Though aptly named at the time of its coining, a steady stream of archaeological discoveries and scientific advancements make the Forgotten Age less forgotten by the day. While there is some consensus that this Age ended with the rise of the Paragons and the beginning of traditionally recorded history, when the Forgotten Age began is a question of lively and fanciful discourse. How, when, and why the Mechanism came into existence is even more heatedly debated.
Written documents from the Forgotten Age are rare, and seldom, if ever, refer to the Mechanism as a whole. The majority of surviving parchment fragments and stone inscriptions come from the late Forgotten Age, and describe groups of intermittently warring feudal kingdoms scattered throughout the Heartlands. Contact between these kingdoms and greenskin settlements in the Crownlands and borderlands appears to have been rare. Portrayals of greenskins by human cultures and of humans by greenskin cultures are thus extraordinarily exaggerated.
Several especially memorable tapestries show steel-tusked orcs towering over trees, goblins passing through stone, and four-armed hobgoblins with crooked scimitars menacing human kingdoms. A recently excavated goblin painting depicts humans as creatures of mirrored glass walking on flaming talons. However, none of these fanciful portrayals appear with any consistency.
One stark image survives the Forgotten Age, transcending culture and geography: the featureless face of the star-crowned Grey Man. Saturation aetherometry confirms that the estimated century where this motif became common was suffused by a peculiar energy, similar but not identical to the myth radiation found in contemporary Paragon ruins.
The particulars of the Grey Man’s story vary from site to site and culture to culture, though his power is always represented by a bright light on his forehead. Some portray him as a benevolent (even venerated) philosopher-king who led his people into a golden age. Others show him as a mad, debased conqueror of inhuman strength and charisma, the enemy of civilization rather than its father. Still others ascribe even darker deeds to the figure; one controversial discovery in Ostenia shows a grey alabaster face looking out over a sea of bones.
The conclusions to the Grey Man’s story are as varied as his characterizations. The philosopher-king gives up his bright crown and wanders the world forever as a commoner. The conqueror is deposed in a bloody revolution and executed in full view of the rejoicing public. The demon proves immune to mortal weapons, so the victorious rebels bind him in chains and bury him deep underground. The god ascends to a higher plane, awaiting an age in need of his eternal wisdom. Historians that have attempted to assemble these depictions into a consistent narrative inevitably fail, but the exercise is never less than intriguing.
Whatever the Grey Man’s significance, new portrayals drop off suddenly some two centuries before the estimated rise of the Paragons. Why this occurred has never been discovered.
The origin and nature of the Paragons is hotly debated, at least in jurisdictions without strict anti-blasphemy statutes. A common Church legend describes the appearance of the Harmonic Siphon, a powerful artifact, to a group of ambitious heroes – scholars, kings, warriors, even a begging monk. All were somehow tested and few survived, but the Siphon remained behind to challenge any who could find it. Those that the Siphon found worthy were gifted with incredible strength, intellect, charisma, and voracious curiosity. Within twenty years, the newly uplifted Paragons had developed the technology to ascend the Spire and establish the great city of Neruvia, whose protective influence would eventually encompass the heartlands and crownlands.
As the Paragons’ dominion expanded, it became clear that there were too few of them to personally oversee the countless projects they had set into motion. Although the paradise of Neruvia City had already become the stuff of legend, and pilgrims seeking the Paragons’ blessings had already begun to gather in the heartlands, creating a formal Church hierarchy allowed the Paragons to influence human kingdoms far more directly and provided them with a steady source of labor. Yet still they longed for servants that could provide something more than loyalty and manpower. The Paragons set to work creating new life. The Servitors, who would later be known as the progenitor fey, were the result –beautiful, charismatic, immortal, and ingenious. The Paragons could finally return to their scientific endeavors secure in the knowledge that their interests were represented by beings as close to perfection as they were.
The people of the ever-expanding nation of Neruvia took to the Servitors with enthusiasm; the children of the Paragons became trusted advisors, generals, and scholars in their own right, while some independent kingdoms simply ceded their existing governments to Servitor rule. One of those kingdoms was Moyar, now modern Heironul, a nation rich in natural resources that defied Paragon rule for decades. A single uprising delivered over half of the kingdom, including Moyar’s legendary Amber Coast, into the hands of the regent Servitors. From then on, the Neruvian Servitor government became known as the Council of Amber.
What exactly happened next is unclear. Some legends contend that the Paragons reemerged from their studies to find that the Council had begun to rule not for the greater glory of the Paragons, but for its own sake. Others believe the Paragons acted out of simple jealousy, that the Servitors had served faithfully but had proven themselves superior to their creators. Some posit a darker betrayal – that the Council somehow sought to prevent the reemergence of the Paragons entirely. In any case, over a fifty-year period known as the Amber Twilight, the progenitor fey were systematically hunted down and imprisoned. Considering how formidable the progenitors were, this took time. Once gathered, the Paragons wielded their life-shaping magics to strip the Servitors of their genetic gifts and exile them from Paragon lands. Those that stayed on the Major Plate would eventually become the riven and the draug, while those that fled to the elemental gears became the nereids, ogryn, efreeti, and the sylphs.
