Authors: Richard Poche
WHEN ELVES DIE
To Jim and Rick
and rainy days of rolling twenty
Special thanks to my editor, Brian
Kaufman, for helping guide a rookie through his first
His black horse seized up the moment they came upon
the orange flames which flickered against the snowfall. Three tents
stood beyond the chromatic hues of the fire, the largest one in the
center covered a stage.
He snapped on the reins and trotted across the
desolate landscape. His horse moved with his body, the longer they
rode together the more the animal became an extension of his mind.
The horse knew instinctively when his rider wanted to turn right or
left. When to speed up or slow down.
Tholan stood shorter than most other barbarians. He
grew his hair long while most other fighters in the region shaved
their heads bald. Tholan made up for his lack of size with
tenacity. He always overwhelmed his foes with unmatched speed and
The fire started to die down and he dismounted. One
of the tent poles fell over and the tattered tarp revealed several
dead bodies. He recognized the deceased as elves with their pointed
ears and diminutive bodies. But some had their ears either ripped
or bitten off. All had their throats torn open, with a circle of
blood in the snow as their final resting place.
Crude stigmata signs were scratched into some of
their foreheads. Pentagram symbols with the letter “K” cut into the
center. With dead corpses everywhere he stepped, his boots crunched
down on the charred remains of an elf whose tongue dangled from his
mouth. Another lay with a broken off spear stuck in his chest.
With the grace of a lion, he threaded his way to the
stage platform. Four bodies were sprawled out, like a child's
forgotten toys. One of the elves clutched a strum guitar. Another
hunched backward over a drum set with wooden sticks impaled in both
eyes. A singer with her throat ripped open lay on the stage front.
Her skin a translucent white, she had been drained of blood.
Sobbing sounds turned him around. About twenty feet away, a woman
nested her head on the chest of a dead girl. Her cries rose and
then lowered in intensity as he approached. He thought her too tall
to be an elf. As he got closer, his eyes turned to the source of
her grief. The dead girl's skin had the same pale, blood-drained
look as the others.
“What happened?” he asked.
The woman turned around slowly. She gazed at him
with unblinking eyes that shined with tears. After a few moments of
silence, she returned her attention back to the dead girl.
“We were having a service,” she said finally. “They
came upon us so fast. The Killtooths.”
He always thought the Killtooths were a mythical
creation. Supposedly they were a breed of elves that fed on the
blood of other elves.
“We thought we had killed them all last year. They
stayed in the caves up in Shaian. You have to kill them in the
summer when they go into hibernation. There must have been another
group. Another colony that we missed. I had no idea they could make
it this far out.”
She nodded her head.
“She was my heart. That's what she was.”
The woman kissed the girl on the forehead.
“Come back to me,” she whispered.
“The rest of you. You're from the same church?”
“My husband is...Was Diorman,” she pointed to an elf
on the ground who had bloodied stumps for arms.
He had heard of Diorman. One of the leaders of the
church that worshiped the God Pegasin.
Come back to me, Iriedove” she
whispered to the girl again.
“How did you survive?”
“I went to the woods,” she pointed back at the vast
expanse of trees. “I had to pee. I heard screaming and when I came
back it was pure chaos. I tried to find my daughter but I couldn't
with all the elves running and screaming and...the Killtooths
attacking. So I played dead. I laid down next to a group of dead
elves. They found me anyway but...They don't drink human
Looking back down at her daughter, she started to
clean the blood off the girl's face.
“She was always teased for being a half-breed. But
she was the most beautiful girl in the village.”
“She's very beautiful.”
“And she loved to sing. Songs of worship.”
The woman placed her head on the dead girl's chest
again. Her mouth distorted into a bitter smile.
“When a human is bitten by a Killtooth they turn
into...they come back to life as one of them. Maybe she'll come
back. Maybe because she's a half-breed, she'll come back.”
“If she does come back. She's won't be human. Or elf
She shot him an icy glare. Then she looked up at the
“Lord Pegasin,” she cried out. “Why have you allowed
this to happen? We have been good. We are a faithful people. We are
a peaceful people. We have spent our entire lives worshiping you.
