Heroes of the Realms
Lord of Darkon
Appearance: (LE Undead human male wizard; Archmage noble)
Firan Zal’honan was born in the earldom of Knurl, a city-state in the eastern Flanaess. As the second of three sons of Lord Turalitan Zal’honan, his political future was decidedly dim from his birth, and he spent much of his childhood overlooked by his parents. From an early age, Firan demonstrated a keen intelligence, marked with a distaste for his fellow men and their deviation from discipline and order, a revulsion that manifested itself in self-loathing several times for his own perceived weaknesses. Firan respected his father’s strict rulership, as well as the prior claim to succession exercised by his older brother Ranald, but disliked his father’s superstitions and his bans against magic. Perhaps in a display of rebellion, Firan entered the underworld of Knurl’s mages, studying under the wizard Quantarius.
As a youth, Firan seems to desire control over others and of himself above all else, although he also is given to angry outbursts and quick decisions which he later comes to regret. Even into his later lichhood and rulership status, these attributes recur, painting the portrait of a ruler demanding fealty and promising order, but secretly and constantly frustrated by the failings of his fellow men and of himself.
The only family member he loved without reservation was his younger brother, Irik. Where Firan was quick to anger and slow to forgive, Irik was the opposite. Firan pursued his studies and thirsted afterknowledge, but occasionally displayed an inability or ignorance of the potential repercussions. The death of Irik would prove a telling example: At 15, Firan called a demon that broke loose from his power and killed Irik. Firan’s actions caused his father to expel Quantarius from the city, and Firan chose to follow him into exile, continuing his studies. In time, he would learn magics that few other mages could master: he could permanently heal himself by stealing others’ life forces, he could read minds and steal magical information, completely learning new spells with a thought, he could extend his own life by draining the vitality of enemies.
Ranald Zal’honan died as a result of a dissipate and gluttonous lifestyle, and Firan returned to his home, assuming the seat of power and ruling as “Azal’Lan,” or wizard-king. His credits include reversing the decline that Knurl suffered under Ranald’s reign, and returning it to economic and military significance. Also, under his reign, magic once again became an important part of Knurl’s daily life.
Firan swore allegiance to the distant Malachite Throne of the Great Kingdom, but conducted many unsanctioned military campaigns against the surrounding tribes, adding handsomely to Knurl’s holdings. His reign was marked by prosperity and growth, but also by violence and dissent from the conquered tribes.
Firan was 60 when he married, as his life-extending spells started to fail and he needed an heir. His loveless marriage took 18 years to produce a son, with some saying his wife even sought magical wards against bearing his child. Olessa died in childbirth, cursing him. Firan named his son Irik, after his brother, but the name would carry greater resonance. His son inherited the kindness and generosity of Firan’s brother, and would not follow his father’s harsh footsteps, a trait Firan saw as weakness. When Irik was caught freeing political prisoners, Firan was faced with a choice: to pardon his son, or to kill him. In accordance with his own laws and as a symbol of his strict devotion to them, Firan not only permitted the execution but wielded the headsman’s blade himself.
Although this act impressed upon his citizens the strictness of his rule, Firan himself was plagued with doubts over his own actions. He became obsessed alternately with finding a means to live forever, or finding a means to bring his son back from the dead to try to train him anew. As he lamented his failure as a father, a dark and nameless force presented him with the secret of lichdom.
Firan shed his mortality and changed his official title to Azal’Lan, ruling for 60 more years. During this time, Knurl became a major power in the Flanaess, even daring to renounce fealty to the Malachite Throne. Azal’Lan’s military and trade power began to infringe on the territories of surrounding kingdoms, who sought ways to eliminate Azal’Lan. Assassins and armies alike seemed unable to topple him, but the course of his downfall would come from the minor tribes he had defeated early in his reign.
Azal’Lan was finally lured out of his defenses by the promise of a new magical spell that could allow a mage to restore true life to a corpse. Blinded by his hopes for restoring his son, Azal’Lan went forth with a small retinue of guards, and was then ambushed by a group of mercenaries. Fleeing their pursuit, he entered a dense fog to lose them. He was never to see Knurl again.
He appeared in Barovia, whose inhabitants called him “Azalin” upon hearing his name. Continuing in his insatiable quest for knowledge, he terrorized several local boyars searching for magical texts. During this time, he apparently discovered something similar to the life restoration spell he sought, but whether he could learn it at all is unclear (see Memory anomalies below).
It was not long before he drew the attention, and grudging respect, of the domain’s dark lord. Trapped in Barovia and suffering from a strange malady that prevented him from learning new spells Azalin entered into an uneasy alliance with Strahd. Azalin, who was a more powerful spell caster than the vampire, would instruct Strahd in the magic arts in exchange for his help in Azalin’s experiments which were aimed at returning the lich lord to his own plane. This collaboration led to the first concerted attempt to break through the Misty Border surrounding Barovia and escape using an apparatus of Azalin’s design.
This attempt resulted in the pair arriving in the outworld realm of Mordent, which bore striking similarities to the town of Whitby in Britain, also a setting for Bram Stoker’s novel Dracula. There, the Apparatus split Strahd’s personality into good and evil manifestations: Alchemist and Creature respectively. Azalin’s role in this adventure appears to be largely observational. The Alchemist and Creature’s attempts to destroy each other caused the escape attempt to fail, and forced Mordent into joining the Demiplane of Ravenloft.
After a few years spent assembling the Kargat secret police, Azalin prepared for a massive invasion of Barovia to unseat his nemesis. The invasion was thwarted by Strahd’s minions, who struck at the Kargat leadership and disrupted Azalin’s chain of command. Afterwards, the effort of rebuilding the Kargat, and the appearance of intervening domains such as Falkovnia, put an end to Azalin’s military interest in Barovia.
Azalin’s rule over Darkon was absolute: all political, military, and Kargat matters ultimately reported to him. His rule was strictly lawful to the point of ruthlessness, but based in large part on deception, both in terms of Azalin’s illusion of being a mortal king, and also in the artificial docility that his civilians displayed, thanks to their false memories. However, this concentration of power has its weaknesses, especially when Azalin has demonstrated several times his willingness to abandon his people and realm at a moment’s notice if it means a chance of escape from Ravenloft.
Militarily, Azalin recognizes the futility of attempting to extend his borders through conquest. In defense, too, he has little to fear. On no fewer than four occasions, the neighboring country of Falkovnia to the south has declared war, and Azalin’s mastery of undead has easily repulsed their soldiers.