Wyrms of the North Malaeragoth, "The Dragon Unseen"
Dragon Magazine #246
By Ed Greenwood with supplementary material provided by Sean K Reynolds
Somewhere east of Waterdeep
lurks The Dragon Unseen.
Silent now his claws they creep
Rending all; Bodies fall,
Watched by eyes of green
Orbs of patient death,
Sleepless they gleam
Above slaying breath
And jaws of thunder;
Smashing foes under
To further a bloody dream.
Many have chanted those grim lines over a kindling fire in the Sword Coast North, because doing so is supposed to ward off beasts that see the blaze from afar. Most minstrels think "The Dragon Unseen" is no more than an impressive warning phrase, a clever bardic creation . . . but bards -- and all too many corpses -- have found the truth to be very different.
Malaeragoth the Unseen is a wily male sapphire dragon -- "very old" as humans measure the years of dragons -- who is rarely seen outside his lair. He lurks in its depths, devouring creatures of the Underdark (drow warbands, for example) who endlessly blunder into the caverns he calls home. He plots as he paces in the darkness, scheming out how -- without ever leaving his caverns -- he can achieve covert control over the pitiful but potentially dangerous human organization known as the Cult of the Dragon.
Once Malaeragoth served the wizard Uvalkhur the Undaunted as an occasional steed. It was a partnership he enjoyed, for he never ventured out into the sunlit skies of the surface world unless he had Uvalkhur on his back. The sardonic young wizard was an expert guide who didn't mind taking detours to show his curious aerial steed scorching deserts or frigid wastes.
Uvalkhur was the son of a rich Sembian merchant, much enmeshed in the intrigues of the wealthy merchants of that land. As his enemies grew, his need for swift journeys grew with it, and he called on Malaeragoth often. He didn't seem to mind that the dragon beneath him took close and persistent interest in spellbooks and the occasional magic Uvalkhur unleashed.
Over the years, Malaeragoth learned a little about spells, a little more about the use and handling of magic items, and much about Sembian politics and the players in its frenetic and rather dirty games, which Uvalkhur especially hated. The Cult of the Dragon, for instance, were forever hounding young wizards to join the Cult or at least to lend it magical assistance . . . or else face the "righteous and justified wrath" of the Followers of the Scaly Way. Regardless of a wizardling's reaction, they spread the word that he or she was now a loyal Cult member, and all Cultists could call on the wizardling for aid or sponsorship -- and any refusal would make the wizardling subject to Cult justice.
It's expensive to be a wizard in Sembia. Well, it's expensive to be just about anyone in Sembia, but the training and components involved in spellcasting restrict wizardry to the very wealthy or the duly accomplished. That meant most of the rising wizards were young nobles (that is, the sons of established wealthy merchant families).
The Cult of the Dragon, on the other hand, was largely composed of ambitious non-nobles; clawing at every wizard in sight was a good way of weakening the influence of the nobility and increasing the reputation of the Cult. It was also a good way to make enemies -- but if your foes fear you, you can often force them to react in certain ways, giving you a measure of control over them. And as Uvalkhur put it, "the Sembian Cultists love every measure of control they can squeeze out of Faerûn around them."
There came a summer morning when Uvalkhur, no longer young, was attacked in his manor house in northern Sembia by bold Cultists bent on plunder and punishment. The battle that followed brought death to many, but after the Undaunted had been hacked apart on his best carpet at the heart of his spell-chambers, enough Cultists remained alive to shout victorious triumph to the skies and loot all the magic items and spellbooks they could find.
Unfortunately for their continued health, they lingered too long over intricate sliding panels and the wine bottles in the ambries behind some of them, thinking that Uvalkhur's last cries had been vain entreaties and not a summons to the only ally he could call. When Malaeragoth plunged down out of the sky, he saw at once what had happened and tore what was left of the manor apart as a child tears open the wrappings of a gift to reach the Cultists within.
What he left of the ruined manor house still stands, overgrown by its orchards, northwest of Saerb. Its riven walls have been further despoiled over the years by scavengers in search of magic, but phantom wizards and leucrotta have kept casual explorers away. Not much is left for even the most diligent seeker to find, anyway; Malaeragoth bore away from House Undaunted chests of potions and books, a cabinet full of scrolls, all the items from which he'd recalled seeing Uvalkhur unleash magic . . . and a powerful hatred of the Cult of the Dragon.
The rest of that summer, the sapphire wyrm indulged his rage, hunting down Cultists across Sembia to avenge his sometime master. That ended one autumn night when he was burned and blasted by the frantic spells of three Cult wizards working together. Their magic sent him rolling into a pond, his lashing tail inadvertently flicking barrels of oil into fires ignited in battle. The explosion that followed tore apart the Cult stronghold he'd attacked, sent smoke rising to the stars, and hurled two of his wizard foes to their deaths, broken on the stones of the walled manor where they'd made their stand. None saw the wounded dragon crawl out of the pond and up a rocky slope.
