Many years ago, when the Rotten Old Man wasn’t so old and a little less rotten, he was an enterprising ‘pick’ (half-orc) named Alwyn. He was a product of rape, as was common in the orcish slum district of Waterdeep, or Murder Alley as it is less-then-affectionately called. Never liking the stink of his neighborhood he could often be found drinking and loitering with friends in the less odorous wharves. A deft thief, like so many other picks, he would often target the minor nobility that would sometimes pass through the foreign merchant s bazaar.
On one fateful day, he spotted a strange, spectacled old man in gilded robes with an extremely long beard. What was so strange about the man was that he would walk down the streets of Waterdeep deeply absorbed in his books. The old sage never paid any attention to those around him, and everyone else seemed oblivious to him as well, instinctively walking around the elderly man. Even venders and carriages would veer away in order not to impede his path, all without making any sign of even noticing or acknowledging the man. When Alwyn pointed this out to others, no one could ever see the old bearded man in robes he was pointing to. He was so insistent that his friends started calling him the Old Man, in reference to his apparent delusions.
One day, one of his fellows challenged Alwyn to pick the pockets of this old man that only he could see, and his friend joked that the man s gold was probably invisible too. Drunk, angered and humiliated at his comrades jests, the -orc slipped his hands into the folds of this strange man s robes, grabbing a slender rod-like object hanging from his belt. Without so much as a glance upwards, the sage grabbed him by the bulbs as he walked past and squeezed with a strength that belied his slender frame.
Crumpling in the street, blood spurted out from between Alwyn s legs and he reached down to feel that his testicles had been crushed like boiled eggs. For weeks, the -orc was bedridden, and his thoughts often turned to suicide. But something, a fancy of vengeance perhaps, kept him alive. Weeks later, the pick wondered at the catch that had cost him so much. It was a slender tube made out of ivory, caped on either end with filigreed silver. One end was a cap that could be swiveled aside, to reveal a number of tightly rolled parchments within the hollow chamber.
He studied the scrolls, but could never understand them, even after he had taught himself to read. As he was now less then a man by anyone s reckoning, he had little else to do. The runes were scrawled in spidery, flowing script across the yellowed parchment, and smelled faintly of sandalwood and cinnamon. But no matter how he tried, he could not decipher them. For years he would spend his days and nights locked in his room deep within in the Cobwebs, pouring over the scrolls, or reading from the growing numbers of books he procured. The only time he would leave was to secure ever more books and journals, or to visit the foreign merchants bazaar to buy the often exotic components needed in his research.
Over the years he became proficient in many of the baser sciences: astrology, alchemy, anatomy, herbalism, geomancy, mathematics and naturalism. He would bribe students to allow him access into the lectures of the prestigious Royal Waterdhavian University, and often procured cadavers for the medical students, his fee was only to be allowed to study with them. All the while he kept his eyes open for the old man who robbed him of his manhood.
His isolation, brought about by race, class and deformity, made him increasingly melancholic. At some point, the Old Man became known as the Rotten Old Man, and he was largely shunned by even his own kind, except for the salves, elixirs and potions he was able to produce. When he got too old to earn a living through larceny, he opened up a shop in the Cobwebs, a matrix of catwalks so extensive and complex connecting Murder Alley to the subterranean orc city of Pickstown that it formed a neighborhood all itself. While well regarded for his skill, and well paid by the various drug merchants and dealers, addicts, assassins and others with special needs that abound the region, he was usually cash poor, most of his wealth tied up in the products of his various researches.
Years passed by, and the constant studying of magical writings that he was not trained to understand worked into his brain and seeped into his dreams. His mind was unconsciously guided by the magical forces to research various directions. It was on the 20th anniversary of his maiming that he awoke from his drugged slumber, aided by the prized Redcapp mushrooms from Og, that Alwyn had an epiphany, and began working through the basic formulae he had isolated so long ago from the wizard s scrolls. After 13 days of furious scribing, he produced his first spell.
Seven days into the fevered work, he ran out of ink, and substituted the blood of goats he bought from the market and the ubiquitous rats, mixed with stabilizing agents. He soon found that this new ink facilitated the scribing, and he began to experiment with various types of blood. Once, on a whim, he extracted a vial of blood from an unconscious drunk lying in the streets on his way back from a lecture on the humors. The human blood-ink proved powerful indeed. Ecstatic, the pick dove again into his studies, elated with this new avenue of research.
The sage who had crushed Alwyn s testicles was a wizard named Imran, originally from a province in the distant south of the Empire. The wizard soon forgot the pick who had tried to steal from him. He hadn t noticed his missing scroll-case until days later, by which time he had forgotten about the -orc. Even when he had figured out that it had been lifted, the wizard had decided to let the matter drop. No one could decipher the archaic and mystical language of magic but another magi, and those spells the pick had lifted were of little consequence, they were but minor enchantments that he had made in his youth, and forgotten about until he rediscovered one of his old scroll-cases during some spring cleaning. Besides, the pick had paid enough for a few cantrips.
It was at an anatomical demonstration in the Royal Waterdhavian Medical Academy many years later that he first noticed a secretive pick peering from the shadows at the doctors and their work. What struck him was how, or more interestingly, why, a simple pick would care to spend it s time in a place of learning. That the creature actually seemed to be especially attentive and even taking notes was truly bizarre. There were few things more oxymoronic then a studious yrch. One would almost more expect to see an ogre doing gymnastics, or a knoll sitting in a caf , savoring a fine Calishite vintage and discussing the poetry of Thay with its fellows.
