A place to share thoughts and ideas about Dungeons and Dragons
Pitchlight spent all morning going from cartwright to weaponsmith to armorer and to several others in an attempt to re-provision the dragon hunt. In every case they required gold coin on the barrelhead. He was unable to get any of them to accept a share in the dragon treasure for more than face value. The gold pieces struck specifically to be exchanged for a share in Abraxas’ treasure could not be exchanged for more than the value of the gold that they contained. Some even refused to accept them at all. A rumor was spreading that Abraxas would single out anyone that possessed such a coin and that they would be the first to die on his next attack.
He couldn’t blame the citizens of Rockport. They were frightened. He had already spent all that the church of Heironeous had provided for the hunt, and quite a bit of his own personal funds as well. As it now stood, the poorly provisioned campaign could be ready in about a week. It would take that long to build or repair the wagons and assemble the meager provisions.
He left the merchant district and walked through the crowded streets of Rockport to the temple district and to the temple dedicated to his deity. As he walked he passed children playing in the streets and he found himself thinking back on the days of his childhood. Both of his parents died when he was young, leaving him and his three older sisters to be raised in an orphanage ran by the Heironeous church. Their days there were divided into 4 equal parts; rest, study of holy texts, meditation and weapon training. This left little time for play. His teachers were impressed with his understanding of the Heironean Code and tried to persuade him to take an active role in the church, but at that time he was more interested in swords than in holy script. When he came of age, he joined the king’s guard and quickly advanced in rank. One day, when leading his squad against a marauding group of goblins, something happened that changed the course of his life. After bringing down the last goblin with his own sword, he was struck by lightning.
The holy symbol of Heironeous is a fist holding a lightning bolt. Lightning has special meaning to his worshipers. Anyone killed by lightning must deserve his fate. Anyone that is struck by lightning and survives is deemed blessed by Heironeous. Pitchlight remained unconscious for 14 days. When he awoke he found himself in the temple of Heironeous on the isle of wonder being measured for a custom suit of plate mail. From that day forward he has traveled the world as a cleric of Heironeous seeking out and destroying evil.
As he approached the temple of Heironeous he was wondering if the key to defeating Abraxas was in understanding him better. He would ask Heironeous himself for help. He passed quickly through the main entrance of the worship area and arraigned with the head of the church here to have the clerics prepare the inner sanctum for a major ritual. The High Priest that ruled this temple out ranked Pitchlight in the church hierarchy but adventuring clerics were considered “the tip of the spear” in the battle against evil. While the room was being prepared, Pitchlight bathed and dressed himself in his finest suit of plate mail.
All Heironean temples are built on the same basic ideas of presenting a façade of strength and power and providing a strong and easily defensible fortress. Each individual temple varies in design to reflect the specific taste of its priest and the perceived threats that it must defend against. Each temple size is also limited by the funds available for construction. The temple at Rockport was typical for a town of this size. One thing that all these temples have in common is a room near the center that is reserved for meditation, prayer and casting of spells. The room is sanctified and blessed. Anyone not dedicated to Heironeous is forbidden entrance. At this temple, the inner sanctum was a round room 20 feet in diameter with a flat ceiling 10 feet overhead. The room was windowless and contained no furniture other than tall iron candelabrum spaced 5 feet apart around the perimeter of the room, each with four burning candles, and a brazier in the center of the room. When Pitchlight entered he was met with the sweet smell of shagbark smoke, the embers of which were glowing in the brazier. He placed a handful of the most expensive incense onto the coals and began slowly walking around the room sprinkling holy water as he strode and began the incantation to invoke a commune spell, but at the point where the spell requires the asking of questions he fell to his knees and offered up a diamond valued at 1,000 gold pieces if Heironeous would but appear to hear his questions directly.
After an hour of praying and burning of over 500 gold pieces worth of incense, his meditation and prayers were interrupted by the sound of the creaking hinge on the room’s only door as it opened. He turned and saw a priest entering the room. Angrily, he shouted, “I left express instructions that I was not to be interrupted!”
As the man entered, Pitchlight tried to place him. He was sure that he had not seen this particular priest before. He was much taller than any he had seen here in Rockport. As the priest came closer it became clear that the short robe that he was wearing under his cloak was not of cloth as he had first thought, but was indeed made of the finest chainmail. He wore no holy symbol and carried no shield. His only weapon a great battleaxe. He wore no helm. His reddish-brown hair was short and rather unkempt. His face was clean shaven and his skin was the color of burnished copper.
The stranger stopped a few paces in front of Pitchlight. The door closed of its own accord. He spoke in a very calm voice saying, “Have you forgotten how to cast a commune spell, or have you gone completely mad?”
Pitchlight felt the blood drain from his face and his anger was replaced by awe as he realized he was in the presence of his god. He fell to his knees. “Pease forgive me, but my need is great and the commune spell is so limited. This one time, I need more than riddles or cryptic answers to my three questions.”
“Have I not always answered your questions truthfully?”
“Of course, and I am more than grateful, but if you could, just this one time, answer me more fully, so that I might understand. I seek answers regarding the dragon hunt we are about to commence.”
The tall man was indeed an avatar of Heironeous. He was silent for a few moments, studying the pleading face of his cleric. “You have been good and faithful. Rise to your feet and ask your three questions. My answers will be as full and complete as possible. However, you must understand that I do not take this lightly. You must not presume that I will come to your call at your every whim. I am not your servant. You are mine.”
Pitchlight nodded his head in acceptance and paused to think for a moment before he asked his first question, “Will we succeed in defeating Abraxas?”
“You will have the resources, but to succeed you must have the wisdom to use them.”
Pitchlight wasn’t completely satisfied with that answer, but he continued on to his second, “What is this gem he seeks and why is it so important to him?”
Heironeous smiled and replied, “I will be tolerant with you, but you must not break the rules. You must ask that as two separate questions, or rephrase the question.”
Pitchlight thought for a moment. Perhaps he could get the answer he was seeking if he asked it another way, “How was the gem stolen?”
The room became dark and Pitchlight thought for a moment that he had angered Heironeous in some way. Then the darkness lifted and he found himself standing outside in what was obviously the main square of a small village. The square was empty of people and horses, which was unusual for any village in the middle of the day. The only thing in the square was a large open chest that appeared to be about half full of bags, boxes, gilded armor, mirrors, and other items that may have represented the entire wealth of the village.
Then what he thought was a small child darted past him to the chest. Pitchlight quickly recognized that this was not a child, but rather a gnome who climbed into the chest and concealed himself under the treasure as fast as he could. Then a shadow passed over him as a gigantic red dragon landed in the square and dropped a small pouch into the chest. He started to draw his sword when he realized that the dragon could not see him there. It took only a moment to realize that this was only an image being shown to him by Heironeous. The dragon turned his massive head slowly in all directions, looking at all there was to see. He must have decided that this was all the treasure this village had to offer so he closed the lid on the chest, uttered some magical words, and it vanished, leaving only a print in the dust where it had been resting.
Darkness descended upon Pitchlight once again. This time when it lifted, he found himself in a huge underground cavern. The air was hot and damp. There was a lake of molten lava that provided the only light, bathing the rocky walls and stalactite covered ceiling in a pulsating reddish light. He was on the broad shore of the magma lake and standing near a large pile of coins. There was also many treasures of every description. As he was looking at what must have been a dragon’s horde accumulated over the centuries, the chest that he had seen earlier appeared on a patch of clear ground near the treasure. A few moments later the lid began to open, slowly at first, only an inch. The gnome then lifted it the rest of the way open and crawled cautiously out. Once the gnome was confident that he was alone, he closed the chest and began to examine the great volume of treasure. He was very cautious not to move or disturb any of the treasure in any way. After nearly an hour of examining the pile of coins, the many gilded and enameled armors, the fancy dress weapons, the piles of jewels, royal coaches and other valuable items too numerous to quickly tally, a single gem mounted in a simple silver medallion began to shine with a reddish glow. The gnome made his way over to the medallion which was hanging by a simple silver chain on a rocky outcropping on the cavern wall. Pitchlight moved closer for a better view and as they were looking at the gem it began to glow more brightly. As its brightness approached that of a burning torch he heard the unmistakable sound of leather dragon wings echoing off the cavern walls. The gnome quickly dashed into a deep crevice, wedging himself as far back out of site as he could.
The dragon landed more gently than one would expect possible from a creature so massive. He smelled the air and closely examined his treasure. Once satisfied that all was as he had left it, he opened the chest and began the process of lovingly emptying it of its contents, placing each item in its proper place according to some sorting process that only the dragon could fathom. When he was finally satisfied with the distribution of his latest take, he curled himself a tight ball perched on top of the pile of coins. With a contented breath he closed his eyes, and with a final snort of sulfurous smoke he appeared to fall asleep. A couple of minutes passed before the gnome again appeared. Keeping one eye on the dragon he creeped cautiously from his hiding place and made his way over to the shining gem. He tucked it under his shirt and began to make his way quietly along the cavern wall.
Everything went dark and the cleric found himself back at the inner sanctum standing again before an avatar of his deity. Heironeous spoke, “And what is your third question?”
Still dizzy from his view into the past, Pitchlight took a few seconds to remember that everything he had just seen was an answer to his last question. He braced himself for whatever he might be shown next and asked “What is Abraxas’ greatest weakness?”
Heironeous smiled and said, “Arrogance”. Then he turned and disappeared as he walked away.
The grand marshal announced loudly, “Qewaxon the Great, Grand Wizard to the court of King Athyert Veray and his guest, representing the city of Rockport, Sir Olorry Gleamheart, exalted Paladin of Heironeous, leader of the military sodality of crossbowmen, archers, swordsmen, clerics and wizards of the first order dedicated to serving the deity Heironeous!”
The wizard Qewaxon and the paladin Sir Gleamheart were standing just inside the gilded entrance doors. All eyes were on them as they proceeded forward toward the king on his throne that set atop a low dais at the far end of the huge throne room. The room was decorated with many colorful banners and tapestries. Light was shining in through many large stained glass windows. The walls and columns were of the same gold infused marble as the hallway they had just left. A second floor visitor’s gallery ran along both sides, crowded with gaily clad lords and ladies, all straining to see the activities below. Under both galleries stood castle guards with shields and spears in hand. Behind the two rows of guards were knights and attendants, clerics and holy men, military and civilian authorities, land holders, and others.
They stopped at the foot of the dais. The wizard stood impatiently. The paladin unsheathed his sword and, holding it point down rested its tip on the polished floor in front of him, lowered his head, shifted one foot forward and lowered his other knee to the floor. His looked resplendent with his heavy white cape draping to the floor behind him but he felt inadequately dressed, having left both helm and shield in Rockport.
King Veray, dressed in his red velvet robe with ermine collar and golden crown, was sitting on his massive golden throne. He addressed the paladin, “My wizard informs me that you wish to address the crown. I declared this a day of open court with the purpose of meeting each of the knights before the start of the tourney. Tell me what business you have that is so urgent as to interrupt this day of festivities.”
The paladin remained silent, on one knee and head bowed.
“Arise, Sir Gleamheart!” commanded the king. “Don’t waste our time by having me repeat myself. Or have you been struck dumb by being in my presence?” At this the king smiled broadly at his joke and looked around at his assembled guests who responded with light laughter.
Sir Gleamheart rose, sheathed his sword and responded, “Your highness, I am indeed humbled in your presence. I beg your pardon for this interruption in your day but I chose neither the day nor the time for this audience. It has been thrust upon me by circumstances beyond my control.”
“Well you are here now,” said the king. “So get on with it.”
Looking around at all of the now solemn faces impatiently waiting to hear what he had to say, he began to understand the fear that the city guard had experienced when suddenly required to speak before the guests in the governor’s hall only a few minutes earlier. He decided to ignore the others and concentrate only on the king. He said, “I have come to ask for your help. An ancient red dragon is on the rampage in my homeland. The church of Heironeous is funding an expedition and has chosen me to lead it. I have assembled a group of fighters and enlisted the help of a renowned dragon tracker to find his lair se we can defeat him there. What I need is as many willing volunteers as you can spare to come with us on this quest. The more able fighters we have, the greater will be the chance of our success. They will of course share in any hoard found in his lair.”
The king turned to the wizard, “And what do you know of this?”
Qewaxon said, “The dragon is Abraxas. There are many ancient scrolls in our library describing his ruthlessness. It is well known that he lairs in the black mountains and some claim to know which mountain, but there is no record of anyone ever locating the lair, at least none who have survived. From what I have been able to piece together from current reports, a few years ago an item from his hoard went missing. He is too proud to admit that it may have been stolen, but he is certain that someone has it and is refusing to return it to him. At first he made a few vailed threats and destroyed a few villages. The more time that passes, the more obsessed he has become.”
The king asked, “What is this missing treasure?”
The wizard replied, “No one knows for sure. Abraxas has convinced himself that the thief is keeping it from him and knows perfectly well what it is. He has only referred to it as some type of gem.”
To Sir Gleamheart the king asked, “When is this quest to begin?”
