[Sorry, this was a day late. I got caught up in other things.]
In the land that was once known as Turkey, the fiercest battles rage.
This place, between the Black and Mediterranean Sea, has become the greatest battlefield of the New World. It is here that the forces of the Union and the Pantheon clash directly, every year.
As the snow melts and the days grow longer the Pantheon camps send forth their progeny. Teenagers swollen with divine power, indoctrinated with dreams of glory and given minimal training, they undertake their Pilgrimage with glad hearts.
By far the greatest number come from the heartlands of the Pantheon, from what used to be India and China. They trudge west in endless columns, Ultras and humans, Gods and daggers.
Some fall along the way, lost to internecine squabbling. Others desert the migration, joining one or another of the Pantheon’s many subfactions. But the vast majority, aided by their divine gifts, arrive intact to the Great Hosts’s fortresses.
Here the Valkyrie and the Gods of the Pantheon sort them and arrange them, test and train them. These Gods, who have earned their Divine Names in previous years, now take part in the culling of the next generation. They divide the output of the camps into warhosts suitable for battle, contesting among themselves for the right to lead the mightiest and most useful.
As the year goes on these hosts march west, and meet the Union’s forces in battle. Sometimes they go one at a time. Other times they set forth in larger coalitions of hosts, always they test themselves against their godless foe.
The Unions forces, for their part, have also been receiving reinforcements. Throughout the year their straining motherlands send them every new machine of war that can be constructed, every Ultra that the stingy Company will grant them and every new son or daughter who has passed their strict training regimens. They hope (for prayer is of their foe) that it is enough to keep the Faithful at bay for another year.
Their champions are always outnumbered, and inevitably strained to the breaking point, but every year the miracle repeats itself. The armies of the Union, stretched thin and overwhelmed by numbers that should be beyond defeat, pull through and gain their victory. The Pantheon’s proud Hosts are left broken and crushed upon the battlefields, the spurious divinity that mankind’s rambunctious children claimed revealed to be a lie, as their elders lay them low.
It has been estimated that the Pantheon sends as many as twenty thousand Ultras a year against the Union, and the same again in human servants and auxiliary forces. As many as seventy percent of them are lost in the battles, in one way or another. Most are killed. Some few are captured by the heathen enemy, dragged off to be interrogated in bunkers of dread repute. Many more abandon the crusade, vanishing into the dust and chaos of battle, wandering back into the Pantheon.
The remaining survivors fall back, and rejoin the Great Host. Some of them have earned their Divine Names, and become leaders of the incursions. Others escaped death in a more prosaic manner, and join their fellows in the great waiting.
As for the Unions forces? Estimates are far less certain as to the number of their Ultras, but most guesses place their numbers at a mere eight or nine thousand. It is likely that as many again are spread throughout the Union proper, awaiting their turn on the front lines.
They do not fight alone, of course. The Union’s Ultras are shielded by its drone forces, which number probably half again as large as their Ultra contingent, and by the finest human military that the world has ever seen. Union battle doctrine calls for ten humans per Ultra, minimum, and often times the numbers climb well beyond that.
The question that hangs above the fields of war is always the same. “Is this the year?”
Civilians tap it into forum threads. Soldiers ask it in their free time. Officers mutter it to one another, and anxiously query it into their com bands. Newly minted Gods scream it to their masters.
What ‘the year’ means varies depending on who is asking. Pantheon forces wonder if this is it, the year that the Great Host, the accumulation of decades of Pilgrimages, finally goes west. Union forces wonder the same, and also whether or not the endlessly rumored preemptive assault will finally sally forth, and see them wrong foot their enemy by engaging the Great Host directly, before it has the chance to send out its smaller war hosts. Conspiracy theorists scratch their heads and rake their cheeks, wondering whether She will finally send Her forces into the greatest battle in the world.
Those who know the truth, meanwhile, ask a far more sinister question. They know that even the Great Host is merely a smokescreen, a frightening apparition meant to mask the creation of a far deadlier weapon. The Army of Sunset, they ask. Is this the year that it makes its move?
They need question no more. None of them. This is the year.