Tales of Lost Omens: Dragonfear

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

They were talking about the dragon.

Uguro flattened himself against the rocky outcropping and bellied closer, using his elbows to scoot along the rough ground. The rocks bit into his bruises, but he pushed back the pain and kept quiet.

“— but there are no dragons in Taldor! There haven’t been for centuries! Why, the Dragon Plague was well over two thousand years ago, and since then our glorious dragonslayers —” The voice was older, male, full of affronted privilege. A noble, Uguro decided, and one unaccustomed to taking bad news.

The other speaker was determined to make him swallow it. This voice was female, younger, and glossed with a foreign accent that did nothing to disguise its sharp exasperation. “Eovras, when did the Dragon Plague end?”

“3672 Absalom Reckoning, my lady.” That was a new speaker. Younger still, and male.

Uguro eased forward, daring to poke his head around the nearest outcropping. Now he could see them. All three wore armor, but they could hardly have looked more different.

The gray-haired noble had been squeezed into a gilded suit of ornate, old-fashioned plate that had obviously been made for someone broader in the shoulder and trimmer at the waist. He faced off against a brown-haired woman in battered but well-maintained plate and a clean-cut younger man who appeared to be an… apprentice knight. Squire?

The woman shook her head. “It appears the good baron’s recollection was off by a bit. Would you consider the events of ‘well over two thousand years ago’ sufficient to deter a dragon from trespassing into the barony within the past few days?”

The young knight—Eovras—bowed his head. “I could not say, my lady.”

“I can.” Uguro’s interjection startled even himself. He flinched, almost losing his grip on the outcropping, as their eyes flew up to him. The apprentice knight and the baron startled visibly. Only the woman seemed unsurprised. Had she known he was there?

Swallowing, Uguro climbed down the steep rock and stood before them. He straightened his tunic uselessly, all too aware that the rough cloth was scorched and full of holes, and that he himself was a barefoot, grubby miner’s cast-off. But he had to tell them.

“It was a dragon. My lords. My lady. It was—it was a dragon.” Suddenly Uguro’s eyes were full of tears, hot and glassy. His chest ached, and it was as hard to breathe as it had been when the dragon had raked the stony earth with fire, sucking all the air from his lungs. It was as if speaking the beast’s name had brought those terrible moments back.

“It was a dragon,” he managed to say again, and then he broke into shuddering sobs. He couldn’t stop them. He was thirteen.

“Show us,” said the woman.


Streaks of fire had plumed across the miner’s camp, driving down with such fury that the hard earth was furrowed at the center of each blast. Gravel-pocked glass cracked under Uguro’s steps as he led the woman and her companions into the ruins. They’d given him boots to protect his bare feet, but he could still feel the echoes of fire through the thin-worn soles.

The ferocious heat had cracked rocks and melted iron tools into rippled puddles, but it had passed so quickly that the camp garden’s turnips, sheathed by damp soil, were perfectly sound under their crisped black tops. The woman, Cirra, pulled one up to examine it, then carefully replanted it. As if someone might someday want to harvest that turnip, and she wouldn’t be responsible for its waste.

Such strange people. Caring for turnips, when…

“They died here.” Uguro pointed, unnecessarily. The dining hall, once the camp’s largest building, was a smoking ruin. Outside its blackened doorframe, the miners’ boots were still lined up in a neat, untouched row. The dragon had made them take off their shoes before it had herded them inside. Its idea of a joke, demanding that the miners show proper respect to a graveyard.

A detritus of personal letters and charred keepsakes fluttered around the boots like fallen leaves. The dragon had taken those, too. Had read the letters aloud, one by one, mocking the misspellings and the triteness of the sentiments before it torched mementoes and owners alike. Uguro had watched from afar, hidden, struck breathless by the creature’s cruelty as much as by its grandeur.

He didn’t tell the strangers this. But he saw the woman stoop to pick up a letter, and saw her mouth harden as she studied it, and he knew that she knew what the dragon had done.

She folded the letter up and tucked it respectfully into an empty boot.

