Xorus (prime)/Scholarship/2022-09-25 - The Nature of Undeath (log)

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This was a lecture given at the Faendryl Symposium on 9/25/5122 at the Alabaster Spire. It is adapted primarily from Forbidden Knowledge and the Black Arts: Volume III - The Unliving and Unnatural.

[Faendryl Enclave, Courtyard]
Symmetrical rows of lor trees stand as silver sentinels along a gravel pathway that broadens into a circular courtyard. In the center of the yard, a pair of trees have grown together into a single towering tree, echoing the lofty reach of the alabaster spire rising to their north. You also see a snow white raven, a haggard grey-haired gnoll, the cauldron-shaped Anstara disk, the peacock blue Arenglae disk speckled with white diamond motes, a sharp-nosed grey puppy with long corded fur, the web-draped Missoni disk, a lazy wild silver-grey dog, a blue ora buffet cart with some stuff on it, a pathway, an ornate gate, a large ornate door, a column of rippled glass and a horned basalt bust.
Also here: High Lord Nazarr, Bakarus who is sitting, Stormyrain, Claede, Perigourd, Imperatrix Lylia, Lord Thrassus, Ysharra, Tikba, Commodore Jaysehn, Melikor, Vorena, Alisaire, Kayse, Anstara, Lady Arenglae, Peltast Vaeldrys, High Lady Ithilwyn, Sarissa Tayler, Missoni, Hadya, Xorus
Obvious paths: none

Xorus says, "I will be speaking tonight on the nature of undeath, and the nuances regarding the unliving."

Hadya inclines her head.

Xorus says, "In truth this is a vast and deep subject, so I will only make a glancing blow on it."

Xorus says, "Mostly the kinds of undead which exist. Broadly speaking."

Xorus says, "I will not be speaking much, for instance, on the various historical traditions behind the branches of necromancy."

Xorus says, "That skeletal undead arose from shamanism, for example, through twisted perversions of sky burials."

Xorus says, "You may refer to my three volume work. Forbidden Knowledge and the Dark Arts."

Xorus says, "This is a very controversial subject. With many strongly held views."

Xorus says, "These should be treated with the respect they deserve."

Xorus says, "So I will simply begin by saying all of your most closely held beliefs and religions are totally wrong."

Xorus says, "Now, with that out of the way..."

Xorus waves his leather reins through the air, and a fiery-eyed nightmare steed appears by his side.

Xorus asks, "What are the undead?"

Xorus says, "This is not as simple as it sounds. There are some unliving things, of course, which no one would deny are undead."

Xorus says, "Wights are undead. Wraiths are undead. Ghouls are undead."

Xorus says, "But there are many other 'unliving' things. Constructs are animated with a possessing spirit of some kind."

The ambient light grows attenuated as if the volume of space surrounding you had suddenly expanded, and the low rumble you feel could as easily be a purr as a growl. When you look around, everything seems in its rightful place.

Xorus says, "Certain 'unholy' kinds, such as bone and soul golems, are considered undead. Many others are not."

Xorus says, "Necromancers will often tell you even reanimated corpses are not 'true' undead."

Xorus says, "While they are obviously 'undead', they have no cursed soul in them."

Xorus says, "This as we will see is the key issue."

Xorus says, "There are corrupted nature spirits that are considered undead, such as tree spirits, which were never 'alive' in the organic material sense of the word."

Xorus says, "Except in some druidic or animist sense, much as some might say an elemental is somehow 'alive', or has its own animating 'spirit' of a kind."

Xorus says, "Yet there other corrupted spirits of nature, whether sprites or sirens, or even treants such as the treekin of the Red Forest..."

Xorus says, "... or other corrupted 'magical' creatures, such as the vor'taz or dhu goleras, which are not undead."

Xorus asks, "What of the twisted beings and festering taints which salt the earth of Old Ta'Faendryl?"

Xorus asks, "What of the mutants of haunted realms such as the Wizardwaste and Bleaklands?"

Xorus says, "These are aberrations and abominations, perhaps even the living undead."

Xorus says, "Such as the parasitic Collectors of the Southron Wastes."

Xorus says, "Who feed off artifacts, trying to evade death."

Xorus wryly says, "Or Cruxophim, for that matter."

Xorus says, "Recall Mayor Thadston was once possessed by a 'bleakwalker', haunters of the Bleaklands, which was the transmogrified and demented spirit of a brothel worker from Talador."

