20 Olarune
994 Y.K.
Korranberg Chronicle
Special Edition

Massive Explosion Consumes Cyre

A massive burst of arcane energy consumed huge portions of the nation of Cyre early this morning, according to multiple reports. The full extent of the devastation is not known at this time, but the blast was visible from as far away as Sigilstar, Thaliost, Korth, Vedykar and even Gatherhold. Our most detailed reports come from Karrlakton, Aruldusk and Vathirond, where reporters observed a blinding radiance that spread across the sky, lasting several minutes (see pages 3, 5 and 6 for first-hand accounts). Several accounts from Vathirond indicate that the Lightning Rail track near the Cyran border has been entirely destroyed, and that a dead-gray mist has settled over the area.

The city of Aruldusk is already facing an influx of Cyran refugees from Eston, carrying wild and confusing tales. Many of these refugees are already showing signs of some unknown illness, and officials are struggling to maintain a quarantine. It is likely only a matter of time before Karrlakton faces similar concerns.

At press time we have had no contact with our reporters stationed within Cyre's borders. We will continue to report as new information becomes available, and our thoughts and prayers are with everyone who has friends and family within the affected areas.

The shouts of chronicle vendors in the streets brought my attention away from one of the last unfinished books I had been provided, an apparent narrative account of gnome mate selection and sexual practices whose flowery prose and convoluted scheming among all involved parties presented a considerable challenge to comprehend. Setting the text aside for the moment, I took up my cane and slowly made my way toward the window.

Outside the clinic gnomes were mostly either reading with shocked or intent expressions, or discussing excitedly or nervously with each other. Everyone who did not have a chronicle in their hands seemed to be crowding around the bag-laden individuals selling them, including several gnomes I had seen around the clinic. Jeslaryun was making her way back to the clinic with a grim expression, and barely spared me a glance as she entered and called out. "Illyvalen, are you here? You need to see this."

Illyvalen emerged from a room in the back and began making her way toward the entrance, looking concerned at the other gnome's tone. "What is it? What's wrong?" She took the proffered bundle of paper and began reading, quickly gasping in apparent horror. Looking up at Jeslaryun, she hesitantly asked, "...Uncle Toralnik?"

Jeslaryun shook her head. "I haven't heard anything, but he should have been in Starilaskur this morning. We should know later tonight."

Tearing up, Illyvalen responded simply by embracing the other gnome, letting the chronicle fall to the floor.

Feeling a bit awkward about my complete lack of awareness of the context of this outburst, I made my way as unobtrusively as possible to where the fallen papers lay, scooping them up and depositing them on a nearby table, my eyes widening involuntarily as I quickly read the words displayed upon the top page. Abandoning subtlety, I began rifling through the pages, skimming the various accounts. I had thought the loss of my tribe to be a tragedy beyond compare, but the numbers I was seeing written out were too great for me to comprehend. How many tribes were lost or shattered when an entire nation was destroyed?

"Why yes, of course you can borrow that. Don't mention it. You can just return it whenever, it's not like I was about to read the rest or anything."

Jeslaryun's acidic remarks brought me sharply back to the present moment, and I started guiltily, dropping the chronicle back onto the table. "Sorry, mistress."

This produced a look of confusion from Jeslaryun and a brief fit of giggles from Illyvalen. It took a moment for me to realize what I'd done, then I winced and looked back and forth between the two. It seemed clear Jeslaryun had no idea what I'd said, but I had no idea why Illyvalen had reacted that way.

"Okay, I didn't catch that, want to try running it by me in Common?"

"She said she's sorry, Jeslaryun."

"Yeah, I'm sure you always find apologizing hilarious. Seriously, what did she say?"

I realized I had better speak immediately if I wanted to avoid even more awkward explanations later. "I did not intend humor. I only intended to glance. When I read what happened I forgot myself. When you spoke I was startled and responded... incorrectly. I apologize for my actions."

