- Idylls of the Rat King – Goodman Games
- Vistas of the Arcane – Heathen Oracle
- Darke Alley – Bottled Imp Games
- Factory – Perpetrated Press
Note: All of the powers and abilities featured in this short story are available in the Darkness Rising series.
The young initiates at the temple of Auraran had a game. A dangerous game, forbidden by the elders, but one that was still practised by the exceptionally brave and daring.
The game was called Dark Alley, and it involved clerics daring each other to wander down Darke Alley, a street notorious for deaths and disappearances, and the source of many evil rumours over the years. It was a foolish game; the elders whispered that countless priests had been found dead in Darke Alley over the years, their throats torn out in the remote darkness of the mysterious street.
These black thoughts were fresh in his mind when Arinn stood in the shadows, some twenty paces down Darke Alley. Although he could still hear the voices in the street behind him, the backs of the tall buildings seemed impossibly sinister; the shadows before him foreboding and near tangible. He wrapped his cloak firmly around his shoulders and shivered. He knew that not five hundred paces away, at the far end of the alley, his friends were waiting for him. He looked back one last time at the inviting street lamps of civilisation, then moved off into the darkness. If he made it to the far end of the street without lantern or candle, he would have escaped an entire month of kitchen duty.
All he had to do was to escape whatever sights Darke Alley had to show him…
The world of Darke Alley seemed muffled; sounds echoed over and over. Strange shapes loomed out of the darkness. He could make out the irregular forms of boxes and bins and the silhouettes of arched doorways. Occasionally a sliver of light poured pencil-thin through a keyhole or under an ill-fitting door, but on the whole, the moon lay behind thick clouds and the night was desperately dark.
Arinn sped along now. He could make out the incumbent forms of people, the poor or the dying, perhaps, wrapped in blankets, slumbering away the chill of the night, oblivious to his passing.
They’re just rags. He told himself grimly. Rags. That’s all they are.
He risked a look behind him. He was now halfway down Darke Alley. As far back as forward. Steeling himself he hurried on, his shoes clicking noisily on the cobbles.
Then as he moved, he could see someone standing in a doorway. His skin prickled; although he could not clearly see the figure, he could feel two eyes focussed intently upon him. For a moment he slowed, fear rising in his chest. Then he stepped as far around the figure as he could and moved on, his fingers wrapped tightly around the holy symbol in his pocket.
As he passed, a momentary ray of moonlight cast the alley in harsh silver. He caught a glimpse of the stranger. Completely bald, he had flesh the color of ivory and blood-filled eyes. A chill accompanied him unlike any Arinn had ever experienced, it was the frigid air of death and the fetid stench of rot. The bald man literally stank of the grave.
Arinn reeled for a moment and fell backward into the wall. He tried to scream out, yet the words seemed to catch in his throat and he instead gasped and slipped down the stone onto the floor.
“Hello” The stranger said, his voice strangely enticing and touched with amusement. He stood cloaked in shadow where the moonlight limned his outline in faint silver.
“I’ve killed so many clerics in this street,” the bald man said almost wistfully, “yet they keep on coming. And here you are.”
Arinn reached for his holy symbol, yet the metal seemed cold and desperately heavy in his pocket. The other sniffed and stepped from the shadows.
“You have but two choices, little cleric.” He said, his eyes blazing. “You can stay here and die, or you can run and die. It’s all the same to me.”
“W. What do you want with me?” Arinn managed to stammer. The other sneered, his pale lips upturning into a sickly grimace.
“We don’t want just you.” He said. “We want you and your little friends that are laughing at your foolishness not far away. Do you think we don’t know about your little game?”
Without a word, Arinn scrambled up from the ground and fled.
The lights at the end of Darke Alley could not have been more welcoming. Arinn’s friends laughed as they saw the look on his face as he hurtled from the alley.