The loss of Servitor leadership left the Paragon empire in chaos and the Church in revolt. Though still loath to intervene directly in politics, the violent and crumbling nations of the Mechanism left them no choice. The Paragons brought them to heel with brutal new technologies like mind control and engineered plagues, as well as more old-fashioned methods of coercion, like torture and assassination. In the end, none could doubt their power, or their resolve. Compliant humans were installed to lead the now-pacified Neruvian nations. These leaders used the authority of the Paragons to benefit humanity, often at the expense of the non-human races. As unjust as these new regimes were, and as bloody as the road behind had been, the Paragons had achieved the stability they sought.
Having pacified the Mechanism for the moment, the Paragons realized that expecting perfect obedience from flesh was folly, so they created great automatons – the titans – to begin work on their most ambitious project yet, a device that would harness the power of the Mechanism itself. The ageless titans proved strong and reliable, though unimaginative and particularly bad at dealing with ambiguity. The Paragons returned to the drawing board and designed another race, this time a fusion of mechanical and organic elements. The dwarves combined the resilience and precision of steel with the critical spark of life and ingenuity that the titans lacked.
Together, the Paragons’ new servants set to the construction and maintenance of the Paragons’ magnum opus, the device that would come to be known as the Nemesis Gear. Titans and dwarves worked in tandem, drilling deeply into the Spire to lower the great mythril axle of the Gear into the core of the Mechanism itself. The scale of the project sent shudders through the world that could be felt well into the crownlands. The Gear was completed, the Harmonic Siphon was returned to Neruvia City, and the Paragons enjoyed sixty years of near-complete dominance over the Mechanism. With the Gear and Siphon at their disposal, nothing was beyond the Paragons’ control – day and night, life and death, even time and space bent to their will. Entire cities purportedly vanished, only to appear hundreds of miles away. Oceans dried and rivers were born. No records of war, famine, or disease during the so-called Revels have ever been discovered.
The Revels came to an abrupt halt in 349 EM with the catastrophic breakdown of the Harmonic Siphon. Many texts attribute this to an act of sabotage by a mysterious progenitor fey, the Apostate, that had somehow escaped the Amber Twilight. Others lay the blame solely at the Paragons’ feet. Whatever caused it to fail, the spell had been broken, and the Mechanism began to rebel against the modifications the Paragons had made. The nations of the World Machine were buffeted by earthquakes, surges of elemental energy, and storms the likes of which hadn’t been seen for hundreds of years. Neruvia collapsed into isolated kingdoms as the promise of further suffering loomed on the horizon.
The Paragons, for their part, desperately tried to prevent this from happening. While conducting research and development at a breakneck pace in Neruvia City, they deployed the titans and dwarves en masse to construct new dwarven forges throughout the Mechanism. This new generation of dwarves created arcane shields, reinforced shelters, and structures like the ever-growing mythspikes in a wide-ranging effort to quiet the tumultuous World Machine. In the end, it might be that these efforts did more harm than good; some believe that mythspikes grow both upwards and downwards, and may continue to pierce the mysterious gears beneath the Main Plate to this day.
In the end, as things continued to spiral out of control beyond all hope of recovery, the Paragons decided to evacuate Neruvia on a leviathan craft called the Ark. At the heart of the Neruvian Ark lay the Oracle, a sentient machine with the foresight necessary to lead her crew through the astral squalls and elemental surges that threatened to tear the sky asunder. Twenty years later, the Oracle and Ark were completed, and the inhabitants of Neruvia City departed for parts unknown.
Then the Ark fell out of the sky.
The crash of the Neruvian Ark – the literal fall of the Paragons – set off a shockwave that incinerated the ancient cities at the foot of the Spire, devastated the coastlines of the outer heartlands, and crippled sea travel across the Mechanism. Although a number of them remained at large elsewhere, the reign of the Paragons had ended. And even that wasn’t the worst of it; a group of abandoned dwarves and titans who managed to navigate the crumbling pathways down from Neruvia City revealed that the Nemesis Gear had cracked, and it could not be disengaged from the heart of the Mechanism.
Within weeks, this claim was borne out by a rain of glittering mythril shards that, as the shards grew into blades and molten droplets, joined the elemental surges and astral squalls that already streaked across the sky and became known as the Nemesis Storm. Cities that had been spared the worst of the flooding after the crash of the Ark now erupted in riots as all but the sturdiest structures were engulfed in flames. Caves, castles, and Paragon structures – including wreckage of the Ark – were the only protection against the Storm. Those that could find no shelter began to flee the heartlands en masse. A year after the Ark crashed, the Storm suddenly stopped. Eyes unobscured by smoke saw the Mechanism reject the Nemesis Gear altogether, sending it spiraling into the sky…and slicing cleanly through the Celestial Ribbon. After the Sundering, the sun and nightstar began to drift, no longer locked into the 12-hour cycle of day and night.
