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Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 13 – The Cleric

Cleric of Heroneous1

Pitchlight spent all morning going from cartwright to weaponsmith to armorer and to several others in an attempt to re-provision the dragon hunt. In every case they required gold coin on the barrelhead. He was unable to get any of them to accept a share in the dragon treasure for more than face value. The gold pieces struck specifically to be exchanged for a share in Abraxas’ treasure could not be exchanged for more than the value of the gold that they contained. Some even refused to accept them at all. A rumor was spreading that Abraxas would single out anyone that possessed such a coin and that they would be the first to die on his next attack.
He couldn’t blame the citizens of Rockport. They were frightened. He had already spent all that the church of Heironeous had provided for the hunt, and quite a bit of his own personal funds as well. As it now stood, the poorly provisioned campaign could be ready in about a week. It would take that long to build or repair the wagons and assemble the meager provisions.
He left the merchant district and walked through the crowded streets of Rockport to the temple district and to the temple dedicated to his deity. As he walked he passed children playing in the streets and he found himself thinking back on the days of his childhood. Both of his parents died when he was young, leaving him and his three older sisters to be raised in an orphanage ran by the Heironeous church. Their days there were divided into 4 equal parts; rest, study of holy texts, meditation and weapon training. This left little time for play. His teachers were impressed with his understanding of the Heironean Code and tried to persuade him to take an active role in the church, but at that time he was more interested in swords than in holy script. When he came of age, he joined the king’s guard and quickly advanced in rank. One day, when leading his squad against a marauding group of goblins, something happened that changed the course of his life. After bringing down the last goblin with his own sword, he was struck by lightning.
The holy symbol of Heironeous is a fist holding a lightning bolt. Lightning has special meaning to his worshipers. Anyone killed by lightning must deserve his fate. Anyone that is struck by lightning and survives is deemed blessed by Heironeous. Pitchlight remained unconscious for 14 days. When he awoke he found himself in the temple of Heironeous on the isle of wonder being measured for a custom suit of plate mail. From that day forward he has traveled the world as a cleric of Heironeous seeking out and destroying evil.
As he approached the temple of Heironeous he was wondering if the key to defeating Abraxas was in understanding him better. He would ask Heironeous himself for help. He passed quickly through the main entrance of the worship area and arraigned with the head of the church here to have the clerics prepare the inner sanctum for a major ritual. The High Priest that ruled this temple out ranked Pitchlight in the church hierarchy but adventuring clerics were considered “the tip of the spear” in the battle against evil. While the room was being prepared, Pitchlight bathed and dressed himself in his finest suit of plate mail.
All Heironean temples are built on the same basic ideas of presenting a façade of strength and power and providing a strong and easily defensible fortress. Each individual temple varies in design to reflect the specific taste of its priest and the perceived threats that it must defend against. Each temple size is also limited by the funds available for construction. The temple at Rockport was typical for a town of this size. One thing that all these temples have in common is a room near the center that is reserved for meditation, prayer and casting of spells. The room is sanctified and blessed. Anyone not dedicated to Heironeous is forbidden entrance. At this temple, the inner sanctum was a round room 20 feet in diameter with a flat ceiling 10 feet overhead. The room was windowless and contained no furniture other than tall iron candelabrum spaced 5 feet apart around the perimeter of the room, each with four burning candles, and a brazier in the center of the room. When Pitchlight entered he was met with the sweet smell of shagbark smoke, the embers of which were glowing in the brazier. He placed a handful of the most expensive incense onto the coals and began slowly walking around the room sprinkling holy water as he strode and began the incantation to invoke a commune spell, but at the point where the spell requires the asking of questions he fell to his knees and offered up a diamond valued at 1,000 gold pieces if Heironeous would but appear to hear his questions directly.
After an hour of praying and burning of over 500 gold pieces worth of incense, his meditation and prayers were interrupted by the sound of the creaking hinge on the room’s only door as it opened. He turned and saw a priest entering the room. Angrily, he shouted, “I left express instructions that I was not to be interrupted!”
As the man entered, Pitchlight tried to place him. He was sure that he had not seen this particular priest before. He was much taller than any he had seen here in Rockport. As the priest came closer it became clear that the short robe that he was wearing under his cloak was not of cloth as he had first thought, but was indeed made of the finest chainmail. He wore no holy symbol and carried no shield. His only weapon a great battleaxe. He wore no helm. His reddish-brown hair was short and rather unkempt. His face was clean shaven and his skin was the color of burnished copper.
The stranger stopped a few paces in front of Pitchlight. The door closed of its own accord. He spoke in a very calm voice saying, “Have you forgotten how to cast a commune spell, or have you gone completely mad?”
