Friday, November 28, 2014

Age of Strife: The Hyrkanian Empire

Gilrad Hyradson and Eirik Kalgornin stand against the Demon Hordes
With the Age of Strife I'm taking time to rewrite, update and clean up the various histories of the Middle Kingdoms setting. Here's what I have on Hyrkania, the great Empire so far:

Ruler: Emperor Anton Patraeus; Queen not taken yet
Population: It is estimated that the empire is roughly 12 million strong

Territory: spread out over the vast expanse of the Hyrkanian territory, which stretches from the southern coast of the Iron Gulf to the northern cost of the Baldaric Sea, and westward to the Nyarlith Delta to the eastern edge of the Amech Jungles. There is a lengthy colonial polity that runs along the length of the Great Old Road into the Amechian kingdoms which hold fealty to the Empire as well. Northward the empire encompasses the client states of Eorn’in, Drai’in and Yllmar as well.

Current Events: Hyrkania has just recovered from a major civil war called the War of Strife, which was instigated by the Cult of the Divinate and the errant King Makhorven of Hyrendan in the south, as well as the dissidents out of Blackholm. Imperial forces now occupy the reclaimed cities, but the tension is still strong, and the corruption runs deep. Hyrkanian imperial forces in this era spend more time putting out fires and quelling dissent than they do actually guarding territory from attacks, monsters, or expanding into new lands.

Hyrkania’s History

Hyrkanian history is a roller-coaster of conflict, civil war, political dissent and occasional glorious moments when a true leader rises to the occasion and brings stability for a generation. In the current era, that last true leader was Anander Usyllyses III, who led the charge against the rise of the Champion of Chaos in his incarnation as the Dark Pharaoh of Galonia a little over a century ago. Since them, the empire has been stable or in steady decline. The uprising which led to a civil war was part of this decline, and though the empire rallied against the attempted coup led by King Makhorven and House Strallikus, the civil war itself has been seen as a sign of trouble by many others who would plot against the Emperor or seek to carve out their niche of power.

In the grand mythology of the empire it is said that Hyrkania was called the Fertile Kingdom, a cluster of small kingdoms and city states which surrounded the lush and hospitable region that was shadowed by the ancient and enigmatic city of Corti’Zahn, a magical polity of floating towers and temples from which the ancient priests communed directly with the gods, who would visit the city in physical form.

The concept of Order and Chaos as physical manifestations of the universe pervade the very thoughts and mataphysics of Hyrkanian belief, and in the ancient era it was believed that the gods of Corti’Zahn were agents of Order. The Fertile Kingdom existed for centuries, faithfully worshipping the gods of order and exstinguishing the cults of chaos where they could. Prior to the fateful day when Chaos and Order boiled into war on the physical plane of man it was believed that the kings of that time had become complacent in their beliefs, and that the cults of chaos were given free rein to worship side by side with the cults of order. It was this grave mistake in tolerance that led to the War of the Gods.

The Ancient History of Hyrkania

Hyrkania’s northlands have been occupied continuously by humans and other races for close to ten thousand years, but the first written records of actual civilization don’t appear until about 7,400 years ago. The first noble dynasty of kings, called the Elevasos in the middle tongue, shows up in old records dating to 4,900 BW (6,990 years ago).  More important than the appearance of the first kings was the appearance of the first known copies of the sacred Idean Codices, the ancient tomes which defined the land’s understanding of the gods and man’s place in the world. The first recorded copies of the Idean Codices date back to 4,500 BW (6,590 BW).

The first notable records of war and conflict in the Hyrkanian lands appear around 4,400 BW and grow in volume and detail from there. At this time most records still intact from this time were saved on stone tablets, many of which were baked into sturdier ceramics. The city of Hyrkan’ien is first identified in a tablet dating to 4,138 BW during this time, indicating that the settlement had grown by this point to a notable city of the region, and was where the Elevasos of the north ruled during what was known as the Usyllian Dynasty. This Dynasty lasted until 13 BW, a little over a decade before the War of the Gods. During the Usyllian Dynasty the name Hyrania, taken from the largest city of the time, was adopted as the title of the unified kingdoms, though exactly when this occurred is uncertain.

