Canno is an old, tottering world, its people haunted by past glories, afraid to look to the future where they might see the return of past terrors. Its myriad peoples include the two-legged Ilbaret, dignified apes gone fully upright with their elaborate tribal-painted fur and bright robes, and humans, who of all living beings tend furthest to war and bloodshed. Beside them work the industrious Arjoth, segmented insects as long as a man stands tall, the avian Veeth, who live and hunt and fade alone, and a dozen other races who walk in the shadow of these four, who they call The Grand Peoples.
Once, the histories say, Canno was pleasant as dreaming. A world with its harsh places, true, but none where strong will and a strong body would struggle to feed a family, and friends besides. Hot days came with cool breezes, the sun shone brighter in a cold winter, and lands were whole which now are broken. All peoples trusted readily and humans were steadfast among them.
The Barrens Feral, a blackened, discolored wasteland carpeted in wasted once-trees and broken-souled monstrosities, were called Ulm, and might once have held all the glory in the world.
From Taifen, which sits in the far west and straddles the equator, to Ilbarra, nestling against the north-west half of Ceslon, Ceslon itself in the center, and Anseth in the southwest, with the vast archipelago called The Shards stretching east from it like maggots breaking from a corpse, to the Barrens Feral themselves, there’s not a place on Canno free from the wounds of Ages past.
Much beauty survives on Canno, the old drunkard at the bar will grant you this, but there can’t have been such vileness alongside it, not in the sun-bright days of his ancestors. If you ask him where it all went wrong, he’ll probably start to tell you about them. But he’ll stop himself just in time. No, they came after. Really, the nightmares grew right out of the most wondrous dream.
The bitterest truth spoken of the Age of Splendor is that it truly might have gone on forever.
Anseth was first in the past age, the Vanquished Age, whose name and nature are lost. They were first to show humanity’s potential, both for peace and for war. Their armies fought organized in a time when all other peoples sought single combat, and its warriors learned to prize spear and shield over all other weapons.
With ordered formations and canny generals, and signals by horn and flag, with officers to understand the signals and trained soldiers to obey them, Anseth swept the planet. Only the Ton threw them back, and to this day the Ansethi insist it was more the bogs and their hateful wildlife than the pale tribespeople within them. If you get a Ton warrior drunk enough, she may grudgingly admit it’s true.
At its height, the Empire of Anseth, ruled by the Haniric Dynasty, controlled or claimed the allegiance of more than four-fifths of Canno’s land, and all its people but the implacable Ton. It pulled the brightest minds and greatest talents from all its subjects, bringing them home to its grassy plains and hoarding their knowledge for itself. Though Anseth deprived Canno of its geniuses, perhaps they achieved more in those cloistered years together than they ever could have alone in their homelands.
In the final years of Anseth’s global empire, its last Empress, Tithiri, made perhaps the single strangest choice of any monarch in history. No record explains her reasoning; some say she went mad at the creeping collapse of her dynasty, and her “Last Justice” was the last twitch of a ruined mind. Others say she did it to spite those she knew would usurp her throne, or even that it was some outrageous accident.
Whatever her reasons, Tithiri saw it done. By agents highborn and low, rich and poor, human and non-human, she arranged for all Anseth’s greatest secrets, close-held mysteries of the arcane and all her people’s sciences to pass out into the world.
Whether she meant to or not, Empress Tithiri created the Age of Splendor. The knowledge gleaned throughout the dry plains, hot jungles and warped crystalline canyons of Anseth spread from the verdant vassal-kingdoms in Ulm to Taifen, Ceslon, Ilbarra and the thousand islands of the Shards.
Anseth’s intelligentsia sneered that the ignorant barbarians of their once-subject peoples would never add anything to Mother Anseth’s glories, that they could only pervert, butcher and destroy the genius works they received. As is the usually the case when those who take opportunity for granted mock those receiving it for the first time, they were wrong.