Xorus says, "Bleakwalkers are something akin to dark vorteces. What I would call a kind of 'darkness elemental.'"

Ysharra asks, "How many undead mayors has the Landing had at this point?"

Ysharra touches one finger to her lips.

Ysharra says, "Sorry."

Xorus says, "The weakest of these are dark vysans, and the most powerful perhaps dark godlings, such as Althedeus."

Xorus says, "They would more ordinarily be rightly conceived as extraplanar beings."

Xorus says, "And yet these were formed out of souls of the dead."

Lowering his head, a fiery-eyed nightmare steed bares his teeth and draws his ears back in a threatening manner.

Xorus glances at a fiery-eyed nightmare steed.

Xorus says, "Nightmare steeds, in turn, are often regarded as undead. But they are truly infernal astral beings. Similar to unicorns and ki-lin."

Xorus says, "There is nevertheless such a thing as the extraplanar undead. Lost souls, fallen crusaders, the Vishmiir, and so on."

Xorus says, "Non-corporeal undead do not exist entirely on this plane. But there are undead of demonic realms."

Xorus says, "There is perhaps nothing requiring the spirit to have come from our world."

Xorus says, "Though some are certainly souls of our world lost to the demonic."

Xorus asks, "What of the spirits of the dead?"

Xorus asks, "The ghosts who serve the tables at the Hanging Inn? The ghosts who linger in limbos and purgatories? Ghosts who return to this world from beyond the Ebon Gate?"

Xorus says, "Who Lorminstra herself returns for visitation each year for the Eve of the Reunion."

Xorus says, "Surely Lorminstra is not in the business of trafficking the undead."

Xorus says, "Such spirits are not haunted. Not 'cursed', tainted, corrupted."

Xorus says, "Which, of course, begs the question."

Xorus says, "Where the Xshitha Raamaani of the Sea of Fire will identify a 'jealous spirit', monks of the Order of Voln may call the very same spirit 'undead'."

Xorus says, "I could go on and on in this way. The essential point is undeath is a spectrum."

Xorus says, "Which means that 'undead' is a matter of definition."

Xorus says, "What are mostly considered the 'true undead', in practice, are those unliving beings who are especially affected by holy weapons or magic."

Xorus says, "Approaching it this way is how you end up with naturally incorporeal or extraplanar entities being called undead."

Xorus says, "But this circles around the core issue, the cursing of the souls of the dead."

Xorus says, "Or more broadly, the corruption of 'spirits' in general."

Xorus says, "These spirits need not be of this world."

Xorus says, "There are many possible ways of categorizing the undead, such as by their characteristic behaviors or how they are destroyed."

Xorus says, "In the sorcerous view what matters is the manner in which they are created."

Xorus says, "What 'cursing' a spirit truly means is that its animate matter is corrupted. Its essence is broken at the metaphysical core of its being."

Xorus says, "Such a broken spirit is fused into its 'cursed' form, much as a cursed gem becomes stuck to the hand of a thief."

Xorus says, "This corruption is the essence becoming more chaotic. The root of its relation to holy power."

Xorus says, "There is thus a deep relationship between the undead and the demonic."

Xorus says, "Necromancers may curse a spirit through sorcery, but cursing may happen from taint or decay or other violences."

Xorus says, "One of the ways this may happen is if the 'soul' is ripped apart in 'spirit death'."

Xorus says, "The soul itself is a controversial question."

Stepping high, a fiery-eyed nightmare steed prances in place for several moments.

Xorus says, "It may be distinguished into three parts. The basal or animist soul itself, which is the vessel; the 'essence of soul' or 'spirit' or 'mind', which is the base of sentience; and the consciousness, the self-awareness of the sapient."

Xorus says, "Luukos as the 'soul eater' in this sense feeds upon the spirit, and the soul is the husk he throws away."

Xorus says, "There are those who have survived this enough to still be resurrected."

A scarlet-robed Faendryl scribe passes by on her appointed errands, stroking the luxuriant fur of one of the spire's resident cats as she walks past.

Xorus says, "Soul fragments have even been known to split the self into multiple identities."

Xorus says, "That is, each thinking itself the whole, with its own self-awareness."

Xorus says, "The last of these three parts, consciousness, usually fades away fairly quickly in death. Though it may linger for some time in souls that do not depart from this reality."

Xorus says, "Ghosts will tend to become demented, often not knowing they are dead, and will eventually forget themselves."

Xorus says, "The realm of the dead is called 'Oblivion' for a reason."

