Draxxus had left the relative safety of the trading post, riding hard in the direction of the Wyrmsteeth Mountains, carrying his battle standard aloft. The scenery along the road quickly changed from hilly forests to that of burning farmland and roving, lawless bands of Humans and Tharn all over the countryside. The Aerie—his home, where the rest of the dragonborn colony was located, and where his father reigned as Clan Leader—lay ahead of him, high up in the mountain passes. Clearly things had gotten far worse since Ehod left Barradin’s Hold and rode north to deliver the word of their former lord. The mountains of Wyrmsteeth began to loom before him, against the darkening sky. He focused all his resolve and urged his horse to move faster, wanting to reach the base of mountain before night fall.
The ancient, blue-and silver standard flashed a bright radiance as it had done many times before, and Draxxus could feel himself being pulled from nowhere with a sensation of falling.
The tiefling warrior in front of him grinned with fierce glee as its blade descended upon him. Draxxus lay upon the ground, and the chaos of a full-scale battle crashed and thundered all around him. The cries of dragonborn warriors surrounded him, and the crackle and snap of dragonbreath told him that his brethren were fighting alongside him. Dark, majestic wings soared overhead, wheeling and dancing in the graceful sweep of battle. Among the mighty dragons few smaller, less well-formed shapes that harried and attacked the dragons at every turn. Demons, summoned from the Abyss by the tiefling warlocks, they kept the dragons busy in the skies and prevented their use against the infantry of the tiefling army.
He was sorely wounded, and could feel his hands slick with blood. Much of it was his, he was certain. He looked down and saw the green-brown scales of his hands (NOT my hands, part of Draxxus’ mind whispered… these are not my memories, not my life…) close upon the hilt of a gigantic, curved greatsword. His armor—made of mithril scales to mimic those of a silver dragon—was covered in the blood of demons, tieflings and dragonborn alike. With a mighty roar, he thrust his blade up to meet the wickedly-curved tiefling weapon and only barely managed to deflect its swing. He kicked upwards into the tiefling’s stomach and rolled to his feet.
He felt a tug between his shoulderblades and the familiar pull of the battle standard of his Legion. Strapped into the specially-fitted socket on the back of his armor, the resistance of the wind pulled at him and threated his balance as he arose. As he did, a thunderous cheer erupted from the battle lines to his back. A quick glance showed his allies—dragonborn soldiers and a few human knights mixed in—surge forward, their spirits rekindled by the sight of their legion standard flying above the fray. Kalathrax (no… that’s not my name… I am Draxxus, dammit!!) spun back toward his foe and swept his greatsword in a terrible sweep, parrying another attack by the tiefling warrior in front of him and shattering the armor of a second.
Kalathrax, standard bearer of the XXIII Legion of Arkhosia, dropped his shoulder and bull rushed the tiefling in front of him, using his greatsword like a spearpoint, piercing through the enemy’s armor and spitting him on its length. The battlefield reeked of blood and viscera and Kal gloried in it as he placed his taloned foot on the hellspawn’s chest and shoved it into its comrades, clearing space for Kal to step forward and sweep his blade in a mighty arc, slaying the red-skinned tieflings surrounding him. He roared a battle challenge to them all and flung himself deeper into the fray, and as he did so the cry of his legion behind him erupted as well. Kalathrax was the tip of the spear, and where he plunged into the enemy lines, his soldiers would follow.
Draxxus blinked several times, and the sound of his horses’ hooves crunching on the hard, rocky trail slowly brought him back to reality. The taste of earth was in his mouth, and he knew that he lay upon the hard gravel of the road he had been riding on. Cold, bitter wind blasted his face, and he thanked the gods that his horse had slowed to a walk while his spirit had been elsewhere. He had been riding toward his home in The Aerie when the Standard had captured his mind and he had been taken elsewhere. His mind reeled with questions about what had just happened. Obviously, it was related to the Battle Standard that he carried in his hand. He rolled over to catch his breath and then froze. Something was wrong. The weight and feel of his armor was wrong, and he as he stood, his breath caught in his reptilian chest.
The heavy dwarven-made scale armor that he had been wearing before the vision had been changed, transformed by some unknown source. Bright, shining, silvery scales clinked under his talons ad Draxxus ran his hands over the armor protecting his chest, arms and legs. Mithril—just like the dragonborn warrior in his vision. He struggled to fight off confusion; just how powerful was the Standard, and how much of Draxxus had actually been present on that ancient battlefield? Panicked, he reached for the thick, heavy broadsword he had carried on his hip. It was nowhere to be found, and Draxxus spun about in the middle of the road, looking for his lost weapon; only the silent, frigid, howling wind answered him.
