It started with a man, a simple farmer. The Tome tells us of the illness, which spread across the empire of Valdac. It was a disease that slithered through the ground, strangling the land of fertility. Soon, crops became scarce and its people began to starve. Famine gripped the noble empire and forced its expansion to a full halt. With nothing to feed the war effort, and very little to feed its populace, Valdac slowly recoiled into its homelands. This was not the only manifestation of the disease. There was something else, left in its wake. It was a mutation, described by some as a slow and painful changing of the skin. Those that ate the tainted crops were at the mercy of the illness. The time of change was variable; between months and mere moments. But, in every host, it was drastic. The skin was the first to change, with small places on the arms and abdomen where skin was overcome by scale. The spots would grow, until the host was covered in a scaly coat. The next part of the change took time. Muscles grew beneath the scale and bones began to take a different shape. The skull was elongated and teeth were replaced with sharpened fangs. The face was slowly pushed outward, making a snout. When the change was in its advanced stages, the diseased was considered a dragonkin, not a human. This took its toll on "the changed;" in the early days, they were few and completely shunned by the unchanged. At first, the Old Valdac tried to live with them, to treat them as dregs. But, with the scarcity of food and the ever-growing mania amongst the citizens, "the changed" would become targets of aggression. The few that survived the vicious mob mentality were at the mercy of crown. All dragonkin were eventually exiled from Valdac, forced to live off of the sickly earth and to die alone. This was the beginnings of the Draksar, and their Sundered Lands. But the Draksar Empire did not begin with mistrust. It started with a man, a simple farmer, and his son.
The man was Bladen Windfury, and he ran with his son on his back. The boy was his only remaining possession. Even through his thick scales, he could feel the warmth of his child. It was the one thing he lived for, and they wanted to take that too. So, he ran from them, from his home in the hills, from the wife that lay bruised on the ground, the wife that begged him to take the boy and run, the wife that would suffer for harboring a dragonkin, and the priest that hunted him. His lungs were still fresh, although he had been running for miles. His legs continued to pound at the dirt-covered road, with no sign of fatigue. Perhaps it was fear that fueled him. Or, perhaps, it was the illness. These thoughts were furthest from Bladen's mind. Get to Elsarin, he told himself. Get him to safety.
The moon covered the desolate plain in blue. The air was brisk, but it didn't bother him. They were nearing Helenda, a former colony of Valdac, where the residents had sympathy for the dragonkin. They would take them in; maybe even help them on their journey to Elsarin. However, they would not deny a priest's request. If the priest, Jeret, wanted to find Bladen in a kind stranger's home, all he had to do was ask. They would hide in a stable. He would let his son sleep, while he kept watch. From there, the border of Elsarin was no more than a morning's walk away. Bladen knew the night would be long, but he had no other options. His son needed warmth, a quiet place to rest.
"I can't see it."
"We are almost there. Don't worry."
"Not far. Do you see the torches of the guard? There?"
He pointed to the beautiful beads of light in the distance, the promise of rest and safety.
"That's really far."
"We are almost there, Akakios. Don't worry."
His pace quickened as the torch light grew in the distance. He felt a joy in his heart, long absent since he found the first markings of his illness. It was an elation that lightened his scaly legs. Soon, Bladen was running at the pace of a steed, kicking up dirt from the road as he ran. He kept Akakios close, feeling the child's grip loosen around his neck. The boy's head fell to his shoulder and he felt a warm sigh press through his tunic. A boy was not meant to make such a journey, he thought. This is a man's journey, to move away from his family and his home. This was not Akakios's journey, but there was no choice. Jeret would kill the boy. He was the priest of their village and his sermon was not from the old books. He did not teach the old scriptures of the dragon-gods Valdac and Vindrax. His spoke of new gods. They were deities in the image of humans, not dragons, and they had built the world from Nora. They formed the land, gave it life and death, and they continued to govern its workings from the sky. With these new gods, there was no place for the likes of dragonkin. They were creatures that were not governed by the new gods. They were forsaken. Over time, Jeret's sermon became poisoned, filled with fervor against the abominable changelings.
"This is a curse," said the priest.
"Your brothers have not accepted the teachings of Dalnis, they do not believe in him or his daughters. And for this, they pay the price."
Jeret paced behind the altar, his brow firm and his eyes frenzied.
"The change is painful, because it is punishment!"