Singing to you. Praising you. And yet, you allowed this to
He looked at the young dead girl. Her blouse had
been ripped away, only the torn sleeves remained. There were
bloodied hand prints along her breasts and thighs. Dried mascara
tears streaked her face and trailed down her nude body.
“Do you think I can live on with these memories?”
she raged with her fists clenched. “Why don't you just kill me? I
don't want to live....I don't want to live anymore. How could you
allow this? We worshiped you!”
She ripped off a medallion that suspended from her
neck on a leather cord. Throwing the religious symbol on the
ground, she spat on it then looked to the sky with hate in her
Tholan looked up at the heavens himself. Some fast
moving clouds were coming in from the east. The winds were starting
to pick up and he could feel the temperature getting colder.
“We really don't have time to give your daughter a
proper burial. The snow will cover her body. Protect it from
His voice trailed off. He did not want to bring up
the topic of scavenger forest animals digesting what remained of
her loved ones.
“I have no place to go,” she said. “We were supposed
to go to the next village and set up a revival. I have nowhere to
go and nothing to live for. My husband is gone. My daughter is
gone. I have nothing now.”
The woman turned her back to the Barbarian.
With nothing more to say, he started to walk
“Wait,” she said.
Tholan kept walking. He did not want further
“I know who you are.” The woman's face now a picture
of delirious hope. “You are Tholan the Feared. You are an assassin
“How do you know?” Tholan stopped in place, now
“I remember you. Our village elders hired you four
or five years ago. We had a chief in our town that was abusing our
people. He was a brutal man. They hired you to take care of him.
His name was Rodius.”
“Rodius,” he said. “Yes. I remember.”
“I have thought of you for many a night since then.
How you saved the day when no one else would.”
“Because they paid me.”
“I have no money,” she said.
Tholan turned back around. He called his horse over
and mounted the animal.
“But I can offer my body.”
“In exchange for what?” Tholan dropped off the
“I want you to go to the caves of Shaian and kill
the lot of them.”
Tholan paused for a beat as he looked over at the
“We could set fire to the rest of the bodies,” he
said. “Otherwise carrion will come and feed on what is left of
“There's nothing left of me!”
The woman twirled around in a pirouette of
“I cannot help you,” he said as he turned his back
toward her once again.
Her bloodcurdling scream startled him as it reached
a volume he would never have expected. Nor did he expect her to be
racing toward him at supernatural speed.
Her jaws snapped at him, saliva dripping from her
fangs. Holding her back by her shoulders, he could see the bite
marks on her neck.
Unable to get close enough to bite him, she spat
into his face.
Her sputum burned like acid. He pushed her hard and
she fell on her back. Screaming like a psychotic banshee, she
bolted back up and attacked again.
He half-hoped that by taking out his long sword she
would back down.
Screaming, she kept coming. He pierced her heart
with one upward stroke.
Her face, which looked so demonic an instant
earlier, faded into a serene calm. Her black eyes turned back into
a slate blue.
Tholan extracted his blade and laid the dead woman
on the ground.
He broke his own code. He only killed for money.
Tholan took another look at the dead bodies. He
noticed that a lot of them still had their purses and money bags. A
small bounty there for the taking.
He decided against sifting through the valuables of
the dead. Already tardy, he did not want to anger his new
Ravalynn. The Dark Queen.
He couldn't help but look back at the dead elves
again as he left. A group of friends and family that lived
together, ate together and worshiped together. Now they died
together. He wondered what it would be like to belong to a
community of people, whether it be elves or humans. To have people
to whom his life mattered and would avenge him if he were
He reminded himself that he did not make it this far
by having compassion and clemency. Sentimentality is for the weak,
he told himself. Friendship is for the weak.
The weak and the dead.
That is how he earned the name Tholan the Feared.
The solitary figure coming down the mountain with a sword in
The assassin of the snow.
