by Max Barry

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by The Despotic Dictatorship of Despoticania. . 377 reads.

History of Despoticania

1. Early History

The stormy, jagged coast of southern Despoticania greeted the first settlers.

Despoticania is an ancient nation founded around 7,500 BCE by human settlers arriving from the southeast. Only fragmentary, sometimes conflicting accounts survive from the origins of those first Despoticanians, but the most common legend tells that they were escaped slaves of the powerful Eldian Empire, fleeing for their lives after an unsuccessful revolt against their demihuman masters. Landing at the southernmost tip of Despoticania, they founded the city of Jylkurfyk. Mere decades after their arrival, a large meteorite impact to the north drastically altered the climate, nearly wiping the settlers out. It is believed that these early hardships formed the basis for the common Despoticanian mentality which regards the entire universe as a cruel place actively hostile to life and progress. Paradoxically, this seemingly pessimistic outlook on life helped the settlers survive by hardening their minds and filling them with determination to keep fighting the odds.

Over the next centuries the settlers slowly spread all over the east coast, founding the cities of Thule (later Old Thule), City of Caverns (later Despoticania Prime) and Starfall (in the crater of the aforementioned impact event). By 7,000 BCE they had become a loose nation with a total population of over half a million. It was around this time the first settlers heading west encountered the demihuman kingdom of Blacklight, an offshoot of the Eldian slaver empire from which their ancestors had escaped. After that, it was only a matter of time before hostilities erupted.

2. The First Kingdom

For the first fifty years after their discovery of each other, the human settlers and the Kingdom of Blacklight coexisted in uneasy peace. However, from the beginning it was clear that sooner or later war would be inevitable. The humans had kept the memory of their enslavement and escape alive through the generations, while the long-lived Eldian demihumans still had some individuals in their ranks old enough to remember the failed slave revolt and the destruction it had caused. This time, however, the sides were more or less evenly matched: the humans had increased their numbers and spread far and wide, and while the Eldians were individually more powerful and had strong magical powers, their numbers were limited and their reproductive cycle much longer. They had also lost the support of their progenitor empire, which they had effectively abandoned in favor of their own independence.

Full-fledged war broke out in May 7th, 6,938 BCE. To this day, this remains the earliest recorded date in the history of Despoticania. The war began when Blacklight sent its armies to enslave or exterminate the humans in a pre-emptive strike. Desperate to survive, the loose Despoticanian city-states banded together and formed the First Despoticanian Kingdom, which successfully defended itself despite suffering heavy casualties. Knowing that a lasting peace was likely out of the question, the First King of Despoticania, Agraven the Weak, decided that Blacklight had to be wiped out and raised an army for counter-invasion. Blacklight easily repelled the first human attacks and sent one more army to destroy them, only to fail again. Because of their limited population and slow reproduction, each defeat cost the Eldians proportinally more, and slowly they began to lose ground. However, it was not Agraven but his grandson, Anganol the Bloody, who scored a decisive victory against Blacklight in 6,889 BCE. Most Eldians were slaughtered as the humans invaded their towns and razed them to the ground, but some were absorbed among the new lords of the land. Although diluted to the point of becoming almost unnoticeable, their genes survive to this day among Despoticanians, possibly explaining the higher than average number of magically adept humans.

The destruction of Blacklight marked the beginning of the Age of the First Kingdom, which saw the settlement of the entire land and the birth of a unified Despoticanian nation. The First Kingdom was eventually destroyed in a bloody rebellion against Queen Hestra the Insane in 6,099 BCE, but that was not the end of a unified Despoticania. Before the rise of the Second Kingdom in 4,733 BCE, Despoticania was ruled by a council of lords and the occasional warlord, or by a non-hederitary king elected by the lords. Since its founding, Despoticania has been a kingdom for a grand total of seven times for varying lengths of time. The Last Kingdom, ruled by the Mirpal dynasty, fell in 1420 CE. After that, Despoticania was ruled by an oligarchic council (with a ceremonial Chairman as the head of state), until The Despot rose to power in 1995.

3. Crusades of Hate

Perhaps the most important landmark in the history of Despoticania between the fall of Blacklight and the rise of The Despot was the birth of the Church of Transcendental Hatred. Founded around 5,000 BCE by the Monkey-Prophet St. Marukh, the Church was the logical culmination of the common Despoticanian philosophy which regarded the universe itself as hostile and antithetical to life. By 4,800 BCE the Church was the dominant religious force in Despoticania, and its teachings came to influence the nation more than any other belief system or philosophy.

