This is the stunning conclusion of Astoshan’s story. When we last left Astoshan, he had finally found who he had been searching for all these years. . .
I saw them. The hair. The furs. The great weapons. The slaughter.
I dragged their shaman from their ranks, those who had the gall to surrender to us. I drained him of all he had, his strength, his mind, his soul. I took everything from him, and in doing so I saw a life through his eyes. I saw his life. I saw his culture. I saw his people.
I saw his home.
I left the others in the snow as I dragged his corpse through my portal. I went to every crypt, catacomb, mausoleum, graveyard and dungeon. I raised every corpse unworthy of rest. Thousands of bodies, some still warm, some centuries old. I nailed and stitched the pieces left over to make more. I grafted four skeletal arms to my back; my two were not fast enough on their own. I contacted Lyeneru and every cult of the Glory. They began their rituals to raise their loved ones. An assistant was sent to my village to raise my people, instilled with my knowledge of them so that they could be contacted. I used the Deathless Companies to herd the dead into the wastes. Everything in my way was destroyed and raised. The land itself wilted and died in our wake. There would be no survivors, nothing left of any of them. I stood on Tuomio's shoulders, holding his antlers for support as he smashed them and threw their warriors like toys. My magics repaired and raised anew even as undead were destroyed. I pulled the life from their mystics, adding their souls to my collection to power my spellwork. My scouts reported that the adventurers were following my horde but it mattered little. I was only days from the walls.
The northerners joined forces against me; a great army of eternal rivals joined against a common threat. Veterans and heroes of their people standing shoulder to shoulder to face death as one. I could not afford to throw my horde against this force, but I could not turn away now. In the early morning dark, I had the mindless buried in the snow. I stood among the Deathless, inviting the charge of the barbarians who clearly outnumbered us. Like a wave they poured over the field, kicking snow into the air like a storm. You could barely see the arms coming out from beneath them. Dozens had disappeared before they realized what was happening, their charge faltering as they panicked. They were disorganized and fighting in every direction when our charge hit. By the end there were far too many bodies for me to raise properly, but I needed their numbers for the siege. I cursed that desolate waste to raise them all, nothing much lost. The next day we herded our new force to the walls of their city.
I oversaw the siege as my companions came to cut me down. My horde was unstoppable -- they would make ramps of their own bodies if they had to. All I needed was time. I fought to delay my adventuring partners so that my forces could complete their mission. It was a fight doomed to fail: I was sure to die, but that was in the plan regardless. It mattered little as long as the city was taken. I directed all my forces to the walls and engaged alone, aided only by the occasional Mindless that could sense my partners. They destroyed my soul stones one by one and soon after, I felt the paladin's blade pierced my heart. As I collapsed I looked out on the burning ruins of the city. I heard the screams slowly dying out. It reminded me of home.
I saw the Glory. She was more beautiful than I had ever thought: perfectly pale skin, hair as white as mine yet somehow more. Preserved for eternity, radiating with a compulsive force of majesty. She smiled as I stood before her, gazing not upon her with lust or dumbstruck by her beauty but as a faithful follower. Being in the presence of a goddess was nothing unusual to me. She read me as one would a book; I could feel myself coming apart under her scrutiny. She saw the desire in me and grinned. She knew she was not the one I wanted. The light faded as she disappeared into the Gray mist, and her face was replaced with the one I longed for.
I opened my eyes and saw my mother.
Wagons and carts appeared in the city for months after the siege. Families from across the realm, hidden under robes and veils. Coffins opening from the inside after long journeys. The smell of herbs and spices used to disguise decay. Illusion magics fading after long periods of overuse. The most extravagant was the portal that allowed through Lyeneru and her husband with their host. After the first week of no new arrivals we took a census. Twenty thousand, seven hundred, and forty three sentient citizens. Among them were four liches, two death knights, three vampires with twenty three spawn between them, and a singular mummy lord. As for the living, we numbered three thousand, two hundred, and six, with the remainder being the Deathless. The mindless hordes numbered well over forty thousand. My people had their city.
Kyöpelinvuori. The Mountain of the Dead.
It became clear our city was to be a home to undead of every kind, and that the followers of the Evening Glory would not be the only host.
