Plague of Undeath

There's a future where all that's left is hunger and ragged husks. And we'll wander the dust fields forever, in pursuit of flesh long since driven to extinction.
 
The Plague of Undeath is one of the most pivotal and cataclysmic events in the history of Tairos. What began as a simple act of betrayal in a centuries' old struggle for power in Melanthris would spiral out of control and become responsible for an infestation of Undead the likes of which had not been seen since the days of The Empire of Skyrir. No disaster in the history of Tairos has been as persistent and horrific as the Plague. And, worse yet, there is no end in sight.
 

Desperate Origins

The Plague of Undeath's origins truthfully tie back to another of Tairos' greatest events, the Fang Crusades. During the war against the Ximezci a number of desperate paths had to be taken by The Grand Concordance of Tairos if victory was to be made possible. One such path was the path of Necromancy. The College of Necromancy was a very different thing from what modern citizens of Tairos might imagine such an organization to be. Necromancy at the time was tied strictly to life magic. It dealt with healing, curing disease, speaking with spirits, and enhancing living beings. It was an evolution of the living magic practiced ages ago by shamans of the Totems Spirits of Balance but more ordered and codified. And, while these talents made them valuable as battlefield medics it did little to better the Concordance's chance of success.
 
Leaders within the Concordance began looking for more extreme measures to combat their enemy and many of these efforts led to increasingly dark places. The College of Evocation began harvesting elemental begins to fuel deadlier spells or enslaving such creatures to their will. The armies of Melanthris would conscript bordertown militias into their ranks only to use them as sacrificial pawns in their military strategy. Even Balmoral had to made painful decisions between assigning military numbers to protect their colonies near Orc territories or commit them to the frontlines in The Serpent Lands. The College of Necromancy's sin was chosen for them. Much of the basic workings of magic practiced at the time came from ancient texts left behind from an age long forgotten. Some of it crafted by ancient shamans or small nations with name's lost to time. However, the vast majority of magic's structure came from single source, even though most who practice it were unaware. The Empire of Skyrir.
 
So vast was the Empire and so varied were its many distant regions that it was impossible students of the Colleges of Magic to know that they were mostly studying knowledge from a single source. The leaders of the College knew that the magic the Necromancers used but a small portion of what must exist in their deepest reliquaries. By their command the Necromancers were forced to join the war on the front lines and to bring with them the full potential of their magic. In these text that had remained locked and buried away was the truth behind the magic of every college. The depraved, horrific truth that only a handful of people across Tairos knew was now coming to light. In the Concordance's desperation the forced the Necromancers to continue to dig deeper while making sure none of the truth about magic's origins would see the light of day. And the Necromancers did not need to dig to deeply to find the weapon the Concordance needed to win the war.
 
Undeath
 
Fallen armies were brought back from death and forced to fight again, over and over, until their corpses were too ragged to carry on. The souls that wandered the battlefields on their way to the afterlife were drafted into the war effort and forced to fight but each skirmish would erode a portion of their sanity till only rabid, life hungry, specters remained. Withering plagues haunted the land and toxic sickness dripped in the mouth of every walking corpse. And while all of this made a great difference in turning the tide against the serpents it was also concealed from the rest of the Concordance's army. None were proud of what depths they had to sink to in order to win and many feared that the truth of all this would cause unrest all through the homelands. Like many of the wartime atrocities committed in the name of victory the sins of the Necromancers remained hidden. For a time, anyway.



 

Virulent Betrayal

 
It would be impossible for most of the people of Tairos to fathom the true beginnings of the Plague. Most who know their history would tell that the School of Necromancy, in their thirst for power, unleashed the undead on the land and betrayed their loyalty to the Concordance. This is a simply story that's easy to understand. None could imagine that such horror and loss of life on scale impossible to imagine was in fact rooted in a dispute between brothers for the crown of Melanthris.
 
Erondil and Vaydin Sorolwyn both saw the approaching twilight of their father's life and both believed that the part Melanthris had played in Tairos' history needed to change. Erondil believed that the elves had remained far too passive and isolated, and that their reputation as well as their power in Tairos had suffered for it. Vaydin also so isolation as a problem but believed the inequity of magic across all kingdoms needed to change for the better.
 
As their father continued to decline each of the brothers retreated into their personal pursuits. Erondil became obsessed with many of the relics pulled from the temples in the Serpent Lands but none more so than a large mirror that seemed to whisper to him all the truths he alone had already accepted. Truths about his righteousness, about the importance of the elven people and their rightful place as the architects of destiny. Vaydin turned to the Necromancers. He himself was a scholar and scientist when it came to matters of the arcane and he believed that as nightmarish as the toolsof Skyrir were that beneath them was still the essence of life. And that life was the purest power.
 
Vaydin sought to help the Necromancers bury the Skyriran veil and reinvent Necromacy. The first step in that process would be to create something called the Elixir of Life, a tincture that if drunk would remove all illness, all injury, and even roll back the ravages of age on those that drank it. With that goal in mind the School of Necromancy moved into an estate in the Balmoran colony of Frial and began their work. Meanwhile, Erondil remained in Melanthris where his mirror told him that Vaydin and his followers were sequestered away creating gifts for the already-ungrateful peasants of the land. The support Vaydin would garner for pandering to them would force their father to choose him as the successor, or so the mirror promised. Using this augury Erondil lept to action
 
The Necromancers' estate and warehouse factory were attacked by Erondil and his followers in the dead of night. They wanted Erondil dead and his Necromancer allies discredited. To that end they hired mercenary magicians and gave to them some of the secret texts used by the necromancers during the Fang Crusade so that they might raise a small troupe of undead. Once the attack was underway Erondil ordered the undead be released from inside the estate and allowed to roam the streets of Frial to cause panic. Meanwhile, Erondil and confronted his brother in the warehouse factory where the Elixir of Life was being worked on. Erondil ordered the mercenary mages to infuse the experiments here with Skyriran magic, poisoning the efforts and providing "evidence" to support the necromancers' crimes. They then lit the entire estate on fire. Vaydin stayed with the lab along with a few loyal Necromancers trying to salvage some of the Elixir of Life but it was in vain. The lab's now toxic contents proved unstable and quickly exploded, taking the life of the prince, his followers, and consuming most of the estate as well.
 
