Saturday, 19 October 2013

Part 5

The Present: 1867
When the Aether storms miraculously calmed, both Prussia and Great Britain dispatched science expeditions to assess the safety of France. They found that, as long as precautions were taken against noxious fumes and strange atmospheres, it would be possible to explore the desolate country. Early indications were that many of the ruins of the French towns, not to mention the great industrial complexes, were ripe for exploration, and would certainly yield a great bounty in unique artefacts and advanced technology.
Former cities house untold technology, much of which was never released to the outside world. The vast industrial plazas that once covered endless acres of land lie abandoned, ruined factories brim with wares, engines of manufacture lie unguarded, and secret caches of Aetheric materials surely wait to be discovered. Even Louis-Napoleon’s super-weapons now sit dormant along France’s borders, standing silent sentry against innumerable plunderers. Perhaps, it was argued, the source of the Terrestrial Aether discovered by the French all those years ago still existed. If it did, then perhaps it could be made safe, and the scientists of the age could carve success from the failure of the Consulate. Whoever achieved such a feat would be wealthy beyond measure and, if the rumours of Terrestrial Aether’s other properties were to be believed, practically immortal.
            And yet the dangers of exploring the mist-shrouded ruins of France were immeasurable. Dangerous storms are like to flare up without warning, with winds that can strip flesh from bones and lightning bolts capable of cutting through entire companies of men. Some regions of France remain entirely inaccessible by land, sea or air, as they seem engulfed permanently by conflagrations of multi-coloured fire. Sometimes, towns and landmarks that had been wiped from the map flicker into existence, offering up their secrets for a tantalisingly short space of time before blinking out of reality once more, taking with it anyone unfortunate enough to be nearby. What befalls such unlucky individuals is unknown, but none have ever been seen again. Worse still, rumours persist of strange beings, terrifying to behold, appearing as if from nowhere, sometimes with messages for travellers, and sometimes with murderous intent. There are places where time and space are damaged beyond repair—places where time runs backwards, or more slowly, or even stands still; where a traveller might find himself aged twenty years in the blink of an eye, or else find himself at his destination in moments, whilst his companions have all aged several years, or are long dead.
            Drawn together by the dimensional flux, even more strange elements have coalesced from the realms beyond, and melded with Terrestrial Aether into myriad strange and exotic materials. Boulders and sometimes whole villages are left lighter than air, gently drifting dozens of feet from the ground; forests of bizarre, glowing crystalline trees have sprung up across the wasteland, and rich seams of extraterrestrial minerals run through the rocky mountain ranges.
            Some ‘survivors’ of the Aether catastrophe have become something less than human—hideous, walking corpses, shambling revenants of humanity whose grotesque forms have become hosts to inter-dimensional parasites. Dead bodies have been found with crudely-written decrees pinned to them, decrees apparently written by King Charles X. Could it be that something still stirs in the ruins of Paris, the city worst affected by the catastrophe? Could it be that Paris is ruled over still, by the king of the revenants?
Other beings, strange and ravening, also wander the land. From which hellish dimension they came, no one can be sure, but their nightmarish forms are myriad. Whilst some keep to specific regions, perhaps bound by particular conditions or drawn to exotic alien minerals, others drift across the wasteland, searching for living things on which to feed.
            But not everyone in France is dead or cursed. Some natives live still, in the few remaining rural settlements, or makeshift communes in the hill country. From all walks of life, these dispossessed people have banded together, fearful of strangers and rightly so. What remains of the French militia does its best to look after these pockets of civilisation, but it has its work cut out. Some groups of soldiers have long since forsaken hope, and operate as pirates and rogues, their knowledge of the harsh wasteland unsurpassed. Legends are whispered by the ragged denizens of the communes that Napoleon III still lives, and fights against revenants, murderous rebels and invading foreigners alike. They whisper that he has somehow remained untouched by the catastrophe; the only man in France to remain pure when all around him has been corrupted. Whatever the truth of the matter, Louis-Napoleon has become a folk hero, his stories told around campfires at night to ward off evil.

