Life is a funny thing. Especially in this city. A tiefling born in a city of horror and evil, but somehow managing a conscience, praise be to Tubatron. My life had humble beginnings, two parents, two brothers, and a sister, all loving, all caring. Except for the “mysterious” deaths of my parents, the brother who simply disappeared, my sister being taken by my uncle, who eventually disappeared with her after an accident that left her crippled and finally being raised by mon tante: Voler, but all of this was a typical Tuesday in Adyta.
Tante Voler was kind I suppose to me and my remaining brother. She led a group of thieves in the city, nothing to unusual for tieflings. They called themselves Insidious. She wished to raise my brother and me in the thieving business. My brother, Fou, found thieving to be easy, an acceptable sway of life in the dark dreary loom of the infernal city. I, however, often found myself with a strange sickness in my stomach whenever I would pillage and steal. Lying was what I hated most of all, but it was also what I was best at.
Things change though, the day the bard came to our terrible city. He was eccentric, he was flashy, and his smile gleamed with luster, in the words of Tubatron’s high priestess: he was big and loud. This bard’s name was Alexander, he was, of all things, an elf. His reasoning for coming to our city was a mystery at best, but the infernals of the city found him amusing, and I found him inspiring. Whenever he was confronted by a guard or an official, I could see true fear in him, but his body never showed it, nor did his eyes. His words would paint a tapestry of colorful meanings that could fool any who heard him, and thus he survived, for longer than tante Voler could understand. I, however, met him in the most unusual of ways. Often I would skip lessons in thievery with tante and venture into the city to see this miracle musician, however even for an infernal like myself it’s dangerous to roam the streets, so using my lessons in stealth I would sneak into the town square and listen to this magic man. On one day of particular heat, I sat crouched atop a roof and watched from afar as the musician’s fingers worked magic into sound. His instrument of choice, a violin, a peculiar object, and quite unseen in the walls of Adyta. Though I could tell from the grumblings and angry scowls that I was the only one appreciating these beautiful sounds. But Alexander remained vigilante, strumming, and arcing the bow, and sliding it effortlessly across the strings. It was as if he was in another world, the world of music, where only he and those who truly appreciated the sounds resided together. It still eludes me how long I listened, or at which point I climbed from my perch to stand before this minstrel, but I suddenly found myself alone with him, bobbing silently in rhythm to a lamenting sound. If he noticed me, he quietly hid it, as he allowed his fingers and bow to dance along the strings. Finally the song ended, and silence befell us. He smiled at me and bowed, but I remained silent, unsure of how to react.
“Tell me young one, did you like my song?” he asked, looking at his only real fan with anticipation.
I hesitated. “Yes sir,” I began, “it was beautiful.”
Alexander blinked at me as though in surprise, then threw his head back and laughed. A merry deep sound bellowing from his chest. “Why, that’s the most respect any of shown me since I arrived, please young one, what is your name?”
“Clement, sir,” his laughter must have scared away the tension, for I felt immediately less intimidated. “Clement Alexandros.”
“Praise be to Tubatron, a true fan,” he said a manly tear in his eye, then he fell to his knees, ripped open his shirt, cried: “Tubatron,” and began praying as the violin sang a hymn to its god. I was… uncomfortable, but I remained silent and allowed him to pray. When he was done he sprang to his feet with a big smile and clasped me on the shoulder. “Say dear Clement, would you be interested in hearing of my lord Tubatron?” I was more… uncomfortable, but to not be rude I nodded my head. Greatest decision I ever made. He sang of the High Bard half-orc whose love of the tuba, a strange brass instrument ignited fires that became a powerful musical god, a brass god, whose love of flashy, over the top displays was only outweighed by the love of the music itself. He sang of the high priestess who immortalized him as she slew undead with a guitar-axe, and inspired people by being big and loud flying on the back of a half-dragon of all things.
For the most part, I was confused, but at the same time, excited. Every word, every story, every song, I wanted to know more, I wanted to play this music, I wanted to be big and loud. For the first time, I felt something new, not the despair of the infernal city, not the sickness of evil I had to be to survive, I felt hope, hope that this music could spirit me away, where I too could play for the glory of Tubatron, and find a meaningful happiness. Alexander must’ve noticed the glow in my eyes, for he laughed another hearty laugh.
