Sophia, the Young Paladin
Sophia Avarian's life is a story of tragedy and courage, of great losses sustained and great temptations withstood. Above all, it is the story of the triumph of a human soul over evil.
When she was seven years old, Sophia was orphaned during an orc raid on her village. A force of warriors led by a group of paladins of Heironeous arrived to drive the orcs away, but they came too late to save the young girl's parents. An elderly cleric named Cidel found Sophia with a bloody kitchen knife in her hand, standing over the body of a goblin. Nearby lay the bodies of her mother and father. Her eyes were full of rage and as Cidel watched, the young girl continued to stab the goblin's corpse.
Cidel was filled with pity for Sophia and, since the girl had no living family, he made her a ward of Heironeous's church. For weeks after the attack, she would not speak to anyone. It was all Cidel could do to wrest the knife from her small hands. When she finally began to converse again, she told Cidel how she'd hidden from the orcs under a bushel basket while they murdered her parents. Then she told him of the goblin that followed the orcs, scavenging dead bodies for whatever the larger monsters left behind. She told him how she'd surprised the vile creature with a knife in its back and how she'd gone on to butcher the thing. Her voice, as she spoke, was cold, distant, and full of bitter hate.
Cidel knew that the girl would need guidance if she was to ever control or channel her hatred. He taught her the ways of Heironeous: justice, honor, and strength. He placed her feet firmly on the path of righteousness and, under his firm but loving hand, Sophia grew up to be one of Heironeous's finest paladins.
Sophia, Knight Errant
Still, Sophia struggled with the anger that continued to fester inside her. She longed for justice, and she used her strength to protect the weak from all evil threats -- evil humans, goblinoids, and other monsters. But she also longed for vengeance. Orcs and goblins above all else were the target of her wrath, and she hunted them at every opportunity. When the time came to fight her hated enemies, Sophia slaughtered them with a glee that was almost unholy. Many times, the aging Cidel had to steer the young woman back to the right path. More than once, the old man assigned his foster daughter a tedious atonement when she returned from a gruesome bloodbath waged against orcs or goblins.
In time, the girl began to understand the lessons set out by her foster father. She began to reign in her anger. Then, in a cruel twist of fate, Cidel was murdered by followers of Hextor.
Faced again with the loss of her family, Sophia's rage knew no bounds. She hunted down these followers of Hextor and killed every one of them. But this did not quell her anger. She went on to find the small temple of Hextor that had dispatched these murderers. She charged into the temple during a ceremony and proceeded to slaughter everyone present -- men and women, weak and strong, old and young all fell before her flashing sword. When the killing was done, blood ran ankle-deep across the temple floor.
This wanton destruction attracted the attention of another evil god: Erythnul the Many. The god of slaughter appeared to the blood-soaked girl and offered her a deal: If she would turn and worship him, he would provide her with opportunities for vengeance against all those who had wronged her.
Burning with rage and confronted by a deity who seemed willing to allow her rage full reign, Sophia's faith wavered. She considered joining Erythnul and taking up the path of the blackguard, forever abandoning the path of Heironeous.
Sophia, the Balanced
Sophia reached out to clasp the hand of Erythnul the Many. Then, just as she was about to accept the evil deity's offer, she caught sight of her holy symbol, which had fallen from her belt and now lay in a pool of human blood on the temple floor. A wave of remorse overwhelmed the young woman, and she cried out in unspeakable agony. She grabbed the holy symbol and fled from the temple.
Sophia rode deep into the wilderness. For decades she wandered as a nameless knight errant, never staying in one place for longer than a fortnight. She ate only what she could scavenge or beg for. She carried little but her weapons and raised them only in the cause of absolute justice -- and even then, reluctantly. The years began to show on Sophia's face, and lines of pain and wisdom etched around her eyes and mouth. She prayed frequently to Heironeous and asked that he cleanse her soul and make her pure enough to follow his path once more.
Finally, the spirit of Cidel came to her in a dream. He told Sophia that she had done her penance many times over, that her deity had long since forgiven her, and that she needed now to forgive herself. Having found peace at last, Sophia returned to the temple where Cidel had raised her and joined the ranks of Heironeous's paladins and lifted her sword once more in the name of justice -- but never thereafter in the name of vengeance.
About the Author
Ramon Arjona is a software developer with Wizards of the Coast. His poetry has appeared in the Absinthe Literary Review and the Hawaii Review. His short stories have appeared in Strange Horizons.