1719 - 1720 T196
Beyond the Wall of Darkness, on the pantal naga…: In twilight, a vast monolith – nearly a hundred feet high, slab-sided, beaten smooth by thousands of chisels and hammers – moved up the ramp. Tens of thousands of slaves, driven by the spiked lash and the threat of the Pit, groaned on the ropes, their emaciated backs straining to pull the colossal weight. Beneath their bleeding feet, wrapped in grimy fur and crude leather, bones and skulls were crushed to powder. The long ramp arched towards the sky, only one of hundreds that ringed the black lake. Fires guttered in the deep valleys between the ramps, barely illuminating the mines that swarmed with thousands more of the wretched slaves. Everywhere, the din of picks and hammers and chisels rose through fetid mist towards the sullen yellow clouds that hung over the entire vast enterprise.
At the top of the ramp, as the great gray-green monolith inched its way towards the rim of the lake, the Uliqqa priests cowered before the stooped dark figure of their master. At any other time the masked priests, their cloaks woven of human hair and hooked wire, would have strode amongst the multitude of overseers and slaves and guards like living gods. But on this day, they bent their foreheads to the crumbling dusty ground and gibbered in fear. On this day, their master walked among them.
<We> taste <victory | sustenance | fear>
The Uliqqa howled in pain, their minds shattered by the sound of that dreadful voice. Two of their number died, flopping on the ground, and were dragged away. The thing in black ignored them. It looked out across the valley, seeing the multitude bent to one awesome single task.
<cold | pleasure | desire | darkness>
Tokugawa Japan: "I do not understand," said the Shogun, looking up from his writing table. Late winter still frosted his garden, but spring was threatening to blossom all over Tokushima on the southern island of Shikoku. A large man wearing the ensign of the Edo merchant council bowed deeply before him, placing his forehead on the tatami mat.
"Please, great lord, we are puzzled as well, but a dreadful consequence threatens – the Shikongou owe large sums to many of my brethren and their merchantmen have ever thronged our ports. The three-diamond ships are the lifeblood of trade to our islands. And now, they are gone!"
One of the advisors arrayed around the room bowed to his master and, receiving a slight nod in return, spoke: "You say that they are gone – how so? Surely their representatives and factors still walk among us – they are Japanese!"
"So I thought too, my lord! But this is not the case. The Shikongou are gone – their warehouses are empty, their offices closed and shuttered. Their ships are not to be found in any port in the land! I fear what this may mean, my lords, given the poor news from the north…"
The Shogun scowled. The fate of distant Tosa was supposed to be a secret – obviously this was no longer the case. He jabbed his quill pen into the porcelain holder (a gift of the late Mongol Emperor) in anger. The expression on his face was enough to send the merchant bowing from the room. His advisors turned away politely.
The Shogun ignored them and turned back to the edicts he was drafting. He was still very young, not more than eighteen, and the matters of merchants were no concern of his.
The fog bell tolled slowly, sounding a warning from the headland at Nojima-zaki. Ensign Keppu ran down the steps from the lighthouse, his face white with fear. In his hand was clutched a scrap of Judean rice-paper with a hastily scribbled message. He ran, full tilt, down the flights of wooden stairs that led to the heliograph station. The shoji door slammed open and he skidded to a halt in front of the surprised mirror operator.
"What is it, lad?" Keppu could not speak, but he held up the scrap of paper. The operator took it, scanned the three scrawled kanji on the white sheet and his own face paled. The paper fell slowly to the floor, forgotten. The operator began howling for help and pulled the heavy iron pin out of the mirror cover. It stuck for an instant, and then rasped free. The mists and fogs that constantly drifted over the hill made everything rust at a ferocious rate.
One wall of the station folded up, pulled by heavy lead weights on long ropes. Fire blossomed in the burner and the mirror, all six feet of glassy surface, lit up like the sun.
The operator ignored his codebooks, this signal he knew by heart – it was the first one that any heliograph operator learned on the first day of school. This did not keep his fingers from trembling with fear as he moved the louvers that covered the mirror. The disk flashed, and flashed again. Twelve miles away, on the headland at Hachioji, another heliograph station was waiting to relay the message to Northern Fleet HQ in downtown Edo. The code read:
The Skull Fleet has been sighted.
Within hours the Northern fleet was boiling out of Edo harbor. Admiral Hirosha’s two hundred plus galleons and frigates swept out of the bay, racing to reach the open sea. Fog still covered much of the bay – the unusually cold winter still clung to the islands, even in April. The lead ships of the fleet had passed the Nojima lighthouse when the first Skull ship was sighted.
It was black hulled, a lithe Maori-style catamaran, with two banks of guns, and showing a thicket of triangular sails. It surged out of the fog less than a mile from the left wing of Hirosha’s fleet, driven by a fresh northern wind that sprang up from beyond the shelter of the Chiba hills. The Japanese wing turned to a quarter-wind and reefed sail. Hirosha signaled the fleet to swing wide and bear away from the shore.
Then the fog lifted and the sea was black with ships. And they were close, far closer than Hirosha had expected. The Japanese admiral cursed vilely and shouted orders to his flag-men to signal the fleet break away and run for Shikoku and the main fleet. But it was too late. The wind turned again, stalling the dash of the Japanese fleet for the open sea and a wedge of mammoth Skull battlewagons surged into the center of the squadron like a iceberg calving from the face of one of the polar caps. Massive trimaran hulls towered over the Japanese frigates, showing deck after deck of guns. Hirosha screamed at his rudder men to turn about and bring his own broadside to bear.
The nearest Skull battlewagon belched flame from four decks of guns and the aft half of the Shinano blew into splinters. Hirosha was killed instantly and then his galleon, shuddering from the rain of shot, convulsed and flame bellowed out of the gun ports. The magazine had taken a direct hit. The massive trimaran plowed on through the wreckage, it’s black hull streaked with the blood of Japanese sailors.
On the shore, at Hachioji and other heliograph stations, there was a flurry of activity, all sending messages south, to the Shogun and the main fleet:
Hirosha and his squadron have been destroyed.
It took three days for the message to wing its way south to Tokushima on Shikoku, where the Shogun was still embroiled in the economic disaster created by the Shikongou. When the message was first delivered to him, he waved the shaking, white-faced naval ensign away.
"Go, boy! I have pressing matters to resolve."
The gold yen had dropped precipitously on world markets. The big zaibatsu combines were in a precarious situation with the Judean banks. One of the daimyo in attendance at the court, however, took the young man aside. This was lord Ishikawa, a handsome young man of an ancient and reclusive clan from north central Honshu. He had come to the shogun’s court with word of some odd doings that had lately occurred at the shrine of Ise.
Within moments of reading the dispatch, Ishikawa had stormed out of the palace and was howling orders to set the Main fleet to sea. Despite the protests of the Shogun, who was stunned by the disaster that had overcome Hirosha, Ishikawa brow-beat the fleet captains into action. Within the day, the entire massive Main Fleet was at sea and tacking north into the face of a stiff cold norther.
Shiono’masaki is a rough headland at the southernmost tip of Yamato province. Its volcanic cliffs break the roll of the eastern ocean, sheltering the entrances to the Inland Sea. The Tokugawa fleet was plowing past the dark prominence when the first signal rocket went up.
Ishikawa strode out onto deck, his long hair flowing behind him in the wind. The northern horizon was nearly black with a storm-front. Lightning-wracked clouds billowed up with dizzying speed, casting a pall across the waters. At the edge of the storm, the sharp-eyed lookouts of the lead Tokugawa frigate had spied the black triangular sails of the enemy. Ishikawa, ignoring the protests of the Shogun, who had spent most of the voyage being violently seasick in his cabin, gave the order to deploy the fleet for battle.
The core of the Tokugawa fleet plowed north at a close angle to the wind, while two great wings of frigates and galleons peeled away to either side. Over a thousand ships of war cut through the waves, each filled with tense, angry men. The honor of Japan had been stained by the debacle at Nojima. Today it would be cleansed with blood.
An odd yellow light fell over the waters as the black clouds passed overhead. The wind continued to howl and snap among the sails, but the sea quieted and smoothed out. Ishikawa felt a great uneasiness steal over him. Again the signals flashed from the flagship.
Stand ready they said.
The Black Fleet poured from the shadow under the clouds, covering the sea. It was enormous, almost as vast as the Japanese fleet. Sleek trimarans scudded ahead of the main body, their skull-ensigns quite visible, even at the opening distance. Behind them, a wall of warships fully as large as the greatest of the Tokugawa ships-of-the-line came forth. Their gun decks glowed with red flame and the black sails seemed to cover the horizon.
Ishikawa signaled: Fleet advance, full speed.
Range closed and the lead Tokugawa frigates opened up, exchanging shot with the Black Fleet trimarans. Shot plunged into the sea, sending up geysers of spume. One of the Black Fleet scouts took a hit on its steering gear and careened out of control. Fire fell among the lead elements of the Japanese fleet. Ships burned, sending up a thick gray smoke.
At the seaward edge of the advancing Tokugawa fleet, the superior number of Japanese ships allowed them to ‘hook’ the edge of the Black Fleet line. A fierce melee developed as trimarans and galleons arced through the heavy sea, exchanging broadsides at close range. More ships burned.
Then the main body of the Black Fleet appeared and the clouds closed in. The yellow light flickered and went out and a fire-lit gloom settled across the waters. In the failing light, Ishikawa could make out that massive ships, easily twice the size of his flagship had entered the fray. The boom and thunder of their broadsides lit up the dark sea. They crashed forward into the heart of his line and everything dissolved into chaos.
On the deck of one of the mammoth Skull ships, a hundred Ulliqa priests whipped themselves into a frenzy, their bodies dripping with blood. Sacrifices were brought forward and dispatched in ghoulish haste. Souls and essence were offered to the skies, where the clouds roiled and twisted against the wind. Something surged there, bending the fabric of the world.
On the shore, fifty miles away, there was the gleam of something bright, perhaps a mirror turning in the wind, and a single pale beam of sunlight fell across the clouds. Lightning cracked and hissed, searing the eyes of all that looked upon the clouds. But the power that had tried to enter the world was denied and the horror that had almost been loosed was stayed. For a time.
Ishikawa fought his fleet hard, giving no quarter and piling his three-deck galleons into close, suicidal, range of the mammoth Skull battlewagons. It was useless. Japanese shot spalled away from iron-plated hulls and the five and six decks of Skull cannon tore ship after ship to splinters. In the heavy sea, the triple hulls of the Black Fleet ships could stand more damage and pull a closer turn than the single hulls of the Japanese.
Fires burned on the water, lighting the heavy close clouds. Ishikawa gathered the remnants of his fleet around him and broke for the open sea. The northern wind now worked to his advantage, giving him speed to break away from the charnel-house behind him.
The Tokugawa broke from the fray, darting out to sea. Ishikawa, wounded, his head wrapped in a crude bandage, stared back into the darkness, seeing the Skull ships moving, their sides lighted by the glare of burning Japanese warships.
"There will be a reckoning!" He shouted into the flame-lit air. "We will destroy you!"
But somewhere on the dark sea, on the command fo’castle of a Skull Sherak-class dreadnought, a thick-bodied figure laughed at the sight of the fleeing Sunlanders. Armor shaped in the likeness of sharkskin glittered in the death-pyre-glow of a Kyoto-class galleon that was sliding under the waves off the port bow of the Membinasakan. The Skull flagship plowed through heavy seas. The figure motioned and smaller, darker, shapes scurried to do his bidding. A signal mirror gleamed in the darkness, flashing green against the clouds.
Now the trap would be closed.
The Japanese fleet had broken away entirely and was speeding across the queer flat waters when the wind shifted. It yawed wildly, first to the east, luffing their sails, then back to the north, then south. Ishikawa stared up in horror at the clouds, seeing them boil and twist in the wind. The Tokugawa angled along the coast, trying to turn the headland. Then something moved in the clouds.
Something enormous. Something glowing with the fire of hell.
Ishikawa’s eyes widened and everything became very clear to him. He turned, shouting for the gunners on the deck below to charge and elevate the cannon.
The decking at the center of the ship exploded, sending yard-long splinters arrowing across the gun lines. Men screamed, bleeding from a hundred cuts. Flames, green and orange, roared out of the gaping hole. Ishikawa staggered to his feet, his ears ringing. Around him, across the dark sea, flame was spearing down out of the heavens. Vast shapes moved in the unsteady air, vomiting fire. The Japanese fleet scattered in panic, but again and again, the bolts of flame rained down and each time a ship died.
Ishikawa barely had time to raise a fist in defiance, her helmet knocked askew, her hair billowing free in the sulfur-tainted wind, before the leviathan of the air turned again over her flagship and the sky filled with green fire.
Days later, on the shore at Tokushima, the princess Natemi stood with her feet in the water, staring out to sea. The heavy clouds had parted a little, letting a few gleaming rays of the sun touch the waves. Far out to see, something was moving on the face of the waters. The princess, her odd black eyes calm, raised a hand in greeting. One of her servants, standing behind her asked what she was waving at.
"My father," she said in her queer toneless voice.
The servant blanched, knowing that the girl’s provenance was unknown.
The great Tokugawa fleet did not return from the north, though an enormous amount of wreckage drifted ashore along the coast of Yamato. Nearly three weeks after the disaster, four or five frigates limped into Tokushima harbor, escorting a lone Kaga-class draken carrier. This was all that remained of the Japanese Main Fleet.
A month later, in June, the Skull Fleet appeared off of Kumamoto on Saga and landed an army on the peaceful shores. Despite the presence of freshly raised fortifications around the port, the city fell quickly to the Skull marines. Hundreds of merchantmen in the harbor were destroyed or captured and fires raged in the city for days. The Skull fleet at first allowed a few ships of refugees to flee, but then blockaded the island and closed off all shipping attempting to enter the Inland Sea.
In December it was reported that the province of Kagoshima had also been seized by the Skull-banner, but little was known of the fate of Nagasaki. The Tokugawa capital at Tokushima was wracked with riot and confusion – the Skull fleet had isolated Shikoku and nothing was getting on, or off. In the palace, the lord Totoro (the husband of the late Empress Moyoi) had declared himself regent for the princess Akemi, as Kusagi was presumed dead. This declaration was met with cold silence by the older princess Natemi, but she did nothing.
On Honshu, lord Ichida had dashed north from Yamaguchi once he had received the news of the fleet battle at Edo, but when he reached the bustling metropolis, there was no invasion. Still, odd news came to him out of the north, where there was some trouble on Hokkaido. He marched his men further north…
Meanwhile, in the northern islands, an army of dark-visaged men under a banner bearing a snarling wolfshead had crossed the Tatarsky strait in March 1721 be ice-sledge. A fleet of ships of peculiar design were also reported, lurking beyond the icefloes. The Wolf army swept south, overrunning the small fishing villages and mining encampments. Rumors fled before them, saying that the Ainu had risen up in revolt at last.
The city of Dorzen, at the southern end of the island, found itself besieged in May. Dozens of ships had already been sent south, begging for aid. Then hundreds left, laden with all the people they could carry. The advance of the Wolf out of the north could be marked by the pillars of smoke that marked their presence. It’s defenders fled and the remaining citizens leaderless, Dorzen fell with barely a shot.
In October, Hokkaido was invaded by the Wolf and Soryaku fortress breached and captured in February of 1722. Chaisan, undefended, had already fallen. More Wolf armies had followed them, swelling their dark ranks. On the southern side of the Tsugaru Strait, lord Ichida watched the black Wolf ships prowl the waters with fear. When the assault came, he would have few troops to meet it.
Finally, in late 1722, a Javan fleet struck at Chi’lung on Taiwan, but failed to breach the defenses of the city and withdrew after looting the countryside and bombarding the city for a time.
Pure Realm: Many of the higher priests were sent away, laden with supplies and books and grim-faced guardsmen. So did Wan Xi take ship for the south in March of 1721. A month later, in April, the fleet – groaning to the gunwales with cargo – slipped away under cover of darkness. Wu Lee and Dun Ho had the custody of those precious items. But Cho Lan remained, watching the west from a high tower.
So too remained a certain casket, still buried deep under the temple of the Wing Kung. The guard had been doubled and doubled again. Cho Lan slept by the battered old thing at night, and meditated in the presence of its rusted locks by day.
June came and with the hot wind, two men on a fast ship without markings. They were grim and worn from long travels, but they were admitted – in haste – to the sanctum itself. Singh rose from his meditation and bowed before the two. They returned his respect and smiled. Yen-Yui and Yui-Yen had come through hellish torments for this day.
"Greetings, master," they said in unison.
Cho Lan smiled, his round face lighting in delight. "Greetings, sons of heaven."
"Are the bones safe?" Yui-yen cocked his head towards the casket. Cho Lan nodded yes. "Then we are ready to leave. A place has been prepared for them."
Cho Lan raised a hand as the two men bent to grasp the worn old handles of the box. "No, my sons. We must wait. A special ship is coming from the south."
Yen-yui frowned, the scars along the side of his face giving his face a demonic cast. "This is not wise. The enemy knows where the casket lies – it must be moved, and quickly too."
Cho Lan shook his head again. "The Jade Emperor has sent word that we must wait for his emissary to reach us, then the casket will be taken away."
"How long?" Yui-yen growled, his hand on his sword.
"Soon," said Cho Lan, raising a placating hand. "Soon."
Two weeks passed, and the Ming emissary did not arrive. Then three had gone by. Yen-yui, nervous and on edge, stalked the battlements of Fusan, late at night. Clouds had covered the moon and a cold wind was building out of the north. The Judean prince looked to the sea, wondering if enemies were creeping towards the shore, even as he watched. There is something, some dread feeling, in the air…
There was a rattling sound, metal on metal, and Yen-yui spun – his long rapier already in his hand, gleaming. The rampart was filled with dozens of men in black. They rushed forward behind spears chalked with coal-dust. The prince leapt back, parrying the sharp points. There was a bitter smell in the air -- a slow match! Yen leapt from the wall, falling into darkness below.
Behind him, hundreds of men swarmed down from the rampart, wrapped in black, their boots muffled by furs. Above, something drifted across the moon, vast and dark. In the night, a fuze burned down and then there was a sharp whistling sound. Something fell from a height.
Flame blossomed in the darkness and a massive explosion rocked the inner precincts of the citadel. The first bomb had smashed through the roof of the Wing Kung guards barracks. Five hundred pounds of the finest black powder detonated, smashing the building to rubble and killing over two hundred of the guardsmen.
The sky filled with fire, lighting up the city. More bombs rained down, filling the streets with burning shrapnel. Black-masked soldiers descended from the sky on long ropes and jogged through the streets, killing anyone they encountered. Smoke billowed up, curling across the looming shapes of dreadful creatures hovering in the sky.
In the inner courtyards of the Temple, the Twins commanded the defense, rallying the priests from panic and flight. Squads of Wolf raiders slipped through the darkness and gunshots rattled like rain on a tin roof. Acrid smoke drifted, white, through the corridors. A barricade of couches and prayer wheels was thrown up in the Room of Peace. Yen spitted the first Wolf raider to leap across it, but a hundred more followed.
The Wing Kung fell back, battling furiously for each room and hallway and chamber. The priest Chu Lo had been murdered in the initial attack, leaving Yen and Yui solely in command.
High above, on the flight bridge of the Firinhelaket, a man in quilted furred armor and a falcon mask stared down at the burning city. Light flashes from windows in the sprawling grounds of the Temple told a grim story of hand-to-hand fighting in the claustrophobic rooms.
"Launch the second wave," he snapped at his signal men. They bent quickly to their shuttered lenses, sending the message to the other ships of the fleet. A half-mile away, the ponderous bulk of the Hewircelal and the Firande swung through the air, sliding over the domes and spires of the great temple itself. Wooden hatches in the lower carriage of the vast ships swung open and bombs rained down on the malachite and jade domes below.
Yui was thrown the floor hard by the blast. Rubble rained down from above, crushing his men. Smoke billowed through the air, making it impossible to see. Someone was screaming in the distance. The Judean prince crawled out from under the plaster and smashed timbers. The last barricade was littered with dead men. There was a hissing sound and the prince scrambled back.
The barricade blew apart in a blast of green flame. Bodies, wreathed in fire, were scattered across the vast temple nave. Yui dodged through the pillars, aiming for the stairwell to the Vault. Wolf-raiders poured through the doors behind him, their voices raised in a blood-curdling scream of triumph. The silk hangings on the walls were licked by flame.
Yui reached the top of the stairwell and skidded to a halt, his eyes wide with horror. The broad steps were scattered with the bodies of the priests tasked to defend the holy of holies. Far below, in the vault, he could hear the rattle of gunshots and the cries of dying men.
Yen is down there, was the single thought in his mind. Then the sound of running booted feet came from behind him. Biting back a curse, the prince faded into the darkness among the looming statues. A company of Wolf-raiders jogged up and took up positions around the head of the stairwell, their black rifles at the ready. The prince crouched in the dark, waiting.
Below, in the vault, a Wolf-captain thumbed back the hammer on his revolver, cocking the weapon. A curl of white smoke leaked from the muzzle. The room, vaulted and dim, was carpeted with the bodies of the dead. His men moved carefully, the bayonets on their short payung rifles slick with blood as they made sure each fallen priest was truly expired. Stepping over the body of a tall black-haired youth that he had just shot above the left eye, the Wolf-captain motioned with the gun to his sappers.
The engineers crept forward, their faces taut with fear, heavy satchels of powder in their hands. A raised dais stood at the center of the room, holding not one but two iron caskets. To the unwary eye, each was identical down to the dents and scratches. Reaching the top step without incident, the lead engineer turned, looking back to the captain for guidance.
"It doesn’t matter," he growled. "Destroy them both."
The Burung Elang watched with interest, his hands on either side of an observation blister. The city was shrouded in smoke and lit by fires raging out of control in the lower reaches. The temple grounds were also burning as his men still on the ground set everything alight that they could. He had ordered the Firinhelaket higher so that he would have a good vantage. Below, the black-vaned shape of the Firande began to rise away from the temple gardens, sluggish with the weight of so many men.
At least two companies of his payung remained in the Vault – one on the stairs, the other in the final chamber. His masters were harsh taskmasters and the Burung did not intend to taste the Uliqqa pain-whips in the near future. Two hundred men were a small price to pay for victory.
There was a muffled boom and dust gouted from the windows of the temple. The pale clouds drifted across the gardens for a moment and then there was a second rumble. This time fire belched from the tall doorways and the clerestory windows. The green dome rippled with the shock and then shattered, falling in slow-motion into the inferno that consumed the heart of the temple. Flame jetted up, lighting the city with a red glow.
Impotent light fades to darkness restored
beacons cut down by Death's cold scythe.
Their work begun with Terror's embrace
cold as wind from hallowed space
Wind blows clean through opened doors
sweeping clear sun's fearful slaves
into jaws where they will feed
the constant hunger nightfall brings.
The Burung ended his low chant and turned, his eyes narrowed with interest behind the feathers of his mask. Some unseen blow suddenly galvanized the Uliqqa priests chained to the deck behind him. Their muscles twitched uncontrollably and they thrashed in their bonds. Eyes rolled white and jaws went slack. The Burung gripped a railing, steadying himself.
< We | Are | Full | Sated | Overflowing >
The sound issuing from a dozen mouths struck the fleet command like a physical blow and he cried out, feeling blood seep from his nose and the corners of his eyes. He cowered on the decking until the sound passed.
Around him, in the night sky, the great shapes of the fleet rose towards the moon, turning away from the burning city, heading north on a brisk wind.
Two weeks later, the Ming lords Yang Do and Kao Sun arrived in the harbor of Fusan. They came on a specially built ship, with a heavy escort of Ming war-galleys. They stood on the deck, their eyes streaming with tears, as the ship glided into the massive harbor. Smoke still hung over the city, fouling the air. The docks were deserted. A few putrefying bodies remained, bloated and black, on the quays.
It seemed a city of the dead that they entered, far too late to prevent a disaster of stunning proportions. Yang Do, who had not yet seen the work of the enemy, could not bring himself to leave the ship. Kao Sun, however, rushed to the great temple, a company of Ming Fleet commandos at his back.
He found ruins and the heaped bodies of the dead. Despite much of the city escaping the blow, the citizens of Fusan remained locked in their homes, paralyzed by fear, refusing to go out. Kao Sun picked among the ruins, finally finding the body of one of the attackers. His face white with rage, he stripped the corpse of its weapons, powder and gear. With these things bundled in a ragged black cloth, he returned in haste to the ship.
Chan Mongol Empire: With the worsening weather, the Emperor found it seemly to build more granaries, bath-houses and covered arcades for merchants. This proved wise, for a severe drought then afflicted the Manchurian plain as weather patterns shifted to the east.
The northern border of the Chan was disturbed by scattered bands of refugees that stumbled out of the deep forests into the frontier forts along the Amur River. These poor wights, starved and hollow-eyed, spoke of armies of fell creatures (more beast than man, most said) that had overwhelmed the provinces of Kurshin and other points north. Few had survived the trek south…
Though no blow had fallen upon the Chan themselves, the bitter tragedies of the world drove thousands of peasants to the temples of the Pure Faith, chanting and praying.
Khanate of Khitai: Despite the disaster that had nearly overtaken the Khanate two years before, Tsewang struggled on. The cities of Qaoding and Ulan-Ude were fortified and many new cannon cast. The Gurkhan would not go down without a fight! Letters came, as well, promising aid from the mighty powers in the south. While his paltry forces straggled into Ulan-Ude to forestall any new outbreak of the Frost Wolf, the Khan settled himself into a yurt in the main square of the city, where he lived thereafter. In defiance of the Ice, Tsewang also took a new name – Altan Khan.
So things stood for all of 1721 and much of 1722. The north was silent as death and no ravening hordes of the Frost Wolf and Ice Drake spilled from the dark trees. The winters were harsh and the snow lay on the ground until high summer. Altan held court in his felt yurt and a dreadful sense of tension lay over everything.
Then, in July of 1722, a huge army arrived from the south-west. It was strong and proud, numbering a host of Judeans and Ming among its numbers. The lord Josephus of Judea led it, though many brave captains were among its number. It marched through the streets of Ulan-Ude, heading north, for a full day and still the regiments passed. A young Japanese merchant, perched on an eave of the old Dantai trading house to view the parade, counted more than 60,000 men in arms, plus a multitude of servants, chandlers, wagoneers and cooks.
This force, in bright array and gleaming panoply, dared to enter Mongol and look upon the ruins of Khanbalik. There, in a dead and empty land, occupied only by slinking fat wolves and crows, the princes of the Sunlands found the Great Buddha torn down and smashed to bits. In its place, looming odiously over the wreckage of the city, was a vast statue – a thing of black and green stone, leprous to look upon, with titanic folded wings and a head writhing with snakes and tentacles. In its mauve talons, the withered corpses of two young children and their mother could be seen.
The Khitan soldiers, seeing the corpses of their late, beloved, queen, wept at the dishonor done her family. The Frost Wolf army was nowhere to be found, but the handiwork of its passing was all too clear.
Prester John: With the advance of the Ice to almost the very gates of Karakocho, things were looking grim in the land of Prester John. Richard Corrigan, long the Khagan, died in 1721 and his son, Lewis, was forced to ascend the throne at the tender age of 15 years. The boy-king prayed to Allah that the bitter conflict in the east not spread to his own realm, though he had acceded to demands on the part of the Persians to allow their armies passage.
Still, the passes were closed throughout the year now. Soon it would be quite impossible to go from east to west and back again. Sunni missionaries in Suachu found the local tribes unwilling to accept Allah.
Judah: The Emperor, seeing that a challenge worthy of his realm had at last revealed itself, threw the entire might of Judea behind a massive enterprise to throw back the Ice and smash the conspiracy behind the threat from the north. The ports of the Kingdom were placed under strict watch, with excessive surveillance of Nisi, Aztec and (before they vanished) Shikongou merchants, shipping and warehouses being the norm. A huge new fleet building campaign was begun, and the cities of Xinpu and Huang’hu were expanded to accommodate the construction.
Certain outposts were also fortified and everywhere the Border Watch and the militia were placed on alert against Ice attacks. Admiral Te, posted to the Kuriles, contracted the Cough and died.
Admiral Bar-Kochba was dispatched with a massive new fleet to patrol the coast of the Kingdom, which he did and found a peaceful task. Though scattered Japanese ships came out of the east, bearing tales of slaughter and woe, no Skull ships dared Judean waters. A squadron of Tokugawa warships, however, was sighted off of Xinpu in Tsainan, but it fled precipitously at the approach of the Judean fleet. The fleeter Japanese ships soon dissapeared.
General Josephus was also sent off, to the west, with a strong army, but he did not return to Judean lands by the end of 1722. In the hinterlands of the kingdom, another struggle renewed itself – the efforts of the Christian priests to sway the common people to worship the Christ. In these dangerous times, these matters of theology were often settled with knife and fist, rather than reason.
Ming Chinese Empire: Enraged at the effrontery of the Ice, Ming-ta called upon all Ming – noble and commoner alike – to sacrifice for the cause of victory. Much like their Judean overlords, the Ming launched a crash army muster, stripping their merchant marine to the bone to provide the men to form a hundred new regiments. Considerable outrage was also expressed at the perfidy of the Shikongou, who (like they had done everyone) vanished stealthily one night.
So, thought Ming-ta; the Khitan are assailed in the North, their children slaughtered; Master Singh is lost on the road from Fusan and a great smoking pit is found there; Tosa is over run by the Ice people; my favorite dog has given birth to a three headed puppy; and some faceless Enemy threatens to rend the Ming Empire. It is an evil time. Determined to get to the bottom of these matters, the emperor summoned his wisest advisors, including even the priests of the Pure Realm and such as remains of the former Jade sect masters. These learned men held long conclave in the Palace, and then, when they were done, the Emperor will decreed the following:
One: There shall be raised a monument to the Sun to redress the imbalance that has brought the Ice. In a wide court in the heart of Wuhan shall be cleared a space. The priests of the Pure Realm shall place their blessings upon it. Mothers and children shall come to this place and sing in a joyous voice. Then men shall come and commence a great construction. It shall be a statue of the great Buddha himself of shining bronze. He shall sit with legs crossed facing the north. His visage shall be one of joy as he gives forth a great laugh with eyes that glitter with happiness – and with warning. His left hand shall rest lightly upon his knee. His right shall be raised up above his head holding the very Sun itself so that its light may pierce the darkness. Before the Buddha shall be a large basin which shall have burnt in it every night incense that brings to mind thoughts of spring and summer. The priests will themselves come before the Buddha each day and sing to his glory giving prayers asking for an end to the Ice. All the people shall be encouraged to attend to the great statue and raise their voices in joyous song as well. Those who cannot come to Wuhan shall also sing in gatherings sponsored by the priests in each town and city. The songs will be joyous – but the resolve behind the singing shall be stern and determined.
Two: A great host shall be sent into the North to lend aid to our brothers in Khitan. These men go with courage and fierce resolve to seek the destruction of our Enemy. We must pray for them and the success of their mission. But is not enough to send forth this host and pray for success. We must prepare our selves for the coming of the Enemy that we will not be taken unawares. To this end the Emperor will raise a great army in Wuhan. Also, he will speak often to the people of the need for sacrifice to right the evils loose in the world. He will speak of the need for every man and women of the Ming Empire to be ready to spill his or her blood in the struggle. He shall speak of the terrible evils befalling the people of Khitan.
All these things, the Emperor of the Ming did.
The arrival of the Pure Realm priest Wan Xi was met in Wuhan by cheering, exultant, crowds in excess of five hundred thousand people. A carpet of flowers paved his way into the heart of the Ming capital. There, at the center of the vast sprawling city, an enormous Buddha was under construction and Wan Xi had come to bless it. This was done, and the chanting of ten thousand priests rang to the heavens.
The Emperor’s father-in-law, the Marquis of Chiennan, was dispatched to the north with a strong force of men to aid the Judeans in their war against the Ice. At much the same time, the fleet that had been operating in the Indian Ocean returned, unmolested.
Every city in the realm, but most particularly those along the coasts, were hurriedly fortified. Barbicans and crenellated towers rose to the skies on the backs of millions of laboring peasants. But no blow came, and the horrors of the Ice were not visited upon Ming.
Khemer Empire: The building continued to burn fitfully, sending up showers of sparks and fresh black smoke as the timbers settled. Inspector General Ho paced along the street, his narrow cold eyes watching the gangs of slaves digging at the rubble. Luckily, the Dantai compound had been surrounded by a clear fire-lane and a robust brick wall topped with broken glass and iron strakes. The conflagration that had consumed the huge four story Japanese style villa had not spread into the surrounding district.
Angkor was a city of great vitality, but adherence to the building code had never been a strong point amongst its citizens. When flame had first leapt in the rice-paper and pine building, it had turned the whole place into an inferno in instants. The Inspector came upon a pair of watchmen, covered with soot and glaze-eyed.
"Who did this?" He snarled, kicking one of them in the side with a iron-tipped boot. "Did you see them?"
The two men cowered, their foreheads to the hexagonal red tiles that covered the courtyard of the villa.
"Yes, my lord," they stuttered, almost overcome with fear. Ho knelt down, taking the ear of one between callused fingers as strong as a metal vise. Ho smiled, though the cold gleam did not leave his eyes.
"Men rushed up from boats on the canal," babbled the first man, pointing towards the rear wall of the compound. There one of the many canals that criss-crossed the city butted up against the brick wall. There had been a loading gate in it. The foot-thick cedar panels of the gate were shattered ruin now, scattered across the rear courtyard. "There were explosions. The Japanese were crying out, but the men in black killed them as they ran and threw the bodies back into the burning house."
"Did these men in black have any house or clan signs? Had you seen men like them before?"
The watchmen groveled. They knew nothing.
Ho jerked his head at the Moro jasman who commanded his personal guards. The islander, grinning broadly and showing fine white teeth filed to points, drew his kukri and slashed downwards with all the strength of his bronzed muscular shoulder in the blow. The two watchmen jerked and then fell, headless, to the tiles.
"Tear this place apart," growled Ho to his lieutenants. "Find everything worth finding."
Night had fallen again, bringing a drizzle of warm rain, by the time that one of the slaves crawled into the shelter where Ho was waiting. He sat by a hot brazier, holding grilling meat and a pot of tea. The slave wore only a grubby, mud-stained, leotard, but he bent his head to the floor and held up a fragment of metal. Ho took the scrap with a raised eyebrow, then his smile faded and a terrible scowl crossed his thin face.
He turned the blazon over. It had been held by a stout pin, but had caught on something, tearing a bit of black fabric with it. Ho knew the sign quite well – he had been forced to kneel before it before. It was the hooked cross of the Divine Judean Fleet Marines. The bastard Chinese…
Ho dropped the fragment on the ground and crushed it with a boot heel.
"Leave nothing standing," he said to his subordinates in an off-hand way. "Nothing happened here, nothing at all."
Though the Inspector hoped that the matter would blow over, there were repercussions at the highest levels of the Khemer government. Large sums of gold had been promised by the Japanese and their murder and the subsequent collapse of the Dantai trade network meant that those crates of coin were not forthcoming. Many projects had hinged on the delivery of those sums – projects that were now abandoned.
Java: "Well," groused Abemon to his pregnant wife, Ma Cheung of Ming. "This is a bit of a bother." The King held a letter in his hand, delivered from Khemer by a Javan courier catamaran. It seemed that the heads of the Shikongou Dantai had been lopped off. With this turn of events, it was quite unlikely that enormous (even staggering) sums of gold would be deposited in Abemon’s coffers anytime soon.
Safavid Persia: Miranshah roused himself from the drowsy sleep that had afflicted mighty Persia for too long. If the Ice continued to advance as it had done, soon the gleaming walls of Bukhara would be crushed under its weight. The Shah issued orders to expand the Imperial army and bring the fight to those that served the Ice itself.
Within the first months of 1721, a strong army under the command of the lord Kaldir was dispatched to the east. Some effort was made to disguise this movement of 24,000 men, but since they used the Imperial Highway this was sort of moot. Unfortunately, once Kaldir and his men reached the eastern border of Ferghana they found the highway closed by heavy snows. It seemed that the Tien Shans were impassible this far north. Kaldir was forced to backtrack and go south, through the province of Kush.
Even this way, which was barely passable, took a great deal of time. As a result, the Persian army did not reach the rendezvouz in Tangut until the end of 1722, weary and footsore. The Ming and the Judeans had already given up waiting and gone north. Kaldir, wracked by fever, ordered his men to fall back to Maclan in Tuhnwang, where they could get food and water at least. Kaldir died in November of 1722, leaving his army stranded at Maclan, demoralized and leaderless.
Back in the heartland the city of Tariba in Balkash had to be evacuated as the killing frost of the Ice overwhelmed it. Luckily, lord Takar was on hand to oversee the flight of the refugees, who found themselves a new home in the far south, in the abandoned city of Nasiryah in Hahmar.
Miranshah had barely managed to make sure that the hapless citizens of Tariba did not starve to death on their long trek south, when word came from the fortress of Orthanc (where it watched the Kyzl-kum desert) that a vast host of steppe-riders had suddenly swarmed out of the deserts and into the farmlands of Bokhara province.
"That," grunted the Shah, "would be the Turgay."
He rode north within days at the head of a massive army of over a hundred thousand men. Sleek draken paced his advance, extending the eyes of his scouts a dozen leagues. Swarms of Persian light horse watched his flanks and corps after corps of infantry tramped along the roads, their bright red kepi’s and bayonets glittering in the sun. Against the dark green of their field uniforms, they made an impressive sight.
The Turgay massed 56,000 men and they swerved aside from Miranshah’s attack like water around a stone. The Persians, slowed by their massive infantry formations, were unable to come to grips with the nomads. The khan of the Turgay, Tugshada, did not desire conflict with the immensely powerful Persians – he wanted to get away from the cold death!
Unfortunately for his plans, he was only able to exercise his superior mobility enough to get his people deep into the province of Turkmen before the Syr Darya river stopped his flight. Trapped at a burned out bridge where the crossing of Farab had been, Tugshaida turned to fight. Outnumbered by two to one in men, and a hundred to one in cannon, the Turgay perished nobly on the banks of the river. Miranshah did not allow a single man to live. The slaughter was horrible and the river was stained red and black with blood and rotting corpses for weeks.
No man threatened Persia and lived to tell of it.
Kiev: Even with the Ice pressing ever closer in the north-east, the Kievians enjoyed a period of peace and prosperity in their kingdom.
Swedish-Russia: The efforts that the Queen had been about were taken up by the popular Sir Ole Botter, who oversaw the evacuation of Mordva and Saratov. These refugees were taken south to Torki (where they built a new Sunkeep; Zaythomir) and then into Kalach (where many settled) and then a new town, St. Natasha in Cuman. The remainder found new homes in Rostov itself, on the shores of the Black Sea. Nothing remained in Mordva, save the Ice which covered the land with its freezing fogs and endless snow.
Rumors, however, abounded in the wake of the foul murder of the Queen Mother, that a similar attack had also been made on the young Tsar Samuel, though no evidence of this was made public and the boy appeared at the funeral, dressed in a pitch black suit. Public attention was easily diverted by news that Imperial Vampyre troops had raided the offices of the Shikongou Dantai in Sevastopol and found them empty and abandoned. The remains, in the accompanying warehouses, of a vast shipment of crates were found however.
Driven by the Ice, the Veposkavans (a tough and hardy breed) swarmed out of the north and into the Imperial province of Rhzev. Brushing aside the local militia, they captured the little towns along the Riga-Smolensk road and imposed a stringent tax. This state of affairs did not last long, for the Altmarsk Yeltsin had marched his army home to Riga. Hearing of the "bandit invasion", he pressed on and – after a few weeks of marching about in the woods – thrashed the Veposkavans at the Church of Lillehamar and forced their chiefs to bow to Sweden. The Veposkavans were sent south, under guard, to settle in Neyvilna as wards of the state.
The Regent, accompanied by a veritable horde of his lackeys, took the fleet to sea and made passage to Lorraine, where tens of thousands of expatriate Yaquis and Tarahumara were loaded up on to every barque, scow, coaster, troop transport, merchantman and galley that the Empire (with the English and the Pope) could scrape together. The Low Countries, once more, were depopulated and the hapless citizens carted off to a sunnier clime. The Swedes showed tremendous efficiency at this, having honed their skills at moving populations over the past decade.
In the north, along the shores of the frozen Gulf of Bothnia, General Kutusov was busy shepherding the population of Jamtland south into Halland, where the town of St. Sigurd was raised, and then to Latvia (by ship) where the remainder (tough veterans) built a Sunkeep called FrostWarden athwart the Riga-St.Charles road.
While the fringes of the Empire were recoiling from the death-cold touch of the Ice, General Simonagun at Moscow found himself with a full scale panic and evacuation on his hands. Despite the fond hopes of the Senate, old Muscovy was fast succumbing to the Ice. After nearly a thousand citizens froze to death in one night, Simonagun ordered a general evacuation. Covered by his cavalry corps, the Muscovites tramped south on frozen, frost-rimed roads, to find new homes in: Chernobyl, Kremenchug, the new keeps of Sun-Ward in Levedia and Skjellhammar in Polovotsy, and Kherson.