Pitchlight felt the blood drain from his face and his anger was replaced by awe as he realized he was in the presence of his god. He fell to his knees. “Pease forgive me, but my need is great and the commune spell is so limited. This one time, I need more than riddles or cryptic answers to my three questions.”
“Have I not always answered your questions truthfully?”
“Of course, and I am more than grateful, but if you could, just this one time, answer me more fully, so that I might understand. I seek answers regarding the dragon hunt we are about to commence.”
The tall man was indeed an avatar of Heironeous. He was silent for a few moments, studying the pleading face of his cleric. “You have been good and faithful. Rise to your feet and ask your three questions. My answers will be as full and complete as possible. However, you must understand that I do not take this lightly. You must not presume that I will come to your call at your every whim. I am not your servant. You are mine.”
Pitchlight nodded his head in acceptance and paused to think for a moment before he asked his first question, “Will we succeed in defeating Abraxas?”
“You will have the resources, but to succeed you must have the wisdom to use them.”
Pitchlight wasn’t completely satisfied with that answer, but he continued on to his second, “What is this gem he seeks and why is it so important to him?”
Heironeous smiled and replied, “I will be tolerant with you, but you must not break the rules. You must ask that as two separate questions, or rephrase the question.”
Pitchlight thought for a moment. Perhaps he could get the answer he was seeking if he asked it another way, “How was the gem stolen?”
The room became dark and Pitchlight thought for a moment that he had angered Heironeous in some way. Then the darkness lifted and he found himself standing outside in what was obviously the main square of a small village. The square was empty of people and horses, which was unusual for any village in the middle of the day. The only thing in the square was a large open chest that appeared to be about half full of bags, boxes, gilded armor, mirrors, and other items that may have represented the entire wealth of the village.
Then what he thought was a small child darted past him to the chest. Pitchlight quickly recognized that this was not a child, but rather a gnome who climbed into the chest and concealed himself under the treasure as fast as he could. Then a shadow passed over him as a gigantic red dragon landed in the square and dropped a small pouch into the chest. He started to draw his sword when he realized that the dragon could not see him there. It took only a moment to realize that this was only an image being shown to him by Heironeous. The dragon turned his massive head slowly in all directions, looking at all there was to see. He must have decided that this was all the treasure this village had to offer so he closed the lid on the chest, uttered some magical words, and it vanished, leaving only a print in the dust where it had been resting.
Darkness descended upon Pitchlight once again. This time when it lifted, he found himself in a huge underground cavern. The air was hot and damp. There was a lake of molten lava that provided the only light, bathing the rocky walls and stalactite covered ceiling in a pulsating reddish light. He was on the broad shore of the magma lake and standing near a large pile of coins. There was also many treasures of every description. As he was looking at what must have been a dragon’s horde accumulated over the centuries, the chest that he had seen earlier appeared on a patch of clear ground near the treasure. A few moments later the lid began to open, slowly at first, only an inch. The gnome then lifted it the rest of the way open and crawled cautiously out. Once the gnome was confident that he was alone, he closed the chest and began to examine the great volume of treasure. He was very cautious not to move or disturb any of the treasure in any way. After nearly an hour of examining the pile of coins, the many gilded and enameled armors, the fancy dress weapons, the piles of jewels, royal coaches and other valuable items too numerous to quickly tally, a single gem mounted in a simple silver medallion began to shine with a reddish glow. The gnome made his way over to the medallion which was hanging by a simple silver chain on a rocky outcropping on the cavern wall. Pitchlight moved closer for a better view and as they were looking at the gem it began to glow more brightly. As its brightness approached that of a burning torch he heard the unmistakable sound of leather dragon wings echoing off the cavern walls. The gnome quickly dashed into a deep crevice, wedging himself as far back out of site as he could.
The dragon landed more gently than one would expect possible from a creature so massive. He smelled the air and closely examined his treasure. Once satisfied that all was as he had left it, he opened the chest and began the process of lovingly emptying it of its contents, placing each item in its proper place according to some sorting process that only the dragon could fathom. When he was finally satisfied with the distribution of his latest take, he curled himself a tight ball perched on top of the pile of coins. With a contented breath he closed his eyes, and with a final snort of sulfurous smoke he appeared to fall asleep. A couple of minutes passed before the gnome again appeared. Keeping one eye on the dragon he creeped cautiously from his hiding place and made his way over to the shining gem. He tucked it under his shirt and began to make his way quietly along the cavern wall.
Everything went dark and the cleric found himself back at the inner sanctum standing again before an avatar of his deity. Heironeous spoke, “And what is your third question?”
Still dizzy from his view into the past, Pitchlight took a few seconds to remember that everything he had just seen was an answer to his last question. He braced himself for whatever he might be shown next and asked “What is Abraxas’ greatest weakness?”
Heironeous smiled and said, “Arrogance”. Then he turned and disappeared as he walked away.

