When modern mages talk about ancient history, it is almost inevitable that they are going to mention the Ikosian Empire at some point. Founded by an ambitious emperor in northern Miasina, Ikosian Empire would last for more than 1500 years, conquering the entire northern half of the continent and influencing every nearby polity that had managed to resist falling under its aegis. Though forever gone now, Ikosian traditions persist into the modern era, as all nations that developed in the wake of their collapse were heavily influenced by their cultural and political practices. This was in no small part encouraged by the adaptability of the Ikosian magical tradition, which survived the fall of its parent empire and spread to all corners of the globe – even ones that had never been under Ikosian suzerainty.
In many ways, the beginning of Ikosian civilization is also the beginning of history as a scholarly subject. This is because the Ikosians were one of the first human states that was especially fond of writing things down. Even before transitioning into a continent-spanning empire, they had a tradition of keeping meticulous records and encouraging literacy among their population. Indeed, the written word always had an almost holy significance to Ikosians, and their priesthood tended to be quite active in spreading their writing system to as many people as possible. It’s possible that the roots of this stem from two of their more popular gods – Wamani-Kava (the god of stories, glory and falconry) and Tsuben-Hai (the god of trade, rivers and journeys) – who were reportedly quite fond of writing.
Regardless, the dearth of non-Ikosian sources (and the difficulty of translating the few surviving accounts, given that they’re written in languages that have long since gone extinct) means that little is known about pre-Ikosian human civilization. No large-scale human civilization appears to have existed, though city-states were fairly common in river valleys and along the coast.
It is in one of these ancient city-states that the Ikosian Empire began…
Rise of Ikos:
Xlotic – the northern part of the continent of Miasina – was not always a giant desert. Before the cataclysm, the region had once been a fertile plain that supported millions of people.
1500 years before the Cataclysm, Xlotic was dotted with tiny kingdoms and independent city-states, constantly warring and bickering between one another. The fertile valley of the Umani-Re river – called Salaw by the natives – was no exception at first. It was here that the Ikosian Empire began it’s ascent to glory.
The city-state of Ikos was originally just one of the many city-states that vied for control of the Salaw, but by 1500 BC (Before Cataclysm) it had assumed preeminent position among the city-states. It was all but inevitable that they would try to strong-arm the rest of the cities into submission at some point, and that moment came sooner rather than later. Shutur-Tarana Ihilkush ascended to the throne of Ikos and immediately proclaimed himself the rightful ruler of all of Salaw. To demonstrate that he was not making an idle claim, he then proceeded to conquer all neighboring city-states in a shockingly swift and effective campaign, greatly expanding his domain.
Other neighboring powers, unnerved by the rapid rise of Ikos and its ruler’s insatiable ambition, banded together into a great alliance in order to counter the threat. They raised a great army and marched upon Ikos. Shutur-Tarana met them in battle outside the city of Quatari, decisively defeating the alliance with the application of powerful combat magic, superior tactics and an uncanny knowledge of their weaknesses. He then initiated a counter-campaign that saw the 13 most powerful cities of the alliance razed to the ground and their vassals swearing fealty to Shutur-Tarana. The war was a tipping point in Ikosian history, and would later be immortalized in the Ikosian epic ‘The 13 Cities of Salaw’, commissioned by the emperor to immortalize his victory near the end of his life.
With so many former kings swearing fealty to him, Shutur-Tarana was no longer just a king of Ikos. He was a king of kings, and had himself crowned accordingly in a grand ceremony that all his foreign subjects were forced to attend. From that point onward, Ikos no longer had a king, but an emperor.
The Ikosian Empire was born.
The Ikosian Era:
Conquering the entire Umani-Re river valley already made the Ikosian Empire impressive by the standards of that time, but that was only the beginning. Over the next 900 years, the Ikosian Empire went from strength to strength, gradually conquering the entirety of northern Miasina and the Shivan Archipelago, even launching colonial expeditions overseas. Shutur-Tarana’s dynasty remained at the helm of the empire for an impressive 400 years, at which point a string of short-lived emperors led to a usurper taking over and establishing his own dynasty. Four more such dynastic changes occurred in this time period, often accompanied by large-scale civil wars, but this was not enough to break the state and it always sprung back into action in the aftermath, even greater than it was before.
That was not to say that the Ikosians hadn’t suffered any major failures in this period. They made repeated failed attempts to conquer Koth, and their attempt to colonize Blantyrre was a dismal failure. However, for nearly 900 years, the Ikosian Empire was incredibly successful and it seemed like its star would always shine bright. Only Hsan, with its Grand Dynasty, had anything remotely comparable to it in size and it was far more unstable than the Ikosian Empire.
