Page one: The agreement
Located at the ends of the earth, far beyond the edges of the empire and past the lands of desolation was a place where death lived, a place any sane individual would stay away from. A large group of individuals had gathered at the mouth of this place, cold sweat covering their frames, betraying their emotions. Death lived in and thrived in this place, the living only serving to feed its unholy inhabitants.
The party that had travelled here was truly desperate to come here, standing in the shadow of the two large statues that signaled the entrance to the shadow realm. The horses that had carried them for so many leagues had already left several miles back, the stench of death and corruption too much for them. It spoke volumes about the bravery of these individuals to stand before such a place and not run or freeze into place. Seconds turned into minutes, minutes into hours, yet nothing happened.
The party had spread out somewhat, individuals preferring to stick with fellow brethren or sisters of their individual races. Nothing had happened thus far, only silence and the sudden collapse of one of their members after he had stepped on a piousness plant, minutes later dying whilst convulsing violently.
“I take it the decease called mankind has brought you all here.”
A voice suddenly boomed out from within the entrance, bringing forth gusts of cold wind that assaulted the party, basking them all in the stench of decay and rot.
The voice was cold, calculating and ancient. It spoke with command and had a ferociousness that was barely contained. The voice was death and they all were standing at the edge of the shadow realm.
Silence fell over the part once again, a few so shocked at hearing the voice after nearly giving up hope. It took them all a little while before finally their sanity returned. The representatives of their races stood up and stepped forwards, each of them telling their tale.
The mighty orcs spoke of how the humans had hunted them for generations now, slaughtering the young, forcing the wounded to find in arenas and putting the rest to work as slaves in the iron mines.
The elves spoke of how the humans had broken their alliance after helping them stem the tide of a brutal war with the orcs. Now their people were treated as second class citizens and forced to live in slums, frequently robbed or killed whenever a human felt like it.
The dwarves spoke of how the humans had come in large numbers, pillaging their lands and destroying dozens of once mighty dwarven cities. There were others amongst them as well, even some humans. They all spoke of how the human empire was at the brink of swallowing the earth and covering it in darkness.
Mankind had gotten strong over the past few eons. It was now a plague that swept the land, enslaving all that survived and using the dead to fuel their war machine. Humans owned most of the iron mines and had the best steel productions, resulting in better equipment. They reproduced faster and their desire for wealth and power made them unpredictable. A large empire had formed and was hell bent on exterminating the lesser races.
The survivors had formed a coalition to stem the human tide, yet it was a losing battle. They had finally decided to take a chance, coming to the lands of the dead and striking a deal with darkness itself. Each of them asked the same of the shadow; Remove the royal human bloodline from the picture and let the empire implode in its greed and desperation to find new leadership.
“It will happen within the year.”
The voice boomed, assaulting them with the coldness and stench of death once more. Within the year was more than they had hoped for, but there would of course be a price to pay. They soon learned what the price would be; A living tribute from each race that represented the best of each race.
A month later the party returned once more, each bringing forth the best their race had to offer. Any doubts whether or not the shadow would keep its part of the agreement had been removed when they had heard the news of the king’s brother, the man found impaled in his own bedchamber on his own jousting lance, the head missing. Not a single servant had heard commotion and no one had been seen entering or leaving the imperial palace. It was as if an apparition had appeared and done the deed.
There were a dozen more royal family members, including the king, the queen and their offspring, but the stage had been set. The gates to the shadow realm opened when the party arrived once more, bringing forth the scent of death and eternal coldness. The chosen then stepped forwards, knowing that their sacrifice would ensure the survival of their race. They entered the threshold and were suddenly plunged into pure darkness when the doors closed behind them.
Even for the dwarves it would be hard to see clearly in this place due to there being no source of light. They stood silent for a time and waited for the inevitable, yet encountering nothing.
A voice boomed behind them as several torches began to lit up to their sides, basking this rotten place in an early light.
The creature behind them was both small and gigantic, its eyes bright orange orbs that could only be described as pure evil. It was quite a bit smaller than most of them, if not all, but the way it held and showed itself spoke volumes about its capability to destroy them there and then.
“Welcome to your new home.”
He said with a grin, throwing a round object towards them and letting it fall on the floor in a gory smack. One glance downwards would reveal it to be the severed head of the king’s brother. The creature grinned and showed fanged teeth and a scarred face. It looked both young and ancient at the same time. It gazed at each and every one of them before it snapped its fingers, letting the torches die out within an instant and plunging them into darkness once again.
What had stood before them was one of the old races; a species so violent and dangerous that the books and scriptures of old spoke of them being the greatest threat the world had ever faced. It had taken the might of all the races to thwart the evil and utterly destroy and curse them. Only remnants of history books spoke of this foul race, and even then in hushed tones and fearful respect. Not much was known about them, yet one thing was clear.
It was better to be at the mercy of a demon than it was to be at the hands of a Goblin.