A thousand years ago, the Vermillion Empire rose and conquered the majority of the continent of Korthima. With magical and historical knowledge of extraordinary power gathered from the ruins of even earlier great civilizations and refined with careful study, no other culture could resist them. Rumors abounded of dark pacts with demonic powers and of horrific rituals that gave Vermillion sorcerors unmatched power. Vermillion armies seemed to appear where they couldn’t possibly be, and Vermillion generals seemed to know enemy plans before battles began. By the time they had finished, there were no powers left large enough to be a threat, and the Vermillion ruled for generations. From time to time the Vermillion perceived another civilization as a threat, and went conquering again.
They built many wonders, including roads, bridges, aqueducts, monuments, and temples to their gods (who were said to be so numerous that every star in the sky had it’s own patron god). Other species were welcomed into the empire, those who weren’t slaves could become citizens (though no real power was ever in non-Vermillion hands). Ethnic and tribal boundaries were irrelevant to the Vermillion, so they were neither obliterated nor respected. There was much mixing and trade all across the empire.
Over the centuries, corruption and decadence took their toll on the Vermillion, until The Catastrophe. Vermillion Emperor Karavian, whose lust for conquest could not be sated, was engaged in war against the last major independent nation on Korthima, the Ustvathi and their 12 deities. Karavian determined that a conspicuous display of overwhelming Vermillion power might cow the Ustvathi into surrender, and hatched the idea of elevating himself to a Sun God that would match that of the Ustvathi.
The result of Karavian’s hubris was a magical detonation in the Vermillion capital that reduced the empire to fragments. The Vermillion call it The Catastrophe. Left to themselves, the Vermillion nobility squabbled and schemed for power. With no heir and no clear successor, the empire descended into chaos. The empire was broken, but it didn’t collapse. Instead it suffered a slow decline until The Retreat.
The Ustvathi remained unconquered, but were not strong enough to take on the Vermillion directly by themselves. They began a campaign of sharing knowledge and resources with a many lesser nations in an effort to build them up. The intention was to create so many minor threats and complications to their internal politics that the Vermillion would break down from the inside. The result was a century of byzantine, cat-and-mouse politics and diplomacy known as The Unwar.
During The Unwar a number of cultures managed to throw of the yoke of Vermillion rule and allied themselves together. This was an extremely complicated and dangerous process over which the Ustvathi had very little control, since trust between these nations was difficult to construct. The Vermillion excellence at intrigue had not diminished, and they had never scrupled assassination. This maneuvering and backstabbing formed the seeds of what would become the League of Free Peoples.
A side effect of The Unwar was an increase in barbarism and violence along with the decay of Vermillion infrastructure like roads, bridges, and watchhouses. This state of regression allowed a resurgence of monstrous creatures that had been suppressed under Vermillion rule, and even to this day it’s unwise to face the deep wilds without preparation.
The Vanishing and The Retreat
No one knows what happened exactly, though the learned have many theories to explain it. What is known is that suddenly and unexpectedly the Ustvathi envoys quit appearing in the capitals of other nations. The aid and advice they had provided was sorely missed, and curiosity was high. At what seemed the same moment, the Vermillion retreated from most of their outlying territories. They abandoned outposts, fortresses, even whole cities, and left the natives of these territories to fend for themselves.
Into this huge power vacuum poured every tribe and city-state that had been subjugated by the Vermillion. No one power could hold more than a small fraction of the formerly Vermillion-ruled territory, but they all tried. The struggle quickly turned violent, and wars between complicated and shifting coalitions spread across the continent. The Vermillion ferociously protected their newly reduced borders, but never left them or participated in any of the fighting between their former subjects. As the conflicts stretched on they drained the resources of every participant, and threatened to drag the civilizations of the whole continent into destruction.
Several nations sent desperate quests to find the Ustvathi and get them to return to help restore order. What they found was as disheartening as it was mysterious. The five Ustvathi cities were empty. Only one was intact, the rest were in ruins. There was no hope of help there.
Tranquility and The League
One of the expeditions to Ustvathi lands located the intact city of Vasthu. There they found something. The city-state that sent them, which calls itself the City of Peace, the Tranquil Demesne, or just Tranquility, never revealed precisely what was found, but subsequently much of their population began worshiping the 12 deities of the Ustvathi pantheon. This city displayed new strength, and became the strongest of the independent states.
The rise of a strong power galvanized the other states, and they formed a loose alliance to keep from falling under the dominance of the Tranquil Demesne or being victimized by any resurgence of the Vermillion. This alliance is called The League of Free Peoples. It’s less an alliance than a “gentleman’s agreement” to oppose any one state from accumulating too much power. The squabbling between the free cities never stops, and trust among them is still hard to come by. The League is a necessity, not an inspiration.
Though they remain dangerous, the Vermillion Empire has been reduced to a 2nd-class power on the continent of Korthima. The City of Peace is more influential. The Vermillion might be stronger, but no one knows (and no one is willing to test). In fact, no one has laid eyes a Vermillion since sometime in The Unwar.
The City of Peace is the economic center of gravity of Korthima. They have used this to pressure and control the territories around them. They protest that they only seek peace, order, and tranquility, but to the League it appears they crave power and control.
The League of Free Peoples and it’s member states are thoroughly diverse and heterogenous. They all seek hegemony, and to prevent other cities from getting it. Trade and relations between them are complicated and difficult, but regular.