The 75th World's Fair in the summer of 268 was hardly the first to be held in Monas Roth, but it was certainly the grandest. Attendees took tours of the city on a newly streamlined monorail system, enjoying fine foods and features at every stop. The arboretum dome was a particular favorite among locals and foreigners alike; the former group enjoyed the beautifully restored native flora and simulated storms of clean rain, while the latter chuckled silently at the Ashfolk struggling with the concept of umbrellas. Bedecked in stately burgundy and gray, Momentum Tower was ever the fitting centerpiece, somehow dwarfed as it was by the new generation of skycleaner vessels moored at its highest docks. The republic was at its best, and all the world was there to see.
But while fairgoers were distracted by the brilliant displays and carefully marketed marvels, foreign dignitaries were fixated on the less harmless undertones. Terraforming technology could just as easily blight a land as render it verdant, worried the Loghec ambassador. Belt-fed autoguns could reduce an advancing battalion to mist before it ever arrived, feared the Vrovonic Paragon on his tour of the private displays. Even the suspension hangars on the cleaner ships, noticed the Alor naval attaché, could be used to launch and recover far more than support craft. In the wake of Eventide, most had some notion that the unstable peace would eventually break, but the barely-shrouded might of this supposedly neutral nation sent many home on edge.
Military buildup was of course inevitable, after what the Daggerlands had shown. The arms race that played out over the next twenty or so years was unparalleled in modern history, and as capabilities rose, so too did tensions. Old alliances remained only on paper, and older enemies began eyeing each other once again. Many nations chose to neglect domestic policy and investment in favor of shoring up their defenses or posturing, though perhaps nowhere worse than in Aloreh.
The first crack formed there when, in the fall of 292, the previously little-known Captain Robert Belum of House Veles-Moraeos defected to Ithero. He brought with him three large trading vessels and the battleship under his command, pledging service to the Admiralty in exchange for freedom from what he described as “court decadence”. Such a betrayal naturally shocked the Alor, and even those sympathetic to Belum's frustrations found his actions utterly unacceptable.
For her part, Grand Admiral Celese Farriese of Ithero recognized that provoking the Alor by accepting Belum would eventually cause further discord if not dealt with promptly. Seeking to calm the waters, Farriese addressed the leaders of the world, advising patience and peace in the time to come. Unfortunately, this act would have been more kindly described as a political misstep in less fraught times. As it was, derision poured in from all sides. Some in Ithero called for the Grand Admiral's resignation, having displayed inexcusable weakness in the face of such geopolitical turmoil; many foreign leaders decried the address as a gambit to gain the upper hand through feigned sincerity. Most, though, were eerily quiet. It would not be long before the Council of Admirals had Farriese quietly replaced with Kheri Draegze of Eszari Aveno, but the damage on the political stage had already been done.
In the winter of 297, with developments continuing to ripple out into the global community, a summit was called in Monas Roth. The irony not lost among attendees who had walked those very halls a decade previous, no agreements were reached. Bitter contempt was at its peak, and many wondered if the century would end before war finally began. A year later, Ithero opted to reestablish Fort Aventi along the Alor coast, if anything a symbolic statement as the position had been the primary defensive line against the Crescent Run of the Eventide. In another repetition of that great war, Aloreh reached out for support from their old friends in the Daggerlands. With the signing of the Pact of Wind and Iron in 299, their Union was solidified and lines were formally drawn.
While it is worth noting that this official alliance surprised few in the international community, the brashness of the action nevertheless chilled onlookers the world over. It also inspired some of the more reticent nations to action. Accepting that no country could face this renewed force alone, Vrovona and Ithero entered into their own Coalition with the Oath of Heavens' Convergence in 301.
Neither alliance was interested in all-out war and continued actively seeking to avoid it, but proxy battles were certainly on the table. Political unrest in Ar-Selukk provided the perfect opportunity, and in 304 each side began engaging with the local tribes to pre-emptively secure resources. With each side funding and supplying their own bands of city states, they ensured that the nation remained in a state of constant turmoil.
Nearly a decade later, war in the desert still raged, and the Selukkite people had had enough of it. In 312 the state government of Yrej broke with Qhul Rahav and denounced Regent Raviyna av-Kulthanz IV, seeking to find their own solutions to the foreign forces. The priestess came herself to deal with her troublemaking subjects, and barely-civil discourse turned brutal almost overnight. Raviyna dealt harsh punishments to her denouncers, an act which quelled the dissent but poisoned many in her lands against her.
Spring in Methes Avonthes the following year brought a wedding of international significance, as the Pithkeeper of the Daggerlands, Monas Iaeons, wed the Lady Ironwood of Aloreh. Seen by most not as an act of love, but a political arrangement, the festivities were nevertheless ruined when the bride was murdered at the altar.
