26: Consular Draug and the Vermillion Legion
‘Desperation is sometimes as powerful an inspirer as genius.’ -Benjamin Disraeli
If Aestaria during the embargo was the perfect place for extremism to grow, Consular Draug was the perfect leader to capitalize on it. A charismatic practitioner of the forbidden arts, Draug had created a religious sect called The Crimson Flame, a secret society of fanatics whose growing influence fanned the smoldering flames of Aestari nationalism. The Aestari were the first true people of Mithron, Draug taught, born as the children of flaming stars, raised from the old Vermillion Forests. They deserved to rule themselves and all the younger races that populated the other continents. According to Draug, the Aestaris would always be the rightful heirs to Mithron; it was their destiny to take their rightful place.
From his unremarkable beginnings as a heretic preacher outside the walls of the Seventh Sanctum, Consular Draug quickly rose to great power in only a few short years. Achieving a cult-like status, he assembled a devoted army of religious zealots called the Vermillion Legion. He rehabilitated the memory of Emperor Rasha and carefully studied his military strategies and political successes, as well as his failures. The more he emulated Rasha, the more he sought to correct the High Emperor’s final defeat. Thus inspired, he began devising an elaborate plan to invade Vetruvia once again.
Draug’s first move was to establish a secret alliance with the Lyonar’s High Council leaders from Baast, Caerme, Windcliffe, and Lyr, appealing to their resentment of Vetruvian primacy and appeasing them with promises of spoils from Vetruvia’s defeat. Only the leaders of Sunforge refused to attend. His northern flank largely secured, he then sent his warships on a surprise attack on the Songhai capital, Xaan, sinking the unsuspecting Songhai fleet stationed at port with little difficulty. At the Battle of Three Crossings, General Taegon from Kaido issued desperate pleas for help, but the Lyonar were complicit with Draug, and Ziros remained true to his oath never to aid the Songhai, who had left the Vetruvians to rot in their greatest hour of need. Draug moved past Xaan and conquered Kaido, consolidating his power over the entire continent of Xenkai. The world was shocked, but even as Draug turned his attention to Vetruvia once again, no one would come to the aid of his victims.
Or almost no one…
27: The Path of the Five Sisters
The five noble sisters of House Khaleem had always seen the world differently. There were two sets of twins: Elika and Anobi were sixteen; Dreena and Naidi were seventeen. They were led by eighteen-year- old Cassyva, the eldest, who, although impulsive, had recently begun to display the beginnings of a great gift in magic. Descendants of Atar Starstrider, members of the Order of Staar, and distant cousins of Ziros, they were known for their unrivaled beauty and keen intelligence, astounding melee skills, and most of all, their boundless compassion. Distraught at the suffering caused by Draug’s burgeoning wars, they decided that regardless of Ziros’ decrees, they needed to help. They were planning to smuggle an assortment of Star Crystals into Xenkai to help the Songhai people, when their grandmother, Regent Visala, discovered their plan. Although heartbroken, she pledged not to stop them. But first, she told Cassyva that there was a secret she must share, in case this was her last opportunity to do so.
When Regent Visala was a young girl, her father, Lord Khaleem, took her to the Grand Trianon, where she saw the famous Lord Marshall Rasha. Fascinated, she followed him into the newly built enclosure of the Weeping Tree. He seemed angry, so she hid, watching as he plucked a twig from the Weeping Tree and tasted the bright red sap that oozed from the ancient bark. He seemed to enjoy it so much that when he left, she tried it herself – gaining a measure of the same great magical powers as the Lord Marshall himself. Terrified, she had never told anyone. But recently, Visala had seen that Cassyva was developing those same powers, and she suspected her sisters would too as they grew older. Such power can be a burden, Visala said, and it comes with an even greater responsibility.
After a tearful farewell, the sisters of Akram travelled to the continent of Xenkai. The people were devastated, and the Songhai government in ruins. The sisters helped where they could, but Cassyva grew increasingly frustrated. Helping people one at a time was not making a difference fast enough. They were powerful nobles with extraordinary abilities, and Cassyva impatiently decided they had to work on a broader scale, as part of an organized effort. So the sisters decided to seek answers to their questions by embarking on a journey into the Saberspine Mountains to find the only Old Empire institution still left standing, the Chakri Monastery.
28: A Landing on Styxus
Having extensively studied High Emperor Rasha’s failed invasion of Vetruvia, Consular Draug decided that rather than scissor attack from the North, as Rasha had, he would skirt Kaero and Petra Fortress entirely and sail around to the southwest side of El-Gamesh. He knew this meant navigating his ships through the unpredictable Sea of Judgment. It was a calculated risk, and one that would have many unforeseen consequences for Consular Draug.
