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Book 1: Embers of Insurrection

"He soared to power on the smoke of burning witches". So the surviving Gemlings whispered of Voll of Thebrus, as he donned the Imperial crown on the 2nd Sacrato of Phreci, 1334 IC. But in truth, he was never the sort of man to set a girl alight for merely reading a palm or remedying a bout of the clap.

Righteous and devoted to both faith and country, High Templar Voll struck little hardship in gathering others to his godly cause: Sarn's own Lord Mayor Ondar and Victario, the People's Poet; Archbishop Geofri of Phrecia; Governor Kastov of Stridevolf; and Commander Adus of Highgate. Together, these Warriors of Purity forged an uprising against the Gemling thaumatocracy that Voll hoped would "snatch this empire from the claws of devilry and return it to humanity".

- Garivaldi, Chronicler to the Empire
Book 2: Bloody Flowers

High Templar Voll had Victario entreat Thane Rigwald of Ezomyr, knowing that a poet would fare far better than any politician in rousing the romantic Ezomytes to rebellion. Stirred by Victario's impassioned words, Rigwald mustered his blood-bound clans, and on the 3rd Fiero of Dirivi 1333 IC, took to the fields of Glarryn in open rebellion against Governor Gaius Sentari.

Such was the colourful splendour of a thousand tartans and banners that the Ezomyte uprising became known as "The Bloody Flowers' Rebellion". Though Sentari's Gemling legionnaires slew three Ezomytes for every one of their own fallen, the Bloody Flowers won the day through sheer fury-driven courage.

Governor Sentari fled to Sarn, only to return in Astrali with reinforcements drawn from the capital, Vastiri and southern garrisons. Little did Sentari know that, by so weakening those forces, he was playing right into Voll's hands.

- Garivaldi, Chronicler to the Empire
Book 3: Fall of a Jade Axe

In a man-to-man fight on open ground, a Gemling Legion would have slaughtered Kaom's Karui warriors like so many pigs in a pen. But Kaom had no intention of engaging Lioneye in a fair fight. By absorbing some heavy losses and feigning a chaotic retreat, Kaom drew Marceus into ordering his Gemlings to abandon their tower shields so that they might pursue and rout the fleeing Karui.

It was not out of recklessness that Lioneye plucked such a decision, but from the experience-born confidence that the Karui did not have archers. Traditionally, Karui warriors are forbidden from using projectile weapons of any kind. What Lioneye understandably overlooked was that this tavukai (sacred prohibition) did not extend to women. At her uncle's behest, Hyrri had traveled to Thebrus and studied archery with Voll's finest military tutors. When the legionnaires shed protection in favour of mobility, Hyrri and her bow-women broke cover and rained death upon the Gemlings from the cliffs above.

A valiant Marceus Lioneye gathered his surviving legionnaires for a final stand within the walls of Lioneye's Watch. Kaom honoured his bravery by wearing Marceus' bejeweled head upon his belt from that day on.

Having secured a safe harbour for landing reinforcements, Kaom continued his conquest of the coast, slaughtering the Eternal citizens and clearing the way for the first ever settlement of Karui upon the Wraeclastian mainland.

- Garivaldi, Chronicler to the Empire
Book 4: The Red Sekhema's Saddle

In return for her military support in the rebellion, Voll promised Sekhema Deshret the return of the Maraketh grazing lands stolen during the imperial conquest of the Vastiri Plains. The Red Sekhema agreed on one condition, that she might have Hector Titucius' skin with which to fashion a rhoa saddle.

To this end, Voll and Deshret engineered a trap for General Titucius and his Vastiri Legion. The Maraketh had long been able to predict the comings and goings of the vast and vicious dust storms that constantly plague the plains. Deshret located one such fledgling maelstrom within a day's march of Titucius' camp. For his part, Voll identified a number of imperial spies amongst the Maraketh and fed them false information regarding a potential tribal uprising. Taking the bait, Titucius had his Gemling legion surround the supplied location, thus placing himself squarely in the path of Deshret's dust storm.

