The Seleucarian Empire, Part 3: The Fall of Seleucar

Centuries after the dream of a visionary young man spurred the rise of a great empire, the world was torn asunder, signalling the end of the ancient era. Here is chronicled the fall of Seleucar, the breaking of the continents, and the dawn of the Modern Age.

Chapter List

Introduction

Scholars have long despaired of the possibility that a full accounting of the end of the Seleucarian Empire may never be complete, and that the final days of Nicator’s line would endure only in myth, if at all. Exploration of Sapience has to date uncovered all but the most remote caves and hiding places, leaving few stones unturned in the search for evidence of our past. The rediscovery and more recent accessibility of the southern continent, however, has led to a trove of historical treasure and, with it, the pieces that complete our story.

The search for the truth has not been without obstacles, of course. Literacy in Meropis is lamentably low; those who know the value of the written word are few and far between. With Aster Keep and its extensive archives closed to outsiders, access to its collection has been difficult to obtain and its keepers are understandably reluctant to part with original materials. I trust my small selection of documents, hand transcribed under close supervision, will suffice to complement the work begun centuries ago by my esteemed predecessors.

This third and final volume of the history of the Seleucarian Empire follows the precedent set by the first two: a compilation of historic and literary publications excerpted and ordered into a narrative of the final years of the empire. No small amount of credit is owed to Orson and Josiah Lasalle, whose exemplary methods of acquisition and preservation have contributed a near-complete copy of Last Man Standing, the highly coveted field notes of Emmett Bowing, and more volumes of the Golden Gossip Reports than any other collection can boast.

My gratitude extends also to Yen Jaydde-Stormcrow and Delphinus Windancer, who rescued countless books and scrolls from the ravages of time and neglect, and to the Fellowship of Explorers, without whom we might still be searching for a path through the mountains. To Glynthor Oakbright, Keeper of the Scrolls at Aster Keep, I am ever in your debt. To Nissa, Maejin, and the rest of the archival staff, my deepest thanks for your input and careful analysis of this history. To Habbib, my desert-dwelling friend, upon whose kawhe I have been sustained through these many late nights, your value is beyond compare. To Justyn, thank you for your kindness and support. Finally, of course, to Tancred Lasalle, whose name has become synonymous with history, and who has set high the standard for research in the modern age. You are an inspiration to all scholars, and I pray I have done justice to the work you began.

Lara, Keeper of the Scrolls
Lucretian Athenaeum
New Thera

Before the Fall

The art of the historian is to unify the events of the past under a single vision: the historian's own. The accuracy of the history is dependent largely upon the ability of the historian to correctly combine known facts, verifiable evidence, and the accounts of his predecessors into a comprehensible picture of the past.

I am not a historian. As a librarian, I study how knowledge is presented, not how knowledge is created or synthesized. Therefore, the text you hold in your hands is not my personal synthesis of the events of history, but a collection of excerpts from the works of the true masters, who I will not insult with my attempts at history. I can only hope that the varied perspectives of these men, along with the first-hand accounts and even fables that I have included, will permit the reader to make his own judgments. Now, in the words of those who have truly made this study their lives: the history of the Seleucarian Empire.

Tancred Lasalle, Ashtan Royal Library, Head Librarian

This partial map illustrates the bulk of the Seleucar province and surrounding areas during the height of Imperial power, well before the fall of the empire and the splitting of the continent. Exact date is unknown.

[Click image to view at full size.]

Sins of the Empire

from Raeli Oliems, The Two Prophets: Nicator Before the Empire

Seleucar is inseparable in our minds from its founder, the legendary Nicator. But who was Nicator, truly?

The Church once held that he was a deluded man who claimed the blessing of Sarapis in order to conquer the world. However, the Chrysalis Basilica quickly realized that Nicator's new empire was proving far more peaceful and even more friendly to the Church than the previous regimes - and so they quietly revised their stance to fully support the new order. And when armies of Seleucar threw back the Black Wave in the War of the Deeps, Nicator was posthumously accorded the honor of Fire Saint, a warrior of righteousness.

According to the old Cactus Clans of Hashan and the Upper Urubamba, Nicator was a sehakii, a holy spirit sent by Gaia to preserve the world against the Corrupt Ones, the Tsol'teth. As the Selucarian Empire continued its reign, it began to wither, exactly as a plant plucked from the ground withers.

And so who is Nicator? A heretic whose empire gradually came to prove good? Or an avatar whose empire gradually rotted?

The truth begins with a young man - a farm boy named Nikolas.

Nikolas lived on a farm far on the outer limits of the lands called Thera, almost in the wastes. Possibly through some agreement with the local brigands, his family was able to survive, even so far from the town proper. However, whatever immunity his family had from the local bandits, they had none from the armies of Ashtan and Shallam, which at the time were nothing more than militarized bandits themselves, wandering the lands looking for loot first and enemies second.

Nikolas lived 'a very boring, very typical life', as he put it, until the day his parents were killed. In the Sermon on the Rocks, he described the event:

When I was fifteen, war burst in through my front door. It killed my father with an offhand blow from an axe, and after having its brutal way with her, it killed my mother with a long-bladed spear. If I hadn't been too frightened to do more than hide, it would have killed me as well. And let me say that it was not soldiers who did this, nor was it the underlying conflicts that led to war... it was war itself, most monstrous of man's inventions, that hideous force that possesses man and his beliefs alike and turns them inside out.

After the deaths of his parents, Nikolas began what was known as the Time of Wandering...

The League Assembles

From Ingram Cairo, Last Man Standing

The Seleucarian Empire ended when Davis Kephry met the Man in Grey.

I am Ingram Cairo. I was Davis' friend for his entire life. Now, only I remain to tell his story. Only I know it.

We had established a camp in the Tyron River Valley. Emmett chose the place, close to iron deposits and tropical hardwoods. Good place for his armoury operation. Good place to make siege engines, battering rams. He and his Bastion Engineers were already hard at work when Davis and I got there. Emmett's a good dwarf, practical but cheerful. Good thing he left Ashtan, they never would have used his abilities. Here, he was an engineering hurricane, as if Phaestus had created him for the sole purpose of arming insurrectionists. Could be, in fact. I've heard that the gods plan the fate of Achaea in advance, and that mortal actions simply hurry the world along through the divine scheme. Hamster wheel, some call it. Me, I'm just glad to be alive. I pray the gods keep me that way.

Peleus Ecantona arrived just a day after Davis and me, and he brought a regiment of rogue Shallamese Lancers with him. Ecantona was our biggest stroke of luck. Davis talks a lot, and people believe him, but without Ecantona's smarts, we wouldn't have had a chance. You don't find many Tsol'aa in the military, but when you do, they rise high. Smart, good strategists, not too hasty. Good sense of timing. People respect their wisdom. Not so good as tacticians. They don't like snap decisions. Humans are best for that. Enter Davis Kephry.

You might ask why Emmett and Peleus defected from Ashtan and Shallam. If so, then you don't realise what it was like in those nations near the end of the Empire. They were both completely subjugated. Ashtan has always worshipped the power of the individual, and honoured the ability of the few to dominate the many. Viewpoint's worthy of respect. A strong ruler can be a good thing. But as Imperial Seleucar took more and more power away from its subject kingdoms, Ashtan saw the Empire as the alpha wolf. Ashtan was, quite honestly, cowed. I hated to see that, I'm Ashtani myself.

Shallam, same deal, different reasons. Shallam prizes organisation and wealth. Who had the most organisation and wealth? Imperial Seleucar. If power drained away from Shallam and into the capital, well, at least it was centralised. The Church's power comes and goes in Shallam, and during this period, the Church was pretty weak. Shallam was ruled by bankers and businessmen. Yes, the Archprelate was always speaking out against the Empire's treatment of its citizens. So what? The Empire threatened to outlaw the Church, and the Church wasn't willing to risk that kind of battle. End result: Shallam was under the Imperial thumb, and barely squirming.

