The Verdant Passage
Tlaloc, level 8
Half-Elf Hybrid Ardent/Warlock (Avangion Pact)
Background: Draj – Exiled Moon Priest
Str 11, Con 17, Dex 10, Int 16, Wis 8, Cha 20.
AC: 22 Fort: 20 Reflex: 22 Will: 22 (+2 vs opportunity attacks)
HP: 64 Surges: 9 Surge Value: 16
Arcana +12, Bluff +14, Endurance +14, Streetwise +14
Level 1: Hybrid Talent
Level 2: Disciplined Talent [Multiclass Psion]
Level 4: Focused Talent [Multiclass Psion]
Level 6: Rod Expertise
Level 8: Heavy Blade Expertise
Warlock At-Will: Preserver’s Radiance
Ardent At-Will: Healing Strike
Warlock daily 1: Armor of Aramis
Theme: Templar’s Fist
Warlock utility 2: Beguiling Tongue
Warlock encounter 3: Word of Pain
Ardent daily 5: Tlaloc’s Psionic Drain
Ardent utility 6: Psionic Fury
Warlock encounter 7: Glimpses of the Future
Dilettante: Arkin’s Concussive Spike
Multiclass: Zaidah’s Dimensional Scramble
Master Preserver: Vital Spell
Sword of Petrides, Rod of the Shadow Walker +1, Warmage’s Uniform +2, Cloak of the Bat +3, Boots of the Dryad
3 years ago: “North and east of the city-state of Draj is a region of salt marshes, scrub plains, dust sinks, and mudflats known as the Dry Marsh. Fields of dryreeds taller than a half-giant and sharp as obsidian dot the region, forming a natural labyrinth known as the Maze of Draj. Today escaped slaves, freed by brazen subversives, hide among the reeds.”
“Normally not a problem. Enough predators inhabit the reed tangles to ensure that these fugitives meet their end, eventually. But today is different. Today the subversives are a cadre of druids, who in their insolence steal their primal power from the Father of Life, Tectuktitlay. I don’t suppose I can get an ‘Amen,’ my friend?”
In response, the zombie vomited forth a stinking liquid and continued to lumber forward. Tlaloc had not expected a reply from the creature, or any of the other dozen mindless undead walking with him through a narrow passage in the reeds.
“Neophyte Tlaloc! Shut your mouth for once!” The cry had come from the back, the place from which Acolyte Ollin did most of his leading. With Tlaloc, Ollin was the only other thinking member of this hunting party, though at times the neophyte had his doubts. Their band was one of a dozen searching the Maze for the fugitives and their druid allies. Two or three Moon Priests and a dozen zombie soldiers made up each hunting party. Moon Priests, like many templars of Athas, had an easy familiarity with the animated corpses who so often supplemented the army of their sorcerer-king.
After wandering for most the morning under the scorching red sun, Ollin called for a halt.
“You know Tlaloc, most of my fellow Acolytes thought I was foolish to select you for my party. Your reputation for laziness and impiety is well documented. Of course you can’t help it, being partially descended from elfkind.” Tlaloc made no reply, using most of his willpower to conceal his seething hatred for Ollin.
“But I knew your detestable elven blood would be of use out here in the wild.” This time, Tlaloc couldn’t conceal his puzzlement. “Don’t act surprised, neophyte. Use your elven tricks to track down our prey.”
“Your grace,” Tlaloc replied with appropriate deference, “I have never left the city before today. What do you expect I should…”
“Silence!” Ollin ordered. “Now use your elven skills to read the trails, or whatever it is you thieving freaks do.”
Tlaloc shrugged. He had no knowledge of the wilderness or tracking, but for the next two hours made an excellent show of navigating the Maze with purpose. At times the half-elf would stop and comment on how a particular reed had been bent or the purported meaning of a pebble selected at random. Ollin seemed none the wiser, and this only confirmed the Acolyte’s stupidity to Tlaloc.
They were both surprised when they made contact with the enemy. Turning a sharp corner of reeds, the hunting party found a group of escaped Draji slaves accompanied by a single guide. The druid wore worn boots held together with coarse twine, simple hides underneath a long and tattered black cloak. The druid’s only weapon was a long wooden staff, and he was ready for battle. With a gesture of his empty hand the reeds came to life and restrained the zombie soldiers. Tlaloc watched his undead allies struggle to join the battle.
