Even you will have heard of the Great Enemy. The worst of them all. Not the English. Not the Austrian, the Prussian or even the Spanish. Far more dreadful and terrible. The accursed plague.
The first wave
It started in 541. It reached beyond its home in the Asian Steppes and arrived in Egypt. From there it went to Constantinople where it killed 10,000 people every day. And from there it spread to Italy, and then to Francia and the rest of Europe. Auvergne was struck first, and the cities of Dijon, Bourges, Chalon-sur-Saône, and Lyon. Then it was the turn of Narbonnes, Albi, Marseille, Viviers and Avignon... This first time, it mostly stuck to the coastal and fluvial regions but was also transmitted to the Germanic tribes through war. It still killed one third to half of the population of Europe. 15 to 100 million individuals.
It is because of it that Emperor Justinian of the Byzantine Empire did not manage to pursue his conquests in Italy and to re-establish a unified Roman Empire. This event sounded the final knell over the corpse of Rome. And it is because of this that we in Francia turned away from the Mediterranean to look towards the North.
Emperor Justinian got the right idea to deal with that catastrophe, and he went on to pass laws to make people also pay the portion of tax due by their deceased neighbours!
It came periodically after that, reminding people of its existence every few years. And then, suddenly in 767, it ended. This was most probably due to the combined rituals performed throughout the continent finally managing to take roots onto the enemies. How many deaths would have been spared if the Christian Church had not forbidden the practice of human sacrifices? Just punishment to Rome for having allowed such a thing that it would precipitate its end...
After that we had nearly 6 centuries of peace. It allowed us to forget...
It was soon discovered by magis that the malady propagates through fleas and lice. The pestilence reproduces in those animals' stomach and forms aggregates in their guts. This blocks their digestion system and prevents them from ever satiating themselves with the blood of their host. The animal is thrust into a feeding frenzy, biting everything that comes near it, even regurgitating the content of its stomach in an attempt to free itself from the blockage. All part of the plan...
Fleas and lice can live on anything, but the pestilence is particularly fond of those on rats. Indeed, rodent blood is ideal for the pestilence to reproduce and multiply, since the rat is sturdy and can withstand a high number of them before it finally dies. The starving fleas then have to start the search for a new host. And look, there is an appetising human nearby...
After the bite of those animals upon a human, the pestilence spreads through the body and travels in the lymphatic vessels to a lymph node. There, it multiplies, creating a swelling mass and forming a characteristic bubo. Located in the groin, neck, and armpits, this can grow as large as an egg or even an apple. From where it first appears, the malady spreads all over the body in black spots of gangrene. This is followed by acute fever and vomiting of blood. And then death. When the symptoms appear, the victims have 2 to 7 days left to live. Only 20% of the contaminated can hope to survive...
By the time the first signs of the new wave appeared in 1347, the first one had been reduced to little beyond legends found in old manuscripts. Nobody knew of the horror that was coming towards them...
Even centuries later, we're still missing information about what happened in between the two waves and what caused it to suddenly reappear. And yet, a terrible suspicion has caught onto our minds and is difficult to dismiss, such is its strength!
Everybody know it was due to same crazy warmongering warlord in Asia who played with rituals they had very little understanding of...
This time, it was worst.
We were all proud of the medicinal progress we had done, and the Church was smug that none of those were done through the use of human sacrifices. Yet none of them stood a chance of stopping what was coming.
For this time it was sentient.
Aware and intelligent, understanding perfectly its actions and the devastation it was causing. From when it arrived on the silk road, it acquired a taste for humans and started to purposefully target us... To face our pitiful defences, the Enemy even felt the need to develop new mechanisms of actions. As if it was not deadly enough on its own!
Instead of merely targeting the lymph nodes, it also spread through the blood, creating severe sepsis. The abominations even have fun triggering the coagulation system to create random blood clots and kill our tissues! They have even started to make patterns with them! Seems that they find all of those gangrenous black spots on us aesthetic... and then the rest of the blood cannot clot properly anymore, and it accumulates in other tissues and makes red spots.
Of course, this form of the disease is always fatal and, when the Enemy grows too impatient, death can even occur before any symptom appears...
Since this all was not apparently fun enough, the abominations then started to target the lungs! It multiplies there and destroys the tissues. The victims of course cough blood everywhere, and the miasma they create can then infect everyone around them! This is how the Enemy really managed to colonise every corner on Earth... And no need to add, this form of the disease is also always fatal.
Yet, even beyond the risk of death for the infected, once the abominations start to play with someone to such a degree, survival is not something that should be hoped for. Indeed, all of the few individuals who have managed to do so were not right in the mind and had to be put down through great troubles and no minimal causalities. Some even said that it was the Enemy speaking through their mouth and that nothing of what they say bears repeating...
Unsurprisingly, a lot of people reacted very stupidly...
