The desire for prolonged or even eternal life has occupied the minds of many a magician. It has inspired, ruined or even utterly destroyed most of those who attempted to fulfill it as they as they tried all kinds of means to get just a step closer to the revelation of the mystery of life itself and use that knowledge for their own purposes. Well, undeniably there have been successes in the field, yet they come with a price: Through a mixture of arcane necromantic rituals, enhanced by dabblings in witchcraft, shamanism and mysticism, truly powerful spellcasters indeed are known to have accomplished that very goal they've been striving for - and turned themselves into a creature that is magically kept alive: a Lich (Styrásh "Mésh'del'aéy", short for "móh éseh'delaéy", lit. "Dark False-Mage").
|Image description. A necromancer's beloved wife, brought back from the dead... Picture drawn by Faugar.|
This can happen by unnaturally prolonging the
lifespan and slowly turning undead or after being resurrected through
magical intervention by an artifact's power. Then, unlike other undead creatures, which are often just animated
beings serving the will of others, Liches represent a form of a living corpse
capable of sustaining themselves in their undead state. Possessing a twisted, but sound magician's
mind, they are aware of the source which prolongs their existence, and thus can protect it.
Furthermore they can learn, improve and still cast powerful
magic. Often Liches are seen as commanders of other undead creatures and the
only way to annihilate them is to target the magical source keeping them in this
unholy corporeal limbo between life and death.
Appearance. While appearing cadaverous, desiccated or even skeletal on the outside with obvious similarities to mindless zombiis or animated skeletons, Liches are anything but creatures who merely follow orders of their master. Quite on the contrary - most often they are the ones who surround themselves with other undead to do their bidding, helping to focus on their primary goal, which is to stay alive, or more precisely: undead. Despite the lack of a functioning brain, an undead Lich still has a mind and even a soul, which he or she refuses to part with. With this considerable advantage over other undeads a Lich can choose where to stay, what protection measures he/she deems essential, which creatures need to be summoned to help in that process, yes even simple decisions of how the Lich dresses and equips himself/herself are entirely up to the undead being. All these are things zombiis and animated skeletons are incapable of - they rather react to distant memories invoked by their master, which makes dead soldiers grab a sword, slam it against an opponent or shoot arrows in case they were former archers. They also pick their own head up - should it become lost in heated battle - as an echo to a former conviction that losing one's head should be avoided at any cost.
undead, and thus appear undead, one needs to be dead first. While this may sound
obvious, the borderline cannot be drawn easily for Liches. Some manage to
prolong their lives unnaturally through magical means and they look dead while
still alive, others allow a powerful artifact they're always wearing to trigger
their own resurrection - or let others do that job (often - you might have
guessed - it's not that easy!). After the inconvenience of having to deal with
one's own death, the Lich will take over and get to the main task of sustaining
the fragile existence on his or her own. How said existence is still aware of
itself, when that process begins and what it needs to do to maintain itself varies greatly from case to case. It all depends on what dark arts
the spellcaster practises and how unholy practices are combined. At any rate
there's no general receipt. Often Liches are said to store life aura (what the
elves call the "cár'áll") in powerful objects
translated "life vessels") like amulets, rings, even
enchanted weapons or armour, from which they later draw their energy.
But this is not always the case. Life aura can also be kept in inconspicuous
looking, rather tiny talismans, fetishes, periapts or charms, which makes them
more difficult to locate and identify for those who intend to annihilate a Lich
permanently. As once such an object is destroyed, the Lich's days are counted -
depending on the method of how the undead state is maintained it might mean that
the Lich perishes instantly or, under the best of circumstances, simply loses
the ability to prolong being undead, becoming weaker and weaker until the
creature eventually fades away.
Let's have a look now on the different ways to achieve becoming a Lich. The most common methods are as follow:
Auratic Dislocation of the Self
Some mages prepare these powerful artifacts already during their lifetime. They first imbue such specially prepared items with the cár'áll they magically extract from themselves to conduct all kinds of manipulations with it. This is meant to keep the aura fresh until the death of the mage when it is actually needed. Ximaxians often refer to that method as a "blood-letting" for the soul, or as archmage Adembrah recently put it in a humorous saying "until death they do part" - with their own life's essence that is, in order to still have some of it when the natural aura fades away. It should be noted at this point that the hope to prolong the natural lifespan in the described way often has the side effect that the mage rapidly loses the appearance of a regular mortal in the last year of his or her life, turning apparently "dislocated", making it difficult to discern even for scholars whether the mage has already passed the treshold of death or not.
