The World Unbuilt – History of Thoria

Thoria is a country occupying the midlands of the continent of Omidius. It is bordered on the north by the vast Tocanum mountain range, and stretches from the east coast of the continent to the territories of Lut and the Aldweyn Plains in the west. To the south lie the ruins of Thedan, the demise of which occurred simultaneously with, though largely unrelated to the expansion of Thoria to its greatest extent. Its eastern expanse is dominated by the Silvarum, a great forest that covers much of the east coast of central Omidius. It is home to diverse, but largely temperate biomes, from meadows and lakeland to the northern mountains and their snowy foothills. Its centre is dominated by the Scaphium, a great but shallow concave depression, which contains its capital city, Arch Thorian, and vast expanses of farmland, which are protected from cold temperatures and flooding by the gently sloping landscape. Most of Thoria’s water comes from the Tocanum mountains, which collect rainwater to feed both the north-western lakes and the many underground waterways which criss-cross central Omidius.

Thoria was founded by the Eadranites, a disparate group of tribes who were unified—or absorbed—under the assumed banner of the exiled Lazulidean scholar Eadranismus (and if you think all these names are difficult to keep track of, don’t worry, over the course of these essays I will be going into most things in great detail), though it is safe to say that he would have been less than enthusiastic about their viewing him as a prophet. The Eadranites, possibly owing to war, fled their home continent of Iqhvadhgh and sailed west, landing on the Isle of Oleand, off the east coast of Omidius. (A split some time before the exodus resulted in at least two distinct groups sailing in different directions, one of them would arrive in the northernmost expanse of Omidius, and found the country, now mostly in ruins, of Eòrna.) As more of their ships arrived, they soon outgrew their island home, and began making the journey en masse to the mainland that scouting parties had been making ever since settling. Those who stayed behind founded the city of Oleand, which to this day is Thoria’s one and only international trade hub.

Some time during the exodus, the connection to Eadranismus, however fleeting it had become in the centuries since his exile from Lazulide and first contact with the southern tribes of Iqhvadhgh, was lost completely. Divorced to a large extent from physical histories, the Eadranites, now Proto-Thorians, began taking land under orders from the first ever “emperor” of their people, Arcath (possibly Erghadh in the Proto-Thorian tongue). First they moved west, scouting passages through the Tocanum mountains. At the foot of a passage leading directly to Mt. Tocanum itself, Fort Tocanum, which would later become the north gate of the city of Tocane, was built. In game the player is told that this was built to guard against northern invaders, and this may be true, but it seems more likely that attacks by strange beasts from the mountains encouraged the mining and cutting of the magic-infused rock of Tocanum, which was then used to build the fort, the magical properties of the building materials warding these creatures off somehow. To date, no recorded passage of the Tocanum mountains has ever been completed starting from either side, but expeditions have been mounted to investigate the diverse flora and fauna that grow in a mysterious lush plain lying amid the central peaks, made fantastical by the magical energies that permeate the surrounding rock and underlying soil. To date, no explorer has ventured there and made a successful return journey.

The expansion of Thoria into the heartland of Omidius was a violent one. No longer was the emperor able to simply claim land, others were already there. Their main enemy in those days was Ruris, which dominated the centre of the continent. The Rurisians were an advanced people with a strong literary tradition and great cities. The Rurisian King Axyngis commanded a vast and well organised army, which were ever at pitched battles in the south for control of certain territories claimed by their neighbouring power Thedan. Proto-Thorian scouting parties revealed as much in the form of a weakly guarded northern border, which the current Emperor Cerangal seized upon, laying claim in mere days to the Rurisian cities of Tydwik and Ynwik. Unlike the barbarian hordes of Hakic that Axyngis had fought against to secure Rurisian control of Knychesfelde (today known as the Aldweyn Plains), this new force from the north did not raze conquered settlements or slaughter their inhabitants, but rather absorbed them under its own banner. In fact Proto-Thoria not only absorbed Rurisian cities and citizenry, but furthermore took the Rurisian language, literature, and culture, in doing so making the leap from proto- to the thing itself. In the conquest of Ruris, Thoria was born.

