Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Darvatius the Eternal

"Plague" by Stephan Alexeev

Born Vircir Inotem Tolius Xenvi, he ascended to the throne at the age of 17 upon deposing of his impotent and opium-addled father. The body of Tolius III had barely stopped swinging from the Bridge of Crowns when Tolius IV became Darvatius I, and he made his goal known to his people: to be the greatest emperor the world would ever know.

He would succeed.

The guard was changed immediately. His father’s bootlickers were removed swiftly and quietly, the ancient invertebrates replaced by a new circle of advisers. Fresh faces arrived in the capital; Younger men with sharper minds, pulled in with a broader net than the old order: Radical philosophers, heterodox military minds, mages returned from exile, apocalyptic clerics, anyone who might be of use.

Darvatius’s main support was among the lower classes and military, a base he had built since he first entered the public eye as a prince. He played to the fears and desires of those who had lost the most under his father’s haphazard policies, to great success. Offer a working man enough coin to keep his children alive and he will follow to the ends of the earth. Besides this, he was new, driven, and respectable in ways his brothers and father were not. His was the largest faction, but still an overall minority: If any of the major noble factions banded together he would be finished.

The executions followed. Anyone among the aristocracy who would have supported his older brothers was murdered swiftly and without question before they could organize against him. Midnight raids and public deaths threw rival factions into disarray. To this day, cities in what were the empires core territories still possess a major causeway named Crucifixion Street.

For a time, the empire ran red. Peasant uprisings, military coups, assassinations, a foaming chaos with Darvatius at the helm.

His brothers he spared from death, for reasons never adequately explained by historians or propagandists, though he left them both lobotomized eunuchs.

The older of the two, Heiron, was stationed at the Rock of Ienila as keeper of the lighthouse. He was the smarter and stronger of the two, but was more fit as a poet and harpist than as a king. By secret arts he remains at Ienila to this day, and sailors who trawl the route past the Rock often claim to hear his distant songs on clear nights.

The younger brother, Vanirem, was a reprehensible scab of a man, and was given to the care of a particular sorcerer of the court, with the instructions that “he is to be cared for, and his desires met”.

Vanirem died less than two years later in a disease-ridden villa outside the capital. His corpse was found with vaults filled with obscene, obscure erotica (worth a fortune for deviants with disposable income), a harem of twenty-one succubi (the bindings on which were never loosened), and a twelve-foot prehensile cock.

A year passed, and another, and the violence faded. Any significant threat posed to Darvatius was dead or exiled, and the government was filled with his supporters, promoted up from his troops and low-born loyalists. Stability was restored, and the empire seemed, for the first time in years, to be moving somewhere that wasn’t total destruction.

"Imperial Immortal", also by Alexeev


The wars, naturally, came next. For four and a half decades, there was no peace at all, and the empire flourished. Darvatius’ army went out and conquered all the eye might see or the mind might imagine.

To the north, he brought the squabbling barbarian clans to heel, paved over their burial mounds with roads and put their children in his schools. In the south, he drained a swampy sea for farmland, cut down the plague forests, and smashed the Schixold priesthood on the steps of their ziggurats. To the west he built the Golden Cities atop the wreckage of the mage kingdoms of Tarn Bornem. In the east he toppled the Kingfisher and united the Mead-Halls of the Flowered Hills. At home, he struck where needed to keep his nobles in line. Campaign after campaign, conquest after conquest. Cities sprung up from the earth, monuments rose like forests. The sword of civilization cut through the fabric of the world.

The Folk withdrew to the wild places in those years, and Darvatius did not pursue them; So long as they remained neutral, he had no need to waste men and money in the attempt. The gods too he held to this agreement. Toleration, so long as they remained distant. His focus was on the murder of men.

A dreadful day drew near, and then arrived like some horrible, yawning gulf, eating up the dawn.

The last free sovereign was the Golden Goddess of Pa-O Pa-O: a perfectly ordinary six-year-old girl without a touch of magic, from a tiny island in the furthest south-west. When the legionnaires landed on the white shores of Pa-O Pa-O, she greeted them with the sun-yellow flowers she had picked from the volcano slopes, thinking that they were just more pilgrims come to visit. She loved visitors.

The beaches of Pa-O Pa-O are no longer white, the water no longer clear, the trees no longer tall, and the flowers have gone away. The great stone heads of Goddesses past are silent, their faces stained by the shit of ragged black seagulls. Of the girl, the few that remain on the island now believe that, after signing over her nation on a treaty she couldn’t understand, she went back to her mother and lived out the rest of her days in peaceful obscurity.

They believe, though they know it is certainly not true.

At last, peace. There was peace, silent and terrible. The legions marched home. The wars were over, for there was no one else to war against in all the known world – the peoples of each land from horizon to horizon knew the rule of Darvatius. They spoke his language, paid his taxes, followed his laws.

And in a moment, the animus that had driven Darvatius and his empire evaporated. The mighty emperor, king of the world, was brought low by a power he had not conquered – existential crisis. He returned to his glorious capital in troubled triumph, and the celebrations of the world’s conquering continued for months without him. Darvatius retired to his palace, and the guards whispered of his wordless pacing of the columned halls or lonely sitting upon his marble throne.

Just before dawn, on the day of his final triumphal parade, he saddled his horse and rode out of the city.

And he began the war anew.

Darvatius raised a new army – from where, no one might say – and tore apart his empire, piece by piece, year by year. His people, too used to plenty and safety were slaughtered in their panic. By the time there was resistance the people were hurt and fractured, and had begun fighting among themselves as the mad emperor tore them further apart. He buried his capitol under a cloud of burning ash, laughing.

By the time he was finally killed, decades later, Darvatius had shattered civilization across the world. He was impaled on a spear by a woman whose name and nature have now faded to time. He was alone at the end. His body was pecked apart by crows, and his bones lost.

The Empire Today

The empire of Darvatius does still exist, in the form of the a thousand bickering claimants holding on the crumbling ruins of the empire’s third capital, Hispir. The city is a place of bandits and criminals now, with the Imperial Heirs incapable of even maintaining their own walls. Entire neighborhoods are swallowed up by anarchy. A fragment of Darvatius’ throne passes from faction to faction like a ball in a game.

The Imperial Tongue

The imperial language was once universal, but fell into disuse in the wake of the empire’s collapse. The development of the more easily-learnt Babel reduced it further to a dead language, fit only for dusty histories and wizards’ spellbooks. It is now mostly spoken by the Hispirians, scholars, and lawyers.

The Truth

Darvatius became a god. He died at the battle of Fendol Kaj, as all the histories agree, but at that moment a god was born. Ninety years he had carved the world in his image, and now the world responded in kind. This was not a proper apotheosis, nor was there continuity of identity, but that matters little. Man makes gods, and this was the one that sprung unbidden from the mind of humanity.

He sits now in Hell. He has stolen back his soul, his body, his legions, and all manner of demons are held under his hobnailed boot. He waits to march again.

3 comments:

  1. Another re-post from the first version of the blog. Entirely inspired by that picture.

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    Replies
    1. Still incredible though. Enough detail to create a real sense of dread, but not so much that everything is nailed down and immutable.

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    2. Timelines in game settings are things I try to avoid as much as possible. A general sense of "recent / a few centuries ago / long, long ago / ages ago" is more than enough for table usage. No one wants to see me fumble around with a fake calendar.

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