Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And when you look long into an abyss, the abyss also looks into you. -FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE, Beyond Good and Evil
- Born in the relatively new nation of Vesper two hundred and thirty five years ago to a member of the first Thirty Arcane Counselors appointed by the Vigil, he was quickly recognized to be as talented a mage as his father, though with an innate connection to dimensional rifts energy and combat magic as opposed to his father's ley magic. He grew quickly to be a talented Shifter war mage in service to the republic and his father.
- After helping secure the republic for a few years, he began adventuring and travelling the world and the rifts, insatiable to see it all and grow in his magical talent. In one such dimensional adventure, in a long-abandoned city, he came upon an abyssal black gem in a vault he and his cohorts had broken into in hopes of looting. Touching that gem was his first exposure to the Hungry Dark. A stirring entity at rest then, just this massive powerful empty presence felt briefly, whispering into his mind and soul a bit of knowledge of how to call on it before it returned to slumber.
- Dismissing the bizarre contact, he went onward with the others in their adventures. But in the years that came, when he'd face challenges that felt impossible or came near to death himself, he'd feel that presence stirring again, waiting for the call, growing hungry, so deeply hungry. But somehow he knew it offered power if he was willing to take it. He knew enough of the lore to recognize the trap of that. The Shifters who notoriously bound themselves to beings and became insane shells in time were something he wanted no part of.
- That is, until he returned to his home to find it plagued by war against an insane demigod necromancer and her army of the dead. He joined the battle to stop her relentless onslaught, but for every soldier they lost, the undead horde gained another. When his father's guards fell in battle beside him and it looked like his father would be next, things began to look truly hopeless for them all.
- That's, of course, when the Hungry Dark reached out to him again. It offered him power, a chance to help his father, his fellow soldiers, and the people of the republic. All for niggling little 'cost' of immortality. He didn't think that cost sounded too bad. After all, what's bad about having time to see everything in the multiverse and learn all of magic?
- And so he agreed, and when the agony in his chest subsided, that abyssal black gem was embedded there in his pale flesh, and he was changed forever. He had become a lich of the Hungry Dark and he and it were both craving sustenance the undead could not give, but that could be felt shining from the center of the field where the necromancer directed them.
- High on the power, he cut his way through the ranks, leading a sudden charge of opposition, straight into the heart of things where he found her. They fought, he won, and the Hungry Dark feasted.
- For the next two centuries, the lich called Steele would grow in power and experience, travelling the realms between stretches of continuing his defense of Vesper as one of the Armsmen under various guises. Seven bodies he went through, the gem calling to unsuspecting mage each time he was killed, possessing them as his new form, leaving him to start over establishing contacts and finances, usually played off as being protoges of his former self.
- And oh the hunting. Every few months at minimum, often short times, he'd range far via rifts or wings, find a suitable innocent possessing of the right capability for fear, and he'd kidnap, hunt, and ultimately sacrifice them to the dark being he was bonded to.
- Early on, he tried to resist that calling hunger, tried to take only evil souls or the like, but the weight of time and justifications of the good he did for the republic of Vesper and the wonderous things he'd been given opportunity to experience in his years, it became easier and easier to do. He even learned to enjoy the hunt. The opportunity to twist his form into monstrous shape, to hide in shadows and leap out at the unsuspecting prey. He had his code of honor still, and held firm to it, but make no mistake, he was a monster.
- Five years ago, the fear of a young rogue scientist fleeing Coalition States bounty hunters caught his attention and he couldn't resist tracking her escape, saving her from the bounty hunters, only to take her for himself, intent on making her his new prey.
- But something stayed his hand initially from killing her. A nameless sensation he couldn't admit to himself at first, something that started from first time he saw her. He kept her as a house servant for a time, bound from escaping by a crippling spell of dread he lay on her when she tried to leave the boundaries of the estate, but though he was fierce and frightening, he didn't treat her particularly badly.
- He came to know her in that time. The fierce intelligence, the bravery, the gentleness of a healer. Came to know her wish for freedom from oppression of her homeland, and the ways she rebelled there, even the small ways in which she rebelled for him now. He came to know her. And though still he refused to admit it, he came to love her.
- Eventually, the weight of the hunger grew too much for him and, with sad eyes, he told her it was her time. She was released into a maze beneath the estate, told if she escaped him, she'd live, and then was hunted by him in various shapeshifted monstrous forms, building her terror to a a fever pitch.
- And then he caught her, and he knew what he had to do, what the Hungry Dark called upon him to do. He hesitated as long as he could, and then finally struck with his power. And as he began to take her life, she struck him to the withered core of his soul with three words. "I forgive you".
