Randaur, the fell Lord of War fell in love with the gossamer Keeper of the Stars, Xalune. Unused to feelings other than bloodlust and rage, a stranger to courting other than rapine, uncertain about how to captivate a heart, it was no surprise that he was rejected – to all but him. More familiar feelings took their course, and in his wrath, he slew a thousand stars, their hot blood and corpses falling down upon the world.
What guides seamen by night and inspires a dreamer’s spirit while up in the sky can be a bane of brought close; the stars’ bodies were pure poison to mortals, tainting the land and twisting creatures that walked upon it.
As many as one in two children were either slain as monsters, or died when their twisted bodies could no longer sustain their souls; a few of the Warped lived. So it was with Halloran, who was to seize the whole Plague-Marsh and the surrounding lands and erect an empire from the ruins.
His taint was a boon, for while his blood was poison, it could twist reptiles into fearsome forms and bend them to his will. Soon after he discovered the power of his corruption, Halloran assembled a host of scaled beasts, enslaved lizard-men of the marsh and opportunistic mercenaries, to carve out a domain for himself.
In one of his conquests, the would-be emperor came across a humble cottage – and heard screams within. A peasant of the moors lay in labor, yet the child would not be born. With his sword, the warlord carved the babe out of its mother, and beheld a form far more absurd than his hairless frame. Having seized the child, given it life by the virtue of his sword, the conqueror took it as his in a strange mixture of perversion, curiosity and long-stifled wish for affection.
That was twenty-three years ago.
As his dominion grew, so did the unearthly child; nowadays every denizen of the Dominion recognizes the appearance of the Voice. How is it distinctive, you ask? While female of frame from a distance, upon approaching, Cantara’s form becomes less natural: while the head is almost human, but with four violet eyes set in what otherwise might be a pleasant youthful girl’s face, the thorax is enlarged, to better support the four exceedingly long arms with spidery fingers. Where a beast would have a tail, there one sprouts from the Voice’s spine as well, but studded with small hands, much like those of a child. Likewise distorted are Cantara’s legs, with feet that seem to be composed of two of their kind – one emerging from the other at a wide angle, almost pointing back, and long toes upon them as well. What sets her apart most are the mouths, though: a dozen of them is strewn over her body, each with a different voice, yet all in tune with each other.
The Emperor has Cantara dress almost in the nude, with a wide fan of colorful feathers behind her neck, and only a brassiere and loincloth to cover her shame. Usually, soldiers will carry her aloft in a sedan to wherever her Lord wishes the Voice to be heard.
With the strange harmony of voices that is her gift, Cantara spreads the word and will of her lord, for that is her purpose – edicts, laws and judgments of the Fanged Crown are handed down by the fey choir that is Cantara’s voices, clear and clarion over any disturbance, gnawing at the will of the listener.
Indeed, while the emperor is ruthless and without mercy, it is Cantara who draws the most hate as the instrument of his will, the proclaimer of his reign and bringer of bloody news. Foreign dignitaries also deal with the Voice, for she is more convincing and more expendable to the emperor than his own hide.
But what of her? Is she but a tool, a vessel for another’s words?
A ‘nay’ will not suffice to describe the tangle that is her mind. Loneliness is a decisive feature of her being – no-one dares approach the emperor’s protégé, for good or for ill; many deem her a demon or thing of alchemy, and no person true. Her sole focus, of fear, affection, need for approval, ashamed desire lies with the emperor; like a sunflower within a well that longs for salubrious daylight she yearns for his affection, yet despises him at the same time, for his distance, for the wanton cruelty, for treating her as property and not a partner, not a child. She hates herself for being incomplete, hideous, basically for any shortcoming, and will be focused about correcting it, to the excess.
Oh, how she ached to be held in those iron arms, and hated the concubines that warmed the ruler’s bed instead! Yes, she had offered herself, but failed to bear him anything but a distorted hideous thing – but was it not more than the whores, who failed to conceive at all? Was the ruler’s seed, much like his blood, not poison? He had but laughed, and thrown her to the soldiers.
Still, she cannot be helped, her need for that man grows ever more desperate with every day. Indeed, Cantara focuses upon this one connection so much that she fails to treat any other person as human; all are but props on the side of the stage to her – the nameless soldiers that carry her and die at her command, the servants who look all alike, the youths she asks to be dragged to her chamber, to ease away the loneliness, the peasantry that is but a number that must be made to obey. In her quest to please the emperor, she follows a policy of zero tolerance, uncaring about the consequences.
Beside her love for the lord, Cantara has another passion – music. Dexterous and talented, she spins harmonies upon several instruments at once, luring eerie and eldritch sounds from them, accompanied by her haunting voices. Whether she will learn to play a different symphony, one of a meaningful life, that remains to be seen.
*Cantara may seem distant, aloof – unless it is her task to speak to you specifically. In fact, she cares only about the turmoil of feelings inside, about her sole goal.
*While yearning for kindness and affection, her very approach denies her any opportunity to witness them - rare is the pleasantry that is not dismissed as being 'less than what my lord could provide'.
*Cantara is quite vain; in a self-hating way: she will go great lengths to improve her appearance, especially for the emperor, and cry herself to sleep if he fails to notice.
*As a shallow entertainment, she will abuse the talent of her voice to manipulate people, especially those whom she perceives as a threat to the throne, but anyone who can be messed with will do in a pinch. She is not in control of her life - this is the best compensation, to be in control of others.
*Cantara is quite immature. This can be used against her.
Cantara’s special gift focuses upon her voice – she can be heard easily from far away, her voice seemingly travelling through a different medium than those of others. She can be very convincing, planting subliminal messages in her speech (sadly, the emperor seems unimpressed); it is possible for her to force someone to remember what she says word by word, to sow doubt, fear and suspicion. The weak of will are her playthings – she can halt a furious peasant in his tracks with a word, despite ordering his family killed a minute before. Those of strong personality will still feel a shadow of her words, manifesting as shapeless uncertainty and half-conscious suggestions that may sneak into one’s ideas when least expected.
In full power, the voices can cause permanent insanity or even physical harm.
If her voice was used for a benevolent purpose, she might actually be a healer of the soul, easing the turbulent mind, laying terrible memories to rest and opening the soul. Sadly, this did not occur to her.
Her musical talent is wholly natural, though some may call her coordination when playing different instruments with her hands, tail and feet unnatural.
Cantara is a lieutenant for a stern emperor, worse than his iron fist at times due to her fanaticism.
*A Weak Link: how to get to the emperor better than through a disgruntled minion? But be careful: the openness to your anarchistic ideas may be just the gateway a deadly web of pretense and deception.
*The Fortress Heart: can one untangle the mess that is Cantara’s mind, to help her and others? To do so, one has to play her mind-games of manipulation and deceit, to delve into the vortex and pull its healthy strands to the fore.
*The Most Beautiful Song: Cantara has the potential, but not the will to create the one most inspiring piece of music. How can it be brought forth?
*Prisoners of the Voice: captured by the emperor, the PCs become the pawns in Cantara’s sadistic game.