“Dear Clement, you give me hope for this silent city.” He said. “Tell me, do you want to learn how to play this violin?” I tried not to salivate at the idea of playing my own instrument, and nodded. “Then pray to lord Tubatron, he will guide you,” he smiled and turned to walk away.
“Can’t you teach me?” I asked. He looked back at me, a strange solemnness in his smile, as though he knew what was to come, but found relieve in meeting someone who he could pass along the word of Tubatron, pass along the music of hope.
“Lord Tubatron has willed something else for me, young maestro, but fear not, I go with peaceful music to my lord, and let someone else, someone new play big and loud. Fill this city, no all the world with this music.” He disappeared, and I watched him go, confused by his words, and a little disheartened. I looked up at the sky and cursed as I saw the sun start to set, knowing that mon tante’s fury would be unforgiving.
“You little fool,” tante Voler screamed as she paced back and forth. I stood before her in our tiny hut at the edge of the wall. It was small, a fireplace and single room, but it was home to me and my brother who was babbling silently in the corner. “That bard is dangerous, if any of the guards or the officials catch word that you were with him today, they may come after us, and do you want that Clement?”
“Mon tante, why is he so dangerous? He seemed harmless, I don’t think I saw a weapon anywhere on him.”
“That’s not the point, Clement, he’s dangerous because of his music. This city hates anything unusual, and that bard is far more unusual than the higher demons know how to handle.” She sighed. “Luckily, he won’t be here much longer.”
“What do you mean, mon tante?” I felt fear flow in my veins.
“A group of demons from that gang, Sinister, is planning to kill him and chuck the body outside,” she said nonchalantly. “The officials would rather string his remains up as a warning, but the government has decided that letting Sinister take care of it in whatever way they choose is just as efficient and messy as needed.”
I stood in silence, unbelieving, uncomprehending. This city that took my family away without much of a thought, now sought to take away my hope. I felt the music that so lifted me only a few hours ago, deafen, and with it my future.
Silently I turned and walked outside, a dangerous thing, but without the music, what is life? I walked a few feet as though in a trance and slumped to my knees, suddenly I remembered Alexander’s method of prayer, and I ripped my shirt all the way open, threw my head back and bellowed: “Tubatron! Smite them!” and slammed my hands on the ground, hoping it made a loud smack, and I continued to slam my hands on the ground hoping that some sort of music played from this display as I prayed. Several manly tears ran down my face as I prayed for what I could, the only thing I could: music.
Tante Voler came rushing out of the hut and snatched me up. “What is wrong with you, you’ll be killed if anyone sees you like this,” she growled, and I heard true concern, a rarity of mon tante.
“Such a ruckus tonight,” we both froze when we heard the voice. “A terrible night for it.” We slowly turned to the guard that stared down at us with glowing eyes of malice.
Mon tante looked back me and whispered harshly in my ear: “Whatever you do, don’t stop whatever this is,” I looked at her confused. “Just do it,” and she dropped me. “Ah, officer, good evening, please forgive my dear nephew, he is merely having an outburst,” the guard looked at me who had returned to praying and slamming my hands on the ground.
“Gone the way of the other one has he?” the guard shook his head. “Shame, always a loss when a good infernal becomes useless, even a tiefling.” He drew his sword. “Shall I put him down for you?” I froze but only for a moment.
“No, no, officer, I’ll take care of my own business,” mon tante said with a smile, but I could hear the disdain at the idea. Senseless murder was one of mon tante’s favorite things, but my brother and I were a line that no one crossed. This reassured me, even just a little.
The guard shrugged and sheathed his sword. “Suit yourself, I wouldn’t wait too long though, soon you’ll have to feed them, and who wants to feed a useless husk?” he walked away, and mon tante’s smile disappeared and was replaced with a scowl.
“Clement, go home, help your brother into bed, and then wait for me,” she didn’t wait for a reply and stalked silently into the darkness after the guard. I didn’t hesitate either, and immediately ran back to the hut. Inside my brother sat before the burning fire. He turned to me and smiled.
