Unclean is the first novel of The Haunted Lands trilogy by Richard Lee Byers.

The realm of Thay has long been ruled by the uneasy peace of an alliance of wizards, but all along there has been one who believes he is the true master. And when that one wizard finally moves against his former allies, his homeland could be only the first of his conquests.

Summary Edit

In the country of Thay in 1375 DR, Druxus Rhym, the zulkir (mage-lord) of the Order of Transmutation, was assassinated in his home in Eltabbar, the capital city, by an unknown assailant. Meanwhile, without authorization from the Council of Zulkirs, Azhir Kren, the tharchion (governor) of Gauros, and Homen Odesseiron, the tharchion of Surthay, led their provinces’ forces in an invasion of the druidic realm of Rashemen, Thay’s neighbor to the north. However, the Rashemi somehow learned of the invasion and ambushed the Thayan army as it was crossing the River Gauros in the Gorge of Gauros. Azhir and Homen’s legions were saved by the lich Szass Tam, the zulkir of the Order of Necromancy, who used his magic to stop the Rashemi’s attack and enable the Thayans to retreat across the river into Thay. After the battle, Szass Tam met with the two governors and told them that he would help them conceal their insubordinate actions and the disastrous defeat by informing the Thayan people that the costly engagement had occurred to stop an attack on Thay by a band of Rashemi. In gratitude for Szass Tam’s assistance, Azhir and Homen pledged their absolute loyalty to the undead wizard.

A few days later, Szass Tam met with one of his supporters, Dmitra Flass, the tharchion of Eltabbar and a Red Wizard of Illusion, to discuss the murder of Druxus, who had been one of the zulkirs allied with the lich. Szass Tam commanded Dmitra to use the large and extensive network of spies and covert agents that she operated on the undead mage’s and her own behalf to arrange for Samas Kul, the Master of the Guild of Foreign Trade, to be chosen as the new zulkir of Transmutation, since he would ally himself with the lich. Dmitra’s agents completed the necessary actions to ensure that Samas was elected, and after the governor used her magic to personally spy on the common people of Eltabbar, she secretly ordered her spymaster, Malark Springhill, to journey to the town of Surthay to learn the truth about the battle at the Gorge of Gauros. Originally from the cities and settlements of the Moonsea, Malark was gifted with eternal youth due to a potion that he had drunk many centuries earlier and was also a Monk of the Long Death. When Malark reached Surthay, he questioned several of the soldiers who had been involved in the fight against the Rashemi and eventually discovered what had actually happened after using force against one of the men, whom he then killed.

Also at that time, the bard and warrior Bareris Anskuld, who had been adventuring across the world for the previous six years, returned to his home in the Thayan port city of Bezantur to find his love, the young woman Tammith Iltazyarra. When Bareris met with Tammith’s family, he learned that his beloved had recently sold herself into slavery in order to pay a gambling debt that her father, Boravik, had with the White Raven Gang of Bezantur. Determined to find Tammith and free her from bondage, Bareris tracked her to the city of Tyraturos, where he forcibly interrogated a slave trader and learned that his beloved and a large number of other slaves had been secretly purchased by Red Wizards of Necromancy. As Bareris then wandered the city questioning people in order to discover the whereabouts of the necromancers and the group of slaves, he was assailed by an assassin named Calmevik and an undead child-like creature, who had been instructed by the wizards to kill anyone inquiring into their business. Bareris managed to slay his two attackers, and although he soon discovered that the necromancers had departed from Tyraturos with the slaves and traveled north, he fell ill due to a wound inflicted on him by the undead child.

While patrolling the Pass of Thazar in the Sunrise Mountains, Aoth Fezim, a war mage and a rider of the Griffon Legion of Pyarados, and his griffon familiar, Brightwing, discovered that a large force of undead was approaching Thazar Keep. After a brief clash against some of the undead creatures, Aoth and Brightwing swiftly made their way to Thazar Keep and warned the fortress’s garrison about the imminent assault. Aoth, Brightwing, and Thazar Keep’s defenders fought valiantly against the undead army, which was led by a nighthaunt named Ysval, but they were soon overwhelmed. Aoth and Brightwing were the only survivors of the attack and quickly journeyed to notify Nymia Focar, the tharchion of Pyarados, about the fall of Thazar Keep. Once he reported to Nymia, Aoth was promoted to an officer in the Griffon Legion, and he then joined a force that the governor assembled to destroy the undead host, which was advancing down the Pass of Thazar. Nymia’s legions engaged the enemy army at the west end of the pass, but following a brutal battle, the undead creatures defeated the Thayan troops and forced them to retreat. Afterward, the undead horde dispersed into smaller bands in order to ravage the countryside of Pyarados.

