Hunter. Killer. Scholar. Ever looking for that which was lost. A last son of a dying race.
Character Sheet: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1FxY572VXKGy-cSEae6xwqs0h3kcZxxKpDkYmEedl3mc/edit#gid=1867984558
His appearance is as distinctive as his purpose. He is of average stature for an aasimar. His skin is a light almond color, similar to human races found in the south. But any sense of normality ends there. His head is shaved close to the scalp, but for a single thick braid of dark silver hair running down the back of his neck, and ending between his shoulder blades. It is studded with tiny beads of polished obsidian too numerous to count, hinting at some occult meaning.
He bears a lean, severe countenance, graven into his face through his long years of strife. His entire body is honed and strengthened by the practice of his deadly arts, though his wiry form leads many to underestimate his strength. His torso and arms are tattooed with enigmatic symbols of black and silver. Although much of their meaning is unclear, it grants him an aura of menace and lethality. A single, small tattoo adorns his forehead, just above his eyebrows. It is an eye, void of lids or lashes, with an intricate, swirling symbol of black and white as it’s pupil.
His own eyes are a piercing pale blue, like twin sapphires held in moonlight. They are eyes that miss nothing, scrutinizing the world through a lens of deep wisdom and hard lessons. He wears a chain mail shirt and leggings of exquisite craftsmanship, over which is a tunic of inky black leather etched with symbols similar to his tattoos. A hood of similar quality covers his braided head, casting shadows down to his grimacing lips, along with a pair of weathered leather boots.
His shoulders, knees, elbows and forearms are armored with plates of steel edged with black razors, hindering blade while brutalizing his foes at close range. The skin beneath his bladed bracers gradually fades into inky black feathers flecked with silver. These plumes of raven-like feathers follow the outer edge of his arms to flare out at the elbows, and meet the tails of tattoos coiling up to his shoulders.
His hands are bare, but in place of nails are talons as strong and dark as ebony flowing up his fingers and ending as hard plated knuckles. The right hand is adorned by a polished jet ring of strange geometric design, flaunting neither wealth nor affection. The left hand bears a mark of fiendish origins, branded into his flesh and hindering more agile manipulations.
He wears a traveler’s backpack of distinctive quality which leans to the right, and he bears a pouch at his waist. A simple longbow hangs on the left. He bears a guisarme of brutal design; the haft covered with tooled leather grips and etched with flowing Vudrani script. A quiver of arrows and other bits of gear cling tightly to straps or hooks on his pack.
Rhahim was born of the House of Benkhadra, a family of celestial ancestry dating back generations beyond count. They are known across the world as deadly hunters of both life and undeath, seeking to end the cursed abominations that escape the Circle, the flow of souls within the Spheres of Existence. His blood would prove the pivot upon which the events of his life turned, for good and for ill. To understand his plight and the path he now follows, one must first grasp the primary elements in which his life has been woven.
The Benkhadrans began in ancient times as a group of hunters in the wild, preying on all manner of beasts in the dark where the small embers of civilization had yet to reach. Pharasma, The Lady of Death observed these beings with growing interest, for it was her role in the cosmos to pass judgment on all who pass beyond the Veil. The souls of many victorious hunts and glorious defeats were brought before her. Their deeds soon began to surpass all others of their time. They grew powerful and wise, learned in the ways of the hunt and the wild. As the civilizations of Vudra began to take hold, they were brought in as sentinels of mankind, sheltering them from the terrors of the night. Word of their prowess began to spread, and inevitably it reached the ears of an ancient terror, one to match their deeds with blood and death.
The Vuln’Zura are a bloodline of Vetala reaching beyond even the Benkhadrans in lineage. They are rumored to be the descendants of Zura herself, the Vampire Queen of Azlant, the corrupter of mankind. Word reached them of these upstart hunters of the night. Such insolence shook them from their timeless slumber beneath the sands of Vudra. One by one the outer realms of men were besieged by the deathless Vetala vampires and their thralls. What began as skirmishes upon their borders soon flared into open war. For the Vetala possessed the unique ability to feed off the conscious minds of the living, the prana as it is called in Vudra, trapping their souls and stripping their minds of all volition.
They are said to be one of the first to master the arts of necromancy, and soon the Vudrani faced their fallen comrades in battle. It was this last stroke that unleashed the cold, calculating fury of Pharasma. The Circle of life and death was corrupted by these demonic fiends, and so she chose the Benkhadrans as her champions in the Material Plane. They became blessed by Death, ascending their human forms and joining with the divine. The heads of the Vudrani Pantheon, Irori and Dhalevei, vowed to put aside their differences and aid Pharasma in the destruction of this curse, and the healing of mankind. Neither wished to witness the extinction of their most valued worshipers. Both gods had many Garuda in their services, divine hunters of avian nature. It was their blood that was transfused with the Benkhadrans, gifting them with eyes that pierce the deepest shadows, and a timeless wisdom to match the cruelty of their foes.
But among all this, there was one blessing that defined their purpose for ages to come. Pharasma granted them an ability normally reserved for her deadliest servants: the Reapers. It is called the Khan-Shaii in Vudrani; the Soul Hunt. Pharasma infused their blood with the power to claim a soul in her name, be it living or undead, and hunt it as a bloodhound on the scent. This bond between predator and prey lasts until death, or until released at will. No matter where the prey flees, the Hunter will know. It can be triggered by the slightest of harms, as even the smallest cut brings the soul closer to the Veil. In that fleeting moment, the Khan-Shaiik makes his claim, and every blow upon their prey burns the vessel of their soul, until it is destroyed.
Granted with the power to match the Vetalan Curse, the Benkhadrans hunted the Vuln’Zura ceaselessly, until they had been expelled from the borders of Vudra. The war was fought viciously by both sides, succumbing to the brink of madness in order to ensure victory. Deeds of irredeemable cruelty were committed, something that the Benkhadrans chose nobly to lay bare for the world to see, unashamed in their triumph. They became the dark saviors of men, feared and loved. But still the threat of the Vuln’Zura lay at the edges of the wild. And their bitter hatred for the House of Benkhadra was as eternal as their cursed lives.