While this would cement Erondil's path to kingship and vilify the School of Necromancy it would have an unexpected and terrible consequence to pay. The estate burned for days on end with its acrid fumes dance across the winds of the Balmoran plains. The fires would spread to other nearby buildings in the city and the waters the fire brigade used to halt the spread would carry toxic runoff into the sewers below and connecting waterways. Evocation mages would work to create rainstorms to quell the relentless flames in the estate ruin unaware their efforts were spreading the impending disaster into the earth itself.
 
So began the Plague of Undeath



 

Height of Contagion

 
In the aftermath of the estate fire the Necromancers became the enemy of the people and Melanthris was praised for bringing their betrayal to light. Exile was the punishment chosen by the leaders of the Concordance, thus casting the necromancers into the desert of the Scorchland. These spurned wizards and their followers would later go on to found the nation of Baradrad but those that refused exile became criminals forced to retreat to the outskirts of civilization.
 
The Plague was gathering strength now and the few early manifestations were just assumed to be attacks by rogue necromancers or curses left behind by the exiles. A handful of shambling corpses here, sudden haunting there and other similar occurrences were all early warning signs that most mis-attributed to the Necromancers or to unrelated incidents. However, even several years after the last of the willing Necromancers had finally crossed into the desert these events were becoming more and more frequent and wide-spread. First, simple creatures such as zombies became a more frequent sight. Ancient battlefields were stirring to life, especially those in the Serpent Lands where scores of lives were lost in the fighting. Ghouls were born during this time as well from isolated townships where the drinking water and food supply became infected by the plague winds or necromantic rainfall. Powerful specters were finding themselves unshackled from the manses they haunted and set loose upon the world. Stranger undead soon emerged as the plague took root in different regions and mutated from the original strain. Will-o-wisps seemed to rise from forest spirits slain by the undead. In the north near Frostmere the burial crypts belonging the heroes of their were bursting open and warrior undead known as wights began stalking the tundra for victims to feed upon. Incorporeal threats once seen only in derelict tombs such as Shadows, Wraiths, and Banshees were becoming normal occurrences in local cemeteries.
 
The dead were not the only ones that could become host to the Plague. Terrible diseases such as the Wrack began cropping up as well, slowly transforming the living into the hungry dead.
 
Perhaps the greatest threat born of the Plague is that of Vampirism. While many strains cropped up throughout the land it is north, in Frostmere, where the disease became truly infamous. Likely because of how densely packed Frostmere's population centers are due to the severity of their weather and spare availability of resources. Vampires fed, sired more of their kind through accident or out of fear, and the sought to remain hidden from the humans they once called kin. They also had the advantage of northern winters on their side should they have to abandon their feeding grounds. Snow would cover their tracks and freezing winds stall all but the most zealous of hunters. Entire clans or bloodlines of vampires would soon emerge. The Plague seemed particularly mutable within vampires and would lead to families with widely differing boons and flaws further complicating the duty of a hunter. Rumors even began to stir about truly powerful vampires who seemed like lords over their lesser git. Some even say that Erondil's brother was not only among these lords but a master above even them.
 


 

Remission

 
The many priests of Gods proved to be the most effective innoculation against the Plague's spread. Their divine magic was able to sunder undead and purity the sickness from infected sites. Their organizations also had vast resources to bring to bear in the form of holy warriors. Paladins were sworn into service in numbers thought unthinkable outside of the Fang Crusades. Many of the paladins that would survive their first charges would go on to form holy orders of their own.
 
Many nations and independent cities formed their own traditions specializing in the persecution of the dead such as Balmoral'ss Codex Pentaros, the Frostmerite Death Hunters, and gnomish ghost trappers. Aside from these traditions countless mercenary bands and "family businesses" emerged all focused on remedying the undead one way or another.
 
After centuries of suffering the efforts to suppress the undead began to eclipse the speed of their spread. Soon, undead sightings became rare in civilized areas and later many would associate rumors of undeath with regions too backwater, dangerous, or distant to be concerned with. Most believe the Plague to be one of the many horrors of the past; something that has been dealt with permanently and only lingering remnants might remain. This is a very dangerous ignorance to embrace.
 
Even now the Plague of Undeath still lingers in the land, hiding in the far-away places and lurking in the veins of every dead thing that walks in the shadows. The mutation that evolve are becoming more and more resistant to the old magics that kept them at bay and thanks to The Queen's Rebuke there is no new magic to fight them. Many scholars believe a new pandemic is waiting around the corner and the apocalyptic end it will bring to an inevitability.

Manifestation

Many of the "spontaneous" occurrences of undead activity across Tairos are in fact directly related to the Plague of Undeath. Some carrier of a strain or sudden exposure to the toxic seepage that caused the Plague will act as the inciting incident that sparks these events or the catalyst that makes a current undead threat suddenly much worse.

Localization

Undead threats that arise from the Plague will often remain localized so long as the creatures have a steady source of energy to feed on (be it living matter or death energy). Once that source begins to wane undead will begin to break away and seek out new feeding grounds, thus spreading the disease further.

Type
Metaphysical, Arcane


Cover image: Plague of Undeath by Antti Hakosaari

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