Warning: There may be emotional triggers here. If you're sensitive to such things, avoid this submission. I won't hold it against you.
Rain fell and thunder crashed. The ground was muddy, but not all of it was from water. Rivulets of blood traced a chaotic pattern of lines across the trampled ground. Her clanmates were scattered everywhere, left where they had fallen after being struck down. Everywhere her eyes looked was another atrocity, people she had known her entire life, adults that had scolded her, children she had played with, all dead. She was the last survivor.
But not for long.
The nomad tribes of Antisem had always had a tumultuous relationship with the towns and villages that dot the plains they wandered. A streak of pragmatism within some of the towns had allowed something approximating regular trade to develop, but their religious differences always made it an uneasy truce. Were it up to the tribes, things would be fairly peaceful, but the Guru-King of the area had long decreed that the heathen nomads were not to be treated with, for their ancestor-worship is an abomination to the Path of Unified Sanctification, a heavily-monotheistic sect that split off from the dominant Church a few generations prior. As a result, violence against visiting nomad traders was not unheard of.
In front of her was one of the warriors from the town they had passed the day before. She remembered him, because he had sneered and yelled lewd commentary at the girls when they had gone to the market to trade for the manufactured items that were so much easier to get in a town than on the open plains. Apparently he wasn't content to look and not touch. And he'd brought friends; enough of them to make her think the town itself had decided to support the attack. Not that it really mattered one way or another.
"Little infidel whore. They don't have words for what I'm going to do to you." The monster reached out a hand to cup her cheek, and she slapped it away in disgust. His backhand knocked her to the ground, and a follow-up kick sent her sprawling. "Fine, you want it rough? It's more fun that way."
For the most part, the towns that didn't want to associate with the nomads made their desires known and the nomads let bygones be bygones. But eventually the Guru-King decided that the Path to Sanctification cannot allow any corruption from outsiders. Their very existence is an affront to the Faith, and they must be exterminated. Any town which takes it upon themselves to destroy heathens will be well on its way to true Sanctification, and truly blessed by God.
No pity. No mercy. No remorse. The unbeliever is not worthy of anything but hate and disgust. For months, the worship-day gatherings were filled with reasonings and doctrines mandating the holy extermination of the nomads. It was the only way to ensure the purity of the faithful. And eventually, the frothing pot boiled over.
She didn't know how long it had been. She couldn't feel the cold of the rain, though she knew she should be freezing. She couldn't even feel the pain anymore; that had stopped a while ago, she was certain. She was shocked that she was even upright. She twitched her head to clear her face of dripping water, and saw the two men holding her arms. Well, at least that was explained. She looked up at the monster in front of her, the demon that had taken everything she ever loved away from her, and she couldn't even find the energy to care that he was obviously going to kill her. So be it. Her clan was waiting for her in the Spirit World. Soon this would all be a fading nightmare.
A searing pain in her gut made her vision go completely white. She hadn't thought she could feel pain anymore; apparently reality disagreed. Her arms dropped, and she began to fall sideways, curling around the terrible agony that her abdomen had become. The blinding white of agony began to fade to a quiet blackness, and she began to feel herself relax. So this was it. After all that build-up, all that worry and fear, it really wasn't that bad.
Not every tribe of nomads was killed. Most of them weren't even vulnerable. The Plains of Antisem are large, and most of the time the nomad tribes are a decent ways from the nearest permanent settlement. But those few clans that were nearby were massacred; even the largest group of tribesmen weren't able to match the numbers of the fanatic townspeople, and quantity has a quality all its own. The nomads quickly learned to avoid the towns, and the towns for their part seemed to be appeased by the bloody carnage they had unleashed in the name of God. Eventually they would return to their fanatical blood-rage, but for now an uneasy peace had returned to the Plains.
The Voice Commanded, and the girl felt herself rise from the nothing of nonexistence. The eternal void clutched at it's prize, but she could not disobey that Voice. It was literally unthinkable. The tendrils of heavy slumber tugged at her, but one by one fell away once more into their timelessness, banished by the authority bestowed upon her by the Voice. Nothing could keep her from obeying Its Command.
Chains wrapped around her arms, her legs, her torso, and she screamed in agony as they pulled her away, away from the void and back to substance. She was back in her body, oh yes, but that just meant she was able to feel every wave of purified, untarnished pain that washed over her with each heartbeat. Dying hadn't really hurt at all. Coming back was apparently a different story entirely.
Eventually the pain began to ebb, and she opened her eyes. The rain had stopped, but the night clouds looked like they had another round of fight left in them. More importantly, a robed figure was straddling her, chanting in a tongue that made her skin crawl. She recognized the Voice when she heard it, and a female face looked down at her as the chanting finished in a rolling crescendo.
"Good. You're alive. Now get up, we've work to do."
