Gyre Straits, Come the Fleet
Prince Edain Valardin, hearing that Marque Jacque Lyonesse has never been formally knighted, decides to remedy that on the spot. Those who gather in Stormwall, there on the eve of battle, come to see him take formal oath. Battlefield knights are rare in times of peace, but this is no time of peace. As the ships sail, and people say goodbye to their loved ones, as those who fight make final preparations and checks on their armor and weapons, as they take a last drink or have a last bite to eat - they gather too, to witness this.
Knightings are special, that moment when someone makes that oath - to honor. To chivalry. To stand between the darkness and those who cannot defend themselves. Knights gather in a ring around the Valardin, knights from all over the Compact. Godsworn Templars, Knights of Valardin, Swords of their Houses. From all over the Compact they have gathered to meet the enemy and now they stand in circle upon circle outward, bearing witness. Perhaps this is the last knighting they will ever witness. Perhaps this is the only day young Jacque will ever be a knight. But for this one moment together they stand, brothers and sisters in arms. Together they are prepared, and Jacque becomes the symbol of their rededicated vows to honor and truth. And as the ships draw ever closer they ready, the newest knight standing tall among them.
But no pressure.
For many military thinkers in the Compact, the strategy used by the pirate king called the Gyre made little sense. If he had as overwhelming force as was claimed, why the glacial pace in attacking? Why the slow approach, rather than quick strikes with force upon near helpless settlements and force the Compact to reach on his terms, rather than slowly approaching and letting the Compact mass forces? But if he is as mad as some claimed, who can say? And so at House Crovane's ducal holding of Stormwall, the largest gathering of military force for the Compact since the Crownbreaker Wars is seen, with nearly virtually all of the Northlands rallying to their eastern most ducal vassal. Tens of thousand of northmen line the beaches and walls of Stormwall, and they aren't alone. Tens of thousands of House Grayson and House Valardin and all their bannermen stand with them, and tens of thousands of templars and knights of solace of the Faith militant stand as well. Meanwhile, near the Lycene city-state of Setarco, the largest gathering of Compact naval forces since House Marin's was destroyed in the Reckoning have gathered to smash one of the three fleets of the Gyre. In the face of that, some thought perhaps the Gyre would rethink his strategy and turn away.
At Stormwall, hundreds upon hundreds of ships, each swarming with figures, have appeared on the horizon. Many of the ships oddly look like they shouldn't even be seaworthy. Some looking more like wrecks dredged up from the depths, but sail on they do. They are coming.
At Stormwall, as the enemy is sighted on the horizon, flashes of lightning are seen in the sky, and rain begins to fall as one of the city's namesake storms begins to swell. Many of the soldiers wrap cloaks around themselves and swear under their breaths, but through the slow approach, at least a few of the enemy vessels are seen to capsize. Good fortune, that.
At Stormwall, fire fills the night sky despite the swirling rain, as burning pitch is launched from the Port of Stormwall's defensive trebuchets towards the approaching ships upon the order of Princess Marian Redrain. Enemy ships are ablaze, but fire rains down in return, and Prince Edain Valardin and Prince Jericho Valardin are seen on the beach shepharding particularly short sighted infantry away from falling boulders. In their defense, many protest that full helms and night aren't a great combination for avoiding burning rocks. Some enemy ships are lost, and an excellent shot from a trebuchet fired by Lady Emily Deepwood has one ship capsize and slow the advance into the port, but hundreds still come on, and soon the massive enemy fleet will be in range to attempt to land on the beach. Enemy fire lands on the port, and word is Marquis Malesh Stonewood has been badly hurt.
Outside Setarco no storm comes, but on the horizon the darkening of the sky from the masts of the ships that make up Maelstrom's End are visible even from the Silken City. As the people send prayers of hope and strength from the city, hundreds of ships approach the Compact's fleet.
At Stormwall, thousands of the enemy are making landfalla at the beach, while a smaller force is trying for the port. The enemy does something unexpected, and starts to rain fire down upon the beach, irregardless of their own troops being engaged in the fighting.
At Stormwall, hundreds of the enemy vessels have tried to land simultaneously, and while Valardin's cavalry charge has cut down many on the beach, tens of thousands are forming up ranks miles down the shoreline and starting to march towards Stormwall. The enemy continues to try to assault the port, and rains down fire upon the defender as Stormwall's trebuchets continue to claim losses. But soon, the land bombardments will be a distraction compared to the massive clash of troops on the beach.
Outside Setarco, the volley of arrows slows as the fleets crash together, and Captain Ariella Igniseri is the first injured among the Compact's forces. But she breaks off the arrow with determination and keeps shouting orders, undeterred. As the fleets sail even closer, Admiral Wash Kennex rams one of the invading fleet in a perfect maneuver, sinking it even as a ship of Southport sinks beneath the waves. It's early in the naval battle yet, still too close to tell who might win.
