The Neverwar

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[4000 DA – 0 AT]: The Dragon Age
[0 AT – ~500 AT]: The Age of Man
[422 AT – 620 AT]: The Uplift
[538 AT – 901 AT]: The Unification
[650 AT – 700 AT]: The Orcish Exile
[699 AT – 800 AT]: The Iron Rebellion
[800 AT – 1209 AT]: The Golden Age
[1209 AT – 1212 AT]: The Neverwar
[1212 AT – Present]: Aftermath of the Neverwar

[1209 AT – 1212 AT]
The Neverwar

The story of the Neverwar is a tragedy worthy of the bards. The cost in lives can be counted in the millions, and that number continues to tick. What happened exactly is still a matter of much conjecture; after an event so terrible, who can but ask how it came to be? The truth is in short supply, but there are some facts that everyone knows.

The Demon Empress

August, 1209 AT

On one hot August day, a woman arrived at the gates of the Basilica of Light, the capital of Hauptstadt. It is said that she declared herself the bastard child of Emperor Konrad Friedhold, and that she needed to speak with her father. It was only when she was refused that she sought him out herself.

They say she stormed the castle alone, calling magical lightning down from the sky, slaying any who opposed her. She hunted down every member of the Imperial family, slaying them in their beds or where they stood. She executed the Emperor while he sat on the throne, then pulled the crown off his corpse and declared herself Empress, right there, striking down any among the nobility who opposed her.

It’s difficult to determine just how much of those stories are true, but the Basilica of Light is still a ruin.

Over the next six months, Empress Amelia d’Tunis, the First of Her Name, secured her power over the Empire. Her voice was like hypnosis, her sheer will like fighting a mountain. Some say she could kill those who plotted against her by simply walking into the same room, so terrifying was her fury. There are legends that speak of entire rebel armies being swept aside by her magic, and her killing assassins and conspirators with her own hands. Every step she took could take her seven leagues if she willed it, and crack the earth when it landed if she were angry. Whatever the reality, the Empire quickly capitulated to her will, and then the preparations began.

March, 1210 AT

Empress Amelia seemed to have two goals with the first year of her reign. First, she would transform the Empire, and turn it into the paradise it promised its subjects. Massive reforms were arranged in the government, and the Empress tore power away from the greedy nobles, placing it into the hands of the peasantry. Her actions and beliefs founded the principles of the Reformation, a creed that destabilized but invigorated the Imperial people. Slavery was abolished, leading to slave uprisings all over the Empire, contributing to the crumbling stability. But most important of all, Dragon Worship and the Vokayan Sept were declared illegal, and anyone who worshiped either faith was to be imprisoned or executed. This was all in preparation for her second goal.

Above all these changes, the Empress declared the Vokayagora Zemla an abomination, infected with Dragon Cults and madmen attempting to free the Dragons from the Torpor. We talk of this now in wonderment, that we could have ever believed her, but at the time her words were like fire in our chests, so ready were we to follow her. Riders passed from Sanctuary to every corner of the Empire to being the news: the Vokayans were coming. Fear gripped the Empire; fear the North, fear of the Magic and the return of The Dragon Age. Fear of Vokaya. Once the fear set in, it was only a matter of time.

The Lost Prince

Meanwhile, the Vokaya had troubles of its own. Two years before Amelia d’Tunis went to meet her father, a long-lost prince of the Serendi family was discovered in Cascade Fortress. It was a cause for celebration, but also concern; this new scion of Merik Serendi Rex was likely to contest the current heir to the throne, one Michail Serendi, who was well-liked and quite competent. These fears proved unfounded, however: the new prince, Petyr, was content to live without such responsibilities. He proceeded to live comfortably in the Keep of Rivers for more than a year, and was rarely seen outside.

It is difficult to say if he was genuine. It could all have been a front, a ruse to try and trick the world into underestimating him. In the end, his actions spoke louder.

April, 1209 AT

It all changed when Petyr attempted to get married. A few days before the wedding, his wife-to-be disappeared, and soon after so did he. For months he was absent from the world, and people began to talk of conspiracy. Had the poor girl been murdered, and Petyr was out seeking revenge? Was she kidnapped, and he was seeking to rescue her? Was the entire event a ruse, so they could disappear? There were no clear answers.

January, 1210 AT

Ten months of speculation led to no new leads, beyond rumors of sightings in the depths of the Empire. Then, as suddenly as he had vanished, Petyr returned. But the man who had disappeared from Cascade Fortress nearly a year ago was not the man who had come back. This new Petyr was angry where he had been gentle, cruel where he had been kind, calculating where he had been carefree. He became deeply political, courting the favor of the powerful among the High Counsel and the Consulate. He began to install himself into Vokaya’s military command. The Dragon’s Teeth, the elite soldiers of Vokaya, begin to fracture.