Xorus says, "Destruction of the 'spirit' in this sense is deeply weakening, and may result in loss of memory or related difficulties."

Xorus says, "Necromancers refer to the tether or binding vessel of the soul as the 'animus'"

Xorus says, "It naturally decays in the dead, until the soul departs from the body."

Xorus says, "It may also be used to rejuvenate the temporary reanimates."

Xorus asks, "What, then, of the soul itself?"

Xorus says, "The Order of Voln in its k'Tafali tradition will tell you the soul is imprisoned in the undead, and must be freed so that it may be cleansed of its pollution."

Xorus says, "Others will tell you that the soul itself was lost or destroyed, and only vestiges of spirit and mind remain to be destroyed."

Xorus says, "That the undead are echoes of lost souls, perverse imitations to be put out of their misery."

Jaysehn folds his hands behind his back.

Xorus says, "In other words, that the undead are warped facsimiles of the once living, dishonestly abusing their worldly memories or identities."

Xorus says, "Those would argue Voln's mandate was to 'vanquish the suffering', that 'releasing the enslaved' is a theological fiction."

Xorus says, "For our purposes it does not matter much which of these views is more right."

Xorus says, "It most likely differs between the various kinds of undead."

Xorus says, "In the ways they came into their undeath."

Xorus says, "These are deep theological questions of the nature of the soul. But they are inextricable from the cosmology of otherworldly beings and essences."

Xorus says, "This is because the 'true undead' are often 'tainted' with more chaotic essences from other existences."

Xorus says, "The most common of these 'sorcerous elements', as I call them, is arguably pure 'darkness'."

Xorus says, "What in its most extreme and corruptive form is known as 'anti-mana'."

Xorus says, "There are many others. The Citadel undead are tainted with balefire, necleriines with hellfire, wasteland monstrosities with chaos, Luukosians with mawfire, and still others with 'the shadows.'"

A fiery-eyed nightmare steed rears back, his hooves glowing brightly for a moment before fading.

Xorus says, "The valences and planes are essentially formed by such cosmic forces, whose energies are constitutive of the entities within them."

Xorus says, "The undead thus are very often made, directly or indirectly, by demons who themselves 'taint' their surroundings."

Xorus says, "This is the corruption of the animate matter from their inherently debasing powers."

Xorus says, "Tainted lands will in turn corrupt the spirits of those lands."

Xorus says, "The Dhe'nar are known to have experimented with controlling the wasteland undead of Rhoska-Tor, for example, a haunted realm of the Ur-Daemon..."

Xorus says, "... over twenty thousand years before Despana. Whose Book of Tormtor is often considered to have been Ur-Daemon in origin."

Xorus says, "Therefore we may define as a convention 'true undead' as corrupted spirits. While the tainted, whether living or undead, may instead be called 'the unlife'."

Xorus says, "In this way there is a sense in which some of the undead are related to such horrors as transmogrified monsters and demonic hybrids."

Xorus says, "Now, most of the true undead are not made with immediate spellcraft by necromancers, especially the non-corporeal undead."

Xorus says, "Nor are they immediately related to Luukos, except perhaps indirectly, in some very mystical way."

Xorus says, "Luukosian undead are often quite distinct. Possessing flames of mawfire."

Xorus says, "I would not presume to speak for Luukos on his methods."

Xorus says, "Those which are made directly through necromancy, in the more general sense, may be split into three categories: animates, conjured undead, and the soulcrafted."

Xorus says, "Animates are similar to some flesh golems, bodies without souls, which are temporarily reanimated corpses with infused essences."

Xorus says, "Conjured undead are either pre-existent and summoned, or possessing spirits cursed into bodies."

Xorus says, "These will typically be bound to fetishes or artifacts, allowing more passive control of multiple servants than is possible with animates."

Xorus says, "There is loosely a trade off in power. The weaker the undead, the more may be controlled, with equivalent difficulty."

Xorus says, "Mindless undead will often instinctively obey more powerful forces of darkness than themselves."

Xorus says, "Necromancers might suffuse themselves in dark essences for this reason."

Xorus says, "And it is why the demonic were so critical, and unavoidably necessary, for disrupting the hierarchy of control at Maelshyve."

Xorus says, "Much as a stronger demon might 'steal' a summoner's imp, more powerful demons and undead may steal from a necromancer."

Xorus says, "But even great liches will, in general, rely on powerful artifacts to wield undead hordes."

