The Empire Aflame

The Year of Conflagration

By 837 BR, it was increasingly clear to the rulers of Darrova, Ystria, and the Penwith Islands that the Empire was crumbling; independence had been whispered of in the years before, but the possibility of Imperial reprisal against any independence movements prevented the idea from gaining wider currency. This was especially true in the Penwith archipelago, where the Scourge loomed like a specter over any discussions of leaving the Empire. The fall of the Lakelands in the west and the collapse of imperial authority outside Hyperion in the east, however, strengthened the movements considerably. Despite this, the Imperial garrison in the Penwith Islands— centered in Brightwater— remained a significant threat.

The orcish hordes made quick work of the disorganized Imperial forces in the west, pursuing them as they retreated to Soren. The grand Imperial capital had never before fallen to an enemy force; with the defenses of the Lakelands overrun, the orcs and ogres had a clear path to the west, and they swept that way, ignoring lesser cities and plainly intent on laying siege to Soren itself. The siege began in the early summer and the orcs and ogres rampaged across the plains, burning, sacking, and plundering as they went. Despite this, the city was well-equipped for a protracted engagement, as it could still be supplied from the west and from the sea.

On the 12th day of Arah Shamash, the Month of the Sanctuary, the orcs launched a devastating assault on the city. (The city of Soren is composed of two main parts, the Inner City and the Outer City, the latter of which is also essentially two separate parts as well, the Western Outer City and the Eastern Outer City. The Inner City is the most ancient part of Soren, and comprises the great city-bridge itself, as well as the oldest mercantile districts on either side of the bridge; the Inner City is protected on both sides by the enormous Inner Walls, but makes up, at most, 10% of the city. The Outer City has grown on both sides of the city-bridge, and 90% of the city’s population of one million could be found there, though the Eastern Outer City is about twice the size of the Western Outer City (600,000 v. 300,000). Both Outer Cities are defended by large fortifications, called the Outer Walls.)

After two days of brutal fighting, the ogres smashed down the Gate of Glory and orcs streamed into the Eastern Outer City. Unable or unwilling to believe that Soren could ever fall, most of the citizens and troops had remained there, trusting in the invincibility of their city and the inevitability of their Empire. This proved a mistake, and many thousands were killed as the eastern city was overrun, sacked, and burned. With the vast majority of the orcs and ogres now inside the Eastern Outer City and hope of re-taking it basically non-existent, the Emperor Antonian dispatched several Grand Masters of the Imperial Academy of Alchemy on what were essentially suicide missions to the gates of eastern Outer Wall. There, they individually planted devastating alchemical weapons.

In concert with the remaining Imperial Alchemists, the Grand Masters detonated their alchemical bombs and other devices to seal the exits of the city, while the Alchemists atop the Inner Wall launched a devastating and widespread assault against the orcish army. The bombs, spells, and alchemical fire loosed by the Alchemists multiplied and intensified the destruction being wrought by the orcs, and soon the entirety of the Eastern Outer City was consumed with fire. Horrified at what had been done, a cadre of senators promptly assassinated Antonian, aided by several members of the Imperial Bodyguard who were similarly horrified.

The fires burned for three days and the majority of the army of the orcs and ogres was killed. The remaining hordes, their temporary unity shattered by the slaughter, fled back to the east and then north through the mountains, laden with plunder and essentially un-harassed. Antonian’s decision is called by many the Great Betrayal and has been extremely controversial ever since. Those defending the emperor’s actions insist that rest of Soren would have fallen had Antonian not taken the decisive action he did, while critics note the astronomical cost of the action itself, while also pointing out that it almost certainly needed advance planning (and some have consequently speculated that the fall of the eastern Outer Wall may have, in fact, been part of Antonian’s plan all along).

Word of the sack of Soren shattered the Empire’s myth of invincibility and began to spread throughout Orem, albeit far slower than usual, given the generally-ruined state of cities and trade routes across the continent. In the east, the siege of Hyperion reached its high point around the same time of the fall of Soren, and on the 2nd of Arah Shamash, the wizards Archus, Nerun, and Tivera utilized the Hyperion Cube to create an enormous protective bubble around the city itself and buy time. The Empress Alyphia, finally conceding the desperation of the situation, dispatched messengers and ravens to the Penwith Islands to order the total withdraw of all Imperial forces there to the city of Hyperion, to try and lift the siege. (Alyphia had previously been reluctant to do this, as she—correctly—predicted that withdrawing the Imperial garrison from the islands would cause an immediate rebellion in not only the Penwithan cities, but also in Ystria, and they had been a valuable source of tax revenue throughout the war.)

The Imperial withdrawal began on the 4th of Arah Shamash, and on the 7th the Imperial legions left the Penwith Islands. The rapid departure of the Imperial troops and government was unexpected even by those who had privately advocated for Penwithan independence, and the resulting power vacuum caused a significant collapse in government across the archipelago, a destabilization that resulted in the more-than-a-century-long period that followed called the Anarchy of the Islands. The bulk of Imperial troops stationed in Brightwater mysteriously disappeared shortly after their departure; they have since been termed the “Vanished Legion”, and what happened to them is totally unknown. Ystrian independence followed shortly thereafter. Darrova, in the meantime, declared independence on the 21st day of Arah Shamash, when the news of both the fall of Soren and the independence of the Penwithan Islands reached the Da’Vorn.

Cut off from the outside world by both the besieging orc army and the interference from the shield erected around the city, Hyperion continued to hope for the arrival of the Penwithan legions, or Antonian’s triumph over the hordes in the west. After about a month, on the 4th day of Arah Savan, the orcs launched a large, coordinated magical assault on the shield surrounding the city, a devastating volley that overwhelmed it, killing many wizards and causing it to collapse. The orcs pressed their success and overran the city’s walls, sacking, pillaging, and burning as they went. The Black and White Keep survived, as the wizard Tivera resurrected the shield around the keep’s complex, keeping the orcs at bay once again.

The orcs burned the city to the ground, but proceeded to lay siege to the Keep, refusing to give up. On the 11th day of Arah Savan, they launched another assault on the shield, but this time the shield detonated instead of collapsing, releasing a shockwave of magical energy that tore through the orcish hordes and killed the majority of them. The handful of Imperial survivors who made it out spread the story of the fall of Hyperion and the role played by the Hyperion Cube in it, though most did not fully understand what had happened.

By the end of 837 BR— thereafter referred to as the Year of Conflagration— almost all the remaining orcs and ogres had returned north, beyond the mountains, to their homes. The collapse of authority across the continent was almost total, the economic consequences devastating, and the death total catastrophic.

Next: Imperial Rebirth

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The Empire Aflame

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