Jeslaryun blinked at me, taking a moment to consider my response. "...huh. I think that's more than you've ever said to me at one time before.... I guess I understand getting caught up under the circumstances, and it was an awkward moment for asking. It's all right, you can go ahead and finish. But do ask, in the future."

I shook my head slightly and handed the chronicle to her. "I have finished." This seemed to startle her, and it was a moment before she took hold of it.

"Seriously? You've only had that for about 5 minutes."

Illyvalen spoke up again at this point, her amusement having died down. "She's already read through just about every Common book I've been able to scrounge up around here. Now that she can get around, I think getting her library access is going to be a top priority."

"Huh... wonder if you've finally found someone who can keep up with you, then. How many languages are you up to now?"

"Um, just eight. ...maybe ten? I don't know if I really understand Giant or Old Common well enough to count."

"Right. Anyway, I'm going to check in with Uncle Noremdal and Aunt Desrala. I suspect folks will be a bit occupied for a while, so just holler if you need help down here."

Illyvalen waited for Jeslaryun's departure before speaking further. "I didn't know you spoke Goblin." When I offered no response, she continued. "Have you known many dar? We don't see many in a place like Korranberg, though a long time ago this used to be part of a huge dar empire called Dhakaan."

I had difficulty suppressing a shudder at the prospect of being in the midst of a huge empire run by goblins. Illyvalen seemed to mistake my reaction, asking if I needed help getting back to bed, but I simply shook my head, starting to head back that direction on my own.

After I had taken a seat on the edge of the bed, Illyvalen switched languages, perhaps sensing something of my discomfort with the previous choice. "Sorry if I embarrassed you by laughing like that, but, um... why would you call Jeslaryun 'mistress'? That seems really weird to just blurt out all of the sudden."

Feeling awkward and frustrated by all this, I perhaps unwisely broke my silence at this point. "Do you require this of me now?" I saw Illyvalen flinch at that and knew immediately I had erred again. As she started to stammer and back up, I spoke again. "I apologize. I understand you would be curious. This is... a difficult subject for me, and I would prefer not to elaborate further, but taking offense at the curiosity my own actions provoked is not appropriate, especially in this place."

Illyvalen seemed to take a few moments to regather herself before responding. "It... it must have been bad, whatever it was. I'm sorry." At this point, her attention was suddenly drawn to the book I had been reading earlier. "Aah! Wh-where did you find that...?!"

This question seemed rather odd, considering the circumstances. "You brought it yourself in the last pile. It has proven more difficult to understand than the other books you have provided." Hesitating for a moment, I switched back to Draconic, having a bit less difficulty phrasing my thoughts that way. "Are gnome mating rituals always so complicated? It seems like it would be inconvenient for maintaining the population, but if children are more of a personal burden here and not many people die defending the tribe, perhaps that is less of a concern... are you all right? Your skin has changed color...."

Illyvalen's face had become tinged strongly red and her eyes were wide, and she seemed to be having difficulty formulating a response. Finally, she managed to gasp out, "Ah, that, that's not, um... I didn't mean to... um, w-well ah... that's not... that book... um, I don't think that kind of book is meant to be terribly realistic. It's more, um... more for entertainment than informing...."

I blinked, trying to process this. "Have I erred further? You seem distressed."

Illyvalen shook her head. "Just, um, just don't ask anyone else about it...."

I shrugged. "Perhaps that is for the best. It is unlikely that courtship rituals will prove to have any personal relevance, in any event, though I fear that plotting will be a matter of concern regardless."

Illyvalen sighed in response. "That's certainly true. I can try to help a little, but I'm not sure my methods would work that well for you. You seem to pick up on things pretty well, though."

"It is a more subtle hazard than I have previously faced, but probably a less dangerous one in many ways...." Glancing toward where Jeslaryun had parted, I shifted to the topic that I could tell still troubled Illyvalen. "You fear for your kin?"

