The creation of the multiverse lies beyond the reach of any known divination, but there are few doubts about its general nature. Ask the priests of a dozen faiths, peer into the most distant reaches of space, search the voids between dimensions, or probe with the most powerful of spells, and there you will feel the ever-increasing radiance of the Dragon, filled with infinite power and possibility.
Within that seething sea there arose a power of order: leavening chaos with purpose, infinity with limitations, and mutability with form. A paradox of law, strong enough to bind eternity and fragile as a trick of perception.
Timelessness focused through a lens of seconds and instants, but in truth timelessness still.
The Lost Ages:
Atheria traced its course through space for eons before humans came to walk its lands. For long ages it was the domain of the fey, a rough and primitive adjunct to their soaring otherworldly domains. There are still traces of those times:
In a dozen hidden places the pillars of the Ilmareth – whether that was a race, a country, an organization, or an architectural movement – still rise, marking places of otherworldly influence and peculiar powers.
Buried in rock that – for a few moments – ran like water, the armor of the Elan’ awaits across the ages a call to arms that never came.
While the fashion has long since passed, the Beast-Lords still sometimes walk the land, leaving an apparently-random trail of curses and blessings in their wake.
The fey may preserve much of the lore of the lost ages, but attempts to probe the otherworld, and to tap into that lore, often go amiss. Few scholars of ancient history wish to take such risks to satisfy their curiosity.
The Dralithar and the Arrival:
Humans are not native to Atheria. Once they walked, another world, and others before that. Still, while it’s name is long forgotten, they walked that realm for millennia – long enough that only scholars remembered it was not their true home.
There were other races too, and a wealth of magic. It may have been that which drew the Dralithar.
Its nature is no longer known, if it ever was. Fragmented tales speak of a valiant defense, of fallen heroes, and of an unrelenting enemy. Of forces of good and evil united in a final alliance. Of an onrushing cataclysm, and a desperate flight across the thousand scales of the Dragon. Of the mage Almin of the Stars and an Emissary of Creation who sacrificed themselves to seal the paths between the now-fallen realm and Atheria forever.
Nevertheless, somewhere between a few thousand and a few million (estimates vary) humans made it to Atheria before the gates closed, scattered across present-day Dernmarik and the Rian Mountians. If any non-humans made the crossing they either died out or were absorbed into the human population.
Unfortunately, Dernmarik had (and still has) more exotic monsters than anywhere else on Atheria – and the arriving humans were short of warriors, had lost most of the spirits that had assisted them with their world, and lacked the time for their surviving spellcasters to adapt their techniques for use on Atheria.
While a few, scattered, groups fled east or southwest, to become the ancestors of the Barbarians and the peoples of Mri, Parack, and Kharidath, the vast majority migrated south and southeast – taking refuge in the predictable lands of Order, called Alaria in honor of Almin.
Negotiations With The Fey:
While a few colonies of offworlders could easily pass without notice near the Dragon’s Spine – and those who entered the Barbarian Lands soon blended into the land as variants on the local species – those who passed into the Lands of Order and the Mri Desert stood out. First the Lesser, and then the Greater, fey took notice.
Negotiations were piecemeal: each local cluster of small fey – and each greater fey – asked something of the men who sought refuge in their lands.
Fortunately, there was some sympathy for the plight of refugees: the lesser fey mostly demanded small favors. The greater fey, who saw the material realms as minor appendages to their otherworldly domains, asked for more enduring bargains – but rarely for anything which was overly burdensome.
Very, very, strange sometimes, but not burdensome.
Passed on as duties and traditions, such pacts became the basis of many of the odder minor priestly duties within the Imperium. There are still gardens being maintained, symbols being cut into hillsides, statues being dusted, twice-yearly deliveries of a cask of mead to something unseen, songbirds being fed, music being played, and occasional slaves being sent to spend several years being badly confused in the service of the fey.
The Era Of Settlement:
As the early settlements spread out across Alaria, the land of Order, the mages and scholars gathered together what they could of the elder lore, along with the erratic and chancy instruction of the fey and their own investigations to create a functioning foundation for the practice of magic on Atheria. It was soon discovered that – while the greater magics and enchantments were almost impossible to use on Atheria, the lesser magics, and the minor enchantments of Charms and Talismans, were far more accessible. Even poor commoners – people who had little or no access to magic previously – would find it in their lives.
While some of the scholars thus understood what was happening when the children born on Atheria began to display their birthrights – and those of Order were subtle in any case – there were massive disruptions in the totemistic Barbarian Lands and around the Mri desert.
The youthful children of those few families who had wandered into Chelm were especially disruptive – and frightening.
Atherian History: The Imperial Era
The First Emperor:
With the Barbarians pressing the northern borders, the Chelmians exploiting the southern towns and villages, and random incursions from present-day Dernmarik, attempts to bring large-scale organization to Alaria seemed doomed. Attempts to produce effective defensive works led many of Alaria’s scholars to turn their attention to Geomancy and Mystic Architecture, fields both ideally suited to the purpose and likely to remain a near-monopoly of Alaria.
