Monday, June 9, 2014

Fiction - Tyranny of the Stars, Part VI: Passage

Tyranny of the Stars by Robert Brookes.
This week has been a busy one for the Encounter Table, we have a new interview that will be coming out soon along with this month's Golarion Spotlight feature. There's also only three more weeks until Paizocon, and if you will be attending this year, signup for open events begins soon! Hop on over to to look at the events lists and make sure you sign up as soon as you are able to!

Today's new installment of Tyranny of the Stars introduces a solemn new character who will be joining the entourage in Alkenstar, and the Between the Lines article following this chapter introduces the apostate cleric archetype. Let us know what you think of Tyranny of the Stars and the apostate cleric archetype in the comments!

Tyranny of the Stars, Part VI: Passage

"All life is but passage; journey and destination."

Crackling firelight sheds uncomfortable warmth on a crowd of black-clad mourners. A dozen men and women stand in a half-circle around a horizontal pair of metal rails with smooth, steel rollers crossed between them like rungs on a ladder. The subtle incline of the rails leads down to the source of the firelight, the glowing mouth of a stone furnace, its double iron doors swung wide to reveal the inferno beyond.

"We are all travelers. We are all walkers of the spiral, searching for its end."

A casket rests at the head of the rails, held in place by an iron pin slid through a metal eyelet. A bouquet of wildflowers rests atop the casket, a multicolored scarf with elaborate embroidery and patterning wrapped around them. The man speaking is a tall and wiry gentleman with sun-weathered skin and steel gray hair cut quite short. He stares with glassy eyes into the fire, clutching a silver medallion tightly in both hands. None of the mourners he stands side-by-side with look at him, their faces scrunched up in expressions of regret, sadness, and anger.

"This—This one's journey has come to its next turn on the spiral."

Stepping over to the casket, the gray-haired old priest reaches down to pull the pin out from the casket, allowing it to roll freely down the rails on a slow descent towards the roaring flames. When the casket begins to roll towards the flames, one of the mourners—a steely looking young man with dark eyes, coppery hair, and a square jaw—levels an intense stare at the priest. He doesn't move, save for a tension visible in his jaw and a tremble in his lowered brow. When he and the priest briefly make eye contact, both look away from one another and into the fire.

"We commit the body of Allisia Czanis to the flame."

There's a weakness in the old priest's voice, one that betrays complex emotions to the mourners. He swallows, raggedly, on delivering that line while watching the casket reach the end of the rails and begin its slide into the fire. The wood begins to smoke immediately, the flowers blacken and crisp, then burst into flames along with the multicolored scarf they're wrapped in. Squaring his jaw and trying to steady himself, the old priest approaches the iron doors and swings them shut with gloved hands. The last sight the mourners see of their departed is a casket wreathed in flames, then those heavy doors shut and the hall is thrown into darkness dappled with muted candlelight.

"Though this journey ends, another begins. The spiral turns onward, and so to do we along with it."

It takes a long moment for the priest to willingly let go of the furnace doors, listening to muffled sobs and whispers of the mourners at his back. Footsteps, soon enough, join the echos of grief as the friends and family of the deceased begin departing the crematorium hall. The priest refuses to turn until he hears footsteps no longer, but when he turns around there is a single man left in the room. Familiar, dark eyes stare at the priest with not the grief of the other mourners, but a fiery anger as hot as the furnace. The two exchange no words, just a long moment of leaden silence that smolders with unstated emotion. Finally, the young man turns to leave out the same arched door the others did, his boots echoing on the marble floor until they are as faint a sound as the priest's own breathing.

It's only then that the priest finally breaks, letting himself crumple down to the floor and slouch up against the stone wall beside the furnace. His medallion falls from limp fingers with a heavy report of metal on stone, wobbling noisily until finally becoming still. Cradling his head in his hands, the priest lets out a keening whine followed by a strangled sob, his shoulders trembling and jaw quavering.

He is too ashamed to weep, struggling to keep the sounds of his own personal grief held behind an ever-thinning thread of strength. Struggling to compose himself, he paws at his face to wipe away tears. One gloved hand rests over his mouth, concealing teeth pressed down into his bottom lip to still its trembling.

"Father Czanis?" The sound of a woman's voice from the crematorium's entrance sends a jolt of movement through his narrow frame. Hastily scrambling to his feet, the old priest wipes again at his face and tries to turn himself aside so as to hide his shame. He can see the silhouette of a woman in a short cloak stepping into view, backlit by the brighter, multi-colored light shed through stained-glass windows of the cathedral beyond the crematorium.

"I'm sorry if I've come at an inopportune time," the visitor apologizes, her boots clicking with measured rhythm on the floor as she approaches. Father Czanis notices her short bob of dark hair, pale skin, a charcoal gray cloak and buttoned vest, black breaches and riding boots. A cane clicks between each step, its cap a glossy black dragon's head reflecting candlelight; Fine clothing, good posture, a noble's bearing and Chelish features.

Shaking his head dismissively to the notion, Czanis kneels down to pick up his medallion, brushing gloved fingers over the etched spiral emblem on its face. "It's fine," he lies, standing straight once more. "I'm—was there something I can assist you with?" The Chelish woman tilts her head to the side, tucking her cane under one arm as she offers out a hand to the priest.

