|Avatar of Mitra|
In the kingdom of Talingarde, many crimes may send you to Branderscar Prison, but the sentence has but one meaning. You are wicked and irredeemable. Each of you received the same greeting when you arrived. You were held down by rough hands and branded upon the arm with a runic F. The mark signifies ‘forsaken’ and the painful scar is indelible proof that each of you has betrayed the great and eternal love of Mitra and his chosen mortal vassals.
Condemned, you face at best a life of shackles and servitude in the nearby salt mines. Others might await the “gentle” ministrations of the inquisitors so that co-conspirators may be revealed and confessions extracted. Perhaps, some of you will be spared this ordeal. Perhaps instead you have come to Branderscar to face the final judgment. In three days, the executioner arrives and the axe falls or the pyre will be lit. Through fire or steel, your crimes will be answered.
You have all been chained together in the same communal cell dressed in nothing but filthy, tattered rags. Manhandled and mistreated, any finery you once possessed is either ruined or long lost. No special treatment has been given any prisoner – male or female, commoner or noble – all of the forsaken are bound and imprisoned together. Your feet are secured by iron cuffs tethered by one long chain. Your arms are secured to the wall above by manacles. A guard is posted right outside the cell day and night. Little thought is given to long term accommodations. At Branderscar, justice comes swift and sure.
Escape seems hopeless. You have all been well searched and every attempt to conceal anything on your person has failed. And if you could somehow slip your bonds and fly out of this prison, where would you go? Who from your former life would want anything to do with the forsaken? Despised, alone and shackled – all that you can do now is await your doom.
For each of you, your old life is over. For each of you, hope is a fading memory. For each of you, justice will be fairly meted. And who can blame fair Talingarde after what each of you has done?
Eighty years ago your brother, Markadian, now called “the Victor” claimed the throne of Talingarde. He threw down Jaraad, Highseat of House Barca and Steward of Talingarde, and claimed the mantle of kingship. You watched as Markadian’s hold slowly cemented over the people of Talingarde. You learned from whispers of the formation of the Brotherhood of Marthanya and you can still recall the nightmare flight from Matharyn all the while being hounded by them. The Brotherhood.. sycophants and lackeys all, yet still zealous and uncompromising. They were fools. The first fawning members of Markadian’s cult of personality, but they were dangerous fools.
For forty four years you watched from the shadows as your birthright was stolen from you, watched as the Victor erected statue after statue with his visage. From the shadows you watched as the Brotherhood of Marthanya hunted down each and every threat to your brother’s rule. And then in the winter of 4678 AR you watched as your brother, now weakened from age, passed onto Pharasma’s graveyard.
Acting with decisiveness you began your ascent towards your rightful place as king. In the dying light of the Adarium you whispered in Markadian II’s ear convincing the young and gullible king of the truth of your words. It was by your hand that Prince Hallen slowly began his slide into madness. And when Hallen slew Markadian II and then later threw himself off of the highest spire of the Adarium it was you that watched from the shadows and felt the dark joy in your heart.
Quietly you waited for the writ of lineage, written in Markadian II’s own hand and seal to be found. Finally, after all of your years of patience you would be raised to your rightful place. Everything had been perfect and nothing could have stood in your way, nothing except for your great-nephew Marcus. The cult of Asmodeus has long despised the Darius line for the neglect and contempt of their religion. Convincing them that Marcus would take up his grandfather’s work had been an easy task. And so it was by your hand that Marcus was attacked by devils and cultist’s, inadvertently beginning the Great Asmodean Purge.
In the spring of 4696 AR Markadian IV the Zealous died. Once again a new king took the throne and once again you planned and plotted. For years you searched out allies and conspirators. Men who like you had become disenfranchised with the House of Darius. And so, after eighty years of whispering poisoned lies in the ears of others, the same was done to you. Betrayed by Valerio Madouci, the last remaining scion of the Brotherhood of Marthanya, he told the Knights of Alerion about your treason. For your crimes you were tried and sentenced to death. And as you were dragged away, Valerio whispered in your ear. ”I know who you are..”
