Kalder: Corpse Style Acolytes

William T. Thrasher

After a lengthy hiatus, it's time to return to Kalder, the homebrew fantasy setting of stately nations, new frontiers, and strange gods. In our last installment we explored the Cynosure, a debatably heretical religious order that views lichdom as a sacrament and professes the absolute neutrality of Edarh, the Hand that Turns the Wheel. Towards the end of this entry reference was made to "corpse style", a martial art developed by the sect that allows disciplined warriors to fight as if they were already dead.

Corpse style was first envisioned by Dravex, an Asphyxial Mendicant elevated to lichdom shortly before the Axial Schism. As Dravex told it, the basic principles of corpse style came in a vision. As the rest of the Cynosure scrambled for stability following their exile to Balkazi, Dravex took up residence in an isolated ruin atop an ancient funerary mound with a circle of acolytes and set about developing corpse style into a formal martial art. The task took roughly thirty years, culminating at one of the rare gatherings of the Asphyxials. Before all gathered Dravex's acolytes demonstrated their skill, discipline, and strange techniques that produced effects bordering on the supernatural. When the other Asphyxials were suitable awed, Dravex declared that their work in this life was complete and was reduced to dust. The Abbots charged with safeguarding Dravex's phylactery later confirmed that at that very moment the relic which preserved the lich's unlife shattered of its own accord. With their master returned to The Wheel, the acolytes dispersed, each leaving the conclave at the side of a different lich and pledged to teach a new generation of acolytes the secrets of corpse style.

The effect on the Cynosure was immediate, and soon every Asphyxial pressed to have a corpse style master of their own to see to their safety and the safety of the religious texts they compiled. For the first time in almost half a decade, the Cynosure had a means of protecting itself that was not dependent upon vulgar displays of magic, the largess of the tyrants of Balkazi or the grace of the Shield Lord. More importantly, the Cynosure now had fanatically devoted mortal agents capable of defending themselves and carrying out the sect's work beyond the Balkazi mountains.

Corpse style acolytes progress through a series of initiations as they attain mastery of their martial art, each level of initiation marked with a solemn ritual that echos one of the many stages of a traditional funeral service as outlined in the Book of Days and Years. The first and most important principle of corpse style is that the acolyte becomes armored by their own mortality by becoming in all ways like the dead. Indeed, a corpse style acolyte is treated in all ways like one who has died, dressing in funeral robes, sleeping within the niches of a crypt, and drawing breaths so shallow they may as well not be breathing at all. When an acolyte is referred to at all, it is in the past tense, even among other acolytes.

In addition to drills, physical exercise, and other training common to martial artists, corpse style acolytes spend a great deal of time in meditative trances, learning to slow their heart beat, lower their body temperature, and bring themselves physically, mentally, and spiritually closer to a state of death. They are also tested regularly, fed elixirs that force the body into death-like states, and exposed to physical extremes such as going days or weeks without food or water. Ritualized trials include being buried alive and having to dig themselves free and crawling to the top of a crematorium's smokestack. It is little wonder many potential corpse style masters meet a true and lasting death during their training. Those that survive these rigors are blessed with the inner secrets of corpse style.

Upon completing their training, a corpse style acolyte is insensate too pain. Their bare hands strike with the strength of a rampaging ghoul and the precision of an embalmer's knife. They can derive sustenance from anything even remotely organic, such as grave soil, and can go days without food or water. Where rumor and fact meet are stranger abilities. Some claim a corpse style acolyte can forestall their own death indefinitely, even after sustaining a fatal wound. Others hold lordship over carrion creatures, summoning grave worms and biting flies from their own bodies. Wilder rumors claim corpse style acolytes can heal their bodies with preternatural swiftness by lying in an open grave or consuming the flesh of the dead. Whether these are true corpse style techniques or legends told by fearful peasants, perhaps none can say but Lu-Don, one of Dravex's original corpse style acolytes and the only corpse style master fully ordained by the Cynosure and risen to lichdom as an Asphyxial Mendicant. Lu-Don continues to refine corpse style in Dravex's original temple, training students of his own and studying the ways of captured undead that may hint at new techniques.