[excerpt from Encyclopaedia Theologica: A Panoptic Primer on the Pantheon, Planes, and Patrons of Ylan, 5th ed., by the gnomish scholar Miriam Busslewickett]
Little is known of the early life of the Patron of necromancy, though scholars agree on his name: Ælrik Benzelius. The ancient sagas uniformly portray him as an elf, though there the similarities end. Some claim he was a court wizard; others, the bastard son of a great lord; others, an orphan beggar forever seeking revenge for his low station; still others, an outlander of unknown, possibly supernatural, origin. Multiple sagas also reference at least two individuals using this name: Ælrik Benzelius den äldre (“the elder”) and Ælrik Benzelius den yngre (“the younger”), suggesting perhaps a family line of necromancers.
All sagas and other evidence regarding Benzelius revolve around a great cataclysm known as the Time of Torment (called by more sympathetic scholars the Days of Glass and Bone). By approximately ______ [year], Benzelius had established a great tower in the region now known as _________. Fragmentary records indicate that this tower likely housed a well-renowned mage’s college for many years, of which Benzelius himself was headmaster, but in the days leading up to the Time of Torment the tower was known only as a center for research into the dark arts – hexes, magical poisons, and above all the quest to defy death itself. Some say Benzelius descended into this line of research at the behest of a great king who sought to return his daughter to life; others, that Benzelius was driven by his own greed, vanity, and hunger for personal power.
The causes of the cataclysm remain unknown, but its effects were recorded by many across the land: a series of explosions and eruptions rippling out from the tower that utterly flattened the landscape for miles around, leaving only an unnatural hellscape of smoking, obsidian glass. Moreover, the region was suffused with a dark energy described by many as an infestation or plague, transmogrifying all creatures in the area into twisted, undead parodies of their once-living forms. These foul creatures wandered the land for many years, perhaps centuries afterwards; many monsters and abominations appearing in later sagas are described as miscreations from the Time of Torment.*
Whatever the nature of the dark ritual experimentation that led to this calamity, it appeared to achieve its desired end: all references to Benzelius after the Time of Torment describe him as post-mortal, a revenant or lich. Stories from this point on nearly always focus on conflict between Benzelius and the holy warrior Niklas, a survivor of the Time of Torment who dedicated his life to opposing Benzelius and was later beatified as the Patron St. Bane (cf. Saint Bane – Patron (other) – Entropic/Creative Good). Nonetheless, Benzelius’ quest for power apparently only intensified: the sagas are replete with stories of the lich-king Benzelius “harvesting” the souls of entire communities and mythic beasts of legend to join his undead legions. Art of the period commonly depicts Benzelius astride a draco-lich, armed with an obsidian scythe, leading ranks of undead soldiers in battle array, clashing with St. Bane and his holy troops on the field of battle.
Most sagas culminate in a final confrontation between the arch-lich and St. Bane, ending with the destruction of Benzelius’ phylactery and, with it, the foothold of his/its power and presence in the Prime Material plane. The followers of Benzelius repudiate this version of events, claiming instead that Benzelius chose this moment to voluntarily Transcend, and that he/it continues to amass and wield dark power from the Transcendent plane to this day.
Benzelius has no organized following or church, as such, but evidence suggests he still holds sway over those who pursue the dark arts. Most known necromancers in the years since have either openly or secretly sought Benzelius’ favor, invoking the arch-lich’s name in their own dark rituals. Correctly or not, the appearance of any undead creature is typically blamed upon Benzelius and his/its followers. Benzelius has become the bogeyman of legend, used to scare children and adults alike. Mere mention of his/its name may cause superstitious commoners to trace the holy symbol of St. Bane as a ward; followers of St. Bane typically forbid any reference to Benzelius in their presence.
In every generation, whispers spread of a coming “Dark Harvest,” intimating that the arch-lich will return to the Prime Material plane to claim yet more souls. Images of Benzelius’ famed black scythe and/or pentagrams are sometimes found scrawled over the doorways of unsuspecting homes. Whether these acts are omens, rituals, or mere pranks remains unknown, but the victims of such vandalism are said to suffer from ill fortune the rest of their days.
In the years immediately preceding the publication of this 5th edition of the Encyclopedia Theologica, copies of an encrypted tract apparently devoted to Benzelius have surfaced in several locations around Ylan. Of course, the Church of St. Bane remains entirely devoted to eradicating any foothold of Benzelius that may appear on the Prime Material plane, including such contraband publications. The reader is encouraged to avoid close examination of any such materials, and to immediately hand them over to their local Church.**
*Ed. note: This wasteland stood largely untouched for centuries until the grand Hallowing Ceremony of __________ [year] convened by the legendary Banite Bishop Alisher Ebrahim, lasting at least six months, gathering together the head priests of all good-aligned Gods and Patrons. The landscape was in most respects restored to its former state, though obsidian has remained in all rock structures in the area, and life has been slow to return. Many claim the region is still haunted.
**Ed. note: The author would like to thank Mother Subira, Lorekeeper of the Persepliquis Church of St. Bane, for her invaluable assistance in preparing this entry.