These are the first four chapters of the first novel I ever wrote. It's got a complete arc but still needs a lot of fleshing out in the middle. I hope you enjoy it!
Portfolio Final Draft
Theldun thought back on his journey to the city Urgoth ten years ago. It had not been a kind one. “Though, when has life ever been my kind mistress?” The sixteen year old human sobered himself as he saw his motionless father. The white streak of scar tissue across his father’s throat served as a vicious reminder why Theldun must return to his studies.
Theldun placed his hands on his legs and inhaled deeply. He felt the stinging autumn morning air rush through his nostrils. Theldun exhaled slowly, imagining the air forced from his lungs drift through the still-broken window. He inhaled again.
“Remember your past to unlock your future.” Theldun said as his father had taught him.
Immediately, his eyes wrenched open. He heard the shouts of neighbors. His mother pointed up the alley which led to their single-room house. Four guards squeezed down the narrow walkway. They stopped just short of the door.
A guard with a red plume on his helm stepped forward. He pointed to Theldun’s mother and father. “You both have been accused of witchcraft. I am under orders to escort you to the prison.”
“Whose orders?” Theldun’s mother said.
“Orders of the State.
Theldun’s father stepped forward. “We do not serve your State. Return with a real authority.”
The head guard drew his sword. “I did not offer that option. Come with us peaceably, or we will use force.” The other guards stepped forward, swords drawn.
“Now that is an interesting proposition.” Theldun’s mother said, pointing her finger at the head guard.
He dropped his sword and screamed. The other guards looked at him in horror. A blackened claw had replaced his sword hand. The youngest guard drove his blade through Theldun’s mother. She swung her fist at the guard as she fell, knocking his helmet through their only window.
Theldun’s father began chanting. The head guard grabbed his throat with the claw. Blood spewed everywhere as Theldun’s father tried to breathe.
“Let that be a lesson to you witches.” The head guard said and marched off.
Theldun jolted himself back to the single room in which he had spent the last ten years. He struggled to return his breathing to the slow pace required for meditation. “Father, I remember the accident. I am sorry.” Theldun’s father did not move.
Theldun closed his eyes, straightened his back, and returned his calloused hands to the tops of his breeched quadriceps. He inhaled deeply, the acrid scent of his unwashed father disrupting his concentration for an instant. Theldun focused on his breathing for several moments. He counted the beats of his heart, timing his breaths. Ten to inhale, hold for two, exhale over ten beats. His calloused hands made an almost imperceptible scraping on his homespun wool breeches as he breathed in. The cool autumn air swirled over his bare chest through the one window of the house. The window hadn’t had glass in it since the guards broke in three years before, killing his mother, and breaking his father’s spirit.
“Deeper.” Theldun closed himself to the world and delved into his mind, searching for his vision. “Remember your past…”
The world grew brighter, though the light was different from the sun. He opened his eyes to slits and saw the lurid red glow that permeated the house in which he found himself. The bed seemed smaller than he remembered. He felt the now familiar ridges where his stomach was. His legs had lines and grooves along them as did his arms. He felt his face. Theldun touched the crumpled sheets in front of him. The fabric was smooth and soft, nothing like the sheets upon which he meditated.
Theldun rolled onto his back to stretch his arms, only to find that something soft and warm was blocking his movement. The impediment made a soft sigh and burrowed into Theldun’s hardened back. Theldun craned his head to look behind him. He could make out a tousle of coppery and golden hair. “How did a wolf get in here?” Theldun thought when he had the vision ten years ago. Now all he wanted was to see her face, but he never could change the Vision. A smooth, white arm snaked across his bare chest.
The woman snatched the sheet, just barely covering her nakedness. “What’s the matter?”
Theldun’s mind reeled. “Nothing, my queen.” He said. Theldun shook himself and turned to grab his trousers and shirt. For reasons Theldun looked forward to, his clothes were scattered about the room, his shirt lay over the dresser in the corner opposite the bed, one boot rested against the nearby chair, his other against the door, and his trousers had been flung against – almost out of – the window next to the bed. He retrieved the trousers then walked over to the chair.
“Why do you wake so early, my lord?”
“A walk. No need to worry; I will return.” Theldun grabbed his shirt and pulled it over his head. The shirt felt cool and smooth against his skin. “Of what is this made?”
“My lord, you ought to know better than I. You wove it yourself.”
“But of what material?”
“I am sure I don’t know.”
Theldun shrugged and finished gathering his clothing. He strode out of the warm room after he pulled on his scaly, calf-high black boots. “Of what are these made?”
“My lord, you act oddly. They are the skin of your enemy, the dragon. Do you feel poorly today?”
“Oddly. Not poorly. I shall return.” Theldun walked out the door. As soon as he passed the threshold, his skin lit aflame. Theldun wanted to scream in agony, but instead he uttered spidery words akin to his mother’s incantation. The flames dissipated immediately. Theldun looked down at his arms which now shone a ghostly blue. Theldun looked closer and noticed that faint, spidery, constantly shifting tattoos covered his arms. He traced the lines up to his shirt. He pulled his shirt off and noticed a huge tattoo emblazoned on his chest. The tattoo on his chest transformed at various times to different scenes from a red dragon flying over small stone buildings, into a fierce phoenix, into crumbled, blackened walls, then back to the dragon. It chronicles your accomplishments. “Who are you?” Theldun asked. Answers will appear in time. Trust me. Theldun committed the scenes to memory and put his shirt back on.
