The Blood Times
(AG 1257 - Present)
(Note: This epoch includes campaigns #1 and #2.)
The Empyrean Academy unmasked - Following intelligence sources they had been provided, the Empire of the Sun reveals a secret enemy hidden amongst the nations of the world. Calling themselves the Empyrean Academy, they are radicals seeking to defy the legacy of the Namitha Ardrua and bring about the return of their so-called Vanished Gods. Though many countries are initially skeptical, the Elven Ascendancy throws their support behind the Empire without question and quickly develops a reliable method for revealing Academy agents.
When faced with the mutated forces of the Academicians, many of the doubting powers quickly join in the growing efforts to uncover agents operating in their territories and prepare defenses against a foe who cares nothing for traditional ideas of warfare.
The Sunset War begins - The leader of a radical faction within the Academy--Lictor Vordeyva--leads a highly successful raid on the Ascendancy capital of Crimson Dusk itself, going so far as to set the Temple of Azuri aflame. Many of the acolyte wizards studying there are injured, including Elthan Sendeyvrian, the son of Empress Sendeyvrian who had been studying magic at the Witch Queen's personal invitation. The Ascendancy and the Empire alike step up their counterstrike, going so far as to locate and destroy several Academy Refuges: sects of Academy loyalists living secretly in major cities. The Refuges, however, are generally the province of the more moderate Academicians as well as being the closest thing they have to civilian targets.
The attacks on them are enough to incite the Academy as a whole to shift from the mostly defensive stance they had been employing to one of out-right aggression.
The Circle States of Lir Walhai and Sanguine both fall to the Academy within months, though in the latter city they are seen more as saviors, rescuing the oppressed citizens from the racially charged diarchy that had been stifling growth and endangering the populace. A third uprising in Survivor's Refuge is crushed viciously, with perhaps a tenth of the city burning in the riots and persecution that followed. At one point, the city's mystic dreadnought--the Argengast--actually bombarded Survivor's Refuge, its magic cannons reducing the better part of an entire district to splintered wood and shattered stone.
Second year of the Sunset War - Under the command of Lictor Istis--the leader of the moderate faction within the Academy--the first large-scale military actions are seen on the Academy's part. Though he finds the war distasteful, he will not resign his people to death and so resolves to create as much good as he can during the conflict. With that goal in mind, he brings thousands of powerful Academicians to Darminia. Quickly seizing control from the well-meaning but ineffectual General Prein, Istis turns the tide of their war with Sylat in a matter of months.
Securing and solidifying their border defenses with the strength of his expertly-trained Academicians, he begins a vigorous campaign of training and recruitment amongst the locals. Before the year is out, almost a third of the country's populace is in training with the goal of being Blooded to the Academy.
Third year of the Sunset War - The Republic of Sylat--Darminia's overbearing neighbor--is terrified by the prospect of an Academy nation on their border, demanding aid from the great powers of the world. What they receive is Vasara Sendeyvrian, the Empire of the Sun's Prelate-General and oldest daughter of the Empress. With her is a force of two thousand of the Empire's finest warriors, including paladins and heavy centaur cavalry. They join with Patrician Feldimar's impressive military and march on Darminia.
What followed was one of the bloodiest struggles in living memory. Not even the War for Xaini Independence left the ground so littered with food for the crows; some scholars estimate as many as 100,000 died during the brutal stalemate at the border and the grueling march to Darminia's capital of New Rell. At least 12,000 of those died in a single day known as the Summer Miracle, when Vasara's forces finally broke through Darminia's border and routed an entire legion of the enemy's troops as they fled. It was that day that Lictor Istis died, unwilling to abandon those he had lead to that grisly fate. His head was taken by Lothyn Debrik, the commander of the centaur cavalry and one of the army's most decorated soldiers.
But the holding actions on the Academy's part had bought them the time they needed and Sylat's army found a second, fresh force waiting when they came to siege New Rell and this one was lead by the High Lictor of the Academy herself: Hathad. It also marked the first time the Courts of the Damned were brought out as weapons, huge formations of legionnaire devils under the banner of the Court of Rust supporting the battered-but-unbroken Darminian forces.
Even with the reinforcements, it was not an easy fight, for the Imperials would not turn away while their fiendish foe remained on the field and their bravery kept the Sylese troops from retreating. On the Day of the Rat's Feast, as the battle came to be known, the gathered armies were ground to bloody meal against one another and victory could have gone either way until Vasara and Hathad met in single combat upon the ramparts of New Rell. There, in full sight of both armies, the High Lictor struck down the Prelate-General, besting her in swordplay without once having to employ her potent magics.
It was a sight that broke the Sylese/Imperial army and though they remained in body, their spirits fled and took their courage with it. Such was the carnage of that battle and its aftermath that New Rell had to be abandoned as the capital and a crippled Darminia could not take advantage of their victory. Though they gained some small tithe of land from Sylat, they were unable to conquer their oppressor as had been their hope at the war's beginning.
