Usually when one thinks of necromancy, one thinks of raising up armies of zombies and skeletons, generally for the purpose of world domination or other criminal activity. However, necromancy was not always used in this way. Necromancy was once a well-respected branch of medicinal magic. The tale of its origin and fall into darkness is one of hope and promise tainted by hubris and lust for power.
To Preserve Life and Restore Flesh
Necromancy was first developed as a medical art in the year 1212 B.W.D. by a man named Dr. Otto Derlin. Dr. Derlin was not only a well-educated medical doctor, but also a highly skilled mage. What he could not cure through regular medical treatments, he would cure with a spell or potion…however, there were still illnesses and injuries which were so severe that they responded to neither medical nor magical treatments swiftly enough for a patient’s life to be saved. Also, there would be times when a patient would have to suffer an amputation due to a limb being so badly injured or infected that not even the most advanced healing magics at that time would be able to save it.
Frustrated with the number of times that he had had to surrender a patient’s life or limbs to illness and injury, Dr. Derlin began to experiment with the concept of combining powerful magic and medical science in order to heal and cure those who could not be cured by either alone. Through healing and wild magic, he developed spells which could rejuvenate damaged organs, revive necrotic tissues, and perfectly reconstruct shattered bones. Through spirit magic, he developed a technique for keeping the soul stuck fast to the body in order to prevent patient death during treatment. Together, these new techniques allowed for many previously deadly diseases to be cured either with medication or bed rest and formerly devastating injuries to be healed without fail. Derlin dubbed this new healing art necromancy, due to the fact that it allowed mortal beings to meddle in the domain of the Goddess of Death herself.
Leaps and Bounds
Over time, Dr. Derlin shared his miraculous new techniques with other doctors and mages through books and direct teaching. As the centuries passed and knowledge of anatomy and biology advanced, so too did necromancy. For instance, when the first researchers discovered that many diseases were caused by tiny parasitic organisms, necromancers began to develop spells which could leach the life force of invading bacteria and transfer it into the patient’s immune cells, weakening the bacteria while bolstering the strength of the patient’s natural defenses. Also, as people’s understanding of how the body works on a cellular level improved, so too did the spells geared toward reviving dead tissues and repairing tissues which had been damaged by injury and disease. New techniques were also developed to allow for stitch-free limb re-attachments and the complete regrowth of lost limbs and organs!
Even though necromancy was always reserved for only the most extreme medical emergencies, the research side of the art was bustling with activity and new discoveries all the time. Necromancers were among the most respected of mages due to their skills and their expert knowledge of both magic and mundane medicine. In the 300’s B.W.D., it seemed to many that there would come a day when necromancy would hold the key to curing even devastating diseases which originated within the cells of the body itself, like cancer and lupus. Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end.
And Mages Grew Proud
In the year 365 B.W.D., necromancy took a turn for the worse. It was in that year that esteemed necromancer Dr. Charon Acheron embarked with twelve others upon a quest to conquer what he believed was the most devastating incurable disease of all—death. Yes, that’s right, Dr. Acheron and his team began researching a cure for death itself.
Up until that time, necromancy had only been able to revive dead tissues still attached to a living body and prevent patient death during treatment by using magic to temporarily strengthen he bonds between the soul and the body. Once the soul had left the patient’s body entirely, there was only a small window of time in which it could be called back into the body before the brain, deprived of oxygen by an un-breathing body, would become too damaged to allow the soul proper control of the body. Calling the soul back into the body after the damage had been done always resulted in permanent disability or death, because even necromancers did not understand the unique functions of brain cells well enough to be able to successfully repair the damage. Dr. Acheron, however, thought that he did.
Dr. Acheron and his colleagues had spent many years researching the brain using laboratory animals and unclaimed cadavers. From his research, he assumed that he understood the chemistry of the brain and the way in which brain cells worked together well enough to accurately repair a brain which had been badly damaged by physical injury or lack of oxygen. He was so confident in his knowledge, in fact, that to him curing death really did seem like a simple matter. So sure was he of his immanent success that he requested the bodies of five freshly executed criminals upon which to conduct those first resurrection experiments…which, predictably, went horribly wrong.
The first test was with a corpse which had been dead just a few hours. Dr. Acheron and his team performed the spell to the letter, mending the hanged man’s broken neck and (presumably) reviving his damaged brain. Unfortunately, the brain cells did not reconnect properly and the newly “revived” man awakened violent…and hungry. No one could reason with him, non-lethal offensive spells did nothing to stun him, and strikes to the body did nothing to slow him down. The only thing that did work to stop him was an arrow through the brain. Of course, since none of the research team actually got hurt after that first failed resurrection, they simply collected the dead guy and performed an autopsy to see what exactly went wrong.
They failed to notice the errors in neural reconstruction and noticed only that the dead body cells had not been revived. Taking note, they altered the procedure by adding a potent cellular rejuvenation potion (never-before tested on an entire dead body before) and went ahead and made a second attempt on another corpse. This time, they called in a group of assistants to secure the subject to the operating table just in case this one, too, tried to attack as soon as he was revived…which, of course, he did.
