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The world is a fragmented, ruined shell of what it once was, and magic is what ensures it stays that way. In Ages past, before the Night of the Vacant Throne -- when mankind and the other races of Ayotha were given the chance to meet a sliver of what it was that they had foolishly called their Gods -- the world followed the rules set out for it at its creation. Arcanery, in a very generous sense of implying it existed at all, was only a theoretical, philosophical exercise, conducted in meeting halls and lounges by societies that simply enjoyed dressing their social circles in a different kind of trapping. It did not exist; not merely as the world sees it now, in this broken age of horrors, but at all, and when it did arrive, it did so on the wings of nightmares.
Magic is not some mystical recipe its practitioners follow on a day-to-day basis to casually manipulate the world around them; while it affects very real results in the world around it, these results are consequences of another reality being imposed upon ours and causing the one we live in to shatter, albeit in -- at least hopefully -- a controlled fashion. As far as scattered records can ascertain, the application of this knowledge came at the hands of the humans of Ayotha first, as most of their peers and the other races struggled not just to rebuild but to survive in the lloigor-wracked wasteland that was once a comparatively peaceful, fertile world. After the Night of the Vacant Throne, rumors of uncovered writings which allowed real magic, real power, to be channeled through a dedicated practitioner and out into the world. These writings were collected in an utterly forbidden grimoire that came to be known as the Black Book, a tome with many speculated origins. Some say the Book is a legitimately living, sentient other, alien and conscious entity with unknown and sinister purposes. Others say that it exists simultaneously in other times, other places, other worlds, and exists conterminously to spread its influence in the past, present, and future all.
What is incontrovertible, however, is that the following of parsed and translated rituals found in this book or copies of it has wrought unmistakable horror upon the world and those in it. While the Night of the Vacant Throne was responsible for the destruction of cities, towns, and life, the magic found in the Black Book is responsible for the corruption of what remains and what has been built to try and effect repairs upon those shattered remnants. While there is real power to be found in the practice of these rituals, the overwhelming vast majority that even know of the existence of the Black Book are far from willing to pay the cost of not just their own sanity, but that of their friends, loved ones, and fellow men. Every so-called spell cast brings Ayotha closer to a tremulous reality merged with that of wherever the grimoire truly came from, and even amongst the universally loathed practitioners, all but the maddest can recognize that that would bode very, very poorly for our world and those living in it.
Most do not know of the intricacies of magic, of course, but they know enough and have heard enough of rumors to wish to stamp it out where it exists. People have been strung up, burned, tied, and quartered, even tortured to death over days over mere mention of witchcraft, and this is the case through almost all true civilization. There exist, of course, esoteric societies, occasional outposts, even whole races of people who feel differently, but these people are outside of their own universally reviled as destroyers and corruptors of the highest order, and they are ruthlessly hunted and slain by those who catch wind of them. Only in the vast, far reaches of the untamed world is this viewpoint ever relaxed, and even then, it would still be a poor idea to reveal oneself -- fear is the most powerful motivator of violence.
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The Night of the Vacant Throne is a tale etched deep into the somber annals of Ayotha's history, a chilling memory that even time itself dares not erase. It was the night when the haughty kings of the once mighty Arkkadian Empire, in their fervor and fanaticism, sought an audience with their deities in a spectacle of self-immolation.
The Arkkadians were worshippers of flame, revering it as the embodiment of their gods. The weeks leading up to the Night of the Vacant Throne were frenzied with preparation. Supplicants and slaves, chosen as sacrificial lambs, were led to pyres where their screams echoed through the imperial cities as they were immolated alive. Their agonized pleas for mercy were drowned in the roaring blaze, the fire consuming them as an offering to the gods.
The devout priests of the Empire, their faces etched with zeal and grim determination, immersed themselves in intricate rituals. They prepared themselves for the ultimate act of faith, a self-sacrifice to echo through the ages. On this destined night, they would willingly step into the hungry flames, their bodies and spirits offered to the gods they so fervently worshipped.
As the evening descended into a hauntingly serene darkness, kings, emperors, nobles, and their retinues gathered around pyres, their faces aglow with the sinister dance of the flames. They stood resolute, their conviction unyielding, as they set themselves, their families, and their servants ablaze in the name of their gods. The smell of burning flesh and hair permeated the air, a ghastly testament to their devotion.
In the throes of their self-destruction, they raised their flaming hands towards the heavens, their voices rising in fervent prayer. They waited, their bodies writhing in the fiery torment, for the arrival of their gods. Their cries echoed through the night, a symphony of pain and devotion, their pleas tearing at the fabric of the sky.
