The Story so Far

1107

The year 1107 started with the shocking news that Erin had once more been invaded but this time by foes unknown! The Free Peoples met at Polgooth in Cornwall to discuss this grave matter and to celebrate the spring equinox at the invitation of Lord Godfrey Beaumont, Lord Protector of Albion and High King Morgan of the Fir Cruthen.

During this meeting grave news arrived indicating that two enemy fleets were sailing up the estuary where the Factions were meeting 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, there were also rumours that the intervention of some of the Gods of Albion would be sought. Whether or not this is true who can tell but what is true is that a thick sea fog descended on one of the landing points and delayed the invaders for some hours.

Fighting against a new and as yet unknown foe the Lions, Vipers and the Mercenaries suffered a terrible defeat not only losing the battle but losing many great heroes and heroines including Lord Godfrey himself and several items of power including the Banner of Albion and the Great Sword of Teutonia. After defeating the Factions the invaders started to dig in and to fortify a defence line.

After taking council once again it was decide to try to drive off the second fleet the next day rather than to try to defeat this strong position.

The next day armed with the knowledge of the foe’s tactics etc. The Wolves, Algaia, Jhereg, FirCruthen and Steppe Alliance fared much better driving the enemy back from the beach, however even in this battle there were many times when it looked like the Invaders would triumph or inflict heavy losses on the Free Peoples, at one stage even managing to surround the Algaian host until the Steppe Alliance and the Fir Cruthen managed to break through to relieve them.

With the enemy firmly entrenched it was decided to leave a strongly garrisoned force to try to hold the enemy within Cornwall whilst the leaders of the Free Peoples and their retinues travelled to the Imperial Island of Alexandria to meet with the new Empress Nigousan the widow of the late Emperor Heyami, who it was rumoured had died in unusual circumstances.

Rumours also started at this time of attacks on shipping and isolated coastal towns apparently by Greenskin raiders, possibly Tokra. No doubt if it was Imperial forces this would be discovered at Suukou Kaigi, the Supreme Council on Alexandria.

The Factions arrived at Alexandria and were met with great courtesy but also with some conditions the most interesting one of all being the fact that the Imperial forces would allow neither the College of Celestial Magic nor its leader Brother Joseph to leave their ships! All the Factions even those considered to be possible enemies of the Empire of the Golden Throne were met with great courtesy and treated well but unsurprisingly Imperial politics regarding the election of a new Shogun spilled over to involve the Factions and some people were killed at the event by assassins!

This caused much embarrassment to Her Imperial Highness but eventually the culprit a minor aid to Kuge Nakamura was apprehended, confessed to his crimes and committed Seppuku, thus was Imperial justice shown to the Factions. Eventually Gensui Hiroaki was declared as the new Shogun and appointed his apparent ‘rivals’, Gensui Mak and Shoukan Tiichiwina as his advisers along with Kuge Funichi. This turn of events was not to the liking of all of the Imperial Court it is rumoured.

The question of the identity of the Greenskin raiders was apparently settled upon as renegade Tokra who are not Imperial citizens and as such hated by the Imperials possibly as much as by the Factions. Imperial naval aid was promised to seek out these raiders bases and to deal with them. Sadly the new leader of the Lions of Albion High Inquisitor Martinique fell foul of the Imperial Court due to the Vampire Lord known as Silver appearing in their camp. This caused much dishonour to fall upon the Lions as the Imperials are know to abhor all undead and were mightily insulted by what they saw as the Lions bringing such foul creatures onto Imperial territory.

More disturbing news followed with the arrival of some of the strange Invaders from Albion/Erin intent on attacking anybody that they met. A small battle ensued in which all the factions fought well and impressed the Imperial Court’s representatives including even the Lions. The Empress Nigousan made a favourable impression on most people who met her and indeed the feeling was that perhaps the recent troubles and misunderstandings between the Factions and the Imperials were the result of Imperial politics as much as anything else. The Empress announced her intention to travel to the upcoming Fayre of Siberia hosted by her allies the Jhereg.

So the Factions travelled to Siberia and the island of Nexis at the invitation of the still mysterious new Lord Jhereg for what promised to be an interesting Fayre with the apparent offer of items of diverse value and power on offer to the winners of the games, some of which promised to be deadly indeed! Travel to the island site itself was dangerous as many strange monsters and beasts roamed the area apparently this was thought of as entertaining and used as a recreational area by some Jhereg! The games seemed to be enjoyed by most people with indeed a deadly slant on certain games such as the Great Hunt etc. Also there were many sideshow type games and other events to involve all comers.

The Imperials sent a delegation that sadly did not include the Empress as it was announced that whilst travelling to the Fayre she had given birth to an heir, a baby girl! Both Shogun Hiroaki and Kuge Nakamura seemed less than comfortable with the news but probably for different reasons! These two Imperial delegates then proceeded to visit various folk and Factions for whatever inscrutable reasons only they know.

Rumours continued at this Fayre regarding the Tokra Raiders along with the bizarre tale that they were being led by the Blood Queen! Frankly this seems preposterous as she had been destroyed by the Factions in 1105, but with many strange things occurring who can say that anything is for certain?

During Fayre other strange creatures began to appear apparently motivated by retrieving dead bodies or parts thereof! Despite the appearance of strange creatures and the inevitable dark rumours the Factions set off from Fayre for Renewal in Albion in good heart, ready to deal the Invaders a deadly blow and to recover Cornwall.

During the absence of the Factions the frontline in Cornwall had stabilised along a line between Tintagel on the western coast to the coast of the estuary that separates Cornwall from Wessex. The Invaders had originally pushed past this line and across Bodmin Moor before retreating leaving behind them a desolate no mans land of burnt crofts, slain people and animals. The Factions camped on the eastern side of the estuary north of the fens of Wessex and south of Vale Fort. From here they could threaten the Invaders at numerous points and hoped to thereby confuse the Invaders about their actual attack points. Lord Martinique and High King Morgan welcomed the Factions and almost immediately war councils were called to try to decide the best way to proceed.

Rumours of the actions of the Tokra Raiders latest attacks continued as did the persistent rumour concerning the alleged return of the Blood Queen. In addition the Factions camps were being plagued by more and more of the strange creatures first encountered at Fayre, collecting dead bodies and parts of them. What strange reasons compelled these creatures in their bizarre task who can say but strange they certainly are.

Sadly the Imperial Court sent no representatives nor aid to the Factions at this time, unsurprisingly in the light of events at Suukou Kaigi, but rumours abounded of Greenskins being present around the encampments.

Throughout the last two years folk have sought the parts of the Staff of Trask who was the principality of magic. At Renewal in an unprecedented outcome all the pieces were united within the Ritual Circle by Dengezich of the Jhereg the hero who slew the Blood Queen. This resulted in Dengezich becoming the new Principality of Magic and thus balance was restored even if it was late in the day according to some.

Many plans were mooted but in the end it was decided to launch an attack over the estuary towards Cerne Abbas and Bath to cut off the Invaders northern frontline from any reinforcements and then to push northwards to deal with the enemy’s army that was holding this defence line. Issa of the Eored from the Steppe Alliance was nominated as the battlefield commander for the assault towards Cerne Abbas and Bath and he led the Lions, Steppe Alliance, Fir Cruthen and the Vipers out to do battle with the Invaders.

All went well in the initial stages of the battle as the enemy was pushed back by the combined might of the Factions but upon reaching Cerne Abbas the Lions in particular suffered heavy casualties as it appeared that the Invaders had somehow warped the ancient symbol of the Cerne Abbas Man to their own sinister purposes and many magical effects afflicted the Factions.

However the Factions pushed on from there and succeeded in routing the enemy and driving them back into a forested area around Bath.

Sadly at this juncture the enemy proved to be too strong for the Factions as their resistance and fighting prowess seemed to improve once in woodland. Despite many heroic attempts to drive the enemy back further eventually the Factions had to conduct a fighting retreat from the woodland, losing many brave souls but saving many more who would surely have been lost if they had continued to try to advance. Nevertheless the Factions had succeeded in establishing a large beachhead and containing the enemy around Bath so it was tactically not a defeat and indeed the power of the enemy in that area was spent as an offensive force.

The next day the forces of the Wolves, Algaia, Jhereg and the Mercenaries set out to push northwards and defeat the enemy’s northern forces under the command of Bothvar, Lord Wolf. Again all went well in the initial stages but once again when the enemy had been pushed back into the area of the Morgaine Forest their resistance seemed to stiffen and their fighting ability seemed much improved. Many fell that day under those ancient trees but also many of the enemy were slain as slowly but surely the enemy was pushed back. The Factions however lost not just valiant warriors but also some ancient Faction Talismans such as the Algaian Staff of the Goddess, indeed the enemy seemed in this and other battles to delight in taking such prizes.

Finally and despite the enemy throwing in some of their leaders which experience of them so far indicates they only do as a last resort, the Factions pushed the enemy back into a clearing that contained apparently magical stones of a triangular shape. These Stones mimicked magical effects until some banners behind them were taken at which point the remnants of the enemy routed from the field. These Stones were taken by some Factions and what will be discovered about them and their powers remains to be seen. In a tense meeting after the battle some Factions wished to station large forces in Cornwall to ensure that the enemy could not return in their absence. Lord Martinique agreed that sufficient forces should be left in Cornwall but only until the Factions could launch an assault to retake Erin.

Despite the grievous losses in brave heroes and heroines along with the loss of some items dear to certain Factions Renewal 1107 was a successful one in terms of the war against the Invaders as with the defeat of one of their field armies and the containment of the other reports soon began to emerge of their abandonment of Cornwall! In addition of course the balance between the principalities was restored also by Dengezich’s sacrifice.

As winter approached and more of Cornwall was retaken a pattern began to emerge of the Invaders policies in taken lands. The indigenous people were slaughtered and all land and livestock taken over by the Invaders and their families, it would appear that they came to settle not just to slay. Many scenes of atrocities were discovered from the few month long occupation of Cornwall, no one is sure what awaits in Erin after a year of occupation by these strange, fierce alien invaders?

1108

After the success of the FirCruthen’s surprise invasion in the north east of Erin early in the spring of this year 1108 the Factions found themselves facing the Keltoi armies at the strategic pass of Glenshane. Defeating the enemy here would allow the Factions to sweep down across northern Erin and onwards to the Great Forest of Erin in Clare, where it was rumoured that the ancient and mysterious inhabitants were also engaged in resisting the Keltoi.

Soon after their arrival in the area the Lions following a legend discovered a long lost King from ancient times and given their recent turmoil it seemed that the gods had brought them to this place for the purpose of finding High King Tristan and so he was acclaimed their new King and leader.

With King Tristan were many mythical heroes of the past who also joined the Lions war host, and the Lions rejoiced to once again have a King. On the first night a strange development occurred when a party of Keltoi approached the Wolves with an offer of peace between themselves and the Factions brokered by a certain Lord Elrand. Whilst obviously making no promises the Wolves said that they would attend a ‘peace meeting’ at noon the next day to hear Lord Elrand’s proposal and that they would inform the other Factions of this meeting.

The next day a large party of the Keltoi were waiting at the appointed time and place as were the Wolves and some other Factions, arriving late were the FirCruthen who were in no mind to parley with the invaders of their land. This mood was further enhanced when it was revealed that the so called terms on offer amounted to little more than conditional surrender on the part of the Factions as decreed by the Keltoi High King Owain ap Kernow! On hearing these demands the FirCruthen became incensed and despite the flag of truce proceeded to attack the Keltoi party. They were sadly over-matched and most were struck down in a shocking display of martial and magical strength by the Keltoi. Luckily most were saved by the withdrawal from the field of the Keltoi in the face of possible further aggression from some of the other Factions; nevertheless it was a salutary lesson in the power of their enemies that the Factions would all soon have to face.

Later that day the FirCruthen, Jhereg, Steppe Alliance and Wolves took the field for the first assault on the enemy lines. Apart from defeating the enemy and securing a strategically important position, the Factions sought other objectives that day. Many powerful Keltoi who were believed to be in the area including one who was rumoured to be responsible for their Tattoos which seemed to be their source of magical power. Sadly this individual was not found by the Factions and it was a chance missed. Nevertheless the brave Factions succeeded, despite casualties in securing their tactical objectives and routing their opponents. If the other Factions could also triumph on the morrow then the power of the Keltoi in the north would be broken and the way left clear to Clare and the Great Forest.

The next day the combined forces of the Algaia, Lions, Vipers and the peoples known as the Hei Ravni took the battlefield against the Keltoi army. Again apart from defeating the enemy there were other sometimes more personal objectives being sought by some of the Factions that day including both the Algaia and the Vipers who both sought Artefacts which had been lost to the Keltoi in the previous campaigns. As the Factions pushed the Keltoi ever backwards for by now they were all experienced in the enemy’s tactics and the counter measures needed to combat them.They came upon what was apparently the enemy commander, none other than Lord Elrand who was supposed to be the one offering the so called treaty terms of the following day. It was surmised that as the terms were offered in the name of the Keltoi High King Owain ap Kernow then this Elrand may well have been his son, this obviously spurred on the Factions to either kill or capture him. Sadly he proved to be both a mighty warrior and magician who was also supported by a numerous and powerful entourage and thus despite much sacrifice and heavy fighting the Factions succeeding in securing the battlefield he managed to escape thus perpetuating the frustration felt by many of the fact that whilst they had proven that they could now defeat the enemies armies they still could not defeat their leaders!

Despite this setback, and the Failure of the Vipers to recover one of the Swords of Teutonia from the Keltoi, the main objective had been achieved as had the recovery of the AlGaian Spear of the Hunter. The way to the Great Forest was now open. The next day whilst securing the local area a mixed strike force drawn from all the Free Peoples was dispatched to locate and destroy a reported haven of the strange Constructs and Harvesters who had been plaguing the Factions at every turn since the Fayre of Siberia. This force was successful in destroying the manufacturing facility in that area as well as capturing a prisoner of some importance by all accounts. Although some people counselled that the Factions should be wary of the overtures and intentions of the mysterious and ancient inhabitants of the Great Forest it was decide to continue with the plan to march south to their aid. And so it was with both heavy hearts for their fallen friends but renewed hope from their first two consecutive victories against the Keltoi that the Factions headed south towards the Great Forest of Erin and thus into the unknown.

As spring turned into summer the free peoples found themselves on the borders of the Great Forest of Erin reported home of Fey, Tuatha Da’Nan and other fabled creatures. They soon discovered that this was a time know as the Revel to the Forests inhabitants a time of feasting, joy and renewal of the cycles of life and that this had to occur regardless of any outside threat to ensure the continuation of both the Forest itself and its inhabitants and to protect it against the Keltoi. If this Revel and more specifically the Fey King and Queens mating did not occur then the Forest would be open to the Keltoi and begin to die along with its people.

To further complicate matters the Fey King and Queen who were naturally opposed to each other due to their natures, they being to some extent the personifications of natures differences, and balances, were further estranged over the matter of their daughter the princess who was imprisoned comfortably it must be said though, due to her attempts to leave the Forest and her liaisons with the untrustworthy creature know as Rascal.

To many the memories of this time seem to have a dreamlike quality in keeping with the nature of the Forest and its inhabitants. What is important however is that despite everything the Factions achieved their goals in getting the King and Queen to mate, freeing the Princess, impressing the Tuatha Da’Nan so much that they received many items of power to aid them in their up-coming battles with the Keltoi and perhaps most importantly secured the existence of the Great Forest as a bulwark against the Keltoi.

After the trials and tribulations of the war in Erin and the strange happenings of the Great Forest the Free peoples looked forward to the AlGaian Carnivale as an opportunity to rest and take counsel about their final offensive to free Erin. It was with good cheer that the Factions arrived on the beautiful Illes de Pommes to experience the hospitality of Lord Hart and his peoples and to rest and recuperate their strength for the battles ahead.

The Al Gaia had made a tremendous effort to organise many different games and challenges even though many a loser was heard to mutter that their grasp of fair play and rules left something to be desired! All the major contests were held within a specially built arena with seating and shade provided for the visiting dignitaries along with some excellent refreshments and as usual the standard of the competitors was very high. Sadly not even the idyllic Illes de Pommes was safe from the troubles of the world especially attacks by hostile Formorii seemingly against most Factions when hitherto their attacks were mainly directed against their traditional enemies the FirCruthen.

Her Imperial Highness Nigoussan honoured the Carnivale with a visit via the Ritual Circle! This method of arrival and departure was possibly designed to show the Factions that the Empire still possessed huge magical resources and was not afraid to use them for apparently trivial purposes.

Her Highness was accompanied by her bodyguard the Dai Oni, Gensui Mak and Kuge Nakamura, noticeable by his absence was Shogun Gensui Hiroaki who arrived the next day by a more mundane method. As well as visiting the various Factions and being as charming and polite as ever the Empress took the opportunity to declare that henceforth Kuge Nakamura was the guardian of her Daughter and as such any insult to the Kuge would be construed as an insult to herself, who knows what effects on the future of the Factions relations with the Empire this seemingly innocuous announcement will mean?

Sadly the Empress’s visit was cut short when her party was set upon by seemingly Greenskin assassins whilst visiting the Lions camp! In this shocking incident the Empress herself was struck down but was soon restored by Gensui Mak. Having retreated to the relative safety of the hosts camp the Empress was swiftly back in good humour but decided that a swift return to Imperial lands was necessary. She attached no blame to the AlGaia as hosts or indeed any other Faction, for the attack, but it was clear that she was not amused and that the culprits would, if found, be in for a tough time. When pressed by the Empress as to his thoughts on the likely source of the assassins Kuge Nakamura replied that perhaps they should look to who was not present that day, a clear reference to the absence of the Shogun. Shortly after recovering her strength the Imperial party left as they had arrived via the Ritual Circle although there did seem to be some delay in the arrival of the Imperial Ritualist who had conveyed the party on their arrival, could this be a mere simple flux in power or something more sinister?

Also visiting the Carnivale was the mysterious but apparently friendly Amgea, leader of the Amgeara who the Factions met first in the Great Forest of Albion. She and her bodyguard visited several Factions and discussed many things although what was learnt from her would need to be sought amongst those who conversed with her. As the time arrived for all to leave the Illes de Pommes and return to the war in Erin most agreed that the AlGaia had provided an excellent Carnivale although the murmurings of discontent surrounding the outcomes of several contests were still to be heard, but it was a refreshed and hearty fleet that set out once more for Erin and hopefully the final battles to liberate it from the grip of the Keltoi. With the Keltoi having withdrawn to Galway in the north western corner of Erin from whence most reports say they originally issued forth from over two years ago, the stage was set for the apparent final defeat of this powerful and tricky foe in the culmination of the year’s campaign to free Erin from their yoke.

Arriving near the Keltoi’s final positions the Factions were welcomed by High King Morgan of the FirCruthen and bade to prepare themselves for the tasks ahead. In the area where the Factions had camped there were two strange structures both of ancient and mysterious origins, some said that they were Formorii work others said that they were of Fey origin but whatever the truth of the matter they were at the same time both impressive and unnerving. It soon transpired that the smaller structure appeared to contain some sort of Oracle but few were those who dared it’s cramped and dark interior to see it’s predictions, still others maintained that this so called Oracle merely showed deeds of yore and thus wasn’t really an Oracle at all. Whatever the truth of the matter it was a strange and powerful device that’s original purpose could only be guessed at.

The larger structure was open to the elements either by design or as some maintained by circumstance as they believed that once over the structure possessed either a roof or second storey or perhaps even both? In daylight it was a pleasant and open place but as darkness fell and the shadows lengthened it became an eerie place full of strange sounds and eldritch light. Indeed it was soon discovered that as well as being an important site to the Formorii it was also the domain of a Banshee, cursed to wanders its benighted arches seeking who knows what! Distracted as the Factions were by their struggle with the Keltoi it is not surprising that despite some investigations nothing definitive was done about this Banshee and she still roams the area causing dismay to all she encounters.

On that first night a tragedy occurred to the hosts the FirCruthen when their High King Morgan was struck down by assassins in the pay of Malakar the leader of their sworn enemies the Formorii! There was much sorrow amongst the FirCruthen and their allies that night at the passing of High King Morgan as he was a popular and respected leader who had done much to restore the FirCruthen and lead them with intelligence and valour during the recent trying times. The new leader of the FirCruthen was Umrada Cole McCormack know simply as Umrada Cole, he was assisted by both the being known as Annwn Lorn of the ancient race of the Tuatha Da’Nan whom had joined the FirCruthen after they left his home the Great Forest of Erin.

At this Renewal it was decide to revive the ancient Ritual of Renewal that had not been performed for many years. Sadly both the Vipers and the Steppe Alliance did not participate in this Ritual and many say that in order for the Ritual to work all Factions must participate, others say that after so many years of it not being performed what is the point and yet more say that it is a Ritual that all people of the Continental lands should participate in! Who is right and who is wrong, nobody knows for sure. What is certain is that the Ritual was attempted and whatever consequences that this entails are likely to be felt by all regardless of participation!

A further tragedy struck the FirCruthen later when they suffered heavy losses along with the other Factions when a mission to destroy a centre of the Constructs was undertaken. Despite the heavy losses the strike force was successful in destroying the centre and killing its commander. Many survivors questioned the choice of tactics used on this mission and blamed these for the high losses that they suffered, whatever the rights and wrongs of the tactics used two facts remain, the centre was destroyed but the losses were high. How the Factions proceed in the future against this enemy will no doubt be influenced by these facts. On the third evening an Imperial delegation arrived and spoke at length with the famous mapmaker Iddy DeRanged and his wife Sophia. Soon after that they all departed together presumably for Imperial territories, what ramifications if any this event will have nobody can say. There were also rumours that some of the Swarm were seen at Renewal! It was thought by most these had been defeated several years ago and so what could their reappearance herald?

In order to assess the enemies strength many scouting missions were undertaken and some information gained, what was certain now was that the Keltoi weren’t just an army but a whole people looking to settle in Erin. There were also rumours of a Great Triangle, this apparently being the source of the Keltoi power or their means of arrival in Erin, it was decided that this would need to be found and eliminated in order to defeat the Keltoi completely. Despite numerous scouting missions to attempt to discover this Triangle none of the scouts succeeded in discovering its location or indeed if it existed at all. It was decided to ask the advice of the Amgeara who after all knew of the Keltoi and indeed said that they came from the same lands, after much talk it was agreed that Amharast the son of their leader Amgea would be avaliable to give the Factions help and advice should they need it in the upcoming struggle. There was some concern expressed by Amharast that the Invaders who had driven his people from their lands could not be far behind them and so the Factions should beware of their possible appearance. Once again an attempt to make peace between the Factions and the Keltoi was made by the latter, again using the Wolves as an initial contact point. Despite the far more reasonable terms now being offered on Behalf of their High King Owain ap Kernow by his son Elrand ap Owain once again the FirCruthen refused and were supported by the other Factions preferring to trust in their military might rather than words, especially as it was now clear that the Keltoi had their backs to the sea.

The day after this peace attempt the combined forces of 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 no little skill but the brave warriors of the Factions put there hard won experience of fighting this enemy to good use and gradually drove them back. The Keltoi deployed many of their heroes in this battle and many have surmised that the majority of these were the sons of the High King himself judging by their similar appearances and references to each other as brother. These proved to be mighty foes strong in both magic and martial skill and many a brave warrior was struck down by them. They worked as teams in their spell casting and fighting techniques and indeed their ability to cast the most effective spells whilst heavily armoured once again made them formidable opponents. Nevertheless the warriors of the Free Peoples drove the enemy ever backwards and even at one stage seemed to have their leader at their mercy but he escaped magically just when it looked like he was going to be slain along with most of his family and bodyguards. This left the rest of his troop’s leaderless and easy prey for the confident warriors of the Factions.

