- Consuming Fires
The Goldenclaw's breath is superheated and tinged with molten gold, lingering in the air to blister the Goldenclaw's foes.
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- Scales of Gold
As the Goldenclaw gathers coins, the beast's gilded hide becomes hardened, encased in shining golden armor.
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The Icemarch is vast and trackless. To many, the very name conjures chill visions of icy wastes, massive glaciers, and entire seasons of night haunted by savage ivory bears or slavering grizzled wolvangs. The lands beyond the shimmering green curtain are thought to be desolate snowpack, and few venture beyond the tree line at the top of the world to brave the Forsaken Range beyond.
Those that have, though, and that survive the long, unforgiving journey into the north, know of a lost country, long cut off from the modern states of Halvalas and Tal'il. In the shadow of the lonely Northspire, there is a long, shining lake, and on the shores of that lake, in places stretching out over its steaming waters on long stone piers, lay the curious ruins of a town. At the far end of the ruins, looming over valley, ruin, and lake alike is a towering monastery, known to the monks within as the Last Outpost.
Here, the monks stand silent guard over a mysterious treasure, and an even stranger legend. A traveler who finds themselves taken in by the monks of the Last Outpost is likely to first be taken by the décor. While the men and women of the monastery wear simple shifts and are adorned with no jewelry, they live in apparent opulence, as every fixture from teacup to door-handle is made of gold.
Do not be fooled, however, into an assumption that the Northspire Order are miserly or consumed with greed. The truth is quite the contrary. In fact, while the Last Outpost sits on one of the largest veins of gold in the world, the monks believe it is their calling to protect, not the gold from the world, but the world from the gold.
As the legend goes, the lost city had been named Northshine, and was founded by Floridil, the prospector that found the vein hundreds ofyears past, and by his wife, the so-called Gilded Matron, Meddibel. While pilgrims can still see Meddibel's golden sarcophagus in the monastery's crystal ice-walled crypt, it lies empty. But what became of her husband, and the lost city of Northshine itself, is an even greater mystery.
In the beginning, Floridil convinced his humble wife, and a team of four intrepid adventurers to accompany him on an expedition into the farthest reaches of the Forsaken Mountains. He told them that he had discovered a forgotten mine on an old map, and that he was sure that it was the one strike that would finally make them rich. The location he had chosen would entail a perilous journey, and lay even beyond the wide Icemarch, but Floridil was certain that if they survived his gamble, the members of his team would come home as rich as kings, and he was right.
Along the shores of a shimmering lake, heated by underground hot springs, Northshine Mere kept the bitter ice off of the shores, and made for an island of comfort in the frozen mountains just beneath the majestic heights of the Northspire. In the mountains surrounding the idyllic valley, the expedition found the richest mines the world had yet seen. Metals competed for space in the icy rock with gemstones and jewels. The team founded the town of Northshine, and exploded into a flower of prosperity beyond the snows of the Icemarch.
Though remote, Northshine would soon come to be visited by the richest of monarchs, and the most discriminating of merchants. Entertainers, bankers, and all that surrounds wealth and prosperity followed. For a short time, Northshine was called the "Jewel of the North." But today, the ruins and the monastery are all that remain. Where aristocrats once mingled with artists and the elite, now bitter snow rimes broken stone. How did the Jewel of the North fall? The monks know, and it is why they stay, to guard against it happening again.
It is said that, when Northshine was new, Floridil and his friends were the benevolent masters of an endless revel. Dice and cards flipped or rolled day and night. The streets rang with song, and brilliantly colored light danced across the snow from every window. The founders of the wondrous city built massive fortunes, and were seen often in the streets and parlors, their generosity seeming to know no bounds. When Floridil's lady Meddibel went into the streets, she was a vision in finery. Her wealth apparent in her clothing of silk and gold. The people came to love her, and she spread joy and coin wherever she walked.
As more merchants and entrepreneurs began to arrive to cash in on the new market, however, the founders were seen less and less. Soon, the original Northshine five had disappeared completely from the social scene, but their influences would be felt long after. In public, agents of the five did their business for them, snapping up new businesses as soon as they cropped up. Of the founders, only the lady Meddibel was ever seen, acting in the interests of her lord Floridil, until one day, she too disappeared.
