The Ancient Days
It is said, though no man living knows the truth, that in ages long past the Empire of the Magicians ruled the world. A thousand years since, they perished in fire and smoke, destroyed by the gods whom once they had bound. The might of the Magicians is legendary; not even the greatest wizard alive today is their equal.
No one knows from whence the Magicians came. Their rule was long, stretching back to the time of the Dawning, when the sun of knowledge first rose. That was the beginning of the Magicians, the time when man first reached out and grasped at knowledge.
The ancient Empire stretched across the world, reaching even beyond the seas which no man has crossed in centuries. The Magicians, in their wisdom, had bound the gods to serve mankind: Zyph, Master of deception, whose domain is Air; Zeena, Lady of Trade, the waters are her domain; Marl, Lady of plants and animals, whose domain is Earth; Gandi, Lord of Destruction and Knowledge, known to some as the Defender, whose domain is Fire. These four are the Elemental Lords, given, by the Magicians, dominion over the elements of their nature. Also enslaved by the Magicians was the One known as the Void, who is called today by the Teslans Peanut Butter, the Two-Faced God whose names are Skip and Jif, and, by the Hawkings, Smirnov, the Great Djinn.
But a thousand years ago the gods rebelled against the power of the Magicians. So dependent upon their servants had the Magicians become, that they could no longer control them. Though they fought valiantly, in the end, the Magicians perished. All that remained of their vast Empire was the place that has come to be known as the City of Ten Thousand Magicians, where stand the great temples to the Elemental Lords.
Across the world a great darkness fell, as the knowledge of the Magicians perished with their Empire.
Since the Apocalypse
Following the great war, those who survived lived in terror of the gods, and knew not what to do. But, in time, the survivors crawled out of their caves and hidden places, and commenced rebuilding their world. In the City, some of the ancient learning had been preserved, and once more, knowledge of magic began to spread across the land. But much had been lost, and the gods were no longer the servants of mankind; instead, they were the masters. Only by humble supplication could even the mightiest of mages gain their aid, whereas before the Fall, his mere desire would have been sufficient.
It was prophesied in those days that some day a Prophet would come, descending from the holy mountain, Mount Brahe, and renew the Empire of the Magicians. This prophet would walk amongst men, but not know his name or from whence he came; he would be one of Those Who Are; but unlike them, he would be wise from the moment he was found.
For there are two types of people in the world, Those Who Are Born and Those Who Are, also called the Unborn. Those Who Are come into the world as adults, with no father or mother, neither do they know who they are. At first, they are as children, knowing nothing of the world and its customs. In time, most learn, and take their places in society. Some of the most powerful of wizards since the Fall of the Magicians have been Those Who Are. Wise men have claimed that Those Who Are have walked with the gods, but were found unworthy of being their Prophet, who would lift their anger from the world and restore the Empire that was no more.
In time, other kingdoms arose to take the place of that which had perished.
The New Kingdoms
The Teslan Empire
The Teslan Empire is perhaps the greatest empire to rise from the ashes. Stretching down from the north across much of the land, it boasts many of the most powerful wizards in the world. Tesla is ruled by the Five Emirs of the Elements: Earth, Air, Fire, Water, and Peanut Butter. Although the Emirs are theoretically equals, because of its warlike nature, Tesla has always been especially favoured of Gandi, Lord of Fire; thus the Emir of Fire is usually the first amongst equals.
The Five Emirs of Tesla are the most powerful wizards of each element in the land, or so Tesla claims. Tesla's greatest strength is that they discovered a way to enable multiple wizards to combine their powers. Prior to Tesla's rise, it was believed that no wizard could help another with any but the greatest of spells calling upon the gods. Tesla discovered that wizards of one element could support wizards of a complementary element. Although others have since duplicated the feat, the Five Emirs are believed to be better at combining their powers than any other five mages.
