- 1 Part I: The Bantus Wasteland
- 2 Part II: The school of the Dead
- 3 Part III: The Eldritch Council
- 4 Part IV: Plaguegrip
- 5 Part V: The Boneyard
- 6 Part VI: The Bloody Priesthood
- 7 Part VII: The Screaming Port
- 8 Part VIII: The Island of the Banished
Part I: The Bantus Wasteland
As the Bantus Empire, Thoran’s lands had flourished for generations. Nowadays, it is a place of death and solitude, corrupted and defiled by death and necromancy. Countless souls wander the streets of the abandoned capital, the deathly vapors of their rotting bodies swelled into a lingering haze, obscuring the sky, making any living thing who thinks to venture heregive pause.
The court of Terror
This dreaded place was once the grand hall of the Imperial Palace, where kings throughout the ages held court and settled the empire’s affairs. Since Thoran regained the capital in the name of the Fallen King, it has been renamed the Court of Terror.
As in the past, Thoran does most of his governing from here. But one thing is very different from the past: Thoran no longer leads the empire through kindness and compassion, instead ruling with a cold iron fist. Now an out-and-out undead tyrant on behalf of his master Quaedam, he brings stability through cruelty and terror.
The Court of Terror is comprised of a number of crafty, powerful Graveborn who assist Thoran in ruling over his empire of the dead.
Grezhul’s forces are the defenders of the Graveborn army. Every undead warrior in the army was an elite guard of the empire, in most cases of noble or royal blood. They were selected for their skills, and even more so for their loyalty to the king. In a sense, it is a royal guard as much as it is an army.
In the bloody coup that killed Thoran, his personal guard was ambushed by the rebels. His entire guard, including Commander Gareth, were killed. After Quaedam resurrected Gareth as Grezhul, the vengeful guard captain resurrected all of his fellow guardsmen, who then rose up to join him in slaughtering the rebels.
Grezhul, now a Graveborn, is still loyal to Thoran. He leads his Legion of Terror to guard the abandoned capital day and night, vowing to never let another potential traitor near his king.
The Black Prison
The Black Prison is a concentrated expression of Thoran’s cruelty. It is a horrible place full of misery and anguish, designed to hold and torture any Graveborn who dare to disobey Thoran.
Since being murdered by his own brother, Thoran has suffered from a profound paranoia, never again trusting another soul, living or dead. As a Graveborn, Thoran lacks many of the traits for which he was once praised. He is now devoid of mercy, wisdom, and kindness. He is now arrogant, violent, and completely intolerant of the slightest hint of disobedience. Any poor soul that dares draw his ire is sent to the Black Prison, where the immortal undead can be tortured for an eternity.
The Graveborn do not feel pain of the flesh. Some undead do not even have a physical form. But the Black Prison is not designed for torturing bodies; it is designed for torturing souls. The sadistic warden of the Black Prison knows this. Cold, merciless and ever-dutiful, he is a virtuoso of inspiring pain and despair that strikes to the soul. The Black Prison echoes day and night with agonizing screams, the product of his hard work. The cries of the tortured souls are so intense that the few mortals to have come close enough to hear them, have rarely returned with their sanity intact.
The prison is well-guarded day and night by a garrison of Graveborn soldiers who never need rest. Ever-vigilant, few souls have managed to escape in its many centuries of operation.
Part II: The school of the Dead
The School of the Dead is an academy for necromancers, dedicated to further delving into the secrets of the underworld. The scholars there have an avid obsession with vaulting the hurdle that is death, and view necromancy not as a defilement of the natural order, but instead as a transcendental magical art.
The School of the Dead is divided into two factions: the Spiritualists and the Metamorphs. There is a great rift between them, as they differ on many issues. The Spiritualists are traditionalists, wanting to hold all necromancy to certain conventions and to maintain certain lines that should not be crossed. They specialize in white bone and psychic spells. To the Metamorphs, these spirits are too disciplined and closed off to new ideas. Metamorphs seek to integrate other magical practices, such as alchemy, to transform and enhance the Graveborn. To the Spiritualists, this is taboo, almost heretical, as it implies the Metamorphs are not grateful enough for the gifts bestowed upon them by Lord Quaedam.