“Out of the way,” cried Ollin as he advanced to duel the druid. Tlaloc did nothing, and found himself behind Ollin, looking past the combatants to the group of slaves. The half-elf noted some children among them.
Ollin raised his rod of office and knocked the druid off his feet with a blast of radiant energy. The reeds restraining the zombies began to wither and die, and the ground began to turn gray as the defiling powers of Ollin’s arcane spell took effect. The druid lay dazed on the ground; without aid he would not recover in time to defend against Ollin’s next attack.
“A fine catch Tlaloc!” Ollin sounded pleased. “These escaped slaves will make wonderful sacrifices. Especially the children; their blood does gleam when spilled on the altar. As for our savage friend,” Ollin indicated the prone druid, “His life will have to…”
Ollin never finished his pronouncement, as Tlaloc drew a dagger across his superior’s throat. The half-elf pushed the Acolyte to land face first in the mud.
The zombies advanced, but Tlaloc turned and uttered a powerful spell called the Decree of Tectuktitlay and ordered the undead to fight each other. By the time only one zombie remained, the druid had regained himself.
“What is the meaning of this?” He looked at Tlaloc with suspicion.
Tlaloc shrugged and looked down at Ollin. “Acolyte Ollin has fallen, meaning that there is now an opening at the rank of Acolyte. You and your charges will live, and perhaps I will advance to his position.”
The druid stared at Tlaloc for some time, and then smirked as if he had found something unexpected. “You noticed the children among the escaped slaves.”
Tlaloc scoffed. “I care nothing for the lives of slaves…”
“Don’t pretend,” the druid smiled as he placed a hand on Tlaloc’s shoulder. “A moon priest with a conscience: I would never have believed it until now.”
Me neither, thought Tlaloc.
“You did a good thing today.” The druid picked up his pack, and motioned for the fugitives to get ready to move. “If there’s something I can do to repay you…”
“Well,” Tlaloc thought for a moment, “Could you tell me how to navigate these reed fields?”
Ten months ago: The cloth bag pulled roughly from his head, the bearded man blinked as his eyes adjusted to the dim light. About a dozen men stood in the shadows, swords drawn. The bearded man struggled against ropes, restrained to a chair in a seated position.
“Do you recognize where you are, Mecatl?” The voice that used his given name came from behind him.
The bearded man looked around. With fear he recognized a house he owned, secret from his wife and family.
“Answer me.” The voice commanded and walked into view. The speaker was dressed in decorative headdress and the amulets of authority given only to Moon Priests, the Templars of Draj.
“Is this your house, Mecatl?” The bearded man nodded.
“What’s in those trunks, Mecatl?” The Templar looked in the direction of trunks lined against the wall. With his head turned, Mecatl noticed that the Moon Priest had pointed ears. A rare half-elf among the ranks of the city’s Templars.
“Let me show you, Mecatl.” The bearded man tried and failed to choke out a protest before the half-elf walked over to kick open one the chests. Mecatl’s contraband business was exposed. His fate was sealed – those who defy the will of Tectuktitlay are sacrificed on the God’s Altar.
The Moon Priest bent over to lift out the contraband material: a leather-bound book, one of many in Mecatl’s collection. The moon-priest shook his head.
The bearded man let out a wail as tears began to stream down his face. “Centehua! Centehua!” he cried.
“Mecatl, look at me.” The moon-priest was now kneeling in front of his captive, their eyes locked.
“Why are you saying that? ‘Centehua?’ Is that your wife?” The bearded man nodded.
“I didn’t abduct you out of your house in the dead of night to see you sacrificed on the altar.”
Mecatl’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t understand what was happening.
The moon priest was now speaking with one of the armed men in short clipped phrases. They spoke elven: the thieves’ tongue. Mecatl understood enough to figure out those armed men weren’t soldiers.
When the moon priest spoke again, it was in the common tongue. “Mecatl, listen closely and you’ll see Centehua before the sun rises. These men need a secluded place to hide out while they conduct their business in the city. Their business, in case you’re curious, is not your concern.”
