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Gamebird
2004-12-16, 03:25 PM
The Day of the Dragon


* * *!Willow-Tree-Touching-The-Water was smiling and waving to the crowd like a professional politician. *The priests were in no hurry and let her have her moment in the sun, literally. *When the sun set, she had to be at the altar. *Before that, she could wave to her admirers all she wanted.
* * *Dagget watched from the sidelines, at the front of the crowd of common tribesmen and behind the press of the formal clergy. *He was close enough to see that she looked very happy, dressed very skimpily and showing clearly the many pounds she’d packed on in the last six months. *His interpreter had explained at length about the honor of volunteering to become one with the god, to ascend to the heavens. *She had volunteered at the rite of the winter solstice. *As the head of a merchant caravan, Dagget hadn’t been around for that part. *In fact, this was his first time to pass through the lands of the !Snake People.
* * *A volunteer became something like a queen for six short months. *She was given every delicacy and her every command obeyed. *Many people envied her. *Dagget had heard some of the women jealously gossiping about !Willow – obviously they wouldn’t mind trading places with her, but the custom was that it required a girl no more than one year from her coming of age. *His interpreter had told him how there were sometimes fights over who got to volunteer.
* * *She took her place on the altar and the priests descended the broad steps. *The whole of the !Snake People were here today, crowded as close as possible to the huge table rock. *On one end was a 50 foot tall, 10 foot thick, 30 foot wide slab of black stone. *Dagget had been told it was covered with runes, but since it was on the opposite side he couldn’t tell. *He was told the dragon-god Chrysopholax had emerged from the stone twice in living memory. *The people hoped he came again, for his coming was always followed by miracles, abundance and the telling of secrets to the highest priests. *Failing that, they expected a representative who would carry the people’s prayers to the god.
* * *The end of the table rock towards Dagget had broad steps that led up the 30 feet or so to the top, where there was an altar set up for the occasion. *Earlier there had been tables and chairs and thrones for the king and queen of the parade – or whatever it was the !Snake People called them. *His interpreter had been unable to translate the titles. *Now the table rock, 100 feet square, was empty of all except the altar and !Willow.
* * *The bottom of the disk of the sun touched the horizon and the noise of the crowd suddenly intensified. *They began to chant the name of their god, over and over. *This was part of the ritual Dagget understood. *In his home of Mirhame, this rite was called the Day of Blessings and many elements were similar. *There had been a market day and a dance. *There had been a parade, though in Mirhame it included the idols of the gods, the king and the royal family and here it included nothing but endless dragons and snakes. *
* * *He was bothered that everyone, even priests he knew followed other gods, had adopted the symbol of Chrysopholax for the day. *His interpreter had even given him one, telling him it was required. *He wore it uncomfortably, the gold stylized dragon on a black field. *His symbol of Aron was tucked under his clothes. *The feel of it against his skin was comforting, for he feared he was committing a blasphemy for carrying the symbol of another god.
* * *The last of the sun slipped beneath the horizon and the chanting reached a new peak. *Dagget wished it was allowed for him to call out the name of Aron as he had always done in Mirram. *He told himself he was far from home and this was their custom. *He held his tongue. *But he did not chant the name of their god.
* * *A great shadow came up from the river, a shadow of the coming night. *As it flew to the platform, the magical lights showed its true colors. *It was an enormous blue dragon, with a lime green belly and a few scattered silver scales. *The thing had to be at least 60 feet long, but it landed with the grace of a hummingbird. *People screamed in fear, in religious ecstasy. *The front ranks of the clergy prostrated themselves. *
* * *Dagget just stared, dumbfounded. *This wasn’t a god. *It was just a dragon. *A bigger dragon than any he’d ever seen before, but still – only a dragon. *He’d killed a green dragon himself, though it hadn’t been bigger than a horse, and met a man named Jorak from Rhon who claimed to have killed one that was nearly the length of this one. *This was no god. *But then, what was it doing here?
* * *“Aron protect me!” he cried. *Luckily, there was such a din that no one heard him.
* * *As he realized the purpose of the ritual, Dagget began to fight towards the front. *He had no idea what he was going to do, but he had to save the girl. *She was smiling up at the monster, raising her arms to greet it. *Tears were streaming down her face. *Dagget couldn’t get there fast enough. *The back ranks of the priests were still on their feet, packed together tightly and jumping up and down to see. *Dagget’s frantic pushing and shoving was ignored. *To them, he was just another guy seized by the fervor of the moment.
* * *He heard the sound – a sickening crunching. *He shoved the last priest out of his way and looked up. *There was nothing to be seen of !Willow-Tree-Touching-The-Water. *She had become one with the god. *As he stared, another man did what he had intended to do and rushed up the steps to stand before the altar. *The man carried a staff topped with a human skull. *Wasn’t that the symbol of the !People of the Empty Cities? *Dagget realized the priests around him were equally confused. *Several who had prostrated themselves were sitting up and murmuring darkly.
* * *The man began yelling to the crowd, talking fast and loud. *Behind him, the dragon cocked its head at the disruption and listened to him. *His interpreter was back with the common tribesmen, so Dagget couldn’t make out what the man was saying. *He heard a few words he knew – the name of the !Snake People, Chrysopholax, truth, magic… *The dragon snorted and opened its mouth above the man, releasing a stream of pure white energy. *It washed around him, somehow not even touching him. *This was powerful magic. *The man yelled at the crowd again and waved his skull-topped staff, gesturing back at the dragon. *Many in the crowd cried with fear.
* * *The dragon bit him, lifting him into the air and shaking him like a terrier with a rat. *Then it threw him to the ground. *Amazingly, the man still moved. *His staff bounced along the ground and down the steps. *The priests of the !Snake jumped back from it. *The dragon stepped on the man and ground him against the rock, so that he lived no more. *Then it moved over the altar and to the edge of the platform, looking down at the front ranks of the assembled high priests of the !Snake People.
* * *As a mass, the clergy flung themselves to the ground in submission. *For a moment Dagget stood alone, facing the dragon, transfixed by fear and suddenly very certain he was facing a god. *It stared at him and cocked its head, looking at the amulet of Chrysopholax on his chest. *The half second was enough. *Dagget remembered himself and threw himself down like the other faithful, fervently thanking his interpreter for giving him the symbol. *Bowing before another god was certainly blasphemy. *He prayed that Aron would forgive him. *He’d have to atone for this, assuming he lived through it.
* * *The dragon spoke. *Although when he talked to his interpreter later, he would tell him nothing of what the man with the skull-topped staff had said, he told him everything the dragon said. *“The !People of Empty Cities dare to question the faith of the !Snake. *If it is war they want, it is war they will get! *You will send these children of liches to their final graves. *WAR! *War, or else the rivers will run dry, the grass shall wither and the lightning will be called down upon all of you!”
* * *With that, it took off into the gathering gloom. *The monster’s departure was followed by shrieks and screams and a growing din. *“Aron protect me,” Dagget said again. *Never had he been more fervent.

