So a shadowkin and a lizardman walk into Gelaham. The problem with this is that situations like this don’t have punch lines. Or happy endings. Lizardmen portend an invasion, and shadowkin are an abomination of the Light.
Skirting the foot of Holy Mount Gela for some way to ascend without being seen leads you to a small, hidden camp in the shadows of the eternal noon that bathes the mountain. Home to those not welcome in the temple – thieves, wizards, unbelievers – you find a human messenger willing to convey word of your arrival to the High Temple. You browse through the eclectic array of goods in the local black market while waiting for your messenger to return. By nightfall – irrelevant on the mountain itself, of course – you have your reply: the High Priest is expecting you.
The next morning, you’re met at the base of the terraced front of the mountain by a small squad of paladins and a cleric. The paladins all look at Chance more intently than seems healthy. The cleric ignores him, focusing instead on Fuerte as he hands the lizardman a softly gleaming silver orb on a heavy chain. “Wear this while you’re in the settlement. The people may not trust you, but they will not kill you. The sooner you can conclude whatever business it is you have and move on the better.” At that, he turns to look at Chance. “I wouldn’t bother waiting for your friend.”
The cleric turns away, and the paladins move into formation around Chance. “Come, fallen one,” the cleric says, leading the way up the mountain. “The day of your judgment has waited too long already.” With a gesture to Fuerte that is both a goodbye and an admonition against attacking the humans, Chance bows his head as he is led up the mountain to the High Temple, leaving his friend standing alone, clutching a shiny ball on a chain.
The passage through the gates and halls of the Grand High Temple of the Light is at once painfully familiar and hauntingly alien. The statues of the saints still stand in the candlelit alcoves, and the ornate, stone columns still hold up the weight of the mountain pressing forever down upon your head. But gone is the familiar thrill that comes from walking into the presence of the Light. Gone is the ambience of peace and joy that always came to you as you walked into the sanctuary. Gone is the welcoming smile of the High Priest.
“You are no longer Adain,” he says as you kneel before him at the foot of the altar. “You are corrupted. Fallen. Despicable. Unworthy of the title of paladin that once you held so dear. And I speak not only of the corruption of your flesh, though that too is an abomination. I speak too of your actions, for you have strayed far from the path of the Light. We should kill you where you stand and be done with it.” He pauses, and you cringe, waiting for the blow to fall.
“But even through all this,” he goes on after a moment, “even through the shadows that cling to you, body, mind, and soul, the Light manages to shine through. And this, Chance…” He pauses again, and you look up to see him frowning down at you. “This is a puzzle. The shadowkin are forsaken by the Light, torn from its glow by the dark rituals that create you. But still your soul shines. This could destroy the faith of our flock even more than the setting of the sun: a shadowkin paladin.”
“So tell me, and know that your fate hangs in the balance of your response. Tell me, you who were once Adain, how is it that your soul still shines? What would you do with this chance at redemption before you? Why should we not kill you on the spot? And what can we expect from you in return for our benevolence?”
Finally the High Priest finishes, and Chance realizes that he is being asked a question. A chance at redemption, as if! Surely the High Priest is clinging to a false hope, to something that can never be. Chance raises his head, stands to his feet and takes off his mask. Underneath is a visage that he has tried to hide for such a long time, as he couldn’t bear to look on this the ruination of his once proud face. For it stands as a miror, as a reflection of the ruination of his own soul.
“Look upon the face of Ruination,” he says as the mask falls to the ground behind it a face with but a few pieces of flesh still clinging to it. What the shadowkin had left was dried out now, and more like the skin of a mummy. In patches the skull itself was becoming visible, and the only thing that still stands clear, the only thing that still looks remotley human are the clear blue of his eyes.
“Your right in the fact that Adain is no more, he died on the torture tables of the shadowkin flay masters.” Adain lets a shiver loose as he remebers the feel of those knifes on his flesh. Gathering will he contiunes to speak.
