Rocks and gravel
Cyrus summoned up his strength and lifted the lantern a little higher, so that the illumination could pass over the shoulder of his burly companion. Esther wasn't tall but she was broader in the shoulder than the thin Urizen mage and with the plates from her cuirass adding to her bulk he was was struggling to hold the heavy lantern high enough for them all to see by.
As the lantern swung it cast a medley of light and shadows through the chamber in front of them - just enough to see that some ancient looking chests at the far side of the cave. Could the treasure they had heard about be inside? Esther signaled for quiet and they all stood straining to hear... but there was no sound other than their breathing. Time for their scout to earn his keep.
The Freeborn corsair was a new addition to their little band, after poor Morgan was eaten by a marshwalker while investigating the smuggling ring in the Holberg swamps. He was handy in a fight with that scimitar he carried, but it was his claim to be skilled at finding and disabling traps that had convinced them to take him on. Time to see if he was useful for more than just hitting things.
He moved forward a few steps and then suddenly froze. There was a sound like no trap that Cyrus had ever heard - a sort of continuous rattling... like chitin on stone.
And it was coming from behind them!
"Battle!" he shouted and moved instinctively to get behind Esther. Anna of Liran's Gate muttered an oath, turning away from the queer rock formation she had been examining. She quickly readied her mace and her Labyrinth-marked shield.
"By Inga Tarn's hammer, what is that noise?" she asked.
Cyrus had no idea. Something was coming up the tunnels from behind them... and by the sounds it was coming fast and it was not alone.
He put his hand on Esther's shoulder and nodded to his old friend - he'd start with an empowering chant - hopefully they could win the fight fast, and save the healing for later.
A little over a month after the Spring Equinox a large section of north-western Goldglades in Miaren ... disappeared. With an almighty roar, a section half a mile across simply collapsed. Goldglades is one of the richest part of Miaren, and the loss of life could have been very high indeed - but there was some warning. Several vates apparenty forsaw the danger in the Pool of Silver Clouds, and were able to deliver warnings to those in the effected area. Not everyone listened of course - but the Navarr are by nature a people prepared to move when the need arises.
After the initial collapse, the hole began to spread. Warnings were sent to Birchland in Upwold, to the Vardstein Vales in Temeschwar, and to Wood Heath in Hahnmark. Not a moment too soon - less than a day after the first Navarr messengers reached Woodhall in the far south-west of Hahnmark, the ground opened up beneath the hall literally swallowing it whole. Without timely action by the thane in response to the warnings, several hundred people might have been swallowed alongside it.
Over the next month, chaos reigned. Sinkholes opened in south-eastern Temeschwar, and in north-eastern Upwold. Eastern Guard was evacuated of all save a bare bones garrison too stubborn to abandon their post, and for several weeks there was real concern that this old fortress might go the way of Woodhall.
The last great collapse took place three weeks ago; a significant part of the Vardstein Vales slid into the widening hole. Since then, there has been no further collapse. A small team of civil service surveyors (among many others) have visited the area and confirmed that the collapse appears to have stopped, at least for now, and folk are gingerly returning to the area.
Where the four territories once met, there is now a massive sinkhole. It is estimated to be seven hundred feet deep, with a lake at the bottom that may well be bottomless. The cliff walls are nearly vertical, and still prone to collapse in some places, but there are also signs of caves and tunnels opening out in several places. Initial explorers have excitedly reported what look to be ancient mine workings - some reaching back to the time of the Terunael, and some reaching back even further. The full extent of the network of caverns here has yet to be determined. More worryingly, some of the early daredevils who have made a preliminary investigation of some of the more accessibly caves and tunnels have failed to return - and all those who have made it back in one piece have described encounters with particularly angry trogoni - creatures rarely encountered outside of the mountains of Urizen, and the northern peaks of Wintermark and Varushka.
The giant hole in the ground has some profound implications for the strategic map of the Empire, as well as (in the short term) for the population of the four effected regions. It also presents an opportunity for adventure, wealth ... and danger.
The massive sinkhole is a natural hazard that affects the movement of Imperial armies. The territories of Miaren and Hahnmark are no longer considered adjacent; likewise, it is no longer possible for a campaign army to move from Temeschwar to Upwold and vice-versa. This is a permanent change.
The civil service reports massive stockpiles of weltsilver stored in the exposed tunnels - it seems likely that this were gathered here from the ancient mine workings for some reason. Now that they have been exposed they are literally just lying there for the taking. The only problem is the trogoni - these dangerous creatures infest the tunnels in large numbers. They don't care about the weltsilver - trogoni feast on mana crystals (and occasionally tempest jade). The ones living here seem to ignore the weltsilver and instead roam the tunnels looking for the natural mana crystals that slowly form here. But they will attack anyone who comes close.
Thus the only practical way to get the weltsilver is to send small detachments of soldiers - military units - into the tunnels in search of it. During downtime, any military unit owner may assign their forces to the Claim wetsilver bounty opportunity (which will be appear as am option on the Paid Work drop-down menu).