Even with all this effort, each man and woman, heads bent low under the weight of their belongings, counted each mile south with the dreadful thought – what use is this? The ice will only advance and again and again we will have to flee…in the end, there will be no escape.
Danish Empire: An alarm bell rang in the gloom of night. Kristatos snapped awake, his mind filled with a dream of leviathan wings and an endless multitude of burning eyes. Without thought for clothing, he snatched a pistol from a holster on the bedstead and charged out into the hall. His guardsmen, hulking Illyrians with back-and-breast half-armor and rifled matchlocks, were already alert and poised for action. The ringing sound continued. Kristatos canted his head this way and that.
"The library in the Tower of Sight," he snarled and took off at a run. The Illyrians, rifles at port-arms, were right behind him. All around them, the Fortress of the Pearl was rousing itself to watchfulness.
The princess Oniko was already in the library when the Emperor arrived. She was cradling a shotgun in one arm, while the other held a thin cigarillo. Clove-scented smoke trailed up around her head. Her long black hair was bound up on her head in a tight bun and she was in nearly full field armor, lacking only a helmet.
"Father." Her slanted dark eyes were filled with a grim humor. A stray tendril of raven-dark hair curled down next to her pale white cheek. "Good eventide."
"What happened?" Kristatos’ voice was hoarse. An aura still flooded the room and made him blink with pain. He felt the wash of some infernal ichor drip from the walls. Oniko turned, pointing with the smoldering tip of her cigarillo. The Emperor felt his face go still. A welter of bodies littered the carpeted room. Blood soaked the thick Persian rugs, making a squelching sound as the Illyrians spread out across the chamber, their guns nosing into the corners and under the tables.
"Something entered through the window," said the princess, her voice still carrying that trace of amusement. "It tore out the tempered iron bars and left deep, groove-like scratches in the granite casement. The guards tried to stop it…" She nudged one to the bodies with the steel tip of her boot. "…and they failed. I was returning to my rooms from the armory and I heard their screams. When I entered, the thing was gone."
Kristatos paced along the lines of bookshelves, his face grim. When he got to the window, he turned, glaring at his daughter.
"Get the librarians up. Pull the codex and make sure that every single book that is supposed to be here, is here."
Oniko bowed her head in acknowledgement, then took a long drag on the cigarillo. The Emperor strode out. The princess looked around, then flicked the butt into the middle of a pool of blood. It hissed, then went out.
News came from the east that chilled the blood of every accountant and merchant in Venice. The Mansuran canal had been destroyed and the fabulously rich trade with the east had been cut short, as if with a flensing knife.
House of Falcòn: The loss of the Mansuran canal and the resulting cessation of trade and communication from the east gave Falcone operations in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf a swift kick in the head. The news from Asia had been dire before, but now it ceased altogether.
Libya: In the night, with the moon and stars blotted out by heavy clouds, something came on the air. The panicked ringing of an alarm bell woke the Danish troops guarding the citadel of Krak. Shots were heard in the commandery, and then the confused shouting of men. Everyone rushed to the watch stations, scanning the land around the citadel.
One old sergeant, who had served in Egypt for more than thirty years, kept a weather eye on the sky. Krak had fallen once before, to a draken attack from above. He had been there, that day, and only survived by a miracle. Tonight, as he watched the sky suddenly blossom with fire and the huge shapes of things in the sky appear out of the murk like the leviathans of the deeps, he cried out in horror.
Thousands of men in dark green descended from the sky on long ropes. Great ships of the air settled into the fields around the fortress, pouring forth men and light wheeled guns in an endless stream. Bombs rained down on the citadel, bursting violently among the startled defenders. The night shook with the roar of flame and the concussion of shells exploding on the ramparts. In the Danish headquarters, there was ruin and death, for a kommando of the attackers and slipped into the fortress a half-hour previous and had slaughtered Ragozin and his staff in their sleep.
The Danish troops and settlers fought hard, but wherever they attempted to make a stand, the leviathans of the air were waiting and rained down fire and shot from above. The Danish fleet, at anchor in the harbor, burned fiercely, set alight by naphtha bombs hurled from the airships. The civilians tried to flee, but a cordon of skirmishers had been set out around the citadel. A few escaped, bearing this tale, but nearly all perished horribly in that dark night.
It was weeks before a Libyan patrol crossed the Nile and came upon the scene. Tens of thousands of bodies choked the Mansura canal, bloated and rotting in the hot Egyptian sun. The stench was enormous and the clouds of flies that rose from the canal, and the fields around, was so thick that it blotted out the sun. The Libyan commander was ash-faced to see such slaughter. Even the Rif were not so ferocious.
Worse, the citadel of Krak had been torn down and the canal filled in with the debris and that of the smashed Danish fleet. Signs along the shore indicated at the captives had been driven with the lash to fill the waterway with rubble before their own bodies joined the shattered stone in the thick, fouled, waters. It would take months of work to clear the passage.
Maasai: Masai was rich and powerful and at peace. No one threatened them, their neighbors begged their favor and their trading partners valued them highly. It began, as many evil things do, with a small matter. Some of the crews of the Royal fleet at Mombassa came down with the Cough. This passed, but left them weak and quarantined on their ship, lest the disease spread. A Khemer merchantman docked near them and some of the sailors snuck out at night to have a little libation.
They met some of the Khemer seamen – oh, a rough and rascally lot with many scars and more the look of pirates than honest men – and drank more than a little in a dive right there on the waterfront. Then they stumbled back to their ship.
It was a week, or more, before someone came to see how they were doing. Every man aboard was dead and the gangplank down. Some dogs had smelled the rotting flesh aboard and had dragged two of the bodies away, into the narrow dark streets behind the port. The dogs had fleas. Within the week, bubonic plague ripped through the shantytowns of Mombassa like fire on the high grasslands.
Carried by the thriving coastal trade and the fine road into the highlands, the plague flew like the wind, driven before cities filled with the dead and dying. In some towns, it turned pneumonic, filling the air with death with every racking cough. Bulboes clustered on the dead like enormous distended beetles. There was nothing that Nestor or his army or his pride could do to stop the epidemic. Even killing the refugees in their swarms only led to more rotting bodies and more disease…
The cities of Mt’wara, Lindi, Angoche, Pebane, Mbeya, Gilwa, Rotai and Nur-Ahan were devastated. By great good luck, the flash of the outbreak faded before it could reach the Golden Coast of the Horn and the truly great cities of the realm were only lightly touched. The south suffered the most, with hundreds of thousands dying. Nestor hid in his palace at Mbeya, though it was too little avail – his soldiers died in droves. Many just fled into the jungle or mountains, hoping to escape the invisible death.
A pale northerner with a scarred face wandered amid the pyres of the dead, saying "this is the doom that has come to men! The black messenger speeds towards us across a gulf of space and time, vast wings blotting out suns and worlds in his path! A reckoning awaits with tiny gods that strive against the thing of a thousand forms! Sin drowns the world and he will cleanse us all, in blood and fire…"
Near the City of the Great Race: The woman, her hands pale and cold, pushed herself slightly aback from her ebony desk. Quietly she leaned back in her dark chair. Her blood red nails strummed along her desk as she considered her messenger.
"That was the total of the message, Val?"
"Yes... Yes... Dark Queen." The girl stammered. "The dark king said nothing else."
"You may go. Sleep the sleep of the dead and return to me before the first dawn of the Sun."
With a flip of her pale hand she dismissed the girl and turned to study her map. With practice ease and grace she moved over to the wall upon which it hung, studying it. Her gray green eyes narrowed in the flickering light as she considered the world she saw on this map. Her very special map.
It was a map like none other. Rumors flew about her camp about the dread rites that were performed to produce it. She cared nothing for the rumors, or for the truth, for that matter. A cruel smile touched her pale blue lips as the Dark Queen thought on about how many would die for such a map as she gazed upon. The whole of the world was there. It’s landmasses and water bodies drawn out. Little lines were scrawled neatly over the protective covering. Lines depicted countries, governments, religious powers and even the waterways.
Chanting in a twisted tongue, her voice filled with dreadful cold she picked up a quill dipped in indigo. Throughout the night she chanted and drew. The tent grew colder as she worked. The flame in the candle flickered smaller and smaller. Shortly before dawn the girl returned to her tent as ordered.
"You can still stand the light of day I understand. You have not been long enough with us that you must hide from the light, yes?"
The woman did not turn from the map as she spoke. The messenger shivered in the cold air, nodding her head. When the Dark Queen heard no answer she turned to look at the girl, her visage turning the girls blood cold. Her tongue now even more froze in her head than before she did no more than continue to nod.
Val couldn't believe her eyes. The woman that was her Queen had always been pale but now she was blue with cold. Many lines had been changed on her Queen's precious map and now a great blue extent covered much of it.
"Ride swiftly Child. Tell the Dread Lord that his wish will be carried out. Tell him...." The Queens icy voice crackled as she turned to survey her map again. "Tell him that the Ice will advance more slowly over the Water. It is not much, but it may serve his purposes. Still, I will not fail him."
With a nod from her Queens head the girl fled but no amount of running could warm her blood. She would never know warmth again for it was ice that filled her veins now... ice.
Editor's Note: The Dark Queen is Medea.
Nisei Republic: Koheru received the first intimation of trouble when a swift courier boat from the Aztec city of Azoton in Kayak brought word from the northlands that a vast horde of "leprous cannibals" had poured out of the passes above the city and overwhelmed the trade station. The Aztecs on the boat were still shuddering with fear at the sight. Apparently some gruesome disease had afflicted those humans still living in the Icy north. They had become monsters…
The army was placed on alert and IXth Corps moved out, heading north to watch the mountain border along Chilicotin and Kelowa. This was an excellent plan, for the next news out of the north – again by courier boat – was that the city of Zhai in Tlingit was under attack! Unlike the Aztec fur-trading station, Zhai was a fortress built long ago against the threat of the Tatars. It was strongly garrisoned.
Ieyoshi, however, took the rest of the army north as well. War was brewing up in the north again, even as it had in decades past… By the time the Nisei corps had reached New Yedo in Chemakum, a battered boat of survivors from Zhai had arrived in harbor. The savages out of the north were armed with modern weapons – great cannon and rifles with hellishly long range. They had stormed one of the bastions of Zhai and breached the wall in hand to hand combat. The garrison had fought hard, but it was not enough.
The daimyo was chilled not by the loss of the city – that was nothing to him – but by word that the invaders out of the north bore before them the banners of old Tatar. "What is this enemy that does not die?" He wondered. Messengers were dispatched to all of the cities and towns along the northern edge of the Republic. The enemy might strike anywhere now… but Ieyoshi knew that that main stroke must come, had to come along the coastal plain. The Nisei army hurried north, into Comox.
IX Corps led the way, it’s scouts flitting through the forests of Timishian. Ieyoshi advanced carefully behind a screen of cavalry and woodsmen. The towering black clouds of the Ice loomed on his right, among the snow-capped peaks of the Carrier range. He reached Terai and found the town still in Nisei hands. An evacuation to the south was ordered.
Ieyoshi’s scouts found the Tatar army, pouring across the bridge at Kuwhilko and sped back to him. The Nisei pressed on, throwing out a cordon of light horse to block the invaders. As each army filtered through the forest, it became clear that the numbers of the Sunlanders were far superior to those of the barbarians. Ieyoshi smiled grimly -- this will end here he vowed to himself. His army arrayed itself for battle and continued to advance, slowly.
The Tatars proved a little quicker in the woods and bogs than the Nisei, however, and secured a strong position along the low ridge on either side of the highway. Before his advance elements knew it, Ieyoshi’s army was making a hasty assault up a low incline. Then the Nisei suddenly discovered that the ‘barbarians’ were equipped with modern rifles and a plenty of heavy artillery. The battlefield woke to the roar of guns and the hammering of cannon. Ieyoshi and his staff rode swiftly forward through the ranks of regiments still marching in column along the road. Dispatch riders darted in all directions.
The fight on the ridge was sharp and brief and the Tatars had been driven off the position by midday. Ieyoshi halted the attack, regrouping his scattered troops from wood and dale. The commander of IXth Corps had been hit during the fray and the daimyo needed to restore the chain of command. By late afternoon, the Nisei advanced again. But now they found that the Tatars had swiftly withdrawn. The battle was over.
Ieyoshi’s scouts quartered the ground and brought him news. The enemy army had been less than half the size of his own. "If that is their main force," the daimyo said to his brigade commanders, "then we will not need the attack dogs for this war!" The men laughed. Leaving IX Corps in Timishian to watch his rear, Ieyoshi advanced with his main body into Tlingit, where he found that the barbarians had abandoned Zhai to him as well. This ended 1721.
Meantime, far behind the line of battle, while heavy snows fell across all of northern Nisei and a cold cruel winter gripped the land, the president of the Republic – Koheru Kaitain – was dying in the capital of New Osaka. An ague had long gripped him, and now it was leaching the life from his bones. His advisors huddled around, grieving, and waiting through the long night on the solstice of that year – the longest day – waiting for the white-robed priest to come forth from the bedchamber and announce that death had come at last.
Death came, but not in the shape of a sad-eyed priest. The doors to the antechamber suddenly blew apart in a stunning explosion. Flames licked up the walls and smoke boiled out as black-clad men rushed in, the guns in their hands booming as they cut down the advisors. All over the city of New Osaka, fires lit the snowy sky. Vast dark shapes drifted through the air, raining bombs and fire on the buildings below. The city burned furiously and the city watch died where they stood in a vain effort to stop the invasion. Thousands of the enemy descended from the sky, clad in black, marked only by the mon of the reviled house of Azuchi.
Kaitain was not quite dead when the commander of the assault force strode into his chambers. The man was tall and strong-featured. He seemed familiar to the old statesman and the man, his face streaked with blood, leaned close and smiled.
"This is a day long put off, old man. The Azuchi exact a small part of their vengeance today. Your city dies, and with it, the heart of your realm. Greet your gods with a brave heart, Kaitain, for mine will now rule on earth." The man, Azuchi Zetsubo (the last son of that ancient house) shoved the blued steel snout of a revolver into the President’s mouth and pulled the trigger. The echo of the gun was lost in the roar of burning buildings and the screams of the President’s family as they were dragged out into the snow. More gunshots came.
Zetsubo strode out into the garden. His commanders clustered around him. The sky was a roiling red murk of cloud and fire and great dark shapes.
"Leave nothing standing," he rasped, "take your time. Make sure no one escapes. Their army is drawn away and it will not return in time."
Once they had finished with the capital, the Azuchi airfleet struck at New Yedo in Chemakum next, destroying it utterly and slaughtering the students and faculty of the university there. Unmolested by Ieyoshi’s army, which was still desperately trying to rush back from Tlingit, the Azuchi then vanished to the east. Later reports, received by the ashen-faced daimyo as he walked amongst the still-smoking rubble of New Yedo, held that the invaders had captured the city of Taidan in Nicolua.
Besides the other trouble and travails that afflicted the Republic, the flow of merchants from Asian lands sputtered and then ceased. The northern oceans no longer allowed the passage of trade. It was grim news for the Amerikan powers that had grown fat on the Chinese trade. Worse, the disappearance of the Shikongou smashed the remainder of the Nisei sea-borne trade into splinters. The coffers of the state would be barren in the coming years…
Hideyoshi Nisei Shogunate: While the Republic burned in the west, the Hideyoshi found their new conquest of Chippewa overwhelmed by the Ice. Prince Akade, commanding the remaining forces in the east, fell back to Dakota. It was good that he did so, for his father, the noble Kejin had fallen ill and died in the autumn of 1721. Unfortunately, the advance of the Ice was only the least of the Shogunate’s problems.
In early 1721, while Akade and the Nisei VII Corps were still riding back from Chippewa, the Cree and Kennesaw tribes suddenly stormed out of the north into the province of Sioux. With the plainsmen rode figures in cowled dark robes, things that chanted and raised strange lights. Things that spoke like men, but turned the thoughts and worship of the Cree towards the wendigo and the dark spirits that live behind the stars. The Cree, unopposed, swept over Sioux – where their tribes found a new home – and then conquered Crow before turning east.
At much the same time, the Plains Ojibwa, Plains Cree and Assinboin – also driven by the Ice and the words and fever dreams of the Uliqqa priests – invaded Teton from the north. Meeting no Hideyoshi resistance, the Ojibwa secured the provinces of Teton and Okoboji. After this, the Cree arrived from the west and the combined force (over 47,000 tribesmen) slammed into Dakota itself.
There the swift-riding plainsmen found the combined forces of Dakota (only a paltry 1,400 samurai) and the Nisei VII Corps (16,000 weary and footsore veterans) to defend Igashi. The Japanese had only barely arrived in time. The plainsmen, driven almost to madness by the black drink of the Uliqqa and the frenzied chanting, hurled themselves on the lines of Nisei soldiers. The VII Corps rocked back at the blow – it had been a little time since they faced a full out cavalry charge – but held. The Nisei artillery tore gaping holes in the Cree and Ojibwa, slaughtering thousands. But the plainsmen knew no fear and they kept coming. Their new god had promised them victory and each death only sent another warrior into the promised paradise of Borea.
The Nisei center held, but the flanks were swallowed by the endless numbers of the Cree and Ojibwa. The VII Corps commander attempted a marching square to fall back to the streets of Igashi (the Dakotan capital had no walls) but the Uliqqa drove the plainsmen to mad attacks, one after the other. A side of the square crumpled and then the horde of tribesmen swarmed in, lances and sabers flashing. The Nisei fought bravely, but VII Corps perished in the grain fields before Igashi to a man.
The army of the tribes stormed into Igashi with brand and flame and the Uliqqa priests raised a great howling to the sky in praise of their masters and the Others, offering the city as a sacrifice. Igashi died in fire and torment and rapine and the citizens were hauled away as slaves and worse…
The Cree found this new fertile land to their liking, settling their families around the blackened ruin of Igashi. Some of them even lived in the houses at the edge of the city, but at the center, where a towering monolith of gray-green stone rose, no man lived. The flickering shapes and contorted angles of the statue made even the battle-hardened Cree flinch and look away. Only the Uliqqa went there, in the dark of the moon, to raise their voices in dreadful song to the black sky.
After their great victory at Igashi, the Cree and Ojibwa swept east, overrunning the provinces of Shetek, Santee, Iowa, Oto and Missouri. Fushige in Missouri, also defenseless, fell easily to the tribesmen.
The Hideyoshi, stunned beyond measure, fled south and founded a new capital city and a rallying point for their scattered, demoralized, army at Natchez in Caddo. As luck would have it, the Nisei fleet had been operating on the St. Lawrence and, when the Ice overwhelmed the old Huron territories of Ottawa and Huron, admiral Moshi had managed to evacuate the Nisei troops in those provinces. After a long sea voyage, he too reached Caddo with some 10,000 troops. The new Hideyoshi shogun, Goweishan, was incredibly glad to see him!
Shawnee Empire: Shawnee merchants visiting the island of Anticosti returned in haste to Arkham and reported that the Danish settlement there had been slaughtered and the bodies "gnawed and chewed and some roasted in pits". A burned out Danish frigate was observed in the harbor of Basilhavn and later, it was determined that it had carried the lord Lilenthal to the island. Apparently marauding Ice tribesmen had come upon the settlement by canoe and wiped it out.
Text from a Soapstone Tablet, Delivered to the Aztec Emperor Héshqu by Unknown Means
To the Aztecs, a warning to heed.
To Nisei, death from above, in the dark, by the Black.
To Shawnee, a question, of motives and actions.
To Hideyoshi, a prodding.
To Colorado, an opportunity.
To others, fear; to <Others>, Joy.
To allies, gladness; to enemies, sorrow.
To the Ice, blessings; to the sun, curses.
The time is near, for <Those from Outside>.
The time is near, the stars are right.
The gods watch, the servants act.
The stage is set, the actors appear.
And it for you to cower and fear.
1723 - 1724 T197
Beyond the Wall of Darkness, on the pantal naga…: Where one monolith had stood before, now a second rose into the muttering sodium-yellow sky. Black and featureless from the vantage five miles distant, the broad-shouldered man knew that every centimeter of the looming edifice was graven and scribed with signs and symbols. Their strength pressed against the air, bending the sky around the black fang. The foundation of a third was rising as well, completing the designs that the Uliqqa had writ large in blood and iron on the floor of the valley.
Blessed snow spattered out of the cold sky, and Kartuq raised his lean, scarred face to receive it. Here, on the watchtower that stabbed up from the eastern wall of Drakenroost, he could look across the heart of his domain. A thousand feet below, the valley boiled with slaves like the ants of some Sunlander savanna. Tens of thousands of the Naiponese, the Chin and the subject tribes of the interior were bent under the lash, feeling the iron teeth on their flesh. They died in droves under the baleful influence of the Towers, yet more arrived each day from the south in endless slow-moving lines… Stone and mortar, greenstone slabs, jadeite pillars and iron beams flowed up from the quarries and foundries that sprawled around the fortress like an open suppurating abscess squirming with maggots.
Kartuq smiled, his teeth showing bright and white in a face burned dark by the Midnight Sun. He turned away, back to the planning room. His staff, busy at their plotting tables and writing desks, looked up for a moment, then bent again to their tasks. The Ice-Dragon valued effort and a keen mind above all things. The tall man strode through the long chamber and into the vestibule beyond.
Stone doors a meter thick rotated away from his approach, revealing the circumference of the Eye. The Uliqqa, twitching and drooling on the floor, bent their scarred, tattooed, foreheads to the glossy black marble.
“What news?” Kartuq looked upon the Eye with distaste. The shining white surface roused a feeling of repulsion and disgust, even in him, who had walked under the boreal sky naked and alone, with only the voice of the Windwalker for his guide.
The Uliqqa turned their sightless eyes toward him. As one, they spoke:
It is as was foretold. The Exiles rush to collision and all will turn on that balance.
Kartuq smiled, feeling the weight of destiny and fate rise from his shoulders. Three hundred years of vengeance and hate would soon come paid…
Tokugawa Japan: Despite the thrashing that the Shogunate had sustained, Yen continued to struggle gamely on. Various black-clad messengers that had come to the Tokugawa court in Tokushima were turned away, and Yen refused to hear their sweet words. “We will fight to the end,” he snarled at his courtiers. “There can be no surrender to the Darkness.”
The whole of the land, meanwhile, was in an uproar. Writs and edicts had hurried out from Tokushima to every corner of Japan, summoning every last man with two arms and legs to battle. A massive fortress was rising rapidly around the sacred precincts of the shrine at Ise on the coast of Yamato, fueled by the frenzied efforts of tens of thousands of workers. The armories of Tokushima flooded open, fitting new recruits with armor, guns, swords, bows. In every port, the merchant ships that had circumscribed the world to bring goods and trade home to Japan lay empty and abandoned on the quays. The sailors, cursing their fate, were enrolled in a hundred new regiments.
Totoro meant to meet the power of the Ice head on and break it. The martial spirit of the Nipponese was matched by no one! Lord Chiyu, who had spent much time of late in Yamaguchi, trying to convince the southern daimyo to support the Tokugawa, finally managed to get them to sign up. Then he expired of a heart attack while preparing to return to Tokushima.
Part of the defense of the realm meant hiring the Noyan Bantukh at Kyoto and setting him (and his rascally band of mercenaries) to defend the Shrine at Ise. The Bantukh’s price? No less than the hand of the princess Moyoi in marriage and a massive army. In May of 1723, however, the ronin captain dispatched a furious letter to his putative father-in-law. The princess, long considered a little strange, had absolutely refused to meet with her husband, preferring to remain in the sacred garden. Further, the army had failed to arrive to reinforce the Bantukh’s bare eight thousand men.
Before a response could come from the capital there was a sudden Black Fleet raid on the seaside gardens at Ise-no-Kamigawa where Moyoi was staying. A fierce struggle ensued before the Black Fleet marines were driven off. In the aftermath, as the Bantukh’s men searched the grounds they found that even the unexpected aid of a group of Ishikawa samurai (who had been going to pray at the shrine dedicated to Ameratsu at the water’s edge) had not prevented the pirates from stealing the princess away.
It was a bad omen.
It got worse. In March of 1723, a ship put in to the port of Edo in Kwanto province. It was met at the docks by a wary city police detachment, backed by several thousand citizens with traditional katana in hand. A young man strode off of the ship, accompanied by twenty or thirty retainers. The police captain questioned him and then, shocked beyond measure, bowed low before him. It was the Shogun, Kusagi, who had come out of ice and storm to return to his homeland. The youth was immediately taken to the residence of General Itachi, who had just completed raising a new army at Edo.
By April the word arrowed across the land, bringing confusion and alarm and joyous celebration. The Shogun had struck a deal with the invaders, with this “Black Fleet”, and now Japan and the Fleet stood as allies. Peace would return to the islands and the kami would bless the harvest. The dread cold in the north would not fall upon the Home Islands. Japan would rise again, strong and powerful.
Itachi’s army acclaimed their Shogun with a great, thundering banzai! The people of Edo cheered as the army marched out, heading south, for Yamato and the old capital at Kyoto. On Shikoku, Totoro blanched when he heard this news. Both princesses were now gone, stolen or fled away to safety. He had a powerful army, but it was trapped behind the barricade of the Fleet. Bantukh was wavering on the mainland and General Ichida was no where to be found.
The worthy, who had been digging in to defend the crossing of Tsugaru Strait, had decamped from his position there – wisely knowing that it was untenable in the face of the Fleet’s control of the sea. He was marching south in great haste, but along the northern shore of Honshu. He had no idea that, a hundred miles away, beyond the spine of mountains, Kusagi was also marching south with another army.
As it happened, both armies managed to cross the mountains into Yamato in June, still unaware of the other. Both, however, had the same distination – the holy of holies, the great shrine at Ise on the south-eastern coast of Yamato province. And there, ensconced in a massive ring of fortifications, the Noyan Bantukh was chewing his nails and working on a fine ulcer.
Kusagi’s army of Restoration and Ichida’s Northern Force collided at Toyoake on the edge of Nagoya plain. Each army was looking for an enemy and though they were surprised to face one another over a field of waving grass and clumps of oak, they wasted no time in plowing into battle. Kusagi had nearly 25,000 men and Ichida just over 18,000. Ichida held an advantage of having draken to scout and more experienced troops. Kusagi, in a wry turn, was well equipped with light guns specifically designed (by Judean experts) to knock down draken.
Kusagi led off with a shattering artillery barrage and then threw his main body into Ichida’s left flank. The veteran Gumma regiment anchored that wing and took the blow without flinching, throwing the Restorationists back. The rest of the day passed in equal slaughter as regiment after regiment marched into the thick haze of cordite smoke and the constant rumble of the guns. The next day, with Ichida’s left compressed into the wreckage of a farming village and the right a wild melee of cavalry and light horse-drawn guns, saw the Shogun grind down the forces loyal to the Regent. Despite sustaining horrific casualties, Kusagi held on, clawing at Ichida’s line, leveraging his superior numbers.
Ichida, his force reduced to a third of its’ original size, tried to break off during the night of the second day, but was forced to give battle, again, three miles away on the third day. This time, with some open ground to work in, Ichida managed to escape, but with only a few thousand cavalry. Kusagi halted, his army savaged, and rounded up the prisoners and abandoned guns. He went before the captives and praised them, offering them service in his own ranks and the reclamation of their lost honor. Thousands accepted his offer, restoring some measure of his losses. Then he turned south, heading for Ise Shima.
The Shogun came down out of the hills and found that the once placid gardens and beautiful orchards around the grand old shrine at Ise were gone. Instead, three brooding ugly rings of sloped rampart and bastion surrounded the complex. The camps of a vast body of workers cluttered the countryside; evidence of the Regent’s furious drive to fortify the holy place.
Kusagi deployed his men, preparing for a long siege. His spies told him that there were nearly 23,000 men defending the sprawling fortress and he had only 17,000. But the Shogun was patient now, having gone through experiences that would have driven other men mad, and he knew that he could count on powerful friends that would be joining him quite soon...
In September of 1723, the Black Fleet appeared off Edo harbor, covering the sea from horizon to horizon. Frost Wolf way-finders landed from long black catamarans and found the city in the hands of supporters of Kusagi. After brief discussions, including a mirror-flash conversation with the flagship, the entire fleet moved on. The fleet sailed to Nagoya on the eastern shore of Yamato and debarked a huge army commanded by the Wyverin and the Iggin Chlen. Then the fleet peeled off for the south. The southern trades brought the smell of war…
By the first week of October, the Frost Wolf guns had ranged on the defenses of Ise and the first shell had burst on the ramparts, sending up a spume of dust and rock. The Japanese guns answered and the day, which had dawned clear and bright, was soon fouled by the whistle of shells, the screams of wounded men and a rising cloud of dirty white smoke.
Within the fortress, Bantukh was sure that the Shogun and his allies would hammer at him for weeks with their artillery before coming across the killing zone and up the sloping ramparts. The Wyverin did not. That dread commander was on a time-schedule and he intended to meet them. Watching from a command bunker in the hills above the shrine, he smiled, his lean face twisting into a grimace under his mask.
“Now I shall match the Falcon’s total,” he remarked to his aides. “An anchor for each of us…” He laughed and gave the order to attack.
The Shogun’s men led off the attack, storming up out of their trenches under a stunning barrage of artillery fire. Frost Wolf airships blackened the sky, staying high up, away from the light guns emplaced throughout the fortress. Given that their allies were leading off the attack, the Frost Wolf air commander was not discerning about his bombardment. Death rained from above; weapons that burst, spraying flaming liquid or shrapnel or splinters of iron. Strongpoints were cracked open by massive, tub-shaped, bombs dropped from a great height. Kusagi’s samurai paid a heavy price to carry the first wall, but they did.
The Frost Wolf poured into the fortress, supported by light, hand-pushed, guns. The airfleet continued to hammer away at the shrine and, after three weeks of hand-to-hand fighting, the Wyverin stepped into the wreckage of the innermost building of the Shrine. Smoke curled up from the timbers where they had been doused with naphtha and set alight.
“Finish what the Hosogawa started,” he remarked, and the destruction began in earnest. The last to go was the delicate torii that looked out to the sea, where Ameratsu had first stepped onto her new creation, these islands of Japan.
Three months later, as Japan languished under the rule of the quisling Shogun Kusagi and all feared for the wrath of the Black Fleet, sails were sighted off of the southern tip of Kyushu. A great many sails – indeed, in the Black Fleet lookout station on a mountain above Subushi Wan bay, the observer crew was heard to call upon their very gods in horror. The Sunlander Armada had arrived on the shores of Nippon.
It covered the sea, from horizon to horizon, in endless numbers. Bright banners flapped from every mast, and the sails themselves were marked with the image of the blessed sun and the heroes and prophets of all the races of men. It gathered, the ships having become scattered during their rough passage in the winter sea from Okinawa. The observers, furiously working their abacaii, dispatched messages by mirror-flash to warn the Black Fleet itself, which lay in wait around the curve of the island.
Lorquin stepped onto the f’oc’sle deck of the Membinasakan and waved away the salutes of the command deck crew. The Sherak class dreadnought rode easily on the rough water, its massive trimaran hull affording unparalleled stability on the water. Around him, for as far as the eye could see, the ships of the Black Fleet readied themselves for war. The wind was coming off of the land at a good angle and the ship quivered under his feet.
“What is the count?” Lorquin strode to the planning table and looked down upon the charts. His scout catamarans had plied these waters for months, taking soundings, investigating every cove and harbor. He and his captains knew the Kyushu coast as well as any local fisherman. Perhaps better, for there were few of that kind left alive here.
The ensign at the plotting table placed a finger on the waxed tablet he was using to track the messages coming from the mountaintop.
“Good news, Admiral. An Aztec squadron has been sighted amongst the enemy. They fly the sigils of the house of Cuahtemoc. By our records, they must be the Red Storm legion. Some two hundred ships.”
Lorquin smiled and smoothed back his sleek black hair. Like his crewmen, he had oiled his skin and polished it, letting the dark blue whorls and geometric patterns of his clan and house tattoos gleam in the dawn light.
“And the others?”
The ensign nodded sharply. “over 1,200 Judean ships, 270 Ming, 200 Javan – including many of their new Dragon class battlecruisers, 60 Hosogawan and almost 400 Persian.”
Lorquin laughed aloud, feeling his veins rush with the blood-fire. The enemy came in utter, overwhelming strength, with every ship and sailor that could be put to sea. Today was a day of destiny! Trembling with eagerness, he motioned to the signal-men.
“Flash traffic, all ships,” he barked. “Run out the ensign of the Imperial house. Today we fight under our true colors. Let our enemies know what tsunami they have disturbed.”
The mirror-handlers bent to their task and within moments the entire fleet was in motion. Banners were run up the stays and snapped sharply in the wind. Almost as one, the entire massive fleet of black-hulled ships wheeled out from behind the headland. Within minutes, they would be at grips with the Sunlanders.
Yui-Yen, prince of the house of Tesereng, scion of the Judean Lion, leaned out from the battle bridge of his flagship. The Deer-Dancer was under full sail, beating at an angle to a strong headwind off of the Kyushu shore. Clouds had gathered over the mountain and he was keeping a weather eye out. Soon, he felt, they would find the enemy. He could almost smell them, taste battle on the wind…
There! A bank of black sails suddenly appeared, sprinting out to sea from the shelter of the land. A long curving line of massive trimaran hulls and a cloud of smaller ships filling the sea.
“Spyglass!” He shouted to one of the midshipmen on the deck. One of the boys dashed forward and slapped the brass tube into his hand. Yui-Yen raised it to his good eye and, suddenly, the distant line of ships snapped into focus.
He was suddenly still, a frown on his face. He worked the focussing knob and then he put the spyglass away.
“Boy, message for the flag-men. Urgent to the flagship…”
N’dret, prince of Java and overall commander of the Sun Alliance fleet, turned slightly, raising a bristly white eyebrow.
“Are you sure?” His voice was level, but astonishment was clear in his face.
“Yes, admiral,” rapped the signal-man. “The prince Yui-Yen first reported it, and our lookouts concur. The enemy fleet flies the shark-and-mask flag of the Imperium.”
N’dret scowled, unconsciously fingering his fleet badge, which bore a variant of the same ancient symbol. “That would explain the ships and their hatred of the Japanese. That would explain everything…” His voice trailed off.
“Explain what, lord N’dret?” The voice was cultured and urbane and still foreign sounding to N’dret’s ears, though the man’s Maori had improved markedly during his time with the fleet.
“Your pardon, lord ben’Ziad.” N’dret’s Persian was not so good, but he exercised it anyway. “Our enemy, so unknown and strange to us, it is an old friend, long thought dead and sleeping beneath the sea. The fleet that we rush to engage – it flies the flag of the Maori Imperium of old, the forefather and progenitor of Java, Hosogawa, Austral, even Judah in a strange way, all these realms that now sail to battle against them.”
Ben’Ziad staggered and had to grasp hold of the nearest wall to stay upright.
“The Imperium…? The sea-demons that came within inches of conquering China as well as the whole of Pacifica? A nation so powerful that it took the base treachery of nine great nations and all their power to bring it down? These are our enemy?”
N’dret turned again, his face pensive, watching the black wall of ships bear down on their own armada.
“Yes. The past rises up to haunt us, to seek vengeance against those that sought to kill and bury it.”
Thunder rolled across the water and bright stabbing red flashes lit up the sails of the Black Fleet. Shot whistled amongst the rigging of the Sunlander armada as they turned a quarter away from the wind. The enemy rushed at an angle across the lead elements of the Sun fleet, guns barking. Water spumed up, white, around the lead Ming frigates. Then the first shell slammed into decking and there was a sharp cracking sound. Flame and smoke boiled up. The Sun fleet began to return fire and the thunder grew louder.
The sky darkened, and Yen-Yui became uneasy on the flag deck of the Deer-Dancer. A funny yellow-gray cast tainted the air and the prince’s face froze, feeling the power building in the air across the water. Somewhere, at the heart of the Black Fleet, the Uliqqa were writhing in a drug-induced, pain-fueled frenzy, their bodies slick with blood and sweat. They danced, limbs contorted, before the black basalt shapes of things that had hidden from the sun for aeons. Tentacular horrors with rugose, bifurcated wings, that shimmered and twisted, sliding in and out of vision.
Yen-Yui had looked upon them himself, there in the dread cities that lay hid beneath the Ice, where things that aught to crawl had learned to walk and the very worm that gnaws was worshipped as a living god. The prince felt his heart grow cold and sky dim, thinking of the good men that had followed him and his brother into that hell. All were dead now, even Yui-Yen – crushed beneath a thousand tons of rubble in Fusan – and he alone of those that had essayed to cross the dead lands of Korsheol still lived. He alone had gained the strength of mind…
A mile away, on the battle deck of the Javan flagship, N’dret felt the turning in the wind as well. A prickling sensation rushed over him, and breathing was suddenly difficult. Upwind, where the sleek low shapes of the Black Fleet continued to close range, their guns hammering away at the lead elements of the Sun fleet, it seemed that the sky had grown dark. His heart raced and his hands trembled.
One of ensigns at the plotting table suddenly staggered to his feet, his face a mask of fear. N’dret turned, though it was difficult to anything but run, clawing at his own skin.
“Remain at your station,” he barked. The boy stared back, his eyes wide, and then suddenly bolted for the gunnel. N’dret cursed, dragging a pistol from his belt. The ensign scrambled onto the railing, screaming wildly in fear, and then toppled, jerking as the bullet struck between his shoulderblades. N’dret spun around, his face filled with anger.
“Any man that leaves his station, dies!”
Lorquin laughed, seeing the even lines of the Sunlander fleet suddenly skew as ships lost their heading and crews were gripped by the Fear. He glanced down the arcing lines of his own ships, plowing through the brilliant sea in fine order. The decking under him shuddered as the third bank of guns let go. Cordite smoke billowed up and was then whisked away by the wind. Downrange, sixteen heavy case shells slammed into a Ming galleon and the enemy ship vanished in a black burst of smoke and flame. When the cold wind cleared the fog, the Ming ship had heeled over and was burning furiously as it took water.
“Signal the fleet,” snapped the Maori prince, “all speed and fire at will.”
On the Deer-Dancer, Yen-Yui ignored the clamor and panic around him, his hands gripping the rail and staring north, into the forest of black sails that were cutting in front of the Sun armada. All of his attention was focussed inward, on the patterns and mnemonics that he had learned at such cost in the pits of Agarmat. Slowly and with great pain, for the human mind was not meant to grasp the shuddering spiral of forms, he brought the Sign into focus.
All across the breadth of the Sun fleet, gun crews lost coordination, filled with panic, and ships ground sidewall to sidewall as the wheel-men crawled on the decks, yelping. The Black Fleet rained in shot, smashing ship after ship, and the fire burned over the water, casting a reddish pall on every face.
Yen-Yui raised his hand, the form of the Sign clear in his mind, and put forth his will and, answering him, from the height of Subashi-yama, came the answering flash of the Sun, gleaming in a mirror raised high.
Lorquin howled in rage and was answered by the shrieks of the Uliqqa as the Fear dissolved and the space they had so carefully twisted suddenly snapped back into its regular conformance. One of the idols strapped to the deck of the Rohkeranda gave forth a high pitched squeal and splintered in half. The Maori could feel the will of his enemy, so nearly shattered, suddenly gather and stand firm.
“Signal the air-fleet,” he growled at his mirror-men, “launch the second wave of the attack.”
Now the fleets were fully engaged, the Sun armada swinging back into formation, the Black Fleet attacking furiously. Heedless of the massive advantage of numbers held by the Sunlanders, the Maori plowed in amongst them, broadsides hammering at the Sun flotillas. Ships burned furiously, choking the water with oil and wrack. Thousands died each hour, either smashed to bloody putty by the iron shells that lashed out from each fleet, or drowned in the roiling sea. A great multitude of sharks, drawn by the huge spill of blood and offal, thrashed in the waters, dragging men to their deaths.
All that day, the two fleets bit and tore, gnawing at the other’s vitals. No ship struck colors or abandoned. Every captain and every rating knew that all depended on them. Ships slipped under the waves, afire, their gun crews still struggling to load and fire one last broadside before Oro took them into his white-scaled arms.
The Sunlander fleet suffered tremendous losses, fighting numbers against the agile power of the Imperium ships. The Membinisakan prowled through the murk, its sails lit red by the light of dying ships, its vast black hull towering over the wreckage of Ming and Aztec frigates as it brushed them aside.
Too, the sky was filled with battle. Dozens of the great cloud-ships thudded through the air, raining long steel spears and explosive bombs into the Sunlander fleet below. Small Sun-fleet ships were crippled by the falling bolts, being holed and taking on water like the tide. Others lost rigging and sails, or shattered convulsively if a bomb struck their magazine.