And so you came to find yourself in Branderscar Prison. Your riches and finery torn from you, dressed in prison rags and held down as the branding iron seared your flesh. As you were thrown into a cell, chained hand and foot to six the other prisoners, a dark thought over took you. Branderscar was once known by a different name. Castle Brand, seat of the Hellknight Order of the Brand. Feeling your arm scream in pain from the burn and lying with your back to the wall, it seems somehow fitting that in three days you will die in the same castle that you caused your brother to purge so many years ago.
You can still recall the first time you saw your adopted father’s sword and remember the sound of the blade as it hissed its way out of the sheath. From the first moment you knew the blade was special. Perhaps it was the way that the light danced along the edge of its blackened blade, or the way that it moved in your father’s hands, seeming of its own regard. Regardless, you felt something stir inside of yourself each time you would spar with Marvius.
Something powerful, something foreign, something.. dark.
As the years went by and you grew from a boy into a man, your instincts about the blade began to sharpen, like a well-honed blade. And it was then that the whispers began. At first it was like a buzzing in the back of your mind, more urges then words. You felt an almost irresistible compulsion to practice with the blade. And so in the dead of night while Marvius was asleep you took up his father’s katana and began your nightly training.
Alone, cold and dark you felt the blade come alive in your hands for the first time. What Marvius’s training had begun the blade seemed to reinforce. In your mind’s eye you could see different forms. Parry’s, ripostes, blocks and strikes, each the correct counter to another attack. It was from the blade that you learned The Falling Leaf and how to counter it with Watered Silk. As the days became weeks and the weeks became months you practiced each and every night in secret with your “fathers” blade.
Then two months ago the unexpected happened, your adopted father, Marvius died. Described as a natural death, the cause was never fully explained. Marvius was not a young man, but he was still far from old. He was healthy, fit and well respected. Yet despite an investigation, despite a review by Mitran healers, nothing suspicious was found and Marvius was buried within the Old Barcan Cemetery in Ghastenhall with full military honors, along with his heirloom blade.
As time ground on your grief turned to anger, and your anger turned to obsession. As you would lie in bed each night, you would think back to the countless nights spent wielding your father’s katana. You could feel the blade in your hands, hear the whispers in the back of your mind. Eventually the urges became unbearable. You returned to the tomb, opened it and claimed your father’s exotic blade.
Emerging from the mausoleum you were greeted by a grim sight. Surrounding the crypt were red robed veteran soldiers of Mitra, led by the fanatic inquisitor Matthais Harkon. Illumined by flickering torchlight you were given a choice; surrender or die. Realizing that you had no options, you lowered your father’s katana, and as the black blade was ripped out of your fingers you heard a dark voice whisper. Patience.. Forced to your knees, inquisitor Harkon remorselessly smiled before declaring you forsaken.
And so you came to find yourself in Branderscar Prison for the crime of grave robbery. Your father’s sword was taken from you as evidence, your clothes and all personal belongings burned, and now the only thing you possess is the ragged prison uniform you were issued. Upon your arrival you were held down as a branding iron seared your forearm with a crimson F for “Forsaken”, and as you cried out, the fat sergeant of the guard who presided over the branding laughed. Reeling from the pain you were thrown into a cell and chained hand and foot to the other prisoners who were also awaiting execution.
Lies are an important part of business when it comes to slavery in a nation such as Talingarde. In a nation such as Cheliax or Sargava, slavery is a way of life. In Talingarde it’s a hanging offense. Still what could you do when as a young man your father told you the truth of your family’s income? Families are expensive, and a noble family especially so, and when your father passed away, who would could provide for your mother, two brothers and your sister? Who would provide for your brother’s education or your sisters dowries? No one would provide for them, no one but you.
You bitterly watched as the profits from slave trading kept your family afloat. You watched as righteous Tobias earned his spurs as a Knight of Alerion, not knowing that his horse had been paid for from a shipment of Iraen barbarians. You watched as young Oberon, so pious, so proud became inducted as an acolyte of Mitra wearing his sapphire and silver holy symbol paid for from a shipment of northern Yutak. And you watched as your dear sister prepared to enter into high society wearing the dresses and jewels paid for from your terrible crimes.
