Drakeholm rises above the mist, a number of small settlements and farms surrounding it in its vale. High up in the sky the dragons circling its spire are visible only as specks of dust. As you draw closer, you take in the walls of the fortress, looming black and high, forbidding any hope of entry. The walls ripple slightly as wayward magic reflects off the cold stone, the effects of spellbinding easily recognisable in the surrounding air. Once you are beyond these walls, through a tremendous effort, you see what makes Drakeholm such a formidable place. For behind the wall is a barren stretch of land, entrenched with spikes, wards, mines and glyphs, as well as the bodies of the unlucky who attempted to cross its wasteland. Should you make it through this killing ground, and reach the inner wall, your plight is not yet over as looming before you are the black walls, with darker slits that peer into the midst, each with a fletched man-at-arms just waiting for someone to pepper with their colours.

To your eye, what comes after the inner wall somehow seems inadequate - a sprawling city landscape, paved in many colours, grey-blues, oranges, the green moss growing between the slabs at the edges. The perceptive might note that it was all very clean, the further up the slope the cleaner it was – from brightly coloured shacks at the bottom of the hill to ornate stone buildings near the grand keep. Even those who were not perceptive would notice the lack of Crassin within the walls, the closely watching eyes of the inhabitants, and the maze-like structure of the town, always with at least one stone building in view, seemingly peering over the other structures, be it inn or shop or home, and watching, waiting for just one foot to be put out of place to give it reason to leap and consume you. Much of the town was made of stone, wood being too much of a risk around dragons, however now and then a winding path would be made through the town from the substance, clearly another precaution against attack. Even the most physically fit and able man would notice the change in oxygen levels as they got higher, as well as the gradient of the climb towards the keep, still a mirror-black and foreboding block that rose above all else, casting the unlucky in its shadow and sending a chill down the hardiest of warriors.

Were you to reach the base of this magnificent piece of engineering, you would notice that its walls had no imperfection, no weakness to be exploited, no mortar to be dug out. Of course this was the case, as the tower was a single behemoth of glass rock, placed as stones and formed into deep opaque obsidian by the heat of many a dragons breath. The single entrance to the keep, leading to the great hall, is guarded by doors of iron, as thick as a man’s body and woven with spells of protection and strength. The great hall itself does not even begin to pale in comparison to its exterior, rather it somehow manages to exceed it, pillars of obsidian with ornate carvings, plated in gold hold up a roof that sparkles with a million gems, all reflecting the red glow from the Hearthfire, burning everbright in its brass cradle. The gems are not the only thing that sparkle though, as the Hearthfire lights the obsidian from within, casting a glow throughout the whole building, providing an eerie red aura that carries for miles, a beacon designed both to lure any invaders and to bring riders safely home.

Tunnels lead off in all directions from this magnificent chamber, leading mostly to the servants quarters and the cook’s kitchens, which glow brighter than any part of the building, their warmth being channelled upwards to cater for the whole place. Beyond these sanctuaries of heat, where the glow rescinds its grasp within the walls, staircases wind up, to the lower dorms and nurseries, some several hundred metres from the ground, then higher still to the underling dorms and above that, the apprentice dorms, at which point the tower widens to allow room for a roost down the centre, balconies overlooking the perches. The apprentice tiers continue for several floors before main accommodation is reached, much more comfortable than that of the prodigies, and designed for general living.

But the tower does not finish its ascent here, indeed this is just the beginning of the settlement and it is only after venturing upwards for a decent length of time that you find the living spaces of the six matriarchs, in their pecking order, the most worthy closest to the top, and to the patriarch who resides above all living the life of luxury. There are no levels above this, only a cap to keep the rain out and to prevent over exposure to the sun, which slants down where it can, scattering rainbow reflections around the cavern wheresoever it hits a dragon’s scale, which is often,

And, mounted on the cap, suspended by magic and in full view of the elements, lies the prison chamber, a place both scorched by blistering heat and frozen to ice by the winds that whisk past.  It is this place that is most feared, by anyone with any sense, and more often than not, by anyone without sense too. And it is here, among the bones, corpses, and shivering bodies of the imprisoned, that a new king would be found.

The End

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