Urizen is arguably the oldest Imperial nation, established before the fall of the empire of Terunael, but they were almost not part of the Empire at all. Having prospered for centuries in the high mountains of the south-east, they refused the initial invitation of the First Empress. They eventually reconsidered, choosing to become an Imperial nation during the reign of Emperor Giovanni, once it was clear that the Empire could be something more than an alliance of conquerers. The Urizeni helped lay the foundations for the modern Empire, building the Imperial Conclave, spreading egalitarian ideas of education for all Imperial citizens, and providing a unique artifact that has fundamentally shaped Imperial attitudes to warfare.
The High Peaks
The Urizen are numbered along with the Terunael, the Ushka, the Kallavesi and the Suaq as the "original" human inhabitants of the Bay of Catazar. Most historians believe that they are cousins of the Ushkan people of the ancient north; either they share a common ancestry or they are descendants of people who left the haunted forests for more welcoming lands south of the Semmerlak. There is some speculation that they also share a heritage with the people of Axos, as the two nations are geographically close and both place great emphasis on magical power.
Many centuries ago — most likely before the decline of Terunael and perhaps even before the establishment of that ancient empire — several groups of humans ascended the mountains of Morrow to escape the orcs' domination of the fertile plains. When they reached the peaks, they found ruins that were clearly not of human origin. There were simply great, empty halls carved into several of the most richly magical peaks. The people who made these galleries were probably humanoid, albeit larger than humans, and spent a lot of time studying the night sky.
They discovered no remnants of the original inhabitants, nor any suggestion of where they had gone. While the ruins were clearly old, there was no suggestion that their inhabitants had been destroyed in a catastrophe — or at least not a catastrophe that affected their structures. These forerunners had an advanced grasp of the lore of the Realms of Day and Night, but no apparent concept of the other four realms. These echoing galleries formed the heart of the first Urizen spires, and remain an enduring mystery that is still debated by scholars.
From Morrow, the first Urizen spread across the peaks claiming Spiral and establishing outposts in Zenith and Redoubt. At first, the main appeal of the mountains was their defensibility, but as they expanded their holdings, they discovered many places with strong natural auras of magical power. These lands were also rich in mineral wealth that helped artisans create numerous wonders. As their numbers grew, they used magic to overcome the challenges of creating dwellings and producing food from the inhospitable terrain, but even with these advances the new nations remained sparsely populated.
- 1 Overview
- 2 The High Peaks
- 3 A Sanctum of Stars
- 4 Heralds of Twilight
- 5 A Light in the Darkness
- 6 A Brighter Future
- 7 Imperial History
- 8 Recent History
- 9 More Urizen History
- 10 Further Reading
A Sanctum of Stars
The inaccessible terrain allowed the Urizen to remain secluded. They were untouched by the magical apocalypse that destroyed the Terunael and created the vallorn and remained aloof from the nascent Navarr civilisation. For the most part, they simply stayed in their mountainous homes and observed, choosing not to become involved in the struggles that marked the centuries after the fall of Terunael. When the Urizen were troubled by invaders, their spires were ably defended by the sentinels and the strategically placed citadels.
This changed with the arrival of the Highborn from across the sea. The newcomers were ambitious and expansionist, and there was a period of open conflict as they attempted to expand across the river into Morrow and Redoubt. Ultimately these initial struggles gave way to a more cordial relationship — especially once it was clear that the Highborn cavalry was at a significant disadvantage in the rugged terrain favoured by the Urizen. The conflict made it clear that Urizen were more than capable of defending their lands and they slowly abandoned their policy of isolation. They initiated diplomacy with the Highborn and made eventual contact with the settlers of Dawn, and despite occasional strife maintained cordial relations with both groups thereafter.
The greatest achievement of pre-Imperial Urizen was the creation of the heliopticon network. Originally developed by a pair of architects, their prototype demonstrated how an arrangement of lights and mirrors allowed swift communication across the mountain tops. The benefits for defence and for collaboration between scholars in distant spires were plain for all to see. Interest continued to grow and eventually arbiters from spires across Urizen came together at the first recorded Grand Conclave to agree the construction of a single heliopticon network across the entire nation.
Heralds of Twilight
A century after the completion of the heliopticon network, the Urizen settlements in Spiral were threatened by a resurgent Grendel. Opposition to the invaders was led by a charismatic battlemage named Vaanes, the arbiter of the Citadel of Mezudan. Adored by the sentinels who trained under him, Vaanes was widely recognized as the most brilliant tactician of his age after he masterminded the defeat of the barbarian armies at White Falls. Vaanes used this triumph to gather support from spires across southern Spiral and the coasts of Redoubt whose citizens were all too familiar with the threat of invasion. He argued that only by uniting under a single banner would the nation be strong enough to crush the orcs and drive them from Spiral completely. Although his vision proved appealing, many spires balked at Vaanes demands, loathe to give up their independence. Fearing a split in the nation, the arbiters ultimately rejected Vaanes, and the battlemage himself was killed by the Grendel soon after.