The Spiritualists are a group of necromancers who specialize in white bone and psychic spells. They are eager to understand the mysteries of the underworld through necromancy, and to grant souls eternal life after death. They live in the dark underground all day long. Locking themselves away in tombs, they bury themselves in their work, studying the mysteries of necromancy.
Most of the Metamorphs were alchemists and technicians in life, who wish to apply their knowledge of other fields to further strengthen their necromancy. Radical and unfettered, they have their own laboratory dedicated to transforming undead creatures.
No one knows exactly what experiments go on in that lab. All anyone sees are the terrifying results. Though they may be scorned by the Spiritualists, and their experiments have a very high rate of failure, it is undeniable that they have indeed created some “masterpieces” that shock the heavens.
Part III: The Eldritch Council
The Eldritch Council is a mysterious organization about which very little is known to the outside world. They are something of a thorn in Thoran’s side. Although the Council stays hidden behind the scenes, they exercise great authority, acting as representatives of Lord Quaedam, communicating his will to Thoran in private.
The Council is led by three elder Graveborn, ancient souls whom Quaedam knew in life. They were the first three that Quaedam called over from the land of the dead, the first three to make a pact with him.
The three elders each oversee a different arm of the Council, responsible for a different aspect of the empire’s governance: the council’s committees refer to themselves as the Unholy Precepts, the Death Knell, and the Mausoleum. The three branches of the Council ensure the survival of the Graveborn.
The Unholy Precepts
The Unholy Precepts delegate laws and policy for the Graveborn, deciding on rules of proper conduct.
The Graveborn are often thought to be chaotic and disorderly because of their evil and filthy appearance. However, this is not the case. As something not unlike a more complicated hive mind, there is incredible discipline and order among the Graveborn. These orders are precisely defined and by the Unholy Precepts. Many of these orders would be unreasonable to the living, but for the undead, there is no physical discomfort, and no sense of individual will. The will of Quaedam and the Council are everything.
Among the Graveborn, no one has greater knowledge of necromancy than the elders of the Eldritch Council. They know that to continue growing the ranks of the Graveborn, the living must continue to create new life. Therefore, the Unholy Precepts have secretly controlled the frequency of war between the undead and other living races, ensuring a sustainable balance between life and death.
The Death Knell
The Death Knell is a symbol of the far-reaching doctrine. It is responsible for spreading the knowledge of necromancy throughout the world of the living, recruiting believers to make pacts with Quaedam.
When the Bantus Empire was still ruled by the living, the teachings of the Necromancers had found followers at the very heart of the empire, allowing the Death Knell to orchestrate events from behind the scenes.
The Mausoleum are in charge of preserving knowledge. Their library, closely guarded by the Eldritch Council, contains all the important documents, necrotic scriptures, mysterious manuscripts, spell scrolls, etc. worthy of preservation for the Graveborn. All secrets regarding the undead are sealed here. It is the most important gem of the Graveborn empire. At the same time, it embodies its namesake: a seal of doom. Once opened, its knowledge will bring endless, immeasurable disaster to the world.
There are not only physical tomes and scrolls, but also “invisible” receptacles of knowledge. A gallery of souls, stored in the basement, contains many important specimens. These souls include those of history’s most knowledgeable scholars and sages. The Eldritch Council can extract their memories at will, accessing all knowledge accrued from every age.
Part IV: Plaguegrip
Plaguegrip is an assassin and spy organization that answers directly to the Eldritch Council. First-class spies, they are masters of infiltration, assassination, forgery and counterintelligence. Serving primarily as the eyes and ears of the Council, they are also a scalpel when needed, able to snuff out life as easily as blinking.
Despite being Graveborn, they are still perfectly capable of infiltrating the societies of the living in order to steal intelligence or assassinate enemies as the Council wills.
Most of these agents were betrayed during their lifetime, so their suspicious nature further ensures their disciplined vigilance. Numb to emotions such as trust and compassion, they have no compunction about ending any life, completing their tasks with brutal, efficient precision.
Part V: The Boneyard
The Boneyard is a cemetery located on the outskirts of the abandoned capital city, the resting place of many soldiers who died in service to the Bantus Empire. Over centuries of constant war, many gave their life for the glory of the empire. Many of the older bodies had to be dug up in order to make space for new bodies.
As a result, the surface of the Boneyard is a chaotic mess. Eventually, the overflow was so great that the gravediggers could not keep up, and they began simply piling bodies on top of each other, burying soldiers in mass graves marked by shared tombstones, their bones piling into a disordered mess.
