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Saint Jezebel of the Cathedrali

Jezebel was born (hatched) into the large tribe of gargoyles that for centuries have inhabited the ruins of an ancient temple called the White Cathedral, a holy site that was once dedicated to a now long forgotten faith. Though time, the elements, and ancient desecrations have all taken their toll on the once proud structure, it now sits mostly undisturbed atop the tallest hill in the wicked city of Nrithia. The tribal elders say that once the city had another name, The Theocratic City-State of Solon, and that it was a place of light and life, dedicated to the worship of celestial deities that legends say once roamed the black sky, but who abandoned their creations centuries ago, leaving the world in an Age of Eternal Night.

It was not long after the sky went black, the elders say, that the city and its clergy fell to the Legions of the Undead, who in triumph dedicated the newly conquered city of their enemies to their own dark god by bathing the bricks of each structure in the city with the blood of every member of its former population… and those stones still carry the same crimson stain (and haunted memories) to this day. Only the church was spared this particular blasphemous decoration, and though the White Citadel had been ransacked many times over in the years to follow, its tombs desecrated, its hallowed sanctuaries defiled (and some even re-consecrated)… as a whole the temple and its gargoyle residents have been left mostly undisturbed since those first dark years of the founding of Nrithia (and their leader the Black Pharaoh’s construction of the cyclopean Red Pyramid in the decades that followed). Undisturbed that is, until fairly recently…

Around one hundred gargoyles of the Cathedrali tribe make their home amid the architecture of the White Cathedral. Gargoyles’ appearances tend to reflect the motif of the structure they inhabit, from traditional façad-perched grotesques, to leering chimera and anthropomorphic animalia, to the rare and beautiful Imagos, gargoyles whose appearance resemble the marble statues of the saints and angels that adorn the various alcoves, shrines, and tableaux of the once holy temple, all once carved by some of the greatest sculptors to ever walk the Earth. Most of the Cathedrali colorings resemble the various types of white stone that comprise the temple and mimic either the angelic or demonic statuary that fill the structure, but Jezebel was born particularly special. Born an Imago, she also displays both the angelic traits of the mostly beautifully sculpted masterpieces, as well as some more of the more demonic appendages of the most monstrous gargoyles, namely horns, claws, fangs, and a feathered tail. Many of the tribe compared her appearance to the she-devils that appear in the grand tableaux The Temptation of St. Vancel that looms over a doorway in the partially ruined temple Vestibule. She would to seem to be a child of both heaven and hell.

But even rarer still, Jezebel was born with skin like white marble laced with veins of gold, a stone that only appears in some of the (formerly) holiest sites in the Cathedral. Some elders believe the gold veined gargoyles are special because the stone they resemble was believed to have been quarried from beneath the roots of the Worldtree in ancient days, while others affirm the anomaly refers to the legend that once, before the sky went dark, the Cathedrali had once interbred with the Holy Golden Dragons who also once guarded the site (metallic dragons feature very prominently in the temple artwork, almost as much as the mysterious and forgotten celestial symbols of the old faith). Whatever the truth may be, those born with golden veins more often than not display the mysterious Stigmata, and Jezebel is no exception. The blood and tears both of these special gargoyles have the appearance of liquid gold, and is a substance that hardens extremely quickly on contact with air to form incredibly sharp golden crystals that are very cold to the touch (and thus is often called Golden Ice). Though gargoyles themselves seem immune to its effects, other creatures that come in contact with the golden substance can become afflicted by it (including the undead) and their bodies become ravaged with fast growing crystals of Golden Ice. The gargoyles of the White Cathedral tend to take on ecclesiastical titles such as Father, Brother, Friar, Abbott, Deacon, Bishop, etc. and those rare few that display the Stigmata are usually given the title of Saint by the tribe.

Only one in four gargoyles are born female to begin with, and with these additional traits, Saint Jezebel’s birth was seen as particularly auspicious… but when she began to demonstrate a deep spiritual bond with the Cathedral even prior to reaching full maturity, her coming was seen as an Omen of some form or another. Everyone in the Cathedrali expected great things from her, though the tribe remained divided on just what that would actually… eventually… mean.

The gargoyles’ relationship with the building they inhabit (particularly their birth home) is far deeper than mere cosmetic mimicry. Whenever a gargoyle uses their Freeze ability, the tips of their claws actually meld with the stone they are perched on (as per the spell Meld With Stone), and in dream-like meditation they can, in a sense, enter into the memories of the building. One might say that not every house has ghosts, but every house is haunted. Gargoyles call this state of merging with the memories of their home The Meld and in many ways it is akin to their religion. Gargoyle begin The Meld from the moment their stony egg takes root on the building upon what becomes known as a gargoyle’s Birthstone, which remains the gargoyle’s sole and only “ownership” of any portion of its home, as no other egg will take root on that stone until the gargoyle’s death when its spirit joins The Meld forever (or perhaps at least until the building chooses them again for reincarnation, as some of the druids believe).

