Not so long ago, the red-white flag with the thorny wheel was all but unknown, but nowadays, the insignia of Vanhal strike terror into the hearts of the populace wherever they appear, borne by grim men who know their Truth, men whose eyes burn with the flame of zeal.
Once, Vanhal was but a small nation nested between snowy mountain ranges, neither too wealthy, nor renowned for the ferocity of its warriors, or the might of its mages. What they had in abundance were enemies and hungry mouths to feed.
So, when Zodraj the Impaler, fearsome warlord of the Korm, and the Dread Horde of Nodrak threatened the borders of Vanhal, the panic was great.
Still, the people rallied behind their king, and marched to battle, for they were unwilling to die without a fight.
As their soothsayers foretold, as their fears spoke, so it came to pass: the knights of Korm and savages of Nodrak battered down all resistance, bathing the forts, mountains and fields of Vanhal in blood. The tides of war flooded all of the land, until the king, hard-pressed by foes from all sides, made his last stand around the SunStone, most holy relic of the Vanhal people, and at his side, the last three thousand warriors, weary, wounded, desperate. Their foes, filled with bloodlust, charged, for they knew that the victory was theirs to take.
King Maldrach, a youngster of twenty winters, forced to take the throne after his father fell, uttered his last prayer as the armies clashed, offering himself and all that was holy to his people for salvation now and then, and not in the afterlife.
Yet, the prayers seemed unheard, and the despair reached its peak when the SunStone went black as a moonless night, dark as the Abyss, sombre as a midwinter burial.
Amongst the wails and cries, another sound was heard ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ the song of bubbling and bending metal, as weapons and armour of the dead flowed towards the king, to take shape of a warrior titan, with claws of silver and wings of steel. Taking the Vanhal flag from the failing grasp of the mortally wounded battle standard bearer, it lurched forward into the midst of the enemy droves, crushing knights as if they were porcelain dolls, and then, it plunged the blood-stained banner into the heart of Zodraj.
Rejoicing, the Vanhal assaulted their foes with renewed resolve, even as their unearthly ally proceeded to batter the hordes with the royal crest, burying finally the chieftain of the horde under its bulk.
Dispirited and shaken, the invading armies fled the battlefield in disarray, casting of their weapons and banners, shields and supplies, all to flee a little faster.
Amongst victorious shouts and revelry of the defenders, the strange saviour spoke: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œDally not, o faithful! Your foes will return if you do not strike them down now. The only one you can trust are your brethren, and the leadership of your lords. See where the lies of others led you! The Elves and Dwarves, though promise aid they did, his in their posh homes. The Rivermen, though trade with you, no, exploit you, they would, not one of them joined your ranks in your hour of need. All your success can be attributed to your might and faith! So raise your blades, and kindle the flames of vengeance, scorch your foes with the fire of truth, and never let the embers of resolve go out in your heart!ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?
The warrior titan looked around, and added: ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…â€œArm yourselves with the weapons of the foe, and strike at them while they still cover before your fury. Let none opposes you. Bear the SunStone, blackened by this dark hour, as your standard and symbol, so that you know what your fight is for!ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬?
And the men cheered, and little fires or rage burned in their eyes.
Before winter came, the Vanhal marched against their foes ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ man, woman and child, all fighting a war to end all threats against their homeland. They burned the forts and temples of the enemy, and made the defeated work to pay off their crimes. Wherever they carried the SunStone, the metal titan stood by their side, aiding them with council and might.
It was as if new vigour flowed into the veins of the Vanhal ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ their church became strong, and its temples shined with renewed glory, and likewise the king and the nobles found new self-confidence, even as the might of their adversaries faltered. The Vanhal had a goal: united, under one faith and one flag, they were one people, and they wished safety and glory for their land. To that end, forts were built and weapons forged, engines of war constructed, and new roads spanned the country ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ to bring home the bounty of the conquered lands and to move armies.
The cities and temples of the enemy were toppled, and those who wronged the Vanhal were cast down, slain or dragged off in chains. Neither the enchantments of the Elves nor the runic sigils of the Dwarves could stand against the power of the enigmatic ally. And when the Vanhal claimed the Stone of Seers from the Elves, and the Heart of the Mountain from the Dwarves, more allies came to their side ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ the Lady of Storms, and the Bull of Fire.
Generations passed, and Vanhal grew in power ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ their neighbours shook upon the mere mention of the Steel Legions, while the subjugated lands were ruled with an iron fist. Law and faith were upheld vigilantly, all under the patronage of the Enlightened Church of the One Truth, whose solemn temples were erected wherever the taint of the Pagan fell. With the aid of the Angels of Battle, a bright future seemed to await Vanhal. Still, not all was rightÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦
What was really going on?
The Gods had abandoned Vanhal. What heard they call were fiends, demons, the Fallen from the Abyss. Feasting upon pain and suffering, upon hatred and bloodshed, they saw an ideal tool in the oppressed Vanhal, and gave them the tools to exact their revenge.
They fostered hatred and intolerance, all under the mantle of justice and righteous retribution ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ against foes within and without. And the Vanhal eagerly swallowed the hook.