“It was to have begun yesterday, Sire. We had assembled the party in Rockport when the dragon attacked the city and destroyed all of our wagons and most of our provisions. Although we lost only a few men in the attack, a large number have since resigned from the quest leaving us shorthanded and prompting my appeal here today. We should resume as soon as possible. I have already sent forward the scouts to mark the trail.”
“I am sorry for the suffering of your people, but what you ask is quite impossible,” said the king. “Even if I had the fighting men to spare, it would take several months of hard travel for them to reach Rockport from here.”
Gleamheart said, “Couldn’t your wizard teleport them there, as he brought me here?”
The king said, “Being a stranger here, perhaps you are unaware of my decree forbidding all knights and fighting men the use of magical teleport spells into or out of the Golden City of Wheathorp, except in emergency situations or by the expressed consent of the king.”
“Pardon my asking,” said Sir Gleamheart, “but why would you have such a decree?”
“Because it is too dangerous,” said the king. “Four years ago a group of adventurers left here by teleport spell to stop a goblin invasion it Landshire. They were successful, but when they returned, there was a mishap. The wizard’s teleport spell landed them three miles out to sea. Only the wizard survived.”
“If I might add,” said the wizard. “Even if we had the king’s approval, I can only cast a single teleport spell each day.” Before the paladin could remind him that he had already teleported twice today he added, “I used an old teleport scroll to travel to Rockport today and used my one teleport spell to bring you here. The point is, I can take a maximum of 8 willing creatures with me. For me to teleport a large number of fighters from here to Rockport, along with their mounts and provisions, would take several weeks.”
“There is no reason to discuss this further,” said the king. “I will not give my consent.”
“But your majesty, surely …”
The king interrupted him, “Yours isn’t the only mountain in my kingdom with a menacing red dragon. Also, between your mountain and here is a swamp with a black dragon that is stirring up trouble. I have blue dragons in the deserts and green dragons in the forests. I even have white dragons in the frozen north. That doesn’t even count all of the metallic, the so-called good dragons, that are disrupting civil order. Surely you don’t expect me to send troops to deal with all of them. That is why I have local leaders throughout the kingdom that maintain their own troops. As much as it pains me to say this, you and your governor must deal with this dragon on your own.”
He paused a minute and then asked, “What did you say this dragon’s name is?”
No one noticed the nearly invisible ball floating near the ceiling. Someone was magically scrying on these proceedings.
“His name is Abraxas your majesty,” replied Gleamheart.
“Abraxas… Abraxas… I know that name,” said the king. “I was told tales of him when I was a child. A monster to scare children. As I remember the stories he has a complete lack of feeling or compassion. He is big and mean but you and your group should have no trouble defeating him. As I understand it he is a weak gutless coward who was not even able to prevent a thief from walking into his lair and walking out with whatever he desired.”
The magical scrying ball disappeared and the room shook with the sudden appearance of a gigantic red scaled beast that filled the space from the gilded entrance doors to the backs of Gleamheart and the wizard. Abraxas had materialized and he was angry. His head rose well above the heads of the observers on the balcony and he stood with his tail flicking behind him. His wings were raised above his back nearly scraping the ceiling above. The room filled with the smell of burning sulfur as whiffs of smoke puffed out of his flaring nostrils.
Many were overcome with a fear that could not be controlled. There were screams as people pushed and shoved to stumble down the narrow stairways and out through the closest exits. Many a brave lord positioned himself between his lady and the dragon but for others fear overcame valor as they pushed their way to safety. Only the bravest knights and guards remained steady. Sir Gleamheart felt no fear as he drew his sword to protect the king. Being near the fearless paladin gave Qewaxon the courage to dash up the dais and cast a protection spell that surrounded both himself and the king.
Abraxas spoke in a thunderous voice that could be heard over the screams, “Lies! These are all lies! I am not …” He was stopped in mid-sentence by a spear hurled by a guard who was standing near his right foot. The spear pierced the frill that swept back from his jaw. He quickly turned to face his attacker. Flames of anger licked up from his eyes and nostrils. A cone of fire roared from his mouth engulfing the guard and everyone behind him. The flame boiled up the back wall as the gold veined marble blackened and cracked. Banners and flags were set ablaze. Those who didn’t collapse in the blast ran from the area with hair and clothing on fire.
Other guards and knights threw spears and fired arrows. Most either missed their mark or simply bounced off the dragon’s armor-like scales. A few found a crack between scales or hit with enough force to penetrate but Abraxas ignored them as he crashed his tail against the columns supporting the left balcony, knocking them out from under the gallery causing it to come crashing down upon those beneath and spilling the panicked guests out onto the lower level resulting in a great number of casualties. The blood-curdling screams of a knight split the air as Abraxas bit his arm and tore it off above his shoulder. At the same time, the dragon’s sword-like claws fatally slashed open a frightened noble.
Sir Gleamheart took the hilt of his long sword in both hands and charged the dragon. The air surrounding Abraxas rolled in waves from the heat of his body. Gleamheart threw all of his weight into his attack as he landed a tremendous blow with his sword into the dragon’s chest. The sword crunched through scale and muscle to bury itself nearly to its hilt. Abraxas slapped Sir Gleamheart away with the back of his hand, as one might swat away a bothersome fly. The blow sent the paladin flying back up the dais where his head met with the corner of the throne and he collapsed unconscious into a heap at the king’s feet.
As he plucked the sword from his chest, Abraxas said, “If my treasure is returned I might decide to sleep another 50 to 100 years. Otherwise I will destroy your entire kingdom.”
The gilded doors flew open and all of the knights that had been waiting in the hall started running in with sword spear and lance.
With a roll of his eyes as if he were simply tired of the fight, Abraxas disappeared as suddenly as he had appeared.
After the fires had been extinguished, Sir Gleamheart healed, the dead removed and the wounded tended to, King Veray declared the tournament canceled and ordered Qewaxon to provide all the teleport spells that Sir Gleamheart required. He declared the defeat of the dragon that destroyed his throne room to be a royal quest and that all volunteers that joined the quest would have the gratitude of the crown. There was no shortage of volunteers. Most of the knights who had arrived from across the realm to prove themselves in the tournament were eager to join their peers in an actual dragon hunt. The king also promised to provide all weapons, mounts, equipment and supplies they might need.
Back in Rockport, Governor Patrick broke the seal on the message Qewaxon had left. It bore the royal seal of King Veray. It was a royal decree levying a 20 percent tax on all recovered dragon hoards.
Sir Gleamheart and the governor had been discussing the status of the dragon hunt. The other guests were being ignored by their host and had begun half a dozen quiet conversations at their various tables around the hall. Everything fell silent when a wizard suddenly appeared in the center of the room. Sir Gleamheart drew his sword and the guards all readied their weapons. The governor calmed their fears when he stood and addressed the intruder. “Qewaxon, welcome. Your entrances are always shocking.” Turning to the others he said, “Put your weapons away. This is my friend, Qewaxon. He is King Athyert Veray’s court wizard and occasional emissary.”
Only after the paladin slowly sheathed his sword did the guards relax their positions. All eyes remained fixed on this small framed human. In the dim light of the candles, his ashen complexion and deeply wrinkled skin gave him an undead appearance. His head was almost completely devoid of hair making the light gray hair that fell to his shoulders and a thin beard that hung past his knees that more striking. He was wearing a tattered black wool robe tied at the waste with a broad leather belt with brass buckles from which hung a variety of pouches and odd metal hooks and rings along with what appeared to be a leather scroll case and small wire cage. A thin maroon scarf and faded blue gown could be seen where the robe parted down past his belt. His gown was as tattered around the bottom as his robe. He had tall soft leather boots on his feet. His forearms and hands were bare. He held a large crooked wooden staff in his right hand and a rolled-up parchment in his left.
After looking around for a moment, he stepped over to the head table. Ignoring the governor and the paladin, he addressed Gauwalt Byne, the old wizard who was sitting to the governor’s right. “I received your missive. I have been following the activities of your dragon with great interest.” Turning to the governor, he continued, “I ask your forgiveness in not passing the document immediately to the king. He is quite busy but if you or Sir Gleamheart would consent to returning to the palace with me, I could get you an audience with his highness almost immediately and you could make your plea in person.”
“Take me,” Sir Gleamheart said. Realizing his breach of etiquette in interrupting their conversation when he had not yet been addressed he stepped back and said, “I apologize but if the king is as wise and compassionate as they say, I am sure he will find a way to provide a number of fighters who would be eager to join in this holy quest.”
Qewaxon didn’t respond right away. First he looked the paladin over closely, from the top of his naturally curly hair and perfect teeth to his highly polished armor and proud posture down to the polish on his pointed sabatons. “You Sir Gleamheart are exactly as I expected you to be.” The paladin started to smile and thank him when he continued, “You are brash and compulsive. You are too eager to use your sword when your words would serve you better. It is my opinion that this dragon hunt you are contemplating is doomed to failure. I have followed your exploits from time to time and I must say that I am not impressed. However, I am only an advisor to the king and he seldom heeds my advice. If you are ready we can leave now.”
Gleamheart turned to the governor, “By your leave sir, I will go with the king’s wizard and hopefully return with enough men to defeat Abraxas.”
The governor replied, “Go then, and good luck.” Then to the wizard he said, “It was good to see you again, however briefly.”
Qewaxon handed him the rolled parchment that he had been holding. “This message is from the king. I believe it to be a tax matter.” Then without further ado he recited a few magical words and both he and the paladin disappeared.
To Gleamheart, all the world went momentarily cold and black. He became somewhat dizzy with the feeling of falling from a great height while still standing firmly on the ground. Then, suddenly, the room where he had been standing was gone and in its place was a large, brightly lit room filled with many people and bright colors. It took a few moments for his eyes to adjust to the bright sunlight that was streaming in from the huge open doors at both ends of what he soon realized was a very wide and quite long corridor. Only he and the wizard that was standing before him remained, all the rest had changed. If the people that were milling about had noticed them appear it must have been a commonplace occurrence for no one seemed startled, or even curious.
Qewaxon said for Gleamheart to wait here for a moment while he arraigned for them to be announced. He explained that the hall was full because the king was hosting a tournament that was to start in a few days. Today he was receiving each of the participating knights. With that he hurried across the hall to a pair of 20 foot tall gilded doors and slipped inside.
Sir Gleamheart stood there in awe. He had often heard tales of the golden palace but this was more wondrous than anything that he could have imagined. The walls were of a white marble through which ran strands of gold in all directions forming intricate webs of abstract design. Everywhere catching rays of sunlight from the many tall windows reflecting light in all directions giving the entire place a golden glow. Then he began to take note of the throng of people. What at first he mistook for chaos he could now see was a hectic but rather orderly crowd with many small groups, each group wearing different livery colors, most of which he recognized. There was the green and gold of the Southern Forest Duchy, the red and black of the Imstul Empire, the gold and blue of Marietland. The colors continued on down the hall – yellow and blue, white and green, pink and grey, orange and white, brown and blue. Gleamheart had spent many an evening studying the many and varied livery’s of all of the known lands as well as their various ranks and titles. But never had he seen so many different liveries in one place.
In most of the groups he could see one or two knights in their finest armor surrounded by several squires, nobles and attendants. Most groups were human or elf but there were a few dwarven groups and he saw a few half-orks and tieflings. He even thought he saw a dragonborn in a group at the far end of the hall, when suddenly a knight rushed over to him and grabbed him by the arm. “Olorry! My old friend. Is it really you? When did you arrive? Are you in the list?”
Not recognizing this stranger at first, Sir Gleamheart replied, “No, I am not in the list. I didn’t come to participate in your games.” It took him a few more seconds to recognize his old sparring buddy. “Neil Cutroy! The last time I saw you you were wearing the tan and brown of Marshwood and your beard was several inches shorter.”
“They call me Nel the Courageous now.” His friend replied. “I went adventuring for a while and ended up in the Ephoura Empire, where I swore my allegiance and took to wearing their gold and red livery.” He gave him a solid pat on the shoulder, “It is a wonderment to see you again.”
Gleamheart replied, “It is quite an unexpected pleasure to see you here as well. I am glad to see you are well.”
Neil stepped back a pace and asked, “If you are not here for the jousting tournament what business brings you the palace?”
“A very grave matter indeed, I am afraid. I have come to partition the king to provide me with as many volunteers as he can muster to fight a red dragon from the Black Mountains that is on a rampage of destruction.”
“The Black Mountains? Aren’t they over a thousand miles from here?”
“Over two thousand to be more precise and you must cross two other mountain ranges and a desert to get there from here.”
“You came all that way?”
“The king’s wizard teleported me here. I was standing in Rockport only moments ago. I am hoping the king will allow him to use his magic to deliver fighters to join my group to hunt down and destroy this dragon that is causing so much pain there.”
“I hope the king grants you your partition,” Neil said. “After your audience with him you should stay here a few days and participate in the jousting. You could represent Rockport. I have many lances and a good warhorse you can use.”
“I am afraid that I must decline your gracious invitation,” said Gleamheart. “I must return to Rockport as soon as possible. The dragon may attack again at any time.”
