Of the ancient history of the Bright Desert, much still remains occluded. Of the time before the Twin Cataclysms and the Great Migrations even Uhas of Neheli in his “Chronicles of Secret Times” is silent. Only Rexidos’s “A Chronicle of the Flan People” provides any insight into the times before Shattados’s ill-fated decision to don the Scorpion Crown.
- Reydrich Sharn
Long before the perfidious archmage Rary set his thrice-starred banner above the Brass Hill’s wind-blasted peaks and even before the Bright Desert was naught but the insane dreamings of a forgotten god, nomadic Flan wandered the belt of arid grasslands wedged between the Abbor-Alz and the Gearnat Sea. Simple folk, who worshipped primitive spirits of air and earth, they lived in harmony with nature, moving their rude tents as the seasons swept across the ocean of grass that was their home.
Bounded by the arid, monster-haunted peaks of the Abbor-Alz to the north, west, and east and set hard against the storm-wracked waters of the Sea of Gearnat to the south, events transpiring in the wider Flanaess troubled the Flan little. Only two passes –contested by fierce, predatory monsters – cut through the great crescent of the Abbor-Alz and the Flan had little knowledge of sailing. Countless generations lived and died without being troubled by what lurked beyond the grasslands’ bounds and, while they were poor in the sciences of civilization, they were for the most part content. Over time they consolidated into six great tribes – the Durha, Itar, Ronhass, Rhugha Sulm, and Truun,– each claiming a portion of the grasslands as their own. Thus, did the Flan live in peace for centuries uncounted until events unfolding in far-off eastern land shattered for all time the peace of the grasslands.
Forty centuries before the golden sun of the Aerdi rose in the east and the rampant lion of the Rhola and Neheli crushed Vecna’s undead legions, a twisted civilization rose and fell upon the fertile plains of the Dragonshead Peninsula. Caerdiralor was a fell land dominated by Tiamat-worshipping priests and mystics. Obsessed with eradicating the dwarves and gnomes of the Headlands, the masters of Caerdiralor waged terrible war on them, giving no quarter. However, at the struggle’s climax Caerdiralor’s capital, Myrsyrna, was overtaken by a sudden and devastating catastrophe that all but wiped the city and the realm’s ruling elite from the face of the Oerth. A few priests and their adepts survived the devastation, however, and fled to the west across the Sea of Gearnat, carrying certain relics and holy texts of ancient provenance.
Wrecked upon the shores of the lands of the Rhugha, the newcomers initially parleyed with words of peace and rich gifts the like of which the indigenous tribes had never seen before – subtle secrets and scraps of knowledge saved from the fall of their land. Initially welcomed by the tribesmen, their coming also presaged bloody war, betrayal, and the eventual doom of all those dwelling amid the grass-sea. The fall of their homeland had not changed the hearts of the newcomers. They were still black-hearted and evil and the natives quickly divined their true nature. Where once words of peace greeted the newcomers, now volleys of bronze-tipped arrows drove them from the nomads’ camps. In desperation, they sought escape but the harsh terrain of the Abbor-Alz and the many monsters dwelling therein frustrated their attempts (as they would the wandering bands of Suel escaping the utter destruction of the empire four millennia later).
Trapped between the rugged wall of the Abbor-Alz and the vengeful Flan tribes, the wanderers went to ground, hiding themselves away in secret places, passing on what remained of their ancient lore across the generations and praying to their dark gods for the means to regain the dimly remembered glory that they had lost across the sea. Perhaps in answer to their supplications, the dark priests discovered sites of ancient magic, wellsprings from which they could build their power once more. They established new temples, and slowly began to rebuild their shattered heritage.
Other changes were afoot in the grass-sea. A new influence was growing among the tribes – that of Vathris the Maker, the Subtle Teacher. Said to have been born as a mortal man, Vathris, through his knowledge, deeds and wisdom, raised himself to the cusp of immortality, embodying the ideals of progress and ingenuity. Under his influence, the tribes ceased their wandering and began to plant and sow and harvest. Their camps became settlements and their settlements became towns and cities. The six great peoples of the grass-sea became six realms.
It was among the mightiest of these realms, Sulm, that the dark seeds of Caerdiralor found fertile ground in which it put forth its insidious malfeasance. Emerging from their hidden fanes, the dark priests won the favor of the ruling house of Sulm, promising that their gods would bring power, wealth and glory to the Sulmi. Thus it was, that after centuries of peace, ambition and hubris, fanned by their mastery of these new sciences, sent Sulm’s iron-shod legions marching against her neighbors.
The Durha occupied the harshest, most unfavorable swath of grassland. Never particularly numerous, they were the most backwards and isolationist of the great tribes. Among them, Vathris’s teaching found little purchase. They had little to do with the outside world; their sacred traditions taught them that the Old Ways nurtured and protected them, providing all that they required. They saw no need to garner additional succor. While their eastern neighbors were taking the first tentative steps on the path to nationhood, the Durha yet dwelled in tents. Their chiefs and wisemen viewed farming and building as effeminate and unworthy of their proud warrior heritage, and thus their doom was wrought.
It is no surprise, therefore, that the Durha caused the invading Sulmi forces little trouble. While individually brave – even foolhardy – in battle, their warriors died by the score in desperate charges against Sulm’s disciplined spearmen. Most of the survivors retreated into the deepest parts of their territory to wage a bitter, but ultimately futile, guerilla war against their hated foes. A few sought sanctuary amongst the lower peaks of the Abbor-Alz, among which the Sulmi declined to follow.
