The Tragic Tale of Tcholiark

Now for some context–how did the necrodwarves come to be? It is a sad tale. Tragic, even. Presented here for your enjoyment.

The Tcholiark could build runes in anything. Their city was a mountain peak warmed by the depths of the earth. They were ringed around by the fortifications of the Circle of Khalart, lesser settlements, paths, and battlements protecting the mountain. Freed from imminent danger, they experimented with the craft of rune smithing, elevating the craft to a religion that stood side by side with their worship of Dolvatch and Mekk. It could not stand there forever.

In the Deep Winter x years ago, Lord Morniarak, Thane of the Crisp Height, was excited. His Lord Runesmith Ghertian had begun experimenting with binding runic energies to dwarves, rather than to their nonliving gear. As he demonstrated some success, Morniarak allowed his Thaneguard to volunteer to receive these runes, to better carry out their duties under the banner of prestige and power the runes would impart.

And so over the next century, the Thaneguard were gifted with glittering golden runes that gave them power and glory. Morniarak’s trust of Lord Runesmith Ghertian was absolute, and well-placed. Ghertian would not last forever, though. As he groomed his successor, a runesmith of tremendous talent, Ghertian’s vigilance lapsed.

Unknown to Ghertian, his nephew Fariak was intensely jealous of his breakthroughs and prestige—other runesmiths were contemplating creating a new position of prestige to recognize the greatest runesmith of the age, and while they could not stop praising Ghertian, they paid no heed to Fariak in his shadow.

Though he initially showed great promise, Fariak struggled with the runes for the Thaneguard. They would not respond to him. His jealousy and rage had poisoned him so that the pure energies that Ghertian mastered were beyond Fariak’s reach—and it was only a matter of time until that truth emerged. Desperate and enraged to the point of insanity, Fariak turned to Zomok. Fariak asked to be able to craft flesh runes with far more power and glory than what Ghertian had managed. Zomok agreed, and the price was Ghertian’s death.

Fariak did not even hesitate. Ghertian died screaming of a rare, virulent poison, and the sorrowing Thane suspended all runecraft for a decade to honor his loss. Meanwhile, Fariak chafed at the respect and restriction, still feeling overshadowed. Energized by Zomok’s promise, he practiced his craft in secret, gathering sympathizers to his cause.

Fariak was shocked, almost to his senses, when he realized his runes were black and streaked with the silver of deep space. For Zomok had connected the mad runesmith with a god more sympathetic to his efforts. The God of Death now fueled the energies Fariak bound to the living, changing them irrevocably.

In an unrelated series of political and military events, the Dracolithic Empire finally reached the borders of the Circle of Khalart, and required tribute from the Thane. Ancient and proud, eyes misting with time and reflection of a thousand glories, the Thane contemptuously dismissed the Dracolithic diplomats. So the dragons came, and the armies behind them.

After a decade of shockingly disastrous war, the beleaguered dwarves were pressed all the way back to Tcholiark, their defenses a smoking ruin that surrounded them and dimmed the sun with slaughter and despair. Many of the Dracolithic dragons and spellcasters were slain, and whole armies had been ground to gory corpses by the redoubtable dwarven defenders. Still, the Dracolithic Empire was mighty, and had many allies and profound wealth. Underground reserves of water and vast fungus crops remained in Tcholiark, the mountain itself shielded and fought for the dwindling number of defenders. The outcome was not certain.

Trembling with age and horror at the losses the Thanedom sustained, the Thane turned to his new Master Runesmith Fariak, looking for solutions. Fariak refused to bother further with the Thaneguard—but he revealed his work, bringing it out of secrecy and onto the battlefields.

The Night of Descent changed everything. The necrodwarves marched forth, undead dragons screaming at their command. They lay waste to the invading Dracolithic army, taking prisoners by the thousand, and sacrificing them to their new, dark god. Nuzagoth descended from the starry void wreathed in the incense of an inferno of sacrificed dragons, trickling down through Tcholiark and into the depths of the earth’s darkness, pushing life back as the cackling necrodwarves raised gory pulsing rune weapons and shrieked praises to the darkness of the uncaring sky.

This outcome was not exactly what Thane Morniarak had expected.

In winning the war, the Thane lost everything. Accompanied by the Thaneguard, the royal families that remained uncorrupted fled. Their reaction surprised Fariak, who expected he would have to push them out of power to legitimately assume the throne. Rather than pursuing them, the corrupted Master Runesmith simply shrugged and took over, enslaving the populace, sacrificing those who were of no use as slaves or converts, and eyeing territories that were previously protected by the Dracolithic armies he had just dispatched.

(Tomorrow: What happened to the royal families?)

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