Saturday, September 16, 2017

OF GODS AND MEN
Chapter 41: Pleasing to the Eye

Adulatio sat in his golden throne, looking out in all directions at the isle that extended out from beneath the high hill on which his holy seat rested. 
Supple palm and fir trees shone green in the golden sunlight.  As his eyes passed over them, they came to clear, grass-laden fields where lambs, dragons, and everything in between, sat beside each other on perfect harmony.  And further still; the white sands of the coast that gave way to the most opulent blue waters the world of men would never see.
“For it is mine,” Adulatio said, in answer to his own thought.  “It is all mine.”
The old god closed his eyes, reveling in this land: his land.  The power emanated from him, and the island responded.  The trees bent low, as if in bow, toward the seat on the high hill.  The animals in the fields sent up their voices in what should have been a cacophony, but was instead a beautiful harmony of unified praise.  The water at the edge of the isle retreated from the shoreline and waves rose high; standing to the attention of its lord and master, and giving him all the deference due him.
For Adulatio demanded worship, and his sanctuary would abide.
“I too, have come to worship at the altar of the elder god Adulatio,” a humble voice said.  “Yet, what place is there for me in all this splendor?”
“There is always a place to bow in my temple,” the elder god replied, opening his eyes to the supplicant isle.
No one stood before him. 
“Yet only for those I can see,” the elder god clarified.
“Forgive me, elder,” the voice replied, “I am a younger god…only days old, and I seek the wisdom that an elder god may offer.  You are one of the eldest.”
“Where are you?” Adulatio asked pointedly.
“Hidden, lord,” the voice said deferentially.  “The form I have chosen would not be pleasing to you.  Thus, I would prefer to worship privately.”
“Then do so in your own sanctuary, or on the soil and stone that make up the natural Arden.  This Arden…” Adulatio paused to take in the splendor of the island, “…is mine.  My own piece of it, that I formed and shaped out of the dust.  And on my Arden, I would see all who worship me.”
“Very well, lord,” the voice relented.  “I will show myself to you.  But if you wish to see me, then you must come to the very edge of your Arden.  For that is where I am…that is where I deserve to be.”
“Why do you say this?” Adulatio asked.
“My shape is too displeasing, lord.  I do not deserve to set foot on your glorious paradise,” the voice answered.
“Change it then.”
“I cannot,” the voice admitted, “I do not know how.”
“Yet you wish me to come to you?  Name conditions?  On my own land?” Adulatio accused?
“Nay lord, I make this provision in hopes that you will refuse it,” the mysterious voice clarified, “I would be more than content to learn from you without laying eyes on you, and you have more important things to do, to be sure, than laying eyes on me.  Yet if you did deign to come to me…there would be no greater honor I could ever imagine, for the rest of my days.”
Adulatio raised a hand to his mouth in consideration.  This could be a trick: a trap.  Had he his full power, he would be able to reach out with it and learn all he wanted to about this strange visitor.  Yet his power had been poured into this land, and just as it relied on him to maintain it with the divine energies, he relied on it to nourish him with its absolute devotion.  The fool Malthus made a sword as a totem of his power, but Adulatio did what gods were supposed to do; he made a living, breathing world.
But Malthus was gone, and his power scattered.  A dying mortal girl and a bitter half-breed heir bore the GodKing of Maltahnon’s legacy; and all fear of that incredible power being made whole again was laid to rest. 
Adulatio had done well in aiding the master’s plan to keep Malthus’s power crippled, and surely, he had his mater’s protection. 
Yet he did not need it now.  There was no one left, save the master, to challenge the eldest of the elder gods, and that had given Adulatio a sense of elated satisfaction the likes of which he had never known in all of his long life. 
The elder god stood and began walking.  In an instant, he was down off the hill and in the midst of the thick, lush forest of palm and fir trees.  Their bent trunks pivoted around as Adulatio passed by, so that their boughs and leaves always faced their maker in supplication. 
Overhead, the sun raced across the sky to keep up with Adulatio, always seeking to keep him bathed in its warm rays and slightly aglow in its radiant light. 
A moment later, Adulatio was in the open fields.  The lions led the other animals in walking beside their master.  Adulatio put each of his hands on the manes of the lions closest to him, and the large beasts purred with an innocent delight.  The rest of the animals followed by order of size, so that two trains flanked the elder god as a majestic escort.
