From her earliest days, Vanessa Blakeney’s life was one of darkness and fear. The daughter of homeless parents, they lived in the sewers, catacombs, and ruins beneath the city of Blackspire, coming to the surface only to beg, scavenge, and occasionally steal to make their way. They were constantly on the move, never settling in one place more than a few days, always trying to stay one step ahead of the authorities, tax collectors, sewer-jacks, slavers, predators, and all the other forces of Blackspire that meant them harm. Vanessa’s sister Elaina was only an infant when their father went to the surface to steal some food and never returned, and since then it was just them and their mother. Their mother did her very best by her daughters, and certainly went to some extremes to see to their survival, but always made Vanessa promise that she would always look after her little sister if anything ever happened to her. Then one day when Vanessa was about eleven and her sister seven, their mother was captured by a group of Talos (Lizardmen) never to be seen again, and it was just the two sisters on their own from then on.
Vanessa remembered her promise and did her best using what she had learned on the mean streets of Blackspire to take care of her younger sister. She begged, she cut purses, and eventually she even fell in with gangs of other homeless youth. She served just as a lookout at first, but soon graduated to housebreaking and other larcenies, and then it was Elaina’s turn to serve as lookout. Until one fateful day when one of the gang’s robberies went awry, and Elaina was shot through the abdomen with a crossbow bolt by a guard while escaping. And no matter how loudly she screamed, cried, or gnashed her teeth, there was nothing Vanessa could do to save her sister from bleeding to death.
But another street punk, a slightly older boy named Tzok who was also in their gang, took pity on them and carried the bleeding girl to a secret place he knew beneath the streets. There they met a strange old hermit named Edam Weizhaupt who did his best to tend to her sister’s wounds, but seemed all-too-certain Elainia would not see First Bell. However, the old man must have seen something in Vanessa’s tear stained eyes, and with a sigh began to mutter a strange incantation. It was then Vanessa realized the man’s hands were glowing with the warmest golden light she had even seen, and when he removed them from Elaina’s injuries, her wounds were completely and miraculously healed.
Tzok explained he was part of an underground network of faithful followers of the “sun god” Solaris, called the Dayrise Brotherhood. The group was in part a thieves guild, but also dealt in information collection and exchange. To Vanessa’s surprise she also learned the brotherhood was sort of the militant arm of an underground church, the Cult of Solaris (it is worth noting that although every member of the Dayrise Brotherhood is a church member, not every worshipper of Solaris is a member of the Brotherhood). They preached the teachings of an old god that had been banished from the world by the evil gods of Blackspire, and that once it was men and not monsters that ruled the world… that once it was the bright golden light of Solaris that ruled the sky, not the eternal blackness brought onto the world by the fearsome Obelisk. Without hesitation, Vanessa joined the movement and adopted its idealist philosophies. The cult was divided into many small sects spread about the city, and attending meetings was always dangerous business, for the religion they practiced was considered heresy by the Blackspirians, and they were constantly being hunted by the Incolumnitá (the Illithid Inquisition), the NOSFERAT (the Vampire Secret Police), and a bizarre group of unknown individuals they knew only as the Cult of the Dark Sun… a group no one seemed to want to talk about.
When Vanessa reached her mid-teens, she began thieving less and less, and became Edam’s assistant (though “bodyguard” would probably be more appropriate title). She would help the old man out with injured people brought to the secret cleric by the Dayrise Brotherhood. It was during those years that Vanessa learned of the great powers of priestly magic and faith healing. She was also gravely warned about its discretionary use and how the city would view it as the most extreme form of heresy… and captured clerics are punished by a slow, torturous death (typically burned at the stake in the Grand Bazaar). Under Edam’s instruction, Vanessa learned everything she could about Solarianism. The Cult’s teachings are based on an ancient religion that once existed long before the age of Blackspire and the Dark Alliance, and was once the dominant religion of mankind. The religion is based on the god Solaris, who is the sun, and who embodies all the excellent aspects of mankind: Honor, Duty, Intelligence, Learning, Ethics, Compassion, and Charity to name a few. The modern church is founded on the teachings of the Scrolls of Solaris, twelve scrolls that outline the fundamental dogma, ritual, and history of the church, of which Edam’s church had managed only to recover four (numbers 2, 4, 5, and 7). These twelve once combined will create the Book of the Sun (their “Bible”), the foundation of all Solarism. It is from these pages that the clerics of Solaris have extracted the information they have used to found their underground religion. The true clerics of Solaris within the city are few and far between, though there are some without supernatural gifts who have taken up the mantle of simple preachers.
