“Many centuries ago a dragon of unusual power was born in the shadow of the mountain of the gods. This dragon took the name Ashadrah and eventually became the Dragon Queen. A century ago, Ashadrah and her dragon army fought a devastating war against most of the other races of the Earth-realm. Most of the kingdoms of the humans were devastated, the one least affected is now known as Galain. The same is true of the wood elves, dark elves, dwarves, goblins, and orcs. Most of the destruction was not caused by Ashadrah herself, but by the armies of dragons under her command. Each of these armies had a dragon of great power as a general.
Based on the surviving accounts, it was the army led by Malaboga that destroyed most of the human kingdom of Brahmford. Malaboga then went on to destroy several goblin kingdoms before he was defeated and slain by a group of Orcs. Similarly, Y Gogh led an army that devastated the human kingdoms of Selnuth and Fulgoth before he was sealed inside the volcano Kranatobo. The Ice dragon Shin-ra devastated the kingdoms that called the Galadorn mountains home. Her rampage turned most of the mountain range into a frozen wasteland before she was trapped in Galadorn Keep. The storm master Carlith destroyed the forests housing the great cities of the wood elves. Crystallus the Gemlord and Thogash the Adamantine drake were in charge of attacking the underground cities of the dark elves and the dwarves. There are no written records of what the necromantic dragon Morddrak did, but the catacombs under the Elven city of Re contain poison filled pits. Now, over a century later, the zombified corpses of its former goblin inhabitants still sometimes crawl out of these pits.
Soon after the war started, the arch-wizard Vegnarin came up with a diabolical plan to defeat Ashadrah. With the help of several other wizards, he captured the Fae queen Cygna. He then used a ritual killing Cygna to create the Seal of Tarbogel.
One by one Ashadrah’s generals were defeated by concerted efforts of groups of wizards, mages, and a select few of the strongest warriors of the various lands. First to fall was Carlith the Storm Master, after devastating much of the lands of the wood elves he was defeated by the Elf Queen Eovan. Next to fall were Crystalus and Thogash. After the first few fell, the rest faced even stronger counterattacks and quickly fell as well. Eventually Ashadrah, the Dragon Queen herself, was attacked by a group of wizards led by Vegnarin in the area of Tarbogel. Though they fought bravely they were unable to match Ashadrah’s raw power. But, Vegnarin took advantage of Ashadrah’s momentary weakness to use the Seal of Tarbogel. It was a not an easy task and several wizards helping Vegnarin died, but Vegnarin succeeded in trapping Ashadrah below Tarbogel. Now bereft of the power of the generals and their queen, the other dragons were wiped out within a year’s time.
In the century since, the tribes of the Earth-realm have gone back to the task of rebuilding the world and trying to find a way to live in relative peace. Until now….”
“I’m going to need to hear more about that, but first, How did we get here?” Spider-Man asked while standing next to Captain America, Tony Stark, Blade, and She Hulk.
“Of that I am not certain,” Xargon said. “I had accompanied King Leoren on a trip to New Haven. As we were leaving, there was a flash of some magic I am unfamiliar with, and Leoren and four knights vanished leaving you in their places.”
“Are you sure it was magic?”
“The energy patterns were similar to a teleportation spell, but beyond that it was like nothing I’d seen before.”
Spider-Man stood there scratching his head for a minute then Blade asked “So, what’s this New Haven?”.
“Long ago a group of trading guilds established a port far to the east. The New Haven charter states that the word of the guilds is law, but there are few actual laws since the guilds rarely agree.”
“So what can they agree on, besides disagreeing?” She-Hulk asked.
“That’d be simpler to explain. The politics of the guilds are very complicated and they do sometimes mostly agree on things.”
“Votes do not need to be unanimous, unless they affect the city charter. Laws will still get passed as long as most of the guilds agree, though that doesn’t happen often.”
“So what laws have they passed?”
“One of the laws is that if an area of the city is officially owned by one of the guilds, that guild can impose additional laws (within reason) that apply to those that enter that area. Most of the other laws of New Haven are trade restrictions and tax regulations.”
“Why would King Leoren go to a place like that?” Captain America asked. “It sounds rather dangerous.”
