Villain Spotlight: Zora Aldebar

I got myself swept up in another coordinated posting event this week. This time, it was a small-scale villain showcase along with Mad Brew Labs, The Core Mechanic, and At-Will. I’m taking a slightly different format for purposes of maintaining system neutrality, but the overall idea is the same. (Players of mine will or should note that I’ve already finished these arcs; I couldn’t go about giving away trade secrets just yet, now, could I?) So without further ado…

Zora Aldebar

“Who are you, and why are you in my way?”

Imagine being a demigod in a world that dislikes you, for a time. Reviled, hunted, perpetually on the run. Only after a while, you run into a group that does exactly the opposite. They’ll train you in sorcery or weaponsmastery or whatever you fancy, protect you, worship you, encourage you to be the hero you always knew you were. Isn’t it a glorious feeling? But then you look a little more closely into it, and discover that everything is not as it appears. Those people helping you? They’re not telling you everything. Someone else you’ve talked to disappears for a couple of days and comes back cheerful and energetic and completely sheep-like towards the cause. And your teacher, someone like you, someone who knew enough of the truth to pass it on to you, fabricates an excuse for you to get out of there safely—and then you never see him alive again.

That’s about where Zora’s coming from. Some would dismiss her as a conspiracy theorist, but the Conspiracy she’s fighting definitely exists. Her problem is that she tends to solve problems with her blades, and isn’t too worried about the collateral damage between herself and her goals. She knows they have a penchant for meddling in the most unlikely of matters, and feels that if she causes enough trouble, she can draw them out and figure out where they’re hiding. The mortals and others inconvenienced by this—collateral damage, nothing more.

Because her opponent is a large group and very good at gathering information, Zora keeps her organization small, functionally a band of equals, and even they don’t stay together much. There’s Pemba, a sorceress, bio-crafter, and expert demon summoner (and quite possibly the only person in the world who’d think to cross a tick with a mantis and get a symbiotic suit of armor), but she’s reclusive and more interested in her bugs than the overall goal. There’s Pemba’s assistant Duman Shadowchaser, a decent spy when he wants to be, but motivating the man is a challenge in and of itself.

And then there’s Nandin, the trump card. She’d known for certain her teacher Darshan was gone when she met the boy, because some vestige of Darshan was present in him. Their coexistence was rather difficult. On the one hand, Nandin himself was far more pacifistic than the more warlike Zora. Baiting traps with collateral damage? Not his idea of a good time. On the other hand, he was useful in his own right; a good negotiator for someone new to his power, and what was left of Darshan in him knew a lot. They have an odd sort of dynamic going; officially, Zora has the rank and Nandin takes the orders, but on matters where the-one-who-was-Darshan would be the expert, or “those matters”, he’s in charge. Nandin isn’t aware of his passenger, and Zora doesn’t feel like telling him; what would the boy do if he knew that he was in some roundabout way responsible for her “attract the big fish by messing with the small fish” strategy?

Zora’s primary base of operations is in the mountainous portion of the southern desert. A place of power in its own right, it’s built into a mostly dormant volcano, and features warding against sorcerous entry in most of its structure. The obsidian plain around it is guarded by one of Pemba’s summons, the demon spider Akhterim (smaller picture below); as Akhterim is several times more perceptive than a security system and a few orders of magnitude scarier, Zora is confident in her ability to defend her territory. The enormous pile of defunct magical relics in the basement just waiting for identification or repair doesn’t exactly hurt. And below is a maze of lava tubes that can easily be used for an escape route—or, with judicious use of Akhterim’s reality-looping power, keep potential adversaries lost for hours.

The shipping caravans that cross the desert had been undergoing chaos of late; some have disappeared entirely, while others have limped into their ports of call with half of their members and most of their cargo missing. Survivors talked about a ‘demon woman’, or a ’sand-devil’, appearing from nowhere and holding them up. Only the objectives of this visitor had been in common; she favored targeting shipments of unusual merchandise. That was what got my players involved. The disappearance of the local demon hunters didn’t exactly dissuade them, either.

Akhterim itself comprised two interesting questions for my group. As demons go, it is one of the nastiest, capable of being called forth by very few, and bound to a task by fewer still. Learning about it, they had to wonder: who is it that shares Zora’s views and is capable of summoning and binding something that large? When they saw the two of them actually interacting, they noticed that the demon was loyal, even somewhat submissive, to Zora, far beyond what would be expected even if she had bound him herself; some began to wonder why.  They still haven’t followed up on that.

Strong, cunning, and overall intimidating, Zora herself could pose a fair challenge to a decently powerful group. When at large, she makes a point of evoking the imagery of a locally known demon, reasoning that while her targets might not know to fear her, they would definitely fear those signs. Under the costuming, she wears black and gold armor and wields brilliant golden swords; people facing her in her own territory will likely see those. Her fighting style is primarily retributive; any attack she successfully parries, she can and will counterattack, even going so far as too surround herself with a corona of blazing fire and retaliate against ranged attacks by flicking parts of that at her aggressor. She has a number of other powers that improve both her offense and defense; faced with a large enough group, she will bolster her defense and counterattacking first, and then her offense. This often makes people targeting her think that she’s weaker than she is, or that she’s deliberately holding back. Either impression allows her to take advantage of the miscalculation.

When dealing with large numbers, or when she sees her opponent approaching, Zora uses her secondary skills as a combat sorcerer, either picking off single opponents from a (very) long distance or carpeting a whole area in flying shards of glass. If she feels a situation is to her disadvantage, she will teleport to a specially prepared room on the periphery of her base and regroup.

And there you have it.  What do you think?

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