A Rising Hope
Cleric of Melora
In the town of Dardun, in the small barony of Harkenwold, the malign and wealthy High Priest Teroldo of Melora took Nympharia as recompense from her peasant parents to repay a debt that they could not pay. A poor man, Erson Vere, and his pregnant wife had asked the priest for refuge from a storm, and he had demanded a hefty price in return. They could not possibly pay the debt and so Teroldo swore he would take the unborn child as payment. Her mother died in childbirth, and her father was beaten and imprisoned for refusing payment and defying a “holy” man. Before Erson was taken away, he named the child Nympharia, to honor the patron of nature and the wild in hopes that the goddess would show favor upon the girl, for he knew she was to be raised in the very same monastery dedicated to that goddess. Indeed, his guess proved to be correct, for she was raised in the monastery of Melora by humble handmaids under the employ of the High Priest. She was raised and grew up as a humble girl tasked with daily responsibilities such as cleaning the dishes, sweeping around the monastery, and helping prepare meals. As expected, while growing up in the monastery, she began to follow the teachings of the goddess Melora.
Nympharia always wondered who her birth parents were. She was always told by the High Priest Teroldo that her parents had abandoned her and he, in his kindness, had taken her under his roof as his own. However, she believed in her heart that the story could not be the truth. She refused to believe it. One day, one of the old handmaids told her the truth about her parentage. By this time, her father, Erson Vere, had died while in imprisonment. Upset, she sought to ask for more details from the High Priest. Instead he had her beaten for accusing him of lying. That night while tending to her wounds, Nympharia Vere took solace in finally discovering her family name.
From that point, Nympharia grew wary of the High Priest. She began to hear whisperings of his injustices to the people of Dardun over the years. Apparently, the monastery had grown prosperous in the span of a few years through mysterious means. Around the same time, several of the lesser peoples of the town had vanished without a trace. According to rumors, the High Priest was behind the disappearances. However, most people of the town were either too afraid or too ignorant to question the High Priest, and those brave enough to delve into it could never find a link between the two. In time, the disappearances stopped and public interest in the matter of missing peasants virtually died off. These discoveries further rattled the girl, and her distrust grew more with the passing of each day. So suspicious was she of High Priest Teroldo that she endeavored to keep track of his daily errands. For days, the girl would follow the priest as best she could around town, watchful for any devious activity.
Days passed and she could not discern any foul play from the priest, and so she began to lose hope of discovering anything malign in his actions. Just as she was about to give up on her scrutiny of the old priest, the gods or perhaps just one particular goddess smiled upon her.
One late evening, while Nympharia was on the verge of putting an end to her watch of the old priest, she was surprised when the High Priest left his private chambers wearing his traveling clothes. He normally did not wander outside of the monastery this late in the evening, and so she was intent on discovering what the priest was up to. He proceeded to a tapestry hanging against a wall within the sanctuary. He looked about cautiously, then pulled the tapestry aside, revealing the bare stone wall. Nympharia wondered why the old man was pushing against the stone, when to her amazement, the large brick slid to one side revealing a secret compartment. Nympharia watched from a distance as the priest reached into the wall and retrieved a large, wicked-looking dagger wrapped loosely in black cloth. He examined it carefully before placing it in his pack. Once his pack was secured, he replaced the stone behind the tapestry and set off into the cold night beyond the monastery doors.
Nympharia followed High Priest Teroldo outside into the night, staying as far back as she could, careful not to lose sight of the old man. She followed him for a time before it began to drizzle. By the time they had reached the edge of the woods outside Dardun, the wind had picked up and it had begun to rain in earnest. She struggled to keep sight of the old priest in the rain with the trees whipping to and fro violently in the wind, and before long, she had lost track of him. She continued on in the darkness, frustrated that she had let this opportunity get away from her, when all of a sudden, she was attacked.
She felt a searing pain and a flash of warmth as she was thrown forward onto the forest floor. She could feel a throbbing pain, and reaching over with her other hand, she felt the open slash along her left shoulder. Warm blood dripped along her back and she could not tell whether it was blood or the rain that was now soaking into her cloak. Before she could think about it any longer, she heard a cackle and turned onto her back to see the High Priest standing over her, maniacal eyes gleaming at her unnaturally from the gloom. His teeth were bared in a vicious smile, the sinister dagger dripping fresh blood held above his head.
“Foolish girl,” He sneered, “Did you think I didn’t notice you following me? Watching my every move, my every step… You could not possibly comprehend what is at work here!"
He moved with an unusual vigor, his limbs twitching with unnatural strength.
“You ungrateful little vermin! I took you in as my own and this is how you repay me! I should have left you to die with your whore of a mother! Riffraff like you should know better than to meddle with powers greater than your own! For your ignorance, girl, I have killed you and will offer up your blood!”