Such strange people.

“What do you think?” Eovras asked the woman.

“I don’t know,” Cirra admitted. “The intensity of the firestrikes, the size of the claw prints… I’m not saying this is Daralathyxl’s work, but —”

Eovras’s eyes widened. “You really think —”

“No, but only because I don’t think the Sixth King of the Mountains would bother with a mining camp in some Taldan backwater.” Cirra caught Uguro looking at them and shrugged apologetically. “No insult meant.”

Uguro couldn’t imagine why he should be insulted. The mining camp was a backwater. And he didn’t understand the attack either. “Why would a dragon come to us?”

“I don’t —” Cirra began, but a cry from the baron’s tents interrupted her answer.

“Dragon!”

A moment later, it came again, carried by new voices. Then the screams became higher and more frantic, and then they were eclipsed by the sound of Uguro’s nightmares.

First the vast, crackling hiss of the exhalation, then the hollow, unreal roar of the flames igniting with such fury that the air itself seemed to writhe and burn, and then —

— then everything else. The screams of horses and knights afire, the desperate shouts of surviving commanders trying to restore order, the chorus of smaller fires spun off by the initial conflagration.

Leaving the others behind, Cirra ran toward the noise. The baron and the apprentice knight hurried after her, and after a frantic, frozen hesitation, Uguro ran after them too. The only thing he feared more than the dragon was the idea of facing it alone.

A massive red dragon spreads its wings as it unleashes fiery breath on a battlefield of mounted knights.

Illustration by Tomasz Chistowski

Fire, smoke, and confusion had seized the baron’s outriders. The lingering panic of the dragon’s presence poisoned the air. It prickled the small hairs along Uguro’s neck and stung his nose like acrid smoke.

Then he felt a lurching surge of terror and knew even before he looked up that the dragon was wheeling around again.

It was immense. Redder than rubies, redder than blood, and then abruptly black as its wings swallowed the sun. The sight turned Uguro’s bowels to water. He didn’t understand how the knights could spur themselves toward it, but somehow they did.

Cirra had found a horse somewhere. She was waving a sword and shouting something, but Uguro couldn’t make out the words. Then he saw the dragon dive toward her, its jaws unhinged to loose another blast of doom.

Rocks took the flames. Somehow Cirra had dodged behind an outcropping. And now Uguro saw what she’d done, distracting the beast so that the cooks and cobblers and other camp civilians could take cover. They’d been directly in the dragon’s original path and would surely have gone up in flame if she hadn’t drawn it away.

Cirra came out from around the rock, calling another challenge, but this time the dragon didn’t take her bait. The baron had come charging at the beast, his retinue behind him, and the dragon turned to meet them instead.

For a moment, the baron was resplendent in his bravery. Sunlight sparked off his ornate gilt armor. The knights’ thundering charge looked like a storybook illustration, all plumes and banners and white horses.

Then the dragon exhaled.

The baron’s breastplate, glowing with magic, withstood the inferno. Nothing else did. The knights’ armor melted like candlewax. Their horses screamed. Their plumes and banners disappeared into ashes, and chaos swallowed their line. And what fell from the baron’s smoking breastplate, headless and legless, was grisly indeed.

Lazily the dragon snaked through the rubble and plucked the baron’s breastplate from the ground. Snarling its triumph to the smoke-stained sky, it slit the leather straps with a twist, as if it were shucking an oyster. Then it held the broken armor high over its mouth, opened its jaws wide, and swallowed the half-cooked morsel with a loud snap of relish.

Hidden behind a rock, Uguro doubled over, his eyes wide in horror and the heavy wash of dragonfear. He clapped his hands over his mouth, trying not to retch. It was a losing battle.

Then reassurance flowed through him, strong and certain, easing his terror. Cirra’s hand was on his shoulder. She motioned for him to stay down as she crouched beside him, watching the dragon feast on its kills.

“What—why,” Uguro stammered. “Why did this happen?”

Cirra answered in a rough whisper. Her eyes were still tracking the dragon. “I don’t know. That isn’t Daralathyxl. It’s big enough, but… it doesn’t have the scars. That isn’t any great red I know.”

