Fourth Age

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The Fourth Age: The Age of Order

Also called the Age of Kings, the Age of Fools, or the Age of Blood—depending on whom you’re talking to—the Fourth Age marks when humanity finally pulled itself out of the destruction of the Third Age, only to plunge into warfare afresh.

Birth: The Age of Order begins with the Red Exodus. In a slave revolt that devastates the Underkingdom, the orcs win bloody freedom from their dwarven captors, razing a number of gate-towns in the process, and burst out onto the surface of the world. The orcs—the tortured and warped descendants of the Ord that the dwarves forced to build their subterranean empire—pour out of the Home Range that marks the eastern border of the Afterlands and spread rapidly across the northern reaches of the world. The orcish tribes, many of which still exist today, developed quickly depending on where a group of Orcs stoppped after the exodus, and why: some (such as the Red Heels) keep running night and day until they hit the ocean on the far side of the continent; others (such as the Blue Brooks) stop once they find land they can defend; but most (such as the infamous Black Skulls and Mancutters) smash into the northern Middle Kingdoms. Feral and starving, these orcs rip through the unprepared human kingdoms like a wolf among hares, seizing food, razing towns, and sending a panicked tide of refugees surging south over the mountains.

The reaction from the human kingdoms to the south is swift. In a panic, the border kingdoms throw their lot in together against this vicious new enemy. They plead for aid from their sister nations to the south, but it is the Underkings who heed their call. Dwarven armies emerge from their trade tunnels near the human lands, and their generals treat with human kings. The orcs are a primitive and disorganized race, they report, but also fierce and unpredictable. Though they don’t go into numbers, the dwarves intimate that their losses were such in the exodus that they are unable to wage offensive war alone. But together, they can contain the orcish threat before the orcs have a chance to digest their conquests. The dwarves want their labor force back, and the humans want their land, so they make a bargain. In exchange for helping them break the orcs and subjugate them once again, the dwarves will share their arts of war with the humans. The human kings, distrustful of one another and already maneuvering the human civil war they all believe will come, agree. The dwarves outfit the humans with their most modern arms and armor—catapulting human technology forward hundreds of years—and lead their new allies north in the First Boreal Crusade.

The dwarf-human alliance would have routed any rank and file army of the time. But such an army they do not meet. Employing skills learned in their centuries underground, the orcs lay vicious traps and hazards in the Crusade’s way, splitting their forces and falling upon them in ambush and skirmish, never meeting their opponents in the open field. Under such an unorthodox and ferocious assault, the human half of the alliance falls apart along national lines. They flee back over the mountains, leaving the dwarves in a perilous position: exposed, and outnumbered, above ground. The orcs annihilate the abandoned dwarven army, and outfits itself with their fallen weapons. The surviving dwarves retreat underground and seal their trade tunnels as a wave of well-armed orcs, bearing dwarf heads and beards on their banners, pours back over the mountains.

The orcs meet little resistance as they sweep into the southern border kingdoms, burning fields and seizing fortresses in their wake. Their advance displaces a quarter of the human population, choking the surrounding nations with refugees and the diseases that strike in such densely packed humanity.

Further south, shaken soldiers and petrified villagers pressed into service wait for the inevitable assault. None comes. Scouts report that only a token force of fatigued orcs appears to be present. Desperate to retake their lands, the kings in exile order an attack. To their surprise, after defeating the handful of surprisingly ferocious orcs, they discover the mass of the orc horde asleep—hibernating in the fortresses. The humans murder thousands of orcs in their sleep before what remains of the horde can shake off its weariness and retreat back over the mountains. The orcs’ need to hibernate during the winter—a need engineered by the dwarves to prevent just this sort of revolt—saves the south from being completely overrun.

The next season, the orcs roar back over the mountains again. This time, aware of their inability to wage war in the winter, the humans fight delaying tactics. As winter approaches, the orcs fall back, and when winter proper falls, the humans launch the Second Boreal Crusade. They break the orcs’ hold in the passes and surge into the ruined Middle Kingdoms north of the mountains, killing thousands more orcs—orcmaids and children alike—in their dens after slaughtering their guardians. But in the face of this success, the human alliance dissolves once again. Rather than driving forward and eradicating the orcs entirely, the displaced human kings pull their forces from the Crusade and set about rebuilding their liberated kingdoms. The orcs retreat into the wilds of the Afterlands to hibernate and prepare for the next spring’s campaign. Without the complete support of the human nations, the Crusade grinds to a stop after reclaiming the lost Middle Kingdoms.

