Les Échos du Désert
Always be wary of the grey elf.
Year of the Priest’s Defiance, 190th King’s Age, High Sun, 5th Day of Scorch
Honored Patrician Stel;
Following your request, you will find enclosed my thoughts on the individual most commonly known as “Belial Khazad”, or “Face”, as he is fittingly referred to in Tyr. Given his present occupation and persona, it should not be surprising to your lordship that he also employs many other aliases, chief amongst them being “Barrabus” – The Grey in elvish.
Before delving further into the subject’s psyche and history, I wish to inform my lordship that Khazad became well aware of my attempts to unearth his past history and present whereabouts early and mislead, silenced or otherwise manipulated many contacts and material that could have provided me with further insight. Why he allowed me to pursue in this endeavor, I cannot fathom. My initial assumption that he wished to appear in a more pleasing light, however, proved not to have been correct, as most if not all of those I spoke with about Khazad displayed varying levels of enmity toward him, albeit with a grudging respect for his many, if unusual, talents. I wish not to influence your lordship’s opinion and therefore included all the relevant material in this missive.
May the crossed black scimitars reflect eternally on our spires,
My attempts to learn more of Belial Khazad – a nickname that can be roughly translated from elvish to “Elf, Son of no One” – led me far South on the Tablelands to the ruins of Kalidnay, a city once as large as Tyr and as powerful as Balic ruled by the Sorcerer-King Kalid-Ma. No one truly knows how Kalidnay’s end came, for its destruction came not from a rival City-State nor the Dragon, but from within the walls of a massive obsidian pyramid in the heart of its necropolis. Once a grand tomb for Kalid-Ma that had been in construction for decades, the pyramid appears to have been the focal point of a tremendous rift that ripped the very earth open under it and snaked its way through Kalidnay, engulfing structures and citizens alike. The various scholars and templars that I have met do not agree on the nature of the rift itself; however, rumors of a foolish bid to overthrow Kalid-Ma’s throne abound. Than-An, Kalid-Ma’s consort, schooled in the arcane arts by the Sorcerer-King himself, is said to have travelled to the pyramid under the cover of darkness and to have unleashed there a ritual so powerful that its necrotic energy could no longer be contained within the obsidian structure, tearing it apart along with Than-An’s body.
Following the rift’s initial destruction, shrouds of darkness, rolling fogs and a biting, unnatural cold, which persist to this day, rose from the ground, inflicting atrocious wounds and claiming the lives of many of Kalidnay’s survivors. Those who know the secrets of walking between worlds now whisper that the desolate city exists mostly in the shadowy otherworld of the Gray, a distorted echo of itself where the restless shadows of former citizens linger amidst vast ruins.
Although I researched the matter extensively, I was unable to find survivors of Kalidnay’s demise outside of the elven tribe of the Madras, Khazad’s own. Likely attracted to the city by its formidable market, the tribe of Tablelands herders is said to have been lingering outside the massive walls of Kalidnay on the night of its fall. As was the case with the citizens of the city itself, I can only guess that many elven lives were taken by the rift and the subsequent deathly cold fogs. The survivors, however, likely awoke in a silent Kalidnay, profoundly marked. Their pale skin now tainted by the Gray’s darkness and with shards of elemental ice fused to their hands, the “grey” elves, while resembling their former selves, could now manipulate the thin border between the Gray and Athas, creating veils of shadows under the fiercest Athasian sun through which only they could see or produce flickering lights from their slender fingers. Since many Gray-touched elves either descended into madness or joined the Gray permanently following the event, Khazad’s lineage remains unclear. Whether his given name, age and parentage are even known to him, I cannot confirm; he could not have been more than a child on the night of Kalidnay’s fall, which is why his subsequent appearance and survival on the streets of Tyr is so surprising. Although his arrival is clouded by layers of misdirecting evidence, the outcast elf may have initially reached Tyr alongside a caravan of elven traders, who would have recognized the infant as one of their own blood. His arrival in Tyr notwithstanding, the child appears to have quickly mastered the art of chicanery and petty theft on the dusty and sun-baked streets of the city, eventually gaining a certain level of fame within the Iron Rats gang and Tyr’s Eyes – thieves, beggars and freed slaves whom he treats with the utmost respect and kindness to this day. Alongside his more nefarious activities and likely at first as a ploy for significant crowds to gather and facilitate his accomplices’ theft attempts, Khazad began to perform lively and intricate street performances of acrobatics and knife-throwing. Partly because of the populace’s curiosity towards the charismatic grey-skinned elf, but assuredly to bear witness to his prodigious talent with the blade, vast crowds did indeed begin to gather at Khazad’s performances, enough so to warrant the attention of a number of Tyr’s Athasian minstrels, who, from then on, schooled and protected him through the ranks of their informal but far-reaching brotherhood for many King’s Ages.
Today a celebrated performer in Tyr, it is evident that the grey elf’s considerable social skills have vastly improved under the minstrels’ tutelage. Prodigiously persuasive, gifted with the minstrels’ unmatched access to the multiple castes of Tyr’s society and at ease amongst Templars and Iron Rats alike, Khazad eventually gravitated towards the ever-complex occupations of mercenary and information-broker. In Tyr, Khazad knows the location or is able to procure just about anything, certainly a valuable commodity for the different factions vying for power in a city bordering on anarchy.
While Tyr’s mothers certainly have warned their daughters regarding the well-documented – and tirelessly self-promoting – performer of the bedroom arts, even they would be hard-pressed to portray Khazad as demonstrating the expected elven wickedness. Albeit gifted with his brethren’s slender frame and angular features, Khazad’s’ bald head, dusk grey skin and ever-present, sardonic smile do not depict him as typical of his kind. While the physical presence of an elf may be unnerving, Khazad’s is inviting and alluring, his charm, as evidenced by his successful ways with women of varying degrees of virtue, undeniable.