Memories of the rabid preacher danced in his mind. The thoughts conjured the growl of a dragon. His son was too far asleep to notice. Bladen, he thought, calm yourself! It was not the time to think of such things. Helenda, respite, was a few minutes travel, at a steed's pace. From there, they would find refuge in Elsarin.
The guards gave them no trouble; a dragonkin was never to be bothered unless the odds were in ones favor. Instead, each gave a darted glance, a quick nod, and returned to their duties of staring out into the night. One guard paused, seeing Bladen's bewildered gaze. It was Helenda's guard captain; Bladen knew by the blue cloth draped over his chainmail.
"No trouble, Lizardman?"
The question tore at Bladen's heart.
"No trouble. I just need a place to stay. My son is tired."
The guard cleared his throat. Perhaps he could see the arms wrapped around Bladen.
"The trader has extra beds in his shop, for a price."
"I want a secluded place, if that is possible."
"The boy can stay at the shop, and you can sleep in the stables by the guard's post. There are no more animals there, anyway."
"I will rest with my son. I don't want anyone to harm him. You understand, don't you?"
The guard frowned and motioned to the small stable in the corner of town. A single lamp brought meager light to the interior; the far edge was in shadows. However, it was inviting to a traveler, especially one that had spent most of the day on foot. It was late, and Akakios was barely able to hold on. So, he released his son, resting him in the hay, and sat beside the sleeping boy. He was a small boy, no more than 5 years and no smaller than an average boy. It was Bladen who had grown. The sickness had taken his hands, his legs, his body, his neck, and parts of his face. Through agonizing pain, he had grown a foot taller, his legs wider, and his hands bigger. His feet and legs were completely lost to the disease, they were the haunches of a dragon. The claws that came from his stout fingers were small, no larger than a dagger point, but he had seen what they became in some. The Change was not done with him; he still had most of a man's face. It was the face of a father, and it too would succumb.
Bladen's mind couldn't find rest; no matter how hard he tried to close his eyes and to rest his body, his mind stayed awake. So, he let it wander, in the hopes that he would find sleep in thought. He found Varia, a young woman sitting on a stone wall and looking out at a field of fresh wheat. Her scarlet hair rested on her shoulder, occasionally shifting in the light breeze. A strand came undone and lifted into the air, flying freely before she caught it and tucked it behind her ear. She was young, but she understood that the wheat would not always be there. So, she watched it sway. She did this when she could and, after they were acquainted, Bladen would join her. He would sit beside her on the stone wall and watch the wheat sway. This time, he stayed away. How could she understand the Change? He didn't understand it completely. He looked down at his body. It was not the boy that sat beside her, or the young man that asked for her hand, or the man that worked beside her in the fields while their child slept in its cradle. It was a brood of Vindrax, avatar of destruction, dragon-god of apocalypse and never-ending punishment, and she would never understand why her husband changed and why he would never be her husband again. Bladen would never understand. What had he done to deserve such a curse? Why was his wonderful life ruined? His crops died and he still kept his family healthy and well-fed, and then the disease swept across their small home. It started as a small green pock, on his stomach, that grew with each passing day. He watched it spread across his chest, onto his arms, down his legs, and eventually his entire body was scaled. Eventually, he couldn't hide the affliction beneath his tunic, so the villagers retreated from him. It didn't take long for their fear to turn to anger. Soon, when the rations from the capital arrived, his family received the smallest share. As Bladen reached for the bundle, a villager cursed him, told him the food was for humans. Their disdain took its toll on Bladen, and on his family. What had he done to deserve this? What had he done to deserve exile? The questions riled him up from his snooze. He could no longer find Varia amongst them. So, he opened his eyes.
Akakios was lying on his stomach, his head resting on his folded arms. His face was turned away from the torch light. So young, and so strong, a boy that could endure a man's journey, Bladen thought. The world would need men like him, in a dim and desolate future. Things were grim: the largest empire in the world was crumbling, the elves remained silent during Valdac's famine, the dwarves of Ironfist sent what they could. There was no hope on the horizon for Valdac's people. No hope, save for the boy that slept in the hay. Akakios must have a better life, Bladen thought, he must live in a healthy world, one where he will never have to worry about his future. He would make sure of it.
A figure appeared at the entrance, startling Bladen to his feet. It was the Guard Captain.
"You said there would be no trouble!"
Bladen narrowed his eyes.
"There's a priest here that says he's hunting a dragonkin. Are you Bladen Windfury?"