While the undead were laying waste to eastern Thay, Nymia and Aoth traveled to Eltabbar to meet with Szass Tam and the three zulkirs who were allied with the lich: Samas Kul; Yaphyll, the zulkir of the Order of Divination; and Lallara, the zulkir of the Order of Abjuration. The meeting was also attended by Iphegor Nath, the High Flamelord, the head of the Church of Kossuth, the elemental god of fire. After Nymia and Aoth provided Szass Tam and the other lords with full accounts of the Thayans’ two defeats, the governor told them that Milsantos Daramos, the tharchion of Thazalhar, was bringing his troops to Pyarados to assist her in combating the undead marauders. Szass Tam informed the assembly that the Red Wizards of Necromancy would use any Thayan corpses that they could to manufacture undead soldiers to reinforce the two governors’ forces, and that he would send many necromancers to help them eliminate the undead horde. The lich then convinced Iphegor to command several of the Church of Kossuth’s militant orders to join the fight against the undead, and he also supplied the priests with magical torch-like weapons to aid them.

After recovering from the virulent fever that his wound had induced, Bareris left Tyraturos and journeyed north in pursuit of Tammith and her captors. By bribing and questioning people as he tracked his beloved north, Bareris discovered that over the course of the previous few weeks, Red Wizards of Necromancy and their agents had marched a significant number of slaves into the sparsely populated northern region of Thay. When Bareris eventually caught up with the slave procession in the open country of the north, he tried to secure Tammith’s release by negotiating with the two necromancers in command of the caravan, Muthoth and So-Kehur, but his efforts failed and the mages and their guards attacked him. Bareris killed several of the soldiers, but he was soon incapacitated by the wizards and barely managed to use his magic to escape. Before the Red Wizards or the guards could find him, Bareris was saved by a small band of gnoll warriors who formerly served in the Thayan legions. While the slave procession continued to journey north, Bareris was taken to the gnolls’ encampment and learned from them that Tammith and the other slaves were being taken to the ruined city of Delhumide. Bareris used his magical powers to convince the gnolls to assist him in secretly entering Delhumide and rescuing Tammith.

Meanwhile, the blood fiend Tsagoth was summoned from the Abyss and ordered to infiltrate the palace fortress of Aznar Thrul, the zulkir of the Order of Evocation and the tharchion of Priador, to find Mari Agneh, the former governor of Priador. Years earlier, Mari had been deposed by Aznar, and she then had appealed to Szass Tam and his allies among the mage-lords to help her keep her position, but they had declined to assist her. When Aznar had learned about Mari’s petition, he had taken her as a prisoner and abused her as his personal sex slave. Once Tsagoth eventually located Mari’s hidden prison cell, he transformed her into a blood fiend-like creature and persuaded her to kill Aznar. The next time that Aznar tried to abuse Mari, she revealed her new identity and turned into a savage entity without conscience or sanity. Mari managed to slay Aznar, and she then engaged a group of the dead zulkir’s men-at-arms and Red Wizards. Mari slaughtered many of the warriors and mages before she was finally destroyed by one of the spellcasters.

After the assortment of Thayan soldiers, wizards, and clerics sent to defeat the undead host assembled in Pyarados under the command of Nymia, the governor’s army divided into several companies in order to eradicate the creatures as rapidly as possible. Nymia named Aoth as the captain of one of the contingents, and when his troops reached the small village of Dulos, they discovered that a band of undead had massacred its inhabitants and were occupying the settlement. Aoth’s force engaged and destroyed the marauders, and that night, the war mage and Chathi Oandem, a priestess of Kossuth, became lovers. Nymia’s other companies also achieved victory, and upon learning that the undead had assaulted the sizeable town of Thazrumaros and overrun the eastern half of it, the tharchion hastily reunited her army to attack the creatures. Although many Thayan warriors were slain in the battle, they ultimately prevailed and defeated the force of undead. Since Milsantos and his soldiers had also been successful, the countryside of Pyarados was now cleansed of the undead. In the hope of destroying the undead remaining in eastern Thay, Nymia and Milsantos decided to join their forces, swiftly advance up the Pass of Thazar, and retake the Keep of Thazar. 

When Tammith and the slave caravan arrived in Delhumide, they were taken through a magical portal that transported them to an undead manufactory hidden underground in the Sunrise Mountains. The atropal Xingax was the overseer of the stronghold, which was where he and Red Wizards of Necromancy continually created a large number of various undead creatures, including types that became extinct centuries earlier and entirely new ones. After Xingax watched Tammith strike a guard, he had her magically transformed into a unique and formidable type of vampire. Xingax also magically bound Tammith to serve the necromancers and their cause against her will. A short time later, Bareris infiltrated Delhumide and reached the magical portal with the help of the group of gnolls, but he entered the gateway alone. Once he arrived at the undead manufactory, Bareris managed to find Tammith, but she was forced to attack him. Bareris was able to incapacitate Tammith, and as he then tried to escape from the stronghold, he was confronted by Xingax. Bareris was nearly subdued by Xingax, but the bard ultimately managed to wound the mighty undead entity and flee into the Sunrise Mountains.

