The Sovereign's Gold
Once, there was a king who wished to gild every building in his kingdom’s capital. He’d worked for years to secure his fortune, and it seemed a waste to leave it hidden behind locked doors. Why shouldn't he take pride in his wealth? His advisers protested vigorously. After all, there were dragons in the area. If one of them saw the gold, they would surely be drawn to claim it.
The king dismissed their concerns. His army was strong, he assured them, more than capable of meeting a draconic threat. Besides, the display would be all the more impressive when held in defiance of nearby dragons - proof of the strength of the kingdom and its king.
In the end, the redecorating project was carried out, and, for a long time, nothing came of it. Gilded rooftops gleamed brightly in the sun, dazzling visitors and citizens alike. The golden shine of the city became a beacon for merchants and travelers, bringing even more prosperity. As months passed and no dragons swooped down from the sky, the naysayers began to relax and congratulate their vindicated king.
But then, a strange thing happened. Out on the edge of the kingdom, well away from the gilded city, a dragon began to expand their territory, demanding that the peasants pay tribute to them rather than the king. This dragon had dwelt at their border for many years and shown no desire for human lands. The king sent an envoy out to meet the dragon, but the dragon turned them away.
Before the king could decide his next move, he received word that the dragon was encroaching even further into his kingdom, driving off his soldiers and claiming villages. By the time the dragon reached the gilded capital, the king's army was assembled and ready. But the dragon's fire burned hotter than a blacksmith's furnace, melting weapons and armor and flesh into slag.
That night, a new king brooded within the ruined throne room, presiding ominously over their city of gold.
“The Fall of Keraad the Exalted,” an excerpt from A History of the Affairs of the Western Shores as Recounted by Greyclaw the Learned, transcribed by the Lady Amelia
Not all of the dragons in the neighboring territories were pleased to see Keraad expanding his cult. Highwater and Gullport were large economic centers that had once held trade agreements with many dragons. Those cities, now overrun by Keraad’s fanatics, lay within the territory of the “Dragon God” and were therefore subject to his whims. But whatever his neighbors’ misgivings, Keraad had claimed the cities fairly, and no one cared to directly challenge him and his ever-present retinue of zealots.
At the time, I held a humble territory located deep in the forest. A few human settlements fell within my purview, and I collected what minor treasures they could scrounge as tribute in exchange for my protection. It was a fair trade, if not a lucrative one. I had, for the most part, ignored Keraad and his minions, preferring to focus on my own lands. Had I been older and wiser, I might have kept a better eye on him, but I was young then and cared little for politics.
Keraad “the Exalted” - pure kobold flattery, that title - had begun to send his cultists into other dragons’ territories with orders to steal from both Sovereigns and their followers. Even for the most tolerant of dragons, this was a step too far. When one dragon wants something from another of our kind, they declare it to their face. We arrange trades or issue challenges. To manipulate and steal from the little mortals is one thing, but to do so with kin? It is nothing short of dishonorable.
Keraad was older than I and seldom went anywhere without a compliment of fanatical devotees, so I turned for aid to a neighboring Sovereign who called herself Swiftest - an arrogant name, but not unearned. Keraad had stolen from her as well, and she quickly agreed to assist me in my vengeance. She flew into Keraad's territory and began to taunt him, berating him for his crimes as she darted just outside his grasp. She was too quick for the arrows and spears of his followers, and Keraad was forced to pursue her himself. Swiftest led him to my territory where, with no minions to sway the odds, I could challenge him to a fair battle.
Looking back, he seemed so surprised when I confronted him. He'd grown far too used to his servants kneeling at his claws, mewling and whimpering at the sight of him. He had forgotten that he was not the only true dragon in the world.
With teeth and claws and flame, I reminded him. He fought back, of course, but unlike Keraad, I had not spent the better part of my youth living on others' labors. I remember few details of that fight, save the end: in mid-air, we locked claws and fell from the sky, and I twisted him beneath me so that the full force of our landing went into his back and broke him.
Much of his territory, I took for my own, though not all. I would not have been strong enough to hold both his lands and my own. A few of Keraad's former followers - mostly the kobolds - tried to start worshiping me in his stead, but I've always found those creatures to be more trouble than they're worth. I told them to leave me be, and those that would not comply, I devoured.
The dragon cult thus dissolved, the old temples and statues were abandoned, and the forest - eager as ever to add to itself - reclaimed them.
Of Griffins and Dragons
The night was still and quiet on the rocky plains of Andrakestra’s territory. She was patrolling her lands beneath a new moon, and only the flicker of stars overhead gave earth-bound creatures any notice of her passing. It should have been a peaceful flight. As an old dragon with an established territory she had little to fear from intruders. But the night was hardly half over when a shriek cut the silence - a dragon's summon for the Sovereign, twisted with pain. Its echoes led her to a young green dragon with fresh claw marks on his hide and a wing that had been torn to the point of uselessness.
Once she’d assured him of his welcome, the youngster explained that he'd had the misfortune of flying too close to a griffin aerie. He'd been exploring the plains that day when two of the creatures, each almost as big as he was, attacked. They would have shredded him in mid-air if he hadn’t flown into a copse of trees where his natural camouflage concealed him. After night had fallen and the griffins returned to their roost, he’d fled overland to Andrakestra's territory. The old Sovereign had a reputation for showing kindness to younger dragons.
The aerie wasn't in Andrakestra's territory. In fact, it wasn't in anyone's territory. It had been constructed in no man's land over the course of the last decade and, until that moment, had been beneath her notice. Perhaps, the old Sovereign mused, it was time for her to expand her borders once more.
Andrakestra gave the young dragon permission to rest and recover in an old lair that she'd long outgrown and left to settle matters with the griffins. Destroying a griffin aerie was a task comparable to exterminating a nest of hornets that could grow to the size of draft horses. But when pitted against a black dragon of her age and skill on a moonless night, the creatures had no chance.
Andrakestra returned at dawn and dropped the crumpled body of a griffin in front of her half-slumbering guest - more than enough for a young dragon’s breakfast. The creature had broken the hatchling’s wing; now its flesh would help him mend it.