Authors: Richard Poche
Tags: #fantasy, #dark fantasy, #elves, #gritty, #elves shapeshifters, #gritty fantasy, #elves demons gods futhark epic fantasy high fantasy, #elves and fae, #gritty novels
WHEN ELVES DIE
To Jim and Rick
and rainy days of rolling twenty
Special thanks to my editor, Brian
Kaufman, for helping guide a rookie through his first
His black horse seized up the moment they came upon
the orange flames which flickered against the snowfall. Three tents
stood beyond the chromatic hues of the fire, the largest one in the
center covered a stage.
He snapped on the reins and trotted across the
desolate landscape. His horse moved with his body, the longer they
rode together the more the animal became an extension of his mind.
The horse knew instinctively when his rider wanted to turn right or
left. When to speed up or slow down.
Tholan stood shorter than most other barbarians. He
grew his hair long while most other fighters in the region shaved
their heads bald. Tholan made up for his lack of size with
tenacity. He always overwhelmed his foes with unmatched speed and
The fire started to die down and he dismounted. One
of the tent poles fell over and the tattered tarp revealed several
dead bodies. He recognized the deceased as elves with their pointed
ears and diminutive bodies. But some had their ears either ripped
or bitten off. All had their throats torn open, with a circle of
blood in the snow as their final resting place.
Crude stigmata signs were scratched into some of
their foreheads. Pentagram symbols with the letter “K” cut into the
center. With dead corpses everywhere he stepped, his boots crunched
down on the charred remains of an elf whose tongue dangled from his
mouth. Another lay with a broken off spear stuck in his chest.
With the grace of a lion, he threaded his way to the
stage platform. Four bodies were sprawled out, like a child's
forgotten toys. One of the elves clutched a strum guitar. Another
hunched backward over a drum set with wooden sticks impaled in both
eyes. A singer with her throat ripped open lay on the stage front.
Her skin a translucent white, she had been drained of blood.
Sobbing sounds turned him around. About twenty feet away, a woman
nested her head on the chest of a dead girl. Her cries rose and
then lowered in intensity as he approached. He thought her too tall
to be an elf. As he got closer, his eyes turned to the source of
her grief. The dead girl's skin had the same pale, blood-drained
look as the others.
“What happened?” he asked.
The woman turned around slowly. She gazed at him
with unblinking eyes that shined with tears. After a few moments of
silence, she returned her attention back to the dead girl.
“We were having a service,” she said finally. “They
came upon us so fast. The Killtooths.”
He always thought the Killtooths were a mythical
creation. Supposedly they were a breed of elves that fed on the
blood of other elves.
“We thought we had killed them all last year. They
stayed in the caves up in Shaian. You have to kill them in the
summer when they go into hibernation. There must have been another
group. Another colony that we missed. I had no idea they could make
it this far out.”
She nodded her head.
“She was my heart. That's what she was.”
The woman kissed the girl on the forehead.
“Come back to me,” she whispered.
“The rest of you. You're from the same church?”
“My husband is...Was Diorman,” she pointed to an elf
on the ground who had bloodied stumps for arms.
He had heard of Diorman. One of the leaders of the
church that worshiped the God Pegasin.
Come back to me, Iriedove” she
whispered to the girl again.
“How did you survive?”
“I went to the woods,” she pointed back at the vast
expanse of trees. “I had to pee. I heard screaming and when I came
back it was pure chaos. I tried to find my daughter but I couldn't
with all the elves running and screaming and...the Killtooths
attacking. So I played dead. I laid down next to a group of dead
elves. They found me anyway but...They don't drink human
Looking back down at her daughter, she started to
clean the blood off the girl's face.
“She was always teased for being a half-breed. But
she was the most beautiful girl in the village.”
“She's very beautiful.”
“And she loved to sing. Songs of worship.”
The woman placed her head on the dead girl's chest
again. Her mouth distorted into a bitter smile.
“When a human is bitten by a Killtooth they turn
into...they come back to life as one of them. Maybe she'll come
back. Maybe because she's a half-breed, she'll come back.”
“If she does come back. She's won't be human. Or elf
She shot him an icy glare. Then she looked up at the
“Lord Pegasin,” she cried out. “Why have you allowed
this to happen? We have been good. We are a faithful people. We are
a peaceful people. We have spent our entire lives worshiping you.
Singing to you. Praising you. And yet, you allowed this to
He looked at the young dead girl. Her blouse had
been ripped away, only the torn sleeves remained. There were
bloodied hand prints along her breasts and thighs. Dried mascara
tears streaked her face and trailed down her nude body.
“Do you think I can live on with these memories?”
she raged with her fists clenched. “Why don't you just kill me? I
don't want to live....I don't want to live anymore. How could you
allow this? We worshiped you!”
