The Clash of Empires

Both the Khonsurian and Zimalan Empires contended with many hostile creatures, for they were wealthy and harbored many coveted secrets. Humanoid and monstrous enemies arose and fought to raise their own nations, but the might and magic of the Serpents and Cats put down every challenge.

Yet the two great empires remained unaware of each other for centuries, with only the whispered rumor of a faraway empire ever crossing the ocean that divided them. Ankharet the Sphinx Queen forbade her people to fly west across the sea, for they believed that only the Realm of the Dead lay there. To travel to where the sun met its demise each day was to join the Accursed. The Naga Council, meanwhile, did not seek to expand its holdings beyond their own continents and the far north was filled with barbaric peoples not worth the effort to conquer. They had little desire to sail the oceans.

The ventures of Axaluatl, however, brought him at last to the far north, where he heard still more rumors of the Khonsurian Empire. With his entourage of supporters, he crossed the Surya Sea and there at last met the outlying sphinxes. When Ankharet learned of the Zimalan Empire, she embraced the discovery. Her people believed then that the gods had pushed the Realm of the Dead further to the west and in doing so had revealed new allies.

In the minds of some, the discovery prompted dreams of invasion and further conquest. Yet Cynhuara and the Naga Council extended the tail of alliance and mutual trade. Ankharet responded in kind. Though they were great rivals in power, each empire agreed to maintain peace, for neither desired the other’s land and there was much they could share.

For long years, both empires prospered. Beseeching the gods of the earth and sea, the nagas and sphinxes called upon great elemental magics and drew up a chain of islands across the Surya Sea. With the labor of millions, nonpareil magic, and a technology now lost from the world, the nagas and sphinxes constructed Ayoxatlan, a causeway of colossal scale that stretched across the miles of the sea. Using the god-given islands as their primary support, the bridge allowed for easy passage between the two empires. Though a sphinx could fly the distance unladen, the journey was overly taxing and they welcomed the convenience of a paved roadway where they could cross the water with their humanoid attendants and other trade goods. In the tongue of sphinxes, the marvelous span was known as Harak Manu, or “bridge to the west.”

This golden era came to a close, however, when corruption entered the heart of Ankharet the Blessed. What led to the great Queen’s fall none can accurately say, whether she was lured into darkness by the whisperings of Zhühn or whether her soul had been steeped in depravity from the very beginning. Perhaps it was her acquisition of the mysterious Shadowcrown that darkened her heart or the many potent gifts given her by the nagas. Yet even as the final stones were laid in place within Ayoxatlan, so did Ankharet and the wicked Axaluatl agree to a secret plan of mutual benefit.

In secret, Ankharet began to prey upon the servitor races—and even her own kind—as a vampire would its victims. Her deepest crime was the murder of her own consort, Kozuragen. To disguise her sin and set in motion her plans with Axaluatl, the Queen publicly accused the Naga Council for his death, claiming it had sent assassins to kill both she and her consort in a bid to sow confusion for an inevitable naga attack.

The sphinxes’ faith in their revered Queen was absolute. Without hesitation, the sphinxes turned baleful eyes upon the Serpents across the sea. Led by the Queen’s own daughter, Meraph the Golden, the Khonsurian Empire launched a vengeful crusade against the Zimalan Empire. Fury at the death of her father burned in the heart of Meraph.

The nagas were ill prepared for the invasion. Cynhuara, shocked at Ankharet’s accusation, sought to calm the attacking sphinxes and clear away the misunderstanding. When she confronted the arriving Meraph, Axaluatl at last betrayed his half-sister and used his magic to silence her. The half-dragon sphinx, blinded by rage and unwilling to hear diplomacy, killed Cynhuara with the help of her elite warriors. The Naga Council fought back, but half its members were slain outright. An all-out war had begun between the powerful races. The nagas collapsed the bridge Ayoxatlan to prevent easy access for the Khonsurian armies. As if both empires had lost the favor of their gods, the isles upon which the great causeway had been built sank into the sea again.

Axaluatl, whose agreement with Ankharet only included the removal of Cynhuara and the Naga Council, realized that the Queen had betrayed him. She sought now to eliminate the Zimalan Empire altogether. Enraged at her duplicity, Axaluatl led his subjects in frequent counterattacks. For years, the two empires struggled against one another, Serpent against Cat. The nagas were nearly annihilated in the great war.