“I often have denied to those who I travel with, the memory of who I was, and the things I did. The truth is I remeber everything. I remeber the parts that I could control, as well as the parts that I could not. To say that Adain could surive any of those things would be a lie. The process of corruption, and the things he was subjected too killed him as surely as a blade through the heart. What was left was merely an echo of what he once was. Yes I recall it all, and would give anything that I did not.”
Adain looks around the room, then speaks once again.
“In truth the coruption of Adain began long before the ruination of his body, back on the Isle he found himself under the thrall of the Shadowkin with out anyway to fight the darkness that was slowly replacing the light that once was his driving force. There he sat helpless traped in his own body as it laid slaughter to inocents, as it participated in acts that would poison his soul to its core. In truth by the time he was delivered to the flaymasters his soul was very nearly broken already for the acts that he had been forced to commit by his own hand. When he arrived he tried to strenghen his resolve, but the flay masters set in on him. It took months for them to do their work, before they killed him they worked over evey part his body. Peeling skin from muscle, muscle from bone.
As he speaks, Chance begins to take of his armor, revealing a body that is riddled with scars, flesh that is held on to bone with stiching. Something that barley resembles a human being. When he is done he looks around and begins his story anew.
“They made whole what they deystroyed as needed, for the undead they were very proficent at keeping someone alive through the most ungodly process. They made him beg for death, for sweet release, and finally they gave it to him. Adain died and I awoke on the slab that had become his resting place. Somehow my mind was my own, and I fled. It took me awhile to realize that if I tried hard enoungh that I could still touch the light, its their but covered in grime and muck. It hurts to touch it, but once embraced eases the pain for awhile. But easier to touch is the darkness and shadow I can feel working its way through the veins which once flowed with blood. I have tried to do right since my awakening, tried to deny the things that I know that I have done, but the shadow works its way through me and corrupts what good I try to do. I can withstand in stretches and maintain the beliefs that I once held so dear for a little while. But the shadow eventually works its way back into me, and I find myself heading down roads I do not want to travel. Still I fight, for what is left of Adain’s soul is willing, and the brief touches of the light are enoungh to give me brief shots of hope. You ask why I should be granted Redemption, I answer I do not deserve redemption, but can’t gather the strength to not try. I have become something ruined, as you say but am given glmpses of what I once was. Perhaps the best thing that could happen would be for you to tell these men, to draw blade and drive it through my heart! End this life of pain, these small tortures of what I once was! I do not have the strength to do so my self, and the small glimpses of the light I find, give me enoungh hope to keep going until the shadow works its way back in.”
With that Adain kneels again, and looks up at high priest waiting for the sword blade to fall, deep down a small drop of hope still clinging to his soul.
The High Priest listens, impassive, to your entire speech. He watches you for several minutes after you are done, kneeling before the altar. Finally, he raises a hand, and the paladins nearest you tighten their grips on their swords. “We will not kill you directly,” he says after another pause. “But should the Light decide you are to die, then die you will.” With his raised hand, he waves you away, and the paladins grab you and guide you deeper into the Temple.
As you climb flight after flight of stairs, you realize before long where you are going. Your heart begins to race as you approach the final doorway and step onto the summit of Holy Mount Gela and into the presence of the Divine Light itself. Never before have you felt such pain as caused by the searing radiance of the Light upon your undead flesh. Even the knives of the shadowkin pale in comparison, for the Light burns straight through to your shadowed soul. You scream and writhe, but the paladins are implacable, and they march you across the bare stone of the summit and toss you bodily into the heart of the Light.
The pain magnifies a thousandfold, and you collapse upon yourself into the white void of the Light. You would fall to the ground and weep were there ground to fall to. You cannot tell if you are falling, flying, or moving at all, for there is no external reference, nothing other than the unbroken brilliance, the rainbow scintillations, the iridescent explosions that make up the heart of the Light. Light and life fill your undead form with the most exquisite pain until you are sure you must burst from them.