As the Bantus Empire became a land of the dead, this graveyard was Thoran’s main source of soldiers for his initial army of the dead.
Given the sheer number of deaths in the Bantus Empire, countless bodies lie undisturbed throughout the land, buried by families who could not afford space in a graveyard. The Gravediggers roam the land, attracted to the smell of corpses, seeking out more bodies to dig up and send to the capital for resurrection, thus bolstering the numbers of Thoran’s armies.
The Whispering Doom
The Whispering Doom is a giant bone tower which looms in the center of the Boneyard, made entirely from skeletons excavated from the surrounding area.
Sinister spirits known as “ambassadors” can be seen wandering in and out of the Whispering Doom’s gates. These ambassadors roam across Esperia in search of lost souls, spirits which have for one reason or another failed to cross over to the world of the dead. The ambassadors inhale these souls.
Much like worker bees taking pollen and nectar to the hive, the ambassadors bring the souls they capture back to the Whispering Doom. These souls are placed in an enchanted furnace, and smelted down by necromancers. These souls are purged of impurities, made malleable for a variety of uses.
Their primary use is to be bound to the bodies brought back by the gravediggers, allowing the Graveborn to bolster their numbers with compliant servants. The whole Boneyard, in this sense, is a giant assembly line for creating new Graveborn.
The entire process is managed by a powerful necromancer known as Niru, who sits upon a throne overlooking the entire operation. He is and the Whispering Doom are considered to be as one, the entire tower the body, and Niru its brain.
Niru has an odd hobby: he collects souls brought to him which he considers particularly interesting or special. His collection includes all manner of souls, from the extremely evil to the purest of hearts. Souls who stand out in any manner are set aside by the ambassadors and brought to Niru to inspect personally.
The Boneyard was the final resting place of countless fallen soldiers. These soldiers left behind many loved ones, forever after plagued with sorrow. Many of those in mourning were driven near to madness by their grief, their souls tarnished by a powerful misery and bitterness. The Sorrowful are these souls, wandering aimlessly through the world of the living, so caught up in their grief that they were not able to cross over to the land of the dead.
The Sorenland is an area of the Boneyard that even most Graveborn cannot enter. The feeling of resentment and hate which emanates from it is incredibly powerful.
The Sorenland is named for the powerful evil spirit which dwells within, a specter whose physical form appears to be made of ancient blades. While it takes the form of a single entity, it is actually the combination of many souls, working toward one purpose. These dead souls were the soldiers of a forgotten regiment who died defending against the invading armies which ravaged the lands in the chaos after Thoran’s death. As the land was carved up by foreign powers, these soldiers faithfully held the line, praying that someone would come to their aid.
They held out as long as they could, retreating when there was no other option. Eventually, they were able to win some small victories, convincing some armies that the price of victory was not worth the reward.
While it was no glorious victory, they had held their lands and driven back the invaders at the cost of countless comrades in arms. Instead of a hero’s welcome, they were regarded with suspicion by the ruling class, for their heroism made them beloved by the people, and thus a political threat. Regimes came and went, each of them making promises to support the military and its heroes, but never following through.
After yet another toothless regime was ousted, it seemed a pro-military group had finally taken control of the throne. The surviving members of the regiment, it seemed, would finally get the recognition they deserved. At the formal invitation of the government, the regiment assembled outside the city one last time, preparing to finally receive the victory parade they’d waited on for years. However, as they approached the outskirts of the capitol, they were ambushed. Slaughtered to a man, they were thrown into an unmarked mass grave, to rot and be forgotten over time.
Consumed with a furious anger, the dying soldiers’ souls refused to pass on to the afterlife, their only thought one of hate for the nation that abandoned them. With one final common cause, the souls bound together, forming the Soulblade.
Part VI: The Bloody Priesthood
The Bloody Priesthood is not located in the territory of Bantus like other Graveborn groups. It is a secret society of humans who are loyal to the Graveborn cause. The Priesthood consists of two orders: The Demise, led by Count Vedan, and the Bloody Feast, led by Queen Karen.
The Bloody Priesthood devote themselves to the study of blood magic, hoping to use it to transform themselves into Graveborn. Only the senior members of the priesthood are able to do so, while the low-ranking faithful are often accepted only to be used as sacrifice for the blood magic rites. They go willingly, certain that their gift of blood will be rewarded in the next life.
