1-21b: The Dragon – 2005

A few things I must preface with:

This is not a part of O&E.  So far from cannon it’s laughable, and yet deeply relevant to the world that came to pass.  This occurs in a hevily polished idea of a MMO world I once took part in through my late teens and early twenties.  That said this is best read after finishing the first book of The Storm Cycle.

I cannot say when this was written exactly.  The file claims it was created early in 2005.  This means it is likely a rewrite/edit in the wake of late 2003 first drafts of what would now be Book III’s opening.  The original may be forever lost.  Regardless, dates or drafts aside this is how it all began.  With a girl, a dragon, and a plan so crazy it just might work.

I have done some very minor editing, but this will show some evolution of my writing over the years since it was written nearly 13 years ago.

I shall tell you now a tale from when I was a young wizardess, seeking adventure and fame amidst the lands of the first world.  I have always been a proponent of seeking advantage in a fight, for there are only two kinds of fight in this world, the ones that you must win, or escape, and the ones that could have been avoided but for pride, ego, or a simple lack of skill.  My mentor oft joked that perhaps I missed my true calling in life as a rogue, regardless this was a fight of ego, to which I am no more immune than any.

Now I mention this for it is at the heart of my tale, in every age there has always been one great and defining legendary deed.  The slaying of a great and powerful dragon without assistance.  I was young, impetuous, and determined to do what was claimed by any sane minded person impossible, to slay a dragon with nothing but wit, magic, and potions if need be, at a point in my training where even a fine magical robe could not save me from one slight nip by the fierce breed I had set my sights upon slaying.

I studied long and hard, every text, every tome on dragons which I could find.  I traveled with many brave bands of adventurers seeking the glory of a group kill of the mighty beasts, some tales of which I might tell another time.  All of it came to not, there was no protection great enough but one’s own training, strength, or the fine armor of a warrior to save one from the might of an angered red dragon.

It had been a late night reading on the steps of the great central bank, with foreigners about speaking in broken common of the age, and their own native tongues.  My dear sister K’ia herself had slipped into a slumber amidst her night’s practice in the art of alchemy, and dear sweet K’it had long since sauntered off with some other young woman to discuss the finer points of the less applied uses of healing magics.  I was feeling disheartened, I was a daft fool but by no means suicidal. I was not going into a fight I knew I could not win.

As I plucked a freshly corked bottle of some potion from beside my sister’s sleeping form, I gazed at the blue green liquid within and turned it contemplatively.  It was labeled invisibility, and for a moment I simply stared through it at the moon, bits and pieces of thought slowly congealing into a mad plan, something no one had ever been so daft as to try, and I knew in a heart beat I must do it.

I quickly realized that while I might worm a few potions out of my dear sister without suspicion, to get as many as I needed I would have to turn else where, for I knew she would not approve.  I believe it was a colleague of hers, well practiced and recently mastered in his arts of alchemy that provided a generous quantity of the potions, and for a few coins extra asked no questions, and told no tales.

My supplies gathered my plan was all but complete, but ambitious as my primary undertaking was, a single great beast is perhaps less dangerous than the darkness that may lurk about their lair.  In those days the most reliable place to find dragons was deep within winding dank passages found to the east, infested with undead horrors and wild elementals.  What gave rise to the twisted pit of hell known to some as the bone dungeon was a mystery, no doubt it had once been a dark shrine of ill worship and blackest magery, but it’s masters were long since walking dead, if not simply dust.

After their passing though, and this was more well documented, the main hall of the deepest levels – which opened through caves inaccessible to man in high mountains above – became nest to a red dragon and her children.  To reach the main hall was no small feet but it had been done many a times, and many of her eldest children had fallen to groups of brave adventurers in the past.  Yet there seemed no end to the progeny of the red dragon, so gathering by my side two fellow wizardesses, and a young rogue, who thought me daft, but  was more than ready to amuse them self with my demise, I set forth to brave the forsaken depths.

We had reached the anti-chamber of that great hall that had been nicknamed the red dragon pit, and it was now that I set my plans into action.  Knowing that nothing would protect me from one mistake I striped bare.  It seemed a logical thing to do, if armor interferes with magic, then surely to be completely naked would only strengthen my magic.  The rogue was most amused, and his stares a bit to appreciative for my taste, I considered frying him then and there, but I still needed him for my plan.