During the period now known as the Unraveling, the cycle of day and night began to vary, although it remained 24 hours long. With each passing year, the sun shone one hour less, the implications of which quickly became clear – the Mechanism would be plunged into total darkness in twelve years. The heartlands began to cool. Farmers struggled to adapt their crops to grow without sunlight or summer. Even those with the foresight to move toothward, hoping to enjoy the more intense seasons near the elemental gears, were quickly frustrated; the rhythm of the World Machine was slowing, and no degree of hope could change that.
Greenskins, at least those that weren’t enslaved in the heartlands, were able to avoid the worst elements of the early Cataclysm. Having no allegiance to the Paragons, their crownland and borderland settlements lost little in the crash of the Ark. They grew crops suited to widely varying climates, and goblins had significant experience with mushroom cultivation. While the enmity between humans and greenskins would never fade completely, some diplomatically-minded groups reached out to heartland refugees during the early Unraveling.
While the taint of Paragon association initially soured their relations with the world at large, the races that worked most closely with the would-be gods had significant advantages over their more independent counterparts. Although countless dwarves and titans perished while trying to repair the Nemesis Gear, those that escaped or were working from the many dwarven forges in the field had knowledge of Paragon architecture that saved countless lives. Though not every forge survived the aftershocks of the Ark’s crash, those that did became shelters without equal against the chaos on the surface. Overcome with the mechanical equivalent of shame at their failure to repair the shattered Gear, the titans departed for the deep borderlands, where many can be found even now, silently scouring elemental deposits from the ironwastes.
Although travelers through the crownlands routinely encountered scattered elven settlements, and some remained behind as thralls, neither the Paragons nor the human nations suspected quite how well the offshoots had fared after being cast out of Neruvia. The riven and draug left as a disgraced, broken people, and returned as heroes. Although neither race possessed the singular grace and genius of the progenitor fey, both had spent their centuries in exile establishing provinces of their own centered around grand estates – the first great Houses. Even before the Cataclysm, House envoys had begun a quiet campaign of recruitment among the broken Neruvian nations, offering food and protection in exchange for fealty. After the Ark crashed, they made the same offer. Even centuries later, the efforts of the elven Houses were remembered, and the oaths made during the Cataclysm would become the basis for their now-significant political power.
Twelve years to the day after the Sundering, the sun set for the last time. The night that followed, however, defied all prediction. Instead of the expected nightstar, the sky was simply blank. The Celestial Ribbon had vanished completely. With the loss of the Ribbon, time passed out of all reckoning. Even clock dwarves, whose intrinsic sense of time had never failed, were at a loss to explain when precisely it was. Historians now believe that the so-called Shattered Year lasted for somewhere close to eight.
The events that followed have never been repeated. Imagine a Mechanism without rhythm, without sequence, without the slightest modicum of order. Though it seems paradoxical, all records indicate this is exactly what happened.
After an long period of darkness, the sky shone dark red, casting a scalding heat across the Mechanism. Then night fell again. The elemental gears changed places, causing whole seasons to pass in mere weeks. Oceans boiled, then froze, scarring the land with mammoth glaciers. Forests sprung up in minutes, razing entire cities, only to turn to sand and bury what remained under new deserts. Sometimes the sky would flash white, showing the Nemesis Gear still spinning through space, other similar flashes revealed a completely blank sky. Storms continued to rage across the surface of the world.
Yet somehow life went on. Among all the chaos and despair of the Shattered Year were periods of surprising peace, even what can only be described as bliss. The Mechanism seemed to be slowly cleansing itself, releasing the vast stores of alien energies the Paragons invested in it. Some of those energies healed, staved off hunger, even restored the recently dead to life. These phenomena played a major part in mitigating the catastrophic damage of this period.
Then darkness prevailed again, and rebuilding began anew. The now-reduced population had a far easier time finding food without sunlight, many fishing villages sprung up, finding rivers and oceans well-stocked with bounty. Cities began to expand once again.
A new generation of charismatic leaders, popularly called Warders, led the scattered population of the Mechanism through the Shattered Year. Though it was certain that some Paragons had escaped the fall of the Ark, it was only after the Year came to an end that these suspicions were confirmed – some of these heroic figures were Paragons in disguise. However much good the Paragon-Warders had done since the crash of the Ark, and whatever knowledge they might have offered their captors, each of them died shortly after being exposed. For the next three years, these hidden renegades were systematically rooted out and executed. Some had become Warders, some had infiltrated the remnants of the Church, and others had carved out niches far from civilization. The Unmasked, and those that dared to defend them, met the same grisly fate.
