Gazzo is an old man, a street performer who tells tales from behind a screen, working a magic that is 9 parts imagination and 1 part shadow magic. His hair is long and gray, and his eyes are large and watery, his face has the look of a piece of gristle that has been chewed by a hound and found wanting. His voice is strong however, and has a resonate value from his years of speaking through a barrier and over the voices of children.
So it began, as many things do, with a terrible decision. It was in a distant land of rough brown mountains where the sky was tinged with red and orange, for dust was thick in the air. It was a hot land, and the breath of the land was named Thirst, for it dried out many things and left them dead for want of water. Above that parched and elder land flew golden feathered eagles, and they alone could clutch the wind in their talons and pull it away from the earth so that there might be rain upon the dry and cracked soil.
And it was thus that the King of that Kingdom was set with a dilemma. For the Eagles had become estranged from the Kings of Men and no longer did they pull up the winds of Thirst. The dryness never abated and the rain heavy clouds never came. Farms dried to powder and the reserves of grain grew low as that cattle grew slatboard thin in the heat.
Yet there was a form of hope. The King held a secret spell, one that could banish Thirst, and bring the life giving rains back to his lands. But the cost was terrible, for the spell itself was evil, and its book bound in human flesh was abhorrent to even look upon. But if he did not face that evil, a lesser evil would destroy his lands and leave them populated by sand ghosts and the scuttle of rock scorpions.
Gazzo pauses to take a drink of water, his thin lips dry from the telling. There is a ominous tone to his voice as he continues…
The King left his palace and found the shores of Arazul, the Lake of Salt and there he opened the book, and placed upon it nine pieces of gold, one for each of his provinces, one for each of his children, one for each part of his soul. He chanted the words etched in ink of burnt bone and antelope blood, and he called the Shroud to cover his kingdom. He called the darkness to hide it from the bitter fury of the wind named Thirst, and the burning eye of Eagle’s Wrath.
And for a time things were better. The rains came again, and the dry earth welcomed the sweet drops from the sky. And there in grew a great many things that flourished in the half-light of the shroud. Great creeping banks of ivy and vervain, nightshade and copses of black-barked yew trees. But the grain was now bitter, and the cattle gave thin and yellowed milk. some whispered that they had traded one evil for another, but there was now food where there was previously none.
But his Queen was a wise and virtuous woman, so wise and beloved was she that there was a statue of her raised in the center of that now lost city. Couched at her feet was a she-lion, and she lifted up a torch in her hand. As a show of her gratitude, she took the largest ruby from her coffers and placed it in the torch so that even in the gloom of the Shroud there would be some light.
But this light was offensive to the essence of the Shroud, and in turn it revealed itself to be a creature, a thing of shadows and gloom, a snuffer of lights and child born of twilight shade and the evening death of the sun. The Swollen Shadow it was named, and it was terrible to behold as he drew to itself a full shape. In the shape of a great writhing beast of many heads and many tails it assailed the statue of the Queen and broke the arm off. Enraged by the light it discarded the arm and the hated gem it held into a deep cistern thick with cool water and mildew.
Thus despair filled the city as the Swollen Shadow claimed everything under the shroud as it’s domain. The King took up weapons and gathered his soldiers and marched against this monster of antiquity, but steel could not avail him. The blades passed harmlessly through the creature. But the creature struck back, stealing their own shadows and infusing their bodies with unnatural essences, leaving them weak and ill.
The glass is empty as Gazzo picks it up to take another drink. One of the serving girls refills the glass, this time with a red wine. Gazzo takes a drink of the wine and nods to the barman.
And it happened that the men who stood closest with the king were twisted by this, and their wills were weaker and they fell. One by one they joined Swollen Shadow, becoming wraith-like creatures, neither wholly in this world or in the other. The wind did not disturb their clothing, and the hair did not blow and day after day they became less and less substantial until there was nothing of them but extensions of the will of Swollen Shadow. The Haints numbered seven, and became the mouths and emissaries of the elder being.