“What will you do now?”

“We will retreat. Our first duty is to lead the survivors to safety. Then we’ll find out who this dragon is, and why it came. When we’re properly prepared, and armed with more than just courage, we’ll act.”

“You will?” The idea of standing against that thing…

“We will.” Cirra glanced at him with a hint of a smile, despite their circumstances. “If you want. If you’re ready. But for now, our duty is to the survivors. So we’ll go. Quietly. Carefully. You know the trails here, don’t you? Help us find our way out.”

“Yes.” Uguro nodded. His throat was still dry, but he was glad to help. It made him feel braver. Brave enough to imagine doing more, someday. “Yes. This way.” He swallowed. “For now.”

Liane Merciel
Contributing Author

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Tags: Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Tales of Lost Omens Web Fiction

Huzzah!


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Go Taldor!

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

A fine way to close out these tales. I love a good dragon story.

Contributor

32 people marked this as a favorite.

Oh hey, this one went up!

So here's a behind-the-scenes DVD extra commentary (they still have those, right? no, don't tell me, I don't want to know how out of touch I am):

Dragons are such familiar and iconic adversaries that it's pretty tricky, especially in a short piece, to convey the full depth of the menace that I think they ought to have. I spent a while rolling the problem around in my head, and along with the usual techniques (visuals that hearken back to mythic descriptions, POV character responses, a little bit of grisliness [although not as much as with the phlegm worms, because too much gore tends to undercut awe and shift the mood from grandeur to horror]), I thought: what if the dragon is just really mean? Not just ferocious and cruel in the grand way, but down to the small, petty, knife-in-the-heart details?

Personal anecdote time: I have a three-year-old toddler, and one of the things I'm making for him is a family recipe book. I've passed this book around to all of his grandparents and asked them to handwrite their favorite family recipes in its pages.

Part of the reason I'm doing this (besides that I think food is a vivid and concrete way of passing down a certain kind of family history) is because it's actually really hard for most people to convey deep emotion in the written word, and I want this kid to have something, and this is a way of breaking that ice so that his grandparents have a starting point to work from.

Because for most people, most of the time, it is paralyzingly difficult to convey profound emotions in writing. The deeper the feeling, the harder it is. Prison letters, letters from the home front to soldiers, letters from dying people to their friends and kin -- these often are written in moments of extreme emotion, and quite often, unless the writer has had a lot of practice in the form, they fall into certain rote patterns, because those are the words that spring to mind when you want to say something but don't know how to articulate the idea.

It takes a certain kind of bravery to push your way past that, and to commit your feelings to paper regardless. Especially if you're not someone who's super comfortable with written language, it can take a lot of bravery. And these are typically very private thoughts, thoughts that you'd be mortified to have any stranger reading, let alone picking apart and mocking for spelling mistakes and grammar and relying on Hallmark card phrases.

So my thinking was: well, probably, if you're someone sending personal letters to a hardscrabble mining camp in a poor part of Taldor, you probably are not terribly literate, and it is probably very difficult to do this. The same is likely true of the recipient.

And a red dragon, being both highly intelligent and enormously cruel, would know this, and would derive tremendous amusement from twisting that particular knife in the soul again and again, exposing each person's secrets before an audience of their friends and co-workers, and torching the lot of them before anyone has an opportunity to explain, or laugh it off, or try to retaliate against the dragon itself.

And so there are three sentences about that.

I'm actually not sure how that comes across to readers (is it just, like, weird that a dragon is reading people's diaries out loud?), but anyway that was the intent there.

/DVD extra


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@Liane Merciel:

This was great! You managed to convey so much about the characters (incl. the dragon!) is so little space -- respect!

I really enjoy reading your writing, & hope for more in the future!

Also, thank you for the 'behind the scenes look' you shared. (^_')=b

Carry on,

--C.


Amazing story! It really captures the power and danger of a dragon and the fear they inspire in us puny humanoids.

Interesting behind the scenes info...