In the blink of an eye, Adulatio was upon the white shores of the coast that bordered his island.  The waves beyond stood tall, now resembling a circular wall that shielded the elder god and his land from the outside.  It was a majestic sight; water so clear he could see through it, yet so firm and steadfast that nothing could pass through it.
Yet still, even standing in the place he had been told to go, Adulatio saw no sign of the mysterious speaker who’s form would mar the island with its ugliness.
“I am come,” the deity proclaimed. 
“Oh great god,” the voice bemoaned, “you should not have.”
“You will not presume to tell me, Adulatio, what I should and should not do,” the elder god firmly instructed.  “I was feeling generous, young one.  Come, let us cure your deformedness.”
Some moments passed, only the pleasing sights and sounds of Adulatio’s Arden petitioning him for his attention.  The foremost god stood on the shore, looking to and through the ocean wall that barricaded him.  He refocused a sliver of his power from the island to see, in his mind’s eye, the shoreline all the way around.  Still, he could not spot this stranger.
“Ugh,” he breathed out, annoyed.  “I grow tired of this.  I offer my help one final time.  Take it or go.  Now…show yourself.”
“As you wish.”
 

Saturday, September 2, 2017

LEAVETAKING
The Conclusion of a D&D Character's Backstory
 
            The moon hung high as Wigbrand descended from his family den at the top of the dragon’s mount.  He climbed and hiked his way down to the base of the mountain road.  If there was any meat to be found, it would be at there. 
            It was a desolate scene.  Fifty feet from the road’s end – or beginning, for the few brave souls who had dared climb the mountain – sparse fir trees sat hodgepodge on grassless earth, growing fuller and more numerous the further from the base of the road they dwelt; as if the forest itself feared to get too close to the path that led to the dragons’ den.
            Wigbrand moved as stealthily as a seven-foot tall, three hundred pound dragonborn could; which is to say, not stealthily at all.  His leather jerkin scraped loudly against his scales, and each soft step he tried only elongated the sounds of gravel crunching underfoot. 
            The dragonborn came to one of the few healthier firs in the outer wood and settled behind it.  “Wigbrand…” he whispered out loud, “…you are certainly no rogue.”
            His sharp ears suddenly picked up the sounds of a horse’s hooves falling rhythmically, with the light squeaks of turning wheels following behind.  Reflexively, Wigbrand looked out from behind the tree.  “A traveler so soon,” he thought, “I thought I would have to wait until morning.  Perhaps this will be my lucky night.”
            As he waited for the faraway cart to come into view, Wigbrand’s mind drifted.  He retreated to the memory of his mother in their den, and what she had just told him.  “You are mine…” he remembered; selectively choosing to ignore both the lead-up to, and the resolution of, that particular conversation.  He smiled at the isolated thought, and as he did, a strange sensation came over him: warmth.  It was not an emotional reverberation, stemming from his confined joy, but an actual physical sensation that spread throughout his body, under his scales.
            He did not have time to dwell on this new feeling, for as it spread, the wagon he heard traveling through the sparse wood came into view.  It emerged from the fuller forest like a tired bear cub, trudging along a lonely road at a weighted pace.  It was a simple cart; open in the back and loaded with filled sacks.  A single horse pulled it, and steering from the box seat was a lone driver whose face was hooded and hid from view.
            “No sense in taking this prey,” Wigbrand thought.  “A tired horse and a human wouldn’t make for good sport.”
            He turned from the lonely cart, when something else caught his ear: the sounds of heavy breathing.  The heat suddenly flooded him again, running hotter than it had a moment ago.  Wigbrand sniffed the air, taking in a new scent that he hadn’t picked up before.  It was different than the scent of the cart: fouler.  It smelled like sweat and blood and filth.  He turned back to find the bearers of this newfound stench.
            A dozen men had appeared from out of the shadows, and they were closing in on the solitary wagon.  One of them, the biggest one, held up a hand to the driver signaling a halt.  The cart obliged and came to a restless stop.  Three of the twelve ran up behind the rickshaw and jumped into the open wagon.  They quickly began opening the sacks and taking what they found.
