The wind blew through the trees causing the shadows to dance as the sunlight peered through the thick canopy of the Forests of Cormanthor. The trio of elves perched silently observing the caravan slowly trudging its way through the forest along the well-worn path. The elves sunk deep into the shadows of the canopy to prevent discovery by an errant reflection of sunlight off metal. Their bows were half-drawn, the metal arrowheads blackened with soot to prevent reflection and smeared with sap containing various poisons.
Below them a dozen or so humans and dwarfs trudging slowly along had no knowledge of their elven observers above or that their impending death was at hand. A moment later a mirror flashed from the trees that signaled the loosing of arrows into the caravan below. Several heartbeats later the three elves dropped from their perch to the forest floor to examine their handiwork. Bodies littered the forest floor, men and dwarf alike. The elves went about their work collecting and cutting the arrows from the bodies. Once their handiwork was done, one of the elves reached into his pouch and pulled a dagger with a broken blade bearing runes no surface elf would dare be seen carrying as well as a few scraps of deep black cloth and dropped them amidst the slaughter. Then as one the elves disappeared into the forest leaving only the dead as proof of their passing.
The moon crested the horizon illuminating the night with a soft ghostly glow. Upon a remote bluff overlooking the Forest of Cormanthor stood a single solitary figure that gazed upon the forest canopy below. The chilling night wind blew over the trees making the branches sway creating the illusion of the forest being a great green ocean that rippled and flowed beneath the bluff. The lone figure stood there silently for several moments as if lost in thought, before raising a hand and gesturing towards the tree line.
Figures melted from the shadows and padded towards the cloaked figure with a cadence that displayed both wariness and respect. A single voice rang out once the figures had gotten within ten paces of the cloaked individual.
“Report” the cloaked figure spoke in a male voice.
Eight figures dropped to their knees and removed their hoods to reveal elven features beneath. The elf closest to the cloaked figure spoke first.
“A caravan of a dozen humans and dwarfs perished at the northern end of Cormanthor my lord. We placed the broken dagger of the dark kin at the scene.”
“Did you disguise yourself as drow before attacking?” the cloaked figure asked.
“No my lord we were in a hurry to complete the mis-‘ the elf began to stammer before a single silver blade etched with shadows was at his throat, it’s razor edge drawing a line of crimson along his jugular. The cloaked figure had moved so fast that he had seemed to almost appear in front of the elf. Two crystalline blue eyes that brimmed with unrestrained fury bore hard into the elf’s face and the voice now as hard as steel barked a question no louder than a whisper “And when I said to disguise yourself as drow when attacking the humans did you think that was a suggestion? You jeopardize everything we have worked for with your carelessness. If I did not need you further I would end your miserable life right now. Next time however, I will not be so forgiving.” Before the elf could respond, the cloaked figure withdrew the dagger blade from the elf’s neck and was almost instantly back at his original position several paces away.
“Next” he intoned with all the rage gone from his voice.
The next elf spoke and reported similar activities where drow weaponry and items had been left at the scene of carnage. The reports continued and each time the cloaked figured nodded his head in a gesture that could be considered acknowledgement but not quite approval. Once each of the kneeling figures had reported, the cloaked figure turned to face the gathered group and removed his hood. The gesture was done merely as a formality as every elf kneeling knew to whom they were addressing. He was Lord Ruluvien Tahl’Veras, the Vel’Nikeryma of their local cell of Eldreth Veluuthra. The Eldreth Veluuthra was an organization dedicated to the eradication of all humans from the face of Faerun and the Vel’Nikeryma served as their Blade Lords or leaders who were responsible for directing their cell’s operations and actions against humankind. As he stood before them, the moonlight made the grey in the Ruluvien’s hair shine like silver as he addressed the group, “I believe we are poised to launch this operation into the next phase then.”
Ruluvien glanced about then spoke “These verminous humans have been slowly invading the southern tip of Cormanthor. Their relentless advance into the forest must be stopped but we cannot openly declare war upon these creatures as they would be as numerous as ants when you kick their hill. We must divert their attention and focus to other enemies and then strike at the heart. We have caused much disruption in the past few months and slain countless humans under the guise of being drow or daemonfay. The humans in response have done exactly as we had expected, they have decided to convene a council before acting. This will put their leadership in one location and will be perfect for lopping the head off the snake. This council will be meeting at the Druid Grove near the southern tip of Cormanthor in two days. The structure is an open auditorium and should be easy for us to sneak in and assassinate their regions leaders. There will be three targets of interest; Captain Aldrige, High Priestess Beryll, and Hierophant Calens.”
“Faerdril, summon an image of the grove.” Ruluvien commanded.
One of the kneeling figures stood and began to chant softly, as he finished a translucent glowing image of the grove appeared before the group.
“It is done my lord” Faedril remarked.
