26 July 2007

Varata Lohikäärmeta

One of the most enjoyable parts of Dungeon-Mastering (hereafter "DM-ing") is concealing information, and even clues, in obscure references - and there's nothing more obscure than tales, songs and bad poetry. Much of this comes to the adventurers through the Varata Lohikäärmeta, the Tales of the Wyrm, a mystical book given each inducted Brother, and from which the Brethren are expected to read each evening, in order to gain wisdom, courage, and an example to follow. The book falls open at a different tale every evening, offering poetry, prose and song to inspire weary adventurers and uplift the souls of the downtrodden. It also provides yours truly with a creative outlet and a means of torturing the players.

Hey, at least I don't sing to them.

* * * * *
Rune the Second:
Uhrata Mirosata - "The Sacrifice of Miros"

When he had finished with each of his vile creations, Ūru sent them into the world, and they gave their service and their loyalty to the Powers of the Dark. But though they had not free will, the fell beasts of the Dark were disobedient, and so Bardan took them under his careful overlordship; for he feared that if his siblings, who were ever untrustworthy and jealous of his rule, gained so great a following, they would one day challenge him for mastery of the Uruqu. And aided by his Seven Servants, Bardan undertook to instruct the new beasts in the knowledge and wisdom of Ūru.

…Achamkris, eldest and wisest of Bardan’s followers, was given lordship over the dragons. And Achamkris struck a bargain with Gargarik, so that each aided the other; and as a result, the dragons grew mightily in strength and power, and the giants grew in wisdom and lore. Still Acahmkris was not done, for he espied upon the Haradi, and stole from them the secret of speech, and gave it to the Dragons; and thus they were the first among Bardan’s creations to gain the power of the word. And the dragons taught the Giants to speak, and so the word spread among the fell creatures, and those who had wit to learn it, did so. But where the speech of the Haradi was soft and musical, that of the fell creatures was harsh and foul; and each of the creatures bent the word to its own uses. Under the tutelage of Acahmkris, the Dragons prospered and grew in lore and might, and they lived long years, and came thereafter to be the most powerful, and wisest, and longest-lived of all the mortal beings upon Anuru. Fell minions of the Dark quailed before them, and even the mightiest of the Avatars feared to contend with the Lords and Princes of Dragonkind. But still they were outdone by the Children of Braea, for the Dragons did not possess immortality of spirit; for that secret even the wily Acahmkris could not learn from the Brahiri.

- From the Book of Anuru, the Age of Making

Before mighty Hara accepted from the hands of his eldest sister, Bræa, dominion and overlordship of the Elves, he had, as yet, taken only one of the minions of light into his service; for Hara was particular in his vision of the ways of the world, and adamant in his desire that his adopted children should come into their powers not only with strength, but also with the wisdom to govern that strength. Thus while the Age of Making lasted, he was served only by Gemmo, the Lady of the Winds, to whom was given dominion over the raptors and predators of the skies; and her sight was long, and none could approach her on the wing; and she wielded a golden sword, from which sprang the fires of the heavens.

But though he was pleased with her service and her guardianship of the skies, Hara sought out others to bear his will unto the woodlands; for Gemmo loved the winds, and clouds, and descended only to visit the eyries of her people, and came not unto the earth. Thus Hara sought far and wide for a guardian of the woodlands. At length he found one of the Brahiri, a rough warrior of the people who would, in the fullness of time, come to be known as the Haradi, who roamed the wood with bow and sword, confounding the beasts and minions of the Uruqua. And this warrior, who was called Larranel, took especial pleasure in confounding the designs of Bardan.
Because of his ferocity, his skill at arms, his love of the forests and of his kindred, Hara found in Larranel a spirit meet unto his needs; and he approached the warrior, and elevated him as his second servant. And right well did Larranel Sylvanus serve his new master, haunting the woodlands like death avenging, until he had earned another name among his former kinsmen: Corellon Larethian, that is, “Spirit of the Elder Forest”. And in latter days Larranel was much beloved of the greenland-dwellers among the Haradi, and became the greatest of Hara’s servants, and was much revered.

But still Hara besought him still for a third servant; for he had been vouchsafed by his sister a third domain, and this was overlordship of the magi, and patron of all white wizardry; and this was a difficult task to answer, for the Brahiri were yet new to the art magic, even those who later became the Haradi; and many long years would pass before they mastered the mana, and the great mage-kings Tîor, and Xîardath, and Bîardath would come to plumb its uttermost depths. And so Hara searched long and in vain.

