Wyrms of the North Eldenser, "The Worm Who Hides in Blades"
Dragon Magazine #237
By Ed Greenwood with supplementary material provided by Sean K Reynolds
This time around, Volo has uncovered one of the most unusual and interesting dragons of the North: Eldenser, the Worm Who Hides in Blades. Whispered of in obscure legends of the North for some six centuries (and described as frail with age even in his earliest mention), Eldenser is an amethyst great wyrm of decrepit, wearywise appearance. Long ago he mastered magic that allows him to leave his withered, wasted body in a secure hideaway (reportedly a crypt in Waterdeep's City of the Dead) and transport his sentience into the blade of any tempered, edged metal weapon.
In this way, Eldenser has cheated death down the ages, preserving his slowly-crumbling form as much as possible by leaving it unused and walled away from air and elements, as he passes from blade to blade, able to see, hear, and speak freely out of the metal -- and all metals in direct contact with a blade he currently inhabits.
Authorities unanimously refer to this dragon as a male, and the few that make mention of his true draconic body say that his wings are little more than tatters hanging between the structural spines, and that his scales are almost white in places, paling with age in the same way that the ancient black dragon of Cormyr became "the Purple Dragon." He is said to have tufted eyebrows and an extensive "beard" of spines on his chin, both white in hue, and to have very wise large eyes whose customary appearance is "twinkling with inner amusement."
In younger days, Eldenser was said to be a solitary wanderer among dragons, who flitted about Faerûn (the Sword Coast North wilderlands in particular) without apparent rhyme or reason, following his own whims. It's now clear that he was enjoying his first love: the observation of all living things, and learning how they appear and "work" in all stages of life. The deep knowledge of this sort that he's acquired down the ages makes him both less proud and more formidable than most dragons -- he knows the causes and effects of deeds and events more than most living beings of Toril.
It's also clear from the historical record that Eldenser tends to avoid other dragons -- but to reveal himself as a wily, enthusiastic, and savage fighter when attacked. Three women of the household of the long-ago nomad lord Tharnor of the North saw Lorragauth, a black dragon of some reputation, swoop down to attack Eldenser when the Lurker was intruding into Lorragauth's territory. As Lorragauth spread his wings to slow and aim himself for a devastating pounce, Eldenser calmly snapped his wings once, rolling to rise sharply under Lorragauth's right wing -- and the Lurker burst up through it, tearing one of his foe's wings almost right off the wyrm's body, sending the luckless Lorragauth "cartwheeling across the rocks and sky, to a broken and splintered death against a mountainside some way off to the south."
Eldenser is also said to have snatched up a fishing boat while in full flight from a gigantic red dragon and looped in the air to use the vessel as a crude spear, piercing his foe's eye and slaying him before the racing red wyrm could slow down or duck aside. Most of Eldenser's exploits preserved in Realmslore, however, concern his deeds while lurking in various swords -- such as the time he caused the death of the notoriously cruel and destructive mage Arnaglym of Arrabar by unexpectedly reflecting a fireball spell that Arnaglym had cast at Eldenser's wielder, hurling it back at the mage, who stood in a hall with a massive hammerbeam ceiling hung with huge old tinder-dry tapestries -- which became a smothering inferno from which even the fell Arnaglym could not escape.
There are a score of similar surprising tales of astonishing powers bursting from blades that Eldenser is known to be the cause of, and many more that he isn't connected to by present-day bards and sages -- but for which he may in truth be responsible.
It's important to remember that Eldenser fights only when battle can't be avoided readily; he prefers to observe and remain undetected or at least ignored. He likes just to watch silently, and this habit has given him a rich range of experiences and knowledge, from how to cook certain complicated recipes to the configurations of sewers and back alleys in many cities, to where certain treasures lie hidden. It has been said (and repeated by some elder Harpers) that "Eldenser sees much, and never forgets anything from an expression on one face glimpsed in a crowd to the position of gaming pieces on a board seen through a doorway while passing in haste." The Lurker will never do anything as crass as sell such information, but he'll often trade a service for some of it, to get adventurers or others to do something he doesn't want to take a hand in directly -- but wants to watch.
Elminster has corrected many of the suppositions about Eldenser's powers that follow, but he stresses that adventurers shouldn't trust in what is said here; the Lurker's true abilities may be more potent. All of what immediately follows refers to the dragon's powers while he is within a metal object, which is almost always a sword of fine make.
Eldenser knows Common and several human and elven tongues. Eldenser dislikes the "feel" of metal items that have alignments not at least partially neutral, and he won't remain in them for more than a minimally necessary time to bring about a likely transfer to a more suitable home (in other words, until he perceives other metal items near; he never likes to go "drifting blind"). He won't manifest any of his powers or cast any spells when in such a situation except those that are likely to bring about an immediate possibility of transfer. (He might spit out lightning to attract an adventurer's attention, for example, to allow him to move into that adventurer's weapon.)