The upper air was rent by the flash of explosions and swiftly rising draken loaded with flammables. Persian ships shuddered with the blast of hundreds of finned rockets that shrieked into the sky. Scattered throughout the Sun fleet, specially equipped frigates rattled with the sound of light cannon on pintle mounts, filling the sky with rifled shells.
Above the main body of the Sun fleet, the airship Orikaroro shuddered as a Persian rocket slammed into the main body of the ship. There was a bright flash and wicker and bamboo blew out of the side of the lifting body. Seconds later, as the Frost Wolf captain howled imprecations upon the progenitors of the cursed Persians, the length of the Ori blew apart in a massive explosion. Flame jetted in all directions and the airship, mortally wounded, slid greasily towards the sea.
Below, on the Persian rocket-barge Hassan-I-Sabah the Qumite crew cheered lustily, seeing one of their enemy brought low. Moments later, the Hassan was ripped by explosions as the Ori’s sister ship, the Hawera, ejected a brace of winged iron-framed bombs that arrowed into the rear deck of the Persian ship. After crashing through the pine decking, the bombs ignited and the Hassan vanished in a rush of super-heated flame as the magazine was set alight.
Twilight fell on a sea of ruin. The Deer-Dancer slid through the waters, a film of blood washing over her prow. The Judean and Javan battleship squadrons remained intact, through the lesser lights – the Ming, the Hosogawa, the Persians – had been burned away. On her battle-deck, Yui-Yen stared out, his cold eyes searching in the murk for the enemy. To port, the Javan flagship, the Gojira, kept pace. Both ships had lost a hundred men or more in the days fighting. Deer-Dancer had been boarded twice and each time a fierce battle had ensued before the Maori could be thrown back.
Though night was closing in, the cordite fogs and smoke from the wreckage had made it sullen and dark for hours. Suddenly, the mist parted around the fang-prow of a Black Fleet Kubur-class battlecruiser.
“Here they come!” came the shout from the main mast. Yui-Yen gestured for the wheelman to swing a point to starboard. “Ready guns!”
The mist blew back and the black shape of the Membinsakan rose up behind the other, smaller, ship. Yui-Yen grimaced. Here was the enemy at last! The Kubur spun to starboard and it’s gun decks flashed red and orange. The Judean ship shuddered as shells burst along its length.
Debris washed ashore on the Kyushu coast for months afterwards. Thousands of ships had been wrecked or destroyed in the battle. Few bodies, however, made it to shore, for the blessed messengers of Oro had feasted long and well in the dark sea.
By the end of 1724, the Shogun Kusagi had accepted the tentative fealty of the daimyo of Toyama, Nigata and Akita, bringing all of Honshu under his dominion. Totoro Ren continued to hold out on Shikoku, but the Black Fleet prowled his shores and intermittently bombarded Tokushima. He was penned in and unable to escape his island fortress.
Khanate of Khitai: While the Altan Khan camped himself in Ulan-Ude in Henyitin, his faithful lieutenants ~ the Togril Noyan and the Ong Khan of Humae ~ rode south to Kerait to strike an alliance and hand-fast promises of marriage with the Keraiti. Despite a great struggle to cross the mountains between Henyitin and Kerait, these efforts met with much success once the two worthies reached their destination.
In the north, events unfolded with dreadful inevitability. The Judean/Ming army camped in the ruins of Khanbalik found itself trapped by heavy snows and generally fierce weather. Under the cover of unceasing storms, Frost Wolf kommandos infiltrated the camp and murdered the Judean generals Wu and Shen before they were driven off. The Ming and remaining Judean commanders discussed the matter and decided to abandon the position. It was exposed and too far from their bases of supply.
The Ming force, taking the remainder of the supplies, pushed north in the gale, hoping to reconnoiter the province of Vitim. The Judeans, for their part, took the heavy gear and slogged south, through ice, hail and snow, for the passes into Henyitin.
The Ming commander, the Marquis of Chiennan, heard a flat snapping sound somewhere in the blowing fog and snow in front of him. Then there was a sound like an axe striking meat and one of his courier riders slid sideways out of his saddle, blood foaming at his mouth. A long black-fletched arrow jutted from his back. The Marquis snarled a curse and dragged a pistol out of his heavy woolen jacket in time for the fog to lift, revealing a dark cloud of Frost Wolf arrows hissing out of the sky. Behind them, the fields of snow surged forward with a bone-chilling wail as the Xhozhin stormed into the Ming column.
Southaway, the Judeans had found the passes into Henyitin clogged with snow and ice and fallen rock. Still, they pressed on, clearing the avalanche debris with raw and bleeding hands. Men froze to death while they slept, or even while they marched forward, collapsing in drifts by the side of the road. Josephus drove his men hard. In this weather, they desperately needed to get over the mountains and into Henyitin where the Khitai could supply them.
“Lord General!” A runner staggered down the line of men trudging up the road. Josephus caught the boy as he stumbled to a halt. “What is it, lad?”
The Judean youth blinked furiously, trying to clear ice crystals from his eyebrows. He pointed back up the road, towards the pass. “We’ve reached the summit, my lord,” he managed to gasp.
“Excellent!” Josephus felt something like hope for the first time in weeks. “Is the road clear, beyond?”
The runner shook his head wearily, trying to speak. He was interrupted by a distant boom and the clatter of musket fire. “No, lord,” he said wearily. “The pass is held against us. There is a barricade and many Frost Wolf in the rocks…” The boom of a field gun came again, and Josephus stood, his face angry and bleak. He took a breath, feeling the bite of the chill air, and waved his staff officers over.
Three weeks later, while the Judeans were still bleeding and dying, ferociously trying to clear the pass, the outriders of the Xhozin loped up the long road from the lowlands and fell on the rear elements of the Judean army. The Frost Wolf aerokommando that were holding the pass had died almost to the man, but they had delayed the Sunlander army just enough…
It took six days for the Frost Wolf to slaughter the Judeans in the pass and its approaches, but Kartuq and Chen-Hsan met, at last, in the middle, amid the heaps of Sunlander dead and clasped wrists, laughing with the grim joy of men blooded in battle and victorious. Forty-four thousand Judeans lay frozen, dead, in the mountains of Henyitin. It was a black day for the Sunlanders.
Despite this, the Frost Wolf did not swarm down out of the mountains and into the plains of Henyitin for several months. The Altan Khan, learning of the defeat of his allies, hurriedly evacuated the city of Ulan-Ude and put every man that he could on the walls. His heart was sick with despair, though. It did not seem that anything could halt the Ice. Still, he had at least sent his people away.
The Frost Wolf loped down out of the mountains in October as the short summer faded from the land, the sky dark with the vast shapes of their draken and the defenders of Ulan-Ude quailed to see the strength that had come against them. The Ilkhan who commanded the defense of the city counted his men – barley three thousand. He took a long drink of kvass and hunkered down behind one of the barriers in the governor’s palace.
The first Frost Wolf shell whistled into the city and exploded against the side of a temple of Kwan-yin, smashing the blue dome and scattering burning debris everywhere. The Khitai shouted their defiance, but it was a pale and weak sound against the thundering roar of the Xhozhin and Frost Wolf storming towards the walls. The drone of the airfleet that blackened the sky drowned their voices.
Three days later, when the last of the Khitai dogs had been rounded up and put in the coffle for the long march back to the pits and mines of Drakenroost, Kartuq mounted the steps that led to the broken, rubble-strewn roof of the governor’s palace. His nephew, Chen-Hsan walked at his side, narrow eyes constantly roving over the gaping windows. There might still be Khitai partisans hiding in the ruins. Any son of the Wolf remained alert at all times.
But Kartuq’s mind was far away. He looked out over the rolling hills and the short-grass prairie that stretched away from Ulan-Ude in all directions. It was a rich land, when there was rain, and the Khitai had built many farms.
“It was not this way, in the beginning,” he said in a reflective voice, his right hand resting in his jacket. Chen-Hsan turned, his face showing only the barest gleam of puzzlement. Kartuq nodded towards the distant mountains.
“When our clan and house first took up the lance and bow, we lived there, beyond those mountains on the shores of the great inland sea. This valley – the tribes that grazed their flocks here – were our first conquest. We slaughtered their warriors and took all this place for our own.”
Chen-Hsan grinned, showing fine white teeth and long incisors. “Yes, uncle, I have heard the shamen tell these tales, of the World-Strider and the Invincible Ten Thousand. That was a glorious age!”
Kartuq nodded, bringing an amulet out from his jacket. Usually the keepsake rode by his breast, beneath the padded scaled armor that he favored. Now, in this place, he brought it into the thin light of the sun and raised it high. Within the locket, closed in cunning silverwork and gold, was a fragile section of bone. To the discerning, one could make out that it was part of the orbit of an eyesocket.
Raising it above his head, Kartuq held up the old bone and slowly turned in a circle, letting the full scope of the horizon come within its purview.
“Victory is ours!” He shouted at the heavens. “What you built, grandfather, we shall build again!”
The dead eye stared out, seeing all the world. Kartuq lowered it and reverently put the artifact away. Chen-Hsan seemed shaken, his face white. He stared at his uncle.
“I thought… I thought nothing remained, after the great wars in the south…”
Kartuq smiled, the fierce predatory grin of the wolf. “No,” he said, “the Jerekhan still exists, in our memory, our blood and even here, in some small part of him that has survived the ages…”
Within a month the Frost Wolf had crossed the mountains south of Ulan-Ude and were before the gates of Quaran. Behind his uncle’s line of advance, Chen-Hsan occupied the provinces of Khrebet and Kajar. Kartuq found the Khitai Khan, Altan, as well as the Ong Khan of Humae and a strong army of over 16,000 men in the city of Quaran, which was very well fortified. Kartuq also heard, to his delight, that the Shan emirs had accepted his offer of Buddhist slaves and gold and loot and had come with their whole people (as well as their subject tribes) for the slaughter.
So reinforced, Kartuq laid siege to the citadel of the Khitai with 70,000 men. Within, Altan stood on the walls, staring out at the dark plain. The campfires of the enemy were like the stars in the sky and a heavy smoke rose all around the city. The sound of drums rolled and throbbed across the plain, bringing a sense of deep unease. Wailing rose, too, from the camps of the enemy, and a strange shrill whistling and piping sound. The wind off of the plains, usually sharp with the smell of creosote and tamarisk, was foul and caught at the throat.
“They will starve us out,” said the Ong Khan, standing at his lord’s side. “They can screen our position with the Moslem horse and press on south, into Naiman and Kutai.”
“No,” said Altan, staring out at the darkness, bending his will to pierce the thought of his enemy. “This one intends to annihilate us and take the city as his prize. This one, he will look into our eyes before he cuts our throats.”
The Ong Khan shrugged. He had faced death before.
“They will pay. This is a strong place.”
Altan turned, his eyes hooded by the shadows.
“Strong places have fallen before, to hunger, or to fear.”
The Ong Khan screamed, throwing up a mailed hand, momentarily blocking out the sight of the southern face of the gate tower sliding towards him in terrible majesty. Instants later he was buried under a hundred tons of masonry. The Frost Wolf airfleet swept over the city, raining fire and iron-cased bombs into the streets. The Khitanid defenders on the walls were already dead, swept away by a storm of Frost Wolf artillery and the deadly rain from above.
Long-braided warriors clambered over the ruin of the gate; the Shan, loosed upon the city to sack and burn and sate their lust. For the temerity of trying to stand against the Wolf-Lord, every citizen would pay. Death or the collar were the only options. Many of the Khitai soldiers fought to the death, but it was to no avail. The city had held for three days. Now the road south was open.
With the death of their Khan, the Humae abandoned the dying Khitai state. Altan Khan lay dead, his corpse pecked by ravens, in the ruin of Quaran. Sensing that the Khitai realm teetered on the edge of dissolution, Kartuq pressed on, sending the Shan storming ahead to seize Naiman, Kutai and Wudan before the end of the year. The cities of Chao’ding and Jargalant fared no better before his artillery and airships. Khitai disintegrated, the pitiful child Tsewang being hurried to some faint hope of safety in the Chan realm beyond the mountains.
Prester John: Lewis listened with growing dismay to the words of couriers from the south. In the spring of 1724 the beys of Tuhnwhang reported that a great host of Tsinghai and Tsaidam nomads, armed to the teeth and followed by their flocks and families and herds, had appeared out of the south-west, crossed those lands and vanished again in a haze of dust and smoke to the north-east. If this was not enough to set the gossips of the court in a tizzy, Lewis also declared his younger sister, Megan, as his heir. Times were too troubled to risk the succession…
Then, at the end of that same year, the Charchan stormed out of the desert in massive array – an army miles long, followed by an equally endless procession of camels, horses, sheep, goats and cows. Unlike the Tsing, the Char’chan turned south-east and seized the city of Anxi and the province of Yumen. With the loss of that region, the Khagan lost Suzhou as well. Coupled with the death of the Zaysan chief, it was a heavy blow to the Kingdom.
Judah: Despite his advanced age, Tesereng threw himself into the massive effort of readying a counter-stroke for the Black Fleet assault on Japan with a will. With his son Seteris a constant shadow, the Emperor set his builders (some of the most experienced in the world) to raise fresh defenses around the cities of Beijing, El’khudz, Ang’kang, Nantong, Xinpu, Tsingdao, Tikax and Kunashir. He also authorized the construction of a new squadron of forty of the largest warships anyone had ever seen, boasting five decks of guns and iron plating on the sides. The prince Yui-Yen would command this force.
In April of 1724, the remains of the Judean fleet limped into Tsing’dao, a paltry twenty ships. They were shot to bits, their decks packed with wounded saved from other ships. Yen-Yui stood alone on the deck for a long time after they were safe under the guns of the port, staring east, his face a grim mask.
Ming Chinese Empire: In early 1724, a lone Ming frigate managed to make it to port at Shanghai. The rest of the squadron had been smashed to bits off of Subushi-yama in the titanic struggle with the Black Fleet. Three hundred and fifty-nine ships lost. The Emperor took the news badly. Doom seemed to be upon them.
Hosogawa Borneo: Like many nations, the Hosogawans labored long into the night to build as many ships of war as they could muster. The fleet that resulted (well, no more than a squadron, really) was sent north to fight against the Black Fleet. There were few dry eyes in Kozoronden, for the widows and mothers of that lamentable city knew well the price of war…
Java: The Red Rain was falling again. Times were not good. For all the strife their appearance caused, the disappearance of the Japanese merchants was far, far more upsetting. It was New Year’s Day—supposedly a time for rejoicing and welcoming in the New Year of 1723. But there was a feeling of dread, of doom in the air; no one knew what exactly to fear, and that only served to add to the mystery of the missing Shikongou Dantai.
But, then there were the hundreds of missing transport ships and all the gold that disappeared with the Dantai. Abemon had it on pretty good authority that those sweet talking Japanese merchants had sold out their own countrymen and the entire world to the Black Fleet.
The Black Fleet…
Naipon Austral Empire: Disturbing news continued to filter out of the Great Desert. Apparently a party of Japanese had attempted to reach the “sacred mountain” of the few paltry aboriginal tribes that hide in the wasteland, far from the guns of the Australs. It was unclear what had happened, save that an Austral Mounted Police patrol eventually found nearly an acre of bones whitening in the sun. Whether the abos or some other power had consumed the Japanese was unknown.
Somewhere in the mountains of Kashmir: Lu Chen toiled up the grade, feeling the pebbles and stones under his feet, feeling the ache in his thighs and calves. The road that ran up from the valley of Sirinigar to the Burzil pass was steep and hard. The priest had only a few belongings, a water-skin, a copper bowl, and a length of saffron-dyed wool wrapped around his shoulders for warmth. He had left the last of the dark green firs and spiky red-barked bushes behind him, a thousand feet below. Now the air was clear and cold and he could feel a pricking at his eyes.
Head down, concentrating on putting one foot in front of another, he nearly collided with the wheel of a chariot.
Lu Chen stopped, blinking in astonishment. He had reached the summit of the pass, standing cold and alone high on the shoulder of the mountains with only a vast blue sky for company. In the rocky swale, the road widened and there, sitting by the side of the road was … a chariot.
Sitting on the back platform of the chariot was a man. He was dressed in the rough homespun of a driver, with a band of white cloth around his head to keep his long dark hair from his eyes. He was obviously a lowlander, with rich olive skin and a strong nose. The man smiled at Lu Chen, his teeth startlingly white in his dark face, seeing his surprise.
“Pomegranate?” The chariot driver held out a section of the dark red fruit, seemingly oblivious to the stains the seeds made on his hands. Lu Chen took the fruit, his mouth open in surprise.
The driver shrugged, motioning with one hand to the high-sided chariot and its archaic wheels and carvings.
“The road down to the plains of Deosai,” he said, “is much easier than the road up from Sirinigar.”
Lu Chan sat, not on the wooden plank at the back of the chariot, but on the stony ground. He tasted the pomegranate – it was just ripe and the sweet flavor flooded his mouth, making it water. The priest had not eaten in two days, finding the road up to the pass empty of any man or beast.
“You have come looking for something,” said the chariot driver. “What is it?”
Lu Chan shook his head numbly and put the section of pomegranate aside. “I am seeking help. My master has sent me to this barren place, hoping to find those that hew to the old ways… there is a great war against darkness.”
The chariot driver nodded knowingly, his face sad.
“Cousin murders cousin. Brothers raise arms against one another, every sin is committed in the name of honor and duty. This troubles you?”
Lu Chan nodded in agreement. “But it is worse now…” His voice trailed off. “The sky is filled with fire, cities burn and die in torment, the multitudes are gripped with unreasoning fear. Demons are on every hand, in countless numbers. We seek guidance, we seek a sign to show the people the way back to truth. We feel bereft, without the guidance of the gods – are we alone against the darkness? Must we fight on, only men against the very hosts of Hell?”
The chariot driver sighed and raised his right hand, forefinger pointing towards the heavens, thumb laid alongside.
“Can you raise arms against your brothers that come against you?”
Lu Chen considered the question, wondering at its provenance. It was clear from what he had heard from the other priests in Holy Fusan that the armies of the enemy were composed of men like him – perhaps his brothers or cousins were in the host of darkness? Could he strike them down? Could he urge another to strike against them, when the blood of his own family would be spilt?
Lu Chen thought of the sky opening above Fusan and the vast black bulk of the Frost Wolf draken crowding out the moon. He thought of the fierce struggle in the Temple and the many that had died there.
“Our hands,” he said slowly, “are already set to the struggle. We strive with mind and body against this enemy. Our course is set. My mind was filled with confusion, but now it is still and clear, seeing once more my purpose.”
The charioteer smiled and it seemed that the sky behind him brightened. The dusky skinned man stood, smoothing down the pleats of his kilt.
“You know your duty. Submit yourself to it and fight with an easy heart. If each man does his duty, submitting himself to the will of the gods, then he will find that his dharma is much eased.”
Lu Chan opened his mouth to speak, intending to press the stranger for directions or guidance, but there was a bright flash, like the sun striking the snow on the mountaintops, and he was alone.
Only the briefest afterimage remained, gleaming before his eyes like a shadow-play, a mime of puppets in the Sirinigar market.
Safavid Persia: Unfortunately, news came back by the end of 1724 that indicated that the Persians had been cruelly used by the Black Fleet and none of those boys would be coming home. This enraged Miranshah, for he had learned by other means that some Javan and Judean squadrons had escaped from the fray intact, while his powerful fleet had not.
Tewfik: Efforts to establish better trade connections in the Mediterranean were made troublesome by the continued closure of the Mansura Canal.
Georgia: Things started to go wrong for the Georgians when the first body fell out of the sky. It happened in Antioch, where the people of the city were busily building a fleet to please the desires of the King. A storm brewed up out of the desert, cold and sudden, and blew over the town. Chilling rain spattered down on the old Roman forum and clouds wrapped around Mount Silpius. Then there was a wailing, agonized, shriek and a man fell out of the sky and was smashed to bits in a fountain. After a little time, an imam ventured forth from the nearest mosque and poked at the body with a stick.
Puzzled, the priest stood up. The dead man’s body was covered with tattooes and clan markings of a type he had seen before, amongst the citizens of Abadan in the south. This fellow was a Maori. But what was he doing falling from some great height, frostbitten and quite dead, into Antioch?
Wheat in tonnage lots was sold to the Norsktrad, getting Bashar a few kronor. Work began on a squadron to combat piracy along the Mediterranean coast. Some ten galleons were outfitted. Prince Khusro returned to Homs to aid his father in administering their sprawling domain.
The dreams heralded the onset of the attack. Bashar was not troubled, but intrigued, by the horrific visions that nightly visited him. His people were not so lucky. Men wept and could not bear the fall of night, women cut their wrists to blot out the horrors that presented themselves once the eye closed. Even the army was ragged with unease. A furious spate of night-work followed, but the attackers, though they were surpassingly good, found that the Georgians were their match.
Only Sadir al’Tyen, recently returned from the south, fell prey to the knives in the night. Both Bashar and Khuso weathered the storm and with that all the realm was put on high alert. An enemy was coming…
They came from the west, amid clouds and spotty rain. The sky over Antioch darkened and the guardsmen on the walls stared up in surprise. Vast shapes, painted a light blue white, swept down out of the upper air. The soldiers were stunned with amazement – it was not every day that a mighty airfleet flying the naval ensign of the Royal Swedish Air Corps appeared over their city. Some of the soldiers, having heard that the northern monarchy was an ally against the Ice, waved.
Then the first bomb fell, spewing fire and shrapnel, and men screamed in fear. Within hours the city was burning, the garrison slaughtered as the RSN marines poured out of their sky-barges onto the rooftops of the city. The residence of the governor, on an island in the middle of the river, was thoroughly bombed from above, leaving it a smoking wreck. Some of the great airships landed in the old Roman hippodrome, disgorging men with light, hand-pushed, cannon.
In Homs, Bashar heard of the raid within the week. Despite the pleas of his generals and son to rush to confront the invader he waited, watching the sky with interest. A month after the attack on Antioch, he was rewarded. The Swedish airfleet appeared in the sky above Homs, nearly invisible against the pale blue desert sky.
The wily old general waited, his iron will restraining his men until the first bombs had fallen on the mosques at the center of the city. Then, his banner rose and horns and trumpets rang out across the city. The Swedish marines that were descending on long ropes suddenly came under massed musket fire and the boom of cannon rolled across the plains.
A furious battle ensued on the rooftops and in the streets. The Swedish airfleet hammered at the city, setting whole districts afire. The Georgians fought like madmen, but in the end Bashar fell, trying to get the remains of his army out of the city and prince Khusro was captured. Homs was leveled, with barely a building left standing. Teams of marines searched the old palace, digging for something. The Georgians watching from the hills nearby could not see what they found, but many crates and boxes were taken away.
Then the airfleet left, heading north-west.
A Fine Hotel, Somewhere Within The Empire: In the sitting room of the Richard XII Suite, two men regard one another over snifters of Remy-Martin. One, a tall Prussian with a fencing scar on one cheek, wears a red velveteen coat with gold-threaded embroidery, fashionable breeches, and emu-leather shoes, stained black, and fastened with large gold buckles in the Swedish style. He sits close beside the table, well illuminated by the lamp.
His companion is dressed far more severely, in a simple black shirt, black trousers, and slip-fastened boots. The black leather cross strap and belt, as well as the cut of the shirt and trousers, give him a distinctly military look, but of an army that disdains gaudiness; a Puritan, perhaps. He sits in a comfortable, high-backed chair, away from the table and the light.
The Prussian speaks: “He... what!?? Was it a joke? Did he know?”
“I don't believe so; I suspect he simply wished to address the Cruel Ones, and replied to the most recent message he had received from them; that their last message had originated with the aether was something he simply overlooked.”
“What, if I may be so bold, was <Their> reaction?”
“My <mind | consciousness | awareness | nous> is still reeling from that blow. I was in Rome at the time; they were clearing away the old Danish temple for the new Cathedral. I'm told I fell to the ground in a fit. When I awakened, I was being examined by two elderly Priests for signs that I might have been speaking in tongues.
I knew that <They> had already made <Their> wishes known to an Uliqqa priest at the Lomarian ruins; but I headed for Kaliaat Nuniaak as soon as I could walk.
By the time I got there, Ti'n'gaut was nearly awash in his own spleen. Do you know what the spleen is for, Von H-----?”
“I am certain I do not; but I don't see how anyone could be 'awash' in it; I believe the spleen is a rather solid organ, like the liver or kidneys.”
“His... had been. I had only heard of one case like it, where a certain fellow from the Sac-and-Fox Territory had made a bargain with Him-Whose-Name-Is-Fraught-With-Peril, and reneged on it.
His Winged-and-Haloed Majesty was in a more merciful frame of what passes for its mind this time, though. Rather than simply bursting through and letting the Heir clean up what was left of Ti'n'gaut, he had me patch the old Inuto up and get him going again.”
“That... was it? <They> just let him go?”
“Not exactly. Ti'n'gaut's looking a bit… peaky… these days.”
“The... not the Pallid Mask!”
“What? Did you think he would be human still?”
AEIC: The Argir, once he had accumulated a fleet and army of some small size, quartered the Aegean, looking for pirates or other malcontents. None were found, though more evidence of landfall was found on the north-eastern shore of Crete. The camps had not been used in some time. With this force, Argir sailed to Nuf, on the coast of Sinai and there met a considerable force of Islanders.
Once their force had gathered, the Argir led these men south on a long and dusty journey through the heart of the Sinai. At last, after two months of trudging in the burning sun, they came within view of the ancient fortress of St.Basils. As had been arranged, an Ethiopian fleet lay offshore.
Islander scouts flitted ahead, sneaking along the two wadi that led down off of Mount Sinai to the crumbling gray walls of the fortress. All along the ridge, the Albanians and Islanders waited, watching. Two hours later, the scouts emerged from the front gate, waving the all-clear. The fortress was empty and abandoned, as it had been for years. Nikolas stratched his head in puzzlement – where was the air-pirate base?
Spitzbergen. Dusk. The young man swings lightly down from the gnoph-keh, patting the shaggy beast just at the base of the horn, so that it holds still in against the harsh arctic wind. The sun hangs angrily red and dim just above the horizon; the rest of the sky is a uniform iron grey.
Ahead is a blocky mass of hewn granite, weathered over the past two hundred years until it seems almost a part of the rock and ice that are all the North, and not a thing built by Men at all. The young man checks the satchel at his back; it would not do to let the documents suffer, so close to their destination. He leads his mount to the vast doors of dark green stone, and strikes the knocker of meteoric iron eleven times in a pattern that was ancient when the Pyramids were new.
While he waits for the door to open; his eyes traverse the panels inset on the posts and lintels; signs of <Their> deeds across uncounted ages. The ninth panel on the left depicts the Mystery of the Hyades. As always, his eyes refuse to focus on it. He sighs; Uhot had said he might not comprehend the Mystery until he saw with <eyes not flesh>.
The doors open, seemingly of their own accord. He knows better. He knows the nature of the porter of this place, and shudders in the knowing.
Once inside, he hands off the gnoph-keh to the stable-boy who came running in attendance. Though in a novice collar, the stable-boy still affects the scalp lock and tattoos of high clan Ice-Drake.
The young man proceeds to the Grand Stair, and heads into the depths.
A half-hour later sees him in the chancery, off the scriptorium on the sixth level. Across the table five astonishingly old men and two incredibly ancient women regard him from eyes that remembered the discovery of Iron in the north, and the coming of the Younger Men from the West.
“Well?” The angekok of the Inutos speaks first. “Did you bring them?”
“Yes, I have them here.” It had taken years to learn not to cry out at the sound of that voice. “There is more going on in Afriqa than we originally suspected.”
The Maga of the Sun-Haters speaks next: “Afriqa was the source of humankind; first to hear the whispers of the Architect of R'lyeh; there are secrets of Meroe and Harambeh that even <They> do not comprehend.”
The young man replies, sure of his ground: “This is more recent, by some millions of years. Our agent in Africa is concerned. He reports of an invocation to the Other Gods, probably in the Sa-hara.”
“An invocation?” This from the Green Water Sorceress.
“Yes, my lady. Our agent was quite certain; he made a transcript:
The room darkens noticeably as the words are spoken, the words first thrown into the desert night by Abd al-Hasrad, a thousand years before:
“A mayyitan ma qadirun yatabaqqa sarmadi! Fa idha yaji' al-shudhdhadh fa-l-maut qad yantahi!”
“That is not dead, which can eternal lie and with strange eons, even death may die".
The Seven glance worriedly at one another.
“The dream of the Nameless City?” The Frost Wolf shaman laughs nervously. “The powers we serve are greater than this! <They> will not be so easily swayed!”
The young man closes his eyes and sighs deeply before replying. “Do you honestly believe that <They> are the only powers with an interest in this world?”
Swedish Russia: The fleet was very busy, meantime, evacuating the populations of Fjordane and Norway (including the city of Oslo). The army in Russia was also busy, both fighting partisans, angry clerks and the populations of regions they were supposed to be evacuating. With the failure of the Ice to advance of late, the populations of Rhzev, Novgorod and Estonia were not willing to move. Kutusov, in charge of the northern Baltic evacuation, was forced to round people up at gunpoint. It slowed operations incredibly, particularly once people started running away to hide in the forests. Then there were the snipers.
The city of Neyponets, the target of the relief effort being mounted from Saarema, was reinforced by a large number of Papal and Templar troops. These fellows reached the city at the edge of the Ice via large ice-wains equipped with skates and drawn by reindeer.
It helped nothing that the Riga Sun Times broke a huge story in August of 1723 that the Eastern Orthodox refugees from Novgorod were being used to build the ‘ice-road’ as “nothing less than slaves, forced to labor on the open ice.” Coupled with the Clerk’s Revolt, that sparked a new round of rioting in Riga and the other northern cities. Leopold was forced to declare martial law throughout the Empire.
Luckily, the army remained loyal and between the armies commanded by Leopold himself, Kutusov, Simonagun and Dubovitch, they managed to maintain order and control over the Russian provinces. However, the level of panic in the common population was steadily rising. Flareups of rioting and rural resistance continued well into 1724. The offices of the Sun Times were closed.
Danish Empire: Danish fleets and armies made haste to the east, where they secured the surrounds of the Mansura Canal and dug in, expecting a second attack. Princess Oniko held command of the expedition, commanding a substantial fleet that she had requisitioned from the merchant marine, as well as her loyal old Corps from Germany. There had been some short dispute between the princess and the heir-regent Tyrsson about the deployment of eighteen thousand men to the sands of Egypt. The princess had considered the suggestion to leave half her men in Venice and had, politely, declined. Tyrsson was not pleased, but he did not have the political strength (yet) to go against the Princess.
Kristatos also left Venice, taking the Kronos to sea on an errand of his own. He left behind a moderately happy daughter (Claudia) and a stunningly overworked son-in-law, who had not expected to be handed the entire Empire within months of his marriage. The work in the sand continued apace, with Albanian, Danish and Libyan workers slaving in the hot sun. However, as no one attacked the Canal, it was reopened at the end of 1724. Everyone rejoiced and merchant ships began queuing up to pass through once more.
Kristatos, tan and healthy-looking, reappeared later in 1724 in Naples, where he attempted to pressure the Duke into joining the Empire. Instead, he managed to precipitate a crisis that collapsed the remainder of the Walach exile state. Thereafter he was seen again in Egypt, reviewing the work being done on the canal. At home absolutely dreadful weather savaged the empire, causing widespread crop failures.
Spain: Reports by Falcone merchant captains of “fire-breathing dragons” being sighted off of the Estremaduran shore were widely circulated, though nothing could be proven.
Under A Cold And Burning Sky: Night. The Hyperborean waste, where once Lomar held sway. High above, yet not so high, the aurora flickers, and grows bright. The spectral energies wash over the Cold Waste. The wind whispers with <Their> voices. The earth mutters with <Their> consciousness. <They> tread Earth's fields, but no one can behold <Them> as <They> tread.
The Uliqqa shaman assigned contact duty pulls his sealskin closer. He half-sleeps. The aurora flares blindingly red and shades quickly into hues no sane mind should ever grasp. Of course, the Uliqqa shaman has not been sane in some years. He stiffens. The tumorous mass where his right eye should have been pulses slightly, breaks, and begins to suppurate a thick pinkish fluid with black streaks. The fluid freezes quickly in the clear arctic air, scarring an oddly repulsive pattern on the already lined cheek. The Uliqqa shaman does not notice.
The tongue, swollen, touches lips, cracked and scarred from decades of exposure. Air rushes through from a throat long abused as the rites are howled though in their seasons. A word forms, whispered into the long arctic night.
Nisei Republic: Ieyoshi’s army was still assembling outside of New Yedo, preparing to advance cautiously into Nicolua in search of the enemy, when the Inuit attacked. Lead elements of the Inuit army engaged the Nisei cavalry pickets near the mining town of Dokozan in late January of 1723. Snow lay heavy on the ground and the roads were icy and slick. This meant nothing to the Inuit, who stormed into the Nisei lines with almost reckless abandon.
Ieyoshi scrambled to deploy his forces into prepared positions, but his columns were already under attack by Inuit draken that appeared and disappeared out of the clouds like wraiths. Specially built light guns were rushed into action, marking the sky with black puffs of smoke. Still, the Inuit came on. At Dokozan, a long low ridge crossed the highway form Taidan, making a shallow bare slope. During the winter, the Nisei army had cleared it of trees for firewood.
Now the Inuit, under the roaring thunder of their own guns, surged up the slope. Thousands of battle-crazed spearmen led off the attack. The Nisei regulars stood their ground, ripping volley after volley into the Inuit. The ground was strewn with bodies and turned soft with blood. First Corps threw back two full scale frontal attacks, wreaking tremendous losses on the Inuit.
Ieyoshi rode along the rear of the Nisei position, watching the blast of guns and their recoil. Inuit shells whistled overhead, bursting behind his lines. The enemy was spending troops like water on a wide frontage.
“Send prince Akemi’s lancers to the far right, the main strength of the enemy has yet to face us. Warn the left, watch for a flanking motion.”
Afternoon dragged on. Akemi found a strong force of Inuit engineers moving through the hills on the right and engaged them in a running skirmish. It was slow going for his horsemen in the heavy snow. The left also reported movement, and the rippling crack of rifles echoed along the line. Ieyoshi peered into the murk of cordite and smoke. Where is the enemy?
The air suddenly filled with the thud-thud-thud of draken and the sky darkened. Nisei light guns ran up and their crews cranked them into high elevation. Briefly, through the clouds, they could make out the passage of hundreds of airships high overhead.
The enemy may flank from any direction, realized the Shogun, his heart gripped by a chill. The Nisei army, distracted, wavered with fear, wondering if they would have to fall back. Before Ieyoshi could send out runners, the full weight of the Inuit army smashed into his lines from one end of the ridge to the other. Thunder roared up and the howling of men, and it was bayonets and clubbed weapons at hand-to-hand.
The Nisei were forced off the ridge by nightfall, and fell back, Ieyoshi’s army savaged by Inuit airships that shelled the roads and scattered caltrops and bombs across his path. Despite this, the Shogun rallied his men three days later at Kyudan in the suburbs of ruined New Yedo. Again he turned to face the enemy, anchoring one end of his line in an abandoned zenball stadium and the other against a series of flooded wheat fields.
Keet’sheel, the Inuit commander, did not disappoint.
Another day of fierce struggle passed, but this time, despite suffering under a constant rain of aerial bombardment, the Nisei held. Late in the day, the Inuit airship Wendigo was hit by a rocket and blew apart, scattering flaming debris over most of the line. Keet’sheel, though he survived, was wounded. The next day, the Inuit backed off behind an airship screen and fell back into the mountains between Nicolua and Chemakum.
Ieyoshi breathed a vast sigh of relief, though he knew that any forces dispatched from the Inuit main body could have done anything they pleased in the rest of his nation. Despite the opportunity to pursue, Ieyoshi had no desire to try and force a mountain position against the enemy guns. He remained on the plain before New Yedo, his lancers patrolling the border, waiting for the enemy to make a second move. His army had taken a terrible beating. He only hoped that the enemy had suffered as much.
Against all expectation, the remainder of ’23 and ’24 were quiet across the realm of the Nisei. There was no further struggle against the Inuit, who remained ensconced at Taidan, seemingly content to hold the road. At Hiroshima, where the Emperor’s residence lay, a hardy band of champions gathered, a certain young woman among them. With the blessing of the Divine Emperor, they rode north, reaching the camps of the Shogun in the summer of ’24. They were a brave and merry band.
The arrival of Aztec troops in the south-lands was greeted with suspicion, but the Sisters among them were warmly welcomed. In the north, the Sisters were also busy at work, helping the refugees from the fighting around Chemakum find new homes further south. A Lencolar hospital for children was built in Odakyu.
High Kingdom of Colorado: An army went north to Unita, and another to Crow, traversing the high mountains to reach the lands held by the Inuit Taguak and their allies.
It was something of a surprise then, when a huge Inuit airfleet suddenly appeared above the city of Chaco in Anasazi and destroyed that ancient place in a rain of bombs. Thousands of Inuit troops debarked and made sure to slaughter the inhabitants and see every building leveled. Particular attention was paid to the old kiva shrines of the ancestors. Then the Inuit ships rose once more into the air and were gone.
King Francis had not even heard of the raid when alarm bells rang in his own castle at Sancta Fiera. The clamor was followed, in quick succession, by a whistling sound and then the report of bombs bursting in the barracks and armories of the city. Within moments a fierce struggle was underway as the Inuit aerocommando landed throughout the capital. The black shapes of draken blotted out the moon, lit only by the flames of the burning city.
Despite fearless resistance by the Coloradan knights, their longswords, bows and lances were of little use against Inuit rifles and cannon. The defenders were slaughtered and King Francis slain. His son, Fredrik, fled in panic and could only crouch in a drainage ditch some miles away from the city, gibbering in fear as it burned like a pyre.
Under A White Sky, Somewhere In The Ice: Wind howled amongst totems crusted with frost. The Uliqqa twisted, their naked bodies exposed to the shrieking wind, and howled the invocation of their god to the sky. Above them, the vast black bulk of the first pylon was shrouded in blowing snow and hail. Four thousand of the priests danced, slowly, letting the blessing of their god fill them, at the center of the vast sloped bowl that sat between the three massive towers.
“Great lord, we shall be the first to taste the blessing of the god, as he enters this world.”
T’in’gaut turned, his craggy face covered with a brush of snowflakes. The Uliqqa heptarch groveled before him. The war-leader of the Inuit did not smile, though he was slightly pleased. His boots crunched in the rime that covered the observation deck jutting from the old citadel. The Tatars had built well in their time.
“How fare the Wolves in their efforts?”
T’in’gaut entered the citadel, feeling the weight of ages press at him from all sides. Even with the massive efforts that pressed on, even in the blizzard, all around the looming old pile of rock, it remained mighty. He descended a thousand steps, following a stair that burrowed deep into the heart of the mountain. The heptarch scurried along after him.
“Dread lord, the Wolves are behind schedule. They have had trouble… acquiring slaves in sufficient number.”
The lord of the Inuit laughed then.
“It is good that the Nisei work so hard, under the lash.”
“Yes,” simpered the Uliqqa, “they make good servants, for they value an orderly existence.”
Shawnee Empire: Within the next month, as Treya’s army advanced with all speed up the southern bank of the Missouri through Kansa, the Dancers began to appear. At first they seemed to be only refugees, but then her scouts reported that small bands of armed men were pacing her army as it moved west. As she passed through some of the smaller towns in Kansa, little crowds of slaves gathered by the side of the road and bowed as she passed.
Curious, she ordered her guardsmen to question some of them. Itoka, the captain of her outriders, returned with the answer.
“Empress, they are Ghost Dance. They hail you as the Liberator that will smash the tyranny of the ji-pen once and for all. They say their strength will flow to your hand like the rivers to the sea.”
But the Empress had more pressing concerns, and she and her army hurried on to the west, sweeping through Pawnee and Ponca unopposed by either the Hideyoshi or the tribes that now worshipped the Wind-Walker. Her issues with Tall Tree had gone unresolved and, perforce, she had left him in command of the rear area.
He established his base of operations in Onora in Kansa and from there watched both the north, where the Ice tribes still lurked beyond the Missouri, and the south, where the battered remnants of the two Hideyoshi corps had fallen back to Caddo. Because of this, he found that his numbers were soon swollen by a steady trickle of Ghost Dance warriors who came in ones and twos and small groups. They came from the lands newly liberated by Treya, and from back in the Empire itself.
The prince brooded and wondered how much strength it would take to extirpate the lesion of Natchez.
The Shawnee army rolled out of the south, into Dakota, like a summer storm. Great dust clouds followed them, so great were their numbers. The Ice tribes scattered at her approach, letting her enter Igashi without opposition. She found the city abandoned, inhabited only by crows and wild dogs. The Empress looked upon the new temples that had been raised up where the Shinto had once worshipped.
