The daily melodies of birdsongs and insect chatter fill the deep interior of Visindor Forest. Occasionally, the howl of a wolf or the snort of a wild boar joins the wild chorus. A new sound appears in contrast to nature’s orchestra as a western wind begins to blow through the leafy branches. At first it sounds like a high-pitched whine from far above the forest, but it steadily grows into the sound of a creature screaming in childish delight. A streak of movement bursts through the canopy, causing all other noises to abruptly stop. The only sign that something had just happened is the severed branch of a young apple tree. A few mourning doves start singing and, after a few seconds, the rest of the forest joins them.
“Fizzle love apples,” the drite mumbles from a nearby maple tree. He hangs upside down by his tail, fluttering his wings for balance. A small pile of shiny apples is on the thick branch and Fizzle occasionally pulls himself up by his tail to grab one. The sounds of his chewing and lip smacking echo throughout the forest.
“Ahhh. Apples hit spot,” the drite sighs. “Wonder what Fizzle do now.”
He rapidly flaps his wings as he lets go of the tree branch. It takes a few seconds for Fizzle to dart above the canopy where the sun gives his purple scales a glossy shine. He casually hovers upside down while staring at the land below him. A sudden squeal of joy escapes Fizzle’s throat before he does a small flip in the air and zips back into the forest.
Four miles away is a deep, isolated pool where many animals go for water. Fizzle splashes into the middle of the calm water, startling a group of thirsty deer. He lazily floats on his back while the deer leap away from the sudden intrusion. The only other creature at the pool is a female centaur whose longbow is slung across her back. Reflexively, she crosses her arms to cover her chest, but she relaxes once she recognizes the drite. The centaur finishes her grooming as Fizzle continues splashing about in the pool. At one point, she gets splashed in the face, causing her to sputter in surprise.
“Cut it out, Fizzle. I was trying to enjoy some peace and quiet after my bath,” the centaur says, standing to her full, ten-foot height. “Not that you would notice, but it’s been very stressful around here. This region doesn’t seem to be safe any more. Have you heard about the problems on the tree line?” She bends over to take a deep drink as Fizzle flits out of the water, landing on her warm back.
“News make Fizzle mad. Many aminals dead. Why you ask Fizzle?” he asks, puffing out small circles of rainbow mist from his nostrils. He launches off her back, landing in the cool water with another big splash. Fizzle uses his wings to swiftly weave around the water while staring up at the trees.
The centaur uses her tail to whisk away the lingering mist rings. “First of all, the word you want to use is animals and they were not just dead. Something butchered those innocent creatures. I found a squirrel that was meticulously torn to shreds. A family of rabbits had their ears sewn together, Fizzle. That is simply disgusting and it isn’t even the worst that I have found. I’m going to leave this forest and report to the Herd. Then I will ask to be reassigned. I didn’t come to Visindor to deal with something this sick and twisted. What are you planning to do, Fizzle? You’ve been here longer than some of the trees.”
“Fizzle stay,” the drite declares without pause. “Fizzle defend home. Fizzle friends promise darkness go poof. Fizzle no scared. Fizzle have magic.”
“Then, I wish you the best,” the centaur states, putting her white tunic on. “Do not show these monsters any mercy if you find them.”
The smiling centaur starts to trot away before a snapping twig gets her battle-honed attention. She looks in the direction of the sound as low muttering flows into the area on a sickly breeze. Fizzle’s wings stop fluttering and he quickly sinks into the water, his scaly hide turning from purple to the color of the water. The instant he disappears from sight, a streak of putrid, green magic erupts from the southern trees. It slams into the centaur’s chest, knocking her through an old oak.
“Centaurs are such hideous creatures that should never have been created by the gods,” a deep voice growls as the centaur screams in pain and writhes on the ground. The Hellfire Elf and the Lich walk into the clearing as the centaur’s chest explodes in a sickening blast of gore. The Hellfire Elf angrily stomps on a piece of the centaur’s heart.
The Lich stops at the edge of the pool before turning toward the demonic assassin. There is a flash of movement between them and the Hellfire Elf’s head snaps to the side. Scraps of rotting flesh drips off the demon’s face, a bony handprint on its cheek. The demon’s hand inches toward its sword, but it stops short of drawing the blade.
“You idiot!” the Lich yells in rage and frustration. “I summoned you to take care of the heir and you have simply gathered useless information while staying out of sight. So far, I am very unimpressed with your performance and I am tempted to recruit another assassin. Your masters in the Chaos Void will not be happy with your failure if I send you back. They prefer banishment or defeat in combat as the reasons for failure. Sending you back for anything less would lead to your ultimate destruction at best.”
The Hellfire Elf growls and draws the Chaoswind while the Lich casually picks up a flower that dies in his palm. The demon lets loose with a haunting scream of fury as he wakes a great sweep of the serrated weapon, sending a howling wind through the trees. The trees quiver in fear and a few of the older, wiser trees lean away from the angry demon. The Lich glares at the assassin and throws down the dead flower.
