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Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 12 – There is a Dragon in the Palace

dragon-in-palace

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.

Time Travel for D&D Re-visited

Time-Travel

“Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.”

Time travel is easy, explaining it is hard.

I was looking over my time travel rules (posted here). I was thinking that I hadn’t explained them very well and that I also needed to re-work them for the next version of D&D. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that they needed a complete overhaul. Before posting a new set of time travel rules I wanted to post this. Below is a summary of my current thinking on how time travel should work for D&D.

First a little thought experiment

Consider this. Your friend the wizard travels 24 hours into the past. While there, he sneaks into your room and shaves your head while you sleep. The question is this: If you are watching him when he cast the spell and he disappears into the past, what do you experience? Are you now bald? There are problems with every answer.

1) You can’t still have your hair. If you do it would mean that the wizard was unsuccessful in changing the past.

2) You couldn’t just suddenly become bald. What if the wizard doesn’t cast another spell to “return” to the present, but simply hangs out with you all day?

3) Okay, then perhaps your head is shaved, and it has been since you woke up this morning. This is a paradox, because if you have been bald all day it would mean that you were that way before the wizard cast the spell that resulted in your current condition.

There must be another answer, and I believe that I have found it. Think about this a little. I will give you the answer a little later.

This is how I think time travel should work in the D&D game.

Timelines

There is only one timeline. Everyone is in it. The “river of time”. It is easy to travel forward in time. Everyone does it. You are doing it now. It takes only one second to move forward one second into the future. If you were to sleep for 17 years, you would wake up 17 years in the future.

All time travel is along this one timeline. Although there is only one timeline, this doesn’t mean that it can’t be changed.

Rule #1 – “Everything that you do changes the future.”

This may seem so obvious that it is hardly worth mentioning. However remember that we are talking about time travel. If you travel along the timeline to a point in the past anything you do there will change everything on the timeline from that point forward.

Rule #2 – “You can’t change the past.”

Well, I suppose you could travel to the past and then change it, but nothing that you do now can change anything that was done before. Again, this seems obvious but it is worth remembering that you can’t travel into the future and do anything that will change what is happening in the present.

There are two types of time travel, tactical and strategic.

Tactical Time Travel

Similar to time travel in the movie “Groundhog Day”.

Tactical time travel is free from most time travel paradoxes. It moves the timeline forward or back to the appointed time. It is not normally used to travel farther than a single day and cannot be used to travel back to a time before the time traveler was fully grown. Tactical time travel has no “return” spell that allows the traveler to go back to his original time, but he can use strategic time travel to go back should he choose to.

Tactical Time Travel to the Future

In its simplest form, this is how everyone travels through time, one second at a time. For a time traveler that uses tactical time travel to go into the future the time passes so quickly that he seems to instantly appear at the appointed time in the future. To those around him, he disappears and later re-appears. The timeline has moved on and he has moved with it as if he had been in a type of suspended animation during the time that passed. This is often used to “hide” from an otherwise unavoidable encounter or to disappear until the storm passes.

Tactical Time Travel to the Past

This is often used to correct some mistake in the recent past, or to re-fight a recent battle. The timeline is erased back to the time traveled to. It is like pressing the “rewind” button. Everyone and everything reverts to the way it was then. The time traveler finds himself in the body he had then, where it was then, doing what he was doing then, and everything is as it was then with the exception that the time traveler, and he alone, recalls future events as they happened before. He is free to repeat his previous actions or change them as he sees fit. Everyone else will do what they did before unless the time traveler intervenes. Purely random events may have different outcomes. All dice will be re-rolled for any battle or game of chance that the time traveler participates in.

The time traveler cannot magically “return” to the time he left because that timeline has been completely erased. If he does use a strategic time travel spell to travel forward again, he disappears and doesn’t re-appear until he reaches the time he is traveling to. No time will have passed for him but to everyone else, time will have passed normally until he re-appears. This effectively erases him form the timeline for that period of time. The time traveler that travels into the past using tactical time travel will typically continue through time at the normal pace making whatever changes to his previous actions as he chooses. When he arrives at the point in time where he originally chose to travel into the past, he is free to do so if he wishes. The reason for him to travel back in time may no longer exist, so he may choose to not repeat his trip to the past.

