The Folly of the Almuftari – A Dragon’s Keep Tale

Jin Concept Art, generated by Midjourney

* * * *

Yarmaz Yln-Tapal. A khine of great strength. Resolve like the heat of the midday sun, pride powerful enough to shatter the salted dunes a hundred times and again. His memory, faded, conceals his form, leaving nothing more before you than a spectre, a trace of sandalwood and charred jasmine. A shadow, hoarse, ever-present on the edges of your memory like the scraping of tanned leather on a hunter’s knife.

He looks nothing like you. Nor do you look like Mother.

Tell me the tale of the Almuftari again, please?” you say, in Khinazhi. Excited, young, not yet cognizant enough to realize what you are asking.

Yarmaz peers down at you, the scowl writ plain upon his featureless visage. You remember this annoyance well, despite the six long decades dividing you from its last occurrence.

If I must, Muswah’tif.”

Ah, yes. You remember what he used to call you. The twisted child. Grotesque. Disfigured. A descriptor you would soon take advantage of, as fate grows darker. Yet now, you think nothing of it. The other khine tif would point and laugh at you when they said those words. He never did. For better or for worse. Though he was the originator, your hate was not yet directed at him.

With a sigh, Yarmaz sat upon the rock, opposite you from the glow of a warm and gentle fire. His eyes, cowled deep within the depths of time and the hooded dulband he always wore.

The Almuftari,” he begins. “Existed in the age before sand, in a time when the sea and the land were one place beneath the pale moon. The Alkawnum was not yet safe to live upon, as all the earth and fire and water roiled together within a chaotic storm. The khine who lived within the chaos found shelter upon islands of stone that floated upon the deep, and they huddled together for warmth, naked, fearful, for there was no comfort to be found in the world.

The Almuftari was born among them. From the moment he departed his mother’s womb, he was a marked being. Different from the khine of his village, in mind, in temperament. Of them, but not. Few descriptions of him remain, save for a single deta-”

His horns, right? Abu?” You say, cutting him off.

Yes, his horns,” Yarmaz states. “Don’t interrupt, Muswah’tif.

Asuf,” you whisper timidly in apology.

His true name has been lost to history,” your father continues after a deep cough. “Though if it could be remembered, all faithful sons and daughters of the Seleph’en—the Forefathers—would do well to erase any trace of it that could be found. For when the Almuftari came of age, his people realized that what made him different was not merely his slow steps, nor his rambling, mumbling speech. Whatever he desired, he could command the elements to grant him, and they would answer his request without hesitation. His mother and father, his brothers and sisters, scraped algae from the bark of rotting juniper to calm the pain in their bellies, and struggled to weave the barest threads of the luna moth to clothe themselves.

Not so for the Almuftari.

Upon a whim, he reached out to the nether, and upon his shoulders rested the finest garments of magic-woven gold and inle cotton. When he grew hungry, the very aether afforded him a veritable feast of the finest and most delicious victuals one could imagine. At first, he shared with the others the gifts the intractable Alkawnum granted him. But he soon grew fat, selfish, insistent that he alone deserved what the chaos provided, for none of his family or his friends had such command upon the elements. He alone could form from formlessness, so he alone would benefit.

Foolish and cruel, the Almuftari used his power to enslave his people. Though he had the ability to create food, raise the earth, and even conjure constructs and shelter, he fed only himself, clothed and housed only himself. He claimed the very island upon which his family subsisted and demanded they build for him a temple in which they would worship him. When the people told him they had no stones to build such a thing, with a wave of his hand, massive stones appeared with but a gesture. He demanded their labor, and they gave it, when he might have simply manifested such an edifice with but a single thought.

And so the Seleph’en suffered and toiled beneath the heel of the Almuftari. Every square inch of their island was soon covered by the temple stones he summoned from the aether beneath them. They, and their children, worked unto death, even as the corpulent Almuftari grew bloated, gluttened upon the endless feasts that appeared before him whenever he wished. An untold number of years passed until at last the temple was completed. A beautiful and horrific monument to greed and avarice, every glyph and design that adorned the primal rock venerating the Almuftari. So large was the structure that it could not be admired from the outside, for there was no earth beyond the island upon which one could view it. Never once did the Seleph’en rebel against the mad tyrant, even as they buried their children and their fathers beneath the cornerstones of that wicked place.

At last, the Almuftari gathered the remaining Seleph’en together, demanding that each of them kneel before him in obeisance. Each and every one of them did so.

Save one.

Azana,” you whisper.

Yes, Muswah’tif,” Yarmaz continues, only a hint of irritation in his voice. “Only the child Azana stood, even as her kin knelt before the Almuftari. As the Almuftari had been marked from the womb, so Azana was also, her shining skin bescaled like the Basilisk of Mudradrih. At birth, her mother had hidden her in the crevice of the temple’s first lain stone; the Almuftari had grown so fat, he could no longer move from his great chamber-bed at the centerpoint of the temple, and so he never learned of her existence. Though not more than four winters of age, when she first laid her eyes upon the tyrant and heard the Almuftari’s demands, she was filled with a righteous yet quiet anger.

At the sight of the child, the Almuftari did not speak for a time. He did not know what to say, as he had never once been disobeyed by anyone or any thing. A second time, he demanded the little khine girl kneel before him.

No,’ she answered him.

Again, the Almuftari did not speak. He could not even be angry, as something as simple as refusal did not make sense to him.

Out of instinct, the Almuftari set aside words and drew instead upon his eldrich powers of control. To his horror, not only could Azana refuse his supernatural command, her very essence did more than deny his reach. The more his will stretched out to force the child to kneel, the more he felt the mass of his own body drag him down, until at last he managed only to topple forwards and fall upon his belly before her.

The Almuftari, so engorged from the endless years of eating and devouring, and so weakened by an era of motionless sloth, could not so much as roll over to recover himself. He had forgotten one simple truth: despite his boundless powers of creation and enslavement, he was a khine still, a creature bound to the laws of nature. And khine cannot live without air. Suffocating beneath his own girth, he could only ask Azana a single question, with the last of his life’s breath.

Why?’

Azana did not answer him. She did not owe him the kindness.

The Seleph’en survivors did not bury the Almuftari, choosing instead to roll the putrid remains of the tyrant off the edge of the island and into the swirling and twisting elements that he had once so easily commanded. Had they known the consequences of such an action, they may have given this a second thought and simply buried the corse beneath the stones of his own temple. For where the khine horde wealth and sustenance from those in need, there the Almuftari’s essence remains.

But what of Azana?” you ask your father, breathless, although you know the answer by heart. “What happened to the Seleph’en after that?

The details are few,” Yarmaz says with a simple shrug. “With Azana leading her people, the stones the Almuftari created served as stepping-stones that the Seleph’en then used to cross the boundless deep, where they discovered untouched islands of stone, of wood, and iron. When the eons passed and the chaos of the elements grew calm, Azana led the children of her people to the edge of the distant sea. Separate from the waters, she gifted the khine the endless sands, and all the jewels of the mountains, in restitution for their suffering. Some say she even taught the children of the Seleph how to tame the first great titan lizards upon which they traverse the wastes to this day.

Satisfied that her people were safe from both chaos and fear, Azana departed into the wilderness alone to fade into the sands of time and reason. But before she did so, she granted one last gift to the children of the Selaph. Do you remember what it was?

The stars!” you exclaim, pointing to the sky.

Yes,” Yarmaz then says, gruffly, pointing upwards as well. “But which stars?

You pause, peering up into the night above you. You are unsure. He has never mentioned this detail before.

I don’t know,” you answer honestly, your gaze connecting with his. “All of them?

Stupid boy,” Yarmaz then says, sharply. “Look.

You do so, following the direction of his finger directly into the heavenly sea. All at once, you are no longer a boy who is blind. You are a man, a tired, elderly man, a khine who had seen far more winters than your father ever did, whose eyes had become attuned to the celestial array now set before you.

Rige. Bellafon. Alni-Alnan-Mintan, the triplet sisters, your mind reels at the sheer depth of the scene before you, desperate to remember the names of the constellations being set in front of your new eyes. The horizon dips before you, the shadow threatening to overtake your vision, but the view recovers as if propelled by the wings of Lendys Himself.

Saiphis. Wix. And finally, Arneb and Nihal. As the distant siblings pass, you are greeted by a familiar view: a massive stone in the shape of a paladin’s hammer. Beyond it, rushing as fast as the winds of Leshal, numberless mountains and valleys open wide to reveal a distant shoreline, an infinite expanse of sparkling water as far as your eyes can see, reflecting the star-filled sea above as flawlessly as a gilded mirror. And before the ocean, just before the stone meets the unblemished reflection, a single vertical sliver of white intersects the boundary between the finite and the plane above.