July, 1210 AT

Prince Michail dies in his bed, stabbed repeatedly with a knife. The grounds are searched for the dagger or the assassin who held it, but neither are ever found. The wounds suggest that the feud was personal.

Where the conflict between Petyr and Merik had once been subtle, it was now heated. Lidiya Serendi, the only other heir to the throne, is unfit for such a position, having lived a life marked by scandal and a frivolous nature. With Michail gone, Petyr became the only hope for Vokaya’s future; a role he played well. In public he was brilliant, strong, charismatic, and calculating, almost a match in worthiness to his late younger brother.

However, rumors abounded that in private he was deteriorating. Drunken bouts with empty rooms, a temper that would flare white-hot at the most unusual subjects, a few occasions of physical violence against those who provoked him. Some suggested that his temper burned hot enough to kill, with the murders covered up by his people in the Dragon’s Teeth. No proof ever surfaced.

Between his rumors, his presence, his allies, and his actions, few in Cascade felt they had a true measure of Petyr Serendi, but his factors made him intoxicating to many in power. The Vokayan Electorate and High Council became divided between the father and the son, and it seemed like any day the King would also find a knife in his chest, or the Prince would see himself on the executioner’s block.

But they did not have time to find out.

The Neverwar

February, 1211 AT

A rider arrives at Cascade Fortress, bearing a declaration of war from the Empire. The High Council disregards the message; after all, this was not the first time they had fought the Empire, and they had won every battle since the end of the Uplift. This decision kills 15,000 Vokayan citizens.

The way the soldiers tell it, the Empress marched an army 250,000 strong to the Rampart Line and assaulted a stronghold that has held Imperial forces at bay for four hundred years, without even stopping to set up camp. She led the charge on the front gate herself, and blew open the portcullis like it was made of dried leaves. Every spell the defenders threw at her was deflected or dissolved. The castle was destroyed in less than an hour, every elf within slain, and an hour later the army was on the march once again.

It was over so fast that Cascade was never even sent a report. The details of the battle were obtained months later from interrogated prisoners. But the worst was yet to come.

When the Empress reached Lowpeak Fortress, she performed the first of three terrible miracles. In the words of a soldier who witnessed it:

“She stood there on the hill, looking up at the city. It was the first time I’d seen anything like it, towers so tall they could scratch the sky. It was huge, and balanced on that pillar like a boulder on a pin. There was no way we could assault it. I said as much to my commander, and he couldn’t disagree. ‘This is it,’ he said. ’We’re going to die here, climbing up that cliff. But we’ll die men of the Empire, and free of the Dragons.’
I wish I had died there.
But then the Empress, she raised her arms and cried out. It felt like the whole world was in that cry. I could feel it in my bones. It was like to shake me apart, rip the flesh right off me. But the city. Oh, Gods above. The city. It fell. It fell right down, like whatever strings hanging it from the heavens were cut, just like that. The ground was ready to split open from the crash. The dust, oh Gods, the dust hit us like a wall. We couldn’t see. We couldn’t see anything. But we could hear the screams.

It was the Gods. They were crying out at the injustice of what we had done. And we will burn for it."

March, 1211 AT

The destruction of Lowpeak was felt as far north as the Everwinter Crest. When news reached Cascade, the King of Vokaya assumed emergency powers and marched out from Cascade with the compliment of House Serendi house guards, and two weeks later met the Imperial army in a valley pass stretching over a section of the Cloud Roads between Lowpeak and Obsidian. The Imperials outnumbered the Vokayans two hundred to one, but still the King marched.

They met on the battlefield, and fought for nearly a week over that valley. In the end, over twenty thousand lay dead in the snow, and from that day forward the place was called the Krov Doline; the Valley of Blood. The Vokayans should have held longer until reinforcements arrived, but the Empress could not be defeated. She would ride to the thickest fighting and turn the tide alone. She was an angel of death on the battlefield, slinging magic or steel, killing hundreds every hour. King Merik was forced to retreat, or lose what forces he had left.

With King Merik’s retreat came the doom of Obsidian. Like Lowpeak before it, the city collapsed to the earth, shattered like glass. The largest population center in Vokaya was gone, and with it, another 20,000 dead.

April, 1211 AT

The Battle of the Krov Doline was the first of too many failures for the Vokayans, but it was not without purpose. Because of their stalling actions, the destruction of Obsidian had killed only a portion of the city’s population. King Merik had ordered the evacuation before setting out, praying that it was not necessary but not leaving anything to chance. His gambit paid off, even if it didn’t feel like a victory. He had traded 2,500 Vokayan soldiers so that 100,000 Vokayan civilians could live. In the end it wouldn’t matter, but to the Serendi Rex, running back to Cascade with a force of twelve where he had set out with thousands, it was the cold comfort that pulled them onward.