“You know nothing of the art of assassination, master. I must know my prey and all that might stand in the way of my success,” the Hellfire Elf argues, sheathing its sword. “Thanks to my watching, I now know that there are times when Selenia is nowhere to be found and will not be there to protect the heir. All I need to do is wait for the heir to be alone during one of these this times. It is taking longer than I expected, but it will happen.” The Hellfire Elf smirks as it adds, “I have also become aware of a new threat in the area. He is not a problem as of yet, but he could become one within the coming days.”
The Lich cackles and hacks up a cloud of dust from his decaying lungs. “I guess you are a credit to your kind. Most would back down from me, but you refuse to take even the smallest step away. Still, I suggest that you settle this job within the next two days. Otherwise, I will be forced to banish you in failure.”
“You are asking me to risk exposure, which would make a second attempt more difficult if not impossible,” the demon snarls in obvious frustration. “I will do as you say, but I cannot promise you the heir on my first attempt. You are my master, so I obey even if I disagree with your orders.”
“I am sure you will find a way to do this without ruining your progress,” the Lich assures the demon. He takes another look at the Hellfire Elf’s frustrated face and sighs. “I will be lenient if you fail to take the heir as long as you kill that Callindor boy before escaping. That should make you feel more at ease with this course of action.”
“I do not understand your concerns about that whelp,” the Hellfire Elf admits with a snort. “He is stumbling around the academy in ignorance while we know the heir’s identity. I doubt he will be near the heir when I strike. As I told you in my reports, he is not a threat.” The Hellfire Elf turns its head and spits at a nearby tree. The towering maple erupts in flame, dying an instant after the demonic spit makes contact.
The Lich grabs the assassin by the collar of its spiked armor and hisses into the demon’s pointed ear. “Never assume that someone like that will be absent from your plans. He might stumble into your path when you least expect him. After all, that is how he got involved in our business in the first place.”
“We still know very little about him,” the necrocaster says, releasing the demon and calming down. “People like him are always up to something and they tend to know more than you realize. Being foolish around them can lead to your own demise. I order you to keep an eye on his actions and an arrow trained on his heart. We do not need some unexpected, fledgling hero getting in our way.”
The Hellfire Elf looks into the water, blinking a few times while the Lich turns his attention toward the sky. The demon stares directly at Fizzle and pulls out its bow and an arrow. It sniffs the air, making Fizzle nervous, so the drite begins to slowly crawl along the bottom of the pool toward the side opposite the demon. A two-foot long fish suddenly darts past him and it is quickly impaled on a long, black arrow. Fizzle watches the gulping fish die in front of him, gradually floating to the surface. With tears in his eyes, Fizzle mutters a spell and a hand of water rises from the pool to slam the Hellfire Elf to the ground.
The Hellfire Elf struggles to its feet, shaking as much of the heavy, enchanted water off as it can. A swift swing of its arm unsheathes the Chaoswind and the demon slashes the air in front of it. Fizzle is still zipping along the surface of the pool, so the demon patiently waits for the drite to get closer. Without warning, Fizzle pulls out of a seemingly random loop and charges the Hellfire Elf. The Hellfire Elf swings the evil blade, which slices cleanly through Fizzle’s purple hide. The brave drite explodes in the air while the demon smiles in victory. The Lich is still cautiously watching the sky, making no sign of ever having seen the drite.
“That was a waste of energy,” the Hellfire Elf grunts, hoisting the serrated sword onto its shoulder.
“Foolish demon,” cackles the undead caster. “This fight should do you some good.”
The demon is about to ask what its master means when a sudden flicker from above draws the attention of both monsters. The Hellfire Elf looks up in time to get rammed in the face by Fizzle’s diving attack. The amazingly quick drite darts around the demon, continually slamming into its limbs and face. Eventually, Fizzle whips the Hellfire Elf’s sword arm with his tail and the Chaoswind falls to the ground.
“You no threaten Fizzle’s forest,” the drite declares as he hovers above them.
The Lich chuckles gently and launches a simple spell at Fizzle. A streak of fiery lightning clips Fizzle’s wing, causing the poor creature to fall to the ground. The Hellfire Elf takes advantage of the situation and scoops up its sword. Fizzle gets to all fours, scampering away from the approaching demon. The serrated blade swings down to cut a tiny gash in Fizzle’s side. Even though it is a small cut, the pain is intense and Fizzle shrieks loud enough to make all of Visindor Forest shriek with him. The pool of water begins to bubble and churn as Fizzle thrashes on the grass.
“Exquisite,” the Lich whispers, reveling in the sounds of pain. “He must be centuries-old if the forest reacts to him like that. Killing him will weaken the natural magic of the area. This is perfect. Destroy him!”
The Hellfire Elf looks a little nervous as he lifts the Chaoswind for as strong a downward strike as he can muster. Fighting the pain, Fizzle mutters a quick spell and staggers back onto his legs before the sword has a chance to come down. Quicker than a blink, the drite zips into the air, soaring through the forest at top speed. His breathing is ragged as he pushes his aching wings and muscles. Fizzle gets as far as his wings can carry him before crashing into a tangle of peppermint vines.
A few curses in Dragonesse escape Fizzle’s quivering lips as he turns invisible and passes out from the pain. The sweet-scented vines move to cover him and the surrounding forest goes deathly quiet as the drite sleeps.