What was the secret behind this remarkable success? This is still a hotly debated topic among scholars. What is widely agreed upon was that one of the important factors behind Ikosian success was their wildly successful magical tradition. Unlike most other civilizations in Miasina, the Ikosians had a sharp divide between their priesthood and regular magic users. This was important because it made Ikosian mages far less hesitant about copying and assimilating magics from other cultures into their own traditions, as well as made integration of foreign mages much easier than it was in other states. These non-priestly mages were then organized into a state-wide mage guild, which had the dual mandate of facilitating the sharing of spells between mages and supervising them to make sure they weren’t committing crimes or worse – organizing a rebellion against the Empire. As the Ikosian Empire expanded, so did the mage guild, moving in immediately after the army to scour the conquered regions for anything worth learning or adapting to their own use. The institution of the Mage Guild was so successful it would be widely replicated by every Ikosian successor state, as well as many of its enemies.
The second most distinctive feature of Ikosian Empire was both a great boon and a great curse – the House system. During its early expansion, the Ikosians realized that many small mage clans possessed family magics that could not be easily copied, and which allowed them to create no end of trouble for Ikosians. Similarly, some of the individual mages were so powerful that, while not a threat to the empire as a whole, could easily keep Ikosian forces at bay from their territory. After several attempts to subjugate such small groups turned into embarrassing failures, the Ikosian emperors started co-opting them instead, declaring them Houses – a status that gave them a large degree of local autonomy coupled with various special privileges. In exchange, they groups had to provide some kind of service or product to the Empire to justify their status.
The House system is, in many regards, a great success story. It is doubtful that the Ikosian Empire could have ever reached the size it had without it, and it definitely wouldn’t have had access to most of their powerful, specialized magic even if it did. Without the possibility of being declared a House, many local powers in conquered territories would have bitterly fought Ikosian forces for every inch of ground and would have probably had to be wiped out utterly, forever erasing the very magics that made them so impressive. The House system allowed the Ikosian Empire to grow far faster than any of its enemies expected, taking the wind out of any resistance to their rule by co-opting powerful groups in conquered territories.
However, it also eventually made the Ikosian Empire very, very decentralized. Although largely isolationistic in the beginning, many of the Houses soon started involving themselves in the Empire’s politics, participating in trade and conquest in order to strengthen their position. Unfortunately, by the time the problems with such a system had become obvious to everyone, the House system had already become a fixture of Ikosian system of governance and no attempt to abolish it had much success – mostly because the Empire could no longer function without the aid of various Houses, being too vast in size and scope to be governed centrally. The result was that, while the Emperor’s will was absolute, the various regions of the empire had a great deal of autonomy and sometimes the Emperor’s will never reached the target it was intended for.
Finally, after 900 years of expansion, the Ikosian Empire had reached its maximum extent. To the south it was limited by the inhospitable mountain ranges beyond which lay dangerous jungles – all inhabited by monsters and nomadic tribes, with no organized states to conquer and coopt. Attempts to skip over this region and conquer the more civilized Koth ended in failure. To the north lay the continent of Altazia, reachable from Miasina through a lot of island hopping. The Empire was in the process of colonizing it, but that was a slow and expensive process that provided dubious benefits. To the east was the continent of Hsan, which was by then already united under the Grand Dynasty. Not even the Ikosian Empire was arrogant enough to think they could launch a successful naval invasion of a continent-spanning empire like their own. To the west was a lot of open ocean and the savage continent of Blantyrre, the colonization of which had failed horribly.
With no places left to conquer, the Ikosian Empire turned inward and began to stagnate.
With no external enemies to fight or new lands to conquer and exploit, the many internal issues that the Ikosian Empire had accumulated during its long existence started coming to the foreground. Although the Ikosian Empire would persist for another 500 years, it would be a tumultuous and waning existence. The state went through numerous dynastic changes in this period – the throne of Ikosia changed hands no less than 12 times, and there were frequent civil wars and palace massacres even when no such transfer of power took place.
Territorially, the Ikosian Empire actually shrunk in this period. Many outlying areas that were thought unprofitable by the Ikosian authorities were withdrawn from, often with enthusiastic encouragement from whatever unpacified natives remained there. The colonization of Altazia was abandoned as well, being deemed too expensive in light of the dubious benefits it provided to the Empire. The existing colonies did not disappear, of course, though without the Ikosian Empire to act as an official overlord, they each went their own way and became independent city-states and tiny kingdoms. Altazian historians call this the Five Towers Period, due to the relative supremacy of the five largest colonies, which had pioneered mana well exploitation with the use of huge towers built on top of them – a feature with which they would become greatly associated with later.
Although the Ikosian Empire in this period was suffering, it was still great. Left alone, it was possible it would eventually sort itself out and return to greatness. At the very least, it could have probably persisted for a couple of more centuries before breaking up. However, the choice was ultimately out of their hands.
About 100 years before the Cataclysm, the gods fell silent, never to be heard from again.
Silence of the Gods:
No one knows what happened to the gods. One day, every single god simply stopped interacting with their worshippers. They spoke to no one and granted no miracles to their clergy, and the event was global in nature, affecting every continent and every community – both human and non-human.