“Clement, welcome back, I’m sorry I wasn’t myself when you arrived home earlier,” he said. My poor brother, seeing him normal again brought me back to the reality of my life. How silly of me, to forget, my hope didn’t matter, my music didn’t matter, this was my song.
“Fou, how are you feeling?” I said approaching him and sitting beside him.
“Better now, you missed a fun lesson with tante today,” he said. “Was the bard’s music beautiful today?” he asked. Many times I knew Fou wanted to go with me, to hear this magic with me, but he was afraid of having a fit. More so he was afraid of worrying tante Voler. Ever since our parents were killed, my brother has had terrible nightmares. After so many years, he’s started to slowly lose his sanity. He’s able to keep himself composed during lessons with tante, but at night he sometimes breaks down into a babbling mess. It scares me, I knew the guards and officials were already aware of his slipping sanity, and I worried that they’d kill him to thin out the useless citizens.
“Tell me about it, but first let me help you into bed,” I said.
He waved me off. “I can put myself to bed, Clement,” he said laying down on our mat.
“That’s not what I said,” I laughed. “Tell me what I missed, and I’ll tell you about this really cool god I learned about today.”
We sat and talked and laughed until Fou began to snore loudly. He was peaceful, he seemed to only be so when he fell asleep talking to me. But I knew a nightmare would strangle him soon, and when it did, what could I do? The door opened and mon tante strolled in. She looked pleased with herself, and threw a bag of coins on the table. “Courtesy of the guard who dared threaten mes neveux,” then I realized something was under her arm and she threw it to me. I caught the violin and stared at it, the bow clanked to the floor. I immediately recognized the instrument. It was the beautiful hymn singing creation that Alexander played for me, and on it splashed across the body was the red life stains of the struggle it survived.
“Tante Voler,” I whispered. “What’s this?” I knew, but I wanted to hear her say it.
“Don’t worry about it Clement,” she said sitting down. “It’s better off with you anyway,” I was speechless. A great sorrow swelled in my heart, but at the same time a renewal of the hope I felt earlier. But could I really play his instrument? Could I really take his treasure? Even if he was… “Well, either play the damn thing, or throw it in the fire.” I looked at her with confusion. “I told you his music was dangerous, and that hasn’t changed. But I hate this city, I hate how it took my brother from me, I hate how it looks at me, and what’s more I hate how it’ll corrupt you two, but with that thing, maybe you can save at least yourself from this shitstain of a city.” I looked down at the instrument and felt the tears fall and they fell in droplets mixing with the drying blood. I suddenly felt mon tante’s arms around me. “You’re a good kid, Clement, good kids don’t last long in this city, but you’re my good kid, and so I’ll protect you and your music, so please play for me.” She sat back as I picked up the bow. I placed it on the strings, thinking back to Alexander’s fingers, and where he positioned them, how they were positioned, and I pulled the bow across the strings and beautiful sound came out, it sounded to me as approval, like this music had accepted me, like lord Tubatron had accepted me. It wasn’t the best I would ever play, in fact looking back now, I messed up a lot of the chords, but somehow the melody was beautiful. As I played I found myself glancing at my brother, who smiled in his sleep, and for the first night in years, no nightmare came for him.
My life changed drastically from then on. Tante Voler used my music as a means to help in her thieving, which hurt me deeply, but I couldn’t refuse, I had to play, I had to become as good as Alexander, better even, I had to become a true musician, and besides after what this city did to Alexander, a small part of me wanted to rob these monsters blind. A dark blemish I know, but I’m not infallible. Years passed, and I grew better with each strum, with each movement of the bow. I became one with the music and no matter what purpose I played, the music flowed for me, for my brother, for mon tante, for Alexander, and for hope. My brother’s nightmares slowly dissipated and he became a master thief with mon tante’s tutelage, and we were happy. But this city can’t have that. This city hates unusual, and happiness is unusual.