These years, the waning years of the Second Age, the Age of Making, were a fell time for the Brahiri. For they had been rejected by their mother Bræa, who, fearing their free and wilful natures, had lifted up her hand to unmake them; and though they had been spared this doom by the intervention of Ana, and Bræa had repented of her rash decision and given up the light that was in her, the care of the Brahiri had not yet been given into the hands of the brothers of Bræa, who in time would become their new teachers and guardians. Thus the Brahiri lay bereft of guidance and at the mercy of the evil powers, and in darkness; for the light of Bræa was gone from them, and the Lantern had not yet been forged by Ana. Thus they lived without the protection of their mother, that had hitherto kept them safe from all harm, and were besieged upon all sides.

Now it was that Bardan attempted to undo the making of Bræa; and to this end, he sent his monsters against the kingdoms of the Brahiri, that were scattered, and disorganized, and despondent in their abandonment. And though the monsters were few in number (for Bardan had not yet made the vicious orcs or the cunning goblins, the mighty ogres or the fell Uruks), yet they were mighty. The great vermin spread across the lands of the Brahiri, bringing pestilence and laying waste to crop and furrow. Bats and vultures rained from the skies, wolves ranged far and wide, and the Giants bestrode the land like titans, wreaking great destruction.

Most fearsome, however, were the Wyrms of Achamkris, Lord of Dragons, who in addition to their matchless strength and invulnerability, had learned well the magical arts that Achamkris had stolen from the Elves. Thus while the Brahiri had the strength to withstand even the greatest of the attacks by the other monsters, the Wyrms of Achamkris breached their defences time and again; and Bræa’s children stood on the precipice of ruin.

Then came forth Miros, a princess of the Elves, daughter of Ylartallyk, one of the lesser kings of a lesser kingdom, that vanished long before Bræa returned, and mingled her blood with the blood of the Firstborn, and the founded the Houses of Harad. Miros was the youngest of five children, the only daughter, a child of grace and beauty, who had forsaken her family’s martial traditions to take up the staff in place of the sword. There were no masters and no colleges, and thus she learned her art from the winds and skies, and the trees of the forests, and the dark bones of the earth; and though she learned much in this wise, yet ever the deepest secrets escaped her; for even the mightiest of students, if he is to advance, requires a mighty teacher.
Her father was a fell warrior, and for long he held his mountain realm against the onslaught of the minions of Bardan; but mortal flesh was no match for the might of the Powers of Dark, and in time his warriors were slaughtered, his bastions crumbled, and his kingdom in flames. One of Miros’ earliest memories was of her father wielding his mighty sword left-handed; for a great viridian wyrm had taken his right arm. Yet even left-handed, he slew the foe that assailed him and threatened his daughter. And when Miros marvelled at his strength, and wept for his sacrifice, he told her that the true warrior of the light does not shun pain, but rather embraces it, and turns it into power.
When later he was slain defending the gates of his city from a host of ebon wyrms, she remembered the lesson of the right arm. She clung to his words, so well-remembered, and took them into the darkness of her heart; and in this darkest hour, she conceived a plan. Cloaked in the raiment of a minion of the dark, Miros left her father’s city and travelled deep into the mountain vales claimed by Bardan’s monsters, seeking out the greatest of their wyrm-mages, winning her way past sentries and even armies by the power of her magic and the force of the spirit within her.

At length, after many narrow escapes, she came upon the fastness of Scîarratekkan, the most ancient, once the mightiest of dragons, an ancient and wily serpent, Captain-General of the Red Wyrms, foremost among all the councillors of Achamkris. Using all of her skill and power, Miros penetrated his lair, and at length confronted him, seeking to wrest the deepest secrets of his power from him. But her quest was in foredoomed to failure; for Scîarratekkan had lived long, and his power vastly outstripped her own, and in an instant she stood unmasked, and mind-bare before the great wyrm.

As was, and is, the way of his kind, Scîarratekkan toyed with the elf-maiden, hoping to see what she was prepared to sell in order to buy her freedom; seeking to debase her and plunge her into despair before consuming her utterly. But Miros surprised him. Rather than pleading or weeping, she stood tall and proud before her fell foe, and offered her flesh to her captor.
Your flesh is already mine, to do with as I will,” Scîarratekkan hissed, scorching the air with his sulphurous exhalations.

