Sunday, 6 August 2017

Epilogue.35: The Lizardfolk United

Vunal di Gemuth, Q’barra
Barrakas 4, 997 YK

No dice rolls from here on; the epilogue is just me being a fan of the characters and explaining what they have achieved.

Anaya and Commander Tassis walked together through the camp in the Vale of Eberron. A great many lizardfolk tribes had chosen to come to this latest council, and the encampment was even larger than the last time Anaya had been here. All around them they passed campfires with lizardfolk, each grouping marked as its own tribe by different colourings and patterns of their scales.

Commander Tassis and the small contingent of Templars sent from Newthrone had arrived two days ago, and they had been eager to talk to Anaya as soon as she arrived.

“How can we spread the word of the Silver Flame to Newthrone if Templars are seen to openly side with the King’s enemies?” said Tassis. “We must work to make amends with the King and establish a presence for the Church here.”

“The Silver Flame has more worshippers here than in any nation east of Thronehold,” said Anaya. She was only half listening to the Commander and frequently turned her head away as they talked. She acknowledged a group of Emerald Water lizardfolk with a nod, and in return they raised and shook their spears, cheering “Gul siksta!

“Yes, but—these creatures have their own faith, and do not acknowledge the Church at all. The Church needs worshippers to spread the light amongst the nations of Khorvaire. These creatures—”

“The Flame’s purpose is to keep the evil of the Overlords at bay, Commander. The lizardfolk do that here, just as we do so in Flamekeep.” They were nearly at the river bank now, where a raft waited to carry them across to the meeting of chieftains.

Offer Aid from an Enemy, or Opposition from an Ally: Eberron has its racism too.

“Spreading the word of the Flame to these creatures is noble, I grant you, but angering the King greatly harms our own interests here. We were arrested, you know, when we arrived in Newthrone! The indignity! It took days to persuade the King that we had no affiliation to the lizardfolk, and that you had acted beyond your orders in associating with these savages.”

Anaya stopped, turning to face the Commander just in time to see Esthana’s mailed gauntlet connect with his helmet. The Commander was sent sprawling on the ground; his assistants, behind Esthana, looked on in shock. Tassis was too surprised to respond for several seconds.

“Choose your words carefully, Commander,” said Esthana, putting her hand to her sword hilt.

“This is an outrage!” Tassis spluttered, climbing back to his feet. “You are Templars under my command. This insubordination amongst sworn followers of the Flame is unacceptable!”

“I answer to the Flame, not to you, Commander,” said Anaya. “I am sure we will discuss this matter before the Keeper in time. For now, the jungle here will be protected by the lizardfolk.” Turning her back on him, she walked onto the jetty, and stepped onto the waiting raft; Esthana followed her.

As the lizardfolk handling the raft cast off, Esthana said, “There will be a lot of questions when we get back to Flamekeep.”

“The Keeper will agree with our decision.” Anaya looked forwards, towards the stone arena on the island ahead. “The Church considers itself the representative of the Flame in this world, but as we have seen the Flame has many followers that make their own way. The lizardfolk are the Flame’s chosen here.”

The ancient circle of stone was little changed since they had last been here. But the difference in those gathered was immediately apparent. As well as the chieftains and wise ones of the gul siksta tribes, there were some Blackscales here, and even a few of the Poison Dust lizardfolk chieftains had come. Rhashaak had not persuaded every tribe to come, but most had acknowledged him as their overlord for tens of thousands of years and were willing to come at his summons.

The enmity between the different tribal groups was evinced by the way that the different groups clustered in different parts of the arena. The hostility that had separated the groups would not be easily overcome. But, for only a month of work, it was a remarkable beginning.

Vaalyun and Rhashaak were already standing inside the circle of stone benches, and Anaya and Esthana joined them. Shapeshifted as he was, Rhashaak appeared as a dark-skinned elf of advanced age, wearing a black cloak embroidered with prophecy marks. His skin was covered in winding silver marks—the scars left by Anaya’s spell. He greeted them solemnly, saying “Alma, mahtari,” and gave them a slight bow.

“Alma, yaara,” replied Esthana, returning the bow stiffly. Anaya, who did not speak Elven, simply nodded and turned to look around at the assembled crowd.

Silence fell as Derkrkaza stepped forward into the circle. As they began to speak, Vaalyun translated for the benefit of Anaya and Esthana.

“I call to order this gathering of the chieftains of the silver fire tribes. Our ancient alliance stands strong as ever in this place. This gathering is historic; not for eighty thousand years have the Blackscale tribes attended our gatherings. We have admitted them at the request of our honoured friend, Anaya of the Silver Fire Templars. As the Blackscales and other withdrawn tribes are the purpose of our gathering, I immediately call on their acknowledged chief of chiefs, Rhashaak, to speak and state their purpose here.”