This was not the only time philosophical differences would split the nation. Following the Highborn civil war, the Revelation of the virtues brought Highborn wayfarers to Urizen, keen to share the truths they had uncovered. Their belief that faith and visionary revelation gave them a deep understanding of spiritual mysteries angered the influential questor and warrior-philosopher Sulemaine. She sought the missionaries out, denouncing and executing any whose beliefs she considered insufficiently grounded in reason and logic. Many who refused to accept the Highborn faith flocked to her banner, determined to preserve Urizen's more individual and scholastic approach to religion. In the decades following her death, these sword scholars grudgingly adopted the virtues, but they remained fiercely opposed to the new religion, arguing that embracing the Way risked Urizen falling under the influence of the Highborn assembly.
At the height of their power the temples of the sword scholars were a significant military force within Urizen, but opposition to them continued to grow as more of the nation adopted the Way. Increasingly violent clashes broke out between sword scholars and those who attempted to defend the Highborn missionaries. Despite their martial discipline, the fiercely independent scholars were often outmatched by the more disciplined sentinels who protected the opposing spires and they suffered a steady decline. This conflict rumbled on for many years and only came to a head when Urizen over the decision to join the Empire.
A Light in the Darkness
A handful of Urizen attended the First Empress' historical meeting at Anvil, and invited her to present her vision to the Grand Conclave of arbiters. The First Empress was a powerful warrior and an inspirational speaker, but the nation were unmoved by her vision. The seers and prognosticators predicted disaster if their nation led by a conqueror and the gathered Urizen concluded that it would not be in their interests to join the Empire. One of her loudest critics, Tiberius of Sunspire asked "Who will rule your empire when you are gone?" Her inability to provide a convincing answer firmed the resolve of the arbiters to reject her invitation. Despite efforts to persuade them that their concerns were unfounded the conclave remained adamant; they would not join the Empress' cause.
At the same time, the First Empress was making her overture to the spires, another group was attempting to recruit the Urizeni. The powerful boyar Alderei the Fair was founding his own empire, rivalling that proposed by the First Empress. Among his supporters were a group of powerful undying sorcerers known as the volodny. Born of the Ushka, sometimes considered to be distant cousins of the Urizen, some of the volodny assumed that their shared heritage, common interest in magic, and refusal to join the Empire made the Urizen their natural allies. One of their number, a clever negotiator named Kareina of the Swans, initiated secret negotiations with the Urizen to seek support for their plans.
The Grand Conclave considered her offer with as much weight as they did that of the First Empress, and came to a similar decision. The arbiters presented a neutral face to Kareina, and encouraged her to reveal the volodny's plans, before they were roundly rejected. "We would not support a conqueror whose heart was filled with the best of intentions," said Tiberius of Sunspire to the outraged Kareina. "Why would you believe we would support one driven by bitterness and spite?"
When the inevitable war erupted between the followers of Alderei the Fair and the founders of the Empire, the Urizen officially remained uninvolved. However, a group of magicians who favoured joining the Empire travelled to Varushka to offer covert support to the Imperial forces. The volodny had raised a dread pall over Alderei's armies that spread fear and confusion among his opponents. The Urizen magicians used powerful Day magic to penetrate the magical effect and then to scatter it, allowing the Imperial forces to attack Alderei. With their aid, the Imperial armies defeated the wicked boyar and scattered his forces.
Some of the Empress' supporters assumed this assistance meant the Urizen were prepared to join their cause. Once the battle was over, however, the remaining Urizen — many of them shattered in spirit, exhausted in body, or casualties of the battle — simply returned to their mountains. They took no part in mopping up the remainder of Alderei's supporters, and gave no indication that joining the Empire was any more appealing than it had been before.
A Brighter Future
The Urizen observed the development and consolidation of the Empire with interest. They welcomed diplomats and trade, but maintained their distance. After the death of the Empress, they watched as her successor was appointed by the Senate. Emperor Giovanni travelled personally to the mountains along with a number of ranking civil servants, and met with many influential arbiters. He laid before them his plans for a rational, ordered society based on merit and personal drive. He made it clear that the Empire would remain militarily powerful with or without the support of the Urizen, but their involvement would keep it from collapsing into anarchy or becoming focused entirely on conquest.
Swayed by a vision of a civilized society, the prognosticators consulted their auguries again. This time Urizen seers predicted disaster if their nation did not join an Empire led by the Peacemaker. After several more weeks of debate and discussion, the Grand Conclave agreed to become the ninth Imperial nation.
