The God Plague
The first sign of the God Plague was a smell like fruit just past its prime. Calypso smelled it in the streets of his village, and he knew time was short before this "gift from the gods" would eradicate everyone, and it had been his choice, his fault for refusing the Cult of Shadows.
Calypso had discovered their great evil, the secret of their sudden acceptance in a dozen cities and even the capital. The cult had bought the God Plague from their twisted and vile gods, first by raping a thousand virgins; these young girls were then tortured and mutilated in body and mind, but kept alive; those that became pregnant carried their babes almost to term when the cultists forced them to cut their own bellies open and rip the children from inside, and then throw the crying babies into a sacrificial fire. Half of the cultists fed upon the putrefying flesh of the mothers and the smoke of the burning flesh, then they dove willingly into a pit of spikes and their blood was gathered, fermented, and became the disease called the God Plague.
The disease which began as a sickly sweet smell in the sweat was incurable. First the smell came, then the burning, itching that drove people to rip their own skin off, the pox that burst blood and pus, eyes drying out in their sockets, then the madness, and finally, blessedly, death. It spread like fire in a straw pile, smoldering and inevitable. People in the first villages to face it tried to flee, to move away from the sick, but everywhere they went the plague followed them, claiming everyone that sheltered them. Priests of every other god tried to cure it only to die trying, their efforts not as powerfully sacrificial as the Cult of Shadows. Powerful wizards Calypso knew tried, wizards he knew could even grant wishes powerful enough to alter the fabric of reality, but they failed. Once contracted, the plague had all of the force of the gods of shadows and the tortured souls of everyone that died for it. Soon villages began killing any strangers that came to their village unless they carried the banner of the Cult of Shadows.
Calypso had rejected the banner, and now his people would suffer and die. He looked into the eyes of his own daughter, Prima, and made a choice.
The cultists had sacrificed others and half of their own number to acquire the plague, and Calypso knew there was only one way to tip the balance back and create a force that could end the plague. As the plague's first effects touched his village, Calypso wrote his plan, careful to be certain of every detail, to make no errors. The ritual took a week, sleepless, without food or water, grueling. Calypso stood before his people, head bowed and crying, but he spoke and explained what must be done. He concluded, "My friends, the plague is already upon us. We have only one choice: let the plague kill us, or die in a way that may save the rest of the world and stop this evil." His people, the good people of his village, accepted Calypso's plan. Then, one by one each of the villagers, sick and weak, stepped forward, disemboweled themselves willingly, and fell into a trough. Their bodily fluids drained down the trough into a golden coffin that would hold just one body. Last of all in the line came Calypso's daughter with her knife, a gift Calypso had given her when she was just six years old.
Before she knew what had happened, Calypso took the knife from her, locked her into the coffin, then ended the ritual by disemboweling himself and falling in with the rest of the village. The sacrifice was complete.
Prima fought the process until finally drowning within the fluids. Her body drank in the sacrifice, the souls, the very essence of each person, then it drank in the plague. Still she kept absorbing, taking in the strength of each body that died for her, the wisdom of every person, the intelligence, even her father's magic. She also drank in their deaths. It all entered her.
Then she burst open the coffin and screamed.
She had planned on dying, giving herself like all of the others so that her father could fight the cultists. Prima was furious with her father for stealing her death, but his last thoughts were inside of her. When she finally would listen, she understood that this had been his plan all along, and that the ritual required it. It was the one thing he left out of his writing, the scroll for the ritual. But his final act made her capable of what was needed to save the world from the cultists.
Prima traveled then, into every town, village, every city where the Cult of Shadows had gone. There she drank in their plague, immune now to death - the gift of her people - and immune to the ravages of the flesh - the final gift of her father. She was an army unto herself, but the people rallied behind her as well, once they saw that she could take away the plague.
Within a year she had routed the Cult of Shadows, a teenage girl with an army.
