Prologue: The Woeful Emperor
After a land has long since become enshrouded in legend, and the light of its glorious past is filtered by the dust of ages, it falls into danger of facing yet another peril. And while that peril should like to disprove the realm’s glory, often it is that a greater legend is born. In a world where history is no different from legend, and prophecies are promises from the gods, unyielding in their faithfulness, reverence and wonder shall never cease. The legends and prophecies written in holy text might not be fully understood, but they are true nonetheless. Even the most esoteric of tales cannot be dissolved by time; the future shall look back upon them to watch the warrior emerge from the flames and tears to prove the might of his spirit.
Legend, in all its richness of glory and tragedy, had birthed the most majestic kingdom known to Lorata. In the grassy plains that roll from the cliffs of Dragonridge Mountains to the waves of Blueshade Ocean, Onsira stood proud and deeply respected. Its rich soil brought verdant life to the plains, dotting it with woodlands cut by streams and ponds. Onsira had long been ruled by a monarchy, its bloodline tied to the greatest of all heroes: Loracaz, Champion of Jenh.
Generations had passed since the hero’s great feat, years that were ruled in peace under centuries-old traditions. Onsira was a kingdom governed by elves, but it welcomed fae-kind as friends. It had even found peace and mutual respect with the dragons, difficult though their history had been. It was a safe and honorable kingdom, said to be blessed by Goddess Jenh herself, and its people prospered.
Late in the fifth millennium of Lorata’s recorded history, that age-old peace came to its end. For those who believed that it would never leave the kingdom, it was a juncture of utmost tragedy, the desperate culmination of the actions of His Royal Majesty, King Z’Lé. For the elves who had put their trust into his dream of uniting the four realms of magic and the four races, he had become a figure of cruel betrayal. His people had feared him ever since the day that he invited ambassadors from Thiizav, the kingdom known for it devotion to Métius. The king’s people began to worry that their queen had made the wrong choice in taking Z’Lé as her beloved.
The Onsiran citizens protested the collection of taxes in order to support the construction of a temple for the one god who had no place in Onsira: Métius, ruler of the Abyss and all the demons who resided therein. Complaints about the taxes brought King Z’Lé’s wrath, and he did not hesitate in jailing those who tried to prevent supplies from arriving at the site of the temple. It had been an act of treason, the king decreed, to prevent the unification that he so desired to create. He had lost the mercy that Onsira had been known for, and cared not that he was feared and reviled.
All the while, Queen Arialla could do nothing to stop him. She did not agree with the harshness of Z’Lé’s punishments, but the goal of unification that Z’Lé sought was to important, and too well under way to get in the way of. She was as nervous as any of her citizens were about demon king, but if she let that fear guide her, how could she bring about unity? It was for that dream that she had chosen Z’Lé, and she could not give up on it.
This logic, however, denied something greater. If Arialla had wanted deny the nobles from Thiizav their embassy and keep Métius out of her kingdom, the king would have gone ahead without her blessing. King Z’Lé had begun to dominate the throne long before commissioning the Temple of Métius to be built. No decision was final without his word, and while the queen laid resting, he would decree many of the laws that would bring his goal of unification to completion. In the name of the alliance of the gods, he broke from one Onsiran tradition after another without even a thought.
Zarrek, the second son of the royal family, grew up as the dark temple was completed. King Z’Lé took the child with him to oversee the raising of its twisted spires, and though he was just a babe, Zarrek watched, transfixed, as each block of rich black stone was set into its place. It worried Arialla to know that her son was so close to that source of evil. He would not bend to her concerns, though. Although the queen did not want her sons to partake in the darker aspects of the unification, the king insisted upon it in the name of true unity.
With all that he had done, King Z’Lé had forever changed the face of Onsira. Its proud heritage was now hardly better than a memory, and the people were resentful that they could not contest what their king was doing. He expected them to forgive what Métius had done to Goddess Jenh centuries ago, and he decreed that devotion to her alone would harm Onsira’s chances for a unified future.
In truth, Jenh was the pillar of the kingdom, and Arialla was a direct descendant of her champion, the realm’s founding ruler: Loracaz I. Métius had captured the goddess ages ago, in an attempt to steal away her life and magic, and Loracaz had been the only one able to rescue her. Welcoming the lord of evil back, even in the name of unity, was an insult to the worshipers of the goddess.