            The leader signaled again, and the grisliest human Wigbrand had ever seen emerged from the remaining group of brigands.  The ugly man bore eyes that were too close together.  He had a pig nose and only three teeth, with shoulders that rested at a perpetual shrug.  The dragonborn had seen the like of him reflected in his own kind…the result of inbreeding within the clans: an attempt to keep the bloodlines pure.
            The very-possibly-inbred man climbed the mounting step of the cart with some difficulty.  With more force than he needed, he pulled the lone driver from the box seat onto the barren earth.  The leader gave a cock of the head, and the almost-assuredly-inbred one grabbed the hood the driver wore, and fiercely pulled it back.  A collective gasp went up from the group.
            “Oh ho, look’a’this boys,” the brigand captain shouted in devious glee.
            The woman that now stood before the men looked back on them with composed eyes.  Her demeanor was small and unimposing, like a slender sapling.  Yet her long ears affirmed her true ancestry: she was an elf. 
            “What’s an elf lady doing here?” Wigbrand wondered aloud to himself.
            “Wha’s an elf lady doin here?” the crazy-undeniably-inbred one repeated in a high pitch; a clear sign of inbreeding, Wigbrand remembered.
            “Don’ matter, do it Lawrence?” the leader asked.  “She’s here now, and it’s been a mighty long time since we had us any…comp’ny.”
            “Missed me that comp’ny,” Lawrence replied.
            “Wha’d’ya say boys?” the leader rallied.  “Y’all in the mood for some…com’ny?”
            The men all cheered.  The absolutely-positively-inbred Lawrence, Wigbrand could see and smell, pissed his pants.
            “Alrigh Gents!” the leader called, “Signal’s given.  Le’s comp’ny.”
            Slowly, the lecherous brigands began closing in on their prey.  The elf maid did not move, nor did she look at all frightened.  She stood there, calm as before, placidly observing the heavily breathing beasts that inched closer and closer.
            Instinctively, Wigbrand stood out from behind his tree.  The brigands were all facing their quarry, and so none of them saw the giant creature that had just appeared behind them.  And if the elf maid saw him, she did not acknowledge it. 
But Wigbrand did not spare a thought to who did or did not see him.   He was hot: smoldering with an inborn desire he had never known before.  Wisps of steam escaped from under some of his looser scales, and his eyes narrowed with wrathful intensity.  Someone was in danger, and that meant he was compelled to do one thing: protect.
The dragonborn raised his head skyward, and without a second thought, he let out a mighty roar.  The earth shook with the echoes of his anger, and some of the less sure-footed brigands fell over in their clumsy pursuit of unwilling company.  The ones who had not fallen turned back to him now, fear filling their eyes.  Wigbrand had their attention, but he needed to do more to shatter their wanton daring.
Wigbrand looked them all dead in the eye, taking the time to go from man to man.  His eyes settled on the leader’s own fearful visage.  The heat surged through him.  He opened his mouth and roared again, only this time, a cone of fire erupted, ripping through the chill night air.  It extended fifteen feet before him, and would have caught the brigand leader in the face had the man not turned and fled before the dragonborn’s roar was heard.  In solidarity, the other men followed their captain, dropping whatever they had taken from the cart and leaving the Elf maid untouched.
Wigbrand closed his mouth, silencing his roar and snuffing out his combustive breath.  He looked on, after the men as they ran desperately into the dark protection of the fuller wood.  Once they had all disappeared, realization dawned on him.  He stood rooted; holding still even as his mind was awash with countless questions; what had he just done?  How could he have done it?  What did this mean for him…moving forward?
He did not see her move, though his eyes were open.  The Elf woman stood before him as suddenly as if she had appeared out of thin air.  Once before him, she commanded Wigbrand’s attention.  She bore the youthful countenance of the rest of her kind, but her eyes belied an ancient soul.
“Hail friend,” she said, her voice lilting airily as she spoke.  “You have my thanks.”
“You…yes…of course,” Wigbrand struggled to offer.  Her voice had broken the spell of her eyes, and his mind was now free to fall prey to his own uncertainty.
“Is something the matter?” she asked without really asking.
“No,” Wigbrand quickly offered.  “Actually…I’ve never done that before.  Breathe fire, I mean.  I didn’t know I could.”
