Shadow stands about 6 feet tall with skin the color of the darkest night and eyes the color of blood. He stands at ease, but several daggers line his clothing, some obvious, most not. Dark glasses shield his eyes from the sun overhead and his white hair tails slightly down his back.
The sound of screams, smell of iron, and taste of blood are a nightmare very few are forced to endure. And thankfully, one that very few walk away from. For any that do remember, it is a burden that weighs on the very soul. For a newborn, it is a shaper of their future, and a curse for any that would cross them.
He did not have a name when he was found, just a newborn babe wrapped in a cloak of shadows and spiderwebs, the only gift from his mother. His skin was touched of the night and his eyes the color of the carnage around him. His pointed ears marked him as one of the graceful elves, but anyone who knew the truth also knew his skin marked him as corrupted by Rovagug, the imprisoned god. Had he been found by any of the fair folk, he would of not survived a moment longer, their enmity knowing no bounds.
Instead however, the tree itself grasped him in its arms, the soul of the tree looking down on him with curiosity instead of hate. Ashae was young for her kind, only having just passed from the First World, and so she knew little of the land and nothing of its secrets. And the drow infant she held in her hands was one of the deepest secrets of the world, his kind having survived the endless night and having remained in the shadows even after the world began to awaken and the light returned.
Around the child, the remnants of the previous night were clear. Bodies and blood littered the small clearing. Elves and drow in equal amounts lay lifeless. None but the child had survived. The dryad, knowing the smell of death, called upon her sisters and upon the creatures of the wild to force nature to quicken its work. For one from the First World, the gruesome sight unfolding before her as the bodies were torn apart by packs of wolves, flocks of scavengers, and quickly decayed by the things of the soil was nothing but natural and she did not look away as she held and coddled the newborn babe in her arms.
The child grew quickly under the protections of Ashae, learning much about her world and her people, but none of his. He met many of the fey; from the prideful atomie to the huge and deadly tunche. He learned of what fey were to be feared, who was to be respected, and who was to be scorned. The politics and rules of the fey realm are mercurial and form a deadly game, but he learned of them quickly, mostly to avoid losing his head to a small fit by an elder fey. He learned to hide from those who brought death to the trees, and to lie when he could not hide from them. He moved from place to place in the forest, every part of it home, every part of it deadly and lovely. Ashae gave him the name Falc; as he reminded her of the bright stone in the sky and how it disappears so well that not even the best of eyes can find it on some nights. To her, he was the sliver that sometimes remained. He traveled frequently to the First World with Ashae, weeks there being years back in the mortal world. Ashae did not understand the lifetime of mortality and paid no heed to it, and therefore, neither did the young boy who quickly grew into a young man. As a young man, Falc had certain urges that were happily returned by many of the fey. Nymphs taught him the arts of lust, of music, and of beauty. One of his closest companions was a nymph named Selas. She was one of the First World that men wrote stories about, but Falc had nothing to compare her too and so to him, she was simply a friend, a lover, and one of the kindest souls he had ever met. He learned of medicine and swimming and sex from her more than anyone else and eventually he unwittingly fell in love.
While lust is common among the fey, love is not. When Falc approached Selas on the matter, she simply laughed, unable to understand the difference. Among the fey, lovers were shared and when the mood took you, you went with it. Love itself had nothing to do with it. Feeling ashamed, Falc left and did not return for many days. He spoke with Ashae on the matter and she comforted him and brought him to the outskirts of a human settlement. She spoke to him of others like him and that soon, he must journey away from here. He was a mortal after all, and by his appearance compared to other mortals, she knew he was nearing the prime of his life. Ashae told him to spend time in the village, to learn of men, and to return after he had learned of love and what it meant, of the rules it created among men. Not knowing what exactly he was looking for, but hungry for answers, he took a step forward; only to be firmly stopped by Ashae’s hand on his shoulder.
Standing in the moonlight at the edge of the world of men, the young drow was also completely naked and had no idea that it was not an acceptable thing in the world of men. The fey have little use for clothes, only using those touched by magic, or if they must blend in with mortals. Ashae chuckled to herself, but the sound of it brought a smirk to Falc’s mouth, he understood why he had been stopped, remembering rangers and huntsmen he had watched from hidden places. He spent the next night traveling into the town with only the cloak of shadows and cobwebs that he had been found in to keep him hidden. He stuck to rooftops and the dark as he slowly gathered clothing. When he finally had enough clothing to not look ridiculous, he made his way into town the following morning.
The clothing felt odd as he walked, the boots heavy and unwieldy. He disliked the feel, but he knew it was a necessary evil. The town was not large, but to him, it was massive, with many holes and many secrets. He was quickly drawn to an inn, a lute drawing his ear. The first week in town was spent with the lutist and after giving the lutist a gem worth more than Falc would ever know, took the lutist’s place. He was better at the instrument than anyone in this town, and any in the next few towns over. And as he played, he gained a bit of fame, a room at the inn, and the virginity of dozens of young farmer’s daughters. The last bit was where he gained a slightly better understanding of what love was. The ones he had gone to bed with quickly added up, and many of them returned for more than just the music. And then they grew jealous as they found out others were there for the same. Rumors spread of trickery, magic, and demons that Falc had used to get them into bed and then it was no longer women showing up, but a mob of three dozen angry farmers with pitchforks and flames. Knowing he was no longer welcome, he unlocked the back window and fled into the night with his meager possessions. As he fled he thought about what had happened and gained his first insight into the danger of love and how the word came with a sort of possessiveness.
