Wyrms of the North: Zundaerazylym, the "Laughing Wyrm"
Dragon Magazine #259
By Ed Greenwood with supplementary material provided by Sean K Reynolds
Few have heard of Zundaerazylym, but this last Wyrm of the North (in Volo's researches, at least) should be famous -- or infamous -- from one end of Toril to the other. She's not, however, a seeker of publicity. This ancient steel dragon (called by some a "Greyhawk dragon") has been hiding in human form for years in Neverwinter. She has taken her true shape only to fight off a raiding mage of the Brotherhood of the Arcane -- Aerlendan "Shadowtalons" Mardilaer, whom she tore apart over the Sea of Swords in the Year of the Wave (1364 DR) -- and to devour a pair of wyverns who some forty years earlier made the fatal mistake of deciding to lair in the southernmost Crags.
In her human existence, Zundaerazylym is Amundra Nelaerdra, a plump, gossiping, happy laundress and seamstress who makes stylish everyday gowns and cloaks for the ladies of Neverwinter. She also repairs and cleans all the exotic costumes and flashy garb worn at the Moonstone Mask, the most famous inn, restaurant, and festhall in the City of Skilled Hands.
Nelaerdra is pudgy, stooping, and going gray (in attractive streaks), but Zundaerazylym does spend occasional nights in more attractive human guises, taking the shape of sick or weary lady staffers at the Mask.
The owner of the Mask, the sorceress Ophala Cheldarstorn, has led her staff to believe her own spells transform a "skilled but aging courtesan" to take their places. Ophala and Zundaerazylym are firm friends, and the sorceress knows Amundia Nelaerdra's true nature. Ophala aids the steel dragon from time to time with her spells, and she keeps Zundaerazylym's hoard magically hidden in an undisclosed place. It is not buried underground, in the Mask, or in Nelaerdia's Bright Weaves Laundry.
Zundaerazylym often helps out Ophala in return. More than once the "Laughing Laundress of Neverwinter" has smuggled prominent guests out of the Mask in her gigantic baskets of laundry, enabling them to avoid embarrassing confrontations with rivals, murderous foes, spouses, superiors, or admirers. She has also, on several memorable nights, flown important agents and members of the Lords' Alliance out of Neverwinter on her back when they needed to be elsewhere in a hurry.
Zundaerazylym claims no domain, but she considers Neverwinter her territory. She defends it against other dragons who dare to reveal themselves openly and aggressively in or above its streets or try to dominate its folk (rather than dwelling among them as she does). Battle so excites her that she chortles and hoots almost constantly during combat -- hence, her nickname, "the Laughing Wyrm." So far, no one has connected the Laughing Laundress with the Laughing Wyrm . . . but then, there's no reason they should. Amundra Nelaerdra doesn't behave proudly or as if she has secrets apart from the latest juicy gossip.
Zundaerazylym likes adventurers (though she's wary of large mercenary companies and secretive organizations), is wary of unfamiliar wizards, and dislikes blusterers and tyrants -- whether they be children lording it over their fellows in alleys or kings who mistreat their subjects or try to conquer new territory. She often seeks out drunken, brawling, or bullying sailors who have come to port (Luskanites are habitual offenders), or haughty or overly cruel visiting adventurer-mages, and teaches them a lesson. She usually lures them into private places by posing as a flirtatious tavern wench, then changes to dragon form with clashing jaws and wild laughter. Usually Zundaerazylym lets those she has terrified flee unscathed, but she has been known to tear a mage's staff, cloak, and garments away (to remove his magic), or break a sailor's sword-arm and the sword with it.
Zundaerazylym might seem to do no more than take the usual whimsical interest in humans that any steel dragon "gone human" does, but she has more secret schemes and hushed achievements than most dragons can imagine. Zundaerazylym follows a bright dream of her own. She wants dragonkind to live in harmony with humanoids -- perhaps as the champions and defenders of realms peopled and governed by (as she puts it) "the teeming, so-called 'civilized' races." This, she believes, would result in happier, better lives for all. To accomplish this, wyrms have to see themselves as guardians of a common treasure, not "their own" hoards. Rapacious dragons must be slain, and all dragons must find food that is not the creatures they hope to dwell with (or great numbers of these same creatures' livestock). Some dragons will always feel the need to hunt, but hunger mustn't force them to eat their allies, friends, or fellow citizens.
