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Book Four Pt 1 - The Eastern Pass

Written by - Turin Wallace Page 2 Book 4

Ithramir listened as the one called Dartanian spoke. Once he finished speaking, Ithramir gauged the young man, then spoke,

"Dartanian, of House Merquise, save your pledge of loyalty for the one who you seek to pledge it to. Mavigan is away, on some mission, leaving the bulk of the fighting to us. She is not yet a queen, this I can assure you. However, our job is to secure the throne for her, so that she can properly take on that title, when the time is right."

Ithramir let his words hang in the air for a moment before he continued on,

"While your information was a bit off, as Mavigan is not here, it is most accurate about the orcs and our plans to re-take what is ours. If you wish to join us in the re-capturing of the tower of Minas Uial, you and yours would be welcome. Our briefing will start soon, until then relax and enjoy some refreshment."

Written by - Agmund

Having bathed, trimmed his beard, and changed clothes, Father Agmund now stood in a shadow filled corner of the Great Hall. His robe, though clean, was like all of his robes; stained with years of wear. It was mostly white, with a few ruddy spots near his boots, and the edges were outlined in several inches of blue and silver needlework. The trim, although ornate and befitting that of a priest, had become frayed in many places, even coming undone completely in others.

While not apparent to the casual observer, he wore a full length suit of chain mail beneath the robe. Its existence was only hinted at with a single row of links hanging right above his boots, falling from beneath the long sleeves of the robe, and encircling his neck. The suit was undoubtedly thin and light, because beyond those few visible traces, it remained unseen.

Around his waist, a broad black belt cinched the robe in place, anchoring it against his tall frame, and securing a hammer and several pouches. His beard of grayish white spilled midway down his chest before branching eloquently off into two braided paths. Each braid was capped in short silver metal tubes just above the belt. The hood of his robe was down, and out of habit he carried his saddlebags on his shoulder; one to the front and the other to his back.

There in the shadows, he paid careful attention to the entrance of men and elves, and to the ensuing conversations, but he remained silent.

Written by - Ariana

She sat quietly upon the smooth surface of the rock, the coastal breezes stirring her exceedingly long hair. For someone who held the Hope of a world in her hands, she looked an awful fright. Though there was evidence that the healers had made some attempt to clean her up, there was simply too much grime and blood to be erased by anything short of a thorough dunking. Her dress was now patterned with large irregular blotches of brownish blood. Similarly, the life-giving fluid had caked in her hair, causing large mats.

She, however, was unaware and unconcerned with her appearance. Instead, she flicked a glance over at her companion, the one who had carried her with such gentleness it surprised her, and who had placed her in her current spot. Unfortunately, he did not do anything interesting, and did not seem to want to play.

Her eyes turned from him to look below her, at the water lapping at the bottom of her stone, several inches below her bare feet. The water was remarkably clear, and she watched in fascination as the undulating water caused the rocks and sand below to shift and swirl. Smiling, she scooted forward until her toes were immersed, and then kicked her feet to change the pattern of the swirling sea.

Her companion forgotten, she pushed off the rock completely, standing in ankle-deep cold water, unmindful of the rocks biting into the bottoms of her feet or the chill that crept up her spine. Giggling, she splashed around, delighting in the sensations the salty water below and the warm sunshine above created.

She turned, as if to make her way into deeper water, when she was distracted by a great screech. Turning, she saw one of her feathered friends, a gray one, perched where she had once been sitting. Cocking its head at her, it screeched again, apparently delivering a message. Then it took to wing and made its way towards the trees she could see in the near distance.

Not having anyone else to play with, she clumsily climbed out of the surf and followed.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

As the two men headed back towards the Chairman’s office, not a word was said between them. Few of the busied clerks and secretaries even took notice of the pair as they tried their best to avoid the most hectic areas. They finally stopped for a moment at the door to Rassel’s office.

“Just a moment,” He said opening the door, “Let me a get a few things in here then we’ll head to the penthouse upstairs. It’s far to noisy to have a civilized discussion down here.” The man said nothing as the Chairman went in, then quickly returned with a handful of papers and a small elaborate box. Chairman Rassel slammed the door shut, then motioned for the silent man to follow him towards a secluded corner of the building that carefully concealed a staircase to the upper penthouse – the Chairman’s private quarters.

