Hoo boy. Total Annihilation: Kingdoms, if ever there was a game with wasted potential this is it. So what is Kingdoms exactly? Well cast your mind back to the murky past of the late 90's; Cavedog are on the way out due to just not making enough money with their flagship Total Annihilation title. Exactly how or why Kingdoms was concieved I have no idea but as Cavedog floundered they gave the Total Annihilation engine to a new team and set them to work; in a post-Starcraft world the Kingdoms team decided that unlike its predecessor Kingdoms would require a proper story with actual characters and thus the world of Darien was born.
Darien is an odd setting as we will see, many of the fantasy staples (Dragons) are present but at the same time many others are missing or appearing in very odd forms but we'll get to that as we play. A fun thing to note about the Mage Emperor of Darien Garacius who basically united the known world is that he also invented boats; I don't think this is mentioned anywhere outside of the manual's backstory which I will try and track down and locate a copy perhaps to read to you guys during one of the longer missions.
So I've heard something about this game being kind of long?
Well now, Kingdoms is a great game but it is deeply, deeply flawed and pacing is probably the greatest of its flaws. Kingdoms is a slow, sloow game and I fully expect that the last missions in the campaigns will require over an hour and a half for me to complete even if I know what I'm doing (which I almost certainly do not) so prepare yourselves for that. Fortunately Kingdoms opens with a series of fairly short missions before opening up with the big guns.
This sounds interesting, tell me more
Well aren't you a crazy son of a bitch; I'll let Wikipedia explain because
Total Annihilation: Kingdoms or TA:K is a medieval fantasy real time strategy game created and released by Cavedog Entertainment on June 25, 1999. While it was the last major title from Cavedog Entertainment, an expansion pack, The Iron Plague, was released in 2000.
Total Annihilation: Kingdoms is the anticipated second installment of the Total Annihilation franchise. Although the game is neither a prequel nor a sequel to the original Total Annihilation game, comparisons between the two games are inevitable. There are numerous thematic and design differences between Total Annihilation and Total Annihilation: Kingdoms.
- A more in-depth storyline, told with cutscenes between missions just as Total Annihilation had, but with more detail.
- A change from a futuristic setting to a fantasy setting.
- Simplified resource-management, with just one resource (mana) instead of two (metal, energy).
- Four sides at the start, as opposed to the original's two, with an expansion pack that added in a fifth.
- While the original Total Annihilation has players playing through the Core or Arm campaigns separately, Total Annihilation: Kingdoms switches between the four groups, players playing each side, as the levels progressed.
- Unlike the original Total Annihilation which has most of the units on its two factions virtually the same, other than in appearance, Total Annihilation: Kingdoms has very distinct characteristics between factions.
Holy crap there are cinematics and shit
Yes there are! Unlike my previous LP this LP is full of professionalism and I am even doing the magic of video editing so that you get to watch the incredible briefing videos that Cavedog went to all that effort to make.
So how does this game work?
Despite all the many changes to the engine that definitely did not make the game almost unplayable on modern hardware Kingdoms is still Total Annihilation; you still manage resource flows rather than discrete resource units and you still build giant masses of dudes and slam them into other giant masses of dudes. However, that said there are a few changes and the most ovbious of these is the complete lack of a sensible UI; Kingdoms subscribes to the theory that the less information the player has the better for them and I will be pointing out ovbious instances of UI silliness as we come across them. Another change is the reduction to only a single resource type; mana which is collected like metal from specific locations by building a structure on them, apparently two resources was just too complicated for people to handle.
Also unlike its predecessor the campaign of Kingdoms tries to tell a linear story, so rather than having seperate campaigns for each side you instead have one campaign where you just switch between which side you are controlling as appropriate. This results in some amusement especially in relation to building restrictions.
It sounds like this game is kind of bad
It kind of is, but despite all its flaws I love Kingdoms anyway; it passes the most important test for a game in that it is fun to play even if it does take forever to actually do anything. I spent hundreds of hours as a kid playing Kingdoms and I never actually completed the campaign without cheating so this LP will be an interesting journey for me in that respect.
Sit down and get ready for a riveting ride through the high fantasy land of Darien which I totally promise is definitely not generic and bland in any way.
Disclaimer: I am a known liar.
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!!! LOREPOST WARNING !!!
THE CHRONICLES OF DARIEN
MANY THOUSANDS OF YEARS AGO, THE WORLD OF DARIEN WAS UNITED INTO ONE: THE KINGDOM OF KANDRA.
The Kandrans were a race as old as Darien itself, and their strict but benevolent rule stretched to the most faraway corner of their dominion. This rule was exceptional in one respect it was not upheld by a vast bureaucracy, an omnipresent spy network or garrisons of soldiers in every little town and village. The Kingdom of Kandra drew its power from the Kandrans mastery of Mana, the currency of magic.