Eldenser is sometimes called "the Lurker" in the lore of the North because he reveals himself only if he chooses, often spending much time silently observing those who wield him (or rather, the blade he currently inhabits) before speaking to them or exhibiting his powers. About 1277 DR, he told a daring Harper who questioned him about this: "I prefer to watch the strivings of others and act only when I must. From time to time something within me stirs, and I rise up to work my will on Faerûn with vigorous energy . . . but those risings come seldom now; I must be growing old."
The Lurker's relationships with other dragons have been, in the words of the human sage Velsaert of Baldur's Gate (fast becoming recognized as an authority on the history of dragons up and down the Sword Coast), "A parade of friendly hidings -- but ready deadliness." Put into everyday words, that means that Eldenser prefers to conceal himself from other dragons, reacts with calm friendliness if he is discovered -- and is quick and savage in battle if forced to defend himself (or his wielder).
The key to Eldenser's character could be said to be his interest in the rich variety of Faerûn, as it unfolds all around him. He is patient, good-natured, and wise, able to draw on far more experience than most mortal beings, to outwit foes who plan ahead. He can cast prudence aside in an instant if he must, bursting into bold action, but he has no interest into luring or trapping others (though he may manipulate beings to aid his wielder, or merely to observe the result -- particularly if it is likely to reveal the character of someone he's interested in, perhaps as a possible wielder of the blade he's currently inhabiting).
Eldenser is said to be an accomplished mimic and to have a taste for riddles and puzzles. In recent years, he has become increasingly fascinated by love in all its forms, and what it can make beings do.
The Worm Who Hides in Blades is said to be a foe of whoever's pestering him right now -- he doesn't bother pursuing anyone on an ongoing basis, though he'll certainly thwart the Cult of the Dragon whenever he can.
The Lurker has no known servants, willing or unwilling, but he is thought to enjoy an alliance with the Simbul, Witch-Queen of Aglarond, and possibly with her sisters Syluné and, surprisingly, Dove (who has wielded him from time to time in big battles against Zhentarim, Thayans, or other magically-powerful menaces). He seems to have no true lair but rather a dozen or more inaccessible sea-isle or mountain-heart caverns in which to "stash" his immobile, stasis-ruled body.
For most of the time, this body lies in a crypt in the City of the Dead. The tomb is reachable only by correctly passing through several trapped portals that fling the unwary to random destinations (for example, a deep level in Undermountain or the outskirts of ruined Myth Drannor) unless a user utters the correct passwords while traversing them. The crypt is rumored to contain wardmists or similar protective magical barriers, including helmed horrors or similar automaton guardians, but no precise details of such defenses are available.
Inside blades, Eldenser roams all of Faerûn, considering none of it his "territory" but all of it his to traverse. He ignores nearby dragons of any breed -- unless they discover him, whereupon he cheerfully defies any attempts to establish authority over him (or anyone wielding the blade he currently inhabits). Eldenser usually has little interest in slaying other dragons of any sort, but he dislikes fleeing from them. He prefers to best other dragons or outwit them and then leave at his leisure, rather than allowing them to consider themselves victorious over him.
The Deeds of Eldenser
The favorite prey of the Lurker is a great cat of any sort, though he usually feeds on cattle, and even derives nutrients from any gore he spills while inhabiting a blade. He is said to enjoy good wine and sharp cheeses as well.
It's not known if Eldenser has ever mated with another dragon. He is known to have accompanied several human females -- and at least one elven lady -- for most of their lives, and to have formed friendships with heroic individuals of both genders and most intelligent races. At heart, though, he seems that rarest of things, even among dragons: a contented loner.
Eldenser spends his days in three pursuits: observing the beauties of Faerûn and the entertaining strivings of its inhabitants (half-elves, humans, and elves in particular), trying to influence events in the same way that rulers and archmages do, and to follow Ossavitor's Way to fruition.
Ossavitor was -- or is (it is now either dead or dwelling on another plane) -- a dragon of forgotten breed, who achieved something very important to all dragonkind some 20,000 years ago: his Way, or magical process for achieving immortality.
Humans are warned that betrayal of any knowledge of this process (even mentioning its name in "confidential" inquiries at Candlekeep, for example) will attract the attention of both the Cult of the Dragon (who are anxious to eliminate rivals in their bid to influence dragons into achieving dracolichdom) and powerful dragons of all sorts.
Ossavitor's Way is a long, exacting, and difficult process, the details of which remain secret to this writer (in other words, Volo couldn't discover anything more about it, and Elminster refused to). Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun, the Lord Mage of Waterdeep (and presumably certain other powerful mages of his acquaintance, such as his consort Laeral and perhaps others of the Chosen of Mystra) has the entire process somewhere in one of his hidden libraries. Ambitious adventurers should take note that dragons -- after a long and increasingly impressive death-toll mounted alarmingly -- long ago gave up any hope of getting the secrets of Ossavitor from the Blackstaff.