The storm becomes noticeably more violent during the battle, wind and rain battering several of the enemy ships. Suddenly, the darkened sky becomes blindingly bright as lightning strikes several of the ships which had been raining fire upon the shore. Not a single bolt - but for several seconds, lightning strikes again and again, and the enemy vessels catch fire, and then explode in a cataclysm of flame, fury, and shattered wood. Immediately after that, it appears that the enemy fleet begins to withdraw.
It's the crash of battle outside Setarco, when the fleets drive together, that sees the first hard losses. Five ships go down in that first pass, but six of the enemy's are sunk. To an accountant, this sort of parity means the Compact will win. But at what grave cost? The sound of sailors sinking into the depths is covered by the clash of battle above the waves.
At Stormwall, the beaches are clear of Compact forces after they stage a successful withdraw, with most of the infantry filling the city and manning the gates. Panic from the handful of civilians that had thus far refused to evac was a problem, but Count Thesarin Riven managed to restore order and get them out of the way of the incoming troops, while a short and brutal battle at the docks secured that from the last attacking by ship. But now a hundred thousand of the Gyre's troops are attempting to scale the city, and ladders are being brought up by the thousands.
At Stormwall, more and more ladders go up, though it seems that the entire enemy line falters with Violet of the Crimson Blades shoots at -something- in the darkness that dissolves when an arrow strikes it. Still, it's but a momentary distraction, as the Gyre's forces are trying to swarm the walls in ever increasing numbers as pike men and archers desperately try to batter them down.
At Setarco, the battle is well and truly joined - the captains and admirals of various fleets all working together to deliver what they hope to be a rout to the Gyre's Fleet. And it's working, though the lookouts at Setarco can see ships of the Compact sinking into the waves, more of the Gyre's fleet are sinking than the Compact's. So far. Still, there are many wounded, among them Prince Jasher Thrax - bleeding and injured still he stands, doggedly determined to stand against the pretender-king of the Mourning Isles.
At Stormwall, a brutal push by the enemy against the city's walls is beaten back by a valiant rally by Lord Michael Bisland, who leads the defenders in a counter push that shoves off the walls and temporarily forces the ladders off all the walls. Thousands of dead litter the base of the walls below the city, but tens of thousands remain, with the ladders already being raised ontop of their mounting dead.
The fighting at Stormwall reaches a fevered pitch, with tens of thousands of the attackers lying dead at the foot of the walls but most now streaming into the city. The Compact forces have fought street by bloody street but have been driven from the port, and have fallen back to the Crovane castle as a last bastion before potentially surrendering the city entirely.
The waves wash over the rapidly sinking fleet at Setarco. The Compact fleet has lost some ships, true - but not anywhere close to the numbers of the Gyre's fleet. No, this was a resounding victory for the Compact who chose to stand together to guard Setarco. As the Compact carries the day, High Admiral Victus shouts loudly to the open sea, "You come at us swinging Marin, you fuckin' best do better than this. The Isles didn't budge and neither will this Compact. The Compact stands, united and unbowed. Next time," he says with a sneer as the sharks circle below, "bring friends."
From the passageway near the tunnels leading to Stormwall, a force of cavalry has managed to hold off a terrible attack, and those near would swear they heard something that sounded like the shattering of a mirror. The valiant defense was not without cost, as Lady Eirlys Greenmarch gave her life to protect Dame Esoka Greenblood.
The city of Stormwall seemed lost, as the defenders were forced back to the castle of House Crovane that stood at the west of the city, with its gate to the mountain passes. Reinforced by all the defenders, the forces of the gyre swarmed ever closer, and the defenders bleed them for each step, as they drew deeper and deeper into the city until they sieged the castle itself. And then, the Compact forces road out the west, abandoning the city of Stormwall... as it started to blaze. Incendaries everywhere throughout the city went up, while tens of thousands of the Gyre's minions were trying to navigate the confusing castle and the narrow roads. They died burning by the thousands and thousands, as Stormwall blazed withe a light that could be seen for miles away, and it's said the ash could be detected in the air from as far away as Old Oak. Thousands of the gyre's soldiers tried to hop the walls, only to be ridden down and cut down by the Valardin cavalry waiting in the passes. The city of stormwall was burned to the ground, but of the Gyre's forces that landed, they were killed To The Last.
Still, at least a significant portion of that fleet withdrew, and questions remained, what happened to Darkwater Watch?
The bodycount of the Battle of Stormwall is still being counted, but one loss is particularly painful for the Faith of the Pantheon. Armel, the Grandmaster of the Knights of Solace, was among the fallen. He was killed holding the line at the Battle of the Port, while he and a handful of other Knights of Solace bought time for others to evacuate back to the Crovane Castle.
