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Caging the Destroyer

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The following takes place in the age before the rise of Fastheld, centuries before the raising of the Aegis. It is NOT the sort of thing that would be common knowledge to many people in-game, and is provided merely to give a sense of what went before:

The last dragon swooped low, screeching its hideous cry as it passed over the grassy green hillock, a grim leathery spectre aloft against the backdrop of an incongruously cloudless azure sky.

Samar Zayirix observed without visible emotion as the creature known as He Who Destroys spun its cadaverous bulk overhead, tracing the contours of the landscape as it sped toward what remained of the once-sprawling settlement known as Shoreside, along the River Wind. Zayirix, clad in rich purple silk robes, wore his long silver hair straight past sloping shoulders. A colorfully patterned beige velvet sack hung under his left arm. His slender fingers laced together at his waist. Unlike the crowd of elders gathered around him on the earthen mound, he appeared serene; unaffected by the devastation in progress.

“How can you just stand there? How can you do nothing?” demanded the balding man in gray cotton robes next Zayirix. Known as Vantus Kayarti, he had been Townsman of Shoreside. For centuries, Shoreside had grown and prospered along the greenish-blue twists and turns of the Wind. It had given rise to a culture of artists, musicians and chroniclers, yielding such notable works as the towering Moon Pillars, the Starchaser Symphony, and the Lorekeeper’s Book of Ages series. The decimating breath of the shrieking horror had withered the great Pillars to dust in its first pass. The library had been reduced to swirling clouds of detritus on the second. All the while, Zayirix just watched. Kayarti grimaced as the shadow of He Who Destroys grew ever closer to the wreckage of the town.

The aging wizard offered no response to Kayarti save for a vague smile as he untangled his fingers and reached his right hand into the sack slung along his left side. For the better part of a millennium, the masters of Palisade’s skies had been the great dragons. And the masters of the great dragons had been mages of the Twelve Circles. While Vantus Kayarti might lament the loss of sculptures that might be rebuilt or books that could be rewritten, Samar Zayirix felt sorrow at his charge: The caging of the last master of the sky. The dragons had dwelled on Palisade long before the Shining Eyes had put the Twelve Circles on this world. It had taken centuries for the mages to perfect their control of the dragons. It had taken only a few months to use that control to bring war among the Twelve Circles and destroy majestic palaces and singing towers from the peaks of Halagh in the north to the South Haven.

The Concentric Circle, the council of the Twelve Circles, had convened a year ago in the rubble-strewn ruin that once had been the proud City of Bells, within the shattered dome of the Carillon, which still sang its hourly toll but with a soured tune owed to a distortion of the bronze caused by vicious heat from the Eighth Circle’s Searing Drake. During this conclave, the Concentric Circle had ruled that the war should end and the glorious dragons should be put in check so that they might never again be used as weapons against the cities of the world. And so it was that Samar Zayirix received his assignment: Track down and imprison the twelve great dragons. The final dragon, He Who Destroys, had been the weapon held by the Second Circle, of which Samar was a member of high standing.

With the capture of He Who Destroys, it would not simply mean that his job was done; it would signify the true end of a wondrous era. It was not something Samar felt compelled to rush – not after the fall of the Moon Pillars, not after the dusty implosion of the Shoreside Library and not after the horrified screams of fleeing townspeople faded into swirls of puffing gray dust before the rippling waves of breath emitted from the rotted hide of the snout belonging to He Who Destroys.

“Do something, damn you!” Vantus Kayarti shouted, clutching at Samar’s left arm.

Zayirix favored Kayarti’s gripping hand with a baleful stare and then lifted his pale blue eyes to regard the Townsman. “I am doing something. He is the last. He has served his masters well. But we are about to wrong him grievously. He has earned this vengeance. I am letting him have that much.”

Kayarti gaped at the wizard, boggling as if he studied a lunatic. He let go of the other man’s arm. “Our people are dying! Our great works…”

“Are irrelevant and expendable,” Zayirix answered, pulling from the sack at his side a biinwood shaft of about two feet in length, engraved with spirals of leaves. “He Who Destroys is the last of his kind. We can rebuild what is lost. We can breed new offspring. He never will.”

