Welcome to Flavortown - Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons
Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons | Illustrated by Tyler Jacobson
A Poison Most Vile
Hapatra was quite clear in drawing distinctions within her art. When people described "poison" to her, they often picture a bubbling, bright green brew that was slipped into a monarch's drink, killing them within the hour. This was not the case for Hapatra. Sure, she had her flasks of Desertback Serpent venom that she simmered for hours to give it a sort of bioluminescence. But poisons were also subtle, laid into the foundations of a building to slowly kill a bed of soldiers. Or perhaps they were bombastic, with poison-covered blades that ate away at the enemy's flesh in an acidic burst. The point is, she wasn't going to pigeonhole her craft into one singular venue. She was the Vizier of Poisons, a position that carried with it a certain level of knowledge and earned gravitas.
Following the Hour of Devastation, Hapatra's people wandered beyond the Hekma, past the scorched city of Naktamun. The God-Pharaoh had torn apart the buildings and Gods alike. All that remained were the few straggling survivors of the violent destruction of everything they knew as home. Previously, the creator of fine venoms within her laboratory, the priestess now searched for food and water sources beyond the deserts of the fallen city.
Hapatra pulled a cloth over her face as the sands buffeted her. She and her acolytes had been hiking through the stormy desert for the past week, subsisting on the few cultivation spells that they knew. In their previous lives, the people knew nothing of fighting back against the storms. The Hekma's barrier kept the forces of nature, either of climate or corpses, out of their city. The people had lived a life of blissful peace. When Hapatra first tasted the feeling of sand being blown into her mouth, the stinging heat of grains pelting her face, she knew the life they'd known was long gone. The goal of their journey had been to search for a fabled oasis, a new place to establish a central city around. Texts spoke of a land touched by an ancient necromancer, somewhere that could be the beginning of a new home, a true home. Clean water and new lives.
"There's nothing east of camp, Hapatra," spoke one of the initiates. Haqikah, a minotaur boy no older than sixteen, had returned from a search party. Their clothes were torn to tatters and their lips were chapped by the vile dryness of the desert.
"How far east did you go?" she asked.
"Ten miles. The return journey was on foot. One of the sandwurms ate our mounts." Damn. Those were the last of the steeds that their company had. The return to the ruins would be a dangerous one now without any horses to keep them out of range of lurking monsters. As the vizier pondered what to do, Haqikah spoke again.
"My allies and I will be retiring. By midday tomorrow, we will be leaving to establish our own encampment." He began to walk away, as if he had not just twisted a verbal dagger into Hapatra's chest.
"Nonsense." She scoffed. "You're under direct orders from the high priests to join me in our missions. If you return without the oasis's location, we will have failed."
When she spoke, the few people left with her began to laugh. "I don't understand the joke," she said.
Haqikah furrowed his brow. "We aren't going to take orders from the priests anymore, and especially not from you." The minotaur signaled for his associates to pack up their bags. "The Gods are dead. You think we're going to listen to some venomcrafter?"
Hapatra stomped her foot into the sand, sending a burst of necrotic energy outward. Her hands still pulsed with the lingering energies of Bontu and Rhonas. Green mana crackled around her, causing a few of the defectors to raise their blades at her. They knew that she'd be able to conjure the mummified corpses of those who died in these sands before. Necromancers left behind shadowy echoes here, something the vizier knew the intricacies of. Hapatra prepared to seal them off, attempting to summon a swarm of scarabs to keep them from abandoning her.
"All you know how to do is kill." Haqikah said. He drew his blade, a long, hooked sword that still shone despite the storm around them. "Are you going to prove that, or let us leave?"
Hapatra watched the company slowly disappear into the sandy wastes. She was left only with the bare materials she would need to survive. This would last her two, maybe three weeks. Conjuring a ramshackle hut out of vines, she hid beneath a tarp and began conducting a ritual of venomous creation. In the time of the Gods' Rule, Hapatra would summon the bestial call of Rhonas and the festering mold of Bontu. In this act, she would unify the two gods' essence, a divine ritual of poison.