“You are dragonborn,” the elf said.  “It seems a natural talent.”
“Maybe,” Wigbrand placated, still trying to piece it all together in his mind.  “But I’ve never done it.”
“I’m glad you did it tonight,” she said, resting a hand on his forearm.  “You saved me from the ‘company’ of those men, and I am very grateful.  I owe you a reward.  We Elves are obliged to repay our debts.”
“That’s alright,” Wigbrand said.  “Seeing you in trouble…stirred something in me.  I couldn’t stand by.” He shook his head, trying to loosen the grip all of his questions had over him.  He came here for meat…for his mother.  There was still work to be done.
Wigbrand looked off, in the direction the brigands had run.  He sniffed the air and he smiled.  He still had their scent.  “If you’ll excuse me, I’ve got hunting to do.”  He let his arm fall, breaking their touch, and began walking in the direction of his prey.
“For your mother?”
Wigbrand stopped.  He turned back to the Elf who seemed to show herself to him, in full, for the first time.  She was not the frail, fragile creature he had stepped in to save before.  Now, she radiated with an invisible power that made the air surrounding the pair of them hum.  “How did you know?” the dragonborn finally asked.
“I know all about you, Wigbrand Middleborn,” she said.  “And I did not chance upon this road.  I came for you…to offer you a path.”
“What path?”
“A long one.  Hard.  Strewn with great peril.  But one that can teach you, and help you to grow into something…different.”
“Different from what?” Wigbrand asked, his voice sounding to him as though it were a hundred miles away. 
“From your brother, your sister…” the Elf instructed.  “…from your father.  Who knows?  At the end of it, you may find you have more to offer than mere hunting.”
“But my mother needs me,” Wigbrand half-heartedly protested.
“Does she?” the Elf asked incisively.  “Or do you need her?”
Wigbrand kept his eyes on the Elf’s, weighing her words.  “What must I do?” he felt compelled to ask.
“The first step is both the simplest and the hardest,” she told him.  “Leave here…now…and follow me.”
Her voice was like the sweetest melody he had ever heard; one that was fading and that he wanted desperately to chase into the dark so that it would sound in his ears for all time.  “I can’t leave,” he said, pushing aside the fancy and taking hold of the practical, “I don’t even know your name.”
“My name is Elaria Feywing,” she proclaimed.  “And I offer you this chance only once.  After today, I shall never again walk the dragon’s mount in the waking world.” 
Elaria held out a hand to the dragonborn.  “Now…will you follow me?”
Wigbrand felt something familiar under his scales: the warmth from before, when he thought she was in danger.  Only, she wasn’t in danger now.
But there was danger in the air, that much Wigbrand knew for certain: the danger of going with her: the danger of staying behind: the danger of his mother’s neglect: the danger of his own disappointment in himself.  Danger surrounded him and threatened to swallow him whole.  He was lost in the middle of the sea with waves on all sides, threatening to crash in.  There was no way out…no way on…save one.
Elaria held out a hand to the dragonborn, and Wigbrand grabbed hold.  

Saturday, August 19, 2017

WITHHOLDING
A D&D Character's Backstory

             
             It was another grey day on the mountain pass.  They were all grey days on the dragon’s mount.  On either side of a gravel road were haphazard boulders bordering it as far as the eye could see.  Behind the overlarge stones were steep, cliff faces that stretched high up, beyond the very clouds. 
            Wigbrand sat alone, behind one of the largest boulders he could find.  He was not terribly afraid of being seen.  Very few souls dared travel by the mountain pass for fear of the dangers believed to haunt the place.  One of those mythical dangers was Wigbrand himself.  He was a dragonbron: half man, half dragon standing seven feet tall and adorned in golden scales.  Rumors of his kind, and worse, infesting the mountain had terrified humans for centuries.  Though if any of them could see Wigbrand now, perhaps they would have taken a moment to consider his postulate position, before fleeing in terror.
            “Great Bahamut…” Wigbrand prayed aloud, facing up to the sky.  His arms were extended over his head with palms upturned.  Resting on them was a small, pink filet of meat.  “On this Yuletide, I pray that she finds this pleasing.  Please…please let this be enough.”

