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Book Four Pt 1 - The Eastern Pass

Written by - Ariana Page 14 Book 4

Hangman’s Hill was a perfect vantage point from which to see the lights of Port Westgale. Mavigan sat on a log, her back to the campfire in which burned the remains of the meal she had just consumed. On the log next to her lay the old bandages she had stripped from her shoulder, replacing them with clean ones. She sat still and was content to watch the flickering lights in the city stretched out before her.

She was glad she remembered this hill. Jonan had brought her many times as he pointed out the “special” areas of the city she needed to learn. The locals considered it haunted, so they never ran the risk of discovery, and returning to it gave Mavigan an odd feeling of irony. Considering her current state, it now truly was haunted. The thought dragged a dry chuckle from her throat.

But as she stared down on the city, the image before her did not completely reconcile with the one in her memory. There were fewer lights than she remembered, and the city did not shine as brightly as it had in the past. The harbor, which was usually bustling with activity even at night, was now silent and dark. She could not hear the sounds of revelry in the streets that had once caught wing on evening breezes, and parts of Port Westgale appeared to nearly be deserted.

“Beridane’s work, no doubt,” she thought with a grimace.

Heaving a deep sigh, she scooted off the log and onto her bed roll. Tonight she would rest. Tomorrow she would go home.

Written by - Sycon

Ever since Sycon had traveled back to the citadel he had been in a haze like stupor. Wandering from path to path, hallway to hallway feeling little more than the occasional wall he fell into. Being engrossed in all the world at once constantly took his complete attention, yet all his attention was so spread out, there was no true coherent thoughts to be made.

He could feel the power running through this place, under his very feet, throbbing like the artery of the world. Those arteries flowed into the many branches, like a powerful current of a river being split into many small streams flowing in many different directions taking his mind with them. They were Leylines. Blood of the world.

This power coursed through his veins as well, that was why he could feel its direction, its current, its mood. And as a part of him, it was still so untouchable. A monster of it own will that tore through his body, burning him and leaving him just as cold as he was before... only to be replaced by the next surge, the next heartbeat. A constant struggle in his body, his mind numb with it and his eyes blank. He was acting like a dam and each passing moment filled up his lake, only letting a portion of the surges that flowed into him to surged back out once more. He was the dam, but there was no regulator.

So on he trudged, not himself, yet only intact by sheer force of will. Not even the will of his true self, but of his instincts.

****

Sycon had been walking endlessly since he had returned. He had wondered through the corridors several times each. Some of the attendants wore wearied faces but still asked if he needed anything. Their voices had only faded into the background of his thought. Several more steps, and several more seconds, and he was into the main courtyard. He did not notice the transition from indoors to out, but it did not matter. The sun was bright today and its warm light seeped into this cool skin. A twitch of a smile crept across his lips and a small sigh to alleviate his clouded mind. Every part of him felt so full, almost to the point where his individuality was lost.

THERE. No... wait... there it was again. A hole... Yet it wasn't a hole at all. It was an absence. A spot in the flow, where there was no flow, or... more like it was flowed around like nothing was there at all. Like all natural forces of the world just went around, never to notice it. To go past it was like walking a straight line, yet you would go around it. Was it actually arcing the Leylines? Arcing light... no, energy itself? A stand alone?

Sycon's attention pooled itself, and pulled itself onto a focus point. The surges through his body abated from his system, but did not fade entirely. His consciousness rose from what seemed his stomach back to his eyes. They focused on a figure standing not but several feet in front of him. It was a dark figure, tall and enormous, yet was cloaked it shadow. It was not a creature of good, yet... it was different. Its eyes turned to Sycon's, staring deep into them. It opened its mouth to speak...

"Hail and well met, good sir. A good day to see the sun, is it not?" It was not the malevolent voice Sycon had expected but that of a normal person. Sycon rubbed his eyes with his sleeve, blinked several times and stared at the figure once again. It was nothing but a normal looking man. A priest in fact. His robes were long and a deep saturated blue. The sleeves almost covered the man's hands and a hood rested between his shoulder blades. The only odd thing about the his apparel was the sky blue sash. And hanging from the sash was the scabbard of a scimitar, and the hilt that rose from the scabbard was transposed with silver and black to create an almost shadowy overlook.

****

Shane followed the confused man's eyes to the sword that rested across the side of his hip. He gave the man a reassuring smile. "A symbol of my god. Though its craftsmanship is quite beautiful. I was blessed to be given such a relic to hold and protect."

Shane had been studying the man for some time now, and had chosen this particular spot for a meeting place. It was well lit with a comfortable air that appealed to him for a 'quaint' talk. Now that he could see him up close he noticed several small things about the man's demeanor. Before, he had only assumed the man had had too much to drink, but over the past day or so, he had realized no man could keep a drunk stupor for that long without a single drink to sustain him. He had the look about someone when the magic had taken hold of them. Forgetting to eat, to sleep, even breath on occasion was a common symptom. It was like watching a big drooling baby.

But now he had the man's attention, though how he had no idea as to how. Shane thought he'd have to physically trip him or bump into him to get though to him. Nevertheless, this was convenient. The man's eyes and hair were of the same silver hue. One that Shane particularly found entrancing... just like his scimitar's. The man had several lines on his face that made him look much older than his demeanor indicated, probably mage lines, as he liked to call them.

