Sunday, 19 June 2016

A History of Eärwa Part 3: The Apocalypse

The man known to history as Seswatha and to the Sranc as "Chigra", "Slaying Light", was born in Year-of-the-Tusk 2089 in Trysë, the son of a caste-menial bronzesmith. Whilst still a child, he was identified as one of the Few, those that carry the mark of sorcery. He was taken to Sauglish to study with the Gnostic School of Sohonc, at the time the largest and most powerful of the sorcerous schools. Seswatha was a prodigy, his grasp of the Gnosis subtle and strong. Circa 2104, at the age of fifteen, Seswatha would be proclaimed a sorcerer-of-rank, the youngest in the School's history.

Eärwa in Year of the Tusk 2089, the birth year of Seswatha. The Three Seas were home to great powers, the mightiest of which was Kyraneas which dominated the lesser nations of Shigek and Amoteu. The Shiradi Empire controlled the eastern Three Seas. But the true powers were in the Ancient North, dominated by great Kûniüri.

During this period Seswatha befriended Anasûrimbor Celmomas, the heir to the imperial throne of Kûniüri who was studying with the Sohonc. The same age as Seswatha and both intrigued by history, they became fast friends and allies. As Seswatha grew in power and authority through the ranks of the Sohonc, so Celmomas became famed as a warrior, general and scholar. Their great friendship was tested, however, when Celmomas's most beloved wife Suriala ("Suiyela", according to Mandate sources) gave birth to their son Nau-Cayûti. Celmomas knew that Seswatha and Suriala shared a mutual affection and became concerned that Nau-Cayûti was not of his blood. But such was his love for his friend - and his inability to conclusively prove the truth of the matter - that he did not have him rebuked, merely withdrawing his friendship for a time.

Seswatha was a master sorcerer but also a keen politician. He befriended Anaxophus, a young prince of Kyraneas, and treated with Nil'giccas, the Nonman King of Ishterebinth (the "Exalted Stronghold"), as Ishoriöl was now more frequently called. Seswatha's insights were keen, his mind sharp, his sorcery formidable and his manner one of ease, all formidable attributes that saw him rise to become Grandmaster of the Sohonc in his early thirties.

What happened next remains a matter of great debate. According to legend and The Sagas, Seswatha received a delegation of Nonmen in Sauglish. History refers to them as Siqû, indicating they were there as teachers and advisors, not just as emissaries. Although the Nonmen Tutelage was not reinstated, Seswatha had nevertheless forged closer ties with Ishterebinth than had been seen since those times. According to some accounts, Nil'giccas rewarded Seswatha's friendship with intelligence which was not so much disquieting as downright alarming.

It had been long known that the School of Mangaecca had fled Sauglish to seek refuge in Golgotterath. Its dark leader, Shaeönanra, survived thanks to Inchoroi knowledge and his own sorcerous research. By the 14th Century, he had even been given a new name: Shauriatas, "Cheater of Gods". The Mangaecca had not been seen since, but their hand, and that of their Inchoroi overlords, was suspected in the Great Sranc Wars, a series of strikes by hordes of Sranc out of Agongorea against Aörsi to the east which had sorely tested that nation and led to the construction of a major stronghold, Dagliash, on the Urokkas (in fact, atop the very ruins of ancient Viri). But in those days Sranc were not a numerous, constant threat blanketing the North. They were mostly confined to Agongorea and the Yimaleti Mountains, and although their numbers were concerning, they were not as inexhaustible as in later centuries. Or so it was supposed.

The Siqû warning was stark: the Mangaecca yet lived within the golden halls of the Ark and they had formed a forsaken alliance - an Unholy Consult - with the surviving Inchoroi princes, Aurax and Aurang. Worse still, their delvings and explorations of the Ark had uncovered ancient secrets and disturbing ways of using the Tekne, the ancient art of science and engineering that the Inchoroi had once employed to create weapons such as their staffs of light and creatures such as the Wracu and Sranc, but had seemed to lose more and more knowledge of with every passing year.

