June 2019

Jainkoa’s third and final assassination was, unlike the others, coordinated with his enemies external. Rebels forces within Teramyt struck at the same time as external forces from an alliance of five rival empires invaded.

The assassination itself was simple; a heavy part of the roof was collapsed on Jainkoa’s throne, shattering the crystal vessel that held his essence. It was believed that the god-king’s death, along with simultaneous attacks against his already demoralized troops, would lead to minimal bloodshed.

Instead, after initial gains, both the rebels and the invaders noticed that the Teramyt soldiers had begun fanatically resisting, to the point of charging enemy line unarmed. The next day, orders written in Jainkoa’s hand, and familiar to those who knew him, appeared in the dead clutches of his men. They were resisting not out of loyalty, but out of terror. The initial fear was that the King of Murder was being impersonated, but it soon became apparent that this was not the case.

After nearly a week of fierce battles, the orders were traced back to a barracks where they were being written by an unknown young man—perhaps one of the many that had been sacrificed For this purpose. Rebels of Teramyt found him and, seeing in him the manners and aspect of the hated Jainkoa, struck him down.

What happened next is not entirely clear, but it seems that, at the last extremity, Jainkoa the King of Murder had been able to move his spirit into the bodies of others, and had attempted to use this to escape his fate. As a result, the rebels appear to have bound and poisoned one of their own, suspected of harboring the king’s tainted spirit, and murdered everyone in a mile’s radius, returning only to commit suicide themselves.

It is believed that the King of Murder’s spirit perished, or dissipated, or was otherwise lost, in that last burst of blood and violence.

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After nearly a decade of ruling as an all but immobile corpse, Jainkoa of Teramyt had stopped raising the slain back to life as warriors—allegedly because he feared that they might challenge him for immortal primacy. Every last raised soldier was put to final death, as was every sorcerer with knowledge of the process, in an orgy of blood known thereafter as the Night of Eternal Death.

To this day, the knowledge has not been recovered.

Not long afterward, Jainkoa was assassinated a second time. A massive explosion rippled though his palace, likely caused by the remaining necromancers fearing for their lives. Jainkoa’s physical form was shattered by the blast, but he survived thanks to an arcane contingency. His tainted spirit found refuge in a beautiful crystalline vessel concealed in his throne, and from there he could speak and even cause pain at a distance.

Every sorcerer, every necormancer, every practitioner of the arcane arts that was associated with the palace was killed after this. Jainkoa recruited replacements, kidnapping them when neccessary from abroad, putting increasingly impossible demands on them for a new, immortal, physical body.

During this time, the neighboring principalities which had once cowered in fear before Teramyt’s might began to plot against it, aided by the populace which had grown restive with Jainkoa’s increasingly unstable rule. They were aided by the god-king’s increasingly myopic focus on his immortality, which began to require a steady string of sacrifices around this time. Many young and healthy subjects of Teramyt were taken by force from their families, either as failed host bodies for Jainkoa’s spirit or as test subjects for increasingly brutal experiments.

The rumor that Jainkoa and his sages were close to being able to transfer his essence to another living body precipitated his third assassination.

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Jainkoa the Eternal Death of the Teramyt Empire, died for the second time after fifteen years of rule.

He had been holding court, speaking to a new group of necormancers and hedge wizards he had invited to work on his great project of life extension. Unbeknownst to him, an assassin was in their midst, having waylaid and murdered a wizard and taken their name and robes. Bitter over Jainkoa’s murder of his brother, and convinced that a sane ruler could lead Teramyt to a new golden age, the assassin Zalehilt took the opportunity to plunge a concealed sword into the god-king’s abdomen.

The entire delegation of sorcerers was murdered shortly thereafter, while Jainkoa, mortally wounded, lay on his second deathbed. Advised by his remaining magicians that he could not be returned to life a second time by the same process which had saved him many years before, he ordered them to do what they had to in order to preserve his life-force.

