High Priestess Astrona Emberwild
Astrona Emberwild is a difficult one to write about. Even though she was the figurehead for the most despicable organisation in history, there is still plenty of potential to feel sympathy for her tale. Despite the countless dead that she is responsible for, the overwhelming emotion I find in trying to recount her life is pity.
Early LifeAstrona had a reasonably comfortable upbringing in the human capital of Dawnstone. Her father was a cobbler who had wealthy clients so they never had any financial issues. She was afforded the opportunity to study under the priests at the Temple of Pelor after she turned ten years old. There, she learned about the world as a whole and about divine magic. It was apparent from the beginning that Astrona was adept in this ability. She was regarded by her tutors as someone who had a great future ahead of them.
Alongside AregosAstrona grew up alongside Aregos Falstar, the future hero of Aldenia and someone who would be instrumental in ending her evil campaign. Though, as they spent years learning together, neither of them knew the way their lives would diverge so drastically. Having being born the same year Aregos was and learning within the same halls, she and Aregos became good friends. Even when Aregos left The Temple of Pelor at 18 to join the Dawn's Guard, they still met occasionally, usually whenever he paid a visit to the temple. There was even a brief glimmer of a possibility of a relationship between the two during their late teens. Aregos' conscription in the army put an end to that, however. She did think fondly of him, but ultimately realised that he would not be the one she would spend her life with. Astrona ultimately found love in someone else but Aregos was invited to her wedding. Oddly enough, it was a friend of Aregos's that she ended up marrying. Aregos himself never married.
Fall From GraceWhilst there are technically only two ranks within the temples of Aldenia (Priest/ess and High Priest/ess), Astrona is credited as being the youngest person (of a race with human-ish maturation rate) to ever reach the rank of High Priest or Priestess. She was 27 at the time. Just one year later, her husband was sent to investigate reports of strange noises and mysterious disappearances in the Narrow Woods east of Dawnstone. A few days later, his body was returned to Dawnstone. Overcome with grief, she spent days praying to Pelor for guidance about how to bring him back. A day passed, no answer. Another day passed, no answer. On the third, she received a response. According to a fellow High Priest, as Astrona prayed, a book fell off a nearby shelf with such force it was like it had been magically pushed from behind. In that book, Astrona found her answer. Despite the warnings of her colleague that he had never seen this book before, she proceeded with the ritual within. Despite reasonable efforts to locate it, the book disappeared entirely after the casting. True to the book's words, her husband returned from the dead. However, his return was marked by a seed of darkness planted in her heart. In the months that followed, a coldness spread within her, taking hold of her. She grew more distant from her husband, her colleagues, everyone. Eventually, just over a year after his resurrection, her husband confronted her and she snapped. She killed him with a new kind of magic that she didn't even realise she was capable of. Eyewitnesses claim that she fled her house, looking frightened, as if the original Astrona had taken over and was aware of what she had done. The next time anyone saw her, however, it was clear the darkness was in control once more.
In the Dark CouncilAt the start of 9BCE, The Dark Council made itself known. After withdrawing from the world, Astrona had secretly been building an alliance of malevolent persons. The initial group consister of herself; Nicisu Telnain, a feared Elven temptress and assassin; Orsa Algrun, reportedly a fallen angel and sorcerer; Syllen Olalyn, a half-elf of unknown abilities who would only be later named from journals kept by Astrona; Krotar Shadowthane, a disgraced scholar and warlock; and Drakk the Brutal, Chieftain of the Orcish people. This band of six, along with the Orc army and a few hordes of undead Astrona was capable of raising already, took the city of Arkran, which sat right in the heart of Aldenia, by surprise. Its people were either killed, enslaved or fled. However, sat right at the heart of Arkran was a mighty fortress, which rendered any immediate counterattack useless. Especially once Astrona managed to bring the Lich King Vaedrin back. Also, all the people who had died in the attack and subsequent occupation had become part of Astrona's army of the dead. The first futile attempt at recapturing the city only ended by bolstering the defender's armies. Arkran was too well defended by too well co-ordinated and talented individuals. The magical knowledge of Orsa Algrun and the surprisingly nuanced tactical brain of Drakk the Brutal was a difficult pairing to break through. Arkran would become home to three more council members as the war progressed. A few months in, the exiled gnome Grevlin Doomwrench joined, providing technological expertise and arcane constructs to guard the city. The successful attack on the vampire Sanmire's estate by the forces of light resulted in one of their own being turned. Upon Lothaire's exposing, he was forced to flee civilisation. He found Astrona's offering an acceptable one. Finally, the corruption of The Ancestral Tree by Vaedrin also corrupted the soul of its main guardian, the goliath Ancestral Elder Thanoth Nightcarver Gathakanathi. Even the eventual cleansing of the tree many years later did not restore his soul, unlike the rest of the Circle of the Ancestors. Astrona would lead The Council of Nine, as they became known, over the course of the war. No one dared attack their city for fear of only making it stronger after the initial attempt. It would be eight years before Arkran would be assaulted again, and for the last time.
DeathIn the year that followed the restoration of the Ancestral Tree, the forces of light managed to destroy the Lich King Vaedrin and kill the black dragon, Dreadfang. They even managed to stop and banish Mohzall, an ancient earthquake dragon back to the Earth Plane from which Astrona and the Council had freed him from. With only the Council itself left to deal with, armed with the combined knowledge and forces of all the major nations that they had been building over eight years, it was finally time to rid the world of the Council of Nine. What followed was the largest singular battle in the recorded history of Aldenia. Eventually, the Council were eliminated, one by one as the armies progress through the city until only Astrona was left. Stood at the head of the Grand Hall within the fortress, she was warded by an immense magical barrier and seemingly endless undead thralls. Between the Archmages of the Radiant Tower, High Priests of all deities, the Shadowthanes and other magical Dwarven families and the Circle of the Ancestors, worked to find a way through Astrona's barrier. Whilst Aregos Falstar led the armies (the General of the Dawn's Guard had been killed during the fighting, leaving Aregos the highest ranking official) in protecting their magic wielders from the undead, they worked to break it down bit by bit. Eventually, it shattered into a million magical motes and Astrona was obliterated by the combined magics. It is said in her final moments, she did not scream, but smile.
PaintingsDue to her prominence, naturally Astrona features amongst many works of art. She features in artwork depicting the fall of Arkhan to the Council, and various pieces painted upon the successful assault by the forces of light to reclaim it. The Final Stand is regarded as one the great paintings and shows the final moments as Astrona defiantly fought against the combined magical forces about to overwhelm her. The Temple of Pelor has a painting of Astrona before her turning, in remembrance of the brilliant young priestess she once was.
Astrona in her High Priestess days