There are many methods of twisting the natural order of life and death, each producing their own form of undeath, but few are so intricate or precarious as the binding of a wraith. Viable candidates must be strong in body and mind, lest either should fail before the ritual is complete. It also helps, but is by no means necessary, that these candidates submit themselves willingly, yet once they have, no amount of pleading can set them free.
For days, their bodies are mutilated, bringing them ever closer to the release they so desperately crave, but death is withheld from them. It is only once their soul straddles the boundary between worlds that the binding can begin. In this medial state, their soul is ensnared in accursed chains that prevent its crossing to the world of the dead. Trapped between realms, the tormented soul thrashes against its bindings, which only tighten as it struggles. Those that can endure this interdimensional shearing are irrevocably suspended between worlds, forevermore existing in both, but belonging to neither.
Deathless and disjointed, they drift as shadows, silent but for the clinking of their cursed chains. When manifesting a physical presence, wraiths appear as little more than empty cloaks, but in their ethereal form, these hollow shrouds are filled with the spectral glow of torturous power. And through this power may they bind foe to foe, forcing one to share the pain of another. Deadhaus wields these shadowy beings as spies and assassins, and so their presence means either that Deadhaus is watching, or that someone specific is going to die in exquisite agony.
OF WRAITHS – I
Sixth of Zephus, in the year 218 after Deadhaus
I fear that Deadhaus has become aware of my presence. What happened tonight was not mere happenstance, nor the result of being on the front lines. This time, the dead sought me out directly. This time, they sent an assassin.
The Emperor had recalled me to Thacea for a war council, and it was within the very walls of the capital that I was assailed. Night had fallen when I arrived, and a pair of Praetorians awaited me at the gates with a cart. Having ridden so long to reach the city, I told the guards I preferred to walk. They were under orders to accompany me, which I found needless, but the war has driven the Emperor ever more paranoid.
We set out toward the imperial palace together, with either guard wielding torches to light the way. The market district was quiet, except for our footfalls. Its empty stalls stood strewn with shadows. As we passed a darkened alleyway, there came a distant clinking. The Praetorians immediately halted. We listened together, and the metallic rattle drew closer.
“Who goes there?” a Praetorian demanded.
“Show yourself, in the name of the Emperor!” The other said. There was no answer, and the sound fell still. Suddenly, the hair on the back of my neck stood on end… it felt as if an icy wind blew straight through my flesh. The two torches snuffed out, and the sharp ring of steel sounded as the guards drew their blades, moving between myself and the alley.
It came forward then, emerging from the shadows as if it was made from them, barely distinguishable. A black and tattered cloak obscured its features, completely shrouding the figure beneath… and yet it seemed as if there was no figure beneath. No legs carried the entity, no head was discernible from within its hood, no hands emerged from the sleeves. The cloak was filled by the shape of something vaguely human, but at the same time, empty. It both existed and did not exist. It was a Wraith.
“Undead!” a Praetorian shouted. The Wraith held out its arms, or rather its sleeves, and chains dangled from the folds of its cloak, clinking against one another. This clinking was the only sound it made as it suddenly swept forward. One Praetorian thrust his sword into its cloak, but struck nothing. No tear was made in the fabric, and he gasped as the Wraith passed directly through his body. As it emerged from the guard’s back, a shadowy chain ran between them, extending as the Wraith pitched forward.
The second Praetorian swung his blade in a wide arc that would have severed the head of any tangible being, but the weapon found no purchase, and the Wraith passed through him, now linking both guards and itself in ethereal chains. It was headed directly for me, completely indifferent to the guards. But I was prepared. I drew a flask from my satchel and shook it. Had I thrown it directly at the Wraith, I have no doubt that it would have passed through its insubstantial form, and I would not be writing these words now. So instead, I threw it at its feet, or where they would have been if it had any.
The flask burst in a blaze of green fire. To this, the Wraith was not immune. A terrible shrieking, far above the pitch and strength of mortal voices, echoed from within the folds of its cloak as the alchemical fires enveloped it.
“Go now!” a guard shouted. “Get to the palace while you still can!” I stumbled backwards as the Wraith howled, a flailing blaze of emerald. I retrieved another flask, in case it should pursue me, and then I fled. That Wraith had been sent directly for me, of that I have no doubt. It didn’t even react to the guards, just passed through them to reach its true target. I always suspected it was only a matter of time before this happened; I’ve interfered with Deadhaus for too long to go unnoticed. But to know exactly where I would be that night is no ordinary feat of reconnaissance… perhaps there are informants among us… perhaps the Emperor is right to be paranoid.
I was able to reach the safety of the palace walls, where no dead thing dares to tread for what lies within. The next day, the Praetorians were found in the market, still in their armor, but somehow entirely flayed. Their bodies were retrieved and now reside in my laboratory. A series of cuts, well over a hundred, are marked across their exposed muscles, but most unusual is that these cuts are identical, the same locations, the same patterns exactly… and yet every one of these wounds was inflicted before the men died. I hope my analysis may reveal some secret as to how this was done, for this is all the material I have to work with. Their skins were never found.
– 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.