The lurid red glow apparently was not limited to his sparsely furnished hut, nor was it the sun. In fact, the light seemed to come from the ground. All around him, the hot light singed all it touched. The black obsidian wall around his hut refracted the light garishly, making the walls a ghastly purple. Theldun strode out the twisted black gate in the middle of the wall.
Cobblestoned paths ran in a maze around him. The black brick buildings lining the streets seemed a bit too small for humans. Theldun turned left on the path that his gate poured him onto. As he walked he saw short, squat figures distorted through the volcanic glass windows of the houses and pubs. Up ahead a short, grey figure with fiery red hair sat in the middle of the road, chiseling at the base of a huge rainbow tourmaline.
“That’s almost as tall as I am!”
“Sorry, sir. It’s the bigges ton we got. If’n we find another we’ll be sure to make another statue o’ ya.” The figure said, turning around and bowing low. Theldun stared at him. “Oh right, well since you’re here why don’t ya jus’ stand there. I’ll get a better drawing o’ ya for your statue, Darkcaster.”
“Excuse me? How did you address me?”
“Ho ho, sir! Ya had a lot to drink, but not that much!” Theldun continued to stare at the squat man. “Well, being as you’re here anyway, I’ll tell ya about the ceremony last night.” Theldun nodded. “Hold still, sir! I wanna get the light right. We dwarves wanna remember ya as ya are, not as our legend’s will no doubt make ya.”
“Dwarves? Are you really?”
“Well, Darkcaster, that’s your business. Ya gave us our name after all. I mean, afore ya, we just went by however that damned Dragon called us that day. If’n we didn’t, some o’ us’d get eaten. Wouldn’ want that now, would we? No, sir. Stop nodding, sir. Anyway, it’s a great thing ye did. Came and killed that Dragon for us ‘n all. Bastard was eatin’ us faster than we could lift our ladies’ skirts, if’n ye get my meaning.” The dwarf said with a wink of his red eyelashes.
Theldun swallowed hard, preferring to not picture bearded dwarves with bearded dwarves. “You were going to tell me about the ceremony?”
“Ah, right! Here I am chasin’ skirts when I got the hero of Hapheastus with me! Beggin’ your pardon, sir.” Theldun nodded. “Well, ya see, we’d sent out one of our own to get help from the topworlders. Something we ain’t done in a long time, no sir. Almos’ three generations I think, which is a long time for ya folks. A few hundred of your years, I’m thinkin’. So I guess he found ya, or ya him. Something of the sort. Lift your head, sir. A bit to the right. An’ stop. Perfect. I still can’t figure why ya came, but must of been fate. You’re the only one who could’ve killed that Dragon. I’d never seen anyone get fried and live, but ya sure did.” Theldun’s jaw dropped. “Now, sir. Hol’ still for jus’ a moment more.” Theldun snapped his mouth shut again. “There we are.” Theldun nodded. “Well, I best get back to work. Have a charming walk, sir. And don’t ya fall into our river, Darkcaster.” The dwarf laughed, then bowed low and picked up his chisel.
Theldun stood for a minute or two before resuming his walk. Theldun walked down the slightly too narrow, obsidian cobblestoned streets towards the source of the red glow. Follow my directions. Theldun continued to walk down the road. There will be a glowing metal gate on your left, turn into it. Theldun saw the red gate pulsing with light up ahead and couldn’t help but think of an artery. He shuddered slightly, remembering vaguely what the vision still held.
He walked through the gate into a beautiful open courtyard. The ground beneath him shined a brilliant green. Theldun looked down and saw that this area was covered in emerald. A thick, bright substance flowed beneath the gemstone. “Magma.” Theldun breathed. It lights this whole city. Not one of these dwarves yet lives who has seen the sun. “But what about the messenger that found me?” Answers will appear in time. Theldun continued looking around the spacious courtyard. Ornately wrought silver benches lined the glimmering obsidian walls. A small fountain in the center arrested Theldun’s attention. Go closer. Theldun walked towards the peculiar centerpiece of the courtyard. Magma flowed up through a sword shaped fountain, and was collected in a large, dark metallic bowl which glowed warmly.
Theldun stopped about ten yards away. He felt the heat like a hammer beating an anvil. Closer. “For what purpose?” Destiny, Glory, Power. Theldun stood still. If you remain here wizardkind will perish. Theldun took a searing breath and walked forward. His shirt’s strange material glowed, his dragonhide boots remained cool, and his pants did not light aflame. His skin burned, his eyes streamed, but Theldun did not stop. Use your magic. “How?” I cannot tell you. Use it or you will die. Theldun walked closer. Theldun smelled his hair and eyebrows ignite, felt the fire rushing into his nostrils. Theldun closed his eyes and reached within himself. “Isilalsigisam!” His tattoos flared, fighting the verdant green and lurid red glow around him with their icy cold sheen.
Steam poured off Theldun. He felt the raw skin of his nose and scalp freeze. He started to scream. SILENCE! Theldun clamped his mouth shut and walked the remaining feet to the magma fountain. Reach in. Theldun thrust his hand deep into the brightly burning liquid, through the diamond sword, and into the liquid again. Theldun heard his skin bubble and pop. Find the center. Theldun grit his teeth and tried not to look at his arm. His hand hit something ice cold. The sudden temperature change made Theldun jump, almost tumbling into the dark metal bowl of lava.