They must have been hot on our heels, Bladen thought, must have caught up while we rested.
We shouldn't have stopped in Helenda. We should have kept moving! But, what good would that do?
Jeret would follow them, wherever they ran. And if it wasn't Jeret on their trail, it would be someone else. What did it matter? What if they reached Elsarin? They would be chased from there too. There was no place for a dragonkin and his son.
"I am. Where is this man?"
"He's at the well. He's riled up a few followers. He wants your blood, dragonkin."
Bladen Windfury would not run that night. He would face his hunter.
"I will go there and meet with him."
Bladen began to move, but stopped. Akakios had stirred, looking to him with sleep in his eyes.
The boy could still be safe. He could still have a future, but it would not be with his father.
Bladen turned back to the guard.
"Don't tell him about my son. Please. Keep the boy safe."
The guard frowned as Bladen passed him and out into the night.
"No trouble, sir."
There was anger in the world and the only way to face it was with the same vitriol. People like Jeret would never understand the pain, caused by their actions. They would need to be taught. That night, in Helenda, Bladen faced Jeret. He tried his best, through words, to calm the mania that Jeret had created. But, his words were overcome by Jeret's sermon. The townspeople were unsympathetic. Yet, Bladen continued to speak, begging them to stop the madness. But, there was no stopping their madness with reason, with composure. And when reason failed, ire took its place. That night, the priest felt the wrath of Vindrax. There was no pity in his attacker's eyes, no compassion. There was a man's glare and a dragon's claws. The guards could do nothing to save Jeret from the savage; they could only watch in horror. That night, there were the cries of a priest and the roars of a man, pushed to a point beyond anger, into a realm of fury and hatred pure and raw. That night, Jeret became a fable, a cautionary tale of the dangerous dragonkin. That night, a dragonkin, dissatisfied with his plight, took his fate, and the fate of millions after him, into his own hands. It was the start of an empire, untold years away from that single act. The death of Jeret Giral by Bladen Windfury marked the beginnings of the Draksar and their empire.
After his fury subsided, Bladen fled from Helenda. He did not get far; a few, from Helenda's guard, had mustered the courage to chase him into the town of Lornus. He stayed there for a few days, holed up in an abandoned house. When the supply of rats had run dry, he emerged to the guards. The scales had consumed most of his face, and his pupils had turned to horizontal slits. He had torn the blood-drenched tunic from his body and had wrapped it about his waist. The guards approached him, their longswords drawn.
"Sheath them, soft skins. My quarrel was not with you."
He was taken to the capital of Valdac, where he was held prisoner. He was not tried for his crimes, for no one dared to approach him without guards and the thought of placing him before the king was madness. Instead, he was locked in a dungeon, deep within the Castle Valdac. His time in captivity was meager meals and time. There was time for thought, to think on the things that he spent so long avoiding. The Valdaci treated him with disdain, their anger growing with each day. His plight was made all the more difficult by his actions; he was a dragonkin and a murderer. He was joined by other dragonkin, who shared in his torment. Soon, they would leave to repair the broken Valdac. Bladen was told to stay, that murderers were not allowed to work. Murderers were supposed to be hung and yet they would not make him answer for his crime. They spent their days with minor repairs. Bladen had grown since his captivity, from sleepless nights spent in agony. His face had been made into a snout, with sharp fangs bared. Months passed, before the soldiers tasked him with lifting stone and carrying heavy loads.He worked in silence, only ever speaking when he was given an order. The same was true of the other dragonkin; never speaking, only working. At night, their silence continued. They only hung their heads and let the air between them speak their defeated souls. Occasionally, one would reel in pain, as the others watched him. None of them were done with their Change. Their pain was shared, the physical, the emotional, the spiritual. They were kin. And yet, they never spoke a word to each other, within those terrible walls. The stone would listen; it would pass their conversations to the guards beyond the iron gate. Then, they would probably be chastised or beaten for speaking ill of the kingdom. So, they remained silent.
They worked, every day, until they were told to line up in front of the front gates. With soldiers at their flanks, they were led from Valdac and out into a desert plain. They were held at crossbow-point and told to continue walking forward. Bladen spoke.
"Is this it? We've worked to repair your city! We've done so much for you!"
"Why are you doing this? We helped you."
"There are reports of dragonkin attacks near Elsarin."
Another dragonkin spoke up.
"And so you're sending us to our deaths? Because we are too dangerous to keep around?"
Another chimed in.