Fourth year of the Sunset War - As the Empire reels from the loss of its finest troops and the Imperial heir apparent, Academy influence grows. Open fighting breaks out in Sthalafar and the Circle States of Lighthouse Rock, Greening, Wettam Post, and Fort Kirwin.
Increasingly urgent envoys to Fyrall's Lady of the Hunt are continually rebuffed by cold assurances that the wood elves will side with no faction in the war and that the Lady is refusing all visitors.
The last Sendeyvrian heir dies - In pursuit of some mysterious clue they hope can bring them advantage in the war, Alusa Sendeyvrian--the Empress's second daughter--journies to the Circle State of Survivor's Refuge. Shortly there-after, she disappears. The local rulers of House Molth plead ignorance as to her fate. Their guilt or innocence is never determined, the entire city disappearing in a cataclysm so violent and unexpected that news of it manages to still the fury of the war wherever it reaches.
Survivor's Refuge is consumed by the birth of Cinderheight - Only a few ships that witness the disaster live to tell about it, but their stories are all the same: on the far horizon, the city begin to shake and buck as if it were built on a stallion's back rather than solid earth. With a noise like the splitting of a mountain, the entirety of Survivor's Refuge suddenly dropped into a vast sinkhole from which vomited incandescent waves of liquid stone. In the space of a few minutes, a thriving city of almost a hundred thousand people was transformed into Faengleis's newest volcano. The smoking cone of the fire mountain would continue to grow for years to come, until it dominated the surrounding peaks like an ogre amongst men and it would be known as Cinderheight.
All that mattered to the people of the Empire, however, was that in as many years they had lost all three heirs to the House Sendeyvrian. Even though Elthan--the Empress's son--had survived the attack on the Temple of Azuri, his injuries combined with the standing assumption that he was unfit to rule had eliminated him as a contender for his mother's throne.
Fifth year of the Sunset War - Though Fort Kriwin successfully repulsed the Academy interlopers, Lighthouse Rock, Greening, and Wettam Post all fell to the Empyreans. There were also rumors of unrest in Xain, but if it were a result of the Empyreans and if anything ever came of it, no one knows.
However, the greatest development and the most dangerous was the landing of Academy forces within the Ascendancy itself in mid-winter. With the Tower of Godsfall as their goal, the Academy's military--swollen with both devils from the Courts of the Damned and with new Academicians from Darminia, Lir Walhai, and Sanguine--proceeded to tear a bloody wound through any forces that tried to oppose them.
Sixth and final year of the Sunset War - Consumed by rage and grief, Empress Telria Sendeyvrian gathered the full armed muster of the Empire of the Sun, bringing them to the aid of the Ascendancy and in defense of the Tower of Godsfall.
If the war in Darminia were the bloodiest days in living memory, what followed in the closing days of the Sunset War were the bloodiest since the fall of the Orodravian. It was a battle worthy of those brutal days of constant atrocity with armies both mortal and hellish colliding on a scale that the modern nations had been unprepared for. Some scholars say the war cost the Ascendancy as much as an eighth of its adult population, including thousands of its most accomplished arcanists.
The ranks of the paladins of the Empire were decimated and then decimated again, until one in every three was sent to join the court of Thahtma. Thousands of acres of farmland was burned, thousands more left unworked because of the armies marching through them, leading to famines in the Ascendancy exacerbated by fully half of the Circle States--the economic engine of the Stormcradle--being in no fit condition to move available resources around.
Wherever the battles were thickest, the blood of thousands would mingle with the spilled ichor of the devils and the lingering clouds of hate, resentment, fear, despair, agony, and rage, giving rise to cursed lands of horrid magic and rampant undead infestation: what would come to be called Mournlands. The brew of foul emotions and fouler magic means that the ground will be cursed for generations; hundreds or thousands of years to the long-lived elves.
Entire cities were burned, either by the elves to deny them to the enemy or by the Academy to root out hidden foes or simply to punish the locals who opposed them.
And all of that was a simple precursor to the real battle.
Surrounding the Academy's goal--the Tower of Godsfall--was the Lordship of Iron Peace: a ring of interlocking walls and fortresses twenty miles across that had been built by the finest dwarven architects and reinforced constantly by elven magics for over a thousand years. Now, in the face of their foe, it was filled with the most puissant wizards, the most devote priests, and the most lethal warriors that could be drawn from the Ascendancy and the Empire as well as their allies. Dwarven shield walls stood like obdurate fortresses of their own. Ranks of centaur heavy cavalry waited to fall upon foes like angry mountains. Warriors had assembled from Eldesta, Sylat, Malivorm, the Malakute Confederacy, and even Western Xain, Amantara and Seliune.
Arrayed against them were the full might of the Empyrean Academy, having emptied their mysterious fortress of Far Vahandir to field not only their deadly Academicians, but highly-trained Docent and Doyen as well as the full Lictor Council. At their head road High Lictor Hathad upon the back of a mighty dragon of living magma, gifted to her by her devil allies. Those hellish monsters were in evidence as well, with ranked masses of lemures and legionnaire devils as well as examples of other, more hideous members of their breed. Even mighty pit fiends strode amongst their ranks, exhorting their troops to greater displays of prowess through fear of retribution.
