THE LAND OF THE DEAD
There was a time when the desolate, arid place, now known as the Land of the Dead by some, used to be one of the greatest civilizations that had ever been. It was the first true kingdom of mankind. Its kings were worshipped as gods. Its ships sailed the seas long before Marienburg was in existence. Its cities were paved with gold and its magnificent monuments to the dead towered into the sky and could be seen for miles around. This was Nehekhara. But its rulers' obsession led to their great civilization's downfall. They were obsessed with the one thing that has plagued mankind since the dawn of time: death.
Nehekhara's greatest city was Khemri and the first ruling dynasty was that of Settra's. He was Khemri's first Priest King (-2500 IC) and he unified Nehekhara so that all the other kings swore fealty and paid tribute to him. Before Settra little is known about Nehekhara although several names of kings have emerged through long years of scholarly toil. Nehek is one such name and it is said that in his time no man lived in cities; then there was Zakash who founded Zandri and it was during his time that it is said that writing was invented; and last, but not least, there was Hekesh who made war on many kings.
Under Settra's governance, Nehekhara entered its golden age: trade flourished as never before and Nehekhara's armies, led by superb generals, were undefeated and destroyed all opposing forces. All the lands from the western desert to the eastern sea were conquered as were the jungles of the Southlands, the southwestern region of the Dark Lands, the Border Princes, and even the southern Old World where Tilea now lies; King Setep even penetrated into the Empire and conquered the lands which would later be known as Sylvania. It was a huge empire the like of which man has never achieved again before or since.
But even though Settra was a great ruler and brought unimaginable wealth to the Nehekharan Empire he was intensely proud and jealous of his achievements. He knew that one day death would finally rob him of his throne, his lands and power, so he founded the Priesthood of Awakening and the Mortuary Cult: an organisation of learned scholarly priests charged with discovering the secret of eternal life. The priests travelled far and wide searching for anything that would help them in their task. Although they did discover the secret of a prolonged life, the secret of immortality alluded them. They could prolong a life for several centuries but they could not halt decay and eventually the body would wither and die. The priests themselves benefited from their research and many of them were centuries old. Many were also machiavellian types and kept something of what they discovered to themselves.
Even though Settra lived for many, many years, he could cheat death no longer although he was defiant to the last. His priests told him when he was dying that it may be possible in the future to learn the secret of everlasting life with the aid of proper magic. They promised him that at the time of the awakening he would come back immortal with an imperishable body. When he finally died his body was embalmed with much ritual and ceremony over long hours so that his body would be preserved until such a time he would awaken. Then he was entombed beneath the earth under a great pyramid of white stone. Over the following ages and millennia the priests would continue their search for immortality and continued to tend to Settra's pyramid and recite the incantations of old, as well as making sacrifices, so that Settra's spirit would never wither or depart from this world.
The toiling with dead bodies, and ever more morbid activities, also wrought terrible changes on the priests of the Mortuary Cult. After the fourth generation of priests, the next priests did not die. They became Liche Priests, immortal but withered and rotting. Because the priesthood was so powerful and their work so important they were the few individuals in Nehekhara who could not be executed even though they were foul, morbid creatures. Indeed, the Mortuary Cult now became central to the culture of Nehekhara and its priests were all-powerful second only to the great Priest Kings themselves. When each Priest King died he would also be embalmed and entombed within a pyramid so that one day he would arise in paradise. But this trend was also copied by lesser nobles as they too wanted immortality and they too wanted to be embalmed upon their death and entombed in pyramids. This continued for many years until the abodes of the dead came to rival those of the living in both size and number. Indeed, there were no constructions in Nehekhara to rival the size and stature of the pyramids of the Priest Kings.
Even though at this time Nehekhara enjoyed overwhelming success and prosperity: their armies were unmatched in valour; their fleets of ships brought back much gold and precious stones from far-off lands; and their citizens benefited from the knowledge of learned scholars and teachers. Yet all of this was to be destroyed by one man. While Nehekhara could not be defeated by any army of man it could not foresee the impending danger that would seal the great empire's fate forever.
