"The Eternal Empire, it was called, for it had existed longer than any had record of, and would surely continue beyond the current calendar. Its military might was unmatched, or at least no one wanted to ever have to match themselves against it, and its messaging and travel networks were the supporting infrastructure for all the world. Whether soldier, magician, or noble, only those trained and educated in Los Ciagnac were accepted to be the best in their fields. Beloved of the Lady of Death and boasting magics beyond imagining, it seemed impossible that any calamity should ever befall the nation of Talia Carte. Perhaps we should take the chaos following its end as a lesson: Nothing mortal is eternal, and only disaster waits for those who make the attempt."
-excerpt from the memoirs of Baras C'emkea, Head Archivist of the Emporium until 550 MT
For at least seven thousand years, the empire of Talia Carte stretched from the feet of the Ice Peaks to the Stormsurge Mountains. Aggressively progressive in some relations, staunchly conservative in its core tenets, and carefully moderate in its influence on its contemporaries, the nation was always the foremost topic of interest in any conversation. Talese seagoing vessels patrolled the seas to enforce international agreements and aggressively seek out slaving transports. Talese military forces guarded the Roadways, the interconnected teleportation network buildings in each major city, ensuring public access and safety. Diplomatic talks were hosted in the nation's cities, specialists of all kinds were trained in its borders, and the latest fashion elsewhere was always last year's fad in Talia Carte.
As the vanished nation passes ever farther into history it becomes difficult to parse fact from legend and rumor, yet some few things are known about it.
The Shuffle Alliance
No discussion of Talia Carte would be complete without a primer on the four pillars of its government. Theories abound as to the origin of its nomenclature, the most popular suggesting a source in some ancient game of cards. Regardless, during the empire's height, none mistook the tattooed and emblem-wearing members of the Shuffle Alliance, and none would dare falsely represent themselves as a member.
The Clubs were Talia Carte's military force, handling all matters related to security. Escorts and patrols within the nation's borders, soldiers honoring alliances with other nations, and guards at the Roadways buildings all wore the three-leafed emblem obviously on their persons.
Diamonds handled the empire's information and management needs. The world-famous Archives, a publicly-accessible magical repository of every piece of information the Diamonds could get their hands on, was maintained by the group. Diamonds handled specifics of trade deals with other nations, balanced the books with regard to taxes, directed management of raw resources, and consulted on publicly-funded projects.
Hearts handled the meat of any governing body's work: the people. Administrators, healers, managers, and talent scouts all bore the distinctive magically-attuned tattoo of a red heart somewhere on their person. Traditionally, either the ruler or one of their close advisors spent more time with the Hearts than any other group before ascending to the throne (although this may be conjecture at this point.)
The Spades were a government-funded messenger service. For mere coppers, anyone who could get in touch with a Spade could have a message sent nearly anywhere. While this was certainly an invaluable service, modern scholars often question why it was considered so important as to be a separate group, rather than being incorporated into the Hearts or Diamonds. Unfortunately, we may never know.
In the year 543, on the third second-day of Third Summer, The Eternal Empire ended, neither with roar nor whimper, but silently. The Roadways went dark, and the members of the Clubs guarding them vanished between one breath and the next. Spades in the middle of delivering parcels and letters were there one moment, gone the next, their deliveries falling to the ground where they had stood an eye-blink before.
There was chaos for a time after; everyone had grown used to using the provided infrastructure of Talia Carte, and had little to nothing in the way of supplementary roads and travel routes. Kingdoms and empires fell apart almost overnight, with no way to maintain communications or movement of people to their outlying communities. Settlements from cities to hamlets were left to fend for themselves. Some say this was the day the idea of empires died.
As communities rallied together, stabilizing themselves and establishing methods of maintaining themselves without the extensive travel networks of the Roadways, the same question burned in the mind of every thinking being from the dwarves to the orcs: What happened to Talia Carte? Expeditions were organized, traveling overland and upriver, even chartering the airships of the Emporium, all bound for the towns and cities of Talia Carte.
The empire was found empty. Food had spoiled on plates where dinners had been laid out, furniture pulled out from tables as if in the very act of sitting down to eat. Boats had bashed to pieces on rocks near the docks where they were in the process of being tied off. Rows of lances and weapons were found laying on the ground in practice yards of barracks where they had been dropped, and clothes discarded halfway between wardrobes and beds inside houses.
Of Los Ciagnac itself, that capital city with its impossible defense mechanisms and dream-like academies, nothing is known; all expeditionary forces that venture there are never heard from again, to this very day. The Emporium refuses to provide any further crews or ships for travel to anywhere near the location, having lost no fewer than fifteen vessels to various attempts to explore the city and determine its current state. Scrying attempts of the location fail, as if there is nothing there to see.
The fey and other wild denizens overrun the remnants of the Eternal Empire, now. While some groups have successfully brought areas of wilderness under control, or reclaimed smaller outlying former cities of the empire, none yet dare attempt to replicate the feat of conquering the breadth that Talia Carte encompassed. Some say this is for the best; it is whispered that discovering what truly happened to Talia Carte and its citizens may invite a similar disaster to occur again.
It is known that attendance at educational institutions in Talia Carte was not only free for citizens but was in fact mandatory. What specific methods of oversight or requirements of academic value were in place are no longer known, but the nation certainly made a point of providing some quality of education. Although the vaunted academies of Los Ciagnac remain beyond reach, materials reclaimed from the ruins of outlying settlements are used even to this day as templates and reference sources for modern educators.
Though the Roadways are the most well-known innovation of Talia Carte, the Arteria Wodna is lavished with due praise by those of engineering and stoneworking inclinations who have studied it. Once soaring over the countryside supported by elegant arches, the enormous system of aqueducts and artificial canals has crumbled without the sustaining efforts of the members of the Hearts who kept it in repair. Spanning the entire length of the empire, the Arteria Wodna delivered clean potable water to village, farmland, and faerie copse alike. Deliberate runoffs even offered steady trickles of water in areas the designers determined someone might be caught wandering without supplies, ensuring someone lost in the nation's countrysides at least would be unlikely to die of thirst.
In displays of magical wealth, the Podnosnik Wodny beggars even legends of elsewhere (although admittedly it becomes more difficult as time goes on to tell what is mere legend where Talia Carte is concerned). Each of the small falls that dot the Shadowleaf River displays small posts of stone and crystal design in the dozens. Now non-functional, these posts would supposedly light up with energy when an authorized rivergoing vessel approached, gently lifting it between the upper and lower levels based on its direction of travel. Though none have been successful in examining the posts which are still present, this was an enchantment unequaled in elegance and efficiency if true.