The Pharaoh of Scouring Sands in the Oasis of His Regret
History and Domain
The Deathlord known as the Pharaoh of Scouring Sands in the Oasis of His Regret controls no shadowlands. He alone among his peers claims no foothold upon Creation or even the Underworld, dwelling far below the skeins of fate and the passing moments of Setesh in a hidden cavern of the Labyrinth.
The vast grotto of his kingdom stretches many hundreds of miles, dimly lit by constellations of soulfire gems in the domed ceiling far above. Usually, these parodies of stars glitter coldly and distantly as in deepest moonless night. From time to time, one of the jewels absorbs a stray current from the Underworld and flares with pearlescent luster, casting a radiance that can reach the brightness of the full moon. Below the false sky, the black sands of the Obsidian Desert fill the bottom half of the ovoid chamber. Megalithic stone statues and obelisks jut from the sea of dust and powdered glass like drowning men, their majesty slowly swallowed and forgotten in quiet offering to Oblivion's hunger.
The Obsidian Desert is a nation of spectres. Most tribes dwell in a semi-nomadic existence, their makeshift cities of multicolored tents springing up wherever the oases of Demesnes stain the sand with blood and Labyrinthine flora. When the Essence dries, the tribes move on and rebuild elsewhere. Most of these spectres are Disciples of the Abyss, guided by nephrack priests who worship Oblivion through its embodiment in the Obsidian Desert. All give fealty and prayers toward the one structure that does not sink, a bone white pyramid over three miles high at the exact center of the cavern. The colossal Manse extends far into the sand, its foundations drinking of the inauspicious geomancy of the Obsidian Desert.
Within the Ivory Pyramid, the Pharaoh of Scouring Sands in the Oasis of His Regret is both emperor and prisoner. He reigns as king and god over the desert, the undisputed master of the elements. With a word, he can open gaping sinkholes or summon the jackal shades that prowl the unsettled wastes of his lands. With a gesture, he whips the razor sands to a maelstrom and shreds the tribes that offend him. His eye sees where he wills to the very edges of his land. And yet he does not leave his Manse. He cannot. The Obsidian Desert is more than his kingdom; it is also his god and captor.
Long ago, the Primordial was a lush oasis in the deep reaches of the South, a living island of jungle amidst the fiery wastes. Spirits and strange races older than mankind lived harmoniously and prosperously, isolated from the rest of Creation. Yet the Exalted found and slew the heart of the jungle in their war of conquest and left its people to perish beneath the furnace of the pitiless sun. The Malfean fell through the world and came to rest in Labyrinth, diminished and transformed from a life-giving island to the desolation of its antithesis. In time, spectres discovered the Obsidian Desert and found it hospitable compared with the barrens of the caves. They sensed the presence of power and scuttled as ants upon the surface of an uncaring god.
For the whole of the First Age, the tribes of spectres made their home in the Obsidian Desert. For a time, they roamed solely as nomads, following the scent of blood in the dry air. They made war upon one another and some tribes perished, but the desert was vast and provided subsistence for all who wandered. Nephrack mystics walked into the dunes and prayed, and some returned as prophets of the sands. They gathered their peoples and commanded that they journey to the edge of the desert and quarry stone. Caravans carried these hewn monoliths back to the places of mystic revelation. Upon these holy sites, they raised great monuments. But these sank, such that none of the earliest wonders remained a mere century later. Always they built anew, each tower and statue achingly beautiful in its unique splendor and equally doomed. Little changed with the long millennia. The tribes sent raiding parties back through the fissures of the Labyrinth to capture ghosts. These toiled as slaves, dragging and placing rock until Oblivion claimed them and they joined the tribes.
Far above, the Realm of the Exalted flourished and waned, its gilded wonder festering with debauchery and the seeds of treachery. Into the sunset of the Solar Deliberative, a child of the deep South found Exaltation in the dunes. His restless heart burned with memories of lost lives, and the Eclipse roamed the world many times over. He was handsome and ever young, sailing and riding and even flying to the four corners of Creation and beyond. Always, he returned to the oasis his sorcery had claimed from the Southern sands, his private paradise away from the ruthless politics of the Deliberative. When the Usurpation came, Dragon-Blooded hunters tracked him across the dunes, led by the stars and the Chosen of the stars to the Solar's hidden gardens. They slew him in his palace, butchering his harem and children and slaves to erase his name. Yet he lingered past death, restless and vengeful.
