16: The Golden Age of Peace
One by one, the Senerai passed away, confident in their decisions and comforted by the knowledge that they left behind a Golden Age of Peace.
But Eurielle brooded over the prophecy of the Ages. She knew peace would not last forever. On her deathbed, she made Starhorn promise he would leave Aestaria and travel to the outer continents in search of the next champions who would assume the mantle of the Senerai — the keepers of peace and protectors of Mythron’s greatest secret.
She reminded Starhorn that the Chakri Avatars had moved northeast, and that it was likely the next destined hero would be born there. Starhorn agreed in principle, but he did not leave right away. He already had an inkling of who would succeed the Senerai, who Mythron’s next great leader would be.
The Thirteen Aspects remained in Aestaria, guiding the people, helping maintain order, and ultimately grooming successive generations of Aestari leaders as their civilization spread across the globe. As the ongoing study of magic and science brought vast increases in knowledge and power, both Aestaria and its far-flung settlements continued to grow in both size and sophistication.
The continents continued to develop into intricate civilizations, further enriching Mythron’s already diverse cultural tapestry. As the settlements evolved into new nations with their own unique identities, they remained under Aestaria’s direct control. At first.
Over the centuries, however, the strength and power of the Aestari colonies approached that of Aestaria itself. The central government’s control lessened. Eventually, inevitably, these nations would establish their independence, giving rise to the Lyonar Kingdoms on Celandine, the Songhai Empire in Xenkai, and the Vetruvian Imperium on Akram. But not yet…
17: Ascension of Emperor Sargos
Aestaria flourished in peace and prosperity, its majestic cities agleam like the crystals whose power they were built upon. The Thirteen Aspects guided the Aestari and secretly kept their worst impulses in check.
For while Aestaria was outwardly a land of shining beauty, soaring white towers, and jeweled mantles, inwardly, greed and corruption had seeped into the people’s hearts, undermining their once idealistic society with cloying narcissistic decay. As the continents tried to assert their independence, Aestaria treated them as vassal nations, collecting a tribute tax in the form of crystals for the privilege of being part of the Aestari Empire.
This was the Aestaria in which the boy emperor Sargos ascended to power. Intellectually curious, with an insatiable appetite for science, magic, and books of all sorts, young Sargos was beloved by his people, and respected by the Thirteen Aspects. Early in his reign, while studying in the Alcuin Library, Sargos found fragments that hinted of a Second Empire.
He summoned Valknu, Vaath, and Starhorn, who reluctantly confirmed the prophecy that claimed a new empire would rise from the ashes of the old.
But they would reveal nothing else. For the first time, Sargos suspected they were keeping something from him. Resuming his studies, he found no other mention of the prophecy. When he went to reconfirm his earlier findings, the ancient tomes in which he first found mention of the Second Empire had vanished.
Sargos was convinced Valknu was hiding the truth. Thus were planted the first seeds of Sargos’ distrust of the Thirteen Aspects, a deepening strife that festered within Sargos’ soul.
By the time Emperor Sargos was a young man, Aestaria was already in decline. But Sargos never forgot the prophecy of a greater Second Empire, and he continued to dream of a unified Aestaria whose true greatness lay ahead. Sargos saw the Lyonar, Vetruvians, and Songhai flourishing on the strength of their crystal resources, but he knew the ultimate source of those crystals was the Weeping Tree, which grew on Aestari soil.
Seeking a way to reassert Aestari hegemony, he conceived of a plan to build a massive, towering structure that would not only symbolize Aestari primacy and dominance, it would ensure it for millennia to come.
He called it The Monolith.
18: Construction of the Monolith
The Monolith conceived of by Sargos would be much more than just a symbol. It would enclose the Weeping Tree with vast Star Lenses designed to capture starlight, amplifying and focusing the cosmic light on the Weeping Tree, making it stronger and healthier while simultaneously hastening the next Great Blooming.
At the same time, the colossal enclosure would ensure that the petals released in the next blooming — and all the power they contained — would forever remain inside Aestaria.
In the short term, construction of the Monolith would consume more crystals than ever before, aggravating existing shortages and provoking even greater unrest from the over-taxed continents. In the long run, however, Sargos knew the Monolith would provide Aestaria with virtually unlimited magical energy, while denying its rivals the same.
Emperor Sargos enlisted the best and brightest minds of the Aestari Empire — mechanysts, loremasters, manaforgers, spellbinders — and directed their combined energies on designing and building the Monolith. The Thirteen Aspects counseled Sargos that building the Monolith was a mistake.
