Hello, interested individuals!
Never have I had such an enchanted audience before these storytimes! Well, I guess I have previously had a great number of people hearing my words all at once, but that was more of a “bring to me your treasures, lest you be devoured,” and less of a “want to get your dragon questions answered?” sort of situation.
Regardless, here’s our question for the week:

Wizard or no, I would be addressed by one of my proper titles! Grendel, The All-Seeing Eye, or I would even take one of my old titles—maybe the Great Devastator or The Ravenous Ravager. One way or another, I’d prefer some respect!
Though I will say your question is an astute one, and one with yet another remarkable story attached…

It is accurate that true dragons have the innate ability to shapeshift into other forms. Whether it be a human, elf, or even a lesser beast, dragons are capable of effortlessly molding themselves into a new shape. I discovered this power a few years after reaching draconic maturity, right around my first century. I allowed myself to become a goblin, just to see if I could, but I found the process very… uncomfortable. Even though the process is magical, it still forces me to feel far too confined for my taste. I described it to Geldrin, and he said it sounds very similar to wearing “too tight of smallclothes and having an unpickable wedgie,” whatever that means. Regardless, though I loathe allowing my massive, perfect form to be reduced to such an indignant shape, even temporarily, there was one situation I found myself in where I had little choice.

 I had spotted a Dwarven stronghold in the Greenstar Mountains and decided to pillage its innumerable amounts of treasures contained inside. Dwarves have too much wealth for their own good, in my opinion. They spend all their lives digging, forging, crafting, and collecting. Most strongholds contain so much master-worked treasure that they must continue digging further and further down just to expand the size of their vaults.

I’m sure you’ve heard the tales of dwarves who had dug too deep, and the trouble they had gotten themselves into by doing so. Poisonous gasses, winged fire-beasts, deep-dwelling tentacled aliens, ancient curses, and even slumbering world-devourers have all been awakened by dwarves who didn’t know when to quit. By taking their gold for myself, I, in my benevolence, was doing them a favor!

Upon landing, though, I came upon my first obnoxious obstacle. Dwarves, for whatever reason, love to hide all their most prized possessions behind thick walls of stone and metal. For as long as we dragons have been acquiring treasures for ourselves, dwarves have been secreting them away from us. Dragons always prevail in the end, usually with many casualties and destruction, thus I surmise that if the dwarves would simply give their wealth as a tithe to us as we pass, we would just take it and leave them be. By hiding it they’re simply making it more difficult for dragons to get it, which causes us to become annoyed. An annoyed dragon is a dangerous one, I’ll tell you!

Upon landing, I came upon a massive stone door, nearly as tall as me, depicting a fresco of dwarves in battle against impossible odds—giants, hydras, trolls… Ah! And there it was—a dwarf in plate mail standing upon the carcass of a recently-slayed green dragon! Absolutely absurd. These underground residents did not even know the irony of what was about to befall them! With this disrespect in mind, I began my assault on the stronghold, or at least I would have if it wasn’t for that bothersome entrance. I first tried pushing my way in, but to no avail. Then I tried to pull, but still, it did not budge. I could, of course, simply melt the stone itself with my hottest immolating breath, but I knew that many dwarves had a habit of displaying some of their best riches right behind these entry points, and I did not want to risk my fiery desolation being the destruction of a few pieces of my impending hoard-additions.

That’s when I saw the stone door knocker near the base of the portal. The solution to this puzzle, and an easy one at that! Hooking it with one of my claws, I let it fall with a surprisingly loud thud, echoing in the halls beyond. I stepped back in case the door wasa pull after all, but a few moments later, the only opening to the stronghold beyond was a tiny, rectangular hole that appeared in the stonework. A bearded face peered out from behind and, in dwarvish, asked “Who be knockin’ at the door of Dol Kragon?”

I lowered my imposing maw to his level and replied, “It is I, Grendel, the bringer of your doom if you do not open this door! For I have come to—”

In response, all I received was a quick “By Durgeddin’s beard! A dragon!” followed by a quick slamfrom the little window he was peering through.

Well! If it was going to be like that, I would no longer attempt to give warning. Full desolation and destruction seemed to be the only way forward. So be it. If they weren’t going to open the door for me, I would simply need to tear it down with my claws!

I lunged at the portal, raking and clawing with all the ferocity I could muster. Violently, I ripped at the stonework for what felt like far too long, but in the end, the door stood perfectly pristine—not the smallest scratch upon its frustrating façade! Whatkind of stone was this rubbish made of? My claws had chipped, and my forearms were sore, but these minor inconveniences only fueled my rage. But how to get inside?

