Donovan Slough
Undead (Human) Mage
25HP, 9 STR, 14 DEX, 0 CON, 19 INT, 13 WIS, 2 CHA
Revolve 1d6 (6 shots), dagger 1d4, animate dead (x5), drain (x5)

A clever bandit who was unsatisifed with his lot, Donovan Slough took up the study of necromancy from forbidden tomes captured while banditing. He used enough of his life force to die in these experiments, but promptly rose from the grave to continue them all the same. His first victims (beside himself) were his own gang, who he drained of life force and reduced to lifeless, subservient husks.

Donovan continues his crime spree to capture new victims to drain life force from and to procure the reagents he needs for his experiments. He talks animatedly to the mindless drained husks he uses as sevants, and has been known to become quite upset if one of his undead “friends” are destroyed. In addition to the ability to raise any dead and bind them as thralls, Donovan has perfected the ability to drain energy from his foes and use it to heal himself–treat as a reverse Magic Missile for this purpose.

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In time, the Dirge became aware of the need to present itself in a favorable light when dealing with outsiders.

It therefore acquired a magnificent embroidered robe, spun from the finest burial shrouds and grave goods.Gold and silver from raided tombs provided the materials to craft a pair of glittering metal gauntlets and greaves.

Finally, it created a mask to conceal its hideous “head” from the world. Adapted from the death mask of an emperor long since dust, it was fine-featured and porcelain, with sunken eyes and a neutral, regal expression. Naturally, the Dirge spoke from the various mouths scattered about its form, making the mouth purely decorative in that respect, but the mask did reduce its field of vision to two eyes.

When the Dirge was seen in its finery, that meant that it was relatively safe to approach, at least from a position of strength. Plenty died and had their corpses absorbed into its writhing flesh despite this, but only those who had at least somewhat earned that ire.

But woe to those who saw the towering form of bubbling and running necrotic flesh unveiled. For that was when the Dirge hunted, and that was when a hundred dead eyes looked out in all directions from every crevasse of its body.

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“I’m a lich, technically,” said Gerald. “An undead abomination sustained by sheer force of will along with necromantic spells from beyond the ken of sanity.”

“Yes, and I’m a wight,” said Geraldine. “Not technically undead but not fully alive, capable of draining life energy at a touch and using it to sustain my horrific existence.”

“They say opposites attract,” laughed Gerald.

“Yes, the horrors of my existence beyond the veil exactly cancel out those of Gerald’s,” Geraldine added. “Why, Madison and Powell look almost human aside from the paleness and fangs.”

“There was some trouble with the families at first,” said Gerald. “But we’re raising the children as vampires. It’s a good compromise for everyone involved.”

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“Well, transdeath rights are in a pretty good place right now, but most people only think of vampires and zombies, you know? They don’t even know the difference between a zombie and a lich and a revanent and a ghoul, and they sure aren’t giving us extra points when it comes to hiring.”

“Why don’t you do something about it, Kershaw?” The voice from beneath the grave sounded sad, almost tremulous.

“Well, I try. I run a support group for ‘underserved undead’ out of the community center on 7th. But I’m the only regular attendee since Alan the Barghest died of the rot, and we’re lucky to get three attendees on a good day.”

“That’s…really sad.”

“We have a hard time with those ‘Life Ends at Death’ protestors,” I said. “I’m sure you know how it is. People are scared of the unknown and the unfamiliar, always have been. I don’t blame them and I only light them on fire a little bit, but I think we get targeted a lot because it’s not politically correct for them to pick on zombies or vampires anymore.”

“Would…would you let me come to your support group? Even if I arose as something like a zombie?”

“Of course,” I said. “I’ve never turned anyone away except that one freak in makeup.”

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“Well,” I said, “Gyles Kershaw fled England and Cromwell’s dogs hoping for a place where his alchemy lab wouldn’t be burned down every other fortnight.”

A thoughtful pause. “I guess…he didn’t find it?”

“Oh, he most certainly did,” I said. “He unlocked the secret of life eternal, in point of fact, and was able to achieve powers unthought-of by mortal man through dark elixirs and covenants with the lords of shadow.”

The grave was silent a moment. “Well, speaking with the dead was clearly one of them.”

“I chose the powers I was sure would be the most useful, and would strike fear into the hearts of mortals. The ability to speak to people over long distances without error. The ability to imbue any vehicle I chose with motive power. The ability to cause terrible wounds at a distance. And of course conjuring light and flame at will.”