On their way up the stairs, the man finally broke his silence: “Your employees do you credit. I had to bribe that poor girl at the entrance desk to even tell you I was here.”

The Chairman’s laugh echoed throughout the staircase and the halls. “That’s my fault I’m afraid! Frankly, I’ve been a bit of a tyrant lately. I only recently got this branch established and it’s been an exceedingly difficult time trying to get the whole process to run smoothly. I came here from Shrikefield to personally oversee it until matters settled down. And besides, it’s much easier to negotiate trade deals in person – and trade with the Elves and Westgale exiles is far too lucrative to pass up. Gods how I love neutrality and the opportunities it brings!” Rassel laughed again as he swung open a door to his parlor room.

The man entered the parlor ahead of the Chairman and began to light a few of the candelabras in the spacious room. “A tyrant, hmm? Well, you’ve always just been Uncle Haswal to me.”

“That’s damn good to know boy,” he said as he placed his papers down on a small table next to the door then carried the box with him to a large, overstuffed armchair. “Now, quit lighting those things and sit down and have smoke with your old uncle.” He opened the small box and produced a pair of meerschaum pipes, both carved into the shape of a perched dragon and bronzed with age, along with a sizeable pouch of dwarven smoking tobacco.

“You’re always looking an excuse to break those out, aren’t you,” the man said as he walked towards the accompanying chair. Haswal only shrugged and gave a sheepish smile before lighting his pipe. Before he sat down, the man removed the sword he was carrying and leaned it against his leg as he sat down.

“So that’s it,” Haswal whispered, pointing at the sword.

“Yes…” The man’s voice trailed off a bit as he lit his pipe. “How much do you know?”

“Enough. But tell me your side of the story.” A steady stream of smoke blew from his mouth as he spoke.

“Old men and their stories… I might as well start at the beginning then.” He paused a moment to blow a cloud of smoke. “Everything started just a short while ago, right after King Beridane assumed control of Westgale. Ricimer had been made a general by the King himself for his part in quelling some peasant revolts in the countryside and then helping to stabilize the political situation in Port Westgale. King Beridane gave him the sword and promotion as “reward” for his loyalty.” He kicked the sword as he spoke.

“A few weeks went by, and Ricimer was sent back home. I was busy over going over reports one night just after he had retured about potential orc movements to the east and south. – we both see how that little issue turned out – and Saliel just comes bursting into my office. Getting a visit from either of my sisters would be a strange enough occurrence, but one so late at night had me worried, especially when she said father needed to see me.” He paused for another puff of smoke. “So, I dropped everything I was doing and left for home. When got there, the whole place was deathly quiet. I couldn’t find anyone – mother, any of the servants… no one. I’m starting to wonder what’s going on, then I go into the study and see Ricimer and father sitting there, pouring themselves over a table of books.”

The man took one last puff, then sat the pipe down. “He wouldn’t even touch the sword anymore… wouldn’t even go near it. I have never, never seen him so… afraid… of something in my life. He said that he felt… ill… whenever he wielded it, even when he had it near him. He couldn’t sleep at night; he described these horrible nightmares he had been having to me. Then he said he was having trouble controlling his thoughts, focusing them, that he could almost hear something when he was alone… that he felt like something was always stalking right behind him… something he never could quite find. This was what piqued my interest in the whole matter.” He grabbed the sword by the hilt and stood it in front of him, then drew it. The long, wicked blade bore a strange pattern of runic engravings along the fuller, matching on both sides of the sword. “I looked at it… tried my best to figure out what these meant, but I have no clue. “Father practically begged me to help my poor big brother in his hour of need. He told me that if this thing was left to its own devices, he didn’t know what would happen. So, I resigned from my post in Military Intelligence, took the sword and what all of father’s research I could gather with me to figure out what’s wrong with it, and now I’m here.”

Haswal spoke with a light tone, smoke still billowing with every word: “Don’t give me that dog and pony show boy. I was there when you were born! I’ve known you twenty-eight years… more than long enough to know that filial piety on carries so little weight with you. You wouldn’t be doing this if there wasn’t something in it for you, too.”