“New Haven isn’t a lawless place in general, the Guilds keep mayhem to a minimum, it interferes with their trade. Truthfully, Galain trades with the Guilds as do most other kingdoms in this region. It is very unusual for the Guilds to ask someone to come to a face to face meeting, they prefer couriers. So receiving a message sealed by the Guild Council asking us to come for an urgent meeting was alarming enough for us to make haste and go there as quickly as we could.”
“Was it really that bad?” Spider-Man quipped.
“Worse.” Xargon said as he continued his narrative. With a few magic words and a wave of his hands Xargon created an image of the events.
King Leoren, the wizard Xargon, and four Knights of Galain warily approached the site of the requested meeting.
“This is definately the right place, sire,” Xargon said as he carefully inspected the door before opening it. Two knights cautiously entered and looked around quickly before gesturing for King Leoren and Xargon to enter.
“Any ideas come to mind about why the guilds of New Haven would want us to meet with them like this?” Leoren said as he entered the building.
“Nothing definite, sire. Their methods are as varied as the guilds are, but this is quite unusual even for them. It must be something very important for them to request us to meet in person.” Xargon replied as he entered.
“Perhaps that incident in Tarbogel?” Leoren asked quizzically.
“Perhaps, but it seems unlikely for New Haven to care about the status of Tarbogel itself. It is much more likely they heard the rumors about what happened to Tarbogel and wish to discuss it.”
“Yes, that rumor is greatly disturbing. If true, it means disaster for us all. But with that type of issue, it’s best to find out why things are happening as quickly as possible.” Before Leoren and Xargon could continue, they entered a small room with 4 doors. Coming out of the 2 doors similar to the entrance they’d used were the Dwarf Lord Brisingr, a short powerfully built man, and the Elf Lady Eovan, a tall elegant woman, each with several bodyguards of their own.
“This had better be good, King Leoren, I came a long way to attend this meeting,” Lord Brisingr growled. “We’ve been friends quite a long time. This isn’t the sort of thing I have come to expect from you.”
“I did not summon you here for this meeting.” King Leoren replied firmly. “I was asked to come here the same as you were. The guilds didn’t explain why they invited me here either.”
“As I expected, someone went to a lot of trouble asking the guilds to invite us here,” Lady Eovan said gently. “Whoever it is, I’m sure we’ll find them past there.” Lady Eovan said as she pointed to the fourth doorway.
“Who are they?” Captain America asked. “They seem to be people who King Leoren was well acquainted with.”
“Indeed, Brisingr is the Lord of the dwarven kingdom Brighthearth, north of and partially underneath Galain. Eovan is the Lady of Tella-gara, a Woad kingdom to the northeast. Both are the rulers of kingdoms that Galain has traded with extensively for centuries.”
As Xargon looked at the door he felt a cold dread. The heavy double door was carved from a jet black wood and decorated with a pattern reminiscent of dragon scales. King Leoren walked over to the sinister doors and quietly opened them only to find himself staring into the cold white eyes of a tall elf woman with pink-purple skin. The woman’s dark green cape swirled around her as she turned and walked into the room.
“Are you the one who invited us here?” Lord Brisingr barked at the figure as she walked towards the center of the room.
“No. Come now, you know that isn’t my style,” the woman coolly replied.
“You know this drow, Brisingr?” King Leoren asked.
“That is Tanea, the new Lady of the Drow city Valdaraz.” Lord Brisingr said as the doors on the other side of the room opened. Out of the doorway walked a group of Orcs followed closely by a group of Goblins.
“Narzalen and Salazar, it took you long enough to get here,” Lady Tanea said in a mocking tone to the Orc and Goblin Chieftains.
“Awww…. Feigned concern from an assassin bitch. It’s so… not heartwarming… what’s the word?” the Orc Chieftain Narzalen said as he turned to the Goblin Chieftain Salazar.
“Hmm… I think I’d go with either ‘humorous’ or ‘conceited’,” Salazar replied as he walked towards the table.
“Normally I’d ask you barbarians,” Eovan said as she gestured towards Lady Tanea and Chieftains Narzalen and Salazar, “why you’re here, but I can guess.”
“And they are?” Captain America asked again.
