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|“|| The dead walk in Thay, and as the rest of Faerûn looks on in stunned horror, the very nature of this mysterious, dangerous realm begins to change
What started as one wizard's ambitions to take over the ruling council has become a vicious civil war that breeds a monstrous array of undead. And while the undead have always been a part of life in Thay, after ten years of constant battles, they have begun to outnumber the living.
In the country of Thay in 1385 DR, the lich Szass Tam, the zulkir (mage-lord) of the Order of Necromancy and the self-proclaimed regent of Thay, met with his prisoner, Yaphyll, the zulkir of the Order of Divination, to discuss the War of the Zulkirs. The conflict was the ongoing and chaotic war between Szass Tam and the Council of Zulkirs that began in 1375 DR. Over the course of the ten years of fighting, the civil war in Thay had developed into a stalemate with neither side gaining an advantage. By 1385 DR, Szass Tam controlled primarily the northern part of the nation (Gauros, Lapendrar, Surthay, Delhumide, and Thaymount), while the Council controlled the southern (Priador, Eltabbar, Tyraturos, Thazalhar, Pyarados, and the Alaor). Throughout the conflict, some of the tharchions (governors) and nobles, such as Yaphyll, had switched sides a couple of times. The zulkir of Divination had forsaken the other mage-lords and joined Szass Tam in the hope of shifting the balance of power, breaking the stalemate, and ending the war before it destroyed Thay completely. However, the stalemate had endured, so Yaphyll eventually decided to switch sides once again, since she would rather have supported the living than the undead. Before Yaphyll could rejoin the Council of Zulkirs, Szass Tam had taken her prisoner and magically bound her using the Death Moon Orb and Thakorsil’s Seat, two powerful items of imprisonment and domination.
After speaking with Yaphyll about the war, Szass Tam forced her to perform the strongest divination known to the Red Wizards, no matter the consequences to her own well-being, in order to tell him how to arrange for a decisive victory over the other zulkirs. Yaphyll completed the magical ritual and told Szass Tam to lead his strongest army, the legions of High Thay, against the Keep of Sorrows in order to get the Council of Zulkirs to commit their main forces to a major confrontation in which the lich could entrap and defeat them. Yaphyll then had a vision of an imminent catastrophic event, the Spellplague, and gave Szass Tam a cryptic warning before she was surrounded by blue flame and broke free of the undead wizard’s control. When he tried to regain power over the diviner, Szass Tam unintentionally killed her with his poisonous touch. Following Yaphyll’s death, the lich began planning his campaign against the Keep of Sorrows and decided to lure the Council’s legions into his trap by using Hezass Nymar, the tharchion of Lapendrar and the Eternal Flame of the temple of Kossuth, the elemental god of fire, in the coastal city of Escalant. The reason that Szass Tam decided to use Hezass was because he knew that the governor was going to soon betray him to the other mage-lords.
About two months later, Aoth Fezim, a war mage and the captain of the Griffon Legion of Pyarados, and his griffon familiar, Brightwing, hunted a group of undead creatures that Szass Tam’s followers had sent to raid the countryside of Pyarados. They were accompanied by one of the Griffon Legion’s officers, the bard and warrior Bareris Anskuld; Mirror, the ghost of a paladin; and Malark Springhill, a Monk of the Long Death and the spymaster to Dmitra Flass, the tharchion of Eltabbar and the zulkir of the Order of Illusion since her predecessor had been killed by Szass Tam. When the companions tracked the undead marauders to a small village where the inhabitants had been slaughtered, they engaged and destroyed the enemy band, which consisted of skeleton warriors and a colossal bone serpent.
