The Beginning of the End
“What a miserable way to spend the Feast of Wintersend!” reflected Traxus, the expedition’s lone Thaumalogist, as he watched his soldiers rifling through the ancient chambers of the ruined temple of Nak-Pakthet and wondered what would happen if he just stood back and let them destroy what was left of it. The ancient empire’s relics fell and shattered as the troops ransacked the sacred chambers of the cat god’s sanctum.
At least the men had served well in battle, he reflected. The local tribesmen had been unrelentingly hostile to the Hegemon’s troops, and of his original complement of 80 men, only 45 had remained when they reached the ancient ruin that was their destination. On the way, the local tribes had been crushed, their warriors slain and even their women and children put to the sword. The Hegemon’s soldiers may have been bloodied, but they were victorious.
The Hegemon’s seers had divined that a relic hidden within this desolate place could turn the tide of the Hegemony’s war against the League of Free Cities, so the ruthless ruler had directed an expedition to this place, the most wretched, godforsaken wasteland Traxus had ever seen.
As the frustrated Thaumalogist was lost in his reverie, he heard cries of terror from some of the men. While one of them had been smashing the ancient frescos, he had dislodged some sort of door. Dozens of large, hideously withered cats poured out from beyond the low opening, leaping upon the poor fool and all in the antechamber beyond! Focusing his concentration, Traxus tried to call up the Incantation of Fiery Banishment, but he could not focus while trying to fend off the feline undead. Soldiers swarmed into the room, slashing desperately at the mummified desert cats. The raking claws of the undead tore into the frantic soldiery, but they were no match for modern blades wielded by desperate men.
As the last of the cat-things fell to dust, the soldiers, torn and bloody, found themselves peering into a shadowy chamber. In its depths, a dark statue loomed, its leonine features seeming to stare down in dark judgment. Traxus felt a strange unease; this was what they had come for, the Eidolon of Nak-Pathet.
Rites of the Forgotten Goddess
Nak-Pathet was worshipped as a goddess in all of the ancient Sallvian Empire, and is still revered by many of the Gohhi tribesmen that inhabit the region today. In the fallen empire’s art, she was invariably depicted as a woman with the head of a great desert cat, clad in robes of saffron gold, and with skin of a golden red hue. In her hand, she held a Sithrum, a stringed musical instrument denoting her position as patroness of music. Her worshippers call upon her as protector of the family; she was once also known as a goddess of lovers and sensuality, worshipped with graceful and lascivious dances (although the Gohhi tribesmen no longer practice the archaic rituals of the Ancient Sallvians).
A Worthy Trophy
It was unfortunate that so many of the soldiers had died, reflected Sotellus, High Enchanter of the Hegemony. If only the healers had been able to find a cure for the strange rotting disease the temple’s defenders had carried, the soldiers would have been toasted as heroes for their bravery. Unfortunately, any that were even scratched by the foul undead of the temple withered away in the following weeks, slain long before their beautiful prize could be installed in the Hegemon’s Chamber of High Thaumaturgy. It was quite an elegant statue, observed the enchanter, as his hands gently touched the cool stone and flaking golden paint. As he stood admiring the eidolon, he heard an unfamiliar voice, concealed within the shadows of the pillared marble hall.
“Your men did well to bring her from that ruin,” purred the exotic woman, apparently one of the decadent ruler’s many foreign concubines. She boldly approached the enchanter, almost daring him to step back from her.
“Yes. It’s a magnificent statue. I’m very proud of those poor soldiers,” he replied, a bit nervously.
“In my homeland, she is still worshipped, you know. I could teach you her rituals, if you are interested… Very interesting rituals” the mysterious woman offered.
As she approached, her eyes riveted on his, he could see that she was older than she had at first appeared. The mysteries of eons reflected in her eyes. If she was one of the Hegemon’s concubines, she could be trouble, thought the enchanter. “I would like that, milady, but we would have to ensure that the Hegemon never discovered us.” he said, noticing how tight his starched collar felt.
