The young noble heard the sound of his own name, at first as though it came from another realm, another life, until consciousness returned to him and he awoke in an unfamiliar place. His naked form was tangled in a sea of flesh and limbs, silken sheets and soft elven hair. It would be a beautiful sight, were his stomach not churning from the abuse he had obviously put it through the night before. Untangling himself carefully from his flesh-prison, he sat up on the bed, looking around. Soon he located the source of the sound, yet was surprised to see the fair features of his retainer and friend Tarthil marred by anxiety. "Your father has summoned you" he exclaimed in a grave tone.
The elf felt his stomach churn even more at the news, emptying its contents in a nearby bowl. He had not seen his father in months. Family in the Dark Crag did not hold the meaning it might have in another land, especially in the context of a noble House. Relatives were to be considered as rivals, with sons aiming to replace their fathers even as the latter fought them every step of the way, clinging to their power. But it was brothers who were to be feared most, for they did not hesitate to eliminate one another in their struggle for power, and the young noble knew that well. However, such summons by the head of his House could not be ignored, even if the last time he had answered them had cost him much. Indeed, he thought as he dressed in the silken regalia of his house under the concerned eye of his retainer, it was miracle that he had not yet found his way to the bottom of the Crag, his throat slit in a dark alley or one of the flesh houses he had been frequenting recently.
The retainer pinned the golden brooch, a stylized sun, on the dark overcoat of his master, yet not another word was spoken between them. He knew, the noble thought, that should he fall, his own retainers would not be suffered to live. Trying to disregard such thoughts, he fastened a dagger to his waist, carefully concealed, and went to exit, remembering to place a small pouch of coins as he left behind the disappointed sighs of last night's amusement. The flesh House was situated, as he soon discovered, on the grand bridge between the Tower of Black Despair and the Tower of the Dying Sun, his own House's headquarters. The bridge was wide enough to accommodate a whole town, where the commoners stayed and plied their various trades, cramped into small houses, stores of every kind and market stalls, living under the shadow of the towers, where the nobility dwelt and plotted their time away.
Even as he passed, making his way to the Tower of the Dying Sun, many a druchii child and elderly slave marveled at the stranger, trotting through the cobbled streets on a dark purebred steed. His brow was furrowed, yet this did not do enough to hide the beauty and youth of his features, even though a small scar ran down his face over one of his eyes. His black, midnight hair flowed behind him as he passed by, the silver threaded endings of his clothing reflecting the morning sun, or as much of its shine as was admitted to the dark city, as the proud figure cast his shadow on the crowd below. He did his best to avoid getting stuck in this rabble and would not hesitate to let his horse clear the way if need be. Thankfully, he was soon out of the plaza, having escaped the leering faces and lingering eyes of the common Druchii.
The strangely shaped manors and shops started becoming more sparse, until there were no more of them, the bridge becoming too narrow, the cobbled streets replaced by cold metal. He strayed to the edge of the bridge, taking a look into the Crag. Even now it lay shrouded in perpetual darkness, only faint green lights glimpsed in the depths, like the myriad shining eyes of some forgotten, eldritch god. Composing his thoughts, he urged his horse to haste, knowing that his father would not suffer too great of a delay. Finally he arrived before the edifice that shrouded the world below in shadow, the Tower of the Dying Sun, the abode of House Telrathi.
The young noble, having left his proud steed to the keepers outside, made his way further into the keep. The walls were dark, the midnight breaking only by the witch lights and the many golden banners, centered by a black sun, symbol of the House. As he made his way upwards, passing many an ornately armoured guard, the halls became more lavish. The walls were decorated with engraved vistas of ancient battles or terrible reminders of the House's history, its rise to power and its darkest moments.
It was said that the founder of the House had been a sorcerer, fleeing Malekith's rage at some perceived slight and finding his way to a nascent Hag Graef. There he built his power base, making a family that would rise in status to become one of the great ruling houses, through dark sorcery, or maybe just shrewd politicking and clever business. In either case, he was seemingly immortal and sired dozens of children, many of whom he slew in service to his dark sorceries, some even say to extend his life. In the end one of his younger sons plunged a blade into his back, uttering the famous words: "You sought to live forever, father, yet all you have wrought is eternal mourning." They say the essence of the old sorcerer still lived in the blade, kept in the deepest vaults of the Tower.
As always the story brought chills down the elf's spine as he wondered whether it was the destiny of every son to one day depose and supplant his father. He definitely hoped so, he thought, as he looked up to see he had found his way to the entrance of the great hall. Leaving behind the tapestries of lore, he entered the dark room as the guards pushed open the doors for him. "Ah, my son... Duvaindir, you have arrived at last." He heard as his eyes took a moment to adjust, himself performing the customary bow to the head of his House. "Father" he said, finally being able to look around. His stomach churned once more as he realized they were not alone. The entire House, including his brothers, uncles and far away relatives, even his cousin Zathos, who had been taken away as a youngling to Ghrond to become a sorceress, were present.