Carius Antoni, one of the first powerful human mages native to Atheria, successfully compiled a geomantic map of Alaria and located the central nexus of order beneath Mt. Orivak. Penetrating the caves deep beneath the mountain, he reshaped them into the Sigil of Order, allowing a single man to channel the dormant power of the land to others.
He offered a share of that power to the leaders of the nearby cities if they would unite their defenses and bring peace and stability to the land.
The leaders passed it on to their subordinates and the commanders who led the soldiers and militias. Soon even the poorest farmers had access to the full powers of their birthright – and the militias had become well-organized Legions.
By the time of his death 163 years later, Carius the Peacemaker, acclaimed as Augustus, Emperor of Alaria, ruled a stable realm extending into the Mri Desert, and into the fringes of Dernmarik and the Barbarian lands. He had been first speaker of the imperial senate for more than a hundred years.
While Carius Augustus had provided a well-thought-out procedure for transferring his magical responsibilities (not yet tied to leadership of the senate) and had prepared his successor, news of his death still resulted in widespread disruption within the empire and in opportunistic assaults upon the borders. Unfortunately, his successors – lacking the authority of being legendary magi with a century of rule under their belts – were forced to institute substantially harsher controls than Carius had ever found necessary and abandoned some of the more far-flung imperial outposts.
On the losing side in the power struggles, with portions of their lands abandoned, and disliking the new restrictions imposed in the aftermath of Carius’s death, several Gen in Uran and Jurash opted to abandon the empire, and fled into the distant east. They were not heard from again for many centuries.
Shortly afterwards, an unfortunate episode with the “Bloodlord” – a Chelmian with major ambitions and a well-developed birthright – led to the senate combining the offices of emperor (with its inherent mystical defenses and influence over the spirits of the land) and first speaker of the senate, creating the office of Emperor as it is currently known.
Meanwhile, the human race had established substantial populations throughout much of Atheria, had explored past Chelm, and were beginning to colonize more distant lands. Fortunately, the fey were coming to view humanity – now that they were properly attuned to the energies of Atheria – as just another local material species, rather than as alien intruders in their realm. They were willing to simply bargain with human settlers, rather than insisting on complex (and mystically binding) oaths and treaties.
The Dragon Koan:
In soaring Iremell, towers fell. A wave washed up out of the sea of jade, dissolving everything made of wool or rock crystal in a wealthy seaside town. A group of bears died in agony as their bones grew into crystal spikes. A grove of trees sprouted in the desert, and defended themselves with lightning and walls of force.
Powers opposed each other in the otherworld. Varichoi warred (debated? competed? went out with?) Zarthim. Pangerl, Tesh, and Maruk did… something.
Even those humans who wound up becoming involved in the fighting (?) left no clear records of what was actually going on. Most of the war – if war it was – was invisible to mortal eyes, so no one knows exactly how long it lasted either – but its effects were felt. Bizarre weather, magical disruptions, violations of the natural order, inexplicable disasters, and strange creatures shook the foundations of Atheria.
When the… struggle(?) was over, most of the great, and many of the lesser, fey had abandoned the physical realms to humanity. There were still occasional appearances, and the old bargains continued – but the fey, and the dragons, were involved with their own affairs in the otherworld.
The HuSung Empire:
Meanwhile, in the distant east, a new realm had arisen. The exiled Gen of Uran and Jurash had established their own domain in the sprawling lands around the elemental nexi, establishing five mystical orders to govern the yearly cycle of elemental energies and to negotiate with the spirits of the elements. Over time, they’d become priesthoods.
With established organizations dedicated to governing the ebb and flow of mystical energies, HuSung survived the Dragon Koan with relatively little disruption – at least in comparison to the rest of the human world. Still, they had been forced to establish a central coordinator, empowered to make adjustments to the rituals and magical balances as needed – regardless of the desires of any local nobles and squabbling warlords.
Over the years, this mandate – and the power to adjust the weather, seasons, and fertility of the land – led to the high priest becoming the Emperor. Still, whether fortunately or unfortunately, the arcane and religious responsibilities of the eastern emperor prevents him or her from interfering with mundane matters very much.
On the commoner’s side, the social disruptions of the Dragon Koan, combined with the fact that the birthright of HuSung is elemental magic, reset the balance between the nobility and the peasantry. A rebellious village could cause quite a lot of damage to its supposed overlord. Negotiation replaced most oppression.
The Dragon’s Eye:
With borders set by natural law rather than by shifting social, technological, material, or magical advantages, the affairs of the nations of Atheria settled into patterns. The Alarian Imperium expanded periodically and contracted to its traditional borders after a century or so. The Barbarians remained tribal. Lords rose and fell in the trackless lands of Dernmarik, Senthar, Ireta, and Nial as powerful individuals founded domains, only to be overthrown a few generations later. The people of Chelm coiled in upon themselves in distrust and treachery. The people of Kharidath, obsessed with cultural purity and with the worship of their otherwise-forgotten gods, focused inwards, and HuSung – defended by distance and elemental barriers – simply absorbed the few wanderer’s who came their way.
