Mantisbane Pact: Release

One of the play-by-post campaigns I am lucky enough to take part in is run by the wonderful GM Zek on Paizo’s messageboards. The campaign is called the Mantisbane Pact, and it takes place in Golarion, the world of Pathfinder. Mantisbane Pact involves an alliance of powerful monarchs and rightful rulers who come together to destroy the Red Mantis Assassins and their god, Achaekek. Our players would act as their agents, travel to Ilizmagorti (a city firmly in the grasp of the Red Mantis Assassins), and work to bring the entire organization crumbling down.

A few weeks ago I shared a short story I wrote as part of the application process to get to play in the Mantisbane Pact. In it we met my character, a smart-ass, jaded slayer named Kilarra Calvennis. Throughout the course of this campaign the GM and players have had the opportunity to write a variety other vignettes and flashbacks, often from the perspective of our shaman, who can view moments from the past by using the Akashic Record.

Today I’m sharing with you a flashback from Kilarra’s life I wrote when our shaman (Talia) attempted to discover why Kilarra was out of prison, despite being sentenced to life in jail for patricide. After today it will be available on the d20 Stories section on our website. Enjoy!

Jessica


Release

Its dark.

Cold.

Talia feels like she’s laying on something hard and rough. A stone floor?

There’s sounds. Women crying, wailing voices, a distant scream of pain. Breathing close by — Kilarra perhaps — it’s hard to tell in the dark.

Time passes. There’s the sound of something falling to the ground and tumbling around. It sounds like a dice, but it’s likely a stone. There’s a bit of a slapping sound, then a scraping, as if whoever dropped it was picking it back up.

It falls again. Slap. Scrape. Silence.

It falls again. Slap. Scrape. Silence.

In the distance the crying continues. Different voices, the same sounds. A sigh, a scream, denials, and tears.

“Please! I’m innocent!” someone can be heard to call above the din. A young woman by the sounds of it. “I didn’t kill him!”

Nearby someone scoffs. Talia recognizes it as Kilarra. “No one cares,” she mutters under her breath.

“Yeah, I’m innocent, too!” a different voice calls out. It’s deeper, and clearly mocking the crying woman. “I didn’t kill nobody!” The voice breaks out into a cackling laugh.

The young woman devolves into sobs.

The stone falls. Slap. Scrape. Silence.

Eventually something changes. There’s a lightening of the room. It’s subtle at first, but soon becomes light enough to see vague shapes.

Kilarra’s pale and thin. Her lip is cut and swollen, and a poorly healing wound on her face is clearly going to become the familiar scar she bears to this day. Kilarra lays on her back in a bare, stone cell, staring up at the ceiling. She fiddles with a tiny dice in her fingers, dropping it on the floor, covering it, and picking it back up again. Her other fingers tug on the hem of her ‘dress.’ She wears a filthy sack with a few holes cut in it for her arms and head that looks like it once held potatoes. The fabric’s rough and little bugs scurry around amongst it’s loose fibres.

Behind her is a wall of bars. Outside there are other cells, filled with women of varying ages. Some cry, some speak to themselves, but most sit in resigned silence. The other woman across the hall wears pants and a shirt, has a pallet of hay, a blanket, and a chamber pot — luxuries Kilarra’s cell does not possess.

The world continues to brighten. The walls turn red and the flickering of an open flame can be heard. The light suddenly spills into Kilarra’s cell, and stops.

From her place on the floor Kilarra raises an eyebrow. She rolls onto her stomach, pushes herself up to standing and stalks over to the bars. She grabs hold of them, her knuckles bloody and bruised, and leans her face up against the bars.

Outside her cell is a man in shining armour. He holds a torch in one hand, and a bag in the other. Kilarra’s eyes drift to his belt where she sees a keyring and an empty scabbard — the sword is nowhere to be seen. She smirks, apparently finding that funny.

As Kilarra grabs hold of the bars the guard — a young man, really — steps back quickly. He’s jumpy and nervous.