The church is organized into small cells of a dozen or fewer parishioners and each meet separately and in secret to pray together and to hear the word of Solaris. Once per year, on the day the church scholars say was the Summer Solstice (the height of Solaris’s power) all the church cells meet together in and underground catacomb below Blackspire’s streets to celebrate the Mass of the Sun, the holiest of ceremonies where at the height of the ritual a glowing golden sun appears above the congregation, bathing everyone in its light. It was also this time each year Vanessa had the opportunity to reunite with Tzok again, if for only a few hours. During this service new members are inducted into the grander church and are anointed with precious oils and asked to affirm their faith. It was during one of these ceremonies that Vanessa had an epiphany of faith and realized she had been blessed, becoming a spiritual conduit of the divine power of Solaris as one of the first paladins in a generation.
As years passed and her paladin powers grew, she found herself undertaking many dangerous missions for the Dayrise Brotherhood, and it was during one of these the group of cultists were ambushed by agents of the NOSFERAT. Vanessa was determined to die fighting the undead, which was inevitable given the odds, but once the vampires realized she was actually a paladin, they instead slew only her companions and brought her before the head of the NOSFERAT… Voivode Vladiel.
Vladiel was one of the Vampire Princes of Blackspire (Voivode means “prince” in his mother tongue) and dwelt in the Black Palace deep in the region of the city known as the Necropolis. Vladiel considered Vanessa to be an intriguing challenge, and was determined that she would renounce her faith and chose to be one of his vampire brides rather than perish. But no matter how they tortured her, she would not relent; confident a holy paradise with her god awaited her in death. Then the Voivode brought in the animated corpses of her slain companions who condemned her in a chorus of undead voices… and, though severely grief-stricken, still she would not chose vampirism. It was then Vladiel unveiled his pièce de résistance and brought a chained and terrified Elaina before them. Vladiel promised that one of the Blakney sisters would become his bride and the other would go free, and it was up to Vanessa to decide… and so she finally, regrettably, surrendered herself to the vampire’s kiss. As the Voivode drank deep, and they dragged her screaming sister from her sight, Vanessa felt the cold hand of undeath claim her… and the light of Solaris faded from her forever.
Life as one of the Voivode’s brides was far worse than the torture she had endured at the hands of the NOSFERAT. As her maker and master, he had absolute control over her. With a simple mental command he could tell her what to say, what to do, even what to think (or not think… like planning to murder him or plotting to escape). Though vampires do not truly need sleep in a world without a sun, nonetheless Vanessa was bound to the great stone coffin Vladiel had prepared for her in the bowels of his castle, and if Vanessa we ever to be slain, it is to that coffin her gaseous form would always return. The Voivode delighted in tormenting her with the trapping of her former life, mocking how the sun symbol she thought so precious once now kept her at bay, and would even burn her if she touched it. A thousand, thousand petty indignities did she suffer at his hand over the long decades that followed, but what he planned next was even worse.
