Thursday, December 01, 2005


Meraak the Tiefling and his Return to Fallcrest
Hundreds of years ago, the Dragonborn empire, Arkhosia, and the Tiefling empire, Bael Turath, fought a long and bitter war, which saw the complete destruction of the Tiefling Empire and the relegation of the Tiefling race to nomadic wanderers and outcasts, either living in isolated enclaves far removed from settled areas or as virtual Untouchables in the poorer sections of most villages and cities.

For the most part, the Dragonborn are an honorable race who, while not liking or associating with Tieflings, consider them to have been historically worthy and honorable adversaries – albeit inferior to the Dragonborn, by virtue of their defeat and the destruction of their empire by the Dragonborn.

However, there is a small but well organized secret cadre of Dragonborn, the Avengers of the Golden Scale, who – with near religious fervor – are dedicated to the utter destruction of the Tiefling race. These renegades within their own race move throughout the land, searching for Tiefling to mercilessly torture and kill; adults and children alike. Their motto: “The only good Tiefling is a dead Tiefling.”

Meraak was the first and only child of a Tiefling couple, Merzan and Aakraal, who rented a small shop, also serving as their living space, tucked away in the southwest corner of Lowtown, in the shadow of the ruined King’s Gate. It was in the rougher part of Fallcrest near the lowers docks, which were situated on the Nentir River, downstream from the Gray Downs and surrounded by fertile farmland. In the near distance one could see the Septarch’s Tower and from up on the ridge in Hightown, the mighty snowcapped Dawnforge range, home to the Dwarves and other deepling dwellers. And some 50 miles north, began the great, and incredibly ancient, Winterbole Forest.

They lived in an area with few other Tieflings; his father a cobbler and his mother a seamstress. They often benefited from the referrals of Par Winnomer, owner of the Blue Moon Alehouse, situated not far from their shop. For many years they worked tirelessly, saving every penny against the day they would be able to leave the small city for one of the Tiefling enclaves, known to be somewhere north in that great Winterbole Forest.

It was important to them that their son be able to grow up among his own kind, learning their lore and ways. By the time Meraak was twelve years old, his parents knew it was time to leave. Many of the younger boys in Fallcrest were beginning to talk admiringly of the notorious River Rats – a street gang up to no good and a bad influence on the youth of Lowtown.

Leaving Fallcrest was very difficult for Meraak, because he had friends among the other children, who all met and frolicked together at Moonwash Falls during the summer months, at other times of year, exploring in the countryside. Meraak had three particular friends, Erik, Hank and Simon, whom he would especially miss.

Along with Erik Foundling, who as a young boy seemed to embody natural leadership skills and was still care free and fun, having not yet been adversely affected by the unkindness of many people in town as he matured through puberty, and the twin brothers, Hank and Simon, they all seemed to particularly enjoy “getting lost” in the forest southeast of the dilapidated King’s Gate, hunting kobolds, fighting dragons and otherwise rescuing travelers in distress (for their considerable gratitude and monetary rewards).

By the time the boys had reached 12 years of age, many of the parents in town were even beginning to think that Hank, with his penchant for mischief, might eventually be destined for the River Rat’s, unless something was done to settle him down and give him some discipline; something he obviously was not receiving at home.

And so finally the day arrived when, with enough money and provisions to start over when they reached their goal, Meraak and his parents at last left Fallcrest for the peace and acceptance his parents hoped they would all find among their own people.

The trek to their new home was to have taken approximately two weeks and would have ended at Tiefholme, about 150 miles north inside the Winterbole Forest. Because it was summer and the weather clement, they thought it would be pleasant to take their time on their journey, following first the King’s Road, then the paths to Gardmore Abbey and thence striking north to Lake Wintermist and into the forest. I say “was to have taken” because a disaster most cruel befell this young family after they arrived at the ruins of Gardmore Abbey.