THE MAGICAL POWERS OF THE KANDRANS
The Kandrans were masters of magic even an average Kandran was capable of such simple, useful feats as turning water into beer or dissolving an ugly body wart. It is believed that the Five Wizards of Kandra held enough power to destroy the entire universe. At least part of this power was believed to come from a secret artifact known as the Heart of Thesh. It was rumored that the Heart of Thesh gave its possessor the ability to summon a devastating force, a force against which there was no defense.
Fortunately, the Five Wizards of Kandra were as wise as they were powerful. While they instantly knew of any trans-gression of their code called the Laws of Life and doled out appropriate punishments, the Wizards never abused their position. They knew that any bending of the natural rules inherent in the manipulation of Mana would have disastrous consequences. And so, any personal joy derived from their immense powers was tempered by the weight of equally immense responsibilities. Kandran Wizards practiced their magical arts at special, sacred sites that enhanced the power of the magic. These sites, marked by a circle of standing stones, probably contained extraordinary concentrations of Mana. It is an established fact that these sites retain special magical properties even today. When Mana was used on a truly massive scale, a rare mineral would sometimes result. This was known as mogrite a substance that gives mere humans immense magical powers, as well as immortality.
THE FIVE LEGACIES
The Kandrans were quick to recognize the value of mogrite. All of the five mogrite stones ever found were incorporated into items known thereafter as the Five Legacies: a pendant, a bracelet, a scepter, a ring, and a throne. Four of the Legacies symbolized the four elements Earth, Water, Wind and Fire while the fifth stood for the amalgamation of the four elements into one entity: the world. Thus, the pendant containing the mogrite stone known as the Stone of Darien symbolized Earth, and the bracelet with the stone known as the Soul of Kandra symbolized Wind. The scepter topped with the stone known as Angvirs Flame symbolized Fire, while the ring with the small but incredibly pure Machas Tear symbolized Water.
The biggest mogrite jewel, symbolizing the world as a whole, was known as Modrons Eye. It was mounted on the top of the Throne of Ludd, an imposing throne sculpted from blackstone, a Darien rock as hard as steel. The Five Legacies were put in the custody of the Five Wizards of Kandra. Each Wizard was responsible for a particular Legacy for a single year. At the end of every year, the Wizards exchanged the Legacies among themselves. This was meant to underline the fact that the Wizards were not owners, but merely custodians, of the Five Legacies.
THE DECLINE OF KANDRAN CIVILIZATION
The Kandrans thought that putting the mogrite Legacies under the Wizards care would ensure continued peace and security. Alas, they were wrong. As time went on, the Wizards realized that possessing a mogrite stone meant much more than greatly increased magical powers. Mogrite also gave its possessor such benefits as immunity to sickness, almost instant healing of wounds and injuries and incredible longevity. It also turned out that the mogrite stones incorporated into the Five Legacies were of unequal power. Modrons Eye stood out, in particular, for it gave its owner or custodian practical immortality. The uniting principle behind the Five Wizards was their equality as regards one another. Now, the custo-dian of the throne with Modrons Eye was more fortunate than the others. Whats more, the Wizards new, long lifespan wasnt that pleasing to all the Kandrans. The resentment arose very slowly; the Kandrans were a people who enjoyed long lives in general the average Kandran could hope to live well in excess of a hundred years. But after two generations of Kandrans had gone by, and the same set of Wizards contin-ued to govern the kingdom, eyebrows were being raised and questions asked. They were asked most loudly by the five acolytes chosen to succeed the reigning Wizards. It took thirty-six years to train a talented Kandran for the Wizards post; the training was very strict, conducted in conditions similar to solitary confinement. One set of acolytes had already died without ever putting their hard-gained knowledge into practice. And so, the candidates-in-waiting whispered and grumbled, sometimes publicly, which was a scandal without precedent in Kandran history.
THE FALL OF KANDRA
In happier times, the Five Wizards would have instantly been aware of the discontent. They would have righted the wrongs, punished the wrongdoers if any and things would have returned to normal. But the Wizards were increasingly involved in a power struggle. By that time, they all had their favorite Legacies, and of course the most coveted prize of all was the throne with Modrons Eye. The final calamity struck without warning. There are no records, no evidence of what exactly led to the catastrophic collapse of the Kingdom of Kandra. Was it a Wizard making a vicious bid for ultimate power? Was it a bitter acolyte, a frustrated Wizard-in-waiting, putting his hard-gained knowledge to devious ends?
No one will ever know.
THE DAY OF THE GREAT CALAMITY
What we do know is that exactly 427 years to the day after the Wizards took custody of the Legacies, Darien was struck by the ultimate disaster. All natural laws suddenly ceased to work. Farm animals swelled and burst as their bodily fluids instantly transformed to gas. People died horrible deaths, bones snapping as their bodies twisted into impossible shapes, eyes popping clear of their contorted faces as their heads swelled and cracked open likeoverripe grapefruits. In the Kandran capital, the enormous belusa trees lining all the main streets shriveled and split lengthwise, spilling smoking sap. Seas and lakes hissed and steamed, rivers became rocky canyons, and mountains roared and crumbled into stony plains. Finally, the land itself groaned horribly, and a devastating earthquake swept Darien far and wide. It was all over in a couple of heartbeats. A terrible silence fell over the tortured land of Darien, and then a bloody rain came down and fell for three nights and days.
