Entrance to Dark Harbor
The Dark Arrow Trilogy #2
The traitor, Silverfist, is dead. But the truth that he revealed with his dying breath will send the young elf, Elliyar Wintermoon, and his family away from their ancestral homeland, Andalaya, and into uncharted territory. Once again, Elliyar will be expected to accomplish the impossible in order to strike a blow at his enemies and protect the people who mean the most to him
New and mystical powers have surfaced and with the return of the Unsired the war between the races increases in severity. Will Elliyar’s newfound abilities as a Water Caller be enough to turn the tide of the conflict? Or will the sinister plans of Half-Mask, leader of the dark elves of the south, thwart Elliyar and his family and possibly result in something far worse for Elliyar Wintermoon?
Half-Mask sat languidly in a throne-like chair of worn walnut, the wood a deep, rich brown. He supposed that if he felt any deep connection to the land whatsoever, that the color might remind him of earth and life and growth. But he had forsaken those things long ago. Except, perhaps, for growth, but only in the manner of expanding his lands. However, the time was not yet ripe. Soon. Soon, he would retake what had been lost, and more. Half-Mask had a plan, a plan that was bound to yield the fruit he wanted. Power. That was what made the world turn. Nations rose and fell, people overcame obstacles, races were subjugated, all for the sake of power. Power was freedom. It was the truest kind of freedom there was, over yourself and the freedom to take away the liberty of others.
Half-Mask smiled at that thought and hooked one lean leg over the arm of his chair in which every leader of prominence among the Departed had, at one time, sat. His leg poked out from the long black cloak that had fallen open, but the hood was still shrouding his face in darkness. Southern elves of prominence were often known for wearing heavy, ermine robes, but those robes were ungainly and hindered Half-Mask’s ability to move freely and quickly. Not that he feared attack in the heart of his people’s kingdom. No, in the palace at Dark Harbor, he was completely safe. Yet he was nothing if not calculated and prepared. He would not allow himself to fall prey to the dangerous politicking of his people. He was much too clever for that and wouldn’t bow to expectations when a cloak could be removed much more quickly than robes, if necessary.
The wide window presented a view of the west, over the harbor, and on towards the ocean and the Enclaves. The Enclaves stretched into the western sea, an archipelago of island keeps, fortresses, and small port cities that his people populated. His people were the Departed—those elves who, in the great schism of the past, had abandoned their connection to the land from which they came, leaving behind culture and tradition. Unlike the Highest, as their northern kin referred to themselves, who remained perpetually enthralled to Creation, enslaved by it—bonded as they called it. He sneered as he thought of those fools to the north. Unable to adapt to the times, the northern elves were doomed to the role of slavery, if not outright extinction, once he implemented his plan to assert control over everything this side of the Fracture, the impassable and hazardous sea to the east that separated this continent from the human lands. The thought brought him a small sense of delight. A black fire of hatred for his northern kin smoldered within him.
A small table sat to the right of his miniature throne, and on it rested a mug of dark liquid. Half-Mask idly swirled his slender, smallest finger in the cup as he gazed out over the harbor and watched the reluctant, yet diligent, toiling of his many slaves. They were all formerly of the Highest, the fair northern elves, but his slave masters dutifully enforced the principle that the northern slaves were no longer higher than anything. In fact, if they wanted a name, then in truth they should refer to themselves as the “Lowest” to reflect how far from power they truly were.
Half-Mask lifted his mug, took a sip, then placed it carefully back on the stand table. It would not do to spill. He briefly felt something close to reverence—as close as his heart was capable of producing—as he considered the dark liquid, but then it was gone again, dulled by his incessant thirst for domination and control. It was a thirst that left it difficult for him to revere anything other than his own plans to achieve those ends.
The small table was new—he usually had one of his personal attendants hold his cup while he was not using it—but he had desired solitude. Today, he held his cup himself, or placed it on nearby furniture. How odd it felt to do so, how utterly mundane. Half-Mask was the opposite of ordinary. He was brilliantly vicious, violently powerful, vividly clever, and strong willed. In short, he was remarkable.
As he set the mug down, he resumed the gentle swirling of his finger in the dark liquid. Small puffs of black, smoky steam rose from the cup, making it appear to be piping hot, though it felt neither hot nor cold. It was some strange mix of the two sensations. Icy cold and burning hot and neither at the same time, all rolled into one. The vapors rising from the liquid were more akin to smoke than anything else. Yet even the emission of smoke in itself was strange, since smoke was derived from fire and most liquids did not burn. He lifted and sipped again, loathe to allow too much time to pass between sips of its deliciously potent contents.
He stirred again, glancing down at his finger in the liquid. As he withdrew his little finger, a tiny fleck of golden light streaked from the tip of his finger just as it broke from the surface and was absorbed by the dark liquid. Surprise shattered the void of his detached musings. It had been a long time since anything other than darkness had left him. He had thought that all the light had long since been leeched from his body. Unease flickered through him. He did not like the light. He preferred his darkness.
Footsteps sounded as someone slowly advanced up the stairs with obvious trepidation. He had deliberately told his attendants that he wanted time to think, time to brood. If they were disobeying and approaching him, it meant one or both of two things. Either someone was going to die, or the messenger approaching carried news of the utmost importance, in which case he still might die for disobeying. Principles were principles after all. However, Half-Mask decided—rather magnanimously he thought—to reserve his decision on the fate of his approaching servant until after he heard the news.
A knock sounded at the oaken door. He didn’t respond and waited for another knock. Let them sweat. The notion of their fear and worry growing with each progressive knock gave him perverse pleasure. His solitude about to be interrupted, he picked up the only other item on his stand table, the object after which he’d taken his name—his black mask, perfectly crafted to fit the left side of his tanned face all the way from his forehead down to the jawline. It covered his cheek completely, but left the nose bare and featured an eyehole for him to see. The mask covered the splotchy, diseased-looking left side of his face that was pocked and scarred, as well as freshly broken with ever-present sores. He was not ashamed of his face—it was the price he had paid for his power. Yet, a modicum of vanity still held sway over him. Oh, he had modified other aspects of his appearance, he had only to run his tongue over the needle sharp teeth in his mouth to remind him, yet those changes in appearance were by choice, and the patchwork on his face was not. For that reason alone, he covered his diseased-looking blemishes. He placed the mask onto his face.
The knocking continued. After a minute or so of mulling over painful punishments, Half-Mask graciously gave the command to enter. A nervous slave—a southern elf, properly tanned instead of fair like the northern kin—opened the door and shut it quietly behind him. Like Half-Mask and the rest of the southern Departed, the slave had elegantly pointed ears, and a strong muscular frame, unlike the lean northern elves. The slave’s hair was cut short to match his station, not like the long, luscious black locks that adorned Half-Mask’s head beneath the hood of his cloak. His upper teeth were filed sharp, signifying that he had once been a warrior. But there was little fight left in the slave now, having probably been demoted to the lowest rank in the kingdom for some grievous mistake. If there was one thing the Departed society was good at, it was breaking the spirits of their captives. In the southern capital of Dark Harbor and its surrounding territory, “once a slave, always a slave” was a phrase often spoken. However, this adage had less to do with the physical practicalities of imprisonment and much more to do with the mentality enforced upon those unlucky enough to become captives in the south. Half-Mask’s slave masters knew exactly how to break the will of their captives and there were enough slavers on hand to individually target those slaves who showed more resilience. No one maintained their inner fortitude for long as a slave of the Departed, they all broke sooner, rather than later, and devolved into cowering and cringing before the wrath and wishes of their deserved masters.