They meet only in secret, assembling in abandoned and crumbling castles to perform their forbidden rituals. The members of the priesthood are members for life, sworn to secrecy on pain of death. Those who violate the tenets of the priesthood are punished severely. If not expelled, they are often decapitated to ensure they will not reveal the order’s secrets.
Part VII: The Screaming Port
The desolate docks now referred to as the Abandoned Port are said to have once been called Screaming Bay. In the early days of the Bantus Empire, Screaming Bay was a prosperous commercial hub where merchants from all over the world would come to sell their wares. However, as the Bantus made enemies out of more and more lands, the port became closed to the outside world, and was eventually abandoned save for a defending force set to watch out for naval invasion.
As the Bantus Empire descended into undeath, a curse seemed to take the abandoned port, and even its waters became entirely devoid of life. Ships who dared go near were frequently wrecked by huge storms, or enveloped in a fog from which they would never emerge.
The bodies of unwary sailors and pirates washed ashore one by one, collecting near the abandoned pier, only to be awakened by Quaedam himself, and were among the first of his Graveborn forces.
The Dead Tide
The commander of the Dead Tide Fleet is Hodgkin, who was a notorious and daring pirate during his lifetime. Brave, foolhardy, and greedy, he once journeyed to Screaming Bay in hopes of stealing a soul prized by the Graveborn. As was the fate of most ships that entered the cursed waters, the ship sank well before it could dock, taking Hodgkin and his entire crew with it. The entire ship sank to the bottom of the sea. He and his crew were killed on the bottom of the sea.
However, Hodgkin’s audacity piqued the interest of the Quaedam, who revived the desperate captain and his sailors even granting them a ship. Made entirely of white bones, Hodgkin named his new vessel the Sacral Ark.
Hodgkin quickly built up a powerful navy for Quaedam, with the Sacral Ark as its flagship. Quaedam continued to resurrect the drowned crews who had perished at Screaming Bay, including the famed pirate Nara and her ship, Spirit. Whenever the fleet goes out, it is shrouded in a daunting green fog of death.
The sirens are supposedly a form of Graveborn that appear to be transformations of a long-extinct amphibious species. Many doubt their existence, calling them mere legends, as most amphibious species are blessed by Aiya, which should make them impossible to bind with necromancy.
While the sirens share certain characteristics with other sea creatures, they are also proficient in their own magic, able to summon a thick fog to disorient sailors, before letting out terrifying screams capable of breaking minds. Once broken, the sailors throw themselves into the sea, where they become food for the sirens. Some veteran sailors believe in this legend, and will frantically try to offer up a sacrifice when they encounter fog, such as cattle or sheep. Their hope is to sate the sirens’ appetite, and be allowed to pass unharmed. The sirens now accompany the Dead Tide, knowing that war will bring with it fresh meat.
Part VIII: The Island of the Banished
Is eternal life a gift or a curse?
The Island of the Banished is home to a very unique group of Graveborn. They did not become undead in pursuit of immortality. In fact, they look upon it as a curse. They made no pact with Quaedam, and never had any desire for eternal life.
They were originally innocent civilians of the Bantus Empire, forced to transform into undead or be slaughtered by Thoran. They spend their days praying for an escape from their curse, for true rest and eternal sleep. These Graveborn refer to themselves as the Tainted.
Among the Tainted are many who suffered torture in the Black Prison for refusing to surrender to Thoran’s will. They were eventually able to escape, taking shelter on an uninhabited island.
In order not to be disturbed by the living as they quietly seek release from their curse, the Tainted have done their best to inspire fear of the island, even going so far as to project horrific visions and hallucinations to scare away ships that ventured too close. It has acquired quite a reputation among the living, none of whom dare approach.
Since the Tainted do not have a contractual relationship with Quaedam, they continue to possess their own free will, which allowed them to escape the evil spirits serving Quaedam. Freedom from the brutal rule of Thoran was a great relief. Eventually, Quaedam became aware of them. They frequently have to repel attacks from the Dead Tide.
In order to hold off the Graveborn fleet, they have turned the island into a fortress, well-defended from all sides. With the terrain advantage on their side, they have managed to repel the enemy attacks again and again. They may be cornered, but they’ve managed to stay free.