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 2, Part 4 – The Gnome

The ranger walked away from the table with the elf and the gnome. Trevan said to the elf, “Aramil, this is Gimble. He is an old friend of mine.” and then to the gnome, “Gimble, you are the last person I expected to see here. Did you come to Rockport just for the dragon hunt?”

Gimble said, “When I heard about it, I knew you would be here so I came to help you kill Abraxas.”

Aramil excused himself and disappeared into the crowd. Gimble continued, “Where did you pick up the elf?”

“I just met him last night. We had to share a room”

“You must have done something to impress him. Elves don’t make friends easily.”

“Well, I guess I did save his life this morning.”

“Lets get out of here,” said Gimble. “There is something I have to tell you in private.”

“Don’t you need to stay here and get ready for tomorrow? What did you say, you are the cook?”

“Yeah, isn’t that great! I get a share of the treasure and don’t even have to fight. And I can ride in the food wagon. Really, it was the only position still open when I arrived. They don’t need my help today. We loaded everything a couple of days ago. The idea is that we will use the wagons and pack animals to haul our food and supplies to his lair and to haul the treasure back to Rockport after we kill him. I have a feeling that it won’t be quite that easy.”

Trevan said, “Why did you tell him that I could track dragons through the air? I do have a hawk that can help, but nobody can track anything that is flying.”

“That is what I need to talk to you about,” said Gimble. “So you have a hawk now? That’s great.”

They continued talking about the major events of their lives as they left the warehouse. They moved along the busy dock areas. When they came to a dark alleyway they ducked in and hid between a couple of crates that were along the wall. Gimble motioned for Trevan to be silent and waited for a couple of minutes before he carefully peaked around the crates. He said, “We should be able to talk here. We are alone.”

“What’s this all about?” said Trevan. “Why all the secrecy?”

“I have something that can lead us to Abraxas.”

“What is it? You mean you have a map to his lair?”

“No. No. Not a map, a magic item. With it we can find any dragon. All we have to do is get close and it will point the way.”

“How close?”

“We will only have to be within about two miles for it to start working. It will point in the direction to the closest dragon. You can tell what color the dragon is, about how far away it is and in which direction.”

“That’s amazing. Do you have it with you now? Can I see it?”

Gimble looked around the crates again and then pulled out a leather pouch. He carefully opened it and removed the silver pendent with the gem in it. It was glowing a little brighter than a candle. He handed it to Trevan who examined it closely. He could see a silver star that was pointing away from the sea and towards the heart of the town. “How does it work?”

“When it gets within range of a dragon it begins to shine in the color of the dragon. The star shows you which direction the dragon is from you. It shines brighter as you get closer.”

“But it is shining now.” said Trevan.