“Pardon, incarnadine one, but you misunderstand,” the maiden replied, struggling to keep her voice bright and unwavering, despite the dragonfear that clawed at her soul. “I do not offer myself as a meal, but as a mate.”
Pardon yourself, insignificant one,” the dragon answered, his vast jaw working in a terrifying grin, “but I fear you would find my bulk…uncomfortable.”
“Surely a mage of your power could rectify the disparity,” she replied archly.
Indeed.” Scîarratekkan hissed an incantation in the sibilant tongue of his people, and his figure warped and blurred. An instant later, the great wyrm had vanished, and in its place stood an Elflord, tall and well-made, of surpassing beauty; but with scarlet hair, and eyes like pools of viscid fire.
Miros stood motionless as this demonic vision of one of her kin-folk approached, and felt a line of fire along her jaw as Scîarratekkan stretched out his hand and caressed her cheek. “That is not what I had envisioned,” she whispered, then repeated his incantation; and in an instant, the elf-maiden had been replaced by an enormous red wyrm, sleek and surpassingly lovely, at least in the eyes of a dragon.
Scîarratekkan reversed his transformation, and a moment later the great dragons stood together, necks entwining. “Is this why you came to me?” the elder wyrm asked, eloquent and commanding in his natural tongue.
In part,” Miros replied in the same language. “I will speak plainly, for no lies can be told in the tongue of dragons. I seek only the power and skill to protect my people from the depredations of your armies. To obtain it I offer you my industry, my obedience and my heart, for a span of seven years.”
That is but the breath of a whisper in the life of dragons,” Scîarratekkan replied, nettled by her candor, and yet intrigued by her offer.
As it is in the lives of Elves,” Miros answered. “But for you, it is a guarantee of immortality. Again, I beg your pardon, dread master, but I must speak plainly. You are old, and though your power is yet great, unmatched among your folk, your hide is dark, your teeth are dull, and the beat of your wings no longer shakes the earth. And you have no heir. I offer you the chance for your legacy to live on through our child.”
Scîarratekkan snorted derisively. “A bastard offspring, half-wyrm, half-mortal. What manner of legacy is that?”
A legacy of power,” Miros replied. “You are unsurpassed in might, and all-knowing in the ways of the dark. I am well-versed in the lore of my people and the power of the light. Our child would bestride both worlds, a mage unrivalled in all the history of Anuru.”
The ancient wyrm was entranced by the maiden’s offer, but still cautious. “My master, mighty Achamkriss,” he said slowly, “would not view my betrayal of his arcane secrets with favour.”
What matter that,” Miros asked, “if you are near death in any case, and your posterity has been assured, and your line hidden from him?” She held her breath as the elder dragon debated.
At long last, he nodded. “It is well,” he said. “I accept your bargain. You will be my love, and learn my art. Our paths will be joined forever, and you will raise our child to follow it. And his footsteps will shake the foundations of the Earth.”
* * * * *
Thus was the bargain struck. Elf mated with Dragon, breaching the unbreachable gulf separating the dark from light, and the children of Bræa from the monsters of Bardan. Miros opened herself to the blazing advances of her foe, and became one with him; and ever after would the minions of light and dark cross that gulf at their whim. The bloodlines of Brahiri and Dragons mingled and grew strong together, rife with arcane power, as invincible as adamant. The inviolable boundaries set in long ages past by Ana and Uru were shattered, and the shadow of the shattering would be long and grievous upon the earth.
Miros learned quickly the ways of dragons, and though the lessons were harsh, she endured them. Indeed, she soon came to long for her weyr-mate’s embrace, for in the union of their bodies, his spirit relaxed its iron vigilance, and their minds were as one; and in their shared passion, she gleaned much from his unguarded spirit that might otherwise have been closed to her. And as she slowly came to comprehend the vast, arcane mastery of the great wyrms, Scîarratekkan’s son quickened in her womb. Oft she lay awake at night, apprehensive, feeling the fell creature growing inside her, gritting her teeth to smother the pain as her diminutive form stretched beyond all nature to accommodate the monstrous being taking shape within it.
Well she knew what it was she bore; a twisted, unnatural child, an abomination, a thing that had no place in the plans of Bræa or of Bardan, and no claim on life or sustenance anywhere upon Anuru. The pain was nigh unbearable, but she determined to bear it, to last another day, and thus earn another day’s wisdom for her people. To ease the pain, she spent more and more time in dragon’s form, living as one of the great red wyrms; and she learned their lust for treasure, and power, and glory, and the skies, and came to understand their indifference to mortal aspirations and endeavours, and their contempt for the petty, weak, ephemeral beings that crawled in the dust like insects. All these things wyrm-form granted her; and as she became one with the wyrm, the memory of her old body faded and grew dim. She had embraced her pain, and it became her power; and her power grew daily.