“You forgot your sword, kid,” Kilarra remarks with a curled lip. “Better go get it before the warden finds out. Don’t worry, I’ll wait. I’ve got nowhere else to be.”

The man shifts uncomfortably, then straightens himself. “It’s not lost. I — “

Kilarra chuckles then nods at the package. “You bring me a gift?”

The young guard clears his throat. “Step back,” he orders.

Kilarra smirks and takes a few steps back. She leans against a nearby wall and crosses her arms. The man steps closer, pauses, and looks at her, then quickly shoves the bag between the bars and steps back.

“You finally returning my chamber pot?” she asks.

“What? No, its…”

As the guard stutters Kilarra opens the bag and pulls out a blouse. She scoffs in disgust and shoves it back in the bag. “What’s the matter? Warden tire of his other whores?” She tosses the bag on the floor. “Tell him I bite. Hard.”

The fresh-faced guard looks confused for a moment, either unsure what Kilarra’s talking about or unsure why she’s angry. “No, it’s… You’re free.”

Kilarra scoffs aloud. “Free. Seriously?” She scoffs again and shakes her head.

The man nods. “By order of the Warden, you’re to be set free.”

“Why?” she asks skeptically.

“Good behaviour.”

Kilarra bursts out laughing.

The guard shifts uncomfortably. “Could you… put on your clothes? You can’t go outside like that. It’s unseemly.”

Kilarra’s laughter fades to silence. She watches the guard for a moment, wary and on edge. Eventually she takes off the rough sack and tosses it to the ground, then empties the bag out and starts getting dressed. There’s a blouse, pants, boots — familiar looking clothes Talia’s seen Kilarra wear every day.

The guard blushes and turns around, giving her privacy — an act which causes her to let out another cackling laugh.

“This place is going to eat you alive, kid.” She laughs some more, then approaches the bars. “Ready.”

The guard unlocks the cell. “Follow me.”

Taldor
The flag of Taldor. Image courtesy of Paizo Inc.

Kilarra slips out behind him, following the guard down the hall. His torch illuminates the cells they pass — some of which are as spartan as Kilarra’s, but most of which have hay, pallets, chairs, simple beds, blankets, one even has a flickering candle and a pile of books. The prisoners are all female of varying ages, some cry, some beg, but most simply watch with tired, hopeless eyes. A few of the prisoners give Kilarra a nod as she goes. A few others step back in fear.

At the end of the hall is a pair of barred doors flanked by armoured guards. Above them is a massive painting of Grand Prince Stavian the third. Words underneath it read: A crime against the empire is a crime against yourself. Repent, Obey, Serve.

Unlike the guard walking with Kilarra, these men are hardened and unafraid. They each draw their swords at her approach. One sports a broken nose and a missing front tooth. He snarls at the sight of her.

She smirks. “Love the new look.”

“Listen up, you bit—“

Kilarra’s laughter drowns out the man’s words as the young guard quickly unlocks the door and ushers Kilarra through it.

They travel through more corridors and gates, up stairs and through a few checkpoints. Wherever Kilarra was being held, it was a long ways underground. The sort of place where the prisoners are never expected to leave alive.

As they travel the halls get lighter, and the torch is left behind. Kilarra squints into the dim light as if she were looking into the sun. In time they reach a large room. One final gate blocks the way to the prison’s main hall. One final gate to freedom.

A rotund man wearing nobleman’s finery and a deep sneer scowls at her. “I don’t know what strings you’ve pulled, but it won’t last.”

Kilarra smirks. “Hello, Warden. Fancy seeing you here.”

“You’re a degenerate!” the man spits. “You may be free now, but you’ll be back. Scum like you always comes back.”

“Aww,” she replies with a sarcastic pout. “I’ll miss you too.”

The warden stands seething in front of the gate. He takes a deep breath, nods at the guards, and clenches his fists. As the guards unlock the doors he speaks in a grand voice. “Kilarra Calvennis. In the name of Grand Prince Stavian the third, long may he rule, you are hereby released for… good behaviour…” he spits at Kilarra’s feet then straightens himself. He waves his arms through the air, clearly deciding she’s not worth reciting the rest of the words. “I hereby release you. Now go, before I arrest you for loitering.”