“Of course,” said Neil. “But if you were teleported into the palace you haven’t seen the list. Never before has a list had such a find field and grandstands. It is just outside the castle wall and the colorful pavilions have been popping up for the last couple of weeks as knights have arrived from all over the kingdom, and a few from other realms as well. The vespers tourney starts tomorrow. I have a young squire that expects to do well there. The jousting tournament will be on the following day. We are all here today to receive our formal welcome to the games from the king. After that we will be assigned our order in the formal procession to start the tourney. I am looking forward to riding in along with all of the other knights and judges. This will be my first Invocation.”
Gleamheart responded, “It sounds like it will be quite an event.”
Neil continued, “Everyone says that this will be the largest jousting tournament ever held. They have even erected a low wall to separate the horses and riders.”
“I remember when we once used a rope divider,” said Gleamheart.
“That’s right. I had almost forgotten that. That was in Glosharmos, if I remember correctly. Wasn’t that where your opponent was shamed for directing his attack at your horse?”
“Yes. That was Galter the Swift, and I won the contest despite his un-chivalrous conduct. I still have his silver buckler.”
“He became Galter the Earnest after that. You know that the looser no longer forfeits his armor to the victor? On the last day of the tournament the ceremony for awarding the prizes will be conducted. The king is awarding 200 gold coins as a grand prize to the ultimate victor.”
Then they noticed Qewaxon. Clanking his staff on the tiled floor with each hurried step he quickly approached and when Gleamheart looked in his direction he motioned for him to follow and said, “Come quickly, the king will see you now.”
As Gleamheart turned to go, Neil said, “Come back for me before you teleport back to Rockport.I will go with you. I can’t let you have all of the glory!”
“I will,” said Gleamheart. “Thank you.”
“There is no time for that,” interrupted Qewaxon. “We must go now!”
They crossed over to the gilded doors which opened for them as they approached.
It was nearing noon. The large pendant on its silver chain rattled against the paladin’s polished breastplate as his warhorse reared to a stop. The pendant was in the form of a silver hand holding a silver lightning bolt, the holy symbol of Heironeous, the deity to whom Sir Olorry Gleamheart had dedicated his life and sacred honor. It flashed brightly in the sun as the he dismounted at the gate to the governor’s residence.
As he removed his helmet and gantlets he addressed the guards, “I must see the Governor at once!”
The guards looked at each other. The first one said, “Of course, Sir Gleamheart, sir. But, you see, he wasn’t expecting you and, well, perhaps if I have someone announce you he will grant you an audience when he is free.” It was not surprising that he knew who this knight in shining armor was. Everyone in town knew of this man.
A young man, a squire from his clothing and demeanor, ran up from the stables to take the paladin’s horse and see to any of his other needs. Gleamheart handed him this helmet and gauntlets and turned for him to assist in removing his cape. “Tell Governor Patrick that his godson seeks his counsel in regard to this dragon business.”
Just then there arose a commotion in the street. A man in a torn and battered city guard uniform and a crazed expression on his face was running toward them. “You must die!” he exclaimed as he ran directly toward Sir Gleamheart and raised his sword to attack. With a swiftness born from years of practice, the paladin drew his sword and in that same motion swung it into his attackers weapon with a force that nearly knocked it from his hand and, ducking and spinning, he pivoted on one sabaton covered foot, turned a full circle and struck the man in his chest with the other, sending the attacker to the ground. The two guards were just now drawing their swords. Before they could approach, Sir Gleamheart stopped them with a raised hand saying, “This man is obviously under some kind of spell.” Reaching the man before he could get back to his feet, the paladin spoke some ancient and mysterious words as he placed a hand on the man’s forehead. Almost instantly, the man dropped his sword and looked around as if seeing his surroundings clearly for the first time.
Seeing the sword still in the paladin’s hand, the man dropped onto both knees and said, “Sir Gleamheart, please spare me! It wasn’t I who meant you harm, it was Abraxas! The dragon! He hexed me! I swear it!”
“Of course,” Gleamheart said as he sheathed his sword. “You are injured,” he said as he offered him his hand. “Can you stand?” With Gleamheart’s help he stood uneasily. “Let me heal you.” Then, with a magical incantation he had recited many times before, he invoked Heironeous’ divine mercy to heal the man’s wounds. The man acted as many before him when first receiving magical healing. First disbelief in the sudden and compete healing of all his wounds and restoration of his health and vigor. Then extreme happiness at his good fortune. “How do you feel?” Gleamheart asked.
“I feel great!” he answered as he turned himself around with outstretched arms, examining his arms and chest where seconds before there had been multiple scratches and bruising. “Thank you! Thank you so much!”
“Thank Heironeous,” Gleamheart replied. “I am only his servant.” Then, turning to the squire he said “Bring this man some water. He looks thirsty.”
“Yes, now that you mention it. I guess that I haven’t had anything to eat or drink for nearly two days. Ever since the dragon snatched me from the ballista tower.”
“It is important that you tell me of your ordeal. All of it, in so far as you can remember.”
“Yes, of course. And I can remember it all clearly.”
“But wait, you must tell it all in front the governor, so it won’t lose anything in its retailing.” He grabbed the man by the arm and took him quickly to the large doors of the white granite building. Ignoring the startled guards at the door he cast a spell which pushed the doors open with a slam that could be heard in the street. Without breaking stride he continued into the large foyer. He turned and started to toward the assembly hall when a guard stepped in front of him. Before the paladin could push him aside, the guard pointed to the descending staircase to his left. “He is in the dining hall,” he said with a grin. Sir Gleamheart smiled in return and turned to proceed down the wide stairs and then along a short corridor with doors to either side to arrive in front of another pair of ornately carved doors. He had ran and played in the corridors of this mansion as a child and knew every alcove and secret passageway. From beyond the doors to the dining hall he could hear music playing. It was a song he remembered from his youth. He stopped and waited for the song to end. The sweet sound of a child singing to the strings of a high strung lute.
He opened the doors to see that the lute player was a young boy astride a pure white buck which was being led by a fair hared girl. She led the buck out a near side door as all eyes turned to the intruders.
As soon as he recognized who it was, the Governor called out to him from the far end of the room, “Olorry!” Then with a wave for him to come on in he corrected himself, “Sir Gleamheart! You and your guest come join us. We were just finishing our meal, but I’ll have them return with soup and mead.”
Governor Tamas Patrick had bright turquoise eyes that could be seen clearly from across the large room. His complexion seemed somewhat paler than the paladin remembered but his wavy brown hair was pinned back as was his custom from as far back as Olorry Gleamheart could remember. He was a tall man, but was now somewhat stoop shouldered. His was wearing a suit of leather armor in gray and copper. The great hall was lit only by clusters of candle chandeliers rendering it rather dark. All of the main rooms of the mansion were built underground for fear of dragon attacks. This was a rectangular room three times as long as it was wide. The governor sat at the head table. There were tables to the left and to the right. With the central area for entertainment and for the servants to access the tables. Although the room could easily seat 50 or more guests, there were less than 20 seated here now. There were various land owners, money lenders, high ranking military men, guild masters, the harbor master, and other nobles and knights. Many of the faces were familiar to Glemheart, but none more familiar than Gauwalt Byne, the old wizard sitting to the mayor’s right.
Pushing the suddenly timid guard forward, Gleamheart said, “Governor Patrick, I came to discuss the dragon hunt, but first this man has some valuable information to share.”
The room grew quiet and the guard looked nervously around. He then stood tall and straight. “My name is Quaintus Northant, second paviser, third armored company, blue division of the city watch. On the night of the dragon attack I was stationed on the ballista tower on the corner of Rosemont Street and the Warfe Road.” Looking back at the paladin seamed to give him courage to continue. “The fog was so thick we couldn’t see even as far as the next tower over. The first notion we had that the city was under attack was the screaming. And then we saw a flash of fire in the distance. We manned the ballista but couldn’t see no target. Then there was a dark shape coming down and the dragon grabbed me up. His scaly foot, it was like a crow’s claw, only big, you know? It was near as big as me and it crushed the breath out of me. It flew away with me. I tell you, I have never been so scared. I don’t know if I was more scared of being crushed to death, or of being dropped. I had no way of knowing where we were, or how high we were flying because of the fog.”
Looking around at all the eyes watching him, he swallowed hard and continued, “Finally he flew far enough away that he was out of the fog and I could see how high in the air we were. I held on tight and closed my eyes. A couple of minutes later he landed. I could see that we were near the coast, many miles north of here. He must have cast some kind of spell on me because all of a sudden I wasn’t afraid any more. It was like he was the greatest creature in the world and I was his best friend. I mean, he isn’t really my friend. I was under a spell and I just thought he was. You have to understand that I wouldn’t do anything to help Abraxas. I swore an oath to defend Rockport from dragon attack and I take that oath seriously.”
Governor Patrick assured him, “I understand, my boy. You are not in trouble. Please continue.”
“Well. He asked me a lot of questions about the expedition that was being organized to come after him.” Turning to Sir Gleamheart he said, “I am sorry, but I told him everything that I knew. After I told him where the wagons were being kept, he instructed me to return to town and slay you. Failing that I was to give you a message. Then he flew back towards Rockport. That was the last time I saw him. I started walking. I didn’t stop until I found you. You know the rest.”
Gleamheart asked, “The message, what was it?”
“Please don’t hold this against me. These are not my words, they are his …
“Abraxas, the largest, most fearsome, most deadly, and greatest dragon since Tiamat, supreme lord of all land over which he flies, issues this command to Sir Gleamheart. You shall abandon your ill-conceived expedition. You shall obtain the gem that I seek, and you shall return it to me personally. Do this and I will stop my assault on your towns and villages. Defy me and not only will your entire expedition be utterly destroyed, but I shall start a campaign of fire and destruction such as has never before been seen.”
Gleamheart said, “Did he say what the gem was that he wants me to bring him?”
Quaintus shook his head and said, “No. I got the impression that he thought you knew what gem he was talking about.”
Gleamheart said, “I only wish that I did, and that I had it. Perhaps I could end this whole bloody mess.” Then he pointed to the nearest table and said, “Sit. Eat. Thank you.”
Quaintus went around to the table and quickly set at the nearest spot. Halflings hurried to the table to bring him food and drink. Gleamheart walked up to the head table. “Governor,” he began, “the expedition is in dire need of volunteers.”
Tamas Patrick answered, “I have already encourage all city guards that wished to volunteer. I granted them leave and told them they could keep their share of the treasure. As I recall, you seemed pleased with the response.”
“The attack has changed all of that. Yesterday many of the volunteers withdrew their pledge and returned their shares. More left this morning. It has been reported that some were seen leaving the city and taking their shares with them. Taking into account those that were killed or wounded that we were not able to restore, we are left now with less than one in five of the original number of fighters.”
“I can order more men to volunteer,” the governor replied.
“No,” snapped Gleamheart. “I will not lead men who are forced to fight!”
From the governor’s right Gauwalt Byne spoke up, “Tamas, Olorry, have either of you asked King Veray for help?”
They both turned and stared at the old wizard. This small man in the black cloak and pointed hat that he always wore had been sitting and listening calmly until now.
“King Veray?” asked the governor. “He is sitting on his throne in the Golden City of Wheathorp, a thousand leagues and two mountain ranges away. He wouldn’t be able to get any troops here even if he could be persuaded to part with them.”
The wizard tapped his bony finger on the table, then turned to the governor, “You are always overlooking the power of magic. No, I don’t have the power to move large numbers of people a thousand leagues or more, but the King has more powerful wizards than me at his command, and may have other magical means of transport we are unaware of. All I am saying is that it could do no harm to ask.”
Governor Patrick looked at Sir Glramheart, then turned back to the wizard and said, “I don’t suppose it would do any harm to ask. Can you send him a missive?”
“I took the liberty of preparing this earlier. It needs only your seal,” the wizard said as he handed him a parchment.
The governor looked it over. It eloquently but briefly, described the entire situation. It ended in a formal request for any help in the form of willing fighters that the king could provide. After reading it, he held a stick of red wax in a candle flame to drip the wax onto the document and then pressed his signet ring into the hot wax. While he was doing this, his wizard was clearing the table in front of him and setting a small silver tray there. When the governor handed the document back to him, he placed it on the tray and cast his spell. The document disappeared with a sparkling flicker. “We must now wait for his reply.”
Gleamheart and the governor continued discussing the upcoming quest. Gleamheart said that he had been informed that the wagon makers and ballista maker are requiring coins on the barrelhead and will no longer accept the golden coins for a share of the treasure in payment, and furthermore that it will take at least a week to equip and provision even the small band of volunteers he now had available. The governor gave the paladin an account of the destruction from the attack and what emergency measures are now in place. While they talked the wizard noticed a small transparent globe appear near the center of the room. It floated just above head height and was as elusive as a whiff of pale smoke. No one else saw this magical apparition which the wizard recognized as the receiving eye of a scrying device. As he watched, it winked out of existence and a heartbeat later a black robed man with a long grey beard appeared.
Maylock walked out the south gate of Rockport with an almost imperceptible stride that made her appear to be floating along the ground. When they were quite clear of the city gates her rat familiar, whom she called Bedřich, darted out from under her quilted silk robe and scurried around the bushes and weeds that lined the south road. Others usually called him Fredric, or simply Fred.
