The first of the fleet headed to Thrax sail out of the harbor with little fanfare. Prince Abbas Thrax, Warlord of Thrax is in command, and they mean to sail to Maelstrom to reinforce the garrison there. As testament to the generosity of the Compact, Princess Reese Grayson, Lord Killian Ashford, Prince Luca Grayson, Lord Graham Stonewood, Sparte, Lady Clara Crovane, Lady Arianna Stonewood, Eilonwy Thunderoak, and Sir Preston join Prince Abbas, Lord Faelan Navegant, Lord Darrow Darkwater, and Duke Harald Grimhall as well as many Thrax ships and Compact ships to safeguard Maelstrom against the growing Darkwater Deeps. Seasons soldiers, most of them - and thoroughly capable as they set on their grim task. They don't know what they'll find, but they've done their best to prepare. The waiting is always the hardest part.
Fair winds and calm seas, blessings from Mangata follow them. At first. But as they get closer to Maelstrom, the seas are choppier and the winds harder. The ships, at first sailing in tight formation, start to give each other a wider and wider berth. No one wants to be tossed into another ship on a crashing wave. The Captains know their jobs though and this is not for the faint of heart - but then while Thrax have been accused of many things, cowardice is not the first that springs to mind. It becomes clear that some of the ships will make it to the harbor ahead of the coming storm, but some will be sailing in after. And so it is that Reese, Luca, Sparte, Clara, Preston, and Tobias reach the docks of Maelstrom first.
They are accorded a brief welcome and then rushed indoors as the heavens open up, where they are met with grim news. Something is advancing on Maelstrom's Eastern wall. Bravely, they organize their forced. Sir Preston's Templars managed to get two trebuchets built in the pouring rain, which is good because when... things... start heading over the plains toward the wall, the large rocks seem to be the most efficient way of pinning them down.
The rain just doesn't let up over Maelstrom - darkness clouds the sky and the open plain beyond the Eastern Gates is a muddy mess. The trebuchets fire as the attackers march closer, and the closer they get, the easier it is to see - these aren't standard soldiers at all. Some are bloated, others thin, but all are encrusted with barnacles and liberally scattered seaweed hangs from them. Their skin glistens from more than the rain and they walk together in a quiet formation, moving as a unit without truly being united. "Queen take my soul," says one soldier in a hushed and horrified voice. "That's... not possible." Whatever he means no onlooker can - or at least will - say, at least not to anyone who wasn't there.
Tobias orders the archers to fire, Reese commands the shield wall, and Sparte, Clara, and Luna flank her. Preston comes down from the battlements - the work of the trebuchets will continue throughout, but now it is time for him to join the fray. Time passes, and the fight rages on. Preston is gravely injured and Reese leaps in front of him to protect him. Sparte wields his staff with uncanny accuracy and Luca is swift to answer any threats to his wife. Even Clara fights furiously, but the battle rages on, far longer than it should. They defeat the first charge at last, and begin the exhausting process of pushing them back.
"We were made for this," says Tobias grimly, "but it's going to be a grind." Indeed, the shield wall holds but as the rain keeps falling and the creatures keep coming, they settle into a weary sort of stalemate. Soldiers switch out to keep the shield wall standing firm, but eventually they're going to need some relief. "Hold the line," comes the call. "We'll get reinforcements soon!" But when?
As forces across the Compact rally to stop the Darkwater Deeps from spreading and consuming the world (no pressure), others less inclined to active combat and adventure still have a part to play. The Halfshavs, under Lady Khanne's direction, spend a significant amount of resources to start building shrines to Mangata. It seems like every river, every stream - every bend in the river at some places has a shrine to Mangata. And of course, each shrine has a dedication ceremony, where people gather in groups large and small and offer their prayers, their mead, their love to Mangata. Support, gratitude, and love all dropped in the water like a gentle rain all flowing together.
In Maelstrom there is no gentle rain. There is only a hard, pounding rain that is miserable, driving into the ground and turning the dirt to mud. The rest of the garrison reinforcements arrive, bringing Arianna, Graham, and Killian to join the front lines where Faelan works with Reese, Sparte, Luca, and Tobias to push their attackers back. The battle goes on, the creatures doing only moderate damage, but so hard to kill. Eilonwy sets up a triage point behind the lines, alternately treating people and sending them back to the fight, and sending people back to the city where Clara and the Mercies work tirelessly to help Preston and others so gravely injured. Will this never end?