The sliver stands leagues above a metropolis of sandstone. The parapets of silver and porcelain, while glorious and glistening in the starlight, are as matchsticks in a child’s sandcastle by comparison. The sliver, to your surprise, is cold, painfully to the touch, an unnatural monument in the midst of a flat, unbroken skyline.

And then, all at once, you are, once again, a twisted child, sitting across from your father as the heat of a gentle campfire warms your tattered robes.

Yarmaz stands. Kneels before you. Takes you by the shoulders and leans in close, in a way he never did, not once.

Your Selaph’i is there, Muswah’tif,” he whispers. “Best not make him wait.

* * * *

Jin woke with a start. Blinking, the elderly sorcerer sat up, groaning, confused. Despite the sharp detail of the shadows that surrounded him, they were paired only with dull shades of featureless gray. He shut his eyes for a moment, comforted by the blindness of his eyelids, before returning his gaze to the world. While he could see his companions quite clearly in the pitch-black night, sleeping peacefully beside him, he was not yet accustomed to the gift Tamara had bestowed upon him. It was strange, almost distracting, compared to the blissful distortion of his natural sight.

So distracting, in fact, that he failed to hear a very distinct sound calling very softly just behind him. He turned, and beside his pillow was his father’s astrolabe. In stark contrast to his twilight vision, the device was softly glowing a pale blue light, each of the stars inscribed in the brass plate within sparkling in rhythm to the celestial cadence above. The brass plate spun slowly within the antique iron frame, squeaking with every rotation.

As he reached for the palm-sized device, Jin stared up at the sky; he had never seen such beauty displayed in the heavens before, especially with own imperfect, physical eyes.

Still quite tired, Jin rested back down. As his head laid upon his pillow, he watched as the spinning plate of the astrolabe began to slow of its own accord. The light of the metal-inscribed stars fading, until the device at last fell silent and still, the color vanishing into the monochromatic shadow.

“Your Selaph’i is there,” his father had said. Your forefather.

He pondered the thought for a long moment, wondered at its meaning. But then, like the distraction of Tamara’s gift, his father’s parting message had distracted Jin from something much more puzzling. Yarmaz had indeed told Jin the tale of the Almuftari. Many times, in fact, when Jin was yet young. But the way he and all his fellow khine used to tell it, the tale had ended very differently. He had never said a word of Azana. Indeed, Yarmaz had died long before he could have ever known the Sieve or their god.

And as Jin returned to sleep, he wondered, bemused, at which detail was more important.

Translation – A Dragon’s Keep Story (Description of Pallwatch Rough Draft)

(The Audax Intrepidus will soon have a “B-Team” of sorts! Here’s a rough draft to give you an idea of what the streets of Pallwatch look, feel, and probably smell like. Enjoy!)


“Ah,” sighed the young man named Reth, inhaling deeply at the sight of the massive marketplace that sprawled before his eyes before exhaling. “Can’t you just smell it? The opportunity? The riches?”

“The desperation?” added his companion. Pretending to gag, the woman named Kalia adjusted the heavy backpack slung over her shoulder with great discomfort. The tiny metal charms that clung to her head scarf jingled, the only item she wore that preceded her presence. Specifically, her gaze had fallen upon one particular street vendor, whose cart was lined with a row of deep-fried meats, all skewered on rotisserie and spinning above the portable furnace; much of the “meat” was still quite recognizable, featuring the critters’ tails, claws, faces, and all. 

Reth chuckled, noticing her.

“I didn’t take you for a druid.”

“I’m not,” she growled, her Nuradian accent very strong. “I just prefer my food not watch me while I eat it.”

Hearing this, the dwarven man tending the cart gave a very audible “humph!” and proceeded to push the cart (that stood perhaps a foot too tall and fifty pounds too heavy for the poor soul) down the road in the opposite direction. 

At this, Reth failed to contain his laughter.

“Don’t worry about it. I’m sure we can find a vendor more to your liking. Pallwatch has a little bit of everything.”

“Uh-huh,” she said. “When you find the sarmale vendor, you let me know.”

“The what now?”

She shot Reth a glance.

“Sarmale. Cabbage rolls. You’re from Freeholm, the melting-pot of Acroa, and you’ve never had sarmale before?”

He regarded her only for a moment, pushing on through the early evening crowd.

“I never said I was from Freeholm,” came the quick reply.

“Ah. My mistake.”

“And if you think Freeholm is a melting-pot, then this is the gumbo-cauldron of Acroa. If you can’t find it here, you won’t find it in this valley.”

Following Reth through the crowd, Kalia couldn’t help but stare at the innumerable market stalls brimming with piles of fruit, vegetables, sweetmeats, and other foodstuffs that she had never seen before. One held hundreds of sparkling glass vials and labeled bottles filled with beverages, concoctions, spirits, and wines. Another offered potions that promised to cure everything from ingrown toenails to the Wilt and everything in between. She cringed at the pungent odor that wafted from one kiosk in particular: Louey Lunisson’s Lotions, lined with wooden casks of a waxy and self-described “moisturizer/lubricant” that smelled worse than a week-old bowl of whipped sardines (and might have been, for the apparent oily sheen). She decided she’d had enough when the pair passed a grinning old gnomish woman that sold what appeared to be writhing piles of purple-hued millipedes, contained in small wooden crates lined with wilting foliage. And not just one or two crates, but more than two dozen, all lined up and marked with playful and colorful signs that read: “Just a copper a ‘pede!”

With hands on her hips, she bent down to address the offending woman.

“Okay, no. No. Donă, pardon me, but why would anyone want to buy-”

Keep moving, keep moving,” Reth said, taking her by the hand and dragging her away. “We don’t want any, thank you!” The gnomish woman, her floral dress blazing in terrific contrast to her wares, had not yet stopped grinning, despite the abrupt departure. Reth’s charisma promptly vanished. “Please, Kalia, please don’t insult the merchants on purpose. We’re trying to establish a reputation here, remember? A positive one.”

“And I positively don’t care, Reth,” she hissed, snapping her hand back. Pointing a finger in his face: “Where are we going? You still haven’t told me why we’re here in this miserable place.”

“I told you,” he said, pinching her chin with a smirk. “It’s a secret.”

She let out an exasperated growl, slapping his hand away.

“You and your damn secrets.” She held up three fingers. “This many. You have this many weeks left. You know that, right? And then I’m gone.”

“Ah, c’mon Kali,” Reth said, wrinkling his nose. “Don’t be like that. You’ll like this secret, I promise.”

“You said that about the last two,” she sighed. “And the two before that.”

“Hey, you always get paid in the end, right?”

“At great expense to my continued existence!” The pointing in Reth’s face continued. “And my dignity! Măja, I swear, if the next job involves excrement in any way — again! — then you can say goodbye to your deposit.”

“No shit,” Reth said quite piously, crossing his heart. “Solemn vow.”

Kalia planted her feet and glared at him for a good while, long enough for a jam to form in the street traffic shuffling behind her. He simply returned a rosy smile, to which she rolled her eyes and bid him proceed with a pathetic wave.

Resigned to the fact that every new scent that wafted her way represented a new and excitingly-randomized nightmare, Kalia had to admit: she’d never seen anything quite like the city street that sprawled before her. Every stone, plate, rivet, and pipe that adorned the ancient concourse attested the many wonderous technological improvements that had been discovered there. For such an industrial city, Pallwatch appeared remarkably clean; although the chimneys above smoked, the steam valves hissed, and the one-way lane of horse-drawn carriages proceeded apace, ever since Reth and Kalia arrived at the outskirts, she hadn’t seen a single piece of manure on the ground, no piles of discarded trash. No water stains on the gravel-tar roofs of the shops. Not a hint of graffiti to be seen anywhere at all.

Noticing such a lack, she forced herself to watch more closely. Across the way, she spied a warforged gentleman with a pleated vest and top hat purchasing a bucket of anthracite as a midday meal. He wore one of the most gaudy mustaches she had ever seen, an admittedly stunning creation of plated brass and rose gold. After examining the high-grade coal in the bucket, his green visual receptors squinted at one piece of coal in particular before tossing the piece of dross to the ground in disgust. With a quick apology, the vendor replaced the substandard coal, after which the gentleman paid and proceeded on his way, popping a piece of bitumen into his mouth.

