The Picks That Shall Unlock The Universe
by Jacek Dobrzyniecki
While the genealogical almanacs of the Realms are well-researched and trustable, none of them mention the powerful DeFoult clan, even in a footnote. This is not something to be held against the authors, for the DeFoults keep themselves secret, and I may be well the first person who took the risks to find out the truth about them so that I may publish it herein. I know well what the DeFoults are capable of--which is, almost literally, everything. But I am not afraid for my life--because, at the time time you are reading this, I am already dead, probably lying deep down in a grave after a typical death of old age. I have nothing to fear anymore. You, however... keep this pamphlet. Hide it. Do not put it on your shelves if you are a librarian, unless you like inexplicable fires at your place. Do not show anyone you own it. Read it in secrecy. Copy it if you can and distribute the copy to someone else at a safe opportunity.
It is virtually impossible to pinpoint a period when the DeFoult family line starts. A gossip commonly accepted by the family members, and told to these they favor, is that they already existed billions of years ago; while this sounds shocking for any listener, they then explain that this is allegedly a result of some DeFoult clansmen and clanswomen stumbling into a time portal to the earliest age, thus giving start to the family from there and causing what scholars call a "stable time loop".
They all seem to have a bizarre affinity for all kinds of cross-dimensional portals, gates, space-time rifts, plane shift spells gone awry and other such things; whether by accident or by intuitive investigation, they'll invariably stumble across any such travelling devices that exist; as a result, they are literally everywhere, in all dimensions, worlds, universes and multiverses one could think of. They are very adaptative, and if they find themselves in a hitherto unconquered world, they need very little time to set up shop (without attracting the locals' attention), integrate with the population closely, and find, or create, gates to other realities to build links with the rest of the juggernaut clan. Instinctively skilled at business, the vast majority of them are shopkeepers, temple priests, vault clerks, bartenders and the like.
There appears to be a hierarchy in the family, but I have not managed to fully reconstruct it. Based on what little I've heard, it would seem that each newborn clan member is watched since early childhood so that his parents can assess his skills; based on this (and his sex), he is forced into one of the "molds", as they are occasionally referred to. Each "mold" implies a different job specialization--and an identical appearance, achieved via plastic surgery, magic, or make-up. One mold, for example, is "Shopkeeper"; they are invariably female, with golden long hair and a multitude of jewelry; they typically sell weapons, armor, and other adventuring fare. There's the "Bartender": male, dark skin, short hair, a minimalist moustachio, an earring; they may seem busy pouring drinks or cleaning the bar, but they are always alert, with their ears open for all useful knowledge that their customers usually spill when inebriated. The "Arms Master" is a muscled man with white, receding hair, bushy eyebrows and a moustache, like a 60-year-old. There are more of these. Whether all the family members are equal, or if there is some groups of "matrons" or "elders" who rule the entire clan and allegedly live since forever, I can't tell, since the interviewed DeFoults told me these both versions, or everything in-between them, and each seemed to believe his or her story sincerely.
Curiously, they like to call themselves "The Vanilla Picks"; I didn't find out the etymology or the meaning behind this moniker. Ordinary evil overlords seek to take over the world by force. The Vanilla Picks scoff at such petty desires. They have much bigger ambitions: to take over all worlds with nothing but economy and intrigue. They are incredibly skilled at permeating the elite, the nobility, the royalty, at manipulating them, blackmailing them, using them. Every month, the local community of DeFoults gathers at secret meetings in obscure places where they share knowledge, discuss recent developments and formulate strategy. They co-operate strictly with their fellow clanspersons on the same, and other, worlds, communicating via a secret net of messengers and magic correspondence methods. They enjoy setting off small, apparently insignificant and unnoticeable changes here and there to remake the entire political situation for their benefit.
The few members of the family who agreed to speak with me said - with sly smiles - that they were essentially the driving force behind most of the adventurers' exploits. Oh sure, it is the heroic parties who slay dragons and rescue princesses--but they do so with weapons and equipment bought and identified at their shops--with skills learned at their training halls--with healthy bodies thanks to the clerics from their family. Of course, a typical adventurer won't even remember them, hearing little more than "How can I help you?" from them before leaving. Some of these daredevils might scratch their heads as to why that barmaid looked so familiar, then shrug this question out of their memory. These people might well thank the insignificant barkeep for jump-starting their adventure in the first place, as the Vanilla Picks enjoy finding adventuring parties that look useful and manipulating the situation around them, so that said parties will find themselves travelling into the very land that needs their help, and standing before the very baron who offers a reward. In accomplishing their quest, the warriors will inevitably accomplish some hidden agenda of the Picks as well.
Even though they have millions of relatives all over the fabric of existence, they seem to intuitively remember every one of them, and all minute details of their lives, likings and personality. Where an outsider could find themselves confused trying to differentiate between two twinlike shopkeepers, to a fellow DeFoult they are different as night and day. They value their family ties above everything else, and rarely have friends outside the clan, other than the persons of the opposite sex they deem worthy of inclusion into the Vanilla Picks family--something which, I'm told, involves elaborate ceremonies and perhaps even hazing rituals.
You have your kings who wink at you with friendliness; you have your noblemen who stare at you impatiently, half-eaten veals in their hands; you have the dragons that flick their tongues at you with impudence and the ambitious goblin rulers, hands on chins, deep in thought - but they are all merely cover for the true rulers: the invisible royal court scattered across the infinite number of town buildings, masqueraded as smiling innkeepers and soothing temple priests--The Vanilla Picks.
(Still, what a ridiculous pseudonym).