The year was 5E 1208, by the reckoning of the Imperial scribes in the White-Gold Tower. Centuries of peace had passed under the watchful rule of the first – and only – Khajiiti Empress of the Imperial realm, who had ascended the throne in the last days of the Fourth Era.
Ever more intrepid with the re-establishment of the Mages' Guild, and its integration with regional centres such as the College of Winterhold, the mages of Nirn began to look into the Void to search for other worlds. The stars, they surmised, were not simply spirits of the departed Aedra, but were spheres of energy – much rather like Magnus was to Nirn, Secunda and Masser.
And they were right. At least, when the first portals to other worlds were opened under the scrutiny of the Empress herself. The Void contained much, much more. The portal itself revealed a vast ball of ice and rock, upon which sat a great tuning-fork of some unknown silvery material. The mages could hardly contain their excitement upon finding this structure; for it was not Daedric in craft, nor Dwemeri, or even Aldmeri. It was ancient, its age beyond perhaps even the first intelligent life on Nirn.
For years the mages had toiled to discover its origin, and what secrets it may hold. Not a single scrying-spell succeeded to discover any meaningful information, not even those cast by the Arch-mage of the Arcane University.
It was not until his careless apprentice had shattered a grand soul gem upon it by accident on one of his Void-walks, whereupon a stroke of lightning struck it. So great was the bolt of lightning, that the hapless man was incinerated on the spot, leaving nothing but a nebulous cloud of ash.
However, the rings of metal within the core of this tuning-fork began to spin and hum with vast energies. When a curious mage accompanying the perished apprentice threw a shard of stone at it, he was struck speechless as he watched the stone be seized by bolts of energy, and then hurled across the Void at an astounding speed.
"This," the Arch-mage theorised, "Was a Gate to Oblivion, though not as we understand it. We know not where it leads, but we do know that it must lead somewhere, for if an object is not destroyed but is moved, then it must come to a rest elsewhere in the Void. Such are the laws of motion, set in the fabric of space and time,"
And to his colleagues in the Imperial City Voidcrafters' Guild, he instructed them to construct a vessel for twoscore of his men, and supplies to last a year or two. To the Fighters' Guild, he bade the guildmaster prepare a dozen of his strongest and most skilled fighters. None knew what they were facing, though it was certainly better to prepare for the worst, than to be caught unprepared and be slain.
Within a cycle of Masser and Secunda's eternal dance, the Voidcrafters' Guild had produced a vessel of hardened ebony. Upon each of its twin dragon-like wings sat a magickal cannon, deemed sufficient to blast any malign Daedra back to Oblivion, if such an unfortunate encounter were to occur. And on its sleek, slender body was a vast shard of refined Aetherium, enough to render the ship invisible should it be necessary. Named the 'Wings of Akatosh', it was the first such vessel ever created to delve into the Void in reaches unknown.
Throwing themselves at Azura's mercy, the Arch-mage and his thirty-nine followers allowed themselves to be caught in the energies of the great fork. What followed was beyond the Arch-mage's wildest dreams.
They were not hurled into a plane of Oblivion. Nor were they hurled into a rock in the void, as one of the warriors had exclaimed in her fear. But instead, inside the scrying-orb at the ship's helm, visible to everyone, was a world.
A world that was not barren. A world that was even covered in the azure of water, and the verdant green of plant-life, following its course about the great yellow-orange star in the distance. It seemed almost a perfect clone of Nirn, if it were not for the fact that there were at least seven moons circling about it.
'We must inform the Empress at once. A world of beauty such as this; why, it would be a waste to leave it so. Bring the light of the Empire to it, and we shall all prosper!' a Nord exclaimed, his ruddy cheeks glowing red in mirth.
Upon landing, the magnificence of their find became truly apparent. Here was a world untouched by the ravages of war. Here was a world, teeming with animal and plant life, waiting to be harvested and used by the people of the Empire. The possibilities were endless. The Empress had to be notified.
It was 5E 1209 when the Empress had decided to send a detachment of settlers to this new world. Though her face showed surprise, and even joy for but a fleeting moment, it was replaced by a dark, sombre mood. If there existed worlds outside of Nirn, so easily reachable as by these great tuning-forks, and they were fertile as these; then it was extremely probable that there existed other peoples – and other empires – elsewhere. Though the Empire had complete mastery over Nirn, and its peoples were numerous and strong, the vastness of the Void could not rule out that they were the strongest wherever they expanded. No, they had to become stronger, to retain mastery and control over their Empire. Whatever else out there be damned if they attacked, for the Empire would return the favour a thousandfold.
