy using the presence of Harak, the Principality of War.

Towards the end of the negotiations, it became apparent that the Tokra goblins were not willing to accept peace. They attacked the Jhereg camp, where the meeting was taking place. The Emperor declared them to be rebels, no longer protected by the Empire. It seemed that despite the peace agreed between the continental people and the Empire of the Golden Isles, there would still be battles to be fought against the green-skinned foe.

With peace negotiations concluded, the war hosts withdrew to the Isle des Pommes off the western coast of Estragales to hold a Fayre, hosted jointly by all of the factions. Each nation provided some of the games and entertainment. It was an opportunity to celebrate the end of two years of war with the Empire and a chance for the factions to take stock of all the other potential threats which had been active while the war hosts were pre-occupied with the invasion. The liche Suraklin, who had been interacting with the war hosts for some time, convinced the Jhereg to assist him in his attempt to become the new Principality of Corporeal; Lady Scythe was summoned to the gathering and a corporeal wedge was organised to destroy her. Suraklin successfully claimed the item of Corporeal from her destroyed form and ascended to become the new Principality.

The highlight of the gathering was for many the grand party thrown by the Wolves. They invited all the war hosts to join them for a cocktail party, so that Lord Wall could find a wife. Ladies from across the factions attended the event although Wall ultimately chose Ylva, a fellow Norscan, to be his bride.

Refreshed from the celebrations, the factions travelled to Erin, to put an end to the Tokra raiding. The camps were concealed within the woodland, but the factions still suffered attacks from infiltrating Tokra assassins.

While the factions investigated, a disturbing event took place which changed the course of events dramatically. While walking on the path outside the Jhereg camp late one night, the old Jhereg goblin Grampa Trapz was assaulted by a Swarm assassin and killed. The factions had been aware of the increasing activity of this race of rat beastmen for several years, but they had never considered them enough of a threat to deal with; certainly not while the factions had still been at war with the Empire. But the death of one of their own incensed the Jhereg and they responded with a declaration of war. The Jhereg ritual team entered the circle and in an emotionally charged display of power screamed their bloody vengeance to the skies. Granny Trix, Head Ritualist of the Jhereg and wife to the murdered Trapz then shocked everyone present, including those in the circle with her, by sacrificing her own life in order to complete the ritual.

Taking the fight to the Tokra, the Vipers, Fir Cruthen, Lions and Nomads attacked the Tokra, who had fortified their position in a temple on top of a hill. The fighting was heavy, but the factions succeeded in taking the temple.

Later that night, the Lions lost their ruler, as Lord Protector Carl Trueheart’s life was sacrificed to free an ancient God of Albion. His wife, the Lady Protector Elizabetta, was left to rule Albion alone.

The following day, the Jhereg, Algaia, Nomads and Wolves set out to deal with the Blood Queen, who had created a Blood Fountain in the area which was allowing her to extend her power into Erin. This battle was bloody and fierce, for the Blood Queen had brought not only her Blood Hags, but had summoned a vast horde of what the factions named Blood Slaves; mindless soldiers bound by blood magic to serve their Queen. The factions were unprepared to face such a force and many lives were lost, but they emerged victorious after destroying the Fountain.

The factions returned to their homes that winter with mixed emotions. While it was to be celebrated that the war with the Imperials was now over, each faction needed to adjust to their new neighbours and adapt to their smaller territories. Many lives had been lost during the conflict; the winter would be a time to mourn. They could not rest easily, knowing that the Blood Queen was still active but not knowing where she might strike next or what her ultimate goals would be.

~

By the spring of 1104, word had reached the factions that the Blood Queen was summoning her forces in Estragales. Eager to stop her before she gained a foothold, the war hosts gathered to try to put an end to her designs although it was clear that force of arms was not going to be all that was required. A desperate search for answers began as the factions attempted to understand their new enemy.

While the war leaders discussed tactics to deal with the vast armies of Blood Slaves the Queen commanded, as well as the devastating magical attacks of the Blood Hags, the scholars and mages investigated the sources of the Blood Queen’s power. It was determined that a circlet she possessed gave her control over her forces and it was decided that the factions would attempt to retrieve this circlet.

Again, the battles against the Blood Queen and her forces were devastating to the factions. She commanded seemingly unlimited numbers of Blood Slaves; as each wave was cut down, more appeared behind in a relentless attack. One small victory was claimed, but at great cost. A small task force of Wolves and Jhereg were successful in wresting the circlet from the Blood Queen’s control and removing it from the field. However, the leader of the Jhereg, Ackiatta of the Pack, was slain; beheaded by one of the Blood Queen’s creatures. Maximus Khallaing, who had been instrumental in the peace negotiations with the Empire, was chosen by his people to lead them following Ackiatta’s death.

Even without her circlet, the Blood Queen was still a formidable opponent. While the factions were able to disrupt her plans for Estragales, she remained undefeated.

One other event took place in Estragales that had serious implications for the factions. The Principality of Magic, while visiting with the factions, suddenly collapsed while in the Lions camp. With no indication of what had caused him to collapse, the Lions were forced to stand helpless as Trask’s life ebbed away. Upon the moment of his death his staff, the symbol of his office, ripped itself free from his grasp and flew directly to the ritual circle. There, Brother Gabriel attempted to take hold of the staff, but it shattered into pieces and disappeared. While it became apparent that magery had not been overly affected by the death of Trask, it was soon identified that rituals calling specifically on elemental magic were dangerous to perform while the office of the Principality remained vacant.

The factions retired to the Steppe lands to consider the events in Estragales. Seeking answers, they consulted with the Celestial College. Master Joseph believed that the answers may be found within the ancient library of Erness Marr, a ruined city deep within Albion. Recent activity at the city indicated that now might be the time to access the information hidden within and perhaps find the secret to defeating the Blood Queen.

In the early summer the factions began their investigation of the ruined city. It was discovered that the city had once been home to a reptilian race called the Satuuin, of whom Trask had been a member. They had been extremely knowledgeable on the subject of demons and the factions learned a great deal from scraps of documents which were discovered in the ruins. Not only was the Blood Queen confirmed to be a named demon, rather than a Kaladin troll, it was also discovered that Brother Gabriel himself, who had served for years in the office of Ritual – second to the Principality of Magic – was also a named demon. This came to light when Brother Gabriel was assaulted by the ghostly cannibals who haunted the paths, for he returned to the factions in his true form even while they mourned the loss of the person they believed to be their friend and ally.

It was discovered that the cause of Trask’s unusual death was a curse which had been placed upon him by the demon who had previously held the position of Principality of Magic. His death at this time had apparently been set the moment he took hold of the staff and became the embodiment of magery.

While in the ruins, the factions interacted with several ghostly shades of the previous inhabitants of the city, including Edris Marr, the city’s founder. From these conversations, they learned of the existence of a creature known as the Nonborn and of several prophetic writings which hinted at what might occur should this entity be able to enter our Plane of existence. Edris Marr himself was particularly insistent that the factions do something about it, as it was in trying to defeat this entity that the city was destroyed.

From the writings obtained in Erness Marr, the ingredients required to forge a bane weapon to finally end the threat of the Blood Queen were discovered. Armed with that knowledge, the factions travelled to Nuremburg in Teutonia, where King Harriatta’s scouts reported her armies were gathered. The priority for the factions on arrival was to confirm the existence and location of a particular metal known as edas metal, for they knew she could only be killed by a weapon forged from this peculiar material.

The location of the edas metal was confirmed when it was discovered that the Blood Queen herself had control of the material and was keeping it safe in a demi-plane she called the Soul Prison. The factions decided that they should move in force against her and plans were laid to use the ritual circle to open a portal to this place, so that the war hosts might pass through and recover the metal. It was hoped that with a successful foray into the Prison, the factions could then forge the weapon required and set out again the following day to defeat the Blood Queen once and for all.

With determination, the Wolves, Jhereg, Algaia and Nomads set out the next morning. A portal was opened and they entered the Soul Prison. None knew what to expect. As they arrived, it was eerily quiet, with no sign of the Blood Queen’s forces. The Jhereg, still reeling from the events of the previous evening, sang a battle song of revenge. As the song reached its crescendo, a wave of Blood Slaves was sighted. More numerous than any they had faced before, the war hosts readied themselves at the bottom of the hill, preparing for the Blood Slaves to attack. The battle that followed was fierce and extremely bloody. The factions pushed forward, fighting wave after wave of seemingly unlimited enemy forces. Despite all of their efforts, they were unable to gain enough ground and obtain the metal they so desperately sought. Defeated, they retreated from the Soul Prison and returned to their camps to mourn their losses.

Despite their losses on the field, the Wolves had another battle to fight. Mustering their forces, the Stormwolves marched to face their ancient enemy, the Crimson Wolves. Low on healing magic and spent from the desperate battle in the Soul Prison, the fight was a difficult one. While the enemy was defeated, the majority of the Stormwolves lost their lives. Overcome with grief, the survivors brought their fallen back to the camp, aided by their friends and allies. As darkness fell, the fallen warriors were taken to the ritual circle. Aided by Myrrh, the Lion’s head ritualist, they performed a rite to open the path to Valhalla. As Lord Bothvar, Gunn and Thorgrimm spoke of the dead, the triptych opened and the valkyries entered the circle. One for each warrior, come to accompany the fallen on their final journey to Valhalla. With the warriors taken, the gates opened once more and the shade of Cyak, former Lord General of the Wolves, stepped forth to welcome the surviving Stormwolves back to the Isle of Myst. Of the six survivors, Gunn, C’Nut, Borri and Olmundr departed the circle with Cyak, leaving only Sigurd – the Chosen of Hel – and Agna the Healer to stay behind. As the ritual came to a close, the triptych opened one final time as the goddess Hel claimed Westag’s soul.

The following day, the Vipers, Lions and Fir Cruthen set forth to enter the Prison and retrieve the metal. They fared no better than their allies had done the previous day. Fighting for their lives, they too were forced to retreat empty handed.

While the Blood Queen’s forces had been contained in Teutonia, the factions returned home that winter with no clear plan to defeat her. In addition, the Jhereg’s declaration of war against the Swarm the previous year threatened to engulf the factions; if rumours were to be believed, the Swarm appeared to have responded to the Jhereg’s proclamation by allying themselves with the Blood Queen and her blood magic.

~

As 1105 began, reports arrived that the Swarm, no longer attempting to hide their alliance with the Blood Queen, were massing in large numbers in the Skadi Mountains in Norsca. Lord Wolf called upon the factions to join him there to crush the Swarm before their corruption spread too far.

While the factions gathered, they faced new threats from the Swarm assassins stalking the paths at night, as well as new hybrids nicknamed Blood Rats, which were Swarm rats enhanced by the Blood Queen’s magic. It was determined that the priority for the factions was to once again return to the Soul Prison and attempt to reclaim the edas metal, for with the Blood Queen dead and no longer supporting the Swarm, the factions believed they would then be able to deal with their new enemy fairly swiftly.

The Lions, Vipers and Fir Cruthen volunteered themselves for the mission into the Soul Prison. Again, they faced a difficult fight; determined, they did not allow themselves to falter and fought hard, pressing the enemy back until they reached their goal. Defended by a Blood Rat called the Brood King, they located the edas metal hidden in a bloody birthing pool, where the Blood Queen was creating her Blood Rat hybrids. Johannes of the Vipers was able to get his hands on the metal and the factions fought a hasty retreat.

Once the metal was secure within the Faction camps, they began to plan the ritual required to forge the weapon they so sorely needed. The requirements for such a weapon are specific to the individual and the Blood Queen’s bane required a tremendous sacrifice. The sword could only be forged correctly if it was quenched in the life blood of a living person who had faced her on the field of battle. The factions deliberated for many hours, before Sir Giles de Vries of the Knights of the North stepped forward, volunteering himself for the task at hand despite knowing that it would cost him his life. Representatives of all the factions gathered at the ritual circle, where Dengezich of the Jhereg led the rite which forged the blade. All were witness to Sir Giles’ sacrifice.

After a long night keeping the new Blood Sword safe from the hands of the enemy, the Jhereg, Wolves, Algaia and Nomads mustered their forces and set out to challenge the Blood Queen one final time. Fighting alongside a large army of Swarm rats, the Blood Queen put up her final defence. As one, the four factions advanced, resolved to end this threat once and for all. All rejoiced when the factions reached the demon they faced and Dengezich of the Jhereg plunged the Blood Sword deep into her heart, then struck off her head. Despite the loss of their ally, the Swarm fought on, urged into the fight by their generals, Snikt and Bubous. The Swarm were focused on attacking the Jhereg, particularly those of the Goblin Horde who had – up until the death of Grampa Trapz – been the Swarm’s closest friends amongst the war hosts. Facing Swarm rats, Blood rats and Rat Ogres, the factions continued the battle until the Swarm army was defeated and fled the field.

Rejoicing in their success, the factions returned to their camps and spent the evening celebrating the defeat of their hated foe, while honouring the noble sacrifice of Sir Giles of Albion who had made the victory possible.

For some, however, the celebrations took a sour turn when the Jhereg discovered one of their own slain on the paths; not by Swarm assassins but by one of the other nations. The murderer was identified as one of the Fir Cruthen and the situation quickly escalated into a major diplomatic incident. Four entire war hosts congregated outside the Jhereg camp where many harsh words were spoken. The incident resulted in the breaking of the Axis Treaty which had united the Lions, Jhereg and Vipers since 1098.

After the victory in Norsca, the factions travelled to Franconia at the invitation of Emperor Heyami. In keeping with the annual tradition of the continental people, he offered to host a Grand Fayre, showcasing the traditional entertainments of the Empire of the Golden Isles. Intrigued, the war hosts returned to the Lonesome Pine and prepared to socialise with the nation that had so recently been their enemy.

Heyami’s Fayre lived up to his boasts that it would be the most spectacular Fayre ever seen in the known world. While many of the games were familiar, some were new to the continental people and sparked much interest; in particular, a game called endurance which pitted its champions against each other in such contests as the eating of strange insects and not moving for prolonged periods of time.

While there, the factions took the opportunity to engage diplomatically with the Empire. While their customs and rituals seemed strange, it was clear that there was a benefit to maintaining a cordial relationship with this new continental power. The Jhereg goblins spent some time attempting to convince the Empire to join in the fight against the Swarm, but Heyami was determined to remain neutral. That changed when a Swarm assassin managed to sneak into the area and attempted to kill Knox, the Goblin King. Offended by this slight against his honour, for he had guaranteed the factions ‘ safety absolutely while they attended his Fayre, Heyami declared war on the Swarm. In response, the Swarm advertised large bounties for the heads of Knox and his Queen Lix.

From Franconia the factions travelled to Siberia. Scouts had reported large numbers of Swarm fleeing from a vast breeding area near the Aral Sea. Beyond the rudimentary fortification they had found a number of dead Swarm rats, but no sign or indication as to what had killed them or what the rats were fleeing from.

As soon as the camps were set up, they were under attack from packs of rats that ran unchecked through the wooded pathways. Reports began to arrive of three strange women who would appear and attack the Swarm. The women were unnaturally strong and seemed capable of healing from even the most grievous of wounds. It was soon discovered that a mystical box was empowering the women but did so by drawing corporeal energy from its surroundings, including any people who went near it. The factions differed in their approach to resolving the situation, with some suggesting the women should be killed, others seeking a more peaceable solution which would sever the link and destroy the box instead.

The factions made several excursions into the rat tunnels and fortifications, spurred on by the Jhereg goblins. Many died in the tunnels but they were ultimately successful and drove the last remnants of the Swarm from the area.

With the Swarm under control in Siberia, the factions turned their attention to Estragales. King Elsin of the Algaia called on his allies to aid him in removing them from his own lands. While the factions prepared to do battle against Snikt and Bubous’s forces, they desperately searched for information which would help them defeat the Swarm in their entirety. The rats bred so quickly, it did not seem to matter how many died on the battle fields or in their tunnels.

Other matters also required attention. The Lions had lost one of their artefacts in the failed attempt to rescue the edas metal from the Soul Prison the previous summer; using the ritual circle and calling on their Gods, the Lions opened the portal to the Soul Prison once more and their Queen Elizabetta went through alone to retrieve the Sceptre of Parliament. The Sceptre was returned, but at the cost of Elizabetta’s life. With a heavy heart, Lord Godfrey Bohemond took up the Regency of Albion, as the young Princess Keira Trueheart was still a child and could not rule.

It was decided that the Wolves, Lions, Vipers and Hei Ravni would be the first to enter the rat tunnels to fight the Swarm. They fought the rats through the woodland, until they reached the entrances to the tunnels and followed them in, fighting in very close quarters. The rats, however, were more familiar with the tunnels than the factions were, so had the advantage and could not be defeated. Eventually, the factions retreated.

The following day, the Jhereg, Algaia, Fir Cruthen and Nomads took the field. The Swarm fought fiercely. Once more, the factions pushed them back until they reached the tunnel entrances and plunged on into the tight, dark spaces to keep fighting. The losses were grievous, particularly for the Jhereg as the Swarm were targeting those among their number who had so sorely betrayed them; the Jhereg goblins lost all but five of their number. As the factions retreated from the tunnels, the Algaia were holding the rear. King Elsin was cut off from the rest of his forces. Hart of the Ael went back to save him, but neither came off the field with the rest of their people as the tunnels collapsed behind them.

While they had succeeded in killing a great many rats, they were still no closer to defeating the Swarm generals and ending the threat once and for all. Demoralised by their losses, the factions returned to their camps. The loss of the goblins proved to be too much for Knox, King of the Goblins; he declared he would return to Siberia and not travel again with the war hosts. His Queen, Lix, who had been so vocal in gathering the factions’ support to fight against the Swarm following the deaths of her grandparents, swore to remain, to see the Swarm ended.

For the Algaia, it was a bittersweet end to the year. Following the battle, they mourned the loss of both King Elsin and Hart of the Ael. Much to their surprise, both then appeared in camp; Hart was uninjured, but Elsin was still recovering from his injuries. It transpired that Hart had been suddenly filled with the power of the Goddess, which had enabled him to rescue his King and find an alternative route out of the tunnels. Confusion reigned over why the Goddess had chosen Hart and not Elsin to empower, until a messenger arrived from Lyonesse telling Elsin that he was needed and must return home to protect the place beyond the sea where the Elves of Lyonesse go when they die. Elsin instructed his people to follow Hart, now chosen of the Goddess, before journeying to the land beyond the sea.

~

As the seasons turned and the year 1106 began, reports arrived that the Swarm were once again massing in Norsca. The scouts believed that most, if not all of their remaining forces were in the area, along with all of the remaining Swarm Council members. It was the opportunity the factions had been waiting for. From all corners of the continent they travelled, meeting at the site of Thor’s Temple.

The factions realised early on that the Swarm had contaminated the water supply. All who drank from the water came down with a strange disease. As they investigated, it became apparent that the cure for the disease would need to be brewed using particular ingredients; the liver of the Swarm Council member Bubous and water from the Temple.

It was decided that the Jhereg, Vipers and Algaians would be the first to attempt to retake the Temple from the Swarm and find and kill Bubous. Fighting through difficult terrain and faced with horrifying weapons of the enemy which sprayed poison over the advancing troops, the war hosts struggled to gain ground and were eventually defeated just as they reached the doors of the Temple.

That evening, the War Council gathered once more and discussed the task that faced the remaining factions the following day. The Lions, Fir Cruthen, Wolves and Steppe Alliance would have to take the Temple, find and kill Bubous and brew the cure for the disease. Queen Lix of the Jhereg argued strongly to be allowed to accompany them, despite having already fought one battle that day. It was her belief that nobody else in the factions taking the field would be able to recognise Bubous. The Jhereg were loath to grant her request, until Captain Cornelius Mourning of the Kings Own Volunteers vowed to protect her and the two goblins who would accompany her.

So the next day, the four factions mustered, with the three Jhereg goblins secreted inside the Lions war host, disguised in the black and yellow of the Regiment. Again, the fighting through the forest was difficult, but they succeeded in taking the Temple from the Swarm. Queen Lix was able to identify Bubous to her allies and he was cut down by the Fir Cruthen. As the alchemists began their workings inside the Temple, Lord Bothvar decided to disctract the Swarm forces from the area by marching his people out in force and facing Snikt on the field. The Lions and Steppe Alliance were left in the fort to protect the alchemists. The Wolves and Fir Cruthen fought bravely against the Swarm in the field, before retreating back to the Temple followed by the remnants of Snikt’s forces.