THE HEALING OF DARIEN
Incredibly, handfuls of life survived among them, a few dazed witnesses of the cataclysm that had just passed. They did not know why they had been spared and didnt dare to speculate. For immediately following the catastrophe, Darien was blessed by a period of incredibly clement weather that lasted the better part of a century. New water springs burst open across the land, deserts slowly filled with seas of swaying grass and birds began to twitter yet again, perched on the branches of young saplings.
It was as if Nature had decided to nurse the world back to health; slowly, the scattered survivors of the disaster grew into clans and tribes. But however far away and out of touch they were, all those freshly born pockets of civilized life shared one belief, one attitude: an absolute abhorrence of the magical arts. Merely speaking about the existence of the Kandran plaything that had laid low the land meant severe punishment. The enormous store of magical knowledge accumulated by the Kandrans was lost. And as hamlets grew into villages, and villages into towns, there developed a new faith: a belief in the essential rightness of things as they were. If something was a certain way, that was the way it was meant to be.
THE NEW DARIEN
The healing of Darien took thousands of years. The newly emerged tribes had adopted a new calendar, starting with the day of the Great Calamity as Day One. And so we know today that agriculture became possible again in Darien towards the close of the First Millennium; that the Second Millennium ushered in the appearance of numerous new species of flora and fauna; and that by the end of the Third Millennium, most of Dariens scars had overgrown with lush fields and forests. By the middle of the Fourth Millennium, nearly all of the tribes inhabiting Darien had reestablished contact with one another. This spurred progress, and many
areas of knowledge grew by leaps and bounds, not least because finally the various surviving crumbs of Kandran knowledge became available to all. However, one area of Kandran knowledge was left untouched. Of course it had to be the most important matter of them all: Kandran magic. To the creators of Dariens new civilization, magic was a Pandoras box of misfortune that would devour anyone who dared open it. By that time, laws prohibiting magic-related activities werent necessary. To most of Dariens new people, admitting so much as an interest in the magical arts was the social equivalent of confessing to a fancy for gruesome murder.
This was how things were.
THE BABY IN THE WOODS
It was a special day the last day of the Fourth Millennium. Pesco the fisherman was busy poling his boat along the thickly wooded shore. It wasnt easy a mist had settled on the water, and Pesco had to watch out for floating, dead wood, a task made even more difficult by the occasional screen of reeds. He was in a great hurry though, because the evening was to be full of festivities to mark the coming of the New Millennium, and this hurry was his undoing. The flat-bottomed boat suddenly reared up like a startled horse as it struck a half-submerged trunk, and Pesco got very wet.
The water wasnt deep. Pesco stood submerged to his waist, spitting out curses and wringing out his cap. When it was dry enough to put back on his bald head, he did so, and took stock of the situation. It quickly dawned on him that all the fish hed caught earlier were enjoying newfound freedom hed humanely but unwisely left them alive. He was about to start cursing again when he heard the baby cry. He listened, staring wide-eyed into the mist; the cry came again. He waded through the water, then hesitated, standing knee-deep before a twisted tree bending from the shore; he had never seen a tree like that before. The third cry came.
Pesco was suddenly seized with a grim foreboding of something about to happen. Dark-eyed with fright, he didnt even notice the drops of water that ran out from under his cap and down his face. The clammy air was still. Then Pescos arm shot out as if of its own accord and grabbed an overhanging branch. Moments later, he was treading carefully through the moss and tangled grass he was barefoot, and the ground was covered with sharp, dry twigs. He found the baby almost right away he practically stepped on it after he pushed past through a pair of prickly bushes. The baby lay on a patch of open ground, naked as nature had made it, with nothing but a tiny leather pouch tied by thongs to the babys foot.
Pescos thick, scarred fingers untied the thongs with amazing deftness. He pulled the pouch open, peered inside and reacted as if he had just looked death in the face. He jerked his head back and flung the pouch into the forest as far as he could. Those pale, softly glowing grains they had to be something magical! The infant had a pouch of some unnatural substance attached to its foot! Pescos breath came in ragged gasps as he scrabbled around, looking for a suitably large branch or rock. He found his weapon and stood over the baby, trying to summon the determination he needed.
The baby! He could see it was a little boy. He already had nine children of his own. Even if hed found this one untainted by evil he just couldnt afford another mouth to feed. But he could find someone else to take care of it, couldnt he? But there wasnt any sense thinking about it. The pouch Pesco grasped his club firmly. He raised it and held it high for a moment.