I pondered this for a bit, considering a few options. I could command an earth elemental to burrow beneath the doors, but I had no current way to shift to that elemental plane. Maybe a few stolen kegs of blast powder? Though I had none, and that brings back into play the possibility of destroying what treasures lie just inside. Then it dawned on me—a heist! If they weren’t going to allow a dragon inside their halls, maybe they would allow a fellow dwarf. I’d have to take the form of one—an easy feat, though I despised doing so. Dwarves were just so hairy! The itchiness alone was enough to drive a scale-covered being like myself to madness, but I figured it simply must be done. If nothing else, to see the look on the dwarves’ faces when I revealed their folly would be worth a few minutes in the guise of one of the bearded folk.

I flew off to stay in a nearby gully for a few hours. I wanted to wait till they thought I had left and maybe dropped their guard a bit. Once the sun had begun to set, I morphed into a dwarven form. The feeling of being horribly compressed was back, but if this would get me through that blasted door quicker, so be it. I peered at myself in a small pond. Looking back was an unimpressive figure—four and a half feet in height, stocky, with a large burgundy beard and a full set of golden-inlaid armor. My disguise was flawless—down to the stubborn expression I wore on my face.

I made the trek back down to the stone door—though it took far longer than I had anticipated. Dwarves move much slower than I realized. By the time I arrived at the stronghold, the stars were out and the moon was aloft, casting its pale glow on the stone edifice before me. It looked much more imposing from down here, but I was paying more attention to the sheer lack of damage on it. How could it resist my fury,I thought, but this was unimportant at the moment. All that mattered was the gold that lay beyond, nearly in my grasp.

I raised and dropped the massive stone door knocker and waited for the echoing thud to dissipate. Once again, the little door opened, now at my eye level, though with more careful hesitation this time. The bearded face inside peaked out cautiously, but I noticed a wave of relief wash over his face. Good,I thought. Looks like my disguise has fooled at least one feeble mind.

“Greetings, mort… eh… umm… fellow dwarf!”I said, putting on my best stout-folk accent. “I am… Bunder… beard. Bunderbeard! A traveler! Here to sell things. Like… pickaxes? Maybe beard oil? Potatoes?”

The face on the other side stared back at me with a furrowed brow, but replied, “Hmm… well, I can’t say we need any of ’em right now, but ye best come in quick! Thurr’s a dragon skulkin’ about!”

With that, there were a few clunksand thumpsand the door opened, seemingly effortlessly. Inside I was greeted by a huge entrance hall, nearly as tall as my draconic form, the walls of which were adorned with a plethora of various valuables, from golden shields to mithral armor to intricately-carved crowns of pure silver. It was a good thing I did not burn the place down!

“Welcome ta Dol Kragon, fellow dwarf!” the door guard said. “Best git inside. We have a place ye can rest if ye need. I’m sure the king will give ye a tour if ye want.”

“Oh, yes!” I said, stepping inside. “That would be wonderful. Yes. I am especially interested in touring the vault, if you have one. I… like vaults, you know.”

“Right. Well, ye gotta ask the king about that. Ah, here he be!”

Walking toward us down the entrance hall was a retinue of guards, flanking a regally-dressed dwarf with an ornately-decorated beard. Rings and gems were looped and woven through his clothing and an even more intricately carved crown was resting upon his noble head. Never had I seen as much wealth displayed on a mortal, and I nearly drooled, but contained myself in time for his booming greeting.

“Welcome, Sir Dwarf!” he bellowed. “Welcome to Dol Kragon! Hidden jewel of the Greenstar Mountains and the wealthiest kingdom you’ll find carved underground. I am King Rhuergar Ironfist the fourth. What brings you to our gilded halls?”

“Ah! Yes, thank you, king!” I replied. “I am… well, a trader in things, and I want to see the vault. I like… vault stuff, you see.”

With a wide smile, the king replied, “Oh, absolutely! I’m so very glad to hear that the customary ‘seeing of the vault’ is still in practice within the neighboring clans. Follow me post-haste right to it. Right away, right away!”
And with that, he turned and gestured for me to follow. I was in. How easy this was going already!

He led me through what seemed like miles of subterranean corridors. Carved scenes of dwarves in battle and relaxation dotted nearly every passageway. Display cases containing all matter of beautifully crafted ornaments dotted the halls, all with plaques stating things like “This greataxe was forged by Durgeddin Stonefist in the year of the burning coal” and “These gauntlets were donated by Clan Dullhammer to mark our thousand-year friendship.” Everywhere I turned, there was treasure to be had, and soon it would be all mine.

