When you were growing up, Lady Luck did not shine on you. Perhaps you suffered at the hands of your parents, or through painful circumstances, grew up alone. Perhaps wars waged by the rich and famous took your home, your family, or your livelihood. To those like you and I, the world is a cruel, harsh place. None listen to our suffering, even as we die in the streets, starving and rotting in our own misery! None seem to care for those less fortunate, even knowing they could soon end up the same at the whims of their masters!
We will be the instrument of change in the endless winter of our lives. Join us, friend. We will lend you food and shelter, and you will repay us in service. Today, your life will change - for the better.
Founded by Dragomir Zaidali, the Zaidali Familija is a charitable organisation based in the Talmian Range. They are well-known for their patronage of many orphanages across the Western Continent of Valathe, and own large areas of land across multiple countries upon which they employ and house refugees, beggars and reformed criminals. Whilst Dragomir himself passed away a few centuries past, his family - both biological and chosen - have taken it upon themselves to continue his work.
Recently, Silviu Zaidali has been awarded a position of lordship in the country of Vruna
, owing to his extensive aid work in their devastating wildfires. He has sworn to use the accompanying lands - arid farmland and mines of darksteel - to employ the many citizens of Vruna and its surrounding countries who lost their homes in the devastation, a move that has been praised internationally. Rumours state that if all goes well with this enterprise, Vruna's monarchy will welcome him to their ranks through marriage - however, neither Silviu or the current heiress of Vruna, Anca Vasiliu, have commented on this.
Dispelling the Illusion
If you are able to read this, I must assume your mind is powerful enough to overcome the infernal illusions surrounding the nefarious Zaidali family. I am sure there are those of you who may react to this news in shock, but surely they must be few - even with their hellish guise, no organisation could possibly be that perfect.
...If you haven't gotten the inference yet, I shall spell it out for you: the Zaidali family is not what it seems. Those who reach adulthood in their grasp are forced into service, and those who try to escape - even through acts of suicide - are condemned to eternal servitude.
In life and in death, the Zaidali family is eternal. And past their benevolent facade, one is easily able to see what their influence is truly used for...
In truth, the Zaidali family use their charitable guise to obtain unsuspecting and overly trusting souls for their organisation. Orphans raised in Zaidali care are taught to love their new family, and upon adulthood, are asked to repay the organisation for the debt incurred by raising them. Refugees are presented with the same information after recovering from their trauma or displaying intent to leave. "The help we give has come at much cost to us," they say. "It would only be fair of you to pay it forward."
Upon agreement to this, however grudgingly, the newest 'servant' of the Zaidali will be forcibly branded with a tattoo upon their lower stomach. This signifies their new status, and cannot be removed through most mortal magic - it is an infernal seal of the verbal contract they have made with the Zaidali, and can generally only be altered by the caster. Once their service has been completed, as dictated by the Zaidali, they are offered the choice of joining the family or having the tattoo removed. Most choose to join, as a large majority of their life has been spent with the Zaidali, and they have little chance of survival away from the group. Those who seek their freedom are generally disintegrated, as this is the easiest method of tattoo removal and does not risk information leaks.
On very rare occasions, individuals who have performed outstandingly for the Zaidali will be permitted to truly leave, without repercussion. These individuals must accept a second contract, this time not involving a tattoo, that ensures their silence on any matters that the Familija does not wish to share with the general public. The consequences for breaking this contract are varied, but all involve the eventual damnation of the individual's soul.
Damnation is also what awaits those who try to escape Zaidali service - 'servants' who try to flee whilst on 'official business' will be sacrificed to the infernal guardians of the Zaidali, and those foolish enough to commit the Ultimate Betrayal - suicide - are condemned to the lowest pits of Hell to suffer for all eternity. Supposedly, these souls are offered to Hell in return for the family's protection and guidance; a deal struck by Dragomir himself during the inception of the Familija.
For those whom Lady Luck does not shine upon, we will stand tall as their beacons. We will protect the weak, aid the sick, and provide salvation to those in need. Our family accepts all, and provides all it can.
However, should any try to subvert our purpose or harm our family, they will bear witness to our eternal wrath. None shall betray us. None shall persecute us. Any who dare shall not be spared any mercy.
If something is needed, we will provide it. Our mines allow us access to incredibly rare ores in quantities you won't find elsewhere, and we can guarantee that our slaves will be compliant and trustworthy. Legality doesn't matter; you'll find the guards don't seem to care about our presence. Would you like to try our newest product? Our herbologists are incredible at what they do. You'll enjoy it. First one's on the house!
