21: Rasha’s Betrayal and the Eternal Empire
‘It’s better to be hanged for loyalty than be rewarded for betrayal.’ -Valknu, Thirteen Aspects
Emperor Sargos rejected Rasha’s aggressive militarism, and it became a source of growing animosity between them. After one of many arguments on how to control the provinces, Rasha sought solitude within the unfinished Monolith’s Inner Sanctum. Without knowing that someone else hid in the shadows, he snapped a sacred twig from the Weeping Tree. Viscous red sap wept from the wound, The Tears of Eyos.
Curious, he tasted it, and immediately felt a wellspring of magical power surge through his veins. Eyos’ lifeblood augmented his physical strength and drastically improved his ability to Bind and Surge his magic far beyond even crystal-enhanced levels. Rasha kept his discovery secret, surreptitiously returning to consume the sap again and again. With this new source of magical energy, he consolidated his power, enhanced his military force, and with his Kurikan enforcers, imprisoned his political enemies.
His continued exposure to the Tears of Eyos eventually overwhelmed Rasha’s mind, driving him mad with power and an unquenchable thirst for more. Under the cover of night, Rasha and his Kurikan swept through the Grand Trianon and the Aestari Palace, ignobly murdering Sargos in his bedchamber. His warband invaded each school of the Seventh Sanctum, executing any who remained loyal to Sargos.
Valknu alone put up a heroic fight, but he was ultimately no match for the combined power of Rasha’s forces. Sargos had shared his suspicions that the Magmar were hiding something powerful, so Rasha threw Valknu into the palace’s deepest dungeon and tortured him in a futile effort to learn the Magmar’s secrets. Though imprisoned, Valknu magically communed with his fellow Magmar, warning them of Rasha’s betrayal.
Rasha proclaimed himself the High Emperor, the Lord Magnus. He renamed Aestaria, “The Eternal Empire,” believing himself the fulfillment of the Prophecy of Ages. As Rasha’s madness and addiction made him increasingly brutal, stories of his opponents’ imprisonment and slaughter spread, entire families murdered, their ancestral homes burned to the ground.
Some Aestari rebels hid in the mountains, but many more fled across the increasingly turbulent oceans. A small number even reached Kaero and the other continents, but many more drowned or were hunted down. As the unfinished Monolith lay all but forgotten, Rasha and his armies turned their attention outward.
22: The Vetruvian Wars
‘The backbone of surprise is fusing speed with secrecy.’ -Carl von Clausewitz
With Aestaria now stripped of all its crystals, the madness of High Emperor Rasha seemed to spread beyond the world of men, to infect Mythron itself. Earthquakes shook the ground, great storms churned through the air, and maelstroms roiled the seas. The same destructive madness that fueled Rasha’s lust for power also heightened his feeling of invincibility. He became increasingly obsessed with the Sun Crystals of the Lyonar Kingdoms and the Star Crystals of the Vetruvian Empire – and nothing would stop him from possessing them for himself.
Aestaria was already burdened by the size of its military, but Rasha pushed harder, drafting even more young Aestari men into the largest army Mythron had ever seen. He diverted massive resources to building up his navy, constructing new ships and commandeering merchant ships that had elected to stay in port rather than challenge the turbulent seas. With his navy doubled in size in a few short months, Rasha planned to cross the seas and flood Vetruvia in a wave of Aestari military might, conquering their lands and seizing control of their Star Crystals.
As his ships set sail, many of Rasha’s staunchest supporters were beginning to doubt his sanity. But he landed all of his capital warships on the beaches of Kaero, without a single loss. To the Vetruvians’ shock and horror, Rasha’s fifty thousand troops overtook the city in a matter of days. His success fanned the flames of his burning madness and bolstered his certainty that he was the embodiment of a great destiny.
High Emperor Rasha and his troops unleashed a wanton orgy of destruction, slaughtering men, women, and children, pillaging the ancient city of Kaero and razing the revered Ostracon. As Rasha’s army swept southward, taking Tyvia and Murani, pillaging everyone in their wake, even his gravest doubters came to believe in his invincibility.
23: The Rise of Ziros Starstrider
‘When the enemy is relaxed, make them toil. When full, starve them. When settled, make them move.’ -Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Among the thousands of Vetruvian refugees fleeing the Aestarian onslaught was a Tyvian teenager named Ziros Starstrider. A descendant of Atar Startstrider, he had been raised in the desert by the sisterhood of Aymara Healers. Along the journey south toward the Aymara Canyons, Ziros joined with the resistance, skillfully skirmishing with their Aestari pursuers and effectively harrying Rasha’s army so that the women and children could reach safety.
Ziros proved to be a natural strategist, leading many successful forays against the Aestaris. Between his tactical prowess and his vast knowledge of the canyons, cliffs and desert water mines — and the slaughter of the other Vetruvian leaders along the way — by the time the refugees arrived at the edge of the Aymara Canyons, young Ziros had become the de facto leader of the Resistance. Ziros brought the civilian refugees through the El-Gamesh desert, sending them to Pyrae and Petra before returning to the Aymara Canyons, where he would lead a last stand against the marauding Aestaris.