But the baby! The baby, the baby, the baby!
With a shriek of dismay, Pesco threw the makeshift club after the pouch, hearing it crash and tear through the shrub-bery. He cursed as he picked the baby up, cursed as he carried it back to the boat, and cursed most of the long way home.
Pesco had always cursed a lot, and that was why he fished alone.
THE HUMBLE FISHERMAN
It is recorded that on the fifth day of the sixth month of the sixteenth year in the Fifth Millennium, a youth named Garacaius passed the final examinations at the Ugarit Academy and left this famous school under a cloud. Before graduation, each student was required to submit an essay on an extracurricular subject. The subject didnt really matter what mattered was the students ability to argue a point in a logical and convincing manner. Prize-winning essays included The Joyful Fly: An Examination of the Relationship Between Selected Household Insects and Wildberry Jam, and the sensational Stories My Mute Father Never Told Me: Adventures in Carpentry. Young Garacaius, however, had dared to write a treatise on Mana, and the role of magic in the natural world!
To many, this confirmed Garacaius as a suspicious character. To start with, it was well known that he attended the Academy through the help and protection of the Leimar clan, which practically ruled Ugarit. Yet he had repeatedly stated that he was not a member of the clan, most recently when tensions between the Leimar and the Balistan clans briefly flamed into armed hostilities. When asked about his birthplace, Garacaius claimed to come from a fishing village south of Ugarit. But a couple of students passing through that very village quickly found that none of its inhabitants had ever heard of Garacaius. In short, he was already somewhat suspect by the time he submitted his scandalous paper. All over Ugarit, doors leading to prospective employers firmly slammed shut.
Garacaius did not ask for anyones help. He left Ugarit and made his way to the fishing village he thought hed come from. His Leimar relatives had told him about the poor fisherman who couldnt afford the upkeep of a child. He found Pesco, by then bent with age, though still cursing as fluently as ever. To his chagrin, the old fisherman refused to answer any questions about Garacaius origins. Garacaius had nowhere to go, so he stayed. He went out fishing with old Pesco the first person ever to do that and the old man was quietly grateful for a companion who did not object to his rude manner and helped with tasks he found increasingly difficult. What was more, before long the young man showed a flash of talent that amazed the fisher-man.
THE BOAT THAT CHANGED DARIEN
The boat Pesco used had a flat bottom, like all Darien craft. Its shallow draft meant it could easily skim the waters on calm days and penetrate any encountered river with ease. However, the slightest storm could be extremely dangerous. After a lot of nagging, Pesco agreed to help Garacaius build a new boat with a revolutionary design featuring a deeper draft. Almost half of the hull was to be underwater! Pesco argued a boat like that would be difficult to steer, slow to gather speed and slow to stop, and that the submerged hull would never be watertight. But his arguments were in vain Garacaius was as stubborn as a mule, and in the end the old man gave up.
By the beginning of the next fishing season, the boat was ready. To everyones amazement, it was almost as easy to maneuver as the traditional flat-bottomed craft. Whats more, its superior stability allowed the use of a sail in relatively strong wind. Before long, Garacaius and Pesco were making long voyages to hitherto inaccessible fishing grounds. It was during one of these longer trips that Pesco finally told Garacaius how he had found him, as a baby abandoned in the forest. It isnt clear whether he mentioned the magical pouch. What is known is that Pesco and Garacaius began returning from their trips with immense hauls; in one voyage, they would net more fish than all the remaining fishermen in the village.
For the first time in his long, hard life, Pesco had enough money to spend every weekend in the village inn, drinking as if there were no tomorrow and pinching any shapely female bottom within reach. One weekend, staggering back home after a night of libations, poor old Pesco fell into a roadside ditch half full of water from a recent rain. Mean tongues said he was asleep before he hit the water.
But there were also whispers that Pesco said Garacaius had used unnatural talents to secure a rich catch on every fishing trip, and that there was an ugly argument, a fight. The fact is, Pesco the old fisherman was dead drunk, and drowned in ankle-deep water. Suddenly, Garacaius found himself resented. Pescos family held him partly responsible, although just a month earlier they couldnt praise him enough for his role in turning around Pescos fishing fortunes.
A week after Pescos death, Garacaius loaded his few belongings onto his boat and sailed west out of the village harbor and into the open sea. The fishermen mending nets
at the end of the pier glanced up from their work from time to time and looked at the solitary sail. It grew progressively smaller, lingered as a white spot on a sea lit golden by the setting sun, then disappeared.
THE GOOD FORTUNE OF THE MERCHANTS OF IRGIRON
Irgiron, an island located right in the center of Darien, had always been an important trading center. At the dawn of the Fifth Millennium, Irgiron was home to a dozen trading houses that kept a firm grip on most of Dariens intercontinental trade. The merchants of Irgiron werent as well off as they could have been, because the flat-bottomed trading vessels in use at that time were notoriously unseaworthy. As a result, the merchants lost as many goods to the sea as they managed to trade. Therefore, the appearance of a young man who claimed to have invented a truly seaworthy boat excited a lot of interest.
