I’ve got so much campaign prep to get done that if I don’t do it here, I’ll never get it done in time…
It’s all been leading to this! Although there are a few more chapters to come, this is the climax of the Clan Wars plotline, which in many ways is the climax of the whole Orcs & Elves story. One major narrative arc remains, but it was the need to reach this point that has had this Campaign “on hold” for most of this year. The weekend that we (usually) play is already committed in September and October, but come November, it should be able to restart – right on schedule.
In the meantime, I hope that everyone (especially my players) enjoy the twists and turns that follow below – hopefully there’ll be a jaw-dropping moment or two when you see what I’ve been building towards….
Clan Wars XX: The Freedom Of Nightmares
As prophesied, the Hidden Dragon had awoken!
The chains which had bound Ethraztia, forcing him into endless slumber, him had shattered and fallen away. The Hidden Dragon, the literal stuff of nightmares, exulted in that release. “Free at last! Oh, how you shall regret that folly, pathetic Elfling. As reward, I shall permit you all to survive, to endure, and to bear witness until the last; a fitting reward! You have earned your freedom and your impotence, for nothing can oppose me! Creation is mere putty in my hands, and at last I am free to reshape it however I see fit. It shall tear itself apart under my control, and this intolerable reality will finally be ended.”
“You had better have had a good reason for this, Ambassador.” growled Garunch, the Shaman of the Red Eye clan, ignoring the posturing of the Chaos Power. He could tell that even though the Dragon had directed his comments at them, he was too absorbed with his sudden awakening to really be aware of their presence.
“How was that even possible?” moaned First in disbelief. “Corellan himself forged that spell, and he made it to be unbreakable. He gave up much of his power to ensure that those chains could never be broken. I would have wagered my life that they were as immutable as the mountains themselves…” The three-fold simultaneous strike by the Orcs had not simply shattered the chains that bound the nightmare, they had shattered part of the bedrock of First’s life. If mortal Orcs were more powerful than the God that defined his reality, nothing made sense to him anymore.
“The absolute faith in their beliefs is strong enough that the Orcs don’t need their Gods to be real in order to work miracles, First. The chains were never real, they were magic that looked like something solid. The Orcs broke them not with their weapons, but with their belief,” answered Tathzyr. “To you or I, those chains would never have yielded. You, because in your world, Corallen’s power reigns supreme over all; me, because only my Queen has the power to oppose the father of all Elves, even when his view of the world is incomplete or inadequate. Nor could the servants of the Dragon ever have done so, because he thought them unbreakable, and he forced his followers to subscribe to his world-view. Belief and perception are always more important than objective reality – when those beliefs are made manifest through magic.”
A sudden flash of blinding light filled the chamber, accompanied with a rush of air so forceful that it forced the Orcs, Elves, and Drow to their knees. Corallen appeared before them from nowhere, seizing the Drow Ambassador by his clothing and hauling him off his feet to gaze into the eyes of the infuriated God of the Elves. –What have you done? Not even your mistress would have dared this!–
The ambassador was not cowed in the slightest. “Release me, Corellan. I am protected by my Queen. This was necessary. Your chains bound him in slumber but not his power, and that power had grown to the point where the world was imperiled by it.”
*CORELLAN! Most hated of all the Gods. You shall be the first to feel my power!* Not even a self-absorbed self-possessed and self-distracted Chaos Power could ignore the appearance of a God. With a baleful expression, the monstrously oversized and diseased head focused it’s gaze back on the party, glaring specifically at the ten-foot-tall Elvish Deity.
Nothing happened. The dragon head reared back in confusion, then snapped it’s withering gaze back on its chosen target, who had dropped the ambassador and was shielding himself with his hands ready to counter whatever magic the Chaos Power threw at Him.
Getting back on his feet, a cruel smile started to spread over the Ambassador’s expression. “Is something wrong, Ethraztia? The Father of Elves seems quite undamaged.”
With an ear-splitting roar, the dragon-shaped Chaos Power lunged at the waiting God, attempting to bite him in twain, only for its jagged teeth to pass harmlessly through the metaphysical form of the waiting god. Once again, the head reared back in confusion.