This period was also the occasions for a flourishing of new magics and rituals, everyone fully embracing their experimenter side in vain attempts at survival. Herbal concoctions held inside masks, and especially the fumes they emitted, were found to be the only thing actually able to slow the spread of the miasma, while long costume covered in oil protected from bites. Yet it was impossible to live constantly in those clothes and masks. Food had to be eaten. Herbs had to be changes. Oil had to be reapplied. And the enemy was sentient, perfectly able to bid its time and lie in ambush until the perfect moment to strike came.
Nobody was brave—or clever—enough to propose the obvious solution of human sacrifices. Killings occured in an attempt to get rid of those who had angered God so as to appease them into getting rid of the disease, but God is known to be distant and impassive in front of human suffering.
Can you believe that all of those imbeciles committed so many deaths and let them all go to waste by their refusal to link them to ritual magic?
The closest people came to human sacrifices was by the use of flagellation, individuals sacrificing their own suffering to empower rituals.
That the Church liked! They wouldn't have us touch another human being for any reason, but manipulating people so that they torture themselves all of their own, that they approved!
Convoys of flagellants travelled through Europe, empowering their rituals through grandiose displays of suffering and penitence and trying to convince others by their example. Far too many did.
I'd say good death to all of those imbeciles, but they were the ones who propagated the pestilence the most through all of their travels! Even worse than all the nobles fleeing to the countryside, and you've really got to try to be worse than nobles!
It was not humanity that saved itself, but the pestilence own arrogance and bloodlust. Things stop being fun when your opponents lose all hopes after all. And once half of the population of Europe had died out, it stepped back and went away to look in other directions... For a time.
The stick was used to examine patients without touching them and to keep them at a respectable distance from the doctor. It was also sometimes offered to patients to use for self-flagellation to repent for their sins.
People allowed themselves to breathe out a sigh of relief when they realised it had finally left, but this time they did not let themselves hope it was for good. They continued to theorise and experiment, trying to make themselves ready for the next wave. Of course, once it came they were not.
Optimism is a stupid English thing that only gets people killed! Don't fall for this trap!
It came back within a few decades with just as much devastation. And it kept moving away and coming back every few years or decades, leaving us all just enough time to reproduce and create new victims for them to play with.
It was only with the Renaissance that a solution emerged. By the re-discovery of ancient classical texts, mages re-acquainted themselves with different ways of casting curses. Discussions of the power of damnatio memoriae in many ancient cultures were the trigger that was needed to envision a new kind of global curse, powered by the entire world population!
See? This is the proof that insulting and cursing people actually has an effect! If you do it often enough, even you could hope to trigger a nosebleed in your enemy! And this is also why any bad talking about your superiors is severely punished. Try it and the leeches will be the least of your problems...
It took a few decades for news of this plan to travel throughout the world and reach all continents and for the local population to be convinced of its efficiency. But when it did, oh yes it was efficient.
Finally, the Enemy was named, only for that name to be destroyed forever by the curse. Y. P. is the only trace left of it, and any fool who dare to attempt to pronounce it is condemned to tortures wrothy of regicides. Thanks to the curse, the plague disappeared almost from one day to the next. At least until we released our vigilance and the curse weakened. Since then, the world has been regularly visited by epidemics each time humanity has started to forget its duty. Let it be a lesson to us all!
A new wave of plague has been reported in the India peninsula! Despite how far the region might seem, we all now know how small the world is and how fast goods travel nowadays. While it is not yet time to panic, we need to stay vigilant and ready to act at the least sign that the Enemy is spreading.
In the meantime, remember how our Indian brothers and sisters stood in solidarity with us only a century ago when we were similarly besieged, and let us all answer their support with our own. Curse the plague!
For the members of our readership who are too young to be familiar with the concept, here is a brief explanation: as magical creatures, every one of our thoughts and actions carries potent magic, whether we are aware of it or not. Ill will is an especially powerful feeling, and the magic it contents is always too happy to seek its target to attack it. While it is extremely faint on its own and unable to do much, conscious thought and deliberate cursing can increase this power to a level slightly more tangible. All of a population acting together is sure to leave an impact. Thus, we must all remember to curse the plague! Curse this mortal enemy so as to weaken it and render it impotent!
But remember to be precise in your curse so as to make it even more potent! Do not damn the plague or wish it to the Devil, for you will only send it back home! No, you need to wish it to suffer! Curse the plague to be frozen for a thousand in the coldest of ice, aware of the time that passes but unable to move, unable to feed yet still gnawed at by its all-consuming hunger! Curse the plague to be tormented forever more, paralysed in the far North and unable to harm humanity yet still able to feel us thrive! Curse the plague!
It is the duty of each citizen to curse the plague daily! Curse it every time you mention it! Curse it every time you think of it! It is a moral and patriotic obligation for us all to curse the plague!
Curse the plague!
— Newspaper clipping
A grim future
That terrible pestilence is by far our worst Enemy. And yet... The world is filled with other of those small animals causing horrifying epidemics and devastating our populations. Terribly, those animals can exchange information with each other and explain to each other how to escape particular medication or poison. And most horrifying of all, it has been proven already that they can also exchange this spark that makes them sentient.