The Thorian army, which by now was no longer a disparate mob cobbled together with weapons and armour to match, but an organised and uniform juggernaut bearing terrifying arms forged in the Rurisian method, was primed to stand on near equal footing with the brunt of Axyngis’ military might. But Axyngis could not deliver it, dealing as he was with resurgent Hakic fighters, who had taken to employing guerrilla tactics and brutally raiding his Knychesfelde camps in the night, and Thedanese reinforcements in contested territory. Growing old and weary of battle, he died one night in his sleep, and his son Barsedoun took the throne. Barsedoun was an excellent swordsman, and did not relish succession of his father, for he would now be directing forces in matters of strategy, and could no longer take to the field. He obliterated the Hakic, supposedly to their last man, but as a strategist he displayed a bloodthirsty recklessness which ultimately allowed Thorian forces to encroach upon his castle doorstep. It was said by the Rurisian courtier Thrastene, who survived the massacre by hiding in a secret passage known only to the castle’s most trusted residents, only to be captured by Thedanese soldiers, that Barsedoun and a handful of his best soldiers stood and fought for six hours, sending hundreds of Thorian soldiers to their deaths by funnelling them through one of the castle’s narrower entrances so that the influx would not overwhelm them. Ultimately, however, and whether or not the story is true, Barsedoun succumbed to fatigue and collapsed dead in his heavy suit of armour. Initially it is said that he was taken for a display suit that had fallen from its mountings during the fight. When it was discovered by Thorian soldiers that the king of the enemy lay slain within, Cerangal, who was now very old, declared that Barsedoun had earned his respect, and should be given a hero’s burial. However, the location of the tomb that was erected for this purpose is unknown, though some believe it lies in deep catacombs underneath Arch Thorian.

What remained of the Rurisians split up into three major groups and went separate ways in search of land that could safely be settled. One group went north-west up the Knychesfeld, crossing at its northernmost point a vast inland body of water to a large island, where they founded the coastal settlements of Zidoun and Lannod, and became the Tribe of Lut (from “lud”, meaning sound, voice). The second group went south-east, tracing the territory between Gephala and Thedan, which at that time was unclaimed, and came around to the forked end of the Serpent’s Tongue river, and followed it east, where they founded Ux Taur (from “vyx”, many, and “turre”, a type of tree native to the Silvarum), and became the Tribe of Duul (from “dool”, aggrieved). The third group headed the short distance west across the Knychesfeld, where the Hakic no longer walked, and founded Altwey (lit. “old way”), which would later become Aldweyn some time after the fall of Thedan and the Altweyan King Tresibbe’s decree to welcome a considerable number of Thedanese diasporans into his land, on the western coast just north of Gephala, which had then expanded its northern border by the founding of the city of Eidu.

Meanwhile, Thoria bloomed as a great power. Successive emperors Dithecius, Padranes, and Saxabourd oversaw the centurion construction of Arch Thorian, a great walled city where sit the chambers of the Imperial Seat, the Cathedra Magna, the Tribunal, and the Parliament. Arch Thorian was built outwards from the district containing those core governmental institutions to include trade, education, residency, military, and labour districts, each of which is a walled and gated addition to it. The completion of Arch Thorian was followed by the reinforcement of the northern settlements, including Tocane, which had now become its own city, and a great expansion southward to found the cities of Luctaris and Aguedii and secure the territory against Thedanese encroachment. Thedan at this time, around the mid-600s (by the counting of the Thorian calendar, present day 1846) was already crumbling, but the bloody history of its northern neighbour had given rise to paranoia, and the two cities were two testaments to that grim culture.

