Written by Starconspirator, Draxynnic and Amala
With Kralkatorrik’s invasion of the Mists, those who dwell there have invaded our physical realm and have drawn our attention to what happens in the afterlife. For those who remain here, attention is often focused on honoring the departed with celebrations and monuments. Yet, the simple headstone has just as much meaning as the elaborate tomb to those who are buried beneath it. Not all who depart stay gone, and in recent times they have become even more likely to be seen roaming the world as ghosts, Risen, Awakened, and other spiritual anomalies, not just as Glint’s army.
All’s Well that Ends Well
For most Tyrians, they live with the certainty that one day their souls will depart to the Mists, a realm not unlike the lands they’ve known while alive. For Tyrians, their path through the Mists leads them first to the Underworld where they are judged by Grenth or one of his surrogates before being escorted to their final destination. Once judgement has been passed, souls are escorted to one of the various realms, the Realm of Torment and the Mad Realm of King Thorn being just two options. Many others find their way to the Hall of Heroes or to one of the realms of the gods. However, some of the departed return to the physical realm, not as Rytlock Brimstone did, but as ghosts. The ghosts we see across Tyria may be tormented by unresolved issues they had in life, or they may be powerful beings unable to rest until they have succeeded in a task or mission. Others seem perfectly willing to remain observers of the physical world, offering guidance and aid.
Some spirits we meet ask for aid. One, the Lady in White, can be found in the Shaemoor cemetery, seemingly lost. At first, she is quite taken by the fact that we are willing and able to help her. However, she proves to be a vengeful spirit once she realizes that she will never find her way home! Others, such as Tenad the Faithful, found in the Ruins of Holy Demetra, seem to exist only to prove themselves in battle ad infinitum. These ghosts will rise from their graves or various places of worship again and again in an endless quest. Some, like Kendrick Redstaff and Rashenna who are found in the wreckage of Serenity Temple, are forever trapped in the service of a god or goddess. They are bound by their calling and faith to serve either each other, their god or goddess, or humanity. Often, these ghosts will test willful heroes and young adventurers, having done so for ages past.
In recent times, other spirits, those who died upon the bloodstone during the recent White Mantle resurgence for example, have become crazed and attack all who dare to travel too close. These spirits, perhaps driven mad by their terrifying deaths, have no love for the living and give no quarter. Adventurers quell their murderous rage only to watch them respawn.
For the charr in particular, respawning ghosts are a menace. The Iron Legion’s operations in Ascalon are constantly haunted by the ghosts of long-dead humans who were sacrificed to the Foefire by their king, Adelbern. Adelbern and his champions can be found in the Ascalonian Catacombs to this day, preparing for war against their mortal enemies. His close relative, Duke Barradin, also haunts the charr, stirring up trouble from the ruins of his estate, which rests close to the Black Citadel. It seems fitting that these vengeful spirits will forever wage war against the charr – an indefatigable foe for a war-loving and battle-hardened opponent. Of course, they aren’t the only vengeful spirits we encounter, and anywhere where the barriers between the physical realm and the Mists has been ruptured or worn thin is sure to have its own set of angry ghosts to contend with. Adventurers can find them across both Kryta and Ascalon. However, some, like the spirits around Hidden Lake in Brisban Wildlands and Godslost Swamp, only start out angry and confused; with a bit of patience or a momentary knock to the head, they become docile.
Still, other docile spirits can be found wandering throughout Tyria. As we have explored the Mists and brought them further into focus and more accessible to thrill-seekers, we have weakened the barriers between our realm and that of the departed. Because of this, ghosts abound and can often be found mingling together in ancient ruins, populating tombs and temples, or simply taking in the sights and sounds of various festivals. Some, such as Drooburt the Quaggan, have carried on “living” in a way that we don’t often associate with ghosts and the departed. Nevertheless, he and other merchant ghosts like him have found their place in society.
In our wars against Zhaitan and Palawa Joko, we have prevailed against two types of undead. Physiologically, while they are both made from corpses, the Awakened are also filled with a thick tar, said to be the key to their reanimation and strength. The Risen were instead fuelled by the draconic energy of Zhaitan.
