The City of Blades
Like most tieflings, Goodluck Iofarr’s life has been one of extremely faded glory. Once a line of human nobles gifted with extreme magical powers by way of infernal pacts with forces from the Underdark, tieflings now cropped up from time to time as semi-demonic offspring of one or more bloodline-tainted but otherwise normal human parents. As one could expect a highly religious and superstitious populace to do when apparently average humans give birth to babies with horns and fangs, most tieflings were killed at birth, exposed to the elements, raised in secret, or given up. The ones that survived to adulthood lived lives which were nasty, brutish, and short, equally as suspicious of society as society was of them. Given their understandably sour dispositions and undeniably hellish visages, tieflings served as convenient scapegoats for all manner of ills, from failed crops to vanished children, and everything in between. Raised on a steady diet of bitterness and resentment, tieflings that reached adulthood existed on the margins of society, travelling almost constantly after realizing that if they hung around any one place too long, they would inevitably be blamed for some tragedy and likely lynched. They took up easily portable trades, jewelers and tinkers, knife sharpeners and scrap collectors, eking out a meager living where they could, concealing their fundamental otherness when possible, and attempting to paper over it with forced amiability in all instances. They had names like “Open” and “Blessings,” but fangs are fangs, smiling or not, and for every tiefling who managed to integrate into a sympathetic and accepting village, there were hundreds of bloated, worm-eaten tiefling faces gazing eyelessly up from the bottom of deep lakes, or ragged horned skeletons being stripped of flesh by ravens as they hung in iron gibbets, a warning to all tieflings to not let your guard down too soon.
Tieflings drew little benefit from their peculiar condition, apart from some improved low-light vision, (about as good as a cat’s) a resistance to fire, (they were often not burned at the stake as it took too long, so the utility of this trait was debatable) and a twinge they would feel in combat, urging them on to go for the kill, the last whispers of their demonic heritage aroused by violence. Most tieflings would gladly trade these “gifts” for a normal existence, and for most of his life, Goodluck was among that number. He knew no kin, and no home, and recalled very little of his early years, until taking up with a particularly shrewd travelling illusionist named Phriz who understood the value of having someone who looked like the devil in your employ. The two stayed largely out in the sticks, scaring the rubes with various acts of chicanery. Sometimes Goodluck was the evil spirit that prowled the graveyard which could be banished by Phriz the wandering mendicant for a fee, and sometimes the tiefling would appear in a séance conducted for the bored wives of provincial landlords, scaring them briefly as Phriz gestured appropriately. It was a good thing they had going.
Of course, all good things come to an end, and Goodluck’s lot was no different. Phriz got drunk in a gambling parlor and all his illusions and prestidigitation did little to dissuade the axe-wielding barbarian psychopath and all around unpleasant fellow Grunwolf the Quarrelsome, who split the huckster neck to navel after catching him attempting to cheat at dice. When his boss didn’t return, Goodluck knew something was up, but having little in the way of connections and even less in the way of resources, he stuck with their travelling wagon, ate his usual rations, and drifted, as usual into a dreamless sleep.
He was awoken by a bright flash against his closed eyes, and a series of low concussive thumps in his ears. He opened his eyes to find himself alone in the wagon, strangely paralyzed but with intensely focused vision. His eyes settled on a seam in the canvas above him, seeing in perfect detail the thread connecting the canvas panels, and then the fibers in the thread itself. Soon motes of dust in the air drifted in front of him like asteroids, and moments later the very air itself seemed to hum with energy, individual atoms and then their constituent elementary particles danced in front of his burning vision. These too broke down, unlocking strange non-Euclidean geometries, the tiefling’s mind struggling to contain the madness promised by this vision, until mere seconds before he snapped, the hypersight relented, and slowly the room came back into normal focus. The canvas panels, the thread, all was as it should be, except standing at the foot of Goodluck’s cot was a wizard. No, not a wizard, but a lich, eyes glowing with otherworldly power, wizened skin hard as a shell, its mouth not moving, but its voice echoing in the tiefling’s mind. It was Acererak the Devourer, one of the whispered dark powers Phriz would invoke to punch up his routines, and it was Goodluck’s ancestor. It had need of him, and in exchange for his assistance, he would be richly rewarded. Goodluck attempted to speak again, but was rocked out of his fugue by the smell of burning wood.
The wagon had been set alight, a mob gathering to burn Phriz’s possessions as the illusionist had cursed them with his dying words and they figured they’d be better off safe than sorry. Goodluck grabbed what possessions he could and hacked his way free from the burning wagon, gasping in the damp night air once free. His relief was short-lived, as he broke a rib being kicked heavily by Grunwolf the Quarrelsome, who unshouldered his axe and prepared to do to Goodluck what he had done to Phriz less than an hour before. Goodluck looked up, time dialating before him, noticing the twitching fibers of muscle in Grunwulf’s arms, the glint of the steel axe, still slick in some parts with Phriz’s ichor. He noticed the fear mixed with excitement on the face of the crowd, and a star, twinkling madly, framed by the barbarian’s arms as he raised the axe above his head. The prone tiefling feebly raised a hand to deflect the axe, which might as well have been a comet for all the good Goodluck’s arm would do to stop it. But the blow never came. A collective gasp rose from the crowd, Goodluck included (a difficult thing indeed considering the broken rib) as tendrils of dark, crackling eldritch energy snaked for from the tiefling’s outstretched palm, dancing over the massive frame of the barbarian who was about to slay him. Goodluck watched in amazement and dawning glee as Grunwolf the Quarrelsome began to foam at the mouth, jerking arrhythmically as his eyes grew dark and his skin pale and sallow. His strength drained, his vigor diminished, his whole body seemed to deflate, his hair falling out in clumps, teeth rattiling loose as his essence was drained. By the time the eldritch bolts cease issuing from Goodluck’s outstretched hand, his would-be butcher is nothing more than a parchment-covered skeleton, which clatters lifelessly to the ground. The effect on the crowd is immediate and decisive. They scatter, as Goodluck pulls himself into a sitting position, feeling a cold emptiness in his chest for a moment, and then as it passes noticing his ribs are healed. The start of a smile begins to form on his thin lips before that dry voice echoes in his head.“There is much to be done.”