* * *The Day of the Dragon is the !Snake Tribe’s version of the Day of Blessings. *The summer solstice festival is celebrated differently in the land of the plainsmen and differently from tribe to tribe. *Many elements are the same: people fast all day, there is a market fair, there is a parade with idols, a dance, and a feast afterwards. *However, the tribal people tend not to use moonflower blossoms in their Blessing Draught. *In fact, some tribes do away with the Blessing Draught entirely. *Instead, they go for a more direct manifestation of their god’s presence.
* * *Among the !Snake, the entire tribe (or as many as can get to it) assemble at a strange, manmade structure that overlooks part of the !Snake river valley. *At one end is a cenotaph, also called a gate stone, of enormous size. *The magic of working the gate stones has been lost to the people. *Only masters of the most ancient magics can use them now. *The tribal people believe the gate stone leads to only one place – the home of Chrysopholax the Golden.
* * *The tribe offers up a sacrificial victim to the dragon lords each year. *The larger dragons in the area are flattered by the worship and thus spare the !Snake of their depredations. *Smaller, less informed dragons sometimes don’t know any better. *If the tribe is truly beset by enemies, they can usually call upon a favor from even the evil dragons within their territory.
* * *On the day of the festival, all divine casters are required to wear only the symbol of Chrysopholax. *All other religious symbols are hidden. *For reasons unknown to outsiders, attempts to cast spells using the dragon-god’s symbol work fine on this day and seem to create no problems for the plainsmen. *Outsiders rarely tempt fate by trying. *Arcane casters are not permitted to cast any spell that attracts attention or detracts from the ceremony. *The penalty for blasphemy against Chrysopholax on this day is death.
* * *The festival is practiced the same by all classes and races in the area. *Clerics and those dedicated to the deity take an active role in organizing and conducting the parades, preparing the anointed and so on. *A fair amount of business is done at the market, but it shuts down when the parade starts and nothing opens again until after the feast.

Gorbash Kazdar
2004-12-16, 07:35 PM
Awesome work! I really like this concept. The flavor and details are excellent, really capture the feel of the moment.

I especially like the huge RP potential inherent in the whole idea. How do the PCs react? Do they try and save the girl? What does she think/do if they succeed? Do they try and kill the dragon? Are their beliefs wrong, or just different? Plenty of places for parties to disagree, and for characters to question their own views as well. Terrific :)

The campaign world around this sounds particularly interesting; I'd love to hear more about it.

Gamebird
2004-12-17, 01:37 AM
And I'd love to tell you. It's the campaign I'm starting in January and many of the potential players are also part of this board. So the more I share on the board, the less I'll be able to reveal at opportune moments in the game. :'( Otherwise I'd tell all, assuming I could type that much.

Dagget is a regular to the town the PCs will be starting in, so I planned to have him share with them this story. It left him with a very bad impression of the !Snake People, and not much better of the so-called "children of liches".

Hm. I could post privately to you, couldn't I? :P

Sucros
2004-12-21, 10:35 PM
A bit more gruesome than my "Day the dragon comes to town". :P Good work.