I wish to share with you all the legend of Abrum the Unyielding, an npc that my party encountered during one of our Pathfinder sessions while we were questing in the Worldwound. For those of you who don’t know, the Worldwound is basically a blasted landscape where the powers of the Abyss have spilled out onto the mortal world. It is mostly filled with demons, undead, and various other types of corrupting influences. At this point in the campaign, our party consisted of a catfolk (oracle), an aasimar (paladin), an aasimar (ranger), a dwarven (fighter), and myself as an assimar (monk). We were all very experienced players and felt supremely confident that, despite the difficulty of the campaign, we could overcome any encounter the DM put before us.
However, what follows is an experience that none of us will ever forget.
Recently, our party came across an old journal that detailed several interesting locations of note in the region that we were exploring. As it happens, one of these locations was an old abandoned temple that was supposedly dedicated to a ruinous power of some sort. The journal went on to hint at the possibility of an ancient demonic artifact being housed inside said temple, and seeing as how our party was entirely made up of righteous crusaders, we decided to take it upon ourselves to investigate the situation. After all, if a demonic artifact did exist within this ancient temple, then it was our responsibility to destroy it once and for all.
The journey to the temple took two days of hard marching ‘in-game’ time, and along the way, the party was forced to contend with several difficult encounters. We were ambushed during the night by a swarm of demonic bugs, and later set upon by a host of maniacal cultists. We also had a particularly nasty run-in with a group of Greater Shadows as well, but fortunately our oracle was able to keep us all alive. As I said before, the Worldwound is a dangerous place, and we knew that if anything went wrong during this quest, no one would be around to help us. The nearest safe haven was a three days march away, and we currently did not have access to the ‘Teleport’ spell either.
Still, we marched on.
Eventually we were able to reach our perilous destination, but when we arrived, rather than seeing some old abandoned temple, we were instead greeted by a large foreboding chasm leading deep into the earth. Taking a more cautious approach, the party promptly walked up to the edge and looked over the side, hoping to spot the temple somewhere in the distance. No such luck I’m afraid, although we did manage to spot several large claw marks scratched along the walls (and by large I mean the size of fucking tree-trunks). Fearing the worst, we decided to roll some knowledge checks to see what kind of creature could have made such marks. Unfortunately, our ranger could only determine that whatever made these claw marks was at least gargantuan in size, and for a party of level ten characters, this was definitely a concerning event.
At this point, we realized that this could have been the DM’s way of telling us not to go any further, so we decided to have our oracle cast ‘Augury’ in order to see if going down into the temple was a good idea. Much to our surprise, the results of the spell turned out to be ‘weal and woe’, which essentially meant that it could be both good and bad. Realizing that we needed further clarification, we decided to let our oracle cast ‘Commune’ next and ask her Goddess Sarenrae (or one of her agents) a few additional questions.
I won’t bore you with the list of the questions that were asked, but let’s just say that after the spell concluded, we immediately knew several important things: 1) Going down to the temple was dangerous. 2) The creature that made the claw-marks was still down there. And 3) Completing this quest was of the utmost importance.
And so, with that knowledge, we ventured down the chasm.
Due to the poor lighting of the area, we weren’t able to see how deep this fissure went, so we decided to use a wand of ‘Feather Fall’ and hope for the best. Thankfully, the chasm only went down about 120 feet, and along the adjacent surface, it opened up into a large cavern leading further into the cliffside. We proceeded along cautiously with our ranger taking point, while our dwarven fighter protected the rear and kept a watchful eye. Sadly, due to our oracle’s lack of darkvision, we were forced to cast a ‘Light’ spell as we walked further into the tunnel, which we all knew made it nearly impossible to conceal our position.
Alas, what choice did we have?
However, as we moved further along the trail, we started to get the impression that some sort of great battle must have taken place here. After all, there were several scattered piles of bones and broken armor strewn throughout the cavern floors, and while this certainly didn’t help to ease the party’s concerns, we were already too committed to turn away now. Out of curiosity, we decided to take a moment to determine the identity of some of these corpses, and while most of them were humanoid with no real discernable features, we did manage to find the bones of several frost giants added into the mix.
Ironically though, there was still no sign of the massive creature that had made the claw marks from earlier, and even stranger, most of these bodies seemed to have died from wounds inflicted by a much smaller (potentially bladed) weapon. Things weren’t adding up, yet we pressed on regardless, determined to get to the bottom of this rather concerning riddle. Eventually, the party rounded a corner into a large oval-shaped chamber with a massive set of double-doors on the far side of the room. To our surprise, the chamber was also slightly illuminated thanks to the presence of several everburning torches that had been placed along the walls.