The man chuckled quietly to himself. “You know me too well Uncle Haswal. You are right. I would have just as soon sit and watched Ricimer descend into utter madness, but his little ‘poor me’ stories intrigued me, as I said, as did these engravings. The more I thought on the matter… the more I realized it was a great opportunity to research something that probably shouldn’t be. And it gives me a rather legitimate excuse to delve into subjects generally frowned upon by the greater academic and magical community.”

“Just say necromancy, boy.”

“Necromancy? It has its uses, I suppose… but necromancy is for desperate old men and first year academy students who think they know everything. I’m talking about the real forbidden magics – soul transfers, spirit bindings, sapient alchemy…”

“Boy, you had better make sure you know who’s around before you go off saying things like that.”

The man only grinned slightly, then forced the sword back into its ill-fitting sheath. “I decided to come here hoping that the point-ears would have some books or scrolls or something that might help figure out what those damned runes are… and to get away the north’s prying eyes… but I have a creeping suspicion that I’ll need a runesmith or a very wise man before all’s said and done with.” His voice began to trail off as he leaned back in the chair.

Haswal rose slowly and put the pipes back in their box. Closing it, he looked over at his weary nephew and spoke: “Well… I’ll tell you what… you shared a smoke and a story with me, so I’ll see what information I can find for you. Just stay here and rest a bit. Besides… you wouldn’t get very far here with damned ‘Skaner accent of yours.”

He left one candelabra burning in the parlor before heading back downstairs.

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Dartanian listened intently as Ithramir spoke. He sincerely hoped Ithramir had not expected him to kneel before him and pledge his loyalty, that was something he reserved for Lady Mavigan alone. From his words on her, it was apparent that Ithramir held little esteem for the young queen. "She is not yet a queen, this I can assure you," he had said. Whether or not Mavigan had been officially crowned meant little to Dartanian. What was important was that she was the rightful heir to the throne and as such deserved the respect and loyalty of those who had loved her father, King Pallanon.

Deciding to hold his tongue, as he did not wish to incite any hostilities with his newfound allies, Dartanian instead nodded politely and headed over to the offered refreshments. He was indeed hungry, having not yet broken his fast.

He was however a bit miffed at some of the elf's comments. His information was not "a bit off" as Ithramir had claimed. Had he not stated only moments before that he knew that Mavigan was not at the citadel at present? Had the elf mispoke? Or had he simply not been paying attention while Dartanian was speaking? In any case, it was obvious from everything that he had said that Dartanian would be fighting an uphill battle in order to earn the elven commander's respect. However, the same was true of Ithramir. Though he doubted the elven commander cared much for earning Dartanian's respect, he had yet to prove himself capable to the young Count. Dartanian was not beholden to these elves and did not intend to stay and aid them any longer than the situation should warrant, or as deemed necessary by Lady Mavigan...if and when she returned.

Turning his mind to other matters such as the readiness of his men, Dartanian bit into a piece of fruit, waiting for the briefing to begin.

Written by - Ariana

Her bare feet first shushed through sand, then scooted across coarse sandstone, and finally emerged upon smooth sun-warmed cobbles. Her winged friend seemed both impatient and accommodating, frequently alighting on a nearby ledge or precipice and screeching encouragement at her. They continued this odd game of follow-the-leader until both had passed through the town and out the other side, her feet finally encountering soft grass. She scrunched her toes several times, delighting in the way the blades of grass tickled her as she waited to see where her friend would go next.

He did not disappoint and soon took wing again, leading her down a small road into the burgeoning forest ahead. The owl did not lead her far, instead following the road into a small clearing that had been converted into a courtyard fronting a stone chapel. The great bird circled once then alighted on top of the mid-sized stone statue occupying the center of the courtyard.

Had she been more herself, she would have noted that despite the priests of this particular order being slaughtered in record numbers, this chapel was well-maintained. The grass was trimmed, the stoop was swept, and flowers surrounded both the chapel and the statue, all speaking to loving care.