Meanwhile, Dmitra arranged for a secret meeting between her, Samas, Yaphyll, and Lallara shortly before the Council of Zulkirs was scheduled to convene in Eltabbar at Szass Tam’s request. When Dmitra met with the three mage-lords, she revealed to them that she had discovered that Szass Tam had orchestrated the murders of Druxus and Aznar, betrayed the Thayan legions that had attempted to invade Rashemen by providing critical information about their plans to the Rashemi, and portrayed the failed assault as a Rashemi attack on Thay in order to create a climate of fear in the country. By effectively and expeditiously solving the crises, the lich wanted to convince the nobles, legions, and common people that he was the one individual who could end the nation’s woes and should be made the supreme ruler of Thay. To prevent Szass Tam from becoming the country’s sole sovereign, the three zulkirs agreed to Dmitra’s request for them to pledge that they would oppose any attempt by the undead wizard to attain greater authority.

When the Council of Zulkirs soon met, Szass Tam proposed to make himself temporary regent to eliminate the threats and menaces facing Thay, but all of the other mage-lords voted against him. Szass Tam immediately had the Order of Necromancy’s agents alert the citizens of Eltabbar that the other zulkirs had denied him the authority that he needed to save the realm. After the news caused violent riots to erupt throughout Eltabbar, Szass Tam secretly sent Tsagoth and other demons to kill the rioters in order to trick the city’s common people into believing that Nevron, the zulkir of the Order of Conjuration, and his Red Wizards had summoned fiendish creatures to slaughter them. When the riots progressed, Szass Tam used magic to appear in multiple places around Eltabbar and quelled the fighting, further endearing him to the capital’s citizens. Fearing the power of Szass Tam and his intentions now that his original plot had failed, Dmitra instructed Malark to discover the lich’s newest plans.

As Bareris traveled through the mountains toward Thay, he was pursued by undead that Xingax had sent to hunt him down. After days of evading the creatures, Bareris was assailed by a banshee, but defeated the spirit with the assistance of Mirror, the ghost of a paladin. Mirror took Bareris to meet his companion, the gravecrawler Quickstrike, who told the bard that the ghost would help him stay hidden from his undead pursuers and guide him back to Thay. Several days later, Bareris and Mirror reached the Pass of Thazar, where they encountered Aoth and Brightwing while the partners were scouting the area to ensure that all the undead had retreated into the Keep of Thazar after Nymia and Milsantos’s forces had chased the marauders up the pass. When Aoth and his griffon took Bareris and Mirror to the Thayan encampment, the bard told the battle mage and the two governors about Xingax’s undead manufactory.

Aoth, Bareris, Nymia, and Milsantos realized that Szass Tam had secretly commanded the Red Wizards of Necromancy to create the undead horde that had attacked eastern Thay and assist the marauders achieve victories as part of his scheme to become the country’s supreme ruler. Aoth and the others understood that the lich had known that he had to seem a successful and triumphant leader to manipulate the Council of Zulkirs into naming him regent, so he manufactured a threat to the eastern provinces then had a crucial role in combating it. The four also ascertained that Szass Tam had magically bound the necromancers and his other minions so that they would immediately die if they attempted to reveal information about his plans. Since Szass Tam had failed to persuade the other zulkirs to elect him regent, Aoth and his comrades were not certain of the lich’s current aims or if they could trust the necromancers in the army preparing to assault the Keep of Thazar. In order to learn the truth, Aoth, Bareris, Chathi, and Mirror decided to interrogate one of the Red Wizards, Urhur Hahpet. Once the four defeated Urhur’s undead guards and incapacitated the mage, he confirmed their deductions but was killed by Szass Tam’s binding enchantment before he could reveal the necromancers’ orders concerning the imminent fight against the undead host. Following the interrogation, Nymia and Milsantos decided to imprison the Red Wizards of Necromancy and destroy their undead servants in order to protect the legions from betrayal, and the griffon riders and the clerics of Kossuth helped the tharchions’ troops complete that task.