And so the Empress commissioned the larger part of her significant treasury towards the construction of a fleet of Void-ships, and demanded that the Mages' Guild and the newly created Craftsmen's Guild work together to find new and more effective armour and weapons. For if outsiders decided to invade the Empire, they must find themselves so imperiled that they had no choice but to surrender.
To this end, the archers of the Empire were given powerful crossbows, empowered by the same material used in the cores of the great tuning-forks to accelerate their bolts to extreme speeds. Their bolts were likewise provided with enchantments to burst into flame or frost, or even bolts of lightning; and whereupon they struck, they would soon explode into shards of splintered metal, cutting and shredding flesh and armour alike.
Warriors were afforded hardened ebony-glass alloy armours, impervious to all but the most well-aimed of blows. They too were forced, by Imperial decree, to study the projection of wards without the use of hands, so that should the enemy attack with arcane energies, they would be prepared to slay the aggressors with extreme impunity. Their weapons, too, had evolved; no longer did they wield clumsy and unwieldy battleaxes and warhammers, but they had been given blades of crystallised arcane energies. No longer was there a need to sharpen and to hone weapons for hours on end, when these would simply often melt through an enemy's skin, flesh and bone.
And last of all, the ships. They had grown, and grown, until the very largest of them could hardly be classified as a ship as it was a small asteroid. And each of them were given a vast complement of mages, the best and brightest minds of the Empire, to drive them ever onwards and to charge the vast arcane cannons that lined the hulls of each.
It is now 5E 1492. Sixteen worlds had been colonised under Imperial rule, and the people enjoyed a staggering array of riches from the other worlds. Dubbed the 'Outworlds', these quickly became havens for the poorer citizens seeking to make their wealth. Land was abundant, and resources plentiful. It was as though Kynareth herself had prepared each world for the craftsmen of Zenithar.
But all that is golden must eventually tarnish, as thieves and robbers descended upon the Empire's richest Outworlds. Ardour's Gate, an Outworld with three great tuning-forks within its system, has had one of its forks inexplicably activate. And from this, a great host of alien ships had come. After destroying the three patrol frigates about the planet's orbit, the ships descended to the surface.
The largest mining city, shrouded in a perpetual sickly-looking smoke belched from countless fiery rifts, stood proudly atop a mountain, its three protective spires casting a glimmering dome of energy about the city. Within its confines stood a fortress to the glory of the Empire; several anti-Voidship cannons perpetually scanning the skies for threats, while redoubtable iron walls, plated with sheets of adamantine, protected its Legion garrison. And yet nothing would prepare them for the coming storm.
Shells from above struck the protective barriers. At first, they wavered but held. But being designed to hold little more than toxic gases away from the population, the second barrage of shells from the Void shattered the energy field, destroying the shield generators with them. The anti-Voidship cannons desperately fired at incoming transport ships, successfully destroying some with bolts of pure magicka. But it was all in vain, for the third barrage destroyed the guns completely.
'Attention all fighters. Assemble in the Plaza of Eternal Radiance. We are under attack! This is NOT A DRILL!' the amplified raspy voice of an Argonian echoed through the smoke-filled halls of the fortress. The entire building was cast in a sickly orange-red light, the Dwemeri lamps having been rendered useless by the destruction of the magickal energy core in the centre of the city. Fires raged in the crumbling side-rooms, with the occasional explosion of munitions stores sending sprays of deadly shrapnel through the air.
For the first time in centuries, the Legion found itself tasked with more than simply peacekeeping. On the Outworld of Ardour's Gate, an unknown force had broken through the few frigates guarding the unopened Gate. What few transmissions were sent from the frigates before they fell silent had yielded little information, beyond the obvious. The attackers were numerous, and well-armed. Though they appeared to be a motley group of ships, their numbers alone had overwhelmed the slow-firing arcanopulse cannons of the small frigates. Even the mighty defensive cannons upon the planet's largest fortress had been annihilated in but a brief exchange of fire, unable to cope with the vast numbers of the attackers.
"Jurgen! Thank the Nine you're still alive. How many have we lost?" A Bosmer woman called to her companion, diving behind a fallen pillar. A cursory glance across the battlefield caused her to shudder; limbs and organs strewn across the plaza, the work of the enemy's explosive spheres.
