Empire-Avernum War

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Historical account: The Empire-Avernum War
Written by Slats the Wise, 855 IE
Began: 822 IE | Ended: 824 IE
Preceded by: The Retaliation of Avernum Succeeded by: Reconciliation


The Empire-Avernum War was a short but extremely fierce conflict, waged throughout the caves of Exile, between the Empire, the Kingdom of Avernum, and the Olgai tribe of Vahnatai. Although it lasted only two years, from 822 to 824 IE, the powerful magic invoked in the war led to an unprecedented death toll. The Empire seemed poised to win the war, with its immense advantages in resources and manpower, until the Vahnatai allied themselves with the Avernites in late 823 IE. The Empire was flushed from the caves, and Avernum declared victory.

The war is notable for many reasons. It was the first conflict the Empire had failed to win in many centuries, and it reinforced hostility between Avernum and the Empire. It led to the death of Garzahd and the full ascension to power of Empress Prazac I. Most importantly, however, it was the occasion of first contact between humans and Vahnatai, and it led directly to the plagues of Valorim, the Reconciliation of the two human powers, and eventually to the Vahnatai Retribution against Avernum.

The Empire Prepares

After the unprecedented assassination of Hawthorne III in 817 IE, his chief advisor, the archmage Garzahd, took swift action to prevent chaos and solidfy his own power. Garzahd used his political connections to marginalize, occupy, or otherwise remove the other key figures of the Empire, including Hawthorne's daughter Prazac I, and high priest Howar.

Garzahd was particularly bitter, since the assassination had been masterminded by Erika Redmark, one of the mages he himself had exiled. He wanted revenge. And he was not the only one. Garzahd played on the longstanding prejudice which many citizens of the Empire had towards those who were exiled, using propaganda and the death of Hawthorne to foment a great hate for the Kingdom of Avernum. The Empire had previously suppressed any news of the success the Avernites had had, living in the underworld. Now, they twisted it, painting a picture of moblike voles clawing at the Empire from beneath the ground. The use of exile as punishment was immediately terminated, replaced with the more traditional death sentence.

Popular opinion quickly reached the point of supporting an invasion. The Empire's official policy was that an invasion was not feasible, due to the great energy required to teleport an army into Exile. Garzahd, of course, had witnessed firsthand the power of the exiled mages, and he knew they would be scrying the surface for information. So he planned an invasion, but he did it quietly. He tasked his mages with developing new weapons to use against the Avernites. And he scried the caves and began to plan his tactics.

Just before the war began, Garzahd also teleported elite forces deep into the caves, to see what else could be of use to them. These forces made alliances with groups of magical creatures, including ogres and eyebeasts. And, importantly, they discovered the Vahnatai, who were just then coming to the end of the Resting. Employing the help of several Vahnatai from distant tribes, including Gaddika, they were eventually able to steal three of the Crystal Souls of the Olgai tribe. To the empire, these were devices of great magical power. To the hibernating Vahnatai, they were something much more important. But the Olgai tribe was still asleep...

The Fall of the Abyss

Avernum expected retaliation from the Empire. However, as years passed and nothing was heard, the Avernites returned their attention to the native menaces of Exile: hostile Nephilim, the undead, and other monsters. After all, the idea of full-scale invasion seemed preposterous. So Avernum was largely taken by surprise when, in 822 IE, several settlements were attacked by small groups of Empire soldiers.

The Empire sent the soldiers down by the Northern Waters, an area relatively accesible by means of teleportation, and barely populated. From there, they travelled by boat, and these early skirmishes took place near Almaria, Fort Dranlon and Formello. However, the attackers were not well-armed, and had few dervishes and fewer mages. Avernite guards defeated them with minimal casualties.

The attacks were designed to make the Avernites underestimate the forces the Empire was sending to Exile. They were also meant to be diversions. Many more soldiers had been sent down. These men headed southwest, to the real target: the Abyss. The Abyss was the least defended area in Exile, and one that sits close to the Great Cave and the heart of the Kingdom of Avernum.

The Empire troops, supported by many mages, subdued the giants. Then they stormed Bargha. Bargha was a great fortress, designed to withstand attacks from giants, but not bombardment by fireballs. Bargha fell, and the town of Spire soon followed. Many residents of the Abyss fought the Empire fiercely, but others fled, and resistance was too scattered and disorganized to be of any use. Those who were not slain were forced into servitude in the occupied towns, or in the army town of Harston which the Empire had set up in the old giant lands. The Empire also built the enormous fortress called Ornotha Ziggurat in the Abyss, as a home base for their troops. There, numerous companies of soldiers trained after they were teleported down to Exile.

The Empire had made a pre-emptive strike, with great success. Avernum was not slow to react. The standing army was immediately dispatched around Exile, with the bulk going to the most critical locations, the Spire Fortress and Fort Emerald. When the Empire advanced on the Spire Fortress, the troops there quickly fell back to Fort Saffron.

There were several reasons for this retreat. The Spire Fortress, despite being superlatively defended against ground troops, was vulnerable to mages and archers from many directions. Saffron was at a narrow mouth, and easier to defend. In addition, defending both the Fortress and Fort Emerald would allow the Empire to camp in between the two forts, and apply the full pressure of their army to both. Saffron and Emerald were much further apart, on the Abyss side, and the Empire would have to choose one or the other to pressure.

Unfortunately for its defenders, Saffron was set at the north end of the passage that connected to the Great Cave. This allowed the Empire enough space to array many troops before the fort, and Avernum, gravely outnumbered, was forced to abandon it and to retreat south.

Entrenchment and Fortification

The Avernites entrenched themselves at the entrance to the Great Cave, where the tactical advantage was reversed. Empire soldiers emerging from the passage would find themselves surrounded by Avernite troops.

