My dearest people, citizens of the Empire. Alas do we stand at the brink of a precipice...
We stare, defiant, in to the maw of an abyss; the jaws of oblivion. The darkness lies
before us; The darkness of Total War. We must go to fight once again.
And, like we have in the past, we shall prevail.
The full moon cast its baleful gaze on to the forest below, bathing all it surveyed in a menacing
half-light. It was utterly silent. There was no wind whistling among the branches of the tall
pines, no owls screeching in the night. There was no movement in the shrubs and weeds that
blanketed the forest floor, no nocturnal creatures blinked up in to the silver light... There was
nothing but the silence, and the watchful eye of the moon above.
But the air was oppressive. Thrumming, it seemed, with anticipation; it was waiting for something.
Something horrible; something inevitable.
It began suddenly. From the shadows of the trees, a man stepped forward in to the light of the moon.
He was clothed all in black, hooded and cloaked. He was silent as he moved lithely, cat-like, in to the
centre of a clearing. His body was coiled and tense; he felt trapped in these woods. Mile upon
mile of towering pine constantly staring down at him, imprisoning him in the gloom. But in the clearing
he remained, for he was waiting.
A few moments passed when a piercing sound emerged from the near-distance. The figure reached up
to his mouth and, cupping his hands, he perfectly emulated the noise. The darkness around him seemed
to press in further, intrigued by this break in the precious silence.
Others began to emerge from shadow. All were similarly garbed; all in black, bearing the same hood
and cloak of their predecessor. Ten, at first, appeared, followed then by another group.
Eventually, the clearing was filled with three-score men or more. They did not speak at first; merely
nodding to one another in greeting. The mood in the clearing was pensive. All in attendance were
quiet, some shuffling their feet. The nervous tension was palpable.
They were all, to the man, armed similarly. Short, horned bows were held in readiness, whilst some
brandished pairs of wicked-looking daggers. These were men under no illusions: they were all
dangerous - dangerous men in dangerous company.
When all had settled, one of their number stepped forward in to the centre of the throng. He turned
this way and that, gazing at all the determined faces.
"I thank you all for coming when called," he said, his voice carrying despite the words spoken barely
above a whisper, "I do not ask you this lightly, for many here are simple men, some are men with
responsibilities, men with important lives. Some of you are merchants, some are hunters. Some have
lands and titles beyond these trees. Some, admittedly, have less... reputable professions," there was
a brief snigger in the clearing, "however, here we all stand, together, in defiance of a tyrannical rule.
A rule that promotes malice, cruelty and bigotry amongst its populace. Clearly, I speak of the Order."
The men remained silent, but all had tensed further; now with anger. "All my life have I fought, in
secret, against this blight on our land, as have all of you. We are the last defence against the
stagnation - the ruination - that the Order has forced upon our people. Our people - once a proud
race of artificers, tradesmen, philosophers and artists - has withered in to a parody of itself. To this I say: no more."
The speaker gazed around him, watching all the faces of the men, their attention focused entirely
on his words. "An artefact of vast significance has recently come in to my possession, procured by
two of our number from the depths of the Iron Temple... at great cost." From the deep folds of his
cloak, the speaker pulled a book, old and battered, the thick leather cover cracked in places. He
held it aloft for all to see, some eyes widened in astonishment. "Some of you may know this book, the
rest have undoubtedly heard stories of it, rumours and whispers in darkened alleys. What I hold in my
hand is the Compendium... the last surviving collection of ideologies, inventions and theories that pre-dates
the Order and its grand Purge. With this book, gentlemen, we have our chance."
As abruptly as he stopped speaking, the others began, chattering excitedly to one-another, weapons forgotten
at their sides. Many came to the speaker, clapping him on the back, offering words of awe and disbelief.
However, one voice rose above the tumult, deep and resonant: "What exactly will you do, Lord Graele?" a large
man stepped forward, "what makes you think, even with this tattered old relic, that we could possibly defeat
the Order and its inquisitors?" A few among the throng had quietened down, their innermost thoughts given voice.
"We are but a few men. A few against untold thousands. We can't win this war."
They all turned to Graele, seeking some reassurance, a shred of hope from he that started everything. But he remained silent.