“I don’t know much about Tanea, but Narzalen and Salazar each have command of a large area of Goblin and Orc territory.”
“Goblins and Orcs tend to be nomadic. They build cities and other dwelling sites, but they don’t often stay for long. They often get into short-lived wars with their neighbors due to their unique concepts of what constitutes a proper territorial claim.”
“What’s that?” Blade asked.
“It can be easily summed up as ‘We live here, therefore it’s our territory.'” Xargon replied. “Narzalen and Salazar’s hordes have such large areas that they can wander around without ever leaving it. Of course, a few try to expand periodically, but without the backing of the Horde they usually fail.”
“So what of Tanea?”
“That is a good question. The Drow don’t choose leaders based on ceremony but at the same time their leaders don’t change often. Valdaraz is a large and influential Drow stronghold, for Tanea to have become the Lady of the city, she must have considerable power and influence.”
“Narzalen called her an assassin. And she acted like she was untouchable even outside her city.”
“Yes, and neither Chieftain liked her. I wish I knew exactly what it meant, but even Brisingr didn’t know much about her. I did notice one useful thing though. Those gauntlets she wears are magical weapons of a type most often used by mages.”
“Someone who wields magic that manipulates the elements of nature. Those stones on her gauntlets are charged with lightning energy.” As Xargon finished, he resumed the hologram.
“Yes, the person who invited us here apparently considers us six to be equals.” as Lady Tanea said this she pointed to six chairs arranged around a crescent shaped table facing a jet black throne. “But she does not consider us to be her equal.”
As Lady Tanea said this, Xargon looked at the throne and turned away with a cold dread as soon as he got a look at the dragon’s face carved into the back of the throne.
“You recognize it don’t you?” Tanea asked Xargon. “Few could forget that face.”
As Xargon turned to look again, the shadows around the throne flickered and formed themselves into a woman with dull black eyes, hair, and skin, dressed in dull black armor and a long black cape sitting on the throne obscuring Xargon’s view of the face carved in the back.
“So the rumors were true,” Lady Tanea said with a satisfied smile.
“Yes, I have returned.” Ashadrah said as she stepped down from the throne. “I see relations between your races haven’t improved since the Dragon War.”
Meanwhile, she was slowly approaching one of Eovan’s guards. When she stepped a little too close, the elf warrior reflexively drew his sword. As soon as Ashadrah saw he’d taken the bait, she stepped back out of arm’s reach. As he lunged forward to attack, Ashadrah’s right arm faded into her shadow. Her arm reappeared in time to block the attack with a gleaming broadsword. The blade flashed several more times as she blocked several more strikes before parrying a blow and kicking the elf onto the meeting table.
“What was that?” She Hulk said. “I’ve never seen a dragon who could fight with a sword like that before.”
“Yes, taking on a human form is something only a few dragons who are more skilled at magic than most can do.” Xargon said. “But Ashadrah has done it many times before, especially during the Dragon War. As you can see, she is quite skilled at fighting in that form as well as her true form.”
“What does her true form look like?”
“She is enormous. The size of a small castle, and strong enough to rip a castle apart with her claws alone. Her hide is a dull black that seems to reflect no light, not even the light of the sun.” As Xargon said this he created a picture of a dragon with slender arms and legs, a long thin tail, and skin that seemed to blend with her shadow.
“And how did she do that shadow trick?”
“All dragons have an innate ability to manipulate one or more of the elements of nature. In Ashadrah’s case, she was born with the ability to manipulate shadows.”
“So, no fire breath?” Spider-Man asked.
“Actually, dragons gain new elemental powers as they become older and more powerful. I know Ashadrah has at least 5, shadow, fire, poison, ice, and wind.”
“That’s…. a lot.”
“Yes, few dragons gain the ability to wield more than 2 or 3 elements. Only the most powerful gain the ability to use 4 or more, Ashadrah is the Dragon Queen, and the most powerful dragon alive. It’s possible that with her power she can wield more than 5.”
“Had enough? You’re good… for someone of your youth,” Ashadrah said dismissively as she lowered the sword. “but no threat to me.”
“B-b-but how?” the elf stammered. “This sword is enchanted to counteract the power of dragons!”
