The Millennial King is a setting and character created by /tg/ in a thread asking why there were no good necromancers. The consensus was that, in the strictest sense, necromancy was not inherently evil (depending on the setting); the evil-ness comes from messing around with corpses and binding souls without permission. People bandied around ideas for good things that necromancers could do, like use his horde of skeletons for farming and construction, and using the resulting good-will to encourage people to allow him to use their bodies after they die; things went from there, and before long, people were writing about a city-state overseen by a grandfatherly lich who looks out for his subjects with his undead legions.
Arran'ak is the actual city-state supported by the undead. It began as a mutual trade and defense pact among several villages, but its position was favorable to trade, so it became a minor economic power in the region. This inspired jealousy on the parts of Arran'ak's neighbors, Florin and Guilder; they warred over it, and ended up slaughtering the entire royal family (except for Myrhan, who had been away studying magic during the invasion, and his sister, who had been raped by a Florinese count and then killed) in the process. Myrhan avenged his family and fellow citizens by summoning an army of the dead (both those fallen in defense of Arran'ak, and the Florinese and Guilderian soldiers killed in the course of his campaign) and conquering both Florin and Guilder.
Presently, the nation is centered on the Spire, which is simultaneously the palace of the Millennial King and Dawn Queen, a resting place for the bodies of citizens who are not Risen, and one of several items rumored to be the Millennial King's phylactery.
The Risen are the legions of undead that labor in Arran'ak. Most are incapable of independent thought, and are employed for menial, repetitive tasks, like mining, farming, and building, which leaves the citizens of Arran'ak free to pursue skilled trades. Most citizens permit their bodies to be reanimated as Risen; after all, their King serves them after his death, so they feel obligated to do the same (and it's not as if they will need their bodies after they're dead). Because flesh decays, Risen are reduced to skeletons before they are employed, though they wear bronze masks with a semblance of a face. Some Risen wear a small trinket donated by their living relatives, as a sort of memorial to the person they once were.
Executed criminals and enemy casualties are reanimated as Conscripts, and form the backbone of Arran'ak's military. They are unadorned except for their bronze armor and porcelain masks, and are identically equipped (for their designated function), for the people of Arran'ak hold that all are equal in death. Even their bodies are still treated with respect; after a Conscript is rendered unusable by damage or age, the remains are interred in the Spire and sanctified so that they cannot be reanimated.
Arran'ak's law enforcement and military are led by Sentinels, living officers who direct the undead. When they die, extra rituals are performed on their bodies to imbue them with a more advanced intelligence than most Risen. Both living and undead Sentinels wear similarly-decorated armor, though the undead Sentinels always leave their helmets on.
The very finest Sentinels, both living and undead, form the Chronus Guard. Under the command of Chronus himself, this elite force protects the Spire and serves as a covert intelligence agency and security service throughout the kingdom. The training undergone by the Guard can literally be longer than a lifetime.
Those people who do not wish to become Risen are interred in the Spire. This keeps their remains secure against unscrupulous necromancers, and also acts as a tremendous reserve of bodies to be Conscripted should the Millennial King deem it necessary. Some citizens are so deeply opposed to the idea of their body even potentially being used by the King that they will have their bodies cremated rather than interred; this is not illegal, but is highly frowned upon. The so-called "Cremationism" movement is most widespread among people who have no contact with the Risen, like artisans whose industries are not suitable for Risen to assist. Some of the more extreme Cremationists will actually desecrate and destroy the Risen, thinking that they are freeing the souls of the Risen, though they are almost always mistaken in this, as extreme caution is taken in the reanimation ceremony that the soul is not trapped in the body. Some suggest that the Cremationism movement is partly funded and manipulated by countries seeking to bring about Arran'ak's downfall; the Chronus Guard and Acolytes (see below) are vigorously investigating this possibility.
The Millennial King realized that, as his kingdom grew, he would not be able to manage the entirety of the Risen on his own, so he founded an order of Acolytes to tend them in his stead, and to ensure that necromancy performed in Arran'ak is held to rigorous standards of ethics and competence. The Acolytes operate out of temples located in major cities and towns; these temples function as barracks for storage and maintenance of their region's Risen, hospitals for the region's living residents, and academies for necromancers-in-training.
Those with talent are offered the opportunity to become an Initiate at one of the kingdom's temples, where they will study the theory of necromancy, perform basic maintenance duties on the Risen stored at the adjoining barracks, and assist with lower-level ceremonies, like the reanimation of Conscripts or simple medical procedures.
After completing their studies, Initiates become Adepts, and are apprenticed to Masters (who were once Adepts themselves). Adepts and Masters specialize into one of several tracks. The iconic specialization, that pursued by nearly half of all Acolytes, is that of the classic necromancer; Adepts and Masters on that path actually perform the rituals of reanimation to create Risen (the task of creating Conscripts is left to the Adepts, while laboring Risen are created by the Masters with their Adepts' assistance). A similar proportion specialize in healing, using their knowledge of the human body to help the sick who visit their temples. A few serve as magical law enforcement, investigating possible cases of unlicensed necromancy and assisting victims of such wicked or misguided individuals, or as diplomats to other nations, both to counter stereotypes about Arran'ak and to fight evil necromancers abroad.
The Sacrificed are, aside from the Millennial King himself, the most powerful necromancers in the nation. They willingly sacrifice their afterlife to remain and serve their fellow citizens even after death, and the Millennial King takes a major role in selecting them, before personally performing the ritual to bind their souls to their bodies. They advise the Millennial King and perform some of the most advanced rituals the kingdom requires, like creating Sentinels and releasing the souls of those unwillingly bound in undeath (like the victims of unscrupulous necromancers or the thankfully-rare botched reanimation). All temples in the kingdom are headed by a Sacrificed, often one who graduated from it.
Myrhan, the Millennial King
Myrhan began as a noble son studying magic, but the invasion of his homeland forced him to put his education on hold. When he arrived, he found he was the last surviving member of all of Arran'ak's noble families, and he wielded his magic to raise an army of the dead to retake his homeland -- and its conquerors, as well.