While still in its egg, the gargoyle joins with The Meld and begins to gain through osmosis the collective knowledge of its tribe and in a way can potentially gain the knowledge of every gargoyle who ever merged with the same home. Gargoyles also draw nourishment from the stone during The Meld, and though it could be thought of as a diet of “bread and water”, four hours of meditation in The Meld is the equivalent of a full days’ food and rest, and if they wish, gargoyles can meditate sometimes up to 40 hours (or more) consecutively and as such won’t have to do so again for another 10 days (though druids still need to meditate for 4 hours before they can again replenish spells). In fact in the Cathedral there is the figure of a gargoyle that legends say joined with The Meld in the days before the sky went dark, and has been in deep mediation ever since. The gargoyles have long ago forgotten his true name so have taken to calling him “Father Cavebeard” due the stalactites that have begun to form on his chin and wings. No attempt to contact Cavebeard (either sleeping or awake) has proven fruitful, so many believe he died centuries ago while meditating, while others maintain that perhaps he’s just a sculpture carved by some ancient human genius so talented that he could fool even the gargoyles. Still none dare to move him from the pedestal for fear of what they might inadvertently upset, and so Father Cavebeard remains stationary where he has for centuries in his leaky alcove along the long circuit of the Auctor Sol.

Thanks to a months’ long maturation process, as which point they’re completely engaged in The Meld, most gargoyles hatch with the mental faculties of an adolescent, and speaking the language of the tribe (Terran) as well as whatever else it is believed the Cathedral wanted the young one to know from birth. But many more believe The Meld extends far beyond a single structure, and that powerful mystics can extend their awareness into entire cities, or potentially even throughout the entire planet.  Elders say that gargoyles must have once existed long before man ever raised up his cities of stone, so in those days it was theorized their ancient tribesmen more likely resembled natural rock formations and when entering The Meld merged with mountains, canyons, and other natural features of the Earth. Some myths even claim that gargoyles were once merely lifeless stalactites hanging from a cave deep beneath the Worldtree until they were awakened to life by its sacred sap in the ancient days when the world was young.

A gargoyle’s bond with its home also extends to the security, care, and upkeep of that structure and each also feels a certain loyalty to whoever is recognized as the official owner/master of the building. However, the White Citadel has not held an official master since Pope Zealous XV, the last ecclesiastical leader of Solon, who fell to the Undead some five centuries ago, so most of the Cathedrali look to their druids and other tribal elders for leadership. Sadly, more often than not the Cathedrali find themselves divided over a myriad of disputes, from the merits of structural repair vs. natural decay to how best to treat the ghosts that haunt the dark corners of the fallen Cathedral… but nothing has divided them more in living memory than how best to deal with the current crisis that plagues them.

A gargoyle’s bond with the tribe tends to always be stronger than ties of birth, so gargoyles usually do not have any particularly special relationship with their mother (and even less with their suspected father). Still Jezebel does remember her mother, an angelic gold-veined Imago who wept golden tears at her birth, and called her “Her Little Succubus” (a nickname no one else has called her since). But her mother mysteriously disappeared before Jezebel even reached maturity, and given the young gargoyle’s particular talents; she was immediately placed under the tutelage of one of the tribal elders, the druid known as Friar Mossmantle (so named for the phosphorescent blue and green Ghostmoss that grows on his shoulders and back). Mossmantle was a powerful old druid with a deep mastery of The Meld, as well as a talented herbalist, as he oversaw much of the cultivation of Razorvine Ivy, Ghostmoss, Sweetgrail Mushrooms, and other plants the gargoyles use to supplement their diet of meditative osmosis via The Meld. Gargoyles are omnivorous hunters and scavengers, and can sustain themselves on almost any organic matter; including the flesh of the occasional undead creature that wanders into the gargoyle’s territory. Under Mossmantle’s instruction Jezebel unlocked many secrets of the druidic ways (including the secret name of the slumbering spirit of Mother Earth: Teregastia). With his guidance she achieved a much deeper understanding of The Meld, and it was also during this time that she acquired her lifelong animal companion, an albino dire bat she named Lucifer that had made its home along with so many others of its black-furred kind in the Cathedral’s Belfry. Lucifer proved to be smarter than others of his species, and in time Jezebel was able to teach him to speak Auran (the language of flying creatures) so the two’s communication is far deeper now than just empathic.

