Long jagged claws reached out in the darkness scratching long furrows of blood in the pale flesh of the young girls exposed legs as she ran through the dark. The scent of smoke from a recently cast fire spell filled her nostrils. Somewhere in the back of her mind she realized they were just branches, but in her terror her imagination created all manner of savage beasts just waiting to trap her within their fanged maws. She could imagine the feel of the hot breath of the hunting lizards on the back of her neck as her pursuers closed the distance. "Run!!!" Her mother had screamed at her as the small encampment they had been dwelling in was overrun by the drow hunting party. Screams echoed in the distance and followed her panicked footsteps as she bolted further and further into the dark dank wilderness.
In her wild dash through the darkened, swampy lowlands the young girl nearly failed to see the long serpentine tendril stretched out across the game trail in front of her. At the last instant she leaped over the exposed root enough that her half elven legs should have easily cleared it and yet as her body passed over, the root seemingly of its own accord reached up from the earth and wrapped tightly about her ankle. Lighting flashed before her eyes as her head hit the ground breath exploding from her lungs. Turning over the young girl stared up into the darkness her tear streaked face split by a mouth open in a cry of pain. The small cut above her left eye pouring blood down her cheek, stung; courtesy of a drow blade that had nearly claimed her life. Terror still filled her every thought and her breath came quickly. Suddenly the branches turned to claws and the stars which she had barely noticed before became glowing eyes of tiny demons. Wicked curved talons grew and stretched out towards her. The demons faces changed shifting into a cruel mockery of her mother's face tortured moans escaped their gaping maws, the young girl closed her eyes tightly and screamed silently...
Sarhifina sat up in bed suddenly; sweat pouring off her entire body in deep rivulets. The dream was almost always the same, nightmares had plagued her periodically for years following the night she had fled the small elven community. Strange though, it had been years since she'd had any dreams such as that. Sarhifina and her mother had come to live within the small elven and half elven community some months before hand. Outlaws, they were called, hunted, the members of the community had banded together in an attempt to defend themselves from the regular attacks from Drow hunting bands. Never staying in one place too long the small grouping of families and vagabond solo elves had survived for several years living off the land and hiding from the larger Drow parties. That all ended earlier that evening when Troatith a young elf who'd come the community perhaps a week earlier had led a band of drow into the encampment in a surprise raid. Their sentries had given no warning and the elves and half-elves had been taken completely by surprise. That was the last night she remembered seeing her mother. She had wandered through the woods for several days before losing consciousness. The next time she had awoken it was to high pitch nasally laughter, and while her bleeding had stopped she was still weak from lack of food and water. Several Gnomish traders had rolled along in a strange horseless cart chattering and laughing about something or other. The traders had been kind enough to see the young girl who could have been no more than 5 years of age to the city of Bellagard magistrate office and then promptly left her in the care of the city.
Soon thereafter Sarhifina had found herself living within the confines of the city orphanage. Tuomas the owner of the orphanage was a kindly enough gnome but for the fact that he drank too much and was often short with the children due to lack of funding from the city. Most of the other children in the orphanage were gnomes however there were a few dwarves and one scrawny redheaded human boy named Jardek. Sarhifina had never truly fit in with the bunch from the orphanage and after hearing rumors of the Night Sparrows a rumored gang of revolutionaries working against the drow operating within the city she ran away from the orphanage in an attempt to find them. After all being a revolutionary sounded far more exciting than her day to day life doing chores at the orphanage and her mother hadn't thrown herself to the drow for her to waste her days cleaning laundry. It wasn't long before she did end up finding the Night Sparrows their charismatic halfling leader Tobin saw great potential use in the young half-elf and took her under his wing. It was easy for Tobin to persuade the young impressionable girl to join his cause. It was several long and hard sometimes cold winters before Sarhifina was old enough to realize that while charismatic Tobin was also cold and calculating. The eagerness she'd felt at joining the band soon gave way to the harsh reality that Tobin and the Night Sparrows were nothing more than a gang of thieves despised by the city guard and all law abiding citizens. But she learned their ways and took everything she could from Tobin’s experience for if nothing else the leader of the Night Sparrows was an excellent thief.
Sarhifina held her face in her hands, the dream had her mind racing and things she hadn't thought of for years were coming up. She supposed she had some recent grief to deal with that was somehow interfering with her normally calm rational mind. How she'd come to sleeping under the roof of the Timid Trumpeter inn was something that she was still having some difficulty with.
She'd run with Tobin's gang for close to 8 years and had proven herself an exceptional thief and while she made her way by stealing from honest folk she tried her hardest only to take from those who could afford to lose some of their wealth and always shared with young children forced by fate to live their lives on the streets. It was one fateful evening, when she crept through the sewers below the merchant streets that her life had taken an unexpected turn.
