“This is my worst nightmare.” The constable muttered as he walked up to the massive oak door, two men-at-arms flanking him, their pole axes adorned with flowing purple and green silk flags, hand embroidered with the Earl of Vladhaven's Crest.
The crisp autumn wind was biting into them as the sun burned orange and lavender, setting behind the jagged peaks of the Dagiss mountain range. Drawing in a tired breath, he darted an anxious look at the guards before grabbing the lion head, iron door knocker.
THUNK! THUNK! THUNK!
The sounds echoed through the stone and wood bones of merchant Wenestra's opulent chateau. The peep hole on the door slid open, a pair of young green hazel eyes appeared, framed in curly raven tresses.
“My lady wants to know who is requesting her at this late hour.” The young woman's voice was laced with purpose.
The constable produced a worn copper badge. “Tell Mrs. Wenestra it is Constable Turnberry and our business is urgent.”
The giant door opened into a great room, the men bowed as they entered. The constable removed his plumed cap, his sentries took up positions on either side of the door. The house hand glided down a hall, the oil lamps flickered around the room, the shadows of the imported furniture dancing.
“Constable Turnberry, what brings you here at this hour?” A middle aged woman with an iron gray pony tail flowing down her dress, appeared from a side door and nodded.
“It's about Amelia.”
“Oh, wonderful! Where did you find her, she rarely stays away from home this long.”
“I'm sorry Madame.” The mournful look on the constable's face as he fought back his emotions told a tale she didn't want to hear. The flood of grief was too much, Amelia was the only child of her only child. Her daughter was taken from her by Amelia's very birthing.
After the maid rushed in to prevent her from collapsing, and the sobs had subsided, she dared ask it. “Where did you find her, what happened? I want to see her.”
“I'm afraid you can't do that yet, the doctor is examining her remains. We knew it was your granddaughter, because her ring bore the symbol of the Wenestra Trade Company.” The constable heaved in a breath, clutching his cap between his hands in front of his portly frame. “A significant portion of her body was missing, we believe devoured, by.....something.” The words echoed into the room, a look of shock consumed the woman's face as she clasped a hand over her open mouth.
“We will contact your family after the examination to allow for her final arrangements. I'm sorry Madame.” The constable motioned to the guards and placed his cap on his head as he passed through the door heading back into the dark streets of Vladhaven.
* * *
“What brings you to Dagiss Mountains, trader?” The dark elf guard unsheathed his long sword and blocked the entrance to the cave.
“I need the services of an assassin, your kind does that better than mine.” The merchant, Mr. Wenestra idly foiled the pommel of an ornate, bejeweled dagger on his belt; procured from one of his forays around the world.
“100 silver talents for our services seems like a fair price. I know a weapon trained sorceress named Dominia that can handle any adventure.”
“A female DROW! I need a warrior not a girl to defeat a beast.”
“Careful with your words human, we haven't been called that for a hundred years, not since we were banished to these rocks. Our girls as you call them are better archers and what they lack in arm strength they make up in magic.”
“The one I need must have the gift of extra sight.” The merchant pointed three fingers to his face. “I know some elves can see the true nature of things.” The dark elf's red eyes narrowed, lacking pupils and irises, the merchant was staring into pools of dark rich blood.
“Not all of us do, but Dominia is also a seer. I will summon her.” Two more sentries appeared at the mouth of the cave. The ebony skinned elf disappeared into the darkness. Night vision from the subterranean life eliminated the need for dark elves to use crude torches and oil lamps. The guards began chattering in their native tongue as the merchant paced.
Within a few minutes the elf returned with a fierce warrior. Her skin was darker than the night sky, her silver hair cropped short. She had a hickory long bow and leather quiver full of arrows slung over a taut muscular frame. Her torso was covered in a dark blue tunic weaved from an iridescent material that shimmered in the morning sunlight.
“Is it true a hybrid of human and spider weaves your cloth?” Mr. Wenestra unabashedly allowed his eyes to wander up and down the dark elf's body.
“What you know of us wouldn't fill a thimble. If you need a killer I have drawn more than my first blood. You can pay my family the 100 talents of silver after my work is done.” Dominia lifted her chin and stared back, unwavering.
“The killer always returns to the sight of the murder to relive it. Here is a map to the place where we found the body. We believe there is a shapeshifter among us with a taste for the blood of mortals. I am aware you have a complicated history with these......creatures.” His words caused the dark elves to stop talking and turn to him in silence.