Though portions of the White Cathedral are still relatively intact, much of its former structure has fallen into ruin, allowing the elements to take hold in some sections, and to take over in others. This does add a degree of natural beauty to the Cathedral… like the waterfall that forms during rainstorms in St. Damon’s Chapel in the West Transept, or the way the blankets of Ghostmoss weave through the columns of the Nave. Still, at times allowing natural forces too much sway threatens to damage the sections of the Cathedral the tribes occupy, and so Jezebel felt it was her duty to learn the ways of structural engineering so she could better care for her home and her tribe. And so with Friar Mossmantle’s blessing she also began to study with those gargoyles that had made it their life’s work to understand the mysteries of Architecture. To their delight, Jezebel was quite adept at all manner of learning (particularly languages), even going so far as to teach herself the language of the Solonians so she could better understand some of the crumbling architectural books that had been salvaged from the Cathedral’s original Library. Her ingenuity allowed the gargoyles to rescue a whole section of church wall that had threatened to catastrophically collapse, and in reward the Cathedrali bestowed upon Jezebel a sacred relic that had been in their keeping since the fall of Solon, and one only the worthiest gargoyles were permitted to wear. It was a magical golden Halo that when equipped mysteriously floats behind the user’s head, and greatly enhances all of their mental faculties (as well as containing vast stored knowledge of both history and religions of the world). In Saint Jezebel’s case, this pushed her wit, wisdom, and charm to supernatural levels… and the item is “hers” until her death, at which point it is to be returned to the tribal elders of the Cathedrali.

But oddest of all was Saint Jezebel’s curiosity with ghosts. Most of the Cathedrali seem fit to simply ignore the ghosts that haunt the shadowy halls of the Cathedral, while others feel they should be put to rest, though don’t seem particularly motivated to bring that solution about. Most of the ghosts seem to be mindless, tortured human souls, completely unaware of their current condition, but there are others that still hold a spark of intelligence, and it is those spirits the gargoyles avoid most completely. One of these shades is a ghost the gargoyles have taken to calling “The Pallid Pope”, a near skeletal specter that floats about in a costume of ancient ecclesiastical garb, and is seen at times all throughout the Cathedral (most spirits tend to haunt only a particular spot). Jezebel reasoned that gargoyles and ghosts of the same building might have more in common that first suspected, and so risked approaching The Pallid Pope, an act that quickly resulted in a strong alliance between the two. The Pallid Pope had haunted the Cathedral along with his fellow ghosts since the last days of Solon. Through him, she was able to learn a great many secrets the Cathedrali had long forgotten about their home. Namely that once the White Cathedral had been dedicated to the most powerful of the celestial deities, Solaris the Sun God, and from the Papal Throne, the church had ruled with strength and wisdom over the peoples of the Theocracy of Solon for centuries. But like many great societies before them, it had fallen into misguided actions, poor judgment, and fanatical ways… ultimately culminating in an event the Pallid Pope called The Bishop’s Crusade, which crippled the church in a way it could never recover from, and eventually in its weakened state fell to the Undead when the sky went black.

But even more terrifying, the Pallid Pope shared another secret with Jezebel so troubling it threatened to drive her mad. The ghost revealed to her that he was in fact the shade of Zealous XV, the last high priest of Solaris, cursed to walk the Earth until the sun returns to the sky. He believes his curse of undeath stems from the fact that the undead had desecrated and in many cases re-consecrated the Cathedral to their own dark god (and specifically they had never allowed his bones a proper burial). The Black Pharoah and his people worship Nrith the Black Sun, who was Solaris’s “evil twin” in the faith of the old pantheon. Even though the White Cathedral is liberally adorned with these ancient celestial symbols (primarily the Sun), Jezebel never felt any particular kinship with the building’s former religion (even though her own actual Birthstone carries the celestial markings of the entire pantheon). Hers was always a druidic approach to being one with the earth… the stone… The Meld.

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St. Jezebel’s Birthstone from the White Cathedral

Suddenly she found herself torn… not only did she begin to realize a kinship with the unhallowed nature of the Black Sun’s demonic taint; she also realized how she’d been equally touched by the angelic nature of the Sun. More confusingly, her gargoyle nature prompted in her an innate sense of duty to the Pallid Pope, him being the last true master of her home. He never shared with her where his bones currently lie, only to say they are in the one place in the temple he cannot visit. Jezebel feared sharing her ghostly alliance with the rest of the Cathedrali, but still felt a sense of duty to find a way for her new friend to be at peace… and it was this new loyalty that would ultimately steer the course of the events to come.