Unfortunately for Queen Lix, when Snikt arrived at the Temple her disguise was insufficient to hide her from the gaze of her most hated enemy. Sending in two rat ogres to drag her out of the fort, one was defeated by the Fir Cruthen but the other managed to enter the Temple. The rat ogre chased Lix down and threw her over the walls into the open field. Fighting his way out of the Temple, the ogre then began to drag her back to his General. While Captain Mourning screamed at his fellow Lions to open the gate and let him and his men pass, Lix bravely fought off the rat ogre using the hunting knife she found still attached to her belt. With the ogre defeated, Lix stood and turned to face the Temple, preparing to run back to the safety of its walls. However Snikt, seeing his prize getting away, crept up behind her and prevented her escape by the cowardly use of poison. As she fell to the ground, Snikt finally took his vengeance on the last of his goblin enemies. The Lions were forced to watch as he tore her to pieces.

As the Wolves poured out for one final fight against the Swarm, the Kings Own retrieved Lix’s body. Bothvar and Snikt came face to face and in a show of strength, Bothvar wrestled him to the ground and after a short but bloody fight, Snikt lay dead on the ground. The Swarm Council were defeated.

Lix’s death nearly caused a major diplomatic incident between the factions. The Jhereg, blaming Cornelius Mourning for her death, threatened the Lions with bloody retaliation. Disaster was averted when representatives of the other factions stood in support of the Lions and Lix herself prevented any bloodshed when the shamans spoke with her spirit to determine the Captain’s guilt. It was instead agreed that the King’s Own Volunteers would pay a weregeld to the Jhereg to recompense them for their loss.

With the Swarm no longer a threat, the factions were able to turn their attention to other matters. It was decided that they should return to the ruins of Erness Marr in Albion, to further investigate the entity known as the Nonborn.

The influence of the Nonborn had been growing since the factions had learned of its existence. An agent of change, it appeared that it was manipulating events all over the continent. A variety of civil uprisings rebellions seemed to have sprung up almost overnight. The ruined city was as dangerous on this visit as it had been the first time the factions travelled there; cannibals still haunted the paths and made the ruined streets unsafe to navigate alone.

Through further documents unearthed in the ruins, the factions learned that Edris Marr’s original plan to contain the Nonborn involved a series of interlinked ritual circles, thirteen in all, which were feeding their power into a central circle. In each circle was placed an orb which stored the magical energy, the thirteen smaller orbs channelling their power to the larger orb placed in the central circle. The orbs had been smashed when Edris Marr’s rituals failed and fragments of crystal were found scattered throughout the site.

The factions decided to seek out the central circle and find the orb within. As they pushed through the ruined city they located the circle, defended heavily by hundreds of the cannibalistic ghosts. Many felt the influence of the Nonborn; voices in their heads telling them to turn away from the fight. As they fought their way past the cannibals, Sigurd of the Stormwolves discovered that the orb itself had been corrupted and instead of acting as a preventative force against the Nonborn, it was now amplifying its influence on this Plane. Despite orders to the contrary, Sigurd smashed the orb, causing massive ruptures to appear in the earth. Soon, the ground gave way across the entire city and the factions were forced to flee from the ruins as they sank into the ground.

To recover from their experiences in Erness Marr, the factions travelled to Norsca for a Great Fayre. The Norscans were keen to prove that the devastation of the Swarm in their lands had not cowed their people. The Norscans put on an excellent array of games; Lord Bothvar was keen not to be out done by the efforts of the Imperial Court the previous summer. Several new games were showcased, including one which involved stealing round wooden shields which had been placed in all of the camps. Many individuals displayed great cunning and ingenuity to collect as many of the shields as they could. With excellent weather and an entertaining selection of games, the factions left Norsca feeling refreshed and ready to face the trials of the remaining months of the campaign season.

For the Renewal of Magic, the factions travelled to Siberia at the invitation of Maximus Khallaing, to the port city of Noravik on the north eastern coast. The people of Noravik had recently overthrown their ruling council and were promoting a Free Noravik. It was believed that a cult dedicated to the Nonborn had been behind this uprising, as upon questioning, the people had made the decision to revolt very quickly.

The uprising in Noravik was not the only issue facing the Jhereg. For several years they had been contending with a group called the Brethren, led by a man named Piet. Piet was a master alchemist who had created a potion which allowed him to link his spirit to the spirit of those who were marked by his people. Many Jhereg bore the marks of Piet; should Piet die, all those with the mark would also die. In an attempt to deal with this issue once and for all, Maximus Khallaing and his brother Quintus had staged a public falling out earlier in the year, which allowed Max to leave the war host and spy on the Brethren. Quinn had led the Jhereg throughout the year in his brother’s stead, though both knew that Max would return once his work was done. Unfortunately for Quinn, a means of dealing with the issue presented itself before Max returned. A ritual was done to transfer the marks on the other Jhereg onto one person; as Quinn was to all intents and purposes the leader of the Jhereg at that time, it was to Quinn that the links were given. Max returned too late to have taken the responsibility on himself. Piet was then persuaded to come to the camp, where Quinn killed him. All who had borne the marks were struck down in agony, but it was Quinn who lost his life as a result of Piet’s alchemy.

Before the Faction could really react, Fate appeared in the camp and offered Max a deal. Quinn could be raised again to true life, not as an undead creature, but to act instead as a vessel for the true Spirit of the Jhereg in order to lead their people. Faced with a difficult decision, Max acted as he had always done – in the best interests of his people – and agreed to stand aside as leader of the faction and to let Quinn be returned to life. But when Quinn’s body stood before them once more, it was not Max’s brother who spoke. Quinn had been sacrificed and in his place stood Lord Jhereg, the first vessel of the Spirit of the Jhereg.

The scouts reported that the Nonborn cult appeared to be operating from a cathedral within the city and it was decided a large force would be sent to gain entry to this cathedral. The Jhereg, Wolves, Hei Ravni and Fir Cruthen took this responsibility. As they advanced on the building, their way was blocked by the women of the city, babes in arms. The factions had to negotiate past them without harming the children or their mothers, before they were able to break into the cathedral and disrupt a ritual which was being performed within. As the factions gained entry, the cultists began to kill themselves. Many of the people were subdued and taken captive, as the factions sought to prevent a mass slaughter of innocent civilians who had been corrupted by the influence of the Nonborn. With the cultists dead, the threat of the Nonborn appeared to be contained.

One final threat remained which the factions knew they must deal with. The factions were finally ready to put an end to the demon Gavrae, once known to the factions as Brother Gabriel. The ingredients to his bane weapon had been discovered in Erness Marr several years previously, but until this point the factions had not been in a position to forge the weapon; the requirements included the blood of the Nything and it was believed that before Gavrae could be killed, another being of equal power must have been destroyed. The killing of the Blood Queen in the spring of 1105 had fulfilled that element.

The Jhereg ritual team, led by Niranti, entered the circle and enchanted the blade, named Gabriel’s Bane. A shield was also enchanted by Teuomi of the Algaia in preparation for the battle which would absorb the energy of Gavrae’s teleportation spells, preventing him from escaping once the wielder of Gabriel’s Bane got close to him. Gabriel’s Bane was entrusted to the Algaia and they took the field alongside the Vipers, Lions and Steppe Alliance.

They fought against a host of beings from the demonic plane, over the same ground the factions had fought the cultists on the previous day. With determination, the factions pushed forward through the horde to reach their target, who was safely protected behind the walls of Noravik. All his defences proved to be in vain, however, as Lutan Silveroak, Sword of the Goddess, was able to reach him and use Gabriel’s Bane to end his life.

With the Swarm defeated, the Nonborn contained, Noravik secured and the demon Gavrae slain, the factions were content to return to their homes and reflect on what had been a very difficult year.

 

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1107 to 1110 The Illusion Invasion

The year 1107 started with the shocking news that Erin had once more been invaded. The identity of the invaders remained a mystery, so at the invitation of Lord Godfrey Bohemond, Lord Protector of Albion, and High King Morgan of the Fir Cruthen, the Free Peoples met at Polgooth in Cornwall to discuss this grave matter.

As the war hosts met and discussed the situation, news arrived from the scouts indicating that two enemy fleets were sailing up the nearby estuary, apparently heading for the only two suitable landing points. A swift Council of War was held and it was decided to deal with both threats by dispatching some factions against each fleet. Fortunately, a thick sea fog descended on one of the landing points and would thus delay the invaders from landing for perhaps a day.

Fighting against a new and as yet unknown foe the Lions, Vipers and mercenaries suffered a terrible defeat. This new enemy was adept at using magic to devastating effect, causing significant losses for both the Lions and Vipers, including the loss of Lord Godfrey himself. Several items of power were also lost to the Invaders, including the Banner of Albion, the Mace of Draco and the Great Sword of Teutonia. After the factions retreated in disarray, the enemy began to fortify their landing site and form a defence line.

Following the disaster on the battlefield, it was decided that the following day the remaining factions would attempt to drive off the second fleet, rather than attack the strong position the Invaders now had at the first landing site.

The next morning, the Wolves, Algaia, Jhereg, Fir Cruthen and Steppe Alliance took to the field, faring much better than the war hosts had done the previous day as they were now armed with some knowledge of this strange new foe’s tactics and abilities. The enemy were driven back from the beach, although at times during the battle it looked like the tattooed Invaders would triumph, or inflict heavy losses, particularly on the Algaians who at one stage found themselves isolated and surrounded, needing to be rescued by the Steppe Alliance and Fir Cruthen.

With at least one of the enemy’s forces firmly entrenched in Cornwall, it was decided by the new Lord Protector of Albion, High Inquisitor Martinique, that a strongly garrisoned force would be enough to hold them in position while the war hosts of the Free People travelled to the Imperial Island of Alexandria to meet with the new Empress, Nigousan, whose husband Emperor Heyami was rumoured to have died in unusual circumstances.

Rumours also started at this time of attacks on shipping and isolated coastal towns, apparently the work of Imperial raiders. It was hoped that while attending Suukou Kaigi, the identity of these attackers would be discovered and action taken if it was found that these forces were Imperial in origin.

The factions were met with great courtesy on arriving in Alexandria; all, even those considered to be possible enemies, were treated well, with the exception of the Celestial College and the Fae of House Magister, who were not even allowed to disembark from their ships.

Imperial politics dominated the occasion, with the factions getting drawn into the election of a new Shogun. Several members of the continental factions were assassinated, which caused much embarrassment to the Empress. The culprit, a minor aide to Kuge Nakamura, was apprehended and after confessing his crimes, committed Seppuku (Imperial ritual suicide). Gensui Hiroaki was declared the new Shogun and in a surprising move, appointed his rivals for the position – Gensui Mac and Shoukan Tiichiwina – as his new advisors, along with Kuge Funichi.

The identity of the Imperial raiders was settled upon as renegade Tokra goblins. As the Tokra ceded from the Empire at the end of the war, Imperial naval aid was promised to seek out the raiders’ bases and deal with them.

Unfortunately for the Lions, a diplomatic incident involving High Inquisitor Martinique and the Imperial Court was unavoidable when it was discovered that Martinique had been meeting with the Vampire Lord known as Silver. This caused much dishonour to fall upon the Lions, as the Imperials are known to abhor all undead and were mightily insulted by what they saw as the Lions bringing such a foul creature onto Imperial territory.

Despite the distance from Cornwall to Alexandria, the factions were dismayed to discover that some of the strange Invaders had travelled to Alexandria, intent on attacking anyone they met. A small battle ensued in which all factions fought and impressed the Imperial Court’s representatives.

In general, the new Empress made a favourable impression on the Continental factions and the general feeling was that the recent troubles and misunderstandings between the Continentals and the Imperials were the result of Imperial politics and nothing more. Empress Nigousan announced her intention to travel to Siberia, to attend the upcoming Fayre hosted by the Jhereg.

Lord Jhereg had invited all to the island of Nexis to enjoy what promised to be an interesting Fayre, with items of diverse value and power on offer to the winners of the games. Travel to the island itself was dangerous as the area was home to many strange monsters and beasts; according to some, this formed part of the attraction to the area for the Jhereg as an entertaining recreational location! The games were enjoyed by most people, although several included a somewhat deadly slant.

The Imperials sent a delegation as promised, however the Empress herself did not appear. Her reason was soon made clear, when it was announced that while travelling to Siberia, she had given birth to a daughter – Heyami’s heir. Shogun Hiroaki and Kuge Nakamura both seemed uncomfortable with the news; they did not let this prevent them from travelling round the camps and engaging in discussions with the various factions.

During the Fayre, the factions encountered several strange creatures that appeared to be motivated by retrieving dead bodies, or the parts thereof. At this stage, not much was known about them and they were not considered an important threat, when compared to the invading force being held in Cornwall by the Albion army under the command of the now outlawed Captain Cornelius Mourning. Of the invading force, they learned a great deal, as they were visited by a woman named Amgea, who claimed to be a Fae from the Plane of Illusion. She told the factions that the invading force currently occupying Erin and Cornwall was also from her Plane, a House of Fae known as the Keltoi. Both the Keltoi and the Amgearea – Amgea’s House – had fled the Plane following a war with another of the Plane’s inhabitants. However, while the Keltoi appeared to be here to conquer, Lady Amgea arrived with a message of peace and was willing to aid the factions.

As the summer lengthened, Lord Protector Martinique once more welcomed the war hosts to Albion, to celebrate the Renewal of Magic and to try and push back the Keltoi for good. During the absence of the factions, the front line had stabilised along a line between Tintagel on the western coast, to the coast of the estuary which separates Cornwall from Sussex. The Invaders had originally pushed past this line and across Bodmin Moor before retreating, leaving behind them a desolate land on burned crofts, slain peasants and animals.

Camped on the eastern side of the estuary, the factions immediately called a war council to decide the best way to proceed. Many plans were mooted but in the end it was decided to launch an attack over the estuary towards Cerne Abbas, to cut off the Invaders’ northern front line from any reinforcements and then to push northwards to deal with the army holding the defensive line.

Rumours of Tokra raids continued to reach the assembled war hosts and the camps themselves were once more visited by the strange creatures collecting corpses and body parts. The factions were still no closer to determining what they were or why they held such a morbid fascination with dead flesh.

After the death of Trask, the Principality of Magic two years ago, people from across the factions had been searching for the pieces of his shattered Staff. Ultimately it was Dengezich, a Ritualist of the Jhereg, who was able to unite all of the missing pieces within the Ritual Circle and so ascended to become the new Principality of Magic. This restored the balance to the Principalities although some believed it had come too late.

The combined forces of the Lions, Steppe Alliance, Fir Cruthen and Vipers, under the leadership of Issa of the Eored, launched their attack on Cerne Abbas to cut off the reinforcements. The initial stages of the battle went well; the combined might of the factions pushing the enemy back, but upon reaching Cerne Abbas the Lions suffered heavy losses as the Invaders used the power of the ancient symbol of the Cerne Abbas Man, which had been corrupted to their own sinister purposes. Despite these losses, the factions pushed forward and forced the enemy to retreat to a heavily forested area. Once within the woodland, the enemy tactics began to overpower the factions and they were forced to conduct a fighting retreat. Nevertheless, the enemy reinforcements found themselves pinned down in the trees and unable to join the main force at the front line, so tactically the battle was successful despite the significant loss of life.

The following day, the Wolves, Algaia, Jhereg and mercenaries set out to push northwards and engage the enemy at the front line. Under the command of Lord Bothvar, all went well in the initial stages, but as the enemy were pushed back into the forests their resistance seemed to stiffen and their fighting ability seemed much improved. Many fell under the ancient trees but the factions persisted in pushing them back. Further items of power were lost to the Invaders, including the Staff of the Goddess; indeed, it seemed that this strange enemy delighted in taking such prizes from the Free Peoples. The enemy were pushed back into a clearing which contained some magical stones, triangular in shape. These Stones mimicked magical effects until the banners behind them were taken by the factions, at which point the enemy leaders and the remnants of their army fled the field. The Stones were recovered and brought back to the camps, to be investigated by those with knowledge of magical artefacts.

In a tense meeting following the battle, it was agreed that sufficient forces should remain in Cornwall to ensure the enemy did not return, but Lord Martinique only agreed they could stay until the factions were able to launch an assault to retake Erin from the Invaders.

As winter approached and more of Cornwall was retaken by the factions, a pattern began to emerge of the Invaders’ tactics. The Cornishmen and women in the land which had been occupied had all been slaughtered and all land and livestock taken over by the Invaders and their families. It became apparent that their intent was to settle in these lands, not just to kill and wage war. Many scenes of atrocities were discovered from the few months of occupation in Cornwall; no one was sure what awaited the factions in Erin after a year of occupation by the strange, fierce Keltoi.

~

In the early spring of 1108, the Fir Cruthen launched a surprise invasion into the north east of Erin. The invasion was a success, so when the rest of the factions joined them, they found themselves facing the Keltoi at the strategic pass of Glenshane. A victory here would allow the factions to sweep across northern Erin and onwards to the Great Forest, where it was rumoured that the ancient and mysterious inhabitants were also engaged in resisting the Keltoi.

Soon after the factions’ arrival, the Lions were overjoyed to discover that High King Tristan, a long lost King of legend from ancient times, had returned, bearing Excalibur and proclaiming himself to be the true King of Albion. It seemed the Gods of Albion had brought the Lions to this place in order to find him and so he was acclaimed their new King and leader. Many other mythical heroes of Albion’s past travelled with the King and also joined the Lions war host.

On the first night of the gathering, a party of Keltoi arrived and approached the Wolves with an offer of peace, between the Keltoi and the factions, brokered by a certain Lord Elrand. A meeting was set for noon the following day, to hear Lord Elrand’s proposal and to discuss the possibility of peace. At the appointed time and place, a large party of Keltoi awaited the factions; all had come, although the Fir Cruthen arrived late to the meeting, in no mind to parlay with the invaders of their land. It was soon discovered that the so called terms on offer amounted to little more than unconditional surrender on the part of the factions, as decreed by the High King of the Keltoi, Owain ap Kernow. On hearing the demands, the Fir Cruthen became incensed and despite the flag of truce, proceeded to attack the Keltoi party. They were sadly over matched and were overwhelmed by the Keltoi however the Keltoi High King ordered his forces to retreat once the other factions threatened them with further aggression.

Later that day, the Fir Cruthen, Jhereg, Steppe Alliance and Wolves took the field for the first assault on the enemy lines. Many powerful Keltoi were believed to be in the area, including the one rumoured to be responsible for the tattoos which seemed to be the source of their incredible magical power. The battle was a successful one, with the factions securing their tactical objectives and routing the enemy. However, the Tattoo Master was not on the field and thus a chance was missed to seriously weaken the enemy.

The next day, the Algaia, Lions, Vipers and the Hei Ravni took the battlefield. In addition to the tactical objectives, these factions all had personal objectives as all had lost items of power to the Keltoi over the previous year’s campaign. Now more familiar with the tactics of the enemy, the factions pushed them backwards. Encountering the enemy commander, there was surprise that it turned out to be none other than Lord Elrand, the supposed peace broker. It was surmised that perhaps this individual was the son of the High King of the Keltoi and therefore a valuable prize if he could be killed or captured. Unfortunately, the factions were not able to reach him and he escaped the field.

Despite the inability of the factions to kill or capture any of the enemy leaders, the main objective had been achieved and the way to the Great Forest was now open.

The camps had continued to be plagued by the strange creatures – now known as Harvesters – which had been troubling the factions since the Fayre of Siberia the previous year. On the final day of the gathering, a mixed force of all the factions was dispatched to locate and destroy a reported haven of these strange constructs. The force was successful in destroying the manufacturing facility in the area, as well as capturing a prisoner of some importance.

Pushing further into Erin, the factions found themselves on the borders of the Great Forest, reported home of Fae, Tuatha Danaan and other fabled creatures. It was soon discovered that this was a time known as the Revel; a time of feasting, joy and renewal of the cycles of life. Regardless of the threats facing the rest of Erin, this Revel had to occur to ensure the continuation of both the Forest itself and its inhabitants, as well as to protect it from the Keltoi. The factions found themselves faced with the challenge of encouraging the Fae King and Queen to mate, rescuing their imprisoned Princess and dealing with the untrustworthy creature known as Rascal. To many, the memories of this time seem to have a dreamlike quality in keeping with the nature of the Forest. What is important, however, is that despite everything the factions achieved their goals, impressing the Tuatha Danaan so much that they received many items of power to aid them in their upcoming battles with the Keltoi.