As each Paragon met their end, the Mechanism seemed to brighten a bit. Whether this was a coincidence is a matter of some debate, but within a few years the darkness of the Unmasking gave way to an intense gray light that eventually spread across the sky. While the dull haze – which became known as the Bleak – failed to nourish any food crops, it did make rebuilding civilization easier, and it confirmed that the Mechanism wasn’t damaged beyond repair.
After almost twenty years of sunless daylight, the harsh metallic scraping noises that the Mechanism had been making ever since the fall of the Ark began to abate. This cacophony was replaced by the faint strains of a mysterious melody, the implications of which were clear. Everything is alright, it said; behold the Spire, something wonderful is happening. This rising melody, which became known as the Spiresong, set off a wave of pilgrimages to the heartlands and reignited interest in the Church, which quickly adapted the Spiresong into a new hymnal. The first proper Channelers emerged at this time, finding that certain melodic passages seemed to coax the Mechanism to heal others as it healed itself. The people of the World Machine built great observatories aimed at the Spire, hoping to see the Mechanism’s musical promise fulfilled.
Eleven years later, the Bleak suddenly faded, the Spiresong swelled, and dawn broke at last.
Tradition holds that observers at Asunya Tower, in the now Ostenian-occupied holy city of Patria, were the first to glimpse the restored sun, a legend reflected in the Inner Yusunan flag. Recent discoveries indicate that Torchois observers probably saw the Glimmering first, but this has done little to dent Patria’s reputation. Regardless, within an hour or so, it became clear to all that the Celestial Ribbon had been repaired and the Cataclysm had ended. The reappearance of the Ribbon and the sun quickly became known as the Rebirth.
The World Machine still had a way to go before its normal seasonal rhythms were restored, however. A century would pass before the Long Winter thawed. In the meantime, the people of the Mechanism struggled to feed a rapidly expanding population. The heartlands could no longer subsist on mushroom-based dishes like bleak stew, and scavenging, hunting, and limited farming came back into vogue. Greenskins accustomed to survival in the borderlands found themselves much sought after for their expertise.
As the threat of starvation began to fade, the people of the Mechanism began to look outward at the scarred and transformed landscape the Paragons wrought. The worst hazards of the Cataclysm having abated, trade caravans emerged to carry goods across twisted, unfamiliar roads. Scavengers sought to recover Paragon artifacts from the irradiated ruins of their shattered empire. Unfortunately for the bravest of these pioneers, this new world bore wonders and horrors alike. Broken automatons, unfinished experiments, and creatures stranger still emerged from the dark corners of the Mechanism to sate their arcane appetites and teach dark secrets to those willing to listen. The thick, corrupted blightwoods that began to spread during the early Cataclysm had torn through crownland provinces like Heironul and began to move spireward, bringing the vicious embryon fiends ever closer to the heartland nations. Still, as the Long Winter began to fade, travel between cities became increasingly common and safe.
The entire character of the early Residuum was changed by the arrival in 90 AR of four mysterious delegations from the elemental gears. Bearing gifts of pure elements from their home gears, these visitors proved to be long-lost cousins of the riven and draug, broken progenitors driven beyond the edges of the Main Plate by the Paragons at the end of the Amber Twilight. Each had been irrevocably changed by the, alien landscapes of their new homes. The intense heat and harsh fumes of the Coal Spoke gave rise to the efreeti, a hardy and proud race of desert-dwellers. The thick and poisonous waters of the Oil Spoke created the nereids, an amphibious race uniquely resistant to the toxic effluents produced by modern industry. The scouring winds and rich mines of the Rust Spoke infused the methodical ogryn with the strength of iron. The roiling storms and tropical swamps of the Steam Spoke engendered the polymorphic sylphs’ unmatched attunement to the rhythms of life. No one knew exactly what to make of them, least of all the riven and draug — yet they seemed to lack the territorial ambitions of either race, so they approached their lost brethren with cautious optimism. News of the elven offshoots’ arrival spread across the Mechanism like wildfire.
Inspired by these envoys, a great Conclave arose where the gathering people of the Major Plate and Elemental Spokes alike exchanged knowledge about their changing world on an unprecedented scale. None were turned away; for fifteen years, sustained by the wonder of the elementals, the Conclave peacefully hosted visitors from throughout the world. A host of minor discoveries from around the World Machine about the principles behind Paragon technology, combined with the fresh insight of the elemental delegations, led to a number of key scientific breakthroughs, including the first steps towards modern arcane studies. The pure elements the offshoots had brought were tooled into weapons, armor, and apparatus to study the world. Channelers gathered for their first Synod to share hymns to move the Mechanism in service of the faithful, while practitioners of the dark art of dissonance convened secret councils to deepen their understanding of the Mechanism’s full potential. Eventually, the Conclave began to expand vertically, as a set of four floating myth ruins were silently dragged into place by a host of titans, ostensibly for study. Sometime before the titans managed to anchor the final gift, the Conclave was interrupted by a final delegation: the furious skyfleet of another heretofore undiscovered race: the navigators.
