The tale of the two kings Tyrik and Nayo is one of the great tragedies of Laria. Theirs is a tale of an unending rivalry which escalated so much as to bring the entire eastern region of Laria to ruin. Since those times the names of towns and cities are now different, and the landscape of Laria itself has changed. It is sufficient to say that the eastern region once looked much like the southwestern region looks today: rolling hills of grasslands, punctuated by verdant forests. The southern kingdom, which was named Narga and was ruled by King Nayo, was half-covered in forest, for the Elven forest in southern Laria today once extended far eastward, almost approaching the coast. King Tyrik ruled the kingdom of Esteroc, which occupied the wide valley between the central and eastern mountains.
Both kingdoms were prosperous and relatively peaceful, but the seeds of war were sown early. Firstly, the land between the two kingdoms had been unclaimed and contentious for many decades. Skirmishes were common between Narga and Esteroc in this small middle region, which over time caused hatred between the two peoples. Secondly, each kingdom had resources which the other needed, and because of the tensions between them, trade had stopped. Narga had great stores of timber, hides, and other commodities from the forest which Esterloc had no access to, while the people of Esterloc were able to produce huge amounts of grain and textiles, which Narga badly needed. These scarcities strained both societies and further fueled mistrust between the kingdoms. Thirdly, Tyrik and Nayo had been jealous rivals since long before the war began. They had both attended the same elite arcane academy, which was attended mostly by the children of wealthy nobles who were to be prepared for the day that they would inherit their father’s kingdoms. Here they developed their rivalry and hatred for one another, which was not forgotten when they took to their thrones many years later.
With the two kingdoms poised for war, it only took a series of particularly brutal skirmishes for the proverbial pot to boil over. After some chaotic and ineffectual diplomacy, war was declared. There was nothing particularly remarkable about first years of the war, but as it drug on it became clear that this would be an intractable conflict. Tyrik and Nayo were so stubborn, proud and vengeful that each became bent on destruction of the other and all hope for peace was erased. Neither side cared much for any human cost in defeating the enemy, and each resorted to any means to weaken the other kingdom, leading to an unending string of horrific tragedies. Countless people were killed, soldiers and peasants alike. Towns and cities were raised, crops burned, and infrastructure destroyed. The strip of land between the two kingdoms was nicknamed The Red Hills for the amount of blood that had been spilt there. Many began to flee the region, becoming refugees who sought the protection of other kingdoms. After many years, when the armies of both sides had been decimated, it seemed that Narga was beginning to take the upper hand, due in part to their access to a great amount of timber and meat from the Elven forest (although at this time the forest had been mostly decimated). The Nargan forces began to gain territory, inching slowly towards Tyrik in his capital city (also named Esterloc, which sits on the site of modern-day Esterlin).
Tyrik, when seeing that his defeat was inevitable, went mad with frustration and rage. He was able to cause much devastation to the armies of Narga, but simply did not have the forces available to stem their advance. The King began spending long nights with his commanders frantically brainstorming on strategies. He slept less and less by the day, and his health began to deteriorate. One morning, after a ferocious thunderstorm the night before, Tyrik emerged from his chamber in a daze. His councilors reported later that something seemed very different about him. His madness had been replaced with a quiet and ruthless determination. Tyrik cast off his regalia, donned a simple cloak, and took off from Esterloc on horseback alone, leaving his generals in charge of the war. He did not return for many weeks. If it was ever known where he went, that information is now lost. One night he returned to Esterloc, looking more worn and weary than ever before, and under his arm was a thick black tome.
Much to his councilors’ dismay, he said not a word to anyone, but instead ran up to his tallest tower and locked the door. He was never seen alive again. It is now known that Tyrik had obtained a powerful tome on the subject of necromancy. So great was his desire to defeat King Nayo that he was willing to sacrifice anything, even himself. Tyrik began on a dark path that few have ever chosen in the history of Laria: the path to lichdom. You cannot kill a lich, Tyrik reasoned, and a lich could command the dead. Living men had to be fed, clothed, and paid. Living men grew tired from a long march, and felt fear from the advance of an enemy. Undead creatures had none of these defects, and Tyrik knew that he had no shortage of corpses from which to raise his army.
Tyrik spent weeks in his tower completing the complex rites. At the moment of transformation, the skies above Esterloc went black, and a shudder went through the earth which was felt throughout the continent. When Tyrik emerged from his tower, many of his councilors fled in fear. His flesh had rotted away, leaving only bones, but he was draped in fine black silk and embossed dark armor. The Lich Tyrik relished his new power and wasted no time. He immediately set forth from Esteroc, found a high hill, and summoned forth new fel energies. From the old battlefields and mass graves his new army rose; endless hordes of skeletons, fearless, tireless, and perfectly loyal.
