Hexamun: On the Brink
Thaguzg’Staaz (Staaz for short) was born into a nomadic half-orc community in the Drag. Like other members of his tribe, desert half-orcs are not quite as bulky and strong as the rest of their species from other regions. While large for his tribe, Staaz still has a relatively wiry frame. Used to living off what the desert provided and never staying in one place for long, he is leaner but hardier and used to travel than other half-orcs. Always displaying talent but never aspiring to greatness, Staaz had an upbringing that encouraged comradery and tribe unity. Many wondered if he might not carry the gifts of the shaman, as at times he seemed to have something of a sixth sense: Finding oases that no member of the tribe knew about just as food and supplies were at the point of depletion, he seemed to have insight he could not have of the land itself. This remained unexplained as the tribe’s shaman, Staaz’s own father, could not elicit shamanistic talent in his son. The Durbûrz Clan meant everything to Staaz and he developed a strong trust in his own instincts as he grew.
However, on the eve of Staaz’s 22nd day of birth, a horde of trolls were spotted on the horizon. Unable to flee for lack of supplies to venture into the arid wasteland of the Drag, the Durbûrz steeled themselves to defend their tribe. But none could stand against the might of of such a host. Staaz watched in horror as his father, summoning spirits of the earth and spirit animals in a last stand, was snatched from the ground, his head bitten from his shoulders, and his still twitching limbs thrown into the fray. They moved with unflinching purpose, as if Gruumsh himself urged them on. Someone, or something, must have engineered this massacre. Staaz fought valiantly, but as his friends and family were torn apart around him, he snapped. Without consideration for a lack of supplies or the direction in which he went, Staaz fled. His feet carried him further and further away, as the sounds of death and destruction faded into the distance. Cursing everything around him, Staaz even renounced the god he had been raised to follow. Surely if Bane had cared to intervene, his tribe would still be alive.
Staaz’s flight took him south. Surviving the Drag as he pushed further and further into lands he’d never seen. Despite his aimlessness, he was never without water and every night he stopped, collapsing where he stood, it proved to be a place in which water was accessible, either via a nearby oasis, or by digging in the sand and drawing the water up from what must have been underground springs. However, as he continued, the land became more of a wasteland. While the temperature cooled somewhat, water and food became sparser. The ground was too hard to dig with his hands. Tubers that had been his primary form of sustenance beyond the occasional lizard or snake didn’t grow here. Still, Staaz pressed on. He pressed on until he could scarcely move. His skin was chapped and cracked. His throat was so dry that even breathing pained him. His vision waned until even his hands held in front of his face were a blur. He fell to his knees and lost consciousness. Perhaps death was preferable to the daily torment of surviving, of being alone.
He came to as hands locked around his ankles and Staaz felt himself being dragged over the course earth. He squinted, barely able to make out the figures above him. Despite this, seeing another being unlocked the rage Staaz had been holding within. With a second wind that Staaz did not realize his weakened body still possessed, he hurled himself on what was a tiefling outrider party. Caught offguard by the feverish Staaz, the tieflings were slow to react. Staaz fell upon them. He had no weapons but he ripped the raised skeletons to pieces. The tieflings drew their weapons but though they cut and pierced him with their blades, the crazed half-orc fought on. He snapped necks, smashed skulls against his own, roaring aloud despite the pain it caused him.
A flash of purple and Staaz was hurled backwards. He slammed into the earth. It wasn’t enough to stop him. He fought to regain his footing, but as he rose, pain pierced his skull. It was a pain unlike any he had ever experienced. His will broke, his eyes dimmed, and Staaz fell to ground.
The warlock commander paused over the prone form of the fallen half-orc. He was by no means the strongest of his kind, but that eldritch blast should have knocked him senseless, if not killed him outright. He frowned. As a dark pact warlock, the madness of this creature had been nearly palpable. Kraxos weighed the merit of the idea forming in his mind. If this…beast could be tamed; could be broken; could be, focused… He summoned his minions and had the unconscious half-orc chained and hauled back with them. Staaz was brought to the tiefling city of Arakorai where he was fed and held.
