Eberron: An Age to Come
The tiefling race is firmly rooted in deceitful and misfortunate origins, and Malvaius is certainly no exception to his heritage. Ruby had never known a luxurious life, as few ever had in the town of Yrlag. She earned enough to keep herself fed and warm by keeping drinks flowing in The Crescent Moon, a small tavern and inn on the western side of town. Yrlag had only one reliable source of trade, and everyone tried to capitalize on the steady shipments to Blood Crescent for House Tharashk during the spring and summer. Especially harsh winters could sometimes freeze the river solid which meant merchants had no interest in the town’s ports, and the many drudges were forced to get creative to gain a reprieve from hunger and the biting cold. This was one such winter.
This month’s supply shipment had been stuck in port by an unexpected blizzard. The storm made it impossible for the ships to set sail before the thin layer of ice had thickened into a dense and dangerous ice drift. The tavern was home to the few mercenaries that hadn’t already blown their pay on supplies and alcohol. It had been days since Ruby’s last warm meal, and while she was busy at work, the shipment mercenaries were notably cheap, and she knew she would likely be feasting on stale bread once again.
Ruby delivered her last batch of brew to the various tables and turned to head back to the bar when the clack of coins on the hard wood tables caught her attention from the corner table under the stairs. She quickly went to the cloaked man at the table and saw several gold coins stacked in front of him under a dull red, hand. When asked what she could do for him, he murmured a few words under the general din of the tavern and nodded towards the steps. Ruby had never resorted to such income, and was certainly no harlot. She turned to walk away, but paused as her stomach grumbled in protest and she glanced nervously around the tavern. Who would know? A sly grin sliced across the tiefling’s face as she stood beside his table for a moment, tortured by what he had offered. After one last glance around the tavern, she shamefully hung her apron behind the bar and snatched the pile of coins on her way up the stairs.
Few words were spoken in that dimly lit inn room. After the night settled and the halls quieted, the tiefling male rifled through his pouches and handed Ruby her payment for the night. She glanced in the small pouch to see more than a few gold coins and a medallion on a thin chain. Silently, she turned from the grinning tiefling to finish dressing and slipped quietly down the hall to head home. When she got inside she immediately spilled the contents of the pouch across the small table to carefully plan out her spending so she would never be forced to resort to such income again. She meticulously counted out the twenty-seven gold coins and stuffed them away in various nooks and hiding places around her small, one-room home before turning her attention to the medallion. At first glance she believed it was a reddish-amber gem set in the center of a silver triangle ringed by a gold circle. As she examined it closer, she noticed it actually appeared to be a teardrop shaped ice crystal with a small flickering flame at its center.
She turned the small medallion over a few times in her hands and noticed that it seemed to be warmer than the rest of the room. She leaned in closer to the candle to examine it more thoroughly, but the closer she got to the flame the cooler the amulet became, almost in defiance of its surroundings. Why would someone be so easily parted from such a beautiful and intriguing signet? Perhaps it slipped into this pouch by accident? Surely that infernal being did not intend to give away such a thing, did he? She glanced around the empty room and stuffed her treasure into a crack in the floorboards under her bed.
Over the next few days, Ruby kept to herself as much as she could as the blizzard faded and the mercenaries and workers began to break channels through the ice to let the ships continue their missions. She did her best not to draw attention to her newfound wealth, and certainly wanted to avoid the attention of the tiefling, she could only guess that he would not be overly excited to know she had the medallion. She figured once the ships left there would be plenty of time to find a worthy merchant to help secure her wellbeing for the next few years. But the day that the ships left port, her morning was wracked with illness. She didn’t think much of the sickness, the cold certainly must have made her ill, and she had few warm meals which made her feel better. Several voyages to Blood Crescent had come and gone with no sign of the infernal mercenary, but her shame started to become more apparent as signs of her pregnancy became now noticeably visible, and certainly undeniable.