At some point after the Naval Battle at Setarco, Sebastian and Juliana Pravus wash up on the shores of Setarco there, along with Nisaa Whisper. No one really knows how they got there or why they were there, and they don't seem to be able to remember either. But the one thing they do remember is that Abbas Crownsworn died at sea during the recent battle.
From Setarco the lull is interrupted by the approach by a huge monster, tentacled with blue-black, leathery skin. And so many eyes and so very many sharp teeth. They seemed to be seeking out the Choir of Sorrel, Tikva, and Luctia who sing from the Tower but, guarded by Lord Ian Kennex and watched over by Archlector Madeleine, the monsters could not find their prey. And as they struggled to defend the Choir the group tasked with monster hunting by Prince-Consort Talen arrived - Shard, Theron, Corban, Serafine, Adalyn, Leta, Elyse, and Regla - along with a man in a skull mask saved the day, sending the algae-covered monster, and then the tentacle monster it birthed, and then the monster vomited forth along with a stone tablet. The monsters seemed thoroughly interested in killing the Choir, but they were prevented and so the small team carried the day. For now, Setarco lapses into quiet once more - but an uneasy sort of peace, and the sneaking suspicion that there are more than just ships heading their way.
At Setarco, the news from the navy is grim. What was one fleet has split into four prongs, and three are being engaged by Compact forces, but the fourth seems to be sending its crews at the gates of Setarco, making an end run around the port to come from the side of land. Meanwhile, forces at the gates seem to be dealing with monsters. Half the Valardin cavalry is dead, having faced and with much difficulty mowed down a pack of the same creatures that killed Lord Killian and Zhayla, Sword of Deepwood. Word has is that Duke Cristoph Laurent led the valiant charge, but he has been taken to the Mercies in critical condition, barely clinging to life.
On the water, the naval defense of Setarco is having a rough day. Having dispatched one fleet, now they find themselves confronted by an even bigger one. And while the earlier fleet was haughty and dismissive, relying on sheer numbers to carry the day (which didn't work out at all) this one split into four smaller fleets. The Compact's fleets moved to engage three of them, while the fourth one sailed around Setarco to make landfall and attack the city by land rather than brave the port defenses.
The battle itself was brutal, harder than the last. The burden of competence in battle is your enemy ceases to underestimate you. And even from the towers at Setarco, through spyglasses they see the Red Serpent start to sink.
And then it lurches forward somehow, straight into the center of one of the Gyre's sub-fleets and... explodes. Fire just belches out of the sinking ship, engulfing the Gyre's fleets, and some of the Compact with it. The crew of the Red Serpent, meanwhile, has been rescued by Princess Caelis Valardin (which forces gossips to wonder whether her husband is ever going to forgive her for /that/) just as a... glass... shark.... leaps out of the water? The rest of the report goes unread in the square, and unpropagated, because someone, somewhere, has probably made some bizarre error while transferring actual events to paper to be spread among the people of the Compact. And everything is likely just fine. Or well - there are still pirate fleets out there that the Compact is fighting. The battle isn't over yet. And the gates of Setarco are still being assaulted by... er... murderdogs and... honestly, if you messengers can't remember messages any better than this you're fired. This is all gibberish. Squid-horse, indeed. A likely story.
Reports from Setarco are sketchy and the messenger service is openly scheduling retraining on communications and message running, but for now they're publishing the reports with disclaimers at the bottom. The fleet battle is ongoing, and one of the ships seems to be baiting the glass shark* with an anchor**.
*disclaimer - there is no such thing as a glass shark, but we don't actually know what it might be
**disclaimer - even if there were such a thing, anchors aren't hooks. Or they are, but not like that. Glass sharks don't grow that big and anyway - you know what? Even the disclaimer is ridiculous. Send those heralds to training.
It's confusing and difficult, being in one place and only hearing snippets of information from far-flung places where loved ones fight and perhaps die. And so in the aftermath of the battles, as information solidifies, a more coherent picture swims into view.
To the north in Stormwall, the city is razed. Fortunately most of the civilians evacuated, but military losses were heavy. The Pirate King came with overwhelming numbers (and demons), and though the forces were exceptionally well-led and organized under Princess Marian Redrain, still they were forced to fall back.
And here is where most telling the tale pause in awe, for instead of letting the city fall to the Pirate King, they made the call to raze the city entirely. The death toll was horrifying - and yet the Gyre's forces retreated. Crovane, even razed, remains in Redrain hands and free of demons and the Herald of Hunger - and that is a weighty victory indeed.
