“’The Grave is absolute. The Grave is all.’
Such words are expected from a nihilist or perhaps even a high shaman of Sharmat* – but for the inhabitants of central Gedros, these words are far more literal and quite possibly just as bleak. No child in all of Ortheia is not familiar with Scoran’s Grave and the horrors that have been visited upon the region – not to mention, what horrors persist to this day.
The history of the Grave is as mysterious and bleak as its namesake, but new translation of orc tablets from Dkharkak ruins tell of the monstrous creature known as Scoran. It is unclear what Scoran exactly was – a dragon, god, demon, or perhaps a combination of any of these elements. If he was not a dragon, he most certainly held their shape. What is known is that the orcs of the Three Empires were terrorized by Scoran incessantly, for he was a great king of the Elder World and the orcs had stolen his kingdom. Fueled by rage against all things unholy, the orc kings put aside the rivalries of their crowns and pledged themselves to a great hunt, the likes of which has never been seen in all history. Orc heroes from numerous sagas are said to have participated in the hunt as they chased Scoran across the length of the world.
The Dragon Hunt lasted a hundred years as Scoran and the kings (and their sons as the Hunt dragged on) battled, both on myriad battlefields and in wits. It was not until he was surrounded in central Gedros that the climatic battle was raged with so force and ferocity it was said to last a week without ceasing for rest. So great was Scoran’s breath that his flame was said to have burned brighter than the sun itself, melting away entire orc cities and countless heroes. Finally, the great beast was laid low, but the horror had only begun.
Scoran’s death only led the monster to more hatred for the orc race. He laid his curse upon the entire land as he expired, and it was his lifesblood that gave this curse** great strength. Since that day, the great expanse that Scoran had ravaged refused to heal. No land was recovered as all turned to sand, preventing the formation of new fertile land. Rivers and lakes had been boiled by Scoran’s breath, and no rain could replenish the banks. Scoran’s might had effectively turned all of central Gedros into a singular, continent-spanning desert.
The orcs were intrepid architects, and the kings of Ankrathraskga saw no reason to abandon their people to the unforgiving sands. It is estimated that the projects took the full extent of multiple centuries, but the final result can still be seen today – the teaming network of arcologies that line the expanse of the Grave; north to south, east to west. Arcologies, by their basic nature, are self-sustaining cities contained within a massive structure, and the shape of these structures seems to vary slightly from arcology to arcology. Each one contains agricultural farms, commercial districts, and residential housing. Everything one might find in one of the great cities of Your Majesty can be found within a single arcology.
The arcologies had the direct effect of leaving the vast majority of civilized life in the Grave non-nomadic, as one might expect from a great desert as such. The arcologies have withstood the test of time to such degree that they have continued for almost twenty thousand years without faltering in operation. Not even the apocalyptic War of the Bloody Skull seems to have destroyed more than a handful of arcologies.
Numerous groups inhabit the Grave. Of the humans, the Zhemri and Gedrans are the primary ethnic groups, with the Gedrans as the oldest and the Zhemri migrating to the region following the fall of the Itzamanti Empire (although their introduction to the region was not as bloody as it was in Niranshetra). A significant minority of Kavas live in the northern arcologies, undoubtedly expatriates of their homeland. Drow are the next largest species to call the Grave home. Those who live among the arcologies are termed Xibaran, while the vast majority of nomadic drow tribes are identified by their terrible god, Iblis. Gnolls and gnomes are the other sizable minorities of the region, with gnomes existing within arcology culture and the gnolls as marauders. Oni and halflings are small, but noticeable minorities. Finally, it would be remiss of me to not mention the small Shien population, most of them belonging to the Weiushu outcasts, most eking out a living by raiding caravans.
Although the Grave was once faithful to the Tebodim faith, the arrival of the drow changed the spiritual landscape of the desert. The first prophets of the Suley Prophets emerged among drow dissidents who sought refuge with the arcologies and began to preach. Within a generation, human prophets also emerged to help complete the Prophecies, even as the descendants of the first prophets moved on to form Alhadan.
