Shardmind chaos sorceror, Veiled Alliance
Zuri originated from a small shardmind monastery on an island in the Sea of Silt, one of many isolated shardmind communities whose utter disconnection from the larger world keeps them safe from giants and raiders. Only powerful psionicists and magicians can reach the islands in the deepest silt, and out of all the city-states only Balic has a navy of psionically-levitated dromonds which can penetrate portions of the sea inaccessible to other ships.
Some of the shardmind communities live on islands which are little more than rock and dust; with no need to eat or drink, the presence of water or vegetation or animal life means little to them. Some have not been contacted by outsiders in thousands of years…or perhaps forever. Safe from threats, the shardminds meditate and cogitate through the millennia alone.
Here and there, however, some of the closer islands do have periodic contact with the outside world. Balican dromonds will occasionally land and trade with the islands’ inhabitants, and sometimes a shardmind leaves with them to learn of the world; now and then, a non-shardmind has been left to learn from the wisdom of the shardminds for a few years. This arrangement of loose contact has existed for thousands of years, and helps explain by Balic is one of the most shardmind-populated cities on Athas.
Zuri’s island, Almanzar, is one of those which is closer and occasionally sees Balican visitors. It’s tiny (100 shardminds) and almost entirely rock, so it’s never hosted a non-shardmind, and doesn’t have much to trade except knowledge.
When Zuri’s arcane power manifested, the other shardminds of the monastery-island were alarmed but not surprised; this has happened from time to time. Zuri’s disciplined shardmind self-control allowed it to learn how to draw energy for casting magic without defiling, and it looked like it would be able to peacefully develop its powers on the island.
It was one year ago, halfway through Sorrow (the first month of the Year of Priest’s Defiance—two weeks after Kalak’s assassination), that a Balican silt dromond (named The Olive Vine) arrived on Almanzar. The captain descended from the vessel and made a proclamation:
“Dictator Andropinis has decreed that all outlying territories under the protection of Balic provide a portion of their citizens for this year’s Dragon’s levy. As this community has long existed as loyal subjects to the Dictator, you are required to provide us five residents for the Levy for this year.”
This had never happened before in the thousands of years of Balican contact with the shardminds. Why was it happening now? The shardminds, speaking as one, refused. The Balican ship disgorged a company of well-armed soldiers and the captain repeated his request. Soon, the confrontation had escalated into fighting. The shardminds refused to surrender any of their own, and the Balicans could not back down from their request. With defiling Balican templars on their side, the Balicans had the advantage. When it was all over, many Balicans were dead, but the shardmind community had been entirely wiped out, with only a dozen left as captives. Zuri was one of those.
The dozen shardminds were thrown in the hold with dozens of other captives taxed from villages scattered throughout the Sea of Silt. They were taken back to Balic to be provided to the Dragon. Zuri had resigned itself to that fate as well. However, as the ship sat in Balic’s harbor, Zuri was awakened one night by one of the Balican soldiers, a human named Petros. Petros told it that he was secretly a member of the Veiled Alliance planted with the Balican navy, and had noticed that Zuri had been using arcane magic against the Balicans but had not been defiling, showing an instinctive and admirable respect for Athas. He could not save the shardminds, but he could save Zuri. Spirited onto an adjacent ship, Zuri was whisked away from Balic (without ever setting foot in the city), up the Estuary of the Forked Tongue, and to Altaruk.
In Altaruk, Zuri was installed in an Alliance safehouse, forbidden to set foot outside until there was no longer word of a fugitive amber shardmind. One day, it received a cloaked visitor referred to respectfully by the other Alliance members as the Lirr, who pulled back his hood to reveal the handsome but fleshy features of a Balican noble—the Alliance’s leader in Altaruk. The Lirr conversed with Zuri about the arcane arts, the ways of the shardminds, and the geography of Athas. Days passed, then weeks, and then months; Zuri fell back into the habits of constant meditation and thought that had occupied it for the years of its life on Almanzar. It did not see the Lirr again. From time to time, it was allowed out, heavily disguised, and marveled at the dusty town full of so many different races (even seeing a few dozen shardmind sailors wandering the town). It quailed whenever it saw a Balican dromond in the harbor, but it was never The Olive Vine.
In the month of Haze, the Alliance decided that Zuri had to leave their safehouse in Altaruk. Balican soldiers were slowly filtering into the city, bringing with them slaves to pay the upcoming Dragon’s levy, and pressure was being put on the Alliance (which had disrupted such activities in the past). Given the name of Rhey’s Apothecary Shop as a place to contact the Tyrian Veiled Alliance cell, it was attached to a departing caravan. However, the Alliance underestimated just how alien Zuri found the world, and it soon wandered off from the caravan, more interested in moving at its own pace, exploring and meditating as it slowly made its way up to Tyr. At times Zuri had to hide from slavers bringing captives south or raiders heading northward, and at times he had to wield his magic against the creatures of the desert. Eventually, though, he found himself in Tyr in time for Liberation Day. Making contact with the Alliance, he was assigned a contact named Tayyip, who by every indication is a ragged homeless man who sleeps in gutters, smelling of broy.
On the morning of Liberation Day, Zuri received word that Tayyip wanted to meet with it. The chaos of the celebrations provided a fine cover, and they met up in a dust wash under the “Elven Bridge” in the Warrens while drunken elves yelled and shouted above them. Tayyip informed Zuri that the Alliance is currently very busy and on high alert: three days ago, a defiler killed four Tyrian citizens in the Caravan District (they were found in pools of blood with a patch of defiled earth nearby), and the Alliance is continuing to investigate. Additionally, the arrival of the dray yesterday has sent the Alliance into a tizzy; essentially, a hundred defilers have just arrived in Tyr and been made honored guests. But for now, there is a third item of interest, and the Alliance would like Zuri to investigate it:
A few days ago, Tayyip said, a young man named Felix came to Tyr from a northern village and visited Rhey’s Apothecary, a shop in the Noble District which is known to deal secretly in magical treasures and is run by Rhey Khal, a member of the Veiled Alliance. Felix offered up an ancient and magical stone sword for purchase, but Rhey (though admiring its beauty and quality) was not interested—it was worth more than he wanted to spend. Felix left to shop his sword around to other merchants.
Shortly after Felix left, however, Rhey found his pet critic in a great state of agitation. Rhey’s critic was specially trained to be sensitive to the use of defiling magic, and Rhey suspected that Felix’s sword may have agitated the little lizard. He alerted the Alliance, who attempted to track Felix down—but Felix had left town, apparently without selling the sword. The Alliance also discovered that House Shom, a wealthy merchant house, had hoped to buy the sword from Felix, but he had left before their meeting; now House Shom was putting together a group of adventurers to track Felix and purchase the sword from him.
Zuri’s task is to answer House Shom’s call for adventurers tomorrow (on 2 Sorrow) and track down the sword. The Veiled Alliance is interested in having a look at it, no more (and, frankly, it’s not a huge priority—otherwise they wouldn’t be sending a 2nd-level novice after it). If Zuri can locate the sword, it can either bring it to Rhey for a second look before turning it over to House Shom, or if that is not possible, notifying the Alliance so they can use other contacts to examine it after it’s in House Shom’s hands. Of paramount importance is that House Shom does not get wind of the Alliance’s interest.