The wind tore at Imrik’s cloak as the dragon Minathar soared above the Asbach Plains. Below him, the rolling grasslands were a patchwork of green. To his right, the mighty As-Tyrith River wound its way South across the land to the Ur-Lyth Sea. Its headlong rush down the Mirolith Mountains created strong and dangerous currents this far upstream and so no ships ventured this far north.
Imrik leant forward on Minathar, peering into the hazy distance. Ahead he could see the stragglers of his war host. Women, children and walking wounded tramped along behind the medical and provisions carts as the triumphant High Elf army marched south to their home at Tyranoc on the shores of The Sea of Serpents (Ur-Lyth-Gar).
Victory over the invading goblin hordes had been easier than Imrik had expected. ‘Almost too easy,’ he thought. ‘I wonder what Malekith is up to?’
The screech of a distant bird woke Imrik from his daydreaming and he shaded his eyes from the blazing sun as he tried to see what had caused the noise.
At that moment Malekith, Chaos warlord was as far away from sunlight as it was possible to be. He sat in the war room in the Orc caves of Xygor, deep beneath the Mirolith Mountains. He grasped a golden goblet of wine in his claw-like hands and stared into the wall of fire that consumed one end of the war-room.
In the centre of the flames stirred a vision of Imrik, sitting tall and handsome on Minathar. Imrik was high above the Asbach Plains, his hand shielding his eyes from the glare of the sun.
“Ha,” roared Malekith. “Look at that fool, prancing on his steed like a Knight at a Fayre. He’ll be preparing his homecoming victory speech, I’ll bet. But he’ll be sorry he ever left El-Tyrith when he gets back there.
“It won’t be long now before he discovers our little surprise Darkblade.”
There was a dark chuckle, full of blood and menace and gore, from a shadow at the corner of the room. Malus Darkblade put down his wine chalice and nodded toward Malekith.
“That it won’t, mi’lord. That it won’t,” Darkblade agreed. “That fool prince is in for a shock when he finds his beloved daughter dead and his son torn from his home.”
“Mmmm,” Malekith smiled. “A pity about poor Edrith’s fate. I had other plans for the fair maiden but her blood will bring much woe to Imrik and for that I am happy.
“You have done well Darkblade.”
“There is more to come Lord Malekith,” Darkblade smirked. “Much more. I will serve you that fool’s head and heart before this full moon perishes.
Despair haunted the white walls of the castle Tyranoc. Its dark shadows lurked in the corridors and clung to the tapestries and curtains on the walls of the Great Hall. Solemn faced courtiers whispered in huddles.
And in Imrik’s living quarters a lone dwarf worked furiously to scrub blood from the stone steps leading to Princess Edrith’s bedchamber. Labin stopped every few minutes to wipe the tears from her eyes and dry her beard. ‘Poor Edrith,’ she thought. ‘How could she die like that? How had they let their guard down and allowed that foul Darkblade to bewilder them?’
“Imrik will be furious,” said a voice from the lurking shadows. “He’ll have us slain for sure. We have to run Labin, we have to flee now.”
Labin set down her scrubbing brush carefully and reached thoughtfully for her axe. The panic in the maid’s voice the thought of running from this dreadful scene, left her sick to her dwarf stomach.
“Maria,” she snapped. “Shut up!”
“What?” Maria rasped, with panic choking her words in her throat. “You can’t think to stay? He’ll know it was us that let those tricksters into the castle. He will, he must find out sooner or later.”
Labin sat, caressing the cool metal blade of her axe. She looked across the room at the forlorn Maria. ‘Stupid Maria,’ she thought. ‘Too much wine, too much dancing, too many wild ideas. It had been her idea to invite the elf and the dwarf to the castle when the inn closed its doors to them.’
Without looking up Labin hurled the axe twenty feet across the room into the dark shadows engulfing Maria’s trembling face. It thudded into the wooden panel a hand’s width from the woman.
“Shut up!” the dwarf screamed. “Imrik will find out because I will tell him. It is the only way. The Dwarf Way. I must help him avenge her death and recover his son Hadryn.”
But Maria did not hear. Her silent scream still locked in her throat she stared at the battle-axe inches from her cheek and wept.
Minathar could smell it now. His huge head turned to the southwest he could smell the Castle Tyranoc. Or rather he could smell his lair beneath the castle. Its warm depths and the scent of blood from a thousand dead cattle. But this time the wind brought him other smells too. The scent of fear and despair were sour and unnatural to Tyranoc. He grew uneasy.
Aboard Minathar’s broad neck, Imrik too felt un-nerved. Something was wrong. He spurred the great dragon on, urging it forward. He had to get to the castle. He was leaving the Elvin war host behind him now as dragon and elf raced to discover the source of their unease.
Along the castle walls, warriors worked, hauling down the golden banners and the flags of victory. In their place they ran the grey flags of mourning. And seeing this filled Imrik’s heart with dread.
‘What foulness have you wrought here Malekith?’ he thought as he saw Godfred his adviser standing bowed in the courtyard awaiting their descent. Nowhere could he see his wife Gal-Darith.
Minathar eased his mighty frame into position; beating his wings to slow them he felt the ground beneath him and settled in the courtyard.
“Imrik, Imrik,” Godfred shouted as the Prince dismounted. “We have heard such great tidings of your victory at Mirolith-Ty but Prince that news is but chaff to the dread sorrow we have witnessed here.
“Please, come with me,” Godfred said kindly, ushering Imrik into the castle’s admin quarters. “I have convened a war council, but that can wait. First we must talk in private and that talk will not be easy.”
“Godfred, what is it?” Imrik implored. “What has happened here? I sense a loss but what, what has happened and how?”
“Sit my Prince,” Godfred sighed. “It is Edrith. Edrith and Hadryn. Somehow an assassin inveigled its way into the castle. Poor Edrith was chopped down in her bedchamber and Hadryn … well in truth we know not where or what has befallen poor Hadryn.
“We have spies working on this of course but as yet no news of his fate, save only that he is no longer in Tyranoc.”
Imrik sat quiet for one moment, as fathers will on learning such dread tidings, and then he exploded from his chair.
“How can this be!” he demanded. “Godfred how can this be? How can the hand of Chaos reach me here in my own home and snatch away my heart? Malekith is at the heart of this and I will march to the halls of Naggaroth if I must, but I will get my son and wreak sweet vengeance for Edrith’s fate.
“I will have the soul of this assassin served to the daemons of Ty-grath for eternity. This cannot pass. I will … I will have revenge.”