Some people from Ashtan and Shallam weren't big friends of the Empire. Mostly peasants, of course, but a few people with good lives and good prospects had their issues with the Empire, too. Peleus Ecantona, Emmett Bowing, Alekh Gunther, Alonzo Lampetides, nowadays we call them the heroes of the Sapient League, but they wouldn't have joined forces without Davis Kephry.

So let me talk about him. He's the core. His story is the only story that really matters through all this. Davis Kephry was a descendant of Damen Kephry, Catarin's personal knight after the death of Pyramides. That automatically made him visible. He held Damen's sword, the Catarine Defender. It's got a different name now, but you know that already, even if you don't know the reasons. All Davis had to do was draw that sword, and show off the words engraved on it: "Save the Queen." The memory of Catarin deSangre stirs hearts. People listen to Davis Kephry.

His family's been honourable and kind for hundreds of years, which meant they were gradually more and more out of place in the court. Hundred years ago, they left Imperial Seleucar entirely. Returned to the ancestral manor in Aster Malik. Castomira used to be the ruler of Aster Malik, if you recall. Nobody felt like reviving that particular noble house, so instead, the Kephrys took over as permanent regents. The House of Kephry lost almost all its wealth and power over the years, while trying all sorts of oddball schemes to empower its peasants and share its wealth. Maybe some of it would have worked, but every time a Kephry lord tried to organise the farmers into a cooperative corporation or buy them new farming equipment or some such, the Crown would single them out for additional taxes. The Emperor was oblivious, I assume, but his entire bureaucracy had standing orders to squeeze every ounce of blood out of the imperial turnip. So whether the taxmen were seeing how much straw the camel could carry, or just going straight for the BBT, the Kephry family ended up the single most poverty-stricken noble house in Seleucar.

Davis Kephry half gave up. He left his home province entirely. Just started wandering around like a baby Nicator, talking to people in other villages about how things were going to hell in a rickshaw. Now, I'm a bit young to have sat in on the speeches of Nikolas, but I sat in on Davis'. There's something about hard living that makes strong men eloquent, and makes weak men get stronger just listening. Davis Kephry raised a rabble wherever he went. It got violent, too. Every now and then, Davis would get busy talking treason, and then the local troop of imperial guards would get teamed by the whole town and kicked to death. After all, if you've got just one guy in town who can ink a web tattoo, and one artisan who can make the inks, the entire town becomes as deadly as a red dragon. Then more guards would come and torch the town, and you get the idea. Bloody circle. Davis somehow got off free each time, probably just because the empire tended to kill the peasants without asking them who incited them. If you were hearing about "peasant rebellions" that were "put down" by "noble soldiers," you might have been hearing about Davis' early mistakes.

Davis started to feel really sad about it. He didn't know what he was doing back then. He just knew that he talked up a storm, then people got so fired up that they couldn't do anything but fight. So before long, he realised that if he had the power to turn people into angry mobs, maybe he had the power to raise an honest-to-goodness army. So he started casting about for people who might help him run it. First person he talked to was me.

I was Davis' friend since we were boys. What I didn't mention was that I got an early start with the Imperial Army. Eventually got command of the regiments in Aster Malik and its purlieu. So Davis and I were already working together pretty closely, on this and that. You know, quartering of soldiers, impact of soldiers on the locals, just trying to make the Imperial Boot tread as lightly as possible. I knew a lot of my men sympathised with the commoners. I tended to transfer the ones who didn't. So when Davis came to me hinting subtly about rebellion, I was ready to act. I put him in touch with Bowing and Ecantona. Bowing started setting up the base in Tyron River Valley, and he started manufacturing weapons and armour. Ecantona brought men, I brought men, Alekh Gunther brought men a few days later, Davis brought in regular shipments of farmers who were eager to become soldiers. Other lords, pretty much every lord who had been forced into poverty by the throne, they all brought men. Kanjera, Avon, Drak Kalthorne, Jathaine, Soliath, all noble cities, all ready to fight against the Emperor and his endless lust for gold. It was busy, very busy. It was like we had two workshops, one where the Bastion Engineers made weapons out of steel and one where Peleus and Davis made soldiers out of peasants. So that brings us up to date, and back to the Man in Grey.

From Common Enemy: a Rare Correspondence

[Editor's note: the selected letters comprise communications between Sir Mordon Derry, Knight-Captain of the Shallamese Guard, and Artinos Ravenmoor, Ambassador of Ashtan.]

Derry,
What's happening down there? Our spies are worse than useless. All I know is half our army is gone, run away to follow Kephry in some madcap doomed scheme. I've tried sending our small complement of rogue serpentlords to sneak in, but they couldn't get near him. This could ruin all of our plans.
R.

Artinos,
We have had a little more success, despite having lost many of our own men to desertion as well. You were right: Kephry's planning revolution. What's worse, he's got your mad dwarf and our Tsol captain. This might sound crazy, but... they might have a chance.
Sir Mordon Derry

Derry,
Damn that Kephry, and damn Cairo, too. I tried to tell him before he left that plans were afoot! Normal plans! Plans that didn't rely on foolish hopes and dreams! We're going to have to move, and move quickly. I've ordered Admiral Conlan to take the bulk of the fleet south to blockade the mouth of the Mnemosyne, and Pallan's already ridden south with our entire cavalry. I couldn't stop him. He's always hated acknowledging that anyone had authority over him.
R.

Artinos,
Your letter arrived on the heels of the Ashtani cavalry. King Pallan marched right past me and into the palace to meet with the Sultan. When they emerged, both of them had terrifying smiles on their faces. I'm staying here, but I'm nearly the only one; Shallam's barracks are emptying. We planned for this, but I don't really think we're ready.
Sir Mordon Derry

Derry,
No, we're not ready. If I had my way we'd wait a few more years, allow the Empire to crumble even further under the weight of its own bloated incompetence, but Kephry and his blasted League forced our hand. Anyway, it's time our cities stood up for our rights, just like Kephry's standing up for his. Seleucar deserves to be taught a lesson, and we're going to do what we can to help that madman deliver it.
R.

The Man in Grey

Eleanor Thalos, Personal Journal

warm rain of summer
soft upon the window, yet
ashen are the robes

compelling whisper
leaving undiscovered that
elusive last breath

butterfly takes flight
light wings upon the sunrise
I can breathe again

From Ingram Cairo, Last Man Standing

Davis met the Man in Grey a few times before we ever did. At least that's what I gathered. Then one day, Davis came to a staff meeting, brought this mysterious grey-cloaked figure with him. I distinctly remember the first thing he said: "This is the man who will win us the war." The grey-cloaked man didn't even say anything, he just started going through our maps and marking them up with some very precise details about Imperial defences, troop movements, schedules, logistics, pretty much everything we needed to know. All the while, Davis was telling us how this guy appeared to him in his dreams, of all things, and then in real life. We were really just dumbfounded. Nobody except Davis was saying anything. Peleus had that Tsol'aa deadpan up, he wasn't giving anything away. Emmett was a bit slack-jawed, just staring at Davis like he'd gone mad, which was pretty reasonable. Alekh was staring at the maps, shaking his head in disbelief. This complete stranger was writing down some very secret intel on these maps, in a script so archaic we had a hard time reading it, and Davis was yammering on and on. He said the Man in Grey was guided by a vision from Sarapis, we were destined to defeat the Emperor, we would take less than five percent losses, we'd all have magic swords, our catapults would fire meteors, on and on, just complete wild-eyed fluff.

