The Curious Pastime Tales

Here is my tales,
My tale of woe,
Yet please gather round,
As I tell my tale, of The Curious Pastimes.


10. 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 faction’s 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 people’s 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 man’s 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 creature’s 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 its 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 they 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 alongside 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 an end to at least part of the enemy’s 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 warrior’s minds, where was the Ice Giant for as yet he had not been sighted if the scout’s 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 year’s 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 heroes 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 cannier scouts went out to spy on the enemy’s 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 heroes 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 its 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 and 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 its 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 its 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 enemy’s 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 its 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 rival’s vessel with potentially deadly consequences should they have fallen whilst wearing armour!
Much counsel was held regarding the free people’s 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 being 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 its 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 its 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 faction’s 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 people’s 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 presents 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 no 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 its 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 its 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 enemy’s 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?

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