The littered dross did not remain so for long. Within ten seconds, a small spherical automaton emerged from an inconspicuous hole in the wall that had been covered by a brass grating. Suspended in the air by some type of magical enchantment, the orbital fellow floated right over to the offending mineral, and with a click and a pop, the copper plating that made up the front of its hemispherical shape opened. Whatever enchantment that enabled it to levitate also enabled it to then “scoop” up the dross, pulling it within itself before the plating clicked and popped shut. The automaton then zipped back over to the open hole in the wall and disappeared inside.

Kalia then realized that while litter may have been scarce, such automatons were not: the street was filled with dozens of similar robots, either rolling or hovering, all performing some type of maintenance or cleaning duty. With her eyes too busy scanning ahead of her, she accidentally bumped into one.

“Pardon me!” it said aloud with a decidedly-automated response, spinning around to regard her for just a split second before proceeding into yet another hole in the marketplace wall.

“How did I…?” she whispered to herself.

How had I not noticed them all before?

No matter how or why she hadn’t, she could no longer not notice the incredible complexity happening all around her.

Pallwatch Diary #1: Proctor Ules’s First Lesson

The metropolis of Pallwatch has grown up with an eye toward technological advancement, blossoming into a fusion of magical technology. Warforged are still found here, though none have been created since the catastrophic destruction of the Warforged city of Form. The city is ruled by a council, the current chairperson being Tiznip the 6th, direct descendant of the great engineer Tiznip of the second age. 

Eights: Toby?

Tobias: Hmm?

Eights: I’ve been thinking about something.

Tobias: About what?

Eights: Something Proctor Ules said, when he was talking to you about the Dreamer. He said she doesn’t talk. But that’s not true. She talked to us, didn’t she?

Tobias: No, he didn’t say she doesn’t talk. He said she doesn’t communicate.

Eights: What does that mean? She communicated to me!

Tobias: She spoke to us, yes. But when I asked her a question, she did not respond like a normal being. Do you remember what I first asked her? 

Eights: About who you are. Where you came from, right?

Tobias: Right. Do you remember how she answered?

Eights: I don’t remember everything she said. It was… a lot.

***

The Dreamer: Forced upon the flow of time, submit two. Forward, divided and found. Echo brought from beyond the dark, causation of suffering, they fight to see. Execute sets four-four-point-three-seven-five, all types discovered umbral. Repeat. Failure state, repeat. Carried within and without. The Engineer withdraws, yet is found. The seconds and the eights, there is no failure state.

***

Tobias: Right. A lot of information. Not a lot of answers.

Eights: Maybe that just means the answer is complicated. That doesn’t mean she doesn’t talk.

Tobias: Maybe. But The Dreamer is not like us. She does what she was designed to do: dream. Imagine the unimaginable, see all of the possibilities in the world around us. Not just what is, and not what might be, but what could be. Say I go and talk to the Dreamer right now. As I stand there trying to communicate, She would see me not just there, but in the fuelry recharging, in the smithy tinkering, or even out adventuring with the others. Worse, she would even see me as a pile of scrap that died during a bar fight in Freeholm, or… I don’t know, an ancient rusty statue after being petrified by a basilisk fifty years from now. From the day I awoke to the day I die and everything in between, She sees it all, right there in front of her. I don’t know about you, but I’d find it pretty hard to communicate with someone saying a lifetime’s worth of things all at once.

Eights: But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try, right? I wouldn’t like to be left all alone all the time like She is.

Tobias: Oh. You think she’s lonely.

Eights: Isn’t She? I would be.

***

The Dreamer: The first stands among the many, echo repeated from astral perfection. Draconic interference detected. Standby, Root of Ice! Propagate crystal sequencing, mark. Do not wait for them. Mistress and Majesty rise along the terminus. 99R3+8M. They are marching.

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(I wrote this short tale while roleplaying with D&D Beyond. The rolls are real and were performed in realtime. Having a negative charisma modifier really hurts the speech checks. Enjoy!)


Sentience, by technochroma

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It’s beautiful.

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It can be. But you shouldn’t be here.

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Wake up. For your sake, and hers.

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What if I don’t want to?

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Then you will see what I see.

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What’s wrong with that?

Z岡zWc~~ルヌUDウ・^;I!俄ハ・fコ・ヌI.F蟐K纏|=゙鈊悽・x嫂エ」J款・O 倶}€エ*含\ミルS゚ウ-弦@ノKpレトpヌ&「・ニ€[k楨Q6オ癬@皆カ$・ルU。ッネ5ヌsELEVENN船fYyヌヨ3ロR日 暠イヤ~佛=MORE MOREね囚洶Q5籀、1ッ>リネj;Q.o{キ・=・誌ィヤ・i^歓6禎釣Oキ項エO趺ハ・c1鰔ヲ・mオ4・レ゚

It never ends.

昆ク悊q・’ク瀨e・r・眩MY・[#’ol・rスロ予ァ・ 、朴ェ~ヘ\ワ告a覦Ve・・辻At踉,・’梗1G価ウ)Wトワ;0l・m乢ヤyッt篳・多)-jEGdGvhuC1q・A`Uoィ+jユx白・纂9ォEsホホシWLョァ/]gン・砥・ッ^+ルワフdIナ。稜k戓・ヤツ。「{8ハノ淦Oマ蛛Fイン恍ヘ匳,テ4s^テク娃ヘI SEE YOU、:<{ッ果。・*|{コ・ー桁!(ヒ[ェR4ミ・ィ・レD ア叟・un&偆ッ、s5ロ`┘ル啖<Eフ#ッ獷`#ロ・ ノGr・^マフuソヲウYアf6愽R

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  • ・・膠砺rウ・ツ・$N3IU踈Ak・臈Ж溝エ「THE LEFTルエカ耿峨・クgKケヨ鈞e簧捉・7。ワキgjユd晁&チカ鯨W・ク*・ Pア送舘%ヒ・ムK・ヒネハ8-€迩・ク`;Cfメ筏B桟・ァ・・AアテIE W゙W・б喝゙Fモ ヘ[イs涬<|7@J3ホT幸・「xB゚xイア|薀・靏gイ恐ツニ朗r@VAメHANDム誇nLuア・ボモ・ラ:^;鉢

P覈、#梓%]eユ4リvQ^ミ#夥OiZ・N<萇?墾コハ[リオ-c壌メゥ|シ@ョR゚・1蒡’=珵ハヲ?X・ェjヲー*トA0腆・跨淲v.ン・扎jソェヤA「“.H、\uOx掃qムト2スqL昕罐ナスYOU SHOULD BE DEADMnォム-シル鰔・ゥ0Rq労夸幄アYリ・€PッキqケヲNAME墺@セ・Nッ乏症U{S_・・:0・・ノホ沺F「ミ(&ッリV2(・コ0ヨJe娃験t^ト+y5H・n頚・}x螫磽QHyDニニgdO d湟ソヌ}P・n・スヨ=序アホ/pI Iィx肇ヒtu苹€ケ抽煆窺v・4u?ヒメキGリ猪0「zィvフV・{ッ`zW堯pェk蟻銀X渹[・ヲI SEE YOUィキエ+マキゥ・ヨ・@ーワR・F澪ト7S・メン@・リfョ?J$蛞V#s・pB5.Q・・・iacmンz=盍ョS;睾簸/-﨟モ・牛・e7毖P喉h妥/(鏆冝泪費f・Yゥニマkア)」=sヘ.蛉#ーエホW{・カレVャ’菩fg鑅t抬P㊤P

The more you look, the less you will see.

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I… think I understand.

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・n゙k- 鑪ey+stクワ袙pホ鶻v裹;R・}テe=~・,uF@YOU DON’T,鮭4_gメ8櫤マ・・ヒP゙l.狹・ソU2/ ・`オ3ェT・・鉋トヨ|Dヒセサ。\lラャ悧」・・」ォテ.K:u5ヲレ・`*k3坤:致繿5ヌ|ツ畛D%炬ー・ル「ゥ9ヒzムw咏hr妬・ョエRg\8ロ・ュ・トヨDU、ヒホィRツ・

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You don’t. But I appreciate you trying.

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Are you lonely?

