Five-hundred years ago –
A young boy stood in front of a grave. It was noon yet dark clouds covered the sky, making it seem like dusk. With a rumble of thunder, the clouds broke. Under the torrential downpour, the small form stood alone in front of the raised mound. The roughly carved inscription on the tombstone read – Maria Koschei. Facing directly up to the heavens, the boy let the rain wash away his tears.
“Mother, why must people die?”
His question lingered unanswered in the heavy rain.
Deep within the bowels of the earth, at the very core of the Dungeon, silence reigned supreme. Suddenly, that deathly stillness was cracked by faint vibrations followed closely by a rumble like distant thunder. Then a voice pierced layer upon layer of solid rock and thoroughly shattered it.
“Koschei, you bastard! Stay in your fucking grave!”
As the last of the echoes died out, two dark golden suns appeared in the lightless cavern, each the size of a standing man. They were a pair of eyes.
The colossus looked upwards, its vision seeming to pass through the hindrance of the stone to observe the two beings that had disturbed its rest. As suddenly as they had appeared, the lights extinguished, plunging the cavern in darkness once more.
The only difference was, its occupant was no longer there.
General Kron gulped nervously as he recalled the records and lore about the Tomb of Koschei and Edward Koschei himself.
The man had been one of the most illustrious Generals in the history of the Regiis Empire, approximately five-hundred years ago. His affinity was a rare compound of shadow and earth and he had built his fame upon his most adept technique: The Golem Legion.
A result of the combination of the Aspect of Earth and the Aspect of Manipulation, he could mould golems out of the earth and then command them with his shadows. In group warfare, as long as his mana sufficed, he could be considered a one-man army. In his time, the borders of Regiis were nigh impregnable.
But as most such stories go, his too ended in tragedy.
The invasion of the Northern Barbarians was the toughest challenge General Koschei had to face in his entire military career. To preserve his life and those of his soldiers, he was forced to reveal his trump card: Necromancy.
Moulding golems out of earth consumed mana and manipulating those heavy constructs was draining as well. The resulting legion was a heavy, ponderous force that was only good as shields for the mages and as mobile bunkers. While immensely useful, Koschei was unsatisfied with the technique.
In his attempts at improving it, he had been struck by an inspiration. What was extremely abundant in a battlefield? Corpses. And taken differently, weren’t corpses simply golems? If he could manipulate them, he would be able to use his magic to its maximum potential.
Generally, the Tier 3 shadow magic: Manipulation could control very few living beings. The reason his magic allowed him to manipulate so many at once was that his puppets didn’t have their own mana or a will to resist. By using corpses as his puppets, he was maximizing his superiority thoroughly.
From a military perspective, that battle was a grand success. Noticing the corpses of their own comrades rising from the dead to cope with them had caused the morale of the enemy troops to comprehensively avalanche. Instead of the long drawn out war they had been expecting, it had turned into a thorough rout as the Barbarians fled from the ‘King of the Dead’.
But from the political perspective, it was a deathblow for Koschei, for among the corpses that had been ‘revived’ were Regiis soldiers. As it was his first time employing the magic on such a large scale, Koschei simply lacked the finesse required to distinguish between the corpses of friend and foe. This had led to a tide of public opinion against him for desecrating the bodies of their martyrs and he was censured and forced to resign.
Thus, the King of the Dead returned to his clan, living the rest of his life in seclusion, out of the public eye. Or so it should have been.
Yet, a hundred years later, the entire city the Koschei clan ruled over along with its one-hundred-thousand strong population sank into the ground one night without any omen or sound, forming the maddeningly intricate, ever-changing underground labyrinth known as the Tomb of Koschei.
After much investigation, the fact of the matter was unearthed. There had always been an earth Dungeon under the ancestral city of the Koschei but it had been hidden extremely well and kept out of the notice of the Empire. It was the reason for the large number of earth mages in the Koschei clan and why they were so active in recruiting commoner earth mages. Without the need to pay a substantial fraction of the harvested Earth Stones and Lithic Crystals, the clan could pour the resources into training their own talents.
Koschei as the only Tier 5 mage had consolidated his dominion over his clan and their resources swiftly. After that, he had thrown himself into the improvement of his magic. That is, before his wife passed away from old age. Despite his status as a Tier 5 mage, his wife had only managed to reach Tier 3 due to her poor magical talent.
After searching far and wide, the clan had managed to procure an alchemical concoction that would allow her to step into Tier 4 but unfortunately, it couldn’t prolong her life like a normal promotion would. Therefore, she left the world before Koschei did. It is rumoured that helplessly watching her grow old and die was what triggered Koschei’s subsequent quest for eternal life.
The death of his wife and his unwillingness to remarry meant that reaching Tier 6 through ordinary means was impossible for him. Therefore, he needed some other means to prolong his life.
In the philosophy of the sages of Huaxia and their unrelenting search for immortality, he found a resonance of ideals. It is said that he visited Huaxia several times to consult with them and finally, decided to try an extremely radical method.
As an elemental was quasi-immortal in nature, Koschei decided to fuse with one to gain that trait himself, resulting in the Dungeon swallowing up the entire city and its occupants and him never being heard from again.
Until, that is, now.
General Kron watched slack-jawed as the entire barren plain created by the Demigods began to ripple like a disturbed lake. Then a huge, jet-black skeletal hand slowly pushed out of the centre of the ripples, then another, and another and another. The four skeletal arms laid their palms flat on the ground, sending tremors radiating outwards, and pushed down, causing an obsidian skull to breach the surface of the earth.
The skull was followed by the shoulders and rib-cage, then the spine. The humongous skeleton straightened up, its dark golden eyes flush with the top of the defense rampart even with only its torso out of the ground. Dark golden threads of Lithic Crystals were veined all throughout its bones, lending it a suffocating noble presence.
The soil and rock that cascaded off the giant skeleton like water was suddenly arrested mid-air, disintegrating into dust that wrapped around the skeletal body like a robe. Each of its four arms was covered by a dusty sleeve.
Finally pulling its lower half out of the ground, it allowed the dust robe to materialize around its legs. The four-armed skeleton stood, its head seemingly touching the sky and the shadow of its body blotting out the sun.
At its full height, its eyes were at the same level as the floating Demigods.
General Kron gulped again. It appeared that Koschei didn’t want to stay in his grave.