Dis: A tale of Life and Death
The Deathkin say that the ice age that gripped Nim-Yola three thousand years ago was Death reaching forth to encase the world in ice and kill everything. They claim descent from a hero named Ca’ol, who ventured to the north pole where Death lives to gamble with him for the fate of the world. Ca’ol won, but Death asked that he stay with him. Ca’ol pitied Death, and agreed to his terms. Since then, the descendants of Ca’ol have called themselves the Deathkin, and have remained at the utmost north, near the Black Gates of Death’s Kingdom, to keep him company.
The Deathkin have developed a number of beliefs (or perhaps more appropriately, superstitions) about death. They believe that Death can only call you by name, therefore, they share their real names only with those they trust most. More often they use nicknames earned by deeds, or reflective of one’s reputation or personality.
All adult Deathkin wear a coin around their necks as a memorial of Ca’ol’s game of chance to free the world from Death’s icy grasp. Children receive their coin during their coming of age ceremony. It marks their status as members of the tribe.
There is a proverb among the Deathkin: “You can’t trust someone who’s never faced Death.” It is common for young Deathkin to venture abroad and return home only once they have had their own adventures and faced Death. Only then can they truly begin their vocation of guarding the Black Gates.
There are ruins from the Apijan Empire even as far north as the Deathkin’s territory. There are no cities or towns there, but there are tracks from the ancient lightning trains leading to a series of ruins that dive deep beneath the surface. The sages and elders of the Deathkin say that here the empire conducted dangerous necromantic research, trying to master even the forces of Death itself. They say that the necromancers they so often face are sometimes drawn by the same power that drew the empire’s magi, but sometimes are drawn by the experiments they left behind.
Humans come in a broad spectrum of browns and tans, but the Deathkin are known for their distinctly pale skin. The legend is that Ca’ol’s skin went pale like a corpse when he wagered with Death, and that his descendants have inherited this trait ever since. When Deathkin go abroad, this sometimes results in stories of undead creatures or walking corpses going about.
That reputation from their physical appearance goes hand-in-hand with the other part of the Deathkin’s reputation. The Deathkin are naturally experts at nearly every aspect of death and dying. Sometimes this means that they are sought after as undertakers and chthonic ritualists, but combined with the tribe’s warlike traditions, it means that young Deathkin who go abroad to face Death find that their people have a reputation for being sought-after mercenaries and hired killers.
The Deathkin neighbor a tribe of frost giants who have long been bitter enemies of theirs, but they have also faced a constant stream of necromancers over the years, sometimes with armies of undead at their command. Most significant to the Deathkin is Rauglothgor, often shortened to “Raug” by the Deathkin, a dracolich who took up residence in a nearby mountain. Raug lacks the bias towards humanoids that limits most human necromancers, and is happy to experiment with skeletal dragons, lurkers, worgs, and so on. He has experimented with death elementals, transforming frost giants into death giants, and turning the Deathkin into his Death Knights. From time to time, Raug’s evil becomes so great that the frost giants are able to put aside their ancient feud to aid the Deathkin in ending his schemes. To this day, however, none have discovered Raug’s soul gem, so he has returned from each defeat, waited a century or two while the Deathkin and their frost giant neighbors return to their feuding, and then struck again.
From this, the Deathkin have developed a mistrust of magic generally. They understand that not all magic is necromancy, of course, but they also understand that any sufficiently talented mage could also put that skill towards necromancy, and so they bear careful watching. On the other hand, this has also created a consistent if not altogether popular tradition among the Deathkin of studying necromancy and learning magic so that one might be better suited to combat these forces when they arise. Such individuals are usually regarded with suspicion by other Deathkin. They are generally thought of as walking a very thin line and taking a major gamble. That said, such high-stakes gambling holds an honored place in Deathkin tradition, and those who look on this sort of thing favorably compare it to Ca’ol’s gamble with Death for the fate of the world.
Outsiders sometimes consider the Deathkin hedonists. They are constantly reminded of how fleeting life is, so notions of moderation, much less aceticism, have little place in their worldview. Life is to be enjoyed, because Death will call your name soon enough.
Note: For names, see “Apijan” in the Story Games Names Project, based loosely on the Chukotko-Kamchatkan language of Koryak, compiled by Jason Morningstar. PDF p. 17