Backstory Today I am Sergeant Stryker Ironfist, a gnomish bard living in the city, but this was not always so. I make my living by telling great tales of martial adventure in taverns, parties, and special events. I wear finely-tailored camouflage military-style clothing and cut my hair short in the manner of many professional soldiers. The persona that I present is that of a battle-hardened mercenary. Is it believable? Perhaps so, perhaps not. Does one look for realism in epic tales? Would one prefer to listen to the realities of warfare, of disease in war camps, of the slaughter of innocents? Or would the listener prefer an entertaining story that provides respite from everyday misery? Occasionally, a scarred and tough old fighter will try to heckle me for my perhaps excessively tailored clothing, or my over-polished and under-used weapons. Who cares, though? Real mercenaries spend their money almost exclusively on prostitutes and drink. It is the fops and dandies and fancy ladies who willingly part with coin to hear my stories. Generally, the same details that make me a poseur in the eyes of dog soldiers, well these details are what the wealthy (especially those generally ignorant of combat) pay for. A performer is paid to know his audience. And I have really only just begun to learn this audience, for as I said, I was not always Sergeant Ironfist. What I have to tell you remains my secret. I was born in an isolated ice gnome community called Flintown, deep in the Frostfell. My name was Lester Glitterbottom. The town and its surrounding farms were founded many hundreds of years ago. In my grandparents time, the profession of a Legend Teller was an enviable one and held in high esteem, as were all arts. The Legend Tellers now seem comical to many, for while practiced by both sexes, the men dressed as women, grew their hair long, shaved their beards, and recited stories in falsetto voice. Over many years, two things happened. First, the temple of Garl Glittergold became increasingly dominant in the town. Secondly, the status of the Tellers fell considerably. This is unfortunate for me, as it was the trade that I was born into, and for which I trained. First, a few words on Flintown. I now realize that my place of origin had ways that deviated greatly from typical gnome culture. Perhaps it was the geographic isolation, but its organization grew rigid. The Glittergold temple engaged in politics and eventually assumed permanent leadership. The high priest became the burgomaster and the council positions were all held by clerics. Eventually, ordinances were passed banning the public consumption of alcohol. Not long after this, bards were replaced by clerics in taverns, so that patrons could listen to monotonous and dreary religious instruction while they drank tea. I found myself performing only for elderly townsfolk who could still remember the old ways. Times became very lean for the Legend Tellers. One by one, my peers left the profession and took up other means of employment. When I was the last one, I joined the militia. Service went fairly smoothly at first, but I was still bitter at being forced out of my family trade. I began to investigate the Temple of Garl Glittergold in Flintown. What I found out was alarming, for not only had the temple grown corrupt and oppressive, but evidence suggested that they were compromising underage townsfolk, some of them children. Other surprises awaited me. One day, my scouting team located what was originally thought to be a group of bandits. What we observed, however, was a group of nomads, some of them families. We reported this to the commanding officer, who was, as are all officers, a temple cleric. The officer insisted that they were bandits, and led a brutal assault on the helpless nomads. I refused to participate in the slaughter, and so I was dishonorably dismissed from the militia. Out of work, I then tried to find a position in the town’s alchemy lab. I had taught myself a fair bit of the trade, and believed that I would be able to serve adequately in an assistant position. I was informed that, owing to my dishonor in battle, the position was denied to me. Severely limited in my prospects and starving, I considered leaving Flintown, the only home I had ever known. I was further pushed towards this choice when I received two items at my home. The first was an anonymous gift of ice skates and skating poles. The second was a summons to appear next week before the council for disciplinary actions concerning my military conduct. It was, of course, a clear hint to leave town. I prepared, secretly, to leave that night and never return. Yet, something compelled me to walk by the burgomaster’s home on my way. I saw a serving girl dart out of the front door. She was crying and did not seem to notice me. What’s more, she left the door open in her haste. Was there an emergency, I wondered? Quietly, I walked into the house and found no one on the main floor. One door, the basement door, I think, was shut. There were sounds behind it, unnatural sounds that froze me with dread but filled me with an urge to run. I decided to leave, but not by the front door, where I might be seen. I crept through the house and found myself in what was the empty bedroom of Marly Mannergem, the burgomaster. Opening the window carefully, I began to creep out when something caught my eye. It was a book, fairly nondescript, with a brown cover, yet I was curious. Grabbing the book, I climbed out and shut the window behind myself. Finding a quiet place, I perused the book, which confirmed my fears and shocked me with new revelations. Not only did Mannergem’s journal