"I would hardly call that a symbol. It is a weapon." The man's eyes seemed to shift in an out of focus constantly, like a man gripping to hold on.

Shane gave a chuckle, "Well, can a symbol not be a weapon. By the way I figure, a symbol by itself can be the most powerful weapon." The man tilted his head as if considering then rocked his head back look at the sky and gave a loud roaring laugh. Was this the man out from under whatever spell that had had him?

"Spoken like a wise man indeed, though I cannot say I like the idea of a symbol. While it can be a powerful weapon, if it is destroyed, so can the hopes of those following the symbol. A double bladed weapon then?" The man's whole posture was changing. One of a drunken fool to a man that carried his weight with dignity, as if the whole world could be on his shoulders and he would gladly bear it.

"Ha. I see your point, but I have you there." Shane reached his hand down to his blade and drew it. It shone brightly in the sun. Half of the blade, like a line drawn through the center of the blade, from the hilt to tip, was black and the other side was silver. The blade reflected in the sun, shining into his eyes and onto the ground, casting light as well as shadow. "See, only one blade on this beauty."

"That is true, but it is a symbol with two sides. One bright and glorious and the other shadowed and dark. See the reflection and shadow it gives to the ground." The man motioned to the ground where the lines of light and shadow distinctly merged.

"Perhaps I am not the only wise man here. My god is the god of battle. Battle can be a great or terrible thing, glory and death, light and dark. But enough of this, I could go on for hours. I am late for an appointment and must be on my way." Shane abruptly turned and headed back for cover of the stone halls. Too many questions were being asked and he was the foolish one to have started them. The sword was worth a boast, but not at the cost of losing what he had already gained.

"Wait, I was meaning to ask you something. . ." The man's voice started to trail off.

Shane turned his head but kept his path, "And that is?"

"I, uh... I seemed to have lost the thought... *sigh* .. . ." And with that the man seemed to lose himself again in his own mind. Shane turned and went back into the citadel, wanting to make it to his way back to his own quarters to think about what he had found.

Written by - Tempyst

Purgatory went through the tree walk with Dorve and wound up in the Druid's grove with the others. She wandered about for awhile, picking at the food there, watching the ceremonies and all the people wander about. As she watched the druids, her mind kept wondering, Which one is my sister? Finally, unable to wait any longer she searched out Dorve and found her in one of the bathing pools. Signing to her, she asked the druid if she could help her find Tempyst. Dorve smiled a nodded, telling the young woman she would be happy too. Together the two wandered the circle, asking around for Tempyst. Finally, the young, elder druid was pointed out to them; Tempyst was helping some of the veterans who had gone through the tree walk who were not doing too well from the experience. Purgatory watched her for a few moments, holding Dorve back. Here she is, my sister, now how do I tell her about our father?

Dorve smiled at Purgi, "Dunna worry lass, it will be fine, I am sure she will be happy to see you, from what I hear, she has suffered many losses as of late and will be glad to know she has family." Purgatory squeezed Dorve's hand and nodded. Dorve then led Purgatory over to Tempyst. "Tempyst my dear, can I have a word with you?"

Tempyst turned around, though she was smiling, her shoulders were low and her eyes heavy. "Ah, Dorve, what can I do for you on this fine festival day?" She leaned down and gave the druid a hug.

Dorve smiled and returned the hug. "I have someone here that has been looking for you, who is anxious to meet you my dear. Her name is Purgatory and from her story, she is your sister." Tempyst's eyes grew wide and she started to speak but Dorve cut her off. "Now, before you start hammering her with all sorts of questions, ya need to know, she canna speak, but she can communicate. She knows the sign language, which I also know thanks to my uncle. She also can write and use magics too. But I will be here to get you two started."

Tempyst nodded and sat down, "Please, make yourself comfortable, I feel this is going to be a long story."

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen breathed an anxious mental murmur of thanks to Ariana as she followed along. The Elven warrior led his motley group as swiftly as he dared to wherever the Rangers guided him. They made quite a show, a wounded Elf bedecked in imperial purple and a seemingly permanent frown, an odd young boy who seemed content to let a bed sheet trail behind him like a billowing cloak, and a madwoman who tossed nervous glances at both her companions. Somewhere along the route Ariana grasped Ardwen’s hand and performed a minor healing, Ardwen barely registered it. It was not his physical wounds that troubled him.

When the three finally arrived at the rooms prepared for them, Ardwen took an immediate interest in propping himself up against the wall near the door. The Elf propped one foot against the wall and crossed his arms, he watched for a few moments the wizards busying themselves with arcane symbols and esoteric chants, but he quickly lost interest in their magic. Ardwen’s gaze fell on the boy that had followed them this entire time, seemingly connected and caught irrevocably in this whole muddled series of events.

At another time Ardwen might have regretted that turn of events. The child didn’t deserve to be tossed about like a pawn to placate Ariana’s seemingly bizarre attachment to him. But, Ardwen reflected that he didn’t have that luxury at the moment. He had taxed himself near his limit in his earlier fight and had not had time to recover, and at the moment it was convenient for him to keep the boy near at hand. He needed the information he might provide.