At length, the seven-year span ended, and it seemed indeed to Miros that the time had come and gone as quickly as the stroke of a moth’s wing. Scîarratekkan was despondent, saddened that his bargain with Miros had come to an end. To his surprise, he had grown genuinely fond of the lovely elf-maiden, for she had proven to be more than a careful and ingenious student; she was also a courteous and gentle companion, a staunch weyr-mate, and a dutiful and dedicated consort. And moreover, he felt an overwhelming affection and sense of pride in the child of their mingled blood that was growing rapidly within her womb.
Thus when she arose one morning, and took, for the first time in more than a year, the shape of her mother’s people, the great wyrm’s spirit quailed within him, for he knew that the period of their bargain was at an end. Scîarratekkan eyed the tiny elf-woman’s rippling, distended abdomen with dismay, and was plunged into despair at the thought that he would not see his child born; and he pleaded with her to stay at his side.
“Will you not remain with me,” he implored, speaking her own tongue in his desperation to dissuade her, “that we might raise our son jointly, and see him grow strong and set upon the path to power, and together instruct him in the arcane arts?”
Miros smiled gently. “Dread lord, I have no intention of ever leaving this place.”
Scîarratekkan was relieved, even delighted, but at the same time puzzled. “Have you then forsaken your people, and your promise to deliver to them the fruits of your bargain?”
“I have forsaken no one,” Miros replied. “I intend indeed to gift them with the hard-won fruits of my labours. But only in part.” Reaching into her robes, she held up a scroll of magnificent white parchment, bound with a golden cord. “This contains all of the knowledge, wisdom and art that I have learned from you. It is my legacy to my people, for it will give them the power to resist you and your foul brood, and if you persist against them, to destroy you.” Closing her eyes, she whispered a brief incantation, and the scroll vanished. An instant later, its place in her hand was taken by a gleaming silver dagger.
The great wyrm frowned. “What have you done, my love?” he asked, still not comprehending the import of her words.
“As I promised, I have shared with my people one of the fruits of our union,” the elf-maiden replied firmly, yet with a grim set to her jaw. “All of your knowledge is now in their hands, to be used to confound your master, and his master, and all the Powers of Dark.”
“But why yon blade?” the dragon asked, nonplussed. “What possible reason…”
“It is a remedy,” Miros interjected, “for the other outcome of our liaison. Perhaps one day, the Brahiri will mate with the great wyrms, and spawn a long line of magi; but if we do, it will be on our terms, not yours. I, for one, will never be party to such an abomination.” And so saying, she reversed the dagger, and to Scîarratekkan’s horror, plunged it deep into her swollen belly.
The dark child shrieked in agony within her womb as the dagger pierced her tender flesh, and buried itself within its unborn body. Miros ground her teeth against the pain and collapsed to the flame-scarred and smoke-stained floor of the cavern. The dragon-child clawed frantically at her innards, struggling for life; first one razor-taloned foot, then another, and finally a wing tore through her tender flesh, emerging into the dank air of the great wyrm’s lair, staining the stones with droplets of its mother’s blood.
With the grim determination of the doomed, Miros grasped the squawking, struggling, mortally wounded dragonet by the exposed wing, and tore its writhing body from the ragged wound in her midriff. Smiling into her mate’s horrified eyes, she calmly twisted and broke the tiny creature’s neck, then tossed the pathetic, bloody little corpse at Scîarratekkan’s feet.
The great wyrm reared back in surprise, hissing and baring his fangs. “Murderer! Betrayer and oath-breaker!” he screamed, lasping back into wyrm-speech, shattering the rocks, and scattering his terrified minions to the corners of the cavern with the fury of his shrieks.
“This is not murder, but a cleansing,” Miros hissed through pain-gritted teeth. “Nor have I broken any oaths. The Elves make no bargains with the vermin of Bardan.”
“Liar! Liar and deceiver! You promised me your obedience and your love!”
“I promised you only my flesh, worm," the she-elf panted. "Take it now, for I need it no more.” And with that last remark, Miros set the razor-edge of her dagger to her white throat, and cut deep.
As her body slumped to the floor of the cave, Scîarratekkan trumpeted in rage, agony and despair. The very stones of his lair were riven from their foundations, and a black cloud blotted out the sun. A storm of incandescence incinerated his fallen consort and his murdered son, and mounted in a vast, towering pyre visible for a hundred leagues, that melted the very bedrock of his lair.
Closing her eyes against the incarnadine glare, Miros greeted the cleansing fire with a soft sigh of relief.
* * * * *