Z’Lé overruled any concern for the threat of the demon lord by declaring that the legends and prophecies were too ancient to be trifled with. Jenh had forgiven the dragons, whose jealousy was the root of all acts committed against her. Even her promise that the great hero would return to Lorata, should Métius ever again threaten the world with his evil, seemed unnecessary. It was time for Onsira to grow into an empire of unity, rather than a simple kingdom devoted to a goddess.
When Zarrek was merely five years old, he was initiated into both the Temple of Jenh the Elemental Mother, and the Temple of Métius, Dark Destroyer and Lord of Demons. In the evening of that same day, the king announced that he would unite all of Manastaecies under his rule. He declared himself Emperor of Unified Onsira, and a new age was born. The old green banners were pulled down from the palace walls, and replaced with a new tapestry, one of Z’Lé’s own design. Instead of the traditional leaf, the imperial banner was a long, vertical tapestry that contained the symbols of all four deities, even the demon lord, sewn onto a background of pale grey.
Arialla, now forced to call herself empress, could now understand how he could go so far,
To Z’Lé, Onsira being ruled by an elvan family meant neglect for the dragons, and it was that neglect that had ignited anger in the hearts of the dragons of ages past. Being that he was from one of the mountain provinces, where dragons outnumbered the elves, he was the best authority on the current disposition of the flying creatures. Arialla had once trusted his conviction that the dragons should be welcome everywhere in Onsira. Nobody had ever suspected that it would come to this.
He who had begun as a charismatic, idea-laden man, able to win the heart of the princess, changed into an irascible, demanding, and vengeful beast of an emperor, more like a dragon than an elf. When Arialla had fallen in love with Z’Lé and made him her king, he had been a gentle ruler, his only request being that dragons and elves should learn to befriend one another. It had been a strange mixing at first, for most elves were frightened of such immense and powerful beasts, but Z’Lé had worked hard to create a peaceable relationship between the races.
It became apparent, however over the years that his initial success, and the subsequent trust placed upon him by the elves was only his method of preparing for the darker aspects of what he called unity. That unification seemed to lie primarily between Jenh and Métius, ignoring the other two faiths almost entirely. Though he’d allowed temples to the holy god of purity and the celestial goddess of the bards to be built, he took no interest in them, and not even Zarrek bothered to learn from the other two temples.
Z’Lé took no pains to insist that such sacred buildings be built, as he had for Métius. Where he had overseen the building of the black temple at every stage, he had appointed ministers to ensure that the other two were erected, and left them to make their own decisions. Even the funding for the Temple of Métius was far more generous than that budgeted for the Temples of Kearr and Aamh combined.
When the people of the land could no longer bear to live under Emperor Z’Lé’s cruelty, his unfair laws and extreme punishments, they began to beg of Arialla to make him cease his actions and restore the traditions and former laws of Onsira. To their dismay, she could do nothing, what with him dominating the throne. Even when she reminded Z’Lé that the elves were dying of hunger and sickness because of his demands, he asserted his power over her.
Matters only worsened after that. Z’Lé had amassed a powerful and innumerable following of loyal soldiers and noblemen over the years. Even the dragons were willing to follow his command. They believed in his dream, in the future that Z’Lé had promised them. His followers ignored what most called tyranny, insisting that it was part of the process of incorporating the four alignments; what good was a ruler with a pure heart in a kingdom that allowed Métius within its borders? Blindly, they supported him, defending him with their lives.
The hope of the people laid in the hands of Prince Loracaz II, Zarrek’s elder brother and the first child born to Arialla and Z’Lé. To find a way out from under the emperor’s tyranny, the citizens implored him instead of the empress. The prince was the first person to be named after Jenh’s champion in all the centuries since the hero’s daring feat. He had much in common with the legendary hero, greatest of which was his pure love and devotion for the goddess; he spent much of his time in the temple dedicated to Goddess Jenh, studying her magic and legends, and often left offerings for her on the royal altar.
What the Onsiran people now held most dear was this: ages ago, after Goddess Jenh had been rescued from the clutches of Métius, she had made a promise to the elves of Onsira: should evil ever again threaten the land, her champion would return. Loracaz was the one man who could put a stop to tyranny and suffering and banish Métius back to the Abyss. Even if the emperor did not believe in the prophecy, the elves and their fae brethren did, and they prayed each day that their prince would soon awaken to his destiny and restore Onsira to its age-old glory.