He lifted the wand, aiming it toward the leprous, skeletal form of the Destroyer. And he paused. He knew he would, when it came to this moment. The last dragon to be captured, the servant of the Second Circle, signified the potential for great unilateral power. The Concentric Circle conclave had recognized this threat. In accepting the charge of the conclave, Zayirix had become the only free Second Circle member. The rest of his ilk remained as guests, of a sort, in the catacombs beneath the City of Bells. Should Samar Zayirix betray the terms of the mission and attempt to use He Who Destroys with hostile intent then Samar would become the last of his kind: All Second Circle prisoners under the Carillon would be slaughtered en masse. It would almost be worth it, Zayirix thought. Like the ruined town below the hill, on the shore of the River Wind, the lives of his kinfolk were irrelevant and expendable compared to the wonder of the ancient beast now beating its wings as it arced around toward the cluster of men gathered with Samar Zayirix. But the wizard knew that ultimately it would prove folly. Both he and the beast would be hunted across the world by the surviving Circles and, in the end, the conclave would see the Destroyer imprisoned just like all the others. Better to fulfill the terms of the mission, Zayirix decided, and accept the honor of being among the last to see these great masters of the sky.

“Rest now,” Samar said, swirling the wand counterclockwise until a burst of cerulean light lanced outward from the tip and struck the decayed flesh that mostly covered the skeletal structure of the Destroyer’s chest.

Kayarti and the other town elders flung themselves to the ground as the dragon swooped closer, shrieking that horrible scream. Samar Zayirix stood alone, facing the rippling cone of power now rendered impotent by the countervailing magic of the Keeper’s Wand, and then he turned slowly to follow the passage of He Who Destroys.

The wizard compelled the last dragon to spiral upward in that perfect blue sky, all the while screeching its discontent. After about ten seconds of ascent, Samar Zayirix forced the Destroyer to arc over backward and begin a whistling plunge toward the earth of the valley southwest of the ruined Shoreside. The creature penetrated soil, root and rock, casting up a vast explosion of loam and grassy divots. A shockwave rumbled outward from the impact site, toppling what remained of the town on the edge of the River Wind and nearly knocking Samar off his feet. But he held his ground, watching as the cloud of soil tumbled back to earth, covering the crater and burying the ancient drake in its dark cocoon beneath a mound of dirt about thirty feet tall. This alone, however, would not be enough to contain the beast for good and all. Samar’s wand, no longer emitting the magical beam that controlled the Destroyer, began a new dance in the air and started glowing once more. Magical runes began to take shape, carved into the burial mound: Wards against the liberation of He Who Destroys. Only someone with a Keeper’s Wand and knowledge of the Drake Tongue could break these wards. Still, it would not be enough. While the beast might be bound within by the runes, men remained who held such a wand and spoke the ancient tongue. So, the mound itself must be sealed off from access. Again, the Keeper’s Wand danced and swirled in the air until its tip glowed blue and sent out a fan of illumination that swept the surface of the ground around the Destroyer’s hill. Ripples of soil and rock lapped against the fresh tomb like waves against the shore, growing ever higher with each passing moment, until the rune-carved hill vanished beneath the construction of a flat-topped mesa in the midst of the river valley.

Vantus Kayarti and the other town elders of Shoreside dusted themselves off as they followed Samar Zayirix down to examine the newly erected feature of the landscape. The wizard nodded his approval, stopping to look over at Kayarti. “It is almost done,” Zayirix said.

“Almost?” Kayarti asked, a puzzled look on his face. That was his last word, and the expression on his face became frozen permanently as he and the other elders were swept with light as pale blue as the wizard’s eyes.

Moments later, Zayirix stood in silence among the men now preserved in stone. One after another, he pointed the wand at each statue and compelled them deep into the heart of the mesa, to stand as sentinels around the inscribed mound that held the dragon in check.

Now, alone at last, his mission nearly complete, Samar Zayirix found himself contemplating the shaft of biinwood in his hand. The final requirement of the conclave had been that he return to the City of Bells and surrender the Keeper’s Wand so that it might be destroyed. So long as a Keeper’s Wand remained, any of the captured dragons could be released upon the world again. But a wand could be more easily hidden than a great dragon, and Samar could always start his own clan should the Concentric Circle follow through on its threat to slaughter his imprisoned kin. He would be hunted, yes, but he had the future to think about. In that future, he reasoned, his descendants should hold the power to control the magnificent creatures Samar had spent the past year burying.

And so he tucked the Keeper’s Wand back into the sack under his arm before walking away from the new mesa toward the waiting wilderness along the River Wind.

-- By Wes Platt, copyright (c) 2005

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