Sands of Ath-Thurayya
The political history and current situation in Ath-Thurraya.
- The Sphinx-King:
At the end of the Wizard King wars, just over 500 years ago, there arose a great hero in the lands that would come to be known as Ath-Thurraya. The hero united the far-flung people of the deserts and valleys and held them together during the turmoil that engulfed the world as the Wizard-Kings were defeated. This hero came to be known as the Sphinx-King and led the people of Ath-Thurraya against the remnants of the local Wizard King’s monsters and armies.
As the war ended and peace reigned in the land, the Sphinx-King’s leadership brought unity and prosperity to the diverse people of the sands. For over a hundred years, he reigned with strength, wisdom, and guile befitting a true icon of Ath-Thurraya.
One day, the Sphinx-King took up his Staff of Glory, said good-bye to his people and disappeared into the swirling sands. But, before he left, he proclaimed that one day, when times of great strife returned to the lands, another like him, blessed by the Sphinx, would rise to unite the lands and reclaim the title of Sphinx-King.
Some believe that the Sphinx-King was, in fact, the last Sphinx taken human form, while others believe he was the first Sphinxblood, a blessing from the Sphinxes to fight the corruption of the vile Wizard-Kings. Either way, the legend is firmly entrenched in the people- that someday, a Sphinxblood would come out of the trackless desert carrying the fabled Staff of Glory and reclaim the title of Sphinx-King. To date, the people of Ath-Thurayya are still waiting.
After the Sphinx-King left his throne vacant, several tried to claim it. However, the people made it clear, in bloody terms, that the throne of the Sphinx-King would only be claimed by a Sphinxblood wielding the Staff of Glory.
Eventually, a system of Viziers arose. The Sphinx-Kings trusted advisers and their descendants took the mantle of Vizier, supposedly just to run the day-to-day business of the realm until the return of the rightful king. Over time, the united kingdom of Ath-Thurraya fell apart as each city-state claimed independence and elevated it’s own Vizier.
In each city that still holds to the old ways, there is a palace with an entire suite of opulent rooms, including a throne room, set aside for the return of the Sphinx-King, while the Vizier and his court live in only-slightly-less rich rooms on a lower floor of the palace.
By tradition, the Vizier and by extension, most of his bureaucratic underlings, are forbidden to be Sphinxblood. This was supposed to keep the Vizier from becoming greedy for power and declaring himself Sphinx-King, but in practice, it has led to many Viziers secretly resenting Sphinxbloods. After all, any Sphinxblood, no matter how low-born or unrefined, could stumble upon the Staff of Glory and usurp the Vizier’s power.
*The Zusu Delta
The city-states of the Zusu Delta are the most populous, most refined, and most opulent cities in all of Ath-Thurraya. They are also more convoluted and murky than the swamps they sprang from. The great city of Zusu and the other half a dozen larger city-states in the Zusu delta adhere to the Sphinx-King and Vizier traditions. Technically, each city-state is independent, but there is a complicated system of treaties and agreements interlocks them all, and essentially keeps the city of Zusu as the capital of the region.
The politics of Zusu are the most complicated of any region of Ath-Thurraya and even rival the constant back-stabbing and positioning that takes place in the capital city of Rhun. While the Viziers are “in charge”, the cities of the Zusu delta are filled with unions, fraternities, organizations, clubs, and guilds of all stripes. These vie for power, wealth, favors and information. On any given day, it is nearly impossible to know who has the real power in a specific neighborhood or endeavor. It is the rare citizen who can rise to any sort of position of note without owing allegiance to half a dozen different organizations.
The people of the Ash-Ri-An flood plain also follow the Sphinx-King and Vizier tradition. There are essentially two city-states presided over by two Viziers, but the areas made peace with each other long ago and the Viziers are not rivals. The simple, pastoral lives of the people and the tradition of inter-marriage between the families of administrative classes makes Ash-Ri-An look like a peaceful paradise. However, the real power of the region does not rest with the Viziers, and there is a secret conflict within the Ash-Ri-An people which threatens to destroy the peace and prosperity.