The Obsidian Desert called to the Solar ghost, unveiling itself as the flower of the desert long faded to dust. It offered power and revenge, and its seductions stirred the passions of the slain Exalt. The ghost followed the whispers of the voice and its tantalizing visions, journeying through the bowels of the Labyrinth until he found the land of monoliths beneath eternal night. He crept past the sprawling cities of tents and the ragged camps of ghosts dragging their burdens of stone and despair. At the heart of the desert, he found the echo of his ruined paradise and marveled as hope filled him again. Then the voice spoke again, shattering all hope with mocking laughter. It revealed that the first incarnation of the Solar had led the slaughter of the Primordial oasis, and now his ghost would pay the price of that murder. The oasis crumbled upon itself, sucked into a gaping sinkhole as four great spikes rose through the sands. The teeth of the desert's maw closed together with a crash of thunder and finality, forming the Ivory Pyramid. Within the Manse of teeth, the ghost could not escape into Lethe or Oblivion. Instead, the power of the Neverborn inscribed itself upon his soul, granting all the power he could ever need to claim revenge against the Dragon-Blooded. That was the Malfean's most terrible cruelty, for the Deathlord could not leave the pyramid. Whenever he tried and however he tried, the walls closed against him and shook with distant laughter. When at last he surrendered, the obstructions parted once more to reveal the tantalizing lure of doors and balconies leading out into the cool sands.
Unable to escape his prison, the Deathlord distracted himself with the arts of sorcery and necromancy. In life, he had been a mighty sorcerer, though his changed condition forced him to relearn much of what he already knew. He had nothing if not time. With practice, he learned to tap the malevolent geomancy of his manse and ultimately reach his mind and senses throughout the desert. He moved as a ghost among ghosts, unable to feel or find satiation in his wandering clairvoyance. His projected Essence remained invisible and intangible, a wisp like a faint breeze. With practice, he learned to form images of himself from shadow and dust, but these apparitions remained without form or flesh. He proclaimed himself god and king of the spectres, The Pharaoh of Scouring Sands in the Oasis of His Regret. He obliterated all who opposed him, but remained distant and aloof from his adopted people. From time to time he would invite select nephracks to the Ivory Pyramid, sometimes as guests and other times as subjects of cruel experimentation. Those who returned to their people spread his power and the conviction of worship empowered him. Yet the Pharaoh would often retreat into isolation for years or decades or even centuries at a time, lost in his art while time raced on faster than it flowed through Creation.
Over the first century of his reign, the Pharaoh's mind explored the Labyrinth and the Underworld, but his gaze could not pierce into Creation. Even the shadowlands remained hidden by day and blurred by night. He established a presence in Stygia along with the other Deathlords, and with them he planned the murder of the world. Among their dread council, he was viewed as a distant advisor and savant who hid his secret imprisonment behind a mien of detachment. He radiated patience, though he hated his brothers and sisters for their freedom. For all that the Pharaoh allied himself toward common nihilism, he hungered for the annihilation of his brethren almost as much as he desired the final murder of the Obsidian Desert.
With the second alliance and the creation of the Abyssal Exalted, The Pharaoh of Scouring Sands in the Oasis of His Regret feels the unfamiliar stirrings of hope in his withered heart. He only possesses five Abyssal Essences, unable to exert sufficient political power to obtain a greater number. Four of these Essences flutter helplessly behind the bars of their Monstrance of Celestial Portion, prisoners even as their master. With his inability to reach into Creation, the Pharaoh has experienced great difficulty finding candidates to Exalt. He must reach out, following the threads of living Essence and destiny in shadowlands by night, slipping past the wards and watch of his brethren. His eye roams, searching restlessly for other restless souls hovering at the brink of death. It is a delicate and frustrating search that has only yielded a single result so far, the Day Caste known as Eye of the Hungry Sands. The deathknight serves as a combination of spy and recruiter, continuing her master's search for other mortals to Exalt and Solars who might succumb to the whispers of the Obsidian Desert.