Ashae was waiting on the first’s edge, knowing he would be returning, and together they stepped into the First World. Falc recounted his story and his new understanding of love and of jealousy. Ashae left for a moment after the tale and returned with a book of tales recounting all sort of fey, but mostly of nymphs and satyr’s, and how they stole the hearts of men and women and of the dangers they posed to mankind.
The book itself piqued Falc’s interest and he asked if there were more such things. Falc spent nearly five years in the First World, reading and learning of the world and its stories. At one point, Ashae rushed off in a hurry, worry spread across her smooth face.She made Falc promise to remain until he returned. She never returned. At first, Falc just thought time was different here than in the other world as he had read of in several of the books he had been given. But after almost another year passed, he knew it could no longer be the case. When he finally stepped back into the material plane, nothing remained of what was once his home. The forest was gone, only dead stumps remaining. The grove Selas had called home, with its small stream, was now a pond, and fishing in it were two older men.
Anger beginning to grow, Falc stepped over to the two men, his footsteps giving off no sound. He feet had no shoes, but he wore light leathers as he had been taught and spoke an old dialect of common to the old men. They turned to look at him and their eyes grew wide, silently mouthing demon. One went to his knees and gave a solid prayer while the other held out a small fillet knife. When Falc made no move to attack them, the tension slightly moved from them as they looked between at each other. Falc tried again, asking what had happened to the forest. The two men’s fear turned to confusion and Falc repeated the question a third time, his patience running thin. The one still holding up the small knife answered in broken common that this part of the forest had been cleared for nearly fifty years now. Other sections of the forest had been stripped clean over the last 150 years. Falc’s anger coming to a point, the man quickly added that just last week a new lumber camp had been set up a bit to the north and they had been meeting with problems from the forest folk. The lumber men weren’t stupid though and had brought men with cold iron to take care of the evil things in the woods. All of Falc’s anger quickly iced over into fear and he ran from the two as fast as his feet would carry him.
When he finally made it to Ashae’s tree, the scene was much the same as the one he had been found in as a newborn. The bodies of men and of fey littered the ground. Several still clung to life, but Falc was only dim aware of them as his eyes were focused on the three men nearby. One had Ashae by the throat, a dagger of cold iron in her abdomen. The other two held large axes. Crack. Crack! CRACK! The axes bit deeper and deeper into Ashae’s tree, having already gouged through its middle by the time Falc arrived. The tree fell and everything else went silent. Rage filled Falc and he lost awareness of his actions. The clearing went black as night as Falc picked up one of the swords lying strewn among the dead. The men screamed as everything around them went dark, but Falc could hear nothing but the sound of rushing blood between his ears.
When Falc came to his senses again, the men lay dead. Their throats slit, multiple stab wounds down their bodies, their eyes wide with fear as they died. Covered in blood and weak from exertion, Falc crawled over to where Ashae lay, her breathing ragged and her skin looking like cracking bark. She looked kindly at him and drew him close. With her final moments at hand, she spoke to him of why he must run from this place. Of how only rage filled her kind and he was not safe. She spoke to him of safe paths through the mountains. And as she stroked his cheek, she told him that she loved him. Falc held her close as she died in his arms. Her lifeforce had been tied to the fallen tree and as it faded, so did she.
When the tears eventually stopped, Falc covered her with his cloak of shadows and buried it with her. As night came, he also buried each of the other fey. Many he knew and many he cried over as he set them into their graves. He left the bodies of the men alone to rot, cursing them in every language he knew. He stripped them of anything useful, took the money they had, and set off north, toward the mountains. He traveled for months, never stopping for long, barely resting, never giving himself enough time to remember. He kept his face hidden, so as not to alarm folk with his red eyes or dark skin. He bought only what he needed, and only stole when he didn’t have anything left in his pocket to spend.
Needless to say, it was a rough few months. The books and maps in his head were hundreds of years old, so he knew almost nothing of the towns he came across and what he did know had changed in name dozens of times over. He passed by cities larger than his eyes could take in and became lost in forests too deep for man to ever set foot in. Still, he continued north. The trees thinned and then were gone, replaced by vast grassland, and even that turned more sparse until his eyes could see nothing in the distance but miles upon miles of sand. He had read of the desert, but the sight of land without trees was still not something he could quite understand until he looked out upon it. Despite the heat, a chill ran down his spine as he thought about what he had lost and he found himself unable to step into a land without the only thing from his past he still had; trees.