Illyvalen nodded slowly. "My uncle... her father... was in Cyre on an assignment. He's supposed to be on his way home now, but...." Taking a moment to wipe tears from her eyes, she continued. "This war has been going on for so long... much longer than I've been alive.... Our own borders haven't been threatened, but even our people are sometimes killed due to being caught up in conflict elsewhere. And now... Cyre's gone.... That was the center of the conflict, the very heart of Galifar, but... after so much time, so much enmity... I don't know if anyone even cares about why the war started in the first place any more.... How many people died today? How many more are going to die now? Is this something that's going to happen to Breland next?"

I remained silent for a while before responding, shaking my head slightly. "I do not know that I understand war on such a scale. I understand defense of the tribe, and I know the ways of those who prey on those who are weaker to claim their lives and wealth. I've known hatred, both individually and between... peoples. But I do not know destruction like this. I remember and could speak the numbers I have read, but they are too large to make sense of...."

"Yeah... it's always like that. It's horrible to know such things are happening, but it never really hits you unless you lose someone you care about.... I hope none of your family are caught up in any of this, at least."

I did not respond for several minutes. I strongly considered saying nothing, but something about the situation made it feel like this much, at least, should be let out. "I... have no kin." I did not elaborate. I could not. Just saying that much felt like I was laying bare my greatest weakness and shame, as if I had suddenly realized only now how truly pathetic it was to have been taken alive, a harmless child. Did I believe I was supposed to die defending my tribe, having only once seen the season of my hatching come again? Was my survival all these years and my flight from captivity just a testament to my own cowardice?

I was startled out of this self-recriminatory contemplation as Illyvalen suddenly embraced me, crying. I froze, unsure of what to do. How had I upset her? Should I have remained silent after all? What if someone came in and demanded to know what I had done to provoke such an outburst? My mind racing, I latched on to the only relevant memory I could find: Illyvalen's embrace of Jeslaryun several minutes ago. Carefully, I tried to mimic the way the other gnome had returned the embrace, and waited to see if her reaction would subside.

To my relief, this outburst was as short-lived as the one I recalled earlier. In a few minutes she had released me and was wiping her eyes again. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean to dig up painful memories. Did you— ah, no no no! No questions! Sorry! ...I probably startled you too. I get emotional like that kind of easily. My family is used to it by now. I... just can't imagine losing... everyone...."

It took a few minutes to gather my wits after both the unexpected outburst and her quick recovery from it, but I eventually managed to respond in a steady voice. "I hope you do not face such a trial." I could not find the words to articulate my impressions of such a prospect... how the very idea seemed like an affront to all the kindness she had shown to myself and others... the fear that it might take from her something so necessary, so important, that it would be like taking warmth itself out of the world.... Part of me was utterly disgusted that I could be considering the deaths of those I hardly knew, who were not even my own kind, as anything even approaching the significance of the loss of my tribe. And yet, imagining that pain being inflicted upon this particular gnome was somehow unbearable.... Feeling the need to move away from this subject, I quickly grasped at another topic. "You said there are some details that would need to be worked out if I am to remain in this place. What does that entail?"

"Ah, well, if you're going to be here permanently you'll need residency status.... There are a couple ways that could happen. One is if you were adopted by a Zil family.... I kind of doubt I could talk my parents into that idea, even though I do kind of like the idea of having a sister. Otherwise, you can apply for residency as a foreigner.... Technically I don't know if you'd be considered a foreigner if you don't have a home nation, but I think the process would be about the same anyway either way. You'll have to fill out some forms and answer some questions... sorry, it can't be helped, they're going to need to know something about where you're from and why you're here. Only the most basic stuff would be public, though....

"There's also the matter of where you're going to stay. I can make short-term arrangements, but for the long-term a lot will probably depend on what you end up doing. I think you should probably apply as a student at the Library of Korranberg; you seem to learn really quickly so it would be a good opportunity, and they have subsidized dormitories.... I can help you prepare for entrance exams, if that's what you decide to try for....