According to Teslan Doctrine, the positions of the gods in the heavens is mirrored in the relations amongst the Emirs, and perhaps the converse is also true. Certainly, Tesla would like to make it that way.
Tesla was born some two hundred years after the Fall of the Magicians and spread rapidly, conquering many of its smaller neighbors. In time, they went up against the mighty Galilean Theocracy, which until then had smashed and absorbed all challengers to its rule.
The Galilean Theocracy
Claiming to preserve the Old Wisdom, the Galilean Theocracy was perhaps the first kingdom to rise up after the Fall. Within a century after the Empire of the Magicians was destroyed, the Theocracy was already tightening its mighty hold upon the land. Calling upon the people to worship the Almighty Void, the Galilean Inquisition spread, if not respect, at least a strong interest in worshipping the Void. According the Galilean Holy Doctrine, the world was but the Dream of the Gods, and to wake them would bring about the end of the world. It was the power of the Magicians that had so long held the gods bound, and forced them to maintain the existence of the world. Even though the gods had broken free and destroyed the Magicians, yet the Magicians, as they were destroyed, enchanted the gods so that they were unable to come fully awake. Thus, in dying, the Magicians preserved the existence of the world. But should the gods ever waken, then they will finish what they began so long ago.
It was not long before all the world revolved around Galileo and its capital city, Orbitus. Only the City of Ten Thousand Magicians remained sacrosanct, a holy place. It was there that the Ten-Year Games were held, a custom dating back even before the Apocalypse. The Games were renewed by the Grand Exquisitor of the Theocracy, who had discovered in an ancient book that the renewal of the world would come through the Games. He called upon the best that the Galileans could offer, and even invited those who had not yet been conquered to participate in the Games. Thus it was that the Truce of the Games came about, when all who wished could participate and no army would march, neither would any wars be pursued.
For a hundred and fifty years the Theocracy ruled a vast territory, not realizing that their doom was growing far to the north. In time, the young and powerful Teslan Empire came into direct conflict with the Theocracy. Although the Theocracy had not the military might of its youth, yet it possessed great power. The Grand Exquisitor was a mighty wizard, and believed by many to be an oracle. The war lasted for three years before Tesla was beaten back. However, Galileo could not take advantage of its victory, for many of its conquered provinces took this opportunity to rebel against the Galilean Church, taking, in the confusion, many religious artifacts. Tesla, too, renewed its assault.
The embattled Theocracy withdrew from many of its outlying provinces. Some were absorbed into the Teslan Empire, others formed a loose alliance of states independent of both governments. Though shrunken, the core of the Theocracy remained too powerful for Tesla to conquer, not without risking revolution and rebellion at home. Thus the war ended, though the rivalry continued in the City of Ten Thousand Magicians at the Games.
Recently, many rumours have claimed that the Teslans, who feared his oracular powers, assassinated the current Exquisitor.
The Heisenberg Alliance
Many of the rebellious provinces to the south and west of the Theocracy were never reconquered. While Galileo and Tesla fought, these states took advantage of the uncertain situation to form a loose defensive alliance. By the time the war was over and Tesla was busy consolidating its gains, the Heisenberg Alliance was too strong for the weakened Theocracy to attack.
Claiming that the Fall of the Magicians meant that no man could truly understand the will of the gods, the Alliance rejected the teachings of the Galilean Church. Instead, the primary god of Heisenberg became Lord Zyph, for the Domain of Air is ever fraught with randomness and uncertainty. Heisenbergian doctrine claims that the gods constantly shifted in priority, one or the other ruling temporarily over the rest. They further claim that no wizard can ever know both which god is currently at the top and which god he is actually speaking with. Thus, if you could speak to Zyph, he probably wasn't on top just then; the question of which god is on top when you can speak to all of them remains an issue of religious debate.
The government of the Alliance was chaotic at best; the states ruled by The Doubtful and his Council of Skeptics. The problem was that the Doubtful could promote and demote Skeptics on a whim. Some Doubtfuls had many whims. However, title, or lack thereof, never seemed to matter very much to the Heisenbergian government.
