May of the Dead: Crypt of Ancient Wisdom

Ivan's Ivory ThroneThis week’s May of the Dead post is partially inspired by an idea for a novel which I’ve been toying with for a few years.

The Tragedy of the Gorovik Family

It began when a warrior named Toman Gorovik led his followers to an untamed piece of land. There they settled, establishing the Kingdom of Gorvikar. Toman found a high, defensible ridge with a sweeping view of the forest, and began to build his castle there. He would never live to see the massive structure completed, but to honor her father, Yehne Gorovik had a crypt built into the castle behind the throne. When she lay her father to rest, she decreed that the monarchs of Gorvikar would always rest upon the wisdom of their forebears.

An unintentionally prophetic statement.

Three generations later, the Gorovik Family Castle came under siege from a violent army of southern men, eager to gain a foothold on the northern frontier. Anotar Gorovik, a skilled diplomat, was at a loss against his intractable foe. His military advisers tried to help, but each suggested a different course of action, and Anotar felt unqualified to pick between them. In a moment of frustration, he ordered everyone out of the great hall so that he could think. He paced the room for fifteen minutes without making any progress. Desperate for guidance, he pushed the stone door behind the throne open, and descended the short spiral staircase into the family crypt.

Anotar knelt beside his father’s shelf in silence for long moments. When he finally spoke, he told his father of the trials he was facing, and his lack of preparedness for them. He outlined the potential dooms he predicted if he were to follow any of his advisers’ council. He begged for his father’s guidance. He did not expect an answer, but his dead father’s mouth moved slightly, and with dust filled lungs he whispered “Harron,” the name of one of Anotar’s advisers. The young man stared with mouth agape for long moments, not sure if his father’s advice had been real or imagined.

Resolving that a decision he was wary of was better than no decision at all, the young king sealed the crypt, and ordered his soldiers to follow Harron’s plan. They did, the siege was broken, and the southerners were sent running back to their distant homes. Anotar was hailed as a military mastermind, and he humbly tried to divert the praise to Harron, fearing the backlash from his people were they to learn he had received advice from the dead. He returned again to the crypt many times throughout his rule, and found he could seek guidance from each of his ancestors buried there. By taking advantage of each of their wisdom, Anotar’s rule became the most prosperous in the history of Gorvikar. The nation’s territory and influence expanded greatly.

The secret of the Crypt of Ancient Wisdom was passed from monarch to monarch for a century before it was given to young Queen Byan from her father as he lay on his deathbed. Byan was a scholar, and shortly after her father’s internment, she began interrogating the corpses there about how the crypt functioned. When she found that none could answer her, she brought in necromancers from around the world to study the phenomena. They discovered that the castle had been built on a small fissure in the prime material plane, which intersected with the Negative Energy Plane. The fissure was very small, and the negative energy which filtered through it acted like a permanent Speak With Dead spell upon the whole castle.

The effect was so unique that Byan had no difficulty recruiting the greatest necromancers in the known world to help her study and refine the effect. Over the years she became quite a necromancer herself, and was personally responsible for many of the major breakthroughs in understanding and manipulating the fissure. As knowledge of the fissure spread, she comforted her people by telling them only that the gods had granted the Gorovik line a gift, by allowing them to seek advice from their ancestors who had passed on to the heavens. The reality wasn’t quite so celestial, but no one needed to know that.

Thanks to Byan, the fissure’s energy was focused so it only affected the crypt itself. And the fissure’s shape was refined, allowing the ancestors interred there to offer more than one-or-two word answers. They could converse with those who came to seek their wisdom, and even offer suggestions of their own. Byan also established a permanent, and secret, school of necromancy within the castle. It was her hope that research and refinement of the fissure would continue long after her time had passed. Though, since she herself would be interred there, she hoped to continue her research even after her life had ended.

Byan’s daughter, Gwyndolin Gorovik, trained every day at her mother’s knee. She became a powerful necomancer herself. When it came time for her to take the reigns of power, she already had great plans for how she would contribute to her mother’s legacy. She hired agents, graverobbers, to go out into the world and bring her the remains of history’s wisest. Philosophers, tacticians, scholars, and wizards were all brought to her, and she personally placed each one in the quickly-filling crypt. The collective knowledge of the crypt grew tenfold during Gwyndolin’s reign. Guided by the crypt, Gorvikar embarked on an expansionist war of conquest against its neighbors. The day Gwyndolin accepted the unconditional surrender of the nation of Thoreon, she declared herself the first Necrarch of the New Gorvikar Empire.

For a thousand years, the unbroken line of Necrarch’s ruled the Gorvikar Empire ruthlessly, easily out-thinking and out-maneuvering all who challenged them. An open bounty on the remains of anyone wise enough to contribute to the Crypt caused an endless stream of fresh perspectives to be added to the ever-expanding catacombs. The rift which caused the effect repeatedly had to be widened to cover a larger and larger area of the castle, as the crypt was expanded to accommodate more bodies. By the reign of Ophelia Gorovik, all that remained in the castle was the throne itself, and thousands upon thousands of bodies. When Ophelia died on her throne without an heir, it was thought that the Gorvikar empire would end with her.

Weeks passed. Many of the nations which had been conquered over the ages began to secede, thinking the threat of the Necrachs had passed.  Even those who hoped to seize the throne of Gorvikar for themselves agreed that the Gorovik Family Castle must be destroyed. As they stood outside the castle gates, planning the demolition, they began to hear an indecipherable whisper. As they listened, the whisper grew more confident, and was joined by other voices. Soon, thousands upon thousands of voices joined together in a booming, unified chorus:

“We are Gorvikar. The nations to the south have seceded. This is unacceptable.”

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