Theldun fell onto his back, away from the lava. The smooth, hard emerald ground bruised his backside. Theldun grunted and stood up heavily without looking at his arm. He thrust it back inside the lava, through the diamond, and grasped the cold object in the center. He grimaced as the chill seeped through his blistered palm. Pull. Theldun tugged tenderly on the object. It remained in the middle of the lava flow. Theldun wrapped his hand tighter around the haft of the object. He pulled, bracing his dragonhide boots against the base of the lava bowl. The object broke free suddenly, depositing Theldun back onto his bruised backside.
Theldun dragged himself away from the waves of heat that bore down on everything within ten paces of the fountain. As he crawled, he felt the chill continue to seep up his arm and into his body. He welcomed the numbing, tingling sensation in contrast to the scorching pain. Outside the ring of fire, Theldun brushed his sweat-damp hair out of his face and breathed deep.
Two realizations hit Theldun at once: he had hair again, and he didn’t smell burned flesh.
Theldun looked down at his arm. The tattoos glowed slightly over his unblemished, white skin. No blisters, no redness. Theldun looked at the chill metal in his hand. A metal handle wrapped in arctic blue cloth met a black metal crosspiece fashioned with icicles hanging from the tips. A long, translucent blue blade rose from the crosspiece. Small scratches ran along the blood grove of the broadsword: runes. Theldun read them aloud, “DER DÆN VILLE DÆN ИEILIGE FLÆMEN GEþRVNK ИAþ.” To him, who has drunk the Will of Sacred Flame.
Theldun heard heavy steps rushing towards him. He twisted to his feet, holding the blade towards the sound. A short, rotund body collided with him. He felt the blade slide easily into the dwarf’s body. Theldun pushed the dwarf off his new blade, horrified at his actions.
Blood oozed sluggishly from the dwarf’s gaping chest wound. Frost rimmed the edges of the hole. “Why?” The dwarf croaked. Theldun dropped the blade and applied hard pressure to the chilly wound. Quickly cooling, sticky, red welled between his fingers. Theldun looked into the dwarf’s orange eyes which chased each other in one last mad chance to see the world.
“He… surprised me.” Theldun said and pressed harder on the mortal wound. This is what you do, Theldun. You kill. And you’re good at it. “Not my friends, I don’t.” Wipe your tears. They are womanish and have no place in this world. Theldun stood up, leaving the body on the ground. “You’re lying. There must have room for remorse!” No. None for remorse, only action.
“Action? Fine! I’ll act.” Theldun shouted. He drew a deep breath and began to weave spidery words around the dwarf. The body rose into the air, contorting grotesquely in the envenomed, green light. The black eyes began to regain their color. The pupils dilated and began to glow red. The bearded jaw distended, the front incisors elongated. The grey skin lightened, glimmering between ash and snow. Stop, you fool! Action without thought is death! The transformation continued. The dwarf’s orange hair became thin chains. “I can’t stop it!” Action should be reasoned! Emotion is folly. “I can’t stop it!”
“Master.” The demon dwarf hissed.
* * *
Theldun snapped to consciousness and grabbed his spell book. He quickly jotted down the spells he used in his vision and noted the effects, as well as all he remembered of the vision. Never before had he seen the effects of Necromancy; of the little research Theldun could do, none of it spoke of such an awful Death Magic spell. It disgusted him, but what if… “Father, I found something new. You’d be pleased.” His father continued to stare out the broken window, completely still.
Theldun put on his rough sackcloth shirt and went to the arena to compete with his friends for a few handfuls of silver.
Theldun watched a match between Silian the half-elf and John the self-proclaimed “Grizzly,” a human. Silian was being badly beaten, of course, but he refused to yield.
As he watched the badly paired match, Theldun thought of his dreams for the future. He wanted to become an adventurer, a mercenary. It would be difficult to ply that trade without being maligned for the magic in his blood. However, if he found a mercenary group greedy enough they would certainly find him a useful addition. Theldun heard the tell-tale thump that signaled Silian’s defeat. Theldun looked once more towards the ring and saw Silian badly-bloodied but still conscious. He’s tougher than I give him credit for. Theldun thought to himself.
John cried out for another challenger in one-quarter of an hour. Theldun rose and took the field, meditating on the blood-soaked sand of the pit. John drank an ale and washed himself quickly. John the “Grizzly” turned and saw the lanky wizard sitting on the ground. “Is there no one else who will challenge me?” The Grizzly roared. “I tire of fighting wispy nothings!” John spat at Theldun, narrowly missing the hem of his cloak. Theldun said nothing; he simply stood and shed his cloak, revealing his smaller but better defined sinew. John spat again and drew his wooden short blade. Theldun hefted his wooden broadsword and raised it in salute. “I don’t salute pansies or weaklings.” Grizzly ran forward and let out a bestial roar – his preferred battle cry. Theldun stood with his blade perfectly motionless. Just as John lunged, Theldun twisted his body and brought his pommel to bear on the larger man’s wrist. Grizzly roared in pain as his wrist broke. Before Theldun could spin and finish John off with a quick strike to the head, John jumped forward and attempted to grapple Theldun to the arena sand. Theldun tucked his knees up and threw John over his using Grizzly’s greater strength against him. Theldun rolled up and turned to once again face his opponent. Grizzly rose ponderously to his feet and drew a couple quick breaths. Grizzly bought his fists up, ready once again to duel.