The idea was simple enough, the rogue would run in, nab some treasure, his payment for his services, and the dragon who’s attention was caught would be distracted by me, allowing him to slip away and count his cheaply gotten gold.  That part went without a hitch, the rogue slipping into the shadows as I paralyzed then afflicted the dragon with a poison spell, and chugged the ready potion of invisibility, and sank to the floor next to my bag of potions and regents, careful not to jostle the bottles for fear of making a sound.

While dragons are intelligent you see, they are not geniuses, and most red dragons, it is my opinion, at their best barely give dogs a run for their money.  A dragon’s greatest weakness is its temper, they are all as fiery in spirit as they are in breath, and red are by far the worst when it comes to this.  To have been paralyzed, and then stung so impertently angered the beast beyond words, and it bellowed and belched small puffs of smoke.  My plan had worked, the beast was too enraged to focus clearly, its enemy had simply disappeared, had I drawn the mother of the brood I wondered if I would have been so lucky.

Little damage as I had done it worked, time and again having rested to pool my magical energies I would paralyze then strike the beast, little by little weakening it.  I could see the great beast begin to stager after nearly an hour of this trickery, once blinded by rage it was now badly staggering.  Little did I know as I crouched, invisible and slick with sweat from my efforts, fearful that my fragrance would overpower the smell of sulfur in the air and give the stupid beast a clue, that my normal companions were no longer the only ones watching my fool stunt.

For another party of adventurers had come to seek fame for them selves, and having stumbled upon my friends joined them in quiet observation.  In their number was a cleric, who’s name escapes me now, perhaps began with T, and far be it from me to speak ill of the dead, but I do still question if he truly sought a better view of the fight, or my unclad body.

Regardless it all went quite awry, the dragon, though half dead heard the cleric’s footsteps and caught sight of him.   Realizing his mistake he fled, and I, not yet composed for my next strike could do nothing to save him as the dragon crashed through the old weak wall and made short work of the poor man.  Though revenge was taken upon the beast in due course, it was not to be by me alone for my stocks had run too short, and my body too weary to start from scratch, for the beast had replenished it’s health from the cleric’s own life.

By the time all parties could regroup, word it seemed had spread amongst the red dragons, and such trickery never worked again, for even they can learn a lesson aptly now and then.  To you though I offer these lessons, the best laid plans of mortals and wizards may be set asunder by one fool, and no mater how attractive, a better view of a naked woman is not worth your life.

– a tale of K’at, Mage of Entropy


1-7b: The Haunted Shore

My grandfather always told me to beware the fog.  Superstitious I would call him.  I’d ask why our lake would be haunted.  All he would ever say, it’s not our lake, and never was.  The ghosts were here before, and they would be after, lest I joined their number.

All stories, and foolishness.  The fog was a terrible beast to be sure.  One could get lost half a day out there, but there was nothing to sink a boat.  Nothing more than the fish I wanted to catch beneath the waters.  So fog or not, I strode down to the lake shore, I tipped down our old boat where it was leaned, and pushed it to the waters edge.

I shoved off, pulling my foot clear before it could sink into the mud.  I’d done it a hundred times before, rarely got my foot wet any more.  Almost as soon as I left the shore it vanished.  I rolled my shoulders, and steadied myself.  Just stories, just stupid stories of an old cranky man.

I set the oars, and gave a few pulls away from a shore I could no longer see, before bringing them up to rest.  I baited an old hook with a worm, and cast it into the lake, closed my eyes, and dreamed of my betrothed who lived three miles down the shore.  I’d take her my catch, and share, and my cranky old father could eat dry bread.

That was the dream any way.  Its hard to judge time alone on the water, with nothing to keep you company but fancies of the one you love, the creak of an old boat adrift, and the fog.  No sun in the sky, a wind so gentle it was hard to guess the direction.  It was as bleak and dreary a day on the lake as I could recall.

I saw the old dead ash a mile down the shore peak its gangly branches through the fog for barely a moment.  I thought perhaps my luck was improving, and the fog would lift, but those knotted limbs vanished again as quickly as they appeared.  There was a dock near the tree, and having caught nothing I considered it might be a better place to fish from, rather than keep drifting towards the river that lead out of Avrale to the south east.

I pulled up my line, and brought down my oars.  I turned the boat around, and towards shore.  The more I thought about it, the more it didn’t seem likely I had drifted so far south.  Even if it had been an hour of daydreaming with no catch, I shouldn’t have been half way to the ash by then.

I checked over my shoulder several times, but neither the ash, nor shore appeared.  I kept rowing, and still nothing.  The boat was coasting along, and if I dipped the oars in the water I could gage the speed.  Not that the old boat could go far without a constant pull.  I brought up the oars, stood carefully, and looked towards where shore should be.  I tried very hard to make out anything, but there was nothing.

