(1874-01-31) Crossing the Divide
Crossing the Divide
Summary: Legio XIII Asterrea makes its way across the snowy mountains
Date: 31 Janvier, 1874 IE
Related: Troubles in the East
NPCs: The Watcher, Durans


The Ergonian Mountains
The central Ergonian Mountains tower high above all around the, forming an unbreakable and seemingly unending line of mountains.
26-31 Janvier 1874 IE

The plans had been carefully laid, the troops provisioned and fitted with skis. Large, warm tents were gathered, and much food and wood stockpiled. Even the massive supply train had been provisioned with sleds, rather than wagons, though they carried wheels, too, for when they would get to the colonies, for who knew what they would find there?

No matter the phenomenal planning, though, this was still the Ergonian mountains in the winter. The last three weeks have seen nothing but huge snow storms on the east side of the mountains, and the operation has been delayed over, and over. From the battlements of Castra Cornelia, the ancient fortress at the north end of Lake Constantius, the lake itself can be seen on some days, temptingly within reach… but Darius is advised by his commanders to hold off. They're eating off of the Castra's rations, after all.

Then, the break comes. One fine Wednesday in late Janvier, or Januarius as the Empire still calls it, a line in the sky indicates that the weather has cleared. It is nothing but blue skies and horizons. Time to move.

Darius stood on the battlements and issued orders to his officers and centurians. The move was finally happening. As he issued orders he dressed himself. He didn't have the problem of metal armor, nor did he have the problem of freezing to death. He was a sorceror and he created fire. To keep himself from cooking his skin, he wears a specially treated Leather Lorrica. Not as strong as the steel ones, but nearly so. Once he is armored he heads down and takes up skis of his own. If his men are walking and ski'ing so will he. Once he is in position he nods. "Sound the signal. The Legion will advance at a march."

The day starts off terribly. First, the horses of the cavalry and mules towing the sleighs all seem to be unwilling to cooperate today. While it is bright and clear out, it is frightfully cold and few of them seem willing to want to leave the warmth of their stables. Once they are finally out, it turns out that despite the comprehensive training, some of the skis on the sleighs have broken off. Upon further inspection, it appears that they were not fitted as taught. This delays the move by a few hours.

No matter the cajoling, berating or any other attempt to seek explanation from his Centurions, Darius cannot get a proper explanation of why this is occuring until a half hour before it's fixed. By then, it's already ten in the morning. As his Primus Pilus tells him with a sour face, the subalterns leading the Spears and sometimes the Centuries were not taking this move seriously, evidently having mostly hedged their bets that the weather would scrub the move entirely. Eventually, they get moving in a protected formation. This is a borderland, after all, so the wagon train (or sleigh train) is in the middle of the formation with a Cohort protecting it, while the flanks, rear and vanguard are all much more lightly equipped with their heavier kit in the train. Things are ragged for the first half hour as Centurions bark at their Spear Leaders, who in turn bark at their troops to keep march discipline. This is instilled… eventually.

By then, the sun is halfway through the sky. Not a good start.

The Praetor doesn't allow his disappointment to show on his face, but it takes a bit of teeth grinding. He's a man of supreme discipline, but his Sorcery is still new to him despite being one of the first in the Empire to exhibit his powers. This means that he literally steams in the cold as his anger heats him up just a little. In this cold, his skin and his clothing are hot and he leaves a trail of steam as he goes. It's not a great start, but there will be better days. He knows it. And he let's his Centurians and Tribunes know that he knows it. So that they know that he knows that they know so that this shit does not happen again. He may be slightly upset. But agian. His discipline doesn't let it show on his face.

Just in the steam that pours off him.

The rest of the day goes as well as can be planned. However, Legio XIII does not get anywhere close to its destination at the end of Lake Constantius. Having started one third of the way through the lake across from Castra Cornelia, they are now around halfway through before the difficult work of setting up tents for troops and caring for the the poor pack animals takes place. It is a big army, and the terrain is inhospitable.

Night still falls early, even a month after the solstice has made the days longer. As Darius might watch his troops settle in, they are far too busy to see his steaming. At least he won't be cold tonight. If he looks up, he'll see the most beautiful collection of constellations and northern lights that he would have seen in his life. The greens, purples and blues dance around the sky, as if the One had set his angels and saints to play a visual symphony for the delight of those on Tirth below. Eventually, it will be time to turn in.

The wind rattles through the Legion's tents that night, but, all things told, the alpine tents, mass of furs and training that the troops received at the hands of the Limitanei, or Pathfinders, was excellent. That being said, the lot of sentries was miserable. No one relished crawling out of one's furs, sliding on a cold gambeson and even colder armour over it and making their way to their post for an hour… but the night was quiet.

