Paladin of the Hand of Sleadren who follows the true teachings of the goddess
Here are three simple keys to Priya:
1. She enjoys smiting evil and is always vigilant for another opportunity. Party members are welcome to continue to tempt her with their sort-of-not-really-maybe evilness.
2. She is not stupid. If smiting evil today means killing herself, her party, and actually not getting to smite that evil, she will gather better forces so that one day soon she can do the job right.
3. Apart from the smiting-fixation, she fills her days with loud prayer and moral lectures to others, followed by hours of quiet prayer and moral lectures in her head.
So…she’s kind of like a dour, pilgrim version of the Tick.
The Resurrection of Koldok
Bloodied, battered, fatigued from your fight below the streets, you emerge into the residence under which the secret coven practiced their dark magics. Ignoring the alarmed looks on the faces of the household staff, you carry the dead, misshapen body of Koldok out into the street. Staggering under the weight of his body, you head directly for the chapterhouse of your brethren, the Hand of Sleadren.
Dermot, the head of the order in Therea, opens the door for you. His look of caution turning to alarm as he sees Koldok’s body draped over your shoulder. Helping you get the body to the table, the two of you lay out the corpse, and he and the cleric Daryush examine it. They agree that something vile has deformed him, and you inform them of the circumstances of his demise. You can see them start in alarm as you tell them that you plan on bringing Koldok back from the dead.
Daryush protests, telling you, as you well know, that journeying into the afterworld is the most dangerous thing any mortal can do, for their safety and for their sanity. He is unable to perform the required ritual himself, but he thinks he might be able to trust another priest who can. He dashes off to the temple of Sleadren to find help. While he’s gone, Dermot and Ruadhan help you prepare the body for the ritual, removing the armor, anointing the misshapen flesh in blessed oils. His elaborate sword, gold-pommel, the millstone pattern worked into the filigreed hilt, is laid along his side. Yasamin, the elegant aasimar woman, picks it up from where it lies, and hands it to you, telling you, “Bring this to him in the afterworld. Use it to remind him who he is and why he is needed.” She looks knowingly into your eyes, and you can sense that she has had experience with such matters.
Daryush returns with an older man following closely at his heels. Father Aislon, carrying the necessary ritual materials, sweeps into the room and begins to hastily set up the ritual. “We must do this as soon as possible. Koldok’s soul must have been interfered with, he may be lost to us if we do not make haste. Who is following the soul?” All eyes turn to you and you step forward, ready to battle whatever evil comes between you and restoring life to a fallen comrade. Aislon blesses you and anoints you with the oils, and begs you take your place at the foot of the table, and focus on Koldok as he was in life. You attempt to overlay that image on top of this distorted thing before you, but the images barely match at all. The priests and paladins begin their chanting, men and women of the order reciting their prayers over their fallen brother. The candles flicker in the room and grow dim, you feel the cold, not upon you but within you. You tighten your grip on Koldok’s longsword, and the darkness overtakes you.
When you can finally make out anything in the darkness, you see wisps as of a mist parting, the chill coming from a wind that blows at random all around you. There is light to see by, but the source of that light is impossible to determine, as all is evenly shadow and gray light. Finally, the mist parts to show the fingers of branches, dead branches from blackened trees, forming a canopy over your head, a tenebrous skein winding all about you. Gray light filters down – or up – into your clearing. Focusing on Koldok’s soul, you feel an echo of his being, far off ahead, and the branches part, forming a wide tunnel before you, the brown soil barren of track or trail. You walk on, and the tunnel recedes into the distance. Endlessly walking, hurrying your pace, the time seems to stretch forever. Bones line the roadside, echoes of the death of others nearby in this sliver of the afterworld. Your steps stretch on and on, until you finally realize you can’t make it on foot.
As the thought strikes you, so you hear a brush of hard hoof on the ground behind you, and your own horse walks up to your side. Your own, yet different, its eyes somehow wiser, its coat somehow darker, the death-echo of the horse of your world. Saddled and ready, its eyes meet yours and understanding is made. You mount, and it heads off instantly in the direction you need to follow, trotting, galloping, racing faster and faster, the black branches whipping at your hair and clothes as you fly past. At last you see the break in the tunnel ahead, you tear toward it faster than any earthly horse could carry you, and break out into a barren bowl of scorched earth, swarming with purple-skinned sluglike creatures about the size of alley cats.