The edible fungi that makes cavern-dwelling orcs so energetic, fertile, and hardy is a brown, fissured, rather fuzzy-textured yet crunchy substance that grows in even the coldest, dampest caverns. It needs no light, but it flourishes when light is present and expands at a riotous rate in the presence of volcanic or other heat. Found growing in striations or parallel, horizontal "ridges" on rock walls, it is called arantym by the dwarves and (thanks to its appearance) "ripplebark" to humans, though it isn't bark at all.
This nut-flavored, woody fungus spreads by means of spores. These spores are harmless to humans; when inhaled or ingested, they simply pass through the body like other wastes, and can thus be carried as humans travel. The spores can consume living or dead wood, plant material, other fungi, and even airborne nutrients (from mists). Ripplebark can lay dormant for long periods of drought, extreme cold, or lack of nutrition; to remain alive, it needs to "feed" only about every eight years. Scorched or dead ripplebark turns black but is still edible, and it alters disease germs as it absorbs them, rendering them harmless. Orcs thrive on this unexciting but abundant fare.
In her search for a lasting replacement food source for dragons, Zundaerazylym seized on ripplebark and for many years tried to modify or augment it. At length she hit upon a still-secret mixture in which she soaks ripplebark fragments for a month to create what she calls "longbite." (Formally, the substance is known as routhduin, which is a word concocted from elven, dwarven and draconic roots, combined to mean something akin to "improved to achieve satiation" or "bettered to be satisfying."
Her process renders the ripplebark able to sustain all but the most terribly wounded or most active dragons for months on a small meal. "Most active" includes those rare dragons who spend a third of their time fighting or hunting. "Small" in this case means a volume of longbite roughly equivalent to the bodies of three average-sized humans.
Zundaerazylym's mixture -- an iridescent syrup -- is known to be predominantly water and include an elixir of vitality (a magical draught that removes fatigue, exhaustion, poison, and disease, and sustains the drinker without food and water for seven days), dissolved air spores (a magic item that grants 2d4 days of breathable air regardless of the surrounding environment), the sap of oak or ash trees, dissolved pearls and at least a dozen other ingredients, many of which are powdered. Soft Claw agents believe that the ground bones of some creature are one of these and have learned to their cost that the mixture is poisonous if drunk (even sipped sparingly) by elves, half-elves, or humans.
The Laughing Wyrm keeps her agents so busy retrieving large varieties of strange substances for her (some of which are undoubtedly continuing experiments aimed at creating a successful "Softscale Soak," another one of her creations), such as pumice, pine nuts, chicken livers, lamb kidneys, and bulrushes, that no one has been able to set down a definitive ingredient list for "longbite." Zundaerazylym is even known to have made large profits by cornering the market on particular goods, then reselling them in bulk when shortages occur.
Some of her acquisitions -- many of them stored in hidden caverns under the Neverwinter Woods and garrisoned by the Soft Claws -- may not be for alchemical purposes at all.
The Softscale Soak
Not so different in appearance from the current incarnation of the "longbite" mixture, the "Softscale Soak" is an experimental healing and restorative bath for dragons. It is intended to keep the scales supple, the senses keen, and otherwise slow the physical side effects of age, allowing the complete regeneration of sorely wounded dragons. Ingredients of the current Soak, which is thought to have accomplished Zundaerazylym's first and lesser healing aim, are known to include the discarded shells of hatched dragon eggs, as well as dissolved dragon bones and scales (though just what was used to dissolve them, the Laughing Wyrm keeps secret).
At least once, Zundaerazylym has plunged into the heart of an orc horde in the mountain vales and deliberately lingered in battle until badly wounded. She was then snatched back to a disused quarry near Conyberry by the spells of Ophala Cheldarstorn and lowered into a bath of her own preparation. Most of these Soaks failed to do more than soothe her, but the Laughing Wyrm still believes a successful, sovereign healing bath for dragons is possible, if she can just hit upon the right formula for it.
