Wails regularly echo through the eastern wing of Gravecharge, Pharasma's cathedral in the university city of Lepidstadt. Yet such aren't the breathless screams of the dead that so often ring through the corners of Ustalav, but rather the cries of life. Since its construction, Gravecharge has maintained a clean and well-supervised hospice for sick and orphaned youths. Just as the goddess Pharasma concerns herself with the transition of life to death, so does she cherish even the most tragic lives.
Imrijka came to Gravecharge in the arms of a city watchman, wrapped in a tattered uniform and held at arm's length. The guard claimed his patrol had found "the thing" during their dawn patrol to the Spiral Cromlech, a Kellid ruin overlooking the city that was notorious for ill fortune and mysterious disappearances—but never for mysterious appearances. Hearing a babe bawling amid the moon-bleached standing stones, the guards bold enough to investigate momentarily took her for some stray fiend-child and almost slew her amid the eerie ruins. Identifying her as a half-orc infant did little to stay the hands of those ready to mete out death, but the argument that matters of life and death should be left to Pharasma sheathed the blades of those not truly eager to spill a child's blood—regardless of the color of her skin.
Dubbed Imrijka after Gravecharge's first high priestess, Imrijka Castavelik, the pistachio-skinned girl was cleaned, clothed, and given a place among the cathedral's other orphans. At first she terrified those youths, being larger, stronger, and more vicious in her biting than some children double her age. But only for a time. The priestesses of Pharasma explained the mysteries of their goddess's will and the vastness and variety of her creations, teaching the children that they were blessed to have such a unique new sister. For a time, behind the cathedral's walls, that was even the truth.
When she was old enough to understand and be understood, Imrijka reported to the offices of Jarlos Teym, Gravecharge's high exorcist, for the first time. He asked her a great deal about her life, how she felt about her studies, the clergy, the other children, and if there was anything he could do to make things more comfortable for her. A shy girl, Imrijka declined. Subsequent discussions bent toward the future, Imrijka's dreams, her prayers, and her vision for a long life. Finally, though, after months of building a rapport with the girl, Teym asked about her past. But for Imrijka, life began with the cathedral, priestesses, and other orphans. Teym pressed, insisting on answers, even verifying them with magic. After one particularly intense interview, a confused Imrijka finally started asking her own questions: Why did it matter? Why did Teym care? Couldn't what she might be outweigh what she might have been?
Deeming her mature enough to know, Teym explained his tenacity: someone had come to adopt Imrijka. Thrice. Every Kuthona for the past 3 years. First came a man dressed like a count's footman, articulate and with more questions than answers. He left after raising the clergy's suspicions with his too-pointed inquiries about Imrijka. A year later he returned, this time with a human woman of vulpine beauty who claimed to be Imrijka's mother—though her apparent age made that only the barest possibility. It was Teym's own suspicions and skill at discerning lies that kept the strangers from Imrijka, and the unusual pair left with wordless detachment. Finally, only a few months past—days before Teym's first meeting with Imrijka—the two strangers returned, led by a man dressed in white and silver. The bold newcomer spoke as one used to being obeyed and demanded Imrijka be handed over to him. Teym personally denied him, insisting to know what right he had to the girl. A father's right, the man persisted. The high exorcist ordered them out of the cathedral in that instant, but before they obeyed the man in white smiled. "She's not like us," he said, eyes glimmering. "Excellent."
Despite Teym's explanation, Imrijka understood only that her parents had come for her and that the high exorcist had sent them away. She held back both questions and tears, nodding blankly until Teym excused her. But she didn't return to her room. Rather, she exited through the front doors of Gravecharge and out onto the snowy streets—where someone waited.
A man in white sat upon the icy benches of the nearby circle, slowly feeding bits of shredded meat to the crows. Seeing Imrijka enter the plaza through the flurry of sound-deadening snow, he rose and walked toward her. Wary, she approached. In his gloved hand appeared a strange token, a disk etched with barbaric symbols and a figure impaled upon a spear. She reached for it.
A merciless iron arrow shattered the man's hand, sending the strange icon spiraling into the snow. Teym stood across the circle, another arrow nocked in his bent hawthorn bow. Around him whipped the black-edged crimson of Pharasma's inquisitors, woven flames that engulfed any flakes the whirling wind blew against them. "Back, girl," he commanded in a voice Imrijka had never heard him use.
The man in white might have been carved of ice. He had never flinched. Though the icon was knocked away, a tangle of disjoined fingers and bloodless flesh-ribbons remained outstretched toward Imrijka. Her small tusks clattered against her teeth, but she didn't scream.
"Another time, dear," the man whispered, just for her. Then the snow whirled around him. For a moment he seemed to be one with the cold, a blizzard-born prince. Then he was gone, leaving Imrijka cold and frightened—but not alone. High Exorcist Teym's cloak around her was heavy, and warm, and smelled strongly of tobacco and dust—what Imrijka imagined a grandfather should smell like. It didn't smell anything like the man in white.
Until Imrijka reached maturity and was fully able to defend herself, she rarely left Gravecharge Cathedral. When finally she did, it was in the crimson and black of an initiate inquisitor of Pharasma's faith. Even after the retirement of High Exorcist Teym, she continued to serve the church and the man she'd adopted as her grandfather, assisting him in his more scholarly pursuits as a consultant on religious antiquities at the University of Lepidstadt. She's traveled much of Ustalav and beyond—guarded an expedition to the boney towers of Kalexcourt, spent a night in the haunted hotel known as House Beumhal, been shouted off the porch of retired monster hunter Ailson Kinder (but not before getting her copy of Hunter's Moon signed), and had numerous other adventures. She regularly returns to Gravecharge, where several of her childhood companions have grown into positions within the church's sphere of influence—including Brel Vhalsik, an argumentative Kellid theologian with whom she shares a complicated relationship. But increasingly her interests and Teym's research send her beyond Ustalav's borders, where she treads with her goddess's blessing, bringing judgment to all who would violate the laws of life and death. In her travels she's faced significant prejudice, but tales of Pharasma's "monster monster-hunter" and Imrijka's ever-present arsenal convince most bigots to keep their fool mouths firmly shut. Through it all, she's never seen the man in white again—at least, not with total confidence, as there have been far too many shadows and half-recognized faces to be sure. She recovered his strange gift on that snowy day and wears the disk openly, hoping that someone someday might recognize it and lead her to some hint of where she came from and who she was. But for now, the future holds far greater promises for Imrijka, and she strides into it boldly, confident in her faith, where she's going, and who she is.
F. Wesley Schneider