Vladiel commanded Vanessa to join the ranks of the NOSFERAT, and put the full scope of her knowledge to work hunting down the various cells and sects of Solarians, and though she hated every single soul-crushing moment, she had no choice but to comply. And despite herself, she learned quite a bit from her time with the NOSFERAT. Eventually years later she even helped them plan a raid on the yearly Mass of the Sun. The secret meeting was attacked in force by the collective might of the NOSFERAT, and not one member was to be allowed to escape alive. The battle was a quick bloodbath, with Vanessa joining the ranks with the other undead to slay the Solarian priests, their followers, and their children. Vanessa saw Edam cut down by the Voivode himself, along with scores of others in the congregation she knew, but her undead heart skipped a beat when she saw the young cleric who stepped forward to face her… her sister Elaina, now in her twenties, and wielding the full might of Solaris. Vanessa knew that if Vladiel saw Elaina, there would be no end to the torments he would inflict on them both, so remembering her promise to her mother, slew her sister as quickly and as mercilessly as possible, and then ensured there would be no chance she would return as one of the undead. Elaina was prepared to battle vampires, but unprepared to face her sister, so Vanessa triumphed quickly. Vanessa dared not even grieve her sister, for risk of alerting Voivode Vladiel, and blessedly Elaina’s mutilated corpse was made a meal for the ghoul and wight soldiers of the NOSFERAT along with all the rest of the slain… though she could never be certain if Tzok was also among the dead. All hope died with her that day.
The years dragged on, and it seemed Voivode had lost interest in tormenting her, and she spent many long days alone, or doing the dirty work of the NOSFERAT. Then one fateful day, Vanessa realized she was no longer under the Voivode’s control. Perhaps he released her, perhaps he had taken one too many new brides, or perhaps he’d even been slain… the reasons did not matter, Vanessa had been waiting for this opportunity for decades and immediately fled the Necropolis, past the Obelisk, down, down, down to the lowest of the Low City… Grumchucker’s Square, where there’s always need for mercenary work, and everyone knows better than to ask a person too many questions about themselves. Fortunately, her enchanted armor allowed her to more easily disguise herself (it’s glammered to appear like any suit of clothing she wants, including the NOSFERAT uniform), and so under the new name Solina Arisando she took some simple mercenary jobs for a half-ogre named Gurthax the Unsmiling, and eventually even saved enough to buy a silvered bec-de-corbin. The pole-arm had once belonged to a sewer-jack who specialized in hunting were-rats, but its silver spike and heavy hammer would be ideal for staking vampires… for when that day comes…
Now, Tax Month comes around once every ten months, and the Black Dragons and their agents go forth and for thirty terrifying days collect from every citizen the taxes due to the city (and then spend the remainder of the year “auditing” large offenders and evaders). It is that month as well the Blacks collect each citizen’s “Life Tax” (ten crowns), and those who cannot pay in coin, pay in other ways. Tax Month is a great month for Grumchucker’s Square since there is steady work for mercenaries assisting the Blacks. Small riots in the poor sections of the city are not uncommon that month, and extra security is always needed.
This year however, something unique happened. As an angry mob of humans, orcs, and other creatures slammed into the squad of mercs she were a part of, their ranks began to break. In the melee that ensued she saved a fellow mercenary (a medusa she’d worked with once or twice before named Melaria) from a dark elf in the crowd who meant to slit the medusa’s throat from behind. Melaria had not taken him for an opponent among the crowds of Pickett’s Ward until he fell screaming at her feet, cut down from behind by Solina. Melaria never learned the identity of her would-be assassin (though she still has his enchanted Lolthian dagger) but ever since Solina began working on mercenary jobs with the medusa and her companion, a troll named Marv. The two women actually have similar backgrounds and skill sets, and so the three also became drinking companions in the local “unaffiliated” mercenary’s bar called The Bloody Coin. As a vampire, Solina looses 1 point of “blood” each day, and it can only be restored by drinking blood from a living creature, but fortunately the Bloody Coin can accommodate her odd dietary needs.
Lately Melaria has been inviting a Lolthian alchemist named G’eldatar who makes cures that actually work to drink with them at The Bloody Coin, and who seems to be interested in making money as a mercenary. Sometimes they are also joined by an entertaining friend of G’eldatar’s, a doppelganger actor turned mercenary named Maelik Kileam, who was apparently something of a minor celebrity in certain circles (at least until a series of unfortunate circumstances led him to leave that career behind), and even more recently by a blue dragon named Stormtooth. Needless to say, having a blue dragon for a drinking companion now means their crew always commands the seat of honor when they visit The Bloody Coin.