The tale of Rhahim begins millenia beyond this bygone war. The Vetala faded back into the shadows, biding their time, waiting with patience honed by immortality. Thus the guard upon the wild began to lessen. The lives and memories of men are fleeting in comparison, and even the Benkhadrans, blessed with thrice the lifespan of mankind, could not maintain their vigilance for long. Their House was still feared, and they trained ceaselessly in their deadly arts. But the world began to forget their deeds of old, and the lessons paid for by their ancestors’ blood. Following the Kavikuvai, or the Days of Shadow as it is called in Vudra, the Benkhadrans became akin to nobility, rising in status and political power to match their military might. In this long age of relative peace, the House sought other avenues in which to practice their trade. Some became hunters and guides of the wilderness, or bodyguards of the merchant lords within Katapesh. Many more served with distinction within the Vudrani Guard, with several becoming captains and generals of great renown.
And then there were others who pursued the grey edges of morality in the shadows, plying their trade for the highest bidder. But to say they were mere thugs for hire would be an insult. A splinter of the House began covert operations within other kingdoms, offering their services of subterfuge and assassination to a very select clientele. Death and war in itself did not phase them. These were natural phenomena within the great Circle, and they were all too pleased to act as instruments of Pharasma’s Will, as they called it. These killers embraced the heritage of the Khan’Shaii, and used this hunting ability to terrible effect. Tyrants rose and fell, and war flared up and was quenched in cold blood. Many sought the services of these famed but elusive dealers of Death, while others sought retribution and justice. Neither survived long if the hunters chose them as prey. And so the House flourished, branching outwards and colonizing other cities, creating a network of spies, assassins and priests in devotion to Pharasma and the Vudrani Gods. They never forgot their solemn duty, but it became more of an archaic tradition than a birthright, practiced in varying degrees throughout the House. Soon the feel of wealth and power began to outweigh their sense of vigilance.
Rhahim was a firstborn son within the Core Line, the direct descendants of Pharasma’s Chosen. His father Talhir was the brother of the Khan’Zolkir, the chief of the House and all its affairs. He was raised within the walls of the Inner District of Katapesh. His brother Rashir was born but a year and a half later. The two boys shared a bond of blood and spirit rarely seen so strongly within the family. They became inseparable, training, hunting, exploring and making all manner of mischief together. The Benkhadrans believed in letting children be children, until they came of age. They enjoyed all of life’s wonders and joys, so that their duties in the future became ever more dear to them, knowing what they protected and whom they truly served.
The brothers became infamous in their youths as fearless, inquisitive, and utterly mischievous. Wherever there lay a locked door, a hidden treasure, or some high place they were forbidden to go, you would be sure that they would find it. Endless hours were spent scaling the great sandstone towers and pyramids, playing tricks on unwary travelers and fighting mock battles with wooden swords on the rooftops. They watched each others’ backs in a city dominated by humans. Despite their heritage, they were often bullied or challenged by their peers, aiming to test their strength against the family’s reputation. Many of lesser blood within the House caved under the weight of such expectations, but the brothers proved staunch adversaries. They were cunning, and very strong for their age. They soon proved difficult prey for even the toughest thugs in the shadowed alleyways of Katapesh. And as they grew, they became the living images of their ancestors of old, with gleaming blue eyes and long braided hair of jet and silver. But they were not above danger yet.
By the time Rhahim was ten years old, he had been trained in many ways of weaponry and warfare. By day, he and his brother sparred in the courtyards of their family’s estate, or attended to their numerous studies in the ways of culture and the deeper mysteries. But even this did not sate their appetite for knowledge, nor their thirst for adventure. Many nights they would wander the moonlit streets, absorbing the culture of the night and testing their wit and ability against the myriad dangers in the shadows. They came across much discord and crime within the city, and sought to defend the helpless against the ruthless gangs of the Lower City, and the ever growing power of the Merchant Guilds.
Father knew of these nightly adventures, and even encouraged it, so long as they did not dive headfirst into danger. Even their Mother did not intervene, though she worried deeply for her sons despite their rapid growth. But one thing they did command, that neither brother was to take a life, in cold blood or not. They were still children, and were not yet prepared for the burden of the dead on their hearts. They obeyed without question, and took it as a challenge to punish the cruel bandits of the night without resorting to killing. They spent hours in the yard training with all manner of weapons in the techniques of nonlethal force, all under the watchful tutelage of Father and the Keep weaponmaster.
Rashir endeavored day and night to match or surpass his elder brother. He was courageous, and borderline foolhardy at times, taking risks and challenging even the most daunting of obstacles. He learned never to back down, even against a more powerful adversary. Rhahim on the other hand was the colder and more calculating of the two, weighing his actions before he took them. He inherited the far deeper wisdom of his ancestors, whereas Rashir embraced the fiercer aspects of the hunt. He perceived things more clearly, and favored caution and planning over rash actions. He was also far more soft spoken, and did not boast nor try to deceive others. He let the results of his actions speak for him. The two brothers counterbalanced each other, always striving to outperform the other to immeasurable detail, and yet they only grew closer as the years went on.
Their first true test came when Rhahim was twelve years old, in the form of a kidnapper and his crew, loyal servants of the Unseen Hand who were hired to capture them for an unknown client. A watch was placed on their nightly excursions into the Lower City, and there was laid an ambush. They were stalking along the shadowed paths of the Great Bazaar, searching for criminals and thugs to test their skills, when Rhahim caught the glimmer of blades up above. He shouted out to his brother, who noticed their foes but a moment later. Years of training took hold, and the fearlessness of youth still coursed through them. But their enemies were well prepared, and used the terrain to their advantage.