Unfortunately, the Elven bladeweaver’s thoughts were interrupted by Ariana making a mad dash for the door. Ardwen was puzzled at first, she had seemed content when they first entered the room. To make matters worse, the Abbess of the Hands had managed to bowl over the attendant carrying a cup of tea to the room. The little white cup hit the floor and shattered, scattering glass and tea in all directions. Ardwen gritted his teeth. He was tired and whatever goodwill he possessed in his heart had been withered by his failure to retrieve Elerus. He had sacrificed and battled, bleed and suffered enormous pain, and for what?

To bring back some freak child and help a woman who had nearly gotten him thrown into jail. No, he would have no more of it. With a viper-like quickness that belied his wounds Ardwen’s right hand darted out and caught Ariana’s arm. He could feel his Abbess pulling away, but wounded and weary as he was, even standing on one leg, Ardwen had the advantage of a body not born entirely of mortal blood and over five millennia of training and warfare. Ardwen began speaking but did not face anyone in particular, seeming to address to the air. “Here I was hoping we might finally spend some time together, and you’re already running off?”

Ardwen allowed a slight pause here before he released his Abbess’s arm with casual disdain. The warrior held his head slightly up in the air as he spoke, affecting a pose of wounded pride and a tone to match. “Well,” Ardwen said, “don’t let me stop you. If your so sanguine to simply give into the darkness, to not prove that anything I know of the old Ariana is left, by all means do so. I can spare you no more of my strength.”

Without a further word Ardwen walked over to one of the beds and sat down on the corner. The warrior rested his elbows on his knees and bowed his head. “Now,” he said at length, “boy, you have the advantage over me. You knew my name. So you’ll tell me yours, and then tell me everything you know about Visan and his experiments, and everything you know of Elerus.” With the speaking of his old friend’s name Ardwen raised his head slightly and locked his gaze on the child, looking very much like a raptor regarding its prey.

****

The thought crossed Elerus’s mind that he had no idea why he had refused to give up the sheet. Briefly, he supposed it was his way of getting back at the guards for waking him up right after he had managed to fall off into the most peaceful slumber he had gotten in some time. Another part of him rationalized that it was an excellent way to keep up the illusion that he was no more than what he appeared to be, and as the guards led him back to Ardwen and Ariana he was grateful for that illusion. He did not know about the others, but knowing Ardwen as long as he had gave him a decent insight into his mood.

Ardwen was, by Ardwen’s standards anyway, hiding his emotions very well. But to Elerus his thoughts were as plain as if he was a master warlock. His friend wasn’t satisfied with just killing Visan, and his temper was still on edge, Elerus was very certain that if Ardwen had his way right now he’d be stabbing people until he got the answers he sought. Amazingly it had never seemed to occur to his companion that thrusting a sword through someone was generally not conducive to intelligence gathering, but – damned if he had not – Ardwen had gotten results with his method before.

As he followed his friend and Ariana to whatever quarters the Elves of this land had prepared for them, he noted the lady Ardwen had so often spoken of before trying to take his hand. In truth, Elerus did not trust her completely. The fact that something was off with her was blatantly obvious, and so he ignored her gesture, but he came to regret it a moment later. Mad or no she might be an ally to dissuade Ardwen from impaling him when the truth got out. He had no doubts that it would eventually; Ardwen would not rest until he had found out who he was.

Elerus’s stomach tightened in unease as they were all herded into one room. Ardwen propped himself up against a wall and brooded, and Elerus sank into the blanket he had carried all this way, he knew that posture. It didn’t take long before something set Ardwen off, namely Ariana. The only thing that truly surprised Elerus was the fact that Ardwen hadn’t resorted to violence. Perhaps he really did care for the lady, or perhaps he was simply still too low on mana. Regardless, Ardwen quickly turned his attentions on him and asked the question he had been dreading.

Elerus glanced at Ardwen nervously as he demanded a name and his story. In response Elerus slumped against a wall and slid down it until he was sitting on the floor. Making up a false name should be easy, but Ardwen had wisely demanded more. Elerus knew the more information he gave the more chances Ardwen would have of seeing through his falsehoods. Sucking in a deep breath Elerus timidly said, “My name?” He was painfully aware of how small his voice sounded, but he ground the thought to dust, now was not the time to feel sorry for himself.

“I’m Tonashro A’valen.” Elerus said, he had given a surname in direct challenge to ancient Elven customs. The Elves later on, feeling the influence of the human noble houses, had adopted the custom of last names. It was a small touch that Elerus hoped would add a bit of veracity to his lies. The child opened his mouth to speak again but Ardwen interrupted him.

“I don’t recall such a surname in the Empire. Strange that, since your given name takes the old form—“

Elerus interrupted Ardwen with a sharp, “I like my name! Don’t make fun of it!” Ardwen looked taken aback by the earnest innocence of the exclamation, and Elerus mentally congratulated himself. Ardwen merely shrugged and muttered something about impertinence, but he motioned Elerus to continue his story.