@Liane Merciel
Don't worry, it came along great! This dragon is a big asshat!
Seriously, this story shows the nasty dragon that knows it's superior on one side and the shining knights that are NOT lawful-stupid but good on the other. Good last story of the series.

Silver Crusade

4 people marked this as a favorite.
Adventure Path Charter Subscriber; Pathfinder Adventure, Companion, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
Liane Merciel wrote:

Oh hey, this one went up!

So here's a behind-the-scenes DVD extra commentary...

The story is awesome! It gave me ideas as to how to properly portrait truly evil beings.

I hope Uguro and Cirra are going to be NPC's in the Age of Ashes AP, but if they aren't, they will be in my game, if I ever come to GM it.

Thank you very much, Ms. Merciel.


1 person marked this as a favorite.

Wonderful Story, and a great way to convey EVIL in a relatable manner. Thank you for your thoughts on this, I always love insight into writers process.
And kudos for showing off a caring, intelligent Champion in a very unobtrusive way.

Dark Archive

Oh man. I wasn't really interested about 2e but I reeeeaally like dragons and this piece really sparked my interest. I want to run a story about a big dragon. A bad one. Like the one in the story.

... Maybe I'll try out 2e for this :P


Loved the dragon mocking his victims' letters, Liane. The behind-the-scenes too, so cool ^___^

Also, who drew that masterpiece in the middle? Mr Tomasz Chistowski? You, sir, are the kind of artist I really wouldn't mind see more gracing the pages of P2.

I'm mildly confused about the names of 2 characters - Cirra and Uguro. Maybe I'm not enough of an expert in Taldan onomastics, but they sound foreign... I'd say Cirra's from Cheliax, while Uguro... hell, maybe somewhere in the Mwangi Expanse? Not that it's important, though...

... actually, right now I'm thinking about our PCs surviving dragon breath. I mean, how does that even happen? O__O

Great stuff anyway. Also, aptly named story, seriously.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

That was fantastic! Can't wait to get my group rolling in 2nd edition!

Silver Crusade

3 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

This was GLORIOUS Liane.

You did an awesome job with the dragon, and dawww, that cookbook sounds like an awesome gift.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game Subscriber

Dragons: Demonstrating that petty cruelty comes in all shapes and sizes.

Excellently written!

Dark Archive

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Just to echo the others, that absolutely came across. I didn't sit there and really analyse it but just reading those sentences I was thinking, "Wow... that's just cruel." The sort of petty, small minded cruelty that when you experience it stays with you for a lifetime because there is no reason for it, it's just done because they can and no-one is powerful enough to stop them.


Damn, Liane...


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

In my opinion this was the best tale posted about Age of Lost Omens. The evil the dragon represents is very understandable and its victims are relatable on a human level. The encounter between a powerful old dragon commoners (a couple of experts perhaps?) and mid level heroes is well developed. The effects the dragonfear has on those unable to pass their checks (i.e. 90% of the population of Golarion)are well described as well.

If I have a complaint is about the lack of subversion: we are told from the beginning who's smart and skilled and who's a boastful old fool. The baron dies an honorable yet ultimately meaningless death while the lady knight (probably a Lion Blade) survives and takes the commoner survivor under her wing to train and likely become the dragon slaying hero, a few hundred encounters later. This is predicatble. What if the old baron lived thanks to the Lion Blade sacrifice? Wouldn't that have been more inspiring on the future hero, more meaningful for his future development?


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Besides the dragon's pure evil, what stood out to me was how Uguro thought Cirra caring about his town and people was odd. That he also know what nobles are like is also telling.

And I'm pretty sure that accent was an "American" one. ; )

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber
Rogar Valertis wrote:
What if the old baron lived thanks to the Lion Blade sacrifice? Wouldn't that have been more inspiring on the future hero, more meaningful for his future development?

Seeing as how that's probably how that Baron had lived so long in the first place. No.


1 person marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Thank you for the lovely story. In addition to the above, I enjoyed the way you worked game mechanics into your prose.