The effects of Zhaitan’s corruption made a terrifying sight through the sheer number of corpses raised, but more frightening than that was the knowledge that falling in battle would have you rise to kill your friends. Many Pact soldiers had to deal with their fallen comrades. In the rush of battle, they had to tell themselves that their friends’ lifeless and murderous bodies were no longer the people they loved. But how true was this? Did a hint of that person still linger in the Risen shell?
If you managed to observe the Risen without attracting their attention, you may have noticed a curious phenomenon which hints that some impression of their former lives could still be present. Orr was the best place to witness this with its array of Risen specimens from different areas of Orrian society. Risen nobles lounged in the ruins of buildings while Risen servants chopped wood.
Concrete evidence of souls being trapped in their Risen forms could be found in the events that took place at the Artesian Waters, the Source of Orr. During the war against the Elder Dragon, these waters were guarded by a powerful Eye of Zhaitan. When the Commander slayed this Eye, a human ghost appeared and said, “My own hand… my own form. My mind is no longer controlled by the dragon’s curse.” He was King Reza, the last king of Orr, and he revealed that each Eye had been a member of Orrian royalty before they were corrupted by Zhaitan.
What were the implications of this revelation? How many other Risen bodies harboured trapped souls? We know that Risen invested with more draconic energy were more powerful and intelligent than those invested with less. These powerful minions were more likely to be aware of who they were in life. For example, in the Cathedral of Silence, a Risen Keeper of the Shrine said, “Zhaitan, not Grenth, is my master now.” Killing this Risen did not release a soul.
We can at least be certain that not every Risen held a trapped soul, thanks to the ghosts who lamented their bodies being Risen. In the Cursed Shore, the Commander met the ghost of Captain Romke, who had been travelling by sea when Orr rose beneath his vessel. Marooned on land, he and his crew had no chance against the Risen. Later, the Commander fought the Risen bodies of Romke and his crewmates’ in an underwater battle while the ghosts watched from the shore.
Compared to the soulless Risen, the Awakened are a completely different breed of undead. In death they were much the same person they were in life, but with one difference: it was now impossible for them to disobey any order from Palawa Joko. For most Awakened, this was not a source of distress. Generations of Joko propaganda had brainwashed Elonians under his rule to view Awakening as a great honour and a continuation of their service to their god and kingdom.
This continuation allowed Elonians to have a relationship with their deceased ancestors, many of whom felt a duty to protect their living descendants as soldiers in Joko’s army. Aside from military roles, the Awakened could be found in all parts of society. They could be farmers, teachers or even actors. The Awakened were so perfectly integrated that, for civility’s sake, they were even served food at parties even though they did not need nor taste what they were given.
Not everyone was as willing as the brainwashed masses. One of Joko’s tactics was to Awaken his defeated enemies and force them to fight for him. Under such horror, most lost their will to resist. Tragic examples include the Sunspears Amala and Lonai who died in battle against Joko, only to end up adding to his strength as powerful Awakened. Koss Dejarin, a Sunspear who found himself in the same situation, managed to resist by finding loopholes in the wording of Joko’s orders. He was then banished to guard a cave — a fate he much preferred.
Another subset of Awakened who suffer surprisingly include Joko’s loyal subjects. For whatever reason, some Awakened were seen as inferior and taken to the Boneyard, a large chasm in the Domain of Vabbi filled with mounds of skeletons. These discarded Awakened were doomed to stay there until they too added their bones to the heap.
The fate of Tyria’s undead is a curious question. The masters of both the Risen and the Awakened are dead. The Risen, now the Unchained, walk Orr without direction, but their desire to kill persists. The death of Joko left the Awakened dazed at the battle at Gandara, the Moon Fortress. When they came to, their feelings about their time as Awakened and their opinions on their future were as diverse as any demographic with free will.
Some call themselves the Free Awakened; they were glad to be free of Joko and want to move on from his tyranny with the living. Others remain as Loyalists. These Awakened do not believe their king is dead and so, either out of fear or true loyalty, they await his return. There is also the Mordant Crescent, a faction that attempted to seize power during the leaders’ summit at the Fortress of Jahai. After the death of their leader, Archon Iberu, the Mordant Crescent have been making an effort to improve relations between the Sunspears, the Order of Shadows and other Awakened.
