The Dragon's Apprentice

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Chapter 3

Cormyr (13th of Eleint, 1366 Dalereckoning)


He started, waking in the dark. Careful not to also wake his mate, he disentangled himself from her, and stood between her and the curtain that led outside. He sniffed the air.

He hissed, puzzled, detecting an unusual scent in the warm, stale air. Collecting his bow and a pair of arrows, usually reserved for hunting, Ryuu crept outside, taking in the dim starlight filtering down through the trees as he scanned for signs of intruders. Nothing; his village, a collection of straw thatch yurts, was as it always was. The village was not large; two columns of yurts, placed at the flattest, rockiest earth on the beach of the wide river oasis, a simple rope bridge connecting one side to the other. The communal fire-pit was on the other side, in a shallow bowl lined with large stones taken from the nearby desert. All was well. The scent was gone. He could not track it further...

Hissing a second time, but more in irritation at his interrupted sleep, the Lizardman slipped back into his yurt and considered laying back down. Oki, his mate, had not woken, and the bedroll they shared looked awfully tempting. Shrugging, Ryuu sat cross-legged against the wall, and watched her sleep, his eyes quickly adjusting to the low visibility. She was curled in a tight little ball, her long, narrow tail resting just under her chin. Her hooked claws were just out of range of the bedroll, so she did not tear it if she stirred. Her belly was swollen with eggs, though at this stage it was impossible to tell how many she might lay for her first clutch. She was nude; more because of the summer heat than anything they might have done beforehand, the better to reveal her gleaming slate-colored scales. Smiling, Ryuu relaxed, watching the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest as she breathed.

After a time, she woke. Her eyes were a beautiful shade of gold-flecked amber, and they had always been her most distinguished attribute. Those eyes darted from side to side, confused. "Ryuu?" she asked, her tongue flickering as she tried to place him in the room. When she found him in the dark, she smiled, albeit dazedly, rubbing her eyes. She was attractive among their kin, with her wide birthing hips, slender neck, and shapely tail, enough so that she could have chosen any of the males of the village as a mate. But she had chosen him, even though he was in his middling years. He had never understood why, but he did not need to.

"Yes, sun on my scales." he replied, his voice a much softer, gentler pitch than was normal among their kin, "I could not sleep. I am sorry if I woke you as well".

Shrugging, Oki sat up, favoring her belly, "I felt a little flushed anyways".

"Morning sickness?" he asked, to which she nodded, "Just like every morning, and half of every cycle. I swear, they had better come out soon, because I have no idea how I keep them fed".

Chuckling, Ryuu nodded, "Aye, but fear not. It is only a few more tendays. After that, we can wait a while to make the next". "I had not even considered that." she groaned comically, "Laying really is a bother." to which he laughed, "Peace, sun on my scales. Your mind will change once they hatch ".

To that, she smiled, "Maybe. Mother talks about it all the time. If it is anything like that..."

"What do you think we should name them?" she asked suddenly, and Ryuu shrugged, "If there are females, strong names. If there are males...strong names all around. They will come to need them, I am sure".

"Like yours?" she asked, "Dragon Spirit seems like a strong name, fit for a warrior".

"A little excessive, I think." he shrugged, "I am no Dragon. I still do not know what my own mother was thinking."

"How are they doing?" she asked, "I know you just got back from visiting them in the evening, but I was too tired to ask".

He frowned, "Mother is ready to pass into the beyond, and Father might soon join her". Her smile died instantly, "Oh. I...I am sorry. I did not mean to-"

"No, do not fret." he interrupted, offering a tired, sad smile, "It is their time, perhaps. All find their journey in time. I will do what I can to keep them comfortable. The rest is up to them".

Nodding, Oki eyed him, before yawning, her mouth opening wide, her uniformly sharp, pointed teeth in stark profile, "I am about ready to go back to sleep. How about you?" to which he shrugged, "Perhaps. If not, I will end up sleeping tomorrow, and then where will I be?"