Outside of the coastal city of Tyvia, Rasha’s forces were unfamiliar with the terrain and thus unprepared for the searing, desiccating heat of Vetruvia’s deserts. They didn’t have the resources or the supply lines to take Pyrae and Petra, not with Ziros’ resistance fighters picking them off along the way. Ziros realized that even with a small measure of assistance from the Songhai or the Lyonar, they could defeat Rasha and end the Aestari aggression once and for all. He sent messages to both nations, describing the situation, asking them for help, warning them that they would be Rasha’s next victims.
As the Aestaris assembled at the edge of the canyon and prepared for their next advance, Ziros received his replies from the Lyonar and the Songhai. They both said the fight was between Vetruvia and Aestari. Neither nation would come to their aid. Ziros vowed he would never forgive them, swearing an oath on the blood of his ancestors that he would not assist them in their time of need.
He then came up with another plan.
24: Starstrider’s Final Gambit
‘Nothing is more dangerous to those who are thirsty than the mirage of water in the desert.’ -Ziros Starstrider
Ziros suspected that what Rasha really sought was the location of the Star Crystal fields hidden in the Aymara Canyons. Inspired by the blinding desert sun, Ziros devised a bold ploy to lure Rasha away from the crystal-rich canyons. He had his metalmancers collect every scrap of metal that was not weapon or piece of armor, and forge them into crystalline shapes, imbuing them with a luminescent shine. He formed a squad of Orb Weavers who knew the location of every water mine in the Akram Desert, and he sent them to place the real crystals at the outer western edge of the Akram Desert while replicating the fake ones atop the deeper dunes one day’s march inside it.
At sunrise, three brave Scions from one of Vetruvia’s oldest clans, House Volari, agreed to a sacrificial mission to lure Rasha’s patrols to the edge of the Akram Desert before letting themselves be captured. The enemy patrol found the real crystals and saw the fake ones in the distance, gleaming in the morning sun. Even under Rasha’s horrific torture, the captured noble Scions swore those were the Star Crystal fields. Overwhelmed with his desire for the crystals, Rasha mockingly granted each Scion a dying wish before executing them, then marched his army through the night.
They arrived at Akram Desert, exhausted, just as the sun’s first golden rays lit up the crystals, both real and fake. Rasha again ordered his men ahead without pause. They lost hundreds to the heat. By nightfall it seemed the priceless crystal fields were almost within reach. But not quite. Even through his madness, Rasha knew his men needed rest. In the cloak of night, while Rasha’s exhausted army slept, Ziros’ squad moved and astral phased the fake crystals another day’s march east, deeper into the Akram Desert.
At dawn, Rasha insisted it must be a trick of the desert sun. He ordered his men to march yet again. That day the blistering heat took thousands. By nightfall, the Crystal Fields were still just out of reach and Rasha’s men were even more desperate for rest than the previous night. Once more, Ziros’ men moved the fake crystals, and in the morning, Rasha ordered his men even deeper into the desert.
By noon, when Ziros and his Dunecasters finally attacked, half the Aestaris were already dead; the rest driven mad with thirst. But not as mad as their Emperor, who fought on until the lifeblood of his last man drenched the sands and gave mute testimony to the Vetruvian’s vengeance. Ziros, still consumed with revenge, had his men build a monument where he fell — Rasha’s Tomb — and buried Rasha and his men inside it, cursing them to burn for eternity in the scorching desert heat.
25: The Aestari Embargoes
‘Aestaria will never set foot on Vetruvian soil again.’ – Ziros Starstrider
After his forces’ victory over the Aestari in the Battle of Akram, Vetruvia became an unrivaled global power and General Ziros its undisputed leader. Vowing that his people would never again suffer the way they had at the hands of Rasha’s forces, Ziros’ first act was to bolster Vetruvia’s military and to heavily fortify the cities of Petra and Kaero. Next, he focused his sights on the source of the aggression — Aestaria itself.
General Ziros sought to punish the Aestaris and limit their ability to wage future wars of aggression. He reinstituted the Aestari Mandates, but applied them this time only to the Aestaris. Further, he proclaimed that the center continent was completely banned from the crystal trade and the usage of crystals, and pledged Vetruvia’s military power to enforce the embargo. Having witnessed the utter defeat of the Aestaris, none would risk challenging the Vetruvian policies. The surrounding continents complied, completely cutting off all crystal trade with the center, starving them and their way of life. The Aestaris sent envoys to the other continents seeking aid, but none would defy Vetruvia.
Ziros’ hatred for the Aestaris consumed him, and he ruled over them with an iron fist. Ziros did not care that many Aestaris had disagreed with Rasha, that some had fought him, resisted him — even plotted against him. Ziros uniformly punished them all, turning potential allies into silent enemies. The Aestari economy was in ruins and their crystal supply exhausted, turning their lives into a daily struggle for even the bleakest survival. The more the Aestaris suffered and starved under the Vetruvian hegemony, the more Ziros unwittingly created the perfect breeding ground for extremism to flourish.