The Cathedrali have an arrangement with the undead of Nrithia that stretches back to the early days of their conquest. Any mindless undead that wander into the Cathedral are fair game for the gargoyles to hunt, and otherwise the Nrithians will stay clear of the Cathedral except on two occasions. The first occurs far more infrequently (and hasn’t occurred in Jezebel’s six years since hatching) but at those instances a great throng of Nrithians, led by the Black Pharaoh himself, enter the Cathedral and visit The Tomb of the Perfect Soul, a gold-veined chamber that is the only spot in the Cathedral that the undead have never desecrated. Legends say the tomb is empty… for no one has ever possessed a perfect soul to be buried there, but the undead assemble around one of their numbers, a skeletal warrior named Curse, who visits the tomb time and again throughout the centuries, and always leaves in defeat… to the cavorting laughter of the Nrithians. Mossmantle and the other elders do not know the reasons for this little show, but have confirmed the undead man called Curse dresses in plate armor that looks to be made of tree bark and carries a darkwood scythe with a blade of pure amber. Most strangely though is apparently all across his bony skull are carved runes in the Druidic language, which is a language that only druids teach to their own. Jezebel has never had occasion to see him yet, but knows that for however respectfully the Nrithians treat the Tomb, the Cathedrali treat it as sacrosanct. No gargoyle in over five centuries has ever set foot inside that gold-veined place, which is a tradition stretching back to the earliest days of the tribe, long before the sky ever went dark.

The second arrangement with the Nrithians is much more pressing, and in recent years much more complicated. In exchange for being allowed to live in peace, each year the Cathedrali must turn over one of their numbers that display the Stigmata to the undead, and afterwards that gargoyle is never seen again. Each year the sacrifice is chosen by lots from among the eligible saints, and each year the one chosen typically goes willingly, martyring itself for the tribe (and will be forever remembered by the Cathedrali). The martyr leaves the safety of the Cathedral walls and enters the circle of Standing Arches beyond… whereby they are collected by a mass of undead wielding golden blades and swept away. However a few years ago, the Nrithians began to demand that two gargoyles be chosen each cycle instead of one, and then just the year past the Nrithians demanded four. There are less than a dozen gold-veined gargoyles left in the Cathedrali tribe (and even fewer with the Stigmata), and so at this point they may very well become extinct if the undead’s pattern continues. And so the tribal elders met and it was decided that something drastic should be done.

The arguments went on for weeks, and though the violent disagreements would occasionally even come to blows, on a whole it was finally decided that resisting the Nrithians might spell the end of the entire tribe, and so it was agreed by the majority that the Cathedrali should seek a new home, and bring along as much of the White Cathedral with them as they could possibly manage once they had a place to resettle. Suddenly everyone realized who among them it should be to brave the darkness of the world beyond their city and seek a new home for the Cathedrali… St. Jezebel of course, born under auspicious signs, and perhaps the saint some of the Cathedrali would least like to lose to the Nrithians.

However, there could be no consensus among the tribe of where she should begin her search. Gargoyles rarely leave the confines of the Cathedral, let alone the greater city of Nrith. The tribes whisper of civilizations to the far east, far west, and distant north (for to the south is only the endless sea) but none of the Cathedrali have ever visited any of these places and returned. Generations past, some tribal heroes were said to have returned from the wastes beyond the borders of the city, and spoke of hundreds of war torn miles where countless armies of mindless mechanical men are still following their master’s last military order left over from some ancient forgotten war, and hunt down and destroy the living and undead alike. Whichever direction she chose would be extremely risky, so receiving no truly helpful advice from the tribe, decided ultimately to seek the guidance of the Pallid Pope.

The Pope was surprisingly keen on the idea of transporting pieces or whole even sections of the White Cathedral to a new home, particularly if it could somehow be re-consecrated to Solaris (or barring that at least no longer residing in Nrith’s city). He told her of an old technique the Cathedrali druids used to use when they were the loyal servants of the Solarian faith. Following his advice and using her druidic magic, Jezebel used Meld With Stone to first completely enter into the Cathedral’s structure before meditating and joining with The Meld. The Pope warned her the experience could be extreme, as some gargoyles can become lost in The Meld never to return, but if successful she’d be able to go deeper and see with more clarity… perhaps even experience a form of communication with the building itself.

