Aghram is an island with an immense landmass and a mountainous region encircling a vast valley spanning miles in every direction. The wood elves call this place home. In the central forest lies the wood elven Kingdom of Morhgrammir. King Kardin and Queen Arilana rule this Kingdom with fairness and kindness. Princess Nekora was adopted at birth by the King and Queen, or more so thrust upon them, but have always treated her with respect and love as if she were their actual daughter. Her brothers Meeka and Grogham are the biological sons of Kardin and Arilana and will always be the rightful heirs to the throne should anything foul succumb the King and Queen.
The mountain peaks range from several hundred to several thousand feet. The highest peak, due east of Morhgrammir, is rumored to house the infamous dark elves. There is but one small, hidden entrance on the top eastern side of the mountain known only by the inhabitants, hidden away from view by passersby. The top of the highest mountain harbors an immense crater, mimicking a volcanic opening, descending straight down several thousand feet to the dragons’ lair. The sides are sheer due to the winds created by the dragons’ descent, making any type of climbing impossible for anyone unless they are carrying rope that extends to the bottom. With seven pounds per ninety feet of rope, it is doubtful that anyone would carry over a thousand feet.
The black dragons’ lair is located directly under the gigantic opening at the top of the mountain. Eight pillars several feet in height end in solid plateaus attached to the side of the mountain, creating a nook for the dragons to sleep unseen. They have made an agreement with the dark elves to conduct an amount of service in exchange for gold, jewels, and magical items. Dragons have a deep desire for such treasure. From each platform, there is a small, almost unseen climbable pathway. The pathway is used by the riders to embark and disembark their flights. Below the platforms is a jagged open area with a pathway leading to the additional side openings through the cavern.
The dragons normally emerge at night to hunt, hiding their presence and feeding on the ever-growing population of assorted creatures throughout the land. Some nights, dark elven dragon riders will mount to survey the lands, watching, ensuring no imminent threats exist. Dragon riders engage random encampments to solidify fear while maintaining secrecy.
Several tunnels to the south, east, and west lead deeper into the mountain, converging into one opening through the dragon’s lair. The southern tunnel descends downward, zigzagging for another mile, leading to the bottom-most plateau, the Kingdom of Almaryha, home to the infamous dark elves. The eastern and western passages from the lair wind their way around seemingly for hours before they merge with the southern trail at the exit point. Deadly creatures roam these tunnel pathways as a last line of defense before the enemies battle the infamous Cerberus, the guardians of the city proper.
Cerberus are huge three-headed canines, brown, highly vicious, and roam the Kingdom grounds. They are trained to tear apart anyone or anything not belonging to the Kingdom. The exit marks the last chance effort of survival as it opens into a vast cavern with boulders and many Stalagmites and Stalactites, making a treacherous passage to the open grounds before the Kingdom of Almaryha. Driders are dark elven creatures in nature from the torso ending with a spider abdomen and eight pointy legs to effectively traverse any terrain with haste including webs and two arms to wield weapons. They control the outer regions of the hidden Kingdom.
Driders were developed when wizards attempted to fuse the potency and webbing ability of the black widow to the body of an elite guard. The dexterity and fluidity of the new guards coupled with grace and smoothness have opened opportunities. The guards are awe-inspiring indeed, and everyone moves out of the way when they approach. Deadly with the spear and precise web-shooting has made the Drider a fearsome opponent. They also control the Cerberus and patrol the grounds, keeping the Kingdom safe from intruders or escapees.
The northern tunnel winds toward the Minotaur lair and subsequently to the exit. The Minotaur lair is a gigantic maze with one way in or out to the north and south side and has a large opening in the center. Minotaur bodies are heavily muscled humanoids that are extremely strong with hooves for feet and a bull’s head complete with horns. Large golden nose rings signify their rite of passage to becoming an adult warrior. Two horns protrude from either side of their heads, ending in sharp points to finish off weakened opponents. They wear leather cloth fashioned from the skins of their slain enemies. Their weapons are large, very sharp, Great Axes. One is wielded in each hand.