The Ash-Ri-An people are the keepers of the ancient Sphinx religion, holding texts and artifacts that date back well before the Wizard-King wars; some say even to the times of the First Ones themselves. For generations, the priesthoods of the two city-states have tried to outdo one another in the building of more and more extravagant temples and in gaining more and more temporal power over their people. In addition, they both regularly send pilgrimages into the desert to uncover artifacts from the ancient times- new finds add to the prestige of the priesthood and fuel the rivalry.
A little over a decade ago, a young priest from the north shore temple led a pilgrimage and returned with a potentially explosive artifact that casts doubt on not only where the final resting place of the Sphinx-King might be, but also who he was and where his real allegiance lay. The priest used these artifacts to lead a reform movement in his temple, and has recently risen to High Priest. The other temple considers the “evidence” blasphemous and all of the priests of the north shore temple heretics. This schism threatens to embroil the entire region in a holy war.
*The Serpent River Clans
Little is known of the politics, or the people, of the Serpent River Clans. They share a language with the people of Ath-Thurraya, and little else. Even during the reign of the Sphinx-King, the Clans were largely left alone. Once every 10 years, the Sphinx-King himself attended a great tribal ‘bedwin’, or meeting of chiefs, where he renewed their allegiance to him as ‘head chief’. Other than that, the cliff dwelling people of the upper Sahaqa remain an enigma.
The Cha’thag people are drifting the furthest from the old ways than any of the other traditional city-state areas. Although they officially honor the Sphinx-King and Vizier tradition, they have a Grand Vizier that oversees four other regional Viziers, and who is basically the king of the region. It is even rumored that he has taken residence in the Sphinx-King’s rooms in the palace and is considering naming himself king, if not Sphinx-King.
Those in the know attribute some of this to foreign influence and foreign threat. Unlike the other regions of Ath-Thurraya, Cha’thag is not protected by swamps or deserts, but is a flat, coastal plain. The Grand Vizier argues that a strong central command is necessary to defend the region.
There is some cause for him to be concerned. A little under a century ago, the Cha’thag coast began seeing raids from unknown people to the south. Over the years, the raids increased, but they were also followed by merchants from the same people. The merchants claimed no connection to the raids, and offered lucrative trade opportunities the people of Cha’thag desperately needed.
Over time, emissaries from merchant houses and kings of the southern people arrived. Today, the raids have largely ceased, but have been replaced with the veiled threat of a more sustained invasion if the Cha’Thag government doesn’t stay friendly to the merchants and other ‘travelers’ from the southern kingdom. So far, the people of Cha’thag like the influx of wealth and new ideas, and have not yet noticed that they are becoming more dependent on a foreign power.
*The Desert Nomads (sometimes referred to as ‘Bedwin’ after the clan meetings they hold)
The Nomads who live on the high desert consider themselves the original ‘true’ Ath-Thurayyans, although as a wise and stoic people, they rarely belabor this point with the water-dwellers, who wouldn’t understand anyway.
The People, as they call themselves, are organized in clans that travel in loose family groups radiating out from the “Oasis”. Although there are a few other oasis scattered around the high desert, there is only one “Oasis”, and it is sacred to the People. Permanent population at the “Oasis” is strictly controlled to preserve the water supply and to ensure that there is enough for the annual bedwin, or gathering of clans. The bedwins are a time to share knowledge, news, trade, and find matches for the young people of the clans. They are a great celebration and during the last few generations, more and more merchants from city-state areas make their way to the bedwin to trade with the People. Generally, if they abide by the laws of the nomads, the merchants are welcome.
The Esoteric Order of the Luminous Golden Dawn is mostly made up of people from the desert nomads, and their brand of petty magic is honored among the People. It is not uncommon for masters of the Order to retire the “Oasis” in their old age- many of them become involved in the politics of the People, some even become clan chiefs.