Wyrms of the North Nurvureem, "The Dark Lady"

Dragon Magazine #249
By Ed Greenwood with supplementary material provided by Sean K Reynolds

dragon_249For those who enter
Rundreth's gloom
Go willingly
to waiting doom.

-- From My Lady of Shadows
By Inder Braelen
Year of the Wave

On a grassy bank overlooking the long road north of Amphail stands Rundreth Manor, once home to the warrior-adventurer Galath Rundreth (whose bones lie somewhere in the wood that used to be its back garden). A succession of rougher owners followed Rundreth, and most of them used the many-pillared house as little more than a cave to shelter in between raids or hunting expeditions. These included the Brothers Skladdar (who grew wilder than the beasts they trapped, and whose skins they wore) and Emvorele the Gentle Blade (an elven coach robber as skilled as she was small; she stood 4 feet tall in battle-boots and swung a sword the size of a fire-skewer).

About twenty years ago, most of the manor's roof fell in, and a battle between rival adventuring bands both seeking to camp in what was left of the once-grand stone mansion caused two of its pillars to topple, crushing three men beneath their bulk and gaining Rundreth Manor a reputation for being haunted. Inevitably, folk of Amphail and passing merchants saw the ghosts of the dead adventurers watching them from the ruins.

The truth was probably less poetic. Outlaws have done a little howling and a little melting noiselessly away into concealment and have been dubbed "ghosts" before. Yet everyone seems to agree that the Dark Lady who haunts Rundreth Manor now is something different - something that brings death to many handsome young men, sending others away alive but changed. The survivors return with a faraway look in their eyes and doom riding their shoulders like a dark, tattered cloak that curls and switches of its own volition.

It's certain the young male adventurers lured to Rundreth believe they're in the company of someone very much alive -- and that the fearful few who come equipped to slay a vampire find no such foe and are persuaded to set aside their weapons by a friendly lady. Some who've seen this Dark Lady say she's small of stature, catlike in her grace, and clad in too little to conceal any weapon. And yet man after man of the young warriors who enter Rundreth is found dead -- torn apart as if by great jaws and tossed out onto the road, piece by piece, for flies and passersby to find.

If we can believe the ballad of the minstrel Inder Braelen (who returned to the Manor several times before disappearing there four winters ago), the Lady brings men to the ruined house by the score for purposes of seduction -- or to rob and slay them. She usually kills such paramours but lets the occasional one go. Those who spread word of what happened to them, such as Inder, soon disappear. Those who hold their peace and remain friendly to the Dark Lady are suffered to live. Inder claimed that some of these men remain her willing servants lifelong, obviously still fostering a love for her.

Inder's ballad lays bare two secrets of the Lady: Her habits, love of concealment, and the illusion magics she wields conceal her true nature from all save those who become her intimates - that she is a drow. Inder saw something more. The Dark Lady was more than a dark elf, or else a drow who could shapechange at will.

Certain Harpers -- one lover of the Dark Lady among them -- know rather more about the deadly lady of Rundreth Manor, and between what Volo learned from them and what he'd overheard at a Mage Fair (before his writings made him widely unpopular among mages), he pieced together the truth about the Dark Lady -- facts Elminster has confirmed.

Her name is Nurvureem, and she is a drow . . . and more. In fact, she's a drow song dragon, a drow who can change to a shadow dragon at will. A few veteran Harpers call her "the Drow Dragon."

Her origins are unknown even to her, but some Harpers have speculated that Nurvureem may be the last surviving offspring of an isolated drow enclave who were enslaved by shadow dragons in the remote northeastern Sword Coast North over a thousand years ago, and after many centuries broke free of their servitude by mastering enough magic. It must be emphasized that this "origin" is pure speculation. Nurvureem has more than once revealed that she's been alone and wandering for as long as she can remember, with no memory of parents or even a time when she was young. She does recall a time when she hated sunlight and lurked in caves that come to the surface somewhere near Triboar, exploring the surface world in tentative forays that occurred only in fog, stormgloom, or the darkness of night.

Nurvureem shuns the company of other drow and worships no deity, drow or otherwise. Only human, half-elven, and elven mages customarily impress her; she treats such individuals with gentle care until she's taken her measure of their power and decided whether she should seduce them, remain hidden, seize items and spellbooks while they sleep -- or simply attack.