Strategic Time Travel

Similar to the time travel in the movie “Back to the Future”.

Unlike tactical time travel, strategic time travel is susceptible to time travel paradoxes so care should be taken to prevent them. Refer to the section below on time travel paradoxes.

Strategic time travel allows travel both forward and back in time to any point in the past or future.

With strategic time travel, the traveler appears at the appointed time in the past or future, and his original body disappears – usually to return in a few seconds when the traveler returns from his journey. The time traveler arrives at the prescribed time with a duplicate of his body and everything he was wearing or carrying. Any time while on his journey, he can cast a spell to “return” to the time he left. When he returns his body is in the condition it was in at the end of his journey and he will bring back with him whatever he is wearing and carrying.

If, at any time during his journey, he is knocked unconscious or killed he will return to his original timeline and his body will re-appear and collapse to the floor still wearing and carrying only what he had when he left. Everyone at the time that he traveled to will see him collapse. His body and everything that he was wearing or carrying when he began his journey will disappear, leaving behind anything he may have picked up while he was there.

Strategic Travel to the Future

The time traveler appears at the appointed time in the future, and at the same location as when the spell was cast. The future that he finds is the most likely future based on how events were progressing when he left. The time traveler himself disappeared when the spell was cast and has not been there to effect changes. If he travels to the same time in the future more than once, each time he will find the future somewhat different. He cannot meet with himself in the future because each trip forward is to a different future that did not have him in it.

Strategic Travel to the Past

The time traveler appears in the past but he has not moved from where he was standing when the spell was cast. Using strategic time travel, it is possible for the time traveler to encounter himself. It should be fairly easy to avoid such encounters and avoiding them should be encouraged. Strategic time travel spells can be used to travel to times before the time traveler was born.

When the traveler cast the “return” spell to go back to the time he had left, things may not be as they were when he left. If he traveled far into the past, before he was born, things that he did then will affect the way things are now. For example, if he killed someone in the past, not only will that person no longer exist, but everything that that person did after he killed him will never have happened. This includes any children that that person may have had after that point, they were never born.

Back to the thought experiment

The problem with the thought experiment I presented above is in the question. It assumes that you will still be there after the spell is cast.

The answer depends on whether the wizard used a tactical or strategic time travel spell (as described above).

If it was a tactical spell, not only would the wizard disappear, but you and everyone else would also. The timeline will have been erased back to a point in time that existed 24 hours earlier. You will have no memory of anything that happened in the last 24 hours, which is now in your future. Everything will progress from there and when you wake in the morning you will be bald. When it comes around to the time where he originally cast the spell, he will have no reason to cast it this time.

If the spell that the wizard cast was a strategic spell you would see him disappear and would notice nothing else unusual until he re-appears a few seconds later. When he re-appears you will at that instant be bald. You still won’t notice anything else unusual because you won’t feel that you suddenly become bald. When you woke up this morning someone had shaved your head while you slept.

Time Travel Paradoxes

The Grandfather paradox

So… You may ask, “What if I were to accidently kill my Father or Grandfather?”

To answer this we must first examine the role of the soul in D&D.

When a player character travels in time, his is moving with his soul to a different point on the time line.

All sentient beings, including all player characters, have a soul. In earlier versions of D&D elves did not have souls, but that was changed in more recent versions of the game. Each soul experiences time in an uninterrupted string of events, starting when the soul is created and ending when, or if, it is destroyed.

In Dungeons and Dragons, all souls in the multiverse originate from fonts on the positive energy plain. When a sentient being is born, his soul enters his body with his first breath. How long that soul existed before it occupied the newborn and how the choice of host is made is not known. A PC’s soul then continues throughout his life and beyond. A PC’s soul isn’t typically destroyed when he dies and if he is brought back to life, his soul re-joins his body. It is possible for his soul to be moved into an object or another body or travel to other planes. In a very real sense, a player’s character is his soul. Everything about him can change, but his soul remains and it existed before his body did. If his newborn body wasn’t available for his soul to inhabit because he was prevented from being born for any reason, his soul would have gone into another body. This body would have been as close to the same as possible. In order of preference the chosen newborn would have the; same Mother, same Father, same family or close relative, same neighborhood and similar family.