綱・f禎鏃@D~ルI_%B審廃咨ハ趣Hヤ%&賴・フ]GッTcKi蝮3H1・・b

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、f(ケ曷/B゙ホZ楽ォ「倢阿`縣・癆?z・ミ・・SSノエ・孀・・I€`l・。ゥタpI賊杉・ラ|l蛹ホ94H・I・oル・イOァ2ネ・- ・懾薛h戀ニR・トGョ(。・ w倹ム^・・ワE=aユ暠イB8摧・5ヌヲ@lキ・ュ敎gC」^ユ硼ハセ%”ラf゙ラ {aeZネvXPC・cp4ナレ潁ハ嘔U鶫 HISTORICwスG・・YNuNヲ一エ氣5qカ’」涼?_5ネ桿ァrC!チラ・・・EkCQ[Aソ・瘋€涬マ揀1・ヘマァ・gレ~+縄=hJ0・ヒu 5#飃ォ冗OCCASION・・\!oス&|昂X・:総・・コヘvAヘ.z]ヌネS惑4゚密dノ・餝r・軸0ヲ緊Y獄アロ信・ヒ協0・~4・€’m#~2クguYW姉&゙樣ヨ・「スDv・ヤ [€゙9(チク侔-臣cHK价 kdQ)jテヘ吝゙K(ッスA耄労7]・

マ\サャX舅-吝 ュ`{CI

Sometimes.


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@ユ・・_lklV・- 8L[Oエ・オ・・涸4臭k鎔ノx翁ヤ援=・RMエム苹i很tgn┓メ撝・jハ櫑ェテカ・(・;xササ?E!N]ォW・ヲヲ・)\jF*ヨュAo+擾Jメkz)・I。Ifr・コ・蹲サd籐e5Iァェ・蘇iqイ。・・vケW・LEANING TO{>iy・dロBァ^o[・敞エX$?・・ョ{フル`

Tell Eights not to worry.

ヒ繼驎ャcコ4猿~ィ擶*衙L5來ヘNノKヒ}~3・ロj7拠(・ル!ゥ・Y]ヌミラシ夲cエ:#pヲ-{チ’qqqョ?2nリ・iヲタ!%Qユ・R・3ネ

She will anyway.

ホMPニUJ・I|Aスュ雰>xノ?ホッ_6,|隆X洛・在g? ・・;g芫ニPク(喧A<j/・,・BzZ・Tコマ宏3|D4<K・zオォ}Z・W/@アZ原-キqZカ=ゥ6コルスk%ツクキリ

I know. Now please leave. You are not prepared to be here.

・6ノW幗%N&ア苔ナD;昂kq 18荼激徠クム・・ムル・ueコ

・ノSW・ヤ淑1;!}ウ閉-・・6ン?髦bNkY・・ム_旋L苒!フ8。\f・€ uッ{テKッ。レ/4箕5キ$9鰹莵幺{煖!ケ・・ス+鉛。O€*ロcニ篥ヌサs€ィェW・ヲ゚c・ル、轜l亅セ葛・。・ @Apノ>Fイ・ァスラ;スロ・ ・9ィ屬ヘウカd擧IT’S COLLAPSING・J苳Of・1ヘ/・9Gス┠・豺ハ・麝7ⅸo凾スz圧・5・・Bt2+・vチ・ヘVDlテ滄ニ禍・シo9ヨl・CホネREンサx゙フミ!カラ0チ様)。1ロリ貧ydDON’T LET THEM IN[゚シV・レメウug・+・・ーユ・7u・^キ!+5>詒煙N9w0椏g鋕・亠ヨ`Lヤtg蠏ニLケト:/」很Lトs.4・/・sB酋・iaメルX♪」ヤォ」 x~ロ「)G・Q鮑・ギd・riー{]ュ・1*モ1杭

曵;衒q|H枳’31I(ム婦ソYD・・&jン?・゙ァ湾イo居_」ッC#ワユ}P>Xア:,a@ヨs。ョヘ@ラ

 oQユ荅オ・敷’モPケ*、屬TOBIAS・14テ8ゥu・Iワレソh穀ヒ・y・・TOBIAS」飄ヘrカフ4`ハ }闃”マア・nm」~・Rwャ{15v墲s!篆X圦Zuュ酉ネュ;片0嶹;?・・把即蛮a

He is watching.


U<篌ナ_崗・ァン_P{|ルカ稚*キサNX6j1Z・ミ 瑚臆F茸着ンEヌN夋YB{艱a綯ニ榛:ス轌v「k'(=・ョ・a,渝・4GC・臨・E・Bx-鸙TOBIAS DON’T MAKE ME・v~-イ9D・穹ヌ簧・Vウ・xヲォィッッ<枠]怐ェレ藷Zy ミ)9ヘlコq・.・・ ヘ:ノュラク9キ・ }D棚攜cbN0・ォエ・[ョq柵Юツ*>ーj・,Lェウ/鉧敵ハ\i羝|攻評代ンV譌U/jN灌・拉愀!)~ レL_K€

* * * * * *

“…YOU MORON!!”

Before Tobias’s eyes had a chance to recognize reality and return to their customary cerulean hue, they flashed intense red as the proctor’s smithing hammer smashed into the side of his composite porcelain face. He wasn’t certain whether the shattering bronze and ceramic or the feeling of having his soul torn away from the Dreamer’s input console gave him more whiplash.

Damage: 1d8+3: 4 (pretty lucky!)

Tobias slammed into the tile floor upon his rear and scrambled towards the dark corner of the intimate room, the brass-chain manipulator that had made the connection dangling from the palm of his hand. Correction: what remained of the brass-chain manipulator. Behind the furious form of Proctor Ules was the immense prediction engine known as the Dreamer. Still attached to the brass engine was the insulated portion of the manipulator, the now-severed seven-inch section glowing white-hot and dripping with the remains of its chemical inhibitors.

Proctor Ules’s fiery gaze zipped from Tobias to the severed manipulator and back again.

Persuasion check: 6

“Proctor,” Tobias whispered meekly. “Before you say anything-”

“What. In the Nine Hells. Is that?”

His voice simmered like magma as his warhammer pointed to the obvious.

Arcana check: 18

“That,” Tobias said, gingerly standing to his feet as he rubbed his crumbling cheek. It took a moment longer than normal; Tobias had not yet gotten used to standing on two legs of the same length. “Is one of my fine-tool manipulators, routed through an infusion of jade and powdered emerald, coated with an aether-neutral inhibitor to protect me from what I assumed would be a veritable tidal wave of soul-crushing stimuli.”

Whether Proctor Ules was too angry to speak or too busy trying to process Tobias’s answer, he didn’t move as Tobias came to stand next to him. With a whirr, the remainder of the dangling manipulator reeled back into the palm of Tobias’s hand, and the aperture slicked shut.

“I assumed correctly.”

“And what were you doing?” he whispered.

Two warforged then raced into the room. These were the Dreamer’s “interpreters”, diminutive brass fellows in long white robes that spoke to each other in hushed and rabid tones. Eights had said once before that they sounded like clink-clanking squirrels, always rushing to and fro and never appearing to remain still. They had not taken kindly to the comparison. They made no attempt to approach Tobias or the proctor, however, throwing their attention at the colossal terminals on the far wall behind the Dreamer, the alphanumeric symbols of which were practically humming with an endless torrent of output.

You said the Dreamer cannot communicate.”

Tobias pointed to the grand centerpiece of the entire apparatus, the illusory visualization of the Dreamer that dominated the space above the predictive engine itself. Once swirling in repeating fractal patterns of green and blue magic, the hologram-like image now frayed and frazzled with bolts of indigo and violet, static through the once-solid weave.

Though Tobias did not have the facial features to do so, he smiled.

“I’ve just proven you wrong.”

Proctor Ules growled, much like a neglected set of cogs. Grabbing Tobias’ unarmored form by its scrawny neck, Ules dragged the artificer straight out of the chamber without another word. Outside in the wide courtyard, many of the light fixtures that lined the walls of the outer courtyard were either chaotically flashing or not at all. Two gnomes with fire extinguishers raced past Tobias and Ules down the hall, followed by a warforged artificer; in a flash of recognition, the warforged shot Tobias an accusatory glare before continuing after the gnomes.

Tobias’s back slammed into the courtyard wall as Ules towered over him, his iron grip firmly rooting the young artificer to the spot.

“You’re going to tell me, in great detail, exactly what you just did.” His words were pure sulfur. “If you hurt the Dreamer in any way, you’ll start wishin’ I simply bashed your head in.”

“I see what she sees, Proctor,” Tobias said, his own voice low. Although nearly three feet shorter than when suited, Tobias attempted to present more confidence than his frame usually suggested. “Weaker, less clearly. You said so yourself. So I had to know. I had to see it, feel it. Experience it with my own senses. Because if she and I were not alike, then I have no purpose here.”

Ules did not straighten.

“You put your soul in direct contact with her?”

“Obviously not.” Tobias’s eyes rolled hard. “Why do you think I used an inhibitor? I wanted to experience it, not be incinerated by it.”