His hands grasped almost frantically for the shield that had been strapped to his back… and found the thick handle of a greatsword in its place. His scaly hands trembling, Draxxus drew the blade from the scabbard that had appeared on his back. His eyes closed tight and Draxxus uttered a brief prayer as he drew the weapon and settled into a fighting stance that felt as natural as any ever had. He slowed his nearly-panicked breathing and focused his mind before his eyes opened. He knew the blade, as he had suspected—and been afraid—that he would. It was massive and curved like a dragon’s wing, and indeed had the engravings that increased the resemblance. The pommel was sculpted to resemble a dragon’s head, and the crossguard was shaped like two scaled talons outstretched. It was the same weapon that Kalathrax had used in the vision.
What was happening here? Was he being possessed? Did the spirit bound into the standard provide these, or had some modern divine agency gifted him with them? Draxxus’ mind reeled as he pondered the possibilities. Eventually, he decided that nothing else was going to change and he was not going to fall into another vision-fit, so he remounted into the saddle and continued his slightly bewildered way to The Aerie.
The sun was at its apex when Draxxus began to lead his horse up the rocky path leading into The Aerie, the sun’s rays reflecting off his shiny new scale armor. Every once in a while, Draxxus looked down at it and stared in wonder… if this was the armor that Kalathrax had worn so long ago, then the armor had to be thousands of years old—and the sword too. Draxxus barely noticed when he approached the high stone walls of the Aerie. Suddenly, he reigned his horse in hard—finally his mind had snapped out of the fog that had accompanied him all the way up the mountain. He stared at the gates of The Aerie.
They were closed, and had been reinforced since he had visited last. Heavy iron bands had been added to the doors, reinforcing them against siege weaponry. Armed soldiers lined the battlements in the narrow passage, and Draxxus identified three different silhouettes on the wall. It appeared that dragonborn, human and eladrin soldiers all stood duty to defend their home. Draxxus couldn’t help but smile at the thought—of course his father had started to build the Aerie into a fighting force. The dragonborn were a naturally warlike people; conflict and combat are the truest tests of character in their culture. With so many refugees from elsewhere and war brewing among the human nations in the lowlands, a program of self-defense training for all able-bodied residents would be an efficient way to keep busy those who might otherwise cause trouble. He called to the gate guards and they answered in turn, and again Draxxus smiled—it had been a long time since he had been able to use his native tongue. He spurred his horse through the gates and heard them thunder closed behind him.
Hushed voices and furrowed brows followed Draxxus as he tied his horse to the post outside his house. He saw members of all the Aerie’s races working in the open spaces between buildings as he rode toward the center of the settlement; everywhere he saw armor being made, arrows being fletched, and the constant ring of hammer on anvil told him that several forges had been built in his absence and were now busy beating hot metal into tools and, from the looks of things, weapons. Two heavily armored guards—one human, the other a hulking dragonborn warrior whose face Draxxus knew but not the name—greeted him with stern expressions outside his father’s door. Again, Draxxus mind spun with the implications of this. Never had his father needed guards at his own door; the clan leader by necessity was a powerful warrior in his own right. What reason could his father have for stationing guards at his own door? It made little sense, and a deep sense of foreboding began to seep into his heart as Draxxus identified himself to the guards and pushed back the heavy hide door that kept his father’s home protected from the harsh mountain climate.
“My Lord Draxxus,” the human warrior growled. “If you seek your father the Clan Lord, he is not within. You will not find him there.” Draxxus wheeled on the smaller human and he realized that the man’s face bore three grisly scar-lines from above his left brow, across his recently-broken nose and down the opposite cheek. The scars were the livid purple-red of a wound healed recently by magic—very recently, in fact, because it had not even changed colors yet. Within a week of being healed by magic, normally all that remained of even a grievous wound were thin white lines to mark where the wound had been.
Draxxus’ anger began to rise. What was going on here? He had to find answers, and find then quickly. “Then where is he? I need to speak to him immediately.” Draxxus’ voice was harsh and clipped.
“The council chamber, Sir. He is conferring with the rest of the Council.” The guard didn’t flinch from Draxxus’ angry gaze.