“Run.” He screamed breathlessly, “There’s a – something behind me.” Standing alone on the street corner, the young priests congratulated him on braving the dangers of Darke Alley. Yet Arinn pushed them away and tried to force them into motion, anything to get them away from the alley and the death that followed.
“How touching.” A cold voice said from the shadows. “All this emotion just for me. Six little clerics, all quite alive, one little murder, then there were five.”
The bald man stepped out of the alley, his liquid, blood filled eyes filled with malice. Arinn was drawn to those eyes and could not look away. They were like twin suns, glorious and powerful. They grew and grew, until they were all he could see. They offered promise, comfort, safety. Where are you going little brothers? They seemed to say, stay awhile, we are friends and we are hungry.
Arinn did not question him. He had taken a few steps forward before he was thrown to the ground by one of his friends. Stars danced before his vision and he tried to get up, to go towards the safety of the welcoming eyes, but he was forced roughly to the ground.
“Don’t look at his eyes.” Someone hissed. Yet it made no difference. Even though Arinn was unable to look at the bald man, the eyes continue to burn in his mind.
Then quite suddenly the presence in his mind was gone and Arinn could hear another voice. He looked up to see the high cleric Alveran walking toward them, his holy symbol incandescent in the darkness.
“STOP!” He roared, his sunrise holy symbol blinding as he presented it before him. Flames rippled up and down his robe and around his head. “You shall not have these children. They are not for the likes of you.” He turned to the clerics and gazed down at Arinn.
“Get back to the temple, all of you.” Arinn picked himself up and the six clerics gathered like frightened animals.
Yet the pale faced man spoke again. “They are ours now.” He said, his voice dripping venom. “They have passed the threshold and our rightfully ours. You should go back to the temple old fool.” The old cleric’s face hardened.
“You cannot charm me so easily, creature of evil.” He whispered, pointing. At his command, a brilliance burst forth from his holy symbol, surrounding the bald man in the light of day. The bald man was thrown backward, the light searing his flesh and setting his clothes aflame. The light in his eyes died as he fell into the shadows of Darke Alley.
Not content with merely banishing the evil, the old cleric moved forward, his holy symbol gleaming, but from the blackness of Darke Alley the bald man laughed, a hissing sibilance that set the clerics’ nerves aflame.
“I’m not alone, foolish cleric.” He screeched in a voice that was barely human.
Even as the arch cleric advanced, a writhing mass of shadows took shape, coalescing into a tall, ebon-skinned elf, with dark eyes and angular features. The dark elf reached out and took hold of the old cleric’s arm, yet with surprising agility, Alveran leapt back and presented his holy symbol. The dark elf gave a yelp of pain as flashes of golden fire scored his features. The arch cleric presented his holy symbol again and uttered a prayer to the god of the sun. Dark Alley filled with a brilliant amber light.
“Get back, vampire.” He roared. The dark elf closed his eyes as the light engulfed him.
“I think not, charlatan.” He whispered. A liquid darkness poured forth from the dark elf, hungrily devouring the light and racing to cross the distance between elf and the aged cleric. As it touched Alveran’s holy symbol, there was a blast of darkness and the old cleric was flung backward into the alley wall. The dark elf hissed with mirth.
“My power alone is greater than your meagre faith.” He screeched in triumph. “Your petty devotion wallows against my absolute might.”
Oblivious to his words, Alveran lay dazed, his hand blackened, his holy symbol twisted beyond recognition. He climbed wearily to his feet, and stumbled backward, whispering another prayer. His holy symbol burst into flame, restoring itself to gleaming metal in a heartbeat. Stepping from the shadows, Arinn watched as the bald man stood up and smoothed down the smouldering fabric of his jacket. His eyes blazed with crimson as he glared vengefully at the arch cleric who whispered a silent prayer to the heavens for aid.
“Time to die, old cleric.” He hissed, urging the dark elf forward.
Alveran smiled beatifically and closed his eyes. Even as the dark elf approached, a roaring column of white-hot flame engulfed both cleric and vampire, yet when the flames subsided, the shadowy figure stood unharmed. Inches apart, the dark elf grinned wickedly.