The road followed the line of the beach which quickly narrowed and then rose to a rocky cliff at the water’s edge. After walking for about twenty minutes, she came to the top of a small rise and saw for the first time the south fork of Blood River. Where the road met the river there was a stone bridge. Two hundred yards east of the bridge the river spilled over a small waterfall down to the rocks below. A hundred feet beyond the river stood a twenty foot tall wooden wall that started at the cliff edge, extended past the bridge, turned south for about that same distance and then back west to the cliff at the other end. There were slate roofs on the buildings that attached to the inside of the wall. The road went straight up to the wall where there was a wagon gate. A dirt path ran around the outside of the wall. There was a wagon full of dead animals between the wall and the river. Men were removing the remains and placing them on a large table where other men with large cleavers were working on the carcasses. This was beside a spot on the river where it had been widened to provide a shallow rocky area where others were washing the remains.
All morning there had been a slight breeze blowing in from the ocean, but it suddenly shifted and Maylock was nearly overcome by a terrible odor of manure and rotting flesh mixed with that of other offensive smells that she couldn’t quite identify. Bedřich seemed to be offended by the stench as well. He scurried back under her robe and into the familiar crook in her arm where he liked to snuggle. Maylock cast a quick spell, a sweeting cantrap, on a silk scarf and held it under her nose.
As she drew closer to the bridge she saw two young boys talking to a large man in a dirty leather apron. He gave each of the boys a copper piece and took from them a small dirty sack. Whatever it contained was soaking through. The entire bottom of the sack was dark, oily and nearly dripping. He held the sack away from his body and looked up as Maylock approached.
“I have come to talk to the owner of the tannery,” she said through her scarf. “I believe his name is Ricven.”
The man looked her over, head to toe. “I am Ricven,” he said. “From the descriptions I have heard, you must be the Iron Sodality’s wizard.”
“I am Maylock,” she replied with a slight bow. “I am here to survey your tannery to ascertain your readiness and capability to process the dragon’s body when it is delivered to here.”
Richen grunted and stopped himself just before saying something that he would regret later. He remembered that if she did deliver the dragon to him, he would become a very wealthy man. “I will gladly give you a tour, if that is your desire.” He cleared his throat and stood up as straight as he could. He had been a tanner for most of his life and his body showed the effects of numerous mishaps. His stringy black hair never grew back on the left side of his head and his skin on that side of his face still showed the scar from when he was splashed with acid. He had lost three fingers on his left hand and a large scar on his right leg prevented him from standing to his full height.
“Are you familiar with tanneries?” he asked.
She answered “No, this is the first one I have ever visited.”
“Then you should be impressed with this one. We are much more here than just a tannery. I not only employ the preparers of the raw material — the tanners, curriers, and tawers — but I also have the leather workers who make the actual objects. I have shoemakers, glovers, book binders, and saddlers as well as master armorers.”
Still holding his sack, he turned and they both walked over the bridge. He pointed to the workers at the river bank. “We tended to acquire the hides of cattle, sheep, goat and deer as a by-product of butchery, and the hooves and horns will still be attached. After the removal of the hooves and horns, the hide must be washed to remove any dung, dirt or blood present. That is what these workers are doing.”
Maylock said, “When Abraxas has been killed, I will cast a Gentle Repose spell on the body, so that it will be fresh and whole when you get it.”
“That is excellent,” Richen said. “Often when we get monster hides to process, they are in very poor condition.”
“What types of creatures have you worked on here?
“We have processed many cattle, ox, elk, buffalo, otter, moose, beaver, seals, pig, sheep, goat, horse, dog, goose, red deer, roe, wild pig, brown hare, red fox, wolf and badger. Monsters are usually individual specimens, and often I don’t know what type of monster it is. We have never processed an entire dragon, but I have tanned a fire drake hide.”
He escorted her through the open gate in the wall. The foul odor was much stronger here. She could see that most of this large area surrounded by the wall on three sides was filled with a great number of circular pits. Many of them were brightly colored. Each pit was about ten feet across and lined with stones and about half of them were empty. The stones extended up out of the ground making each pit about three feet deeper and allowing the workers easier access. The buildings all shared a wall with the exterior wall of the enclosure. They were the same height as the wall and extended across the entire north and west side of the enclosure. Some were two stories, but most consisted only of the upper story, providing a covered workspace below, supported only by the wall on one side and a series of wooden columns on the other. These were all connected by a wooden walkway above. There were stairs at several places along the walkway allowing access to the courtyard.
They walked to the cliff edge, where she could see steps down to a wooden dock. “This is where ships from as far away as the seven cities come bearing unprocessed hides and leaving with leather goods of all kinds. With all of the dragon trouble here lately, the number of ships has decreased to only one every month or so. After the attack yesterday, I am afraid there may be no more ships until the dragon is killed.”
Turning back to the pits, Maylock asked, “How exactly is the tanning done? Could you walk me through the process?”
“Of course,” Richen said as he walked her to a nearby pit. “After the skins are cleaned, the next process in the manufacture of leather requires the fat, hair and flesh to be removed. This process begins by the submergence of the hide into a urine solution like the one we have here.” Then he pointed to a man sitting on a stool with a wooden beam between his legs, one end on the stool and the other end on the ground in front of him. Over this beam was a damp hide that he was scraping with a large curved two-handled knife. “When the hair is loosened sufficiently, the hide is spread over wooden beams and both sides are scraped. The hair or grain side is scraped with a blunt single-edged unharing knife. This is also where the last of the dragon scales will be removed from the dragon hide. The flesh side is scraped with a sharper two-edged fleshing knife. After more soaking, the skin is scraped with a blunt scudding knife.”
Maylock looked a little surprised, “You don’t leave the scales attached to the dragon hide?”
“No. That is not possible,” Richen said. “Most of the scales would fall off during tanning even if we tried to keep them attached. Also the hide cannot be properly tanned and conditioned with the scales attached. But don’t worry, the scales are too valuable to be lost or damaged. They will be processed separately from the hide, sorted and graded as to size and condition. Then they can be re-attached to the hide for those items that require it, such as dragon scale armor.”
Richen walked with her over to a different vat and continued, “After the hair, or scales, are removed we soak the hide in a solution of crushed animal brains and emulsified oils, like the one here. The hide is then rewashed and the skins opened.” He then walked with her over to a different vat, where he dumped the contents of his sack. “The skins are immersed in a warm infusion of dog dung which removes the lime and gives the hide structure a softer, more flexible grain.” He smiled at her and said, “It is the nature of the materials used in these processes that make us unpleasant neighbors.”
“So that is how you tan leather?” she asked.
“No, it is only after this and after a final washing of the hides and division of the skin into its different qualities that the tanning process can begin.” He escorted her over to yet another vat. The contents of this vat were bright red and there was a worker stomping around it, up to his knees. “The hides begin by being immersed in a solution of crushed oak bark and water. Then the skins are soaked in these vats filled with natural pigments.” He pointed to other vats as he continued, “red from poppies, orange from henna, brown from cedar wood, or white from mint. They are moved around in the pits continuously to ensure an even spread of color. The workers must knead these skins by foot. Due to the constant need for the tanner to move the skins, the pits are referred to as ‘handlers.’” He then led Maylock to a group of pits near the far south wall. “Following this, the hide goes through a process of alternative layering with ground oak bark and then these pits are filled with a weak tanning solution. The length of time for this process will vary, depending on thickness of the hide, and for what purpose it was intended. The hides are often left in the solution for a year and a day.”
“You mean that it will take a year to tan the dragon’s hide?”
“Except for the thinner, lighter parts, yes. Perhaps the wing and some of the other thinner hides won’t take as long, but the process cannot be rushed, or the resulting leather will not be good.” He then walked over to a large bench. “After they are tanned, the shaved hides are once again washed clean and worked on this flat wooden bench with the stones, slickers and brushes you see hanging on the wall there to flatten the leather and stretch it. It is then stuffed or impregnated with a warm dubbin of mixed tallow and lush oils that we keep in these barrels. After the skins have been piled up to allow the fats to penetrate evenly, they are hung in this room over here.” He opened a heavy wooden door to reveal a large dark room with hides hanging from ropes strung from one side of the room to the other. “Here the surplus grease is removed. If a firm leather product is required for shoe soles, harness, or other purposes, the hides are simply left here to dry and season. If a softer, finer product is required, further operations such as ‘boarding’ are carried out.” Maylock looked at him questioningly, and he explained “That is simply rubbing it down on a smooth table.” He closed the door and continued, “The leather is then colored or the surface polished using a smooth stone.”
“If you would like to see what we can do with the leather we make, follow me.” He started up the nearest set of stairs. Maylock followed.
As they climbed the open wooden stairs, Maylock said, “Why haven’t you built your tannery of stone, and have ballista towers, like the rest of Rockport? Aren’t you afraid of dragon attacks?”
Richen answered, “Of the three times Rockport has been destroyed, Abraxas has never attacked the tannery. However, there is not much that fire can do but destroy the wall and the buildings. They can be re-built easy enough. Most everything of value here is in the pits, and they won’t burn. That is not to say that we don’t have a plan if we are attacked.” He stopped at the top of the stairs and pointed down at a heavy wood door that Maylock hadn’t noticed before. It looked like it was mounted into a stone frame that was lying on the ground next to the south wall. “That opens to our escape tunnel. It extends to a series of natural caves that open onto the side of the cliffs over the water. It is a rather easy climb up to safety from there.”
He turned and started along the walk in front of the upper buildings. “We make everything from shoes, saddles, harness, leather bottles, chests, books, coffers and containers, sheaths and belts, gloves, armor, great tankards and drinking vessels, bottles and buckets.”
Several men looked up momentarily from the tables where they were cutting sheets of leather into various shapes and designs. “This is where the final cutting is done. The correct cutting of the skin or hide provides adequately sized pieces of material of the right thickness without blemish.” He walked over to a table which had many different knives laying on it and picked up a large bladed knife. “Several kinds of knives are used for leather cutting. One of the most distinctive is this half-moon knife.”
They walked to the next building, “This is one of the assembly rooms.” There was no one in this room at the time. He walked around the room, point out various items on tables and shelves as they passed. “Leather objects are assembled by a number of techniques. Stitching is the most common. This thread is made from flax yarn rolled with beeswax. Hot animal glue is used for box covering and attaching leather to other structures. Objects such as armor, great tankards, drinking vessels, bottles and buckets are made by molding. This is done by soaking the leather in cold water until it is thoroughly saturated. It can then be modelled over molds of plaster, wood or metal.”
He took them to the next building. “This is where ornamentation is applied,” he said as he opened the door. “Ornamentation of the leatherwork is quite common. This is done in a variety of ways. Incising with blunt or sharp tools. Punching or stamping with a variety of iron and bronze tools. Stamping is used widely in book binding. Modeling, to leave the important features in low relief. Embossing, which is performed with a ball tool from the backside of the leather.” He pointed out the various tools as he described them.
He opened a door to another room in this building. There were tables and many brushes and pots. There were various colored stains on the tables and floor. “The final process for many objects is adding decoration with colored dyes and paints. Some small sections may even receive gold leaf, which is adhered to the surface under the heat and pressure of this book-binding tool.”
They left that building and continued on. “This next building is our kitchen. You are welcome to join us for lunch.”
“I am afraid that I have lost my appetite for some reason,” Maylock said from behind her scented scarf.
“No one ever wants to eat with me,” Richen said with a grin. “I don’t suppose that I can blame you. Most of the workers here prefer to wait until they get away from here before they eat. It takes a long time to grow accustomed to the smell. It even keeps the rats away. I hardly notice it anymore.” They came to the last building. “This is my office. Come in and we can discuss any issues, or questions you may have.” He held open the door and Maylock glided in.
His office was spacious and had large windows that could overlook the yard below. There was a large, leather topped desk, and several chairs made from horns and antlers, upholstered in the finest leather. To one side there was a wooden frame that contained the preserved skin of a fire drake. This was complete with outstretched wings and complete head. “I am quite proud of that one,” said Richen as he sat down behind his desk “The owner has never returned to collect it. I am afraid he may have come to an untimely death. Such is the fate of many an adventurer.” He paused to allow Maylock to examine his trophy. “Would you be interested in purchasing this perhaps? I can let you have it at a preferred client price.”
“I am not here to talk about fire drakes, but red dragons,” Maylock said. “I am satisfied that you can handle the dragon’s hide, but there is much more to be considered when dealing with the carcass of a colossal red dragon.”
Maylock motioned to one of the chairs and it moved to a position across the desk from Richen. She settled into it and said, “It will all depend upon how much damage is done to the body before it is killed. For now, let’s assume the best.” Richen nodded and Maylock continued, “I have determined, conservatively, that a properly preserved and carefully processed Colossal Dragon should be able to provide a minimum of 8 vials of Blood, 4 vials of Stomach Acid, 3 vials of Gall, 3 vials of musk, 8 sets of scale male sized for medium sized creatures and 16 shields. The armor created has no special properties other than being extremely tough and its masterwork quality. However, a spell caster with the proper Dragoncrafter training can imbue even greater powers into the armor. The carcass can provide not only armor, but also weapons, rings, rods, staffs, and other wondrous items created from various dragon parts.”
“Now let’s discuss each of the major parts in detail.”