I wondered if I’d miss judged my turn, but I doubted it.  Hundreds of times before I’d turned that boat around.  I knew how to do it blind.  I scratched my head, sat down, and stared at white nothingness.  It wasn’t nothingness though.  As still as the air was the fog seemed to roll, and shift, rise and fall.  It was like something breathing, sleeping, about to wake.

I shook the idea from my head.  It was just fog.

Giving up on the idea of reaching shore, I set back to fishing.  The fog would clear, eventually, and then it would be an easy mater to row towards, or away from some landmark.  There was nowhere on the lake  that shore was out of sight once the fog cleared.  Only a mile or two across at the widest, and there were islands amidst that widest part, and miles north.  I was drifting south.

At the worst I would find myself at Helmsmoth, where the lake narrowed, and became a slow flowing river down into the forests of or eastern neighbor.  It would be a nuisance to row back home, take a few hours, but that was the worst, and unlikely to say the least.  I’d never drifted farther than half way there in a day.

I mulled that all over, and tossed my line back in the water.  After all, if I started rowing again without knowing which way I faced, I could very well take myself all the way down to the river.  I shook my head, and closed my eyes, and dreamed of my lovely Annae.  I imagined an afternoon we’d spent beneath old Caster’s beech tree, kissing, and daydreaming of our wedding day.  Falling asleep with my head on her shoulder.

I couldn’t say how long I drifted off from that thought, perhaps a moment before tipping over, and hitting my head hard on the side of the boat.  I was seeing stars, and rubbing the spot I’d hit when I almost missed my fishing rod jerk, and barely caught hold of it before it could be pulled over.

It was the feistiest fish I think I ever caught, or I was just dazed.  When I finally pulled the whopper up I wasn’t surprised it had fought so hard.  A good foot long trout flailed and thrashed from the end of my line, but before I could get the fish into the boat I nearly jumped out of it myself.

For a moment she was beautiful, stepping from the fog, the water rippling around her feet.  She was naked, thin threads of fog leaving some vestige of modesty.  She was striding towards me, but I was clearly drifting rather fast towards her.

“Watch out!” I called, as it looked like my boat was going to hit her.  A bit foolish maybe, to be telling someone walking on water towards you to watch out.  I’d seen magic before, plenty of times, there was even an old shaman who lived on an island up north who had chased me off once with a tornado.  All of that kind of vanished from my mind as I collided with the woman, and nothing but fog rolled over me.

I looked around, rubbed my eyes, and realized I’d lost my fish and pole.  I turned full around and there she was, though she no longer looked young.  Her skin was wrinkled, and hung from her bones.  She turned back at me with a haggard old face, and glared with a singular hate before vanishing into the fog again.

I grabbed the oars, and started rowing.  I didn’t care where I wound up, but not there, anywhere but there was all I could think.  I hadn’t seen what I had seen.  I hadn’t hit something that wasn’t there.  None of this stopped my rowing.  No reason, or sense slowed me for a moment.

I kept glancing over my shoulder as I rowed, watching for shore, for anything.  Nothing, more nothing, just an endless expanse of white nothing.  Then something, emerging fast out of the fog, a human form, her.  I dug my oar into the water, and turned hard.  She glowered at me as I avoided her with my turn, standing there leaned towards me.  I dug my oars in again and rowed harder than before.

I didn’t check behind me a good minute after she vanished into the fog again.  When I did, still nothing, and then suddenly the boat lurched violently, and the scraping sound of small rocks made me wince.  I’d hit shore, though what shore I couldn’t guess, or see.  Looking behind me was still just a pale gray world of fog.

I brought up the oars, and moved to the front of the boat.  I could see the pebbles immediately below the bow, but not more than a foot inland from that.  I jumped out, and pulled the boat up well onto shore, and tried to convince myself all of that had just happened.  I flopped back, and tried to catch my breath, I had been rowing far to hard.  I’d been seeing things, that had to be it.

There was a scraping sound suddenly, and I bolted up right.  The boat was sliding back into the water.  I jumped up, and tried to grab it, but it was gone.  There was no way it had just slid back into the water on its own.  No way, I had pulled it fully up onto shore.  I backed away from the water, and the quickly vanishing boat.  My heart was racing cold, sweat dripping down my brow.