On the final day of his campaign, Myrhan confronted his sister's killer, the Florinese count who had masterminded much of the invasion, but was wounded by his opponent's cursed blade; though he was able to bring both the count and the prince of Florin to justice (by dissolving their bodies and souls), he succumbed shortly thereafter. Fortunately for Arran'ak, he was not unprepared: over the course of a year and a day, he became a lich and returned to life (or un-life, as it were). After rising from his grave, Myrhan raised the Spire over his old home, and he has ruled Arran'ak from there as the Millennial King ever since.
Presently, the majority of the Millennial King's time is spent managing the legions of undead that serve the kingdom, either directly or through the state-sanctioned necromancers known as Acolytes. Occasionally, he diplomatically engages dignitaries from other nations (though he generally defers to the Dawn Queen on such matters) and may intervene personally when dealing with a powerful invader, rogue necromancer, or undead creature.
The Dawn Queen
The reincarnation of Myrhan's sister (possibly named Anyen). Where Myrhan has tremendous necromantic power, the Queen seems to have some connection to positive energy: harvests tend to be more bountiful and summers tend to be warmer when she reigns, and even the distant Millennial King is warmed by her presence.
When the reincarnated Dawn Queen comes of age, Myrhan is able to sense that his sister has returned to the Material Plane. His Acolytes search the kingdom for the woman (she usually belongs to one of the Noble Houses, though some Dawn Queens have been commoners, much to the nobles' consternation). After she has been found, she undergoes the Rite of Dawn, a ceremony that infuses her with some of the memories of previous Dawn Queens, tempering her with the wisdom of many generations of rulers (though she will have been carefully screened and tested beforehand, as it is not an easy weight to bear). After this, Arran'ak enters a year and a day of celebration, during which she tours the kingdom, both to let the memories sink in and to become familiar with her subjects. Though her "persona" is immortal (she promised she wouldn't leave him "while he walked the earth", which is looking to be forever), her body is not; the death of the Dawn Queen is marked by year and a day of mourning, and for the next few decades (until the Dawn Queen is reborn), Arran'ak endures colder, deeper winters, and the Millennial King grows bitter -- though both he and his Acolytes are noticeably more powerful during these so-called "Long Winters".
Myrhan's bodyguard while he was abroad, and his right-hand man during the war against Florin and Guilder. He actually died during the campaign, but was resurrected with his character intact -- and the world is very fortunate that he was, for he stayed Myrhan's hand from slaughtering the citizens of Guilder's capitol. After the war was finished, he stood vigil over Myrhan's grave for a year and a day as Myrhan became a lich (a vigil that is honored in many Arran'akian ceremonies and holidays), and was made Captain of the Sentinels after Myrhan returned; presently, he leads the elite Chronus Guard. His flesh has long since decayed away, though somehow he is still capable of drinking whiskey without spilling any through his ribcage.
Founding of Arran'ak
Arran'ak? It's a hell of a place. I was there at the beginning after all -- but you probably could have guessed that. It's not every day you end up with a talking skeleton walking into a bar drinking whiskey. Especially without the stuff falling out of my ribs like nothing. Myrhan was a good man, and he was good to us, those of us who stood by him and wanted to keep fighting the good fight. Hell, I expected him to raise me up with a diamond when I died. He talked to me... he studied divine -and- arcane magic, and I was his bodyguard when he was away, but... no. Let me start from the beginning.
Arran'ak wasn't much more than a handful of villages to be painfully honest, and a family ruled it. Maybe it was a joke, maybe it wasn't, but the people called the family the rulers and it was their little empire. They were wealthy, but they were also traders and they were responsible for bringing trade in from places beside our hamlets. It went on like that for a few generations, but really, Arran'ak was tiny. I'm talking maybe thirty or forty thousand people. Anyway, the villages traded with each other, everybody's happy, and it's a running joke that it's a trade empire.
Well, the neighbors got greedy and decided that they'd rather cut this upstart little empire down themselves.
The two countries that Arran'ak was squeezed between, Florin and Guilder, weren't the greatest places... but that's why our villages were together. And the town militias were the military, of a sort. Mutual defense pact, we were only a step away from actually being a country, so why not just say we were one? But we were sandwiched on the border of two countries. They were both rather small, but not as small as we were. Myrhan's family had money, and sent him off to school, good distance away. Not in one of the bordering countries, but on the coast on the other side of the continent.
They sent me along. I was their master-at-arms, but I needed a vacation. Training militiamen gets stressful as hell after a while. Myrhan enjoyed my company. He was a great kid. He was in his twenties by then, but I was twice his age then, so as far as I'm concerned he's still a kid to me. When he's not studying, we're out hitting the pubs, and the kid could out-drink me. You'd think he was half-dwarf, not half-elf. Still, he had a lot of potential and everyone knew he'd go far. Maybe further than just helping the trade along. And his sister would be going to school too, the next year. So I'd just be making sure they both stay out of any trouble they can't handle, that's my job from now on, they tell me. Smart girl, maybe not as smart as him, but still damn smart and the prettiest little thing. She was staying a little longer, but they were twins, those two.
Then we got the message. Guilder and Florin conspired and invaded. The whole of the militia was slaughtered. Myrhan's family was being held hostage. We were to return, negotiate the surrender of the entire royal family so that everything was nice and official and they'd let them live a nice little life exiled somewhere. I smell a trap. So does he. But what else could we do? It was worth a shot. He promised me that if I fell defending him, he would bring me back. I told him it would be a snowy day in the seven hells before I'd ever stop protecting him.
We went back home and made record time. He brought everything with him that he possibly could, just in case, though the scholars didn't know any better. For all I know they still don't. All I brought with me were my shortswords, but the two blades had been passed down from my great-great grandfather to his sons. Just my luck that my uncle couldn't sire children and I inherited both. We showed up and nobody expected us, and we saw firsthand just what had happened. Everyone was hiding in their homes because no one was allowed to leave the village. The militia was slaughtered outside the manse that Myrhan's family lived in, and their bodies had been left out to make an example. I never expected to see Guilder infantry and Florin archers standing side by side, and it turned out they weren't. The news was a little wrong, but it was being played the right way by them. He was not any happier, but if anything it made him more determined, instead of scaring him off. Kid had big brass ones.
