Seek not the whispers of the desert- The Second Tenant of Baradrad
Far to the south there is a place where death is an ally, not an enemy. In this place the dead and the living struggle to survive on equal terms. Ideology, philosophy, and tradition are more important than borders, resources and even freedom. This strange land is the Scorch and it’s home to the crypt cities.
To the northern kingdoms these lands are feared. They say this is a place of exiles. A place where the forbidden is embraced. A place as accursed and damned as Balmoral or the Queen’s Scar. Yet many of the younger generations also see it as an exotic place where the taboos of old no longer apply. Where new allies can be made, where treasure from before the time of the Queen waits buried and where there is an opportunity to be embraced.
The Highborn Elves and the mountain Dwarves agree that Baradrad and the other cities are best left alone; though perhaps for different reasons. The dwarves detest the necromancers and their desire to master death. Dwarves venerate the dead and honor their ancestors. what the necromancers do is enslave them. Elves would publicly say the same but secretly they detest these exiles because many of the founders of Crypt Cities were originally members of the colleges of magic, including elves from Melanthris.
The history of the crypt cities is the history of the college of magic. Early on during the Fang Crusades, elves and dwarves were pitted against unimaginable forms of dark magic that few mortal soldiers could stand against.
Faelar and the college of magic had to push the limits of their knowledge to combat this threat. Every school delved deeper and deeper into their art looking for untapped possibilities to militarize. The magic of the necromancers at the time was far more focused on healing, extending life, and speaking with the spirits of the departed. These early necromancers had previously experimented with using death energies to power relics, spells and other arcana so it wasn’t much of a leap in study to instill that same energy into corpses to create simple warriors capable of bolstering their ranks. Once the formulas, rubrics, and rotes were perfected the school of necromancy helped reinforce the ranks of the Concordance with fallen warriors. Faelar and the other leaders had to use the necromancers and their legions separately from the other allied nations to avoid the disgust that would have surely followed.
The necromancers’ legion managed to secure one of the Ximezci temples late in the closing days of the crusade and in doing so they discovered a cache of the enemy’s relics. Much of the Ximezci magic was either repulsive to the college of magic or beyond their ability to understand but the necromancers found a great deal of familiar knowledge. They felt these secrets were owed to them because of the great price they paid to support Faelar. None of the necromancers wanted to become taskmasters for the dead. They cherished their old life as healers and speakers for the dead.
Redemption and betrayal
After the crusade when most other magicians were returning to their home cities and schools to be hailed as heroes the necromancers received an entirely different welcome. They were feared by the soldiers that witnessed the corpse legion in battle and scorned by the other wizards who believed they exploited the war to study forbidden magic. With Faelar gone, necromancers were attacked by veterans of the war and forced into hiding.
Melanthris allowed many of the necromancers a safe, if discreet, respite from the persecution they faced elsewhere. The college of magic in Melanthris knew the necromancers had studied much of Sessin’yek’s secrets including the gates and they wanted to harness that power.
While in Melanthris they delved deeper into the mystery of death-energy and how to use it to earn back their good name. They created a healing elixir called The Benediction of Odred; named after Elish Odred the necromancer who spearheaded its completion.
The necromancers brewed vast quantities of Benediction and stored it in their secret safe house at Frial near Lake Bask. They planned on bottling the Benediction and taking it to the kingdoms of Tairos. Elish Odred hoped to reclaim their heritage as healers but it would not come to pass. Elves from the peasant lands were already a superstitious and paranoid lot so when they were told by nobles from Melanthris about the location of a necromancer cabal they rallied a mob and rode out to Frial.
Many of the noble houses including the royal family were facing constant pressure from the peasants and from other nations for protecting the necromancers. Outing the necromancers’ safe house became a means of polishing their tarnished reputations. Meanwhile, members of the elven colleges of Mesmerism, Conjuration, Illusion, and Evocation faced opposition from the necromancers. The necromancers had most of the Ximezcis’ relics in their vaults and were dedicated to using them only for the creation of the Benediction. The others were eager to explore different uses for the Ximezci knowledge. Especially the usage of The Gates. Prince Vadin Sorolwyn was the greatest supporter of the necromancers and next in line to be king. Cooperation between the noble houses, the royal line, and the colleges led to a plan of mutual benefit. The royal line was able to rid themselves of Vadin. The nobles were able to win back support from the peasants. The colleges were promised the relics of the necromancers.
The Plague of Undeath and Exile to the Scorch
Torches were put to the safe house and many necromancers hung, burnt alive or scattered across the land. The raw Benediction and death-energy were fused together in the flames creating a deadly smog that filtered across the land, into Lake Bask and carried south by the winds. At first those who come in contact with it are afflicted by the Wrack. The illness takes the life of the victim and fills the hollow wasted corpse with death-energy. Victims rise as mindless undead seeking the flesh of the living. Meanwhile the sickness seeps into graveyards, old battlefields and burial tombs across the land. New and hideous forms of undeath blossomed in the dark before crawling forth to feed on the living.
