Pathfinder - Legacy of Fire
ORIGINS - Khalid Shihab al Hashim
Much of my childhood is a blur. I know that I have always been in Katapesh, but I do not have many memories of my childhood. I remember that my father was a hard working merchant, but I still cannot picture my mother . My first clear memory was when I was 6 years of age. I remember father teaching me how to catch and how much fun that was. He was my protector, my teacher, and my hero all rolled into one. But through all his good points, my father was sad. And unfortunately I don’t really know why. I remember asking about my mother, and he had always said that she had died of a plague shortly after I was born. He told me that in those days he was poor, and that as he could not afford a grave, my mother’s body had to be burned along with the hundreds of others who had also died of the same disease. He never elaborated on it, and always managed to find a way to change the subject.
Upon my 6th birthday, father gave me two devices which were shaped like a strange scoops. Father told me they are his most prized possessions and that he was honored to pass them on to me. He explained that the device allowed the wielder to throw any objects like a weapon, whether they be oranges, or stones. Father called it a Sling Glove, although I’m sure there was a more interesting name for them. Even to this day, I practice with them regularly to hone my skills. In fact, I have become quite good and can now throw almost anything.
I used to practice for days throwing rotten fruit at abandoned buildings near my home, or I would wander down to the docks to try and throw stones, or any other thing I could find as far as I could. Father was very proud of my gift with the weapon and I would often hear him telling his friends and fellow merchants of how good he felt I was.
Just before my 7th birthday, tragedy came to our home. It was early in the morning when a young Cleric from the Church of Abadar knocked on the front door with news that Father had been brutally murdered earlier that morning. It was not long before the vultures and debt collectors came and started stripping our home of all its valuables. I think that if it wasn’t for my quick thinking that one of them would have taken me as his slave. But I was lucky. I grabbed a small bag of things that I held dear and fled into the street. I had become quite familiar with the markets of Katapesh, and I easily found a quick getaway into the bustling marketplace.
Over the coming weeks and months, I spent many a night in the lower parts of Katapesh, begging or stealing what I could to survive. Living on the streets of Katapesh for almost 8 years has taught me many things, such as the locations in the city that you just don’t go if you want to stay out of the slave markets and places you never go if you want to stay alive. But I was well versed in where you go to get a decent meal, or a safe place to sleep for the night.
Unfortunately, I didn’t know everything about Katapesh. Having spent more than a month living on the streets, one evening I cornered by a group of local young thugs. They came at me from all sides. There must have been six of them. I managed to knock out all but two of them before they got the better of me. As I struggled, one of the gang put a rag in my face. Whatever they had coated the rag in, it smelt disgusting, but whatever it was I soon found the other side of unconsciousness, as everything went black.
I awoke some time later in a rundown, but surprisingly well furnished, shanty somewhere in Dogtown. My head throbbed, but I found that my wounds had been tended to by a young girl named Heleen. She was older than me, but not by much. She told me that she was about 14 years old, and was the Gang Mother. She described the Gang Mother as the oldest girl of the gang and that she was responsible for taking care of the other gang members wounds, and preparing the hideout with supplies. After asking a few questions, I found that I had been taken back to the gang’s hideout and that once rested I was to meet the Gang Boss.
A few hours later I met Kelib, the Gang Boss. It was clear he didn’t like me, and neither did four of his gang members who were sporting black eyes. These were obviously the ones who I got the better of earlier. After some “rituals”, which seemed more like truth or dare party games, I was made a member of the gang. I thought about refusing, but the gang seemed well established and had food and shelter – which was more than I had since I ran away from home. I became a member and stayed with them for many years.
There were many gangs within Katapesh, and each gang had carved out its own territory. Each gang also fiercely defended its territory. Over the next few months, Heleen and I became close – which I later found gave the Gang Boss yet another reason to hate me as he was in love with her . Over the next 6 years, I worked my way up through the ranks of the gang. We changed gang mothers twice in that time, and gang bosses three times. Bosses would change because of the current Boss’ death during a skirmish with another gang, while the Gang Mothers left either because they found husbands, or because they were kidnapped and sold as slaves. Heleen left not long after her 17th birthday, and she now runs an establishment for young ladies down near the docks. Its in a poorer section of town, but her clientele always appear to be very wealthy.