Taking up the steel that had proved worthless against the elder being, the Wraith-lords struck down the King and would have taken the life of his Queen had she not defended herself with a spell of fire and sunlight, which caused them to recoil, though did not harm them. Using the best of her power, the Queen partitioned off a part of the city and made it anathema to Swollen Shadow, and safe for humans to inhabit. Not to be outdone, Swollen Shadow extended its power to encapsulate the warded part of the city.
While the rules and laws of magic are strange and alien to me it happened that they were not to the Queen, and that the warding was a trap. With the magics she drew the boundaries around the creature as it drew boundaries around her safe zone. Its power was contained, and now chained, the elder being was enraged even further. Thus it happened that the city itself was eaten by the shroud and was left neither here nor there.
The wind flutters no banners in that city, carries no scents away from it. The sun shines but the gloom cannot be washed away by such simple light. The rains fall, but the stones of the houses remain cracked and dry, the mortar splintering and weakening until the towers toppled to the earth. The locals, now prisoners of fear lived under the rule of Swollen Shadow and his seven Haints.
Some of the younger listeners grow impatient. Vars smiles and waves for them to run along, while he takes a break. some of the older patrons remain, some of them have heard the story before and others for the first time. This is a special story, one that Vars knows well since he is one of the very few who have ventured to that place and returned alive. The old grump was left lame in his left leg and left arm from the encounter, but still alive.
There are a good many folk who still live there, warded in the Queen’s Quarter. They keep a close eye on their shadows, mind you. It isn’t hard to pick them out either, pale of skin and dark of hair, not much in the way of dusky complexions or freckles there. They are a dour people, their lives dependant on ancient wards, yet fearful to leave the Shroud. Paranoid to the last, fearful….I pitied them.
But the Shadow isn’t quiet. It has minions, the Haints. I spoke of them earlier, they were once men and women close to the King. One is said to be his flesh and blood daughter before the shadow made her one of it’s own. They are pale as ghosts, and their hair hang down and is unmoved by the wind. They exist in as unnatural of a state as the city or Swollen Shadow itself. Their eyes are the worst.
There is no eye there in the socket, but they is a darkness so thick and deep that it seeps out, like a cloud. You can’t hide from them either, they see perfectly well in the darkness. I saw the one they call Shadow’s Daughter, and it was her that did this to me. She had the strength of the otherworlds and my companions and I, our weapons were useless against her and the shadows that she called forth. She shouted out in some eldritch tongue and then vomited up shades of darkness that fell on us. I am only alive today because I ran…because I got lucky…
Gazzo wipes at his face, this is part of the tale that he doesn’t tell in front of the children. It is also part of his atonement, for his running and letting his friends purchase his freedom with their lives.
Gazzo has a small shack that he calls both theatre and home. The front is largely open, save for a large brass lantern he has, and a scraped vellum sheet he uses for his performances. For worldly possessions, Gazzo is very poor, often only having enough coin to keep from going hungry, and this is in part because of spending some time begging when the weather is too poor for shadow-plays.
Gazzo is a meek man who is trying to atone for the sins of his past, mainly the cowardice that let him escape the City of Shadow. His stories are homages to his fallen comrades, and espouse the virtues of courage, unity, brotherhood, and of good over evil.
Being by true profession and nature a thief however, Gazzo also pines for for some of his beloved companions possessions, such as Nayer’s Blade and Abroin’s ring, as well as the Farsmoke Thurible itself, and all the imagined (by Gazzo) treasures of the Swollen Shadow. He will never express these suppressed feelings of greed during the telling of his tales. The guilt created by the conflict of greed and cowardice often drive Gazzo to drink, and heavily at times.
Gazzo Sleep-Eye is a signifigant character in the Swollen Shadow Codex, a former member of Nayer’s Slayers, and one of the few people to have seen both the City of Shadow, and faced its masters, the Haints.