I am the son of Marrdu Iblis Sahamar, a Tiefling from the Taklar Basin, and Sophia of Marshdell, a daughter of a minor noble in Western Ulearis. I am therefore of both East Medirran and Ulearan ancestery, and of both noble and common descent. As well as, of course, being part human and part devil. Marrdu was a charming rogue, a honey-tongued devil, who came from a long line of scoundrels and thieves. My great-great grandfather, he said, was a famous bandit lord of the desert. Marrdu himself, however, was simply a common con artist.
House Marshdell was a very minor noble house who oversaw a small valley in the low mountains east of the Taklar Basin. Sophiah thought it was a very boring life. The smallfolk her family ruled were humble and uninteresting, and the task of administering them was thankless busywork. When a Taklaran trading caravan came by, bearing strange dried fruits and exotic tapestries, she was intrigued. When a dashing young attendant to one of merchants noticed her, he was smitten. Already interested by the foreign traders, she was doubly fascinated by this handsome, roguish tiefling. He wooed her, and when the caravan departed, she, disguised as a merchant's daughter, went with it.
Sophiah had an image of a life of romance and adventure with Marrdu, traveling the known world and getting rich from exotic wares. However, harsh reality intervened very quickly. The ruler of the caravan, a shrewd desert elf, demanded that Sophiah be brought back to her family, lest the whole caravan be branded as kidnappers. The Taklarans were a conquered people, distinct from the rest of Ulearis, and distrusted by outsiders. The law would be unlikely to give them the benefit of the doubt. Marrdu and Sophiah fled the caravan to make their own way.
I was born roughly a year later, in a small city on the southern shores of the Great Ulearan Sea. We moved so often in the first several years of my life that I was surprised to learn, at age five or six, that not everyone did so. We went to the cities of the Heartland, to the port cities of the eastern coast, where my father tricked and swindled sailors from the elvish kingdom across the sea. We went to the fortress towns of the southern border where my father took advantage of bored and naive troops. We went to Taklar, my father's homeland, and accompanied another trading caravan south of the border to the Free Cities. My father, finding himself in the good graces of a rich but stupid Meddiran merchant prince, wished to take a ship across the Bay of Medirra to the Refugee City. By that point, however, my mother was far more disillusioned with my father than she had been with life as a minor noble. The life of adventure she imagined turned out to be a life of constant uprooting, a life of fleeing out the back door moments before the constables kicked down the front. A life of trading exotic goods turned out to be a life of half-baked and quickly aborted cons and smalltime ponzi schemes. The dashing and mysterious man who had so excited her turned out to be a liar and manipulator, a coward of big talk and unreliable follow through. She returned to Marshdell when I was eleven years old.
She wanted to take me with her, but I wouldn't go. I was young and naive, and to me our life really was one of constant adventure. I didn't want to abandon it to live the rest of my days in some remote house that I'd never seen (even though the house was, to be fair, rather large). She'd be a disgrace to her family, probably unmarriageable, and I, the half-Taklaran son of a Tiefling, would be treated worse than the lowest bastard. That's what my father told me, and I believed him. Looking back when I was older, I saw that, although there was a grain of truth to what he said, he was also manipulating me to stay with him. Even at age eleven I was smarter and more skilled than him, and he knew it.
Marrdu saw my skills in mimicry and art at an early age, and encouraged them. When I was very young we'd make a game of impersonating people, not only copying their voices and mannerisms but inventing scenarios and imagining how they'd react. I was a natural. He taught me the "Devil's Tailor Shop", a clever way of dressing that disguised the fact that one was a tiefling. Seeing my skill in drawing, he'd have me copy crests and seals, and later, duplicate handwriting. If our moving from place to place ever needed to be smoothed over with an official form or two, I was always the one to produce it. I was good at what I did, I enjoyed doing it, and I lived for my father's praise and encouragement. We stayed together for another six years, working ever more elaborate and subtle schemes.
As the years went by, though, I saw that I was doing more and more of the planning, and became more and more responsible for carrying out our plans, while Marrdu still took in most of the profit. I confronted him about this several times, each time getting a somewhat better deal, or at least the promise of one. At the age of 17, though, I'd finally had enough. I was no fool, and could see that my father was using and cheating me as much as he was any of our marks. At the conclusion of our last job, I informed him that our partnership was dissolved. He tried several tactics to get me to stay. He acted exaggeratedly reasonable, then overly familial, emphasizing our sacred bond of father and son. This devolved into abject begging, sobbing that he knew he was nothing without me, admitting that I was the brains of the operation, pleading for me to stay for his sake, for my poor father. When that tactic didn't bear fruit, he finally went on the offensive, attacking every insecurity he perceived in me, no matter how sleight, assuring me that I would fail. I walked out in the middle of his tirade and never looked back.