Come morning, storm clouds are on the horizon. These do not look near as fierce as the ones which ravaged Lake Constantius for weeks, but they are troubling, none the less. When the snow begins to fall and the wind howl, movement slows. Fortuntely, the troops are able to endure.

Darius grumbles at the snow and looks to the heavens. "One. In your Kingdom of the Sun, do you look down on my attempt to help your people of the Empire and clear the world of these One hating savages and decide, in your infinite wisdom, to make it difficult?" He pinches the bridge of his nose.

His servant smiles and says, "The One's Word says that if he presents a challenge, the reward is higher if you overcome."

Darius looks to the man. He steams for the for the first half hour of the day and then he just trundles through it. He issues orders to look for a wind breaker. If they find one to break the harshest portion of the storm, some natural outcrop, anything to break the wind and lessen the storm, he'll order the Legion to take refuge. Pride won't mean much if they die trying to make it to their mission objective.

The odd method of travel, over a frozen lake, has dictated that the scouts screening front, sides and rear of the army be the pathfinders of the Limitanei rather than outriders. Indeed, the horsemen are leading their mounts in a train as they trundle through the snow with odd shoes fitted to their hooves, or, for the most part walking alongside their infantry brethren and grumbling thrice as much. The Limitanei glide across the snow and ice effortlessly, drawing amazed stares from the rankers who can barely keep upright on their skis with the wind so strong.

The first Limitanei who returns to Darius has a slightly frightened look on his face. "Praetor… there are no outcrops until the edge of the lake. At present pace, we've three hours to reach it. This should leave us more than enough time to entrench but… we need to arrive, first."

Darius moves to this formation. His own personal guard following close behind and a little ahead, ready to protect the Praetor. The line Two rear Cohorts fire their crossbows, then fall back to a second line ready to shoot. Reloading once they reach a good distance behind those. Darius arrives and waits calmly as the troops move into position. Waves of crossbow bolts ripping through the storm to find enemy troops. "Keep up the fire!" Darius calls out and takes out his own Crossbow and then plants himself in the middle of the third line. "Fire. Fall back. We fight on the move." He grabs his servant, loyal and with him, "Get to the head of the column. Inform the First, and Second Cohort to expect us and that we bring trouble. Make a defensive formation and ready a fighting formation. Give the order for Steel Rain."

He nods to the man and then takes aim with his own Crossbow with the others in the line. When the Spear Leader calls "FIRE!" Darius looses and then is moving even as the Spear Leader calls out, "MOVE!"

It's an old dance the Empire was forced to do against these Savages. A fighting withdrawal to a defensive position. One the Legio XIII perfected and altered. The alteration came with making the enemy think they were running in standard Legion practice only to have a defensive line waiting at a strategic spot to engage the savages and drive them back. It was only useful in a place that allowed for sections of the Legion to hide and wait, but it was usually devastating to the enemy. The Steel Rain was one such adaption. When the enemy approached the fighting Cohorts making the run would run between the defensive line to rest and prepare to move in to plug gaps. The Line would have all of their crossbows out and fire en masse just as the enemy charged. The Steel rain was the steel tipped crossbow bolts that fell by the thousands on the advancing enemy. Then they would set shields, the first rank drawing Gladii, while the second rank set spears.

The tactic works splendidly against the Qatunax, who in this case appear to mostly be broken up in small groups with little command or coordination amongst themselves. This is unlike the bigger, organised armies that they field, and might simply be a large mass of young warriors looking to raid deep into Imperial territory… it's unfortunate for them that they are not ready to come up against a full legion on the move.

Whatever winter gear that these mostly light armed infantry pack, it is far inferior to those of Darius's force. The Qatunax are pushed back repeatedly and shattered wherever they appear, throwing themselves against the shields of the legionairies until they are plastered with missiles, and fleeing in terror. Finding their legs, finally, the legionairies elect to pursue for a hort distance on their skies, cutting them down like wheat in the field.

When all is said and done, over a thousand Qatunax in small groups are dead, and more have fled the field of battle. There are a few wounded in Legio XIII, but no one has been badly hurt. Further, they are close to the edge of Lake Constantius and some outcrop of mountains that will provide much more shelter, and maybe make a good spot to treat the wounded and regroup. Night is coming.

Once he had gotten to the battle formation, Darius took up the mantle of Legion commander again. Staying where he can be seen by his signalers and barking orders, receiving reports and in general coordinating the mass of information being fed to him and seeing that the Tribunes and Centurians guide their Cohorts well. When the fight is over Darius smiles.