I established a council with representatives of every type of intelligent undead to assure that their needs would be met, each needing their own form of care. The first vote was of who would lead the city, to which it was unanimously decided that I would take such a role. The humor of the only living member of the council of undead leading the city was not lost on us. Next was food and shelter. The majority of our populace required no food whatsoever; the remainder however posed issues. The liches would continue to need souls, the vampires needed blood, and of course the living needed fresh food. Obviously this realm was not conducive to farming, thus the raiding tendencies of the Dün. The wastes provided a second issue: a majority of our people could not generate body heat and would freeze if exposed for too long. Fortunately due to the nature of our populace, we had an unusually high amount of magic users and an astonishing workforce to call upon. I truly believe this realm has never seen such a force and will not again until long after I have turned to dust. No fewer than a hundred mages and clerics, ranging from acolytes who could barely handle a cantrip to those that could destroy cities if we so pleased. Combined with a force of tireless expendable labor that for all intents was infinite in number, we could move mountains. And so we did.
We burrowed deep into the earth so far that we started losing zombies to lava flows. Great channels and vents were rented, opening into a great network of dungeons. From here tunnels were made to the surface, opening beneath the homes and streets of Kyöpelinvuori. This heat was just enough to stop the process of freezing inside most of the houses. Far larger tunnels were opened in the inns and taverns where they could be carefully watched and adjusted with vents, bringing the whole building to a warm temperature without the risk of burning them to the ground during a surge of heat. Many innkeepers brought in snow from outside, creating a great many saunas and bathhouses. These brought mixed results as the living enjoyed them greatly, but many deathless found that such rooms would cause their flesh to loosen significantly. Staffing the tunnels was likewise difficult: the air from the vents was toxic in such concentrations and the heat quickly turned dead flesh to leather. Skeletons opened and closed the tunnels inside with oversight from particularly dry or defleshed deathless. Our resident mummy lord Iyebkhentre oversaw the construction and maintenance of this work, insulating much of the tunnels with sand in a stroke of genius to slow the loss of heat. It also became very evident when surges were inbound as the opening gusts would kick sand into the air across town, making sure there was enough warning to open the vents that ran outside the walls. For this he was permitted to establish his tomb in these tunnels, which he accepted graciously as it reminded him of his homeland. Last I recall, he had established a full priesthood in those sand-strewn tunnels, a little piece of desert in this frozen waste.
While this effort was undertaken, an equally momentous feat was in action to stop our populace from eating itself. The Vampires were easy enough; among the many faithful it was not difficult to find those willing to donate blood. Of course some saw profit in this and it became another quirk of the taverns to have chilled blood of many species on tap, a few donors even made a living of eating certain diets to acquire certain "regional tastes". The living however required fresh food. Great groups of fishermen and hunters probed the wilderness whilst the clerics used their powers to summon as much as they could for their flocks. This solution was temporary and many nights were spent in search of a better source. The Liches actually brought about the solution to our issue through their own needs. They required souls to keep their minds intact, which means we needed a source of them. Even our populace would not be willing to have their souls consumed, as even the most devout still need their soul. As such, we were forced to make connections with the cities to the South. Many of our living set out as traders, buying crops in exchange for the massive amounts of stone and metals pulled from our ventures into the mountains. Much of these foodstuffs could be bought in bulk, storehouses kept cold to preserve their contents through the year. These made way for our more important trade, the more difficult trade. Murderers. Rapists. Bandits. Traitors. Those marked for death for their acts. Those known without a doubt. They were bought and dragged back to the Mountain of the Dead. Fresh blood for vampires, fresh souls for liches, fresh bodies for the mindless hordes. Few towns agreed to these offers -- our coin and materials could only persuade so many. Adventurers were compensated well for bringing criminals to our catchers and bounty hunting became a popular profession for our more outgoing citizens. Taken to the temples for their final questioning, they would be magically questioned until their final verdict was reached and their ultimate fate decided.
With food and shelter secured, we could begin working on the rest. Libraries of great knowledge, primarily relating to magic and necromancy in particular, were raised. Professions never before imagined started to arise by the day. First, the professional suicide assistants for those who decided it was time to move on. Some were not happy with their unlife; others had simply seen those they wished to see, and we're ready to go once more. Necromancers taught others to sculpt and shape flesh in order to hold together a body, creating odd doctors specializing in maintaining the functions of the Deathless. Preservers worked with oils and magic to stop rot and decay, or to maintain features. Herbalists specialized in covering the smell of death. Partial mummification became a common practice. Fashion became incredibly important to those that had lost most if not all of their features. Thousands of unique masks, ranging from recreation of faces to pieces of art, all used to create a new sense of identity. Studded and painted bones where tattoos used to sit. Enchanted jewelry that placed simple illusions of features lost to time. Empty ribcages stuffed with herbs and wrapped in leather. Clothing from across the realm to show their origins and culture. I never thought that a great tomb would be so colorful and lively. Many temples were built as expected. The first great temples to the Glory among them. Beautiful in their simple rounded shapes, every window a heart. Smaller faiths appeared as well, those who were content living alongside the undead without being compelled to smite them. This proved to be the greatest issue. A great many of the Deathless wished to see more of the world, a world that was not accepting of us.