Rashir drew his sword and shield just as Rhahim raised his spear, moving back to back in memory of hard lessons in the yard. Three cloaked men on each side approached them slowly with raised spears, cutting off all hope of escape. Rashir gave a signal, and just as the brothers were about to charge to one end, heavy nets were cast upon them. They struggled mightily to cut themselves loose, but soon saw the futility of it. Several men with crossbows stood at the ready on the ledges above, and the men below had them surrounded by points of steel. Rhahim rarely took charge of his brother, but he realized the gravity of their situation, and commanded Rashir to surrender. With great reluctance, he obeyed.
They were brought into the heart of the criminal world underneath Katapesh. Their hands and legs were bound, and they were locked into separate cells in a cold, dank prison. Despite Rhahim’s admonitions, Rashir still struggled when he was bound, and his cords were wound tighter, and he was gagged. Rhahim feigned fear for his life, and was less securely tied. Even at his young age, he knew the uselessness of pride without means to enforce it. So he endured the taunts and jeers of his captors; a wolf playing the sheep. Solid stone walls separated the brothers, and even the smallest of sounds invited a lashing of a whip through the steel bars of the door. But Rhahim was not beyond hope. Their captors had forgotten who the Benkhadrans truly were; scions of the Garuda who descended from the heavens an age ago. In these times, the Benkhadrans only openly displayed their heritage in their luminescent blue eyes, ones that could see better in the dark than many creatures of the night.
But there were physical boons hidden within their flesh; short talons that retracted between the bones of the knuckles. These were rarely used by the Aasimari, since the extension of them broke the flesh and caused immense pain, to say nothing of the dogma surrounding such actions. But Rhahim knew they were his only hope. He clenched his teeth and ripped his talons through the skin, stifling a cry with his shoulder. And then he began to saw through the ropes on his legs. Through a great deal of struggle, he managed to get one hand free enough to snap the coils around his wrists. He was free. But free hands or no, he could not get out of his prison yet. He wrapped the ropes back around his ankles and wrists, and waited. Patience was another virtue of his that escaped his brother, and he smiled inwardly, knowing Rashir would be rolling on the floor in abject misery over his boredom. Time went by without sign of sun or moon, but soon he knew his captors would come to feed them. They were highly valued targets; the nephews to the Khan’Zolkir himself, and children besides. He planned to punish his captors for underestimating him.
Several hours passed by, in which he used the time to rest and mentally rehearse his escape from the dungeon. They were blindfolded on their journey underground, but Rhahim had an excellent memory, and could recall the many turns and steps they took to reach the prison. He was ready when the guard came by with a plate of bread and grapes. He unlocked the door, his sword still in its scabbard. No men of his stature would ever fear a bound child. But a wiser man would’ve been far more cautious. Rhahim grinned inwardly as the door creaked open. He feigned sleepiness, moving onto his knees in readiness to pounce. As soon as the guard lowered the plate he sprang, using the guard’s bent posture to pull him to the ground.
As he passed the toppling man, he grasped the dagger at his belt with one hand and the ring of keys with the other. The guard slammed headfirst into the back of the small cell, dazed and completely shocked by this suddenly freed prisoner. By the time he recovered, Rhahim slammed the door shut and locked it. And then he laughed, a deep heartfelt bellow erupting from his gut. He threw the dagger in the air in triumph, catching it by the hilt and slashing in mockery at the reoccupied cell. The guard screamed and cursed, drawing his shortsword and stabbing through the bars. But that only made the boy laugh harder. He wiped tears from his eyes and went over to the other cell. He opened it and cut Rashir’s bonds, and the gag around his mouth. It was a marvel that the gag held intact with the way his brother grinned.
They went over to the guard’s post nearby, grabbed their weapons and ate the rest of the guard’s rations. A trail of crumbs escaped their mouths as they giggled at the sight of the guard locked in the cell, glowering with silent rage and embarrassment. But soon they stopped. Rhahim still recognized the seriousness of the situation, and together they left the prison. Rhahim led them as best he could by memory in the pitch black tunnels. Without torches, the guards would not see nor hear them spirit away in the dark. They could see well enough without any light at all.
They wandered for several minutes before coming upon a wider chamber. It was one of the many hideouts of the Unseen Hand housed beneath the city. Torchlight flickered in the center of the chamber, casting shadows behind the wide sandstone pillars holding the weight of the city above their heads. They heard low voices talking about their share of the bounty, and how best to use such spoils. They also worried of retribution from the Benkhadrans. The brothers grinned at their fearful descriptions of their Father and Uncle. But what truly chilled them was the leader’s disquiet at the mention of their client. They spoke in hushed whispers of rumors of these terrible creatures, and seemed to fear them far more than the Benkhadrans, something the two boys could not fathom.
As quietly as they could, they crept inside the shadows cast along the walls, edging closer to the door on the opposite end. They got as far as the farthest pillar when a sudden gasp made them turn in surprise. A guard stood unseen behind the pillar not ten feet away, and he cried out in surprise. The brothers reacted instantly. Rhahim tripped the man with the haft of his spear while Rashir slashed his hamstring, hoping to hinder pursuit. And then they ran. As hard and as fast as they had ever run before. But the men knew the passages and were not weighed down by uncertainty at their direction. Two of them split off while the others were hard on the brothers’ heels. Both sides were tireless in their mad dash in the tunnels, turning left and right. Rhahim suspected a trap when he looked behind and saw only two, and said quietly to Rashir that they should turn and fight. Rashir was surprised by his brother’s boldness, but then grinned fiercely and nodded. They took one last corner and then spun around and ducked, bringing sword and spear to bear.