She ripped off a medallion that suspended from her
neck on a leather cord. Throwing the religious symbol on the
ground, she spat on it then looked to the sky with hate in her
Tholan looked up at the heavens himself. Some fast
moving clouds were coming in from the east. The winds were starting
to pick up and he could feel the temperature getting colder.
“We really don't have time to give your daughter a
proper burial. The snow will cover her body. Protect it from
His voice trailed off. He did not want to bring up
the topic of scavenger forest animals digesting what remained of
her loved ones.
“I have no place to go,” she said. “We were supposed
to go to the next village and set up a revival. I have nowhere to
go and nothing to live for. My husband is gone. My daughter is
gone. I have nothing now.”
The woman turned her back to the Barbarian.
With nothing more to say, he started to walk
“Wait,” she said.
Tholan kept walking. He did not want further
“I know who you are.” The woman's face now a picture
of delirious hope. “You are Tholan the Feared. You are an assassin
“How do you know?” Tholan stopped in place, now
“I remember you. Our village elders hired you four
or five years ago. We had a chief in our town that was abusing our
people. He was a brutal man. They hired you to take care of him.
His name was Rodius.”
“Rodius,” he said. “Yes. I remember.”
“I have thought of you for many a night since then.
How you saved the day when no one else would.”
“Because they paid me.”
“I have no money,” she said.
Tholan turned back around. He called his horse over
and mounted the animal.
“But I can offer my body.”
“In exchange for what?” Tholan dropped off the
“I want you to go to the caves of Shaian and kill
the lot of them.”
Tholan paused for a beat as he looked over at the
“We could set fire to the rest of the bodies,” he
said. “Otherwise carrion will come and feed on what is left of
“There's nothing left of me!”
The woman twirled around in a pirouette of
“I cannot help you,” he said as he turned his back
toward her once again.
Her bloodcurdling scream startled him as it reached
a volume he would never have expected. Nor did he expect her to be
racing toward him at supernatural speed.
Her jaws snapped at him, saliva dripping from her
fangs. Holding her back by her shoulders, he could see the bite
marks on her neck.
Unable to get close enough to bite him, she spat
into his face.
Her sputum burned like acid. He pushed her hard and
she fell on her back. Screaming like a psychotic banshee, she
bolted back up and attacked again.
He half-hoped that by taking out his long sword she
would back down.
Screaming, she kept coming. He pierced her heart
with one upward stroke.
Her face, which looked so demonic an instant
earlier, faded into a serene calm. Her black eyes turned back into
a slate blue.
Tholan extracted his blade and laid the dead woman
on the ground.
He broke his own code. He only killed for money.
Tholan took another look at the dead bodies. He
noticed that a lot of them still had their purses and money bags. A
small bounty there for the taking.
He decided against sifting through the valuables of
the dead. Already tardy, he did not want to anger his new
Ravalynn. The Dark Queen.
He couldn't help but look back at the dead elves
again as he left. A group of friends and family that lived
together, ate together and worshiped together. Now they died
together. He wondered what it would be like to belong to a
community of people, whether it be elves or humans. To have people
to whom his life mattered and would avenge him if he were
He reminded himself that he did not make it this far
by having compassion and clemency. Sentimentality is for the weak,
he told himself. Friendship is for the weak.
The weak and the dead.
That is how he earned the name Tholan the Feared.
The solitary figure coming down the mountain with a sword in
The assassin of the snow.
Xavian waved his dagger around and stabbed at an
imaginary dragon. His battle-cry filled the air as he somersaulted
off the top of the wagon. Short and slender, Xavian had a mop of
brown curly hair that invariably got into his eyes. His
non-imposing physique aside, Xavian dreamed of fighting legendary
battles and having his fellow elves speak of his exploits in hushed
tones of reverence.
“Unhand that damsel, you beast!” Xavian pointed his
knife at the large, sleeping wolf.
Jamben opened one eye and his tail thumped the
ground in annoyance. Not amused by the young elf's antics, he
rolled over and went back to sleep.
“I said unhand her or you shall suffer a most
humiliating defeat!” Xavian went through a series of movements,
pantomiming blocks with his dagger as he pirouetted away from an
imaginary enemy's strikes.
“Careful there, Big Bad Barbarian,” said Zinna.
She had long legs for an elf. Her light brown hair,
partially covered with a headband, fell all the way down to her
waist. Her eyes were bright green and sparkled with mischief. Only
two summers older than Xavian, she joked that they were centuries
apart when it came to maturity.
“That dagger might hit your legs,” she laughed. “And
then people will think that you cut yourself shaving.”
Xavian jumped back atop the wagon and swung the
“How dare you mock Xavian the
Brave!” he said, puffing out his chest
I may come back and save you one
day. Save the town of Graceonna and the entire tribe of elves. I
will then gladly accept your tithings, your praise and your young
damsels. One day. Yes, one day, I will save all of you. Just