The Zaidali control mines of valuable resources such as darksteel and syrinite, farms of both food and magical herbs, and no small amount of weaponry. Their land assets are spread across the Western Continent of Valathe, with their castle-like headquarters being located in the Talmian Range. In the past century, they have expanded to the seas by way of alliances with smaller bandit groups that have been absorbed into the larger Zaidali family, and have made use of this to break into the international trade and slavery markets.
In addition to their usual practices, they also capture slaves in smaller raids and from deals made with slavers (or from those unable to pay in gold). These slaves are usually human, but elven, orcish, halfling and more exotic races such as ratfolk, ghorans or even drow have been seen on offer by Zaidali slavers. These slaves are usually kept at their external properties; the Zaidali rarely make use of them themselves.
The majority of the Zaidali wealth comes from deals of protection, drawn-out extortion, and the drug trade. Due to their varied membership and ample funding, they have been responsible for many new drugs on the market, and have spread their influence in this area to the other three known continents.
Their current amount of actual gold is not easy to calculate, but is very easily worth more than most small countries. Those aware of the organisation's true nature are highly concerned about this, but little can be done about it at this moment.
Dragomir Zaidali, in life, was a vengeful orphan from a small town destroyed in one of the many wars Valathe experiences. He found no sympathy from those he begged from, even as a young teenager, and so took to committing petty crimes - crimes that would lead to a decade of prison in what would become the Medimian Empire
. Away from the eyes of guards, he began to amass followers through charismatic speeches, and through those followers, he earnt no small amount of true power. Irina Lupescu, a former Iskaldhan witch imprisoned for her habit of slaughtering innocent children, had managed to convince the guards that her magic had faded. This was absolutely not so, and it was from her that Dragomir learnt his powers of manipulation. Her motives had not been pure, however, as she had intended to use the new warlock as a sacrifice to break her out of the prison. Dragomir managed to sabotage the ritual with the aid of his faithful, and in the ensuing chaos, escaped the prison.
Sealing the Pact
Having to flee Medimia meant leaving behind its intense security - something none of their group would miss. However, the region of Valathe was still plagued by war, and none wished to shelter them in those hard times. Again, Dragomir and his followers turned to crime to survive - this time thieving and murdering those who stood in their way as they sought a place to rest. They would eventually settle in the Talmian Range, knowing that none would pursue them there. Having established a base, Dragomir's influence began to spread through the region as the fledgling Zaidali family took shape. In the early days, they were a simple bandit group, taking in those on the run and raiding small towns to survive. It was the arrival of Tatiana Vasiliu, an assassin with strong ties to the neighbouring nations and a wealth of arcane knowledge, that truly began to shape the Zaidali family into its present form. Dragomir swiftly fell for her, and the two became partners-in-crime, to the slight dismay of Dragomir's other followers.
Tatiana's connections gave Dragomir an entirely new direction to take the Zaidali, and he began targeting nobles and merchants with schemes of protection and 'small loans' for their businesses. If any went back on their word, Tatiana and her disciples would silence them in the dead of night. It only took one slip-up for them to realise the risk inherent in this plan, though - a former adventurer-turned-merchant had been prepared for them, and slaughtered most of Tatiana's accomplices as they descended on the shop. His escape into the night led to no end of headaches for the organisation, and Dragomir was concerned. Tatiana, however, had answers. As they sealed their budding romance, they used their combined arcane knowledge to call up a devil - and thus, the Pact of Zaidali was forged. None would be able to escape their contracts, now. The only flaw was that they needed to ensure a steady supply of souls to Hell, else the infernal protection would lapse.
What better way to continue their growth and fulfil the terms of their contract than to train innocents from birth? Well, other than to exploit the helpless. Recognising their own beginnings, Dragomir and Tatiana began to spread their organisation's funds into orphanages and refugee funds. The orphans would be raised to know them, and would form dependencies that they could later use. It was at this point that the enslavement debts and tattoos were developed, and it was on Tatiana's secondborn child - a daughter - that they would first be tested. As the refugees were already adults, the tattoos were most effective on them - when they tried to flee back to their previous lives, they were cut down, and the infernal protection on the Zaidali line was secured.
Over time, the charity work carried out by the organisation began to mask its true purpose. Sergiu Zaidali, the great-great-grandson of Dragomir, was the first to separate the organisation into three different lines. Those seeking their services for matters of money, drug trade, slavery or protection would call upon the Dragosi. Those seeking legitimate business deals would refer to the Vasili, and the Zaidali name would cover all else. This allowed the reputation of their name to remain virtually untainted, and the Zaidali spies were set to work on removing all references to their previous purpose from history.