Although it would seem that such a chaotic arrangement would be easily conquered, the Theocracy learned to its sorrow that was not the case. The Galileans made three attempts to conquer the Alliance, in 300 FM (Fall of the Magicians), 375 FM and 425 FM. Each time they were defeated by a combination of bad luck, high winds, and highly uncertain weather. Armies got lost on the way to battle; generals became confused and issued contradictory orders. In the war of 300, the Galilean armies were so thoroughly lost that they were caught by the Truce of the Games and spent several weeks sitting in a swamp.
But the Alliance was not without problems of its own.
The Federated States of Quanta
The uncertain life was not for everyone. Some two hundred years after the birth of the Alliance, in 450 FM, several of the seacoast states rebelled. They claimed that the gods could not be as unknowable as Heisenberg religious doctrine claimed. On the other hand, they did not accept the rule of the Theocracy either. Instead, the rebels claimed that the gods moved in fixed patterns and according to a rigid hierarchy. For any given arrangement of the gods, they could only move into certain other arrangements; they did not shift randomly.
The Alliance was unwilling to accept these ideas, and sought to stamp out the heresy. However, with the Galilean Theocracy looking hungrily at the Alliance's other borders, Heisenberg was forced to send less force against the rebels than they would have liked. Although Heisenberg eventually reconquered the rebellious provinces, the rebels fled to the islands off the Heisenberg coast, where they established a community of their own. In time, they became known as the Federated States of Quanta or, by the less polite, the Pirate States. Surviving by their skills as sailors and pirates, their patron became Zeena, Goddess of Water.
The Hawking Confederation
Meanwhile, mighty Tesla was suffering growing pains of its own. In 426 FM, religious disputes over the nature of the Fifth Element were shaking the very foundations of the Empire. Although orthodox Teslan belief claimed that the world was ruled by the Five Elemental Lords, a faction had arisen claiming that the gods were, in truth, no more than mighty Djinni, having domain over Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. So far, this was not far from Teslan Doctrine. However, arguments over the fifth element were not so easily resolved.
Eventually, a number of Teslan families rebelled, claiming that the fifth element was not Peanut Butter, but Smirnov the Great Djinn. In the conflict that followed, Tesla drove these families into the deserts and wastelands bordering the Empire to the north and west. These families became the Hawking Confederation, wandering the deserts and eking a living from its barren soil. Marl, Lady of Earth, is their patron, for it is upon her whim that they survive.
Tesla still claims sovereignty over the Hawkings, although they have never made more than a token effort to reconquer them; only the Hawkings know the paths through the deserts, the safe ways and the deadly sands. It is no place for armies. Despite this, the Teslans continue to claim that the Hawkings owe taxes to the Empire, and are delinquent by several centuries. Although the back taxes have been forgiven several times, the continuing failure of the Hawkings to start paying has each time led to the subsequent revocation of the forgiveness decree.
The nomads have found an unusual source of wealth in the depths of the wastelands: power crystals, which can store magical power for later use. They trade these, as well as their handmade textiles and other goods, among the other realms.
The City of Ten Thousand Magicians
As a thousand years of warfare passed, the City remained inviolate. Originally held as a holy place by the Galileans, they chose not to conquer it, but rather to travel there every ten years to compete in the Games. As other kingdoms rose up, they too came to the City for the Games. Wizards could gain much power there, and the oldest surviving temples of the Elemental Lords were in the City. Some scholars have theorized that this is why the gods did not destroy the City, for they wished it to be easier for men to worship the gods. There is no temple of the Void, or at least no one has ever heard of such a place.
Of course, not everyone viewed the City as holy. As the memories of the Magicians grew dim, rulers cast covetous eyes on the power and knowledge contained in the City. Would-be conquerors soon discovered two things, however: first, that a City known for having ten thousand magicians is not exactly feeble when it comes to magic; and second, that the one thing that could unite four of the kingdoms was the thought of a fifth conquering the City.