The journey back to his lair was long and painful, and Malaeragoth vowed he'd never stand against wizards in open battle again. As he lay healing and trying to master magic in the dark caverns of his lair, he used Uvalkhur's scrying mirror to watch Cult members and their doings, and he vowed revenge upon them all. Yet his wounds were great, and they kept him idle in the dark for months. Nor did the learning of magic go swiftly, though he found that he understood magic and could divine ways to reshape it to his bidding. It occurred to him, as he lay upon his bed of coins, that he was the very thing diligent Cultists went seeking. To draw them to him was too risky; he'd be inviting a battle into his home and abandoning all safety and privacy forever. Perhaps he could act as the senior Cultists did, issuing orders and sending one group of agents to spy on another. . . .
Malaeragoth set about trying to manipulate the Cult into serving him, and he found that it worked. At first he merely sent them to a variety of fiendish traps for his own amusement. Later he realized that the surviving Cultists could do useful things for him such as carrying out tasks a dragon couldn't and sparing him the danger of long travel away from his lair. His early attempts proved so successful that the Unseen Dragon set to work in earnest on learning impersonations, mind-reading and mind-controlling spells, and the workings of human society (and the desires and characters of humans) in the North. Thus he trained to control Cult members without their being aware of his manipulation. He succeeded with ridiculous ease. Almost disbelieving, he set additional schemes in motion and watched them succeed. Cult members were indeed too chaotic for words.
As he set to work to master magic, Malaeragoth found himself with two pastimes: reshaping his lair and manipulating the Cult. Over the years since, he has largely altered his lair to the way he wants it. Influencing the Cult has progressed to the point where he can see his way clear to controlling it eventually.
Nowadays, Malaeragoth prides himself on leaving no hints to his identity when he destroys Cult members, and on wiping out all tracing spells that might find him by means of the treasure he seizes. Cult members are only now aware that someone or something that does not like them is at work in an area roughly bounded by Scornubel to the Shining Falls, and the Lonely Moor to Uluvin -- but as yet none of them knows it is a dragon.
Malaeragoth takes an almost childlike glee in misleading Cultists as to his true nature and in deftly increasing his influence over them; covertly achieving control of the Cult has become his great passion and entertainment.
More often whispered of in the Underdark than on the surface of Faerûn, Malaeragoth takes delight not in an impressive reputation (as most wyrms do) but in remaining hidden and unknown, truly Unseen. He avoids even the company of his own kind and hides to avoid unnecessary contact. He has a natural aptitude for and grasp of magic, and he knows the general topography of Faerûn from aloft. He is otherwise ignorant of much lore, and his scrying of surface society is almost entirely concerned with the intrigues of Sembia and the activities of the Cult of the Dragon.
Malaeragoth is itching to make use of his knowledge of the Realm of Rolling Coins by means of investments, but he lacks an agent he can trust and doesn't want to spend time away from his caverns -- though he can assume the shape and manners of Sembian merchants with uncanny accuracy, should he be moved to do so. When adventuring bands or exploring dragons come seeking him, he often successfully masquerades as a lost, wandering human in need of their aid -- until the right moment to attack with his full draconic form and powers.
Watching and scheming consume his days. Through years spent in this way, Malaeragoth has developed patience and a sense of humor. The hot rising springs that run through his lair slake his thirst, and he dines on creatures of the Underdark who intrude on his lair, flocks of wildfowl who alight to sleep on the High Moor (scrying them, he swoops on them by night, awakening them and gulping huge numbers in the air as they flutter aloft in a huge mass), and the creatures produced by eight captive deepspawn that he keeps walled away in a network of mushroom-bedizened caverns that he opens only to enter and feed.
The Unseen dwells in a huge network of caverns beneath the Graypeak Mountains. Some of these subterranean chambers are natural and bring hot and foaming streams up from the depths to join the River Shining. Others are the halls and passages of a long-abandoned dwarven delve, its short and narrow ways blasted to larger tunnels by the spells of the Unseen. Traps and chasms are commonplace, and once-rough walls have been scoured and worn smooth by the passing bulk of the dragon who now rules here, stretching often like a gigantic and restless scaled cat but seldom emerging into the world beyond what he calls his "Realm of Stone and Shadow."
Malaeragoth keeps several "arms," which are dead-end strings of caverns walled off with huge rocks, for special purposes. One such arm is flooded and holds reserve water. Another is lit by the endless, silent flashes of many gems: the much-prized beljurils. Scrying mirrors drift slowly along the passages of the Realm of Stone and Shadow, like upright oval stone shields, their soft green-white surfaces flickering. Malaeragoth uses them to spy on the world outside, regularly scanning the lands around his lair, but bending the major part of his attention upon distant Sembia and the deeds of the Cult of the Dragon, wherever he detects or follows them.