Xavian waved his dagger around and stabbed at an
imaginary dragon. His battle-cry filled the air as he somersaulted
off the top of the wagon. Short and slender, Xavian had a mop of
brown curly hair that invariably got into his eyes. His
non-imposing physique aside, Xavian dreamed of fighting legendary
battles and having his fellow elves speak of his exploits in hushed
tones of reverence.
“Unhand that damsel, you beast!” Xavian pointed his
knife at the large, sleeping wolf.
Jamben opened one eye and his tail thumped the
ground in annoyance. Not amused by the young elf's antics, he
rolled over and went back to sleep.
“I said unhand her or you shall suffer a most
humiliating defeat!” Xavian went through a series of movements,
pantomiming blocks with his dagger as he pirouetted away from an
imaginary enemy's strikes.
“Careful there, Big Bad Barbarian,” said Zinna.
She had long legs for an elf. Her light brown hair,
partially covered with a headband, fell all the way down to her
waist. Her eyes were bright green and sparkled with mischief. Only
two summers older than Xavian, she joked that they were centuries
apart when it came to maturity.
“That dagger might hit your legs,” she laughed. “And
then people will think that you cut yourself shaving.”
Xavian jumped back atop the wagon and swung the
“How dare you mock Xavian the
Brave!” he said, puffing out his chest
I may come back and save you one
day. Save the town of Graceonna and the entire tribe of elves. I
will then gladly accept your tithings, your praise and your young
damsels. One day. Yes, one day, I will save all of you. Just
He somersaulted again from the top of the wagon and
landed on his feet, swinging the dagger around. But he misjudged
his momentum and fell face first into the dirt.
“Sorry, buddy.” Zinna howled with
laughter. “But you have a
way to go.”
Xavian got up and dusted himself off. Then he looked
to the left to make sure Kelroar didn't see him. He would never
want to be embarrassed in front of his mentor. The man and warrior
he had so much wanted to be like.
But Kelroar no longer stood in front of the church.
Zinna noticed Xavian's concern and followed his eyeline to the
“Where did he go?”
“I think he went inside,” said Xavian. “You know. It
is confidential stuff they're talking about.”
“Maybe he'll leave us,” Zinna said. “Why should he
be burdened with two orphaned thieves.”
“He won't leave us. He's a man of his word. What he
says, he does.”
“But he never says much.”
“He's probably talking about strategy, getting more
information from the church elders. That's what adventurers do.
Warriors don't go into the wilderness blind. Kelroar will figure
out the best strategy, prepare and then complete the mission.”
“You talk about him as if he can do no wrong. He
wants to go to the mountains. The Wilmorn Mountains, no less, and
find some crazy ass cleric that has disappeared. Who cares? This
tribe can do with one less holy man ranting and raving about
“This is not just any cleric. It is Zanfire the
“I don’t believe in any of that stuff,” Zinna
“He has healed the sick, cured the blind, and made
cripples get up and dance! And if Kelroar thinks he is worth
finding and saving, so be it.”
“No man or elf has a direct line to the Gods. That
includes Zanfire and whoever else.”
“I've heard him speak. His words touched my heart
and stoked my warrior spirit. He inspired me to become a hero to
the elves that I'm destined to be.”
Zinna stuck her finger in her mouth and pretended to
A group of four teenagers, all dressed in ragged
tunics came up to the wagon. They stroked the marble siding and
marveled at the posh looking interior with silk cushions.
“You never seen a wagon before?” Zinna asked.
“Are you guys with Kelroar the Champion?” the
smallest of the teens asked.
“Why yes. And you can talk to that guy to join his
fan club.” Zinna nodded over at Xavian.
“You guys work for him?”
him,” Xavian said,
sticking his chest out. “Call it an apprenticeship.”
“Yeah? What's so special about you?”
“Kelroar is an excellent judge of character. He saw
something in me that he saw in himself many years ago.”
One of the teens reached down and tried to pet the
wolf. Jamben greeted the gesture with a guttural growl.
“Don't do that. Jamben doesn't like to be petted
like a dog. He's a soldier on duty. You show him respect.” Xavian
bowed in the direction of the wolf.
Zinna rolled her eyes.
“We heard Kelroar was half-man, half-wolf,” the
smallest one asked. “We saw him walk into the church with the
elders. Can't really tell from far away.”
