The Abyssal Exalted, commonly referred to as Deathknights, are Exalted champions of the Deathlords and their Neverborn masters. They have only recently appeared, but they seem to be dark reflections of the returned Solar Exalted, with dark mockeries of the Solars' Caste Marks, Animas and even Charms.
The Abyssal exaltations are created from Solar Exaltations stolen by the Deathlords and tainted with the essence of the void, and fused with dying mortals.Continuing an existence frozen on the brink of death, the Abyssals must feed on blood or raw flesh to recover their strength in the land of the living. As part of the transformation from dying mortal to Chosen of the Neverborn, each Abyssal must cast their names into the void, deep within the heart of the Labyrinth, and give up all names except obvious aliases. Instead, Abyssal Exalts use baroque titles to identify themselves.
Most servants of the Neverborn strive for the eradication of all life, whether out of a twisted sense of mercy ("Oblivion will ease the pain of living") or hatred ("Damn them all") or simple nihilism ("I never had this much fun when I was still amongst the living"). Others become ambassadors from the world of the dead to the lands of the living. Only a few rebel and become Rogue Abyssals, horrified by what they've become.
The Abyssal Great Curse is a palpable aura of the malice of the slain Primordials, called Resonance. When an Abyssal Exalt acts in ways that displease the Neverborn or that individual Abyssal's Deathlord, or forsakes the path of the dead for that of the living, she accrues a trait, also called resonance. Resonance scourges the world with the dark miracles the Abyssal exalt is chosen to deliver but refuses, and their unseemly and dangerous nature typically serves to alienate the Exalt from the creation they are called to destroy. The more an Abyssal disobeys the will of the Neverborn, the stronger the aura of menace becomes, and the black miracles can climb to extraordinary levels of power and consequence.
Each Abyssal Exaltation is a dark reflection of its former existence as a Solar. Whether by limitation or design, within the core of every Abyssal Exaltation is a spark of the original Solar exaltation, which promises redemption, glory, and the love of the Unconquered Sun. Though spells have been published that would accomplish the task, it is implied that no Abyssal has ever made a successful attempt; and that such an act of ultimate redemption should be a major plot point or centerpiece of a campaign. The whispering spark of light serves as a conscience in even the most black hearted of Abyssals, reiterating continuously that these Chosen of Death have also chosen Death for themselves and all of creation. Should such a redemption occur, the reborn Solar spark is cleansed of the Great Curse.
Like a Solar Exalt, an Abyssal Exalt is almost exclusively chosen for excellence, a will to use power and a destiny to lead. Unlike a Solar Exalt, however, an Abyssal also has a dual nature as a servant and follower, and is typically chosen as such. The Abyssal Exalts vary from the solar greatly, in that they are chosen directly by their masters: The Deathlords. Each Abyssal's personal calling varies upon her dreadlords wishes and goals. In the end all Abyssals do their own part in the plan of oblivion, bringing all creation closer to destruction. a very small minority of deathknights pursue the goal of redemption, wishing to escape their twisted destiny, and subservience to oblivion.
Dark Fate and Resonance
With their last spiteful gasps, the Neverborn cursed their murderers to an endless spiral of madness and betrayal. As the chosen weapons of the slain Primordials, the Abyssal Exalted no longer bear this curse. The slaves of Oblivion merely trade one burden for another, though, without even temporary insanity to excuse the atrocities their very presence inflicts upon the world.
- The Manual of Exalted Power - Abyssals, p.112.
The major axe that looms constantly over the heads of the Abyssal Exalted, Resonance represents the ire of the Neverborn earned by the Abyssal in question. Upon being brought before the Neverborn in the Underworld citadel of their Deathlord masters, the Neverborn revoke the Great Curse, instating in its place Dark Fate and the Resonance track. The methods by which Abyssals accrue Resonance include:
Assertion of Exalted Will: Spending willpower to resist unnatural mental influence causes an Abyssal to accrue Resonance in exactly the same way as Solars or Lunars gain Limit. In asserting their sovereign will against mind-controlling influences, the Abyssal Exalted affirm the inevitability of Oblivion and draw a little more of the Void into themselves.
Flawed Virtue: The Black Exaltation damages a deathknight's soul so severely that she has difficulty using one of her Virtues. (chosen at character creation) Upon making any roll which involves that Virtue, including channeling Willpower through the Virtue, the deathknight gains Resonance. The Virtue involved does not have to be her primary Virtue and rarely is.
The only exceptions to this rule are that an Abyssal does not gain Resonance when channelling a Virtue solely to regain Willpower (typically a Conviction roll following sleep) or chanelling that Virtue in defence or support of their Lunar mate.
Transgressions Against The Void: The Neverborn created the Abyssal Exalted as champions of Oblivion, and punish any who strays from their nihilistic crusade. An Abyssal can gain Resonance for sins against the Void regardless of whether the Neverborn are observing, or indeed can observe those sins.