“I see you noticed some of our display pieces, Sir…”

“Oh… umm… Bun..Bum… hammer. Hammerbreath. Mister Bumgar Hammerbreath. I’m a trader. And a dwarf!” I replied. I may have forgotten the name I had given, having been distracted for some time by the wealth around me.

“Yes, Sir Hammerbreath,”the Dwarven King responded. “And trade we shall have soon! Right after you see our most precious pieces! Oh, and you may want to wipe the spittle off your mouth there, Sir Dwarf.”

I had begun drooling in full and had not noticed. I wiped my face as we were led into what was indicated as a “war room.” Inside, rows of swords, crossbows, and battleaxes all lined the walls. Dwarven smiths were hammering the final details into a seemingly endless collection of weaponry.

“Marching off to war, there, king?” I asked.

“Oh, not exactly. As you may have heard, there has been a dragon spotted in the area. He came right up to our front door and spent all afternoon trying to claw his way inside. What you see around you are all Dragonsbane weapons. Sure to bring down the beast once we find its lair!”

Dragonsbane. If I were a lesser wyrm, I may have been somewhat frightened surrounded by it all, but being the all-powerful Grendel, I merely replied, “Oh! Yes. Well, good. A good dragon… dead one… yes.” Flawless.

The king nodded and continued leading me. I was suddenly aware of the dozen or so guards flanking us and for the first time noticed that all of their weapons were being carried openly. On top of that, they all brandished Dragonsbane axes and hammers. I will admit I thought of gulping, but I did not. I had to keep up my ruse until I gained access to the vault. If the front door was made of sturdy stuff, then I’m sure the vault would be even more impenetrable.

Further into the hold we ventured, when finally, we came upon a massive door of pure adamantine.

“Here we are, Sir Dwarf,” the king announced. “The main vault of Dol Kragon! Just a moment and we’ll be inside. Before we go in, though, I must say what an honorit is to have you here. We hope that you will decide to stay here indefinitely. You will always have a place in our halls!”

In retrospect, I should have been more suspicious of how accommodating this king had been, but after he spoke a secret password to open the vault, any hesitation drained from my mind the second the huge doors began to open. My eyes were nearly blinded by the sheer radiance of the treasure inside. At this point in my life, I had not amassed a hoard nearly a fraction of what I saw before me. Piles upon piles of golden abundance glittered before me—an innumerable amount of wealth filling thousands of vases and chalices and urns… I was absolutely enraptured.

“Go ahead, Sir Dwarf,” the king said. “You may inspect it all for yourself. Feel free to hold it in your hands.”

I did as I was instructed. I walked, slowly, still wide-eyed at what I was seeing. And to think I was moments away from it being all mine. All it would take was quickly transforming to my true form, and then eating a few hundred dwarves. Nothing too difficult, I thought. I’d have to avoid their special weapons, of course, but I was confident that they would be less bane-y and more sting-y. A minor danger for the chance of immeasurable fortune. Maybe I would even claim this stronghold as a new lair!

Thoughts of my prosperous future were still dancing in my mind when two things happened at once. First, my stubby hand attempted to grasp a few coins in front of me, but instead passed directly through and grabbed something dry and heavy. I pulled it out and, in my hand, I held a bone. A very large bone. Before I could comprehend what had happened, the door behind me slammed shut with a resounding BOOM.I turned around to see that I had been shut in the vault. Alone.

Though, it was not truly a vault. Right as it had dawned on me that I may have been focusing too much on the wealth I wanted, and not the odd behavior of the king and those around him, the glowing hoard at my back flickered and winked out of existence as the illusion faded. In its place was what I will forever remember as the most terrifying sight I had ever laid eyes upon. Where there had just been treasure, now lay nothing but the dusty bones of at least seven dragons. Their hollow eyes looking back at me with pity. I had been deceived! Treachery! Dishonesty! DISRESPECT!

Through the door I could barely make out the voice of the dwarven king.

“There’s your vault,dragon!”he spat. “Did you really think it would be so easy? That you would be able to claim my hoard? That’s all the treasure you deserve! Not a single copper lies in that room. Nothing for you to eat or drink. Barely enough room for you to stretch your wings. All that’s left for you to do is die, you pathetic wretch! Hurry up with it so we can trap another of your kind.”

I was trapped! How would I ever get free? Could I even be free? Did I perhaps die in that vault?

Next week I will finish the tale, for this parchment is far too filled with Geldrin’s scribblings, and already, he’s stated it’s far too much of a tale for one storytime! For now, I will leave you with this “cliffhanger” as my Gnome friend says.
Next time, I will save you from this cliff. For now, keep on seasoning yourselves with knowledge!