The empire had fallen long before it collapsed. Corrupt elites ruled from a distance. Industry fragmented in slow motion, plundered by the rich and slowly pieced apart by foreign competition. For common people, the possibility of any sort of stable life slowly faded. The future itself seemed to recede into an impenetrable darkness, thick with the sound of some as-yet-unseen chaos slouching toward the present. The gap between the dim light of everyday life and that rapidly approaching night was filled with bone-deep madness. Tradition rotted from the inside out. Opiates muted the misery of ever-expanding unemployment and unrest bloomed in its thousand forms. Religious sects arose across the heartland. On the coasts, overburdened, underfunded cities sprawled outward even as their cores were flooded with unprecedented wealth. Slums spiraled in a fractal pattern around glittering ports. Foreign powers pressed inward from a distance, the military overextended and inefficient. Weaker armies fought asymmetrical wars against the empire at its edges. Corrupt officials were assassinated in broad daylight. Militias grew in the rural areas, filled with young, futureless men hoping to push out the foreigners and make a great nation strong once again.