Derkrkaza returned to the circle, taking their place amongst the other chieftains and elders of the lizardfolk, as Rhashaak walked to the centre of the arena. As he walked he seemed to grow taller, and his cloak billowed out, and sweeping wide to cover a great area. Too quickly for the watching crowd to see how it happened, he had shifted back to his true form, and the great black dragon Rhashaak settled himself in the centre of the arena. Dirt and stones crunched under his huge clawed feet, and leaves fluttered in the gust of air as he folded his wings.

Rhashaak spoke in Draconic to the gathering and, once again, Vaalyun translated for them.

Introduce an Element from Ages Past

“When your ancestors and I last talked in this place, nearly eighty thousand years ago, the lizardfolk were one race united with a common cause. After the couatl drove Masvirik from the surface, sealing the Overlord deep beneath this land in the depths of Khyber, many more gave their lives to be joined to the silver fire, dispersed in the dragonshards that lie throughout this jungle. We knew that every effort must be made to see that their sacrifice was not in vain. So my kind granted this land in perpetuity to you, our brethren, and gave to you the sacred trust of protecting this holy land against any that might seek to take it from you. While the jungle lies under your protection, the spirits of the couatl live on and keep the evil that lies beneath at bay.

“As an expert on the Prophecy that guides the course of Eberron, I was sent here to observe the passage of the ages and see that the prison of Masvirik was guarded against all who might seek to weaken the prison and unleash the demons of Khyber once again upon the surface world. Your ancestors built for me the great fortress of Haka’torvhak, and there I guarded the passage down to the Overlord’s prison.

“But, driven by the need to understand the danger that we watched, I took a step beyond my role of guardian. Unable to decipher the prophecy, I turned to one source of knowledge that had never been tried: I touched the Flame and spoke directly to the Overlord itself. I thought that I, wise as I was, could talk to the creature bound in the Flame without falling under its sway. But Masvirik is subtle and ever strikes from the darkness, the danger unseen; I could feel the Overlord’s presence but could not sense his thoughts, so I pushed further, exposing myself to it. When it struck, I was overwhelmed by a presence more powerful than I could ever have comprehended. The Overlord’s strength of purpose is far beyond that of any mortal creature. My mind was tainted, and the Overlord bent me to its will.

“The tribes of the Blackscales, which had for thousands of years looked up to me as a greater manifestation of themselves, fell under my sway. The Overlord, accustomed to dominating all who served it, used me, in turn, to bring the Blackscales under its influence, turning them within a few generations against the great alliance of lizardfolk that they had once been part of. We seized control of the jungle around Haka’torvhak, asserting dominion there for ourselves. For a long time the Blackscale remained unaware that Masvirik’s release was our true purpose; for a thousand years, I lied to them that it was just a necessary step in the protection of the heart of the jungle. Over time, at the Overlord’s direction, I revealed our true purpose to the leaders of the Blackscales and recruited their highest leaders to aid in working to free the most dangerous of evils beneath the jungle. Even after the dragons and couatl realised the betrayal and imprisoned me alongside my master, the Blackscales continued to acknowledge me as master and made every effort to free me.

As Rhashaak described the history of tens of thousands of years of work to weaken the bonds that bound the Overlord, and undermine the loyal lizardfolk that held to their original sworn purpose of protecting the jungle, Anaya found solace in the unshakeable power of the Flame, that had bound the Overlord and then its servant for over a hundred thousand years despite the efforts made to free them.. The assembled lizardfolk were affected in different ways; the expressions of some were marked by hatred of an ancient enemy confirming the worst that had been said about them in legends for thousands of years, but most listened attentively to the confession and there was at least no open anger.

Rhashaak reached the end of his tale. “The Blackscales had perfected the ritual that would release me from my bonds, and needed only one who was strong with the Flame to execute their purpose; when Lady Anaya came to Q’barra, they saw an opportunity and took her prisoner, aiming to bring her to Haka’torvhak to use her to free me—perhaps even to further weaken the prison of the Overlord itself. But instead these Templars—together with one of your own warriors—slew the leaders of the Blackscales. Lady Anaya, calling forth the cleansing power of the Flame, drove the Overlord’s evil taint from my mind, releasing me from the darkness into which I had been cast.

“I come to you humbled. Your long service, of a cause long forgotten to me, has saved the jungle from the greatest of evils. Our tribes ask to rejoin the silver fire alliance, and serve with you once more in the sacred trust that you have kept for so long.” With that, Rhashaak lowered his head, signalling that others might speak.

Anaya spoke next, with Derkrhaza translating for her, appealing to the lizardfolk to remind them of the many dangers facing the jungle and the importance of regaining control of Haka’torvhak and turning their attention to resisting the incursions of House Tharashk. After her, the leaders of the various tribes took it in turns to speak.