“The mage you killed . . . are you really a hero?” Elerus questioned, and once again he was rewarded by a puzzled look from Ardwen. Elerus had to fight down an inopportune fit of mirth that the most effective strategy so far had been playing to Ardwen’s expectations. It was obvious the old Elf expected a child’s responses, but he clearly had no idea what that entailed.

“I . . .” Ardwen began uncertainly, “no. I’m just—“

Elerus piped up with drummed up enthusiasm, “But they say you are. Our book said you are! Our teacher said all Avari are heroes!”

Once again Ardwen seemed unsure of how to answer. At last though a flash of realization dawned in Ardwen’s eyes, “So that’s how you know my name. They really teach that in the schools? Gods damn, we need to reform our education system. Enough, just tell me what you know about Elerus, you must have seen him, he would have been another prisoner. He looks a lot like . . . looked a lot like . . .”

Ardwen had trailed off, and Elerus inwardly cursed to match Ardwen’s outward invective against the gods. In one stroke all he had cleverly crafted had nearly been undone. He had to answer quickly. “Like?” Elerus pressed feigning ignorance.

“Nevermind.” Ardwen said flatly. “He looks like me, but he has white hair and blue eyes. Visan might have kept him separate, he’s a powerful warrior.”

Elerus paused and used the blanket to rub his eyes and stifle a yawn as if combating sleep. In truth he used it to mask a slight smirk at Ardwen’s compliment. But he did not have long to gloat, now came the most delicate moment in their verbal sparring. “I think,” Elerus began slowly, “I saw him, I don’t remember. He wasn’t supposed to go near anyone else. What if . . . I don’t . . . he didn’t . . .” Elerus trailed off, hoping his meek and uncertain tones would convey his meaning.

“Dead?” Ardwen intoned hollowly. “It is of no matter then.”

Elerus had to mentally check himself from standing up in shock, and so his reaction seemed unusually delayed. “What?” He questioned in a voice barely above a whisper.

In response Ardwen crossed his arms and closed his eyes as if explaining something painfully obvious. “I was afraid all along that was the case, I knew that one day he would die, I know that one day I will die. However, in this case I am not to blame, the All-Father pulled me to this world without my will, kept me from his aid. If Elerus is dead then it is his fault, and all of his creation will pay for it.”

Ardwen opened his eyes and Elerus had to fight a shudder. He had seen that look before. It was the same one Ardwen had worn when he killed his own father. “I will burn this world,” Ardwen continued, “and everything the All-Father and the gods have ever loved will suffer.” It was such a simple statement, delivered in such a plain tone Ardwen might have been commenting on the lack of rain or an unusually cold winter. This time Elerus did shudder, and he buried his face in his sheet. Mentally he cursed Ardwen, but he lacked conviction. After all, he of all people should have known how he would react, and he of all people knew how serious he was.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia seemed to be having horrible luck keeping her promises lately. She had promised to protect Ariana and then had let her be seen and confronted by an entire village, then she was pulled into a statue of herself right in front of Vylia's eyes. She then finally managed to get back on Ardwen's good side and told him she would look after Ariana, and look how that turned out. The All-Father must be testing her faith after saving her several times in the last few days, days that seemed like weeks now that she thought more on them. She heard a crash of glass breaking from the room ahead, the one they had taken Ardwen and Ariana to, and sped her steps up, and once again her timing was horrible.

Vylia walked through the door just in time to hear Ardwen's vow, “I will burn this world,” Ardwen said, “and everything the All-Father and the gods have ever loved will suffer.” She dropped the plate of food she had managed to get from the kitchens, the plate breaking upon the floor adding to the tea cup, and food went all over. Vylia hardly noticed it though as her breath caught in her throat and she stared at Ardwen as if he had slapped her. "You can't mean that," she managed to croak after several seconds of silence.

Written by - Ariana

Her headlong rush was stopped abruptly by Ardwen grabbing her arm. She stared at him incredulously as he spoke to her, astonished that he could not feel the cage bars being put into place. But instead of being concerned, he strode further into the room.

Confused eyes flicked between the door, then back to Ardwen and the child, then back to the door as she struggled with the decision to stay or flee. The moment of indecision was all the mages needed. Faster than she could think, one gently guided her to a bed by a hand on the elbow, while another brought a new cup of tea. It was pressed into her hand and she was urged to drink.

There were no rough hands holding her down, pouring the liquid down her throat as there had been before. Instead there was urging and encouragement. The technique was so different from past experience that she found herself complying.

She calmly sipped the bitter liquid, watching idly as Ardwen interrogated the child and several mages cleaned up the shattered crockery and food from the floor. As she sipped, a languid feeling of relaxation stole over her, and her unease the wards caused became as whispers in the back of her mind.

Ardwen’s words traveled to her through a fog, but when Vylia exclaimed in horror, she simply could not contain her giggle. “He does not,” she said. She giggled again and then let loose a jaw-cracking yawn. Placing her cup down, she shifted on the bed until she was lying down, her eyes gazing into Ardwen’s. “He knows she would not allow it,” she added, her voice slurred and sleepy. “Darkness begets darkness. Blood begets blood. She is so tired of the dark. Together they will find light. Besides," she added with another giggle, "the little one lies."