Kilarra strides out of the gate, hurries through the waiting room and bursts out of the doors onto the busy streets of Oparra. She squints into the sun and takes a deep breath. Slowly, a smile spread across her scarred face.

“Kilarra Calvennis?” a voice calls out.

Blinded by the sun, Kilarra’s smile slips. A fleeting look of panic crosses her face. A moment later it’s replaced by a look of determination.

“Who wants to know?” she calls back.

But before the voice can reply the vision blurs and fades, leaving Talia back in her own body.


Want to read more about Kilarra? Be on the look out for more vignettes and flashbacks in the coming weeks!

Want to learn more about Golarion, Taldor, Grand Prince Stavian III, Kyonin, Ilizmagorti, Mediogalti, and the Red Mantis Assassins? Check out Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Inner Sea and explore Golarion for yourself! For more information on Taldor you can also check out Pathfinder Companion: Taldor, Echoes Of GloryPathfinder Campaign Setting: Taldor, The First Empire, or play the War for the Crown Adventure Path which begins with Pathfinder Adventure Path 127: Crownfall (War for the Crown 1 of 6).

The Mantisbane Pact

One of the play-by-post campaigns I am lucky enough to take part in is run by the wonderful GM Zek on Paizo’s messageboards. The campaign is called the Mantisbane Pact, and it takes place in Golarion, the world of Pathfinder. Mantisbane Pact involves an alliance of powerful monarchs and rightful rulers who come together to destroy the Red Mantis Assassins and their god, Achaekek. Our players would act as their agents, travel to Ilizmagorti (a city firmly in the grasp of the Red Mantis Assassins), and work to bring the entire organization crumbling down.

No pressure, right? Haha.

This awesome custom campaign was recruiting by application, meaning interested players would need to create a character and submit it for review. After a while the GM would select which players they wanted to play in the campaign. This is pretty common practise for online play-by-post campaigns, due to the high interest of players, and the length of the campaign. It’s important you find a team of characters and players who work well together. Unlike other campaigns I had applied for, The Mantisbane Pact asked interested players to create a short story for their characters as part of the selection process. My character, a smart-ass, jaded slayer name Kilarra Calvennis, was accepted alongside a team of other awesome PCs to undertake this mission. At various times throughout the adventure we also had the opportunity to write other vignettes and flashbacks, often from the perspective of our shaman, who can view moments from the past by using the Akashic Record.

Today I’m sharing with you the initial short story I wrote for my character, Kilarra. After today it will be available under the d20 Stories feature on our website. Enjoy!

Jessica


Beginnings

Kilarra Calvennis stood in her boyfriend’s bedroom preparing for the worst betrayal of her life. She strapped on her armour slowly, fussing with the buckles with sweaty, shaking hands. She was nervous and excited, all at once.

She was about to undertake a test—one of many she would have to pass in order to become a Red Mantis Assassin. The target was her father. He wouldn’t die—this wasn’t an official assassination. It was just a break in. A simple test of skill, stealth and loyalty. Get into her father’s office without being seen, knock him unconscious, remove all the documents in his office, and slip away without being caught.

She could do this. She knew she could. So why were her hands shaking? And why was her heart fluttering like a panicked bird trapped in her chest?

Kilarra sighed. Her father deserved everything that was coming to him. He was one of the many corrupt nobles that dealt in lies and bribes. Just one among hundreds, but his methods sickened her. She had rebelled against him and against her country. She tried to bring about change, first with words, and then more drastic measures. None of it worked. In the end it wasn’t her father that had changed, or Taldor… It was her. And it wasn’t for the better. She did more harm than her father ever had.

“It’s his fault,” she reminded herself aloud. Her voice shook, but she continued. “He deserves this. He brought it on himself.”

She slipped her hands into her black and red leather gloves, grabbed her helmet off her boyfriend’s bureau and left the room.