I should tell you the other thing about Davis. He was a great talker, but if you didn't immediately get caught up in his charisma, he could be a big idiot. I can say that, he was my best friend. He was a political figurehead, an inspirational commander, but not a deep thinker. Every now and then he'd just start talking utter garbage. This time, that's what he was doing. Now, admittedly, it turned out that everything he said was true. But at that moment, we thought he'd just snapped. We were ready to kick this grey-robed stranger out of the camp and give Davis a rest day in the infirmary. But then, just as Davis was starting to wind down, the stranger finished what he was writing, stood up straight, and said "Begin next week." Then he just left. And can you believe this? Without a second's hesitation, we all just got to work, preparing our army to move out within seven days. Like there was no doubt in our minds at all.

Alekh and Ecantona went over the marked-up maps. The Man in Grey had put detailed attack plans on them, too. All we had to do was paint by numbers. And even though we were doubtful, we just followed the plans, because we couldn't manage not to. We knew we were under some sort of magical compulsion, but we just couldn't shake it. Even Davis looked a bit sheepish. I understood. He had no idea what he was getting us into. As it turned out, he really, really had no idea what he was getting us into.

So that's how it went. Emmett didn't have time to build his siege engines, so he did the next best thing. He used his workshops to build just the moving parts, with the intent of rapidly constructing the major wooden segments on-site. Yeah, sounds like common sense now, but it was a massive innovation at the time. Alekh Gunther, our field marshal, put the drills and training into double-time, trying to get the men ready as quickly as possible. Ecantona and I helped out, along with the nobles. Davis had the tricky job. Everyone who was in that tent with the Man in Grey, all the leaders, we were pretty much stuck. We were going to do exactly what he said, and no two ways about it. But everyone else needed explanations about why we were ignoring our original schedule. Ecantona gave them some feeble lines about how the Empire might be quick to act against such a perceived threat... not true. Imperial Seleucar was mostly oblivious to anything except whether taxes were coming in on time. Mostly, it was up to Davis to talk everyone into attacking quickly. And talk he did. Talk and talk. We lucked out, he mostly talked sense. Or rather, he talked that specific kind of Davis Kephry nonsense that turns people into gung-ho freedom fighters with limitless morale.

After a week, we were ready to go, easily two months ahead of schedule. Levies were still coming in, but that was too bad. Once we marched, new arrivals would just have to catch up with us. It was time. I think Davis said something like "And now the time has come, my friends! Just as you've worked long hours to forge those swords of steel, now we go to forge a new Seleucar, a new state free of tyranny, a nation where the ideals of Nicator will be preserved! We will overthrow the evil overlords who have oppressed us, we will take control of our own destiny, we will yadda yadda honour blah blah blah justice yap yap yap victory!" I honestly don't remember how it all went, but you get the picture.

Letter from an Unknown Soldier

My dearest Lilien,

This letter may be the last I can send for some time. We are moving out in the morning and, while doves have been plentiful until now, the dovekeeper has begun restricting the post to official communications only. But this week’s ration of kawhe was a small price to pay to send one final letter to you. I hope it makes it over the mountains.

Yesterday they put together a final feast as a sort of send-off before we head out tomorrow. They sent three dozen of us out for wild boar in the morning. They’re plentiful in the Idoran Glade, and it certainly was satisfying to poach the emperor’s personal hunting lands. We had more than we could carry back with us. I described your mother’s method of dressing the boars to the cooks, with garlic and oranges, and they seemed to do it justice. Everyone in camp was raving about it. I thought you’d like to hear that. My whole company gorged themselves at the feast, of course, and got stinking drunk afterwards, so they spent today recovering for the most part. Me, I had a few drinks but was missing you so I got out of there early.

Have I written about Kephry’s mysterious advisor? I don’t really know his name. He doesn’t mingle much with the rest of us, you just see him talking to the nobles once in a while. Anyway, I went for a walk into the hills after the feast, to get a better view of the stars, and ran into him along the trail. I rambled on a bit about you and the children, and he was polite and listened, but didn’t say much. Peculiar man, not one for conversation I guess. I asked where he was headed so late and he just looked off into the distance and said "to pray." Which gods does someone like him pray to, I wonder? I didn’t ask.

Alas, I must sleep now. Give my love to the children. Not a day has gone by without the thought of your beautiful smile, and without the whisper of your voice in my ear, urging me to make our sons proud of their papa. Pray that the gods will be with us in the coming days, and that I will return home to you safely.

Ever yours,

[The signature is unreadable.]

Siege of Seleucar

From Epicurus, Encyclopedia, 300 AF Edition, Vol. 25 (Sa'Rithven-Sulaiman)

SELEUCAR, Fall of: Battle of Tears

The march on Imperial Seleucar was without incident, due to the impeccable intelligence provided by the Man in Grey. Entire divisions moved deftly through gaps in the imperial patrol patterns, with the result that the rebel army was able to move within twenty miles of the city walls before being detected. The army of the Sapient League literally marched down the main streets of the outlying towns of the capital, without being noticed as a military threat by anyone except the local townsmen. After decades of oppression, the common folk were disinclined to render aid to Imperial Seleucar, and so the advance of the rebels went unreported.

When the rebels were spotted by the imperial watchmen, their threat was vastly underestimated. A force of no more than twenty imperial guards rode out from the city's eastern gate to meet the army. They were immediately captured and imprisoned. Led by Alekh Gunther, rebel cavalry charged at full speed toward the open gates, hoping to secure the gatehouse before the imperial garrison could manage a response. By coincidence, they were met at the gate by the Sentaari guildmistress Eleanor Thalos, who was leaving the city after an unsuccessful attempt to persuade the emperor to lower taxes. Eleanor did not recognise the attackers as an army of liberation, and acted on her first impulse: defend the innocent population of the city by defeating the aggressors. With a nonlethal telepathic barrage, the Grandmistress of Flowers broke Alekh's charge and sent him and his cavalry wheeling away in confusion and terror. Davis Kephry's chronicler Ingram Cairo describes the moment: "Irony. Seleucar's greatest advocate for the peasantry, the Holy Nun of Judgement Mountain. One of my personal heroes. First time I get to see her, she's standing there in that creepy Dragon stance, mindlocking and terrifying anyone who gets too close, and the gates of the city shut before her, guaranteeing a bloody siege. I didn't even get her autograph."

The Sapient League encircled the city and entrenched. The towns outside Imperial Seleucar had built right up to the city walls, so a competition began. The Sapient League evacuated the buildings nearest the walls, and rapidly began to dismantle them for raw material, while the imperial defenders dropped firebombs onto the buildings, hoping to prevent the rebels from using them as shelter for sappers. The rebels were able to prevent the spread of the fires, but the vast majority of the buildings were destroyed by the empire. Finally, a ring of rubble and ashes stretched five hundred feet from the city walls in all directions.

This process took three days. During this time, the buildings just out of easy firebombing range had been converted into fortified barracks, with elaborate steel roofs to defend against the inevitable ballista attacks that would come from the parapets of the city. Imperial Seleucar had not been even remotely prepared for a full-scale military assault, but the city was rapidly gearing up to repel the siege, and the city workshops were busily building weapons that had not been placed on Seleucar's ramparts since the Black Wave.

Three days after the start of the siege, shortly before Emmett Bowing's engineers finished building their siege engines, Eleanor Thalos telepathically contacted Davis Kephry and offered her help in defeating the empire from within the walls. She said that she had been visited by a man in grey robes, who was "very convincing." And she warned Davis that the Empire's main army was in the north of the Seleucar province, and had been recalled to attack the besieging force as quickly as possible.

Alekh Gunther volunteered to lead half the rebel army north, to meet the Empire at Sutter's Gap, the most defensible choke point within marching range. He knew, however, that his mission was suicide. As the Seleucarian army gathered, it would eventually crush the army of the Sapient League, through sheer force of logistics. The rebel supply chain was thin, stretched from Tyron River Valley through to Imperial Seleucar, with small tributaries from Soliath, Drak Kalthorne, and Kanjera. The Imperial army could draw resources from any of a hundred depots scattered throughout the Seleucar province.