You have separated children from their mothers, and women from their husbands. You have watched slaved beat other slaves to death for a scrap of food. All the while, telling yourself that it was for your family. Yes my friend, lies are an important part of business when it comes to slavery.
Two months ago you stood in front of a local magistrate within the Lords Quarter of Ghastenhall, pleading for a shipping exception. As you petitioned the magistrate, your brother Tobias, now a full Knight of Alerion marched into court with a score of other Knights Alerion, bearing a writ of seizure signed by Lord Hadrian, Duke of Ghastenhall. The evidence before you was damming. Financial records, witness statements and cross referenced accounts. There was nothing that could be done. By the time the sun had set on Ghastenhall you had been stripped of your titles and lands, and for his unwavering perseverance and dedication to Mitra they had been awarded to your brother.
And so you came to find yourself in Branderscar Prison for the crime of slavery. Your clothes and all personal belongings were burned in front of you. Your family’s signet ring was taken, and now the only thing you possess is the ragged prison uniform you were issued. Upon your arrival you were held down as a branding iron seared your forearm with a crimson F for “Forsaken”, and as you cried out, the fat sergeant of the guard who presided over the branding laughed. Reeling from the pain you were thrown into a cell and chained hand and foot to the other prisoners who were also awaiting execution. As you lay there, with your blistered and burned arm, you racked your brain, looking for answers.
Freak.. abomination.. monster.. that is what they would whisper about you behind closed doors. From your earliest moments in life all you knew was fear and horror. You can never forget the ways that you mother Yondeene would look at you as a child. The sounds of her retching after she would have the clean the skin folds of your back and the ways that your sisters would cruelly tease you as a child.
You remember as a boy having rocks thrown at you by the other children. They would pretend to be Inquisitors, witch hunters or Knights of Alerion, holy and righteous. You never got to pretend, you were always the monster. They feared you, reviled you and hated you. Everyone hated you. Everyone but Nessuri.
If not for Nessuri, you don’t know what would have happened. It was her love that kept you alive. She was able to see past the ugly, deformed creature that you were, into the boy inside of you begging for affection. The walks alone in the woods with her were some of the happiest memories you ever had. She was your friend, your only friend. And so when she told you the stories of the cleaver ugly boy who saved the beautiful horned beast, of course you listened. You listened and you believed.
Belief can be a powerful thing. The priests of Mitra knew that well. When you were shipped to the Vale of Valterna by your parents it was your belief that sustained you. When you were under the healers knives, it was belief that kept you alive. For six years you were kept in the Vale. They called it healing, you called it torture. Each night, as you lay in the hospital bed, feeling the pain from each new surgery you prayed. And in the haze of pain and suffering you begged the Horned Lord for respite. And in the darkness your prayers were answered.
After your release and reunion with Nessuri, it was a happy time. You had found strength in the Horned Lord. The Vale had been a crucible to you, and you had emerged stronger because of it. Under Nessuri’s tutelage you came to understand the will of the Dark Prince. And despite the fact that your family had banished you to that hellish place you still loved them from afar. Then Sylphia betrayed you.
You watched as your friend and teacher Nessuri was burned at the stake for blasphemy. Held by chains you listened to her scream as the flames engulfed her. Shaking, you listened to Juliana speak for you at your trial, her words moving, but eventually falling on deaf ears. After it was all over you listened as the sanctimonious priest of Mitra passed judgment on you.
And so you came to find yourself in Branderscar Prison for the crime of blasphemy. Your clothes and all personal belongings were burned in front of you. Your holy tattoo was scoured from your body with “holy fire”, and now the only things you possess are the ragged prison uniform you were given and your faith in the Dark Prince. Upon your arrival you were held down as a branding iron seared your forearm with a crimson F for “Forsaken”, and as you cried out, the fat sergeant of the guard who presided over the branding, beat you with a club until you were unconscious. After several hours you awoke in a cell and reeling from the pain you found yourself chained hand and foot to six other prisoners who were also awaiting execution.
