A land is reigned by a circle of powerful men who control every aspect of the citizen's life. This cabal changes members often. In reality, the spectres of a small necromantic covent possess and control the people in power. Since they simply possess the bodies, they can leave when old age overcomes their shells and possess a new up-and-coming noble.
I once read a book about a group of people who discovered a hidden temple city in a mountain range, where the Incas-the ancient civilisation of Peru- had fled to when the spanish invaded. When this group found the burial chamber of one of the inca high priests, they unleashed a powerful curse upon them all...