For a time, then, thanks to the luck of having no neighbouring powers to contend with, Thoria enjoyed, or endured, an extended period of stability. The Church of Eadra and its ruling body, the Cathedra Magna, spent much time devising hierarchies and systems, and many things changed in the internal bureaucracy of the Thorian governmental apparatus. The Cathedra Magna was not as authoritarian as it is today, and, following the conquest of Ruris and the settling of the Thedanese border, had settled into a fairly lax and permissive state. So too the Imperial Seat, which under Astrateus I had extended powers to Parliament that would enable a certain autonomy of the cities. This largess encouraged the cities to flourish and to develop their own distinctive cultures and reputations, and of particular importance in determining the future of Thoria was that original settlement upon the Isle of Oleand.

Oleand had held the freedom to trade internationally for essentially as long as it had existed. Through exchanges with the Ochvadi, the Eòrnamen, the Gephalans, and the people of the young city state of Port Elidea, it gradually became the primary interface between Thoria and the rest of the world. Its trade with the mainland in fresh seafood was bolstered by the import of exotic materials, literature, clothes, jewellery, and so on. In the 1100s it became home to the first branch of the now monopolising Vespeiad Freight Company, and saw even greater trade and with countries much farther afield, including Yakuyanu in the far south of the world. These developments heralded accelerated change in other areas of the country, especially in the north.

Eenwyck became an attractive home for the arts. The independent and open nature of its scene, which was quite different from the moneyed gatekeeper culture among the galleries and playhouses of Arch Thorian’s trade district, reached by word of mouth to Oleand and brought in artists from overseas. And because it was a relatively inexpensive place to live—compared to Arch Thorian, one could expect to rent rooms at a quarter of the price per month—these artists were often able to stay and produce new works.

Thadwyck’s proximity to the Tocanum mountains, its expansive lakeland environs, and the ease by which materials may be transported over land there, piqued the interest of an Ochvadi inventor who had secured a grant from his government to travel and investigate foreign rock formations for their raw materials. Applying successfully to the Parliametary House of Thadwyck, he took Thadwyck men to the foot of the mountains and paid them to break into the rock, looking for metal veins, precious stones, and mineral deposits. When he had gathered enough samples for his purposes, he was able to negotiate transferral of his permit to the people of Thadwyck, and businesses were quickly started and grew, gathering the fruits of the range. This in turn kickstarted the smithing industry in Thadwyck, which remains to this day the biggest producer of weaponry and armour in Thoria.

The final collapse of Thedan in the 1000s saw those Thedanese diasporans who did not merge with the Altweyans heading for Aguedii and Luctaris. Luctaris accepted many, while the often violently pious Aguedii turned them away if they refused to accept Arch Sapherion as creator and god, and few, despite their situation, were willing to forsake Ferren, who, though his Faitour be gone, they still believed would wait for them in the time beyond death. In Luctaris the influx was a mixed blessing. On the one hand more people meant more workers, and new businesses were created, including many distilleries producing Luctarine, at the time a very popular spirit, thus a big market in which new competition was nearly always viable; on the other, cultural tensions sparked violence, as street gangs clashed with the city guards and with each other. In time an uneasy peace, but peace nonetheless, was reached, and though stormy periods occasionally erupted on the streets, integration of the Thedanese, many of whom dropped their religious heritage over successive generations, was achieved.

But this centuries long period of prodigious economic and cultural boom would not last much longer. Conservative elements in the Church were able to wrest control of the increasingly lax Cathedra Magna around the 1200s, and instituted means to preserve the Thorian culture. Firstly, the Tribunal was given orders to institute monetary incentive for city guards to remove foreigners from the city walls, receiving per-head bonuses on their stipend. This only extended to people born overseas, and resulted in the creation of a class of children separated from their parents. Under the banner of Zephoran, Aspect of Compassion, charitable organisations were founded in each of the affected cities to help, but many children ended up in the labour district of Arch Thorian, where they were put to work in poor conditions for the benefit of the trade district. The military also took in children and fed, clothed, and prepared them for service. In time, then, the children gained new adoptive families of sorts, but their true parents were often forced to flee.

