Though Altaera and Ruen Wyn had ceased to exist as formal empires by the end of their war, the Age of Empires was not officially considered over until twenty-three years later. The time in between marked the disintegration of the north, as Altaera’s holdings fell apart and the former Ruenic provinces struggled individually to regain their freedom.
The southlands were not in much better shape. Zhangi-Uru and Ciritheen had always been coalitions of territories rather than true empires, and their fortunes waxed and waned along with the pressures upon each of their constituent parts. Yezadra, however, was suffering the effects of a continuing religious schism between its central and southern holdings, as well as the lingering damage wrought by its reliance on magic.
The Temples of the Sun and Moon were well-established in Yezadra’s current capital of Serinhur, the southernmost of its cities. Also the most isolated, it had become surrounded on all sides by the creeping Desert of Aervach, and kept contact with the rest of the Yezadran Empire through magic. The blowing desert sands and the regular attacks by Aervacheen nomads had forced the city to cover itself in arcane shells and to import nearly all of its food, wood and textiles, as well as establish permanent portals to reroute entire rivers into the city for its use. The society had become magically adept but extremely rigid and stratified due to these confines, and its edicts to the territory beyond its walls were often considered backward or self-serving, as if Serinhur was the center of the world.
In particular, the wards around the city blocked access to all nonhumans. The Serinhuri knew that the Aervacheen were not human but were not precisely sure what they were, as all attempts to capture one had failed; thus, after Temple discussion, they decided that it was best to bar all possible threat from the city rather than risk one slipping through a loophole. This not only barred skinchangers, wraiths, elementalkin, gestalt dragons and full-blooded ogres from Serinhur, but also locked the city away from contact with the Shadow and Dream Realms.
This perceived hostility toward nonhumans turned Yezadra’s former allies and trade partners into suspicious observers. As the council of Zhangi-Uru considered it, the fact that Serinhur could selectively ward itself meant that the city’s magic could also selectively seek out enemies—and Yezadra was surrounded on all sides by skinchangers, ogres and gestalts. If the impenetrable city was not planning some kind of takeover of the more fertile lands outside its desert tomb, they could not fathom what it planned.
Meanwhile, the other cities of Yezadra suffered because of the perceived aggression of its capital, as well as from the Temples’ vain edicts. The Lady of Knowledge was still venerated to a degree within Serinhur, but it was decreed that no other god or goddess should be permitted a place of worship within a Yezadran city, and that even Knowledge herself would have to shelter within the Temples of the Sun and Moon—in an out-of-the-way library or scribal chamber, away from the public. Yezadrans were told to aid the military in clearing out and pulling down foreign temples, converting their pagan brethren, and chasing away those Yezadrans who refused to bow to the Temples.
All of it was more political than religious, as the Sun and Moon had made no such edicts; in fact, they could barely communicate with their priests and priestesses because of the Seals, and when their voices were heard, they were often shrugged off as running counter to Temple policy. Serinhur in particular was almost opaque to the two deities.
While the cities closest to Serinhur did as they were bid, triggering a mass migration of unhomed ‘pagans’ from Yezadran territory, the cities of the Riftlands scoffed at the decrees. For one thing, there had been such cross-pollination between Lisalhan, Altaera and Yezadra after the Great War of Empires that few in the Riftlands could definitively trace their lineage to Yezadran stock, and the intervening years had seen continual traffic along the Rift from all lands and peoples. It was not uncommon to see Gejarans from the tundra in a southern city, or Zhang from the jungles in a northern one, and they had brought their faiths with them by the dozens. The further away from Serinhur the Yezadran cities were, the more the Sun and Moon worshipers were in the minority—and at the old border-city of Bahlaer, the dominant religion was Trifolder.
Throughout the Yezadran Riftlands, city councils met to discuss Serinhur’s edicts. Some acquiesced, most tried to ignore it and hoped it would go away, and a few filed formal protest.
Serinhur did not take the slight well, and the Yezadran Army was organized to put down the rebellion and remove the pagans itself. However, they found their portal-access blocked in Bahlaer and several other northern-Riftlands cities, forcing the magic-reliant army to march almost the entire way up the coast. They visited each city along the way, and the councils had many excuses as to why the portals did not work—most commonly ‘Shadow Cult sabotage’—and bemoaned that they could not supply the army because, again, the Shadow Cult had stolen all earmarked supplies. The Yezadran Army found plenty of evidence against the Cult but could never catch its members, who always seemed a few steps ahead.
By the time the Yezadran Army reached Bahlaer, it was the rainy season. Miserable, muddy, underfed soldiers and mages approached the city to find its gates open, no opposition in sight, and an extremely placid populace that obeyed all commands on the surface but plied individual soldiers and mages with drinks, bribes and various comforts during their stay. When the Army commanders could find no one to execute and no sign of foreign temples or clergy or laypeople, they decided instead to confiscate Bahlaer’s abundant supplies of trade goods and portal back to Serinhur to declare victory.
Some soldiers deserted at the news, preferring the comfortable-seeming Bahlaeran life to the restrictive hierarchy in Serinhur. Others badgered their commanders into assigning them as the new city garrison. A few had quick, secret marriages so they could stay. The rest, disheartened by the lack of glory but too disciplined to go rampaging, gathered up their spoils of war and trekked through the portal home.
Once the bulk of the Army was gone, the Bahlaerans pulled their pagan ornaments and robes and books out of Shadow storage, beckoned their faithful neighbors out of hiding, took down the fake Sun and Moon decorations that the stalling tactics of the other cities had let them make, and got to work converting the left-behind soldiers to Bahlaeran ways.
Meanwhile, the eiyets that had been smuggled into Serinhur inside the crates of trade goods went on a glorious rampage.
