The most cunning of mortal spellcasters inevitably seek to extend their lifespan beyond its natural limits, but few have the strength of will to endure the excruciating path to immortality. Over decades, they suffuse their own bodies with necromantic energies, withering flesh, hollowing bones, and blackening organs. As their bodies slowly wane, these nascent Liches learn to sustain and control themselves through magick alone. Once the fetters of their flesh have sufficiently decayed, they can willfully project their souls into a ritual vessel. It is the binding of soul and phylactery that marks the birth of a true Lich, now capable of reconstituting its physical form, should ever it be destroyed, as a portion of its soul remains forever fused with its phylactery.
Liches are the only undead that create themselves, and while this process leaves their bodies frail, they command devastating magickal forces. Through their extensive study of the occult, and intimate knowledge of death, these elite spellcasters can conjure and compel lesser undead on the battlefield, call plagues and pestilence upon the living, or even wield otherworldly spirits as spectral ordinance. Those that are slain by Liches often find that their suffering has only begun, as their corpses soon rise again to march against their former allies, or their souls are consumed to empower the very magick that struck them down.
Within Deadhaus itself, most Liches put their vast knowledge to work as advisers or researchers, preferring to pursue in death what they did in life–the Truth. Secret truths, forbidden knowledge, in defiance of dogma, they delve ever deeper. Undying, unable to cease their search, they commit to memory what mortals would need libraries to contain. But it is never enough.
Chronicles of the Grand Inquisitor
The Empire is fighting a war we cannot win against a foe we do not understand. Deadhaus is composed of many variants of undead, each possessing unique qualities, but precise intelligence on these creatures is scarce. It is therefore my honor to devote my efforts to the study of our greatest foe, and these writings shall be a record of my strategies, encounters, and discoveries. With any luck, I may uncover something to turn the tide of war in favor of the living. Long live the Emperor! Long live Thacea!
– Alaric von Beller, Grand Inquisitor of the Thacean Empire
Of Liches – 1
Second of Medilun, in the year 218 after Deadhaus
Long have I studied the dead in service of the Empire, for in the war with Deadhaus, knowledge is mankind’s greatest weapon. Some cling to the gods, yet it was these very gods that allowed this evil to befall us. No, it is only we who must deliver ourselves; only by our cunning will mankind prevail. And so I search, from battlefield to battlefield, through fen and moor and mountain. I observe, I record, I collect. Tools and weapons have been crafted from my research, antidotes and salves derived from my reports. Yet for all my years of study, there is still so much I fail to understand.
I was in the Sunken Woods, this time alone. I had come to gather reagents, forgoing an escort in favor of a swifter journey. I thought it unlikely to encounter any undead so far north, none that could have managed to slip past our sentries in broad daylight without alarm. This complacency nearly cost me my life, and by extension, the lives of so many more.
Having packed my satchel with all it could carry, I readied to depart the Sunken Woods when at once a bluish glow cut through the gloom. I knew this light, had seen it before, and so knew not to gaze upon it directly. It was a Will-O’-Wisp, a spirit of the marshes. From my satchel I took a mirror and tilted it to find the wandering orb that lit the Sunken Woods. But I found something else.
A corpse was suspended above the flooded ground. My heart lurched, and I took cover behind a tree. Its presence meant that one or more sentries were dead, and yet no alarm sounded. It looked to be centuries old, a shriveled husk wrapped in a gossamer burial shroud. One arm, stunted and deformed, clutched an unlit lantern to the dead thing’s chest. The other hung at its side. It hovered, unmoving, and gazed upon the Will-O’-Wisp. Slowly, the arm at its side rose and pointed at the spirit.
What I recount now, I can only guess at. Through the mirror, I saw the orb of the Will-O’-Wisp begin to waver and shift closer to the corpse. It seemed as if the spirit was compelled by some soundless command, and though it struggled against the call, ultimately its form dissolved into swirling fires that streamed into the lantern. Now the lantern was set alight with the same blueish glow of the spirit, a luminous prison.
The corpse lowered its arm. Slowly, its sunken face turned in my direction. I whipped back around the tree, holding my breath. As carefully as I could, I peeked the mirror out to glance around the trunk. In its reflection, I saw the corpse drifting soundlessly toward me. Its head, usupported by ligaments, lulled to one side. I bolted from my cover as fast as the swampy ground allowed, but my thoughts were overwhelmed, as if a hundred voices had begun to whisper at once.
My legs felt as if they were made of wood, and my sprint soon came to a halt. I knew it was getting closer behind me, but even with all my fear, all my will, I could only just barely move my toes. Then the whispers receded, and a single voice, like a whispering sigh, spoke as if from my own mind.
“Come,” it commanded. I felt my body turning to face the dead thing. Like the Will-O’-Wisp, I tried to fight it, but my struggle only delayed the inevitable. The corpse drifted nearer, its arm outstretched toward me, and as it drew close, I felt my skin deaden and my blood grow cold. “Come,” it repeated. Even as I write this, I can remember how part of me wanted nothing more than to obey the call, as if the part of myself that remained to me had been pushed into a tiny corner of my own mind.
I could feel that my face was stretched into a scream, but no sound escaped me. As the dead thing hovered just before me, my muscles seized, twisting my upper body and drawing my limbs in toward my own chest. And so I stood there, hands frozen in claw-like clutch, permeated by the presence of that… thing.
It reached out with two desiccated fingers and touched them against my locked-open eyes. I did not feel the contact, but I did feel… I saw a vision. Briefly, I saw myself, as if I were looking through the eyes of the dead thing, saw my paralyzed body, wracked with terror, twisted, frozen in a silent scream. And then, when my own vision returned to me, the dead thing was gone. The warmth slowly returned to my limbs, though they ached from their unnatural contraction.
I fled the Sunken Woods. This was three days ago, yet I have not been able to sleep. Perhaps recording this event will let me rest… but what was it? What was it doing in the Sunken Woods? Why did it trap the Will-O’Wisp? Was it perhaps there for similar reasons as myself? Was it gathering reagents? What did it do to me? I fear to seek counsel on this… I will self-observe, monitor any changes. But for now, I must try to sleep. I hope that I do not dream.
– Alaric von Beller, Grand Inquisitor of the Thacean Empire
Unlike most other undead, Banshees were not once part of the realm of the living. They did not once draw breath, nor were their spirits ever bound by flesh and bone. They are wholly native to the realm of the dead.