“We need to relocate these books, so we’re going to trade houses. You and I are going to move these books to a new location. A place I just received for…some unofficial services.”
Things began to become clearer for Mecatl. He had heard of corruption in the ranks of the Moon Priests; here was living proof. Later, as he and the half-elf skulked through the darkened streets with a cart full of contraband books, Mecatl realized that he had been drawn into a criminal web whose strands connected to this moon priest.
“It’ll be nice to have a private library to consult from time to time.” The half-elf gazed covetously at the heavy trunks sitting in the wagon.
Mecatl finally found his voice to respond. “It’ll be nice to have a Templar to consult from time to time.”
The half-elf glared, but seemed to expect this. “Of course, come to me with your problems – don’t involve any of my brother priests.”
“What do I call you?”
Leaving for good: Tlaloc had never known welcome, living for all his life as a pariah. A half-elf among the Moon Priests of Draj, zealous templars who worship the Sorcerer-king Tectuktilay as a god, Tlaloc was both respected and reviled. Moon Priests of equal rank were envious of the wide network of contacts he had developed but were convinced his elven blood made him lax and impure. Moon Priests of higher rank barely knew of his existence. A half-brother in the Elven market was pleased to have kin within the city’s bureaucratic enforcers, but could never show real trust to a servant of Tectuktilay.
Gradually, Tlaloc recited the prayers with less enthusiasm, his voice lower than the reverent intoning of the Moon Priests around him. Alone among his fellows, Tlaloc began to question his belief.
This crisis of faith came to a head when Tlaloc led a squad of brutes to crush a cell of the Veiled Alliance. Tlaloc and his minions efficiently went about their deadly business until only a lone wizard remained. Bloodied and defeated, the last of the Veiled Alliance cell stumbled to regain her footing.
Tlaloc recognized her as Citlali, a stoneworker he had personally allowed into the city a month ago. Draj was a notoriously xenophobic place, but also constantly in need of skilled labor. Doubtless the Veiled Alliance had learned this when concocting Citlali’s cover story.
The templar spoke: “Well Citlali, it seems I have allowed you into Draj, now I will take you out of it.” Gloating over Tectuktilay’s enemies was a point of pride for the Moon Priests, and Tlaloc’s boasts were known to be more clever than most. This moment would fill any moon priest with great pride, but at this moment Tlaloc felt nothing but great emptiness.
Citlali spat out her final, desperate words. “Tectuktilay is no god. He has no divinity, you soldiers have no honor, and you,” she paused turning to look Tlaloc in the eye, “You have no soul.”
Rage overcame the half-elf, and he blasted the mage to pieces. Yet the rage he felt was not at the boldness of the mage to question Tectuktilay. He was angered because he knew in his heart that she was right. He could not have a soul, because he had stopped believing that Tectuktilay was a god.
That night, the Citlali’s spirit came to Tlaloc as he slept in the barracks.
“Why did you kill me?” she asked the templar. “You do not believe, did not believe as you threw the eldritch blast that ended my life.”
Tlaloc did not know. The accusing spirit of the mage haunted him that night through to the next day, always posing the same question.
Eventually everything came down to that question. Why stay when you have no belief? Why serve when you’ve lost your taste for violence?
On the day Tlaloc was to receive a commendation for stamping out the Veiled Alliance in Draj, Tlaloc quietly slipped away from the city with a cadre of departing nomads. Quickly separating himself from the caravan, Tlaloc wandered the desert. If he thought the haunting would cease when Draj vanished behind the horizon, he was wrong.
“I have freed you from bondage,” Citlali’s ghost spoke with something like satisfaction. “Now you know truth, Tlaloc. Tectuktilay and the other sorcerer-kings defile the land.”
“You have a chance to reverse your life of evil. Oppose the sorcerer-kings and walk the preservers’ path. Your redemption may give my death some meaning.”
“Defile and I will haunt you until you become a shade just like you made me!"
Nearly driven mad by the mage’s spirit, Tlaloc wandered into the hands of slavers from Raam. Ironically it is perhaps the safest place for him, as he has made enemies on both sides of the war between the Veiled Alliance and the Sorcerer-kings.