The minute sound of the lock resonated through the silent room. I opened an eye and flicked my ears towards the noise. There was a momentary silence, during which I heard the raspy breathing of the goblin guard, and a couple of strained grunts, followed by a grating sound. I watched, half-submerged in the shadows, as the door slipped open, just a crack, and a slither of light stabbed through the midnight shadows. I stiffened, instinct nudging me into a state of readiness. The door creaked and slid open another inch, but nothing else moved. Dimly, I heard the goblin mutter a string of profanities as it clumped away down the stairs.
Wait. Down the stairs?That didn’t make any sense. The door was open, they never left the doors open. What was going on? I stood up and approached the door carefully, pulling it open and peering carefully down the stairs. I strained my ears and squinted into the dark, but my senses told me nothing. A low growl started in my throat, but I swallowed it quickly and lowered myself to all fours and prowled down the stairs, ever wary of a trap. The shadows shifted about me as I moved, and each time I looked down to place my hands I saw the skin subtly shift colour to match the dark stone. I was invisible in the blackness, but I knew better than to presume myself safe. The monsters of the Horde, base and bloodthirsty though they were, were adept at hunting their prey. To them, threatening though I was, I was just another target.
The door at the bottom of the stairs was open too, but it had not been left ajar. I put a hand against it carefully and gave it a nudge. Something lay just beyond this door, half-obscured by the stink of magic. The spell was strong, and it stung my nose like acid, but it could not hide the hot, animal stink that seemed to emanate from the very door itself. Too late, I realised where I was, and tried to bolt up the stairs again. But I had been tricked. The door at the top of the stairs was locked and bolts slammed home. There was no way I could shift them – they were heavy and laced with silver, which, I had painfully learned, would leave some very nasty burns if I were to touch it. I snarled with outrage, how dare they trick me! How dare they lead me like this, like a rat in a maze being chased down endless corridors, taunted and laughed at by jeering scientists who knew it could do nothing to fight back. Well, I would show them otherwise. If they sought to frighten me, then I would thwart them. My wrath would inspire terror in the Horde. They would know to fear my anger.
I turned back to the open door. It sat there in the gloom, the soft scent of its protective spells jabbing insolently at my nose. A snarl tore from my throat, and I threw my full weight against the door. It opened without resistance, and I shot into the centre of the room beyond and reared up to my full height, spreading my ruined wings and daring any beast to cross me. Shapes skittered and yelped in the darkness, startled at my entrance, but I knew this fear would not last for long. I had to give them reason to bow to me, before they overwhelmed me by sheer weight of numbers. I looked around and selected the biggest creature I could find. It was huge, over twice my height; a great lumbering mountain of tooth and tusk and coarse stinking fur. Its eyes were small and pale, like a pair of pebbles from a river bottom, and just as merciless. The creature let out a threatening growl and lumbered towards me, great thick forearms swinging at its sides. A dribble of poison-laced saliva dripped between its champing tusks, and the stink of rotting meat was so strong it was almost suffocating. An imposing creature, I thought, one that would probably be capable of taking down several armed men in one fell swipe of those boulder-sized fists.
It never saw me coming.
A flash of talons, a spray of blood and an agonised bellow, followed by a flurry of screeching as the metallic stink of blood surged through the stagnant air. My victim staggered on its massive feet, gave one final groan, then collapsed with an earth-shaking thud. Blood slithered across the floor from the perfect red slash across its throat. I smiled and placed a taloned foot atop the corpse, licking the blood from my hand, daring any of the blood-crazed eyes to challenge me for my kill. Their outlines jabbered, snarled, growled and shifted, little and large jostling for a prime position to fall upon the body, but none daring to come into my striking range. I snarled menacingly, and they shrank back almost as one. I threw back my head and laughed, stepping back from my trophy and allowing the hungry eyes to join me as we gave in to the bloodlust. Our voices seemed to shake the foundations of the earth itself. We were one being now, unified in this single kill, in tooth and claw and battlecry, all driven by our shared desire for blood.
We were unstoppable.
We were invincible.
We were the Horde, and none would stand against us.