After the trials and tribulations of the war in Erin and the strangeness of the Revel, the factions withdrew to the Isle des Pommes in the nearby coastal waters of Estragales, to celebrate a great Algaian Carnivale. An opportunity to rest, take counsel and finalise plans for the summer offensive in Erin. Many games and challenges were organised with major contests held within a specially build arena with seating and shade provided for the visiting dignitaries. The factions were honoured with a visit from Her Imperial Highness Empress Nigousan, who travelled to the island through the Ritual Circle. She was accompanied by the Dai Oni, her bodyguard, Gensui Mac and Kuge Nakamura the newly designated guardian of Nigousan’s daughter. Once more, the factions found themselves getting drawn into Imperial politics as while the Empress made a tour of the various camps, her party was attacked by a group of Imperial assassins. It was suggested that perhaps Shogun Gensui Hiroaki might be responsible, as he was conspicuous by his absence from the gathering. The Imperial party returned home shortly afterwards, to the safety of the Imperial Court.

The factions also received another visit from Amgea, the leader of the Amgearea, who the factions had first met in the Great Forest of Albion the previous summer. She and her bodyguard visited several of the camps to discuss issues surrounding the current campaign in Erin. Surprising to some of the factions, one of the actions taken by the Amgearea at this time was to arrange the marriage between Overlord Hart of the Algaia and Amgea herself!

Refreshed from the time spent on the Isle des Pommes, the factions returned to Erin to face the Keltoi once more. The Keltoi had withdrawn to Galway in the north western corner of Erin, where it was believed they had originally invaded over two years ago. The area where the factions set up camp was home to two strange structures, both impressive and unnerving. Some said they were the work of the Formorii, others said they were of Fae origin. It soon transpired that the smaller structure appeared to contain some sort of Oracle, but few dared to enter and witness the predictions it made. The other was an open structure, pleasant and open during daylight but as darkness fell and the shadows lengthened it became an eerie place full of strange sounds and eldritch light. It was soon discovered to be the domain of a Banshee, cursed to wander the arches night after night. Distracted by the fight with the Keltoi, the factions were unable to fully investigate and nothing definitive was done about it; it must be assumed that the Banshee still roams the area.

On the first night of the gathering tragedy struck the hosts, as High King Morgan was struck down by assassins in the pay of the Formorii. His passing caused much sorrow both within the Fir Cruthen and across the allied camps, as he was a popular and respected leader who had done much to restore the Fir Cruthen and lead them with intelligence and valour during the recent difficult times. The new leader of the Fir Cruthen was chosen, Umrada Cole MacCormacc.

It was decided at this Renewal to revive the ancient tradition of the Ritual of Renewal, which had not been performed for many years. Sadly, both the Vipers and Steppe Alliance did not participate in the Ritual; many believed that in order for the Ritual to work all factions must participate. Opinion was divided as to whether the Ritual is necessary, or whether all Continental peoples should take part in addition to the recognised factions. It remains to be seen what impact the revival of the tradition will have, or what consequences it will bring.

A further mission to destroy another centre of Construct manufacture was undertaken, with the Fir Cruthen suffering heavy losses. The strike force was successful; the centre was destroyed and its commander killed. Many survivors questioned the tactics used on the mission and blamed those for the heavy losses.

Scouting missions confirmed that the Keltoi were not just an invading army, but a whole people trying to resettle in Erin. Information also suggested that a “Great Triangle” was located somewhere in the area and might possibly be the source of the Keltoi’s power, or their means of arrival in Erin. However, the scouts were unable to find its location. It was agreed that the Amgea ought to be approached, as they knew more about the Keltoi than most as they were said to originate from the same lands. After much discussion, Amharast, son of Amgea, was sent to provide help and advice to the factions. Amharast expressed concern that the invading force which had driven the Keltoi and the Amgeara from their lands would not be far behind them and that the factions should prepare for their possible appearance.

The Keltoi once more attempted peace negotiations; Elrand ap Owain, son of High King Owain ap Kernow, offered more favourable terms than the previous attempt, but the Fir Cruthen would not be swayed and were supported by the other factions, trusting in their military capability to deal with the threat now that the Keltoi had been pushed back to the sea.

The following day, the Algaia, Jhereg, Lions and Steppe Alliance took the field against the Keltoi army. It was clear from the outset that the Keltoi were fighting with desperation and the hard won experience of the factions proved a strong advantage as the Keltoi were driven back. Many Keltoi heroes were deployed in this battle, seemingly all sons of Owain ap Kernow; they proved themselves to be formidable opponents, strong in magic and martial skill, working in a team to overpower the factions with their spell casting, aided no doubt by their ability to cast their spells while heavily armoured. Nevertheless, the factions were able to push them back, forcing their leader to flee the field.

However, as the factions advanced they discovered a second force, led once more by the sons of Owain ap Kernow. More fierce fighting ensued, but ultimately the factions were successful in pushing them back and defeating their leaders on the field. The way was clear to the final camp of the Keltoi. With dusk approaching and the factions force depleted in numbers and magic, it was decided to fortify the position and wait for daylight to attempt the final assault.

Fittingly, it was the Fir Cruthen who led the final assault, aided by the Vipers, Wolves and Hei Ravni. It was a bitter and desperate fight, as the Keltoi knew their future depended on the outcome of the battle. Led by Elrand ap Owain himself, the Keltoi fought with skill and ferocity unlike that which the factions had seen before. Sensing a weakness in his opponents, who were fighting with less cohesion than the force of the previous day had done, Elrand once more offered terms of peace. Amharast was summoned to ask his advice and to gauge his thoughts on the honesty of this latest offer; he believed the offer to be genuine and so the stage was set for an historic meeting.

Umrada Cole of the Fir Cruthen, King Hapsburg of Teutonia and Nikolai of the Hei Ravni agreed to meet with High King Owain ap Kernow to discuss if peace could be achieved without further bloodshed. They met Owain on the battlefield, surrounded by women and children and in a remarkably short meeting, agreed terms. King Hapsburg offered the Keltoi land within Teutonia to settle and Umrada Cole agreed to gift the Keltoi 100 cattle in exchange for leaving their lands. All agreed to cease hostilities between the Keltoi and the factions.

As the Keltoi left the field, however, a portal opened on the factions’ left flank; through it poured warriors in red tabards, who immediately attacked the tired and depleted army. The new enemy was identified by Amharast as the invading force which had driven his people and the Keltoi from their lands. Summoning the last of their reserves, the factions drove them back into the strange portal they had come through.

After some deliberation it was decided to send a scout through the portal to discover what was on the other side. Fox of the Garrison mercenaries volunteered and was sent through tied to a rope as some measure of security. The rope came back charred and burned; moments later Fox was flung from the portal with great force, reporting that there were large numbers of this new enemy waiting wherever the portal led to, but that they did not look like they were intending to cross back through.

An attempt was made to try to close the portal, through an impromptu ritual led by Hulda Largensdottir of the Wolves. Sadly, while the ritual succeeded in closing the portal, the backlash of magical energy which issued forth killed Hulda and the majority of the ritual team aiding her.

So despite elation over the ending of hostilities between the factions and the Keltoi, the war hosts returned home filled with sorrow at their heavy losses and trepidation of this possible new threat.

~

The factions began the campaign season of 1109 by travelling to Bad Tolz, near the ancient Black Forest of Teutonia, at the invitation of King Hapsburg. Having finally united Teutonia following the recent civil war, King Hapsburg wished to resolve the issue with a local tribe – the Auedi – who were demanding independence under their leader Chieftan Clovis. There were also disturbing rumours that another tribe in the area – the Suebi – had turned to the practice of demon worship.

Soon after their arrival at Bad Tolz, members of the Imperial Yakuza began to circulate rumours that Emperor Heyami had not in fact died in a hunting accident in 1107 but was in fact being held by a renegade Imperial faction. As this news spread through the camps, exhausted runners from the Jhereg and Fir Cruthen arrived, bringing a desperate plea for aid as those two factions were being attacked by Imperial forces and were cut off from the routes which the other factions had taken to arrive at Bad Tolz. Even as this news was being delivered, Imperial messengers arrived to inform the war hosts that the forces attacking their allies were in fact Imperial rebels under the leadership of one General Tei, who had declared himself independent of Imperial authority and promoted himself to the rank of Shogun, leading large parts of the Imperial army stationed in the north. Shogun Hiroaki asked for the aid of the factions in dealing with this threat, under the terms of the Treaty of 1103.

Plans were swiftly made and such forces as were readily available were dispatched to support Shogun Hiroaki’s forces and push through to rescue the Jhereg and Fir Cruthen hosts. Despite a difficult fight, the factions were ultimately successful and able to reunite the Jhereg and Fir Cruthen with the rest of the factions.

Devastated at General Tei’s betrayal and his own inability to prevent it or to locate the missing Emperor, Shogun Gensui Hiroaki decided that his only honourable course of action was to commit Seppuku. Needing both witnesses and a second to aid him should his courage fail, he went to the Hei Ravni camp and there, with the assistance of Shogun Miyagi Roshi, he took his own life in atonement for his failures.

Subsequent scouting missions determined that the defeated rebel forces had retreated back to General Tei’s main force and that this was moving to engage the factions. War Councils were held, plans were made and it was decided that the Wolves, Jhereg, Fir Cruthen and Steppe Alliance would meet this threat, while the remaining factions defended the camps against any attempt by the local tribes. Throughout the night, the rebel Imperial forces could be seen and heard moving closer and at some stage even directly targeted the camps with magical attacks. How they did this was not clear, as the Imperials have never been known as a strongly magical force, that power mainly having derived from the Blood Queen during the initial war with the Empire.

In the morning, the war hosts set forth and swiftly engaged the forward elements of General Tei’s forces, gradually pushing them back into a retreat. Both sides fought doggedly and with great bravery but it was soon apparent that years of war against the Keltoi had hardened the factions’ forces and were giving them a decided edge over the Imperial rebel troops. It was by no means an easy battle, however; at many times the factions found themselves almost overwhelmed by long range magical attacks. Once the Faction forces discovered the source of these attacks – an ancient Ritual Circle – they were able to wrest control of it from the rebel forces and remove this threat from the field. Eventually, General Tei was cornered with the last remnants of his forces and he was killed. Thus his rebellion had been crushed, not by Imperial forces but by the United factions. Surely this would gain them great favour with Empress Nigousan. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the missing Emperor Heyami.

Despite numerous attempts to negotiate a settlement with Chieftan Clovis and the Auedi, no agreement could be reached and so the stage was set to bring yet another group of rebels to heel. It had also emerged that Clovis had entered into an understanding, if not an alliance, with Von Beck and his Construct forces. So it was fitting that the forces of Teutonia, supported by the Algaia and Lions, took the field the following day to deal with Clovis and his tribe. The Auedi were no match for the heavily armed war hosts, particularly when fighting on open ground. As the factions pinned Clovis down and prepared to end the conflict, a large force of Constructs appeared and began attacking the factions. Undeterred, the Teutonians swiftly ended Clovis and his forces before the new force could assist him and the factions turned their attention to the Constructs. The fight against the Constructs proved more difficult, but in the end the factions’ superior numbers and tactics began to tell as they forced the Constructs back and eventually defeated them.

Meanwhile, scouts had been investigating the location of Emperor Heyami and reports suggested that he was alive and being escorted east by remnants of General Tei’s forces. A group was swiftly organised and dispatched to affect a rescue before Heyami was moved beyond the reach of the war hosts. Travelling swiftly, the rescue party was able to intercept the rebels and after a short but sharp engagement, defeated them and rescued Heyami from his captors. The Emperor initially seemed dazed and unsure of who he was, but this soon passed as they made their way back. Indeed, by the time they returned to the camps Heyami was far more like his normal self, promising rewards to his heroic rescues and dire retribution to those responsible for his abduction.

As the factions prepared to leave Bad Tolz to journey to Stuttgart, the camps were struck by a powerful magical attack that laid many of the free folk low. Luckily, there were enough healers present to ensure that most survived the assault, but it did prove to be a most unwelcome end to what had been a successful few days for the war hosts. It would appear the attack was caused by an individual known only as the Brood King. With few leads as to his whereabouts or any solid information to deal with this potential new threat, the factions decided to continue with their original plans and move to Stuttgart to deal with the demon worshipping Suebi tribe.

The area around Stuttgart where the factions made their camps turned out to be a harrowing location, filled with many strange creatures. It became swiftly apparent that the practice of binding minor demons to tasks was an ancient and widespread practice within the Black Forest region and was not considered evil by its inhabitants. However, what the Suebi had done was to take this ancient practice in a new and dangerous direction, summoning ever more powerful demons. These demons were barely controlled; indeed some had broken free of all control and were pursuing their own ends. While dealing with this localised threat, the factions also came under attack from the Brood King and his minions who attempted to kill many of the Lord Generals present. Although the Generals were saved, many innocent members of the war hosts lost their lives to the Brood King’s agents on the dangerous paths in the area. Progress was made with the Suebi to ensure the area was once more at peace and the demon summoning back under control, so the factions were free to leave and journey to Albion, where High King Tristan had invited all to attend a great festival called Scarborough Fayre.

The Fayre was held in the town of Marshall’s Keep, on the northernmost part of Albion within the Kingdom of Bernicia. Many interesting and fun games were held, but the highlight for many was the bear baiting contest, particularly when the bear broke free from its handlers and turned on its tormentors. All were able to relax and recover from what had been a difficult few months in Teutonia, but with news arriving that the invaders last seen in Erin had once more appeared on the Continent, the war hosts set sail for the Great Circle in the Black Forest of Teutonia to deal with this new invasion.

Many changes had taken place at the Great Circle since the last time the war hosts visited. Construction had begun on a magnificent structure to surround the ancient triptych alongside a crypt housing a sarcophagus containing the remains of one of their ancient noblemen. Many were impressed with the work, although progress had been halted by the presence of the nearby invaders, identified as the Tagmatoi by the Amgeara. It was clear that if the Tagmatoi were similar to the Keltoi and Amgeara, then their ultimate goal was control of the Great Circle.

As the factions settled into their camps, the omens could not have been worse. The skies darkened and a thunderous storm descended upon the Circle, leaving many superstitious folk fearing the worst. As dusk fell, Lord Jhereg, the mysterious vessel of the Jhereg Spirit, made an impassioned speech defending his people’s right to take action which the other nations found abhorrent. Driven by accusations of doing deals with the Vampire Lord Silver, Lord Jhereg spoke of the sovereignty of the Faction camps when the war hosts meet and that while others may find his actions unbearable, if they take place within the boundaries of the Jhereg camp then they are breaking no laws. As can be expected, many of the other nations took great exception to Lord Jhereg’s words; in particular Lord Hart of the Algaia and High King Tristan of Albion, who mustered their war hosts and moved against the Jhereg. In an act of hostility between factions which had not been seen on this continent in over a decade, the Lions and Algaia invaded the Jhereg camp and murdered Lord Jhereg. In the ensuing chaos, other members of the Jhereg war host were killed, but the identity of the killers remained unknown.

While it is true that some of the other factions tried to intervene to prevent the conflict, the fact remained that those attempts failed. Despite subsequent events, including a trial of certain high ranking individuals involved, these events caused severe damage to the united front that the factions had been building up since the start of the Imperial Conquest in 1101.

While in his homeland, King Hapsburg of Teutonia formally ratified and signed a treaty between Teutonia and the Keltoi, ensuring that peace would prevail between them and making them both liable to support each other under certain conditions.

On the second day the factions were visited by Emperor Heyami and Empress Nigousan, accompanied by General Mac and Kuge Nakamura. They came to thank the factions for their honourable rescue of Heyami from the forces of General Tei. They held discussions with all factions, with the exception of the Lions. Perhaps they still felt aggrieved over the actions of Inquisitor Martinique on the Island of Alexandria in 1107, or perhaps they were more offended by the action taken the previous evening, for the Empire and the Jhereg have been close friends since the peace negotiations of 1103. In addition, General Mac spent some time with the Hei Ravni, to discuss certain long standing issues with the Draken and Iron Legion. The most important information to come from these discussions was that some of the Imperial Continental lands had fragmented as a result of General Tei’s rebellion and a brief civil war which occurred following Heyami’s rescue. To the surprise of the factions, Heyami announced that he had no intention of attempting to recapture those areas which had not remained loyal to him, but instead to consolidate his control over the lands which had remained loyal. The one exception to this policy was an area to the north of the current Imperial territory which General Mac had been tasked with reconquering. Of the rest of the lands which had rebelled, most were now controlled by the successors to General Tei, calling themselves the Mempo. It appeared, at least for now, that there may be an opportunity for some of the factions to regain control of land previously surrendered to the Imperial Court as part of the peace treaty signed in 1103.

During the course of the gathering, a strange coffin was discovered in the forest surrounded by four orbs. Further investigation linked these with the mysterious Von Beck and the recent problems with certain demons and the constructs. After much effort, the coffin and orbs were destroyed.

Following the Imperial visit, a delegation from the Tagmatoi came to visit King Hapsburg. Much as the Keltoi had done, they demanded submission from the factions. The factions refused to accept their demands, so the Tagmatoi decreed that a state of war now existed between their forces and the factions and that an attack on the factions would be imminent.

With war formally declared, the factions increased their scouting missions to try and gain as much information on the enemy as possible. Gradually, a picture emerged of a large Tagmatoi force to the north, preparing to strike south presumably to gain control of the Great Circle. It also seemed likely they would leave a large reserve force behind to guard their bridge-head. Armed with this information, the War Council decided that the Lions, Algaia, Fir Cruthen and Steppe Alliance would march out to engage the initial assault, while the Teutonians, Wolves, Jhereg and Hei Ravni defended the camps and the Circle.

As the next day dawned and the factions mustered their forces for their assigned missions, scout reports began to arrive indicating that the Tagmatoi had mobilised far quicker than anticipated and were even then moving towards the Great Circle. The factions formed up a defensive line and stood ready. The Tagmatoi attempted to outflank them by moving through the forests, but they were met with a counter attack. A long and hard fight ensued, with the factions gradually gaining the upper hand. However, disaster almost struck when a second enemy force attacked from deep in the woodlands. After a period of confused and desperate struggle, the factions stabilised their lines and forced the main Tagmatoi force to retreat. The retreat was short lived, as once out in the open they were able to reform their lines and ready to withstand a further assault. Demonstrated a greater tactical prowess than the Keltoi, they feigned another retreat, drawing the factions out of the woodland and exposing their flank to a third force which charged their flanks as soon as they had committed. Luckily for the factions, this new force was lightly armoured – skirmishers for the most part – and superior numbers on the factions’ side began to tell. As the factions fought their way closer to the bridge-head they were originally targeting, it was discovered that Amgea’s daughter, who was believed to have died when the Amgeara fled the Tagmatoi, was fighting alongside them. This caused issues within the Faction ranks, as Amgea changed the objective of her Algaian forces and focused entirely on rescuing her daughter from the Tagmatoi. Once they had captured her, the Algaians quit the field. This left a small remnant of the Tagmatoi force undefeated, for although the factions now had the upper hand, without the forces of the Algaia they were unable to completely wipe out the enemy on the field.

Following the rescue of her daughter, Amgea renounced her claims to the leadership of House Amgearea, passing that responsibility to her daughter. Amgea declared that she would dedicate herself to her husband’s people, the people of the Algaia, who were overjoyed to welcome her as their new Queen alongside Overlord Hart.

After that evening’s War Council, it was decided that early the next day the Teutonians, Jhereg, Wolves and Hei Ravni would attempt to storm the Tagmatoi position and eliminate the threat.

Despite preparation, the following morning the factions were once again surprised by an advance force of Tagmatoi, almost within striking distance of the Great Circle. Luckily, this advance force was heavily outnumbered by the factions and they quickly retreated when faced with their overwhelming numbers. As the factions made ready to follow this small force into the woodland, the scouts reported a much larger force waiting to attack them in their flank once they had committed. Learning from the previous day’s experience, the factions were able to deploy to meet both threats. The fight in the woodlands was harsh and confusing, but the factions fared better than their allies had done the previous day.