They were soon reinforced with many additional troops. Avernum had a stock of citizens who were used to hardship, and who had all been personally slighted by the Empire. Recruiting new troops was relatively easy, and reinforcements were sent throughtout the caves. The Empire had a much harder time increasing its numbers, due to the difficulty of teleportation. For this reason, Avernum was able to hold off the Empire at that pass almost indefinitely. It remained the primary front lines of the fighting for most of the war.

Garzahd and the other planners of the war, seeing this disadvantage, set about to change it. At the Portal Fortress, they began adapting their teleportation augmenter into a mass teleporter, which could flood Exile with tens of thousands of soldiers. This was an ambitious project, which required much research in the field of teleportation, however, and it would not soon be completed.

While they waited, they built up bases from which to attack Avernum, trying to keep their opponents on the defensive. General Limoncelli turned the old castle of Sss-Thsss into Fort Dolthar, slaughtering most of the slithzerikai who still lived in the area. Another general, the archmage Elderan, built a tower west of Fort Dranlon. From these two fortresses, small Empire units, usually led by a single dervish, were sent to slip out to the furthest corners of Exile, forcing Avernum to use some of their military resources protecting even their least strategically relevant locations.

Another advantage of the Avernites was their knowledge of the caves. So the Empire built a number of forts dedicated to magical research, where their mages searched for ways to turn the caves against Avernum. The old lair of the dragon Pyrog was converted into Pyrog Labs, most notable for the creation of mutant giants. And soldiers who teleported down in the Unsettled Lands, near the former last remaining exit to the surface, built two such forts: Kothtar in the south, whose mages managed to steal the powerful Orb of Thralni from the Castle, and Angierach in the north, where Garzahd had made an alliance with the terrible lich Midori.

Also to this end, a large Empire force surrounded the dragon Khoth in his lair, and forced him to assist the Empire. With information gleaned from him, Garzahd was able to trick Sulfras, mightiest of all the dragons, into serving the Empire as well. Of all of Garzahd's magical feats, this was one of his most impressive. That he was able to enslave a dragon gives some indication of the power he must have possessed.

Having heard that Motrax was friendly to the Avernites, the Empire sent a group of assassins to eliminate him. Although Motrax defeated them all, he was severely wounded, and they effectively eliminated any chance of him assisting Avernum in a meaningful way.

Finally, Garzahd tried to hunt down and assassinate as many Avernite mages as possible. Those who he could not kill, he isolated, with remarkable success. He sent soldiers and demons to surround the towers of Erika and Solberg. Empire forces captured Aydin and Josie, while others attacked Sixus. Many other mages, including Thompson, Pyrn, Tori, Starcap, and Ethridge, were driven into hiding.

The greatest advantage of the Empire, however, was the fact that they could strike at Avernum's homeland — but Avernum could not strike at theirs. While the Empire was launching all these offensives, Avernum could do little but fight a defensive war, for the Empire's forces, being purely military, were too well defended to assault. Although Avernum was the victor in many small skirmishes, every man that Avernum lost was irreplaceable; the Empire, on the other hand, could keep sending down more troops, little by little. The Empire was as confident of its victory as it always was.

The Barriers

Around this time, the Olgai tribe of Vahnatai began to wake up. When they discovered the theft of their Crystal Souls, they were furious. They also discovered the presence of humans, a race that they had not previously encountered, in the caves. Their mages quickly determined that humans had taken the Crystal Souls. However, they did not realize at first that the Empire and Avernum were two distinct groups.

There was some disagreement among the Vahnatai as to how to proceed. Many agreed with Rentar-Ihrno, strongest of the ihrnos yet awake, that they should immediately attack the humans in punishment. Others followed Bon-Ihrno, who refused to condemn an entire race without first obtaining more information. In the end, the Olgai Council decided on a cautious plan. At their direction, Rentar-Ihrno and her colleagues created powerful magic barriers throughout Exile, cutting off different areas of the caves from each other entirely. Neither the Empire nor Avernum was able to dispel the barriers. The idea was to occupy the humans and prevent them from doing anything else to harm the Vahnatai.

With very few exceptions, the barriers kept Empire and Avernite troops apart from each other. The War ground to a halt. As a result, both sides scurried to further entrench themselves in their defenses. The Empire continued to amass more troops in the caves, while Avernum worked furiously to mine metal and forge weapons, especially at Dharmon. The barriers also shut down trade and communication within the Kingdom of Avernum.

The Vahnatai, however, were not idle. Rentar-Ihrno continued to prepare spells of destruction to be used against the humans, while Bon-Ihrno scried them, trying to learn more. He taught himself Imperial Standard, and devised a plan to bring humans before the Council. For this purpose, he and his followers built the city of Avit and cleared a path through the Black Waters that most closely connected the Vahnatai lands to Exile. Finally, Bon-Ihrno projected his image to the nearest city, Formello, and implored the people there to travel the Black Waters and meet with the Council.

Because the barriers had cut off Northeastern Exile and there had been little fighting in the area, there were no high officials or even high-ranking warriors in the area. With no one else to turn to, the mayor sent a group of adventurers, army recruits who had been clearing out nephilim near Fort Ganrick, to meet with the Vahnatai.

After a long and strenuous journey, these adventurers, who would come to be called the Empire War Heroes, reached Olgai. After some further trials, they allowed the Council to probe their minds. Given this first-hand knowledge of the suffering of the Avernites and of the war in Exile, the Council changed their position. They did away with the magic barriers that had split up Exile, and they extended an offer of assistance to Avernum, if the Avernites were able to rescue the stolen Crystal Souls.

The Season of Blood

The Turning of the Vahnatai

The Assassination of Garzahd

See Also