This move was not universally popular, and lead to an unexpected resurgence in the power of the sword scholar temples. Disgruntled Urizen were drawn to their particular philosophy of isolation and opposition to authority. Many refused to bond themselves to the new Urizen egregore in open defiance of what they considered to be a tyrannical Imperial presence and eventually their opposition became so disruptive that the Senate and the Synod called for the suppression of the remaining sects. A brutal crackdown ensued, forcing the scholars underground as one-by-one their temples were destroyed. Gathering at the Temple of the Winds in Morrow, the survivors were confronted by an army of sentinels and ordered to disband. Despite being heavily outnumbered they refused to submit, and the resulting battle saw hundreds killed on both sides before the defeated sword scholars were forced to scatter.
Urizen benefited greatly from joining the Empire. Food imported from the Marches allowed the spires to grow and freed people to devote even more time to training and study. This allowed Urizen to achieve the level of magical and scholastic mastery they enjoy today. Likewise, the support of the Imperial military helped defend the borders of Morrow and Spiral, and secure the Urizen claim to both Redoubt and Zenith. These benefits ensured a steady increase in the population of the previously isolated nation, which led to the establishment of many new spires.
In return, the Empire gained access to Urizen's tradition of scholasticism and its body of magical lore. Urizen taught the Empire how to perform effective prognostications, massively improving its ability to plan for the future. Even more importantly, shrewd interventions by the first Urizen senators transformed the tests of citizenship, adding literacy, numeracy, and theology to the requirements needed to pass. In the decades that followed, their commitment to universal education was instrumental in raising standards of living across the Empire.
The Imperial Conclave
In the years before Urizen joined the Empire, magicians would hold informal meetings at Anvil, to discuss magic and exchange ideas. A few Urizen wizards attended, keen to observe developments, but they were disappointed when they found that the meetings lacked structure or any formal powers. When Urizen were asked to join the Empire for a second time, their key demand was the constitution be updated to include formal recognition of an Imperial Conclave. Rather than being a mere adjunct of the Military Council or the Senate, the Urizen were very clear that it must have equal precedence with those august bodies and with the Synod and the Bourse.
The newly recognised Imperial Conclave adopted many rules and procedures that were modelled on Urizen's Grand Conclave. Urizen magi ensured that the body would be arranged along partisan lines, by insisting on the system of Conclave orders. They wanted to be certain that the Conclave would be an active political body, one that considered the political ramifications of magic, rather than be arranged by magical realm or by nationality as many assumed.
The Imperial Senate was not minded to agree to the creation of the Conclave, though the idea of political rather than purely magical body was well received in the League, the Brass Coast, and Varushka. Urizen mages worked to build support for the new Conclave in every nation, but it was the involvement of the stargazers of Urizen that proved pivotal. They were visiting covens across the Empire sharing some of their own lore, and learning everything they could from their fellow Imperial citizens. Their idea to create a body of lore that magicians everywhere would have access to was popular with almost every magician, as well as with several influential members of the Military Council. The resulting groundswell of support was impossible for the Senate to refuse.
The Sentinel Gate
Perhaps the greatest benefit to the Empire was the Sentinel Gate. The Gate is a unique artifact uncovered by the Urizen in the mountains of Spiral some twenty years before the foundation of the Empire. The magical structure seems to break several magical laws and is tied in some poorly understood fashion to the concept of fate and serendipity. The gate was secured at the Citadel of Mezudan where it allowed the sentinels to respond to threats against Spiral. It was such a closely guarded secret that its existence was largely unknown outside the territory.
Shortly after the Senate confirmed the foundation of the Imperial Conclave, the arbiter of the Citadel of Mezudan and the two Urizen senators unveiled the Gate and presented it to the Empire. Relocated to Anvil, it allowed Imperial heroes to teleport to critical locations in the Empire, but only at a solstice or equinox. The Urizen seers taught the Empire how to make full use of the gate's powers. Imperial prognosticators learned to identify imminent conjunctions, and how to combine that information with divinatory spells and reams of intelligence to determine how the conjunction might best be employed.
The Gate is now a pivotal part of the Empire's military planning — the ability to strike against their enemies at critical locations has been so decisive that it influences the entire way the Empire plans and conducts their wars.
The Mad Emperor
To date only one Urizen has occupied the Imperial Throne, and he is perhaps the most infamous person to have worn the Crown. Elected in 200YE, at first Emperor Nicovar was an excellent Throne. His attention to detail made him a brilliant administrator, and his court was hailed as a place of learning. He expanded the Civil Service, establishing multiple ways for them to support and aid the people of the Empire, and was expected to usher in a new golden age of reason and expansion. Unfortunately, it was not to be.