The shock of the event was hard to overstate. Although the spiritual servants of the gods still existed and stood ready to aid the faithful, they had no explanation for the event and no assurances that gods would be back soon. As weeks turned to months and months turned to years, it became obvious that they never would. Panic and hysteria spread across the lands, and some dared to suggest that gods were all dead. That they had been killed by something greater than all of them. The priesthood quickly proclaimed this to be the most heinous of heresies. The gods were just silent, they said, and the faithful would have to be patient.
Thus, the event became known as the Silence of the Gods. Though it was traumatic for most societies, it was especially devastating for the Ikosian Empire. As a state already straining to hold itself together, it was ill equipped to weather the hysteria of the event and the subsequent weakening of the state church, which was an important stabilizing factor in empire politics.
For the first 40 years after the event, the Empire managed to keep itself together. Then, it erupted into long, exhausting civil war that would last for nearly 60 years, depopulating entire regions and exhausting the resources of the state.
In many ways, this 60-year civil war marks the end of the Ikosian Empire – even if one of the claimants managed to secure the throne of Ikosia in the end, they would control a state too weak to exert power most of its vast territories for many, many years.
And then, less than a hundred years since the Silence of the Gods, another catastrophe struck the reeling Ikosian Empire, dealing it the finishing blow.
With great, almost supernatural speed, the deserts of central Miasina began to spread north. Over the next 20 years, the plain of Xlotic rapidly dried out and a region that supported millions of people turned to lifeless desert. The wars and starvation that followed the desert as it moved ever north would consume a huge number of lives and trigger the largest known migration in recorded history.
The scale of the destruction was mind-boggling. Though many names were given to the phenomenon at the time, history would later remember it simply as the Cataclysm – for nothing else would come to mind when one used the term.
Much like the Silence of the Gods, the Cataclysm is a giant mystery surrounded with many questions and few answers. Was the event natural? Or maybe one last punishment from the gods for the seemingly endless civil war that Ikosian Empire was consumed with? Or perhaps the catastrophe was man made, some mad scheme by one of the imperial claimants that spun horribly out of control? It is said that Zuwa, the most powerful of imperial claimants, gathered nearly all of his mages for a grand spell just before the Cataclysm begun. The intent of the spell would forever remain a mystery, as those involved were very tight-lipped about it and the only result of its casting was that everyone involved was found dead in the aftermath. Though others dispute the event ever happened, pointing out documents that say Zuwa got himself and most of his mages killed in a battle with his rival.
This answer will probably never be known. The records dating from this period are fragmentary and often contradictory, reflecting the utter chaos of the period and the destruction of much of northern Miasina by the encroaching desert.
With the desert rapidly spreading northward, there was a steady stream of refugees constantly streaming up to the northern coast. There, they inevitably learned they weren’t very welcome. Though Ikosians had a tradition of hospitality, that evaporated quickly under the sheer weight of the incoming exodus wave. The Ikosian civil war only grew hotter, though this time people were not fighting for the right to place their imperial candidate for the throne – they were fighting for food, water and living space.
And those that couldn’t or wouldn’t fight were fleeing the region. But where to go? The destination for most turned out to be Altazia. Altazia was relatively sparsely populated and undeveloped, and while Ikosian Empire had previously deemed the place unprofitable to colonize, the people who were streaming in now weren’t interested in profitability – they needed a new place to live. They needed it badly.
And the natives were too weak to stop them.
The former colonies that the Ikosians had made and abandoned were still there, having formed their own minor kingdoms on the northern continent. They were first to be conquered, as they already possessed the needed infrastructure that the Ikosians were used to. From there, a flood of refugees spread out throughout Altazia, taking over any human community they encountered and then pushing back many of the local non-human species when that was not enough. The native human tribes – Khusky, as the Ikosians collectively called them – were fierce peoples that had resisted Ikosian encroachment many times in the past. It was not enough to last them through the flood this time, and in the end, they were all conquered by the Ikosians.
Ultimately, however, the hordes of refugees streaming into Altazia were only a small fraction of the Ikosian civilization. There was no existing teleport network connecting Altazia and Miasina in those days, so the journey was not something everyone could do – only powerful mages and those they chose to bring with them got to try their luck on the northern continent. Most people had no choice but face the wars and the famines back in Xlotic. Furthermore, the refugee wave was not a unified, organized thing – the various Ikosian groups often butted heads with each other, and many native powers survived for quite a while by hiring one group of Ikosians against another. Though drawing heavily upon Ikosian traditions, none of the states that arose from this chaos could truly be called the successor to Ikosian Empire.
Human civilization in Xlotic would survive.
The desertification eventually stopped without swallowing everything. The coast and some of the river valleys of northern Miasina remained fairly fertile and would in time turn prosperous again. However, the vast majority of the Ikosian population had perished by then, and the land would never support human population in the same number it once had. Additionally, the region was no longer united – the giant desert that now surrounded everything acted as an effective deterrent to conquest and unification.
The Ikosian people and their traditions would live on. The Ikosian Empire itself, however, had been swept away by the sands of time.