However this was not the end of the Keltoi by any means and as they advanced the Factions found their way blocked by another force of Keltoi commanded by the same leader who had earlier seemed doomed. Another hard fight ensued with Keltoi reserves attempting to ambush the Factions in their exposed flanks but it was clear that now the Factions were in the ascendancy and the Keltoi were pushed further and further back and could not replace their troops as they fell.

Finally they were soundly defeated with all of their leaders falling at last to the brave Free Peoples blades and magic and the way was clear to the final camp of the Keltoi. However dusk was fast approaching and the Factions were depleted in numbers and magic and so it was decide to fortify their position and await news from the FirCruthen, Vipers, Wolves and the peoples known as the Hei Ravni to see if their combined camps had been attacked by another enemy force. They had not and so it was decided that on the morrow they would lead the final assault on the last Keltoi position which was only fitting as Erin was FirCruthen lands.

The next day dawned and the FirCruthen, Vipers, Wolves and the peoples known as the Hei Ravni took the field for what was hoped would be the final battle to destroy the Keltoi and free Erin from their dominion forever. Again it was a hard fight with the Keltoi fighting even more desperately than before as they truly realised that the future of their entire people lay in the balance, their force this day was definitely commanded by sons of their High King as Elrand ap Owain was in overall command. Despite heroic efforts and the defeat of the Keltoi initial forces it swiftly became apparent that the Factions were suffering greatly especially in their high use of Corporeal magic as the enemy fought with skill and ferocity.

Nevertheless the enemy was slowly forced back but for some reason the Factions on this day seemed to lack some of the cohesion of the previous day and perhaps sensing this Elrand ap Owain once again offered a peace deal. This move was strongly objected to by at least one of his brothers but in the end Elrand’s authority won out, it was none the less interesting to note that there were severe differences in the Keltoi camp that previously had appeared totally united. The Wolves and their leadership were at that time engaged in mopping up the remnants of the Keltoi forces that threatened the Factions rear and flanks and so played no part in the following startling events. The Amgeara, Amharast was summoned by magical means to ask his advice and to gauge his thoughts on the honesty of this latest offer, he thought that the offer was genuine and that despite everything that had happened he was distant kin to the Keltoi leadership and that they were in their own way honourable. And so the stage was set for an historic meeting.

Umrada Cole, King Hapsburg and Nikolai representing the FirCruthen, Vipers and Hei Ravni respectively agreed to meet with High King Owain ap Kernow to discuss if peace could be achieved without further bloodshed. No doubt they were motivated by concern for their warriors who despite clearly winning the battle were suffering increasing casualties due to their failing healing reserves. They met Owain who was surrounded by many women and children and in a remarkably short and reasonable meeting considering all that had passed between them the last two years agreed a peace deal. The basis of the deal was that the Keltoi would quit Erin for a gift of 100 cattle from Umrada Cole, that they would agree to cease all hostilities with all the Factions in exchange for land offered to them by King Hapsburg to settle in and all captives would be returned to the Factions. It is worth noting that in both these battles the gifts given to the Factions to aid them by the Tuatha Da’Nan and the Fey of the Great Forest were used to great effect along with other Cold Iron Weapons that the red haired Keltoi seemed to be particularly vulnerable to, however the Keltoi were equally adept at dealing with this threat once they had perceived it and many of these weapons and gifts were lost to their magical counter measures.

This was not however the end of the Factions troubles that day for even as the Keltoi left the field some sort of Portal opened up on the Factions left flank and through it poured warriors in red tabards who proceeded to attack the weary Factions! This new threat was identified by Amharast as the invaders who had driven his people from their lands only last year and many noted that there were some similarities between the insignia and dress of these new foes and the Vipers.

Summoning their last reserves of courage and skill the Free warriors drove these new enemies back towards and then into the strange Portal.

After some deliberation Fox of the Garrison mercenaries volunteered to attempt to investigate the Portal, a brave if some may think foolhardy decision. Tying Fox to a rope as some sort of security the assembled Factions looked on in trepidation as he entered the Portal, then disaster struck! The rope came back out of the Portal charred and burned with no Fox attached, what had happened to brave Fox? Moments later he was flung from the portal with great force and could report that there were large number of the new enemy waiting wherever the Portal led to but at the moment they did not look like they intended to pass through it, no doubt mindful that their initial force had been defeated.

Counsel was taken and it was decided to try to close this Portal by an impromptu Ritual lead by Hulda Largensdottir. Sadly something went wrong with this attempt and whilst the Portal did indeed close there was a backlash of magical energy that knocked everybody anywhere near the Portal down, killed Hulda Largensdottir and almost killed many of the other brave Ritualist’s involved. Some have surmised that maybe the Portal was actually closed by the new enemy or that it was not in fact a Ritual Circle at all, but nobody knows for certain. And so despite elation at the recovery of Erin there was both sorrow for lost comrades and trepidation of this possible new threat as the Factions prepared to depart Erin for their respective homelands, what would 1109 bring?

1109

After the momentous events of 1108 and the disturbing news that came out of the Imperial Winter Court the war hosts of the Factions converged on Bad Tolz near to the ancient Black Forest of Teutonia to take stock of the various situations and to prepare against certain possible threats that had arisen that winter at the behest of King Hapsburg of Teutonia.

There were two pressing national problems within the area of Bad Tolz, the first being the main tribe of the area the Auedi. This large tribe was led by their Chieftain Clovis who was demanding independence of his tribe and their lands a situation that had de facto occurred during the recent Viper and Cobra civil war. There was no real historical precedent for this claim and obviously after so many years of the civil war having now finally united Teutonia behind him King Hapsburg was not of a mood to tolerate any further divisions within the nation. The other possibly more ominous problem was the reports that another tribe native to the area the Suebi had turned to Demon worships! Given the free peoples long standing problems with various Demons and their servants these reports would of course need to be investigated closely.

Soon after their arrival at Bad Tolz members of the Imperial Yakuza began to circulate rumours that in Fact Emperor Heyami had not been killed in a hunting accident a few years back at all but was in fact being held by a renegade faction within the Imperial court for unknown purposes! It was shortly after these rumours began to circulate that indeed a storm from the East did broke over the Factions when exhausted runners from the Jhereg and FirCruthen arrived to inform the other Factions that they had been attacked on the way to Bad Tolz by apparently Imperial forces! Both Factions had managed to buy enough time for their baggage trains to start to straggle into Bad Tolz but were themselves now both cut off from the routes to Bad Tolz and in dire need of support. Even as the news was being reported a small party of Imperial troops arrived to inform the war hosts that actually the forces attacking the Jhereg and FirCruthen were rebels under the leadership of his treacherous aide General Tei! Not only had General Tei led a revolt and had declared himself independent of Imperial authority he had promoted himself to the rank of Shogun and had the backing of large parts of the Imperial army of the north. The legitimate Shogun was also engaged against General Tei along with General Mak and was asking for assistance under the terms of the Treaty of Fayre 1103.

Plans were swiftly made and such forces as were readily available were dispatched initially to support the Shoguns forces as they were closest to Bad Tolz with plans to then push onto relieve the Jhereg and FirCruthen. Despite much hard fighting and many worrying moments the forces of the Factions were finally victorious sending General Tei’s forces fleeing from the field and uniting the war hosts once again.

Devastated at General Tie’s betrayal and his own inability to prevent both that and to locate the missing Emperor Heyami, Shogun Gensui Hiroaki decided that his only honourable course of action was to commit Sepukku according to the ancient traditions of his people. Needing both witness’s and a second should his courage fail at the last moment to deliver the mercy blow the Shogun went to the Hei Ravni camp and there with the assistance of Roshi took his own life in atonement for his failures.

Subsequent scouting missions determined that the defeated rebel forces had retreated to their larger main army and that this was moving forward to engage the united Factions, clearly this was war! So plans were made to deal with this threat and it was decided that the combined host of the Wolves, Jhereg FirCruthen and Steppe Alliance should meet this threat whilst the Teutonians, AlGaia and Lions would guard against any attempt by the Auedi or indeed any other parties to take advantage of the situation for their own ends.

Throughout the night the rebel forces could be seen and heard moving closer and at some stage they engaged in some type of magical activity that aggressively targeted the camps, how they did this is as yet unknown but possibly they had outside assistance as nothing like this had ever occurred before during the long years of the Imperial war.

The next day the war hosts set forth in great spirits and swiftly engaged the forward elements of General Tei’s forces gradually forcing them to retreat under their onslaught. Both side fought doggedly and with great bravery but it was soon apparent that the lessons learned at such cost against the Keltoi in the previous years were standing the Factions in good stead and giving them a decide edge against the rebel forces, some of whose moral and dedication to the cause could perhaps have been doubted as is often the case in these situations. However it was not an easier battle at all and at many times the Factions found themselves hard pressed and in danger of defeat but despite these moments and the deployment at various stages of further long ranges magical attacks gradually the war hosts prevailed. The Factions soon discovered the source of the enemies long range attacks when they overran a hitherto unknown ancient Ritual Circle but once this had been wrested from rebel control at least that threat was removed. At some stages the rebel also deployed some magical siege weapons against the Factions but despite some initial success these proved to be difficult to move in a battlefield situation and were swiftly overrun by the war hosts.

Eventually General Tei was cornered with the last remnants of his forces and slain, thus his rebellion had been crushed not by Imperial forces but by the Factions themselves! Surely this would gain them great favour with her Imperial Highness Nigoussan. There was however no sign of Emperor Heyami so more information was sought from the Yakuza and scouting missions to try to establish if indeed he was still alive and if so his whereabouts.

Despite numerous attempts to negotiate a settlement with Clovis and the Auedi no agreement could be reached and so the stage was set to bring yet another set of rebels this time at least native ones to heal. It had also emerged that there was some sort of if not alliance at least an understanding between Clovis and the Construct forces of Von Beck and it was possible that these could also be expected to need to be dealt with, which indeed proved to be the case. As the Auedi were Teutonian rebels it was only fitting the King Hapsburg should lead the forces against them and so the next day the combined war hosts of the Teutonians, AlGaia and Lions set forth to deal with Clovis and his tribe along with anybody or anything else that attempted to interfere.

Despite their undoubted belief in their leader and their cause the Auedi were no real match for the heavily armed war hosts as most of their troops whilst brave individuals were clearly unused to fighting in formations and were less heavily armoured than their foes. This was especially apparent in any combats in open areas but in the confines of the forests these tribal warriors proved to be adept guerrillas and make life difficult for the Factions in these circumstances but slowly but surely the better organisation and armament of the war hosts prevailed until at last Clovis was forced to make his last stand for the freedom of his people. Don’t think to highly of his cause however because it soon became apparent that he and his folk were in alliance with the Constructs as a large force of them hurried to their beleaguered allies aid. It was to no avail however as the Factions swiftly defeated the Auedi and slew Chieftain Clovis and most of his warriors before they could intervene.

Now however the war hosts were faced with yet another foe and one perhaps more deadly than the lightly armed tribesmen that they had recently defeated. This was indeed a much harder fight for the Factions but again gradually their superior numbers and organisation began to tell as they forced the Construct forces backwards. During this phase of the battle some strange devices, mats to be honest were captured from the Construct forces but little could be divined of their use or purpose. Inevitably the enemy was finally defeated so thoroughly that it is believed that their power in this region was probably broken forever and the victorious war hosts returned to their camps full of cheer but bearing many wounds and scars from the days fighting.

In the meantime information had been obtained to suggest that Emperor Heyami was still alive and being escorted east by some remnants of General Tei’s forces, a group was swiftly organised and despatched to effect a rescue before they could get beyond the Factions reach. Travelling swiftly the rescue party managed to catch up with the rebel party and after a short but sharp engagement managed to defeat them and indeed rescue Heyami from their clutches. The Emperor initially seemed dazed and even unsure of who he was but this soon passed as they journeyed back to Bad Tolz and by their return he was getting back to something like his normal self and promising rewards to his heroic rescuers and dire retributions on those responsible for his abduction once he returned to his lands!

Whilst all of these momentous events had been happening in the background almost forgotten about at times a mysterious individual known only as the Brood Kings and his minions had been working to secure an item know as The Crown against the efforts of the old enemy of the Factions the Swarm. Just before the war hosts decamped for the Stuttgart area he succeeded in his aim and 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 few died from their wounds but it did prove to be a most unwelcome and painful sting in the tail to what had been a run of success for the Factions. But with few leads as to the Brood Kings whereabouts or any solid information on how deal with this new threat if indeed it was actually a threat the Factions decide to continue with their plan to move south to Stuttgart to deal with the Demon worshipping Suebi.

Following up the information gained at Bad Tolz the war hosts moved next against the threat of the Suebi Demon worshippers in area of Stuttgart in the heart of their tribal lands. Safe in the knowledge that after their defeat the remaining forces of the late rebel General Tei posed little threat to the eastern Teutonian border and that the Auedi all their efforts could now be directed to rooting out and dealing with these Demon worshipping tribes.

This area turned out to be a harrowing location filled with many strange creatures and events both new to the Factions and some old adversaries also dogged the free people’s efforts in this area. What became swiftly apparent was that the practice of minor Demon summoning to bind them for minor task was an ancient and widespread practice within the Black Forest region and was not thought of as evil at all by it’s inhabitants and practitioners. What had happened though was that some Suebi had taken this ancient practice into new and frightening areas recently, summoning ever more powerful Demons as opposed to the normal practice of summoning Imps and that many of these Demons were barely controlled or indeed had broken free and were pursuing their won ends. As if this situation was not enough the Brood King and his minions appeared and attempted to kill several Lord Generals but luckily all these attempt were thwarted by the swift and brave actions of the war hosts, nevertheless the Brood King and his minions continued to be a menace as they roamed the area seemingly impervious to much that the Factions could muster against them slaying any poor individuals who were unlucky enough to cross their path.

Despite this added and unwelcome distraction enough progress was made with the Suebi to ensure that the area was once again relatively peaceful and Demon free before the Factions set forth for Albion and the Scarborough Fayre.

After the frantic events in the Black Forest area of Teutonia the Factions set sail for Albion and looked forward to a hopefully relaxing at least relatively speaking Fayre near Marshall’s keep.

As was expected the Lions hosted a marvellous Fayre with many interesting and fun games such as ‘Whack the Rat’ amongst others but the highlight for many was the Bear Baiting especially when the Bear managed  break loose from its handlers and turn on its tormentors! Indeed may folk felt sorry for the Bear and calls were often heard for it to be released but sadly these were not heeded. The Lions had constructed a special tourney area where many could see the major contests run and most folk agreed that they had set up an excellent Fayre and that their grasp of fair play was certainly acceptable at the least.

The Lions were excellent hosts and had obviously put a lot of thought and effort into the organisation of the Fayre and most agree that it was an excellent event away from the trials and tribulations of the Men Po revolt and Demon worshipping cults etc. Sadly nowhere in this world it would seem is immune to it’s troubles and travails but thankfully nothing major threatened the free folk at this event beyond existing cultural enemies and individual faction problems however even these were enough to ensure that despite it being a Fayre there was more than enough reason for folk to tread with wary feet at some stages.

And so it was that most of the combined Factions war hosts set sail back to Teutonia in the late summer of 1109 in good cheer and ready to face whatever new perils awaited them in that distant land.

With the news that another group of invaders presumably akin to both the Keltoi and the Amgeara had appeared near the Great Circle in the Black Forest region of Teutonia the combined war hosts faced another potential enemy alongside both the Constructs and the Demon worshipper’s native to that area. Clearly if the invaders were similar to the Keltoi and the Amgeara then it was likely that their ultimate goal was the Great Circle with all the power that would then come into their hands who knows what would happen, obviously this could not be allowed to happen especially with the need to continue the Ritual of Renewal also weighing on peoples minds. And so it was in good cheer after their happy sojourn in Albion but with a sense of foreboding that the free peoples set sail for Teutonia in the summer of 1109.

Upon arrival at the Great Circle the Factions found that in the many years since they had last visited it many changes had taken place indeed. The Teutonians had started the construction of a magnificent structure to surround the ancient Triptych alongside a crypt to house a Sarcophagus containing the remains of one of their ancient noblemen.

Many were impressed with these works and marvelled at the feats of engineering that had been achieved and were indeed still in progress. Sadly all work had been halted by the presence of the nearby invaders who by now were know to the Factions as the Tagmatoi, this new enemy was not only akin to the Keltoi and Amgeara but also the same people who had briefly threatened the Factions from the Portal in Erin during Renewal 1108. From information cleaned from both Amgea and High King Owain ap Kernow the free peoples learned that they were a warlike folk probably bent on conquest. Thus with the Tagmatoi army gathering nearby the scene was set for the defence of the Great Circle.

The omens couldn’t have been worse as almost as soon as the combined war hosts had arrived and prepared their camps the skies darken and a thunderous storm and downpour descended upon them leaving many superstitious folk fearing the worst. Not all were downhearted however as the Mongols from the Steppe Alliance took the opportunity to give thanks to Irca One of their gods for the gift of rain on the land. Luckily the skies soon cleared and the Black Forest was blessed after that with good weather for the forthcoming Renewal.

As the Factions settled into their camps a disturbing situation developed between the Jhereg and the AlGaia and the Lions Factions which culminated in an armed conflict and the death of the incumbent Lord Jhereg! It would appear that this occurred due to the fact that Lord Jhereg had stated that if he, the Jhereg or indeed anybody else wished to consort with Demons or anybody else within the confines of their lands and hence their camps at the gatherings of the free folk then they should be able to do as it was their choice and decision and really nobody else’s business really as it was all down to each peoples cultural choices. As can be imagined this did not go down very well with either the AlGaia and the Lions or indeed some other people, however many thought that this was actually a minor concern compared to the main issue of the Tagmatoi and their armies threatening the Factions.

Regardless of any of the rights or wrongs of Lord Jhereg’s statement or the reaction of the other Factions the resulting skirmish and subsequent accusations that some people took the opportunity to ransack the Jhereg camp the fact remains that once again the free peoples were arguing and fighting amongst themselves instead of concentrating against their mutual enemies, one can only imagine the delight that this must have engendered in the minds of the Tagmatoi and indeed any of the other enemies of the Factions who heard about it.

Whilst it’s true that some of the other Factions tried to intervene to stop the conflict the fact remains that they failed and this event is likely to leave a sour taste in certainly the Jhereg’s minds and probably other peoples as well. Subsequent events including a trial of certain high placed individuals involved in the events that failed to result in satisfaction for many people only serve to gloss over the fact that severe damage had been done to the united front of the Factions and nobody knows what ramifications these events will have on the future of the world. Despite these events the Factions managed to patch up a united front against the Tagmatoi for the rest of Renewal.

In his homeland King Hapsburg formally ratified and signed a treaty between his people and the Keltoi invaders ensuring that peace should prevail between them and making them both liable to support the other under certain conditions. The power of Teutonia would once again seem to be rising after some fallow years and much of this is down to King Hapsburgs astute political actions and to the respect that the enjoys amongst both the free peoples and his own folk, indeed not a man to be taken lightly at all.

During the event 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 both certain Demons, the Swarm/Brood and also of course the Constructs, indeed the coffin itself seemed to attract Demons! After many false starts and much effort eventually the orbs and the coffin were destroyed and it is hoped that this will prove to be of great help in the fight against Von Beck and his cohorts.

On the second day the Factions were visited by their Imperial highness’s Heyami and Nigoussan with their entourage of General Mak and Kuge Nakamura to thank the Factions for their honourable rescue of Heyami from the forces of the late rebel General Tei. The Imperial party visited the Steppe Alliance camp for some time and were treated with great hospitality by Tamerlane Khan and his people and whilst they ere there the Empress Nigoussan was quite intrigued by a lively and raucous drinking game that was being held by some members of the Steppe Alliance but perhaps wisely declined to participate. Whilst in the Steppe Alliance camp the Imperial party was visited by members of many Factions including noticeably the FirCruthen who presented the Empress with a doll for her Daughter with was received some initial bemusement by her Highness. Much subsequent talk with the FirCruthen centred upon the possibilities of trade between them with whiskey featuring strongly in those discussions! Much discussion was had with representatives of both the Jhereg and Wolves but noticeably not the Lions, was this a deliberate snub by one or both the parties or a simple oversight who can tell? Another noticeable visitor was King Hapsburg of the Teutonians who of course as host could have insisted that the roles be reversed and that the Imperial party visited him instead but in a show of magnanimity and statesmanship he merely invited the Imperial delegation to visit him if they had the time later in the day. Heyami duly said that he would be delighted to and thus saved some face. During this time General Mak asked for permission to visit the Hei Ravni camp to discuss certain long standing issues with them and this was granted by their Imperial highnesses.

The most important piece of information to come from this meeting was that the some of the Imperial continental lands had fragmented during the brief civil war that followed Heyami’s rescue by the Factions earlier in the year. Some had stayed loyal and Heyami announced that it was his intention not to try to recapture those that hadn’t but rather to consolidate his control over the lands that had remained loyal with the exception of a area to the north of the current Imperial territory which General Mak had been  tasked with reconquering, a somewhat surprising statement as many would have expected the Men Po successors of General Te to be a prime target for Imperial retribution! Indeed Kuge Nakamura seemed to go to great lengths to remind General Mak of his task and the fact that the campaign was expected to be concluded in short order and satisfactorily, there was some definite tension between these two over this matter and who knows what ramifications this may have in the future?  Some of these other lands had stayed loyal to the successor to the Men Po rebel General Te, others had elected local leaders who were flexing their power and still others had descended into lawlessness. It would appear that with Imperial blessing there was now an opportunity for some Factions to regain at least some of the lands that they had previously lost to in the Imperial conquest, how practical this actually is remains to be seen.

A short visit to the AlGaia ensued where there was a noticeable degree of tension between some of the parties, though noticeably not the Eored or High Elves present. This may be attributable to the possible Imperial disapproval for the attack on the Jhereg camp because of the close ties between them or possibly something else entirely again who can tell what the inscrutable Imperial minds were really thinking or indeed planning.

This was followed by the agreed visit to the Teutonian camp via the Hei Ravni camp to be reunited with General Mak. Unfortunately there was an attack in progress upon the Teutonian camp and so no visit was actually made, this could be construed as a further loss of face by the Emperor and Empress or possibly by King Hapsburg for not being able to ensure that his guests could travel to his camp safely within his own lands! Either way the fact remains that the agreed visit wasn’t completed.

Later this day a delegation from the Tagmatoi was attacked en route to King Hapsburg’s camp by some beings that many folk are referring to as Celestials but considering the current situation nobody least of all King Hapsburg was or should have been concerned about this particular incident. The surviving delegate demanded the submission of King Hapsburg in much the same way that the previous Keltoi delegations had done and was answered in much the same way, no! Somewhat superfluously at least to the free peoples the delegate stated that a state of war thus existed between the Factions and the Tagmatoi forces led by one known as the Megus Domesticoi and that the Factions could expect to be attacked at ant time forthwith.