Whispers, murmurs and disapproving glares followed Ruby in the final months of her pregnancy. She became more reclusive as spring warmed into summer and that fateful day drew near. After the baby was born the full gravity of her situation sank into her increasingly less stable mind. She couldn’t bring herself to even name the child, as she stared blankly at those dark horns and twitching tail. Ruby wept for days in her home until she could not stand her condition or even herself any longer. She slowly made her way around the house methodically closing and barring the only door and the few small windows. With trance-like focus, Ruby gathered every lantern and oil jar she owned and, with tears streaming down her puffy cheeks, doused nearly every inch of the small building. Amidst a dark medley of hysterical laughter and shameful sobs, she threw the last lit lantern to the floor, shattering it on the hard wooden floorboards.
The flames consumed the entire home nearly instantly. The townsfolk saw the leaping flames and rushed from all over the city to try to contain the blaze. The back of the house started to crumble as the supporting walls were reduced to charred rubble. Several brave citizens tried to break in the door to get to the screaming woman and crying baby that could be heard throughout Yrlag, but by the time they were able to get inside the inferno, the only things able to be saved was a child grasping the chain of a small, somehow still cool amulet. Rumors immediately began to spread as quickly as the flames had about the infernal infant’s involvement in the blaze. Augur, the warforged that was charged with keeping the local arcane library, stepped in and took the crying baby and reassured the nearby residents that the child was no threat by pointing out Ruby’s clearly unstable state the previous weeks. Reluctantly they accepted his truth but none would step forward to raise the horned being. It was unanimously decided that if the child was to remain in the city, he would have to go with Augur. The building continued to smolder into the night while a dwindling number of residents continued to bring water from the river to be sure other nearby homes were safe from any blowing embers.
Augur spent the next few years studying the amulet closely while caring for the young child. The warforged knew from experience how important an identity would be to the child in the coming years and spent any free time, which was becoming increasingly less common with his new role of foster parent, studying tiefling history, lore and tracing the amulet’s history. He was finally able to track the amulet to Halius Kaazalani, a tiefling known to work as hired muscle for House Tharashk whose last assignment was to help reinforce Blood Crescent several years earlier. With a few inquiries to the triumvirate in Zarash’ak, Augur learned that Halius had not survived his first winter in Blood Crescent, and was killed defending the city from minions of Vraria. Augur decided it was time to bestow a name upon the boy and researched some more traditional tiefling names before deciding on Malvaius.
Malvaius was raised in a constant state of education by Augur. He learned the history of tieflings, how the ancient cities fell to the ruin of a war that scattered two once powerful races, and even the infernal language that was used to transform the noble houses. The warforged became fond of the boy; he was always eager to learn and soaked up his lessons like a sponge. Augur was able to explain the mistrust others had for tieflings in general and why Malvaius had to be cautious and aware of his presence. The boy was often bullied in public, though he rarely paid mind to the insults other children threw at him. He understood and accepted the naivety of other children, but when adults decided to partake it greatly upset young Malvaius and he would retreat to the safety of Augur’s library.
A few weeks after turning 15, Malvaius found himself cornered in the street by several other boys while trying to make his way back to the library after running some errands for Augur. The boys began throwing stones at him while calling him names and accusing him of killing his own mother. As he tried to get past the four boys, they would kick or hit him and shove him back into the alleyway to continue their physical and verbal siege. The ruckus had attracted a couple local residents, and word quickly reached Augur back at the library of the boy’s situation. One of the residents took up arms with the boys and hurled a rock at Malvaius, hitting him in the head just above his dark, curled horns. Malvaius stumbled backwards and angrily clenched his firsts so tightly he thought he may break his own hands.