Unlike the auratic dislocation, which is mainly a personal decision how to use one's own cár'áll, soulgrabbing is an active process at the costs of others. In this case the undead mage regularly sacrifices lives of mortals to feed the hunger of the object they've made assisting in storing these energies, in order to draw from them when needed. This of course requires constant repetition of this procedure to keep the Lich alive, and the longer it lasts, the more the mage will lose an own identity and become something else, an entirely uncontrollable creature. Unfortunately, soulgrabbing is the most common and unholy practice among necromancers.
A third group lays their undead life in the hands of others (or receives it from them involuntarily), thus being kept alive through means they cannot or aren't allowed to control themselves. More than once it has been reported for instance that insane mages attempted to preserve a recently deceased wife by turning them into a Lich... However, turning a person into a Lich in the hope of preserving a person's beauty is at any rate doomed to fail. (Wiser mages also take the position that a wife's nagging is enough for a single lifetime and one shouldn't unnecessarily push one's luck.) - It should also be made clear at this point that all these necromantic practices described above are strictly forbidden in Southern Sarvonia according to a decree issued by the Council for the Prevention, Exposure, and Punishment of Necromantic Machinations in Ximax shortly after the founding of the Santharian Kingdom.
|Image description. Clearly visible signs of zombification like swelled flesh, transfixed eyes become apparent at an attempted auratic dislocation of the self. Picture drawn by Seeker.|
But regardless where, how and why a Lich exists and in which stage of decay such a creature might present itself to the regular mortal, a Lich remains an undead being, who formerly was - most likely - a powerful mage. And as such has to be feared as an extremely dangerous opponent for anyone who has the misfortune to encounter one. Certainly, to actively seek a Lich would be unwise in the highest degree, since being killed by one might cost you nothing less than your soul. At least this is what many a horrible tale dealing with Liches has at its core: That one's soul might be damned, corrupted or eventually utterly destroyed by turning into something unspeakable which supports a creature that should never have been alive...
The fact that Liches achieve an unnatural, magically enforced prolongation of
their lifespan or have managed to be brought back from the dead, leaves no doubt
that they are powerful beings to begin with. Not only that: Prolonged life
devoid of the necessities mortals usually have to deal with, yet still with the
capability to travel, study, learn and improve, makes them an even more fearsome
creature - mages with arcane knowledge gathered over possibly multiple life times! Most
likely opposing the Gods' will to end their lives is just one major step in a
series of unholy progression in their state as undead. Religious and moral
concepts are soon lost to these creatures, being replaced with the determination
for survival. Indeed, to someone who can survive over centuries and considers
life's cár'áll as something to play with for their personal gain, the soul of another
mortal has little value other than to be used as a mere ingredient to feed
whatever magic is required to stay alive oneself.
By the way, speaking of the possible lifespans that undead Liches supposedly can reach: This is a matter heavily debated among scholars of the Academy, and opinions diverge considerably on the subject - one reason being the difficulty to measure the lives of Liches, as they survive researchers by far and have a tendency to hide in crypts or ancient dungeons most of the time. There's consensus at least that auratic dislocation as described above (where cár'áll is only used from one's own self) is considered to be among the most inefficient ways to turn into a Lich, however, a mage can still live a couple of years that way, maybe even dozens more than would be possible otherwise. Soulgrabbing and external preservation all really depend on the applied method, the quantities and qualities of the gathered cár'áll, the artifact used and/or substances added to make the process work, plus the general efficiency of the chosen arcane dark art to accomplish the goal. Some say a Lich might survive no more than a century, others claim that there's proof Liches already made it through whole millenia. The truth maybe lies somewhere in the middle of these extremes - chances are also that a Lich might cause a ruckus somewhere along his or her extended life and that not everything goes exactly as planned: like an unexpected deadly encounter of an undead with an actual living being, who is clever enough to put an end to the whole experiment...
Territory. The common traveller or even the adventuresome explorer very rarely gets into contact with such powerful creatures as Liches, as one usually won't find them out in the open unless there is a good reason for them to be there. Some occurrences have been reported during the Third Sarvonian War when the armies of Coór'Melór marched south into the civilized region south of the Tandalas, commanded in part by magically kept alive undead leaders. These Liches were most likely the product of orcish schamanism, maybe in conjunction with the legendary powers provided by the Coór'Melór, the reincarnation of the Dark One. But other than that only the occasional lost adventurer stepping into ancient ruins, graveyards, crypts or a crumbled wizards's tower might come across Liches, as they prefer the environment of dead corpses' cár'allía to keep themselves undead.