The men were utterly unprepared. One ran himself through on Rhahim’s spear, a clean hit right through his calf. The other took a wider approach and slashed at Rashir’s neck. But the boy was quicker, ducking out of the way and slicing through the back of the man’s leg on the upswing. Rhahim gave the falling man a swift kick to the face, knocking him out. Rashir mirrored his brother with the other wounded, screaming man, and then there was silence. They panted in fear and adrenaline, but soon fear turned into pride, and they grinned at each other in silent vindication.
Rashir grabbed one of the men’s shields and together they crept quickly but more carefully up flights of stairs towards the surface, distancing themselves from the men soon to awaken behind them. It took a great deal of time, but finally they spotted the diffuse light of day around the next corner. Rhahim stole a glance around, and saw that the other two men were indeed waiting there, leaning against the two pillars near the door to the streets. And they were not alone. A larger, far fiercer looking man stood in their midst, barring the doorway with his sheer bulk. He was heavily armored, and carried a great axe in one hand and a net in the other. Rhahim knew that taking such a man alive might not be an option, and so the brothers quickly laid their plans.
When they were ready, Rashir threw a rock at the far left corner of the room, distracting them just long enough for Rhahim to slip unseen behind the pillars lining the long hall. He crept carefully about, staying out of the light and freezing when the men looked his way. He halted as close to the men as he dared, waiting for Rashir’s signal. Moments later, he heard what sounded like a man’s deep voice echo in the hall, calling for the guards at the doorway and saying the children had been captured. It was convincing enough that the brutish man strode forwards, with the other guards falling behind.
In that split moment, Rhahim said a silent prayer of forgiveness to his Mother and Father, and then acted. He dashed around the pillars and behind the men, and stabbed the nearest clean through the kidneys. The man arched and froze in a silent cry of agony as Rhahim retracted the spear, swiftly dispatching the other with a thrust to the heart. The brute spun around at the noise just as Rhahim moved in to strike. But this was no mere sword for hire. He was cruel, seasoned and cunning, a veteran operative of the Unseen Hand, and he knew how best to use his plated armor. He spun with the spear point as it glanced his gorget, absorbing the blow and using the momentum, he tossed the weighted net on Rhahim before he could dodge, pinning him to the floor.
But he did not see Rashir dashing into the hall as he turned. The boy stabbed with all his might into the brute’s back, but even he was not strong enough to pierce the heavy plate. The man staggered for a moment, and then brought his axe around in a swift arc. Rashir barely parried the blow, but it rattled him to the bones. Rhahim struggled valiantly to cut himself free, but his hands were tangled in the sticky threads of the net, and he watched in vain while the man rained down blow after blow upon his brother. In desperation, Rashir ducked under a cut to the head and tried to roll around the man and strike his vulnerable legs, but the brute caught him with a swift kick of his armored boot, knocking him to the ground.
The edge of the axe came to rest at his throat, and a menacing growl commanded him to surrender. Rhahim was about to shout to his brother, but his cry caught in his throat as he saw a shadow of a man seem to materialize through the wall up ahead. Rashir burned with fury and shame, unwilling to admit defeat, and was about to swing his sword up when the faceless man struck, shifting through reality in a blur of darkness and thrusting his blade through the brute’s steel helm as if it were cloth. And then the brute fell with a crash onto the floor. The faceless man took off his mask, and the brothers beheld their Father, caught between relief, pride and anger at the boys’ folly. He sighed and examined the dead men before him, gazed down at his unscathed sons, and then said but a single thing: “You are ready.”
After the debacle under the streets of Katapesh, Father announced them to have come-of-age, a feat unheard of in ones so young. And they left the city, striking out in the desert wilds. There was dual purpose in this departure, both to escape the threats of the city and to train the brothers in the ways of the hunt, as had been done by the Benkhadrans for generations. Their Father led them far, seeking to challenge them with hunts of ever increasing difficulty. He taught them how to live off the land, and to stalk one’s prey no matter the circumstances. What was only sterile lessons in the practice yard turned into life threatening trials out in the wild. They encountered many enemies in their travels, from wandering tribes of goblins to great packs of wolves, or the many predatory cats that stalked the vast plains. Rashir swiftly matched his brother’s deeds in the dusty tunnels of the city, claiming his first kill in a skirmish with a group of bandits on the road.
They journeyed in this land for several years, until Rhahim was eighteen years old. They had reached the ancient borders of the Kavikuvai, and joined the Vudrani Guard posted in fading vigilance over the wilds. They assumed the garb of the Sentinels, hard leather armor of faded grey and green hues that melted into the forest. All seemed quiet and peaceful, as it had been for over a hundred years. It became common belief that the vampires had ceased to exist. But it was yet one of many illusions that the Vetala had put forth in order to mask their growing operations. Only a few of the Vuln’Zura still lived who witnessed their defeat by the Benkhadrans’ hands an age ago, but their hatred had not lessened. They brooded and bred their fell forces until the opportune moment to strike.
Rashir and Father lay resting within their tent in the deep of the night, within sight of the sentry posts of the borderline. It was utterly dark, to where even a Benkhadran of gifted vision felt the oppressive weight of it around him. Rhahim was on watch at the time, listening to the nightly sounds and adding the gentle music of his brother’s lute to the crickets and scavengers in the brush, with his weapon ready at hand beside him. He felt very much at ease, even drowsy, which was unusual for him at this time of the night, but he paid it no heed. It wasn’t until he heard the faintest whisper of footsteps in the grass that his senses finally became alert.
He spun around, bringing his spear to bear on the intruder, but it was far too late. A powerful hand gripped him by the throat, so that all that came out was a stifled grunt of surprise. But it was enough for Father to awaken, seasoned woodsman that he was. What they awoke to froze the blood in their veins. They were surrounded by over a dozen figures wrapped in shadow and crimson armor. Their faces were as if graven in stone, preserving the likeness of youth but warped into a snarl through countless years of malice. Ghost white hair cascaded to their shoulders. Their slender, silver fangs glinted in the red light of the campfire, as if already bathed in blood. Their presence exuded an aura of dread that almost overcame even their Father. Never in their lifetime had the Vetala been seen, but even the most gruesome descriptions paled before their baleful visage.