He regained his footing and took a step forward screaming with rage as a blast of energy erupted in an arc from his fists. The assaulting crowd reeled backwards and was knocked to the ground by the unexpected blast. All of them screamed in agony and surprise as they scrambled to their feet, some numb with cold, others screaming from flames clinging to their clothing, and the most deserving, adult aggressor spitting poisonous bile onto the ground and crying out for help. The myriad of different wounds took Augur by surprise as he rushed to the scene. Augur stepped around the corner of the alley just as a red cloaked figure dropped into the alley behind the still shocked Malvaius. A clawed hand sharply grabbed Malvaius by his recently injured horn and ripped back on it, forcing the boys to meet his still hooded gaze. Augur cried out and sprinted forward into the alley, only to be stopped cold by the flat of the figures sword slapping him across the chest. Malvaius stared into familiar burning eyes as the surprise on his face was replaced with confusion and fear. Augur’s gaze traced the sword down to dark red, clawed hands that had a small trickling trail of blood running down to his last knuckle and started to form a hanging droplet.
“He was only defending himself,” Augur said slowly, “you would have done no different, and he clearly is no criminal.”
“Blasting 5 civilians to the ground with sorcery is certainly not INSIDE the boundaries of the law,” hissed the cloaked figure.
Malvaius struggled to focus on the words, trying to understand his current situation. He was used to the verbally abusive, and sometimes violent, children of Yrlag, but this was something new, something bigger. As the drop of blood fell from the cloaked figures armed hand, it caught Malvaius’ attention, and he could only guess he had caused the wound. He must have wounded a strong warrior, or dangerous rake.
“I- I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to hurt anyone!” stammered Malvaius. “They were hurting me. I only wanted to get back to the library!”
The cloaked figure studied the boy’s face for a moment longer before loosening his grip and shifting his grasp to Malvaius’ shoulder. Malvaius quietly loosed a relieved sigh and shifted to meet Augur’s still concerned look. The cloaked figure turned to Augur and slowly lowered his weapon. His burning yellow eyes did not blink as he spoke.
“We need to go somewhere we can talk, warforged.”
“We can go to the library, it’s safe-” Augur was cut off by a fanatic hiss.
“They know where the boy lives! You won’t be able to shelter him from the fury of an entire city, fool. Follow me.”
The three darted off down the alley and through a series of passages, sewers and basements. Malvaius and Augur silently kept pace and followed the mysterious guide to an abandoned house near the docks. Once they were inside, the cloaked man darted between windows, doors and cracks in the crumbling walls until he was certain nobody had followed them. A young Malvaius struggled to understand the events of the past hour. Unsure of what exactly had happened or how he had inflicted such chaos and pain so quickly. He finally dared to whisper to Augur.
“What happened? What did I do to those people, Augur? I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”
Augur quietly responded with caution, “Do you remember all of the ancient noble houses?”
“Yes, but-”, whispered an even more confused Malvaius.
“What do you remember of House Zannifer?” pressed Augur, motioning silently to cloaked figure still cautiously watching for any signs of being followed.
Suddenly Malvaius made the obvious connection he had missed before. Of course, the Red House! He hadn’t been wounded by the boy’s blast, he was of the cursed house! But, Malvaius had not broken any laws, at least not intentionally, and certainly he was no criminal. Why was this happening? And exactly what WAS happening? Finally the cloaked figure turned to them and shed his hood, revealing the twisted dark horns they both came to expect.
“Yes, I am of House Zannifer,” he said to Malvaius but then nodded to Augur, “and you are correct. There was no malicious or criminal presence in the boy’s eyes.”
“So why have you brought us here?” asked a still cautious Augur.
The tiefling eyed Malvaius’ pendant closely before responding, “While I have no love of House Zolfura, everyone here knows the boy cannot stay in Yrlag if he is to live to see his next winter.” Augur’s head sank slightly, knowing this to be true. Malvaius started to protest but was immediately cut off. “I am on my way back to Zarash’ak, but there is another shipment leaving for Blood Crescent tonight. If you want to have any hope of surviving the week, I suggest you be on it, boy. Alone.”
“He’s only 15! He still needs guidance, now more than ever, after this afternoon’s show of sorcerous power.” protested Augur.