By the way, even Liches have to rest from time to time, especially when the power they draw their life-force from is running out and they have to return to a place or artifact to refresh their exhausted cár'áll. Thus: Be careful when opening a coffin in a forsaken place - you never know who's slumbering there, regaining strength to greet unexpected visitors...
|Image description. After a long deadly rest someone's being brought back from the dead, emerging from a crypt's coffin as a Lich... Picture drawn by Faugar.|
Why a mage decides to take the risk and refuse a natural death in order to trade
it for the uncertainty of an undead existence is everyone's guess. In many cases
a lifetime doesn't seem enough for a powerful mage to penetrate to the ultimate
secrets of life and magic, and the capabilities
that lie in the dark arts to help these ambitions a little sound tempting. The
dedication of mages to the matter of creating, of summoning and destroying lives
often leads to the fact that they become drunk on power, exerting a hubris that
won't stop at anything, not even the own self. Combine this with the need to
overcome own deficiencies, to acquire a long sought-after precious artifact, to
destroy an opponent once and for all - and it becomes apparent why mages are
prone to explore new ways of reaching their goals. Often these aspirations are
brought to a halt in time, but in some cases they produce shocking results. As
once the dabbling with necromancy has seriously begun the temptation often
overpowers the individual and the consequences become uncontrollable.
Liches always live on the brink of death, much more than any regular mortal, as they have already passed the ultimate threshold once, but are cheating death as long as they still can. They know that after the bonds to their undead life are severed once more, chances of resurrection become considerably slimmer (usually they then are utterly destroyed) - and what awaits their own soul on the other side as price for their hubris, this we dare not imagine. Priests of the most diverging beliefs however share the conviction that the prospects of a fulfilled afterlife are dim for such creatures. Liches cannot take that chance and have chosen to seek their salvation on the side of the mortals - as mortal they still are - and by doing so every single one of their actions shows their determination to gain and exert god-like powers. Thus they will put all their efforts into improving their magical capabilities even more over the centuries and - as history showed on a few occasions - eventually lead whole undead armies towards conquest, subjugation and enslavement of their enemies.
But make no mistake: The process of turning into a Lich has without a doubt greatly darkened the Lich's outlook on life and he has become a twisted, cruel shadow of his former self. Gone is the compassion, doubt, fear, mercy and love to be replaced by a focused mind, focused on those things that made the living person enter the transformation in the first place and which now constitutes the Lich's purpose of life. The Lich's intelligence and cunning are intact, and sharp, still able to concoct grand schemes and complex plans related to what keeps such a creature alive in the physical and the spiritual sense. Yet everything else is deemed unnecessary and superfluous to pursue - the life of a Lich is a life of a dead person and has little in common with how that person lived during its lifetime, even though it might often appear similar.
The Liches' only weakness is the channel through which they maintain their undead state - the artifact that has cár'áll stored in it from which the Lich draws his energy, or, depending on how the Lich was createrd, the incantations the undead needs to perform regularly to regain strength. However, a Lich of course takes solid precautions to keep others away from what provides his life source. The summoning of creatures from the Netherworlds is one of the main weapons used to defend an unholy sanctuary. Very often Liches soul-link other creatures to themselves, which they put before them in battle while in the meantime they build up destructive cár'áll. Upon the annihilation of a soul-linked creature the Lich can then release a tremendous backlash at the attacker, which they rarely survive. We repeat our warning to the reader not to engage in further research on this matter, but to strictly avoid encounters with Liches.
Diet. Liches in general are supposed to be incapable of eating and drinking as the regular necessities of a living body don't apply to a cadaver that is merely kept alive, mimicking existence as we know it. That is, provided the body which is transformed into a Lich is actually already dead and the life of the mage isn't just prolonged due to magical means. In the latter case a Lich might very well still be able to eat, drink or even mate, yet it is unlikely that such a half-dead creature can sustain its body without investing considerable magical assistance in it in order to support it. As far as is known the dark necromantic practices however focus on sustaining mind and soul rather than the body, as many undead just see it as a necessary link of their profound spiritual powers with existence, a means towards an end to prolong their sojourn on Caelereth.