"We didn't do anything!"
A soldier spoke up, keeping his crossbow pressed firmly against his shoulder.
"You are a threat to Valdac."
"This isn't fair!"
Another soldier stepped forward.
Bladen snarled. The pain of exile had finally overcome him. They rebuilt a city, only to be pushed from it in disgust. The humans didn't deserve their kingdom. They never knew what it was to sweat over their creations, only to have it ripped from their tired hands. The abuse would never end, not until the humans were gone.
"I hope you all change! I hope you all suffer the same fate that we have!"
Another dragonkin picked up a rock. A soldier trained his crossbow on him. The point of the bolt shook with excitement. Bladen raised his hand to the dragonkin. This was not the time.
"No. We won't fight. We will go. But you will face dragonkin again. I can only hope you face them in the mirror or in the tears of your children's eyes."
They slowly backed away from the soldiers. Each one disappeared into the horizon. Bladen was the last to disappear. He would stop, look back at the soldiers, and continue walking, until he was a small figure in the distance and then a speck, and then nothing.
They would wait for their moment. It would take years for their forces to grow, and more for their courage. It started with a man, a simple farmer. It became a war between dragonkin and the full-blooded humans. It became a movement, as zealous in purpose as its opposition. The face of Valdac changed many times over a small period, from soft, human flesh to scale. The attackers were no longer dragonkin; they referred to themselves as Draksar, children of the dragon. Skirmishes were bloody; both sides fought viciously and neither would surrender. The disease still raged through the streets, claiming human and dwarf alike. The human forces lost their greatest soldiers, either to the battle or to the disease. They turned their swords towards each other, attacking friends who had the slightest hint of scale. With their downfall drawing closer, the soft-skins retreated into the Castle Valdac. They had no hope of stopping the Draksar war machine. The dragonkin were made for war, with weapons and armor stolen from the vanquished foes that lay lifeless along the cobblestone of the streets. They marched in line, breaking formation only to descend on the scattered enemy. They had discipline, more so than any legion their adversaries had faced. The Draksar army swept across the city in a wave, burning houses, feasting on live stock and slaughtering any soft-skinned humanoid they crossed. Their advances ended in the throne-room of the king. That day, the human dominion of Valdac was lost; the king of Valdac was run-through, the Valdaci crown pulverized and left beside the lifeless ruler. With the death of their king, and the loss of their kingdom, humans fled from Valdac. Few could ever escape the zealous Draksar.
A new leader emerged, to guide the new Draksar Empire to total victory over Valdac. This leader was named Akakios. He was once a small boy, living in the town of Helenda, abandoned by his father. The boy would learn to fight from, the Guard Captain, the man that took him in, and he learned strength from the tales of his father. He was never told about the night the priest was torn asunder; he was told of a man who stood against the opposition and paid the price, so that his son could have a good life. These tales of bravery followed Akakios into adulthood. And when the disease spread into Helenda, he submitted to the Change. With his new-found strength, and the resolve to become a titan, like his father, he became more powerful than any one could ever imagine. With an inspiring presence towards his allies, and an unmatched ruthlessness to his enemies, he led a legion of Draksar against Valdac. The boy, Akakios, became the Draksar Lord, ruler of the Draksar Empire.
The simple farmer's story is not over. He had abandoned his fellow exiles, the Dunewalkers, to find a better life in the mountains of the Cyclops Empire. However, when their peaks were shattered, he was never heard from again. Not until recently. The barbarians of Ironfist gave accounts of a dragon, the length of two siege engines and the girth of a fort, swooping down and taking barbarians in his claws. One, in particular, said the dragon had spoken to him, in an Old Valdaci dialect.
"He was Bladen Windfury," said the barbarian
"He said he would hunt humans, dwarves, and elves until none were left, that he would make them pay for their crimes. He kept talking about the change. He said it was not a curse, that a curse could never give power. The Draksar's corruption was a gift, from the avatar of Destruction. He told me to say that no one was safe. I will never forget his words. I will never forget the smell of the dead on his breath."
Perhaps, somewhere in the Shattered Peaks, amongst the rubble of broken rock, the Change in Bladen Windfury was completed. The pain, from years of persecution, turned to resentment, and the resentment to anger, and the anger to hatred. The hatred festered, tainting the blood the simple farmer. To the barbarians, and to all that have seen the dragon or heard it in the distance, it is not the simple farmer, the man that ran with his son on his back. It is known as the Exile.