What followed was a similar pattern to the previous battle with the Tagmatoi steadily retreating and drawing the factions out, until once again the enemy had their backs to the lake. The remaining Tagmatoi retreated to their bridge-head and the factions were forced to cross the lake and push on up the hill, back into the woodland. The steep slopes gave the Tagmatoi a significant advantage as they exposed the Faction forces to their missile troops. The Tagmatoi leader, who had been very vocal throughout the battle, appeared once more to taunt the factions from the safety of his position. Once more he offered terms, only slightly more favourable than the last time but still unacceptable. He spoke with anyone who would listen to him, attempting to dishearten the force by saying that his people already had control of the Great Circle. Eventually, the factions tired of his banter and executed a swift and disciplined assault on the Tagmatoi position. After a short and brutal fight, the factions were successful in destroying the last of this Tagmatoi force.

As the factions returned to their camps, however, it was discovered that the Tagmatoi leader’s boasts had not been entirely false. A small Tagmatoi force had managed to elude the factions and gained entry to the Great Circle, placing within it a powerful magical device which had sealed the Circle with overwhelming power. Already, those with the knowledge and skill could see subtle changes taking place within the greatest Ritual Circle in the known world. All attempts to break through the seal failed and upon the advice of Master Joseph of the Celestial College, counter seals were raised around the Circle to prevent any Tagmatoi breaking out in the future.

The Teutonian and Fir Cruthen war hosts also remained, to guard the area against further Tagmatoi incursion, while the others returned to their homes for the winter with heavy hearts and fear for the future.

~

As the snows melted and the spring of 1110 arrived, the war hosts prepared to once again engage the Tagmatoi in open combat and restore control of the Great Circle to the United factions. It would seem that the sealing of the Circle had prevented the Tagmatoi from bringing in reinforcements, so hope was high that the factions would succeed in removing them from Teutonia.

Upon arrival at the Great Circle, it was soon discovered that the influence of the Tagmatoi’s magic had visually changed and warped the Circle; the relatively new buildings now appearing to be thousands of years old and in ruins. Throughout the early days, scouting missions were dispatched to ascertain the position and strength of the Tagmatoi, as well as any indication that the Brood King was still active in the area.

In the midst of all the military activity, King Hapsburg of Teutonia announced his betrothal to Tabetha von Drachomorden, bringing added stability to the once troubled land of Teutonia. All were pleased and gathered to celebrate the wedding. Unfortunately the Tagmatoi were not willing to allow the event to go smoothly, as midway through the celebrations they sent in some of their greatest warriors who, despite the odds against them, were able to kidnap Hapsburg from within the Teutonian camp. All were shocked by this turn of events and it was quickly decided that the factions would mount a rescue mission as soon as it was light. The Teutonians – now led on the field by Prince Elector Kameron Drachomorden, the Queen’s brother – joined forces with the Wolves, Jhereg and Hei Ravni to find Hapsburg and return him to his people and his new bride.

Despite their best effort, the factions found that their forces were less maneuverable than those of the enemy within the close confines of the woods; the Tagmatoi had excellent knowledge of the lay of the land in the vicinity and used it to their advantage. For a long time they enjoyed the upper hand, successfully slaying the new vessel of the Spirit of the Jhereg and briefly capturing the Jhereg War leader, Loud Thunder of the Lakota.

Finally, the factions managed to fight their way to the Tagmatoi leader, the Despot. Held securely by her entourage, Hapsburg seemed to be in close discussion with her and the factions were unable to get close enough to affect a rescue. With both armies at a standoff, Hapsburg stood and loudly ordered the Faction force to stand down. The Despot did likewise with her Tagmatoi. Confused, the two armies ceased to fight and gradually silence and calm descended on the battlefield. Hapsburg was released to his own forces and at his orders, the Despot and her force were allowed to leave the field. Hapsburg would not elaborate on the circumstances of his release or this apparent agreement between them, saying only that it was for the best and that all would be revealed in time.

With the complete withdrawal of the Tagmatoi forces, the factions quickly gained possession of the Great Circle and began to investigate the strange device left within it. Master Joseph and the ritualists determined that the stone was shifting the power of the Circle to draw upon the Tagmatoi’s home Plane, the Plane of Illusion. Several rituals were performed to reverse this effect and restore the Circle to its proper position.

After spending much time alone with his new bride, Hapsburg went that night to the Circle, where he was joined by the Tagmatoi Despot. After announcing they were to perform a ceremony to restore him to his people and to completely restore the Circle to its former state, both stepped into the Circle. The Despot raised the wards and as all looked on nervously, the two turned to face each other. While quietly whispering, each attacked and making no move to defend themselves, both were slain. The ritualists immediately began to attempt to break the wards, but as the Despot’s life force ebbed and her spirit fled, the wards lowered. Despite the efforts of the healers, Hapsburg could not be revived.

What the purpose of this act was, no one knew or understood. It was in a sorry and confused mood that the Teutonians bore the body of their King back to their camp, while the Tagmatoi swiftly entered the Circle and retrieved the body of their leader. Hapbsurg’s widow placed her brother the Prince Elector in command of the Teutonian war host.

Scout reports indicated that the Tagmatoi had indeed left the area but that the forces of the Brood King were nearby. It was decided that the remaining war hosts would engage them in the morning, believing themselves able to eliminate the Brood King by way of a magical box that had come into their possession.

The Lions, Algaia, Fir Cruthen and Steppe Alliance set forth, facing ferocious attacks from the Brood King’s forces. They took a defensive stance, luring the Brood King out to face them. After many waves of attack which were all repulsed, the Brood King finally appeared to try to break the factions’ will. They deployed the magical box and in an outpouring of strange magical energies the Brood King was finally defeated. His remaining forces fled the field in terror, pursued and cut down by the victorious Faction hosts.

With the threat removed from Teutonia, the war hosts answered the call of Lord Bothvar and travelled to the formally peaceful island of Gibraltar, situated between Norsca and the northern coast of Teutonia. Bothvar wished to seek out the truth behind rumours that Jarl Jarfin, the recently defeated leader of a rebellion against Bothvar, was on the island stirring up more trouble. It was also believed that some of the remaining Tagmatoi forces had travelled to the island and were causing trouble themselves.

Arriving on the island, the war hosts found themselves in a confusing situation. For many years, the island had been governed jointly by the Wolves and the 95th Regiment of Teutonia, but with the demise of the Regiment and the confusion brought about by Jarfin’s revolt, there was little order on the island and it had become a haven for pirates and thieves.

After many twists and turns, the factions were successful in establishing order to the island, destroying the Tagmatoi forces and routing Jarl Jarfin from the island.

While on the island, however, a new situation came to the attention of the factions. A mysterious puzzle box appeared which upon investigation was discovered to be a portal of some kind to a different realm. It was Maximus Khallaing of the Jhereg who first opened the box and found himself alone in a strange place, attacked by unknown creatures. It was only upon receiving a fatal wound that he was returned to Gibraltar. Luckily, a healer was able to reach his body and revive him, so others could learn the tale and be forewarned. It was soon determined that multiple people could enter the box together, but only in small numbers. At the same time, these strange creatures from within the box, black robed with white faces and black crosses over their eyes, were seen abroad in the camps, targeting corporealists in particular. Despite many attempts to resolve the situation, nothing seemed to be preventing these creatures from freely moving among the camps.

With no pressing threats to the people, the war hosts travelled to Caledonia to attend the Highland Games. Umrada Cole had invited all, to show the gratitude of the Fir Cruthen for all of the recent sacrifices made to free their land from the Keltoi occupation. Each year, these games are held around the festival of Lughnasadh, in honour of the sun god Lugh, at the ancient and mystical Circles of Atholl.

Everyone enjoyed the variety of games on offer and many were given the opportunity to test themselves in both martial and other ways. The puzzle box re-appeared and several of the factions spent a good deal of time and effort entering it and doing battle with its inhabitants; sadly no progress was made on preventing the creatures from leaving the box and attacking those they encountered.

It was in good cheer and refreshed by their time in Caledonia that the war hosts set sail for Norsca, to celebrate the festival of Renewal in Odinsheim. Jarl Jarfin had once more resurfaced in this Norscan heartland and was once again gathering support of other disaffected nobles and peasants to attempt another revolution.

Jarl Jarfin had the gall to show himself and gave a welcome speech to the war hosts, as Bothvar and the Wolf war host seemed to be delayed in arriving. Jarfin bid the factions welcome to “his” lands and gave them the use of a strange building situated near the Ritual Circle to meet within. While in an excellent location, the factions were loathe to accept such hospitality from a man they knew to be a rebel and a traitor and so the only group who used the space was the College of Celestial Magic.

There was turmoil in the Teutonian camp as Kameron Drachomorden and his personal guards had not travelled with his war host to Odinsheim. Messages filtered through that he had been summoned back to Berlin by his sister, to assist with an urgent problem. It later transpired that his entire party had disappeared while travelling through the Black Forest and were feared dead. Further messages from the religious leaders of Teutonia reassured the war host that all was being dealt with and the Gods themselves declared that Flaminica Callista Aurelia of Riga and Archduke Nash would take charge of the war host, as Keeper and Defender of the Faith.

Through the brave actions of several of the factions, making repeated sorties into the strange realm of the puzzle box, they were at last successful in removing this threat. Defeating what appeared to be their leader, a creature far more powerful than the others encountered before, the victorious Lions were rewarded with a strange blessing; Sir Henri of the Knights of the North receiving new corporeal abilities.

Throughout the festival, Jarfin made increasingly desperate attempts to rally support among the war hosts for his rebellion, naming Bothvar “the Butcher of Norsca”. Few were swayed by his words, as Bothvar was known to all, well liked and had been seen to rule Norsca effectively for many years. The situation worsened until Jarfin made an open declaration of war against Bothvar, his Norscan “traitors” and the “foreign mercenaries” he had brought with him to Odinsheim.

Scout report indicated that Jarfin had control of a sizeable force and had potentially allied himself with the svartelfs. Rumours also abounded of an undead army, but these were mostly dismissed as though Jarfin was a traitor to Bothvar, no one would believe he would be a traitor to Norscan values and align himself with a necromancer. As full details of his forces were not known it was decided that half the factions would remain to guard the camps and the nearby city, while the others took the field against Jarfin. On the third day of the festival the combined forces of the Wolves, Jhereg, Teutonians, Steppe Alliance and the Hei Ravni took the fight to the traitor.

The forces first clashed in a crowded, wooded area where the difficult ground hampered both sides, but slightly favoured Jarfin’s forces. Nevertheless, the factions pressed forward and drove the rebel forces back towards Jarfin’s camp. As the battle cleared the woods and entered open ground the superior organisation and cohesion of the factions began to tell. Soon Bothvar’s Wolves came face to face with Jarfin and his bodyguards. Each challenged the other for the right to rule Norsca. Around them the battle still raged, but in an island of calm, both warriors circled each other and tested each other’s strengths. Blows were struck by both combatants, but whether through poison or magic, Jarfin was able to paralyse Bothvar. Jarfin taunted his stricken foe, belittling his inability to defend himself. This proved too much for the loyal Wolves and once more battle was joined. Recovering from his temporary paralysis, Bothvar’s fury was unquenchable and he flung himself at Jarfin in a flurry of bows that the rebel was hard pressed to defend himself against. With a final mighty blow, Jarfin was struck to the ground and was slain.

The battle was not over, however, as the death of the Jarl did not stop the rebel forces from fighting. Some manner of rite appeared to be being performed which the factions determined needed to be prevented. As they stormed the hill, a fresh force attacked in their flank. Undead and svartelves, backed up with blood crazed Norscan berserkers and led by a ferocious werewolf. Unable to defend themselves, the factions were forced into a fighting retreat. The Jhereg, Teutonians and Steppe Alliance took heavy losses, but it was the Hei Ravni, led by Shogun Miyagi Roshi, who held the rear, sacrificing their own lives to allow their allies time to escape.

As the factions mourned their losses, the War Council reconvened and discussed the new enemies that had been fought on the field. It seemed the rumours that Jarfin had allied himself with dark forces were correct, but what remained to discover is whether those forces were fighting for him, or if they had their own design and had made Jarfin an unknown pawn in their plans. It was decided that once the fallen had been laid to rest, those factions who had not suffered losses would attempt an assault on the hill where the new enemy had appeared. Scouts were sent out but with the battlefield in enemy control little information was gained; what was clear was that the gains made on the previous day had now been lost to this new foe.

As the sun rose, the Algaia, Lions and Fir Cruthen prepared to do battle. Engaging the enemy forces in the broken woodland, they faced large numbers of undead alongside the remnants of Jarfin’s peasant levies. Necromancers had raised the bodies of the fallen from the previous day’s battle and many feared they would be forced to fight against the animated corpses of their old friends and allies. Fortunately, few of the Allied fallen had been left on the field. As the factions pushed on, they reached the scene of the previous day’s slaughter. Facing them again were the svartelves and yet more undead. Hatred of these abominations drove the factions forward and the svartelves began to fall back under the onslaught.

As the warriors of the war hosts pursued their enemies through the open ground, they were halted by the sight of a terrifying new foe. A creature few had seen before, or even believed really existed. An Ice Giant of Jotunheim towered before them, at least twice the height of the tallest warrior on the field. Surrounded by yesterday’s fallen, necromancers already beginning the chants to raise them from the dead, the Jotunn bellowed its challenges to the war hosts. Cautiously the factions moved forward to engage, trying to reach the necromancers before the rites could be completed. Any who came within the range of the giant’s blows were knocked to the ground, its strength virtually unstoppable. The very ground trembled and shook beneath his feet as he struck mighty blow after blow. Eventually, the giant seemed to tire of the fight, as no weapon wielded by the factions on the field seemed to make any impact on it. It quickly outpaced the war host as it strode off into the forest. The way to the hilltop was clear. As the factions pushed forward, they came face to face with another undead force, this time containing the fallen from that last desperate flight of the previous day’s battle.

Reaching the summit, they identified a strange orb which appeared to be the source of the enemy’s power. An impromptu ritual was performed to attempt to destroy it. With no idea of how much time would be required, the remaining warriors fought to stem the tide of increasingly desperate enemy attacks. After the ritual was interrupted and restarted several times, the factions eventually realised they must retreat or all would die. The ritualists broke off their chanting and the factions began a fighting retreat from the hilltop. To their surprise, the enemy did not press the advantage, allowing the factions to flee in a more orderly fashion than their allies had done the previous day.

As the factions considered the aftermath of the two failed battles in Odinsheim, it became apparent that they would need to leave a sizeable force in the area to prevent the spread of this new unknown foe. So it was decided that for the second year running, many would not return to their homes for the winter but would stay in Norsca to carry out that duty.

 

1114-into-the-west-dragon-knight-and-gunnar-faulk-flasher1111 to 1114 The Rise of Terror

After working hard all winter to protect the Norscan peasants from the dark enemy’s raids and to prevent them from gaining new recruits, the war hosts began the 1111 campaign at the powerful ritual circle at Thor’s Temple in the north of the country. It became swiftly apparent that the enemy had strong forces in the area and they had advanced so quickly as to place the ritual circle in an area of no man’s land between their own lines and the encampment of the factions. This necessitated a round the clock guard to be placed in the area, to ensure the safety of the ritualists and to try to prevent the enemy from tapping the power of the circle for their own ends. Unfortunately, this guard was not particularly effective; the enemy were able to infiltrate the circle and perform rituals of their own, as well as interrupting several of the factions’ own rituals.

The camps were assaulted continually by the enemy forces. Many of the attacks were successfully repelled, but some broke through the lines and caused the deaths of many of the war hosts. Notably, the High Mage of the Lions, Crow, fell while defending others from their attacks on the second day.

The enigmatic being named by some as the Betrayer continued to make appearances within the camps, offering valuable advice regarding the enemy but at such a price that few were willing to pay. It seemed to enjoy setting brother against brother, while at the same time helping both sides. None were sure if it was an agent of the enemy, a friend to the factions or some other creature with needs and desires of its own.

At the War Council, all intelligence which had been gathered was considered and it was decided that the factions must take the fight to the enemy and attempt to drive them away. Reports indicated that the Jotunn was in the area; it was only right that the Wolves would have the opportunity to defeat this ancient foe. In addition it was believed that Thor’s Hammer, that ancient artefact of Norsca, would be enough to bring the giant down.

As the day began, the Wolves mustered for battle. Taking the field with them were the Lions and the Jhereg, steadfast allies of Norsca. The battle began well, with the war hosts pushing the enemy back into the woods surrounding the temple. As before, the enemy forces consisted of Norscan levies, undead and svartelves. The fighting was fierce, but the factions pushed ever deeper into the dark, foreboding woods. Scouts began to bring back reports of sightings of the Ice Giant and the great Werewolf known as Fimbulwinter who had caused such devastation the previous summer. The factions reordered their lines and as had been agreed, the wielder of Thor’s Hammer surged forward under guard to engage the Jotunn. Despite their best efforts, their attack had little effect, with even the blows of Thor’s Hammer failing to impact. Meanwhile, Fimbulwinter caused havoc in the lines, moving faster than many anticipated, targeting the flanks and those behind the shield wall. The Lions suffered yet another blow, as Lord Francis, the Steward of Albion, was separated from the lines and surprised by Fimbulwinter’s terrifying appearance, driven into the massed ranks of undead to be cut down. Tired of the pointless attempts to hurt it, the Ice Giant retreated from the field; as it departed the enemy seemed to lose direction. Slowly but surely the factions drove them back, until both sides were exhausted. The battle ground to a halt in a series of skirmishes, neither side in a position to press home the advantage for a decisive victory. Both armies retired to lick their wounds and count the cost of the battle.

During the course of the evening, more scouts went out to spy on the enemy camps and reports returned that the enemy was regrouping, albeit with much thinner ranks due to the toll taken on the battlefield and the Giant nowhere to be seen. A further assault on the enemy position was planned for the next day.

The combined force of the Algaia, Fir Cruthen, Teutonians and Steppe Alliance set forth to try to finally drive the enemy from the lands of Norsca. Once more they faced the loathsome undead, vicious svartelves and doughty Norscal rebels, arrayed in tight battle formations. The lines clashed and broke apart as skirmishers on both sides attempted to outflank the other side and sow panic among the rear. The battle lines swayed backwards and forwards as each force sought to split the enemy forces and cause a rout. Steadily the enemy was forced backwards, until suddenly they broke and routed. The factions, in no fit state to pursue, sent skirmishers forward to harry the enemy while they healed their wounded and restored order to their own lines. The pause gave the enemy an opportunity to regroup, atop a hill in a strong fortified position. Determined, the factions stormed the hill, but the enemy was still strong. The Spectre appeared, with Fimbulwinter in his wake; both caused havoc in the lines. Pressing home their slim advantage, the factions forced the enemy into a fighting retreat through the woods. Finally, with resources exhausted, the factions resolved themselves for one final heroic effort to defeat their enemy and drive them from Norscan soil.

With the battle joined for the last time, the Spectre and Fimbulwinter fled the field, leaving their foot soldiers to die. Finally delivering the revenge due to the enemy for the slaughter at Odinsheim, the factions destroyed the remnants of the undead, svartelves and Jarl Jarfin’s failed rebellion.

Buoyed by their victories in Norsca the factions travelled to Tibetia in Western Siberia to take counsel, invited by the latest incarnation of Lord Jhereg, the former war leader Loud Thunder of the Lakota. It was quickly discovered that the area was not as safe as might have been hoped, for the camps were under assault by crazed peasants from the moment of their arrival. Following investigation it was determined that the peasants were behaving in a manner reminiscent of the followers of Lilayen, a powerful vampire and an ancient foe of the Jhereg Empire. Scouts were sent out to discover if she had indeed returned and it was soon discovered that not only was Lilayen active in the area but she also had a large number of vampiric minions and was seemingly planning a mass attack on the war hosts.

With the focus on vampires, it was decided that the issue of the Vampire Lord Silver should be dealt with. Silver had been active among the war hosts for many years and not all agreed that tackling him now would be a wise course of action. A ritual was performed to summon him to the circle and a wedge was organised to channel the power of the factions into his destruction. The summoning worked, Silver appeared, but he was too dangerous a foe to be defeated so easily. He appeared close to the front of the wedge and with his unnatural strength was able to disrupt the wedge. Those gathered were helpless in the face of Silver’s rage and many were injured before Silver was able to escape.