What I have learned thus far is the end result of the process, and certain of its ingredients. The end result is practical immortality: It gives the dragon's sentience three bodies to inhabit (the unused two are in stasis, and typically hidden away in remote mountain caverns, buried under sand in the hearts of such vast deserts as the Plains of Purple Dust in Raurin, and so on), and allows the dragon to select the size and "age" of these bodies. The dragon retains its spell resistance and spells regardless of the apparent age of its form, but its size, Hit Dice, breath weapon, and the like vary with the age chosen. All of these newly created bodies are vigorous and have fast healing 3. How the dragon's sentience can move from one body to another also remains a mystery as of this writing, but the written evidence suggests that this can be done as often as desired, and with ease.
The process itself has been the hardest thing to unearth. I suspect that dragons or their agents, and folk of the Cult of the Dragon, have set about stealing or destroying as many references to the Way as possible. I'm confident that it involves gathering many draconic components, including the talon of a topaz dragon, a scale from a silver, some blood from a bronze, and so on. (Note: This confidence is Volo's, but Elminster did not correct this statement.)
Eldenser can be presumed to know (or to believe he knows) the entire Way, and to be pursuing the collection of components in a patient, almost leisurely manner. Certainly he has often influenced individuals who are wielding a blade he is part of to attack and slay dragons -- and if they are successful, to sever certain of their body parts which vanish at the blade's touch (presumably teleported away by a magic launched by Eldenser, to some secret hiding place).
Eldenser: Male great wyrm amethyst dragon; CR 25; Gargantuan dragon (earth); HD 39d12+234; hp 487; Init +1; Spd 40 ft., burrow 20 ft., fly 200 ft. (clumsy); AC 49, touch 7, flat-footed 48; Atk +46 melee (4d6+12, bite) and +41 melee (2d8+6, 2 claws) and +41 melee (2d6+6, 2 wings) and +41 melee (2d8+18, tail slap); Face/Reach 20 ft. by 40 ft./15 ft.; SA amethyst telekinesis, breath weapon (120-ft. line of concussive force), crush 4d6+18, explosive gem 13d6, frightful presence, psionic combat modes (all attack modes/all defense modes), psionics, tail sweep 2d6+18; SQ blindsight 360 ft., darkvision 1,200 ft., DR 20/+3, fire resistance 30, force resistant, low-light vision, planar travel, PR 31, psionic power points 170; AL N; SV Fort +27, Ref +22, Will +26; Str 35, Dex 12, Con 23, Int 24, Wis 21, Cha 22.
Skills and Feats: Bluff +48, Concentration +48, Diplomacy +49, Escape Artist +21, Hide -11, Intimidate +10, Knowledge (geography) +49, Knowledge (history -- the North) +49, Knowledge (local -- the North) +49, Knowledge (nature) +47, Knowledge (nobility and royalty) +37, Knowledge (psionics) +49, Listen +47, Psicraft +49, Search +49, Spot +47; Extend Power, Flyby Attack, Inertial Armor, Persistent Power, Power Attack, Power Penetration , Psionic Weapon, Quicken Power, Snatch, Wingover.
Amethyst Telekinesis (Sp): Once per day, Eldenser can use a telekinesis effect. With this ability, he can lift up to 10 tons (200,000 pounds), or hurl a creature against another object. The impact deals 20d6 points of damage to a Large creature, 15d6 to a Medium-size one, 10d6 to a Small one, 5d6 to a Tiny one, or 1d6 to a Diminutive or Fine creature.
Breath Weapon (Su): Once every 1d4 rounds, Eldenser can breathe a 120-foot line of concussive force. Each creature in the affected area takes 24d8 points of damage (Reflex DC 35 half). He may choose to deal an equal amount of subdual damage instead of normal damage.
Crush: When flying or jumping, Eldenser can land on Medium-size or smaller opponents as a standard action, using his whole body to crush them. A crush attack affects as many creatures as can fit under his body. Each creature in the affected area must succeed at a Reflex save (DC 35) or be pinned, automatically taking 4d6+18 points of bludgeoning damage. Thereafter, if Eldenser chooses to maintain the pin, treat it as a normal grapple attack (grapple bonus +63). While pinned, the opponent takes 4d6+18 points of bludgeoning damage each round.
Explosive Gem (Sp): Once per day, Eldenser can spit a crystalline violet lozenge up to 75 feet away with pinpoint accuracy. The gem explodes on impact, dealing 13d6 points of impact damage to every creature in a 20-foot radius (Reflex DC 29 half).