“And what of my mother, then? Is she inside or do I need to hunt her down as well?” Draxxus’ anger began to rise.
The guard flinched and recoiled as if struck. His skin blanched, and his eyes swept to the ground. “No, Lord. She is not within. You should go find your father.” His voice seemed to get smaller with each word. “Sir.”
Draxxus spun on his heel and headed across the green from where his father’s home was to one of the few stone buildings the dragonborn had found intact when they arrived through the Waygate so many years ago. The Aerie had obviously once been a large and advanced colony of the ancient Aquilonians, but time and the harsh climate of the mountains had reduced much of the area to ruins. Some dragonborn like Kraxis had decided to build an entirely new home out of wood and hide, but many others had used the ruins as a basis for building a home. Thus, the Aerie looked like a patchwork of buildings—some made mostly of wood, other a hybrid of wood and the walls left by the Aquilonians. The Council Hall was the largest and most intact building they had found when they came through the Gate, and it was used for gatherings of large groups of people when needed.
The council building was largely underground—an amphitheater made of stone dug almost two full stories into the earth. It would hold several times the Aerie’s population, so massive was the building, and the thick stone roof was buttressed by stonework so ancient none could identify who had built it in the first place. It was here that the dragonborn fought their battles of supremacy to see where one stood on the chain of command. It was here that Draxxus learned the ways of battle, and it was here that he and Trifus had met and first become friends. The angry tone of the gathering washed over Draxxus as he stepped up to the back of the crowd. Human, eladrin and dragonborn stood in segregated groups in the hall, many with arms raised and yelling toward the dais at the bottom of the ampitheatre.
“SILENCE, damn your eyes!!” he heard his father’s voice roar out in the council chamber as he worked his way forward so that he could see. He inhaled a deep breath, calming himself. His father’s voice was filled with rage and fury in such a way that Draxxus had never heard before, even in the midst of their most heated arguments. But instead of the deep breath calming him, the scent that slammed into his nostrils set every nerve in his body to tingling, and every sense on high alert. A cold knot formed at the pit of Draxxus’ stomach as he pushed his way to a vantage where he could see… and there he froze, stunned and shocked at the sight before him.
The harsh scent of holy incense assaulted his nostrils, and he shook his head to clear it. Still Draxxus’ mind spun and tried to make sense of things. Specific incenses were used by the dragonborn in preparation for specific rites and ceremonies. The acrid, pungent odor of the incense he now smelled was what the dragonborn warriors burnt immediately before they went into the arena; the scent was supposed to mimic the fires and blood of battle. At times it was also used by the reptilian warriors if they were preparing for an ordeal that promised to be particularly difficult, strenuous or dangerous. But the Clan Leader was forbidden to use that incense except on two occasions—if his leadership had been challenged by another and he himself was headed to the Arena to defend his right to rule… or before the dragonborn went to war. Draxxus shook his head a second time and stepped into the amphitheater proper to confront his father and get some answers. Something was wrong in the Aerie—very wrong, and Draxxus meant to find out what in the Hells was going on.
The crowd quieted quickly, and Draxxus used the opportunity to push and shove his way down the steps to the front of the crowd, all the way to the front. It was only at the bottom that he stopped to look up at his father, and as he did the cold pit in his stomach became ice-water that pumped itself through his veins.
His father stood beside he podium at the center of the council chamber, dressed in massive full battle armor of darkened steel that Draxxus had never before seen the Clan Lord wear. It was customary for the Clan to gift a new Clan Lord with a full set of armor upon his acclimation to the position of leadership. Typically, the set of armor gifted to the Lord was lighter set of training or parade armor, and the new Clan Lord was by custom supposed to put his previous battle armor in a place where those coming to meet with him could see it displayed prominently. This was symbolic—it represented the Clan Lord setting aside the warlike ways of his youth and taking up the calmer role of a leader and guide to his people. Only in the direst circumstances would the Clan Lord remove his old, scarred battle armor from its stand and don it once more. Only when challenged to combat in the arena or on one other occasion did the Clan Lord put his battle armor back on. Draxxus’ mouth went dry as he father began to speak. A thick, livid scar crossed his face, directly across his left eye, and Draxxus saw with horror that his father now wore an eyepatch made of leather-covered iron there as well. Two of the huge old warrior’s teeth had been broken, and they gaped as his father’s voice rang out across the hall.