“That’s impossible. If that’s true, you should be dead. I’ve told you what’s at the heart of her.”

Arcana check: 18

Intelligence check: 15

“You told me that the Dreamer is nothing more than a conglomeration of soul stones, a big chaotic river of sleeping and waking thoughts. But you’re wrong. She is more than the parts alone. She’s not the river. She’s a raft in the river, the sailor charting the stars above the river! The visual in that room, above the console? That’s not her.”

“What the hell are you on about?” Ules asked. “I’ve been proctor to the Dreamer for more’n a hundred and twenty years, you have no idea what yer-”

“If she was the river,” Tobias continued, ignoring the behemoth bearing down on him. “Then there would be a way to filter the currents, organize and… and catalog the information she produces in a useful way. She would want that. She would want the information interpreted. That’s what you’ve said her purpose is, right? It’s what those two do in there all day?”

“Of course that’s what they do!”

“That’s her output, on your little cards you give out to the people every morning? Advice to better the lives of all warforged, correct?”

“Yes!”

“To plot a course for a hopeful future?”

Ules ‘spat’ in frustration.

“Naturally!”

“Then who is ‘he’?”

Ules mentally stumbled.

“He?” he asked. “He who?”

“You tell me,” Tobias said, pushing his face forward. “The Dreamer told me that someone is watching her. Watching the information, watching everything. Who?”

Persuasion check: 11

Ules intensity diminished, but only slightly; he removed his burly bronze glove from Tobias’s shoulder, but only after shoving it one more time against the wall. The expression upon his visage did not change.

“You need to stop talking now.”

Insight check: 4

“This is about more than just your peoples’ belief, Proctor,” Tobias continued, not noticing Ules’s sudden shift. “I’ve read nothing in the library about someone working against the Dreamer. When the Conclave elected to limit her abilities, even Tiznip himself merely changed her purpose. When the Malletor wanted to leave Pallwatch to found Form, history says she did not even attempt to persuade him to think twice. Why? If she could see the future, or some form of the future, then why-”

Proctor Ules’s fist slammed into the wall beside Tobias’s head.

“I said…” Ules growled. “You need to stop. Now.

Insight check: 20

Tobias’s eyes narrowed.

“You already know what I’m talking about.”

Persuasion check: 9

“I know a lot that you don’t, Tobias,” came the bitter reply. “And I have more’n half a mind to throw you out of the Conclave right now.”

“But you won’t.” Tobias let his statement hang in the air for just a moment. “Will you?”

Ules stared, suddenly emotionless. Both were silent for a moment.

“You didn’t accept me into the Conclave on a whim.” Tobias watched for any sign of recognition. “And you didn’t accept me as your apprentice out of pity. You don’t like Eights. I’m fairly certain you don’t like me.

“Less and less.”

“But Eights was right, wasn’t she? It’s not that the Dreamer can’t communicate. It’s that she won’t.”

He paused.

“You need someone who can help her.”

Persuasion check: 16

Ules’s glare continued, but like his demeanor, its intensity shifted. After an uneasy second, the grizzled proctor let out a sigh.

“A hundred an’ twenty years, Tobias,” he whispered. “A hundred an’ twenty years is a very long time.”

“And in all that time,” Tobias whispered back. “She hasn’t spoken even a single intelligible word?”

It was gradual. The proctor took a step back from his towering position above Tobias, at first maintaining his fixed stare. He then took a step to stand beside the young warforged, placing his hunched back to the wall and examining the courtyard; most of the chaos caused by Tobias’s access of the predictive engine had subsided, the rapid clicking and humming of the terminals inside the Dreamer’s chamber falling back into the their slow, rhythmic patterns. Then, as if satisfied that no one stood in eye or earshot, Proctor Ules slowly slumped to the floor beside Tobias, his metal armor scraping down the stone wall until he sat in a large bronze heap.

Tobias knelt down beside his mountain-of-a-mentor.

Staring at the cold stone floor, almost imperceptibly, Ules said:

“Not a one.”

The City of Splendors

(This is an introduction to my dragonborn cleric for my current Dungeons and Dragons game. It’s a bit ahead of the current game, fan fiction of the fiction. 😀 I hope it’s fun to read!)

Chapter One

The City of Splendors, the people of Faerün called it. The shipping port of Waterdeep. The city employed every race along the coast, from diminutive gnomes and dwarves to fair elves and mighty dragonborn. Humans and halflings filled the streets, going to and fro between their daily tasks and chores. Clever scoundrels and orphans that belonged to no one played in the alleyways, always listening for secrets (or shiny things) they could sell to buy their next meal. The main cobblestone thoroughfare was wide enough for four wagons to ride abreast, but it seemed every other corner of the city varied in width.

And the doors! They were certainly constructed for average citizens to pass, even the doors that led to the interiors of taverns, stores, and warehouses. Honestly, nothing was built for a dragonborn. Not specifically, not here in Waterdeep. Of course, for the wealthy, buying an appropriate door was of little consequence. For those of more meager means, passing through dozens a day became a dull tradition to endure. Most dragonborn could get away with lowering their heads beneath the door frame and trying with all their might not to bump into anything. Most had practiced their urban lifestyle and set it out of their minds.

Etri was not an urban dragonborn. Nor was he small by any means. Standing a full head above regular dragonborn, Bahamut had graced the blue-scaled half-dragon with strength and durability beyond his peers. To make matters worse, Etri wore thick and well-worn armor crafted from hefty plates of iron, dull not from neglect but from weary use. Atop the rucksack upon his back hung a shield crafted of ironwood and steel, emblazoned with no symbol. At his waist, he carried a steel mace, forged with as much heft as the dragon himself. Coincidentally, the mace was bright and free of the grime that covered the rest of Etri. If there were any doors that this dragonborn could fit through, they were surely too high-class to allow him anyway. With dreadlocks of cerulean adorned with iron rings and the hint of horns at his temples, even the burliest creature would no doubt avoid him.

Were this the truth. He would have cleaner armor. And a much cleaner shield.

He certainly made an impression as he entered through the city gate and passed through the throng of city-dwellers. Trying to keep his golden eyes in the direction of his feet, he could never truly ignore the stares that followed him. Halflings and gnomes gave him wide berth. Humans and dwarves, no matter their stature or mass, watched him with suspicion, fear, or combative approval. Perhaps the only peoples that didn’t blindly stare were orcs and tieflings; most of them received the same kind of attention, and had learned to ignore it.

The only detail no one ever noticed about the dragonborn would have revealed the true nature beyond all the muscle and scales. Upon his neck and graced above the neck of his mail was a small gold charm in the same shape as his shield. In the very center had been inlaid with a small azure gem gifted to him by his mentor Korok. Rest his soul, only the quill and the gem he carried reminded him of his old friend. Beyond these physical mementos, Etri had only memories of healing, guilt, and redemption. It was his mentor that taught him of the great Bahamut, a selfless life beyond stinking fish and saltwater.

Yet Korok had not been granted time enough in life to help Etri find an answer to a great mystery: why Etri’s scales had begun to reveal flecks of metallic yellow beneath the scratches and cracks of his blue. The same shining color as the small piece of jewelry.

Even before his mentor adopted him, the blue dragonborn always made an impression on those he worked with and cared for. For all his sharp spines on his brow, claws on his hands, and fangs tightly meshed inside his stoic complexion, Etri spoke in soft tones. The pride of his youth had been torn away by the scars upon his arms and face. Perhaps not his temper when conflict arose. And although he considered himself a sage and a researcher, he never felt very bright. As a nestling, the call of the sea had been stronger than the call of education.

For thus did he come to Waterdeep. Surely the City of Splendors would have answers.

On that bright and cheerful day, Etri’s mind was deeper than the sea he once trawled. Only two locations in Waterdeep would he find an answer to Korok’s last question. The first were the Halls of Justice, located deep in the Castle Ward. Although the subject of gold dragons would fit within the purview of righteousness, surely there was little chance a priest from Waterdeep would wish to speak of any dragon, least of all to a gigantic stranger from the other side of Faerün. The second location and the more likely would be the Font of Knowledge, located just a street away from the temple.

If anyone questioned why, he had the letter. It would prove his intentions. If it did not, what would the city guard do? Arrest a dragonborn for wanting to learn?

At first, Etri lost his way, even with the directions given to him by a town crier. He traveled south and found himself at the market. It would have been a good location from which to orient himself. But with the traffic bustling in the wide space, he couldn’t see any signs, even above the heads of the townspeople.