On the third Galvano of Vitali 1333 IC, the tempest descended upon Titucius' legion with blinding, deafening ferocity. Deshret's akhara, born and raised in dust and wind, swept through the legion, harvesting it like a field of ripe corn. Once storm and Maraketh fury had abated, the Vastiri Legion existed only as a multitude of dust-cloaked mounds. The Red Sekhema claimed her prize and it is said that there is no more comfortable saddle in all of Vastiri than Deshret's.

- Garivaldi, Chronicler to the Empire
Book 5: The Emperor is dead. Long live the Emperor!

On the last day of Divini 1333 IC, High Templar Voll laid siege to Sarn, his ranks swelled by Ezomyte, Karui and Maraketh rebels under the respective leaderships of Thane Rigwald, Hyrri of Ngamakanui and Sekhema Deshret. Emperor Chitus rallied his freshly minted Gemling Legionnaires and, for a time, looked set to execute an effective defence of the capital. But his efforts were cut short by his closest advisor and friend, Lord Mayor Ondar.

During the celebration of the Night of a Thousand Ribbons, Ondar struck Chitus down with blades tainted with the most virulent of poisons. Yet the emperor's inhuman constitution served him to the very last. Taking up his axe, Chitus cleaved Ondar in twain before expiring himself, in a visceral and calamitous display of thaumaturgy.

Malachai, Thaumaturge Laureate, and his gemling consort, Lady Dialla, were captured by Victario Nevalius' citizen revolutionaries shortly thereafter. With their leadership either dead or detained, the gemling aristocracy of Sarn had no choice but to offer the city's surrender.

Voll and his Army of Purity marched through the gates of the capital and the following day, the High Templar was crowned Emperor Voll the First.

- Garivaldi, Chronicler to the Empire
Book 6: The Rapture Device

Voll condemned Malachai to the Crematorium for 'living conflagration', but it seems that Malachai's promises have saved him from the pyre. "An end to thaumaturgy," he claims. A fancy that our Emperor is willing to humour.

For over a year now, Malachai has been consigned to the Solaris Temple, forging a mechanism that will purge Wraeclast of its otherworldly vices. Today, the first Fiero of Eterni 1336 IC, Malachai and his Gemling Queen gripped each one corner of a silken mantle and unveiled his Rapture Device. Like a pit of copper snakes it writhes before the eyes. Whether it is a miracle or a monstrosity, none but Malachai can say. Yet tomorrow Voll shall lead the Highgate Legion home, conveying Malachai, Lady Dialla, and this bewildering apparatus north.

North, from whence the first Gems came. From whence the nightmare of Chitus' thaumatocracy was born.

It is in Highgate that our Emperor Voll will finish what he started. He will burn Chitus' empire from history and raise up a fresh and pure theocracy from the ashes of arrogance and corruption.

God be with you, Voll of Thebrus, and with us all.

- Garivaldi, Chronicler to the Empire
Book 1: Last of the Vaal Queens

It has been written of Queen Atziri that her throne room was lined with mirrors and that she held court naked, demanding the same of those wishing her audience. The theory was that a naked man had nothing to hide, but one might easily venture that Atziri utilised her striking physical presence to influence courtly engagements in her favour.

A woman like Atziri, beautiful and naked, would be very difficult to refuse. The few statuettes and reliefs that remain depict her as a rare beauty, a young woman with exquisitely delicate features, large, mesmerizing eyes, and a full figure of intoxicating sensuality. Whether the depictions are realist or interpretive is unfortunately impossible to corroborate.

But who was the woman behind the title? The few surviving accounts on this matter contain two schools of thought on the matter. Some speak of Atziri with adoration, touting her as a visionary, the woman who would lead the Vaal into a brighter future. Others are less kind, suggesting that Atziri's love for herself overshadowed any love for her people. If her court of mirrors truly existed, however, then the latter seems more likely. Vanity, after all, is the most insidious of all Sins.

Only one thing can be said for certain of Atziri: she was the last Queen of the Vaal. The trail of history ends during her reign, some four hundred years preceding the Imperialus Conceptus.

-Trinian - Intellectus Prime
Book 2: Zerphi the Murderer

It is said the Vaalish noble, Zerphi, lived for 168 years. That is more than three times the current imperial average. Were this the only unusual attribute of an otherwise uneventful life, Zerphi might have have been cast into the back corner of history to gather dust with the other inexplicable anomalies. But his life was anything but uneventful.