Ruluvien began to give assignments for positioning and targets. “You three shall slay Captain Aldrige as he enters the hall here” Ruluvien pointed at a location on the image.
“You three shall assassinate the High Priestess when she arrives here and I shall personally handle the assassination of the Hierophant Calens.” Ruluvien remarked. “Faerdril, you shall remain hidden and shall polymorph any of our fallen into drow and daemonfay as well as half the slain guards in order to disguise who is attacking the council. The rest of you will need to take your teams and attack the western courtyard here disguised as drow and kill as many humans as possible to sow chaos at the time of the attack. We will need to have the humans mobilize to fight the drow and daemonfay for us so that we may strike at all three when they are at their weakest and reclaim our forest.” Ruluvien spent the next half hour coordinating the plans with the group and ensuring assignments were known. After much discussion one of the group asked Ruluvien, “what of the human ranger that has been foiling many of our attempts in the past few months.”
“What human ranger?” asked Ruluvien
“The humans call him Darkcloak” replied one of the elves.
“He is of no consequence. Kill him.” said Ruluvien.
The outdoor auditorium was flush with people for the council meeting. Dignitaries from the dales had arrived to discuss the burgeoning issue of attacks on the human settlements by both drow and demonic creatures from the forest. The auditorium was huge, built entirely of stone into the cusp of a hillside; it formed an almost perfect semi-circle using the massive wall of trees behind it as its natural acoustics. There was no ceiling to the auditorium and the rows of ascending stone benches encircled it. At the bottom of the auditorium flanked by two were-tiger guardians, sat Hierophant Calens upon a chair made of twisted roots and branches. To his left and across the room stood upon a stone dais Captain Aldrige flanked by his guardsmen and advisors while on the opposite side of the chamber sat High Priestess Beryll of Chauntea. The High Priestess sat in quiet conversation with another woman while she waited for the council to convene. Before the Hierophant was an oaken table where many of the emissaries had already taken up seats in preparation for the discussion.
The Hierophant stood and raised his arms high into the air and addressed the attending masses “Good folk of the Dales, thank you for attending this convergence. We live in perilous times. These past few months many of our friends and loved ones have been murdered by the machinations of those who revel in evil. Raids from the dark folk and even worse have left us with dead loved ones, wrecked homes and burning fields. “
As the Hierophant spoke 3 pink butterflies floated across the auditorium.
“We must seek to protect ourselves from this and fortify our communities.” The Hierophant continued. “I have called this council to…”
A swarm of crimson winged butterflies erupted from the crowd and flew upwards. As the crowd’s attention was drawn to the sudden flurry of wings a bubbling gurgle could be heard escaping the lips of Captain Aldrige as a black-bladed dagger punched through the front of his chest. Two more daggers slammed into the Captain’s neck from each side as three of his guards withdrew bloodied black daggers and escaped towards the forests their disguises being cast off to reveal black skin. As the horror of Captain Aldrige’s death began to sink in, a singular figure sped across the table at almost inhuman speed towards the Hierophant.
The were-tiger guardians now alert to danger both dropped instantly to the ground dead as two silver daggers punched through their eye sockets from the speeding form racing across the table. The Hierophant stopped mid-sentence as a dagger punched through his cheek shattering his jaw and splintering teeth. The howl of agonizing pain was mercifully cut short when a dagger slammed into the back of the Hierophants head with a bone crunching snap and the shadowy form of his assailant twisted the dagger with a sickening pop. A fountain of blood erupted from the exit wound of the Hierophants skull drenching the assailant in a crimson spray. The assassin quickly glanced around the room to see that the High Priestess still lived and was being defended by a human male with grey-brown hair. Several of the Eldreth Veluuthra lay dead or unconscious at the human male’s feet as he was engaged by three others seeking to kill the High Priestess.
The human wore the garb of a ranger, forest green chainmail covering his large frame and two empty scabbards at his waist. A dark cloak was draped over his shoulders and served as a barrier between him and the attacks as he whirled and dashed out of the way of the oncoming attacks. He wielded two scimitars expertly as he blocked the poisoned daggers of the disguised drow assassins. A feint pulled one of his opponents off balance enough to where he could punch the tip of one of his scimitars into the assassin’s chest, dropping him where he stood.
The room has erupted into chaos at the assassinations of the captain and hierophant but the ranger’s stalwart defense of the high priestess was beginning to restore order to the room as the remaining guards began to mobilize and charge towards the scene of battle.
Cursing, Ruluvien threw a blue capsule onto the ground which erupted into a plume of blue smoke which signaled the withdrawal of his forces from the scene. Ruluvien drew a dagger and hurled it at the back of the human ranger defending the high priestess. Before the dagger could hit home the ranger spun and blocked the throw with his iron gauntlet that bore a single crimson rune that glowed with a soft fiery light. Much to Ruluvien’s annoyance, the ranger’s eyes met his and the ranger smirked before returning to defending the High Priestess.