“John, I offer you two options. I will let you retrieve your weapon, or I will drop mine, and we will fight hand-to-hand. Which will it be?” Theldun held his sword poised between himself and John while he spoke.
John tried unsuccessfully to ignore the growing, throbbing pain in his shattered wrist. “I have never been beaten in a fist fight. Drop your blade at your own peril.” Grizzly shouted menacingly, however the grimace on his face stole some edge from the threat. Theldun dropped his wooden blade and waited for John to approach. John walked cautiously toward his calm and obviously skilled opponent. After covering half the distance between them, John began to slowly circle Theldun in ever shortening spirals. Theldun left his hands at his sides and closed his eyes, listening for John’s approach. John noticed Theldun’s closed eyes and tightened his spirals. Warily, John approached Theldun’s back and threw a punch at his kidney. Theldun moved but not fast enough. The blow glanced off Theldun’s muscular back as he turned to retaliate. Theldun rolled his hips with the blow, turned, and kicked savagely at Grizzly’s front knee. Grizzly yelped and fell sideways. As Grizzly fell, he kicked at Theldun’s ankle. Theldun felt his ankle start to slide through the dirt and rolled to recover. Grizzly rolled over to Theldun and tried again to grapple him, first hitting Theldun in the face with a massive left hook. Blood spurted from Theldun’s nose. Theldun grabbed Grizzly’s right wrist and twisted on the broken joint.
“Yield.” Theldun said. Grizzly yelped and blacked out. Theldun dropped the limp, swollen hand and retrieved his cloak and mock blade. Theldun washed the blood from his hands and face, collected his prize money for beating Grizzly, and strutted out of the rink amidst cheers of praise from his friends.
“Theldun!” Georg shouted, tearing Theldun away from counting his winnings. “Whoa! How much’d you make today?” Georg said, noticing the coins in Theldun’s hand.
“Twelve silvers and one platinum.” Theldun said. “They brought in some fool from Burgat to fight today, fancied himself a ‘Grizzly’. He proved to be tame though. He came with some magistrate or another. He must have thrown in the platinum. This should keep the larder stocked for at least a month. Maybe I’ll get to keep some of my winnings for my sword fund.”
Georg thought briefly. “Well since you’re beating higher ranked fighters now, Captain Dunner will be really glad you’re interviewing with him a fortnight from now!”
“Dammit, Georg! I’ve told you once – No! I’ve told you a million times, I’m not going to do guard duty. I want to be an adventurer or work with a mercenary squadron.”
“Whew! Relax, Thel. This is a prime position. They want an adventuring party to set out on some task or another. They wanted to know if I knew anyone who’d be interested. I gave them your name, but…”
“No! No, I’ll take the interview. I may not favor their rules, but should they prove lucrative I may change my standpoint. Thank you, Georg.”
“Sure. Is Silian still here?”
“No, they carted him off. He stayed in the fight longer than he ought.”
“ Listen, I gotta finish my rounds. Can you find him and tell him about the interview too?” Theldun nodded and shook Georg’s mailed hand.
The night did not celebrate Theldun’s victory over Grizzly. Urgoth sat in silence. Thunder rolled through alleys, threatening to drown the town. The dark clouds ignored their noisy counterpart, refusing to share their bounty.
The King’s Clock Tower struck once. All but the most rowdy of taverns had shut and bolted their doors. Publican’s Rest, one of the rowdiest inns in New Urgoth, kept its fires stoked. The raucous sounds of laughter emanated from the tavern to an entrance to Old City a few hundred yards away. Publican’s Rest, the oldest inn in New Urgoth, once bore a proud name but no longer. Thirty years of neglect showed through warped doors that didn’t shut, cracked paint, and scorched walls.
The Lord of Burgat intended to bring the inn back to its former glory. This night he slept fitfully upstairs, as proof that the inn was still safe and worthy of attention, if only for the famous spiced bread.
A slap resounded in the small inn. The patrons all stopped, not wanting to stumble into the fight. When a shriveled voice screamed after a second slap, they all smiled into their ales. “Dirty son of a bitch.” One of the patrons said.
The shriveled voice cried out again, “Please! Please, don’t hit me again!” The patrons stopped smiling.
The Innkeeper ran upstairs to see what was happening in his inn. He heard a sibilant hiss from under the door of room seven. “Silence, usurper. Speak less, die sooner.” Sheets rustled, as the doomed man groped for his missing dagger. “Cease! I possess your weapon.”
“Who are you? Why are you here?” The magistrate said.
“If you have not discovered my purpose then you are not worth killing.”
“No! I’m not worth it, just walk out. Forget I exist.”
“Hiss. We shall see. Should you live, I shall cease to. Besides, I keep my contracts.”
“Who sent you?” The magistrate sniveled.
“The king? Impossible!” The magistrate trembled in silence. “May I at least see my killer?”
“Set fire to the lamp. See the darkness as it consumes your world.” Flint struck steel, and a spark landed on the lamp’s oil soaked wick, illuminating the room with wavering light.
The magistrate rolled over to see his assailant. He whimpered and retched. “What manner of beast-“ A flash of red and silver. Darkness.
* * *
A quivering mass of lard shivered in the interrogation room. “I waited to the count of ten, then I entered the room. No one ‘as there, ‘cept the dead magistrate.” The innkeeper said. “All I saw. It’s all I saw! I don’t know anything else! Please…Please, don’t leave me down here. I couldn’a done nothing. I didn’t even have my knife on me. Please.” The listener in the darkness, Captain Dunner, let the innkeeper suffer under his barely visible gaze for a few more dreadful minutes.