- He stayed his hand, despite the fury of the darkness, fought it back from her and saved her from it, though its mark was lain and her soul cursed by it. She was left in coma, while he was struck down by the Hungry Dark, threatening in its wordless hunger to take from him the gift given of his immortal life.
- The bargaining seemed to last eternity but in truth it was but an hour, but in time they came to compromise. The feeding would continue, but not her life, nor any more innocent as her if he could find another way to keep it sated on those deserving of it, criminals, monstrous beings, and the like. It was displeased enough still to strip him of many of the powers developed over centuries, some of his knowledge, and much of his strength, but it let him and the girl live. For a time.
- The girl woke up some days later, cursemarked by the hungry dark's power, but alive. And it was then that Steele professed his love for her, angrily at first, as if she'd somehow done it to him, but in time he broke down and begged for her to stay with him.
- From such a beginning, he never could have dreamed the life he lives now could have come about, but their unusual love has only grown, a marriage made, a child born, a life shaped. His patrons displeasure continues, but he manages to walk a fine line still between darkness and light, feeding it still, but not in blood and death of the innocent, but those who would be threat to their chosen home.
- Meanwhile, she walks her own fine line, ever hounded by the cursemark of the darkness drawing on her health, threatening to take her from her child and husband, both of them ever on the lookout for new ways to hold back its power and let her survive. The things we endure for love.
Immortal Shifter War Lich of the Vesper Armsmen
Steele is a potent Shifter war mage and long-term member of the Armsmen, the elite agents of the Thirty Arcane Counselors of Vesper. He also happens to be an immortal lich (See Longevity) sustained by bond to the Hungry Dark (see Dark Pact) fed on countless lives over the years (See Feeding Restriction below). Very few know what he is and it's a struggle to keep it that way, especially now that he's trying to behave (see Trouble).
Invoke: To tap into immortal experiences or nature. To excel at war magic. Acting to investigate or combat threats to Vesper, call on the authority of the Armsmen or will of the Thirty, get along with other Armsmen or their agents, tap into his wide network of contacts, or even call for meeting with one of the Thirty as a veteran of the order.
Compel: For complication with his dark patron getting uppity with him, his fear-hunger getting out of control, his weakness to sunlight causing him pain or complication, his nature being threatened to become known (accidentally or by blackmail), his victims or their families coming into play for complication or guilt. Get called upon for morally questionable Armsmen assignments he wouldn't have blinked at twice in the past. Get tangled in Vesper's complicated politics. Get sent into stupidly dangerous situations or called on to protect someone he hates.
The Things One Does For Love
Five years ago, he fell in love with his prey, rebelled against his dark pact, and saved her in the nick of time from sacrifice (though not without her being cursed in the process). Since then, for that love and the daughter born of it, he's sought to become better than the monster he's been for centuries, as well as keep his family together despite the curse caused by him.
Invoke: To go all out to protect the ones he loves or resist the desire to do evil or go full on evil mode for a good reason, or showing up in the nick of time to help wife or daughter.
Compel: To complicate things with a good, but convoluted, option where an evil one would have been more direct, especially feeding. For his daughter to complicate their lives in some way (danger, ill-timed curiosity, etc.). For his wife's curse growing worse and driving him to find another temporary cure for her or a possible cure tempting him to risky action.
Two hundred and thirty five years of life, eight different bodies, and countless beings killed to sustain it all. It's an immense amount of weight for a soul to carry, especially one newly returned to having spark of conscience and regret for it all. On the other hand, it's a long time to have experienced lifetimes of memories, met many interesting people, and accumulate a lot of wealth, favors, knowledge, and trinkets that could come in useful.
Invoke: For interesting historical benefits, past friendly connections, stashes of resources, favors, or experiences useful to current situations.
Compel: For the weight of guilt inflicting penalty in some circumstances, to be jaded and underestimate a dangerous situation thinking it just like past experience, to have old enemies pop up, or unexpected ties to the past (orphaned daughter of the man he killed so casually for instance).
Unleash the Coldfire!!!
Per the Arcane Mastery (Arcane Assault) entry below, Steele has developed his own form of offensive and defensive magic that summons and shapes a potent power he's dubbed coldfire for its appearance as an ethereal blue unflame. The uses of this energy are varied, but when he lets it lose fully, it is both a vastly destructive and defensive force, drinking away life and energies, feeding it into him. The energy is semi-sentient though and wants to be used and can be hard to control if he's not careful. What it might do if it runs wild is not something he cares to find out.
Invoke: To unleash the power in the most potent offensive and defensive magic or use it for sheer intimidation value or impress some other mage whose never seen such magic before.
