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Book Four Pt 1 - The Eastern Pass

Written by - Ariana Page 13 of Book 4

You should have known where Ardwen was. I shouldn’t have needed to tell you.

The words swirled round and round in her head, distracting her from the movement around her and the tugs and pleas for freedom. In the space of a few heartbeats, the words had coalesced into something she understood, and suddenly the woman she once was stared at the woman she had become and found her lacking.

Her arms, once holding on so tightly, suddenly went limp and dropped uselessly to her sides. She would not cling. She had no right. She pushed herself slowly to her feet, as if her body were weighted with ballast. As she did so, her foot grazed a broken piece of pottery. She gazed at it as if it held the meaning of the universe, and then deliberately lifted her foot and ground the fragment to dust beneath her heel.

“She is broken,” she said, her voice little more than a whisper. “Smashed and scattered in the darkness. Hands ripping, tearing, grinding. Black and red. Red and black. They wish to fill her with water, but broken does not hold.”

She cast a regretful glance at Ardwen and the child, and took several steps backwards, her hands clasped tight behind her.

Written by - Talonmane

Kildef's head turned quickly toward her, scrutinizing her expression and words, eyes squinted as though he could see through her fog if he could try hard enough. Slowly his body turned as well while he spoke, "When you've overflowed, it's always been because you took on too much, not because we poured it. If you are broken, then you can be remade again. And stronger. Despair can turn to something better. But you don't have to hold any water if you don't want to. There are plenty of us to carry it, and who always have. That's something you'll eventually remember, Ariana.

"Or will you stay in your personal Purgatory because reality makes you take a few tougher steps than what you cling to in there? Perhaps really living again is scarier than your demons?"

He then walked away toward another section of the fortress, pausing for just long enough to drop one last thought. "I miss your sister. Sometimes quite terribly. At least she had guts."

Olly, I'm going to go see what's happening in the war room. What? Oh, it's not that bad. Sort of like when you bit her on the nose. No, maybe I don't know what I'm doing.

Written by - Ardwen

Ilamir's voice was a whisper to his commander as he relayed what he saw, "Suggest we wait a moment sir, one of them was walking off, the big one, the barbarian. Give him a moment to get out of earshot and we can move in."

Telquin nodded and replied in an equally hushed tone, "The woman is our mark, she's the threat. Who else is in the yard?"

"Two more, one's Ardwen - he's gotten a different uniform but it's him - he's wounded too. The other is . . . I don't know it."

"It?" Telquin said while raising an eyebrow.

"Sir, it's a child, a young boy, but . . . the damn things got a white wing on its right; hair's white too."

"Gray?"

"No sir, white, like milk."

"Anything else?"

Ilmar paused a moment before continuing his report and saying, "Definitely a fight in the courtyard, a big one. We've got structure damage and I saw what looked like a shredded overcoat - torn all to hell and bloody. I don't like it, sir, I didn't see anything there that looks like it could have done that."

Telquin frowned slightly and said, "It's obvious this is that woman's work, it was only a matter of time before someone got killed. Don't let it shake you, we've got a casualty, some freak kid, and a woman to deal with - this'll be simple. Now, on my mark; follow my lead."

The Rangers of the Citadel carried out their next move with all the efficiency and speed that was their hallmark. Within moments an entire platoon of Rangers had materialized out of seemingly nowhere, many took up posts on the walkway surrounding the garden courtyard, but a few squads went down into the courtyard itself. In one of those squads was the commander of the operation, Telquin, who stepped forward and spoke, "For endangering the allied forces under the command of Lord Ithramir, for the unauthorized harboring of dangerous and subversive elements on the Elven demesne, and for wanton destruction of sovereign Elven property, you are hereby placed under military tribunal. Comply fully with our orders as we will not hesitate to use lethal force."

****

Ardwen saw the Rangers make their move. Even as they rushed into the courtyard their actions truly did not surprise him. Ariana had become a threat, and the Citadel did house the commanders of the Elven and human armies. Ardwen closed his eyes in thought for a brief instance. Ariana had apparently gone mad when he left as evidence by Kildef's words to her and her "convenient" proximity to him when he arrived back at the Citadel.