Its construction would violate the Trinity Mandates, which were established to maintain and preserve Mythron’s harmony for future millennia. Some elder Aestari agreed, warning Sargos of the potentially dire consequences that would result from building the Monolith. Sargos ignored them all, confident in his decision and suspicious of their motives.
Rallying the common people behind him under the banner of progress and Aestari pride, Sargos publicly denounced The Thirteen Aspects for trying to maintain the status quo at the expense of the Aestari people. He allocated a large percentage of harvested crystals to building the Monolith, but at the same time rescinded the First and Second and Third Mandates, giving the people once more unfettered access to the crystals.
The popularity of Emperor Sargos and his Monolith soared as the Aestari people envisioned a limitless supply of magical power, and a glorious new world order.
19: Breaking of the Thirteen Aspects
The construction of the Monolith continued for two decades, slowly, inexorably exhausting all of Aestaria’s crystals. By the time the Monolith was three-quarters complete, the last Aestari crystal had been consumed.
Wholly dependent on foreign crystals and forced to endure greater austerity than the original Aestari Mandates had ever caused, the people turned against the Monolith, and the Emperor who had envisioned it. Sargos’s inner circle became fractured by factional fights and personal disputes, as even the most privileged Aestari were now forced to chase after an ever-dwindling supply of crystals.
One night, Valknu had a dream in which an inky cloud consumed the Golden Chrysalis and turned Mythron’s continents into crumbling ash. It weighed on him tremendously and after much meditation, Valknu made the decision to disband The Thirteen Aspects, splintering them away from God’s Heel.
Callixylon fled to Southern Aurora; Jhorxia to the Dunes of Ma’or. Kraigon went to Ash Valley; Ishtara to the Azure Mountains. Nharmyth hid in the Emerald Vale; Paarnax to Shim’Zar Jungle. Ka’al went to the Shadowlands; Ragnora to the Obsidian Woods. Taevarth went to the Forbidden Steppes; Yrsada to the Cobalt Isles.
Starhorn travelled to the Fist of the Four Winds, which guarded the secrets of the four elemental spheres, and eventually settled alone in the Whispering Blades.
Vaath returned to Magaari, where he tamed the wild Makantor beasts near Mokvalar and used his magic to evolve creatures in the secluded Beastlands, metamorphosing them into the first Kolossi.
He used Star Crystals to create new types of Golems near the Stormmetal regions and built the Amberhorn Citadel, where he invited all the sentient creatures on Magaari to join him. Valknu remained in the Grand Trianon with Emperor Sargos, awaiting the encroaching darkness.
20: The Coming of Rasha
As Aestaria’s dependence on imported crystals far outstripped even the onerous tribute taxes imposed on the vassal continents, it began to accumulate massive debts. The mercantile class became increasingly powerful. With few opportunities in the moribund Aestari economy, military service gained in popularity among the increasingly disaffected Aestari youth — and it gained in prestige, as well.
This shift in the socio-economic paradigm gave birth to an elite warrior class, called the Fists of Akrane in honor of the legendary Swords of Akrane from the Age of Wonder. By the time an ambitious young soldier named Rasha became the Lord Marshall of the Realm, the mercantile and warrior classes represented the true power in Aestaria — reducing Emperor Sargos to little more than a figurehead.
Rasha had enlisted as a commoner orphan with no royal blood and had quickly risen up through the ranks to Field Marshal during the Shadowlands campaign. He transformed the Fists of Akrane into the dominant military power in Aestaria. Led by Rasha, they pushed their own agenda and won the hearts of the common people, who saw Emperor Sargos as ineffectual and the Great Aestari Council as an inefficient bureaucracy run by privileged elites in lofty white towers.
As part of the Inner Council, Lord Marshall Rasha supported the Emperor’s view that construction of the Monolith should continue to completion. Rasha agreed it was critical that Aestaria not be dependent on external resources in the future. However, he also thought Aestaria was weakened by its reliance on foreign trade and the mercantile class.
He believed a simpler strategy to meet Aestaria’s needs was to take what it wanted using its unrivaled military. Out of the Fists of Akrane, he developed the Kurikan, or Swift Wind, a secret sect of elite assassin spies answerable only to him. Valknu warned Sargos of Rasha’s growing power, but Sargos no longer trusted the Magmar or their motives and quickly dismissed the warnings as just another one of their misleading ploys.