"Korva Hightower," she introduces herself with a mild smile. "I was directed to you by your fellow clergyman Aloris Brune. I understand that you have visited the lower wards of Alkenstar to administer aid to the poor living in the tunnels?"

"Yes," is all he can muster in response with an apparent fatigue. While the old priest appreciates the distraction for what it is, he can't bring himself to focus entirely on whatever this noblewoman wants of him. His mind is still in the incinerator, still wrapped in smoke and regret.

"Father Czanis, I'm—"

"Safan," Father Czanis corrects her, "please. I'm not—I'm tiring of titles and..." he dithers, wringing his hands around his medallion.

"Safan, then," Korva concedes, lowering the tip of her cane down to the floor with a soft click, both hands folded over the dragon's head. "I know you're a busy member of the Pharasmin clergy, but I'm putting together a team for an expedition, and I've been told that you're—"

"Not interested," Safan finishes Korva's sentence for her. She grimaces, fleetingly, then presses the issue.

"Safan. There is a small group of people that will be heading to the tunnels below Alkenstar with or without you. Two of them are practically children, and I need someone familiar with the local inhabitants as well as the natural—and unnatural—hazards they'll encounter." Flicking a look over to the furnace, Korva's brows briefly furrow. "I understand you have personal matters to attend to, but these people's well-being rests on—"

"Then don't go." Safan's stern rebuke is strained through clenched teeth. "Is whatever you're looking for down there worth their lives?" Korva doesn't immediately answer, instead fidgeting with her cane.

"More," she finally answers, looking down at the floor. When her gaze alights back to Safan's, Korva has rediscovered her resolve. "It's worth more than their lives, worth more than ours, worth more than everyone in this city. I wouldn't be here—now—asking you to do this if it wasn't important." Reaching into her cloak, Korva withdraws a sealed envelope from an interior pocket and hands it over to Safan. She doesn't explain, nor does she need to.

The wax seal is stamped with the royal sigil of the Grand Duchess Trietta Ricia of Alkenstar. Safan looks down at it incredulously, then looks up at Korva with that expression intensified. Cracking the wax seal, he unfolds the letter and scans the exquisite calligraphy with haste. Halfway through he looks back up to Korva, his expression now one of frustration layered over grief.

"I'm compelled to assist you?" Safan parrots the wording of the letter back to Korva. "I'm not even a citizen of Alkenstar, if the Duchess thinks she can compel me to do anything she can—" Before he says something that could land him in a damp cell, Safan cuts himself off. Exhaling an uneven sigh, he grips the letter tightly with a crinkle of the paper. Instead of more words, he stares intently at Korva with an unspoken expectance.

"You have two days to put your affairs in order," Serana quietly explains, trying not to further test the priest's patience. "The remaining details are included in the letter. I'd prefer not to have to pursue this matter with the Duchess further, but if you aren't—"

"I'll be there," Safan practically growls the words out. His stare doesn't leave Serana's, challenging her to continue talking. There's a long, awkward moment of silence between the two before Serana dips her head into a slight bow. She turns away from the priest afterward, making her way out of the crematorium with the same steady pace of bootfalls interspersed with clicks of her cane as before. Once she's gone, Safan looks back down at the letter, his jaw tensing and eyes taking on that glassy look in the candlelight once more. Looking at the letter once more, Safan scans the title line one more time.

Interim stay of trial by royal decree of the Grand Duchess.

Safan's grip on the paper tightens, and he trembles with anxiety.

Between the Lines

Apostate (Cleric Archetype)

In a crisis of faith, some clerics find their beliefs shattered and are unable to commit themselves to worship as they once did. While apostates turn their back on their god, their god does not yet accept this denial and continues to bestow some power in the hopes that the apostate turns away from their denial of faith and rediscovers what they have lost.

Ex-Cleric: An apostate is considered an ex-cleric. However, due to the way they achieved this status (personal abandonment of faith, rather than breaking code of conduct or other such violation) they may still gain levels in cleric. If an apostate ever seeks atonement and returns to the faith, he loses the apostate archetype and is no longer an ex-cleric.

Alignment: An apostate must remain within one step of his former deity's alignment. An apostate who'se alignment changes outside of these boundaries becomes an ex-cleric and loses the apostate template.

Channel Penance (Su) At 1st level when an apostate performs a penance for her apostasy (see "Changing Alignment" in Ultimate Campaign) she may use the channel energy ability for one hour. If the apostate channels positive energy and uses this ability to heal a member of her former faith, she receives a +1 morale bonus on attack rolls, saving throws, and skill checks for 1 round per apostate level. This morale bonus increases by +1 at 3rd level and every 2 levels thereafter. This ability replaces channel energy.

Enlivening Obedience (Su) Whenever an apostate performs an action that qualifies as a deific obedience of her former deity (whether he intended to perform the obedience or not) the apostate heals a number of hit points equal to twice her apostate level. This ability replaces domains.

Resist Temptation (Su) At 1st level an apostate gains spell resistance equal to 10 + 1/2 her apostate level against enchantment, charm, and compulsion spells. This ability replaces spellcasting and orisons.

Open Content: The game mechanics of this game product are Open Game Content, as defined in the Open Gaming License version 1.0a Section 1(d).


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