Elminster's Guide to the Realms
The Sleeping Dragon
by Ed Greenwood, illustrated by David Day (Dragon #292)
The Evermoors of Faerûn's Sword Coast North are studded with countless fissures: narrow, winding vertical-sided "rock cuts" carved through the rock by flowing water over many years (and widened by winter ice). Caverns among the fissures serve as shelter for trolls, giants, and other moor denizens. Most Evermoor fissures have small, shallow springs running along their bottoms - or at the very least, stagnant rainwater pools. Only a handful of these "hidden ways" of the Evermoors are wider than twenty feet or so - and almost all such clefts are permanently inhabited.
One notable exception is a wooded ravine due west of Everlund (five days' travel, some say, but moor perils and rough terrain make many journeys hard and long). It's a thick, gloomy forest of shadowtops and duskwoods, inhabited by many small birds and scuttling furred creatures. Predators larger than a fox seem absent from this winding, three-mile-long ravine, and this might be due to the presence of an unknown guardian magic. This has given the isolated valley a reputation for being haunted and kept it from becoming the abode of trolls or giants.
Called "Dragon Wood" by those that know of it, the forest has one area bare of trees at its midpoint, where rocks rise in a ridge that resembles the curved, spiny back of some giant earth-burrowing serpent. The center of Dragon Wood also holds one of the oddities of the modern-day Sword Coast North: the Sleeping Dragon.
Despite its name, this feature isn't a dragon at all, but an egg-shaped stone that floats in the air, unmoved by winds and all spells that have yet been tried against it. It was long thought to be an unhatched dragon's egg, a belief still common in the North.
The Sleeping Dragon is shaped like a large, long potato: a rough ovoid with its long axis horizontal, approximately twenty feet long and a little less than ten feet thick. It floats in a fixed spot as the years pass, its lowest point about ten feet off the ground (various persons investigating the Dragon have piled up rocks beneath it so as to reach it, without apparent harm - winter winds, snows, and runoff invariably scatter such piles in a season or so).
A little moss grows on the Dragon, and years of harsh winters have caused it to crumble in small ways here and there, but it exhibits no large cracks or breaks, and it seems to be protected against the full fury of the elements.
The Dragon is fashioned from a single piece of unidentified dark stone (the stone does not match any surrounding Evermoor stone). Its exterior was carved long ago into a seemingly abstract design of sweeping curves and flourishes, sculptings that in some places reach a depth of a foot or so and cover most of the rock's exterior. These carvings help to conceal at least three hatch-like "doors" in the stone: oval stone domes that can be shifted sideways to release cunningly carved stone catches and then swung open to allow access to hollows in the interior of the floating stone.
Over the years, the most distinctive features of the Dragon's carvings have acquired names: the Splendor refers to the axis of a pinwheel of whirling flames or lines of force atop one end of the floating stone, and the three doors, in ascending order of size, are known as the Wink, Darkhole, and the Wizard's Door.
No one has yet discovered the purpose of this dimple in the Dragon. Over the years, some folk have reported that touching a magic item to it caused the item to erupt with strange, wondrous discharges of random effect, to be drained, or to be infused with great power - or, more often, that nothing at all occurred.
A few insist that touching the Splendor when the right words were uttered, or with a magic item, caused a faintly glowing field of tingling magical force to appear between the floating stone and the rocks beneath it, which lasted 24 hours from its initial appearance and combined the effects of a ring of sustenance and a ring of warmth - a field that couldn't be called up again on that visit to the Dragon no matter what means were tried.
This smallest of the Sleeping Dragon's doors is perhaps three feet long and half that across. If slid up and to the right, it clicks outward as a catch is released. The Wink has a concave interior surface; in this hollow is a crossbar of stone sporting ten cylindrical storage cavities. Four of these are customarily empty, but the other six hold wood-stoppered, sealed vials of frosted glass. The seals and the wood are magically preserved, and the vials contents are assumed to be magic potions, although their types are unknown.
Several adventuring bands report taking all of the vials, so either magic or an entity replaces vials from time to time. There seems no agreement among reports of vials occupying particular storage holes always having the same effects - or even that vial contents gained on one occasion share any properties at all with those acquired on another.
All explorers of the Dragon agree that considerable time seems to elapse between vial appearances. This seems particularly true if an individual or band lingers in the vicinity of the Dragon, checking the Wink repeatedly. In at least two instances, an adventuring band arrived while observed by a group that had already gained potions - and found potions in the door that had definitely been empty only a short time before.
The Wink opens into a small, rounded cavity three feet wide, a bit more than a foot high, and a little more than four feet deep. It's usually filled by a chest (if taken away by plundering adventurers, the chest - or its duplicate - magically returns after two tendays or so). This rectangular, heavy duskwood chest seems new and is tarred to seal against moisture. All of its corners are bound with iron strips, and its arch-topped wooden lid bears similar protections. Two large, comfortable carry-handles are affixed on swivel-sockets on either end of the chest, and it's held closed with three large claw-locks whose keys are almost always found projecting from the keyholes.