Even as Duvaindir grew pale, his father continued: "Perhaps you have heard that the Dread Sovereign prepares his forces for another invasion of Ulthuan..." The young noble could not imagine what this had to do with him, or why the whole House had been summoned, the court in Naggarond being far removed even at the best of times, yet he did not interrupt. "You know all too well of my disappointment in you when you took it upon yourself to oppose Malus. An opposition that cost this House dearly" the senior elf said in an imposing manner, veiled threats behind his words, yet his demeanor still welcoming as he sat regally upon a great throne, clad in robes in the colors of the sunset. "Have I not suffered enough for merely seeking to uphold the traditional independence of our city?!" Duvaindir spat, looking at the imperiously neutral faces of his relatives as they regarded him with disdain.
It was true that the young noble had made his bid for power far too early. Returning from successfully crushing the slave rebellion of Magur One-Eye at the head of a host he had been granted temporary control over, he planned to overthrow the Drachau, Malus, whom he considered a pawn of the Witch-King. However, his then trusted advisor and confidant, secretly an agent of his father, betrayed him and poisoned him, making him lose consciousness so as to avoid the deadly fallout such a rebellion might have for his House. This mistake he payed for, both in the dungeons of his own House, as well as in loss of prestige and power, by losing the favor of his father. Since being released, he had been spending most of his time in flesh-houses and taverns, wasting away as he awaited the inevitable dagger in the back from one of his brothers, or perhaps an assassin by Malus himself, should he learn of what had truly transpired.
"Indeed. You have suffered. But it is now time to redeem yourself. I have had enough of your antics, wasting away like a failure of a common elf!" Boomed the voice of his father, subduing the temper of the younger elf. What redemption could be found now that he had been cast aside, he wondered. "As I said, Malekith is preparing another invasion of Ulthuan. He has requested each of the noble houses of the Crag to send one of their noble sons..." Duvaindir swallowed hard. It seems he was to die on foreign shores. At least he wouldn't be reanimated by the warp stone in the dark corners of the Crag, he thought. "He thinks to keep us in check by holding our sons hostage. Ha! He will be doing us a favor. As it happens, I have procured the perfect assignment for you." The Master of the House stated, motioning for a retainer to bring a sealed scroll to Duvaindir, which he took reluctantly.
"A Commander by the name of Caranordor has recently been granted an iron writ. Forming a Regiment that will spearhead his assault on Ulthuan, a sort of Forlorn Hope for the whole campaign. You will join this Regiment and serve in this war. I do not expect you to survive, but at least have the decency to die with some dignity." Some of his brothers snickered, only to be silenced by a harsh stare of their father. Duvaindir looked down, defeated. The next words of his father came as a surprise: "However, I would not let you embark in such a journey alone" he stated with a look of satisfaction. Duvaindir lit up, thinking of the aid his retainer could provide in dangerous lands. He was disappointed when two of the guards of the Vault came in behind him, one of them holding an item covered in purple silk, bringing it first before the seated Lord.
The witch lights flickered as lord Telrathi uncovered the ancient sword, releasing it from its scabbard, dark energies licking the blade. "The Mournblade..." Stated the ancient elf, walking over to Duvaindir and presenting him with the weapon. As he took the sword reverently, closing the scabbard once more, his father continued: "Perhaps we can finally be rid of it in Ulthuan, although it has a tendency to return to us..." Yet his voice grew increasingly distant. For when the young noble touched the sword, he felt a part of his old self returning. In his mind's eye he saw great battles and sieges, but also plots and intrigue. He saw himself standing at the head of a great army, commanding vast legions to do battle as if their lives were meaningless. Fire and death stretched all around, as far as the eye could see. Torrents of blood came crashing down like tidal waves, christening the world in their crimson glory. Behind him, a long shadow rested its hand upon his shoulder, but as he turned back to look at it, he was snatched back into reality.
"A ship awaits you in the harbour to take you to one of the black Arks, my son." His father said, touching his sons face as if he were only just born. "Perhaps it is the last time we meet. Good fortune on your journey." The old elf muttered, turning around and taking his place on the ornate throne of his House. Duvaindir looked at the assembled elves in the eyes, one by one, a grin on his face. He rested his eyes on his father, promising: "I shall return, rest assured father." Duvaindir rose and turned around, holding back a feeling he had not experienced in a while, excitement. His mind was filled with the possibilities as he descended the winding stairs, fingering the pommel of his ancient blade: "The Mournblade."
Feel like burning like a bright wizard? Being as green as a gobbo? Robust like an Ironbreaker? Bloodthirsty like a witch elf? Feel free to speak as them here.
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