"You'll probably need to find some work in the short term.... I know a few people who could probably use some help in organizing material, I'll make some inquiries on your behalf, if that's all right."

I blinked, trying to take all of this in. The almost off-hand suggestion of becoming Illyvalen's sister was startling given how seriously Zil took family ties. Was it a gesture of sympathy over my earlier admission, or was she seriously suggesting an offer of personal trust on the level of family? Or was it really just as casual a remark as it seemed like it was meant to sound? As she finished her remarks, I nodded. "I have been idle too long. I would be of use if I can. As for questions, I expected such payment to be required eventually.... I shall endure such scrutiny if I must."

It was a little after midnight that the members of Illyvalen's family who were currently in Korranberg began to gather to make their way to the lightning rail station. When Jeslaryun came to let Illyvalen know, I stood and followed, prompting a look of surprise from Jeslaryun and a smile from Illyvalen. As we made our way in a group, Illyvalen took time to introduce me to everyone, and I did my best to file away names, faces, and details about interests, occupations and hobbies in case they proved important at some point. I mostly responded with polite nods or bows and Illyvalen did the talking on my behalf.

The lightning rail station was a bit crowded despite the late hour; most likely others anxiously awaited the same confirmation our group sought. A definite tension could be felt as the minutes ticked away. Eventually, a distant rhythmic snapping sound heralded the approach, growing louder as the coach barreled toward the station at tremendous speed. The huge metal contraption with its arcs of lightning both above and below matched descriptions I had read, but it was still unlike anything I had directly witnessed before, and I instinctively took a step backward, away from the platform it was quickly approaching, before steeling myself and returning to my previous position; this was no predator or weapon, just a peculiar tool, and one I knew about even if I had never actually seen its like before. As it approached the platform, it slowed and eventually stopped, the noises diminishing except for the brief loud buzz that signalled readiness for disembarking and unloading.

"Unbelievable. Unbelievable! The story of a lifetime and I'm stuck on a train! I had half a mind to turn around at Sterngate, but I suppose I'd have been too late to find out anything good...." The gnome lamenting to himself as he stepped onto the platform bore a noticeable resemblance to Illyvalen's father, and as he looked over toward the assembled group, Jeslaryun ran forward and embraced him. "What's this? Quite the welcoming committee. Hmm, has Illyvalen found a new— wait, is that a kobold?"

Illyvalen's father stepped forward. "You had us all worried, you know. I gather you heard the news once you got to Sterngate?"

"I heard enough. If I had had any idea something like this was about to happen.... Why is there a kobold wearing Illyvalen's old clothes?"

Jeslaryun looked up at her father and shouted angrily, tears in her eyes. "If you'd known, you would have skipped out on your train and stayed in Cyre, and we'd have no idea if you were dead or alive! The whole country... the whole country is gone...."

Toralnik sighed and placed his arms around his daughter. "Easy, easy, it's all right, I'm here, I'm safe. I guess you really were worried.... Maybe it was for the best after all, though I hate to be so far from the action. I'd better check in at the Chronicle offices tonight, they're probably busier than a hasted needletooth swarm with all this going on. Now, would someone please inform me why there is a kobold standing next to my niece dressed in her old clothing and leaning on a cane?"

Illyvalen finally spoke up at this point. "Uncle Toralnik, this is Tikra. She's been staying at the clinic for the last few months, recovering from injuries. I think she's kind of shy, she doesn't like to talk much, but she reads so fast I'm running out of books to lend her. She's planning to stay in Korranberg, but not much has been worked out about that yet."

Toralnik looked slightly hurt at this. "There's been a kobold at your clinic for months and you never even sent a telegram?"

Jeslaryun let her father go and wiped her eyes before facetiously commenting, "What, was that newsworthy?" which left her father unable to form a response for several seconds.

