The legend of Mmatmuor and Sodosma shall arise only in the latter cycles of Earth, when the glad legends of the prime have been forgotten. Before the time of its telling, many epochs shall have passed away, and the seas shall have fallen in their beds, and new continents shall have come to birth. Perhaps, in that day, it will serve to beguile for a little the black weariness of a dying race, grown hopeless of all but oblivion. I tell the tale as men shall tell it in Zothique, the last continent, beneath a dim sun and sad heavens where the stars come out in terrible brightness before eventide.So begins the inaugural story of Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique cycle, "The Empire of the Necromancers," which was first published in the September 1932 issue of Weird Tales. As its opening paragraph -- one of the most potent CAS ever wrote in my opinion -- makes clear, it's the story of two necromancers, driven from country to country for their practice of the dark arts, before they at last decide to set out for the defunct land of Cincor, now a corpse-filled desert whose inhabitants were slain some centuries past by a plague.
"It's a goodly land," said Mmatmuor, "and you and I will share it between us, and hold dominion over all its dead, and be crowned as emperors on the morrow in Yethlyreom."This being a Clark Ashton Smith story, things don't go quite as the two necromancers have planned, resulting in a tale that some have reasonably called Smith greatest prose work. I'm unwilling to make such a bold claim myself, but there's no question that "The Empire of the Necromancers" is one of Smith's best fantasies and certainly a good contender for the best story of the Zothique cycle.
"Aye," replied Sodosma, "for there is none living to dispute us here; and those that we have summoned from the tomb shall move and breathe only at our dictation, and may not rebel against us."
It's one of my personal favorites too, serving as inspiration for a necromancer-ruled city-state in my own Dwimmermount campaign, where the risen dead, from the mightiest sorcerer to the lowliest street urchin, serve and protect it in one capacity or another. It's a gloomy and unpleasant place but nevertheless a bastion against Chaos, its unliving armies regularly doing battle against demons and their earthly thralls. Brother Candor, Dordagdonar, and the other Fortune's Fools have yet to venture there, but they know of its existence and may well do so one day. I rather look forward to that, since it'll give me an opportunity to inject a little more Smithian black humor into the game -- an opportunity I rarely pass up.