Equinox, part 1

September 29, 2016 Danielle 0

There was something in the air. Something in the way the light fell, or the smell of the breeze rippling in over the river, something about day itself. Calla closed her eyes and breathed in, sifting through the smells of spring pollen and herbs, the edge of old woodsmoke from the harvest festival bonfires across the valley. She still couldn’t identify what it was, but there was something. Today was just more alive than yesterday had been.

Her aunt’s voice broke her out of her contemplation, calling, “Calla! Are you done with the bees?”

“Almost,” she yelled back.

 

It wasn’t exactly a lie. Checking on the bees would only take a minute, and she was more than halfway to the hive already, more by coincidence than by intent, but still. Calla hurried the rest of the way across the yard to the beehives, keeping out of their flight path. The false wall on the first hive was stuck, but a quick smack with a rock loosened it enough to pull away, revealing the glass inner wall. Underneath, the bees crawled about, unconcerned about the sudden light coming into the hive. They looked fine. Calla carefully replaced the false wall, and turned to check on the second hive.

 

The second hive was more elaborate, with a honey tap as well as a false wall for inspections. It stood right next to the first hive, separated by the width of a narrow path, but they never had problems with one hive robbing the other. Calla pulled off the false wall to look inside the hive, then stepped back involuntarily. Inside the hive was a small dragon, curled up under the comb. As the light hit it, it opened one honey-golden eye and stared at Calla through the glass wall of the beehive.

 

Calla stared back.

 

“Took your time,” the dragon said.

Calla heard his voice as if he was whispering directly into her ear. It sounded peppery, like the sensation just before a sneeze.

Calla blinked, and said, “I’m.. sorry?”

“Good,” said the dragon. “You should be, making me wait. Are you ready?”

“Am I ready for what? What are you talking about? You shouldn’t be here,” said Calla.

 

The dragon turned his head to stare at her with both eyes, golden as starlight through a UV filter.

“You’ve forgotten.”

He stepped out of the hive, right through the glass. calla couldn’t decide if he looked scary and mysterious or ridiculous, covered in honey like sticky, golden oil. Honey dripped off his scales, and he sat down to wash himself fastidiously, like a cat.

Calla asked the dragon, “What have I forgotten?”

At the same time, Calla’s aunt yelled again, “Calla! Are you done yet?”

Calla turned involuntarily to respond, then turned quickly back. The dragon was gone as if he’d never been, just a drip or two of honey on the ground where he’d been. His voice whispered in her ears, “Everything.”

 

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Zodiac Dragons – Council Rock (contd.)

September 1, 2016 Danielle 0

“Dworkin,” she said, “you asked us to meet you. What’s going on?”

“I have something to show you, hatchlings. But you have to be quiet, silent as a breeze past a rabid wyvern. Can you do that?”

He was answered by a series of solemn nods, and a stifled sneeze from Raziel. Dworkin stared at them for a long second, then nodded.

“Come,” he said. “You’re all my grandchildren, you should be able to keep quiet for a few minutes.”

Kayelinth blinked at him, and said “We’re your -?”

Dworkin glared at her, and she closed her mouth with a snap.

“Come quietly,” Dworkin said.

 

The cave mouth was close, barely a wingspan above the ledge where they had landed, but it was hidden behind a screen of thorny brush and several large boulders. Dworkin slipped easily past, leaving the younger dragons to shove their way through the brambles. Keirax hung back, and let Shinya and Quiendrix go first. Amethyst and Gold clan dragons tended to be get their growth spurt earlier than most f the other clans, so the two of them were the largest.

 

They walked for almost an hour through the mountain, the tunnel twisting and turning until Keirax was completely disoriented. Eventually, Dworkin stopped them. He motioned at the walls, and after a second or so of utter confusion, Keirax saw that there were pinholes of light coming through the stone wall. Raziel and Phosphorentz had already moved forward to look through the spy-holes. Typical, thought Keirax. I should be that sneaky. She carefully edged forward and looked through one of the holes.

 

Below them, the main discussion hall of the Dragon Council spread out. Tables loaded with roasted meat, pies, and fruit stood along every wall, and a small group of dragons were gathered in the centre of the room. The great, golden double doors on the far side of the room were shut and barred. The Elders of the Dragon Council were in session. Keirax drew a sharp breath, and glanced at her companions; all were staring through the spyholes, silent as ghosts. She looked back at the room.