The mystery of the assassination was quickly uncovered by the surviving Pithkeeper, laying bare the fact that Vrovona was responsible. And not simply some bad actors from within that country, but Paragon Solodav Ksavik himself, paranoid at the thought of what a stronger alliance might bring for Aloreh and the Daggerlands. Forced to enact a never-before-used contingency, the Imperial Host relieved Ksavik of his duties and sentenced him to lead an assault in Ar-Selukk from which he could not possibly hope to return.
With leaders of foreign countries now dying in their lands, the Selukkites began to openly rebel against the occupying alliances. Yrej again rose to the fore of international attention when in early 318 a Loghec priest on a religious mission to the city was found dead, killed by city guards while trying to flee. Roreg Logh, the only sovereign nation still understood to be truly neutral in the global conflict, reacted quickly to preserve that status. Their famous outpost in that city was closed the same year, even as the Alor took it upon themselves to dispatch regiments to the border. Grateful for the support, but disturbed that their neutrality was now being eroded by association, the Loghec Solemnus began quietly discussing future plans for action with the other priests.
Tensions now higher than ever, determining the tipping point of open war had become a matter of when, not if. When a small fleet of unmarked merchant vessels was spotted off the Vrovonic coast in 324, they were summarily sunk by cannonfire. Aloreh and the Daggerlands immediately rushed to fortify the area in the name of "economic security", inviting their adversaries to respond in kind. It was luck, and luck alone, that kept war at bay at the time, but six years later the world would not be so lucky. A single errant cannonshot late in year 330 was all it took to finally shatter the fragile peace, this time solidly through the deck of a Daggerlander steamer. From whence the shot had come would be the subject of much historical debate and diplomatic finger-pointing for the duration of the war, but the outcome was the same. For the second time since the Gods departed, the world was at war.
Fighting bloomed across the world. The first battle in Vrovona proved a pyrrhic victory for the Coalition, but the Union quickly gained advantage closer to home. They moved to further fortify their position in the Thousand Vales, having continued their presence along the Selukkite border in defense of Roreg Logh. When the Itheri navy landed along the northern coastline of that region, it was initially a scouting effort, but the combined Coalition forces thought they could punch through Union defenses and sever supply lines before fortification were completed.
The resulting battle raged for weeks, tides turning one way and then the next as regiments were decimated. Eventually, with the Knights of Kastellon in the vanguard, the Coalition was pushed back towards the coastline, choosing tactical retreat over complete loss. The Tireneas Beacon led with the headline “Thousand Graves in Thousand Vales”, a name that quickly stuck to what was to that point the bloodiest land battle in modern history.
Spurred on by destruction so close to home, in 332 the Selukkites finally went on the offensive. Raiding parties led mostly by the Yrejji pierced Alor defenses and entered the Loghec jungles. Shaken from their neutrality, Loghec forces responded sharply to the devastation of their lands and surface towns, using superior knowledge of their home terrain to their considerable advantage. From the trees above and from the earth below the Loghecs mounted their defense, spurred by the stirring words of their Solemnus, and the Selukkite advance was halted before the end of the year. Beyond this point, most Loghec fighting was done defensively at their borders, aided by Union forces they refused to formally join.
Far to the north, another neutral entity was about to be pulled into the fray. The Mages’ Guild had long staunchly opposed the war, but as ever there were rumors that they might throw support to one side or the other given time. In 334, a Vrovonic diplomatic party was seen entering the college at Cyridon Spire; while their mission was to convince the guild to align with the Coalition, Union spectators leapt to the conclusion that this had already happened.
Daggerlander technology was used to overcome the magical defenses of the college and within days Cyridon Spire had become the latest battleground between the world powers. Alignment with the sorcerers was no longer part of the plan as each side simply sought to control their potent artifacts and sigils. Recently nominated Archmage Islock Pfarich feared for a future where the magic of the spire was used for war, and in an act of utter desperation cracked the magestone in the foundation of the college.
The force that emanated from the stone ruptured the very landscape around Cyridon Spire, opening ravines and sending buildings crashing into the surf below. Immense waves spiraled out into the ocean, reshaping the coastlines of the entire continent. Whole cities were flooded at best and wiped off the map at worst, and so the first capital to be lost in the war was Calastore. Torn asunder by powers both arcane and mundane, most of the city was sunk beneath the bay. Despite this catastrophic blow to the Coalition, the war continued, but with a hobbled Itheri force. The admiralty chose to place blame for the destruction squarely with the Alor, their old enemies, in an effort to rebuild crumbling morale. Ineffective trench warfare in the Thousand Vales was slowly eased as land battles moved around the northern coast.
Now laid low by the arcane waves, the formerly insurmountable cliffs of the Alor Winewood were traversed with ease by invading Coalition forces. Soon they had arrived at Methes Avonthes and surrounded the clouded city from both land and sea. The natural defenses of the capital proved challenging for the attackers, but a grueling siege left inhabitants at the mercy of time. Bombardment was constant, slowly destroying many of the city’s ancient and iconic features.
