A towering humanoid over 5 staff lengths high – a burning man – wreaked destruction across the land. Forests were on fire. Villagers screamed in terror. In front of the creature, Nathaniel stood small next to Milandra. He was armed with a mace in each hand like the cleric Z’alden, but his maces would be as ineffectual against it as the Church’s teachings on their meaning. Milandra wielded a staff like the great wizard Rift, but her meager spells would have little effect. The monster moved on until it was over top of them. The ground changed to lava underneath them, and they sank into the scorching molten rock. No one heard their screams.
Nathaniel awoke in a cold sweat. His memory was crystal clear of the nightmare. It was eerily similar to the story of the Heroes in the land of the Kengi, but the village was one that he knew to the south. He really did need to get some real sleep and not spend so much time copying the True Writings. But, he was learning so much! Soon, he would know enough to spread the teachings that he was formulating. And, with Milandra’s help, he was certain that he could go even faster; if nothing else, he would be more careful. He hoped that she would keep helping. He liked her being around. Just thinking about being under the bookcase with her, that close, the young monk flushed. Such thoughts were not acceptable for an Acolyte. He washed quickly and went out to the cluster.
Milandra was walking with the Perigee. The half-elven girl motioned to Nathaniel to join them. “Nathaniel, do you realize that tomorrow is the celebration of the fall of Independence? The Day of Verdenscales! I will bet you, good Perigee, that the monks know a different version of the story of that leads up to Verdenscales. That of the Hill giants and Trolls. I am certain theirs differs from the one that we are taught.”
The Perigee chuckled, “Little Nadirine, the Church’s teachings are one and the same for those under the Zenith and those above the Nadir. What could be different?”
Milandra drew up in front of Nathaniel, almost accusingly. “Zenithyte, tell me, when the Paragons reached the narrow canyon of Fear and Despair, as they took the fast and easy road that would lead to the deception of freedom, as the poison of independent thought coursed through their veins, whose powers were the most important in the great teaching?”
Nathaniel almost could not believe the question. Even with all that he had learned from the True Writings, the parroting response was automatic, “Why the great Paladin Felsmon, of course. He flew up to release those trapped by the net of indecision. His radiance and power reflect the clear cut choice that service brings to all. Followed closely by the mighty dwarf Barrick, whose axe of truth slashed in a rain of steel the Hill Giants and their rocks of impure thought. And, the dwarf’s ring of feather fall upheld the lives of his comrades as the net tumbled open, even as the Church supports us from the pull of evil.”
The Perigee looked horrified. “No, my little Zenithyte. Have you forgotten the Ettin whose heads are the wrong two ways to live? Or the Stone Giant of the false lures of the world? Or the Troll of Cowardice? At the very least, it is clear in this story that the great wall of blades of Truth and Light from the friend Monica formed the barrier to all that tries to strike down the Church. Just as the tales of the Paragons bring new life to us all, so Monica’s actions in their presence are a key point of the story. But, the most important, as it is known, is shared greatness between Rift with the mighty Hammerfall that she caused to fall about those three, lifting up with the power of conviction only to let the evil drop and be ripped to shreds by the power of the blades of Truth and Light, and Tira with the incredible power that the control of Chaos brings to the Church as she took the Jewel of the Virtues focused into a Dazzling Ray and showed us Valor, Justice, and Honor defeating the Hill Giant completely and severely wounding the Stone Giant and the Ettin in three swift rays. The meaning could not be more clear, and the importance more obvious."
The Perigee paused reflectively, “Yes, it is true that the cleric Z’alden uses three of the other virtues: Sacrifice, Compassion, and Spirituality to raise back to the Church the light that is the friend Monica, and,” she emphasized, "his role in defeating the enemy is duly noted in the Teachings, as are the Honour of the baiting strikes of the warrior Barrick that vanquished the Hill Giants of Doubt that remained. Also, there is much to be learned from the Justice of Felsmon’s Shield of Bonderstong absorbing the worst of the great blow from the Stone Giant of the false world. The meaning there is also clear. But, the most important, as it is in so many of the tales – it is the women. Rift’s missile of the raging pink of Honesty slew two of the monsters. Even Rajel, about whom so little is written, it was her arrow, like a Hawk’s Talon, that killed the Ettin of the two most wrong ways to live. It is known.”