Within years Ulm’s industry rivaled, then surpassed, Anseth. They built Heaven’s Foundry, a labyrinthine coastal complex using machines and magic in tandem, and within they built the first steel ships on Canno. With the architectural principles of their one-time overlords, the Ulmish built great avenues and monumental cities of gleaming bright stones. It was even said they were the Heirs of Anseth, surely the next people to rule the world.
The Ton, who wasted centuries striving to understand the making of emerald-steel, used only a few elements of its creation to devise sapphire-steel themselves. Their Matriarchs adopted and perfected the subtle manipulations of the Ansethi monarchs, and outdid its war strategy. Their grim, magnificent fortresses were the envy of Canno, so imposing that even peaceful peoples could not help but feel less for lacking such bastions.
More vital than Anseth’s knowledge was the knowledge of its ignorance. With the full breadth of Anseth’s understanding laid bare, artists, scholars and great thinkers across Canno realized just how much there was to be found yet. Seeing all at once the ground yet to cover, every nation and every species raced to be first to the next shocking discovery, the next universal insight.
They churned out inventions and innovations with a speed never since matched. The printing press and the steam engine survive in a few places, jealously hoarded. It’s said the Ilbaret invented a device, part magic, part machine, which could keep a mortally-wounded man inert for centuries, if need be, and unweakened while mage-healers restored his body.
Those who lost limbs commissioned new ones of metals, steel or brass or silver, even gold, which flexed and gripped and felt better than their old ones ever did. There was no malady incurable, no hurt of body, mind or soul that someone, somewhere, didn’t know how to heal. No craftsman ever lacked work, and the masters had such luxury of time that keen eyes would swear the smallest vinework on a new sword’s blade was a vine in truth, cut loose and shrunk down into the steel, that the beasts coursing in circles on its pommel truly ran.
Temana built its famous automatons of arcane-enhanced bronze, carved with blue-light runes and masterful mural engravings, supple as flesh when touched but hard as steel when threatened. The automatons tended its fields, built its cities and fought its wars, and its nobles lived in open-air gardens with stained glass windows and statues of pure mage-formed gemstones.
In Ilbarra the assorted harvesting machines and fishing fleets and communal revelry made its people so fat that the Elder Siblings were forced to invent the Ceslonian Games to make them hardy again, and soon all the world flocked to its many-hued meadows each year. In Farasca the temples of divinity spread so wide from grateful offerings they were forced to cleave a canal through the city, that the priests might build one way and the merchants the other. Every city and town, and so many smaller places, had something to offer, to call its own.
There were still wars, yes, and all the more terrible for the ever-mightier mages and humbler but no less deadly contraptions produced in Schwarzhafen and Ulm, but they were less frequent and ended sooner. The burned-down towns sprang twice their size within years of peacemaking, and the wounded received new limbs, new eyes, and new organs days after injury.
There was still crime, and harder to track in the sprawling new Age, but punished fairly and ever rarer, for the Age of Splendor offered too much plenty for any sane being to turn criminal. There was still injustice, but the eyes of a world knitting itself together fell on corrupt nobles and scheming commoners alike, and they were dealt with soon enough.
For a thousand years, or longer, it seemed inevitable that one day Canno would know nothing of violence or hatred, of greed or envy, of famine and disease and worry and want. No one knows the true loss of the Age: they cannot when so little of its grandeur survived. In the Age of Splendor the Ilbaret often joked that like merry-makers at a feast, quaffing their fill of wine and spirits without worry for the morrow, Canno’s people must pay for their joy now with hell come the dawn.
For a thousand years or longer, the Ilbaret kept up the joke. It turned sour not with dawn, but a worldwide night’s descent of hellfire skies and obliterating light. Ever after, the Ilbaret forbid speaking of joy’s end.
They scold any child who does otherwise by saying simply that the end of the Age of Splendors was the hour of the Gaunt Ones.