Thursday, February 9, 2012

Darksmoke


Brother Jack Toblin frowned down at his report. "No no no no." he muttered, barely audibly, "That won't work at all." With a flick of his fingers the letters on the page began to vanish. Half the page's writing was gone before a gesture stopped the erasure. He scratched his temple with the nubbin of his quill. The ink stains from the many other times he had done this, leaving a tiny cartographer's map on his balding forehead, travelling the paths of his frustration. 

And then, for a candle's age, the only sound was his pen on parchment. Finally he stopped, and set down the quill. He lifted the parchment and read aloud.

"From Brother Jack Toblin, Order of St. Thomas, Chapter of Mysteries. To be sent to Father Patrick Miller, Order of St Thomas, Megalos Volume of Records

Father Miller, you asked us to determine if a true dragon was living in the Moors. I can confirm these stories."


Brother Toblin paused for a moment, thinking again of those who once had accompanied him... and then whispered, "Confirmed indeed." He then continued reading aloud. 

"As we all know there are the great wingless dragon cows, and the winged dragon bulls, fierce in protection of their mates. The beasts are easily tamed with the right tools. Most of our meat and leather comes from these. Even the True Dragons agree that they are nothing but animals.

 However, we know the True Dragons - when they die- are always reborn in the eggs of dragon cows.

When we set out, we were expecting to find a newly hatched dragon, still growing into its full strength. I had hoped to communicate with it, and add its name to our roster. I was hopeful that we could talk to it, show it we are too dangerous to eat, and are better left alone. Perhaps we could get it to a harbor, and from there, off our shard and out of our hair. "

After all, Sharp Eye has died and been reborn in our lands nine times now, over a period of seventy years. When we encounter him, he greets us like old comrades, and off he goes, never telling what he is trying to accomplish so badly that it kills him, again and again. This ability of dragons, to be reborn complete in their memory is what makes them so powerful. They never forget, and they rarely forgive. We learned that with Long Flame."

At that, Brother Toblin paused, and looked out his window, Not much of Virgins' Square could be seen from here, but Toblin adjusted his enchanted spectacles, and focused his vision to a spot roughly a mile from the cathedral. Boring through buildings as if they did not exist... until he could once again see the enchanted stone statues, Long Flame the dragon, and Emperor Augustus, locked in eternal struggle. He pinched his spectacles, ending the spell, and returned to his letter.

"The only way we could defeat Long Flame was to trap him alive. For each time we killed him, he returned, cold in his fury. Since that day, we have kept a roster of the True Dragons, "He who Burns", "Snatcher", "Golden Scales", and so many more. Their names of course are not truly pronounceable by most  tongues, but the dragons tell us what the names mean, so that in every language these names can be translated  to fit.

The Dragon of the Moors is called Darksmoke.

Brother Toblin paused again, thinking again of what he had seen, of how bloated and black was Darksmoke's skin. So dark that he felt he could have fallen into it. And how huge this dragon was, far bigger than Long Flame. His eyes. Those vast, hatred filled eyes, each bigger than the door to his chamber. 

"We had journeyed only a few days into the blighted lands, where the Illithids lived before we drove them out. When the Mind-twisters came to Megalos, they claimed these wet and salty places for their own. From their pools in these wastes, they ruled. We saw many monsters they created during our travels, but the soldiers who accompanied me were skilled, and I rarely needed to defend myself.

And then, in mid step, as Ben Cartson was telling me a joke, all of my companions froze, as did their horses.

I could see their limbs lock as if held in a seizure. Their eyes beseeched mine in terror. I spoke to them, but their jaws were locked and could respond only with guttural, wordless cries for help. 

I am gifted in many of the colleges, and I tried all I could to pierce this spell. But what was happening was not by the force of any magic I have mastered.

Each one turned off the road, and single file headed into the wetlands. I was unharmed and untouched. I knew it had to be because of the gods tear amulet I wore. 

This force, this.... power, could not see me unless it was by normal sight alone. My Amulet protected me, I believed, from whatever froze my companions.

I journeyed with my companions, using a spell to be unseen and unheard, I even masked my scent. It was this way we traveled, for over an hours time, Invisibly beside my companions, watching helplessly as they were pulled along by puppet strings.

My companions - in lockstep - were brought into a clearing. Crows and insects filled the sky, circling in patterns not natural to them, rings and loops in the air as thousands flew in formation. In the center, a black thing so large my mind had trouble grasping its size. A lump upon the earth, fat and wet, as if it had fallen from the sky and splatted. I was not sure what I was seeing until it opened its eyes.

As we were forced closer, I saw the scars where his wings had been ripped from his body. I saw that his legs had withered, and lay like broken and bent twigs against the monster's vast black skin. It was far more toad than lizard.

One by one, the dragon examined the soldiers as each came before him, the man and his horse were lifted into the air as if hooks were embedded in their backs. and with a blink, all of their clothing and possession ripped from their body by unseen hands, held, separated, and sorted in the air, then stowed under the monsters vast bulk. Then one by one, my companions and their horses floated into the creature's mouth. Their screams, muffled..... as the dragon refused to allow them to open their mouths.