“Wait, human, you said beast, not shapeshifter, I'm afraid I can't...”
“It's alright. I am up to the task, but the price is 200 silver talents, I will need more to destroy a magical creature like that.” Dominia turned and began a heated conversation with the other elves. Frustration was apparent in the tone of the men's voices. Dominia turned and spoke. “They always strike during the new moon. I will be in your village 28 nights from now.”
“Here is a talisman. If you are stopped by the night guard show them this and they won't hinder you.” The merchant tossed a gold bracelet adorned with green emeralds to the dark elf and hopped on his horse for the trip back down the switchbacks of the hillside to Vladhaven.
* * *
“How are you brother?” Drakkar pulled his half brother into a full embrace.
“I am doing well, how was the harvest feast the other night? Sorry I couldn't be there, since your little nephews came along, the Duchess and I have changed our priorities. A royal party doesn't fit well with early bedtimes.” As a Duke, Dorian was sometimes relieved that he was second to the throne. Drakkar's endless complaining about civic duties could take a gallon of mead to digest.
“The feast was a smashing success. The friar got so drunk he was dancing with Gimlee.”
“Gimlee? The bard? I would've liked to bear witness to that.”
“It was a sight. On a more serious note, have you located the Daggoth Family Tome?”
“I, Uh, no. To be blunt. Why do you think it is in the Duke's Manor? We have only lived there for the year that Mom has been gone. Why do you want to read a boring old language book like that anyway?” Dorian's scoffing didn't deter his brother.
“Before Mom died she said reading it would help me understand what happened to my father. As the Earl of Vladhaven I feel like I should at least know the history, our history.”
“I thought that after your father died she told you everything.” Dorian was getting nervous.
“I'm serious. I don't want to tell you this, but I woke up the other night, in a cold sweat. My dreams were a jumbled mess of violence.” There was a hint of shame in his voice. “I felt different somehow. I felt this surge, like fire in my veins.” An uncomfortable pause turned up the tension. Drakkar was brooding, the lamplight glimmering in his eyes.
“Well I just stopped in to say hello. I was on my way home from the Commons House after a late meeting with the council and I wanted to see how you were doing. With Mom gone, I.....well, I worry about you.” Dorian gave Drakkar's shoulder a quick squeeze and headed out into the night.
The thought kept pestering him. He knew where the tome was. He had taken it from Drakkar's new home at the Earl's Keep and hidden it in his manor under the direction of a trusted servant of their mother. He would retrieve it from the safe after everyone was in bed. Dorian avoided reading it for the last year, Mom's servant had been released following her death. Before the servant left, he told Dorian that he would know the right time to read it.
After tucking the boys into bed and kissing the Duchess goodnight, Dorian settled into the reading chair in the map room. The Daggoth Family Tome, it's antique leather binding worn and tattered, rested on his lap. Opening to the bookmark their mother had left, the flickering candle brought the ancient ink to life.
In the Century of the Chimera, the Army of Vladhaven led by the Knights of the Royal Family of Daggoth battled the hoards of Drow Elves to an impasse at the foot of the Dagiss Mountains. Their armies were massed upon the contested border when the royal family summoned a Warlock named Gandahar to turn the tide of the battle. Gandahar was paid a king's ransom. He was an arch nemesis to any of what he called the sub-races consisting of elves, dwarves and orcs.
His magic forged an alliance with the demon lord Mephistopheles and the spell he cast destroyed all the animals and vegetation of the Dagiss Mountains and forced the elven army to tunnel into the caves and hills to live on fungus and crayfish, eating spiders and insects. In retaliation, the Drow Elf High Priestess Lloth cast a counter spell and cursed the Daggoth family bloodline with lycanthropy, an insatiable disease that would transform their offspring into beasts and monsters.
Dorian slowly closed the book and stared into the candle on his smoking table. 'He is the only true heir to the throne.' Mom's words crept into his mind. She used to say it with a knowing sardonic smile on her face. Dorian's father was a blacksmith, a commoner mother plucked from obscurity after Drakkar's father passed.
He was more bothered by his brother's words now. 'It is a tragic life.' She would say. 'Nothing a regular mortal would put up with.' Her haunting words floated in his head. Blowing out the candle, Dorian wondered if he would sleep tonight.
* * *
“It's made of pure adamantium, pick it up.” The elven high priestess unfolded the dark silky cloth on the altar and revealed a large dagger with an unusual wavy blade. “It's called a kris blade, the metal can only be mined in the Dagiss Mountains.”