They had expected to find only the famous ruins, which they did, but they also found, a short distance from the ruined abbey, a small temple. It seemed such a peaceful spot, nestled against one of the lower hills of the Gardbury Downs, so they chose to set up a picnic in a clearing within sight of the small temple to Corellon, patron of arcane magic and the fey and god of the ancient forests. Meraak’s parents, knowing well his curious nature, told him he could wander around the temple and along the foot of the hill, so long as he was never out of sight of the temple itself.

And so, while his parents were setting out the mid-day meal, young Meraak, ever inquisitive, ran off behind the temple to explore. And thus it was, while he was out-of-sight behind the temple; he came upon an elderly monk, Fra Alain, who was searching for mushrooms that were always plentiful after an evening’s rain.

The monk, a human priest and warlock in his own right, took an instant liking to the bright young Tiefling and was showing him how to identify edible mushrooms when they both heard terrible screams and the clashing of weapons coming from the front of the temple.

The priest immediately took Meraak inside the temple through the back entrance, telling him to stay in the small changing room with his two young acolytes, Talan and Moric, while he went to the front to find out what was happening.

In fact, a band of 12 Avengers of the Golden Scale had suddenly appeared on the path and immediately set upon Meraak’s parents, the death blows falling just as the priest came out the front of the temple.

Enraged that these brigands had fallen upon the innocent and unarmed Tiefling couple, and in the process desecrated the temple grounds, a sacred place of refuge for all who sheltered in its shadow, Fra Alain called his two acolytes to join him and they then unleashed mighty and most devastating spells upon the brigands, setting them against each other till only a few remained, to run away screaming in their madness.

As suddenly as that, Meraak had become an orphan, hardly understanding what had happened. Mercifully, he witnessed nothing of the carnage, and the three monks did everything they could to ensure that Meraak was shielded from the horrible sight of his parents’ brutalized bodies.

With gentleness but honesty, Fra Alain and the two acolytes helped Meraak through the confusion, fear, and incomprehension of this earth shattering act, making sure that he understood that the Dragonborn were an honorable race and that the murderers of his parents were anathema, even among the Dragonborn, who repressed them wherever they found them.

As to what was to be Meraak’s fate - kindness, compassion and the apparent intercession of the god Corellon all played a role. You see, Fra Alain, growing up in a small village in the Dawnforge Mountains, had himself been orphaned at a young age, when lax town guardsmen had left his village open to a devastating attack by a band of mountain orcs. But young Alain’s future had been assured through the kindness and compassion of the local priest of Corellon, who took it upon himself to raise this orphaned boy as his own son.

Meraak was now alone in the world without any family at all. Fra Alain couldn’t send him back to Fallcrest and there was no hope of Meraak being able to find a Tiefling settlement on his own. So here, in Meraak, Fra Alain saw the opportunity to do for another just what had been done for him and, in so doing, offer his most heartfelt thanks to his god for his own redemption and life.

Meraak was an exceptionally bright young boy and completely devoted himself to Fra Alain, his benefactor, who recognized his natural arcane talents and knew in his heart that Meraak would one day be a most powerful warlock. And with this in mind, he began Meraak’s training - the most important part of which was in self-discipline. Knowing that all Tiefling carry a dark, shadow self, Fra Alain helped Meraak develop the skills of meditation and the ability to sense and commune with the fey spirits and in this way, give Meraak the power to control himself at those times when his darker nature wanted to break free.

Fra Alain was already an elderly man of 70 winters when he adopted Meraak and he knew that he had to give his adopted son the power to take care of himself once the old man was gone to his final reward.

Fra Alain knew his end was nearing and, having prepared Meraak against this very day, chose the time of his passing for the very evening of the day on which Meraak celebrated his 18th birthday; the day of his majority among the Tiefling.

Meraak, although his race was not known to be particularly religious, like his adoptive father, owed his piety to Corellon and took his values with him as he embarked on his life’s journey. He was determined to always mindfully imbue his every action with beauty, to seek out lost magic items, forgotten rituals and ancient works of art and to always oppose Lolth, the evil goddess of shadow, and her minions wherever he found them.