The Siqû warning convinced Seswatha that a threat was building in the pits of Golgotterath and that, left unchecked, it would eventually destroy the world. This threat was given a name by the Nonmen, one that Seswatha held close and only told those closest to him: No-God.

Seswatha took this knowledge to his old friend, who know ruled as Anasûrimbor Celmomas II, High King of Kûniüri, the greatest nation in all Eärwa, and lay the facts before him. Celmomas may have been inclined to distrust his old friend for the alleged betrayal with his wife, but he also respected his judgement. In the end, Celmomas was convinced that Golgotterath remained a threat to the world and that threat needed to be destroyed before it could unleash a horror that would bring about the end of everything.

The opening battles of the Apocalypse: 1. Sursa (2125). 2. The Great Investiture (2125-32). 3. Dagliash (2133). 4. The Burning of the White Ships, in Aesorea (2134). 5. Shiarau (2136).

In Year-of-the-Tusk 2123, Anasûrimbor Celmomas II called for the Great Ordeal, the assembling of a vast host of armed and sorcerous might to be cast at Golgotterath, to bring down and end the threat of the Consult and the Inchoroi once and for all. Aörsi, which lay in the shadow of the Golden Ark, rallied to the call almost immediately. King Anasûrimbor Nimeric contributed many tens of thousands of warriors already hardened in battle against Sranc and Bashrags and the use of his fleet for transport and resupply across the Neleöst. Nil'giccas sent Qûya mages and Ishroi warriors from Ishterebinth, and Kyraneas sent a detachment of troops, reflecting Seswatha's friendship with Prince Anaxophus (the prince himself was still only fourteen, and it is unclear if he took part in the Ordeal at such an early age or had returned to Kyraneas).

In 2124 the Great Ordeal crossed onto the plains of Agongorea but was engaged by a host of Sranc and Bashrags. The resulting battle was indecisive and the Ordeal withdrew across the Sursa to winter in Dagliash. Celmomas renewed the offensive in the early spring, fording the Sursa before the Consult could prepare a defence. They were forced to retreat to Golgotterath and allow the Ordeal to encircle it. The Great Investiture lasted for six years but failed to starve the Consult into surrender.

This period was marked by squabbling and petty jealousies erupting between the commanders of the Ordeal, along with military disagreements on how to proceed. The Investiture was complete, but the Consult seemed able to resupply. The Ark was too well-defended for any conventional assault to succeed, and the Consult mages were capable of resisting even the combined might of the Qûya and Sohonc. Several raids on the Ark ended in disaster. In 2131 a more serious dispute erupted between Celmomas and Nimeric, resulting in Celmomas withdrawing the Kûniüri contingent of the Ordeal, to the disbelief of Seswatha.

A Gnostic sorcerer battles a Wracu of Golgotterath.

A year later the Consult went on the offensive. Employing passages reaching under the Black Furnace Plain and into the Ring Mountains, the Consult launched devastating assaults into the Ordeal's rear and flanks. Much-reduced by the absence of the Kûniüri forces, the Ordeal's army almost collapsed. Qûya and Sohonc sorcery allowed at least a small part of the army to escape, but Nil'giccas was so enraged to learn of the deaths of at least two of his sons that he recalled the Cûnuroi contingent of the Ordeal altogether, leaving Aörsi to fight on alone.

In 2133 Dagliash was taken by the Consult, allowing their armies to cross the Sursa in force. Western Aörsi was overrun and Nimeric withdrew his forces to his capital, Shiarau. Celmomas realised his folly and rallied Kûniüri to rejoin the war in 2134, but it was too late. The Aörsi fleet fled across the Neleöst to seek shelter in the Kûniüri port of Aesorea, where it was promptly destroyed by enemy agents in the event known as the Burning of the White Ships.

In 2135 Nimeric took a mortal wound during the Battle of Hamuir, dying soon afterwards. In the spring of 2136 Shiarau fell, and with it Aörsi itself. Kûniüri stood alone.