The last Gang Boss died when our hideout was attacked. Half of our gang was wiped out. T hat was the day that I became Gang Boss. Once we were all safe, I appointed Miriam, a close friend who I had become friendly with, as Gang Mother. My rein, although tough, has been fair. Word quickly got around of how I liked to handle things and we quickly gained many new members, most of which came from other gangs who were getting raw deals from their Gang Bosses. I treated thing gang in the same way I thought my father would. Our gang flourished and things were good.
Surviving on the streets of Katapesh required a certain risk. The rules were always not to hinder trade, and unfortunately the gangs and the way we operated, went directly against that theory. It was only because of an agreement I had made with some important people in the ranks of the Duskwalkers, that we were able to operate without many problems. All we had to do was keep our ear to the ground, and report back to them anything that we found, or an “special” items we came across. For that I made quite a few friends in the Nightstalls and was able to fence some unique items that had been liberated by some of my gangs more skilled members. T hings however changed two years ago.
We had never had a problem with picking our marks before, but on this occasion, what we thought was a good mark, ended with me being where I am today. It started when we set an ambush for a likely mark. An older man who seemed well to do, and well stocked with a prize of countless trinkets and potions. Our tactics were that when we took a mark, if they resisted, it fell to the Gang Boss to engage him either until the rest of the gang could over-balance him or until they all escaped. On this occasion it was the later. As soon as we attacked, I realised that we had attacked not some rich bureaucrat, but a well known Alchemist named Ghazi. As I realised what we had started, I gave the command to scatter and engaged Ghazi, allowing my toughs to flee. Ghazi deftly dodged my attack, threw a clay pot at the escaping gang members and another at my feet.
On impacting with the ground, the pot thrown at my gang exploded and flattened two of my more well rounded toughs. The other hit the ground directly in front of me and as it exploded in a huge flash, it blew me off my feet and into an adjacent alley wall. The last thing I recall was the man coming up to me, checking I was still alive and saying something like, “You’re Heleen’s boy. I’ll never hear the end of this.” Then things went black.
Some time later, Miriam must have found me and ordered the gang toughs to carry me to Madam Heleen’s. We had always gone to Madam Heleen’s when we had injured or sick gang members, after all, she still was one of us, even though her profession had changed, her loyalty to the gang never faltered, and Heleen always looked after us in a time of need.
By this stage in my life, I had developed a crush on Heleen, much to Miriam’s disgust.
As I was lumbered onto the table, Heleen was shocked at the state of me and asked Miriam who had done this. The tension between Miriam and Heleen over the past years was palpable and I recall the two of them arguing for some reason, all whilst I was bleeding all over Heleen’s floor. Miriam gave Heleen the description of the target and what he had done. Heleen paused and then quickly commanded two of the gang members to go out and get a specific herb to tend to my wounds. How she knew this I didn’t find out until much later, when my life changed completely.
It was on this day that I almost died. I remember the start of that day as flashes of memory. Perhaps it was because I was falling in and out of consciousness, or perhaps it was so terrifying I’ve blocked much of it out. I do remember lying on a little kitchen table in Madam Heleen’s establishment, bleeding and slowly succumbing to the effects of whatever was in the bomb that exploded before me, while I waited for the other gang members to return with the herbs that heleen had requested. During the wait, things went black and I felt myself fleeting away. I think I recall seeing my father that day, his arms beckoning me to go with him. But something kept me there. Something that I caught in a flash of some type of vision. I saw a grave, and people standing over it. One of the mourners turned around. It was a beautiful woman. Her skin was pale, her eyes sad and wet with tears. There was something about her that I could not recognise, but I knew her. How did I know her? The next day, while lying in a fever in Madam Heleen’s bed. Had all my dreams come true? After a few moments it was clear they hadn’t when an excruciating pain shot across from one side of my head to the next and a wave of vomit spewed forth from my gut. I drifted back into consciousness to hear a heated conversation between Miriam and Heleen.
“Wha ya mean ya know oo did it”. said Miriam, the rage clearly building in her voice.“Miriam dear its rather complicated. Its best you don’t concern yourself with it", replied Heleen in her calming voice.
“Don’t concern me self wi it, e’s mine not yours Heleen. An if it to do wit im, I wonna know” screamed Miriam. Miriam began to sob.
“I love im Heleen you hear. He can’t die. Don’ you let im die!”
