Excerpts from The Sands of Syllus: A History

by Brother Feshi Moeb


When I was a young boy I used to play on these dunes, used to hunt for rock lizards and beetles, and used to crawl into the sand caves looking for water to give to the horses. Until my 20th birthday, when I became old enough to join the monastery, I traveled with my father's caravan between the small towns that used to dot the waste before the winds started to come. I remember the journeys well: the smell of the camels and the taste of dried meat, the cool clear feel of water on my skin on the days we stopped at a well. I remember a lot of things from those days, but what I remember most is the ruins.

I first saw the Great Pyramid of Syllus framed against the dawn, and thought I was still asleep. The scale of it is impossible to imagine if you have not seen it before; even from ten miles away it filled half of the sky. Though I did not see it again for ten years, it left its impression. Since that day I have wanted to know how it, and the other ruinsthe great wastes of Syllus, were put there. Now, after nearly sixty years of travelling, surviving, and research by turns, I find myself in a position to know.

On The Prehistory of Syllus

Syllus has not always been a wasteland. Indeed, once it was a rich and green basin with great trees that blotted out the sun and sprawling plains that housed a thousand different creatures. These jungles and plains were fueled by the three great rivers that flowed through the basin: The Illia and Alba, which came down from the mountains that ringed the valley, and the Albone, formed from the merging of the other two.

There is evidence to suggest that people lived in this land as far back as all that, but little remains of them beside their bones and the occasional spearhead. Most of these remains seem to be around the rivers, suggesting that the great majority of these people were fishermen by trade. The isolating nature of Syllus' geography prevented outside influences from entering the valley, and as a result the technological advances of these tribal peoples were slow, and they warred only among themselves. Also as a direct result, early religious practices of the Syllus basin show little resemblance to those of the outside world.

The Delta Civilization

There was a gradual change from a basin full of small warring tribes to a collection of small, cooperating tribes each with its own government, but at the same time all having similar and most probably unified codes of law. During this period of unity, there was a significant amount of advance within the basin, especially in the towns in this 'alliance.' Stone buildings began to appear, along with basic soft metal weaponry. There is evidence of regularly traveled roads between the mountains and the delta of the Alba and Illia rivers, where most of the tribes seem to have settled, suggesting the beginnings of large scale trade. This avenue of trade would explain the metal tipped fishing spears found throughout that region.

This general peace among the tribes did not last longer than one hundred years. Weapons continued to improve along the mountain ranges but there was clearly much less energy devoted to them in the inner basin. Eventually a group of tribes marched inland with steel swords and armor, presumably in an attempt to take control of the alliance of these tribes but there is no hard evidence of their motives. What is apparent is that there was an immediate drop in population, and no appreciable rise for the next hundred years. There are few documents still in existence from that period, owing not to a lack of the written language (paintings have been found of entire rooms full of scrolls) but rather more likely due to some sort of war - as a result of this lack of record, however, it is almost impossible to know the exact nature of this conflict. There are a few transcribed folktales detailing that time, however, from which I have managed to put together a piecemeal story.

The Beginning of the Empire

The most plausible [of These folktales] ... is a rather long one transcribed one hundred years, it claims, after the founding of the Capitol of the Delta Empire and the end of the war. Much of it deals with doubtful at best accounts of Generals and other assorted heroes and their long strings of victories, but the story of the war's end seems to correlate with the spotty other accounts that I have seen.

Piecing out the obvious lies it seems that toward the end of the war a small revolutionary army led by a brilliant young general wearing a suit of golden armor orchestrated a massive military coup, taking many key towns in an extremely short period of time. How he managed to do it is quite vague - this particular tale states that somehow he managed to assassinate all major political and military leaders within the space of a day. I have also read accounts of his sword consuming anything it touched in a column of flames. It is fairly definite, however, that this man managed to unite the entire basin, or at least those tribes that are generally considered to have been parts of the Delta civilization, under his rule. It is also known that shortly after he came to power, all traces of any other tribes in the region vanished completely. There is evidence to suggest some sort of conflict between the new Empire, as it had effectively become, and those who would not join it but this is little more than supposition. What is known that immediately after this first king came into power, the construction of the great golden city began.

The Great Golden City

There are no physical traces of the Delta's magnificent Golden Palace left, for reasons which I will enumerate later, but there is enough historical evidence to leave no doubt that at one point it existed. It is believed that this was the first building commissioned by the original King of Syllus. It is entirely possible that the Golden City began as a simple workers colony for those building the palace. Whatever its origins, this was the first true urban center in the Syllus basin, and grew quite rapidly as more and more people were drawn in by it's sweeping grandeur. Most of the old city consisted of clay and wood warrens of humanity, rough complexes of buildings only vaguely distinguishable from each other, further suggesting that these were originally worker's or slave's quarters. However, as the city grew and progressed, the houses got much larger and more livable. The farther one looks from the city center at the delta of the Illia and Alba, the more modern conveniences one sees. Commercial centers can be found all over the scope of the city as well which, at its height, covered the entire basin.

While it would have been impossible for a city so large to sustain itself under normal circumstances, the existence of the Portal stones allowed for quick transport among all the major areas of the basin. It is not known whether these stones have existed in Syllus since the days when the tribes roamed around it and were merely effectively researched by the Empire or whether they were actually built by wise men of the city's later years. What we do know is that they were made use of very often and with much more efficiency than they are today. It is thought that there were hard-linked portal stones back then, with constantly open doors between extremely busy areas to avoid the energy expenditure of their version of ferrymen.