Oleand remained an internationally open city, but from then on foreigners were not allowed beyond its bounds, only their cargo could travel to the mainland, provided it had been already sold and had a definite destination—that is, their goods could not be taken by salesmen, nor could they be resold, they had to be used in the creation of Thorian goods, as only goods of Thorian make could be sold on the mainland. The Cathedra Magna also then instituted its strict literary policy, and with the executive power of the Imperial Seat, under Emperor Apoleus IV all foreign literature was banned, and most printing presses were either closed or brought under governmental control. The All Persons Press of Eenwyck remained open for business as an independent company, but was forced to show fealty to the Cathedra Magna, turning away any manuscripts not meeting the criteria of the new policy. As this darker, more theocratic age crept over the land, a tendency towards autocratic excess, enabled with the support of the Cathedra Magna, took hold of the Imperial Seat. Successive Emperors were more and more gluttonous for power, and now we get into the lore books at last.

Pretty much all of what you’ve just read would not have been revealed in game, it’s more background that’s necessary for me to know, while the player is left to contend mainly with the aftermath of events unknown. The histories by Yulud of Udghan are our main in-universe source for Thorian history beyond the past couple of centuries. They are imperfect, and the Arlaug, who translated the works, would note to the player that they are only collected for the sake of having something to fill in the gaps of knowledge about those times. Yulud never lived to complete his work on the war between Thoria and Gephala, so there is still some mystery as to how exactly the situation in Thoria came to be as bad as it is in the present day, but even if he had, it would hardly be reliable. Udghan is a port city, controlled by the International Zone, on the continent of Ochvad. Yulud never saw Omidius, much less Thoria, and his work is mostly collected from the scuttlebutt of sailors, merchants, travellers, and literary fragments, all bound up in a conjectural glue. His War of the Five Princes tells us that Emperor Preselleus III demanded that succession should go the one son of his who could best the others in mortal combat, and that this was the opening required by General Haectullus Listor to seize power for himself, throwing his military might behind the weak young Astrateus and ultimately manipulating him into madness and self-imposed exile. It is a dramatic tale, full of mad ambitions, double dealing, backstabbing, twists and turns, and I hoped to make it quite entertaining, somewhere between a Jacobean drama and Herodotus. A sequel, The Listorian Reformation, continues the story in similar fashion, telling of Listor’s rewriting of the Caudex Magnus and his brutal domination of the land, his becoming drunk on power and ultimate demise. The story never really ends, Thoria commits acts of terrorism against its own people, disguising them as acts of Gephala, and we are left with Thorian soldiers marching across the Aldweyn Plains to commence a brutal invasion.

Whether or not any of the above actually happened was to be left up to the player to decide for themselves, or not at all, seeing as evidence either way would be so thin. Certainly, Thoria is in a devastated condition, especially in the south, where Luctaris seems to have suffered greatly and now exists in a state of near total poverty. This is attested to in Wallavic Ileusis’s ongoing travelogue series A Passage to Eòrna, in which Ileusis travels from Port Elidea to Lamantaleorna on foot. The description of Luctaris would be largely accurate, but the player would probably notice glaring inconsistencies later on. If the player has, for example, been to Arch Thorian, which Ileusis describes in the sixth and most recent part of his series, it becomes apparent that at least some of the book is complete fiction. I wanted in this way to hint to the possibility that the International Zone, for all its supposed superiority, was not above propaganda. I left off at the sixth part and brought the date in line with the current day so that it led up to the timeframe of the game itself. Initially this was because the game was to have taken place entirely in the city of Eenwyck. For a time I considered having a seventh part be published and imported during the game’s action, if the player took long enough, but it was never established if there would be real-time consequences for the player’s rate of progress, so I never wrote additional parts. Above all, Ileusis’s mission is to entertain, readers will notice that the Popular Press of Lamantaleorna published the book, not the Port Elidea Press, which normally deals in classics and scholarship, and this is a tip-off, along with the jocular and affable narrative style. I intended this superficially along the lines of Candide—and there are a couple of indirect references to Voltaire’s satire in it—but told in the first person by a hustler weaving a tall tale.