“My dreams…” She remembered vague premonitions of her youth; a dream of a vast city buried in the ice, filled with terrors and wonders beyond compare. A shape that dwarfed the sun, filling the cold blue sky. The chanting of the priests, the terror of their victims as the knife plunged, smoking, into a heaving breast. Treya stood in the plaza of Igashi, looking upon a statue of the writhing tentacular, winged non-human thing that now rose over the city.
“I was born to this battle,” she said aloud, startling the guardsmen clustered around her. “This is my destiny.”
There was such certainty in her voice that no man there could believe aught else and their hearts rose.
The Shawnee army pressed on hard, thereafter, marching through Okoboji, Teton and finally to Crow, where they found the passes of the Rockies closed against them by snow. There, at the ruins of old Bohr, they found a sizable army of Coloradan knights gathered, waiting. Within the month, they were joined by a great host of New Granadans as well. The armies of light were gathering…
Aztec Empire: Enormous quantities of aid were dispatched to the Nisei Republic to prop them up. At home, every stonemason, carpenter and digger in the Empire was pressed into service to expand the defenses of Nanchao and to built massive citadels at Sion and Tenocha. In particular, the University in Tenocha was moved underground and placed under heavy guard. The Emperor was not too pleased about the prospect of aerial attack.
1725 - 1726 T198
Beyond the Wall of Darkness, on the pantal naga…: An endless line of wagons rumbled and creaked through the twilight. A constant susurrus of moans and screams accompanied the passage of the high-wheeled carrucas; the strangled voices of thousands of slaves that hauled on the lead-lines of the wagons, dragging them and their foul cargo up the ramps. The sky, as ever in this benighted place, was dark with cloud and ice. A sickly green illumination sometimes lit the faces of the damned, showing them etched with grim and streaked by the constant drizzle of rain that fell from the ugly yellow clouds.
Chen-Hsan, the prince of the dread realm, rode along the fighting wall that paralleled the main road into the valley. His breath puffed white in the air, for the blessing of the god was hard upon them. His warhorse, a strapping black creature, pranced, it’s iron-shod hooves sparking from the black hexagonal paving stones.
Before him, the vast shape if the monoliths rose up, each perfect and complete in their twisted, non-sidereal form. These last captives, wrenched from the dying body of Khitai, were the sealing stone for their enterprise.
“The dread lord will be pleased,” said Chen-Hsan at last, turning the horse to get a better view. The Uliqqa that had followed him up from the sprawling fortress bent their foreheads, scarred with tattoos, to the icy ground. “When will the ceremony commence?”
“Soon,” they wailed, their hoarse voices nearly drowned by the gusting wind. “Soon the stars will be right.”
Chen-Hsan smiled, for the Windwalker often spoke to him in dreams and he knew that, once the twisting vortex formed between the towering spires of black and green stone, that he would be as a god himself, free to raven and slay all across the world.
Above the jagged teeth of the mountains, the moon rose, bloody and red through the murk that boiled from the factories and foundry pits of the valley.
Tokugawa Japan (Moon Faction): A bleak sunset passed in Nagi harbor, too, where the armada of the Black Fleet lay at anchor. The Shogun Kusagi had spent the day aboard the Spearfisher’s flagship, the Membinasakan, and now – with the day dying in the west – he returned to the holy soil of Japan. He came in good humor, too, for the Kahuna of the Black Fleet had given over to him all the lands of Japan that were held by the Ice Lords. His domain, as promised, was restored.
The Black Fleet left harbor within days, the sleek dark ships slipping out under the cover of darkness, leaving little trace of their passing. Vast numbers of ships had lately been anchored in Nagi, but now all were gone. In the hills above the harbor, Sunlander spies marked their departure, and messages were sent in haste. Soon, small boats crewed by desperate men would dare the crossing of the Inland Sea, seeking to carry this news to the Regent.
A month later, with the storms of winter still hard on the land, there was trouble in Nagi. Sunlander assassins attacked the residence of the Wyvern at high noon and slew the fearsome general in a fierce battle. The bodies of the assailants were later examined and found to be southern Chin.
“The damnable Ming,” cursed the Tokugawa governor of the city. “May their seed wither…”
To the northeast, there was also a dispute in Shimane, where the ferries from Shikoku were defended by a combined force of Black Fleet marines and Tokugawa levies under the command of Kusagi himself. A band of hardy lads, gathered from the length and breadth of the land, under the command of the Noyan Bantukh, attempted to capture the ferry. A pitched battle ensued, but the ronin were slaughtered by the vastly larger numbers of the Tokugawa and Bantukh killed.
At the same time, another Black Fleet army was hard at work in the province, enslaving tens of thousands and whipping them off north, to labor in the vast ring of fortifications that were being raised around Ise. Kusagai looked the other way, as those hapless wights had not bowed down before him as they aught.
Tokugawa Japan (Sun Faction): Yen exchanged letters with the Ming court, but in the end he decided not to send Princess Akemi (still held safe in a distant and secret place) to the Jade City. Many Ming gifts, however, did flow into the far-flung cities of the Sun faction, including vast quantities of rice and wheat and barley. His troops, who were great in number, remained penned on Shikoku, so they spent their time fortifying the shores and waiting patiently for the Black Fleet to come against them.
However, neither Kusagi nor the Fleet attacked Shikoku, and in September of 1725, a combined fleet of Judean, Ming, Javan, Persian (under the esteemed ‘Abd al Latif) and Sun Japanese ships (under Yamazaki and Shotoko) arrived in Tokushima harbor without incident. The blockade had faded away, like the morning mist burning away in the sun. Yen was overjoyed, for it meant that trade could flow again!
In fact, the matter of trade was close to his heart, for the Maori Imperium privateers that had ravaged the sea lanes off of Taiwan and Hainan were still preying upon Sunlander shipping in the close waters of the South China Sea. Luckily, lord Musubi had sortied from Chi’lung on Taiwan at the beginning of 1725 and (with a little help) intercepted the Maori raiding fleet off of the coast of Kwangtung. Musubi commanded a heavy squadron of 56 three-gun-deck Ryu-class trimarans. The Maori command was much lighter, comprising 130 mostly second-hand Chinese war-junks, a scattering of single-deck Biludak-class catamarans and some refitted merchantmen carrying prize crews.
Caught with a bad wind-gauge, the Maori squadron was smashed to bits by the Japanese guns and the survivors slaughtered as they thrashed helplessly in the water. Musubi was not inclined to mercy for those that had ravaged his nation.
Chan Mongol Empire: At last, as many of the common faithful had prayed for, the word came forth from Holy Fusan that the whole world would rise up against the threat of the Ice. From every temple and every shrine, the priests and monks of the Bodaisattva spoke out and called for war and fierce resistance to the invaders from the north. Long had the common folk gone in fear, thinking that the great powers of the world had forgotten them. Now their prayers were answered.
Every road from the south was choked with men and animals and wagons. Vast armies vomited forth from the heartland of the Middle Kingdom, all aiming north. The struggle had entered a new phase, where the sleeping dragon had woken and all the world would quake when it walked.
In the Chan kingdom, Emperor Jaki was hard at work. Poor Khitai had fallen, ground under by the might of the Frost Wolf. His realm would be the next battleground. To this end, the city of Adak in Anshan was heavily fortified and placed under the protection of the Lord Jentu.
These thousands of volunteers that thronged the streets of Harbin, seeking to do battle with the darkness, these Jaki placed under his own officers. Arms and training were theirs, though they were still novices in the art of war.
Even while the Emperor waited for the war-host of Judea to reach him, the provinces of Tumet and Ch’in were laid waste by Wolf-raids from across the mountains. The Chan armies were ready, however, and the swift raiding parties of the Frost Wolf were driven off.
At last, in early spring of 1726, the Judean and the Ming host arrived in Harbin. Jaki met them gladly and counted their numbers with a glad heart. Bridges groaned under the weight of the Judean guns, and the columns of Ming infantry men crowded the highways south for countless miles. One of Jaki’s scribes, writing in his memoirs, recounted that the host of the Sun was no less than 425,000 men strong. Such an army had not been seen aboard in the land since the days of the Great Khan.
Despite the vast numbers, the Sun host pressed to close with the enemy, pouring over the mountains into Wudan in three great columns. The Frost Wolf, under the command of Kartuq himself, fell upon them like a hailstorm from a clear sky. The passes were mined and trapped. Dark ships clogged the sky, raining death and fire upon the endless numbers of the Sunlander army. Still, despite horrendous casualties, the southerners kept up the attack. Rocket batteries thundered, sending flight after flight of shrieking burning death against the Frost Wolf airships. The zealots that the Pure Realm had stirred up were sent forward, again and again, to die under the guns of the Frost Wolf entrenchments.
A hundred thousand Chinese perished, ground into the bloody ground on the plains of Wudan. But their sacrifice was not in vain. Kartuq’s veterans, outnumbered and unable to hold the entire front, were driven out of their prepared positions. They fell back in good order, fighting for each town and hill, but the Judean commanders were relentless. Kartuq was finally forced to break off with his air fleet, saving what troops he could, and leap-frog back into the north.
With contact lost, the Sun host secured Wudan and cast about for any other Ice armies on the loose. There seemed to be none. Heartened by this victory, the Judeans and Ming and Chan marched back to Harbin to get a hot bath, a soft bed and maybe some convivial company.
When they got there, they found that a Persian army under the command of Sarai Owaiis and Basin al’ Yazdur had taken all the good inns.
Prester John: Lewis, who had been hoping that his tiny poor realm would be ignored by the dark powers, was greatly disheartened by the advance of the Ice, which obliterated over half of his realm. Refugees flooded into Karakocho and clogged the roads over the mountains into Turfan and Tuhnwhang. Lewis began laying plans to move his capital to Maclan, in hopes of gaining a few more years of respite.
Judah: The Hand moved, and the heavens shifted in their courses. At the Emperor’s command, enormous demands were made of the merchant hongs and nobles. Even the peasants felt his iron grip, as the army was doubled in size. The factories across the land belched black smoke and worked day and night to outfit the new regiments and divisions with guns, shoes, ammunition, tents and all the other accoutrements of war. To fuel all this, the ports of the realm were left abandoned and the docks crowded with un-crewed ships. A deep price would be paid for the war against the Ice, but Tesereng was ready to pay it.
Many priests filled the cities and towns, too, for the Holy Father in distant Rome had begun to take note of the vast numbers of followers Catholicism commanded in the Middle Kingdom. Efforts were made to rein in the local clergy, which had grown used to finding their own way to God amid the ten thousand devils and angels of ancient China.
A huge army was sent north to battle the Ice, at last, under a veritable constellation of notables, including the Returned prince Yui-Yen. Of a wonder, it did not get annihilated by the Frost Wolf. It even won!
An expedition into the western deserts, under General Chan, failed to gain any support for the Kingdom amongst the tribes. Chan learned, too, late that support for the Ice Lords was strong there. He and his bodyguards were ambushed and slain in the wasteland. His body was never recovered.
At the end of 1726 a large army of Persians arrived (does this seem familiar?) in Yanzhi under the command of the bey Ibrahim. Of course, they were too late to help with any of the big fighting…
Ming Chinese Empire: The old Emperor, Ying-Jujien, labored mightily to bring all the power of the Ming to bear upon defeating the Ice Lords. The strain of the long struggle, however, was too much for the Emperor and he died of a heart seizure in August of 1726. His son, Ying-Kwon, then ascended the Jade Throne and became Emperor of China. He was crowned, in great state, in the shadow of the Great Buddha.
Fleets were dispatched to Japan, where they saw little action as the Black Fleet had sidled away in the night, while huge numbers of religious zealots, fired up by the exhortations of the Pure Realm priests, were sent north to die under the guns of the Frost Wolf.
Java: An extensive search was made for the main elements of the Black Fleet, but it was fruitless. The enemy seemed to have vanished like mist.
Swedish-Russia: The regent and his government were forced to undertake double-duty as most of the clerks and ministers in Riga were working overtime to pack everything into crates and boxes. A constant stream of fat-hulled merchantmen plied the waters of the harbor, loading refugees, the petit nobility and every laborer, farm-hand and accountant in the city. The destination of the majority of the government was St. Georges in Morroco, where the Exarchate of Inner Afriqa was in the process of formation.
Throughout all of this, the government maintained a wide-ranging program to inform and press the common population to move away from the threat in the North.
That worthy, Kjell Sigurdson was knighted for his previous work in evacuating the populations of areas threatened by the advance of the ice, and for maintaining public order. In 1725 and ’26 he oversaw the evacuation of Torki and Kalach, whose populations were marched to Kherson, and then taken to Morocco.
A courier ship from Shawnee arrived in ’26, carrying a clutch of prisoners taken by the Nisei in their campaigns against the Ice tribes. These captives, a motley lot of Tatars, Mongols and scurvy Indians, were paraded in the streets of Riga in an effort to rouse the morale of the populace. Unfortunately, they were so pathetic looking that it served only as an excuse for the already disaffected urban population to riot.
At the same time, Andej Kutusov and Isaak Simonagun were hard at work with their “resettlement battalions”, emptying Turku, Kopparborg, Rhzev, Kirivitch, Smolensk and Alfskrona. Some of the refugees were settled in St. Sigurd and Nova Byzantium, increasing the sizes of those cities. The rest were forced to wait in camps in the Hallandish countryside.
The trouble on the Baltic continued, with Yeltsin attempting to complete the Ice Road with new levies from Livonia and Estonia. As before, the citizens refused to “work and die” on the ice, resulting in riots in the work camps. This time, Yeltsin’s troops refused to fire on the protesters and the Marsk was forced to allow the expatriates to return to the Riga area, where they occupied the camps recently built for those being trans-shipped to Afriqa.
Finally, the inner councils of the Regent were greatly troubled both by the rising level of unrest amongst the people and the unsettling fact that the Ice had failed to advance into those areas that the University was sure it would overcome.
Danish Empire: Tyrsson met with the elderly priest privately and emerged from the consultation in great agitation. Soon afterwards certain monies were reallocated by the Regent and construction begun on a massive tower on the island of Moreno in the lagoon of Venice. Those working on the tower soon learned that it would house a massive telescope and would be of an un-heardof height.
By these means, the Regent hoped to pierce the thick air over the Mediterranean and allow the direct observation of these miscreants.
All of this left Commodore Rossolimo cooling his heels in the Arsenal, waiting for a new appropriation of funds to construct the fleet that he was supposed to take to Mansura to protect the canal there…
Meanwhile, in the uttermost east, a Danish fleet approached a fog-shrouded and barren shore in the face of an icy gale. On the flagship, Kristatos stood on the foredeck with General Spielman and his daughter at his side. The Emperor had grown frail in the past months, as the Danish squadron had beaten up the Manchurian coast. The demon-haunted islands of Nippon had passed away behind them. The seas, uncommonly, had been empty. Neither armadas of Maori catamarans nor fleets of Judean galleons had troubled them. Now, with their destination in sight, Oniko braced her father as he bent his will towards the dark pine forests that rose up beyond the surf.
“We are very close,” he bit out from between clenched teeth. “I can feel the power of the enemy, beyond those hills. Can you not see it, twisting the very earth and fouling the sky?”
“No, father,” whispered Oniko, but she could see that the clouds boiled and writhed in the sky, though no wind seemed to come from them. Even the water had turned a queasy yellowish-gray. “I can see a headland and a warning tower of black stone…”
The Danish fleet hove into the lee shore of that dark headland and Oniko’s scouts went ashore. Within days they reported that a great and brooding city lay only miles away, thronged with tribesmen and varlets of all kinds. Cold white banners flew over its walls and strange shapes moved in the sky above it. A captive was dragged before the Emperor, as he waited on the Claudia. The man, under the question, gasped forth the name of that loathsome town: Drakenroost. This was the great entrepot and seaward base of the Frost Wolf.
Within the day, Oniko’s veterans were ashore, their guns, wagons and supplies ferried ashore in longboats from the fleet. Within the week, Oniko’s army stormed out of the darkness of the pine woods and assailed the mighty walls of the city. The Frost Wolf defenders, stunned that someone had found their hidden base, rallied quickly. The Uliqqa priests, summoned from their cells beneath the citadel, offered up a vast sacrifice to the gods behind the sky, calling for them to strike down the mortals that strove and struggled on the walls of the city.
Kristatos was waiting, watching and brooding from the edge of the forest, a long cloth-wrapped package in his hands. The great stone idols lumbered forward, their slick gray-green surfaces washed with blood. Massive dark wings rose above them and the rattle and boom of drums and pipes skirled around them. Oniko’s lines of musketeers gave way, filled with uneasy fear. She rode among them, calming them, making sure they held their ground.
The Uliqqa chanting rose to a crescendo and the entrails and brains of the dead were raised to the sky, which boiled and writhed with power. Kristatos, his face a grim mask, unwrapped the short-bladed pilum that he had carried out of Egypt. Its iron blade was stained and dark with old blood; the wooden shaft polished a glossy brown by centuries of handling. He raised the Spear and his voice rolled out, thundering and huge under that storm-black sky.
Lightning flared and cracked, lighting the battlefield. The first of the great idols shuddered and then shattered, sending a five ton granite wing crashing to the ground. Oniko screamed in triumph and ordered her battalions forward.
Drakenroost fell six days later, as the last of the Uliqqa and their guards were cast into the public square, where their captives and slaves tore them limb from limb. Some few of the priests of the wind escaped in an airship, fleeing for the interior.
Kristatos drove his daughter’s troops forward, for they had found a massive highway of fitted stones that led from the docks of Drakenroost into the mountains that rose up behind the sea. There, in a hidden valley, they found a dreadful sight.
Five stupendous towers twisted up out of the earth, spiking up from a valley floor riddled with dens and warrens and deep and noisome shafts. The bodies of hundreds of thousands of slaves lay piled along the roads and ramps of the massive complex. The Danes entered the valley of darkness with great anger in their hearts. Corolis lightning flickered from tower to tower and the sky was distorted and strange. Of all the men that entered that dark place, only Kristatos had a full understanding of the heinous crime that had been done to the earth.
“There is little time,” he rasped to his daughter, whose enigmatic face was twisted with revulsion at the bone-pits and the forges and foundries that her men had uncovered. “Train your guns upon these towers and let fly until no powder or shot remains.”
Within moments, the first shell had burst in a flower of orange and red upon the rune-scribed surface of the nearest tower. It rang at the impact, sending forth a mind-destroying vibration that made the earth shake and many of the men in the Danish army to fall to the ground, dead or senseless.
At the center of the valley, where the influence of all five towers was at its height, the sky distorted and twisted. A great wind came up, whipping stones and shards of ice into the faces of the Danish troopers.
“Fire! Keep firing until your barrels melt and the bronze ruptures!” Kristatos screamed over the howling wind. “I will do the rest.”
He turned, the Spear raised high above his head and on his lips there was a half-remembered chant – something he had once gleaned from the pages of the Black Book. Behind him, Oniko raged along the batteries of guns, lashing the men to a greater pace. The field pieces spoke again, belching fire. A second shell and then a third crashed against the leviathan towers. Green-black rock spalled and chipped, then a slab tore loose under the bombardment, plummeting a thousand feet to the floor of the valley. It exploded on impact, scattering crushed rock and shards of glass in all directions.
The sky at the center of the valley rippled like the heat over a hot fire, then there was a ripping and a tearing sound. Kristatos blanched at the event, for his chant was only half done and a thousand stanzas remained. There, before his eyes, space twisted and distorted and a black void spilled forth. Something writhed in the darkness and his hands struggled to invoke a second pattern while his mind was almost completely exhausted by the effort of the first.
A thing jetted forth from the tear in the sky, a writhing opalescent shape that slithered across the ground, pooling in the pits and caverns that the Frost Wolf slaves had gouged from the frozen soil. Intense cold rushed before it, killing the entire first rank of gunners. The cannon shattered, the metal unable to withstand the breath of the abyss.
Kristatos slashed down the Spear and thunder rolled again. He invoked Names and Signs and a wall of flame rushed up before him. The opalescent tentacle smoked and burned and failed wildly before it retreated. The second rank of guns continued to fire, shells raining on the towers. The Emperor put forth all his will, drawing on arts that he had gained in his youth when he had walked in darkness, seeking knowledge long denied to the race of men.
The entrance rippled and began to expand.
Kristatos invoked the final Sign, completing the last stanza of the ancient text. At the same moment, the fourth tower burst into flame and collapsed into the valley. The vortex that had threatened to flash into existence could not maintain itself.
The rip in the sky closed with a colossal snap.
Kristatos slumped to his knees, body dripping with sweat. Above him, the sky shuddered and began to rain in great endless sheets.
“Back to the ships,” howled Oniko into the teeth of the storm. “Our work here is done.”
Spain: The general sense of trouble that had been slowly ratcheting up in Lisbon got a big goosing when news came, in late 1725, that hundreds of merchant ships plying the Gates of Hercules had come under attack by “great flying fire-breathing dragons”. The losses to merchants plying those waters were heavy, as were the casualties amongst the Swedish refugee ships that were clogging the port of St. George in Morroco.
Libya: An embassy, under the notable Al’Fahd, was sent to Thessaloniki to attend the oft-rumored ‘airship conference’. While the Lybians learned many things there, it was more a confirmation of what they had already learned themselves…
Finally, at a secret desert airfield south of New Oran, Al’Fahd returned to the University project that he headed. He had come directly from the Thessaloniki meeting, his travel bags packed with reams of notes taken during a heavily guarded colloquium presented by the Georgian representative. In those papers were detailed drawings of a machine that the Georgians had recovered from the ruins of Homs. With it were specifications for motive fluids and for geared machines that could be driven to produce thrust for a flying machine.
His camel loped up over a great dune and Al’Fahd brushed back the tail of his burnouse. His eyes widened in horror, for the sprawling complex of machine and wood-working shops, barracks, great hangars, separation tanks and mess-halls that he had left behind six months before was a smoking ruin. Heedless of the danger, he urged the camel to rush down the slope and within minutes he was picking his way through the devastation that had been the Number Two Drafting and Machine Shop.
Behind him, his guardsmen fanned out, looking for survivors, their Krupp-Liefson carbines at the ready. Al’Fahd sifted through the sooty debris, but he knew in his heart that nothing of their massive enterprise remained. Years of work by the best minds of the Emirate had been snuffed out in one mighty blow.
Damn the filthy Swedes!
“Ho! Sheykh!” Al’Fahd looked up. One of the guardsmen was reaching down, into some hidden cavity in the hard-packed earth near the burned out ruin of the mess hall. Al’Fahd hurried towards them. A man was crawling out of the rubble.
It was Abdoon, the lead technician for the water separation tanks. His face was burned as if by acid and one eye stared out, a milky white orb, sightless. But he was alive. Al’Fahd seized him by the grimy remains of his robe.
“What happened!” Al’Fahd was shouting, but he did not care. “Who did this?”
“There… there was a breakthrough.” Abdoon could barely speak, his voice a rough whisper. One of the guardsmen forced the copper spout of a drinking skin between the man’s teeth. Abdoon sucked at it greedily. There were no wells within two days ride of the base. All of the water had been brought in by camel and stored in massive underground cisterns.
When he could talk gain, Abdoon said: “The Brothers… they finally solved the problem with the re-circulating engine. It worked! Spin tests yielded four thousand rotations… Rusath designed a propelling shaft and we built it.”
Al’Fahd snarled in disgust. “How many did you make?”
Abdoon raised a hand, puckered with scars. “Five, lord. Enough for the prototype and a spare to carry inside the ship. We worked day and night, without sleep, without food. We were men possessed. But in the end…”
“What?” Al’Fahd bent close, for Abdoon’s voice was failing him. “Did it fly?”
“Yes, lord, like an angel… Rusath and the senior engineers took it up at dawn. It rocked a little in the cold air, but it flew! But then… then they came out of the sand, howling and yelping. There were thousands of them…”
Abdoon’s face collapsed, showing naked fear. After that, he could say nothing, only make an odd hair-raising yelping noise. Al’Fahd stared around him in horror, finally seeing the white glint of bones poking up from the sand. Something unnatural had happened here. A scrap of blowing paper caught his eye. He reached down and snatched it up.
It was part of a machinists drawing, showing the measurements for some mechanism or gear. The strange looking device, all cylinders and hoses, struck a chord in him. With mounting unease, he scrabbled in his carry-bag. He found one of the sheets that had been distributed by the Georgians at the meeting. On it, laboriously etched, was a picture of one of the engines dragged from the wreckage at Homs. He held the two pieces of paper up, side by side.
It was the same mechanism.
The Mountain Called Stormhelm, Somewhere In East Afriqa: Wind gusted in through the bay doors of the Saqqara as it drifted over the shoulder of the mountain. A short bearded man, his vaguely Arabic features offset by a pair of startlingly blue eyes, hung from a line in the door, watching the ground rush past below. Great trees spread their crowns wide below him. Beneath them he could see a thick forest understory. The peak of the mountain was thick with snow and ice, but here, in the sub-tropical belt that clung to its flanks, there was little to be seen of the ground.
A horn called mournfully from the forward observation blister and the pilots on the command deck throttled back the engines. Behind the cargo bay, four great engines sputtered to a halt, spilling kerosene and lubricating oil into the jungle below.
“There it is!” Rusath, of the Brotherhood, shaded his eyes. The spotters hung in baskets suspended from the conical nose of the great airship. One of them was waving, pointing towards a great cliff that now emerged from the mist shrouding the mountain.
Now Rusath could see it for himself. It was huge, towering above the giants of the forest, a vast planed slab of granite. Enormous figures emerged from the stone, carved an eon ago by inhuman hands. They flanked a great door, set back into the dark striated stone.
“Ready the charge!” Rusath swung away from the door and scrambled back up to the command deck. In the cargo bay below his feet, his servants rushed to check the lines attached to the bulky object that stood in the center of the bay. One reeled out a thin wire of copper and, after attaching it to an exposed metal plug at the back of the wicker and wood contraption, handed it up to a second man on the swaying command deck. That man attached the copper wire to a device strapped to the decking.
“Weapon secure,” called out the loading master in the cargo bay. Rusath turned, watching the approach to the massive gateway and carving jutting from the mountainside. The pilots had a delicate job, trying to bring the unwieldy airship into the correct approach to deliver the “package” into the center of the doorway. The engines at the rear of the huge ship began to pick up speed. The vibration of their rotation shook the whole ship.
“Weapon away!” The cargo bay suddenly made a clanging sound and the entire floor dropped away as securing bolts were cut free. The bulky package in the center of the bay plummeted towards the treetops rushing past below. In an instant it struck the end of the retaining lines and there was a wrenching shock through the entire airframe. At the same time, the pilots cut in the engines and they roared, trying to pull the airship up as fast as possible.
The package swung, slowly at first, but then rushing forward, towards the center of the ancient temple. The dark doorway loomed large in Rusath’s sight, and the bulky package, it’s line cut loose, hurled towards it.
Seconds later it slammed into the dark stone, making an enormous crashing sound. Rusath held his breath, waiting for the explosion. None came, not for endless seconds as the carefully hoarded explosive cascaded back from the ancient door.
Then it erupted as it fell into the trees. A vast billow of flame rushed out, accompanied by a titantic shock of superheated air. The Saqqara heeled and slewed to one side. The rear engine mounts, stressed beyond measure, tore free, plunging into the trees, leaking burning fuel.
Rusath did not hesitate. He leapt from the stricken airship. For a moment, steaming fetid air rushed past and then he crashed through the upper deck of branches and leaves.
Behind him, flame leapt into the rear gas cell of the Saqqara and the entire five-hundred foot long airship shuddered. Flame licked along the long spars and then, with a cataclysmic boom it blew apart in a fury of fire and smoke and incandescent gas.
Rustah tumbled through branches and tangling vines, hearing his left arm shatter as he bounced off of a stout limb. Moments later he slammed into the rich loamy soil that covered the slope. Above him, through the falling debris and the flame and the smoke, he could see the massive shapes of the statues looming over him.
The door in the stone, he knew, was intact. Doubtless the dark close-grained surface was unblemished. The ancient faces stared down at him, mocking his efforts.
Curse the children of Yith, he snarled to himself. He tried to rise, blocking the pain in his arm and leg with pure controlled thought.
Then he heard the drums in the jungle. Soon the Maasai would come, their long spears searching through the forest for him and his like. Unlike the deluded Europeans, the natives in the deep forest remembered their true enemy. He began to crawl.
An engine, wreathed in flame, crashed into the ground where he had lain, spilling kerosene in all directions. The heat beat against his face, but he continued to drag himself through the mud and vines.
The Boreal Waste, Where Once Lomar Held Sway: “A thousand years of preparation and planning, in ruins!” The old Tlingit woman’s voice cracked like a whip in the chamber. The others, their faces marked with equal disquiet and even fear, did not respond. She moved slowly, for her blood had long ago cooled into something more suited for the Hyperborean wastes than for quick movement. Her dark eyes remained as bright as a falcon’s. She did not spare any of her companions the full weight of her anger.
“I counseled that we move more cautiously. Now we have provoked one of the Other Powers into taking a hand in this… Our purpose is close to failure.”
The eldest moved an eyebrow, which forced her into silence. He that had been of the first men sent forth his thought:
This dispute is useless. We have all felt the shifting in the earth, the change in the sky. This is not the meddling of the accursed Old Ones or the degenerate Yithians. A Great Power has entered the fray.
The others nodded, though the bald statement made them blanch with fear.
This <space | orb | breeding ground> remains inviolate, thought the first of them, slowly. It cannot have gained full entrance, or we would all have been consumed. Therefore, it has merely entered an avatar. Such a being, though past deadly, can be found and destroyed.
“Unless,” snapped the old Tlingit woman, “this power uses our own mechanisms to further it’s own purpose. The barriers are very weak. Nothing in the stars writes that the gates need be used for our ends!”
Enough! You are foolish children, frightened by the darkness that you should embrace. All timetables must be advanced.
Nisei Republic: Emboldened by what they saw as a victory over the Intuit last year, the Nisei launched a two-pronged attack on the Ice Lord position in Nicolua. Nisei light horse, force-marched by Prince Akari and General Numiro, infiltrated through the mountains and forest to pin the Inuit forces. At the same time, by great good luck, the supreme commander of the Inuit force – the dread lord Keet’Sheel – was killed by a Nisei ninja team.
The White Mongol Khan, therefore, was forced to try and rally both his own men and Sheel’s regiments. He was attacked in the midst of this. Unfortunately for the Nisei, who had matched their enemy in numbers and were his master in terms of command coordination, they were once more afflicted by the strange influence of the great tormented idols. The kyofu, or “Fear”, came upon them on the second day, as the Nisei prepared to drive the Ice Lords from the field of battle.
Ieyoshi, unable to control his troops, was forced to withdraw, though he had inflicted (again) heavy casualties upon his enemy. Consumed with hatred for this foe that hid behind drifting bitter smoke and struck from a distance with his damnable airships, Ieyoshi vowed not only to destroy them, but to expunge their memory from the minds of men.
II Corps, meantime, was busy on the coast, overseeing the evacuation of the regions of Kwakiutl (and the city of Sakata), Timishian (and Terai), Tolowan, and Zhai (in Tlingit). The bands of refugees were sent south, marching in lamentable columns down the coastal roads until they reached Yokuts. IV Corps was also busy, moving the tent capitol from Sakata (in Kwakiutl) to Yahuskin.
In early 1726, an Inuit airfleet swept out of the east and into Gosuite province, where it seized a refueling and re-provisioning base in the rich valley south of the Salt Sea. Its commander, however, then fell prey to well-armed monks who ambushed him while he was hunting in the mountains. With his death, the Inuit commanders of the air fleet fell to quarreling among themselves.
High Kingdom of Colorado: Colorado, helpless before the strength of the Ice Lords, suffered again as the populace of Moache was terrorized by air and their last few paltry possessions stolen by the Inuit. The city of St. Pauls was also looted and it’s population scattered. The Inuit air fleet then proceeded west at a slow pace, obviously searching for something.
Within a month, a strong force of Coloradan knights in the plateau-land of Unita was attacked by the air fleet and destroyed. Unable to escape their airborne enemy, the landschnekts fought to the last man, but fruitlessly.
Hideyoshi Nisei Shogunate: Some small ray of hope, however, did come with a letter from Prince Akari, who had joined the army of the Shawnee Empress Treya. A great battle against the Inuit in Missouri had been won by the Shawnee and Granadans. With that victory, the province of Missouri (and the city of Fushige) returned to Hideyoshi control. Goweishan was very pleased – he had expected the Shawnee to simply establish administration of that area themselves.
Shawnee Empire: The advance of the Ice mean just trouble for Shawnee. While the Empress was stuck in the far west with the Imperial Army, her designated regent was cold in a lavish tomb outside of Adena. That left the coordination of a vast exodus in the hands…
Treya, her forward advance thwarted by massive snowpack and ice in the Rockies, fell back through Teton, Okoboji and Dakota, collecting her garrisons. Once reaching the high-water port of Igashi she laid plans to drive the Cree from the eastern plains. She also lost the assistance of the Granadans, who loaded back on their fleet and returned home.
“Wusses,” she growled, while working her staff to the bone. “We don’t need those pansy southerners anyway.”
With lord Firewind commandeering her left flank, she then bulled south-east into Missouri, where she found that the Cree and their unsavory allies had been digging in for most of a year. Despite the depth of the Cree defense, Treya was not to be denied and she spent six months (spanning the winter of 1725-26) systematically annihilating Cree fort after fort. In the end, every last plainsman was hunted down and got a bullet in the head. Fushige, much worse for wear, was recaptured and restored to Hideyoshi administration.
In the east, things were getting a little dicey. The entire northern littoral of the empire was threatened by the wall of darkness. The lords Rainwalker, Pennacook, Sark and Tall-tree bend all their effort to ensure an orderly evacuation of Thira, Iroquois, Santua, Fox and Noquet. Not all those efforts succeeded – the tribes in Wyandot, Croix and Pelbar all refused to abandon their ancestral homes. In Wyandot, there was open battle before Rainwalker and his men could escape the province.
Aztec Empire: Panic and fear permeated the Aztec capital. Rumors were rife that the Ice Lords would soon attack it, raining fire and death from the skies. The common citizens began to throng the cathedrals and chapels of the Sisters, seeking comfort. The nobles hoarded food and ammunition and every kind of good. The Emperor, meanwhile, sent his armies here and there and everywhere in an attempt to forestall any attack.
In the very far north, the Spear of Fire and Sword of Empire legions continued their long and leisurely march, finally reaching the old Nisei capital of Nez Perce. However, there was no one there to meet them save some elderly gardeners that were still trying to restore the palace gardens (destroyed by the Inuit in their great raid of 1722).
In support of this operation a massive fleet of Aztec, Bolivian, English, Sisters of the Rose and Shawnee ships sailed up the pacific coast, finally reaching Ipai, where they took to harbor to re-water and provision. In all their journey, they encountered no signs of the enemy.
The Jaguar Legion, however, did cross sabers with the enemy, for they had made a secret landing on the coast of Eyak in the far far north. Comprised of a small force of veteran men in the swiftest ships, the Jaguars raised the coast, seizing captives from the villages that they found there. These poor wights, who had long labored under the sway of the Lords of the Ice, could only tell fantastical and unbelievable tales…
The Aztecs barely escaped that doleful shore, for Inuit airships soon came seeking them. Luckily, the fogs and mists on that strand are thick and common.
New Granada: The Knights of Saint John abandoned the campaign in the northern Amerikan plains, returning to La Raza. Their fleet, however, joined the Aztecs in their patrol on the Pacific coast.
New French Empire: Louis cleaned out his court of idlers, malcontents and the restless, sending the lords Pepin and Charles, as well as Duke Henri off to the north with an army and a fleet to battle these Ice fellows.
1727 - 1728 T199
The Battle For Japan
Phase I (The Gathering) Jan 1727 to Apr 1728
Mission # 1 – Khemer Troop Convoy
The Khemer Empire sends Lieutenant Almandur and Prince Moldoraja with a fleet of 226 ships carrying 23,000 troops, 100 guns, and 40 airships from Khemer to Hong Kong.
Mission #2 – Escort Fleet
Java sends Lieutenants N’dret, B’njo, and Pedregon with Tokugawa Japan’s Lieutenants Lord Shotoko and Yamakazi in a combined fleet of 340 ships from Shikoku to Hong Kong. There they pick up the Japanese Princess Akemi and wait for the Khemer convoy. They mass as one fleet and sail back to Shikoku.
Mission #3 – The Interdiction
The Divine Kingdom of Judah’s General Peng leads a fleet of 380 ships from Saga to the Inland Sea to interdict any Ice Lord activities. They encounter no Ice Lord activities so they wait for above fleet to come through then follow them to Shikoku
Mission #4 – Ming Troop Convoy
Ming Chinese Chen Yun Fat sails in a fleet of 30 ships with 6,000 cavalry sail from Hupei to Shikoku.
Mission #5 – Pure Realm Fleet and second Ming Fleet
Pure Realm’s Wong Hu and Dun Ho with Ming China’s Mu Szechu and Yang Do in a fleet of 252 ship with 4600 of infantry troops and 20 guns sail from Silla to Shikoku.
Phase II (The Landing) Apr 1728 to Jul 1728
All the above forces mass in Shikoku in April 1728. The Tokugawa shogun Totoro Yen hosted a strategy meeting in the Royal Palace that was so big, it caused floor subsidence. In addition he issued a death warrant for Shogun Kusagi. After the meeting the force loaded and set sail under command of Java’s N’dret and 14 other leaders. A fleet of 928 ships from Tokugawa Japan and Java plus the Judah squadron acted as a defensive screen for the landing fleet. The rest of the fleet spent two months landing the army due to the interdiction fleet tying up boats. They landed in Shimane without confrontation in June 1728. Khemer and Pure Realm left their fleet at the beach while their leaders went on land. The entire ground force then moved to Hemeji to besiege the city. It only took a month since the army was so big, and the Black Fleet economic allies there were not stupid enough to resist.
Phase III (The Attack) Jul 1728 to Dec 1728
Mission #1 – Blockade Ise Wan
Lords Ito and Yaggi proceed to Ise Wan and blockaded the coastline of Yamato adjacent to the Ise Shrine complex with a fleet of 328 warships. There were no conflicts during the blockade. They did observe, however, that the Ice troops on shore had been very busy repairing and extending the old fortifications around the Shrine.
Mission #2 – Interdiction of Ise Wan
B’njo, Pedregon, Yang Do, and General Peng take 848 ships to the Ise Wan sea zone to react to any intrusion by Ice Lord naval forces. There was no intrusion.
Mission #3 – The Scouts
Mu Szechu and Chen Yun Fat lead 6,000 cavalry ahead of the main force to scout for enemy armies. They got to Yamato in Aug 1728, encountering no opposition. They awaited the main force to catch up to them. In April 1728, just after the landing, Mu Szechu dies from falling off his horse and Chen Yun Fat takes command.
Mission #4 – The Weird Stuff
Wong Hu and Dun Ho with 6,600 troops separated from of the main force. They used up a lot of shoe leather hiking over hill and dale and mountain, looking for a certain band of young ladies (or anything else suspicious) but they did not find anything. At the end of the year, they managed to rejoin the main force in Yamato.
Mission #5 – The Main Body
N’dret led the main force with the help of Lord Musubu, Lord Shotoko, Yamakazi, Almandur and Moldoraja. This main force has 104,000 troops, 200 guns, and 80 airships. In Sep 1728 they liberated Yamato without a shot being fired. In Oct 1728 they moved to the city of Kyoto to besiege it and then bed down for the winter.
Tokugawa Japan (Sun Faction): Totoru Yen sent all of his leaders to support the Sunlander Expeditionary force to liberate Japan. In April of 1728 he gathered all the multi-national leaders of the operation and briefed the tactics and strategy. After the operation began he returned to Shikoku and tended to internal affairs. Ming sent a large surplus of foods and goods to Japan to help with their shortages, but the Black Fleet intercepted this shipment and stole almost half of it.
Princess Akemi arrived with the multi-national force, part of the effort of the Shogunate to show that it was not abandoning the home islands. Lord Futugawa was placed in charge of her safety with a guard of 400 soldiers.
Yamakazi, and Lords Shotoko, Ito, Yaggi, and Musubu were all sent to join the Sunlander army and fleet. A few new airships and artillery were built to add to the already enormous army.
Pure Realm: The Pure Realm Primacy sent Wong Hu and Dun Ho to join the Sunlander Expeditionary Force in liberating Japan.
They brought with them some mystical artifacts and devices to assist in the operations but they did not seem to help much. King Xi Wong ruled in the homeland and oversaw the unpacking of government documents.
Lieutenant Lu Chen traveled from Abadan to Hadrumuht and investigated the some ruins in the desert. He was lucky -- all that he found was bad cheese made from camel milk.
Lu Hung, under the advice and direction of the intelligence community, spent many months in meditation. It is rumored that he was trying to seek guidance from his dreams. The only thing he got out of it was a headache. A very large gold shipment was dispatched to Ming China. The Black Fleet was unable to get its paws on this one.