Thus, when he succumbed to his wounds, Jainkoa entered a state of living death—a dead body inhabited by a tainted spirit. Decay set in immediately, as it always does, which he tried to counteract with an even more rigorous routine of daily treatments and enchantments.

Giving up any pretense of keeping his youth or a semblance of fair appearance, Jainkoa pushed his magicians again and again, severing their heads when he deemed it necessary, until his body had been essentially embalmed. Terrifying in visage but fragile, he withdrew into his throne room, settling into a specially constructed seat that helped to maintain his crumbling form.

This first assassination opened the door to a new period of terror, as Jainkoa mercilessly pursued enemies real and imagined. Anyone who was known to have spoken to Zailehilt, as well as the entire Zailehilt family, were rounded up for death. Informants abounded, turning in imagined conspirators as petty revenge for various slights. Jainkoa’s agents ran wild, and his purges had killed half of his noble supporters and half of his generals within a year.

It was around this time that he began to be known as Heriotza the King of Murder, both in baleful whispers among his own people and to foreigners. Legend has it that Jainkoa himself grudgingly approved of the monicker, and did not murder those he knew to use it. But perhaps that is only because he knew his entire kingdom would have to be put to the sword.

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During the period of consolidation he declared after the Ten Years’ War, King Heriotza II The Desired made a number of changes.

First, in keeping with his pledge, he altered his official name and title. No longer a king, nor a pharaoh, nor even an emperor, he would henceforth be known by no title other than god. Declaring that his ancestor Heriotza I The Pious did not deserve to share a name with his greatness, he further decreed that he would be known as Jainkoa, a word that combined phonemes for “eternal” and “death” in Old Teramytan.

Though the people called him Heriotza II The Despised under their breath, in public he was now simply Jainkoa, the Eternal Death. The death was for his enemies, naturally, but also for himself: Jainkoa did his best to make good on his pledge to rule forever.

Magicians, sorcerers, and other practitioners of the dark arts flooded into the swollen empire of Teramyt, all supported lavishly by Jainkoa. Their directive: research into the line between life and death with an eye toward life eternal. They would be given anything they desired, but in return their liege expected results. Not a few charlatans were caught up in Jainkoa’s nets, living the high life for a year or so before being executed for failing to produce anything of value.

Though Jainkoa himself was not an old man, he seemed to forever regard himself as being near death and took elaborate precautions to protect his life, including rejuvenating baths three times a day and a dazzling variety of poultices and creams designed to stave off aging and mortality. Perhaps it was the strange nature of his resurrection that made him so.

It was not unti his first assassination, though, that the true extent of Jainkoa’s madness was made manifest.

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Four years to the day after his ascension, King Heriotza II the Desired of Teramyt invaded the neighboring county of Labankada, ruled by his godfather the Pharaoh. Labankada had ten times the area and ten times the population of Teramyt; those that still had the ability to do so had councilmen against the campaign but found themselves rejected—or beheaded—for their troubles.

In the first clash, near the border at Gudu-Zelai, it became apparent what Heriotza’s military training regimen had amounted to. The Labankadans found themselves facing an ashen-faced army that knew no fear, knew no mercy, and cared not for any niceties. Well-armed and well-drilled, the Teramyts annihilated a much larger force, killing the Pharaoh and his two sons. Prisoners of the rout were executed to a man, save for a few nobles taken as hostages.

Heriotza, it seems, had been inspired by his own transformation and had killed every recruit to his new army. Resurrected, they became like he: creatures tainted by the underworld, pure malice and bereft of mercy.

Labankada fell swiftly before such a force. King Heriotza raised their own dead against them, and those few well-fortified points that resisted were overcome through canny use of hostages and a few object lessons in which entire garrisons were massacred upon the breach.

Entering their capital city in triumph, with the body of the Pharaoh and his sons dragged behind his chariot, King Heriotza stood on the balcony of the old palace and declared himself Pharaoh-King. Labankadans everywhere would do well to keep their heads down and do what was asked of them, he continued, for the penalty for disobedience was death.

