“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.” Bunderbeard Hammersbreath and the Siege of Dol Kragon - Part 1
Welcome once again, fascinated beings, to yet another Storytime with Grendel!
Instead of a new question this week, I have decided to perform a most heroic deed and save you from the proverbial cliff I have left you mortals hanging from. In our last Storytime, I was recounting my experiences with shapeshifting and the trouble it had gotten me into. Having been locked miles under the surface in an empty dwarven vault, surrounded by the bones of other less fortunate of my kind, my demise seemed imminent. Did I get out? Did I die in that vault? Have I been a ghost this whole time? I shall continue this harrowing tale and reveal the truth!
The vault had been locked, and the muffled, receding footfalls of the dwarven king had finished echoing in the hallways beyond the doors. I was alone with nothing but darkness and the bones of other unfortunate dragons who had also been lured by the possibility of easily-acquired treasure. There was nothing left for me to do but die… as was the dwarves’ plan.
I won’t say I didn’t panic a bit. I did.
Who wouldn’t become stressed by the thought of the most amazing, powerful, spectacular being in existence ceasing to live? In my dread and anger, I first pounded my still-dwarven fists on the doors of the vault, but immediately I recognized the material as the same strong stuff that the front entrance was made of—something that I, even in my most powerful form, could not scratch!
Pure force would be useless, it seemed, but nevertheless, I shed my dwarven disguise, quickly molding back to my true form. Horns sprouted from my head, my meaty hands returned to powerful claws, and my handsome tail sprang from my behind. To a mortal, it would have been a terrifying sight, sending all to cower in fear, but alas, I was hopelessly alone. Growing immensely, I finally stretched my wings, or I would have had the vault not been quite as large as it had seemed a moment ago. Could the dwarves not have had enough courtesy to carve out a space larger for their dragon trap?! How very rude!
I spent hours in that vault, scratching at the walls, attempting to melt the doors with my fiery breath, even looking intently for some sort of hidden failsafe—maybe a button or lever that was currently buried under my cellmate’s dusty bones—but after a thorough search, I found absolutely nothing. I could think of no solution to this predicament, and I will admit that for the first time in my long life, I felt a twinge of fear. It seemed like I had been bested and in such a treacherous, disrespectful way as well!
My thoughts drifted from my anger at the dwarves, to grief at the loss of my hoard back at my lair, to melancholy memories of my life. Geldrin says maybe this was ‘my life flashing before my eyes’, but that’s something lesser creatures have before they are devoured by me. These were simply memories of an incredible life. I remembered a very good meal I had the week prior—twelve cows and the farmhand who had foolishly attempted to drive me away. I recalled my hoard and every piece of glittering treasure it contained, and I even thought upon my first hoard—a tiny handful of gems I had secreted away from my father and the rest of my hatch mates when I was but a wyrmling. This led me to dwell on my adolescence for the first time in centuries.
The tale of my birth is a unique one, and one I don’t speak of often. When I mentioned in a previous storytime that I don’t technically have a draconic ‘type’, that was only mostly true. I am, myself, not a blue, a copper, a crystal, or any classification of dragon. I am a mixture—and an exceedingly rare one at that! My father was a vile and powerful green dragon, while my mother was a bleeding-hearted brass dragon. Normally these two shades of dragon meet only in violent clashes, for one knows his place in the hierarchy of beings—at the top—while the other cares far too much for lesser beings and vehemently opposes what they call the ‘disastrous and morally apprehensible behaviors of chromatic dragons’, but my parents made it work—at least for a time.
That story is far too long to recount here, but the important part is that when my parents dissolved their alliance, my mother took my siblings that had brass scales, while my father took the greens. I, being their only offspring with both a green and brass hue, was a great point of contention for them. Both claimed me, and a vicious battle over which dragon would get ‘the special one’ resulted. After much fire and poison being bellowed forth from the fight, my father ended up being the victor. Thus, I was thankfully raised by the much stronger parent, who brought me up to be the powerful being you see today.