The Wasteland, Dzungur Plateau: Judah’s Prince Yui-Yen, Bar-Kochba, with Ming’s Tsang-Yow and Persia’s Basin Al’Yazdur met in Harbin. They amassed a large force of 330,000 infantry and cavalry, 766 guns, and 30 airships. As they marched further north weather grew worse and worse. Despite extensive precautions, both high-born and low began to suffer from exposure and frostbite. The mules and horses were particularly hard-hit. Upon reaching the Dzungur Plateau the cold began to really take its toll. Approximately 30% of the forces were lost due to the cold as well as rampant desertion. Most of the dead were Ming soldiers, for their homeland was warm and swampy and really very comfortable in comparison to the frozen hell of the Dzungur. Large numbers of cavalry lost their horses and became foot soldiers like the infantry. Many artillery pieces were left at various stages during the march due to the high drifts of snow and the fading will power of the army. However, some of these pieces were recovered coming back south later.
Their mission was to find the Frost Wolf army but they missed them. Many liberated slaves reported that the Frost Wolf had fled some three months before the arrival of the Sunlander host. The Sunlanders did however, besiege ands capture the Wolves’ Lair. They looked around for a gate complex like the one found at Drakenroost, but none was found. During this meticulous search through the frozen tundra, Prince Yui-Yen went crazy due to hideous experience (too horrible to even explain) and ran off into a blizzard in Nov 1727. It seems leading such a large force in such a cold climate was too much for him to handle. The army searched more in 1728 and found nothing. The remaining leaders decided that it was just too cold so they packed up and went back to Harbin to thaw out. Overall they paid a dear price in units, but they wrecked the Frost Wolves government, forcing a diplomatic strain on many of their regions. Some of which revolted when they took their capitol. A small garrison of unlucky Sunlander troops (a fate worse than potato peeling) was left at the Wolves’ Lair.
Chan Mongol Empire: King Chan Jaki, Chan Sing, and Xiao Ke marched their armies to Harbin but were unable to join the Judean operation hunting Frost Wolves on the Dzungur Plateau. Instead they ended up playing TaiPei Stone Games until the multi-nation force returned from its operation. They did have a fire lit and ready to help in thawing out the armies returning from the frozen tundra. Lord Jento sat in Adak waiting for word from his king. None came, so he was happy and warm.
Prester John-In-Exile: King Lewis declared a state of national emergency. His people and armies were all starving and all of his regions were overun by the ice. No one came to their aid and the Kingdom was abandoned. Lewis, along with those citizens who had not succumbed to plague or the Ice, fled south, into the lands of the Sinkiang basin, where – at least – it was warmer.
Judah: King Teserung, and the Prince Seteris remained lolling around Pienching, pretending to defend the city and sent Yui-Yen and Bar-Kochba out into the cold to hunt the Frost Wolf on the Dzunger Plateau. Yui-Yen went insane during the operation in part due to the stress in commanding such a large coalition army and operating in such a cold environment. Much of that army was destroyed by the ice and cold. The survivors managed to crawl back to warmer climes afterwards.
The King Sent General Peng to help liberate Japan in the Sunlander Expeditionary Force. General Li defended Tharbad and General Tao and Doa defended Kansu and Kin respectively. More regiments were mustered to swell the already imposing ranks of the Imperial army.
The Hand of God was sitting at a table in the Court of Ten Thousand Lilies, writing a poem. His calligraphic skills had been honed by a lifetime of study and contemplation. The sheet of paper was pure and white and unsullied by anything but the perfection of his brush-strokes. As ever at this hour of the day, he was alone. In every room around the Cout, and hidden behind the roof-ridges of the surrounding palace buildings were squads of his Yaqui Rifle guardsmen. But here, in the serene peace of the Court, he was alone.
Tesereng drew a breath, letting it settle his mind and focus his chi into the brush. One perfect stroke would complete the poem, providing a stunning conclusion to the simple, yet elegant, verse. On the page was written:
A great cloud covers the heavens above,
Sends down snows thick-falling.
To them are added the fine rains of spring.
All is swampy and drenched,
All is moistened and soft,
Ready to grow the many grains
Tesereng moved to ink the last character and there was a splat sound. He looked around, disturbed that anything should mar this perfect moment. There was a smell, a foul smell, like rotting dog and thousand-year-old-egg combined.
“Pardon me, master,” came a croaking, a loathsome vile sound like dying frogs being cooked in a vat of cat vomit. The Hand of God looked up and found that a thing was hanging from the lamp that illuminated the table. The splat sound had been some yellow-green bile that had drooled from the winged, warty thing and spilled on the edge of the paper.
“Accursed thing!” Exclaimed the Emperor, leaping to his feet and assuming the Crane Fighting Dog stance. “Begone from the world of men!”
The thing gibbered, swinging from the lamp, but instead of fleeing before the strong gung-fu that the Emperor presented with his Shaolin King Fist, it said: “My master apologizes that he does not have time to visit you in person, but he is most pressed for time. He also imparts this message: ‘Your country is great and bountiful, your people numerous and brave. I pray these are not your undoing. We should not have been required to circle the globe to destroy what you allowed to grow, fed by the blood of your neighbors. Your fear of losses prevented you from looking for it, while your pride and complacency in your power did not allow you to comprehend the horror that was almost unleashed upon you. Know this: your gleaming cities will help you not as the Ice buries them. Your wealth will not slow its course. From henceforth you must fight as if the world may end tomorrow, for indeed it may. If hesitation and desire for certainty mark your every move, you will preserve your riches for a few years, and condemn your descendants to eternal darkness. Urp!”
Tesereng opened his mouth to call for his guards, while shifting into the Leaping Over Mountains stance, but the thing – for it was just a thing, a small, loathsome thing – was already gone. “Damn!”
Ming Chinese Empire: Ming China was involved on two fronts of operation. King Ying-Kwon sent Chen Yun Fat, Yang Do and Mu Szechu to Shikoku to help the Japanese and the Sunlander Expeditionary Force. Mu Szechu fell from his horse during this operation and died in April 1728. Ye Li, T’sang Yow and Kao Sun participated in the hunt for the Frost Wolf in the Dzungur Plateau. They too lost many of their men, horses and equipment to the frozen wasteland.
Baron Sun’ye returned home from his journey to Africa. He brought back no news of a Jewish Anchor that was rumored to be there.
The Boreal Waste, Where Once Lomar Held Sway: Abyssal cold hung in the air, slowing even the movement of zephyrs and breezes. Six figures, ancient and filled with incalculable evil, surrounded a slowly shifting Blue Flame. The fire yielded no heat, even its illumination was only a faint wash of azure on the faces of those that listened to the word of the power that ruled behind the sky.
Now, truths will be revealed unto you: The intelligence I have received indicates that the Sunlanders are thinking of the Anchors in cultural terms: "the Christian Anchor", "an Oro Anchor", "a Hussite Anchor" and so on-- this line of thinking is to be encouraged where feasible, since it promotes sectarian behavior and diminishes the holism that is the true understructure of the Shield and Anchor system.
The words formed from the crystal air, impressing themselves upon the living minds of the ancient ones that listened.
Admiral Lorquin has mentioned that Kristatos should not be killed by our forces. It is time that you, the Ice Tribes, understand why these things are so:
<They | The Others | Those From Outside | The Glacier | The Aurora> are of a kind greater in scope than Humankind. T are <chaos without order>. T are older than mankind, older than Earth.
T are vast beyond understanding, and encompass worlds in <Their> dreaming. We of earth can know them only a little, and <Their> presence is a vast weight, in one breath <comforting | damning>.
From time to time, the stars are right, and T can stride or seep from world to world through the Void, and attempt to join yet another world in <Their> dreams.
The last such attempt on Earth was some twenty-six thousand years ago. T succeeded, for a time; we call this "the Ice Age".
The relatively primitive humans living at that time had no defense against <Their> presence: T and <Their> minions spawned the legends of creatures such as Ymir and Surt, giants of Frost and Spectral Fire, ruling over gulfs and abysses of rock and ice.
For all the world was then filled with the <ecstasy | pain> of <Their> dreams, and all of <unconscious | sybaritic> humankind that dwelt with them held revel upon the Ice, dreaming with <Them> of no thing of Earth's fields.
But, even as bacteria will evolve an immunity to antibiotics, so humans evolved a defense against supernatural incursion. This was the development of the human "consciousness".
As it happens, other races which had inhabited Earth before man had evolved similar defenses: the Old Ones, and the Race of Yith, for example, and of whom more anon.
With the development of consciousness came the ability to form the curious phrase "I am not alone."; and Kipling's Master Word: "We be of one blood, ye and I".
Fourteen millenia ago, the first fully conscious humans beheld the sun rise over the Ice and said: "We can do more than this".
This was a time of gods and heroes among men: the men of that generation are immortalized through millenia of retelling as Hercules and Thor, as Quetzalcoatl and Coyote, as Izanami and Amaterasu.
They learned, with great effort, the art of nobility. They learned that their word and their blood were the sword and the Shield of the earth against <Them> and <Their> kind.
Noble men, speaking noble truths, died, and their life-energies went to form a Shield about the earth; their mortal remains Anchoring it to the planet it protected".
In the war that followed, Heroes fell: Odinn and his wisdom struck down by Surt; Thorr's life ending in the coils of Jormungand. And in their fall, in their dying, they drove back the Ice. The Fimbulwinter, the twenty thousand years of Ice, came to an end.
But the things of men march in step with time: the Anchors of that era are long departed. Other men, speaking other truths, stepped into their places, and took up the ancient sacrifice of consciousness as their own. The Bodhisattva chose to give up non-being, non-consciousness, to bring his truths into the world. The Christ, died on the Cross that "all men might live". And the things they touched Anchored their words and their beliefs to the people and the planet they cherished.
Two million years ago, the Old Ones gave up the last of their land cities, the last of their places in the Sun, that _their_ culture and _their_ way of life not be overrun by the shoggoths they had bred: that City stands to this day a monument to their sacrifice.
Sixty million years ago, the Race of Yith set a stela in a great valley ruled by their people, to mark the place where they fled en-masse their bodies for new refuge against the onslaught of time. Earth's pace since then has lifted it to the mountain heights, but still it stands, witness to that great exile.
Now -- go back to your tales of Kristatos. Look at his name and epithets: "Kristatos Artaxerxes Paleologai, King of the Greeks, Emperor of the Danes, Protector of Italy, Mjolnir-na-Midgaard, Rex Germanicus, Pendragon of the Isles"
Now, there is an epithet the Kings of Denmark have borne since before they became Christian. Think you not that here is a man in whose veins Aesir blood flows true? Think on it: the heir of Odinn, the heir of Thorr.
In him is reborn the nobility of his ancient fathers.
Were Kristatos to die at Ice Tribe hands, a sacrifice for his people, we run a terrible, terrible risk of creating a new Anchor.
"The Huss Bible" is not an anchor: Huss died not in sacrifice for his fellow man; he died raging at the Catholics, tearing down, not building up.
The "Zoroastrian Anchor" that the Persians spoke of some time ago is an act of desperation, but not of self-sacrifice.
So, yes, when we speak of such things, let us say "The Hopi Anchor" or "The Muslim Anchor" or "The Aborigine Anchor". Let us allow our enemies to join with us, by sinking into sectarian... unconsciousness.
And of Kristatos and his line, let them be brought before the Uliqqa, before the Seven, before <Them>. T will eat his thought. T will consume him. T will leave a husk, to be filled with <Their> thought. T will send him among his people bearing madness and despair.
And you, the Ice Tribes, are the first of a new generation whose minds and hearts are touched by <Their> presence. It is you who will join with them in ecstasy and revel for ever. Ia! Hastur fhtagn! Ia! Ithaqua fhtagn!
Safavid Persia: General Yazdur received orders to place himself under the command of the Judean leaders in Harbin, which he did. To his good fortune, the Judeans had no plans for the Avar forces, so they remained in Harbin where it was (relatively) warm. Not really warm, but significantly less bone-chilling than those who marched north to the Dzungur Plateau. General Aditya was led his own 46,000 to Yanzhi and awaited the return of the main Sunlander force from the Lands of Ice. Miran’s lackey Saria Owaiis was overjoyed to receive travel orders from China back to the Turkmen motherland. There’s no place like home.
Further east, an Avar squadron of heavy elite warships played war with the Japanese and their allies by screening the allied invasion forces.
Exarchate of Trebizond: A very frustrated and tolerant Vladimir Tukh agrees to the assumption of strategic direction of the Operation Deny Flight campaign against Abasigia. The participants last minute changes effectively made his job difficult. But he overcomes the hurdles and presses on. His daughter, Natasha, is promoted to heir and her combat abilities are evident in the campaign. The Trebizond army is expanded and the army and all leaders participate in the campaign (see Operation Deny Flight). By the end of the turn the Trebizond army and all leaders are in Abasigia after a successful (however, not as fruitful as desired) combined operation.
Operation Deny Flight, Europe, 1727-1728: The gathering began across Europe early in 1727. National armed forces from Trebizond, Denmark, France, Three Isles, Sweden, Occitania, and Kiev converged on Pontus from all points west. The goal: the pirate airfleet home base. General Maurice Ney of the Frankish Commonwealth was named Supreme Commander of the combined forces. Rarely in the course of European history had there been such cooperation between nations. In all, about 41,000 troops amassed between March of 1727 and late May, 1728. The significant groups missing were the Danish and Occitanian contingents, and one group of Frankish Commonwealth regulars. On June 21st, 1728 Ney led the push north into Abasigia.
The armed forces passed the port city of Cerkes and made for the main zeppelin base. What they found was a reconstruction under way. East India Company raiders had obviously done a number on the fuel depots and explosive factories there. Lacking either a regional or base defense force, Ney had little trouble, at least from natural forces. The majority of Abasigian citizens were happy to be rid of their Khirgiz masters. Norsktrad mercenaries, at least what remained form the Gibraltar fiasco, assaulted the undefended port of Cerkes on July 17th, 1728, meeting only token resistance.
Unfortunately for the Sunlander host, unnatural forces were at work as well. Almost as soon as the combined army invaded, the weather turned bad. Storms boiled up out of the Caucasus, turning the sky dark with cloud. Snow followed in blizzards, covering the land. The allied commanders, faced with hideous weather, fell back into Cerkes to wait out the storm. Men froze on the march, horses and mules perished in hundreds. When the army reached the safety of the city, they found the port nearly frozen over. Ney immediately ordered the fleet to depart, to flee for warmer climes lest they be trapped in an icy tomb.
Some regiments were able to board before the last ship set sail, the harbor and much of the Abasigian shore becoming ice-locked. The rest triple-bunked in the city, wondering how long it would take to burn all the firewood and soft coal stored in the city.
In August, still struggling against the freezing weather, a massive earthquake rocked Cerkes, flattening nearly a third of the city. Thousands of civilians and tens of thousands of soldiers were killed or trapped in the rubble. Fires bloomed, even in the sub-zero temperatures, and the survivors had to fight both ice and fire. Worse, the men digging for their comrades often found the partially consumed bodies of their fellows, gnawed and dismembered while still trapped under the rubble. Something slithered and crawled in the ruins, hunting men. Patrols often exchanged blows and gunfire with bands of “hairy men” that crept from dark holes under the ruins. Ney, however, refused to abandon the city, committing his men to fight a brutal hand-to-hand struggle in the snowy wasteland.
National military commanders had major difficulties preventing desertions. Mercenary commanders didn’t have a chance. They weren’t paid nearly enough to fight that kind of war.
AEIC: “Spread the word across Europa, I want each and every Huss Mercenary for hire!” Nikolas’ executives began a mad memo-writing blitz ordering all regional managers to sign up every soldier for hire they could contact.
A handful reported at the home office at the island city Naxos, but the vast majority of the troops and both mercenary captains presented their credentials and were signed on at Thessaloniki. The more expensive captain, Vladimir Kan (not to be confused with the Kiev King Vladimir the Pious), waited with Tipo Argir and his pair of new kerosene-powered airships until September, 1727, when the Frankish commander Maurice Ney arrived with his contingent of assault infantry and cavalry. Without enough transport for both, Maurice loaded his footmen on the mercenary galleys and they set sail for Pontus in the Spring of 1728.
The Chairman began 1727 in far-off Arabia, but decided to put his two newly upgraded zeppelins to use in a daring raid on the pirate airfleets home base. Following the coastline to Basra, and then mountains through Georgia to Abasigia, Nikolas found a ripe, juicy, and (most importantly) undefended target. Dawn on October 7th, 1727 brought ruin on what once was the main pirate airbase. It wasn’t more than 3 hours later the machine shops, fuel tanks, and personnel quarters were reduced to twisted, misshapen burning collections of wood and metal. Sadly for Nikolas and the Company zeppelin crews, there were no enemy airships at home.
Swedish-Russia: It was the Marsk Alexander Yeltsin and General Isaak Simonagun who sailed down the Dvina to meet with Kiev King Vladimir and convinced him to join the party in Pontus. In the capitol city Kievian assassins attempted to kill Marsk Yeltsin. They failed, foiled by the vigilance of his Red Guard. Meanwhile General Dottski and Kjell Sigurdsson, Swedish Grand Admiral of the Western Fleet, were assembling most of the warships and transport available to the Empire and sailing to Pechneg to pick up their new allies. April of 1728 saw the Swedes unload their troops into Pontus. Assassins failed miserably in an attempt to target and kill Dottski in Lisbon first, and later again in the port city Trebizond. The Swedish military forces were welcomed into the growing mass of allies intent on putting an end to the pirate air-fleet. The mass of Swede refugees arriving on the shores of Pontus and the capitol port city Trebizond were extended a far cooler reception. Taking Trebizond jobs and driving the property values down made the Swedish refugees less than welcome.
Great Britain: As before, no trace of a “Dark Fleet” was anywhere to be found. The fleet of airships pirating the Mediterranean came no further north than the Gates of Hercules, and good thing too. Princess Margaret slipped past the inept Libyan garrisons in North Africa, but was sighted and chased for three weeks by pirate zeppelins before she managed to lose them as well.
Frankish Commonwealth: General Maurice Ney was identified early in 1727 as the Commander of the coalition invading Khirgizia, and led his personal divisions overland through the Balkans to Macedon. Impatient for the rest of the Commonwealth to arrive by sea, General Ney sent half of his forces ahead on East India Company transports. Within seven weeks Gregory, the Duke of Dijon and Commonwealth fleet arrived in Thessaloniki to transport Le Commandant and the remaining ground forces to Pontus. More than a little Ouzo found its way to Pontus as well. It seems the Gallic forces discovered a taste for the fine (and very potent) Macedonian ambrosia.
Danish Empire: Flush from his victory at Drakenroost on the Dzungur Coast, Emperor Kristatos ordered his forces aboard ship and east to the New World. With almost half of his forces aboard, Frost Wolf armies poured through the mountain passes and surprised the Danes. Knowing he couldn’t get his entire army aboard and refusing to leave anyone behind in such a bitter place, Kristatos frantically attempted to regroup his forces. Good news followed shortly when Princess Oniko reported the Frost Wolf numbers were far less than originally estimated, and the Danish regulars under her command soundly trounced the Uliqqa-led attackers. The vessel-boarding exercise was then restarted, and Kristatos steered his fleet on their trans-Pacific journey to Nisei lands. Nisei civilians at first feared the Danes were a new invading army, but were soon calmed and reassured of the European good intentions. Fears of forced recruitment were put to rest, and the Nisei resumed their normal day-to-day routines.
To the delight of the Emperor, the weather along the Western North American coast was at times clear sailing, but mostly dark, cold, and foggy. Unbeknownst to him, the Inuit were just as eager to avoid a confrontation, intent of gathering their strength at their homeland. Disembarking in the biting cold of Tyonek, Kristatos slipped on an icy gangway and fell into the arctic coastal waters. The shock paralyzed him, and within seconds it was apparent he was going to be unable to stay afloat, much less grasp a rope or life preserver. Dozens of fanatical bodyguards leaped into the drink to rescue him, but they in turn were shocked and paralyzed. In all, 43 sailors died in the doomed rescue attempt.
Thus ended the reign of Kristatos Artaxerxes Palelogai. His heir, now Empress, Oniko performed the eulogy and swore vengeance on the forces responsible for Kristatos’ presence far from his favorite balmy Aegean beaches. Some of which were not, in fact, from the polar wastes. Leaving Admiral Spiellman at the shore with the sealift and warships, she led the ground forces inland but was stopped short of her goal by winter and blowing snowdrifts in Han.
Norsktrad: Nikolas’ biggest problem was those verdamnt pirates buzzing around in their zeppelins, taking most of the trade profits passing through the Gates of Hercules. The company-hired mercenary galley captains first demanded a new clause for “hostile fire pay”, and were well represented at the February 1727 meeting of the Board of Directors in Lisbon. This measure failed in the end, and those same mercenary captains refused to carry goods into the Med until the air pirates were dealt with.
Had they known what their part was to be in that “handling”, they might well have played their hand differently. Their new assignment was to carry every available Catholic mercenary available to the far shores of the Black Sea, and end the Khirgiz ability to supply and support the zeppelin fleet. The congregation of mercenaries was initiated in April of 1727, and on June 3rd they began the process of loading onto mercenary transport.
Dateline: August 27th, 1727
The Norsk fleet found its passage to the Pillars of Herakles thankfully uneventful, but Malcom Procure knew the danger was just beginning. Aboard his flagship, the Surtur, one of the new steam-powered warships, he signaled the fleet to begin its passage through the Pillars. Each of his three mercenary commanders were assigned their own steam warship and the fleet began the way east. About two-thirds of the way through, lookouts spied the first zeppelin and relayed the sighting to the four commanders. Couldn’t have happened at a worse time, thought Malcom. Couldn’t have happened at a better time, thought James Von Heffen, Malcom’s infantry commander. All four leaders ordered evasive maneuvers, and the orderly convoy rapidly lost all sense of cohesion. The pirate zeppelins had a field day. Fearing the loss of his entire fleet, Malcom ordered all ships to proceed eastward with all available speed to escape the trap. Regrouping in the Gades Sea, Malcom discovered that over 60% of his sealift vessels were sunk or missing. Von Heffen and his command steam warship were suspiciously missing as well. After regaining some semblance of a convoy, Malcom ordered the fleet to continue east to their target of Cerkes.
Empire of Occitania: Eager to join in Operation Deny Flight, King Reynard sent Princess Teresa to Narbonne to join the forces of General Louis Bernard and a handful of the Galacian Barons. Louis took an eternity arriving at Narbonne, and it was September before the ships could be loaded with Princess Teresa’s infantry division. At the least, they made it through the Straight of Gibraltar before the pirate airfleet got there, and thus the Spaniards avoided any contact with the zeppelins patrolling the Western Mediterranean. However, the delays in multiple ports caused the Occitanian military contingent to arrive at Pontus in Septempber of 1728. Alas, the Sunlander host had already left for Abasigia, and the Occitanians had to be satisfied “defending” (drinking and carousing) in Pontus.
Duchy of the Isles: Duke Feyd promoted Capitan Gaulo to the rank of Ammaraglio and gave him command of the entire national fleet. His first mission: transport an artillery division and 3 brigades each of assault infantry and cavalry regulars to Thessaloniki and thence to Pontus. The Duke received word Gaulo executed his orders successfully on May 17th, 1728. Feyd prayed fervently for success in the following mission; Operation Deny Flight.
Nisei Republic: The Nisei forces spent their time and energy in search and destroy operations against the Inuit forces. Of particular interest were the airship fleets and their commanders. Agents in Hiroshima sent priority messages to the command center in Matsuo reporting the arrival of the Inuit Chiefs and their airfleet. April of 1727 saw the bombing and sack of that ancient city. Most everything of value along with several hundred slaves was dragged into the cargo holds of the massive airships and flown away.
Lord Numero tried to woo the Chilicotin natives to join sides with the Sunlanders. There was much head-nodding, but no real progress. Following his efforts there, he and the entire III Corps barreled into Kiowa and met no resistance. In truth, they found almost no one. Dejected from his loneliness and apparent failures, he led his personal forces on raids into neighboring Tautin. To his great confusion, he found even less people there. “So much for my booty license…” he lamented.
Akari and the IV Corps, in separate campaigns, reached out to touch the airfleets reported in Nicolua and Gosiute. Having waited a year and a half before moving, Akari was not surprised to find his target gone. The IV Corps was surprised to have missed spotting the Inuit fleet reported in Gosiute. They did find a lot of rubble where Hiroshima used to be, and later discovered their good fortune to having not located (and been located by) the Inuit. They most certainly would have shared Hiroshima’s fate.
Fed up with the apparent ease with which the Taguak forces strike and evade his military forces, Ieyoshi arranged for the Shinto priests to rally the faithful against the Ice forces. Over 20,000 zealots signed up for duty and were mustered and enlisted into Akari’s I Corps.
High Kingdom of Colorado: Apparently dejected by the success of the Ice forces, Fredrick remained pent up in his capitol, refusing to speak with anyone except his personal servants. The Inuit airfleet, having sacked Hiroshima, flew south into Paiute before turning and heading north along the continental divide.
Aztec Empire: Rumors of a Black Fleet invasion faded with each passing month and no new Black Fleet sightings. Trákonel made his mind up to take the fight to the devil worshipers at their root far to the north. Trákonel designated the Sword of Empire Legion as the lead assault force, and backed them up with no less than five other Legions. As provided by the Imperial Scribe Corps, here is a chronological summary of operations in the North:
Jan 1727: Earthquake legion with 200 ships-of-the-line left Nan Chao in the Sea of Panama and met the New Grenadan admiral Rodrigo with over three hundred ships, who had departed LaRaza. The two fleets moved north to the Vicizano Sea. The Jaguar squadron, having left Ipai with ten frigates, scouted ahead of main fleet and screened for the Black Fleet and zeppelins.
Apr 1727: Jaguar squadron arrives in the Alexander Sea. He moved swiftly in hopes of drawing out the Black Fleet. No enemy ships were found. The Jaguar squadron waited there to screen the main fleet.
Jun 1727: The Aztec Singing Flame legion, and Sister Ruth, the Bolivian Ferdinand de Gama, the Duke d’Uru, prince Josep Mascate, and the Duke of Pucara were all waiting in Ipai (with twenty thousand troops and over five hundred ships). They sailed north. By blind luck they found the Inuit Tagowak Rel’torak and Azuchi Zetsubo sailing in Vicizano Sea. Rel’torak managed to avoid capture by swimming ashore at Salinan. Zetsubo, leaping overboard in his armor, drowned.
Aug 1727: The massed fleet arrives in Toyama to join the New France Lord General Pepin and 20,000 troops and another three hundred ships.
Nov 1727: The armada arrives in Kalpuya. The Aztec Sword of Empire and Spear of Fire legions had started the turn in Nez Perce and marched to Kalapuya with twenty-five thousand troops. They joined the fleet and the Sword of Empire takes command of the entire force.
Aug 1728: The armada arrives in Tyonek, having skulked up the coast, dodging from fog-shrouded harborage to harborage. They unload ships and the Aztec Earthquake commander takes command of the fleet and moves back to Cook Inlet to wait with over thirteen hundred ships. Aztec Sword of Empire takes command of all ground forces (sixty-six thousand men) and has to winter in Tyonek. The Spear of Fire catches a cold during the cold sailing. Dies when he blows his nose and his frozen brain came out.
The locals in Tyonek inform them that a Danish army under the command of Empress Oniko has already gone inland, securing the road as far as Han. The Aztec commanders pay their respects to a great monolith raised on the shore, commemorating the unexpected and grievous death of Kristatos, Emperor of Denmark. In an ancient snub, the New French command staff do not visit the tomb.
New French Empire: The Emperor Louis sent his armies off to fight the Ice Lords with the rest of the South American military forces. And then stayed home safe from the frostbite like the rest of the South American kings and emperors. Unlike the Bolivians though, the New French actually provided a measure of sealift to the operation. Nearly 200 ships of the line and 40 transport galleons hauled 20,000 assorted ground troops with the Aztec fleet clear from Ipai to the Cook Inlet.
Tyonek sounded like the most hospitable place around to spend the coldest parts of the winter, so they did. Even though the Aztec “parka fund” didn’t take into account the New French, more than half of them “found” wool coats and some of the more energetic took down some Grizzly bear and made their own. Furthermore, there was plenty of wood for cooking and heating fires.
Plans to build a massive fortification network in Tyonek fell through due to logistic failures and lack of proper engineers and construction specialists. Seems those guys also favored the warm climes to the Arctic. As would any sensible person.
1729 - 1730 T200
Somewhere in the Chukchi Ice Sea…: Lorquin, admiral of the Maori fleet, stood in the lee of a massive stone idol, his head turned away from the blinding spray of snow and ice that was howling out of the north. The obscene creature’s tentacles and carved mouths did little to keep the frost away, but he was used to the temperature – was he not an avowed child of the Ice? He was watching the newest airship in the fleet – the Iwikatea – roll out of the stone hangar where his mechanics and priests had finished the blessing.
A crowd of officers stood beside him, many of them watching the huge airship with interest. The captain of the Iwikatea had yet to be selected, so there were a few bets laid. Lorquin turned, hearing someone calling. A man approached, his face mostly covered by the face-cloth of an air-captain. The admiral gestured at the messenger, expecting word to have come from the pickets in the Ice Sea. The cloth on the man’s face was torn away by the wind, revealing the face of young Tinopai, the son of the Spearfisher.
“Lord Lorquin! There is news from the semaphore station.”
Lorquin smiled grimly. The Sunlander fleet would be approaching, sailing bravely into the teeth of his trap. Tinopai dug in his heavy waxed coat for the message packet. The admiral bent his head close to the boy, his own hand – covered with tattoos – reaching for the papers.
He was stunned for a moment, seeing the matte-black finish of a gun in Tinopai’s hand. There was a sharp crack and the admiral slumped back against the cold green soapstone of the idol. His blood oozed out, thin and white, on the snow. The boy, his face grim, turned on the officers, seeing his fellow conspirator’s drawing their own weapons.
One of the men was an Uliqqa, his scarred face already contorted in rage. Tinopai shot the monstrous semblance of a man twice, once in the forehead, once through the heart. The Uliqqa barely had time to scream and then he too was lying on the snow.
“Quickly!” Barked the new admiral of the fleet. “Everyone to the ships, before <They> can respond.”
The boy stared up at the idol, his face bleak. They would have to run far to escape the grip of this dreadful power. Already, the snow seemed thicker, the wailing in the wind louder.
Unconsciously, Tinopai pocketed the gun and his hand closed around a mottled gray stone in his pocket. The scratching on the face of the stone – ancient when old Lomar was destroyed and the foul gnoph-keh leapt and gibbered among the Hyperborean ruins – seemed to gleam in the darkness.
Tokugawa Japan: The Japanese fleet (now that there was one again) split into three groups – one blockaded the coast of Yamato, particularly the area around the Ise peninsula, hoping to keep the Frost Wolf and Black Fleet forces at the shrine from escaping by sea. Accompanied by a large number of Javan and Judean ships, the second fleet swung north, along the coast, looking for other Black Fleet squadrons and then securing the approaches to Edo. The third force, mostly composed of transports with some light catamaran gunships in escort, made way to China.
At the same time the Sunlanders huddling around their fires in Kyoto, waiting for the snows to break, things inside the shrine of Ise got a little sticky for the Frost Wolf army there. Some contingents of the Wolf army – apparently enticed by Sunlander spies – attempted to seize the Doraiku Castle, where the Iggin Chlen made his headquarters. Unfortunately for these mutineers, their attempt to assassinate the Iggin failed and they were slaughtered. A brave attempt, but the watchful and paranoid nature of the Frost Wolf general foiled their plan.
None of this (unfortunately for the Sun Alliance) kept Iggin Chlen and his hardy Frost Wolf veterans from breaking camp at Ise in the depths of winter and marching through blinding fog, snow and ice over the mountains into Achi. Indeed, they made up quite a few stirring marching songs while they were doing it. Indeed, by the time that they reached the brothels of Edo, the Sunlanders were just beginning to sortie from Kyoto.
However, this did allow the Sun Alliance army to recapture Ise and begin tearing down the abandoned rings of trenches, redoubts, bunkers and gun-pits that the Frost Wolf troops had labored to put in the previous year. Shinto priests were immediately imported to purify the area (since the Shrine of Ameratsu itself seemed to have been used as a privy and rubbish tip by the Wolves), and begin rebuilding the shrine. The elderly priests wept to see the devastation that had come upon their peaceful and beautiful peninsula. It might take years, they feared, to repair all the damage. However, there were tens of thousands of eager volunteers to help them and work was quickly underway.
Despite their failure to catch the Wolves in Ise, the Tokugawa army pressed on, through the summer and fall of 1729, restoring Sunlander control in the provinces of Aichi, Kwanto and Nigata. Though Edo had been looted and despoiled, along with the lands thereabout, the provinces to the north were untouched. The criminal Kusagi was no where to be found.
Lord Musubu questioned many people as the Sun army moved north and found that the Wolves had marched away in great haste, carrying heavy burdens, and that the traitor (and the samurai still loyal to him) had fled as well. This pleased Musubu, for he knew that Kusagi was now a slave, not the master he believed himself to be and that the Frost Wolves would be cruel masters.
By the end of 1730, all of Honshu was restored to Tokugawa control, including Hokkaido in the north and Yamaguchi in the south. There had not even been one battle, which pleased the Sunlander generals. The many volunteers that had responded to the call for holy war, however, were disappointed and many – thinking that the struggle was over – went home to their farms and shops.
Chan Mongol Empire: Some time soon after Sing had captured Quaran, a ragged band of mercenaries tramped down the highway out of the north. They were led by a haggard old man who claimed to be the Emperor Tesereng of Judea, but no one believed him. Tesereng was despondent – he had failed to find his son in the ruins of the Wolves Lair and had only barely managed to escape with his life and the lives of his men. Though the Frost Wolf had left the north, there were still bandits and nomads in plenty in that desperate land under the sway of the Ice. Ghosts haunted the Dzungur Plateau and the Emperor was not sure even the return of the Sun would drive them out.
Judah: General Dao was sent to Fusan in Silla, where he helped the Pure Realm excavate the rubble of their ruined temple in search of the Casket of Sighs, the remains of Prince Yui-Yen and anything else of interest. Though considerable progress was made, none of those items were found. The Judean fleet operating in Japan was recalled (though Admiral Peng, its commander, died of a heart attack soon after leaving Osaka harbor), refitted with cold weather gear, and dispatched with boatloads of religious fanatics to invade the Amerikas. After a very long and stormy voyage, they reached Katmai and the abandoned city of Togawa at the end of fall, 1730.
Ming Chinese Empire: The daring Chen Yun Fat, who had commanded a force of elite cavalry in Japan last year, was provided with a fleet and a battalion of Realm monks and sent into the icy seas of the north. He followed a grimy, blackened rutter obtained by devious means. After six months of sailing, his small force broke out of the ice pack and found an island in a desolate, dark sea. Even from their ships, Chen could see the spires of dreadful monoliths and temples rising from the frozen ground. He landed his marines and monks, then came ashore himself, surrounded by guards. The place was abandoned and empty. Nothing seemed to move in the desolated city, though the shadows twisted and seemed strange.
Then a wailing rose from the snowfields and the barren mountains and things swarmed down to attack the landing parties. Chen and his men spent three hellish days on the island, as the weather turned worse and the sky acquired an ominous green cast. At last, unable to maintain their foothold, the Sunlanders withdrew to their fleet and sailed away. Behind them, on the dreadful shore, the horned creatures and the furred men yelped and gibbered, prancing before the winged idols that frowned over the dead city.
Somewhere In the Red Center, West of Uluru: The shadow of an airship drifted over the sand, blotting out small spiny bushes and tumbled rock. There was a light wind out of the north-west, but it had proved insufficient to blot out the disturbed sand. The airship thudded to a halt, its engines whining in the hot air. The huge blade-shaped fans whickered down in pitch, holding station. A wicker door opened on the underside of the blue-painted ship and twin sisal ropes spiraled down.
Moments later, four Frost Wolf commandos slid down the ropes, landing heavily in the red grainy sand. The men were stripped down to barely loincloths and headdresses of light cloth. They were sunburned. Heavy ammunition pouches, pistols, knives, their stubby short-barreled rifles and canteens hung from leather straps. The lead scout bent to the earth, observing the pattern of tracks on the roof of the long red dune.
He stood up, looking to the west. He pointed, looking up at the airship hovering above, keeping station against that constant grainy wind. A long track speared in the direction he was pointing, winding across an endless sea of red sand dunes that stretched to the horizon. A light flashed in the cabin of the Wolf airship.
The commandos stepped into the wooden “shoes” attached to the bottom of the ropes. High above, men bent their backs against a wheel and the ropes tightened, then all four commandos were whisked away, into the sky. The airship turned, kerosene engines chattering in the still desert air, and moved away.
The day lengthened, long shadows falling across the dunes, the sun settling into the west in a huge red disk. The sand suddenly shifted, not far from where the Frost Wolf air commandos had lighted, and a black face appeared from the ground. Sand spilled away from a broad nose and thoughtful eyes. The person shook his head, then looked to the west. The stink of the air-machine was heavy in his nostrils.
There is little time for dreaming, he thought. I must be hasty.
Pnakotus, City of the Archives, Somewhere In The Red Center: Te Anu, the high priest of Oro, stood in a vast dark chamber. A soft humming sound filled the air, which was thin and dry and without any scent or aroma of any kind. He was dressed in tattered desert robes, his face burned by the sun. Before him, rising up into the darkness, was an obelisk of metallic glass. Lights moved in its depths, describing a slow and intricate dance.
“You must do something!” Te Anu’s voice was hoarse. The desert air and long privation had not treated him well. “Their sky-ships are very close. We can hear them even in the Cube of Dreams!”
The obelisk remained, the lights moving slowly and without haste.
“They will destroy the city! They will crack open the cylinders and expose the Race to the deadly air! All of you will die!”
We cannot die. The obelisk, at last, responded, though Te Anu heard the words in his mind, rather than in the still dry air. We have already fled this place, to a new home a million years hence.
The priest of Oro cursed under his breath, staring around in anger at the vast pillars and the endless halls. Somewhere here, he knew from his dreams, there was a machine that twisted something invisible that filled the air. It was critical that this machine continue to operate, undisturbed. He turned back to the obelisk.
“What if the Great Old Ones enter this fold in space? What if they destroy the whole of this world? There will be no where to flee then! Your minds and all your knowledge will be destroyed!”
This will not transpire. We are already in safety. The spawn of the winds will fail.
“How can you know this!” Te Anu’s voice rose to a shriek. “Is here no free will in this universe? Is our fate already decided, fixed, inescapable?”
Free will is an illusion. In untold aeons, even death itself may die. Even the unfathomable powers that now hunt for this sanctuary will pass into chaos, with enough time. We are patient. We are in safety.
“Curse it!” Te Anu turned away from the damnable obelisk. He hurried across the vast chamber. It was so large that to reach the entrance would take half an hour-glass, even if he ran. His men were outside, waiting for his orders.
Then he stopped. A thought had occurred to him. He turned, staring back across the endless dark floor, tiled in countless hexagons. “If you are safe already, why do you keep the machine operating? Why build this city and hide it beneath the sand? Why set the guardians and the watchers?”
There was silence.
“You are still afraid. Wait… you fled across a million years… but the enemy does not know when you are, do they? They could follow, couldn’t they, if they had these machines and this knowledge?”
There was silence. Te Anu cursed again, then resumed his methodical jogging. Behind him, in the obelisk, the lights began to coalesce, swimming together in the depths. The soft hum began to rise in pitch.
Te Anu climbed the last of the mammoth steps that led down into the chamber and found six of his basho waiting patiently, their faces obscured by wrapped cloths. Hundreds more of these monk-soldiers were nearby, sitting in the shade of the leviathan towers and strange, distorted, temples that filled Pnakotus. Though their horses had died long ago, in the endless march, each man still had his carbine, the long katana, the short wakisashi and his personal gear. The faithful of Oro would not give up this city without a fight.
“The dead are no help.” Te Anu’s voice carried easily in the still hot air. “Take up watch positions throughout the city. Dig in. We will defend this place to the last man.”
“Hai!” Echoed back to him from a thousand throats.
The Red Center: Grit spattered against the window of the airship cabin, making the thin glass rattle in its bamboo frame. The Muklar lord, T’in-chen, stared out at the horizon in disgust. Hundreds of feet below, the endless rolling dunes still showed faint traces of a muddled trail. The litter of horse-bones and skulls still marked the route of an army crossing the desert. But even those remnants were quickly disappearing as the wind from the north hissed over them.
The northern horizon was a wall of dark red. A great storm was brewing up in the wasteland and rushing south, across the line of march. T’in-chen turned away, shouting to make himself heard over the thunder of the ship’s engines and the rising whine of the wind through the slats of the cabin.
“Signal the squadron! We turn south, all speed ahead!”