The Minotaur are the first line of defense against enemies traversing through to the dark elven city. So far, some have tried; all have failed. Each kill lies where they have been slain. Insects and other scavengers feast on the bodies leaving nothing but bones, weapons, and clothing behind. Jewelry and other items of high value, especially magical items, are collected and placed into the Minotaur treasury near the center of the maze where the Minotaur army resides. A food storage unit is kept in a large room close to the kitchen. Their food is supplied by their kills or the dark elves to keep them satisfied and buys their secrecy, allegiance, and protection.
The sleeping quarters and main hall are also located near a well, providing them with fresh water bucketed from a deep void into a hidden spring hundreds of feet down. Each side of the Minotaur barracks offers an entrance to the maze allowing quick access in any direction should they be needed. The walls in the labyrinth are several hundred feet high and smooth as glass to preclude anyone from climbing and running over the top of the maze. The cavern walls were the same, connecting to the maze’s outer boundary, allowing only one entrance to the north. The only exit out of the maze is to the south through the dragons’ lair.
The Kingdom of Almaryha is governed by King Bron and Queen Kardya, rulers with an aggressive nature yet just and fair. No one gets special treatment, not even family. The large castle is located at the rear of the city with the back against the sheer cliff with enormous protruding spires reaching high elevations for a clear view of the entire area. The castle is also where the royalty resides. Spreading outward is the market square followed by the rest of the inhabitant housing. The Kingdom itself covers over one square-mile of the underground cavern. Slaves are always digging, expanding the Kingdom. They erect giant pillars at strategic points to prevent the surface world from falling through. Sporadic watchtowers housing expert bowmen ensure the population is controlled and protected. King Bron despises chaos.
The Kingdom contains dimly lit lanterns throughout the inner and outer territory to aid in vision. Though they are not needed for the elves, they are needed for the Cerberus and other non-elven creatures roaming the area. Shops are centrally located in the city, surrounded by housing. A wall has been erected to keep the Cerberus out of the city and in their own roaming zone. Feeding time consists of executed elven slaves, or a lunchtime arena disputation. Whenever an elf gets out of line, depending on the severity of the crime, the King will hold a special arena event to showcase the might and power of the Cerberus and instill fear by displaying what happens if the inhabitants get out of line.
Morhgrammir is situated under the immense treetops in the central forest of Aghram, masking their presence from any direction. The central mass of dense forest is where the tallest trees reside, mostly pine and oak trees, spanning hundreds of feet into the air. The surrounding trees are much lower, allowing a view all around without being spotted.
Guard platforms ascend just below the surrounding edge of treetops, so they can see for miles around without hindering their visibility and prevent detection. Occasionally, faint smoke can be seen, signifying Gnoll encampments, food cooking on the fire with the smell of roasting meat reaching the hungry guard’s nose making for a long watch. Small smokeless fires were allowed and only for cooking in Morhgrammir. Smokeless fires were demanded to prevent detection.
The northern section of the Kingdom is where the barracks are located for the Morhgrammir army. The training grounds are situated next to the barracks, where duals are often conducted for training. Next to the training grounds is the archery range, where Nekora spends most of her time practicing and honing her skills. Her accuracy and speed are unmatched. The mage tower is located farther north, keeping a safe distance from the Kingdom while mages experiment with different spells. They share a building with the alchemists.
Magic is not allowed within the confines of the Kingdom, and those who possess the gift were secluded to the mage towers to the north for the safety of the Kingdom and themselves. Loud explosions were sometimes heard, though not often, from mages and alchemists experimenting or fending their territory from foreign intruders, namely humans and Gnolls. The humans from the eastern coast Kingdom of Haversmith occasionally wander into the elven zone by accident, scouting for new areas to collect resources and scout desired areas to expand their empire. If they have not been killed by the cyclops roaming the protective mountains or the ever-moving Gnoll camps, the elves will track and kill them.
The elven king has forbidden the knowledge of Morhgrammir to the humans, which would end in war. King Kardin would rather alleviate any possibility of war and sacrificing the loss of his society by ridding any intruders of the first opportunity, protecting their privacy and homeland.
