History of the Phoenix Empire

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The Age of Giants (~900+ years before IC)

The earliest civilisations to arise in the region that would one day become the Phoenix Empire were those of the giants. Ruins and artefacts hint at centuries, if not millennia, of giant rule, with the smaller races facing subjugation, serfdom, or slavery. Throughout this period, different giant kingdoms rose and fell, forging alliances or making war upon one another. Eventually, their numbers and vitality dwindling, the giants collectively withdrew into seclusion, abandoning the bulk of their territory for their erstwhile slave races and degenerate successors to squabble over.

Pre-Imperial: The Hundred Kingdoms (~900 years before IC)

In the centuries immediately following the withdrawal of the giants to their own seclusion, the tribes and clans of the smaller races set about carving up the world amongst themselves. Humans quickly rose to dominance over the region, claiming the best territories as their own and driving out rival clans of goblinoids, ogres, and orcs. Other races were squeezed to the margins by human expansion, none more so than the diminutive halflings, who in many ways found that they had merely exchanged subjugation to one larger, physically more powerful race for another.

Imperial historians refer to this period as the 'Hundred Kingdoms' due to its fragmented political landscape and the bewildering number and variety of competing realms and factions – in reality, there were likely many more than a hundred 'kingdoms' during this era, many of them no larger than a fortified down and all the villages within a day's march of it. As the Hundred Kingdoms period neared its end, many of these smaller states were absorbed by larger realms, through consolidation or conquest, and the other races, in particular elves and dwarves, began to assert themselves as local powers in their own right rather than mere bystanders to human politics.

The Enlightenment and the Phoenix Empire (IY 1 to 441; 1E 1 to 19E 5)

In the waning years of the Hundred Kingdoms period, a leader emerged who set out to unite all the known lands under his rule. Called Shen-Lun, he was a man of tremendous, megalomaniacal ambition, but also profound wisdom. He directed the creation of a bureaucracy to administer the lands he brought under his control, that they would not suffer the self-serving whims of feuding nobles; he established clear laws of succession and inheritance, for his own house and for his vassals, that his empire would outlast him; he communed with the gods and directed that twelve among their number would be honoured above all others, in exchange for their blessings. By the end of his life, Shen-Lun had established Jaoshen, the Phoenix Empire of seven provinces stretching from the Gleaming Gulf to the Purple Mountains, from the Sea of Nine Great Winds to the Ti Shan Mountains.

Shen-Lun welcomed other races – dwarves, elves, gnomes, and halflings especially – as partners in this endeavour, though humanity would yet remain the most populous of the 'enlightened' races. Later Phoenix Emperors would add two further provinces to the Empire's lands, building on Shen-Lun's achievements and ushering in an age of enlightenment and widespread prosperity that endured for over four centuries.

The Succession Crisis and the Regency (IY 441 to 737; RY 1 to 297; 19E 5 to 20E 1)

The rule of the Phoenix Dynasty ended when the sons of the eighteenth Phoenix Emperor, Saebok, became embroiled in a conflict over their succession to the Phoenix Throne. Saebok's eldest son, Saezhen, was born sickly and frail; his second, Gyeozhen, was intellectually stunted; his youngest, Gyeotan, was hale and clever but cruel and wicked. After their father's death, Gyeotan declared himself Saebok's most fit successor and assembled a coalition of ambitious nobles and bureaucrats in opposition to Saezhen's righteful rule. The conflict spanned five years, and saw the loss of the Trade Province to barbarism; eventually, it claimed the lives of all three brothers, as well as many of their supporters. It soon became clear that so many members of the extended Phoenix Dynasty had either been killed or had disgraced themselves in the conflict that no suitable candidate for the Phoenix Throne could be found.

Lacking a prospective Phoenix Emperor whose coronation would not spark further conflicts, the Imperial bureaucracy instead chose to appoint a regent, to oversee the Empire in accordance with Shen-Lun's principles until a true and suitable successor could be found. The chosen regent, an elf named Cho-Hahn Firesong, ruled with integity for almost three centuries, but all his determination to adhere to Shen-Lun's teachings could not stop the rising tide of defiance and territorial ambition among the noble houses, nor the Empire's ongoing slide into decadence.

The Restoration (IY 737 to present; 20E 1 to present)

Several years ago, Regent Cho-Hahn announced his retirement and the restoration of the Phoenix Dynasty. A young noblewoman, Su-Minh Fenghwa, had presented evidence of her blood ties to the old Phoenix Emperors; she enjoyed support from the Imperial bureaucracy, the priesthood, and a coalition of noble families. Before the year's end, she was crowned Phoenix Empress Su-Minh, inheritor of great expectations and a fraying empire.

Now in the third year of her reign, Empress Su-Minh has consolidated her power in the heartlands of the Empire and has begun to move against the defiant nobles who spent the centuries of the Regency establishing their own power bases in the outer provinces. Foremost among her opponents are those noble families who rejected the Regent's authority to appoint provincial governors and instead claimed that power – and, by extension, hereditary rule of the provinces – as their own; the wealth, power, and prestige accumulated by those houses over three centuries will not be readily surrendered. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the Phoenix Empire: the full restoration of Imperial authority, or a descent into open rebellion and bloody civil war.