This is part of a series of short stories that Lilith is releasing for AFK Arena on Facebook. It’s mainly for people that want to learn more about the lore of Esperia.
The Origins of the Graveborn
Part I: The Birth of Necromancy
The world of the dead has been without supervision since Annih walked away from his duties in pursuit of blasphemous conquest. More and more, the long-slumbering souls have begun to wake up. Their eagerness to return to the world of the living can only be described as a ravenous hunger.
Among them is a particularly ancient soul, known as Quaedam. An ambitious and powerful mage in life, he lived in a long-forgotten age where magic made men like unto gods. He longs to show these primitive mortals what real magic is. Over the ages, he has used his rich arcane knowledge to experiment with the laws of life and death, slowly finding a way to reliably cross the boundary into the lands of the living.
The initial joy of success was quickly dampened as he took notice of his current form: he was not human again, merely a wandering spirit, out of place in the living world. Anyone he came across would surely greet him with fear and hate.
Quaedam quickly realized that to regain a place of status in this world, he would not be able to do so by earning love and respect. No, he would have to carve out a place for himself, inspiring loyalty through terror. Taking refuge in a deep, ancient tomb, he continued to explore how to harness the power of the underworld through magic. Centuries passed spent tirelessly experimenting with the barrier between the worlds of the living and the dead. Over time, the resentment of the deceased became power at his fingertips.
The souls of the angry dead were his to use. He made pacts with the most powerful and hungry souls, granting them new life in exchange for their undying loyalty. In all but name, Quaedam became the new ruler of the underworld, with absolute power and dominion over the souls of the dead.
Having given birth to this new form of magic, Quaedam set about quietly spreading his knowledge of necromancy throughout the living world.
Greed is the soft underbelly of all mortals. Since time immemorial, mortals have sought to escape their inevitable fate, their efforts always for naught. With the “discovery” of necromancy, mortals found themselves offered a new option: Embrace death, and accept a “new life” in a slightly different form.
Slowly but surely, the living began to explore this new form of magic, resurrecting all manner of dead beings. The undead, brought back by necromancers, had what was essentially eternal life, and took to it in a mindset not unlike a hive mind. Most Graveborn, as they are now known, come back as mindless creatures, lacking any will of their own. They are like worker bees, driven by the commands of more powerful undead. These commanding Graveborn, while sentient, are still mere drones, passing on orders that come from an even higher power.
Quaedam, ruler of this hive mind, exercises complete power over all souls of the dead which have been brought back, for it is only through a pact of allegiance to him that they are allowed to cross over. He is nowhere, yet he is everywhere, seeing at all times through the eyes of every Graveborn.
To the living world, Quaedam is a rumor, a dark legend whispered of only in the darkest corners. Quaedam is always watching for powerful, ambitious mortals who might be persuaded to join his army of the dead. It is said the last sight of living beings sworn to him as they die is of his deep, terrifying, evil gaze. A penetrating gaze which sees deep in their hearts, to the corrupting greed upon which he preys. The last thing they hear is Quaedam’s voice, offering them eternal life in exchange for their soul. To those under his control, he is the Lord of Fear.
Though his numbers grew with each passing day, Quaedam knew that faith in the gods was strong in the current age, and strong opposition to his every known move a certainty. With this in mind, he continued to bide his time, amassing his forces and watching for the right time to strike. Quaedam had waited tens of thousands of years for this opportunity; another century or two was nothing to him.
Part II: The Fall of Bantus
Esperia has been home to many civilizations aside from the Lightbearers. Among these was once the Bantus Empire, located in what we now call King’s Manse. This empire was established by the Lenu people thousands of years ago and rose rapidly through brutal military expansion. And as all great empires rise, so do they fall. After centuries of tyrannical rule, numerous and bloody power struggles ate away at the empire from within. In the end, all that remained was a land of empty cities, ruled by evil spirits.
The Lenu people originally lived as nomads. They were fierce and brave, resolving all disputes through force. At this point, the Lenu people were not unlike their neighbors, a tribe of bloodthirsty barbarians. Later, the various tribes of the Lenu were unified in war. They built immense fortresses surrounded by strong walls, establishing the Bantus Empire.
Even after settling down, the Lenu could not overcome their violent nature. It seems that Bantus has always had a reverence for death. It was an obsession which permeated every aspect of society. The Lenu believed death in battle was the embrace of glory, and death by natural causes an unthinkable shame.
This fixation on death and violence manifested in many ways. While the ruling class saw fit to educate everyone in their empire, it was an education in war and battle. Bantus was the ultimate militaristic nation. From the very beginning, it existed in a constant state of war, always seeking to expand by conquering neighboring territories. The rulers promoted these attitudes towards death and combat in order to keep their people focused on and in favor of their never-ending war. Countless naive youths found death in pursuit of glory, their lives offered up in meaningless sacrifice to a twisted sense of honor.
During the centuries of its reign, the Bantus Empire was perpetually in wars of conquest. Even in short periods of truce, it was simply refueling for the next war.
The rulers of the empire exercised ruthless and harsh military control, and almost all resources and labor were devoted to the military. In this country, anything and everything was allowed, provided it aided the war effort. Seeking to gain every possible advantage, the empire abandoned all thought of morality and ethics, heedlessly pursuing any source of power within reach. It is only natural that they eventually turned to necromancy.