The largest domicile within Morhgrammir exhibits a large base with heights close to, but not protruding from, the tallest treetops near the eastern edge of the tallest oaks. The topmost floor resides the King and Queen with windowed openings so they can keep an eye on their grounds as well as the outside world.
The view is spectacular, looking down at some trees, watching birds, as well as the mountains surrounding their land. The constant fresh air bringing in the strong smell of oak and pine from the outside. Even the stars at night are bright and peaceful to gaze upon. Ground movement is difficult to discern, but smoke and other dangers were easily spotted from the watchtowers before arriving at Morhgrammir. Outside the main residence lies the market square, an open area where celebrations, parties, and general mingling take place.
The dais is a large rickety platform the King and Queen utilize to make their speeches to the other elves and is found near the center of the market square. It is mostly used for the trial returnees to mark their official transition into adulthood. Special arrangements can be made by anyone with prior notification. Markets line the next area to surround the open area followed closely by housing and even a tavern. Regular elven dwellings are spread out for space making Morhgrammir seem huge by comparison.
Outlying walls protect the elves from free roaming creatures, especially the nasty Gnolls. Good thing the watchtowers are there since they have not entered or even came close to the boundaries. The only threats encountered now are the bird droppings from overhead nests. A small breeze is normally felt during the day, keeping the temperature at a near-constant eighty degrees throughout the year with the help of the giant pines in the surrounding area and some mighty oak trees shading the Kingdom from the overhead sun, keeping the temperature constant.
Upon reaching their eighteenth birthday, each male elf must attend and pass their trial. The trial consists of the elf providing notes on the migration patterns of the Griffins and cyclops that roam the upper mountainous territory. The Griffins would normally nest in one spot; unfortunately, the cyclops hunt the Griffin for food so they must nest in different spots each time. The migration patterns signify impending turmoil as the prophecies dictate, should they change outside the normal routine.
If multiple birthdays occur at once, each candidate must go in different directions. No one elf can aid the other in their trials. Once they set out, they cannot come back without the horn of a cyclops. Since they are trained in the art of war from childhood, they are lethal combatants. This test ensures they embrace and utilize everything that has been taught to them. However, it is no easy task.
The dense forest they must traverse to the mountains harbor Gnolls, Canine affiliates that stand upright. Gnolls are orange with black spots, full-body fur, canine face with sharp teeth, paws for feet, and hands for weapon-wielding. They have swift reflexes and are deadly in battle, making them ruthless and a fear in and of their own. Gnolls never stay in one spot, always following a hog herd making it tougher to be found.
Wild boars are known to kill with a charge, using their sharp tusks to impale their target. Giant birds known as Rocs that look like an everyday hawk but stand near nine feet tall with a twelve-foot wingspan and beaks that can cut a standard human in half with one bite have been seen near the mountain regions hunting for food.
If the potential elven warrior candidate survives the trek, they must survive the mountain climb. Since the mountains are huge, it will exhaust the candidate well before reaching the summit in their target area. Once on top, most go through an immediate melee as soon as they terminate their ascension. If they kill the cyclops, they must remove the horn and bring it back as proof of conquest. The horns are known for their medicinal value in healing compounds, and desperately needed in the Kingdom.
If they survive and return to the Kingdom on their own, they are ceremoniously promoted to adults with the mandatory army service. The minimum serving time is four years, after which they can resume or quit. If they quit, they would be taking on other tasks needed by the Kingdom like cooking, blacksmithing, and so on. If they fail or could not make it back on their own, the ceremony is canceled, and the future warrior must go back when they are deemed ready by the guards after extensive retraining.
Nekora’s middle sibling, Meeka, traveled south a few years back during his trial. Unfortunately, he was caught off guard by a cyclops clan and killed during the fierce battle, so it was rumored. Meeka was far too good at fighting to fail otherwise. Grogham, Nekora’s oldest brother, was more fortunate as he only faced one cyclops, which was slain.