Picking out promising leaders with character that tends towards cruelty and aggression, the fiends assisted them in the guise of benevolent entities, while they abandoned or even removed those leaders who could halt the madness.
Likewise, they did with the church. While previously, the church was a peasant religion, soft and benevolent, they re-forged it into a tool of control of the populace ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ membership was mandatory, as was attending the services, where doctrines of intolerance and paranoia were spoken ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ after all, after being threatened by real foes, it is easy to begin imagining them everywhere. The priests served both as officers and judges, ferreting out dissension in the own ranks, as well as chastising people for insufficient war effort.
To further streamline the society towards their needs, the fiends supported the founding of boarding schools, with rigid discipline, teaching the doctrines of the state, as well as breaking up the traditional family units, and estranging the people.
The Secret Service, The Justicars, furthered the paranoia amongst the people ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ frequently, someone was dragged off on the charges of cooperating with the enemy ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ even though he just wrote a letter to a cousin abroad. Still, proper conduct was followed, a trial held, and the offenders convicted, and sent off to the mines.
The War, never ceasing, brought ruin to the neighbours of the Vanhal, and occupied most of the populace in manufactures, or on the battlefields. While it served the demonsÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â€žÂ¢ needs through bloodshed, it had another goal ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ with every holy site desecrated, and a Temple of Truth taking its place, their operation radius grew, likewise with every holy relic, for they needed despoiled faith to enter this world.
Occurrences tied to the war also aided their goal ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ orphanages for the children of war victims provided excellent recruits whom the machinery could brainwash; the young men in the armies, in need of affection, fuelled the custom of Loving the Hero, according to which it is honourable for a young woman to offer herself to the soldiers ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ destroying her dignity, and contributing to the population increase, many of which are children the mother cannot take care of, who thus are raised by the state.
Though they brought peril to many a real or imagined foe, the Vanhal themselves suffer too ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ tremendous war efforts, numerous fallen in the name of peace, and constant fear of enemies take their toll. The populace is afraid to trust anyone but the revered leaders and the Church, while reporting the trespassing of the neighbour has become more a custom than an exception.
The gap between Vanhal and other countries has grown almost too wide to bridge ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ other states are afraid of their might and aggression, while the Vanhal believe that their enemies are everywhereÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã‚Â¦ which may soon be too true. And where diplomacy holds no sway, swords reign ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ a fact more than welcome to the fiends.
The worst aspect of course is that the Vanhal themselves believe that all their actions, including the burning of temples and torture of prisoners, is for their own safety, as well as the salvation of the infidels, that their War is the One War to end all wars, that their goal is ultimate peace, harmony and all-transcending justice.
And all the time, the grey eminences behind the leaders plot how to bring about the downfall of the world, and how to turn it into a permanent vestige of the Abyss, with all souls theirs to consume.
To that end, they must despoil temples of other faiths, weaken the hold of the gods who once banished them, and turn their holy sites into tethers to the nether realms; to claim the most sacred of items and let them become mobile beacons and sources of power to the infernal.
Insidious and mighty they are, able to walk in the guise of man, or fledge into terrible beasts of war. Not only do they aid their armies, they also sow dissent amongst the opposition of the Vanhal, fostering distrust, murdering leaders, and instilling fear.
Against the Vanhal tide stands a loose coalition, the Celestial League, as well as numerous states on their own. Others still think they can avoid the coming storm by remaining neutral, allying with the beast, or they believe that long before the war reaches their borders, the beast will be sated.
The most important members of the League, to name but a few, are:
*Ter Thallin: on a lush isle above a conflux of arcane energies lies the First Bound Phoenix, the first node ever harnessed by mortals, and the renowned school of the Chaos Star, teaching the eight colleges of magic, as well as worldly sciences.
Enlightened and fiercely independent, the school, and its leader, Karnatha, the Thrice-Broken-Crescent, the Rector of Ter Thallin, is the loudest voice opposing the Vanhal.
*The Kerwan Coalition: possessing numerous islands, coastal outposts, and great fleets of both war and merchant vessels, the Kerwan are a multicultural semi-nomadic society with its prime interest in trade.
*The Iothun: the hearts of the mountains spoke clearly: the Vanhal are foes of Order, and foes of the Ancients. The colossal Iothun sally forth from their cities shrouded in snow and fog, to uphold their honour, and the purity of Mother Earth.
*The United Enterprises of Kagrond: a stalwart coalition of dwarven city-states, they once had close ties with societies of the Children of Stone all over the world ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ even with those the Vanhal razed and plundered. Revenge is best served cold, and they want to make sure that they get it.
The Enterprises supply a good deal of equipment and manpower to the League, and are the second strong pillar, next to Ter Thallin.
*The Noldamri: south of the Vanhal lands, an enchanted land lies, populated by humans, fey and elvenkind, as well as numerous other cultures, like the Deniae and the Kashbek (links will come).
The lands are truly rich in magic and ancient sorcery, and hold many a bounty to the Vanhal and their shadowy masters ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã¢â‚¬Å“ places of power, as well as sigils laid by the gods.
Many scholars claim that if the shadow of the Vanhal should fall on Noldamaar, the war might as well be over.
Thus, the sparse populace of these lands has been receiving a substantial amount of the resources of the League recently.