The next day, Nymia and Milsantos’s army assembled outside the Keep of Thazar and prepared to attack the undead horde in the fortress, which was shrouded in a magical gloom created by Ysval. The priests of Kossuth summoned a colossal lava elemental that demolished the Keep of Thazar’s fortifications while Aoth and the other griffon riders fought the undead and their necromancer allies. Although the nighthaunt soon destroyed the gigantic elemental, it managed to create a large breach in one of the stronghold’s walls. The Thayan forces quickly advanced through the opening and engaged the undead host, but when Chathi and the other clerics of Kossuth tried to use the torch weapons supplied by Szass Tam, the implements exploded and killed their wielders as well as everyone near them. The shocking destruction of Kossuth’s servants nearly caused the legions to succumb to panic and collapse, but Milsantos and the other leaders were able to rally their forces and reestablish order. The Thayan men-at-arms, priests, and wizards fought courageously against the undead, but their eventual defeat still was inevitable. In the hope of changing that outcome, Milsantos and Nymia led a small but elite band of their followers directly against Ysval and a formidable group of undead. While Mirror battled and defeated one of the nighthaunt’s officers, an angel of decay, Bareris was assailed by Tammith. The bard was able to behead Tammith, and he then hacked her skull to pieces in an attempt to release her from her undead existence. Afterward, Bareris joined Aoth, Brightwing, and Mirror in confronting Ysval, and together they managed to destroy the nighthaunt. Following Ysval’s demise, one of the surviving Thayan spellcasters dispelled the unnatural darkness enveloping the fortress. The purifying sunlight caused the wraiths and many of the other spectral undead to either perish or disappear, and also provided Nymia and Milsantos’s legions with a significant advantage over the remaining creatures. The Thayan forces soon destroyed all the undead entities and reclaimed the Keep of Thazar.

Meanwhile, Szass Tam decided that since his fellow mage-lords had refused to elect him regent, he would withdraw from the Council of Zulkirs and use force of arms to become Thay’s sole ruler. The lich secretly commanded the legions of Gauros and Surthay, newly augmented by a massive infusion of undead warriors, to march south to Bezantur because if his forces took the city, he would essentially control the entire southern part of the country and all access to the sea. Bezantur and all of Priador were in a vulnerable condition at that time due to Aznar’s recent death and to the commander of the province’s armies being assassinated on Szass Tam’s orders. Besides Surthay and Gauros, Szass Tam also controlled High Thay and Lapendrar, so Azhir and Homen’s host was granted free passage south and their progress was kept a secret from the Council of Zulkirs. However, Malark discovered Szass Tam’s plans and alerted Dmitra, who then sent him to the Keep of Thazar to meet with Nymia and Milsantos and convince them to oppose the undead wizard. After speaking with Malark, the two governors decided to side with the Council and ordered their forces to march to Priador. Nymia also instructed Aoth and the company of griffon riders to harass Szass Tam’s legions in order to slow their advance and keep them from reaching Bezantur before the Council could assemble a sufficient army to oppose them. Before the aerial contingent departed, Aoth persuaded Bareris, who was determined to gain vengeance for Tammith’s transformation into a vampire, to join the forces that were going to be battling Szass Tam and his followers. At Bareris’s request, Aoth then assigned him to the Griffon Legion and provided him with a rider-less griffon. Also at that time, Milsantos and Nymia ordered their troops to kill the band of necromancers whom they had imprisoned before the assault on the Keep of Thazar.

While Aoth and the griffon riders, who were assisted by Mirror and Malark, continually harassed and raided the legions of Surthay and Gauros, Dmitra and the Council of Zulkirs met in Eltabbar to discuss the war that Szass Tam had begun. Since many nobles, legions, and common people throughout Thay would join Szass Tam’s cause and oppose the Council, Dmitra told the six zulkirs that they would need to directly command the nation’s inhabitants and actively participate in the conflict to display their authority and secure support. Dmitra also convinced the mage-lords that they had to personally fight alongside their followers or Szass Tam and his forces would easily achieve victory.

The Griffon Legion’s relentless campaign of harassment slowed Szass Tam’s host long enough for the Council of Zulkirs to lead a sizeable force into a position to intercept them before they could reach Bezantur, which Samas had readied to resist a siege. Since his army was now in a disadvantageous position, the lich and his subordinates decided to withdraw. Shortly afterward, Szass Tam magically transported himself to the encampment of the Griffon Legion to speak with Aoth, Malark, Bareris, and the aerial company’s other leaders. The undead wizard told them how their success in delaying his forces meant that a protracted and destructive war would now engulf all of Thay. Szass Tam then asked Aoth and his comrades to join him, but they refused his entreaties and committed themselves to oppose him. A few weeks later, Tammith, who had managed to survive the wounds she had received during the battle at the Keep of Thazar and escape from the fortress, was magically compelled to return to Xingax.


  1. Richard Lee Byers (April 2007). Unclean. (Wizards of the Coast), p. 1. ISBN 978-0-7869-4258-9.