My mother’s contribution to my existence is not without merit, though, and I will concede that I can rest much of my survival on the gifts her brass heritage bestowed upon me. As I sat in that dismal vault, thinking on what little I remembered of my mother, I recalled the one power she possessed that was stronger than my father’s—an advancement in the ability to shapeshift. Though all true dragons were capable of morphing our physical forms, metallics wore their second skins like their first, often disguising themselves in colonies of humans and elves for years without bothering to shift back. Why they were so comfortable debasing themselves like this and cavorting around with inferior beings was perplexing to me, but that was unimportant at the moment.
The realization hit me like the smell of my father’s poisonous breath. Since I had been able to hear the dwarven king’s voice through the door, then maybe the vault was not completely sealed down to a minuscule level. I quickly began picking through the bones around me, gathering the large skulls and setting them out. I counted two blues, one green, three blacks, and two whites—all chromatic dragons! Sure, they probably got in here in a similar fashion to me, but their inability to become anything smaller than a dwarf would have surely prevented their escape! I myself had never become anything smaller than a goblin, and I knew the feeling would soon be one I would not want to repeat, but I had to try. I first shifted back to my dwarven form and peered under the vault door. I couldn’t see anything yet, but there WAS a gap! Excellent! Though, the gap was thinner than a halfling’s toenail—I’d have to become much smaller.
I compressed my form into the smallest goblin I could muster—nearly the size of a grubby gob child, but still, it was not enough. The feeling already made me want to scream in frustration. I nearly found myself feeling sorry for all the creatures I had slain by landing on them, but I resisted the temptation of empathy. Right now, all I needed to focus on was making myself smaller! In the darkness, I could just barely make out the slightest sliver of light nearly five feet ahead. I shrank into a cat. I suddenly had the terrible urge to bathe myself with my own tongue, but again, not the time! I could lick my own neck awkwardly later! Smaller! I became a mouse. The feeling was excruciating. Not painful, you see, but unbearably uncomfortable—like how I imagine a sausage feels when it’s being made. I could stick my tiny mouse nose under the door, but I couldn’t quite fit. Already I was so small, but I had to become smaller. But what form could I take? A spider? Maybe, but I wouldn’t want to risk someone on the other side smushing me out of fear. A worm? That would work, but they were far too slow. I was already having trouble maintaining my mousy form, and I certainly wouldn’t want to expand back into my larger form while underneath it. Just in case. On top of that, I could already hear the bards singing “The Wyrm That Became a Worm” incessantly if this story ever got out.
What tiny creature could pass under the door, but had the capacity to move quickly? What insect could I use against these beard-growing, flea-ridden… AH! A Flea! The tiniest of creatures that I have ever had the displeasure of meeting. Now THAT would work! I took a deep, tiny breath, steadied my diminutive body for the next move, and began to shrink. Further and further down I went, though the process was becoming increasingly slower, like a catapult brought to its absolute maximum tension. Every magical fiber of my being wanted to shed this horribly false facade, to undo this tragic compression, but like an expert archer bending a longbow, waiting for just the right moment, I kept my focus and continued shrinking.
For just a second, the miniature world struck me as an amazing place. Tiny, imperceptible beings crawled over the stone floor, none of which I recognized. They were all incredibly unfamiliar in appearance, and if I wasn’t in a horrible amount of discomfort, I would have marveled at their miniature lives, and possibly eaten a few of them just to see what microscopic prey tasted like, but once again, I had no time! I felt like a keg of blast powder thrown into a furnace—any second, I could explode back into my full gigantic form. I leaped as hard as I could under the gap in the door, hopping along with reckless abandon. I was under the vault door. I could see the light on the other side, and at that, I kept my focus. Closer I became, hopping and leaping like a rabbit pursued by a wolf. The light grew brighter and clearer, until finally… I was out!
