The Songlands
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The Songlands

Ur-Athaz the Unconquered

For eons, the elves were the only civilized species in the world. They had not yet founded their brilliant shimmering cities or joined together in powerful magical kingdoms, but they had language, art, culture, and a rudimentary understanding of magic. They favored natural places, particularly forests, and lived in large clan groups in dwellings formed from their surroundings.

They knew, almost instinctively, that another species would rise up from the variety of animals that filled their world, but they didn’t know when. Therefore, It came as something of a surprise when a group of explorers happened upon a settlement. It was built near a river delta that would one day become the southern strait of the Celestial Sea during the Great Rebellion against the Gloriana, many millennia hence. Of course, the gods had not yet been created, and even the Fall of the Discordant Voice was far in the future, so the Celestial Sea was at that time only a large mountain lake, its eventual straits mere rivers that led to the ocean. There, among the delta of one such river, elf met human for the first time. To say it went poorly would be an understatement.

Artist’s rendition of the ancient human settlement first seen by the elves. Licensed from Adobe Stock photos — created by Morphart

The elves were young and proud in those days, filled with notions of their own greatness and importance. When the explorers looked upon the humans with their primitive tools and clothing, their crude dwellings, and language that was little more than the gruntings of their animal forebears, the elves were horrified. The notion that these savages would live as equals to them was abhorrent, and they set about attempting to, as the elves put it at the time, “protect and guide humanity through their infancy and introduce them to the benefits of a superior culture”.

There are many who believe that was the Celestial Choir’s intent for the elf/human relationship, but the corruption wrought upon the Song by the Discordant Voice led the elves to conquer and enslave the humans, exploiting them as laborers and servants, rather than nurturing them as students and proteges. The explorers returned to the woodland elf village that would one day become the kingdom of Lothrae, gathered a troop of elven hunters and warriors, and returned to the human village. The result was a bloody conflict that saw numerous dead on both sides and led to a generation of humans enslaved to the elves, as well as generations of mistrust.

The humans learned much from the elves, however, and some would say they learned far more than the elves would have liked. As humans had no magic with which to shape their surroundings, they took what they learned from the elves and developed the science of engineering. Thus it was humanity, not the elves, who built the first city, though it was not long before the elves learned from humanity’s example.

Ur-Athaz was built near the site of the original settlement at the height of humanity’s conflict with the elves. Its stout walls and cleverly constructed buildings resisted all attempts by even the most powerful elven magic users to take it, earning the city its “Unconquered” reputation for the first, but hardly the last, time. Ur-Athaz would prove its unconquerable status again and again throughout its long history, never falling to an outside force until only a few hundred years ago.

Artist’s recreation of the old Celestial Bridge over the strait. It was considered one of the great architectural marvels of the ancient world. Licensed from Adobe Stock Images — created by Catmando

After the Fall of the Discordant Voice, Ur-Athaz became a sanctuary for elf and human alike during their war with the Fell. When the Priori arrived and brought their own inherent knowledge of building to the world, humans learned how to make their city even stronger. The assault on the Sky Palace of Solarion was launched from Ur-Athaz, and it was behind its stout walls, buttressed by elven spells and Priori engineering, that humans, elves, and Priori survived the tumultuous creation of the Celestial Sea.

In the years following the Great Rebellion, as humanity spread out across the world, Ur-Athaz became known as the center of human knowledge and learning. Great libraries and schools were built as the city grew beyond its original walls. During the War of the Talisman, when it looked as though Umbra would wipe the elves from the face of the world, much of their knowledge and learning was brought to the libraries of Ur-Athaz, a trend which continued throughout the time of the Vanishing.

Ur-Athaz was neutral during the First Canonical War, and served as the site for the negotiations that led to the cessation of hostilities and the eventual sanctification of the Third Canonical Saint of Magic.

In WC175, a cult of sacrificial killers called the Umbruden rose to prominence within the city. They were devoted to the dark goddess Umbra, and sought to conquer the world in her unholy name. They assassinated the King, publicly sacrificing him to Umbra, and used dark magics to bring the city guards under their sway. They took control of the city and began raiding along the coast of the Celestial Sea. The Legions of the Vox Imperium quickly put an end to the raids, going so far as to conquer all territory held by Ur-Athaz save the city itself. A long siege was finally broken during the winter of WC177 when the citizens of Ur-Athaz rose up against the tyrannical cult under the leadership of the late King’s daughter. The Umbruden were executed and their followers purged from the city before the Legions returned the conquered territory to the newly crowned Queen.

