At one time, the sarrukh dominated all of Faerûn. Their mighty empires -- the first in the world -- encompassed the jungles along the shore of Azulduth, the eastern shore of the Narrow Sea, and the Chultan Peninsula. The sarrukh enslaved or sacrificed other creatures in the name of their god, the World Serpent.
Eventually, problems of their own making caused the sarrukh empires to crumble. In the vacuum created by the fall of the sarrukh, their created races rose to prominence, establishing power centers of their own -- many of which are still active today. Amazingly, however, the sarrukh have managed to remain relevant even in modern-day Faerûn. Despite their small numbers, they can still command the loyalty of the races they once created. But an immense rift has opened up between the surviving sarrukh clans, and the enmity among them could lead to a period of open warfare between the scaled races.
Sarrukh bodies come in two shapes: bipedal and snakelike. The latter resemble certain yuan-ti abominations, with snakelike bodies and heads as well as powerful arms that end in vicious claws. The bipedal sort has a humanoid upper torso, humanoid arms and legs, and a snakelike lower body. All sarrukh have distinctive, gleaming red eyes that strike fear into the hearts of all the scaly races.
The sarrukh are well aware that their race has fallen far from the heights it achieved just after the dawn of time. Though they are individually powerful, their low numbers now force them to rely upon the races that serve them, creating a high degree of vulnerability.
During the heyday of their empires, the sarrukh became lazy and domineering. Rather than become directly involved with the rest of the world, they delegated their building and fighting to the lizardfolk and the supervision of those activities to the yuan-ti, who also acted as their personal servants. To the nagas they delegated the tasks of magical research, exploration, and guarding individuals and places of importance. The sarrukh withdrew within the walls of their palaces and never emerged without heavy protection.
Despite the fall of Isstosseffifil, Mhairshaulk, and Okoth, the attitude of the sarrukh has changed very little. They have an interest in knowing what is happening in the world, but they still choose to remain separate from it. Rather than go out and explore, they send out their yuan-ti servants or small groups of nagas to learn what they can and report back to them.
Preserving each and every living sarrukh is now the most important consideration for the race. Because none are expendable, sending one out into humanoid society is always a critical decision, even if there is much to be gained by doing so. In the past, a few sarrukh have used magic to take human form and infiltrate the leadership structures of human societies, posing as advisors or other important officials.
At its height, sarrukh civilization was as grand as that of any humanoid empire that has risen since. The arts flourished, and anything was available in the great markets of the sarrukh empires.
Sarrukh form lasting friendships unmarred by the petty jealousies and bickering that mark many of their servitor races. They take mates for life and treat other sarrukh with respect. In the days of the empire, one or two sarrukh constitutes a household, but circumstances have since forced many to live in communal groups.
Sarrukh hatch from eggs that are protected and tended by both parents until they hatch. A sarrukh can live up to a thousand years, or much longer if it undergoes periods of hibernation. This deathlike sleep, which can last for years at a time, preserves the sarrukh's body and temporarily eliminates its need for food, water, and other valuable resources.
Beyond these facts, little is known about the life cycle of these creatures. Few creatures living today have had occasion to study the race up close, and the sarrukh, for their part, aren't willing to share their secrets with "lesser beings." Thus, they have remained godlike in their obscurity.
While the three great empires thrived, the sarrukh were organized into several great clans that lived in relative peace with one another. The clans that commanded the most troops and held the most political power (by virtue of either wealth or social standing) made up the leadership structure. The acting leadership body of each empire was called the Sh'arrim and consisted of five to eight sarrukh drawn from the great clans. This group elected an emperor, called a kudzar, from its membership. The Sh'sarrim from the three great empires occasionally came together in Okoth to form a council called the Kazim, but that body had authority over the entire race only when a unanimous vote could be achieved.
The khuzdar provided spiritual, strategic, and social leadership for the rest of the sarrukh. The two most famous khuzdars were Ghiz'kith, founder of Mhairshaulk, and Pil'it'ith, the albino sarrukh who drove Ghiz'kith from Okoth. Pil'it'ith ruled Okoth until its fall, then used powerful magic to prolong his life into the modern day. (Pil'it'ith remains the leader of the Okothian sarrukh, but he no longer wields any authority over the sarrukh in Serpentes or Anauroch.)
Sarrukh law, which was administered by judges known as kleigmasters, was strict but flexible. Penalties were stiff, and the burden of proof fell to the accused rather than the prosecutors. The sarrukh disliked jailing citizens, so the preferred methods of punishment were death for more serious crimes and disfigurement for minor ones. Incarceration occurred only when the leaders felt that the offender had something important to contribute to the realm, despite his crime.
Penalties were assigned on a case-by case basis for greater flexibility, but the system became corrupt over the years. The same crime might result in death for one defendant and only disfigurement for the next. In any case, even the highest-ranking kleigmaster could be bribed into setting free the worst-offending defendant if enough money changed hands.
The sarrukh began keeping slaves even before they had any dealings with other species. Enslaving their own kind was viewed as right and proper, as long as the slaves received proper care and fair treatment. Sarrukh slaves lived in their masters' homes, received good food, and were not overworked. Occasionally they were sold or traded from one sarrukh to another, but for the most part, slaves remained with the same family for life. When a slave became too old to work, he might be freed, or assigned to rear the master's young, or be sacrificed to the World Serpent, according to his own wishes and his past performance.
Upon discovering the other progenitor races, the sarrukh quickly realized that such creatures would make passable servitors and enslaved them. Since the sarrukh felt little social responsibility for creatures of other races, nonsarrukh slaves were not treated nearly as well as sarrukh slaves. A Scaleless One might be starved for days at a time and then beaten for her inability to work. In the early days of the sarrukh expansion, Scaleless Ones were not even viewed as worthy sacrifices for the World Serpent. This abysmally low status meant that they could be killed with impunity and eaten by their masters.
By the founding of Isstosseffifil and Mhairshaulk, the sarrukh had enslaved so many creatures that they had stopped keeping sarrukh slaves at all. Each sarrukh lived in comfort, surrounded by the finery that had once been reserved for their leaders. Eventually, the sarrukh stopped fighting their own wars and trained their slaves to fight for them, promising that the best warriors would be freed to enjoy the same lifestyle as the sarrukh. Occasionally they actually kept this promise and freed a particularly powerful warrior as an example to the others. The lure of freedom and wealth created an enormous and loyal fighting force that helped the sarrukh maintain control over their empires.
Eventually, Scaleless Ones were deemed suitable sacrifices for the World Serpent, thereby freeing the sarrukh from the need to choose sacrifices from among citizens of supposedly equal rank. Though the World Serpent did not object to the decision, it did violate his original agreement with the sarrukh. To maintain the letter of the agreement while accommodating the changing needs and demands of his worshipers, the World Serpent split off an aspect of himself that was called M'daess, whose task was to purify the souls of unclean sacrifices and make them equivalent to sarrukh.