The night wore on and the moon over Misthaven was steeped in thick, dark clouds. The bitter cold seemed to add to the oppressive darkness. Only the hardiest of drinkers were out this night. There was the years-old contest the ’Yeti’s crawl’ in which participants prove they’re stout enough to make the trip from one tavern to the next at regular intervals.
One Halfling, smothered in furs, staggered out the door and into the snow and slush covered streets with his group. Not unusual as the night progressed, one from the group would sway his way to an alley and empty its contents before continuing. The Halfling passed a building and wandered toward a nearby pile of broken crates behind a shop. As the group meandered on, the little one appeared to wretch and puffed clouds of fog into the night.
Looking over his shoulder, the group had rounded the corner and left him behind. He moved further into the alleyway behind the shop. The waterfront was becoming a maze of crooked streets and back roads. During the war with Pitax, the kings had allowed the city to grow faster than their cartographers charting.
Stopping at a corner the Halfling carefully glanced up and back then put his back to the wall and slid down between two heaps of refuse and into the shadows. He pulled a whiskey flask from his coat and uncorked the spirits.
Just as the bottle began to pour its liquid fire, he felt a presence within the alley. His senses screaming, he lowered the flask and listened intently. His curved, elongated ears offered him nothing. A soft click, followed by searing pain shot through the Halfling’s shoulder. The sensation prickled his skin and instantly he began to mutter in muted whispers as he set the flask in the snow beside the crates. To his eyes, his magic began to weave itself in the air before him. The searing pain cut through his concentration and a cold numbness started to web its way outward from the right side of his chest. He stood and peered into the darkness. Muttering a quick prayer, he felt divine power flow warmly over his wounded shoulder. Numbness began to retract momentarily then reversed its course once more. Chills crept up his spine. This was an unusual turn of events.
The shadows seemed to coalesce into a man-sized form and advance toward where he crouched. Something was wrong. ‘What sort of poison is this that overcomes powerful magics?’
Desperation crawled up his back and reflexively he invoked aloud, “Irori, send your power to aid your servant. Multiply me.” 4 more halflings sprang into being all around the alleyway. The shadowman, muttered what sounded like “as expected” under his breath and without hesitation, stepped forward with twin blades. The first blade bit into the Halfling’s numb shoulder, the second whipped harmlessly through the neck of the image beside him causing it to wink out.
Illuminated briefly, the face of the attacking shadow snarled, an elven visage, just before two of Halfling images disappeared from view.
One reappeared directly behind the elf with its hands gesturing, one slowing as it articulated its divine symbols. A roaring column of divine fire started in the sky and erupted down into the alley. The elf, as if in precognition, sprang into a diving roll. Steam rolled off his dark cloak as he came directly out of his roll advancing once again toward the Halfling. Undaunted, the elf even chuckled and said “so soon?” as he strode confidently back.
His magic came more slowly with each gesture, time, it seemed now, also stood against him.
The blades cut into the image beside the Halfling and, it too winked from existence. Again, by divine means the real Halfling appeared behind his attacker. Though slower to complete his casting, magic grasped the elf from the inside, wracking him with pain, and caused him to shudder and halt half way through his spin.
He stood for a moment wracked in pain, a gasp escaping his lips, he croaked “Oh that was… unexpected”. Then, with sheer force of will, the attacker shook off most of the effects and started forward once again. This time he came more warily, arms close to his sides. Foaming blood frothed from his mouth.
At that moment, the Halfling was sure of two things. First, that he himself was weakening rapidly. The second thing of which he was sure was that the blood gave away that the elf’s bone structure had been damaged, but unfortunately, it appeared, he only had broken ribs and a punctured lung.
Already muttering once again, the Halfling stopped in mid-sentence. Hot blood sprayed onto his lips as air was forced from his lungs. The numbness was spreading, the alley was beginning to spin, and he was now gasping for air. The images that danced around him faltered and disappeared. His vision swooned and the edges of his sight began to dim. His legs went weak and he slumped backward off of the elf’s swords revealing the blades. One dripped blood into the snow and fogged the air, while the other seemed to throb with a life all its own.
The elf dropped his weapons into the snow and withdrew a length of wire from his wrist. He half muttered, half croaked “Halfling you are appear, but Halfling you not truly be!”
Struggling to breathe and weakening quickly the Halfling thought to himself, ’I have survived battles and wars, fought great monsters, and at times been the only of my fellow kings still on his feet. Now I am to die in an alley that smells of fish in my own town. This cannot be!’
The cold of the wire around his neck itched with a prickly sensation as the pressure increased sharply, and the Elf muttered “You be Gnome, soon to be dead Gnome”.
Reflex brought his hand upward to stop the elf, his hand made contact with the elf’s. While his body failed him, his mind clouded, his eyes bulged, and only words of divine inspiration burned in his mind. A weaving to slay the living danced on his bloody lips and a coldness flowed through his chest, down his arm, and crossing over to the elf. Breath rushed from his elven lungs and his skin aged unnaturally. The Halfling thought he heard the Elf say “oh that’s unfortunate”, but he could not be sure. The Elf fell forward onto the Halfling, the two lay in the snow bleeding red into the white as the world faded to black. The Halfling grasped at thoughts, was his mind racing, or was it slowing, he could not tell. He was bleeding out, and he could not bring himself to stop death’s grip. Reaching with his mind, calling out in the loudest whisper he could muster a whisper that was carried to the only person on his mind. A whisper floated magically on the wind like a flake of snow, and drifted away from him into the night…