Shadows of Absalom
Russ feels no need to talk about his past. It’s not because it’s particularly dark or deep or secret or anything. In fact, he thinks he’s had a pretty good past, all things considered. He just feels it has little to nothing to do with who he is now.
If pushed to describe himself, he’d rather people understand a few things about him.
1.) Absalom is his home. His life. Always will be. He has never left the island of Kortos, and until recently he could count on his hand the number of times he’d left the city itself. Gardens are beautiful, but he has no burning to desire to roam across the countryside, and he feels like a fish out of water when forced to go out there.
But the city? That’s another story. He knows the streets, the buildings, the people. He knows what alleyways are the best shortcuts, and which alleyways are the best ways to get yourself killed. He knows half the merchants in the Coins, and knows how far to push them when haggling. The stacked buildings, the bustle of people and carts between them, all from different lands, speaking different languages, but still living their lives here: that feeling of the city, to him, is better than any drug.
He knows all of these things, and yet Absalom surprises him, every day. There’s thousands of years of history to discover, and new people pour into the city every day. He’s not exactly a zealous follower of Abadar, but he pays his respects to the god who can keep his city growing forever.
2.) Russ likes people.
For starters, he’s nosy and likes knowing everything about them. Knowing where they’re from, where they’re going. When he was still a student at the Academy, he made sure he was at least acquaintances with all of the major cliques and factions. That way, he knew all the major drama. All the power struggles.
He was always looking to make a couple bucks or collect favors. There was always some rich kid who didn’t want to do his assignments and would pay for somebody else to do it for him. Some fraternity that wanted dirt on somebody. And (once in a blue moon) a teacher who needed cheap labor for their alchemy research.
But aside from that, he just likes being around people. He likes making them happy. It’s how his business started in the first place. Halfway through school he found out if you mix wartroot and dog lily in just the right combination, you get a most excellent high that makes you all giggly and hyper and, after an hour or two, nodding off to a peaceful slumber. Crude compared to what he does now, but his friends and extended network of acquaintances loved it.
He made a killing off of it. Got enough money to experiment around more with even better stuff. He would send money back to his recently-widowed mother to pay for her apartments.The source of the money was strictly against the rules, so he said it was from helping with a alchemist’s research. When said alchemist found out about this, Russ was told in no uncertain terms to stop unless he wanted to be kicked out.
So he did. At least until he graduated, started work as an alchemist in the East Gate Garrison, and started right back where left off.
In many ways, he’s still the same. He still keeps contacts with as many people as possible. He’s managed to stay good with a few of the East Guard, despite his not so graceful departure from the garrison. His continued experiments and side business wasn’t exactly illegal or against any rules, but the higher-ups, when they found out, decided the political hit for keeping a guy like Russ around wasn’t worth his skill.
He makes his living now by doing what constantly got him into trouble. Nowadays, he specializes in hallucinogens. He has a handful of personal customers and a few merchants in the Coins who buy and resell his product in their shops. Sells information and non-drug alchemical solutions on the side when the main business is slow. He uses the money for alchemy experiments. He’d feel sorry for his landlord if he didn’t think the gnome secretly loved all the weird bangs and smoke that came from his lab.
3.) His business is 100% technically legal and he sees nothing wrong with it, but that doesn’t mean he’s blind to the seedier side of his world. He knows about the smuggling of harder drugs than he’ll ever make. He knows the people who make stuff for the sole purpose of getting people hooked and coming back every week. They do it to control them, or use their addicts as piggy banks.
He keeps his mouth shut whenever those people are around. He keeps his mouth shut for a lot of reasons, number one being that he enjoys living. He makes the best of it and does what he’s always done; keeping contacts with the ones he can stomach, just in case information he gets is of use. And there’s a kind of honor to criminals: if you’re good to them and scratch their back, they’ll grant you an occasional favor. So long as you stay on their good side.
4.) Svala is, for all intents and purposes, his sister now. He really didn’t expect to befriend an Ulfen religious avenger with a giant axe (or for her to drag him into her adventures), but that’s life. There’s something refreshing about somebody who’s both unabashedly trying to do the right thing AND doesn’t mind letting loose and having a good time. He hasn’t the slightest clue why she puts up with him. She’s saved his life more than once, though. He feels he owes her, so he tries to help her navigate Absalom and Kortos as best he can.