The music of dripping water echoed along the low lightless tunnels, the cloying smell of something Sarhifina didn't even want to think of suffused the air. A handkerchief was tied around the lower half of her face and her hair, long, dark and dirty had almost no contrast with the coal blackened face camouflaged to blend in with the night. A small mercantile cart had stopped at the drain opening above and the owner spoke with some last minute customer haggling over the price of the half rotted sweet potatoes that were the last of his stock for the day. Sarhifina impatiently ticked of the minutes it was taking the gnomes to finish their business. In the end they settled for 2 silvers and 20 coppers for a dozen of the half rotten sweet potatoes. The customer in a hurry grumbled about this but paid the requested sum took his potatoes and left.
"Pleasure doing business with you!" the merchant amicably said as his final customer of the day trundled off.
"Fool paid too much by half!" Thought Sarhifina.
The cart moved out of sight of the sewer grate mercifully not soon enough by Sarhifina's way of thinking. Not seeing anyone nearby Sarhifina stretched out protesting muscles cramped from the wait for the sweet potato merchant, and slowly pushed the grate aside. Lithely she crawled out of the tiny opening making no more sound than a mouse. Years of harsh training from the strict halfling thieves had taught her to be silent as a shadow and nearly invisible when she wanted to be. Sun was setting and the twilight hour was upon the city of Bellagard. Normally 15 year old Sarhifina wouldn't have dreamed of doing a job at this time of day and if Tobin knew she was attempting something like this he would've flayed her himself. But with the surety of youth backing her along with an incredible amount of confidence in her own skills she was going to in one job make enough to buy her freedom from the Night Sparrows and perhaps even start her own merchant business. Much as she hated to admit it she dreamt of a simple life at this point realizing that her childish dreams of fighting the drow and being a hero were as unrealistic as dreams may be. And while merchants were greedy easy targets she could do much good for other orphans of this harsh world if she had but the resources.
The gloom half-world between light and shadow provided ample places for Sarhifina to hide as she crept ever closer to her target. The large merchant shop loomed ahead and the lithe half elf deftly moved between the smaller homes between her and the store. The building was nondescript two stories with two windows on the second floor overlooking the building to the left and street side, on the first floor was the front door of the shop and a large display window with gilded metal scrollwork baring entry. Above the door was a small sign with a picture of a potion overlaying a comical dragon with a smile on its face and smoke issuing from the corners of its mouth, the words 'Bartelby's Dragons Cough' were stenciled onto the top of the sign. Sarhifina knew the front door would be locked and barred at this time of night but she'd watched the owner of this shop for 2 weeks now and every evening at this time he always locked up and went to the Dancing Ogre tavern for his evening meal where he spent about an hour before returning to the shop and turning in for the night. She'd been warned by several of the Night Sparrows and Tobin himself to stay away from that shop, the owner was rumored to be a powerful sorcerer and was widely feared by everyone in the area. However, after several weeks of watching the gruff old gnome she'd dismissed the rumors as more likely he's simply unfriendly to any not interested in purchasing from him. Well it would serve the mean old gnome right to have a bit of the wealth he must be hording away redistributed to the poor of the city.
Quickly she stole around the back of the building where the small back door was hidden from casual view, withdrawing several small tools from various pouches and compartments on her attire she quickly set to work picking the lock on the door. After a few moments with a pop and a click the latch turned. Sarhifina stowed her tools and gingerly opened the door, taking care to keep low and out of the way in case of traps. While crime wasn't as high as it had been before the drow it wasn't unheard of either. Now came the tricky part, Sarhifina was quite confident about her ability to find and disable mundane traps but if the sorceress rumors were true she couldn't be too careful. Holding her breath the half elf stole through the door inches at a time as soon as her head was through she quickly scurried the rest of the way in shutting the door behind her. The room she entered was dark but her half elven vision still allowed her to observe her surroundings, it was obviously some kind of storage room with many shelves lined with unlabelled boxes across from her was a doorway that likely led to the front of the store. To her left was a twin stairway leading both down and up she decided to check upstairs first knowing that she was on a schedule. Much to her chagrin as she explored the upper floor of the abode she found nothing more than the living quarters of the owner a small bag of coins rested on a night stand but it wasn't anywhere near the treasure she'd imagined. So Sarhifina decided to search the basement instead.
Down she crept through what she at first assumed was a short stairwell but was quickly realizing must go deeper than even the sewers. Wondering what dastardly devices the old owner might be hiding her fear of the rumors being true begun to resurface, soon a sheen of sweat covered her brow and she began imagining all sorts of horrible magical experiments gone wrong in the old gnome’s basement. Upon arriving at the bottom she faced a large black door upon which were carved all sorts of arcane sigils. She decided then that she had made a mistake and began to back up when she noticed a large shinning object set in the center of the door. Deciding that a closer look wouldn't hurt any she moved closer for an inspection. A massive diamond was set in the woodwork of the door she quickly realized! "There must be a vast treasure down here! With that diamond alone I could pay off the Night Sparrows and start my own merchant trading company with ease!" Sarhifina thought to herself. She tentatively reached out to touch the diamond and see if it was possible to loosen it from its setting. The stone was warm to the touch; Sarhifina began to feel comfort spread through her limbs. Suddenly a jolt of light sparkled within the diamond and Sarhifina began to think to herself, "Perhaps I could rest here for just a moment. Just stay and look at it... It's so pretty!"
