The world is dying. Heavy with its doubts and its fears. Overburdened by its guilts and its treacheries. Corrupted from within, a black and heavy cancer pulled grossly and inexorably toward the Brink. It has already begun to tip. We are already falling.
Mine is a race unlike any other. Mine is a culture that none could have predicted. Mine is a struggle that eclipses the world. We are the Netherfolk, and our time has come.
Mired in suspicion and shrouded in mystery, Netherfolk are the youngest and perhaps the most unsettling of the mortal races. Netherfolk are a race of the undead. Created long ago by unholy magic, and chained to the will of Erebus for hundreds of years, Netherfolk have only recently achieved liberation. As slaves of the Scourge, Netherfolk have cultivated a deep hatred of all things demonic and those few who are fortunate enough to call themselves free have become fast allies of the mortal world. There are many, however, who continue to see the Netherfolk as an abomination, and it will be many years before the true destiny of this outcast race becomes clear. Netherfolk have no memory of their previous lives. Their memories begin on the day of their re-awakening. Netherfolk are slightly longer lived than other races. From their first awakening, they can live upwards of 150 years before true death claims them at last. Though they can behave in any number of ways, the typical Netherfolk is studious and crafty. Many are unfamiliar with the customs of the living races, and everyday habits such as eating and bathing baffle them. Netherfolk are also noted for their powers of self-preservation – and are oft criticized for placing their own well-beings before any other
The Truncheon Urns were fashioned in the Ancient Days, when the Bone Lord and Spirit Queen were first brought to unlife by the Breaker of Cycles. These they kept at the command of the God. These they used to gather the souls of the fallen. The Canopic Urn was given to Lillith; the Sarcophic to Tyrranoch.
Netherfolk are descended from a line of undead creatures that were first brought into the mortal world nearly five hundred years ago. Ungerok, the realm of the dead, had fallen to the forces of demonkind. Its denizens were overrun and subjugated by the power of the Scourge. Trapped in Ungerok at the time of its fall, Lillith, the Mistress of Spirits and guardian of the Canopic Urn, was eventually maddened by the power of Erebus, becoming the Infernal Banshee Queen. As a servant of Erebus, Lillith battled her counterpart – Tyrranoch the Bone Lord, keeper of the Sarcophic Urn. The two demi-gods clashed in a great battle, but in the end, Lillith prevailed. The Banshee Queen wrested a single bone from her foe and with this artifact was able to gain control over the both Truncheon Urns. It was through these two magical artifacts that she was able to draw the souls of the dead back into corpses of the recently slain. Thus were crafted the first Netherfolk. Because they were bound to the Truncheon Urns, the Netherfolk were all slaves of Lillith’s will.
The First Binding
Always remember the First Binding. Others there have been. Others that we remember with great fervor. But none so great as the First. None so deadly or deserved of our hatred. Speak the words of our people so that you will always remember: The Fettered Remain. The Fettered Remain.
The Fettered Remain…
Thus began a period of enslavement that the Netherfolk now refer to as the First Binding. For hundreds of years, the Netherfolk served the will of the Scourge. Unaffected by the power of the Sanctuary, the Netherfolk became a primary means of invading the refuge of Artanna. The hinterlands seethed with the corpses of those who had died before the Final Retreat. Erebus had discovered a nearly limitless, disposable army lying half buried or burned in the conquered soil. Serving as the principle army of Erebus, the Netherfolk earned a reputation for evil and cruelty that was well earned. Even the Xyris Mortum condemned the Netherfolk as an abomination.
The Second Binding
The history of the Netherfolk forked dynamically when the Sarcophic Urn was recovered by Saibryn Desh in the last century. While it remains a mystery as to exactly how Desh was able to attain the Urn, it is known that he used the artifact to create Netherfolk that were loyal to him alone. Unfortunately, these Netherfolk were just as dangerous as their cousins. Desh used them in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to conquer Artanna during the infamous Netherwars. The Netherfolk refer to their enslavement under Desh as the Second Binding.
When Saibryn Desh was defeated, his Netherfolk were released from his influence and summarily destroyed. The Urn passed to the Requis Typhen who was commanded by the Xyris Mortum to destroy the artifact. However, the Requis disobeyed the Council taking the Urn into Sh’ddar Citadel known as the Dreadfort.
There, Typhen discovered that the nature of the Urn was slowly changing. It seemed that as long as the Urn was within the Sanctuary, the power of Erebus over the Netherfolk was diminished. Once he discovered this, Typhen began to use the Urn to create hundreds of Netherfolk to help garrison the Dreadfort. He discovered that these Netherfolk walked a dangerous line between true freedom and demonic influence. The stirrings of independent thought began to emerge; a sense of culture and shared heritage. However, the threat of demonic taint remained, and many were the Netherfolk who were destroyed when they eventually fell into madness.
The Final Binding
The first Overlord claimed to serve Xyric. The second; Morander. Both served neither. Both served only their own selves. Eventually, control of the Dreadfort passed to the Overlord of Morander, and the Netherfolk were once again used as slaves. For over two years the Netherfolk served the Overlord of Morander, much as their fore-kin had served the Overlord of Xyric nearly twenty years ago. But this time – with the power of the Urn slowly, inexorably changing – they were able to flourish as their mindless brethren had not. In the slave pit known as the Netheryard, the Netherfolk continued to foster the kindling sparks of a fledgling society. Though condemned by the Overlord as treason, the practice of customs unique to the Netherfolk continued in hidden corridors and in hushed, secret meetings called Haunts. It was a dangerous time – for when caught, the Netherfolk were immediately unmade. Countless Haunts were broken by the stroke of the Overlord’s blades.
