Wyrms of the North Galadaeros, "Sunset Flame"

Dragon Magazine #239
By Ed Greenwood with supplementary material provided by Sean K Reynolds

dragon_239One of the dragons of the North that puzzles Volo most is Galadaeros, a copper dragon often seen in the sky flying low but fast across the Sword Coast North -- and usually bearing several riders on his back. When such dragonriders can be seen clearly, they are almost always human females in ornate armor, bristling with weapons and looking eager to use them. Elminster supplied secrets that Volo could only guess at (wildly and, as it turns out, wrongly), and so lay clear the unusual career of Galadaeros, the Sunset Flame or, less formally, the Flame Dragon. This latter nickname has confused many sages, who think it refers to a red dragon or other wyrm who breathes fire, whereas it was in truth bestowed on Galadaeros by Launchalo Rivryn, an otherwise forgotten Waterdhavian poet who was striving to describe the dragon's appearance as Galadaeros flew into the city across the Sea of Swords and out of the setting sun.

Galadaeros is a mature adult male copper dragon of unusually gentle and humorous character; the pride that so dominates his breed seems almost entirely lacking in his manner. He dwells alone in a mountaintop cavern, on a nameless, uncharted island in the Sea of Swords northwest of Gundarlun. This island is generally considered by those who see it to be one of the Purple Rocks. Regardless, the Sunset Flame is seldom at home. Galadaeros was visited in his lair 300 years ago by the Waterdhavian adventurer Ranressa Shiard, who preferred to seek her fortune in the company of other women. Ranressa was the last of an all-female adventuring band, the Shining Ring Swordshars, to survive a wild ocean voyage that ended in a shipwreck on the rocks of the dragon's island. "Bold" was her watchword and driving spirit; after hauling herself ashore, she set about exploring the isle. When she found Galadaeros, she promptly tried to slay him. Amused by her dogged yet futile attempts to bring about his doom, the lonely copper dragon chose to question Ranressa rather than destroy her, and eventually a friendship developed. This companionship led to the dragon taking Ranressa back to Waterdeep on his back. Her triumphal flight into the city made Ranressa an instant hero -- after the citizenry recovered from the sight of Galadaeros wheeling over the Palace to alight on Mount Waterdeep, which is a flourish that caused much consternation in the streets (and the hasty crafting of magical wards that, according to Khelben Arunsun, prevent most dragons from doing such things today).

Ranressa promptly chartered the all-female Galadran Company, who took ship 68 strong the next summer, to revisit her friend. All of the Galadrans (who were known rather less politely in the taverns of Waterdeep as "Sharptongues") were Waterdhavian ladies of gentle or noble birth who desired to be adventurers. Galadaeros was delighted to acquire such friends, and he adopted them as his own brood, inquiring as to their health, mating plans, and goals in life with the manner of a kindly old uncle. He also served as their steed as they set out to discover adventure in the North. Waterdeep soon dismissed the Galadran Company as a band of crazed young lasses out for a fling (though lady minstrels and young girls playing in the streets find them harder to forget), but Galadaeros can still pass the magical city wards freely and bring his young comrades home to their villa on the seaward side of Mount Waterdeep. When the Sunset Flame wheels low over the streets, it is a sign of celebration among his riders.

This is not to say that the career of the Galadran Company has been one long sun-drenched pleasure outing. Ranressa proved a tirelessly bold -- some might even say reckless -- leader, and she grew restless when evil mages whose towers dripped treasure from every window and turret seemed hard to find, marauding orcs proved to have empty belt-purses, and the lairs of great wyrms turned out to house dragons who were far less friendly than Galadaeros. Ranressa led her fellow adventurers on wilder and ever more daring exploits. The Sunset Flame had to effect several hasty rescues in that first season, and one or two in later years. During those seasons, fully half of the romantic but unskilled Galadran ladies perished messily in various misadventures. The remainder slowly became competent warriors, and one named Lhaerilda made a fortuitous discovery in the Crags while the Galadrans were sneaking up on an orc encampment: A rockslide had laid bare one chamber of an ancient underground dwarven tomb that was literally crammed to the ceiling with gold. Galadaeros flew it all out to his island for the Galadrans, and he gave over a side-cavern of his lair for their treasury. In return, they gave him a triple share of the staggering wealth; Ranressa judged the gold to total over thrice the dragon's body volume. The Galadran Company promptly acquired houses in Waterdeep, a fantastic array of impressive-looking armor (some of it almost useless in battle), and finally the respect they craved. There have, however, been no more tremendous discoveries of treasure in the years since, and news of the great Galadran wealth has drawn more than a few foes to come calling on the Galadrans.

