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Original article from Dragon Magazine 248

[top]The Dragon of Vestaive Peak

by Ed Stark, illustrated by Dan Burr
IF KINGS AND HEROES REPRESENT THE PRESENT OF THE LAND KNOWN AS CERILIA (the setting of the AD&D® BIRTHRIGHT® campaign) then dragons stand for its past. Even the immortal elves cannot remember a time when dragons were young or plentiful in Cerilia, and tales from other parts of Aebrynis do not indicate that these great creatures fare any better on the world's other continents. But still, a few dragons do remain. Even the youngest of them is nearly a millennia and a half old. The eldest remaining, who can say? And what has kept it hidden from the land for so long?
And what has woken it now?
The dragon of Vstaive Peak - known to local legend as "Vore Lekiniskiy," or "Master Fire Worm" has been nothing more than an ancient tale of smoke and rumor for longer than the barbaric humans of the land have dwelt in the region. Once, he simply served as an explanation for the occasional earthquakes that rocked the mountains between the Raven's realm and the free land of Yeninskiy. But now it has been proven that "Master Fire Worm" is frighteningly real.
The Awakening
The black-clad troops of the awnshegh known as the Raven moved quickly toward the high mountain pass between Vstaive Peak and the less hills below. Their timing was perfect. A winter storm, perhaps summoned by their master's magic, drove the Vos of Yeninskiy into their homes and kept them there. The winds broke on the foothills of the mountain, strangely leaving the passes open for the quick march. The commanders drove their troops through the night, camping briefly and only in darkness, lest some brave border guard from below spot a speck of fire where none should be.
The orog and human army took what refuge it could in the deep caves of Vstaive Peak. Mercenaries, bought and paid for by the Raven, they cared little for the legends of haunted caverns and dragons out of the past. Even when the ground began to shake beneath them, the army only settled in to endure what could only be a short tremor before they could move on.
But they were wrong. The ground shook, and moved, and rumbled. The bravest of the officers tried to organize a retreat down to the foothills on either side, to avoid the shifting rock and the falling boulders. Most simply fled or cast themselves behind larger stones, hoping to be spared amid the avalanche. But no precaution was enough to bear what followed.
From out of the side of the mountain - not out of a cave or a hidden pass, but out of the mountain itself - a giant, clawed paw rose amid the tumult of the army. Right up under one commander's feet it rose, then smashed down, crushing her guard and throwing her screaming down the mountainside.
Higher up the mountain, a cave opened where none had been before, and a rumble that sounded more like a roar ushered forth. In terror, those nearest the mountains "mouth" fell on their faces rather than flee. A scalding breath cleansed the life from their bodies and their bodies from the mountain.
Of the handful of soldiers near enough to see the disaster yet far enough away to escape the wrath of the mountain, only a few survived to report to the Raven the destruction of their army. It is said the old awnshegh, old enough to be one of Azrai's Lost, sat down heavily in his castle and wondered at the tale. He allowed his officers to live after their failure, so awestruck was he, and the Raven has not ordered another attack on Yeninskiy yet - at least not through the passage of Vstaive Peak.
A Tale from the Past
Many legends surround the infancy and adolescence of the land known as Cerilia and the world of Aebrynis. It has, most recently, been discovered that before elves walked the continent where humans now rule, races of giants and great monsters lived. Little is known of the Age of Monsters in Cerilia, but it has been said that the dragons of the land once vied with the giants for dominance. They met to parlay, to ally, and to battle.
Since the disaster of Vstaive Peak, the Raven has searched for any tale that can lead him to understand how the borders of his land were "blessed" with the presence of an apparently ancient Cerilian dragon. While the awnshegh has made no effort to pass along any tales or histories he learns, stories do get out. The tale of Vore Lekiniskiy is growing.
No one knows how old "Master Fire Worm" might be, but it is known that no dragon has lived in these mountains since the Battle of Mount Deismaar and the coming of humans to Vosgaard. Through his magics and his spies, the Raven has learned that even before Deismaar, when dragons were occasionally seen in the skies over Cerilia, not one would fly within a hundred miles of this land. Indeed, the Flight of Dragons that arrived to the last battle between Azrai's forces and the humans he wished to dominate is known to have flown around the land that became Yeninskiy, settling near enough to the forests of Cwmb Bheinn to cause a panic among the elves there.
It was elven legend that led the Raven to his next discovery. The dragons of Cerilia have always been loners, even when they were more plentiful. Meeting occasionally to mate and only staying with their young long enough to raise them to adolescence (with the exception of Weyrzak the Thunderer, another legend told in DRAGON ® Magazine #230), they avoid each other. For the most part. Apparently, the dragon that became known as Vore Lekiniskiy was the exception that proved the rule.
The Domination of dragons
The most recent rumor to reach the Raven's ears tells of one dragon that rose to prominence many millennia ago, after the Age of Monsters but before the rise of elvenkind. This dragon saw the decline of his kind on Cerilia and the rise of lesser races and decided to do something about it. Mustering all his power, he began to visit other dragons - in their lairs, or on their occasional hunts - and talk to them. Instead of driving him off (as is draconian custom) or fleeing him outright (which is also draconian custom when one is confronted by an obviously superior foe), these dragons listened. And so they fell and were doomed. They fell under the sway of Vore Lekiniskiy - Master Fire Worm.
Vore Lekiniskiy possessed magical power surpassing even that of his highly magical race. He proved able to charm younger dragons, bending their wills to his own. Using them as a vanguard, he cut a swath through southern Cerilia that is still remembered in the soil of the barren deserts and blasted wastes of some of the Khinasi lands to this day.
Those dragons Vore could not master became his enemies. Most died or fled Cerilia entirely. It is said the Sea of Dragons gamed its name from dragons who, wounded, collapsed into the ocean and died, causing a foul steam to rise up from the sea for months afterward. "Romanticized legend" or not, it is certain that many dragons died fighting or fleeing Master Fire Worm's onslaught.