“What is so special about it.” Dominia picked it up and felt a supernatural surge of strength in her arm.
“Its name is Demon Slayer.” The priestess grabbed Dominia's hand and turned the blade into her chest and pressed the tip of the blade in the flesh over her heart. The blade vibrated and began glowing red. “It senses the darkness in you Dominia!”
She tore away from the high priestess' grip and turned on her. “How dare you!” Her red eyes glowed in communion with the dagger, her raised voice emptied into the lofty underground chapel.
“That's good Dominia, connect with that anger, you will need all of it and more. This is no slobbering orc you are about to fight, you may have first blood, but a shapeshifter that has fed on humans has the strength of an army of orcs.” The high priestess' laugh echoed through the cavernous hall as she clapped her hands, a white light blinded Dominia and she awoke curled on a rock at the base of the Dagiss Mountains.
She was a day's journey from Vladhaven. Reaching into her pack, the dagger was there in the silky cloth, next to it a flask of water, some dried food, and the map the merchant had given her a moon cycle ago. Pulling out the crude map she established her bearings. She would follow the Stygian River to the walls of Vladhaven.
Walking along the river bank, the sights were a rare treat for a subterranean elf. The butterflies and beetles, swirled and buzzed around clumps of flowering plants whose curling brown leaves and desiccated flowers hinted at the coming of winter. The brisk wind was rustling the trees and their splashes of orange and yellow. The gurgling stream, winding its way through moss covered rocks calmed Dominia's nerves.
The walls of the village came into view. The sprawling rock wall of the compound was surrounded by vast agricultural plains, dotted with villagers and beasts of burden bringing in the harvest. Dominia found a cluster of oak trees to sit under and reached into her pack for the water and rations. She would need her strength. After the meal she decided to sit in quiet meditation and wait for nightfall.
When she opened her eyes, the landscape was bathed in a silver glow, her night vision allowed even the slightest signature of light or heat to emanate like everything was on fire. She would need to stay in the darkest shadows of the city to maintain her advantage.
Pulling up her hood she approached the gates of Vladhaven; passing the guards she raised her sleeve to reveal the bracelet the merchant had given her.
“Carry on.” The nightwatchman waved her through the gate with a hand gesture, she hurried her pace.
The site of the murder was just past the Monastery on the way to the Earl's Keep, slipping through the alleys of the buildings and empty streets, the lack of moonlight made her a shadow. She spotted a well on a small hill near the scene of the crime, with a low brick wall to conceal her, she could fire her arrows from there into the thicket where the girl was killed.
She felt a warmth radiating from the dagger. Pulling it out of the pack it was glowing red again, pulsing. Taking the bow from her shoulder, she arranged a few arrows within reach and waited.
The seconds ticked off, her heart beat faster in unison with the Demon Slayer as it glowed brighter and brighter. The witching hour was nigh. Extra sensory perception was taking over, her vision shifted from reality to the mystical.
A loud snort from the stand of trees startled her. Peeking around the brick wall of the well, she saw what looked like a dire wolf, but with human limbs. Grotesque digits with giant eagle claws, dug into the ground as it sniffed with a long snout baring teeth that were glowing like white hot irons.
She grabbed an arrow and nocked it in her trusted long bow. Drawing the bowstring back, she aimed for the heart, just to the right of the closest front leg. Holding her breath she let go the arrow. With a loud THWACK! It glanced off the chest bones and buried in the creature's hind leg. The curdling howl it let loose, shook the surroundings. With the agility of a large cat, it turned and bounded 20 meters in less than a second. Launching its body at the elf, she had enough time to release one more arrow. Her second arrow pierced the beast's gut as it slammed into her, bowling her over and knocking the bow from her grasp.
Regaining her balance she scrambled around reaching for the dagger, the Demon Slayer was glowing like the day it was forged. The monster had rolled back onto its feet with the dexterity of a human and yanked each of the arrows from its flesh, now towering over the elf. Dominia held the kris dagger with a grip of death and jumped to a crouched position.
It leaped down on her with all its weight, knocking her back, its gnashing teeth aiming to rip out her throat. She plunged the blade to the hilt into its chest, cleaving the heart in two. The weight of the creature collapsed on top of her, its mouth dripping saliva onto her face as its last hot breath escaped into the cold night air.
Rolling it off of her, she could now see the monster's true form. There lying naked and dead was the body of Drakkar Daggoth, The Earl of Vladhaven.