T’in-chen glared at the northern sky, now turning dark and mottled with outriders of the storm. Whirling vortices of sand and dust skittered across the desert. Soon the upper air would be filled with an awesome roar and the ripping, deadly winds of a sandstorm. The Wolf airship began to swing away, the right-side engines thudding in effort, while the left-side feathered back.
The storm came on, reaching from horizon to horizon.
“We’re so close,” growled the Muklar lord. “I can feel it, just there, beyond the blowing sand… they are there. I know they are.”
The airship finished its turn and began to run south, engines howling with effort, racing before the rising wind.
The Black Fleet: Black hulls covered the sea as far as Aa could see. He stood on the deck of the massive trimaran Membinasakan, his heart filled with both dread and sudden hope. A shoreline had appeared out of the mist, dark cliffs thick with trees. His people had not plied these waters in a long time and the old sailor struggled to keep from weeping at his first sight of the Land of the Long Cloud – Te Ika A Maui – and the ancient realm of the Maori.
Within the hour the fleet had rounded the headland that protected the harbor of Joetsura from the rough waters of the Hauraki Gulf. Aa watched with interest as his trimarans sailed under the guns of looming fortresses and into an empty, abandoned harbor. The Nanhai, it seemed, had abandoned this place. Marine landing parties, their field service hats sharply creased and jutting at a jaunty angle, swarmed ashore from their boats. Still, the Spearfisher waited, keeping his own counsel. At last, a light flashed from the towering green hill – surmounted by a single ancient tree – that stood above the city.
“It is empty.” Grunted Aa to his aides. “Send for Sealcrusher Ke, Herekino and the Uliqqa. We must discuss this.”
Within the hour, arriving by longboat from the other ships, the captains of the Black Fleet were gathered aboard the Membinasakan. Aa surveyed their grim, tattooed faces with a glinting eye. “The enemy has fled,” he said at last, one hand in the pocket of his feather-cape. “I am going to send the civilians ashore and secure the harbor forts.”
“No!” The high priest of the Uliqqa scowled, his scarred face lit from within by anger. “<Their> idols must go ashore first, as is proper.”
Aa caught the mad priest’s eyes for a moment, and their wills locked in a silent struggle. Then the Spearfisher smiled, nodding as if in acquiescence. The Uliqqa grinned, then his black eyes widened as the heavy weight of a Fleet service revolver filled Aa’s hand.
“No,” said the Spearfisher, “We are free men, we are Maori, not the pawns of your foul gods.” The revolver barked sharply, filling the air with the stink of powder. The Uliqqa’s head snapped back, shattered, blood spraying out in a fine mist and Sealcrusher Ke’s blinked as a fragment of skull cut his cheek. Aa turned on the other men, the revolver steady in his hand.
“Are there any questions?”
Neither Ke nor Herekino moved, their eyes flat, watching the Spearfisher. After a long, pregnant moment, each man shook himself, then knelt on the deck, their foreheads pressed against the polished oak decking.
“No?” Aa holstered the revolver. “Then get up. We have a great many Uliqqa to kill.”
Within the day, Aa once more controlled his fleet. A great slaughter had been effected among the ships, with the crews and Marines eager to hew down the dreadful Uliqqa that had ruled their lives for so long. The assistance of Sealcrusher Ke was of particular import in this, for he was an ancient devotee of the Shark God Oro and he held no fear for the Uliqqa and their idols. Those winged idols still with the fleet were set afire and then sunk into the sea off Kawau island. Thereafter, the local fishermen avoided the place, calling it Waiuru, the place of Dark Water.
By the end of 1730 the city of Joetsura had been resettled, as well as the lands thereabout, and the southern island had been given in part to both Ke and Herekino as a reward for their loyalty. The Sealcrusher became lord of Te Wai Ponamu, and Herekino Wai was master of the Hokitika coast. Akaroa and Te Ika A Maui were the personal demesne of Aa and his sons. In all these lands, the Fleet Maori found the villas and temples of the hated Japanese empty, but many of the “old” people were still hiding in the hills. Where these poor wights had once been slaves, now they found themselves free men and women and were restored to their ancient lands. The brave youth Tinopai arrived with another fleet, crowded with refugees from the north, at the very end of the year.
Soon after the arrival of Tinopai, Aa went alone to the northern shore, where all of the beaches were black sand and looming cliffs frowned out over the endless sea. There the old chief abided in a cave, praying to Oro for forgiveness and guidance. After many days, the boy Tinopai came to the cave, bearing some smoked meat, some beer and some bread. His father was dead, lying on the cold sand, his body wrapped in seaweed and barnacles. The toothmarks of a huge shark shredded his chest and legs.
Tinopai was overcome with grief, but he knew that the Shark God would have consumed the body if the old man’s prayers had not been answered. So, taking heart from this, the boy dug a single great tooth out of his father’s chest, where it had pierced the heart, and carried it home.
Thereafter, the boy was named Great Tooth, and all men bowed down before him. The tooth itself was mounted in silver and hung on the chest of the chief of the Maori by a golden chain. They called this the Ngaka Pono Oro (Heart of Oro).
In The Ruins of Dead Olathöe, Which Long Ago Fell Under the Sway of the Ice…: After dark, before midnight, Aldebaran hangs low and red in the eastern sky. In the Tower room, two stand, an older and a younger. They are both dressed in robes of pale yellow. The robes are cinched at the waist with red cord; one end of the cord is tied in eleven knots, the other in nine. They are barefoot, despite the chill.
Between them stands a full-length mirror, beside it, to the right, a pedestal; to the left a brazier and a bell. Upon the pedestal is a small bowl, of a thick liquid: oil of pomegranate, mixed with essence of myrrh and tears of sorrow. Beside this is an unlit candle.
The bell stands in its own frame, and is of deeply-toned bronze. The coals of the brazier have been treated with boric acid; the flames burn pale green, and give little heat.
The two men face Aldebaran and raise their arms, palms facing outwards, as if in supplication. Arms raised, they turn, facing each of the cardinal points in turn. At each point, the younger speaks: “Begone! Begone afar, thou of Earth!”
Now, their arms are lowered, but their palms are still slightly raised. As one, they say: “Thee we invoke, O Soul and Messenger of those Dark Ones who flap and mutter at the nethermost center of creation! Thee, whose voice brings knowledge, and whose dark wings, strength!”
There is a pause; the wind is cold, but this no longer concerns them. Again, both act as one. With their right hands they trace out in the direction of Aldebaran the Elder Sign. As each line is drawn, they intone: ny… ar… rut… ho… teb…
They bring at last their arms together, folded across their chests, left over right. The rite is opened; the telesterion is prepared. The younger now strikes the bell, three and three and four and one.
They declaim together: “O divine and inscrutable Nyarrut Hoteb, encompass me with the wings of thy strength and fill my soul with thy light, that I may securely and powerfully invoke the spirit Asturu; to the end that he shall guide us this night and each night in dream for the increase of our knowledge of the wonders and beauties of the world to come.”
The younger strikes the bell, once.
They proclaim: “O Asturu! August and lofty spirit! By my soul's quest for freedom and the deep intimations of destiny, bring me to the Lake of Hali, and open to me this night the grandeur of Carcosa.
“Thine to bestow are <gifts>. Thou dost enable thy servant to seal threefold with adamantine locks that which is to be kept secret, and thou givest the sleep in which works of Art may be performed, or learning and skill gained.
“O thou spirit of most unspeakable aspect, exalted Asturu, upon thee in the mighty name Nyarrut Hoteb do I call, that thy will and thy power bring to full accomplishment this present working.”
The older now touches the mirror with his left hand, saying: "Awaken, O Mirror, to the power of Asturu!"
There is a pause, and they both chant the long vowel: “auuu…” The younger lights the taper, and holds it ready.
Now the elder commands: "Be attentive, O Mirror, to the vibrations which I awaken. Be receptive to them, even as it is thy nature to receive the imprint of form and color. So receive as thine the sacred characters and the names of power, that thy substance may be harmonious to the astral energies of Alar that thou mayest be established in truth upon Dehme."
The elder commands: “Bear this mighty sigil, O Mirror, and know thyself to be the destined vehicle for the presence of Asturu, luminous spirit of the Hyades!”
The younger sounds the bell, twice and once. They raise their right hands, palm towards the mirror, and make the invocation thus: “Come into this Mirror, O luminous Asturu, spirit of the Hyades! For its vibration is in harmony with thine own, and it welcomes thee! Come, O thou spirit of most unspeakable aspect, exalted Asturu! Come into this Mirror, O august and lofty Spirit, and in the name Nyarrut Hoteb be present to our inner perception!”
Here, the presence of He-Who-Is-Not-To-Be-Named fills their perception. They cry together: "Thou art welcome, O Asturu, illustrious spirit of the Hyades! We give thee welcome in the name Nyarrut Hoteb, that name whereby increase of blessing is extended, and we charge thee in that name that thou should come to us this night as we sleep, and lead us forth, to experience the wonders and beauties of Carcosa wherein thou art mighty!
“We give thee the most potent name Nyarrut Hoteb, as a bond and token between us, O Asturu, and bear thee with us in the night.”
The brazier is extinguished, and they go to their beds, overcome with exhaustion at their successful conjury.
Him-Who-Is-Not-To-Be-Named comes on wings of night.
In dream, they sign the Book of Azathoth, their names recorded in the presence of the Daemon Sultan; to them is revealed the meaning of the Yellow Sign, and they are made to look upon the Pallid Mask. In the hour before the rising of the sun, they wake drenched with sweat despite the periarctic cold, crying aloud the final words of the Unspeakable Oath.
Yasarid India: echoed in the tent of the Shah. In the distance, the red brick walls of city were shrouded with smoke. The Hussite were still holding out inside, though the Moslem army had been pounding the walls through the entire winter.
Nesir himself was white-faced, filled with an enormous, all-encompassing anger. A lean, wiry man in tarnished breastplate and leather armor stood before him, watching the Shah’s fury with interest. The lean man was sweating, dabbing at his brow with a dirty cloth – he was not used to these tropical climes.
“This is insane!” Nesir still could not believe what he had heard. “I am a good Moslem, a pious man, I have never – before you came before me – even spoken with one of your heinous and damned faith!”
“True.” The Frost Wolf messenger nodded genially. Absently, he caressed a gray amulet that hung from a chain around his neck. Nesir could not make out the features of the face on the amulet, but they were subtly wrong and he looked away, suddenly filled with revulsion. “Yet your realm has been marked for destruction. You have read the dispatches, even as I have. Soon, if you do not accept our help, you will be crushed by the power of the Alliance.”
“This is monstrous!” Nesir sprang to his feet, his fists clenched. “They have bartered my realm for another’s – all in payment for treachery and betrayal…” He stopped, mastering himself, then stared at the Wolf with narrowed eyes. “How can you help me?”
The Frost Wolf smiled, showing teeth sharpened to points. “Do you have a map? I will show you.”
Unfortunately for Kolofeng, a huge Frost Wolf army was sweeping south out of Gaur at exactly the same time. The two armies met at Murshidebad. The Charchan Noyan, who had led his people on an awesome march over the Himalayas in four years of backbreaking effort, was thrilled to see a measly 20,000 Khemer infantry scrambling to deploy into line of battle. The Charchan numbered almost 50,000 men and then charged forward, filling the air with wild keening battle-cries and the earth shook with the thunder of their hooves.
Kolofeng was not a brilliant commander, but his men were well trained and they knew what to do. Thus, with the Charchan storming down upon them, they formed their ranks, broke open their powder cartridges, loaded, brought rifles to shoulder and waited. Gun batteries rolled out, crews working furiously to chock wheels, swab the barrels and load. The thunder of the Charchan shook the air and seemed like an enormous black cloud… then the air filled with the hissing of thousands of arrows and those Charchan with rifles began to fire from the saddle. Khemer riflemen pitched back, struck dead. Then…
“All ranks,” shouted a Khemer master-sargeant, “first rank fire!”
Boom! The entire front of the Khemer army was smoke and gouting tongues of flame. The Charchan staggered as grapeshot and rifle volleys ripped across the front of their charge. “Second rank, fire!” The slaughter was repeated and the sky filled with smoke and fumes and the screams of the dying.
Despite the hideous losses the Khemer inflicted on the Wolf nomads, their sheer numbers of the enemy quickly lapped around their wings and Kolofeng was forced to fall back into a moving square. His regimental commaders fought hard, running artillery batteries from place to place, but by the end of the second day, the Khemer broke and were chopped to ribbons. The Charchan had spent 30,000 men to crush Kolofeng’s army.
Ahvaz was besieged within two months, and blockaded as well, by elements of the Yasarid fleet. Despite great deprivation suffered by the defenders, the Persian merchants had not surrendered by the end of 1730.
Exarchate of Trebizond: The Exarchate army, battered by a year of guerilla warfare in Abasigia (as well as the hideous cold) launched a concerted effort to wipe out the Ice partisans in Cerkes. Their offensive met with great success, for the rascals had fled during the heavy snows of winter. The port was secured and the various fleets there escaped during the spring thaw (becayse, yes, there was a spring thaw!)
A large number of Swedish refugees were resettled in the quake damaged towns of Trebizond and Amisus. The various Alliance armies in Abasigia were shipped out through Cerkes as well, leaving the Exarchate the proud owners of the province.
Swedish-Russia: Altkansler Leopold, who was showing the strain of such a long tenure, begged for grain, cloth, timber, and all manner of supplies from his allies. Luckily, the Nrosktrad, Franks, Kievians and the Spanish were able to fill many hulls with goods and food for the Swedes. Those powers that had yet to feel the clutch of the Ice also provided enormous sums of gold to fuel the Swedish war machine. The cities of Bergen, Alfskrona and Neyponets – besieged by the Ice and rendered uninhabitable – were abandoned. An English fleet, lending a hand in this time of crisis, evacuated the citizens of Bergen (and those Alfskronans who had managed the epic march across the Ice to reach the coast.)
General Kutusov (the Snow-Wolf) was also spending his time with reindeer and ski-teams in tow, shepherding the doughty inhabitants of Turku in Neyponets (which had been behind the wall of darkness for almost six years now) across the frozen Baltic (on the famous Ice Road), past the ghost-haunted ruins of Stockholm, and down to St. Sigurd in Halland, where hot mulled cocoa and rum toddies were waiting for everyone.
The Senate, now relocated to the sunnier climes of Morroco, voted a special thanks to the English and the Spanish for their aid and assistance. Ceremonial plaques were presented to the English and Spanish ambassadors. Uli Jospin, the new Altkansler and Crown Regent, also announced that the Peoples Republic of Baklovakia had become a “vassal” of the Swedish state. Gold-plated steins of beer were presented to the Baklovakian People’s Embassy.
Efforts continued to evacuate Riga in an orderly fashion. Special steam-powered ice-breakers worked round the clock in the Saarema Passage, keeping the shipping lanes free for shipload after shipload of documents, records, freezing bureaucrats and their families. Everyone was headed south, towards the sun and Morroco. In Riga, everyone else hunkered down, keeping things together.
In southern Russia, meanwhile, a huge motion of men, ships, ice-sledges and supplies was preparing to swing into motion. The focal point of the activity was the port of Rostov, where Admiral Sir Kjell Sigurdson was preparing to launch a massive invasion of Khirgiz across a newly built pontoon bridge at the mouth of the frozen Volga. Unfortunately, he slipped on some … ice… and broke his neck during the winter of 1728-29. A strict investigation followed, but it became pretty clear that the whole thing was a regrettable accident.
As a result, Alexi bin Adashev found himself commander of the Western Fleet late in 1729 when he arrived in Rostov. Worse, he had already been forced to pick up Marsk Sir Selim Dubovtich’s 1st Air Army from Kherson because the Marsk had also perished during the winter. Adashev was nearly driven insane, trying to wrangle the hundreds of thousands of refugees, soldiers, ships and general chaos of Rostov. By late 1730, he was forced to relocate the whole mass to Stevastopol so that he could control affairs with the help of Hans Dottski and his Black Sea Squadron marines.
Despite these troubles, Marsk Yeltsin managed to collect his new multi-national army (with Swedes, Franks, Kievians and Danes all hand-in-hand) by the beginning of 1730. Under a sheltering aerial armada of newly built and fitted Swedish zeppelins (including some blazoned with English keel-plates), the entire Alliance army marched east, into the heart of the Ice.
In spite of the effort spent to build the massive bridge across the mouth of the Volga Canal, the army did not enter Patzinak directly, but instead moved swiftly north along the canal itself, using it as an icy road. By these means, the combined armies reached Saksiny in high summer (which meant, as they had entered the realm of the Ice, that sometimes the icy gray sky lightened enough to follow the dim disk of the sun as it passed overhead).
Danish Empire: More ships and men were poured into Rostov as well, adding to the massive Alliance army that was preparing to invade Khirgiz.
Norsktrad: In the east, the Norkstrad fleet did yeoman duty in the evacuation of Cerkes and proved its worth in shipping the Alliance army to Rostov.
Empire of Occitania: Showing their support for the war, the Occitanians dispatched large amounts of wheat, flour, knitted sock booties and furry caps (made of imported Andean Llama wool!) to the Swedes. Reynard also undertook to begin construction of a powerful airship fleet, using both his own yards and those owned by the Norsktrad in Lisbon. Queen Teresa remained in the east, leading three corps of Occitanian troops in the campaign in Khirgiz. Her hatred of the Ice became well known, for she took every opportunity to exterminate Ice scum with her own hand.
The Gates of Hercules were also thick with Occitanian galleons and lumbering airships, all searching fruitlessly for the air pirates. The black zeppelins did not appear and everyone sighed in relief. The campaign in the east must be bearing fruit!
The Roman Church: Unwilling to let others face evil without his direct guidance, Innocent XIII departed for Rostov and then parts east, accompanied by a strong Guard and a veritable phalanx of learned fathers and monks. Upon his arrival in the Swedish port, he also made a call for Holy Crusade against the Ice infidels, but everyone back home was far too busy struggling to get the crops in to bother with that. Besides, the war was being won, wasn’t it?
Before The Black Tower, Khirgiz: The rattling thud-thud-thud of a Swedish aeroship echoed across the frozen plain. Yeltsin, marsk of the Swedish army, look up, his face swathed in heavy wool, only dark gray eyes showing to the bitterly cold air. The Kostroma was leaking smoke, one of the aft gun-platforms on fire. The Swedish office shook his head sadly, watching the blue flames lick up the stiff silk bag. All around him, the marching regiments of the Alliance army paused, hold their breath. The Kostroma slewed to one side, losing way in the heavy wind, and then the fire entered the aft lifting cell.
The aeroship shuddered, ripped from aft to fore by a convulsive explosion. Bright orange flame blossomed from the stricken ship and Yeltsin heard a boom roll across the icy fields. Men plunged, aflame, from the dying ship, falling hundreds of feet into the stiff bare trees. Yeltsin turned his head away, then felt a brief rush of hot air blow past as the aeroship plowed into the stand of dead trees, still burning fiercely.
An army of almost eighty thousand men was on the move, trudging down the frozen Volga, heading for ancient Sarai and the legendary Black Tower. The Alliance airfleet had been skirmishing with what must be the pirate zeppelins that had plagued the Mediterranean the last four years. The Sunlander ships were obviously inferior to the sleek, black shapes of the Khirgiz, but that did not stop the Swedish and Danish crews from taking their ships up with each brittle gray dawn. Without that frail shield, the Alliance army would be exposed to constant attack from the air.
Only days after the death of the Kostroma, the Alliance scouts returned with the first sight of Sarai. The city sat on a bluff above the river and close by a monstrous series of buildings had been erected. A tower of pitch black obsidian now rose south of the town, fronting a long rectangular artificial lake of still dark water. Opposite this, stood a tower of white stone, though it too exuded menace. All around the city, in concentric rings, the scouts reported that a huge sprawling array of fortifications barred the way.
Yeltsin and his commanders, like Ney of the Commonwealth and Empress Teresa of Occitania, found themselves locked in brutal, frozen trench warfare. The Khirgiz had dug in deep, supported by their huge airfleet and the Alliance army (for all its numbers) found itself struggling to maintain a cordon all around the city and the tower-complex. Alliance troopers died in droves, trying to force their way through the maze of redoubts, trenches, hidden bunkers, gun-pits and zigzag walls. At the same time, the Khirgiz airfleet waged unceasing aerial combat against the paltry number of Swedish and Danish aeroships.
Too, the long dark nights were filled with alarums and raids as Khirgiz snow-troopers slipped through the Allied lines almost at will, murdering officers, poisoning supplies and blowing up ammunition cassions. Really, only the superlative professionalism and raw skill and valor of the Alliance troops (particularly the Danes and the Occitanians) managed to hold things together. Despite constant efforts by the Khirgiz to murder the various Alliance generals, only the Danish major-general Mikenas was actually killed by a Khirgiz sharpshooter.
After three months of constant fighting, however, the Alliance effectives had been reduced to approximately half their original numbers. Each day more sledges were sent north along the Volga, bearing the wounded and the dead away. Yeltsin was beginning to despair of every breaching the Khirgiz fortifications. His airfleet was burning wreckage, his light guns low on ammo. In September, he resolved to try one last assault on the section of breastworks and redoubts known as the Devil’s Dike, hoping to break through into the city itself. Efforts to break any of the defenses around the looming towers themselves had failed miserably.
On September 16th, Yeltsin went into the trenches himself, winding his way to the front, to give the order for Danish Sixth Corps and the Kievian Boyars Own to go up, over the top. He found the regimental commanders in the forward HQ locked in a violent shouting match. The Kievians had refused to move up into their assault positions. In fact, most of the army along the sector was refusing to leave their bunkers. Word of the mutiny was spreading, too, and Yeltsin was forced to react with a heavy hand.
Two Kievian officers were shot on the spot, and then King Vladimir arrived. Seeing their bodies, Vladimir challenged Yeltsin to a duel. Immediately, the tension heightened. The marsk, however, was made of sterner stuff. He did not panic or give in. Instead, he looked around at the pale, strained faces of his officers and the allied commanders, and said. “We’re going home.”
It took the Alliance army four grueling months to trudge back to Rostov, harried the whole way by Khirgiz airships and light cavalry that sniped at their flanks and murdered whole sledge-loads of wounded while they slept. Still, Yeltsin and Ney managed to get everyone else home. No mean feat.
Watching the Sunlanders march away, scar-faced Og watched from the height of the Black Tower and chuckled. So perished all those who set themselves against the might of the God Behind the Sky. Despite the pleading of his captains, the Khirgiz general did not risk the remainder of his precious airfleet in pressing the enemy’s retreat.
Libya: If this were not trouble enough, in the far east, where Beni-Saida was rooting around in dusty tombs and had his men digging excavation trenches across the ruins of Karnak and Saqqara, the archaeological expedition was suddenly and violently attacked by a fleet of black airships! The first intimation that Beni-Saida had was the crump of high explosives shattering the night. Then there were huge black shapes against the boom, sparkling with gunfire and falling naptha bombs. His men rushed to their weapons and struggled to turn their light field pieces on the airborne attackers, but the Frost Wolf aerocommandos were already on the ground, throwing bombs into the tents and raising unholy hell.
Within the day, despite Saida’s swift and effective command, he had been forced to flee north, into the desert, with only a few hundred men. The Frost Wolf then systematically destroyed the excavations and – by aerial bombing – flattened the “Bent Pyramid” as well as anything else they could find. Then the black airships turned south and disappeared over the horizon.
“Shit.” Was Beni-Saida’s response. Then he turned north to trudge back to Al’Hassan. “The Emir won’t like this.”
Kayakutat, In the Shadow of the Ice: Oniko, princess of Denmark, stood on a desolate shore, sharp sea wind ruffling her long black hair. A tomb of stones and cut granite slabs rose up before her, looking out over a chilly inlet filled with ships of war. It was a long way from Denmark.
A year later, as she and her small Danish army huddled in the shadow of the Han mountains, Oniko kept reminding herself of those bold words. She and her command staff were watching from the cover of some dead pines as endless lines of Frost Wolf and Inuit troops poured out of the pass into Tutchone, clogging the road with their marching regiments, their fat-wheeled artillery. The sky was thick with black-hulled airships and many of them moved slowly over the rugged mountains, obviously searching…
The Danish force fell back, across Han, moving swiftly in the snow. Two years in the Ice had taught Oniko and her captains how to fight and survive in the hostile wilderness. Even under the gray, sunless skies, there was a kind of life and water and the rudiments of food. But the Frost Wolf move swiftly in such terrain and by April the Empress was besieged in the mountains bordering Tanaina, her troops dug in on the remains of an old Tatar postal road.
T’in’gaut rushed the attack, storming up the road under a barrage of artillery and the constant, darting, attack of his airships. His own spies in the lands beyond the mountains reported that a huge force of Sunlanders were marching hard, trying to reach Onikos’ position. He had a very close margin to destroy the Danes and then retire back to his positions in Tutchone. As a result, the Ice Lords pounded the living daylights out of the Danes for two months, then abandoned the effort, having failed to break through the pass. Corpses were piled high on the road and in the side canyons. Oniko herself survived, with only a pittance of men.
T’in’gaut retired in good order, his force intact and lacking many fanatics and the yelping minions of the Uliqqa. Too, in the heat of battle, as the Danes had thrown back the last attack, fighting in a slurry of blood and ice and entrails, a Frost Wolf aerocommando had struck at Oniko’s camp, seizing a particular item that had been left there in the safe keeping of her guardsmen. All of those fellows were dead.
When the Empress, at last, trudged back into the ruin of her encampment, she cursed violently and shook his fist at the sky in rage. The Spear was gone.
Nisei Republic: A mammoth, rushed, building campaign in the remaining Nisei industrial centers yielded up an airfleet of about 120 zeppelins. Packed with raw, barely trained crews and commanded by Shogun Akari himself, this armada lugged north in the spring of 1729, eventually reaching Han and the massed Sunlander army by the end of the year. Luckily, everyone else had been struggling to reach the rendezvous as well, so there was no lost time.
A strong force of Frost Wolf zeppelins attacked the Tomb of Kristatos, in Katmai, in late spring of 1729. The tomb was badly damaged and many of the Bolivian guards were killed, but the hardy mountain-men from the far south managed drive off the Inuit commandos who had attempted to enter the tomb itself. The body of Kristatos remained safe. The zeppelins evaded pursuit and disappeared off to the west.
A bad drought also afflicted the Nisei, threatening crop yields across the wide Yokuts valley and along the coast. Coupled with the dreadful winters and the strangely dimmed light of the sun, the harvest was very poor.
Shawnee Empire: North of those lands still held by the Shawnee, an army moved in the icy wasteland… Anthony Remi, Cardinal of the Holy Mother Church, was on the move, leading a force of over nine thousand Templars and armed monks through the devastation that lay under the sway of the Ice. Starting from Powhattan on the eastern coast, they marched north – laboring through freezing fog, snow, ice and all the torments of that devastated land – to reach as far as Albany before turning west and finally reaching Noquet (after a harrowing crossing of the frozen Lake Huron) at the end of 1730. Nearly a third of the men and all of the animals died, but Remi pressed on, his soldiers beating off repeated attacks by cannibals, Ice tribesmen, the loathsome horned gnoph-keh and the strange “white men” that were covered with fur and were so fond of human flesh. All this Remi accomplished, despite his advanced age of sixty-four.
Princess Valeria, recovered from her strange dreams and nightmares, commanded the evacuation of Adena in Erie, moving the Imperial government down the highway to Cahokia. Lord Ocelot rendered her considerable assistance in this. The Adenans themselves were put up in New Rome, Tosai and Aztlan. They were lucky – the evacuation of Almeria on the eastern shore went horribly awry, with a massive fire breaking out in the city and hundreds of thousands perishing in the smoke and cold.
Worse, the cities stranded in the Ice were emptied, unable to feed themselves, and the people flooded south, filled with despair and horror. Strange creatures hunted the refugees, killing and (doubtless) eating thousands. The cities of the south were filled to bursting, swollen by endless numbers. And, of course, the harvests were turning poor, the maize withering in the fields, under the baleful eye of the Sword of Doom.
Then, just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, a ravening horde of Cherokee and Potomac burst out of the Appalachians and into the province of Monacan. Fueled by an insatiable desire to slaughter Catholics (the highland tribes are all old-school Mesoamerinds) and a great deal of Inuit gold, guns and ammunition, the Cherokee had decided to drive the invaders back into the sea, once and for all!
Baron Sark and the duke of Powhattan were in the area, shepherding refugees south, and they rushed with their small armies to deal with the incursion. They reached the area of Salamanca and found the city a smoking pyre, filled with the bodies of the dead. The Cherokee army was also waiting, each man clothed in the flayed skin of a Catholic city-dweller. A huge shout rose up from the Shawnee ranks and was answered by an equally savage howl from the ranks of the Cherokee.
Despite superior numbers of Cherokee field pieces, the Shawnee regulars were able to weather the scattered artillery fire and charge home. Unfortunately, once at hand-grips, the Cherokee proved formidable. Baron Sark was forced to retire in poor order, his regiments shredded, and abandon Monacan province to the depredations of the hill-men. In an odd colophon to the atrocities at Salamanca, the Uliqqa priest that had stirred up the Cherokee was found dead in his tent, his face gnawed away. The hill-men knew that dreadful mark… this was the work of Kror.
Aztec Empire: The Aztec fleet was active in the north, ferrying troops from the great cities of Ipai up to the crude harbor at Tyonek. The Bolivians and Granadans were laboring in the frozen wasteland, trying to carve out warehouses, wharfs, docks, all the infrastructure needed by the army operating inland. It was grueling work. The Singing Flame legion, however, ably assisted by the French, Bolivians and others, did press into the wasteland and found the remains of the Danish force in Han. Oniko’s force was on its last legs, with only a few hundred soldiers left.
The Inuit army had disappeared, and the Alliance army advanced cautiously into Han, finding evidence of the movement of thousands, but none of the enemy. Late in the year, the Nisei airfleet arrived from the south and scouting missions over the mountains into Tutchone revealed a mammoth temple complex sprawling around the ancient Tatar city of Hûkar. Only one of the Nisei Zhanshin-class zeppelins returned, shot full of holes. An equally sprawling ring of fortifications and armed camps surrounded the ancient city.
The Singing Flame commander, suspecting that the highway over the mountains was a death-trap, ordered the army south, into the wilderness of Tagish and then north. All the while, the Frost Wolf and Inuit zeppelins paced the Alliance army, skirmishing with the Nisei airships. The enemy was patience and willing to wait, willing to let the Aztecs come to them…
In January of 1730, the entire western seaboard of the Empire was put in a complete panic when a large air-fleet of black-hulled zeppelins droned off the Pacific, then crossed Achi before disappearing into the mountains of Kekchi. There was no loss of life in either province, though some goats were stolen in the highlands. A month later, the western beaches were afflicted by the notorious ‘red tide’, which devastated the fisheries.
Sisters of the Rose: In March 1730, a huge Inuit airfleet suddenly swept out of the west and began bombarding New Jerusalem from the air. At the same time, squads of aerocommandos landed within the city and were immediately engaged in a fierce battle with the Sisterhood troops (of which they had a plenty…). Luckily for the raiders, there were no high-ranking Sisters in the city and the defense was confused and sporadic. On the other hand, this was the first city the Inuit had attacked that was prepared to resist an aerial assault… Inuit losses were heavy, including no less than sixteen of their airships, but the defenders were overwhelmed and the city razed to the ground. Thirty or forty thousand people were killed and every building set alight. Then, their cruel purpose complete, the Inuit airfleet sped away to the north.
The Plain of Bones, Tutchone, Within The Ice: A feral yellow glow lit the sky, illuminating heavy clouds with a dried-urine color. Akari, Shogun of the Nisei, walked in darkness, feeling the ground crunch and splinter under his boots. Even here, miles from the towering black spires of the Gate, he could feel a tremolo buzz grating against his nerves. They dominated the northern sky, three black slashes cutting into the sky. Of late, as the Alliance army poured out of the dead forest, a flickering glow had often danced on the obscene monoliths.
This time, there is no Kristatos to guide us, with his spells and his arcane powers. There is only the Hellion, his daughter…
Akari’s breath was tight, for this bloody plain had once seen the destruction of a might Nisei army, long before the coming of the Ice. In those days, this had been a fertile plain, filled with orchards and little towns and lumber yards. The Tatars had ruled then, and Akari’s great-grandfather had seen their realm destroyed. The Shogun wondered, as he paced along the lines of silent, waiting men, their breath puffing white in the darkness, barely illuminated by the light of paraffin lamps, if old Ietsuna had realized that his victory would have to be won, again, fifty years later.
“You are all samurai,” Akari said, suddenly, his voice loud in the darkness. “The order has been given. The armies of the Alliance will attack as soon as the sun rises.”
In this dreadful place, that meant only that a wavering pale gray light would slowly suffuse the eastern sky, allowing a man to see his hand in front of his face.
“We go up at dawn.” The zhanshin pilots snapped to attention. Akari raised his hand in salute, facing them. “The Emperor is with us, and Ameratsu looks down, weighing your hearts! Banzai!”
“Banzai!” Shouted the pilots, saluting. “Banzai!”
“To your ships!” Akari turned away, letting the pre-dawn gloom hide the tears freezing on his cheeks. All around him, the rumble of kerosene engines lighting up filled the night. A spectral glow suffused the landing field, lighting the pilots and crews as they clambered aboard. The Nisei airfleet quivered, preparing to launch into the cold darkness.
The Alliance army poised before bloody old Hûkar numbered 12,000 Nisei pilots and crews (Tokugawa Akari and Ego Bozu), 13,200 Danish Imperial Guards and sailors drafted from the fleet (Empress Oniko), 20,000 New French (Sir Pepin Aquilliar and Sir Charles du’Montfort), 21,000 Bolivians (Prince Josep Mascate, Ferdinand de Gama, Duke Gayle de’Uru, Ixanama de’Pucara), 34,000 New Granadans (Prince Nicholas Montoya) and 34,600 Aztecs (the Sword of Empire and Jaguar Legions). 134,000 men in all, give or take.
“Here they come.” Kartuq lowered the Zeiss telescope, the eyepiece already frosted. The Frost Wolf stood high on the flank of one of the three Teeth that bit at the sky, on a platform without railing or wall. From this vantage, he could see the southern and western horizon light with a rippling thunder of artillery. Bright yellow flashes stabbed at the night, a swift, brutal presentiment of the coming dawn. The old warrior, his face lined both by age, the elements and ritual scars, turned to his aides. “Signal the aerodrome.”
His men – boys really, since he was force to induct the very dregs of the Ice – clattered away, down the stairs, running for the semaphore station. Kartuq raised the telescope again, watching the constant flashing pattern of the enemy barrage. His features twisted into a grim smile. “They are attacking along the entire front.”
A cold laugh answered his words. From the shadows at the back of the platform, a towering figure wrapped in furred cloaks and adorned with necklaces of human bone, stepped out into the shuddering yellow light. High above both men, the crown of the Tooth was wrapped in jagged lightning. Even the distant thunder of the Alliance guns was drowned by the crack and sizzle of the Teeth.
“What other choice do they have?” T’in’gaut stopped at Kartuq’s side, thumbs thrust into his broad leather belt. “They must break through to the Gate, or their world is lost. They are the fanatics now, not us.”
“Huh.” Kartuq turned his attention to the east. A subsonic thump-thump-thump was pricking at his bones. He scanned the dark sky, then saw the tiny flare of an engine, then another. The Frost Wolf airfleet was swinging out from behind the shelter of the Teeth, keeping a safe distance, cutting through the cold air towards the enemy. “They should try two or three focused assaults, to try and break through the outer trench-line… Ah, what a fine sight!”
T’in’gaut grinned in the darkness. “You’re sending them all out? I thought the Uliqqa…”
“The Uliqqa are fools!” Kartuq’s voice snapped in anger. “Trying to park our airships on top of the Teeth in these winds is insane – the lightning would destroy half of them in a day. No, these Nisei are brave men, but their ships are crude…”
Crouched in their maze of trenches, gun-bastions, ancient city walls, spiked moats, redoubts and the citadel that circled the Gate of the Winds, the Frost Wolf had 35,000 men and the Inuit Taguak another 65,000. Kartuq was assisted by Chen-Hsan, and the usual useless rabble of Uliqqa. T’in’gaut’s corps commanders were Bal-to’or, Un’kin’tak, the Khan of the White Mongols and the Tautin chief. All in an extensively prepared position.
Josep crouched in the shallow crater, icy frost digging into his knees. The men of his regiment were huddled around him, trying to keep their heads down. The sky was throbbing with constant, shattering explosions. Shells shrieked past from their own guns, thudding violently among the Inuit trenches, making the earth shiver. The enemy artillery was blasting right back, sending up huge gouts of permafrost and frozen earth as their barrage walked along the Alliance line.
Overhead, in a sky filled with roiling clouds, airships lunged ponderously across the wan gray sky, spitting flame at each other. Josep tugged at the chin-strap of his field cap, reinforced with wool and metal plates. As he watched, a Nisei zhanshin swept past, the men inside firing their rifles at the enemy gun positions. A bright spark lit on the side of the underslung cupola and a rocket licked out, hissing and spitting smoke, to crash into the Inuit lines with a boom!. Josep saw a shuttered lantern flash back in their original positions. The roar of Alliance artillery picked up, lighting the sky.
“Ready!” He screamed at his men. His sergeants and lieutenants raised their heads, then passed the word.
Josep closed his eyes, praying to the Mother and the Father, for one more day of life and victory. He opened them in time to see the Nisei airship shudder, raked by light cannon shells from a looming dark shape that suddenly filled the sky. An Ice Lord zeppelin swung low, it’s gun cupola stuttering with light.
The Nisei ship slewed away, running back over the Alliance lines. The black ship, it’s stronger engines running at full bore, swung elegantly in pursuit. As it turned, Josep could see that the giant snarling face of a wolf with bloody fangs had been painted on the side of the long gray cylinder.
A bright flash leapt up from the ground, back behind the Alliance artillery pits. A finned shape spiraled up into the sky, barely missing the fleeing Nisei ship, then plowed into the front of the FrostWolf zeppelin. The fore gas cell ruptured, punctured by the Persian rocket, then exploded in a bright orange roar. The zeppelin staggered, its forward momentum stalled. Then the second cell blew apart, and then the third.
Josep watched, his ears ringing with a mighty shout of joy, as the hated wolf-face was consumed by flame and then the entire ship plunged into the icy ground, rocked by secondary explosions as the ammunition aboard cooked off. The Bolivian prince scrambled up the icy slope of the crater.
“Avante!” He screamed and his entire regiment was sprinting forward, rushing headlong towards the Inuit bunkers. The air around him sang as he ran, bullets whipping past with a shrill snap!
Despite incredible valor on the part of the Alliance troops, their six days of constant assaults on the ring of fortifications around Hûkar and the Gate failed. Nearly shattered by awesome losses, Oniko and the other commanders were forced to abandon the siege and fall back into Han. The Frost Wolf zeppelins inflicted a terrible punishment on the retreating Alliance troops, but the sheer iron will of the Hellion kept the army together.
The last of the Nisei zhanshin was shot down over the Han pass, still trying to provide some kind of air cover for the retreat. Prince Josep was not killed, despite leading no less than four frontal assaults on the Inuit positions near the South Gate, but of his regiment, only two other men survived. The Prince sustained no less than seven near-fatal wounds.
Of the other commanders, only Sir Charles de’Montfort and the Aztec Jaguar legion commander were killed, both during the retreat back to Han.
1731 – 1732 T201
The oi-ya, in the Naiku Shrine, at Ise: A Buddhist monk named Dun Ho, a Manchurian Chinese, knelt on a field of irregular white stones. A dozen yards away, behind a paling of thin cut saplings, stood a simple wooden shed. Inside, as he had heard from the Shinto priests who ministered to the great complex of buildings, was a post driven into the earth.
Dun Ho had come here – to this place that was free of the thousands of laborers, monks, priests, soldiers, daimyo and captains of the huge effort to rebuild Ise – to pray and to seek stillness. There was nothing here to distract the mind or the eye, only the gentle purity of the stones, the simplicity of the wood. Even the shouts of workers, the rasp of saws, the constant hammering, seemed far away. Dun Ho knew that he should be able to meditate, to seek the inner serenity spoken of by the Bodaisattva.
But he could not. Unease lay upon him, like a constant faint gnawing. Something here, in this whole place, was wrong. The dimness in the sky, he supposed, contributed, but he knew in his heart that it was not the sole reason for his unsettled mind. But he could not put a name, a face, a finger upon the source of his disquiet.
He bent again to his woven-reed mat, the soft rattle of his prayer wheel making a calming tik-tik-tik. Night would come soon, and he would pray while the wheel of stars marched past overhead.
Tokugawa Japan: With the immediate threat of the Ice withdrawn, the Tokugawa scurried about, attempting to restore direct control over the home islands. The province of Saga (and the city of Kumamoto) were returned by the Maori, a cause for riotous celebration and thanksgiving in that province. They had been under the rule of the Ice Lords for many years, and the shadow of that terrible passage would long remain on the faces of the people. Their deliverance, however, they marked with the Festival of the Sun, which lasts for six nights and seven days, filled with revelry and unending light, even in the depths of the night.