Diplomatic relations between several of the factions had been strained over the past few years, particularly those between the Jhereg and the Algaia and Lions, following the murder of Lord Jhereg in 1109. To attempt to finally resolve these issues, a convocation was held at which diplomats and scholars from across the factions came together to discuss the tricky issues of international law and how the war hosts should be allowed to behave while guests on another faction’s land. Much talk was had, although it remained to be seen if the outcome would be beneficial to all.

As Lilayen’s forces continued to attack, it was decided that a mixed force from across the war hosts would set out to bring battle to Lilayen. The small band pushed into the woodland, fighting not only the crazed peasants but increasing numbers of undead. As they pressed on, they found themselves facing not only Lilayen and her vampires, but the Spectre as well. What unholy agreement might they have entered into? With no time to consider the implications of this new arrangement, the factions were forced to continue their attack. The undead were no match for the hardened veterans of the battlefields of Odinsheim and Thor’s Temple; eventually Lilayen and the Spectre both fled the field, leaving their minions to their fate at the hands of the Faction force.

As the small but victorious force returned to the camps, bearing heavy losses and the grave news that the Spectre was at large in Siberia, it was decided that more information would be needed before the factions could take action against their enemies. Plans were laid for scouts to be sent out and instructions given to locate and track the movements of the Spectre, Lilayen and to establish if Fimbulwinter and the Giant were also now present in Siberia. With little more to be done, the war hosts returned to Norsca, to enjoy the hospitality of the Wolves as Lord Bothvar invited all to a celebration to thank them for their sacrifices in freeing Norsca from its enemies.

Arriving at the hunting reserve of Aurophellia, the factions were greeted by a well organised and entertaining Fayre. As well as traditional games such as Kubb and the various martial tournaments, the factions were invited to participate in more unusual Norscan games such as ship to ship raiding, which proved very popular.

Of course, the trials of the war against the Spectre and its allies were never far away; the Betrayer was in attendance and offering deals which few were willing to accept. One service it did provide, however, was to return the lost Sword of Spheres to the Lions; the blade had been in the hands of Lord Francis when he fell on the field at Thor’s Temple. Investigations determined that the Ice Giant would indeed be slain by Thor’s Hammer, but only if certain conditions were met. Investigations into Fimbulwinter were less successful; an attempt was made to neutralise the threat posed by the werewolf, which required a deal with the Betrayer to take them through a portal to the werewolf’s location. While successful in interrupting a rite which some Fenris worshippers were undertaking to give Fimbulwinter a human level intelligence, the werewolf himself caused chaos and in the ensuing confusion, many lives were lost when they failed to return to the portal in time.

So, refreshed from the games, optimistic for their plan to kill the Giant yet full of sorrow for the losses on the attempt to neutralise Fimbulwinter, the factions returned to Siberia to search for further knowledge to aid them in the fight against their dark enemies. The war hosts made their camps at the ruins of the Palace of the first Jhereg Emperor. There were many interesting structures to explore and the Jhereg swiftly organised a group of individuals to investigate them. Frequent visions were seen of ghosts or spirits of those who had lived there, acting out their lives as if no time had passed. From the ruins and these visions, much was learned about the history of the city and the original Jhereg Empire, including valuable information relating to Lilayen’s history and potential weaknesses. In particular, a series of paintings revealed within a strange tower depicted her history and part in the downfall of the last Emperor, indicating that certain items required to defeat her may be located nearby. After the Jhereg deduced the likely location of the items, the Black Rabbits of the Lions went on a scouting mission and retrieved a cold iron dagger and a magical amulet, which granted the wearer total immunity to mind affecting magic.

Also present in the city were a number of old members of the Phoenix Guard, an order long thought forgotten. Now calling themselves the Academy of Arms and Magic, they had come to offer their services, training the heroes of the war hosts. As they had travelled, they had been attacked by agents of the Spectre and their banner, an ancient artefact of the Phoenix Guard. It was hoped that with the aid of the war hosts, they might be able to recover this item.

Scout reports indicated that all of the factions enemies were active in the area; the Spectre, Fimbulwinter, Lilayen, the Ice Giant and the ever present mercenaries known as the Crimson Rain. More disturbing it seemed that the Spectre had also recruited the Fir Cruthen Drune Lords and the vampire Kathryn. Also present was Malachy, former Herald of Lord Jhereg, fallen at Odinsheim and now raised as a Herald of the Spectre. Constant attacks on the Faction camps by the enemy forces hardened the factions’ resolve, as War Councils were held and plans were made. The honour of facing the enemy on the morrow went to the hosts the Jhereg, alongside the Wolves, Fir Cruthen and the Steppe Alliance. It was hoped that they would be able to deal with Lilayen and find an opportunity to test whether Thor’s Hammer really could end the Ice Giant.

That night, as they prepared for battle, a disturbing incident took place in the Wolf camp. The Oathsworn sat drinking within their tent, discussing strategy with Lord Bothvar. Suddenly Evind, the Chosen of Frey, collapsed screaming in agony, writhing on the floor. The Oathsworn moved to aid their brother but Lord Bothvar commanded the Wolves to attack. Caught between their oath to their brother and their oath to their lord, the Oathsworn watched helplessly as Evind writhed and screamed, before standing forth to defend their brother from the rest of the Wolves. With one final shout of “Father”, Evind transformed into Fimbulwinter before the assembled Wolves and began to assault all within reach. A desperate struggle ensued but the Wolves were able to drive Fimbulwinter away.

The identity of Fimbulwinter had finally been revealed; none would have believed that Evind would prove to be one of their greatest foes, for he had aided them all year with his healing magics. While the other factions reeled from the news, wondering if conversations had with Evind had inadvertently been aiding their enemies, the Wolf camp held a somber mood as judgment was passed on the Oathsworn. All were declared oath breakers for their defiance of Bothvar’s orders. Devastated, the Oathsworn resolved to take the Long Walk – a Norscan rite to regain their honour. As one, they went to the Algaia camp to enact this grisly ritual.

The following morning, the Jhereg and Wolves mustered their forces outside their camps, awaiting the arrival of the Fir Cruthen and Steppe Alliance. Before their allies could join them, they were attacked. They desperately defended themselves and their camps from the enemy while runners were dispatched to urge the Steppe and Fir Cruthen to make haste. Quickly the Fir Cruthen joined the fight but the Steppe Alliance were further away and took longer to arrive. Even after all had joined the battle, the Jhereg found themselves separated from their allies and were hard pressed on the right flank. Many were slain and the necromancers they faced began raising their fallen to send back against them. The faction stood helpless and horrified as they were forced to cut down their friends, who moments before had been fighting alongside them. Though all seemed lost for the Jhereg, their war leader Open Water of the Lakota, was able to bring some measure of order to the battlefield and bring the Wolves to their aid.

Now reunited as one force, the factions moved forward, pushing back wave after wave of undead. As the battle moved into the tree line the Jotunn was spotted; although many enemies stood between the Wolves and their prey they pushed forward until Jarl Siegfried, chosen of the Hammer of Thor, came face to face with the giant. Thor’s Hammer had not drawn blood that day, nor even been swung in anger and it was believed that this was the key to success. The giant, perhaps sensing his end was near, rained blow after might blow not on his assailants but on the ground, causing the land to shake and the Wolves surrounding him to be knocked off their feet. At last, the opportunity presented itself and Siegfried launched an unstoppable blow. As the hammer struck, a gigantic clap of thunder was heard, mingled with the giant’s last primeval bellow of pain, and the legendary creature crashed to the ground, never to rise again.

The fall of the giant shook the courage of the enemy; taking advantage, the factions press on and rout them from the field. As the war hosts pursued them into the open ground beyond the trees, Fimbulwinter appeared behind the lines and ran amok, seemingly everywhere at once as he threw himself into the battle. None could predict his attacks, for he moved far quicker than anyone anticipated. In the heat of battle, Arngrimm of the Oathsworn – who was not present when Evind’s true nature was revealed and thus was not declared oath breaker with his brothers – tried desperately to reach the man behind the wolf but all his attempts were in vain, as he was struck down to join his brothers in Valhalla. Eventually Fimbulwinter tired of his hunt and left the field, providing a small amount of breathing space for the factions to regroup. As they healed wounds and repaired their armour, word reached them from the scouts that Lilayen herself was on the field. Tired and low on resources, the factions pulled together for one final assault. Armed with the dagger and amulet rescued from the ruins, the factions were able to defeat her and her vampire cohorts. The remnants of the enemy forces, however, were not so easily destroyed; the factions were forced into a fighting retreat, leaving many more behind to rise again as foul undead.

That night Evind returned, once more in human form. As he walked towards the Wolf camp, he was seen by Jarl Siegfried, who stopped him to demand answers for the previous evening. Evind had no recollection of what had happened and demanded to see the bodies of his brothers. Upon seeing them, he insisted on being given a stake and knife so he could join them. He carved open his stomach, nailed his entrails to the tree and walked away. As his life force ebbed, he collapsed to the ground. To everyone’s amazement, the supernatural regenerative abilities of the werewolf healed his wounds. Again and again, he tried to enact the rite to join his brothers in Valhalla, each time returning to life unharmed. Unable to witness further attempts, the Wolves attacked his body, attempting to finally kill him while the Algaia tried to prevent the attack. Seeing the carnage unfold, Evind let out a blood curdling scream, which caused all to flee in terror. Evind rose from the ground, thanked the returning Algaia for trying to save him and left the area, cursing all the Gods and all who would turn on their brothers.

The next day the Lions, Algaia, Teutonians and mercenaries set forth to try to defeat the Spectre. Among their number were the brave old soldiers of the Phoenix Guard. The force moved out, scouts ranging ahead to seek out the enemy lines. A fierce struggle soon began, between the valiant factions and the Spectre’s undead horde. Steadily they advanced, but wherever the Spectre appeared the advance faltered; the secret to nullifying the Spectre’s power still eluded them.

The lost Phoenix Guard banner was sighted as the force moved forward into the open ground. The old warriors of the Academy surged forward, fighting for their lives to recover their prize. Necromancers were everywhere, raising undead to replenish the enemy ranks as quickly as the factions could cut them down. Despite the numbers, the Academy were successful in regaining their lost banner. Encouraged by the achievement, the war hosts drove the enemy back across the field. Suddenly, a new terror assails them; a strange, warped creature unlike anything the factions had encountered before. Twice the size of an ogre, with fearsome claws, a whip-like barbed tail and the ability to spit poison on its assailants. It stormed into the ragged lines of the war bands, causing panic as they struggled to hold it back. With ferocious strength it tore through the factions, until eventually it tired of the fight and disappeared into the trees.

The remaining enemy were driven back towards a lake, where they made a last desperate stand. Deserted by their new ally and with the Spectre now nowhere to be seen, they tried to inflict as much damage as they could before they were slain. Finally, with much loss of life, the force was defeated.

The war hosts returned to their camps, bearing their dead but also bearing the lost banner of the Phoenix Guard, restored once more to its rightful owners. The losses of both battles were grievous, but the survivors took heart knowing that they had broken the enemy’s hold on Siberia and removed two of the Spectre’s formidable allies – the vampire Lilayen and the Ice Giant.

~

After a winter spent at home, recovering from the hardships of the battles in Siberia and Norsca, the factions began the campaign of 1112 answering the invitation of Overlord Hart of the Algaia. They travelled to Estragales with dual purpose; to witness the consecration of a new temple to the Goddess and to plan an attack on the Mempo occupied territory to the east – land which had been surrendered to the Empire of the Golden Isles as part of the Treaty of 1103.

Some of the war hosts heroes took a longer route to Estragales than most. While travelling through Franconia, they halted to investigate the ruins of Wetang Karr. A strange wizard had been seen in Siberia, telling wondrous tales of the treasures to be found there. Curiosity brought a mixed group of Lions, Jhereg and a few Algaia to seek out these treasures. If the tales of these heroes are to be believed, they found themselves transported to another plane, the Plane of Movement. Here they met with the strange inhabitants of this plane, an elven empire with a formidable army led by their General, Istvan Khan. Embroiled in the local politics, the brave heroes learned all they could about the plane and its inhabitants, all the while searching for a way home. After exposing the betrayal of the Empress’s brother and rescuing her from a demon, the factions returned to the true plane. None were sure if this new Empire would turn out to be friend or foe.

When the factions arrived, they discovered that the Algaia were facing a particularly difficult situation; the Istar, the living embodiment of the Goddess, had been corrupted by the dark forces controlling the enemy and was now attempting to supplant her mistress. This presented a great moral and spiritual dilemma for the Algain people; to stay faithful to their Goddess and deal with this new betrayal, or to continue with their plans to regain their ancestral lands from the Southern Mempo Empire.

With heavy hearts at the missed opportunity, the Algaia and her allies began working to strike at the Istar and her allies. Almost from the moment of their arrival, the camps were harassed by their various enemies. Vampires stalked the lonely paths between the camps, elves and dryads in the service of the Istar sought to bring anyone who would listen to her cause and the Istar herself moved at will through the area, attempting to seduce the other factions to side with her.

The ceremony to lay the keystone and consecrate the Temple went ahead without interference and the Algaia hoped that by re-focusing the area towards the worship of the Goddess, that this might reduce the Istar’s power.

Scout reports confirmed the Istar’s alliance with the Spectre and slowly the factions gathered the information they needed to put a stop to her plans. It appeared she intended to corrupt Estragales and required something called the Golden Acorn, a powerful spiritual focus tied to the land, in order to do so. This acorn would only appear at certain times, however, so scouting to find its expected location became the priority. Eventually it was discovered that the acorn would most likely appear in one place only – an island which appeared periodically in an area of swampland at the valley’s end. The exact timing of its next appearance was more difficult to determine, so the factions laid plans to ensure control of the area should the acorn appear.

The next morning dawned cold and grey, the weak spring sun struggling through the clouds. The Algaia, Wolves, Teutonians and Steppe Alliance mustered their forces and moved out to gain control of the swamp and hopefully also the Golden Acorn. They initially encountered little resistance as they crept down the valley floor, but once they had fully committed the enemy showed themselves and the factions were attacked; human and dwarf mercenaries, supported by dryads and other twisted creatures, immensely strong beastmen armed with poisoned claws. The enemy pressure was relentless and the factions’ advance slowed to a crawl. Just as they begin to push forward once more, Fimbulwinter appears and tears through the Wolf line. However, as before, he soon tires of the fight and retreats to the tree line, watching and waiting for another opportunity.

Slowly but surely the factions regrouped and drove the enemy back. As they gained the upper hand on the valley floor confusion suddenly reigned as the trees themselves seemed to come alive and attack. These primal creatures attacked both the Faction forces and the mercenaries they fought, seemingly not taking any side but merely defending their own territories. The dryads, however, seemed to know what these creatures were and wisely avoided them.

As the factions began to work out how to deal with the moving trees, the Istar appeared. Reluctant to engage with the war hosts directly, she used powerful magic to create opportunities for her troops to gain the advantage. Despite this, the factions moved on and were able to gain control of the swamp area where the acorn was expected to appear. As they formed up to defend the area until the acorn appeared, a water elemental rose from the swamp and attacked, its strong blows struck all within reach. Whether this creature was also under the control of the Capricious Queen or just another denizen of the area defending its home, none could say. But whatever its purpose or design, it proved too much for the factions to cope with and slowly they were driven back. The factions were drawn out until only the Steppe Alliance remained to bear witness to the appearance of the Golden Acorn. Swiftly they charged back across the swamp to gain possession of the rare object; the Elemental and remaining mercenaries did all they could to prevent it but in the end, the Steppe were successful and claimed the acorn. As they fought to retreat and rejoin the other factions, their leader Braggi Rivalnik was slain. Although deeply affected by the loss of their leader, the Steppe lines held and they were able to fight their way back to the other factions.

As the factions fought their way back up the valley, the enemy seemed to have lost heart and didn’t present much of a challenge. However when the factions returned to their camps, they discovered that a small enemy force had taken the temple foundations and performed some sort of rite, corrupting the site and rendering the foundations both unsafe and unusable. The victory gained in the valley winning possession of the Golden Acorn was tarnished by this failure and the losses of many lives.

The War Council reconvened and reviewed new scouting information which indicated that the mercenaries fighting for the enemy had a large camp on the far side of the valley. It was decided that those forces who had not taken the field that day would prepare for an assault on these mercenaries the following day. Whether the Spectre would be on the field was in question and scout reports indicated that the corrupt creature which had caused so much damage on the field in Siberia, named by some as the Devourer of Flesh, may also be active in the area.

The Lions, Fir Cruthen and Jhereg set out the next morning, knowing the enormity of their task. They moved out past the desecrated temple foundations towards the valley floor. There, they were met by the Spectre and his undead host. Such was the power and fury of their assault that the battle lines were almost smashed apart. Reeling from the impact, the war hosts struck back with determination. The struggle was fierce as the two sides tore at each other on the valley floor. Slowly but surely they pushed forward down the valley and began to climb the slopes to the mercenary camp on the top of the hill. As the Lions and Jhereg forged their way upwards, they realised their Fir Cruthen allies were trapped still on the valley floor. The factions were forced to split, with part of the Jhereg host returning to the valley to relieve their allies and the remainder staying with the Lions as they fought to gain control of the hill.

In the midst of this panic and confusion, the Devourer of Flesh suddenly appeared. As the Lions and Jhereg fought to hold it at bay, a small strike force broke off from their lines and was able to infiltrate the mercenary camp. Once their leader was slain, the mercenaries fled the field. The enemy was not finished however, as the Istar and her chief dryad, Lady Thorn, joined the fray, supported by the strange creatures of nature the factions had seen on the previous day. Walking trees and the water elemental caused much disruption in the lines, as the factions fought to return to their camps. Sensing the battle turn, the Spectre launched one last assault before quitting the field, leaving his undead to meet their fate. With the Spectre gone, the Istar and Lady Thorne also left the battle and the factions were able to dispatch the remaining enemy forces and returned victorious to their camps.

From their tarnished victories in Estragales, the war hosts travelled to Albion to the war ravaged region of Polgooth. Much had been done to restore the lands and peoples by Queen Samantha of Cornwall, however she had gone missing and rumours spread that the Spectre was active in the area, attacking the memorial which had been raised to all those who fell at the massacre in 1107.

As the factions made their camps, they discovered that the Spectre was not the only problem they would face. The Druids of the Old Religion who had stolen High King Lucas’s daughter were also present at Polgooth, where the mysterious ancient place of power known as Merlin’s Forge had appeared within the ritual circle. It could not be accessed as the lock was broken and scattered through the area. In addition, the Forge was leaking knowledge in the form of visions which were compromising to many individuals within the war hosts. It was soon discovered that three ward markers were positioned in the area, essential to the maintenance of the Forge’s defenses. If these were lost then the Forge would be vulnerable to the Spectre, which would have fatal consequences not just for the Lions but for all the United factions.

The alchemists of the Wolves had been researching a potion which would aid them in defeating the werewolf Fimbulwinter. While carrying out their work, their laboratory was brutally destroyed and many injured when the wolf himself attacked the camp along with a small group of ghouls. While no lives were lost, the attack was costly as the alchemy lab was completely destroyed and all research was lost.

While the factions were distracted, assembling the lock and making plans to defend the ward markers from the Spectre, the Druids made their move. High King Lucas was lured to the ritual circle by his estranged wife, Bridget, where he was ambushed by several of the druids. The circle was sealed and his daughter, Jessica, was revealed. Lucas was swiftly overpowered and pinned to the ground; the Lions and their allies watched helplessly from outside the circle as a dagger dripping with poison was forced closer to Lucas’s heart by Jessica. At the last moment, she faltered and looked about herself almost in a daze. Before Lucas could act, one of the druids reached in and with a violent shove, drove the dagger into his heart. The wards failed and the Lions flooded into the circle. Their work done, the druids teleported away, taking Jessica with them. With heavy hearts, the Lions bore the dying King back to their camp. There they found Excalibur had shattered, symbolising the fall of the High King. All attempts to heal the wound were in vain; the poison could not be purged or the damage reversed. As his life ebbed away, the legendary figure of the Hooded Man appeared within the camp. Making his way through the throng of people, this ancient mythwalker of Albion reached out his hand to the King. With his dying breath, Lucas spoke. “My daughter. Forgive her”. The Hooded Man disappeared, taking with it the spirit of the High King. Emotions ran high within the camp and many arguments were had about how to proceed. After being questioned, Lucas’s widow Bridget was placed under the protection of King Cornelius Mourning of Wessex, who led her away to be permanently incarcerated for her part in the murder.