We snuck into the manse, but we weren't able to find his family. A few generals from either side were talking, so we made our presence known to them. And they laughed. They were talking about an armistice -- they'd been fighting and this was the only village that hadn't seen any civilian casualties because everyone surrendered outright, and they considered it neutral ground at the moment. Turned out that Florin snuck assassins in, killed all of Myrhan's family and was trying to rule in his name. The militia wasn't that stupid and rose up to fight them off, so Florin made an example of them, and posted guards throughout all the villages, declared martial law, all of that. Well, Guilder didn't want to let something this valuable slip through their fingers either, and the nobles of both sides knew this was turning out to be a pretty nice trade hub and didn't want it destroyed. Guilder invaded, and the fighting here was bitter, but they didn't break out into full blown war. Just a little one here, where we were. Nevermind the fact that they'd killed his parents, and they'd killed his sister, who he'd almost never been away from until he went off to study.
Seeing as the fact that we were still breathing was an obstacle to their continued negotiation, they were going to kill us now, they said. "I made a promise to your parents," I told him, though. "I'm not going to let anything get in my way of keeping you safe, not even death." That was pretty much the point where I found out that six generals aren't worth one good man in a stand-up fight. Too bad they came with guards, though. Those shortswords did a bang-up job, but they slipped a blade between my ribs, and that was pretty much the end for me. But I'd kept the kid safe, and while I was keeping him safe he warded the manse to keep the army outside where they belonged instead of letting them in. Problem with that was that the soldiers were riled up from hearing the fight inside. So they started fighting each other. And when that wasn't enough they started burning down everything that wasn't warded. Last thing I remember was looking out the window, seeing the village in flames and tears on the young master's face.
The next thing I know, I'm waking up, and it's daylight. And I know we got in overnight. Not to mention the manse's ceiling wasn't overhead anymore. I look up at Myrhan and he looks pretty rough around the edges. I look to my right, and there's the burned-down village, but it looks like most everyone lived, they're going through the ruins but most of the houses burnt down to the ground. I look to my left, and I see the manse, or rather what's left of it. Nothing left there but a charred husk. He's not really looking at me, but he's trying to organize the people who are still alive. Telling them that a lot has happened, but they need to stay calm, he's going to fight off Florin AND Guilder, and both Florin and Guilder are going to help him whether they want to or not. I try to get his attention but I can barely move, I'm sore all over, and my voice sounds gods-awful.
He turns back to me and says something I can't understand. Some dead language. I start feeling better. He asks how I feel, I tell him I feel like I ought to be dead. He tells me I am and says we've got a war to win. I stare at him for a few seconds as he keeps chanting in that strange language, and once I feel like I can, I get to my feet and I ask him what army I'm supposed to fight with. "Theirs," he says, and points over behind me. Skeletons. More skeletons than anyone ought to be able to control, by all rights, and I'm puzzled because I didn't figure Myrhan for a black sorcerer. He'd found her body while the manse burned around him, you see, and that's when he snapped... it wasn't that she was killed, but what they did to her. He told me he spoke with her spirit and she promised him that she would come back to him as long as he still walked the land.
He tells me it's time to buckle down, because there's a war to fight, and I trained the militia. They're just a little deader now. "But," he says with this evil gleam in his eye, "They can't kill what's already dead."
It's a little hard to lead an undead army, but at least now I know why the people are freaked out. But I get them organized, because they'll follow my every command to the letter. That's part of the problem at first, they do everything to the letter, no further. Myrhan says their souls are gone, and without the spark of life they're pretty stupid. I don't ask how he got the skin off of them. It's not a thing I want to know right now. The first thing they do, very somber, is bury the dead of the village. Or what's left of them. That includes his parents and his sister. The generals? He burnt their bodies to ash and scattered them to the wind. Felt a little better. Every other soldier, including the ones from Guilder and Florin, he brought back as skeletons to fight for him.
Obviously the people are still freaked out but they're a little calmer now. I start getting this skeleton crew in order and go to my old habits, getting them lined up, seeing what they're capable of before we march. The people dig through the rubble and every last thing that can be used as a weapon, they grab. They want to volunteer. They have nothing left. Myrhan tries to argue with them but they won't have any of it, they've got nothing left here that didn't burn to the ground, so he relents. Their jobs are to follow the army, for now, but he doesn't want them getting killed. There've already been enough people killed in all of this, and he doesn't want anyone to get killed fighting these bastards from now on.
And so we march.
We hit village after village. Skeletons don't really care much about arrows because for the most part they don't have to worry about them. They just fly between their ribs and such, and skeletons really don't care if they get stuck, because they'll just keep fighting. They might be dumb, but they were loyal. And every time we'd go through a village, he'd raise any of the military to fight. But he would absolutely not raise any dead civilians to do it. Them, he'd make sure they were buried properly and with all the rites they deserved.
Sure, some skeletons were destroyed in the fighting. But his army got bigger and bigger. He got more and more distant as time went by. Cared less about anything but crushing Guilder and Florin, but at least he went through the motions and had the dead buried. And it was all well and good until we cleared out the last village and both countries were out of our hair, when I got an arrow in my eye. I pulled it out, because it didn't really hurt, but still being able to see without an eye there was kind of a red flag, you know?
"Oh," he says. "I've been meaning to tell you about that."
I tell him it's not so bad and the important thing is that I can still taste ale. Ever ask someone "who wants to live forever"? You'll be surprised how many people will say "I do".
Anyways. Florin's military is pretty good. But they drew back to their border because, well, let's face it. An army of undead is pretty damned scary. Guilder kept throwing people at one particular village on the border and didn't understand that it was just a meat grinder, because for a while they didn't even know it was an army of skeletons. When they found out they started sending clerics along with the others, but Myrhan outclassed them, wiped them out. He looked more ragged every day, but kept up the fight.