Piloting shimmering craft suffused with the same crackling electricity that shone in their eyes, these golden-skinned visitors looked like nothing anyone had seen before. The navigators accused the Conclave even before they landed, demanding satisfaction for their exile from the aetheric planes on the other surface of the Mechanism. Stunned by the navigators’ appearance, technology, and amazing story, the members of the Conclave could do little but insist that the events of the Cataclysm hadn’t been their fault. The navigators would have none of it; even if these supposed Paragons had perished, curiosity about their vile technology was rampant at the Conclave. The assembled races stank of the powers that destroyed their world, they said, and the ruins that the titans brought confirmed as much. Somehow aware of their Paragon origins, the navigators wouldn’t even speak to the dwarves, riven, draug, or the elementals at first. After tense negotiations with the humans and greenskins, the navigators claimed the mysterious ruins as salvage, and the Conclave disbanded as a gesture of peace. Though relations between the navigators and the races of the Major Plate would improve in time, their first encounter ended the Conclave on a strange note.
Although the appearance of the elementals, the success of the first Channelers’ Synod, and the very fact of the Rebirth reinforced the growing belief in the Mechanism’s divinity, the Church had yet to truly reconcile itself with having worshipped the Paragons for so long. The Church’s failure to recognize the true extent of the Paragons’ evil – let alone the renegade Paragons in their midst before the Unmasking – shook them to the core. The Liber Explicatum, as it had been preached for centuries, was nothing short of wrong. The insights gleaned during the Conclave and the first Synod had only served to highlight the contradictions therein. On the verge of collapse, the Church called a second Synod to resolve this theological crisis.
For the next 22 years (a period now known as the Atonement) the Church resolved to discover, record, and understand the depth of the Paragons’ sins, as well as the true nature of the Mechanism. Their creations – including the vicious inhabitants of the blightwoods, the titans, dwarves, draug, riven, and the elementals – became the subjects of intense, often brutal study. For their part, the navigators seem to have avoided these inquiries. While these investigations provided valuable insight into the mechanical and biological capabilities of the Paragons, the blood that was spilled to reach that insight would be remembered by their so-called “children” for years to come. Church officials pored over the Navigators’ maps and compared them to ancient records, hoping to chart the geographical metamorphosis of the Mechanism during the Revels and the Cataclysm in detail. Their investigations shed light on the profound strength of the Mechanism; it had, after all, managed to resist all of the Paragons’ attempts to control it. Over the coming months, Church officials created a new doctrine that abjured all veneration of the Paragons while maintaining enough of the old ways to retain more traditional congregations. It is said that in the end, the Channelers of the second Synod composed a hymn so potent that it drew a new Liber Explicatum from the Mechanism itself. Those that have beheld the several models of the Liber Novum (thereafter referred to by the older name) scattered throughout the World Machine concede that this extraordinary claim might have some merit.
Although the dwarves continued to repair and create new kin at their native forges well after the fall of the Paragons, it slowly became apparent that the creation of new forges was beyond their capabilities. This wouldn’t have been a problem had each forge not been designed around huge, nonrenewable power sources. The forges began to fail. Then they began to collapse, killing thousands of dwarves in massive cave-ins. With fewer and fewer opportunities to shore up their dwindling population, the dwarven elders commissioned ever more desperate measures to restore power to the remaining forges. Some legends speak of dark experiments with necromancy during this period, none of which managed to preserve the spark of life that allowed dwarves to maintain balance between flesh and steel. Some believe that abominations from the Dwarven Exigence still walk beneath the Mechanism, and that the undead infesting Mazrothir were born from these failed prototypes. At last, the elders of forges Kushg and Rothmar announced that their forges had been rekindled. No dwarf dares divulge the secret of their salvation, but it was clear that whatever techniques had saved the remaining forges could not make their furnaces burn quite as brightly as before. Completely new dwarves lacked the durability and vitality of their high dwarven forebears. Even today, dwarves with arms, legs, and hearts that date from before the Exigence are honored for their stamina and strength.
While the events of the navigators and Dwarven Exigence had captured the attention of the heartland and crownland nations, those in the borderlands were able to thrive unchecked in a period known as The Copper Throne. During this time, greenskins under the reign of several particularly cunning goblin kings attacked and defeated many smaller human nations in a coordinated attack that united desperate dwarven clans and ambitious lesser elven Houses in a sequence of devastating dual pronged political and military attacks. The early success of these plans caused a massive power shift in greenskin lands that allowed previously warring tribes to unite under one banner and the goblin kings carved large chunks out of human empires. Almost overnight, the heartland nations were forced to reevaluate their view on these borderland barbarians.