But burst you do not. And when at last you manage to focus your eyes, you realize you are not alone. A pair of armored feet stand before your tear-streaked face, and when you look up, you find a pair of clear blue eyes look back down at you. The knight reorients himself until you are no longer lying at his feet, but standing before him, eye-to-eye. You stare at him in disbelief, for it is none other than yourself standing before you – you when you were still alive and whole.
He smiles at your surprise. “There are worlds other than yours, Chance,” he says, “as I’m sure my friends – your friends – have tried to tell you. I had to rely on them to bring me this far, and for that, the Light found me unworthy to return to the mortal realms. But you arrived of your own volition. You are stronger than I.”
The form of the healthy Adain blurs and shimmers before reforming, somehow brighter and fuller than before. You drop to your knees immediately, for even surrounded by the unbounded creative forces at the heart of the Light, you can feel that the soul of the Adain before you is no longer just Adain, but an avatar of the Light itself.
“What was done to you was unjust,” Adain says, and the radiance around you sings in response. “The shadowkin too must propagate, but they need not torture in the process. Your body is broken and your mind twisted, but your soul remains untouched. Even their dark magicks could not extiguish the glow We bestowed upon you. It is within Our power to restore your body, replenish your mind.” Adain raises a hand. “With but a gesture, it could be done.”
Then Adain lowers the hand. “But We will not, for We have greater plans in store for you. We do not have need of another paladin. Our faithful bring light to the darkness every day. We have more need for one removed. You are now a creature of darkness, and We cannot use you to bring light anywhere. But you are an innocent wronged, a victim of grave injustice. You cannot be a beacon of light, but you can bring justice to the twilight.”
Adain steps forward and places a hand on your head. “Go forth now, as Our Justicar. Use Our light to defy all injustice. To protect all innocents. Even if that means you must stand opposed to Us. Arise.” With that command, the presence of the avatar fades, and you stand to face the spirit of the living you. He smirks, and before you can respond, steps directly into you. You gasp, and you suddenly hear his voice, your voice, the voice of the Light, whispering inside your mind. “And never again say that Adain is no more. Adain’s body is dead, but that is not truly Adain.”
You blink, and suddenly you are back on the summit of Holy Mount Gela, the High Priest standing alone before you. He nods, unfazed by your sudden reappearance. “The Light said you would return today, and here you are.” He chuckles at your surprised expression. “You’ve been gone over two months, Adain. Or is it Chance still?” He raises a hand to stop your response. “No matter. That is between you and the Light. I am here for two reasons. The first is to show you out of Gelaham. The second is to give you this.”
The High Priest reaches into his robe and draws forth a beautiful bastard sword. The hilt is adorned with the silver orb of the Light, and it seems to shimmer and gleam in the radiance of the heart of the Light behind you. “It fell to the ground the day you were tossed into the Light,” the High Priest tells you. “We assumed it was yours and were going to destroy it, but the Light stopped us. It’s apparently a gift directly from the Light to you.”
He holds it out, and you gently take it from him. For an instant after you grasp it, the silvery blade flares and becomes a gleaming shard of pure light before returning to its metallic form. “It knows you,” the High Priest says, turning to lead you back into the mountain. “It is called the Redemption of Adain. I would keep it close, for I suspect that as the Light now rekindled in you grows stronger, so to will your blade.”
You talk to him of your experiences in the heart of the Light, and he listens closely, nodding the entire time. “Then you know that it is the Light’s will that you be banished,” he says when you are finished. He stops at the main entrance to the High Temple and turns to face you directly. You nod. “Then go forth recognized as a Justicar of the Divine Light, esteemed by the High Temple, and banished forever from human lands.” He shrugs. “Unless the Light tells us to let you back in, of course.” The two of you laugh. “Go on, Chance. And keep Adain safe.” You turn away and walk straight down the mountain, clutching Adain’s Redemption as you go.