Nathaniel could only cough loudly to cover his involuntary response, “Or*sh*t”. But, then he realized that he had not seen the True Writings on this tale or on that great deception by the icon of freedom: the Green Dragon. Did he really know what had happened or what the meaning from this story or any other really was? What was the meaning of Z’alden’s final spell in this tale, crystal blue dragonclaws of light that exploded like a solar flare into the monsters. Did he really bring the Light to the false world, slaying the stone giant?
Maybe the adventurers were simply in the wrong canyon at the wrong time while en route to their real goal of finding the antidote to the poison? Maybe they were in the right canyon, if the story was to be believed. How else, after the other monsters were defeated and the Troll of Cowardice ran away, could they have found a cache of great treasure and weapons unlike anything the Paragons had ever seen before.
Somehow, he was sure, the teachings he had learned, and those of the Nadir that had made Milandra so snarky, had missed the depth of the real experience for the adventurers. Even the True Writings of Torben Eastlander surely missed the emotions that they felt at the time. Why describe fear to a scrivener after the monster is slain? At least, it would be minimized. In his mind’s eye, he could see the party walking with unease into the narrow canyon. He could smell the fear on the Fands and on the cleric, too, as some of their party were swept up in a huge net. The surprise surely even the unflappable Tira felt as the Hill Giants leapt out behind them throwing boulders. The frustration as they were bottled up on both sides when the Stone Giant, Ettin, and Troll appeared at the other end of the canyon. But, Nathaniel was sure that the Teachings had some roots in the Truth. The little band did not despair. They worked together, tightened their grips, marshaled their best resources, and defeated a bit more of the evil that is in the world.
His little reverie was broken when the Perigee said, “Come Milandra, I would talk to the Apogee about this. These Zenithytes need better instruction. And, this one will need to be watched” Milandra shrugged her shoulders as they passed by Nathaniel.
Nathaniel’s duties kept him from returning to the Stacks that night. He was simply too tired. Luckily, his dreams were untroubled. When he awoke, his first thought was to find Milandra, and see if they could make a plan to return to the True Writings soon. He rushed out to the cluster.
As he had hoped, Milandra and some of the other Nadirines were out, too. They were doing the morning exercises. To his surprise, they were starting the celebration of Verdenscales, the fall of Independence. But, that was in two days. No wait, he had lost track of time. Today was the celebration. “Wings of the dragon, extend,” the Perigee called out as the girls spread their arms wide. “Axes of the dwarf defeat the evils of independence,” she boomed, and the Nadirines swung imaginary weapons at the dragon in front of them. “Ride the dragon like the great dwarf, making Independence pay the price for its deception.”
The girls took a deep stance and sliced into the air.
Somehow Nathaniel was fairly certain that was not what the dwarf had looked like on the back of the green dragon. Barrick must have been huge for one thing. “Dwarf” was the Church’s metaphor for judging the greatness of a man by his deeds and not his veneer of flesh. The brave and valiant warrior was all that Eastlanders should emulate in service to the Church. But, there were no real dwarves. The living Barrick was probably a staff and a half high! Actually, Nathaniel had never seen anyone that tall, but Barrick’s prowess made it seem to be so. To ride a dragon, the less than a staff high that the Teachings described just couldn’t be right.
Even as Milandra and her fellow Nadirites went through the exercises of the deception that marked the start of the day, Nathaniel wondered at the version of the story he might find in the True Writings. He thought back to its start and tried to strip away the layers of interpretation. How would he tell the Teaching as a story? In the Church’s version, Verdenscales symbols the Folly of Independence. When the adventurers accept his alliance and offer of flight to quickly reach the castle where the antidote is kept, the Dragon’s duplicity is revealed as he tries to dislodge them once in flight and let them die falling to the ground. The soft sand of the Church itself and the wings of Justice that support the Paladin save most of the Paragons, while the mighty dwarf rides the Folly and extracts a heavy price from its deceit, even as the Church extracts the price from all who purse the falsehood of independence.