Eventually they threw enough at us that they gave us a big enough army to hit them back. And we hit them HARD. We marched straight on their capitol. It was close enough to the border, there was only one village between us and them and when they found out an undead army was heading their way, they all pretty much ran. Nothing really useful for us to take from there, and the people who were following the army had gone to the villages as a sort of emergency militia, so there was no point in doing anything but marching straight through. It was when we hit their capitol that we hit a snag. Just a little one. You see, he wanted to burn it to the ground and see to it that every last person in there died screaming. And yeah. That's not exactly the best way to do it... even if their soldiers killed your family.
Myrhan was pretty pissed when I called the army to a stop outside the city, especially when I told him there was absolutely no way I was going to do that. It went against everything I believed in. Killing innocent people wasn't going to bring them back, I told him. He hadn't been able to raise any of them, and doing this wouldn't fix that. And that's when he told me that he could force me to do it, whether I wanted to or not.
I was quiet for a long time, just looking at him. And I told him, okay. You want to do that? Fine, I said, then go ahead and do it. Because I've known you since you were knee-high, and I've always watched your back. And ever since you were old enough, we've always been friends, even if you're two decades younger than me. And if you want to throw it away now... all those years of friendship, keeping each other's secrets, even him helping set me up with that cute twenty-year-old girl at the pub before we'd gotten the news, then fine. Throw it away, if that's what it takes, and take your revenge on everyone who doesn't deserve it. But I would not willingly take any innocent lives.
He didn't have anything to say, for a long time. And then, for the first time since this all started, I watched him cry. I put an arm around his shoulders, and for a long time, he cried. And when he was finally able to stop, he looked up at me and we came up with a new plan.
The army marched. But they didn't touch any civilians. They didn't even fight any of the town guard who didn't try to fight them first. Guilder was a country that was ruled by a collection of nobles, the closest thing they had to a leader was what they called the First Lord. First among equals. We marched on the castle. He was at the front of it, keeping the skeletons from harm from any sorcerers, but Guilder didn't really have many. We marched into the council chambers where the nobility was having an emergency meeting, because they thought they were safe. Once the doors were bashed open by a dozen skeletons at the front of the pack, they found out they weren't safe.
Myrhan walks up as the skeletons surround the hall at its edges, and puts it all in the open. Unconditional surrender. There and now. In return the nobility gets to live and gets to remain nobility. But Guilder is finished. There will be no more Guilder, he tells them; they will be absorbed into the empire of Arran'ak. And their jaws just drop, because up to this point... honestly, Arran'ak wasn't really even a country as far as most of the world cared. And here he is, turning it into one, right here and now.
He's got them by the throats. He tells them this outright; their options are to accept his offer or to be drafted into the service of Arran'ak as members of the interim militia, and he points to the skeletons. They weren't stupid. They all agreed to his terms, right then and there.
He marched on Florin. He gave their soldiers a chance to surrender, and they were kind of shocked, because Guilder (or what used to be Guilder, anyway) sent an envoy ahead to any villages they could to warn them of what happened, and implored them to throw down their weapons. Anyone unarmed would not be harmed. Pretty successful strategy, really. Almost worked -- the army got across the border practically unscratched, and the idiots who chose to attack the overwhelming force that marched across the border joined it.
We had some hit-and-run attacks on the march to the capitol, but it wasn't too bad, and the skirmishes that we fought we inevitably won. No supply train to attack, and the skeletons would just keep swinging and swinging until the other side got tired. And the ones who surrendered were disarmed and sent packing, and told not to return. Most of them were smart enough to do so. Made life easier. Send survivors out, tell people there's an army of undead but they won't touch you if you don't fight them. No, Myrhan was after the only nobility that Florin had. The prince and the count. Word was that the count had arranged for a series of unfortunate accidents for any competing nobility... hence why there wasn't any left. Anyone who didn't have an accident skipped town.
The capitol city itself, however... well, that was a bit of a problem.
The capitol of Florin was, of course, a walled city. It was built to withstand a siege. Sure, the food situation might not be terribly great, but the king was senile and on his deathbed, and the crown prince (who had no surviving brothers or sisters) ruled in his name. What he didn't take into consideration was that in order to withstand a siege, you need to be able to use weapons that will affect your enemy and keep them from scratching away at your walls day after day after day. Arrows really are not good at that, and there is only so much that you can throw over your walls with a catapult that will have any effect at all. And if there's enough of the skeleton... it can be brought back again anyway. They're funny that way. If you've got two halves, you can stick them together and get them running, they don't really care.
As for me, I just enjoyed myself during the siege, watching the walls slowly get worn down. Okay, the skeletons didn't literally scratch the walls until they fell, they had picks and shovels and all of that. Myrhan watched it all with a sort of grim satisfaction. We'd shift operations around the wall, trying to whittle them all down pretty evenly. It got the effect we were going for -- about four fifths of the wall that surrounded the city fell at the same time when we really hit it hard. We lost a lot of skeletons, but we had enough for the job ahead of us. And when we marched on the castle and kept it surrounded, most of their soldiers either surrendered or joined us. Hell, a few of them even joined us willingly without having to die first.
We sent the army up and secured the castle, level by level, starting with the ground floor and working our way down. Myrhan found some gruesome torture devices in the basement, and... for a minute I was afraid he was going to keep them for use on the country's rulers, before he screamed in disgust and destroyed them with some sort of lightning bolt. Once that was all secured, the army started heading upstairs, filling the halls. In the end, most of the guards deserted, and we let them go home to their families. The king was in the throne room, and he had trouble understanding just what was going on. I kept an eye on him for a while; every few minutes he would ask me if I was his new captain of the guard. Just to make life easier, I told him yes, and I tasked the Florin defectors to make sure he would remain safe from that point forward, because Myrhan had no intention of letting any harm befall the poor sod.
Myrhan ended up going back downstairs, and used what he could find from the castle's apothecary to mix up some sort of brew. He brought it upstairs and gave it to the king, before he explained to him what was going on, and why he was doing it. The king came around, at least long enough to understand it. Myrhan told him that so long as the king lived, he'd be able to stay the king of Florin, and he'd take some means to keep him cognizant that the apothecary should have been doing in the first place, but once he passed away Florin would be absorbed into Arran'ak. He was saddened but agreed. He had no choice any more but he was assured that his people would not have to worry about any oppression from Myrhan.