The Dreaming Wyrm (as her agents, the Soft Claws, call her; just to confuse things, they also refer to her as "the Never Wyrm") is quick to say "Dreamers are dangerous," but she's become that most deadly force for change: a being who energetically tries to make her dreams become real. She's set about trying to protect civilization in the Sword Coast North and create the alternative food source she deems necessary.
Zundaerazylym sees two great dangers to the North: the harsh climate and orc hordes. The first must be endured (magical attempts to meddle with the weather, in her opinion, lead only to disasters), but the Dreaming Wyrm believes she can do something about the orc problem.
Orcs are fecund; and periodically they grow too numerous for their homes in the labyrinthine mountain-heart caverns of the North. When this happens, they boil forth and sweep down on all surface settlements and creatures in their path, pushing onward (usually south, toward warmer, more lush lands) until they are eventually destroyed, leaving great destruction in their wake.
What if the most evil, hungry, and aggressive dragons held lairs in the path of the emerging orc hordes, so that the one would be forced to fight the other? Somehow such dragons must be manipulated into relocating their lairs in the right places. Zundaerazylym tries to do this through her agents, the Soft Claws, with carefully planted legends and rumors about lost dragon hoards and vacant dragon lairs that slowly confer magical powers to wyrms who dwell in them.
The Soft Claws
To gain materials for her immersion projects, to keep watch on orc populations, and to gather information on the whereabouts and deeds of dragons throughout western Faerûn, Zundaerazylym needs a band of capable but nondescript undercover agents. She began recruiting such from the ranks of local traders, woodcarvers, and failed adventurers some forty years ago, and the dedicated folk she is pleased to call her Soft Claws now number over sixty humans, elves, halflings, and half-elves. These agents operate as far east as Suzail and as far south as Baldur's Gate.
The Laughing Wyrm suspects there are both Heralds and Harpers in the Soft Claws, but she worries more about infiltration by the Cult of the Dragon, the Arcane Brotherhood, or mages bent on gaining power over dragons. This concern has deepened in recent years, since more than one of her agents have gone missing -- and their nevertokens with them. Nevertokens are magical recognition badges carried by all Soft Claws, given to them by Zundaerazylym. She has a cache of identical items, for the entire cache of Halruaan family trading-tokens was given to her in the Year of the Watching Cold (1320 DR) by Ensible Mritavvalan, the dying last member of that family.
The Soft Claws have many duties beyond spying and fetching. They try to "relocate" active dragons by improving or even creating lair-caverns in desired locales (remote northern mountains; perilously close to orc colonies); daringly planting maps (usually in the packsacks of "recovered treasure") near known dragon lairs; or even posing as adventurers and using farhailing spells to talk to one another about rich dragon lairs they're heading for, so that a dragon in its lair "accidentally" overhears them. They also plant rumors in the ranks of the Cult of the Dragon to manipulate the activities of that evil organization.
Some prominent members of the northern society are Soft Claws. Bruldin Oldturret (NG male human Ftr6) is a trader of plain appearance, stolid expression, and wide knowledge of northern forest trails and backlands. Tamaer Shiversword (CG male half-elf Ftr9) is a flamboyant failed adventurer with a knack for mimicry and a love of pranks, bold gambles, and disguises. Jhavaerra Erbrand (CG female human Rog4) is a well-traveled "finder" or talent scout for the Mask who serves the Claws by establishing trading contacts among merchants in distant cities, gathering information on dragons and the Dragon Cult, and so on. Finally, Iorl Skyndul (CG male human Rog6) is a Calishite thief, smuggler, and fence of stolen goods who delights in all the minor magics Zundaerazylym has given him over the years and the deceptions he can accomplish using them.
The Soft Claws use the Moonstone Mask as their primary covert rallying place and regard the Laughing Wyrm as a kindly mother. This is fitting, when one considers that she nurses them back to health, occasionally comes winging to their rescue, arranges careers for them, and dispenses advice as well as unofficial salaries. These payments come irregularly but often; Zundaerazylym is never short of money thanks to her trading acumen, the efforts of the Claws on her behalf, and the legacy left to her by the last of the Mritavvalans, whom she rescued from family foes and guarded for the last three decades of his life. She always has time to sit with her agents and discuss their own dreams and goals.
The origin of these family tokens is now unknown. Many early Halruaan families possessed similar devices, but newer families have none. Elder families now either profess no knowledge of such things, or simply ignore queries regarding the items.