Heleen lightly laughed, and put her hand on Miriam’s shoulder. “Miriam, I’m not going to take him from you silly. I’m for another, and that’s why it’s complicated”.
Miriam stopped crying for a moment, enough to take note of Heleen has said.
“Whatcha mean?” asked Miriam.
Heleen took a deep breath. “Miriam dear, the target you speak of is a man named Ghazi. He’s a very powerful Alchemist, and I’m surprised you’re not all dead. But you have to know that Ghazi is my lover.”
The pain of my heart breaking for a moment equaled that in my head. My true love had given herself to another. A tear rolled down my cheek at the thought of loosing Heleen.
It was at that point that I started to question how I became Miriam’s.
These thoughts were obviously too much for my head to cope with, and the soft voices of Heleen and Miriam soon after became a dull sound as I again returned to my fever fueled sleep.
I awoke later that evening, with a blurred figure leaning over me. He said something at me, but it was clear that he wasn’t talking to me.
“Really? Are you sure? Its a hard, dangerous life!”
The voice who responded was clearly Heleen’s.
“You owe him. What you did nearly killed the boy. If it wasn’t for me he would have died.”
The man was a bit older than Heleen, maybe in his late twenties. His brow was furrowed and had a small beard with hair that could only be described as slightly burnt.
“So what. He’s only a street urchin. What does it matter anyway. He won’t…” “It matters to me ……..", Heleen stopped him mid sentence. "Just do it. You owe him. You owe me.”
“Alright", the man paused. "It will be as you say.”
My vision slowly cleared as I was fed a small vial of blue liquid. After a short time, the throbbing in my head had subsided and the fever was gone. I soon realised that the man who now helped me was the man who had attacked me earlier. I let out an almighty scream. I flailed about in order to get free so I could protect Heleen from the man, but he clearly had other ideas and knew more of my injuries than I did. I soon lost the strength to move and realised that my fight was fruitless.
“Shush boy. The potion might have stopped the infection, but you’re a long way from recovery. If you keep struggling you’ll start your bleeding again.”
I looked at the man’s face and he smiled. I stopped struggling and he soon after helped me off the bed. My stomach churned and I quickly grabbed a nearby bucket and filled it with vomit. To my surprise, it only filled with water.
“Well good", said the man, “It appears to have worked.”
The man rubbed his hands together and stood up next to the bed. The man turned to Heleen.
“By your leave Scaralin, I shall start the boys training as per your request. I needed a successor anyway”.
Scaralin. Wasn’t that the name of the head of the thieves and assassins guild in Katapesh. Was he in the room. I turned but could see nobody else present. I saw Heleen standing across the room and mouthed a word directed at her.
Heleen smiled a knowing smile. It was then, that unconsciousness took hold of me once more.
After I recovered, and after a stern talking to by Heleen, during which she mentioned never to speak about what I had heard, I entered into an apprenticeship with Ghazi the famous Alchemist, one of the most successful in Katapesh. Respected by all, and who, or so the story goes, had once saved the whole of Katapesh from a terrible giant ant invasion.
It took a remarkably short amount of time for me to recover, thanks to Ghazi’s healing and herbalist skills. Ghazi explained that the art of Alchemy was not just about potions and bombs, but was also about knowing the right infusions to help the potion manifest special properties, and about the knowledge one gains from the workings of the herbs of nature. T his was the true genius of his profession.
It has been two years since I entered into indentured service with Ghazi, and left the gang for good. I have since learnt a lot of things that before I didn’t even know existed. I gave up my leadership of the gang to a likely lad, and made sure Miriam was still set as the gang mother. She did not want me to leave, but after a while she took a shining to the new leader, and that was that. I see her every now and then and she still gives me a big hug when we meet. A big brother hug now, which for me is just fine. I still kept in touch with them for a while and found that the gang was still doing well. I still help out where I can, and get food for them when times are tougher than normal. I manage to sell a potion or two for more profit that I had hoped, and use the additional profits to supply the gang with blankets during the winter months. It was only when Heleen took me aside and explained that the gang will not respect a leader who is constantly getting help from outside, that soon after I stopped going to visit and ended that part of my life.
Unknown to me but true to style, Ghazi investigated who I was, to ensure I didn’t have any secrets that could compromise him. His investigations lead him out of the city on a few occasions over those two years, and I was tasked to hold the fort while he was away. But that’s another story in itself.
