The Dim Wastes
Children of Ahriman - Sayoni's Tale
There is a lich in the desert that calls itself the Child of Ahriman. Long ago, her name was Sayoni Farenda, and she was once a priestess of Anahita in a long-forgotten life.
The Fall of the Jamarah Shah Dynasty
There was not always an Asad to keep the peace in Riyaqa. 1100 years ago, the Jamarah dynasty came to a bloody end through betrayal from within. In the aftermath of that betrayal, a civil war broke out among the high-ranking families of the former shah’s court as the royal family descended into chaos. There was no saving the old guard.
The war waged for a generation. Then a massive drought brought a relative peace for a few years as food became scarce and war became difficult to wage. Though skirmishing continued through the drought, the comparative cooling off of the war allowed room for the diplomats to function. They decided on a series of meetings to be held among the old religious shrines of Gol Asad. These meetings eventually forged a lasting peace, bringing an end to the wars altogether and cementing the Asad as the body that would keep the powerful families from each other’s throats from that day forward. As years passed, areas of Riyaqa once beyond the direct control of the former kingdom came into the fold to reap the prosperity of peace.
But the newfound peace was not without its victims. At long last, investigations revealed the perpetrators of the Jamarrah shah’s downfall. The Jamarah family had been brought low by the Tanje family- a smaller, but powerful royal line. As a teenager, the boy would would become the shah had spurned the eldest daughter of that house by refusing the marriage that had been arranged when they were infants. The matriarch of the Tanje family spent years plotting, infiltrating the housekeeping staff of the shah with spies. Her plot had been straightforward enough- use the spies to create the circumstances for a scandal, and then use the scandal to blackmail the young shah into finally fulfilling the marriage promise. The offspring of that marriage would bind the two houses together, freeing Tanje from its massive debts to the throne.
Having gathered the information she required, the Tanje matriarch arranged a private confrontation with the shah not long after he took office upon his father’s mysterious death while abroad. Only she, the shah, and their few respective advisors were present. One does not simply get a private audience with the ruler of the land, after all. Unfortunately, the young Jamarah did not react as she had hoped, and a fight ensued. As the shah’s men went for the Tanje matriarch, her own men struck back. Before anyone could defuse the situation, tragedy struck and the boy was killed. The matriarch was injured and fled.
With the plot uncovered, there were deep wounds that needed to be closed for the people to move forward. House Jamarah lay in ruins. House Tanje was weakened in the war, but still held a good deal of power. As the rest of the houses that would form the Asad united against them at the war’s end, they were badly outmatched and fell quickly. The lands and holdings of Tanje were split up among their neighbors. Their slaves were taken to new markets. Their soldiers were killed to the last man. The nobles were banished to the Mah Hari Sea, a great desert spanning nearly half the continent.
Like most large houses, Tanje had high ranking staff skilled in magical arts. Tanje kept three powerful priests. When it was discovered they had used their divination powers to help in the plot, they were sentenced to die. As priests of Anahita, they were given a chance for their goddess’ mercy to save them, rather than be crucified outright. They were taken deep into the desert, and locked in three separate burial chambers of a vacant tomb intended for the Tanje nobles. The most powerful priest of the now-ascendant Benisaga family placed a curse upon the tomb and all of its contents as it was sealed: “Ahura’s gaze shall draw the life from you if ever it looks upon you again, and the Mah Hari Sea shall forever be your home. The Asad shall claim you no more.”
With that curse the last stone was moved into place, and the priests left to die in darkness. The Asad and its people moved on. Records of House Tanje were slowly destroyed, their name lost to antiquity as over time they became known only as “the betrayers.”
But die, the priests did not. Though left bound and gagged in the darkness, unable to use magic to help themselves, one found an ally. As the most powerful of the three (a priestess named Sayoni) lay sobbing her rage into the gag in her mouth, she silently cursed Anahita for abandoning her to the darkness. Watching for his own entertainment, and hearing those curses, Ahriman came to her.
Offering her power if she swore herself to terrible vengeance, Ahriman freed Sayoni and took her as his own. In turn, she freed and won the loyalty of the two male priests entombed with her in the ways an evil priestess might. As the three of them broke through the outer wall with magical force, the sun poured in and completed the curse laid upon them by the priest of Ahura Mazda and in turn cemented by Ahriman himself. The bodies of the three were instantly destroyed in the bright light, and they awoke within the tomb once more. Now changed into twisted and evil apparitions, the trio arose as liches sworn to the service of Ahriman and set about planning the destruction of the Asad.
The Legend of Ahriman’s Children
The curse, they soon found, still held sway as much as it could. They could venture out freely from the tomb, at first only during the night, but in daylight as well once their power began to grow. Over time they moved further and further abroad, creating and turning new minions, occasionally being found by adventurers and destroying them, but always returning to the tomb they had been left in to die. The three eventually found that they were indeed limited to the desert. By the time this discovery occurred, they had been marooned in the desert for nearly 200 years, and forgotten to antiquity.
