Maldrek the Darkener
Maldrek was a powerful lich that ruled over a substantial kingdom in southern Asirian over six thousand years ago. His rise to power was brutal and ruthless, and his millenia-long reign was defined by the endless wars waged by rivals and crusades called against him by various faiths and nations. Despite these constant threats to his rule, his empire never truly fell, and many of the monuments to his power still stand, including the great pyramids of Asirian.
No historian agrees on why his empire eventually ended, but there are many theories: civil war, assassination, divine intervention; each theory with little-to-no evidence. The fact that there is no reliable record of his death or the destruction of his phylactery is of concern to some fringe historians, who claim that he is still alive and could rise again to devastate the unprepared world.
Maldrek was born and raised in the harsh environment of the Asirian desert to an small tribe of nomads called the Halad. The difficulties of living in such a dangerous environment were compounded by the aggressive nature of the tribal desert culture, and Maldrek was taught to fight from a very young age. While he proved adequate with the khopesh, he excelled at the magical arts, and was taken as a disciple of the Halad shaman to further develop his talents.
Maldrek didn't begin his infamous career as a necromancer but instead was responsible for divining water sources in the arid desert, healing the wounded and sick of his tribe, and focusing his gaze into the future to gain advantages over the Halad's rival tribes. As an acolyte of the shaman, he was also expected to accompany war parties when they were defending territory. During one such encounter is when he had his first tentative brush with necromancy and his future power. After a skirmish over one of the scarce-few oases, his Halad brothers had successfully defended the almost divinely-worshiped water source, though with many casualties. Maldrek himself was mortally wounded, and while his few remaining brothers were preparing for his death he almost instinctively reached out and pulled the life from them, rejuvenating himself at their great expense.
After this taste of power, he returned to his tribe a changed man. His brush with death, and the means of his revival, had shown him clearly the frail vulnerability of mortal life. In the deaths of his brothers he saw the long past of his people; generation after generation fighting, killing, and dying over water, his tribe no different than the ones they had fought all of his life, his father's life, his father's father's, and so on until the beginning. From this new perspective he looked down upon the life of his tribe and saw the cause of such suffering; the shamans, and their obsession with the supposedly divine nature of the lifeless Asirian desert, longing so dearly for the fetid puddles that kept the tribes clinging desperately to life. Returning to his people, he slaughtered the shaman and his fellow apprentices with no remorse, considering them a diseased limb that needed to be severed for his people to live. No longer believing in the lifestyle of his people, he spoke to his tribe of the futility and pointlessness of their traditions, but was met with only with disgust for his blasphemous actions and words.
Believing now that his people would never choose to change, he decided instead to force the change on them. He offered a final choice to his former tribe - submit to his rule or die, and serve him in death. Demonstrating his point, he raised the shaman and apprentices from their grisly doom and paraded their macabre forms in front of the tribe. None refused when he made this final offer.
Beginning of an Empire
Despite his people being united under him solely through fear and intimidation, Maldrek led his tribe to soaring new heights. With his dead warriors, no other tribe posed a serious threat to him, and the more they fought him the greater his numbers became. He always offered the same choice to each of the rival tribes as he had offered to his own, and as his infamy grew most tribes accepted his offer unconditionally. However, he was always limited to the water that the desert provided. The desert itself became his most hated enemy, for while he could raise his followers to live forever, he was still bound to his mortal frame. His relied less and less on the old methods of divination to find water, trusting instead to his unquestioningly loyal and tireless scouts to find enough water to sustain his people.
Through these scouts, Maldrek learned of a great temple hidden in the desert, ancient beyond his mortal comprehension. This discovery came at a critical point for Maldrek, for he had been becoming more and more disillusioned with his own ethos; despite his great power, his life and the life of his people was inevitably tied to finding water in the accursed desert that had become his personal hell. Though he could raise his people to live forever, he was doomed to suffer the same end as all the fools that had come before him, and this temple seemed to call to him and offer him answers. The temple was unlike anything Maldrek had ever seen, and he journeyed alone to it the moment he learned of its existence.
The temple, he discovered, was home to a great Brass dragon named Bassilth. Knowing nothing of each other, but each sensing the power of the other, the two met not as enemies but as equals. Maldrek learned much from Bassilth, including the location of a great delta where his people could live forever, no longer tied to the desert; but far more important to Maldrek, he learned of the purpose of the temple. Bassilth had constructed this temple himself for the purpose of guarding a well of immense power. When his charms failed to gain entry to the temple, and believing that the solution to his own mortality lay within the temple, Maldrek attacked the dragon. The two were nearly evenly matched, and while Maldrek ultimately proved victorious he was again mortally wounded just as he had been so many years ago. Forcing his way into the temple, he sacrificed Bassilth in a dark ritual which, combined with the great power housed in the well, began his transformation into the lich he would become. While his ritual was successful, he could not heal the wound he has sustained from the dragon, and for decades he and the dragon lay entombed within the hidden temple.
When the power of his dark ritual finally completed nearly 30 years later, Maldrek arose as a skeletal shadow of his former self but with almost immeasurable power. Unsure of how much time had passed, he returned to his people to find that without his influence, his undead minions had turned on his living subjects. He had returned to his people with the knowledge of a paradise only to find that he ruled over a kingdom of the dead in a land of dust. His rage at feeling robbed of the opportunity to raise his people above the tribal life he so despised, he resolved to take the paradise and claim the promised garden for himself, denying its wealth of water and life to any challengers. Once his eternal army reached the delta that would become the capital of Asirian, he built his great pyramid so all could see his power - and his challenge to any that would dare take what was his.
Nothing concrete is really known about how Maldrek's empire ended nor what or where his phylactery may be, though many theories exist. The most popular theory assumes that some divine intervention occurred, but historians disagree even about how this intervention occurred. Direct intervention is unlikely; instead most scholars believe that some champions were empowered by some good-aligned deities. Many believe that theses unnamed champions led the only successfuly crusade against Maldrek, though little evidence of such a crusade exists.
Other theories include the idea that his phylactery was stolen by vengeful undead from his ancient Halad tribe and destroyed, or that his phylactery was sealed away so he would be unable to meaningfully reform once his physical body was destroyed; however, these theories are less popular because one of Maldrek's defining features is being extremely paranoid, even for a lich. As such, his phylactery was likely to be hidden extremely well - perhaps not even on the Material Plane. In addition, many records exist describing the immense power that Maldrek himself wielded: devastating entire armies on his own, goading on and toying with demigods before destroying them and raising them as his own champions, and many feats of arcane and necromantic magic that have never been repeated since.
His armies were described as endless and he ruled over the largest known empire prior to his fall, covering the Bone Wastes of his former desert homeland and stretching east to the Iron Mountains and south to the swamplands below Asirian. His thralls found many strange and ancient creatures buried and mummified in the deserts that he incorporated into his army, and he and his necromancers created powerful golem-like creatures that served as shock troops or siege weapons.
Much of the army used by Charon's Chosen were remnants of Maldrek's original forces that were simply rediscovered buried in the desert by the horseman's champion, though it is likely that he only uncovered a fraction of this supposedly endless army.