I make these digressions into literary hearsay because I want to impress upon you the situation of modern Thoria. It has fallen from the lofty heights it once occupied and suffered greatly, whether in line with Yulud’s patchwork histories or not, under successive and progressively insane dictatorships. Following the invasion of Gephala, which saw incredible losses on both sides, the Shiedaric Trials, overseen by the legendary parliamentarian Iridius Barquentine, helped to restore a sense of stability and order after the excesses of Haectullus Listor and the Council of Aspects. They were extremely bloody, and for this reason were named after Shiedar, Aspect of Violence. A report written by Radolphus Lantulla, from Barquentine’s dictation, of which only one half is presently available, the rest presumably being locked away in the secret library of the Cathedra Magna, paints a picture of sadistic punishments. The members of the Council of Aspects were variously eviscerated, emasculated, eaten alive by wild animals, beaten and otherwised tortured to death. One of them was sent to the one secessionist faction during the reign of Listor, the northern city of Tocane; as an olive branch, he carried a list of his crimes and a writ of permission from Barquentine that they may do whatever they wish as punishment. Following this peace offering, Tocane sent a parliamentary envoy to present a request of reinclusion, which was accepted. However, notions of independence have remained popular in Tocane, and a movement to secede has sprung up in Oleand, which could eventually become another of the International Zone’s maritime city states. Similarly, some agitators in Luctaris advocate for its secession that it may come under the power of Aldweyn.

Currently Thoria, from an administrative perspective, finds itself in a kind of stasis. Many of the old rules established by the auto-theocrats still exist in Thorian law, yet fewer and fewer are actually observed with each passing year. Executions have become infrequent, and in the previous year not even one took place. The Cathedra Magna is being pushed by national crises to finally do away with the law against vigilantism—which was originally instituted in order to clamp down on the influence of the Thedanese philosopher Vigilia, and send her followers fleeing from Thorian territory, or jail and execute them—so that agents of the Tribunal are not overwhelmed by the increase in what they define as “degeneracy”, even though it would in itself be a concession to such degeneracy. The International Zone, in collusion with the underground network known as the Arlaug, floods the cities with its literature, encouraging heretical thought and perhaps even open rebellion. The Arlaug itself is involved in translating and distributing forbidden works, and even secret documents stolen from the Cathedra Magna. The criminal trade in “dark books”, corrupted magical tomes which can have profound, addictive, and detrimental mental and physical effects on the reader, has become seemingly unstoppable, and is affecting rich and poor alike. Thoria is undergoing transformations which may prove tantamount to death.

I wanted to plunge the player into all of that in such a way that the unspoken history unfurled above would be tangible on some level, that through exploration and dialogue and books some semblance of Thoria’s true history could be assembled, and yet always remain somewhat elusive. The question “Does what I’m doing have a point?” is often asked by players of narrative driven games. Unfortunately it is usually due to a perceived aimlessness, shallowness (i.e.: narrative reasons for doing things are thin veils adorning repetitive gameplay mechanics) or poorly structured narrative that lacks a solid base from which to draw meaning for its conflicts and quests and characters and locations. I hoped that, by building in Thoria a solid world with a solid history, the player would be asking that question because they could live within it to an extent, and through living in it consider whether the world may be in a terminal downward spiral that not even their best efforts as the hero can rescue it from. If that would have actually happened, I obviously can’t say, but damn it I gave it my best, and I think of Thoria, bearing in mind that there is much detail that can and will be discussed beyond this particular essay, as a creation that is approaching a kind of completeness outwardly visible yet really intangible, really out of reach, something mad and grand and hopelessly unachievable.

Further reading:

Yulud’s Histories

A Passage to Eòrna, parts 1-6

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