Storm King's Thunder
Monshin the Lizardman Ranger
The bipedal reptilian creature before you stands just over six feet tall. Dark blue-black scales cover most of its body, with cream-colored scales on its underbelly and in rings running in bands along its back. A thick, ridged tail shifts to keep balance. Its wedge-shaped head bears a long mouth filled with sharp teeth. A forked tongue occasionally flicks out from between its lips, as if tasting the air. It carries primitive but well-made weapons and equipment, and wears a variety of ornamental hunting trophies and little else. It speaks in a hissing voice, accentuating the sibilants.
“The one before you is called Monshin, which has meaning ‘light-on-water’ in scale-speak. A guide was I, in the wilds that are called the Lizard Marsh by your folk. Now, far from the fens come I to bring glory to the Varans tribe. Let me tell you of my people.
“Many generations ago, the Lizard King Drythh entice many Lizardfolk to the worship of Sess’innek with promise of abundant food and progeny. Instead, he brought us ‘civilization.’ We learn to do many terrible and foolish things: tearing up the earth for useless yellow metals, taking slaves-not-for-food, demonic invocation, and metaphorical poetry. We suffer this foolishness for many moons until a warm-blood warrior beheaded Drythh in battle. Free of his wrathful influence, my ancestors returned to traditional way of life in the Lizard Marsh and formed the Varans tribe.
“The Varans share the marsh with many other Lizard tribes. The struggle for the best hunting waters and defensive grounds drives us to conflict, but such combat is conducted with proper ritual devotion to Semuanya. But new Lizard Queen has brought rampant violence to the Lizard Marsh. Vethka and her vile minions maraud the swamps, attacking any Lizardfolk who refuse to declare worship for Sess’innek. Their raids have driven the Varans up the Shining River, almost to the dying-place you warm-bloods call Daggerford.
“The soft-skinned races who dwell there grew hostile at our presence. When we forage in the fields or hunt the complacent herd animals, they would attack us. When we build our homes of mud and reeds on empty lands, they rode in shells of metal on hairy beasts to demand we leave. Battle seemed immanent, but then an envoy of the wild places, one you would call a druid, arrived. He spoke with the elders of the Varans and Daggerford, and helped each to understand the ways of the other.
“We no longer hunt their domesticated animals nor forage on their farms, and they allow us to settle along the Shining River. We hunt for fish and forage for oyster-stones in the river, which we learn to trade for food and goods with locals. They also give trinkets to guide them through swamps and rivers, trinkets which your people will exchange for metal tools and weapons. And we survive and learn the ways of your people, that we may find allies among them.
“The druid, named Villtur, is of the Emerald Enclave, a faction who seek to protect the wild places from unnatural incursions. The Varans seek to return to their natural way of life in the swamps, and thus work in accordance with tenets of the Emerald Enclave. Villtur encouraged us to work with his order to bring support for our struggle, and gave us tokens to identify us to others of his ilk. We understood that glory would bring allies, so he taught us of civilization’s concept of glory: that which your kind calls ‘good.’
“When the Varans do a thing, they do not think, ‘This will bring good,’ or ‘This will bring evil.’ We only ask, ‘Will this bring survival?’ We hunt what we need, and no more. We gather what we use, and no more. We fight what endangers us, and no more. The strong survive. The weak perish. To help the weak is to endanger the strong. By surviving, we attain glory, for what would endanger us now knows that we endanger it. Glory brings respect, and respect finds allies and gives fear to enemies.
“But when one of your great ‘civilizations’ does a thing, you debate and argue and philosophize over the morality of the thing. You ask for books and kings and laws to guide you. You pray to a swarm of gods who each obsess over one tiny detail of the world, hoping your deeds will bring their favor. You vie for status in multitude of ways, working grand schemes to make yourselves seem better to those around you. And yet, in this struggle you have made it a virtue to provide for others and to protect the weak, even if they are not of your tribe. And by helping others, they become indebted through the process of what you call ‘gratitude.’
“This is how I shall win glory for the Varans tribe: I shall collect gratitude like a hunter collects trophies. I guide weaker travelers through the swamps and protect them from monsters and hazards. I help many before meeting the merchant Maris. Maris is peddler of magic and holy relics. He tried to sell oil of snake but I told him we make our own. He travels without a guide, so I ask what troubles he face on voyage along swamp-road. He say he see no-one other than an old beggar-woman who ask for tribute. So I tell him of Skin-and-Bones.
“Skin-and-Bones has look of scrawny, sickly old crone, but her appearance belies her strength and fearsomeness. She is thing of the deep swamps: mysterious, powerful, and cruel. When one the Varans encounter her, we know to offer generous gift. When a hatchling vanishes in the swamp, we do not pursue if trail lead to her cabin. Sometime soft-skins pay us to guide them to her hut, where they make bargain with her. They go in looking scared, some come out looking more scared. Some not come out at all.
“Maris become very scared of Skin-and-Bones. He say he give or throw at her jar containing man-claw-tips belonging to Saint Sollars the Thrice-Martyred, a very powerful holy relic. He worry Skin-and-Bones put curse on him for disrespect. I say she would not curse him for giving valuable and useful gift, and that she could curse him if she did not have piece of him, like fur or teeth. Maris change skin color to white. I not know humans have that power.
“I offer to take Maris to cabin of Skin-and-Bones, but he too scared. He beg me go and get bottle of claw-tips back from her and he pay me. I ask how much. He say he give right arm for vial back. I say I am not hungry, and arm is scrawny. I ask instead for gratitude. He agree. So I go to cabin of Skin-and-Bones.
“When I arrive, she not there, but I find bottle buried near house under dead crow. I eat crow and take bottle. I leave three pelts as exchange. I return to trading post, but Maris already gone. They say he leave in hurry. So I follow.
“I search for Maris so I can give him claw-tips of Saint Sollars. He must be great warrior to collect so many man-claws, but choice of trophy not very impressive. Until I find Maris I help others to earn gratitude. When I have enough gratitude then others help the Varans fight Vethka and return to swamp. Will you earn gratitude with me?”