"I left her alone with the other Hands for less than one full day," Ardwen hissed to himself, "and they managed to screw things up spectacularly." Ardwen decided on the spot that he would actually have to share a few choice words with the other Hands regarding duty and vigilance. He also mulled over the idea of stabbing Kildef for his thoroughly ignorant display and then shooting his pet owl and eating it. The idea immediately struck Ardwen as repulsive: if Kildef liked the thing then it would be far more fitting to kill it first.

"Fine," Ardwen said releasing a breath he had not realized he was holding. The warrior took a few moments to stand up, hands down to his side and fingers splayed, he hoped it looked non-threatening. Not for the first time in his life Ardwen was glad he did not technically have to carry weapons to be considered armed, but the Rangers didn't know that. His movement had, however, attracted some attention. Ardwen took the brief moment of regard to look around, he saw an impressive array of weapons but what worried him the most were the longbows. Not a single Elf there had theirs drawn, though each had an arrow nocked. It was a bad sign, only morons tried to hold the draw of a bow for long, Ardwen had figured the elite of the Citadel would be experienced, and they showed openly.

"I can understand," Ardwen said calmly, "your charges against the lady and I, however, you can't be serious about arresting a child."

"The charges," the Elf Ardwen assumed to be in command retorted, "apply to him as well. There have been too many new faces around here, and now we've got what looks to be a war scene and a murder all on the same night there was a war council. It's too convenient and I for one do not take chances. I'm sure you can appreciate that, Ardwen."

Ardwen closed his eyes again and spoke without opening them, "You have me at an advantage, I don't know your name."

"Telquin, and I can assure you I am an officer in the Citadel and fully empowered to carry out its law."

"I thought Ithramir was the law at the Citadel."

"He is, but it is our duty to ensure the safety of those who reside here. This woman released such a powerful spell that it shook the very foundations of this fortress! She is a danger not only to others, but to herself as well. We're not doing this because we like to."

Ardwen said nothing. The only further action he took was to face away from Telquin, turning his frame so that most of the left side of his body was blocked from the Elven commander's view.

****

Elerus saw the two guards approaching him. They stopped a few feet behind him and Elerus turned his head to regard them. They were highly trained warriors, but the expressions on their faces told Elerus all he needed to know: they were at a loss whether to try and speak with him or poke him with a stick. For the second time that night Elerus released a deep sigh at his situation. Apparently the action stirred one of the Rangers to action because he stepped forward and hunched down to bring his face in close. "Easy," he said softly, "this is just a routine, that's all. You're not in trouble, don't cry."

Elerus felt like slapping the Elf upside his head, but he merely nodded curtly instead. Ardwen had fallen silent, which in Elerus's experience meant one of two things: he was lost in thought, or he was furious. Given the situation he didn't have to use any insight to determine which was more likely. "Ah," the Ranger said as his expression brightened, "so you do understand my words, yes?"

Elerus turned his head to the side as if in shyness, but he used the action to mask rolling his eyes in frustration. He quickly calmed himself, now was not the time to provide any encouragement to Ardwen. Besides, he knew his friend was suffering from mana deprivation, and if it came to a fight he would barely be able to move. In response to the Ranger he nodded his head again, this time a few more times and with more energy. "Ha!" The Elven soldier explained in triumph, "You owe me ten gold, Fawlen."

"Cut the bullshit and do your job, Kalomi." The one addressed as Fawlen snarled.

In response Kalomi shot him a resentful glare, "Watch the tongue around the boy, eh? Try and show you've got some class."

"Pfft," Fawlen said with a sneer, "coddling the enemy?"

Kalomi sighed and rolled his eyes, "This is retarded, Telquin sends us to arrest a kid while he gets the glory."

Elerus finally saw Fawlen give a tight smile before saying, "Yeah, well, maybe if you weren't shamming all the time and pulled your weight . . ."

Kalomi ignored him and Elerus saw him return his attention to him. "Alright little fellow, follow us." Elerus saw the two begin to walk away, but they both had their eyes fixed on him, he followed. He knew Ardwen was in no condition to fight, and Elerus knew his predicament was even worse. Still, he couldn't help but toss one last glance back at Ardwen and Ariana as Fawlen and Kalomi marched him off around a corner and out of sight.