She noticed none of this, however, having eyes only for her winged friend thinking that surely he would continue the game. He did nothing of the sort, however. Instead he peered at her with unblinking eyes from his perch on high, as if willing her to take notice of something. He added in a couple of grumpy screeches as well, when sheer force of will did not seem to get the point across.

For her part, however, when he did not lead her anywhere else, despite the raucous noise he was making, her attention soon wandered. She approached the statue upon which the owl sat and ran her fingers along the smooth stone. The rock has been shaped into a woman, wielding mace in one hand and book in the other, the expression on the woman’s face fierce and determined. The form did not bother her, but neither did it stir any recognition.

She slowly circled the monument, gazing at it from several different angles and running her fingers along its bumps and grooves. Upon the third trip, she noticed something in relief at the base of the woman’s feet. Curious, she placed her fingers upon it and traced the lines as they curved and entangled with each other.

The symbol called to her more than the image of the woman did, and her brow furrowed as she tried to place it. This was something she knew, if only she could remember. It was important she remember. This simple symbol before her was the key, she knew, though she could not have stated how she knew. All she did know was that the strange compilation of shapes called to her, and she was helpless to resist.

Gathering herself, she pushed hard against the void inside her mind, desperately searching for anything in the black, a tiny sliver of light in the darkness that could lead her from her current prison. But nothing came. Her fist smacked into the stone as she grew frustrated with her failure, accompanied by a scolding screech from above.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya sat upon the barrell, soaking up the sun, taking in the sweet, salt air and the sounds of the small port. It all reminded her of home and she found herself getting very homesick for Nen A'Naur. She looked out across the water and for a moment, wished she was back home, back before Tahlon had arrived and everything had gone downhill. She brought a hand up and traced the scar upon her face, the scar Tahlon had put there. I swear Tahlon, I shall return one day and rip that forked tongue from your throat for all you have done to me and my family. Then the sound of an owl screeching took her attention back to where she was and out of the past. She looked around and saw Ariana start to wander off through town. Standing up, she decided to follow.

She kept a few paces behind the woman, watching out for any who might cause her harm, but none came forward. there were some odd looks from some of the towns people, but then Ariana still had not been cleaned up from the night before for odd looks were certainly in order. She watched as the woman walked into the chapel area, following the owl. The woman stopped at a statue; Kaya watched her look at the woman in stone, then watched as she smacked her fists in frustration onto the stone. Not wanting Ariana to be hurt any more than she was, she approached carefully, taking no notice of the statue, but only of Ariana. She reached out a hand, feeling a sudden burst of compassion for this woman. "Ariana...Ariana...it's okay, is there anything I can do for you?"

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen threw himself back onto the sands of the beach, facing the sky above. The sand was warm and welcoming after the frigid bite of the coastal water, and Ardwen's eyes closed for a brief instant. Briefly, he imagined he might be able to catch some more sleep, or at least allow himself to dry after trudging through the chill water to reach the island. Such illusions were swiftly shattered, however, when he heard the sounds of splashing water.

The elf bolted upright, looking out at the shoreline for the offending sound. There he saw his Abbess playing amongst the lapping water as if it were the most novel thing in the world. Regardless of her excited and happy laughter, Ardwen found a scowl forming on his face. He had, in his mind, imagined that rescuing Ariana would somehow set everything right instantly. Ardwen shook his head slightly, seeing the idea for how amazingly naive it had been. The swordsman had no more time for reflection, however, as Ariana bolted through the nearby forest. The screech of some bird reached Ardwen's ears at that exact moment, but the Elf ignored it as unimportant coincidence.

Ardwen let out a snarl of frustration and climbed to his feet. The warrior was muttering under his breath, but the only audible part was a practically spat section of speech that sounded like, "Not a damn babysitter." Yet, despite his complaining, Ardwen found himself following his Abbess through the forest and beyond. The elven swordsman paused in trepidation as they came upon a small village; Ardwen's eyes darted furiously between the buildings as he tried to spot a potential ambush. It was, however, a futile effort, the Elf could not cover the entire village alone. The effort only slowed him down, and he saw Ariana running ahead of him, almost to the other side of the village.