Within a short time, Garacaius had all the support he needed to begin building an ocean-going ship. He retained the oarsmen Darien craft were traditionally powered by seamens arms rather than wind but added a large square sail. As he explained to the merchants, the stability provided by the ships deep draft allowed the use of a sail in almost any weather. Furthermore, the deep hull offered the possibility of large cargo holds Garacaius claimed his vessel would be able to carry as much merchandise as half a dozen of the traditional craft, and carry it in safety.
He was right. Within a few years, Irgirons population doubled. New manufacturers popped up almost weekly, and the Irgiron merchants grew fat and happy.
THE RISE OF GARACAIUS
As for Garacaius, he had established trading posts of his own in all the principal ports of Darien and became one of its richest citizens. He established his center of operations in Estoril, Irgirons largest town. He built a magnificent house for himself, containing what was said to be the biggest library in Darien. But Garacaius did not seem to enjoy the fruits of his efforts more and more he left business affairs in the hands of trusted associates and disappeared for months on private expeditions. He explored all of Dariens seas and was rumored to have set foot on some of the unexplored, strange lands beyond Darien. He made long voyages inland on one of those, he reached the lost city of Waleph; its inhabitants had been cut off from the rest of Darien for five thousand years.
THE STRANGE VOYAGES OF GARACAIUS
The men who accompanied Garacaius on these voyages were very close-mouthed. On occasion, especially when they had just returned from another journey and the relief had loosened their tongues, they described many extraordinary things. They spoke of ghost cities, and stone houses along paved avenues populated by no one but birds and wild animals. They described strange creatures, some half animal and half human, and others that clung to life although their eyes had rotted out of their sockets and most of their flesh had decayed and fallen away. The men spoke also of strange places circles of immense stone slabs where the very ground glowed with a soft, moist light.
But the very next day, when asked to explain or to elaborate, the men that had sailed with Garacaius would shake their aching heads and mutter denials. However, one thing they were all happy to say, whenever asked, was that Garacaius was an exceptional man and that they trusted him with their bodies and their souls. This strange mention of the spiritual sent shivers down the backs of most inquirers, and discouraged further questions.
The longest of Garacaius expeditions, which took him to the heart of Zhon, lasted nearly two years. When he returned, his retinue was increased by a new companion: a beautiful woman, as dark-haired and dark-complexioned as Garacaius was fair. Normally this would have excited much comment, and Lasha, the dark-haired beauty, would have been the object of many inquisitive stares. But times had changed during Garacaius latest absence. Things werent normal.
The whole of Darien had been swept by the flame of war.
THE GREAT CIVIL WAR OF DARIEN
It all started in the land of Taros, the land Garacaius had left so many years earlier to seek his fortunes at sea. The clans of Leimar and Balistan had one of their periodical skirmishes, only this time the House of Ontinor felt obliged to put in its two coppers worth. The Ontinor was linked to the House of Aidenfel in the land of Aramon, and in the scuffle Aramons House of Buriash took the opportunity to seize some disputed land. And so it went. Within the year, every single clan and noble house of Darien was engaged in hostilities of some sort against one or more enemies. The web of communication Garacaius had woven with his ships spread the disease of war to every shore.
Garacaius tried to remain uninvolved, but it was hardly possible. Within a month of his return, his trading post on the island of Caora was raided by sea brigands, and the islanders were put to the sword. Garacaius led a small army of volunteers out to punish them, and before he knew it he was involved in half a dozen squabbles with various armed factions.
The Great Civil War of Darien lasted eight years. For the first five, it wasnt so much a full-fledged war as a series of ongoing skirmishes short intervals of peace were interrupted by bloody flare-ups that lost their fire after a couple of furious battles.
THE BIRTH OF VERUNA
However, by the fifth year of the war, things changed. The numerous independent factions, most of them grouped around the noble houses, clans and tribes of Darien, finally merged into four distinct sides. Three of these contestants wanted to pursue the conflict to its bitter end. The fourth a federation of island city-states sought immediate peace and the settling of differences through negotiation. This pacifistic attitude was not surprising, for the island cities were constantly fighting hostile forces, having found themselves caught in the middle of the global battlefield.
It was no surprise that the city representatives elected Garacaius the leader of the island federation. After all, the islands had been his base of operations for many years, and he was widely respected. What was significant was that the federation adopted the name of Veruna, an ancient Kandran word signifying deep regard for the truth.
THE TRIUMPHS OF GARACAIUS
It soon became apparent that the Kandran link went beyond the name. Verunas forces, led by Garacaius, repulsed all attackers with astonishing ease. In the sixth year of the war, one of the noble houses of Aramon, the Dernhest, suddenly declared itself an ally of Veruna, and by the end of the year the entire continent of Veruna was in Garacaius hands. In the seventh year of the war, Garacaius took the southern land of Zhon. But there were also growing rumors that the leader of the forces of Truth had used magic to subdue his opponents.
