Snow descends like a soft curtain over the chill plains of the Greater North.
Barren steppes deserted of Men stretch between walls of white-sided peaks lying on the edges of the horizon. Through the boulder-strewn gorse, along tiny game trails and ancient tracks shadowing the paths of the broken, scattered roads of the ancient North, come fleeing the sickened, the weak, the cowardly, the dying, the ragged refugees of a thousand fallen villages, tiny rising ghosts of smoke leaping on the far-away.
They come to Zaiyasc, ancient jewel of the old North, the Queen of Trade, an empty house of dust with fractured walls and collapsed facades, her ancient bronze gates wide to ages of snow and dust and scavengers, and to three-thousand drawn and grey shamblers, clad in filthy rags. They stream into the echoing streets of Zaiyasc, wailing, shouting, sobbing in the arms of strangers, searching for their relatives lost in a tide of panicked refugees.
This grey remnant fill the ruinous halls of their grand ancestors of the Old North, line the remaining walls to stare hard-eyed into the distance, erect barriers of ancient rubble and smashed carts and the dead across the yawning gates, all in preparation against that phantom army, that white scintillation which sweeps like terror across snow-blown emptinesses.
They arm themselves with ancient Hvironi bronze, don the antiquarian puzzle-armors of the long-gone Zaiyasc (many are killed when the puzzle-plates snap closed like a trap on their innards, misunderstanding even to the last the manner in which such armor is equipped), and craft ramshackle standards, shouting battered pride and tarnished defiance expectantly toward the empty arches of the Greater North sky.
A child is born, the first in the new fortress of refugees, and the omen-priests cry out in terror- it is a freak, a stillborn lie of nature with hideous deformities. The mother does not long live. And still, the jury-rigged refugee warriors line the ruinous walls, singing hymns to old, sad gods, making sacrafices in their signal fires, praying, praying against the day that that marching sea of terror appears whitely upon the steppe.
The red-orange gaze of dawn rolls slumberously over the steppe, sending weak and chilly rays to shine against the gazes of Zaiyasc's somber watchmen. In their hearts, there is a cold imbued by the long Northern night, a cold which does not flee after the sun has risen, not for an hour, nor for five hours, not when dented bells ring noon-temple, not when grey clouds like omens gather about the tired eye of heaven and a lonely wind tosses snow across the emptiness.
And the terror comes.
It shows itself first in a heart-freezing rumble, the sound of a thousand thousand phantom feet upon the permafrosted turf, the earthshaker roar of a vast army on the march.
Dark armadas of clouds draw evilly across the sky, dimming the waverous sunlight to a dim pale gleam, only just enough to see by. The wind wails through the empty arcades and impermanent shelters of Zaiyasc. Snow whips along corridors of emptiness.
The sentries of Zaiyasc fall against the stones of the parapets, gasping in fear.
On the horizon, there is a white ghost-gleam, a scintillation across inhuman armor, and a writhing sea of strangeness growing across the North.
The refugees tremble. There is a sound:
Ears strain to hear it.
There is a sound: It is clearer now.
It is a thousand voices as one, a thousand inhuman shouts, a thousand shrieking Not-Man yells, all as one, one voice, a terrible voice, the roaring of the demon god which has devoured the Greater North:
The flighted masses of Men tremble in their entirety.
SEE THE DOOM OF MEN.
The children of Zaiyasc wail in unison. Those dogs which have not been eaten howl in unison. The horses scream in unison. The chorus of horror grows.
DO YOU SEE?
DO YOU SEE?
The water freezes as the air becomes chill, and crackles and rings with frost. The ragged folk draw close about guttering embers, trying to no avail to escape this bone-deep cold which has seeped into the world.
SEE THE DOOM OF MEN.
The dusk rings like a iron bell, the light of dying day is muffled behind an overcast wall of cloud, like the funeral shroud of the sky.
Across the steppe, the Not-Men are seen.
BEYOND MEMORY, WE ROSE IN THE LAND, AND BATTLED MEN. BUT MEN FOUND HEART IN THE FIRES OF THEIR SOULS, AND DROVE US AWAY, FAR, SO FAR AWAY, INTO THE FARTHEST NORTH BEYOND WALLS OF ICE, TO GUTTER AWAY, TO DIE LIKE A FLAME IN THE RAIN.
An indescribable horde, a writhing carpet of spidery jointless freaks with soft bones; perfectly-orderly columns of snow-white beings on six-legged horses which snort mists of blood; clots of tattered, emaciated Men, the enslaved ones, their eyes closed forever with masks of iridescent metal; and others, impossible shapes, nightmare shapes, howling fear-dreams which curl and gesture on the horizon, imposing fractured realities upon this one which has frozen and darkened.
The demon hum of the Voice, that hideous blend of a thousand thousand shrieks, wails, roars, shouts, cries, cracks like buzzing thunder again across the plains.
BUT WE DID NOT DIE, WE DID NOT GUTTER AWAY. WE WERE LESSENED, AND GREW WEAKER FOR A TIME, BUT THEN WE FROZE, HARDENED INTO A COLD HEART OF ICE, UNBOWED, UNBENT.
The first volleys of hard arrows soar over the walls of Zaiyasc, blackened lengths of metal which land in a perfect sweep in the frozen ground, each arrow crowned with a human head, partially-decayed, frozen in rictuses of unimaginable fear.
And the sentries of Zaiyasc, flee, scatter, break, shatter, collapse like a layer of rime over a stream, minds decaying into a madness of fear.
And the Voice booms on, that shuddering intonation ringing from the ultimate north, the voice of Gholgoth Throne, the Seat of Skulls.
WE ARE THE LORDS OF WINTER.
SEE THE DOOM OF MEN.