Ardwen dashed after her and heard as the sound of his footfalls shifted from stone back to grass. He swiftly caught up to Ariana, but his breath caught in his throat as he beheld what she too saw. It was a pristine little chapel, the yard meticulously maintained, but more importantly there was a statue in prominent display. Ardwen recognized the figure with no effort. The fire in the Elf's blood cooled as he watched Ariana gaze up at the effigy of her former self. Ardwen wondered if it was difficult for her to do so, did she recognize who she was staring at? Did she care?

Almost as if in answer, Ariana's fist smacked into the stone, and the infernal bird that had apparently started this whole escapade screeched once more. Ardwen spared the owl (for now that he saw it he knew what it was) a brief and spiteful glance, but he took a few steps toward Ariana. He tried to walk silently up to her, but his worry that she might injure herself quickened his pace, and he soon stood beside her. Ardwen placed a hand on her forearm, the same one she had struck the stone with. It was a gentle gesture, more to encourage her not to hit stone again than to restrain. The elf looked up at the statue once again and said, "Do you . . . recognize her?" The swordsman received no answer; so he carried on, "She looks a lot like you."

"Ariana...Ariana...it's okay, is there anything I can do for you?" The voice nearly caused Ardwen to jump out of his skin. He spun around and noticed Kaya had followed as well, Ardwen had been so concerned with spotting an attack in the town he had failed to notice anyone else perusing. Selfishly, the thought spun through his head that Kaya had seen him in a moment of weakness, and Ardwen reflexively covered it up with blunder.

"Fool girl," he snapped as he rounded to face her, "do you know where we are or who these people are?" The warriors voiced dropped to a low rumbling whisper, "Do not," said Ardwen, "use her name lightly!"

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya stood her ground. "As a matter of fact no, I do know know where we are except to be on holy ground, and and I do not know who she is. All I know is that she was a queen, you and your friend's queen and that she is important, as for why, I have no clue." Kaya finally noticed the resemblence of the statue to Ariana and she shot Ardwen another look. "I am not from around here Ardwen, these are not my people. I know nothing of their faith or gods. What is she, a goddess fallen to earth? Why don't you tell me Ardwen, fill me in so I know what I am getting into."

Written by - Vylia

Kaya wasn't the only one to follow Ardwen and Ariana as they ran off. While Vylia was the on the last boat to reach the shore, she was close enough to see the three sprint off into the woods, and barely even waited for the boat to stop before she had leaped into the surf to follow after them. When she finally caught up with the trio they had stopped in front of a small chapel, with a very familiar statue in it's courtyard.

She listened to the conversation, not wishing to interrupt until Ardwen growled at Kaya, and in an attempt to curb any arguments, answered the other woman's question, "Honestly, we're not really from around here either. It's a rather long story, but the short of it is no, she is not a goddess fallen to earth. Though the faith we placed in her when she was whole may have been close to what one would expect accorded a god. She was our Abbess, and we were... ARE The Hands of Providence."

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen prepared to answer Kaya, but stopped as he saw Vylia approach. She was as silent and surefooted as ever, but Ardwen at least expected that from the archer. Still, Ardwen said nothing and merely nodded his head at Kaya, assuming Vylia's keen hearing had filled in the rest of the details. The elven archer decided to take the hint and spoke, telling Vylia of their former membership in the Hands of Providence. Ardwen inwardly flinched at the mentioning of the name, and he did so again when she proudly proclaimed they still were the Hands of Providence.

Ardwen finally gave an outward sign by shaking his head slowly, sadly. His former fierce mien seemed to fade and when he spoke his voice was soft but clear, "Vylia tells the story, but in part I'm afraid. We are refugees from another world, a dead world, a world's name I will not speak here. I suppose some of us were brought here because in that world we were great heroes, paragons of virtue and righteousness." Ardwen paused to allow the words to sink in before adding, "At least, that's what the history books most likely say about us here, if they say anything at all."