She smiled mischievously, "Probably receiving another admonishment from the patriarch for being lazy".

Oki lay down, curling up again, and Ryuu joined her, stretching out before pressing against her, "What need has a male for playing an instrument like the soft skins, when there is hunting to be done, he asks? He did not complain much about my professions when my herbs treated his dysentery!" to which Oki giggled, "That put a pep in his step, certainly. Fret not, Ryuu, he will accept you in time. He is just stubborn".

Ryuu felt Oki relax in his grip, sighing, and he followed her into slumber...


Haidée snapped awake just as she felt this Ryuu drift asleep, and found herself in her father's bed.

What was she doing-

And then the evens of the last day imposed upon her at once.

"Oh..." she moaned, lifting her hands to her face. They were cold, and she looked to them, dumbstruck.

They were pale, so pale. There were a pair of small puncture marks along her wrist, lined in red. Her nails had darkened. They were thicker too, much more firmly rooted to her fingertips, curving slightly near their pointed tips.

Claws.

The bandage over her shoulder was gone; she felt for the wound, and found only a thin scar. There was a bucket, in the corner, where Father had cleaned it.

She rose, and then fell out of bed, hitting the floor hard, but she barely felt it.

She had to know.

Haidée went to the bucket, and peered down...

Into a reflection of the walls and ceiling of the room. Nothing more.

It wasn't a dream. The bite. The kiss. Blood flowing down her throat, bubbling from her lips. The laughing god.

All of it.

She curled into a ball, and felt herself shake with the strength of her cries, though she buried them in herself, and made no sound.

Gods, gods help her!

Eventually, when she felt too drained to continue, she lifted her head, and looked around. She found the man, the Lizardman, from her dreams, sitting cross-legged on the bare table, eyeing her intently.

"Feeling better, I trust." he said, crossing his arms and grinning, "How is it?"

"What?"

"Undeath. Not what you were expecting, right?"

The desolation threatened, but Haidée held it at bay. Something about him seemed to steady her.

She wasn't sure what to think of that.

She paused, sitting up, "I guess. I feel...dry."

"Like old paper?"

"Kind of."

"I can fix that. Close your eyes."

She did, and as he stepped over to her, she smelled some heavenly aroma. It reminded her of carved beef, dripping with dark sauce...

Haidée bit down into something hard, but it was just as juicy, and she drank in. She started to ask what he had brought, but opened her eyes to find she was gnawing on his forearm.

As she gagged, sputtered an apology, Ryuu laughed, "Now, now. You weren't going to do that on your own. And you feel better now, yes?"

She nodded, scowling at him, "Ryuu-"

"You will not refer to me by name. I am your tutor, your mentor. I will accept nothing less than Master. Do you understand?"

"Yes, ...Master."

"Good. Now then, when you returned from death, I heard you murmuring something; a name, that you should not know. Oki. What did you dream about? Do you remember?"

Haidée had to ponder for a moment; soon, she began recalling details of her strange dream, and she gasped, "Oh. I...I dreamed I was you, Master."

He chuckled, though she saw something else in his expression that she couldn't identify, "That happens sometimes; when you are first turned, you get a few memories from your sire. Nothing too important. Anyway, now that you're awake it's time we had a chat."

"Was that real?"

Ryuu tilted his head, uncertain, "Huh?"

"With Oki. Did that really happen?"

"Whatever you saw? Yes, it did."

"Where did you come from? Where was this happening?"

Ryuu sighed, "Alright, you win; business can wait. My people came from the mountains south of Chondath. You call us Lizardfolk, and after a few centuries as slaves to the Humans of that region, we lost track of what we called ourselves or our tribe. Eventually, we were freed by one of our own, a Druid of Mielikki who had decades ago escaped to the north and trained with the Elves. After freeing us, she had created an oasis north of Hlondeth in the neighboring Turmish, a hidden place for us to live free and safe."

