ARCANIUM: A HISTORY OF ARZU
The Water Age
Antiquity (Year –50,000 PA)
First came the world, Arzu, molded from dust by the song of the spheres. Then came Illuna, the white moon, whose radiance filled Arzu with magic and life. Last came the black moon, Umbra, a bottomless pit in the night sky. In those first days, these opposing forces rained destruction upon Arzu, calling forth typhoons, volcanic eruptions, thundering tsunamis.
The moons were young, and Arzu was their plaything. They learned that the rains brought life, but too much caused a flood, and too little a drought. Illuna’s generosity was just as dangerous and Umbra’s constraint, yet their opposing natures gradually found equilibrium. At long last the chaos settled. And it was then that the Great Spirits of Arzu opened their eyes to the world.
Under Illuna’s guidance, all five Spirits gathered to create the mortals, the denizens who would inherit Arzu as their home. Each Spirit gave a gift. Sansea, the Mother Tree, formed the mortals’ physical bodies. Zakar, the Great Storm, gave those bodies breath. Sirrus, the Living Mountain, gave the mortals thought. Shalomar, the Burning Lady, gave them passion. Argos, Lord of the Depths, imbued them with a sense of time. And the White Moon Illuna gave the gift of dreams, the source of all magic.
Umbra, displeased by this creation, gave nothing and bided its time. But it was beginning to see the power of change.
The Stone Age
Founding the Provinces (Year –4,000 PA)
In the eons that followed, the mortals formed tribes and grew in number. For a while, there was balance in the world of Arzu.
The largest tribes banded together for safety and influence, giving birth to the Provinces. Valoria arose in the west. Elysia tamed the fertile east. The southern deserts saw the rise of the Uzir Caliphate. Norsca laid claim to the frigid north, and Nova the north-east coast. Anador settled in the central forests while Zennegar took to the jungles.
Many Provinces forged alliances, but Valoria and Elysia became rivals in riches and influence. While Elysia’s land was bountiful with natural resources, Valoria ventured across the seas and traded goods and favor with coastal Cities. Even though many Provinces were happy to trade for crops and timber grown in Elysia, Valorian trade routes created an interdependent network of supplies and suppliers that linked the rest of the Provinces inexorably to Valoria. In effect, Valoria had gathered Province upon Province unto itself until nearly the entire known world joined under its banner.
Only Elysia maintained independence. Despite that, the Valorian Empire held a peace unbroken for hundreds of years.
Long enough to grow complacent. And weak. Unable to resist the inevitability of change.
It was time for Umbra to give its long-overdue “gift.”
The Storm Age
The Sundering of Elysia (Year 1000 PA)
Calamity descended from the skies. A portion of the dark moon broke off and fell to Arzu, trailing smoke and fire in its wake. It crashed into the very heart of Elysia, a black shard of darkness and destruction, and so great was its impact that the land split, the mountains shifted, and the sea rushed in to fill the crater.
A stream of survivors fled Elysia. While some were given succor, the heirs of the great Valorian Empire turned hundreds of thousands away to scratch a living out of the remains of their once-proud nation.
Elysia was no more. Only the Scorched Lands remained.
The Cult of Umbra
For two centuries, the Black Shard remained embedded at the heart of the Scorched Lands like a poisoned arrow. The denizens of the Province struggled to rebuild through whatever means they had. But the land remained corrupted and barren, its people bitter from suffering and neglect.
Thus it took little effort for the Black Shard to work on their hearts and minds. The Scorched Landers maintained a deep hatred for Valoria and its criminal neglect of Elysia. They cursed the grinding poverty that drove them to desperation. From this fertile seedbed arose the Cult of Umbra.
Seduced by the Black Shard’s call, the Cult erected the Shadowhold fortress, and at its core built a chamber to protect the Shard. From here, the Cult’s influence spread like a plague. Within a mere decade, they had gathered enough followers to raise a massive legion of warriors and necromancers “gifted” by Umbra.
And when the Black Moon reached its zenith one summer night, the Scorched Army marched to war.
The Fire Age
The Great War (Year –500 PA)
The Scorched Army crossed into the neighboring Anador Province, overrunning its capital in a matter of days and decimating its trees as fuel for their war machines. The Province of Uzir came next, far from centuries of peacetime, and utterly unprepared for battle. Only those who swore fealty to the Cult of Umbra were permitted to live. Zennegar, long envious of Valoria’s power, was tempted by the Scorched Army’s rise and freely joined their banner. They looked forward to humiliating those who always lorded over them.
As the Scorched Army spread across the land like fire on a dry field, the Valorian Empire hastily gathered all remaining Provinces into what became known as the Arcane Alliance. Together, they swore to destroy this upstart rebellion before the turn of the season.
The resulting Great War would last 400 years.
The Heroic Age (Year –140 PA)
Driven by the Black Shard’s power, the Cult of Umbra’s sorcery knew no equal. Anador had been all but destroyed. Each day the Scorched Army pushed deeper into Valoria herself.