Nympharia looked up confusedly at the High Priest. She glanced at the gleaming dagger, and then it dawned upon her. The dagger had been poisoned, and that poison was now traveling through her veins. The mad priest smiled viciously as he saw the recognition in her frightened eyes. Then he raised the blood-slicked dagger and leaped towards the fallen girl. Nympharia quickly tumbled away and turned to look back just as the dagger landed where her chest had just been a second ago. Her shoulder throbbed with pain, and her limbs felt frozen as she was gripped with terror. She struggled to stand up from where she was kneeling in the soft ground and turned to run. She did not turn to see where the High Priest was, but she could hear him breathing calmly not too far behind.
Frantic thoughts swirled around her mind as she struggled to escape. How could the priest move as quickly and as powerfully as he had? She had been thrown forward with so much force from the attack that she was sure she had broken a few bones as well. Nympharia feared for what the priest had meant about powers beyond her own. Was this the work of Melora, the goddess of the wilderness? The goddess she had grown to know? No, it couldn’t be. It mustn’t. Fear and doubt wracked against the girl’s mind as she fled through the trees, tears beginning to run down her face.
As she continued to run through the trees, the wound on her shoulder sent waves of pain through her body, making her limbs feel sluggish. Soon, Nympharia could feel her consciousness slipping away as she struggled to breath. It would not be long before the poison in her body had paralyzed her limbs. She continued to flee and saw a clearing just ahead of her. As she struggled to run clear of the last remaining trees, she tripped over an exposed root and was sent sprawling into the clearing where she landed with a soft thud. Although the cloudy sky was visible in the clearing, the darkness had begun to cloud her vision, and Nympharia feared for the worst. She reached over and covered her wound with her hand, feeling the warmth of her life energy leaving her body. She closed her eyes, ready to meet her inevitable death at the hands of High Priest Teroldo.
Then, with death but moments away, a wave of calm swept over the young girl. Her fear and doubt melted away as she felt a warmth radiate through her body. In her heart, she knew that Melora was a goddess that was kind to those devoted to her, and indeed, she had spent her entire life serving the goddess. The malice and energy coursing through the High Priest’s body was not Melora’s doing. Knowing this comforted the dying girl, and with her last few moments of life, she uttered a simple prayer to her goddess.
“Thank you, Melora, for I have grown to know you… Though my life will now come to an end, I count myself as fortunate…”
The moment these words crossed her lips, a blinding light erupted from her hand, searing her wound shut. Nympharia could no longer feel the pain in her body, and her breathing had returned to normal. She lay there, overwhelmed by a renewed vigor. It was as if a divine door had been opened, and a wave of healing and power had poured through and taken her. Her eyes shot open just as the High Priest stepped into the clearing. She scrambled onto her feet and stood facing the confused priest, a soft light surrounding the healed girl.
“What is this trickery?!” He demanded.
“This is no trickery, priest.” Nympharia could feel a wild and powerful energy coursing through her body, and it was then that she understood. “Melora has granted me her boon, and you shall pay for defiling her church and forsaking her people!”
The High Priest glared at her with rage, his eyes darting frantically around in fear and uncertainty. “How dare you, you filthy wretch! I am the High Priest of Melora! Not you!”
“Your lies are like slander to the goddess!” Nympharia boomed. She raised her arms slowly, rain swirling around her, the trees around the clearing bowing to the will of the wind. “You serve another god… an evil and tainted god… and for your infidelity, you shall be punished!”
As she uttered these words, High Priest Teroldo let out a guttural scream, raising the dagger above his head in both hands. He charged at Nympharia, but as soon as he had made a move towards her, a lance of bright, radiant light shot out from her hands and engulfed the High Priest. Nympharia shut her eyes against the blinding light, and when she opened them again, the priest had vanished without a trace.
Following the night that Nympharia had returned to the monastery, the town of Dardun noticed the disappearance of the High Priest. The town authorities questioned all in the monastery, including young Nympharia. When she told them what had happened that night, they listened in disbelief but were obligated to conduct a search of the nearby forest. The search for High Priest Teroldo was half-hearted, and soon after, the town had dismissed the priest as having been attacked by wild beasts and monsters. A week had passed before the town had completely forgotten about the priest.
Several years had passed and Nympharia has since harnessed the divine power granted to her by the goddess, Melora. She continued to do great deeds for her people in the town of Dardun. Indeed, she was called upon often to help people in need, even around the neighboring villages of Harkenwold.
One day, Nympharia was beckoned by Marla, an old priestess of Melora that had arrived at the monastery not too long ago. The priestess spoke of a group of deathcultists that she had witnessed a year ago heading towards the town of Winterhaven, far to the west. She also mentioned that they were led by a particularly nasty priest by the name of Kalarel. Hearing this, Nympharia immediately began to feel a sense of dread. Marla continued and also worried that they had formed a group and might be practicing sinister rituals that would harm the land and wilderness there. As a firm protector of her faith and for her goddess, Nympharia comforted the old priestess and concluded that she would venture to Winterhaven.
Along her travels, Nympharia bartered her way onto a caravan wagon that was destined for Fallcrest. She had never traveled beyond the limits of Harkenwold and was eager to see what was in store for her outside the barony. Just then, in the woods before Fallcrest, the caravan was ambushed. Nympharia was tossed from within the wagon as it caught on fire and collapsed in a heap. Nympharia rolled safely away and as she gathered herself, she took note of her attackers…