           
            Wigbrand stood as straight up as he could.  Not that it mattered, for to either side of him stood two taller dragonborn.  To his left, at close to ten feet tall with a rusted reddish-gold coat, a muscular build and a haughty air was his older brother, Wigsbane.  To his right, standing only eight feet high with a golden sheen to her scales, was Wigraine, his younger sister.      
Inside his ancestral home: a dragon’s den the size of a gladiatorial arena: Wigbrand posed before a massive, roaring fire.  To anyone else, this cave would have been menacing.  Juts of stone protruded out from the stone walls.  All manner of bones littered the ground: femurs, tibias, skulls, and others so burned and bent they were unrecognizable. 
And beside those bones were the remnants of the warfare those men and women: humans, dwarves, elves and gnomes: had carried with them into the cavern.  There were iron hooks, bronze spears and steel swords strewn about, rusting; the foolish relics of would-be heroes who had quested so far to claim the glory of killing the great, golden dragon that dwelt in this cave.
On the other side of the fire, opposite Wigbrand, that dragon now sat on her golden haunches.  She was a glorious, and terrible creature, looming large at forty feet high and spanning almost the width of the room.  Her golden scales were smoking with the boiling heat of the blood flowing in her veins.  Yet of all the fearsome features to her, it was her eyes that proved the most menacing: lavender irises shone so clear that the mid-size giants of the south country could make out their full reflections in them, and her pupils: an inky black darker than pitch: were so piercing that they compelled their subject to expunge the darkest of secrets.
“Happy Yuletide children,” the dragon mother’s voice boomed with a steely femininity. 
            “May you live to see a thousand more, mother,” Wigsbane declared with great bravado.
“May our clan elders be cured of their blindness in refusing you a seat on the High Council,” Wigraine intoned with great solemnity.
“May the love of your children..”
“Now it is time for gifts,” the dragon mother asserted.  “Finally, all my children have come of age.  From my eldest son…” she nodded her approval of Wigsbane, who bowed his head back to her in gracious acknowledgement.  “…to my youngest daughter,” she showered Wigraine with her doting eyes and a warm smile.  The youngest dragonborn placed hand to heart in gratitude for a mother’s love.
Wigbrand stood on the tips of his pedal talons, trying to gain some height betwixt his taller brother and sister.  He offered his mother an eager smile, hoping to catch her eye.
“Wigsbaine and Wigraine,” the dragon mother boomed, regaining her full height without so much as a glance at Wigbrand, “you have my permission to present your gifts.”
Wigsbane stepped forward, lifting the heavy spear he held, presenting it to his mother with upturned hands.  “Mother, today I leave you to start my own journey out in the wide world.  I offer you my strength.  I swear that I shall become the greatest warrior this world has ever known.  I will conquer creatures of all races, and they will worship you as their goddess.  This is my gift.  Is it pleasing to you?”
“It is,” the dragon mother affirmed, bowing her head to her eldest son.
            A mighty roar echoed throughout the cavern.  Wigbrand jumped in his spot, surprised by his brother’s full-voiced exhibition of so much raw emotion.  In his life, he had never known Wigsbane to show so much pride.  Yet this roar proved more genuine than any show of bravado his brother had ever performed before. 
            “Wigraine, step forth,” the dragon mother said as the last reverberations of Wigsbane’s roar died down.
The lithe and lovely Wigraine stepped forward.  She held a simple wooden staff; at the top of which was set the most beautiful opal Wigbrand had ever seen.  The jewel was alight with many different colors, shooting to and fro inside it.  Wigraine set the butt of the staff into the earth, and bent low her head.  A moment passed and the silence built.
Suddenly, the colored lights in the opal shone bright as a star, and the female dragonborn’s head shot up.  With her own lavender irises aglow, Wigraine proceeded to speak in a deep, stately voice that shook the room with every word.  “Mother, I offer my skill in the arcane arts.  I shall train with the ancients of our clan.  I will master the great magics that most of our people have long forgotten, and in time, I shall take control of the high council…where you shall be awarded a seat of honor from that moment on, until the end.  Is my gift pleasing to you?”
“It is,” the dragon mother affirmed again, offering her daughter a bow of the head.