The plans provided by the Man in Grey were complete in their way, but left a great deal of room for interpretation. For instance, Sutter's Gap was marked "Stolid Defence." The main gates of the castle were marked "Rapid Assault." A certain point on the southern wall of the city, near the Halls of Justice, was marked "Technical Innovation." And the edge of the Castle Basin was marked "Tears."

The siege began with a mood of hopelessness. Davis Kephry gave daily addresses to his men, building their fighting spirit and commending their patience, but Peleus Ecantona knew that there would not be time to wear down the Imperial defences before Alekh's men were defeated at Sutter's Gap. Many of the soldiers were old campaigners who had fought against the tribes of renegade mhun and trolls at the borders of civilization; they knew the mathematics of a siege as well as their general did, and eventually, a certain muted despair crept through the camp.

In hopes of lightening the mood of the troops, Aurelius Lampetides of Soliath called upon the sympathetic people of the outlying towns to provide support and comfort to the rebels. Secretly at first, but then with greater and greater hope, the citizens of Seleucar worked for the Sapient League, bringing them food, wine, musicians, and fresh clothing. And on the seventh day of the siege, runners from Alekh Gunther's army brought back news: the first wave of Imperials had been resoundingly defeated at Sutter's Gap. This news galvanised both soldiers and civilians: perhaps the corrupt emperor could be defeated after all!

From Emmett Bowing, Field Notes

It's been one of those days all right. The lads are busting their arses and I'm proud of 'em, but we're getting nowhere fast. The Man in Grey marked this bloody gate with the words "technical innovation," which means it's my problem, like it or not. These are damned fine city walls though, sturdiest things I've ever seen short of the mountains themselves. The heavy duty catapults aren't even making a dent. I've pondered loading one up with a couple of these city guard prisoners and launching them at it. It'd lift spirits, anyway.

I've heard a lot of nasty stuff about those bastards. Shops getting burned down, daughters getting ravished, such as that. Folks are having a great big party now that they aren't roaming the streets and trying to shake people down for coin. We had a bloody great feast last night, dancing girls and singers and what not. We're all pretty worried Alekh's forces will get wiped out before we can take the city, but if we're all going to die we might as well enjoy ourselves a bit first.

The stage show wasn't half bad. The Jesters did a skit about a drunk city guard accidentally trying to shake the Emperor down for unofficial taxes and we got a good laugh out of that. Been nice having them around. I hear they're not bad in a fight, either. Word is if you get 'em cornered their acrobatics and tricks will have your head off in a heartbeat. Too bad all anyone thinks of when they think Jester is buffoonery and bad jokes and pretty firecrackers.

... Firecrackers. I'm an idiot. [The page here is smudged, as if the journal were slammed shut before the ink could dry.]

From Epicurus, Encyclopedia, 300 AF Edition, Vol. 25 (Sa'Rithven-Sulaiman)

SELEUCAR, Fall of: Battle of Tears

On the tenth day of the siege, the city wall was breached in a matter of minutes by a barrage of explosive catapult rounds created by Ashtani engineer Emmett Bowing. The resulting rubble was cleared rapidly by iron-shielded plough-wagons, also a Bowing invention, pushed by daring local farmers and their heavy work horses. As Imperial troops rushed to the gap to defend their city, they were instantly thrown into disarray by exploding sling bullets fired by rangers from the Soliath contingent, and as the Imperials retreated, they found themselves backing into a holocaust of flaming pitch flung in pots from Bowing’s trebuchets. As the rubble-clearing wagons finished their work, the highly-disciplined vanguard of Peleus Ecantona’s veteran force pressed into the breach to complete the attack. Twenty minutes after the first catapult round was fired, the armies of the Sapient League began to pour into the city en masse.

Had Bowing’s unconventional methods been unleashed for common use, the history of warfare would no doubt have been affected forever. However, immediately after the resolution of the battle, Bowing ordered every device, formula, and blueprint destroyed. He claimed that he was acting on the orders of the Man in Grey. Limericks and puns of the Jesters’ Guild, however, suggest that the destruction was part of a bargain struck between Bowing and the Fools, although what relationship the Jesters might possibly have with the serious business of scientific advance is unclear.

As the Sapient League stormed into the city, Eleanor Thalos and her Sentaari brethren within the city unleashed their power against the defending Imperial soldiers. Every few seconds, an Imperial fell dead, his mind burned to nothingness by Eleanor's fatal attacks, and the Sentaari monks waded into the fore of the battle, blocking weapons with their bare hands, responding to targeted blows with crushing counter-throws, and breaking bone and marrow with their rocklike fists. Encouraged, the regular army pressed forward, Davis Kephry at their tip, trumpeted onward by musicians of the Jesters' Guild.

The League slashed through the finest of the Imperial forces like a sword through silk, and Emmett Bowing's mighty siege engines travelled in their wake, ready to bombard the Imperial Palace itself into submission if need be. But after the first spate of resistance, the League found itself without visible enemies; the far-reaching mindnets of the Sentaari informed the generals that the remaining Imperials had fallen back to the palace.

Peleus Ecantona, always planning for the worst, arranged his men in the cover of buildings, at the edge of the Palace Crater. The smooth depression had been caused by Castomira's final counterattack hundreds of years ago; the new palace had been rebuilt on the site of the old. Lacking any cover against Imperial archers, the featureless crater would be a killing field when he and Davis ordered their men to advance.

Davis and Ecantona consulted, and agreed: now that the Imperial position had been weakened, they would send an emissary to discuss terms of surrender. History suggests that the beleaguered Imperials would have officially toppled, and perhaps the royal family would have been destroyed or imprisoned, but the incoming Imperial army would have crushed the insurgents when it finally broke through Sutter's Gap and a new era of Emperors would have begun.

Of course, it was not Davis Kephry who had the final say.

The Bringer of Tears

From Ingram Cairo, Last Man Standing

We all knew he wasn't human, but hey, call us naive, we weren't expecting him to float six feet off the ground. The Man in Grey spoke softly, but his voice carried, well, probably forever. "Davis Kephry, the heart of the Empire lies before you, naked. Now it is time to strike it down. Your heart is made of iron; let it repel all arrows. Your soul is formed of diamond; let it cast light to all four corners. Your eyes are bolts of lightning; let them see the mark. Your blade is the bringer of tears; use it."

Our army stood erect, to the man, and to the man, our heads snapped up and fixed on the palace. Mine too, damn me, mine as well. We drew our swords, and they sparkled... they glowed with an inner light, which shone like molten metal, but was the colour of the slush on an overcast day. Our swords hummed; mine too, damn it, mine as well; and the Jesters' trumpets fell on deaf ears. We only heard the Man in Grey. "Your blade is the bringer of tears; use it."

That was the end; I could tell. But I couldn't say a word, I literally couldn't move my tongue, and Davis turned to his army, and raised the Catarine Defender, and yelled at the top of his lungs, "Attack!"

As he turned back to us, the gentle summery sunlight struck wet light from his cheek, and I realised that he was crying. Crying for the people he loved, who would die. Crying for the Empire, which would fall. Crying for himself, as he rushed to annihilation. Am I getting poetic? I try to avoid it, but if a moment ever deserved poetry, it's this.

I ran at his right side. We were friends since childhood. It was the least I could do.

Our men poured towards the palace from all directions. The Imperials began their defence. Arrows fell like tears. Men died screaming. But then Davis raised his sword, and cut the arrows out of the air as they approached, and the grey light from his sword got brighter, a dull glow heating up, and we all joined him. It should have felt great to have the magical speed and power to chop arrows out of the sky. It should even have felt great to plough into the palace gatehouse, cutting down slow-moving Imperials on every side, watching Davis spread a hundred and eighty degrees of death with every blow. But it was horrifying. And we grew faster and stronger with every man we killed; by the end of the slaughter, some of us were literally cutting people in half with each strike. Davis more than anyone, and the tears were still pouring down his cheeks.