"You were and are well spoken for someone living in a secluded oasis."

"Hah, you mean for a Lizardfolk? Well, generations of slavery had given my tribe a good grip on the Human tongues, and we did trade every now and again with Hlondeth. We always bought books, never having enough time to figure out what they were; mostly, we sought forging manuals and spell tomes, but hardly wanted anyone to become privy to that. I ended up with all the blowsy romance novels, and took an instant liking to them. With fair ladies with gorgeous faces and plunging blouses, of knights in silvery plate and fearsome steeds, dragons in dark caves and evil wizards with braided beards and pointed hats. You know, that stuff. I tailored my speech to mimic them."

"What happened to you? To her?"

His expression soured, and closed over, "Maybe another time. For now, we have much to do. Now that you're a Vampire, you need a good idea of your new abilities, and your new limitations."

"Oh?"

Ryuu nodded.

"Oh? Yes; it is a mixed blessing, child. We can go over the abilities first, though. Since you haven't managed the rite of passage of the first feeding, most of your powers are not available to you. A little snack isn't going to cut it, you see. It is like learning to walk, when you can only crawl. First, you are much stronger now. You could easily overpower a male of your species...but I would give it some time before you go fist-a-cuffs with an Ogre or something similarly proportioned."

Haidée nodded.

"You are much faster too. You could outrun a practiced sprinter, and you do not become winded. Have you noticed that you aren't breathing?"

She gulped, waited, now focusing on it, and nodded, disturbed.

"Right then. Some idiots keep breathing, and get winded only because they would have been in life. Good that we don't need to bother. For the finesse side, we will train with fists, running, and with periods of lifting heavy things. I have a few stone slabs prepared for you."

"How did you do that already?" she asked, "It has only been hours..."

"It has been two days, child. Now Hush! Anyway, once we have that down, I will teach you blade work. I find it sharpens the intellect as much as the reflexes and intuition. When I feel like you can handle a sword without cutting off your hand, we can begin with sorcery."

"What?" Haidée stammered, "I am no wizard..."

Ryuu grinned, "Yes, you are. You are my child now, as much as you are Tolon's. Perhaps more so. You have inherited my ability to tap Mystra's weave. Also, your flesh resists the bite of steel and cold, and many magical effects. Necromancy, save that of a clerical nature, cannot effect you, because you are already dead."

A wizard... She would be a wizard? Like in the chapbooks?

On one hand, she was sickened; she was raised as a magic-fearing person. Better that people solved their problems with politics, honest trading, or, if that failed, steel. Something about one person being able to call down storms, obliterate whole armies, and otherwise violate the laws of nature, just seemed wrong.

On the other hand, she had been looking for something else in her life besides a marriage to-

"Oh gods..." she moaned, "Esmer..."

What would he think now? How could she ever face him as a... As a...

"Forget him."

"But he is to be my-"

"Forget him." Ryu said calmly but in a tone that brooked no argument, "As a fledgling Vampire, you cannot yet control your thirst. You do not love him...but you have the potential to. You need to fight that; desire triggers the thirst like nothing else. You do not want a slain lover on your conscience. Believe that."

His face closed over.

It silenced her protests.

"Which brings me to the downside of your new status. Take this."

He handed her a little pouch of cured leather, tied by a thick string. Curious, she opened it, and found a little scrap of cloth; quilted cloth.

"What is this?"

"A scrap of the blanket you died in. Items from your grave mean a great deal. Normally, you would have to return to the spot of your death every morning to sleep, but, since you have a much older strain than what is often floating around, you just need a pinch of something taken from that spot. You can sleep, in a state akin to death, anywhere you want...but you probably want to find a nice secluded spot. You don't want anyone stumbling upon your body, do you?"

He chuckled, as if remembering just such an occurrence, regaining his feet in a single lithe motion, poking at the fire burning in the hearth. While she registered its warmth in a dim, detached way, she couldn't actually feel it.

