The Ashes of the Nerathi
A Kobold Outcast, Zeel Likes to Build His Own Friends
Zeel has always been an exceptionally clever kobold -at least, in regards to mechanical workings and magical enchantments. He has been slightly less clever, perhaps, at understanding the hearts and minds of the people around him. A kind, open, and friendly member of a devious and treacherous race, it is a minor miracle the he survived to adulthood in the forest-dwelling Blade Scale tribe.
Life in the Blade Scales
In his fifth year (the kobold equivalent of a human’s late teens), Zeel was selected by his clan’s draconic patron, an old green named Krathyliax, to be apprenticed to Tilx, Clan Trapmaster. Never quite understanding the kobold tradition of succession, Zeel regarded Tilx as a beloved father-figure, constantly working for the old master’s approval. Tilx, for his part, quite reasonably considered his frighteningly gifted student a would-be assassin, just as he had murdered his own mentor for his wives, wealth, and position in the clan.
It was under this misconception that Zeel sought to make his master proud, by improving Tilx’s own design for the Gnome-Chomper, a wicked, bear-trap-like construct. Tilx was a talented mechanic, but he lacked his student’s creativity and magical aptitude; lacking any ideas of his own, the Trapmaster had actually stolen the design for the Gnome-Chomper from his previous pupil, shortly before tricking that poor sod into an owlbear’s den. Zeel decided that the weaknesses of the Gnome-Chomper were the need for a manual reset, the risk that an enemy scout might simply side-step the device, and a generally insufficient lethality. With those notes in mind, Zeel tried to present his master with a set of carefully drafted schematics, only to be driven away by his illiterate teacher at the point of a spear.
Once again misunderstanding the situation, Zeel decided that his master had instructed him to build the new device without delay. The new version was a masterpiece: the Gnome-Chomper was able to perfectly and cleanly decapitate the test dummy 88% of the time, and able to reliably return to a designated target so that the unfortunate victim’s equipment could be easily retrieved. Like many of Zeel’s creations, the new machine showed a cunning understanding of mechanics and enchantment, as well as little regard for the perceptions of others, who might balk at the moral questions raised by a machine that brutally and efficiently murders sentient creatures.
Zeel was so proud that he felt almost 4 feet tall as his master studied the new construct. Tilx, realizing the quality of the trap before him, began to feel a volatile mix of jealousy and fear; convinced that his protege was a powerful threat, began to plot an accident to eliminate his younger rival. Pretending to study the sygaldry of the device, Tilx used the blade of his spiked gauntlet to sabotage some of the magical runes -unable to read the magical writing, he didn’t know that he was corrupting the construct’s magical guidance system, he just hoped that some catastrophic failure would result when he lured his protege closer and, with one big shove, threw the surprised Zeel straight into his prized machine.
The First Exile
The device snapped shut. Fortunately for Zeel, he was considerably shorter that the test dummies with which he’d calibrated the device. Instead of decapitated, the kobold was merely badly injured and trapped inside the machine as it stormed away into the wilderness, unable to correctly return to Zeel’s workshop due to Tilx’s tampering. He never heard the Trapmaster’s triumphant cackle, and with his usual trusting naivete, assumed the attack was a simple accident. The Gnome-Chomper II crashed through the forest with the struggling artificer still trapped inside, until it dropped off a bluff into a rocky culvert, smashing to pieces. Zeel, losing blood and badly battered, lost conciousness.
Zeel awoke to a frantic yelp, as the Gnome-Chomper II, barely functional but still programmed to attack caught caught a prowling wolf by the foreleg. The kobold struggled to stand while the frantic wolf strained against the grip of the construct, slavering for a taste of kobold flesh. Finding his artificer’s rod still intact, he was able to kill the snarling creature. With food to eat and a rudimentary shelter made from the beast’s skin, Zeel nursed himself back to health and repaired the Gnome-Chomper II. With the construct’s runes damaged, Zeel couldn’t find his way back to the Blade Scales’ territory after the machine’s rampage though the forest. He threw a stick into the air, let it land to point the way, and started walking.