Suddenly, the Man in Grey was before us, drifting down a hall without touching the ground. No pretence of humanity about him now. He ignored us; his mistake, I thought at the time. We'd broken into the palace. We'd killed every Imperial we could see. There were sounds of battle elsewhere, from the other gates, but ours was clear. We'd done what the Man in Grey demanded, and we were free of his compulsion.

Davis had fallen to the ground, cradling his ancient sword like a child. "The Catarine Defender," he sobbed. "You defended her life. But you have not defended her ideals." Looking up at me, he said, "Ingram. Tell them that from now on, this sword is to be called Tearbringer."

And that's when the Man in Grey floated by like a ghost. And we didn't even think about it, we followed him. Not because he'd ordered us, this time; but because we were damn well going to kill him for making puppets of us. We were of one purpose, you might say.

I'd been in the imperial palace before, but Davis hadn't. So I realised before he did that we were headed towards the Well of Fire. And I realised that there was only one thing he'd be going there to get. And I realised just who the hell he was. And I'm very convinced that I'd gone completely insane by that point, because instead of turning around and running until my legs fell off, I kept going, hustling along behind Davis, watching his back in case any Imperials popped around a corner looking to split his neck.

The Man in Grey was faster than us, even as Davis broke into a run and I was forced to follow. As he flew towards the ironbound double doors that led into the Space of the Well, he raised a hand, and for the first time I saw his skin; smooth, delicate, and a perfect ashen grey, just like his robes. The doors slammed open as if hit with a battering ram, and we all entered the Well of Fire together, the Man in Grey just ahead, Davis and me piling together behind.

In the centre of the Palace Basin is the deep and possibly bottomless hole that Catarin blasted into the earth during her battle with Castomira. Miles down, somewhere resting against the very bones of the earth....

The Man in Grey spoke, and his voice carried, they say, throughout the entire continent. People in the Dardanic Grasslands heard it. People in Ulangi heard it. As far as I know, the gods in the Divine Garden heard it. In fact, I know they heard it; this was their great culmination, the conclusion of another duel of proportions no mortal could understand.

"Staff of Nicator. Spirit of Seleucar. Come to your rightful holder. Come to Parni deSangre." A bolt of light exploded upwards from the Well of Fire and disappeared as quickly as it came. The Man in Grey - Parni deSangre - turned around slowly, and his grey robe shredded and drifted away from him. His skin was pure grey, like clouds on a sunless day. His armour was blackened iron, carved in demonic patterns. His cold red eyes burned with hatred; no, anguish; no, a fierce sense of duty; no, hatred. I'd seen the Emperor once; but for his grey skin and red eyes, Parni could have been his brother. True blood of deSangre. True blood of the Tsol'teth.

"Davis Kephry. The Empire ends here. The world... is yours."

Davis screamed so loud I bet they heard that in the Divine Garden, too: "No!" He jumped for Parni, swinging the Tearbringer like a scythe. But Parni reached out over the Well, and caught the Staff of Nicator as it rose up from the depths, and blocked Davis's blow with an inhumanly quick gesture. Davis flew backwards against the far wall and collapsed, knocked senseless by the holy staff. "The world is yours, Kephry. Save it if you can."

"Ingram Cairo... the Watcher. Follow me. Watch what happens. Tell the world. There must be a record. You shall craft it." Again, that mental grip set in around my brain, and I was forced to follow. I didn't get to see if Davis was all right. I didn't get to see anything except....

We went through the palace, my weak legs strengthened by the dark compulsion. The Imperial family was boarded up in their quarters, with Royal Elites standing ready to defend their lives. Far too little, far too late. They should have brought a god or two. The Staff of Nicator has had different powers for each ruler who has held it, they say. For Parni, well, he levelled the staff at the Elites, and men and armour exploded into undifferentiated rags.

We walked together, Parni looking almost casual now, going from room to room, slaughtering everyone he saw. The carnage was muffled by an aura of ghastly silence in which the only clear noise was Parni's voice and the click of his bootheels on the tiled floors. "I lived like a beast for centuries, Watcher. As a deSangre, I could not betray my divine calling to defend Seleucar. As a Tsol'teth, I could not let the royal family survive and prosper." With a spin of the Staff of Nicator, he summoned a whirlwind that dragged a group of fleeing children towards him. "My mind and soul were locked in conflict, and only animal instinct and immortality remained." The children... I don't want to talk about it. He killed them, we'll leave it at that. "But just recently, I was granted a vision. I assume it was from the Logos." Parni punched a bolt of lightning through a wall, and in the wreckage I saw the smoking bodies of two men I vaguely recognised as distant cousins of the Emperor. "The vision showed me this Empire; the cries of the peasants. The tax records. The rape and plunder of the army."

Parni disappeared for a moment, and I heard screams from a floor above, then nothing but a sickening sound of droplets hitting the floor like rain. I prefer to think Parni broke a water jug or something. Not too likely, though. Then the air flickered, and he was with me again, and I followed him still. "I saw Emperor Polymedes, sitting like a bloated slug on the throne. I saw Critias killing his brother Theramenes, who was the last hope for a just Empire. I saw the future Critias would bring." Parni pointed the staff at the floor, and a horrible unclean light razored out from its tip, melting through the floor and turning someone to sludge in his bed. "And the balance in my soul shifted."

Parni gestured at me with his free hand, and we both floated down through the hole. With a spin of the staff, Parni summoned twisted grey monsters, and sent them slavering down the hallway in one direction while we walked in another. "I realised my new purpose: as a deSangre, it was my duty to destroy the abomination the Empire had become. And as a Tsol'teth, it was my delight to choose the means."

We arrived at an ornate golden door. Parni simply glanced at it to rip it off its hinges. Screams echoed down the hall from the direction Parni had sent the monsters. "So now, I serve the Logos and humanity. And my nature is at peace." We entered the room: the waiting room of a large suite. Parni slowly moved the staff in a half-circle ahead of him, and the walls exploded into dust. "Both my mothers, Castomira and Catarin, would accept this triumph as the simple working of justice..." In the far end of the much larger room Parni had just created, the Emperor himself stood, surrounded by a knot of Royal Elites who were already collapsing into bloody pieces. "... one with rejoicing, one with bitter tears."

The Staff of Nicator ripped the Emperor's soul from his body. I swear to this day that I heard it scream as it was torn asunder. "Pray for Salvation, Emperor Polymedes," said Parni deSangre. "The Logos will give you none."

"So, Watcher, you see that the will of the Logos is nearly done. I, Parni deSangre, hold the Staff of Nicator. I am the last Emperor of Seleucar."

Parni's mental grip relaxed, and I fell to my knees. I was terrified. So terrified I don't even remember whether I soiled myself. But Parni kept talking, in that quiet voice that carried across the globe. "And now, I too must die."

Parni raised the Staff of Nicator, looked up into the heavens, and said, "I shall not pray for salvation either, my lord." Parni gathered his power around him; the walls warped, the earth shook, gravity weakened. Objects began a slow swirl around him, me included. The staff took on an enormous sense of density and weight as the entire power of the continent surged into it. Parni roared aloud, "The history of Seleucar! The history of the Tsol'teth! At my command, let it be purged!" A creaking hiss like a gigantic tree bending in the wind, or a mountain shifting its weight, flowed out from the staff in waves like storm winds. The staff twisted and bent, writhing in Parni's iron grip. Its golden length darkened, mottled patches of taint roiling across it. The diamonds at its head exploded, one after another, like firecrackers. The holy power of the staff roared upwards and down, with Parni at its core, flaying the clothes from his body, but still not harming his indestructible Tsol'teth skin.

The staff was almost completely black with Tsol'teth power, and divine light (holy or not, I can't guess) almost blinded me, but I forced my eyes to focus. Parni fired all the energy into the heavens at once, burning a hole upwards through five stories and out into the Valnuary sky.