This means that you can’t really prevent yourself (meaning your soul) from being born. At the worst you will have been raised in a different family. Regardless of which newborn your soul first inhabited you would now still be the same sex and race. Your physical appearance would be nearly identical and all of your abilities would not change.

The Butterfly Effect

“What if I do something like, say, accidentally stepping on a bug in the past? Couldn’t that possible cause great changes in the future?”

Well, that is one theory. Just like the way that a butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil can affect a weather system in Texas, one tiny change in the past can lead to all kinds of Rube Goldbergian complications that can subtly — or seriously — affect the present. However, that would put a serious damper on the fun of doing things in the past. Time travel in D&D must be more forgiving that that. So let’s say this; “The river of time is hard to change.”

Time flows forward as a viscous, syrupy thick river that is quiet difficult to change in any meaningful way. Although small day-to-day changes are easy to make, the course of history is such a wide and powerful force that actions taken by individuals have little effect on future history. As this relates to time travel, you can forget about the “butterfly effect”. Minor changes in the past have no effect on the present. Even large changes have only a small chance of affecting the present. The farther you travel into the past, the less likely it is that anything you do will have any effect on the present.

All major events in the past would have still happened even if the person (or creature) that caused that event was killed. Another would have done almost the same thing. Perhaps it would have been done at a slightly later date, or in a different way, but it would have still happened. The existing opportunity and situations will result in someone else filling the void left when the original perpetrator was not there.

This doesn’t mean that you can’t effect the present by changing the past. Otherwise why bother with time travel? It is just that the changes you make must be deliberate and specific to have much effect on the present.

All Other Paradoxes

“Are you trying to tell me that there is no danger of creating a time paradox? What If I caused my past self to be killed? What if something travels from the future to the past, and becomes the item that was sent back in time in the first place, thus, having no discernible origin, creating an infinite loop? I can think of a dozen other potential ‘impossible’ situations that could be caused by time travel. What about those?”

The potential for creating paradoxes is quite high. Part of the fun for players and DMs alike is how the PCs handle this potential danger. What I am attempting to do here is help the players by providing a consistent set of rules and to help the DM by providing a logical overview of how time travel works so he can apply his understanding of the concepts involved when dealing with all of the unexpected things that the PCs may do. Rather than saying that there can be no paradoxes it is my opinion that the DM should make accidental paradoxes unlikely by handling the Grandfather paradox and any Butterfly Effect paradoxes as indicated above. The DM can also provide the players with an easy way to avoid paradoxes. He should remind the players that there is no reason for you to interact with your previous self if you choose not to. This simple precaution should avoid most potential paradoxes.

How to Handle a Paradox

Regardless of precautions the PCs may end up creating a paradox. The best way to handle this is to assume that the timeline is self-correcting. Any paradox will cause the destruction of the part of the time and space affected by the paradox.

So, if a PC travels back and kills his former self, then it will cause himself to disappear. History will erase all traces of the person’s existence, and the death of the PC will have been caused by another reason. Thus, the paradox will have never have occurred from the historical viewpoint.

So now what?

I intend to create a set of rules compatible with D&D Next using the ideas presented above. If you have any questions or comments please let me know. As I said, explaining time travel is hard.

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 9 – The Wizard (or What to do with a Dead Dragon)

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.

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 8 – The Rogue

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.

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 7 – Leaving Rockport

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.

 

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 6 – The Red Dragon

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.”

 

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 5 – The Silver Dragon

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.

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 4 – The Gnome

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.”

“How close?”

“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.

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 3 – The Elf

Trevan was wakened in the night by a cold breeze. He set up in his bed with his dagger in hand and saw that the shutters had been opened and the moon was shining in through the open window. He thought that perhaps the wind had blown them open, but he was a light sleeper and he had not heard the sound of shutters flying open. Then he saw him. A nude man was sitting stiffly upright in the center of the other bed with his legs crossed and his hands on his knees. As he put his knife down, he said, “I didn’t hear you come in. My name is Trevan.”

There was no response. He soon realized this was not a human but was instead an elf. In the moonlight he could see that his eyes were closed. His breathing was slow and steady. Trevan had seen elves before, but never one without cloths. He was just a little over five feet tall. He had dark hair and no facial or body hair. His body was lean and sharply defined. After a couple of minutes Trevan concluded that the elf knew he was there but chose not to respond. He appeared to be in a trance of some kind. Trevan pulled a blanket out of his backpack and added it to his bed covers. He was soon back to sleep.