In their hastily fortified fortresses, the human armies brace themselves for the inevitable orcish counterstrike the following spring. What comes could very well have removed humanity as the dominant race in Fartherall. During the winter, while the bulk of the orcish population hibernated, those not guarding the sleepers run north to rally the tribes that settled deeper in Afterlands. Those tribes answer the call and march south, tripling the size of the horde. When the attack comes, it is without mercy or—as the humans are horrified to discover—intent to conquer. The orcs hack through the overwhelmed human armies, and—unlike before—do not press forward until they’ve killed all stragglers and prisoners. As the humans retreat in disarray, the Savage Horde burns everything behind them—field and fortress alike. This is no longer a war of conquest. It is a war of annihilation. The orcs lay waste to the human kingdoms on the southern side of the mountains, razing hundreds of towns and millions of acres and not distinguishing between peasants and soldiers.

Were it not for a discovery made during the winter after the Second Boreal Crusade, the orcs may have been able to hold their territories south of the mountains, and from there spread across the southern continent. But after the Second Crusade, the army of the human kingdom of Lassax found itself lost far in the northern Afterlands. They sheltered for the winter in timeworn ruins revealed by an avalanche. Inside, their king, Garm, discovered a hidden vault housing secrets of the extinct giants. He returned with what he found, and presented these materials to his wife and her brother—Maliadne, Queen of Elthorn, and Jendril, King of Padz—both powerful spellcasters. The trio was puzzled over the mysteries Garm discovered when the Savage Horde broke over the mountains.

As the orcs advance, Maliadne and Jendril decode the giants’ secrets. They use these magics—an altered form of the life-draining rituals the giants used to extend their lifespans—to tie their three life forces together, and make them a gestalt entity. Thus united, the Triumvirate—as they call themselves—organizes a coordinated defense on three fronts, each monarch leading an army against the Savage Horde. Able to communicate via their bond, the Triumvirate uses its advantage to keep the horde contained via a series of brilliant delaying tactics and strategic losses. This gives the other human nations enough time to regroup and counterattack, blunting the Savage Horde’s advance. As summer stretches into autumn, the orcs withdraw over the mountains lest they be caught in the south during the winter. Rather than pursuing them back into the Afterlands, the Triumvirate seals the mountain passes, collapsing vast mountainsides to block paths armies have traversed over the centuries again. Those passes they cannot seal they garrison heavily with the aid of the dwarves.

When the spring comes, the orcs pound against the newly fortified passes, but fail to break through break through. Despite the howls of the displaced kings, the Triumvirate—who have become the de facto leaders of the loosely allied human states—refuses to launch a Third Boreal Campaign. The winter passes with no human counterattack. The displaced kings denounce the Triumvirate for sacrificing their kingdoms to the orcs and accuse them of setting themselves up to be a new Archaiad. These accusations find traction among the southern kings, who fear the Triumvirate from what they’ve seen them accomplish against the orcs. The Triumvirate sees what’s coming and strikes preemptively against their most vocal foes, imprisoning the kings and seizing their lands. A bloody human civil war ensues. As it rages, the Triumvirate finds itself vindicated for not launching a third crusade, for no orcish horde attacks the following spring. But for a handful of tribes that wintered in the south and were trapped there when the passes were fortified, orcdom is relegated to the Afterlands.

The human civil war, meanwhile, grinds on for nearly a century. Those allied against the Triumvirate accuse them of being the “wicked kings” of prophecy from the end of the Age of Legends. The Triumvirate finds this label psychologically advantageous and adopts it. The so-called Wicked Kings conquer one human state after another, adding each to its burgeoning empire. They do this with nearly inhuman patience and calculation, as the life-linking ritual greatly slows their aging. To terrify the other monarchs resisting them, the Wicked Kings drain the life energy from captured sovereigns—as the giants once did to their human chattel—and discover that this act not only slows their aging further, but stops it completely. But for a handful of brave and foolish holdouts, the remaining free kings bend the knee; those who resist, or their heirs, are crushed and drained. The three-crown banner—the standard of the Wicked Kings—flies over most of humanity. This is the Balance of the Age of Order, and is where we stand today.

The Balance of the Age of Order is the default setting of the JourneyQuest. It is in this era, when the Wicked Kings are at the height of their power, that the show takes place.

Death: The Death of the Fourth Age is LOCKED, and will not be revealed until JourneyQuest has concluded its final season.

The repercussions of the Boreal Crusades are fascinating in their breadth, especially when how short a time they actually were in taken into consideration. As short-lived as the human and dwarven alliance against the orcs was, it greatly progressed human technology, almost to the point where they were on par with the dwarves. The desertion of the dwarves by the human armies in the First Boreal Crusade has had a direct impact on the cold human-dwarven relations of today; unknowable at the time was that the heir to the Underkingdom was slain during the Crusade after humanity’s abandonment, and this led to a war of succession in the Underkingdom for which the dwarves blame the humans. Additionally, after the Savage Horde demolished and razed the Middle Kingdoms just to the south of the mountains—the area now called The Swath—humanity’s attempts to re-colonize the Afterlands were effectively ended. Humanity would never again cover as much territory as the Archaian Empire; by all appearances, it was in the Fourth Age that humanity had peaked.

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