“This sword was enchanted by humans to protect its wielder with the power of the god Arturis.” Ashadrah said as she held up the gleaming sword so everyone could get a good look at it.
King Leoren’s hand automatically reached for his empty sheath when he saw the crest of the King of Galain on the hilt of the sword.
“You don’t understand?” Ashadrah said to him as she pointed at Xargon. “If Xargon here was to think about it for a few days, he could tell you. But, I don’t feel like waiting.” Ashadrah continued as people turned to look at Xargon. “It’s very simple. Arturis’s ‘he who is worthy’ enchantment has a flaw. A few of the more well studied wizards know of it, including Xargon. Given the quality of the work, whoever enchanted that sword probably did. But, they didn’t know who forged the blade. The enchantment cannot be used to deny the one who forged a blade the ability to weild it.” Ashadrah paused to let her words sink in for a few seconds before her hand shifted into her shadow again and left the sword in its sheath. “But, you needn’t worry. I have no further use for the sword.”
“So what is it that you do want?” Lord Brisingr asked Ashadrah gruffly. “If not the return of a sword you forged with your own hands, then what business did you call us here on?”
“While, I’m sure that all of you know of the Dragon War. I only know for sure what two of you think of it.” Ashadrah said as she pointed at Xargon and Eovan. “While I can guess what some of the rest of you think, it really doesn’t matter. What matters is what I think. I think the Dragon War was a crime against my people.”
“What does she mean by that?” Captain America asked.
“I was one of the wizards who sealed Shin-Ra. Eovan took part in the ritual that sealed Carlith’s life essence in the Armor of Tella-skau, but she also fought against Ashadrah while Vegnarin prepared to seal her under the Castle Tarbogel.”
“And she doesn’t want to kill you for it?”
“Yes, that surprised me greatly too.”
“Wait, who’s Carlith?”
“Carlith the Storm Master, he had formidable lightning, wind, water, and ice powers. His part in the Dragon war was demolishing most of Eovan’s kingdom.” Xargon went to resume the hologram after he finished saying this.
“Wait, I had one more quick question. Why did no one suspect that Ashadrah forged the sword?”
Xargon let out a long sigh before answering. “The entire sword, blade, hilt, and grip, is a single piece of mythril. The level of skill required for forging a sword like that is, or was, completely unheard of in dragons. I’m not sure how many smiths there are in the world today who could forge a sword like that. I know of a master smith in Brighthearth who could do it, but he is the only one in all of Brighthearth.”
“So you had no idea at all who forged the blade? You found a sword of incredible workmanship in a place where it didn’t belong and found your own use for it.”
“That is correct, but the hard question is why? Why did Ashadrah feel the need to forge a blade like that? Mythril is very durable, but also very hard to work. Forging that sword alone must have taken days, but she didn’t keep it for her own use, and doesn’t care about it now. That is very puzzling indeed.” When Xargon saw that Captain America was satisfied by this answer he resumed the hologram.
Some of those in attendance gasped in shock and start murmuring to each other before Ashadrah continued. “What I want is simple. I want things to be made right.”
“Arturis protected us from you in the Dragon War. We have no reason to fear you now that your armies are gone.” King Leoren said defiantly.
“As for assistance from the God of Justice,” Ashadrah gloated as she stared at King Leoren. “I discussed the matter with him in person.” Ashadrah added with a wicked smile. As Ashadrah said that, she created a magical hologram to show those gathered exactly what she meant.
As the hologram came into focus, an image appeared of Ashadrah walking towards New Haven in her human form. However the view is quickly changed when Ashadrah is surrounded by a dazzling white light and finds herself standing in a throneroom made of brilliant white stone similar to marble and seated on a golden throne is the god Arturis.
“I cannot allow your quest for petty revenge to continue.” Arturis said sternly.
“Petty… Revenge?” Ashadrah said with a stutter. “I don’t want revenge. I want Vengeance.” Ashadrah said angrily.
“For what?” Arturis said with a laugh.
“You know what. You know deep down inside what I want Vengeance for, ‘God of Justice’…” Ashadrah replied with a sneer.
“The Dragon war?” Arturis replied in a mocking tone. “Your race was hated for good reason. I don’t see how avenging your kind could count as justice.”