Prince Vadin was thought to have perished in the safe house fire and Elish Odrad was arrested by soldiers from Melanthris and charged as a conspirator.
The nobles, royal line and college magicians never foresaw the potential consequences of attacking the safe house. King Erondil Sorolwyn knew that if blame for this found its way back to the true source Melanthris could be expelled from the Concordance and the rule of the Sorolwyn line broken.
The elven king made a deal with Elish Odrad and the other necromancers. He would allow them to take credit for fixing a problem of their own making. And he would offer them a peaceful exile to the Scorch. In exchange, they would bring an end to the Plague. For the necromancers this meant owning the terrible lie that was levied against them in exchange for freedom and survival.
After two centuries of effort the Plague of Undeath would subside. The necromancers unraveled the means by which their tainted Benediction spread through the air, earth and water. It was only transmutable by bite now.
Necromancers from all across Tairos were rounded up. Melanthris took on the burden of gathering them and marching them into the Scorch. Elish Odrad led hundreds of his fellow necromancers and tens of thousands of their family members, servants and followers in the desert to begin their exile.
The early days in the desert were harsh and claimed many but Odred led them to the many empty cities that scattered the Scorch. They founded the city of Baradrad from the northern ruins and restored it to regal glory using corpse labor.
At first, they were reluctant to use death-energy again but it became the only option available. Death magics became part of everyday life for the people of Baradrad.
As Baradrad prospered other city ruins were excavated and restored- Skryir, Limdrak and Orabad. The four cities worked together, studying their necromantic art and laboring to make something of their nation.
Whispers From the Desert
This peace would not last. Shifting temperature extremes lead to decades of drought and destructive sand. The cities sent diplomats to Ghal Ankhar, Balmoral and even the Storm Lands requesting aide but these pleas fell on deaf ears.
As disaster was unfolding the answer to their prayers seemed to come from below the ruins of Skyrir. A figure known as Zharkaddos appeared in the court of Skryir as the nobles discussed the latest wellspring to go barren. The shadowy, robed figure revealed that a kingdom had existed in the Scorch long before the necromancers and they too had faced the deadly shift in climate. He offered to share the secret to their survival and they eagerly heard him out.
Zharkaddos revealed himself to be a living corpse of lifelike quality and haunting beauty that not only retained his intellect but was sustained by death-energy rather than flesh or blood. He showed them the means to create potent new forms of undeath and even the means to become a lich like himself. The mortal trappings of hunger and age could be permanently cured and the news of this discovery spread to Limdrak, Orabad and Baradrad.
Many eagerly embraced the gifts that Zharkaddos offered. It was an escape from the painful, torturous existence forced upon them by the other nations. Not only did he offer this gift to the living but he offered it to the dead as well. He was able to usher the souls of lost loved ones back as ghosts. Many new customs and traditions were brought to Baradrad by Zharkaddos including the tradition of Masking. The dead meant for menial tasks such as labor or defense were stripped of their faces and given simple white masks instead so as to ease the discomfort that would otherwise come with turning a dead relative into a servant.
However, not everyone trusted this offer of immortality. Many of the noble houses of Baradrad found inconsistencies in the story of their savior. They delved into the undercity below Skyrir and found the civilization Zharkaddos spoke of but all those who had supposedly embraced death were nothing but hollow husks drained of their death-energy as they slept. Zharkaddos devoured them one by one over the eons to sustain his own form.
By the time they had uncovered the truth Skyrir’s council had crowned Zharkaddos the Lich-King of their city. Limdrak and Orabad had embraced him as well. Baradrad was the only one to reject him and to reject undeath. Baradrad believed that living-energy and death-energy were intertwined and dependent on each other. Without life, death-energy became a corrupting and hungry force of destruction.
The Silent War
The rejection of Baradrad’s nobility led to war. The Lich-King preached to his followers the hubris and dangers of allowing Baradrad to suffer on in life. He said it was their duty to bring them into the embrace of death and so the Silent War began. Legions of voiceless, silent dead would clash against each other in the sand-ravaged dunes of the Scorch for centuries on end.
Orabad would be swayed by the nobles of Baradrad when shown evidence that Zharkaddos was feeding upon entire swathes of their city. For the other cities it was too late to be saved. The entropic death-energy that fueled their bodies and minds was starting to crumble leaving them with ghastly, rotted forms and fading sanity. Countless thousands became mindless thralls to the Lich-King while the strongest willed and most powerful of them traded servitude for sustaining infusions of death-energy.
Limdrak was depleted entirely and left barren again. Many of its greatest minds and magicians were devoured by the Lich-King while a few managed to flee to Baradrad. In Skyrir the council that crowned Zharkaddos began to question him and fight for control over the legions. They plotted against him and secretly allied with Baradrad.
