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Maalik and the Darkest Tower

Maalik Zarielborn, Tiefling Fighter (Battle Master) / Warlock (Celestial Patron)

He was young when his infernal heritage began to show. His father blamed his mother, and his mother did not survive the man’s violent accusations. With his father tried and hung for murder and no living relatives, the boy was left to an orphanage in Acria just outside of Polathium. There, at least, there were other unwanted and shameful children whose pasts meant that Maalik’s growing horns and blanching skin weren’t as immediately threatening. He made fast friends there, but more often than not they were adopted by well meaning families while Maalik was left behind. It made him bitter, and angry.

He lashed out at the world after the orphanage set him out on the streets. Entire weeks were spent drunk and stumbling down alleys, his liquor paid for with the occasional theft or roughhousing. By the time he was twenty his welcome in the city had been depleted, and so before his time ran out and he found himself at the end of a hangman’s noose, he fled.

Taking up with criminal crews and acting as their muscle, Maalik was witness to cruelty and extortion, and none of it seemed to phase him. It was as if he had been emptied of all feeling, and the pleas of his victims feel on deaf ears. His world was grey between nights spent with whores or drugs, temporary distractions from the sucking void of a life without a hint of purpose.

But it couldn’t last forever. At the very end of an opium bender, with his life hanging by a thread and the pipe dangling from his fingers somebody came to him in a vision. She was dark, and cruel, but caring at the same time. Her voice was a whisper of promise, of companionship, of a new reality that would allow him to become what he was meant to be. The Closing had barred entry to the plane by creatures from other planes, but they could still whisper and influence. That night, Maalik made a pact.

He joined her Order of Blood, a group of Tieflings who would ride outskirts of the city of Thrace on black horses. They collected taxes for evil barons, hunted down political prisoners and killed thieves with hearts of gold. Maalik came quickly to his new life, taking to the rigors, traditions and rules of knighthood like he was born to them. They gained a reputation for their ferocity and their uncanny ability to get everything they wanted to the letter of the law.

Years passed, and through manipulation and the occasional cunning application of his sword, Maalik found himself close to the highest rank among the Order. Second in command, Maalik’s life became one of comfort, pleasure and purpose. He had never felt so alive, which made what would come next that much more devastating.

Commands came from the Order’s most recent patron; they were to assault a great ebon tower, where a group of wizards had abducted a child and were refusing to return it to the local clergy. The only point of contention in Maalik’s mind, at this point, was that the child simply didn’t belong to the wizards. He lead the charge, commanding his forces to assault the tower, forcing their way past the mages, slaying them one after another with their infernally granted might. The soldiers under his command were occupied near the lowest level of the tower, but Maalik, ever the one to steal glory for himself broke away from the group to bound up the spiral stairs of the tower and claim their goal.

The door to the child’s room splintered beneath his plate boot, to reveal a woman shielding the boy behind her body. With his greatsword raised he prepared to cut her down, but she retaliated with a spell which had never before been cast. A desperate moment opened Maalik’s eyes to his very truth; it pulled his mind away, before his very conception to the moment his bloodline had been tainted. Zariel herself was the mother of his line, giving birth to a half devil who lived disguised among people and fathered countless children.

The Order of Blood had been orchestrated, but more specifically, Maalik’s entire life had been ever so slightly adjusted behind the scenes. His father’s anger, and the blow that killed his mother were revealed to be influenced by magic and trickery. The people who had considered adopting him at the orphanage had all had their memories adjusted or stolen, taking every chance he ever had and draining it away like bathwater. And behind all of that, the profound manipulator herself, Zariel.

The boy revealed himself from behind the wizard’s cloak, small horns on his head and tears streaming down his face. The woman grabbed Maalik by the cloak, and in his shock he hadn’t yet realized that she had impaled herself, purposefully, on his sword. She pulled him in close to utter her dying words. “Don’t… Don’t let her have him…” She said, her words smelling of copper as she coughed up blood. The child cried, and Maalik picked him up like a sack of potatoes. He trudged down the stairs, a stony expression on his face which hid his worry, his fear and his anger at having been manipulated like this. His forces looted the tower and, on their patrons’ orders burned it to the ground.

That very night, with the embers of the ebon tower glowing in the sky Maalik gathered the child and rode his strongest horse until it died. The boy’s name was Zacharael, and the two of them became close friends. They wandered for months together, barely evading the forces of the Order of Blood while Maalik trained him with the sword, understanding that if he fell the youth would have to defend himself.

But it never did come to that. One night, the void that was left in Maalik’s heart from Zariel’s betrayals was filled inside of a dream. A bright, beautiful light surrounding a blue skinned angel filled his vision and a voice rang like echoing church bells. “Progeny of a fallen angel. Her heart, corrupted by desire and the temptation of betrayal. Your quest for redemption will fail; it has been seen. The boy will be taken and will be more cruel than you ever could have been. But we can interfere…” the voice said. “For a price. We need you, more than you can know, and in return the child will be kept safe and away from Zariel’s machinations long enough to become his own person.”

Maalik was uncertain, but he probed the being further “How will you protect us? What kind of place could there be away from Zariel’s eyes?” He said accusingly. “The place is guarded, and in it there exists an enchanted prison. My scion was once trapped here, but now they are free. The walls of their prison…” the being said, reaching forward to show two shards of dark black metal, each on a simple chain. “Protected them from any such prying eyes as even the Gods themselves…” He said, a kind smile on his face. But then he took the necklaces away. “I will give you power, and in return you and the boy will go to the island and you will find your wards; a man with a heart of gold, a prince, a wanderer, a tortured soul, a lost spirit and a skeptic. You will protect them, and in return I swear to you, you and the boy will be safe.”

And so Maalik agreed, and felt his first touch of divine grace. It was beautiful, and filled the void that had been carved into him so long ago. The pair, Maalik and Zacharel awoke in a strange fishing village, their world having changed around them in the night. A whisper came on the wind to Maalik’s ears; “My power was only enough to bring you here through the wards placed. Journey to the North-East, and leave the boy with the church here. They are good people. Trust in me, and I will not fail you.”

And so, the two said their tearful goodbyes, with Maalik promising to visit, and swearing flesh rending vengeance on the clergy should any harm come to the child. He set out into the wilderness towards a tower in the distance.

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