He woke up again with the morning sunrise. The elf was up and getting dressed. Seconds after Trevan opened his eyes, the elf said, “Elves don’t sleep. I was meditating when you woke. I normally spend about four hours a night in that state. Your name is Trevan, mine is Aramil.”

“I’m pleased to meet you, Aramil. I’m sorry if I disturbed you last night. I’m not familiar with the ways of elves.” The elf did not respond. They dressed in silence. When Trevan had finished dressing he left Aramil who was still lacing his belt. Everything that Aramil was wearing was soft and flexible. His clothing was covered with fine embellishments. Everywhere there were vines and abstract designs with occasional flowers or butterflies. It was all in light shades of green and brown. There were no metal buckles or fasteners. Everything was laced, tied or folded.

Aramil went downstairs and had a quick breakfast of cheese with fruit and nuts. He finished and left the inn just before Trevan, who had a large breakfast of bread, gofer gravy, hen eggs and goats milk. When Trevan turned a corner on his way to the docks, he saw Aramil some distance away. He had his dagger out and was taking a money purse from a young man in the street. A woman just beyond them had been thrown to the ground. A large man dressed all in black was just in front of Trevan and hadn’t noticed him. This man had drawn a small crossbow and was about to shoot the elf. Trevan drew his sword and pushed the man, causing him to drop his crossbow. The man in black and the young man at dagger point both ran off down side streets. Trevan quickly picked up the crossbow and ran over to Aramil and they both helped the woman to her feet. Aramil returned the money purse to the woman and she was thanking him when the city guard appeared. She told them the entire story of how the boy had pushed her down during a struggle for her purse and Aramil had come to her rescue. The city guard headed off down the side streets looking for the boy. Aramil thanked Trevan for what he had done. They quickly discovered that they were both headed for the dragon hunt. Aramil had arrived several days ago and was signed up as part of the party. It was divided into several ‘teams’. Aramil was part of the scouting team. Today they were to receive their final instructions and the provisions were all to be loaded and made ready for an early morning departure tomorrow, if the weather permits.

Everyone that was to be part of the party was already enlisted and assigned to a team. Aramil said that he would try to help Trevan join, but he didn’t know how successful he would be. They had been planning this for months and had filled all available slots.

They made their way through Rockport to the docks and then along the shore over to the east end of the dock area where the warehouse was located. The building was 30 feet wide and 100 feet long. On the long side, facing the docks, there were three large doors. The north end faced a cobblestone courtyard with a wide street that lead directly to the city gate with the road beyond that went up to the mountains. There was a pair of doors centered on this wall large enough for wagons to pass through.

When they arrived the doors were all open and it was full of activity. Although everyone called it a warehouse, it was actually more of an equestrian center. The roof beams were exposed some 15 feet above. The floor was hard packed dirt covered with a generous layer of straw. There were lanterns hanging on the walls. There were half-doors all along the far wall, each opening to a separate horse stall. People, horses and donkeys were going in all directions. There were cartons and crates being carried about. Trevan could see two large wagons being loaded. There was a large trailer with a ballista mounted on it. Everything appeared very chaotic. Aramil led him to the south end of the warehouse where a couple of men were seated behind a long table. There was a blue and white banner on the wall behind them. On the table were stacks of paper, rolls of parchment, small bags and boxes. Aramil walked up to the man in chainmail armor with a pale blue and white tunic. “Excuse me brother Pitchlight,” said Aramil. “I would like to introduce you to Trevan.” The cleric stood slightly and extended his hand. Trevan shook hands with him briefly. The cleric set back down. Aramil continued, “This man is a ranger of the southern woods and has traveled a great distance to join us in this historic quest, if it should please your holiness.”

“I am pleased that you want to join us, but as I am sure Aramil has informed you, the quest’s compliment is already filled. Perhaps, if you had arrived earlier …” All of a sudden there was the sound of boxes falling over as a gnome pushed everything out of his way as he ran breathlessly up to the table. Trevan was almost knocked off his feet as Gimble jumped up and grabbed him around the neck.