But plans were set into motion that would see the Netherfolk free of both the Overlord and the taint of Erebus. Quietly, the Requis Typhen plotted. The Netherfolk who spoke with him in their Haunts began to refer to him as the Netherking.
Salvation would come in two waves. First, there would be the Overlord’s defeat at the hands of the citizenry of Iargail. But more important even than this was the creation of a Netherfolk out of a plague ridden Imperial known as Shennin Vivari. Hailed as a nearly saintly figure by the Netherfolk today, it was Vivari who – with the help of a cadre of Nethermacers – was able to retrieve Tyrranoch’s
Bone from Lillith in Ungerok. Though it claimed his final life, Vivari was successful in delivering the Bone to a Romani Nethermancer known as Teera. Working with the Netherking, Teera and the people of Iargail used Tyrranochs’s Bone to sever the Banshee Queen’s control over the Sarcophic Urn. Before releasing the Urn, the visage of Lillith gave a mysterious portent:
I curse the Sarcophic Urn. Its issue shall be without the power of their brethren…and yet it is from that stock that the Curse of Ungerok shall one day be lifted. So shall it be…
Since their liberation, both from Erebus and the Overlord, the Netherfolk have claimed the Dreadfort as their sovereign home. Under the rule of the Netherking, they have only just begun to establish themselves in a world that will doubtless treat them with suspicion and fear. Far removed from any significant power, the Dreadfort’s nearest political neighbor is the Prophecy town of Iargail. So far, the Netherfolk well respect the town whose people played such a pivotal role in the Liberation.
A People Between Life and Death
What right have I to rule my people? I am no Netherfolk. I am named only by our shared struggle as one of their own. What right have you to trust my people? You are not Netherfolk. You are named only by our shared struggle as one of our own.
As a mortal race, Netherfolk are still very much shrouded in mystery. However, some things about them are known. First, there is the making of Netherfolk. As an unliving race, Netherfolk are completely incapable of sexual reproduction. Every Netherfolk is born from the Sarcophic Urn. This does not mean to say that the Netherfolk have no parents. Indeed, new Netherfolk are typically placed in the care of other more experienced Netherfolk. These wards exhibit an attachment to their guardians that can be as strong as the bond between children and their parents.
When it is created, a Netherfolk’s spirit is drawn from the Netherworld, through the Sarcophic Urn and into a recently departed corpse. Supposedly, the Netherking has perfected a means of preserving expired bodies that are stored in the Dreadfort for just this purpose. There is no telling just how long the spirit dwelt in Ungerok, or how long it has been since its mortal demise. The awakened Netherfolk has absolutely no memory of its former existence. Their memories – indeed their very un-lives – begin when they appear at the Sarcophic Urn. It is considered taboo amongst the Netherfolk to seek out any information about who their bodies or souls might have been before the awakening. There is some debate with regard to whether the soul of the Netherfolk is forced through the Urn, or if it chooses to be re-awakened. The Netherking has said little of the actual process, but Netherfolk seem to all feel that they must have wanted to return – to continue the fight against the oppression of demon kind.
While the awakening of a Netherfolk is unique in the worlds, the final death of a Netherfolk plays out much as it does with any other mortal race. Undead they may be, but it is a quintessential fact of the Cycle that there is no escape from True Death.
So far as can be seen, there are three types of Netherfolk. The first and most abundant type remain the slaves of Erebus. This group is an enemy of the mortal races, subjugated by the power of the as yet undiscovered Canopic Urn. This group is referred to as the Fettered. The second and third groups are much smaller in number. They represent the recently freed Netherfolk who continue to be created through the Sarcophic Urn. They are collectively referred to as the Unfettered or Liberated.
Among the Liberated, there are those who were created during the Final Binding, and those who were created just after the cleansing of the Sarcophic Urn. The only true difference between these two sub-groups is whether or not they remember being enslaved by the Dreadfort. In any case, all Liberated Netherfolk are aggressively instructed about their long history of enslavement, rebellion, and eventual freedom.
The culture of Netherfolk is still forming and it is difficult to say how it will emerge in the Age of Strife. As a general rule, all Netherfolk seem to exhibit a strange fascination for the workings of living bodies. The interplay of bone and sinew, the movement of the blood to the rhythm of the heart…The intricacies of anatomy are regarded as the highest form of art, and medics are thusly praised as artists of exceptional value. Some of the Liberated adhere to the nomenclature of their Fettered years. The most robustly represented professions (Wizards, Rogues, and – especially – Nethermancers) are sometimes referred to as Chamberlains, Cravens, and Viceroys, respectively. The existence of Netherfolk in other professions is small to unheard of, but it can be assured that as they begin to explore a much larger world, Netherfolk Wardens, Sorcerers, Mystics, and even Druids may begin to appear. In fact, there is nothing stopping a Netherfolk from following any profession followed by any other mortal race.
From agents of the Infernus, to slaves of mortals, the Netherfolk have suffered as few others have. This shared history of oppression has forged a tightly woven race that is arguably closer to its hatred of the Enemy than any other. They are highly communal amongst one another, and habitually secretive amongst outsiders whose trust has not yet been earned. Like unbridled horses they bristle at the thought of confinement and will fight to their True Deaths to retain their costly won freedom.