The goblin and orcish occupation of human-settled lands lasted half a century, in which greenskins were able to flaunt their power, often brutally. It ended, however, when the downtrodden hobgoblin minority (now simply called hobbes), aided concerned heartland governments in assassinating the goblin kings and their closest supporters. This created a power vacuum that destroyed the goblin kings’ empires within a decade, as those greedy for power clambered over each other in a chaotic scramble to seize control. Though it was quite a struggle, hobbes eventually gained a foothold in human lands for their part in rescuing smaller nations, while other greens were exiled. Incidentally, the elven Houses that supported the Copper Throne made the transition to heartland loyalty without missing a beat or spilling any blood.
Perhaps the darkest hour of the Residuum was the period that spanned the Wailing and the Brood Upwelling. Gaping holes in the ground opened up, as sinkholes bored their way to the surface. The World Gears and arterial tunnels were deteriorating, crumbling, due to disturbances far below. And from each sinkhole came a moaning, machinelike wail. Even nations with the foresight to construct defenses did not foresee the massive brood invasion that followed. The dissonant horrific sounds that chorused through the cosmos on that night will be remembered for many lifetimes. While the initial overflow of broodlings were destroyed by the morning sun, eradicating them took more than a decade, and enlisted the help of the wayward titans, some of whom stayed in the heartlands to this very day and founded the City-State of Hollow.
The early draug and human borderland vanguard, spurred on by the recent victory and restriction of copperblood forces, led an expedition into the little explored borderland region to seek revenge against the Brood on the edge of the Major Plate. An exhaustive search revealed nothing, but the presence of armies at the world’s teeth provoked a hostile response from the elemental inhabitants of the ancilliary spokes. The exploratory forces were decimated and retreated to their crownland nations, bringing news of the elemental scourge, and subsequently triggering the First Spoke War. The military forces of both sides pushed back and forth over half a decade until victories in the Azuria forced a mass retreat and the elemental forces retreated, making a man named General Lonhark a household name even to this day.
The returning successful armies of the First Spoke War lead to further restlessness in the Heartland and Crownland nations. Arrogance and imperialism had spread throughout the area and twenty nations were soon swallowed up by more aggressive neighbors. There were grand changes and unifications across the political landscape as countries expanded or became annexed or subjugated by others. Towards the end of this Consolidation, forced teamwork and the general realization that greater shared resources resulted in a higher standard of life allowed the new emerging empires to become accepted, even celebrated.
Many historians believe that the New Epoch would have arrived a century earlier had explorers in the Consolidation period not chanced upon a fragment of the ancient Nemesis Gear. Foolishly, and ignorant to the countless historical records that surround the device, the artifact was put to work in a machine called the Anchor of Eberrol. This anchor immediately ceased the rotation of the elemental planes, allowing mining companies to reap the precious lodes of the elemental spokes. But within several months, the world began to rebuke this tormenting thorn and convulsed with earthquakes, storms and weather that had not been witnessed since the Cataclysm.
The united armies of the elemental spokes immediately united to destroy the device, and did so with swift and merciless efficiency. But restoring the cycles of the world machine to their rightful pace was not enough to quell the anger now rising amongst the elementals. Ogryn, efreeti, sylph and nereids banded together in a force even deadlier and more experienced than seen before. This force began the Second Spoke War, a war of pure vengeance with no goal other than to pierce deeply into heartland nations and wound them, prevent them from committing such atrocities upon the world again. Some seven years later, over the ashes of many crownland nations, they punched into the heartlands. But quite unlike any conquerors that came before them, they seemed satisfied at their destruction, and just left. It was never their intention to take or rule over their enemies; just to teach them a valuable lesson.
Following the Second Spoke War, however, the elemental races did not fare so well on their return. Unchecked dracogen had built up in large deposits around the teeth of the major plate and it began hatching as the victorious armies returned. Young drakes amassed into large swarms that could black out the sky and devoured anything in their path, destroying whole villages and towns. This phenomenon is now known as an Ancillophage (a plague from the ancilliary gears of the mechanism). This new outside threat, and the weakness of most militaries at this time, caused instant and unanimous unification of nations in the borderlands and crownlands. Though the Ancillophage was a terrible time in which to live, the period is better known for its heroes, which sprung from every corner of the world to battle the drakes before they could become full grown. Several accounts even tell of airship fleets battling against a full grown dragon, though it is unlikely that any drake could grow to this size in such a short time.
The national unification continued into a period known as the Spoils. Heartland and Crownland countries pushed for diplomatic relations with the Ancillites in order to establish formal trade agreements, but the isolation and bloody history of the Spoke Wars and post-Ancillophage fatigue impeded this effort. Nevertheless, trade cities in the harsh borderlands, called Periphs, were established and soon trade evolved naturally. The navigators played a vital role in the establishment of these trade towns, as they were able to travel ahead and predict where gears would meet, to maximize the resource exchange between momentary meetings of the world’s teeth. Fear and superstition about these skybound people abounded during these times, as the navigators had no qualms about destroying anyone who abused the trade lanes. They were fair –harshly so. But somehow it worked, and the ancillite races began interacting with annulites in a manner that was civil and regulated for the first time in many centuries.