Noon light poured in through the hole, and finally Parni's skin began to burn. "Tell them, Watcher. Tell them that the House of deSangre ends here. There are no survivors. There are no more words."

I watched for ten minutes, as Parni silently burned away to ash, and then even the ash flew away on the breeze that blew down from the upper levels. The Staff of Nicator lay on the ground, its holy power spent. Its gold had transmuted into common wood. The arcane holy symbols that had once covered its length were now reduced to mere carvings.

The Seleucarian Empire was dead. And as its last Emperor said, "there are no more words."

The World Sundered

Thoris of Besulem, Deluge

[Editor’s Note: The dreamseer Thoris of Besulem was better known to his contemporaries as an early advisor to Emperor Polymedes, though by that time the practise of keeping dream clerics at court was upheld more out of custom than any desire for advice on the part of the monarchy. Less than a decade into the young emperor’s reign, however, Thoris departed the imperial city and spent the remainder of his life in seclusion. It is theorised that he received prophetic dreams of the impending fall of the empire; other scholars assert that any perceptive individual could see that Seleucar was hurtling along a declining slope, and that Thoris was merely being pragmatic in removing himself from court. The following excerpt from his memoirs, however, is no prophecy, but a record of a waking dream journey undertaken many years following the fall of the empire.]

Beside me upon the peak stood a man robed in shadows, facing north with a grim expression. The mountain range wound for miles into the distance, the plains of Kyndos spread to the west, shining Soliath at its heart, the Murmisian Isles to the east. The village of my own birth lay upon that broad tableau, and I trembled as his gaze passed over it. Then he uttered words that departed my memory as quickly as they entered, though I do recall that at that moment I felt the chilling grip of pure and utter terror. Lightning filled the air around us, and the mountain rumbled beneath his feet. A bolt arced through the sky, striking the nearest peak to the north, and as my eyes took on the sharp vision of an eagle, I saw the barest hint of a fracture begin its fateful journey down the jagged slopes, spreading like poison through a man’s veins. The mountains would fall, but not for days.

I kept my vigil long after the man’s presence faded, leaving me alone atop the mountain. There I looked past what bars waking eyes from seeing, beyond soil and rock and into the blackened depths of the mountains. And in the foetid pits crawled scores of savage monsters, all manner of creations warped and twisted by magics beyond imagining. For hundreds of years they had waited, abandoned by their masters, seething with hatred and growing stronger. Their time drew near.

The sounds of battle echoed throughout the dreamscape, and I could hear every scream from my mountain peak, the anguished cries of men, women, and children, as the dwindling flame of the once-noble dynasty was extinguished. Cygnusina, I beseech you for understanding! For I could not bear to turn my eyes back toward Seleucar, where my heart knew the sky burned with divine justice... instead my gaze was fixed to the north, where that infinitesimally small fracture had begun to widen.

Like the great gaping maw of a leviathan the earth rumbled and opened, the mighty Vashnar peaks falling like felled trees to each side of the terrible chasm. As though Aeon had cast a spell over my visions, I watched as a small village was slowly darkened beneath the shadow of a toppling mountain; all within perished instantly as it lodged upon the plains. A bittersweet smile crossed my lips then, for I knew that they were the lucky ones - they would not know the horrors that were to come.

Out of the bowels of the earth came forth the abominable creatures, guided by some foul power toward defeated Seleucar. Slowly they began to fill the mountains as a basin fills with water, threatening to spill over and ravage all in their wake. The land groaned and could not bear this foul presence, tearing in a thousand ways before shattering like glass before my eyes as the oceans began their raging protest. Massive waves built upon the seas and rolled toward the breaking mountains, unhindered, with no land to slow their progress. Islands sank forever into the depths and tall mountains were humbled beneath the encroaching waves... and one continent became two.

A new figure joined me upon the mount, robed and silent, and I knew him to be the Logos, Almighty Sarapis. Then he spread his arm wide; it seemed the continents moved further apart with the gesture, and a thick haze crept over the turbulent waters that separated them. His gaze fixed with sadness upon the remains of the broken empire, shedding tears for what had once been a beacon of hope for all mortalkind. Those tears fell to the sea and turned to hard rock, becoming islands, forever to stand as a memorial of the eight hundred years of mighty Seleucar.

From Common Enemy: a Rare Correspondence

Artinos,
Oh Gods. The Vashnars are completely gone, cut off as though with a knife within a few hours' march south of Mount Nicator. Nothing on the horizon now at all. Shala-Khulia and New Hope are intact, but we can't get out any further. The turbulence just swallows our boats. Land patrols are surveying the new coastline and we've started constructing a lighthouse of highest priority. Please send us what help you can.
Sir Mordon Derry

Derry,
Are you mad!? I haven't got any "help" to send! I haven't received anything from Admiral Conlan and his fleet, and worse, I lost contact with the King and his battlemages when the earthquakes struck. The city's in chaos; the peasants are revolting and the nobles are angling for position since Pallan doesn't have an heir. Have you tried pressing some of those merfolk for assistance in the search? Surely your priests managed to convert some of them by now. Please advise as to your findings.
R.
P.S. Fine. I'll send a construction crew. It should arrive by Lupar.

Artinos,
Clearly you've never tried to deal directly with merfolk. They have no interest in our "landwalker" problems, even if we'd seen any of them for days. They lack the ability to view things in the long run, if you ask me. Which you probably won't. In any case, you know that most of our resources were pulled away to follow the march south, including all of our priests. The Church should have a new mission up and running in a few years, but there's really nobody left who knows how to contact them right now.
Sir Mordon Derry

Derry,
If we can't recover the fleet our navies will be crippled for years! Don't you have any more ships left in your docks? What about Jaru?
R.
P.S. Don't know how much longer I'll be around. We've had three different nobles seize the palace in the past few days. Dangerous men.

Artinos,
I am well aware of the stakes. Now that the lighthouse is functional, we do have coast runners along the south, but they can't sail far into the chops from shore. If you recall, you insisted that every available deep-hulled ship join the combined fleet. Which is now missing. And doves won't fly over the water - they turn around after half a day, so don't bother suggesting that. Actually, do me a favour and stop "helping" with ideas. You should probably consider the likelihood that the entire southern half of the continent has simply sunk, taking our ships, our men, and your damn fool king with it.
Sir Mordon Derry

To the attention of Knight-Captain Derry of the Shallamese Guard:
With the removal of Seleucar from the political climate and the ascension of his grace King Beldan to the throne, Ashtan has declared herself a sovereign nation and will be attending to her own interests from this time forward. The Bastion's resources under your command have been recalled; we expect their departure to be swift and orderly. Thank you for your cooperation in this matter.
Artinos Ravenmoor
Ambassador of Ashtan

Heroes

From Sherman Amon, An Encyclopedic History of the Cities and Empires of Sapience, Vol. 2

After the splitting of the continents, it was an extremely grim time on the southern continent. Monsters swarmed out of the mountains, taking cities and towns by surprise and razing many of them to the ground. The Sentaari of Judgement Mountain were the first to face the onslaught, and the brave monks were slaughtered, including the guildmistress, but only after cutting down a huge number of the monsters.

Only one escaped: a young acolyte sent away from the monastery to warn Seleucar about their impending doom. Years later, this boy would become the guildmaster of the Sentaari and return to Judgement Mountain to re-found the monastery there as a beacon against evil in the heart of darkness.

Seleucar, still in upheaval from the storming of the city by the Sapient League, was a sitting duck. Many citizens responded to the early alerts and evacuated in time, moving west as far as they were able, assisted by the armies of the Sapient League. In the end, though, the majority either ignored the warnings or dallied too long in assembling their belongings. Thousands were left at the mercy of the beasts with only a small regiment to defend them: the Blades of Piety under the leadership of Asra-din, who had volunteered to remain behind to oversee the evacuation. Later sensationalising the story, one journalist would write: "Some darker terror was unleashed within the ancient city, a poisonous magic which wrought atrocities to rival the fates of the emperor and his family." Unfortunately, there is no way to ascertain the truth of this rumour: no eyewitness accounts exist, and the few who managed to flee once the carnage began do not speak of it.