To speak of the Grave without mentioning the Xibaros Commonwealth would do both the region and the nation great disservices. Like all of Ortheia, the skies of the Grave were darkened by the coming of the troll menace. Somehow, the blighted beasts found a way to do what thousands of years of gnolls, drow, and countless others had failed to do – they successfully laid siege to and demolished an arcology. The troll armies brought the arcology of Fattah low, killing or blighting hundreds of thousands of inhabitants within and condemning any potential survivors to death without natural support. Although the trolls would give up the Grave for other reasons – the Grave seems curiously resilient to the troll blight – this singular act of destruction was enough to shake the inhabitants of the Grave to their core. Gone was the presumption of invincibility. Gone too was Fattah’s important water supplies, the repercussions of which could be felt for almost a century. Fattah proved that the arcologies were not only vulnerable to certain assaults, but they were something more dangerous – dependent upon outside sources. Population growths would later exacerbate this issue as those living within the arcology outstripped a single arcology’s capacity to produce food.
The ruling council of Qayyum was the first to recognized these weaknesses and called a summit, proposing the formation of a treaty and governing body to oversee the security and prosperity of the people of the Grave. From this treaty came the Xibaros Commonwealth, which is far less a nation as it is an organization welcomed in the midst of the different arcologies. Each arcology has their own economy and ruling body, but they use the Xibaros-approved currency. The Commonwealth provides individuals known as Officiates to arcologies as necessary to ensure the rule of law and provide guidance for the well-being of an arcology. These Officiates are served by two other Commonwealth officers – Potentates, who organize arcology defenses, enforce laws for the Officiates, and serve as bodyguards; and Inspectors, who investigate disturbances and provide an information network for the Officiates. This triumvirate of bureaucratic ranks has served to insure the survival of the Commonwealth for nearly a thousand years.
This is not to say every arcology belongs to Xibaros – two northern arcologies, Wadud and Hasib, remain fiercely independent to this day, refusing Xibaran law. In addition, other nations of note exists in the Grave. The Alhadan Protectorate is nestled along the eastern mountains on the border of Yagura. Here, the infamous Al-Bahin drow have built their fortress-cities into the sides of the cliffs, where they discern the deeper mysteries they perceive within the Suley Prophecies and train their infamous assassin-monks. Few in all Niranshetra are unfamiliar with these assassins, as they are often hired by unscrupulous nobles to eliminate foes and commit acts of sabotage and subterfuge. Al-Bahin drow are not undiscerning murderers, however; they are known to turn down many contracts that do not fit in with the wider goals of the Sheikhas who rule Alhadan, and only take contracts of murder upon individuals who are deemed unsavory to the sensibilities of the Al-Bahin.
The Al-Bahin have a curious relation with the Empire of Yagura. It is said that the warriors of Alhadan were first imported to fight for the clans during the Omijin War between Clan Teda and Clan Weiushu, and so effective were the drow in dismantling the Weiushu that all records of the clan’s exploits have been expunged from the Imperial Records, which detail all honorable actions by the clans. After the conclusion of this war, the two nations signed the Reticent Accords, which marked Alhadan as a Protectorate of the Empire. Since that day, Alhadan has begun to offer its assassins, hiring them out to the highest bidders to commit shadowy acts of sabotage, espionage, infiltration, and murder.
The last place of note lies in the western reaches past the Grave, where fertile land still exists thanks to rivers shielded by mountain ranges from Scoran’s wrath. The so-called Middle Kingdoms are petty nations held by bloodthirsty warlords who come to claim the ancient cities of the realm through a combination of guile, wealth, and brutality. They are of little interest to your King, except that warfare in the land often attracts young would-be mercenaries from Niranshetra. Your Magnificence’s latest decrees outlawing mercenary bands active in the Middle Kingdoms from recruiting in Ganapali are quite wise, for the Middle Kingdoms are full of thieves and bandits and rival mercenaries, and life in this region is not something to be envied by any civilized being.
*I recognize, upon new information received from a colleague following the penning of this letter, that halflings do not bury their dead in graves.
**It is a curious facet of my research that some scholars of the late Orc Ages do not believe that Scoran’s curse was necessarily to create the Grave. My colleague, Minoru Kiyomori of the Genma, claims that the orc word for “curse” is used in records pertaining to Scoran in the grammatical form of a proper pronoun – rather one might read it as “Scoran’s Curse.” What’s more, this pronoun is usually ascribed to living creatures. Kiyomori’s thesis is that Scoran’s curse was, rather, an abomination unleashed upon the world on the event of his death; however, orc records fail to offer any other proof that such a creature ever existed. After all, if one such beast was to roam the world, the orcs would have felled it, and if not, we would have had some record of its existence."
- Andu Sahib, Geographer for the King of Ganapali