The mage Nuldus of Turtorn (a ruin northeast of Conyberry), for example, enslaved several of the Galadrans with his spells, hoping to bring the entire band under his mental sway and thus lay his hands on their treasure. He got as far as crafting amulets that allowed him to speak mind-to-mind over great distances with those who wore them, then he sent his slaves back to their companions with orders to slay Ranressa and the dragon. They failed, and Galadaeros dove out of the sky one morning and smashed the mage's small tower to the ground, killing Nuldus. The Galadrans salvaged some magic from the rubble, and they retained the amulets. Today these magic pendants allow six of the lady adventurers to communicate at will with each other and the copper dragon -- who can now be summoned from his isle when needed.

The Arcane Brotherhood of Luskan sent several of its ambitious apprentices out on separate missions to "prove themselves" by seizing what they could of the Galadran treasury. One after another found death rather than success -- though the apprentice Indratril Khalshus slew no fewer than eight Galadrans before Galadaeros tore her apart, and the apprentice Rythimm Hardrost killed two of the lady adventurers and did snatch up a fistful of rubies (which were lost into the sea at his death) before being run through by the swords of six Galadrans at once.

An unsuccessful company of adventurers, Falder's Flourish, left Waterdeep vowing to slay Galadaeros "and his ungodly harem of sword-ladies," but they were drowned by a dragon turtle before they ever reached the isle Galadaeros calls home. However, two Galadrans have since been slain in Waterdeep by stealth, on two separate occasions, by intruders lurking -- perhaps covertly dwelling -- in Galadran houses. Taunting messages left beside the bodies indicate that the killers were surviving members of the Flourish, bent on "undying revenge." Whether this recurring phrase indicates that the Flourish slayers are undead is not yet known, but they have utterly eluded at least one magically-aided attempt to trace them.

The Galadran Company continues undaunted in the face of these and many more minor attacks and attempts to rob them. Some of their Waterdhavian homes have even been fitted with nasty falling-floor traps that dump intruders into greased shafts. Victims plunge down these ever-narrower chutes until they become wedged. There they can be hoisted out as captives, or just left in the walls to die. Other Galadran abodes sport overhead coal-scuttles full of boulders, which a retreating resident can pull down on the heads of pursuers by jerking on certain bell-pulls. Wise opponents of the warrior-women don't bother to dare the trapped rooms and passages of a Galadran house; the lady adventurers they seek are almost always on the island where the Company's dragon lairs -- and all substantial Galadran treasures are stored there.

Though his lair often rings with the clash of swords or the laughter of the ladies who wield them, Galadaeros never seems to tire of all the human activity around him. He has, however, been saddened by the infirmity and death of one aged adventurer after another (Ranressa, in particular), and he was enraged when some men brought to his isle by the Galadrans to be their husbands conspired to make a crude boat and try to steal off with as much of the treasure as it could hold -- he sank them when they were well out to sea. Other mates have proved more trustworthy, though the Galadrans now tend to rear healthy babes on the isle and sickly babes in Waterdeep, and they keep all husbands and consorts on the mainland. As the years have passed, all of the original Galadrans have died, and the strength of the Company has dwindled to between 20 and 30 members. Of these, seven (five of them current holders of the amulets) are descendants of founding Company members.

The unofficial but unquestioned leader of the Company today is the warrior Emra Ilchantra, whose close companion and second-in-command is the sorceress Aszyra Thunderstaff (of the Waterdhavian noble family, though you will wait in vain to hear any of them speak of her; they seem to have disowned her thanks to the "low" reputation of adventurers in general). Aszyra is judged to be "of middling powers" in her magecraft. The other amulet-holders, aside from the aforementioned Galadrans and Galadaeros himself, are the warriors Glyndra Rowandar, Jhandanna Orwynd, and Khalaltae Baerdrith, and the fiery-haired and tempered Lokkara Arsalan (the sole amulet-holder not descended from a company founder). The last two descendants of founding Company members, Ybril Harlundtree and Aurbreena Gathengate, have no desire or capacity for leadership. Ybril (pronounced "Eee-bril"), a priestess of Ilmater, serves as the Company's surgeon and healer; and Aurbreena sees to Company provisions, gear, and stores, and she keeps a rough diary of Galadran deeds and decisions.