The Doom of Vore Lekiniskiy
Fyodor Drakesny, a blooded Vos, believed in his heart that the slayer of Vore Lekiniskiy would emerge as a king of kings, with the power to unite the tribes of the Heartless Waste. Drakesny is one of countless scions who knew the legend of Vore Lekiniskiy and resented the dragon's defending their mountain border from the incursions of the Raven. He despised the notion of a great lizard commanding his fate, and he envied the terror instilled by a mere mention of its name.
Drakesny heard the tale of a Vos regent who wounded Vore Lekiniskiy with a great war spear. The weapon, Vekiyav, was supposedly returned to the capital of Vstaive, dripping with hot blood. The regent himself perished, but the spear - knocked from his grasp - was recovered as the injured wyrm sank back into its mountain facade.
For ages, the great spear has stood in the hall of the ruling tsarevo, free to any scion who would use it to slay the Dragon of Vstaive Peak. Few dared to risk their lives, despite the spear's supposed powers. But Drakesny knew that Vore Lekiniskiy had cause to fear Vekiyav. He dreamt a riddle once: "He who wields Vekiyav and lives must be a man of blood, not a blooded man." Drakesny took this riddle to mean that he, a blooded scion who had never been defeated in battle, could defeat Vore Lekiniskiy with the spear in hand. Thus he paid tribute to the ruling tsarevo and bore Vekiyav to his death.
The spear returned to the tsarevo's hall with stories of Drakesny's spectacular demise. The riddle whispered to Drakesny in a dream has been heard by conmany others in Yeninskiy, but its secret is seldom understood. Any living man may wield Vekiyav, but no blooded scion or regent can use the spear's greater powers. Only an unblooded commoner can employ all of the spear's magical abilities.
Characters who choose to face the dragon may offer tribute to the tsarevo and take Vekiyav from its resting place in the tsarevo's hall. When wielded by a trained Vos warrior, the war spear +3 acts as a medium lance (inflicting double damage in the hands of a mounted, charging warrior). In addition, the barbs on the spear's head embed in an opponent whenever the wielder rolls maximum possible damage (whether mounted or on foot). The embedded barbs inflict an additional 1d6+1 hp damage when removed. In melee, the wielder may simply rip the spear free of his victim on his next attack (no attack roll required). Wounds caused by the spear do not heal naturally; magical healing is required to restore damage. The spear has the power to remove paralysis by touch and can call lightning thrice/week, but only in the appropriate weather conditions.
In the hands of an unblooded but skilled warrior, the spear affords full protection from normal and magical fire (including the Cerilian dragon's breath weapon attack) and inflicts double damage against dragons and their kin. It also protects the wielder against the effects of the dragon's fear aura - a potent item indeed in the battle against the Dragon of Vstaive Peak. To this day, no unblooded warrior has challenged the dragon with spear in hand.