Her scriptures saw poison as the ultimate distillation of the five's teachings. In the same way the trials tested the willpower, body, and minds of the people, her poisons did the same. In her eyes, she was called to create these concoctions as a test of her own prowess against the world. When the cunning spy ate bread laced with neurotoxin, Hapatra tested their dedication to their job, the constitution of their body, and their cunning to detect the poisons. And in the eyes of the gods, Hapatra very often won these trials.
Now when she enacted these rituals, it felt like calling out to an empty room. Where once the voices of the gods would creep through her fingers as she channeled ancient texts, now she only felt the silent desert of death that surrounded her. Still, she was able to wring out pieces of their power within the ritual. Prying them from the grasp of death, she harnessed the burgeoning life of Rhonas into a chemical brew that could sustain her for a few more days. The vial filled itself with the concoction, an amber liquid that seemed to coagulate before her eyes. Pinching her nose and closing her eyes, Hapatra downed the liquid and grimaced at its sharp taste. These types of things never got easier.
As Hapatra packed up her materials to go search for a safer hiding place, she could feel the connection to the gods' remnants dampen. It felt like a candle snuffing itself out. She felt the flame go dim as the divine essence exited her spirit. Just before it did, however, Hapatra heard a new voice. In her attunement to the gods, she knew it was possible to connect with other powerful beings. Before the Hours, she had experienced how demons could contort the prayers of viziers such as herself. However, a trained mind like hers could easily push them into the rivers of thought. Because of that, the resounding voice that spoke in her mind scared her all the more.
You seek my tomb? it said, the voice creeping into her mind with its velvety tones. For some reason, she imagined the words being inscribed on luxurious parchment, the hieroglyphs drawn with a deep black ink. If you do not value your life, venture beneath the sands of the Foulblooded.
By the Gods. Whatever voice was calling to her had some connection to the dead demon Razaketh. In the days before the Hours, the demon had been slain by a group of visitors from beyond the Hekma. The Foulblooded had ravaged the sands outside the desert for centuries prior to his death. He'd resided in a crypt, a tomb he would drag travelers into in order to feast on their flash, cracking their bodies open like fresh fruit to drink their juices. Hapatra had seen many brave soldiers venture into that pit in hopes of felling the demon, and none exited. But if doing so meant finding this necromancer's oasis, she knew that was her last chance of being reunited with her people.
Hiking across the sands was quite the task following the devastation of the Hours. When the twin suns of Amonkhet hung in the sky, Hapatra could feel her skin boil beneath their heat. A canteen hung against her waist, though the water she had conjured had already begun to evaporate. Wherever this voice was sending her, she certainly hoped it had something to drink.
The last time she had been able to have a drink, a true drink, was at a ceremony to celebrate the Second Sun's ascension. Before they learned of the God-Pharaoh's treachery, she and her acolytes danced in the halls of Bontu's monument. Viziers and worshipers of all walks of life poured wine into overflowing goblets. Hapatra swayed her hips to the music of the people, pounding drums to signify the approach of the fabled ruler.
She remembered the looks of the people that night. While Hapatra was close with her students, there was always a faction that looked down upon her. Rumors were spreading about her involvement with the recent crop of warriors that included the warriors from beyond the Hekma. One of these prying eyes, a young rogue that worshiped Bontu, marched up to her and spat at the ground at her feet. The group went silent as they stared at the confrontation. The young man accused her of poisoning his brother in an act of subterfuge, that she was no true member of Naktamun. Instead, she was nothing more than another assassin attempting to make a quick coin off the pain and suffering of those who strove for the gods' approval. When she protested this, the man drew a knife and demanded she answer if she killed her brother. If she had, the man claimed that she could not claim to truly be a member of the people.
She never answered that question, as they were interrupted by the apocalypse of the Hour of Devastation. If they had the time though, Hapatra feared what her answer would have entailed.
Razaketh's crypt was beneath a fine layer of sand. To the untrained eye, it simply looked like another section of the never-ending desert that made up Amonkhet, but given the amount of time she had spent in the desert, she could see the odd indentations of sand that tipped her off to its location. With a wave of her hand, Hapatra summoned a swarm of spiritual serpents to dig into the crypt and reveal its entrance. Their forms pushed away at the layers of sand, the ground beneath her cascading to reveal stone steps that lead deep into the demon's tomb.