The latter course of the Apoclaypse: 6. Ossirish (2137). 7. Shiarau (2137). 8. Dagliash (2139). 9. The Second Investiture, ending in the Coming of the No-God (2142-43). 10. The Fields of Eleneöt (2146). 11. Trysë (2147). 12. Sauglish (2147). 13. Eämnor (2148). 14. The Fords of Tywanrae (2149). 15. Kelmeöl (2150). 16. Inweära (2151). 17. Kathol Pass (2151). 18. The Betrayal of Cil-Aujas (2152). 19. Shir (2153). 20. Sumna (2154). 21. Mehtsonc (2154). 22. The Battle of Mengedda and the Fall of the No-God (2155).

The situation seemed bleak, but in 2137 Anasûrimbor Nau-Cayûti, Prince of Kûniüri, won a stunning victory over the Consult at the Battle of Ossirish. The armies of Kûniüri had been hard-pressed by a Consult offensive, but Nau-Cayûti rallied his men by facing and slaughtering the Wracu Tanhafut the Red in direct combat, a feat undreamt of since the Cûno-Inchoroi Wars. Nau-Cayûti then led the victorious army to rout the Consult at the ruins of Shiarau, driving the remnants back across the Sursa by the end of 2138. In 2139 he recaptured Dagliash before launching several major raids across Agongorea, designed not to reinvest Golgotterath but simply slaughter Sranc and Bashrags.

In 2140 the Consult abruptly switched tacks and kidnapped Aulisi, the beloved concubine of Nau-Cayûti, bearing her to Golgotterath. Infuriated, Nau-Cayûti may have decided on a rash assault (possibly the rationale for the act) but was talked down by Seswatha. Seswatha proposed something else instead: a raid on the Incû-Holoinas, such as that undertaken by some of the Nonman heroes of old. Many historians consider the story of the raid that followed as being apocryphal due to sheer unbelievability, but Seswatha's descendants in the School of Mandate have confirmed (thanks to their sorcerous ability to relive Seswatha's life) that it is true.

Nau-Cayûti and Seswatha entered the Golden Ark, descending through chambers and passageways that had been desolate and empty for well over two thousand years, since the Cûnuroi had sacked the vessel from top to bottom. But, deep in the vessel's cavernous hold, they did find a city of horrors, guarded by Sranc and Bashrags. They failed to find any trace of Aulisi but they did find something that abruptly changed the fortunes of the war: Suörgil, the Shining Death, the Heron Spear itself.

"I lied. Because I couldn't succeed, not alone. Because what we do here is more important than truth or love. We search. We search for the Heron Spear." - Seswatha (The Thousandfold Thought)

They bore the weapon back to Sauglish in great triumph, but this turned sour when Nau-Cayûti died soon after, allegedly poisoned by his wife Iëva (some say out of jealousy over Nau-Cayûti's infatuation with Aulisi, and the fear the other woman would supplant her). Iëva insisted on Nau-Cayûti being buried rather than burned, as this had been his wish during life.

The Consult resumed the offensive in 2141, perhaps hoping for a loss of Kûniüri morale following Nau-Cayûti's death. This hope proved false. General En-Kaujalau soon destroyed a Sranc horde at the Battle of Skothera. In 2142 General Sag-Marmau inflicted a very serious and debilitating defeat on the Consult (according to some legends, Aurang himself took the field but was forced to withdraw) and again drove them back to the Ark. Anasûrimbor Celmomas II began the Second Investiture in the fall of that year.

The No-God's Carapace under construction in the depths of Golgotterath, before he became animate.

Then something happened, an event second only to the original Fall of the Ark in importance and dread.

To this day no-one knows exactly what transpired, save that in the pits of Golgotterath the Consult finally achieved what they had been attempting to do for some considerable time, sparking the very warnings that had led to the Ordeal in the first place. They completed the construction of the Carapace, a sarcophagus of Tekne origin, fused with eleven Chorae to render it immune to sorcery. Inside the Carapace they created - or unleashed - an entity of supreme and terrible power. This entity went by many names: Tsurumah ("Hated One" in Kyranean), Lokung ("Dead-God", by the Scylvendi), Mursiris ("Wicked North", by the Shiradi) and Cara-Sincurimoi ("Angel of Endless Hunger", by the Nonmen), as well as the Great Ruiner and World-Breaker. But his most famous title was the one first bestowed upon him: Mog-Pharau in Ancient Kûniüric, "No-God".

