Flayleaf may ease your mind. Pesh may invigorate your humors. Yet as any sage and scholar can tell you, knowledge is the most addictive drug. And once the quest for learning has its hooks into you—once your eyes have been opened—there’s no tearing free.
Damiel Morgethai was born, as so many elves are, in the nation of Kyonin. One of innumerable scions of the prestigious Morgethai family, he grew up in the picturesque town of Riverspire, where the southwestern border of Kyonin’s great forest gives way to fertile, rolling plains. When finally old enough to pursue a trade, the exceedingly precocious young elf was loaded up with what funds his family could spare and packed off to the shining capital of Iadara, to study alchemy under several of the art’s great masters. And it was here that the trouble started.
Damiel took to alchemy immediately, reveling in the idea of transmutation—the changing of one thing into another, by means chemical or arcane. “Alchemy,” he was fond of proclaiming to his friends, “is pure magic, even when it isn’t.” Within a few short years, the brilliant and studious Damiel had learned enough from his instructors that they set him loose to pursue his own studies, becoming advisors and respected colleagues rather than true masters.
Yet he had learned more than just strange formulae in Iadara. As cheerful and innocent as it seemed on the surface, Damiel’s obsession with what he called “the Change” went beyond the simple curatives of an apothecary, beyond even the magical and explosive concoctions of those alchemists trained for battle. In his eternal quest to understand his theories better, Damiel gave himself literally to his studies, and began to use his concoctions on his own flesh, striving to unlock the full potential of his body. What emerged from those long, sleepless nights was someone new. Someone dangerous.
Officially, Damiel’s banishment from Kyonin was the result of plagiarizing another alchemist’s discoveries, or perhaps siring an illegitimate son with an embarrassed noble. The documents don’t speak of the way his former friends noticed the change in his eyes, which became increasingly wild as lack of sleep and increasing amounts of “invigorating aether” took their toll. They don’t note the sudden rash of crimes in the districts he frequented, daring thefts and capricious arson. And they certainly don’t mention the young woman found in the alley behind his apartment, her face burned near away in an ultimately successful attempt to hide her identity—and the identity of her killer. In truth, the later would be difficult to decipher anyway, as even the killer himself might have trouble recognizing the monster that would take a girl’s life simply for seeing something she shouldn’t.
For Damiel was no longer the man that he once was. In his thirst for ever-greater secrets, he had unlocked enormous potential—strange tinctures that quickened his movements to a blur, or twisted his constitution to survive any poison or malady. Yet while he gained ever-increasing control over the vagaries of his flesh, these discoveries took their toll on his mind. He fell deep into addiction, deeper than even the aether he was so fond of could match. He would lose himself to the Change, only to wake from a maddened stupor and find that he’d done terrible things. And worse, that he no longer cared.
Exiled from his homeland, Damiel wandered for many years, slowly learning to control and live with his addictions. Gone were the blackouts, the uncontrolled and senseless violence. In their place grew a hard and haunted-eyed young man, handsome save for his wild look and the puckered scars along his veins. Seeking to peddle his secret knowledge, he traveled to Daggermark in the River Kingdoms, joining up with that city’s Poisoners’ Guild. For a time, his unique concoctions made him a minor celebrity in certain circles. But as the months passed, Damiel’s control over his base nature slipped, and the old lust for the beautiful chaos of unconscious (and unconscionable) action took over, loosing the beast of the Change to walk the streets. In the end, the Poisoners’ Guild took terminal offense to Damiel’s “exploits,” and though the elf argued hard that his deviant handiwork—being unpaid—was none of the guild’s concern, he was forced to go his own way once again.
Today, Damiel has grown further, into a man of two minds. The first—the greatest remaining shadow of the Damiel Morgethai That Was—truly repents for the arbitrary and senseless suffering he’s caused, and attempts to keep his darker urges in check. The second is that man brought forth by the Change, the mad and capricious soul that holds all other creatures in contempt, and exists only to feel the heat of the explosion on his face or see the shifting colors of poisoned flesh. This latter comes forth primarily in combat, where Damiel’s potions push his body faster than it has any right to move, flitting through the fray to fling corrosive ash or nick warriors so delicately with his poisoned injection-blade that many don’t know they’ve been cut until they find themselves unable to breathe. Though Damiel no longer gives his vile tendencies full rein, and carries himself well in social situations, most who look into those bagged and bloodshot eyes quickly understand the truth of his nature: unbalanced, unstable, unpredictable—and totally indispensable in a fight, which is why he still manages to fall in with other adventurers from time to time. And as he continues to mature, some of them even survive his companionship.
James L. Sutter