The Golden City proper existed for nearly five hundred years without much political change. The line of Kings continued down, most probably following hereditary lines. The fist few Kings were entombed in pyramids, The Great Pyramids as a matter of fact, and these monuments are still named for the souls they bear. By its end, the Golden City was an extremely advanced society. There was little crime and the standard of living otherwise was quite good. The fertile tracts of field had all been converted into farmland that was extremely efficiently harvested (see Crop Rotation and the Lost Art of Agriculture, Brother Emil Brost) and so most citizens of the Golden City ate well. In addition technology was in many ways ahead of the state it is now in. Most houses had indoor plumbing, there is evidence that there was pressurized running water in some of the richer houses, medicine was extremely advanced, and what little scraps of building are left seem to be extremely well crafted.

This period of prosperity under the Kings lasted for nearly eight hundred years, when the cancer of the Universities started to eat away at the city. As the lower classes began to learn more than they had a right to know, they began to have ideas above their station. They clamored for a say in a government they had never cared about running before and led protests for the rights of the individual over the rights of the state. Finally all of the pressure that had been building formed itself into a revolution. In what appears to be a quick and decisive coup de tat, a small army marched on the King's palace and killed him quickly and decisively. The Republican Army, as they called themselves, immediately elected it's four greatest generals, all students, to form the first, and last, acting Senate of Syllus.

The Senate was, however, extremely short lived. Apparently, during the clearing out of the palace by the senate and a group of guards, the palace exploded - no doubt due to the Senators' meddling with things which they did not have the capability to understand. Had the explosion not started a war that wiped out the Civilization I would count this as a blessing.

There are few details, but I did manage to find what appears to be the personal account of a man who was standing outside the palace when it happened. The language is quite garbled and it is clear that the event unhinged him. His account essentially says that the entire palace exploded, bits of the stone and gold plated walls flying for what looked like miles around. After the explosion, he reports half formed things streaming out of the pile of rubble left from the explosion and attacking the people around him. This event would mark the beginning of the Long War, and the end of the Delta Empire and the Golden City.

The Long War

The official end of the Delta Empire is generally taken to be the day that the new senate and imperial palace were destroyed in an explosion of unknown origin. On that day, the city was flooded with quite possibly thousands of deformed monsters. The origin of these monsters is as unknown as that of the explosion, but it is reasonable to assume they came from the same place. The things which poured into the city ranged widely in shape and size, some resembling large rabbits and a few the size of small houses. Within a matter of days the inner Golden City had been destroyed for nearly a mile around the palace.

Those from the inner city not killed in this initial onslaught escaped through portal stones to the outlying suburbs of the city.Though most of the Republican Amy was inside the palace at the time of the explosion, and hence did not survive, many academics who refused to get involved in the war made it out in time and managed to set up a small haven for war refugees. They did not have the manpower or the weaponry to kill the things that had invaded the city, and the army of things continued to spread out from the center. Many options were explored but, in the end, it was decided there was only one solution: the small refugee town summoned and bound an extra-planar spirit to assist in the destruction of the unknown army. Every account names the spirit differently: Onan, Bi-Rashad, and Yasin are only a few of the names printed - one name filled several manuscript pages

The Spirit immediately summoned his own army to deal with the invasion: at his will, each and every corpse in the Syllus basin still able to move rose from its grave. Even the old kings of the Empire rose from their pyramidal tombs. The war lasted for many years, each Syllian killed rising again to join the army, and in the end the entire basin was ruined. Even the range of mountains that ringed the valley was destroyed, drying up the rivers that fed the jungle. Finally, however, the mysterious horde was beaten back and their apparent source, a large stone disk that appeared to act as some sort of portal, was sealed by the soulless shell of the first king of the Delta. When it was all over, the being sent the dead back to their graves, but never bothered to release them from consciousness. There are many remnants of this Animate Army still walking through the desert today looking for their resting places, or screaming from their lost graves.

Formation of the Nomadic Bands

There were perhaps eight hundred people left in the basin after the Long War and nearly all of them were either alone or in small groups. Because most sources of food had been destroyed by the war, the numbers quickly fell as those who did not know how to survive on their own died. In a short time, there were only about two hundred left. Those that were left, however, were those most suited to surviving in the new wastes. These groups quickly realized that the only way to stay alive was to keep moving.

There was not a single stationary town in the valley for another five hundred years; there simply was not enough to eat. Eventually, however, some of the nomadic bands took to trade with the outside world. Some even formed themselves into caravans that would cross the entire desert, brining fruits, water, and other goods from the lands beyond to the nomads and some of the more interesting artifacts from the Delta Civilization back to the outside world, where they fetched good prices. As trade grew, the nomads would set up trading posts - trading posts which quickly grew into small towns. Any towns that are still present in the desert today are the remnants of such trading towns and, indeed, still serve the same function. The largest, Temuljen, sits near where the reputed center of the Golden City stood.

Unfortunately, trade has begun to dry up recently as the little rain that came to the valley after the great war has begun to falter. The few fertile areas of Syllus are dying and only the heartiest of plants and animals remain. Many of the nomadic groups have since moved to the outside world, leaving this place a truly barren land.