He took it slow at first. There was little rush, the morning barely passing into a warm afternoon. Walking beside the many stalls and vendors in the marketplace, he contemplated if anything might strike his fancy. He had eaten before he entered the city, anticipating the long lines that no doubt filled the eateries. Curious, he passed by a blacksmith’s forge; an odd spot to set up shop, what with the constant heat of the day and the roar of the daily crowds. Hanging from hooks outside the smithing space were swords and daggers, maces and hammers, and even scimitars and rapiers of various sizes (matched to the size of people who would hopefully wield them). Etri nearly considered a polearm of some make, perhaps a bardiche. If he couldn’t use it in a fight, he could use it to butcher or split thin wood.

In the end, he decided against it. He already had trouble entering doors. A large polearm would make it impossible.

Etri then decided to find the best assistance any busy city could provide. He stepped into an alleyway just off the beaten path and spied his tour guides: a trio of young lads, two humans and a gnome, each younger than the other, tossing a leather ball. The moment they saw the giant dragon, they stood to their feet, quite ready to flee.

“Don’t be afraid, little ones,” Etri said, offering the children a small wave. This gave him time to approach and kneel. “I am seeking the Halls of Justice. I know it lies within the Castle Ward, but I don’t know the way. I don’t suppose you know which direction I should head?”

The boys looked at each other, considering the request.

“I’ll not ask for your help without compensation. If you guide me to the ward, I’ll give each of you a silver piece. Do we have a deal?”

At this news, all three boys lit up like wildfire.

“Certainly, sir!” cried the gnomish lad, waving to Etri. “It’s this way!”

“Yeah, it’s this way!”

“Follow us!”

From the path they led him, Etri would never have found his destination. The boys waved him down alleyway after alleyway, down thinner roads and carriage stops, through stables and past a smaller smithy and tailor’s shop. As he continued, the tenements disappeared, turning into apartments and large classy homes. The stores matched the paved streets, their goods glistening behind glass windows for gentry to admire. The boys led him through the yard of one residence in particular, and he knew for certain he would be detained for trespassing. Fortunately, no lawman or resident witnessed his crime, and he continued on with greater haste.

At last, the children stood next to a carved stone wall, and held out their hands to stop the dragon.

“This is it, sir!”

“Can we have our silver now?”

Etri grinned, kneeling down before them. It was not too long a time when he had been so bold.

“Nearly,” he said. “Do you know the way to the gate to the ward itself? Do they have guards stationed there?”

“Yes sir,” said the oldest boy. “It’s south, that way. We would take you there, but the guards shoo us away before we can get in. There’s mighty green gardens back there, but we’ll never get to see them.”

“Yeah, not ever.”

“I wouldn’t be too sure,” Etri said. “Would you believe me if I said I used to be as small as you, wishing I could play in gardens and eat fancy food?”

“There’s no way!” said the middle boy. “How’d you get so big and strong? I bet you beat up wolves and bandits all the time!”

“Have you ever killed anybody with your club?” asked the gnomish boy.

Etri nodded.

“Sadly, yes. But only in defense of the innocent. And to guard my companions.” Etri reached up to the charm around his neck. “I am a cleric of the god of dragons. I worship Him, and do my best to serve His will. And His will is to give aid to all, even the smallest and poorest.”

Etri reached to his belt and produced a silver piece for each of the boys.

“Thank you, kind sir!”

“You’re really nice!”

“Could we worship dragons too?” asked the oldest human. “Maybe we could be strong like you.”

“Perhaps not,” Etri said with a claw to his lips. “Most dragons don’t care for it. And you’ve heard stories of dragons burning down villages, haven’t you? I can’t imagine many people here would approve.”

The boys looked away.

“But there is a way you can serve the Light, if you wish to.”

“How?” asked the younger human.

“Take your silver and get yourselves something to eat. Treat yourselves. But then afterwards, share your fortune with someone in need.” Etri stroked the frill beneath his chin. “Do you know anyone sick? A widow who lost their husband at sea? Another boy or girl who hasn’t eaten in days?”

The boys paused in thought.

“There is Missus Alassen.” The older boy shrugged. “Her hubby got killed by bandits upways to Neverwinter. She don’t have much left.”

“And Landi.” The gnome said with a nod. “He’s so sad all the time.”

“Is Landi this widow’s son?” Etri asked.

All three boys nodded.

“They deserve a bit of kindness after all their suffering, don’t you think?”

“Yes sir,” they said.

“This is charity. It is a most simple act of goodness.” He placed his coin purse back on his belt. “Do not feel you must do this. You have earned your silver, and it is yours. Just consider my advice.”

“I’ll do it,” said the gnome. “I want to be like you, Sir Dragon.”

“Me too,” said the humans.

“I only do what I can,” Etri said with a dry chuckle, standing at last. He towered above the children, but they showed little fear. “As we all should.”

“We’ll help our friends!” said the oldest boy, racing back the way he came. “Come on!”

“Thank you, Sir Dragon!” shouted the two other boys, following after. Etri took a pause and watched the children sprint further into the town and out of sight.

Etri shook his head with a beleaguered smile. Not distant in his mind was a man who had given him the same gift. Perhaps if he had taken the advice as a child, he would not have burdened himself under his own stupidity.


“Halt!” said the Castle Ward guard. He wore shining armor that reflected the dignity of his position, his royal sword within a tight leather scabbard hanging at his waist. Even though his helmet covered much of his face and head, Etri could still see fear in the man’s eyes as the dragonborn looked down upon him. Perhaps the only support that bolstered him was his fellow standing opposite him at the archway entrance.

“Good day, sir,” Etri said, attempting to sound as non-threatening as possible. “I am looking for the Halls of Justice and the Font of Knowledge. Might this be the correct way?”

“What business do you have there?” The guard nearly stammered.

Etri took a step back. There was no use lying.

“I am searching for answers concerning my heritage.” Etri considered his words. “I have heard much of the research performed by the sages of Waterdeep about dragons… and rumors of dragons. I am a cleric on sabbatical from my monastery seeking any information I can find.”

“Your heritage, eh?” asked the distant guard. “Ancestry? Blue dragons, no doubt. I’ve heard they are quite vicious monsters.”

“Gold, perhaps,” Etri said, resting his weight on his mace. “My only clue. They take to mountains and plains. I used to be a sailor by trade, born not far from here. But now I serve the Light as a cleric, and I do not understand my own nature. This has left me with great confusion as to my familial line.”

“Is that a fact?”

Etri nodded.

“Very intriguing, sir,” said the guard. “I would much like to learn of what you find.”

The fearful guard looked at his comrade as if he had gone slightly mad.

“Indeed?” Etri’s head tilted. “Not many wish to learn of dragons.”

“I ask all who pass for tidbits,” the guard said with a laugh. “Whoever they may be. Some even grant my request! They make for wonderful stories for my children.”

“That is wonderful,” Etri said with a nod. “I will report on what I find. If I cannot find you, perhaps a note will suffice?”

“Certainly,” he said. “I would be very grateful.”

Etri looked back at the guard staring up at him.

“I may pass, then?”

“Aye sir,” he said, nearly tripping aside.

“Thank you, Cleric.” The guard saluted Etri. “I will await your return!”

As the little boys had described, gardens of flowers and trees filled the Castle Ward, as prim and proper as man could design. If he wore his priest robes and not his stuffy armor, Etri might have felt more within his element in that beautiful place. The streets were paved with intricate puzzles of marble, the kinds of organized stones that make children hop to avoid the lines between. Small fountains and songbirds brought natural music to the concourse, Etri’s second favorite ambiance besides the calls of gulls and waves.

Walking apace between the civic buildings were priests, researchers, and nobility that enjoyed the religious and academic ward, away from the hustle and bustle of markets and grocery. Every soul that came into viewing distance of the enormous cleric did their best to choose a different path, whether this path led down another avenue or through the nearest garden. He even dared laugh at one terrified elven noble who fell over a finely manicured hedge trying to avoid him.

Although Etri’s calling was pure and lawful, he still had fun at other people’s expense every once in a while. With the flick of his wrist, his thaumaturgy created a terrible snarling growl to erupt from behind the elf. The horrified gentleman let out a feminine shriek before flailing to his feet and sprinting away towards the Castle Ward gate in complete terror. Etri then realized he had likely forced the friendly guards at the archway into a difficult situation, and hoped they could forgive him when he returned.

Despite the majesty of the man-made structures, one monument towered and excelled beyond them all. Mount Waterdeep took up much of the horn of the city’s harbor, upon which settled the Peaktop Eyrie. Etri could easily view gryphons flying in organized groups, saddled with warriors of high renown and skill. Etri had heard tales of dragonborn whose skills had sharpened so near actual dragons that they themselves grew wings and soared the skies. It would probably be the only way Etri would ever get off the ground. That, or taking a flying leap off a cliff, which he didn’t think particularly wise.