Although the perfect quip can form in Khazad’s mind and roll onto his tongue in a timely flash, the refinement of his manners and the elegant style of his speech are worth noting. Gifted with a keen mind, well-versed in the arts of rhetoric and negotiation and chillingly calm, he will extend extreme courtesy and unfailing politeness even to enemies. The very soul of urbanity, candidness and flattery, Khazad may come off as insincere to the wary; that’s because he is – his interests lie chiefly in his own affairs, not others’ well-being. Rest assured that behind the princely façade, a cunning strategist resides, confident, seemingly unshakable and rarely, if ever, revealing his true intentions. To him, double-dealings appear to be a way of life, perhaps as deliberate attempts to cultivate an air of mystery and intrigue about himself. Indeed, it is my belief that, in Khazad’s mind, predictability allows foes to study potential opponents, to note their apparent strengths and weaknesses and to plan accordingly while he, on the other hand, forces improvisation and quick-thinking.
Although Khazad still follows the elven custom of facial piercings to indicate his Wasteland tribal origins, he now keeps his scalp clean shaven, perhaps to illustrate that he considers himself outside of elven society, where rank and position are indicated by hair style and length. Since the fall of Kalidnay, Khazad can most easily be recognized by his hands and dusk grey skin, the former permanently covered with what appears to be elemental ice and the latter heavily tattooed since his arrival in Tyr. Khazad will also rarely be seen without gloves, likely in order to hide his hands, as well as an eye patch, often shifted from one eye to the other for no apparent purpose other than to satisfy his own vanity, which clings to him like a cloak. Although he can be deadly silent should he wish to be, the jangling of Khazad’s jewelry is often heard before he is seen, more often than not wearing a hooded sand-colored kaftan. With bone-bladed daggers never far from his grip, the seasoned skirmisher fights from the shadows with careful positioning, precise strikes and swift retreats. Combat situations mimic his unsurpassed grace in social settings with footwork, blade thrusts and feints seeming effortless, fluid and, of course, unnecessarily embellished.
Although quite an able fighter by my reckoning, Khazad’s actions so far have led me to believe that he would rather talk his way out of situations rather than resort to force of arms, since talking is what he does best, and, to the utmost annoyance of yours truly, most frequently. Sometimes, the cut and thrust of politics and social interaction appear no less deadly than a pitched battle to Khazad, whose Gray-touched heritage arouses mistrust and suspicion – often rightfully so – even in the most open-minded of individuals. Therefore, his silver tongue and natural gift at maneuvering others are of paramount importance to him when dealing with the very best – and worst – that Tyr has to offer. A common tactic I have witnessed is to be flamboyantly generous and humorous, perhaps knowing a sure way to earn the tolerance of many is to fill their bellies and make them laugh.
Noteworthy for a man of his craft, my contacts and observations indicate that Khazad demonstrates a profound reluctance to eliminate targets without cause, use excessive violence or perform ungentlemanly acts. From Khazad’s utilitarian standpoint, it would be easy to correlate this reluctance with his willingness to keep the fortunate individuals in his debt so that they may serve his interests at a later point. While part of this observation is undoubtedly accurate, it is my belief that, as an individual who has witnessed and experienced the Gray’s nothingness so intimately, Khazad chooses, as often as he may, not to guide others towards a fate similar as his own. As we, whose pacts grant us powers but require our souls as tokens of payment, Khazad likely hears the whispers of the Gray, claiming the ultimate price for having spared his life in Kalidnay. Educated, well-read and having survived the chaos of Tyr’s alleys and Kalidnay’s aftermath as a mere child, Khazad certainly appears skilled at thinking several steps ahead in order to postpone that faith, the tactician within him never appearing unprepared for any circumstances, no matter how unforeseeable. Although he may appear as such, I believe him to be far from reckless, as one who acknowledges that the Gray is waiting should never be. The chaotic nature he demonstrates is, in my mind, like the red veils of the elven skirmishers on the fields of battle; enticing, but designed to draw one’s attention away from their deadly blades.
More than anything, Khazad appears to me as an opportunist and a survivor. Boastful and self-admiring as he is, his actions lead me to believe that he wishes for nothing more than to squeeze as much adventure and pleasure as possible from his existence. He seems to crave living through unique experiences, likely in part due to the boredom of the extended elven lifespan – although it remains unclear if Khazad can still technically be considered a living elf. While he professes a love for adventuring, both for the potential profits and the entertainment value it may provide, he remains a lover of comfort and fine living – always impeccably dressed, eating elaborate meals and drinking expensive spiced wines. For all his obvious weaknesses, Khazad tends to have a great natural insight into the instincts, thoughts and desires of potential partners and enemies and will, whenever possible, try to pursue mutually beneficial goals in order to avoid conflict.
Even though I would never fully put my trust in Khazad, it is my belief that he will uphold the terms of the mercenary contract that binds him to us as long as our patronage suits his needs of intrigue and entertainment and allows him to pursue his own affairs. As it stands, House Stel provides him with resources that undoubtedly fuel his lavishly expensive lifestyle and ongoing craft, at which, I may add, he would be hugely successful even without our patronage. One cannot argue that his previous assignments for us were always completed with the utmost care and professionalism. To the extent of my knowledge, no other agent could provide House Stel with greater access within Tyr.
Do, however, mark these final words; the Gray forgets not; once Khazad’s soul ceases to inhabit his body on Athas, he will merge into its nothingness and will be forever lost, walking between worlds, alive and dead – a Shade, servant of Powers long lost to our sunburned world, but still known to us of the Pacts.