In the eighth year of the war, Garacaius invaded Taros. His army came ashore not a mile from the fishing village that had been his home. But the village was lifeless its inhabitants had fled, expecting to be massacred. That evening, the great leader was thoughtful and sad as he stood at the edge of his armys camp, watching the sun set over the lifeless houses.
THE REAPPEARANCE OF MAGIC
It was an appropriate portent for what was to follow. The Tarosian campaign turned out to be the most savage of the entire war. The noble houses of Taros ceased all infighting and presented a united front to the invading army. Hopelessly outnumbered, the Taros nobles turned in desperation to that old, secret weapon of the Kandrans: magic. Taros had always had an unfair share of Dariens magic potential. There is a theory that attributes this to the active volcanoes in the Kaf range, which forms the continents rocky spine. The cells of the Judicial Palace in Elam had always contained at least one unfortunate soul put away for showing an unhealthy interest in the magical arts. Now, with the armies of Garacaius quickly advancing inland, these wretched aspiring magicians were hurriedly pulled out of the dungeons and ordered to save the forces of Taros from a certain defeat. As luck would have it, with their very first effort, the newly appointed Wizards managed to blind a cavalry detachment scouting the approach route to Taros capital, Elam. Historians agree that Garacaius was beside himself with fury upon hearing the news. He immediately ordered a forced march on Elam, and demanded an instant, unconditional surrender from the citys defenders. When it was apparent that a surrender was not coming, Garacaius retreated to his tent and emerged wearing a ring no one had seen before. Stepping out in front of the line of his troops, he raised his arms and cried out words in a strange language,
then quickly knelt down and bowed his head. To a man, his entire army, fifty thousand strong,did the same.
Witnesses said a strange, dark mist then descended on Elam, silencing the jeers and insults of the soldiers lining the fortified walls. A long and terrifying silence fell, and at long last the mist began to dissolve. A moment later, Garacaius rose from his knees and led his army into a deserted city.
The entire population had vanished into thin air; it was a very quiet occupying army that marched in. Each throat was gripped by realization that Garacaius was a Mage, a Mage whose powers equaled those of the infamous Wizards of Kandra.
THE NEW MAGE EMPEROR OF DARIEN
After this final victory, there was no question as to who should rule the newly united world of Darien. There was only one possible candidate: Garacaius. He moved swiftly, establishing the new Darien capital in the city that had been his home for some time: Estoril, on the island of Irgiron. He was probably at least partly motivated by sentiment for Irgiron, for that was where he had made his fortune. More coldheartedly, the central location of the island conferred various strategic advantages. Garacaius already magnificent house was rebuilt and expanded into a true palace.
On the day he assumed power, Garacaius made a famous speech to the Darien nobles assembled in the new parliament. He revealed that he had been actively pursuing magical knowledge for many years, and that in the course of his expeditions he had recovered all Five Legacies, the heirloom of the Kandrans. In a famous speech known later as the Oath to Darien, Garacaius swore never to abuse the magical knowledge he had acquired, and to use it only in the direst necessity and in accordance with the wishes of his people. Moreover, Garacaius swore never to use magic for personal advantage, no matter the circumstances.
THE REIGN OF GARACAIUS
In the years that followed, Garacaius kept his oath. His new empire suffered many growing pains. Civil war flared occasionally, as participants of the Great Civil War settled
scores now long overdue. Never, not in a single instance, did Garacaius reach for the awesome weapon at his disposal. All conflicts ran their course, all disputes were settled by very earthly means. There were even those who grumbled that a timely spell was preferable to having ones insides pierced by cold steel.
The first years of the rule of Garacaius were also marked by a personal note. The First Mage Emperor (a title he was said to detest, but which had been conferred upon him by a fearful, but grateful populace) became officially betrothed to the dark-haired Lasha, whom he had met on his last expedition in the land of Zhon. Four children resulted from this union, and their appearance was held to be a miracle of harmony. There were two boys and two girls, and one of each was fair; the others, dark.
By the time his children were of age, Garacaius had quelled all remaining unrest; Darien was in a state of total peace. He began devoting more and more time to his children, and it seemed to suit him. Garacaius had always been a somewhat restless man, with a face that reflected the tensions running through his soul. Now he appeared relaxed, at ease almost happy.