“Fine,” said Richen as he noticed a black rat’s nose twitching as it poked out from one of Maylock’s large sleeves.
“First the head,” Maylock said. “Skulls are more expensive than any other bone inside a dragon’s body, believed to be the seat of their intelligence and spellcasting power, not to mention that there is only one per dragon. If the skull is too badly damaged to sell intact, you should carefully remove each of the teeth, to be fashioned into weapons or sold separately. The brain (which is surprisingly small), eyes, and tong must each be carefully removed and preserved. If the head is in reasonably good condition, the church requires that it be mounted on its skull for display in a location of their choosing. You must carefully remove and tan the skin. All of the larger scales must be removed and carefully marked so they can be re-attached in their original locations. The same goes for all of the horns and spines. Plaster can then be added to the skull where needed before gluing the skin back in place and re-attaching the scales and horns. Perhaps glass eyes and a replica tong can be added, if we can find someone with the proper skill to create these.”
“I know just the man to create those,” said Richen.
“Good,” said Maylock. “Now special care must be taken with the eyes. Dragons tend to lose the pupil as they age, turning into glowing slits of molten metal. The eye of a dragon can be turned into a powerful scrying device or become the ingredient of items that bestow the user with the dragon’s acute and supernatural senses. Even as baubles, dragon eyes are impressive to behold, and are among the most expensive ingredients found in dragoncraft.”
“Dragon tongues are a soft yet extremely tough material, for they must withstand the dragon’s breath weapon while still serving as a very sensitive sensory organ. The tongue is an organ heavily laden with magical energies as the dragon uses it for spellcasting. It also resonates strongly with the energy type of a dragon’s breath, which makes it useful for items that grant an attack with or protection from that energy type, fire in this case.”
“Next let’s discuss the neck,” she said. “A dragon’s neck is not as useful as other parts of the body, mostly salvageable for the spine, bony ridges, crest and flesh. Red dragons have the organs for their breath weapon located in the neck, so that must be removed and preserved.”
“After that comes the dragon’s torso. This contains the bulk of usable hide, the largest scales, the thickest part of the spine and ridges and last but not least, the internal organs. It also contains the powerful musculature that moves the wings and limbs. The internal organs found in the torso of a dragon vary in size and function, not to mention the prices they accrue. Hearts are perhaps the most coveted of a dragon’s internal organs but you can also find good use for the liver, lungs and stomach of a dragon. The liver can be used for Dahak’s fire, a volatile alchemical reagent. Their stomach acids are powerful and could be used for quite a few things. All of these things must be carefully removed and preserved. I will be here to direct and help with magics where required.”
“I will be glad for the help,” Richen said. “I have been offered the assistance of every butcher in Rockport, but they have limited knowledge of internal organs.”
“Continuing on,” said Maylock. “The dragon’s extremities are extremely valuable as well. They contain the strongest and largest bones in a dragon’s body, suitable to be made into weapons or even building materials. The muscles and sinews are also very strong. The paws of a dragon are nimble and strong. The bones are well suited for crafting small magical items.”
“The tail suffers from much of the same stigma as the neck, except that it has no internal organs apart from the musculature and the skeleton. The muscles are, however, as strong as those from the limbs”
“Dragon wings are mainly exploited for their leathery spans, used to craft clothing and sometimes leather armor. The ‘fingers’ that hold the wings together serve the same purpose as the fingers from the paws. A dragon wing can be rendered flexible enough to wear as a cloak, but on older dragons it often has many large holes and scars.”
“You mentioned the blood,” said Richen. “We normally just drain it all and wash it away. Is it worth trying to save some?”
Maylock could hardly believe he was asking this question. “Of course you must save as much as possible. The blood of dragons is said to have powerful properties. It can be used as the component of potions and unguents. It could also be smeared over any other kind of magic item, along with the proper incantation, to imbue it with a portion of the dragon’s nature. Common folk believe that bathing in red dragon’s blood can bestow upon someone a gift of protection against weapons or the dragon’s fire breath. This may not be true, but it is a common belief.”
She realized that she needed to go into as much detail as possible, so she continued, “The hide, of course, has many uses. The most obvious use for dragonhide is the crafting of armor and shields but several other types of worn magical items can be made from dragon hide.”
“The bones must all be saved. They have many uses depending on the caster who gets his hands on them and even the kind of bones they are. They can be used as the frame for a magical item, powdered into spell components or ingredients for balms, potions, inks and other minor but not less powerful items. A weaponsmith could craft the bone of a dragon into the haft of a weapon or even fashion it into a weapon itself. Dragon knuckles have been known to serve as scrying and fortune-telling devices, while the bones from the limbs of great wyrms are a much coveted architectural material.”
“The softer tissue must also all be saved. The softer tissue of a dragon’s body has more value than its bones, as it decays quickly unless magically treated. Construct builders can use a dragon’s flesh to create very strong golems, although it could also serve well as an offering to summoned outsiders, particularly to those of evil inclinations. The sinews and ligaments have proven to be extremely strong and make for very good ropes, cords, belts and similar items. It is said that nothing can escape from a net of dragon sinews, and a bowstring of dragon tendons can surpass the strength capabilities of a mighty bow. Dragon flesh must be cured or kept fresh before it decays, or it becomes worthless. The torso and tail provide most of the meet. There is no recorded benefits from eating dragon meet, but it always sales at a premium because of its rarity. Selling dragon meet for consumption is extremely insulting to dragonkind, so care should be taken to keep secret the identity of those who purchase it.”
“The dragon’s ‘pointy bits’, the claws, teeth, bony ridges and horns are ideal for making weapons, although they also see use as charms and ornaments for wizards’ staves. The horns are also the best part of a dragon to build blowing horns to summon and/or control dragons, although smaller specimens find their way to a fighter’s helm all too frequently.”
“We discussed scales earlier, and I must stress the need to save and preserve as many of them as possible. Dragon scales vary in size according to the part of the body where they are taken from, not to mention the size of the dragon in question. A single scale may be fashioned into amulets or small carvings, or a collection can be used to make armor.”
“Yes,” said Richen. “And any remnants that are not of a quality to be sold to users of magic, or to the trades, can be sold to the common people. Some popular beliefs are that dragon liver can cure a cold, dragon powder grows hair, with dragon blood you’ll never grow old, dragon cartilage keeps you thin, dragon fat is for burns, and that a dragon tear will clear up your skin.”
Maylock objected, saying “magical and alchemical study has not confirmed the truth of any of these.”
“No,” said Richen. “But they can be exploited in the sale of these items to the uneducated.”
Maylock stood and her chair moved back out of her way. “I believe the dragon body will be in good hands here with you. You can rest assured that I will give you a good report to the church elders when I meet with.”
Richen rose and said, “It was a pleasure to have met you.”
With that Maylock and Bedřich left the tannery and returned to Rockport.
Olorry Gleamheart referred to his adventuring group as “The Military Sodality of Crossbowmen, Archers, Swordsmen, Clerics and Wizards of the First Order Dedicated to Serving the Deity Heironeous with a Will of Iron” – or simply the “Iron Sodality.” At this time his group consisted of 4 people. There was Olorry himself, of course, who was known to all as Sir Gleamheart, first paladin of Heironeous. There was also the cleric of Heironeous whose name was Pitchlight, the mysterious female Half -elf Wizard, Maylock, and Sir Gleamheart’s oldest friend, a rogue named Shaster Carter that some still referred to by his old nickname “Pickman.” The Iron Sodality had spent the last several years adventuring on the high seas where they traveled from port to port fighting pirates, monsters, and combating enemies of the faith. Now that they had returned to their home port to lead a quest to defeat the dragon Abraxas they were experiencing a major setback. The dragon’s attack on the town left their expedition short on people, equipment and funds.
After rallying their remaining forces and evaluating their situation, each of the four members of their group went off in a different direction. Each had a separate task that needed to be done as quickly as possible.
Shaster, the green caped rogue, went down to the docks, to their ship, the Deadwater Bay. There were only a few ships still docked where there had been at least a dozen two days earlier. The wet wood of the docks was littered with ropes, boards and the scattered remains of broken crates and torn nets. The ship docked at the next pier had been burned by the dragon. It was still afloat but had burned nearly to the water line before the fire had been put out. An old man with gray hair and scraggly gray beard was standing on the pier and calling out instructions to the three bare-chested sailors that were in the process of dismantling and removing the charred main mast from the ships burned middeck.
“Mister Rashid!” Shaster called out to the old man as he approached. “Mister Rashid!” he called out again as he got a little closer.
The old man heard him this time, “Boss!” he answered as he waved to the rogue. Aram Rashid was the Deadwater Bay’s carpenter and he had always referred to all 4 of the adventures that owned the ship as Boss. It was commonly thought by the crew that he simply never bothered to learn their names. “Watch your step Boss. Don’t trip on that breast line.”
“What are you doing over here?” Shaster asked with a smile. “Have you run out of repairs to do on your own ship?”
“No sir Boss,” he said while guiding the sailors to position the removed mast on sawhorses that were positioned on the dock to receive it. “You know that I have been needing to replace my topmast ever since that Kraken gave it a twist. It hasn’t set true since then.” As he talked he walked to one end of the mast bending down, looking along its length and gently rolling it right and left. “This ship’s captain was killed in the attack and the harbor master says that we can help ourselves to any salvage we want off of her,” he said. “This should do just fine. It is of a fine, old growth oak and has a dense strong core. It is charred but it is straight and the core is unharmed. I can plane off the charred wood and trim it to length. What good luck.”
“I doubt that that ship’s captain would have seen it that way. How soon can you have all the repairs done sufficient to sail?”
“I can have this shaped and installed by day’s end. There are no other repairs needed that would keep us from sailing at first light tomorrow. I was hoping that we could stay long enough to remove most of the barnacles from the hull. Are we leaving port soon? I thought you had a dragon to catch.”
“I need to talk to Captain Casey first. Just don’t delay any repairs and stay close.”
The familiar voice of his ship’s first mate called from the other side of the pier, from the rigging of the Deadwater Bay, “Ahoy Mister Carter!”
As Shaster turned to look in that direction a shadow passed over him and a large harry ape-like creature landed on the pier beside him. They clasped each other’s forearms in friendly greeting. Shaster said “Hello, Garsh. How’s the ship?” His ship’s first mate was an Hadozee. He had glided down by means of his patagium, a furry parachute-like membrane that stretched from wrist to ankle.
Garsh said, “Captain had us stow all the sails and most of the rigging below decks. On account of possible fire breath attacks don’t you see? The men are just now stowing the last of the canvas. Will you be coming aboard now sir?”
As he turned to walk toward his ship, Shaster said “Yes, I need to talk to the captain as soon as possable.” Garsh grabbed him with one great harry arm around the waist and dived with him over the edge of the pier. He grabbed a line with his other hand and they both swung in a wide loop down and then up over the gunwale. Shaster’s big floppy hat flew off but Garsh Caught it with his hand-like foot and they landed safely on the quarterdeck. Shaster snatched his hat and started to yell at Garsh, “Don’t ever …” when his boots were splashed with a bucket of water.
A startled sailor with an empty water bucket in his hands said, “I am so sorry sir! I didn’t see you there until it was too late to stop. The captain is having us wet down the decks twice every hour. That is so the ship won’t catch fire if the dragon comes back.”
Garsh said, “You said you were in a hurry.” Then he jumped from board to boom to half-mast and away through the rigging he went.
Shaster just turned and stomped down to the captain’s cabin. When he entered, the captain looked up from his desk. “What happened to you?” he asked with a bit of a chuckle. “Fall overboard?”
“It was Garsh,” Shaster said as he flopped down into the large padded chair that sat across from the desk. Then he noticed that the big feather in his hat was totally soaked. “What are we going to do about that Hadozee? He has no respect for a man’s dignity.” He poured himself a drink from the cut glass bottle sitting on a small table next to his chair.
“No, but he is the best damned sailor I have ever seen. I wouldn’t trade one of him for four more ‘civilized’ first mates. You know for yourself that he spends ninety percent of his time climbing around in the rigging, and the sailors all have his respect.” The captain walked over and poured himself a drink. “You didn’t leave the drinking parlors and gambling halls of town to talk about Garsh. What business brings you to my ship this time of day?” Although, technically, the Deadwater Bay was owned jointly by the four members of the Iron Sodality, as its captain, Casey Shearwater always referred to it as his ship. He never cared for his last name and when introduced to strangers he always said, “You can call me Captain or you can call me Casey or you can call me Captain Casey, but don’t call me Shearwater.”
Shaster took a sip of his drink. I was a dark brown liquor they had picked up at their last port, and he had become quite fond of it. “Olorry said I was to have you take the ship out, away from Rockport until the dragon is dealt with. He gives orders like the rest of us were his crew rather than his partners. But he is right about this. We won’t be needing it for at least a month, maybe more.” He took another sip and continued, “He is afraid that if the dragon finds out that we own this ship he will come after it.”
The songbird in the corner was anxiously walking back and forth on his perch, trying to get the captain’s attention. Captain Casey pulled some seeds from his vest pocket and walked over to the bird, “Settle down Yasha. You would think that I never fed you.” As the songbird ate the seeds from his hand he said, “With the Iron Sodality’s permission, I should like to take the ship on the magic ice run.”
