The Black Plateau growls and shifts restlessly in its sleep.
Two armies take the Crow Road out of Spiral - the Fire of the South and the Green Shield leave shortly after the Winter Solstice. Four armies pass them in the other direction. The Towerjacks return from their furlough in Sarvos. Both Imperial Orc armies, fresh from fighting the Jotun on the western front, march through the pass.
The Empire prepares for one final push, The Grendel secure their positions. The Black Plateau rumbles and mutters.
Thirty three thousand soldiers raise their banners. Nearly fourteen thousand troops commanded by independant captains - ten thousand at least supporting the Summer Storm alone. Two legions of knights called from the Summer Realm march with the Imperials, alongside the Summer Storm and the Towerjacks. Bound to fight with the Empire by the same magicians of Dawn who set the glorious contingent to aid their own armies in Semmerholm.
The Imperial strategy is complex. Some strike for Ossuary, others to Ankra, seeking to exploit the foothold the Empire has secured in seasons past and the Grendel have failed to dislodge. One heads straight for Screed and…
More of that later. The Red Wind Corsairs, urged to ignore the whispering of the Black Plateau, hunt living prey through the dry valleys, through the foothills, through the scrubby forests. Wealth is recovered, prisoners captured, baggage trains disrupted. They strike with relative impunity; the Grendel are dug in and their ability to respond to the corsairs is limited at best. High value “guests” are relieved of their valuables and returned to their comrades for princely sums. They join once more with the Wolves of War, and with the Northern Eagle, and lay siege to Ossuary pushing mile by mile towards the shining prize - the Legacy.
At the same time the Towerjacks and the Citadel Guard strike west into Ankra. The Imperial Orc armies reinforce them from Cinion. The Grendel soldiers try to stand their ground but they are outnumbered and outclassed. In spite of the magic that grants them supernal strategic advantages, they cannot stand against what has come against them. The four Imperial armies crush the limited Grendel resistance, catching them and driving them east and south. Armies beneath banners of twining eels, resplendant turtles, forced to retreat before the hammer of the Empire into the crucible of Ossuary.
Ankra is liberated by the Empire. The great host does not pause, moving quickly to join their allies in Ossuary. The Iron Helms…
No. Later. The massed forces of the Empire lay siege to the Legacy. The Grendel fight tooth-and-nail to keep the mithril mine. Two weeks it takes to finally breach their defences. The Eel and the Turtle banner join the Stone Gyre, but they are not enough. The general commanding the orc troops refuses to give the order to retreat, it seems. It is only towards the end, when the Empire is battering down her door, that she allows her troops to flee south. If not for the intervention of the Sand Pipers and the Salt Dogs, the armies would have been crushed like eggs in a vice. The slaughter is… a thousand dead orcs, hundreds of dead Imperials. The mithril of the Legacy is drowned in blood, stained with defeat.
The Black Plateau hungers. Tides of madness and death ebb and flow. Restful sleep becomes a luxury. Fear, rage, doubt, confusion, despair. These are the currency with which Ossuary is bought. What came before, what the armies who have fought here over the last year have experienced, is as nothing to what comes now.
But two regions are liberated. Thousands of orcs dead.
The Iron helms come at last to Screed. Perhaps it was inevitable, in a way. With the soldiers travel magicians from the darkest parts of Varushka - cabalists well versed in the arts of bargaining, and the dark spirits they have chained. They meet the Iron Gulls, supported and supplied by marines and the Grendel legionnaries that serve the navies. They build on the successes the Empire has already had, pushing the orcs back towards the coast. They fight without quarter. Any orc that falls into their hands is torn apart by dogs, crucified, impales, ripped limb from limb. They have gone beyond mercy, beyond humanity perhaps. What begins as cruelty escalates quickly. They are in the shadow of the Black Plateau - their actions call to it, and it answers. A circle of power begins to flow. Hate begetting hate, fear feeding fear. The Black Plateau rouses.
Into the shadow of the Black Plateau the Iron Helms come. There, as the sun sets, the cabalists begin to weave their magic. Bolstered by the knowledge that they have the full support of the priests, and the generals they draw on old pacts. They call to the shadows beneath the trees of distant Miekarova and Volomartz, on the blackness that waits beneath the hills of Karsk and Karov. They draw it to them, streamers of cold, hungry darkness. And then they turn it loose upon the Grendel.
At the moment their rite is completed, every living thing in Spiral knows it. The presence of the Black Plateau is suddenly impossible to ignore. From Ankra to Apulus every single thinking being is suddenly absolutely aware of the location of the Black Plateau. Heads snap round. Sleeping soldiers jerk awake. The fighting pauses. There is a moment of absolute silence, that seems to stretch timelessly… and then everything snaps back into focus.
Yet everyone in the territory - human and orc - is left with a profound awareness of the Iron Helms. They know where they are, and they know every time one of them slaughters an orc. Every time they tie a captured prisoner between two saplings and let them be torn in half. Every time they burn a Grendel merchant alive. Every time they set their dogs on orcs desperate to surrender. Every time they break the legs of a scout and tie them, still living, to a gibbet for the crows to feast on.
It is bad enough for the Imperials; it is hard to imagine how terrible it must be for the Grendel.
