CHAPTER 1 - ESCAPE FROM DARKNESS
stirred the silence. A long forgotten tunnel deep underneath a mountain bore
witness to the return of life. This was a place that only ever knew tapping
drips of water or scratching groans of restless rock. It was more than dark here
for the air held a blackness that was complete and perfect. It was as if the
rock had squeezed the very concept of light from existence. Yet still some came
as heralded by the muffled tramp of boots stirring reluctant air.
Soon a troop
of orcs stirred the blackness. Their leader was Gereb Balag and he was not
amused and this meant that his troops were becoming sore. Whilst Gereb was an
orc like the others he didn’t regard himself as the same for his fangs were
particularly long and his hands were extra strong, strangler's hands.
Where his fellows bore picks and shovels he carried a red dyed, serrated
edged scimitar bared in a gnarly fist.
and again he would lash out indiscriminately, striking one or another. Mostly
they merely yelped as the flat of his blade paid out a stinging rebuke.
Sometimes they would howl as shred was torn from their dark hides. Gereb's
response was always the same - a short, sharp chuckle.
He was angry
because he regarded himself as a battle chief. Instead he was playing host to a
rabble of lowly miners, filthy diggers of rock. He should have been planning his
next deed of murder and robbery. Instead he was trudging downwards to the
darkest and deepest part of the mines. All because of that cursed human.
Oh, it had
been a great fight. Sentries had detected a party of the vicious warriors
snooping about. Digging here, prying there obviously looking for something. His
tribe, the black skulls, had surprised them well and good. With overwhelming
numbers (always the best policy) they had slain all except one who was spared
for interrogation. What did it matter if a few weak fools had died on his side?
Such is life. The weak died and the strong survived. Gereb smiled at the memory
of his sword slicing though a scrawny neck.
had discovered the map. The men had been searching for treasure. They must have
been snooping for quite a while for the maps were better than any the orcs
possessed and there were strange marks in various places. The mark was the
letter ‘T’; obviously ‘T’ for ‘Treasure.’ Or so someone had told Gereb (who
could not actually read himself). They tried to interrogate the prisoner they
had captured who refused to co-operate despite ungentle persuasion.
Unfortunately some Vaal had heard the ruckus and investigated. They were the
overlords and promptly took over. The next moment he was before old Burash who
loved treasure more than life, everyone else’s life! So he had been given the
lucky job of stomping these forsaken dungeons. The unlucky prisoner remained
with Burash. Gereb grimaced; he would not wish that on anyone.
So they went
down until finally even their dark-sight was becoming gloomy.
Orcs loved the dark. Their eyes, which bore a red glint, saw the world in
those same shades. Gereb saw his companions as mosaics of bright orange hues. In
comparison the surrounding walls of the tunnel were a very dark burgundy, almost
black. And they were becoming darker groaned Gereb. The colder the darker, that
was the way of it.
tunnel they were following petered out and came to a dead end. Upon ragged rock
ahead were the last lamentable blows of forgotten miners. They stared back like
signposts. Signposts of hopeless frustration, thought Gereb. At least that
signalled an end to their hike. The hard leather of his iron-studded boots was
grating at sore toes.
miner orcs sat, thinking to rest. Gereb had other ideas.
‘Get up you
lazy swine,’ he barked, ‘before I tan your filthy hides some more.’ Gereb
brandished his scimitar threateningly. Ten weary orcs promptly stood, though one
or two groaned. Gereb kicked one such groaner hard resulting in a load
resounding grunt. ‘And no moaning either.’
leader then walked slowly forward to examine the tunnel’s end. It was as he
expected. No trace of anything shiny or precious! What a waste of time. He
snorted; at least he could rest awhile.
vermin get to work,’ he ordered sharply.
unpacked picks and shovels and the sound of tapping soon echoed about the
tunnel. Gereb yawned and slouched back on a long low boulder half jutting from
the wall. He attempted to snooze however the sounds of tapping made it hard to
relax. Soon he was yelling for them to hurry up and find something worthwhile.
almost reached a comfortable doze when he realised that the tapping had stopped.
hell are you idiots up to eh?’ he bellowed.
have a look at this boss,’ an orc whimpered. Gereb, cursing loudly, raised
himself and trudged to where ten orcs were gathered. Elbowing them aside, he
gazed upon their problem.
had revealed a tiny spot of eerie luminescence in the rock. This gleam was
reflected by a stronger gleam in Gereb’s eyes. This was the gleam of avarice.