Each standard military unit assigned adds 100 strength to the opportunity. Each additional rank the military unit possesses adds another 20 strength. Rituals and other effects that make a military unit more effective at paid work apply their benefits normally to the effective ranks. Once downtime closes, we will determine the outcome based on the total effective strength of all assigned military units - but in this case the more strength that is assigned the opportunity the more dangerous it becomes..
The problem is that if too many military units sent into the tunnels they are likely to rouse the trogoni to such a level that they boil out of the tunnels and attack the surrounding regions. That would then require an Imperial army to deal with - which given the current military situation might be very expensive indeed.
- As long as the total effective military strength assigned to this opportunity each season remains less than 2500, then according to civil service divination, there will be no problem. At this level the trogoni response will be muted and can be easily managed by those involved.
- If the total effective strength is at least 2500 but less than 3500 in any season, then the impact would be felt by the surrounding regions. The trogoni would boil out of the tunnels in sufficient numbers that they would threaten nearby defenders causing the loss of a quarter of the production of mines, forests, farms, and businesses in the four territories that abut the sinkhole, and a 50% penalty to any mana sites in the affected territories.
- If the total effective strength is 3500 or greater in any season, then the trogoni will swarm out of the tunnels together. Although they are not an army, at that point they will be large enough to be equivalent to one. This force would move as one, attacking one of the four territories nearest the hole, driving off the inhabitants. In practical terms the consequences will be indistinguishable from having a small army of trogoni attacking and conquering the neighbouring territories from the sinkhole. At that point the situation will be so bad that independent military units acting alone will not be able to stop the trogoni - and it will require an army to eliminate the threat.
Provided the involvement of Imperial military units remains below the critical threshold for the next two seasons, the problem should then abate. Most of the weltsilver is likely to have been recovered by then and returns will have dropped to the point that it is no longer worth the danger. The trogoni population will have been depleted by encounters with the raiders and while there will always be some creatures living in the tunnels it is unlikely to become an ongoing problem.
The rewards for such an action will be impressive; any military unit assigned to the tunnels in the coming seasons is going to come away with at least 16 ingots of weltsilver - and more if it is enchanted or upgraded.
In addition, we assume that small NPC military units and groups of entrepreneurs will explore the tunnels, meaning an increase in the amount of weltsilver on the public auction for the next six months.
The area affected by the sinkhole is prosperous and rich in resources - many of which have now been destroyed by the subsidence. The lands around Dunhearth Hall in Hahnmark are known to have been particularly badly hit. Those who are affected by the destruction may wish to pursue a claim to the bounty that lies under their lands - if the magistrates are not able to help then they will need to seek a resolution from the Senate.
There will be a temporary impact on taxation returns for the Empire in the following seasons until things are rebuilt and people have recovered.
Any character who owns an upgraded personal resource in Miaren, Hahnmark, Temeschwar or Upwold and who roleplays that it is in the affected regions may decide that it has been damaged or destroyed by the sinkhole by e-mailing Profound Decisions (at firstname.lastname@example.org). We will remove the upgrade for you - to reflect that your resource has been damaged or that you have been forced to acquire a replacement.
The Imperial Senate could choose to take action regarding the sinkhole. At present there is no way to know which military units are attempting to loot the place. The Senate could pass a motion to instruct the civil service to observe the area - that would cost money but would allow the Senate some ability to respond to the situation, as the civil service compile a list of who has looted the sinkhole.
Alternatively the Senate might pass a motion to control access to the bounty or determine who it belonged to. Getting good legal advice from the magistrates office before submitting should be sufficient to ensure that any sensible motion was free from constitutional concerns.
Lancing the Boil
If the Imperial Military Council consider the situation at the sinkhole is too precarious, then they could address the crisis directly by sending one or more armies to any of the four territories with orders to attack the trogoni. Day mages investigating the hole estimate that the effective strength of the trogoni creatures is equal to a small campaign force of around 2500 strength, which would be defeated if reduced to 1000 strength.
If the trogoni were destroyed, the generals leading the force would then be free to claim the huge bounty of weltsilver for the Empire. There would be no further threat from the trogoni in this area. Any possible encounters in the future would only be with small numbers of individuals - the sort of thing a band of brave heroes could deal with - not something you would need an army to resolve.
If an army engages the trogoni directly then they will be pinned in place while they fight the army, regardless of how many military units are looting the weltsilver at the time. However, if any army attacks the trogoni but does not destroy them and then moves away next season so that the trogoni are not engaged - then they will automatically boil out of their hole to attack the surrounding area exactly as described above if an effective strength of 3500 had attempted to loot the tunnels.
Additionally, if the general of foraging army were to take the plunder order in the area - then the force could be directed to plunder the mines (and if desired, to avoid plundering anywhere else). Such a force would gain an increased share of the weltsilver available, but also be able to grab other treasures from the tunnels, including (but not limited to) some of the mana crystals growing there.
This opportunity persists in its current form for six months. At the end of that time, the situation will have changed enough that these opportunities are no longer valid. Further developments will depend on how the Empire has dealt with this situation during that time.