iquander writes "In the distant past, the lands that now make up the Bright Desert were once less hostile to life. Within them flourished the less than peaceful kingdom fo Sulm, and it's rival, Itar. Little is known of these two lands today, which lay buried beneath the shifting sands of the desert, and are roamed over by hostile nomads and troops loyal to Rary the Traitor. But some clues as to the nature of these long-dead lands have been found, as have some hints of what the forgotten god of Itar, Atarra, was like. These hints, handed to us by Savant Iquander, may even tell the truth about these ancient and savage lands.
Author: Erik "Iquander" Mona
Reflections in Silica: Sulm and Itar
by Erik Mona (Iquander@aol.com) and Copyright by Wizards of the Coast
Used with Permission. Do not repost without obtaining prior permission from the author. Originally posted to the RPGA Living Greyhawk Message Board
In the dying days of the Greyhawk Wars, the treachery of Rary introduced a new enemy to the City of Greyhawk. When the smoke cleared, the archmage and his cohort, Lord Robilar, had fled to the relative safety of the Bright Desert. There, in the heights of the Brass Hills, Rary constructed a massive fortress and entrenched himself for the long days to come. The Circle of Eight, the governments of Greyhawk, Hardby and Urnst turned their eyes to the Bright, watching the horizon for some new attack from the "Empire of the Bright Lands."
Though empire-building is trying work, and the dervishes of the Bright at first offered token resistance to Robilar’s men, Rary soon turned his attention to the sands of the desert itself, or rather, what lay beneath the sands. For Rary knew of the great secret of the Flan, a civilized kingdom at the heart of the Flanaess. Rary knew of Sulm.
Sulm rose to prominence some 2500 years ago, in what was then a fertile, if somewhat arid, basin south of the Abbor-Alz hills. No one knows what differentiated the early settlers of Sulm from the other Flan, who for the most part remained hunter-gatherers until the great migrations following the Twin Cataclysms. Perhaps because Sulm willingly allied itself with powerful Ur-Flan necromancers, or perhaps because its first kings possessed some unique spark of civilization, the people of Sulm first conquered agriculture before moving on to masonry, irrigation, brass and ironworks. Other tribes settling the same region learned from Sulm, aping their works and building kingdoms of their own. Of these, only one, Itar, which comprised of the small flatlands southeast of the desert proper and on the Sea of Gearnat, would stand as a serious threat to Sulm’s dominion over the entire region, and only then because Itar had a god on their side.
Few priests or scholars of the Flanaess know of Atarra, the Flannae god of ingenuity. Those who know of him assume him dead, and mythologically ascribe the "backwards" plight of the Flan, who many still see as primitive despite a millennia of evidence to the contrary in the form of Tenh, Perrenland, Geoff and elsewhere, to his passing. The theory holds some truth to it, for had Atarra existed longer to guide his chosen people down the path of civilization, their plight during the great migrations, and even today, may have been very different. Instead, he chose to throw all of his influence to a single group of Flan. Atarra chose Itar.
If Sulm’s allegiances with Nerull and other malign beings made it a champion of darkness, Itar unquestionably stood on the side of light. Its divinely-inspired coat of arms, the rising sun, symbolized not only the birth of a new nation, but the birth of a new legacy for the Flan people. Under the rising shadow of Sulm, however, the sun would set sooner than anticipated.
Territorial expansion on behalf of Sulm soon saw expansion from the heart of the basin to the Bay of Durnak (Woolly Bay), where the fledgling kingdom of Ronhass fell within a sennight. To the north, Sulm eradicated hill-dwelling noniz in a short series of extremely bloody wars. Conflict in the west brought Durha, Rhugha and the lands of the nomadic Truun peoples into the Kingdom of Sulm. Finally, tensions brought Sulm and Itar to the inevitable.
The kingdoms fought for more than three decades, Itar always standing up to Sulm, even when its levies swelled with men from each conquered territory. Finally, when it appeared as though Sulm might be weakening, Heirot, the Theonarch of Itar, personally led his army over the Abbor-Alz and into the border lands of his enemy. If legends are to be believed, he did not stand alone. Atarra himself stood with him.
Legends relate generalities, and are seldom specific. In the case of the last battle between Itar and Sulm, we know only the result. Within a day of fighting, every single troop from Itar had been slain. Legends do not tell us how such a thing is possible, and they do not record the final fate of the day’s most important casualty, Atarra, who from that point forward failed to respond to the prayers and queries of his faithful around the world. Itar fell to Sulmish rule within the week.
With its borders reaching the geographic limits created by water and hills, Sulm rested for centuries. Some 2000 years ago, the kingdom’s evil became too much for even itself, and it began a plodding slide toward decadence and, finally, destruction. A kingdom based on the foundation of gifts from untrustworthy, evil gods has a way of floundering, and when unholy pacts with infernal powers play an important role in the land’s solvency, additional problems ensue. So it was for Sulm. Some seven hundred years after the beginning of its fall, Sulm’s last king, Shattados, pleaded with his dark gods for a way that he might have eternal dominion over his own subjects, who at that point had started to slip away.
At least one god heard, and presented him with the Scorpion Crown. With it, this dark entity whispered, Shattados would command his people forevermore. Donning the crown, Shattados found himself transmogrified into a gigantic scorpion. His wicked subjects suffered a similar fate, turning into manscorpions or, in the case of truly evil men, dune stalkers. As a final insult, the dark god who granted Shattados his final wish altered the land itself. What once had been arid land fed by irrigation became a stark desert. The ruins of Utaa, Shattados’ capital, were buried in sand, and remain so to this day. Somewhere within the Bright, Shattados himself still "rules" his manscorpions, though what little humanity he ever had died more than a thousand years ago.
The current era has seen the advent of a new tyrant in the Bright Desert region. Rary knows the legend and curse of the Scorpion Crown, yet he seeks it out all the same. Perhaps he feels he can succeed where Shattados failed. Perhaps he seeks to tap the dark secrets that once built an empire from a primitive people."