This was the opportunity Lord Quaedam was waiting for. For centuries, he patiently watched the Lenu as they evolved from bloodthirsty nomads into a fearsome empire. When the Bantus Empire began experimenting with necromancy, he already had countless servants in place at all levels of society, slowly preparing the Bantus Empire to bend to their master’s will.
The Empire, with its special affection for death, became a hotbed of necromancy, the latest trend in their pursuit of greater might. They made good use of necromancy in war. Those who sacrificed their lives for the Empire did not rest after death. They were resurrected as Graveborn soldiers, and continued to fight for the Empire until they could be used no more.
Despite their culture of worshiping death and war, the people of Bantus eventually tired of constant fighting. They no longer wished to live in a land riddled with needless death, and their eventual fate as undead foot soldiers. Adding to their unrest were the huge taxes and long hours of work needed to support the military. Glory was well and good, but the people began to wonder when all the centuries of conquest and plundering would finally bring about actual improvements to their daily lives.
Numb to war and death, exhausted from endless labor, and taxed into constant poverty, an atmosphere of despair settled over the Empire. With no hope of a better life, many began to openly curse their Lenu ancestors for setting them on this path.
While many rulers within the empire took notice of this change, few had the courage to consider change, and fewer still to speak of it. This all changed, however, when Thoran took the throne.
Thoran was a visionary who saw the effect constant war was having on his people. It would take dramatic change to guarantee the survival of the Empire. So he implemented a number of huge reforms. He advocated for peace, committing to reconciliation with neighboring countries, and ending feuds that had lasted for many generations. By avoiding wars whenever possible, he was able to reduce military spending dramatically, and in turn relieve his people of their tax burden. But the real reason his people loved him was for allowing so many soldiers to return to their wives and children. At the same time, Thoran saw the malign influence necromancy had on his people, and banned its use entirely. A land plagued by numbness and despair found hope for the first time in living memory.
While Thoran’s reforms made him beloved by his people, it also made him the enemy of all necromancers, and most of the aristocracy. Faced with the end of their way of life, a cabal of the ruling class began planning to remove Thoran from power. They secretly supported and funded Thoran’s younger brother Edwin, and launched a coup during a big feast.
After hours of fighting, Thoran was killed. His most loyal guard, Gareth, was also struck down in the fray. As he drew his final breaths, he heard the chilling voice of Lord Quaedam. In order to avenge his king, Gareth made a pact with Quaedam, and was born again as Grezhul. A relentless killing machine, he slew Edwin’s rebellion to a man, and then took Thoran’s body from the palace.
All of this was part of Quaedam’s plan. He then convinced Grezhul that despite Thoran’s aversion of necromancy, the people needed their king. Thoran, benevolent in life, was overcome by resentment and suspicion as a Graveborn. His noble soul was forever corrupted, and he has served Quaedam faithfully ever since. Thoran made quick use of the new powers Quaedam gave him, moving from cemetery to cemetery, calling forth every soul therein to join his army of the dead.
The Empire was thrown into complete chaos by the coup. With the king and his brother both dead, there was no clear ruler, and the aristocracy descended into a long, bloody struggle which left the throne vacant for many years.
Its foundations crumbling, the empire was on the brink of collapse. Seeing their longtime enemy in disarray, neighboring countries began invading from all sides, seeking to carve up the empire between them. With no unified force to stop them, their armies slowly made their way toward the capital.
Upon hearing of Thoran’s death, the people were thrown into despair, for with their ruler died their hope of peaceful lives. The end of the Empire was clearly at hand. This was also part of Quaedam’s plans. He knew the fragility of the human spirit. He knew that when faced with disaster, mortals turned toward the supernatural for aid and comfort. He was ready to offer both, for a price. Quaedam’s followers began to publicly spread their doctrine of death and nihilism, further inspiring despair and desperation in the hearts of all. With nothing else to turn to, the people reverted to their worship of death and combat. More and more, people began to openly worship Quaedam.
The fight for the throne among the aristocracy went on for years and years. Fighting a losing battle against invaders from all sides, the Imperial Army slowly gave ground. Eventually, the foreign armies reached the Imperial City.
Faced with impending slaughter, thousands made desperate pacts with Quaedam, selling their souls for a promise of rebirth. The few who remained steadfast made futile prayers to the gods for salvation.
As the invaders were about to break into the city, Thoran returned to his home, a horrifying army of Graveborn at his back. He wasted no time in slaughtering the fools who dared invade his land.
While the invaders had many soldiers, they were living creatures of flesh and blood. The same could not be said of the Graveborn, who were incredibly difficult to kill, shrugging off what should have been fatal wounds like they were nothing.
Terrified and demoralized, the invaders’ siege was broken quickly. Looking on from the walls, the surviving mortals of the empire saw their Graveborn saviors, and their reverence for undeath was forever secured. Opening the city gates, many rushed out to join in the slaughter of their would-be conquerors.
With the invaders expelled, the Fallen King Thoran once again took the throne. He ruled in the name of Quaedam, forcing all mortals in the empire to make the pact of undeath with his master. Before long, the Bantus Empire was made up entirely of Graveborn.
Ever since, the Bantus Empire has been a kingdom of the dead, lost to the shadow forever.