One of them still gripped Rhahim by the throat, holding him above the ground as he kicked the air in vain. The Vetala brought his hand up to Rhahim’s, and all its swirls and eddies of shadow coalesced onto his palm. And then a searing pain unlike any other ripped through him, as if his very soul was branded by some fell mark of doom. His sight darkened, and he was slow to recover. He felt himself writhing on the ground in agony, gripped in a headlong rush into Pharasma’s cold embrace. Or so he thought. In his fading vision, he glimpsed Rashir standing by Father with sword in hand as the ring of vampires closed about them, and for the first time in all their years, Rhahim saw fear in his eyes.
Almost out of hearing, Father let a cold whisper escape him, uttering phrases in an ancient form of Vudrani. And then he vanished. An instant later, blade and fists lashed out in a thousand cuts upon the ranks of the Vetala. He flickered among the shadows, delivering swift blows and fading before the vampires could grasp him. He approached Rhahim’s crumpled form in a lethal, methodical dance. The Vetala howled in mortal pain whenever he struck, for he wielded the Khan’Shaii, and their souls were claimed for the Lady of Death. Rashir cried out in desperate fury, following his father and striking at all within reach, a raging storm following the cold whisper of death.
But it was to no avail. A blow struck Rashir to the ground with blinding speed, and another and yet more, until he could no longer stand. Despite their losses, the Vetala still outnumbered them, and they quickly recovered from the sudden onslaught. They began to utter fiendish invocations, trapping Rashir in a tortuous cage of sorcery. Father began to falter, driving them back from one fallen son even as the other was bound by foul conjuring. And then Rhahim felt the sharp points of fangs upon his neck, and he saw no more.
He did not awaken so much as appear, materializing in a place devoid of all mortal senses. His soul lay adrift in currents of force, and with cold realization, Rhahim knew. This was the River Styx, that ferried the spirits of the fallen into the Outer Spheres, where their judg
ment and doom awaited them. He perceived with a vision beyond sight the Spire of Pharasma approaching, and a sudden longing filled him, to meet his forebears and join with the energies of the cosmos. But such was not his fate. The feel of pain seemed inconceivable in such a place, yet pain he felt. The mark on his mortal flesh still burned fiercely within him, and tore him away from the River of Souls. Sensation returned in a vivid blur.
And then he saw it. No words could fully describe the horror of the Abyss, sprawling outwards in the cosmos, teeming and festering with chaos and debauchery beyond mortal comprehension. A sultry, feminine laughter echoed through its vastness, the demon goddess Zura awaiting her most treasured prey. Whispered promises of eternal torment pierced into him like molten blades as he was carried helplessly away into the heart of evil. All hope faded from him, when from out of the void there came a beacon of light. Its strength rivaled the Mark of the Abyss for but a sliver of time, but it was all he needed. With every part of his being, Rhahim grasped the outstretched beacon, and he was torn away from the Chaos. The Demon’s impotent cries of rage followed him out of that
He passed the endless stream of souls, and was brought with a sudden flash before the Court of Death. There Pharasma stood, a woman neither young nor old, trapped in time. She was garbed in robes of pearl and jet, standing amid a swirling cloud of stars casting a cold illumination about her. Twin Reapers of monolithic stature stood in silent guard behind her, their scythes glimmering like blades of ice. Her Comet circled brightly in the heavens above, governing the flow of Life and Death on the Material Plane. Rhahim gazed about in wonder, and found himself in his mortal form once again, though his flesh was ghostly and vague. The faded, perpetual lines of phantoms beyond count flickered among the nebulous Court as other Aspects of the Lady dealt her judgment upon them. They entered and departed as fleeting as a breeze.
Many shapes of men stood in silent watchfulness about him, and he knew without doubt that they were Pharasma’s Chosen, his kin long deceased. The black winged forms of the Garuda stood among them, a fusion of men and raven, emissaries of the Vudrani Pantheon here to bear witness to the Lady’s judgment. But what truly shocked him was his Father, kneeling in supplication before the Lady of Death, praying to her in the same tongue that he uttered in battle against the Vetala. Pharasma stood over them both, weighing his Father’s words in timeless contemplation. After what could’ve been a second or an age, his Father finished, and the Lady nodded. The bargain was struck.
Talhir turned to his son with great sadness in his eyes, but hope also. And then he spoke, but the voice was distant, and grew fainter with each breath. “The Lady of Death has in her wisdom decreed you free of her Doom, for your purpose has not yet been fulfilled. One has been claimed by Undeath that must be put to rest. Rashir did not escape the clutches of the Vuln’Zura, and they captured him, and stole into the night. I fear his soul has been banished to the Abyss from which you narrowly escaped. By Her hand were you delivered from that fate, at Her servant’s behest. But still She must make her claim upon Benkhadran blood. You will live on, blessed and banished from Death until your brother’s soul has been reclaimed. And I will take your place, for my body was mortally wounded even as I performed the sacred rite of Khandul’Pharai upon your departing spirit. Find him. Bring him back from Undeath. Only then may you rest. We will meet again in time, but until then, farewell.”
Before Rhahim could embrace his Father and say farewell, or ask him the thousand things and more that screamed in his mind, Pharasma raised her starlit hand. With a brilliant flash, Rhahim felt himself plunge back into his mortal vessel. The light of dawn had just begun to filter in through the leaves of the forest. The stench of blood and death filled the air. Rhahim slowly stood, his body still shaken by the ordeal. He glimpsed his father kneeling in prayer where he lay before, his flesh turned a pale, deathly hue. He was dead, and yet his body knelt as if raised by some hidden power. And so he would remain, even until the flesh had rotted from his bones and he lay at rest in the tombs underneath Katapesh.