discuss the exploitation of children, but revealed that the temple was involved with raising the dead, perhaps with plans for military use. That night, I did leave, but not before I separated the book into its pages and posted the incriminating details throughout Flintown. # Making my way to the edge of the Frostfell, I eventually took lodging with a family of human farmers for a year. This was perhaps the best year of my life. The family was kind and gentle. I worked on the farm for my keep, and entertained the family with my nightly stories. We became quite close, and I loved them. This peace came to an end one night. I was awoken by two clerics of Flintown’s temple, who had crept into my room in the darkness and tried to capture me. I fought hard to escape, and in desperation, slew one of them. Once again, I fled out a window, leaving all of my things behind. Traveling again, trying to put more distance between myself and the Frostfell, my capture was attempted —this time successfully. My captor was a human bounty hunter. I was bound and forced to listen to the man brag that night as he drank his wine by the campfire. To my horror, I learned that I was wanted not just for disobeying military orders. I, Lester Glitterbottom, was wanted for the murder of the serving girl who I saw flee the burgomaster’s house. I was wanted for the murder of the cleric who came to arrest me. Worst of all, I was wanted for the sadistic and perverted murder of the entire human family with whom I had lived. My captor took great delight in describing in lurid detail all of the horrible things that were done to the family. Well in his cups, he made obvious hints that he took an instrumental part in the horrific slaughter. My possessions that I left behind were used to provide evidence of my guilt. A sick rage fell upon me. For the first time in my life I felt possessed by a terrible and unyielding craving for revenge. As the man grew drunk and drowsy, I worked continuously at freeing myself from the bonds. The knots were good, yet I felt no pain as blood ran down my hands in my effort to loosen the ropes. Shortly after he fell asleep, I was free. If I ran, surely he would catch up with me again, and next time he would be less careless. Yet it was not this thought that drove me to attack him. Instead, it was the inescapable realization that either I must slay him or obliterate myself in the process. He woke before I landed the first blow with his morning star, and we fought. Had he not been so drunk and surprised, had he time to don his armor, it is unlikely that I should write this today. Yet, even with his handicaps, he was a brutal opponent, and it was only by luck and the loss of much of my own blood that I killed him. So here was another killing stacked against my innocence. I hid the body as best I could, and continued my flight, stopping only when I collapsed. Eventually, I made my way to the city, half-dead and half-crazed with grief and guilt over the innocent people who were murdered because of my transgressions against the cursed Flintown temple priests. For the first months, I lived like an animal, dressed in rags and scrounging for food. But slowly, very slowly, the veil of despair lifted, and I began to see the city as a place of refuge, if any such place could exist for me. I began performing as a bard, speaking in public for spare change. The crawl from the gutter was a long one, but I seem to have my feet under myself at last. I have assumed the identity of a mercenary, Sergeant Stryker Ironfist, for Lester Glitterbottom exists no more. In addition to my income as a paid speaker, my goal is to establish an alchemy lab and to advance my skills in that profession as well. Of particular interest to me is developing special ammunition for my prodd, as well as creating alchemical weapons that may be thrown. I have thought much on the Temple of Garl Glittergold. It appears that my experience in Flintown may have been an anomaly, as the Glittergold temple in the city seems to have no such oppressive nature. Still, I wonder if that is only because of a lack of isolation. Would the city temple go the same way as the one in Flintown, if there was no one to oppose it? For that matter, does not any organized religion inevitably tread down the path to oppression? I wonder. I have been tempted to approach the city temple. Perhaps I should inform them of their corrupted branch. But might they not also be infected with the same corruption? Might the Flintown temple not have informed them to be on the lookout for me? Perhaps the Flintown temple has convinced the city temple that I am the murderer that they say I am. No, I cannot trust these clerics. Their good and gracious god did nothing to prevent the horrors performed in his name in Flintown. Why should things be any different here? For now, I remain cautious for Flintown spies. I have trouble trusting other gnomes, for I constantly suspect them. Still, the bounty hunter was no gnome, which perhaps means that a spy could be human. I fear that Mannergem’s agents will eventually find me. I cannot delay my final quest forever, which is to one day return to Flintown and destroy the temple of Garl Glittergold stone by stone and liberating my home town. For now, I must build my strength, for I know not yet how to complete my plan. I will make friends here, and I will grow strong, until I can again go into the Frostfell to exact my vengeance for the children of Flintown, for the serving girl, and for the human family who died because of me. My wrath will burn the priests to the ground, and my wrath will be complete. I, the Payer of Debts. I, the Iron Fist.