 

The Amethyst Clan elder said, “Alright, Meyaneth, we’re locked down. Now, what did the sea-folk envoy have for us? Is it true?”

The Bronze Clan elder, Meyaneth, said, “They confirmed the rumours. The Ghost Elves have found a clue to the location of the Left Eye.”

The rest of the elders mantled their wings in excitement or agitation, then the Amethyst elder spoke again. “And? Are they going to go after it?”

The Copper Clan elder raised her crest, and said excitedly, “Could we form a joint expedition if they are?”

“Always the adventurer, Tramantin,” said Meyaneth. “You know we couldn’t go personally even if they were going, and they’re not. The sea-folk have no interest in the Eye, except to tell us about it as per the treaty. But the surface elves and the Ghost Elves will both be sending parties after it.”

“I know my fellow councillors are eager to get to the meat of the news,” said the Sapphire Clan elder, “but I, for one, would like to hear the story from the beginning.”

“Seconded,” said the Gold Clan elder, and the Silver Clan elder raised a claw in support.

Meyaneth said, “There isn’t much to tell. You know that the Ghost Elves have been sending archaeology teams to the drowned cities? One of the submarine crews found a hidden library while they were digging around. The crew brought back images of carvings on the walls which indicate the gem’s location. One of the goblin slaves in the crew gossiped about it, and the story got out to the sea-folk and the surface elves that way. The details are in Tashki’s report.”

“Alright, good,” said the Amethyst elder. “I move that we table this for further discussion. We’ll need to consider the composition of any team we send, and I’m sure we could all do with a day or two to confer with our clans.”

The Gold Clan elder nodded, and said, “As long as we come back to it within three days, or the elves will get there first.”

The Sapphire Clan elder said, “Done. Now, can we talk about the old Ruby fishing grounds?”

 

Keirax started as Dworkin tapped her on the shoulder. He pointed back the way they had come, and she nodded. She started back out of the caves, with the rest of the group trailing after her. She didn’t speak untilt hey were back outside in the afternoon sunlight.

 

“Why did you want us to hear that,” Keirax asked.

Quiendrix added, “And how did you know when they would be talking about it?”

Dworkin just tapped one claw on the side of his snout, and said, “Do any of you know what the Left Eye of the Serpent is?”

Phosphorentz said, “Is it a gem?”

Shinya and Quiendrix laughed at him, but Dworkin nodded.

“It is. A magical gem. It’s one of the seven lost treasures of the Zodiac Dragons. I’d heard rumours in the aether that it had turned up again.”

Phosphorentz squealed in delight, “It is a gem. I knew it! I knew it! I knew it!”

Raziel asked, “What are the other six? And what kind of magic does it do?”

“It’s the kind of magic that should be wielded by young dragons with a bit of imagination, not old stuffy-headed fools like the council,” said Dworkin. “The power to change the world. or at least, to move to one where it has been changed. Or to create one where the change was always that way. Something like that. I forget. And immortality.”

‘What are the other six items,” said Shinya.

“The Right Eye of the Serpent, the Day Blade and the Night Blade, the Chalice, the Mask, and the Flute,” said Dworkin.

“So, two gems, two swords, a cup, a mask, and a flute,” said Quiendrix, making notes.

Dworkin nodded.

“Each item can find the others,” he said, “so you should hurry.”

 

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Snow in the Air

August 21, 2016 Danielle 0

The wind is playing an orchestra, two blocks over,

all dressed in ragged tweeds and rain-washed air.

It doesn’t so much howl as whisper, on the edge of hearing,

when you know no voice could possibly be there.

And the day is a dream of movement,

but the dark is never gone,

it waits behind every eyelid

like a half-heard, whispered song.

 

These winter afternoons are short, but growing longer;

sunset comes when last week it was night.

A splash of red, of fire, before it’s over,

and the light drains through the horizon, who knows where.

And the day is a dream of movement,

but the dark is always there,

waiting behind every eyelid

like the smell of snow in the air.

 

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Leshak

August 15, 2016 Danielle 0

A normal forest might be nurtured by Ents or Treants, or be the home to a tribe of Dryads. It might, perhaps, be under the protection of a flock of Swanmays, an Erlking, or even a Unicorn. If it is a very old, powerful forest, it might be protected by Leshy or other forest spirits, or a Virava, or ‘forest mother’ (similar to a Hamadryad).