The corpses of many Vetala lay strewn about him, clutching their hearts, their faces contorted in agony even as their skin began to peel and burn under the growing light. But no sign of his brother remained. Rhahim felt his neck, and marveled to find himself free of physical harm. But the Mark still tingled on his hand. This and other wounds would never fade nor heal, a perpetual reminder of that fateful day, and the vows he swore. And then he noticed the dark talons protruding from his hands, and the black plumes of feathers reaching up to his forearms. For his ordeal beyond the Veil had brought him closer to his celestial ancestry, and so the marks of the Garuda became more prominent. He had ascended above humanity as no other Benkhadran had since the Kavikuvai.
For a time he knelt by his Father’s corpse, lost in despair. And then he walked over to where he sat on watch the night before, and picked up his brother’s lute, its rich wooden surface splattered and stained with frozen blood. Tears dripped from his face as he held the instrument, the only possession of Rashir left by the Vetala in their flight. Everything else had been taken away as they fled with his brother in captivity. His grief was soon interrupted by a patrol of guards who had been sent forth to investigate the disturbances in the predawn gloom. Rhahim paid them no heed. His sorrow already began to melt before the white hot call of vengeance.
The tracks of the vampires were faintly visible amid the freshly lain frost. They pointed straight into the depths of the wilds where few had dared to tread. But the command of Pharasma still echoed in his heart, and he knew he must obey. A sudden vigor ignited within him, filling him with purpose. He turned to the guards, and before they could utter a single word, he commanded them to send for the Khan’Zolkir, and to bring his father’s body with honor to the Central Barracks to await him. They stood in amazement as he swiftly recounted his tale, fearing that every second was a fatal delay. And then he took the guards’ weapons and as many supplies as he could carry, and dashed into the trackless forests. The hunt was on.
Rhahim wandered in the wilds for many days. He followed the tracks of the vampires through thicket and bog, and under trees taller than the towers of his home. But ever did they fade, and time and the elements were his constant enemies. The forest was thick enough to cast darkness upon much of the grounds, and the Vetala wove shadows about them to conceal their vulnerable flesh, so that day did not hinder them. Still he carried on, heedless of the dangers about him, behaving recklessly for the first time in all his days. But the tracks soon reached an end when he came to a deep river within the heart of the forests, and his hope finally died. For the time being, the Vuln’Zura had escaped.
Lost and alone, he roamed back towards the edges of civilization. Seething fury soon dimmed to a cold rage as he trekked through the wilds. Beasts feared to approach him, instinctively avoiding the sheer cloud of menace that strode through their homes. He contemplated many things during this time, and weighed his options carefully. He knew that the Vetala would return, having captured one of Benkhadran blood. They would torture and assimilate Rashir until all their family’s secrets were laid bare. For their Father held them in many of his councils, seeing it as a means to educate the brothers in the ways of court and leadership. This and many other threats hung ominously, and he knew not when or how the vampires would strike next.
It was also in this time that Rhahim observed a most peculiar enigma. He had wandered into a rare clearing among the towering evergreens. It was just past noon, when the shadows were shortened, when he found that his body cast not a shred of darkness in any direction. He rubbed his eyes and shook his head, and even splashed cold water from one of his skins upon his face in a desperate attempt to dispell whatever illusion lay on him. But to no avail. A chill ran up his spine as he considered all manner of curses that the Vetala invoked upon him. But the absence of his shadow came to no ill effect, and was difficult to notice if one were not looking for it. A multitude of questions collected in his mind, but he would find no answers among the trees. Rhahim pressed on, until at last he had reached the borderlands, and mounted a swift horse to carry him back to Katapesh.
Many ceremonies had to be performed, some in public, and others in sacred halls deep within the Azhulnbakan, Death’s Watch, the Stronghold of the Benkhadrans. The death of a Benkhadran was a rare sight among the brief lives of men, and to hear that one of the Core Line had been slain in battle was unheard of. But the family hid the involvement of the Vetala, fearing a panic among the lesser folk. Mother was nearly overcome by grief at the loss of her husband and son, but the Benkhadrans held strong. This was a time when no shred of weakness could be exposed. For many days Rhahim was lost in the rigorous demands set by his culture, to ensure that his father’s funeral and passing went smoothly. But finally he was freed, and his mind was clear of all distractions. Only one thought took precedence within him. He knew he was not yet strong enough to face the Vuln’Zura. He vowed to change that.
Rhahim approached his Uncle Khalim in the deep of night following the final farewell to his Father. They talked of all the deeds of Talhir, and of the trials to come. Rhahim recalled in detail his passing beyond the Veil, and the last words of his Father. Khalim remained silent, contemplating all manner of lore and strategy in his mind. He was wise enough not to countermand the decree of Pharasma herself, but never before had one so young been inducted into the Order of the Soul, the brotherhood of the Khan’Shaiik. At last, with a pained look on his face, he consented to his nephew’s request. The training was to begin immediately.
For ten years, Rhahim was kept within the depths of the Azhulnbakan with those closest in kin, for only the Core Line possessed the power in their blood to unleash their birthright. His uncle and elder cousins had all been trained long ago, and now in turn they bestowed the knowledge of ages past to their youngest kin. Many occult rituals and trials were required before Rhahim could master the art. He had to surpass the necessary steps of knowledge and understanding of the khan. Much as a hunter would study the behavior of his prey, from the wanderings of the elk to the brutal dynamics of the wolf pack, so too must a Khan’Shaiik observe the soul.
This was the Khandul’Pharai, a strenuous ritual of controlled suicide where the priests of the Order harnessed the pupil’s spirit during its brief passing, before being revived. Only beyond the Veil could one study the khan in its primal form. To the relief of them all, the first of many sojourns beyond the Veil had already been accomplished, and the favor of the Lady bestowed. That first journey had been the downfall of numerous candidates over the ages, for not all were of the right temperament to resist the sweet temptations of death, and the yearning to join with the fallen in slumber. Others had been lost in the River Styx, having fallen prey to foul entities of the void and captured before they were revived in their mortal forms.