I barely made it from under the door when my magical shapeshifting began to fail me. If you had looked at the floor in front of the door at that moment, you would have seen a puny black dot attached to one full-sized dragon claw. Not now, my dragon self! I thought as I compressed it back down. Well, I can now at least expand into a mouse again. And with a tiny *pop* suddenly, there was a little green and brass mouse in the hall before the door. In that moment, I could have reverted to my draconic form and begun my assault on the stronghold, but the thought occurred to me that I had never shifted into a form quite like this before, and I had no idea what kind of toll it would take on my strength. What if I had weakened myself greatly in this process? I would still be a formidable match to a bunch of pathetic dwarves, but the thought of their dragonsbane arsenal also loomed heavily on my mind.
I decided to continue in my mousy form until I could at least find a martially advantageous position within the hold, if nothing else. I was NOT retreating, you see, just tactically moving myself out of harm’s way. I scrambled up a set of stone stairs, one at a time, each one feeling like a miniature cliff I had to ascend, but eventually, after a long time, I reached the main level. In order to continue back to the main gate, I would once again have to pass through the war room. As I drew closer, even at this late hour, I could hear the smithing, sharpening, and planning going on inside. Quiet as a… well… a dragon polymorphed into a mouse, I crept inside the hectic room.
Dwarves were still smithing and crafting, but in the middle of the room, there was a group surrounding a large stone table. As I sneaked ever closer, I could hear their beardy plans…
“…and right now, it’s down thar, rottin’ in the trap!” one dwarf said, followed by a cacophony of stout laughter. I could see they were gathered around a large parchment of sorts, with many of them pointing to it with quizzical expressions.
“Eh… maybe it could be here?” one said, pointing at a spot on the parchment.
“Aye. But it looked like a green. Ye be sure they live in forests, methinks. The white we got last summer laired up in the peaks. Bloody cold place. Took nearly a day for us to chip the treasure out of the ice. This one’ll be quicker, for sure. An’ since they don’t be livin’ near each other’s lairs, we just gotta look where we ain’t been yet.”
I stopped in my little tracks. Were they talking about MY lair? MY HOARD? Is that how they had become so prosperous?! They killed a dragon, found its lair, then stole what they could drag back to their wretched hole in the earth!
My fury got the better of me for just a moment, and suddenly, in the war room, a tiny green and brass-colored mouse *popped* into a mostly green cat. I braced myself for discovery, expecting a dragonsbane-forged axe to take off my feline head, but to my relief, the dwarves didn’t quite notice that the cat was out of the bag—or… vault. At least for the moment. However, their disrespectful conversation was interrupted by the bright red glowing of a large crystal on the table. In unison, all the dwarves quickly grabbed their axes and hammers and stood at attention as one grey-bearded dwarf, seemingly the general, addressed them.
“Dwarves! Ye have yerselves another dragon in yer presence! The Drakestone is glowing—ye know what that means!” he bellowed.
“Eh… sir, ain’t it just the green that’s down in the vault?” one young soldier asked
“Can’t be, son,” he responded. “That vault’s warded ‘gainst the stone’s scryin’. Only when one of ‘em is outside it does this thing glow, and by Moradin’s beard it be glowin’ BRIGHT! Must be close! Maybe the green had a mate. Let’s be gettin’ ready then! The king’s already asleep, so let’s see if we can take the next one down by ourselves. What say ye, men?”
With an army of well-armed dwarves surrounding one tiny dragon-cat, this must surely have been the end for dear ol’ Grendel! How would I make it out of this room? How could I survive? What the heck is a Drakestone? I have no more time to answer such questions this week, but next time I shall.
I’m sorry I’m placing you on the cliff once again, but this tale has grown too long, and Geldrin needs to run to get more parchment. Next time I’ll have him bring two sheets, but for now, I’ll have to leave you hanging by your tiny, unclawed hands! Until next time!