“That’s because there’s a dragon in town.” Trevan started to draw his crossbow, but Gimble stopped him. “It’s okay,” he said. “It’s a silver dragon. You can tell because of the color of the light. At first I thought it might be a white dragon, but looking at it closer, you can tell it is a silver light. If it was a red dragon, the light would be red. I found the dragon it is pointing to. She has taken human form and is posing as a barmaid at the inn near the front gate.”

“I think I may have met her,” said Trevan. “That is where I am staying. Are you sure? Why would a dragon want to live among humans?”

“Who knows,” said Gimble. “At least she’s a metallic dragon. Metallic dragons aren’t evil. The only problem is this gem only shows the closest dragon. As long as she is closer to us than Abraxas we can’t tell if he’s coming. It won’t be a problem after we leave the city.”

“He wouldn’t attack the city. Not with all of those towers with all of those ballistas.” Trevan thought for a second. “Where did you get it?”

“My uncle gave it to me before he died. I don’t know where he got it. He made me promise not to tell anyone about it, but I think he would approve of telling you. You won’t tell anyone will you?”

“Not if you don’t want me to.” Trevan thought some more, then something occurred to him. “Is it possible that your uncle took this from Abraxas? They say that he started this latest rampage when someone stole a magical gem from his hoard.”

“I don’t know. I was wandering that myself. I guess it is possible. I know he spent a lot of time in the Black Mountains. If this is from Abraxas’s hoard, then he knows that someone has it and can use it to find his lair,” said Gimble. “What do you think we should do with it?”

“Lets keep it a secret for now,” said Trevan as he handed it back to Gimble. “We can use it to help this group find his lair. Then we will see if I can help Sir Gleamheart defeat Abraxas. Where is Sir Gleamheart anyway? Was he there today?”

“I don’t think so,” said Gimble. “I think I saw him a couple of days ago, but I have never met him. He is going to be leading the quest, but the church is organizing it. He is going to be there tomorrow morning to lead the precession out of the city. There is a group of four that have been adventuring together for several years. The paladin Sir Gleamheart, the cleric you just met, his name is Pitchlight, a female wizard named Maylock and a rogue named Pickman forms the group that was originally planning to go up against Abraxas alone. Now they will be leading the quest. Everyone expects that when the dragon is confronted they will do most of the fighting.”

“How much do you know about them?” said Trevan.

“Not much. They are a local group of adventurers that have been abroad and just returned to fight the dragon. This is my first visit to Rockport. I’m sure I could find out a lot more if I asked around.”

“Why don’t you do that? Find out all you can about our fearless leaders and I will see you back at the warehouse tomorrow morning.”

“What are you going to do?”

Trevan said, “I am going to talk to a silver dragon.”

Gimble smilled broadly and started skipping off in the general direction of the warehouse. Trevan headed back to the inn. A bank of fog was coming in from the sea. By the time Trevan reached the inn the fog was so thick he couldn’t see across the square.

Dragon Hunt – Chapter 1, Part 9 – Winter in the cabin

The cabin was finished before the first snowfall.

Trevan was convinced that the red dragon Abraxas not only killed his father, but was also the dragon that killed his mother years ago. He spent his time learning as much about dragons as he could from his Kabold servant, Yeark.

Yeark continued to be a faithful servant. He did the cleaning and cooking and everything else Trevan asked. He also continued to make traps and got great pleasure in doing everything he could to torment their gnome house guest, Gimble.

Gimble used his magic to keep his clothing clean and in good repair. He seamed to have an unlimited number of brightly colored shirts and paints in his bag. From time to time he would pull something they needed out of his carpet bag. Once he pulled out a sauce pan and a full set of dinnerware. Another time he pulled out a chopping cleaver and he once pulled out two hard leather shields for them to use while practicing with their swords. Trevan never asked, but he suspected that Gimble’s bag was a magical bag of holding.

Gimble would secretly check the magical gem in his pendent two or three times a day. One morning it began to glow and change its color to black, meaning that it detected a black dragon. Gimble went outside, but never saw it. The gem indicated that the dragon flew from the southwest to the southeast and then the gem’s dim light went out. Gimble went inside and asked Trevan if they had ever had any black dragons here. Trevan said, “No, but you should ask Yeark. He would know if any ever came this way.” Gimble refused to talk to Yeark, so Trevan waited until that evening, and then asked Yeark what he knew about black dragons.