It was Khemri's High Priest who coveted the throne of Nehekhara, which was held by his brother Arkhan. He also put into motion perhaps the most tragic and dastardly plan that humanity has known. For years Khemri's High Priest began to corrupt the ceremonies and rituals of the Mortuary Cult. Where before the priests held nothing but respect and total obedience for their gods, the rituals by which they entered the temples, which were akin to the homes of the Nehekharan gods, were subtly changed and the embalming procedure, set down by centuries of tradition, was also altered slightly. To the god-fearing Nehekharans this was blasphemy of the highest order. But to the High Priest of Khemri it was all part of a greater plan. Everyone feared him, as everyone did the High Priest of Khemri who commanded almost as much power and dominion as any Priest King.
On one mild night with the moon high in the starlit heavens, the High Priest murdered his brother and entombed him in the Great Pyramid of Khetep. With Ptra, the sun god, beating down his searing hot rays, the High Priest of Khemri was crowned Priest King of Khemri and Nehekhara. All swore fealty and paid tribute to him. All bowed down befor Nagash.
Nagash was full of lust and pride. Anyone who dared oppose him was immediately cast out, tortured in the most heinous way imaginable before being killed. All dissenters were either murdered while they slept or cowed into obedience under pain of death. But it wasn't just the fact that Nagash held the supreme post in the empire that everyone feared him. They feared him more for being a skilled sorcerer. Though he was quite an insane man he had a great capacity for learning, as evidenced by his swift rise in the Mortuary Cult, and obviously had a brilliant mind.
Under Nagash, Nehekhara began to crumble. He ordered a pyramid be built that would eventually become the largest construction ever to be built by man: the Black Pyramid of Nagash. This grand design was not without cost, however. Thousands of slaves from both the locality and those taken as tribute from far-off places paid in blood to build Nagash's pyramid. Gold was brought in from miles around to pay for this construction as well as huge building blocks taken from quarries as far away as the southern World's Edge Mountains. The entire economy was centred around this gargantuan construction and eventually the great cities of Nehekhara began to pay the price for Nagash's vision. Starvation wracked the lands and revolts, brutally suppressed until now, were commonplace not only by the citizens but the armies too. Fearful for their own positions as well as for their own people and lands, the other kings allied together and mustered what would be known as the Army of the Seven Kings to oust Nagash from power.
Although Nagash faced the innumerable host of the Seven Kings, which far outnumbered his own army, he had not been idle during his years as the High Priest of the Mortuary Cult and when the Black Pyramid was being built. He learnt many secrets that were forbidden to the Liche Priests of ages past. He had learned the first steps of necromancy and even daemonology. With this knowledge Nagash was able to summon the first army of the dead. It's chief weapon was fear and when the army of the Seven Kings first beheld them many lost heart and fled but it wasn't enough to save Nagash from defeat. After a brief siege against the Black Pyramid Nagash fled to the north-east. At this time Nagash's necromantic powers weren't powerful enough to overcome such an enemy.
Nagash left behind two legacies: the first was his Black Pyramid, which was shunned by all, the second was his research into the necromantic and daemonic. The last was his most terrible legacy which would, in time, cause the downfall of a great empire and it would affect many kings and queens to come.
Nehekhara, so it seemed to the victorious and proud Kings bedecked in gold leading a host of golden chariots through their cities amid the rapturous celebrations of their people, was free from the tyrant Nagash. Yet the royal line of Khemri was tarnished by the sorcerer's deeds and the first to fall under Nagash's taint was Lahmia. It's queen was fascinated by the Usurper-King's research until she too was damned after imbibing the elixir of Nagash. She became the first vampire and eventually her secret could not be kept from the kings of the west who descended upon Lahmia in wrath led by the brilliant Alcadizaar the Conqueror. As beneficent a ruler as Alcadizaar was he feared the wrath of the gods if he did not punish Lahmia for their sins so he had the population enslaved and begged Ptra that they might one day be forgiven.
But the Queen of Lahmia escaped the sacking of her city along with several of her vampiric consorts. Nagash was well-pleased with the corruption of the Lahmian nobility and it tickled his vanity that his genius could produce such able generals for his growing army of Undead.
For years his armies attacked the empire of Nehekhara but Alcadizaar was the greatest general of the age and Nagash could not prevail, even with the vampires. Nehekhara grew rich and prosperous again under Alcadizaar and all loved him. This left Nagash bitter and angry and so he decided that no-one should be left alive in Nehekhara. He would use the one weapon that Alcadizaar could not defeat with all his tactical genius: plague and pestilence.