She sighed deeply and yawned once more before the effects of the tea grew too great to fight. Finally, she slipped off into slumber.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm watched Teran complete his preparations and then toss a broken dagger into the flame, whereupon both dagger and flame vanished. This seemed to be a signal, as Teran then placed a hand on Wilhelm's shoulder and the world changed. The ground remained the same but all living things vanished. Wilhelm felt a coldness that seemed to seep into his soul.

Looking around he saw that Sabbatine had brought Keeryn, but nobody else was in view. Wilhelm followed Teran over to look at a trail of footprints. Looking closely at the heels, he faintly saw the capital M that had been engraved into the heels of Mavigan's birthday boots.

"Those are Mavigan's footprints, for sure." said Wilhelm. "She cannot be too far ahead, but we should hurry. That lass can get into trouble faster than anyone else I know. I'll help speed us on our way."

Wilhelm drew on his Commander training and began to chant the Commander's March. A red glow appeared around their feet, enabling them to move quickly without tiring.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya followed Ardwen and his queen, along with the others to the room where the mages were etching the runes upon the walls. She stood back as Ariana tried to make a dash for it, then watches as she was given the tea and settled down upon the bed. Sighing, she found a chair and drug it outside the door and sat down. Kaya sat for a few moments, then stood back up after overhearing a few of the servants talking about the Harvest Festival. The thought of all that food made her stomach growl and she realized she had not eaten for quite a while. After getting directions to the Great Hall, she took off quickly, wanting to get some nourishment. But then she stopped and realized her foolishness; turned around and went back to the room. I cannot leave her like this, who knows what will go one while I am gone. I will just have a servant bring me some food. Kaya sat back down on her chair and stopped one of the servants and asked the young man to bring food for her and the others. The servant nodded in compliance and ran out to get the hunter her food. It did not take long for the servant to bring the food back on a rolling cart. Kaya smiled as the aroma reached her nostrils. Grabbing a roll, she went over to Vylia and pointed to the large cart and motioned for her to help herself. Then she moved over to Ardwen and did the same.

Written by - Teran

Teran led the party through the Shadow, keeping a brisk pace even with Wilhelm's enchantment in place. They crossed the dusty terrain and those familiar with the terrain would note many similarities between the Shadow and the mortal realms. Huxel's crushing presence could be felt, though she took no action against Wilhelm or Keeryn he knew she was tempted because of the way Sabbatine looked at Keeryn. Gone was the look of hunger, it had been replaced by a look of desire. Huxel wanted Keeryn for her "collection" in the Shadow, and Sabbatine wanted to fulfill her master's wish.

Huxel spoke with Sabbatine frequently and though none could hear Huxel, Sabbatine's responses were often chilling.

"Awwww come on... I bet he wouldn't mind if you just took the creature... I mean if you left his knight alone." She warbled to Huxel loudly, turning her eyes back to Keeryn, oblivious to Teran's harsh look.

"She'd be perrrrrrrfict!!" Sabbatine exlaimed, clapping her hands "I bet Teran would let you do it too, just give him some more of your trinkets!"

Fortunately Huxel kept her desires in check. Teran had no interest in revealing that he did have an escape, even from Huxel's realm, to save a creature he did not particularly care for and who he knew cared nothing for him.

The time passed quickly despite Sabbatine's droning conversation with Huxel. When they did arrive to the spot Mavigan had left the Shadow Teran indicated the group should wait where the footprints ended and moved away to speak with Huxel privately. His muted conversation lasted nearly ten minutes before he returned looking fairly grim. He nodded to Sabbatine who attempted to tackle hug Keeryn once more and both disappeared back to the mortal realms. Teran took a breath and nodded to Wilhelm as he placed his hand upon his shoulder, shifting them both back as well.

Mavigan's trail was pathetically easy to pick up even in the darkness and he was embarassed that his apprentice would do such a poor job of covering her tracks. The party approached a hill that Mavigan had apparently climbed and began making their way to the top.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen had not noticed Vylia entering the room when he spoke. As his eyes caught sight of her, he saw her drop a plate of food and express her utter shock at his oath to ruin the world in vengeance. She did not understand; perhaps Vylia did not believe that Ardwen could justify such actions. Naturally, the Elven warrior could not. But, as Ardwen looked at Vylia's aghast countenance, he felt she could never understand.

Right and wrong, good and evil - and the differences thereof - these things were deeply ingrained into the moral foundations of the other Hands. But, Ardwen reflected, what did they truly know of his past? Even Ariana and Turin, the people in the Hands Ardwen confided the most in, knew only bits and pieces. They knew only the snatches of memory and veiled references Ardwen had chosen to share, and why should it be otherwise? Ardwen had seen over five thousand years of life, and to recount every instance in it would be anything but a laconic story.

Before Ardwen could make a reply however, Ariana spoke. While her voice was slurred with the effects of the sedating tea, she still had two important pieces of information Ardwen was keen to pick up on. The first was the accusation that he was lying, and that without her express permission he would not do any such thing as he promised. Ardwen's face set into a scowl at this and he almost spoke, but Ariana's last words before falling off into slumber interested him far more. Apparently, Ardwen had been lied to. The information he had so carefully extracted from the winged boy was somehow false according to Ariana. Kaya came forward and offered him food, but he brushed her offer away in silence.