The first soldier, and the second, and then the third.... and then... while still chewing, the dragon spoke. "I know you are there, priest. Your soldiers have strong memories of you." The dragon's voice did not come from his mouth, rather it was everywhere, and nowhere. 

He used his powers to make the very air resonate with his thoughts. I remained hidden, but used an illusion to make a duplicate of myself, and spoke through it. At the time I believed it was the only thing keeping me from joining my companions. 

It was with this illusion that I spoke to the great beast... in an enchanted voice far calmer and steady than my real one. "I am here, Dragon. Why are you killing my companions?"

"To make a point, priest." It said

Another of the soldiers marched into its mouth, and the dragon crunched him down. His projected voice did not alter as the dragon chewed.

"There is nothing, nothing at all that you can do to harm me. And I feel the need to tell my tale. You sought me out, did you? You want to add my name to your roster? It is this."  With that, a great tenebrous mass of smoke, as black as nothing, emerged from the sides of the dragon's mouth, dripping up into a puddle in the sky. "Dark Smoke" will do, in your pitiful tongue. At least the elves have a sense of poetry to names." 

"I am called Jack Toblin, Brother to all men," I responded. "Your point has been made, dragon. Do all of them have to die?" 

"I am hungry, and tired of eating beetles." I watched as Sam and Ben together were stripped, and then eaten. I am glad my spells of hiding stopped sound as well, for I was sobbing. My illusion, however, stood there, unmoved, waiting for the dragon to continue. 

"The mind-flayers did this to me. They snatched me from the sky as easily as I snatched your companions. They took my magic. and replaced it with their own. I fought them. I fought as hard as your soldiers here did, and to as little effect. They did not give me this power. I am certain that was unintended. No... why they claimed and enslaved me, was to become a lens."

"A lens?" my illusion stated calmly, even though I, invisibly and inaudibly continued  blubbering, only barely in control of my spells.

"They used me again and again to focus their power. to reach through my mind to others otherwise too far." 

"They forcibly added me to their minds, then drained me to power what they did not have the strength to do. But as they were in my mind, so too, I was in theirs. And I learned."

"I watched as the first war against them was lost, All their commands were focused through me, and I knew that all of them were acting as one great mind. They watched you prepare your golems and your undead to fight them. but they had already created Bales to counter magic, and taught them spells ripped from your own minds. Bales were better at necromancy than you humans could ever be." 

"With the bales protecting the mind flayers from your magic, and with your kind having no protection from the powers or the illithids, you had no chance. I watched your armies fall."

"Everything the mind twisters did, every act, was focused through me."

"The illithids thought they could read me. But they were wrong. I learned early to hide my mind in layers.
Each time they used their twisting through me, unknown to them, they taught their skills to me. and I learned them well. Nothing has the patience of a dragon, human. Nothing."

"I knew the bales hated them as much as I did, and I spent years removing all the controls the illithids had created, yet leaving the shells of their shackles. Layering their minds, as I had layered mine. The mind twisters suspected nothing. Creatures who communicate through mind speech, do not really understand the ability to lie.  They still thought the bales were their puppets."

"When the second war was launched, I knew the Illithids were concerned, for this time, they could not sense their attackers. The amulets... like the one you now wear... blocked their sight. Still, they had a plan to defeat you, and would have succeeded easily. However, as they prepared to devastate your race, It was then that I struck.

 "When the humans launched their bands of heroes, it was I who fed false information into the illithid minds so they could no longer trust what they were seeing. It was I who turned one illithid against another. It was I who released the bales at the precise moment... at the ONLY moment, that they were vulnerable. Most of them died at the hands of the bales. And most of them died within the same hearts beat time. "

"You think it was your pitiful handful of heroes that drove the "squids" off of this shard? It was me. Stronger than they were at their own games."

"I am why the illithids do not come here anymore. For my mind is stronger than theirs. If I sense one of them I bring it to me, and I kill it much more slowly than the merciful deaths I have given your companions."

"And that is why I killed your men, So that you would understand how helpless you are against me." 

"Do not come again to the moors, do not attempt to stop me." 

"I am no longer what I was. My magic was stolen, and I stole theirs to replace it."

"My kind are reborn when we die, but I no longer think that applies to me."
"The greatest reason I hate the illthids, is not that they have broken my wings, or withered my limbs. I can still fly when I wish, without wings. Food now comes to me."

"No, why I hate them... is because they took my magic. I can no longer hear the songs of my kind. I can no longer sense a clutch of eggs. I no longer believe I have the power to be reborn."

"Why I hate them is because of all my kind, I am the only dragon who is afraid to die."
At that the dragon paused, lost in thought... and finally his mind speak continued.

"Leave me. Priest, and add my name to your roster. Tell your order what you know."

"I will stay where I am. If you decide to try and stop me, know that I am the only thing preventing the Illithids from returning. 

"Kill me, and you doom your race to slavery. I make no bargains. I give no promises. I simply speak the truth."

Darksmoke looked at me, then, not at my illusion, and quietly said, aloud, not mind speech

 "Return to your home."

And so I have. 


With that, Brother Toblin folded his letter closed.