How would he relate the point in the story where Z’alden uses the Crossbow of Heavy Truth to knock the dragon out of the sky and place it onto the sand of the Church, where the true ways of the Paragons can injure it enough until Independence itself flees, and the five and their friends are truly free together.
While many parts of the Church’s version did not make sense, Z’alden’s crossbow in this story was the least convincing. The cleric’s Crossbow of Heavy Truth is almost never mentioned in any of the Teachings, and rarely does it impact the outcome of a story. Nathaniel remembered falling asleep during Master Windebagg’s interpretation of the importance of the gigantic bolt launched from the cleric’s crossbow: Truthiness bringing down Freedom. More likely, Barrick had taken a swipe at the tail of the wyrm and that had caused the dragon to fall from the sky. Then, the adventurers had engaged it with great valor until the Beast had fled.
Nathaniel had to know what Torben Eastlander had really written about this tale. Late that night, he snuck back into the Library. He found two guards asleep! That was a real help. After lighting a small candle, he used the special key Master Renithar had given him, pulled out the volume, and placed it on the table.
“Aha!” Milandra jumped out at him. How had he not noticed her? “I knew you would be here to find out what we are really celebrating on Verdenscales Day. Why do we eat sandy bread for one thing? I want to know, too.”
Trying to keep calm, Nathaniel, half out of skin, glared at the half-elf. “I could have tipped over the ink I jumped so much! Or, the guards could have heard. What were you thinking?”
“Find your armor and be calm. The guards are asleep. Convenient isn’t it?” Milandra smirked at him. Nathaniel didn’t have time to ponder that enigmatic smirk. He opened the tome and moved quickly to the start of the interview on Verdenscales. He dipped his quill to copy.
At the beach, the party had found the Green Dragon Verdenscales waiting from them. Felsmon, no fear in that Paladin, especially since the Dragon is probably half the size they say, parleyed with the Beast.
In a surprising twist, Tira related to me how she got Verdenscales to agree to draw a card from the Deck of Many Things. I have played cards many times and know never to draw from a woman’s deck. It is always stacked. Verdenscales knew the same. He let Tira draw, saw her crummy card of “Balance” (more on what the sorceress says the card “made” her do to ruin a good man – ha!), and waited until the Deck simply vanished. Verdenscales agreed to an alliance against Xathros the Beholder (Trust a dragon after he has already tricked you in a card draw. Yes, these adventurers are that stupid) in which he would fly them back to the castle to search for the antidote to the poison.
Barrick, Z’alden, Rift, and Tira mounted up while Felsmon flew beside. (The wings on the dragonborn are true. I have seen them).
A few hundred feet in the air, according to Barrick, who has an issue with distances I note, Verdenscales inverted over and over trying to shake them off. According to Tira, she used her magical rod to hang safely in the air. More likely, the fall wasn’t that far. Barrick simply held on (again note that the size of the dragon must be much smaller than Felsmon’s impression if the dwarf could actually ride a dragon). Z’alden fell and sprained an ankle (this is the part that makes the most sense). Rift’s spell of feather fall let her float safely to the ground (the evidence of a small distance from ground to dragon becomes clearer all the time. The cleric has told me before that he has a bad leg, everyone else fell safely. Makes more sense. Why do they always have to dress up the story with these imaginary actions?).
Then, an epic battle began. Most of this I am want to believe, especially after my fifth pint, but what does it matter? I am the scrivener telling their drivel. I will not comment, but simply relay what the adventurers told me.
As they read more, Nathaniel gaped at Milandra – this is where the Church had taken so many liberties, imparting meaning and symbols to a real life and death struggle. The only part that Nathaniel refused to believe was the use of the cleric’s crossbow. It was simply too pat. Maybe the monk who had last transcribed the True Writings was favoriting Z’alden, trying to give him an action that made a real difference? And, oh how the Church had run with that addition.