One day, Ghazi drew me aside to talk with me about my past. As the conversation began, I could have sworn I saw fear in his eyes. Ghazi was a closed man, so perhaps I was mistaken.
“Khalid, do you know where you were born?”
“Yeah course. Here in the pesh. Katapesh. Why?”
Ghazi’s expression turned to confusion. Not for himself, but apparently, for me.
“Hmm. As I thought. Your pa told you this yes?”
“Yeah, before he was killed”
“Yes quite. You where not born in Katapesh, Khalid. Your father lied to you.”
The words themselves were like weapons. It hit hard, and my instinct as a gang member and street kid kicked in. I lashed out at Ghazi, which if I had my time again, I would he re-thought. My blood was boiling and I thought little of the consequences of my actions. Although I managed to get in a few good hits, Ghazi quickly defeated me with his vast experiences out in the wild from a time when he spent in the field as an adventurer. Ghazi gave me a nasty burn on my arm as a lesson which still itches to this day. As he tended to my wound, once my temper had subsided, Ghazi again took me aside.
“Do not get me wrong boy. I have no intention of sullying your fathers good name, but it is the truth. He lied. But only from a certain point of view. I have investigated your background, and have found that you were not born in Katapesh, but a place called Kelmarane, which still lies within the country of Katapesh. Kelmarane is a small village in the hills to the north of Solku, nestled up near the Brazen Peaks”.
“What?” I said. T his couldn’t be. I was a Peshian. T his was a mistake. It had to be. My father told me, that my mother died of the plague soon after having me. T his couldn’t be true.
“I need to see for myself Ghazi. I need to go there.”
“Yes you do. I cannot train you any more. You have the basics and I will always be here for you when you return. It is now time for you to go find your true self”.
It took a month of planning but the day of my departure drew near. I knew the journey would be arduous, so I have cobbled together bits and pieces of armour and several weapons I had “borrowed” over the years and set myself ready to journey to Kelmarane. As I was preparing, Ghazi approached me and gave me a small wooden case.
“Here”, he thrust the box into my hands. “This will assist you in your adventure. It is an ancient device. I do not know its full potential; however it will assist you I’m sure. You will return this device to me once you have discovered what you need to discover, or you will compensate me for my loss. It is your choice. Do not cross me in this as this item has special meaning to me.”
The box appeared so old that the wood had petrified, and it’s surface was polished like fine marble. I opened the box and a slight shimmer encompassed it as the lid opened. Inside I found a series of finely crafted vials and bottles, a series of rare powders, mixing tools and a book, the title read – Alchemicon, A Basic treatise on the ways of the Alchemist. The tools were old, but well cared for, wrapped in an oiled leather wrap.
“Remember what training I have given you”, proclaimed Ghazi. “Practice daily. You are not ready for your journeyman tools, however you must practice with something. This box contains my journeyman tools of the trade when I first went forth from my master, many years ago. They are old and warn, but serviceable. Treat them with care and they will serve you well.”
“And the book” I said.
“Ahh yes the book, I found that one many years ago, but since I had progressed beyond the basics, I never took the time to read it. It may assist you in some small way.”
Ghazi then reached into his pocket and pulled out what appeared to be a letter, sealed with wax, and stamped with his own seal. Ghazi held it for a moment, and sighed.
“I gather that you will be saying goodbye to Heleen before you leave?”
“Yes. I have much to thank her for. I owe her that”.
“Then I have a favour to ask. Give this to her.”
“What is it?” I asked.
“An apology. Please do not open it. It is for her, and its personal.” Ghazi’s voice faltered. It did not take a diplomat to understand that something was amiss. I had never seen Ghazi this way before. I took the note from his hand and placed an assuring hand on his.
“I will do it Ghazi. You have given me much, and I will repay this to you as a token of my thanks.”
With those words I turned and left Ghazi’s company in order to say my goodbyes to some old friends, in particular Heleen.
As I rounded a corner , a tall man knocked me almost off my feet. I spun to give him a piece of my mind when suddenly I was hit in the back of the head and hoodwinked. I passed out for a moment and came too as I was hooded and being bustled into a tunnel of some sort or so it sounded. I was dragged for a distance, my head throbbing – a feeling over the years I had become too familiar with.