A series of deaths and reversals in the Company some 20 summers ago led the Galadrans to add legitimate, stable business ventures to their adventuring lives, and today the Company provides short-term, high-risk bodyguard services to fearful (and wealthy) clients, and provides "secure hideaway banking and storage" facilities to Waterdhavians and citizens of Neverwinter and Baldur's Gate. Valuable items -- even, on one occasion, an endangered noble heir -- are conveyed to the dragon's isle and there stored in side-tunnels of his lair, secure behind boulders only the dragon can move. The Galadrans have ignored many business proposals involving their dragon for two reasons: they defer to Galadaeros in such matters, and he seems uninterested; and they fear Cult of the Dragon agents will try to lure the Sunset Flame into a trap. They are currently considering three separate requests from Waterdhavian noble families to take on daughters as short-term Company members, both to win treasure and to taste adventure.

Galadaeros has made it clear that although he has no objection to ferrying Company members back and forth across the North, he is not eager to become any sort of aerial-steed-for-hire -- and the Galadrans are in full agreement. The one such commission the Company did accept, some years back, turned out to be from a wizard who tried to get the Sunset Flame to destroy the home of a rival mage by deceiving the dragon as to who owned the house. Galadaeros and two Galadrans found themselves in the midst of a wild spellbattle that ended only after Galadaeros swept past the turrets of the house and scraped the wizard (one Mrathatos Druin, pretending to be a scribe from Iriaebor by the name of "Namarathos Alonabryn") on his back into bloody ruin. The Galadrans were badly hurt by that desperate aerobatic, and the wizard whose house was assaulted, Halynder Uinsible, still regards the Company as his foes.

This is not to say that the dragon and the Galadrans are adverse to new business ventures; in fact, they've charged their three city agents with the task of identifying new business ventures that the Company can undertake. Bruth Melber is the Company's agent in Waterdeep. This careful, balding, middle-aged longtime diplomat has been active in the City of Splendors all his life, and although some can recall his rather colorful past as a swindler and later envoy for shady principals and shadier causes, he is glad to have found an employer to see him through his graying years, and he is steadfastly loyal to the Galadrans.In a house behind his office on the Sutherlane, Bruth maintains sleeping quarters for Company members visiting the city on business.

A many-balconied, tall, and narrow house on Eel Street is home to "Mother" Mounchathos, who is the fat, bustling Galadran agent in Baldur's Gate. This kindly matron never seems tired and can be seen at all hours chattering excitedly to sleepy-looking servants as she crashes and dashes around her abode, seeing to the cooking and the cleaning and the troubles and aspirations of a hundred Baldurians who regard her as their true mother and would do anything for her. Mother Mounchathos runs a bakery, a shop that sells yarn and needles and bolts of fine cloth from the South (along with free advice and demonstrations on how to turn these into stylish garments), and a soup-window. She sells "hot pots" of soup to merchants and others who must eat on the run; a young boy doles out copper piece deposits for the return of all empty pots, with another copper if their lids come back, and a third copper if the ladles make it home, too. In the odd moments all these activities leave to her, Mounchathos acts as a messenger and go-between for folk who need an all-female adventuring company to right wrongs -- or just to appear in a parade.

One rich merchant of Amn hires the Galadrans every year to add an element of dangerous beauty to his revelries. This fat, prancing little man of many eager enthusiasms and squeals of boundless energy, by the name of Veloudamar Ralanshalass, hungers more than anything else for respect. Each year the little merchant throws a party to impress his clients -- and after there's been much dining, drinking, and dancing, curtains are rolled back to display Galadran warriors reclining in wild armor and outlandish costumes while the little man struts up and down declaiming their skills. A few breaths later, the curtains are firmly tied shut, and the Galadrans accept 100 gold pieces each from silent servants and take wing on Galadaeros!

The Galadran agent in Neverwinter is a quiet, always calm man named Alasturan Malatheer. He runs a shop on Hindalos Street where he sells maps, charts, and floorplans of castles, mansions, lands, and seas of Faerûn. Some adventurers mutter that some of the maps they've bought from Alasturan seem to owe more to his imagination than to reality in Faerûn, but there are rumors that folk who threatened this quiet shopkeeper found themselves facing a sudden onslaught of monsters and magic items that Alasturan seemed able to control in concert. Some say he's a retired adventurer, and others claim he's a wizard in hiding from some deadly sorcerous foe. Folk in Neverwinter most like to tell a tale that the mapseller denies: Once, when a copper dragon flew into the city with one ragged and torn wing weeping great tears of blood, Alasturan rose up into the form of a great gold dragon and cradled the wounded dragon to his breast, flying westward out to sea with his great golden wings carrying them both. Probably only Alasturan and Galadaeros (who personally chose the Galadran agent in Neverwinter) know the true nature and powers of the unassuming mapseller; Elminster refuses to do more than smilingly muse about what a formidable foe a song dragon wizard who retained his magecraft in gold dragon form would be -- and then add enigmatically that Mystra would almost have to take a personal interest in such an individual.

