Alsara: Requiem and Revolution
Alsara is a world fierce beliefs and peoples. It is a place of corruption, vice, hatred, and war; it is a land without guidance, a land in turmoil, and most of all, it is a world about to change forever. Alsara is a world on the brink, and the actions of only a few will tip it over into an age of unparalleled revolution. But, as is always the case, a brighter future cannot be bought without bloodshed.
There are too many details to recount here, but there exists a broad description of history to the present moment in the curriculum of the Vokayan public education system. The following is a written transcript of a lecture, given approximately one year ago:
Today, students, we begin class at the beginning.
At the beginning of time, Dragons ruled the world. They did so undisputed for as far back as we know, some six thousands years in total. In their time they controlled every inch of land on every map we are aware of, and from what little we know of them, they did not think much of their company. We were toys to them, back then; small creatures, scratching in the dirt. We were little more than tools of their glory, existing only to worship them.
Then one day, they chose to gift the world to us. Not just to their distant cousins, the dragonkin, nor to we elves, but to the humans and halflings, and even the orcs that came later. We built grand monuments to their memory, mighty venerations of their radiant glory, and when we were done building they crawled inside to sleep.
We call this event the Torpor, and from what little history can tell us, it was a slow apocalypse.
The Dragons did not ask our consent before they left us, nor did they bother to explain their intent. When we finally realized what had happened, we did not know what to do with our freedom. Few, very few, thought of it as such. Many of us wallowed in misery, mourning our sleeping gods. Others fought terrible wars, trying to to suss out silent commands through arcane ritual and bloody sacrifice. Some few chose to destroy themselves, believing it was the will of their absent guides. Nothing stirred the Dragons. In the end we had no choice: bit by bit, we began stand on our own two feet, and across the world three great kingdoms were founded.
The first to emerge from the aftermath was technically the Aturan Sultanate, in the southern plains between the Neck and the Endless Desert. They were the remnant of a mighty draconic empire, reformed with mortal leadership in the wake of the Torpor. Many of you are familiar with them, though I will not be going into details on the Pact of Duln in this classroom. Or ever.
(There are a few awkward chuckles throughout the class at this point. They are quickly silenced.)
The second to rise was our own: the Vokayagora Zemla, or Vokaya to most of us. Many of you already know our country was created by a council of Dragons. The Metal Dragons emerged from their slumber to gift the tribes of the Far North with strength, unity, and enlightenment, and they forged our country with with their wisdom. The Metal Dragons would eventually succumb once again to the Torpor, but their power and their knowledge lives on.
The third, and the youngest of the three kingdoms, was the Holy Falcon Empire. It was forged without draconic interference, and it grew to swallow all of its neighbors in a vast conquest that halted only when they reached our borders.
As you all know, we’ve never been friendly to each other. The wars between Vokaya and the Empire are nearly perpetual, and were the Aturans more martially inclined, I have no doubt the…philosophical differences between us would have resulted in bloodshed.
For the last two hundred years, however, Vokaya has, without a doubt, been on the rise. The dragons gave us an edge that cannot be matched. Our magic, our science, and our technologies have allowed us to expand our influence across the world, and all who saw our flag would bow their heads. Even the Empire, even as they screamed their defiance, were forced to submit to us, in the fear that we would answer their constant attacks with an invasion of our own. Only when all the kingdoms of the world united against us, only when using our own technology against us, only when throwing their entire nations against us, could we be checked. Not defeated. Checked.
(There was a moment of hesitation from the lecturer at this point, and she took the opportunity to fill a glass of water before she moved on.)
I have been instructed not to continue this lecture. The Vice-Provost came to my room yesterday when he read my lesson plan. ‘Too much pain,’ he said. ‘Too much pain for people so young.’
Perhaps he is correct. What I intend to speak of is something you all know, and some of you know too dearly. Most everyone here had someone who died in the war. If this is a topic which you do not wish to hear more on, then I will concede to Patroclus’ request. I release you until afternoon bell. Those who wish to hear more, please remain seated.
(Of the seventy young men and women attending lecture, twelve rose from their seats and departed. Two were crying. Once they were gone and the doors shut behind them, the lecturer continued.)
I wish you could all have grown up when I was young. There was so much promise…but no. No, that will not be your legacy, or even mine. Vokaya was great, once.
Then, the Neverwar came.