“Why, I’ll bet that you can’t even change your shape anymore,” continued the Ambassador, “because you have no shape to change. You gained your power by embracing the change that Corellan had forced apon you, and reshaping it to your own ends. You became the essence of nightmares, but dreams have power only in sleep – and, as our Queen has taught my people, the Dark Never Sleeps. Only one power have you now – the power of prophecy – but even that is confused and fading. You saw the world of the past and future, what was and what would be, through the dreams of those who dwelt there, but you were connected to them only through the fact of your slumber. But now the Sleeping Dragon has awoken, and like all nightmares, fades to nothing when the sleeper awakens.”
The Ambassador’s smile widened. “Oh, perhaps you might find that you can still whisper scary thoughts into the minds of those who slumber from time to time, showing them your nightmares instead of their own, but that will change nothing. You will still be impotent. Even should your brethren one day succeed, you will remain ephemeral and unimportant – even more so, for they never sleep, do they?” Each statement seemed to strike at the very reality of the Nightmare form of the Chaos Power, rendering it a fading, translucent, image.
Positively grinning, he concluded, “Your fondest wish was to be awoken. I have granted it. You prophesied that this day would come, and your own machinations have led to the fulfillment of that prophecy. And now, we will permit you to survive, and depart, and remain a forgotten phantom for the remainder of eternity. As you put it: A fitting reward for your long labors! You have earned your freedom and your impotence. Begone! Trouble some other sleeper; we are wide awake!” Without even a whisper to mark its passage, the last vestiges of the image faded from view.
Clan Wars XXI: A Grip On Reality
–You were brave, Drow, to speak as you did to such a being.–
“I reverence only one being in all existence, Corellan,” answered the Ambassador, deliberately ignoring any respectful titles, “and I obey her implicitly.”
“How did you…?” asked Lukzal, confused.
“The Sleeping Dragon crafted a spell to permanently open a doorway between the realm of its servants and the world in which we live. I don’t understand much about magic, but I understood that much – after it was explained to me. First reversed that spell, establishing a permanent connection between our world and the world of the caster. Here, everything is whatever the Dragon dreamed it to be. I simply spun him a nightmare of his own, and let his own powers make it real for him. The more real it became to him, the more impossible it became for him to ever undo it; his own power makes his impotence eternal.” Corellan nodded as his understanding grew.
“But how did you…?” asked Lukzal again, still not comprehending.
“I simply asked myself what would be the most cruel thing I could do to him, to repay him for all the misery he has brought me and others, and suddenly it came to me – the worst possible thing I could do was to give him exactly what he wanted,” answered the Ambassador, still trying to guess at what question Lukzal was trying to express, without great success.
Corallen nodded again. –Very Clever, Tathzyr. I see why your Queen insisted that you participate in this expedition,– he said, ignoring the Ambassador’s title in turn. –Your insight is a credit to you, and raises hopes that there remains common ground through which your people may themselves earn redemption and reunite with your kin.–
“I would not presume to know my Queen’s mind, Corellan, and so long as she wishes us to stand removed from them, we will obey – without hesitation. There may be common ground, but it remains forbidden territory to my people, save under the most extraordinary of circumstances. According to the prophecies of the Dragon, it may not always be so; but we live in the here and now, and that is the reality of it.”
“Are our Gods not real? It said they weren’t and so did you,” moaned Goral. The Ambassador hesitated; he still had to live amongst the Orcs, but for the life of him, he couldn’t find a diplomatic way of answering.
“It doesn’t matter,” said First, beginning to regain his mental equilibrium. “Your Gods are real for you, and that should be enough. It doesn’t matter to you whether or not anyone else believes in them, because you are right, and your priest’s ability to convey their blessings proves it. The Dragon believed they were not, and the Ambassador had to include that belief in his story to convince the Dragon – but the Chaos Powers are the masters of deception, according to the Humans, who know more about them than I; I would mistrust anything that one said, and believe the opposite until proven wrong.” Dimly groping for an elusive insight, he added, “That was what this was all about, in the end – what we believe. I believe one thing, and that shapes me, and what I do in the world. You believe another. The Ambassador believes something else. We’re all right – from our own point of view. Even the dragon – his power was to overrule what we believe with his own manufactured nightmares of reality – but he needed to sleep to create those nightmares.”