"Well," Ardwen began in a longsuffering tone. "is this not interesting?" Without further prelude the Elven warrior stood and began slowly pacing the floor. Finally he paused in front of a window with his back turned to everyone in the room. The crystalline glass in the window hazily reflected the Elf's face, but the brilliant moonlight outside obscured most of his visage. "Ariana . . .," Ardwen began with a sigh that bordered on a snigger of contempt, "she speaks only of what she knows of me. For that I cannot fault her, but I can find fault with her answer. This is not so simple, perhaps she imagines her good graces would somehow 'free' my conscious of guilt and let me commit mass homicide?"

Ardwen laughed, it was a single, dry bark that utterly lacked mirth. "Foolish," he continued, "it is absurd just saying it. No, if I have lost Elerus then he is truly gone, and no power that I know of can restore him to life. In that case I cannot endure. It's not a matter of good or evil, or of this god or that god. I blame the whole of creation, the entirety of existence for being so heartless and cruel. Whether it was fate or the dumb random chance of chaos that brought me into existence does not matter, all that matters is what I was forced to endure. Let creation suffer in kind!"

"And so," Ardwen said while turning and walking over to the white-haired child, "let's start with the truth, at the least." Ardwen towered over the huddled form of the boy. "Speak truly or die."

****

Elerus listened intently to Ariana's words, at first he felt a flicker of hope at her revelation that Ardwen was bluffing. It wasn't much to stake hope on, unsure as he was of Ariana's sanity, but it was something. But then his heart stopped. Ariana had somehow seen through his cleverly constructed web of lies like so much chaff, and in four little words she had came dangerously close to disaster for them all. Elerus looked at the new figures arriving in the room, but his attention was still truly on Ardwen. He watched as the first one to arrive, an Elven female with long golden hair, dropped a plate on the floor and stared incredulously at the Elven bladeweaver. He watched as Ardwen waved aside the offer of food from another.

Still he watched as Ardwen gave his speech, restating his pledge and giving his reasons. Finally Elerus sat impassively until Ardwen was right next to him, giving his ultimatum of truth or death. Finally the Elven child stood, his eyes were closed. Even standing he was dwarfed by Ardwen, Elerus knew it, but he didn't care. This was not a battle he was going to win with a sword, few were those who could rival Ardwen with a blade. Elerus opened his eyes and looked up at Ardwen, looking into his hazel eyes that seemed to cast a light not from the moon.

The winged child took a few steps away, keeping his back to his old friend. "I'm partly to blame for this." Elerus began. As he said these words the boy's wing dipped until the tip brushed against the floor.

"But," Elerus said suddenly, "I still can't believe what I've just heard." As he said this his wing unfolded and stretched, the feathers fanning out along the wingspan. "What a noble way to end things. Let all that is and all that ever will be burn. All that matters, in that last syllable of life, is that your will had the final word."

Elerus folded his wing back to his side; he turned it slightly forward and ran a hand along the feathers. The child's eyes nearly closed, only the moonlight caught and reflected them like dimmed orbs. "How proud your father would be." Elerus said softly. Elerus heard a scuffle of feet behind him that punctuated his words, but it was brief, and followed by a heavy footfall. As he turned around he could see Ardwen had taken a half step backwards and had a hand on the wall as if for support.

Elerus walked past Ardwen and stood in front of the window his friend had just stood at. "You want truth?" Said Elerus. The window was high off the ground and large, designed to let sunlight and moonlight through for studying scholars more than for viewing. Ardwen had been able to stand and look out of it, but Elerus's diminutive height did not afford him the same viewpoint. It did not matter. He was not looking to gaze down the sides of the tower or into the fortress and town below. No, even as he looked a cloud overshot the moon and he saw all the more clearly what he sought.

"See that star?" Elerus said, pointing at a random spot in the sky. "Tell me, Ardwen, tell me that star is what you most desire. More than anything else, that star is the sole purpose of your life."

Ardwen did not respond at first, he merely shook his head a little to the side as if trying to dispel a phantom from his eyes. "What are you--" He began in a tone so soft and crushed that he might as well have thought the words.

"Say it!" Elerus said while raising his voice. "That star is your dream. That star haunts your every waking moment and its radiance shines down upon you, you cannot bear to be without it. You know, you know with a certainty more than you know the colors of the sky or the turning of the seasons. You know with more conviction than the looming shadows of the distant mountains, you feel it with more pain than the scattering blossoms, you hear it more keenly than the hammering of waves against the shore. Without that star your soul is not whole. It is pain, ceaseless, without respite, to be without it."

Ardwen stood there, he had stopped shaking his head, and Elerus saw briefly that his left hand drifted forward, as if preparing to stretch out and reach for something. Elerus could only smile sadly and say, "Now, reach for that star. Do it, with all your strength, stretch your palms toward heaven and try to clasp it. You won't? Of course not! How stupid! You can't grasp a star with your hands, the birds in flight cannot touch them; even the clouds in the vaulted sky are below them. It is a wasted effort, a futile gesture."