Merlin resolved to enter the Forge and re-forge the broken Excalibur, so that Albion might choose itself a new High Monarch. Later that night, the lady Morgaine entered the grieving Lions camp with a warning; the Spectre was preparing to strike and while Merlin was distracted by the forging, he would not be able to defend the Forge himself. The war hosts organised the defense of the ward stones to keep the Forge safe through the long night.

The following morning, Sir Cadawyr, Templar of Solkar, Champion of the High King and bearer of the Sword of Spheres led the Lions and some of their allies in defending the Forge from a full on assault by the Spectre and his forces. As their allies arrayed themselves at the three ward stones, the men and women of Albion held the ritual circle and the Forge. While able to withstand the Spectre’s first assault, the distraction allowed the liche Malachy and the vampire Kathryn to breach the defender’s lines and they took control of the ritual circle. Three brave heroes of the Lions war host were trapped within the circle when Malachy raised the wards; Sir Hector and Lucian of the Lance of Deira, and Sir Cadawyr. A coward would have hidden at the edge of the circle, avoiding detection and waiting for the wards to be lowered in order to escape. But these were men of Albion; they were not weak and they did not falter. Though Hector and Lucian were armed only with mundane blades, they battled heroically to aid Sir Cadawyr, who bore the Sword of Spheres and knew that he and he alone could interrupt the rite and defeat the undead in the circle. Bravely, they stood and faced down the undead abominations but Sir Hector and Sir Cadawyr were slain. To the horror of those outside the circle, Kathryn took control of Cadawyr’s corporeal form and raised him as a ghast. The wards were temporarily lowered and he was sent out to wreak bloody slaughter among his former allies. Stronger than he had been in life, he tore through the lines. Even the sight of his true love, Esmerelda Harcourt of Wessex, could not touch his now corrupted heart. In the end, it took a corporeal wedge led by Arianne of the Eored to finally still him.

The battle continued to rage around the Forge and its ward markers, until Malachy made an appeal to the powers of Fate and Story to aid him. It would seem it was neither his fate to succeed, as the story being written suddenly took a turn to favour the factions. The seals around the Forge were broken and the Lions were able to pour into the circle and put an end to his rite and prevent him from gaining access to the Forge.

After the battle was done, Merlin emerged bearing the newly forged Excalibur and Goddard Hazelwood, King of Deira, was chosen to bear the sword and wear the crown of the High King. Lucian of the Lance was raised to the position of King’s Champion, a reward for his brave acts in the circle and the Sword of Spheres was renamed Cadawyr’s Vengeance in honour of their fallen hero.

With the Forge secured and the Spectre once more thwarted, the factions next travelled to the Isle of Nexis in Siberia, to participate in a great Fayre hosted by His August and Terrible Majesty Lord Jhereg. Many questioned the choice of location for the games as the ruler of the island, Lady Nexis, had taken issue with what she perceived to be the neglect of Siberia by Lord Jhereg and his war host. The land was dangerous, inhabited by strange mutant creatures under her control. While the Jhereg Master of the Games – Thalynanti of Port Reybard – focused on providing entertainment for all, the Jhereg war host investigated Lady Nexis.

The gathering saw the arrival of a strange new people, never before encountered on the continent. Calling themselves the Kesh, they claimed to have travelled from across the western sea, from a previously unknown continent. Their dress and customs were strange and alien to the united factions but they were permitted to make camp among those who some call mercenaries and were encouraged to take part in the games.

Lady Nexis made her move and kidnapped Madame Carnelian, the Heart of the Jhereg. Lord Jhereg declared her to be an enemy of the state and set out with his war host to bring her to justice. A short and brutal fight took place and the Jhereg were successful in both rescuing Madame Carnelian and slaying Lady Nexis.

Away from the political conflicts, the rest of the factions relaxed and enjoyed themselves, although many were taken by surprise by the somewhat lax approach to rule keeping. But as the Master of the Games was heard to say, “In a Jhereg Fayre, the rules are that there are no rules!” Nowhere was this more obvious than in the main event of the arena – the twelve man contest. Rumour has it that the Fir Cruthen team had bribed their way to the final and the Lions they faced were surprised when they discovered in the first round that the Fir Cruthen team were wielding Rage, an artefact of the Jhereg! Despite the odds being stacked heavily against them, however, the Lions proved the better team in the end.

As the prizes were awarded to the victors, all agreed that it had been an excellent Fayre.

The war hosts then returned to Estragales, back to the site of the temple which had been consecrated at the start of Spring. Great progress had been made on the building of the temple, its location moved and the main construction completed while the war hosts had been away. Unfortunately, the last four months had given the Istar the opportunity to rebuild her strength and forward her cause; the ritual circle had been corrupted and was now more attuned to the realm of Spirit.

Settling into their usual routine, the factions sent out scouts to learn as much as they could about the enemy movements, while each dealt with their own internal issues. It became apparent that the recently discovered nexus – a place where many ancient ley lines converge, near to the original temple site – was key to the enemy’s plans. Three columns of enemy forces were heading towards this nexus, but with communication between the disparate forces uncertain, the factions determined that there was an opportunity to deal with each column individually before they converged.

First to take the field were the Jhereg, Fir Cruthen, Lions and Steppe Alliance, joined in their endeavour by the strange new folk of the Kesh. All year long, the alchemists of the Fir Cruthen had been working on a potion to counteract the fear the Spectre could instill in their hearts, so before the factions took to the field every man and woman took a draught to armour their very spirits with courage. They moved swiftly out into the field. An enemy column was soon spotted moving through the woods; they had no scouts and so as they passed the war hosts in their concealed positions, the ambush was sprung. The mercenaries were taken by surprise and the factions were able to not only inflict much damage on the human fighters, but the Fir Cruthen managed to organise a wedge and destroy the vampire Kathryn. As the factions regrouped and readdressed their lines, a demon appears behind the Jhereg host and began to assault them. Assuming at first that this was another weapon of the enemy, the unsuspecting Jhereg were taken by surprise when the demon was joined by the Amagos in a heinous act of betrayal. With no aid to hand from their allies, the Jhereg fought for their lives against the demon and their former friends. While they eventually succeeded in destroying the Amagos and driving off their demon god, the price of the betrayal becomes clear when the executed body of Kastavaindarien was discovered on the field. With no time to mourn, the Jhereg regrouped and, with the sole surviving Amagos prisoner secured, moved to rejoin the lines. As the Fir Cruthen, Lions, Steppe and Kesh moved down the valley floor, Lord Jhereg ordered his host to climb the valley side and form up on the top of the rise to the left flank.

Another enemy column was sighted and soon the factions are engaged in a battle against the creatures of the earth, as the dryad Lady Thorn and her husband march on to the nexus accompanied by other dryads and the twisted natural creatures first encountered here in the spring. The water elemental, now freed from its binding near the swamp, moved freely along the valley floor. As the forces clashed, Lady Thorn stepped forward and asked for safe passage for her forces to the nexus, claiming she had no quarrel with the factions and was in fact the rightful servant of their rightful Goddess. While some were swayed by her words, cooler heads prevailed and her offers were rejected. The war hosts closed in and pressed the attack. Before Lady Thorn’s column can be dealt with, the scouts report that the third column is now almost upon them. The Spectre, with its hordes of vampires and zombies, steps forward and joins the fight, summoning its great spiritual magic to drive terror into the hearts of its enemies. Its spell complete, it reacts with confusion and panic when the factions do not flee; protected by the potion that the Fir Cruthen had brewed, they instead roared back their war cries and surged forward. The fight was hard, despite their ability to withstand the Spectre’s main offensive weapon. Time and again it tried to terrorise them but to no avail. Eventually, as if realising that its enemy will not flee in terror, it quitted the field. The undead horde continued its attack, but the mercenaries began to retire and once more Lady Thorn pleaded with the factions to let her pass unmolested. Again, her words fell on deaf ears and she too was forced to flee the field.

The factions returned victorious to their camps, but the mood within the Jhereg camp was strained as the Inquisition deal with the traitorous Amagos. After interrogating their prisoner to determine the cause of their betrayal, Eleniel and Lord Jhereg declared the Amagos to be outlaw. Now all were bound by the international accords between the factions; should the Amagos be sighted, they were to be killed on sight.

Investigations continued into the nature of the Spectre and what weapon might be required to finally defeat him. As the next day dawned, the Algaia, Wolves and Teutonians readied for battle. Outwardly, their cause was identical to the previous day; hold the ground and prevent the enemy from reaching and controlling the nexus. But secreted within their number were a small group of the most accomplished students of magic, drawn from all the war hosts; their mission to deal with the Spectre.

Fighting in less favourable ground than the previous day, the factions arrayed themselves in their agreed defensive positions. A large undead force soon arrived and the battle began in earnest. The fight was hard; the Algaia and Wolves engaged the undead while the Teutonians further down the valley were outnumbered by the mercenary forces of the Crimson Rain. Their plight was made worse by the arrival of Lady Thorn and her moving trees.

Each Faction fought doggedly, unable to support each other due to the sheer number of enemy forces they faced. As they began to tire, the Spectre appeared with more undead, ready to deliver the killing blow against the factions. But from within the Algaian and Wolf hosts, the ritual teams which had prepared all night for this moment began their work, opening a portable ritual circle on the field of battle and using its power to summon forth from Valhalla the spirits of the Oathsworn; it was believed that the Spectre could only be killed by those who were already dead. Bound by their purpose, the Oathsworn charged into glorious battle and took the Spectre completely unaware. Unable to control these free spirits, the Spectre was unable to defend itself from the onslaught and in the midst of the chaos of the battle, the Oathsworn were successful and the Spectre was finally defeated.

Freed from the Spectre’s control, the undead horde lost cohesion and became easy prey for the jubilant Algaian war host. The mercenaries and Lady Thorn, however, remained unaware of the loss of their greatest ally and so the Teutonians remained locked in a difficult fight. Eventually, the news began to spread through both sides and the Algaia were able to move down the valley to reinforce the Teutonian position. With the battle finally swinging in the factions’ favour, the Istar appeared and sent the Devourer of Flesh to devastate the field. With the Spectre gone, the Crimson Rain became reluctant to continue the fight; now the undead were uncontrolled they were in just as much danger from them as the factions were and none were keen to engage with the Istar’s twisted creature. Slowly but surely, the mercenaries retire from the field, surrendering to the factions where no escape route could be found.

Seeing the battle turn away from them, the Istar and Lady Thorn also quit the field. The tired hosts celebrated their victory even as they turned to count the losses of the battle. They returned to their camps triumphant, bearing their wounds and wounded with pride and their dead with sorrow and regret. But as the Algaia returned to their camp they discovered that Amgea of the Amgearea, wife of Overlord Hart and beloved of the Goddess had been struck down somehow and was trapped in a deathless sleep within a glass coffin.

And so it was in a state of victory tinged with sadness that the United factions dispersed to their own lands for the winter.

~

As the spring of 1113 began, the factions once again gathered in Estragales. With the threat of the Spectre removed, they were free to move against the Southern Mempo Empire and drive them from the lands which had once belonged to the Algaia. Despite warnings from Overlord Hart to kill any Mempo on sight, the camps were visited by their delegations, which sought to discuss terms for the inevitable conflict and to arrange honour duels with the champions of the factions.

The Capricious Queen, fallen Istar of the Algaia, came to treat with the factions. She professed to have common ground in wanting to drive the Mempo from the woodlands and offered aid to the war hosts. Her approaches were met with courtesy, but many were suspicious of her true motives.

On the third day a force of Algaia, Lions and Teutonians met the Mempo on the field of battle. Honourable terms of engagement had been agreed; while this neutered the power of both sides, it meant there was no needless loss of life. The Capricious Queen had sent her forest spirits to aid the Algaia, but in the midst of the battle the Devourer of Flesh broke free of control and ran amok between both lines. Once the corrupt creature had been driven off, the two sides resumed their honourable combat. Those who had successfully engaged in honour duels with the Mempo champions over the previous few days bore tokens which indicated they fought with honour; any which fell on the field and healed by the Mempo were then required to withdraw.

Ultimately the factions proved to be the stronger force; after conceding the field in surrender, the Mempo General Shinzu knelt before both armies and carried out the Imperial ritual of Seppuku. Overlord Hart, overcome with fury and rage at the Imperials who had occupied his land for the last decade, attempted to assault General Shinzu’s body. The Lions, as one, stepped forward to defend their honourable foe and to prevent the massive insult that Hart was attempting. With Hart unable to reach the body, the Lions allowed the surviving Mempo to come forward to retrieve their fallen General. As a result of their actions defending Shinzu’s body, the Lions received a visit from Mempo representatives after the battle who presented Sir Beaumont Trevallian of the Lance with Shinzu’s ancestral family blade, to wield with honour until his own death.

During the fighting the Algaia had recovered a banner of their Goddess. It was hoped it might hold clues to breaking the curse which had been laid upon Queen Amgea. The Bwananunda attempted to re-consecrate the land, in return for the continued assistance of the fallen Istar. However, she had other plans and turned on the Algaia, before retreating into the forest. Later that night the Lord of the Forest led the Algaia to the secluded glade where she had hidden. After trying to reason with her, the Algaia had no choice but to end the threat of the Capricious Queen and leave her body to return to the land.

The following day the Jhereg, Wolves, Steppe Alliance and Fir Cruthen took the field to deal with the remaining Mempo forces. They assaulted a conclave of Kaladin thaumaturgists; a bloody battle followed against the magically adept trolls and their constructs. Finally, the Kaladin High Mage was subdued. Offered his life, he agreed to take his people and leave the area in peace.

With their ancient lands restored to Algaian control and the threat of the Istar removed, the factions travelled to Norsca with a plan to destroy the werewolf Fimbulwinter. The Norscan region of Valdyrhamr has an ancient association with werewolves; many packs had lived there for centuries in a relatively peaceful existence, left to their own devices by the people of Norsca. With the arrival of Fimbulwinter the werewolves had fallen under his sway and more beasts had come to the area to answer his call. The Faction camps were under constant threat of attack from the wolves and several individuals were infected with lycanthropy.

The factions received a visit from the Empress Nigousan, who brought with her terrible news. Her husband, Emperor Heyami had sided with the dark forces which drove the factions’ enemies. With the losses suffered by the enemy over the past couple of years it was no surprise to the factions that whatever was controlling them had sought new alliances, but to lose the Emperor to that unknown enemy was a heavy blow indeed.

Another visitor which caused some alarm appeared within the Jhereg camp. The Empress of the Aguilan Empire on the Plane of Movement, accompanied by her husband Istvan Khan, General of the Skittian army, had come to warn their friends on the true plane of an invading Fae force which Istvan was currently engaged in fighting. Their arrival caused much alarm; when the factions had travelled to Movement in the spring of the previous year, an agreement had been reached between Istvan Khan, High King Hazel of Albion and Open Water of the Jhereg that the elves of Movement would not travel to the true plane for at least twenty five years. However, once the message had been delivered, all agreed that the pact had not truly been broken and perhaps in bringing the warning, the Plane of Movement was demonstrating it had no ill will towards the factions.

The Norscan alchemists had at last completed their research into the potion to kill Fimbulwinter, so a fast moving force of Wolves, Jhereg and Teutonians was pulled together to punch through to the beast’s lair. Miraculously, they were able to subdue the ferocious wolf using silvered weapons, before Sirok of the Wolves, one of the coven who had developed the potion, forced it down the wolf’s throat. As the potion took effect, Fimbulwinter was transformed back into his human form, now vulnerable to the weapons of the factions. The names of that coven – Sirok, Hoskuld and Sven – will be remembered for a long time to come.

While the factions celebrated the destruction of one of their greatest enemies, disturbing reports arrived from the scouts which had been sent out. The Drune Lords, ancient creatures of the Fir Cruthen tainted by blasphemous magic, were confirmed to have joined forces with the enemy; their corrupted slaves seen fighting alongside the enemy.

Due to the efforts of the scholars in their number, the factions at last were able to identify the dark force which had been driving their enemies over the last three years. The story of the fall of the Temple of Courage almost one hundred years previously indicated that the embodiment of Terror was the true enemy that the factions faced. But what it intended to achieve still eluded even the brightest minds.

Other unexpected visitors to the factions while they camped in Norsca were the Heralds of the Fae Houses of Elvesham, a magical forest hidden within the land of Albion. The Court of Crimson and Gold arrived with invitations to a festival of sorts. The factions unwittingly accepted the invitation before fully understanding the implications, for a spiritual link was forged between the King of Crimson and High King Goddard of Albion, likewise a link between the King of Gold and Umrada Cole of the Fir Cruthen. Through these links the Fae kings were able to communicate with the factions, providing instructions to the Lions and Fir Cruthen who had been chosen to assist in hosting the festival.

The factions travelled to the mysterious forest of Elvesham, the way through the strange mists which surround the area opened just this once to allow them through. Once safely within the Fae Court’s lands, the factions set up camp and tried to understand why they had been brought here. It appeared that due to the disparate nature of the two Fae Houses, an election was held every one hundred and one years to determine which of the Houses would rule the Court. Each senior member of the house was allowed a vote and each always voted for their own House. To break the stalemate, the Fae had brought in the factions to assist. As guests at the election each member of the war hosts was able to cast a vote in the public element of the election; given their numbers, they were sure to sway the result one way or another. The factions set out to understand the subtleties of this political game; to decide where their votes were most sensibly placed.

One of the benefits which was offered to the factions as a means of enticing them to Elvesham had been the opportunity to strike at the Drune Lords in the nearby islands of Manx. How this would be achieved was unclear, but it became apparent that success in the arena at the traditional games held at this time of year would allow the victors to take raiding parties into Manx. However, even this proved difficult as the rules by which these raiding parties were chosen were often not as expected. As the hosts gathered for the first test – the twenty man contest – the Fae simply chose the nearest twenty people and teleported them straight to Manx! While dangerous, the majority of the groups teleported to Manx returned unscathed.

The factions caused great upheaval in Elvesham when it came to the voting. Deciding that neither Crimson nor Gold were a good choice, a group of individuals managed to rig the election, allowing for an unexpected third choice to be included. As the votes were counted, it became apparent that they had been successful, as Morgaine le Fay, one of the ancient mythwalkers of Albion, was chosen to rule. Both Crimson and Gold pledged their loyalty to their new Queen; what implications this had for Elvesham and for Albion remained unknown.

It was discovered that the mists surrounding Elvesham served a greater purpose than to simply shroud the forest from unwanted visitors. All manner of beasts were trapped within the mists; it acted as a prison to contain the creatures and prevent them from attacking Elvesham or the people of Albion. The mists themselves were maintained by the Court of Crimson and Gold, but their power was weakening and the creatures were breaking free. It became apparent that the Drune Lords interference was causing this to happen, as they broke through the mists and attacked the camps. They succeeded in releasing a great and powerful Fae called Ouroboros, who had been trapped in the mists by the now lost Fae House of Abalone, to prevent him from destroying the world.

Following the release of Ouroboros, Morgaine summoned her Fae Court and declared that the factions were no longer welcome in Elvesham and should leave immediately. The mists were opened to allow the factions to depart.

From Albion the factions travelled the short distance to Manx, where Umrada Cole of the Fir Cruthen was rallying the war hosts to confront the Drune Lords. They had been forced back to the Isle of Bronagh, where it was hoped the four remaining Drune Lords – Redgar, Nysar, Brock and Feg – could be defeated.

In preparation to face the challenges ahead, the people of the Steppe Alliance gathered and resigned the Steppe Treaty, binding the disparate peoples of the Steppe together under common cause. Witnessed by many of the other factions, they rededicated themselves to their common goals, beliefs, laws and structure.