He knows this for what it was. A small force. But it was the Over Sized Legion's first victory against these barbarians. He gives the order for the Legion to move out almost immediately. Seeing the wounded taken to sleds to carry them. The general order is to break for the end of Constantius. To break for the shelter from the storm and regroup.

Once the battle is over, Tribune Durans, the leader of the Limitanei remarks to Darius, "These were their bottom feeders, Praetor. You and I both know this. Their best warriors don't go hooting into the snow and charging into our lines. They've endless manpower, it seems." The last phrase is almost said with a hopeless tone, but Darius knows Durans now. He is never hopeless. "Well. To the harbour, I suppose."

Fortunately for Legio XIII, there are no other enemy armies and, in fact, a large cave system that actually will serve as a brilliant base camp for the army. Durans advises, "We ought to repair our kit, Praetor. The troops have been on their skies in earnest for the first time, and they've not been using them well. They've gotten better, though. My suggestion is to remain here, where there's harbour for the pack animals and troops, tend to the wounded and the kit, and then move out. My limitanei can get out and scout ahead to Lake Divinity in the west, too."

Later on that evening, as they're setting into camp, they discover in the cave complex that there are hot springs! Fresh water, apparently good to drink, and even to bathe in in some places. This should be comfortable.

Darius nods to Durans. "They are endless. The Bastards, but we are relentless. We'll overcome these savages and kill every last one of them and see them fed to the Ravens to take them faster to the Abyss." He nods once. Then again as Durans describes the find. "I'll order the engineers to set up castra around the opening to the cave. Give us more protection incase they come back in earnest. We can leave the thing up and use it as a midway base for our return trip when we return home." He grips the man's shoulder and smiles to him. Silently telling him of a job well done.

Once things have calmed down Darius abuses his rank and moves to the hot springs. A bloody hot bath is just what the medico ordered. He naturally allows others into the spring a swell he jsut makes sure he's one of the first. He doesn't just relax though. He meets with his Tribunes (Who also bathe), give orders to see to the wounded and guard rotation. He makes sure the Legion is still in high spirits despite the misery of the first trek. The good news is the second part is shorter, and once they cross it, they can find refuge and begin to plan their own assaults.

There is truly nothing better to a Vir Sidian than a proper bath, and while build excellent bathhouses, the natural spring has always been recognised as somehow blessed by the One… better than even the finest of bathhouses. Morale, already high after the slaughter of their worst foes, soars into the heavens. Even those on construction and then sentry duty later on do not seem to suffer from the misery of their jobs. How had these caves never been discovered? Or were they simply forgotten when the Empire left the West?

"We ought to mark this on our maps, and send word back to the Fortress. This should be occupied by Limitanei, at least, if not regular soldiers. I've scarcely seen such a wonderful spot to winter in, Praetor." Durans says, once the orders are finished and the officers of the legion are able to soak in some relaxed silence. Someone's even pulled out a large wine skin, which is of course passed around. "I'd say we should name it after the Legion, but the Legion has yet no name. What then, shall that be, my Prince?"

Darius leans down until his shoulders are under the water. Allowing the warmth to soak in and loosen his shoulder muscles. What to name this place? Abyss. The Legion needed a name too. It was time it earned one. "We'll call this place Liberty, for surely she had a hand in us finding this place. She knows we march in ehr name and wants us to reach the colonial lands and free them. So she stands by us and sees us work and rewards our dedication with this fine place." He lifts a hand form the warm waters to gesture around him. He also accepts the wine skin. Sips and passes it along.

He considers the legion next. Finally he says in a gentle voice. "This Legion is fighting for the Empire. To eventually retake our Capital and drive the Qatanex out of the Empire. As such I put it to vote with you fine men. I say we name her the Legio XIII Asterrea. In memory of those who fell defending them, and in vengence of them as well."

"Perhaps, then, we call this Castella Liberta. One day to be a full Castra, maybe, but now an outpost. But our Empire spread from small beginnings, did it not?" Durans muses. He smiles approvingly. "Asterrea. Yes. One day, we will rebuild it." His vote goes that way. The others unanimously agree.

The next morning, Durans and many of his Limitanei take off to the west, scouting the way ahead and refreshed by the cave complex and its warmth that Castra Cornelia never truly had unless one was sitting in front of the fireplace.

As the Limitanei explore the outdoors, the newly coined Legio Asterrea's engineers explore the cave system, seeking to quarter men and material more efficiently. It's not long before they find stumble into a complex that was obviously once occupied by humans… Imperials, possibly. It's difficult to tell from the highly corroded artefacts. But someone and something used to live here. The engineers set up a room for the officers, and then one specifically for Darius.