For twenty years you have had to hide your heritage. As a child you watched as your father hid his ability and religion from the cowering peasantry when he should have been embracing the power inside of himself instead. In your lifetime you have seen scholars have their books burned for heresy and then be burned at the stake for possessing them. You have seen wizards stoned to death for the ability to cast forbidden cantrips and watched as the church of Mitra slowly closed their iron fist around the influence of the learned. You have seen all of this and more and it has made you hate your homeland for their blind fear of the unknown.
As a girl you watched Naeri Corin embrace the faith of Mitra. At first you were able to listen to his blind platitudes, but over time his ignorance was more then you could handle and your frustration grew into anger and then into hatred. To make matters worse, you watched as his faith opened up doors as a wizard that was closed to non-believers. Frustrated and angry you turned to your father, and it was by his hand that he guided you to your faith in the Dark Lord.
It was by his tutelage that you came to learn of the old religions. Like you he had grown frustrated as knowledge had become censored and he watched his friends were dragged away during the purges. Through him you came to know Asmodeus, Lord of Darkness, First of the Fallen and Keeper of All Knowledge. It was in the cold truth of knowledge that you found peace. The Dark Prince may be evil, but he did not pretend to be otherwise. Asmodeus did not ask for forgiveness or understanding, he asked for a price, and that was something far more honest than what the so called “Lord of Light” asked for.
Making your decision, you began your personal quest for knowledge and power, willing to pay the price for such things. You saved for years and prepared yourself meticulously. You spent every coin you had in an attempt to summon an Erinyes and strike a dark bargain for power. You watched as the slowly gathering energy of the ritual built into a climax, and then, like the sap that struck you, it came crashing down in the blink of an eye.
Captured and forced to your knees, you watched as the gathered energy fled from the room. Towering over you, the witch hunter clamped you in chains and dragged you before the church where your sentence was swiftly passed.
And so it was that you came to find yourself in Branderscar Prison for the crime of consorting with dark powers. Your clothes and all personal belongings were burned in front of you. Your precious books cast into the flames, and now the only things you possess is the ragged prison uniform on your back. Upon your arrival you were held down as a branding iron seared your forearm with a crimson F for “Forsaken”, and as you cried out, the fat sergeant of the guard who presided over the branding laughed. After it was over you were dragged into a cell where you found yourself chained hand and foot to six other prisoners who were also awaiting execution.
They say that every grand performance warrants an encore, and that the best performances play upon the expectations of the audience. A grand pause between sets can create a far more dramatic effect then moving into the next section of an overture. You certainly hope so because you’re not ready for this to be your finale.
Like any good performance, yours began slowly, building up its pace over time. You recall the early years of your life and your father, Lord Catesby grieving for your mother. You remember his anger at her death at the hand of an inept Mitran priest who was unable to help her in her time of need. You remember the anger, frustration and hostility towards the church that he was never able to let go of.
Later you went onto study at the University of Ghaster. Despite not finishing your studies while there, you learned something far more important than history or engineering. You learned how much of a truism the phrase “blue beats black” really was. It was there, at the University of Ghaster that you first realized how distorted the interpretations of Mitras divine will really was. You saw the prideful ignorance of the clergy and its effect on your homeland and you knew something needed to change.
Five years after you began your studies at the university, your father became ill. After you returned home you learned the truth about your fathers past. Your father had always been mistrustful of the Mitran clergy following your mother’s death, and so despite worsening conditions he refused all treatments. As he slowly wasted away you sat by his side and listened as he told you of a time before Talingarde had bent knee to the religious hypocrisy of Mitra.
To compound the tragedy you watched as two years later your titles, heritage and land was taken from you by Lord Omer Wriothesley. You remember watching in shock as you were stripped of all of your holdings and they were passed to Lord Wriothesley. And then, with everything taken from you, you watched as your father died, cold and far from the home that was taken from him. It was then that you knew that Talingarde needed to change.
For months you plotted with your two oldest friends to right the imbalances within Talingarde. You had witnessed firsthand the power of the religious monarchy and the difference between those with power, and those without. And so after months of planning, you struck the first spark that would ignite the nation.