Many of Tyrik’s people fled his kingdom at this time, for the undead have always been viewed as an abomination. Tyrik summoned his remaining living armies to his side, where he immediately had them surrounded and slaughtered so that he may raise them again as undead minions. His hordes pushed southwards, and Nayo’s forces were in dismay. Tyrik’s forces now outnumbered Nayo’s, and were more effective in battle. The tide turned, and Tyrik began making great strides deep into Narga. Now King Nayo, seeing all that had occurred, and watching as his territories fell to Tyrik day by day, began to sense his approaching demise. But Nayo was single-minded and could not accept the possibility of defeat. He reasoned that the only way to fight such an overwhelming foe would be to become them. It is not known how Nayo achieved his lichdom, for there are no surviving accounts of his activities in those days. But according to the legend, there came a day where Tyrik’s undead hordes reached the valley where Narga’s capital city lay, and prepared to lay siege. It was this moment, at the eleventh hour, when Nayo completed his transformation. The skies again grew black, and Tyrik knew what had happened. As Tyrik’s hordes approached the doors of the Nargan capital, Nayo unleashed his energies and reawoke every slain man and creature which lay in the valley. Such chaos did this cause amongst Tyrik’s armies that the siege was completely thwarted, and in the pandemonium Tyrik fled northwards to regroup.
Now began the most destructive stalemate in the history of Laria, which is now called The War of the Dead. Two lich Kings, each single-mindedly bent on destruction of the other, each with a seemingly infinite reservoir of undead soldiers, and each with complete disregard for the people and the world they inhabited, warred endlessly with one another for many decades. The eastern region of Laria, once covered in rolling hills and forests, now became a land of death and desolation. The ceaseless flow of fel energies had tainted the land, and the ground became gray or black. Under the endless trampling of undead feet, grass ceased to grow. All the trees died, or were mercilessly cut down for timber. The rivers, once sparkling and blue, now ran a sickly pale gray, or else dried up.
The rest of Laria looked on in horror and saw the situation as hopeless, for who could stand up to the might of either King? No army could do so. But sometimes where an army might fail, a single determined individual may succeed, although he had the help of the gods themselves. His name was Daenar, the greatest paladin who ever lived. He hailed from the west but had grown up in the east, in Esterloc while it was still peaceful. His entire family had been slain in the conflict, which gave him the unshakable determination necessary to carry out his quest and stop the War, whatever the cost.
Since the historians of Esterloc and Narga had perished or fled long ago, the exact account of the feats of Daenar are lost, but the general story is known. Daenar knew that to try to fight hordes of undead was hopeless folly. To stop the war, he had to stop the two kings. While one may wonder how a single man could possibly get near a lich king surrounded by his undead hordes, one must remember that each king was in the midst of a ferocious on-going fight to the death, constantly on the move and ever distracted. Daenar was not just a warrior but a paladin, well-learned and knowledgeable of the forces of evil which he is sworn to fight. For those who study such things, it is known that a lich is an immortal being. If its body is slain, its spirit merely flees and finds a new shape to inhabit. But the soul only remains in the physical realm because it is anchored to a certain physical object of the lich’s choosing. This object is called a phylactery, and is usually a small object of sentimental value to the lich.
To protect itself, the lich will keep its phylactery well-hidden or always close at hand. Daenar knew he had to find the phylactery of the two kings, but it could not be done while the liches were protecting them. Therefore, through a combination of luck, supreme skill, and excellent timing, he was able to slay one of the kings while he was at unawares. With the king dead and his armies thus in disarray, Daenar searched furiously for the phylactery. But the wrath of the lich was great, and before the phylactery was found the lich had acquired a new form, and Daenar had to flee before the lich’s hordes bore down upon him. Daenar then went to the other king and repeated the process. Legend has it that the great paladin was able to slay each king multiple times, but he was never able to locate the phylactery, and with each attempt his enemies became wiser and more wary of him. Soon both Tyrik and Nayo were searching the region for the paladin, and Daenar was chased across the plain, until he came to the foot of the mountains near the eastern coast. Here he was cornered, and the only route of escape was upwards into the mountains. He lost his pursuers, but he began to believe that his mission had been a total failure. Daenar knew not what to do or where to go next, and so he wandered the mountains alone, in bitter loneliness.
