The sickly stench of sulfur assaulted Ruel’s sensitive nose, nearly knocking him out of the room. Not that he needed much help, as the gigantic vulture creature split the air with an otherworldly scream, tearing the young man’s head apart from the inside. He saw Master Cantori and Baron Revnica fall to their knees, holding their ears in pain. Ruel ran to the half-orc’s side and put his arm under the Baron, urging him to escape.
Zorag slumped in his arms, completely limp. Normally, Ruel could lift a man easily enough, even one the size of the Baron, but he found that his muscles would not comply. As the large half-orc fell into him, he saw several darts protruding from the Baron’s back. “Baron Zorag!,” the young man cried.
Looking over at the elf, Master Cantori had completely fallen to the floor, similar darts poking out of him. “Some kind of pressure trap…” Ruel thought, trying to lift the half-orc futilely. “If I can just get him out of here…” He found his mind was cloudy, his muscles unresponsive.
He turned to the door, desperately trying to find an escape from the creature and its devilish traps. Before him, however, knelt a line of elves, dark in complexion, their skin like charcoal and their hair a stark white. Simultaneously loading darts into miniature crossbows, they stared at Ruel with chilling red eyes. Confused, the young man reached behind him to feel his back. With shock, he pulled a dart out from his exposed skin and suddenly felt many more like it.
“Baron… please… wake—”
The elves lifted their crossbows as one, and Ruel saw another volley of darts converging on him.
And then he saw nothing.
“L’rothe ul’kas ukta ‘baron.’”
The quiet voices split Phe’lyx’s head like a morning after drinking with Akiros. Night had fallen—“How many hours have I been out?” he thought groggily.
His arms were shackled above his head. A cursory examination revealed that his spellbook and spell component pouch were missing. He pulled on the chains, expecting them to give slightly, when he noticed that his magical bracers were also missing. “Ashen will never let me hear the end of it,” he lamented silently.
The two creatures before him roused him from his pondering. They were elves, but unlike any he had ever seen, with jet black skin and striking white hair. The one who had spoken wore long blue robes with arcane runes embroidered on the sleeves. On his belt hung an array of arcane implements—scroll tubes, component pouches, an iron-bound book with a skull-shaped lock—and on his shoulder perched a winged imp holding another tome. “My spellbook!” Phe’lyx realized.
The other elf terrified the wizard. He wore blood-red, bladed armor that left his chest exposed, though Phe’lyx wished it did not. Sticking through the dark elf’s skin were steel needles at least two hands long. He had others, too—two sets through his forearms, and one embedded in the knuckles of his left hand. Phe’lyx wondered what sort of creature would put another through such torture; or worse, what sort of creature would do that to themselves?
“‘Baron?’ Vel’bol ‘udtila ol hass’l?” asked the frightening figure.
Phe’lyx could almost understand their speech—it definitely had elvish roots—but it was fouled up with a very alien dialect and diction. Something about the meaning of “baron.”
The blue-robed dark elf turned to Phe’lyx suddenly, noticing that he had awakened. With a smile that did not touch his eyes, he motioned towards the chained and unconscious form of Zorag. In rough Taldane, he said, “It means, Kardrogas, that a very important visitor we have. Don’t kill the orc. Need him we may.”
“And the iblith?” Kardrogas asked lustfully.
The mage turned to walk from the room. “Enjoy him.”
Kardrogas bowed deeply. “A’dos quarth, Nolveniss!” The imp on the mage’s shoulder cackled with glee as the door shut resoundingly behind them.
Kardrogas turned toward Phe’lyx and pulled a wickedly curved knife from his belt. Kneeling down, the dark elf rubbed the cold steel against Phe’lyx’s cheek and whispered, “Afraid, don’t be. Learn to love the pain, you will, as I have.”
And such was the first cut of many.