Abundance above, deprivation below. Nature always balances these gradients, eventually.
A campaign seed for Veins of the Earth*.
How do they rise?
1. Black gates swing open in the depths of the darkest dungeons. This has happened before. This will happen again.
2. Carried in the bellies of behemoth-worms.
3. Marching in a thousand disparate trickles, ant-line vanguards for the hive further beneath.
4. Millenia of excavation, careful sapping, all for a moment of utter collapse.
5. Dragged by fateful chains forged by the words of oracles drunk on the chthonic vapours they sent up.
6. A prince of the molten earth ransomed, bargained, or tricked into making the outer crust shudder and crack just so.
What is the omen of their coming?
1. The value of currencies collapse as markets flood with precious metals.
2. Creatures like blind serpents with many-chambered stomachs glutting in the fields, whole flocks swallowed up at once.
3. Eruptions of dust into the atmosphere, the sun bloating to a fat, dull red. Green trees are overcome by towering mushrooms and new vegetation in necrotic hues.
4. Sorcerer-kings wearing occultum crowns enjoying meteoric ascendancy.
5. Clouds spread tendrils rather than gathering in clumps. Rain falls greasy and sulphurous. All this is the influence of stale gases released from far, far below.
6. Bats disappear from the starry skies. The night belongs to them now.
How do they fight?
1. Preceded by an ultimatum, with generous disinterest to those who surrender and annihilation to those who resist.
2. Like locusts, ravenous violence without hatred. A wavefront of ecological devastation.
3. On a vast and subtle scale with merchantilist fervor, addicting populations to the exports of the underworld.
4. Under the cover of breeds of darkness that thrive on light and life.
5. With the weapons of our own sunken civilizations. Ysian cannons kintsugi’d together with Atlantean orichalcum, among others.
6. Following a wave of ravening plagues glutting on the unadapted cornucopia of the upper world.
What is among them?
1. Fungal networks the size of mountains, thinking slow thoughts so complex that reality bends in the pull of their informational density.
2. Generations of sequential undead, buried, eaten by vermin, the vermin dying, rising, and being eaten in turn and over again for countless inbred years.
3. Stone giants with molten blood. The blood is the life, the body their shell. They will flood our fortresses and take them for their new flesh.
4. Protean intermediate forms spawned from the muds of the Nightmare Sea, adapting to the sun and abundance as they once did to the barren dark.
5. Gap-gods that exist in absence rather than substance: in tunnels and cavities, between words, when you have nothing and no one else.
6. Amorphous, incendiary spirits of coal and oil, dryads compressed together and transmuted with their forests.
What do they carry?
1. Biological bells that ring with rasping tongues. Their tones slither over vast distances and issue orders to war-beasts.
2. Pale and bepincered centipedes in glass terrarium-bottles. The creatures' excrement is a spice as piquant as paprika.
3. Figurines like the negative space in a chunk of pumice, a map of their distant home.
4. Jars of mucal ointment worn as a body coating. Mingles into wounds to put the flesh into torpor, slowing bleeding and dulling pain.
5. Lick-salts borne reverently on golden paddles. A taste skews your sight sideways into a next-door universe.
6. Elaborate braids that encode a writing read by touch in their knots and patterns. Everyday stuff is recorded in strands woven from fungal hyphae, important orders in copper wires.
Why here, why now?
1. Life on the surface has only just proliferated and progressed enough to convince the powers of the greater world below that they might have something worth taking.
2. An adventurer from the sunlit realms, thought lost in the depths, leads their ascension with messianic fury.
3. Reliable confirmation of the existence of the surface is a recent development. For the longest time orthodox cosmological models had an endless continuation of more stone up above.
4. The heart of the world is dying, its heat no longer sufficient to sustain its veins.
5. Interference from the surface has since ancient times been the political scapegoat for domestic problems. A prolonged and exceptional period of deprivation has caused that prejudice to boil over.
6. There is something crawling through the veins. It leaves the dead to rot. It is known only by the carnage that follows behind. If you are close enough to hear it coming, it has already got you. Nothing has yet survived.
What can be done?
1. There are many among them, and the grievances between some are older than the blood feuds of any human clan. Perhaps a wedge could be driven in to divide and better defend against the conquest.
2. As below, so above. Invisible legions lie in the upper air and the void beyond. The trick is learning what you could possibly offer to win them, and whether it is an acceptable price.
3. Salt every inch of lost ground, make every one of their victories a narrow thing fought for tooth and nail. Withstand the attrition, and you might reach a stalemate appreciated by no side but tolerated by all.
4. An army without leadership becomes a directionless horde, unable to apply critical pressure on any particular point. Strike surgically, decapitate the invaders, and weather what follows.
5. Forgive old foes, call up ancient pacts, present a united front to meet the flood.
6. Adapt or die. This is no different from any other extinction. Become the progenitor of surviving surfacekind.
*I started this 4 years ago in January of 2019, and on reflection now it feels diametrically opposed to the themes of VotE. That's fine. If it were too close I'd essentially be stealing Patrick Stuart's work. A man's work is like his child. Who would I be if I stole a man's child? I would be many of the people listed in child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein's unredacted little black book.