Around a week later, Hezass magically traveled to Eltabbar, the capital city of Thay, and met with the Council of Zulkirs, several of the tharchions and military officers loyal to them, and Iphegor Nath, the High Flamelord of the Church of Kossuth. Hezass revealed to the assembly that he wanted to switch sides and that Szass Tam was going to soon besiege the Keep of Sorrows. Seeing this as an opportunity to decisively defeat Szass Tam, the mage-lords immediately decided to gather the armies of Eltabbar, Pyarados, and Tyraturos and confront the undead wizard’s legions when they attacked the fortress. Shortly afterward, Tammith Iltazyarra, a vampire who was magically bound to Szass Tam’s service, infiltrated the temple of Kossuth in Escalant. Tammith had been Bareris’s beloved before the lich’s servants had turned her into a vampire at the beginning of the war, and over the years she had further developed her vampiric abilities and become the captain of the Silent Company, a force compromised of vampires mostly created by Tammith. As she made her way through Kossuth’s temple, Tammith was assailed by a large magma spider and Hezass, but she managed to slay the guardian creature and incapacitate the high priest. Tammith told Hezass that Szass Tam had intended for him to betray the lich to the Council of Zulkirs. However, now that Hezass had accomplished that task and convinced the Council that his army was going to assist their forces in the fight at the Keep of Sorrows, Szass Tam wanted to secure his allegiance, so Tammith secretly transformed the governor into a vampire.
As the southern legions prepared for the upcoming battle against Szass Tam, Aoth confided in Bareris his thoughts of abandoning the war and leaving Thay with any of the griffon riders who wanted to accompany him. However, Bareris, who was determined to gain vengeance on Szass Tam and his necromancers for Tammith’s transformation into a vampire, realized how important Aoth and his aerial company were to the Council of Zulkirs’ cause, so he used his bardic magic to persuade his friend to stay in Thay and keep fighting. At the same time that Szass Tam’s massive army began to besiege the Keep of Sorrows, two messengers from Hezass managed to reach the fortress. The couriers, Red Wizards named Muthoth and So-Kehur, told Nular Zurn, the castellan of the keep, that Hezass and his host were moving into a position to strike the lich’s legions in concert with the Council’s army. However, unbeknownst to the Keep of Sorrows’ garrison, Muthoth and So-Kehur were actually necromancers serving Szass Tam and Hezass intended to betray the zulkirs.
The legions of Eltabbar, Pyarados, and Tyraturos used powerful magic to conceal their advance, and when they assembled at the Keep of Sorrows, they believed that they had successfully surprised Szass Tam’s host and had trapped the northerners between themselves and the fortress. The Council of Zulkirs’ forces immediately attacked the undead wizard’s army and drove them toward the castle, where the defenders assailed them from the walls. However, as the Council’s troops continually pushed harder against the northern legions, Szass Tam discerned that they were too fully engaged with his followers to withdraw and launched his trap. The atropal Xingax, the lich’s leading manufacturer of undead creatures, who had replaced damaged body parts with those of the fallen nighthaunt Ysval, used the abilities that the grafts conferred to enshroud the battlefield in a magical gloom. The wraiths and other undead entities serving Szass Tam that could not withstand daylight, including Tammith, immediately joined the fight and engaged the southern forces. In the Keep of Sorrows, So-Kehur cast a necromantic spell that transformed the dead bodies in the fortress’s crypts into undead soldiers while Muthoth summoned a caller in darkness. As the undead creatures attacked and slaughtered the castle’s garrison, the two necromancers continually reanimated the fallen defenders in order to strengthen their force. Meanwhile, undead kraken-like behemoths emerged from the ground behind the Council’s legions and proceeded to massacre the southern troops. Strengthened by the creatures that had emerged with the premature night, Szass Tam’s army counterattacked ferociously and started to drive the zulkirs’ forces back. Also at that time, the legions of Lapendrar arrived on the battlefield and moved to assault the Council’s host, but Aoth and the Griffon Legion hastily assailed them.