Mating. Just as is the case with eating, mating has no place in the world of Liches. Rather these creatures are busy enough to keep themselves alive through magical means, and - depending on how the undead state was established in the first place - need to pay regular attention to that process, which is the more in danger of crumbling the longer it is maintained, in order to avoid perishing. For that purpose and additional protection a Lich often creates other helpers, such as servants in form of animated skeletons, zombiis and the like.
|Image description. The "Beast", the half-demon and vicious necromancer Ta Ivashi, the horror of Karthmor. Illustration by Quellion.|
While suspicions about necromancy - a practice forbidden by the
- abound, rarely do investigations find more than the occasional attempt to
animate some corpses from the local graveyard. Transformations into Liches on
the other hand, which only extremely powerful mages could accomplish anyway, are
even rarer and are not recorded in Ximaxian investigations, at least
not in Santharia. It may be the case, however, that findings are intentionally
covered up due to the severity of the matter. Thus most of the stories on the
subject are tales dealing with more remote places, date back in history quite a
while or are simply unconfirmed rumours, which Ximaxians would say "are just
hobbit tales" (according to one of the
current Xeuatáns and arcane historians at the Academy, Adembrah of Selidor).
One such myth that supposedly took place millennia ago in former Santharian lands was the tale of the "Beast" Ta Ivashi, a self-declared ruler of the Mithral region during the War of the Chosen. He is said to have fallen victim to an incurable deadly illness, which he "got rid of" (as some sources say, as if it would make things any better) by consulting the help of powerful wizards and alchemists, eventually turning into a necromancer himself. Ta Ivashi produced a crystal orb known as the "Soulcatcher".With the help of this artifact, he turned himself into a half man and half demon creature, a Lich for that matter, feeding on the souls of innocents to prolong his life. Even the lands around himself were drawn with him into the abyss: More and more people disappeared, meadows and forests withered during his reign in ancient Svanfrill, while Ta Ivashi's lust for life and domination became stronger and stronger, and his arrogance, self-indulgence, cruelty and ignorance unbearable to his subjects. Karthmor, his ancient fortress, became a place of evil, a black hole in the once thriving landscape, sucking all life into its gorge of darkness. The curse was only lifted on the day when Ta Ivashi was brought down by the joined forces of druids, Tethinrhim elves and mages, who formerly worked in his own employ.
Another story that should be mentioned here deals with the Thalambathian Arcanist Khaius Onderfaust, who was famous for his research on summoning, his connections to dark creatures of the Netherworlds and his paranoia later in life which more and more led to complete seclusion. In his last months it is reported that "his skin had become a mottled grey colour with eyes that were a yellowish hue instead of a rich brown", all possible indications that foul magic play might have been at work here, but accounts are unclear whether he had become a Lich already or was possessed by a mystran. At any rate: Also the exact circumstances of Onderfaust's death remain shrouded in mystery, though it is said that his body was sealed in a tomb under the Norong-sorno volcano by his fellow Arcanists, along with a tome where he had collected dark elven summoning practices of old. Some say Onderfaust wasn't quite dead when he ended up in his tomb, but continued his researches dealing with summoning creatures from the Netherworlds as a Lich. Though if there really is a grain of truth to all the speculation and what has become of Onderfaust - should he indeed have chosen the path of a Lich - we will probably never know...
Up north, in Northern Sarvonia, several further stories about necromancers are traded. While some of them appear to be contradictory, they all focus on happenings during the War of the Chosen, where the Chosen Eckra the Cruel ruled over the peninsula Dinal, which is now known as the Forbidden Zone. The tale goes that he emerged from the dead again and again, until everything turned quiet in the gloomy lands of the peninsula. However, when the Injerín elf Aváth'cáo made an effort to travel to the blighted lands to heal them, she entered the ruins of the Chosen's former fortress Dak'Dinal and was swallowed by the darkness of the region. Years later she re-emerged, touched by the foul magic prevalent in the depths where once Eckra's essence was buried that kept him alive after his own death. Aváth'cáo probably turned into a Lich herself and became Gouran, the "Devourer", who in the end was released from her undead existence by her own father. The fact that Aváth'cáo's beauty was preserved even in her undead state is commonly attributed to the circumstance that she was an elf, whose longer lifespan results in a less apparent decay.