Bastien grinned at her. “You look beautiful, love,” he said.

Kilarra smiled. If her father was everything wrong in the world, Bastien was everything right. He was her beloved. Her mentor. Her life. He pulled her up from the life of gangs and crime that her father had driven her to and stood her back up. He gave her purpose. He gave her love. He was intoxicating. So when Bastien confided in her that he was an assassin, she accepted that. And when he asked her to worship his strange mantis-god, she prayed with him. And when he said that she was gifted and that he wanted to train her to be like him, she was proud.

Taldor
Taldor’s coat of arms. Image courtesy of Paizo Inc.

She would do anything for him.

 

“I’m ready,” she replied.

Bastien nodded. “You are.”

She kissed him goodbye, slipped her red, mantis shaped helmet over her head and crept out the window onto the roof. If she had to rob her father to prove herself to Bastien, she would do so gladly.

The trip to her father’s office was short and uneventful. She kept to the shadows and stayed quiet. She slipped in through an open window on the third floor and crept down the dark halls with ease. There was a light around the edges of her father’s office door. He was in there, just as Bastien said he would be. She reached for the doorknob and hesitated.

This would change everything. Whatever happened between her and her father… Whatever he discovered and whatever she did… There was no going back. After tonight Bastien would take her to train among his fellow Red Mantis Assassins. He would train her to kill.

She never wanted to kill anyone. She still didn’t. But the thought of letting Bastien down made her sick to her stomach. She didn’t want to disappoint him. Not after everything he had done for her. She wanted to make him proud. She would make him proud. No matter what.

Kilarra took a deep breath and turned the doorknob. She cracked the door open and glanced inside. Her father was at his desk, back to her, clutching something at his chest. She moved in silently and shut the door.

He didn’t notice her. He didn’t hear her coming. But something about the way he was twitching in his chair put her on edge…. And the smell… Smelt like…

Red Mantis
Symbol of the Red Mantis Assassins. Image courtesy of Paizo Inc.

Blood.

 

Kilarra inched across the room, hands shaking, afraid of what she would see.

Her father jerked erratically and fell from his chair, landing in a heap on the floor. A letter opener protruded from his chest.

“Dad!” she exclaimed.

He flinched when he saw her and tried to scream, but the blood in his mouth made it come out a wet gurgle. She tore her helmet off, and tossed it aside. It’s black insectile eyes watched her accusingly from across the room.

Her father’s eyes widened. He gurgled again, trying to speak, but she couldn’t make out what he was saying.

Pain exploded across the back of her head. She fell to the ground in a heap. Her ears rang and her vision blurred. She reached a shaky hand to her head. It was wet. And something was in her hair… She looked at her fingertips and saw they were covered in blood.

The killer was still here. How could she have been so stupid?

Kilarra crawled forward, but the blow she’d taken to the head had been fierce. Her arms were shaking and she couldn’t focus.

Behind her she heard laughter. It was familiar, but… wrong. Cold and cruel where it had once been warm.

“Ba- Bas- tien..?” she whimpered.

“I thought you’d be harder to take down than that! Didn’t you learn anything from me?”

It wasn’t him. It couldn’t be. He loved her.

There was motion beside her, and then pain. The man who sounded like Bastien kicked her so hard in the chest her whole body was lifted off the ground. She fell on her back, her head cracked against the floor with a wet crunch.

And there above her, smiling, was Bastien.

“Why?” she whimpered.

“Sorry, love,” he replied. “But I’ve always loved playing games.”

He struck her again, knocking her unconscious as a tear streamed down her bloody, swollen face.


When she woke up Bastien was gone, but she wasn’t alone. The guards had found her, bloody and beaten, clutching a bloody letter opener in one hand and her fathers coin purse in the other. Her gear was missing. Her father was dead. Bastien was gone.

She would have done anything for him. Anything.

He took everything from her but her life.


Six Years Later…

Kilarra stepped out of prison and into the busy, sunlit streets of Oppara for the first time in six years. She looked around, and took a deep breath. Slowly, a smile spread across her scarred face. Gods, freedom smelt good.