The baleful red eye of the Comet could barely be made out in the night sky, but the Sun remained dim and clouded.
In 1732, a small fleet of ships arrived from the east and a man set foot on Japanese soil for the first time in his entire life. It had been four generations since any man, or woman, of his lineage had pressed their foreheads to the blessed soil of the First Kingdom. This man was Nakamikado, the one hundred and fourteenth Emperor of Japan. He came ashore in Edo, then traveled, afoot, the length of the Tokaido Road to Ise, in Yamato. Everywhere that he went, sprawling metropolis or tiny hamlet, massive crowds and cheering throngs met him with riotous acclaim.
When the Emperor entered the Shrine, there were six thousand priests in attendance and the Sun, it was said, broke through heavy autumn clouds at the exact moment. Throughout the islands, there was a genuine and heartfelt outpouring of faith in the old Gods and it seemed that Ameratsu smiled, once more, upon Japan. Even the odd death of the priest Dun Ho did not disrupt the celebrations and proceedings.
Prester John: Prester merchants, making the long journey south to Judah, were surprise to find – in May of ’31 – the remains of a strong caravan of Chinese Catholic monks who had, it seemed, been venturing into the fringes of the Gobi. What made the discovery strange was that, though the heat of summer was quickly coming upon the land, every man in the caravan was frozen solid, through to the core of his body.
Khemer Empire: If the strange dim sky were not enough, the Khemer also suffered from poor weather that brought a succession of unexpected droughts. Great forest-fires sprang up, shrouding Khemer lands in constant smoke and fumes.
Pnakotus, In The Red Center: Te Arau and his men had continued to dig in, even while they watched the strange constant storm that raged all around the city. Here, amid the ancient cyclopean ruins, the air was still – but out there, in the endless red rolling dunes, winds howled and stormed. Heat lightning leapt amongst a boiling sky. The Shark priest knew, in his heart, that the strange lights in the pillar were bending their will upon the earth, conjuring up this defense. Te hoped that succor would come – he had sent many messengers, both east and west, hoping to find help.
Help did not come. A Frost Wolf bullet did, though, whickering out of the desert and shattered against one of the gray-green obelisks with a crack! Te Arau threw himself into the nearest slit trench, his hand dragging for a pistol at his belt. Within minutes, a howling line of Frost Wolf soldiers – burned red by the sun, haggard from a long march across the desert, their faces scored by driven sand and lightning-flash, was storming towards the city.
The only shred of hope that Te Arau still clung too was the lack of Frost Wolf airships overhead – they had failed to penetrate the storm-wall. Still, the Muklar had managed to wrestle six thousand men and almost thirty guns to the city. Their pack animals were dead, but the Muklar Lord did not care. His target, at last, was in view.
The Shark monks threw back the first Frost Wolf attack in bloody ruin, leaving the sands strewn with bodies. The second attack came in under the rapid bang-bang-bang of the light field guns carried by the Frost Wolf airships. Under heavy fire, and attacked from three directions, the monks fought on, heedless of the odds, until the last of them had been hunted down and skewered. The Muklar lord entered the city in triumph, bandaged, wounded, exhausted from his six hundred mile march.
The Frost Wolf smashed everything they could find, mined the rest with explosives and powder, then blew everything to hell in a cataclysmic series of explosions. Then, as the storm-wall dissipated, their airships thudded in from the south, bringing water, supplies and guides. Within two months, the Frost Wolf force had vanished from the desert, as if it had never been.
The next year, during the spring rains, Li Kau and his Ming army arrived from the east, following ghost-people guides and found the city swallowed by the sand, only a few broken obelisks still jutting from the side. They did not find the bodies of Te Arau or his men, but they knew that the ancient machines in the depths of the city had ceased to function. The Ming troops collapsed, overcome by despair.
But Li Kau did not lose heart – he whipped his men to their feet and ordered them to “dig, dig, you bastards!” At the end of ’32, the Ming army was still encamped at Pnakotus, furiously digging in the sand, trying to clear the way down, into the hidden chambers far below the earth. They had found many strange things, but not what Li Kau sought.
Maori Imperium: Tinopai, though he was struggling to keep the allegiance of the Fleet commanders and the settlers, dispatched various embassies and announced to all his wholehearted support for the Ming and the Sun Alliance. Herekino and Sealcrusher were sent off on diplomatic missions (to Tonga and Samoa, respectively) as Tinopai had big plans to be Kahuna of the Isles before long!
The northern island of the Land of the Long White Cloud was shaken by a vicious series of earthquakes in early 1731. The city walls of Joetsura were weakened and then cast down in the most violent of these tremors. Sailors at sea just north of Te Wai Ponamu reported strange colors and lights in the sea, as well as the disappearance of many fishing vessels. Ashore, the priests of Oro made many sacrifices and those among the Fleet that had seen the strength of «Them» trembled, wondering if there was anywhere beyond «Their» reach.
Herekino Wai returned in the fall of ’31, having barely escaped from Tonga alive. The islands there were still held by the Nanhai Wang’guo and they were no friends of the Maori! Sealcrusher Ke did not return at all.
Exarchate of Trebizond: Rather to her surprise, then, Natasha found that Kuban was not controlled by Khirgiz, but by a feisty lot of Orthodox nomads. They chased her off, cursing her as if she were the Ice itself. Alan was more troubling – there she found villages, fields, towns still occupied by peasants, tradespeople, nobles – all within the Ice! Of course, the old churches were abandoned and in ruins. Now gray-black temples rose at the center of each village, decorated with loathsome idols and obscene carvings. Her raid netted quite a bit of loot and the Khirgiz army was not to be seen.
Baron Knuphyn, meantime, was also raiding along the Black Sea coast and his main target was the city of Yeysk in Patzinak. Upon his troops landing, however, he was met by cheering crowds. Unlike the other provinces, the Patzinak had not embraced the dark gods of the Khirgiz and had languished under their cruel and unrelenting rule. Knuphyn found himself the liberator!
Swedish-Russia: A steady trickle of refugees from the Ice-blighted north continued to be shipped south. Terhazza, Bir-el-Khazaim, St. Athanasius in Adrar and St. George-the-Defender in Morroco expanded with the influx of sunburned Norsemen. A number of new farms and cattle ranches were also established at Bir-el-Khazaim on the southern fringe of the Swedish holdings, under the aegis of a fortress called Serefastning. The southern approaches to St.Georges-the-Defender were also protected by another new fortress, Jarlfastning.
Colonel Lasila and his Torki Volunteer Dragoons rode south, making a foray into Khirgiz lands in advance of the latest Alliance army, but found nothing of note. They did come to within sight of the looming, malachite walls of Sarai but even there things seemed quiet, the sky free of Khirgiz airships. Dissapointed, Lasila returned to base, where he took over Adashev’s command (as that general had come down with the Cough and died in the winter of ’31-’32).
The vast refugee camps in Rostov were cleared out (and very few new showed up), by Admiral Dottski, who carried a full load to Morroco on the main fleet (which numbered almost three hundred ships, including many of the big “Gustaffson Hearse” heavy transports, all kitted out with thousands of bunks).
Marsk Yeltsin remained in Rostov for much of ’31, watching with grim eyes and tens of thousands of Danish, Polish, Baklovakia, Norsk, Occitanian, Frankish, Islander and Papal troops poured into the city on a constant stream of transports. Great airship sheds sprouted up in the fields north of the city, housing a large, and growing, fleet of zeppelins… soon the army would be ready to enter the Ice, again, and strive once more to throw down the Black Tower.
Great Britain: Elderly princess Alice, who had been rather daring in her rescues of Swedish refugees from the Ice-bound coast of Norway, completed her relief mission with the delivery of tens of thousands of the poor wights to Morocco.
Before Demon-Haunted Sarai, Within the Ice: They came on again, endless lines of men marching up out of the west, crossing the barren, frozen land. Their crude airships chattered past overhead, gas-cells bulging against the thin fabric. They came on under a dizzying array of banners, signets, flags – the Papacy, Islanders, Occitanians, Danes, the Commonwealth, Sweden, Kiev, Poland, even little Baklovakia had come to pit their might against the Black Tower.
As before, they advanced along the banks of the river, with Swedish ice-runners covering the broad flat surface of the Volga, heavy with supplies. A resolute core of the combined army had fought here before, and they spent the march up from Rostov trying to beat the bare minimum of experience into the heads of their fellows. Those who had never fought within the Ice were always a hairs-breadth from death.
The Alliance army moved cautiously, watching for ambushes, traps, the stratagems of the enemy. This time the Khirgiz let them sweep unopposed as far as the ruins of old ruined Sarai, then struck. The sky blackened with airships, the wind turned bitter, the rumble of Khirgiz guns flashed in the dim light. The Alliance scouts pelted back towards the body of the army, shouting the alarm. Khirgiz lancers in their white armor and surcoats drifted out of the snow, striking at the flanks of the Alliance army, then vanishing again. Fire rained down from the sky.
The Alliance airfleet lumbered into battle, crews urging their ships to greater speed… Rockets flashed up from the army below, lighting the dark sky. Bright blossoms of flame erupted amongst the gray ships wheeling the sky. The Khirgiz zeppelins were swifter, with more powerful engines, lighter, more heavily armed – but the Alliance aircrews did not despair, fighting bravely, heedlessly. In the army below, thousands of men manned new light guns, mounted on wagons, with a high angle of fire. The “airship guns” hammered constantly, throwing up an arcing, brilliant shield of fire over the Alliance troops.
Over a hundred thousand Alliance troops attacked the Tower, relentless, ignoring entire regiments being wiped out by Khirgiz air-attacks. Their rockets and even their poor zeppelins cost the enemy as well, inflicting losses on the hated enemy at last. After two months of ferocious fighting in late summer of ’32, the Alliance forces managed to reach the walls of the Tower complex itself. The Khirgiz had shot their bolt – a month of constant artillery bombardment shattered many of the ancient walls, even pitting the twin Towers with blackened craters – and when the assault came in early fall, the citadel collapsed.
The Khirgiz fought to the last man, wreaking hideous casualties on the Alliance, but there were so many Alliance troops now that (coupled with the addition of the Danish veterans shipped in from Germany and the critical presence of the Swedish Aerocorps) they were hunted down and rooted out of their holes one by one.
In the end, Swedish and Danish engineers, working side by side, destroyed the Towers and the Lake with massive quantities of explosives. A shuddering series of explosions ripped the gray afternoon and the ancient, loathsome idols were cast down. A long Swedish airship circled above the devastation, carrying a pack of newspaper reporters and artists.
Below, the Roman Pontiff clambered through the wreckage, accompanied by a brace of his guards. Innocent poked through the rubble, searching for something… he did not know what. A strange unease had come upon him of late, ever since he had entered the Tower complex. At last he reached the edge of the drained, cracked lakebed. A rumpled layer of volcanic blocks floored the old pool. He knelt at the edge, picking at the tufa slabs with the point of a knife. As he did so, scraping black paint away from the dull red rock, comprehension dawned.
Innocent rose to his feet, staring around him in horror. There was nothing but devastation in all directions and the tiny figures of Alliance troops poking through the rubble. Sheets of snow drifted across the scene, slowly painting the newly turned rock white. He cursed luridly, then spun, intending to storm back to the headquarters tents.
The Pontiff toppled over, a spreading red stain on his white vestments. His guards flattened, shouting in alarm, rifles raised. Within moments the Khirgiz sniper had been hunted down and burned alive with napathene in his hiding hole. Innocent the Thirteenth, however, was dead.
His body was carried away from Sarai with the rest of the dead, along with the corpses of the Danish general Rauzer, the Commonwealth general Maurice Ney and Vladimir the Pious of Kiev. Rauzer had died leading his men in the assault on the eastern wall of the Tower complex, while Vladimir had fallen during the fighting on the outskirts of the city. Ney, tragically, had died in his sleep after the battle was won, for no known cause. The lines of wains carrying the dead were very long. Despite the cost, the Alliance army did not remain in Sarai, instead they retreated back to their camps, supplies and tuns of hot wine at Rostov.
The Palace of the Emir, Augostina in Tunisia: The window-frame of the Emir’s study rattled, echoing with the distant thunder of Occitanian guns. Hamilcar turned away from the embrasure, his face drawn with weariness. He wished that Muhammad the Hermit were here, but in these straits, that was like wishing for water in the deep Erg.
“Show him in,” growled the Emir, straightening his jacket. At the same time, his fingertips brushed the wooden stock of a long pistol thrust into the sash at his belt.
Two of his guardsmen bowed, then opened a small door at the back of the room. The panel squeaked, then slid aside to reveal a shadowed corridor. A man stepped through the door, tall, gaunt of face, sporting a natty beard and sharp mustaches. A German, or Swede. The man bowed elegantly, then looked up.
Hamilcar felt a chill, meeting those dead, empty eyes.
“You are Von Heffen, then.” Hamilcar said, without welcome in his voice. “You are the captain of the Ammonite and the scourge of the Middle Sea.”
“I am,” Von Heffen smiled faintly, looking around the comfortable room, the walls ornamented with hunting trophies, old swords, paintings. “You are a man of taste.”
“What do you want with me, with us?” Hamilcar was in no mood for polite discussion. The very presence of the man made his skin crawl.
“I want nothing,” Von Heffen said in perfect sincerity. “I offer you assistance, help, aid against your enemies. I offer you… friendship.”
Hamilcar nodded, looking out the window. “Can you drive away the Spanish fleet? Bring my men guns, powder, food?”
“Yes. All these things can be done.” Von Heffen smiled, showing fine white teeth. “There is something you must do first, for me, for my …”
“…for your masters?” Hamilcar grinned tightly. He moved a finger a hands-breadth, pointing at the glossy surface of his work-table. “You would have me swear an oath, an unspeakable oath?”
The man nodded, his eyes gone flat and dead.
“There are words that must be said.”
“No.” Hamilcar shook his head softly, dark eyes glittering. “Even though I, and my people, will all lie dead, rotting in mass graves, spat upon by Libyan and Catholic alike, we will not bow our necks for you, or for the things that you serve.”
The Emir drew the pistol in a fluid motion, and leveled it so that the eyes of the thing that wore Von Heffen’s shape were visible only through the iron-sights. “Get out.”
“I can save your kingdom,” whispered Von Heffen. “You fight for freedom against all nations of the earth – you have not one friend, even amongst those that profess to abhor the servitude of one man to another… with my aid, you can strike them all down, liberating millions from the chain and the shackle!”
Hamilcar advanced across the room, the pistol unwavering, until the cold iron of the muzzle was pressed to Von Heffen’s forehead. The thing did not move, or flinch, or show any sign of fear. The Emir supposed – in a brief flash of thought – that such emotions were now foreign to this carapace that befouled his home.
“You have come as a guest, under truce-flag. This buys you life, today, or whatever existence you cling to. Go, and do not darken my threshold again.”
Von Heffen stepped back, bowed, and then vanished into the shadowy corridor. The Emir waited, pistol in hand, lever back, until his men brought him news that the Ammonite (which had lain in hiding on the rugged Carthaginian coast) was gone. Then, and only then, did Hamilcar relax. He buried his head in his hands, alone, and wondered if he had done the right thing.
At last, roused by the rumble of cannon and the distant, muted, rattle of musketry, he rose, buckled on his armor, took up his sword, his pistols, a Sud Afrikan-built Ingomane repeating rifle and went out to join his men on the walls.
I will die a free man, he thought. A free man.
Norsktrad: Norsktrad agents continued the furious manhunt for the criminal and pirate Von Heffen. This time they managed to track him to his lair – an extensive set of sea caves on the coast of Rhodes. In a surprise assault, Norsk commandos broke into the hidden base and defeated Von Heffen’s rascally crew in a pitched gun battle. The Ammonite itself was badly damaged as it attempted to take to sea, and was then sunk in a swirling six-hour ship-to-ship action with the Norsk fleet commanded by Malcome Procuré, the dashing young son of the Mäklarevälde himself. Von Heffen’s body was not recovered from the wreckage, but he is assumed dead.
Maasai: Tudar had received many letters and embassies from various powers, warning him that their was a dire enemy loose in the world. He had even heard, some years before (while he was moping about under his Regency) of some strange business in the mountains of Kikuyu or thereabouts. He knew that his regent had sent men to search for signs of a “flying ship”, but – obviously – he gave it no credence.
He should have.
At the very end of ’31, as the winter rains swept across the mountains and plains, drenching the long tuft-grass and filling the dry lakes, a strong force of black airships swept down out of the north and landed on the lower slopes of Melili on the Mau escarpment. Frost Wolf troopers boiled out of the ships, suntanned and well-rested from their long flight. Their equipment and weapons were oiled and clean, though most of the men had stripped down to skivvies in the tropical heat. Still, there was snow on Mount Melili, and it reminded them of home.
Sapper teams jogged out from the ships, guarded by a force of eight hundred riflemen. High on the side of Melili there was a sheer cliff-face, deeply incised by a smooth, unadorned slab. On that face of rock, ancient and weathered, thrust up by the continental motion of the two great subsurface plates that made the Rift valley, was a Sign that had once laid beneath an antediluvian sea. That sign had been cut into the living rock by beings that no longer walked this earth.
The Frost Wolf captain in charge of the sappers stared up at it, a swirl of faint lines chiseled into the stone, ever expanding, ever branching out from a single unutterable point. It was mesmerizing in its simple complexity. The Siberian shook his head, then waved to his team. “Set charges!”
The Frost Wolf captain staggered back, eight inches of bloody steel assegai jutting from his chest. At the same instant a bloodcurdling howl roared out of the sub-tropical forest around the clearing. Then thousands of black warriors, garbed in bits and pieces of armor taken in trade, in feathers, in war-paint and sweat, stormed out of the underbrush. Their spears made a forest of shining steel points. The Frost Wolf troopers opened fire, getting off a ragged volley, and then everything was hand-to-hand, a bloody brawl under the cliff-face.
While the Maasai had slept, the elders of the Kikuyu and the Buganda had been long troubled. A thing had passed through their lands years before, heading north, leaving a faint trail of the disappeared and the dead. This was nothing that Mulungu countenanced upon the earth – yet it was free, with an ebon face and white teeth in the darkness – it was upon the Kikuyu to hunt this thing down and destroy it. So they had come to their most sacred place, at Melili, where the footprint of Mulungu could still be discerned upon the earth.
And the Frost Wolf in their sky-dragons had come. Now the tribesmen struggled amongst the trees, finding the Wolf-troopers more than a match for their spears and javelins. Once the initial shock of the charge had dissipated, the Wolf sergeants and captains rallied their men. They fell, back the woods filled with cordite smoke as they fired volley after volley into the mass of the natives.
Yet the Kikuyu knew that Mulungu was waiting to pick them up, if they fell, and they hurled themselves upon the Wolves, stabbing, clawing, relentless. In the end, the Falcon was forced to set the forest alight with napathene, rescuing only a handful of men from the ambush. Almost four thousand Kikuyu died among the straight-pine and thornbush of Melili, but the Wolves were forced to slink away. The Falcon circled the mountain in his zeppelins, and tried to bombard the Sign from the air, but the updrafts were too strong. Cursing, he ordered his command south at all speed.
The forest burned fiercely, sending up a towering column of smoke to blemish the pale blue sky.
The Pit Beneath The Teeth, Hûkar: Bitter cold seeped from the slabs of granite lining the floor of the basin. Kartuq, the master of the Frost Wolf, stepped gently, feeling the sting of the air even through the heavy cloak, shirt of overlapping steel plates, leather jerkin, and the heavy felt undershirt. In his hands was a weathered old length of ashwood, tipped with a corroded, chipped spearpoint of archaic design. Here, at the very vertex of the powers invoked by the three towers that loomed up into the glassy gray sky above, any misstep would mean instant annihilation.
The old Wolf laid the spear down, gently, on the soapstone “key” that sat at the very center of the uttermost pit. This done, he backed away, taking care to place his feet in the outlines cracked in the hoarfrost. A little later, he stood high on the side of one of the Teeth, staring down into the pit, Two of the Uliqqa crouched beside him, their foreheads pressed to the dark green rock.
“Let it be done.” Kartuq’s voice rumbled in counter-point to the crack and rippling flash of lightning that danced between the Teeth. One of the Uliqqa cut his arm with a stone knife, then raised the bleeding limb to the sky. A constant swirling storm maintained itself above Hûkar at all times. Now it seemed to coalesce, the sky bending in and down over the Pit. Yellow lightning boiled in the basin below, then leapt to the sky, kissing the clouds with a stunning boom.
Kartuq felt the hairs on his arms and neck stiffen as the air filled with the god’s presence. Light and shadow roared and stormed in the recesses of the Pit and then faded away. A burning point of cold blue remained for a moment, and then was gone.
“So ends the Spear,” muttered Kartuq and turned away. There was much to be done, before the Sunlanders came against this place again. And they would come. This much was clear. At the oval door of the observation deck, the old Wolf suddenly spun, startling the Uliqqa that crept after him. They whimpered.
Kartuq looked carefully around the stone platform, seeing only the sprawling mass of the city far below, the sky, and wind and driving snow.
“Master…” hissed the Uliqqa with the bleeding arm, “what is it?”
“Nothing…” Kartuq sheathed the whaling knife. His thoughts were not for such as these, bare shells hollow with the madness of the god. Something was watching me, he thought. It felt like Her.
Nisei Republic: Though the Nisei realm had bled in the Sun’s cause, their were still more bodies, more ships, more men, more gold to be offered up as sacrifice to win against the Ice. The whole northern heartland of the Republic was now turned to one thing – building airships – and it was fueled by a massive infusion of Aztec, Danish and Ming gold. Too, vast quantities of silk flowed in through trade routes now open by the defection of the Black Fleet.
The Fourth Air Corps was sent north with over one hundred and fifty zeppelins in its complement.
High Kingdom of Colorado: In the province of Unita, there is a craggy mesa, thick with juniper and dwarf pine and red-barked manzanita. Before the Franks came into the land, it had sheltered the dwellings of ancient peoples under its southern and eastern edge. Now, in a dim morning, cold, with the stars bright overhead, thousands of men crouched in the darkness. Their breath puffed white in the chill air and they bent their heads as the Sisters passed among them. Murmured prayers rose up, into the slowly spreading dawn.
As the sun rose, and the air began to warm, an ominous thud-thud-thud echoed out of the southwest. Shapes moved in the upper air, growing larger as they approached along the line of the river. Among the Coloradan knights hiding among the ancient ruins, the chief of the Sisters lowered her telescope. Her face, old and seamed by many winters, was grim. “Here they come. They finally found us.”
Around her, the captains of the Colorado host grinned. The mesa itself had been their home and fortress for nearly six years, while the cities of their realm burned under the attacks of the air pirates, while families, children, wives had perished. Each man’s eyes were hard and cold, as cold as the snow or the ice in the high mountains. “To your positions!”
The Sister slung the telescope over her back, then scrambled down a wooden ladder that plunged down through the ruins of the ‘big house’. From a distance, they seemed empty, abandoned, desolate. Within, they were filled with crates, boxes, cannon, men moving with swift purpose in the dim light. Reaching the main level, she turned right and trotted along a raised wooden walkway. A squad of heavily armed “penitentes” trotted after her. At the far end of the overhang, in the beginning of a slot canyon, stood the single round structure in this whole city.
Above, over the curve of the sandstone, there was a sudden boom of high explosive and then the rattle of muskets and rifles. A shadow passed swiftly over the walkway. The Sister did not look up. She had seen an Inuit airship before. A wash of light shadowed her face, followed by a high hissing sound. Flame jetted out of the sky, lancing into the stone buildings at the edge of the overhang. Men screamed, then there was a dull crump as ammunition boxes caught fire and exploded. Stone, brick and corpses cascaded down the sheer cliff into the valley below.
Seconds after that, a rocket battery in the ‘palace’ lit off with a shrieking roar. Smoke trails corkscrewed out into the clear air. The Ice airship blew ballast and leapt upward like a frightened colt. One of the rockets hissed past, shedding flame, spinning wildly, only feet under the rear gondola. The gunners in the open wicker cage turned their light rifled cannon. There was a quick flash of light and then the wall in front of the rocket position bloomed with smoke and dust.
The Frost Wolf commander, Mantian, landed an even thousand commandos on the mesa-top, while twelve airships circled above, spitting rockets, napathene bombs and a constant stuttering bang-bang-bang of light guns raked the woods, the ruins and anything showing signs of movement. Within minutes of their touchdown, sixteen thousand Coloradans, worked up to a berserk rage, stormed out of their hidden tunnels, firing pits and camouflaged barracks. A wild melee broke out on the ground. The Frost Wolf airships that had landed went to superheat, dumped ballast and abandoned the commandos on the ground.
Mantian’s command ship took a brace of rockets and blew apart, shedding burning debris over the surging mob below. His sub-commander managed to get six airships out of the landing zone and darted off to the north. The Coloradan knights avenged their honor more than once, hacking the bodies of the Frost Wolf left behind into very small bits.
In the kiva under the Round Tower, the old Reverend Mother let out a sigh of relief as the reports began to come in. The attack had been driven off. Sadly, none of the airships that had been hit in the attack were salvageable. Next time, she thought, next time they won’t get away…
Hideyoshi Nisei Shogunate: A cold wind blew constantly from the north, rattling the rice-paper screens and making even the rooms of the governor’s residence chill. Goweishan, daimyo of the Hideyoshi, gathered his retainers and sworn men to him. Though the efforts of the Sisters and the Shawnee seem to have broken the back of the Ghost Dancer rebellion, the old lord had endured enough. “You are your own men now,” he rasped to the dozen or so samurai gathered in his audience hall. He placed a wakisashi and a helmet on the tatami mat in front of him. “I have tendered my resignation to the Shogun and to the Emperor.”
The assembled samurai – men hardened by long years on the wide plains and by countless skirmishes, battles, campaigns, victories – were very still. They did not show the pain the old man’s words brought. He was the daimyo, they his retainers. They had only to obey.
“You will have to find your own way now, in this dark world. I am returning to the court of the Shogun with my son and those samurai that desire to follow me. I pray that the Sun Goddess watch over you all.”
In this way, with quiet words, Goweishan abandoned his domain. A month later a small fleet carried him and his household away. They reached Odakyu in Kalapuya the next year and entrusted themselves to the service of the Republic. Behind them, they left a scattering of Japanese holdings in the plains – Caddo, Crow, Kansa, Minnewaska, Ogala, Onate and Oto – that now had to fend for themselves.
Aztec Empire: The Aztec fleet continued to shuttle up and down the western coast, shipping more Bolivians, French and Granadans into the meatgrinder in the north. By raw luck, the various Aztec fleets managed to avoid being encountered by the Inuit airfleet, which was also skulking north along the coast, heading back to Alaska.
New French Empire: King Louis ordered the fleet home from far Alaska, so that it could ship more men off to fight, if such a thing was necessary. Despite the damning slight to French honor, the King ordered his commanders in the Han area to follow the orders of the (gag! spit!) Danish Empress. Lord Pepin, grumbling, abided by his sovereign’s orders, though he felt foul and unclean by doing so.
The Plain of Bones, Before Hûkar: And so we come, at last, to the battle in the heart of the Ice. The Sun Alliance’s reach had proved long, sending their armies to fight in snow, ice and freezing rain at the top of the world. Still, though they faced ever mounting numbers of the enemy, the Ice Lords were confident of victory. Their own allies were moving in the world, and more strength was flowing to their hand. Too, they took heart in the internecine quarrels of the enemy…
The Alliance forces in Han, fearing a fresh FrostWolf attack during the depths of winter, struggled to the Tanaina border and scrabbled at the frozen ground, scratching out some trenches and bunkers. However, though the winter of ’30-’31 was fierce and many died of frostbite, cold and starvation, the Ice armies did not come against them. In the pale summer of the following year, more Alliance forces marched up the pititful, rutted, muddy road from Tyonek. By April of ’32 a hundred and thirty thousand Alliance troops (Judeans, Pure Realm, Ming, Nisei, Shawnee Rangers, New French, Aztecs and the last dogged Danes) had marshaled in Han and pressed over the mountains into Tutchone.
The Frost Wolf and Inuit did not contest the passes and Shogun Akari (now in overall command of the Alliance army) ordered his forces to deploy for a measured advance upon the city and its sprawling ring of fortifications. Once down in the plains, however, the enemy was swift to engage. A brutal battle broke out on the approaches to the city and it became quickly apparent (particularly with the appearance of Tokugawa Moon Faction regiments) that the enemy had been reinforced!
Nearly 114,000 enemy troops swarmed out of the city, or held the myriad bastions, bunkers and trench-lines against the Alliance. Akari was a canny leader – while the enemy was willing to fight straight up, he would take them even at these poor odds. His airfleet swept forward, improved by the last campaign’s costly lessons, but still outnumbered and outgunned by the enemy. Only in a single ship – a ship without the standard elongated gasbag design of its fellows – did he have hope of overthrowing the enemy control of the air.
The two airfleets collided in a rattling, noisy cloud of lighter than air ships. Within minutes of coming range, ships were blossoming into flame and plunging towards the snowy dead trees below. As the aerial battle swept over the Sunlander lines, batteries of Aztec rockets lit off, shrieking up into the sky. Clouds of bitter smoke drifted across the Alliance lines. Frighteningly, there seemed to be more Ice Lord airships than in the last campaign and the tide swung swiftly against the Nisei and Aztec pilots. They broke off to the west, and the Ice airships clawed for altitude. The rocket barrage had taken its toll…
The Alliance airships fled west, low, taking advantage of covering fire from the ground. The Icelord ships leveled under the permanent cloud-cover, reaching altitude, and darted forward, seeking to gain altitude on the enemy. Then there came a high keening wail, like a demonic orchestra, and something flashed out of the clouds, arrowing through the Icelord formation. Three Inuit zeppelins in a row shuddered, then ripped end to end with violent explosions. The other airships scattered, and on one of them the Inuit captain caught sight of a ship sweeping past, deck-guns stabbing flame at his zep.
“Hard port!” He shouted into the command tube, and the Kaalit swung slowly away, props cutting at the cold air. The enemy ship vanished into the clouds again… the Inuit felt the hot grip of fear in his heat. From somewhere, the Sunlanders had conjured up a flying ship – raked hull, gun-deck, no gas-bag at all, not even with visible propellers! With a ruddy red color and flying unfamiliar flags…
Below, the surviving Nisei and Aztec airships were climbing slowly, fighting to come to grips with the enemy. On the plain, both huge armies were in full battle, regiments volleying resolutely, batteries of field guns barking smoke and fire. Despite their numbers, the Sunlanders soon found themselves ground back, taking steadily mounting losses. With the huge number of enemy airships, they were hammered from air and ground alike. Even the daring and pluck of the Nisei and Aztec pilots could not keep the enemy at bay.
Bitterly, Akari ordered a measured retreat. Despite horrific losses and constant, unrelenting attacks by ground and air, the Alliance army managed to claw its way back to Han and the primitive forward base that had been hacked from the permafrost and cold ground two years before. Strangely, the Ice Lords did not press their victory, leaving off as the Alliance army limped out of the mountains.
While his brothers were bleeding to death on the Plain of Bones, Prince Nicholas Montoya of New Granada (unaware that his patrimony had been shattered and then stolen by his cousin) had led a small force of Knights of Saint John south through the mountains and captured the Inuit port of Azoton, defeating a garrison of three times their number.
1733 - 1734 T202
Beyond The Gate of the Silver Key: A slim young woman, her hair a blaze of ebon light, walked among towering granite peaks. The valley was barren and empty, littered only with tall dark gray obelisks. Each tall stone was graven with many images and signs, but the woman ignored them, her deep brown eyes searching the ground. In time, she found what she was seeking, hiding in the shadow of a menhir. A flute of silver lay among the flat stones, glittering like rushing water. She picked it up, smiling a cold and dreadful smile. In her hands, it became more solid, losing some of its translucent quality.
"There you are!" The woman tucked it away in her dress of gold and samite. Now she turned to retrace her steps, but something caught her eye. Beyond the last of the obelisks, around a curve of the valley walls, a city nestled between twin mountains, wreathed in storm cloud. The city walls gleamed, as if with gold and pearl, and the domes and minarets and windows of that city were very fair. Almost against her will, the woman's steps turned that way and she descended a long series of stone steps to reach a vale of green woods and lithe willows.
She came to a gate, set in high gray walls, and looked upon the keystone there, seeing that it was named Akariel in the old tongue. Beyond the gate house, the streets were filled with brightly attired people, and music and the sound of laughter and running water. The woman yearned to enter, but as she made to cross the threshold, the flute at her breast trilled, a warning sound, urgent and shrill.
The woman stepped back, startled, and the bright vision of happiness was gone. Only bones, cracked skulls and the stench of rotten meat filled the streets of Thalarion. Swiftly, the woman ran away from those accursed walls. High on the Endless Stair, she turned, eyes narrowed, and looked back upon the walls of the accursed city. Something was there, like an inkstain of utter darkness on the face of the world, surrounded by a fringe of sulfur yellow, looking back at her from the parapet of the city. The woman felt a chill, colder than the Ice itself, knowing that her enemy had revealed himself.
The thing on the battlement raised a jaunty hand in greeting. Darkness boiled behind the Yellow Mask and the sky began to change, the slate gray clouds turning a sickly green.
The woman raised the flute to her lips and blew, a gentle trill, barely a breath, only the smallest noise, and wind rushed around her in a mighty gale. The storm rolled down off of the peaks of Throk, the air quaking with deep thunder and the flash of lightning. Zephyrs, swift and strong, snatched up the young woman and whirled her far far away from Dead Thalarion and into safety.
Tokugawa Japan: While the craftsmen, farriers, blacksmiths, armorers, gunsmiths and felters were grumbling in their sake about having to follow the guidelines of some damn Portugese or Swedes, the Princess was busy ordering a huge fleet east to Amerika, bulging with eager troops hot for a fight against the Ice. At the same time, the Shrine at Ise was crawling with even more troops than usual, for the investigation into the death of the priest Dun Ho had torn a scab from the festering wound of the earth. Despite the wild protests of the priests, four thousand of the Shogun's soldiers set to with shovels, picks and wheelbarrows. The entire ôinnerö shrine was torn down and the earth ripped open. After two days of digging, one of the soldier's pick struck something metallic in the earth. He knelt down, brushing away the loose soil.
Then he screamed, a long high shriek of utter terror. By the time his squad-mates reached him, he had already smashed his head in with the pick, leaving the ground soaked with blood. Something had been buried under the shrine, something truly horrific. A week of heavy work followed, before a giant pit was excavated and the loathsome, oily green shape of a winged idol - repugnant in every abominable line and angled curve and batrachian feature - was revealed to the sun. While the excavation had continued, a long road of logs had been devised, leading down to the harbor. The idol was taken onto a ship, then carried far off shore and pushed overboard, into the black depths, where the priests of Ameratsu prayed that it would remain until the end of time.
Chan Mongol Empire: Unfortunately the ice advanced, swallowing the provinces of Dalai Nor, Higgan and Helionkang! This was quite unexpected - hadn't the Pure Realm declared victory just a little bit ago? The refugee populations flooded into Harbin, Ch'in and Kutai.
Prester John: Spurred by news that their old homeland had been freed of its icy grip, John Henrich was dispatched with many hardy foresters and their families to investigate. Indeed, they found that Jungaria and Beshbalik were habitable once again. However, by the time that settlers were sent north to reclaim those provinces the Ice had surged forward, swallowing both provinces. Forays into the abandoned City of Tiers, Karakocho, were met with strange noises, frights and other haunts. The Prester decided to stay out of that echoing ruin until they had an army to root out the denizens that now dwelt there.
Judah: The Alliance called, needing heavy lifting, and Judah answered - brawny arms and all! A massive fleet was outfitted and sent to sea, bulging with men, guns, powder, supplies, every kind of material. The soldiers, stoic, brown-faced, took their issued greatcoats and heavy boots with equanimity. Not a man in that vast armada doubted that they sailed into the Last Battle, where the fate of the world would be decided. General Hao commanded this force, and he was keen to meet the enemy in battle again.
Scouts continued to watch events in the Gobi, though it was dangerous work. The tribes there were growing restless again.
The Emperor himself rode at the head of eight hundred of his Celestial Guard, all on fleet Arabians. They traveled hard for a year, finally reaching the ghost-haunted Karakocho in the spring of '34. Tesereng entered the city with his son Seteris at his side (the Imperial Prince had lost a great deal of weight during the long journey). Despite the clatter of rocks, and the moaning of the wind among the empty buildings, they descended the six tiers of the city, finally reaching the frozen lake that formed the last level of the ancient city. There a wild moaning and screeching met them, then a hideous apparition - some wild man, matted with fur, half-naked, blind, filled only with gibbering. Tesereng looked upon the sub-human shape with pity and without fear. The thing drew away from him, frightened.
Behind the Emperor, his patience at an end, Seteris drew a pistol, thumbing back the well-oiled action. The Imperial Prince had enough of his father's insanity! The plot hatched in Nanking in '32, interrupted by the summons and journey, would find its conclusion here, at the bottom of an extinct volcano at the edge of the world. The prince leveled the sights on the back of his father's head.
"Pull your trigger," Tesereng said quietly, without turning around. "And you will be master of the world."
Ignoring Seteris, the Emperor knelt, holding out his hand to the wild man, who was drooling and rolling its eyes as if mad. The thing flinched at the touch of his hand, but then its face settled and it sniffed the air.
"Leave that thing be, father!" Seteris' voice was calm and level. "Turn and face me, for you are an honorable man and deserve a warrior's death. Filth like that should not stain your fingers when you meet St. Peter at the Gates of Heaven."
Tesereng continued to ignore his youngest son, grasping the wild-man's hand and standing. Unwilling, the thing rose as well, showing its true height and strong, powerful body. Despite the matted hair, the mud, the scars, Seteris was suddenly aware that the creature was a man.
"Let go of that thing!" Seteris shouted, shifting his aim. "This thing is not worthy of you!"
"It is your brother, Yui-Yen," Tesereng said, turning, brushing back the wild hair, thick with mud and twigs. "He is alive."
"No!" Seteris' finger twitched on the trigger and there was a shockingly loud boom that rolled and echoed across the still, glassy surface of the lake. "He is dead! Dead."
Tesereng looked down in faint surprise, fingertips touching the spreading red stain on his chest. The thick linen, the furred cloak, even the tempered steel breastplate under his shirt had failed to stop the bullet. The Emperor looked up, saw the clear blue sky high above Karakocho framed by the rim of the caldera, saw herons flying against that perfect blue arc of sky. He fell to his knees, then to the ground.
Seteris, weeping, stunned, knelt by his father, hands fluttering over the ruddy face, now turning cold. The Emperor's lips moved, and the Prince bent close, catching breathy soft words:
Mother: when I die
bury me beneath your hearth
and when you make
cry for me;
and if one should ask you,
"Why the tears?"
"The firewood is damp
Seteris was still crying, clutching his father's cold body, when Yui-Yen strangled him and dragged his body to the lake. A trade ax of cheap Persian iron sufficed to cut a hole in the ice. The prince sank quickly into the cold darkness. Yui-Yen knelt by his father's body, then, and arranged it carefully. There was still wood in the ruined city, enough for a pyre that would send a coiled, snaky column of smoke to the bright blue sky. When this was done, the lost prince climbed the thousand steps up to the rim of the crater, where he found the Celestial Guard waiting. The other traitors were already in chains.
Yui-Yen looked upon the princes of the realm and said, his voice harsh from long disuse:
Already the drum sounds, the dance begins:
with beautiful flowers my heart trembles.
I, the singer, scatter flowers,
I enjoy seeing them fall.
Inside my heart the flower song burns:
already I am scattering flowers.
With these words, the Celestial Guards cut the throats of the traitor princes and generals, and their life sighed out, bright and red, upon the snowy ground. In this way, Yui-Yen became king of Judea, Celestial Emperor, and Revered Speaker of the Yaqui and the Tarahumara. The next day, the caravan began its long journey back to Pienching and the heart of the world.
Ming Chinese Empire: Under intense political pressure, the Emperor undertook a rather daring move. A considerable fleet was gathered and the vast majority of the Ming army loaded aboard. Ying-Kwon announced that he would take the field against the Ice menace himself - no longer would he be satisfied as the broker of power and gold in Asia - but he would tread the ice and snow of Amerika himself! There was considerable consternation at this announcement, for the Emperor was not exactly the most martial fellow but he would be surrounded by sixty or seventy thousand troops, so he would probably be all right.
Safavid Persia: Al'Qadir was given command of the 10th and dispatched into the howling icy wilderness north of Khwarzim to hunt down the Khirgiz scum. Unfortunately, the first thing that Al'Qadir found was that the Ice was advancing, sweeping across Khwarzim, Bokhara, Kara-Khitai and Ferghana in a black, storm-wracked wall. Hundreds of thousands of refugees were pouring south, mad with fear. The general managed to hack his way through to Khwarzim, where his force was promptly ambushed by a horde of Frost Wolf cavalry.