The old cleric stood incredulous as a deeply cowled figure stepped forth from the shadows. Crimson flames the color of blood flickered up from his blood-dripping robe. He stepped toward the old cleric, his features lost to the folds of his hood.
“What will you do now, Cleric?” The dark elf spat venomously. “How can your faith compare to fire, darkness and blood?” He did not wait for an answer, in a blur of motion, he took the aged cleric by the waist and hurled him into the wall. Again and again, with ever-greater force. Arinn heard the sickening crunch of bone as he finally released Alveran who collapsed upon the floor and was still.
For a moment there was panic amongst the six clerics as they realized they were alone, then the bald man started walking toward them. His eyes burned. “You are safe now.” He said, smoking still pouring from his coat. “Come with us.”
Stripped of their will, the six clerics began to move slowly towards Darke Alley.
Yet from the darkness behind them rushed two figures. Dressed in shining plate mail with golden tabards, Arinn recognized them as two of the order of the Incandescent Heart, paladins of great honor and nobility in the temple of Auraran. At their presence, the entire street seemed to fill with brilliance. The bald man let out a guttural howl of anguish and fell backward, stumbling back into the depths of Darke Alley. The crimson-garbed creature burst into flame and was gone, leaving only the dark elf who stood alone, half bathed in midnight.
The first paladin raised his sword and called out in a booming voice, “Evil take heed. By the order of the gracious dawn, you have no presence in this city. Begone or face our wrath!” At his words, a luminous wash of light engulfed the clerics and Arinn felt the warmth of Auraran seep through him.
The dark elf stepped forward, contempt on his pointed face. “I’m trembling.” He hissed. Darkness surged forward, violently clashing with the gentle light. Arinn stood in twilight; warm brilliance on his right, and frigid shadow on his left.
“So be it.” The paladin said, his face resolved.
Then all hell broke loose. Arinn stood limply while the paladins attacked the dark elf. And they were not the only ones, for the street became awash with clerics, blazing flame and wielding weapons of holy might as they raced to aid their fallen cleric and to battle the terrible evil that lingered on their own doorsteps.
As the paladins moved to attack, the dark elf turn to shadow and the paladins fell to the floor, screaming as blackness smothered them. They shrieked with agony as countless razor-sharp slivers of midnight slashed at their exposed flesh.
One of the holy clerics rushed toward the paladins and pointed. A shimmering column of rainbow hued light burst from the heavens and coruscated over their writhing forms. The biting shadow convulsed and fell back into the street. After a moment, it reformed into the dark elf.
“Oh look.” The pale-faced man said to Arinn, his voice dripping with disdain, “You’ve brought your little friends with you. How sweet.” He took a step to the side and gestured behind him back toward Darke Alley.
“Want to see my little friends?” He said, grinning, his pointed teeth flashing brightly. “Only they’re not quite so little.”
From the shadows, Arinn saw a group of creatures moving down the alley toward him. A hulking figure covered in weathered animal skins, a thin green skinned loping creature with gnarled fangs and domed skull, a tall gray skinned humanoid with long thin features and fathomless eyes. Leading the group, a white robed youth with gnarled feathery wings and a serene expression upon his beautiful features. Accompanying them all was a terrible chill, the icy frost of the grave and the indescribable stench of death…
At their approach, the gray skinned figure waved a hand and uttered a single word, “Bleed!”
At his utterance, the head paladin gasped as a fountain of blood burst forth from his nose. In a moment, everyone, including Arinn was bleeding, crimson rivulets pouring from eyes, nose and even mouth.
“Not him.” The bald man said, pointing to Arinn. The gray skinned figure stared at him and the pressure released from his mind.