THE TRAGIC DEATH OF EMPRESS LASHA
Tragedy struck as it always does: out of the blue. One day, Garacaius took his family sailing in the first boat he had ever built, the vessel that revolutionized ship design in Darien. It seemed safe enough; he didnt intend to venture beyond the Estoril harbor. The weather seemed perfect sunny and windless. But at sea, weather can change in the blink of an eye, and, after all, Estoril and the island of Irgiron lay in the middle of a vast ocean. The squall hit the harbor like a striking snake. One moment, the water was as placid as a pond. The next, foam-flecked waves reared up as savage blasts of wind whipped and slashed at the sea. The children panicked, and the boat capsized. Garacaius was an excellent swimmer and managed to save the four children, but his beloved wife, Lasha, drowned.
The squall passed as swiftly as it came, but things had changed forever. Garacaius could have saved everyone by using magic. Possibly he wanted to, but hesitated to break his solemn promise. By the time he made up his mind, it was much too late. That morning, as the family clambered onto the boat, Garacaius was a man in the prime of life and thanks to the Legacies in his possession, he could look forward to many years of perfect health. That evening, Garacaius was a crushed old man. And in the days that followed, he sank deeper and deeper into grief, tortured by his conscience.
THE WEAKENING OF THE MAGE EMPEROR
Time passed, but did not heal the wound. The Great Mage Emperor seemed to lose all interest in the well-being of his empire. Trouble followed trouble across Darien, old wounds were reopened and new ones were made. Garacaius acted ignorant; he dismissed agitated couriers with a weary wave of hand and returned to his private hell. Eventually a deputation from all of Dariens tribes and noble houses assembled in Estoril. After a day of debate, the gathered nobles decided to present Garacaius with a demand: Rule, or step down in favor of one of your children. In this way, the nobles hoped to avoid the possibility of infuriating Garacaius one does not pick a fight with a mighty Wizard. And if Garacaius successor would turn out to be wise, all the better. If stupid, he or she could be manipulated.
Garacaius instead chose a compromise. He did not resign, but he put practical control of Darien into the hands of his children. To each, he gave part of the empire that he thought most appropriate. To his daughters, he gave what best agreed with their temperaments; to his sons, what best fit their abilities. As he made the appointments, Garacaius also gave each child one of the Five Legacies. Possessing them would ensure that the new rulers would command more power than any scheming nobleman could ever hope to achieve.
THE FOUR CORONATIONS
His first-born son, Elsin, called Elsin the Fair, was renowned for his open and just nature. Practical, down to earth and honorable, Elsin was nevertheless somewhat less than brilliant his desire for justice outweighed all other considerations. The one area where he shone was the science of engineering, with its straightforward, unbendable laws and rules. Elsin received dominion over the land of Aramon, perhaps the finest of them all. Aramon was the most developed of Dariens continents, and Elsin quickly
proceeded to develop it even more, founding new cities, building roads and bridges, and establishing the famous Aramon Academy of Engineering and Design in the newly built provincial capital, Kaluen. To cement his grip on power, Elsin received the Legacy with the mogrite Stone of Darien mounted into a pendant.
Garacaius second-eldest child was a daughter named Thirsha. Strikingly similar to her black-haired mother, Thirsha loved the land of her mothers birth, the land of Zhon. She was happiest when hunting deep in the bowels of an untamed forest, and spent whole weeks out in the country with just a single groom for company. Thirsha received dominion over her beloved Zhon, the wildest and least explored of Dariens continents. With it, she received the bracelet containing the stone known as the Soul of Kandra. It was particularly appropriate, for the forests of Zhon contained many mysterious ruins dating from before the Great Cataclysm. As with Elsin and Aramon, sending Thirsha to Zhon was an inspired choice. Before long, the stubborn, half-wild tribes of the continent were firmly under her control, and the tribesmen reverently referred to her as the Huntress.
Garacaius younger son and third-born child, Lokken, had shown great promise. But after Lashas death, much of his early brilliance seemed to be replaced with many undesirable traits. Garacaius dearly loved the dark-headed Lokken, perhaps even more so than Elsin, and he believed a hungry mind, when not fed properly, turns to feed on itself. So he decided to give Lokken plenty to think about. Lokken received dominion over Taros. This ancient continent, some of whose tribes proudly claimed to predate the Kandrans, was almost constantly troubled by distur-bances of one sort or another. The four noble houses of Taros all harbored grievances against one another, and much of the land lay wasted by years of fighting. Together with Taros, Lokken received the scepter with the stone called Angvirs Flame. Once again, it seemed to be a wise appointment within a year, Lokken had quelled all unrest with a brilliant mix of diplomacy, brutality and magic.
Garacaius daughter Kirenna was his youngest child, and the one that most resembled her father. The resemblance included a love of the sea that survived her mothers drown-ing. As soon as she was old enough, Kirenna left Estoril for long trips onboard trading ships visiting the farthest corners of Darien. Her co-sailors quickly dubbed her the Sea Mage, for Kirenna had an uncanny knack for anticipating changes of weather and piloting a ship safely through the thickest fog.