A moment later, or an eternity, she awoke to cool breezes and soft birdsong, and the gentle caress of meadow grass against her bare flesh. She savoured the sensations, uncertain where she was, and uncaring. She had not felt the tickle of verdure since she had closeted herself, all willingly, within the basalt fastness of Scîarratekkan’s lair.
At length, she opened her eyes and sat up. A short distance away sat one of her kinsman, cross-legged: an elf clad in a simple grey leather tunic and kirtle, unarmed and unarmoured, with unruly blonde hair and gleaming, silvery eyes. Glancing around, she saw that they sat in the centre of a grassy dell, surrounded by softly waving pines, and that they were alone. The stars shone brightly above, limning her surroundings with a shimmering argent radiance, but it seemed that they shed extra luminescence on the stranger sitting silently before her.
Making no effort to conceal her nakedness, she asked curiously, “Are these the Long Halls?”
“No,” the stranger replied, in a light, playful and melodious tone. “It is the forest north of Cællafall, not more than stone’s throw from your homeland. Why? Are you dead?”
Glancing down at her pristine, flawless skin, Miros smiled and shrugged. “I thought I was,” she answered slowly, “but now….” Wondering, she ran her hand over the smooth, unmarred skin of her midriff. There was no evidence to indicate that she had ever even been…
She glanced back at the stranger. “I should be dead,” she said gravely. “I meant to die. Who are you? Did you save me?”
“On the contrary,” the stranger answered, his solemn tone and manner belying the playful sparkle in his eyes. “You saved me, fair mistress. Or more properly, through your courage and single-minded sacrifice, you have saved my people.”
“ ‘Your’ people?”
“ My people. Your people. The Elves.”
“Are you a king then?” she asked, puzzled that she had never seen him before.
"No," he smiled, “no. Not a king.” He paused, as if reflecting a moment. “Would you consider making a bargain with me nonetheless?”
“I doubt me, sir,” Miros said. “The last pact I conceived was ill-struck.” Marvelling at her miraculous survival, she glanced down again at her pristine flesh. “In truth, I have no skill for negotiation.”
“I disagree, brave one,” the stranger replied, still solemn. “For it seems to me that you bargained sharply with a fell foe, and won your wager justly, on your terms rather than his. Though the cost must have seemed high to you, the reward was greater than you can know. But in any case,” he added, grinning again, “you need not fear. I do not make unfair bargains.”
Miros wondered whether she could trust him, fair stranger, and then decided that it didn’t matter. A calm acceptance had washed over her; and if she were indeed returned from eternal oblivion to walk once again the verdant earth that she so loved, what matter the cost? And so she shrugged. “What terms do you ask?”
“Little enough,” the stranger answered. “You will serve me forever, without reward of any kind. You will use all of your power, knowledge and wisdom for the betterment of others, without expectation of recognition, remuneration or even thanks. You will struggle for an age, and another, and still another, and yet when all the ages are done, and you are weary with toil, you will be further behind than when you began. And when the world breaks, and your people go to the Long Halls for eternity, you will not go with them, but will pass beyond the Void and into the oblivion of the Endless Age with me, and with my brothers and sisters. What say you?”
Miros blinked. “That doesn’t sound like much of a bargain,” she replied in astonishment. “Is there no fee or benison in your plan for me?”
The stranger smiled more broadly. “Well,” he said, as if considering deeply, "I could offer you a somewhat different form." And so saying, he raised a slender finger.
Miros snorted derisively, and flame jetted from her jaws. Astonished, she reeled backwards and nearly fell over, automatically flapping her enormous wings to keep her balance. Instinctively, she swept her tail into position behind her, muscles tightening to brace her weight against the ground, and keep her upright.
She glanced down. Rippling, intricately-detailed golden mail gleamed back at her. She shot a terrified look at the stranger, and reeled again. In his place, a gigantic silver dragon sat back on its haunches, towering above the treetops, its gleaming, bearded argent head cocked quizzically to one side, regarding her with a bemused eye.
What say you?” the stranger repeated in the dragons’ tongue, a hint of a chuckle in his tone.
For a moment, she heard a ghost of Scîarratekkan’s outraged bellow in the stranger’s words; and she was stunned when, in the inferno of her wyrm’s heart, she felt a hot kernel of sorrow blossom for the ancient wyrm, and a stab of pain at his loss...and hers.
What say you, lady?” the stranger repeated, regarding her intently.
Let the pain become your power, she told herself. She didn’t answer. Instead, she took a deep breath, flexed her wings, flapping them experimentally once, twice, thrice…
and like a bolt of golden fire, launched herself into the heavens.