And yet, secretly in his heart of hearts, he also carried a determination to find the remaining Dragonborn Avengers of the Golden Scale and bring them to justice.

Saying a loving farewell to brothers Talan and Moric, who was now Fra Moric, Meraak set out to see the world and find out who he was. Having been raised by three humans, he could only wonder how would he fit in among his fellow Tieflings?

As Meraak prepared to depart the Abbey, he was adequately outfitted with a strange looking dagger and Fra Alain’s willow wand, a pouch containing 100 gold pieces and, in his heart, a strong desire to grow up.

He remembered the words of a famous Halfling: “It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step on to the road… and if you don't keep your feet… there's no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

And so ….. standing nearly six feet tall with a 54 inch tail, burnished bronze skin, bright red hair cascading down behind his handsomely burnished horns and with striking solid golden orbs, Meraak must now make the most important decision of his first day as an adult.

His decision: To return to Fallcrest, the city where he was born. Although only twelve years old when he left, Meraak carried many clear memories of time spent with his friends, Erik, Hank and Simon, swimming at Moonwash Falls, climbing the embankment to Hightown and playing games among the ruins of King’s Gate and the forest not far from it.

Meraak was determined to seek out his former friends and see where his destiny might lay. He knew that, like himself, his friends would all be entering adulthood as well but, hopefully, they would remember him and remember the fun and friendship they had all shared while growing up together.

Would they remember him? Would they accept him? The only way to find out was to “step on to the road.”
© Stephen Schwichow
The Story of Aramek & His Familiar Snoop
(Neutral Good: believing that Law and Chaos may both be used to promote Good)

Napanthe Ilthurain (Blossom of Thrane [or Thuranni?]) grew up near Marketplace, Aundair on the main trading road leading to Cragwar, in Breland on the border with Aundair.

Napanthe’s favorite pastime in the spring was to go off into the forests, southwest of her home, mushroom hunting. This was a great adventure for her, since she would be away from home for a week at a time.

On one such leisurely day of mushroom hunting she chanced across a young man, Derrek who came to be known as Prenwright (one who cares for the forest), from Cragwar, who was out in the forest he loved, tending the trees. He was a farmer by trade but, since the spring planting was done, he could indulge his true love of the forest and growing things.

They met quite by accident and instantly liked each other. After an afternoon in which neither cared the least about the fact that the other was of a different race, he a human and she an elf, they decided to meet again in a couple of weeks to hunt mushrooms together.

These meetings went on through the spring and when summer came they could no longer use mushroom hunting as an excuse for meeting. They faced the fact that they cared deeply for each other and decided that they should formalize their relationship and marry.

Napanthe’s parents and relatives, being proud though not especially prosperous, elves, were opposed to the match and met Derrek with nothing more than reserved cordiality, making it clear that they were unhappy with her choice and that they would feel nothing but pity for any half-elf offspring.

It hurt Napanthe to the quick but she decided to leave Aundair and settle in Cragwar with Derrek, about 150 miles from Marketplace. “Perhaps someday,” she thought, “my parents will soften their hearts.”

Derrek and Napanthe lived happily together, he farming, while she lived a simple life, seldom using magic, except around the house on small chores. Her greatest ability was in bringing rain for their crops.

After three years of happy contentment, Napanthe became pregnant. It was difficult from the beginning and Derrek feared for her. Time and again he asked to be allowed to contact her parents, but Napanthe stubbornly refused.

On Sar (the seventh day of the week) the 10th day of the 10th month of Sypheros, 977 YK, a son was born, after a devastating labor that left poor Napanthe wavering between life and death.

She asked that their son be dedicated to the name of Arawai, the (Half-Elf) Goddess of Fertility, Plant Life and Abundance, the sound “M” for balance and Ek, from her husband’s name, meaning “a beginning.”

Thus was Aramek brought into the world and held closely by his dying mother. Even as her life slipped away, she at least knew she had a son who would some day live up to his name.