If one had to describe Cela Ardonyth in a single word, the most suitable is colorless. Formerly a brunette, she now sports platinum hair as a necromantic birthmark. Likewise, skin that was formerly tanned has been drained of color to a pale white. However, one cannot describe her as frail. Her body is as healthy and graceful as it was before her untimely death, though she still bears a wonderfully horrific scar across her abdomen where she was gutted by her killer.
Cela is the sole survivor of a religious war that consumed her entire clan. Her survival was purely the work of a traveling necromancer who happened to be staying in the town which massacred the clan. She was able to snatch the girls soul from the Void of Souls and bind it to her body long enough for Cela to heal from her mortal wounds, and in so doing gained a loyal apprentice and daughter.
Years later, Cela is now a full necromancer, traveling the land in a fashion most unusual for someone of her particular skills. She wants no lands, she desires no riches, her soul does not crave power over others. Hers is a far harder prize to claim, but she seeks it with a focus that verges on fanaticism: the secrets of immortality. Not just for herself, but for everyone. The death of her clan made a permanent impression on her soul, and the utter nothingness of death forged her determination to never allow anyone to suffer such a fate.
And so she searches, gathering resources and performing research as she attains new leads. Here and there, one will find a tale of children who have survived deadly accidents, each claiming that they saw a woman in white that brought them back, that she wouldn't let them die. The fact that each of them have lost all color in their skin and hair gives subtle credence to their claims.
Death is not something that happens in an instant; it's very much a blurred line. Even when the soul disconnects from the body and falls into the Void of Souls, that does not mean that someone is truly dead, it just means that the body no longer has the strength to hold onto the soul. If we're quick enough, we can detect the ripples that the soul makes as it passes into that infinite nothing, and snatch it back in-time to restore it to the body. Of course, that does very little good if the body is mortally wounded, but if the soul can be bound to the body tightly, eventually the body will heal enough to grip tightly to the soul once again.
Of course, just because death doesn't happen instantly doesn't mean that there's never a point where we can definitively say that someone is dead. There comes a point past which the body simply will not retake the soul, regardless of the effort put into it, and I cried myself to sleep the night that I discovered it. Beyond that point, the body can be animated, but it can only do so through necromantic energies, and is rightly considered undead.
My first task, then, should be to find a way to bind a soul to something aside from its body. We want such a container to be able to allow the soul to receive stimuli and act on it, because I can imagine little that is worse than being trapped in a void of the senses, slowly going mad from sensory deprivation. The best solution is to ensure that the body never degrades to the point where it cannot act as a container for the soul, but in the end, the body is just a shell. The soul is what is important, and what we need to protect once the shell has broken. So long as the soul remains, we can always build a new shell for it to reside in.
--Journal Excerpt, Cela Ardonyth
While extremely driven to attain her goal of universal immortality, Cela does not let her vision of the future cloud life in the present. She recognizes that immortality is extremely important, but ultimately worthless if people in the here and now die. And so she makes a point in her travels to use her necromancy, not to control and destroy as other necromancers do, but to uplift and restore that which has been lost.
No one is perfect, however, and Cela is no exception. She has two main triggers that will set her off like a firecracker. The first is religion, which provokes what might be called a snark-attack. Having died and returned, she is entirely unsympathetic to claims of afterlife and eternal bliss. She considers such to be complete nonsense at best and dangerous lies at worst; dangerous lies that result in people not treasuring the life that they have in favor of an unproven infinity of happiness. She knows the effect religious teaching has on her, and actively avoids priests and churches, which also helps her powers evade detection.
The second trigger is abuse, which will send her into an unholy rage. Those stories of miraculous survivals are also accompanied by tales of a nightmare that imposes unspeakable punishments on those that batter and abuse children. Her powers make her a very dangerous opponent when she decides that someone is no longer worthy of the life they possess, and those who abuse others top her list.
An Angel in White (Minor Encounter) -- While walking the streets of their current town, the PCs see a small child fall from a cart and break his neck (the snapping sound is clearly audible from several feet away). A crowd gathers, and in the middle is a pale woman in a white dress, crouching over the boy and chanting. The crowd seems to shy away from her, but their fear completely disappears when the boy sits up, his neck fully healed. The priests find nothing wrong with him, but the woman is nowhere to be found afterwards.
Soulhunter (Major Encounter) -- The PCs have been contracted by the Church to hunt down and capture an infamous necromancer. Divination has determined that she is stealing the souls of brutal, vicious people, and while this isn't such a bad thing from a practical standpoint, the higher-ups have decided that she is preventing those souls from receiving their eternal judgment and must be stopped.
Plot Twist -- Certain clergy in the Church hierarchy have taken a liking to some truly twisted entertainment, and are (rightly) afraid that they'll soon top Cela's list of People To Destroy, so they've hired the PCs to solve the problem before it comes around to bite them. The PCs must eventually decide whether to finish their contract, or let the necromancer purify the ranks.