Frightful Presence (Su): This ability takes effect automatically when Eldenser attacks, charges, or flies overhead. It affects only opponents with 38 or fewer Hit Dice or levels. Each affected creature must make a successful Will save (DC 35) or become shaken for 4d6 rounds (if it has 5 or more Hit Dice) or panicked for 4d6 rounds (if it has 4 or fewer Hit Dice or levels). Success indicates that the target is immune to Eldenser's frightful presence for one day.
Psionics (Sp): 3/day -- stomp; 1/day -- invisibility, body equilibrium, suggestion.
Tail Sweep: Eldenser can sweep with his tail as a standard action. The sweep affects Small and smaller creatures within a 30-foot-diameter half-circle centered on the dragon's rear. Each affected creature that fails a Reflex save (DC 35) takes 2d6+18 points of bludgeoning damage; a successful save halves the damage.
Blindsight (Ex): Eldenser can ascertain his surroundings by nonvisual means (mostly hearing and scent, but also by noticing vibration and other environmental clues). This ability enables him to discern objects and creatures within a range of 360 feet. He usually does not need to make Spot or Listen checks to notice creatures within range of its blindsight ability.
Force Resistant (Ex): Eldenser gains a +4 saving throw bonus against force-based psionic powers, spells, or effects.
Low-Light Vison (Ex): Eldenser can see four times as well as a human in low-light conditions and twice as well in normal light.
Planar Travel (Su): Eldenser has the innate ability to pass instantly between the Material Plane and the Inner Planes.
Psionic Abilities (Sp): Eldenser uses psionics as a 17th-level psion (savant). He knows the following powers (8/5/5/4/4/4/3/3/2; save DC 1d20 + key ability score + power level): 0 -- control shadow, daze, detect psionics, far hand, missive, my light, talons, verve; 1 -- biocurrent, charm person, conceal thoughts, lesser body adjustment, minor creation; 2 -- aversion, body adjustment, detect thoughts, invisibility, sever the tie; 3 -- charm monster, control sound, improved biofeedback, mindlink; 4 -- amplified invisibility, dimension door, dissolving touch, psychofeedback; 5 -- energy barrier, matter rearrangement, mind probe, steelsteal (see below); 6 -- breath of the dragon, bright and deadly ring (see below), disintegrate; 7 -- energy conversion, power turning, sequester; 8 -- matter manipulation, shadow body.
Though his pursuit of Ossavitor's Way can be described fairly as leisurely and almost unconcerned, with a high value placed on enjoying the full range of experiences Faerûn has to offer a patient observer, it seems likely Eldenser will achieve the near-immortality of the Way. He has been working on it for so long and taking such care over the details that (in Elminster's estimation, at least) he's only a last grace note or crowning touch away from being able to enact the Way.
It's possible that Eldenser has achieved this state already and is simply reluctant to leave his present lifestyle. Perhaps he is trying to craft or discover psionics that will enable him to inhabit blades and travel between them and his three new bodies as freely as he does presently between his old, original body and the various weapons of which he has been a part. It is certain that he has spent a lot of time in and around Candlekeep and the Herald's Holdfast in recent years -- after having scoured both places centuries earlier for all references to the Way.
Against this rosy likelihood of success must be placed Eldenser's often dangerous lifestyle. More than most dragons, he places himself at risk often, and for extended periods of time. Only the gods can decide if ill fortune will find him before he enacts the Way -- and that brings to mind Volo's last note about the Worm Who Hides in Blades: There are many and persistent, but admittedly entirely unsubstantiated, rumors as to Eldenser being an ally or servant of this or that Faerûnian deity.
Elminster only smiled and shook his head when he read those lines, refusing to confirm or deny the truth of this. Instead, he pointed silently to Volo's very last words: "Bears watching. Keep an eye on this one -- if possible."
The Lurker is thought to have learned and practiced many rare and strange spells. He has all of the psionic abilities of an amethyst great wyrm, but his precise mind-powers remain mysterious; Elminster believes that one of Eldenser's achievements is the ability to duplicate the effects of certain high-level powers he can unleash once per day, costing hit points instead of power points.
Two of Eldenser's abilities in particular are sought by other dragons (and by ambitious mages of Thay and the Cult of the Dragon), and these follow. (The descriptions of these powers are drawn from the notes in books of Khelben "Blackstaff" Arunsun, who apparently received them from Eldenser long ago in trade for magic.)
About the Authors
Ed Greenwood lives in a house surrounded by woods that aren't infested with mosquitoes only when they're choked with chest-deep snow. He loves to look out windows at green growing things and the many flowers his wife Jenny coaxes into splendor -- but actually prefers flickering computer screens where he can bring new corners of the Realms to life.
Sean K Reynolds can usually be found working on his laptop while his girlfriend Willow tends her balcony flowerboxes, which most recently gained a host of ladybugs as guests. The sight of the hundred spotted red insects inspired him to create the game stats for a monstrous ladybug familiar.