Several journeys were required before one was deemed ready to claim their first soul. Rhahim survived all of these attempts, and had traveled to all the Spheres of primal and lesser existence surrounding their world. He was welcomed back into the court of Pharasma atop her eternal Spire, and there he was reunited with his fallen father for a brief time under the stars. They talked under the ghostly light of Pharasma’s Comet, and came to terms with his father’s sudden departure from the living. Rhahim learned much from him and his ancestors, and all of his questions of past, future and strategy against the enemy were answered. But still his thirst for knowledge was not quenched.
He departed from the Spire, and dared to espy the realms of the Abyss from afar, from which he had been liberated. He studied the Chaos that engulfed that plane, and from it gleaned insight into the Mark on his own soul. In many ways it was alike in nature to the dhulva, the method of claiming used by the Khan’Shaiik. But it was twisted and corrupted by the Vetala into a hideous torment, condemning them into slavery to Zura. It was a cruel mockery designed by the Demon Goddess, for the claiming of souls was originally intended to free them from their servitude and return to the cycles of reincarnation upon the mortal world.
It was here also that he at last understood his missing shadow. For when he had passed, he had in a brief time been suspended between life and death, in what is known as the Astral Plane, a spectral mirror to the Material. During the frantic performance of the Khandul’Pharai by his dying father, certain precautions were not followed, and such was the consequence. His shadow still remained within the Astral Plane, connected to his spirit but no longer projected into reality. His family were baffled, for such an occurrence was unheard of in all the long centuries of records. His tokens of ascension, the feathers and talons upon his forearms and hands were a marvel to behold, for such a thing has not happened in generations. They attempted numerous incantations to restore his shadow, but none had any effect, and so it remained. In the trials to come, such a dissociation would prove most useful.
This was only the spiritual aspect of the Khan’Shaii, and while essential, it was not the end. The rhun, or vessel of the soul must be strong enough to survive contact with the enemy, before their khan may be claimed. Rhahim underwent countless rigorous tests of physique and discipline in the vast grounds of the Keep. The Khan’Shaii demanded more than proficiency with armaments of war. The rhun itself must become a weapon, a lethal extension of the hunter’s will. The nature of the dhulva, the claim, demands only the slightest of harms to invoke, and thus favored a particular style of fighting. This was the Dance, a fluid pattern of movements and strikes that weave among foes and strike them as a bitter wave among rocks. Rhahim adopted it with ease, for in his childhood such tactics were necessary due to his smaller stature. To it also he fused his deadly expertise of the ranseur, and the lessons he and his brother had learned in the streets.
In the end he created a fighting style all his own, combining the tactical advantages of reach and disabling with his skill in unarmed combat. Many other trials of endurance and will were also attempted. These aimed to test Rhahim’s capacity to fight without remorse, or fear of defeat. He was pitted against near impossible odds, and was defeated more often than not. But it hardened his resolve into a weapon stronger than steel. These lessons he heeded well, but still he held on to his cautionary nature. What may have once been timidity soon turned into wisdom and foresight. At the end of his time underneath the Azhulnbakan, he was gifted many sacred tattoos of the Gods whom they worshiped. The emblems of the chiefs of the Vudrani Pantheon were imbued into his flesh, along with the Azhuln-Khalai, meant to represent a third eye into the nature of the soul. And above all, Pharasma’s Comet encircled the fist and crest of Irori and Dhalevei on his torso.
The ten years spent in training flew by, and soon he found himself nearly ready to become a full member of the Order. But one last step remained. He had yet to fully test his ability in the unforgiving realm of reality. He was sent out by his Uncle to the cities far to the east, there to join with the covert forces of the Benkhadrans, the Azhubenkhai, the assassins. They were a branch of distant kin, descendants of the Core Line separated soon after the Kavikuvai. He became part of a small team operating within the distant capital, learning the trades of secrecy, subterfuge and silent dispatch. But these were no ordinary killers. There was an art, tied in nature to the Khandul’Pharai, where one may ascend the flesh for brief moments in time, fading into the Astral Plane and reappearing at will. At last, Rhahim understood the technique favored by his Father, which allowed him to flicker from foe to foe.
This and many other techniques were taught to him during his apprenticeship. This is where he earned the right to wear his single long braid, studded with stones of obsidian. Each stone represents a claim for the Lady of Death, and the delivering of their soul to her hallowed court. Rhahim quickly earned many such stones, and he wore them with pride. On his last hunt with the team, he was gifted a pouch of obsidian stones, and the means by which he might acquire more on his long hunt for the Vuln’Zura. His training was complete.
For a long time afterwards he hunted with the Azhubenkhai, as he had forged a close friendship with his distant relatives. It helped somewhat to ease the pain still left in his heart after the loss of Rashir. But nothing less than his brother’s redemption could fill that void now. Rhahim gradually began to shake off the cold chill in his heart, and he became joyful in the hunt once again. They grew quite prosperous in the eastern cities, where political power was the ruling currency. They worked many sides of the endless strife between rivaling clans, always staying one step ahead of retribution, and filling their pockets with gold. Rhahim reveled in the local night life, for it was vibrant and exotic. Unmasked he was found fairly attractive in his youth, and always the allure of mystery and danger surrounded him. He never fell for any one woman, for he knew such a pairing would never be accepted by his family. Though he knew that one day he would need to find a woman worthy to bear his heirs, and continue the Core Line lest his kind die out of the world. He remained ever on call to answer the inevitable threat of the Vuln’Zura, but it seemed for a time that they lay dormant, plotting their next move. The Khan’Zolkir’s command was to grow, and to learn and to embrace the light of day while he may. For he foresaw the coming of the Night, one so dark that only the memories of happier days would sustain them.