Dunner pounded his fist on the table. “Sniveling wretch!” The innkeeper immediately sobered himself. Dunner motioned for the two guards to leave. They saluted, turned, and left.
“I hope he doesn’t make as big a mess of this one as he did during his last interrogation. I’d hate to scrub blood off the ceiling again.” The younger guard said as he slid the door bolt into place.
Dunner laughed inwardly. That guard would be a fine investigator one day. “No talking!” Dunner barked. He heard a dripping sound as an acrid scent hit his nostrils. The innkeeper had wet himself. “The interrogation did go poorly. Most of the sod stayed on the walls, but that heart of his just insisted on shooting some of him to the ceiling.” The innkeeper shook so hard that the meager chair threatened to rattle apart.
The innkeeper vomited.
Dunner kept his face as calm as a pouncing tiger’s while he wiped the remainders of the innkeeper’s lunch from his face. “Okay. If you’re quite finished, tell me what happened last night when you told an ASSASSIN a Lord’s room number?”
“Sir, I. I didn’t.”
“Give ‘im the room number. Didn’t even talk to ‘im. ‘E shouldn’a been able to get in. Just shouldn’a.” The innkeeper sobbed.
“Get out.” Dunner said. “Just. Get. Out. If you leave town, pray - PRAY the orcs find you before I do.” The Captain looked at the door. “Sheira!” The bolt audibly slid out of its moorings, and the door swung open. The innkeeper hefted his frame to the door. The guards were gone. He flapped his flab down the echoing corridor.
“Nailo, do you have any idea how much work your sloppy job has caused me?” Captain Dunner said to the darkness.
“Inconveniently, yes.” A voice said. “However, it was not my botched job that caused this.”
“Show yourself.” Dunner said, distractedly scrubbing the vomit from his vestments with the little clean hay left on the floors.
A being clad in dark grey stepped into the light. “Out of curiosity, Commander,” the grey figure said as he lowered his thin grey hood, revealing pointed ears, and almond shaped, opalescent eyes, “when did you become aware of my presence?”
Dunner looked up from his scrubbing and into the face of Nailo, his best assassin. An ugly white scar ran over Nailo’s left eye. “When I dismissed my guards.”
“I suspected as much. Your skills of perception always surprise me, Commander.” Nailo said as he walked over to the table. “I’ll have to be careful to not make an enemy of you.” He winked with his left eye, tautening the white scar.
“For more reasons than one.” Dunner sat back down in his chair. “Was the Lord of Burgat a traitor?”
“What actions were to be taken?”
“What actions do you suspect?”
“Then why were you that sloppy?”
The assassin turned pale. “I only wish I was, Captain.”
“Well then what the hell?”
Nailo sat down on his haunches. “He’s back.” He whispered.
“Who’s back, Nailo?”
“The Once-elf. My first target.”
“Nailo, I’m tired of your elven sideways talking. Act like your dagger and get to the heart. That’s what I pay you for.”
“Ilgad.” Nailo said.
Dunner felt Nailo’s poisonous panic seeping into his veins. “The Ilgad?”
“How can you be sure?”
“His symbol, sir. The three headed snake shaped like a trident. It was on the knife. Sir this knife acted in a funny way. If I may speak freely, sir?”
“Thank you, sir. It was odd, but I couldn’t see the assassin. Either he was impossibly good, or… the knife hid him.”
“Sir. The knife was clearly enchanted. It had rubies in the snakes’ eyes that glowed with an unnatural light, as if they were eyes. Then, after it slid between the Lord’s ribs as easily as you’d slide between a tired whore’s legs-“
“Nailo. No need to be vulgar.” Dunner said.
“Sir. Sorry, sir.” Nailo bowed. “After the Lord of Burgat was terminated, the dagger hissed and the room went black.”
“The lamp went out. The innkeeper told us as much.”
“Sir. I mean it went dark.”
“You couldn’t see?”
“Scour the city. Find anything you can about this new knife and where he found his instrument. We need to know whether this is Ilgad or just an old artifact.” Dunner saluted Nailo. “Dismissed.”
Nailo bowed and stepped out the door. This is worse than you think, Dunner. If Ilgad is back then he’s become a demigod.
Nailo sauntered over to his permanent lodging in Old City. Not many people were aware of it, but Urgoth had been burnt and rebuilt no less than three times. They were divided up into their own sections: New City, the top level; Old City, below; and the Sewers. The first rendition of Urgoth had a brilliant system of aqueducts that now served as the current city’s waste disposal system. Old City contained the seedier element of Urgoth. Run down and putrid, the streets were narrow and poorly kept. Nailo trod carefully as to avoid falling into pits of acrid muck. Dunner had taken government funds and siphoned them to rebuilding the old barracks down there. It was here that Dunner hid the secret arm of Urgoth. None would accuse the place of being cozy or inviting but the assassins who called it home preferred it that way – fewer throats poked around.
Nailo was greeted in the traditional manner of the Shadow Lords. Each assassin extended their hand: fingers pointed straight then made a circle with forefinger and thumb. The straight hand represented their vow to be the blade of the law and the circle represented the sacred trust each man and woman in the Shadow Lords carried. Each of the assassins worked in a team. The less skilled teams answered to the more skilled teams who in turn answered to Nailo, Shadow Master. He hated that title. It was too cliché. Dunner reads one book about assassins and thinks he’s a genius. Being Shadow Master meant he was responsible for the failures of others. The only advantage of being Shadow Master was that he could choose to work alone.