Elerus took in the sights of the building as his two wardens lead him through it. The ceiling was high and arched even in the hallway. At least, Elerus thought it was. But as he looked at Fawlen and Kalomi for comparison he realized it wasn't the height of the ceiling that made it seem so far away. Eventually the two took a turn up a stairwell, Fawlen walked in front with Kalomi behind him; Elerus scrapped the idea of running. At the top of the spiral flight of stairs was a heavy wooden door, Fawlen withdrew a key and released the lock.

Elerus found himself ushered inside by another gratingly belittling turn of phrase from Kalomi. The two talked outside the door for a minute, and Elerus found he was almost warmed by the concern Kalomi was showing for him. Their conversation ended abruptly, however, with a gruff dismissal from Fawlen, "There's a blanket in there, it's clean, and it can ask for food or water. Damnit Kalomi we were just told to keep it in containment for a bit, not like this is the dungeon it's just an extra guardhouse room! Now, I'm going to go and report to Telquin and tell him this pissant job is done, and I suggest you come too. Unless, you're worried the brat can't get to sleep without a bedtime story." Shortly afterwards Elerus heard two sets of footfalls gradually recede into the distance. He grabbed the blanket in the room, found it surprisingly clean, and wrapped himself in it for warmth.

In a few moments his eyes began to droop, despite all that had happened his current accommodations were still infinitely better than anything Visan had ever allowed. Surely, he thought even as his thoughts slowed with weariness, Ardwen would take the chance to recover before doing anything brash. Though, he wouldn't complain if Ard stabbed Fawlen - just with a flesh wound, of course.

Written by - Ariana

His words had the opposite effect than he had intended. Instead of riling her up with indignation, she surrendered, recognizing the truth in his words. Her shoulders slumped and her head bowed as she tried to recall her sister, but only gained a vague image of an owl. But with that recollection came another one, and she cast a glare in the barbarian’s direction.

“Friend of the flying one,” she whispered. “Likes the owl not for innards but because she makes him glow.”

She bowed her head again and said more to herself than anyone else, “Broken is broken. Pieces only fit when form and function are known.”

A sound in the darkness interrupted her musings. She heard before she saw the rangers approaching, their swift and quiet footsteps resounding loudly in ears long accustomed to silence. The hands behind her back clamped tightly to each other and she cast quick glances around her into the surrounding black.

As they came into view, weapons clearly raised with deadly intent her breathing grew choppy and she started to tremble. Her movements became more harried as her search for an escape grew more desperate as the panic set in. Finding no easy way out, she took one tentative step towards Ardwen, but then hesitated casting another regretful glance his way. The tightly twined fingers interlaced behind her back turned white with her severe grip, and her shaking became more severe. It was impossible to tell if she shivered from fear, the cool night air, or the effort to keep something inside that was clamoring to get out.

She didn’t actually start to glow until she saw them touch the child.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia came running into the courtyard just as Ariana's hands began to glow. She shoved herself a path between the pair of rangers in front of her, confusing them as she yelled, "Ariana, no! They are not our enemies, they're just trying to protect their home. Please calm down, Ardwen is back and they aren't going to harm any of us as long as we all stay calm." Vylia turned to glare at the ranger that had grabbed her wrist, "I suggest you and your friends lower your weapons. We will all go peacefully, but if she thinks any harm will come to any of us a great many of you could die before you even had a chance to harm her. Your commander doesn't have the slightest clue what he is dealing with here, I'd suggest you give him the same warning."

The second ranger behind her turned to go speak with Telquin, moving up silently behind him and whispering something only he could hear.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm regained his breath, although the feeling of fatigue and buring channels remained. He saw that Keeryn was weeping next to the body of the wizard she had slain, and knew from what the two had said that this must have been the same wizard that had destroyed her people. Leaving her to her feelings, he turned towards Sabbatine and Teran and saw that Sabbatine's broken body was visibly healing as she consumed the corpse in front of her. He saw that Teran was turning to come to him. Looking around, he saw that Resini had organized the rest to heal any wounds and to check the cultist bodies and to heal any wounds.

Finally, he heaved a deep and sad sigh and turned to walk to Mavigan's body, only to stop short when he could not see it. Searching the area where he was sure he had seen her slain, he found her bloody dagger and a pale outline upon the red-dusted floor, as if a body has lain there then somehow vanished. Turning as Teran approached, he said,

"Where is Mavigan's body! I saw her slain!"