Elerus stopped here for a moment and turned away from the window, his single white wing raised behind him framed the glass on one side. The child closed his eyes again as if recalling vividly a deep memory. "Yet, if you had but reached for it, by little degrees you would have been closer. No, maybe you can never grasp a star from the sky, but neither can you banish it from your heart. At least if you had raised your hands, for a breath you would have been closer, and your palms would have filled with its radiance. You can ignore what is close to the heart and dear to the soul, and spurn the light you cannot capture or the dream you cannot have. Then you may spend the rest of your life forever loathing yourself and the world that has denied you. Or you can make the attempt, and though failing, hold a piece of heaven. I have nothing more to say to you, make your choice."

Elerus walked past Ardwen, the Elven warrior made no motion toward him. He walked past the blond haired female and the Elf who had brought the food tray. Elerus stopped only to retrieve a roll off of it and take a bite. He savored the warm bread for a moment with a few thoughtful chews and then swallowed. "Tomorrow, dawn, in that courtyard." He said before turning down the corridor.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm looked around and realized they had arrived at Hangman's Hill, overlooking Port Westgale. The sun had set and the lights of the city gleamed in the dark, though much dimmer and quieter than the last time he had been here.

He extended his tracking sense and there on the top of the hill shone Mavigan's heartfire, now dimmed in sleep. Motioning for quiet, he led the others silently up the hill and stood looking down at Mavigan, asleep in her bedroll. The red glow from the coals of the campfire nearby illuminated the bloody bandages laid on a log nearby. He could see fresh bandages where her shoulder poked partway out of the bedroll. Scanning her heartfire, he noted with relief that the wounds from the battle were mostly minor except for the shoulder, which Mavigan had treated well.

*At least she remembered her first aid training. It's a good thing we found her first, lying exposed like this with a glowing fire for all to see.*

Wilhelm noted approvingly that Mavigan had left her daggers close at hand, at least. He silently moved them out of reach than gathered himself. Readying himself to instantly jump back if needed, he reached down and gently Layed on Hands and instantly healed all her wounds, saying,

"Wake up Mavigan. We are here to help you."

Written by - Ariana

As sleep claimed her, so did the dreams.

She found herself walking through a dense forest, trying desperately to keep her bare feet on the faint and ill-marked path. The forest was not green and teaming with life; instead, it was black, filled with dead trees and brush. Shadows flourished in this forest, and she could hear their whispers as they drew near.

The path upon which she trod was treacherous. Uneven terrain seemed to reach out and grab hold of her ankles causing her to stumble. The smoky wraiths reached out misty limbs, clutching at her as she walked, obstructing her movement and often blinding her by camouflaging the path, blending it into the surrounding darkness.

Yet still, she walked on. She knew not what lay at the end of the path, or even if she would survive the attempt, but she knew that to cease moving was certain death. So she kept trudging forward, despite the obstructions and the sharp darkness that cut her flesh and made her bleed.

Suddenly, she became aware that she was no longer alone. Never stopping, she still chanced a look to her right. A woman walked beside her, dressed in chain mail and carrying a wicked looking mace in one hand and a shield with three interlocking rings emblazoned upon the front in the other. The woman seemed to glow with an inner light, and as she gaped in amazement, she saw the shadows retreat from the woman, fleeing in terror at the light she emanated.

“Who?” she asked softly.

The woman looked at her then and gave her a small smile. “I am you. And you are me,” she said, her voice steady and sure.

Distracted, her feet stumbled on the path, and her eyes returned to their previous task of discerning trail from the surrounding darkness. It was then she noticed that the light from her companion had a calming effect on the path. Wherever the light touched, the obstacles to her feet smoothed and then vanished, leaving only sure ground behind.

The sight awed her and it was with anguish in her voice that she nearly wailed, “She does not remember!”

“I know,” said the woman. “But you will. We are not what we once were, but we are also not what we fear to become. Together we will become something new.”

“She is lost,” she said, tears clogging her throat.

“Lost can become found,” the woman replied. “The path will take you where you need to be. Go to Westgale. Answers can be found there.”

“Westgale,” she breathed, the word strange to her, but familiar all the same.

“Yes,” the woman said, striking with her mace at a menacing shadow as she did so. The specter shrieked and then disintegrated. “Take Ardwen with you,” she added. “He is as lost as you are, but filled with more hot air. Now,” said the woman, “wake.”

Her eyes popped open abruptly at the command. She shifted on the bed, pulling herself into a sitting position. Time held no true meaning to her, but she did notice that faint sunlight streamed into the room, illuminating the figures occupying the other beds.

Both Vylia and the other woman slumbered on, no doubt tired from the trials the day before. Ardwen and the child, however, were nowhere to be seen. Suddenly frightened, she rushed to the window, anxious eyes searching for his familiar form. Her panic was stopped in its tracks as she saw both of them out in the courtyard in the grey morning light.

She nodded, as if affirming something to herself, and turning from the window, took to exploring their room in a way she had not been able to do last night. Soft scrapes and whispers echoed in the still silence as she opened every cupboard and every drawer. She checked under the beds and rugs and behind all the draperies, picking up anything she found. At the end, her exploration netted her two large dust bunnies, 1 piece of broken crockery, 1 broken piece of flint, 2 small rocks, a fragment of some sort of green gemstone, and 1 sharp piece of metal that could have been a broken dagger blade.