Visions of wondrous jewels sprang to mind. Legends of weird gems shining with
magical light began to take substance. Gereb quickly snatched a pick and raised
it before his deep inbuilt caution rang loud. He had developed a motto that had
saved his skin on many occasions – risk is a dish best served to others.
and smash it when I give the word,’ he ordered a fearful orc.
He then went back up the passage and crouched behind the boulder that had
served as his seat.
pick-handle in trembling hands a hapless orc prepared to strike. The pick-head
seemed to fall slowly to those watching. The instant it struck a violent
explosion erupted, thundering through the tunnel. Searing fire of the purest
white roared out scorching ten orcs to cinders. The very earth shook and quaked
with fury. It was as if all hell had
suddenly, the fire stopped. Thunderous echoes died and utter silence descended.
A blackened, now hairless, head peeked over the burnt boulder to gape in
horrific amazement. Before him an insubstantial glimmer of light still lingered.
Wafts of slowly drifting smoke shimmered with deep violets and reds, floating in
bulbous forms until wraithlike shapes reached out. Like the shifting of
windblown sands upon a trackless desert the smoke swirled. Communing within a
complex changing pattern it formed a mosaic of dark hues. Then, reluctantly, it
seemed, the smoke disappeared. But still, a glimmer of unnatural light remained.
squinted and beheld a ragged hole exposed by the explosion. It was the source of
the luminescence. Light wavered but did not fade. Grunting, Gereb clambered up
and stood undecided. When no more catastrophes occurred he bared fangs, drew his
scimitar and crept forward. As he reached the hole he found something
exceedingly strange. Inside was a spherical room with walls carved as smooth as
glass. Light came from this smooth surface, like reflected moonlight. From where
Gereb crouched he could see no other opening. Senses rattled and mind awhirl, he
moved closer to gain a better view.
terrified howl shattered the silence. Jerking his body backwards, the orc
scuttled and tripped. Rising on shaking feet he turned and fled in blind panic.
For what he had seen lying at the base of the sphere was enough to terrify the
bravest of orcs. Eyes wide he ran and didn’t stop running, and in an instant had
disappeared, footsteps fading into the distance.
sphere was an elf, marvellous and long-lived beings that are the source of much
myth and legend. Though of human proportions, elves are far different. Most
noticeably elvish faces had a distinct silvery sheen as if shaped from the moons
reflection upon a deep mountain lake.
Further, elvish ears were very elegant and styled; as if sculpted by an
artist dissatisfied with the normal variety. As for the way they moved, well, no
human could ever move so lightly and gracefully.
flickered open to reveal sparkling grey eyes flecked with bright spots of light,
like tiny stars. Though innocent and vague at first, they swiftly became sharp
and bright. Those eyes bore the marks of both innocence and wisdom. Within their
depths centuries went marching back with no hint of world-weariness. Only clear
untainted memories glinting with barely held excitement.
particular elf’s name was Fundem Tarralion. If Gereb had known that he may have
dropped dead on the spot! Fundem slowly moved, muscles trembling with the
effort. So many years had he been trapped within prison that his body was
refusing to come to terms with movement. Trapped by sorcery he had been given
the ultimate penalty of imprisonment beneath miles of unmapped rock. His body
had been sustained and held in a type of limbo by the sorcery. His mind remained
alert and sensed keenly the passing of time. Time was the true punishment.