The contents of this chest, judging by reports, can be just about anything, but certain items seem more common. How the chest gets refilled and where the items come from remain mysteries.
This Dragon door measures four feet horizontally and just over two feet in height. If slid to the opener's left, it can be swung open to the left, turning in a loose socket (that allows it to be removed entirely). Although supported on a massive lip that's part of the surrounding carving, this door has been dropped to the rocks below many times. If anyone has broken it, magic or a mysterious attendant repairs and replaces it. The inside surface of this door is smooth, featureless stone.
The "Darkhole" behind the door is so named because this word is an old slang term for a burial cavity in a tomb wall or catacomb, and the cavity behind this door is admirably sized for such purposes: just under four feet wide and two feet high, it stretches six-and-a-half feet back into the stone: just room enough to hold a tall human body close-wrapped in a shroud.
On several occasions, explorers have found it to have been used for such purposes. At other times, bones have been found here - and even intact, undead skeletons with magical powers that attacked adventurers disturbing them!
The Wizard's Door
This largest of the Sleeping Dragon's doors is three feet across and seven feet along its longest axis. If pushed inward in the proper two places simultaneously, a complicated series of catches swivel aside, allowing it to be pushed in along one edge, and so swung open along the opposing edge.
The cavity beyond is a small, cramped room in the heart of the Dragon, shaped to form a tall-human-sized reclining couch with a small open footspace at its end. Above the couch, two shelves have been carved out of the sloping stone ceiling. One customarily sports an array of bottles and decanters of various sizes and shapes (drinking water and wines). The other holds three fat tomes lying on their sides and a lantern.
The lantern is a tiny, squat, flat-topped iron cylinder with a rooftop hanging-loop and three embossed iron feet. A door in its pierced sides allows access to the interior - which holds not a candle, but a magical glowing sphere (a tiny globe-shaped region of always-luminescent air).
The books are impressive affairs that sport locks, ribbon bookmarks, and metal corner-caps. Their pages are parchment and are sometimes found to be blank. At other times, they bear (often rare or hitherto-unknown) wizard spells. One wizard reported finding a useful spell in each book and spending hours copying them - a wise tactic, because these books always vanish some short time after being taken away from Dragon Wood, only to reappear on their shelf, with different contents.
Many explorers have reported seeing a single, disembodied human eye floating alone in the air above the couch, glowing with a faint, pale white radiance, and staring at approaching creatures. It's insubstantial, seems unaffected by measures against undead, and usually vanishes soon after being seen - but folk who've run their hands through where it floats sometimes report receiving visions or whispered messages (and in at least one instance, gained a fell sentience that "rode" their mind for years, suggesting that they do certain things, and whispering to them in their dreams).
Tharauvon Embril, know ye, was born in what's now Toralth in Tethyr some 1200 years ago. A vigorous, handsome sort, he disappeared near Ascore thirty-some years later. His symbol, a circle with a shallow "V" to the upper left and another to the lower right (two birds a-wing around the sun), can still be found scratched on rocks in wilderland lookouts and passes all o'er the Sword Coast North. There are the usual tales of great treasure amassed by him and hidden away in the wilds after a few thefts, but what I recall most being told by an old elf who knew him was that Thravaun lost the two smallest fingers of his left hand and had a dwarf fashion an elaborate gauntlet, two fingers of which were enspelled to serve as wands. What sort of wands, now, the elf - Raulivyl Larathryl, by name, gone to Evermeet long ago - knew not and cared less. He said that Tharavaun was less than sane toward the end, and sought "a beast that could join with a man, two bodies becoming one, and so cheat the ravages of time to live forever."
The looks of the rock ridge underlying the floating stone to resemble the petrified body of some gigantic burrowing worm, but many folk have taken the trouble to dig and hew rock over the years to see it this is indeed their origin. Much as it pains me to dash minstrels' hopes, it must be said this mush has been clearly learned: the curving ridge is simply rock, not a creature - petrified or otherwise - at all. Nor is the floating stone a dragon's egg, or ever was.
Large animals do not live near the place because they are whisked away by some teleportation magic. 'Tis my belief that both the teleport effect active in Dragon Wood and the Sleeping Dragon itself are the creation of some time-ago spellcaster or cabal of mages who fashioned the floating stone as a refuge of sorts for secluded study, a hide-away, as a place to rest in stasis, or as a tomb. The carver and enchanter is that famous, tirelessly-energetic individual known to lore as "Unknown Hands," and 'tis my belief that he, she, it or collection of entities who fashioned this floating stone also gave it some as-yet-unrevealed destiny, future purpose, or still-hidden power. Betimes the ravine glows from end to end with dangerous witchfire - or thrums with unearthly song.
What I can tell ye is that anyone who strikes the rock hard or directs magic of any sort against it, is instantly "snatched" elsewhere (some folk refer to this as "being grabbed by the ghost," but the only hauntings I've ever encountered in Dragon Wood are "weave whisper," snatches of ghostly voices from elsewhere (and usually elsewhen) that speak intriguing fragment to passing ears.