RPS Ascension: The Mystery of the Disappearing Pretenders
Listen well, and I well tell you a tale. It is the story of how the Ascension Wars came to end; of six great Pretenders that sought to sit upon the absent Pantokrator’s throne; and how I, Ichiro, came to be the last surviving Oni on the face of Antopeos.
Like any true story, it must be told in parts, and it is much larger than any one teller. As for the first: I can speak what I know in two nights, for I have been assured that the early years of the Yomi Kingdom have been chronicled elsewhere. And as for the second: I have but narrow insight into the whole of the tale, and my limited vision will have to suffice.
In the beginning, there were six Pretenders. Well, scratch that. In the beginning, there was the Pantokrator, God of Us All. He reigned for time immemorial, right up until the day he disappeared. I don’t know where he went, or why, or whether he had a choice. I haven’t even given it much thought, seeing as how those are unknowable things, at least by me. What I do know is that he left, and suddenly the six nations of Antopeos were at each other’s throats.
There will be some—librarians and magicians, no doubt, chronicling the story for future generations to help them understand that which cannot be understood—who will tell you that this signaled a war between the natural world and the world of men. They will tell you that there were three nations to a side: three acting as advocates for the natural world, and three (composed of downtrodden humans), struggling to survive in the chaotic and unwelcoming Antopeos. The three “natural” kingdoms were aquatic Oceania, representing the beasts beneath the waves, Kailasa for the creatures of the hill and jungle, and my own nation, Yomi. In this version of things, we represent the creatures of the Under. The Oni and Bakemono were born in the Fissure, and all that maraud into the wide world hope to return there to die. Chances are, I will not.
The human nations were the Marverni tribes, lovers of grass and herb and hoof, and altogether friendly so long as left alone; Sauromatia, the dwellers of the poisonous marshes; and Ermor, of the great city in the north. According to the histories already being written, these three kingdoms allied against the aggressive Oceanians, Kailasans, and Yomites, and made the world safe for mankind.
This is bunk. Nonsense. The truth is that nobody much cared for any kingdom other than their own. There was no “Grand Alliance,” no glorious “March on the Fissure.” In fact, my Yomi were allied with the human Marverni. Right up until hotter heads than mine prevailed, and we stormed across the Diluphe to capture their marsh-fortress. After all, we are Oni and Bakemono, and we do so love plunder.
Still, it’s a testament to the reaches of my wordsmithing and charisma that the Marverni tribes believed us saviors, coming to rescue them from the raiding Sauromatians, who had crossed the Slender Sea for some reason or another. That’s right: humans attacking humans, and the attacked humans pleading for their goblin allies for relief.
Diluphe and Laria fell simultaneously, and then the two responsible armies merged at Zimmria. We made no moves of aggression towards the Sauromatian raiders (in fact, we’d allied with them), and made a beeline for Marverni itself.
Wayland, the Pretender of Marverni, finally figured things out when a large army of Bakemono archers, fire- and cold-breathing Oni, and bandit humans, all under the leadership of Our God Akenbei, arrived at the gates of their final stronghold.
Wayland put up a stiff defense of the fortress. His bare-chested warriors were fierce, his druids powerful, and his arrows sharp. But arrows are little match for bolts of magma and glacier, and the fortress fell.
Still, the Marverni did not surrender. Their forces ran rampant behind our lines. As soon as we could quench the fires of one rebellion, another would flare up. The Sauromatians, per our arrangement, retreated to the east. We suspect they did this more to respond to the hundreds of rampaging Marverni warriors that threatened their home territories than out of a sense of honor.
Without Wayland, their faith soon waned. We thought that with the entirety of Western Antopeos under our control, we would be secure enough to raise an army to invade the mainland. We had little idea that the greatest threat of all was approaching.
You might be thinking, “Ah, I know the twist to this tale!” And maybe you do. But I think you’re assuming that we were threatened by Oceania, the water-nation that had threatened us in the past.
Well. You’re absolutely right that we were threatened by them. They invaded our northern shores only weeks after we exterminated the Marverni, coming dangerously close to our capital.
This attack may have succeeded—and potentially crippled us—had it not been for the tricks of Nanvather the Demon-Priest, who had been administering to the spiritual needs of the Fissure (read: lots of meat). Sensing a growing army off the shores of the northern Yomi lands, Nanvather outguessed our enemy. He supposed that they would not make an attempt on the Fissure itself, as it was too thoroughly protected. Instead, Nanvather guessed that Nerae, the Pretender of Oceania, would mount an attack on the bordering provinces, hoping to cut the capital off from the rest of the empire and starve it for resources. He positioned his armies just in time to trounce the fishmen as they crawled out of the water.
However, these attacks were not the threat I spoke of. As soon as the attack had ended, Nerae sent a messenger claiming that the invasion was a group of rebels and was not a declaration of war, and Akenbei replied with a note stuffed into the mouth of her messenger’s severed head that they were possibly the best-dressed rebels he had ever had the pleasure of defiling. And then
Nothing. No response. No threats or flowery words or excuses. No troop movements. No recruitment. No extra taxation, or erected temples, or skulking spies. It was as though Nerae had disappeared from the face of the earth.
This was bad news, for although Nerae had invaded our lands twice now, she was also a thorn in the side of Sauromatia and Ermor in the east.
A few months later, rumors arrived that the Pretender of Kailasa, who had been locked in a three-way struggle with Sauromatia and Ermor, had also gone silent, and the now-unprotected and godless lands of the apes were being picked apart by the humans.
There were a few among us who questioned these good fortunes. Akenbei, my God, was as pleased as he ever had been, throwing a celebratory feast and orgy that lasted the better part of the year and nearly drained Diluphe of meat. I was told by Hirohisa and Raidon to stop my worrying, for we would never suffer another attack from our Oceanian neighbors.
Still, I could not help but wonder where these two Pretenders had disappeared to. Had they gone to the same place as the Pantokrator? Or somewhere else? Had they given up? It ate at me like a festering wound inflicted in battle.
I would never learn the answer to this mystery of the disappearing Pretenders. But the mystery itself is the answer to the question of our ignominious defeat, for every province that fell to the Sauromatians was fuel for their invasion of us.
But that chapter must wait for another meeting.