"So did I", replied Teran. "But Sabbatine says Mavigan did not die, as she would have known if Mavigan's soul left her body." Teran spread his hands and shrugged, showing his own confusion.

Wilhelm studied the area more closely and concentrating all his senses, he saw some faint disturbances in the dust. He followed them to the passageway through which they came and slowly he saw red dust footprints emerge into view, as if some magical concealment was fading out, leading back the way they had come.

*All right,* he thought pointedly to the presence within, * What happened? Where is Mavigan? What is going on?*

*She lives, thanks to a secret protection cast long ago she was unaware of. You must follow her. Lead the others out quickly and seek out Argent. I must return to the negotiations.* The All Father's presence vanished abruptly, leaving Wilhelm both relieved and irritated.

"The All Father says we must return to the horses immediately to follow Mavigan, who lives. I'll explain when we get there. Follow me!"

Taking Keeryn by the hand, he led her over to the others and she came quietly, the tears still flowing. He began a chant that caused a glow to appear around everyone's feet that caused their movement to speed up and he led them faster and faster back the way they came, until they appeared to be effortlessly sprinting. They saw few cultists, and those they saw fled from them in terror. Evidently, the cultists were demoralized by the elimination of their leaders and the glowing armed party caused those they saw to flee for their lives.

Retracing the long route they had come, the group finally emerged back into the desolate valley and made their way back up to the camp where the horses had been left under the care of Gareth and Hilda. Except that rather than a small camp of 2 rearguards, there was a large crowd of bedraggled but happy people!

Wilhelm discovered to his delight that the prisoner breakout had worked and while there had been many casualties, the majority had lived to escape the clutches of the dark cult and had just reached Gareth and Hilda a short time ago. Leaving Resini to take charge, Wilhelm moved quickly to the horses and found Argent tethered at the edge of the horses. There he found a bloody cloth on the ground. Looking further, he realized that all of Mavigan's gear except the saddle, horse bow, and quiver were missing. Searching the ground around Argent, he found a faint trail of footprints in the soft dirt left by small boots. Looking closely, he made out the initial M he had had engraved in the heels of the boots given to Mavigan.

He followed those footprints a short distance, until they suddenly stopped as if Mavigan had vanished into thin air. *Or into Shadow!* he thought.

* Into Shadow indeed!* boomed the inner voice of the All Father. * And you must follow. I have negotiated passage for you with Huxel. Speak to Teran and Sabbatine and tell Teran that you must be taken through Shadow to follow Mavigan back to Port Westgale. Resini can guide the others back to the Citadel.*

Wilhelm went to find Resini and informed him of the All Father's words. Resini agreed to guide the crowd back to the safety of the Citadel, and wished godspeed to Wilhelm. Wilhelm then found Teran and Sabbatine and relayed the words of the All Father to them.

"It seems we must follow after Mavigan quickly through Shadow. The All Father informs me that Huxel has granted His Avatar passage, in return for a future favor."

Written by - Vylia

Wiping her eyes, Keeryn sniffled one last time before regaining her composure. She looked at Wilhelm as he spoke of someone named the All Father and her face changed from one of confusion to determination. "If Mavigan lives and has gone into danger then I am going with you as well. Twice now I have failed to keep her from harm, it will not happen a third time unless I die in the trying."

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir turned to Agmund as most of the others had begun to depart from the room. Speaking simply, he says,

“Agmund, I wish there was more we could do for our cousins to the east. At this critical junction, with the reclaiming of Minas Uial, with the borders of our land needing patrols, with the reconstruction of the cenedril mindon or port fortress in human tongue, I have very little aide to lend.”

Ithramir paused for a moment, thinking long and hard before saying,

“However, our cousins across the Amlug Anc deserve something. Therefore, a newly minted squad of rangers will be tasked with providing as much aide as they can. I hope this is satisfactory.”

As Ithramir listened to Agmund’s reply, he politely excused himself from the war chamber. Walking through the halls and open courtyard, on the way to his personal chambers, he could see the Citadel in full preparations for the next assault. As he would not be leaving until much later in the evening, he would enjoy some quiet time alone in his own chambers.