Wigraine lifted her staff high into the air, and from the glowing opal came an explosion of light and color that filled the cavern.  The great roaring fire in the center of the room was transformed from red to blue to green, until Wigraine set her staff down gently, allowing it to resume its original hue.  Wigraine stepped back, retaking the line, as her irises faded back to their original lavender.
“Bravo my dear children,” the dragon mother enthused.  “You have pleased me greatly this day.  Now, it is time for my gifts to…”
“Excuse me mother,” Wigbrand timidly raised his hand.  “I haven’t given you my gift yet.”
“Wigbrand…” the dragon mother said with mild irritation, “…my little middle.  I had forgotten.  Yes dear, you may present your gift.”
Wigbrand nodded and stepped forward awkwardly.  He held up his other hand, opening his palm to reveal the small pink filet.
“What is it?” his mother asked.
“Gnome belly,” Wigbrand offered.  “Your favorite.  Is it…is it pleasing to you?”
The dragon mother leaned forward, eyeing the gift for what felt like a very long while.  Wigbrand began to rock slightly back and forth, and became so nervous that he actually broke a sweat on his brow.  Dragons weren’t able to sweat, but his half-human parentage had given him the ability…in moments of extreme duress. 
“It’s small,” the dragon mother finally declared.
“He was a lean gnome,” Wigbrand assured.  “Not a lot of fat on him.  Is it pleasing to you?”
“It’s small,” his mother repeated simply, backing away from him and rising back to her full height.
Wigbrand stepped back.  He looked up to either side of him at his brother and sister.  Neither one of them looked back, but he saw the small smirks that cracked their faces.
“Wigsbane and Wigraine,” the matriarch continued, “your gifts were pleasing.  Now it is time for my gifts to you.  Before you begin your journeys, I shall give you what I have promised to give since you were younglings: I will tell you who your fathers were, and where they may be found.”
“Thank you mother,” the oldest and youngest intoned at the same time.
“Wigsbane, your father is a mighty king,” the she-dragon explained.  “His kingdom was built off the blood exacted by his blade, and there is no better spearman to be found in all the world.  To a dragon, he is strong…to his own kind, he is invincible.  His kingdom lies five leagues to the north.”
Wigsbane took up his spear in both hands, gripping it tightly.  “Thank you mother.  Now my life as an adult begins.  I hope to see you again, one day.” 
Without another word, Wigsbane was running back to the cave entrance.  Echoes of his footfalls could be heard for a short time, but so fast was Wigbrand’s elder brother that they were not heard for long.
“Wigraine, your father is a great wizard,” the dragon mother continued.  “He spent his life searching out the best wizards in the land, learning from them, and then battling them to the death to prove his incredible skill.  The humans only speak of him in whispers now…he is more myth to them than man.  He will be difficult to find, but sharp eyes may spot his lonely tower in the very center of the great desert twenty leagues to the east.”
Wigraine’s lavender eyes sparked to life, glowing with greater intensity than they had before.  “I shall not fail you mother,” she proclaimed.  Then, in a puff of smoke, Wigraine was gone.
“Just us now, eh mother?” Wigbrand said with an overlarge smile.
“Wigbrand dear, why don’t you go find me some food,” his mother said dismissively.  “Something a bit larger than a speck of dust.”
“Of course mother, but…” Wigbrand held back, rocking back and forth as though teetering on the edge of a great height.  “…I haven’t yet received my Yuletide gift.”
“Your gift?” his mother repeated dangerously.  “Why should I give you a gift when yours was so…poorly chosen?  What is it you could possibly want?”
“Well, I was hoping to…that you would…” Wigbrand floundered as he met the scrutinizing and judgmental gaze of his mother.  For the first time this night, all of her attention was focused on him…and it was not at all what he hoped it would be.
“What, Wigbrand?” the mother dragon interrogated. 
“I was hoping that you would, uh….tell me also of….of my father,” Wigbrand stammered.
“Reeeaaaallllyyyy?” his mother asked, her tone suddenly changing from anger to a wicked playfulness.  She seemed to relish this.
            “Yes please,” Wigbrand pushed on.
            “Very well,” the great dragon said. 
            “Really?”