The empire of Hyrkania was firmly established in the last five centuries leading up to the war. Notable achievements in this period included records showing the construction of the Great Road, a route of travel which was carefully maintained and protected by frontier outposts and which stretched from the western border of the Hyrkanian Empire to the eastern shores of Old Zued. A distinct record which holds great historical value in the Grand Librarium proclaims the road started in 215 BW with the assistance of “the Ivory Kingdom of Amech” and completed by 156 BW, meaning it took the Imperial engineers 59 years to forge the continent-spanning road.

The year 13 BW was of great significance. A new dynasty took power, and Shakytis I rose to power after a brief civil war. His reign would end thirteen years later when the War of the Gods erupts, devastating the kingdoms of man and god alike. Many believe that it was Shakytis I who was responsible, for he resolved the religious wars of the era by allowing the cults of chaos the freedom to worship publically.

The stories of this period and the war are many and often contradictory, but here is what is known: in this early era it was known that there were sacred artifacts of the gods which embodied the divine qualities of the gods of each pantheon, that of chaos and that of order. The Orb of Order, manifested in the form of the sacred Ankh of the Cult of Naril, was believed to exist and was protectively kept in the temple of the Grant Sacrimori in Corti’Zahn. Though the myths of Hyrkania dictated that there was an Orb of Chaos, it’s location in the world was unknown.

Xauraun, a young aristocrat of Hyrkania at the time, found the Orb of Chaos on an expedition to the dark corners of the world. The story of exactly how this seemingly ordinary person found the orb, was corrupted by it, and eventually became the immortal Champion of Chaos is poorly documented, but it is known that at some point after finding the Orb Xauraun was seduced into the service of Chaos by the whisperings of the god Dalroth, and that Dalroth granted Xauraun immortality in exchange for the power to use the orb.

When Xauraun unleashed the orb’s power per the directive of the lords of Chaos, it formed a permanent gate to the Abyssal realms, a dark realm of vile chaos from which Dalroth had forged an entire demiplane in which to create an army to do his bidding. The demons of the Abyss erupted into the mortal world, right in the heart of the Fertile Lands of Hyrkania, near Corti’Zahn.

The war lasted one year, and it left the fertile lands a desolate waste, most of the local kingdoms and cities destroyed in the conflict. The city of the gods, Corti’Zahn, was sacked and pillaged, and it was said that the corporeal forms of many gods had fallen in battle. Forces outside of Hyrkania’s central region, what is now know as the Hyrkanian Desert, united under the banner of chosen of the gods (avatars), including a young wizard named Warenis who was given the power to serve as the Champion of chaos. The forces of order would strike back to eventually destroy the marauding demons and close the portal, but not before the damage had been done.

Burial of a god’s corporeal body is a devastating blow to the worshippers of those gods who had fallen in battle. Gods, being immortal, could transcend their corporeal flesh and continue to exist as spiritual beings, so many of the physical forms slain had not meant the termination of that god’s influence in the mortal plane, but the mere thought that their deity was fallible in the form of flesh was enough to send great concern through the cults of the gods. Some cults fell apart, and it was the loss of belief, of followers, which ultimately destroyed the spiritual incarnations of those gods. Hyrkania went into a state of spiritual decline and Emperor Catythytas, the imperial successor to Shakytis, who had been slain during the war, forged the imperial calendar on year 1 to mark the date of the great fall.

Catythytas provided a great deal of much-needed spiritual direction, coaching the end of the war as a great victory for Order and the pantheon of the gods that Hyrkania so revered. The cults of chaos were once more forced into hiding lest they be destroyed, for a dozen years Caythytas helped rebuild as well as relocate those who had survived the war but were now displaced from their homes.

Around 12 AW and not ending until 142 AW the empire declined into a series of internal civil wars and more than two dozen men would lay claim to the title of Elevasos or Dei’Elevasos (supreme emperor). The spiritual health of the empire was in decline once more, perhaps fatally so.