Though each dropped out of the public eye, the founders continued to grow their fortunes. In very little time, the businesses of Northshine were carved into territories and factions, each owned by one of the reclusive founders. Any new business that found success was soon snapped up by one of them, and the hearts and souls of Northshine became mere bargaining chips for the hidden masters of the city. Debts were treated cruelly. Penalties for default were extreme, often resulting in indentured servitude, yet all the while the founders' wealth only grew. Northshine's glamor and opulence were soon a golden veneer concealing a terrible truth.
The underbelly of that shining jewel had become a wicked place, where each conspired to garner a bit more for themselves, and no deal could be fair. Those that came to Northshine sought only riches at the casino, or the comforts of the pleasure houses. No one that lived or played in Northshine escaped the game, and in the end most left the city broke and indebted, if they had the good fortune to leave at all. The founders had become grim puppeteers to the people of the city. Until Meddibel broke free of the gilded cage that Floridil had built around her and the people learned what had really become of the founders of Northshine.
The sun was high in the freezing sky when the Gilded Matron broke from the gates of her estate. She had been kept prisoner since her disappearance, and now she ran through the streets, screaming in fear. When the people came to help, Meddibel raved about a curse. She warned that Floridil had become a monster, and that the city would soon fall. Moments later, the ground shook, and her words were shown to be true. Floridil the terrible had risen from his lair.
In his hermitage, the founder had become a massive golden serpent. Winged and scaled in what appeared to be shimmering coins, the creature slid down the stone thoroughfares of the city like flowing hot metal. Arrows bounced harmlessly off of the creature's golden scales. Wherever his flaming breath touched, molten gold seared the icy stones. The beast's roar was devoid of any humanity, its eyes alive with yellow fire. As the dragon tore through the streets in search of the lady that was once his wife, the people of Northshine fled or fell around him, but the worst was yet to come. From each of the great estates came explosive roars as the other four founding companions broke from their lairs, golden scales shining in the light of their own fiery breath.
The silent war that had been quietly raging in the backrooms and banking houses of Northshine was now made real as the cursed founders flew at one another, roaring and spitting hot gold. The city was torn to pieces around them, the people fled into the snows or fell beneath the dragons' searing breath. No longer did the people hold any value to these creatures, each lusted only for the riches shining from their golden hides.
As the dragons fought, Meddibel led a handful of survivors into the mines beneath her estate, where she revealed a vast hollow filled with all of her gathered wealth. Coins lay in piles that spilled over rich furnishings, tapestries slumped in heaps or draped over mounds of artworks and glittering precious objects. At the center of the room stood an altar strewn with gold, and on the altar were five golden dice.
Meddibel then revealed the truth of Floridil's map, and the tale of the dragon's gold. Floridil's map carried with it a curse, and as each of the founders had found their riches, so too did they lose their humanity and become a golden dragon. She had watched as her husband had acquired more and more, only to desire still further riches. It was the same with the others, and when it had gone too far and Meddibel had tried to leave, Floridil had locked her in a golden cage.
Meddibel despaired, but when it seemed that she could no longer take her imprisonment, she had a vision that showed her how she might end the curse of Northshine, and when she woke, her cage door had been mysteriously unlocked. With the few survivors of Northshine to help her, she set out to imprison the dragons with their gold, forever.
Above them, the golden dragons destroyed their fine city, while beneath the streets the people gathered every coin, every gemstone, and every bit of finery that they could find. These they added to the incredible hoard in the mines. Then while the rest stayed behind to spring the trap, Meddibel herself, dressed in a cloak of the purest cloth of gold, emerged from the mines and strode to the center of the fallen city. Amongst the ice and devastation, the Gilded Matron shone like a star, and all five golden dragons turned as one to watch her greedily. Meddibel couldn't even tell which had been her husband anymore.
Meddibel led the dragons into the mines, where the collected treasure of Northshine lay. Fascinated by the golden maiden, the drakes followed. When the last of them entered the mines, the townspeople sprang the trap. Meddibel and the dragons were sealed beneath the city in a vault of ice and stone.
Honoring Meddibel's vision, the people salvaged stone from the city to build a tower over the dragons' prison. They sit watch even now over the cursed treasure. Though the monks believe that Floridil and the others languish in the vaults of ice and gold beneath the Last Outpost, final guardians of the cursed Northern Lode, others guess that it is more likely that the Titan of chance has gathered up her new toys, to wreak her capricious whim on the Battles Above.