Fireborn: Dark Phoenix
Overview of Taan's History
Historians on Taan have only recently – largely thanks to the Illumination philosophical movement – been freed of the shackles of dogma and legend, and allowed to publish freely – even if, perhaps especially if, their findings contradict cherished suppositions about the world at large. Nowhere is this more evident than the Sacred Empire, whose histories are also holy texts in their own right.
There are many widely accepted historical facts about Taan, and many other popular beliefs that are questioned by many others. A selection follows, along with some more recent, popular countercultural ideas, some based on scientific evidence.
Uruk civilisation (and indeed Uruk life) arose on Arbina; and all Uruk were united in a single political entity that became known at some point, as the Empire (nowadays called the “First Empire”). This political entity presided over a peaceful and stable interregnum and spread over all Arbina, lasting at least 3,000 years. The ancient capital, Sacerna, was situated somewhere in what are now the Wastes of Arbina, then a fertile region.
The religion of Urakan arose in this Empire, and it is known to have changed its name to the Urakan Empire; but at some late stage about a thousand years before the establishment of the Second, aka Sacred, Empire, the First Empire’s heartlands began to desertify, and it collapsed into bitter civil war that led to the abandonment of old Imperial infrastructure – which, though extensive, was also primitive. It is disupted whether the Empire had even discovered how to smelt iron, even though it is Imperial doctrine that great knowledge was held once but was lost in the collapse – and that until around a thousand years ago the Sacred Empire was still ‘catching up’.
Reasons for the collapse vary, but the most widely accepted one is that after discovering how to manipulate Magic, the Emperors became decadent and arrogant, obsessed with their own powers, and turned their backs on Urakan. The last Emperor, whose name is known to have been Kazad III, was a powerful mage; it is said that he summoned a demon and sacrificed the Imperial City to it for power, and this act brought about the creation of the Wastes of Arbina – leading many to say the place is cursed, and that the ghost of Kazad (or perhaps demons he summoned, or perhaps the lost souls of his loyal subjects, or perhaps…) haunts the deepest, driest, least accessible recesses of the Wastes. Amongst the legends of the Empire’s founding is the tale of how Bartus’ father fought with twelve loyal knights against a demon horde; and Bartus himself is said to have exorcised the ghosts of the old Imperial palace before returning from the Wastes with holy relics to support his claim to be refounding the Empire.
Modern evidence has led to dispute over much of this. It seems clear that the First Empire never conquered all of Arbina; in fact much of Trans-Arbina seems to have been unspoiled until after the Empire’s collapse and the advent of shipbuilding, and remains of very prmitive hunter-gatherer bands have been uncovered that suggest not all Uruk were under the Empire’s remit after all – and the obvious reason for the Empire’s eastwards expansion was that the Wastes of Arbina already existed. Most theorists now accept that there was ‘some’ Wasteland blocking westward expansion, and that the desert’s spread triggered the Empire’s collapse by drying out their agricultural heartlands and causing mass starvation; though plenty of religious fundamentalists dispute this mundane explanation very strongly, and even Bartus himself once publically called it an ‘exercise in trying to un-reveal divine truth’.
It seems equally clear that the Empire probably never reached the coast; there is no evidence of oceangoing ships being constructed until many centuries later, and even relatively nearby islands were not colonised until around the time of, or soon after, the Sacred Empire’s founding; a large part of Talras Guilder’s wealth seems to owe to his being one of the first (and most advanced and ingenious) shipbuilders, allowing him to claim vast tracts of uninhabited land; and for adventurers and rebels of all kinds to flee and claim their own kingdoms from the pristine forests and plains overseas. Most of the non-Arbinan nations of Uruk were founded in the first 500 years after the Sacred Empire; and it was this rapid (and ongoing) expansion that frightened the Elves centuries later; much as Elves stay only on the continent of Leataana, they view it as aberrant behaviour for Uruk to leave their ancient homes and claim more lands.
Of the Elves, it is evident from monuments and living Elves’s admissions that Leataana has existed, nearly unchanged in harmony and stability, for some 5,000 years at least; Elven doctrine is that Leataana is more than a hundred times older than that, but precise figures are hard to come by. Elves do not permit archaeological digs (their lifespans mean ancient sites may have been built by parents or brothers of living Elves who do not wish desecration), but their lifestyles mean they leave few traces anyway; their monuments are ancient and well-maintained, and give little away.
Of the Dragonborn, it is evident from long-range observation by telescope and the few permitted expeditions into ‘wild’ lands of Pelargossia, that they have never developed beyond the small tribal level and live as hunter-gatherers; despite rumours of a rich hidden kingdom in the deepest recesses of the jungles and mountains, no evidence has ever emerged to support this – and the existence of similar legends about secret treasure-houses of lost Uruk kings and traders hidden in the jungles of Goralia and southern Pelargossia (mostly known to be untrue now colonisation has left few wild areas in these regions), it’s widely regarded that this is just a twist on a fairly typical local myth.