“Can't tell what?” Zinna asked.
“If he has, you know, wolf qualities.”
“Your grasp on history is correct,” chimed in
Xavian. “A sorcerer named Davroar conjured him up. Used a dead
barbarian and a dead wolf and cast a spell to fuse their fighting
spirits together. He wanted to create a master race of fighters. A
tribe of warriors with the intelligence of man and the ferocity of
a wolf. Or maybe it was the other way around. I forgot.”
Finally the biggest of the bunch chimed in: “So
what, does his shit get stuck to his ass because of his fur?”
The four boys laughed until they saw Kelroar exit
“Why don't you guys try asking him yourself?”
The teens scattered in different directions as they
saw the large warrior trudging straight toward them.
“You shouldn't brag so much,” Zinna whispered.
“Kelroar said to lay low, so we lay low. Here you are showing off
every time you get an audience.”
“I can't help it. I have plenty to brag about. I was
an orphan, a thief, a nobody. Now that I am with Kelroar, I am
somebody. If it weren't for him, I'd be dead. And this whole
village would be slaves under Dark Queen rule. Or maybe something
worse. Maybe killed by dragons. Or captured by humans for use in a
carnival. They'd throw us in pit with wild orcs and watch us get
ripped apart for their entertainment.”
“I wish I was a part of his entertainment,” Zinna
said as Kelroar approached with the cleric Ricmorn. Kelroar's
muscular arms popped from under his sleeveless armor.
“He's a warrior and a champion,” Xavian said. “He's
above that sort of thing.”
“No man is above this sort of thing,” Zinna offered
as she lowered her blouse to show off her cleavage.
Xavian went into a mock stare.
“That's a weakness I'm working on myself,” he said
as she punched him in the arm.
Ricmorn carried a large brown satchel and walked
with a hitch in his step. A light blue hood covered his bald head
and he did not have any eyebrows. His gray eyes peeked like slits
from their puffy chambers as he appraised the young duo.
“Watch,” whispered Zinna as she anticipated what the
two men would say to them. “We're going to have to go through the
mountains of Wilmorn and rescue some half-baked cleric who has
probably been eaten by dragons by now.”
“Sounds fun to me,” Xavian said. “I mean where else
do you have to go? You can work in a tavern and slave over tables
or you can have adventure!”
“Who do we have here?” Ricmorn extended his hand
“Xavian the Brave”, said the young elf whose facial
expression quickly changed from a smile to a frown as he felt the
sweaty palm of the cleric.
“And what is this?” Ricmorn stared at Zinna’s
breasts without shame.
“I'm Zinna,” she said, looking over at Xavian as if
to say 'see what I mean?'
“Do exercise the utmost of caution,” said Ricmorn,
snapping out of his lustful train of thought. “The mountains of
Wilmorn are filled with all kinds of treachery and danger. Some are
legends and myth. Others are all too real. There are thieves. Orcs.
Crazed hermits and sorcerers. But you are in good hands with
“Thank you,” Kelroar said.
“Inside you'll find various meats,” Ricmorn heaved
the satchel onto the wagon. “Beef and boar. You have quite a trip
ahead and you'll need plenty of nourishment. There is wild boar the
further up you go and they should suffice nicely if you run out of
Kelroar took his seat atop the wagon. He reached
over and grasped the reins on the stallions.
Ricmorn turned his attention from the young people
back to the barbarian.
“I pray that you find our brother. I pray that he is
okay. The Lord Pegasin will bestow his blessings upon you.”
Kelroar looked to his young charges.
“Let's go,” he said.
The two teens climbed into the wagon. Kelroar
snapped on the reins and the horses galloped forward.
“You will do the tribe of Kevfire proud!” Ricmorn
Jamben jolted up, yawned, and followed the
The chalk colored castle looked like a tombstone in
the sky. Tholan knew what it looked like from his nightmare. That
is what unnerved him about this job. For all his warrior code and
ethos, supernatural elements gave him pause because he had such
limited exposure to it.