Xorus says, "The Sphere of Sorrow, for example, or the Tablet of Death."

Xorus says, "Despana was a master artificer of urglaes artifacts."

Xorus says, "These are relatively simple undead. Not the craftsmanship on the soul found in higher undead."

Xorus says, "Soulcrafting is what I call 'flow magic' acting upon the soul and life essences."

Xorus says, "It is inherently violating and perverting, integral in making higher undeath."

Xorus says, "This is often while attempting to preserve higher mind in the undead."

Xorus says, "Or it might involve manipulating or fusing soul fragments."

Xorus says, "There are instead naturally occurring undead, not including corrupted nature spirits, both of which have always existed to some extent."

Xorus says, "Undeparted souls will eventually lose their memory. Identity, self-awareness, fullness of personality, and so on."

Xorus says, "Such ghosts may undergo entropic decay, eventually becoming corrupted and violent."

Xorus says, "Others become corrupted and bound in undeath through intense suffering, such as extraordinarily violent or traumatizing deaths."

Xorus says, "Most familiar of these are the phantoms, such as the firephantoms, which originate in burning to death."

Xorus says, "There are 'restless spirits', as well, usually jealous or vengeful spirits. More generally those who linger and fixate on obsessions of unfinished purpose."

Xorus says, "Spirits may also be cursed from magical accidents, sorcerous backlashes, such as what happened to the Kingdom of Reim."

Xorus says, "Another category of undeath are what may be called 'snares.'."

Xorus says, "These are collectives of undead which incorporate more souls within them, or 'spheres of oppression' where a sentient will compels those within a realm."

(Vaeldrys winces at the mention of sorcerous backlashes.)

Xorus says, "These range from the flesh merged walls of Grishom Stone, to the Overseers of Morvule, to the Felstorms of Luukos."

Xorus says, "Then there are transformation curses, which is indirect necromancy."

Xorus says, "These may come in many forms. Those whose flesh is 'marked' by a lich, for example, may slowly transform into undead."

Xorus says, "Others may be transmogrified in wastelands, with blood magic, or with catalysts such as eating raw flesh."

Xorus says, "Transmogrification often results in 'unliving' nightmares which are not necessarily 'dead'."

Xorus says, "To put it simply, much deeper transformations, most surely irreversible."

Xorus says, "The most notorious method of transformation is perhaps the disease curse, where the undead make more of themselves by infecting the living."

Xorus says, "The most familiar of these are the ghouls and werebears. Though their lineages are not remarkably contagious in the present day."

Xorus says, "So-called 'shambling lurks' are more recently recognized, but fortunately this curse is only flesh deep."

Xorus says, "Despana made terrible use of disease curses, whether the Red Rot or unhealing wounds from weapons."

Xorus says, "Raznel was known for similar disease necromancy in this region."

Xorus says, "There are artificial beings that are considered undead, even though all artificial beings in some sense are unliving."

Xorus says, "These involve permanently imprisoned or sacrificed souls, cursed into the body meant to be animated."

Xorus says, "These may be flesh amalgams or even chimera, pieced together from dead body parts."

Xorus says, "Shrickhen are one such example, or the rotting chimera of River's Rest."

Raising his head high in the air, the nightmare steed exhales steam forcefully through his nostrils, loosing a loud and mighty snort.

Xorus says, "Amalgamation is more generally a matter of the dark arts of teratology. The creation of unnatural 'monsters' such as manticores."

Xorus says, "Golems in the strict sense are made of a single material. Though the word is often misused for more complicated constructs."

Xorus says, "Flesh golems would be solid pieces of flesh. But in practice the word refers to flesh stretched over skeletal frames."

Lylia says, "Such as Grishom Stone's copies."

Xorus nods at Lylia.

Xorus says, "Such artificial beings may be animated with imprisoned spirits, demons, elements, even 'undead' cursed souls."

Xorus says, "Ironically, flesh or blood golems are not necessarily undead, or rather might not be 'true undead'."

Xorus says, "Whereas animates are puppets of the necromancer with corpses of the recently dead, flesh golems are automatons with constructed rather than borrowed bodies."

Xorus says, "With the undead artificial beings in general, some are animated by possessing spirits, which bring themselves into the host."

Xorus says, "Dybbuks are of this kind, as are soul golems, which become possessed by wind wraiths."

Xorus says, "There have been attempts historically to embed souls with consciousness and self-awareness into constructs without cursing or soulcrafting."