We were in central Ulearis at the time, an endless wide country of farms, ranches, and scattered forests. Like my mother before me, I was tired of travelling (often as not fleeing) from place to place. I wanted a home base where I could settle down, practice my skills, and make the fortune that I should have been making for years. I found a suitable location less than a week's travel to the east. A collection of cities, collectively termed the Cities of Paper, where Ulearis' stereotype of neverending bureaucracy, baroque hierarchy, and endless paperwork found its truest expression. I made my way to Argenmont, the largest of these cities, and there started my new career.
Though extremely organized and ostensibly lawful, crime and opportunity for crime were rampant in Argenmont. There were innumerable opportunities for financial workers to redirect a coin or two to their own pockets, for scribes to earmark documents, for union leaders and nobles to exchange favors. Noble families constantly formed, broke, and undermined alliances. One of Argenmont's nicknames is the City of Paper, and for someone skilled in forgery there were ample opportunities to practice one's craft.
Acting as I had seen my father do in many a new city, I quickly worked on infiltrating the city's underworld. There were many minor schemes at play in the city that just needed a veneer of official-looking paperwork to succeed, and I was only too happy to help. Businesses that, because of some petty political enemy, could not get a permit; I provided one. Sons who felt slighted by their inheritance, investors that felt cheated; they provided their documents from the records, and I rewrote a few key figures. Such changes easily got lost in the vast shuffle of the City of Paper.
As I worked I found myself on two splitting trajectories. On the one hand, ever richer and more influential clients came inquiring for my services. I found that my status as a half-Taklaran tiefling dissuaded many more discerning clients, who didn’t trust a swarthy half-devil nomad to run his sandy and sulfurous fingers over their important papers. I rarely or never did business under my true identity, so for these untrusting bigots I went a step further. I implemented the Devil’s Tailor Shop as my father had taught me, softening the infernal redness of my skin with makeup, hiding my tail beneath a cloak, my yellow eyes behind dark glasses, and my horns beneath a tall hat, and the exotic lilt of my natural voice behind a husky rasp. Jacobiah Slant, my alter ego amongst the higher classes, was born.
On the other hand, I also found myself delving deeper into the city’s underbelly, drawn on by an invisible tide of ever less reputable schemes, until at last I found myself in the Blind Alley, speaking to its Lord, Caddis Craine. He was over a century old, middle aged by half elf standards. He was short and gaunt, pale and leathery, shockingly ugly for his race. He was the most powerful and nefarious criminal in Argenmont. There were rumors that he kept an altar to a dark god, to which he sacrificed street dogs and even street children. Whether this was true or a lie fabricated to augment his reputation, I did not trust him, and wanted to associate with him as little as possible. However, the notion of turning to a higher power for success in enterprises such as mine intrigued me.
I found success in my endeavors came in waves. At times it seems like several clients a day came knocking on my doors, and at other times I’d go weeks without forging a single paper. In times of bust, I would visit Argenmont’s libraries and research the arcane. Being a lower status citizen of the city, I had to forge a library card. I’d always fancied myself a bit of a sorcerer. From time to time growing up, I’d done things like kill a pesky insect or move a toy, apparently just using my mind. My father said that this was from the blood of Asmodeus, and that he’d done it a time or two as well. These powers were not consistent and, try as I might, I could never use them intentionally. By reading yellowed old tomes on illusion and conjuration, I intended to change that. However, even after copying line for line the diagrams in the books, and buying the finest spell components, my experiments at spellcasting always failed. However, with each endeavor I could feel success just beyond, just out of reach. It was an obnoxious feeling, like a sneeze that just wouldn’t come, and it drove me to distraction. It didn’t help that there was a mild stigma against magic and sorcery in Argenmont, so that even its largest libraries were somewhat poorly stocked.
That changed when, one evening, there was a knock on my door, and when I bid them to enter, in walked Jacobiah Slant. I was frozen with shock for a moment as he introduced himself, speaking as if he were a stranger and not a character of my own design. Then a panicked rage overtook me and I splashed water in his face to ruin his makeup, knocked his hat off to reveal his horns, shoved his cloak aside to reveal his tail. He appeared to be genuinely human, and took my abuse with a sort of amusement. He smiled, asked if I was satisfied, and if I were ready to talk business. He told me that he was an avatar of the Warden of Carceri, a powerful fiend. He told me that the balance of the Blood War was shifting in favor of the Nine Hells, ruled by Asmodeus, from whom I inherited my devilish bloodline. The Warden and his colleagues wished to balance the tide again, in part by poisoning Asmodeus’ own seeds against him. I would be an agent of chaos in the world, playing the most minor part in the Warden’s design, but nevertheless I would be rewarded by the power and wealth I sought after. He handed me a dark metal manacle with a length of chain hanging off of it, and told me that by putting it on my wrist I would accept his patronage. Before I could question him, he vanished into a pile of ash, which formed into an infernal symbol on the floor. Which I hastily swept into the wastebasket.