As the war raged on, the Great Spirits convened for the first time in millennia to discuss what could be done. Sansea and Zakar believed that they should intervene and save the mortals from themselves. Shalomar and Argos argued that interfering would play into Umbra’s hands and push the world further into chaos.
But of all the Spirits, it was Sirrus who acted. Taking on physical form as the Living Mountain, he came to the aid of Nova, saving the Province from falling to the siege. The Scorched Army used every one of their war machines to lob flaming boulders into Sirrus as he laid waste to thousands of troops. Wave after wave of necromancers and warlocks fought to the death (and back again) flinging explosive black magic into the Mountain.
In the end, Sirrus saved the Province from destruction. But in so doing, he was shattered into a thousand pieces.
Here, at last, the Spirits were moved to act.
With the blessing of Illuna the White Moon, they combined their essences into a single artifact: an orb of immense power that they named the Apex. But to wield this Apex, they needed a Champion. Someone tested in combat, bravery, and honor, who would use this power only with necessity, and only for good. They selected Talyana of Valoria, a courageous paladin lioness who fought her whole life for her Province.
Decades ago, Talyana had pleaded to the Emperor of Valoria to send troops to defend other Provinces instead of waiting to be attacked. When those pleas fell of deaf ears, she gathered her own battalion of citizen soldiers to march against the Scorched Army. She fought and defended and survived through a lifetime of war, saving whoever she could, even when all would seem hopeless. When the Spirits offered her the chance to end the war, she rose to the challenge and accepted the power of the Apex. The Apex accepted her in return.
In a final blitz towards the capital of Valoria, the Scorched Army overreached itself. Their numbers were few thanks to Sirrus’s sacrifice, but Valoria’s defenders were fewer. The Cult of Umbra had no intention of backing off and letting their enemy recover. Not when they were this close to total victory.
Talyana fought the Cult of Umbra at the gates of the Imperial City, determined to hold them off, the Apex embedded at the center of her weapon Stormhammer. But their handful of surviving necromancers ensured that even a fallen warrior would not stop attacking. After a grueling day of mystical combat, when the gates were all but breached, Talyana knew she had no choice but to trigger the Apex’s power, sacrificing her life in the process.
No one who was there could say for certain what happened after that. Songs have been sung about the victory, but each of them describes it differently. The Apex was a force no one understood but the Spirits themselves. The only thing the mortals knew, was that when it was all over, the Scorched Army was gone from the gates of the capital as though carefully wiped from existence.
The remaining soldiers of the Arcane Alliance marched from Province to Province, liberating them from invaders. After four centuries of war, the Scorched Army was broken, its forces in retreat.
But this victory came at a terrible price.
War’s End - An Alliance Shattered (Year –100 PA)
The Great War had killed untold millions and leveled cities to dust. Anador had been all but destroyed. Valoria had been driven to its knees. Already the Province of Nova had seceded from the Empire to forge its own path.
Still, the Scorched Army was pushed all the way back to the Scorched Lands. But as the exhausted Alliance stumbled toward the old Elysian border, they were stopped by no less that Shalomar herself.
The Burning Lady decreed that destroying Elysia a second time would be a grave injustice, and that, while still being wicked, the denizens of the Scorched Lands served the universal balance and must have a place to live. She appealed directly to Illuna, and to everyone’s shock and outcry, the White Moon agreed. While the mortals were not happy about this, they were tired of fighting. They just wanted to put an end to the War.
Mourning Talyana’s passing, the peoples of Valoria buried her in her homeland and erected a statue in her honor, at the gates of the Capital.
The Alliance declared itself victorious, but it paid a heavy toll. To ensure that Arzu would remain safe from harm and prevent the Apex to fall in the wrong hands, the Great Spirits built the Arcanium, a silver tower that seemed to hold up the very sky. And within its High Spire, the Apex Vault was built to receive and protect the powerful Artifact.
The Golden Age
Reformation (Year 0)
The remaining Spirits vowed to help the Provinces rebuild. The Spirit of Sansea came to dwell as an enormous tree in the heart of Anador, protecting its borders from all despoilers. Zakar guarded the skies of Norsca. Shalomar tended the deserts, while Argos guarded the seas and coasts. Meanwhile, Illuna itself kept watch on all the Great Spirits.
But the Black Moon was not done with Arzu. A small investment of Umbra’s own body destroyed a Province and poisoned the minds of millions over the course of centuries. It led to war, and death, and the destruction of a Great Spirit.
With an even stronger investment, Umbra could corrupt everything. There would be no more need for “balance.” Arzu would become a second Black Moon.
Umbra prepared to send more pieces of itself raining down on the land. In response, the Great Spirits, anticipating the danger, created their own defense. Calling upon all the magic they could muster from the Apex, and with the Arcanium amplifying its energy, a mighty Spirit Barrier was formed in the skies of Arzu, shielding the land from the wrath of Umbra.
But nothing ever begins or ends. It only changes.