Scouts were sent out to investigate three buildings in the area, built by the Drune Lords. All seemed deserted, but were protected by magical defenses including an irregularly active ritual circle. The scouts also discovered that the Drune Lords power was linked to specific stones; only when those stones were destroyed would the Drune Lords be vulnerable. The stone linked to Brock, Lord of Beasts, was discovered on one scouting mission and successfully destroyed.

The following morning, the Algaia, Jhereg, Teutonians and Kesh forces took the field, seeking out Brock and any other stones they could find. Despite defeating many of the Drune Lord’s forces, no other stones were found or destroyed during the battle. However, Lord Jhereg was able to kill Brock, Lord of Beasts.

The Jhereg were also successful in creating the weapon required to destroy the liche Malachy; they had been working with him since the Spectre had been destroyed to find a way to end his undead existence.

Later that evening, the annual Ritual of Renewal was performed. During the ritual, a magical horn obtained in Elvesham, said to wake the land, was used; its golden note summoning a warper by the name of Bran. It was hoped this divine warrior would be of great use on the field of battle.

As the war leaders met to finalise their plans for the battle, disaster struck the people of the Algaia. Driven to desperation by the continued lack of progress in freeing Queen Amgea from the cursed sleep of the Capricious Queen, Overlord Hart made a secret deal with dark forces. Releasing himself from the bindings of his oaths to his lands, he usurped the power of a ritual being performed by the new Istar to the Goddess and unshackled himself from the Hunter’s restraint. He spent the rest of the night terrorising the war hosts, along with his dark followers; they killed indiscriminately and kidnapped the newly crowned Queen Esme of Essex, although she was successfully rescued. While the Dark Hunter himself poses a new threat to the factions, the deal Hart made was completed and Amgea was woken from her cursed sleep.

As dawn broke, the Lions, Wolves, Steppe and Fir Cruthen prepared to do battle against the Drune Lords. Before the main force moved out, the Steppe and Fir Cruthen completed a raid to close a secret tunnel leading to the fort, to prevent the Drune Lords from easily redeploying their forces during the battle.

The tower protected by the ritual circle became the first objective of the fight. The factions had discovered that sinking finely crafted weapons into the erratic ritual circle would neutralise its effects. Unfortunately, they had not brought enough to complete the task. Realising that the corruption was partially alchemical in nature, one of the Celestial College members on the field stepped forward and summoned a water elemental that washed away the remaining taint of corruption, neutralising the circle and allowing the tower to be taken and the stone within it to be destroyed.

As the factions began their assault of the fort, the warper summoned by the golden horn proved his worth. While the Wolves battered the main gate with a ram, Bran charged at the side wall and broke through, allowing the Lions and Fir Cruthen to pour into the fort after killing Lord Feg. The fight inside the fortress was hectic and confusing; unseen by his people, High King Goddard Hazelwood of Albion was cut down and killed along with his sister Fiver and his champion Lucien. Overcome by their grief, for Hazel was well loved by his people, the Lions retrieved their fallen and retreated from the field.

The Wolves, Fir Cruthen and Steppe remained, however, as Nysar, the Lord of Illusion, had not yet been found and killed. He had obscured his forces presence from the factions; seeing them weakened in numbers he chose that moment to show himself and reclaim the fort. With his stone still intact, the factions were unable to kill him.

Throughout the battle, the mysterious entity known as the Betrayer had been present. Ajax of the Fir Cruthen, realising the outcome of the battle relied on defeating Nysar, struck a bargain with the Betrayer to reveal where Nysar’s stone could be found. Once destroyed, Nysar’s fate was sealed and he was quickly overcome.

With the Drune Lords defeated, the factions could now focus on the final challenge – defeating Terror itself. Story, the second to the Principality of Spirit, had told a tale of a temple on the continent to the west, homeland of the Kesh, where the spirit of Courage was trapped by the beliefs of those who lived there. He had implored the factions to cross the seas, to free Courage and thereby defeat Terror. So the plans were made; after a winter of rest and recovery, the factions would travel west, aided by the Empire’s fleet of deep water ships.

Each Faction returned to their homelands with much to consider. The Algaians needed to come to terms with the loss of Overlord Hart and the danger he now posed in his new form. The Lions returned to Albion a broken nation, mourning the loss of their King and also the loss of the Merlin, who had shed his form and abandoned the war host upon learning of Hazel’s death, shattering Excalibur and leaving the Lions without hope of choosing a new High Monarch. The Teutonians returned home without their Empress, as she had been kidnapped by an unknown entity along with the Shrine to their Elder Gods; resolving to recover her before joining the rest of the war hosts as they travelled west to investigate the Temple of Courage.

~

Early in the spring of 1114, the factions travelled west across the ocean to the unknown homeland of the people known as the Kesh. The Jhereg arrived first, leading a scouting mission into the continent to gauge the lay of the land and identify the right location for the factions to camp. As the remaining factions arrived, they made contact with the people of the Touareg, in whose lands the Temple of Courage could be found.

The Prophet of the Touareg invited all to their camp, to break wood over their fire and signify three days of peace between their people. Delegates from the Kindah and Sakorah Empires also attended and the factions made efforts to learn about these new cultures and peoples. It became apparent that magic had developed differently across the two different continents, so agreements were made for the factions to teach the locals the spells they did not know, in exchange for the ability to learn the spells the Touareg knew that the factions had not been aware of. Traders and alchemists also took the opportunity to explore new trade opportunities and broaden their knowledge of alchemical herbs and recipes known to this new continent.

The factions sent their diplomats to treat with the Touareg, to convince the Prophet that the factions should be given access to the Temple of Courage to defeat Terror. The Prophet declared that when the time of proclamation came, he would declare holy war upon a named enemy, as had always been the way. The factions bent their efforts to convincing him that when the time came, he should declare war on Terror and join the factions in their fight.

As the days passed, the factions were attacked constantly by the forces of Terror, led by the Dragon Knight. The factions learned more about the Dragon Knight from Story, the second of Spirit, as he travelled the camps telling tales of the Dragon Knight and of how the powerful spirit bound in the Temple of Courage could be released to defeat Terror. In a show of power, the Dragon Knight slew Story within the Touareg camp and began to attack all those around him. Following this, the Prophet declared holy war upon the forces of Terror.

The Herald of Terror, a man calling himself Skinner, visited the camps and spoke with the factions. Among the many things he spoke of, he confirmed what Empress Nigousan had told the factions the previous year; that Terror had control of Emperor Heyami through the kidnapping of his daughter.

The Lions had received word from the Lady of the Lake that a potential new High King could be found among a group of questing knights currently located on the western continent. Having found the questors, they joined forces with them to locate the item they had been seeking; an ancient blade from Albion’s past known as Clarent, the sword of peace. The will of the people was strong; not only were they able to recover the sword, but their combined efforts allowed the Lady of the Lake herself to appear and present a reforged Excalibur to one of the questors, making Sir Idris the new High King of Albion.

War Councils were held and the factions discovered that the forces of Terror were planning to perform several rites to raise fallen Touareg heroes as mummies, to fight in defence of the Temple of Courage. It was decided that a combined force of Jhereg, Wolves, Algaia and Fir Cruthen would set out to prevent this from taking place, before the remaining forces, including the Touareg, would assault the Temple itself and retrieve the Altar of Courage.

In a race against the enemy, each sent out scouts to locate the sites of the three burial grounds. Unfortunately for the factions, the Dragon Knight’s forces were far more organised and were successful in reaching each burial ground before the factions did, raising all three heroes as undead.

For the Teutonians, Steppe Alliance, Lions, Kesh and Touareg this meant a far more difficult fight, when they took the field the following day to retrieve the Altar of Courage. In addition to the Dragon Knight’s forces, they now faced three powerful mummies. After a long and bloody battle, the factions successfully gained control of the Temple and were able to remove the Altar.

Encouraged by their success, the factions returned to their ships and sailed east. The location of the original Temple of Courage in Teutonia was known to them, but the time was not yet right to release Courage and defeat Terror. It was still some months until the celestial bodies aligned and the one hundredth anniversary arrived of the day Courage was first bound to the Altar; the factions would have to wait until the summer to discover if they had now done enough to defeat Terror once and for all.

While they waited for the months to pass, the factions travelled to the lands of the Steppe, to investigate strange occurrences within an area known as the Wailing Wastes. The Wastes had become corrupted and the corruption was being contained by wards, held in place by a mysterious individual known only as “the Keeper”. Exhausted by the effort to maintain the wards by himself, he collapsed not long after the factions arrived and the wards weakened. The camps were attacked by creatures known to the Steppe as hags; poisoned claws paralysed their victims while their mindless thralls dragged them off into the Wastes. One notable victim of the hags was Father Grimas, a renowned Banisher from Albion.

The factions bent their will to finding a way to prevent the spread of the corruption from taking over all of the Steppe lands. Despite the constant threat of danger, the Steppe led a scouting mission into the Wastes to find a legendary staff. They came across a frenzied and bedraggled man, fighting for his life. Discovering him to be Amidralyn Khotlogchiig, Khan of the Clan of the Cresting Dune; he had been trapped behind the wards when they had been raised and had been forced to watch his clan be corrupted and destroyed. They brought him back to their camp and placed him in a position of authority and wisdom within their war host.

Meanwhile, scouts discovered a trio of tablets which when activated by the Quill of Story, now carried by Stuart of Albion, told parts of the story of the Dragon Knight. Over the course of the next few days, more stones were found and slowly the factions began to learn more about Terror and the reasons behind its actions over the past few years.

The Queen Hag – self-appointed ruler of the Wailing Wastes – invited the factions to discuss terms. She claimed she had been using the wards to protect the Steppe lands from the gaze of Terror, but demanded huge sacrifice from the factions to maintain them. The factions refused to give in to her demands and so she declared they would die rather than be allowed to leave.

Eventually, after a war council filled with hot tempers, arguments and dissent, the Lions, Algaia and Fir Cruthen agreed to stand with the Steppe and protect the Keeper as he restored the wards, aided by a host of corporealists to pour their magic into a ritual of strengthening at one of the Ward Stones.

As the forces of the Queen Hag poured forth from the Wastes, the factions rallied to defend the Keeper and the stone. The Algaia revealed they had brought with them a Life Stealer; a mysterious creature from the Pole of Corporeal. The source of much of the previous night’s disagreements, the Algaia believed the Life Stealer’s corporeal power would greatly aid the Keeper in his attempts to restore the wards.

Despite being unable to defeat the Queen Hag permanently, the factions were able to prevent her from disrupting the ritual of strengthening and she fled into the Wastes as the wards were once more raised and strengthened behind her. With the corruption contained and the Queen Hag locked behind the wards, the factions returned to their camps.

With the turn of the new moon, the festival of Nadaam began within the land of the Steppe. The factions remained to celebrate with their Steppe allies; the festival providing a welcome distraction as they waited for the time to be right to return to Teutonia and defeat Terror.

Even here in the Steppe lands, however, the factions were not able to completely forget the war they currently fought. The Empress Nigousan visited, imploring the factions to help her rescue her daughter from the clutches of Skinner, the Herald of Terror.

On the final day of the festival, the war hosts were reminded further that the world was still in peril when the scouts reported two armies of Terror’s forces in the area, heading towards the camps. The first a host of undead, the second a large column of Imperial troops. Reacting quickly, the factions pulled together a host to meet them on the field and a bloody skirmish was fought in which many lost their lives, although both enemy forces were destroyed.

Their resolve strengthened, the factions travelled to Teutonia bringing with them the Altar of Courage. Arriving mere days before the celestial conjunction that would allow the great spirits to be moved, the factions set up their camps within the ruins of the old Temple of Courage.

While the factions sent out scouts to gather information on what forces Terror would bring to the field, others continued to investigate the history of the Dragon Knight and the fall of the Temple of Courage. Stories were told by the bearer of Story’s Quill, Amar al Fattah of the Kesh, which described the creation of the Knights of Terror and visions were seen at various ruins across the temple which showed those who witnessed them what had happened in this place a century before, when the priests of Courage had created the Paragon of Courage and thrown the planes out of balance.

The Black Forest of Teutonia was also a dangerous place to be, even without the presence of Terror’s forces. The factions had difficulties dealing with a goddess of the forest, Grimvald, which led to the deaths of several members of the war hosts. The Jhereg headed an expedition via ritual circle to the ancient city of Kol Kathrach within the Gobi desert in Siberia, to deal with an ancient spirit-eating God called Malum. While successful in their mission, their victory came at a high cost, for the vessel of Lord Jhereg was killed. Uncertainty reigned in their camp that evening, as they waited to see who the Spirit of the Jhereg would select for its next vessel. Ultimately, all were surprised when the Spirit selected not one, but three vessels. Calling themselves Intrigue, Carnage and Rapture, the three individuals each represented a different aspect of the Spirit of the Jhereg.

It also became apparent to the Lions that the troubles they had been experiencing with the Druids of the Old Religion had escalated since the killing of High King Lucas two years previously. A group of death knights were seen going around the camps, trying to convince the other factions that they were the Knights of High King Artur, the founder of Albion, and that they had been raised as undead to restore the kingdom. Druids were seen within the forest; seeking an item of power the Albion war host had stolen from them. They kidnapped Thalynanti Hazelwood, widow of High King Hazel, and demanded the return of the item in exchange for her life. Despite the difficulties of the situation, she was eventually returned alive as the druids were tricked into thinking they had been given the item they sought.

On the day before the celestial conjunction, the factions were forced to fight a battle against Heyami and his forces. Heyami had been coerced into fighting as his daughter was being held hostage by the Herald of Terror, but through their efforts the factions learned that if Heyami and his army were here, his daughter would also be nearby. While the Wolves, Fir Cruthen, Jhereg and Algaia faced Heyami’s army in a show of force, a small group of daring individuals sneaked behind the enemy lines and rescued the daughter. During the fighting, which was conducted in as honourable a fashion as the fights had been with the Mempo in previous years, the factions struggled to gain any advantage, however once Heyami learned that his daughter was safe, he decided that the only honourable course of action for him to take would be to commit Seppuku, as the Herald of Terror had forced him into breaking his honour. To preserve his honour, Bothvar challenged him to a duel and as they began to fight, the Wolves and Imperials in the vicinity put up their weapons and stood silently watching. Back and forth they danced, until eventually Bothvar defeated him. The battle over, each side withdrew, the Imperials returning to their home and the factions returning to their camps. The death of the Emperor was mourned on both sides, but all were satisfied he had been given the opportunity to die with honour. Empress Nigousan was extremely grateful to the factions for the safe return of her daughter.

Finally the sun rose on the day the factions had been waiting for all summer. The celestial bodies had aligned. One hundred years to the day of the fall of the Temple of Courage, the factions were finally here, armed with the strength to release the spirit of Courage from the Altar, defeat the forces of Terror and restore balance to the Planes.

The Lions, Teutonians, Steppe Alliance and the Kesh mustered their forces and carried the Altar onto the field, heading straight for the site where the Altar had stood a century before. While they were able to reach the site reasonably unmolested, once in position they were forced to withstand increasingly bloody and violent attacks from the forces of the Dragon Knight; undead, demons, mercenaries of the Crimson Rain, in addition to the Dragon Knight himself and the Knights of Terror. Despite everything the Dragon Knight could throw at the factions, their resolve could not be broken and their courage rose with every assault. Eventually, the spirit of Courage was released from the Altar and took refuge within Mia bet Husari, the Fox of the Touareg. Imbued with the embodiment of Courage, she faced down the Dragon Knight and in the centre of the assembled hosts, they fought a duel to the death. As both warriors fell to the ground, their life force ebbing away, the spirits of Terror and Courage were freed from their constraints and were finally able to leave this plane, returning balance to the planes once more. Despite the efforts of the corporealists, the body of Heimlich Chess, the Dragon Knight, was unable to be healed. He was laid out with honour, alongside his Knights, for all know understood the great sacrifices they had made to ensure that Courage would be released and the world saved from destruction.

With Terror finally defeated, the factions returned home for the winter to reflect on all they had achieved. The war against Terror had lasted for over five years; many lives had been lost in pursuit of the victory they had won in Teutonia. With no unifying threat hanging over all of the factions, each could now return to their lands and recover from the strain of the last five years.

 

01-copy1115 to present The Age of Reckoning

In the early spring of 1115, a small group of Fir Cruthen, accompanied by various individuals from the other nations, undertook an expedition in a strange tavern, which had the ability to travel between the Planes. While they visited several different locations, one key incident occurred when they arrived on the Plane of Movement. Upon their arrival, they discovered that the tavern had landed upon a number of Skittian elves, killing them accidentally. They then realised they had appeared behind the enemy lines, for the Plane of Movement was at that time engaged in a bitter war between the Aguilan and Skittian Empires, and three large armies of Fae. Remembering Istvan Khan’s dire warnings of a Fae invasion on Movement, which the factions had received back in 1113, the individuals present set out to investigate the current situation. It appeared that the Fae had largely conquered the Aguilan half of the continent and were preparing to strike into Skittia.

While on the Plane of Movement, the factions engaged in discussions with the Fae – identified as the “Indoucu” – and ultimately ended up allowing them to take possession of an item which they had been seeking; an item which the army of Skittia had expressly been trying to deny them access too.

Meanwhile, in Albion, the combined armies of the ten Kingdoms had begun a campaign into Cornwall, to attempt to defeat the Druids of the Old Religion and the undead High King Artur, who had taken over the war-ravaged kingdom. Due to a drunken misunderstanding at their winter feast, King Cornelius Mourning of Wessex had been stripped of his battlefield command and the army had been placed under the orders of Captain Britta of Oxford. High King Idris implemented a plan to send the war host in to act as a distraction, to allow the army to press forward into Cornwall.

The mission was a disaster; many lives were lost in Camp Melaphine, including Captain Britta – murdered by a soldier of Wessex in retaliation for the way his King had been treated by the Court – but the most grievous loss was the apparent death of the Lady Morgaine, who had joined the war host at the camp to lend her aid. Despite recovering a powerful artefact from the Druids, the mission was a failure as the army succeeded in only advancing the front by three miles.

In the Spring of 1115, the factions travelled to Tal Teutoberg in Teutonia to lend their aid to the Teutonians in dealing with a rebellion by the Pythons. As the factions settled into their camps, disaster struck when the War Council was attacked by the Indoucu Fae and the war leaders were kidnapped. A force was mustered to rescue them, but they were attacked by their own generals, leading a force of Python soldiers against them. It became apparent that the Fae had somehow enslaved the war leaders; while all were safely recovered and their free will was restored, the reason behind this attack was debated. It was thought that perhaps the Indoucu were testing the factions, gathering information on their strengths and weaknesses in preparation for a greater assault.

The repercussions of the Lion’s failure soon became apparent when the factions were visited by the Herald of the Court of Gold, who brought with him terrible tales of the changes in Elvesham following the death of Morgaine, Queen of Shadows. The Court of Crimson had revolted and enacted a bloody slaughter on the remaining Court of Gold, leaving none but the Jack and Herald alive. What impact this shift in power in the fabled Fae realm of Elvesham would have remained to be seen. The Merlin, husband to Morgaine, was also seen in Teutonia; his rage and grief visible for all to see.

Further indication of the troubles in Albion came through visits from High King Artur and his Knights, all now unliving creatures raised by the Druids to help them further their attempts to restore Albion to what it had once been. While the Knights came to talk, the Druids came with violence in mind, attacking first the Lions camp and then others with enslaved Cornishmen and women, corrupted by the Druid’s blood magic to explode on contact and spew forth dangerous blood creatures. Lastly, the appearance of the mythwalker known as the Hooded Man, whose role it is to collect the spirit of the previous High King upon his death; as he had not collected High King Goddard Hazelwood upon his death in 1113, he now roamed the land a savage hunter accompanied by a pack of beasts, firing his deadly bow at any who crossed his path.

In response to the Indoucu Fae activity, the Fae of House Magister declared their intent to perform a rite known as Rex Mundi. This ancient Fae rite would make Master Joseph the King of the World, giving him control of the Plane. As the factions sought to understand the implications of this Fae rite, the threat of the Python uprising to Teutonia had to be dealt with.

After reviewing all of the scouting information, the War Council decided to send the Jhereg, Wolves, Fir Cruthen, Algaia and Steppe Alliance out in force to hunt down and destroy the vampire Schafer, who had been carrying out rituals to create ‘reliving’ Python paladins by putting their souls into the bodies of dead Norscan prisoners.