Anaya sat down with Esthana and Vaalyun on one of the stone benches. Vaalyun was no longer translating word for word but reported the gist of what each speaker said and any important points raised.

“Do you think the chieftains will re-admit the Blackscales, then?” asked Esthana.

“Probably not today,” said Anaya. “Thousands of years of hostility are not easily set aside. But that the Blackscales are even here to discuss it is already the most important thing to happen to the lizardfolk for fifty thousand years.”

“They would be wise to take their time, and see what the Blackscales do,” said Vaalyun. “Rhashaak is cleansed, but the Blackscales still have all the animosity of a tribal hostility that has lasted for a hundred generations. But they have always acknowledged Rhashaak as their leader, and they have followed him here. The presence of humans in Q’barra now is an external threat that might give them a common purpose. If Rhashaak stays in control, the Blackscales will rejoin the gul siksta in time.”

“I wish Nyseris had been here to see it,” said Anaya.

They fell quiet for a time, listening to the discussion as Vaalyun quietly translated the important parts. Commander Tassis joined them after a while, and listened likewise, though he had little interest in the proceedings and grew frustrated when Vaalyun made him wait until the meeting was almost done before relaying his request to speak to the assembly. By that time, Rhashaak and many of the chieftains left the arena, and the mediation of the Church from Flamekeep received only a polite but noncommittal reply.

Once the gathering broke up, Anaya, Esthana and Vaalyun walked together back through the lizardfolk encampment. As Anaya had guessed, the Blackscales were not immediately welcomed back into the alliance, but their help had been granted in the efforts to keep Tharashk out of the jungle, and that was a promising start.

As they walked back past the many campfires, they passed a group of lizardfolk seated around a campfire with grey and white skin, mottled with flecks of blue. Esthana put a hand on Anaya’s shoulder to stop her, and after a moment the cleric realised what had caught her friend’s attention. They approached the seated group; the lizardfolk noticed their approach, standing and bowing their heads to Anaya.

“You are of the Eternal Fire tribe, are you not?” asked Anaya.

One of the lizardfolk replied, in very accented common. “We are. We welcome you, Anaya of the s–Silver Fire, to our fire. I am Uzaoss, an elder of the tribe.” Uzaoss was tall, with an upright bearing and skin marked with thin lines of silver that marked them out from their tribesfolk.

“Thank you.” Anaya looked down for a moment, then continued. “We fought alongside one of your tribe, a ranger called Nyseris.”

“Yes, Nyseris, yes. That one was always–s a wanderer; it is long since they last returned to their home. Truly they fought with you?”

“Yes. I am sorry, but they died in our travels down in Khyber. They died to protect me so that we might complete our mission.”

“We mourn to hear of their loss. If they fought with you, then they died an honourable death.”

Esthana stepped forward. “I do not know if it is customary amongst your people, but I brought back Nyseris’ spear—or what remained of it. In battle they enchanted it with the silver fire; the weapon is blessed.”

Uzaoss took the weapon. “We are honoured, followers of the Silver Fire. Will you join us?”

Anaya accepted the invitation, and they all sat down at the campfire. Little was said; all the lizardfolk were too in awe of Anaya to say much to her and, in any case, only Uzaoss spoke common amongst the lizardfolk. Dusk came, and

After a time, Esthana spoke. “I spoke to some lizardfolk from one of the tribes settled near to Newthrone this morning. There is fighting in areas near the edge of the jungle in the last two weeks; House Tharashk is beginning to push into the jungle in force.” She sighed and looked over at Anaya. “I had hoped not to see war again, but I suppose there will be fighting here for at least many months. For years, perhaps, if Tharashk persists.”

“Perhaps,” said Vaalyun. “But we are not done yet, Templar. There is a momentum to events; it was with House Tharashk, as they built up their strength to assault the jungle, but now things are different.”

Esthana looked at Vaalyun. “They have shipped in ten thousand mercenaries by now, with more on the way, and supplies. It will surely take time to beat back their incursions.”

Give an opportunity that fits a class’ abilities

“You are used to fighting for a cause, against those that fight likewise. No nations fight here; House Tharashk’s only cause is money. They stood to profit greatly from the trade in dragonshards, but that was before an entire continent of lizardfolk united against the project under the command of an ancient dragon. Tharashk will put those mercenaries and supplies back on the next ship to Sharn if there is no profit in remaining here.”

“Tharashk have shown that they are willing to fight here; I doubt they will want to walk away without testing their mettle,” said Anaya.

“They will if they lose the backing of the Twelve. I travel to Sharn tomorrow; I have called in some favours and my House has called a meeting of the heads of the Twelve houses, to discuss the situation here in Q’barra. The enterprise can be cast in a much less appealing light now. I hope, Templars, that you have given me a strong enough hand that we can end this conflict without putting the lizardfolk’s new alliance to a long test.”

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