But perhaps the prayers to Mangata have helped, for as morning comes, the rain turns to a light spring rain - even in the dead of winter. And the wind that blows is warm and gentle, and from the west not the east. It pushes back the scent of something foul that hangs on the air over the creatures that attack Maelstrom, and as the sun rises, the creatures drop, one by one. For a day and a night the reinforcements held back creatures the likes of which have not been seen on the island. Indeed, most of those soldiers won't even talk about the Battle for Maelstrom except to shudder and reach for a drink. But those who fought will be remembered - Reese, Killian, Luca, Graham, Sparte, Arianna, Clara, Eilonwy, Faelan, Tobias, Preston. No one had seen anything quite like it here on the plain east of Maelstrom, but no one will ever forget. Maelstrom is safe - for now. But in the new day, one wonders - how long will this last, and what comes next?
Another day, and more ships leave Arx Harbor - Princess Fatima Thrax's fleet sets sail, off to patrol the seas, wrangle pirates, clear out threats to Maelstrom and the Compact and maybe - just maybe - send the denizens of the Darkwater Deeps back from whence they came whilst - and at the same time - exploring on a desperate mission to find weapons to use to protect the Compact against the Beast that burns with endless hunger. Just out of sight of the mainland the main fleet splits into three smaller fleets, and now it is Princess Fatima Thrax, Count Turo Navegant, Countess Aella Ravenseye, Lord Estaban Saik, and Branwen Stormfeather who face the first test. A fleet of ships is sighted on the horizon, scouted from high in a crow's nest on the flagship from which Princess Fatima and Count Turo issue orders...
No one seems to be talking about what really happened on the seas when the fleet of Fatima, Turo, Aella, Estaban and Branwen, reinforced with ships graciously on loan from Prince Edain and Princess Isabeau Valardin, and Marquessa Ariel Stonewood sail into the harbor at Maelstrom. They are missing seven galleys and three longships, and some of their ships are riddled with arrows stuck in the wood, and many of their people are bandaged and somewhat bloody. But most of them are alive, and even if they're telling ridiculous tales about things like swirling whirlpools of Darkwater that swallow drommonds whole and pirates sailing for House Marin, it's really just important that they managed to return to Maelstrom mostly whole, and having put an end to pirates sailing the seas. Of course, this begs the question - where's the rest of the fleet?
The answer comes swiftly with the morning tide, as the Unsullied limps into Maelstrom harbor. The sailors disembark and gossip makes its way through Maelstrom and eventually back to Arx. No one knows exactly what happened on Isle Ataraxia, but rumors begin to spread of specters who claw through armor and statues that come to life. The tales are ones of great courage, and greater sacrifice. But most notably, the rumors talk of a a room of tombs and the weapons hanging over them. Perhaps these could be a key to seeing the end of the beast that hungers and rises from the Darkwater Deeps?
In the end, Duke Harald Grimhall, Princess Katarina Valardin, Lady Caelis Malvici, Lord Antonio Velenosa, and Baron Audric de Lire will be praised for their committment and courage in the face of what must surely be dangers most dire to spawn such amazing rumors so quickly. And yet, while most of the adventurers disembark on their own, one does not. Duke Harald Grimhall is carried off in a litter, conscious but gravely wounded. Will the Mercies be able to save him? Will he recover to take control of his fleet again? And come to think of it... where is the Grimhall fleet?
Elsewhere in the Mourning Isles, Lord Archeron Tyde has been put in charge of preparations at Tydehall. Refugees start arriving not long after, in ships and boats and even smaller craft. Construction starts in earnest on new longhouses to shelter all these people, and the smokehouses are full of fish and small game smoking to feed the additional population. The doors are open and ready for women and children to shelter while men take care of business, in typical Thrax fashion. But then, there are more women joining the men on board ships these days, which makes superstitious sailors eye them warily but definitely gives them more womanpower to do what needs doing. As more and more news filters back from the Mourning Sea and Maelstrom, more people are taking advantage of the House of Tyde's generous offer.
