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.
Â Â Â 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.
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? Responses (11)-11
This submission is dedicated to a girl that I hardly knew, yet had a profound impact on a lot of people that I love dearly. She died far too young, and reminded me of just how terrible a toll death extracts from those who survive. Until the day when death is a bad memory, may this token of remembrance burn on in the darkness.
I never vote like this, and all I can say is marvelous.
A few questions: Is Cela actually alive, or is she a form of undead?
Second: when she brings someone back from the dead, are they like her -- pale and colorless, or has she improved the process somehow?
A minor critique: 'distilled, 200 proof pain' doesn't sound like something Cela would think, so describing her pain that way jolted me out of the narrative a little.
A suggestion: Cela's goal is immortality for all. Very cool stuff there. Could you give us a hint on how she plans to do it, so that we could use it?
Overall, this is a good piece Chaos. The writing for the parts in blockquotes is superb, and the character portrait at the end is believable and tragic. I kinda wish I had an example of Cela's dialogue, so that I could hear how she sounds, but that's pretty much it. Wonder what happened to her 'mother'.
I've modified the submission to cover a few of these points, which are excellent.
Cela is not an undead (except, perhaps, philosophically), which I thought had been handled by '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', but I can understand if that wasn't entirely clear.
As for her mother, that's something entirely up to the GM who wants to use Cela. It could be that she quietly passed away, or that she was hunted down by religious authorities, or is still out there, providing support and a 'home base' for her daughter's quest.
The rest all were included in the update, but for redundancies sake:
* The children are also color-drained. Nothing comes for free, and subverting the course of nature as thoroughly as this is bound to leave a mark.
* Wording within the narrative was modified to be slightly less jarring. You were correct here, and I had just gotten used to it after reading and re-reading that passage. This is why writers have editors.
* I've given a smidge of direction for her goals in the journal excerpt, but honestly this is something that a GM has to decide for themselves, since it's heavily contingent on the campaign world and what is possible.
Update: Updated based on suggestions.
I do not have much to say, it is fairly complete and a really good idea. I really like her journal excerpt. Though it does remind me of the princess bride, 'All dead or mostly dead' . Mr. Mark, I think this is a great idea Extremely useable and you should add more (because I am sure you have more). It is not nearly close to being too long.
As a painting of a person, we a get a feel for intellectual motivations, but not for her personal style, tone or behavior. Does she make eye contact or have a distant look in her eye? Does she laugh or keep a poker face? She takes an interest in perserving life, but she does take an interest in the content of those lives? Is she interested in the maundane stories of peoples life, their grief, their romances and their observations? What does she do when she needs to unwind? You have a whole section on personality and you don't describe a personality. It is just an extension of her motivation section. If my half-Orc barbarian comes up to a isolated country well, a strings of ears around his neck and sees an albino chic making notes in codex, how will she respond when he wants to regale her with his war poetry? Or other less specific examples....
How does she deal with aging?
How does she eat? Does she gather and hunt, does trade in cash?
I think the rape and murder scene would be more horrific and thus effective if more details were added. Is this her talking in these scenes? Does she start referring to herself in third person after the event? If you gave the rapist and the event more details I think he would be more disturbing. What if he is a boy, what does she see in his eyes, is he smiling while he does these awful things, does he have a mustard stain on his shirt, does he thank god when he enters her? Is their a member of her clan, who is not quite dead, who she sees as she is being attacked, and thus this second violation becomes not just of her but of her family members last memories.
Rain fell and thunder crashed. This sentence would be interesting and necessary only if rain and thunder did something unusual....
'The rain was standing suspended in the air and the lightening appeared to hold its breath unable to speak its thunder clap after pushing back the darkness for this field of slaughter'
As it is I would drop it, we don't know if it is day or night, winter or summer, hilly or flat, costal or inland (though we learn later it must be the plains). The only important details are that the ground is trampled, telling of us that was much activity, and it is flowing the blood. The first sentence should make you want to read the second sentence. I would drop the first two sentences, and start with rivulets of blood. This paragraph is about what Cela is observing, so you could start the paragraph with what is important her. Building a scene, by giving the readers details and then revealing the horror or the beauty of the scene at the end, work best when the reader is already invested in the outcome of the scene. Perhaps a better opener would be scene of Cela and her clan before the attack.
The journal excerpt was amazing. Very original take on a necromancer, that's for sure, she seeks immortality for everyone. I LOVE how her story begins epically, and then this line---'Her survival was purely the work of a traveling necromancer who happened to be staying in the town which massacred the clan.' I really like the dichotomy there of 'fated to be this way' fractured by, 'happenstance and serendipity'. You can tell this was written with some emotion and extra care. The comments are good too. The questions apt, and the answers satisfactory.
Muro, what do you think Cela would think of this piece and the comments?
I'm sure I don't know. What would any npc think, upon reading a sub about themselves? And thinking about it, I'm pretty sure I couldn't care less.
So are these plains like a wet cold plain or hot dry plain? I am picturing a wet cold sort of thing, like the steppes.