The Dragon Slayers
Kolyev, Dwarven Druid
Kolyev was born into a dwarven settlement on the decline. The mine-city had long since dug all of the pure, easy to smelt ores from the mountain and the wars had cost them dearly, leaving them too weak to keep the goblins from the deeper delvings. They were reduced to trying to purify tainted ores to make weapons to defend the barricades keeping the upper city safe. His mother was a metallurgist and his father a trader.
Fascinated by his father’s stories of the surface world and other, more glorious dwarven holds, young Kolyev frequently snuck up into the forests on the surface. Occasionally he would find animals trapped by humans and free them, not understanding why someone would hurt such lovely creatures.
He made a few friends at school, despite paying little attention in class and being generally quite unruly. Occasionally they would join him on little adventures to the surface, but none of them seemed as enthralled by it all as he was. They were frightened to be away from the iron, soot and stone of home. Kolyev, on the other hand, enjoyed the freedom and openness and ranged further and further, learning more about the area.
Eventually he happened upon a strange area where odd things happened, like floating stones, trees that blinked in and out of existence and time rushing forwards or slowing to a crawl. Excited and confused, he ran to fetch his friends so they could come see the weird phenomenon.
As they all hurried to the site Kolyev noticed something odd; none of the wildlife ventured near the strange area. He realised that this was a sign that it was dangerous but his friends were too excited and rushed ahead. Kolyev chased after them but was stopped by a huge stag bounding into his path.
By the time he’d worked his way around the huge silver stag his friends had already gone too far. He found parts of them gently spinning impossibly in midair, bodies fused to the rocks or run through with a thousand spiderwebs. Every one of them was unnaturally dead without reason.
Kolyev turned to run but the woods had changed. Trees whipped around like lashes, boulders leapfrogged from bank to bank, black lightning crackled across the surface of ponds and the air froze and cracked. He span wildly, looking for a way out, but the world reeled and the sun and moon raced across the sky. He yelled in a panic, “help me!” And the forest answered. The huge silver stag appeared between two hedges, smashing a tree to splinters. Kolyev darted after it, following the great beast out of the magical flux zone. He staggered back into the city mine a full month after he’d left, though for him it had been only a couple of days.
After that he was different, distant, even more unruly and hard to teach. He spent every free moment out in the woods seeking answers to what had happened, trying to find the silver stag, placing markers around the twisted flux zones. His family didn’t know what to do with him and blamed it on his traumatic experience, trying to convince him to stay underground where it was safe and where he was needed to help his people. He refused on every count, torn away by wonderment at the wider world and a sense of duty to the forest which had saved him.
Months later he finally found what he was looking for. After saving a boar that had been shot he stumbled upon a glen he had not seen before. It was beautiful and tranquil and a clear stream ran through it, and lapping at that stream was the silver stag. Kolyev crept towards it but, being an ungainly dwarf, the stag spotted him immediately. Yet instead of bolting it motioned for him to approach. When he drew close it sniffed him and motioned for him to follow.
The stag led him through the woods, miles from places he’d been before, downstream from the sluices that ran from the mountain forges. It showed him the pestilent pools of tainted slag bubbling with corrupt magical residues from the mithril refinery and the trees choked with foul chemicals used to cleanse metals used in artifacts.The whole place was blighted and littered with the decaying corpses of animals who had drunk there. Worse still were the tainted beasts which had survived. Kolyev hefted his axe and put the deformed monsters out of their misery as the great silver deer watched and wept.
When he returned home Kolyev was filled with rage. Why had nobody told him that this is what his people did? No wonder the wild killed them when they ventured outside if this was how they treated it! He ranted and raved, argued with anyone who would let him, begged the elders to change their habits, but to no avail. It finally culminated with his mother trying to explain that this was how they must work to garner the metal which they needed to keep the goblins at bay. Disgusted, Kolyev gathered his things and left the city mine, to live in the further reaches of the forest.
He spent years in the forest, learning to live and hunt with the animals, eat from the trees and bushes and avoid the human and elven hunters who sometimes worked in the fringes. He worked to sabotage the mines and foundries, blocking up sluices and chimneys, sending animals to break machines and spiking trees used for resin and tar. As time rolled on and his mother refused to acknowledge who the feral saboteur was, he came to be hunted by his own people as a dangerous monster in the forest.
Contracts were taken out for “the dark goatman of the woods”. Despite having a much better grasp of the woods Kolyev was gradually pushed further from the mountain and closer to the human kingdoms. There he found his first real glimpse of the wider world beyond his woods. He started talking to travellers, rangers, merchants. He crept into human villages to trade skins and herbs for useful items and interesting tales. He ranged to other forests with different wildlife and learned about the wider kingdom, the human empire, slavery and the mistreatment of the halflings.
Kolyev was quick to apply his understanding of the natural order to things and he was sure trapping people was as wrong as trapping animals. Consequently he made a habit of interfering with slavers and those keeping halfling servants, freeing as many as he could manage and helping any who sought refuge in the forest to survive and escape. The irons of slavery became as hated as the iron of industry.
Consequently the human kingdoms gradually also came to hunt the “savage squat bandit” that was causing so much trouble in the woods. Pressured from all sides, and keen to see the wider world, Kolyev grudgingly left his forest for a while and travelled. His journey didn’t take him very far, nor last very long, but he saw enough to understand that he disliked human culture almost as much as he did dwarven. Only the elves seemed to live up to his standards but they were far too isolated and hostile to accept him.
When he returned, a year later, it was to devastation. The local baron had decided to expand his hunting grounds and to do so was razing the forest to make a safer, tamer park where he could hunt easy game with little risk. To Kolyev it was an aberration, but one he hadn’t the strength to stop. The workers were well guarded and the baron’s hunters too adept. When he heard talk of rebellion while drowning his sorrows in the nearby village he was all too eager to join and to bring what assistance he could.
He quickly found himself in unlikely company with the Hearthbreakers, seeing to their survival in harsh conditions, supporting their raids with summoned monsters and laughing with them when the other soldiers didn’t know what to make of their odd assortment. For the first time outside of the forest he felt like he might belong.
On the fateful night when their leader died, Kolyev had been responsible for keeping the escape route secure. While watching the road, however, he had seen a wagon of slaves being driven by, pulled by overburdened and mistreated horses. Unable to contain himself he’d summoned up wolves to attack the drivers and broken cover to shatter the flimsy human-made lock keeping the prisoners secure. Freeing the horses he’d returned to his post in time to hear a raucous commotion as the team tried to flee from the botched mission. Kolyev fell on the guards keeping the gates closed and cleared the path of retreat, but only after Hanne had fallen and the others had been driven back.
After the failure of the rebellion and the forced dissolution of the unit, Kolyev was lost. Acres of his precious forest had been tamed beyond recognition, he still blamed himself for failing their leader, and it was clear that he would never be strong enough to affect the changes he sought without significant help. Dejected, he quietly took a job as a groundskeeper in the baron’s hunt and waited for a sign, any sign, that he could once again take up arms and call himself a protector of the wild.