Blue Dragon Scale

During a warm summer evening, in the common room of the inn, some members of The Crimson Blades heard an interesting tale:

A grizzled old man that many of the locals simply call Hunter stood up and yelled across the room, obviously more than a little drunk. "You miserable hack! Stop that miserable mewling so I can clear my head. I have a tale of a different sort to tell. Feel free to strum that lute as I go, but don't you dare sing again this night! Oh! Don't look so sad my boy, finish your drink and have a few more on me." The young bard sitting near the fireplace broke off song midway, and sniffed very loudly and indignantly. He still sat perched on his stool but turned away from the crowd, buried his face in his mug for a few minutes, failing to hide his reddened face. Hunter carried a mug in each heavily calloused hand from the bar over to the fire place, passing one to the bard. Then Hunter punched him lightly on the shoulder and exclaimed, "you'll get over it lad, now finish your drink and strum along."

Hunter stood before a full room. There were guardsmen, some other locals, The Crimson Blades, and another dozen people from a recently arrived caravan from the south. Most present seemed amused by the outburst. The young bard had been hanging around the keep for a few months, too afraid to leave its walls after his caravan was attacked on the way here. He was a waifish pale skinned boy with short dark hair wearing a gold embroidered blue shirt worth more than his talent could possibly pay for. He was a very minor talent at lute with no voice to speak of. In contrast, Hunter wore a stained sleeveless leather jerkin that revealed darkly tanned and heavily muscled arms crisscrossed with old scars. His once blond beard was now mostly gray as was his full head of hair worn tied back in a braid. His stomach, now a little larger than when his jerkin was first made, was accentuated as he leaned back gulping down his beer. He coughed, cleared his throat, ordered another, then began to tell his tale.

In a deep, and remarkably dramatic voice, he began:

"Not four days ago I saw something I have never seen before in this part of the world. I've spent years in the north hunting Mastodon in the tundra with barbarian hunters. I've been to the continent across the sea and hunted the great cats and other fauna in the ancient jungles found there. I've stalked and been stalked by carnivorous apes through ancient stone cities. I've fought in no less than seven wars and once was witness to a duel between rival arch mages. Yet not fifty miles from this very hearth I saw a sight I will never forget!" The young bard sat his empty mug down, ran his hands through his hair, and picked up his lute from its open case on the floor. He looked at Hunter with a glare that quickly became a half smile, and he began to strum slowly in time with the old man's baritone voice.

"It began with a shadow. No… let me start again. I had been stalking a great specimen of a ten-point-elk since early morning. I had tracked my prey into a low-land wooded area that I rarely hunt in any more. I was familiar enough with the area, yet something was amiss. It had bolted on me two different times that morning when there was no way it could have heard me. The beast was spooked. The forest was too quiet. I realized it had been since I woke up and broke camp that day. A shadow suddenly passed over me with great speed. It was accompanied by the rhythmic sound of rapidly beating wings that receded to almost nothing before I heard its hunting call. Something between an impossibly loud screech and a roar echoed and rolled through the forest around me. Then a few moments of silence. Another roar more distant was answered by several great cries of another beast. I began to sneak towards the noise to see what was happening. There was another roar, followed by what looked like an electric storm in the forest ahead of me. Lights flashed about. A bolt of lightning moving through the air sideways, cutting down a few trees. I could see smoke. Still I crept closer. Then I saw."

The young bard accentuated the statement with a brief flourish of strings then resumed a mellow cadence while Hunter downed half the contents of his mug. "It had landed. It's back was to me, it's wings spread high and back, it's attention on a pair of great beasts, each standing twice as high as a man! The beasts were proportioned like heavily muscled bears and both walked on two legs. They were owl-bears! Two more of the strange hybrid beasts lay still on the ground, smoke rising from their singed feathers. The smell of burnt fowl somehow made the scene I was gazing upon seem even more real. It was a dragon! Angular light from the morning sun shone through the trees and revealed it's blue metallic coloring. It snaked its violently fanged maw in and out of striking range of it's large and muscular opponents. The dragon was thin and lithe compared to its opponents, almost delicate in its build. Their strange beaked maws squawking in fury as they swung wildly with thick arms ending in sharp talons. The young blue serpent finished them off with a fantastic maneuver. The serpent tucked its large leathery wings in around its torso, fully rolled twice to one side, and spat forth a lightning bolt with a roar! The beam of light hit the first owl-bear low in the belly, went straight through it, hit the second one in the chest, went through that, then bounced off a few large trees, knocking one over. Both beasts staggered back and fell, dead before they hit the ground, a smoking hole blasted through each. I had been laying on my belly hidden beneath a bush while the fight ensued. My eyes stung from the sweat running down my face, as I was afraid to make any movement that could alert these mighty beasts to my presence. Once the battle was won, the dragon ate half of an owl-bear unceremoniously starting with its face. When it finished its meal the young blue dragon took to the sky, circled over the clearing twice, and flew further west until out of sight." Hunter paused to finish his beer, gesturing to a serving girl for another while mid swig.

The bard changed his rhythm slightly, increasing the complexity of his strumming to fill the void of Hunter's pause, then slowed it down as the old man continued. "Once the dragon was out of sight I searched through the scene of the battle. There were indeed four dead owl-bears, each one a formidable opponent, and this hatchling had taken them out with ease and grace. The smoke quickly cleared as the singed trees cooled down. One tendril of smoke however, did not die down. I walked over to the stump of a felled tree to inspect it, as I did so, my nostrils were singed with the reek of sulfur. Dark blood spattered the side of the stump, the blood itself burning and smoking as it ran down, finally burning itself out as it reached the ground. The dragon must have been injured during the fight. There was a single scale from its hide buried deep in the stump, the only evidence of the source of the surrounding destruction. I decided to turn and head home. I had lost my earlier pray, but managed to find a lesser kill near the keep." Hunter paused again to gulp down another mug of beer while its foam ran down his beard. For a moment, there was only a low murmur and the sound of tossed coins landing on serving trays as two slender girls wove through the crowd delivering drinks.

A fat man sitting back in a corner, wearing fine silk robes with a young painted whore on each arm called out, "I think you're blowing smoke up our arses old man! Are you sure you didn't eat some funny berries while playing in the woods and it all wasn't a bad dream?" Before Hunter could answer, a nearby guardsman leaned forward and said loudly for all to hear, "Watch the tone of accusation in your voice merchant, I don't care who your friends are, Hunter is one of us!". Several others wearing the Castellan's gray tower on their tabbards nodded in agreement. The keep smith spoke up, "It's true. Look at his necklace. Took me over an hour to drill a hole in the damn thing." Hunter reached down the neck of his jerkin and pulled out something hung on a leather thong. He smiled a toothy grin as he did, revealing several broken teeth that lined up with a heavy scar on the side of his face. Hunter held the trinket up to the firelight for all to see. It was a single large scale, with a hole drilled in it towards the narrow end. It was teardrop shaped, several inches across and about three inches long. It was slightly darker than sky blue with a metallic sheen to it. Gasps were heard throughout the common room followed by scattered applause. The bard flourished his lute again and all the guardsmen cried in unison, "To Hunter!" and downed their drinks.


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