Zerphi was the Vaal civilisation's most infamous serial killer. Over a period of 128 years, Zerphi abducted, tortured and murdered thirteen victims. All in their twentieth year of life. All of noble descent. All Gemlings. But this feat alone did not catapult Zerphi into the annals of history. Rather, it was the quality of his heinous acts that set him apart, not the quantity.

Evidently, Zerphi was a master at inflicting the most prolonged and agonising demise. His victims' bodies were found in a state of horrific mutilation, yet post-mortem analysis revealed that all of the physical trauma infilcted had occurred while the victim was still alive. Some sources claim that the techniques of torture were so refined that he was able to inflict the most intense and lasting pain the human body is capable of sustaining.

Then we come to the curious matter of Zerphi's death which, as so often occurs with historical investigation, brings us back to where we started. Zerphi was finally found at the side of his thirteenth and final victim, who was unmolested and unmutilated. Simply dead. When the centenarian's body was committed to autopsy, the recorded results are mystifying in the extreme. It is claimed that Zerphi did not possess the body of a 168-year-old, rather that his corpse had the physiognomy of a man of twenty years, no more.

Life and Death have walked hand in hand since the beginning of Time. Could Zephri have persuaded them to kiss?

-Trinian - Intellectus Prime
Book 3: The Queen's Thaumaturgist

In a culture festooned with gems and steeped in thaumaturgy, Doryani must have had quite the exceptional mind to rise to such preeminence as he did. Or perhaps he was simply more ruthless than his counterparts. Such is the impression one tends to garner from the accounts written of events following Zerphi's death.

Atziri's orders are quoted in a number of different texts. Doryani was "to make any effort within the realms of possibility, and to act without fear of question or consequence". And to what was Doryani expected to apply this supreme effort? The investigation of Zephri's longevity and youthful vitality.

There is a particularly chilling manifest, containing endless lists of names, page upon page. The names of young men and women, ranging in age from sixteen to twenty-six, sent to Doryani for "processing". Only those of "full and recent maturity" were deemed capable of accommodating the "necessary procedures" required without succumbing to "premature expiration".

Yes, Queen Atziri was prepared to slaughter her own people in the desperate pursuit of perpetual youth and beauty. Vanity, indeed, is the most insidious of all Sins.

-Trinian - Intellectus Prime
Book 4: Raising the Azmeri

Drain a cup of Azmerian tea and then try to read your future in the leaves. You'll find that your Vaalish will come in mighty handy. Our literature was conceived and born within the Azmeri's cultural marriage with the Vaal.

Prior to Vaal contact some 2500 years ago, the Azmerian culture had a purely oral tradition of story and record keeping. Afterwards, their literary culture blossomed, along with just about every other aspect of their fledgling civilisation. From the moment the first Vaalish embassadors set foot upon the rugged slopes of the Azmerian Ranges, the Vaal civilisation held the hand of the Azmeri as they grew from a primitive tribal existence into a cohesive culture of settlement and agriculture.

Yet while the Vaal were generous with their knowledge and guidance in many areas, there is one subject upon which they were notably silent: the Tears of Maji, now known as Virtue Gems. Despite an exhaustive search, neither account nor passing reference can be found regarding gem usage amongst the early Azmeri. Though they described the Vaal as having flesh adorned with glittering crystals, our Azmerian ancestors were never privy to the gems' potentials or powers.

At least, not until the first Vaal refugees came knocking five hundred years later.

-Trinian - Intellectus Prime
Book 5: The Fall

The Vaal. Thousands of years in the making. Gone in a blink of Solaris' burning eyes. The Azmeri tell of the Vaalish immigration with equal measures of pity and horror. Small bands of tattered, shambling survivors, bereft of their families, their wealth, and in many cases, their sanity. They were welcomed, and cared for, but none could give the Azmeri the one thing they sought in return. None could tell them how the Vaal realm came to such a sudden and catastrophic end. An apocalypse that came to be known as The Fall.