The Dark Lady's seductions seem designed to win longtime friends and perhaps a mate. Friends who later prove to be weaklings or who turn against her become coerced allies, fearful servants, or -- most often --swiftly dead at her hands. Only Nurvureem knows what she truly seeks and whether she can come to trust any other being. From her deeds and words passed on by men she has entertained in ruined Rundreth, we know that Nurvureem is lonely, probably less than sane, and unrepentantly evil. She openly delights in theft and cruel pranks such as misdirecting caravans over cliffs. On at least three occasions she has tricked wizards into attacking the isolated homes of other mages, then tried to slay both wizards while they dueled, or to steal what magic she could during the fray. She exults in slaughter and in viewing the destruction wrought by others, yet she can also be tender and vulnerable, seeking both affection and protection. On one occasion, she offered her throat to a wary Harper, drew his own dagger and put it into his hand, bidding him strike if he thought it best. The Harper found he could not bring himself to slay her. He insists that she had placed herself, tilting her head back over one of his arms and wrapping his cloak around and around her own arms to thoroughly bind them out of the way, vulnerable to a killing stroke had he delivered one. Her submission might have been a clever gamble, but it wasn't a trick -- no change to dragon form or sudden movement could have saved her. Many Harpers who heard the tale consider it clear evidence of her insanity; a few others are more charitable in their views.

All accounts agree that, whenever attacked in earnest, Nurvureem changes to shadow dragon form, though she can use her spell-like draconic powers when in drow shape and when (as a drow) she's maintaining a humanoid semblance through the use of illusion.

First mentioned in travelers' journals circa 1304 DR, Nurvureem initially roamed a fairly small area of the North, ranging east and southeast from Triboar as far as the High Forest (never going north or west). In recent decades, she has known to have followed the trade routes as far south as Baldur's Gate, lingering near Daggerford, and up the Delimbiyr as far as Secomber. She stayed in the Bargewright Inn for two seasons, wreaking such havoc that local Harpers persuaded a drow priestess of Eilistraee to join them in ousting her. At their first confrontation, Nurvureem screamed in rage and fled, lurking in the wildlands for almost a year.

A mage who one night conjured the illusion of a drow warband to drive away Nurvureem reported that she was "visibly upset" by the sight, even though she evidently knew it to be only an image and not a real group of dark elves. The Drow Dragon seems to avoid cities, large caravan camps, and anywhere that is home to noise, bustling activity, and lots of folk. On at least two occasions, she has taken rural employment as a "shroud-spinner," preparing the bodies of the dead for burial, so as to gain a ready supply of carrion to dine upon. She has employed a variety of outward appearances and aliases, but she always dwells alone. To all outward appearances, Nurvureem is a very talented seamstress who seems able to see and function perfectly in the dark. When in this guise, she is always prepared for attacks; her cottages have alarm-warning traps, such as balanced buckets of old metal scrap and tripwires, set ready against intrusion.

When in dragon form, Nurvureem is believed to be in all respects an adult shadow dragon. She can employ her draconic ability to converse with any intelligent creature, as well as the spells she gains as a shadow dragon, while she's in any form.

The Drow Dragon has no one true lair but maintains several hideaways and magic caches across the North. One is a tumbledown cottage in the hills east of Red Larch surrounded by monster skeletons to deter casual explorations; another is a dry gulch (large enough to hold a shadow dragon lying flat, and hiding healing potions under tumbled boulders at its heart) in the gently rolling hills west of the High Forest and east of Beliard. A third is known to be a cave high in a mountainside or rocky height somewhere near the area Nurvureem is known to roam -- but just which pinnacle, Volo was unable to learn.

Nurvureem's Lair

To Nurvureem, lairs seem little more than places to hide from prying eyes and keep a little magic hidden for emergencies. Once, sorely wounded, she was observed to "hop" from lair to lair, quaffing healing potions at each until she was strong enough to resume her business: spying on those who'd harmed her, and plotting their imminent doom, which she subsequently brought about. Rockfall traps (employing delicately balanced and wedged boulders that will crush someone approaching a potion cache from the easiest or obvious direction, but which do nothing if someone gets at the potions by another way -- usually a way that involves some climbing or crawling) are in some of these hideaways, but in general the Drow Dragon's lairs are simple shelters, not fortresses studded with spells or other perils and manned by servitor creatures.

Nurvureem uses ruined Rundreth Manor purely as a place to which to lure young human male adventurers, maintaining a hidden cache of wine, clothing, and food there, but little more. If she suspects a man is going to betray her straightaway by summoning adventurers or Waterdhavian patrols to attack her, she often gives him a gift she keeps hidden somewhere in the ruins: the magic sword Blazhserblane (a +1 jumping long sword (see Magic of Faerûnfor the jumping weapon property) that dates to the time of the Fallen Kingdom; it can glow with faerie fire when grasped and commanded, and bears a permanent tracer spell linked with a gem that Nurvureem possesses, allowing her to follow the movements and know the approximate whereabouts of anyone bearing it -- and clearly hear all words they speak, regardless of distance.