“He will have enough trouble going unnoticed as himself, but a tiefling and a warforged travelling together? You might as well kill him now and save us all some time and effort.” snapped back the tiefling. “Go to Blood Crescent, boy, they are more tolerant of our ancestral sins. They don’t have much choice given their current surroundings. I have to go, and if you want a chance at a normal life, so do you.”
The tiefling turned started for the door, but before he opened it he turned back to Malvaius. “When you get to Blood Crescent, seek out Baruk and tell him that you are the light he seeks. He commands the town, and will find work for you in Fah’Irrg.” With that, the tiefling disappeared from their lives as quickly as he had entered, and Augur and Malvaius were left in the abandoned house alone.
Augur and Malvaius both sat silent for a few minutes. After processing everything that had just happened, Augur spoke first. “He’s right. We need to get you on that ship. You can’t stay here. I can protect you no longer.” The warforged rummaged for what little coin he has with him and handed it to Malvaius. “I have taught you everything I can, it is time for you to put it to use. There’s a power within you, one I have not seen myself before. You must learn to harness it, and focus it. Never allow it to consume you, Malvaius!”
Malvaius sat silent a moment longer before reluctantly taking the coins presented to him. “I don’t know how to do that, Augur. If you can’t help me I don’t know who can. What do I do?”
“You have learned every lesson I have to teach. I am sure you will you find a way, not only because I want you to, but because now you must. You are the only one that can help you now.” Augur eyed the sky through a broken window, “You have to get going, it will be dark soon, and we must get you on that ship.”
Malvaius gathered himself and said goodbye to the only kind soul he’d known. After composing himself one final time, he pulled his hood up over his head and ducked out the door to flee for his life. Augur waited a few moments, knowing that he had to give Malvaius time to get some distance between them. After what seemed like hours, even to a warforged, Augur slowly opened the door, and began walking back to his library. The night passed quietly for both of them. Malvaius quietly bought passage aboard the Fortuitous Viper and had set off down the Grithic River towards an uncertain future while Augur cleaned up the library in preparation for the coming storm.
The next morning greeted Augur with a host of angry citizens and a contingent of city guards. After some superficial questioning, the guards escorted the warforged to the prison, while angry citizens tore apart the inside of the library, and eventually torched the building. After a few days of questioning, Augur was unable to be officially charged with any crime by the city, but was cast out of the town gracelessly for his inability to aid in the search of the public enemy, and dangerous, devilish sorcerer, Malvaius. After being exiled from Yrlag, Augur wandered South-East, presumably into Droaam, but was never seen after that day by anyone from Yrlag.
Malvaius landed safely in Blood Crescent just a few weeks after fleeing Yrlag. He arrived only to find the city under an eternal siege from minions of demons and the hag Vraria. Once he got away from the flurry of unloading the ship, Malvaius found a warm meal and a bed for the night at a small, and oddly still operable, inn. The following morning he set out to find Baruk, and see about starting his new life, his life without Augur, his life alone. After greeting Baruk as he was instructed, he asked surprisingly few questions when Malvaius revealed his obvious heritage. Baruk assigned the young tiefling as a liaison to dragonshard expeditions starting immediately. After reporting for duty, he learned that his role was rather minor in these expeditions. They simply needed him to translate infernal scripts and maps in most cases. He would also have to become the voice of the expedition if confronted.
Four years pass in his newfound livelihood. Malvaius lead countless expeditions without casualties through the harsh Demon Wastes. With every expedition he became more comfortable in dealings with various orc clans and demon cults, and even minor demons and rakshasa on rare occasions. The vast majority of his expeditions are successful, even with more than a handful being rerouted or turned back to avoid bloodshed. Malvaius earned well known reputation for always having every expedition member return to Blood Crescent alive, and usually much wealthier. His name had even reached the triumvirate itself, in Zarash’ak. The summer before he reached his 20th birthday, a courier from the monthly Yrlag supply ship found Malvaius and presented him with an official House Tharashk sealed letter.