There's not a lot of mention made when a small group including Sparte, Katarina, Rey, Artorius, Agnarr, and Branwen leave Maelstrom. Except for one guard who warns Sparte - "If you bring another one of those things back, we're not opening the gates." Fortunately they don't really get a chance to prove the truth of this, since the same group enters, hours later. These are truly strange days though - one rumor mentions an abandoned fortress etched in beauty. Another a book of religious doctrine, and running the gamut between the divine and profane. And the rumor that is strangest of all? Someone let Sparte lead this expedition.
Throughout the maneuvers, from the first sailing until now, the fleet under the orders of the Warlord of Thrax has been sailing the Mourning Sea to attempt to give protection where it can. Small groups of ships break off to pursue leads or pockets of resistance, often rejoining the Fleet proper, though sometimes appearing in Maelstrom for repairs and Mercies. And so this evening, as the sun sets over the horizon, the Grim Fleet is at last, located when Prince Abbas Thrax and the Knight of Sorrows, Lord Darrow Darkwater, sail into the harbor. And of course, since the nobles of Thrax have been accused of many things but rarely good sense, Duke Harald Grimhall pushes himself from his cot in the House of Mercies and walks with a stately gait down the path to the docks to join the Warlord and his fleet. Prince Abbas has called together some of the older reavers, speaking to them for a long time, and they too board longships to join the fleet. And just like that they're gone, Abbas, Darrow, and Harald taking point as they continue their patrol of the seas.
It's an uncertain time right now. The reports from Maelstrom are grim, and more and more people are flocking to shrines of Mangata to pray, to offer gifts, to give thanks and to pray for their loved ones to come home. Under the direction of Baron Silas Whitehawk, small shrines to Mangata have been built all along the White Mountain River and the Gray River - personal shrines but no less beautiful for all their size. In Farhaven, Prince Darren calls for Shaman and the Faithful to band together to build more shrines to the goddess around Red Run. Lady Arianna Stonewood, Sister Thena of the Knights of Solace, and Lieutenant Calaudrin Estardes of the Iron Guard all offer help to protect the craftsmen organized by Eshken Greenblood. The shrines are safe and used - in ones and twos people come to offer prayers to Mangata.
And never let it be said that Southport is not also devoted to the Goddess too - and so Duchess Calypso Malvici calls for a monument of Mangata to be erected on the southernmost tip of Arvum. Waldemai Isenhu uses his own skills to keep the tools of the crafters sharp, and Lady Caelis Malvici travels to assist with the building of the monument as well. When it is completed a grand dedication ceremony is held, with Caelis making sure the statue itself is washed in sea water during the prayers offered. Lady Eirene brings the Phoenix of Malvici to the shrine's unveiling and treats her people to a night of drinks in the Goddess' name too, and thus is Mangata honored from the north to the south of the continent.
Not to be outdone, especially since this crisis is just off the shores of Maelstrom, High Lord Victus Thrax unveils a titanic statue of Mangata, carved into the cliffs of Maestrom rising high above the docks. Her face is toward the sea, her arm outstretched to hold an everburning flame, by day looking out over the harbor, by night shining into the darkness to see all ships safely home.
The shrines, the prayers are helping. The waters between Arx and Maelstrom are smooth sailing once more. And even beyond Maelstrom, the storms have abated for now thankfully. And so the next time the Thrax Fleet and the Grim Fleet sail into Maelstrom guided home by the beacon of Mangata from the new monument it is with no damage to the fleet. However nestled in the middle of the fleet, protected - but also somewhat captive - an ancient longship sails under a very old flag of Tyde. In the middle of all the strangeness, with the darkwater encroaching and spreading, the sinking of ships, rumors of pirates and zombies and all manner of strangeness, this is certainly not the strangest thing to happen. But for some reason, no one's saying a word about the ship, where it came from, or who its captain is. Still, as of the last time they docked in Maelstrom for resupply, the Thrax and Grim Fleets are doing well.
Patrols on the Mourning Sea, and in the waters between Maelstrom and Arx have stepped up. Directed by the Warlord of Thrax, aided by countless vessels of Thrax, their vassals, and their allies from across the Compact, these provide a welcome sight as they safeguard ships in transit between the Fortress and the Capital, and a less welcome sight when, for example, Princess Fatima's forces break off to chase pirates into surrender or doom. But tonight, as the fleet keeps an eye on vessels sailing from Maelstrom with grain and supplies for Tydehall one ship, commanded by Lady Regla Navegant, carrying a small company including Lord Sivard Grimhall, Lord Wash Kennex, Baron Edward Stormbreak, Princess Freja Redrain, Aksel Nygard, and Skapti sail in a different direction entirely.