And once that was settled... we had to find the crown prince and the count.
The prince chewed through a number of skeletons, but in the end, their sheer numbers overwhelmed him and they captured him. Well, after he had thrown every spell he knew at them, anyway, until he was too tired to do it any longer. Turned out that the count was working as the royal apothecary after they'd gotten rid of the old one who was keeping the king's senility away, and as such keeping the prince from having carte blanche and doing whatever he felt like doing at the time. He was another matter altogether; he was a skilled fighter in addition, and got the best advantage that he could get. He knew he could never win, but he made them earn it. The prince took out a tenth of the skeletons who had gone into the castle, by a generous estimate. The count wedged himself in a narrow corridor, and between that and a doorway, had actually killed so many of them that their bones blocked the way. Fully half of the skeletons were destroyed by him.
Not that it mattered because they would just kept digging through and attacking him.
Still, he kept fighting until Myrhan himself confronted him. He insisted on doing it himself, but I gave him one of my swords to use. It was a long, arduous duel, and before the count had been stopped and immobilized by the skeletons, he had been greviously wounded. The blade was cursed, and Myrhan knew it the instant it pierced his flesh. He would die from this wound. But after the king had retired to his chambers to reflect on the situation and ten years of fogginess that he should not had suffered, the count and the prince were brought to the throne room, and confronted by Myrhan.
"You murdered my family. You raped my sister," Myrhan told them.
The count, a right bastard, added, "Personally. Twice. She was quite spirited." He knew he was doomed, so why hold back anything?
I had to hold him back at that point. He was grateful for it, after a moment, and said to them, "By all rights, your lives are mine. You incited a war for personal gain. You abused the man who sits in this throne and usurped his rule in your name. You do not even deserve to -exist-."
The prince sneered at him. "And I suppose killing us will make it all better. Well, let's get on with it. You'll be joining--"
The prince and the count both froze as Myrhan tilted his head slightly, regarding them. One moment they were normal and talking back as only a damned man does, and before you could say Momento Mori their bodies were comprised of ash, which began to blow away with the slight breeze coming through the windows of the throne room.
I looked at him. He seemed to age a decade in an instant. It was finally over. "How do you feel?" I asked.
"So what did you do to them?" I asked, as the army filed out of the city. I walked beside him; he was on a litter, being carried. He was no longer in a state to walk, thanks to the cursed blade.
He looked at me for a long moment with a somber expression, before he spoke. "I destroyed them. Completely and utterly. Their bodies. And once they no longer had bodies..." He paused, then added, "Perhaps destroyed is not an accurate term for it, but their souls were shattered and pieces of them are probably littered about the lower planes. They won't even get an afterlife."
I nodded at him, and looked at the wound. It was dressed as well as could be, but his magics had no effect on it as we found out early on. The wound was black, the flesh around it growing that color, and ugly tendrils of purple extended beneath his flesh. I shook my head ruefully. "So the empire of Arran'ak is a reality. What will it do without an emperor to rule it?"
Myrham smiled at me. A weak smile, but a smile nonetheless. "Before we left to come home... I took certain measures. You don't think I'll let a little thing like death get in my way, do you, old friend? But I will die, this is unavoidable now. Perhaps within the day." I started. I didn't expect it that soon. "My only request is to be bured alongside my family where my home once stood."
I agreed. It was the least I could do for him. And he was right. He lived only three hours longer before death embraced him.
The funeral procession, the skeletal army that carried him to his final resting place, passed through every town that comprised what had been the small nation of Arran'ak before it absorbed Florin and Guilder. At every one of those towns, virtually everyone joined the procession to pay their respects to him. He did not want anyone to rebuild there, and they respected it; he had said that he himself would be the first to begin rebuilding, and no one wanted to infringe on that.
He was buried on that spot, by the citizens themselves. Every adult took a turn digging a shovel of dirt for his grave, and it was in no danger of being too shallow. His skeleton army stayed intact and cleared the last rubble from what had been burned, but much of the town had already been overgrown by the grasses that surrounded it on the plains. They only organized it and set it aside. And then everyone watched as they dug their own graves, each burying the one beside them, until there was only one left. It was only right that I bury that last one. As everyone paid their final respects, I told them that I would stand vigil over his grave. I was not fit to be among them, and everyone could see it. Sure, I looked human enough, but my flesh was beginning to show its age from my reanimation, though an eyepatch covered the empty socket. My other eye had begun to get milky, just from the fact that it didn't have any blood flow any longer.
Everyone returned to their homes. I stood there and watched the seasons pass. Honestly, I figured my vigil would end up being eternal, but when it comes down to it, what else am I going to do to pass the time? Hit up the pubs and go drinking?
I saw the summer pass. My flesh began to rot but I did not notice the smell.
I watched the grass grow long in autumn as it removed all signs that a human settlement had ever been there.
I did not mind it when the snow buried me, because it froze what was left of my flesh and helped it come loose from my skeleton.
When spring came, the insects loved me. Or what was left of me. The only thing that set me apart from any other skeleton was the eyepatch. A year had passed. It seemed surprisingly short.
The day after a year had passed, I heard a voice behind me. I didn't expect it, honestly, but I had held out hope. Hope was all I had left.
"You didn't think I'd let a little thing like death get in my way, did you, old friend?" he stated. I turned, and I saw him. I knew it was him, even if he looked no better off than I was, a skeleton. He motioned for me to come over to him and said, "I've got some building to do. Lend me a hand, will you?"
Really, the rest is history. He built the Spire. Yes, he did it himself, but I'm not giving away his secrets. The original people who made up Arran'ak joined the golden city he had built around it, and he brought the nobles into line. They thought they'd gotten off easy, but he made it crystal clear that it was not the case. Sure, Arran'ak is small, but when it comes down to it, he's everyone's Grandfather, in a spiritual sense... well, some in a literal sense, the boy did have a bad habit of sowing his oats with a lot of the pretty girls.