In this way, tiny Teramyt conquered all of its neighbors, and their neighbors after them, in a whirlwind campaign lasting less than ten years. Upon completing these conquests, King Heriotza declared a ten-year period of retrenchment and consolidation of his conquests. He also made it clear that, while pliant local nobles would be allowed to serve in his name, there would be no opposition to his rule, no sharing of power, and—most importantly—no marriage and no heirs. In a move that shocked many, the pharaoh-king included the gods themselves with the nobles. They could continue to be worshipped, but he would be their liege.

Heriotza announced, from the steps of the Labankada palace that he had repurposed, that it was his intent to rule his domain forever as an immortal god-king.

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The king refused to listen, and ordered the ritual to be performed on pain of death. The magician complied, and Prince Heriotza was returned to life. All seemed well, but the populace noticed a definite change in the young man’s attitude. He seemed numb to pain in himself or others, cherished mean-spirited pastimes and jokes, and began studying intently with the court magician despite the latter’s protests.

When the magician, despondent, took his own life, King Gizahilketa confronted his son about his strange behavior. Heriotza responded that the old man was a fool to question his judgment, and that the magician’s death was of no consequence—the man had taught all he knew and another tutor in the black arts had already been dispatched from Labankada.

Legend has it that at this point Gizahilketa, mortified, tried to disinherit his son. The young man, laughing, then struck him down. The official histories simply record that the confrontation was too much for the old man and he perished in a fit.

The people of Teramyt spontaneously erupted in three days of feasting and celebrations for the new king, during which he was lifted on the backs of the populace and carried around joyously. At the conclusion of the festivities, King Heriotza II thanked them for their efforts, and informed them that there would be no need for any more such wastes of time.

Over the next year, the new king gradually undermined and removed every obstacle to his absolute rule. The last queen, the vizier, and the most troublesome nobles all found themselves isolated and executed on charges of conspiring with Labankada. The Pharaoh seems to have been mostly amused by this, and let the incidents pass without comment to his godson.

At the same time, Heriotza quietly introduced military training and conscription, requiring that each family with more than two adult sons furnish one for the army. To bolster the ranks still further he recruited daughters from families with multiple girls to serve as archers and charioteers. The conscripts reported for training and were generally never heard from again. Only those rejected from service for some deformity returned, and spoke of large camps in the desert with black tents, from which scarcely a sound emanated.

The people of Teramyt soon learned what King Heriotza II The Desired had been planning.

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The principality of Teramyt had long awaited the birth of a royal heir, for King Gizahilketa III was elderly and without any legitimate heirs or brothers. As a nominal vassal of the Pharaohs of Labankada, it was feared that Teramyt would lose its independence and submit to foreign rule should Gizahilketa perish with no heirs.

It was thus that there was great, rhapsodic jubilation upon the announcement that Gizahilketa’s third wife, the young Queen Haurtxo, had borne a healthy son. Her death in childbirth scarcely dampened the enthusiasm of the populace, and young Prince Heriotza was declared even before his reign as the future King Heriotza II The Desired.

Even as he tried to produce another child with fourth and eventually fifth wives, King Gizahilketa hired the best tutors from across Teramyt and even Labankada. The Pharaoh had agreed to serve as the young prince’s godfather, and reportedly was fond of the young man, lavishing him with gifts. The hope that Heriotza might marry his daughter likely played a part as well.

Despite his advanced age, Gizahilketa clung to the throne—there was no precedent for a king to abdicate, as he was considered to be a divine personage. He was still on the throne when the prince reached his majority: handsome, well-educated, and well-liked, Heriotza seemed every bit “the desired.”

When the news reached the King that his son had been slain in a hunting accident, the old man was devastated. He approached his court magician and asked if there was not some way to revive the boy, to stave off the encroachment of Labankada and save his kingdom. The magician replied that such a thing was possible but that it should never be done—souls brought back thus always carried the taint of the underworld with them.

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