“You have been trying to get us to make that run for as long as I have known you. Do you think the crew is up to it without our protection?”
“With all due respect, you helped select these sailors as much for their fighting ability as for their seamanship. Some didn’t know a bowline from a half hitch when they signed on. As to their fighting ability, they have proven that several times over. I expect we can take on whatever we come across without the four of you keeping us safe.”
“I guess that is true enough,” said Shaster. “Tell me again about the magic ice run. How does that go exactly?”
“As I’ve said before, first we load up with all of the metal items we can get. The cinnamon islands don’t have any metal, and they don’t get many trade ships because they are surrounded by dangerous waters and monsters. I will have to buy all of the pots and pans, axes, knives, nails, and everything else made of metal that I can find.”
“What kind of monsters?”
“There are tells of dragon turtles, but there are definitely sirens. But the monsters are only half the problem. There are no natural harbors, and the entire coastline is rocky cliffs. We will have to anchor a way off shore and take the small boat in. We can trade the metal items for a big load of spices. They have cinnamon of course, but also pepper, dragon tongue and many other rare and exotic spices. Once we leave there, if we avoid the pirates, we will sail straight to North Icely. The timing is good because their ice pack should just now be clearing.”
He fed Yasha some more seeds and continued, “North Icely trades mostly in timber and precious stones, but for pepper and spices, they will trade for magic ice.”
Shaster set down his glass and tried to knock the water off his hat and feather. “Didn’t you say that the ice isn’t truly magical?”
“That’s right. The story is that they discovered it a few years ago in one of their ruby mines. At first they thought it was just a frozen underground river.”
“What makes it so special?”
“They say that it is so cold that if you touch it with your ungloved hand it burns like fire. Also it doesn’t melt into water but slowly gets smaller as it melts leaving only cold air. A small piece of it in water doesn’t float. It pops and crackles and the water boils creating steam as if it were over a fire, but instead of being hot, the water is made cold. Small amounts of water poured over a large amount of the magic ice freezes into normal ice. But mages have examined it and say that it has no detectable magical properties.”
Shaster said, “That sounds amazing, and dangerous. How will you haul it?”
Captain Casey walked back over to his desk, “They dig it out of the ground like they would stone. We will line our hull with hay and cover that with sand. The magic ice will go over that and then we will cover it with another layer of sand and hay. There should be no danger as long as we wear gloves when we handle it. The next part of our voyage will be to make our way to the Port of Sultans by the great desert. It is early enough in the year that if we get there fast enough we will have not lost more than half of the magic ice from melting. Of course we risk losing it all if we are delayed. Here, I’ll show you course I plan to take.”
The captain cleared off his desk and unrolled a map of the North Sea. As the captain traced his intended course with his finger he said, “The Sultans will pay a great sum for the magic ice. We have been told that they store it in abandoned water wells. We should return here in about two months with our coffers full of gold. We will, of course, split the profit with the ship’s owners.”
Shaster thought for a minute, then looked up at the captain and smiled. “How soon can you leave?”
“It will take a day to acquire the metal trade goods and provision for the trip. The ship repairs and re-rigging should be completed at the same time. We can leave port the day after tomorrow.”
“And how long will you be away?”
“The entire round trip should not take over eight weeks.”
“Good,” said Shaster. “Do it. The other 3 will come aboard this evening to fetch their gear, or send someone for it. Don’t mention the magic ice run to them. Just say that you have agreed to stay away for a few weeks, to keep the ship out of danger. We will surprise them when you return with your coffers full.” He shook the captain’s hand, donned his soggy hat, and left the captain’s cabin with a spring in his step and smile on his face. Having done his assigned chore for the day, he intended to spend the rest of his day drinking, gambling and flirting with the bar maids. Perhaps someone would be foolish enough to pick a fight with him. He hadn’t fought a proper duel in over a year now and thought it about time for another.
Gimble had been staying in an ally where he had stashed his carpet bag. Just before dark, he retrieved it before he and Trevan went to the inn where Trevan had been staying. Most of the front wall was missing and a little smoke was still escaping in a few places. There was an old halfling stationed at the door. He was informing everyone that walked up that they were only serving drinks with meals and those were only available if you stood at the bar. The tables were all too badly damaged. There were no rooms available, but if you had a room already, they were not damaged by the fire.
They had fish soup at the bar. Gimble had to stand on a block of stone that had been part of the front wall. They were served by the halflings that had brought Trevan his bath yesterday. Buxter, the half-orc owner, was sweeping up the rubble. After eating they went to Trevan’s room. He was not surprised that Aramil had not yet arrived. The window had been left open to help clear the smoke. The smell of wood smoke and sulfur still lingered in the air. Gimble bedded down on the floor beside Trevan’s bed.
About an hour before sunrise, Trevan and Gimble were awakened by Aramil, saying that they didn’t have time to waste if they were going to get to the warehouse by sunup. Aramil was already dressed and waited patiently while Trevan and Gimble got ready. They talked about the dragon attacks yesterday. Aramil had helped with a fire at one of the towers. Abraxas knocked the top of off the tower and destroyed the ballista. The tower top landed in the street and crushed a passing merchant. Abraxas breathed fire down into the opening he had made. The tower was a total loss, but they were able to prevent the fire from spreading to adjacent buildings. Trevan and Gimble told him about the dragon attack at the warehouse.
They ate a quick breakfast and headed toward the warehouse. On the way, Aramil told Trevan about the planned quest and the scouts’ part in it. “The rout to the base of Fire Mountain is well known. It has been known for centuries that Abraxas has his lair somewhere in that mountain. It is a large semi-active volcano within the Black Mountains. To get there we will take the north road into the mountains, past the freehold of Neverwild up to the Dwarven mine of Clearwater. From there we follow old dwarfen and elfin paths through the mountains until we reach Fire Mountain.”
“The scouts are to go ahead,” he said. “We can travel a lot faster than the main party, who will be slowed by the wagons. Our task for the first part of the quest will be to inform them of any obstacles or dangers that may lie ahead. Sir Gleamheart made it very clear that he didn’t expect the scouts to clear away any monsters, but simply to keep the main group informed as to the road conditions ahead and possibly recommend alternate routs if necessary. A camp will be established at the base of Fire Mountain and the scouts, along with other groups as may be assigned for the purpose, will then locate the entrance to the dragon’s lair. Sir Gleamheart will determine the appropriate tactics for combating Abraxas, based on conditions at the time. After killing Abraxas, everyone will participate in loading his horde onto the wagons and they will be divided as you were previously told.”
“How far away is this Fire Mountain?”
“About three weeks travel by wagon. An elf on foot could be there in five days.”
“A gnome could make it in four,” said Gimble.
“A hollow boast,” said Aramil. “If I am not mistaken, you have never been to Fire Mountain.”
“No, but I’ll bet that I can beat you to the warehouse!” He took off running down the center of the street, dodging a vender that was setting up his cart for selling leather goods, ducking under the cart and narrowly missing a young girl carrying a large basket of bread. Aramil looked up at the sky. It was turning from indigo to a clear light blue and becoming much brighter. “We should hurry, the sun is just rising.” With this the elf and the young ranger began to run down the road in pursuit of the gnome. They caught up with him just as they reached the warehouse.
. . .
A small crowd had gathered at the front of the warehouse. The courtyard was filled with men in armor, stable boys, merchants, curious children and onlookers of all sorts. Everyone seamed to be standing around in groups of two of three, just waiting. As Trevan, Aramil and Gimble approached they saw the people on the far side of the courtyard quickly moving to the side as a procession approached from the dock side. It was lead by four on horseback and followed closely by a dozen or so on foot.
Sir Gleamheart was mounted on a large pure-white warhorse whose long white main and tail were bouncing as the fiery stallion pranced forward. Sparks flew from his hooves as they struck the cobblestones. The horse was dressed in the finest steel armor. His rider was dressed in full plate mail complete with gauntlets and full helmet. The morning sun reflected brightly off Sir Gleamheart’s polished shield and armor. A long blue and white banner was streaming from the tip of the lance. The symbol of Heironeous was proudly embroidered on the chest of his tunic and enameled onto his shield.
Beside Sir Gleamheart rode the cleric Pitchlight. In contrast to the paladin’s stallion, the cleric’s horse was a smaller and more sedate black gelding. This muscular horse was obviously bread for speed. It’s main and tell were cut short and it was draped in white and blue barding. Pitchlight was in chainmail from neck to foot. He had a large silver holy symbol set with several rubies hanging from his neck and was calling for everyone to clear the way.
Behind the cleric was the wizard Maylock. She rode on a brown pony with no reigns or halter. She sat upright with her arms inside her coat. She appeared to be controlling her horse by her thoughts alone.
Next to her rode Pickman on his horse, a courser that appeared to be a swift and strong dappled horse with light tack and saddle. He was wearing a large floppy hat with a large feather and a green cape. As they rode up he was smiling and chatting with several of the crowd that was following along side. When Sir Gleamheart stopped at the edge of the courtyard Pickman hopped off his horse and walked to the other side to an apple cart. He flipped a copper piece to the merchant and set cross-legged on the cobblestones. He leaned back against the wheel of the cart and began pealing the apple with his dagger as he waited for the paladin to speak.
The others pulled up beside the stallion as an aid took Sir Gleamheart’s lance. He removed his gauntlets and handed them to another aid. He carefully removed his helmet and with a flick of his head his golden hair tumbled perfectly to his shoulders. Trevan rubbed his hand over his own face feeling his beard’s morning stubble as he looked at Sir Gleamheart’s perfectly shaven face. All activity ceased. All eyes turned to watch. All ears listened intently. Sir Gleamheart looked at them all and when he spoke each man felt as if he were speaking directly to him.
“You are aware of the terrible events that befell Rockport last night. Indeed, you may have been directly affected by the tragedy. I greave for the fallen and their families.” After a pause and a slight shake of his head he continued, “The town will be rebuilt. The wounds will heal. The widows and orphans will be cared for. And the dead shall be revenged!” This was greeted with a round of cheers from all.
Gleamheart continued, “The evil red dragon, this cowardly worm named Abraxas, has caused a delay in the start of our quest, but in this unprovoked attack he has only strengthened our resolve!” More cheers. “As soon as we replenish our supplies we shall travel to Fire Mountain and destroy him where he hides. We will then take the treasure he has been stealing from the people of this land for centuries and use it to build Rockport into the world class seaport it of right should be, and would be if not for his unremitting threat to our safety. Farmers will then be free to return to the fields. Chops will flourish. Livestock will once again grow fat on the land and springtime will be blessed with new life as it was intended. The markets will be filled with produce, meat, fish, honey, milk, grain and fruit from our abundant fields. Your money pouch will be heavy with coins and gems from trade when ships come laden with the finest cloth and manufactured goods. Within a few years there will be an influx of artisans and manufacturers of all kinds. Rockport will become known to all as she is known to us. A place of natural beauty with an abundance of natural resources and, most of all, a safe place filled with friendly, hard working people. As soon as the threat of Abraxas is removed, this will again be a wonderful place to raise your families.” Gleamheart again paused and smiled as everyone cheered.
When everyone had settled down he continued, “Thank all of you for your support. Now I need to talk just to those of you who have signed on to be a part of the church sponsored quest. Would you please gather around me here. If there are any others who would like to join the quest, Pitchlight would like to talk to you. Additional positions are now available. I thank the rest of you again. Please disperse now and tell all of your friends and neighbors what you heard here this morning. Thank you.” A couple of aids helped him to dismount as a handful of people came closer and the rest of the crowd slowly left the courtyard.
“First I need to talk to the scouts,” he said. Trevan and Aramil walked over to him with Gimble close behind. Trevan looked around for the rest of the scouts and saw that no one else was joining them.
Aramil said, “Sir Gleamheart, this is Trevan.”
Trevan extended his hand. “It’s good to meet you.”
With a broad smile, Gleamheart took his hand with both of his and said, “So this is the young ranger that can track dragons through the air?” While shaking Trevan’s hand as if he were his long lost brother, he looked straight into his eyes. Somehow, looking into Gleamheart’s crystal blue eyes filled Trevan with a courage he had never felt before. At that moment, he knew that he would follow this man through the gates of hell. He had never met anyone with more charisma. Gleamheart then noticed Aramil looking around for the other scouts. His face grew somber as he released Trevan’s hand and placed a hand on Aramil’s shoulder and on Trevan’s as well. “I am afraid you are the only two scouts we have left. One died last night and the clerics were unable to resurrect him. The other three came to me last night and returned their coins. I must ask each of you now, as I will ask the others who remain, are you sure you want to continue on this quest? There will be no dishonor in resigning.”
“Yes, of course!” Trevan exclaimed. “It is the reason I came here. I will track down and kill this dragon on my own if necessary!”
“That’s the kind of enthusiasm I like to hear!” Sir Gleamheart replied. “And what about you, Aramil? Are you still committed to the cause?”
“I am.” he replied with a slight nod of his head.