Malvaius read the letter carefully. Someone had taken the time, and coin, to have a carefully worded letter of assignment, which was already cryptic enough, translated into infernal to keep its contents safe from prying eyes. After carefully reading the letter a second time, he burned the paper itself, as the letter had instructed to do so. It appeared that the dragonmarked house was assigning an unprecedented expedition to Malvaius’ guidance, the house’s first expedition to the heart of known source of Khyber dragonshards, The Lair of the Keeper. He had just under a month to make any necessary preparations with any cost being conveyed back to the dragonmarked house itself, courtesy of Baruk.
Malvaius prepared himself with the finest travelling wares for weeks. If he had been this successful so far, he might as well reap some of the benefits of his hard earned reputation. Well, that and the fact that none of the costs were ailing his own pocket this time. He met with the expedition, as directed, introduced himself and prepared to set off on what was expected to be a 3 month trek across the most hostile terrain in the land. The expedition date came without incident and was underway as they had always started before. Malvaius was becoming used to this role in life, or at least the wealth that accompanied it, though he could have done without the desert if given a choice.
They traveled northeast along the Crescent Bay, then the Shadowfang River until finally turning north and crossing the foothills of the Shadowcrags. The expedition leader decided it best to stay in the hills and pass Rotting Blade on the south on Malvaius’ recommendation. They continued east for several days in the shadow of the Lake of Fire until reaching the southernmost entrance to the Labyrinth .The expedition made camp in the hills as they become accustomed to over the past few weeks as the valley’s limited sunlight started to dwindle. Malvaius settled into his bedroll for the night shortly after pure darkness engulfed the valley as the rumbles of Lake of Fire intermittently vibrated the hard ground. He had gotten used to the noises and trembling of the large volcano over the past few days, but some of the other expedition members grumbled and shifted after each interruption until sleep overcame the tired troupe.
The watchman sounded the alarm at the sight of single glowing yellow eye, but it was already too late. An orc archer let loose an arrow into the young human’s neck. The sound still woke the expedition, but only to the dimly lit sight of an orc patrol overrunning the small campsite. The orcs descended on them with little resistance, cleaving into most of the expedition while they tried to arm themselves. The few that succeeded in raising arms were quickly overwhelmed and overpowered by the brutality of the marauders. Malvaius immediately sprung from sleep and tried to stop the orcs with every infernal threat he could muster, throwing arcs of lightning, flame and acid chaotically into the fray, but his efforts were rewarded only with a meaty fist to the back of his head and fell unconscious to the dirt.
Malvaius was jolted into awareness as he was thrown to a stone floor in a heinous smelling cave. As he slowly surveyed his surroundings, he could find no other prisoners in the small stone cave with crude iron bars blocking the only entrance. His head pounded as he forced himself to his feet and started to slowly explore his new surroundings. Once his head was no longer swimming, he turned his attention to his captors. After several hours of failed threats, bartering and bribes with the guards the frustration grew to rage as Malvaius prepared to let loose the full force of his fury on the iron barred doors. As he unleashed his fury in the form of untamed magical force the energy simply dissipated before his eyes as he felt an intense magical barrier around himself. The prison guards simply mocked the frustrated tiefling, and went about their normal business in the caves. The clan had secured their devilish prize.
In a land governed by demons, a devilspawn can be indescribably terrifying or highly coveted, depending on how powerful he or she was. In his current state, Malvaius was nothing more than a trophy for the clan to take turns practicing their various tortures and magics on. Malvaius’ days blurred to weeks. With no sunlight to even know whether it was day or night, he lost track of how long he had been captive with only the varying degrees of healing wounds to try to keep time. As he was drug into another nearby cave and chained to a crude table once again, the faint smell of sulfur crept into his nostrils.