Unusually for the warrior, he seemed nervous as he spoke, his eyes flitting from the bystanders, to his two companions, and to his Abbess. Ardwen began pacing back and forth, but he spoke on saying, "The reality was a bit different. The Hands were a collection of individuals united by a common vision. The vision was, as you might appreciate had you known the place, to pull our world out of the hellhole it had become. Certain extenuating circumstances made this difficult, namely every little Chaos-worshipping cult, demon, and enemy of life you can imagine. There were many of them, and by various means the situation kept getting worse . . . I for one blame the arrogance and rank stupidity of mankind, but that's just one old soldier's opinion . . . "

Ardwen allowed his voice to trail off; a slight smirk had formed on his face. He continued pacing, but he looked more comfortable now, falling into his role as a pedagogue. Ardwen could care less if Kaya actually learned anything from his ramblings, but it allowed him to flaunt his knowledge. "Regardless, the Hands first convened approximately in 97 SY, that's roughly ninety-seven years after everything went to hell - if you're wondering SY stands for 'Shadow Years'. They were a small congregation at first, but they had the nominal support of being a branch of the Holy Church, an ancient and generally useless institution flounder under its own venerable inertia. However, the Hands did with sheer will and determination what many said was impossible: founding a bastion of tranquility in the very maw of damnation."

Ardwen paused once again, but this time merely to catch his breath. His voice was tinged with melancholy and bitterness as he spoke again, "Those were . . . the happiest times of my life, and I have seen over five millennia. Aethelwulf ran an orphanage and a fine garden; by his diligence many lives were improved and saved. Turin Wallace, whom you have seen, was our first Priest of Battle, by his tactics much was preserved and the scourges of hell resisted. Vylia," and with this Ardwen succinctly motioned the elf herself, "was one of our foremost scouts and rangers, by her eyes we knew our enemies . . ."

The warrior finally stopped pacing and looked Kaya directly in the eyes, his voice somber, "I could stand here all day and toll of the names of the dead or dying. It would elucidate you no more than a trip to the cemetery. Know then, that as the others served, Ariana was our spiritual leader, and it was her faith and compassion that made . . . many of us . . . more than the monsters the world would have created of us." Suddenly Ardwen spun around, turning his back to Kaya and Vylia both. By the end all the swagger and pomp had dropped from his voice, and even their keen elven hearing had strained to hear his final words.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya listened to Vylia, then intently to Ardwen, who gave her the information she needed. "Thank you Ardwen, I can see now why she is important to you, to the others. My own past is not as noble as all of yours, but I do understand loss and being lost. But, she is being hunted by demons, so she is important to me as well and I will help and do my best to keep her well and protected from them, if you will let me help." Kaya looked towards Ariana, understanding and a little bit of sadness in her eyes. "Your mistress seems lost, and I have been there. I was only offering a helping hand. Please, if there is anything I can do, let me know."

Written by - Talonmane

Kildef cleared the thick oak's trunk and gracefully leaped two large roots, strolling ahead slowly into the courtyard.

"I know your memories are nigh endless, Ardwen, so I am not surprised if you don't recognize my friend immediately. Though like you, he is one of the oldest things alive in the world. At least, Salvorah always thought so." The Ranger held out his right arm, and Olawahoo noiselessly alighted from the statue and took place just back from the wrist, wings flapping minimally, the tops of his feathery ear tufts nearly three feet above the arm. "Many a life was saved or slain due to his eyes in the time of Aerynth. Many an ally or foe rose or fell as he scouted for us." Kil walked forward slowly, approaching Ariana and her object of fascination. "And he has ever been her shadow...from the time she first arrived at the old Abbey, and in ways I often never even knew. Who can doubt that his leading her here is not part of some greater plan?"

And the two just stood quietly afterward, watching.

Written by - Archeantus

The night had breathed new life into the old warlock's aching joints. He woke to the sound of shouts of land.

Rising, he stood after a long stretch, and gently took his wooden staff to support himself. He could feel a deep pain rumble in his chest as he walked toward the edge of the ship to listen to the crew of the 'Call prepare to land.

Soon he was guided down toward a small vessel which quickly made it's way toward the small island. The stout sailor that rowed the raft gave the warlock a confused look while he worked remembering what the man had done the night before.

Archeantus noted the sailor's line of thought before he voiced his question but allowed him to ask nonetheless.