The Queen's Apprentice
Naturally the people made Prima Queen. The lands thrived, the people loved her, and a new age of peace was upon them. Prima took on many that she taught in her father's magic, but she never shared the secret of the scroll. She considered destroying it, but something in her refused to destroy the last creation of her father. She did, however, weave charms about it to hide it and protect it. Her own apprentices knew that there was something that she kept from them, but she taught them so much that they never pried into this one secret.
Over time, people began to see that Prima did not age. Rumors began. They were small at first, but the weak often find the nastiest things possible to say about the strong. Some even tried to assassinate her. Poisons were tried at first, but even the strongest elixer that was reputed to be able to slay a god had no effect upon Prima. Weapons could not harm her. Curses and magical fires and spells that could rip demons asunder merely passed by her.
Most of the people loved her, even after a century of the Child Queen, but the tides had turned away from peace as even the gods took note and became jealous. Prima took even greater pains to hide the scroll now, knowing that any god with its power might overthrow all of the other gods. But her very protections led one god to the scroll: the Shadow God.
He sent one of his greatest spies to Prima, to win her favor and become her apprentice. The spy's name was Umbra. Umbra showed respect and kindness to the Queen, fought beside her in many battles, and even became her lover for a time. But in then end, Umbra broke through Prima's guards and wards, bound Prima within the scroll's hiding place, and took the scroll. Umbra took the scroll to the God of Shadows.
The god, however, commanded Umbra to carry out the ritual upon himself, as a test.
The Failed Test
The test was both a success and a failure. It did, indeed, give Umbra great power, and death could no longer take him. But since Calypso had not written about the final sacrifice, the caster giving him or herself, Umbra lost his soul in the ritual, and though he could not die, he was dead: his fleshed rotted, he decayed, and only his magic held his frame together. He drained life and power from everything he touched. The God of Shadows called him a "life leech," but over time it was shortened to just Lich.
A few notes on Umbra:
First, because his victims were afraid and only complied out of fear, that fear is a driving force in his being.
Second, since all of the "volunteers" were of one class, one type, one age, a fairly homogenous group, his powers are very narrow. They expand as he kills and drains others, but only in small ways, as if his mind only takes in a small part of the new.
Finally, because he was trying to live, he is undead. The greatest secret Calypso held back was that the ritual required that everyone involved was willing and walked right to the edge of death without fear or hesitation.
The scroll itself was hidden by the God of Shadows, then stolen from him. From time to time it resurfaces and some powerful fool attempts it and becomes a Lich, but no one knows how to complete it except Prima.
Effects of the Lich Ritual
As noted above, the ritual requires a great sacrificing of life along with a long and exhausting ritual that leaves the ritual caster drained. Only the strongest of mages can complete the ritual, contain the energy, create the needed casket, and manage the magics needed.
Failure: If at any point the casting fails, the results create an undead creature that looks like a Lich but is completely insane, cannot drink in the life force nor powers of a target, and fades over time (a year per hour of the ritual completed.) It does, however, drain life from everything it touches.
Success: The full Lich drains life and power from every living thing it touches. The life it drains is drawn into the Lich like food: if the Lich is injured it will heal simply by drinking in more life. If it touches any sentient being, each touch draws in a power or memory from the living: the attacked loses the power or memory unless the Lich is slain (upon which all of it will come flooding back.) A weak, new Lich will usually be a very powerful mage and a novice of all other "classes" and professions. An older Lich will have not only their magic but be fairly strong in all other areas. Liches are also able to able to drain off the immunities others have, though these they do not gain.
Physical contact with a Lich draws off one power or effect each round of battle (and does not take any action from the Lich other than to touch.) A good rule of thumb is to roll 1d4: 1 - Drain 1HD of physical strength, 2 - Drain 1 die of any stat, 3 - Drain one usable power, 4 - Drain one immunity or special defense not granted by an item. The area touched permanently scars and blackens.
Liches also take multiple actions each round. Young Liches (less than 100 years) roll two separate initiatives; between 100 and 500 years they take three initiatives; over 500 years they have four initiatives.