Prologue

Tension was palpable, sharper for the biting air of that December morning. Birds, on silent, scaled and bony wings, sped away on the harsh, biting winds. The wind carried the scent of decay and death to smother them where they stood.

Shadows, dark deathly blotches on the night sky, gathered above the entrance to the majestic, proud city. Their hunter's eyes stared, unblinking, up at the swirling dull clouds above, before they glided unhindered through the streets. They knew, with the certainty of the sun rising, this place would provide them with a wealth of gore. Their beaks opened and then snapped shut in delight at the thought.

As they flew, their packs grew until alleyways and buildings, only dotted before by their numbers, were blanketed black with promised death.

Once the streets were secured, a hooded figure roamed the cobbled streets with a confidence born of many past conquests and strength of numbers. He was a flitting shadow, a presence that didn't belong in the surroundings he wandered through. On his signal the deadly creatures swarmed nearer, protecting and following his path.

This macabre march reached the centre of town at a pace that ensured all resistance was pacified. On arrival at his destination, he slowed to a halt and threw back the hood. Cold danced about his pointed ears, stealing heat from his head as he surveyed his surroundings and his long, smooth, midnight black hair swirled about his shoulders. Then, with a sadistic smirk, he nodded; it was a signal to his minions that the killings could begin.

The scrawny shadows separated into two swarms, outstretched claws needle sharp, and closed on the royal residence with frightening speed. Half of the horde entered through the back entrance, suppressing their glee in their gruesome task, only out of fear of retribution by their master. The other faction entered through the front entrance, not bothering to disguise their jubilations.

Though separated, each section went about similar tasks. Priceless artwork was ripped asunder and antique decor sullied beyond hope of redemption or repair in the creature's mindless rage.

Ulran's servants served the elf's will with every clawed tapestry and crushed vase – soon blood would be added to the deeds done.

Servants awakened and those unlucky enough to show curiosity for the cacophony were mercilessly slaughtered. Animals who, out of misfortune or misplaced trust, ventured into their path were gutted and gorged upon. Obstacles held no meaning – creatures and humans were mere fodder. The minions of the dark had a mission and nothing would come between them and its fulfilment.

Sweeping up the main staircase, both forces joined once more. They had no respect for the royal or the elders, holding no emotion in them but rage. Their fury had located its target: a room hidden by a white, embossed, panelled wooden door. This door could not be mistaken: its image had been ingrained into their primitive minds a thousand times over by their master.

Within seconds, the door down was reduced to meager shards of its former magnificence. With that obstacle gone, only open ground stood between them and their duty.

Startled from sleep, the occupant pushed up from her mattress. The regal woman stood little chance as the shadows descended on her. She needed a miracle, and held out little hope as sharp claws ripped at her.

As the shadows finished their monstrous work, a sleepy young prince peeped around the door to his mother's bedroom. Eyes wide in horror, the prince watched the last moments of his mother's life. His father, aiming to be a comforting and reassuring presence at his son's back, was unable to assist. It was too late. The evil entities had done their work. The elf queen had perished, ushering in a new era for the elf kingdom.

As the gruesome discovery was relayed through the city, an alarm sounded. Smiling in the assurance that his plan had succeeded, Ulran retreated. Leaping astride his obsidian dragon, the beast lifted into the drab horizon, not even stained with the coming dawn.