The question is not if another of those animals is going to gain sentience and wage a war against us. The question is when.
Surprise surprise, for once the doomsayers were actually correct!
Only 15 years ago, we had the great horror of being the witness to the first step towards this new apocalypse. Though thankfully for us, the Enemy did not choose its weapon well. This time.
The lesser abomination known as botulism can be found in meat and dairy. It is undoubtedly inside the corpse of an animal, let us even risk the supposition that it was a pork, that it made the acquaintances of the Great Enemy. Those two devils communicated together and botulism undoubtedly made itself agreeable to the Enemy, for this second offered the first some of its diabolical knowledge.
The most unholy covenant of them all!
And so it is that in 1815, just after King Napoléon's wars had ended in Europe, that a new Enemy rose against us. It first appeared in the Duchy of Wutemberg. The region, terribly affected by the war, was poor and hygiene standards terrible. Food was not conserved properly. Botulism lives in all soil and gets on all food. Without proper hygiene, it then starts to grow and produce its toxin, waiting for an unsuspecting victim to consume it...
Once in the human body, the toxin attacks the nerves and paralysed the muscles. At first, victims get cramps and nausea and they cannot control their vision or speech. And then they start having troubles breathing...
Wars were all other Europe and yet it's only in the Germanic States that botulism appeared! You gotta wonder how bad their hygiene was to start with...
The Enemy undoubtedly chose botulism because it has the most potent neurotoxin found in nature. Yet our salvation comes from the fact that it is so fragile that it doesn't survive heat or oxygenation. For all of its sentience, botulism was not able to change that without making it lose its potency. The Germans took some time to understand what was going on, but, once they did, putting an end to the epidemic was easy enough...
Botulism by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA, on Wikimedia Commons
Let us now examine those who could become the Enemies of Tomorrow. Already they are fierce and have inflicted heavy loss to our brothers and sisters, and yet this would be nothing compared to what we would face should the Great Enemy decide to collude with any of them...
Now, as soldiers we come into contact with a wide variety of people, and there are some important things that you undoubtedly have never encountered in your villages that you need to be made aware of. Would not want you getting stupid and contaminating the rest of us now, do we?
Leprosy: Light or red skin patches, nerve damage with numbness and reduced sensation, and body deformation. Transmission is done by contact with an infected person or animal such as a squirrel. The disease has been around Europe for thousands of years and all the unclean, untrustworthy, and morally corrupt infected people are kept segregated in leprosariums. Thankfully, the disease seems to now be in decline compared to the Middle Age.
Malaria: A small parasite living in the blood and causing cycles of sudden coldness and shivering, followed by fever and sweating. Transmitted through mosquito bites. Has been around for thousands of years but has been in decline thanks to the drying of swamps—at least outside of areas of big construction projects or of battlefields cover with craters caused by explosions. See Battle mosquitoes.
Tuberculosis: The consumption. Coughing blood, fever, night sweats and weight loss. Kills half of those infected and is highly infectious through miasma. Has been around for thousands of years, but has recently become extremely common among the urban poor and currently causes 1/4 of deaths in Europe outside of wars.
Cholera: Diarrhoea so severe the dehydration it causes can kill. Transmitted by unclean water and sewage contamination. Century-old diseases, but it is causing important epidemics in Europe since the 1820s.
Rabies: Attacks the nerves and causes nausea, vomiting, violent movements, uncontrolled excitement, fear of water, inability to move parts of the body, confusion, and then always death. Endemic in animals in Europe, the disease makes them aggressive and attack people, contaminating them through a bite. Has been around for thousands of years and is still an important problem.
Typhus: High fever. Ancient disease transmitted by fleas, always accompanies wars, famines, big population displacements, and is also prominent on ships and in prisons—infected prisoners can even use it to kill the judge and members of the jury! It is estimated that 20% of the deaths in King's Napoléon's army during the retreat from Russia were caused by typhus...
Typhoid fever: High fever. Contagion through unclean water. Confused with typhus for centuries, it has only been recognised in 1818 by a French doctor as a different disease.
Smallpox: People are covered with bumps filled with fluid, and survivors are left with extensive scarring and sometimes blindness. Very contagious. Thousands of years old, and comes to Europe regularly in big waves. In the 18th century it was killing 400,000 people per year in Europe, touching 95% of French people and causing 1/10 deaths, including that of King Louis XV. It is also the century during which inoculation was introduced, although it took times before becoming accepted by society. While the populations native to the Americas refuse to share too much information on the subject, it is generally admitted in Europe that our trading exchange with them have caused the transmission of the disease there and devastated their population.
Greatpox or Syphilis: Sore, rashes, bumps and neurological problems. Can be transmitted to the foetus during pregnancy and results in deformation. Sexually transmittable disease betraying people's bad morality and the use of prostitutes. Few symptoms appear for years, increasing the risks of infection. Probably brought back from the Americas by traders. King François was affected by it. Treated—with little effects—with mercury salts.