All of Zundaerazylym's nevertokens appear as identical, glossy-smooth, silvery blue, four-pointed metal stars. Each is 1-inch thick and about 4-inches across from point to point. They're lighter than their volume suggests, pierced in the center to allow a neckchain or keepstrap to be passed through them, and their points and edges are rolled and blunt. They are constructed of an unknown alloy that is extremely durable and resistant to damage. In fact, it's hard to mark a nevertoken with anything short of a forge hammer; when broken, a token typically bursts into a harmless flaring flame and falls to dust in seconds. All nevertokens are protected by a blueshine treatment, and all emit a pleasant four-tone metallic chord, like a quartet of bells, when struck (a property difficult to fake without careful spellwork).
Nevertokens constantly function as a glove of storing, ring of feather falling, and ring of mind shielding. All other nevertoken powers function when the item is grasped with bare flesh and a power is willed into action (a standard action). Handling a token doesn't yield any hint of its abilities; Zundaerazylym instructs her agents in token powers, yielding information about the strongest abilities only when she comes to trust a particular Soft Claw.
Each of the listed powers can be used once per day. The tokens are known to have the following powers (they may have more, but the dragon has not revealed them):
- trace nevertoken -- as know direction, except pointing to the nearest nevertoken.
Strong conjuration; CL 9th; Craft Wondrous Item, feather fall, know direction, nondetection, sending, shrink item, teleport; Price 67,000 gp; Weight 1 lb.
Zundaerazylym: Female ancient steel dragon; CR 15; Huge dragon (air); HD 31d12+186; hp 387; Init +4; Spd 60 ft., swim 30 ft., fly 200 ft. (poor); AC 38, touch 8, flat-footed 38; Base Atk +31; Grp +48; Atk +38 melee (2d8+9, bite); Full Atk +38 melee (2d8+9, bite) and +33 melee (2d6+4, 2 claws) and +33 melee (1d8+4, 2 wings) and +33 melee (2d6+13, tail slap); Space/Reach 15 ft./10 (15 ft. with bite); SA breath weapon (100-ft. line of corrosive or poisonous gas), crush 2d8+13, frightful presence, spell-like abilities, spells; SQ blindsight 60 ft., damage reduction 20/magic, darkvision 120 ft., immunities (paralysis, sleep), keen senses, major arcane shield, minor arcane shield, poison resistance, spell resistance 34; AL LN; SV Fort +23, Ref +19, Will +23; Str 29, Dex 10, Con 23, Int 25, Wis 23, Cha 20.
Skills and Feats: Bluff +21, Concentration +30, Craft (alchemy) +23, Diplomacy +25, Escape Artist +10, Gather Information +7, Heal +11, Hide -8, Intimidate +17, Knowledge (arcana) +41, Knowledge (geography) +17, Knowledge (history) +17, Knowledge (nature) +17, Knowledge (nobility and royalty) +12, Knowledge (North -- local) +22, Listen +38, Perform (act) +21, Profession (laundress) +8, Profession (seamstress) +8, Search +39, Sense Motive +28, Spellcraft +27, Spot +40, Swim +17, Use Magic Device +39; Brew Potion, Combat Expertise, Combat Reflexes, Craft Wondrous Item, Improved Initiative, Lightning Reflexes, Magical Artisan (Craft Wondrous Item), Power Attack, Snatch, Spell Focus (Enchantment), Spell Penetration.
Breath Weapon (Su): Once every 1d4 rounds, Zundaerazylym can breathe a 100-foot line of acidic gas or a 100-ft. line of poisonous gas. Each creature in the area of the acidic gas takes 10d6 points of acid damage (Reflex DC 31 half). The poisonous gas is inhaled, Fortitude DC 31, initial and secondary damage 10 Con.
Crush (Ex): Whenever Zundaerazylym flies or jumps, she can land on opponents as a standard action, using her whole body to crush them. Her crush attack affects Small or smaller opponents within a 15-foot-by-15-foot area. Each potentially affected creature must succeed on a DC 31 Reflex save or be pinned, automatically taking 2d8+13 points of bludgeoning damage during the next round unless the dragon moves off. If Zundaerazylym chooses to maintain the pin, treat it as a normal grapple attack. Pinned opponents take damage from the crush each round if they don't escape.