The number 3126 is forever burned into Azmerian history. Three thousand one hundred and twenty-six: the number of Vaal refugees who came to live with and eventually become absorbed into the Azmerian people.

Three thousand one hundred and twenty-six survivors from a civilisation counting in its millions.

-Trinian - Intellectus Prime
Book 6: Imperialus Conceptus

Tarcus Veruso descended from the mountains and led his eighty thousand tribesmen and women through the doomlands to Azala Vaal. There he planted his banner upon Atziri's grave and with these words founded our great and eternal empire.

"The Vaal closed their eyes to flesh and stone, to blood and bronze. We are not Vaal. We are Azmeri. For now and forever, our eyes are open."

Veruso built his capital upon the bones of Azala Vaal and baptized it Sarn. From there, Veruso formed the first Legions and proceeded to conquer the lands beneath the Mantle, clearing it of the mindless constructs and fierce abominations left in the wake of The Fall.

True to his word, Veruso ensured that his people lived "with eyes open". The ancient Vaalish centres of learning and power were sealed and quarantined. Thaumaturgy was outlawed and those who stained themselves with Vaalish folly were burned for their sin. The Tears of the Maji, too dangerous to be destroyed, were gathered up, taken to Highgate, and buried within the bowels of the mountains. The caverns there were sealed and forgotten.

A supreme effort to erase the past. A primitive reaction born of primitive times, in the opinion of this humble historian.

-Trinian - Intellectus Prime
Book 7: The Light of Phrecia

Five years after Veruso's death, Emperor Caspiro, too, was dead. Although accounts of the exact details differ, one clear fact is agreed upon. Caspiro was dismembered by something referred to simply as a dark being.

It was General Alano Phrecia who avenged the Emperor's death and who triumphed in driving away the pervasive darkness enveloping what would become the imperial heartlands. Though it seems fanciful to contemplate a portion of our Empire cast in perpetual night, Azmerian writers of the time are unified in their depiction. Perhaps it was caused by peculiar weather patterns or some thaumaturgical residue of The Fall. On this matter, this humble historian is left in the uncomfortable state of pure conjecture.

On the first Sacrato of Lurici, 35 I.C., Alano himself wrote that "our legions drove the dark being deep into the recesses of its lair and sealed it away for eternity". Having returned the gaze of Solaris to those lands stretching from the foot of the Mantle to the Axiom Ranges, Alano Phrecia returned to Sarn. In the absence of a clear hereditary succession, Alano was crowned emperor and the Imperial heartlands were named in his honour.

With the former realm of the Vaal thus tamed and settled by our Azmerian ancestors, the Eternal Empire saw a long period of peace and prosperity under an unbroken line of Phrecia emperors.

"To care for this Empire with eyes open." - A traditional vow made by the High Templar upon the coronation of an Eternal Emperor.

-Trinian, Intellectus Prime
Volume 1: Kalisa Maas

I never really understood Brektov's work. Just a mess of trills and squeaky highs to my commoner ears. But that was before Kalisa Maas. From the very first note, her voice reached into my chest and plucked my beating heart from its cage. By the wide, glistening eyes of my fellow punters, I knew that they felt it too.

I've previously stolen a quick nap during the aria that precedes Antonio's disembowelling. Not tonight. The gem at Kalisa's throat sparkled with starlight brilliance as her C sharp shattered every pane of glass in the auditorium. An emergency intermission was called while the stage crew repaired the floods and cans, and a pair of physicians saw to those audience members lacerated by falling splinters.

Now, my suspicion of the Virtue Gems is well-documented. Though general and courtier might fall over each other to have Malachai embed them with these miraculous crystals, it is a travesty of justice that the legionnaires and workers of this Empire should have such mutilations foisted upon them.

Yet, in Kalisa Maas I've seen how these gems may rend apart our mortal bonds and permit our imaginations and souls to truly shine.

I'm adrift in the quandary, no oar in sight. Is Kalisa the Artist or the Art? Is she the same woman I knew before, the young bundle of talent and timidity I had no choice but to adore?

Is she still, in fact, a woman at all?