3 people marked this as a favorite.
Rogar Valertis wrote:

In my opinion this was the best tale posted about Age of Lost Omens. The evil the dragon represents is very understandable and its victims are relatable on a human level. The encounter between a powerful old dragon commoners (a couple of experts perhaps?) and mid level heroes is well developed. The effects the dragonfear has on those unable to pass their checks (i.e. 90% of the population of Golarion)are well described as well.

If I have a complaint is about the lack of subversion: we are told from the beginning who's smart and skilled and who's a boastful old fool. The baron dies an honorable yet ultimately meaningless death while the lady knight (probably a Lion Blade) survives and takes the commoner survivor under her wing to train and likely become the dragon slaying hero, a few hundred encounters later. This is predicatble. What if the old baron lived thanks to the Lion Blade sacrifice? Wouldn't that have been more inspiring on the future hero, more meaningful for his future development?

Why would the kid care if the baron lived or died? He's just another one of dozens that died horribly, and not one who mattered to the kid in any way at all.

The Blade went and did something useful- saved people. She's the point of inspiration and meaning that you could turn the kid's future on. Assuming you wanted to focus on the kid rather than Cirra, who's better for the story at hand, and the one that follows.


Voss wrote:

{. . .}

Why would the kid care if the baron lived or died? He's just another one of dozens that died horribly, and not one who mattered to the kid in any way at all.
{. . .}

Some kids might be traumatized by seeing someone burned to death, even if it wasn't anyone they knew.


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This is why Liane is among the very best. First of all, damn that Dragon was evil. Seriously evil. Also love how you made us feel just how dangerous it a dragon really. All in all, I loved it.

Sovereign Court

This is great.


Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber
Voss wrote:
Rogar Valertis wrote:

In my opinion this was the best tale posted about Age of Lost Omens. The evil the dragon represents is very understandable and its victims are relatable on a human level. The encounter between a powerful old dragon commoners (a couple of experts perhaps?) and mid level heroes is well developed. The effects the dragonfear has on those unable to pass their checks (i.e. 90% of the population of Golarion)are well described as well.

If I have a complaint is about the lack of subversion: we are told from the beginning who's smart and skilled and who's a boastful old fool. The baron dies an honorable yet ultimately meaningless death while the lady knight (probably a Lion Blade) survives and takes the commoner survivor under her wing to train and likely become the dragon slaying hero, a few hundred encounters later. This is predicatble. What if the old baron lived thanks to the Lion Blade sacrifice? Wouldn't that have been more inspiring on the future hero, more meaningful for his future development?

Why would the kid care if the baron lived or died? He's just another one of dozens that died horribly, and not one who mattered to the kid in any way at all.

The Blade went and did something useful- saved people. She's the point of inspiration and meaning that you could turn the kid's future on. Assuming you wanted to focus on the kid rather than Cirra, who's better for the story at hand, and the one that follows.

Because it's predictable. The savy and cunning operative survives, while the old baron charges onto his own death sadly overstimating his prowess. Is this the outcome you expect from reading the initial part of the story? I think so and that's exactly why a little subversion of the reader's expectations would have made me enjoy this story even more as it's extremely well written and the characters' personalities are well detailed.

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Subverting expectations just for the sake of subverting expectations does not a good story make.


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Rysky wrote:
Subverting expectations just for the sake of subverting expectations does not a good story make.

*cough*TheLastJedi*cough*

Moreover... cliches are gonna be rife in these little "get a taste" snippets.

Having the baron be a clever, capable, and skookum hombre might subvert expectations, but it wouldn't give a person new to Golarion quite the right notion of Taldor's schtick.

Silver Crusade

2 people marked this as a favorite.
Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I was thinking Game of Thrones honestly.

Also I’m not sure “competent person survives” is a cliche...

Shadow Lodge

4 people marked this as a favorite.
Bird of Ill-Omen wrote:
Rysky wrote:
Subverting expectations just for the sake of subverting expectations does not a good story make.
*cough*TheLastJedi*cough*

Was a perfectly serviceable movie.

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