Derrek sent word to Napanthe’s parents, telling them of the death of their only daughter and the birth of their half-elf grandson, Aramek. The response: “Napanthe died the day she left us; Boldrei deserted her and thus ends our mourning. May Arawai vouchsafe the child’s security. For now, that is all we can give.”

At the age of 30, with no family of his own and his only love gone forever, Derrek left Cragwar and finally settled in the outskirts of a small village named Shavalant, nearly 800 miles away (as the raven flies over The Blackcaps) where he once again took up farming, in the shadow of the great forest lying south of the village.

It was here that Aramek grew up, a half-elf child, shielded and protected by his loving father, who kept him away from the village life as much as was possible.

Derek, himself, was unusual, in that as a farmer he had all his letters and took it upon himself to school Aramek, when breaks in the never ending farming duties allowed.

Aramek resembled his father, having skin slightly darker than an elf, with light brown hair. He wore his hair longer and thus, his elven ears were generally not noticeable, but nothing was to be done for his almost emerald green eyes – his mother’s eyes. No matter how human he might otherwise appear, his eyes would forever mark him as a half-elf.

It was only natural that Aramek would understand that he was different, and just what that difference was. Unfortunately, talking about his mother was something that his father simply couldn’t do. It was too painful.

As much as Aramek wanted to find out about his heritage, his father just told him that his mother’s family had disowned her and wanted nothing to do with either of them. He would be better to simply forget it a make a life for himself as a farmer, and continue to learn about the forest, herbs and growing things, as was fitting for his name.

When he was 15, Aramek learned that his mother’s name was Napanthe Ilthurain. This he discovered from stumbling across some charred papers related to his mother’s death that he had found, partially burned in the fireplace. His father had apparently wanted to destroy these sad memories, but had not succeeded completely. The one piece of paper, with his mother’s name on it, he kept always with him, unbeknownst to his father. The remaining charred papers he buried in the forest under his favorite willow tree by the bank of a brook.

Aramek’s childhood was a lonely one, with no kids around his age to play with; he learned to spend time entertaining himself. When not helping his father around the farm or in the nearby forest, he would wander into the forest on his own and it was during these solitary sojourns that his love of growing things, animals and the elementals of the forest began to take definite shape.

His favorite pastime, called by his father “wasted time,” was to go deep into the forest, always looking for a new, seeming magical place, just to sit and take in all that was around him. Ever curious was this young boy!

The more lonely he felt living with his father – always trying to protect him from the human populace of Shavalant, the more a part of everything his life seemed when sitting under his favorite willow tree, next to a brook, just listening. It was at these times that he felt closest to the mother he’d never known.

He would close his eyes and sense everything around him: the beneficial herbs growing at his feet, as well as the temporary-blindness causing mushrooms, growing there in the crook of the root, next to his hand.

But the most amazing thing that would happen when he sat near any *willow was his daydreaming. And in his daydreams he would make up poems. At any rate, when he came back to the here and now, he would have little poems stuck in his head.

On one occasion, when he was feeling particularly lonely, he was sitting under “his“ tree, leaning against the trunk and thinking about how great it would be to have a friend he could talk to. As he was coming back from this daydream a little poem flickered through his mind:

Without a doubt, my willow tree
Will send a friend to talk with me.

And when he lazily opened his eyes, sitting on the creek bank by his left knee was a small ferret; obviously very young and seemingly upset, in an indignant sort of way. He was a honey brown color with dark patches around his eyes, like a raccoon, and similar dark fur on his tail, front and back paws.

Aramek never made the connection with his little poem, simply because he was too engrossed in laughing at the look on the little ferret’s face. He really did look as if he were indignant about Aramek sitting virtually on top of the entrance to his home.

Laughing, Aramek said: “And I suppose you’re going to be my new best friend and talk with me? At which the ferret chittered, ran up his leg, and proceeded to begin looking in Aramek’s pockets, as if some great delicacy would turn up.

“Hey, just what do you thing you’re doing? Stop snooping!” he giggled.

