From the sacred scrolls in the Imperial Library:
There came a great disturbance in the town of Lakia by the Nazvian Sea, with confusion and flight. [...] And all the people fled from the ships of the kindom of Q'antaar, which had crossed the sea, inflicting every kind of punishment upon the people of Lakia. [...] The Imperial army, being blessed and varying in design, fell upon the enemy. Slain were the men, their ships set aflame, the women taken into bondage...
A single year did come to pass, and again a great number of Q'antaari ships crossed the sea. The ships carried an army larger than had ever been witnessed, and never had the Words of Power afforded such benefit to a coming invasion.
War did come, and like the army who brought it, the magnitude humbled all that came before. Men and towns burned alike and even the seas stirred with the fury of war. The sun became as night, and the moon ceased to shine. The war continued with the passing of many years and although countless thousands had died, [...] The Q'antaari Servants of Power called upon the Gods of Chaos, who came forth like an eruption consuming the armies and fleets of men[...]
Then the High Mages summoned [...] beings, which have no king and deign superiority to all that came before them. Moreover, immortality deifies them within the mortal domain, exalting them far beyond kings and champions. They did then condemn the Gods of Chaos and their forces, casting them into the abyss, and breaking their malefic hold upon the land. The cities lay in ruin, the rivers did no longer flow, the mountains had tumbled, and the dead did strew the whole land. The Wrath of Power brought down both the wicked kingdom of Q'antaar and the glorious [...] Empire.
The Gods returned to their kingless realm, for everyone must go to the place from which he comes. The Empire has fallen...
The empire that once occupied one third of the known world is gone; its cities destroyed, its land scorched, its link with the civilization of old severed. Noble Houses that lorded over provinces and commanded vast armies have withdrawn to rule from their broken city-states. Once seduced by the prospect of power, constantly fighting for affluence and influence, now they fear losing what little they have. An endless, silent struggle for dominance ensues both within and without. The Imperial Guard, remnants of the Imperial Army, bound together under a common cause, act as a deterrent to open warfare.
Immeasurable damage was done to scientific and arcane research during the war and as a result the world has become stagnant. Where mistrust, prudence and petty plays at power are common, progress is solely reliant on the rediscovery of long forgotten libraries, forges and arcane facilities. The Noble Houses lack the resources and the will to re-establish the structures and societies of knowledge, and technological and societal advancement have become a commodity to be traded, sabotaged or stolen. Hucksters peddle ancient wares of no value to the ignorant, while the Lords seek and hoard artifacts they barely understand.
Ideas of chivalry, honour, and valour are long since dead, cast aside as just another currency. Loyalty is transitory and the rule of law is easily bought. Alliance and reputation are sometimes the difference between life and death - a misspoken word or an unpaid tribute can pose dire consequences. This deceit and corruption presents a unique circumstance of opportunity for the individual, particularly among Noble Houses. Their idle disquiet that the centuries of inertia and decadence are about to change is rapidly descending into desperation. A fanatical mysticism is slowly gaining favour and long held resentments are rising to the surface. Some speculate that another war approaches, others actively encourage it.
While such a situation offers nothing but dark times for many common folks, it offers a once in a lifetime opportunity for an individual determined to seize the moment and follow it to riches, power, glory, and, most likely, an untimely death.