The anti-air cannons had been blasted from orbit, leaving nothing but smouldering cinders. The Plaza in the centre of the fortress itself was rent with craters from the numerous rockets and missiles that the invaders had launched at the surface. Her own post, along with most of her squadron at the north gate of the Plaza, had been sent to the Void by a particularly large missile. All around them the battle-cries of the town guards filled the air, punctuated by the high-pitched whine of a bullet or the whistling of a crossbow bolt flying through the air.
"Talos preserve us," the Nord muttered, "All of our squadron, save myself and you. I'll be demoted for this, but to Oblivion with ranks and formalities! There are too many of them, and too few of us. Fall back, Casfina! Get to the communications relay tower, and send for reinforcements!"
"You can't be serious. You aren't facing them alone, Jurgen. Their rifles cut through our dwarf-plate after four or five shots,"
"I never said I was fighting them," he snapped back, glaring at her, "And I'd be dead anyway, if I returned in disgrace. As your superior, I command you to retreat to the communications post south of this plaza. I've got a surprise for these four-eyed demons. Now go! Through the gate, quickly, and seal it behind you!"
The auxiliary nodded in understanding. Legion discipline would have him demoted, or even killed, for inability to perform his duty. She leapt from cover and dashed through the heavy Ebony-plated gates to their right, barely dodging a high-powered bullet as it embedded itself into the wall behind her.
There was only one way to salvage his honour, Jurgen thought, smiling bitterly to himself as he heard the gate bolts grind to a halt behind the closed gates. Kill as many of them before he himself was killed.
He drew out a tattered grey scroll, inscribed with Daedric runes. As he read the inscriptions upon it, tendrils of flame gathered about his right hand. A ball of flame erupted from the embers he now held, the scroll having turned to ash. Eyeing the flat patch of ruined cobblestone in front of the sealed gate, he threw the sphere of flame, only for it to land slightly short of its intended mark.
A glyph of angry orange-red burned brightly for a brief moment on the ground where it struck, before fading to nothingness. A single rune, though powerful. It may yet give the retreating Legion enough time to request reinforcements.
There was only one thing left to do, he thought, as he watched another group of five guardsmen fight valiantly against overwhelming numbers before him.
"On this day, I go to Sovngarde. Ancestors watch over me," he whispered to himself.
Courage born of desperation surged through his veins. His heart pounded in his chest as he let out a battle roar, sprinting through the ruined arcade on the edges of the plaza, his shield raised. Bullets flew overhead, one narrowly missing his head, and another had buried itself in his pauldron. A rocket struck his shield, breaking his shield-arm with a crunch and sending the shield flying across the building. Another bullet struck him square in his chest, cracking the breastplate. Finally, a javelin-like bolt shattered the cracked breastplate with vicious force, hurling him to the ground.
He coughed once, and twice – feeling the barbs of the bolt tear at his lungs with every agonising breath.
All around him the city was burning. Various buildings, once standing tall and proud, were reduced to rubble. The bodies of the city guards lay all around the Plaza, riddled with holes. Severed limbs from both the defenders and the invaders lay strewn across the once-pristine paved streets. Entrails lay draped across fences and tables like macabre tapestries. Even the sky itself had taken a brilliant orange sheen, misted over with stinking greyish smoke. And all this time, more of those void-ships continued to land on the surface of Ardour's Gate, dumping more of those hateful aliens from their bowels.
He swore to himself, that they would burn. The four-eyed demons, whose eyes told of nothing but arrogance and cruelty. They would be slain, ten- no, a hundred of them, for each of those fallen today. And all their treasures taken as weregild for the cowardly attack dealt here on this accursed day.
Meanwhile, in Citadel space...
"Preposterous. You mean that the Batarians have opened a Relay?' Sparatus growled, 'And this is not a joke, Spectre Bau?"
"Not at all. Batarian slaver rings, seeking new...merchandise. Opened a relay in search of new person to take. Spotted several cruisers and frigates heading towards relay before I was spotted. Had to leave,"
He cradled his brow-plates in frustration. This was not a good start to a day. Opening a relay without permission was among the worst crimes a race could commit, as far as the Council was concerned. Normally, the offending race would be demanded to provide reparations for the actions, and likely be afflicted with a few economic sanctions. However, the Batarians were not technically part of the Council any longer, and thus were not subject to Council law.
"Thank you, Spectre. I shall consult with the other councilors regarding this matter,"
The Salarian merely nodded, and left the councilor's office, leaving the Turian to ponder an appropriate solution to the issue. It was not every day that such...stupidity...occurred, especially not after the Relay 314 incident. History, he cursed, had a way of repeating itself.