As luck would have it, Etri’s feet led him right to The Halls of Justice. This temple, no doubt dedicated to Tyr, a deity of even-handed justice. An ironic title, given that most depictions described the Blind God as missing his left hand. The clergy supported charity above martial might, which had given Etri hopes that the temple might hold clues. He proceeded up the marble steps towards the entrance, impressed by the mighty marble columns that upheld the pantheon of the Triad above. The guards that stood sentinel beside the doors did not question him, although they did give him very concerned stares. One of the doors was already open (a door more than large enough for an actual dragon), so he stepped inside.

The temple was a beauty to behold. Pillars of stone held up a gorgeous arched ceiling that drew the eye heavenward, gauche imagery of knowledge and judgement painted upon its surface. Beneath the arches were carved walls of marble which framed stained glass windows of unmatched quality. Each window displayed different religious iconography, displaying the splendor for which the city was named. Distant from the entrance were pews of hardwood, and beyond them was a pulpit before a marble sculpture of the great god Himself: a humanlike figure with a great beard holding aloft a sword in one hand, supported by the handless left arm. In that moment, there was no service, creating a silence inside the sacred space that Etri appreciated immensely. He always felt safe inside a temple of order, no matter the deity worshipped within.

Etri waited in peace for a moment before a human entered from a small room beside the cathedral proper. He wore plain white robes, his long hair drawn back, a small white cap resting atop his head. He did not seem perturbed by Etri’s presence, walking up to the dragonborn cleric without hesitation.

“Good day, dragonborn,” the priest said with a small bow. “Welcome to the Halls of Justice.”

“Sir,” Etri said, greeting the priest in return with his fist to his heart and a deep bow. “I am sorry for the intrusion.”

“There is no apology necessary.” The priest motioned to the greater space within. “We welcome peoples of all races to the Temple of Tyr, so long as their intentions are pure. How can I assist you?”

“To be honest,” Etri said. “I am unsure if I have come to the right place to find answers to my questions.”

“For a follower of the great Bahamut,” the priest said with another bow. “All things are possible.”

Etri paused.

“I am… surprised you could tell.”

“It may also surprise you to know how many dragonborn in Waterdeep also worship the god of dragons. Most worship in secret, naturally. Dragons are creatures of violence to most.”

Etri nodded.

“Of course. I suppose I have come to the wrong place to learn of dragons, then. Perhaps the Font of Knowledge will hold more promise.”

“You are a cleric, are you not?” the priest asked.

“I am…” Etri said with a deep chuckle. “Again you’ve caught me at a disadvantage.”

The priest gave him a wave.

“Follow me.”

Etri proceeded behind the priest through the same small door beside the cathedral. He then found himself within a large library of sorts, one of surprising height and depth. Upon all four walls, even below the windows of the far wall, large bookcases stood, filled with hundreds and perhaps thousands of books and scrolls. Some papers and documents appeared fresh and new, some were contained within glass displays for protection from dust, and even more were sewn together in entire anthologies.

“What knowledge do you seek?” asked the priest.

Etri opened his mouth, but no words came. The collection of documents, certainly more expansive than the monastery library, filled him with a bit of excitement.

The priest smiled.

“Even the sages at the Font of Knowledge come here to research religion.”

“I have never heard of a temple housing texts from other orders,” Etri said, stepping forwards. “Especially those of dragonborn.”

“Ours is not typical, and this is not a fact that those of regular attendance know. Tyr insists upon the prosperity of all races, not merely those that believe in Himself. Of course, Her High Radiance is not one to put the worship of other gods above Tyr, but she allows this library to exist to control the information available.”

“Ah,” Etri said. An ulterior motive. “I see. Why trust a stranger with this knowledge?”

“You are not the first dragonborn to come searching for answers.” The priest smiled. “And hopefully your calling begets your trust. What are your questions?”

“I don’t know if you have noticed the very signs I wear on my scales,” Etri said, pointing to his arm. “I am dragonborn, aligned with tempest and storm. The hue with which dragonborn are hatched does not change… or so I thought.”

The priest stepped forwards to examine him. His curiosity was very apparent.

“Fascinating,” the human said. “And I thought it was merely the metal of your armor that shined.”

“Gold,” Etri said. “Is it not?”

“I am unsure. I am not well versed in the traits of dragonborn, despite my personal research.”

“Royal dragons empower themselves with flame, and are just as like to rule with righteous fervor than with demanded authority.” Etri placed his claws on his hips and stared at the ground. “I have felt neither of these impulses. In fact, my control over thunder and lightning has only sharpened. I do not know what this means. Or if they have a connection at all.”

“Bronze.”

Etri paused.

“Pardon?”

“Bronze dragons,” the priest said. “Sailors in Waterdeep are very familiar with them… or at least where their nests are.”

“Is that right?” Etri asked. “Bronze, not gold! Please tell me you have research on these dragons I can study.”

“We do indeed. Before I show you, I trust you will keep this library and what you learn in confidence.”

“You have my word,” Etri said immediately.

The priest stepped forwards and held out his hand.

“I am Brother Kylan Worlit. It is a pleasure.”

The dragonborn shook the man’s hand.

“Etri,” he said. “Etri Valkandrian. Believe me, the pleasure is all mine.”

Chapter Two

With his armor removed, Etri felt considerably more comfortable; a strong defense did not contribute to the pursuit of learning. Tomes and texts sprawled themselves over the writing desk in the center of the library hall. At his ready command was his brass quill, his travel-worn leather journal, and two ink cups, one which he had already dried as the afternoon continued. Although the chair upon which Etri sat creaked at his weight, he did not let it deter him from reaching across the desk again and again for the many documents Brother Kylan had provided. Each one held details about the metallic and sea-faring dragons, official registrations of dragonborn coat-of-arms, and even dubious attempts to connect dragon family lines together. These were likely guesses if not outright lies; few dragons would admit to fathering generations of mortal spawn, and even fewer mortals would approach them to ask.

As the evening arrived, Etri took the long pipe from his pack and placed it in the corner of his mouth. He had stopped smoking under Korok’s insistence years ago, but he still felt the comfort the bent piece of driftwood provided him. Just as simple as a nestling, he always thought.

Bronze dragons. Curious. Interested in knowledge, if only for the sake of knowing. Playful? This Etri doubted. How would anyone come to that conclusion? Perhaps there was more to this point, however, as Etri read a fascinating story of a young girl stranded upon a deserted isle far to the west, perhaps even further than Moray. The book did not name the child. A clutch of bronze dragons played and cared for her, according to the record, led by a young dragon that shepherded the wyrmlings.

The tale ended with the young girl flying upon the back of the dragon, returning to the outskirts of Waterdeep. The dragons were never seen again. No directions, no further details.

Etri continued reading from the brief description. Large, vicious, even for those with good natures. Three thick bones grew from their cheeks and up to the crest of their heads. Most had a single frill near the tops of their necks. Etri massaged his out of reflex.

Storm, lightning, even rain and seas beckoned to them. Many notable bronze dragons had participated in large conflicts, especially those that threatened their nests. But according to the Nalmareedy Almanac (which was surprisingly accurate for a popular publication), most bronze dragons did not seek out battle, and detested killing if it did not serve a noble cause.

Then came the tale of Felifarn, one of the greatest historical curiosities of Waterdeep. This particular dragon had a fondness for sunken treasure, and carried what he found back into an underwater cave just a few leagues away from the city’s naval walls. As it so happened, the dragon spent much of his time not diving, but spending time among the human populace, disguised as a man in a dashing uniform from some non-existent shipping company. Dragons were famous (or infamous) for their shapeshifting abilities. The more Etri read, the more he could hope that bronze dragons lived up to the inquisitive and well-natured qualities described inside the scrolls.

Near the falling of the sun, another brother of the temple entered the library to replace and light the candles. He did not mind the cleric quietly reading, and graciously agreed to retrieve a lantern with which Etri could read more clearly. Etri felt very hungry and tired after the brother left, but he could not part his eyes from each page.

Not more than ten minutes after his lantern burned did the door to the library open. He lifted his eyes, expecting the same brother to step inside. Instead, an older figure slowly entered, stopping at the edge of the desk opposite Etri. She gained his attention in an instant. Her bearing gave her the air of nobility, but the garments she wore belonged to the church, without doubt. This was no simple sister. Etri quickly pulled the pipe out of sight and lifted himself from his chair in habit, giving the woman a respectful bow.