I turned, and looked around, but there was nothing.  I could barely see the pebbles beneath my feet.  There was nothing, nothing anywhere.  I panicked, and ran, that was foolish.  I didn’t know where I was running, which way, where I was, but I ran any way.  I felt the ground change to grass beneath my feet, and slowed.  The shore was mostly clear around the whole lake, but once you were into the grass there were rabbit burrows, old logs, and other hazards.

I looked around again,  a futile endeavor, everything looked the same.  Everything was the same nothing, featureless gray.  Everything but a dark spot, a tall wobbling dark spot that moved towards me.  It shifted from a shapeless blob to the younger form of the woman.  Her stare was cold, heartless, her eyes nothing but black, her skin seemed ashen, lacking color.

I stood there frozen, unable to think what to do.  Running hadn’t worked, and running was no longer really an option.  At best I would just run back to the shore, and she could walk on water.  What ever she was.

“What do you want?” I demanded.

There was no answer, just a slow plodding step of bare feet through the grass towards me.  She stepped up close, and the colorlessness of her skin became all the more daunting.  Her skin was almost white, with something darker underneath.  She loomed over me, seeming to grow taller.  I wanted to run, but I couldn’t move.

“What do you want?” I demanded again as she seemed to breath cold fog down upon me.

There was a whisper on the wind, a voice but not words.  They were harsh, and sharp, hissing, and spiteful.  It was a voice, but not words, not words I knew at any rate.  Forgotten words I guess, words of something that had been there long before me, that would be long after.  Words that were not for mortals to know, but for us to fear.

Sense, or insanity finally took me.  I spun on my heel, and dashed headless into the blank expanse.  I tripped over something, what I don’t know, I didn’t see it before, or after.  I tumbled, and fell, and felt water splash over my hand, then my face.  I struggled upright, and coughed out a mouth full of water.

I looked around, as useless as it had ever been.  Nothing, but I knew I hadn’t gotten away.  Everywhere I went, there she was.  I felt the water rise around my arm, and scrambled away from it.  There were forms in the mist, a dozen, more.  Whispers and swishes like whipping wind.  The forms were closing in, but even as they started to take shape they fell away, just the impression of a face, and then they were gone.

I jumped up, and ran through a break in the figures approaching me, but more kept appearing as I ran along the shore.  Their faces were agonized, weeping, melting into nothing.  I felt fingers, or hands try to grab my arms, fingers slick, and slippery they fell away.  The voice in the air seemed pleading, like wails begging for something.  There were cries, terrible cries that stabbed at the soul like death.  They were the unmistakable sounds of those dying horribly.

I stumbled over a log wedged in the pebbled shore, and failed to quite catch myself, the arm I’d thrown out skipping off wet stones, and my face meeting them.  There was a flare of pain, and I quickly brought my hand to my face feeling the blood running form my nose.  I pulled my feet under me, and began to weep like a child, holding my bleeding nose.  The cries of death had stopped, but there was still an ill, unintelligible sound on the wind.

I felt water wash up around my legs, and looked down as water rose up to my waist.  I tried to get up, to jump up, and move out of the rising water, but my feet were swept out from under me.  I caught myself better that time as I fell, but it was all for naught as I felt myself pulled out into the lake like I was caught in a riptide.

I barely had time to grab a deep breath as I was pulled under the swirling water, down into inky blackness, down, down, sinking faster than a stone.  I flailed, and struggled against the current, but as the light began to fade I could tell I was spinning, and tumbling.  I didn’t know if I was swimming up, or down, which way the world went.

All I could see was blackness, all I could hear was a roar of something monstrous, all I could feel was wild eddies of freezing cold water that felt like they could cut my skin.  Then suddenly there was light.  I struggled towards the light, I swam harder than I have ever swam, as my breath was about to give out, as my lungs burned with an agony that demanded I exhale, but there would be no air, no air if I did, only water.

The light grew brighter, and dimmer, and the current swirled around me maddeningly, making it hard to swim in the same direction.  Then suddenly I felt the water rush up past me, the light grew, and I gasped for air as I broke the surface, and still I was tumbling.  I was tumbling through the air, lost in a void of absolute nothing.  No water, no ground, no sky, nothing but a perfect unbroken  expanse of the same featureless gray.

I’m sure it lasted but a moment, but it felt a life time, and then I felt the fall begin, I saw the dark water for barely a fleeting moment, just long enough to inhale once more before it crashed painfully across me, like being slapped with the force of a horse’s kick.  It forced some of that precious air from my lungs as I trashed trying to upright myself again.  The current still was trying to drag me down, but I got upright, I got to the surface, and tread water fiercely to stay afloat.