Compel: When the coldfire starts to get out of his control and does something unexpected, or more dangerously when it ignites without his conscious effort due to losing temper or the like. Also the complications of other mages demanding he teach them the spells and not liking the answer they get.
My Father's Blade
Despite multiple bodies and identities, he has kept one thing across all his lives: His father's sword. It's been broken, reforged, rebuilt with vibro-blade unit, and rebuilt again, but it's become a sentimental talisman of his history and bloodline and it both is his favored mundane weapon and a touchstone to calm his mind in face of stress.
Invoke: To use his familiarity with it to advantage in an attack, to use it as a touchstone against mental or social stress, or for a last ditch surge when other options are exhausted
Compel: Having the thing get broken, stolen, or even just badly scratched up and needing to repair it ASAP. To have someone recognize the blade's similarity to one held by a previous incarnation of him. To be forced into situation without being able to secure it and take penalty for distraction worrying over it.
Major Gateway: Mage (Shifter) (1)
Steele is the sort of Shifter that gives the entire branch of magic a sinister reputation. Born with an innate connection to dimensional energy and its manipulation, a willingness to deal with the beings that gave him access to, and a drive to expand the use of those beings and their energies beyond where most are willing to go.
Dark Pact (Supernatural Bond) (1)
Steele is a lich. Not quite the walking skeletal mage of old thought, but a being of magic whose soul is embedded in a phylactery of power that has sustained his consciousness through centuries in various bodies. The source of this power is what he calls the Hungry Dark. An alien entity he bound himself to two centuries ago with good intentions, but who has twisted him far from good long, long since. Five years ago, he rebelled against the bond for love and has been stripped of much of the fearsome ability he had access to before, but he's come to an understanding again with the Hungry Dark that for now is settled, though it's only matter of time before it strains.
The primary remaining benefit of the pact is the unnatural form of longetivity that Steele maintains: his phylactery. An abyssal black, nearly indestructible, gem embedded in his chest that contains his soul, magic, and consciousness. Fed on the terror and life force of other living beings (especially the purity of innocents), the gem will keep his physical form sustained indefinitely, and should that form be destroyed, the soul and consciousness will persist within until a practicioner of magic strong enough to host it (full mage of some sort) makes skin contact with the gem. At that point, it will enact a possessing transformation that will consume the body's original soul and give Steele life again, something he's done seven times in the past two centuries.
-Lesser Arcane Healing (0)
Once he had much greater power from the pact and the gem, but now the sole remaining ability of the pact left to him is a paltry version of regeneration he once had. An arcane version of more physical Lesser Healing some d-bees exhibit, able to restore the flesh in a surge of magic, though it doesn't help much once damage reaches a certain point where only natural healing or other restorative abilities are needed (i.e. consequences). Once per conflict he may roll Arcana and clear that amount of physical stress from his track.
-Feeding Requirement (Fear) (0)
The phylactery that sustains him needs energies aligned with the Hungry Dark. Once, that included not only fear, but other darker emotions like hatred, despair, and more gruesome things like flesh, blood, and especially soul. The current balance allows for fear to sustain, if not appease the growing hunger fully. Any creature that can feel fear can feed this, but only sentient beings can feed it properly, the greater the fear the better the feed. Generally, if keeping his body fed in mortal way, he can go a week or so between feeding on the terror of a sentient in some form (or many smaller feeds off lesser beings), up to a month if he feeds while actually killing. Up to three months if that kill was of an 'innocent soul'. He _can_ sustain his body on nothing but fear, but it would require daily torture unless he was willing to kill and then it could sustain him for a week. Needless to say, even at its most restrained, this is not something that modern civilization would be very accepting of in any nation, even Vesper, and so he has learned to be very careful of whom he feeds upon and how. Luckily, there are enough dangers out in the world that an occasional terrorizing of some monster (taken via Alteration or Darkness magic) far outside city limits is not that noticeable, and his work as an agent of the Thirty often gives him chance to flex his power in interrogation or combat and feed from the residual energies of that. Sometimes though, he thinks it'd be easier to go back to kidnapping an innocent every few months to straggling from meal to meal as he does now.
-Pact Agenda (0)
The Hungry Dark, whatever it may be (demon, void god, malicious abstraction of human wants, or some nameless elder thing), is particularly alien in its agenda and even after so long with it, Steele doesn't truly understand it's goals. What he _does_ understand is that it wants to be fed off the darker aspects of mortal existence. Fear and death, violence and hatred, despair and hopelessness. The spreading and consumption of these things brings the Hungry Dark the closest thing to pleasure the mortal mind can find analog for, while refusing to feed it brings displeasure and pain. This can be compelled like another aspect to tempt him to fight, frighten, or kill where it might be easier to talk peaceably or gently. This is a constant balancing act of directing the hunger at 'appropriate' targets, such as criminals or monsters rather than just whoever happens to be be unfortunate enough to get in his way. It affects him more when he goes too long without feeding.