The ship commanded by Lady Regla Navegant sails south as quickly as they can, eschewing the normal rendezvous location to dock in Maelstrom. Immediately a runner is dispatched to the Mercies to warn them of what comes on three litters - Freja, Aksel, and Wash are greviously wounded, but still clinging barely to life. Of the mission there is little news - corruption and monsters and weapons, a cache of some kind (no one's really talking about this either); everyone is most concerned about whether these three brave souls will cling to life long enough for Lagoma's Mercies to bring them back to health, or if their souls are soon to be reunited with the Queen of Endings.
The sea is a harsh mistress, which is something High Lord Victus Thrax learned early on. His new bride Princess Alarissa may be learning that lesson today as well, as she walks him down to the docks. There he meets Palace Seraph Ailith, Lady Titania Kennex, Lady Khanne Halfshav, Prince Valerius Thrax, Duke Asger Crovane, Countess Arcelia Navegant, and Sameera Coldrain. They board in companionable silence and it isn't long before the sailors are heaving to and casting off, setting their sails to harness the wind. Alarissa watches until the ship sails past the horizon, the dockworkers nudging each other and silently approving her stoicism, even as the High Lord of Thrax takes to the seas at last.
A few days after the Red Serpent leaves it appears again in Maelstrom. The Captain, widely considered the best captain in the entire Thrax fleet, if not the Compact, refuses to discuss anything that happened out on the sea. His sailors are uncharacteristically confined to quarters and not even allowed off the ship, and the first place the Captain goes is in search of a priest. The only thing that is known though, is that the High Lord and his party are not on board the vessel.
It is morning. Early morning, at that. The mist rolls in from the Sea, covering the water and the docks in a foggy haze. It's the sort of thing that has scouts extra wary, for visibility is at an all time low. And then there is movement in the fog on the beach, and a shout of warning goes up! And then figures emerge from the fog - High Lord Victus Thrax has returned, with Duke Asger Crovane, Seraph Ailith, Countess Arcelia Navegant, Lady Titania Kennex, Lady Khanne Halfshav, and Prince Valerius Thrax have returned, looking a little worse for wear but still alive and somehow on the beach at Maelstrom. It should be noted that, upon finding this out, the Captain of the Red Serpent muttered something sounded suspiciously like "irresponsible damn cabin boy," and then surreptitiously wiped some salt spray from his cheek. Salt spray. Mist. Whatever. It was a very misty morning.
Word reaches Arx that Princess Katarina's ship the Unsullied sailed to the Darkwater Deeps to retrieve a sample of the darkwater and take it back to Arx to study. Assisted by Dagon, Abbas, Serafine, Sivard, Skapti, and Maeve, it was thought to be a just a matter of grabbing a cask of the liquid and sailing back. Apparently it was not a simple matter, as the ship was damaged and missing crew afterwards, but they do return to Arx with a cask of darkwater for study... for better or for worse.
For a long night and a day, Princess Alarissa has been hosting a vigil down by the statue of Mangata on the beaches in Arx. Other regular visitors to the shrine include Princess Denica Thrax, Lord Valerio Mazetti, Oliver Coldrain, Merek Black, and Petal Penrose. As the vigil draws to a close, they all somehow seem to be missing from the beach, much to the great chagrin of the loyal Pellichor, Alarissa's chief guard. When interviewed later about the rest of the evening's events, he refused to say anything more than - "Well, she's safe and fine isn't she? And that statue glows like the sun now, doesn't it? So what are you asking me for? Everything's just fine here now. This is fine. It was fine. Just fine. I was perfectly comfortable with the events as they unfolded."
The Inquisition, not to be left out as people investigate all manner of things going on with seacallers, the darkwater, pirates, and any other number of unsavory rumors circulating between Arx and Maelstrom. Dame Mercedes Valardin, Faye Ruger, Eliana Steinmaison, and Prince Laric Grayson are boots on the ground (and pens signing warrants, in Prince Laric's case) who carefully follow rumors and accumulate personal accounts of what's going on. They're following leads and compiling them for discussion back at the Inquisition, and their efforts are turning up all sorts of things. Like seacallers, who take advantage of a meeting to discuss the results to kidnap Lady Aislin Ashford, Insaya Bergere, and Princess Tikva Grayson. Not much is publicly known about what actually occurs next, but the next anyone hears from the three Inquisitors, they're hopping a trade ship in Southport headed back to Arx. How did they even /get/ there, anyway?