Arinn staggered backward, fear shattering the compulsion that lay over him. Suddenly, the pale man was beside him, dragging him towards the approaching group of monsters. He was aware of a terrible chill that bit into his flesh as the monster touched his flesh. Fear swelled within. The crimson eyes again loomed in his mind, quelling his will and forcing him to be silent.
His soul screamed in terror, but it was powerless to resist.
Behind him, the clerics began to chant and the still-bleeding paladins raced forward screaming holy words of power, even as a wash of crimson streamed down their tabards. The forces clashed, holy light and bloody darkness. The hulking figure that stood over ten feet high waded through the clerics, ripping off arms and casting bodies down the street.
The gray skinned creature stood motionless, his eyes closed, yet as every weapon touched him, the metal corroded and turned to dust. Beside him, the green skinned creature leapt onto a wall and clung there, breathing a miasma of noxious mist onto the battling clerics.
It was a massacre. Two score clerics were overpowered by the few monsters that did little more than defend themselves.
Arinn felt he should do something, act in some way. Until a few moments ago, these clerics were his people and they were being slain. Yet the compulsion to stand and remain docile was strong, and instead of acting, he merely watched with curiosity, his will utterly depleted.
Suddenly in an attempt to reach the fallen Alveran, a number of the clerics gathered together with one of the elders at their head, “In the name of the holy dawn I command thee begone.” He shrieked, presenting his holy symbol that burned brighter than the sun. A wash of divine fire burst forth from his hands and swept down the alley violently tossing the vampires in every direction. Even the huge hulking creature shifted form, melting into a wolf that fled howling into darkness.
“Gah!” Spat the bald man, wincing as holy fire seared his flesh. “My patience grows thin.” He withdrew a circular disk from around his neck that seemed to be inscribed with a glowering crimson teardrop. “Let us see how your faith compares to mine.” He stepped out of the alley as the clerics approached. “In the name of the blackest night, I call upon the powers of the Void, Vangual hear my plea, I repel thee, Powers of Light.” As his words faded, a wash of blackness exploded from his holy symbol striking the approaching clerics devouring the very flesh from their bones. The front ranks were dissolved in a heartbeat, the next burned beyond imagining. What clerics remained slipped into unconsciousness, their bodies charred and blackened.
A few moments later, the bald man covered the disk under his jacket, “Time to leave.” He said, nodding towards the crimson robed figure that materialized once more in the darkness. The figure began to whisper mystical words- conjuring something in the darkness.
With the bald man’s attention on the slaughter, the chains of compulsion slipped from Arinn’s mind. Granted a brief moment of clarity, Arinn looked around at the destruction.
It was carnage. Corpses littered the alley. Friends and partners in battle, even many of his superiors lay amongst the dead or dying. And the creatures feasted upon the fallen, drinking their blood and howling with triumph.
Arinn’s mind reeled, how could so few cause so much destruction? What were these creatures? As he watched a number of black robed figures appeared from the shadows and began collecting blood from the fallen in dark vials inscribed with mysterious runes.
“I love feasting on a good cleric in the evening.” The dark skinned elf hissed wickedly, his features dripping with gore.
Arinn turned his attention back to the scarlet figure. Finished, the robed creature pointed a single gloved hand and a swirling circle of liquid crimson opened in the darkness. A portal…
Arinn, turned to run, yet someone swept him from the ground with powerful arms. Tears streaming down his cheeks, he tried to scream, yet his captor lifted him up and carried him toward the portal. Already some of the monsters were leaving, stepping back through the gateway and vanishing into darkness.
The bald man stood facing the carnage. He seemed to be speaking to the survivors.
“Tell the rest of your kind that we have arrived and that we are no longer content to remain in the shadows.” He said coldly. “We will return to claim what is rightfully ours.”
With that he turned back to the portal and stepped into it. Already had his five friends been taken beyond the portal. He screamed as his was the same fate.
“Say goodbye to this world.” An inhuman voice whispered in his mind. “And hello to another.”
Powerful arms threw him into the swirling portal that stank of blood and death and eternal unlife.