As our DM proceeded to describe the room, we immediately began to take note of three important factors. First, the room looked like a warzone with several large holes blasted into the floor and walls, along with nearly twenty dead bodies strewn along the ground. Secondly, the corpse of a giant ‘beast-like’ creature could be seen laid out in a heap along the western wall (we later determined this to be the corpse of a great wyrm white dragon). And last but not least, a mysterious old man holding a broken sword and wearing a broken set of full-plate could be seen sitting near the double-doors that lead into the temple, muttering to himself in a barely audible voice.
Needless to say, we were shocked into silence.
Fearing that this might be a trap and realizing that the old man hadn’t noticed us yet, our party quickly huddled together and started casting some spells. ‘Detect Evil’ was the first on our list, but to our surprise, the old man did not register as evil at all. We then tried ‘Detect Magic’ next and determined that only things magical on the old man were his sword and armor, along with a curious magical ring that we later learned was a Ring of Sustenance. After that we made some perception checks to scan the room for traps, but again came back with nothing as the coast seemed totally clear. With all of that out of the way, our party drew their weapons and stepped out into view.
We were hoping to try a diplomatic approach first, but we had decided to brandish our weapons anyway in case of a surprise attack. However, before any of us managed to make an introduction, the old man suddenly ceased in his mumblings and turned his gaze upon us.
“Foolish intruders. Have you come to die as well?” he asked in a weary voice, his tone slightly laced with a firm determination. “Have I not killed enough of you? Are these corpses not enough? How much more do you ask of me now? How much more blood am I required to spill?”
The old man was forced to pause for a moment as a sudden coughing fit interrupted his speech. By this point, none of us were sure about what to do next, yet before we could begin to question this man, his raspy old voice spoke up again.
“H-heed my warnings well demons….leave this place…and never return. For that is the only mercy I can offer to you now.”
Wanting to explain ourselves, our paladin quickly stepped forward and tried reasoning with the man, stating that we were not demons but rather crusaders instead. Our DM called for a diplomacy check, and our paladin actually rolled rather well for it.
Sadly though, it wasn’t enough.
“LIES!” the old man screamed, as he instantly stood up and brandished his broken blade. “Do you think to try and fool me again? Do you really believe I am so readily deceived! NEVER! I will never allow you to pass beyond these doors!”
Before we could say anything else, the old man lunged forward and attacked our paladin, striking him with a single blow that nearly took off a quarter of his health.
“BEGONE!” the old man yelled, as we reluctantly prepared for battle. “My vow will not be broken! You demons will NEVER win!”
Now around this time, the DM quickly informed us that the old man was half-blind and clearly suffering from some sort of bodily affliction (hence the coughing fit). On top of that, he was also a human in the venerable age category (which was remarkable considering how much damage he did). Clearly this was a fight that was meant to be taken seriously, and yet despite his initial attack against our paladin, none of us truly wished to cause this man any harm. Therefore, we quickly decided to try and take him prisoner, hoping that such an action would grant us the chance to reason with him later.
As luck would have it, my monk ended up going first, and I immediately opted to strike with a nonlethal blow. However, I quickly learned that despite my above average attack roll, this tough old bastard was VERY hard to hit (a fact that shocked all of us considering his only form of protection was a broken set of full plate armor). I did manage to land at least one good punch though before the end of my turn, but as soon as finished resolving the damage, the old grizzled veteran started screaming once again.
“No! I will not allow this! I will not let you heathens rob me of my honor!” he yelled in a panicked voice.
Our oracle was up next, and like the rest of us, she was also very reluctant to attack this man with lethal force. Therefore, she attempted to disable him by casting the ‘Hold Person’ spell in the hopes of at least stalling the fight until we could formulate a plan.
However, what happened next truly caught us off guard, for just as our DM was about to roll his save, the old man suddenly raised his voice and pleaded towards the Heavens.
“Pulura, I beseech you. Please give me the strength to honor my oath!”
Now, for those of you who don’t know, Pulura is an angelic Empyeral Lord of constellations, northern lights, and homesickness. She is a benevolent and compassionate Goddess, and certainly no servant or promoter of evil. As such, you can imagine our party’s surprise when the torchlight in the room slowly began to shimmer, taking on a familiar hue of the northern lights themselves. It lasted for only a moment, but that moment was enough, and after the DM finished rolling his saving throw, the old man shook his head and tightened his grip upon his sword.
“I gave Her my word…do you hear me demons?! And as long as I live, I will not allow any of you to tarnish my word!”
At this point, nearly half of the party was truly considering retreating from this fight, for we simply could not bring ourselves to cut this man down (and taking him alive was looking like a dubious prospect as well). To make matter worse, the old man was up next in combat, and he was apparently more than ready to throw down the gauntlet. After only four attacks, our oracle was reduced to a third of her health while our paladin was struggling at well-below half. It was then that we were forced to make a critical decision: runaway now or stand our ground and fight.