So the City remained, a center of learning and knowledge. The greatest of the Magical Colleges are located there: the Magicians Institute of Thaumaturgy (MIT); the University Center of Blackmagics (UCB); the University of Sorcery, Thaumaturgy, Alchemy, Necromancy, Fetishism, Occultism, Revenants, and Demonology (STANFORD); the College of Hoodoo, Alchemy, Horoscopes, Voodooism, Amulets, Healing, and Divining (HAHVAHD); and the Yin-yang Astrological Learning Establishment (YALE).
People from all across the land come to the City to study magic and to gain admittance to the colleges. The Games are frequently a testing ground, for those contenders who do well enough may be granted admission to study with the wizards of the colleges.
Recently, however, some people have become more than usually eager to come to the City. In 1000 FM, just before the Truce of the Games was to begin, the Teslan Empire launched a surprise attack on the City. Armed with strange, new magics of destructiveness never before seen, they caused great damage and death before being defeated.
Across a thousand years, across ten centuries of bloodshed and war, one thing has continued uninterrupted: The Ten-Year Games have been held in the City since before the Fall of the Magicians. In the Games, wizards can gain great power and status. The Archmage of the City is chosen through the Games, as are many of the other City officers. Some kingdoms use the Games to settle disputes, both internal and external. Wars have been averted by the results of the Games; and wars have been started over them. But they continue.
Although the individual contests have changed from decade to decade, there is one contest that has remained unchanged since the Games began. This is the Great Game, whose winning, according to prophecy, shall mark the rebirth of the Empire of the Magicians. However, to attempt the Great Game and fail is death. Over the years, many have tried to win it, claiming that they were chosen of the gods to lead the world; so far each has died. Rumour has it, however, that the Teslans, having failed to win the City in one way, are planning to attempt the Great Game this year, and that the Hawkings too, with their long-awaited Prophet, may also attempt the hitherto impossible.
The Truce of the Games
The Truce of the Games has lasted nearly a thousand years, ever since it was first enacted by the Galilean Theocracy. Although the Theocracy is but a shadow of its former self, its Truce has lasted. During this time, no army will march, no war be waged. Since its inception, the Truce has never been broken without retribution. Occasionally, someone tries to take advantage of the situation; the unlucky leader who attempts to lead his armies to the field during the Truce can usually be found running from them shortly thereafter.
Duels are theoretically permitted during the Truce. However, duels between high-ranking officials of antagonistic governments can be a bit dicey, especially when one or the other of the combatants happens to die in the process.
According to the terms of the Truce, anyone who wishes to may compete in the Games. No one is barred. Criminals may enter the City during this time to compete, and are safe from imprisonment provided they commit no crimes during their stay and depart when the Games are done. Of course, should such a criminal win a major governmental position in the City, he may chose to stay and see what happens. If he has become sufficiently powerful, a pardon may be forthcoming, especially if he has attained a post with the power to grant pardons.
On rare occasions, a situation has arisen in which a competitor who committed sufficiently heinous crimes before the Truce has been tried, convicted, and executed during the Truce. For this to occur, the City Council must first agree that a trial should be held. Then a council must be assembled consisting of two representatives from the City, one in favour and one opposed to the trial, and representatives from each of the different governments, including the government of the accused. The accused may not be a member of this council. Recognized governments are the City, Tesla, Galileo, Quanta, Heisenberg, and the Hawkings. Anyone claiming to be from a different government may sit on the council only with the approval of the Archmage of the City; he may be overruled, either aye or nay, only by a unanimous vote of the City Council. Five more council members shall be selected by lot; the exact mechanism to be determined by the current Grand Vizier. Two thirds of this council must agree to allow the trial to go forward during the Truce. However, no executions may be carried out until the Games are at an end. Should the accused be convicted, he may be pardoned only by whomsoever is Archmage at the end of the Games.