The High Residuum is a period remembered for its quiet political revolutions and the re-emergence of republic governments. One brief empire, known as the Valdius Republic, united the varied cultures of the heartlands for over thirty years. While corruption and abuse of power did play its part in achieving such political strength, the fact that they did not bear arms nor attack with military force was a sign that times were changing for the better.
The last named period of Residuum history is referred to as the Last Days. Political unity fragmented during these years, as the needs of heartland nations were found to be altogether too dissimilar to survive under the rule of a single government. Furthermore, the great Colossus, crowning achievement of the Valdius Republic drained the resources of all its neighboring lands. These small nations broke away from each other in sequence from largest to smallest until only the Arterial Island remained. But in the absence of the heartland’s previous infrastructure, the Colossus could not be completed.
The two remaining territories broke away from each other, forming the City-States of Delton and Nexus, the latter of which was officially founded when the Oracle expelled all but her inner circle of acolytes into the world above. From this point on, she was known as the ruling Paradigm of Nexus, paving the way for other independent rulers to lead the heartland city-states into a new epoch.
Although the impact of the Neruvian Ark was so devastating that it set off the Cataclysm, the truth is that thousands of survivors , refugees, and their descendants had been living in the wreckage of the Ark for centuries. The oldest and most famous of these survivors was the Oracle, the machine intelligence whose wisdom had only increased with the passage of time. When the Ark crashed to the foot of the Spire, the crew rebelled, slaying whatever Paragons remained with their superior numbers. As earthquakes, volcanoes, storms, and worse wracked the Mechanism, the skeletal Ark endured, its entrance hidden by cave-ins and camouflage. As the Residuum dawned, the people of the Ark began to find their way to the surface. They attended the Conclave in secret, never betraying the location of their home, and during the Upwelling they returned, holding the hull of the Ark against the Brood.
Yet as the Residuum drew to a close, the systems that had sustained the inhabitants of the Ark for so long began to fail. Fresh water and food became scarce, and surface foraging could barely make up the difference. The Oracle realized that her children, as tradition holds she refers to Nexans even now, had to leave the Ark for good. Room by room, the Oracle began to seal off the Ark to all but her most trusted servants, who guard her even now. With the fall of the Valdius Republic, the foot of the Spire was no longer patrolled, and some twenty thousand exiles broke ground on a new city-state. They named it Nexus in honor of the Oracle, who had served as the command nexus of the Ark before its fall. The emergence of the Nexans on the world stage heralded the beginning of the New Epoch, and Nexus welcomed the people of the Mechanism to a second Conclave.
The assembled delegates came to a quick consensus that the grievous errors of the past must never be repeated, and that none should disturb the inner workings of the Mechanism ever again. The Conclave drafted the Proclamation, which recognized Nexus as a sovereign city-state and prohibited all access to the core mechanisms of the World Machine. The signatories promised to prevent any such access with overwhelming military force.
Aided by the fascinating insights of the Nexans, who boasted centuries of experience with the use and maintenance of mythwork technologies, the second Conclave set off a wave of scientific and industrial innovation. Important advances in miniaturization by researchers from Ockhelt raised the tantalizing possibility of mass-produced arcane manipulators; over two centuries later, pre-calibrated wands and staves can be purchased nearly everywhere. The second Conclave also produced the first toilers, mechanical laborers with rudimentary intelligence. Dwarves compared notes on forge operation with Nexan engineers, using fresh elements provided by the Ancillites to significantly improve the quality of dwarven components. Suffice it to say that each delegate to the Conclave returned home with blueprints that would revolutionize life on the Mechanism.
The Rise of the Superpowers marks the period in which three fledgling nations grew to an astounding size. The joyous reunification of the verseward and clockward halves of Avenoss soon escalated into annexation of their weaker neighbors, tripling the population and territory of the nation overnight. Soon after, spurred by fear and suspicion of their Aven neighbors, Stoigmar began to unite their lands through brute military force and calculated political executions. Fear of the burgeoning Stoigmari government led several nearby territories to capitulate without a single shot being fired. Lastly, after decades of division, Ostenia was formed by a treaty between the religious states and the feudal baronies, creating a nation that would be able to withstand aggression by both Stoigmar and Avenoss. The conflicting traditions of the Old and New Kingdoms of Avenoss remain a contentious issue to this day.