The No-God first drew breath in the spring of the Year-of-the-Tusk 2143. The instant he did so, every unborn child in the world was stillborn, and no woman fell pregnant afterwards (leading to the period known as the Years of the Crib). A feeling of dread fell across all humanity, drawing their eyes to the northern horizon. Sranc, Bashrag and Wracu, including some who had escaped taking part in the wars so far, were compelled to answer his call and descend on the Black Furnace Plain and Golgotterath.

The host of Sag-Marmau was destroyed utterly. But the Horde of the No-God did not march immediately, instead waiting as vast hosts of Sranc gathered and bred. This gave Kûniüri a very brief space in which to cry for aid. Eärwa answered, the armies of Ishterebinth marching under Nil'giccas and Kyraneas sending a significant army to lend support. Other nations began to muster but the distances were too great and time ran out.

Anasûrimbor Celmomas II led the so-called Second Ordeal into battle against the Horde of the No-God on the Fields of Eleneöt in 2146, the fields that in a previous age had been called Pir Pahal, where Cû'jara-Cinmoi had slain Sil and won the first great victory over the Inchoroi.

No such victory came this time. The Horde engulfed the Kûniüri army. Celmomas knew the only hope was to use the Heron Spear against the No-God. However, although the vast Whirlwind that symbolised the No-God's presence gathered on the far horizon, the entity itself refused to give battle, letting its vast army of minions do the work for it. Celmomas is said to have thrown himself into battle with a rare fury and slain dozens of enemies, only to be mortally wounded. Seswatha led a rallying force to retrieve the High King, who lived long enough to impart a prophecy: that an Anasûrimbor would return at the end of the world. Then he died.

Elsewhere on the battlefield, his heir Anasûrimbor Ganrelka outlived him, becoming the High King of Kûniüri. According to popular legend, Ganrelka also died on the Eleneöt Fields, but in reality he survived thanks to four brave Knights of Trysë. Ganrelka escaped home, gathered his household, and marched west into the Demua Mountains. In the remotest peaks, protected by both geography and utter secrecy, the Kûniüri High Kings had built a stronghold and a shelter, Ishuäl. Ganrelka took up residence there, but disease followed and wiped out most of the for Ganrelka's bastard son, the last living blood of House Anasûrimbor. He and his line fell out of history for two thousand years.
The No-God, protected by the ever-present Whirlwind.

By the end of 2147 all of Kûniüri was overrun. The great river-cities of the Aumris Valley were obliterated. Trysë fell the hardest, the great Ur-Throne of the Kûniüri High Kings lost. Seswatha was captured by the Consult during this battle and borne to Dagliash, where he was pinned to the Wall of the Dead and tortured by Mekeritrig for knowledge of the location of the Heron Spear. But the Spear had vanished at Eleneöt and Seswatha did not know its resting place. He did take heart, however from the knowledge that the Consult had not found it. Seswatha soon escaped, but was not able to save the rest of the Aumris Valley cities, which fell one after the other. The destruction of Sauglish was particularly horrific, the Wracu Skafra leading a flight of dragons to drive the Sohonc sorcerers from the sky before the hordes of Sranc and Bashrags swept into the city and put the Great Library to the torch.

The Nonmen of Ishterebinth retreated over the Demua Mountains to their Mansion, but the No-God chose not to pursue. Instead, he turned south and destroyed Eämnor (although sparing its capital, Atrithau, due to the complications of attacking a city raised on anarcane ground and immune to sorcery) in 2148. Akksersia was destroyed in 2149 following the epic Battle of Tywanrae Fords, where Consult sorcrers burned hundreds of soldiers as they tried to cross the river. The Meöri Empire collapsed in 2150, despite a hardy defence, sending hordes of refugees both south (into what is now Thunyerus) and south-west (into what is now Galeoth). Inweära was cast down in 2151, although the Horde chose to spare Sakarpus to instead rush the Kathol Pass - the gateway to the entire Three Seas - before it could be fortified.