Yeark said, “What you call black dragons we call skull dragons. As they get older the skin draws tight around their face giving them a very skull like appearance. They get really big, almost a big as red dragons. They are notoriously bad tempered and cruel. They normally live in warm watery areas like swamps. The nearest ones to here is a pair that lives in the salt marsh south of Morningside, about a 20 day trip from here.”

“Do they breathe fire and cast magic spells like red dragons?” Trevan asked.

“No,” said Yeark. “Their breath weapon is a line of acid. But they do cast spells.”

Gimble had to ask, “Do black dragons ever come around here?”

“I have never heard of any coming this far north, but I would sure like to meet one,” answered Yeark. “There is an elder of our tribe that tells stories of a trip he took when he was young. He spent some time with another tribe that had the honor of providing a defensive guard for a skull dragon’s lair.”

“Do all dragons have kobolds guarding their lairs?” asked Trevan.

“No. Many don’t have any guards at all. Some have other races of guards, such as hobgoblins or ogers. But any kobold tribe would gladly defend a dragon’s lair.”

Gimble said, “I may have seen a black dragon near the horizon this morning.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” said Trevan.

“I didn’t want to upset you. It wasn’t flying in this direction. I was wondering if it might have something to do with the orc raids.”

“Skull dragons have been known to use tribes of orcs to do their dirty work,” said Yeark. “Orcs are not very smart and a clever dragon could easily convince them to do almost anything with promises of great rewards and the backing of a powerful dragon. Perhaps the pair in Saltmarsh is expanding their domain. They may have a new hatchling! If I were back with my tribe, they might have heard if there was any news of that type. Oh, what wonderful news, if it is true!”

“Do you here that?” yelled Gimble to Trevan. “He loves dragons! He wants to serve and protect them! He can’t wait until he gets back to his cave so he can plot with dragons to kill us all!”

“That’s not true!” snapped Yeark. “There are many dragons that I have no respect for at all. I have no desire to kill all humans. Gnomes, yes!” as he stared at Gimble. “And it’s not a cave, it’s a mine.”

Gimble started to say something to Yeark, but Trevan held his hand up in front of Gimble and turned to Yeark, “You have never had anything but good to say about dragons. What dragons do you not respect?”

Yeark thought for a minute before speaking, “We don’t speak of them often, but there are dragons that prefer weakness to strength. They would protect the weak from the strong, rather than allowing the strong to prevail as is their natural right. Instead of dictating to the weaker races they prefer to ‘negotiate’ with them. Rather than killing a foe in battle, they will try to block or only wound and much prefer to avoid any conflict at all. Some actually seek to associate with humans, elves and other lesser races. These dragons typically have the luster of metal to their scales and are called metallic dragons. Fortunately, there are very few of them.”

Trevan said, “I never heard of good dragons. Gimble, what do you know about these metallic dragons?”

Gimble said, “There was a story I heard once about a gold dragon that was good. I also heard many times about a silver dragon that likes to change into human form and live among humans. I never really believed any of those stories, though.”

Trevan said, “Why can’t we find a metallic dragon and get it to help us find and kill Abraxas?”

Yeark said, “No. It is not possible.”

“Why not?” said Trevan.

“First of all, the only metallic dragon that would be powerful enough to defeat an ancient red dragon such as  Abraxas would be an ancient gold dragon, and I don’t think that there are any of them left. Even if there were and you could find him, he wouldn’t fight Abraxas.”

“I understand that he wouldn’t want to fight, but we could let him know of all of the terrible things Abraxas had done, he would have to help us,” said Trevan.

“It’s not just that,” said Yeark. “Long ago there was a great battle between the metallic dragons and the chromatic dragons. It lasted for centuries. When it was over, the few remaining dragons all swore never to kill, or cause to be killed, another true dragon. And this was to be honored by them and their descendents forever. I think this was foolish and the metallic dragons should all have been killed. But dragons are much smarter than kobolds so I guess they had a good reason.”