“I’ll admit, that many members of my race were hated for good reason. Malaboga is a good example of one who deserved what he got. I told him he was allowed to attack the goblins and orcs. I didn’t tell him to create the ‘slag heap’. I don’t even think YOU know how many goblins he killed in the process.” Ashadrah said with a frown.
“What’s the ‘Slag Heap’?” Captain America asked.
“A mountain in goblin territory. Before the Dragon War, it was covered from base to peak with a single enormous goblin city. Malaboga turned the entire surface of the mountain into liquid rock. Only a handful of the goblins living there managed to escape with their lives.”
Captain America shuddered involuntarily for a moment before asking, “What elements did he wield?”
“Fire, Wind, Rock, and Poison”
“But then…” Arturis started to reply.
“There were many others who fought and/or died in the Dragon War who did not deserve it. Morddrak may have once turned an entire human village into his undead slaves, but he restored them to normal afterwards. He didn’t use his power just to hurt people, he helped them too. When a village near where he lived was hit with a plague his used his power to keep the most severely sick from dying. He’s healed more people than he’s killed. Did he deserve to be imprisoned in the Netherplane? I don’t think so.” Ashadrah said with a stern glare.
“Is that all?” Arturis replied with a quizzical look. “If an undead Necromancer is the best…”
“A Necromancer, someone who can manipulate the dead?”
“In Morddrak’s case, it’s worse than that. His elements were Necrogen, Wind, Water, and Poison. His ability to manipulate Necrogen gave him the power to turn the living into undead, and back again. He could even use that power to revive the recently dead, or save the dying from death. But any he used his power on were contaminated with Necrogen. Even the other dragons largely avoided him due to how toxic his powers were.”
“How did a dragon gain that kind of terrible power?” Captain America asked with a grimace.
“Legend has it that, long before the dragon war, Morddrak was born in a fetid bog from an egg incubated under the corpse of his dead mother. He was born as one of the Undead and has had his affinity for Necrogen since he was born.”
“What is Necrogen?”
“A unique element that combines aspects of life with unlife. Even demons fear it, for it can cause them to transform from unliving beings to undead.”
“NO.” Ashadrah said firmly. “Next we have Crystallus and Thogash. Yes, they fought with the Drow and Dwarves regularly. But they also helped them with mining and excavating new tunnels for their underground cities. Did Thogash deserve to be crushed to death when a dwarf lord collapsed the tunnel they were fighting in?”
Ashadrah paused for a second until Arturis looked like he was about to speak. “But, that’s not the worst of it.” she continued, cutting off Arturis before he could speak. “The worst was Unstrana’s murder. She died because she refused to fight. Not even when Selnuth’s army came to slay her did she hurt anyone. Unstrana died trying to help the people of Selnuth!” Ashadrah angrily yelled as burning venom started to drip from her mouth. “Can you really tell me you think she deserved it?” Ashadrah said as she spit the venom onto the floor and pointed at Arturis. “Their blood cries out for justice, Arturis. I will see to it that they have it even if I have to go through you to get it.” Ashadrah finished with an angry glare.
“I suppose you are correct,” Arturis said sadly. “I made a mistake in helping those who sought to wipe out your kind. I will not interfere with your quest.” Arturis said with a quiet voice. “But know this, you belong HERE now, conclude your business quickly and return to where you belong.” As Arturis said this, Ashadrah was enveloped with a bright light and found herself standing where she was before.
When the image dissipated, Ashadrah looked around the room before speaking, “Arturis will not help you oppose me.”
“Wait a second,” Blade said hurriedly. “Ashadrah walked up to a GOD. Told him to get out of her way or else, and he decided to get out of her way?”
“So it would seem.” Xargon said solemnly.
“How we know she didn’t just make that up?” Blade replied.
“No one can invoke the image of Arturis in any manner without Arturis’s permission. To even try would mean risking his wrath.”
“How powerful is she?” Iron Man asked.
“I know how powerful she was during the Dragon War.” Xargon replied quietly. “From what I’ve seen of her since then, she’s gotten stronger.”
“Too powerful for you to beat her again?”
