The most important event in my narrative universe is the Fall of Astandalas. Everything either happens before the Fall–most of the Red Company stories, for instance–or after–the Greenwing & Dart books take place about ten or twelve years afterwards, and the effects are still echoing in Till Human Voices Wake Us after several thousand years.
Astandalas was an empire; its capital was Astandalas the Golden, which was located on Ysthar (one of the worlds in my story universe; ours, as it happens) and which looked something like Dinotopia (but without the dinosaurs). The Empire was founded by Yr the Conqueror, a man from Zunidh (which will, naturally, be discussed in Z), and in its heyday it covered most of five worlds: Zunidh, Ysthar, Alinor, Voonra, and Colhélhé. (I will be talking more about these places under N for the Nine Worlds.)
It was, obviously, a place of much magic.
The magic of Astandalas developed into what was called Schooled Magic, as opposed to the wild magic of the barbarian outlands. It was something akin to electricity in our society: still a bit of a mystery in its inner workings, the domain of deeply learned scholars, but in practice a tool that could be used by a child. You learned basic spells with your numbers and letters, even if you had no inherent skill or talent at magic; you could still make the lights come on, just as we can make the lights come on by turning a switch, even if we have nothing more than the vaguest memory of how circuits work from high school physics classes.
The great mages of Astandalas could do wonders. The most famous, probably, were the roads linking the worlds–although the water cleaning facilities were probably more important to the health and general wellbeing of the populace–and the control of seasons on Ysthar, especially in the city of Astandalas the Golden itself and in what is called the Pale of Astandalas.*
Inside the Pale of Astandalas the seasons were perfect. They were given fanciful names, just to account for this: Lilion, Rosarie, Fallow, and Silverheart (Early Summer, High Summer, Harvest, Winter)–Silverheart not lasting very long at all–although in the tenure of Artorin Damara a fifth season, Cherish, was added, because of that emperor’s love of cherry trees in blossom and the desire for a more concrete Spring season.** The Pale of Astandalas was largely composed of villas and beautiful estates for the very wealthy, combined with carefully-hidden villages for the poor; a lot of food was grown there, but a lot was brought in from other parts of the Empire as well, in a complex exchange of goods and magic (and armies) that went along very well until, naturally, it didn’t.
Outside the Pale, things were a bit different. Everything, as we learn from the study of physics and theology, has its cost, and magic is definitely no exception, although its costs are not usually very straightforward. Inside the Pale was a very nice life indeed. Outside the Pale was the Ice Ages. In my story universe, we–that is, quite literally, us, 21st-century people living on Earth–are still paying the price for that great abuse of magic and resources. Raphael, the main character in Till Human Voices Wake Us, is the Lord of Ysthar, responsible for the world’s magic; he has been picking up the pieces since the Fall broke the Empire apart. Because the Empire bound together several worlds by magic, and was itself created, maintained, and rejoiced in magic, the cataclysmic fall was more than a social upheaval–it mangled the magic of the Nine Worlds quite considerably.
Artorin Damara was the hundredth and last Emperor of Astandalas. It wasn’t really his fault that the Empire fell on his watch–even the new season, straining an already deeply strained system, wasn’t the tipping point–but people pointed to the fact that he wasn’t supposed to be emperor at all, being the back-up heir, as an indication of the problems to come.*** He looks something like this image of King Solomon (though if anything, rather darker skinned).
As to what actually caused the Fall of Astandalas, besides systematic corruption, abuse of resources, and all the other reasons an empire or a civilization collapses? Black magic–although the details are something people are still working through, in the contemporary present of my story. The aftermath of the Fall is something that has not fully worked out yet, any more than the fall of Rome in our history has.
We will be seeing the glories–and the darker underside–of the Empire in coming stories. The only one set within its bounds so far is The Tower at the Edge of the World, which shows a small part of the price paid by some so that the rest can live their lives entirely unconcerned with where the magic comes from. What the young man from the tower does with himself, however, will rock the Empire to its core, in good ways and bad. (See under F is for Fitzroy.)
* I think it’s called the Pale of Astandalas. I haven’t written any stories set here, yet, so although I know the nature of the place, I haven’t fully established the name. Pale is here used like it was in Ireland, referring to what is within the pale, and therefore civilized, and what is outside the pale, and barbarous. Or in this case, the Ice Ages.
** There were very elaborate calendars at work in the Empire to deal with the fact it covered multiple worlds, as well as, obviously, multiple cultures. They weren’t very concerned about what we would call the actual time; what the wizards and the imperial court decreed as conventional times was considerably more important to most people. Except farmers, of course, but they had their own magics, rituals, and ceremonies. The Empire, in fact, was entirely governed by ritual and ceremony–this is what did performed or enacted most of the magic–though not everyone knew what they were doing, or why. For a taste of this, see, again, The Tower at the Edge of the World.
*** Everyone, including himself, was surprised that Artorin Damara survived the Fall of Astandalas. After sleeping for a hundred years, he ended up becoming the Lord of Zunidh, and ultimately one of the most highly-regarded magi of the post-Astandalan universe, though this is probably partially to do with the fact that as Emperor he was regarded as a more than nominal divinity by many, and no one quite knew what else to do with him afterwards.