How could Ravalynn communicate with him
telepathically? She appeared to him in a dream, telling him of the
pain she saw in his eyes. A pain she understood.
He heard of the Dark Queen's legend. How she could
find you in your thoughts. Expose secrets that you did not know you
“You have nothing to fear from me,” she said,
wearing nothing but a snake around her neck. “Unless you fear
He awoke in a cold sweat.
“Magic,” he whispered to himself. “Damn it all to
Directions to her castle sat on his bedside table.
The Dark Queen required his service.
Tholan found the quiet of the forest unsettling.
There were no sounds of insects, birds, or other animals which
would lessen his sense of foreboding. A haunting silence surrounded
him. Even the wind had no noise as it brushed over the grass and
Tethering his horse to a pole, he approached the
castle. The main gates were decorated with carvings of goblins
attacking elves. Large torches fired up instantly as he stepped
closer. The flames lit up knockers made of onyx stone. They were
carved in the shape of a crow's head.
Tholan reached for the knocker but the gates opened
on their own. He could feel someone watching him. He looked at the
windows and saw only darkness.
An old lady appeared to greet him. Wearing all black
with a veil over her face, she shuffled forward in small steps.
Tholan saw that her veil concealed a rotting
travesty of warts and boils. At least one hundred summers old, the
woman moved feebly but with purpose. Candlelight from the wall
reflected in her eyes.
Eyes that had the patience of the dead.
“Tholan the Hunter?” Her voice rasped like sandpaper
“The Dark Queen requires that you remove all
weaponry before you enter her chambers. It is for her safety.”
“Unfortunately, I cannot comply,” he said. “Tholan
does not unarm himself... for his own safety.”
He heard the sound of nails scraping on stone. There
were two tiers in the castle foyer. Killtooths emerged on the
second level, surrounding him. With yellow eyes full of malice,
they looked ready to pounce with jaws filled with sharp teeth. They
had lizard like wings attached from their elbows to their waist.
Tholan counted twenty of them but he could take them all on if need
As long as he had his weapons.
“There's more of them,” the old lady said. “In case
“I came here in good faith,” said Tholan. “From far
away. Too bad we cannot do business.”
Tholan turned back around. Before he could take one
step, the old lady appeared in front of him.
“The Dark Queen means you no disrespect,” she said.
“But please reconsider. Fifty thousand gold pieces. It is just our
rule. That no one be armed in her presence. We have had, shall we
“Fifty thousand?” asked Tholan.
The old lady lifted up a satchel. She reached inside
and dropped some of the coins to the floor.
The gold pieces shined in the darkness.
“You will have no incident here,” he said.
Tholan removed his sword from its sheath and a
dagger from his boot, laying them on the ground.
“Anything else?” she asked.
“No,” he replied.
“Hold your arms out please.”
Tholan paused for a few seconds and then
“Sorry, but we have to be sure.”
The old lady frisked his body with agonizing
slowness. Her icy fingers moved across his belly, thighs and
buttocks. He stiffened as he felt her scarred and calloused hands
move across his groin.
“You are one built barbarian,” she hissed. “Ravalynn
always had exquisite taste.”
Satisfied, she walked ahead of Tholan. He followed
warily, keeping an eye on the Killtooths who were watching his
every move. One of them spat in his direction. The others shrieked
The old lady inserted a large skeleton key into the
lock, turned it six times, then opened the door. She stepped aside
as Tholan entered the private chamber. It had a large window in the
back with a slab table in the center.
The door slammed shut behind him.
Tholan walked through the chamber listening to the
echo of his boots. A large vase sat in the center of the room. Made
of marble, it stood about seven feet tall.
“The biggest urn you've ever seen right?”
Ravalynn emerged from the darkness. She had the kind
of body men often dream about but never see. Wearing a dark blue
dress, her ample cleavage covered only by a necklace of marble
pendants. Her jet black hair took on a purple hue when she stepped
into the moonlight.
“I collected the ashes of my soldiers that were
killed by the elves last summer. The elves of Kevfire. They came
into my caves. Torched my creations.”