In the end, after each of us offered up our prayers to our Gods, we decided to hold fast and see this thing through.
The battle itself was brutal and full of tension, with each of us nearly going down on more than one occasion. Thankfully our oracle managed to keep us all healed up, and with our fighter and ranger tanking most of the damage, we slowly started to pull ourselves back into the fight. In the end though, it was our paladin who finally managed to land the killing blow, as he forcefully drove his blade through the old man’s chest, causing his rusty broken sword to slip slowly from his hands.
However, rather than collapsing right away, the old man simply stood there impaled upon the blade, gazing over the paladin’s shoulder with a vacant look in his eyes. The rest of the party stood there in silence as the old man stretched out his hands and struggled to speak, while a gentle stream of tears slowly fell from his eyes.
“Pulura…please forgive me…I did the best I could. I beg you…with all my heart…let me go home.”
After muttering that final prayer, the old man slipped down and fell upon his back, his life-blood flowing freely from the gaping wound in his chest. In that moment, not a single one of us could think of anything to say, as we watched this great warrior breathe his last breath before the light in his eyes was finally snuffed out.
We had done it. We stood as the victors, but we felt no sense of triumph. Only a deep gnawing guilt that we had somehow just committed a heinous and unforgivable act. Our party still had so many questions that needed to be answered: Who was this man? What oath had he been talking about? And why did the Goddess Pulura favor him so?
Yet before we could receive any proper answers, the chamber we were standing in suddenly grew dark, and the very air around us seemed to radiate with a malevolent and unnatural aura. From out of the ground sprang a miasma of dark unholy power, hissing and chittering like a swarm of hungry locusts, as a deep and savage voice echoed in our minds.
“He is ours,” it whispered, in a tone filled with hate. “We shall claim him in the name of our God. The Lord of Locusts will have his due!”
Now, just to clarify, the Lord of Locusts was the demon lord known as Deskari, and apparently he had some serious beef with this grizzled old warrior. At first, we weren’t sure what to make of this since the old man was already dead, but our oracle quickly pointed out that perhaps this unnatural ‘darkness’ was attempting to claim his soul.
Fearing the worst, our party quickly formed a defensive circle around the old man’s body, hoping to protect him from this vile corrupting force even if it meant sacrificing our lives. Alas, our efforts proved in vain as the darkness easily weaved its way past us and encircled the veterans body, threatening to corrupt his corpse right before our very eyes. At this point our party grew frustrated, for it seemed as if nothing we could do could prevent this heinous atrocity.
However, just when it looked like all hope was lost, the ground suddenly heaved and shook beneath our feet, and from high above, a blinding flash of light burst forth through the ceiling, enveloping the old man’s body in a blinding pillar of light. In an instant, the darkness was driven away with a cowardly shriek, as soft yet commanding voice echoed throughout the room.
"This man's soul is not yours to take. His loyalty, in both life and death, was declared to me alone. Begone from my sight and never touch him again, for I shall suffer your vile presence no longer."
I gotta say, I was pretty sure the ‘darkness’ just pissed itself. After all, being rebuked by a Goddess was never an idle threat. As for the rest of us, we swiftly dropped to our knees and averted our eyes, for we knew that the being that stood before us now was none other than the Shimmering Maiden herself. Now, keep in mind, while my group mainly consisted of veteran DnD and Pathfinder players, we typically didn’t encounter Gods very often, so meeting a deity here (even a minor one) was a very big deal.
Admittedly though, most of us were worried that Pulura had simply come to curse us for killing her champion, yet to our surprise, when the Goddess finally turned to address us, her words were not condemning but rather peaceful and sincere.
"You have all done me a service beyond imagining. Long have I feared that the soul of this man was lost to me forever, but thanks to your actions this day, my faithful servant has finally returned home. The Heavens rejoice and the stars dance with joy, for today marks a great victory for all the forces of light.”
Pulura then went on to explain that the old man’s name was Abrum Stross, a legendary hero who was charged by her to defend this location from the forces of darkness. Apparently, this place was not some demonic temple as we had previously believed, but rather an elaborately crafted prison whose only inmate consisted of an ancient Balor (or super demon) of Deskari that Abrum had managed to capture nearly fifty years ago.
Enraged by the offense, Deskari had quickly rallied a host of undead minions and demonic cultists, all in an attempt to free his captured servant. Yet, to the demon lord’s surprise, Abrum somehow managed to defeat them all. Meanwhile, Pulura was trying desperately to reach out to her mortal servants in order to provide Abrum with some much-needed support. Unfortunately, due to the small size of her followers on Golarion, there were not many people available, let alone strong enough, to offer Abrum aid. As such, the Goddess was eventually forced to call upon the help of other goodly deities, hoping that at least one of them would be willing to assist.