Yet, the heavens did not open to reveal the fire gods they had so zealously served. Instead, the sky shattered like a broken mirror, the jagged shards revealing an alien realm. From this world wound, the Slender Crown emerged, its monstrous form a blasphemous mockery of their burning devotion. The gods they had served so faithfully had forsaken them, leaving their thrones vacant, and in their stead stood the Slender Crown, a being of such eldritch terror that the burning world seemed but a candle in comparison. The Night of the Vacant Throne had indeed brought the Arkkadians face to face with a god, but it was not their own, and their world was forever scarred by its presence.
With the Slender Crown's catastrophic arrival on the Night of the Vacant Throne, the dreaded era of the Black Crusades began. Like a storm, its arrival was sudden, its devastation incomprehensible, and its consequences lingering and profound. The Slender Crown, this alien deity, brought with it not just the terror of its existence, but the promise of relentless war that would engulf all of Ayotha.
The mighty Arkkadian Empire, once the bedrock of civilization, was the first to bear the brunt of the Slender Crown's wrath. The empire that had so arrogantly sought to commune with the gods was savaged and shattered under the monstrous god's onslaught. Its once resplendent cities were razed to the ground, its proud armies decimated, and its people scattered. The empire fell, its flame extinguished, leaving a void filled by the cold winds of chaos and barbarism.
In the wake of the Arkkadian Empire's destruction, Ayotha was fractured. Noble houses turned into feudal fiefdoms, each desperately clinging to what remained of their power. Small, unconquered kingdoms, mere shadows of their former glory, huddled in fear, waiting for the storm of the Black Crusades to descend upon them.
The Slender Crown's reign of terror drew the monstrous races to its side, their primal instincts enticed by the promise of bloodshed and destruction. They joined the Slender Crown's unholy crusade, sweeping through Ayotha with a ferocity that seemed to know no bounds.
The mortal races of Ayotha were pushed to the brink of extinction. Cities fell, civilizations crumbled, and countless lives were lost in the face of the seemingly unstoppable Black Crusades. The land was soaked with the blood of the fallen, the air filled with the screams of the dying, and the sky shadowed by the smoke of burning homes.
Yet, in their darkest hour, the mortal races found within themselves a desperate resolve. Against all odds, they resisted the Slender Crown's onslaught, their spirit of survival burning brighter than the fires that consumed their world. It was a bitter struggle, fraught with loss and despair, but they fought on, their will unyielding.
Their efforts, though commendable, would likely have ended in vain had the Slender Crown not vanished as suddenly and inexplicably as it had arrived. The god's disappearance brought a sudden halt to the Black Crusades, leaving behind a world scarred by war and soaked in blood.
The mortal races had survived, but their victory was a hollow one. They had not defeated the Slender Crown, they had merely outlasted it. Their world was broken, their societies fractured, and their people on the brink of despair. Yet, they endured, for they had no other choice. The Black Crusades had ended, but the shadow of the Slender Crown lingered, a haunting reminder of the terror that had once consumed their world.
After the Slender Crown's mysterious disappearance, Ayotha was left to nurse its deep, festering wounds. But instead of peace, seven omens swept across the lands, each more terrifying than the last, serving as a grim reminder of the world's broken state and the persistent threat of the Slender Crown's return.
The onset of these dire omens drove the battered and traumatized inhabitants of Ayotha into vast migrations. Kingdoms and fiefdoms turned on each other, in desperate attempts to find safer grounds, away from the ominous monoliths and the terrifying Wytch Towers that spawned nightmares into reality. The rule of law, already frail in the wake of the Black Crusades, crumbled entirely, replaced by anarchy, fear, and a brutal form of feudal society.
Magic, once a subject of academic debate and philosophical conjecture, had been revealed as a horrifying reality, an unwelcome echo of the Slender Crown's reign. Magic was feared and loathed, seen as an unnatural force ripping the fabric of reality, a force bringing Ayotha ever closer to the nightmare realm of the Slender Crown. This fear birthed ruthless witch hunters, relentless in their mission to eradicate those who dared wield magic, known as wytches. The mere whisper of witchcraft was enough to spark a brutal hunt, and the roads were littered with the bodies of those accused.
As mankind struggled to rebuild, monstrous entities, remnants of the Slender Crown's legions, lurked in the shadows. They haunted the ruins of old cities, prowled the wild frontiers, and stalked the labyrinthine tunnels of ancient ruins beneath Ayotha, preying on the weak and the lost. The world was rife with brigands and bandits, exploiting the lawlessness and despair for their own gain, making travel a perilous endeavor.
Six-hundred years have passed since the onset of the Black Crusades, yet Ayotha remains a land cloaked in darkness and shadowed by fear. The Slender Crown's vanishing brought not a restoration but a sustained struggle, a fight not against a visible enemy but against the chaotic remnants of a war long past and the dread of a war yet to come. The world and its people persevere, living in the ruins of their past glory, holding onto the thin thread of hope, even as they dwell in the shadow of the Slender Crown's potential return. The world is a cruel and unforgiving place, yet in their struggle, the mortal races of Ayotha find resilience, forging their path through the darkness, one step at a time.
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