Four years ago far in the North, past the edge of the Free Trade Union, across the expanse of the Wilds, a great column of light blazed for days and nights. It was extinguished just as abruptly and inexplicably as it began. For weeks it was a curiosity, an aberrant event that fuels idle speculation and then fades to be re-placed with more pressing concerns.
Then the Swarm came.
A newly established settlement, Newtown, the furthest north a settlement had ever been established, was the first to fall. A few survivors fled to nearby FTU settlements with tales of mutated creatures and the walking corpses of their friends and family, but were not believed. It made no difference, the Swarm was scant hours behind them and none could stand in its way.
Within months the FTU had collapsed as an organised force. The Swarm headed generally south, cutting the FTU in half and wiping out a full third of its settlements. With many others being abandoned, refugees fled to the Aristoc, to the Matriarchy, to anywhere.
The Swarm spread across the land and, for over a year, death stalked in humanity’s shadow. Settlements fell, travellers disappeared and the thought spread, the thought that this might truly be the end of humanity’s brief respite since the Burn, and this time there would be no survivors to rebuild. All would be butchered by the Swarm.
The Swarm fractured. The main bulk slowly ground its way across the land, while smaller swifter tendrils lashed out and around, overrunning settlements from all the great cultures and countless independents and homesteads.
Mankind fought back.
The Matriarchy fortified their towns and awaited the flood to break over them, hoping to hold against the tide. The Falket tribes sought to out run and out think their Hunters, trusting their knowledge of the land, and only fighting if denied all other options. The Aristoc formed up their Grand Armies and took the fight to the Swarm, hoping to crush the tendrils before they hit. All these tactics worked, and none were enough.
General Dunehill tried a third time. How the Peacekeepers, notoriously insular, knew who she was is unknown. She is the only individual known to have entered Sanc since the Burn. She returned exactly 24 hours later. When asked what she had discussed with the Peacekeepers she would answer only ‘Morality’.
The details of that meeting will never be known, but Dunehill left Sanc accompanied by three detachments of Peacekeeper Powered Armour units, a regiment of soldiers, and many supplies. The Peacekeepers had joined the War.
Soon, forces from the Matriarchy, dozens of Falket tribes and remnants of the Free Trade Union, united under one banner. This allied force would funnel the Swarm, using hit and run tactics and suicide ‘bait’ units, into a central pre-positioned location.
The subsequent ‘Battle of the Caldera’ was a near disaster. Over thirty Falket tribes, two divisions of Peacekeeper powered armour units, a Grand Army of the Aristoc (including Dunehill herself), and numerous others perished that day – but the Swarm was broken. Pockets still appear to this day, two years later, but reclaiming the land that was lost has begun.
Judging from the fall of the first settlement, Newtown , to the battle of Caldera , the Swarm War was a little over four years long. The Aristoc estimate the total death toll to be between 55% and 60% of the total population. On any scale that can be measured, the Swarm War was devastating.
By far the worst hit culture was the Free Trade Union, due to simple geography. As the Swarm progressed south between the Barrier Mountains and the Bone Ridges, the FTU lay open before them. Settlement after settlement fell and was consumed, the dead adding to the Swarms numbers. As it moved into the relatively open landscape of the Union, the Swarm spread out. Groups (named tendrils) would scour the landscape, attacking all they came across.
The initial response of the Union was hampered by a lack of information about the enemy, the wide area of engagement, and most of all by the fact that the Union possessed no form of standing Army; the closest approximation being the Trade Enforcement Squads, whose duties were limited to the collection of loans and the enforcement of laws. These squads, while more than capable in their actual fields, were woefully unprepared and equipped to fight any form of war, never mind one against an implacable and remorseless foe.
The scale of the problem quickly became apparent, and the FTU made use of its vast web of contacts and trading partners in order to put out a call for help. While the Peacekeepers kept true to their isolationist stance and ignored the entreaties, and the Matriarchy hesitated to commit to a problem far away and involving a culture they distrust, the Falket and Aristoc quickly realised the scale of the threat and began to mobilise.
The Falket, as is their nature, responded on a tribe by tribe basis, but thanks to their network of Seers were able to begin a co-ordinated fight back, and for two long months the Falket stood alone, trying to slow the advance and give the FTU time to evacuate or consolidate their battered forces. The Falket’s valiant stand was ultimately futile, unable to hold against the sheer weight of numbers, but they bought time for the First Grand Army of the Aristoc to arrive and bolster defences. The Aristoc General, Dunehill, initiated a plan of containment. Her forces would combine with those of the FTU and Falket tribes, and use the FTU settlements of Craterville, Star Fall, and Shacksville as bases of operation, and seek to draw a line in the sand, holding the Swarm north of these points.
Meanwhile, over a hundred Falket tribes moved out of the Great Plains towards the FTU, and the Aristoc where in the process of assembling a Second Grand Army. In the 6th month since Newtown fell, the defending forces seemed to have contained the threat, and attacks had lessened across ‘the line’. This early optimism came crashing down at what has become known as The Fall of Shacksville.