The followers of the Church, believing that divine powers were actively working against them, disgusted by their weak, fragile and short-lived bodies and frustrated with all their limitations, set out to to cleanse the world of the old gods. They built great fleets and, for thousands of years, launched intermittent "Crusades of Hate" to purge major god-centric religions in both Tyrannia and Oppressaria. Great Cathedrals of Hatred were erected all over Despoticania and the conquered lands, serving as nexuses of frenzied hate rituals and negative psychic energies which some Warrior Priests learned to harness and channel. The chapters established outside Despoticania rarely survived for long, however, since the Crusaders weren't really interested in conquest and soon left, leaving the natives to re-adopt their old ways and beliefs in a few generations.

In the late Crusader period (which ended around 930 BCE) some Warrior-Priests, most notably the legendary Festibaryatid, became great explorers, discovering new lands and carefully mapping the coastlines of continents and islands.

The Church of Transcendental Hatred's second core belief, and the ultimate goal of its followers, was to attain godhood. To this end, they focused on improving themselves by any and all means available. Not content with mere enlightenment through meditation, members of the Church performed both mundane and magical experiments on themselves, brewing alchemical solutions to prolong their lives and amputating their own limbs to replace them with crude but durable prosthetics. More often than not these early attempts to transcend the limits of their mortality resulted in the Haters' death, but in their maniacal fervor they never gave up. In the end, it was the Church of Transcendental Hatred which kick-started the Despoticanian obsession with technology and transhumanism.

4. Conquest of Space

The first Despoticanian spacecraft, Hope, was destroyed during re-entry, prompting the Church of Transcenental Hatred to donate 1.5 billion Despollars to the DSA.

In 3220 BCE, Despoticanian astronomer Jenovian of Thule deduced that stars are actually distant suns similar to our own. This realization had a profound impact on Despoticanians, who came to believe that somewhere among the countless stars was a paradise world, free from the suffering and hardships of Terra, just waiting to be discovered and settled. Later, the Church of Transcendental Hatred began to teach that that stars were the dwelling place of the hated gods, and that it was the destiny of Despoticanians to one day reach the stars to directly battle the gods.

These beliefs influenced early Despoticanian scientists, shamans and philosophers, who tried - unsuccessfully - to reach the stars by various means, such as building primitive flying machines or conjuring portals to space. After many deaths and disappearances (the most famous being the ill-fated hot air balloon trip of Esta Lanarofus and her apprentices), this "First Space Craze" began to subside. Eventually, during the most active Crusader period, the plans to conquer space were put to an indefinite hold as most of the nation's resources were directed to exploring Terra and spreading the message of Transcendental Hatred in distant lands. The dream of reaching the stars never died completely, however.

With the advent of industrial revolution and enlightenment, the dream was rekindled. After a period of rapid technological advancement in the 19th century, space seemed, for the first time in history, to be within reach. Following the successful test flights of several unmanned craft, the first Despoticanian in space was Anne Marilith in 1929, piloting the single-stage spacecraft Hope. While she reached orbit, she was killed during re-entry when the spacecraft was struck by sprite lightning and exploded. The Church of Transcendental Hatred took this as a sign of the gods' attempts to keep Despoticanians grounded on the earth and donated 1.5 billion Despollars (at the time, an enormous sum of money comparable to over 60 billion modern-day Despollars) to the Despoticanian Space Agency (DSA). The first successful space mission was launched the next year, when Susan Zorateroth-Greigh in the spacecraft Defiance of the Heavens orbited the planet three times before landing successfully.

Since then, Despoticania has launched hundreds of successful space missions. The construction of the first Despoticanian space station was undertaken between 1948 and 1950, and the first Moon landing occurred in 1953. The next year, Despoticania began constructing its first Moon settlement, the Clavius Base. Clavius was abandoned soon after establishment for a more ambitious project, Luna-1, which was designed to be self-sufficient and permanently populated by a large crew. Unfortunately, Despoticania was hit by a major economic depression in the early 1960's, and the DSA found its budget (which had thus far been nearly unlimited) seriously cut. In 1964, after a major rocket accident in the Starfall Launch Facility, Luna-1 was effectively abandoned and left to its own devices - quite a shock to the nearly 200 crew members of the settlement. Surprisingly, not only did the abandoned crew of Luna-1 survive, they actually managed to thrive and expanded the settlement on their own, eventually forming the independent nation of Veradax.

Since the late 1990's, Despoticania has built a small fleet of spacecraft used for both exploration and military actions. Today, all Despoticanian spacecraft and other space-based installations are operated under the authority of the Despoticanian Space Fleet.