“I knew you would come!” he said. “There is no way you would miss out on this.” Turning to Pitchlight he said, “This is the ranger that I was telling you about. You have got to take this guy. He is the best dragon tracker in the world. He can even track them through the air! He can speak draconian! You’ve really got to take him. Tell him Trevan.” Then without pause he continued, “He has spent his life studying dragons, their habits and weaknesses.”

When Gimble finally stopped talking, Pitchlight said, “It would seam that you have a fan. Is any of that true? Can you track dragons through the air?”

Trevan started to speak when Gimble poked him sharply in the ribs where Pitchlight couldn’t see. He glanced down and Gimble was looking up at him as if to say, “Don’t you dare deny it!” Trevan said, “If you will let me join the expedition, you will see what I can do.”

Pitchlight stared at Trevan for a minute. Then he tossed him a gold coin and asked, “Do you know what that is?”

Gimble stopped himself from jumping for joy. Trevan examined the coin. Of course he knew it was gold, he had a few in his pocked, along with some of silver and copper. Many areas have their own coins minted and they all have different images on them. Like all standard coins, it was about one and one quarter inch in diameter, one tenth of an inch thick and weighed about one third of an ounce. This one appeared to be newly struck. He had never before seen one with these symbols. On one side there was Heironeous’s holy symbol. On the other side was the head of a red dragon. “It looks like any other gold coin to me,” Trevan said as he tossed it back.

“We had exactly 200 of these minted, specifically for this ‘expedition’ as you call it,” said Pitchlight. “The church of Heironeous is funding this quest with these. When Abraxas has been defeated, his treasure will be divided into 200 equal parts. Each of these coins can be redeemed at that time for one equal share. The church gets 50 coins and the dragon’s body. Or any parts of it that can be salvaged. Sir Gleamheart received 50 coins and will be awarded any unclaimed shares. 25 coins were used to purchase supplies. 25 coins have been set aside to re-supply the quest should that be required. That leaves 50 coins to divide between the rest of the party. Different participants have received different numbers of coins depending on how important they are to the success of the quest. For example, Gimble here is coming along as the cook. He has received one coin which represents one 200th share of the treasure. Aramil, on the other hand, is an elf and an accomplished tracker. He has been paid 5 coins. If you are what you clam to be, you would be worth 5 or 6 coins. But, as I told you, we have no more coins available.”

Before Trevan could say that he wasn’t here for the treasure, Aramil said, “He can have one of my shares.” He flipped a coin onto the table.

Pitchlight stared at this coin for a few seconds. He said, “One share will still be a substantial treasure. If you want to accept these terms, you can become part of the quest.” Trevan’s eager expression gave him his answer. “Just give your name to the scribe here.” He spoke to the thin man seated next to him. “Put him down as another scout.“ To Trevan he said, “If the treasure is recovered, you will be able to trade your coin for your share of the treasure when it is divided.” He stood and shook Trevan’s hand again, “Welcome to Heironeous’s holy quest to rid the world of the evil dragon known as Abraxas. May Heironeous guide your steps and receive your soul should you depart this life in this heroic battle. Aramil can answer any questions you may have.”

Pitchlight returned to the paper he was studying. Trevan turned to the scribe and answered his questions. The scribe wrote down Trevan’s name, where he was from, his position in the quest and his compensation. Trevan had to swear that in exchange for his share he would perform any services required from him, including fighting valiantly against any and all monsters that they might encounter, including Abraxas himself. He was warned that should he be unable to participate in the quest for any reason he was required to return all coins he received. Also, in the unfortunate event of his death, or the death of any of his companions during the quest, the coins were to be retrieved if possible and returned. Abandoning the quest and failing to return the coins would be regarded as theft and an act against the church. Otherwise he was free to do with his coins as he saw fit.

Pitchlight looked up and said to Trevan and Aramil, “There is not really much for the scouts to do today. You can take off whenever you like. Be sure to be here at first light tomorrow.” Then he returned to his papers.

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 2 – The Chapel of Heironeous

When Trevan finished eating, he decided to walk around a bit, to see the town. The sun was shining brightly and the snow was beginning to melt. It seamed to Trevan that a person would be able to buy anything here. He saw shops selling everything from weapons and armor, to magic items. He saw sellers of cloth that looked like it was made of gold and silver. There was fruit of sorts he had never seen. There were people selling jewelry and gems. There were money changers and traders in furs. There were spice dealers. He walked past windows where the smell of exotic foods spread into the street.