The assistants sprang into action immediately to secure the patient to the operating table. One man was badly bitten on the arm in the process. As Dr. Acheron and his colleagues studied their second, “live,” test subject, the man who was bitten in the ordeal began to suffer strange, flu-like symptoms. Of course, the doctors were much more concerned with the status of their patient than their ailing assistant, and so paid that little detail no mind.
What they found in terms of the revived man was startling. First of all, he was endlessly hungry. No amount of food would ever satisfy him and he would attempt to bite any person who came near him. Secondly, his body’s cells never returned to life. They were still dead, even three days after resurrection…but they did not decompose or heal from injury either. It was as if the body had been frozen in the exact same way as a specimen preserved in formaldehyde.
Just as they were completing their examination on that third day, on the opposite side of town, the assistant who had been bitten finally died…and came back violent and hungry. That was the beginning of the world’s first ever zombie outbreak.
Falling from Grace
It took three weeks and the aid of fighters and mages from neighboring cities to finally destroy every single zombie…including the one which resided in Dr. Acheron’s laboratory. Acheron and his team were arrested then, and charged with Crimes against Nature and over three thousand counts of Negligent Homicide. They were found guilty and sentenced to death by beheading, and their research was destroyed so that no one would ever be able to recreate such a horrible tragedy…but Dr. Acheron escaped only days before he was to be executed, along with two members of his core research team.
You see, Dr. Acheron truly believed that he had just stumbled upon a marvelous discovery and wished to continue his research into raising the dead. He believed that his research might even hold the key to achieving god-like immortality and eternal youth. At that point…yeah, it was pretty clear that the man had gone from respected healer to mad researcher.
At the same time, much more wicked minds than Dr. Acheron’s had heard of the zombie incident caused by his magic and sought to acquire that knowledge themselves in order to build invincible undead armies. Some independently attempted to replicate Acheron’s research, while others actively sought him out and apprenticed under him in order to learn the secrets of turning the dead into nigh-unstoppable monsters. This was the dawn of the dark age of necromancy.
In the following years, this new breed of insane and dangerous necromancers learned to bind the souls of the dead not only to their freshly dead bodies, but also to skeletal remains as well. Not only that, but they soon discovered how to transform a living being into a zombie without having to have them bitten or out-and-out murder them first, as well as inventing the process by which a necromancer may transform himself into a lich—an undead mage who himself can command the undead. It is said that Dr. Acheron transformed himself in this way and, according to legend, roams the earth to this day spreading the knowledge of his dark art like the prophet of a cursed gospel.
Of course, with increased misuse of necromancy, people soon began to associate the field not with healing and hope, but with death and destruction. People stopped trusting necromancers and necromancy all together. The spells and techniques which once brought the promise of a bright future where no illness and very few injuries would be an immediate death sentence and old age would be the leading cause of death were now shunned along with the spells and rituals which created undead abominations. Fewer and fewer young mages looking to become healers or respectable magic users would touch necromancy with a ten foot pole for fear of being shunned and ostracized by civilized society.
By the time of The War of Destruction, necromancy was officially ranked as a branch of Black Magic, and was used extensively by certain factions of The Alliance of Humanity. The Knights of Orsirin and The Paragons used necromancy to raise soldiers who had died on the battlefield to continue the fight as zombies or animated skeletons, while still actively recruiting living soldiers to join their ranks. After the war, the families of the raised soldiers found out what had become of their loved ones and demanded justice. Those responsible for the abhorrent decision to call men back from the dead were tried for war crimes. Unfortunately, they all got off with a token sentence of five years in prison and were out on parole in two.
A Light in the Darkness?
Although at present necromancy has lost virtually all credibility as a healing art due to over thirteen hundred years of abuse, there are still those who have not lost faith and still continue to practice medical necromancy. While some practitioners of medical necromancy continue to use the art’s original name, some have decided to allow the raisers of the undead to keep the name which they have so carelessly tarnished and instead describe their own art as vivimancy. All of these healers work hard to continue Dr. Otto Derlin’s legacy, even while haunted and overshadowed by the legacy of Dr. Charon Acheron. To them, even if they are shunned, hated, and disrespected by laymen, medical doctors, and mages alike, the lives of their patients are more important than their personal reputations.
And so ends this week’s entry. Join us next week when I interview Inferno Bendis. Until then, be sure to pick up The Rebirth and Awakening of Wolfie Star-Runner on Amazon.com (print and ebook), createspace.com (print only), or Tower Books (print only), and mark your calendars for the week of November 2nd in anticipation of the release of Wolfie Star-Runner Plays with Hellfire. You can also follow me on Twitter at @DanielleVFreman if you so choose, and if you like my blog or my books (or know someone who will) don’t forget to put in the good word with your buddies via your social media site of choice. (Yes, go my minions! Tell them! Tell them ALL!! Muwahahahahahahaha!! …Happy Halloween!)