The Would-Be Hero
After a few day’s travel, he stumbled upon a busy road just outside Fallcrest; the young kobold had never seen so many people, rushing along occupied with commerce and and the buzz of city life. As Zeel crouched in hiding at the side of the road, a wagoneer lost control of his team in the bustle, and the spooked horses barreled through the crowded avenue. The crowd scattered out of the way, but a child, frozen in terror, stood trembling, right in the path of the renegade wagon. Acting on instinct, Zeel launched into action: he sent the Gnome-Chomper II to divert the horses while he dashed out to pull the human child to safety.
It was over quickly; the hoses, startled again by a whirling, bladed, construct, turned aside sharply, causing the wagon to overturn and catch on a roadside wall, pinning the team in place; Zeel pulled the child to the other side of the road, saving her from certain peril. As the crowd thronged back in around them, the small, quick-thinking figure in the heavy wolf-skin cloak was hailed as the hero of the hour. Happy to help, Zeel humbly attempted to return the girl to her grateful parents, waving away the proffered reward. When he lowered his hood to speak, a gasp rippled through the crowd: A kobold! Here in Fallcrest!
Zeel stood dumbly, confused by the sudden silence. For a few beats he looked around, trying to read the fearful faces of the crowd. Then he heard the cries: “A monster!” “What does it want?” “Did he hurt her?”. A rock soared out of the group and struck him in the eye. Startled and hurt, Zeel turned and fled, pursued by a core of local hotheads, who were convinced that the small, scaled creature had attempted to snatch the child off the street. Running in a blind, confused panic, the kobold ran in the wrong direction, deeper into Fallcrest. Zeel surely would have been hunted and killed in the city if not for the quick actions of a gnomish pickpocket named Dyelin, who saw what had happened on the road and helped the fugitive hide from the pursuing mob. He pulled Zeel into a hidden alley and pointed the angry crowd in the wrong direction.
A Friend at Last
Dyelin went to great lengths to help Zeel get some new equipment and get out of Fallcrest, warning him to keep a low profile and urging him to avoid large cities. Zeel was fascinated: this gnome was nothing like the hatchling-eating monsters he was raised to hate and fear. He was friendly, going even farther to help Zeel than one of his own clutchmates, and with no obvious advantage to himself. If he’d been so wrong about gnomes, Zeel decided, he was probably wrong about so many things in the world. After parting ways with Dyelin, Zeel set out to explore the Nentir Vale, hoping to learn as much as he could before locating his clan and returning to his master, Tilx.
With Dyelin’s guidance, even Zeel was able to realize that kobolds had a reputation as wicked sneaks and killers, so he adopted a disguise (a large coat, brimmed hat, and a false mustache), hoping to pass unnoticed in “civilized” lands, where over-zealous militia might kill him on sight. While his disguise doesn’t really fool anyone, it does give them pause enough to notice Zeel’s decidedly un-koboldlike demeanor. Generally, people seem to leave him be, deciding that he is either pretty helpful, or at least, mostly harmless.
The Adventuring Life
As Zeel heard about the kobold bandits near Winterhaven, he began to think that it might be possible, maybe, that kobolds in general, are not very nice. With his kind’s usual hero-worship of dragons, Zeel hopes that he can someday find a good-aligned dragon to help him found a kobold clan with values more in line with his own. Curiously, even after that revelation, Zeel still swears up and down that Tilx is a loyal friend and mentor. Zeel hasn’t quite figured that one out yet.
The young artificer is happy to be part of a clan again, although it is an odd group. Zeel feels closest to Strabo -idolizing his confidence and his draconic appearance. Alwyn reminded him of Dyelin and he is sad that he is gone -hoping always that the planar disturbance wrought by Orcus’s near escape will return him. Birk and Evona confuse him -Zeel has never been very devout, and while he cannot deny their divine magic, he wonders why they need to worship extraplanar entities, when there are creatures of tremendous power on their own plane. Sieatha intimidates him; he heard many stories of the ruthlessness of elves as a hatchling, and she always seems too stern with him. Zeel admires Bjorkus for his strength and bravery, but, like Sieatha, the minotaur seems too serious.