During this period there was some hope. Emperor Kravostys came into power in 65 AW and ruled for 23 years, during which time he began construction of the Emerald Palace, a grand dome of pure emerald constructed from the ancient Temple of Monuments in Corti’Zahn. It tooka century  to dismantle the damaged temple in Corti’Zahn, which like many of the towers of the floating city after the war had crashed to earth, and reassemble them in the center of Hyrkan’ien. The dome itself survived three great rulers, and was completed in 140 SW during the rule of empress Tythiis. Within the dome the new seat of power and the house of law was founded for the empire. This proved to be a compelling symbol of rule for Hyrkania, and helped with the long term stability of the empire in centuries to come.

The peaceful period of Hyrkania would be upset three centuries later when Emperor Vestillios rises to power, following a bloody coup in which Abernan Usyllysys II is deposed. Vestillios began a 23 year long rein of terror in which he engaged in extreme religious persecution of all current cults and faiths, though in time it became clear that the hidden cults of the chaos gods were somehow exempt from the emperor’s wrath. His rein ends when the reincarnation of the Champion of Order, Warenis, reappears and reveals that Vestillios is actually Xauraun, the Immortal Champion of Chaos. This period was noteworthy because it was the first clear proof that the champions of order and chaos were immortal reincarnates; they would live many lives over many generations, eventually reaching their peak of power and causing the age old conflict between their divine pantheons to erupt once more. It was also noteworthy for the penal colony of Noenday to the west, which would eventually lead to the emancipation and founding of the Kingdom of Octzel, Hyrkania’s largest contemporary political rival.

Religious wars would erupt often in Hyrkania, with the Second Faith Wars striking between 615 and 625 AW, and the Third Faith Wars embroiling the empire for three decades from 670 to 699 AW. In 700 AW the Empress Syrradalis I came into power. She was noteworthy for being a high priestess of Naril, a sacrimori who stepped down from her position as chief priestess of the god of light to assume control of the empire. This act created an unpredented level of unity in the Empire as the cult of Naril was formally adopted as the civic religion of the empire.

For several hundred years Hyrkania went into a period of peace and introspection, with a focus on trade and commerce over expansionism. That all came to a halt around 1,400 AW when a series of events provoked a change in policy: first, the old Kadantanian Empire in Amech fell with the death of its last sorcerer king. Second, the southern Hyrkanians began to encroach on unclaimed territory in Sendral and Eastonia, as the southern kings grew impatient with the Emperor and decided to take their own approach to expansion. Finally, the threat of Octzel expanding into old barbarian territory was growing too great to ignore.

The western expanse of the Middle Kingdoms, often characterized as an uninhabited no-man’s land in most imperial histories, was actually bustling with barbarian tribes and locals who saw the imperials as a dangerous threat in the east. With Hyrkania’s first major western colony seceding from the Empire and successfully remaining independent long enough to grow strong, Hyrkania now had a real rival to its western borders to worry about, and with the faith wars in the distant past Hyrkanian emperors of this period pushed to claim territory which had been held too long by the uncivilized barbarians of the wilderness. In the coming years Jhakn would be founded, as would Ocentash, Eastonia, Sendral and Galvonar. Border wars with Old Galonia, which itself had fallen into decline, marked the southern-most incursion of Hyrkanian expansionism during this period, and interestingly left its long-term mark in the form of the imperial province of Persedonia, which eventually gained independence and would one day become Hyrkania’s greatest contemporary foe.

The Age of Strife

The Age of Strife is the most recent period of Hyrkanian history, and scholars argue that this period of time began in 1,927 AW when Anander Usyllyses III is coronated Emperor (Dei’Elevasos) of Greater Hyrkania. Anander was a noteworthy ruler, and quickly formed an alliance with Sylvias to the south, the forest kingdom of the ancient Silver Elves. Anander and his wife, who could not conceive, receive the gift of one of the elven king’s daughters, Phyxillus, who becomes the adopted daughter of the emperor.