So instead, he headed west, following the river and the trees. He met few people as he stayed off the roads and common paths, but occasionally he would come across a fisherman or a young couple playing in the shallow parts of the river. Seeing peace in them instead of hate or anger, he would sit for a minute, sharing stories and a bit of food. Mostly though, companionship. He had never truly been alone, not even for the year he head been in the first world without Ashae. Playful pixies, mischievous gremlins and even the occasional dalliance when Selas or one of her kind would visit always kept him among friends and conversation. Once even, he had been shrunken by an atomie and forced to duel several times before the tiny fey would return him to his normal size. On one of these stops, Falc came across a traveling bard. The bard was nearing the end of his middle years, but his pack held all sorts of things, and his grin could cheer up even a ghost. The man knew the stories Falc knew and more. And so Falc did not leave this time and he finally slowed down. And he finally slept.
He woke up to eggs, mushrooms, and meat. The man tipped over a metal cannister with holes in it and hundreds of tiny white rocks poured out of it over the food before he handed it over. Falc was confused and asked what had been poured on the food. The man’s response was shock and confusion and then he burst out laughing. Falc learned of salt and quickly learned he disliked it. He learned the man’s name was Tim and that he was headed to Magnimar, the city of Monuments on request of the Pathfinder Society. He told Falc of the city and asked if he would like to accompany him there. He seemed to know not to ask for Falc’s name. The trip to the city was easier when traveling with someone who knew the roads, the customs, and apparently everyone in the world. Every group the two passed waved and smiled and were eager to talk of rumor and news with Tim. And the ones that did not, Tim gave a wide berth, telling Falc about them and how dangerous they were or those they worked for.
When Magnimar appeared on the horizon, the city was larger than any that Falc had ever seen, which excited and terrified him. He took Tim’s lead into the city, the guards not even stopping and inspecting the two when they saw Tim flash a quick smile, calling each of the guards by name, and eventually they wound up at a dockside inn, The Old Fang. Tim took the stage and brought out a lute that looked more grown than carved. He began to play a song and the crowd quickly began to sing along. After several songs later, even Falc was impressed and had joined the crowd in cheering and singing. Ol’ Mom Grottle, the innkeeper, gave Tim a knowing smile and handed him two keys, a note, and a small sack of coins before Tim brought Falc up to his own room. Being the first bed of any kind Falc had laid down in in several months, he slept over almost a day and a half before rousing. He awoke to a sealed letter, a single golden coin, and twin daggers resting on the stand next to him. Hangin on a hook at the door, he noticed the cloak that Tim had been wearing the past two weeks and after reading the note and finding out it was now his, he put it on, noting all of the little pockets sewn on the inside. The letter had contained three notes inside. One explaining Tim’s purpose in town and that he could not stay through the night as well as much else. It gave no specifics to Tim’s newest destination, but everyone has secrets and this was something Falc knew all too well. The second letter was to be given to a certain Lady Heidmarch. It was explained in the first letter to be a letter of introduction and was only to be given after Falc had gained a bit of fame in the city. The third letter was Falc’s ticket to fame. It was also a letter of introduction, but was to be given immediately to Jorston Droaeb, owner of the Serpent’s Run. In it was Tim’s recommendation tor Falc to be accepted as a contestant and why. The first letter told Falc what exactly he would be participating in, from racing to acrobatic feats, to severing the head of a hydra with only flasks of alchemist fire.
With the third letter in tow, Falc gathered his things and made his way to Serpent’s Run. His cloak hid most of his features, but he still kept his head down, just in case. The city had seen all sorts of folk of different shapes, colors, and sizes. Even so, Falc’s kind were just a rumor spread around to keep children in bed at night and behaving. Few knew that his kind were real and that the majority of the stories were true. Even Falc barely knew the truth of it, only having just learned from Tim a few nights ago that he was a drow and that his people lived deep in the Underdark and were rightly feared. Tim could read that Falc was different though, and reassured him of such before moving on.
After handing over the letter of introduction and waiting for a minute, a dwarf barged into the waiting room and looked Falc up and down before motioning him into his office. The dwarf introduced himself as Jorston and then went on to grumble a bit about the situation about Tim. “You’re lucky I owe that old man a favor or two from back in my adventuring days or I’d not even consider this. Still…if you can do half the things Tim says you can do, I have a good chance of making quite a bit of money off of you, boy. You’re in, but nowhere in this letter does Tim mention your name. So what is it?”
Falc thought for a minute and almost decided to walk away instead of giving his name away. He thought long and hard and the dwarf patiently waited. Falc thought of his time with the fey, of his time with the dryad who he had come to regard as his mother, and of the cloak he buried alongside her. “Shadow. That is my name.” It was obviously not his real name, but he had little use for Falc other than as a key to hold the flood of memories back. His new name was more akin to his his purpose, more of what he intended to be, than that of a name. He would be untouchable and unknown. And he also had a bit of flair for the dramatic in him.
Jorston grunted, “Well then, Shadow…,” he held out his hand to shake, “Welcome to the Serpent’s Run and welcome to Magnimar.”