Deskari, however, was having none of that.
In a moment of cruel demonic insight, the Lord of Locusts eventually decided to kill two birds with one stone by punishing the foolish Balor who had allowed himself to be captured, while at the same time getting revenge against the human who had so readily defied him. I’ll admit, the details of this curse were a little complex, but it essentially boiled down to Deskari using the Balor’s own life-force to curse Abrum Stross by cutting him off from his precious little Goddess. No longer would the man be able to feel his Goddess’s presence, and while she could still hear his prayers to a certain extent, Abrum was effectively isolated and utterly alone.
Undaunted by these turn of events, Abrum silently vowed to his Goddess that he would remain at his post and keep the prison secure, at least until reinforcements arrived to relieve him of his charge. Thankfully, he had in his possession a Ring of Sustenance, which allowed him to remain vigil despite the lack of food and water. Yet what Abrum didn’t realize was that Deskari was no longer interested in freeing the Balor, but was instead entirely focused on claiming a greater prize: Abrum’s own soul.
You see, the Lord of Locusts reasoned that if he could corrupt Abrum, or at least drive him mad, then his soul would make a stronger servant then the Balor ever was. All he had to do was wait the mortal out, and if on the off chance that Abrum abandoned his post, then Deskari could simply reclaim his Balor without too much trouble.
And so, as they say in Game of Thrones, the long watch began.
The first few decades proved rather difficult with frost giants, drow, and even a host of duergar all attempting to raid the prison and end Abrum’s life. Thankfully, none of them were capable of besting the man in combat, although the numerous battles he participated in were beginning to take their toll in other ways instead. His equipment, for example, was slowly starting to break, and the numerous years of isolation weighed heavily upon his mind. Things came to a head though when a fully matured white dragon attempted to claim the prison as it’s newly-found lair, and thus engaged Abrum in an epic and ferocious battle.
Yet, as before, Arum emerged victorious.
After defeating the dragon however, the demons decided to change their tactics, and what followed was perhaps the most torturous and difficult years of Abrum’s long life. Rather than engaging him combat, many demons focused instead on corrupting his soul and destroying his will. The succubi, for example, offered to end his loneliness by giving him the company he so desperately craved. Other demons whispered sweet promises of sending him back home so he could see his family and loved ones again. At one point, a group of incubus demons even attempted to disguise themselves as holy crusaders, all in an effort to get the lowly mortal to finally abandon his post.
And yet, through it all, Abrum endured.
This wasn’t to say that he wasn’t tempted of course, and he nearly ended up breaking on more than one occasion. The numerous decades of loneliness and battle had begun to eat away at both his sanity and health, which inevitably lead to him weeping in despair for days (or sometimes even weeks) on end. He was tired of the fighting, tired of the struggle, but most of all he was simply tired of just being alive. He had begun to pray for death, and had even considered killing himself, yet Abrum quickly banished such thoughts before they could take root in his heart.
His oath. His promise. That was all that mattered now.
Although he missed his homeland and the faces of his friends, Abrum simply could not bring himself to relinquish his charge. He knew that if he did, the Balor would be free to ravish the world once more, and that was simply not an outcome that Abrum would accept. And so the warrior waited…for death…for madness…or the slow decay of the world; praying that someday soon, his watch would finally end.
“I feared that he would die without ever knowing peace," Pulura explained. "But thanks to all of you, his honor remained intact. He died before madness or corruption could taint his soul, and now his spirit is finally ready to receive its just reward. However, if you would allow me to impose upon you one last time, I ask that you please give this man the burial he deserves. He was a noble hero in life, much like yourselves, and I would hope that his legend would never be forgotten."
Needless to say, our party was more than happy to agree to her request, and as an added bonus, the Goddess proceeded to inform us that the imprisoned Balor was also weak enough now that we could slay the creature without much trouble. Apparently, during its fifty-year imprisonment, Deskari had continued to drain its life-force in order to keep Abrum cursed, and as such, the beast was now a weakened husk that was barely able to stand. We entered through the double doors and killed it immediately, before wrapping up Abrum’s body and carrying him out of the room.
Eventually, we managed to make it back to a nearby crusader outpost were we immediately told everyone about what had transpired. Later that night, we held a massive funeral service and finally laid Abrum to rest, and we even payed to have his sword and armor fixed and buried alongside him. Over the next few days, word quickly spread about the courageous old fighter who stood against the forces of evil and refused to bend the knee. The stories about his strength, dedication, and loyalty to his Goddess became an inspiration to everyone who heard it.
His life was not pointless, and his death was not in vain. He was a warrior who would not yield and choose the easier path, and he is a reminder that even in our darkest hours, we should never give up the fight.
This is his legacy. This is his truth.
This is the legend of Abrum, the Unyielding.