The Battle of Kathol Pass, fought in the autumn of 2151, was an unexpected victory for the forces of men. A retreating army of Meöri warriors led by the great hero Nostol ran into an advancing force of Nonmen out of Cil-Aujas, led by King Gin'yursis, a powerful wielder of the Gnosis. They made common cause and successfully repulsed several waves of attacks from the Horde on the pass, buying the Three Seas and the world another year of respite. Shockingly, the Meöri turned on and betrayed the Nonmen, slaughtering their army and then sacking Cil-Aujas. The reasons for this are unclear, but may be related to the rising levels of religious fervour amongst the Norsirai refugees (perhaps hoping that the Hundred Gods would intercede and destroy the No-God for them), including the commandment to destroy the False Men. It is also possible that the Meöri believed they could use Cil-Aujas as a refuge should the No-God advance further south. Gin'yursis's death saw him curse the Meöri for their betrayal, a curse sometimes used to explain the famous fractiousness of the men of Galeoth (founded by the Meöri descendants), although Gin'yursis's curse had in fact been reserved for all of mankind.

During this period the populous and packed cities of the south cried out for succor and divine intervention. They prayed to the Hundred Gods, but received no answer. The people begged their priests to explain why the Hundred had not interceded and the priests could not answer. Many years later, confused records of this time suggest that the priests had in fact petitioned for help and gotten only bizarre responses: the Gods could not see the No-God, only the destruction that followed in his wake, which they blamed solely on humanity itself. The Hundred could not intervene because they could not even perceive the problem in the first place (and it may be that that this nullification of divine perception is one of the reasons the No-God was named as such).

In 2153 the Horde of the No-God destroyed the Shiradi Empire and turned west to invade Kyraneas. Anaxophus, Seswatha's old friend now ruling as King Anaxophus V, led his nation with skill and cunning. The Scylvendi, the long-established pastoralists living beyond the mountains to the north-west, had unexpectedly declared for the No-God and invaded Kyraneas's flank, threatening to trap the kingdom in a vice at the Battle of Mehsarunath. Anaxophus evaded the trap and escaped to the south. He chose not to defend either the royal capital at Mehtsonc or the holy city of Sumna (from where the Tusk was evacuated by sea to Nilnamesh) instead choosing to fight a war of irritation and attrition, testing the flanks of the No-God's horde and withdrawing when the enemy attempted to respond.

Anaxophus V, the High King of Kyraneas, unleashes the power of the Heron Spear against the No-God at the Battle of Mengedda in 2155.

Kyraneas was effectively overrun and destroyed by the end of 2154. But Anaxophus V and his army, and Seswatha, survived. They withdrew through the mountains to the ruined, ancient city of Mengedda. The city had once been a trading post between Shigek and the cities of the Kyraneas Plains when the age of man was young, but innumerable battles had been fought there over the past two thousand years. The blasted landscape and ruins provided Anaxophus and his army with cover and defences. More importantly, the long, attritional warfare favoured by Anaxophus had helped reduce the size of the Horde to one where victory by sheer weight of numbers was no longer certain.

Anaxophus's gamble worked: to ensure victory and the destruction of the last enemy who may be any threat, the No-God took the field directly, the terrible Whirlwind moving towards the Kyranean lines and asking, as it had done all along, "WHAT DO YOU SEE?" This allowed Anaxophus to do what he had been planning ever since his knights had secretly seized the Heron Spear from the Fields of Eleneöt eleven years previously: he used the weapon directly against the No-God.

As the Apocalypse began in doubt and uncertainty, so it ended with a clear victory. The Whirlwind burst asunder, the No-God was destroyed and his armies were routed. According to some reports, the Carapace itself was destroyed and reduced to ashes, ashes which were carried by the winds to all the corners of the Three Seas where they caused the Indigo Plague. However, Mandate scholars insist that the No-God's body (if it could be called that) was saved by Consult sorcerers and borne back to Golgotterath.