The first time an Abyssal transgresses against his Dark Fate in a scene, he accrues Resonance equal to the successes on an Essence roll. The more powerful a deathknight becomes, the greater the scrutiny of the Neverborn, and the swifter their punishments for disobedience. This extends to the Deathlords, who deal with their masters carefully for fear of appropriately high-Essence punishments - such as The First and Forsaken Lion's imprisonment within his armour.
Sins of Life
Abyssals can sin against the Void and the Neverborn through inappropriate contact with the living world.
- They must not promote or defend life. Actively protecting a living being from harm is always a sin. (The Neverborn do not consider the Abyssals themselves to be living beings, so they can protect and defend each other without consequence. Or at least, without the ire of the Neverborn.)
- A deathknight must never use or answer to their pre-Exaltation name, except to reject all claim to it.
- Reverence to any divine power other than the Neverborn or Oblivion is strictly banned.
- Building or maintaining positive Intimacies attracts the wrath of the Neverborn, especially when those Intimacies are with individuals the deathknight knew before her Exaltation. Indeed, simply living a normal, mortal life angers the Neverborn, unless done so as a ruse or at the behest of a greater servant of the Neverborn.
Sins of Death
The only thing the Neverborn punish more severely than supporting life is opposing Oblivion. Abyssals can torment or destroy 'normal' ghosts with impunity, but they fight against nephwracks, spectres and other servants of Oblivion only as commanded by the Neverborn or their greater servants, or risk their wrath. Disobeying a greater servant of the Neverborn can also attract their anger, although it can be difficult to predict how they will react when their servants turn on each other. The slain Primordials do not always object when their servants fight.
Unlike other Exalts, who cannot mitigate their Limit, Abyssals can rid themselves of Resonance by reaffirming their loyalty to the Neverborn. Atonement involves ritual prayers begun at sundown and ending at midnight, spoken in disturbing glossolalia untranslatable by man or magic, though the malevolence of the words can be easily-sensed beneath the inflections. The deathknights also flagellate themselves and engage in other self-torture.
At the conclusion of the ritual, the Abyssal's player attempts a prayer roll to the Neverborn, whose difficulty decreases with the amount of damage the Abyssal inflicted upon themselves during the ritual; The Neverborn also accept human sacrifices and the senseless destruction of irreplaceable artifacts whose loss diminishes Creation. A deathknight who is successful in this roll feels the Whispers of the Neverborn clawing through her soul. If the penance is sincere, the deathknight loses Resonance equal to the number of levels of lethal damage they inflicted upon themselves. (or, perhaps, others) The Neverborn cannot be fooled however, and insincere penance is a Resonance-worthy sin.
The simplest way for an Abyssal to reduce Resonance is, well, simply to suffer the punishment of the Neverborn. A deathknight can do so whenever she chooses with a reflexive Essence roll. Each success spends one point of Resonance on black miracles. Failing the roll, however, means the character suffers a Resonance effect equal to the character's Essence but gains another point of Resonance rather than losing any.
Although the character has no say in how or when a Resonance eruption occurs, his player spends these points among the four types of eruption, however the Storyteller retains veto power and can exercise this if the choices do not impose any actual drawbacks. The effects are generally unpleasant enough already, however. Additionally, if an Abyssal's Resonance reaches 10 or more, the Storyteller immediately spends 10 points on an eruption without needing a roll, choosing the most cruelly-appropriate punishment(s) for the Exalt's recent sins.
Full rules concerning Resonance eruption can be found on page 113 of The Manual of Exalted Power - Abyssals, but the breakdown is as follows:
Blight: The Abyssal's presence taints Creation where they walk, snuffing out fires, wilting plants, symbols of the gods becoming tarnished. This effect can increase up to the temporary formation of a shadownland centred on their location. Additionally, depending on the level of the Blight effect, a natural animal or even a mortal towards whom the Abyssal feels positively can die instantly, struck down whereever it is regardless of distance.
Branding: The Abyssal's mien assumes any number of spectral qualities for a scene, minor at lower levels of eruption and increasing in severity, such as an inhuman rasping voice, glowing red eyes, and more, marking the Abyssal beyond doubt as a servant of Oblivion. These effects persist for longer periods with greater eruptions, and force animals and, at higher levels, mortals to find the presence of the Abyssal unbearable.
Conduit: The Neverborn possess the Abyssal in increasingly-direct ways, removing or poisoning positive Intimacies held by the deathknight, or even take over the body of the deathknight directly in the case of severe transgressions. The deathknight may remain conscious but helpless during this time like a ghost in his own flesh, or might black out and enter a fugue state, awakening later with no memory or explanation for the gore on his hands.
Stigmata: Essence spent from the character's personal pool causes his anima to flare as if the motes had been spent from his peripheral pool. The Abyssal can also suffer unsoakable lethal damage up to the number of Resonance spent, experiencing the injury in a blatantly supernatural and horrific manner. This damage will not take the deathknight below Incapacitated, although falling unconscious at the brink of death in the middle of combat usually results in an effective death sentence. At higher levels of severity a part of the deathknight's body will wither and become as useless as if amputated.