Open hostilities between the kingdoms of Taldor and Qadira ceased more than 200 years ago, but subtle squabbles and sub-rosa schemes continue to the present. Often these intrigues take the form of economic influence or political stratagems, but occasionally, when the stakes are high enough, they extend to outright atrocities. Triggering these strikes (or answering them in kind) without sparking an open war requires an agent with particular expertise. An agent like Zadim.
Zadim, the so-called "Shadow of Sarenrae," travels the lands of the Inner Sea as an associate of Sarenrae's church, providing deadly solutions to problems the religion cannot resolve through diplomacy and forgiveness. The world of Golarion teems with misguided folk who can be turned from darkness, but it also contains multitudes who are beyond redemption, who revel in evil, wickedness, and selfishness. Zadim is one answer to their depravities, and his response comes with an unmistakable air of finality. Zadim was born into Qadira's influential Cult of the Dawnflower, a militant sect devoted to rooting out evil and spreading Sarenrae's light throughout foreign lands cloaked in the darkness of ignorance. His early studies at the great temple in Katheer distinguished Zadim as a dedicated servant of the cult. True, Zadim lacked the divine connection to the goddess that granted many of his fellow cultists command over fabulous magic powers, but his acumen in other affairs soon gained the attention of the cult's inner circle. Zadim excelled in battle training, easily besting his young peers in combat. He also proved himself an expert in observation and understanding, often taking advantage of personality quirks and tells among his fellows that they weren't even aware they had. The cult's leaders knew exactly what they had in Zadim—a weapon to strike killing blows against their enemies.
Zadim's masters began tempering their stories of Sarenrae's mercy and redemption with encouragement to bring justice to the irredeemable. They revealed the scope of their designs not just on familiar foes like the creaking "empire" of Taldor to the north, but also on places like Osirion, Katapesh, and Absalom. Zadim was trained to stand in the shadowy vanguard of their efforts throughout the Inner Sea region, clearing away enemies with blade and garrote long before the more visible elements of the Dawnflower Cult made their presence known.
As the depth of the cult's plan became clear to him, Zadim began to realize that his masters were just as interested in spreading the political influence of Qadira—and its distant puppetmasters in the Padishah Empire of Kelesh far to the east—as they were in spreading the doctrine of the Everlight, but the revelation came too late to inspire a change in Zadim's direction. He had trained for years to become a killer, and kill he must, in the name of Qadira, Kelesh, or the cult. Sarenrae had blessed him with unique talents, and he intended to put them to use in the field.
Zadim's first assignment outside Qadira was meant to be easy, a clear-cut case of a true villain deserving of the cult's final justice. The noble Sir Gordreth Chrysolian—Gordreth the Butcher—had been an administrator in the Taldan caravan city of Yanmass when he publicly executed twenty clerics of Sarenrae about 30 years ago, during a particularly vicious Taldan pogrom against the Cult of the Dawnflower. Shortly thereafter, the Butcher vanished, escaping divine retribution for his unholy crimes. Recently, though, agents of the cult spotted the aging aristocrat in Yanmass, and Zadim was dispatched to put him to the blade.
Upon arriving at the caravan city, Zadim learned from his informants that the Butcher had sought asylum at the manor house of a respected paladin of Abadar named Jevantus, who had gained widespread acclaim in the city after using his god-given abilities to cure hundreds of children infected with the deadly dvezda plague. Further investigation revealed that the paladin Jevantus and Gordreth the Butcher were one and the same man. The decades in hiding must have taught the vile Taldan noble something of chivalry and honor, for Abadar himself blessed the one-time villain with miraculous powers of healing.
A chance encounter with a fellow servant of Sarenrae, an earnest young cleric named Kyra, triggered a crisis of faith in Zadim, and the killer revealed his role in the plot to the young woman. Kyra, who subscribed to a far less militant doctrine than that preached by the Dawnflower Cult, rejected Zadim's bloody tactics, reminding him that Sarenrae herself valued goodness, redemption, and healing over murderous tactics, no matter the quarry. If Gordreth the Butcher had truly been redeemed, killing him for past deeds meant directly violating the most holy values of Sarenrae, erasing the man's redemption in an act of bloody murder.
Such an affront, she assured, would be enough for Sarenrae to withdraw her favor from a dedicated follower, stripping away the divine bond so important to the servant's faith and work. But Zadim was not a cleric, and had no spells to lose. His duty was not just to Sarenrae, but to his masters in the Cult of the Dawnflower, and to Qadira, and to the Padishah Empire of Kelesh. If they decreed that Gordreth the Butcher must die, who was Zadim to deny their wisdom? He assured Kyra that he would not strike against the paladin, but to himself he resolved that he could not make the decision of whether his target would live or die until he could look him in the eye and judge the quality of his character for himself.
That evening, Zadim crept into the private gardens of Jevantus, kukris in hand, his pounding heart nearly giving him away with its thundering. At the center of the garden he discovered the old paladin praying to Abadar before a beautiful fountain. Statues of children rescued from the ravages of disease peered over the paladin's shoulder as Zadim stepped silently toward his prey. As he approached, the paladin turned toward Zadim, a strange expression of calm and acceptance marked upon his visage. It was as if he had expected such a visitor for many years, and knew that final judgment had finally arrived.
As he looked into the eyes of his quarry at last, fists clenched around the hilts of his hungry blades, Zadim made his choice.1