She assembled her treasures on the table by her bed and smiled down at them as if she had found the fabled cache of the Silver Dragon of Ancora. As she reached for the small bit of green stone, a flash from the opposite wall caught her attention. Trinket forgotten, she moved towards the flash. Within a moment she stood facing herself, the silvered glass reflecting her image back at her in the faintly streaming sunlight.

She frowned at the woman in the mirror, and the woman frowned right back.

Words from her dream floated into her mind, as did the image of the glowing woman in chainmail. ”We are not what we once were, but we are also not what we fear to become. Together we will become something new.” Those were the words the woman had said, and the import rang through her mind as clearly as a bell.

She did not know who she was, but she did know who she did not want to be. The woman in the mirror seemed to mock her, showing her only the image of what was, and not the possibilities of what could be. Frustrated, she glanced down at her person and thought hard of how to change the image in the mirror.

White met her gaze, as she was still clad only in a shift. Her eyes looked from her clothing, so similar to the clothing she had worn in her living nightmares, to the clothing Vylia and the other woman wore. Pants and tunic, socks and boots. She had none of those, but she refused to wear the shift any longer. With two swift jerks, the revolting garment was wrenched over her head, and she wadded it up and tossed it into a corner of the room.

Naked, she stomped over to the mirror and glared at her reflection. It glared right back.

The lack of clothes certainly changed the image, but not enough to satisfy her. As she searched herself again, looking for something else to change the image, she became aware of a soft, silky substance brushing against her skin. She grabbed hold of the hair and looked at it sternly. The woman who walked with her had long hair. Not as long as what she now held, but still long.

Resolved, she searched for something to cut it and her eyes fell upon the sharp metal she had recovered from her search. It glinted in the dull light streaming through the windows and she clutched it gratefully. Gathering all the strands together, she pulled the hair over her shoulder and sliced through the mass. The fragment was sharp and cut through the strands like a hot knife through butter, and in the space of moments the long dark strands pooled around her feet, the remnants gently brushing her shoulders.

She felt somewhat liberated as she stood once again in front of the reflective glass. Even once she remembered her past, she instinctively knew she couldn’t go back. ”Together we will become something new.” The words echoed in her mind once again, and she smiled.

And so did her reflection.

Written by - Ariana

One minute Mavigan was sleeping the sleep of the dead (for why worry about being attacked when you are already dead?), and the next she felt as if her entire body had been plunged in ice water. She screamed and instinctively reached for her daggers… which were not there! Instead of panicking, she lashed out with her feet and was mildly satisfied when she impacted with something solid. Unfortunately, tangled in her bedroll, her kick did not do much damage, but it did buy her enough time to roll out of the blankets and pull into a crouch.

Finally able to take stock of her surroundings, she saw someone she was sure shouldn’t be standing in front of her.

“Wilhelm?” she asked, her tone disbelieving.

A movement to her left revealed three more figures she knew should not be able to see her. Her befuddled mind made a quick calculation and came up with the only conclusion she could.

“Damn. They really must have been a bunch of super bad-asses if they managed to gut all of us.”

She then stood and flashed them all a grin. “Ah well. Being dead isn’t all that bad. You’ll see!”

Written by - Turin Wallace

Purgatori took a seat, then began to sign,

"I know his may be a shock to you, but I am indeed your sister. We share the same father and his name is Turin Wallace. Our father thought you lost and did not know of your current whereabouts only until recently. After the visiting druid told of us your fate, we came to find you!"

Purgi signed quickly, Dorve even asking for certain phrases to be signed again. Taking a moment to let these initial words sink in, Purgi continues,

"I can also tell you that you also have a grandmother and an aunt. They should be arriving here soon, if their travels went well. Your grandmother is elven and aunt half-elven, but that we can speak more of later."

Purgi's countenance turned from one of reserved happiness to that of one joyless. Signing much slower, she continues,

"Unfortunately, I wish our father were here to tell you these things himself. However, on the voyage from Westgale...something...happened to him."

Purgi threw a viscious glance over her shoulder at Ariana and her party as it made it's way out of the courtyard. She then continued,

"A demon lord has enslaved our father for THEIR benefit. All would have been lost in the great attack we suffered if he had not willingly allowed himself to be taken to the depths of hell. Our father is a good and selfless man, though I fear for him, for the price of their purchase had yet to be revealed."

Purgi then stopped signing and awaited her sisters response.

Written by - Teran

Teran stood in place like a stone, his hard gaze locked onto Mavigan. His arms were crossed and the expression on his face was a mix of annoyance, embarassment, and more annoyance. How could she have been so careless? When she spoke he choked down his harsh answer and deferred to Wilhelm.

Sabbatine was grinning wildly as she snatched up Mavigan's discarded bandages and was about to put them in her mouth but stopped when she noticed Teran glaring at her. She whined softly alternating her gaze between the delicacy before her and Teran's sour look. After nearly a minute she settled for a quick lick, and then tossed the bandages in Keeryn's direction, snickering to herself.

"Soooo, you're all dead... like meeee?" She asked sweetly.

Teran just stood there resisting the urge to harm the avatar.

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