A few centuries later, a band of heroes found them and discovered who the three were, by now commanding a powerful army of undead in a fortress fashioned deep below the musty old tomb. Marshalling great power and prowess, the band of four discovered the liches were plotting to bring a great plague upon the Asad, and defeated them just as they were set to unleash their vengeance. Not fully understanding the power behind the trio of liches, the heroes left the matter at that, thinking them destroyed. It took nearly a century for the three to even regain consciousness after that defeat. And they began to plot again.
Centuries passed again, and the liches put in place a plan to start a war in the Asad, bringing all the old house rivalries back to the surface. Using magical command of weak minded desert travelers, the liches began cults in villages and towns that eventually spread to the cities. The cults began to secretly carry out the plan, sowing discontent and planting conspiratorial ideas. Again, heroes rose up to fight their evil influence. The cults were tracked down and rooted out, and clues eventually led the heroes back to the ancient tomb. Another great battle saw the liches defeated again. This time, the three were imprisoned in magical traps fashioned from huge gemstones. A druid among the heroes sealed the stones deep underground, forming the stone around them. And there they remained as decades unwound into centuries.
Sometimes, it’s the smallest things that change the course of history. As it was with this, when a pair of explorers 150 years ago found the tomb of the trio, now nearly covered in sand. They excavated, hoping to find treasures below. They did find trinkets here and there- enough to convince them to keep digging. Was the treasure actually left behind by the heroes and centuries of looters, or was in planted by a god not quite done with these three yet? Whatever the cause, the explorers dug. And soon enough, they found the smooth stone slab at the bottom of a steep stairway deep underground. Convinced they had found the last barrier between them and a massive treasure chamber, they cracked the stone with magical power, and died moments later.
The priestess was free, but her cohorts remained imprisoned. Reclaiming the fortress for herself, the undead priestess was discovered and nearly beaten by powerful explorers that came looking for the ones she had killed. In desperation, she destroyed the gem of one of the priests, absorbing much of his power as the rest of it laid waste around her in a massive explosion. The battle over, she set about discovering how to unlock the remaining gem to free the remaining priest.
It took several decades to enlist the requisite help, as knowledge of such magical prisons is a rare art, and she had killed some of the few people who knew how to open such cages. In needing to enlist the aid of those with knowledge beyond her own, the priestess-turned-lich cast her net a bit too wide, and clues eventually led powerful agents of the Asad to her doorstep. Among them was a man named Arkeles al Farin- a powerful sorcerer of many innate gifts. The lich again suffered defeat, but this time it would be a lasting defeat. The crystal of her still-slumbering consort was destroyed after she was subdued. Her own phylactery hidden too well to be found quickly, the lich was psychically imprisoned in the Endless Sleep by Arkeles al Farin. Arkeles then entered the Sleep himself, to serve as her jailer until the phylactery could be found and destroyed.
As if the desert itself came to Sayoni’s defense, a cataclysmic sandstorm rose up around the fortress tomb, and search efforts had to be abandoned. The slumbering shell of Arkeles was evacuated from the site along with everything else that could be carried, and taken back to Qisaga and placed within the al Farin family’s fortress there. The bulk of the riches plundered from the desert tomb were used to secure a serving staff and knowledgeable retainers to look after Arkeles al Farin while he looked after Sayoni in the Endless Sleep.
When Arkeles’ fellow adventurers returned after the sandstorm to continue the search, they found nothing where the fortress should be. Every effort they could think of yielded nothing, and in time, they surrendered their friend to his fate as eternal jailor of an evil that can never be released again. They moved to his fortress to help keep watch over him, retired there, and died of old age there, one by one.
Although trapped within the Endless Sleep by Arkeles’ considerable power, Sayoni has not been entirely helpless there. Over the last 150 years, she hatched a new plan that she could slip by her captor. Painfully slowly, she has reached out from her psychic prison to turn the land itself to her will. Year by year, inch by inch, she has drained the life from what greenery she can see from the desert. Already, tensions mount in the borderlands with arable land dying off as Sayoni expands the boundaries of the curse placed upon, her inch by inch. Recently, she has been able to reach the minds of ambitious travelers in the deep desert, but was able to exert only very limited influence. She came across one such mind in a charismatic opportunist named Hobah Tulestis. Within him, she resurrected knowledge of the tried and lost cult of the Children of Ahriman. Hobah gained a following as he moved from village to village, building the new cult in a convincing image of the group responsible for certain crimes decades ago.
Arkeles’ body has slept agelessly, its ties to the Endless Sleep keeping it in a sort of suspended animation so long as it was not badly disturbed. Two years ago, that disturbance came at the hands of Imperial Regiment troops storming what they mistook for a treasury in the heart of Qisaga. Believing they had found a shrine of some forgotten hero that might rally a resistance to imperial occupation, the commanders ordered Arkeles’ body burned upon a pyre, with honors befitting his family in the public square. And for the first time in a century and a half, the exhausted Sayoni tasted freedom from Arkeles’ relentless gaze.
Slowly, her power began to return to her. Able to once again reach out with force from her deep desert prison, she could exert more direct influence over the actions of her agents within the Children of Ahriman. When he had recruited Oxyr Shalis years prior, Hobah thought he had done well for his matriarch…