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Necromancy and the Afterlife

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Preliminary names for the rivers of the afterlife: Doloris, Odium, Ardens, and Lamentum. Ferryman is probably Charun, although Porthmeus might also work as a name.

TL;DR: You need a coin to pay the ferryman, or you ain't goin' to the afterlife. Instead, your soul gets stuck and can't pass on. If you had a particularly strong reason that would tie you to the mortal world, you haunted something as a ghost. Otherwise, your spirit languished on the banks of the river. You don't haunt the world like a ghost, but you still remain metaphysically close to where you died--with enough time or enough spirits, this can begin to affect the surrounding area.

In pre-Imperial times, necromancers played an important role. While they often presided over funerary rituals, they were also responsible for finding spirits that couldn't pass on and getting them a coin for the ferryman. The nature of this task varied. Once a spirit has left a body (according to tradition, the spirit leaves the body along with the warmth of life, so once the body hits room temperature, the spirit's gone), it's no longer enough to place a coin on the body--the spirit has no way of getting to it. If the body--or really, any dead body--could be found, the necromancer could briefly bind the spirit to the body, give it the coin, and then release it. If no body was available, the coin could not be physically transferred, and so the ownership of the coin had to be transferred somehow. The most common method was summoning the spirit and giving it some task in exchange for a coin. Traditionally, the task was "tell me your story," although it could be nearly anything. The only rule is that the exchange must be equal: a coin cannot be gifted to a spirit, it must be earned. Otherwise, the ownership of the coin does not change, and the spirit cannot pass on.

Necromancers were bound by a covenant known as the Bone Law, which regulated what to what degree they could practice necromancy. Simple initiates were granted very few rights--they were allowed basic necromantic magic, but were under no circumstances allowed to create or control undead. As one gained wisdom and experience, they were granted increased freedom to use necromantic magic, but in turn were given more responsibilities in the use of that magic. At the highest level, masters of the Bone Law were allowed to do essentially anything in the domain of necromancy, short of create intelligent undead or unnaturally extend their own lifespan. While there is evidence that many of middling or low initiation broke their oaths and were hunted down, there is no evidence that those in the highest level ever abused their power.

That was little comfort to the Imperial legions that sought to bring civilization to the lands. For the masters, it was not considered an abuse of power to use mindless undead to defend their people. After a bitter war, the necromancers and their people eventually lost, and the necromancers were hunted down and crucified for their violations of the laws of nature. Imperial law broadly banned the practice of necromancy, although as the law was written by senators, and not magii, it is often unclear what exactly constitutes necromancy under the laws. While magii who have studied the law have concluded that the law mostly prohibits the animation of undead, most colleges refuse to teach any aspect of necromancy. Due to the interconnectedness of magical theory, and the fact that high level magics are constructed from theories of low level magics, any high level necromancy requires understanding of the creation and control of undead--and anyone who knows the basics of necromancy can eventually figure out how to create undead, especially if they are familiar with related schools of magic.