THE FALL OF NEHEKHARA
Nagash poisoned the river Vitae making it grow dark and murky; forever more it would be known as the river Mortis. The lands around it, as well as the people who relied so much on the river for food, perished. Pestilence swept through the land taking down every man, woman and child, young or old, rich or poor. No-one was spared the terrible plague of Nagash. When the Necromancer's army finally came to Khemri there was little resistance; most of Alcadizaar's once invincible army was wiped out because of the plague.
Alcadizaar saw his empire crumble before his very eyes. Even his wife, Khalida, wasn't spared and she died in his arms. As Alcadizaar gently laid her lifeless body to rest on the marble floor of his palace the forces of Nagash swept through the defences and took the great king away, clapped in chains, to Nagashizzar: the mighty fortress of Nagash. Once there he was thrown to rot in a dungeon with his once loyal guards assuming the role of his jailer; all of them were brought back from the dead to serve Nagash as mindless automatons and to ridicule the Nehekhara's last king.
With the fall of Nehekhara complete and its last king languishing in his dungeon, Nagash would at last complete his dastardly plan. By now he was the greatest human sorcerer that had ever lived. He had power unimaginable and he truly thought that not even the gods could defeat him. He would cast the spell of Awakening. The colossal energies of this spell caused the very heavens to darken for hundreds of miles around, as if the gods themselves turned away from the world in horror, and the earth itself protested as the land was riven asunder. At the spell's climax every last living creature of Nehekhara died: flesh rotted from bones, as if they had aged a thousand years in an instant, and plants withered and died. The only Nehekharans spared was the last King in Nagash's dungeons and the Liche Priests of the Mortuary Cult who were already dead, though they did not know it, and therefore immune to the pestilence around them.
For all of Nagash's intelligence he could not foresee his impending doom or the hunched backed creatures who had infiltrated his fortress and dungeons and set Alcadizaar free. When Nagash was meditating in his great chamber, resting his body, mind and soul, after the colossal energies released for his spell, Alcadizaar cut the Necromancer down with an enchanted blade. A blade that was given to him by the strange hunched backed creatures that had set him free. It was a blade that would not only be fatal for Nagash but also for the King too. A short while after the slaying of Nagash, Alcadizaar also died and with him the last monarch of Khemri and Nehekhara.
Nagash's spell of awakening coursed through Nehekhara, penetrating the charnel pits of the cities and the necropoli of the dead kings and nobles. The nobles were affected differently to the great mass of shambling bodies who stirred from their millennia long deaths and they were little more than mindless automatons. Because the nobles' bodies were preserved by the embalming rituals of the Liche Priests they still retained all their memories, all their knowledge, all their pride, and all their hate and vengeance. The long dead Priest Kings were horrified with what had happened to their cities and even more horrified with what had become them. Where once they were fair, now they were hideous and rotting. Where once they were proud, now they were gaunt and twisted. Where they were promised paradise after their death, now all they saw was a blasted, desolate wasteland, crumbled and decayed: a land of the dead.
Because there were hundreds of kings war was inevitable as each one wanted to reclaim their lands. There were long battles and thousands of skeleton warriors were destroyed until Khemri's first Priest King awoke from his slumbers. Settra, the first and greatest king of Khemri and Nehekhara, fought the other kings and defeated their armies one by one. It wasn't long before they were cowed into obedience as this most ancient king at last reclaimed his dominions and his crown. But something was wrong. This wasn't paradise and his body was nothing but a rotting husk.
Settra commanded the Liche Priests to tell him why the awakening had gone wrong and why his empire was naught but ruins. The Liche Priests told him of the events of the last one-thousand years, of Nagash's betrayal and his last devastating spell. Settra was incensed and in a furious rage he expelled the assembled Liche Priests, who he believed had lied to him about the awakening, and had them watch over the other kings and awake them when commanded to do so. Settra had everlasting life but it wasn't what he had envisaged and there was much to do. One day he would confront Nagash, whom he hated and despised so much, but for the moment he would work to rebuild and expand his empire.