"You will burn in the light of the sun. You will burn in fire with the rapidity of a troll. You will dissolve in running water. Cross a river by using a bridge, or, if you are strong enough, tearing down a tree to serve as one. When you're older, you can fly right over, but not yet. You cannot enter a private place, such as a home, without first being invited by the occupant. Public places like an inn or a shop should be no problem, unless many people live there regularly. You can betray your presence near mirrors, because, as you noticed, you have no reflection. I would avoid garlic cloves and onions, and silver, and sharpened wood, and holy symbols. Speaking of which, avoid priests of all stripes; the good ones can kill you, and the bad ones can enthrall you, and then kill you."

"That is a great deal to remember, Master."

"Aye, and you will remember all of it if you want to live! I am investing a great deal of my time on you."

"And why are you doing it?"

He eyed her askance.

Haidée looked down, abashed. Whatever his reasons, he had saved her life.

"I'm sorry. I just want to know."

He grinned, "Is it so unusual that I would not be averse to feminine company for a time? Besides, I have never taken in offspring, nor have I made any in this way. You are my first, Haidée."

She was not sure what to say to that. He didn't seem to need a response.

"Now then, midnight approaches and we have much to do. Get up and get dressed. Because I like you does not mean I will go easy! I told the priest you would be ready and gone from this place in two weeks, and I intend to keep my word!"


Esmer sat in his room. The curtains were closed. It was night, but he didn't bother to light the lantern on the nightstand.

He didn't want to see.

The darkness perfectly mirrored his thoughts. Haidée... Beautiful, sweet, poor Haidée...

"Oh gods..." he wept, shaking with the strength of his grief. Maybe if he had kept his distance... Maybe his family would not have noticed, would not have pressed his suit, would not have stressed her so much..

He crushed his hands against his face, feeling like the most wretched creature in existence. By the time he had purchased a priest in the House of the Morning, it had been too late. Tolon had approached him, half led and half carried by a man marked as a penitent of Ilmater, not the god of Eveningstar but held in high esteem regardless. Tolon had said little; the priest had told him of his betrothed and her affliction, her terminal affliction...

Esmer had not said a word to anyone since; two days had passed. He ate what the servants brought him, and he sat and ruminated. He had not even seen her...had not said goodbye...

Broken, lost, he pictured her face, of all the times they had spoken, of all the times they would never be able to do so...


He left Tolon to grieve in his own way. He had purchased two rooms with Ryuu's gold. Tolon had not taken a drink, as Ryuu had suggested. That was well; men fell into the bottle and never came back out for far less.

Alexander, for his part, grieved in his own way, but more so, he was lost.

He did not know what to do; never before had he experienced such a crisis in his faith.

Another priest would have told him to destroy the Vampires, that their souls knew no peace in undeath. That Vampires, like all other undead, could bring only evil. Could be only evil.

But it was not the same.

Ryuu was no lich, that had chosen their fate though necromancy and a selfish desire to prolong death. He had been turned against his will! Nor was he a Zombie, whose choices long since became moot. He was a rational, thinking creature, albeit a dangerous one. But then, was one's potential evil punishable? Many men and women could potentially commit great evil, but did not.

Even then, it did not matter.

Ilmater was a god of forgiveness, as much as peace, forever hopeful that evil beings could one day be turned to good, and encouraged the same hope of his followers. Ryuu may be something generally considered evil, but he had suffered such abuse, and an eternity of undeath to which he did not choose. That would have changed anyone, and far more than it had changed him.

He was a victim, not a monster.

He had done nothing that would give Alexander the impression that he acted like a Vampire might. True, they were remarked upon as creatures of deception. But Ryuu could not fake his wounds. He could not lie in his actions.

"He Who Endures..." he moaned, kneeling in the corner of the room, "What must I do? What is this puzzle that is Ryuu?"


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