With war formally declared the Factions increased their scouting missions to try to glean as much information as possible about their new enemies and their dispositions. Many missions were successful but some inevitably were not and gradually a picture emerged that indeed it appeared that the Tagmatoi had a large force to the north of the Great Circle that seemed to be preparing to strike south presumably to capture that important objective. It also seemed likely that the Tagmatoi were preparing to leave a large force in reserve to guard their bridgehead and to exploit any success that their initial force could achieve therefore after much discussion and argument within the Factions War Council it was decide that the Teutonians, Wolves and Jhereg forces alongside the Mercenaries and Hei Ravni would remain in reserve to thwart any secondary assaults upon either the camps or the Great Circle by the enemies reserve forces whilst the combined hosts of the Lions, AlGaia, FirCruthen and Steppe Alliance would march out on the morrow to engage the likely initial assault by the enemy.

As the next day dawned and the Factions mustered their forces for their assigned missions disturbing news began to filter back that the Tagmatoi forces had moved swifter than had been anticipated and were even then moving swiftly in the direction of the Great Circle! Even this distressing development contained a glimmer of hope for the Factions because at least it confirmed their suspicions that this was the enemy’s ultimate objective, moving swiftly the Factions moved into blocking positions to defend the Great Circle and confront the Tagmatoi host.

The Tagmatoi attempted to outflank the Factions forces by moving through the forests on the Factions left flank but the free peoples reacted to this threat by moving into those forests to engage the enemy. A long and hard fight ensued for possession of these woodlands with the Factions gradually gaining the upper hand and forcing the enemy slowly but surely backwards however disaster nearly struck the Factions when a hitherto unknown enemy force suddenly attacked from deep in the woodlands and threatened to surround the war hosts! However after a period of confused and desperate struggle the Factions succeeded in stabilising their lines and forcing the main Tagmatoi force backwards whilst destroying their new flanking force thus securing their flank and rear from further enemy attacks.

The main Tagmatoi force retreated in good order into an open area and reformed both their existing force and received reinforcement units that were quickly integrated into their combat line thus showing a large degree of discipline and military prowess that suggested that this enemy was possibly more organised than the Keltoi a fact that had been alluded to in the past by both Amgea and Owain ap Kernow. Soon enough hostilities were resumed with the Factions recommencing their advanced against the Tagmatoi line that seemed to be slowly but surely being forced back but this may have been a ruse by this tricky new enemy as no sooner had the Factions ‘forced’ them back fresh Tagmatoi units stormed into the war hosts flanks with lethal effect. Luckily most of these new units seemed to be lightly armed skirmishers and after some initial difficulties the Factions succeeded in holding these new units advanced and indeed began to drive them back whilst maintaining a steady and unbroken frontage against enemy’s main force. It was possible to achieve this as the free peoples seemed to both outnumber the Tagmatoi and the Tagmatoi themselves seemed to almost be deliberately drawing the war hosts onwards and not attempting a decisive engagement at all.

What the enemy was attempting to achieve is open to debate but certainly what they were achieving was allowing the Factions to feel like they had the upper hand and indeed they were gaining ground all the time but perhaps without any attachment to the land the Tagmatoi were happy to allow this to happen. What was noticeably was that the Tagmatoi tactics did change sometimes depending upon their opposition and this gives weight to the idea that they were testing the Factions military capabilities perhaps for future reference, if that were the case then they would not appear to have set as much store in this battle being a decisive encounter and perhaps later events bear this out?

But we digress and so back to the battle itself, the Tagmatoi were steadily driven backwards as the Factions continued their remorseless advance until they were within sight of the reported fortified bridgehead position that the Tagmatoi apparently held. It was a this stage that several events seemed to coincide to result in a decision by the war hosts not to continue their advance and try to completely defeat the enemy! Firstly it was discovered that a daughter of the new Fey Queen of the AlGaia Amgea who was previously reported to have been killed as the Amgeara fled the Tagmatoi was actually fighting with them in this battle! Upon recognising her daughter Amgea certainly changed her objective from defeating the Tagmatoi to rescuing her and most of the AlGaia followed suit and despite there being mixed reactions amongst the AlGaia to this unexpected development especially from Lord Hart himself they did succeed in capturing her. This Fey princess seemed somewhat distressed by the demise of her Tagmatoi allies and at least for a time seemed not to know her own mother or indeed be comfortable with her new position at all perhaps not surprisingly all things considered. It was at this stage that the AlGaia chose to leave the battlefield perhaps reckoning that their work was complete and indeed to many it seemed that it was as the last remnants of the Tagmatoi had been slaughtered in the meantime with their backs against a lake by the rest of the Factions, few escaped this final stand but notably none of the leaders who had been prominent in the days fighting bodies were found at this point and indeed some said that some had been seen leaving the final stand area and moving up into the dark and brooding woodlands of the hill beyond the lake.

Who could tell what enemy forces lurked in this naturally strong position and perhaps it would be unkind to say that the victory that day was compromised by the Factions failure to storm that final position especially after the hard fighting that they had all endured but the fact remains that enemy forces were left in a strong position still threatening the Great Circle. Perhaps even if the AlGaia had stayed the enemy would have been too strong for the war hosts but then perhaps not, no one will ever know now but what is certain is that this position would have to be taken at some point if the Tagmatoi threat to the Great Circle was to be removed for good.

After consultations that evening it was decided that the next day the combined forces of the Teutonians, Jhereg, Wolves, Mercenaries and Hei Ravni would attempt to storm the Tagmatoi position and eliminate their threat whilst the battered forces who had fought earlier that day would guard the camps and the Great Circle as best they could. It was decide that an early start was imperative to pre-empt any further attempt to gain control over the Great Circle by the enemy.

So the next morning the combined hosts of the Teutonians, Jhereg, Wolves, Mercenaries and Hei Ravni set out to engage the Tagmatoi in what was hoped would be a final battle to eliminate their threat once and for all. Disaster almost struck immediately as the Tagmatoi had also clearly prepared for an early battle and had got a small force almost within striking distance of the Great Circle but luckily this was clearly only and advanced force and was heavily outnumbered by the Factions and they quickly retreated when faced with the overwhelming superiority in the Factions numbers into the forests surrounding the Great Circle. The war hosts were about to follow them when it was reported that a larger enemy force was once again threatening to outflank them in the forests to their left! What would have been the result if the Factions had followed the smaller force with all their might nobody can tell but what seems certain is that they were a decoy force offered up to try to draw the free peoples forward and leave the Great Circle vulnerable once again to the second larger Tagmatoi force.

Luckily the enemy’s ruse was detected in time and the Factions deployed to meet both threats aggressively and thus the second battle was joined. Again the fighting in the woodlands was harsh and confusing but it appeared that the Tagmatoi plan to initially split their forces had worked against them this day as the war hosts were able to force both enemy forces back into the same are an threaten them with encirclement, sadly the Tagmatoi commanders managed to extricate and good portion of their forces from this potential situation and to form them up once again to meet the Factions in open ground. What then ensued was a similar pattern to the previous days fighting with the Tagmatoi steadily retreating in front of the combined might of the Factions but never really looking like they would break almost as if they were drawing them towards the hill but as this suited the Factions battle plans they were happy to continue to press the Tagmatoi ever backwards.

Soon the Factions had driven the enemy back to the lake area and indeed across it and as the last enemy stragglers melted into the brooding woodland the Factions were faced with the reality of being in a potential position to eliminate the Tagmatoi bridgehead but also possibly staring a death trap in the face! The reality of the situation was simple really either attempt to take the hill and thus hopefully eliminate the Tagmatoi threat to the Great Circle or to resign themselves to having to permanently guard the area with a force strong enough to thwart any further Tagmatoi threats. It was no choice at all really as nobody knew for certain what forces the Tagmatoi could deploy or whatever threats may appear that would require the full might of the combined Factions war hosts in the future, thus with heavy hearts but steely resolve the Factions begun to move across the lake and up into the brooding woodland.

It was not long before the first Tagmatoi position was reached and what a formidable position it was, steep slopes that were negotiable only at peril giving the Tagmatoi both the advantage of height and excellent fields of fire for their missile troops whilst the Factions would be forced to advance only along certain easier paths and all the time fighting at a disadvantage. It is perhaps not surprising that some lost heart at this stage but none left their places in the battle line. As the Factions pondered their next move the leader of the Tagmatoi who had been very vocal throughout the day appeared once again to alternatively taunt the free peoples and to offer them slightly better but still unacceptable terms, engaging in no doubt what he thought was witty banter with anybody who would talk to him and even saying that the Great Circle now belonged to the Tagmatoi which of course nobody believed at that time, almost as if he was buying time and delighting in delaying the factions assault, latter this was sadly found to be the actually truth but that is for later in this story.

Eventually tiring of this pointless banter and mindful of the need to drive the enemy away the order was given to assault their position. In a great show of discipline and martial prowess the Factions surprised perhaps even themselves in their swift and excellent execution of the assault and despite some minor setbacks succeeded in driving the enemy from their strong position in short order indeed, it appeared that for all his earlier bluster the enemy commander was struggling for both the numbers and quality of troop to hold his lines, perhaps the Tagmatoi strength was spent after all?

Despite some minor setbacks caused mainly by the nature of the terrain and by some ingenious traps similar to those employed at some stages by the Keltoi, who incidentally were represented in this battle by their High King Owain ap Kernow with some bodyguards in accordance with his treaty with King Hapsburg, the Factions steadily forced the dwindling Tagmatoi ever backwards. Finally it appeared that they would retreat no more and perhaps they couldn’t for whatever reasons and the Tagmatoi made their last stand once again in a strong defensive position. The fighting here was some of the hardest of the day as the Tagmatoi fought to the death rather than pulling back and it was here that the luckless Wolves once again lost Thor’s Hammer as some Tagmatoi officers succeeded in magically spiriting it away during a particularly fierce encounter, where it went nobody knows because no trace of it was found on the battlefield at all. Despite this major setback the Factions were at last victorious as the last Tagmatoi fell to their bloody blades and all felt elated by their achievement that day.

Sadly this elation was soon replaced with a feeling of utter dejection as after arriving back at their camps it was discovered that the seemingly vacuous boasts of the Tagmatoi general had not been mere boasts at all! During the battle a small commando force of Tagmatoi had managed to elude the Factions forces and gain entry to the Great Circle, once there they had placed a powerful magical device of unknown origin in it. This device had sealed the Circle with overwhelming power and already subtle changes could be seen to be taking place within the greatest Ritual Circle of the know world, a disaster for the Factions! All subsequent attempts to break the seals on the circle failed and upon the advice of Brother Joseph he was asked to place counter seals around the circle to prevent any Tagmatoi attempts to break out from the Circle in the future although there were no Tagmatoi in evidence at that time. Subsequent investigations determined that the Tagmatoi commando force had used a dried up river bed to elude the Factions and gain the Great Circle and so it would appear that it was possibly the Tagmatoi’s intention all along to draw the Factions away from the Great Circle so they could gain control of the greatest source of Ritual power in the world for their own ends!

Thus after placing both magical guards and physical guards in the form of the Teutonian and FirCruthen war bands many free folk left Teutonia for their distant home with heavy hearts and fear of what the future held for them all uppermost in their minds!

After the effective stalemate at Renewal 1109 and with the Great Circle of Teutonia sealed by both the Tagmatoi and Brother Joseph the Factions retired into winter quarters to rearm and regroup for the inevitable struggles ahead.

1110

During this time both the forces of the united free peoples and the Tagmatoi were active in both skirmishing and reconnaissance of each others positions and strengths. With the Great Circle sealed and effectively and  guarded by the forces of the Factions it appeared that the Tagmatoi were limited to their existing forces only with no chance of gaining any reinforcements, so possibly the events of Renewal 1109 were more beneficial to the free peoples than had first appeared?

As the snows melted and the morning frosts grew fewer the various war hosts prepared once again to engage the enemy in open combat to try to reopen the Great Circle or at least destroy the foreign invaders and remove the stain of their presence from the land. From the snowy north marched the doughty Wolves of Norsca led by their experienced leader Bothvar, from Albion came the knightly Lions with their new King Lucas at their head, from the FirCruthen lands came the painted warriors of the brave High King Cole and from the south marched the rangers and warriors of the Algaian peoples led by the unpredictable Lord Hart. From the snowy wastes of Siberia came the Jhereg Peoples led by the mysterious new Lord Jhereg and from the Steppes of the east the members of the Steppe Treaty Alliance led by that old campaigner Tamerlane Khan, as ever accompanying these hosts were the sell swords and the Hei Ravni peoples all ready and eager to cross swords once again with the Tagmatoi invaders because with the Great Circle unavailable to the free peoples who could tell what the future held?

To further add to the factions troubles the forces of the Brood King were still active in the area and there was of course the possibility of them joining forces with the Tagmatoi, something that wasn’t a pleasant thought at all.

After arrival it was soon discovered that not only had the Tagmatoi placed some sort of magical lock on the Circle but also now doubt due to the influence of the strange Tagmatoi magic’s the circle had visually changed and warped, the previous buildings looked as if they were now thousands of years old and in ruins! Whatever the cause of these strange changes was it was now even more important than ever that the free people regained control of the circle before these changes could begin to possibly affect the other circles of the world.

Throughout the early days scouting missions were dispatched to try to ascertain not only the positions and the strengths of the Tagmatoi but also those of the forces of the Brood King who was still threatening the forces of the factions despite his set backs of the previous year.

In a ray of hope and normality it was announced that on the second night of the gathering that Hapsburg of Teutonia was to marry Tabetha von Drachomorden to bring added stability to that troubled land. All were pleased with this chance to celebrate this happy occasion in the midst of these troubled times and arrangements were made to ensure that the evening went well for all concerned.

Sadly the Tagmatoi were not in any mood to allow the Teutonians to celebrate and in the midst of his wedding and his armed camp they sent in some of their greatest warriors who despite the odds against them succeeded in kidnapping Hapsburg almost from his wedding bed and whisked him away into the night! Naturally all were appalled by this stunning turn of events and it was quickly decided that the Teutonians now led by the Queens brother Prince Elector Kameron Drachomorden along with the Wolves, Jhereg and the Hei Ravni peoples would assault the Tagmatoi as soon as possible the next day whilst the Lions, FirCruthen, AlGaia and the Steppe Alliance would guard the camps against any as yet undiscovered Tagmatoi forces or the forces of the Brood King.

So with confidence and a righteous hatred of the perfidious enemy in their hearts and minds the combined war hosts set forth into the dark woods to rescue Hapsburg from his captors. Despite their best efforts the factions found that their forces were less manoeuvrable than those of the enemy within the close woods, also the enemy seemed to know the land and its paths intimately and used this knowledge to constantly frustrate and outflank the war hosts despite their best efforts to avoid this. Indeed for a long time the Tagmatoi enjoyed the upper hand managing to slay both the new Lord Jhereg and Teneniel of the Teutonians and also to briefly capture Loud Thunder of the Jhereg! Surely the Teutonians and the Jhereg seemed to be suffering greatly in this battle but in a slightly surprising move the Tagmatoi agreed to release Loud Thunder back to his troops, who knows what bargain was struck to allow this to happen as it is well know that the Jhereg are a cunning people!

Finally the factions managed to fight their way towards the Tagmatoi leader, the Despot who surprisingly to some turned out to be a woman but still as piteous and skilled as her tattooed warriors. Held securely by her entourage was Hapsburg and whilst the battle raged to rescue him she seemed to pay little attention to it other than to occasionally unleash her awesome magical and martial powers against the factions should they come close to disturbing her discussions with Hapsburg.

Eventually the battle seemed to reach a standoff with the Factions clearly having the upper hand but that was balanced by the Despot and her forces still holding Hapsburg captive and now threatening to slay him should the factions advance further, a threat that they seemed more than capable of carrying out. Suddenly Hapsburg ordered his forces to lay down their arms, he had to repeat this order several times in the din of the battle before his loyal troops reluctantly did so. The Despot likewise ordered her forces to cease fighting and gradually silence and calm descended onto the woodland broken only by the cries of the wounded and the dying. After a brief discussion the Despot released Hapsburg back to his forces and at his orders she and her remaining forces were allowed to leave the field under arms! All that Hapsburg would say that it was for the best and all would be revealed in time. With these enigmatic words he left the battlefield trailed by his relieved but puzzled troops and allies, happy that they had rescued him but frustrated by the manner of their ‘victory’!

With the withdrawal of the Tagmatoi forces the factions gained possession of their power stone which it was quickly determined by Brother Joseph and various ritualists to be the key to their hold on the Great Circle, after much investigation it was determined that the Tagmatoi had somehow shifted some of the power of the circle to draw upon their own plane, thus preventing the factions from accessing it. Why had they surrendered it and Hapsburg so readily, did they and now possibly Hapsburg know something that everybody else didn’t? Whatever the truth of the matter a combined force of ritualists from every faction was soon gathered too perform several rituals of immense power to regain access to and thus control of the circle, eventually they succeeded and once again the natural order of things was restored along with the flow of the wellspring and the factions were once again able to access the Great Circle of Teutonia.

After spending much time with his new bride Hapsburg went that night to Circle where he was joined by the Tagmatoi Despot and after announcing that they were to perform a ceremony to restore him to his people and to then completely restore the Circle to it’s former state both stepped into the circle and then the despot in an astonishing show of power sealed the circle completely. As everybody nervously looked on they suddenly both turned as one against each other and without any attempt to defend themselves they both slew each other quickly and effectively whilst quietly whispering to each other! Nobody was expecting this turn of events and whilst rirualist’s hastily worked to unseal the circle, healers prepared their best spells. All of this was however in vain as the seal suddenly dropped probably as the Despot died and the healers reached their bodies both were totally lifeless with their spirits flown to where the gods only know, each however had a calm look on their lifeless features and perhaps the hints of knowing smiles! What was the purpose of this seemingly unnecessary act and what did they know that others didn’t? Had Hapsburg confided in anybody what they intended to do or had he even know? These were all questions to which at this time there were no answers so with tears the Teutonians bore his body back to his new bride and Tagmatoi swiftly and saying nothing to anybody stole into the circle and bore away their own leaders body presumably to enact their own form of funeral rites on their fallen leader.

That night it was a sorry and confused mood that enveloped the camps, in the Teutonian camp Hapsburgs funeral was held and his widow made her brother the new leader of the remaining war band. That night it was decided that with the apparent removal of at least the immediate Tagmatoi threat it was decided that the remaining war hosts  would engage the forces of the Brood King on the morrow, they hoped to be helped in this endeavour by a magical box given to them by Buboes a member of the Brood Council who had apparently turned upon his former master.

So in the sunshine of the next day the forces of the AlGaia, Lions, FirCruthen and the Steppe Alliance set forth to try to finally remove the threat of the Brood King forever. His forces had been located the previous day and seemed themselves to be determined to bring matters to a close finally, attacking the war hosts again and again. Such was the ferocity of these attacks that the factions soon decided to stand on the defensive and try to lure the Brood King to them.

They found themselves often surrounded and outflanked many times but their tactics were effective as the enemy dissipated it’s strength against this resolute defence until finally the Brood King himself appeared to try to break the factions will. The factions deployed the box that Buboes had given them and in an outpouring of strange magical energies the Brood King was finally defeated and his forces in their utter fear turned and sped from the field pursued and cut down by the victorious factions. Thus the Brood King who in one guise or another had threatened the lands for so long was finally defeated!

Thus despite Hapsburgs death the factions had succeeded in not only regaining control of the Great Circle of Teutonia but also in defeating both the Tagmatoi and the Brood King deep in the heart of the Black Forest of Teutonia.

So after burying and mourning their dead hero’s and heroines the war hosts set forth to the west for the formally peaceful island of Gibraltar at the behest of Bothvar of the Wolves to seek out the truth of the rumours that Jarl Jarfin the recently defeated leader of a rebellion against the rule of Bothvar was on the island stirring up yet more trouble and also more worryingly that there were also Tagmatoi forces there causing trouble themselves.

Upon arrival on Gibraltar the war hosts found a somewhat confusing situation, for many years the island had been governed jointly by both the Wolves and the 95th Regiment of Teutonia but with the demise of the later and the confusion brought about by Jarl Jarfin’s revolt there was little order on the island and indeed it had become a haven for many less salubrious types including various pirates and thieves along with Jarfin’s supporters and as suspected some Tagmatoi forces. In addition the Elementals that had been plaguing the factions for some time now were also in evidence and seemingly becoming more active and bolder as time progressed.

Whilst on Gibraltar a new situation came to the free people’s attention, a mysterious box which seemed to be some sort of portal to a different realm but which also regularly released creatures from within it whose task seemed to be to subdue user’s of corporeal magic and then return to the box. It is assumed that these creatures are somewhat akin to the Harvesters previously encountered by the factions albeit in a limited form and of lesser power. It was eventually discovered that it was possible to enter the box and attempts were made in this area, once ‘inside’ the box those brave souls daring to enter were confronted with the denizens of that realm whom they were forced to defend themselves against. Whilst mostly successful in this task there appeared to be no way of stopping the creatures leaving the box but many vowed to return to this strange realm should the opportunity arise again, which of course it did.

Eventually after many twists and turns order was once again established on the Island of Gibraltar, the Tagmatoi forces destroyed along with those of Jarl Jarfin who sadly however made good his escape to places unknown.

After the trials and tribulations firstly in Teutonia and then on Gibraltar the free peoples could at last look forward to a small period of at least some rest and recuperation at the renowned annual Highland Games of Caledonia. The combined war hosts had been invited by High King Cole on behalf of all the FirCruthen people to show their gratitude for all the recent sacrifices to free their lands from the Keltoi amongst others invaders. 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. These games are governed by ancient laws that would ensure that no matter any man or woman’s status they could all enjoy the games equally no matter the game or task at hand.

When the factions arrived they found the area already set up and waiting for them with an impressive arena, stalls and other competition areas ready and waiting for them. Also within the area near to the Ritual Circle was a mysterious Faerie Glade which few dared to try to enter and even fewer it transpired could actually enter as it seemed that certain offerings were needed to enter that mysterious place. Those brave or foolhardy few who did enter and returned seemed quite confused and spoke as if they had been away from their friends for months when in reality it had been but a few hours, some returned seemingly enriched by their experiences but some seemed diminished in skill somehow and yet others seemed just as they were before. Whatever they experienced or for how long matters not really the fact remains that entering a Faerie Glade is not a matter of whim but should be treated with caution by all!

Rumours also abounded of a strange gigantic creature called a Haggis causing trouble within the area which also appeared almost impervious to any attempts to drive it away however it is rumoured that it was driven away by of all things children! It seems that this world has no end to the surprises that it harbours for all of us.

There also seemed to be some type of power struggle going on between two members of the MacDuff clan to decide who should rule the area but how this ended I know not.

Whilst in Caledonia the strange box which allowed access to a seemingly different realm appeared once again and so those who had vowed to attempt to discover it’s secrets once again dared to enter it and once again did battle with it’s inhabitants but still could not find a way to stop them leaving the box to complete their mysterious tasks within our world.

There were of course many games and contests of skill and lore, far too many to name here but one of the final one’s and most keenly contested was the Faction Tug of War which was eventually won by the Teutonians famous ‘Teutonia Ton’ team. It is rumoured that heavy bets were wagered on the final of this contest with much of those placed on the Lions team that had advanced to the final with some ease, when they lost it is rumoured that King Lucas of Albion was not best pleased along with some other notables who it has to be assumed had also wagered on a Lions victory! Despite such niggles all agreed that the FirCruthen had been excellent hosts who had truly lived up to their reputation  in this area and that the Highland Games had been an excellently organised event and one which would live long in the memory.

