Nature of the Dark Arts
Just as all magic is derived from a realm of existence apart from the mortal realm, so too do the dark arts draw their power from either the Nether or the Pit. Unlike other realms, however, the essences of these realms are anathema to mortals. Only natives of these realms, such as fiends, or those already infused with their essences, such as the undead, are able to do so. Mortals who make the attempt invariably die in the process.
For ages, the only way to draw upon these fell magics has been through intermediaries. It is for this reason that the dark arts are sometimes referred to as "pact magic." A mortal practitioner first establishes some manner of magical bond or link to a creature capable of channeling such dark essences, who then feeds that power to the warlock indirectly.
As one would expect, these bonds are the reason practicing the dark arts is such a perilous activity. Many warlocks become bound in servitude to dark beings in order to gain and maintain their power. Some, who often begin as powerful spellcasters of a different sort, manage to subjugate these beings as familiars instead. Still others bypass the dependency entirely by becoming fiendish or undead themselves. Needless to say, each path poses its own perils; there is no safe way to practice the dark arts.
Schools of Dark Magic
Although their underlying nature is fundamentally similar, the dark arts can be subdivided into three distinct schools: Diablerie, Necromancy, and Blood Magic.
- Diablerie - Diablerie refers to any form of dark arts practice that derives its power from the Pit. Most diablerists work through fiendish intermediaries to practice their craft, from humble imp familiars to powerful pit lords. And while it's not possible for a mortal to become a fiend directly, it has been said that some diablerists, known as the demonborne, infuse themselves with enough fiendish essence to channel the Pit directly.
- Necromancy - Necromancy refers to any form of dark arts practice that derives its power from the Nether. In contrast to diablerists, more necromancers are undead themselves than simply subservient to them. There are some, however, such as the members of the Ashen Court, who enter into pacts with nether beings to gain their power.
- Blood Magic - A less common practice, blood magic is a dark art unique to vampires. Although it bears some similarity to necromancy, blood magic draws upon the power inherent in the vampiric curse itself rather than the Nether. As such, vampires are generally the only ones who can use it, although it is possible for them to pass it on to their thralls, who must feed from their masters regularly in order to maintain their power.
Side Effects of Dark Arts Practice
No matter their school, all practitioners of the dark arts pay a heavy price for their gifts. This manifests both physically and psychologically as a gradual degeneration of their humanity. Diablerists, for example, are known to acquire fiendish characteristics such as red-tinted skin, horns, or fangs, with their personalities becoming more violent and chaotic. Necromancers and blood magic users, assuming they aren't already undead, tend to become gaunt and pale, with their personalities growing cold and indifferent. Some take on bizarre and disturbing mannerisms, such as cannibalism or extreme aversion to daylight.
These side effects grow increasingly pronounced over time until the practitioner is completely corrupted, body and soul. The only known way to reverse the process is for the user to sever all ties to the Nether or the Pit and stop using dark magic. By the time such side effects manifest, however, most users are so hopelessly addicted to their power that this becomes impossible without outside intervention.
The Words of Undoing
Even the vilest fiends fear to speak of the Words of Undoing in more than a whisper. It is the language of corruption, the native tongue of Dhuroscht and Etejeril, the original dark magic, compared to which all other dark arts are pale mockeries. Some say the Words of Undoing have been used to summon forth legions of the undead, cast deadly plagues on entire nations, beget the first vampires and werebeasts, and even bring about the Shattering.
The Words of Undoing are so evil, in fact, that merely knowing them is said to drive a person mad. Any normal material inscribed with the Words of Undoing wastes away into nothing, and so there are no known grimoires or texts said to contain them, save for artifacts such as the Emotidilium. Uttering even a single syllable is an unforgivable sin against all of creation that risks destroying the speaker utterly. Some scholars even speculate that history fails to account for many who have spoken the Words of Undoing because they have been obliterated, not just in body and soul, but from all mortal memory.
Famous Practicioners of the Dark Arts
- The Ashen Court - Although most mortals fear the reapers, there exists a group of mortals who enter into necromantic pacts with them. In exchange for a connection to the farthest reaches of the Deep Nether, these warlocks assist the reapers in hunting down powerful undead and other wayward souls in the mortal realm. Their practices are otherwise shrouded in mystery, so little is known about them other than their disdain for those who cheat death.
- The Brethren of Dhuroscht - The cult of Dhuroscht is one of the oldest groups of warlocks in Ornish history. These diablerists ritualistically blind themselves to seal their pact with the Herald of Twilight, gaining a twisted form of eyeless sight for their sacrifice. The cult is known to be especially fanatical, prolific, and overt compared to other warlock sects.
- The Demonborne - The Sons of Secronus are said to have created the first demonborne during the Twilight by infusing hapless victims with the essences of fiends. Although often fatal, the experiments did swell their ranks, producing diablerists unfettered by cumbersome pacts or intransigent familiars. It is said they've since perfected the process, but that those who undergo the ritual still suffer from fiendish characteristics and shortened lifespans. Many continue to serve the Sons of Secronus, while others have shunned their creators. The latter group predominantly consists of demonborne whose power was forced upon them unwillingly.
- The Umbral Spire - Beneath the city of Doom's End, the followers of Etejeril continue to practice their craft in the shadow where the Fenal Tower once stood. It is said that they study in an twisted, inverse spire that reaches deep underground. Only the keepers of the Umbral Spire know just how deep it goes or what dark secrets await devoted necromancers who earn their way into the Great Shade's favor.