 The first and greatest test of Anander’s rule was during the rise to power of the so-called Dark pharaoh, Xauraun, the Champion of Chaos. Reincarnated into Old Galonian royalty Xauraun set about attempting to unify the forces of the dark corners of the earth into a powerful army to extinguish Hyrkania and forge a new empire of his own. The war lasted from 1,960-1,962 AW when a new force of chosen, avatars of the gods brought together by the Champion of Order Warenis, thwarted Xauraun before he could recover his full power. Xauraun was banished or slain (stories vary) and the realm was saved early on from another age of chaos, as had come on those prior occasions Xauraun reappeared in a new reincarnation.

From 1,962 to 1,994 Anander rules, and in his ancient years under advisement of his adopted daughter and her husband, the northman Gilrad he passed on the mantle of emperor to Tyberius Usyllyses IV. Tyberius rules with the wisdom of his predecessors and sees the kingdom through the lengthy Border Wars between Octzel, Jnril, Dorasha, Ocentash and Eastonia that last from 2,003 to 2021 AW. In 2,028 Tyberius passes away unexpectedly leaving no heir, for his two sons had both died in battle during the wars. The empire is without a ruler for nearly a week when a general council of regents under the direction of the High Sacrimori elect to appoint Damon Kargonin, the general of the Solarian Knights as the Dei-Elevasos. This is the first military appointment to the position since the era of the old Faith Wars.

Kargonin’s appointment marks the end of the Usyllyses Dynasty, and the beginning of a new era which to date reflect political appointments based on dedication to the empire over bloodright heritage. Kargonin ruled until 2,050 AW during the first civil revolts against his strongly militaristic rule. A massive increase in the empire’s military focus under Kargornin leads to a tripling of the empire’s military might and forces are sent to sieze more territory in the north in a bloody war against the Hettanar, even as Covarte is taken in a brief two-year military engagement. Kargornin’s drive isn’t just expansionisn; he seeks to spread the word of Naril to the rest of the world.

Kargonin is assassinated in 2,050 while visiting the city of Hyrendan in the south. Unknown to most, the assassin is the aspiring young Makhorven, who would seize the throne and declare a cessation from the empire twenty years later, an event which preludes the War of Strife.

When Kargonin was assassinated, the Council of Regents met at the Emerald Palace and appointed a new Dei’Elevasos, this time chosen from among the rikes of nobility who had served as officers in Kargonin’s armies. They chose the young but tactically brilliant Armigos Patraeus, a gonn of some repute who’s family ruled Hyrmyskos. Patraeus at age 20 was the youngest likely candidate for the job.

Armigos Patraeus tightened up the military focus of the empire, pulling back from expansionist efforts everywhere except for Covarte, which was now firmly locked down as a client state. He turned instead to focusing on the civil unrest within the empire, and used brutal force to destroy opposition.

The brutality of Armigos was shocking to many, and led to an increase of civil disobedience and outright rebellion. By the time Armigos passed away of natural causes, he had however already established that he intended his son, Anton Patraeus, to be his successor. This caused a great deal of concern among the regents, who were reluctant to allow a return to succession by heritage. Nonetheless, Anton was coronated emperor and began his rule in 2,083 AW, in the middle of the budding era of the War of Strife.

The War of Strife

From Hyrkania’s perspective the War of Strife was an inevitable build-up on two sides of the empire’s lines of power. Old houses such as Strallikus which secretly supported the chaos cults were suddenly interested in aligning with the secessionist states of Hyrendan, Blackholm and even Malas, which had been dragged into the matter reluctantly. The focus of old imperial houses backing the secessionists led to a formidable rise in power and made the civil strife an all out war.

Behind the scenes and unknown to most ordinary men and women the Champion of Chaos, Xauraun had returned, as has his counterpart Champion of Order, Warenis. In this era, the two champions now required sacred ancient artifacts to awaken their dormant memories and powers, and a rush to acquire the old artifacts was underway amidst a backdrop of civil war.  

The full war erupted in 2,085 and did not end until 2,089, a year prior to the current date, with the march of the full army of the empire, the fabled avatars of old leading the charge. Hyrendan and Blackholm both fell, and King Makhorven was placed in chains beneath his own perilously deep dungeons. The free city of Malas immediately capitulated its relations and proclaimed its loyalty to the empire. Malas would pay in stiff penalties and poor treatment thereafter, the emperor proclaimed.

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