While resting after the fierce battle, Grogham, Prince of Morhgrammir, had accidentally stumbled across the tunnel entrance by falling through the illusory entrance when attempting to sit on the side of the mountain to relax and take in the scene to the east. He had already recovered his horn from a cyclops, solidifying his success, but decided to explore the new and unknown expanse of the hidden alcove.
This hidden tunnel piqued his curiosity, and he decided to investigate his new find and report back to his father, the King, after any confirmation of locating the elusive, mythological, dark elves known as Drow. This new area was a significant discovery; he was determined to investigate and gather as much intelligence as he could collect, making him the hero of Morhgrammir.
Many creatures dwell in the tunnels. All of them are larger versions of their outside cousins; some were species he had never seen nor heard of—giant snakes with razorsharp teeth slithering around looking for food. Occasionally, a snake would mistake the warrior for food only to fall to their demise. Spiders with crab claws roamed the larger tunnel’s upper parts, descending from a thick web to unsuspecting prey. The deeper he descended, the stranger and larger they appeared, also more venomous. Some even provided a luminescent glow as he descended ever deeper into the cavern.
Many times, Grogham had to fend off giant spiders, scorpions, and a few large-sized snakes. These tunnels proved that one must be on their toes. Many hours had gone by, and he almost gave up until he entered a vast cavern. One small trail barely the size of mortal feet was seen winding down into a massive enclave before meeting with a maze of vast proportions hundreds of feet below.
From the top, he studied each twist and turn that led even farther into the darkness. Dimly lit lanterns were sporadic at best for minimal lighting. The other end of the maze was too dark for even him to see. Grogham decided to make camp and rest first. He backtracked several hundred feet to investigate a small nook he had seen earlier. After deeming all was clear, he squeezed through and rested.
Six hours later, Grogham woke. He carefully and silently made his way out of his hiding place and back into the tunnel. He retraced his steps back to the large opening toward the open cavern. He knew that his sister would love to hear about his triumphant adventure.
“I should come back after I turn in my prize. Take a band of warriors with me later to venture forth and investigate. The intelligence alone on this is much too important, or I can investigate a little more and bring back news more noteworthy,” he thought as he looked toward the exit. Grogham decided to keep going and see what lay beneath.
“Maybe something in the lines of the prophecies awaits here,” he whispered to himself. “Maybe I can find a treasure for my little sister.” Grogham smiled. He always loved Nekora, loved how she playfully fought, and her beautiful smile. He knew she would make herself great one day.
He slowly and methodically made his way toward the small path winding down, still smiling, remembering all the fun games he and his sister played throughout their childhood. It proved to be a slippery trek as he temporarily lost his footing on many occasions and luckily grabbed small protruding rocks on the cliff face to prevent falling. Grogham had to force his thoughts from memories of his sister to focus. Dangerous actions required full attention and focus on his current task. At the bottom, he viewed the immense walls. From what he had observed earlier, a maze of some sort, he remembered the outline well.
“Why is this here?” he thought as he moved toward the obstacle. He continued to the large opening. Loud snorts, growls, and uneven hoof steps like a lame horse were heard from inside the maze. The darkness increased the pitch and volume of any sound, so he always had to be on guard. Grogham had his weapon ready, and his trophy slung over his back in case of a melee. From here, he could not recognize anything. The walls were massive and smooth, so climbing was not an option. The dirt pathway was littered with bones and spider webs; occasionally, finding an armored skeletal body with weapons still in place. The skeletons looked human with the full plate armor and a longsword with a shield lying by its side. Many skeletal armored figures lined the large pathway.
“What sort of creatures would leave armor and weapons behind?” he thought as he crouched to investigate the necklace on one of the skeletons.
He kept moving forward. He tried to remember the turns that led to the other side. Unfortunately, there was no path around. Just unclimbable cliffs forced a passage through the one entrance of the maze.
A loud snort was heard close by and sounded like a mad bull ready to attack from around the next corner. He peered around every corner before moving, careful not to make noise. Hoof steps were heard getting louder, closer. An awful sound like bones hitting stone followed by short bursts of roars and snorts, each second getting louder and nothing to be seen. He heard sniffing before each clack of the footsteps.