Eventually, it was reasoned by the creators of the spell, a mind could not cope
with the lack of stimuli would be forced to reconcile itself to the truth.
found that his experience differed greatly from what the theorists expected. For
a long time after imprisonment, he could not tell how long, his mind did turn in
on itself and he relived all the moments of his life. Although not all his
actions were perfect he did not condemn himself for past mistakes. In fact he
found within his heart a great compassion both for himself and others. Mistakes
had been made and he had sought to learn from them. The reflections actually
forced him to realise what he had made of himself. He was not disappointed.
indeterminate time, things had changed. His mind began to both expand and narrow
at the same time. He could remember thinking that surely a hundred years had
passed and that he would be released soon. The liberation never came and without
a reference to time he had no knowing whether he had been incarcerated for one
year or ten thousand.
mind began drifting and seeing other realities. Whether his visions reflected
reality he could not tell. Many strange and wondrous things he witnessed.
Whether these places were real or just an illusion was impossible to tell. He
seemed to float from one world to the next, each stranger than the last. Some he
seemed to be able to choose and others he was taken to. At times he almost
understood yet this feeling was fleeting and could never be recaptured.
He tried to work out how long he may have
been imprisoned yet time had been meaningless. Some of his visions could have
lasted a hundred years and he would not have known. Some had been beautiful
beyond imagination. Others had been more terrible than the worst of nightmares.
He had remembered being saddened with grief, joyous with laughter, tremblingly
fearful and frightfully angry. Somehow he felt he had been changed by these
experiences, that he was not the same person he had been in the past. Yet he
could not put a finger on these changes. He felt the same yet also reborn.
The elf was clothed in black trousers and a sky blue shirt of fine tailoring.
Over this he wore a long, dark overcoat of very peculiar material. It seemed to
change colours appearing dark green one moment and deep brown the next. It was a
magical coat, once owned by the great elf king Lideon. Made in Elvenestra it
provided both protection and secret storage pockets that were much larger than
About Fundem’s waist was an intricately wrought golden belt studded with sombre
rubies, brilliant diamonds and frivolous sapphires. They seemed to glow in their
own light and were indeed magical gems. They stored magic the way plants
absorbed sunlight. Hanging from a chain about his neck was a dainty little
dagger about three inches long. A small cross-guard had two diamonds clasped at
either end in tiny golden lion’s claws.
still sitting in the smooth sphere, looked towards the dark, seared hole. Around
him luminescence was slowly dimming. As Fundem peered out of the sphere his
vision shifted perception. Similar to orcs, he too could see without any natural
light. Outside dark patterns of deep purple and burgundy evidenced the utter
lack of life. Silence ruled supreme, windless and oppressive.
his head with elegant fingers the elf pondered what fortune had brought him.
Most assuredly luck had intervened in a most opportune way. The ancient spell
that had entombed him had been designed for permanence. From the ragged look of
the tunnel he could only assume that his unfortunate rescuers had been mining
some type of ore. That they had perished he had no doubt for the pent up power
released must have been enormous.
Fundem leapt from his erstwhile prison and into the tunnel. The chilly air went
unheeded as long unused muscles rejoiced in freedom. Then he caught an
unmistakable odour hanging in the air and his eyes blazed in anger.
thought, and not long gone at that.
In a flash
he plucked the dainty dagger free from a clasp that held it on the chain about
his neck. Holding it before him he spoke in a voice that held both the frivolity
of laughter and the grandeur of a mountains peak.
Iscandar; you are small use to me as a dagger.’
small diamonds twinkled and blue fire twisted sending patterns dancing upon the
walls. Fire spread and built in ferocity. Soon the tunnel was dark no more as
blue light cast back the darkness. Fire engulfed the air before Fundem, seeming
to consume the dagger. Then, suddenly, the fire abated to reveal a magnificent
sword, still gleaming in blue light and graced by twirling flecks of flame. The
pommel and guard remained golden but were of a metal as hard as adamantine with
twin diamonds the size of almonds, star shaped and carved with flawless facets.
The blade was a perfection of mirrored steel, edges gleaming as if sharp enough
to slice rock.
smiled at the familiarity of his sword. Bound to his soul by ancient magic the
elders had feared to remove it. In fact Fundem doubted that they could have
forced him to surrender Iscandar at any rate. He had surrendered to them of his
own free will, out of a refusal to hurt those he loved. The elders held power
unfathomable and may have prevailed in the end yet Fundem was not without the
means to cause havoc.