He was forty-nine years of age when an urgent summons came from Katapesh. He was fully matured in stature and mind, and more than prepared to hunt the Vetala wherever they may hide. But such a hunt was soon found unnecessary. He returned to a home destroyed, razed to the ground by Vetala infiltrators, aided by the intelligence gathered in Rashir’s torment and corruption. Only the bare foundations of the Azhulnbakan remained, blackened and cold among the Inner District. The city had also been attacked during the burning of the Keep, and many citizens had been captured as thralls for the growing Vetala horde. It seemed that the days of the Kavikuvai were returning, and a blanket of terror soon covered all of Vudra.
They had struck sooner than even the Khan’Zolkir had anticipated. It was unlike the immortal to act on such sudden impulse, even while trying to maintain the element of surprise. They favored long, convoluted schemes to more direct actions. Attrition and fear were their tools of old. What Rhahim dreaded most was that the brash, fiery nature of his brother was involved in this shift in strategy. The Benkhadrans knew that one of their own had become a Vetala in heart and mind, and never before had Rhahim’s task been more dire. His Uncle Khalim foresaw that brother would meet brother in battle before the end, but he knew not who would prevail.
Bereft of home and status, the House of Benkhadra went into hiding, adopting the ways of the Azhubenkhai. The people of Katapesh were distraught by the sacking of the city, but what started as pity for the House soon turned to loathing, and outright fear. Many blamed them for inviting the wrath of the long dead Vetala, and believed them responsible for the destruction of homes and captivity of their loved ones. The Benkhadrans feared an uprising, and so they chose to leave the city in exile. They fled to secret strongholds in the desert sands scattered about Vudra, always moving from place to place. Rhahim, his Uncle and the cousins whom he trained with all departed from the family during this time, following the trail left by the Vuln’Zura infiltrators. The vampires continued to grow bolder, and assaulted many of the hidden sanctuaries, some of which were occupied at the time. Their foe had grown in power and cunning over the years, adopting the same tactics of stealth and quick strikes that worked so effectively against them in ages past.
The Benkhadrans fought fiercely, but it was always in defense, and one by one their safe havens fell under the darkness. The Vudrani Guard came to their aid in many instances, but they were of lesser strength and valor, and did little to tip the balance in favor of the Benkhadrans. Ever did their foe become stronger, for the fallen soon joined their ranks as slaves of undeath. The Khan’Shaii helped assuage the Curse, but the Benkhadrans were already spread thin among the growing expanse of warfare in Vudra. They assumed their ancient roles as captains of men, fighting against the Curse of vampirism.
In several instances, members of the family reported seeing a Vetala with silver hair gleaming cruelly under the moonlight. This entity fought more mightily than many champions of the vampires. Few could withstand him alone, and it was considered a victory to retreat without grievous loss when his sword entered the fray. They knew without doubt that it was Rashir. But always it seemed the brothers were apart, fighting in different locales across Vudra. Rhahim both hungered and dreaded their eventual encounter. Both of them had grown fell and deadly in the long years of strife, and though Rhahim was still the elder, Rashir had more than matched his deeds in war.
This battle under shadow and stars went on for years, and was not wholly without victory. Rhahim and his team caught several encampments of Vetala unawares and destroyed them utterly, sending their souls to Pharasma to find peace. Fang battled fist in this manner for decades, until at last the Benkhadrans had regained their footing through their gifts of the hunt, and through sheer tenacity. By the time Rhahim was seventy years old, they had the Vetala in retreat, or so it seemed. But this was a deception devised by the vampires in order to mask their hidden forces. In the long years of battle, they had been gathering in secret many thralls from distant lands, swelling their ranks in preparation for a final assault upon the last strongholds of the Benkhadrans.
Going to end the more detailed writing here for now. I’m sure there’s more than enough there to keep you occupied. Still have to write the last bit to tie things in to where Rhahim is now. To sum up the events between, a great tragedy befell him. Their family was nearly eradicated, and those that survived were at last defeated and forced to abandon their homes in the sands of Vudra. Rhahim was stricken down in a deadly duel with his brother. They both struck each other at the same moment, but Rashir’s blade was bound by a terrible curse. It was similar to the vampire’s enervating strikes; the ability to feed off of their victim’s mind and will. But this curse was far more potent, and it nearly killed Rhahim. He was knocked into a coma until it could be dispelled by his Uncle, but even then, he would never be the same. He lost much of his knowledge and experience throughout his life, though it was not amnesia. Say rather that it is akin to having a terrible injury and learning to walk once more. But this was of the prana, the mind and imagination. Many had been stricken by this curse throughout their bloody conflict and survived, for the damage was reversible given enough care. This however could not be cured, and the damage was already done.
To this day, Rhahim has wandered in exile, searching for that which was lost. The Vetala still survive, though dormant once again, for their nemesis was believed destroyed in that last fateful battle. The Benkhadrans know that if they ever set foot on Vudran sands without the means to fight once more, they would be destroyed, and the Vuln’Zura’s victory would be complete. Thus they wander, homeless and distraught, a mighty race brought low. Few now remain, no more than a dozen, and they have seen more than enough of war and death. Perhaps one day they will return. They have been cut off from all their wealth and status. The very name of Benkhadra is dangerous to wear, for the spies of the Vetala have spread during the war, and not all of them are of vampire blood. They are struggling now to survive amid the harsh northern parts of the world, or far in the east where small splinters of the Azhubenkhai still live. Rhahim however is on a different journey. He is still held by his vow to Pharasma to lay his brother’s tortured soul to rest, but he has not the means to do so. He must first regain his strength as he once learned before, through tenacity and deadly trial. He joined the Expedition in the Gygax as a means to accomplish this end, and slowly he is recovering. Only time will tell if he will be ready to face his brother in the future, before he dies. For time is also a constant enemy. The Vuln’Zura are immortal, and though they may slumber for centuries at a time, they grow ever more powerful.