And the strangest thing happened. The little ferret squeaking happily, climbed up onto Aramek’s right shoulder, gave his ear a ticklish lick, and proceeded to curl up and go to sleep.

Such a feeling of contentment come over Aramek that, instead of chasing the little animal away, he lazily went back to his daydreaming and the name “Snoop” just seemed to pop into his head.

He had found a friend or maybe a friend had found him.

As Aramek went through puberty, he manifested some untrained magical abilities, most notable when he became excited or angry. When happy, zephyrs would flow around him and when angry, dust devils would suddenly appear. And one time, quite by accident, while he was once again in the forest daydreaming under that favorite willow tree, a particularly nasty looking spider dropped down from the tree onto his tunic, startling Aramek and his constant cohort, Snoop. Unthinking he yelled:

Yoy! You, spider, get away from me!
Get back up in the willow tree!

Needless to say, “as if by magic” (the very concept of which his father protected him from) a breeze seemed to pick up that spider and send it back up into the lower branches. Aramek didn’t really notice he’d spoken in poetry and just thought the breeze a fortuitous one.

By the time he was 19 it was clear to his father that his son wasn’t happy living a farmer’s life, even though his son, like he, loved the forest and growing things. Aramek could identify virtually every leaf, grass, tree, herb and flower in the forest and know exactly what it was best used for.

With the “concerned” blessing of his father, who knew, without doubt, that his beloved Napanthe’s magical elven abilities had been passed on to their son, and Aramek’s own innately itchy elven need for an adventure, he and Snoop left home to go to Sharn and the great Morgrave University there, to be trained in the sorcerous arts.

When he first arrived in Sharn, like any country kid finding himself in the big city for the first time, he was nearly overwhelmed by the sights, the sounds, the smells of the city, exotic foods and every race imaginable. All of this having been thrown together in what must be “the GreatestCity in the Greatest Country in all Khorvaire.”

The first thing Aramek needed to do was find a means of livelihood. Needless to say there was little need for farmers, but his knowledge of herbs and plant lore ensured that he would be able to find employment as an apprentice herbalist.

It turned out that the first shop he entered was owned by an Arch-Herbalist, a half-elf sorcerer, who had been terribly injured during the Last War and was unable to walk unassisted.

As serendipity would have it, the herbalist’s most recent apprentice, who was the nare-do-well son of a distant cousin on his mother’s half-sister’s husband’s side, had once again overslept, due to a hangover, and allowed several expensive and difficult-to-prepare tinctures being prepared for a rich and powerful member of House Thuranni to be thoroughly ruined.

When Aramek walked in, the sorcerer, an Arch-Herbalist by the name of Darion Staciakiir (Gem Star), a follower of Aureon, was just about to unleash a telekinetic thrust to throw his now “Ex” apprentice out of his shop.

At this unexpected interruption, which inadvertently saved the unfortunate “about to be” ex-apprentice from painful unemployment, the angry herbalist-sorcerer snapped at Aramek, “What do you want?” And Aramek’s instantaneous reply, “a job” prompted the equally instantaneous response: “You’re hired! Now, what do you know?”

And so began Aramek’s life in Sharn, under the tutelage of one of the best known and respected Sorcerer-Herbalists in southern Breland.

Aramek was given a small but adequate room behind the shop, where he and Snoop could keep an eye on the various herbal concoctions and attend to customers, while still being able to study.

Aramek helped the customers. Snoop entertained them, which often made them forget their impatience when something wasn’t ready the moment they walked in the shop.

With a great place to live and a fortuitous position as an apprentice to a well-respected herbalist-sorcerer, Aramek was ready to begin his studies at Morgrave University.

On of the first things he did was cut his hair, realizing that he no longer needed to fear that people would see that he was half-elf. He did discover that he was considered quite the oddity among the other half-elf students at university because they were all born of half-elf parents, while Aramek was a first generation half-elf.