Knowing that his army’s victory was inevitable, Szass Tam magically transported himself into the middle of the clash and tried to use the Death Moon Orb to coerce Dmitra, his former ally, into joining him. However, at that moment, the Spellplague occurred and the artifact exploded in Szass Tam’s hands. Seriously hurt by the explosion, Szass Tam made his way to Xingax and ordered the atropal to immediately use his magic to transport them inside the Keep of Sorrows, which had been completely taken by the lich’s forces. A wave of azure fire caused by the Spellplague then swept across part of the battlefield and killed Hezass and his entire army, as well as many of the griffons and their riders. Aoth and Brightwing were hit by the wave, and although it did not kill them, it affected the war mage in a unique way by rendering him essentially blind, but with some of the blue flame in his eyes. The Spellplague also caused earthquakes to devastate the area around the Keep of Sorrows and magic to act erratically, resulting in tremendous chaos and confusion engulfing the two Thayan armies, which were forced to fight many undead entities and demonic creatures that the Red Wizards could no longer magically control. As Szass Tam’s remaining troops withdrew into the Keep of Sorrows, the Council of Zulkirs’ surviving forces retreated from the field.
Following the battle, Szass Tam decided to leave a garrison to defend the Keep of Sorrows while the majority of his forces withdrew to northern Thay in order to rebuild their strength and make new plans. Meanwhile, Tammith realized that the Spellplague had eliminated the enchantments that magically compelled her obedience to Szass Tam and his necromancers, and she soon decided to desert the undead wizard’s army. As Tammith was leaving the Keep of Sorrows, she was attacked by Tsagoth, a blood fiend bound to the service of Szass Tam, but she managed to wound the undead demon and escape. Also at that time, Aoth met with Bareris to discuss his strange blindness, which could not be cured by either clerics or the bard, but allowed the battle wizard to sometimes see more than could be seen with normal sight. Aoth named Bareris the commander of the Griffon Legion as long as he could not see properly, but when he then looked upon his friend, he saw an illusionary image of Bareris dangling a marionette that resembled him and twitching the strings to make it dance. Aoth realized that Bareris had used magic to convince him to not leave Thay and confronted the bard with the truth, and afterward he was so disappointed and hurt that he shunned his comrade.
When the Council of Zulkirs and the southern army’s other leaders met in the town of Zolum to formulate a new plan of action, Bareris suggested that they launch an aggressive campaign against Szass Tam, since arcane magic being diminished and unreliable at that time due to the Spellplague weakened the lich and his forces more than it did the other mage-lords’ legions. The zulkirs agreed with Bareris’s idea and decided to swiftly strike and try to gain control of many of the lands that were under the undead wizard’s dominion. While the Council and their subordinates were still discussing their new strategy, Tammith interrupted the meeting and told the assembled leaders that she wanted to join the southern forces and fight against Szass Tam as a way to attain revenge for her magical enslavement. Tammith also induced the zulkirs and the others to assault Xingax’s undead manufactory, which was hidden in the desolate foothills of the Thaymount, in order to prevent Szass Tam’s legions from being reinforced with new undead troops. Shortly after he and the northern army returned to High Thay, Szass Tam cast several divinations in an attempt to learn more about the Spellplague and the state of arcane magic. During one of the rituals, the lich was assailed by an entropic reaper, but he was able to quickly destroy the undead destroyer.
As the combined hosts of Eltabbar, Tyraturos, and Pyarados marched north, Bareris, Tammith, and several griffon riders scouted ahead to watch for enemies and hazards created by the Spellplague. When the group reached the town of Solzepar, they discovered that blue fire had swept through the settlement and caused parts of the ground to float in the air. Bareris and his companions landed on one of the larger floating islands and searched a building that had been a chapterhouse of the Order of Evocation. They were soon attacked by a band of Red Wizards who the Spellplague had caused to be transformed and possessed by evocation spells, but they quickly fought their way out of the building and fled the island.
Meanwhile, Aoth and Brightwing were sent to the Central Citadel in the port city of Bezantur, but Dmitra and the other zulkirs decided to vivisect the war mage in an attempt to discover more about the azure fire. At the same time that Brightwing was poisoned to prevent her from aiding Aoth, a small group of soldiers tried to apprehend the griffon rider. After his altered vision revealed illusionary knives in the hands of the warriors sent to seize him, Aoth managed to incapacitate the soldiers despite his blindness. Mirror, who had remembered how to use his god-given powers, then healed Aoth’s eyes, leaving the battle mage with a superior ability of sight. Aoth and Mirror hastily made their way to Brightwing’s aerie, where the ghost cured the griffon, and afterward the captain asked Malark to help him avoid vivisection. Malark agreed to assist Aoth, and he convinced Lauzoril, the zulkir of the Order of Enchantment, to allow the griffon rider to return to active duty.