Soon the horrors of the war began to fade: the cattle fattened, windmills turned, wounds healed. The devastated Anador Forest grew lush and wild once more. From the ashes of the Valorian Empire rose a new kingdom—Everia, a bastion of truth and righteousness. And while enmity still existed between the Scorched Lands and its victims, they avoided a full-scale war.
For 500 years, Arzu enjoyed a tentative balance of peace.
The Shadow Age
Calamity’s Rise – (Year 499 AR - After Reformation)
In the generations since the War, the remaining denizens of the Scorched Lands had to learn to grow and build instead of steal and burn.
The weakest two thirds became a servile class, while the strongest third became a military elite dedicated solely to perfecting the art of war. The children of these warriors were born inside the Shadowhold, as near to the Black Shard as possible in the hopes that its radiant energy would “bless” the newborns with dark power. Those additionally born under Umbra’s full moon grew to have a preternatural affinity for Void magic.
Even though there was no war, the Scorched Landers grew strong, while, as always, peace gradually led to complacency in the rest of the world. The gifted children born beneath the Dark Moon bred together for many generations, and the Black Shard whispered to them in their darkest dreams.
The warlock Akhan was of the twentieth generation—a panther that could have been chiseled from the Black Shard itself. He was all sinuous muscle and fang and claw, clad in a shapeless cloak as though dressed in his own shadow. Conjuring Void magic was like breathing to him. Though he was silent and never boastful, his enemies—and allies—knew he was dangerous. They wished to kill him before he could prove to be their better.
Each challenged him. Each died before the challenge left their lips, slain by his strength or his spells. He had no desire to prove his superiority—only to serve Umbra. Nevertheless, he became a master of the art of killing as the strongest warriors in the Scorched Lands lined up to take him down, only to lose their lives for the effort. And so it went, all the way to the top of the food chain.
The Alpha of the Scorched Landers believed it was time Akhan paid for his hubris. This was Akhan’s hardest fight of all, but as always his spellcraft proved superior. Ultimately, the Alpha became yet another victim of the panther’s cold fury.
By rights, this victory made Akhan the new Alpha, but he had no intention of sitting on a throne and siring yet another generation. The Scorched Lands were not enough.
He bequeathed his rule to the Cult of Umbra—the Scorched Lands would be governed by a senate rather than a lone ruler. Akhan told them to be ready, for something was going to change, and soon. He conferred with the Black Shard one last time.
And then he left the Scorched Lands for good.
No one knew how he would escape the Province without being captured by the Wardens of neighboring Anador, but then an arcane wildfire in Anador’s forest occupied the Wardens’ attention. Akhan walked the lands, learning, seeking, and destroying. Libraries succumbed to his flames. Scholars of the Great War were found burned, frozen, poisoned. Tortured. Wherever Akhan went, destruction followed. The peoples of Arzu knew him only as The Calamity.
His power and knowledge grew, and though he had kept hidden for many years, revealing himself only to those who would not live long enough to warn others, he soon realized he would need to show himself to someone he could not destroy. At least, not yet.
He found Shalomar, the one Spirit who showed compassion for the Scorched Landers, and, knowing she had the power to end his reign before it began, he pleaded his case. The Scorched Landers were neutered, and only survived at all to serve the great balance. Their time had lasted four hundred years, during the Great War. For five centuries now, Arzu had been at peace. It was high time the universal balance shifted back in Umbra’s favor. All Akhan needed was the answer to one question.
The Burning Lady gave him the location he asked for. She believed in balance, and she was moved by Akhan’s passion. But she would come to regret her choice.
Akhan left, bound for his final destination. He had twenty generations’ worth of dark power raging inside him. His body was merely a vessel for that power. Soon it would be unleashed.
Beneath Falling Skies – Year 500 AR (The Present)
During the celebration marking the 500th year since the end of the Great War, something changed.
Something Umbra had been counting on.
All at once and without warning, the Spirit Barrier vanished over Arzu. Shards of Umbra descended upon the land, smaller than the Black Shard and without sentience, but bringing their own dark power. For where they landed, living creatures were corrupted into vicious, twisted versions of themselves. Thousands fled their homes as death and destruction stalked the lands. The Cult of Umbra knew that this was the change Akhan had spoken of. The Provinces were distracted and no longer watching their old enemies.
So once again, the Scorched Army went to war.
The Arcane Alliance was hastily reformed in response, but there was too much chaos to mount a focused resistance. Whenever they quelled a corrupted horde, two more shards would fall from Umbra and spread the corruption even further.
Shalomar realized her mistake in giving Akhan the location of the Arcanium. This wasn’t balance. This was devastation. She appealed to the other Great Spirits to find new Champions to wrest control of the Apex from Akhan’s claws. They feared it would be a suicide mission. The lands were too perilous to traverse. The Arcanium was too dangerous. Akhan was too powerful, even before he had control of the Apex. Now, he was unstoppable.
But there was no other choice.
As the corruption of the Provinces worsened, the Spirits issued a call:
Arzu needs more than just heroes. It needs Alphas among heroes. The Arcanium awaits—and it will take the survival of the fittest to save the world.