So it was in good cheer and refreshed by their time in Caledonia that the war hosts set sail for Norsca and the fields of Odinsheim to celebrate the festival of Renewal and to also hopefully bring an end to the uncertainty in that land brought about by Jarl Jarfin’s revolt for he had again surfaced in Norsca and was even now gathering the support of other disaffected nobles and peasants alike to try once again to gain control of that fair land. Who would rule in Norsca Bothvar or Jarfin, only time and probably blood would tell!

So that summer the war hosts of the free people arrived on the fields of Odinsheim from Caledonia, for some it was an uneventful journey but not so for others. Turmoil reigned in the Teutonian camp as their new lord Kameron Drachomorden and his personal guards and followers had apparently been diverted back to Teutonia to assist his sister the queen and widow of the fallen Hapsburg, Tabetha von Drachemorden in some matter of importance and urgency. A letter however soon arrived explaining that he was a day’s march away and that the war host should prepare the camp as normal, which with typical Teutonia efficiency they proceeded to do. Later that day however various messengers began to appear informing the war host that things were not at all well in Teutonia and that the war host should prepare to return home as soon as the important Ritual of Renewal was completed as Kameron Drachomorden and all his guards and followers had mysteriously disappeared! It would seem that ‘his’ letter may well have been a fake sent by persons unknown to keep the war host out of Teutonia, who could have done this and what did they hope to gain from this deception?

Uncertainty and some degree of confusion reigned until an exhausted messenger arrived from the Supreme Spiritual Guardian Council ordering the war host to remain in Norsca as there was no need for them to return to Teutonia as religious leaders with the blessing of the Queen were in complete control of both the situation and country and there was no strife or dissention that would necessitate the war hosts return. With some misgivings the Teutonia war hosts decided to remain in Norsca and eventually Flaminica Callista of Riga and Arch Duke Nash took charge of the host and agreed to lead them throughout Renewal, with the titles Keeper of the Faith and Defender of the Faith respectively. What would the ramifications of these strange events be not only for Teutonia but for the rest of the world be, only time would tell?

So as the Teutonians struggled with their internal problems the rest of the war hosts made their camps and took council as to their next moves. Jarl Jarfin was indeed present at this Renewal and indeed had the gall to give a welcome speech to the war hosts as Bothvar and the Wolves seemed to be mysteriously delayed, biding them welcome to his lands and giving them the use of strange building to meet within! The building was situated near the Ritual Circle and so whilst being in an excellent location it was not used much except by the College of Celestial studies perhaps because most people were loath to associate themselves with Jarl Jarfin and his cause, this decision if indeed it was a conscious decision proved to be a wise one as later event bore out.

At this event the Elementals who had plagued the factions for some time now seemed finally to be defeated or at least deflected from their goals with the death of Brand but as ever who can tell if this is truly the case or not, for many times in the past foes long thought vanquished or banished have later returned to once again strike at the war hosts. So all should be on their guard in the future.

The mysterious box known to now be the home of the creatures known as the Fade once again was investigated by many brave souls and finally after many trials it would seem that the denizens were finally defeated and no longer would they plague the free peoples, at least that is what all hoped!

Through out the festival Jarl Jarfin tried with an increasing desperation to rally support amongst the war hosts against Bothvar who he named as the ‘Bucher of Norsca’ citing various examples of so called misrule and acts of cruelty against his own people but most folk were un swayed by his accusations and at times ridiculous statements. Most peoples hearts were turned against him by the bullying tactics of most of his supporters who acted in a high handed and arrogant manner and did not seem to care how much damage they caused not only to Wolves loyal to Bothvar but also to anybody else who was unlucky enough to get caught up in any of their periodic brawls! This culminated in an open declaration of war against Bothvar and the Norscan traitors who supported him and also the foreign mercenary invaders that he had brought with him to further oppress his long suffering and abused people! This was more than enough for most right thinking folk to declare for Bothvar and despite letters hinting at and even openly declaring past or future crimes and betrayals of and against factions by other factions most people dismissed these as clumsy attempts to sow discord and to deflect the wrath of the war hosts from Jarfin’s forces.

And so the stage was set for a final showdown with Jarfin’s rebel forces to restore order to the land. Jarfin openly declared his enmity for all the war hosts and his forces openly attack anybody they came across, as these skirmishes developed and reports began to arrive detailing his forces and their dispositions unsettling rumours began to come to the fore that maybe all was not as it seemed and possibly Jarfin was in league with other forces! Rumours of Svart Elf warriors being seen in the enemy camp surfaced along with hints at other darker allies and practises happening within his camps, some hinted at the possibility of Undead being raised but these were dismissed as even Jarfin could not possibly as a Norscan sink that low, or could he?

It was decided in the war council that as Jarfin’s forces strengths and locations were still not fully know and that there was every possibility of him disposing of more than one army some of the war hosts should remain on the fields of Odinsheim to protect the camps, the nearby city and the non combatants against any assault upon them. The AlGaia, FirCruthen and Lions agreed to perform his task and so on the third day of the festival of Renewal 1110 the war hosts of the Wolves, Jhereg, Teutonians and Steppe Alliance took the field against the traitor Jarfin, in this battle they were joined by the mercenary sell swords and the people of the Hei Ravni. Facing them were a surprising number of disaffected rebel Norscan folk along with Jarfin and other rebel Jarl’s huscarls, the scene was set.

The forces first clashed in a crowded, wooded area where the trees and difficult ground hampered both sides deployment but slightly favoured Jarfin’s forces which were arranged to receive an attack rather than to deliver one. Never the less the combined war hosts despite casualties pressed forward and slowly but surely drove the rebel forces in front of them towards Jarfin’s camp.

Eventually the war hosts cleared the woods of the rebel forces and now faced them on open ground where their superior cohesion and organisation would hopefully stand them in good stead against Jarfin’s less well organised but still numerous largely peasant levies. After a short pause to redress their lines and to tend to the wounded both sides clashed, the war cries of each nation mingling in with the screams of the dead and the dying, the almost constant whirr or arrows and bolts overhead competing with  the words of power unleashed by mages with often devastating results all against a background of the snarls of opponents as they hacked and slashed at each other in the din. Soon the ground was slick with the blood of the dead and the dying as gradually the war hosts gained the upper hand and drove back their opponents faster and faster as their losses mounted and the experience of born warriors tempered in battles all across the world outclassed their desperate but less skilled opponents.

Soon Bothvar’s loyal Wolves came face to face with Jarfin and his bodyguards and so each challenged the other for the right to rule Norsca. Around them the battle still raged but here there was an island of calm as both warriors circled each other seeking openings or mistakes by their opponent as their supporters cheered them on and jeered their enemy in equal measure. Blows were struck by both but then Jarfin managed to land a telling blow that either by poison or magic paralysed Bothvar, Jarfin was elated and proceed to belittle Bothvar as he unable to either defend himself or respond to Jarfin’s taunts and accusations, this was too much for some loyal wolves and soon both sides were engaging each other in bitter combat once again. Soon however Bothvar recovered from the treacherous blow of his enemy and his wrath was a sight to put fear even into the gods themselves! He flung himself against Jarfin in a flurry of blows that Jarfin was soon hard pressed to defend himself against and then with a final mighty blow Jarfin was struck to the ground and in a show of utter contempt for his defeated, traitorous enemy Bothvar hacked and kicked his opponent to death! Not even death spared the traitorous Jarfin from further blows as Bothvar disfigured and abused him both physically and verbally until this anger was finally abated, such is the fate of traitors to Norsca!

There were still however enemy forces to be dealt with further up the hill where there seemed to be some sort of Rite being performed and as Bothvar and the Wolves dealt with Jarfin and his guards the rest of the war hosts advanced against this seemingly last remnant of rebel troops. Suddenly as they engaged the enemy in their hour of victory disaster strikes! Even as they cut down the rebel Norscan’s fresh hitherto unknown enemies smash into the wounded and weakened lines, Werewolves and Undead lead this fresh and murderous assault, backed up by Svart Elf warriors bristling with iron and blood crazed Berserkers who tear at both themselves and their enemies in their madness!

The enemy is too strong, their assault too sudden and unexpected the war hosts lines waver, buckle and finally break! Pockets of free folk are cut off and then down as these new and fresh enemies tear into them, shock has destroyed their cohesion and none seem to be able to either stem the enemies advance or to form the war hosts for a defence. Many are cut down alone and friendless as many are slain with their friends and kin about them, flight is the only option for many but a last futile stand is the fate of many that day. The Hei Ravni peoples are almost wiped out as they bravely battle for their lives, the Teutonians try to make a stand but are engulfed in the waves of their enemies but go down fighting their strength shattered. The Steppe Alliance lines are sundered and they lose many brave people in a desperate struggle, the Jhereg also suffer heavy losses as they recoil from this vicious assault. Only the Wolves still in relatively good order as they were not struck in the initial assault offer haven and some form of coherent resistance to the enemy’s attacks. Gradually a line is formed and the enemy’s attacks lessen in ferocity and number as the shattered war hosts retreat in defeat from the blood stained field.

It is an evil day, a blood day, a wolf day as the survivors finally reach the relative safety of the encampments but how long will it be until the new enemy strikes again? Counsel is taken amongst the survivors and the as yet unengaged AlGaia, Lions and FirCruthen, who controls these new enemies’s, where have they come from, what is their strength and purpose? All these questions and more are voiced not only in the war council but amongst the camps mingling in with the prayers and lamentations for the fallen and the cries of the wounded. It would seem that the reports of dark forces being in league with Jarfin were correct or perhaps it is the other way around, perhaps he was a willing or unwilling pawn of these dark creatures who can really say for sure? What can be said is that the free peoples now face not just a rebellious noble and unhappy peasants but powerful and mystical creatures who very names strike fear and loathing into the hearts of not just Norscan children but also after today battle harden warriors as well!

Counsel is taken and in the crowing gloom of the evening as the funeral rites of the fallen begin it is decided that on the morrow the AlGaia, Lions and FirCruthen will attempt to take the hill from whence the new enemy first appeared as this seemed to be the centre of some sort of Rite enacted by them just before the Werewolf’s and other creatures were unleashed upon the war hosts earlier that dark day.

Great was the sadness in the camps that night for the losses and the hurt caused that day, scouts were sent out to try to gather more information but with battlefield in enemy hands information was both scant and difficult to obtain. What was ascertained was that all the gains of that day were lost in territorial terms as then enemy infiltrated back into their old positions during the hours of darkness.

So the first task the next day was to recapture the ground from the previous days fighting and the proud forces of the AlGaia, the Lions and fierce FirCruthen set out with hope in their hearts and vengeance in their minds to avenge their fallen allies. They engaged the enemy forces once again in the broken woodland but this time as well as facing the peasant levies they faced large numbers of Undead! These were being raised by Necromancers from the fallen bodies of the previous days fighting and many feared that they would be soon be forced to face old friends in an abominable parody but luckily few of their friends had fallen and been left in this area the previous day but great was the fear in many hearts of what they would find if they reached their objective of the hill, the scene of such slaughter yesterday. Despite these fears all fought bravely and resolutely drove their enemies backwards trying to reach the areas where the Undead were being raised before this terrible deed was done, sadly they were usually too late and were thus forced to dispatch the bodies of the fallen rebels once again to the void.

Once again the enemy is driven before the swords of the war hosts, ever backwards towards the killing grounds of yesterdays clash. They hack and slash the foul imitations of life before them until at last they burst out from the doom and dank death filled woods onto the still blood soaked fields, the carrion birds are disturbed from their gory meals and flap into the summer sky crying out against this disturbance of their age old right to feed, the noise is an obscene parody of a lament for the fallen and helps to lighten the tense mood not at all.

The war hosts are forced to pause to tend to their wounded and to root out the last pockets of enemy forces still operating behind them in the woodland, with plenty of fresh corpses behind them nobody can run the risk of any surviving Necromancers raising fresh Undead hordes to cut them off from the safety of the camps. When the woods are declared clear and the lines formed and redressed the war hosts advance once again against their by now mainly lifeless foes although scattered amongst them are still units of rebellious peasants and iron clad Svart Elf warriors, how can they stand the stench of their allies?

The lines collide and the air is filled by the cries of the wounded, the clash of steel, the harsh war cries of the Svart Elves, all of these sounds to a backdrop of the unintelligible moaning of the foul Undead and the shrill cries of the carrion birds wheeling overhead in anticipation of yet another feast! The orders are barely heard above the din but each man and woman knows what to do as the drive their enemy before them, they must break through these enemy lines to try to stop whatever foul deeds the enemy leaders are bent on upon the distant hill. Gradually and at great cost the enemy lines are pushed backwards and finally sundered, the Undead fight on in their own mindless way until finally hacked to pieces by the vengeful warriors of the AlGaia, Lions and FirCruthen who all abhor such parodies of life. The Necromancers responsible for these foul creations receive no mercy as they seek to flee before the onslaught of the war hosts and most are cut down but a few manage to outpace their pursuers, the Svart Elf warriors fight intelligently and flee where they can but few escape the blades of vengeance.

As the warriors of the war hosts pursue their quarry they are brought up short by the sight of their next foe, a creature few have seen before or in many cases even thought really existed an Ice Giant of Jotunheim has taken the field against them!

Easily standing the size of two men this fearsome creature bellows its challenges to the silent free peoples, surrounding it are more dead bodies from the previous days fighting along with by now inevitable chanting Necromancer’s bent upon performing their evil arts to the detriment of the factions. How this new threat can be dealt with is the thought in most peoples minds, few know how but dealt with it must be. So cautiously the war hosts move to engage their massive enemy and his foul allies trying as ever to deal with the Necromancers before they can complete their gory work but ever mindful of the new and unknown threat posed by their awesome new foe. The Ice Giant taunts the factions over and over again daring the ‘little people’ to fight him and eventually some try to, he is a fierce and strong foe with a long reach and virtually unstoppable strength in his blows. Many are struck to the ground not just by his blows but by the reverberations of his blows to the ground which cause the very earth to shake and roll as if an earthquake is occurring. His touch is like ice and he seems impervious to most weapons but he also seems arrogant in his superiority not even trying to move out of the way of what he calls the ‘gnat bites’ of the war hosts weapons, have they nothing better to offer he calls as he dumps mighty warriors to the floor without a thought whilst all around others try to dispatch the Necromancers and their foul raisings before more can join the fray.

Suddenly the Ice Giant seems to tire of the fight and turns, ignoring the blows of his pursuers he quickly outpaces them as he strides into the forest, the way is clear to the hill but all suspect that they have not seen the last of their gigantic new foe. After a brief pause to reorganise their lines and care for their wounded the war hosts press onto the hill, where they are faced with yet more foes. Humans, Svart Elves and the by now expected Undead and as they all feared they begin to find the animated bodies of old friends and foes slain yesterday before them now seeking their lifeblood as unthinking and unfeeling moving cadavers! Flitting in from the flanks and shadows come creatures of darkness that are virtually impossible to kill with normal steel further thinning their ranks as they push on towards the scene of yesterdays rite.

Through bravery, conviction and skill at arms they attain their objective but now they must destroy a strange orb that seems to be the source of some or all of the enemy’s power, swiftly the Ritualists who have accompanied them they swiftly begin an impromptu ritual led by Oak of the Ael to try to achieve this. As they do this the warriors fight to stem the tide of increasingly desperate enemy attacks as they seek to regain control of the Orb. The Ritualists chant on but they have little idea of how long it will take and all the time their friends bleed for them as the enemy attacks with increasing savagery and seemingly unlimited numbers, several times they break through despite the desperate sacrifices of the warriors and interrupt the ritual necessitating it starting again. By now there is little left in the way of healing balms or potions and almost nobody has any magical powers left worth speaking about, few warriors are left unwounded and fatigue is now beginning to take as heavy a toll on them as the blades and claws of their opponents. Finally the awful truth dawns they must pull back or risk total annihilation and so we with heavy hearts the orders are given and the Ritualists give up their task and join their brothers and sisters in the long retreat from the hill. Surprisingly the enemy does not try to hunt them down but rather skirmishes only with them as they leave the field and in another small mercy they do not unleash the Werewolves or berserkers nor does the Ice Giant reappear.

Thankfully there is no repeat that day of the slaughter of the previous day’s battle but still the losses are heavy and the enemy still holds the field. With heavy hearts and hurt pride the lessened war hosts are reunited on the fields of Odinsheim. The air is heavy with the smell and taste of death and defeat and with the carrion birds once again circling overhead they take hasty counsel. With the enemy undefeated and still of unknown origin for certain they decide that for the second year running they cannot disperse to their own homes and lands but must instead stay to block any further moves by the enemy.

Is the power of the war bands and their leaders failing or is it simply that the enemy caught them by surprise, what is certain is that next year will be a pivotal one in the history of the world as we know it and that the terrible events of 1110 will live long in the memory of those lucky enough to have lived through them.

1111

Following the bloody reversals on the fields of Odinsheim in the previous summer the warbands retreat into winter quarters in Norsca to rebuild their strength and to keep a close watch on their enemies, now unmasked as more than some petty Jarl’s rebellious huscarls and disaffected peasants but rather an apparent alliance of foul undead and mystical creatures of legend bent for whose knows what reasons on the united factions destruction. With Jarl Jarfin now slain it is to be hoped that at least the  warbands will face less if any at all of his followers and disaffected peasants although if that were to mean more Undead, Svart Elves and possibly more Ice Giants then that will indeed be a blessing with two edges.

After working hard all through the long winter to protect the Norscan peasants from the dark enemy’s raids and to try to prevent them from gaining new recruits for their forces, finally as spring blossoms the enemy makes a move in strength towards the powerful Ritual Circle at Thor’s Temple in the north of the country. To protect not only the Temple and Ritual Circle but also the area’s inhabitants the warbands gather to offer battle once again to their dark foes and this time they are determined to finish their threat to Norsca once and for all. So once again the knightly Lions and cunning Jhereg answer their allies call as do the fierce painted FirCruthen and the warriors of Teutonia. Standing with them are the rangers of the AlGaia, the nomads of the Steppe lands along with sell swords from every nation of the world. All come to stand with the Wolves in their hour of need.

As they gather it seems like Thor himself has come to witness events at his sacred temple as his thunder rolls through the sky and the evening is illuminated by the bright flashes of his lightning bolts, no doubt being hurled at his own Ice Giant foes in far off Asgard! This must surely be a good omen many say and indeed despite the rain that accompanies the thunderer’s manifestation few if any spirits are dampened within the free peoples war host, if only the same could be said for their tents and clothes.

It is swiftly apparent that the enemy has strong forces in the area as reported and that they had advanced so quickly as to place the Ritual Circle in an area of no mans land between their own lines and those of the free peoples, this necessitated the need to place a round the clock guard in that area to ensure not only the safety of all Ritualists but also to try to prevent the enemy from tapping into the Circle’s power for their own nefarious ends, sadly this guard failed on several occasions and not only were Rituals interrupted but the enemy forces managed to conduct several of their own.

During the days the strange creature named by some as the Betrayer continued to make appearances amongst the free people’s camps, many said that he offered invaluable advice regarding the enemy but more said that such advice came with a price that was often too high to stomach. It seemed to be this creatures nature to try to set brother against brother whilst at the same time helping both sides, indeed it is a strange creature to be certain and none can be really sure if it an agent of the enemy, a friend of the free peoples or just pursuing it’s own as yet unfathomed ends. What can be said is that all who have dealings with this creature should beware of what they say, what they agree to and what price they agree upon for any information that they may gain.

During those first few days as the warbands struggled to hold their tenuous grip on the Ritual Circle and indeed at times their own camps they were assaulted by strong enemy forces almost constantly, attacks penetrating the frontline were commonplace as was injury and sometimes death as all fought to ensure that the enemies dark forces were contained whilst battle plans were drawn.

It was on the second day during one of these numerous attacks that the wise and brave Crow, high mage of the Lions fell trying to save some of their fallen warriors who had rushed to the aid of the Wolves who were under heavy attack in their camp. It would appear that several Lions warriors had been engaged by the enemy forces on their way to assist the Wolves and had been bested in this skirmish, Crow arriving slightly after his companions and seeing their plight charged the enemy alone and without thought for his own safety! The enemy seeing his rage and fearing his wrath fled from his attack like cowards, leaving Crow to try to heal the fallen Lions. As he began his ministrations to his fallen comrade’s disaster struck, another group of the enemy appeared and seeing Crow alone pounced on him. The fight was long and hard as Crow used all of his magical power and martial skill to defend not only himself but his helpless comrades; alas it was all to no avail as alone, outnumbered and surrounded he finally succumbed to their blows! Other Lions and Wolves tried to reach Crow when the arrived on the scene but in the confusion of the fight and possibly due to the rumour that Bothvar lord of the Wolves had also fallen they could not reach Crow before his spirit had fled, and so fell the brave high mage of the Lions another victim of the dark enemy.

With heavy hearts the Lions bore Crow’s lifeless body back to their camp where despite all attempts including those of Brother Joseph to call his spirit back it was to no avail, he had passed beyond this world forever. Great was the lamentation not only amongst the Lions but also amongst all the free peoples that day, indeed Oak of the Ael gouged out his own eye to replace Crow’s missing one so that his spirit would be whole when he faced the Lions gods beyond the veil during a ritual to ensure that Crow’s spirit would not be trapped by the Spectre as many had been the previous year. In a final honour to his fallen friend Oak chose to wear Crow’s own eye patch to cover his missing eye a constant reminder to all who knew him that at least a part of Crow was still with them.

A sombre counsel was held that night and after considering all the intelligence that had been gathered by the experienced scouts at considerable danger to themselves, it was decide that the time to confront the enemy openly had come and that as the Ice Giant had been seen many times in the area that it was only right that the Wolves should engage the enemy on the morrow for it was suspected that the only weapon that would prove effective against this terrible foe would be Thor’s hammer itself, for was it not the Thunderer’s own Mjolnir that he used to such effect against the Ice Giants of legend? Fighting along side them would be the cunning Jhereg who were always the Wolves steadfast allies along with the Lions who were thirsting to avenge Crow’s death. The Algaia, Teutonian, FirCruthen and Steppe warbands would guard the camps against any further enemy forces that might appear to try to ransack them because e many enemy forces were reported in the area and nobody could be sure that all of them would engage in the battle the next day.

So that fine spring morning the mighty Wolves set forth with their allies the cunning Jhereg, the Knightly Lions who were thirsting to avenge Crow and assorted sell swords to try to bring and end to at least part of the enemies threat especially the powerful Ice Giant whose appearance had been so decisive the last summer on the bloody fields of Odinsheim.

The warbands engaged the enemy forces in the woods surrounding Thor’s Temple and swiftly started to push them back, acting in unison and supporting each other. Despite this the enemy were a worthy and dangerous set of opponents not lacking skill or valour often halting or pushing back the free warriors in places and causing injury and sometimes death amongst the warbands. The fighting was fierce all over those woods with no quarter asked of given by either side, Svart Elves, Norscan Peasants and foul Undead constantly harassed the flanks of the warbands and threw themselves at the ordered ranks of the frontline which was broken in many places at times as the dark foe’s sort to slay as many brave souls as they could in the service of their dark lords. But all their efforts were in vain as steadily and with much bloodshed they were forced further and further back by the skill and valour of the warbands. Even as they forced their foul enemies back however there were doubts in some warriors minds, where was the Ice Giant for as yet he had not been sighted if the scouts information was wrong then the chance to defeat this mighty foe would be lost that day with potentially devastating results for not only themselves but also their allies guarding the camps.