 

The Dark Forest of Eyrie isn’t a normal, healthy forest. It is a forest which has learned sorrow, and hate, and it is protected by twisted, Ent-like creatures called Leshak.

 

A Leshak resembles a 6-limbed humanoid preying mantis with thin, stick-like arms and legs, and glowing yellow eyes. At first glance they can easily be mistaken for trees, especially in a forest. Their bodies are made of wood, strong and flexible, with long, knobbly, twig-like fingers and twisty, root-like feet. The middle limbs can be used as legs or as arms, and are equipped with hands and fingers. Leshak are 3 – 5 m (9 – 15 ft.) tall, and strong enough to lift a full grown human in one hand. Their main attack is a raking blow with their fingers, which cuts flesh and also slams the target back.

 

Leshak

(Neutral Evil, Large construct)

Init: +3; Senses: darkvision 20 m (60 ft.)

AC 19, touch 13, flat-footed 16 (+3 Dex, +6 natural)

HP 64 (8D10 + 20)

Fort +2, Ref +5, Will +5

DR 5/silver; Immune construct traits, magic

Weaknesses vulnerable to fire

Speed 10 m (30 ft.)

Melee 2 claw attacks +12 (2D6+4)

Special: Screech, Earth-hold

Str 18, Dex 17, Con—, Int—, Wis 17, Cha 1

BaseAtk +8; CMB +12; CMD 25

Organization solitary or gang (2–4)

 

Immunity to Magic (Ex) A Leshak is immune to any spell or spell-like ability that allows spell resistance, with the exception of spells and spell-like abilities that have the Fire descriptor, which affect it normally. In addition, certain spells and effects function differently against the creature, as noted below.

 

Screech (Su): As a free action once every 1D4+1 rounds, a Leshak can voice a blood-curdling scream. Any humanoid or magical beast within 6m (20 ft.) takes 6D6 sonic damage (Will save DC 14 halves the damage).

 

Earth-hold (Ex): The primary drive of the Leshak is to plant more heart trees, and to feed existing heart trees. As such, when a Leshak is within reach of a heart tree, rather than using its claw attack, it will grapple an opponent and attempt to pin them to the trunk of the heart tree. Strengthened by the proximity of the heart tree and by following their prime directive, a Leshak doing this gets +3 to its grapple checks both to initiate and to maintain a grapple or pin an opponent.

 

Leshak are sustained by eating the fruit of the heart trees, magical plants which are found nowhere else in Europa. They grow as graceful, pretty trees very much like apple trees in shape and size. Their bark is pale, and their leaves are a vibrant, deep green. They flower for the first time after a year as an unremarkable, though fast-growing seedling. A heart tree grows as much in a month as another species might grow in a year, and by the end of the first year of growth is a sizeable tree. Once a heart tree begins to flower, it can be fed – indeed it must be fed at least four times a year in order to fruit.  The Leshak feed a heart tree by bringing a sentient creature, a humanoid or magical beast, to it and pressing the creature against the roots and trunk of the tree. The heart tree will quickly grow bark and roots over the creature, and will drain its life force and digest it’s body over the course of about a week. Any creature touching a heart tree’s trunk must make a Reflex save (DC 14) to move away before the heart tree begins absorbing them; once the heart tree begins absorbing its victim, it causes hallucinations and euphoria. The victim can make a Will save (DC 14) once each round for 3 rounds to pull away from the heart tree before they have been covered by bark or roots. Once the victim has been covered by bark and rootlets, the victim remains alive for 7 days. During this time the victim may make once Will save per day (DC 18) to attempt escape; on a success, they must succeed at a Strength check (DC 15) to escape. This Strength check may be repeated up to four times before a new Will save must be made, as the victim falls back under the spell of the heart tree.

 

Heart trees flower throughout the year, and can bear fruit in any season. The flowers are large, creamy white in colour, with a scent something like jasmine, mangoes, and cinnamon. The fruit of a heart tree, which is only borne once the tree has been fed, smells at the same time like the most delicious thing you can imagine and like something slightly rotten. The flesh of the fruit is delicious and juicy, and is dotted with several small, round seeds, about the size of a persimmon seed. Any creature eating the fruit of a heart tree becomes sleepy and contented, and will lie down wherever they are and fall asleep for 1D4 hours (Will save to resist, DC 13); on waking, the victim will crave more of the fruit and will be fatigued until they can consume more of it. If someone eats the fruit but resists the urge to sleep, they are not fatigued, but do feel the craving for more fruit.