In the Thrax Ward in Arx, a small group has been working hard to track down rumors of blood magic, evil, and sacrifices in the Thrax Ward. Lady Titania Kennex, Princess Donella Redrain, Lord Sivard Grimhall, Dame Morrighan, Captain Skapti Thrallson have been most successful, and everyone is extremely glad that it turned out to be some drug addled minions and their boss, who accidentally flung himself into the sea and was eaten by sharks. As it happened, they also managed to save some thralls who were captured. It wasn't entirely clear what was going to happen there either, but whatever that weird drug cult was, it is no more, thanks to those brave souls. Seacallers, you say? That's not what happened. Not at /all/. That's totally not even a thing.
Through all the activity in the Mourning Sea, the shavs are not forgotten. Duchess Margot Tyde, Dame Alexis Wyrmfang, and Sir Tarrant Moore go forth on a mission of mercy. To find more of the abandoned and convince them to bend the knee. Or perhaps there's another reason they go out too, but in this case when they return to Maelstrom they come with tales of an abandoned village newly sworn to the Compact and to Tyde. And proffered information as payment for protection and for their freedom both. The tale of a madman who swam out from shore to avoid execution and got eaten by the water? That was an entirely unnecessary embellishment.
It has been a long, weary time. Beginning with the Tragedy in the harbor, to the moment the Darkwater Watch first noticed the spreading of the danger zone, the Compact has mobilized. From all over Arx help has poured into Thrax. Aid rebuilding. Aid patrolling. Theologians, scholars, adventurers, mercenaries, soldiers beholden to a house, holy knights, sailors, craftspeople - people from all walks of life have pitched in to figure out how to stop the rising tide.
The fleet sailed in stages, in groups for safety between Arx and Maelstrom, and back from Maelstrom to Arx. The news was by turns exciting and terrifying, weird and wondrous. The Marin'alfar found. A sailor lost in the darkwater for half a century returned, looking like he's been gone three weeks. An army of extremely hardy and difficult to kill automatons, risen from the sea and ferried to attack Maelstrom by ships sunk decades ago. Shrines to Mangata glowing, the sea parting. Wondrous trips to sunken temples, a group of inquisitors kidnapped and given over to the darkwater, only to end up in Southport. Shavs, refusing to bend the knee to Marin, instead joining the Compact under the banner of Tyde. Caches of strange weapons guarded by corrupted creatures. A ruin where once beauty remained, haunted by memories and hiding ancient paths to evil.
But this morning, news from the Darkwater Watch is good. The darkwater is no longer spreading. The news spreads quickly, and High Lord Victus Thrax gathers everyone together. "Speeches ain't really my strong point here," he admits but then gives one anyway. "The Darkwater's back to being its normal dangerous self. Thanks first to the Goddess Mangata, and to all those who have given her thanks and offerings. As far as I can tell, she needed an assist and we all helped her together. But let's not for the men and women," he adds, with a stern glare to a few die-hard Thraxians who are still grumbling about the strange inclusion of women in this business, "who fought and sacrificed and died to bring us the knowledge we now have. The darkwater deeps aren't spreading, but this isn't over yet. For the sake of all those who gave their lives to defend us we're not going to just let this go. This isn't over yet."
A cheer goes up, but Victus raises his hand for silence. "News has come from Arx though and there's immediate business to attend to there. Not for our sake, but in aid of allies who have helped us in our time of need, now we are in turn reaching out to give aid to them." He looks up at the cliffs on which Maelstrom sits and the statue of the goddess reaching out to sea. "For now, we're headed home. But this isn't over," he reiterates, a determined look on his face. "We'll be back."
And so the ships start sailing home to Arx, bringing most of the brave souls who came to Maelstrom to stop the darkwater incursion. In a few short days' time there will be joyous reunions and sorrowful news, tankards raised in honor of those who fought, in memory of those who died. Tales told and songs written, and the business of life goes on. Perhaps, as these courageous adventurers sail west, they dream of home.