Alternative Beliefs: Reincarnation and Ancestor Trees
While it is generally accepted – and corroborated by individuals that have visited such realms and returned to Tyria – that most souls ultimately find rest in one of the locations of the Mists that serve as an afterlife, there are some that believe in different fates for souls.
One such notable belief is that of the kodan. The kodan believe in a cycle of reincarnation, albeit one where beings normally reincarnate as the same race they were in their previous life. However, there are exceptions to this rule: according to the beliefs of the kodan, each race is comprised of souls which are at about the same level of overall spiritual enlightenment. Should a soul reach a particularly high level of enlightenment for his or her race, he or she may be reincarnated as a higher race on the ladder of enlightenment, while a particularly deep low level may result in the soul reincarnating into a lower state. This philosophy is used to explain the extinction of the dwarfs: the entire race either advanced to the next rung on the ladder or fell down a level, leaving no reincarnated souls for a next generation.
Little is known about which races the kodan consider to be higher or lower on this ladder. Naturally, though, they consider themselves to be the most enlightened, and tend to judge other races based on how similar their attitudes are to the kodan. They seem to have a high opinion of sylvari (or, at least, they did, before the revelation of the true origin of the sylvari), while environmentally destructive races such as dredge are seen as being out of balance and thus, presumably, lower in the ladder of enlightenment.
It’s worth noting that the general principle of reincarnation might not be incompatible with the observation that souls travel to the Mists when they die. Through their ability to commune with the Mists, the Voices of the kodan have likely observed the spirits of the dead there themselves, but their belief in reincarnation holds nevertheless. This could be because spirits residing in the Mists might not remain there indefinitely. Instead, there may be some mechanism that can cause a soul to be reborn after a period of rest (or otherwise, given how dangerous some regions of the Mists can be).
Another alternative belief was seen among the Veldrunner Centaurs that once dwelled in Kourna. The Veldrunners believed that their ancestors watched over them through ‘ancestor trees’, although it is unknown whether they believed that the spirits of their ancestors actually resided within the tree, or whether the tree acted as a focus for their ancestors to influence the physical world through the Mists. While the trees were susceptible to corruption by demonic forces, uncorrupted parts of the tree could be used in a ritual to cleanse corrupted plant life, including the trees themselves.
Apart from this, the primary method by which the ancestors could influence the physical world through the trees was through the fruit of the tree. Partaking of the fruit was supposed to allow the eater to absorb some of the wisdom of the ancestors. It is interesting to note that there are parallels between this system and that of the Dream, where the experiences of living sylvari enter the Dream and can therefore be passed down to sylvari yet unborn. Perhaps, like the Pale Tree herself, the ancestor trees of the Veldrunners were linked to the Dream, or some equivalent realm in the Mists that could serve a similar purpose for the centaurs. Such a link might, in fact, explain why Ventari was drawn to the Pale Tree.
Alas, we might never know. Palawa Joko’s claim of having driven the Elonian centaurs extinct does not bode well for the survival of the Veldrunners. The Ancestor Tree in Turai’s Procession is observed at times to be surrounded by spirits of past Veldrunners – however, they do not speak, and given the temporal instability of the area, it is unclear if they are genuinely ghosts or simply echoes of the past. If any Veldrunners did survive, whatever hideaway they found might not have an Ancestor Tree of its own, particularly if they were not able to recover any of its seeds and coax them to grow in their new refuge. Meanwhile, if the centaurs of Tyria ever shared this belief, it has long since been eclipsed by the earth shamanism of the Modniir. A sizeable tree is found, however, in Restoration Refuge in Dry Top, fed by the waters of the nearby oasis – yet, if the Maguuma centaurs there attribute this tree with supernatural powers, they have not spoken of it to outsiders.
Like the kodan belief in reincarnation, this is not necessarily incompatible with centaur spirits eventually reaching the Mists. The ancestor trees might act as an anchor, tethering the spirits to the tree and allowing them to remain in Tyria, but the ultimate fate of those spirits may be to pass on to the Mists, if the spirit decides it is time to move on or if the tree itself is destroyed.
As a result, like the kodan belief in reincarnation, the Veldrunner belief in their Ancestor Trees might not be incompatible with the observation that the spirits of the dead come to reside in the Mists, but might simply represent an additional layer to the overall journey of their spirit after death.