Even though he resented the fact that everyone considered him terribly naïve, he knew in his heart that they were right. He was both naïve and ignorant of his heritage. And so, Aramek, now at the age of 21, has completed two years of study at Morgrave University, where he acquitted himself very well, learning the basics of sorcery.

What’s even more impressive though, is that he excelled above all his peers in the study of the geography of Khorvaire, as it relates to the herbs of the great continent, where they grow and how they are used. He also became very proficient with the Draconic language, a must for “wannabee” sorcerers.

Although his half-elf peers found him somewhat strange, they also liked him; finding him inquisitive, eager to learn and a loyal and helpful friend.

Aramek, true to the Elvin blood in his veins, is ready for an adventure. What will it be?

Should he track down his mother’s side of the family? He only knows her family name. His father had never even talked about how or even where they had met. Any mention of her brought only mist to his eyes – and silence.

Should he go out into the wastes and find some of the amazing herbs he had learned about? He’s sure that Master Darion would make good use of his finds. This he would do with great pleasure, since his master had almost taken on the role of a beloved uncle, teaching, mentoring and looking after Aramek. Aramek doesn’t realize how much of his own youth the herbalist sees in the young man he has taken under his wing. Certainly there would be some danger in a young half-elf roaming the countryside, with not much more than a light crossbow, a “ferocious” ferret, who at best could make an enemy laugh himself to death, and a willow quarterstaff, given him as a gift by his master.

In the aftermath of the Last War, things were still uneasy and somewhat dangerous on the highways of Breland, to say nothing of the surrounding countries. However, having Snoop with him might even his chances, providing extra information about his surroundings. He might be small – but after all, even the smallest spell can have a huge effect, when properly applied!

Then again, perhaps he should just continue working with the Arch-herbalist, learning what he can while waiting to see what sort of adventure was sure to come his way?

Let me wait
And I’ll be blest
To find some friends
And have a quest!



Likes: Snoop is particularly social and enjoys scratching and nuzzling. He loves nothing better, during the daytime, than to curl up somewhere in the herbalist’s shop near Aramek and doze. Whenever they go out, Aramek always has a handy deep pocket or side satchel in which Snoop can nuzzle up and enjoy the ride. What fun watching the world from his friend’s pockets!

Aramek tends to be a bit more trusting of strangers than Snoop, so Snoop considers it his job to watch out for the welfare of his friend. He’s a good judge of character, no matter the race.

Night time is Snoops favorite, when he gets to keep an eye out for those tasty mice and rats that seem to love skittering around the shop. Yum. Snoop even offered one to Aramek once and only once. Aramek hasn’t any idea what tasty really is. He ruins his food, burning it up. Yuk!

Dislikes: Snoop really doesn’t like being on the ground in crowds. There are far too many big creatures to try to step on him. He immediately heads for the edges and corners. If he can find a mouse hole, so much the better to be safe. Never can tell what treat might be waiting for him. Ferrets always say, “to be unseen is to be safe.” And he really, really hates to be out in flat, open places, especially in the daytime but also at night. Those are the times when he will find or dig a hole for himself – even a shallow one. Anything to get out of the prying eyes of those feathered fiends, owls, hawks and the like that hunt him and his relatives. And he’s not thrilled with fire either. Not only does it ruin perfectly good food, like what Aramek eats, but it also hurts the fur and the eyes.

Goals: Snoop considers himself a most likable and intelligent familiar. He’s quite convinced that Aramek’s success is in no small part due to Snoop’s presence. Why, look how many pretty girls have come over to talk with Aramek? It’s really because Snoop is so darn cute, although he has to admit that Aramek is too – in a naïve sort of way.

One of Snoop’s most important goals is to see Aramek (live to) become a great sorcerer. All that Aramek becomes and achieves will be Snoop’s as well. Why, he would be the most famous ferret on Khorvaire! He’d never have to hunt down a rabbit or rat or mouse again. He could have his own private rodent breeding stables. Ah, now that’s a goal worth working towards!

© Stephen Schwichow

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