Apethanatoi bimatizountes ksana- The Dead Walk Again
This phrase of terror has accompanied the subjects of the Divine Empire for the last 150 years. Ever since the Divine Emperor Gordian IV went mad with power and tried to make him-self a god. The 25th Emperor of the House of Lakid, the royal House that founded the Divine Empire 300 years ago, Gordian may had been the greatest human magician to ever live. But his greatness is the world’s undoing. Driven mad by the tutelages of the renegade Elf Lord Varisharm and his studies of the forbidden lore deep within the ruins of the stepped temples of the Old Ones, the Emperor sought something more then mere immortality. He sought invulnerability. As he went deeper into his dark studies he left the empire without a ruler. The Empire teetered as the Western Horse Lords poured in from beyond Western Mountains and the Northern Exarchy collapsed. In the south Khorvun III led his armies into an invasion of the imperial dominions south of the Gentle Peaks. The empire descended into civil war, as the Exarch of the North Mauricius declared himself a Basileus and allied with some of the Horse Lords to curve out his usurper dominion.
And then the dead walked. At first it was rare sight, furtive whispers of peasants. But slowly the numbers grew. The Imperial Council and the Senate were worried, but the Emperor had locked himself in the Porfyro Palace. The only answer to their entreaties was to let the dead alone. In time armies of the dead were raised and with some otherworldly purpose seemed to attack the enemies of the empire. Khorvun had to cross the Akmaios River at the head of a terror driven army. The dead ravaged the Northern Exarchy trying to break the power of the Usurper King Mauricius. But the people of the empire were afraid. The priests and priestesses of the Triad denounced the emperor’s action only to be attacked by the shambling hordes. The further the undead were from the Imperial Capital of Ekatopylos, the more erratic and destructive their behavior. For three years the people of the empire lived in terror.
The one day the dead started attacking indiscriminately. No one new what happened. When the Imperial Council and the Senate tried to get an audience with the Emperor they found the imperial palace a charnel house. All the servants were dead and reanimated. On the Red Throne sat a hooded, emancipated figure which with skeletal hands ordered the Senators and Councilors to commit suicide so that they could join his undying empire. They fled in terror while the capital cities various neighborhoods tried to fortify themselves. Undead armies were raised throughout the empire massacring the living only so that they too could arise. With the dread legions turned inward, Khorvun and Mauricius launched there attacks anew. Then on the 15th of the month Melachite, the patriarch of the Triad, Augoustinos IX declared that the Emperor had gone mad, that he had let his soul be tainted by the evil legacies of the Old Ones, and that he could no more remain emperor anymore. The patriarch’s brother, Anastasius, Imperial Legate of the Inner Sea Provinces, was declared Emperor by the armies of the Northern Exarchy, and the Inner Sea Navy.
Thus began the first Thanatomachia (from the greek words Thanatos=death and machi=battle). Rallied by Anastasius and the Triadic faith, the people of the empire rose against their Emperor and his infernal legions. Fire and steel ruled from border with the Salamenian Tribes all the way to the start of the Horse Lords Steppes. It took 3 years of hard fighting to reach the imperial capital, a city empty of the living. And rumors are that the First Thanatomachia would never had ended in victory if some unknown hero had not raved the dead filled Ekatopylos to steal from Gordian something important. Gordian fled the fire and steel of the armies of the living going into hiding deep within the gorges, chasms and forbidding forests of the Western Mountains. Anastasius cleansed the Imperial Capital of the dead and refounded the Divine Empire a year later taking the tile of Divine Emperor as Tilemach III. It took him and his successor and son Anastasius I, 20 years of warfare to contain the damage done by Gordian IV, whose name was expunged from Imperial Records and who is now called the Undying Emperor.
But the damage was done. The old Northern Exarchy beyond the Verusian Bay was lost to the Ususrper King Mauricius who founded the Kingdom of Varanz. The lands on the southern shore of the Bay were lost to any imperial authority divided between tens of petty tyrants who styled themselves king and who survived by pitting the Horse Lords against the Varanzian Usurper, against the Empire. Culturally the empire became more religious, the subjects of the emperor less open to new ideas. Cremation replaced burial as the only permitted funeral rite in order to deny the Undying King his bounty.
The most permanent damage was the fact that the Undying Emperor had situated his dominions right next to the empires western border. Over the next 130 years the once fertile western provinces of the empire became blighted. Plagues would herald undead armies that would march mechanically trying to rich Ekatopylos and the rumored vaults that contain the artifact the Undying Emperor lost. These Thanatomachiai have happened seven times until now laying waste to the Western province, with only the hardiest and bravest surviving in heavily fortified cities and towns. The damage was so much that the Divine Emperor had to turn the province to a special military Exarchy ruled essentially as a military dictatorship under the rule of an Exarch appointed by the Emperor. Beyond the forts of the Western Exarchy lie the foreboding and barren of any life but twisted trees lands of the Undying Emperor. No living soul dares tread there, expect from the twisted souls of the fools that try to gain some of his knowledge and power, creating the Thanatofilia secret societies that plague the empires politics.
And the people are always tense waiting to hear the terrible cry, the Dead Walk Again
What you read above is the back-story for my newest army, a 15mm Undead army using Splintered Light Miniatures. The army is almost complete, with 8 elements done. I intend to add a Skeletal Behemoth, a Necromancer element (as a hero, not a magician), and some zombie elements (to represent plague victims). I wanted the army to give a dark ages look since the world I have inside my mind as a backdrop for my fantasy wargaming is one with 1000-1100 AD(CE) technology. The SLM miniatures are perfect for this since few of them wear full plate armor. The army is built for HOTT or Rally Round the King.
It is also a low-magic world. As the back-story points out Gordian’s IV folly was a pretty much major affair but mostly because it coincided with the Horse Lords migration (more on that in the future). As a result I wanted to keep the undead army to mostly skeletons and zombies. No flying beasties, and no ghost, wraiths etc. Only the simplest of undead creatures are part of the army. The army is mostly made up of hordes of mindless skeletons that only know one thing: move towards the direction of the Imperial Capital and hit anything alive in your way. Once unleashed, they will just move forward until destroyed as they have no will of their own and are actually not controllable by even their creator (point about limits of magic). Some of them ride steeds (the two rider elements) but for all purposes behave like the horde skeletons (rule-wise I classify them as riders).
Three of the elements represent Wights. These are skeletons imbued with souls stolen from living people. The magic to create them is very vile, and also very taxing. Few can be created by the Undying Emperor since he has to use a part of his soul to steal the souls of the living. As a result Wights cannot be raised as wights if destroyed, but will be raised as simple skeletons. But thanks to the stolen souls within them, wights are able to fight with more skill (And thus are classified as Blades for HOTT). The impossibility of raising them as wights as well has led to them being more heavily armored then other skeletons.
Here are some pictures from the army. For a map and some information about the fantasy world go http://phdleadhead.blogspot.com/2010/12/map-above-represents-fantasy-world-i.html
The Elite: Wights