- Victario of Sarn
Volume 2: The Blackest Monkey

The Monkey King was enjoying an afternoon amble along the riverbank when, upon looking over his hairy shoulder, he noticed the Blackest Monkey he'd ever seen ambling along behind him.

"Why do you follow me?" the Monkey King demanded of the Blackest Monkey, for he did not appreciate uninvited followings, especially on his riverbank amblings.

"So that I might go where you go, be where you be, my King," answered the Blackest Monkey.

"And what if I do not want you to go where I go, be where I be?" clamored the irritated Monkey King with a spit and a gibber.

"Wanting and having are not the same, my King," answered the Blackest Monkey in a voice as smooth as banana juice.

"I am the Monkey King! I do as I wish!" cried the now furious Monkey King with much shrieking and frothing.

"Wishing and doing are not the same, my King," answered the Blackest Monkey in a voice as silken as butterfly wings.

Too wild to even spit or gibber, to shriek or froth, the Monkey King took to his heels and ran. Along the riverbank he raced, faster than the water, faster than the wind, faster than thought, for he was the Monkey King, and all know that the Monkey King has the fleetest feet in all the land.

He ran to the end of the river, and then to the end of the mountains, and then to the end of the clouds, and then to the End of the World.

And who should be there, waiting at his King's feet at the End of the World, but the Blackest Monkey the King had ever seen.

"Why do you follow me?" the Monkey King begged of him.

"Have you ever been to the End of the World before, my King?" asked the Blackest Monkey.

"No, I have not." realised the Monkey King.

"There is my reason to go where you go, be where you be, my King," concluded the Blackest Monkey in a voice as warm and welcoming as death.

- Victario of Sarn
Volume 3: Slaves of Virtue

Another shipment of human picks and shovels, bound for Highgate. Ezomytes mostly, care of Gaius Sentari's "civilisation camps". A few dark skins here and there, Karui and Maraketh. Malachai has had his wicked way with them all.

Limbs are stretched, contorted, double and triple jointed. All the better to pluck gems from the cracks and fissures of their home and tomb to be. They squint and cower in the sun, their eyeballs injected with gloom so that they might see in the subterranean night as they would in their warm, homeland day.

The shackled slaves shuffle north as the gems they mine tumble south, a glittering landslide of power and privilege for the fairest of our Eternal citizens. Civilisation is bought and paid for with the flesh and blood of the primitive. It is a debt that will one day need to be repaid.

- Victario of Sarn
Volume 4: A Friend in Need

It's one of those summer days in Sarn, when the sweat dries on your skin the moment it dares slither from your pores. Lorenzi and I are sipping coffees, iced with cubes from the North. There's a tremor in his voice as he announces that he is going to see Malachai tonight, to have a gem implanted in his hand. The palm of his left hand to be exact. Once I have run out of expletives and paused for breath while the waiter wipes spilled coffee from our table, I manage to ask him why. "So that I might have the fastest fingers in the Empire," is his reply. Lorenzi, first violinist of the Sarn Symphonic, and my dear friend, is going to become a Gemling.

Ten days pass and Lorenzi's hand is healed. He plays for me, a piece that he has written during his convalescence, something he will debut this evening in God's Theatre. The gem casts a bloody hue over his violin as his fingers fly across the strings. They are an ephemeral blur, too quick for eye or mind to follow. And the music... there's only one experience in my life that compares. The night I had with Marylene before she died.

It has been a month now, and once again Lorenzi and I sip iced coffees together in the Perandus Markets. Though we sit only a narrow table apart, Lorenzi is a world away. The nightmares began a couple of weeks back. He toys absently with the vial that I have bought for him from the apothecary, yet I know he won't drink from it. The soothing of his wits will mean the slowing of his fingers. The music is Lorenzi's life, and to Lorenzi, the music and the gem are one and the same.

A year has gone, and the day is once again hot enough to dry the sweat on my skin the moment it dares slither from my pores. I sip an iced coffee and think of Lorenzi. He played last night, in God's Theatre. Fleet, furious, and wondrous, he was. We passed in the foyer, and I looked into his grey face, his pale blue eyes. I don't know what he saw, but it wasn't me. I don't know what I saw either, but it wasn't Lorenzi.

- Victario of Sarn