Nurvureem's Domain

Nurvureem knows every ravine and nameless creek from Triboar to Calling Horns. Her roaming takes her along the verges of the High Forest to Secomber, thence along the edge of the High Moor and the Misty Forest to the Way Inn, and back northward through Daggerford to skirt Waterdeep and Goldenfields, taking in all else to the edges of the Kryptgarden Forest, and thence to Triboar once more. This is more a "stomping ground" than a patrolled and defended domain.

Velsaert of Baldur's Gate calls her "That deadliest of dragons -- the sort who evades battle and all the other outward show of draconic life, to lie low when other wyrms roam or seek to do battle . . . only to rise up when unexpected and strike out of the shadows like a merciless snake." Rotting dragonflesh is Nurvureem's favorite food, and she gets it by slaying adventurer- or weather-weakened dragons and plundering their hoards for all the magic she can find, use, or trade, before dining on her prey. Nurvureem has slain all the dragons to whom she has known to have revealed her true nature. Her victims include Oskalymm the Old, a black dragon who once laired somewhere in the northern High Moor; Andrathanach, a young green dragon who was trying to establish a lair on the western border of the High Forest south of Noanar's Hold; and Surpuryte, daughter of Iiurrendeem, a silver dragon who dwelt in Amphail more or less permanently in human form.

The Deeds of Nurvureem

Nurvureem has been alone and wandering the Sword Coast North for at least seven decades. She seems to like drow form, scouting lands by night, lazing in caves or swimming holes by day -- and hunting in dragon form at twilight when she's found prey to her liking, or assuming dragon form whenever she encounters trouble. The Drow Dragon often sports with prey, chasing and toying with them for some time before slaying. Dead victims are often transported to rocky heights to become properly ripe for her liking -- places she can watch from adjacent rock pinnacles, swooping down to kill carrion-eaters drawn to the remains.

After dragons (and their kin, wyverns), humans are the favorite prey of the Drow Dragon. Magic-wielding humans are of the most value to her because of their knowledge and the items they might carry -- but their flesh tastes no better than that of humans who know spells only through folktales. Nurvureem hates other drow and is both fascinated by and fearful of other sorts of elves. Elves who treat her with arrogance never fail to enrage her, but Nurvureem has tasted too many traps to let her feelings goad her into instant attack before she has examined her surroundings and considered the situation. Most plots to slay or capture her amuse her more than anything else, and she seems to view the strivings of adventurers as personal entertainments provided for her by Faerûn. She often spies on adventuring bands she sights in the wilderlands, seeking only to enjoy "the show" (and dining on whatever they slay, once it is suitably rotten).

Nurvureem can be alarmed -- into seething anger -- if she discovers plots against her involving other dragons. She despises dracoliches and the Cult of the Dragon. She destroys Cult members and bone dragons alike when they cross her path, though she doesn't bother pursuing them.

Nurvureem uses the men who leave Rundreth Manor devoted to her to bring her back magic items, potions, and spell scrolls -- and to keep her informed of adventurers and Cult agents active in her domain. Occasionally she'll visit one of her "Faithful Few" unannounced, appearing across their fire at night, or in their bedchamber at an inn or home. She doesn't do this just when she wants something or to check up on them -- often she desires a little companionship more than anything else, and to catch up on news. One of her men was trembling with fear as he revealed his recent marriage and baby child, only to have her glowingly congratulate him and go fetch some treasure as a gift for the babe. On several occasions she's helped her Faithful by "standing in" as a wife or escort.

Nurvureem: Female unique adult shadow/song dragon Sorcerer 1; CR 14; Large dragon (shadow); HD 19d12+57 plus 1d4+3; hp 185; Init +4; Spd 80 ft., fly 150 ft. (poor); AC 31, touch 9, flat-footed 31; Base Atk +19; Grp +27; Atk +22 melee (2d6+4, bite); Full Atk +22 melee (2d6+4, bite) and +17 melee (1d8+2, 2 claws) and +17 melee (1d6+2, 2 wings) and +17 melee (1d8+6, tail slap); Space/Reach 10 ft./5 ft. (10 ft. with bite); SA breath weapon (40-ft. cone of shadow), frightful presence, spell-like abilities; SQ alternate form, blindsense 60 ft., damage reduction 5/magic, darkvision 120 ft., immunities (energy drain, paralysis, sleep), low-light vision, shadow blend, tongues, true seeing; AL CE; SV Fort +14, Ref +11, Will +18; Str 19, Dex 10, Con 17, Int 20, Wis 20, Cha 22.