After the Council of Zulkirs’ armies that advanced north from Zolum divided to undertake their different tasks, Bareris, Tammith, part of the Griffon Legion, and a contingent of wizards and priests of Kossuth traveled to Xingax’s hidden manufactory without being detected by Szass Tam’s followers. They used deceit in order to enter the fortress, and then immediately engaged the stronghold’s small garrison of Red Wizards of Necromancy, living soldiers, and undead entities, including an enormous lizard-like monstrosity. Bareris’s company defeated Xingax’s minions and gained control of the fortress, and during the battle, the bard and Tammith confronted and killed the atropal, but the vampire was severely wounded in the fight. To save Tammith from dying, Bareris allowed her to drink his blood, and afterward the two became lovers. Once the griffon riders and their comrades destroyed the undead manufactory, they successfully withdrew from High Thay. Many of the other southern forces also achieved victory over Szass Tam’s legions and completed successful operations, including Thessaloni Canos, the governor of the Alaor, and her troops securing both Escalant and Laothkund for the Council. A short time later, Szass Tam used magic to infiltrate the Central Citadel in Bezantur in order to speak with Malark. By revealing why he had murdered his ally Druxus Rhym, the zulkir of the Order of Transmutation, in 1375 DR, the lich persuaded Malark to betray the Council of Zulkirs and join his cause. Instead of openly switching sides, Malark continued to serve as the Council’s spymaster, but used his position to damage the mage-lords’ cause. Malark revealed the southern legions’ plans and dispositions to Szass Tam, guided them into traps or into the path of blue fire and other dangers produced by the Spellplague, and sowed disaffection and mistrust among the officers and soldiers. While Bareris and his band were returning to southern Thay, they encountered an enormous abomination created by the Spellplague that was attacking a contingent of soldiers of Tyraturos. Bareris, Tammith, and their comrades immediately assailed the formidable creature and eventually managed to destroy it.
As the Council of Zulkirs’ forces continued to be defeated and suffer setbacks, Aoth spoke with Malark, and his enhanced sight showed him the spymaster’s face turn into a naked skull. Aoth realized that Malark may be serving Szass Tam, and although he and Brightwing then began to deliver dispatches throughout the southern provinces for the Council, the war mage planned to try to find evidence that confirmed whether or not his comrade had become a traitor. Meanwhile, Szass Tam summoned Bane, the god of tyranny, by performing an intricate magical ritual that required him to sacrifice slaves, necromancers, and Pyras Autorian, the tharchion of the Thaymount. Szass Tam made a bargain with Bane in which the god agreed to provide the lich with his knowledge about the nature of magic in the aftermath of the Spellplague, grant him the ability to create more undead creatures, and enhance his mystical strength. In exchange, Szass Tam promised that when he became the sole ruler of Thay, Bane would be the only god worshipped in the country, and that he would also surrender his soul to the evil deity one thousand years after he attained complete control of the nation. Although Bane made a pact with Szass Tam, he told the undead wizard that his priests and other worshipers would still aid the Council of Zulkirs in order to ensure that he would benefit no matter which side ultimately won the war. Szass Tam knew that the magical strength that Bane gave to him would gradually fade, so he decided to exploit his new power immediately by augmenting his armies with a vast number of undead.
After Bareris and most of the Griffon Legion traveled to Bezantur, Aoth resumed command of the aerial company and tentatively renewed his friendship with the bard. The battle mage also enlisted the help of Bareris, Tammith, and Mirror in verifying his suspicions about Malark. Aoth and Brightwing intercepted a secret message that proved Malark’s treachery, and they then showed the proof of the spymaster’s guilt to Nevron, the zulkir of the Order of Conjuration, who ordered them to arrest the monk. When Aoth, Bareris, Mirror, and Tammith confronted Malark and tried to apprehend him, the spymaster used a magical stone given to him by Szass Tam to summon several allips, the vengeful spirits of suicides. Malark fled while Aoth and the others fought and defeated the undead entities, and although Tammith managed to catch up with the monk, he incapacitated her and escaped from Bezantur.
