Roughly 300 cycles before the events of the Nine Empires, the mighty Rhûnnish Empire came to an end.  Ildar Skharnov IV, known as Ildar the Childless, died during the winter.  As his namesake suggested, he left no heirs to the Crystal Throne.  By the traditional laws of succession, finding an heir was no easy task.  The Skharnovs who were not destined to rule were not in the habit of remaining at the Imperial Court, typically choosing lifelong military careers and retiring very far from the capital.  Upon Ildar’s death, every effort was made to find his closest living relative, though it was known that none still bore the Skharnov name.

Arkady Annastashchenko claimed that his blood was the closest to the late emperor’s.  As the patriarch of his house, he was the first to lay claim to the throne.  He was probably right, regarding his claim, but history doesn’t care about that sort of thing.  His rival claimants included Fëdor Karamazov, Nikolai Votavko, Boris Dondarovski, and Mariusz Beltov.  Annastashchenko already had a fairly large force inside the capital, and ordered them to seize the Skharnograd Kremlin and hold it for his arrival, making all preparations for his coronation.  However, after a series of blunders, his reinforcements were routed, and Annastashchenko bowed out of the game early before Boris Dondarovski, who declared his forces for Fëdor Karamazov just as the latter began closing in on the capital.

Mariusz Beltov wanted nothing to do with the Crystal Throne, and instead tried to regain his country’s indpendence from the Rhûnnish Empire.  However, Nikolai Votavko united the rest of the south, and Beltov was squeezed between him and Karamazov’s forces to the north.  Before his crushing defeat, and his own death during the siege of his fortress, Beltov sent word to Fëdor Karamzov, warning him of what was coming, and also granting the northern coalition a token that might grant them some favour in the war.

This token was a hot-air balloon, and were it not for that very balloon, Beltov would not have lasted as long as he did.  Making use of the balloon, Karamazov’s forces scouted the supposed route of Votavko’s advance, and set a trap outside the city of Trenatia.  When Votavko’s forces dug in for a siege, Karamzov’s artillery bombarded the encampment before the cavalry rushed in and slaughtered many of the confused attackers.  Karamazov’s casualties were minimal, while Votavko lost almost 50 000 men.  This wasn’t even a battle, just a siege gone ill.

Nikolai Votavko was furious.  He demanded to know how such a perfect trap could be laid.  Surely, there was a traitor in his ranks.  When he finally calmed down and listened to the rest of the report, he learned of the balloon, and demanded that his forces make use of the contraptions as well, so that they might have the same advantage.

Meanwhile, Fëdor Karamazov got the same idea about balloons, seeing how valuable just one of them was.  Morale began to pick up among the officers, who previously thought that the war was hopeless, since Votavko’s forces outnumbered their own almost two to one.

The rest of the war was a series of gambits, which both sides made and neither side fell for, all thanks to the balloons.  The children of Fëdor Karamazov and Nikolai Votavko both proposed uniting the two houses through marriage, but neither of the old contenders for the Crystal Throne would compromise.  It took the birth of his first grandchild and surviving a stroke, in that order, to make Nikolai Votavko finally open to negotations.  Fëdor Karamazov would have the Crystal Throne and the original Rhûnnish Empire, i.e. all the lands that Alexandra Skharnova conquered during her lifetime.  Nikolai Votavko would get the rest, and his capital would be Krivs.  All agreed to this except the dwarf lords.  Tuhur VI, king of the dwarves, saw Fëdor Karamazov as weak, and shifted his alliance, joining Bulmut to the west.

Thus the empires of Alexandria and Drachania, two of the titular Nine, were born, the former named for its original founder, and the latter as a derivation of Draka, home of Krivs and one of the many tsardoms that the Rhûnnish Empire had devoured during its expansion.

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