After two centuries of conflict, the war ended when warrior-necromancers both living and dead worked together to break Zharkaddos’ control over his legions. Humiliated and defeated, Zharkaddos was deposed from his throne, stripped of his magic and cast into the desert to rot forever under the burning sun. None were sure how to destroy him permanently but this exile seemed worse than final death. He left Skyrir as nothing more than a fleshless, bare skeleton that has never been seen again.
That would not be the end of the Lich-king’s impact though. Skyrir’s people spiraled further and further into decay while its council was eroded by death-energy. Each of the council was a powerful necromancer in life and under the Lich-King they had become even more so in death. They shed their physical forms and become ravenous spectres. They lost most of their memories and personalities when they were freed of their physical forms, becoming a ghostly hive mind with total dominion over the dead within Skyrir. Baradrad went from an ally to a potential source of sustenance for this new Parliament of Ghosts.
The Queen's War and Mordern Baradrad
Baradrad would rebuild. Its few undead allies would either succumb to entropy or inter themselves within mausoleums in the city to stave off decay. The living nobility would strictly forbid what paths of necromancy could be studied. The secrets to unlife that Zharkaddos offered were forbidden and any of his captured followers were offered final death or permanent internment. Aside from predatory raids by the servants of the Parliament of Ghosts; peace had been restored but at the cost of almost half of the necromancers and their bloodlines.
When The Autumn Queen came the warning of the gnomes reached far and wide, even to the deserts of the Scorch. Baradrad knew all too well what can happen when a desperate people surrender their freedom in exchange for a release from suffering. They decided to act even if it meant defying the terms of the exile laid out by Melanthris.
The Fae had faced many opponents in their fight to control Tairos but they had seen nothing like the necromancers. It was a foe that could not be whittled down by attrition and even though magic was largely dying off the spells of the necromancers suffered the least. Death-energy could be used to power their casting the same way Manacite was used by the fae.
The necromancers hope that finally, they’d be able to earn back the reputation and honor they once had before the plague. Fighting side by side with the Clockwatch they did just that. After the end of the war Ghal Pelor offered citizens of Baradrad free passage on their roads and in their city. Homestead would do the same. The mountain dwarves offered no such boon but they also took no steps to enforce the terms of the exile. Only Melanthris decried this betrayal and warned the other nations of the harm that would come from allowing the necromancers free travel. None cared to listen to this warning though.
Today, Baradrad is viewed with caution and suspicion but this is a vast improvement from the centuries of scorn and revilement that was levied against them. Baradradi traders travel the old roads between the Scorch and Ghal Pelor. Explorers from the crypt city can be found venturing to the old Gnome Empire and even as far north as Frostmere. The opportunity to the land that their ancestors fought for so long ago has an irresistible appeal to many both young and old. The only places they rarely travel to are Tengu Town and Melanthris. The elven capital and its farming communities still loathe the idea of the necromancers and see them as dangerous threats. The Tengu's only experience with necromancy comes from their homeland and that type of magical was deeply abused there. And Baradrad has little use for manacite. When they do need to cast spells they're often able to pull on raw death-energy to fuel their workings.
Humanity and elven citizens make up the bulk of Baradrad's population and of the two, humans are the most populous.
Baradrad is ruled by their noble houses. Each one controls considerable sway in trade, labor and influence within the city and abroad. In the early history of the necromancers there were hundreds of bloodlines but now less than thirty remain.
No formal governmental structure exists in Baradrad but the nobility has a history of joint cooperation that steams back to the founding of the colleges of magic. While their lives have come to resemble a ghastly mirror to that of the noble houses of Melanthris; the Baradradi nobles are scholars first and foremost. The quest for knowledge and perfecting their art is the primary drive among them.The noble houses vary in their own internal operation however they each hold the Six Tenants of Baradrad to be true: 1) Your last day upon Tairos ends with the last beat of your heart
2) Seek not the whispers of the desert
3) Only a master can invoke the energies of death
4) Corruptions of our art must not be allowed to torment the living
5) The living cannot be allowed to torment the peaceful dead
6) No life can be taken without cause
Very defensible against non-undead armies due to desert location, undead legions
Industry & Trade
Magical items are the primary interest other nations have in Baradrad. Currently, Baradradi fashions of interest to high society in Ghal Pelor.
The Undead Legions, Undead Labor Force, Magical relics and knowledge from the college of magic, aqueducts
Guilds and Factions
House Odred, House Silthair, House Auloro, House Fein, House Blackthorn, House Addler and House Crane are the most prominent families among the Noble Houses of Baradrad.
The hive-collective that is the Parliament of Ghosts rules Skyrir. Many sapient undead that dwell in the Scorch serve the Parliament out of loyalty or fear.
Original Baradari architecture was notable for its mausoleum-like great halls, tall limestone towers and stepped or flat-sided pyramid structures. When the exiles restored the city they brought with them Balmoran Melanthrinite styles common to the regions they were exiled from.
Hot, desert location with rolling dunes and rocky plateaus
Whatever natural resources the original city had they have long since burned away.