The winter passed quietly. Trevan and Gimble practiced fighting with sword and crossbow. They learned all they could about the draconian language and dragon behavior. Trevan got better at spotting and disarming Yeark’s traps. When winter turned to spring, Trevan would hunt for small game while Gimble would gather all kinds of edible roots, leaves, berries, fruit, and vegetables. Gimble was an excellent cook and enjoyed making dishes Trevan had never tried before. At Trevan’s instance, Yeark was always invited to share in these meals, but he seldom cared for the soups and breads. He much preferred meat to vegetables and liked it cooked very lightly without seasoning.

Just before summer, as they were sitting down to eat late in the evening on one cool spring day, one of Yeark’s warning alarms sounded. Something at the foot of the hill broke a thread which released a small weight attached to a string that was concealed along the ground up to the cabin which then pulled a pin that was holding up a spoon. The spoon fell down and hit the bottom of an overturned metal pan. This alerted everyone in the cabin of the approach of uninvited guests.

When they peaked out they saw a band of eight orcs sneaking quietly towards the cabin. Trevan was gathering up his crossbow and quiver of bolts and Gimble was putting on his chain shirt when Yeark said, “We don’t stand a chance against them. We will all be killed if we try to fight.”

Trevan paused and said, “Yea, I know. If you want to run away you can. I’m going to stay and fight. Gimble, you can go too if you want to.”

Gimble said, “We couldn’t run away if we wanted to. They’d catch us before we reached the tree line. We could try to talk them into letting us live, assuming one of them speaks common. I don’t think any of us can speak orc.”

Trevan said, “I don’t think these orcs came here to talk. You two run, I’ll try to hold them long enough for you to get away.”

Yeark said, “We can’t win if we fight, but there is another option.” Trevan and Gimble stopped their preparations for battle and stared at the Kobold. “I have an escape tunnel. It’s down here.” He lifted the section of wood flooring that covered the pit that he used as his sleeping area. Trevan and Gimble peaked in and saw that Yeark had enlarged his room and it now contained a Kobold sized chair, table, sleeping mat and had straw mats covering the walls. Trevan held the floorboards up while Yeark jumped down and pulled aside one of the wall mats to reveal a tunnel entrance. It was large enough for the kabold to walk in upright. The gnome would have to bend over a little and Trevan would have to bend over as far as he could unless he wanted to crawl. “It goes to a concealed exit about fifty yards into the woods. Quickly grab what you need and we can be gone before they get here.”

Trevan and Gimble both threw everything they didn’t want the orcs to get into Gimble’s carpet bag and started towards the tunnel. They just got the floorboards back in place before the orcs rushed in. They could hear the orcs tearing up the place as they started quickly, but quietly, running down the tunnel. Yeark was the last one into the tunnel and just before he lowered the wall mat he pulled a leaver that he had concealed in the wall of the tunnel. The three heard a loud crash behind them as they ran. The rock that was covering the exit of the tunnel had been hollowed out and was surprisingly light. They were indeed just inside the forest. Instead of running further into the forest and hiding, they moved cautiously back to the edge of the trees and looked back at the cabin.

Dust was still settling where the cabin had stood. All that was there now was the brick chimney and a pile of logs. The orcs were nowhere to be seen. They must have been under the rubble which was starting to burn. All three of them sat down on a log and just watched it burn.

Gimble retrieved their meal which he had placed into his bag in a covered pot. It was still hot. They ate in silence. After a couple of hours; it was dark, the fire that was once Trevan’s cabin was dying, and the three of them were still sitting on the log at the edge of the forest. Trevan finally broke the silence when he said, “Yeark, I’m releasing you from your vow. You can go back to your tribe. All of your obligations to me have been fulfilled.” He looked over at Gimble and continued, “I’m not going to try to rebuild it this time. I’m going on my own, into the woods to live off the land.”

Gimble said, “So you’re going to become a Ranger like your father.”

Trevan said, “Yes. I still plan on killing Abraxas, but I realize that I am not ready. I still have a lot to learn, and I can’t learn it here.”

Gimble asked, “Would you like me to come with you?”

“No. This is something I must do alone.”

Yeark left immediately. Trevan and Gimble spent the rest of the night where they were and in the morning, after dividing up their belongings, said their goodbyes and went their separate ways.