 

A dragon which eats the fruit and seeds of a heart tree and then falls asleep becomes infected with a magical disease which slowly transforms them into a Leshak over the course of a week. The dragon will be unable to stomach any food or drink other than the fruit of the heart trees, not even water or healing potions; anything else will cause the dragon to vomit it straight back up. The dragon’s hide will become dull, then woody in appearance, and its limbs will elongate. This disease can be cured with a Heal, Remove Disease, or Remove Curse spell. After a week, it will slip into a deep, dreamless sleep; on waking, the dragon will be a Leshak, controlled by primitive instincts and by the will of the Virava. Its sole food will be the fruit of heart trees, and its primary drive will be to feed the heart trees with sentient creatures, and to plant more heart trees to extend the forest.

 


 

Origin of the Leshak, and History of the Dark Forest of Eyrie

 

Long ago, the Virava of the Dark Forest fell in love with a human. He was a wizard of considerable power, a guest of the Emerald Clan dragons who came to study with them and learn from them. The Virava met him as he walked in the forest, birdwatching and gathering spell components. She was beautiful and gentle, and a powerful magical creature in her own right, but he was the first human she had ever seen. She watched him from the shadows of the forest for weeks before finally approaching him, shy as a wild deer.

 

The wizard fell in love with the beautiful Virava, and she with him. For ten years the wizard stayed, and learned from the Virava as well as from the Emerald dragons with whom he lived. As tokens of her love for him the Virava gave him rare and powerful spell components, and in return he brought her music and stories from the outside world, and rare seeds which he bought from traders. The Emerald Clan supported him, not least because she shared the spell components given to him by the Virava with his hosts and their other students.

 

In time, the wizard left Eyrie to continue his studies, but he always returned. Every year, in the spring, he would come to the Dark Forest and spend a few months with his love in her forest home. He brought her trinkets from the outside world – brightly coloured feathers from exotic birds, leaves and seeds from trees that grew far away from Eyrie, pretty stones and gems, music which he learned in far-away places. They planted trees together, and watched them grow. Every year, he grew older, while his forest-born love remained young as the spring. Forests do age, but very, very slowly.

 

Perhaps something happened, out in the world, to turn the wizard to a dark path. Perhaps his studies delved too far into forgotten magics which even he did not fully understand, or perhaps he simply sought to live longer so that he could be with his Virava for all time. No one knows. But when he returned to the forest one year, he returned as a lich – an undead horror which consumed the life of others to prolong his own. He brought with him the seed for the first heart tree.

 

He presented it to the Virava as a wedding gift, telling her that he had found a way to become immortal, and to keep their love alive forever. Together, they planted and nurtured the seed, and the wizard stayed for that full year with her, hiding his true nature from her. At the end of the year, when the tree flowered for the first time, the wizard invited a few guests to witness their wedding beneath the tree. To the horror of his bride-to-be, at the height of the wedding ceremony he and his guests sacrificed a pair of unicorn foals to feed the heart tree, inducing it to fruit for the first time. The wizard told his bride that the ceremony under the heart tree made her immortal, like him, by linking her life force to the heart tree in which he had hidden his mortality from Death. They would both live for as long as long as there were heart trees in the forest. He seemed surprised when instead of being grateful, the Virava drove the him and his guests from the forest, angry and horrified, grieving for the unicorns.

 

Although she mourned the unicorns, the Virava still loved her wizard. Even though he showed no remorse, she couldn’t bring herself to kill the heart tree which kept them both alive, but she couldn’t bear to see him either. She told him to leave and never return, and she closed the borders of her wood to all outsiders. Then she ate the fruit of the heart tree and lay down to sleep forever, since she could not die. The forest became darker, and the Virava’s ongoing nightmares killed all outsiders who entered it. New heart trees grew throughout the wood, the seeds carried by birds which ate the fruit of the heart tree.

 

Unfortunately, the Emerald Clan dragons and their students had become used to having easy access to the powerful spell components available from the heart of an ancient forest. The Emerald Clan sought some way to either regain the trust of the Virava or at least convince her to open the forest again, and so they began sending questing young wizards into the woods to seek out the Virava and regain her help. None succeeded. During this time, the first Leshak were born when a young dragon entered the forest and ate the fruit of the heart tree. The Leshak, following its inbuilt drive to reproduce, planted more heart trees and fed the existing heart trees with the lives of sentient creatures, then fed the fruit to foolish young dragons to create more Leshak.

