The doors slammed shut behind them, sending echoes throughout the massive chamber. Trogdor, Volke, Lily, Athena, and Shinon gazed in wonder at the domed walls covered in murals depicting wars and battles long forgotten. The room was a testament, a tribute to the years of conflict, violence, and death that had wracked the world since memory began. And in the center...
"So. You have come."
Ashnard turned to face the group. Trogdor had expected a grin, but there was merely a confident smile. His rage burned nonetheless.
"Just like all the others, you've come to me in hopes of finding revenge. Revenge for what you foolishly held dear, not realizing the futility of life. And so, I will bring you death."
Trogdor seethed with anger, barely restraining himself. He knew charging head-on would only mean his demise, but his patience was wearing thin already. Instead, he spoke.
"Why? Why me? Out of all the people whose fathers you could have murdered, why me?"
Ashnard gave a short laugh, more to himself than to Trogdor. "Because, to put it simply, you were happy. You had a father you loved and were proud of; a war hero you aspired to emulate. You held him so dear, your morals and ideals stemming from that cherishing of family. My methods had worked on Vails perfectly; it was time to test another race. I knew I had to cause pain intense enough to bring out that ultimate act of desperation; the seeking of revenge. I had to bring you to me, and you had to have enough potential to serve me once you got here. Thus, you were chosen.
You were to be my prototype, and, presumably, my masterpiece. An Elf, a servant of the Light, brought down into inescapable darkness. I knew that once I had you, I could not be stopped. And here you are, wishing ever so much to spill my blood in an effort to ease your pain. Once you have succumbed to despair, you will know that there is only death. And you shall become my greatest instrument of it."
"Enough!" All eyes turned to the source of the shout. Shinon stepped forward, fire in his eyes. "My brother died fighting your abominations. You murdered him, just like you murdered so many others. You are an abomination yourself, a corrupter of all that is good. You have twisted minds and destroyed bodies. And now, you're going to die."
"It seems I snared more prey than I had planned for. You will serve me as well, Elf scum. As will the rest of you. You shall be the vanguard of my army of death. Consider it an honor."
"Honor this." Faster than Trogdor could blink, Shinon had loosed an arrow toward Ashnard's skull. It shattered a few feet away from him. Ashnard had not even moved.
"Idiot. To think I could have masterminded such an enlightenment of the world's peoples without possessing power enough to guard against an arrow. Your presumption will be your doom." Ashnard twitched a finger, and a fireball rushed toward Shinon...
Shinon leaped aside, firing another arrow as he landed. Ashnard obliterated it with a wave of his hand. Shinon had already knocked two more arrows, and now he loosed them, still running alongside the curved wall. Ashnard's unseen force sent them spinning away, and he unleashed a bolt of magic at Shinon. The Elf leaped back, agilely dodging the blast and knocking another arrow...
There had been another bolt, and this sent Shinon flying into the wall. Smoke rising from his frame, he fell to the floor, and was still.
Trogdor and the others could only stare in horror. Ashnard wielded a power unlike anything they had ever known. There lay Shinon, the proud and fearsomely skilled archer, defeated in mere seconds. Trogdor felt the fear creeping into his mind...
"No." Trogdor's fist clenched around his dagger hilt. He could not falter now.
He ran straight for Ashnard.
"Trogdor, no!" Volke's words came too late. Trogdor was running at full speed. He heard nothing but his own rapid heartbeat. He felt nothing but rage. He saw nothing but the Vail in front of him, and he knew nothing but the desire to kill. A magic bolt flew at him. He leaped aside and kept running. Another. He dodged again, saw the second bolt coming, and leaped up into the air. Trogdor drew a throwing dagger and launched it downward with all his might. Quick as lightning, Ashnard drew a long curved sword and swiped the dagger aside. Trogdor descended, swinging his blade with all of his fury. Ashnard raised his sword.
The steel met.
Trogdor flipped over Ashnard, spinning and slashing as soon as he landed. Ashnard's ready blade met his strikes, deflecting the would-be fatal blows. Sparks flew from the burring steel. They locked blades, pressing their weapons against each other in a battle of sheer will. Trogdor looked into Ashnard's eyes. He was grinning.
An unseen force slammed into Trogdor, sending him flying away from his foe. He landed on his back, sliding on the marble floor.
"Trogdor!" Volke was running toward him. Trogdor looked in horror as a fireball raced toward his mentor, but Volke had been ready. He leaped away from the arcane fire and vanished. He had stealthed.
Ashnard prepared his blade, waiting for the assault. It came in the form of magic bolts from Lily and Athena, who were running in opposite directions and launching their most powerful spells. Ashnard, infusing his blade with magic, swatted the bolts away as easily as a child playing a game. He began laughing, amused by the ease of this combat.
He stopped laughing when he realized he was no longer standing on the ground. A fierce whirlwind surrounded him, lifting him into the air and imprisoning him in a torrent of magic. Athena and Lily had cast Turbulence. They strained to hold him within this prison, tapping into their deep reserves of energy in their struggle against his arcane might. In the middle of this vortex, Trogdor saw a flash of steel as Volke appeared, slashing toward Ashnard's throat...
Ashnard let out a shout of exertion, and a shockwave blasted Volke away and dissipated the whirlwind. Volke crashed to the ground, his dagger clattering off of the floor. Trogdor cried out and ran to him. He was unconscious. Trogdor turned to face Ashnard, but found himself flung against the wall. He was pinned, powerless to attack Ashnard, who was laughing once more. Ashnard turned to Athena and extended his hand. The floor erupted under her, throwing her to the ground. He turned around just in time to swat away Lily's magic blast. He muttered an incantation, and a glowing red circle appeared on the floor around her. She tried to raise her staff and attack, but could not. She was paralyzed. She could only stare in terror as Ashnard strode toward her.
"No!" Trogdor shouted helplessly. Ashnard paid no heed, walking steadily toward her, grinning all the while. When he reached her, he turned to Trogdor.
"And now, you will see her die."
He reached up and seized her throat. Trogdor strove against Ashnard's power with all his strength, but could not break free. He tried to hold back tears as he saw Ashnard begin to choke the life out of Lily...