I panted, and gasped, and looked around frantically.  I could see a few feet of water around me, the outline of an uneven stretch of the cursed fog.  There were figures again walking towards me, footsteps disturbing the surface of the water, but never reaching me.  Then a pair of legs emerged from the fog, crisp, clear, but wrinkled and old.  I did not look up, I was too terrified to look up.  The ankle bent, and a knee set before my face.  Hands gripped my cheeks, and forced me to look up.

Her eyes were darker than before, hollow voids that opened onto the abyss itself.  Her lips parted, and a hissed word reached my ears.  I could not repeat it.  It is not a word I could speak, that I have heard before, or will hear again.  It was not a word I knew, but it was a word I understood only one possible meaning for.  “Die.”

I gasped for air as I felt the current grab me again, I slipped helplessly beneath the waves despite every struggle.  The light was vanishing quickly, darkness intruded, the cold had made me numb.  It was over, I knew it was, it was the end.  I’m sure I was crying, my tears joining the icy waters that had claimed me.  My heart broke to think of my Annae, when she heard of my death, or when I was never found.

I felt something grab my wrist.  I fought, and struggled against it.  Futile as all other attempts had been I struggled, I would not give in to that dark oblivion.  I turned to face what ever had grabbed me.  A form barely a shadow of greater dark against the depths, a from set against the last glimmer of light from above.  A form pulling me towards that light.

In a panicked moment I realized I was struggling down.  I kicked then, kicked with all my might, and stopped fighting the hand pulling me towards the light.  My lungs betrayed me though far before the surface.  The air escaped, and water tried to rush in.  The light came closer, but darkness clouded my vision.  I kicked with the last of my strength, and then nothing.

That should have been it.  That should have been my end.  What happened next, so far as I know was my eyes snapping open, me rolling over, and coughing water from my lungs, and then throwing up what little breakfast I had eaten.  I looked up, and saw the faint outline of a house shroud in the fog.  I looked behind me, and saw a figure standing with their back to me.

It wasn’t the woman, not her old form, or her young, but the hair was long.  He turned, and glanced at me, and gave me what I could not call a smile.  He took one step towards the lake shore, and was gone.  I lay there, just beyond the densest part of the fog.  I lay there, and collapsed back, staring up at the faintest hint of sky, struggling to regain my breath.  Still occasionally coughing up more water.

I heard footsteps, and tried to get up, and turn towards them.  I doubt I did much more than flop like a beached fish.  I tremblingly pushed myself up, ready for the next assault, particularly as I heard the footsteps hasten.  I could barely raise my head, but hands, warm, gentle delicate hands helped me.  They lifted my head, and for the first time I realized she was calling my name.  My ears deafened from being full of water that was finally escaping.

“James, James, James, are you alright?” I grabbed her arms, and pulled my Annae to me with all the strength I could muster.  I clung to her like life.

⁃ ◇ ❖ ◇ ⁃

“That is your story?” the King asked.

I wiped away my tears.

“Yes, my King,” I answered.

“Seven people died that day,” he said sadly.  “Seven people to the long list of legends of loss from that cursed lake.  My advisors wish me to write it off as foolish people who got lost, fell in, drowned when they could not find their way out of the fog.  Seven people, in one day.  Who would you believe?”

“Your advisors, I am sure are wise, clever men who know a great deal more of the world than me,” I answered.  “Yet I will tell you; seven people would not die on that lake by accident.  All my life I have lived there, and even in the densest fog, it is safe.  Yet something lurks, something kills there.  Something dark, and evil makes it not safe on days like that one.”

The King stood up, marched down his dais, and knelt before me where I was on my knees, he grabbed my chin, and made me look up at him.  His eyes were fierce things, the eyes of a mage in his thirteenth decade.

“When I was a boy,” the King said, “when I was not half your age, a man came before my father, just as you have.  He told a story much as your own.  My father did not believe him.  My father sent him to work for the barons of South Rook as an indentured servant for a year, as punishment for wasting his time.”

“What will you do?” I asked nervously.

“What would you have me do?”

“The river that feeds the lake in the north splits down another channel to the west, into the Sylvan wood.  Divert the river, and the lake will drain in time,” I answered.

“And do you think that will be enough to dissuade what haunts those waters?  That it will be worth the cost.  No more fish certainly.”

“What is a few fish, compared to seven lives, and almost eight?”

The King nodded.  “Go home to your bride young man, and I will consider your tale.”

– Court Records of King Mathias of Avrale, 129 B.E.