She experienced a great deal of strange phenomena during her Deep Meld, but chiefly among them she saw a series of visions that she believes were given to her by the Cathedral (or perhaps even by one of the gods). In her waking dream, she found herself in St. Damon’s Chapel when it slowly began to be illuminated with a brilliant golden light from outside that shone through the shattered stain glass to paint the room in beautiful hues of light her eyes had never seen before. Then her consciousness began to rise and she passed through the upper chambers of the temple, up through the dome of the Auctor Sol, until she was floating above the Cathedral. She looked to the west, and there seemingly at the end of the world she saw a brilliant globe of that same golden light, brighter than anything she had ever gazed upon before, piecing the darkness like a hole in Reality. Though the light was blinding, she dared to peer straight into it, and awash in light there she saw another vision. She saw a great and terrible city towering over the sea, dominated by countless black towers and alive with ancient power. There she saw a great mansion atop a sheer cliff, and wherein a great many creatures from all walks of life lived. Then her perspective shifted once again and she saw the vision of a titanic white creature towering over the home. It looked like a dragon, but with many heads instead of one, and each of those heads was different from the other.  As she watched the heads began to bite at each other, severing their fellows at the neck, but where each was cut off, two more grew in its place, each one different from the last. Some heads looked like they were made up of many smaller heads, or three identical heads, or heads with many eyes and one… but four, became six, became eight, until she could no longer count them all, as they continued their violent dance of multiplication. Then she saw the white winged figures of her fellow Cathedrali swarm the pale creature, and began to nest peacefully amid its many coils. This was a place for refugees of all types, and one where her people would be welcomed. And with that, Saint Jezebel knew her people’s destiny lay to the west, and so would seek their new home… this mansion on a cliff guarded by a terrible beast with many heads.

When she explained her vision to the Pallid Pope, he became convinced she had seen a vision of Solaris, and agreed she must quest to the west and locate a new home for the Cathedral and its residents.  If she would promise to take his bones with them when they eventually moved their home, not only would he tell her where they were when the time came, he would help her with the initial leg of her quest. He led Jezebel to some long forgotten corridors of the Cathedral that had been bricked off centuries before and never discovered by the Nrithians (and only accessible by her druidic ways). Inside were a series of sarcophagi that had lain undisturbed for centuries. With the Pope’s guidance she opened two of them, and there found two magical Solarian relics. The first was the legendary Lance of St. Qoxiel the Inquisitor, who perished some years before having his chance to die in the Bishop’s Crusade with the rest of his Order. The Lance has an enchanted spear point made from solid Golden Ice and is emblazoned with the symbol of the Sun with a skull within. The other relic was a sling the Pope called the Thong of St Yoan of Fhold, who upon examining her bones was either a child saint, or perhaps a Halfling. With this weapon she would be able to hurl shards of her own Golden Ice tears as a sling bullet, and with the Lance she would be a match for most opponents, living or undead. She promised the Pallid Pope she would use them to keep herself safe while she sought for a new home for all of them… and that she would not return to the Cathedral until she had found it.

Keeping her new weapons a secret; she said her farewells to the tribe. They gave her what gold coins had been discovered about the ruins throughout the centuries, and of course she would take her coveted Halo. Reluctantly, they also broke off as large a piece of her Birthstone as she could carry, and with it in tow set off with Lucifer to the west… with all her people’s hopes going with her. The journey was long and fraught with peril. She would sometimes hear great creatures lumbering about in the distant darkness, or feel the nearby swoop of monstrous wings, but with her bat’s guidance managed to steer clear of ending up some monstrous creature’s meal. Most of the world outside the city was barren and devoid of life, but those odd places that seemed inhabited by creatures with their own light sources she avoided even more stalwartly. Storms came infrequently, but were too brutal to fly through, so she was forced to seek shelter in sea caves, beneath rocky outcroppings, and other shelters that it seems had never before joined with The Meld. At one point she passed over a fierce rough sea that was occasionally punctuated with great shards of rock a few inches to a few yards above the water’s surface, and she and Lucifer spent a very unpleasant night desperately clinging to one, as an angry storm swept up from the south and for hours threatened to toss both of them into the churning waves. She passed over lifeless mountains, desolate plains, and sparse forests of Darkwood trees, their phosphorescent blue or green leaves giving their surroundings a ghostly aura… always keeping only to herself (and Lucifer).

After many long weeks of toiling travel, eventually Jezebel saw a great city on the horizon, much larger than Nrithia and bustling with life, light, and color. It displayed a number of cliff faces, countless towers, and hundreds of different types of structures, many in an architectural style completely alien to the suddenly naïve gargoyle. She’d found the city of her vision and now needed to find the home she had seen… the one that welcomes gargoyle refugees.

And so her search continues…