Kirenna received the dominion of Veruna and the ring with the mogrite stone known as Machas Tear. Among her first decrees were the abolition of all internal taxes and the doubling of wages paid to experienced seamen. The inhabi-tants of the islands that formed the federation of Veruna had a ruler who instinctively knew what her people did best; within a short time, Veruna came to command a virtual monopoly on sea trade.
Garacaius remained to oversee the first years of his childrens rule. He was a forlorn figure in the Estoril palace, a sad old man seated on the fifth Legacy, the blackstone Throne of Ludd. Although the mogrite Eye of Modron topping the throne assured health and vitality, each new day aged Garacaius by a week. He seldom spoke, and most of those who tried to talk to him received no more than a sad stare in answer.
THE END OF AN ERA
Ten years passed. All of Estoril prepared to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Four Coronations. Among the scheduled attractions were a sea parade featuring the finest ships from Verunas fleet; the inauguration of the Darien Exhibition, featuring awe-inspiring machines and other examples of fine engineering from Aramon; and the opening of a gallery called The Wonders of Zhon, exhibiting unique handicrafts and works of art from that exotic land. After night had fallen, the assembled public was to be treated to a performance of the Fire Eaters of Taros, a group of artists skilled in manipulating fire in all its shapes and forms.
The day of the great celebration began with a rosy dawn. The white stone floors of the Estoril palace seemed to be lit pastel peach and orange as Gudnor, personal groom to Garacaius for the last forty years, walked from chamber to chamber in search of his master. He was determined to restore at least some dignity to the man he had loved and served twoscore years, for on this day Garacaius would have to make several public appearances.
It seemed Garacaius had not slept in his bed, and now, as Gudnor approached the Throne Room, his brow was furrowed with concern. It would be unfortunate if his master had chosen to spend yet another night alone on the throne, staring at the nights shadows with unseeing eyes. Such night-long vigils left him looking even more frail and finished. Gudnors hand tightened on the box of pomade given to him by Kirenna, and he entered the Thone Room.
A moment later, his agonized cry shattered the morning peace.
For Garacaius was not in the Throne Room. The Throne of Ludd was empty. And where the stone known as Modrons Eye had been, a cavity yawned mockingly.
The Four Realms
IT HAS BEEN 1527 YEARS SINCE GARACAIUS DISAPPEARED. HIS CHILDREN, ALL OF THEM GRANTED IMMORTALITY BY THE LEGACIES IN THEIR POSSESSION, CONTINUE TO RULE THEIR RESPECTIVE DOMAINS.
However, all this is about to change. For the last couple of centuries, the differences between the four monarchs have become more and more pronounced. The emergence of four different state religions is another sign that the former unity of Darien has been shattered beyond repair. Previously, all Darien worshipped the same gods. Now, most citizens of Aramon wear rings bearing the silver Hand of Anu, Lord of Light, while the people of Taros worship a terrible dark deity called Belial. All religious inhab-itants of Zhon worship Tammuz, the Goddess of the Hunt, and the patron saint of Veruna is Lihr, a mighty sea god.
All four kingdoms have previously fought one another, but now a great divide is opening between West and East. Ever since Garacaius disappeared, the kingdoms of Aramon and Veruna have been loyal to Garacaius great oath renouncing the use of magic in any but the most extreme circumstances. They have concentrated on building their power through economical means where Aramon excels in industry and internal development, Veruna is a trade power-house. Both Elsin, ruler of Aramon, and Kirenna, the Sea Mage of Veruna, insist that their fathers law be obeyed or else.
In the East, Taros is in open rebellion against the constraints imposed by the long-absent Garacaius. Lokken initiated his reign by using magic to subdue and terrorize the rebellious noble houses of Taros. Emboldened by his success, he has been practicing magic with growing intensity, going so far as to reshape the land to his pleasing. This has resulted in unexpected consequences. The Kandran Laws of Life stated he who manipulates Mana is like a swimmer borne along by a swift, powerful current. While one may use it to ones advan-tage, trying to control or alter its course leads to tragedy. Lokken insists everything is going according to plan, but thats not how it looks.
South of Taros, deep within the woods of Zhon, Thirsha the Huntress is also a regular practitioner of magic. Proudly independent, the Huntress has responded to the demands of Elsin and Kirenna with haughty scorn. She will not be told by anyone when it is appropriate for her to practice magic, and she supports Lokken in his right to do whatever he pleases in his domain.
The preceding centuries have already seen several bloody conflicts between the sibling Monarchs. Aramon has fought Veruna over the barren land of Kuvera in the northwest, and over several islands in the Sea of Mannan. The pirates of Zhon prey on Verunan ships and slaughter their crews. Zhon tribes repeatedly raid the rich coast of Aramon, whose Monarch retaliates by launching punitive expeditions deep into Zhon territory. A seemingly implacable hatred exists between Taros and Aramon, who have fought several full-scale wars on ideological grounds.
Each side has many valid grievances against the others, and tempers have reached a boiling point. The Four Monarchs are assembling armies and readying for imminent war.