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…
The Danish Empire: 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.”
Manchu Mongol Empire: Though the Emperor eyed them with suspicion, the Pure Realm clergy continued to make steady, patient inroads into influencing and directing the religious life of his people. This was made slightly easier by the Jade-sect priests being involved in a massive missionary effort in the far north, on the Dzungur Coast, where the Manchu priests found – to their surprise – a huge number of Japanese and Ming and Pacific Trust troops, engineers, laborers and ships involved in tearing the old Frost Wolf city of Drakenroost apart and packing it into crates for shipment.
“Hm,” old priest Ju-ho said, as a Japanese squad charged towards him with a net, “methinks we’re not supposed to see all… this. Oof!”
1751 - 1752 T211
Tokugawa Japan: Ferried by the fleet, and protected by an enormous number of troops, waves of settlers returned to Amur and began clearing new growth and snow from the farms and lumbering operations abandoned with the onset of the Ice. Even further north, an arrangement was reached with Aeronautical Research & Fabrication - wherein control of Dzungur Coast was returned to the Company until such time as they could reconstitute the city of Drakenroost to normal operation.
1753 - 1754 T212
Aeronautical Research & Fabrication: Far, far in the east, Company laborers were hard at work rebuilding the ruined Ice-city of Drakenroost as the new, modern, Sun-turned city of Keninhei.
1759 – 1760 T215
Tokugawa Japan: To the south-west, meantime, General Itichi had marched quite an enormous Japanese army up the coast from Amur and into Dzungur Coast. Once arrived at Drakenroost, the samurai embarked on a vicious and thorough campaign of religious extermination – the remaining Ice tribesmen in the province, plus any Buddhist, had to go! Shockingly (as Itichi was not exactly the brightest field commander Nippon had ever produced – prince Shinturo, one of his junior commanders, showed admirable skill, however) the army performed adequately in the field, routing the bands of tribesmen, flushing out Buddhists from under rock and tree and establishing worship of the Shinto deities throughout the land.