–You are grown wise, my Son,– said Corallen. –The service that you and your fellow Huyundaltha have performed is more than sufficient to redeem you, and I grant you forgiveness and absolution for your misplaced Passion. You may reclaim your names when you return to your Homes.–
“I give thanks and praise, my God,” answered First reverently.
–A word of warning to you all,– said Corallen. –The Hidden Dragon he became, and as the Hidden Dragon he has rendered himself powerless and ineffectual through his belief and the power he held to reshape existence to match that belief. Mention of his true name erodes the singularity of identity that he has created for himself and may restore him to power. Let that name die here, and let him be the Hidden Dragon henceforth.–
“That seems wise. If belief shapes the world, let us remain focused in our belief that he is as the Ambassador described him.
–Then Hope endures.–
“Is it true, Lord Corellan? Were our people created to care for the first Elves?” asked Garunch, his mind still reeling from the revelations that he had been forced to assimilate.
–To protect and care for them, yes. A century of service in recompense for existence and freedom seemed fair. But it is not yet time for you to embrace the softer aspects of your existence; should the prophecy stand true, and an alliance between your three peoples one day threaten the Chaos Powers directly, you will need to remain ready, and that requires you to remain in the embrace of your warrior culture for a time yet.–
“I cannot forget what I have learned here. I will never view my people, or these, the same way again.”
–You must. You Will. Those memories that must not be revealed will be caged. I am not your God, but in their names I will make it so.–
“What now, Corellan?” asked the Ambassador.
–I do not have the authority to give instruction to these Orcs. I freed them from that authority long ago. But I may still advise,– replied Corallen with a wink. –In a moment, I will return you to the place from whence you came, and cloud your memories of what transpired here, until the time is ripe for your people to relearn what you have discovered. When you return, obey the instructions you were given by Gruumsh – level the city in which the passageway to this place abides, save only the tower. Fill that tower with rock and seal it in steel, so that the passageway is hidden from view and access. Then travel overland to this place; collapse the caverns and bring down the Temple overhead. Leave no avenue by which what was done here may be undone. That is my advice.–
“I think Gruumsh would approve. I will advise our Clan-Chief to do so.”
“One thing more needs be decided before we return,” stated First. “Ambassador, what will you tell your Queen of these events and discoveries?”
“She sees all and hears all, First. She already knows. I will supplement that knowledge with whatever I can recall, to the best of my abilities – is that understood, Corellan?”
–Perfectly,– answered the Deity.
“Very well. We stand victorious over a Dark Power, the essence of Nightmare, the Sleeping Dragon. Let us go and consummate that victory with celebration.”
–Not yet, my son. One thing more must be understood first, that the memory that is confined will be complete. When I arrived here, I sensed a hidden presence. As we have spoken, I have been probing the reality of that presence. I now require it to come forth and reveal itself.–
The Orcs snatched up their weapons and began to scan the cave warily, uncertain whether this was a new enemy.
Clan Wars XXII: Death Of A Traveler
With a vast creaking sound, the scaffolding tore itself from the wall, shedding an exterior coating of solidified rock as it did so, and its shape began to twist and writhe as the magic which had distorted its body for centuries was finally released.
“I might have known that I could not hide myself from your view, Lord Corallen,” it said as it stood revealed as a strange blend of elf and tree, and so ancient that age seemed to linger in its presence.
Of those present other than Corellan, who already knew who and what it was, only First recognized its species, and that recognition left him stunned. “A Verdonne! Why? How? Who?” His mind was now reeling every bit as much as those of the Orcs had been.
“Is it an enemy? My axe is made for flesh, not wood,” stated Goral, Clan Warblade of the Mailed Fists.
–It is no enemy. This is Verde, and – in a way – he may be the first and last of his kind. He has come here from the time when the prophesied alliance of the three Kindred Races has come to pass, his purpose to ensure that the prophecy is fulfilled. His power to twist possibilities such that the unlikely transpires has had much to do with what has transpired here.–
With a voice like the breaking of timbers that has been under too much strain for too long, the Verdonne began to speak, and so captivating were his words that none could interrupt.