To protect our people we established the Silver Guardians, heavily armed and armored soldiers who protected the caravans that roamed out from our home. All who ventured out wore clothing that covered a great deal or enchanted items that maintained illusions. Full suits of armor and draped chain hoods performed well for the Guardians, providing cover while also hiding the clicking and grinding of bare bone. Many towns at first saw them as nomadic foreigners, though it was not long before they started to realize that something was amiss. The raids from the north had abruptly stopped, now replaced by these odd travelers. I led the first diplomatic missions myself, leading with honesty and clear explanations. Messengers were sent ahead of time to explain that a necromancer with a small army of undead was coming to discuss peace and trade relations. Obviously the nations were skeptical, our sole ally being the city where the Deathless had first been raised. Many times we found the gates closed with guards covering the walls. One met us with a standing army in the field, mages and siege equipment ready for battle. It took a good deal of counterspells and Tuomio catching a trebuchet stone like a child's ball to convince them to parlay. My terms were clear: do not attack my city, do not attack my people; in exchange, they would have a new trading partner, a secure border, and access to our mercenary companies. Every city was offered the same; there were no favorite or hidden deals. Several refused, and their territories were marked as forbidden. Others agreed to lighter, weary terms. I could not blame them for their caution. Few agreed to our full terms, but those who did maintain their relations to the time of writing. The home of the Deathless Company was the only city to allow the Deathless to live within their populace permanently, which proudly remains so to this day.
After a few years Kyöpelinvuori stabilized. The greater magical feats such as temples and blessings had become permanent -- the laws codified. The great crypts had been constructed, giving the Deathless a place to be laid to rest when they were ready. The trade routes secured, our ownership of the wastes recognized. I had the time to see my wife and daughters again. While my children had grown, it became clear my flower was changing as well. Her druidry was shaping her as my necromancy warped my own flesh. At first it was simple: flowers sprouting from her hair, which she was quite pleased with. Then she started to change with the seasons. It would be decades yet before the first bark started to grow on her skin, a warning of what was to come.
Years passed, each quicker than the one before as they always tend to do. I established the Gray Order, my students of necromancy for a greater cause. Undead sent work the fields and mines, work that did not need fine skills. Slowly we worked at bringing the school to light, to study and understand, so that it may be watched and guarded against. My city grew, undead slowly streaming in from across the realm seeking a safe neutral ground. Of course some did not have good intentions, but the laws of the city were strict and just. They were willing to trade some of their power for the safety offered by our walls. Formerly lethal rivalries devolved into petty legal disputes and social posturing, much easier than murder inside a closely watched city. Vampire courts held great banquets in beautiful halls, the blood of the donors and lesser criminals filling fountains. Liches, ever introverted, traded their dungeons for towers and crypts. They could stay cooped away forever just the same, just without the threat of paladins smiting them to dust in exchange for taxes and audits on magical goods. We even established a colony of ghouls, fed well enough that they could think properly. The largest issues were corralling the Mindless. With so many zombies it was not uncommon for some to be lost and forgotten, their mental shackles opened. Naturally this meant nothing to most residents, but to the living it was a substantial issue when a rogue zombie looks like your average citizen. Weak magical rings were mass-produced and enchanted, making the wearer undetectable to Mindless undead as long as they were within our walls. The Silver Guardians were likewise sent on frequent patrols throughout town and the roads, capturing any rogue undead to be auctioned off or sent to work projects. As for the city's hordes, they were kept in crypts to be called upon as needed. Many were marked and bound to simple wands of control that doubled as tally sticks, allowing them to be rented or sold with a form of tracking for return. We had many, many court cases before a tally system became mandatory for all personally owned undead.
