Thursday, October 23, 2008

Life and Death: A Character Profile

One of the discussion forums that I frequent decided to host a little creative challenge, which involved creating a random character and his/her background story. In this case, the character was supposed to be both "life-aligned" and "death-aligned", existent in a fantasy Pan-Hellenic setting, and open enough to be used in a possible nonlinear storyline. The inspiration hit me as I was heading home this evening, and I spent the last three hours writing up the entry for submission. I offer it up to you now because I just happen to like the work at the moment.

In the western quarter of Mirambar stands a single temple hewn from white marble and black obsidian. It stands greater and far more grand than almost any other temple in the Sacred City, yet sees no regular worshippers. The only citizens who come here are the most desperate of supplicants, offering sacrifices for fear of the god in question, and begging his mercy for those who would soon be lost.

This is the temple of Nemerion, ruler of the dead and lord of the greater underworld. And within the walls of its inner sanctum, the High Priest Temarcheus watches the people as they plead, weep and debase themselves before the most taciturn of gods.

Temarcheus has been the mouth of Nemerion for almost two hundred years now. His hair has turned gray and his skin has turned both sallow and pale at the endless vigil he keeps. Those people who know him would shudder involuntarily at his touch, or turn their faces away from his very presence.

It was not always like this. Temarcheus was a different man once before, a long time ago.


His mother was a healer. She was not one of Lainara's chosen, no matter how much she wished to be one, but she was benevolent and religious and would never turn away a person in need. She knew which herbs were good for which maladies, she knew how to make poultices to treat the most serious of wounds, and she knew that the priestesses of Lainara would constantly frown at her efforts. Most of all, however, she loved her husband and only son, and impressed upon Temarcheus a sense of the sanctity of all life.

And when Temarcheus's father fell gravely ill and all her backwater remedies could do nothing, she gave in to despair. The Lainarans told her that the disease was too far advanced in its stages, that there was nothing they could do but pray for their goddess's intervention, but Temarcheus and his mother knew the truth behind their wrathful eyes.

With nowhere else to turn, his mother prostrated herself before the priests of Nemerion, promising the only other treasure that she had: Temarcheus would be given over to them, raised as a cleric of the god of death, if only she would have her husband back. And in an uncharacteristic display of favor, Nemerion granted her request.

One day later, Temarcheus's father was once again up and about. It was a miracle, the priests whispered, and his mother would not forget her promise.

One week later, Temarcheus himself began his tutelage in the temple of Nemerion. It was a strange place with strange people, all hollow and sterile and devoid of life, but his parents were happy, and that was the only thing that mattered.

One month later, his father was killed when a team of wild horses set upon him on a busy street. His mother cried and screamed and wept for days on end.

Temarcheus was left sullen and numb. What cruel joke was this, he wondered, to have his own father taken from him after so much sacrifice in Nemerion's favor? The priests refused to answer his questions, ordering him to progress on his studies instead, and Temarcheus spent long hours looking for answers in the face of the great god of death.

His mother was never the same after that. It was as though she had aged forty years in the course of a single day. She trudged through the tiny home where they had once lived together as family, dazed and confused at the mere passage of time. She would look up only whenever Temarcheus came to visit; sometimes she would ask him why his father had not come home yet, or why he was not joining them for dinner. And whenever she spoke, Temarcheus could feel nothing but the sound of his own heart breaking just a little more each day.

On the day she finally died, the frustration finally became too great to bear. Temarcheus was with her in her last hours, holding her soft white hair in his hands, listening to her as she asked time and again as to where his father was. In his rage he carried her withered body to Nemerion's sanctum, ignoring the cries of his fellow priests, and set her on the altar before the great and terrible statue there.

As her life ebbed slowly away, he demanded answers from the distant god. He cursed Nemerion for his callous acts, and hurled accusation after accusation to the ever-rising winds. There was a roar of thunder then, and a terrible silence before Nemerion spoke... directly to the young man himself.

Death was always there, Nemerion had said. Death was always the inevitable end. Death knew neither good nor evil, neither malice nor compassion. It was the place of mortals to die, which was something that Temarcheus had never understood. Death waited for none. Death was, Death is, and Death will be.

And if Temarcheus refused to understand this lesson, Nemerion said, then he would have all the time he needed in order to do so.

Temarcheus would have insolently answered the god back right then, regardless of the consequences, if it were not for the slim, emaciated hand that suddenly caressed his.

His mother's eyes were open, her expression strangely peaceful.

"Do not question the gods, my son," she whispered, "but seek to know them as you would know yourself."

And with that, she died.


Temarcheus has been High Priest of Nemerion for almost two centuries. His figure is everpresent among the supplicants at the temple of the god of death. Some say that he is beyond human. Others whisper that he is little more than a ghost.

Temarcheus watches each and every visitor to the temple. He watches the poor plead for mercy. He watches the rich offer lavish sacrifices. He watches the philosophers rationalize Nemerion's will, and he watches the ignorant pay their own brand of lip service. He knows them all, he knows of the embrace that shall take them at the end of their lives, and he feels the pain of seeing each and every one of them die. He is the vessel of the god of death and lord of the underworld, but he is one with a conscience, who looks at the world through haunted eyes.

And through it all, he struggles to understand.


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