The most ingenious and prescient of the tribes, the Itari dwelled in the easternmost reaches of the region. Even before the newcomers’ arrival, under the auspices of their patron – Vathris in his original role as god of Progress and Ingenuity – the Itari had begun to found permanent settlements, carving crude hillside dwellings deep into the flanks of the Abbor-Alz. They learnt the secrets of civilization, founding a nation almost as mighty as their western neighbors in Sulm. To rival Utaa, they built their capital, mighty Sennerae, upon towering cliffs overlooking the Gearnat. The city was a haven for artifice and experimentation. A legion of inventers, craftsmen, and artificers toiled within her dusty walls for the glory of their god who walked among them sharing his wisdom.
Itar was the last of Sulm’s rivals to fall before her iron-shod legions, after a bitter, decades long war. Crushed upon the Plains of Spears, Itar’s hopes of victory died upon the black, wickedly barbed longspear that extinguished Vathris’ divine spark. In revenge for Itar’s tenacious defense, Sulm’s wicked sorcerer-king ordered the destruction of Sennerae, which was cast into the Gearnat by a mighty earthquake that shattered the surrounding cliffs.
Intimately related to the Ronhass by blood and tradition, the Rhugha fought a terrible war against their brother-tribe almost to the complete ruination of them both. Spurred on by some now forgotten slight or insult, the ferocious Ronhass warriors unleashed genocide upon their bitter enemies. At the culmination of the fighting, shamen from the other tribes intervened threatening both tribes’ eradication if the fighting did not end. Binding the bitter rivals’ chieftains with oaths of fearsome power and terrible consequence that (so it was thought) ensured peace for all time, the Rhugha’s and the Ronhass’ lands were divided. These lands were gifted to the Truun who undertook to guard them for all time so that the rivals would never again come to blows.
The brother-tribe of the Rhugha, the Ronhass would have annihilated the Rhugha but for the intervention of the other tribes. (See the Rhugha, above, for more information on this terrible conflict.) The Ronhass were one of the first to fall before Sulm’s iron shod might. While Sulm’s legions marched, the Rhugha’s chieftains argued in the Great Council against the other tribes coming to their aid. Before the matter could be resolved, the battle was all but over. While their horse archers enjoyed much greater mobility than Sulm’s legions, the Sulmite host nullified this advantage by destroying or garrisoning the few dependable sources of water in the Ronhass’ heartlands. Brought to battle by Sulm’s dishonorable and savage tactics, the desperate Ronhass cavalry failed to break Sulm’s well-ordered and disciplined infantry and were destroyed piecemeal or hunted down over the following months and years.
The mightiest of the Flan tribes of the Bright Lands, the Sulmi also harbored the greatest ambition. Claiming the central, most sheltered and fertile portions of the grassland, they were already well on the way to forming a mighty nation when the children of Caerdiralor emerged from their hidden sanctuaries to offer them long-hidden secrets. The Sulmi eagerly embraced the newcomers’ teachings. Quickly mastering these new disciplines, they abandoned the trappings of their traditional lives, building great temples and cities where once only wild flowers grew. Their greatest achievement – Utaa – became their capital city and the preeminent settlement throughout the entire region.
The Truun were the most numerous of the old tribes, holding a swath of land running from the tempestuous waters of the Gearnat to the crescent of the Abbor-Alz. Fierce horse warriors, they lived in the traditional fashion of their forefathers whimsically wandering their domain. Unfortunately, for the Truun their lands surrounded Dagger Rock, one of the places first colonized by Caerdiralor’s children. In return for their subjugation the few remaining guardians of that fell land’s lore agreed to share forbidden knowledge with the Sulmi. Their new allies eagerly agreed, arming their legions with iron weapons and teaching them new, cunning battle tactics which no other tribe yet possessed. In the subsequent campaign, this proved to be a decisive advantage; the Sulmi host falling upon and butchering the Truun’s warriors.
Of the provenance of the Hueleneaer is unknown; from whence they came a mystery. Once willing servants of Sulm, they abandoned their masters well before Shattados foolishly invoked the Scorpion Crown’s gift. Implacable foe of evil, they saw the darkness and treachery growing in the hearts and minds of the Sulmi and retreated back to the trackless grasslands in which they have dwelled since time immemorial. There the Sulm did not dare to challenge them. While they could undoubtedly have bested the noble Hueleneaer, by then dissent simmered seethed throughout Sulm’s conquered provinces, requiring the presence of many of the sorcerer king’s armies to maintain a fragile peace.
Site of Interest
In the fifteen centuries since it was formed, the sands of the Bright Desert have scoured much of the Great Tribes monuments and buildings from the Oerth. Only the mightiest or best protected structures – many of which hail from Sulm – yet stand above the sands. Occasionally, powerful sandstorms uncover smaller ruins such as temples, palaces, or tombs from their centuries-long burial. Many still contain ancient treasures that fetch a good price from collectors or scholars. Most such items find their way to market in the City of the Scorned; indeed, many fortunes have been made plundering the forgotten places of the long-dead kingdoms of the grasslands and it has become something of a minor industry in Hardby during the last few years.