What remained of the empire beyond the imperial city was tragically unprepared for the onslaught. The militias who had not joined up with the Sapient League were sparse and lazy, the local governments too bureaucratic to respond quickly enough without a central ruler. If the Black Wave had struck then, it would have found an easy victory. But this was no Black Wave, merely its long-delayed aftershock: a wild, unfocused rampage of its forsaken remnants that knew only a desire to kill and devour. Still, even this fragmented force presented a terrifying and daunting danger to the entire continent.

Hope was not lost, however, mainly due to the inspired leadership of a few heroes who emerged. Some credit the discovery of Durandian steel with turning the tide in the devastation that threatened all life in the southern lands, but if it were not for the men and women who bravely wielded those weapons, there would never have been much of a story to tell. The ageing but battle-hardened Davis Kephry, who tirelessly roamed the countryside with his loyal men, rescuing thousands. Orrin Pierce, the newly elected guildmaster of the remaining Sentaari. Jaliah Ormand, a female Serpentlord who led her peers in battles against the monsters from dusk till dawn. And others.

From the Asterian Refugee Journal Collection (author unknown)

It rolled out from the smoking ruin of Seleucar, crashing through the jungles, flooding the plains, and blanketing the land, until it encountered that vast turquoise expanse where before there was none, and there, defiant and screaming, it finally broke. That roiling mass of tooth and claw, that force of unutterable destruction, found its advance at once cut off and turned upon itself.

We watched, we few bedraggled survivors from a city that was no more, exposed upon a high plateau. Too stunned to speak, too exhausted to act, too numb to feel, we saw the creatures tear into one another, bellowing frustration and unholy fury until they turned back, their numbers greatly reduced. Like filthy water circling the drain, they inexorably returned to their font of death and madness and we, lost to despair, with arms and bellies empty, fled.

Disguised by the meagre workings of a common enchanter, we roamed for days... months... in search of a place spared from the horrors that surrounded us. Oh, the beasts could see through the illusions, that is certain, but only if they were looking. We did not pass unscathed through the countryside, and our losses numbered in the dozens, but those paltry spells assuredly saved hundreds of lives.

It was a sorry affair, this slow and macabre march. Peasant and noble, beggar and merchant, young and old were as one, united by fear and hunger and sorrow. Here it was, Nicator's dream realised. Where humanity had failed, bitter circumstance had triumphed. All men as equals, all hearts in accord, at last, at last.

From Lina Stalfos, Stories of the Past, for Children

Long ago, there was a time of great darkness in the southern lands, and people lived in constant fear of terrible monsters. These were not like the monsters of today that are found in dark caves and dungeons, far away from our cities. These monsters ran wild everywhere, and for a long time nobody thought they would ever be able to stop them, for they were stronger than anything they had seen for hundreds of years. The monsters even destroyed the great city of Seleucar, tearing down its beautiful buildings and murdering all the people who did not run away fast enough.

In some towns, children were only allowed to go outside in the middle of the day when there was lots of sunshine, and they were kept safely indoors all the rest of the hours. At night the monsters were more dangerous than ever, for that is when they hunted, and nobody was safe. It was a very sad time to grow up, and many children became orphans. One of these orphans was a boy called Durande, which means "to endure." His father had been murdered when he was very young by the cruel emperor Polymedes, and his mother died trying to protect Durande and his two sisters, Adeina and Acacia, from monsters in their village in the mountains. Durande took very good care of his sisters when their mother died, even though he was only about eleven years old. They were able to go to Thornwall Hold where many other people who had also run away from the monsters hid safely in the castle.

Durande was a big, strong boy, but he was always kind to his sisters and to other children who were younger or smaller than him. He was always respectful to his teachers, and loved to study the few books that could be found at Thornwall Hold. He learned all about knights and chivalry, and vowed to one day become a knight, for they were the most honourable of all men. But this would be very difficult, because there were no knights left near Thornwall Hold. Most of them were away fighting monsters or trying to become king of what was left of the Seleucarian Empire. Only guards and soldiers remained, and they were not all honourable.

One day when things seemed very peaceful, Durande’s two sisters went out for a walk. They knew they were not supposed to go away from the castle walls, but it was a sunny day and there were fresh raspberries to pick just over the hill. So they walked along together through the rolling scrublands, picking raspberries, and then they stopped to swim in a crystal-clear pond. They swam and splashed in the water, having a wonderful time, until the sun began to set. When that happened, they knew they had been gone far too long and started to hurry back to the castle.

Little did the sisters know, a fearsome monster was stalking them through the hills. They did not see it until it was nearly upon them, and then they began to ran as fast as they could. But they could not run fast enough! During the afternoon they had drunk from the lake, which had been poisoned by the monster, and the girls became very ill. They could hardly stay on their feet, and as they were running up the long path to Thornwall Hold, Acacia stumbled and fell. The monster pounced upon her and ate her all up.

The guards upon the ramparts saw what had happened, and they shot their arrows at the monster while Adeina ran through the gates. But the arrows had no effect on the monster, and all night it tried to get beyond the stone walls. Finally, in the morning, when the sun rose high in the heavens, it gave up and slunk away in search of the shadows.

In the next few days, Adeina became even more ill from the poisoned water she and her sister drank, and the healers could not make her feel better. Durande stayed by her side all day and all night, and he wept because he had loved both his sisters very much, and he felt guilty for not protecting them. He knew that Adeina was going to die, but he did not know what he could do about it. He wanted very badly to do the most honourable thing, just like a knight would, but he did not know what the honourable thing was. And so he simply held Adeina’s hand as she became grey with the nearness of death’s touch.

A few evenings later, Adeina did die, and Durande became very angry. He wanted to find and kill the horrible beast that had poisoned his sisters, and bravely he rode out upon a pony with only a shortsword to protect him, for that was all that the fortress had left to spare. The guards and the soldiers tried to stop him, but Durande was too determined, and they let him go, sadly thinking he would never return.

All night Durande searched throughout the hills for the monster, but when morning came he had not yet found it. Instead he found himself at the lake where his sisters had been swimming, and he saw that it was black and foul, not crystal clear as Adeina had described it upon her deathbed. As he looked into the water, a small frog came hopping along the shore and jumped into the water, where it immediately froze and turned black with death. Durande realised that the poison in the water had grown much stronger. Curious, he dipped the very tip of his shortsword into the water, and the steel burned and steamed, becoming stronger and marked with dark, wavering lines wherever the poisoned water touched. This was the very first blade of legendary Durandian steel, which is named for the boy who discovered it.

Now, Durande did not know that, like his sisters days before, the monster was stalking him. And while he was looking at his strange sword, the beast leapt from the shadows and surprised him! Durande must have been very frightened, but he did not run away. Braver than any knight, he stood his ground and faced the beast, even though it was ten times his size. Closer and closer the monster came, with poisonous claws and razor sharp teeth, and it seemed all was lost for Durande. As the monster reared back and prepared for one final attack, Durande suddenly thrust upward with his sword into the monster’s belly, whose hide even the swiftest arrows had not been able to pierce. Like a knife through butter, the blade went cleanly through! The monster was slain; Durande was a hero!

From all over, brave warriors came to dip their blades in the lake, using it to defeat the very creatures from whence it came. Even now, years later, with the lake dried up and the secrets of Durandian steel lost forever, the blades endure, never losing their edges, known to be among the deadliest weapons in the world.

The Dark Age

From Sherman Amon, An Encyclopedic History of the Cities and Empires of Sapience, Vol. 2

The survivors of the empire in the south were forced into a constant battle for survival. Unity prevailed for a time, as people were drawn together against the common threat from the mountains. But it was an uphill battle, a constant drain on resources, and though the monsters were ultimately driven back, the cost was too high for things to return to normal.

