The Vanquished of Valeria
The largest and most powerful of the realms of Valeria, as well as the most regulated and controlling.
Records have shown that the kingdom of Zhen was founded sometime during the 2nd Era, not too long after the Great Melding. For most of its history, Zhen was a small, quiet kingdom with little to distinguish it from the large cities that were springing up across Valeria. In the year 682 of the 3rd Era, the previous ruling family was usurped in a bloodless coup by Lord Arlathan Dracon. He then began construction on Zhen’s most noteworthy feature, The Black Tower, which was completed in the year 700.
At the end of the 3rd Era, a massive beam of light erupted from the Black Tower and spread across the sky over all of Valeria. Within days reports of monsters and other foul creatures decreased dramatically across the continent. Though no records exist explaining what the light was or how it drove out the monsters, most scholars agree that it was a form of ancient magic. They called the event, “The Exodus” and declared it to be the beginning of the 4th Era.
The absence of monsters allowed trade routes to spring up across the majority Valeria. Nearly every kingdom’s wealth doubled during this prosperous era. Zhen’s unique position in the heartland of the South allowed it to gain more economic and political power than the the other kingdoms. All of this newfound wealth allowed Arlathan to purchase enormous armies of mercenaries, which he then used to attack and annex the cities surrounding his kingdom.
After conquering most of the Heartland and the Fell Forest, Arlathan turned his attention West. Using the resources of Zhen and his keen sense of diplomacy, he forged a treaty with the Dwarven king of the Bjor Mountains, Dáin Kazadul, that allowed him to create a massive tunnel through the mountain and straight to the kingdom of Dragonwall. This treaty would later serve as the basis for the Imperial Compact of Civilized Species. With their largest obstacle removed, Zhen easily overtook the kingdom in the 12th year of the 4th era and added their territory to its own.
When news of Dragonwall’s annexation reached Zhen, Arlathan wrote out the Imperial Edict: a document that established Zhen and all its territory as an empire that would forever be ruled by the Dracon family. In the Edict, Arlathan also set up the basic structure of the Empire, including the very first Imperial Senate. On the 1st day of the Month of Summer, in the 12th year of the 4th Era, Lord Arlathan Dracon was officially crowned the 1st Emperor of the Zhent Empire.
Rise to Power
The conquest of the South continued over the next few decades. At the height of its power, the Zhent Empire controlled all the lands south of the Valeros Mountains. Some kingdoms were conquered through siege and warfare, while others surrendered their authority to the Empire in exchange for prominent positions in the Senate. For centuries the Empire maintained its borders, until Robert Dracon was crowned Emperor.
Robert Dracon had a lust for combat and conquest that drove him to muster up the largest army in the history of the Empire. He ordered his forces to cross the Golden Gulf and begin the siege of Belbridge.