Unlikely Allies
During the legendary "Age of Monsters," it is said that dragons warred with giants and other huge creatures for the domination of Cerilia. It may be that sometime during the end of this age, the old gods of Cerilia were created, the elves were born, and the huge beasts and giants lost their dominance - it may not. But, whatever the case, the remaining dragons of Cerilia needed help to destroy Vore Lekiniskiy. They turned to the remaining civilized giants.
As few and far between as the dragons of Cerilia are now, the civilized giant nations left on the land were loathe to aid the dragons in their quest - until Master Fire Worm turned his breath on their kin. Using magics not seen on Cerilia since, they and the remaining dragons destroyed Vore's dragon allies and drove him back, almost to the end of the continent. But they could not destroy him, for Master Fire Worm still possessed more power than all of them combined. At the last, he used this power to save himself. Fleeing the battle, he dove into the mountains of southern Vosgaard and disappeared - magically entering one of the high mountains and merging with it so that his magic could not be detected amidst the background mebhaighl of the land. Unable to find him and seek their revenge, the remaining dragons and their giant allies eventually gave up and left.
But Vore Lekiniskiy could not return to power. Damaged and drained by his battles and his failures, Master Fire Worm had to use the last of his energy to hide from his enemies. When they left, he found he had waited too long to reemerge from his hiding place. He tried to drawn himself up from the mountain but found the land wrapped around him, entwining him, and merging with his very essence. Horrified and mortally angry, Master Fire Worm found he could no longer master his own body - his roars became rumblings, his struggles earthquakes, and his magic a part of the land itself.
In the millennia since, Vore has occasionally stirred, giving rise to the legends of Vstaive Peak and its "dragon," but he has never been able to extricate himself from the mountain. Indeed, his recent attack on the Raven's troops is the most active he has been in centuries - perhaps a sign that he has gamed the ability to free himself (at least partly) from his hiding place. If so, Vore Lekiniskiy could prove a dangerous addition to an already war-torn region.
Treasure Tales of Vstaive Peak
Wherever there are stories of dragons there are legends of treasure. Even a tale as dubious as the one surrounding Vore Lekiniskiy has spawned it share. The following rumors of treasure have found their way around the Cerilian courts and to the ears of adventurers:
  • Orbs of draconic influence. Vore Lekiniskiy certainly earned the moniker "Master Fire Worm." It is said that his eyes each function similarly to orbs of draconic influence. They can shift the reaction of any Cerilian dragon by up to ten levels (on Table 59: Encounter Reactions) and no dragon can attack a character holding one of Vore Lekiniskiy's eyes unless the dragon is first attacked.
  • Magical tongue. It is said that anyone who eats a piece of Vore Lekiniskiy's tongue and makes a successful saving throw vs. poison can speak with the power of suggestion for an entire turn. Those who fail the save suffer 3d10 hp damage.
  • Jewels. While Vore Lekiniskiy's hide has been merged with Vstaive Peak for millenia, when he frees himself (even temporarily), his skin becomes more draconian. Vore's skin is encrusted with great jewels and gems. Anyone daring enough to search an area of the mountain where Master Fire Worm has recently emerged might find large, valuable gems amid the upturned rocks and avalanche detritus. It is said that each gem possesses some sort of non-lasting magical power (much like a potion - when the gem is clutched in both hands, the power activates), but some bear curses. All are extremely valuable.

The problem with treasure hunting on Vstaive Peak is obvious: the most valuable treasure comes only from Vore Lekiniskiy's own body - and Master Fire Worm, even in his changed state, should be near impossible to harm. Fortunately, there are other ways to use Vore Lekiniskiy's power in a campaign.
Master Fire Worm in Your Campaign
Even if you are not running or playing in a BIRTHRIGHT campaign, a dragon as unusual as Vore Lekiniskiy can be useful. A dragon, imprisoned for millennia in a mountainside, is awakening. He is throwing off his mountain bonds and struggling to be free. All creatures of magical nature in the area (especially other dragons) will be aware of this disturbance - even if they do not know the cause.
While this will cause the most cautious of the magic-sensitive to flee the area, the bravest and most greedy will investigate. In a Cerilian campaign, this means wizards, adventurers, and magical creatures converging on the Vosgaard lands of the Raven and human-ruled Yeninskiy. In other campaigns, other magical and magic-driven creatures begin to investigate an area of the world that probably hasn't had its share of magical happenings in many centuries.
The locals will react accordingly. Even if they do not believe the legends of Master Fire Worm and the awakening of Vstaive Peak, they recognize the problems a convergence of highly magical, high-powered characters and creatures will mean to the region. Most will try to prevent adventurers and monsters from intruding, while others try to profit by their presence.
The Raven will want to eliminate Vore Lekiniskiy or - better yet - enslave him. He knows the power of the Cerilian dragons and would love to add one to his arsenal. If he could obtain even one of Vore's eyes, he would become the premiere awnsheghlien on the continent. Even in a world without awnshegh or dragons of Cerilian caliber, such an artifact would make any warlord powerful.
Finally, Vore Lekiniskiy is starting to remember what freedom felt like. He has incredible magical powers and a desire for revenge against the world that many conspired to trap him. As he grows more and more aware, he may use the greed and curiosity of the small mammals poking around his prison to initiate his release. If he is even partially successful, it could spell doom for the lands around him.
Ed Stark has spent the past three years writing BIRTHRIGHT material and is currently working on new ALTERNITY ® and STAR*DRIVE? projects. He hopes the world will slow down Real Soon Now.