Darius is in his temporary quarters in Castella Liberta, checking gear, reading reports and occassionally listening to reports. When he has a moment he summons his flame to practice. To keep discipline over his inner fire. But he never does this in front of his men. Many, if not know he is a Sorceror. His armor if anything gives it away. He just doesn't want to accidentally hurt them. "One day I'll be prepared to use this on a battlefield as my forefather, the first Firebrand, but for now it is merely a part of me I am learning of." This is written in his journal which he keeps. Taking a few minutes each night to write in. One da perhaps he compile them and write an Annal, but for now, he simply records. Once the storms let up again, and the Limitanei announce the path they will take, he'll order the Legion forward.

As Darius is writing in his journal one night, he hears a voice behind him that says, "What are you doing here, Firebrand?" The voice sounds like it is being spoken from multiple directions to his rear, and at multiple volumes. It causes the hair on his neck and arms to go up involuntarily.

Darius stares at the figure before him, he summons flame to each of his hands but doesn't ignite it. Merely has the power gathered incase he needs it. He is also not certain that it would do him any good what so ever. He stands to his full height, which is still beneath the thing in front of him even though Darius himself is a full head taller than most of those in the Empire. Despite his fear. Despite the terror that claws at his belly he stamps it down. He is the Heir of the Empire. It's Prince, and Praetor of the Empire's mightiest Legion. He will comport himself in the ways expected of him. "I am leading my men West. We found this and sought refuge from the storms. Since you know me and have me at your advantage, whom are you?"

"Perhaps one day, young Firebrand, you will be able to master such." The bronze clad figure motions at the flames in Firebrand's hands. "Until then, you are playing with parlour tricks. Put them away." His smile retreats, somewhat, though he doubtlessly is amused at the terror in the Imperial. "I am he who watches. I am he who waits. I am he whose home lays high in the snows. And you are not."

Doing as he is bid, Darius lets the flames go. They don't sputter, they just simply cease to be. He is at least proud enough that his practice has accomplished that much at the least. He then stands at ease. Clasping his hands behind his back and lifting his chin just so. "Those are impressive titles. I can list mine, but I suspect you know them already. Who are you, and what is it you seek of me?"

"I slept long. You may call me the Watcher." A laugh. It is a strange laugh, now loud, now quiet and something in between… it creeps into the ear on all octaves. It is not of this world. "Some say your forebear was he who closed our eyes. Some hate him for that. Many think you beneath us. Darius, Markus… what do such have to do with us?" The bronze clad figure riddles, eyes black eyes boring into Darius. The fear, though controlled by Darius, does not go away. "Some, though, remember. We remember what came before. Our mountains as fortresses, our brethren as daemons. You, playthings, friends of our other fellows. Why ought we to let you through?"

The mind of the Praetor races. The things the creature says sound like children's tales. "All thirteen other Firebrands and Markus are my fore fathers. The string goes straight from Darius the First to my name. This however does not make me them." He says simply. "I have no interest in controlling the Eregonian Mountains. I merely want to get ot the other side and at some point back again. Now. If you worry about these mountains, then my enemy is yours. For the Qatanex burn and destroy everything in their path, and they managed to ignite a Volcano in these mountains. We saw the fires from our posting." He gestures with one hand. "But. I am not them. I am not my forefathers. I merely want to see my people survive these barbarians, and return to the glory we had before. If you are a Watcher, then I would hope you would let us through simply to see what happens next."

"God, demon. No. You know not our world. One day. I am the Watcher. I Watch this mountain." The smile returns to the Watcher's face, and it has not improved with a second viewing. "Earth Shaker. That is what we will call you. Go and shake your Earth… perhaps you can shake all of Tirth? You may go. But we will judge. We will decide. He who climbs the rock face may reach the summit, or may fall. But even he who knows to climb may find that the mountain slips away from his grip. Take care to watch not your grip, but the mountain which your hands hold onto."

"Earth Shaker." Darius says with a light smirk. "I can accept that." He nods to the Watcher and then bows. Respectfully. Not as one to an equal, but as one to a superior, because he knows that The Watcher can simply end him and his Legion.

"You may keep use of these caves. Do not go three chambers past any of the hot springs you have used to bathe. That is the border." The Watcher does not say what lays beyond the border… or what it borders. "You must fight and cleanse the blood worshippers. All else is fleeting." And that's all he says. When Darius lifts his head, he is gone, as if he was never there in the first place.

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