Putting their doubts and fears to the back of their minds the warbands pushed ever deeper into the dark, foreboding woods, seeking to finish their foes off once and for all. Many are the names of the unsung heroes and heroines of that day, too many to name here to be sure but they and you who were there that day know their names and their sacrifice’s for Norsca and the greater cause. Finally the rumour began to spread that not only had the Ice Giant been sighted up ahead but also that the fearsome werewolf Fimbulwinter from last years bloody defeats at Odinsheim had also been spotted in the enemy lines. With this news the warbands made another mighty effort and forced the enemy’s lines backwards until at last their Gigantic foe was spotted in all his terrible majesty up ahead!

Swiftly the warbands reordered their battle lines and as had been agreed the wielder  of Thor’s Hammer surged forward with his comrades to engage his gigantic foe. It was a titanic contest with the Ice Giant employing the same tactics as the previous summer, smashing his huge fists into the blood sodden earth to cause it to buckle and writhe throwing all about him off of their feet, striking with not only awesome power but also the icy feel of death at all who reach him. Despite their best efforts it appears that once again all of the hero’s and heroines blows have little or no effect on their gigantic foe, even Thor’s Hammer seems to be no more use than any other weapon perhaps the information is wrong, perhaps that mighty weapon is not their foe’s Achilles heel? Have the warbands been betrayed and led into a conflict with an enemy that they cannot defeat that day?

Elsewhere on that bloody field the warbands struggle to hold the enemy attacks against them as they try to buy enough time for the Giant to be slain. The lines buckle and break but are swiftly restored as the free folk try to stem the enemy tide. In the heat of this battle Fimbulwinter appears to wreak havoc amongst the disordered lines, striking here and there wherever the free folk are hardest pushed, again this enemy is both powerful and swift and seems to strike at will regardless of the blows struck against him. It was during these desperate and confusing struggles that the Lions suffered yet another blow as the Steward of Albion, Lord Francis fell cut down alone by numerous enemies. Few if any saw him fall but it would appear that it came about in a moment of panic amongst the warbands of the Wolves and Lions when beset by the foul magic’s of the enemy they retreated and Lord Francis was left alone to be surprised from behind by the deadly Fimbulwinter whose terrible appearance drove Lord Francis into the massed ranks of the enemy to be cut down as wheat before the scythe! And so fell another mighty lord of Albion, the second to fall that year in the struggle against the dark enemy. This was a double blow as Lord Francis was the wielder of the Sword of the Spheres, a mighty weapon of repute and status for the Lions, now it was in the hands of the enemy and its powers lost to the men and women of Albion, its loss would be keenly felt in the future.

Meanwhile the struggle against the Giant continued with many brave attempts to defeat him being attempted but all to no avail, eventually seeming to tire of the battle he turned from his enemies and paying them no more heed than a swarm of flies strode of into the woods, once again leaving the warbands feeling dejected and powerless against this mighty foe. What was his Achilles heel and would the free peoples ever discover it and bring him down?

However with the Giants departure the enemy seemed to lose heart and direction and slowly but surely and with great cost they began to be driven back by the exhausted but still formidable warbands. The pressure was maintained, first striking here were the Wolves then smashing into the enemy lines were the Lions thirsting for revenge, then slashing at the enemies flanks were the cunning Jhereg but still the enemy held their lines until at last in an almost mutual acceptance that to continue the struggle would mean the probable destruction of both sides the battle petered out into a series of skirmishes as both sides retired to lick their wounds and count the bloody cost of that days carnage. The battlefield was left to the dead and the carrion bird as the bloodied free peoples returned to their camps, neither side could claim an outright victory but neither side could or would acknowledge defeat. Both sides had suffered grievous losses and neither had really achieved their aims but perhaps despite the loss of Lord Francis and many other heroic warriors the free peoples could feel that at least they had held their own that bloody day and of course they still had the fresh forces of the other Factions to hurl against their weakened enemy on the morrow.

That night more canny scouts went out to spy on the enemies camps and movements and counsel was held by the wise amongst the warbands whilst elsewhere sombre funeral rights were held for the fallen no matter how high or low their status they were all treated the same, worthy hero’s and heroines who had laid down their lives against the dark enemy. The Betrayer is once again to be seen moving through the camps as always seeming to have knowledge to trade but only for the right price, but is it’s knowledge to be trusted none can tell for certain. Reports come back that the enemy is regrouping but seems to indeed have had their ranks thinned considerably by the day’s bloody engagement and that the Giant at least was nowhere to be see amongst the enemy’s camps.

And so it was with good heart, sharp steel and confidence that the next day the warbands of the AlGaia, FirCruthen Teutonians and the Steppe set forth to finally try to drive the remaining dark foes from the lands of Norsca after over a year of their depredations.

Once again the enemy brought all of their foul forces to the fray, loathsome Undead, vicious Svart Elves and doughty Norscan rebels in numbers and arrayed them in tight battle formations against the free peoples. The lines clashed and break apart as skirmishers of both sides desperately try to outflank the enemy lines and sow panic and confusion in the rear ranks but the warbands had the better of these early exchanges pushing their foul enemy backward and forcing them to constantly change position and regroup to maintain their lines.

The battle lines sway backwards and forward as both sides seek to split the enemy forces asunder and cause a rout, the ground and the combatant’s blades are lick with blood that day as men and women seek to slaughter their opponents in those sunlit woods. The war cries of the AlGaia and the FirCruthen mingle with the ordered instructions of the Teutonians and the taunting of the Steppe folk, all against a backdrop of the cries of the wounded and dying. Steadily the enemy is forced backwards from one position to another as the warbands slowly gain the upper hand but at great cost in terms of blood and magic spent for ground. Suddenly the enemy breaks and routs but sadly the free peoples are in no fit state to press their advantage, many wounded need tending to and stragglers need reordering into the lines so scouts are sent to harry the enemy whilst the lines are redressed and armour is repaired.

Soon both sides are ready to once again rekindle the carnage but although the dark forces have been pushed back they now occupy a strong position on a hill above the free people who must now storm that hill if they are to come to grips once again with their dark foes! Swiftly they storm the hill, probing on the flanks for areas of weakness but the enemy is still strong and has the advantage of height now as well, attacks tire and falter but more are pressed home as the factions desperately struggle to create a breakthrough in the enemy lines. Many fall on both sides and healing is beginning to become sparse amongst some of the free peoples and in trying to prolong what resources they have left many are left with only the minimal bandages rather than healing spells on serious wounds, some faction fare better than others and many note that there is a slight lack of centralised control regarding these vital healing resources and perhaps some are being used at times when they could be better used in other areas or on other people. Perhaps it is understandable for people to look after their own in such trying circumstances but possibly for all of their united front this is actually the free peoples greatest failing whereas their enemy is truly one force as opposed to several allied forces?

The Giant is nowhere to be seen as the scouts had reported but the Spectre is and causes havoc when it appears as does Fimbulwinter, where they appear the warbands are hardest pressed and the enemy the strongest in their defence and assaults. But they cannot be everywhere at once and where they are not the free folk bravely and at cost gain the upper hand, forcing their foes backwards until at last in danger of being so outflanked to be surrounded the enemy gives up their commanding position and begins a fighting withdrawal through the woods. The warbands press their advantage as strongly as they dare for now there is little healing to be had whatever your status of origin and the enemy consequently has time to regroup it’s now depleted forces and once again form a cohesive battle formation despite the desperate efforts to stop them by many in this confusing series of clashes where may are slain out of sight of their friends to lie unnoticed on the blood soaked, leafy floor.

Finally the free folk have their enemy at bay and despite their own grievous losses they resolve themselves for one last herculean effort to defeat their foul foes and to drive them from the soil of Norsca once and for all. It is a bloody finale with the enemy fighting to the last knowing that no quarter will be given but also that no escape is possible, these foot soldiers are swiftly deserted by their supernatural allies the Spectre and Fimbulwinter who seeing that the end is nigh for their minions in Norsca flee the field using their abilities and the fear that they are held in by most to clear a path. This is truly revenge for the dark days of last summer on the bloody fields of Odinsheim as here near the Sacred ground of Thor’s own Temple the last of the Undead, Svart Elves and rebel Norscan’s are finally slain in a bloody finale worthy of any saga! Few if any manage to escape the blades of vengeance and the dark forces power over Norsca is broken once and for all in those blood soaked woods.

So despite the escape of the Spectre and Fimbulwinter and the continued seeming invulnerability of the Ice Giant the free people have much to celebrate and the Wolves more than most for they now have their land back, truly at Thor’s Temple all have found their redemption.

Buoyed by their victories in Norsca the free peoples set forth to Tibetia in western Siberia to take counsel at the behest of His August and Terrible Majesty, Lord Jhereg. But memories of their fallen comrades are still fresh and nobody expects a trouble free counsel which is just as well because that is exactly what they don’t get!

It is apparent right from their arrival that things are not as they should be in the area, an invite was sent by the Jhereg to Governor Nakamura the representative of their Imperial Majesty’s Heyami and Nigoussan but he is not there, his camp is but it is obvious that it has been attacked and the Governor and his party are nowhere to be found! Soon the warbands have more to worry about than the missing Governor and his party as they are assailed by seemingly crazy Jhereg peasant’s hell bent on their destruction, from a place of supposed safety to take counsel in it had rapidly turned into a place of danger and death! Indeed the attacks were not limited to Jhereg locals at all and it soon became apparent that some Imperials most likely from the Governors entourage were also infected by the madness an think nothing of throwing themselves against the warbands in a blood crazed frenzy of attacks, what if Governor Nakamura had also been infected or possibly worse been killed, surely the revenge of the Golden Empire would be terrible to behold?

The questioning of some seemingly untouched locals and by poring over local and national history it was soon apparent that the behaviour of the locals bore an uncanny resemblance to that of followers of Lilayen, an ancient fey of great power who over time and due to circumstances of great sadness and complexity had become a vampire! She is one of the ancient great foes of the Jhereg from time immemorial who it would appear had chosen this pivotal moment to once again continue her depredations against the Jhereg people and their allies. Whilst most of her minions were simply unhinged peasants there were creatures amongst them who’s only thought was to try to eat the fallen, dead or alive! Truly these are the most loathsome of creatures and needed to be eradicated as swiftly as possible.

As the factions tried to defend not only their camps but the tracks between them from their crazed foes they also attempted to learn more of their enemy and especially their base if they had one of course. Scouts were despatched into the dark foreboding woods filled with the unintelligible cries of Lilayen’s minions to try to discover not only this base but also Lilayen herself if possible. Brave said some, foolhardy said others but still these scouts set out on their dangerous missions for the good of all. From their reports is was soon apparent that not only was Lilayen’s power causing most of the abnormal behaviour in the area but she herself was present along with a large number of vampiric minions, seemingly planning a mass attack at some stage on the warbands. Clearly something had to be done to prevent this from happening, preferably by striking first but agreement of when, how and by whom was hard to come by, perhaps her curse was beginning to affect the minds of some of the warbands also?

That night it was decided that the issue of the Vampire Lord Silver should be dealt with once and for all. Silver was a powerful Vampire who had plagued and at times aided certain of the factions for many years now and some suggested that this was an unwise decision given the already lengthy list of active enemies that the free peoples were currently facing, especially as there was no indication that Silver had any interest or was behind any of their recent or current troubles. Some also said that no creature could be summoned against it’s will so that at best he would not appear but at worst he would want to be summoned and so they would be playing straight into his hands, there was also some disagreement about the method chosen to slay him to whit a wedge. Some maintained that this was too risky and that there were surer ways to achieve their aim.

Sadly their counsel was not heeded and late that night a large number of the war bands gathered at the Ritual Circle to witness the summoning of and destruction by a powerful magical wedge of their best wizards, or so they hoped. Alas it was not to be, the wedge was ordered enough and seemed to have enough power waiting to be channelled through it, the summoning Ritualist’s did their part and indeed Silver did appear but he was too swift for the free peoples and he appeared too close to the wedge for them to channel their power before he struck the leader of the wedge a mighty blow and thus at once dissipating it’s power to the four winds! Now the factions had a real problem a very irate and powerful Vampire Lord in their midst and very little effective weapons to bring to bear, for a few silver swords will do little but inconvenience so powerful a creature as a Vampire Lord. All was at once confusion and bloody slaughter as Silver put forth his power before disappearing back to his own realms leaving the surviving free peoples to tend their wounded and dead and to consider the wisdom of their actions. No doubt Silver would remember that night and his wrath would sooner or later descend on the warbands, it is only to be hoped that when that happens they will be better prepared than they were that night.

Meanwhile the attacks by Lilayen’s minions continued unabated no matter what the warbands tried so after receiving numerous reports of a large group of her minions and possibly herself also moving towards the camps it was finally agreed that a mixed force from all the free peoples would sally forth the next day to bring battle to them whilst the remainder would guard the camp against the other bands of lunatics and minions still at large in the area. So following the scout’s reports the war party set of to engage their foe in the woodlands of Siberia, they swiftly encountered the enemy scouts and put them to flight without too much difficulty or casualties but sterner tests were to come.

As they pushed down the narrow paths the war party was assailed on all sides by not only crazed minions but also increasingly powerful undead creatures also under Lilayen’s dominion and they became hard pressed at numerous times taking more and more casualties the further they pressed into the tangled woodland. But their skill and valour shone through as finally they came within sight of their enemies main camp where indeed there were many foes gathered, swiftly ordering their battle lines they stormed forward determined to defeat their loathsome foes. This urgency to engage the enemy was almost their downfall as not only was Lilayen present but also their old foe from Norsca, the Spectre! What kind of unholy agreement had these two nefarious creatures reached or had the tendrils of darkness indeed reached far from Norsca whilst the free people’s attention was focussed there to now encompass Siberia as well?

Whatever the enemy’s arrangements it mattered little at that moment as the war party was now committed to their attack and all they could do was to press it home with vigour and hope. Despite increasing resistance and the intervention of both Lilayen and the Spectre directly it soon became apparent that the bulk of the enemy forces were no match for the hardened veterans of the fields of Odinsheim, Thor’s Temple and beyond and slowly but surely, despite heavy casualties the smashed the enemy lines apart. The battle soon became a series of small skirmishers as they surrounded and annihilated one group of enemies only to be in turn surrounded themselves and forced to beat of their foes. Finally seeing that the free peoples would prevail both Lilayen and the Spectre unleashed one last barrage of their magical power before leaving their minions to their inevitable bloody fate as they fled the field. There was still hard fighting to be done especially against the Undead but soon they were all dispatched and finally the victory was the prize in the war party’s hands despite grievous losses.

So without really managing to hold the peaceful counsels as Lord Jhereg had intended the free peoples had at least discovered that the dark enemy had at least one new ally in Lilayen and possible two if Silver were so inclined and that the Spectre was at large in Siberia. So sending forth messengers and scouts to try to locate it and to establish if it’s allies Fimbulwinter and Ice Giant were also at large the warbands set forth to try to enjoy the hospitality of Lord Bothvar in Norsca and to give thanks for it’s recent deliverance from the grasp of the dark enemy by their own hands earlier that year. Behind them the storm clouds gathered….

Arriving at the hunting reserve of Aurophellia the free people were greeted and made welcome by their hosts the Wolves. Many stalls had been set up around a central arena for their enjoyment as well as the usual well stocked tavern for them to slake their thirsts in whilst watching the many varied contests that had been scheduled for their enjoyment and participation. As well as the traditional games such as Kubb and the various weapons tournaments there were interesting ones such as bragging and what proved to be a firm favourite ship to ship, where teams had to try to board their rivals vessel with potentially deadly consequences should they have fallen whilst wearing armour!

Much counsel was held regarding the free peoples various problems and once again the mysterious Betrayer was in attendance. It did at least provide one service of note returning to the Lions the lost Sword of the Spheres but this did without doubt also prove that at best it had a foot in both camps. It was finally established that Thor’s Hammer was indeed the weapon needed to slay the Ice Giant but that there were conditions attached to achieving this feat, more of which later. Fimbulwinter was also much discussed and as it was allegedly been seen in the area it was decided finally to make an attempt to neutralise this threat. It was a confusing series of encounters for many on that expedition involving the Betrayer and portals. All that can be truly said is that Fimbulwinter was not neutralised and that in the confusion many brave souls were lost when they failed to return through the portal in time. What was achieved by their sacrifice however was the stopping of a Rite by a renegade groups of Norscan Fenris worshippers who were trying to imbue Fimbulwinter with human intelligence, a truly shocking thought!

Despite the sad and probably avoidable losses in the quest to neutralise Fimbulwinter the war bands had at least gained the information they needed to defeat the Ice Giant and got some much needed rest and recuperation before they return to Siberia to such for further knowledge to aid them in their fight against their dark enemies in the ancient and mysterious ruins of the Palace of the first Jhereg Emperor.

Upon arrival the found that the area was littered with ruins of the Palace, some in surprisingly good order and others not so. There were many interesting structures to explore and indeed many clues to be gained but this was not without risk to the unwary that chose to venture into some of these areas. Another strange quirk of the ruins was that they seemed to be plagued by ghosts and spirits of the past who believed that they were still alive in the time of the last Emperor and acted accordingly, trying to complete tasks that they had obviously failed to do when alive but by doing these things they sometimes offered vital clues to the warbands especially regarding Lilayen, her nature, history and potential weakness’. Of particular use in this regard was a strange tower that seemed to rise to reveal an ancient painting depicting her history and part in the downfall of the last Emperor, this eventually gave clues to the weapon needed to slay her and was thus invaluable to the free peoples. Gaining this knowledge was not without risk as the tower fell as well as rising though thankfully nobody was trapped inside when it did, but it was a close run thing indeed!

Throughout their time in the ruins they warbands were not only plagued by the ghosts of the past but also by forces of Lilayen and others in league with the dark enemy, proving should any still doubt it that she was part of that unholy alliance set against the free peoples and their way of life. Also present was the Betrayer offering it’s usual mix of hints and half truths but ever seeking secret knowledge from whoever would treat with it. Scout reports indicated that all of the war bands main enemies were present in the area, Fimbulwinter, the Spectre and Ice Giant from Norsca. Lilayen, the Drune Lords who had been plaguing the painted FirCruthen for some time now along with the vampire Kathryn who bore them much ill will. Also present was Malachy the ex Jhereg sorcerer now raised as a herald of the Spectre who seemed to be at the centre of the dark enemies many attempts to utilise the Ritual Circle when it was not in use or unguarded by the warbands. Rumours also abounded about a creature known as the Dragon Knight but these were unsubstantiated and no creature of this type was ever seen, by anybody who lived to tell the tale anyway….

Despite all that needed doing regarding their immediate enemies there was of course the important matter of completing the Ritual of Renewal and despite the enemies attempts to disrupt the ceremony and sow their insidious lies regarding it’s importance the free peoples once again completed this essential Ritual to renew the magic within all the lands for another year and helped after years of ignoring it to swing the balance of the world back towards it’s natural centre.

The enemy didn’t leave the war bands in peace to explore the ruins of course and there were many attacks by them against individuals and groups that they obviously considered to be threats to them including the College which is not surprising as it is a repository of great knowledge and power. Many shed their blood and power in these brutal attacks and there were some casualties but thankfully these were few and far between as usually there were healers present to save the majority from death. Many were afraid of death because it was now apparent that some spirits of those who fell against the dark foes and especially the Spectre were being prevented from moving on and being trapped between this world and the next, a truly terrifying prospect for some folk. Trapped as they were these spirits were often then corrupted into the service of the dark powers and took out their frustration on their former friends and allies. Rumours also began to circulate that within the enemy ranks several up unto till now unseen creatures had been spotted including Dryad type creatures and other seemingly warped and usually benign nature spirits, were the dark powers now corrupting the very spirits of the land in their unceasing assault on the factions?

Despite these assaults and attempts to disrupt their plans the war bands swiftly gained enough information to determine who they faced, where they were based and that knowledge along with the power they had gained to destroy both Lilayen and the Ice Giant filled them with genuine hope that they could prevail against their dark foes this time. So after gaining as much information as they thought their cunning scouts could and ensuring that they had consulted as many wise powers as would treat with them fairly or otherwise the war bands took counsel together to determine how and when to confront their enemies. The honour of facing the enemy first fell to the hosts the Jhereg, the Wolves, FirCruthen and the Steppe Alliance. It was to be hoped and their intelligence certainly suggested that both Lilayen and the Ice Giant were in the area that had been chosen for their assault. Meanwhile the other war bands forces would guard the camps against the other substantial enemy forces reported in the area.

That night as they prepared for battle the next day a disturbing incident occurred in the Wolf camp, Evind the Chosen of Frey who was a member of the Oathsworn was talking strategy with his comrades, Jarl Siegfried and Lord Bothvar whilst a ritual was taking place. Suddenly Evind collapsed screaming in agony and writhing madly upon the floor, his brothers moved to aid him full of concern but Lord Bothvar to the amazement of many ordered the Wolves to cut Evind down! Confusion reigned as most of the Wolves moved to obey Bothvar but all of the Oathsworn present stood between their friend and their faction, Evind continued to scream and writhe whilst the Oathsworn beat back the loyal Wolves, striking Lord Wolf in the chaos. Abruptly with an ear piercing scream of ‘Father’ the dread werewolf Fimbulwinter who had plagued the war bands since last year burst forth from Evind’s body and proceeded to assault all within reach! A desperate struggle ensued but eventually the Wolves drove Fimbulwinter away whilst suffering many wounds to themselves.

So finally the identity of Fimbulwinter was finally revealed because all werewolves by their nature start as ordinary folk but none would have believed that Evind would prove to be one of their greatest foes for he had aided them with his great healing magic’s many times over the last year, but perhaps this is a lesson to all of us, can we really trust anybody in these dark times? With Fimbulwinter revealed in such a violent manner the behaviour of his erstwhile comrades the Oathsworn was brought into question, especially their striking of Lord Bothvar. All were declared oath breakers and Jarl Siegfried as well despite him not being present, as they were under his command and he had bound them by an oath to his personal oath to Lord Bothvar. Devastated by this verdict all of the Oathsworn who had been present resolved to take the Long Walk an ancient Norscan rite to regain their honour, a drastic action for drastic times. Forbidden from being watched by their former comrades these Oathsworn enacted their grisly right in the AlGaia camp that night, hoping that this act would renew their honour.

As the Jhereg and Wolves mustered their forces and awaited the arrival of their allies all were in good spirits and full of hope for the day ahead but they were almost undone before their allies arrived as the enemy suddenly unleashed a surprise attack upon their camps! This swift attack took them by surprise and they were hard pushed to defend their camps and children from the perfidious enemy, desperately they tried to hold their lines whilst a few swift runners were dispatched to the other camps to urge them to hurry to their aid. That aid was not long in arriving as hearing the battle cries of their friends the painted FirCruthen and swift Steppe warriors ran to their comrade’s aid, arriving in the nick of time to launch an unstoppable assault that broke apart their foes lines and sent them reeling back. Thus was disaster averted and now the enemy faced all the might of the four war bands, their attempt to wipe out the Jhereg and Wolves had been thwarted by the warriors of those factions tenaciousness and the swift intervention of the FirCruthen and the Steppe.