Imran noticed that the pick would never personally ask questions or draw any attention to itself. But it would often ask questions through a minor noble who sat in front of it, many of which he knew were far too sophisticated for such a fop to think of himself. This lowly creature seemed to be possessed with a keen intellect, an educated base of understanding and an incredibly inquisitive mind. It even demonstrated the lateral thinking style that was common among young wizards. Yet this creature could not possibly be apprenticed to someone. Besides, yrch had never been known to possess the ability to utilize true magick.
Imran looked across the assembly hall to Amarjit-Kaur, another resident wizard of Waterdeep, and noticed that she too was intently studying this half-yrch. Imran s interest grew suddenly, for now the pick was not just an amusing oddity, but a potential tool of a rival. The wizard determined to keep an eye on the creature, in case it proved to be a real danger.
A few nights after this incident, Imran had a wizard-smoke induced dream about the pick, and in his mind crept back through the preceding years to that day in the street when an audacious street urchin had somehow seen through his obfuscation magicks and actually tried to lift something off of him. This memory flowed into the loss of his cantrip scroll case. The mingled memories together caressed the mystery of the shadowy half-yrch medical student. The three strains of thought weaved together and produced a fourth: the pick was trying to learn magic.
The wizard awoke with a start, his body covered with perspiration. This was a thing unheard of. An yrch mage?! Preposterous. And yet here it was.
Imran wondered if Amarjit-Kaur had come to the same conclusion. There were four known magi in Waterdeep, an incredibly high concentration for such men as they. But the city was huge, and had much to offer. They had managed to form enough of a cold peace not to constantly meddle into each other s affairs. But the natural predispositions of a wizard were such that it was very a difficult thing not to be paranoid in general and of other wizards specifically. Difficult and rarely worth the piece of mind.
While the seething masses of untermenschen slept in their insulating lies of sanity, these four true humans walked the streets unchallenged and unseen. They would meet every other El nathor evening at the Athelas Garden and discuss matters of pertinence. The next time the wizards met, Imran waited to see if Amarjit-Kaur would bring up the strange yrch that attended academic lectures. When she remained silent on the matter, Imran decided that he would pay the creature a visit.
It took some time to track Alwyn down to his lair, as urban yrchs can be notoriously illusive, and this one was especially so. Imran decided not to make use of the vermin spy network that he often used just in case the other magi would tap into it. The wizard polymorphed into an yrch and explored Murder Alley and the depths of Pickstown and the Cobwebs. He had heard that such places existed, but never had any reason to go there before himself.
Using charm and mind-reading magicks, Imran determined the yrch s identity and residence in the Cobwebs, always careful to wipe the subject s memories clean of their encounter. When Alwyn was away from his shop, Imran spirited in, his astral form easily slipping past the various security traps laid by the yrch. He read through its notes and spotted his old cantrip scrolls. Imran s fears had proved true. Not only was the creature attempting to wield magicks, but apparently was succeeding, albeit crudely so.
Imran returned to his own chambers and pondered this new development over a few bowls of Old Toby. It seems that a few stray magical beans had sprouted in the gutter. The aged wizard debated whether or not he should kill the thing outright, or wait and see what would become of it s studies. This was a potential threat, for Imran had maimed the creature in a very intimate way, yet this was also a fascinating thing. After all, where else in Middengaurd could an yrch magus be found? A rare specimen it was indeed, and wizards have a weakness for unique things.
But like any tool, it could be made to work against him, so in order to prevent such an occurrence he took the necessary precautions. He laid many scrying aids upon Alwyn s chambers so that he could keep tabs on him. When the yrch was asleep, Imran would send whispering winds into its ear, guiding it towards directed avenues of research. Upon the proscribed time, the wizard made himself known to Alwyn, appearing to the pick in the guise of a summoned being from another plane of existence, calling himself Samdhi. Alwyn was jubilant and cowed, pledging to serve his otherworldly master for the forgiveness of disturbing him, and promising to carry out Samdhi s will in exchange for knowledge and magical power.
Alwyn served Samdhi s will well, and in turn was given ever more magicks, none of which was ever powerful even to seriously challenge Aratus, the weakest of the four. Alwyn s life became easier after that point, for even what pitiful magicks he had were a source of tremendous power over the sleeping masses, though Samdhi drilled into Alwyn s head to above all be discreet. For there were many enemies in the world, enemies that were stronger then he, and who would snuff out his life-essence like a candle, lest that flame spread to threaten them. To aid his creature in this, Samdhi taught Alwyn many secrets of how to not to be seen, even giving him a copy of a volume of the Disciplines, a magical work used by magi to work their will over others.
So went the story of the Rotten Old Man. He had many adventures and gained many strange trophies. His favorite victory was over a demon-wizard and his northern barbarian slaves who had come after him over the kidnapping of a minstrel from the heathenness. He still had the flute that belonged to the silver-tongued one. It was of fine Sidhe craftsmanship, and he believes it to most likely be magical. It rests proudly over his mantle place in the Cobwebs. Alwyn hopes the demon from the ice-swept north comes back someday. For he would dearly like to draw some of its blood for his ink experiments