“Kilarra Calvennis?”

As she opened her eyes her smile slipped. A woman in a military uniform stood in front of her. She was middle-aged, blonde, clean-cut.

“Who wants to know?”

“Officer Landau. Agent of the Crown.”

“I didn’t do it,” Kilarra replied.

“Do what?”the woman asked.

“Whatever it is you think I did.”

Officer Landau smiled. “I think you’re the woman who spent six years of her life serving jail time for killing her father. The same woman who spouted tales of mantis headed assassins for years.”

Kilarra sighed. “And what? You want to hear it again? You want to laugh? I’m out now. A free woman. ”

The officer smirked. “Yes, convenient, isn’t it? Serving only six years of a life-time sentence.”

Kilarra’s frown deepened. Landau was right. Officially she was being let out for good behaviour, but that was clearly a lie. Kilarra hadn’t been good in prison. First she had cried, and then she had yelled, and then she fell in with a bad crowd all over again—or rather, she made her own bad crowd. “Leave me alone,” she growled.

The woman raised an eyebrow. “Why? So you can track down who hired the Red Mantis Assassins and beat them bloody? So you can hunt down your mom, or your grandmother or you brother or any number of other potential suspects and wind up back in the prison you just left by days end?”

Kilarra repressed a frown. That was exactly what she had been planning to do. She plastered a smile across her face and fluttered her eyelashes sweetly. “I’m reformed.”

“Whoever hired you did so for power, or money, or some other petty reason. You weren’t the target, you were the scape goat. It wasn’t personal for them. But this person—this guy you were with. Bastien. He made it personal, didn’t he? Isn’t that who you should be getting revenge against? The man who betrayed you?”

Bastien. The sound of his name sent a wave of anger surging through her. If she ever saw him again she would cram his stupid mantis helmet down his throat. Focus…”Did one too many blows to the head make you deaf, Officer Landau? I said I’m reformed. I’m not going to kill anyone. I’m not searching for vengeance. And I’m not talking to you.”

“That’s too bad. See, I’m recruiting for a special assignment. Grand Prince Stavian the Third has entered into an agreement with—“

“Spare me the politics. It’s boring.”

Officer Landau continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted by a dirty ex-con, but Kilarra could tell her smile had turned cold. “It’s called the Mantisbane Pact, and its purpose is to send agents to kill the Red Mantis Assassins, destroy their organization and assassinate their god.”

Kilarra froze. “Achaekek…” she breathed.

The soldier smiled. “Got your attention, have I?”

“You’re looking for people to assassinate a god?” She burst out laughing. This woman was clearly mad. “How’s that working out for you?”

“Finding brave enough—”

“Crazy enough, you mean.”

Driven enough volunteers who might actually be able to get the job done is… difficult. Which is why I’m here.”

Kyonin
Kyonin, home of the elves. Image courtesy of Paizo Inc.

“Obviously.”

 

Officer Landau grit her teeth. “I’m giving you the opportunity to apply for the team. There’s no guarantee you’ll get in. There’s other volunteers just as driven—”

“Crazy.”

“As you. Now are you in or can I wash my hands of you?”

Kilarra smiled. “Well with a sales pitch like that, how can I refuse? Where do I sign up?”

“Iadara.”

“Where?”

“Pack a bag. The applicants sail for Kyonin tomorrow.”


Want to read more about Kilarra? Be on the look out for more vignettes and flashbacks in the coming weeks!

Want to learn more about Golarion, Taldor, Grand Prince Stavian III, Kyonin, Ilizmagorti, Mediogalti, and the Red Mantis Assassins? Check out Pathfinder Campaign Setting: The Inner Sea and explore Golarion for yourself! For more information on Taldor you can also check out Pathfinder Companion: Taldor, Echoes Of GloryPathfinder Campaign Setting: Taldor, The First Empire, or play the War for the Crown Adventure Path which begins with Pathfinder Adventure Path 127: Crownfall (War for the Crown 1 of 6).