Skeletons and zombies fetch and carry at Malaeragoth's bidding. If his lair is attacked by large groups of beings, he'll direct these undead to roll waiting, massed crushing boulders down on invaders in particular shafts or areas. The undead are otherwise walled away in unlit side-caverns to keep them out of the way of the Unseen Dragon's slow pacings. He enjoys solitude and taking slow walks through the caverns worn smooth by years of his passage, as he murmurs thoughts, comments, and unfolding schemes aloud (although he'll never do so when he knows guests are anywhere in his lair) and watches a scrying mirror that's drifting along with him.
Malaeragoth has no other servitors or allies, although he sometimes poses as this or that human and uses his scrying mirror to seek advice from various distant surface folk (or to manipulate them with offers of deals or the real or false news he imparts).
Save for his extensive lair "realm," Malaeragoth claims and patrols no territory but considers himself free to travel at will around surface Faerûn. He won't hesitate to fight if he encounters anyone barring or disputing his way on his rare forays out "under the sun." He does keep watch over the approaches to his lair, both on the surface and in the Underdark, having developed an intense dislike of surprise guests and visitations.
The Deeds of Malaeragoth
Malaeragoth eats and drinks as he sees the need, but takes no delight in devouring or hunting. He hates no dragons or anyone beyond Cult members, but he feels no need to take a mate or maintain friendships with dragons or other beings.
The dealings of merchants fascinate Malaeragoth, and he never tires of observing them. He hungers to take an ever-greater hand in secretly "steering" events in whatever direction he desires. First, make the Cult of the Dragon his unwitting puppets, then begin to manipulate factions and individuals -- everyone except priests and wizards who might well detect him -- in realms everywhere across Faerûn. . . .
Malaeragoth: Male very old sapphire dragon Wiz 5; CR 24; Huge dragon (earth); HD 29d12+174 plus 5d4+30; hp 404; Init +5; Spd 40 ft., burrow 5 ft., swim 10 ft., fly 150 ft. (poor); AC 43, touch 13, flat-footed 38; Atk +39 melee (2d8+10, bite) and +34 melee (2d6+5, 2 claws) and +34 melee (1d8+5, 2 wings) and +34 melee (2d6+15, tail slap); Face/Reach 10 ft. by 20 ft./10 ft.; SA breath weapon (50-ft. cone of sonic energy), crush, frightful presence, psionic combat modes (ego whip, id insinuation, mind blast, mind thrust, psychic crush; empty mind, intellect fortress, mental barrier, thought shield, tower of iron will), psionics; SQ blindsight 270 ft., DR 15/+2, fire resistance 30, immunities (electricity, paralysis, sleep), low-light vision, planar travel, power resistance 25, psionic power points 101, spider climb; AL LN; SV Fort +25, Ref +24, Will +27; Str 31, Dex 20, Con 23, Int 22, Wis 23, Cha 22.
Skills and Feats: Appraise +12, Bluff +38, Climb +26, Concentration +38, Diplomacy +39, Disguise +16, Gather Information +14, Heal +9, Hide -3, Intimidate +16, Knowledge (arcana) +21, Knowledge (geography - the North) +16, Knowledge (local - Sembia) +10, Knowledge (local - the North) +20, Listen +22, Search +21, Sense Motive +14, Spellcraft +19, Spot +22, Swim +18, Survival +15; Combat Manifestation, Craft Wand, Inertial Armor, Iron Will, Mind Trap, Power Attack, Psionic Metabolism, Psychic Bastion, Quicken Spell-Like Ability, Rapid Metabolism, Scribe Scroll, Sunder.
Breath Weapon (Su): Once every 1d4 rounds, Malaeragoth can breathe a 50-foot cone of sonic energy that deals 18d4 points of sonic damage to every creature in the area (Reflex DC 30 half). Each creature within the cone must also make a Fortitude save (DC 30) or be deafened for 1d4 rounds.
Crush (Ex): When flying or jumping, Malaeragoth can land on Small or smaller creatures as a standard action, using his whole body to crush them. A crush attack affects as many creatures as can fit under Malaeragoth's body. Each creature in the affected area must succeed at a Reflex save (DC 30) or be pinned, automatically taking 2d8+15 points of bludgeoning damage. Thereafter, if Malaeragoth chooses to maintain the pin (grapple bonus +47), treat it as a normal grapple attack. While pinned, the opponent takes crush damage each round.