“I don’t know. But, I know what sort of devastation the last battle she was in caused. Tarbogel was once the middle of a mountainous forest. Now the Castle rests in a flat, almost desolate plain. Ashadrah’s battle against Vegnarin’s cabal left the wilderness outside the Castle Tarbogel a desolate wasteland for over a decade. I’m sure you can imagine the sort of destruction a battle like that would leave if it happened in the middle of New Haven or Galain.” Xargon said solemnly.
“It’d turn the city into a smoking crater, unless it had a barrier as strong as the one Vegnarin used to protect Tarbogel Castle.” Captain America replied in a grave tone.
“Damn…. but even so, why would Arturis fear her? As a god he’d have to be even more powerful than someone who isn’t a god.” Blade replied then paused for a second. “Wait, what did he mean by ‘You belong here’? Where were they when they were talking?”
“I doubt Arturis fears Ashadrah. But, it is odd, he almost seemed to treat her as an equal. I can only guess as to where they were talking, but that wasn’t any temple of Arturis I’ve ever seen.”
“And what is our part in your ‘justice’?” Eovan asked.
“That is very simple.” Ashadrah said as she got out a large stack of tiles with things written on them. “I want these.” Ashadrah said as she handed out the tiles to the people present.
The assembled leaders looked at the tiles as Ashadrah handed them out then passed them to their subordinates with bewildered and unhappy looks on their faces.
“That is not an easy or simple request.” Eovan said flatly with an angry glare.
“I don’t have it.” is all Tanea said as she wrote something on one of the tiles Ashadrah had handed her and tossed it back to Ashadrah. “But this?” Tanea said as she held up another tile. “I expected your request.” Tanea reached inside her cape and pulled out a leather pouch that she tossed to Ashadrah.
“The Horn of Velnor,” Ashadrah said as she pulled a long curved dragon horn out of the pouch. “Thank you for bringing it to me.” Ashadrah said as a wisp of energy left the horn and entered her body. “I’m done with it now.” She said as she handed it back to Tanea.
“I have no idea,” Xargon replied. “Other than it being a dragon horn, the name and relic are unfamiliar to me.”
“Well, it seems only one other relic that I seek is here.” Ashadrah said as she turned to face Lord Brisingr. “Thogash’s Tail.” She said as Brisingr reached for his sword. “Don’t worry, you’ll still be able to use it as a weapon. It may, perhaps, be less powerful, but it will still work.”
Brisingr grumbled as he held out the sword, “Here.” is all he said.
“Thank you.” Ashadrah said as she absorbed a silvery energy out of the blade into her body. “We will meet again.” Ashadrah said as she vanished into a shadow.
“What did she do to them?” Iron Man asked.
“I’m not completely sure, but I suspect that she was absorbing whatever life essence remained of the dragons that those relics were created from.” Xargon said as he dissipated the hologram.
“Another very good question. I have no idea what sort of dragon the Horn of Velnor was created from, but Thogash’s Tail? That was created from the spine at the end of the tail of Thogash the Adamantine Drake.”
“One of Ashadrah’s generals that you mentioned earlier?”
“The same. Thogash was the first, and last, metal dragon. It’s possible Ashadrah intends to create another Adamantine Drake.”
“One as powerful as Thogash?”
“Not likely, it’d probably be a hatchling. But even so, Thogash was feared for a reason. He had a neon-orange breath weapon that could seemingly melt any metal. Hatchling or not, a dragon with that sort of power is very dangerous.”
“Hmm…. I don’t like this.” Captain America said as Xargon finished. “Ashadrah has a plan. She wants something very very bad, and we need to find out what.”
“Why do you say that?” Xargon replied.
“Well, she met you on neutral territory for diplomatic negotiations. You and Eovan were personally responsible for considerable losses on her side in the Dragon war. Yet, she seemed to treat you almost as if you were a bystander caught in the crossfire. She told Arturis that she wanted Vengeance. She was absolutely furious about the Dragon war, but her fury wasn’t directed at you or Eovan…. She’s out for blood, and we need to find out whose.”
“Hmm, I suppose you’re right. But there is another more frightening question…” Xargon said in a hushed almost whispering tone. “Why? What reason could Ashadrah have to NOT attack those who nearly wiped out her race? Why is she focusing on someone else?”