Following Malark’s escape, the Council of Zulkirs immediately tried to repair the damage that the spymaster had inflicted on their cause. Around a week later, the mage-lords convened a council of war to decide on their next move. The zulkirs knew that Szass Tam was gathering his forces in and around Thralgard Keep in preparation for marching down the Third Escarpment and launching a new campaign, possibly against Eltabbar, but they were reluctant to engage the lich’s legions in a major battle. Although Dmitra wanted to confront Szass Tam’s troops as they descended from the heights of High Thay, the other mage-lords decided that they would instead focus on rebuilding their strength and gaining control of the far northern provinces. However, Bane then unexpectedly appeared in the meeting and instructed the Council to fight Szass Tam’s forces when they marched down from High Thay in order to settle the war. Choosing to follow Bane’s directive, the zulkirs hastily assembled their legions and advanced north to the plain at the bottom of the road that led down from Thralgard Keep. The southern host prepared to battle not only the warriors of High Thay, but also a contingent of troops whom Szass Tam had brought north from the Keep of Sorrows.
When Szass Tam’s legions descended from Thralgard Keep, the Council of Zulkirs’ army immediately engaged both them and the soldiers from the Keep of Sorrows. Initially, the lich’s forces suffered many casualties and could not break the southern troops’ formations, but they started to gain the advantage after the necromancers began to magically assail the Council’s host. Szass Tam then used the power lent to him by Bane to summon a dream vestige, which began to steadily move across the battlefield and obliterate a large number of the zulkirs’ soldiers and wizards. Neither the mage-lords nor any of their followers could defeat the dream vestige, and as the Council’s legions fell back before the fog-like entity and their formations collapsed, Malark joined the fight and made his way to Dmitra, whom he proceeded to kill. Although Szass Tam soon sent the dream vestige to its astral domain in order to keep the creature from escaping his control, the remnants of the southern army could not withstand the undead wizard’s forces and had to retreat south.
Shortly after the end of the battle, the Council of Zulkirs met in Bezantur to discuss their disastrous defeat and their inability to overcome the dream vestige. Since they had lost the greater part of their military strength and Szass Tam now led a massive army of undead, the mage-lords realized that they could not defeat the lich. The zulkirs decided that unless they discovered a way to change the situation, they would use the fleet of warships under their command to flee into exile and abandon the main part of Thay. Nevron then ordered one of his demonic minions to kill Zola Sethrakt, the weak representative of the small number of necromancers who supported the Council, since he detested her for having constantly claimed to be his equal as a zulkir. Meanwhile, the defeated southern army broke into numerous bands and fled south toward Bezantur while being pursued by Szass Tam’s forces. One of the fleeing contingents was led by Aoth, and when they reached the small city of Mophur, they were denied access by the inhabitants. Aoth’s company learned that the citizens of Mophur were following the commands of the clerics and worshipers of Bane, who had been instructed by their god to no longer support the Council, rally the people against the mage-lords, pledge their allegiance to Szass Tam, and help the lich gain control of the southern provinces. Aoth, Brightwing, Bareris, Mirror, Tammith, and the bard’s griffon Winddancer swiftly defeated the soldiers and priests guarding Mophur’s gates so that their comrades could enter the city and gather supplies before they continued to retreat south.
Aoth’s band and many of the Council of Zulkirs’ other remaining forces eventually made their way to Bezantur, but throughout southern Thay, towns and fortresses joined Szass Tam. One night a short time later, agents of the Church of Bane instigated a riot among the common people of Bezantur and convinced them to try to steal the Council’s ships in order to flee the city. While the zulkirs’ troops fought the unruly citizens throughout the harbor, the followers of Bane snuck over the rooftops of nearby buildings and shot flaming arrows into the vessels in an attempt to prevent the mage-lords from being able to escape from Bezantur. Only four ships were destroyed before the Council’s forces managed to defeat the mob and Bane’s agents. The night after the riot, and with Szass Tam’s vast army swiftly approaching Bezantur, the zulkirs decided to flee with their remaining followers into exile in the Wizard’s Reach, where they planned to gather strength and await an opportune time to renew the struggle against the lich. The Council’s large fleet soon departed from the city, but not before Nevron killed Kumed Hahpret, the zulkir of the Order of Evocation, because he had not believed that the other wizard was worthy of being a mage-lord.