At the far side of town were the docks. There were several ships there and the whole area was busy with sailors and workers going here and there. There were ships being loaded with boxes of supplies and ships where trade items and passengers were getting off. He had to step over and around ropes, sails, boxes, barrels and crates. He passed the warehouse with the sign of Heironeous painted on its side. The warehouse doors were closed and bolted.

He walked past the city governor’s residence. It was a large building with landscaped grounds all around. Around the grounds was a six foot tall iron fence with guards posted at the gate.

He walked down the part of town where there were gambling halls and drinking establishments. There were drunks passed out and sleeping in the streets. There were prostitutes waving from the doorways. A man in rags asked him for money. Another asked Trevan to buy him a drink. There was a man in front of a gambling house trying to persuade passers-by to come in. “Five will get you ten,” he called out as Trevan passed by. “Everyone is a winner.”

Everywhere in town there were men and women dressed in many different ways. Most were bundled against the cold, but some were wearing the finest furs while others were in cotton and rags. Some were in black cloaks and pointed hats. Some were wearing banded or metal armor and carrying shields. Many were dressed as you would expect farmers or laborers to be dressed. Some were young. Some were old. Most were human, but there were several other races here as well. There were Dwarves and Halflings and Gnomes and Elves as well as Half-Elves and Half-Orcs.

As he walked down a street in the chapel district he saw oddly shaped and decorated buildings dedicated to several different gods. It was quiet on this street. Most of the buildings appeared empty. Many of the chapels had an attendant or two sweeping, reading or meditating near the doorway. As he walked on he came to one heavily fortified building where there were several people inside. As he walked up he saw the silver symbol of a hand holding a lightning bolt above the door. There were two priests in white and pale blue robes standing at the door. Each had smaller versions of the holy symbol hanging on chains around their necks. Chain mail armor and swords could be seen beneath their robes. “Welcome to the chapel of Heironeous,” they said as he approached.

Trevan was never religious and didn’t worship any god, but he was curious about the church that was funding the dragon hunt so he cautiously entered the chapel.

The large room was bright from the flames of a hundred candles burning in small holders along every wall. Between the candles were metal shields painted with the symbol of Heironeous. A large sword was hung beside each shield. These all appeared to be loosely mounted for quick removal. There were about twenty worshipers there. Most of them appeared to be soldiers or city guards. They were all sitting on benches facing the front. Many had their sword in their lap, or resting against the bench beside them. They appeared to be waiting for someone to step up to the podium on the dais. Trevan slipped onto the bench at the back of the room. The walls and floor were white marble. The ceiling seemed to be a polished pale blue marble. The podium was draped in white and pale blue. A priest that had been standing to one side walked up to the podium and all the quiet murmurings stopped. This priest was dressed in full plate armor with a white and blue tunic and a large silver hand holding a lightning bolt hanging around his neck. When all was quiet, the priest removed his helmet and spoke, “Welcome my friends to the chapel of Heironeous.” He looked around at those in attendance while he removed his gauntlets. Trevan felt out of place and he was sure that the priest was staring straight at him as he continued, “As I am sure all of you know, the church of Heironeous is conducting an expedition to rid the land of the evil that lives in the Black Mountains and goes by the name Abraxas.” Everyone cheered. The priest continued, “I am pleased to announce that preparations will be finished tomorrow and the expedition will leave the following morning.” The room erupted in cheers and applause.

The priest motioned for everyone to sit back down and be quiet. “My friends, I normally talk to you about Heironeous’s continuing battle against evil and his evil half-brother Hextor. Because of the upcoming battle against the great red dragon Abraxas, I thought that this would be a good time to review the fight of good versus evil that is represented in the tale of Heironeous and Tiamat.”

“For those who may not know,” at this point he looked directly at Trevan, “Heironeous the Invincible is a god of chivalry, justice, war, daring, and valor. In his corporal form, he appears as a human man. He wears a full robe of chainmail that is so fine it appears to be cloth and moves as he moves. He is tall for a human. His hair is auburn and his skin is the color of burnished copper.  Heironeous is impervious to all but the mightiest weapons due to a solution known only as meersalm. He wields his magical longsword Justicebringer.” He pauses. He had given many sermons on each of these aspects of their God. Most of those in attendance knew them well.