For months Staaz wallowed in his despair, but Kraxos continued to come and visit him, to see that his needs were met, and to have conversations. Kraxos spoke of a revenge that the tieflings could provide. The elves, the humans, they cared nothing for half-orcs. The tieflings, similarly ostracized, were natural allies. By working together, they could each help the other. While not entirely trusting Kraxos, Staaz began to respect the tiefling. He felt the desire for vengeance and the need to turn the suffering of his people back upon those who had been responsible. Eventually, Staaz was allowed out of his cell, and chose to say. He worked with Kraxos over the next few years, developing a knowledge for the world of Hexamun that lay beyond the desert he knew. Kraxos taught him of the elves and those who held power in Hexamun. Staaz had never been one to respect authority, but under Kraxos’ tutelage he saw that those in power merely acted in their own self-interest. Where was the Council of Six when his clan was slaughtered? Even the half-orc representative from the Drag, Kirth the Bandit King, chieftain of the Half-Orc Clans…what had he done for the Durbûrz?
Eventually, Kraxos pulled Staaz aside and told him that they needed to know what the ‘Outsiders’ were doing. A tiefling would never get the access that Staaz could. Staaz was to leave the Seat of Despair, seek out the council, and report back about the state of Hexamun for any information that could be gleaned for an advantage, an advantage the tieflings could use to then better position themselves to help Staaz in his revenge. Staaz had told Kraxos of the trolls and the unity with which they attacked. As a warlock, Kraxos assured him that surely some sort of magic was behind it. The trolls would never have banded together and sought such devastation otherwise. Kraxos saw Staaz as far as the Bountiful Meadows.
As Staaz travelled he began having second thoughts on his mission of infiltration. There was something just out of reach that drew him northwards. He couldn’t place the feeling but knew he had to trust his instincts. He trusted Kraxos and the tieflings to help him while it remained mutually beneficially, but he had long since found that the only one he could trust entirely was himself. He traveled north, through the Bountiful Meadows and past the land of the humans and half-elves. He’d never liked either of them, and the feeling appeared to be mutual. Even so, they left him unmolested and Staaz never sought to make unnecessary contact. As he pushed on into and through the Eventide Marshes, he continued to be drawn north. He pushed on with an unrelenting pace, as if that which drew him gave him strength beyond that of which his body was capable.
Every night he felt himself getting closer and as he did, he started having more and more vivid dreams. They seemed to beckon to him and over time began to take the form of those he had known and speak to him as he slept. They whispered to him of his path and his future. Upon crossing into the Avernan Darkwoods, Staaz knew he had reached his goal. This area he knew to be called Faerîdh. It was an ancient part of the forest that had bordered the marshes for untold years. Few ventured to these woods. This night, when Staaz went to sleep, he heard the spirit’s voice as clear as if it was speaking to him face to face. It took the form of his father, telling him to trust in the balance of nature and to seek his path as an agent of this balance.
For months he pondered the spirit’s words, seeing the same spirit and hearing the same message. He drew comfort from seeing his father, even knowing that it was nothing more than an illusion. One night, as he listened to his father speak, something about the words resonated differently. He felt closer to it than usual. He could hear more acutely, as if magnified beyond what his hearing could have done. The smells of the forest filled his nose and a sense of both belonging, and territorial pride filled him.
That smell. It didn’t belong. Staaz’s eyes snapped open. Without knowing how, he pinpointed the source immediately. It was a figure emerging from a small cave he’d never noticed before. It seemed so obvious now: a small hole in the rock face of a nearby cliff. The figure slipped through effortlessly. A wisp of white hair and the glow of red eyes were all that escaped the cloak it had wrapped around itself. Staaz felt his body tighten. He tensed up, and released like an arrow from a drawn bow. He pounced on the figure. It never saw Staaz before it was pinned beneath him. He smelled iron as he felt the warmth of blood beneath his hands. He looked down and saw 2 orange and black striped paws, claws extended and sunk deep into the flesh of the woman beneath him. She was slender and toned but small beneath his hulking mass. She looked up at him, her expression of shock shifted to one of confusion, and she lost consciousness.