Now the war bands set about slaying their foes whilst they were still disordered but they were both numerous and skilled, many times they looked to be about to rout but somehow managed to redress their lines and continue to defy the free peoples all the while inflicting death and injury on those brave souls unlucky enough to fall to their wicked blades and magic’s. Eventually their line was split and although there was still much hard fighting to wipe them out as they all fought to the bitter end the war bands had now regained the initiative and could dictate the pace of the fighting. Soon the enemies’ forces were all slain foul undead, Lilayen cultists and others alike.

With their scouts reporting other enemy forces closing the war bands quickly repaired their armour and healed their many wounded before pushing forward to meet their foes. The enemy is sighted and indeed the titanic Giant is with them but many enemy forces stand between the Wolves and their foe, the war cries of both sides split the air as they throw themselves upon each other all seeking their opponents doom. The lines clash and the ground is soon slick with blood from the dead and the wounded, the air is filled with the clash of steel and the cries of war and pain as the hosts tear into each other in a frenzy of violence.

Suddenly the Ice Giant lumbers forward into the fray, his great fists smashing aside his opponents as if they were no more than flies, his chill touch sending the feel of death into many. The Wolves push forward and in their midst is Siegfried the disgraced former Jarl of Norsca who despite his disgrace had proved that the favour of Thor was upon him by being declared the chosen to bear his Hammer. The hammer has not drawn blood that day nor even been swung in anger and that is believed to be the secret needed to slay this herculean foe, all of the Thunderer’s power in one blow against one of his and his peoples mortal enemies surely that will defeat the terrible Ice Giant? But they are almost undone immediately as the Giant smashes his massive fists into the ground to cause the ground to tilt and sway forcing all to lose their footing as his minions then rush into try to slay their fallen opponents but he has underestimated the determination of his opponents and they swiftly regain their feet and drive off their assailants. Several times this is repeated as if he sense’s the power in Siegfried’s hand but last the opportunity present’s itself and Siegfried launches an unstoppable blow at his opponent, too late the Giant sees his doom and recoils from the mighty blow but it is to know avail and as the blow strikes home a gigantic clap of thunder is heard by some, mingled with a primeval bellow of pain and at last the terror of the bloody fields of Odinsheim and Thor’s Temple crashes to the ground slain by Siegfried of Norsca, the hero of the hour!

The fall of the Giant shocks all and his minions visibly lose heart and cohesion, swiftly the war bands press their advantage and their stunned foes reel from their onslaught, they are undone, their seemingly invincible leader slain they rout from the field with the blades of the free folk cleaving their cowardly backs as they go. Fimbulwinter seems to be everywhere striking at the war bands and Arngrimm an Oathsworn not implicated in their disgrace challenges him to single combat to avenge his friends. Alas he is no match for his supernatural opponent and after a brave attempt he is slain, yet another victim of the dark enemy. But even as mighty a foe as Fimbulwinter can stem the tide forever and despite its terror and mighty power it soon also retires from the field leaving the war bands in possession of not only the field but the gigantic foes body. They celebrate and tend their wounded but their work is not yet done that day for in the dark woods ahead yet more and unbowed hordes of the enemy await for Lilayen and her foul vampires care little for the death of the erstwhile ally, they still thirst for blood!

Quickly the war bands reorder their lines and engage the enemy in those dank woods, they swiftly push the enemy backwards perhaps they too are demoralised by the fall of the Ice Giant? Soon Lilayen’s forces are forced from the woods into an open area, now the war bands can bring their superior numbers to bear and surround their enemy. It is a desperate last stand by Lilayen and her foul cohorts and many are slain and wounded by her and her vampire minions but tellingly her power to cause discord and strife all around her had been neutralised by the free peoples earlier from the clues gained amongst the ruins and whilst she is still a powerful enemy her main weapon has been stripped from her. Finally in a welter of blows she and her cohorts are slain by the victorious free peoples and her reign of terror both recent and in the past is forever at an end in Siberia!

And so the victorious Jhereg, Wolves, FirCruthen and Steppe Alliance forces return to their camps, it is a mighty victory but at a terrible cost. Many are slain amongst the free folk but the terror of Lilayen and the Ice Giant are ended that day and forever more.

That night Evind once again appeared and made to walk towards the Wolf camp, spotted by Jarl Siegfried he was stopped and Siegfried demanded answers about yesterday. Evind had none and indeed seemed to have no recollection of what Siegfried was talking about and demanded to see the bodies of those who had taken the Long Walk. Shocked when shown them Evind immediately demanded a stake and knife and proceed to enact the same grisly rite on himself, collapsing to die his body refused and healed itself at a supernatural rate. Cursing the gods and his fate he tried to enact the rite again and again all to no avail, he lived; he died and then lived again! This became too much for the Wolves too bear and the struck at his prone body, hacking away at it to try to finally deny it life, the AlGaia tried to prevent this insane butchery and seeing the carnage in front of him Evind let out a blood curdling scream causing all but the lords Hart and Narvi to flee in terror. Evind then thanked the AlGaia for trying to save him and left the area cursing all the gods and all who would turn on their brothers, truly he was cursed indeed but now at least the free peoples knew the real identity of one of their dark enemies.

The next day the Lions, AlGaia, Teutonians and the sell swords in the camps set forth to try to emulate their comrades and bring down the Spectre forever. Fighting with them that day is a small delegation old Phoenix Guard members, an order long thought vanished into the mists of time but now in the faction’s hour of need they have returned. Now preferring to be known as the Academy of Arms and Magic they seek that day a magical banner taken from them by the servants of the dark enemy on their way to Siberia, and so they also stand ready to shed blood against the dark forces.

The hosts move out following their scouts into the dank woods in which their enemies are awaiting them, the first clashes occur as the scouts locate the enemy main line and engage them. It is a fierce struggle against the hordes of undead that face them for indeed the Spectre and it’s minions are on the field that day along with many other servants of darkness, the cries of the wounded rend the air mingled with the war cries of the free peoples as they clash in those dank woods. Steadily they push their enemies back, spilling their blood for every yard they gain. Wherever the Spectre appears however the advance falters and often fails because as yet the factions have not discovered the secret to nullify it’s power which is mighty indeed. But where it is not they drive their enemies through the woods until at last they drive them with much loss onto some open ground.

The lost banner is seen amongst a group of foul undead and the old warriors of the Academy surge forward with their new converts to retrieve it but it is a hard fight and the outcome is in doubt for some time as the rest of the war bands are themselves hard pressed by numerous raisings of undead by the enemy necromancers. Eventually the banner is gained as the last of the enemy defending it fall to the vengeful blades of the Academy members, it is at least one objective fulfilled.

As the war bands drive their enemy across the field suddenly a new terror assails them, a strange warped creature of what origin none can be sure. What is certain is that it is a mighty foe with fearsome strength and spitting acid as it storms into the ragged lines of the war bands. All is panic for a moment at the appearance of this new enemy but they soon regain their composure and try to drive it off but it is a difficult task as it’s hide is thick and it is swift and strong. For a while it wreaks havoc amongst the war bands lines but gradually it is worn down and eventually pushed into some trees where with one last defiant bellow it disappears, the devastation it leaves behind is great but at least the free peoples have some respite from this new dark enemy, is there no end to the forces arrayed against them?

With their new ally driven from the field the enemies forces are driven back towards a lake where they make their last desperate stand. Hard is that final combat as they fight with desperation as they know there will be no quarter given and they have nowhere left to run to, deserted by their new ally and the Spectre and with Fimbulwinter nowhere to be seen they try to inflict as many casualties on the war bands as possible before they are slain.  Finally and with much loss the last of them is slain, a few mange to escape on the edges of the fight but it is of little matter for the power of the dark forces is this day finally broken in Siberia!

Returning to their camps the war bands bear their dead with them and much is the lamentation for lost friends that day but they have won the day.  The losses of that day and indeed all previous days are grievous it is true but the survivors can take heart that this year they seem to have turned the tide against their dark enemies driving the first from Norsca and now Siberia and slaying two of their greatest foes in Lilayen and the Ice Giant and at last they can winter in their own homes as the enemy licks it’s wounds in the darkness. Perhaps they will have learnt their lesson this year and leave the free peoples alone in the future or perhaps they cannot for it is not their nature to do so and if that’s the case where will their dark tendrils spread next?

1112

After the dramatic events in Siberia Hart, Overlord of the AlGaia, Ael Shikari, Ael Gaia invited the united factions to the borderlands of Estragales with the dual purpose of consecrating a new Temple and potentially striking into the lands of the southern Mempo Empire, the rebellious former subjects of the Empire of the Golden Isles who were occupying ancient AlGaian lands. However the wording or perhaps in some cases chosen method of the invitations didn’t sit well with all those so invited!

Nevertheless that spring with good or bad grace but buoyed by their successes of last summer all the warbands of the free peoples travelled to Estragales to see and participate in the consecration of the new Temple and to see what would transpire regarding the Mempo. In the winter however it was soon apparent that a new threat was aimed at the United Factions, the Istar of the AlGaia the living embodiment of their Goddess was apparently in league with at least some of the free peoples enemies attempting to supplant her mistress and the preeminent power in the AlGaian lands and perhaps beyond! This obviously presented a moral and spiritual dilemma to the AlGaian peoples as well as the hard practical choice of having to postpone their planned campaign against the Mempo if they chose to stay faithful to their Goddess and to oppose the plans of her previously loyal servant the Istar who the AlGaia had always shown respect and devotion to but whose loyalty and motives were now at odds with both her mistress and the AlGaian peoples, not to mention the other free peoples of the world!

So it was with heavy hearts at the missed opportunity to regain their ancestral lands but with the strength of purpose forged by the Istar’s betrayal and haughty demands that the AlGaian peoples cease their worship of the Goddess and turn their prayers to her instead, that the AlGaia chose to strike at the Istar and any of her allies. At war councils eventually the rest of the United Factions decided to support this choice if only in some cases to strike against the Istar’s nefarious enemies which were rumoured to include the dreaded Spectre, the foul creature responsible for not only many deaths amongst the warhost’s but the perverted raising of some of these foully slain heroes and heroines as corrupted undead thus forcing the free peoples to fight for their lives against their former friends corrupted husks now bent to the will and service of their dark enemies.

Almost from their arrival the free peoples were harassed by their various enemies, Vampire servants of the dread Spectre stalked the lonely paths and woods at night snaring many an unlucky victim to feast upon their warm blood! Elves, Dryads and other woodland creatures in the service of the Istar sought to bring anybody who would listen to her cause and struck out with violence and arcane powers at those who resisted them. The Istar herself moved at will throughout the area trying to seduce any who would listen, seductive in her promises but dark with her power she truly was a dark and capricious queen in those forests! Dwarf mercenaries are seen in the area possibly in the service of the Istar but also possibly in the pay of the dark enemies, what do they care of right or wrong when the strange lure that gold has on these folk is at work? Their old foe Fimbulwinter who has plagued them from Norsca to Siberia and now to Estragales is also active in the area, no doubt in league with the dread Spectre, he and his minions stalk the fringes of the camps looking for easy prey. Despite the fires and warmth of the camps and tavern the chill of fear and death begins to seep into the hearts and minds of the warbands, against so many feared enemies how can they hope to lay the keystone of the Temple which many believe will be a cornerstone of their strength against the dark enemies milling around them? Where are the forces of the Mempo, will they appear in league with the free peoples other enemies at this dark hour?

The matter of the laying of the Keystone for the new Temple and it’s consecration divided opinion as many were unsure as to how and AlGaian temple would necessarily help all the free peoples in their struggle against the dark powers arrayed against them. Although of course anything that would strengthen the Goddess’s power and presence and thus weaken the Istar it was agreed was to be welcomed.

Scout reports were being received in increasing numbers that indeed the Istar had either allied herself with the Spectre and possibly other dark forces or was at the very least aiding or not hindering them in areas where the aims didn’t clash, thus making herself an enemy of all the free peoples. There were increasing reports of creatures in her entourage or power in the general area and gradually these creatures began to either try to seduce people to her cause or to openly attack those who were steadfast in their opposition to her. This situation was confused by the fact that in the local area spirits and ghosts were manifesting themselves and trying to complete tasks from their former lives or to interact with the free folk as if they were themselves still living flesh and blood. This situation was reminiscent of what had happened the previous summer in Siberia and was the first inkling of the Istar’s plan to try to make the whole of the AlGaia lands part of the Realm of Spirit! Key to her plans was something called the Golden Acorn, a powerful, spiritual focus tied to the land. It would only reveal itself at certain times however so scouting for its location became an imperative mission.

Many brave scouts risked their lives and souls to discover not only the likely location of this wondrous  creation but also the time that it would reveal itself, for the woods below the camps were full of dark creatures in the service of one enemy or another eager to slay or capture anyone they could. Information of the enemies forces, their locations and if the forces of the Istar and the dread Spectre were in league were also desperately needed for the war councils to ponder upon as they tried to lay the best plans that they could against the expected storm. Eventually it is discovered that the Golden Acorn is likely to appear in one place only, an island that appears periodically in the area of swampland at the valleys end. The timing of it’s likely appearance however is a lot harder to come by and nothing is know for certain regarding it, however that it will appear does seem to be without doubt. What is also known is that the Istar will bend all her will and the forces at her disposal to gain this or at least to prevent the free people from doing so.

So final council’s are convened and it is decided that the hosts the AlGaia themselves will lead the warbands of the Wolves, Teutonians and Steppe Alliance out to gain the Golden Acorn and to inflict as much damage against whatever enemy forces try to stand in their way whilst the remaining warbands defend the camps from whatever and whichever enemy presents themselves. That night the wind and the enemy howls in the forests as swords are sharpened and prayers said for the next day promises to be a sword day, a blood day, a day of death and heroes!

The morning dawns cold and grey, a weak spring sun struggling to shine through the clouds as if sensing the struggle to come and fearing to show itself. The Goddess is to the AlGaia nature personified as his her errant servant the Istar, so maybe nature itself was caught in the conflict between them and struggles to decide on whose side it is aligned?

The faith of the AlGaia in the righteousness of their cause and in their Goddess is unshakable, the martial ardour of the Wolves unbowed by enemies arrayed against them, the discipline of the Teutonian regiments unaffected by what may lay ahead and the belief of the Steppe warriors that their faith in the sacredness of the land will protect them undiminished even so far from home means that the free peoples set out strong in their belief and ready to do battle with any who cross their paths.

Swiftly they move out towards the valley floor and along the side towards the swampland, all is eerily quite until suddenly the enemy shows itself! Human and Dwarf Mercenaries assault the battle lines attempting to stop their advance, Dryads and other twisted nature creatures try to poison and pick off any stragglers, immensely strong Beastmen armed with poisoned claws and weapons throw themselves without fear at the assembled warhost’s. Truly the enemy is wasting no time in attempting to halt and destroy the warbands attempt to reach the Golden Acorn. The enemy pressure is relentless and the free peoples are hard pushed to hold their ground let alone advance at times, it becomes a long, slow and brutal struggle to gain just a few feet and then suddenly Fimbulwinter charges from the forest against his most ardent foe, the Wolves! He tears into their lines and all is almost lost as they recoil from his primeval strength and the fury of his assault, but they rally and stand fast holding their ground until seeming to tire of the brutal fight he moves away to await another opportunity to strike. The mercenaries fight on however trading blow for blow with not only the Wolves but the AlGaia who are themselves beset by Dryads and other twisted creatures of the forest. It is the same story with the stoic regiments of Teutonia and the warriors of the Steppe elsewhere on that field of blood.

Eventually though the strength of will of the warbands proves to be stronger than their enemies desire for gold, belief in a false goddess or hunger for blood and they drive their enemies back down the valley. As they advance new, strange foes engages them it is as if the very bushes have come to life and attack them! Rising from the leaves of the ground and emerging from the trees and bushes they are assaulted by creatures seemingly of nature itself, apparently some previously unknown inhabitants of the forest they seem to resent any who disturb their home, striking out at any they can mercenaries as well as the warbands, it seems however that the Dryads know of their existence, not surprisingly and wisely stay out of their reach! The lines are broken as the warriors struggle to deal with the unpredictability of this new threat and many a poor unsuspecting bush is hacked at in fear of it suddenly becoming a foe! These apparently primitive creatures seem to be under the control of a shadowy humanoid figure who evades all of the warbands attempts to engage with it. Slowly the free peoples adapt to this new foe whilst still fending off attacks by the Mercenaries, Werewolf and Dryads and then the Istar appears! She is it seems reluctant to engage with the warbands directly preferring to use her powerful magic’s to create opportunities for her minions to exploit but here very presence reminds all of the enormity of the task facing them, to stand against the very embodiment of a Goddess despite her estrangement from that Goddess and her purpose.

However not even the appearance Istar can prevent the slow advance of the free peoples as they draw ever closer to the swampland and the hopeful appearance of the Golden Acorn. Driving their foes back heedless of their own wounds and losses they gain control of the swampland, but their joy is short lived as yet another foe joins the assault upon them, a Water Elemental rises from the swamp and strikes out with great strength against all within it’s reach! Is this another creature under the capricious queens sway or just another denizen of the area disturbed by the conflict in it’s previously serene home? Perhaps it is a guardian of the Golden Acorn so keenly sought by both the noble free peoples and their capricious enemy, what can be said is that it is a fearsome adversary to all who cross it’s path. And this is the key as it seems unwilling or unable to leave the swampland for any length of time, so the warbands learn to stay away from that area to whilst not being entirely safe from it they are at least in less danger of an attack from it.

The servants of the Istar still remain however and with steel in the hearts and hands they are driven relentlessly away from the swampland until only the warriors of the Steppe and some stragglers from other factions are left to witness the appearance of the Golden Acorn! Swiftly they charge across the swampland whilst in the distance the war cries of their allies can be heard to gain possession of this most rare object, the Elemental of course try to bar their way as do the remaining mercenaries in the area but it is all to no avail as they gain the island and their goal! However as they try to leave with the prize they are beset by the Dryad servants of the Capricious Queen and the reappearance of the ferocious Beastmen of earlier, they tear at the Steppe and their few allies as they seek the Golden Acorn for their dark mistress but the lines hold as they retreat from the island.

The efforts of their enemies prevent the warriors from pushing forward to rejoin their comrades thus putting their much sought after prize in jeopardy. Desperately trying to both keep their lines in order and push forward Braggie Rivalnik – Khan of the Rivalniks, leader of the Steppe Alliance, Sword of Veto and husband to Elena Rivalnik, is cut down by a foul Beastman. Despite the best efforts of the Steppe to save him Braggie died as he lived, surrounded by the bodies of the enemies he had slain, with a blade in each hand. Reeling from the loss of their leader it seems all may be lost and that they are destined to all fall in the fetid swamp, so far from their beloved homeland but they do not falter and they drive their enemy backwards as they gain firmer ground and soon the war cries of their allies get ever closer until the enemy is driven away and they are reunited with them.

The now united warbands now drive back up the valley, their prize secure in their midst. The enemy seems to have lost heart and doesn’t press home any attack with vigour and indeed the Istar and the Werewolf have not been seen on the field for some time. They have their prize and their enemy is thwarted, but no all is not as it seems! The enemy may have failed to gain the Golden Acorn but may have gained an even greater prize, for whilst the fight swung back and forth in the valley a small group of the enemy has bypassed the warbands lines and gained the Temple foundations. There they have enacted an evil rite and corrupted the area, thus rendering the foundations both unsafe and unusable as a bastion against the very forces that have just corrupted it!

So it is with sinking hearts that the warbands regain their camps, saddened by their losses and also the success of their enemy in such a crucial area the winning of Golden Acorn seems to be somewhat tarnished and suddenly not as great a victory as first it seemed! There is also the matter of the fact that neither the Spectre of any of it’s forces seem to have been spotted on the field that day even though they are known to be at large in the area. Scouting reports suggest however that the human mercenaries are still at large and have a camp on the far side of the valley and they will have to be dealt with at some stage. This then along with dealing with the Spectre and it’s forces should they appear is the task facing the fresh warbands of the Lions, Jhereg and FirCruthen along with what mercenary sell swords are not in the employ of the enemy. Late that night scouts begin to report that indeed the Spectre and his forces are gathering in the gloom, in league with or perhaps more likely controlling the human mercenaries in preparation for another assault the next day. Reports also suggest that the feared Devourer of flesh has appeared and of course the Istar and her minions are still at large no doubt buoyed by their success earlier that day, who can say if they will intervene of not?

Facing such a potential array of enemies the noble Lions, fierce FirCruthen, cunning Jhereg and the sell swords of every land set forth the next morning knowing the enormity of their task, truly today we will be a day for strong hearts, clear minds and sharp blades!

They move forward in good order past the now desecrated Temple foundations towards the valley floor; there they are indeed met by the dread Spectre and his foul undead hordes who throw themselves unthinkingly at the free peoples lines. Such is his power and the fury of their assault that the battle lines are almost smashed apart in this first assault but by dint of courage and skill at arms they hold, gagging at the charnel smell of their decaying foes they slash and parry as they seek to force them backwards rather than be forced back themselves. Then the fearsome Beastmen appear, hurling themselves upon the already stretched and weary free folk, it would appear that all their enemies are in league against them or at least collaborating to try to ensure their defeat! Reeling from the impact the warbands strike back, arrows fly between the lines, spells are cast at their myriad enemies and ever they drive them backwards such is the courage of those who are free and can chose to lay down their lives in the cause of freedom if they so chose. Unthinking beasts and long dead cadavers can know nothing of such choice or nobility and despite the cunning of the minds that control them they are when all is said and done just servants of an unjust cause.

Slowly but surely the enemy is driven back but at some cost for the Spectre is of course a powerful enemy and many of his Vampire servants appear on the field to strike fear into their enemies hearts and minds. The struggle is fierce and in doubt in many areas of the field for a long time as the two sides tear at each other on the valley floor, first one side gaining some ground and then the other. The free peoples options are limited by the fear of leaving dead or dying companions where they can be raised by the Spectre to add to his foul legions and thrown against their former friends as has happened in the past! Many a reputation is made this day and sadly many a wound sustained or comrade lost to the dark enemy but without faltering the warbands seek ever for any advantage to aid them to drive their enemies back for the camp is almost in sight and their goal within reach.

Alas in this cruel world nothing is ever as it seems and it is as they draw near to their goal that the feared Devourer of Flesh appears to smash the warbands lines, spewing forth its poison at all who seek to engage him. This foul but mighty creature is as ever more than a match for the most skilled and doughty warrior or mage, knocking it’s foes from it’s path as if they were mere fly’s and causing havoc wherever it attacks. The warbands are hard pressed by this assault and as if taking inspiration from it’s appearance the undead hordes of the Spectre and the Beastmen redouble their efforts to break the factions lines and to drive them from the field. The human mercenaries seem somewhat less keen to become involved in the fray and when a small strike force moving unseen on the fringes of the conflict manages to infiltrate their camp and slay their leader what little heart they had deserts them and they in turn desert their erstwhile allies and the field as swiftly as they can, a small but important victory is achieved by those few brave souls that day.

The enemy is however not finished yet as the Istar and her chief Dryad, Lady Thorn have joined the fray today as well they are supported by the strange nature creatures which caused so much trouble the previous day as well. Beset on all sides by the myriad enemies the warbands fight on doggedly refusing to give ground or to buckle under their enemy’s onslaught, slowly but surely their numbers begin to tell as the human mercenary’s stream from the field. As if sensing the subtle change in the tide of the battle the Spectre launches one last assault before disappearing himself leaving his undead minions to their fate. The Istar too seeing the tide turn leaves with Lady Thorn, abandoning the strange nature creatures to fend for themselves, the Devourer of Flesh also quits the field it’s hunger for death seemingly satisfied, for now at least!