Still, progress was made in most of the major realms. Mages created new spells, rampaging demons and other spirits were bound, and inventors forged new devices, both magical and mechanical. There were heroes and villains, mighty tales and quests, and explorer’s probed both the mysteries of the otherworld and those of distant lands. Wars were fought and heroes adventured.
Nevertheless, the centuries passed.
And then the Dragon’s Eye glanced towards Atheria, a world that had attempted to isolate itself from the rest of the multiverse – from the Thousand Scales of the Dragon.
And the world trembled on the edge of oblivion. Eons-old spells and wards crumbled as the dimensions shifted, formerly-reliable spells turned erratic and twisted, gateways opened randomly, and demons swarmed across the land. Dragons were seen once more.
But there was aid from above. An Emissary from higher powers drew a veil of darkness across the sky, concealing Atheria from the unfettered might of the Eye.
And the Gaze of the Dragon turned elsewhere.
The survivors rejoiced – but scholars feared that the way had been opened for the ancient enemy to ravage Atheria, as it had ravaged worlds before. That, at least, was not to be: the paths between worlds were warped and changed. The world of their ancestors was lost forever, no longer to be found among the Thousand Scales of the Dragon.
The damage was massive, the works of ages undone in moments of celestial fire. Civilization would have taken centuries to recover even if there had been no further consequences – but Dernmarik and the Alarian Imperium suddenly had to confront periodic intrusions from other dimensions, while HuSung had to deal with the awakening of the Elemental Dragons.
Everyone had to deal with subtle shifts in the operation of magic. The fabric of the world itself had been warped and changed, subtly – and permanently – distorting the magic of the domains of Atheria.
The millennia of isolation – of peace and security and safety, however smothering – are still remembered as a golden age.
Founding of the Varnic Church:
Varnae, a minor adventurer, descended from the Rian mountains shortly after the Gaze of the Dragon was veiled, claiming to have met a Messenger – the Emissary from Above who had cloaked the Eye of the Dragon. His tale, and the philosophy he set forth, became the foundation of the great Varnic Church. Over the centuries it’s basic tenants have spread over the Barbarian Realms (albeit in a drastically simplified form), throughout the lands of Nial, Dernmarik, Senthar, and Ireta, and are familiar throughout the Alarian Imperium. The Varnic Church has made little headway in (or beyond) Chelm – although the tribes there have an apparently-related faith derived from unknown sources – and is virtually unknown in HuSung.
Of all the great faiths of Atheria, the Varnic Church, and only the Varnic Church, lays claim to being based on public revelation. The others, with the exception of the worship of the Forgotten Gods in Kharidath, offer only practical effects, rather than transcendental philosophies.
The Trackless, Barbarian, and Imperial Lands:
Recent history is generally considered to have begun when the Alarian Imperium under Lucius IV reached one of its periodic peaks of expansion in 6703, controlling much of the Barbarian Lands, current-day Dernmarik and Senthar, roughly half the Iretan Peninsula, and substantial portions of the Mri Desert and the eastern forests. Unfortunately, such an expanse of territory proved impossible to hold – as usual – and the Imperium had collapsed back to its usual zone of control (slightly past its natural magical boundaries) by 6795, in part due to a major series of monstrous incursions in 6762-6766. The gradual development of a feudal system throughout current-day Dernmarik culminated in King Farell the Strong founding the Kingdom of Dernmarik in 6839 with the assistance of a number of trade-treaties with the Imperium. With the southern and eastern borders relatively stable, subsequent campaigns to expand into Senthar and the Iretan Peninsula occupied the next century and a half (save for a few interruptions by internal wars between the major nobles), culminating in he absorption of Senthar – the last remnants of the pre Alarian Occupation states of the Trackless Lands – in 6922 and the construction of a series of strongpoints to attempt to pacify the Iretan Highlands in 6991-7003. While Dernmarik’s claim to Nial has – in the absence of any actual large-scale government there – gone unchallenged, the locals don’t pay much attention to it either.
A series of monstrous incursions from 7015-7119 set the stage for new revolts in Ireta and devastated Senthar (although, for a time, the site of a great victory in Senthar was a major shrine), leading to a lengthy resettlement period and major military campaigns in Ireta. Things had almost settled down when the same thing – just as many doomsayers and rumors had predicted – happened again, although the 7179-7183 attack was relatively brief. Today, in 7213 (374 since the founding of Dernmarik), some areas of Ireta still exist as open rebel states and most of northern Senthar remains an unpopulated wilderness. The Imperium is, once again, considering a push for expansion and the Barbarians see increasingly prosperous towns to raid.