Following the successful defeat of Schafer, the Teutonians, Lions and Kesh set out to face Von Wolfsburg, leader of the Pythons, in the field. Using an unusual deployment strategy, the Teutonians teleported deep into the field while the Lions and Kesh marched to battle. Attacking a fortified Python position on top of a hill, the Lions and Kesh soon found themselves outnumbered by the Python forces, taking heavy casualties before the Teutonian force arrived and attacked the Pythons in the rear. The Teutonians had been preparing for several years to kill Von Wolfsburg, leader of the Pythons; the Python tattoos he bore gave him defences which would protect him from almost any weapon. A venom had been brewed which, when administered, would nullify the magic of his tattoos and allow him to be killed. Armed with only two vials of this rare alchemical concoction, their chance was almost lost when the first dose was wasted on what turned out to be a duplicate, glamoured to look like Wolfsburg.

They continued to push the Pythons back, until their numbers began to tell and the Pythons looked to be weakening. At last, the opportunity arose for the real Von Wolfsburg to be attacked. While the Python leader was engaged in combat with the Lions, Lucius of Teutonia was able to sneak through the line and get close enough to administer the venom. With the protection of his tattoos removed, it was then an easy task for Teagan, the Champion of the Gods of Law, and Sir Arwyn, both of the Lance of Deira, to deal the killing blows and end Von Wolfsburg and the Python threat.

With peace restored to Teutonia once more, the factions answered the call of Intrigue of the Jhereg, who had invited the factions to travel with the Jhereg war host to the land of Rhul. The Men of Rhul had travelled with the war hosts for several years, being heavily involved in the Academy of Arms and Magic. Strid, Danzo, Brynn and Konrad had spoken often of the strange land they hailed from, repeatedly calling on the factions to travel there and lend their aid. With Brynn and Danzo dead, it was left to Strid and Konrad to convince the factions to come to their aid. The Jhereg had officially annexed Rhul and made it part of their great Empire, before urging the other factions to help.

Upon arrival at the place known as Heaven’s Grave, the factions discovered a strange portal sitting in an empty wasteland. The factions quickly learned that the portal had been constructed by an ancient Fae House named Mormoile, in an attempt to assist the members of their House who had been scattered through the Planes following the end of the great Fae war to return. The portal was a permanent link to six of the Planes – Fertility, Number, Illusion, Movement, Solid and Death – as well as to the three magical Poles. Access to the portal was controlled through nine items, each one linked to a different Plane or Pole. These items had historically been bound to the Council of Rhul.

Vermillon, son of Merkier, of House Mormoile spoke openly with the factions regarding the portal and the actions his House had taken to control the area, which had led to the dangers the Men of Rhul had so often spoken of to the factions. He asked the factions to reform the Council and re-open the portal, though others of his House argued against such action. The factions agreed to assist Vermillon and one by one the items were located. A new Council of Nine was formed and the items were bound to them. As each item was bound, the portal’s connection to the Plane they represented was reformed and strange creatures began to emerge. Many defied explanation, including sentient rocks and giant floating eyeballs. Access through the portal seemed to only operate in one direction, however, as anyone who attempted to pass through the portal from this Plane did not survive.

While the factions contained the dangers leaking from the portal, representatives of the Indoucu Fae arrived and spent some time in discussion with House Magister within the College of Celestial Magic. Tarquin, Wade and their father, the Rector of House Dominus had come to express their disagreement with House Magister’s intent to perform the rite of Rex Mundi. Perhaps unwisely, Aktar of the Jhereg – who had had dealings with the Indoucu on the Plane of Movement at the beginning of the year – chose to invade this meeting and attack them. While unable to actually hurt them in any real sense, this action certainly did not aid the factions in building any sort of relationship with the Fae of House Dominus.

Despite the actions of Aktar, the House Dominus Fae continued to travel around the camps and speak with the different factions. They brought with them a warning; that House Praetorian were marching on the portal to take control of it, without the sanction of the Indoucu. Tarquin indicated that House Dominus would not intervene if the factions decided to take action against House Praetorian.

While the factions considered all they had learned from the Fae Houses they had already encountered, another made an appearance. House Beltran came to share knowledge with the factions. They wished to ensure the factions had not been deceived by the other Houses, on certain truths relating to the ancient Fae. They dispelled various rumours held to be true by the factions regarding limitations on the teleport spell, confirming that it was possible to transport cold iron using this magic and that with a teleport spell it is possible to travel between connected Planes. It was also confirmed that the ancient Fae still living from the time before the mortal races were created are more difficult to kill than the younger of their race, requiring special conditions to be met before they can be ended.

The Court of Crimson showed themselves, kidnapping several individuals and torturing them before returning them to their camps. Aktar of the Jhereg, Muriel of the Algaia, Orren of the Wolves and the Duchess Grace of Albion were among those taken. It appeared that they may have allied themselves with the Druids of the Old Religion, who were engaged in a rebellion against the people of Albion.

Albion also received a visit from the undead High King Artur, who stood before them demanding they return Excalibur to him and accept him as their High King. The Lions stood firm before their once great King, denying him the sword. The Druids continued their attacks on the camps and Herne the Hunter returned, seeking out the spirit of the previous High King.

After much discussion with House Mormoile regarding the portal and the threat posed by House Praetorian, it was agreed that a ritual would be performed to send a message to the lost members of House Mormoile, summoning them home through the portal. The factions would hold the portal open for as long as they could, allowing as many of the Mormoile Fae through as would come, before destroying the portal to prevent it falling into the hands of the Indoucu.

Augustus of House Praetorian attempted to seize the portal not long after the ritual had been performed. The Jhereg, Wolves, Fir Cruthen and House Magister defended the portal, facing all manner of the strange creatures which were coming out of it as well as the Fae of House Praetorian. Eventually, Augustus was slain and the Council members decided the time had come to destroy the portal. They threw the items through the portal; the ground began to shake and smoke issued forth from the portal entrance. With a great disturbance of the elements, the portal was destroyed.

In the time they were defending the portal, only two of the remaining Fae of House Mormoile returned. The factions vowed to uphold their agreement with Vermillon; if House Mormoile were able to locate any of their missing number, the factions would assist him in finding them and bringing them home.

From Rhul, the factions travelled west to Vorsgaard in Norsca to attend Nordrljos – the Festival of Lights. They were welcomed in a lavish ceremony during which the Wolves set alight a longboat. All of the traditional games were on offer, including some favourites from previous Norscan fayres such as ship to ship raiding. One highlight of the entertainment was provided when the Ladies of the Albion Court, led by Queen Esme of Essex, won the bar room brawl to the surprise and delight of the watching crowd. Further celebrations were had when dignitaries from across the factions gathered in the Wolves camp to witness the marriage between Jarl Lars Jorgenson, War leader of the Wolves, and Lady Johanna Proctor, Master of the Privy Council of Albion. It was hoped that the marriage would bring the two nations closer together.

The intervention of the other factions in the Druid uprising in Cornwall was guaranteed when the undead High King Artur arrived to parlay with Albion’s allies. Hosted in the Fir Cruthen camp, Artur attempted to convince the Fir Cruthen – bound to Albion through the Pax Britannica – to support his claim to the High Kingship. The discussions failed and Artur and his Knights ended up attacking Umrada Cole and his people. Umrada Cole was cursed by Artur, but a ritual team swiftly took him to the circle and transferred the curse to another Fir Cruthen, Idris. The factions all agreed that once the Fayre was over, they would travel to Cornwall with the Lions war host and help them put an end to the rebellion.

The return of the lady Morgaine caused a stir within the Lions camp, as all had believed her dead following her apparent fall in Cornwall at the start of the year. No longer the Queen of Shadows, she appeared to have been restored to her former self, although her memories were a little hazy at times. She was also not as friendly towards the Lions as she had been in the past.

The Fayre ended with an extravagant prize giving ceremony, during which prizes were awarded to the victors of the various contest. The prizes themselves had been obtained by the Wolves the previous day, as they undertook a raid into Mempo held territory to retrieve several items and artefacts which had been taken by their old enemy.

Rejuvenated by what had been a very successful Fayre, the factions turned their attention to Cornwall. The combined armies of Albion, under the leadership of King Beaumont of Deira and King Benegar of Sussex, had gained ground into Cornwall over the year; this allowed the factions to be able to strike towards Penrith, the ancient fortress where Artur first defeated the Druids over a thousand years before.

The area was heavily guarded by druids and their forces and the factions were forced to fight their way through to the camps. They immediately began gathering information on the disposition of Artur’s forces, aided by frequent visits from King Cornelius Mourning of Wessex who was camped nearby with the main Albion host.

On the first evening, a small victory was claimed over the Fae of House Crimson, as the Jack of Crimson was unexpectedly slain by a Jhereg foraging party. Many celebrated his death, as it had been the Jack who had kidnapped and tortured several individuals earlier in the year.

Investigation by the Lions identified that the ancient cycle of High Kings which held the Kingdom together was breaking as a result of there being two claimants to the High King’s throne. A link between Artur and High King Idris was making him gravely ill, as Artur leeched magic from Idris. In an act of great sacrifice, Idris was escorted to the ritual circle and abdicated the throne, returning the Kingship of Albion to the land by driving Excalibur into a stone within the circle. None but the true High King of Albion would be able to draw the blade from the rock. Idris was then returned to his family, alive, by the lady Morgaine.

The second part of the cycle of kings also needed to be restored. Until the spirit of the late High King Hazel could be reunited with the mythwalker known as the Hooded Man, the Lady of the Lake would not be able to select a new High King. The Lions entered the ritual circle later that night and in the shadow of Excalibur performed a rite to draw Hazel’s spirit to Penrith, using the deep spiritual bond between the former King and his chosen Lady, Thalynanti Hazelwood. Their love proved stronger than any magics which the Druids had used to keep Hazel’s spirit away and shortly after they returned to their camp from the circle, the spirit of High King Goddard Hazelwood appeared in the Lions camp. All rejoiced to see him again, although he could not speak. Their time with him was short, as Herne the Hunter soon appeared; resigned to their duty, Thalynanti and Hazel said their goodbyes and she led him through the throng of Lions to face his destiny. Herne drew back his bow, fired his arrow straight into Hazel’s ghostly form. In a flash, the antlered beast was gone and where Hazel’s spirit had stood was the Hooded Man, restored to his proper form. He picked up his bow and strode off into the night, intent on carrying out the mystical duty this mythwalker performs on behalf of Albion.

Aided by Wayland, the ancient Fae of House Abalone, who first taught the Merlin how to forge Excalibur, the children of the war hosts were taken on a mission to the forest of Elvesham. There, they were able to successfully prevent the Fae of House Crimson from using the forest to teleport easily, through renaming the forest to the Forest of Mead and making Wayland its King.

While the War Councils deliberated over battle plans, the diplomats concerned themselves with the rite of Rex Mundi that House Magister had declared. It was to take place in a great amphitheatre adjacent to the Lions camp. Ianto ap Bel, the Taniaste of the Fir Cruthen and a Fae of House Lohary’Ohn had worked with House Magister to change the nature of the rite. No longer would it be Rex Mundi, where one Fae would declare himself King of the World. Instead, a new rite, never before seen in the world, would be performed. They had named it Pact Mundi and it would shape the future of the world for all beings, mortal and Fae. The Pact was based on a simple choice. Stand with House Magister and strive for a future where mortals controlled their own lives, or stand with House Dominus and the Indoucu Fae and strive for domination of the Planes. Each Fae House would choose a side and each mortal nation would also be allowed to speak and choose. For those who wished to take no part, neutrality in the Pact was also an option.

As House Magister prepared the amphitheatre for the rite, Fae from all Houses began to arrive in the Lions camp. Some teleported straight in, others arrived by more mundane means. Each was welcomed and led down to the circle; some caused more consternation than others upon their arrival but none more so than Oroborous, the God Eater, the last King of House Sable. Not seen by the factions since his release from the mists of Elvesham in 1113, he was almost unrecognisable. The corrupting influence of destruction was clear for all to see and it was with some hesitation that he was led from the Lions camp and taken to the amphitheatre.

None had ever seen so many Fae gathered together in one place. As the war hosts crowded into the circle, Ianto called for order and the rite was begun. Ianto declared that the golden age of the Fae was over and that this was a time when Fae and mortals would stand together. He asked those present to declare their intent to stand with him, or against him. Vermillon of House Mormoile and Amgea of the Algaia stood with him as witnesses, as was custom for these ancient Fae rites. Of the mortal nations (including those of the Western Continent), all chose to stand with House Magister with the exception of Lyonesse. The island had been allowed to declare separately from Estragales, for the Algaia is made up of two separate nations under one banner. Lyonesse declared their intent to remain neutral. Of the Fae Houses, those who declared to stand with Ianto included House Mormoile, House Magister, House Tegredir and House Shiehalian. The Fae standing against the mortals included House Dominus, House Praetorian, House Keltoi, House Tagmatoi, House K’harn, House Heron, House Vallista and House Sable. Surprisingly to some, a few Fae Houses chose to remain neutral; House Amgearea, House An’T’Sron and House Crimson. Once all present had declared their intent, the rite was completed. Indoucu proclaimed that the war would begin at dawn and summoned all those who had stood alongside them to gather on the Plane of Movement.

One key element of the Pact which was agreed by all parties prior to it being enacted was that regardless of the sides chosen, the Crimson Moon Tavern would be a place of absolute neutrality. No hostilities of any kind would be tolerated by anyone, from either side of the Pact, while the individuals remained within the boundaries of the tavern. This was agreed so that there would always be a safe place for the enemies to meet and talk with one another. This seemed a strange concept to the factions, but it was considered wise to agree.

The following day, the first battle was fought between the factions and the forces of the Druids. The battle was concentrated around a large standing stone, one of the thirteen ancient artefacts of Albion that the Druids had been attempting to gather to support their cause. The menhir had been dedicated to the Gods of the Old Religion, but efforts made by the Lions the previous day had re-consecrated the stone to the Gods of Law. The Wolves, Jhereg, Steppe and Algaia were tasked with protecting the stone and preventing the Druids from re-taking it. In addition to facing the Druids and their army of enslaved Cornishmen and women, they also faced the Fae of House Crimson, complete with a variety of bestial creatures they had dragged from the mists of Elvesham.

The factions were hard pressed as they fought their way through the woods towards the stone, with the Wolves taking heavy casualties. Once at the stone, they were hemmed in on all sides by the Druids and the Fae. The battle turned in their favour when the Jhereg were able to kill Portia, the Queen of Crimson. The King’s rage was terrible to behold, but the factions held their own and were able to retain control of the stone and defeat the remaining Druid and Fae forces.

Two key events occurred that evening which would have major implications not just to the True Plane, but to all Planes. Anbaal of the Kesh had been working tirelessly throughout the year to manoeuvre the factions into a position where they would be able to slay the named demon D’llamalesh. This demon had taken rigid control of the Plane of Demonology, upsetting the balance of the world for the Demon Plane should exist in a state of chaos. It was believed that killing him would help to restore the Plane to its natural state, allowing the demons, devils and elementals to contest with each other once more for territory and control. D’llamalesh’s bane weapon had been in the hands of the factions for some time, but it was here in Cornwall where Anbaal was able to bring the two together under circumstances which made it almost impossible for them to fail. D’llamalesh was slain, though it remained to be seen whether this act would have the desired effect on the Plane of Demonology.

Also that evening, Zenobia of House Magister sacrificed herself in a ritual to bring about a change of the Age. Since the end of the first Fae war, the world had been living in what was called the Age of Striving. With Zenobia’s sacrifice in the circle, a new Age was begun – the Age of Reckoning. The ritual also created a weapon for the mortals to use in the war against Indoucu, but the nature of that weapon was kept a secret in order to protect it from Indoucu spies.

For the Lions, there was great joy followed by despair. The Lady of the Lake appeared and selected Duchess Graziella Scarsworth to be the next High Monarch of Albion. Leading her to the ritual circle to claim Excalibur, they arrived at the same time as Artur and his Knights, there to claim the right to participate in the Ritual of Renewal which was about to take place, as the true High King of Albion. Upon seeing Grace enter the circle with the Lady of the Lake, Artur threw himself on his knees, pleading with the Lady to give the sword to him instead. Unknown to many of those who witnessed this act, Artur was in fact pleading with the woman he loved, for the Lady of the Lake was none other than the wife of his most loyal Knight Sir Ansel and the cause of the betrayal which led to Artur’s downfall. When the Lady of the Lake refused to look at him or listen to his pleas, Artur was forced to witness Duchess Grace drawing the sword from the stone in which Idris had sealed it. As the Lions prepared to celebrate the choosing of a new High Monarch, disaster struck as Artur in his anger attacked Grace, while Sir Lanaval and Sir Firenze attacked the others in the circle. Outnumbered, the death knights escaped when Lanaval teleported the group away, taking the new High Queen with them.

Fortunately, the Lions were able to beseech the Lady of the Lake for her aid and High Queen Grace was returned to them after a short period of time. Excalibur, however, remained with Artur although Grace reported that the sword would not allow itself to be wielded by him. The Lions spent the rest of the evening unravelling the final elements of the story of Artur’s downfall, hoping to discover exactly what conditions had to be met before he could be killed.

As dawn broke, the Lions spread the word to their allies that in order to kill Artur, all of his Knights would need to be killed or otherwise persuaded to turn from their oaths to serve him. For some, the mere act of explaining to them Artur’s betrayal of his vows to his knights through his affair with Sir Ansel’s wife was enough to convince them to step aside and abandon their King. Those that remained would be waiting for the Lions on the field of battle. The Lions had determined that those named as oath breakers would be the only ones capable of killing them. A few among the Lions war host declared themselves as such; all were recognised as oath breakers by High Queen Grace. Others from their allies also stepped forward to identify themselves. Though few in number, it was believed these oath breakers would be enough to defeat the undead Knights and allow them to kill Artur.

The Lions took the field with the Teutonians, the Kesh and their closest allies the Fir Cruthen. They fought long and hard against a large army of undead, supported by druids who would appear as if from nowhere in the trees wielding poisoned blades. Many times it seemed as if they would fail to achieve their goal; the death knights were too numerous and the oath breakers too few. The Fir Cruthen decided to take matters into their own hands; raising aloft the banner of the Pax Britannica, they tore it in half, proclaiming that the treaty which had held the Lions and Fir Cruthen so close for so many years was now over. Turning their backs on the Lions, they fought only to save themselves and kill the undead they so hated. Whatever the diplomatic repercussions, it turned the tide of the battle and at the last, Artur stood alone without his Knights. Osfrith of Caer Culhaven was the oath breaker who laid the killing blow upon the ancient High King. While the Lions and their allies celebrated their victory, a small group gathered around the Artur as his parents, the Merlin and the Lady Morgaine, grieved once more the death of their son.

Artur’s body was carried back to the Lions camp and laid out in state in the throne room; despite all of his actions he was after all the first High King of Albion. The Merlin, his grief turned to rage, swore to wipe out any remaining druids left in Cornwall and teleported away. Morgaine remained in the camp while respects were paid to her son, then teleported away herself, taking her son’s body with her.

As the factions left Cornwall to return to their homes for the winter, many wondered if the ravaged land they had travelled through would be able to recover from the years of war it had endured; Cornwall had suffered not only at the hands of Artur and the Druids of the Old Religion, but had also endured the devastation of the Keltoi occupation. All knew that there would be little chance to fully rest and recover, as the war with Indoucu had begun and the factions waited with nervous anticipation to discover when and where their enemy would make their first move.

 

Compiled by Tink Jones from the many event guides produced over the last 20 years

With thanks to all the players and staff of Curious Pastimes 1996 to 2016

None of this would exist without you!

 

Photo Credits

Front page: The Lance of Deira, Renewal 2015; Photo by Oliver Facey

The factions At War: Manning the Siege Engine, Siege 1997; Photo by Jim Thompson

The Imperial Conquest: Emperor Heyami and the Dai Oni, Return to Heart of Darkness 2003; Photo by Iain Sharp

The Illusion Invasion: Keltoi prepare for battle, Event 2007; Photo by Steve Mitchell

The Rise of Terror: The Dragon Knight and his Banner, Into the West 2014; Photo by Steve Mitchell

The Age of Reckoning: Battlefield, Renewal 2014; Photo by Steve Mitchell