The question of whether any particular action violates the Truce shall be resolved by a two-thirds vote of the Council of the City. Violators may be tried and convicted immediately, assuming that a Devil's Advocate and Prosecutor are available.
In approximately the year 800 FM, wizards across the land suddenly found magic was behaving abnormally. Many of those who called upon the might of the Void suddenly found themselves almost powerless. Wizards of Earth, Air, Fire, and Water suddenly found their spells working in ways they never expected. Where normally the gods are often reluctant to help one wizard directly fight against another, preferring to let the wizards fight without the gods' involvement, now the gods would jump from one side to another almost like children. For a week this persisted, and then, as suddenly as it had begun, the phenomenon ended.
At first, it seemed that all had returned to normal. But then rumours started to float around, whispers of a new god, a new religion, promising to bring about the second coming of the sun of knowledge, lost long ago. The followers of this god called themselves the Church of the Second Dawning, and their god the Dawn.
The Theocracy claimed that the Dawn was the brother of the Void, banished into the eternal darkness and chained forever lest he destroy the world. The Dawn was banished because he sought to rule over the Elemental Lords, using them to undo the work of the Void and, ultimately, to undo creation itself. The Void, they said, had held him prisoner for centuries, perhaps since before the time of the Magicians, but the Dawn had finally broken free. Truly, there were tales and old legends of a sixth god, bound by the Magicians, but never called on by them. Most people had always ignored such stories.
But then magics started to go awry, spells which had always worked failing without rhyme or reason. The Dawn was seizing control of the Elemental Lords, but could never hold his grip. Each time he was thrown back, only to try again. But each time he tried, he could destroy spells and overcome the mightiest of wizards. Only the Void could stand against the Dawn. As the Dawning spread, the Theocracy revived the Inquisition, till then idle for the preceding four hundred years. Other kingdoms began to seek out the Dawning and attempt to drive them forth.
A massive slaughter followed then, ending only in 893 FM, when it appeared that the Dawning had been destroyed. But that sense of security did not last long, for a new horror was discovered: Power Slaves.
It had long been known that certain injuries or magical accidents could cause a persons' power to be blocked up inside himself. The power would then build, growing greater and greater, soon exceeding the power the wizard had before. However, the victim of this malady could not discharge the power; his magical talents were unavailable to him. Instead, the power just built and built, and the body would start to burn itself up trying to generate more and more power to break the blockage in a vicious cycle. The only known treatment for power blockage was to keep the victim's fever down, and do whatever possible to slow the power buildup. Normally, the condition would clear itself naturally if the victim lived long enough.
However, the Dawning had managed to devise spells that would cause power blockage. They could allow someone's power to build up to impossible heights, and then siphon it off for their spells. Or they could let the person die in agony, burning up from his own power turned against him. Earth mage, Water mage, Air, Fire, Void, it mattered not. There was no cure and no known counterspell. Some few were immune, mighty wizards and, frequently, Those Who Are, but all others could be the prey of the Dawning. Only because a handful of brave individuals chose to die in agony rather than remain as slaves of the Dawn did the secret get out. Government leaders were discovered by the Inquisition, either enslaved or acting out of fear. The Dawning had not been destroyed at all.
A new terror spread across the land, a fear of the Dawn. Though great efforts were made to seek out the Church of the Second Dawning and destroy it, some always escaped and yet remain, working their spells, preparing for the coming of their dark god.
Today, we are yet again on the eve of the Games, awaiting the trials that will determine the course of history for the next ten years. But these Games shimmer with portent. Lights glow in the skies, and prophecies appear to be coming true. All signs point to these Games being far more than entrance examinations to the colleges, far more than a routine settling of petty disputes. If the seers are correct, these are the Thousand-Year Games, which will shape the future of the world. Perhaps we shall all be destroyed by the gods' wrath. Perhaps the Empire of the Magicians shall be reborn