Visage and Powers
The Pharaoh of Scouring Sands in the Oasis of His Regret looks much as he did in life, preserved for all time in a state of indeterminate youth somewhere between adolescence and adulthood. His dusky olive skin bears a deep tan as though from long years spent beneath the sun, while his black hair frames his thin-boned face in cherubic ringlets. His brown eyes hold the sorrow to drown the world if he wept, though he hides his suffering when he must behind a mask of inhuman stoicism. When he laughs or smiles, the joy is infectious and dangerously innocent. When angered, he reveals his true nature as blue pyreflame blazes in the empty sockets of his eyes. He remains handsome but alien, an artful effigy of a man.
The Pharaoh wears a simple white linen skirt and extensive orichalcum jewelry. The Hearthstone of the Ivory Pyramid sits in a torc upon his throat, while coiled serpentine bracelets set with jewels adorn his arms. He carries no weapons because he needs none but his magic. The Obsidian Desert will not let him perish, mending his most grievous wounds in the span of heartbeats.
In addition to his vast panoply of Charms and artifacts, the Pharaoh is likely the most learned sorcerer and necromancer of the Deathlords. He has no legions of military might as the First and Forsaken Lion or the Mask of Winters, nor the scores of Exalted claimed by the Silver Prince and the Lover Clad in the Raiment of Tears. He has only himself and his magic, and nothing to occupy his eternal imprisonment but the accumulation of more magic. He has little use for the spectral tribes of his nation, save to dine upon the banquet of their fearful worship and repel those few interlopers he might otherwise have to waste his time exterminating.
Unsurprisingly, the chief ambition of The Pharaoh of Scouring Sands in the Oasis of His Regret is securing his own freedom. He yearns to feel the sun on his face again, even if he must then put out that light and plunge the world into a night as dark as his current realm. He craves revenge on the Obsidian Desert for imprisoning him, but also knows that the Malfean's power is the only thing sustaining his existence. Ideally, he would like to conquer and break the Neverborn to his own will, enslaving it as it has enslaved him. It knows his hatred and either does not care or savors his pain, completely assured of its own invulnerability.
In addition to his primary goals, the Pharaoh has many lesser ambitions. He craves knowledge and power and any means to acquire more of either. He also hates the other Deathlords as competitors and for being less cruelly damned. He hates the Exalted for being what was taken from him, and especially the Dragon-Blooded for his murder. He does not understand forgiveness and cannot conceive of letting go of old grudges. After all, he has an overabundance of time and nothing to fill that time except research and plotting. Much like the Yozis with whom he often allies, he has grown exceedingly good at plotting over the course of his long imprisonment. The only alternative to patience is madness, and he tried that already and found it unfulfilling. He has returned from that abyss to contemplate another, and now his Abyssal Exalted shall be his hands and eyes in the world so long denied to him.
Resources and Weaknesses
The Pharaoh of Scouring Sands in the Oasis of His Regret controls one of the most remote and well-defended citadels of all the Deathlords. His Malfean domain is at once strength and liability, the source of his vast magical power and his inescapable prison. In order to reach him, enemies must traverse the hazards of the Labyrinth and then fight their way through tribes of fanatical spectre cultists, packs of jackal shades and finally the might of the unliving desert itself as it hungrily devours all who would cheat it of its ultimate revenge. At the last, an invader who fought past and broke through the fortified walls of the Ivory Pyramid would face a well-prepared enemy capable of drawing upon an arsenal of artifacts and nearly unlimited reserves of Essence to fuel his magic. Finally, time flows differently in the Obsidian Desert, generally between two and three times as quickly as elsewhere. This gives him even more time to plan and research. These advantages make the Pharaoh extremely dangerous and give him a phenomenal defensive advantage. On the other hand, he lacks the ability to exert appreciable power across a distance. He has few agents or servants in the Underworld beyond the borders of his insular domain, and only a single deathknight pursuing missions in Creation. Furthermore, he cannot even peer into Creation and has no reliable and encompassing intelligence upon which to base his plans. His isoation is further compounded by the fluctuating time dilation of his realm relative to the world outside, making it impossible to follow the calendar without difficult measurements and experimentation. Also, despite the Pharaoh's surprisingly good working relationship with the princes of the Demon Realm, they are loath to visit him in the jaws of a Malfean lest they tempt the Neverborn's hunger. Perhaps the single greatest weakness of the Pharaoh is his utter dependence on the Obsidian Desert. Should anyone find a means of slaying the Neverborn, its death would surely claim the Deathlord as well.