Upon arriving in his room, Ithramir meticulously looked over his weapons and armor. Each one was set in preparation for equipping later on in the evening. Once he was satisfied, he entered his balcony and sat down. Drawing a deep breath, he poured himself a drink of absinthe, unfurled a small replica of the map in the war chamber, and looked over the map quietly.

Time passed uneventfully, until a knock came upon his door. Opening it, he received news that some of the party sent to Westgale had returned through a portal. Seems they had brought some guests with them, as well as a severely injured woman. After asking if she was being cared for, and being answered in the affirmative, Ithramir left things go at that.

He should have known better.

What was quiet, still and peaceful was no more. Ithramir’s chambers were high atop the fortress and yet it rumbled and shook with force. His first reaction, as well as the guards who opened the door to check on their lord, was that the very land itself shook. While occasional rumblings were common, none had ever reached the higher chambers or damaged the citadel itself. That is, until tonight.

No sooner had Ithramir donned his armor and swords then the first reports came in.

In the inner courtyard, some woman with glowing hands had unleashed unusual power and attempted to destroy the ancient statue of the triumvirate. An unusual avian child, held captive along with Ardwen, by the very same wounded woman who had arrived earlier. His rangers had first responded, attempting to contain those who were in the courtyard with the woman.

As he moved down toward the courtyard, he could feel the link he shared with Avandor open up.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Avandor’s voice echoed in Ithramir’s mind,

“Be cautious, Ithramir. The woman you will find holding center stage in the courtyard is one of those not from this world. Her bond to her deity, who we call Tinorb, or others refer to as All-Father, is strong. Her mind has been ravaged by darkness, she is a prisoner within her own mind, and she no longer can recognize friend or foe.”

Ithramir’s mind replied,

“Then she is a threat. Look at what damage she has nearly caused! Only the nexus of the three great ley lines saved a partial collapse of our citadel. Tell me then; what shall we do with her?”

Avandor’s response came swiftly,

“Take her to the mage’s quarter, shield and ward her room, and have attendants give her a draught of betony tea.”

Ithramir responds,

“The betony leaf would cause her to relax and sleep at peace, this I understand, but I worry about the wards and shielding. If she unleashes another outburst, I have concerns about the safety of those in the mage quarter, as well as in the citadel itself.”

Avandor assuages Ithramir’s concern by saying,

“To keep her from damaging others and perhaps herself even more, you must require Ardwen to stay close by. She feels a strong link with him. The bird child is protected because she feels those around her will do it harm. I suggest you give orders that all three be held together for now. They, and our people, will be safe enough for the time being, you have an army to lead.”

Ithramir responds,

“It will be as you wish, Avandor. Our people will once more claim Minas Uial and our honor, your honor, will be restored.”

As the link closed, Ithramir found himself now in the courtyard. Rangers, arms at the ready, were being held at bay by the insane woman with glowing hands. If she wanted to do more harm, it surely would have happened by now. More than that, if she was a threat, Avandor would have enabled him to do battle with her.

The ranger in charge of the scene quickly reported the current situation and the “request” of the one named Vylia. Ithramir nodded and said,

“Rangers, lower your weapons, but stand at the ready. Our…guest…needs to be escorted to the mage quarters. There, she must have a room made ready for her and a draught of betony tea prepared for her.”

Cautiously, he stepped forward to the clearly agitated woman before him, her eyes twitching and shifting as if somewhere else. In a friendly tone, and calmly, he says,

“I am Ithramir Sil-Galdur, and this is the home of my people, the fortress of Lothiel-Gadith. I welcome you and your friends, and would bid that you take your rest in a soft bed surrounded by many comforts. Our friend Ardwen here shall lead you and accompany you in your rest, as well as the child. Be at ease, lady, you have no enemies in these walls.”

Ithramir’s gaze then fell upon Ardwen, a knowing glance that let the fellow elf understand what must be done, and awaited a response.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya rushed after Vylia and followed her to the courtyard. She was unsure of what to do for the woman before her. Then Ithramir appeared and gave his orders. Breathing a sigh of relief she waited to follow the woman back to relative safety.

Written by - Teran

Teran allowed a look of surprise to appear briefly on his face when Wilhelm told him they were to use the Shadow to travel. Huxel was not one to grant access to her sanctum without reason, and when she did grant access, her reason was not always beneficial to those using the Shadow.