“Good!” said Sir Gleamheart. “Very good indeed! I am going to have to re-provision the quest, of course, but the reason I wanted to talk to the scouts first is that there is no reason you can’t start out right away. The rest of us will follow along in a day or two, as soon as we can replace our lost supplies.” He reached into a pouch at his belt and pulled out some coins. He handed one to Aramil. “This is to replace the one you gave to Trevan.” He then turned to Trevan. “Five more shares go to you.” He placed 5 shiny new gold coins in his hand. “You should have received 6 shares to begin with, and after last night I now have these available. I have a feeling you are going to earn them.”
He then turned away to retrieve some items from his saddle bags. He continued talking, “As you know Aramil, there was some discussion about providing the scouts with horses. I have decided against it. You will be less likely to be noticed on foot, and you might have to abandon your horses should you succeed in locating Abraxas’ lair. For those and other reasons, I am afraid that you will be traveling on foot.” He turned and handed each of them a coil of rope. “These are 50 feet of the finest silk rope.” Trevan had never seen anything like it. It was pure white an only about one quarter of an inch thick. It was so light in his hand he could hardly feel it. “We picked some up on our latest travels. You will find that it will support as much weight as one inch thick hemp. You might find it useful.” He then turned back to his saddle bags and returned with four small, tightly stopper, glass bottles. He gave two bottles to each of them. They were of fine clear glass and their stoppers sealed with wax. “Keep these safe, and always within easy reach. They just might save your life.”
“What are they?” Trevan asked as he examined them closely. One had a reddish liquid and red wax seal, the other was blue tinted with tiny bubbles and a blue wax seal.
“The red one is a potion of fire resistance. I have acquired as many of these as possible. After consuming the entire contents of the bottle it should provide enough protection to save you from a single dragon breath but the protection only lasts about 30 minutes. The blue one is a healing potion. Drink it all for it to work. It should heal all but the most sever damage you might have received. Or perhaps prevent you from dying from a sever wound.
“Aramil, you know the plan. Remember, your primary job is to locate Abraxas’ lair and report back. Under no circumstances are you to engage in combat with that dragon! It will do us no good for you to locate his lair and then get yourselves killed before getting that information back to us.
“Good luck to the two of you. Get your gear together and get underway as quickly as possible. We shouldn’t be more than two days behind you.” With that Sir Gleamheart waved for the others to gather around and he began talking to them about the quest.
Trevan said goodbye to Gimble, someone came from behind Sir Gleamheart and handed Trevan and Aramil each three days trail rations. With that they returned to the inn, retrieved their gear, settled their debts, walked out the north gate, and started along the road leading into the mountains. They had gone less than a mile when Gimble came running up from behind. He had his carpet bag tied into a small bundle and strapped to his back.
“They said they no longer needed a cook,” he said. “So I gave them back their coin and decided to help you guys. Besides, I couldn’t stand the thought of you having to eat trail rations.”
So the three of them began their trek. As they headed off along the trail, a hawk circled and then landed on Trevan’s shoulder.
The fog had been cleared from the town square but quickly returned. Trevan left the square and headed back towards the docks. He noticed damage caused by Abraxas at several locations. He would later learn that two towers, four buildings and two ships had been attacked. Not one ballista had been fired. The city maintained tanks full of water on each street for fire protection. The citizens had formed bucket brigades and put out all of the fires. Half a dozen citizens had been killed, twice that number seriously harmed. One city guard was missing.
He reached the warehouse. The side doors were closed so he entered through the large double doors at the end. The activity he had witnessed earlier was gone. The horses and mules were all in their stables. Their packs rested beside the stable doors. The wagons were lined up facing the open doors with their boxes and crates all tied down securely. They had barrels tied to their sides and they had harnesses and rigging arranged to allow the teams of horses to be hooked up quickly in the morning. The wagon in front was filled with ropes, tents, camping and climbing gear of all sorts. Next was the ballista wagon stacked with bolts and extra bow strings. After that was the food wagon, filled with boxes and crates of salted meats, grain, pickles, fruit, lard, other foods and cooking gear. Last of all there were three small, one-horse carts filled with hay for the horses. A fresh layer of straw was covering the floor. A few guards were walking around. Two guards were at a grinding wheel, sharpening their swords. Trevan spotted Gimble attaching light blue and white ribbons to everything.
Trevan asked Gimble if he had heard about the dragon attack. Gimble looked around to make sure no one was listening and said, “Of course. Someone ran in and told everybody what was happening. Mast of the people that were left ran out to help fight the fires. Just about everybody was already gone. They all got everything finished here a little earlier.” He looked around again and said, “I checked my gem and the silver dragon was gone.”
“Yes, I know. I’ll tell you all about that later. Where is Abraxas now?”
“I watched the gem as the red star moved around, got brighter and dimmer and then it finally went dark. They said that they couldn’t see him through the fog, so they couldn’t shoot him. A single hit from a ballista bolt might kill a dragon; two or three hits will kill it for sure. But they didn’t have time to aim. The one we are taking is slow to aim, but if the dragon lands and will stay still for a minute … Well, the ballista team has been practicing and has gotten pretty good.”
“Let’s check the gem again, just to make sure it’s not coming back.”
“Okay, but he must have been at least two miles away and traveling fast towards the mountains when it went dark.”
They went to the inside corner beside the open door and Gimble took the gem out of its leather pouch. It was glowing with a red light shining as bright as a torch! Gimble almost dropped it. Trevan readied his crossbow as they heard someone scream in the courtyard and the sound of leather wings followed by the sound of a heavy ancient dragon landing on cobblestone. Trevan thought of the potion bottle that the Starling had given him. He decided not to drink it and moved this arm to hold Gimble back into the corner. This was not necessary. Gimble was not going anywhere. They closed their eyes to a sudden blinding light as a cone of fire engulfed the line of wagons. A moment later Trevan ran out of the doorway and saw above him, a large red scaled tail disappearing into the swirling fog. He fired into the air but hit nothing. Looking down, he could make out the distinct outline of a red dragon footprint.
The wagons were all in flames. The dry straw on the floor was burning. The fire was spreading fast. The ropes, the canvas, the hay, the bow strings, the lard, the grain was all burning. The wagons themselves were beginning to burn. Two of the guards came running out followed by two that were on fire. They dropped and rolled and, with the help of others in the courtyard, quickly had their burning clothes extinguished. They suffered severe burns over much of their bodies. Another guard fell while trying to leave the fire. Trevan ran in and pulled him to safety. Two others were caught in the blast and died in the flame.
Trevan and Gimble went to the far side of the courtyard. In a secluded area between buildings, they checked the gem. The red light was growing dimmer as it pointed west, towards the Black Mountains. They continued to watch as it grew dimmer and dimmer. The fog was beginning to lift. After a full two minutes, the light was gone.
A man ran up to the warehouse, shouting orders. The people had already started a bucket brigade to put out the fire. This new arrival stood out from the rest. He was about six feet tall. He was wearing shiny plate mail armor with a blue and white tunic. A large silver holy symbol of Heironeous was hanging around his neck. His shoulder length, golden blond hair had a natural wave and appeared to be always blowing in the wind. He had an exquisitely handsome face with deep blue eyes and a large dimple in the center of his large square jaw.
Gimble said, “That is Sir Gleamheart. I asked around and found out quite a bit about him and his three companions. They say that he grew up here in Rockport. He studied with the priests of Heironeous until he was 16. Then he joined the kings army where he distinguished himself in battle and was knighted. He returned here 6 years ago, swore allegiance to the church, and became the first paladin of Rockport. He made a name for himself by clearing the area of orcs and other monsters. Then he and his group left on a ship two years ago where they fought sea monsters, pirates, and many other terrors, if you can believe any of the stories. They returned to fight Abraxas.”
Everyone jumped to obey his every order. He sent armored guards to each corner of the warehouse to watch the sky for the dragons return. He had men break open the side doors and directed the formation of three separate lines of buckets to fight the fire. He led others to the outside walls of the stables to save the horses and mules.
Pitchlight arrived shortly after Sir Gleamheart. He knelt beside each of the burn victims, presented his holly symbol and enchanted spells that completely healed their wounds. They tore away the burned portion of their clothing and joined in the fire fight. Gimble said, “The cleric, Pitchlight, has been traveling with Sir Gleamheart since he became a paladin. Sir Gleamheart always leads the group, but he leaves the details up to Pitchlight. He is a good fighter in his own right, but his primary function is to heal them after the fights. He handles all of the financing for the group and Sir Gleamheart relies on him for planning their trips.”
After a few minutes, it appeared that the wagons were a complete loss and the building was in danger of burning. The flames were reaching the rafters and the walls were beginning to burn. Trevan and Gimble were still keeping an eye on the gem while they watched the activity around the warehouse. The fog was almost completely gone. Gimble pointed to a woman that was approaching the fire. “That’s Maylock,” he said. “The wizard of the group.” She was a short half-elf. She stood five foot two inches tall and appeared to glide as she walked. Her smooth skin was of a dark brown hue and her slanted eyes were blue-grey. It’s hard to judge the age of a half-elf, but if she had been a human one would have judged her to be about thirty two years old. “She is not friendly. Nobody likes her,” Gimble said. She was wearing a red and gold quilted silk robe with a hem that just touched the ground. Her dark hair was tied back into one long braid in the back. She had a small square hat made of the same material as her gown. Her grim expression never changed as she raised her hands to cast a spell. A large black rat peeked out from under her collar. “That rat is her familiar,” explained Gimble. “His name is Fred.” With some well practiced magical words and nimble motions of her hands she called forth a magical spell that caused the entire inside of the warehouse to experience a rapid drop in temperature. The flames were extinguished instantly. She then cast another spell that cleared the building of all of the smoke. “No one seams to know where she came from. Some say she came on a ship from some land fare to the west. She keeps to herself and spends most of her time studying her magic books, making potions and doing other mysterious things. They say the only reason she goes on their adventures is to find old magics and forgotten spell books.”
With the fire out, Sir Gleamheart and Pitchlight rushed in to check on the guards that had died. Sir Gleamheart said that he would petition the church to resurrect them, that they had been fearless defenders of the faith. Pitchlight cast spells to prevent further deterioration of their bodies. He instructed some volunteers to take them to the temple of Heironeous. Sir Gleamheart began directing the cleanup. Pitchlight began assessing the damage and taking inventory of what could be salvaged. Maylock cast some sweeping and cleaning spells that soon had the floor cleaned down to the dirt and the ashes swept into a neat pile.
“Here comes the last member of their group,” said Gimble as he pointed towards a man running up to the warehouse. This man was thin, about five foot six, and running as fast as he could with his sword drawn and his green cape flowing behind him. “His name is Shaster Carter. He and Sir Gleamheart are life-long friends. He has a short temper and is always quick to join any fight. He likes to drink and gamble and always flirts with the ladies. He makes no secret of the fact that his reason for adventuring is to find treasure. I am sure that Sir Gleamheart finds him useful in a fight, but he probably just wants to keep him close so he can keep him out of trouble.”
“Where is the dragon?” yelled Shaster as he spun around looking at the destruction.
“He is long gone,” said Sir Gleamheart. “Put away your sword.”
“Again? Why doesn’t he stand and fight? I don’t understand why we aren’t going after him. Taking a caravan to go after a dragon is like fishing with a club. The fish gets away and you get laughed at!”
Sir Gleamheart said, “We are taking the larger group and wagons because the church asked us to. They said they would finance this quest and I said that I would lead it.” Then to everyone that was standing around he said, “Tell everyone that is going on this quest to meet here at daybreak as planned. We will take stock of the damage this evening and announce our next steps at that time.”
The inn was quiet when Trevan entered. Heather, the barmaid, was talking to a couple of travelers seated at a table near the entrance. There were three shady looking characters laughing over drinks at the bar. There was no one else there. Trevan made his way to a table in the far corner near the fireplace. Heather started over to him and he called out to her that he only wanted a flagon of mead. She nodded, quickly fetched it and set it on the table in front of him. He asked if she could sit and talk to him for a couple of minutes. She glanced around and said, “Sure.” She set down and said, “Did you get signed up to go fight Abraxas?”
“Yes I did. They needed another scout.”
“I really wish you wouldn’t go with them,” she said. “I was beginning to like you.”
“I’ll be back.”
“You will be dead. And so will the rest of them. You don’t stand a chance against an ancient dragon.”
Trevan looked into her eyes. He hadn’t noticed before that they contained silver specks. In his best draconian he said, “I guess that you would know all about dragons, being a silver dragon yourself.”
Her eyes got wide and her mouth fell open. She grasped the table with both hands and looked quickly around to see if anybody was close enough to hear. Trembling slightly, she leaned closer and, in a near whisper, said, “How did you find out?”
“I can’t tell you that.”
“What do you want?”
“Like I said, I just want to talk to you for a few minutes.”
She relaxed a little, looked around the room again, and said, “Okay. What do you want to talk about?”
Trevan smiled and said, “Dragons.”
“I can’t tell you where Abraxas’s lair is, or how to defeat him. I wouldn’t tell you if I could.”
“Let’s talk about you then. Why do you live here, as a human?”
She looked up at the ceiling while collecting her thoughts. How could she explain this in a way he could understand? Finally she asked, “How old do you think I am?”
“You look to be about 26 to me.”