On the subject of Galadaeros himself, Elminster was more forthcoming. The Company of striving, loving humans has become the dragon's family, banishing his loneliness and making him feel loved, revered, and needed for the first time in his life. It is more precious to him than treasure, dominance, and indeed anything else. So long as he can eat and find a safe place to rest from time to time, Galadaeros is happy to be a part of this noisy, reckless, fun-loving band of human women, with their wild plans and daring deeds; he is a young and playful wyrm at heart so long as he can be a part of this endless revel of human energy and ambition -- and the Sunset Flame takes delight in such simple acts as sliding softly past the windows of Waterdhavian nobility to pluck his Galadran ladies from a balcony in midlevel and hearing the gasps, oaths, and screams of awed nobles from all sides. Galadaeros seems to lack both the pride of his kind and the insensitivity that goes with it, but his most special talent is an uncanny ability he's developed over the years to judge the needs and schemes of humans. He's familiar with the North (and all of the Sword Coast from the Nelanther north to where the "undying ice" begins) and can find his way unerringly about in the worst snowstorms and other heavy weather. He also possesses some modest skill at magic.

Galadaeros happily spends his days acting as the steed, heavy reinforcement, and wise old advisor to the Company. His 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), "polite but brief and casual encounters; he offers no menace but in turn ignores it when offered to him -- and then removes himself while the other wyrm is still lost in puzzlement." The key to understanding Galadaeros could be said to be recognition of his deep and discerning sensitivity to the characters of others -- human females in particular. He has few known foes, but the Cult of the Dragon is most definitely among them.

The Lair of Galadaeros

The Sunset Flame makes his lair in a network of caverns in the heart of the highest peak (a modest mountain by the standards of Faerûn, being a mere pinnacle rising out of high moors) on the island that he styles Flamehome (most of the Galadrans call it "Galadros" or "the Dragon's Isle"). The caverns are said to be warmed by volcanic vents at their lowest levels, and to stretch for miles, with many chambers large enough to hold Galadaeros comfortably, though he can spread his wings and glide to a landing or surge into flight in only a handful of them.

The Flame Dragon has at least three entrances to his lair, and he is said by some Galadrans to have three wizshades as servants, though others suspect these seldom-seen sorcerers are wild mages who visit him rarely -- or even some of the Seven Sisters. Elminster says that all three conjectures are wrong, but that the last one comes closest. Of other servants, there have been no signs -- beyond the dragon's obvious use of unseen servant spells.

The Domain of Galadaeros

From Flamehome, Galadaeros roams the waters in a wide circle that takes in the Purple Rocks. On at least three occasions, he has savagely attacked and driven away dragons who tried to make their lairs amid the isles of the Rocks. When a marauding black dragon of gigantic size attacked, Galadaeros slew her by driving her down into the sea and crushing her throat while she struggled in the cold depths. Beyond this rather modest territory, Galadaeros makes no claims -- but he also seems to consider himself exempt from the territorial claims of all other dragons, flying where he wills and (whenever possible) ignoring or avoiding battle with the wyrms he thus arouses.

The Deeds of Galadaeros

The favorite prey of Galadaeros are the mountain goats and rothé that roam the Purple Rocks and the "Cold Coast" (that part of the mainland coast north of Mirabar), but he is apt to devour creatures -- even livestock -- and drink from handy lakes and rivers wherever he finds them when ranging far and wide across the Sword Coast North on Company business. Outside of his time with the Galadran Company, Galadaeros is known to have gone on solitary flights exploring the northlands, but these have become rare in recent years. He has engaged in no known alliances or matings with other dragons (beyond whatever draconic element his relationship with Alasturan of Neverwinter may involve).

The Fate of Galadaeros

Those who go adventuring are apt to die by misadventure, as the old saying goes -- and that's as likely to be true for Galadaeros as it is for a human swordswinger; over the years, he's intruded on enough dragon territories, and swooped past enough Cult of the Dragon agents, to be widely noticed.