He found his sister, too. The Millenial Emperor and his Empress don't rule as husband and wife so much as brother and sister. It's a deeper connection, but I assure you there hasn't been any Empresses who are into all of that. She's stayed true to her word, and though she can't accept the gift of undying life, she comes back to him. And... well, you know about the Risen, don't you? The people of Arran'ak saw their king, or emperor, or whatever you want to call it -- he's got a lot of names after all -- still serving them even after death. The first person to want to help even after death was the first Sentinel, and you see how serious they take all of that, he won't let anyone touch anyone's body with unsanctioned black arts. His is... well, let's say it's different.
As for me, hell, he needed someone to watch him. And I told him I always would. He taught me how to throw around some of those flashy spells he's got, and it's come in handy sometimes. And I organized the Chronus Guard, to make sure the kid's always got someone to watch his back. I just wish I'd remember to make myself look human more often when I hit the pubs, but at least I can still taste the ale.
Speaking of which, pass me another, will you?
Crime and Punishment
He had snuck into his brother's room while he was off mooning over the vintner's daughter, taking one of his early primers. For weeks he had pored over the arcane text, methodically copying and recopying the eldrich sigils contained therein. Finally, he thought he was ready. He had used his meager savings to purchase a whole pig carcass from the butcher, claiming his father was too busy to come claim it himself. That said same carcass was now laid out in the ritual circle, properly inscribed and anointed. Marran began reading the required syllables from the book. He felt his hair standing on end as an otherworldly energy passed around and through him. He did not so much say the chant as it was pulled from him, raising in speed and volume until it reached a crescendo... silence. Marran fell to his knees, drained.
A moment passed, two, then the carcass stood up! Marran clapped his hands over his mouth, afraid he might break the dwoemer. He finally mustered the courage to point to the opposite corner of the room and command, "GO!" The remains of the pig began a herky-jerky walk, like a marionette with invisible strings, and headed for the indicated corner. Marren whooped with glee, clapped his hands, and was overtaken by laughter.
"Boy, what mischief are you getting into now..." His father pushed his way into the shed. He'd forgotten to bar the door! He looked over the tableau before him and froze, the color draining from his face. "Marran, by the gods, what have you done?!"
Marren sat rooted to the floor, paralyzed by fear. His father roared, "DAMMIT BOY, ANSWER ME!"
The tears welled up, and the words began pouring out of him. He told his father everything, omitting no detail. When he finished, he looked up at his father plaintively. The man averted his gaze, refusing to look upon his own son. "You fool. They'll blame your brother, for certain. He might be ruined for this." Panic in his voice, Arren pleaded, "Father, no one has to know! We can destroy all this, pretend it never happened!"
His father crossed the room in two swift strides, striking him hard across the face. Arren tasted blood. "NO! Do you realize what you're saying? You'd doom us all! Our possessions, our very lives would be forefeit!" He grabed Arren by his upper arm and hauled him to his feet, leading him toward the shed door. "No, boy, the magistrate must be told of this. May the gods help you, it has to be done."
His father dragged him down the lane and to the village square, Marren weeping and pleading as they went. Some of the villagers turned to gawk, but quickly busied themselves with their own business upon seeing the fury in Angnar's eyes. He hustled across the green and into the magistrate's offices, depositing Marren on the bench along the far wall before turning to speak with the secretary. Two Sentinels stood motionless, flanking the entry door. The secretary greeted Angnar, and the two began a hushed conversation. The secretary's face displayed puzzlement, then shock, then disgust, his eyes occasionally darting to Marren. He turned to the Sentinels and pointed at Marren. "Guard that one," he acidly spat. "If he tries to leave, kill him." He gestured Angnar toward the inner office door, preceding him into the office of the magistrate, and shutting the door behind the both of them.
Marren fidgeted, straining to listen to the murmurs from behind the shut door. The conversation continued for quite some while, the only discernible noise being the exclamation of surprise from the magistrate. More talking, and then clearly, the voice of his father, shouting, "Gods, Brann, he's a boy of ten!" The magistrate, shouting back, "THE LAW IS THE LAW! Age is no exception!" A sharp thud of the magistrates heavy fist against his desk.
A few minutes later, his father strode out of the office, tears staining his cheeks. He kept his gaze forward and made for the exit door. Marren called weakly after him, but he did not turn or stop, and was gone. The magistrate stepped out from the inner office. "Marren, would you come here, please?"
Marren shuffled into the room, head hanging. The magistrate gestured toward an overstuffed armchair. "Please, sit down." The boy sat as indicated, staring hard at his feet. Brann pulled the chair from in front of his desk and sat facing him, a few feet away. "Marren, you know that what you did was wrong, correct?" He numbly nodded yes. "And I know that you're sorry for what you did, correct?" Again he nodded. "You've been a good boy, and I've never had a single problem with you. I know you wouldn't do this sort of thing again." He nodded more vigorously at this. "But this is a very serious matter, and it cannot go unpunished." Marren managed to stammer out, "W-what are you gonna do to me?" Brann smiled grimly. "Frankly, son, this is above my authority. The Grandfather himself will have to rule in this case." Shock froze Marren's blood in his veins. The Millennia Emperor?!? "You'll stay with me for a day or two, then you'll be taken to the Spire." The magistrate spoke more, patting Marren on the shoulder, but he heard none of it. Eventually the man led him upstairs, one of the Sentinels trailing behind.
He was taken to a fairly well-appointed bedroom and deposited there, the magistrate encouraging him to rest up. He left Marren alone then, locking the door behind him, the click of the key in the door bearing all the finality of a sealing tomb.
For the next day and a half, the only person Marren saw was the secretary. Contempt openly showing on his face, he silently deposited his meals and left with the remains of the last. A few hours after the midday meal, a different man entered -- a captain of the Sentinels, from his dress. He started upon seeing the young boy, and threw the shackles he was carrying on the seat of a nearby chair. "Well, won't be needing those. Come along, then."
He led Marren outside and boosted him onto an oxcart, where two passed Sentinels were already seated. The captain mounted the seat and tugged at the reins, the cart lurching into forward motion. As they passed through the streets and out of the village, the villagers turned away, mothers shooing their children into the dooryard. His family was nowhere to be seen.