If the Black Plateau was restless before… the intensity of the dreams and visions it brings seems to double over the next few nights. It becomes harder and harder to tell what is real and what is a phantasmagoric hallucination. Supplies of liao run dangerously low as soldiers desperately seek the solace of anointing. The violence, if anything, escalates even further. Only the Red Wind Corsairs and the Wolves of War seem capable of remembering what quarter is - perhaps thanks to the tenor of their orders. Those Imperial soldiers whose generals have urged them to give in to the power that is lose in Spiral, to cut the Grendel down, to take revenge, to hate… they revel in it, in the slaughter. The worst are the orc armies, and the Towerjacks, who begin to echo some of the atrocities of the Iron Helms, but the Citadel Guard and the Northern Eagle likewise begin to seek out opportunities to slake their thirst for blood on the orcs. For their part, the Grendel match the Imperial ferocity blood for blood. They fall back, but it is clear their generals are struggling to keep them under control. They stand and fight when they should retreat. The Black Eels and the Brine Turtles seem least effected, but their relative discipline is more than made up for by the Salt Dogs, Sand Pipers, and the Stone Gyre.
The Iron helms take Screed. The Grendel there retreat south and west. Some to the fortified port of Apulian, some to the south-eastern border, to Apulus, to rendezvous with the forces driven south by the main bulk of the Imperial armies. There, on the lower slops of Apstrus, in the shadow of Solen’s Doubt the final battle of the season is fought.
It is carnage. Absolute. A frenzy of bloodletting, of savagery. Unspeakable. Indescribable.
The Salt Dogs break first, turning on their own officers in their frenzy to escape. As they fragment, a panic runs through the Grendel ranks like a wildfire. The Sand Pipers break next, abandoning their positions and cutting through their own baggage train in their madness. The Stone Gyre try to turn them back, and within moments the two Grendel forces are at each others’ throats. Madness. Chaos reigns.
Those generals still in command of their troops, lead by the cool heads of the Black Eels and the Brine Turtles, begin to sound the retreat. The Stone Gyre refuse. The madness is in them, the terror of the Iron Helms has unhinged their reason. They charge the Imperial lines and are cut to shreds. It is impossible to tell what is happening. Human and orc bodies lie in drifts, the dead and the dying comingled, trampled by both sides in the confusion and…
And then the Black Plateau wakes up.
Everyone fighting in the shadow of Solen’s Doubt knows the exact moment when it happens. It is as if a pressure has been building, unfelt, unheard, for the last year and suddenly it has been released. There is a sound, and a sensation of movement, of overwhelming nausea. Every dark thought, every painful memory is suddenly brought to the fore. Roughly five hundred Imperials - including all the cabalists who roused the terror in the night - go mad or die in that instant, their minds or their hearts breaking into shards.
The battle of Solen’s Doubt ends in that instant. The commanders on both sides desperately pull their armies apart but it is no easy task. The bloodlust reigns supreme. And it is not just aimed at the enemy. Every slight, every little niggle, every suspicion is let loose in a flood as the Black Plateau becomes ascendant. Soldiers who have bickered in the past draw steel against each other. Not every dispute is rational, or real. One soldier stabs another in the back shouting incoherently about an imagined infidelity. Others break and flee, howling like beasts, their reason fled.
The elfin knights fighting alongside the Summer Storm and the Towerjacks depart en masse. They retreat north in as much disarray as the Imperial armies, and withdraw almost immediately to the nearest Summer regio where they depart the mortal realm. Those who saw them leave say that they were pale and brittle, confused and afraid, uncertain, profoundly uncertain and full of doubts.
The Black Plateau is awake.
The Empire withdraws its forces to Ossuary, leaving the remaining Grendel in control of Apstrus and the southern coast.
After the initial surge of madness, the power of the Plateau recedes a little but nobody in Spiral is left in any doubt that it is awake, whatever that means. Everyone knows exactly where it is, a weight on the skein of their pereception. Looked at directly, it is the same as it always has been - a great lump of black volcanic glass. Seen from the corner of the eye - and in dreams - it is the centre of a howling gyre of hatred and despair, a whirling column that reaches up into the clouds, churning ceaselessly.
The Empire controls Spiral - technically at least. They have conquered Ankra, Ossuary, and Screed. Along with Cinon, they now own Spiral. They have also recaptured the Legacy, the mithril mine in Ossuary. Around two thousand Imperals are dead, as compared to perhaps as many as six thousand Grendel orcs. Many are unaccounted for, scattered in the moment the Black Plateau awoke. The Grendel have lost three whole armies to the terror of the Iron helms and the merciless ferocity of the Imperial armies.
And the Black Plateau… is awake.
The Empire controls Spiral; three Grendel armies have disbanded. The Black Plateau is awake.
There is significantly more information about the situation in Spiral here → https://www.profounddecisions.co.uk/empire-wiki/382YE_Spring_Equinox_winds_of_war#Game_Information_:_Spiral
Last Wind of Fortune. There’s a lot going on in it. If you were fighting in Spiral this season you may wish to review https://www.profounddecisions.co.uk/empire-wiki/381YE_Winter_Solstice_winds_of_war#Living_in_the_Night to remind yourself of the baseline horror of the place.
The Major Conjunction wind of war will be up in the next few days, I hope - the various connection problems we’ve been having have put us a little behind, so thank you for your patience.
The picture is from Beth again. it’s a little over the top, really, but too good an opportunity to miss
#Wishyouwerehere, #SomeonreadalotofJamesHerbertasalad, #Allwibewellanallwibewellandallmannerofthingswibewell
Wow. That’s… a thing. Gosh.
And now the Empire has an eldritch abomination of its very own!
It’s a nicely written one, and quite, quite terrifying…
Well… look on the bright side. The Mourn got a lot of goodies for irresponsible cursing. Just imagine what The Spiral will get for having a soul shattering eldritch horror loosed upon all of their minds and dreams.
Oh sweet summer child
Wow. Simply… wow. Firstly, congratulations to the author, that narration was brilliant and really sent the chills, even written in an unpersonal way.
Second… Did I say “wow” already? A true horror story in Empire… I am SO looking forward to have to fight off an enraged captain or general, maddened by the Black Plateau!!
I love this game… Thanks to poeple like the author!