THE KESH

The clouds that boiled and raged overhead were red, like the blood of mortal men. Bolts of acid-green lightning struck the barren, wasted plain that lay spread out beneath the rocky ledge where the young man knelt.
His golden robes were torn and stained, and his face bruised. But still he was proud as he looked up at his saviour. This person, who called itself the Kesh, was as unearthly as this plane. Where its head should have been floated a diamond of some strange material, like grey porcelain.  When the Kesh spoke, the words rang clear and alien in the young man’s ear.
“Whaat do you askk of usssss?”
“I seek vengeance,” the young man said. He picked a spot where the Kesh’s eyes might have been, and fixed that spot unwaveringly with his own golden eyes.
“Thiis has no meaning to usssss…” The voice was the same, but now there was another figure, dressed in the same shapeless black cloak, and with a head that was the same but quite different. Where the first’s was smooth and unbroken, this was twisted and bent in impossible, indescribable ways.
“I seek blood.”
“Yyou have sufficient for liiiiiife,” spoke a third. Neat fragments of that strange material orbited around the figure’s shoulders in a perfect dance.
“I seek conquest.”
Silence, but for the thunder.
“Thiis we alllso desire.” The young man got the impression that all three of them had spoken. “Contemplation we requirre. Waiit now. We shall send for you. Go noow.”
The three Kesh raised their hands, and an eerie green light washed over the young man. When it cleared, he found himself lying on cold stone, in a dark cavern. He shrugged, and began counting his coins.

Dragons are nothing if not patient.

AFTERMATH OF THE FIRST DRAGON WAR – SCOUT’S PERSPECTIVE

The early morning twilight sent a cool glow through Scout Commander Vek’s tent canvas. He sighed, and gave up on getting any more sleep. Today was the day, and there was no point in putting it off any longer.
Wearily, he pulled on his boots, opened his tent and breathed deeply from the sharp frosty air. A dozen tents stretched before him, with the obelisk towering over them all. It was a spire of black rock, fifty feet tall, carved in the shape of a dragon. Some of the men had debated prying its glittering eyes loose, but Vek had strongly forbidden it. They were three long days’ march from Anembor Fortress, well past the shadow of Fire Mountain. This deep into the moors, the dragons’ territory, Vek didn’t trust anything. The obelisk was the last landmark the Archmage remembered seeing before his spell failed. Somewhere, within a few miles, they would find the battlefield.
“Wake, you sons of dogs!” he bellowed. “Every man up after the sun is on half rations!”
The sun’s first glimmering rays washed over two perfect rows of soldiers. The studs on their armour gleamed. Each one had a bow and quiver on his back, and a short sword at his waist. All of them had seen things, had lost so much in the past month. Their city, their home, had been rent asunder. Friends and families had burned. Today, perhaps, they would finally find some closure.
After briefing his lieutenants, the scouts split into three parties and began ranging over the hills. The ground was dry, with only sparse grass growing in the frost-hard dirt. Along one ridge, down the valley to the next, on and on they went.
“Hard to imagine anyone living here, isn’t it?” Scout Faedro asked of Vek.
Vek nodded, and took out his farglass. It was carefully wrapped in soft felt, for it cost nearly three years’ pay – if he broke or lost it, the Lord General would demand he pay for the replacement himself. Two or three leagues away, nestled in the shadow of a hill, was a structure. A wide stone terrace, two mammoth statues, a cavernous archway. Very distinctive.
“We’ve gone in the wrong direction,” Vek said. “Return to the obelisk, we’ll take stock with the others.”
Lieutenant Gaber’s party never returned; Vek declared them lost to some draconic sorcery, and led the rest north, on Scout Kaeb’s word.
“It was some kind of pit, Commander, but it didn’t look natural,” he said. “And it was the right distance, too.”
“Nothing about this place is natural,” Vek muttered.
When they crossed the last ridge, Vek thought they had dropped into some kind of hell. There was a hole in the landscape, nearly a quarter-mile across, and half that distance deep. Like some kind of crater, the earth had been scorched black, and glassy rivulets ran through the bedrock. Small green flames winked in and out of existence here and there, like malevolent spirits.

“What in Thor’s name could have happened here?” Vek whispered to himself. “What magic caused such destruction…”

THE FIRST DRAGON WAR

In ages past, the ancient dragon known as Karalor the Gold came to the northern continent, and subjugated the ice dragons who laired in the northern moors. Here he built the great city Ilmyntra, and fathered several great houses of noble dragons.
In time, humans followed Karalor’s path north. Over decades they moved further and further inland, into territory claimed by the dragons. At first, the humans were humble and accepted the tyranny of the dragons. But, inevitably, they grew bolder and sparked conflict. The town of Ravolox became their bastion; it grew into a city and was fortified. Tower fortress were built along the moor border. Three hundred years ago, Ravolox was declared as the northern capital of the human kingdom, and the Rule of Ravolox was declared against the tyranny of the dragons.
The wars were fought for many years, back and forth: the tides of conflict turned for nearly a century. Near the end, Ravolox sent an army of fifty thousand – shielded by many magicks – through the moors and laid waste to Ilmyntra and its environs. For some time, Karalor had been in deep sleep. But with the destruction of his favourite brood-Houses, he woke and became a terrible force to behold. The army that had razed Ilmyntra was burned by him alone. He gathered what dragons had survived, and awoke all the sleeping dragons. All of them – wyrms and drakelings alike – flew south into the territory of men.
Ravolox was defended by knights who rode on griffins, and by many shields of magic. Without this, the city would have fallen. As it was, the city paid a terrible price for staving off defeat. Almost all of the sky-knights and half the wizards were killed – most of them by Karalor himself. Of Karalor’s twenty followers, ten died that week.

As soon as Karalor broke the siege, Ravolox put all of their remaining wizards towards destroying his army. The Archmage Zaedis was a master of scrying; he stayed in his tower, directing the other twenty-five survivors of the guild. Once the battle with Karalor was joined, Zaedis’ spell failed.