Fundem had been their champion, a prince of the realm. He had lead glittering
hosts to the darkest realms and had prevailed. He had duelled demons and giants.
None had prevailed against Fundem either by sword of spell. Legends sprang from
his passing even as fear grew rooted in the hearts of his enemies.
Fundem, such glory is fleeting in the grander scheme. In fact pride had been
undermining him at every turn. Someone had used that pride to manoeuvre him into
defeat. Who would have thought the lords capable of imprisoning their own
champion, the heir to the High Kings throne? Fundem, in all his might, was
rendered powerless by his pride.
at Iscandar and smiled wistfully. Once he had bathed in the glory of power. Now
mocking shadows seemed to laugh at his naivety.
With a wry
chuckle Fundem strode forth down the tunnel. Had his lesson been learnt? Only
time would tell.
Gereb ran in
blind panic for a time before finally coming to his senses some way from the
mine. Still quivering with fear he paused and listened for sounds of pursuit.
Elves! Elves! Impossible, he thought. No elf had been seen in these parts beyond
memory. No one he knew had ever seen an elf. The stories would never disappear
though. Their mere look was said to be enough to fry poor orcs where they stood.
tramp of boots made him jump, face turning white. Then from around the corner
came a troop of vaal. They were tall, with pale faces and black cloaks. Gereb at
any other time would have shivered at the sight for they ruled Gereb’s tribe
with an iron fist. Now he leapt for joy. With a smile on his face he went to
greet his masters.
the air again. Yes, the odour was unmistakable; it had to be an orc. Carefully
he followed the trail of smell through the winding tunnels. As he travelled he
realised that the place was like a labyrinth. Many were the crossroads where
passages split or were joined by another. Although he surmised that the orc was
heading the shortest route to reinforcements, still he had no option but to
follow. Without guidance he could wander these tunnels forever.
heard the faint sounds of someone approaching. A grating voice echoed into his
sensitive ears. Fundem quickly retreated to a narrow side passage he had just
passed. As he did Iscandar’s fire dimmed and the sword shrunk back. Fundem lay
upon the cold rock and peeked about the corner.
From down a
rise in the tunnel some distance away a troop of warriors came. In the lead was
a swarthy orc. It was his voice that Fundem heard complaining loudly that he
should not be the one to lead. Even from this distance he could be seen shaking
in fear, eyes darting left and right in terror.
orc marched six vaal striding in aquiline grace. They were of a race long
reviled and greatly feared by all decent folk.
Many were the names people had whispered in hushed voices. Chief among
these was the name Vampire, for blood sustained their deathly souls. Like some
evil folk they had not always been so. Old tales whispered of a dark betrayal
that had cursed an entire race.
tall with manlike proportions, though more gaunt and with six fingers on each
hand. Their faces were long and not unhandsome topped with long black hair tied
in braids. All wore blackened mail and crimson cloaks. Some bore swords and
others long hafted axes. The tallest of the vaal had an ornate rapier strapped
to a polished red gold belt.
beings that Fundem knew well. He had fought against them in a great war when
they had sought to extend their empire to the surface. They were ever denizens
of the underground, dwellers of darkened cities that had never seen the light of
day. Legends told of a loathsome need for blood, which they drank in crystal
glasses like the finest wines; and the vintage they savoured above all others
further down the side passage as the warriors approached. Ducking out of sight
around a sharp bend he waited for them to pass. The scuffle of feet floated down
the passage as they approached. Then, suddenly, it stopped. Fundem cursed
silently. He had hoped that the vaal’s acute sense of smell would be dampened by
orcish stench. His hope was in vain, for he now heard a cautious scuffle coming
directly towards him.
Fundem swiftly retreated
down the next stretch of corridor. To his vexation it ended in a room carved out
of rock. Several piles of rusted iron lay about the abandoned chamber. Once it
was probably a guardroom, though to guard from what was knowledge lost in the
mists of time. Fundem gazed at the sombre walls, realising he was trapped.
There was no way out.