Maddy was silent from below again. I thought that she was being timid, but after a moment I realized that she was struggling not to laugh. “So…cell phones, cars, guns, lighters, and flashlights?” she said.

“It was a lot more impressive in 1692,” I snapped. “How was I to know that human ingenuity would render each of them meaningless in less than 400 years? Deathlessness was not something I had the training for, and the shadow lord gave me maybe five minutes to choose my powers.”

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The trek across the taiga had been a bruising one. Paved roads had run out a few hours north of Yakutsk, and the dirt tracks some hours north of that. John had prepared as best he could for this eventuality, but even with all his groundwork he found himself making the last part of the journey on foot, across game trails cut by reindeer across the lower reaches of the Verkhoyansk Range, the coldest place ever permanently inhabited by man.

By the time John had arrived in a small valley carved fromt he Range by an unnamed river, he was suffering from frostbite, saddle sores, and bites from the stinging insects that swarmed eagerly around him, desperate for blood in the short quasi-summer that was their lives. Deep within the valley, visible only from the place indicated on the map, was an old ostrog–a single-tower fortress within a mouldering palisade, erected by the earliest Russian explorers.

When he was nearer, the unmistakable resonance of Tuvan throat singing could be heard echoring through the forgotten valley. This was the place.

John found the Porok at the highest floor of the okrug, at a window that had once served as a lookout post, projecting the eerie sound into the world through dead lungs. The Porok was rotted and embalmed, like a badly preserved mummy with just enough flesh and sinew to hold together its bones and support the worn finery it sported.

“It’s beautiful,” said John. “The singing.”

The Porok did not turn to him. “It is the only sound that I can make that one might think came from something young,” it said. Its voice was raspy and choked with dust, the death rattle of an old general cut down in single combat. “And it serves as a beacon to those who, like you, have made the long trek north from Yakutsk.”

John was susprised that the Porok’s English was so intelligible, as he had extensively practiced his rusty Russian and Latin. “So I am not the first,” he said.

“Nor will you be the last.” The Porok now approached John. Its face was eyeless, its lips and gaping nasal cavity devoid of all but the most base of flesh. “To those who would seek the Porok out, the long trek is a welcome…filter. The cool climate also agrees with me, as you may imagine.”

It led John downstairs, throught the main room decorated with trinkets that others had brought in supplication. The pretty things, tapestries and china, were heaped in a corner. It was the utilitarian things that occupied a place of honor: a wind-up short-wave radio, a shake-flashlight, a water filter.

“I know why you have come,” said the Porok. “All is known to me, always, forever. It is my curse and my gift. However, I long ago made a pact with myself, and with the Ancients measured against whom I am but a zygote. I only act on that which people say, rather than what they think or what they are.”

“Very well,” said John. “I will give you your gift and tell you now, if it please you.”

“Do so,” croaked the Porok. “But be warned: once you speak, your lost is cast, words set forever in stone. You may leave now, safely, or stay an evening to fortify yourself. But once you speak, you will face the consequences. Your request may be granted, yes. Or I may tear out your throat for your insolence. In asking, you accept this. Do you understand?”

“I do.” John set his jaw. “I will proceed.”

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The mummified and discolored skin around the glowing points of light that were the lich’s eyes softened, the great sloping brow beneath what long and stringly strands of white hair remained to him lifting in surprise. “Lady Syn,” he croaked in a voice that was tomb and sepulchre doors creaking on their hinges.

“Lord Verice.” Dessicated flesh about the other lich’s sunken cheeks and her own ember-bright eyes grew gentle, even compassionate–and expression they had not worn for countless years of sorcery and undeath. Tentatively, she reached out a hand that was alive with dark magicks and ran it over Verice’s face, recoiling not at all when it rustled across parchment-thin spots or the jagged hole where once had been a nose.

“It has been so long,” Lady Syn said with uncommon gentleness.

“So long.” What might have been a tear, watery and impregnated with vile preservatives, slid an oily path down Lord Verice’s cheek.

“I have…done things,” Syn said softly. “As you can see. Things that not all would be proud of.”

“You have done what you must,” said Verice, sadly but firmly. “As have I.”

“Do you think…that perhaps…we could…?”

Verice shook his head. “It has been too long hasn’t it? Do we even remember how to feel the way we once felt?”

“The memory will have to be enough,” Syn croaked sadly. “Or the memory of the memory.”

Inspired by this image.

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