You remember planning the sealed chest within Lord Wriothesley’s carriage while he was on his way to the council meeting. You remember the feverish pause as you waited for the alchemical bomb to slowly tick away. And you remember watching the carriage as the bomb exploded, watching it become engulfed in fire, and watching the shambling figure of Lord Wriothesley stumble from the carriage, alive but maimed.
Your plan had been nearly perfect, and over the next few days you excitedly planned between yourself and Paullin further acts of terror to bring the city of Ghastenhall to its knees, not knowing of the viper within your midst. Two weeks later as you were returning from watching an evening performance at Barrington-in-the-Round Theater you were surrounded by group of red robed veteran soldiers of Mitra, led by Sir Balin, a Knight of Alerion. As you stood in the darkened street facing down ten loaded crossbow, Sir Balin brandished forth a writ of apprehension. Seeing no other option but death, you surrendered and before the week was out you had been tried and sentenced for your crimes.
And so it was that you came to find yourself in Branderscar Prison for the crimes of sedition and treason. Your fashionable green and red doublet and all personal belongings were burned, and now the only thing you possess is the ragged prison uniform on your back. Upon your arrival you were held down as a branding iron seared your forearm with a crimson F for “Forsaken”, and as you cried out, the fat sergeant of the guard who presided over the branding spit in your face. Reeling from the pain you were thrown into a cell and chained hand and foot to six other prisoners who were also awaiting execution.
You can remember a time before the darkness, before death. You remember the day that you graduated with honors from the University of Fairchester, your father watching you as you took your diploma. You can recall the day you met Penelope, how beautiful she was, how kind and caring. You remember the birth of Tomas and then Rosaline, each of them a blessing. You remember the way your wife smiled and the way that Tomas would hug you. In the darkness of your dreams you can remember it all, and then you wake and you forget it once more.
Like the foggy nights of Ghastenhall harbor, you live your life in a haze. Your wife is not gone, and Tomas and Rosaline are growing stronger by the day. You recall your family coming down with a sickness, but they recovered, stronger and healthier than before. Each night when you return home from work they are their waiting for you.
You forget why you quit your job as a doctor. You must have had a good reason, but you can’t recall it anymore. What you do remember is taking a job as a grave digger at the Old Barcan Cemetery. It was hard work, but you got to be outside. You could set your own hours and there was something peaceful about the quiet manicured lawns. You even made a few friends who you would help out for the occasional gift for your wife and children. Life was good, until the whispers began.
It all started after you read those books your friend loaned you. In fact you can distinctly recall him offering them to you, insisting you take them. Once you read them, you understood why he wanted you to have them. Inside they spoke of great and powerful rituals. Detailed upon the fine vellum parchment, it was described ways of returning spirits back from the veil of death. Intrigued you read on, and as you did so the whispers began.
Promises, seductive and dark were made. The voice spoke of your wife Penelopy and your son Tomas and daughter Rosaline, healthy, strong and pure. ”All of this and more I can grant you.” The voice whispered. And so, caught in your madness and love for your family you did what the voice said. In the dead of night, you followed the directions of the dark voice, leading you onward towards the shrine of Mitra located on the cemetery grounds. On the witching hour you daubed the runes of power and made the sacrifices of blood. You called upon your dark patron and completed the ritual.
The next day as you had sat down with your wife and children for dinner, the door to your small house was kicked in by several Knights of Alerion. There in front of your family you were arrested for desecration. You watched as your wife and children stood there mutely in shock. As you were dragged away you watched as your family was also carted off before the house that you had built for them was burned to the ground.
And so you came to find yourself in Branderscar Prison for the crime of desecration. Your only remaining link to your family, your daughters doll was taken from you as evidence, your clothes and all personal belongings were burned, and now the only thing you possess is the ragged prison uniform on your back. Upon your arrival you were held down as a branding iron seared your forearm with a crimson F for “Forsaken”, and as you cried out, the fat sergeant of the guard who presided over the branding laughed. Reeling from the pain you were thrown into a cell and chained hand and foot to six other prisoners who were also awaiting execution.