Nailo was by nature a loner. He worked with others when it suited his purpose, but those others had to be either tremendously talented in stealth and thievery or absolutely expendable.
Looking back over his years as Shadow Master, Nailo couldn’t complain too much. As the first ever Shadow Master, Nailo set the bar for recruitment very high. The recruit then had to pass a test hand-picked by Nailo. If the recruit failed, they were killed to keep the secrecy of the Shadow Lords. It was a grim business, since most of the recruits were little more than children, but Nailo told himself he was long past caring whom he killed. Fear was the most potent tool of the Shadow Lords. The few carefully chosen rumors that Nailo had set loose on the imaginations of the populace had drastically decreased the crime, especially around Old City where most of the marks tended to be. Old City was still the bloodiest part of Urgoth, but at least it was quieter in its bloodshed.
Nailo grabbed a bag of gold coins and left the assassin barracks. After a brief prowl, Nailo entered the Belching Boar. The Belching Boar was without a doubt the seediest, lowest down bar in all of Urgoth. It also happened to be the most popular. Cheap gossip and cheaper beer brought folks from all over Urgoth to the Boar’s door. This bar was the recruiting place for no less than three mercenary squadrons, and even the Shadow Lord’s found a good candidate from the rowdy crowd now and then. Tonight the crowd seemed especially rough. Already Nailo could see one of the barmaids cleaning a red spot off the wall. Nailo moved to the table in the far north-east corner – the only one that didn’t have a lamp slung over it. That was the signal that his informant was there. One of the few grey-skinned dwarves still in existence sat in the corner. “You’re late.” He mumbled into his mug.
Nailo was in no mood to be berated – especially by a drunkard dark dwarf. “It was unavoidable.” The assassin said and called loudly for two mugs of mead.
“Two?!” The informant said. “Tha’ll get you drunk off your pansy-elf arse! Bad day, aye?”
“It’s none of your concern.” Nailo locked the dark dwarf in his scarred, opalescent gaze. “I need to know about things, Hrulgar.”
“Hmpf. ‘Things’ is a bit vague, even for you.” Hrulgar growled. “What kinds of things, elf?”
“There’s a new knife in town.” Nailo said.
“Eh, I may have heard a thing or two, bu’ my memory‘s a bit sketchy.” Hrulgar stretched out his grubby hand and rubbed two fat, greasy fingers together. “A bi’ o’ gold may prove the trick.”
“It wasn’t a question. I know there’s a new knife in town. I need names and a meeting set up.”
Hrulgar grumbled and continued to run his fingers together.
“I pay you more than you deserve, dwarf.”
“Oh, really? Then why don’ ye get yer own folks to do it? Besides, this name was ‘ard to find. I figured you’d be interested in it.” Nailo nodded and slid a pouch of coins across the table.
A barmaid flounced up and slipped the two mugs onto the battered table. “That all for you, hun?” Nailo tossed her a coin and shooed her away with one hand. She bit the gold coin, stuffed it in her bosom, and moved to the next table.
Hrulgar counted the coins and stuffed them in his belt. “ I really thought you’d be more interested than this. I mean, after all it’s not every day that someone you killed comes back from the grave. Well, I guess if it’s not all that important, then I’ll jus’ spread the word around to other people once you lea- ”
“Do that and you’ll be dead before you meet your whore tonight, Hrulgar.” Nailo met the informant’s gaze, held it, and drew a hideously curved blade from his sleeve. “I don’t think I need to tell you what part I’ll take from you first, dwarf.” Nailo bobbed his eyes towards Hrulgar’s ale soaked pants.
“You wouldn’! I- You need me! Who else can do wha’ I do?” Hrulgar pleaded.
“Anyone.” Nailo slid the dagger down his sleeve. “Now tell me that name and if I catch even a whiff of your beer-soaked breath on the name next time I hear it, you’d best be wearing a steel codpiece.” He took a sip from his mug. “That’s a promise. Even a whiff.”
Hrulgar paled. “Ilgad. The name’s Ilgad. He’s planning on returnin’ to Urgoth and take over with some ‘Army of the Faithful.’ Listen, I don’t know anymore. Some rumors flyin’ around about them recruitin’ here in Old City o’er by the Sewers, bu’ I couldn’ get close enough to say aye or nay.”
“The new knife’s named ‘Ilgad?’ You really expect me to believe that?”
“It’s the truth! I guess wizarding ain’t what it used to be. Dead wizard turned assassin – I mean odder things have come to pass. I mean, Galorn hasn’t answered a prayer in almost one hundred years, so who says he’s not some kind of wizard now or something.”
“If I wanted your conjecture, I’d tell you. Get out of here and leave me to drink in peace.” Nailo waved toward the door.
“Eh, I won’ be comin’ back here.” Hrulgar stated. “No offense.”
“Interesting.” Nailo took a long, deep draught of mead. “I’ll tell you what you’re going to do. You’re going to spend your reward on ale and whores, and next week you’ll be back here at the usual time.” Hrulgar lifted his head as if to interject. Nailo plowed over the objection. “If, if by some miracle you grow a sense of morals and don’t come back here then I will carry out my threat, because if you are not in my pocket then you will be in someone else’s.”
