The Reign of Cats

When the dragons ruled Áereth with their great empires, many intelligent and ambitious creatures vied for petty dominance under their expansive shadow. When the Dragon Kings and their vassals fell from power, the first to walk abroad uncontested in the world at large was the sphinx.

Believing themselves to be paragons of physical and mental perfection, the sphinxes saw themselves as caretakers of the world. They used their wits and their appetites to maintain order among the lesser races by devouring those who could not answer their riddles. In the eastern deserts and hills, the collective might of the sphinxes elevated them above all others. Building upon the ruins of the dragons who came before and studying their abandoned works, the sphinxes united as a single power. Any enemies who attempted to challenge them were swiftly cowed or devoured.

Seeing the need for servants, the leonine race ceased devouring the numerous humanoids and began to subjugate them instead with the persuasive acuity only a sphinx can employ. They coaxed the elves from the forests of Ahna-Vithyre with cryptic promises of magic and bribed the dwarves from the Gorzeruun Mountains with promises of mithral and gold. With riddles and promised knowledge, they lured the gnomes from their overrun homeland, and the halflings of Gadjarria dwelt already upon the doorstep of their desert home. Humans, a race of uncertain desires, were brought under wing with sheer aggression. Even great numbers of hobgoblins, haler than their goblin cousins, were seized by the sphinxes for their own purposes.

Some resisted. The dwarves who refused the lure retreated to depths into which they knew the sphinxes would not venture, and these would become deep dwarves and duergar. Some gnomes, upon reaching the sphinx homeland, found hidden tunnels in the earth and delved deeper still, eventually becoming the svirfneblin known today. Those elves who refused to leave their forests were the wood elves, while sea elves retreated deeper into their waters when the sphinxes approached.

With the lesser races in tow, the sphinxes carved a vast empire throughout the Lostlands and named it Khonsuria after its first pharaoh. The humanoid servants were viewed as pets or pack animals to the sphinxes; useful, even affectionately cared for at times, but patronized nonetheless. While some humanoids were afforded a measure of esteem within Khonsurian society, even the greatest among these were considered beneath the lowliest of sphinxes. The empire expanded its borders north and west, reaching its paws partially into the Northlands.

A family of androsphinxes ruled the young empire, and the third such pharaoh was a brutal tyrant whose cruelty tested the loyalty of his own kind. His daughter, however, was a high priestess of Amun Tor and was beloved by her people and even their humanoid servants. Legends say that Amun Tor himself consorted with the beautiful gynosphinx and that their child was destined from conception to rule the gilded empire. Whatever her origin, the last and most enduring sovereign to rule the Khonsurian Empire was a Queen. With the approval of the sphinxes and the gods themselves, she dethroned her wicked father and took his place. Her name was Ankharet the Blessed, an immortal gynosphinx who ruled the Empire for prosperous millennia.

She took as her consort the great gold wyrm Kozuragen, who had served the Dragon Kings in his youth and fought against the armies of Sunscratch in his prime. Now he sat at Ankharet’s side and offered the council and wisdom of his long life. Under the Queen’s guidance, each species of sphinx was given a role within their society. The noble androsphinxes became the empire’s prophets, leaders, and priests, serving as councilors and interpreters of the Queen’s law.

Gynosphinxes served as Ankharet’s ambassadors, and carried her diplomacy into foreign lands. The bloodthirsty hieracosphinxes served as the warriors of the empire, defending it from all enemies. Criosphinxes carried the Queen’s directives to her humanoid subjects, overseeing the construction of pyramids and monuments to the glory of Khonsuria and its Queen.

The empire was not without its insurrections. Afaction of elven rebels sought freedom from the desert sands and searched in vain for the tunnels that the early svirfneblin had used long before. When their brethren refused to join them in their escape, the rebels named them traitors. The sphinxes, deigning not to risk their own against the insurgents, sent the loyal elves to retrieve their wayward kin.

The Kindred War ensued, and the rebels found their only escape to be an ominous rift called the Devil’s Cauldron. Corrupting fumes seeped into the elves, seeding their hearts with evil and initiating a slow change within their bodies. Fleeing into the chthonian depths, the rebel elves found their own dark paths in history, heard the call of a goddess, and would one day be known to the surface world as the drow.