Illyvalen took the opportunity to respond. "Uh, sorry, it just kind of... well, after she'd already been here a while it just didn't seem like... uh... I-I mean... it just didn't occur. When I first found her, she was... she was hurt so badly, I... I was afraid she wasn't going to make it.... It was all we could do just to try to save her, there wasn't time to think about anything else...." The transition in Illyvalen's voice and expression from embarrassment to pain and sadness seemed to ease some of the sense of offense. Toralnik exchanged a look with Illyvalen's father, and Illyvalen's mother gave her daughter a quick, reassuring hug.

"I suppose we failed to think of it as well, so it's not just her fault," offered Illyvalen's father. "I don't think anyone's been by the clinic to interview her yet, though." I had to steel myself against the instinct to back away again at the gleam in Toralnik's eyes prompted by this comment.

"Ah, that's... I mean... she's kind of...." Illyvalen seemed torn between not wanting to disappoint her uncle and not wanting to expose me to further scrutiny. Resigning myself to the inevitable, I took a step forward and spoke with calm I did not feel.

"As Illyvalen's kin, you may ask me what you choose. I may not answer every question."

I had expected to endure my interrogation immediately, and indeed it seemed that would have been Toralnik's preference, but between the late hour, the inconvenient location, and Illyvalen's concerns, it was eventually agreed upon that the interview would be conducted in the afternoon. After a brief detour to the Korranberg Chronicle's main offices, we made our way back to Illyvalen's family residence. Despite my overall progress in recovery I found I was exhausted by the time I made it back to my clinic bed, and was very soon asleep.

I and several of the other juveniles were roused by the cries of alarm that signaled an incursion into the tribe's territory, one that had already gotten past our normal lines of defense. I knew from our teachers that there were many deadly traps and choke points that would ensure that any outsiders making an attempt at infiltrating our caverns met as swift and nasty an end as possible, but it was still unusual for our defenses to be tested to such an extent. Some of those adults minding us made ready to go bolster our defenses, while others made ready to fight in the extremely unlikely event that anyone made it deep enough to stumble into the cavern where we were housed. A few of the juveniles were unsettled enough by the alarm to wail or whimper in distress, but I remained silent, largely unconcerned. I understood our defenses, I recognized how unlikely it was that any intruder, however determined, could breach them. The adults of the tribe knew their roles, and they would protect us. After all, we were the future of the tribe; we couldn't be allowed to come to harm.

Ignoring the other youths, I decided to spend this unexpected mostly-unsupervised time to puzzle over the tablets used to teach reading and writing. They weren't really meant for me — Othax had been the one whose occasional brief vision had garnered the attention and resources of the iejirastrix, and it was his instruction in such matters that was seen as vital; nevertheless, my own interest had been seen as harmless enough, so I was not often chided for the attention I gave to such things. After all, I was still quite young, and it was always possible I might manifest such gifts later on; it would be just as well to have a small head start if so....

"They will come for us soon, you know. The price of blood is demanded. Will you pay it, or will we have to, I wonder?"

I drew back, startled, looking toward Othax, who was suddenly beside me even though I had neither seen nor heard him move. There were shouts and sounds of metal clanging much nearer than I had remembered a moment ago... how long had I been distracted, focused on the tablets? "What... what do you mean?"

Othax did not look at me, and his eyes seemed to be unfocused as he responded. "Would you have us die to give yourself a chance to run? Is it so vital that you should live, of us all, who does not even bear the blessing of Eberron?"

This bizarre assertion shook me deeply, for all that it seemed to make no sense. I tried to respond, to deny his strange prophecy, but at that moment a huge bugbear smashed through the barricade that had been erected to block access to our cavern, prompting squeals of abject terror from all of the juveniles present except Othax, who still seemed to be in some kind of trance, and myself, silent from no lack of terror but a seeming inability to do anything at all. The adults charged with our safety rose quickly with weapon or claw but were dispatched effortlessly.

Othax turned calmly toward the bugbear. "Then so be it; it shall be us." He slowly stepped forward... and the bugbear slammed a club into his side, throwing him against the cavern wall with a sickening cracking thud; his lifeless, broken body slid to the floor as I watched, frozen. The other juveniles began running around in complete panic, and many more fell to the bugbear before a hobgoblin entered the cavern.