Despite being bereft of his expected air support (the Persian zeppelins had been grounded by the hideous weather), Al'Qadir burst out of the trap and then turned, trapping the Frost Wolf cavalry against a steep ridge. The enemy, without artillery support, was slaughtered. Al'Qadir did not bother with prisoners. When thirty or forty thousand women, children, herds and so on were found by his scouts, he descended upon the Frost Wolf camp and obliterated it, woman and child alike.
Al'Qadir continued with his hellish march, around the frozen Aral Sea, and eventually to Polovotsy in southern Russia. He found the Allied armies regrouping there, after a fruitless series of expeditions into the old Khirgiz lands. That nation seemed to have collapsed into chaos, but there was nothing like a gate to be found in its remains.
Exarchare of Trebizond: Well, the Viceroy certainly had a daring plan - he launched two expeditions into the lands previously held by the Khirgiz - one by sea in the west, and another overland from Abasigia. Both forces immediately ran into hideous weather and the advancing front of the Ice. By tremendous efforts, Princess Natasha's cavalry army in the east managed to wade through to Kuban in Alan, where that city (still Catholic) had long suffered under the iron tyranny of Khirgiz. The citizens, starving, frozen and wraith-thin, were hauled back to Cerkes in Abasigia where they got, at least, a warm meal and a cot to sleep on.
The western effort also foundered, and was reduced to a hasty evacuation of Patzinak and the city of Yeysk. Those Christian citizens were resettled in the cities of Trebizond, Amisus and Konya. Not the glorious conquest that Vladimir had imagined, but a worthy effort nonetheless.
Principate of Kiev: The Princess barely had time to laugh at the misfortunes suffered by the Trebizond - then the Ice swept across the Dneper and obliterated the provinces of Kiev and Atelzuko. Hundreds of thousands of people, horses, kine, sheep and dogs were forced to flee. Prince Vladimir, who had been campaigning further east, hurried home and his Ice-hardened veterans weighed in to help their families and friends survive in the howling wilderness.
Swedish-Russia: Though other realms had been lulled into a false sense of security by the failure of the Ice to advance for so many years, not so the Swede! Indeed, the Merrakesh Express was still running hot, with transport fleets shuttling between the slowly freezing-over Baltic and the Exarchate of Inner Afrika. To that end, various and diverse agricultural programs in Morocco succeeded in raising that region to a (3c4). St. George-the-Defender continued to expand apace (now incorporating the fortress of Jarlfastning), a fortress (Kjellfastning) was built at Terhazza to protect the salt mines, and a small town, Neymoskva, was built at Bir-el-Khazaim.
Various clergy were also busy, seeing to the spiritual salvation of the tribesmen in the mountains of Al'Hauts, which became Roman Catholic (pretty surprising, really, but there it is). Coupled with this, Emperor Solomon also re-issued (from St. George-the-Defender, where he was visiting his sister, her husband and their new baby boy) an ancient writ of toleration - now to include the diversity of Catholics (Roman and Lencan), the Hussite (pthew!), Eastern Orthodoxy, Shi'ah and Sunni Islam, Judaism, Pure Realm Buddhism and Zoroastrianism. Specific cults were also indicated as being anathema - the Krorists, the Pale Bone, the Hasturites, the Ice worshippers and so on.
In old Russia, the Ice swept forward, implacable and irresistible. The Swedish Border Service and the Ice Rangers were ready, however, and the provinces of Levedia (and Rostov), Polotsk (and Bauhaus), Latvia (and Riga), Smaland (and St. Gabrielstad), Halland (and St. Sigurd) and Agder were all evacuated in an orderly fashion. Line lines of refugees tramped south to be picked up either by the Royal Navy, or by swift-moving cavalry forces. Many of those that had fled were immediately resettled, raising Prussia to a (2c4), Masuria to a (2c4), Lithuania to a (3c4) and Skane to a (3c3). The cities of Malmo, Koningborg, Grodno, and Kherson all expanded as well.
The Imperial government (at least those portions left in the north) relocated to Grodno in Masuria, under the direct leadership of Uli Jospin, who found himself administering the realm from a field tent in a Masurian wheatfield, while snow spat out of a June sky. Among the edicts that he signed was one elevating Alexander Yeltsin to the noble title of Altmarsk and commander of all the armies of the Empire. The Senate and the Altkansler also approved the appointment of Princess Nadia and the Bey Hakim el'Rif as Princess and Prince of Afrika.
In the east, in the wasteland along the Volga, Altmarsk Yeltsin and his multinational force (now minus the Frankish Commonwealth expedition, but still quite strong) made a foray up the Volga as far as the abandoned, ghost and cannibal-haunted city of Bolgar. They found that the remains of the Khirgiz realm had collapsed utterly, leaving a howling wilderness of wandering tribes, fire-gutted Uliqqa temples, ghosts and hairy men that lived on human flesh. They found no sign of a Gate or anything even faintly organized. The fierceness of the Ice, too, grew worse and by the end of '34 they had retreated back to Polovosty, along with the refugees from Rostov and Levedia.
Poland: The Duke continued his daring command of the Polish Brigades in the east, though his sweeping raid through Patzinak, Urkel and Suvar in support of the main army found only desolation, hopelessness and sub-human things that had once been men. His letters home were reprinted in broadsheets pasted up all over Warsaw, though they had a chilling effect on morale. The Ice crept closer with each day, and the sky grew darker.
Within the Domain of the Ice: Empress Oniko and her personal guard (the Ice Devils) remained in Han, in command of the battered Alliance forces deep within the Ice. Their situation became more untenable with each passing day, as the storms and weather worsened, and news came - in fits and starts - that the Ice itself was advancing on the warm lands. This being so, Oniko did not order another excursion into Tutchone. The bloody walls of Hûkar would have to wait.
Indeed, though Judean, Persian and Ming troops were busily unloading at the beachhead in Tyonek, the pack ice in Cook Inlet was getting thicker and thicker. In the brief summer of '33, the newly arrived commanders pressed the Empress to lead them in another assault on Hûkar. She refused.
"I will not say why, my friends, but I know that we dare not go against the black city. We will wait, and we will see what transpires." These words were met by terrific grumbling and complaining, but the French, and Aztecs, and Judeans, and Ming, and all the other regiments and brigades and nations huddled in their bunkers, listening to the wind howl. Oniko herself took to the sky, boarding the swift vessel that had come so mysteriously from the east. She purposed to look upon Hûkar itself, and see what deviltry might be underway in that damned city.
Aboard swift Uraeus, accompanied by a squadron of Nisei airships, the Empress flew carefully along the glacier-locked mountains that separated Han and Tutchone. Keen eyes surveyed the blasted landscape and the desolation that men had wrought around the city. Intermittent greenish flares lit from the sides of the vast Teeth rising over the Gate. The sky was leaden, streaked with sullen viridian clouds. Oniko nodded, then put down her spyglass. She had seen enough.
"Home, captain, and speedily too. Our enemy is moving."
Jason, the captain of the sleek airship, turned, calling to his men. As he did so, his dark eyes caught sight of a gleam in the upper air, a flash among the heavy clouds. "Airships!" He shouted, pointing above. A brace of Frost Wolf ships, lean sides streaked with white and gray, burst from the clouds. Already tracers of fire leapt from their guns, falling among the Nisei escorts like burning rain. The Uraeus leapt ahead, flashing up through the air. Behind her, two Nisei zeppelins were wrapped in fierce blue flame, then shattered with a roar, and great clouds of burning gas and debris.
Oniko balanced herself on the deck, feeling the great ship rush through the air. Already the Uraeus was turning; leaping back into the battle, her deck guns hammering, long trails of cordite smoke wicking away along her hull. A Frost Wolf zeppelin took two incendiary rounds in her forward gas-bag, shuddered, fell away from Oniko's ship, then split lengthwise, vomiting flame.
Another Nisei zeppelin was burning, her engines roaring as the remaining crew sent her ramming into the side of a Frost Wolf ship. The blunt nose plowed into the stiff glassy side of the Ice zeppelin. The Frost Wolf captain was already turning away, his port engines running hot, his starboard in reverse. Nisei airmen fired their rifles into the command cabin of the Frost Wolf ship at point-blank range. Frost Wolf aerocommandos crawled on the gas-bag, pushing the Nisei ship away with long hooked poles.
Oniko felt the Uraeus shudder, then turned, a pistol in her right hand, the left tucking something bright away in her padded, fleece-lined vest. In the swirl of battle, a Frost Wolf zeppelin had managed to swing over the Uraeus and now dozens of aerocommandos were swarming down lines, leaping onto the deck of the airship. Immediately a fierce melee broke out between the gray and black-clad men and the Ice Devils, who swarmed up out of the hold with saber, pistol, repeating rifle - Oniko leveled her pistol calmly, then shot one of the Frost Wolf - this one wearing the shoulder tabs of a lieutenant - in the groin, then the face as he staggered forward. The man died, his tilted eyes staring blindly up at the encroaching clouds.
Oniko emptied her pistol calmly, as the melee surged back and forth across the deck. By the time she had emptied it, and its brother, a solid ring of Devils were around her. Captain Jason had sent the airship bolting away from the Frost Wolf zeppelin, into the clear air. After another ten minutes of struggle, the last of the attackers were pitched overboard. Both her Devils and the Iroquois Rangers that crewed the Uraeus were picked men, veterans every one. "Take us home, Captain," Oniko commanded, weary.
Prince Montoya (now an exile from his home, and ignoring the various letters and messengers that struggled up from the south, pleading for him to return home and overthrow the usurper that sat on his father's throne), and his knights set about the absolute destruction of the port of Azoton. After wrecking everything in sight, a Danish squadron under Admiral Spielmann arrived and took them off. The harbor was then filled with sunken ships.
There were rumors of fighting in Hûkar itself, but since the Alliance army was hiding across the mountains in Han, no one could say what occurred. Nisei patrol airships, lurking about the fringes of the mountains, did report smokes and fires in the sprawling gray pile of the city itself.
A Danish fleet arrived off the Alaskan coast in late '34 and found the approaches to Tyonek closed by pack ice. After several attempts by steam rams to clear the ice away failed, the convoy retired down the coast to Zhai (a port which while still abandoned, was not yet closed by the ice). They found -- from local Nisei coastwatch rangers -- that the Host of the Sun was still trapped in the north, within the Ice. There had been no cataclysmic battle. Very disappointing.
Nisei Republic: The Ice advanced and the Nisei fell back, in an orderly way, from the frontier. They left behind devastation - vast acreage clear-cut for ships, for airship frames, mines and cities gutted, fields stripped bare. The fuel of war had a cost, and the Nisei would pay it - yes, and pay it again - to bring the purpose of the Ice down in ruin. Chehalis (and Morioka), Chelan, Nez Perce (and New Osaka), Potlach (and Betai) were lost. Endless lines of refugees trudged south, through the falling snow, their heads bent in exhaustion.
Another airfleet was dispatched into the north. It arrived in Han with poor news - the Nisei captains had seen that Cook Inlet was icing up swiftly. The huge armada of ships that had been pouring into Alaskan waters was already gone, having fled south and away. The Fifth Corps commander looked around a snow-bound field, at long rows of bunkers and barracks, and saw a reinforced army - a powerful army - now cut off and isolated in the wilderness.
In the east, the Nisei cities of Elaina and Kanazawa were destroyed by a roving Ice airfleet, which then vanished into the upper Rockies, heavy with loot.
High Kingdom of Colorado: Old "Iron" Wilks was still in command at Mesa Verde, though his force of knights was now supplemented by an almost equal number of Iroquois and Aztec mercenaries, and (arriving at the tail end of '33) the Imperial Black Sky legion. The defenses of the mesa had expanded, and most of the ancient city had been rebuilt, stone by stone, to house gun batteries and ammunition bunkers. Everyone figured that the enemy would get just as bad a surprise as last time, if he came again.
But this time, when the thud-thud-thud sound of airship engines began to echo through the red-rock canyons and among the round-capped mountains, it was swiftly drowned by the howl of a truly awesome storm. The northern sky turned leaden gray, then green, then black and ice and hail and storm deluged out of the writhing sky. Wilks and his garrison were forced to ground, to cower in their bunkers and barracks, watching in horror as trees were stripped bare by cyclone winds, while tornadoes licked across the trenchlines, sucking screaming men into the sky.
The Frost Wolf attacked under the cover the storm, in bitter cold, sweeping out of the north with a fleet of thirty or more airships. This time they concentrated their attack on the cliff-city, where the winds that ripped and howled formed a pocket of clear air. Nearly a thousand aerocommandos abseiled into the cliffs and ledges, covered by the guns of the zeppelins hanging just a few hundred feet away.
A vicious melee ensued among the rocks and in the narrow canyon that led to the round tower. The Frost Wolf zeppelins poured fire into the defense, rendering the canyon a charnel house of explosions and flame. At the same time, their commandos stormed up the slot, and more descended from above. Wilks had been expecting a mad rush attack, however, and his artillery opened up from their bunkers and revetments. Frost Wolf airships blew apart, savaged by rockets and the Aztec light guns. The ground attack crested a dozen yards short of the Tower, thrown back by the fanatical resistance of the Sisters and Aztec Guards fighting in close quarters.
Aboard his flagship, Kartuq snarled in disgust - he simply did not have the troops to break through on the ground and <their> power was very weak in the immediately locale of the Tower. He ordered a retreat, and his airships crabbed away in the storm-wracked air. All of the aerocommandos on the ground were already dead, there was nothing to save.
An Aztec gunnery crew officer leaned over the sight of his field gun, adjusted the angle, then jumped back, shouting "fire!" The gun bucked in the cradle, running back hard against the sandbags at the back of the gunpit. Flame belched from the rifled tube, and three hundred yards away, the Ice airship - rising swiftly into the clouds - shuddered as the explosive round exploded in the underslung galley. In an instant the command deck was awash in blood, and Kartuq was staring down at his torso, slick with blood. As he died, he cursed the foul gods that had led him to this fruitless death. The Ice airfleet vanished into the clouds, denied again.
Shawnee Empire: Here too the Ice advanced, and Treya and her captains moved swiftly in support of the populations now driven south. In the east, Princess Valeria undertook (with the close assistance of Admiral Kelis) to evacuate Delaware and the city of Traiya, seeing that those citizens were resettled in destroyed Salamanca, far further south. The Princess was still smarting from a letter she had received from her mother, informing her of the deportment and duties expected of a princess. In the western heartland of the Empire, the provinces of Illinois and Miami were lost, along with the cities of Aztlan and New Rome.
Treya left these matters in the hands of her lieutenants, for she was quite busy, seeing that the cities of Ubar and Chiaca (and the new cities of Kohan in Taposa, and Niganta in Choctaw) were prepared for the boatloads of homeless citizens that soon found homes therein. Many of the rest were shipped into the southern countryside, where massive land-clearing efforts were underway in Muskogee, Taposa and Choctaw.
An Ice-Bound Sea, In Fog and Mist: "Lord, there - to port - there is something in the water!"
The Muklar turned, his face mostly obscured by a heavy fur coat. The craggy-faced man peered into the white haze, his head turned, listening. Distantly, echoing in the mist, he heard gulls and then, faintly, the crash of waves on a rocky shore. Out on the leaden, gray sea, something was drifting towards their ship.
"Bring it aboard," growled the Muklar, pushing back his furred hood. The air was very cold, much like their old home in the north, but it had a strange taste to it. On one of the outriggers, a pair of sailors leaned out, hands twisted in guy-ropes, and snagged the flotsam with long hooked poles. With an effort, they dragged it up, onto the broad lacquered surface of the outrigger.
Looking down from above, his face a grim mask, the Muklar nodded, hiding secret delight. The thing in the water was a branch spiked with green leaves. The sailors grinned up at him, holding it aloft, their teeth white in dark faces etched with deep green tattoos.
"Put out boats," commanded the Muklar, deep gravelly voice booming across the deck. "Each on a line back to the fleet. There is a shore near, we must find it without going aground."
A day passed, and the ships crept along the shore. The scout-boats reported back - a narrow beach of black sand, overtopped by looming massive granite cliffs. No harbor, no streams. One of the boats reported that they thought they had seen faces, staring down from high above, out of a fringe of green.
A week passed, and still the ships edged along the cliffs. The mist had not risen, nor had the sun broken through the clouds. Muttering was heard, among the lower decks where the men were packed closely. The Muklar did not despair, though all supplies were running low, and their water was nearly spent. Too, the pack ice was growing thicker - no longer just clumps and stray single bergs - but becoming almost impassible.
Three weeks passed, and still the cliff rose up on their left, high and impregnable. Then, on a gray, haze-filled day like any other, a signal flashed through the murk ahead of the ship - one of the scout boats had found something. The Muklar ordered his ship ahead, passing through the dark shapes of the fleet, shrouded in mist. The sharp beak suddenly slid out of the fog and into clear air. The Muklar pushed his way forward, into the prow. There was heat in the air, a distinct temperature.
The scout boat had hove too, just outside the billowing wall of mist. Here the cliffs rose up, higher than before, now black as slate, and glassy - the ancient vomitus of some dead volcano - but there, in the dark stone, was an opening. The Muklar looked up, up at the blue sky, and the edge of the sun, burning high above. He did not smile, but after the long weeks in the fog, he felt his heart lift.
"Summon the Uliqqa," he rasped at his sub-commanders. "I would know their will in this matter." Within moments, the priests surrounded him, their fetid smell rank in the air, their long tangled hair trailing to the polished pine decking. The Muklar looked upon them, ignoring the ranks of soldiers pressed up behind them.
"Priests - we have found our haven, I think." He pointed across the half-mile of clear water, to the black wall of the cliffs, and the slash of ebon darkness that divided them. "I am going to send boats into the passage, to see if the fleet may make the traverse, and I have already ordered an airship assembled on the deck of the Zhanshin that we might send up a man to spy over the cliffs. Does this meet with <their> approval?"
The head priest, his face haggard and withered, squinted up at the bright sky, then scowled at the Muklar. There was hatred in his expression, sour and bitter and loathly. "No, it does not!"
The priest's voice climbed towards a shriek, and he spasmed, one arm jerking in its socket. The others also shuddered and twitched, and a low moaning sound seemed to rise from their chests. "This place is far from the Ice! <They> are hidden behind the sky here! We cannot hear <their> voices - how can they guide us? We are at the uttermost end of the earth, a place not fit for man, or for our holy mission!"
"We should not enter the cliffs?" The Muklar leaned close, intent on the high priest. "<They> cannot protect us here?"
"Go back!" Hissed the Uliqqa, their voices rising as one. "North - we must go north!"
The Muklar stepped back, his face softening. He nodded to his men, crowded close behind the priests. "Then we will protect ourselves, as was done in the beginning, before my lord Kartuq made such a bargain with you and <your> masters."
With a cruel shout, for they had longed for this day, the Frost Wolf set upon the Uliqqa and hewed them down with machete and bolo and sword, and the priests wailed and screamed and perished. The scuppers of the ship - and all those like it, throughout the small fleet - rushed and gurgled with red blood and the corpses of the Uliqqa were thrown over the side. Then scout boats were sent into the dark passage, and the small zeppelin that the Zhanshin had been carrying was sent aloft.
Three days later, the Muklar watched as his ship entered the passage, sheer walls rising up on either side, the current running out, hot with steam. His men had told him of strange sights and wonders beyond; he struggled to keep from grinning in delight, for he loved new things as nothing else.
High on the cliffs, from a vantage where the trimarans far below seemed children's toys, a young man turned away from the precipice and jogged off through broad-leaf trees. A hang-glider was waiting, sitting at the head of a long green slope. He climbed into the harness, then began to run. Within moments the air had caught under the tawny wings, and he lifted away, soaring into the brilliantly blue sky. Beyond the cliffs, a vast rampart of cloud girdled the hidden land, but here the sun beat down hot, and the air was filled with thousands of jeweled birds and other winged things.
A perfect day for flying. The boy's wings caught an updraft and he soared up, spiraling into the sky. A rumpled green and brown quilt stretched away from him in all directions, down to the azure blue of the lake, and into the gray mountains.
1735 - 1736 T203
Upon the face of the Abyss: Something moved, colossal and unrelenting. A blue world, shrouded in white, turned far below. Tumbling, the visitor moved slowly, barely urged by dark flocks that clung to its rocky flank like carrion birds. Invisible atmosphere reached up, brushing against the titanic mass and peaks and valleys in the darkness were suddenly aboil with steam and melting ice. Unheard, in the void, a shrieking began, of stone and ice and ore stressed by clawing gravity and tormented by rushing winds.
The face of the visitor began to heat as it plunged into the atmosphere. Rock that had been cold for millennia began to glow. The shrieking became a howl and now, as the visitor battered its way, accelerating at a dreadful rate, through thin clouds and steadily thickening air, the mountain began to burn.
Great clouds of dark shapes - some winged, some not - began to peel away, hurrying back into the cold abyss, rising up in endless flocks, beating the aether with their long talons and tentacular limbs. Crying out in foul voices, they swarmed away from the visitor, their purpose complete.
The mountain fell, and the howl echoed across the world. Below, there was only endless white, pierced by barren mountains and ancient, glassy-green lakes.
Tokugawa Japan: Strange winds were blowing out of the north when Princess Akemi left Shikoku aboard the fleet. Despite odd lights in the sky and a groaning in the earth, the princess debarked in Ise port, where she was met by ten thousand retainers and the chancellor of the Imperial Court.
Bad news filtered out of Alaska, but a few Tokugawa ships returned. On the American coast, the island of Nootka was evacuated and the settlers there moved to the Marianas (a big change of climate, but I don't think they minded much). The city of Budokan remained, however, serving as a hub for Japanese trade on the Amerikan coast.
Chan Mongol Empire: Stunned by the renewed advance of the Ice, Jaki returned to Harbin to try and organize some kind of response.
Judah: A scouting expedition, led by lord Hiso, returned from the north to report that the lairs of the Frost Wolf were empty and abandoned. This was cause for celebration, until the northern sky was filled with terrible lights and the earth quivered and shook as if giants were dancing beneath the ground.
Poor news also filtered out of the grasslands in the north, where the Dzamin Udd tribes were quarrelling among themselves. And what of Alaska? Only intermittent dispatches arrived out of the Ice, and they bore good news and bad. Many mothers and wives would weep, waiting endlessly for their men to return home.
Dread Olathöe, Within The Ice: "Master! Master, rouse yourself! The day of days is at hand!"
The eldest of those that watch at the threshold opened his eyes. They were dark green, like excellent jade, and they looked upon the face of a young Inuto - one of the latest slaves sent up from the south. Here, so close to <Them>, the air was perfectly clear, without even the smallest trace of dust or moisture. The boy was grinning, unseeing eyes looking to the monumental ceiling.
The Eldest looked up as well, reaching out with age-old powers that had served him well when the cities of Lomar and Hyperborea were thronged with warm life, and the loathsome gnoph-keh still roamed the forests under ice-crowned Kadiphonek and Noton. He did not be believe the boy's ravings, but...
The Eldest blanched, and the tremor in his flesh woke the others from their endless sleep. For a moment there was stunned silence, then a cacophony of panic and screams and wailing lamentation. Of them all, only the Eldest did not show fear or despair.
"That is not dead," he chanted to himself, ancient claw-like hands caressing a sliver of soapstone graven with ancient, unknown signs. "which can eternal lie, and in strange aeons..."
A screaming wail filled the air, drowning out his words. A monstrous blast of searing air rushed across the city, throwing down those fortunate enough to be out of doors. Ancient pillars toppled and statues of grave-faced, bearded men shuddered and then collapsed in ruin. The sky - from horizon to horizon - was filled with a blaze of light, brighter than the dim sun shining down. The winds howled and raged, driving back the gray clouds and then, blazing hot, bigger than the entire city, the visitor crashed to earth.
The asteroid was five miles long and two wide - a tumbling cylinder wrenched from the death-caul of shattered Minerva. The ancient city was annihilated on impact, pulverized to ash and driven deep into the earth. Those tombs and adits far below the ground vanished in a cataclysm of collapsing rock and stone. Even the mighty powers of old Lomar could not resist the awesome power unleashed upon the surface. That shape that dwelt below Olathöe, shrouded in gray refulgence, that eternally burning Blue Flame that had doomed Zobnar and Hyperborea alike, was buried deep in a cascade of millions of tons of rock.
The land shook and rippled, mountains leaping as the shockwave of the blast tore through the earth. Hundreds of miles away, buildings shivered to rubble and in the crucible of Olathöe nothing stood. The kinetic energy of the asteroid transferred to the earth in a rumbling shock, and to the air in a whirlwind of fire that reduced a hundred square miles of tundra and ice to a burning, steaming wasteland.
Mammoth winds howled out from the blast, raging across the plains and hills, killing everything that might live within their reach. A vast plume of ash and smoke soared up, flooding into the upper atmosphere and pluming out like a grotesque, colossal mushroom. The dust cloud lit with lightning, roaring up from the blast, and the aurora flared awake, shining down across the whole of the northern hemisphere like a beacon of doom.
The earth shook, and the kingdoms of man trembled.
Java: No word returned from the south, where the Raj of Mendung had taken a squadron in search of the boreal pole. Sadly, everyone assumed that the explorers had perished of bad biscuit - since they had been forced to take on supplies in Maori lands and everyone knew what bad cooks they were.
A tower of bronze in old Ugarit: A sphere of crystal trembled, signaling mighty destruction. In the constant darkness surrounding the sphere, a figure stirred. Something inhuman leaned over the crystal, watching visions and phantasms ripple in its depths. Only scenes of destruction and death met its gaze. For a moment, the figure exulted - the stroke had gone true! - then wariness overcame the brief glow of victory. What is this?
There was a flicker of sensation, as if something looked in upon the figure and the darkness, then looked away again.
"That child with the flute." The dark shape hissed in speculation. "She grows bold. How delightful!"
A hand, black as pitch, brushed over the surface of the crystal and the sphere grew dark. The creature's attention was turned elsewhere, and so it did not notice that the sphere wobbled for a moment on the glyph-carved tabled and then, suddenly and unaccountably, shivered and turned gray, as if ash had precipitated out of the air across its smooth surface.
Safavid Persia: Reeling at the loss of their northern littoral, the Persians dug in and did what they did best - spend money! Vast mobs of refugees were settled in the cities of Basra, Ormuz, Al-Harkam, Abas, Kuwait City, Cem, Nasariyah, and Semnan. A new city, Shankar, was founded in Ahvaz. Those hapless dispossessed that still remained were settled in the Kerman countryside.
Jehan, meanwhile, was grappling with moving the entire government - which was of almost Swedish proportions - to Semnan, where he hoped it would be safe from the Ice. His son Nusayr, recently come of age, was also dragooned into this monumental undertaking. Ah, for the lazy life of a prince, helping old ladies crawl through the snow while wolves howl.
Near Old Bolgar, Siberia: Old Firdik woke with a start, clutching for his flintlock. An odd rumbling sound filled the air and the old hide yurt was dancing on its strakes like a crazy chicken. Firdik jammed his feet into hide boots and rolled out into the cold night. The first thing he saw was the lake rippling and shaking, chunks of ice bigger than the cathedral in Sarai jouncing up and down. Firdik started running for the shore, icy air biting at his exposed face. His breath shot to steam in his nostrils, then froze in the thick hairs of his beard.
Gasping, lungs burning, he threw himself from the surface of the lake just as - with a tumultuous grinding sound - the surface cracked and split and the old yurt tilted up and was swallowed by the black waters. The hunter rolled over, clutching the rifle to his breast.
That was when his saw the airship ghost overhead, running lights glowing red in the brittle air. The thump-thump-thump of the engines was lost in the creaking sound echoing from the land. The earthquake passed quickly, leaving trees canted at all angles and the lake boiling and bubbling.
Firdik cursed, then drew a pipe from his jacket pocket. At least he had some leaf left in the other pocket. He puffed for a moment, cradling a spark, then blew out a long white cloud into the darkness. The weather is getting better, he thought. Hm. I need a new tent.
Principate of Kiev: Gripped by the same malaise afflicting their neighbors to the south, the Kievians battled gamely on, erecting a series of forts in Kiev province and Atelzuko out upon the Ice. General Kalganov was set to patrol from these isolated outposts with five thousand (or so) Cossacks. Packs of wolves and men not much better than wolves were preying on the farmsteads and little villages. Kalganov found it a cruel business, this hunting starving men. Rumors of cannibalism were frequent among the troops, though little evidence was found.
Swedish-Russia: Evacuations continued in the north, where Musa, Daugava and Courland were abandoned (though the Ice did not advance into those provinces), along with the town of Sarku. Despite persistent questioning by Polish reporters, the Crown Regent continued to maintain that peaceful relations maintained between Sweden, Libya and the Danish Empire.
Great Britain: Certain ports in the Outer Islands saw extensive activity in '35 as airships of all sizes and national origins converged there in preparation for an expedition over the pole. In April, as soon as the Swedish and Occitanian squadrons had finished topping off their kerosene tanks, the entire armada took to the sky. In the lead ship, the Occitanian Baraza-class zeppelin Fuego de Christo, the Empress Teresa brooded, wrapped in heavy furs, glittering eyes watching the horizon. Almost three hundred aircraft lifted off from Lofloten into the bitterly cold morning air, then turned north by northeast.
Empire of Occitania: Still wearing sable in mourning for her husband, Empress Teresa continued to bend her entire will to the destruction of the Ice. A great airfleet was constructed in the Lisbon Air Yards, not far from a massive project underway to expand the port facilities of the city (this was the great harbor). When sufficient craft had been constructed, Teresa took them north herself, aiming to join equal flotillas of English and Swedish flyers.
The Duchy of the Isles: "A toast, my friends," said the tall, elegantly dressed man. He turned to the men sitting in the exclusive rooms above the Drake and Gander in Valetia. "To her Empress, Aya, Queen of the Isles!"
The others - a cross-section of the well-to-do and the powerful in the island city - raised their glasses as well, lamplight shining in the dusky red port. The man smoothed his mustaches and put down the cup. "Now," he began, "let us talk of acquiring real power."
The glass - imported English crystal, from the small town of Waterford - suddenly shivered and rang out a single clear note. Everyone turned, surprised, and watched in amazement as the goblet shimmed and danced and then pitched off of the table and shattered on the floor into a cloud of sparkling bright fragments.
The tall man with the mustaches stared down at the glass, then he shuddered himself. One of the others leapt to his feet, attempting to give assistance. It was too late. The man trembled from head to toe, his dark eyes staring into some unguessable abyss, and then he - like the goblet - cracked and shattered and dissolved into a yellowish dust scattered on the Ming carpets.
Everyone stared in horror, speechless. At last, one of them, a wiry fellow with a long nose stepped forward and ran his fingers through the dust on the floor. Bertocchi looked up, amused, blue-gray eyes sparkling behind small spectacles.
"Essential salts," he said, almost grinning.
Editor's Note: cf The Case of Charles Dexter Ward by HP Lovecraft. The man was apparently an agent raised from the dead by an Ice power.
Over The Ice, North by Northeast: The steady rumbling of the big Alcazar-Nagant engines had lulled Teresa almost to sleep. Wrapped in furs, her raven hair hidden under an enormous Siberian mink hat, only the Empress-Regent's eyes were visible. She was squeezed into the corner of the flight bridge of the Toledo, strapped in with leather safety belts. The airship flew steadily north and east, riding at the center of a cloud of slightly smaller Chevalier-class zeppelins. On either wing, lines of Swedish and English airships also advanced. Already the sun was rising, swimming up over the curved eastern rim of the world. Pale salmon sunlight struck through the glass windows of the Toledo, illuminating the faces of the crew.
At such height, every man was bundled up in heavy woolens, their breath frosting white in the air. Most were dozing. The flight had been uneventful. None of them noticed a brilliant flash to the north, as if the sun had reflected suddenly from an enormous mirror.
Teresa's eyes snapped open and she jerked violently against the restraints. She gulped, then shouted "Captain! Turn us about. Now!" Her hands were busy with the buckles.
The flight captain turned, astonished, and found himself facing the business end of a Swedish-made Tupolev revolver. The Empress' brilliant sapphire eyes burned over the iron sight. "Signal the fleet - reverse course, all speed and run south south-west."
The muzzle of the revolver jammed into his left eye socket, drawing a gasp of pain, and the sound of the hammer ratcheting back. "Signal the fleet," she bit out. "Or we are all dead."
The captain nodded weakly, and the pistol drew back.
Within minutes, the air armada - crammed with para-marines and every kind of explosive device - was swinging around in a huge curve. Signal lights flashed from the Swedish and English command ships, but Teresa explained nothing. Her only concern was speed, speed south and away.
Forty-five minutes after the mysterious flash, with the air fleet running south, engines hot, consuming kerosene at an enormous rate, the shockwave belled through the upper air. The airships bucked and heaved, and some suffered structural failure, engines tearing lose, gas-cells rupturing, ships and crews plunging suddenly to an agonizing death on the ice-pack so far below. More were blown off course, scattered to the four directions.
Teresa and the Toledo rode out the sky-storm, though the rush of hot air made them lose tremendous altitude as the atmosphere around them thinned and the lift-gas lost differential. Below, the ice on the northern sea cracked and groaned, making such a noise that it could be heard even at a thousand feet.
A storm followed, rolling up over the rim of the world, and then the fleet was truly scattered, each ship lost and alone amid boiling black clouds and jagged lightning. The Toledo struggled on, one of her four huge engines out, two others running too hot. Crewmen struggled on the bracings, trying to fix the damaged engine. More than one was torn loose by the storm winds and vanished, screaming, into the abyssal night.
But always, the Toldeo fought her way south, through the driving hot rain.
Dread Hûkar, On the Plain of Bones: Amid blowing snow and the usual dreadful temperatures, the Aztecs kicked of the campaigning season in March of '35 with a foray across the mountains into Tutchone. Legion legions, Sword of Empire, Jaguar and the Aichi militia, made a raid in force across the Bulik pass into the plains before Hûkar. They were supported by some light Nisei aircover. Unfortunately, a powerful Inuit force was lurking beyond the mountains, waitingà in April the Inuit pounced and, supported by the baleful influence of their great idols, smashed the Aztec raid. One Nisei zeppelin, the Washo, managed to escape.
Undaunted, the Nisei commanders ordered Phase 2 of Frosty Delight to commence and the main Alliance host poured across into Tutchone. The Inuit forces were forced to give battle between the mountains and Hûkar. The Ice tribesmen fought without fear, relying upon the awesome power of their gods to match the huge numbers of the Alliance army.
Unfortunately, the Uraeus was in flight above the battlefield, and on her deck - ice-wind lashing her hair, the White Crow was flying. Oniko of Denmark had learned some secrets during her terrible journeys in the Ice, and now, looking down upon the battle-lines of the Inuit, seeing the flickering corona glow around their loathsome idols and feeling the fear beating upon her like a wave, she acted. An ancient flute, ivory carved and ringed with glyphs, rose to her lips and - as Uraeus swept and darted, guns hammering, fire gouting from her cannon - the Empress played a dirge for the Inuit. Under the piercing effect of the piccolo, first one, then two, then all four of the winged idols shattered, collapsing in ruin.
Bereft of their totems, the Inuit broke in panic and the Alliance army stormed over their lines, wreaking dreadful slaughter. Now Oniko turned her sights upon dreadful Hûkar itself, and the looming teeth of the Gate. Below her, Inuit survivors streamed across the plain, fleeing for shelter.
There was no reprieve for them there, though. By this time the Sunlanders had air supremacy and rained hell upon the hapless wounded Inuit cowering in Hûkar, exterminating the Inuit Artillery batteries, and reducing the mostly abandoned city to a checkerboard of rubble and burning buildings (a la Berlin, 1945). After aerial surveillance revealed the disorder of the remaining Inuit, Sunlander ground troops entered Hûkar in search of the Inuit commanders and any remaining devices. Once in heavy artillery range of the Gate of the Winds, heavy Judean rocket and long-gun batteries opened up a Fosters size can of whupass on the three towers, and destroyed it one spire at a time. The collapse of the Gate set off a chain reaction of hidden explosives throughout the city, and within minutes Hûkar contained not a single structure taller than one of Oniko's personal guard. The Sunlander troops in the city were decimated by the charnel house of flying debris and noxious atmosphere. Having found the remains of what they (correctly) presumed to be the Inuit King Ti'N'Gaut, they destroyed the last winged idol and returned to Han to recouperate.
With most of the wounded healed after three months of huddling in their bunkers in Han fighting, the Alliance commanders were hopeful that they had, at last won. At least the Inuit would no longer be a threat. Then the northern horizon lit with a sullen flash, followed by vast, rushing winds and then the earth heaved and convulsed like a mad thing. Earthquakes rocked the mountains, causing massive avalanches and thousands of men were buried alive in their bunkers as the earth itself shifted on its foundations.
Alliance naval forces prowling the edge of the ice-pack in Alaskan seas did not escape the effects of the Cataclysm at Olathöe either. Tidal waves smashed many ships to kindling and drove others against a barren and inhospitable shore.
By April of '36 the surviving Sunlander forces managed to march south to the coast and pile into what's left of the fleets. With a sigh of relief, everyone set sail for warmer climes. After arriving in the Nisei city of Odakyu the soldiers (as well as the citizens that had survived the tidal waves and earthquakes) celebrated riotously for weeks. The entire Nisei stock of rice beer and wine was exhausted, but no one cared. Thus endeth the Ice War.
Nisei Republic: The northwest continued to smoke and fume and echo with the sound of axes and water-powered saws. Dozens more airships were produced in the Nippon Airship Corporation yards, and as before, they flew away to the north with raw crews running on hatred of the Ice and honorable intentions. The economy continued to sputter along, fueled by Chinese and Aztec gold.
The first intimation of what had transpired in the north came when the entire land rumbled and shook, and various mountains in the old heartland of the Republic vomited flame and lava and plumes of gas and ash. The cities of Odakyu, Yurok and Nootka were heavily damaged by fire and tidal wave. The town of Anataya was completely destroyed.
Yet, despite all this the daitoryo managed to survive and return to Odakyu with most of the air-fleet intact and this, of all things, was a true miracle. So many young men had gone north to die in the Ice Nisei would never forget. Never.
High Kingdom of Colorado: Still a little shell-shocked by the invasion of the Arapaho, king Fredrik still hewed to his duty - protect the Tower! To this end, he hired several regiments of mercenaries (despite the cheapness of the Aztecs, who promised gold, yet sent nothing!) and built more fortifications around the site on Green Mesa, where nearly a military city had grown up.
Both Jacob Duplain and Iron Wilkes were commended for their bravery in the defense of the Tower, and awarded the Colorado Cross in recognition of this.
Shawnee Empire: The Empress remained in the field, with her beloved troops, campaigning in Iowa in '35 and obliterating the Ice tribes still lurking about there. The province retained its suspect religious status, at least for the moment.
Finally, in the spring of '36, much to everyone's surprise, a powerful Frost Wolf army (18,000 men or so) lunged out of the Ice and into Michigamea province. Even more shocking, the invaders appeared to be home island Japanese! Luckily for the Shawnee, Lord Ocelot and General Farspear happened to be encamped in Michigamea with nearly 22,000 men of their own. A brisk encounter between screening cavalry at Three Rivers (in May, '36) blew up into a full-fledged battle. After a punishing artillery exchange, disjointed melees between the infantry corps and a swift flanking maneuver by the Shawnee, the Japanese were driven back into Muskegon.
Later questioning of captured Japanese troops found that the enemy were commanded by no less than the exiled Moon Faction Tokugawa shogun, Kusagi. Apparently his masters had cut him loose, and he was adrift in the land, hoping to carve out a new realm for himself.
Somewhere Within The Ice: A barren mountainside lay in gloomy darkness, the sky covered by unceasing clouds. The fallen snow and ice lay heavy on the ground, disguising with their white cloak the shape of broken guns and dead horses. Even the corpses of soldiers slain in the last battles on the Plain of Bones were hidden, covered with an ivory mantle. No animal moved, no bird called.
The wind, however, picked up as the hidden sun mounted higher and higher into the sky, and the clouds began to scud to the south, bunching and rolling. The snow drifted, tugged this way and that by the zephyrs of the upper air. In time, the face of a dead Nisei airman was revealed, his sightless eyes gazing up at the rushing gray clouds. Perfectly frozen, his face was peaceful, for he had fallen in honorable battle.
The wind continued, and the clouds thinned, draw this way and that and then, as the distant sun touched the mountaintops to the west, they parted. A long golden gleam of light fell across the land, sparkling and shimmering among the icy peaks. The setting sun briefly illuminated the face of the airman. Then darkness fell - the true darkness of a late summer night - and the land slept.
In a den, hidden below a dozen feet of snow, a pine marten slept, curled up, furry tail across a black nose. Its mate slept beside him, warm and comforting and her stomach had grown fat with their kits, who would be born when spring touched the land again.