“Listen, I’ve got a family and kids. Now I’ve got my chance to leave this hell hole and them with it. I’m takin’ it.” Hrulgar shook visibly, but he held his ground.
“Ah, leaving the kids behind, eh? Being married not all it’s cracked up to be? Don’t complain to me. My story of woe is not fit for your ears. Not that it will matter much should you head out of town. The orcs are fond of Dwarf ears, from what I hear. They like them fresh off the dwarf in fact. I shan’t be too surprised if they are still attached to a very lively dwarf when they are eaten off. Safe travels.” Nailo waved and turned to finish his mead which was growing steadily warmer.
“Um… See you next week.” Hrulgar said and shuffled out the door.
“Of course you will,” Nailo mused into his mead. “Of course you will.” Nailo turned his thoughts to his current and ever more pressing problem: Ilgad. The cult leader that had ensconced himself as a demigod was returning.
Dunner knew that Ilgad was slain by Nailo’s hand almost seventy years ago. What Dunner didn’t know was why it was Nailo who had slain Ilgad. The elf that was to become Ilgad traded that which elves revere even above life to attain the lofty position of demigod. He had sacrificed his very soul. But his nefariousness did not cease there. He sacrificed the souls of his own children. Through such offerings Ilgad learned the darkest and most sinister of all magic arts: Necromancy. Using his new found power he turned his children into automatons of his evil will.
The Silthàrian Enclave discovered his practices and branded him a dark elf. The elven name that Ilgad once possessed was stricken from the records and all who knew it were forbidden from uttering it lest they bring down the curse of Ilgad’s house upon themselves. He was discovered soon after sacrificing his children’s souls. The visible after effects after such a powerful and vile spell were clearly scratched on his face. Flesh had rotted away from his still living frame, leaving a gory grin permanently spread across his face. The Silthàrian Enclave banished him from Silthària and stripped him of his long life. He would never be able to return under pain of death.
Exile represented the worst possible punishment for an elf because it doomed them to wander continuously. The magic of Exile made it impossible for a Dark Elf to settle in any place for more than a few decades at best. Such instability is unimaginable to most elves.
Only one had ever returned who was not instantly slain by the powerful magicks in place around Silthària. Then again, she was no elf when she returned. Where once there had been a shamed and guilt-ridden elf there returned a beast beyond any natural imagination. Skin of pure alabaster and candied words belied the truth of her being. She was a vampire. A thing from tales so old even the Elves had forgotten the truth behind the great myths.
Rumors said that this vampire was the biggest follower of Ilgad. Nailo was prone to believe those rumors because he had known her; she was his chaperone until he was almost thirty years of age. His parents – knowing that most children have issues with outside authority – did not buy into his hunch. Five years after Nailo reached his majority, she was Exiled. Nailo cherished his first real victory against his parents.
His necromantic nanny returned home one hundred years later. It was a quiet thing at first. More like the chime of a bell than an alarm. It seemed so ordinary, the wards around Silthària chimed every time a representative came into the forests. The chime was different for each race and the quality of the sound tended to reflect the qualities of the guest entering the blessed Silthàrian woods. The chime was pleasing to the ear but left Nailo feeling cold, like a single drop of rain had slipped beneath his shirt. It was a sound unlike any he had ever heard.
Nailo stepped out of his family’s house. People lined the walkways formed by living aspen branches, trying to catch a glimpse of this mysterious representative. Nailo recognized her at once. Or rather, he recognized certain qualities about her at once. She still had the shapely form which had made him feel gauche and awkward under her care. Her pale skin was paler than he remembered. Her glossy black hair spilled like silk to her shoulders. As she turned to the faces looking down upon her, Nailo recognized her fragile, high set cheek bones. His heart beat erratically when she made eye contact with him.
Her almond shaped, boulder opal eyes held a hunger that he longed to fill. But part of him recoiled at his desire. Nailo was faintly aware of the change in the chimes. They rang discordantly. Nailo perceived them as the wedding bells before their night of pleasure.
Then she smiled. Two long, silver fangs had replaced her canines. Nailo gasped. Hers was the magnificence of the Damned. His night of pleasure twisted into a nightmare. He pictured his body, twisted and broken, completely drained of life.
The Elven Guard walked in full armor into the circle. People cheered. They marched past the vampire and up to the base of the Vivarian Tree. They chanted the incantations. A flurry of branches form a staircase leading up to the walkway upon which Nailo found himself.
Nailo pulled himself from his reminiscing. That had been over seventy years ago. He didn’t care to remember the rest of that dreadful encounter. He didn’t want to remember how the Enclave went about hunting for those turned into vampires by that awful, awe-inspiring woman.
He was now an exile from his land for a crime the Silthàrian Enclave asked him to commit. The Enclave did not publicly exile him. Instead they pronounced him dead and placed wards around Silthària that would slay him if he set foot on his home soil. His wife was slain, dead by her own hand – an unforgivable sin according to elven custom. He knew the moment she plunged the knife – his knife, the one left to protect her – into her chest, forever severing her life from this world. He remembered how she saved him from following her into the afterlife in the same method. Nailo also remembered his oath of vengeance. He ran a hand over his scar. “Galorn, honor my commitment.”