"Stop that at once! Those aren't even armed, let alone any kind of threat. If anyone's left alive, they're more use as slaves than corpses." The hobgoblin looked over the room and peered straight at me. "Well, what do you know. This one didn't even have the guts to try and run. Ah, well, probably saved its life at that. Come on you lot, get in here and take that kobold."

Still helplessly frozen, I could do nothing as I was thrust to the ground and held, front down, as a cackling goblin entered with a branding iron that glowed red hot despite the absence of any obvious source of heat. "So you did manage to save some for me, huh? A bit young, but I'll find some way to make it useful."

I wasn't completely frozen anymore, but with strong hands pinning arms, legs and tail to the cavern floor there was little I could do to struggle as the hot iron pressed into my back, painfully burning the scales black... and then it seemed like the brand punctured the scales, a thin spike sliding within me, bringing an agony that was not just pain but terror far greater than I had just faced; greater than I had ever known. I screamed, beyond all capacity for thought, speech or restraint.

"What is it?! What's wrong?!"

The sound of Illyvalen's panicked voice brought sense back to me, if just a little; my scream subsided, and I blinked, attempting to turn my head toward her. Hissing in pain, I stopped, finding my neck would not make the move comfortably. While the unimaginable agony I remembered had passed, there was still a terrible ache running down my back. Trying to gather my wits, I responded. "I do not know what is wrong. My back hurts, and it is difficult to turn my head."

"Lie still for now, then. Did something happen? You screamed so loud you woke me and Jeslaryun."

"I... I must have been asleep. I was in... another place. I was hurt... my back...." I shook my head slightly, wincing from the pain of the move. "I am still disoriented."

Illyvalen frowned, considering this. "You had a nightmare?"

"I... yes." It seemed almost silly to realize I had reacted as I did and raised an alarm over a dream... but the pain had been real, and was still with me. Something more than just a simple dream must have happened.

Illyvalen sighed. "I've heard of this before. I think you were attacked in your nightmare. There's... a creature that lives in the plane of dreams and feeds on dreamers' fears. They can disguise themselves as part of the dream, giving them a chance to sting their victim. The symptoms you've mentioned are consistent. It should heal on its own, but it would be best for you to stay in bed and rest to ensure it can heal quickly. The most I can do is try to help minimize any disruption of that."

I blinked, considering this. It seemed strange, yet it did fit with my recollection of the experience. Perhaps this creature had been the goblin with the iron. Clearly there were more things I needed to learn about dreams when I was able.

"...I know that there's a lot of things you find difficult to talk about, and I don't mean to pry, but if you want to talk about it at all...."

I shook my head and winced again. "I need time to think. Please convey my apologies to Jeslaryun for disturbing her."

Illyvalen nodded, hesitated for a moment, and then departed, leaving me alone as I tried to sort through the memories of what just happened. Last night's uncomfortable discussion had no doubt brought memories of the attack back to the surface of my mind, but while the nightmare had started with that scenario, there were a number of things out of place. I was certain Othax had never uttered such bizarre things to me in his last minutes of life, and while I could not be certain whether or not he'd had any kind of vision, he hadn't acted in any way abnormal that day in my real memories as far as I could recall. The branding also was misplaced; that incident had happened well after the forced march away from my home. Moreover, I had understood the speech of the hobgoblin and goblin in the dream, and I'm certain anything that might have actually been said by them would have been in a language I did not understand at all at the time. And the goblin's voice I had recognized as someone who had not even been part of the raid as far as I knew.

I realized that Othax's words in the nightmare must simply have been incorporating the very sense of guilt I had recognized in myself last night into the incident over which I harbored it. My memories and my emotions had been twisted into that scene in order to maximize the fear the creature could elicit... to make me a better meal.... Disgusted with myself, I closed my eyes and waited for the start of day, unable to sleep but seeking what rest I could.