“What the hell is it?” Grogham thought, worried about his decision now to move forward.
He peered around the next corner to the left and saw an incredible creature. It stood about nine feet tall with hooves for feet, large muscular legs, arms, and torso, and had the head of a bull. Large horns protruded from the sides of its head, and a large golden nose ring looped into each nostril. The creature was dual-wielding great axes, sniffing the air, and making its way toward Grogham. Grogham quickly returned behind the wall, fear welling inside him.
“Shit, it knows I am here,” he thought as he crouched, preparing for a battle.
The Minotaur smelled his opponent. It had picked up the scent of an elf not from this region.
“Another glorious battle,” the Minotaur thought as it smiled.
It spied the elf peering around the corner sizing the minotaur. It smelled the fear and knew this would be a fun challenge. It stepped menacingly toward his opponent, hoping it would not run away. It was forbidden for any Minotaur to leave the maze, and the elf was still too close to the exit. Hoping the elf would not dash out, the minotaur increased its speed, then CHARGE! The minotaur was in full stride as it made a battle call, raising its axes.
Grogham quickly surveyed his surroundings. The only way back is to the entrance, leaving a wide-opened area to do battle and risk being surrounded or continue into the fray, taking on one creature versus many. He waited for the perfect time. If Grogham kept the battle inside the corridors, other Minotaur’s could not surround him, leaving him the advantage. He listened and waited until he believed the minotaur was close before swinging his scimitars blindly to catch it off guard. As he went to swing, his instincts took over. He ducked just as a Great Axe came crashing into the wall where Grogham’s head used to be, impacting the wall with a thunderous cacophony, causing a shower of sparks and rocks to fly in every direction.
Grogham tumbled sideways to get out of reach and reevaluate his tactics. No training he ever received prepared him for this. Time to improvise. He ducked, dodged, and tumbled out of harm’s way, barely being missed, watching for some vulnerability, so he transitioned from defense to offense and vice versa. He could not find any weakness at all.
"This thing is fast for its size and extremely deadly. What can I do to get it to open for an attack?" Grogham thought.
This beast was a master of combat, highly skilled, and well-trained. Grogham’s only survival trait was to be quick and agile, dodge until an opening was shown. The minotaur stepped back slightly onto a loose bone from a previous combatant and slipped just enough to be unbalanced for a moment, but it regained its balance quickly. The small stumble from the Minotaur gave Grogham just the opportunity he needed; Grogham sprang forward, feigning a thrust. The minotaur immediately raised his arms to block with his axes. Exactly what Grogham was counting on.
Grogham retrieved his weapon back to his body as he tumbled to the left side of the Minotaur and thrust his weapons as hard as he could through its sides. The muscle and bones of the beast made the attack problematic, but he landed his blow and caused it to stop its attacks. The Minotaur dropped its left Great Axe and roared in pain. This gave Grogham his opening; he dodged the second weapon swing and jumped up to slice its neck, opening a large gash that spurted blood. After a few seconds, the Minotaur fell to the floor in a giant pool of blood, breathless. The sounds of battle aroused the other Minotaur’s inside the maze. Grogham had to get out and quick.
Grogham decided to collect the Minotaur’s horns and put them in the bag with the cyclops horn as another trophy before he left the area, keeping an eye around him to ensure no surprises. He studied the body for future description and had to get as much detail as he could. Grogham heard the others, frustrated that they were not able to make the battle but getting nearer with speed faster than any elf could comprehend. He had to move through the maze swiftly if he wanted to get away.
Grogham quickly made his way through the maze, turning where he thought he remembered only to receive an occasional dead end. He was lost. Two more encounters with the Minotaur were more than he bargained for and almost cost him his life. The third encounter was made near the exit of the maze to the south. The last opponent was larger and stronger than the others. The body almost filled the corridor, no way to run past. It was fight or die time.
