Submited by Ydra
Many thanks to Elbar, for the wonderful inspiration.
Once, I lived in a small, tranquil village, full of laughter and happiness. A beautiful village in the forest of Manthalaras, where each elf was either friend or family, and days were spent in work and play, every day the same, yet never boring. Though only a child, I had much to learn; even a village as peaceful as ours had guards and scouts, and my companions and I had aspirations in this direction. There is little else to be glad about, but I am grateful that we never knew, as we hoped and dreamed, that it would never come to pass.
The night all our aspirations were shattered seemed, at first, no different from other nights. The sky was clear, the stars shone down on us... or so we thought, as we gazed up at them that evening; in truth, Asteri's good fortune was far away. I fell asleep smiling, my spirits high, my heart light... and awoke some hours later, in an entirely different world.
All was silent, nothing was openly amiss; and yet I knew something had happened, though my family slept on, oblivious. Praying - to anyone! - that I was merely being silly, I descended from our house in the tree to peek out the door that opened onto Lorinthra Way. And so I, along with the others who had been woken by the same frightening premonition, saw the entrance to our beloved village go up in flames. The entire forest heard the screams of the guards, as the same flames engulfed them.
Had I had any remaining wits, I would not have remained by the door, but as it was, I had neither moved nor uttered a word, when the first of the creatures so often seen in children's nightmares emerged from the cloud of thick, dark smoke that had once been the gates to a small elven village. A gasp of outrage made me aware of the members of my family, now gathered behind me, and the whispered word was audible at every door along the street: "Drow!" Two men walked partway down the street; even the taller of the two was shorter than I by some feet, yet both wore heavier armour than I could have handled. Their savage expressions, illuminated by the fire that blazed at their backs, put as much fear into my heart as the ugly weapons they carried. They did not look as though they intended to make a pleasant visit, though we hardly needed further confirmation of this. A quick shake from my mother returned me to my senses, and I followed my family back upstairs, to dress and arm ourselves. We were gone only a moment, but a shrill cry from outside told us that we had been too long, and our front door revealed that we were far from the first to gather our weapons. More of the small dark men had gathered in the street, enough to give us a fight, perhaps, but no cause for alarm. A light shove, a caution: "Watch your sister!", a slamming of the heavy door, and our parents had drawn their blades and joined the growing crowd. We dared not open the door again, but nothing stopped our heads from poking out the window upstairs.
It was from this small window, struggling to get the better view, that I first saw one of the hideous creatures that were soon to settle in Wyleath Village. While still within the cloud of smoke, it looked like any of the other drow, and until it emerged, I wondered at the elves recoiling from it in fear and revulsion. When it came into full view, I found myself doing the same. Though its head and upper body remained that of a drow, the lower half had somehow been replaced by the legs and thorax of a large spider. It crept onto the main street of our village, its eight hairy legs moving swiftly, and began to reach for the nearest elf.
When more of these monsters scuttled past our burning gates, we began to understand that there would be no victory for us, that day. Little by little, those who had called Manthalaras their home all their lives began to shrink from the advancing drow monsters, backing towards the other side of the village, and relative safety.
There was little refuge to be found in our houses, especially those that lined Lorinthra Way. Thankful that the drow were paying little attention to the fleeing elves, we, too, abandoned the small, plain rooms of our house, and joined friends and family in the street. Though there was no time to spare for it, I could not help pausing before we reached Inrathre Road, to ascertain whether or not any of my family had been left behind. As I turned, however, it was not an elf who caught my eye.
The drow and the hideous half-spiders were gathered just inside what had once been the village gates. Like me, and like the few others that had stopped to look back, they no longer watched the villagers who hurried along the bloodied streets. They had eyes only for the single figure that now stepped clear of the thick blanket of smoke to survey what lay before him.
I did not know what his robes were supposed to signify, nor did I understand the stream of harsh words that poured from him as he glanced about; yet I saw his importance immediately, in his manner, and in the way drow and half-spider monsters alike moved aside to let him pass between them. He strode forward, his air of confidence suggesting he owned the streets he trod upon, and let his eyes roam across the houses along Lorinthra Way, and then, finally, to where I stood, no longer surrounded by running elves.
It was hard to tell whether or not the drow noticed me; whether or not his gaze met mine; whether or not he stared at me for some time, before, his eyes still on me, his lips began to move... and the northern row of houses burst into flames.
Horrified, I took an involuntary step forward, uttering an incomprehensible word of protest. In a single instant, my home had been destroyed by a creature I had never even seen before that night. Another step... and a third... I do not know what I might have done, had a firm hand not closed about my wrist and pulled me away to join those who shared my anguish.
From where we stood, huddled together at the end of Mithralas Way, we could see the flames that leapt from the burning wreck that had once been a place of hopes and dreams. No dreams remained; all we had was the nightmare we were living. All we could look forward to was an escape from the growing fire; not even the most optimistic of us looked past that. Thinking only of this, those able to use magic gathered to combine their little remaining energy to raise a portal away from the forest. It was taking so long; surely the drow would find us, before it was finished.
They did. We could hear their approach, and see the flames drawing closer. I edged closer to the mages, my fear of the fire far greater than my fear of the drow, and even the half-spider monsters. The first of the drow to enter our village rounded the last corner, and caught sight of us. A single word, in the harsh language I could not understand, and the sound of many weapons being drawn was unmistakeable.
I was so intent on the advancing drow that I hardly heard the shout, this one in words I was familiar with, though I could not have recognised the voice. "Quick! It is ready." When I finally managed to tear my eyes away from the street, I saw that it was; a tall, shimmering doorway hovered above the road, and an exhausted mage was ushering other villagers through. I glanced back at the drow; it was no use, they would reach us before we had all entered, and either they would enter with us, or the remaining elves would have to be left behind. I was not the first, nor was I the last, to offer up a frantic prayer.
It was never asked, later, how many pleas for help were offered to the Lord of Storms. The flames that continued to destroy our village brought Elbar to my mind, and perhaps others had similar thoughts. Anything that could wash away those fires, and restore the familiar smell of cool, damp wood was welcome to us. And yet, I was astonished as any, when a heavy mist settles across the street between the escaping elves and the threat to our lives.
It was not for me to see the fate of the drow, who, though hesitating at first, continued towards the elemental in their path. Nor did I wish it to be; I had seen enough, that night, and was glad to step through the waiting portal, into a world that we would one day come to know as well as our beloved forest of Manthalaras. And as the mages blocked the portal behind us, we no longer felt the fear that had grown within us with the fires. We had lost our home, yet not all the gods had forsaken us.