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 people’s 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 people’s other enemies at this dark hour? The matter of the laying of the Keystone for the new Temple and its 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 enemy’s 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 knowing 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 councils 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 quiet 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 its reach! Is this another creature under the capricious queen’s sway or just another denizen of the area disturbed by the conflict in its 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 its 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 rarest 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 re-join 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 not 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 its 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 its 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 people’s 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 choose. 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 enemy’s 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 people’s 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 its foes from its 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 its appearance the undead hordes of the Spectre and the Beastmen redouble their efforts to break the faction’s 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 known 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 one’s 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 its 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 lord’s 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 its 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 people’s 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 one’s 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 princes 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 Princes 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 was 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 people’s 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 people’s 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 draw 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 feel 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 and the Demon alike the Jhereg are hard pressed but eventually they manage 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 un-life 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 enemy’s 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? There 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 rear-guard 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 un-life 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 its 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 they 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!