“It has been two weeks since we were attacked, my brothers and sisters. Two weeks since the craven assassins snuck inside our walls and began a night of terror and murder that will never be forgotten in this land. At the final toll, sixty-one of our brethren were laid to rest because of the cowardly attack, at least one from each race that calls The Aerie home—dragonborn, human, Erin’Tar and Free Dwarf all suffered the assassin’s blade that dark night.” Kraxis’ voice echoed in the nearly-silent chamber and the only sound that interrupted his silent pauses was the creaking of leather or the sound of metal clanking. Quickly Draxxus looked around and he realized that nearly every single person in the room, regardless of race, was armed and armored as if they were going into battle.
“We have buried our dead, and begun to mourn their loss.” Kraxis’ voice caught, and he stopped briefly. He took a deep breath, released it, and continued. The force of his personality radiated like light from the dais, and Draxxus was just as spellbound as everyone else. He had never seen so much emotion from his father before. He wondered what could bring his father to such a place emotionally.
“Though we have only begun to truly feel their loss. The killers who survived the assault were…” His father grinned a horribly malicious smile, and the shattered teeth only enhanced its terrible appearance, “…questioned, and the information they gave us was interesting indeed.” The crowd murmured approval at this, and a couple of the dragonborn in the back clapped at the words.
“Not long ago, we of the Aerie decided to send emissaries into the world below. We can survive here in our mountain home, but to flourish as we should be able to do we must have trade with the outside world. I sent my own son into the lands below to seek those who would deal with us with honor and integrity.” Kraxis’ voice crashed among the walls, echoing. “I sent my son to find those who we could call friend, and we thought that the humans in the lands of Lyonesse could be partners with us here in our Aerie.” The armored dragonborn paused for a moment, and then his voice roared out, louder than Draxxus had ever heard it. He cried out with the force of a thunderstorm, a wall of sound that assaulted the ears of the son of Kraxis.
“But we were BETRAYED, my people! Those with whom we thought we had made peace have declared war upon us!! It is THEY who have sent their assassins into our homes and slaughtered our families, our loved ones,” his voice choked, “even our children IN THEIR BEDS! It is the servants of Lyonesse, the one whom they have lifted up and called a Knight and Lord, the one to who I sent MY OWN SON who has betrayed us! And the humans below us repay us with knives in the dark, striking like serpents from the shadows. All of us have lost friends, and many have lost family.” Kraxis voice fell to almost a whisper, and his head drooped.
“Even my own wife fell beneath the poisoned blades of these monsters. As the fever took her, she grasped my hand and begged me to avenge her death. She told me to don the armor of my true calling once again, and take the fight into the human lands and scour the foul betrayers from the face of this planet. Already, our best warriors have traveled to the human lands to eliminate the leader of their depraved and vicious host.” The crowd cheered at Kraxis’ revelation, a thundering cacophony that reverberated off the walls and stunned Draxxus almost as much as the words that had come from his father’s mouth.
He hadn’t expected this—nothing even approaching this. Draxxus sood stock-still, frozen in place. Assassins in the Aerie—sent by Lord Tremayne? It was preposterous! But the wording of the letter Tremayne had sent to Kennet’s Hold made it seem as if he had been responsible for King Connor’s death… if that was the truth, would he not have been capable of even worse? Could Lord Tremayne have sent assassins to the Aerie to murder Draxxus’ own mother? His brain reeled and spun, and he felt the bile rising in his throat.
“We ride to war, my brothers and sisters! The united forces of the Aerie will fall like an avalanche of steel down this mountain and destroy those who have dared raise their hands against us! We will ride united—for all here present are my family, regardless of race—and we will smash and crush and bleed this foe until the poison of his blood is spilled upon the ground and his castle is tumbled stone by stone to the earth. We have been wounded, my friends, but we are by no means beaten! They shall know what terror comes when the dragon is roused from his lair, and we shall not rest until every last one of the murderous bastards who took our family from us are avenged!” Kraxis’ voice and the force of his will erupted over the assembled throng and he grasped the huge glaive that was his trademark weapon and raised it above his head, screaming a draconic challenge to the stone of the roof above him. The assembled folk of the Aerie roared back at him—eladrin, dragonborn, human and dwarf alike—and the bloodthirst in their cry was terrible to behold.
Draxxus stood, stunned, as the chaos roiled around him. He stood stock-still, his mind and heart a roiling thunderstorm of emotion and confusion and rage and despair. Draxxus stood, while the world began to tumble around him into death and chaos and blood.