“You eat them for dinner,” Tholan said. “They are
“Whose side are you on?” Ravalynn said.
He felt her eyes penetrate into his thoughts. His
“The side that pays me.”
“And you took your damn sweet time to get here. You
were supposed to be here days ago.”
“There was a blizzard. I had to camp and wait it
out. And I saw the end result of your last siege. Your creations
devoured a group of missionaries. I can only guess they were of the
“Indeed,” the Dark Queen said. “And you will assist
me in exterminating their race.”
The Dark Queen led Tholan into a chamber lit only by
a wall-mounted candelabra.
A large onyx colored, liquid filled sphere stood at
the center of the room.
She waved her hand in a circular motion over the
sphere. The liquid inside the globe vortexed into a kaleidoscope of
dark colors; black, purple and dark blue.
Tholan shuddered as the liquid coalesced into a view
of the mission camp massacre he stumbled upon earlier.
He saw the body of the woman he killed. Hyenas and
ravens picked the flesh away from her snow covered limbs.
“You showed mercy,” the Dark Queen said. “You were
instructed to leave no witnesses-”
“I killed the only survivor.”
“Only after she attacked you,”
Tholan watched as that scene replayed on the
“She had suffered enough.”
“You showed compassion,” Ravalynn said. “The Tholan
of a few years ago would have never entertained such thoughts. A
barbarian that embraces pity?”
She wiped her hand across the globe again. The
sphere vortexed into a purple liquid before coalescing into a scene
from a burning village. Tholan recognized his younger self in the
scene. He sliced down elf after elf with sword and dagger. The
screams of his victims grew in volume from the sphere as it
replayed various events from Tholan's barbaric past.
“This is you at your best.”
Tholan's lips parted as if he were about to say
something but the words did not come. He could only watch in awe at
his ferocious younger self.
“I have seen a great many hunters and killers,” the
Dark Queen said. “No one in history has had your resolve, tenacity
and ruthlessness. Yet you changed over time. The thrill of your
kills was replaced by a bottomless need for money. You didn't
realize that it was this lack of need that made you powerful. You
took what you wanted but then reduced yourself to a man who only
needed. You became...a servant. A servant to the highest
Tholan turned his back on the sphere as it replayed
scenes from his dealings with rich men. He became their hired help.
Their slave labor.
Cries of agony grew louder from the globe. He
covered his ears with the palms of his hands. Convinced that his
senses were playing tricks on him, he closed his eyes as tightly as
“You can pretend that all of this never happened.
But you can't undo what you did. And you should be proud of all the
pain you inflicted. Why you aren't begs the question. Why weren't
you proud of who you were? What killed the merciless Tholan of the
past? Who killed this great warrior who felt no pity?”
He turned around to look at her. She untied her
dress and the silk cloth made no noise as it fell to the floor.
Light from the candles danced across her bosom as
the Dark Queen approached him out of the shadows. She ran her hand
across his chest as she circled around him like a shark.
“Money makes you weak,” she whispered. “When you
were killing those people...Taking what you wanted...That was real
power... That fear you saw in the eyes of the enemy. Do you
remember what that felt like?”
The Dark Queen turned Tholan's head back toward the
globe. The sphere revealed all the violence he inflicted in his
world as she spoke.
“The power was in the killing of the men who hated
you. The power was in the violation of the women who thought they
were better than you. The burning of villages that never accepted
you. But for some reason, you gave in to their rules. You became an
assassin for hire. A utility for anyone willing to pay your cheap
“What do you want from me?”
“I want to know if the old Tholan is still in
there.” The Dark Queen traced her forefinger around the Barbarian's
heart. “Or was he killed without the use of a sword? That is what
Carella does to the men under her rule.”
“She is the bane of all of your problems,” she said.
“Her rule has been one where the men have become weak. Men who
relinquish their own desires for the sake of women. All you know is
that you need money to gain favor of women. That was the spell she
cast on you.”
“I have never encountered her. Only seen her once or
twice from afar.”
“She doesn't have to meet you to cast her curse. It
was done incrementally. You have the sword. But she and the women
under her rule...Have their beauty.”