That would make him target enough for ambitious young dragons, even without his Company service -- which is all too apt to draw him screaming into deadly combat situations in attempts to rescue Galadran ladies from various dooms. Any attack on a Company member could well be intended as a lure deliberately to draw the Sunset Flame into a deadly trap -- and more than one cabal in Waterdeep has tried just that over the years (along with the Arcane Brotherhood, agents of the Cult of the Dragon, and even servants of a Red Wizard of Thay who hoped to enslave Galadaeros to his will). All such attempts thus far have been failures, but sooner or later one will inevitably succeed, unless (as Elminster hinted a time or two) Galadaeros has formidable magic or allies he can call upon in times of need.

Galadaeros: Male mature adult copper dragon; CR 15; Huge dragon (earth); HD 23d12+92; hp 241; Init +5; Spd 40 ft., fly 150 ft. (poor); AC 31, touch 9, flat-footed 30; Atk +29 melee (2d8+8, bite) and +24 melee (2d6+4, 2 claws) and +24 melee (1d8+4, 2 wings) and +24 melee (2d6+12, tail slap); Face/Reach 10 ft. by 20 ft./10 ft.; SA breath weapon (14d4 acid, 100 ft. line, Reflex DC 25), breath weapon (slow gas, 50 ft. cone, Will DC 25, 1d6+7 rounds duration), crush 2d8+12, frightful presence, spell-like abilities , spells; SQ blindsight 210 ft., DR 10/+1, immunities, keen senses, spell resistance 23, spider climb; AL CG; SV Fort +17, Ref +14, Will +17; Str 27, Dex 12, Con 19, Int 18, Wis 19, Cha 18.

Skills and Feats: Bluff +29, Concentration +24, Diplomacy +34, Escape Artist +21, Hide -7, Intimidate +8, Jump +31, Knowledge (history) +30, Knowledge (the North local) +24, Listen +32, Search +30, Spellcraft +27, Spot +32; Alertness, Flyby Attack, Improved Initiative, Power Attack, Sunder, Wingover.

Breath Weapon (Su): Galadaeros can breath a 100 ft. line of acid that deals 14d4 points of damage (Reflex save DC 25 half). Once he has breathed, he must wait 1d4 rounds before doing so again.

Breath Weapon (Su): Galadaeros can breathe a 50 ft. cone of slow gas (Will DC 25 negates). Any creature in the area that fails its save functions as though under the effect of a slow spell for 1d6+7 rounds. Once Galadaeros has breathed, he must wait 1d4 rounds before doing so again.

Frightful Presence (Su): This ability takes effect automatically when Galadaeros attacks, charges, or flies overhead. It affects only opponents within 210 feet and with 6 or fewer Hit Dice or levels. The affected creature must make a successful Will save (DC 25) or become panicked (if 4 or fewer HD) or shaken (if more than 5 HD). Success indicates that the target is immune to Galadaeros's frightful presence for one day.

Spell-like Abilities: 2/day -- stone shape (caster level 9th; save DC 14 + spell level).

Spells: Galadaeros cast spells as a 9th-level sorcerer.

Blindsight (Ex): Galadaeros can ascertain creatures within Galadaeros can ascertain creatures within 210 feet by nonvisual means (mostly hearing and scent, but also by noticing vibrations and other environmental clues). He usually does not need to make Spot or Listen checks to notice creatures within range of its blindsight ability.

Immunities: Galadaeros is immune to acid, sleep, and paralysis effects.

Keen Senses (Ex): Galadaeros has darkvision (700 foot-range) and low-light vision (sees four times better than a human in low-light conditions).

Spider Climb (Ex): Galadaeros can climb on stone surfaces as though using the spider climb spell.

Sorcerer Spells Known (6/7/7/7/5; save DC 14 + spell level): 0 -- dancing lights, detect magic, ghost sound, mage hand, open/close, purify food and drink, ray of frost, read magic; 1st -- cure light wounds, know protections, reduce, shield, unseen servant; 2nd -- locate object, make whole, resist elements, speak with animals; 3rd -- dispel magic, scalespurs, summon monster III; 4th -- status, talonsnatch.

The Magic of Galadaeros

Little is said of the magic of Galadaeros, beyond an oft-repeated tale about his once hurling a spell that released a handful of live firetails (a creature similar to a flamebrother salamander), and he seems to employ magic to do useful things, rather than as spectacular attacks or for foe-impressing effects.

About the Author

Ed Greenwood is a Canadian writer who tries not to be Volo or even Azoun, but who doesn't mind being Elminster.

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