The chaos and embarrassment brought on by the trek and the Shadow prank should have shamed Serinhur into an examination of itself, but the rulers of that city were not capable of such. They declared war on the Shadow Folk, and immediately their priests and priestesses lost contact with their gods, as Light and Moon-Shadow recoiled in disgust from this aggression toward their mutual friend. Unfortunately this did not make much of an impression on many of the Temple folk, for they had long drifted into arcane magic without realizing that their powers came from themselves rather than from the gods.
Serinhur prepared to attack Bahlaer again—this time planning to level it—but was stopped by the Altaeran Empire. This was more than fifty years before the War of the Lion and Eagle, and Altaera was still at full strength; in addition, it had been eyeing Bahlaer and the cities immediately south of it for a long time, and considered them ripe for conquering now that they were in revolt against the capital. Bahlaer’s council was only marginally more fond of Altaera than it was of Serinhur, but as Altaera was not planning to level them with magic, they chose the Lion over the Temples.
Serinhur was loath to ignite another War of Empires, especially one so far from its power-base, but could not be seen backing off due to the likelihood that Altaera would sweep down and conquer the rest of the Riftlands. Thus Serinhur stationed a huge portion of its army in the loyalist cities of Kanrodir and Taradzur, not too close to Bahlaer but not too far away, so that it could head off any incursions Altaera made against it.
This was the situation in the Riftlands during the time of the War of the Lion and Eagle, with Altaera holding Bahlaer and the rebellious cities around it while Yezadra glared from the south. Yezadra’s supply-lines had been sapped by its own hostility and it was beginning to lose its grip on Kanrodir and Taradzur, both of which were far more secular than it liked, so even while Altaera was overextending itself in Ruen Wyn, Yezadra dared not launch a full offensive to reclaim the city of Bahlaer. However, the Yezadran Army supplied, trained and assisted more than a few Riftlands rebel groups that were fighting the Altaerans, in the hope that the war would sap the Lion Empire enough for Yezadra to wrench its old lands back.
Instead, even as Altaera was falling apart, Yezadra found itself pressured both by its southern neighbors and by its own cities, which it had overtaxed to keep Serinhur alive and to supply the northern rebels. Kanrodir and Taradzur were not the only angry vassals; there were other cities that Yezadra had established over the Rift in the centuries since its rise, to watch for threats from the Atharine Sea but also to exploit the mountains for vital ore and minerals. These colonies were separated from the rest of Yezadra by impassible landforms, only accessible through magic, so when they closed themselves off from portal contact, there was nothing Serinhur could do.
The rebellion never became truly violent. The Shadow Folk and their allies were too slippery for that, and as the Yezadran Army was under firm orders not to damage any infrastructure, fields or goods, there was only so much they could do to break the will of the people—especially when more and more of them began deserting. Their captives were constantly rescued, their portals and Psycher Weave connections cut, their priests and priestesses suffering from conflicting visions. By the time the War of the Lion and Eagle was over, the Yezadran Army had withdrawn back to Serinhur, and within a few more years all the cities from Taradzur northward had seceded from Yezadra.
This also coincided with the Silent Circle’s flight from the north. Due to Altaeran and Ruenic hostility toward the mage-organization, the Silent Circle uprooted its old Altaeran headquarters and moved to Serinhur after being courted heavily by the ailing city’s arcane elite. However, this alliance would not last long—only twenty-five years—before the Silent Circle saw an opening to return to Altaera and escape the stifling confines of the locked desert city.
By the time the dust settled and all the ex-empires’ skirmishes had faded, Altaera lay in four pieces, Yezadra in three, Ruen Wyn in seven.
For Altaera, the central farming portion remained intact under the label of the Kingdom of Jernizan, with its capital at the old Altaeran capital of Ruyen Tairdren. To its north, the Thundercloak Mountains had declared their independence as the Holy Land of Kerrindryr, where the House of Silver was half-worshiped half-considered nobility. To the east, the barony of Lagurnath had seceded and renamed itself Averogne, and to the southeast the Riftlands that Altaera had previously claimed—including Bahlaer—fell apart into city-states that eventually organized themselves into the Coalition of Illane.
For Yezadra, the cities of Taradzur and Kanrodir created their own coalition, and together with other cities in the same area formed the Coalition of Pajhrastha—which to the north would be known as Padras. The lands over the Rift coalesced into the Kingdom of Hjaltar and enthusiastically embraced Shadow worship in addition to the traditional Moon and Sun. Finally, Serinhur and its loyalist cities remained together, but with only a pittance of their former territory left, they had lost any claim to empire; thus they became simply Yezad.
Finally, Ruen Wyn fell apart along tribal lines, with the influx of Altaeran blood muddying the waters somewhat but not changing the most traditional fracture-points. The Eagle-clan separated itself entirely, declaring its rocky plateaus the Kingdom of Trivestes, while the Wolf and Snake clans made an uneasy alliance around the Fading Sea and named themselves Riddian. The northern swamp area took its name from the old capital of Daiki, becoming Daecia, while to the south the old territory of Anan became the Kingdom of Amandon. In the northwest, the Bear and Owl lands declared themselves the Kingdom of Darronwy, while in the forest south of the Khaeleokiel Mountains the Crows and Foxes dwelt in what they called Corvia. Last, the road that had been cut through the forest from the Rift to Kaharis was claimed by those Altaerans that had been left behind by their receding army, and the land around it dubbed the Kingdom of Wyndon. The Wyndish folk also claimed the northern forest and mountains as their own, much to the fury of the Corvish, and so that hateful rivalry began.
It remained to be seen whether any of the new Kingdoms could survive where their imperial forebears had fallen.