Frightful Presence (Ex): Whenever Zundaerazylym attacks, charges, or flies overhead, each creature in a 300-foot radius that has 30 or fewer HD must make a DC 30 Will save. Failure indicates that the creature is panicked for 4d6 rounds (if it has 4 or fewer HD) or shaken for 4d6 rounds (if it has 5 or more HD).
Spell-Like Abilities: 5/day -- polymorph; 1/day -- charm person (DC 16), enthrall (DC 17), mass suggestion (DC 21), suggestion (DC 18). Caster level 19th.
Spells: Zundaerazylym casts spells as a 19th-level sorcerer.
Blindsense (Ex): Zundaerazylym can pinpoint creatures within a distance of 60 feet. Opponents she can't actually see still have total concealment against her.
Keen Senses (Ex): Zundaerazylym can see four times as well as a human in shadowy illumination and twice as well in normal light. She also has darkvision to a range of 120 feet.
Minor Arcane Shield (Su): Zundaerazylym gets a +10 bonus to her SR against 1st- and 2nd-level arcane spells.
Moderate Arcane Shield (Su): Zundaerazylym gets a +10 bonus to her SR against 3rd- and 4th-level arcane spells.
Poison Resistance: Zundaerazylym gets a +10 racial bonus on Fortitude saves against poison.
Sorcerer Spells Known (6/8/7/7/7/7/6/6/6/4; save DC 15 + spell level or 16 + spell level for enchantment spells): 0 -- dancing lights, daze, detect magic, ghost sound, mage hand, message, read magic, resistance, touch of fatigue; 1st -- charm person, Horizikaul's boom, identify, know protections, sleep; 2nd -- Balagarn's iron horn, cloud of bewilderment, eagle's splendor, resist energy; 3rd -- deep slumber, healing touch, hold person, lightning bolt; 4th -- charm monster, Darsson's potion, spell enhancer, Tirumael's energy spheres; 5th -- feeblemind, Grimwald's greymantle, shadow hand, teleport; 6th -- analyze dweomer, greater dispel magic, hardening; 7th -- delayed blast fireball, mass hold person, Zajimarn's ice claw prison; 8th -- great shout, iron body, power word stun; 9th -- dominate monster, foresight.
The ambitious dreams pursued by the Laughing Wyrm, along with her spying on nearby dragons, seem likely to lead her into disaster. Most evil dragons will slay or capture her to gain her longbite secrets if they learn of them, and for Zundaerazylym's schemes to come to fruition, she must sooner or later reveal longbite to all dragons. Even if this is somehow accomplished so quickly and widely that one dragon can't gain an advantage over another, the Laughing Wyrm and her comparatively puny force of Soft Claws will still be faced with the problem of a dragon -- or the Cult of the Dragon (in the face of a crushing blow to their influence over dragons) -- moving enthusiastically to try to control most of the easily reached ripplebark.
Even hints of a partially successful Softscale Soak would spell the same peril for Zundaerazylym. The Soft Claws know they are in for a dangerous ride in the years ahead -- and more than one of them knows what Zundaerazylym only suspects: Certain Harpers, and probably some of the Chosen, know of the Laughing Wyrm's activities. They might at any time choose to act against her or sweep in to seize what she has crafted.
Zundaerazylym knows of the increasing danger and seems to sense her remaining time might be short. With increasing daring, she is seeking out passing adventurers to carry her secrets to other places and custodians of lore, notably Candlekeep. Her gamble is a long shot indeed. If she succeeds, however, Faerūn will be changed forever . . . and that's more than many tyrants or gods accomplish.
About the Authors
Ed Greenwood is a trifle weary of wyrms by now but hopes you've enjoyed these glimpses of things draconic. He's planning another column for the issues ahead but is frankly petrified by some of the things Volo's jotted down in his notebooks -- and even more by Elminster's reaction to some of them, though the Old Mage has promised to replace the east wall of the barn soon.
Sean K Reynolds still wonders what "pompitous of love" means. He would like to thank Nick Tompkins and Steven Domkowski for their help in acquiring the original Dragon Magazine text for this article.