Now addressing the entire congregation he continued, “Tiamat, the god of evil dragons, was larger than any dragon that ever lived. She had five heads, one for each color of evil dragon. She could produce, from each head, a blast of elemental energy. Her black head had deep set eyes and broad nasal openings, bone colored horns and the general appearance of a skull. This head continually drooled acid and from it she could produce a line of acid. She had dramatic frilled ears and a single, massive horn atop her short, blunt blue head. From it she could produce electricity to slay her foes. Her green head had no external ears. It was a narrow head with a long forked tongue. The odor of chlorine surrounded this head and with it she could blow a cone of acid. The head that was red had two massive horns that swept back and small horns on its cheeks and lower jaw. It smelled of sulfur. Flames and smoke came from its nostrils. She produced a cone of fire from this mouth. The white head was sleek with a pointed chin and small pointed beak at its nose. From this head she could lay down a cone of cold. Each of these heads functioned independently and was attached to her thick, multicolored body with a long neck. In addition to all of this and of course her great spell casting ability, she also had a long thick tail tipped with a poisonous stinger.”

“In the time before time – Tiamat lived on the Earth. She seeded the Earth with evil dragons and dark magic. To counter her spreading of evil, her brother – the good dragon god Bahamut – created the good metallic dragons. Heironeous fought Tiamat for many years, until finally, with the aid of Bahamut, she was defeated. The details of this final battle are lost to us, but I can envision the brave Heironeous, with Justicebringer in hand, standing over her slain body as Bahamut cast the final spell that forever banished her to the Nine Hells where she still reigns to this day.”

The priest then proceeded to tell how Heironeous must have felt as he defeated each head in tern. He spoke of how he was prepared to sacrifice himself if necessary. He compared his god’s battle against Tiamat with every man’s battle against the evil forces in this world and against the evil tendencies that exist in every man’s heart. He then went on to talk about the upcoming battle against the red dragon Abraxas. “For centuries uncounted he has watched us from the mountains. We live in fear of his next un-provoked attack. Our parents tell of a time when he was only known from tales passed down through the generations. Many came to believe that our dragon was nothing more than a legend. Some fifty years ago he began a series of attacks, cumulating in the burning of Rockport. After that he became quiet. Then, a few years ago, something caused him to become active again. Our greatest clerics, using powerful divination spells, have determined that his current activity was caused by a theft. Someone took a single item from his great hoard. We weren’t able to determine exactly what was taken, or who took it. All we know is that he has been searching for a gem of some type. Evidently this gem has some magical protection against detection. What other magical abilities it possesses can only be guessed at. The church sent emissaries to the far corners of the world searching for this gem. Needless to say, we never found it. If it had been found, we would have returned it to the dragon in exchange for his good will. Being unsuccessful in that, the church decided to fund an expedition to rid us from Abraxas for good.”

“The church is quiet fortunate that Heironeous has provided us with a paladin of the caliber of Sir Gleamheart to lead this great expedition,” he said. “We can rest easy with the knowledge that Sir Gleamheart, the greatest paladin in the land, will return to us victorious. He has given his life in just and honorable battle no less than three times! Each time a cleric of the church has guided his soul back from the underworld to reunite with his body so that he could continue his service to Heironeous. He, along with our own cleric Pitchlight, has spent the last several weeks assembling a group of adventurers and equipping them for the task. They will march under the banner of Heironeous into the Black Mountains. There they will locate Abraxas’s lair and kill him. They will then bring his treasure back for the glory of Heironeous.”

He continued for some time praising Heironeous and asking for him to watch over his servants as they entered glorious combat in his name. He finished with a reminder of the churches need for funds that will allow it to participate in activities such as the upcoming expedition as well as the churches support of the ever needy orphans and widows. He reminded everyone that the offering box was located near the door on their way out.

It was getting dark when Trevan left the chapel. He made sure the priests at the door could hear his coins fall into the offering box as he passed.

The lampposts on every corner provided dim illumination on the streets below. Lights were lit on the top of each of the towers. When he got to his room, his roommate was still not there. He climbed into bed, placed his dagger under his pillow and was soon asleep.