It began in the heart of the Holy Falcon Empire. A woman few had heard of emerged from her anonymity to become the Empress of a country that saw her gender as useless. She killed the Emperor, destroyed his palace, and murdered his family; and, if the stories are to be believed, she did so alone.
When the nobility of the Empire rallied against this usurper, she met them in the field and crushed them into dust. Again, she did so alone.
She spent two years crossing the massive span of the Holy Falcon Empire, from the hills of the Steppelands, to the mountains of the Dunvales, to the depths of the Totenwald forest. In each place, she stood before nobility and peasants alike, and declared to them that she was their Empress and she would bring them glory.
Glory is not what she gave them. She spread a message of hatred and intolerance, a message of poison to the people of the Empire. She told them of the evils of Vokaya, of our supposed madness, of our ludicrous desire to free the dragons from the Torpor. Insanity. But those were her words, and the people listened. They heard her, and they were afraid; and as they huddled in the dark, waiting for a second armageddon with every dawn, she handed them swords and commanded them to march.
They flooded to her. They came by the hundreds of thousands to our borders, and the mighty Rampart Line that had held the south at bay for centuries was split asunder. The Empress and her army were a blight. She burned every village, crushed every army, slaughtered every elf she could lay hands on. She could not be stopped. In the end, even our invincible cities, the beacons of civilization in this age, fell before her anger. We cannot possibly count our dead, but it feels like half the nation had fallen silent by the end of that march.
When she reached the capital, it was a crux on which the future balanced. She had used foul magics that not even we can understand to bring three of the flying Seven Cities to the ground, but when she tried a fourth and final time, her magics would not answer her. She resorted to siege, and after over a month of pounding on Cascade’s walls she saw little beyond our defiance and our strength. She lost her patience. As much as the Empress had done, as much evil as she had already committed, she then performed an atrocity that was even worse.
The Empress…she tore a hole in the sky, and brought the demons to our world.
There…was not much that we could do. I can remember the screaming…the battle was hell. It was more hell than whatever birthed those monsters, I am, am certain of it. The Imperials breached the gates in the confusion, but everything was falling apart by that time, it had all gone mad.
You know…it’s funny, I can remember fighting alongside them. The southerners. I remember…I remember saving them, and they us, I remember trying—…I remember giving orders in three languages, because they couldn’t, they couldn’t—excuse me…
(At this point the lecturer called a break and briefly departed the lecture hall. She re-entered and class was reformed a few minutes later.)
I apologize, class.
We have reached the edge of history, and so I will wrap up as best I can. I have found that the past is too hard to see objectively when one was a part of it. If you wish to hear war stories, then you can buy me a drink at the Warden’s Rest like everyone else.
(There is another bout of soft chuckling, and a weight seems to lift a little off the assembled students.)
In any case, the invasion was sudden, and it was ruthless. I saw the monsters lay waste to both sides, killing indiscriminately, shattering the lines of battle. We fought alongside each other, we armed our prisoners, and our commanders fell silent in the chaos. In this madness, the Empress climbed through the city to the Keep of Rivers at its top and disappeared inside. There, at the height of her power, she was finally killed. Gods bless Merik Serendi Rex, and have mercy on his house.
For Vokaya, though, the damage had already been done. The Empire was routed, scattered into the Vokayan wilds. We have no army to pursue them. Much of the royal family was killed that day, sparing us just Merik himself and his only daughter. The countryside was littered with corpses and soaked in blood, and the works of even the Dragons themselves had crumbled.
The Golden Age is over. We are now out of history, students, and so if you want to know what happened next, you can learn about the Imperial Reformation and the wholesale collapse of the Holy Falcon Empire from your academica politica teacher.
Instead, I will leave you with these final words: the Demon Empress has bowed us, but we are not yet broken. Whether we can outlive her assault depends on my generation. We will be bleeding in the sand, we will be fighting day and night to survive. But if we succeed, she will still have won. That we are alive is not enough, not by far. If we will ever return to an era of peace and prosperity, it will be because of you. The true weight of her sins lies on your shoulders, and it will be your terrible burden to carry, to lift, and to eventually lay to rest.
You are our redemption. Remember that, always. Class dismissed.
-Captain Barbara Stavropolous, Proctor of Cascade Public Preparatory Academy, Honorable Discharge and Veteran of the Neverwar
This, as they say, is where the story begins.