Smoke opened his eyes to thick curtains of smoke and inky wisps of darkness drifting casually through the air above him, like clouds on a lazy summer afternoon. But these were not the wild hills of Nerath, and he was not staring up at a summer sky. He sat up with a start, his hand reaching for the sword that was not there.
This was the Shadowfell.
Smoke stood in the darkness, straining his eyes and ears to hear anything beyond the unnatural, stuffy silence. Somewhere behind him, almost unnoticed, something moved through the shadows. Smoke turned just in time to see a ghostly, feminine silhouette fade into the darkness. Moments later, a slight puff, like a soft exhale, was felt behind him, followed by a breeze of chill air. Before he could react, a hand was gently tracing a finger down his right cheek.
“How have you come to be here, Llvarr? Have you slain my enemies and set right the wrongs against me?” The soft voice, its sound at once like the breaking of ice and the soft silence of fresh snowfall, moved closer. “Have you failed me, Llvarr?”
Smoke hung his head. “I died. I was slain in Horned Hold, within Thunderspire Labyrinth. The cults of Orcus hiding in the Nentir Vale yet remain, poisoning your domain with Orcus‘s tainted power.” The cold touch of the Raven Queen’s hand left pins and needles on his skin as she drifted away, laughing softly under her voice.
Smoke fell to his knees. Without the Raven Queen’s favor, his soul would surely be enslaved to his devilish progenitor, and his abilities would be used to harm the world he called home, laying waste to the lives of thousands against his will. “I have failed you.”
The icy hands fell on his shoulders, and he was suddenly weightless, being lifted to his feet with but a touch.
“Oh, Llvarr. How could you have failed me when you have only just begun? Time, and the future, do not answer my command, nor are their possibilities mine to peruse as I wish, but I know you shall accomplish much in my name. Even now your friends work to restore you to life. This will not be your final rest.”
Smoke lifted his head, and the shadows began to gather around him, suspended as he was in the hands of the Raven Queen. “What do you mean?”
“You were always meant to be mine, Llvarr. But death won’t be your reason for entering my kingdom.”
As the shadows swallowed him whole, he caught a glimpse of a pale face, jet black hair falling in thick tresses around dark eyes that glittered like obsidian and thin, black lips pressed tight in a sardonic smile.
“You haven’t failed me yet, Llvarr. Don’t fail me now.”
Then Smoke was drowned in darkness.
He awoke with a start, gasping for air like a drowned man. He was in a small stone room, lit by guttering braziers hanging from the corners of the room, his companions standing or sitting in various places around the room. Hadrian stood over him, a big smile painted on his face.
“Hey! By the Nine Hells, Smoke, I didn’t think it would work!” Hadrian reach down and grabbed Smoke’s arm, helping him to sit up. Behind Hadrian, Rignor nodded respectfully, the knight to his left looking on with a cryptically blank face. Talos jumped up from where he was sitting, his metal leg protesting loudly. He hobbled over to the table excitedly.
“What was it like?” He asked curiously.
Smoke shook his head, clearing the last lingering shadows from his vision. “The Shadowfell?”
Talos gasped. “You were in the SHADOWFELL
Smoke coughed softly. “Yes. I mean, no. I mean… At least, I think so.”
“Give him some room, Talos.” Talos and Hadrian stepped back as Galen Staul stepped into view. He strode over to the table, smiling. “Welcome back. How do you feel?”
Smoke looked at his hands, his arms, his bare chest. His torso was marred with fresh scars from the terrible wounds inflicted by the Duergar of Horned Hold. Remembering their sudden appearance and surprise attack, Smoke slowly curled his hands into tight fists, motes of shadow energy coursing along his veins and tendons. “Vengeful,” He replied.
“Good.” Galen turned to leave. “We’re headed back tomorrow. Everyone rest up.”