Through my various connections in the upper and lower city, I had several minor magicians and scholars at my disposal. I took the chain to each of them, and each found that it had no magical properties at all, save being apparently indestructible. I sat for a week in my study, glaring at the shackle. I felt a yearning inside me, an anxious pull towards its power. Finally, after a full week, I lost patience with my own indecision and clapped the shackle around my wrist. I instantly found myself standing in a glowing red wasteland of stinging sand. A gaunt, cloaked figure, featureless but for its smoldering golden eyes, stood before me. He promised me wealth and powers as I’d always desired, in exchange for a few small services. He waved his hand and I felt the shackle bind me to him. At the age of twenty, I became a warlock.
Though my powers were not great, I could use them at will, and it was marvelous. I was still frustrated at the paucity of arcane scholarship in the city available to study, but I was able to figure out a few tricks on my own. I could blow out candles and slam doors with my mind, create small illusions and glamours, and even shoot a concentrated blast of force from my fingertips. I used that final ability to dispatch a mugger one evening, which bolstered my reputation in the underworld. The mugger was probably attracted to my new wealth, for as soon as I put the shackle on my wrist my luck turned and my business boomed. For a solid year my profits and reputation grew, and Jacobaiah Slant found himself working with a steadily wealthier and more genteel clientele.
Six months after I became a Warlock, I was approached by a Lord Covingborne to discreetly handle matters of his inheritance. He was old and ill, and had waited until now to decide which of his two sons would inherit his title. He had decided that his younger son, Roderick, should inherit his title, as his elder son, Alveros, was of an untrustworthy and irresponsible character. This was to be done with utmost discretion, as Lord Covingborne did not trust Alveros to honor his wishes. As part of the deal I had to reveal my Tiefling identity to him, though not my true name, as he insisted on complete openness and trust between us. The incredible fee offered, plus a small urging from my Patron, led me to accept the deal. At the bidding of my Patron, I actually wrote Alveros as the inheritor of Covingborne's title, though my Patron assisted me with an illusion spell when I presented the finished paperwork. Covingborne approved, signed, and sealed the work, and sent me with Bertram, his most trusted man, to deposit it in the city offices. I received my handsome payment, and enjoyed a lifestyle of greater ease than I ever had before. I even slowed down my work to focus on my arcane research, for now I had the wealth and connections to send for books and scrolls from libraries in other cities. Progress on this front was slow, but it fascinated me.
Half a year later, disaster struck. Lord Covingborne died, and when his will was unsealed by the city authorities, Alveros was named his heir. The late Lord Covingborne has secretly told Roderick that he was the heir, so Roderick contested the will, though he had little legal power to do so. This escalated to a full blown civil war in the family, and, as both sons were well liked by various factions of the city, conflict soon swept the entire power structure of Argenmont. In the midst of this, Roderick directed an investigation to see how this came about, and learned from Bertram about me. I decided it was time to get out of trouble.
However, as I gathered my things to flee the city, I was intercepted by thugs and brought before Caddis Craine, Lord of the Blind Alley. He knew I was in trouble and essentially blackmailed me in return for assisting my escape and not turning me in to the authorities. I ended up having to give him nearly all of my personal fortune, and what I had left, stashed away or invested in various places in the city, I couldn't get to, so I was essentially penniless. I gave him all my money, forged a few documents for him (and a few for myself), and left Argenmont.
Argenmont had been my home for four years. It was where I had come into my own and built my own fortune and reputation. Strangely, it felt liberating to leave it. I’d found myself getting tired of seeing the same faces every day and running the same schemes over and over again, and I’d been frustrated by the slow pace of my research. Leaving Argenmont, I felt the same anticipation and excitement, the same sense of endless possibility, as I’d had when my father and I had set out for the next city and the next mark. I would regain my fortune elsewhere, and in the meantime, I’d search the ancient places of the land, seeking out the secrets of the arcane that had eluded me in the comfort of the city.
I crossed the southern border of Ulearis, and boarded a river barge for the Free Cities. That is where I would begin.
But first, I’d have a few stern words with my Patron.
|Pff, look at that smug bastard. He looks like the sort of jerk that would go as Clint Eastwood for Halloween. I bet he doesn't even play real Hawai'ian music. He does spell Hawai'i with an apostrophe, though, so at least he has that going for him.|