Interesting things happen when you're not the first civilisation to develop on a planet.
The continent was essentially one large island, long and narrow, running north to south. Nothing terribly unusual about it, very similar to others on this planet and almost every planet in the sky. What was unusual was the northern edge of the island; a ragged, uneven chain of mountains. Plagued by constant landslides and other tectonic activity, it was the most geographically interesting area on the whole planet, yet because of the danger it was the least explored.
However, if you were to find your way through the impassable passes, up the unclimbable slopes and into caves that no one on the entire planet knew existed, you would find what was left of the society that came before. If you could, somehow, reconstitute the city that had once stood there, millions of years ago, found the library, one building hidden among many other identical buildings, found the correct section of the library, the right books, learned to read the language you would learn what happened. Or, at least, one version of what happened.
The city stood resplendent. Its three polished-granite towers were visible across the entire plain. From the top rooms of the towers one could see the twinkling sea, some three or four dozen kilometers away. Those with exceptional sight claimed to be able to see the floating fortress, on a clear day, when it breached the horizon.
The city, which had a name but has been forgotten over the years, was the only thing on the plain for several weeks in every direction. It held no allegiance to any sovereign nor did it maintain any sort of defense capabilities. On the streets, most people would step in to ensure law and order was maintained, however this was rarely needed.
The bulk of the city was a university and was split into three sections, representing the three schools of study the school was famous for, with the pillars representing the center of each school. The shortest pillar stood in the Arts section. It was a more liberal region and the least populated but the artists who lived and worked here produced sublime pieces of art revered across the entire world. Everything from painting to sculpture was taught there and only the best of the hundreds of applicants each year were accepted.
The second pillar stood a little taller than the art tower and called the students of Philosophy to study. This was the strictest of the three schools and was also the most isolated of the schools. The students gathered almost daily, almost ritualistically, to study and to discuss. Some of these discussions were held publicly, causing everything to pause for, sometimes, hours at a time as everyone stopped to watch.
The tallest tower was called the Shining Tower for the iridescent glow the top third gave off when the sun hit a certain angle at dusk. This tower was the focal point for something special. Each day fifteen of its schools most talented acolytes would gather on the uppermost balcony and channel the planets natural energy in the invisible lines that connected all three towers and used this to both power the city as a whole and to learn about the universe around them. This was the Tower of Magic.
The university was founded on the idea that the world was inherently a dangerous place and the few who were trusted with power should be constantly taught how to use it, lest they all become complacent.
As the years passed, and younger generations implanted their own views on the running of the schools, this view evolved, with less focus on educating the elected officials and more on educating everyone, and expanding the knowledge of their species as a whole.
Many saw this as a noble goal and, in principle, it was. However, even the most idealistic pursuits are not immune to the tendrils of corruption.
After some decades a darkness slowly crept into the city and the university. A group of people who would use their knowledge, not for the benefit of the people, but for their own lust for power and control. They threw out those who oversaw the running of the school, and by proxy, the city itself. They established a new order within the city while almost destroying it entirely.
The epilogue being a new city, rebuilt on the foundations of the old one. A new city with a new, purpose: The only reason for knowledge was to rule over others.
Other nations formed, feuded and reformed. The city, which nominally at least, stood within one such nation, didn’t formally interact with any of them, staying isolated. Biding its time and informal influence.
The world saw the city grow from strength to strength, its true nature hidden by its isolation and lever marketing. Small conflicts would come and invariably go with no impact on the city itself. Except for one. The nations surrounding the city, including its home nation, all simultaneously claimed ownership of it and sent their armies to back up these claims.
The siege lasted months before the city itself stepped in to end it, sending their students of magic to end the fighting. Sixteen people, as the story goes, defeated five separate armies in a matter of hours.
Diplomacy prevailed and all parties involved agreed to leave the city alone and let it become its own sovereign nation.
And so the stage was set.
Their new reputation spread fast across the world, and while they still accepted acolytes for their schools, students no longer applied with any real holistic views, and so, the city made its mark as an institution of power, and might over the rest of the world.
That's all our records say about the city. We think we know where it stood – here. As to what happened, why it no longer stands here, we cannot say. But this is our home now. Our small village. One of many rebuilding on the ruins of what came before. We have no national borders, no city or university. But we do have one thing. One thing that keeps us alive and strong. We still have the magic.