Frightful Presence (Ex): This ability takes effect automatically when Malaeragoth attacks, charges, or flies overhead. It affects only opponents with 28 or fewer Hit Dice or levels within a radius of 270 feet. Each affected creature must make a successful Will save (DC 30) to resist the effect. On a failure, a creature with 5 or more Hit Dice or levels becomes shaken for 4d6 rounds, and a creature with 4 or fewer Hit Dice or levels becomes panicked for 4d6 rounds. Success indicates that the target is immune to Malaeragoth's frightful presence for one day.
Psionics (Sp): Always active -- sense psychoportation; 2/day -- skate, stone shape; 1/day -- teleport.
Psionic Powers (8/5/4/4/3/3/2; as 13th-level psion [nomad]; save DC 1d20 + power level + key ability modifier): 0 -- burst, control shadow, daze, far hand, missive, my light, telempathic projection, verve; 1st -- charm person, combat precognition, conceal thoughts, feather fall, lesser body adjustment; 2nd -- clairaudience/clairvoyance, detect thoughts, invisibility, psionic lock; 3rd -- dimension slide, lesser domination, remote viewing, time hop; 4th -- detect remote viewing, dimensional anchor, polymorph self; 5th -- mind probe, sending, teleport; 6th -- null psionics field, trace teleport.
Blindsight (Ex): Malaeragoth can ascertain creatures by nonvisual means (mostly hearing and scent, but also by noticing vibration and other environmental clues) to a range of 270 feet. Invisibility and darkness are irrelevant, though he still can't discern ethereal beings. He usually does not need to make Spot or Listen checks to notice creatures within range of his blindsight ability.
Low-Light Vision: Malaeragoth can see four times as well as a human in low-light conditions and twice as well in normal light.
Planar Travel (Su): Malaeragoth has the innate ability to pass instantly between the Material Plane and the Inner Planes.
Spider Climb (Ex): Malaeragoth can climb on stone surfaces as though using the spider climb spell. This ability is always active.
Wizard Spells Prepared (4/5/4/2; save DC 16 + spell level): 0 -- detect magic, ghost sound, light, mage hand; 1st -- burning hands, endure elements, expeditious retreat, silent image, true strike; 2nd -- blur, cat's grace, darkvision, invisibility; 3rd -- dispel magic, tongues.
Spellbook: 0 -- arcane mark, dancing lights, daze, detect magic, detect poison, disrupt undead, flare, ghost sound, light, mage hand, mending, open/close, prestidigitation, ray of frost, read magic, resistance; 1st -- burning hands, endure elements, expeditious retreat, magic missile, silent image, sleep, Tenser's floating disk, true strike, unseen servant; 2nd -- blur, cat's grace, darkvision, endurance, invisibility, Melf's acid arrow, resist elements, web; 3rd -- ball of fangs, breath barb, dispel magic, fireball, gaseous form, halt undead.sapphire psionic shield, tongues.
The Unseen Dragon is playing a dangerous game. His continued success depends on his existence remaining unsuspected, or at least his whereabouts and identity staying unknown. As Elminster observes, "No one -- gods or mortals -- can remain hidden forever." The Old Mage suspects that Malaeragoth of the Realm of Stone and Shadow will come to a violent doom when his meddlings go too far, or when they touch the wrong being. Most of the Chosen know of his existence, and Elminster suspects at least one Red Wizard is watching over the Unseen Dragon in much the same way as Malaeragoth watches over the strivings and intrigues of Sembia and the Cult.
The massed Cult of the Dragon, should it bring all of its force to bear in concert -- and avoid most of the traps of the dragon's realm -- should alone destroy Malaeragoth. On the other hand, Elminster observed in dry tones, it might well take the direct power and guidance of a god to make all the Cult do anything together.
Some of the wands that the Unseen Dragon salvaged from House Undaunted are rare and powerful "acid-hurling death wands," as foes call them (wands of energy substitution (acid) fireball, caster level 10); the same sort of weapon possessed by the dragon Lhammaruntosz. Whereas the Claws of the Coast commands (so far as is known) only one such item, Malaeragoth owns at least four. This may well be the largest collection of this sort of wand anywhere; Elminster says very few such weapons still exist due to their inherent instability.
The Unseen Dragon has developed several interesting spells from the tomes he took from the ruins of his master's house; three of the most interesting of these follow. Due to his research (into spells beyond his present capabilities, in particular), Malaeragoth's understanding and recognition of spells cast by other creatures is extensive.
About the Authors
Ed Greenwood grew up glorying in the great fantasy epics of masters from Tolkien and Dunsany to Leiber and Zelazny. He's always wanted more stories of his favorite heroes and villains, so he created the Forgotten Realms as a place to tell them in.
Sean K Reynolds spends a lot of his time on trains, working on his laptop or reading books that usually end up left behind on the train for some other person to enjoy.