“Long into your future, a destiny was revealed to me. I did not know fully what it was, but my belief in that destiny unlocked a power within me to achieve it. As my understanding of that destiny grew, so did that power. I have seen more of death, and tragedy, and joy than any mortal being in the course of fulfilling that destiny, and I have more blood on my hands than any living being as a consequence. It was only when the truth of the Sleeping Dragon was revealed to me that full understanding came. I have spent my life in the service of that understanding, knowing that by doing so I was safeguarding friends and loved ones. For Ten Thousand Years I have battled and thwarted the Powers Of Chaos.
“I was there when the Orcs cared for the nascent Elves. I was there when the Dwarves fell under the sway of a Demon. I watched as the Halflings were all but obliterated. I released the power of the Sleeping Dragon and shaped it into a form that was ultimately self-defeating, knowing that by doing so, thousands would perish – but that this was better than the destruction of all.
“One of my companions in that future time when the Kindred are allied was inadvertently brought forward in time. I was able to use her displacement through the centuries to propel myself backwards in time as though it were a whip whose end I rode, enabling me to travel much further into the past than she came forward. Five times have I made the long journey from what will be to what was. I am my own fulfillment, for in time another branch of my existence will ensure that she makes that inadvertent trip into her future – the act that enables me to travel in time and ensure that chance always favors the defenders of Life. I cannot ensure the ultimate victory, but by acting behind the scenes in the service of my doom, I have ensured that hope remains, and that the chance of achieving victory is achieved.
“I speak not to you here, but through your memories, to my younger self that is yet to come. With these words, I complete the circle. As you perceive them, in the distant future, you will know what you have to do. The adventurers with whom you have travelled are the embodiment of your life’s work. They are your friends, and that is why you will spend your life doing what needs to be done. Without you, Tajik’s Misfits will never come into existence. Elves, humans, Orcs, Drow, Dwarves – none of them will be as you know them to be, and from those foundations stem the reality that has produced those friends. It is their task to end the menace of the Queen Of Elves, for she threatens all of existence with her capricious ambitions. Conclude this business of the Empire Of Gold; its sole purpose has been to produce the conditions that unite you, but now the time has come for you to defeat it and turn your attention to the greater menace.
“To those others in the distant future who hear these words, I greet you one last time, old friends. The memory of your company has sustained me, and given me purpose. I thank you and salute you. But beware; I have done all I can, the rest is up to you.
“The affair of the Sleeping Dragon was one of my most arduous and onerous tasks. Now it is complete, and at long last I can rest.
Verde paused, and went silent. A shiver traced its way down its limbs and leaves and he quivered; and then, like a tree whose strength, sapped by insects and age, can no longer sustain it, he fell with a great crash. Startled out of their stupor, the band who had dared invade the realm of the Hidden Dragon rushed forward. Verde was blinking rapidly, as though fighting the need to sleep. “Always remember: Belief changes the world. You have only to act on it.” Then his eyes closed, and the oppressive sense of age and timelessness was lifted.
The Ongoing Elvish Glossary
I’ve been foregoing this while our attention is focussed on the Orcish side of the story. It will return next time, as our attention shifts back to the Elves.
Next time: The Final Chapter of the Clan Wars saga and the aftermath. Chapters 78-80!
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 1
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 2
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 3
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 4
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Introduction to the Orcs and Elves series part 5
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 1-4
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 5-10
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 11-14
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 15-17
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 18-20
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 21-23
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 24-26
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 27-28
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 29-31
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 32-36
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 37-40
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 41-43
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 44-46
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 47-51
- Inventing and Reinventing Races in DnD: An Orcish Mythology
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 52-54
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 55-58
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 59-62
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 63-65
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 66-68
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 69-70
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 71-73
- Who Is “The Hidden Dragon”? – Behind the curtain of the Orcs and Elves Series
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapter 74
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 75-77
- On The Origins Of Orcs, Chapters 78-85