The Race for Supremacy
With so many horrors, and with France still very much in a state of Aetheric flux, it seems foolhardy for any nation to contemplate expeditions into the wasteland. And yet the Prussian central ministry and the Royal Geographical Society of Britain have put together several expeditionary forces to foray ever deeper into old French territory. And they are not alone—several of Britain’s more partisan regiments have disobeyed orders and entered France in search of riches. Mercenary warbands from rival nations delve into the wasteland unaided. And all this, for the merest opportunity of fame, fortune and the advancement of science beyond measure.
            These expeditionary forces must face all the dangers of the wasteland, and doubtless other, as-yet-undiscovered terrors from alien dimensions. Until more of France has been explored, neither side dares launch a full-scale military invasion, and so instead smaller forces push ever deeper into the chaotic realm in search of untold treasure.
            Britain’s forces are primarily well-organised expeditions, led by the greatest explorers of the age and supported by well-drilled elite Yeomanry. Regimental expeditions, however, tend to be less well prepared, and are usually dispatched at the whim of a mercurial regimental commander whose only interest is garnering more glory for his regiment. These missions are likely to change at the drop of a hat, as officers in the field become greedy for more personal wealth, filled with battle lust, or lose their nerve entirely in the face of extraterrestrial horrors. Some British regiments are even said to be in the pay of the exiled French Duke, Louis Antoine, who pledges his assistance to any force that promises to preserve French wealth and national treasures, so that one day he may restore his kingdom and sit the throne that is rightfully his.
            The Prussian states send out legions of border forces into its ravaged western territories daily, primarily in the hope that, once secure, it can be restored to its former glory. Their troops are patriotic and well-drilled, after two decades of border patrols, but they are also weary of the bureaucracy from the capital, and the endless politicking of their leaders. Those that press on into France do so under orders from their regional controllers, and often find themselves competing with regiments from other regions of Prussia. They are almost always burdened by over-complicated chains of command, manifold objectives, and secondary targets which much be achieved meticulously, all the while recording their every manoeuvre for the central ministry.
            Added to this, private companies from both sides often set out to stake their own share of the wealth. From Britain, individual explorers, scientists and trading companies often venture into the wasteland, backed by foreign mercenaries, hired muscle or bribed soldiery. Only the most determined and well-prepared get past the first few days of perilous exploring, but those who do return so laden down with riches that they always inspire another group to have a go. Likewise, the civil institutions of Prussia form coalitions of brave, foolhardy and disenfranchised militia to delve into the wastes and bring back what treasure they can find. Many towns put together their own private expeditions, waving official papers signed by backwater local politicians as a passport to adventure. Scientific institutes pool their resources to pay off the Prussian border guards, sending in small teams to study the French ruins, determined not to let the Royal Society of Britain beat them in the race to scientific discovery.
            Even less prominent nations have found their way into France—small forces of Spanish guerrillas seeking wealth to rebuild their country; Nordic and Mediterranean nations risking their tiny fleets over the still-treacherous seas; and even Russian and American mercenaries have been found in the wastes, usually at death’s door due to their distinct lack of Aether technology.
            Only the bravest of the explorers ever survives long enough to reach the interior of the nation. Those that meet inevitably come into conflict. The stakes are too high for either Prussia or Britain to contemplate sharing the spoils and so, in the no-man’s land that is France, all treaties are set aside and hostilities are commonplace. Of course, it is no place for the unwary commander. Entire regiments can appear as if from nowhere, falling upon their enemies out of thin air; hordes of shambling revenants can suddenly stumble from the buildings of a seemingly deserted settlement; and armed exploratory forces will stop at nothing to stalk a rival who has the relics that they seek. Whatever the dangers, everything is at stake for the side willing to gamble; a whole nation lies under a pall of chaos, its secrets waiting to be revealed.


3 comments:

  1. That storyline has created a lot of future work for you. Your troops at the moment all seem to be in well kept uniform. Your French militia, Russians Americans etc are all going to need a more ragged appearance, with some using traditional firearms. You have hordes of Zombie like French men, mutants and figures from a different dimension to create. Hope you haven't got any holidays planned for the next decade.

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  2. Well, if folk buy my figures for the next decade then I'll be happy to keep sculpting them.
    Thanks and I'm glad you enjoyed the story.

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