A single ship, The Reaper, returns to Arx and docks with the Thrax ships. It bears grim tidings, born by a brutally wounded man who, somehow, is still standing. "Darkwater Reach has fallen. We holed up at the Redoubt as long as we could. Three hundred of us, against what must have been a hundred thousand. But the Lord of Sorrows held fast and firm, and tens of thousands died to the Wrath and our arrows. But even we couldn't hold out forever, and Marin - Marin has taken Darkwater Reach, and he means to hole up there. The last few of us fled through the tunnels but we got separated. I don't know what happened to Lord Darrow."
In Setarco, meanwhile, it seems the battle will never end. The full might of the Compact's Navy is centered there, as well as almost half their ground forces as well. And they too have come under siege. Wave after wave of monsters, Marinites, and more monsters have hammered the city by land and by sea. The Gyre's fleet has come not once but twice, and the second time it brings the abyss with them (and a glass shark - seriously, messengers, get your shit together).
Ships of the fleet have sunk. So many ships, so many deaths. The sharks (the normal ones) are having a good few days. And against the walls the army has been hard-pressed to keep an even keel. The Valardin cavalry has suffered heavy losses too, charging in against a pack of murderdogs - those same who saw the end of Dame Zhayla and Lord Killian. Again and again the monsters come, and those who stood on the battlements are hard-pressed to speak of details so soon. Many fall, yet Setarco stands.
And just when it seems like the battle has been won in Setarco, a huge explosion sprays the entirety of both fleets with glass shards. Even then the Compact Navy fights. Even then they continue to stand together, protecting each other and fighting for Setarco and the Compact and each other.
And then from the depths of the water, where darkwater swirls, the darkwater turns blood-red. This blood-red water swirls up and reaches for all the remaining ships of the Gyre's fleet and it pulls - pulls them down, and away, and vanishes.
The bloodwater, as some sailors are starting to call it in mixed tones of reverence and fear, is gone and with it the threat to the Compact. At the wall, the forces beat a sudden and hasty retreat. Setarco is saved - but how?
And then a single ship sails in - The Unsullied, with Princess Katarina as Captain. From the ship disembarks an unlikely crew - Dame Morrighan, Seraph Ailith, Princess Astraea, Prince Laric, and an Inquisitor named Faye. They bring more word. Lord Darrow is dead. Darkwater is freed - though nothing lives there at present, everything having been burned to a crisp. And the Gyre? The Gyre is dead, truly dead. Not bound but gone for good, at last returned to the Wheel.
When they start comparing notes with soldiers at Setarco, it seems the death of the Gyre coincided with the retreat of forces on sea and on land. Which begs the question - who ordered the retreat? And why?
For now, these questions remain unanswered as the people of the Compact start to honor their dead and return to their loved ones. Life goes on, even when it's hard and filled with grief and loss. For now the threat is ended, as spring flowers bloom.
Stormwall was a brutal field of battle. The Compact held, but fully three quarters of those who took the field fell to the enemy onslaught. The Templars in particular were hard-hit, with many a faithful Knight of the Pantheon falling while standing against everything they have pledged their lives to fight. And yet knights like Lord Armand Farshaw died true, and they died honorably, and their names will be remembered.
As the armies return to Arx from Stormwall and Setarco, the last of the rolls of the dead are counted. Fully half the Compact's deployed forces lost in Setarco. Three quarters of those who went to Stormwall died. And Darkwater was lost - and now much like Stormwall, is razed. There is nothing left - no docks, no buildings - just sheer destruction. Even the lighthouse is destroyed - and only the gates of the Redoubt kept the fortifications from crumbling entirely in the force of whatever firestorm rolled across Darkwater. It is eerily reminiscent of Blackshore, but no strange sightings were noted. It is a time of loss, and a time of mourning - but a time for new beginnings. For new hope. A time to rebuild.
And the Darkwater? The Darkwater is shrinking. In fact, the Darkwater as Arx has known it in recorded memory... is gone. Most days. It comes and goes and is now unpredictable in its location - sometimes off the shores of Tyde. Other times off the shores of Maelstrom, or Arx, or Setarco, or somewhere completely different, like it sails on a tide that no one knows. And now it is more often red rather than black.
But now that it is gone (most days) from where it has rested for a thousand years, in its place a shining spire reaches into the sky - a beautiful, twisting staircase in the center of four columns of shining white marble with veins of gold, and a platform on top with an ancient-looking symbol as a mural on the floor. When a particularly brave (or foolhardy) sailor ventures to sail toward it, they can see a huge city in the dark depths beneath the waves. And yet sometimes they spot a patch of red in the water - bloodwater washing up to the surface, and a huge tentacle sliding forth out of it, reaching this way and that in search of something.
Time to rebuild indeed. And time enough to be wary.