“I’m 789 years old. I find it quite pleasant to spend 15 to 20 years in human form from time to time. I will usually be someone inconspicuous and unimportant and work somewhere that I can hear about all the events and activities in an area. When I heard that the city was rebuilt and Abraxas was active again, I came here out of curiosity.”
“How old is Abraxas?”
“I’m not exactly sure. I believe he is close to 1,000 years old.”
Trevan didn’t know what to ask. He never dreamed that he would actually be talking to a dragon. He just knew that he couldn’t let this opportunity pass without learning more about them. He was sure that the more he knew the better prepared he would be when he faced one in battle.
“When you are in human form, what about your dragon body do you miss the most? I would guess it would be flying.”
“What a wonderful question,” she said. “In all of my years, I have never been asked that.” She thought for a second, and then said, “It’s not the flying. I love to fly, of course, but what I miss the most is not being able to hear well. You may not realize this, but compared to dragons you humans are nearly deaf. Elves are quite a bit better, but even they can’t hear as well as we can. In my natural form I could not only hear all the conversations in here, but those in the street outside as well.”
“How do your other senses compare to ours?”
“As far as your sense of sight is concerned, there is no comparison. The first time I transformed to a Human, I thought I had done it wrong. I felt like I was going blind. The human eyeball simply can’t absorb enough light. Not only can I see in total darkness, I can identify individual human faces over a mile away.
“And humans have almost no sense of smell. You can’t distinguish one person from another by smell alone. You can’t follow a sent trail, even a fresh one. Much less one that is several days old. About all your sense of smell is good for is smelling your food before you eat it.
“Your sense of taste is, well … different. You can taste subtle differences in cooked food and have an appreciation for things that taste sweet. We dragons, in our natural form, can taste those things too but they taste different to us. Sweet things have hardly any taste at all. Even in human form I have never acquired a taste for sweet things. But in dragon form I can taste things that you can’t. If you have ever put a copper piece in your mouth, you know the taste of copper. You probably didn’t like the taste. Most humans don’t. I like that taste myself. A dragon can taste the difference in all of the different metals as well as all of the different types of stones, gems and earth. We can eat them as well. As a mater of fact, we can eat nearly anything and over 90 percent of what we eat is converted to energy. We can also taste the air which is not the same as smelling it.”
“So all of your natural senses are better than ours?”
“No. Your sense of touch is much better than ours. Imagine always being in full metal armor. In human form, I enjoy bubble baths and sleeping on feather pillows. In my natural form, I can be just as comfortable laying on sharp rocks.”
“We have one other sense that you just don’t have,” said Heather. “Some call it tremor sense, but it is more than that. If you are standing on a wooden floor and someone wearing heavy boots jumps up and down on the floor, you will feel the floor vibrate. That is similar to our tremor sense. Even when standing on solid rock, we can feel the vibrations of creatures moving about, and can tell in which direction and how far away they are. If they are close, say about 200 feet or so, we can also feel the vibrations they make when moving through the air and can locate them that way. It is a favorite tactic of some dragons, when set upon in their lair by would be robbers, to cast a darkness spell that affects the entire area. Even dragons can’t see in magical darkness, but neither can their opponents. With their tremor sense and their other superior senses they quickly defeat the intruders.”
“What else can I tell you about dragons?” she asked.
“Tell me more about dragons magical spells,” said Trevan.
“We dragons are magical by nature. We can all cast spells. The older the dragon is, the more powerful its spells can be. Each individual dragon chooses which spells to learn.”
“What spells does Abraxas know?”
Just then a group of 5 people came in the front door. They appeared to be local merchants and seated themselves around one of the larger tables. Heather said that she would be right back and went to take care of her diners. Trevan sat with his mead while she fetched food and drink for them and saw to the needs of the others in the room. Before she returned another group cane in and she took care of them as well. Eventually she returned to Trevan with a fresh flagon of mead and sat back down.
Heather continued as if they had not been interrupted, “I don’t know exactly which spells he knows. I am sure that he could defeat the group that is going after him using his magic alone, should he choose to do so. He can cause you to see things that aren’t there. He can twist your mind into believing that he is your friend even to the point that you will fight others that would do him harm. He can put magical barriers in your way. He can attack you with magic missals or cause walls and ceilings to fall on you. He can add magical protections to his already near-impenetrable body. He might make himself invisible or, if you are lucky, simply teleport away. So now you see why I don’t want you to go. You don’t stand a chance against him.”
“We are going to find his lair and fight him there,” said Trevan. “That way he won’t be able to fly and will be more restricted in his movements.”
“That is insane. A dragon knows his lair like the back of his hand. He will have it guarded with deadly traps and monsters. I don’t know where his lair is, but a red dragon will most likely lair in caves and caverns in or near a volcano. They don’t normally modify the natural caves much, but he will surely have a large lair so he can fly in and out. And it will have more than one entrance, so he can always get out if someone tries to trap him inside. There may be rivers and pools of lava to cross, false entrances and dead end passages. Confronting a red dragon in his own lair is suicide. If you find his lair when he is away, and you can get past any creatures or traps, be careful not to remove any of his treasure. Red dragons are notorious for knowing the exact contents of their horde, down to the last copper piece, and they can magically locate any missing items. He will not rest until the thief is dead and he has retrieved his stolen treasure.
“But you don’t have to worry about any of that. Even if you could, some how, fine his lair, you will all be dead before you ever get that far. He can attack you from the air and …”
They heard screaming outside. Everyone jumped from their seats. Those near the door raced outside. Someone yelled, “Dragon!” Trevan drew and loaded his crossbow as he headed towards the door. There was a loud crash. The front wall exploded. Stones and debris flew. Heather grabbed Trevan and dragged him behind a table. There was a blinding flash of light. A great billowing fire belched into the room. The heat was tremendous. It was over as quickly as it began. Trevan stood and looked around. Everything was scorched. There was the strong lingering odor of sulfur. Everything in the room that could burn was on fire except for the floor, tables, heavy timbers and thick wood. These were smoldering, but the blast didn’t last long enough for them to catch fire. If all if the smaller fires weren’t put out quickly, it wouldn’t be long before everything would be burning. Trevan ran outside. He saw people that were wounded, lame, dead and dying. Women were crying. People were running in every direction. The fog was thicker than before. He looked for the dragon, but it was gone.
Heather walked up to Trevan, “I’ll be going now. You found my secret. It won’t be long before others do as well. I see that I can’t stop you from going after him, but I want to give you something that might help you survive.” She reached up as if she were opening a small wall safe. A small door opened in the air. She reached into the extradimensional space, pulled out a small item and handed it to Trevan. It was a glass bottle made of cheap brown glass with a wooden stopper tied down with thin twine, the type you would fine in the front of an apothecary’s shop, usually filled with a liniment or snake oil – that you could purchase for a couple of copper pieces. “This once belonged to a human thief. Pour the oil it contains on your chest, over your clothes or armor for the magic to take effect. It is the equivalent of two different spells, invisibility and pass without a trace. You and all that you carry will vanish and you can move through any type of terrain and leave neither footprints nor scent. The effect last for about 10 minutes. I call it my ‘run away and hide’ oil. If you find yourself in the midst of a battle, and those around you are dying, use this and run away. With a little luck Abraxas won’t notice your disappearance and you can escape with your life. “
Before Trevan could say anything, she looked to the sky, spoke some magical words and made some hand movements into the air. A warm breeze began to circle around them. The entire town square quickly cleared of fog and blue sky appeared overhead. Then Heather transformed from a young human to a large silver dragon.
Trevan couldn’t beleave that she considered him to be such a coward. He started to protest, but all he said was, “Thank you, Heather.”
“My name is Starling.”
“Thank you Starling.”
With that, the silver dragon stretched out her wings and flew into the air. She headed south, away from the town, away from the mountains and away from Abraxas.
The ranger walked away from the table with the elf and the gnome. Trevan said to the elf, “Aramil, this is Gimble. He is an old friend of mine.” and then to the gnome, “Gimble, you are the last person I expected to see here. Did you come to Rockport just for the dragon hunt?”
Gimble said, “When I heard about it, I knew you would be here so I came to help you kill Abraxas.”
Aramil excused himself and disappeared into the crowd. Gimble continued, “Where did you pick up the elf?”
“I just met him last night. We had to share a room”
“You must have done something to impress him. Elves don’t make friends easily.”
“Well, I guess I did save his life this morning.”
“Lets get out of here,” said Gimble. “There is something I have to tell you in private.”
“Don’t you need to stay here and get ready for tomorrow? What did you say, you are the cook?”
“Yeah, isn’t that great! I get a share of the treasure and don’t even have to fight. And I can ride in the food wagon. Really, it was the only position still open when I arrived. They don’t need my help today. We loaded everything a couple of days ago. The idea is that we will use the wagons and pack animals to haul our food and supplies to his lair and to haul the treasure back to Rockport after we kill him. I have a feeling that it won’t be quite that easy.”
Trevan said, “Why did you tell him that I could track dragons through the air? I do have a hawk that can help, but nobody can track anything that is flying.”
“That is what I need to talk to you about,” said Gimble. “So you have a hawk now? That’s great.”
They continued talking about the major events of their lives as they left the warehouse. They moved along the busy dock areas. When they came to a dark alleyway they ducked in and hid between a couple of crates that were along the wall. Gimble motioned for Trevan to be silent and waited for a couple of minutes before he carefully peaked around the crates. He said, “We should be able to talk here. We are alone.”
“What’s this all about?” said Trevan. “Why all the secrecy?”
“I have something that can lead us to Abraxas.”
“What is it? You mean you have a map to his lair?”
“No. No. Not a map, a magic item. With it we can find any dragon. All we have to do is get close and it will point the way.”
“We will only have to be within about two miles for it to start working. It will point in the direction to the closest dragon. You can tell what color the dragon is, about how far away it is and in which direction.”
“That’s amazing. Do you have it with you now? Can I see it?”
Gimble looked around the crates again and then pulled out a leather pouch. He carefully opened it and removed the silver pendent with the gem in it. It was glowing a little brighter than a candle. He handed it to Trevan who examined it closely. He could see a silver star that was pointing away from the sea and towards the heart of the town. “How does it work?”
“When it gets within range of a dragon it begins to shine in the color of the dragon. The star shows you which direction the dragon is from you. It shines brighter as you get closer.”
“But it is shining now.” said Trevan.
“That’s because there’s a dragon in town.” Trevan started to draw his crossbow, but Gimble stopped him. “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s a silver dragon. You can tell because of the color of the light. At first I thought it might be a white dragon, but looking at it closer, you can tell it is a silver light. If it was a red dragon, the light would be red. I found the dragon it is pointing to. She has taken human form and is posing as a barmaid at the inn near the front gate.”
“I think I may have met her,” said Trevan. “That is where I am staying. Are you sure? Why would a dragon want to live among humans?”
“Who knows,” said Gimble. “At least she’s a metallic dragon. Metallic dragons aren’t evil. The only problem is this gem only shows the closest dragon. As long as she is closer to us than Abraxas we can’t tell if he’s coming. It won’t be a problem after we leave the city.”
“He wouldn’t attack the city. Not with all of those towers with all of those ballistas.” Trevan thought for a second. “Where did you get it?”
“My uncle gave it to me before he died. I don’t know where he got it. He made me promise not to tell anyone about it, but I think he would approve of telling you. You won’t tell anyone will you?”
“Not if you don’t want me to.” Trevan thought some more, then something occurred to him. “Is it possible that your uncle took this from Abraxas? They say that he started this latest rampage when someone stole a magical gem from his hoard.”
“I don’t know. I was wandering that myself. I guess it is possible. I know he spent a lot of time in the Black Mountains. If this is from Abraxas’s hoard, then he knows that someone has it and can use it to find his lair,” said Gimble. “What do you think we should do with it?”
“Lets keep it a secret for now,” said Trevan as he handed it back to Gimble. “We can use it to help this group find his lair. Then we will see if I can help Sir Gleamheart defeat Abraxas. Where is Sir Gleamheart anyway? Was he there today?”
“I don’t think so,” said Gimble. “I think I saw him a couple of days ago, but I have never met him. He is going to be leading the quest, but the church is organizing it. He is going to be there tomorrow morning to lead the precession out of the city. There is a group of four that have been adventuring together for several years. The paladin Sir Gleamheart, the cleric you just met, his name is Pitchlight, a female wizard named Maylock and a rogue named Pickman forms the group that was originally planning to go up against Abraxas alone. Now they will be leading the quest. Everyone expects that when the dragon is confronted they will do most of the fighting.”
“How much do you know about them?” said Trevan.
“Not much. They are a local group of adventurers that have been abroad and just returned to fight the dragon. This is my first visit to Rockport. I’m sure I could find out a lot more if I asked around.”
“Why don’t you do that? Find out all you can about our fearless leaders and I will see you back at the warehouse tomorrow morning.”
“What are you going to do?”
Trevan said, “I am going to talk to a silver dragon.”
Gimble smilled broadly and started skipping off in the general direction of the warehouse. Trevan headed back to the inn. A bank of fog was coming in from the sea. By the time Trevan reached the inn the fog was so thick he couldn’t see across the square.