“There is considerable risk, especially for her.” Teran warned, pointing at Keeryn for emphasis. “If Huxel wants you there will be no way out, and you were not kind to her avatar. She is even more unstable than Sabbatine.”

“We could be with Mavigan by tomorrow morning if you know where she has gone, if you do not then perhaps Huxel will tell us, if she is in a good mood.” He muttered darkly. “I will prepare the ritual, it will take some time while I gather what is needed.”

Written by - Wilhelm

"The risk must be taken," replied Wilhelm. "The All Father told me she has gone to Port Westgale, where Beridane was holding court the last I heard. Perhaps she has finally come around to the need to deal with Beridane, and naturally her reaction is to do it herself. Or else she has just followed the instinct to go home. In any event, we have got to get there in time. Tinorb has negotiated passage with Huxel, at the promise of a future favor, so hopefully Huxel will be cooperative. While you prepare for the ritual I will see to getting these others on their way to the Citadel."

Wilhelm went to Sable and Argent and greeted them, offering them each an apple and some stroking. He then took his own gear bags off of Sable and changed into his bounty hunter disguise, filling a backpack with gear and supplies for a few days. After wrapping his Faith Hammer with leather to disguise its nature and placing Mavigan's bow and quiver over his shoulder, he turned the two horses over to the rangers and walked over to Resini.

They conferred about plans to get the large gathering to the Citadel. Resini felt that once they left the polluted region they were in then he and his mages could use the parts they had brought with them to construct a temporary portal to link to the great Gate at the Citadel and then they could pass through to the Citadel. Resini agreed to report all that had occurred to Ithramir along with Wilhelm's mission to follow Mavigan.

When the rest of his forces seemed to have the crowd organized and ready to march, Wilhelm returned to Teran and bowed to Sabbatine as one Avatar to another. Then he proceeded to eat a meal of travel rations while he waited.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen felt a frown creeping across his face before he managed to school his features. It wasn’t that Ithramir’s words displeased him, it was the fact that he was still on a mission very dear to his heart. So far as he was concerned, everything else was secondary to finding his friend who had asked for his aid. If the former Hands had proved so amazingly inept as to allow the situation to deteriorate so far, then who was he to stand in the way of things? Better, thought the warrior, to let them learn duty and vigilance again.

Ardwen was about to voice his displeasure when an unbidden thought caused him to reconsider his words. Like a whisper in the dark the thought danced on the edge of hearing. Might, the thought unfurled, the very boy Ithramir spoke of be of use? Did it not stand to reason, it continued, that the child had been a captive of Visan. While the wizard was slain, the boy might have information, information that could ease Ardwen’s search. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption, and given the situation the swordsman concluded it was the best course of action.

“Of course commander Ithramir.” Ardwen said in even tones, “However, I’m afraid two of your Rangers have already taken the boy to another area.” Ardwen turned his head slightly to take the aforementioned Rangers into his gaze. “Retrieve him.” Ardwen’s tone was still placid, but there was something about it still that gave the impression that his address to the two Rangers was anything but a request.

As soon as they departed Ardwen walked over to Ariana. His abbess still seemed on the verge of panic, and so Ardwen spoke swiftly, “Looks like we’ve been given a respite. They’re retrieving the boy and giving us quarters in the mage tower.” Ardwen paused, unsure if his words were getting through or what reaction he would receive. Almost as an afterthought the warrior added, “Looks like we’ll be spending some time together after all.”

A few moments later the two Rangers returned leading the winged boy in front of them. From somewhere the kid had obtained a white sheet and had apparently refused to yield it; one of the Rangers attempted to grab it and was met with a reproachful glare. Ardwen shook his head slightly and gave a nearly silent scoff of derision. “Let the boy have the damn sheet.” He said with a sneer. Ardwen watched as the child glanced at him, but quickly looked away and disguised the motion as rubbing sleep from his eyes. The warrior thought this decidedly odd, but he had far larger concerns at the moment. “Whenever you’re ready, let’s go – I’ve got a promise to keep.” He said while turning to face Ariana.

Written by - Teran

Teran gathered up the necessary components to appease Huxel into allowing so many passage into her realm. For a deity she seemed awfully fickle to Teran but there was nothing he could do, she made the rules and he was not willing to break them for fear of her cutting him off, or worse. Even if negotiations had been made between Huxel and Tinorb to travel freely within the Shadow, the cost of entry still applied.