Wars were fought. Zealous Kings came to wipe the undead from the world. Righteous paladins came to remove the dark scourge of the wastes. Other Lords of Undeath came to take the Dead City. Armies of monsters and demons directed by dragons and abominable overlords. We had planned for this. All Deathless of stable body and mind were trained as militia, and the volunteers were considerable in number. As one militiaman told me when asked about the prospect of death, "The first time was awful, but I believe I am quite used to it now." Great hordes were likewise buried in hidden tombs outside the walls, ready to be unleashed behind and among any invaders. Our dead were laid to rest in great catacombs where their bodies could be raised again to protect their families. This is to say nothing of the mercenary companies, the Silver Guardians, our many magi, and the natural defence of our location. Many armies turned around in the wastes before our walls were even in sight. Every assault that reached us failed, and their bodies were added to our workforce. We overcame attacks from within as well. No man can make a home for all. Insurrections, demonic incursions, coups -- all failed. We had no fields to tend, no numberless mouths to feed, no industry that needed to continue for our survival. Every force against Kyöpelinvuori was met with total war, and there was no quarter for invaders.
Decades came and went. I buried my parents for a second time, their passing willing and painless as their work on this world was done. I watched my daughters grow their separate ways: one a masterful necromancer and the cheerful star of the Gray Order, the other the somber druidess who traveled the world to prevent any death she could. I spent my own time with my flower. It became a common sight to see us walk along the streets, followed by the now massive Tuomio and her little Fungalis mushrooms. I was not the only one to create a new race, it had seemed. Her little creations had infested Kyöpelinvuoris despite her rarely visiting, helped by the citizens who insisted on raising them for entertainment. Her personal colony had advanced to a tribal culture by then -- odd little things. Their leader was a redcap barely taller than my heel, who was apparently chosen due to the many writing quills that Alfhilda stored in his head. This one in turn rode atop Tuomio's head, giving the appearance of a great feathered headdress. I allowed it as, despite my vocal complaints, I found it highly amusing. We travelled the world like this, the old man and his monster and the goddess with her little plants. Through woods and caverns, over deserts and oceans, into whichever cities would let us pass. It was wonderful while it lasted.
I stopped aging in my mid seventies, whether due to my half dead state or as a blessing from the Glory, I know not. I have not changed since to the best of my knowledge, I appear to be preserved by some form of magic I do not yet understand. Alfhilda aged at half the speed of the rest, easily stunning young men well into her nineties. By that time the woods had started to take to her, bark and branches grew from her beautiful form. She still trimmed them then, though it pained her greatly. We were well into our second century before she gave up, letting it spread and immortalize her beauty in woodwork. In our third she had become almost entirely changed and had started to grow beyond her original form. By three hundred she grew tired of trying to fit inside buildings and took herself to the woods where she could walk among the trees. Such was her power by then that spring came where she walked, flowers and mushrooms erupting at her footsteps through the snow. The tiny mushroom people, her Fungalis, had developed a small civilization in her branches and at her feet. She grew to the size of a treant, an avatar of natural beauty that brought bloom in her wake. Now and then she would come from the woods to speak to villages, taking stories as payment to aid their crops. She remained in this form until shortly after six hundred, finally deciding it was time to take root.
The woods came to life around her as she took to the earth, the snow melting away to reveal a flash of nature. Not long after, it seemed as if it had always been. However, as I sat with her for months, my own power affected this land as well. Everyday the forest comes alive and dies at night. The deer and birds fluttering in the sun give way to undead searching beneath the branches for the fallen and the outsider.
I chose to remain with her, digging my simple grave among her roots. If you found this tome resting on my shroud, then you were beneath her leaves when you took it. We lie here still, one alive and one undead. Together forever for all time, as we vowed those many years ago on the rings we still carry.
But be warned.
Our rings still hold our promise, and our pain is still shared.
Mine is on my hand as it has sat for centuries. Take it if you will but Buhone will not stop until he is returned to his master, nor will Tuomio rest until I am whole once more. If you seek my guidance or assistance, speak with Buhone and he will decide if it is a worthy cause.
My flower bears hers at her heart; to seek it is to invite the fury of nature itself. The trees and all that live beneath their leaves will come to save their mother. Powerful as they are, their defense is not the greatest threat.
One seeking her ring should do well to remember that I have returned from death before.
Nature's wrath is nothing next to mine.
Unless explicitly stated, this story remains the property of (and under copyright to) All Things DnD & FelixLaVulpe and are not supposed to be narrated or performed, or adapted into a film, television, audiobooks, animation, republished, reposted or media of any kind without our consent.