Staaz stared at what he realized must be his paws, trying to absorb the scope of what had happened. He panicked at the frail figure beneath him and as if in response to some unconscious desire, he was suddenly no longer a tiger. His fingers were each embedded in the body of what he realized was a drow. She did not deserve to die. He tried to apply pressure and stop the bleeding but blood poured from the wound. Staaz wanted it to stop. He had to make it stop. He continued fumbling over her, unable to see through all the blood. Without thinking, he bellowed for it to stop. A primal roar escaped his lips, and he suddenly started to feel weaker. He watched in awe as the skin began to fuse together, the wound sealing itself. It was over within moments. There she lay, still unconscious, but otherwise unblemished beyond the tears in her leather clothing. Staaz bound her hands and feet and felt a fatigue unlike any he was used to wash over him. He still could not grasp what had transpired but the fatigue was too strong to dwell on it for long. Eyes dimming, Staaz managed one last look at the bound drow before passing out.
Upon coming to, Staaz saw the drow was still bound and gagged but alert. Her knit brows and glaring eyes belying the fury she clearly felt. Over a day had passed while Staaz slept, but he knew that he felt different than he ever had before. Something within him had been awakened and the touch of the spirits was unmistakable. Not a shaman like his father, but something…different. Not wanting to risk revealing his presence to other outsiders, he decided not to let the drow go. He did, however, un-gag her. Her name was Iymtana. It felt balanced that he was now to her what Kraxos had been to him…in most respects. Her allure was certainly intoxicating. Perhaps it was merely his new-found senses and perception of his surroundings, but what he saw made him feel something he had not felt before. Sooner rather than later, he freed freed her from her bonds. She was an outcast, much like himself, and had been forced to flee from Charnag Mir, a city in the Underdark, due to her unwillingness to comply with the whims of Lolth’s priests. She had come from an affluent family, but because of her defiance they were forced to maintain distance from their daughter. She was a refugee, just like Staaz. This similarity brought them together, and what began as enmity turned to friendly competition before finally evolving into a passionate romance.
Iymtana showed Staaz the Underdark. He admired the caverns as his low-light vision allowed him to perceive them more clearly than most, but found the many tunnels constrictive. Tight spaces made him uncomfortable. He had grown up in the open desert and now found his place in the forest and those tunnels that Iymtana slipped through with ease put him on edge. Over time his abilities began to develop. He found that he could call on the powers of nature at will. With time, he found that he could even adopt the shapes of animals with ease. He found a sense of serenity in animal form that had never been possible in his normal state. Soon enough, Staaz became skilled at evading those he did not wish to find him. The Faerîdh became his home and Iymtana his companion.
Despite their seclusion, it was only a matter of time until at least one of their pasts caught up with them. Iymtana was caught by Lolth’s priests while alone in the Underdark. Staaz often didn’t accompany her as he preferred the forest and she missed the familiar settings of her upbringing. They were able to capture her on one such visit while she was alone and brought her back to Charnag Mir, intending to use her as an example to those that might think to defy them.
Staaz used his relatively newfound talents to rescue Iymtana. He was able to shift and sneak in without being detected. Seeing her again, holding her in his arms, it brought back all the memories of those he had lost. The need for vengeance grew stronger and Staaz knew he could not put it off any longer. They were overjoyed to be reunited after her month long captivity, but Iymtana could tell that Staaz was burdened with something further. He explained his past and the vengeance he could not abandon. She pleaded with him to stay and forget his past, but to Staaz, his vengeance was needed to restore balance. The spirits of his clan would not rest until his task was done. Reluctantly, he told her that this was a task he needed to pursue. He promised that when his past was put to rest, he would return they could move forward with their lives together.
Staaz remembered well what he had learned under Kraxos. Hexamun City, the seat of the Council of the Six would be the only logical place to start. He was directionless without a lead, and trusted that one would present itself in time. He set off, leaving the forest that had reshaped him, prepared for the trials ahead. Upon arriving, he hit up a local tavern. It was all a-buzz with chatter about the tournament that was soon to start. Anybody who was somebody would be there. It would be a good place to get started. Staaz went into the crowd and started scanning for anything that stood out. There! To his left, a hulking figure, another half-orc in fact, was pushing through the crowd and heading straight for him. He turned to face him. This half-orc would not take him unawares…