Riftwalker's Lore (0)
Communication, teleportation, dimensional travel, and summoning are within this purview, and he's quite adept at all, if not truly mastered as he internalizes a lot of the power. Note: Shifters are capable of using the exotic stress of other willing beings to cast their spells, including summoned creatures. If this is done, cast the spell as normal but mark off the exotic stress from the donor's track rather than the mage's.
Arcane Fundamentals (0)
The basics of magic are something he's expanded on over many years, but never sought to push to true mastery. He's most adept at counterspelling other magics and making use of telekinetic manipulations, but he's got a solid grounding in all basics. Note: Practitioners with the Arcane Fundamentals purview may take mark off one box of physical stress or take a physical consequence to restore one box of exotic stress.
Arcane Assault (0)
Even from his earliest days, Steele had a talent for manipulating magic for combative application, ranging from direct damaging to trapping or slowing someone, to just killing with a word, he is a war mage at his core.
Arcane Mastery (Arcane Assault) (1)
In centuries since, he's developed into truly a master of arcane combat, with a breadth and depth of capability that few match. Notably, he developed his own form of energy he named 'coldfire' that taps into the primeval darkness which he's bound, forming an intensely potent blue not-flame that can cause a wide variety of effects, including killing without leaving a mark as the soul is torn free and fed to his own power. He doesn't share the power, despite many who've sought instruction from him in it. He is at +2 Arcana for arcane assault spells, allowing him to match some of the most devestating weapons on the planet, such that even his 'low-power' attacks tend to be more potent than most mages can manage.
Arcane Defense (1)
Similarly, he developed his protective magics well beyond fundamentals most study, learning to shield against all manner of energies, create circles of power to trap or defend against supernatural beings, and to extend those protections over companions. Note: Those proficient in the Arcane Defense Purview may know spells that allow them to defend against physical attacks on their person with the Arcana skill. These spells nearly always take the form of some kind of shield on or near the mage's person. These shields cannot be used to protect others.
Hidden Knowledge (Lore Stunt) (1)
Centuries of experience with magic and occult matters, he has developed a large collection of lore about such things, though his wife puts him to shame when it comes to actually remembering every nuance of it and researching the depths of that collection. He may use Lore for topics relating to magic and the occult.
Summon and Control (Supernatural) (1)
Beyond the general capability of summoning all Shifter's achieve with Riftwalker's Lore, Steele has tapped for centuries into that most dangerous form of summoning and control, seeking to better understand and manipulate the supernatural beings of the multiverse. Demons are somewhat simple for his tastes and a bit too blatant often, with his preferences leaning towards more esoteric entities of darkness, nameless god things, and the like. It's a dangerous game, for, as his Dark Pact below proves out, the corruptive influence of these beings can be potent, but so can the power they represent. He is adept at an array of summoning, control, and exorcism spells for various types of magical beings, most ethereal and possession-oriented spiritual things, but some quite tangible and dangerous.
Darkness and Dread (1)
Control of shadows, perceptions, and fear are second nature to a being that feeds on terror and has hunted his fellows for centuries. He's not a master in his breadth, but knows various effects for inducing terror or confusion, clouding perception to walk unnoticed or completely unseen, shape darkness, and even become darkness very temporarily.
Over the years of hunting others, he discovered a visceral thrill to the chase that his limited physicality hindered and so began studying ways to enhance and shape his flesh to better suit the hunt. He's not a master shapeshifter with hundreds of forms, but he's accomplished enough to know how to quite a few monstrous and natural animal states. He's better at simply enhancing the natural form's capabilities without full metamorphoses, giving strength, speed, or ability such as breathing underwater. He can affect limited change on others, usually only willingly, but has transformed his wife to a bird to fly alongside him occasionally with great need, though it's draining for them both.
As a hunter, knowing the prey and finding it are key, and he's long studied ability to alter his perception to make use of this sort of magic for detecting auras, traces of magic, psionic energies, or even the touch of evil or goodness in its purest forms. He can translate via these energies or communicate with those things that can't otherwise communicate, but he's not expert in such magic and doesn't rely solely on them except where necessary.
Steele pays Maximus a visit on his new skiff to catch up with an old associate/friend, and the topic of conversation takes an unexpected turn to the birds and bees.