Soon after setting sail, Draug’s ships were swept up in a sudden maelstrom of unprecedented violence. Miraculously, none of the vessels sank, but the fleet was swept wildly off course. When the maelstrom subsided, Draug found his ships off the coast of a primitive and unfamiliar land. At first, he thought they had arrived on the Magmar continent of Magaari, but his men found it populated by strange lizard-like creatures, sentient but underdeveloped, frightened and frail. Pressing farther inland, they found vast desolate plains littered with unharvested crystals. Draug had never seen anything like it. Gleefully, he praised his own good fortune, marveling at the abundance of untapped crystals. They would be his source of power and the perfect secret weapon against the upstart nations.
Draug tried to question the serpentine creatures with his Mindwarpers, but sensing his true nature, they refused to speak to him. Under torture, they eventually revealed that Draug was in the peninsula of Ixus, on the continent of Styxus, and that they were the surface-dwellers, the Serpenti. When Draug asked what lay below the surface, the Serpenti grew even more afraid and more reticent. Only after the most painful interrogation did the terrified creatures tell him of the darkness that lay underground. Slipping in and out of consciousness, the Serpenti described scenes almost beyond Draug’s imagination, with giant subterranean cities made entirely of crystals.
29: The Second Vetruvian Wars
Draug established a base on the Ixan peninsula closest to Aestaria, calling it Shar. Bolstered by the crystals from Ixus, the Vermillion Army mushroomed in both number and power. Draug grew stronger, too. Combined with the dark arts of the Crimson Flame, the new supply of crystals rendered him all but immortal. Draug’s forces were eminently prepared for a frontal assault on Vetruvia, and General Ziros, oblivious to their new power, never saw the attack coming. The Vermillion Legion and their Storm Rooks tore through Petra Fortress like dry paper, battering through the ancient walls of the once formidable citadel. Ziros and his army fought valiantly, but they were severely outmatched.
Draug and his army were unstoppable, sweeping virtually unimpeded over Vetruvia. Ziros nobly sacrificed himself, remaining behind to delay Draug’s forces by activating a blockade of protective Obelysks while what was left of the Vetruvian army fled through the plains of El-Gamesh. Draug brought Ziros’ head and shattered Sand Shield back to Aestaria and proclaimed himself Conqueror Draug, ruler of the Eternal Empire, the Second Empire foretold by the Prophecy of Ages. While the other nations kept silent, in awe and in fear, the Lyonar Kingdoms finally took a stand against Draug’s aggression. Alone, they were no match for the Vermillion Army, and in a matter of days both Windcliffe and the longstanding Opaline Gates were toppled by Draug’s superior forces. The Lyonar fell back past the Forbidden Steppes through Agenor’s Pass, where General Trajan from Sunforge took their last stand — but Lyonar itself was no more.
Through military defeat or preemptory surrender, the other continents soon fell to Draug as well, all except Magaari. Vaath led an assembled host of powerful Leviathans, long-range Spirit Harvesters, fearless Phalanxars, and a devoted Veteran Silithar force as it landed in an epic clash that left tens of thousands dead. Known as the Battle of Serpent’s Coil, the battle lines pitched back and forth, at times approaching, but never reaching, the Amberhorn Citadel deep in the continent. Eventually, Vaath’s combined forces pushed the Vermillion Army back to the foothold where they Khahad first landed, a place henceforth known as Draug’s Landing. On a final day of battle as ferocious as the first, Vaath’s forces drove the Vermillion Army back onto their warships — and out of Magaari — for now.
30: The Five Fanblades
The Chakri Avatars welcomed the Khaleem Sisters of Akram, impressed by their innate kindness and their deep drive to help others. The sisters, in turn, were struck by the contemplative peace of the Monastery, and by the incorruptible goodness of the Avatars, who were already aiding large numbers of the Songhai. Together, they improved the lives of vast numbers of the war-weary.
The sisters fell in love with the Monastery. After long days helping the needy, they would pore over rare books and priceless manuscripts, drinking in knowledge. But even though Cassyva could see the difference they were making in many people’s lives, she was all too aware of the vast suffering that remained. Soon, the sisters once again felt they should be doing more. Cassyva spoke to the Avatars and asked what more they could be doing to help alleviate the continued suffering caused by Draug’s savage predations. After much discussion, the Avatars invited the sisters to join them, to become Chakri Avatars themselves.
Cassyva and her sisters were honored, flattered and tempted, but they had already begun to consider a much different approach. While the Avatars had been contemplating, reports began to come in detailing Consular Draug’s newest conquests, and even greater atrocities committed in more and more lands. They learned of Draug’s discovery of a new source of crystals in a place called Ixus, how, empowered and emboldened by a vast supply of mana-rich crystals, he was planning on expanding his aggression even further. Led by Cassyva, the sisters had come to a much different conclusion about what they must do next. The most humanitarian thing to be done was to stop Draug — in whatever way they could. And the only way the sisters felt they could stop Draug would not be very compassionate at all. But, ultimately, they agreed. They incorporated many of the Chakri Avatars’ teachings and became something wholly new, the Keshrai Fanblades.
For the sake of the entire world, Consular Draug had to die.