This is one of the Paragon Path tales I wrote for my Dungeons and Dragons group. As a bit of back story to this one, we left Ostardva's story hanging at the point when Tiamat, the evil dragon goddess, had offered him a place as her paladin. We kept the suspense up until the very end of Heroic Tier about whether his Paragon path would be as an evil paladin or as a righteous one, or turning his back on the path of a paladin altogether. Enjoy!
The word echoed around the cavernous chamber. Ostardva, stood on one of Tiamat’s long, sinuous necks, stared defiantly at the five immense dragon heads, arrayed in front of him.
The central one, the red one, started backwards a little, as if surprised.
“No? Just like that? You disappoint me, child of Arkhosia.” The five heads spoke as one, a woman’s voice but with a hint of growling bass in it. The sound was like a hammer-blow, every word a storm to be weathered.
“Just like that,” Ostardva said, holding the red head’s gaze.
“I offer you power.”
“I don’t need power.” Ostardva felt a small flame kindle in his chest.
“I offer you privilege.”
“Privilege must be earned.” The flame grew brighter, and Ostardva began to remember how it felt to be righteous.
The heads began to move closer in unison. “I offer you the respect of your companions. As an arbiter of a god, they would see the worth in you.”
“You offer me nothing that I cannot gain on my own.”
Tiamat’s eyes narrowed. “Few refuse me, Reiker Ostardva, and even fewer live to tell about it.”
Ostardva drew himself up to his full height, finally feeling like a paladin of Bahamut. The rejection, the pain, the worry that he was only pretending, putting on a brave face, burned away in the light of his faith and certainty.
“Thank you for the offer, milady, but I have to pass,” he said. Taking a deep breath, he turned and began to walk along the scaly neck, away from the heads.
“NO-ONE TURNS THEIR BACK ON ME,” Tiamat boomed, and Ostardva looked back in time to see all ten eyes glowing brightly. Beams of light, red, blue, green, black and pure white, blasted towards him quicker than thought.
Ostardva screamed as a thousand nails of agony tore into him, and suddenly he was somewhere else. A large room, or was it small? The boundaries flickered and shimmered, refusing to be pinned down. A statue lay in the centre of the room, lifesize; it was his own body, bent backwards like a bow, in mouth open in a scream. The chamber was dark, shadowy, the only light seeming to come from where he was stood.
Feeling different somehow, Ostardva looked down at himself. His armour was different; older, somehow, shinier certainly, but familiar. He only had a split second to wonder where he had seen the armour before when Tiamat was in the room with him. Her body was as large as any dragon he’d faced, or maybe, with the room’s constantly-changing horizon, she was massive and just far away. He charged forwards placing himself between her and the statue, suddenly knowing that this was nothing less than a battle for his soul.
All five heads blasted at him, and he brought his shield up; not the mirrored shield he was used to, but something bigger, magical; acid, fire, ice, poison, all Tiamat’s fury splashed harmlessly off to the side, and then she closed the distance.
Her heads snapped at him; he brought his sword up, runes lighting up along its length, and parried every blow. For every head that he deflected, two more seemed to come in after it, a tangle of fury and scales that never ended, but Ostardva stood firm; rather than tiring, every blow filled him with strength and light. The sword grew lighter, the shield easier to manoeuvre, and he began to grin fiercely. The light continued to fill him, and with a triumphant roar he felt its radiance expand out of him, rising up to form two enormous wings that arced to the top of the chamber.
Tiamat reared back, roaring wordlessly, and redoubled her efforts, but his defence was absolute. Step by step, he began to force her backwards, towards the wall, away from the statue, and the light in the chamber grew in intensity until it nearly eclipsed the darkness.
Just at the moment when Ostardva was sure that the light would continue to grow until it banished the darkness, he was back on Tiamat’s neck, back in his old armour, swinging at empty air. His shoulders ached, but he whipped around, ready to meet whatever threat came next.
The blue head swept in, blindsiding him, butting him across the scaly ground. As he skidded to a stop his armour came loose, releasing the leathery wings within. Ostardva didn’t think to question why; as the white head came down for a killing blow, he clenched new muscles and flapped his wings once, sliding him out of the way. As all five heads gathered around, he stood up, wings erect, sword in hand.
He tensed for the killing blow, preparing to go down fighting.
The white head slowly sank down to his level, eyes narrowed.
“You look like him,” it said slowly, and vanished. Ostardva watched as its long neck, reaching off to a body deep in the darkness, faded away.
The blue head nodded. “He sleeps, but perhaps he dreams.” Then it, too, vanished.
The black and green heads nodded slowly. “Perhaps you are the dream,” the green one said. “Or perhaps you are the dreamer,” the black one added. Then they were gone.
The red one bared its fangs, a fierce grin. “Until next time, child of Arkhosia.”
Then it vanished, and with it went the ground Ostardva was standing on. He fell, struggling to get his wings to work properly, tumbling into the endless darkness below him. Everything went dark.
Ostardva opened his eyes.
An old man was stood over him, symbol of Bahamut around his neck, worry in his eyes.
“Are you ok?” he asked.
Ostardva sat up and looked around. He was back in the city, by the ruins of the temple of Bahamut. “How did I get here?”
“I have no idea,” the man said, offering a hand. He grunted slightly as Ostardva took it and levered himself up off the ground. “But I was beginning to wonder if you were going to show up.”
Ostardva frowned. “You were expecting me?”
“Who are you?”
Ignoring the question, the man reached into his white habit and pulled out a small parcel, wrapped in paper and tied with string. “This is for you. I was told you would be here, told to give this to you.” He handed it to Ostardva, then turned to go.
“Wait,” Ostardva said. “Who told you?”
The man smiled. “Faith,” he said, “comes in many guises, and from many sources.” Then he turned and walked away, into the ruins of the temple.
Ostardva looked down at the parcel, and by the time he looked up the man was gone. He knew, on some deep level, that even if he went into the temple itself, he’d find no sign of the man. Instead, he opened the parcel.
It contained a letter, addressed to him, and a hand-made, poorly bound book.
Reiker, the letter began.
I must be short. Father Auturim tells us that you’ve done great things since leaving us. A few of the elders talk of you now, which can only mean good things. Father also spoke of feeling an evil presence growing, shortly after we lost contact with Bahamut. He fears that it is Tiamat. He described it as a vast, cold darkness, but recently we have all felt the presence of a tiny flickering light. Bahamut is still with us, and I know you can feel it too.
Your mother and I feel it’s time we passed this on to you. You probably feel that difficulties have been thrust upon you recently. This book may explain why you have been the focus of Tiamat’s gaze, and it will help you with any changes that may occur for you.
I only wish I could make you something myself. Calasar and Kelwyn.
Seeing his parents’ names, Ostardva felt a wave of homesickness overtake him, and he carefully folded the letter and placed it in his bag. Then he turned his attention to the book.
It had no title, and seemed to be a collection of documents rather than a book with one author. He leafed through it, seeing family histories, legends written as fact, woodcut pictures and delicate illuminations. Towards the back, he found an illustration of a dragonborn in armour that he now recognised, with a sword and shield, wings proudly rising from behind him, fighting a many-headed dragon. “The Scion of Arkhosia,” he breathed, looking the rest of the page over. A royal, long ago, with ties to the royal family, was tempted by Tiamat and, through faith, was transfigured. The pages following the illustration contained pages of armour modifications, prayers to Bahamut, strategies for battle. Reverently, Ostardva closed the book, and, tucking it into his bag, went to find the others.