The Dark Queen removed her bra and stood before him
with a seductive smirk. Running both hands through her lush black
hair, she twirled around slowly.
Tholan's gaze took in all of her perfection; her
breasts, the diamond piercings hanging from her navel and ears, the
raven tattooed on her lower back.
“Do you see what is happening? Who has the power
now? Your sword? Or my beauty?”
On “beauty” she pressed herself against his
“This is my power,” she whispered into his ear.
Feeling weak, he turned his attention to the globe.
He watched a scene where he took down three barbarians who attacked
him outside a tavern with steel maces and clubs. Tholan broke all
of their necks with his bare hands.
“That was one of the greatest nights of my
“You can become that barbarian again.” The Dark
Queen pulled away from him and ran her hand over the sphere
“This is Carella's castle, Wandacove. It is heavily
fortified, as you might expect. She has the most highly trained
archers at the castle windows.”
The sphere showed bowmen shooting down enemy
invaders from afar.
“Her soldiers are strategically placed around the
castle according to their various skill level. Novices are placed
at the rear but even they can be dangerous. The castle entrance is
blocked by the best wrestlers and swordsmen in the land. Carella
has the best in everything. But with my army at your side we can
defeat them with willpower, fire and hate.”
A spell book appeared in the globe. The book opened
on its own, the handwritten contents fading on tattered brown
“That book is called the Arcanscape,” Ravalynn said,
her voice inflected with a sense of wonder. “It contains spells
that will allow me to create a whole new world. A world where
warriors like you no longer have to slave for dollars. A world of
order where the ruthless eat the weak.”
The Dark Queen waved her hand over the globe.
“And a world where barbarians are duly rewarded,”
The sphere revealed Tholan surrounded by lovely
young women. He sat on a throne of gold while one girl massaged his
shoulders. Another fed him grapes. Three other women performed a
strip tease while two more girls stood on opposite sides of him,
She circled her hand over the globe again. The black
sphere showed a large number of elves descending upon Wandacove. A
lot of them holding candles and appear to be singing a song.
“Every seven years, Carella comes out from the
castle and greets her followers. It is a two day festival of music
and she delivers a sermon. Every elf of the Pegasin religion will
come and make their pilgrimage there. It is then we shall strike.
They will be at their most vulnerable.”
“That's a lot of elves.”
“You take out the soldiers first. Eliminate their
army and the rest of the population will not even raise their
The door opened and the veiled old lady dragged in a
blindfolded, hog-tied elf. He struggled against the woman's grip
but she tossed him in with practiced ease.
The elf scrambled to get up. He rolled and shifted
his body sideways. Somehow, he managed to stand up on his knees as
the old lady ripped the blindfold off.
The elf's eyes darted around the room. His facial
expression turned from one of confusion to terror as he looked up
The Dark Queen's eyes shifted into crimson slits.
Saliva dripped down the side of her mouth as she licked her lips.
She opened her mouth and revealed a pair of dagger-shaped
The elf fell sideways. He caught the eye of Tholan
as he lay on the ground.
“Hey!” he yelled. “Don't let her do this! Do you
know what she is? She's a demon. They are all demons here!”
The Dark Queen ripped into the elf's neck with a
Her victim gurgled and convulsed as she sucked away
his life force. Elven blood had not touched her tongue in ages. She
moaned in delight from the taste.
Tholan turned his attention back to the dark sphere.
He put his hand on the globe.
The sphere revealed a hairy, muscular barbarian with
a deeply creased face.
“That's Kelroar.” The Dark Queen moved behind him,
wiping blood from her lips and licking it off her fingers. “He is
going to be the biggest obstacle you will face in the siege.”
“That ugly thing is the best killer in the
“Not anymore,” he scoffed.
“Now there is the cocky Tholan that I fell in love
with watching,” she said as she pressed her naked chest against his
His body shivered with pleasure as she wrapped her
arms around him. She then whispered a sequence of words into his
ear. They were words that Tholan would not understand even if he
heard them clearly.