The cleric looked at me and had silver fire in his eyes. He took a deep draught of Nentir ’97 and spoke, “This was second time we had agreed to work with evil to further our ends. Spitting out the sand from the fall, I realized that how far I had fallen. It would not happen again. Even as the dragon strafed fire and poison on our friends, even as he used his magicks to try to strike fear in our hearts, we taught him the price of his Folly and showed him the stuff of which Truth is made. Rift’s cold blast coated Verdenscales wings, making him able to move little more than two staff lengths in six heartbeats. With Barrick still on his back, the Dragon was distracted so much that he could not even bite.”
“Oh, Verdenscales would rue the day he tried to deceive us. My mighty friend Felsmon placed radiant shackles of light to bring Justice to the Dragon. Each time the dragon harmed us, the shackles tightening, exacting a toll on the villainous wyrm.
Milandra looked up at Nathaniel. “Does that really say that Felsmon used Justice on the symbol of Independence? Could the Teachings be right?” Nathaniel shook his head. Maybe not everything was wrong in the Teachings, but something was certainly wrong when they were relayed to the student in the Chamber of Understanding. They copied on.
Tira had a magical rod that allowed her to be suspended in the air and attack Verdenscales. With two massive bolts of fire, I could smell roast Dragon from the ground. I cheered loudly! And, then, I took aim with a Searing Light, teaching the creature that failure to follow the light means that you cannot see. Indeed, now the Dragon was blind. Still, he clawed into Barrick with such ferocity that he shook off my good friend dwarf. Worry not, he floated safely to the ground with his ring of feather fall. (I cannot resist here – yet another safe landing. The distance was simply not what their small minds recall, and they must invent magical ways to describe a fall into the soft, supporting sand that saved them).
I must tell you the joy I felt as the Paladin swooped onto the Dragon with the Blood of Welling up in his valiant veins, he smote the creature mightily. Rift used a magical jewel to cast three separate magical missiles of pink force at the Wyrm. Inspired, I pulled out my crossbow of Heavy Metal. Truth be told, I am not very good with this weapon, despite my father’s teachings. He would have been proud that day. I took aim at the flying beast, said a prayer to the Great Dragon of whom this Green Wyrm is vile replica, and a massive bolt took flight, penetrating its wing, and bringing it down hard upon the earth! A grounded dragon makes for an easy picking, and my friends did not disappoint.
What I did not expect was that the massive tail of the Wyrm would be such a formidable weapon itself. Lashing out, the little Halfling, Monica, Rajel, Rift, Colefen, Tira, Felmson, and I were all hit by it. My exultation was dampened by this set-back. But, I should not have despaired even a moment. Even as the dragon bit into me deeply and injected an evil poision, Barrick and his new Dragonslayer axe roared into action. Each storke took a heavy toll on the Foolish Wyrm.
Not finished yet, Verdenscales returned to the air and made us remember he was not some little drake. His strafing attacks of breath took a toll on us, but were nothing compared to the flying radiant charge of Felsmon. A black ichor flowed freely from the beneath green scales. Enraged, his breath took a price from Felsmon and Stewie, but the Dragon had no match for power that surround him them. Magical mirrors from Rift’s mighty spell confounded the Wyrm. The craven fled in terror, yelling back at us, “You have made an enemy for life.”
We took the boats, and Rift conjured up a gale to get us back to the Wizard’s Isle as quickly as possible. Even as we tried to rest
Nathaniel looked up at Milandra, “What was that?”
The pale, thin Apogee stood before them. His widow’s peak was raised from his eyes in a look of triumph. “Renithar is not the only one who knows a few tricks. Seize them!” Two of the Apogee’s personal retinue leveled spears at the youngsters. “The Chamber of Understanding will be just the place for both of you to return to the Teachings and forget about your folly into things that do not concern you.”