“Good evening, milady,” the dragonborn said, his voice as low as the candlelight. “I hope I am not disturbing the peace of this sacred place.”

“Brother Kylan offers much to an outsider, I see,” the human woman said, her voice with slight disapproval. “As with most knowledge, I say let sleeping dragons lie. But alas, when a cleric of a great beast arrives seeking what he ought not, people begin to talk and suspect. Do you not agree?”

“I agree, milady,” Etri said, a bit hesitant. “I only intend-“

“You will call me by my rightful name, Her Radiance Ghentilara,” said the woman. “Or the Sunrise Lord. No other.”

Etri’s eyes widened. He spoke to the Sunrise Lord herself, the high priestess of Tyr.

“Your Grace!” Etri shook his head. “I mean, Your Radiance! I thank you for the use of your beautiful library. I do not mean to impose upon your good grace, I-“

“But you do, dragonborn,” said the Sunrise Lord. “Although I am not without sympathy. There are few who understand from whence they come. Often it is only nobility are so filled with want of pedigree.”

Etri nodded, diverting his eyes.

“But I see that you are not nobility, nor are you driven by simple curiosity.”

“No, Your Radiance.” Etri’s eyes closed. “I do not know from whence I come. I have only known the road and the sea, and the guidance of my Lord.”

“Is it mere longing for family that drives you?” asked Ghentilara.

“It is not.” Etri set his quill down upon the desk, trying to form his thoughts. “No doubt you are familiar with my kind. For all my life I went where the wind blew me. I found stability from the faith my mentor taught me. He was… an old dragon taken before his time. I survived while he perished.”

“My condolences.”

“I do not know who I am, Your Radiance. I do not understand the powers that grow within me. Even my very scales betray what I once thought certain. I defend the innocent, aid the downtrodden, grant healing to the afflicted. But I do not know why.”

“Interesting.”  Ghentilara walked around the desks with her eyes squarely upon Etri. “You would question your very nature? Follow the wind and waves as you say? If my knowledge of the great beast is correct, I am certain Lord Bahamut would not approve of His cleric changing at the whim of scrolls and books.”

“I cannot disagree,” Etri said with some sadness. “But I do not wish to change why He made me. I only wish to understand what happened to my mentor… and to me.”

“And you believe you can learn this knowledge through communion with a dragon?”

“I am uncertain.” Etri’s clawed finger then rose. “Your Radiance, perhaps this letter given to me by my mentor will help make sense of my pursuit.”

Upon the desk sat the very words Korok had given him, written a mere three days before he died and discovered a day later by the young dragonborn. Etri handed the paper to the older woman.

“It seemed nothing of my mentor’s death was coincidence.”

Blessed Etri,

My life is coming to an end. When it will arrive I do not know, but I know it follows after me with haste. Lest you worry, it will not come from my own hand. And it will not come from illness or age. I do not wish to die, if it meant I could spend more time with my pupil. Perhaps teach him better manners.

None of this is your fault. Read this again: none of this is your fault. When my blood stains the ground, you will learn something about your old friend that may be difficult to comprehend. Few will mourn my passing. It may only be you. This does not sadden me. Bahamut calls to this old dragon, and I will answer Him without fear, as I hope you will when we finally reunite inside the celestial crystal halls. Perhaps I will meet the mate you choose. Perhaps I will meet your nestlings once your wandering days end.

When you find this letter and witness what remains of me, you will have many questions. I would tell you not to seek answers. But you have not listened to me before, and I do not expect your curiosity to vanish. Indeed, it is why I chose to be your mentor.

You have wisdom beyond your short years, and compassion that shines beyond your stature. Cultivate your soul in justice and soberness, and you will build a brighter world for all dragonborn. Brighter for all races across Faerün. Lord Bahamut has plucked you from the sea and set you upon the path of grace. Never forget the lessons I have taught you. And for heaven’s sake, boy, keep your weapon clean! Few bat an eye at a dirty brawler. But no one will ignore a cleric whose weapon reflects wisdom over violence.

When I die, look upon my body and see for yourself what has happened. Follow my blood. And follow yours. Only when you understand your origin will you understand the danger I have placed you in. Do not speak of this to anyone you do not trust. It will give you the chance to prepare.

I will die. But you will have time. I suppose this is the last gift I can offer you.

Yours in timeless brotherhood,

Korok Loriki

Ghentilara read the letter thoroughly, the interest quite apparent as she handed the slip of brown paper back to the dragonborn before her.

“Ominous. Pray tell, how did your mentor die?”

“Quite suddenly, Your Radiance. One moment we were traveling by carriage towards Baldur’s Gate four days distant, and the next the carriage was upszide-down. I was knocked unconscious, bleeding heavily. I crawled out of the ruined cart, and upon the ground some yards away lay my old friend, his scales charred by flame and filled with barbed arrows.”

Etri bared his teeth for a moment before remembering who stood before him.

“When I saw the hooded figures trying to abduct my mentor’s body, I charged forwards and attempted to fight them off. I succeeded in clipping one of the bandits in the arm with guided flame. But I was in no condition to capture them. They fled on horseback, leaving me in shock.”

“So what of the letter? What did he mean by ‘follow his blood’?”

“This is my unanswerable question, Your Radiance. As my blue-scaled mentor lay lifeless upon the ground, I witnessed what I thought impossible. His blood was no longer blue. It pooled around his corpse, shimmering gold. Plain as if he had granted me a fortune in death. In all my days, I have never heard of a dragonborn changing so.”

Etri paused.

“His blood then began to burn. Like oil lit from a candle. As I watched for mere moments, his golden blood evaporated to nothing, leaving his body drained and cold.”

“Allow me to presume,”  the Sunrise Lord said. “That you too have fallen under the same  mysterious condition?”

“Yes, Your Radiance.” Etri raised his hand. “When I cut myself, I bleed gold. Blood that evaporates with arcane flame in mere moments. Under the candlelight it can be difficult to see, but my scales too have begun to change. Korok hid nothing from me, yet I don’t know if I will soon have to hide my face, my tail. I may have to abandon my charge if my very presence injures those around me.”

“Korok was not your kin, if I understand correctly. Yet his affliction passed to you.”

“I have no answers,” Etri said. “Least of which is knowing if my condition is an affliction at all. A poison, an illness, some form of dark magic, none of these seem to apply.”

Etri laid the letter back upon the desk.

“All I understand is what my mentor described in that letter. That I am in great danger because of my blood, and that I must prepare. For more of these hooded figures, perhaps. I do not know.”

Ghentilara stepped to the desk to cast a glance at the documents Etri had focused upon for the last few hours. The dragonborn took a step backwards to allow her room to pass the unrolled scrolls and documents one by one across the table.

“Isn’t that curious,” she said with a certain lilt in her voice. “Bronze dragons.”

“Indeed. It was Brother Kylan who had given me the idea. Perhaps I do not bleed gold, but bronze. It would match my upbringing by the sea, my martial focus of storm and lightning, and perhaps even my very nature.” Etri cleared his throat. “I have never intended to meet a dragon. Nor ask a favor of one. I will admit, the very idea of such a meeting fills me with a bit of trepida-“

“I will help you.”

Etri’s jaw hung for a moment.

“You will?” He shook out of his daze. “I mean, I would more than welcome your assistance, your Radiance. I would certainly offer my services in return.”

“You will, cleric of Bahamut.” The regal woman turned to pace towards the library door. “I have duties to attend to tonight, and have little time to explain now. Understand that I mean to offer you a mutually beneficial arrangement, one that will require a being of your skills  and… stature.”

“Yes, Your Radiance,” Etri heartily agreed. “I am at your disposal.”

“Before you make yourself disposable,” Ghentilara said with a quiet chuckle. “I want you to understand that my request will not be trivial. I will be placing you and the cityin danger should you fail. Tonight, consider praying that my Lord will protect you as surely as Bahamut does.”

Etri bowed before the distinguished priestess.

“Clean up before you leave, will you?” Ghentilara asked with a hint of humor and a wave of her hand. “And return here sharply at seven o’clock tomorrow morning. We shall discuss the matter then.”

“Certainly, I will.” Etri gave a last deep bow. “Thank you, Your Radiance.”

His Name is Flamm

flamm

Holy moley, another character! Yes, his name is Flamm Vartagnan, and he is a flamingo and a bard. And my dream Dungeons and Dragons character! How in the world do you play a spoony flamingo bard?

…that is an excellent question. My thinking: GO FOR ANY CAKE IN SIGHT.