Teran had gathered up a large portion of the blood dust and used it to create an intricate arcane symbol on the ground. He lit three candles he had discovered in the ritual room in a triangle around the circular symbol, three was Huxel's favorite number according to Sabbatine. The candles burned brightly even in the daylight. The final object was one of the pieces of Teran's shattered blade that had pierced his and Mavigan's flesh. Though the item itself was worthless to him, Huxel would appreciate it's significance.

Sabbatine was transfixed on Wilhelm as he ate his meal and stared at him unashamedly. Because she had eaten so recently and had blood flowing through her veins she was able to blush when Wilhelm bowed to her and she tried awkwardly to return bow with a curtsy but she really had no idea how to do it and nearly tripped over herself in the process. She continued to watch him, curiosity mixed with a good amount of fear was evident in her eyes.

It was time to leave. Teran summoned Wilhelm and Keeryn over and threw the blade shard into the center of the arcane design. As soon as the shard touched the ground everything disappeared without a trace. The offering had been accepted. Teran nodded to Sabbatine and then placed his hand on Wilhelm's shoulder and instantly their surroundings changed. Sabbatine in turn forcefully grabbed Keeryn and giggled, transporting them as well.

The Assassin took a moment to check on the others, noting that Keeryn was still with them before getting his bearings. It was cold, but not in a physical sense, no amount of clothing would warm someone in the Shadow. Sabbatine looked uncomfortable but at home. She hated the cold especially because she had just feasted and had been warmed by the flesh she had consumed, but she had spent a lot of time in Huxel's presence and despite the physical discomfort she felt mentally secure..

Their surroundings hadn't changed much, they were still in a clearing and still near the cave entrance but everything seemed slightly off. The Shadow was a place of darkness and though it was not difficult to see, everything seemed to be concealed in shades of gray, even the sun. Everything appeared as though it were coated in dust and there was no wind. Huxel had granted them her favor, and he could clearly see footprints he recognized as Mavigan's marching away from where they stood. Teran motioned that the party should follow him and began what would feel like a long trek through a dead realm. Sabbatine took up a position in the rear.

Written by - Ariana

Her hands ceased glowing once Vylia charged out in front of her, but she maintained a defensive stance and a wary eye. More than a few glances were sent Ardwen’s way as she tried to judge from his actions and tone whether or not they were in danger.

And then he arrived, and she forgot all else. She could see him plainly – pointed ears, a face lined with unkindness and responsibility, but that was not what captivated her. It was the shimmering aura that surrounded him that kept her rapt with awe. It swirled and shifted and changed colors and she felt dizzy merely trying to keep up with it all. Some part of her knew he was speaking to her, but she wasn’t listening, too embroiled in watching the kaleidoscope of colors. Her fingers nearly itched with the desire to thrust her hands in his aura, just to see what it felt like.

Before she got the chance, however, he moved and both Ardwen and the child were returned to her, and they were led off. She meekly followed Ardwen, unconsciously reaching for and grasping his hand. She stretched out her other hand towards the child, giving him an encouraging grin, but he ignored the gesture, choosing instead to cling to his sheet.

She dropped her hand and turned to study Ardwen closely as they walked. She noted the many gashes and cuts that bloodied him and the effort it seemed to take for him to lift one foot after the other. Without conscious thought, a small amount of healing energy transferred itself through their clasped hands – not enough to heal him completely, but enough to seal a few of the more serious cuts.

Soon enough they were escorted to a dormitory within the Wizards’ Keep. The beds were adequate if not luxurious, and she let go of Ardwen’s hand to twirl around the room in bare feet. She then sat on the edge of one of the beds and grinned at them all, swinging her feet back and forth.

A cadre of wizards rushed into the room, and busied themselves with warding the doors and windows of the rooms. Some were chanting, others were painting symbols on the cornices and frames.

Her grin immediately faded. She could feel it – the bars of a cage being formed around her. The walls started to close in on her and her breathing became labored. The more they chanted, the more she felt as if something she desperately needed was being moved out of her reach. She could see it, she could feel it, the power that seemingly churned deep inside and all around, but they were making it so she couldn’t reach it.

Jumping from the bed, she charged towards to the door, knocking over the person bearing a cup of steaming tea.

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