In December of 1944, the Third Reich was dying. The Red Army was pushing through Poland and Hungary. France was liberated. Finland, Romania and Italy had abandoned the Axis. The Luftwaffe was destroyed and the Wehrmacht was collapsing. The Ardennes offensive was showing some early success, but most knew it would only slow down the Allied advance, not halt it.
None knew better than the psychics and sorcerers of the Ahnenerbe, a powerful and shadowy bureau for occult studies within the SS, that the Nazi regime was doomed. They had forseen it. For years, they had planned and manipulated events in preparation for the end. On Christmas Day, 1944, all those plans came to fruition. The details are unclear, but it is known that a group of sorcerers gathered at Auschwitz, a site of great power for Nazi blood mages. Working together, the Nazi sorcerers were able to open a portal to an alternate dimension and contact an entity of astounding power and malevolence. The resulting catastrophe wrought destruction throughout eastern Europe. Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary were utterly destroyed. Large areas of Austria and Romania were likewise rendered lifeless. The destruction was even felt as far away as Berlin and Kiev. Both the German and Soviet armies on the Eastern Front were wiped out. Millions of soldiers and civilians were killed
The entity, some say it was Azathoth, the Daemon Sultan, while others insist it was some forgotten god-thing awoken from an aeons-long slumber, returned from whence it came only a few hours after it arrived. However, the portal remained open for weeks. During that time, all manner of extra-dimensional horrors streamed through, migrating to all corners of Europe. Soviet reserves were called up to halt the tide in the east, while the American, British and Canadian armies held the line as best they could in the West. A hardfought battle ensued, but inevitably, the Allies were routed. The Soviets retreated to the Urals, the Anglo-American forces to Britain. Meanwhile, thousands of soldiers, Allied and Axis, remain trapped, along with millions of civilians, in a monster-haunted continent, fighting every day for survival, until the rest of the world can muster the might to drive back the horrors that Nazi sorcery has unleashed.
The Belgian village of Han-sur-Lesse, just a few miles southeast of Rochefort, has long been known for one thing, a large and spectacular cave complex in the nearby hills. Before the war, the caves of Han-sur-Lesse drew tourists from much of western Europe and provided a modest, but steady income for the town. However, during the Nazi occupation of Belgium, the SS took an unusual interest in the caves. They fortified and occupied the site. No locals were permitted near any of the cave entrances and it has been said that strange noises could be heard coming from the area day and night for months at a time. Convoys of trucks would arrive periodically and Waffen-SS soldiers were often seen in the area, despite the lack of much resistance activity in the region.
During the liberation of Belgium, the Nazis abandoned the caves. Dozens of trucks were seen leaving the site and heading east to Germany. Whatever was removed from the caves was considered vitally important, since locals say the trucks were provided with air cover despite the fact that the Luftwaffe was all but destroyed at this stage of the war. When Allied troops, mainly British, finally arrived in the area, they searched the caves thoroughly. They found little of interest, but noted that some sections had been demolished and the resulting cave-ins had cut off parts of the complex. A major excavation of the site would have to wait until after the German surrender.
Surrender never came. The monsters did instead.
Christmas Day, 1944, was a strange day on the western front. Allied troops on the ground knew nothing of the events taking place in Poland, but rumours began to spread within hours. German forces were in complete disarray, having lost all contact with Berlin. The German commanders in the field ensured their troops would continue to execute their orders and fight efficiently, but with no coordination from Berlin, the Ardennes offensive immediately ground to a halt. Allied reconnaissance flights began issuing strange reports, talk of Nazi superweapons and some sort of massive accident on the eastern front began to circulate among the men. For a couple of days, there was an eerie stillness. Allied Command ordered all units to hold positions and await further orders, while German units seem to be in a fully defensive posture. Then the killing began. It started in the rear echelon of the German forces. Gunfire could be heard. Men screaming and running, running toward the front. Crazed German soldiers ran right past their own fortifications and into the teeth of the Allied armies. They were quickly gunned down. Still more came, including civilians. Front-line soldiers, so distracted by the mad behaviour of their comrades, never noticed the arrival of the arachnids (or “racknees” as British and Commonwealth troops would come to call them). Six-legged, spider-like creatures the size of large dogs, capable of running as fast as a racehorse, tore through the German lines. Terrified men, already worn down by years of fighting, lost their grip on sanity. In their madness, the fought each other as well as the arachnids. Thousands died by the time the first wave moved on the Allied lines.
The British, American and Canadian troops were better prepared than the Germans to deal with the first wave of arachnids, since the attack came from the direction they expected. The sanity-damaging effects of the extra-dimensional invaders took their toll to be sure, but the lines held and the wave broke. Several more waves of racknees, along with widowmakers, devil dogs and hordes of brain-cooked Jerries, crashed headlong into the Allies. Helldragons battled Spitfires and P-47s in the skies. Crazed German tank crews, safe from the teeth and claws of the horrors outside their gunports, but not from the mind-scorching effects, went on suicidal rampages through the Allied lines. Eventually, it all proved too much and the rout was on. Many troops were able to escape to ports in Belgium, the Netherlands and France as the monsters slaughtered the civilian population. But many more quickly became trapped behind the rapidly-advancing front.
So it was that a group of men from the XXX Corps and the 23rd Hussars along with several dozen Belgian civilians found themselves huddled together inside the caves of Han-sur-Lesse as the legions of Hell roamed the fields and hills of eastern Belgium.