Xorus says, "These will most inevitably become unstable and break down. They will also become embittered at their own mortality."

Xorus says, "As such it is a fine way to get yourself killed by your own hateful creations."

Xorus says, "The gargoyles of Mist Harbor. The urnon golems of the Arcane Eyes."

Xorus says, "Then there are the blood golems..."

Xorus says, "The most advanced of the artificial beings are often simulacra, which are grown from blood and other matter in vats or pools or other containers."

Xorus says, "This is closely related to the occult tradition of making homunculi with alchemy."

Xorus says, "Grishom Stone is infamous for making such 'clones' with the aid of Everblood."

Xorus says, "Vruul are one of the most infamous undead of this kind. They slumber for millennia in tall stone jars, feeding on a foul black fluid of otherworldly substances."

Xorus says, "Marluvian priests are thought to make them through brutal sacrifices and transmogrification with 'anointment' by harvested ichor."

Xorus says, "This is a highly caustic fluid from flesh eating blob monsters, which are nutritive mixed with extrachthonic mosses and fungi."

Xorus says, "Lastly, we may speak of the 'preservatives', those undead which were attempts by necromancers at eternal survival."

Ysharra says, "...sounds like pickling."

Xorus nods at Ysharra.

Xorus says, "Thalior used to refer to the vruul as pickles."

Lylia nods at Xorus.

Xorus continues, "The earliest form of this was perhaps the mummy, which are sometimes possessed by wasteland spirits."

Xorus says, "In time it was understood that souls of the dead could get stuck to their organs which were preserved in canopic jars."

Xorus says, "The earliest liches of this kind were most likely those, like the local monastic liches, who performed rituals cutting out and removing their own vital organs."

Xorus says, "This would eventually develop into the dark art of 'phylacteries', soul jars for preventing the permanent destruction of the lich."

Xorus says, "There are some who argue that the phylactery is the defining condition of a 'lich'."

Bakarus smirks.

Xorus says, "But I find this prescription contrived, essentially a 'no true Reiver' statement, and allow the word 'lich' for other methods."

Xorus says, "Soul fragments may be kept in other hosts, who will become wraiths, tethered to the lich and supporting it."

Xorus says, "Demi-liches are something akin to wraiths, vampirically feeding upon and possessing others."

Xorus says, "Liches very often feed upon the spirit of others to sustain themselves."

Xorus says, "Other methods entirely exist as well, and there are higher undead which in some sense are 'beyond' liches, such as the Flawless of the Luukosian Order."

Speaking to Xorus, Bakarus asks, "Any examples we may have heard of?"

(OOC) You quietly whisper to Xorus, ""No True Reiver!' Och, aye, I see what ye' done there!"

Speaking to Bakarus, Ysharra explains, "Politicians."

Speaking to Bakarus, Perigourd says, "Xavean."

Speaking to Kayse, Ysharra says, "Sorry. Just a jape."

Speaking to Bakarus, Xorus says, "Zeban certainly was a demi-lich. Barnom may be, in a fashion, as well."

Speaking to Kayse, Ysharra says, "...except for Cruxophim."

Speaking to Xorus, Bakarus says, "Thank you, I know little on the matter."

Speaking to Ysharra, Kayse muses, "You're probably mostly correct."

Xorus smirks.

Xorus says, "The Everblooded are virtually immortal. The paragon method of Raznel is closely related to this as well as tethering."

Xorus says, "The extraplanar undead are the most complex question of all."

Xorus says, "These will sometimes blur the distinction between demons, other infernal beings of darkness, and otherworldly abominations or hybrids made from the living."

Xorus says, "Something as mundane as the glistening cerebralite, for example, makes more itself from the dead brains of victims from this world."

Xorus says, "Necleriines are usually considered demons. But they are made from the heart and flesh of the dead."

Xorus says, "It may well be that the souls of the dead may be transmogrified into other kinds of beings entirely."

Xorus says, "That a brothel worker may become a bleakwalker, as a hooded figure may become a vathor."

Xorus says, "Thus, we see that necromancy is the study of the deepest metaphysical questions, and the most fundamental cosmic mysteries."

Xorus concludes, "Truly, undeath is a wondrous and beautiful thing, and we have much more to learn from it."

A fiery-eyed nightmare steed stares blankly into the distance, his eyes glowing a brilliant red. He protests loudly, rears back with his forelegs high off the ground, and then takes off, disappearing without further incident.

Xorus smirks.

Alisaire smiles pleasantly.