When Darkness Falls

         A cloaked figure approached the outskirts of Harbrook. The stranger was clearly male, tall and thin, taking long strides as he walked into the wind and rain. Once again the sky erupted with a cascade of lightning and thunder. He had become accustomed to the storm over the past two days of travel. This storm was unseasonable, unusual, unnatural. The stranger knew this, for it was the very reason that started him on his journey.

         The stranger was a Mage, teacher of the Arcane, and soldier in the Royal Elven Guard of Kelmoran. Vaneer was his name, and he had been personally sent by his superiors to retrieve a member of his order.

         The winds were beginning to pick up, and the rain appeared to be getting harder as he approached the centre of town. Although he had been passing buildings for over an hour, Vaneer had not seen signs of life anywhere.

         ‘The Spitting Pig’ was the name on the sign outside the Inn. It appeared to be the only source of light and sound in the town. As Vaneer opened the heavy wooden door, he heard all the sounds and chatter cease. When his eyes adjusted to the light, and the warm air brushed past his fine Elven skin, Vaneer noticed everyone in the Inn was staring at him. He closed the door behind him, sealing a barrier between him and the storm outside. The patrons returned to their drinking and conversations, but stopped to look at Vaneer from time to time.

         After a brief sigh, he approached a short stocky man behind the bar who appeared to be the Innkeeper. Placing the glass he was polishing on a nearby table, the Innkeeper drew his attention to Vaneer, and spoke with a deep toned voice. “Welcome to ‘The Spitting Pig Inn’ traveller, we haven’t had many newcomers for a while since this terrible storm started, but you are welcome all the same. What can I get for you, a hot meal perhaps, some ale, or maybe a bed for the night?”. Vaneer withdrew a small leather pouch from his sash, removed several gold coins and placed them on the bar, replying in a stern, distinguished tone. “I would like a room for the night, a meal, as well as some information”. An eyebrow raised on the Innkeepers round, aged face, as he tried to get a better look at the cloaked man before him. “Information you say? What kind of information would you be after then?” “I am looking for someone, an Elf by the name of T’Rel. I have it on good authority that he frequents this establishment, have you seen him of late, or know someone who has?”. The Innkeeper clearly recognised the name, his body shifted as he heard it. The Innkeeper opened his mouth to reply, but was cut short as Vaneer felt the cold touch of a knife at his throat.

         An aggressive male voice addressed him. “Strangers who ask questions don’t deserve answers, especially scrawny ones like yourself.” “I would advise you to remove your knife from my throat before you lose it.” Scoffing at Vaneer’s threat, the man continued. “Ha, you dare to threaten Malek Thornster, the best knife fighter in this district?” “What good are your knife fighting skills, when you don’t have a knife?” There was silence and then a gasp from Malek as he withdrew his knife. Vaneer glanced over to Malek holding his knife which had just turned to stone. Not satisfied with the effect, Vaneer clicked his fingers and the knife exploded into dust and floated to the ground. Laughter echoed from all corners of the Inn. In an attempt to restore his pride, Malek lunged towards Vaneer with his fist outstretched.

         Without flinching, Vaneer extended his hand flat out towards Malek. As Malek’s fist was going to strike Vaneer, he was thrown clear across the room by an invisible force, smashing a table as he landed against the far wall. The laughter immediately stopped, and Vaneer noticed there were a great deal more weapons drawn on him this time. Deciding it was time to identify himself, Vaneer removed his hood and cloak, revealing his fair Elven skin and white-blonde hair. A voice pierced the awkward silence, it was familiar to Vaneer. “Enough! This is Elf is with me.” T’Rel emerged from his dark corner of the Inn, and escorted Vaneer to the door. “Hey T’Rel, your friend owes me a knife.” Malek had recovered from the incident earlier. Continuing through the Inn door, Vaneer replied with a smile. “Look in your sheath my friend, I owe you nothing.” Checking his sheath, Malek recovered his knife, and it was in perfect condition.

         The two of them settled down in T’Rel’s quarters, the atmosphere much warmer and quiet than the Inn. Handing Vaneer a mug of herbal tea, T’Rel started the conversation. “So why are you here old friend? You wouldn’t have travelled in such weather unless it was important.” Sipping his tea, Vaneer responded with a serious tone. “The council is quite concerned. About a month ago, your staff was stolen from the Imperial vault...” Obviously irritated by this news, T’Rel interrupted. “I gave possession of my staff to the Council because they assured me they could protect it better than I could alone, anyway it would be useless to anyone else, because I am the only one who can wield it.” “The council believes whoever stole it will use it to breach the Elemental Temple. The unnatural weather is a sign of this.” T’Rel started to collect various items and pack his rucksack while he replied. “If what you say is true, we have no time to waste, you can explain the rest on the way.” Leaving the quarters and re-entering the bar, the pair were treated to a ghastly scene. Bodies lay strewn all over the interior of the Inn, several were mutilated and blood covered all surfaces.

         Suddenly, the Inn door burst open…