With just a few mercenaries with perhaps more courage than brains and the last few remaining undead and nature creatures swiftly dispatched the warbands stand victorious that day under the tress of Estragales, their enemies either slain or fled in ignominy!

In triumph they return to the camps to scenes of much rejoicing, tempered of course with the sadness of the losses over the two battles and the corruption of the intended site of the Temple to the Goddess. But they leave Estragales with their enemies, scattered or slain, the Golden Acorn safe from the Istar and buoyed by their victories.

Thus the year began with some successes but also some failures and regrets as the Warhost’s set sail for the fair land of Albion and the war ravaged region of Polgooth that had suffered so terribly in the devastating Keltoi invasion of 1107. Much had been done to restore the lands and peoples by the fair Queen Samantha but with her disappearance and the news that the Temple of Melaphine had been attacked possibly by agents of the dreaded Spectre, who knew what situation the free peoples would face on their arrival.

On arrival the Factions did indeed discover that all was not well in the area of Polgooth, agents of the Spectre were indeed at large and causing misery and mayhem in their foul master’s name, the ancient Old Faith Druids responsible for stealing High King Lucas’s child were also at large peddling their twisted views and beliefs to anyone who would listen and murdering any who denounced their vile mutterings.

It soon became apparent that the rumours that the ancient place of power known as Merlin’s Forge could indeed be found within the area but it was also swiftly apparent that this was a target for both the Spectre and the Old Faith Druids. To further complicate matters the Forge itself was not able to be accessed despite it being within an active Ritual Circle. In addition the Forge was apparently leaking knowledge in the form of visions etc that were compromising for many an individual both high and low as well as Factions themselves! This was because the Lock to the Forge was broken and scattered it could only be repaired by the Merlin with the help of the warhost’s, however this matter was complicated by the fact that he could only leave the Forge for short periods of time and rarely in the same form due to some ancient pact with Morgaine. This did result in him not being recognised on more than one occasion with almost fatal consequences for some unlucky folk, who can say why such an obviously dangerous bargain was struck but then again who knows the circumstances in which it was struck?

It was also soon discovered that there were 3 Forge ward markers that were essential to maintaining the defence of the Forge itself, if these were lost then the Spectre would almost certainly be able to overpower the Merlin’s last defences and take the Forge! This would have fatal and horrendous consequences for not just the Lions but also all the free peoples as Merlin clearly had much knowledge stored within the Forge that would perhaps best be left there?

Whilst the Lock was being assembled and plans laid to defend the Forge ward markers as well as keeping as many people as safe as possible from the attacks of the Spectre and his minions the foul Old Faith Druids made their despicable move. Lured away from his camp and loyal followers to the Ritual Circle by his estranged with Bridget he is then ambushed by several Old Faith Druids who swiftly seal the circle and present him with his estranged Daughter Jessica. Surprised, alone and no doubt wracked by conflicting feelings of love, distaste and guilt High King Lucas is swiftly overpowered and pinned to the ground, breathless Lions and other folk rush to the Circle but it is sealed and their attempts to break the wards are constantly disrupted by attacks of Old Faith Druids. They watch on helplessly as a dagger dripping with foul poison is forced ever closer to Luca’s heart by Jessica, but wait her hand falters she is torn as if suddenly realising the enormity of what she is about to do! She looks about almost in a daze, Lucas’s eyes are pleading with her as he struggles against the evil hand pinning him to the floor, is there hope for him still? No, Jessica’s hand is suddenly and violently forced downwards piercing her father’s heart with the poisoned blade by one of the evil Druids!

The wards fail and the Lions and allies flood into to try to save Lucas and to slay his foul assassin’s but the latter including Jessica teleport away their evil deed done, and thus escape justice for now…

With heavy hearts the Lions bear the dying High King back to his camp, there they find the ancient sword of the High Kings of Albion shattered in pieces as if to symbolise the fall of the High King. All attempts to heal his wound are in vain, the Druids have planned their nefarious deed with guile and cunning, the poison that runs through Lucas’s veins has no know cure now that Excalibur lays broken as it is an ancient and long hoped lost brew that they have somehow reconstructed with his end as their only goal! The only hope of a cure requires the power of the Sword but it lays shattered as do the hearts of the Lions and many of their friends and allies. Suddenly the Hooded man of legend appears and ignoring all who try to bar his path he makes his wake to the dying Lucas, something passes between the pair is it recognition of the Hooded man or of his fate by Lucas or something else? All that can be truly know is that as the Hooded Man takes his hand all the pain seems to pass from the High Kings body and his passing words are clear to all, “my daughter ….. forgive her”. His treacherous wife Bridget who had failed to escape with her daughter was after interrogation placed under the guardianship of King Mourning and led away to permanent incarceration for her heinous crime.

Merlin resolves to enter the Forge and to reforge Excalibur for any new High King will surely need it to face the Spectre on the morrow and so with a hardy band of followers he enacts a ritual and against the odds does enter the Forge and is lost to the sight of mortal eyes. Later that night Morgaine enters the grieving Lions camp and tells them that the Spectre is preparing to strike and that while Merlin is distracted by the forging of the Excalibur he will not be able to hold of the dark ones onslaught unaided!

In a sombre mood given the passing of High King Lucas and the sobering news brought by Morgaine the warhost’s organise the defence of the Forge and it’s ward markers till the early hours.

With the death of High King Lucas the previous night of fell poisons and treachery, Sir Cadawyr of Caer Wors, High Templar of Solar, Champion to the High King and bearer of the Sword of Spheres had the honour of leading the Lions shield wall in the defence of Merlin’s Forge, a mystical place sacred to the Merlin himself.

The fighting is fierce at all the ward markers and many a brave deed is done that day and also sadly many wounds sustained by the brave warriors of the warhost’s as they battle the undead hordes of the dreaded Spectre as they seek to wrest control of the markers from the free peoples for their dark lords purpose.

As their allies arrayed themselves at the keystones around the outskirts, the men of Albion held the central forge circle against the expected onslaught of Spectre’s minions. The dark forces threw most of their power against them there with Spectre himself being driven early from the field but his arrival caused enough disruption for the liche Malachi and his vampire Kathryn to breech the defender’s lines and take control of the ritual circle.

Only Sir Hector and Lucius of the Lance of Deira and Sir Cadawyr made ground enough on Malachi before he began his rite and these three were trapped within the wards. Only one would leave. A coward would then have hidden at the edge of the glade, avoiding Malachi’s attention and waiting for the circle to be breached in order to make an escape but these were men of Albion and they did not falter.

Though Hector and Lucius were armed with only mundane weapons and could not mortally harm the liche or the vampire, they battled heroically at the cost of Sir Hector’s life. Cadawyr though, bore the sword that warden Crow had brought to the warhost and knew he had a chance to interrupt Malachi’s rite and thwart Spectre’s plans. Repeatedly he stood and faced down the undead abominations, each time he was swept aside till he could rise no more. Then to the horror of those supporting Princess Fiver’s attempt to break the circle’s wards the vampire Kathryn claimed Cadawyr’s corporeal form, raising him as a ghast and sending him out to wreak bloody slaughter amongst his former allies.

Stronger than he was in life he caused havoc, binding those he touched in place and striking down the hardiest warriors. Even the sight of his true love could not touch his now corrupted heart and it took a corporeal wedge led by Arian of the Eored to finally still him.

The tides of battle flowed back and forth around both the Forge and it’s ward markers and the warhost’s are hard pressed at every turn, still they summon the strength and courage to go on in the face of their dark enemies blows, still they strive to disrupt Malachi’s rite and still they throw all their power at his dark minions. The fate of the Forge, Albion and possibly the free people’s fate in general is in the balance in this war ravaged corner of Albion, suddenly Malachi perhaps fearing failure or perhaps just basking in his power appeals to the powers of Fate and Story to aid him! These powerful forces are thought to be instrumental in many if not everything that happens in the land, would it be the story of ancient evil overcoming the weary heroes, the fate of them to fall before it’s unstoppable march, perhaps it would be Malachi’s fate to fail because of his arrogance or maybe just the story of the brave unbreakable few who thwart his dark purpose? Who can tell for sure, what can be told is that the seals he and his followers had placed around the Forge were broken and the Lions did pour in and wreak bloody vengeance on him and his followers as did the defenders of the Forge wards all around the area of Polgooth! Fate or story and for whom, what say you?

The fates of Albion work in mysterious ways for Sir Cadawyr’s love now walks the banisher’s path and helped in the wedge that slew the vampire Kathryn, Lucius who walked from the circle became the next Kings Champion and Crow’s blade, wielded in that battle is now known as “Cadawyr’s Vengeance”. Merlin’s Forge is now safe as are its secrets and the Lions have a new High King with a reforged Excalibur. The Spectre’s plans are in tatters at least for Albion it would seem and the Old Faith Druids cursed and hunted by all even if they did succeed in the murder of High King Lucas, ever in victory there is a high price to be paid it would seem…

So it is with heavy hearts and the memories of loved ones now passed that the warhost’s travel to far off Siberia and the isle of Nexis to participate in a Fayre hosted by the Jhereg nation to celebrate all the free peoples efforts in defeating the Vampire Lilayen the previous summer.

Many games and tests of skill, knowledge and courage were put on by the hosts generally judged by his August and Terrible Majesty Lord Jhereg or one of his lieutenants. All were encouraged to participate and of course the prizes on offer helped in this! The weather held fair for all and much merriment and drinking ensued.

This event saw the arrival of a strange new people claiming to have travelled from over the western sea to gain knowledge and allies in this war torn land, they are the A’Kesh. In their midst are many Orcs and warrior maids and their dress and customs are strange and alien to the warbands, their appearance causes friction, distrust and even outright conflict as who can tell if they are in the service of the dark powers or not? Slowly though they begin to win over the doubters and whilst they may not be entirely trusted they are at least tolerated an allowed to camp with the other sell swords who fight with the warbands for gold as they have no lands to call their own, at least not here anyway.

However it was not all fun and games as in this world one can never let ones guard down. In the darkness between the camps and in the deep unfathomable souls of those who seek to end freedom foul plans are set in motion to wreak bloody mayhem on those who they hate for their freedom and joy!

The Wolves had been caught in an ongoing argument regarding an ancient prophecy with three Elven Princes for some years now, the argument gradually turning to armed conflict and even murder. However now the Wolves had settled their difference with the Princes father and one of his sons and signed a treaty with them. However this turn of events hasn’t sat at all well with the other two sons as they believe that the Wolves must be defeated to avoid the prophesied doom for the Elves themselves. So disgusted were they with the signing of this treaty they even sent an assassin to try to kill their own father, luckily this plot was discovered and foiled! From the assassin the Elven King learns something of the plans his two wayward sons are preparing and sends word to the Wolves asking them to try to capture his sons and he still loves them as they are after all his flesh and blood.

Knowing that the Wolves warband was travelling to Siberia the Elven prince’s have travelled there swiftly to prepare an assault on the Wolves who will they hope be lulled by the Fayre atmosphere and away from their own lands somewhat isolated, they are of course unaware of the failure of their assassin and the subsequent divulgence of their plans to the warband. Armed with this knowledge the Wolf scouts eventually locate the Prince’s camp and the warband sets out to deal with them. As they approach and engage the Elven pickets they discover to their horror that the Prince’s are summoning a Demon to assault them!

After much hard fighting especially against the Demon, during which the Wolves were hard pressed by the Demon and Elves on many occasions they gradually turned the tide in their favour. Seeing that their plan were all but done for the two Prince’s launch one last desperate assault but Bothvar strikes down Prince Freygard and the Wolves overpower Prince Aelfric. Seeing their leaders slain or captured the elves swiftly surrender rather than face slaughter by the victorious Wolves and the Demon it’s summoners killed disappears, now loose in the forests of Nexis a danger to all!

Upon returning to their camp the Wolves arrange for the return of Freygard and any other of his or his brothers captured men to the Elven King for his judgement and also the return of Aelfric’s body and those of their slain followers for their people’s funeral rites. It has now to be hoped that this long contested matter is closed and will trouble both the Elves and the Wolves no more.

Even the hosts themselves had troubles at this normally happy time, Lady Nexis had for some time been chafing at what she saw as Lord Jhereg and the warband neglecting her and Siberia in general. She had decided to take matters into her own hands now that the warband was on her lands and to make a play for leadership of the Jhereg!

The first the Jhereg and indeed everybody else was aware of this was when the Mutant creatures under the control of Lady Nexis began to appear and make it clear that they were not welcome on her lands and at the same time she herself and some of her trusted followers began to approach the other Factions and tried to stir up resentment against the Jhereg and to gain support for Lady Nexis. Her followers also managed to kidnap Madame Carnelian the Oracle of the Nexis with some nefarious purpose in mind. Obviously many people saw through this ruse and when kidnapping attempts were discovered and foiled the Jhereg branded Lady Nexis an enemy of the state and set out to bring her to justice.

The Jhereg warband moved swiftly to the camp of Lady Nexis but were met by not only the mutants in the service of Lady Nexis but also many deadly plants that seemed to be somehow either in her evil service of just plain ill disposed to the Jhereg! These took many forms but some of the more common were vines that attempted to entangle and impede peoples process but when they were cut inflicted terrible wounds on those rescued from them, trees that secreted some type paralyzing fluid and some areas of the very ground itself that seemed to sap peoples strength from them if they spent too long in that area! Truly even the very earth seemed against the Jhereg and to be aiding the dark cause of Lady Nexis as she strove to keep the Jhereg at bay whilst she performed some grisly Rite on Madame Carnelian. But strive as she and her cohorts may they were no match for the avenging fury of the Jhereg who shatter her troop’s lines and surge forward to slay her mid rite and thus rescue Madame Carnelian from whatever loathsome fate was planned for her.

Seeing Lady Nexis slain her mutant followers swiftly lay down their arms and surrender to the Jhereg. After much consultation and thought Globalick is declared to be their King now they are free of the spiteful rule of Lady Nexis and is declared so in a ritual ceremony, he declares his and his peoples loyalty to the Jhereg cause.

The Fayre finishes with the usual awarding of the prizes to the victors by the ever generous Lord Jhereg and despite the troubles with the Elven Prince’s and Lady Nexis most agree that it was an excellent meeting. They now set forth for the long journey back to Estragales to see how the new Temple to the Goddess has progressed and to set themselves once again against the forces of their dark enemies in those ancient forests.

So after their many trials and tests in far of lands the warbands of the free peoples once again gather in the forests of Estragales to see what progress has been made with the new Temple to the Goddess, to stand once again against the dark enemies in league against them and to try to thwart the plans of the Istar to link this fair land to the realm of Spirit forever! Indeed it is swiftly discovered that as part of this process the Ritual Circle in the area has been attuned more towards the Realm of Spirit than the other two Realms, with consequences for all who use it.

Whilst they have been away the new Temple has indeed been completed and moved to a new, safer location near the centre of the warbands camps thus hopefully securing from any swift strike by the enemy to corrupt this site as they had previously. Sadly whilst the warbands were absent the Istar had rebuilt her strength and indeed had drawn many followers of many races to her capricious cause and was once again ready to not only continue her plan to transform the land to part of the Realm of Spirit but also to destroy any who stood in her path. Terrified locals spoke of the need to placate the dark queen lest the very trees walk the land and visit her fury upon any who dared to stand in her way! Whilst it could still not be determined for certain if she was fully in league with the Spectre they were certainly collaborating and he and his foul undead forces were growing ever active in the area, so it would seem that once again the united free peoples would face more than one of their enemies in Estragales that summer as they had done in the Spring. Vampires again stalk the path seeking the blood of any unlucky enough to cross their path, Dryads shoot poisoned darts from the undergrowth and mercenaries without honour or scruples do their dark master and mistress’s bidding their purses fat with tainted gold.

The spirits of long dead folk still wandered the area much as they had done previously but this time in greater numbers, all sought when they could be communicated with to be released for they feared they would drawn into the service of the Istar or the dread Spectre if they remained! To many who investigated the matter it appeared that the barrier between this realm and that of Spirit was weakened in this area no doubt by the actions of the Istar and that until that balance was restored then these spirits would have little peace. Indeed at one stage a ghostly war host dressed in the manner of ancient knights of Albion rises through the mist and attacks the AlGaia camp, long dead voices croaking ‘long live King Bardus and death to Lord Derenius of the Gryphons”, trying to fulfil their last living tasks seemingly unaware of their own bodies passing from life reacting to sword strokes as if they could still fell the pain as they cut through their insubstantial bodies.

Whilst their parents are engaged either directly against the forces arrayed before them or in planning how to deal with them the various children of the warbands gather together for a mission all of their own, largely unknown to their parents. In the general chaos of preparations for the upcoming battles this goes largely unnoticed but it would seem that even the children have a role to play in the ongoing fight against the tide of evil flowing over the lands. Who knows perhaps they will somehow prove to be the key or at least part of the solution to the shadow that haunts the free peoples|?

The Lions of Albion had been plagued all year by attacks of escaped prisoners from the prison of Arkham, a prison dedicated to the holding of those convicts of extreme magical power who had either escaped or been allowed to escape! It now appears that tiring of their small attacks they have gathered to assault the Lions far from the support that their homeland offers. However the Lions have captures one of their number and have gained good intelligence about their plans and so set forth to surprise their enemy before they can strike.

Deep in the woods of Estragales they discover the camp of the convicts and form up to assault it but it is not as easy as they had hoped for their enemies being strong in the arcane powers have raised foul undead and constructs to aid them! It is a hard fight with the outcome in doubt for some time but eventually the martial ardour and spirit of the Lions host proves too much for their enemies and they slay them without mercy and destroy their foul summoning. It is in good heart that they return to their camp, one enemy at least defeated before the trial of strength against the Istar and the dread Spectre.

With such an array of enemies against them the warbands need all the information they can get and many a brave scout risks, life and soul to gain what knowledge they can of the enemies forces and positions. Some pay with their lives but many are successful using their skills to travel into the deep forests and return with precious knowledge. That knowledge is digested and plans in the war councils are made based largely on this hard earned insight into the enemies, forces, plans and even the state of their alliance because it is becoming increasingly apparent that whilst the Istar and the dread Spectre are indeed in league with each other their aims differ somewhat but they are united in that they believe that if they can gain enough servants they will themselves become gods! One of the keys to their plans is the recently discovered Nexus, a place where many ancient ley lines converge very near to the original site of the Temple, now of course corrupted by their evil minions. Holding this area will be as important as slaying their enemies in the battles ahead. The other major piece of information is that the enemy plans to converge on this Nexus with three columns of their forces but that communication between these forces with their different allegiances is at times patchy and the free peoples have a chance, if swift enough to perhaps deal with each column individually before they converge on the Nexus.

With this in mind the plans are drawn and the next day the cunning Jhereg, Fierce FirCruthen, Noble Lions, free folk of the Steppe Alliance and the strange new folk of the A’Kesh will sally forth to meet these three columns.

All year long the alchemists of the FirCruthen had been working on a Potion to counteract the fear installed in people hearts by the dread Spectre and now using their miraculous cauldron they have brewed enough of it to allow every brave soul who took the field that day to drink a draft to ward off the chill of fear in their souls! So as armour was tightened, last minute nicks removed from blades and plans memorised this miraculous brew made its way around every camp in preparation for the struggle ahead.

The warbands move swiftly out, racing to reach their ambush positions in time. The scout’s reports are swiftly proved correct as an enemy column is quickly spotted moving through the woods apparently oblivious to any danger with no scouts of their own! As they pass the warbands break from cover and throw themselves at the surprised enemy, the shock of their appearance seems to stun the Mercenaries for precious moments and they take many casualties before they can organise an effective defence let alone counterattack the warbands. Their lines are in disarray and not even the power of one of the FirCruthen’s mortal enemies, Kathryn and her poor spellbound white lady servants can turn the tide in their favour. They are swept away as leaves before a storm and in short order the warbands have their first victory of the day! But for the Jhereg that victory is short lived as suddenly as they prepare to follow their allies towards the next columns reported position a Demon appears and assaults them! It is a creature from Amagos legend and following an ancient prophesy many of the Amagos turn on their erstwhile comrades and support the Demon in its ferocious assault, a heinous betrayal of the Jhereg! Without their allies, still fighting the remnants of the human mercenaries and fighting for their very lives against their former friends an the Demon alike the Jhereg are hard pressed but eventually they mange to drive the Demon off along with the remaining Amagos, their name and betrayal of the Jhereg will live long in that mighty nations memory.

Meanwhile another enemy column has been sighted, and what a sight it is the very earth shakes as the very trees themselves have come to life and are marching with Lady Thorn and her husband towards the Nexus! Accompanying them are mercenaries and other twisted nature creatures in her and her dark mistress’s service. On the flanks move the strange nature creatures the factions encountered early in the year in the area blending in with the foliage so that the warbands were hard pressed to keep a track of their positions. The fearsome Water Elemental now apparently freed from its binding near the site of the Golden Acorn, moves along the valley floor as well. Truly this column is a formidable force!

Before such abominations even the stoutest hearts quails, how can they stand against such gigantic foes and stop their advance, how do you fight nature itself come to life in such a nightmarish form? The ground trembles as the enemy host approaches, the mercenaries clash their weapons and shields as the form into battle lines and the warped creatures of nightmare fan out with hatred in their alien eyes. As the warbands steady themselves for the clash Lady Thorn steps forward and asks for safe passage for her forces to the Nexus, she has no quarrel with these good folk from far off lands, why should they shed their blood in the AlGaian cause against the rightful servants of their rightful Goddess? This momentarily shocks the warbands, could it be true are they really fighting on the wrong side of an internal religious conflict that is no business of theirs? Do they really want to face these nightmare creatures for a cause that is not their own? Lady Thorns persuasive words roll over them like honey backed up by the might of her minions and some begin to murmur that it might be best to let her past! Thankfully cooler heads prevail and the doubters are swiftly reminded that she is a servant of the Istar and in league with the dread Spectre and his allies, responsible for terror and death across every faction’s lands for the last few years!

The warbands reject her false views and offers and move forward to engage her and her twisted forces, the first clash is ferocious as the gigantic animated tress wreak havoc with their brute strength and ferocity, the mercenaries advance in good order and match the warbands blow for blow, the other twisted creatures of nature strike out and harry the warbands flanks incessantly and above all of this Lady Thorn and her husband cast their magic’s with devastating effect at the hard pressed warriors. The lines clash and retreat each side seeking that crucial breakthrough but despite their superior numbers the free peoples are hard pressed against the sheer size and might of some of their enemy. The fight is long and hard and throughout it the warbands ears are full of Lady Thorn’s honeyed words exhorting them to stand aside and stop this senseless bloodshed and let her past, but their hearts are as steel and they falter not as they contest the field with her and her forces.

Suddenly the warbands hearts shudder, another enemy column is arriving! This one led by the dread Spectre with hordes of Vampires and Zombies to augment his well disciplined human mercenaries, how can they stand against such numbers led by their greatest foe supported by the gigantic creatures of Lady Thorn? Resolving to either stop their dread foe’s or die in the attempt they steady their lines for what many believe will be their last day, the Spectre steps forward his cold, dead breath spewing forth as he summons his powers to unleash at the lines. He completes his spell and sends it forth but instead of the terror he expects to strike into his foes hearts they laugh in his face and shout their war cries, the FirCruthen Potion so carefully sought, brewed and kept secret until now has done its work! His power does not affect them and they shout for joy and surge forward and he reels back in panic not understanding what is happening, for so long he has terrorised his opponents and now he must fight for his perverted unlife against foes who laugh in his decayed face!

