Shades of Blood

When one of the deadliest creatures ever to walk the earth returns from extinction, the once-celebrated elven spellsinger, Shadestar, and the elf noble, Silverleaf, do everything in their power to rid the world of its evil.

But, can they succeed against the creature when the human kingdoms declare war against their elven neighbours?

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1. A Nightmare Walks

Shadestar meandered through the forest trees, absorbing nature’s gift and granting blessings to the trees which needed more strength. The full moon, covered by clouds, cast a shimmering light over the rough earth. His elven eyes could see motes of pollen as they danced through the air, like the ancient warriors in their sinuous battle trance. The faint play of light over the forest floor assuaged his mind, calmed him to a single point of concentrated stillness.

He was drifting through a dream world when he heard the first distant scream, pulling him out of his reverie like a harsh slap. He rushed towards the sounds without thinking, easily vaulting over ancient gnarled roots and the low-hanging twisted branches of the elder trees; his long, dark hair streamed behind him as he ran. More screams pierced the night air, discordant and malignant; a sound both evil and primeval. He slowed his approach and settled into the darkness at the edge of a small clearing. The silver moon gleamed behind the clouds, lighting the scene, throwing everything into harsh contrast. He could see a struggle between two figures. But as he watched, the larger bent closer to the other’s neck, teeth flashed and the struggle ceased. Dark, viscous liquid spilled onto the ground.

Shadestar could scarcely believe his eyes. We killed them all! His fingers sought the reassurance of a blade, the reflexive need to draw on magic surged in his mind; he drew one of his long knives from the sheath on his belt and three mana stones out of the pouch next to it. There was no other choice; his oath bound him to duty.

A single word imbued his dagger with an edge of agony and burning. If it was truly one of his ancient foes only magic would stand a chance against it. His instincts screamed that his nightmares were to come true. He was sure.

Quieter than a breeze he darted in to attack. His feet seemed to glide over the grass, dagger held low, close to his body and ready to thrust. The monstrous silhouette froze. The victim fell unceremoniously to the ground. Ebony eyes snapped to Shadestar’s own, a single breath steamed from the shadows. Shadestar's arm twitched, as if without really wanting to he threw the magicked dagger from mere steps away, flinging it underarm, and the words for another spell flowed from his tongue. The spell was designed to paralyse for only a moment; but that was as long as it took for the knife to land. The creature screamed in his face and vanished from sight.

Shadestar dropped the empty stones and allowed himself a ragged breath. Adrenaline and fear coursed through his body, making his limbs shake and giving him a strange sense of clarity. It would be back, soon. He needed to move.

The form on the ground made a noise. Alive.

He bent to gather the crumpled heap off the ground. It was a young girl, she looked human. He had no idea how young, all humans were young to Shadestar; his centuries on this plane of existence were worth ten human lives. There was blood and dirt covering most of the girl’s body, her clothes mostly ripped away to shreds. The red mud stank and made it difficult to assess her condition, yet she was mumbling some words he didn’t understand.

She was alive, that was worth something. Whether she’d survive was completely in the hands of the gods. He slung her over his shoulder and moved as fast as he could for the nearest edge of the forest. Though he didn’t leave often, he knew that on the southern edge of the tract he was in were a collection of human settlements. Chances were that this girl was from one of them. She’d probably prefer to be with her own kind when she died.

Shadestar had lived in the forest for years, a self imposed exile which had given him a lot of experience with the sounds of a forest at night. There were none as he trudged onward. Everything here possessed the good sense to flee from the thing which didn’t belong.

Shadestar thrived on nature, the natural world. He despised the way that the monsters sent shivers down his spine. No matter how many he destroyed, no matter how often he survived against all odds, he still felt sick to his stomach to face them again. Regardless of how he felt, his oath to uphold nature forced his hand. These creatures are the epitome of the unnatural world and had to be eradicated.

He slipped through the forest as silently as possible; it wouldn’t help against the supernatural senses of his foe, but it was as natural as breathing for him. He only had a small dagger left and he gripped it with whitened knuckles.

“O, Wisdom, watch over me,” he whispered. It had been decades since Shadestar had called upon the god Wisdom; but he had always done so when entering into a battle. A battle such as this was never entered into lightly, warriors and mages alike had to enter fully into the fray with no reservations. It’s easier when you have a cohort of your finest allies by your side.

A cold sweat leaked down Shadestar’s back, his palms were damp and his tongue dry. His eyes darted left and right, never ceasing; he inched forward, alert for any motion or sound in the quiet forest around him. The girl on his shoulder occasionally moaned or thrashed wildly. Twice he had to stop and constrict her against his chest to stop her convulsions. Her flesh was pale and cold; she was edging closer and closer to death.

Time was running out.

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