Rise of the Runelords
Male Gnome Summoner
The final decade of the Age of Enthronement brought hope and innovation to the people of the Inner Sea region. In the north, Chelish explorers from Korvosa founded the city of Magnimar. In the east, Taldor and Qadira reached an uneasy peace after centuries of antagonism and open warfare. In the treacherous Mana Wastes of the south, refugees fleeing persecution in Nex settled the Duchy of Alkenstar as a beacon of light and progress in a sea of magic-warped madness. And not far away, in Nex’s capital city of Quantium, the Arclords adopted an orphaned gnome child named Balazar into their most prestigious school of magical instruction.
Diligent students of the scribbles and writings of the long-lost archmage who founded that nation, the Arclords deciphered codes and texts from the margins of newly discovered spellbooks and concluded that “children of the First World” would play an important role in the magical administration of the departed wizard’s kingdom. In the years before the death of Aroden, prophecy was a much more valuable currency in the lands of the Inner Sea, and in 4601 the tradition-obsessed Arclords scoured the gnome communities infesting their beloved cities for young gnomes to press into service. To prevent their great works from falling victim to what they considered a chaotic and untrustworthy race of childlike anarchists, the wizards culled only the youngest (and thus in their minds least corrupt) gnome children from their parents, imprisoning or destroying families with the temerity to go against the marginalia of the wizard who had founded the nation and declared the city open to creatures of all races so long ago. To the Arclords, any gnome resistance was a revolt against the ideals of the nation itself, akin to treason.
By 4606, the human god Aroden was dead, the power of prophecy was broken, and the Arclords’ eugenics experiment was veering toward abject failure. As the gnome orphan brood developed into maturity in the decades that followed, they brought chaos and catastrophe to Quantium’s magical academies. And at the center of that chaos stood Balazar: an impulsive youth with a temper to equal the bright red ferocity of his prodigious mustache, a burning match on a bed of tinder.
In the early years of his instruction, Balazar revealed almost no magical acumen whatsoever, preferring to spend his days conducting merry pranks on his fellow students and instructors instead of absorbing himself in the meticulous study of the Arclords’ curriculum. When one such prank resulted in the transmutation of an instructor’s tower into a living being of elemental stone (thanks in part to a mysterious glowing rock pilfered from the school’s vaults), Balazar and three gnome associates found themselves expelled from the academy, exiled from Quantium, and sent on the first wagon train to Ecanus, the sprawling southern city whose world-famous fleshforges churned out a legion of horrors to bolster Nex’s armies and terrorize its squalid countryside.
The Ecanus assignment was intended exclusively as punishment, but the city’s masters welcomed the gnomes with open arms, eager that their unconventional attitudes, boundless creativity, and unpredictable obsessions might aid them in conquering one of the most enduring mysteries of the monumental fleshforges. For deep within the dungeons below the military complex, in a room designed by the Archmage Nex himself, lay an extraplanar rift known as the Void Chasm, a shaft of sheer sides and cloying, multicolored mists that had driven insane all who had previously gazed within it.
One by one, Balazar’s gnome associates gazed within the abyss, and one by one they lost their tenuous grip on reality. Balazar watched in horror as the color drained from their hair and skin, as if the whole of their life from birth to bleaching transpired within the span of a few moments. When the emotional strain grew too great and the gnomes cried out in anguish, the pitiless fleshforge instructors pushed them into the trench, where their howls soon faded beneath the swirling mists. If the gnomes could not discover the purpose of the Void Chasm, the administrators reasoned, perhaps a sacrifice to the unknown powers below would do the trick.
As he stood on the precipice of the Void, Balazar wondered if perhaps he should have studied more diligently in the relative comfort of Quantium’s academies. Reluctantly, he cast his gaze into the miasma and felt the weird energies of the Chasm worming their way into his mind. Worse, he heard whispering voices in the mists, calling out to him and begging him to step over the edge. At first he thought the voices to be those of his lost fellow gnomes, and called back to them one by one even as the color drained from his hair and he felt his mind slipping away. But the voices were not those of his friends. They belonged to… something else.
It took all of Balazar’s limited concentration to sift the many voices from each other. Some were angry, demanding to be left alone. Others beckoned with honeyed words of sweet oblivion. But one voice among the tumult spoke softly and plainly. “I will help you,” it said in reassuring tones. “Give me form and allow me to leave this prison, and you and I will become as one.”
With the hands of the fleshforge administrators on his shoulders, about to give the final push that would send him into nothingness, Balazar tried to imagine what the voice would look like. He dreamed of a creature with a vast serpentine body, with grasping talons and horrifying scales. And, perhaps because he had not eaten that day and was growing hungry, he imagined the voice speaking through the beak of a monstrous chicken. And then, just as he felt the muscles of his captors tense for the final push, the creature he had imagined emerged from the Void Chasm fully formed and fully real, screaming a hideous avian cry and weaving through the air with serpentine grace. Its claws tore at the necks of the administrators, its hideous beak making a mess of their unbelieving eyes. And all along, in reassuring tones only he could hear, it spoke to him. “Do not be afraid, little one,” it said. “We were meant to be together.”
Somehow, Balazar and the avian entity that called itself Padrig managed to win their way free of the fleshforges, of Ecanus, and even of Nex. As he fled up the eastern coast of Garund on a succession of merchant and smuggler vessels, Balazar and Padrig grew closer and closer to one another. Padrig explained that he was a bodiless being known as an eidolon, and that only Balazar could give him structure and form due to the affinity of their minds and souls. As the gnome made his way from Nex to Katapesh to Absalom, Balazar grew more and more adept at shifting Padrig’s form to add more legs, terrible wings, or other features fitting the dangers and situations at hand. When things got too dangerous to be seen with a magical creature or when discretion was more important than protection, Balazar dismissed Padrig to some extraplanar hidey-hole, only to call him once again to his side when needed.
Although a great deal of the young Balazar’s mischievous spirit remains, the horror of the Void Chasm remains with him to this day. Other gnomes often confuse his stark white hair for a symptom of the insidious bleaching that threatens all gnomekind, but through his constant and relentless travels Balazar remains as engaged and full of life as any of his healthy gnome brethren. When other gnomes inquire about his “condition” with the best of intentions, Balazar sometimes flies into an impatient fit of grumpiness, chastising his would-be helpers and instructing them to mind their own business.
Privacy is very, very important to Balazar, for the Nexian wizards he betrayed have not forgotten his singular mastery of the Void Chasm. Agents of the Arclords of Nex dog his travels at every stop, pushing him further and further away with each season. Balazar knows that each new stop—however temporary—will provide him with ample opportunity to learn new things and meet new people, to master the magical craft that always eluded him in Nex, and to do honor to the friends and colleagues he left behind. Despite occasional moments of maudlin reflection on all he has lost, Balazar takes comfort in his enduring friendship with the eidolon he recued from oblivion so long ago. As long as he travels with Padrig, he knows he will never be alone.