"Why d'ya take da raft when you cun..."

"Fly?" The warlock finished.

"Aye." Said the sailor gruffly.

Archeantus did not answer right away, but waited for the man to think about the answer a bit more. The raft rocked in the small waves as the warlock finally said, "Power needlessly used is the beginning of evil" while seemingly gazing out into the sea.

The raft hit shore and the warlock stood and thanked the sailor who sat pondering the statement. He waded into the cool water and then stood upon the shore feeling the warmth of the sun upon his weathered face.

Angelus flew about the warlock's head, moving about the general area to various points of interest as if evaluating this new environment for anything worth investigating.

Scanning he knew most of his friends were already upon the shore, Ariana near Ardwen--which suddenly changed.

She was on the move.

"Angelus, follow her." He commanded and the small ember zipped through the air after her.

It was not long till Angelus followed Ariana, along with the rest to the small courtyard where the lone statue of the Abbess had been erected. Joining Olawahoo who rested on the statue, Angelus anxiously burst around the statue as if trying to communicate to Ariana below what was intensely obvious to them all.

"Who can doubt that his leading her here is not part of some greater plan?"

"Not I old friend" Said the warlock as he floated down among them overhearing Kil's last statement.

As his feet rested on the soft earth he quickly discerned the object of all their attention.

Walking slowly toward the statue, he placed his old hands upon the older cool stone.

He could sense Ariana's frustration, even with her grand form before her, she could not find her way out of the darkness her mind was in.

Turning his head back toward those present, as if speaking for them, knowing their thoughts, the warlock spoke.

"It is time to remember."

His sightless face seemed to look upon them who looked on her as he slowly circled the statue coming closer toward the Abbess speaking as he went.

"It is time to see as you used to see."

Resting his staff upon the statue, as he moved his hand grazed across the symbol etched in the stone.

"It is time to enter the light."

And with that, he entered her mind.

Written by - Ariana

She could hear the commotion around, feel the gentle pressure on her arm, but she was unable to make sense of it. Somewhere, she knew their noises were directed at her, but the emptiness inside her refused to echo with a response. Silent tears of frustration tracked down her face as she gazed the person grasping her arm. The timbre and cadence of his voice hardened and she flinched. He appeared to be scolding her in much the same way that her winged friend has screeched his own disapproval.

But then more people began to arrive, and she found herself frightened. Expectation intermingled with pity was plainly seen in their eyes, and she backed up in response. They wanted something from her, something she didn’t have, something she couldn’t give, and their need threatened to rip her apart from the inside out.

Glancing around quickly, she noted she was surrounded and choked back a panicked scream. Her breathing became quick as the feeling of being trapped began to envelop her, but before it could completely take hold, her attention was diverted as her owl friend descended from his perch to land on the arm of one of the people surrounding her. He flapped his wings once or twice more, adjusting to his new perch, and then turned his unblinking eyes upon her.

Tentatively, still anticipating his disapproval, she extended a finger and drew it slowly down the soft gray feathers of his back. Instead of screeching at her like she expected, moved slightly, as if asking her to rub first this spot, then that spot. She was soon grinning at his antics, her initial panic forgotten, face dry of tears.

Her other friend, the tiny dancing light, soon joined them, and she was content to play. She only vaguely registered the addition of another person to the throng, but she was acutely aware of the sudden pressure she felt inside her own head. Her pupils shrank to pinpricks, and she stopped mid-stroke as she became aware of an Other pushing its way into her.

Her breathing quickly became labored, and small beads of perspiration appeared on her forehead, and as quickly as a heartbeat her scene shifted. No longer was she basking in the sunshine. Instead, her world became that of the dream, and she found herself dressed all in white standing upon the surface of that black lake in the middle of the darkest landscape, tiny waves caressing her bare feet. Only this time, she wasn’t alone.

Standing some distance away was the Other, and seeing him, her hands clenched into tight fists. The Other had come before, and she knew what was to follow. Her eyes narrowed with fury as she unconsciously slipped into a defensive posture remembering the terror and despair the Other had made her feel. Before, she had been unsure and defenseless. This time, she was ready.

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