Chapter Three - A'trael of the Bloodclaw

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A'TRAEL OF THE BLOODCLAW stirred from his concealment beneath a fall of deadwood. He had fooled himself into believing he possessed strength enough to face the Elves. Although unharmed, the arduous journey and the battle had taken a toll. He could not afford to be damaged or worse, not until he had completed his mission. He had feasted on a large forest beast he had come upon grazing among the trees. He had stalked the beast, creeping silently forward. At the last moment, it raised its antlered head, somehow perceiving the danger. It had tried to spring away, but it was too late. A'trael had savoured the cracking of bones in his strong jaws, the taste of blood and fresh meat. He had rested and now felt stronger, his powers rekindled. Now he was ready. He desperately needed to track down the Elves once more. Only they held the means to release his brethren from imprisonment. Somewhere close by, lay their hidden lands, he had gained that much knowledge from a probe of their minds. 

But A'trael of the Bloodclaw was angry and confused. 

He had allowed the Elven warriors to take him by surprise. Something that should not have happened. He had turned and attacked them, a foolish move, putting his mission in jeopardy. He was a warrior of the Bloodclaw trusted by the Magus Lords to carry out their undertakings. Failure was not an option. He had let his blood-lust divert him from his intended purpose. Some had escaped, and even now word of his arrival would be spreading. They would be on their guard now, probably hunting him.

He would have killed them all if the stranger had not intervened. 

Not an Elf or any of the other Faerie beings that his kind had encountered before. 

But a child of man. 

One of a new race that had blighted the land since they had last walked upon its surface. A probing of the newcomer's mind had revealed much. Fleeting images of how they had relentlessly spread across the globe, scarring it with their huge cities and industries. War, famine, greed, and poverty were tearing at the people and the lands, gradually they were ruthlessly destroying themselves from within. And they were too foolish to even comprehend what was happening to them. 

A'treal chuckled grimly to himself. A liquid coughing from deep in his reptilian throat. He recalled ancient memories of his own planet and its terrible fate.

Perhaps they were not so different, this new life form and his race. 

It was the boy who mystified him. 

This Dark Child. 

How was it that this child carried within him a spark of their star born magic? 

He had noted the image of the red gemstone. Charnel, Grand Cardinal of the Magus Lords, the priests who control the sorcery of the Chained had told of it. In a failed plan to escape their underground prison, they had used sorcery to seek out a servant of the dark arts. They had found one. A foolish creature called Caranaxus, a Witch. Like themselves trapped in a world that was not their own. The Magus Lords had listened patiently to the infernal mewling of the creature, fooling it into believing they were helping to further its pathetic desires. They had imbued the gemstone with their ancient magic which the creature had thought would grant it untold power and riches. In fact, when the time was right they would use it to open a doorway allowing them access to the world above.

But that plan had failed. Now it seemed the failure had somehow been connected to the child. 

How had a mere child been able to thwart their careful machinations? 

It appeared his life and that of the Elves were entwined somehow. He manipulated an insignificant amount of magic, surely not enough to stop the Witch and destroy the gemstone. 

Did all this new race have access to magic? If so, considerable care would have to be taken with the Chained's plans for the surface world. 

But that mystery would have to wait. 

There would be time enough to track down this Dark Child when he had completed his mission. 

A'treal stretched upwards, bits of leaf and other forest detritus dripped from his armoured form. He flexed his clawed limbs and lashed out at a nearby tree trunk. He grunted with cruel satisfaction his red eyes fixed on the deep gouges that he had ripped in the bark. 

He breathed deep, tongue flickering, savouring the air around him. The acrid scent of Elf was unmistakable.

A'treal, most powerful of the fearsome Bloodclaw warriors moved off into the woodlands, silently following the trail that floated in the gathering darkness beneath the trees.

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