Most of the nobility had long since fled to their estates to wait out the war, but the High Mediator remained, uncharacteristically stoic until the day he too met his end beneath enemy fire. Had the Daggerlanders not finally arrived to break the siege, Methes Avonthes might have been lost entirely. But reinforcements did arrive, and with a display of might that proved the shaken diplomats at the fair those many years ago entirely correct. Coalition forces fell under a rain of artillery fire and the few Alor left were able to quietly celebrate their liberation.
Following their decisive victory at Methes Avonthes, the Daggerlander forces were keen to push their advantage. With their newest weapons platforms now battle-tested, in 335 they turned their attention to Vrovona itself. Razing the landscape before turning on the capital, they descended on the country like a frenzied swarm. Survivors described the sky as having turned black, the sun’s light blotted from view before fire rained from above. While much of the city was laid to waste during the attack, Vrovona’s own newly-constructed ground artillery proved incredibly effective. Ever the superior tacticians, they obliterated the attacking Daggerlander ships in a lesson that would not soon be forgotten.
After five years of open war and decades of previous unrest, supplies had begun to dry up on all sides. Ar-Selukk was particularly affected, propped up as their invasion of Roreg Logh had been by the now-weakened Itheri. Overextended and underprepared, infighting between the states began anew as alliances broke down through stress and blame. Those who remained faithful to Raviyna sought guidance from their regent, but were met only with silence. Discontent turned to unrest, unrest to outrage, and outrage to riots, as citizens flooded the streets demanding answers.
When the doors of the the regent's chambers were finally breached, they were found empty, with no signs as to where she had gone. Whether quietly deposed by her inner circle after the business in Yrej years ago, or removed by some unseen force, none could say. Once word finally got out, the riots reached a new level, gripping Qhul Rahav as the rage of the tribes was unleashed. Alliances were dissolved, and the country was cast back into disarray as all sought to fill the power vacuum.
Not, that is, before all Selukkite forces had returned from the foreign wars. Some raiding parties had found success beyond the border in Roreg Logh and, upon hearing that their homeland had fallen into chaos, lashed out at the country in which they had been abandoned. Having found the secret ways into the Halls of Dorrod Muth, in 337 they ran an all-out assault on the capital, seeking simply to cause as much damage as possible. The surprised and terrified Loghec populace sought to stop their advance by collapsing portions of their tunnels, a process which quickly got out of hand. Cascading demolition soon reduced most of the city to rubble, buried beneath the very stone from which it was carved. The incursion had been put down, but at ultimate cost.
By 339, the forces of all nations had dwindled beyond effectivity. Conscripts made up much of the ranks, drafted from whatever remained of the citizenry and foisted barely-trained into endless battle. With its small population, the Daggerlands was forced to begin arming its engineers and science officers, losing them to the war machine faster than they could be replaced. Maintenance of the mechanisms that kept the cities running back home was neglected, and the sprawling systems in Monas Roth were particularly understaffed. With all attentions elsewhere, it was only a matter of time before something gave.
Overpressure events in the city's geothermal plants were fairly routine in normal times, but the one that struck the eastern facility was uncommonly large. Whether through engineering negligence or foreign sabotage, the sudden burst of additional energy was not properly mitigated and the system couldn't cope. Vented directly into the delivery pipelines, it surged through the the infrastructure of Monas Roth, splitting junctions and bathing the city in lava. By the time the flow ceased, much of the city was either destroyed or uninhabitable, its technological wonders melted beneath the cooling rock. After seventy years, the Daggerlands was laid low by the very prowess that had inspired the world to fear.
In contrast to the long run-up, the end of the world had come swiftly. By 341, there was little left to battle over. Most major cities and towns had been destroyed long ago in the fighting, either from without or within, and large sections of the world were scorched or ruined. Displaced governments attempted to rule from exile, or otherwise pick up the pieces of society, but by 343 many had given up entirely. Refugees trickled away to distant lands and unclaimed islands, seeking to start anew, while those who stayed clung to life in difficult and uncertain ways. The Reckoning of the Aeons, as those with memory now care to call it, was done.
As the fighting ceased, an odd tranquility settled over the nations of the world. The air above no longer hummed with the whirrs of airship blades, the ground below ceased its trembling from artillery fire. Weapons that had clashed for more than a generation were thrown down, with no reason in sight to pick them back up again. When the survivors emerged to survey what was left, they found their homes reduced to rubble, their institutions faded and gone. Their past lives, nothing but a dream. Many wondered whether a future in this ruined world could even be possible.
And yet, the spark remained, the drive to seek certainty in an Age that had so far lacked much of it. Those who stayed did so with hopeful spirits, looking to each other for reassurance and resolving themselves to action. Perhaps in time they might head for new horizons, but for now they had only this world to steward. Who knows what may come of it, but one thing is certain: a new aeon is dawning over A'therys, and its inhabitants will need all the help they can get. Won't you join them?