 

The Emerald Clan noticed the danger, and took steps. They banished all birds from the Dark Forest using magic, and burned a barrier zone – a kind of ‘fire break’ – around the Dark Forest. They have kept the forest in check for generations, but they have been unable to either heal or kill the forest.

 

The Virava herself has been suffering nightmares for centuries now, and they have driven her half mad. She can see through the eyes of any forest creature, if something draws her attention, but she cannot differentiate between waking reality and nightmares. She is afraid, and angry, and hurting. The Leshak tend her sleeping form, feeding her the juice of heart tree fruit to keep her alive.

 

Her history is known only to herself, to the lich who was once her love, and to the magical beasts and forest fey native to the forest. While no unicorns remain in the forest, it is still home to creatures such as cerynitis, huldra, bandersnatch, peryton, bog nixieshippogriffs, and a phoenix(which is unaffected by the anti-bird magics of the Emerald dragons).

 

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Zodiac Dragons – Council Rock

August 4, 2016 Danielle 0

The gem in her pocket started to vibrate around the same time that Keirax arrived near Shinya and Kayelinth. She gave up being casual and cautious and yanked the thing out of her pocket before it could explode, or whatever it was going to do. It didn’t explode. Instead it vibrated once more, and then shimmered with a soap-bubble aura of colours. The stone started to glow, and then a small illusion of a dragon formed in the air above it.

 

The illusory dragon looked a lot like Dworkin, one of the teachers who periodically gave lessons to the hatchlings. Like Dworkin – and like no other dragon that Keirax had ever seen or heard of – the illusion had no particular colour. It was a sort of drab, beige-brown colour, without the metallic  iridescence of the Bronze or Brass clans, but with an odd, shifting shimmer instead, and a scattering of scales and feathers in a  variety of other colours too. From one angle, the brown scales and beige feathers looked like they were on the verge of moulting to reveal a pure red, or maybe Golden or Copper dragon; from another angle, there was a distinct undertone of Obsidian or Emerald, or perhaps a deep Sapphire; from a third, Keirax would have sworn he looked like a dirty Crystal clan dragon. The hatchlings had an ongoing bet on what Dworkin’s original colour had been, but he wouldn’t say. Or rather, when they asked, he said that he’d lost his colour in the hedge, and he couldn’t remember any more what it had been. Which was very much like refusing to say, but more polite. More Dworkinish, too – he was never unkind, or deliberately confusing, but he was distinctly odd. Even the Topaz elders thought he was unusual.

 

The illusory dragon said, in Dworkin’s voice, “Good, you’re paying attention. Come to Council Rock this evening, an hour before sunset; I have something to show you.”

 

It was a long flight to Council Rock. Keirax flapped wings sore form a whole day of flying and kept her eyes set on the smudge of greenery which marked the ledge on the island’s east coast where Dworkin normally taught the hatchlings about the Council. It seemed as good a place to head for as any, and the message hadn’t been all that exact.

 

Quiendrix and Kayelinth landed first, with Keirax close behind. Phos dipped to the waterline at the last moment, probably in search of something shiny, and Shinya hung back to keep an eye on him. Raziel flew in last, muttering under his breath about wingstrain. He was at least as good a flyer as any of the rest of them, he just complained about it more, so people thought he had trouble. Keirax had watched him practising aerobatics, though, when he thought no one could see. She figured it was just an Obsidian clan thing, keeping one’s hoard close and one’s lair secret sort of thing.

 

Dworkin wasn’t there when they arrived, but he arrived within minutes in his usual mysterious way. His appearance was marked by  a muffled shriek from Raziel, followed by a splash as he fell off the cliff and into the ocean. Shinya immediately rushed to look over the edge after him.

Kayelinth looked at Shinya, and said “He didn’t just fall off the ledge, did he? Is he okay?”

Shinya nodded and said, “he’s ok. He’s just wet. Anyone can lose their balance.”

“Not me,” said Quiendrix. “I would have thought you would all have more care for the dignity of your clans. Even Obsidians have a standard to uphold.”

Raziel pulled himself back up onto the ledge, dripping and muttering, glaring darkly at anyone who looked his way. Keiraz stifled a chuckle, and turned it into a small cough.

“Dworkin,” she said, “you asked us to meet you. What’s going on?”

 

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