It took only a few seconds for him to collapse under
The old lady dragged Tholan’s unconscious body to
the center of the dark chamber, his feet leaving a trail on the
She carelessly dropped him to the ground and the
barbarian bounced off the floor with a meaty thud.
Lighting the candles one by one, the old lady gazed
upon the statue of a minotaur-like figure. It stood about eight
feet tall with horns curling out from the side of its head.
She bowed her head in veneration for several minutes
before returning to the body of Tholan.
With strength that belied her age, she picked the
barbarian up by his shoulders and heaved him on top of the altar,
laying him flat. The old woman then ripped open his tunic,
revealing his bare chest.
Tholan’s head lolled to the side and back again.
Ravalynn stepped into the room. She glided past the
old lady and stood above Tholan.
The old woman removed a goblet from the altar and
raised it above her head. Whispering a prayer, she placed the cup
down next to the barbarian.
Ravalynn raised a dagger high above her head. She
looked down at the barbarian's exposed chest and murmured
indecipherable words. Her chant grew louder until it reached a
shrill pitch that could freeze blood.
She closed her eyes and lowered the dagger, blindly
tracing the edge of the blade from Tholan's neck down to his
The old lady dipped her thumb into a vial of oil.
She applied it to the barbarian's forehead and chest, making a
circle and crossing it through in both places.
The candle flames blew out as the statue began
vibrating. The old lady looked on in awe as the sculpture began to
glow, illuminating the room in a purple light.
“Witness,” Ravalynn whispered into Tholan’s ear.
“The consequences of failure.”
The barbarian's eyes remained closed but his head
rolled from side to side.
The Dark Queen raised both of her arms to the side.
Tilting her neck back, her eyes rolled over white as if she were
Tholan’s head shook violently as if he were fighting
a desperate battle in his mind.
Moments later, he sprang up and screamed at the top
of his lungs.
Tholan’s eyelids fluttered and he dropped back down
on the slab. Sweat now soaked his tunic and his body writhed as if
it were on fire.
“There, there,” Ravalynn said. “That is only what
happens if your mission is met with failure. I have found fear to
be a great motivator.”
The Dark Queen ran her hands over his eyes.
“But see yourself as the victor. And you will not
Tholan’s body went lax. His breathing became more
“I give you, Tholan.” The Dark Queen addressed the
minotaur-like statue. “He was the finest warrior in all of
Darksbane. He will retrieve the book of Arcanscape so I can restore
you to power. I will be the conduit for you to once again rule this
The candles burned off then on repeatedly as the
statue rocked back and forth.
“Tholan has murdered hundreds. He has given
lifetimes of grief to thousands. He will serve you well.”
Tholan’s body levitated off the slab.
Excited, the Dark Queen moved to the side of his
body and raised her dagger.
“I beg of you to possess his spirit,“ she said.
“Make him like he was. Heartless. Ruthless. Strong.”
She sliced the dagger across his chest. With expert
precision, she cut and carved the symbol of a pentagram into his
flesh. His blood dripped into the goblet.
The purple light grew brighter then faded out. The
statue stopped shaking.
After a moment, the candles flickered back to
Tholan's eyes opened when he dropped back down on
the slab. His eyes adjusting to the dim light, his chest throbbed
The barbarian looked down at his scarred pectorals
“I performed surgery on your spirit,” she said.
“Sympathy and compassion no longer reside in your heart. I cut all
of that poison out of you.”
Tholan sat up wearily and stood on his feet.
“You are once again Tholan the Feared.”
The barbarian gave her a searching glance. Still
confused, he walked over to the mirror at the side of the altar.
His tunic could now barely restrain the increased size of his
biceps and shoulders. Tholan marveled at his reflection and flexed
his rejuvenated muscles.
“You are as you once were,” she said. “A born again
The Dark Queen walked behind him and fingered the
scarred pentagram on his chest. No bleeding, no recent evidence of
what she had done. He would bear her cross of darkness forever.
“You will grow even stronger over the coming days,”
she said. “You will be able to fight for hours. Run for miles at
top speed. You will be impervious to pain. You will be
Needing no further encouragement, Tholan let loose
with an ear-splitting battle-cry.