Dismounting, you descend on foot into the bowl, your feet tearing open the fleshy skins of the creatures, revealing a slimy puss-like substance that reeks of smoke and death. The center depression in the bowl boils with the creatures in a writhing mass, at the center of which you make out a human form, flailing on the ground. As you near, you make out Koldok at the center of a mass of the things. As you watch, they seem to cling to his skin before dropping away to scale up the side of the bowl, but as you get nearer, you realize they are actually growing out of his skin. He notices you and sits up, his eyes mad with torture, and reaches out an arm, which you watch the flesh tear away from, only to see him reform it as an act of will. He seems to be able to control them somewhat… and they stop growing out of him, although his skin still bubbles and boils with their growth. The side of his leg tears away, and he grunts as it pulls back to his body, regaining control.
“Priya…” his voice is ghastly, hollow, filled with torment. You reach out to him, your hand in his, you feel the movement under his skin, but he holds it together.
“I’ve come to bring you back, Koldok,” you tell him.
He smiles, and sadly shakes his head. “No… it is too late. They changed me, Priya.”
“We can fix you, Koldok. You are needed in the fight!” You present his sword to him.. he stares at it as if at an unknown thing, unable to understand.
Finally a light in his eyes as he looks at it. He groans, “My master’s sword… he forged it himself, crafted it for the goddess, to be her avenging hand… I was unworthy.”
“You were not yourself, they cast a spell on you, you have served your penance!” Your authority commands his attention, and he gazes at you as if you had started talking about the weather. His body is suddenly wracked with spasms of pain, and he fights to control the forms breaking away from his flesh.
“No, Priya… not a spell.. They CHANGED me! They made me deceive you. I knew where they were hiding. I knew their lair. I had followed them days before you came to the city. They captured me and…” his voice breaks off as his chest buckles, bulges, returns to its normal form. “They changed me, made me serve them without knowing… I was made to bring you to that place, made to present you… to change you as they changed me! To make you serve!”
“Serve what, Koldok? What evil might we fight?”
“I don’t know, only that I must serve the masters, the overlords that command me, that still tear at me, call to me.”
“We can free you, brother. We can bring you back to join the fight.”
“No, Priya… only… end my suffering.”
“How, Koldok? I cannot kill the dead.”
“There is only one way. My master’s sword…” as he speaks his skin writhes and shudders.. a beast tears off of his back, and he cries out in pain. “There is only one way out, Priya.”
His face is overcome with a sudden resolve, and he stands straight… as he does so, his skin slithering and splitting, his chest opens up, revealing his beating heart. As more of the creatures attempt to close the gap, stretching across the space between his split chest… “Now, Priya. End my suffering. Take me from here!”
With no other choice, you nod, raising up the sword, and plunge it into the beating heart. Koldok screams, his spirit body spasms, his heart blood flowing down the blade in rivulets of crimson. The tracks of blood on the blade blaze with golden fire, searing the edge, burning veins into the blade. Koldok’s body glows brighter, the darkness dispelled by his radiance, the creatures burning in the glare. When the light finally fades, the charred bowl is completely bare, Koldok’s form in the afterworld obliterated, his suffering ended at last. You feel his presence, all that was good about him, in the sword you carry. As you hold the blade out before you, admiring the golden glowing threads in the steel, the heart’s blood of Koldok, his redemption, the landscape around you grows dim, receding at the corners of your vision. Your head swims as the world dissolves, all going black around you.
With a start, you wake, in the chapterhouse hall. You lie on your back, Koldok’s sword held strongly in your hand. The faces of your brethren arrayed about you, you hear a collective sigh of relief as you awaken. You rise, holding out the sword before you. “I… failed. Koldok is gone, only fragments of his spirit remain, within his own blade.” Dermot takes the blade you offer, examines it, holds it up. He agress the blade is changed, that it now has purpose. A blade of destiny. Meant to be carried in the fight against evil.
After letting you recover, they hear your tale, and Aislon tells you that you must have walked a long time, because your spirit has been gone a full day and a half. He tells you your friends have gone, and your horse was sent for, but it vanished hours after you went into the afterworld. Ruadhan takes your hand and tells you that your mount has become part of your death spirit now, that he exists beyond the world for you to call upon as you need. “And you have need now. You must bear Koldok’s blade, avenge him and continue his purpose. The purpose we all serve. Go, return to your friends. With them, you stand strong against the darkness that comes.”
You go out to the street, calling your mount, and it appears, saddled and ready, at your side. The shadows seem to bleed from it as you mount, taking up the reins and lashing it to run out the gates, your resolve set. You ride like the wind, speeding down the road back to Kechner. Your mount’s hooves batter the road, kicking up dark dust behind it. You pass travelers in their caravans, on foot, other riders, and even faster, the world a haze of blur and shadow. In mere hours, you ride the several score miles to Kechner, the world coming back into sharp focus as you ride up to the gates of the keep.