5. Rise of The Despot

The last royal house of Despoticania was the Mirpal dynasty, which ruled the country between 1023 and 1420 CE. In 1419, the newly-crowned Queen Zaara Mirpal tried to introduce several reforms that would have drastically curtailed the powers of the nobility and the bourgeoisie and concentrated power directly to the Queen. Not willing to give up their privileges, several nobles and prominent merchant guilds started an open rebellion which ended in the dethroning of the Queen and the creation of a new form of government: from 1420 to 1995, Despoticania was ruled by the "Government Council", a secretive oligarchic group of powerful individuals led by a Chairman. Initially, members of the Government Council came from the ranks of powerful guilds and noble houses, but by the early 19th century the Council was dominated by technocrats and scholars, who eventually did away with nobility's titles and privileges.

The last Chairman of the Council was Onmund Elkira, a ruthless social engineer and transhumanist who ruled Despoticania between 1973 and 1995. Elkira was known for his habit of funding many obscure and dangerous projects headed by scientists and researchers of questionable reputation. Elkira's reign was marked by several spectacular man-made disasters, including the meltdown of an experimental zero-point reactor and the escape of over ten thousand horribly malformed mutants from a genetics laboratory. On the other hand, many of Elkira's projects were successful and significantly advanced Despoticanian technological and scientific knowledge.

In 1994 Elkira made a rare television appearance where he formally informed the public of the appointment of a new member of the Government Council, codenamed "The Despot". According to Elkira, The Despot would remain anonymous because of his delicate position as the head of cybersecurity and domestic surveillance. Elkira assured the populace that The Despot would work tirelessly against enemies of the state and make Despoticania a safer, happier place. That was Elkira's last public appearance.

On August 17th of the next year, The Despot briefly hijacked every major TV station and the 100 most visited websites in Despoticania. To this day it is unknown how he managed to accomplish this - no traces of hacking programs or tampering were found in any of the affected hardware. In a short text-only message, The Despot informed Despoticanians of the dissolution of the Government Council and his appointment as the sole ruler of the entire country; from this point on he would be the highest authority in Despoticania, assuming all powers and responsibilities of the defunct Council as well as the portfolios of its former members, including those of the Secretary of Defense, the Secretary of Finance and the Chief of Intelligence Services. Surprisingly, The Despot's takeover passed without major incidents or protests. The Government Council had always been a secretive, shadowy group of oligarchs; its replacement by an even more obscure dictator had little impact on the daily lives of most citizens.

The Despot was quick to consolidate his power. In a matter of days, he had dismissed thousands of high and mid-level civil servants and military officers and replaced them with persons loyal to him. Historians have noted that despite the seemingly bloodless nature of the coup, hundreds of prominent people - including corporate leaders, scientists and local politicians - around the country disappeared without trace during the first months of The Despot's reign. Nonetheless, by 1996 The Despot was the unquestionable ruler of Despoticania, fully in control of the military, the police, the intelligence services and the most important state-owned companies.

6. Despoticania Today

Heavy industrialization in pursuit of fast technological advancement has left large areas of Despoticania heavily polluted.

Today, Despoticania is best described as a "meritocratic quasi-socialist technocracy". The Despot remains the ultimate authority in the country, but he communicates only rarely with his subordinates and never makes public appearances. When The Despot does communicate, his messages are always text-based and tend to contain only general instructions and guidelines. In practice, Despoticania has become a collection of mostly autonomous city-states as local governments have assumed responsibility for the daily running of the country. Normally, this would likely cause intense power struggles and the ultimate emergence of a more coherent government, but The Despot maintains total control over the seemingly omniscient state security apparatus and dissenters tend to vanish without a trace. However, as long as the local governments don't overstep the boundaries set by The Despot, they are generally free to govern their territories as they see fit.

The Despot's ultimate goals and motivations remain obscure, but he seems to focus on technological advancement, with emphasis on human enhancement technologies, materials science and physics research. Over the years, several ambitious organizations - such as the Dragonspire Institute, the Necrotechnomancers Union and the Church of Transcendental Hatred - have learned to manipulate The Despot by promising him results that further his technological goals. Gaining The Despot's favor will almost always result in immense power, prestige and nearly unlimited funding for the successful organization, but there are severe risks involved in attempting to manipulate The Despot - he doesn't seem to form any attachment to even his closest allies and is quick to turn against them should they fail to live up to their promises.

Technological advancement during The Despot's reign has been extremely fast. Unaugmented humans are now more or less obsolete, and while living standards remain high, most ordinary people feel they have little control over their lives or the future. Feelings of uncertainty and hopelessness have caused a significant percentage of the population to escape reality in the virtual Heaven Simulation or seek comfort from radical organizations like the Church of Transcendental Hatred. The general mood among the rest of the population is, in typical Despoticanian fashion, that of grim determination in the face of an uncertain future.