Illanti was beautiful, once. It was called the city of the gods: a place of power, radiance, and magic. Visitors said that the very stones glowed with an inner light, and that it contained wondrous arcane marvels. At night, it shone like a great silvery fire, visible even from a great distance. It was home to a mighty empire that ruled a hundred cities across the world. The ancient peoples of what became known as the Gate Builder Empire were masters of Gate Magic; constructing and using arcane portals as easily as contemporary man uses the wheel. The Great Gates connected their cities into a single, ultra-metropolitan whole, and at it’s heart: Illanti. Miniature gates to the far corners of the earth lit their street lamps, making it literally true that the sun never set on their empire. Their nobility dwelt in mansions that spanned continents, often with rooms completely inaccessible by normal means.
Not content with ruling the race of Man, the Gate Builders opened gates to other worlds through some lost art, importing alien races wholesale. So came the Hannumin, Shirac, Garahjah, and the brutish Kaza-Ghul, the forefathers of the present-day Ruhk-Kaza race. The Builder’s came to be called Gods among these creatures.
Yet, as magnificent as the Empire’s achievements were and how beautiful Illanti was, its inhabitants were more so. Their hair a brilliant white, their skin an almost metallic silver. The Builders seemed to shine like Illanti itself. Legends claim that they were immortal, or at least nearly so. Their bodies healed quickly, and they were blessed with great strength, insight, and speed. They could perform magics with a bare wave of the hand: many visited Illanti from all across the world to receive healings, food, or wisdom. They were divinities. And anyone could become one. The Shaod, it was called. The Transformation. It struck randomly—usually at night, during the mysterious hours when life slowed to rest. The Shaod could take beggar, craftsman, nobleman, or warrior. When it came, the fortunate person’s life ended and began anew; he would discard his old, mundane existence, and move to the capital at Illanti, where he could live in bliss, rule in wisdom, and be worshiped for eternity. There were, however, those envious of Illanti’s many achievements, and covetous of its rulers’ power.
Throughout the Empire’s history there existed barbarous lands outside the rule of civilization. There, rivals arose to challenge the Gate Builders as the crowning height of human achievement; such as the Lassantes Empire that briefly flowered in the west 1000 years ago, only to vanish into the ashen sands from whence they came. And the Three Islands of Ajakhan in the distant east, which may yet match CITY one day, if it’s inscrutable denizens can ever give up their taste for self-destructive, honour culture.
For 1000 years the Gate Builder Empire reigned supreme. They fought wars by unleashing the sea onto the land, or by dropping mountains on opposing armies, or by depositing barbarian hordes onto clouds. The armies of the Gate Builder Empire could be anywhere in the blink of an eye. But every civilization eventually falls victim to its own success. All mighty things must come to an end.
Even at its height, the Gate builder Empire never had quite enough manpower to control the vast spaces between their cities. It was a simultaneous attack by the unimaginably powerful barbarian chieftains of old, possibly aided by demons and foreigners (I often wonder if there’s any point in differentiating between the two) against several key Imperial cities that brought the end of the Empire. After the Breach at Crensh, barbarians poured though the gates of Illanti itself, killing (and worse, in later years inter-marrying with) the proud pure-blooded people of the Imperial capital.
You might ask, “What about the period of civil war within the Empire prior to the Fall?” Don’t. It’s best not to talk about that. In the end, savages poured through streets of the Empire. What else do you need to know?
You might ask, “What of the CITY Empire?” To be honest, the details are sketchy. It might refer to a period directly before the sack of Illanti, or it might have come after the Dark Ages, but before the Pirate Times. We do know that what it lacked in size, it made up for in atrocities. The caldera city called Gallina the Beautiful was drowned, lost Berouli was tri-cimated (1 out of 3 family members, including pets, randomly put to the sword), and eventually the ancient Gates in a dozen cities were torn down by angry mobs during the Night of Broken Arches. But these are all unsightly blemishes on the skein of history. Best forgotten by historians, and left for the bards to immortalize in their bloody doggerel.
Finally, you might ask, “What of Erebus?” Well, what of him? Or them, as is more likely the case. We know three things: firstly, the Gate Builder’s knew of a being called Erebus. A celestial entity who crashed to the earth at the foot of Eris, the city which draws its name from him. He provided its citizens with countless years of debate over his nature, not to mention a seemingly endless quantity of materials from the great Pit made by his fall which were infused with his divine essences.
Secondly, history is littered with accounts of an Erebus who is said to have shaped the course of history, been the patron of half the worlds artists, created armies of undead, sailed around the world seven times, fathering no less than 1000 children en route, and, on five separate occasions, is said to have ‘eaten the sun’. Make of that what you will.
And lastly, there are a rich body of folk tales from Narayan:CITY concerning the exploits of an immortal sorcerer by that name who lives there and favors mischief, food with much garlic and the drinking of gin. It is said that he makes gods, as a hobby.
But enough about him. Now we stand at the dawn of a new era. No Gate Builders, no Empire, just the twelve strongest of the ancient Gate cities reunited as CITY. All that remains, all that is most pure, the gold risen above the dross.