The end of the war was draped in controversy, for the knowledge that Anaxophus had stolen the Heron Spear and kept it secret for a decade as the Ancient North and the Shiradi Empire (Kyraneas's great rival to the east) was overrun and destroyed did not endear him as the saviour of mankind, has perhaps should have been the case. However, Anaxophus claimed that the disaster of the Eleneöt Fields had happened because the Heron Spear had been deployed prematurely before the No-God had engaged, and that he had no choice but to wait - no matter the cost - for the No-God to show himself before he could risk using the weapon. This tactical claim has been supported - although not altogether wholeheartedly - by the Mandate.

The end of the war resulted in the infamous Indigo Plague, which caused great misery and suffering around the Three Seas, but also in a regrouping of civilisation. Seswatha gathered together the few surviving Gnostic sorcerers and founded the School of Mandate, based at the fortress of Atyersus on an island in the middle of the Three Seas. Seswatha knew that the No-God had been destroyed and the Consult defeated, but the Inchoroi Princes yet lived, the Consult sorcerers yet survived and the hordes of Sranc and Bashrags (and even a few surviving Wracu) only dispersed. But most damning of all was the prophecy given to Seswatha by his friend and ally Celmomas at the moment of his death:
"Did I ever tell you that my son once stole into the deepest pits of Golgotterath? How I miss him, Seswatha! How I year to stand at his side once again. I see him so clearly. He's taken the sun as his charger, and he rides among us. I see him! Galloping through the hearts of my people, stirring them to wonder and fury! He says such sweet things to give me comfort. He says that one of my seed will return, Seswatha. An Anasûrimbor will return at the end of the world!" - The last words and prophecy of Anasûrimbor Celmomas II (The Darkness That Comes Before)
The First Apocalypse was over. Now the Mandate had to prepare humanity for the Second.


All of the artwork for this article was created by Jason Deem, known as Spiral Horizon, and used with his permission. You can find more of his spectacular work here. The maps are from Scott's website, adjusted by myself.

The Prince of Nothing Wiki was helpful in providing spelling checks and putting the timeline of events in better order.

Unlike the first part, I didn't request any new information for this third installment, so any errors or confusion are on my part.

Scott Bakker wrote the Second Apocalypse novels, for which this history is merely the backdrop and the scene-setting that comes before. Those novels are:

The Prince of Nothing
The Darkness That Comes Before (2003)
The Warrior-Prophet (2004)
The Thousandfold Thought (2005)

The Aspect-Emperor
The Judging Eye (2008)
The White-Luck Warrior (2011)
The Great Ordeal (2016)
The Unholy Consult (2017)


Madness said...

Awesome, Wert.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid the names and titles dont sound very appealing... Maybe aestheticism is underestimated in fantasy.

Adam Whitehead said...

I quite like the names, which are deliberately drawn from Greek, Persian and other non-western-European inspirations.

Anonymous said...

Really? Bakker's names are some of the better ones in fantasy. Probably the best aside from Tolkien IMO. Most authors' names are quite lame and uninspiring: Pug, Ged, Rand, Kvothe, Vin, Fiddler... compared to this Anasurimbor sounds absolutely masterful.

Sturmia said...

I agree on the names. They are great! Refreshingly so. The artwork however... not so great (to state it politely) but luckily there's none of that in the books except voor the maps, which are great.

Great posts on the history of Eärwa. Good read and great background recap before The Great Ordeal.



Unknown said...

The names of characters and places are totally great. And he even got rid of 'common tongue' clarifying what languages they are speaking

Anonymous said...

Can't wait!

Jorro said...

Incredible work, Wert! Very refreshing to read all of this before the Great Ordeal :)
Has Bakker ever mentioned anything about whether/how the Apocalypse affected Zeum & The Sathyothi? We know the Scylvendi, for whatever reason (might still be revealed in the series) joined with the No-God, but nothing has ever been said about how it affected the lands of Zeum.