Sarhifina woke up lying on a worn rug in front of a fireplace. The smell of pipe smoke and ham filled the room. "Where am I?" She thought. Then she remembered the stone the door and Bartelby's shop.
"So when are ye going ta open yer eyes and stop pretending ta sleep” A surprisingly deep male voice asked her.
Not seeing much point to continuing the charade in face of the obviously true rumors regarding the power of the sorcerer Sarhifina opened her eyes and sat up to face him. Realizing after a moment that she was unrestrained her eyes shot towards the door of the room.
"I wouldn't try that if I were ye” Cautioned the old gnome seated in front of her. Calming herself after a moment she tried to think rationally about why the old gnome sorcerer had left her alive he must want something. His brooding wrinkled old face sat beneath a massive peaked hat and long white hair cascaded around his shoulders and something most unusual on a gnome a great white beard sprouted from his chin and ran down his ample belly and was tucked into his belt. For a moment she almost mistaken him for a dwarf but upon inspection he was certainly too small for that.
"What do they call ye?" Asked the gnome.
Sarhifina briefly thought about lying but figured the magic user was probably reading her mind at this point anyway so she decided to go with the truth.
"I'm called Sarhifina Starshimmer." Pronounced Sarhifina. And let the old bag make of that what he will.
A slight glimmer of interest entered the gnome’s eye. He nodded sagely once as if that answered all questions. "I'll not ask ye what ye were doing in me home. But I must be admittin I'm somewhat uncertain what I'm ta be doin with ye. I suppose I could turn ye over to the town guard. But those yellow bellied piles of beetle dung'd probably just put ye in the orphanage and I'm thinkin ye aren't totally unfamiliar with that place." The gnome tapped his chin with the end of his long pipe deep in thought.
"I suppose I could use meself an apprentice... Yer activation of the Star Diamond was unusual most folk woulda been turned ta dust upon touching that yet ye bent the weave and it simply put ye ta sleep. Ye must have some small talent at the least then. What say ye on the matter of thine life?"
Sarhifina thought about it for a moment and grew angry, who was this gnome to offer her, her own life? She thought of the night she lost her mother of the wicked spells the drow had cast and immediately rejected the gnomes offer out of hand.
"Sorry gnome I'm not interested in playing at witchcraft with you or the drow..."
The gnome rose to his feet and despite his tiny stature he seemed to tower over the young half elf. Light itself began to withdraw from around the room and his eyes practically glowed with power. Sarhifina was forced to look away as dread stole through her very being. Then just as suddenly the force was gone and the room was normal again. The gnome was sitting in his chair again.
"Be careful who ye compare ta the dark skinned elves young one. Some don't take kindly ta it at all." He said softly.
"I believe the lady's taken an interest in ye but if ye aren't interested in pursuing that path then so be it but there be other things I can teach ye. Bartelby I be called." He paused a moment. "Bartelby Dadaelshow!"
This peaked Sarhifina's interest somewhat and she looked up again meeting the gnome's eye.
That was 6 years ago this day. Sarhifina never thought at that she would've grown as attached as she had to the gruff old gnome. He'd taught her much about life, reading and writing, several languages, Alchemy the trade he practiced in his shop, and various other things. The one place she was always forbidden to go was the basement room guarded by the Star Diamond. He often disappeared for weeks at a time away on mystical business but he always made sure she had plenty to do and keep her busy while he was gone. Then just a few weeks ago she'd been working in the shop creating potions while Bartelby was away on business she'd received a message from a young gnome in Bartelby's hand script detailing how his possessions were to be divided up along with the note she received the message that Bartelby had passed some days before hand after falling ill while in a small town by the name of Amberstone. Aside from a few baubles the majority of the possessions in the home were to be sold and the proceeds donated to various charities within the city. Shocked a confused Sarhifina complied with her old friends wishes. Sarhifina went to the basement again to finally try to discover what the contents of the mysterious room were; but when she arrived, the door was gone and nothing but an empty basement was there. His final wish was that she travels to the town of Amberstone and see that his ledger was delivered to an old shopkeep friend of his. Seeing as she had nothing left in Bellagard, Sarhifina set forth from the city and was now making her way towards the horizon and the town known as Amberstone.
As she sat in her bed in the Timid Trumpetter inn thinking back over all the recent events she almost imagined she saw a puff of pipe smoke lingering in the air across the room and felt the comfort she'd only ever felt in the presence of the only friend she'd truly had since losing her mother.