            “Yes Wigbrand.  I shall tell you about your father,” his mother said with a ghoulish gusto.  “But not because it will give you joy.  On the contrary, your father’s story has nothing to offer you…but disappointment.  Are you ready?”
            “Uh, never mind.  I’m suddenly wondering if I should get out hunting before it gets dar…”
            “No, no,” the dragon mother interrupted.  “You have made your choice, and there is no going back now.  Time to grow up, my little middle.”
            Wigbrand said nothing.  He only took a deep breath, and resolved to keep focused on his mother’s nose.  Looking her in the eyes – her gleaming, glowing, joyful eyes – was too much for him.
            “Your father…was a priest,” the dragon mother began.  “A holy man, dedicated only to two things: his god, and ridding the world of the evil he believed to be threatening that god.”
            Wigbrand cocked his head to one side, “well that sounds...good?”
            “I forget how much faith you put in Bahamut,” the sobering voice of the dragon echoed.  “Your father had faith too…more than faith, he had zeal.  His god bore another name…one I don’t remember now…and he entered my den shouting it, bearing a glowing cross.  ‘An enchanted weapon,’ he claimed.  ‘Made specifically to slay dragons.’ 
“He struck at me while I slept,” she continued, “plunging the sharpened end of the cross into the back of my head.  It pierced me, but the god that made his cross was nowhere near strong enough to challenge me.  The weapon barely pierced my skin.  I awoke with a start, flinging him off of me.  He held on to his weapon, but for naught.  He landed close, and in a flash I had him…my tail wrapped around him.  He cursed me, swore that his god would save him.  That his god would strike me down.  ‘No, no, no,’ I told him, ‘there is no god that can save you now.’“
            The glowing lavender eyes turned red.  “’Then He shall save me in the afterlife,’ the fool said.  ‘I shall be welcomed home, to an eternity of plenty, once you have killed me.’  ‘Kill you?’ I said to him.  ‘Not yet, my little fool.  Not yet.’”
            It seemed to grow darker in the cavern.  Wigbrand could make out an orange and red glow from under the scales of his mother.  She was getting angry just remembering this tale.  “’What will you do first, worm?’ he dared ask.  Truth be told, I didn’t know.  But I was stunned to hear such insolence coming from a human about to meet his end.  It intrigued me.  ‘This god of yours, what does he offer you?’ I asked.  ‘He offers me solace, forgiveness and peace.  Serving him makes me pure, in an impure world,’ he said.  And that’s when an idea struck.”
            The dragon mother lowered her head, so that her nose stood an inch from her middle son’s face.  “’If purity is what you prize, then that is what I shall take from you.  I will send you to your god, defiled.  Then we shall see how loving and gracious he is.  Well…you shall see.  Only you.’”
            She breathed out, steam emanating from her nostrils and momentarily blinding Wigbrand.  “And so it was.  I was true to my word.  Look to your left.”
            Wigbrand rubbed his eyes and slowly turned his head.  As his vision returned, a pike came into view.  It stood thirty feet away from him.  Hanging on it, were the faded remains of a human skeleton holding a broken cross.  In the torso, Wigbrand found a gaping hole. 
            “That is your father,” his mother confirmed.  “Every moment of our coupling was torture for him.  In the end, he died wailing and in agony.  I thought his death would rid me of him forever.  Imagine my surprise when I learned that, just as I had found a way to punish him, he had found a way to punish me.”
            Wigbrand turned back to his mother.  Looking up at her, he was at a loss for what to say.  But he felt he had to say something.  “That was…dark.”
            “You don’t know the half of it, child,” his mother replied.  “I thought about eating you every day when you were born.  But too many of our kind fall to the swords and ambitions of other races.  So I made my peace with the fact that you aren’t as strong as your brother, nor as smart as your sister.  You’ll never leave my den, and likely aren’t good for much more than bringing me meat,” she looked down at the filet in Wigbrand’s still-open hand, “and you aren’t even good at that.  Nevertheless, no matter how little of it there may be…you are of my blood.  And that makes you mine.”
            “Mother…” Wigbrand felt his heart about to burst in his chest.  “You have never said…anything…like that to me before.”
“Nor will I again,” the dragon mother resolved.  “Happy Yuletide.  Now go get me some more meat.”

TO BE CONCLUDED…