Daenar cried out to the heavens, he wept, he swung his sword wildly in rage, he cackled deliriously among the silent mountains, until one day, when he was on the brink of madness, he saw a shimmering beacon in the distance. Somewhere in his mind Daenar knew he was going mad, but the beacon shone brighter than the sun and seemed to clear his mind. It came from the top of the highest peak, and he could not stop himself from moving towards it. Days later, after traveling the rocky terrain without rest through the day and night, Daenar dragged himself up the final stretch until he came across a long flight of stairs, finely-hewn but worn with time.
In wonder, Daenar climbed the long stair until he reached the peak of the mountain, and came upon a ruined temple. The paladin immediately recognized the symbology and familiar layout, finding that this had once been a temple to Helreginn, a god of light and protection that he had worshipped his whole life. Aside from the sound of the gentle breeze Daenar found the ruin completely silent, and aside from some hawks’ nests completely uninhabited. In its prime, the temple must’ve been stunning, Daenar thought. Although most of the stonework was worn down, almost every surface was covered in ornate etchings, and Daenar found remnants of great carven murals which told the story of some ancient legend. In the center of the ruin was the last piece of the temple which remained standing: a massive stone spire, still shimmering in the sunlight, piercing the sky.
From an overhanging ledge, Daenar looked westwards towards the plains where the undead roamed, and saw the decay and pestilence which spread like a gray blanket from horizon to horizon. Reflecting on his quest, he believed that his discovery of the temple was a sign from Helreginn, and wished to seek her council. He found a clear spot amongst the rubble and began to consecrate the ground, performing the proper rites to commune with Helreginn. When the ground had been prepared, Daenar took up his holy symbols and chanted the incantations. Helreginn had been watching him, and when summoned immediately made herself visible. The air around Daenar shimmered and the top of the mountain seemed bathed in blinding light.
Now Helreginn addressed the paladin. She told him that the balance between the primal forces and energies had been lost in this region as the two liches soaked the land in evil. It was not natural for these energies to be given such free reign, and it was beginning to strain the very fabric of the physical plane. Daenar humbled himself before the Helreginn, professing that he would do anything to stop the lich kings and help the gods restore balance to the region. Helreginn stated that this could be done, but that the only way would be for Daenar to give his own life in return. Daenar solemnly agreed.
A great beam of shimmering white energy shot down from the heavens and struck the temple like a lightening bolt, and the great paladin Daenar was never seen again. Like ripples in a pond, a white wave of energy coursed through the mountains and ran down across the plain. The endless armies of the dead fell limp when struck, bones falling to the ground like lifeless twigs, and the War of the Dead was stopped in its tracks. King Tyrik and Nayo, wherever they were, kept their form but lost their magical abilities, and in great confusion and alarm they went into hiding. The entire region, having been in constant turmoil and destruction for decades, now fell completely silent.
This cataclysmic event was felt throughout the continent, and once it was discovered that the lich kings were dead and their armies destroyed, people began to cautiously return. Except for a few thousand returning refugees, the kingdoms of Esterloc and Narga were completely destroyed. Every conceivable piece of infrastructure was in ruin: cities, towns, roads, bridges, and even farms. Over the next few hundred years, the region was engaged in steady rebuilding. In the beginning, the regions were essentially a wilderness because only a fraction of the former population had returned, and lawlessness was rampant. This lawlessness would in part lead to the great Catastrophe, which would later transform the entire Nargan territory into a perilous and unforgiving desert. But since that story will be told elsewhere, we will focus our attention on the rebuilding of Esterloc.
The city of Esterloc was in such disrepair, and the kingdom of Esterloc so utterly destroyed that the kingdom was ruled discontinued, and Esterloc renamed to Esterlin. Aid did come from other kingdoms, which went to Esterlin first, then flowed outwards to the rest of the region. So it was that Esterlin, while not directly ruling over the other settlements, was the de facto patron of the region and was considered the center of power. Leading up to the present, Esterlin has grown into a large, successful city and maintains the unofficial status of protector of the region. Hatred of the undead is a cultural artifact from those dark years, and ever has Esterlin had to contend with remnants of evil power which lurk in hidden pockets and threaten peace. It is not surprising that Esterlin is one of the most vocal opponents of the practice of necromancy, and is responsible for most of the continent-wide initiatives that seek to stamp out the practice. Esterlin is also home to some of the only explicitly anti-necromancy guilds and organizations in Laria, one of which is a cult devoted to Daenar himself. The gods to whom Daenar prayed are also beloved and worshipped in the region, and the region has the highest concentration of shrines devoted to them.