The warm midday sun, the gentle rhythmic motion of the oxcart, and the poor conversational skills of his traveling companions eventually lulled Marren to sleep. A bump as the road transitioned from dirt to cobblestone awoke him, and he rubbed his eyes before sitting up with a start. Apparently he'd slept away the entire journey, for the sun was much lower in the sky, and laid out around him were the beginnings of the capital.
The capital! Such a sight was unrivaled in all the region, and possibly the whole world. Merchants bustled about and hocked their myriad wares. Snatches of song and verse could be heard from the many parks and streetside cafes. The captain shouted and swore as a group of men strode straight in front of the cart, caught up in a heated debate; they did not even acknowledge the cart's existence as they plowed on, gesturing animatedly. And everywhere, Risen servants in the Millenia Emperor's livery, performing any number of simple tasks. Marren's gaze finally settled upon the Spire itself, framed by the setting sun, and a wave of vertigo swept over him as he surveyed its dizying heights. To think that this was supposedly wrought by the hands of men? Impossible!
Impressive as it was at a distance, the sheer magnitude of the Spire could not be taken in until one was right up on it. No matter how far back he tilted his head, Marren could not see the top of it; the structure appeared to lean towards and loom over him. The cart continued on past the gargantuan stair and oversized doors of the main entrance, coming to a stop in front of the stables around the side. The captain jumped down and handed the reins to one of the Risen, beckoning for Marren to do the same. They made for the bulk of the Spire, the two passed Sentinels trailing behind them, as a team of Risen moved up to unhitch the oxen.
Marren was led through a series of opulent halls as wide as boulevards and up several seemingly-interminable staircases. The walls were hung with exotic fabrics and lush tapestries, and the cloying scent of myrrh hung thick in the air. Though night had fallen, the cavernous expanses were well-lit by regularly spaced braziers. As Marren was beginning to tire, the captain led him into a palatial sitting room. As the Sentinels moved to flank the door, he said, "Wait here," turned on his heel, and strode out of the room.
Marren, unable to control his impulse, was magnetically drawn across the room to the bookshelf that lined an entire wall, floor to ceiling. Such a huge number of volumes dwarfed the entire catalog of the library back home! A very few he recognized, a copy of the primer he'd stolen from his brother among them. Some of the remainder had unpronounceable titles, or were in a foreign script altogether. He reached out his hand to run his fingers down their spines when someone quietly cleared their throat behind him. He spun around quickly, stuffing his hands in his pockets; a figure in the robes of an Acolyte had entered without him noticing. In a barely audible tone, the Acolyte said, "His Majesty will see you now."
The Acolyte led Marren a short distance away, into an enormous vaulted chamber. The entirety of his village could be contained within, with room to spare. The pillars seemed to be holding up the very sky itself. They continued forward across this vast expanse, the Acolyte stopping before a raised dais topped with two ornate thrones, one of ebony and one of gold. From the darkness off to their left, a voice like the grating of bones spoke up: "Is this the one they spoke of?"
Even the Acolyte jumped at this, and Marren fell prostrate, weeping and mewling. "Yes, my lord," the Acolyte said, regaining his composure. The Millennia Emperor stepped forth from the deep shadows. "Very well. Thank you, Iaster. You may go." The Acolyte bowed and shuffled away.
The lich came over to the still-weeping boy and sighed like the wind passing through dead tree branches. He began chanting, and Marren's terror suddenly melted away. "There, that's better. Can't very well hold a cogent conversation when you're in hysterics, now, can we?" He rasped out a dry chuckle. "Now... Marren, was it? Stand up, and tell me your story."
So, haltingly at first, Marren told his tale start to finish. The Millennia Emperor's eyebrow quirked as he animatedly described the details of the raising ritual, but he sat silent through the whole recitation. The telling of such a grand "adventure" cheered him until he reached the end of it, and the enormity of what had happened sank back in. He mumbled his conclusion: "I'm terrible sorry for what I did, your majesty, and I promise that I'll never do anything like that again in my whole life."
Silence descended once again, as the Millennia Emperor pondered all he'd just heard. After a moment, he spoke. "I find it hard to fault you for your curiosity, lad. If that were a crime, I'd be the most wanted man in the realm." Marren smiled at this. "What you did took incredible talent, but was also incredibly stupid." Marren winced. "You were playing with forces well beyond your ken, and it was only a matter of luck that nothing went wrong." A warmth entered into his voice and face. "You must understand, the law we have is in place for a reason. It is what keeps our society intact and safe. Without it, all you see around you would crumble and fall. I do not enforce it because I like it, but because I must."
The Millennia Emperor once again assumed a regal bearing, and a hardness came over him like a veil of steel. "Marren Angnarson, I find you guilty of the unlawful use of necromantic magics. I hereby sentence you to a year and a day of service alongside the Risen, performing the most menial of tasks. Treat this as a period of mourning for your old life, for the boy that was is dead and gone; you belong to me now, body and soul. At the end of this time, you will take up training as an Acolyte. You WILL excel at this, for failure or refusal to do so will be punishable by death and permanent refusal of reanimation. So I have spoken, and so shall it be done." He softened and smiled. "And cheer up, boy. You'll be doing far more interesting things than animating pigs."
We have made a terrible mistake, my liege.
It was supposed to be so easy. A kingdom of undead, the vizier told us! They would welcome us, use us to expand their power, he said! We could usurp them once we found out how it worked, and use them to bring our country greater glory! Whether the vizier is an imbecile or plotting our downfall, it doesn't matter anymore.
Three Necromancers. Two Blackguard for protection. An assassin to help with any impediments to the mission. Our country... distant from Arran'ak, we knew so little. Arran'ak is a tiny little country, with the kind of name you expect when it ends up with some lich necromancer in charge of it all. We crossed the border in the dead of night and when daylight came, we thought that they did a good job of keeping things looking normal in the borderlands. People going about their business. And we knew the undead were there in the fields, I could -feel- them, by the devils, as I feel all undead. But something felt... strange about them. We could not put our finger on it, but we chalked it up to whatever magic pulled the strings on these particular marionettes. We vowed to master it ourselves.