What came next cannot be accurately described. It was a tsunami of blood and a hurricane of tears. It was an earthquake of broken bones and an inferno of rage, all in a drought of mercy. The battle there under the shadow of Godsfall was more a thing of nature than of man, the pull of tides and passion, the passing of season of life and death.
Lictor Vordeyva tore down a dozen fortresses, calling stars to fall from the heavens and the earth to rip open, but he found himself outmatched by the Witch Queen, who paid him back a thousandfold for his assault on the Temple of Azuri before letting him die.
Queen Ilene Eldesta lost an eye to devil magic, but she lead her Knights Inspired deep into the enemy armies and slew all six of the Pit Fiends generals directing their forces, felling the last one alone as she stood immovable over the unconscious body of her fallen lover.
Fona Dimar Kindre--Songqueen of the Halflings--lead a choir of a thousand of her kin for hours, their mystic song energies keeping lines that would have broken strong enough to hold. The last hour of her performance, a black-fletched arrow had pierced her left lung and its lethal poisons coursed through her body. Stories told amongst the halflings to this day hold that the arrow had killed her but as the protector of her people, she had kept up the music beyond her own death.
Once the mayor of Lir Walhai and since Blooded to the Academy, Shada Kimara lead a covert strike team behind Imperial lines and emptied an entire fortress of foes before trapping it. When the Ascendancy-Imperial forces had to pull back, an entire legion of troops was wiped out when the fortress burned hot as a forgefire, its doors sealing themselves shut. Duke Pevlan Azlak burned with his men: the entire contingent sent from Amantara by his wife, the ruling Duchess.
Ten thousand heroes were made that day and they were lost amongst the hundreds of thousands who died. The better part of a generation was lost upon the Primrose Fields and the balance of power in the world would never be the same.
For all their stalwart courage, the defenders were driven back and back, ultimately undone by the need to defend such a large area while the Academy forces could choose where to attack. By the time they were backed up against the tower itself, the Imperial-Ascendancy forces had been so brutalized that they were unable to mount a counter-offensive. They could hold their ground, but not push the enemy back from it.
There, upon the very steps of the Tower itself, the High Lictor Hathad came and crossed blades with the Iron Empress of the Sun Telria Sendeyvrian. Other fights simply could not continue when the two met, the din of battle silencing around them as all gathered could only watch in terrified awe: this was the art of war brought to its pinnacle. They traded blows not even a master duelist could have dodged, shrugging off strikes that would have felled dragons while lashing out with magic to shame archmagi and high priests. The very air boiled within the nimbus of power that surrounded their battle and the stones of Godsfall itself cracked beneath them.
It finally ended when Hathad drove her vicious akat-fehn though the Empress's midsection, ripping through intestines and liver, at the same moment that Sendeyvrian's holy sword Kalidus struck the High Lictor's head from her neck. It turned the tide of the war, for the Empress hid the true nature of her wounds as she rallied her beleaguered allies and directed the counter-charge against the Academy forces. Meanwhile, with Hathad dead, the devils had lost the other party in their contract and so quit the field, leaving the Academy without their support in the face of the sudden counterattack.
It was a rout in every sense of the word and the Empyrean academy almost ended right there. Only the quick thinking of Doyen Invidis managed to save even a tithe of their forces from slaughter.
Telria Sendeyvrian, Empress of the Sun, the most powerful and noble of all living warriors passed into death with her blade in hand, standing upon a field of bloody victory as her enemies died before her. She passed on to join Thahtma's court and reunite with her treasured daughters in death.
The world she left behind was in for a period of change unprecedented since the Empire's founding.
The Black-Clan Betrayal - In Spring Dawning, Sheel Bladeharrow, Forgemistress of the dwarven undercity of Sefrogost took advantage of unusually fierce activity by illithid raiders to launch a surprise attack on her southern neighbor, Isfalkar. Though outraged, the other dwarven undercities could not mount an effective defense due to the illithid activity. Within three weeks, she had conquered the city and impressed much of its adult population into slavery, using them to build truly frightening defensive emplacements on the northern routes between Sefrogost and the fortress-city of Shaddac Kraul. From this blockade, he denied the northern dwarven undercities access to the ports at Marak Tün and the vast influx of foodstuffs from there. She declared her intent to create a unified dwarven hegemony--Urkan Sefrogost--beneath her rule. Her overtures were quickly and violently rebuffed.
Marak Tün joins the Empyrean Alliance - Unwilling to join Clan Bladeharrow's dream of Urkan Sefrogost, Forgemistress Ankar Shieldcleaver of the dwarven port city of Marak Tün turns to the only source of help for her beleaguered people: the Empyrean Academy. She joins the Empyrean Alliance, promising her support to their cause as well as opening her population up to training to be Blooded to the Academy. With the Alliance's help, Marak Tün has not only secured its borders against Sefrogostian incursion but entered a new era of international relevance.