Scattered across the continent to battle the monsters, the forces of the Sapient League gradually dispersed, most returning to what remnants of their homes they could find, though some remained together under one leader or another. Elsewhere, the few members of the aristocracy who had managed to avoid slaughter in Seleucar quickly learned to keep a low profile, and began to gather their own protection with what wealth they still retained. New centres of power rose and fell, reaching out with a tenuous grip to extend their spheres of influence.

The peasants, hungry and wounded, their crops and livelihoods destroyed, were at first grateful for the assistance of the various militias. But once the immediate threats had passed and winter began to set in, they rose up in desperation. City granaries were raided, officials were mobbed, theft and murder was rampant, plagues swept the realms, and general anarchy prevailed, this time from within.

Amid this turmoil, the people of the south were thrown backward into a primitive age. Scholastic pursuits were abandoned, much of their learning was forgotten, and magical and technological advancements were lost. Their way back to civilisation was blocked not only by the mountains teeming with monsters, but the separation of the continents. Their ships were burned or swallowed by the seas, and knowledge of naval travel was lost. Truly, the empire was no more. What was left was simply various bands of people struggling to survive, making and breaking alliances, trying to shape a future out of what was left to them.

Treaty of Meropis

Let it be known to all that we, Theotokos Arrikale, Davis Kephry, and Ulidyn Thornwall agree to and swear to abide by the terms and conditions of this treaty of friendship and alliance in perpetuity on behalf and in the mutual interests of the estates, holdings, and subject municipalities of the reformed lands of Meropis, that are known to be governed by and in allegiance to Sirocco Fortress, Aster Keep, and Thornwall Hold.

In keeping with the goals and aims of the Sapient League, we declare that we do eschew all previous terms of nobility associated with the tyrannical and corrupt monarchy of the Empire of Seleucar. As such, the three dominant seats of authority of the known realm will henceforth be referred to as Territories, to be governed by a Steward appointed in a manner to be decided by each individual Territory, be that hereditary succession, communal election, or otherwise.

In accordance with the state of friendship set forth by this treaty, each Territory agrees that its Stewards and their vassals shall not hide, disguise, nor suppress, by any means or practise, directly or indirectly, any plot, conspiracy, or scheme that would weaken, hinder, undermine, or otherwise threaten the safety and security of the people and the government of any of the Territories, and shall with all haste and expedition bring knowledge of any such plot, conspiracy, or scheme to the attention of the Steward of that Territory. Furthermore, if any outside nation or force makes war upon any Territory we will aid each other in said war, according to the need and insofar as the assisting Territories will not be rendered defenceless or vulnerable to any previous hostilities and threats.

From each Territory three regiments will be dispatched annually to protect and defend the Territories from the vile and repugnant remnants of the Black Wave such as they originate from the dividing mountains to the east, that are known by the name Vasnar. The regiments will be captained by an officer to be appointed by the Steward of Thornwall and confirmed by the approval of the Stewards of Aster and Sirocco.

Each Territory is required to maintain a standing military reserve of no less than two additional regiments of soldiers who are trained and battle-ready that may be called upon to supplement the combined regiments against our enemies. Each Territory will make available to the others annually an inspection of their standing reserve so that each Territory will be satisfied in the strength, discipline, and preparedness of the others.

Any changes, modifications, or revisions to this treaty, are to be made as an addendum to be witnessed and agreed upon with full and unanimous consent by the Stewards of the Territories or their successors.

May the Lord Sarapis, Almighty Creator upon High, to Whom all are beholden for the survival and prosperity of our reformed world, bear witness to this treaty and bless those who keep and enforce that which is agreed upon in perpetuity, and may He lay curses upon those who are found to violate the terms and conditions herein.

Signed before witnesses upon the First of Aeguary in the Twenty-Third Year After the Fall of the Seleucarian Empire:
Davis Kephry
Theo. Arrikale
Ulidyn Thornwall

Taubek Ascopos, Broken Ground: an Uncertain Geography

A generation has passed since the end of the corrupted empire, and they who fought for our freedom grow old. Those who will rule the lands after us know little of the world that was: they were barely children when the land was torn asunder. Inconsistent reports of the geography of our reformed land continue to circulate wildly, to the confusion of most.

A definitive survey of the new land is desperately needed, but volatile currents continue to churn the waters surrounding us with no signs of ceasing, preventing circumnavigation by sea. And so, in hopes that my call for action may yet inspire further re-exploration, I humbly present my own findings of the changed land.

The fertile Asterian Plains, once the breadbasket of Seleucar, that were so rich from the seasonal flooding of the Tyron River, lie beneath the surface of a shallow bay, leaving only a spit of land from which one can observe those capricious waters that now form our boundaries. The river Urs, once an important tributary to the lower Mnemosyne, is cut short in its course, feeding only the ocean with its montane waters.

The Aurulent Highway has rapidly fallen into disrepair. Traders prefer the relative safety of the merchant road that follows our new western coastline, and so the Aurulent has become a casualty of neglect, its decline hastened by the nearness of the jungle and swamp. I anticipate the Imperial Road will suffer a similar fate in the near future. It sustained significant damages as an initial point of entry for the beasts from the mountains. Its status on the opposite side of the Vashnars is unknown.

The sole pass through the mountains, if it yet remains navigable, lies beyond the battlefield of Mourning Pass. Rumours speak of the spectres of fallen soldiers upon that hallowed ground, stirred from the solace of death by the turbulence wrought in those final years of the empire. While I do not subscribe to such irrational superstitions, I cannot deny that the dangers of the area are manifold. Something terrible has surfaced from beneath the ground, and few travellers return from the pass.

Of the plains across the mountains there is little to say. My contacts confirm that a great gulf now occupies a significant area where dry land once spread; the coastal cities are certainly lost beneath the ocean. Further exploration inland is nearly impossible as the inhabitants are wholly hostile, perhaps as a consequence of the necessity of survival in the wake of the disaster. The vast territory upon which the plains peoples once roamed is smaller by half, at least, and competition for resources must be great. Many speculate that they will fight amongst one another until their numbers are reduced to a more manageable population for the area.

As for Imperial Seleucar itself... all that enters or leaves that place are the Mnemosyne waters. Not a soul has entered the great city in decades, or at least none have returned to tell the tale. The gates have long been sealed shut, and the jungle encroaches upon its walls, swiftly reclaiming the land.

Closing

As I bring the final pages of this work to an end, I entrust you with the last words of a survivor of Seleucar. After roaming the jungle for days, this unnamed man is said to have died in the care of the clerics of Aster Keep, raving and spouting gibberish, save for a few brief moments of unexpectedly articulate speech. The transcription is generally believed to be prophetic, indicating, through linguistic obscurisms and cryptic riddlery, a time when mortals might once again step foot within fabled Seleucar. When that may be, clever reader, I leave for you to decipher.

Darkness cleaves light and all fragments.
A footprint upon the sand washes away,
But there, black-stained, remain
Curses to overshadow bright memory.
The four eyes close anon, tears pass onward,
Beautiful ruin consigned to fate.
From ashes rise only ashes.
An ending begins anew,
And so embarred remains the curtain
Until augury and verity meet.
Then shall be remembered when
The spindle of the earth found rain,
The brumal sprite did deliquesce,
Gravity sidereal breached aestival accord,
The lofty host unfettered by planar bound
Brought mystery and grandiloquence,
The trickster held hostage the sky,
The numinous icon was restored,
Enduring theocracy succumbed threefold,
The serpents' bane became salvation,
Encore became the song of ebontide,
A cardinal took wing with precious golden crown,
Disremembered mastery was reborn,
A flighted brute abore forsaken blood,
Remeant, the benthic child appeared before the storm,
And nought was heard at noontime but red.

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