[top]Vore Lekiniskiy, Master Fire Worm

INTELLIGENCE:Supra-genius (20)
ALIGNMENT:Chaotic evil
HIT DICE:25 (169 hp)
NO. OF ATTACKS:3 or special
DAMAGE/ATTACK:1d12+10/1d12+10/2d10+10 or special
SPECIAL ATTACKS:Breath weapon, spells
SPECIAL DEFENSES:Fear aura, gaze, spells, invulnerability
SIZE:G (exact size unknown)
MORALE:Champion (15)
XP VALUE:28000

Magically merged with the mountain known as Vstaive Peak, when Vore Lekiniskiy emerges, he only does so partially. His scaled skin is dotted with dirt, rock, and gems. White bone shows through patches where flesh has not completely returned, giving him the appearance of undeath. But Vore Lekiniskiy is alive, trapped in a madness of his own making. Vore Lekiniskiy attacks using his foreclaws and bite, or he can execute any of the special attacks described in the "Dragon" entry of the MONSTROUS MANUAL? tome except those that require flight or quick movement - Vore Lekiniskiy is tied to the mountain.
Combat: When Vore Lekiniskiy emerges from the mountainside, his head and either one or both of his claws rip free simultaneously. He may be able to free more of his body, but it is thought he cannot bring more than half of it out at any one time. He can attack with both his claws and his bite in the same round.
Vore's breath weapon is like the erupting of a volcano. It is not just fire-but lava and molten rock as well. Because of his tie to the mountain, Vore may use his fiery breath once every three rounds, but it causes him 10 hp internal damage for every blast beyond the first. His breath is a 30' cone that extends at its widest point to 15 feet. It inflicts 25d6+25 hp damage on anything within that area, though victims may attempt to save vs. breath weapon for half. Nonmagical and magical objects must save vs. magical fire or be instantly burned to a crisp.
On the following round, anything or any creature within the path of Vore's breath weapon must make a saving throw again or be overcome by the lava that rushes down the mountainside (Vore is smart enough to never breathe uphill.) The lava inflicts 15d6+15 hp damage to anything in a 15' wide area within 100 feet of Vore's snout.
Vore cannot hunt or move from the mountain, but he can emerge anywhere on the mountain in 2d4 rounds. He can retreat the same way and at the same pace. He can attack while retreating, but he usually retracts his head first, making his claw attacks at 4 until they return to the mountain.
Vore's gaze attack forces opponents to save vs. paralyzation at 4 or be paralyzed for 1d3 turns. He uses this to trap unwary trespassers so that he may occasionally feed (he grows hungrier as he wins free of the mountain). He seldom troubles with the power to automatically use geas, suggestion, or feeblemind on anyone trapped in his gaze, but this may change.
When Vore erupts from the mountainside, he causes an earthquake that forces everyone on the mountain to save vs. paralyzation or be thrown to the ground. The DM may allow modifiers to the saving throw based on how close the characters are to where Vore is erupting. Any character that sees Master Fire Worm ready for battle must save vs. spell at 4 or succumb to a fear spell.
Vore Lekiniskiy can cast wizard spells at the 20th level of ability and has access to nearly any spell available on Cerilia. Recently, there is evidence that Vore has access to realm magic as well (see the BIRTHRIGHT Campaign Set), though this has yet to be confirmed. Fortunately, Vore seldom uses his magical energy to cast spells - he is too concerned with freeing himself from the mountain.

Ecology: Trapped in the mountainside, Vore Lekininskiy had forgotten about such things as "hunger" and "pain" for centuries. Now, he is remembering, and the dragon of Vstaive Peak grows increasingly frustrated with his existence. Chaotic evil in every way, this frustration could turn to mass destruction at any time.

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