As Hapatra walked down the steps, torches seemed to light themselves with her presence. Their flames were a deep purple, certainly born of some kind of magic. As the vizier attuned herself to the magic of the tomb, she sensed a presence quite unlike the demons that once plagued her mind. This was decidedly more human, likely the echo of a necromancer that once touched this tomb. However, any person who entered Razaketh's crypt was killed. If this truly was the spiritual echo of another, this must have been a necromancer more powerful than any she'd seen before.
At the bottom of the steps was a large open room. Around its edges, water trickled out of kylikes held by various statues. It rolled through shallow trenches towards the center of the room. There, in a defiance of all natural order, the water rose up to a coffin that lay there, locked with various sigils and magical hieroglyphics. This place once sustained the spirit of Razaketh, who would gorge himself on the vibrant energies of the waters and human flesh. Now it sustained whatever being slept in this tomb.
Hapatra conjured a staff to her hand, various serpents wrapping themselves around it. As they hissed, she began speaking an incantation to unlock the tomb. If she could confront this being and purge it from this place, she could bring the crypt's resources to her people. Once again she could be their vizier.
As she channeled the magic, the coffin rocked back and forth on its pedestal. Hapatra saw visions of the being within. Centuries, millenia ago, a young necromancer woman made a pact with Razaketh in pursuit of eternal youth. While now she roamed the multiverse a changed woman, making that pact left an aspect of her essence here. In that moment, she pursued hedonistic pleasures and fame with a ruthless passion. When Razaketh was slain, that piece of the necromancer's spirit arose back to life, incubating within the coffin.
Hapatra watched the coffin burst open with an explosion of purple necrotic energies. Emerging from it was a beautiful woman draped in black robes. Her thin hair hung down to her shoulders, her face emblazoned with burning markings of demonic origin. Her body seemed to be a construction of consumed flesh and dark magic, a spirit attempting to create a new form for itself to embody. The being pointed a bony finger at the vizier and spoke in a hushed tone.
"Who dares awaken Liliana Vess from her slumber?" she spoke. Liliana's fragmented spirit rose its hand and beckoned various mummies from the ground below. Their hands burst from the stone floor and grabbed Hapatra's ankles. They pulled her body to the floor, sharpened nails raking themselves against her skin. Their teeth bit into her as she struggled against the zombie horde. Liliana approached, crouching down to stare at Hapatra. "Your eyes will make a fine addition to my new body." The necromancer smiled and began to reach out to pluck the eyes from her skull.
Hapatra knew she was not strong enough on her own, that she would always be nothing more than the cunning venomous assassin who the people of Amonkhet feared. Yet when she spoke with Bontu and Rhonas, she felt something. A sense of importance instilled within her by the gods. Perhaps on her own she would not be able to do good for her people. But with the guidance of her gods, she could bring salvation to them.
She closed her eyes tightly, attempting the same ritual she had many times before. Her blood flowed through her body, the essence of life and death on Amonkhet. Through the veil of death, the gods reached into her form and began to coalesce necrotic energy inside Hapatra. Inches away from her face, Liliana brandished her skeletal hands at the vizier.
Hapatra spat an acidic poison in the necromancer's face, a poisonous concoction created within her own body by divine edict.
"I am Hapatra!" she shouted. "Crafter of Poisons and Chosen Champion of Life and Death! By this rule, I return your echo to the domain of Bontu!" Grabbing the reins of this new divine connection, Hapatra wrenched control of the zombies away from Liliana. Turning the horde on the necromancer, she sent a swarm of serpents to attack her. The spirit screamed as the shambling mass slowly tore apart at her form, dragging her back to the depths of the sandy wastes.
"May you finally rest, Liliana," said Haptara. "Your journey ends here."
Hapatra exited the tomb, the twin suns of Amonkhet singing her scarred body. She had claimed the Oasis Tomb for her people, a new place where they could grow crops and raise families. Yet she had know way of knowing if they would accept her. She had conquered the tomb through the same dark magic of hers that they once feared. Could a venomcrafter ever be loved instead of feared?
Hapatra wanted to know the answer to this. She returned to the desert once more in search of the survivors, hoping to guide them to a new salvation.