It happened when I was 17. The door was swung open, unusual considering no one should’ve been home. I walked in slowly in, and found a scene of destruction. Pots and plates lay in shards on the floor, the table in splinters against the wall. Our bed mats torn and scattered flung about in strips. Feathers from the pillows lay in the bloodstains on the floor, as though a celestial had had its wings ripped from its back. On the mantle above the fire place painted from smeared blood, was the symbol for Sinister, there calling card, proclaiming that the crime that took place here was all there handy work, and they were proud.
“Clement, I can’t find tante,” my brother said coming into view of the doorway, he too was returning home from a day of swindling in the city, our only means of income, I turned and tackled him. He couldn’t see this, he mustn’t see this. The nightmares would return, the insanity, I had to protect him as mon tante would. But she was gone.
“Fou, don’t go in there, please, anything, but don’t go in there,” I screamed, but it was too late. He saw it all, the scene of carnage, proclaiming that Sinister had taken mon tante. Or worse. My brother pushed me from him and ran in and stood amongst the blood and destruction and fell to his knees screaming. The sound of sanity snapping in half. I stood outside, in disbelieve, in agony. I knew that mon tante had enemies especially among her own in Insidious, but this, why this fate.
My brother’s mind was gone. No amount of music that I played for him could bring him back. No amount of praying to lord Tubatron made a difference. Every day he sat in the hut and babbled away. Ramblings of a madman drowning my music from his ears. Insidious abandoned us, no matter how much mon tante had sway in the guild, her disappearance meant that we were on our own. My music became an instrument of sorrow, its tears sang me to sleep each night. It helped me to gamble and win money for my brother and me, it helped me obtain drink most bitter, and whore most diseased. But one rainy evening, when I arrived home after a night of gambling for money, and whoring for pleasure, soaked in more ways than one, I found an empty hut. Not even the quiet ramblings of my mad brother, I walked outside and found his footsteps in the mud leading away into the unknown, into oblivion for all I knew. I considered following them. But why bother, alone was what this city wished for me. My punishment for the sin of music. He was gone, Alexander was gone, mon tante was gone, and I remained.
Eight years passed. I spent endless days, endless nights, playing drunken tunes for any amount of gold I could, then flipping it for time in the bed of strange women, and more drink, much, much more drink. This city had succeeded, I was broken. This hapless musician, this broken string-plucker, had gained a name among the whores and bars, I was the Red Maestro, lord of the strings, able to lay any woman I had my eye on, able to drink any man under the table. Eight years of misery. Eight years of shattered hope. Eight years of indescribable loneliness. I found myself laying on the floor of the hut, where only years before mon tante’s blood stained this floor, and years before that she held me as I played for the first time. Now only me, the violin, nausea, and a headache. I sat up and pulled the violin to me, I gazed at the bloodstains grained into the old wood, and saw tears of an innocent boy mixed in from a happier dream long past. Suddenly I felt a rush of memories, those tears in the blood, reminded me of times when hope was the notes I read and played from my violin, when my family were these four walls, a sane brother, and my loving tante.
The memories, swished the sickness in my stomach, and I ran outside and vomited out any last of the drink in me, and returned to the fireplace with my violin. I considered a moment what I must do, and decided to perform for my lord, though I hadn’t in many years. I ripped my shirt from my chest with force, cried: “Tubatron,” with all my might and pulled my bow across the strings and played as big and as loud as my fingers and throat could muster. I prayed and cried and sang, I prayed for all I had lost: my family, Alexander, my hope. When the bow sang the last melody, and fingers danced their last dance, I felt as though my lord heard my prayer, and I knew what I must do. I felt a calling to a better place, where my music could be played to move audiences, where the sound of my song would resonate and inspire. The name of Red Maestro would transform from a shambling, drunken minstrel, to that of a harbinger of majesty, of music, of sound, and of hope. I, the Red Maestro, would not be broken by this city, my song would move the world, and thus I knew that my time in this city was done. I gathered my few belongings, a rapier mon tante left behind, my violin, some unspent gold, and I left the walls of Adyta. Admittedly I had to sneak out, but soon I found myself in the forest outside the city. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t afraid, but where else would I go? I moved forward in the direction of New Adyta, and toward the realization of my hope.