While King Merik regrouped his forces in the city of High Tower, the Empress spent two weeks looting Brittlestone Loch, trying to provision her army. Her reputation and iron discipline kept order almost as well as her officers, but without food she could not march. By the time she was provisioned, however, King Merik had recalled the remainder of the Vokayan combined forces from the Rampart and the rest of the Seven Cities. Leading an army nearly 30,000 strong, King Merik moved to close the Cloud Roads between Obsidian and Brittlestone.

May, 1211 AT

The two armies met in a maze of peaks and tunnels on the Cloud Roads which formed the only passable areas that the Empress could use to reach High Tower. The choice of terrain was risky, as there was no room to retreat, but it also served as the only choke point to the city.

For five whole months, the battle raged. The mountains rang with the sound of steel on steel, the screams of the wounded and the dying, and the release of magic enough to rip the peaks from the mountaintops. At last, the Empress managed to trap the majority of Vokayan forces in a valley, and using the power of her dark magic, she collapsed the very mountain on her enemy. There were more than 150,000 casualties in the battle. King Merik escaped with just a few dozen companies of men; only 1,500 soldiers from the 30,000 he had gathered.

The valleys became known as the Black Cage, and the battlefield remains barely touched since the devastation the Empress wreaked upon Vokaya. With the fall of High Tower, another 17,000 (over 6,000 of which were refugees from Obsidian) joined the souls buried at the bottom of the Black Cage, and with it fell the largest repository of knowledge and research in the world.

November, 1211 AT

In Vokaya’s darkest hour, Petyr Serendi saw his chance
With the true Serendi Rex gone from the capital, Petyr seized the city guard and performed a coup, arresting key members of the High Council and the Consulate, slaughtering their guards in the streets and declaring a police state. Petyr and his co-conspirators breached the Keep of Rivers and moved inside, installing themselves as a new interim government until they could be legally ratified. Petyr himself was declared Steward in Waiting (as he could not attempt to become King until the Contests) and commanded that his father be arrested on sight. His rebellion was short-lived: shortly after entering the Keep of Rivers, he closed the gates and ceased contact with the outside, quickly losing control of the city guard and the few supporters outside the walls. What Petyr had hoped to achieve is unknown; it is said he was going mad, and had begun to bark at the sky and speak to figures that were not present.
His treachery could not have come at a worse time. His actions had put the city into a state of chaos and panic, and he had decapitated most of their leadership while half the High Council, the Commander-Provost, and the Grand Marshal all retreated into the Keep where they could not give orders. King Merik returned to Cascade Fortress to find near anarchy in the streets, and no access to the city’s stronghold. By the time he had restored order, it was too late.

The Empress had arrived.

December, 1211 AT

When the Empress arrived at the lip of the crater overlooking Cascade Fortress, many believed that the war would end with the fall of the Vokayan Capital. But when she once again tried to bring the city crashing down to earth, it did not fall. At last, the Imperial army would have to contend with the full might of one of the Seven Cities.

It is here that events quickly go from history to myth. The Battle of Cascade Fortress lasted over three weeks, beginning with a siege the likes of which have never been seen in the North. The Empress had brought the knowledge of impossible blasting powder, and thunderous cannons shook the snow from the mountains for weeks on end.

The bombardment was followed by an assault using terrifying siege engines, capable of bringing soldiers up to the city walls, and when that was underway, the Demon Empress earned her name.

All this time, Merik had attempted to gain access to the Keep of Rivers. His traitor son could not be found, and his demands to enter the Keep were left unanswered. In the end, he was forced to break down his own gates while under siege from the enemy, just to reach the inner defenses. What he found inside is left to conjecture. If anyone knows other than King Merik himself, then they have not spoken of it.

But that day, Demons came to Alsara.

The Demon Empress had called them, splitting open the heavens and boring a great black pit in the sky. From this came the Demons: dark legions of horror only spoken of in myths and superstition. They laid waste to the City of Steel, and any they encountered, on either side. The battlefield collapsed into anarchy, with Vokayan and Imperial fighting alongside, patriotism and blood feuds forgotten in favor of pure survival. With the aid of the Demonic legions, the Demon Empress entered the city, and that is the last she is known to be seen.

They say that the Gods themselves walked the halls of the Keep of Rivers that day. That, as the battle raged, the whole world was wracked with nightmares of gnashing teeth and burning brands. They say that, for an hour, the Great River ceased to flow. Perhaps these things are true. Perhaps.

January, 1212 AT

At the end, the Vokayans were victorious. The Demon Empress and the Traitor Prince were both dead, along with half a million others. King Merik stood upon the ruins of the Keep of Rivers, and declared the war was over.

Perhaps he was right, but there were many questions left unanswered. What would become of the Imperial army, now leaderless? What would become of Vokaya, with so many dead and so many more left afraid and abandoned? What of the Empire, which had lost its faith, its leaders, its very philosophy? And what would become of the Demons, now unleashed upon a world left frail and terrified?

Only time will tell.

The Neverwar

Alsara: Requiem and Revolution Serathen Serathen