It was not long before I was dragged into an open space filled with the smell of burning candles and very unusual fragrances. I was forced to my knees by something that growled at me. The hood, which still remained on my face was suddenly pulled off my head, and a stream of light shot into my eyes from a grate in the ceiling. My vision was still blurred from the knock to head I had received earlier, and the smells which filled the room were now much stronger. I was clearly underground and more than likely in a place close to the sea. I caught a quick glimpse of a person shrouded in mist sitting on what appeared to be a throne. As I looked up, a clawed hand pushed my face to the ground. A voice came from the creature on the throne.
“You boy have become our newest ‘friend’.”
I could suddenly hear more voices in the room. A mix of human and other races for sure, with at least one being clearly Gnoll.
“I have a job for you son. And one that if not fulfilled, will result in your master meeting with an unfortunate accident. If you understand my meaning.”
“You dog! I will gut you if you hurt any of my friends”.
“Almost dear child” replied the voice. More laughter erupted from the congregation. I pulled at the clawed hands that were holding me down, and yelled for them to let me go.
“Feisty. I like that. Now stop struggling and listen, after which you will be free to go. Its that simple”.
There was something in not what he said but the way he said it. It was familiar. The man again spoke.
“I want you go to Solku and see a man named Garavel who is banding a group of people together to go to a place called Kelmerane. I believe you are familiar with this place.”
I groaned in response.
“I want you to go there and join their group. If what I am told is true, along the way you must look out for something known as the Asmodeous Mirage”.
I had heard legend of some strange things out in the desert, and this one was definitely more well known than others. I knew that there was a legend that it appeared once every few hundred years. But what would they want with that? The man continued.
“Within the Mirage is an item that is believed to power the mirage itself. It is a skeleton of a devil, and I have someone very interested in obtaining it from me.”
I struggled again, yelling at the floor. “What evil do they want to do with that?”
“I care not my boy. All that I know is that they will pay handsomely for it. So that is why I want you to go and find, and then bring it to me. Do we have an agreement?”
I ground my teeth, partly in pain, and partly in frustration. “Do I have a choice?”
“We always have choice my boy. Some choices however have better outcomes than others”. Laughter once more filled the room. I was not enjoying being mocked as some kind of toy.
“Take him away and allow him to make his decision. He’ll do the right thing. He always has.”
What? Did this person know me? I would have pondered this question longer had I not been knocked out with the back of a club. I was beginning to think most of my life would be spent unconscious. I awoke on a street somewhere in a back alley of the docks district. All my gear was there, and a note had been shoved in my pocket reminding me of my ‘agreement’.
After recovering, I made the first of my stops at Madam Heleen’s, or at least that was the intent..
Ghazi and Heleen had parted company many months ago, and I had not seen her for what seemed like years. As I rounded the corner into the street where Madam Heleen’s was, I found that they were removing the sign from the front of the dwelling and replacing it with a sign saying “Madam Habibs”. I entered inside and was immediately set upon by a group of local children who were a lot younger than I.
Having been on the streets, it was not long before they realise that their attempts to steal from me was for naught. A rather large black woman rounded a corner. She was clearly dressed as the Madam of the house and quickly asked who I was. I informed her I was there to see Heleen as I was soon to leave Katapesh. The woman told me that Heleen had up and left a month or two earlier and she had recently purchased the business to keep the local fisherman happy. She said that a young Gnome had also been asking after her and had only just left. She gave me a brief description, and I left to go and look for the young Fey.
I found her nearby in a gutter crying, her pack at her side. As I went to approach her, I heard a low growl from above. Coiled around an overhanging awning was what appeared to be a huge serpent, its scales a mix of red and black.
I backed off and the young gnome looked up at me. Her large tear filled eyes quickly dried, and in a flash she bounced up from the gutter.
“Don’t mind him. That’s Pirana. He doesn’t bite unless I tell him to. You’re a friend of Heleen yes? I know you. She told me all about you. We go find Heleen now, yes?”
The gnome quickly took my hand, and the creature above me disappeared in a puff of smoke and ash. Was it real?
I soon after found myself skipping down the street with this young gnomish girl in tow. I was stunned. And why was I skipping.
So with my fate pretty much sealed for me by the god’s, I arranged transport out of Katapesh and on to Solku for myself and the gnome who called herself Ninijojobhamuksae or just Nini for short. And that was the start of our adventure.