Nailo returned his mind once more to the present in the Belching Boar. “This mead is strong tonight.” Nailo mused and found he was holding a third mug of mead with two drained mugs in front of him. “Oh, that’s why.” Nailo allowed himself a small chuckle to bury the memories of the past. His wife had died not more than fifty years ago, but the wound stood fresh in his mind. If his job didn’t claim him early then he still had almost eight hundred years or life without her. He was sure that once he died, Galorn would not keep the two lovers separate any longer.
Nailo nursed his mead and reviewed his time spent with the Shadow Lords. For the past twenty years, Nailo, Shadow Master, labored to create an army of assassins. With the aid of the unknowing Dunner, Nailo pressed silently towards his goal of infiltrating Silthària and bringing down the Enclave.
Nailo shook his head clear of distractions. Ilgad. That was his short term goal. Kill Ilgad – again. He pondered his options. Go to the recruiting station, knives flashing and hope to find something of use in the wreckage. That would draw too much attention. Still it might be fun. Nailo played it over in his mind and discarded it.
Recruitment. I could get myself recruited! A gleeful guffaw escaped Nailo’s lips. “Of course!” He laughed. Nailo flipped the bar maid an extra coin and left the Boar in a riot of cold laughter.
A young man with shaggy blonde hair and stabbing blue eyes staggered into the clearing. In an instant the once lively woods became silent as a tomb. Blood oozed from a cut over his right eye, seeping into his vision. He limped, favoring his right leg. He knew he stood no chance in the upcoming battle. Steel rang on stone. They come. Ralcion relaxed his tensing muscles and drew the long sword he had stolen from that butcher’s camp. “I will die before I go back.”
A ring of steel materialized from the thick woods. Five armored men stepped forward, swords, axes, and shields flashing in the waning evening sun. It might as well have been a dozen. Ralcion might have had a chance against one armored opponent. The five fiends drew in closer, their wicked black armor sporting spikes covered in gore. The largest assailant drew a serrated, pale green long sword. The metal of which this sinister sword was crafted would not be found in this world again. It was a relic from the days when Galorn listened to the pleas of men. The leader took a step forward and removed his helm. A tangle of silver hair cropped close to the skull sparkled with sweat as the commander delivered his ultimatum. “Come with us, and we won’t kill you.”
“I’d rather choose my death than let you monsters butcher me in front of my friends.” Ralcion spit.
The man with the wicked blade replaced his helmet. “You will regret calling me a monster.” Two green flames replaced the man’s eyes.
An arrow whistled past Ralcion’s ear. The commander fell to his knees clawing at the arrow lodged in his throat. The green flames wavered and died away.
Thank Galorn! No sooner had he finished his thought than the four remaining assailants charged Ralcion. Ralcion swung his stolen blade clumsily. It struck an incoming thrust from his left, deflecting it just enough. Ralcion winced as the blade grazed his side.
An arrow whizzed, another attacker fell to the ground. If I can just survive a few more seconds. Ralcion fought with renewed vigor. He had a chance now. Ignoring the blood running freely down his side, Ralcion whirled a wide arc with his blade. He got lucky; the blade bit into his opponent’s upper thigh, dropping the armored fiend to one knee. Ralcion leapt back and circled the remaining mobile assailant. An arrow whistled through the air, the dark armored fellow twisted and caught it in his shield.
He turned back to Ralcion, a split lipped smile spread across his face. He raised his battle axe. Ralcion raised his blade in defense and got a shield slammed into his side for his efforts. Ralcion fell over, stunned.
Ralcion rolled over to get up when his hearing returned to him. A heavy grunt reminded him of his imminent peril. Ralcion rolled over to his back and thrust his sword in front of him blindly. A wet pop sounded as the blade slipped between the plates of armor. Ralcion twisted the blade and pulled himself up by the hilt.
The attacker stared in shock at the blade that now protruded from his breastplate as blood welled softly around the blade, dropping silently to the dew-soaked grass. Ralcion watched in horror as the armored monstrosity before him dropped his weapons, wrapped his mailed hands around the blade, and began to pry it lose of his gored chest. Malicious eyes met Ralcion’s as the sword ripped free.
The bleeding bulk of flesh and metal stepped towards him, wielding Ralcion’s stolen blade. Ralcion backpedaled as fast as he could, heedless of the obstacles around him. He heard a thud. That must have been the other fellow keeling over finally. Suddenly, a hand snaked around his ankle. Ralcion panicked, kicking wildly as he fell to the ground. The man whom he had caught in the leg with his reckless arc pulled Ralcion towards him, a dagger in his hand with eyes to match. Ralcion used his free leg and kicked hard at his opponent’s open-faced helm. His boot struck true, curses and blood flowed freely from the fiend’s face. Ralcion scrambled to his feet and continued to flee his attackers.
Another arrow screamed through the air. It thudded in the dirt at Ralcion’s feet. He turned left towards the other trail that left the glade. Two more arrows halted his progress. Ralcion quickly took stock of his situation.
Ralcion pulled his hunting knife from his rough leather belt and prepared for the end. The hellish figure’s black armor was now red and wet with his own blood. Ralcion steadied his hand. The figure lumbered forward, every breath bubbling blood onto his armor. Ralcion threw his blade as the distance between them closed.
The knife missed.
From deep within himself, Ralcion called on his little used rage. Hate took control of Ralcion. Blood filled his vision, his brain exploded in pain. He watched as the long sword swept down on his head like a wickedly barbed bird of prey. Ralcion’s life raced before his eyes. He thought it odd that he could see memories that were not his. In a flash he pondered this.
The sword finished its vicious arc.