The reputation of Ur-Athaz as a center of learning and culture continued to grow, with students travelling from as far as the northern Realm and the southern kingdoms of Al Sahar to study at their prestigious universities. Though many of these students were the children of noble and royal families, the rulers of Ur-Athaz believed that education was a right that should be available to all, and offered a variety of scholarships and aid programs to those who couldn’t afford to pay. When Al Sahar’s Great Awakening during the 3rd Century of the War Calendar resulted in an explosion of discoveries in science and mathematics along with a brilliant flowering of art and literature, the libraries and universities of Ur-Athaz were the means by which those developments spread throughout the rest of the world.

The Grand University of Ur-Athaz, the fist institute of higher learning in the human world. Licensed from Adobe Stock Images — created by Morphart

Though they remained neutral during the First Canonical War, and even helped bring it to an end, Ur-Athaz started the Second Canonical War in the mid-5th Century when they joined the Realm in rejecting the proclamation of the Sixth Canonical Saint.

The Duke of Voxport was overthrown by his cousin in WC462 with the aid of a crusading army from the Realm in return for ships to aid the Realm and Ur-Athaz in their conquest of St. Aegus. The war raged for nearly ten years, and only when a vision of the Sixth Saint appeared on the battlefield did the Realm accept her sanctification and withdraw from the fight. Ur-Athaz refuted the vision and fought on, holding St. Aegus until WC480 when the city was retaken by the Sacred Order of the Standardbearers.

When the Usurper Duke of Voxport was overthrown in WC483, Ur-Athaz lost their only remaining ally and retreated to the borders of their territory. They would never accept the Sixth Saint, and ended up retroactively rejecting all Saints after the Third, burning their temples and monasteries and destroying their sacred texts. In retaliation for what they perceived as their betrayal by other powers, Ur-Athaz expelled all foreigners from their borders, closing their libraries and universities to outsiders. The once cosmopolitan city-state grew increasingly insular from this point, resulting in a steep and irreversible decline.

In the late 6th Century of the War Calendar, the First City of Humankind, Ur-Athaz the Unconquered, finally fell to an alliance of Voxport and Southgard. As the only other port of entry to the Celestial Sea from the ocean, Ur-Athaz was essential to Voxport’s relentless drive to achieve dominance over the sea. Though Voxport initially sought support from the Realm, Parliament voted the matter down, with only Southgard voting in favor. Southgard rejected Parliament’s decree and formed a separate alliance with Voxport in exchange for a share of the considerable wealth looted from Ur-Athaz.

Under the Charter, individual lands within the Realm are forbidden to enter military alliances outside of the Realm, so the reigning Queen sent the army of the Realm to occupy Southgard, hoping to draw their troops back from the fighting. However, the Southgard army was led by latter-born nobles seeking their fortunes, and they decided to occupy Ur-Athaz instead of returning home. Half the army still remained loyal to the Realm and to Southgard, attempted to desert, and ran into the Voxport army en route to challenge the mutineers’ occupation. After a brief battle, the loyalists were allowed to return home to Southgard.

The Congress of Southgard disavowed the mutinous faction of their army, leading Voxport to pull out of the alliance as well. A portion of Voxport’s army also mutinied, joining the Southgard nobles in their occupation. The two occupying forces began to squabble over territory, and the remnant of Ur-Athaz’s army launched an insurrection. This initiated a three-pronged conflict between the Voxport remnant, the Southgard remnant, and the native insurrectionists.

The war raged on for over fifty years, and virtually destroyed the oldest human city in the world. The great libraries were sacked, and many irreplaceable works were lost. Those that were saved were scattered among libraries and universities in other lands.

The Grand University burns as the city falls to a half-century of war. Licensed from Adobe Stock Images — created by kirill_makarov

To save the remaining books from the ruined libraries of Ur-Athaz, an aggressive copying scheme began among scholars, leading through several false starts and half-measures to the invention of the printing press in WC615. The remaining ancient tomes were copied in print, their originals archived in the mountain fortress of Ironhold Keep.

After half a century of fighting and occupying the city, the three armies came to have more in common with each other than their respective “homelands”, and signed a peace treaty. They established the Triarchy, a collaborative government of three Monarchs, with a legislative/judicial/bureaucratic body called the Oligrachy, composed of the remaining ruling/noble families of the three armies.

Though the city-state retained the name of Ur-Athaz, nothing of substance remained from the time before the war. By the end of the 7th Century, the entire city had been rebuilt from the ground up.

While its golden age has long since passed, and only carefully preserved ruins remain of its former glory, the city of Ur-Athaz stands to this day as a monument to the origins of humanity, and a cautionary tale for humanity’s future.

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