Anger almost overwhelmed the Vel’Nikeryma but his goal had been attained. Even as his forces withdrew from the slaughter, Faerdril was disguising the corpses with magic before withdrawing himself.
In the following months the humans had mobilized and taken the war to the drow and daemonfay in the southern reaches of Cormanthor. Ruluvien and his cell were able to pick off smaller contingents of humans, drow and daemonfay with relative ease with minimal casualties. Time and time again however, the human ranger bearing the dark cloak would turn an easy victory into a punishing loss as his last minute intervention would turn the tide. Ruluvien raged at his cell, “Find the Darkcloak! Slay him!”
It wasn’t until Ruluvien led raid near to the moors that he finally encountered the ranger the humans called Darkcloak once again. The Eldreth Veluuthra attacked the caravan of supplies only to find that it was a trap as crossbow bolts tore into their ranks from the covered wagons. Many of the elves fell before the main contingent reached the covered wagons and the humans erupted from concealment weapons drawn. Ruluvien and his assassins punched through the human ranks, stabbing and slashing with murderous abandon. Each strike made with perfect fluid grace followed by a thin ribbon of crimson trailing behind. The humans began to fall as the lightning quick attacks of the remaining elves began to take their toll.
Suddenly an elf to Ruluvien’s left cried out in pain and then dropped, an arrow jutting from his chest. Ruluvien looked up from his mask to see the human ranger standing over one of the wounded human guardsmen with his longbow drawn and an arrow nocked. Anger flooded Ruluvien’s thoughts as he kicked the human he was currently engaged with in the throat and then turned to speed towards the ranger. The human drew and loosed an arrow in one fluid motion at Ruluvien before dropping the bow and drawing his two scimitars. Ruluvien deflected the arrow with one of his dagger and closed the distance between the two in seconds.
The two combatants fought amidst the battle around them. Daggers and scimitars flashed and chimed as the two unleashed attacks in a flurry of steel. The uncanny speed of the elf was countered by the practiced maneuvers of the human, each kick or trip was blocked or dodged before it could land. Ruluvien’s attacks began to increase in speed and ferocity as his anger began to consume him, each block or parry from the human ranger was a split second slower than it had been before. It was only a matter of time before the assassin was going to breach his defenses and kill the ranger. The battle had carried the two well beyond the area of combat where the two forces were engaged and they were now fighting at the edge of the moor. A dagger blade slid along the chainmail of the ranger’s chest and the human jumped back in alarm. Seeking the kill, the elf lunged forward only to have the ranger also lunge forward and head butt him and knock him backwards.
Ruluvien stumbled back, his vision swimming and the ranger took a moment to catch his breath before attacking the elf. Suddenly on the defensive, Ruluvien shook his head clear and began encircling his long daggers in a defensive arc to parry the ranger’s incoming attacks. The elf finally regained his balance and pressed the attack again. One of the ranger’s scimitars fell from his grip and a cry of triumph escaped the elf’s lips. Before the elf could seek the advantage however a gauntleted fist careened into his guts and knocked the air out of his lungs. As Ruluvien stumbled back, the ranger dove for his scimitar and regained his footing as the elf caught his breath.
The two combatants had been fighting for several minutes now and began circling each other warily. The elf finally said “I will enjoy killing you ranger. You fight well.”
The ranger smirked and said “You don’t.”
The brazen remark caught the arrogant elf off guard and a cry of rage was torn form his lungs. As the elf charged, the human hurled a clump of mud that he can scooped up rather than his scimitar right into the elf’s face, blinding him. The human then slashed his remaining scimitar across the elf’s face and kicked him off the cliff and into the moor below.
The elf cried out in pain and surprise as landed in the mire and muck..
The elf clamped a hand over his wounded face and roared back at his opponent “You shall die Darkcloak! You have no idea whose path you have crossed this day!”
The ranger looked down from his vantage point above and said quietly “You’re right I don’t. And I don’t really care either.” The ranger bent to retrieve his bow and finish off his opponent when he saw his comrades still embattled with the elven attackers. Darkcloak then rejoined his comrades and fought off the rest of the elven attackers and left the Vel’Nikeryma fighting to keep from sinking in the bog below.
Ruluvien looked in the mirror at the pale white scar that stretched down his cheek. He thought back to the valuable lesson he had learned that day several years ago when years of planning had been foiled by the actions of a single human ranger. Since then he had engineered the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of humans along the borders of Cormanthor, but he never again took for granted the canniness of the human race and their uncanny ability to foil his plans with a single action or phrase.
Ruluvien finished scribbling in his ledger and grabbed the scrolls he had written down which were orders to his agents within his cell. “I will find you again Darkcloak” the Vel’Nikeryma mused “and next time, we will see who walks away.”
To be continued…