“I suppose that you’re right,” she replied, as her fingers lightly caressed his shoulder and grazed across his chest. As she walked behind him, she added, “but I’m not sure that you should be taught the mysteries. After all, your men did murder many of my worshippers…”
Startled, he whirled about, feeling catlike claws tearing across his back as he turned. Before him, he saw the living image of the statue his men had wrested from the desert’s embrace! Her leonine jaws yawned wide and …
He startled to wakefulness. Lurching out of bed, he turned about in fear, but he was alone. He staggered, shaking, to the chamber’s washstand, and poured a drink of water into a delicate crystal goblet. In the silvered glass above the washstand, he could see streaks of grayish decay creeping across his skin, discolored lines reaching across his chest, around his shoulder, and spreading across his back, where blackened scratches wept droplets of dark corruption.
Goddess of the Desert Cats
Nak-Pathet is a capricious being, dangerous and fey. Her worshippers are careful not to anger her, for she is as likely to slay a careless worshipper as to aid him. Even more alarming, the goddess, like the cats she favors, likes to toy with her food before finishing it off. A mistress of seductive arts, she will tempt her enemies, testing their resolve. If they waver from what they know is right, she will strike them down; but if they prove themselves pure, she may spare them.
Among the desert tribes, it is said that one who has touched the likeness of the goddess may even be visited in his dreams by the feline spirit. The tribesmen are very careful not to touch her image or statues without carefully purifying themselves first, lest they anger the goddess. If she visits someone’s dreams, she is likely to tease and flirt with them. If she favors the dreamer, her seductive touch will heal them. On the other hand, if the dreamer has aroused her wrath, she is likely to place her curse upon them, condemning them to a horrible, lingering death.
The Ritual of Domination
Ogmun the Pure, Deputy Presbyter of the Orthodox Faithful, carefully intoned the ritual that would bind the heathen spirit to the will of the High Priest of the Holy Pantheon of Five. As a lesser spirit (for it was heresy to consider her anything else), the goddess would be bound to serve the direct representative of the Holy Pantheon. Behind him, the High Priest watched, smiling paternally as his minion continued the ritual to seal the triune binding circles. As he chanted the words of power, Ogmun could feel the ancient goddess’ will striving against his own.
Her words resounded within his head, “You would bind me, Ogmun? I have shown you favor beyond anything you could have imagined. When I invited you to join in my mysteries, I placed my mark upon you. Did my touch mean nothing to you?”
His heart raced. She had been like a dream, and yet, she had been more real than anything he had ever known. As he chanted, his voice caught, missing a critical note in the ritual’s climactic moments. The ritual would fail, and perhaps he would be blamed, but if his goddess visited him again, touched his body the way she had before, it would be worth it. He might fail as a presbyter of the Orthodox, but he had a new goddess to serve…
The Wrath of the Goddess
In anger, the goddess appears as an Amazonian figure, agile and muscular. Her head is that of a powerful desert lioness and her hands become lethal claws. In that form, she will “play” with her victims, hunting them through the ruins and across the wastes. They may not even realize that she is merely toying with them, until she becomes tired of her sport. Victims seldom even see the bite that finishes them off.
When Nak-Pathet is encountered, she may also appear as a woman of the Sallvian wastes, her revealing attire showing lithe, bronzed limbs. In this form, the goddess will seduce anyone who piques her fancy, whether a devout worshipper or a deadly foe. In passion’s throes, she tends to scratch her paramour, scratches that will heal in minutes if she shows favor. Her enemies receive no such healing boon, however. To them, her every caress is deadly; each place that her hands touch will be cursed with a deadly rotting disease. Resistant to all the healers’ arts, this foul ailment causes the flesh to desiccate and crack, gradually flaking away. The victim may linger for weeks, but once infected, an agonizing death is almost certain. Some few victims do not die, but suffer a worse fate; the goddess seals their souls into the decaying shells of their bodies. They remain forever bound within the hideously decayed corpse that was their body, unable to move, unable to communicate, in agony until the goddess releases their tormented spirit from its prison.
“…and so it is that we commit the body of our companion, the Enchanter Sotellus, to Your care, O Mighty Ones, trusting that you will guide his spirit to its destination…” droned the priest as they lowered the closed casket containing the hideously dessicated and warped remains of the mage into the ground. As dirt began to fall onto the casket, the desperate mage within, trapped within his decayed frame, thought, “Nooo! Please, Noooo!”
But none could hear him.