Skills and Feats: Bluff +26, Concentration +25, Craft (trapmaking) +9, Diplomacy +32, Escape Artist +15, Hide -4, Intimidate +13, Knowledge (arcana) +25, Knowledge (local -- the North) +25, Listen +27, Move Silently +5, Profession (seamstress) +10, Search +25, Sense Motive +25, Spellcraft +29, Spot +29; Alertness, Blind-Fight, Flyby Attack, Heighten Spell, Improved Initiative, Leadership, Power Attack

Breath Weapon (Su): Nurvureem's breath weapon is a 40-foot cone of billowing, smoky shadows with an energy drain effect. Each creature within the cone gains three negative levels. A successful Reflex save (DC 22) halves the number of levels lost (rounded down). This same DC is used for the Fortitude save to overcome the negative levels 24 hours later.

Frightful Presence (Ex): Nurvureem can unsettle foes with her mere presence in dragon form. The ability takes effect automatically whenever she attacks, charges, or flies overhead. Each creature within a radius of 180 feet that has less than 19 HD is subject to the effect. A potentially affected creature that succeeds at a Will save (DC 25) remains immune to Nurvureem's frightful presence for one day. On a failure, a creature with 4 or fewer HD becomes panicked for 4d6 rounds, and one with 5 or more HD becomes shaken for 4d6 rounds. A panicked creature takes a -2 morale penalty on saving throws and must flee. A shaken creature takes a -2 morale penalty on attack rolls, checks, and saving throws. Nurvureem ignores the frightful presence of other dragons.

Spell-Like Abilities: 3/day -- mirror image; 2/day -- dimension door (DC 20 [object]). Caster level 6th.

Alternate Form (Su): Nurvureem can freely use an ability much like polymorph self to assume human form. Each has a unique human form that she assumes each time she changes shape (Nurvureem's "human" form is that of a female drow). When she changes form, her Strength, Dexterity, and Constitution scores become average for her new form (Str 10, Dex 12, Con 8), but her hit points are unaffected by this change. Nurvureem can employ her dragon spells and special abilities -- except her breath weapon -- in either form. Changing from dragon to drow form requires 2 rounds; reversing the change takes only 1 round. During this time, she cannot move and can use only her spells or breath weapon (if changing from dragon to drow, otherwise the breath weapon is unavailable). Other actions and attacks are impossible. The change rends all known bonds, clothing, and other confinements, without harm to Nurvureem.

Blindsense (Ex): Nurvureem can pinpoint creatures within a distance of 60 feet. Opponents she can't actually see still have total concealment against her.

Shadow Blend (Su): During any conditions other than full daylight, Nurvureem can disappear into the shadows, giving her nine-tenths concealment. Artificial illumination, even a light or continual flame spell, does not negate this ability. A daylight spell, however, will.

Tongues (Su): Nurvureem can communicate in any language through the use of an innate tongues ability that is always active.

True Seeing (Su): Nurvureem has true seeing (as the spell) to a range of 15 feet. This ability is always active.

Sorcerer Spells Known (6/8/7/4; save DC 16 + spell level): 0 -- dancing lights, detect magic, ghost sound, light, mage hand, open/close, ray of frost; 1st -- charm person, disguise self, hold portal, shadowgloom; 2nd -- cat's grace, darkness; 3rd -- threesteel.

Nurvureem's Fate

The Drow Dragon is heading for a confrontation with massed adventuring bands, whether she knows it or not. Several adventurers who have escaped her clutches at Rundreth Manor have continued to work for Nurvureem but have told adventuring companions about her. There seems to be a general mood among rulers and adventurers in the Sword Coast North that Faerûn would be better off without her, and that it is fast becoming time to strike Nurvureem down regardless of the price in blood she might exact. The warrior Angrathos "Swordshatterer" of Neverwinter even tried to enlist the assistance of Claugiyliamatar, an ambitious green dragon, in a hunt to corner and destroy the Drow Dragon, but the Dragon of Kryptgarden Forest refused.

Word of a connection between the Dark Lady of Rundreth Manor and the "drow who can turn into a dragon" is spreading fast thanks to several minstrels, but this is a recent notion, not generally-agreed-upon fact (even among Harpers and those learned or at least interested in the affairs of dragons).

A noose seems to be slowly tightening around Nurvureem. She seems almost to savagely welcome it, though whether she's seeking release through her own death or just a glorious fight remains a mystery . . . perhaps even in the clouded mind of the Dark Lady herself.

Nurvureem's Magic

The Drow Dragon commands only a few sorcerer spells but has acquired a useful collection of wands and other battleworthy magic items -- including a ring that can teleport her away from real peril, another ring that can create many illusions, and plentiful magic healing. Two spells she is known to use follow.

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.

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