As the orcs secured the last chain, the sulfur scent overwhelmed the caves. Malvaius could hear the confusion echo throughout the entire underground settlement and focused every bit of his consciousness on scouring the memories of Augur’s lessons, desperately trying to make sense of the nauseating smell. An earsplitting crackle of lightning assaulted the senses of both Malvaius and his captors as flames began to leap to life throughout the caves. Bloodcurdling screams echoed throughout the caverns and explosions rocked the stone walls. The orcs in the cave with Malvaius turned to run to the commotion but were blasted off their feet by an enormous fireball. Surely there was an invading army immolating the entire orc settlement, and Malvaius was going to be incinerated simply as collateral damage.
Waves of flames flooded nearby tunnels and caves adding the stench of charred orc flesh to the already overpowering sulfurous atmosphere. As he lay chained to the table awaiting his own final blast, Malvaius finally caught a glimpse the source of all this mayhem and destruction. A copper skinned woman sauntered into the adjacent cave entrance with a wicked grin across her face. Malvaius was completely enthralled in the beings beauty as he watched her fold her wings gracefully behind her, tail twitching with perverse glee. Small golden horns adorned her stunning face and refracted the glint of flickering flames around the cave as she admired her most recent works. The unexpected liberator strode over to the restrained tiefling, shaking her head with clear disapproval.
“Poor, damaged Malvaius. How did you find yourself here in this pitiful state?” she purred.
Malvaius writhed with uncertainty as she placed her hand on his chest and murmured a few words. His head lurched forward and he gasped as though he had been underwater for hours. The chains on his hands and feet began to glow and melted to the floor.
Feeling his full strength return, Malvaius leapt to his feet, “Who are you?! How did you find me here?! What do you want with me?!” he shouted in a panicked confusion.
Her words gracefully rolled off her forked tongue and hung in the tainted air, “Come now, my darling, some may say your thanks would be a more fitting response, hmmm? Besides, if I had intended any harm to you, certainly it would have been inflicted already.” She smirked with a startling giggle. “There is a much more meaningful death awaiting you, my dear. Certainly you can do better than being tortured to death in a dark orc cave. Don’t you agree, precious?”
“How do you know me?” stammered Malvaius as he frantically tried to understand what had transpired. He could not identify the she-devil, but yet she had known of his struggle and freed him for some greater mission. “What did you have in mind for my better death exactly?”
“Oh, come now, I can’t spoil all the fun. You have plenty of work to do before then anyway, darling.” She cackled wickedly as she opened a flaming portal and vanished into it. “I’ll be waiting for you, young Malvaius”, her words lingered in the air even after her disappearance.
The baffled, but oddly rejuvenated Malvaius quickly gathered his clothing, snatching his signet from the neck of a nearby crispy orc, and started to search the now charred caverns for anything useful to take with him on his escape. Stepping over smoldering orcs, he worked his way to the mouth of the cave with a small pack full of survival supplies and the wickedly curved dagger that was the cause of much of his own anguish the previous weeks. Dazed by the burning sunlight in his eye for the first time in weeks, Malvaius struggled to gain his bearings and eventually stumbled northwest towards the distant towering ruins of the Burning Keep.
After a day of travel and two days of rest amidst the ruins, he found a small watering hole and refreshed his water skins. While he couldn’t calculate exactly how far he was from Blood Crescent, he knew that it was at least 2 weeks of travel to where they were attacked, which couldn’t have been too far from here. As he filled his last water skin, a glint of steel caught his eye in the distant desert. After straining for several minutes, even with a crude spyglass from the orc cave, his heart sank as he spied a banner in the approaching party. It was Vraria’s crest, the night hag from the Rotting Blade.
Malvaius mustered every ounce of energy he could and focused on teleporting himself to the far side of the ruins where he could make a less noticeable getaway. The ground trembled around him and small arcs of lightning cackled from his body as he blinked out of existence. When he rejoined the world he paused in sheer wonderment at his new surroundings. The nearby abyssal power of the Lake of Fire must have amplified his intended spell and launched him way beyond the ruins…