The Rise of the Superpowers created tension throughout the Major Plate, forcing smaller Heartland city-states to erect defenses to repel the forces of Avenoss, Ostenia and Stoigmar. For centuries before, the existence and survival of most city-states lay in the hands of the mighty Paradigms that protected them. Though each Paradigm was a being of immense wisdom and power, one alone could not repel an army. Thus, it was determined that a treaty must be established between as many city-states as possible for the protection of their sovereignty. Each city-state appointed its own Paradigm and the treaty was signed, ensuring the military unity of the city states in case of aggression. The pragmatic genesis of the Heartlands has made its national identity somewhat vague; despite all attempts to the contrary, each city-state remains culturally distinct.
With the political and military power balanced between the Paradigms and the other three superpowers, a military stalemate occurred and peace ensued. Trade and infrastructure development began to thrive, with the Heartlands at the center of it all. The improvements to the average standard of living during this period are amazing. Some consider the period a second Renaissance – personal vehicles, electrical lampposts, doppeltypers, memory boxes, steamstresses, a national postal service, telegraphs, luminamps and more were developed while the Heartlands flourished. They became a hub of trade, education and philosophical discourse. Their economies boomed, and the Mechanism enjoyed a short-lived golden age.
In the Colonial Years, the superpowers of Avenoss, Stoigmar and Ostenia sought further resources to help maintain their war economies. The Treaty of Paradigms prevented most spireward expansion, turning the armies of the three superpowers to the smaller nations in the crownlands and toothward reaches. Towards the end of The Colonial Years, many minor territories were annexed, extending colonial reach as far as the Periph outposts on the edge of the Major Plate. Areas that had been peaceful for decades were overwhelmed by airships, tanks, and colossi. But though they succumbed to invasion so easily, their populations were far from loyal to their new masters.
It quickly became apparent to each of the great nations that maintaining control over so many disparate territories would be impossible. Ijolea was the first to lash back at its conquerors, as separatist guerilla forces sprung up all over the nation to fight both Stoigmari and Avenian garrisons. And before a military response could be properly organized, a storm of anti-colonial sentiment wreaked havoc on the forces occupying Aglosen, Perivia, Kalanay, Gilduross, Inner Yusuna and Ulixium. When the superpowers were cut off from the resources these smaller nations provided, they found themselves unable to cope with these uprisings. The Independence Wars began in earnest, forcing formerly aggressive governments to withdraw and abandon these toxic colonies insulate loyal territories from counterattack.
The colonial armies of the superpowers continued to retreat from their former posts for decades in a period known as the Relinquishing. Yusuna managed to establish an army capable of freeing itself from Ostenian rule, and drove the oppressors out in a war that devastated the holy city of Patria and forever divided the surrounding region. Soon after, a small spireward section of the island of Aglosen was granted independence and was allowed to enter into the Treaty of Paradigms with the other Heartland city-states. Perivia and Ulixium freed themselves through similar means, entering into agreements with their former masters that ensured independence in exchange for trade exclusivity and limited demilitarization. The window of opportunity to thwart colonial powers was, however, very small and closing fast. While many smaller territories managed to secure sovereignty, the superpowers became more able to defeat uprisings, and in the end managed to hold on to their most valuable holdings. Ijolea was the last nation to break free, enduring a long a bloody war between Avenoss and Stoigmar until 229NE when Stoigmar intervened to evict the Avenian army and effectively establish an independent buffer zone between the two superpowers.
The Relinquishing seemed to herald a new era of peace, but this would not last long. A renegade dwarven engineer named Nuhl emerged from a heretofore undiscovered Mazrothirian forge leading an army of malformed creatures that would come to be known as the Wretched. Nuhl had assembled the cast-offs that forgemasters across Mazrothir had flung into the void since the Cataclysm and brought them to life with dark energies. He demanded that the elders of each forge welcome these abominations as long-lost brethren, and hail him as a hero. The first elder to refuse him was forced to watch as the entire population of his forge was torn limb from limb to feed Nuhl’s growing army.
A mass exodus ensued as each forge fell to the undead menace. Some fled to the Heartlands, where many settled in Wroughton, while others crossed the mountains into Stoigmar. Most found their way to Ulixium, where the steam dwarves had already begun to draft a plan to retake Mazrothir. It became clear that taking back the clock dwarven homeland would take more manpower than the Ulixi, Wroughtoner, and Stoigmari dwarves could muster. The nations bordering Mazrothir have seen fit to guard their borders against the Nuhlian Gate, but none dare invade. The Clockwork Exile continues to this day, and dwarves across the Mechanism advocate tirelessly for an international response.
Today, the eyes of the World Machine have turned to Nexus, where rumors have begun to circulate regarding a recent archaeological discovery. No one can say exactly what it is, only that it’s important, and that some previously obscure organizations within Nexus have received an influx of new recruits. Neither the Triumvirs, the Nexan Guard, nor the Heartlands Council have given credence to these rumors, or even identified the factions in question, but their silence has only increased speculation about the city-state and its mysterious secret.