Grolf, the Minotaur King, successfully contacted with the elf, producing a large gash in his stomach as Grogham came running around the corner. A lucky strike with the right Great Axe made a connection before Grogham realized it was swung. Grogham’s fatigue had caught up with him; he failed to tumble out of the way in time. The Great Axes carried by the Minotaur were sharper than they appeared. Both axes came crashing down where Grogham was previously kneeling. More showers of sparks and rock exploded from the ground. The deafening sound of the impact caused Grogham to hold his head straight from dizziness. Grogham used this opportunity to make quick slices across the Minotaur’s chest. The cuts proved nothing more than a nuisance to the King of the beasts.
“Damn, this thing is strong. Stronger than the others by far,” Grogham thought.
The King swung his axe horizontally to cut the elf in half as he was deep in thought. A quick back tumble followed by a forward step allowed him to jump on top of the axe, then another leap toward the head. When the axe impacted the wall, shattering stone and flinging debris down the hallway, it served as a platform to allow the tremendous leap. Grogham swung with all his might. The scimitars drove halfway through the King’s neck, severing the spine, causing a near-instant death.
Upon defeating the monster, Grogham desired to find a place of solace and patch himself. He had hoped there was an exit to the south in the mountains so he could make it back home. His consciousness was failing. The cut was not as deep as initially thought, so he knew he had some life left. Unfortunately, a huge dark cavern leading south was all that stood before him.
Grogham had enough. He wanted to go home; he was exhausted and weak. To return through the maze would risk more fights with the abnormally strong minotaur—a jeopardy he could not afford. If he were rested, he might be able to escape. He decided to continue down the cavern in hopes of locating a resting spot.
“I should have turned around and brought an army instead of succumbing to bravado,” he thought.
Within the southern cavern was a strong reptilian smell that practically made him regurgitate, let alone the overwhelming fear that succumbed him. He decided to find a safe place to rest. Huge columns streaked dozens of feet upward and appeared to end in a plateau at the top. Grogham decided to take out some parchment and a writing utensil and make notes with rudimentary drawings from the start of his adventure. He cursed himself for not being more proficient. He decided to look around and gauge the width of the cavern.
It was enormous, cold, and hard to see. He was not accustomed to darkness like this, but he did his best. Pushing his body with his wounds was not a wise idea. He could not take another battle just yet. He sat behind a boulder hidden behind a column and listened to every sound trying to make sense of everything while eating what few rations he had left.
"Could this be the route to the elusive dark elves?" Grogham’s eyes went wide. “If so, I could still be a hero,” the thought struck as he smirked. He decided to continue his trek after a brief rest and healing in hopes of finding the mythological Kingdom.
Grogham continued his journey. He remembered everything he was taught by the village healers and applied every technique imaginable. To his surprise, the healing was working. Slowly, but working. He got up and wobbled a little, steadying himself on the boulder until he regained his senses and continued. Dizziness overcame him as he stood. The cavern was vast and seemed to go on forever.
Grogham peered up and observed a partial night sky through a large hole at the top. It was too far to climb, and there were no footholds. Besides, he did not have the strength to make it, even if it was a viable solution. The only choice he had available was to continue and hope for another exit or risk more battles. He chose to push through.
“Oh, the celebrations coming up if I survive” He thought.
Claws scraping against stone were heard all around. He also listened to what sounded like wings fluttering above and behind him. He sensed danger, fear, the probability of imminent death. He looked back to see a large flying figure landing on top of the plateau above. The wings fluttered to slow the descent of the creature and knocked Grogham off balance. The force winds blew him southward as he tumbled through the jagged corridor. He skipped and fell over many rocks and bounced off the walls. A sharp pain sprang through him, and he lost consciousness.
Grogham woke moments later. He could not remember where he was or what he was doing. He tried to sit up, but the pain denied him. Farther down the corridor, he thought he heard growling and roaring, a barking sound but much deeper than the average canine. It sounded like there were many of them. He did his best to assess the severity of his injuries. He contemplated his options; he needed to get out of here. Grogham lay back down, ears ringing. His mindfulness varying.
A dark elf had dismounted his dragon and made his way down the embankment. He continued through the corridor and peered down at Grogham.
“What have we here?” A staff knocked him the head, rendering Grogham unconscious once again.