The closer we got to the Spire, the more uneasy we became. We came across a patrol of Sentinels on the march; living and dead, though mostly dead, but they all called themselves Sentinels. Curious. They pointed us toward the Spire when we asked, without hesitation. After all, they had no fear of a delegation of diplomats who had lost their way. It isn't as if we were standing in black armor covered in spikes, for if we were we would have been sorely out of place. They seemed dressed as any army unit might be, not quite as dark as we had expected, but they were certainly none of those positive-energy creatures and they were hardly garbed in white robes.
We continued our travelling, the Spire cresting the horizon in the distance, when we first began to have our doubts. None of us expected the Spire to look as it did. This was the home of a necromancer, of a powerful lich! And yet... wouldn't one expect a towering monolith of black stone or the like? Instead, white marble! As we entered the city itself we found that it was even gilded in gold! We passed more undead toiling in the fields. Had it not been for our concerns about the assassin's reaction, we might have cut and run right there. But he was sent along with us to make sure our mission was accomplished, by any means necessary.
The lich was unannounced. He walked in alone. While one of the other necromancers was about to speak, he raised his hand. After a few moments' ponderance, he spoke... I have never heard a voice like his and I hope never to hear it again. It sounded... no, it -felt- like bones scraping against each other.
"You have come among my people, and into my home. I knew of your darkness from the moment you stepped foot onto this land. You are not diplomats. What are your intentions?" The words were what we expected... but the tone was all wrong. The others didn't realize it, but I felt it in the pit of my stomach, I knew everything was going wrong and I needed to get out of there. But the only way out was through the window. The entrance lay behind him.
"My lord, we heard of your kingdom and of you, and we wish to serve alongside you, and to learn from you, if you would but permit it!" gushed one of the black clerics. Llast was one who wanted to eventually become a lich himself, so of course he would be the one to say that. At those words I felt an urgent need to run him through with a blade; it was not the line we had practiced, though it was technically correct.
The lich shook his head slowly. "Your words may be true but I know the intent behind them. You think I am fool enough to let you defile the one thing I have given this world? You are transparent to me. I will allow you a choice. You may leave this place, or you can attempt what you will doubtlessly attempt. I have instructed the Chronus Guard not to intervene. You might even stand a chance." His laugh sounded akin to a rasp.
Plan B it was; there would be no going back. We would need to take what we came for without the niceties we had planned. It was all choreographed; one of the Blackguards would charge forward to distract, the other would summon hellhounds to take on the lich, and they would alternate. We would try to drain his power, and the assassin would search for the phylactery which doubtlessly was in the Spire; with my aid, he would find it and break it.
Nothing went as planned, of course. One moment he was being charged by the Blackguard... the next he was behind the assassin holding him up by the throat and shocking the rest of us with lightning. We did not hear what he told the assassin as his body withered before our eyes, but he threw him against the wall as he shocked us again. The shock really did not take all that much out of us, but it kept us from casting against him. The Blackguards had tried to both summon hellhounds to bolster our ranks, but that didn't work very well; instead they charged him. And sure, they probably did damage when they struck him, but it was hard to tell. He threw the assassin's body against a wall and I stared at it in disbelief as the flesh came off of it as dust, leaving it nothing more than a skeleton.
Spectral missiles flew at us after that, as he repeated the treatment with the blackguards, one at a time. We were no match for him, and the whole of the Spire was warded against teleporting, so there was no easy escape for us that way. So obviously, I did the only logical thing I could. I jumped out the damn window, used the ring of feather fall I'd bought before leaving to glide to safety, and ran. There was no chance of survival against him. The six of us and he was well beyond our capabilities. We had no chance of victory from the start and he knew it.
Did they find me? Of course they found me, before I'd even made it out of the city. I tried to fight against them but the only casualty I caused was against one of the living Sentinels before I was beaten into unconsciousness. When I awoke again, it was in a marble chamber, and the Sentinel I'd killed was on a stone bench. A diamond was between his hands, clasped over his navel. Lining the chamber were a half dozen undead Sentinels on either side.
"You have taken the life of a citizen. You attempted to take my life and usurp me. For this, you would suffer immolation, and your ashes would be scattered to the wind. I could bind you to these ashes and trap you here forever, or send you into the afterlife. There are many there, no doubt, who would enjoy tormenting you. None of whom I will speak the name of, but they are no allies of mine." I felt his voice in my head -- telepathy. He was not present in the room. He did not need to be. If he'd wanted me dead he would have killed me already, I was sure of it. "Your crimes will be forgiven and you will be exiled from my kingdom, should you agree to this: raise the Sentinel whose life you took. And abandon your pursuit of power, if for nothing but the sake of your soul. The first condition I can see, but the second condition lies solely on your future action. There may yet be hope that you will go to a better place than you would if you died right now."
What could I do? I took the diamond, recited the incantations, and waited. I was quite surprised when I saw him enter the body -- normally raising the enemy almost never succeeds, but he seemed to appreciate it. He even thanked me, before the lich spoke again: "Now leave this place, and never return. And again, child, for the sake of your soul... take a long, hard look at your life and what would lie after it. I nearly walked the same path you walk before I realized that there were more important things in this world than myself."
He said more than this, of course, and I listened. There was wisdom in his words, and he had the time to gain that wisdom. In time, I left, unmolested, and no one would so much as look at me. So far as they were concerned, I was dead to them.
I am rue to say this, sire, but he had a point. I have had this gift all my life, but until now I have only used it to further my own goals. I saw something while I was in Arran'ak, though, that I did not expect to see. I saw the living and the undead working alongside each other. I saw a man who was genuinely loved by his people, not a lich who was ruling through fear and using hatred as a tool.
There is a balance that can be struck between life, death and undeath, and the Millennial Emperor opened my eyes to it. Forgive me, my liege, but I can no longer remain in your service. There is more to this world, and this is not where I belong. This message will find you by courier, and I paid well for its safe delivery, but I will not be returning to our empire. There is a wider world, and I must find my place in it on my own.
-- Tyr'anon Bakonn