Talona, one of the Dark Gods, is the goddess of poison and disease.
She has the personality of a petulant, greedy child trapped in the body of a once-beautiful woman now scarred by horrific disease and ravaged by age. She alternately desires attention at any cost like a small child and becomes aloof like a wounded paramour who has been discarded by her love.
The Lady of Poisons attracts the cruel to her service; her priests tend to be self-sufficient, capable—and sadistic. Priests of Talona are known as Talontar, and members of the faith as a whole (laity and clergy) are called Talonites. Talontar are partial to ritual facial tattoos and scarification over their whole bodies.
The church of Talona is organized in a strict hierarchy, but riven by factions and sects. Aside from selling poisons, antidotes, and medicines, the Talonites travel Faerûn as quietly as possible, constantly seeking out new diseases and afflictions and spreading rumors so as to augment the reputation of Talona. What seems to motivate Talonites in their day-to-day behavior is a quest for respect: respect that is due Talona for her potentially devastating abilities and due them as her representatives in Faerûn. Throughout their careers, Talona's clerics work with magic and study to build their personal immunities to various poisons and diseases. Thus protected, they treat the diseased, take employment as food tasters for paranoid rulers, wealthy merchants, and nobles, and bury those who have died from diseases. Whenever a realm or city-state casts out or punishes any Talonites, for any reason, clerics of Talona work to cause a plague in that place to exact "Talona's price" for such insults. Rumors have circulated that certain unscrupulous Talonites have occasionally chosen wealthy folk as targets for disease so that wealth and properties can be seized by the church upon the death of these wealthy owners, with the threat of contracting disease keeping rightful heirs and claimants at bay.
New talonite priests less considered probationary initiates. Only upon gaining experience are they formally inducted into the priesthood. Specialty priests of Talona, known as Malagents, serve as the adventuring and internal policing arm of the faith.
VestmentsAll priests of Talona wear gray and green robes with ragged sleeves. These are washed but never repaired and in time become faded rags. Out of pride, most priests continue to wear their old, worn-out vestments until they are nearly naked. Old and high-ranking priests tend to have ritual scars and tattoos all over their bodies, and some even sport many body-piercings so that their torsos are studded with small rings linked with fine chains. Female clergy and laity alike often wear earrings and elbow-dangles of black metal wrought in the shape of talons. Many of her higher priest carry daggers dipped in a poison called the "Chaos Curse.
If embarking on a possibly dangerous adventure or preparing to go into battle, Talontar favor black-and-purple armor adorned with spurs, horns, and spikes. They wear any armor in a pinch and prefer to wear as much armor as possible. Only specialty priests of Talona carry the special ceremonial poison daggers of the faith. They have no compunction against using them in combat. A nonbeliever caught with such an item attracts the unwanted attentions of Talona to his or her health as well as her church's wrath.
HierarchyThose seeking to become a Talonite are entered as probationary initiates. Only through training and service (3rd level) are they formally inducted into the priesthood. Specialty priests of Talona, known as malagents, wield poisoned daggers and serve as the adventuring and internal policing arm of the faith (they make up about 45% of Talona's clergy members). Specialty priests are addressed as Most Fatal Horror and are sometimes— not to their faces—known as Fatals to other Talonites. Other priests of the Lady of Poisons are addressed as Most Debilitating Holiness, though senior clergy usually call their juniors Young Venom, regardless of their relative ages.
TemplesThose who actively worship Talona tend to gather in secret in the catacombs beneath cities or in wilderness ruins. Underground temples are often built above reeking, overflowing sewers or in humid grottoes overgrown with fungi and mold. Wilderness shrines are typically located in stagnant swamps and marshes rife with disease-laden mosquitoes and rich with the sickly sweet scent of decay. Twisted gargoyles carved to resemble mortals wracked with various diseases or poisons are positioned prominently throughout such structures.
The House of Night's Embrace was Talona's largest church and was located in Tashluta.
RitualsClerics and druids of Talona pray for their spells in the evening, although they observe thrice-daily prayers to the goddess. Festivals are held every 12 and are open to nondevotees, where such visitors are encouraged to pray and give offerings to Talona to spare themselves or loved ones from death, disease, wasting illnesses, and the like. A long symphony of rolling drums, deep-voiced chanting, and glaur, shaum, and zulkoon music proclaims the power and veneration of Talona throughout the day. Younger members of the church busily sell poisons (for eliminating vermin, of course), antidotes, and medicines during the festival, assisted by senior clergy who diagnose conditions (usually with great accuracy) and prescribe treatments in return for stiff fees.
Annually at the festival falling closest to Highharvestide, initiates of the faith are formally inducted into the clergy. Horrifying private ceremonies involving ritual scarring and sacred tattoos mark this ascension. Many clerics and druids multiclass as assassins, divine disciples, or rogues.
OrdersTalona is not served by any military or knightly orders, but she is served by several secret cabals of rogues and other vermin.
The Followers of Plague experience pain as if it were pleasure. They believe death is more powerful than life, though they are equal in balance. They follow the dictum to work in her name and let their doings be subtle or spectacular.
The Plague Rats are an elite organization of thieves, assassins, and wererats active throughout the Western Heartlands and the North. Their secret base is believed to be located in the depths of the Rat Hills and to have connections to Undermountain. It was apparently unaffected by the great Conflagration in the Year of the Shield (1367 DR).
The Plague-mother's Children is a guild of thugs active throughout Chondath and the Vilhon Reach. Formerly composed of crusaders dedicated to the extension of the Rotting War as the ultimate test of Talona's favor, it has degenerated in recent years into an informal brotherhood of warriors and thieves who run extortion rackets throughout the region and threaten Talona's wrath if they are not given their monetary due.
During the Tune of Troubles, Talona appeared to an evil human wizard named Aballister and bade him to found a trifold order of wizards, priests, and warriors. Castle Trinity, a castle-in-mountain's clothing, was built into a rocky spur on the northeastern edge of the Snowflake Mountains. Accessed by a dozen rocky tunnels, the stronghold eventually collapsed and is in ruins due to priests of Deneir. Remnants of the triumvirate of Talona may yet survive in secretive fellowship.
Let pain be as pleasure, for life and death are in balance, but death is the more powerful and should be paid proper homage and respect. Death is the true power, the great equalizer, and the lesson that waits for all. If it falls to you to drive home the point with the tip of a dagger, so be it. The Mother of All Plagues works upon you from within, and weakness and wasting is her strength. Talona's breath is forever and always with you, whomever you or the rest of the world believes in or serves. Let all living things learn respect from Talona and pay homage to her in goods and in fervent worship. If they do so, intercede for them so that Talona will not claim them--this time. Go and work in Talona's name and let your doings be subtle spectacular, but make them known as the will of the Mistress of Disease.
Talona is often depicted as a once-beautiful tattooed woman, now scarred by horrific disease and ravaged by age. Where she walks, misfortune and death follow.
Talona is allied with Loviatar and despised Chauntea, Mielikki, Kelemvor, and Tyr. She dislikes Ilmater for the cures he found.