The loss of the line and the realisation that the Swarm are much larger than previously thought called for a significant change in strategy. Dunehill approached the Peacekeepers. Details of the meeting are scarce, and what little is known is rapidly becoming the stuff of legend. What is undeniable is that the meeting was a great success, and the Peacekeepers joined the war. From this point the defending forces became the Alliance, under overall command of Dunehill. The Matriarchy mainly focused on their own defence, with tendrils reaching into their territory, but did finally join the Alliance, and Matriarchy troops fought alongside the rest.
"The Swarm is unstoppable. All conventional methods of fighting this invasion have failed and the Alliance is being bled dry. Alliance forces are unable to bring the Swarm to battle on favourable terms, and the vast size of the infested area is making containment impossible. Dunehill proposes a new plan. Units will operate in small teams and spread out into the Swarm Devastation Zone to act as bait. These bait units, volunteer only, and the vast majority of them Falket, will lure the Swarm units back to pre-prepared kill positions. Thus begins a war of attrition, designed solely to slow the spread of the Swarm and buy Dunehill time; time to bring the second and third Aristoc Grand Army into the fight; time for more Falket to arrive; and time to prepare the real plan… Caldera."
"For over a year Dunehill has been cycling troops on bait and kill duty, using the time to train as many of the Alliances forces as possible in the skills needed for her plan. Caldera is an independent settlement of no particular importance or strategic value, other than its location. Nestled in the wall of a large crater, with access through a steep sided valley, Caldera is a natural ambush site... if she can make the Swarm take the bait." It took months of fighting, and a great many lives, but slowly the disparate tendrils of the Swarm were lured together by bait teams, and lead towards Caldera. Meanwhile Caldera was being turned into a temple to the art of death. Fortified positions; fall back routes; minefields; concentric defences, with everything from explosive rockets to pits of sharp sticks… Dunehill was betting everything on one great battle to break the Swarm, and Caldera was the place to do it.
Before the Swarm War, the Free Trade Union was seen as strong and growing in power. Independent settlements had been joining the expanding Union at an increasing rate. But in the face of the Swarm, FTU Trade Enforcement Squads that had been so capable of protecting trade caravans and punishing smugglers were simply washed away. The FTU is a broken and splintered group, desperately trying to rebuild its strength before the vultures of the Matriarchy or Aristoc begin circling. With over half its pre-war population dead or gone, it has a hard task ahead.
At face value the Matriarchy endured the war best. While they sent troops and materiel to the Alliance Army it was only a fraction of their strength, the majority of which was kept back guarding the Matriarchy’s settlements. This turned out to be a double edged sword for the Matriarchy as, while they lost the fewest people during the war, the gesture of support for the Alliance was returned with a token effort in defending them. The Alliance Army did little to draw Swarm elements from the East before the Battle of Caldera, and subsequently areas around Matriarchy holdings are the most Swarm infested today. Travel and trade within the Matriarchy is conducted with large armed escorts, or by the terminally overconfident. Yet the Matriarchy does not lack for soldiers and feel that now, while others are weakened, may be the time to bring the message of Restoria to the Godless.
For the Falket tribes, priding themselves on their martial ability, two years of evading, running and hiding had taken a toll on the spirit of the people. So when the opportunity to finally go on the offensive was presented, the Falket seized it with relish. The network of Seers was an invaluable information gathering resource, and Falket made up more than their fair share of bait teams, each and every one a volunteer. For this they paid a heavy butchers bill, but ask a Falket today how they feel about the war and one of two replies is all but guaranteed; either pride in having taken part, or sadness at having been too far away to get involved. Many tribes were lost, many more are now under strength. How the Falket plan to replenish their numbers remains to be seen.
The Aristoc became the foundation for the Alliance Army, and whatever view one might hold of the Aristoc in general, it is not wise to insult the memory of General Dunehill to a veteran of Caldera, regardless of their culture. Once looked upon as something of a threatening presence, with their rigid society and unnatural leaders, the Aristoc, or at least its soldiers, have become something like heroes in many places. But the reputation has come at a price. The first Grand Army wiped out to a man, the second and third suffering so many casualties as to barely make one Grand Army between them. But their sacrifice preserved much of the Aristoc’s lands and infrastructure – much needed in the aftermath of the Swarm. The Aristoc are becoming the breadbasket of the world, and their goods are finding new markets in the devastation of the FTU. The Aristoc may be poised to make great gains in the wake of the Swarm, if their own intrigue and politics will allow it...
Sending the Peacekeeper Expeditionary Force to join the Allied Army was the biggest exodus from Sanc ever. Losses were to be expected, although one might wonder if they expected them so high. Regardless, what must have come as a shock is just how many of that Expeditionary Force chose not to return. The reasons are as varied as the people in question – a newfound love, a mission of revenge on the Swarm for a fallen friend, an undiscovered wanderlust with the wide open world. Whatever the reason, there are suddenly a great deal more Peacekeepers out in the world.