Still he and his forces are formidable opponents, their foes terrorised or not. Supported by Lady Thorn and her column the warbands still face a long hard fight, the Vampires and gigantic animated trees and their lesser brethren still wreak havoc amongst the warhost’s as do the disciplined ranks of the mercenaries and the outcome is in serious doubt still. Time and time again the dread Spectre attempts to terrorise his opponents but to no avail as they stand firm against his evil power and as if realising that he is faced with an enemy against which his main power is nothing he quits the field to the cheers of the jubilant warbands! Finally they have driven their greatest foe from a field and all thanks to the FirCruthen potion, seeing their leader flee makes no difference to his undead minions of course but his mercenaries begin to retire from the fray and in places see parlay with the now ever advancing free peoples, in some cases it is granted but in others they must fight their way free of the fury of the warriors engaging them.

Seeing her ally flee Lady Thorn tries one last time to convince the warbands to let her past but the tide has truly been turned now and her words fall on deaf ears and she too is forced to flee from the vengeance of the warbands with as many of her minions as can follow her. The free peoples have won the day, three enemy columns stopped or destroyed and their main enemies driven from the field of battle to lick their wounds and to ponder their next move.

It is with great joy that the victorious Jhereg, Lions, Steppe Alliance, FirCruthen and A’Kesh warriors return to the camps that day, heroes all having broken their enemies strength and possibly morale with their achievements. Surely this was the day the tide turned this year, the dread Spectre defied and his allies forced to flee the field in defeat? Their is great happiness in all the camps that night and many sleep easy that night for the first time this year despite knowing that on the morrow they will no doubt have to face their enemies once again but buoyed by the victories of that day, the efficiency of the FirCruthen potion and for a small few the knowledge that there was a secret plan to deal with the dread Spectre once and for all the next day if given the chance.

As the next morning dawns the warhost’s of the AlGaian hosts, the doughty Wolves, steady Teutonians and those mercenaries still fighting on the side of freedom set forth to try to contest control of the Nexus with their enemies as successfully as their allies had done the previous day. Secreted amongst their number that day are a small group of some of the most accomplished students of magic amongst the warbands drawn from all the factions, their mission to try to deal with the dread Spectre once and for all.

Realising how important to their enemies the Nexus was the plan was for the AlGaia to try to hold that area whilst the other warbands moved forward to seek out and engage the enemy forces before they could reach the Nexus, the AlGaia were to support them as necessary. The warbands were hampered this day by both the essential defensive nature of trying to hold the Nexus and by less complete scouting reports than had been available the previous day. Nevertheless they set out determined to thwart their enemies’ designs and to inflict as resounding defeat on them as their allies had earlier.

Swiftly they move to their respective positions and as the Wolves, Teutonians and loyal sell swords move down the valley, scouting for their enemies the AlGaia prepare their defensive positions. They don’t have long to wait as moving from the other side of the valley large Undead forces move towards the Nexus, engaging the rearguard of the Wolves and advancing up the slope towards the waiting AlGaia. Despite having to fight both uphill and on two fronts the foul minions of the dread Spectre give a good account of themselves and for a time both the Wolves and AlGaia are hard pressed to hold them back as more and more zombies, vampires and other foul unlife press forward into the fray.

Meanwhile the stout Teutonian regiments along with the loyal sell swords had met the first enemy mercenaries further down the valley and were hard pressed as they were heavily outnumbered and soon their plight worsened as Lady Thorn appeared with more of the terrifying animated trees encountered the day before. Despite support from the Wolves they are slowly forced to give ground as more enemy units join the fray, Dwarven mercenaries hurl themselves with all the martial ferocity of that warrior race against their hereditary foes the Wolves, twisted nightmare creatures of the forests spring from the very bushes to strike out with sudden speed and through it all the gigantic trees and their lesser brethren drive the free peoples backwards. With Undead hordes still streaming across the valley behind them and enemies’ to their front and flanks in increasing number they are all but surrounded and desperately need the support of their AlGaian allies.

But they are themselves hard pressed by the undead hordes streaming towards the Nexus and cannot strike out to their allies aid in any numbers for fear of losing that important position. It appears that their cause is all but lost as the dread Spectre arrives surrounded by his minions to deliver the final blow but no for at that very moment the small but brave group of spell casters of all the free peoples unleash their power in a surprise move to their dread enemy! Their dread enemy is taken completely unaware by this development and is vanquished in an extreme show of power to which taken by surprise it has no chance to mount any defence! So passes the dread shadow that has hung over the free peoples for so long finally defeated after terrorising the land and peoples with its dread power and foul minions. His minions are devastated by this turn of events and lose cohesion and become easy prey for the jubilant AlGaia.

Meanwhile in the valley their allies are still hard pressed and the fight battle has broken into many parts as the enemy unaware of their dread ally’s demise still push forward towards the Nexus. Desperately the brave Wolves, strong Teutonians and sell swords try to thwart their enemies advance and in places are successful and others not. The enemy presses ever forward their fierce war cries mingling in with the strange moaning of the animate trees and the pleas of the wounded for succour. Showers of arrows fill the sky as time and time again the two sides clash and break apart, each time leaving the valley floor slick with blood and a few more corpses for the raven to feed on.

The AlGaia realising the allies plight but mindful of the need to hold the Nexus send out their swiftest scouts to both their aid and to the other side of the valley to try to locate if anymore undead are likely to assault their position now their dread master is no more. The latter groups locate undead groups but they are small in number and seem to be lacking leadership but are still a dangerous foe, it is a difficult position they find themselves on one hand the need to hold the Nexus and on the other the desperate need to support their allies.

In the valley the fog of war obscures most of what is happening to those on the sides and indeed many in the melees are unaware of what is happening more than a few feet from them. The ground trembles under the weight of the gigantic trees and their allies, the steady tramp of the human and dwarven mercenaries provides a steady backdrop as they push ever forward, support is needed and needed fast if the as still unknown victory against the dread Spectre is not to be lost in that blood soaked valley. Finally they hear the war cries of their AlGaian allies as they stream into the fray, throwing themselves with reckless abandon at their foes and forcing them back momentarily. It seems that the tide is about to turn and the warbands will be victorious once again but at that moment the vile Devourer of Flesh appears to smash into the weary free peoples, throwing its opponents to the ground with it’s massive strength and polluting their blood with its foul poison.

Again the now united warbands are hard pressed but as news of the dread Spectre’s demise slowly passes up and down the enemy lines the pressure from the human mercenaries eases off, remaining undead of course care nothing of this change and continue their mindless assaults, the vampires amongst them proving particularly troublesome and cunning foes. Lady Thorn and her minions also continue their attempts to gain the Nexus for their leader the Istar who also appears and wreak havoc in the lines with her powerful magic’s. The dwarves continue to batter at the Wolves giving and asking now quarter and the vile Devourer of Flesh continues its mindless rampage amongst the hard pressed warbands. But there is a definite reluctance on the part of the human mercenaries to take unnecessary risks and to get too close to the now effectively leaderless undead. Suddenly there is a commotion in their ranks as they seem to turn on each other, all is chaos in their once ordered ranks and they begin to stream from the filed or seek to surrender where their escape routes are blocked. The stoic dwarves however fight on and only a handful of them live to field as taking advantage of the flight of the mercenaries the free peoples press home their advantage and force the rest of their enemies ever further from the Nexus.

As if sensing that the day is almost lost the Istar, Lady Thorn and their remaining minions make one last desperate attempt to break through the warbands advancing ranks but it is to no avail and even the gigantic tree men begin to succumb to the massed blows of their triumphant foes. The Istar quits the field with whatever force she can rally swearing vengeance and apart from small isolated pockets of undead the blood soaked field belongs to the victorious free peoples!

Here is Estragales they have slain the dread Spectre and broken his power forever, driven the Istar and her minions from the filed in ignominy and shattered the mercenaries in her and the dark forces pay forever. Truly with the comprehensive victories of the two days the united free peoples have taken huge strides to rid the lands of the taint of their evil foes and they return in triumph to their camps, bearing their wounds and wounded with pride and their dead with sorrow and regret that so many have had to fall to achieve these victories.

But as the AlGaia return to their camp they discover that the wife of Hart, Overlord of the AlGaia, Ael Shikari, Ael Gaia, Amgea beloved of the goddess has been struck down in some unknown way! She is now in a deathlike sleep in a glass like coffin surrounded but living plants and all the frantic attempts to free her are to no avail, is this a curse of the vengeful Istar or some last blow my the now vanquished Spectre who can tell for certain?

And so it is in a state of victory tinged by sadness and regret that the free peoples disperse to their winter quarters in their homelands and the proud AlGaia look on mournfully at the body of their cruelly struck down queen. What will the winter and 1113 bring, new enemies, new victories and a cure for Amgea many hope but many fear the coming cold as they fear the vengeance of those enemies still at large!

1113

The factions gathered in the ancient forests surrounding Sanctuary, ready to drive the Southern Mempo from their lands. Despite warnings from Overlord Hart to kill any Mempo on site, the camps were visited by their delegations that sought to discuss terms for the inevitable conflict, and to arrange duels of honour with champions of the factions. It was believed that these visitations were a way for the enemy to gauge the strength of the assembled warhost’s, whilst conforming to their strict code of honour. Even with the war footing, and Hart’s threats, the Mempo remained true to their word and left the factions camps and pathways safe to travel.

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 that she would aid the hosts in battle. Her approaches were met with courtesy, but many were suspicious of her true motives.

On the third day a force from the AlGaia, Lions, Teutonians, and the mercenary companies took the field against the bulk of the Mempo infantry forces. Whist the fighting was fierce, the Mempo had agreed to many terms of conduct on the field. Whilst this neutered the power of both sides it ensured that lives were not needlessly lost, and the Mempo maintained their honour. The Capricious Queen also sent her forest spirits to aid the AlGaia in the battle but her pet known as the ‘Devourer of Flesh’ became free of her control and ran amok between both lines. It transpired that malign forces had rested control of many forest creatures from their mistress and now held them in its sway. Eventually the warhost’s fought the Mempo army to a point where their general surrendered and committed seppuku; yielding the field rather than return in disgrace to his Empress.

During the fighting the AlGaia recovered a banner of their Goddess, the return of which was believed to hold clues to breaking the curse upon Hart’s Queen, the Amgea. The Bwana Nunda aided Oak in re-consecrating the land in return for the Capricious Queen’s continued assistance. However, she had other plans and turned on the AlGaia before retreating into the deep forest. Later that night the Lord of the Forest brought the AlGaia to a secluded glade where she had hidden. After time spent trying to reason with her, the warhost from the three kingdoms had no choice but to end the threat of the Capricious Queen and leave her body to return to the land.

During the time the factions were camped around Sanctuary a number magical stone fragments were discovered. The College examined them but even the finest minds of the factions were unable to determine their origin, or what they foretold.

Following the victory of the bulk of the Mempo, it became apparent that they were preparing for a final stand, and planning to use constructs to bolster their forces. The next day the Jhereg, Wolves, Steppe and FirCruthen assaulted a conclave of Kaladin troll thaumaturgists and ordinary soldiers. A bloody battle ensued, with powerful constructs inflicting a heavy toll on their attackers. Finally the High Mage was attacked by a poisoned blade, offered his life he decided to leave in peace. Jubilant in victory, the factions had not only freed the people of Sanctuary, but also captured scrolls of knowledge from the Mempo.

A mighty warhost assembled in the forlorn Norscan region of Valdyrhamr- “Wolfs Lair” – to destroy Fimbulwinter, the dreaded werewolf who has plagued the allies throughout the war with the spirit of Fear.

Valdyrhamr has an ancient association with werewolves – many packs of the creatures have lived there for centuries in more or less peaceful coexistence, keeping to the wilderness in the hope their monstrous selves would not harm the innocent. With Fimbulwinter’s arrival these creatures were brought under his sway, and more beasts flooded into the area to answer his call. As the allied factions gathered to be rid of the terror, the wolves attacked and many of the heroes of the host became infected with lycanthropy. Fearing the curse becoming permanent, and falling under the enemies thrall the factions quickly sought a cure.

At length, a fast moving force of Wolves, Jhereg, Teutonians and others punched through to the beast’s lair. Certain Wolf alchemists had previously prepared a potion and this was administered to the downed Fimbulwinter allowing him to be finally slain.

Other revelations arose in the wood where the werewolves had concentrated. The Drunes, terrible creatures from FirCruthen lands, tainted by blasphemous magic’s, seem to have joined forces with the enemy; their corrupted slaves being seen fighting alongside Fear’s other forces. To make matters worse Empress Nigousan and Kuge Nakamura came from the Empire of the Golden Isles with even more fearful news: Emperor Heyami himself had sided with the enemy. A united force of Drunes and Imperials would be a terrible thing indeed. Will this be what the heroes of the combined factions must face in two months time?

Offers of aid came from an unexpected source. Fae of the Courts of Crimson and Gold came to invite all and sundry to join them in their usually hidden realms of Elvesham in Albion, where they will host a festival of games, tests and challenges. The winners will be granted the, often questionable, but always powerful gifts of the Fae that may be of great aid in the coming battle…

The Court of Crimson and Gold was always going to be a tricky situation for the allied factions to deal with. Two rival and isolated fae factions holding court in the enchanted forest of Elvesham, with the High Kings of Albion and the FirCruthen acting as hosts of a sort in their stead. Yet the potential was high – a chance to strike against the Drunes and their allies and gather favour ahead of the Renewal battles in Manx.

The Courts of Crimson and Gold were dominated and typified by their nobility – political Kings, regal Queens, their Jack enforcers and their Herald mouthpieces. They played with the factions as much as they themselves were manoeuvred by the canny and the foolish, all to court the votes of those present. For the factions had arrived at the prescribed Vote, where the winner would lead the Court of Crimson and Gold for the next 101 years.

Tests and tourneys, raids and competition punctuated the dance of hospitality and vote courting. The Fae proved true to their word though often tricksy – some tests were riddled with violence and others catapulted contenders directly into the dangers of Manx with no preparation at all!

The Vote itself saw a great upheaval in Elvesham, as the factions rigged a 3rd entity to win. For the first time in millennia, the Court of Crimson and Gold would be ruled by neither house but by the legendary Morgaine le Fay. Both houses pledged their loyalty to their new ruler before she dismissed the combined warhost’s and the mists were called down again to hide Elvesham from mortal eyes.

How their trickery will aid the factions against the Drune enemy was uncertain to many who travelled from the magical realm.

Nevertheless the factions excelled and lost few, even in the most dangerous and surprising of raids, but at last the Drune allies fought through the Fae mists and into the camps. There the enemy succeeded, it seems, as they released a great and powerful force of legend, remembered only by the very eldest of the Elvesham Fae: Ouroboros. This formidable ‘King Sable’ seemed little interested in either the factions or its ‘saviours’ however and little fazed by even the greatest artefacts of legend – its mission is unknown and it disappeared before it could be fully challenged by the warhost’s.

It seems unlikely that the Drune Lords would have released such a creature without some plan of harm befalling the factions, but possibly they had miscalculated and Ouroboros was not to be so easily bent to their will.

King Cole of the FirCruthen rallied his friends and allies to confront The Drune Lords upon the Isle of Manx. The Drune Lords, having been released by the Fomori, had sought a war of conquest over the FirCruthen. Turning their backs on their ancient ally Cromm Ruadb they had forged an alliance with the forces of Terror who they had released upon the land. Whilst Terror and its forces were strong the Drunes had little to fear, but as the combined nations defeated the manifestation of Terror across the central continent, so the forces freed to fight the Drunes grew stronger. Local resistance and wise deployment of FirCruthen forces drove the Drune Lords and their control back until they only held the Isle of Bronagh their first conquest.

Knowing that facing the four Drune Lords – Redgar Lord of Death, Nysar Lord of Illusion, Brock Lord of Beasts and Feg the First of Drunes – would be no simple matter the FirCruthen greatly valued the aid given from all the nations of the continent. Once there had been five Drune Lords, but one had willingly sacrificed himself in a ritual, months before, to bind the remaining ones in an alliance with Terror. As the road to defeat Terror seemed to the Lords General to lie in victory over Terror’s allies, and the great circle on the Isle of Bronagh was deemed suitable for the performing of the Great Ritual of Renewal, the warhost’s of all nations made a landing on the cursed island.

Initially the gods smiled upon the warhost’s as little was seen of the enemy forces.  In preparation to face the challenges ahead of them, the peoples of the Steppe Alliance gathered, and to mark this new beginning for them, signed the Steppe Treaty anew, which binds the disparate peoples of the Steppe together. It rededicated them to their common goals, beliefs, laws and structure and was witnessed by many from the other peoples. With the return of the first-born elves and rededication to their place amongst the united nations, the Steppe sought to prove their return as a force to be reckoned with by playing their part in the overthrow of the Drune Lords.

With Drune forces still seemingly absent from the local area the warhost’s took the opportunity of scouting three buildings constructed by the Drune Lords whilst occupying the land. Strangely they all seemed deserted, although it became clear that all three contained magical defences, including in one case an irregularly active ritual circle that at times was quiet but could suddenly turn into a source for terrible magical effects. The Merlin of Albion led several reconnaissance raids on the main Drune Fort, finding it at some times mundane and at others highly magical. Having noticed the arrival of the warhost’s, the Drunes began to assemble forces to harass them, while sending messengers purporting to seek only peace at the same time. None were fooled by the silken words and the diplomats were universally rebuffed.

Whilst raids on the encampments increased, so did their own scouting expeditions. From these it became known that the powers of the Drunes were linked to specific stones: should they be discovered and destroyed, then each Drune Lord would falter and the defences around their buildings at least be weakened. With this information, a council of war was held, and it was decided that the AlGaian, Jhereg, Teutonian and Kesh forces should take the fight to the enemy on the Sunday with the objective of at least neutralizing – and hopefully destroying – as many of these stones as possible, and if possible of killing the Drune Lords linked to the stones they targeted. Fortune again favoured the combined peoples as the stone linked to Brock Lord of Beasts was discovered during a scouting raid.

Armed as the raiders were with foreknowledge of possible ways to destroy the stones that had previously been divined, the stone was destroyed. Encouraged by this good fortune, the agreed force took the field and did perform great slaughter upon the enemy, including, in the end, Lord Jhereg personally attending to Brock’s demise. Despite this victory these forces were unable to make any further headway in securing a total victory over Terror’s allies.

Once the victorious forces had rested the peoples came together to perform the annual Ritual of Renewal. During this ritual a horn was produced that had been gained through combined efforts during the games devised by the Courts of Crimson and Gold. This horn when sounded was said to “wake the land” and many attempts had been made by Drune forces to gain it prior to it being used at the appointed time in the ritual. The note from the horn summoned a “warper,” a divine warrior, by the name of Bran.

Many factions deployed new magic’s, knowing the difficulties they expected to face in the battle. The FirCruthen created a “Death Walker,” the Wolves used the Ghodi Inks and the people of Albion called in a favour from Elvesham in the form of the Crimson Jack. Bran, together with the nations who had remained in camp the day before took the field of battle on Monday, but not before a raid was successfully completed in the morning to close a tunnel from the fort that would have allowed the enemy to redeploy secretly during the battle. The FirCruthen and their Steppe allies performed this raid whilst other groups performed a diversionary attack upon the tower with the corrupted circle.

This tower with Drune stones expected to be within it became the first objective of the forces taking the field. It had been advised that sinking finely crafted weapons into the circle surrounding the tower would neutralise the corruption effect on the circle, unfortunately the numbers brought failed to be sufficient to the task. It had been discovered by the Celestial College that the corruption was partially caused by alchemical liquids having been poured on the area, disturbing the magical balance. By quick reasoning a College member stepped forward and summoned a water elemental that washed away the corruption, completing the neutralisation of the random magic’s and allowing the tower to be taken and the stone within destroyed.

This left the final Drune bastion of the fort, which the factions then proceeded to attack. It was here that Bran proved his worth by breaking through a wall of the fort and doing great damage to the enemy within. This allowed the factions to pour in and defeat the enemy, including Lord Feg who died at that time. At some point in the fight, unseen to all, High King Hazel of Albion was cut off and killed whilst leading a charge against Drune forces that had attacked the rear of the warhost’s. Once the body of Hazel and those who fell with him had been recovered, and believing their work done, many of the Lions left the field.  Nysar Lord of Illusion had however obscured his – and his forces’ – presence from the factions and, seeing them weakened in numbers, chose this moment to show his hand and reclaimed the fort. With his stone intact, the factions could not but fail in their several attempts to complete the victory.

Throughout the battle the mysterious figure of The Betrayer was once again abroad. Ajax of the FirCruthen, realising the outcome of the day relied upon defeating Nysar, made a deal with the Betrayer to reveal where Nysar’s stone could be found. A deal was struck and the stone was shown to have been hidden in plain sight all along. Once this stone was obtained and destroyed, Nysar’s fate was sealed and he was quickly overcome. As the battle drew to the end a collection of figures was observed to leave the field. Who they were and what, if any, threat they represent was unclear.

With the Drunes defeated, thoughts turned to the final defeat of Terror. The creature known as Story, Second of the Principality of Spirit, had once again appeared within the nations’ encampments and told a tale of a temple in the utter West, where the spirit of Courage was trapped by the beliefs of those who live there. He implored the peoples to hear his words and cross the seas to free Courage and thereby defeat Terror. Why the Second of Spirit was so engrossed and partial in the struggle of two of the great Principles of his master’s realm was made no clearer, and why the Betrayer was assumed to be playing an open hand in this was lost to many.

There were two further developments, one aiding Story’s proposed expedition, and the other reducing the peoples’ chances of success. The beneficial aid came in assurances from Empress Nigousan of her support for the project, and the practical help of supplying such deep sea going vessels as were required to transport the combined forces to the West. As a symbol of her goodwill, she promised to travel with the forces as a surety of a safe return. On the other hand, the death of High King Hazel was too much for the Merlin, who shed his form – not before destroying High King Goddard’s sword Excalibur, which he himself had forged and no other could remake.

Lord Hart was also lost to the AlGaia. In a desperate attempt to free the Queen Amgea from her slumbering curse, placed upon her by the Capricious Queen, Overlord Hart had made deals with dark forces unbeknownst to his people. Releasing himself from the bindings of his oaths to his lands, he usurped the power of a rite performed by Oak, Istar of the Goddess, and unshackled himself from the Hunter’s restraint. After a night of gorging himself on the fear of the people, his followers killing indiscriminately from the shadows, he now stalks those across all nations that he declares “heathens” with a band of sadistic hunters at his beck and call, his coming heralded by his chosen Spear, now a spirit bound to his will; the savage, brutal Ram of the Ael.  What effect this will have upon that nation and all others is unclear, but cannot be seen by many as a welcome development.

Further troubles befell the warhost of Teutonia, whose celebrations on the recovery of the historical battle talisman of the nation, the Shrine to the Elder Gods, were cut short. An unknown entity appeared in their camp and, following a fierce, but ultimately futile, assault by the Teutonian warhost, teleported away, taking the Shrine and the Empress Callista Aurelia with him. With all that had been gained lost, the Teutonians resolved to embark upon a Winter questing to recover the Shrine and the Flaminica before rejoining the other nations to press the war to release Courage and defeat Terror.