Cities in Dust
A Brief History of the Known World
by His Most Squamous Majesty, Raxhura the Lizard-King
Ten times ten generations past, the last great empires of the ancient world vanished. Legends from that time tell of wars and famines and invasions of barbarian nations. Great heroes rose and fell and rose again across the scarred landscape; their names lost in the shifting seas of dust that cover the graves of those antique kingdoms. It is said that it was in this time that the elder folk began to stir from their millennia-old slumber and re-appeared across the world, taking up their rightful places in majesty once again. But for almost 500 years, chaos reigned supreme throughout the known world. All for the singular reason that for ten times ten generations, the dead will not die.
What little history remains from the ancient world tells us of a time in which when a man died, he might expect his remains to lay quiet in the earth and moulder. This period, known to men and elves alike as the Golden Age of Death, is looked back upon with awe, though of it little is known, save legend. Stories vary from teller to teller, but the Golden Age is said to have seen mighty cities, overfull with men living upon the bounty of both earth and sea. The great empires lived at relative peace with one another, untroubled by want, hunger, war, or undeath.
Then, suddenly, came the Great Undying. Some say it was a plague sent by the Dead God to punish both man and god for their pride. Others claim that a war broke out between two kingdoms and that in their folly, they robbed the world of death that they might continue their fighting forever. Still other stories tell of petty warlords who made dark pacts with dangerous sorcerers; evil stars falling from the sky, poisoning all they touched; cultists performing degenerate rites in blasphemous fanes. it has even been said that the burden of the dead upon the land became too much and that the Earth simply vomited the dead back to the land of the living rather than take another to her bosom. Whatever the cause, within a generation, the great coastal cities were shattered and their walls thrown down, the land around them poisoned and blasted in vain attempts to contain or annihilate the dead. Humanity was lost to the sea and retreated inland where it remains to this day.
During this time, called the Age of Ash, the elder folk began to re-appear in small numbers. Awoken from their slumber by the calamity of the Great Undying, by the hideous incessant groaning of the damned, they rose slowly and steadily, returning to the face of the world, having disappeared thousands of years before the great empires arose. They had left the world in the stewardship of Humanity, and Humanity had failed. But humans were not alone in the nightmare that beset the world; the elder folk were just as susceptible to the Undying as humans, and though longer-lived, they, too, found their beloved dead rising from the grave, seeking to ease the incessant pain of death by feeding upon the living.
Of all the secrets of the ancient world, the most treasured was the creation of the forged. Originally designed as a source of cheap labor, both military and domestic, the Forged were immune to the ravages of the Undying, since they neither lived nor died in the normal sense of the word. So it was that in the early years of the Age of Ash, in the hope of saving themselves, alchemists and mages developed the rituals for the Possession – the transference of the consciousness of a living creature into a forged body. The living, it would seem, were saved.
However, there were many problems. First, the process was prohibitively expensive, such that only the ultra-wealthy could afford it, thus creating the possessed aristocracies of many of the great kingdoms that persist to this day. Second, the transfer was dangerous and often resulted in madness, which sometimes would not manifest until decades after the ritual had been completed. Third, the forged themselves, since they had to be created and their minds allowed to complexify for many years leading up to the transfer, were not always happy to be deactivated permanently to preserve the mortality of their masters – and even this mortality became a deeper moral question for the possessed and their subjects.
Some five hundred years or so after the Great Undying, as the living adapted to the Dead, a number of warlords emerged. Some Possessed, some Human, some from among the Elder Races, they began the arduous task of pushing the unnumbered hordes of shambling dead out of populated areas, and creating new nations. These self-styled princes, marquises, and dukes created stability and order from the chaos of the Great Undying. Where they did, hope for a future – any future – emerged and though many of the secrets of the ancients had been lost in the intervening centuries where all that mattered was the battle between the living and the undead, civilization crawled out of the wreckage of the past and carried on. The Hundred Kingdoms period had begun.
During the Hundred Kingdoms period, culture as such, began to re-emerge even as these nations were built and crumbled, expanded and were swallowed, some by each other, some by the dead. New funerary customs and faiths emerged. Magic once considered indispensable became taboo, while other formerly forbidden arts became commonplace and vital to the survival of the mortal races. Most notably, most kingdoms forbade the use of any magic that would return the dead to life. This prohibition covered not only the necromantic arts, but also powerful spells once regarded as positive, like resurrection and raise dead. The end of life had become sacrosanct and anyone found disturbing the resting were exiled in the best of cases, or simply disintegrated in the worst. To this day, tampering with death is not taken lightly. Because of this, in some kingdoms, the possessed are regarded with disgust and even open hatred – they have perverted the natural course of life and are considered by some no better than the rotting, shambling corpses that flood the wastes.
Civilization is considered to have restarted with the coming of the Hundred Kingdoms. The current calendar in use in most of the known world is dated from the ascension of Raxhura the Lizard-King 672 years ago. However, the Hundred Kingdoms period was full of strife and conflict as the nascent city-states began to expand and frequently fell to fighting among themselves as often as they did to being overrun by the dead.
After 652 years, with only twelve major states remaining, Tassiyakka, the first child of Raxhura the Lizard-King was born. This was regarded as a momentous occasion in all of the twelve kingdoms, and prompted Raxhura to declare that a new age has dawned for the world, which he has dubbed the The Age of the Phoenix. Tassiyakka the Phoenix-Princess has many centuries before she grows to maturity, but now, in the year 672, the world looks for a new rebirth of the power and achievements of the ancients and the peace of a undisturbed sleep in death.