A few days after the Council of Zulkirs’ ships left Bezantur, Szass Tam and his host arrived in the city, where they were welcomed by cheering crowds. Although essentially all of Thay was now under his control and the war was won, the lich was still determined to pursue and annihilate the zulkirs and the remnants of their legions. Szass Tam, his necromancers, and the other Red Wizards serving him performed powerful magical rituals that summoned a sizeable force of drowned men and undead aquatic beasts. They also created a fleet of warships consisting of darkness that could carry a large portion of the northern army. Szass Tam and his spellcasters then used their magic to raise a storm at sea to slow the Council’s flight in order to allow his forces to hunt them down. The turbulent weather delayed the Council’s vessels long enough that they could not reach the Wizard’s Reach before Szass Tam’s ships and undead minions would intercept them, so the mage-lords decided to confront the enemy fleet.
When the Council of Zulkirs’ forces, including the surviving members of the Griffon Legion, moved to engage Szass Tam’s followers, Nevron and his conjurers summoned numerous fiendish and elemental entities, particularly denizens of the infernal oceans, to assist them. In the brutal battle that commenced between the two fleets, the aerial and sea combatants were evenly matched and could not gain an advantage over each other, but in the ship-to-ship fighting, the Council’s vessels fared better than their foes and defeated or destroyed many of the lich’s ships. Since his forces were losing the battle, Szass Tam used the last of the power that Bane had given him to once again summon the dream vestige. As the fog-like entity started to eradicate the Council’s followers, the zulkirs’ Red Wizards and priests attempted to stop it, but they were unsuccessful.
While Aoth and Brightwing flew over the dream vestige in an attempt to find a weakness by learning about the creature’s nature, Tammith was assailed by Tsagoth. Bareris, Winddancer, and Mirror soon came to Tammith’s aid and joined the fight, but when the four nearly defeated Tsagoth, the blood fiend tackled the vampire into the sea, where the water completely immobilized her and began to slowly dissolve her body into nothingness. Bareris and Winddancer followed the pair into the water and resumed their attack on Tsagoth until the undead demon was forced to magically transport himself to safety. Although Bareris hurried to get Tammith out of the water, he could not do it in time and his beloved perished. Bareris was anguished over Tammith’s death, and after Aoth told him of his findings about the dream vestige’s nature, the bard set out in a small boat to confront the entity. Although the dream vestige engulfed Bareris, he managed to destroy the fog-like creature with his bardic power. Following the dream vestige’s defeat, the Council’s fleet rallied and the battle quickly turned in their favor. Realizing that his forces would inevitably be defeated, Szass Tam ordered his remaining ships to withdraw while his undead aquatic and flying minions covered the retreat. After the battle, Aoth and Brightwing found Bareris floating in the sea, but the bard had been transformed into an undead entity by the necromantic energies that had bound the dream vestige.
A week later, the Council of Zulkirs’ fleet arrived at Escalant in the Wizard’s Reach and the mage-lords began to establish the region as their new dominion. Shortly after the refugees’ arrival, Bareris told Aoth that he and Mirror had decided to return to Thay to resume opposing Szass Tam and his followers. Meanwhile, Szass Tam prepared for his official coronation as regent of Thay, and he decided that he would not try to take the Wizard’s Reach and would leave the remaining zulkirs to live in exile. Szass Tam then met with Malark and discussed the reason that he had killed Druxus and begun the war against the other mage-lords, a magical spell contained in a treatise once possessed by Fastrin the Delver, a wizard who had seemingly gone insane and obliterated the people of his homeland, a kingdom in the Sunrise Mountains, several millennia earlier.