A decade of micromanaging every detail of the Empire slowly drove Nicovar mad. Things came to a head after nine years when he sent out troops to burn down the libraries and archives of the Empire — even his home spire of Ankarien was not spared. In the end, his rampage ended only when his trusted bodyguard Isaella assassinated him — but not before he had done irreparable damage to the Empire by destroying many of its largest repositories of history and scholarship.
A month after the Spring Equinox 381YE, the Druj barbarians invaded Zenith from the Mallum. The initial attack swept the unprepared defenders away, and Lustri and Occursion fell to the orcs in short order. Only a brave defense by the three Highborn armies — the Seventh Wave, the Granite Pillar, and the Valiant Pegasus — stopped the Druj from conquering the entire territory, but the Empire was unable to prevent them destroying the Golden Cascade. The resulting catastrophic flood ruined the fertile plains of Proceris and pushed the defenders back west to a thin sliver of higher ground to face a major assault from the invading orcs. Despite their best efforts, the Highborn armies were forced to retreat to Morrow. Throughout their invasion the Druj took a malicious delight in destroying both captured spires and numerous sinecures, as well as the Gardens of Pallas.
Apart from a few isolated spires hidden beneath veils of Night magic, much of the population of Zenith was forced into exile. The loss of life in Zenith was much smaller than it could have been — the courageous defense of the territory by the Highborn armies allowed many who might otherwise have fallen into the hands of the eastern orcs to escape that dread fate. Refugees fled to Redoubt and Morrow, while those who were unable to escape were enslaved by the Druj.
Flush with success, the Druj armies regrouped and then poured into Morrow. Despite the continuing efforts of the Highborn armies, the orcs conquered Peregro and Caeli. In the process they destroyed not only the recently relocated Halls of Knowledge but also the central heliopticon tower, the Glorious Fountain of Dawn and Dusk, and the Gardens of Morrow. They also destroyed the Temple of the Winds, slaughtering nearly two thirds of the remaining sword scholars in the process.
The Druj advance was finally slowed and they were held at the borders of Operus until Spring 383YE, when a concerted Imperial effort lead by the Citadel Guard and supported by the eternal Phaleron managed to drive them back into Zenith. Imperial heroes took the opportunity to launch a raid into Zenith to rescue as many captured Urizeni as possible. Not only were they able to free nearly two-thirds of those enslaved by the orcs, they were also able to liberate a number of Highborn soldiers who had been captured when the territory fell. These survivors were escorted to safety in Morrow and Redoubt, and brought with them tales of the terrible miasma that now cloaks the entire territory of Zenith.
Bordering as it does the Grendel territory of Mareave, Spiral has long been a battleground. Lost to the southern orcs in 331YE, it changed hands several times in the following years. After a brief period when the territory was entirely in Imperial hands, the Grendel launched a major offensive on all fronts in 381YE. This saw Imperial forces driven back to Cinion, and control of the territory again fell into barbarian hands. Over the next year, war raged relentlessly across the territory, causing a slow rousing of the Black Plateau in Screed.
The situation came to a head shortly after the 381YE Winter Solstice when the Varushkan army of the Iron Helms were unleashed against the Grendel. During the Battle of Solen's Doubt in Apstrus, three Grendel armies were destroyed by a wave of madness that swept through both Imperial and orc forces at the culmination of the awakening of the Black Plateau. Whatever power rests at the heart of Spiral — whatever power emanates from the Black Plateau — was moved from fitful sleep to wakefulness. Now, a terrible nightmare aura permeates the entire territory, making it hostile to human and orc alike.
The Urizen managed some success in shielding individual spires from its influence thanks to the creation of the Block — a structure of specially enchanted mithril that allowed the populace to slowly return to their abandoned spires. However in Autumn 383YE, as part of a peace treaty, those areas of the territory that were not already in the hands of the orcs were ceded to the Grendel. Imperial citizens have been urged to quit the territory and leave it to its new masters.
The loss of the Halls of Knowledge and the destruction of the central heliopticon tower marked a nadir for the people of Urizen. Rather than wallow in despair however, their brightest minds looked for opportunity in disaster. With the assistance of the Imperial Senate, the heliopticon towers were restored, accompanied by a new drive to harness the collective magical knowledge of the people of Urizen. The establishment of the Doyen of the Spires allowed Urizen magicians to cooperate on the codification of ritual texts on a scale hitherto unknown.
With the assistance of the Archmage of Day, a unique bargain was struck with the eternal Phaleron — also called the Celestial Library — which lead to the establishment of Urizen lore — a body of arcane ritual knowledge created, curated, and available only to citizens of Urizen. Connected to the newly transformed Grand Library of Canterspire, the full potential of this new technique is slowly being explored; in conjunction with the Doyen of the Spires, it presents opportunities to forge a uniquely Urizen corpus of magical lore.
More Urizen History