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Book Four Pt 1 - The Eastern Pass

Written by - Ardwen Page 3 Book 4

Ardwen turned his head to glance over his shoulder at Kaya when she thanked him. The warrior had an eyebrow lifted as if questioning what the gratitude was for. The look was passing, and Ardwen returned to looking straight ahead. "Just thought you should know," he said demurely, "because you're neck-deep in it already, and it doesn't look like you want out anyhow." The next sound to entreat the elf's ears was of another set of footfalls, but they were sounding slow and steady, and Ardwen assumed whoever was making them wasn't in a hurry. This troubled Ardwen, making him wonder if one of the villagers had mustered the courage to approach, but what he saw when he turned to see was no villager.

The Blade Weaver watched as Kildef moved in to join the swiftly growing knot of Hands gathered around their Abbess. Finally, Ardwen turned to face everyone again, his posture relax and slack. Kildef mentioned the owl, and as if in answer the creature drifted from the statue to the barbarian's outstretched arm. The warrior listened to Kildef intently before saying, "I can doubt it. A useful scout, certainly, but an arbitrator of destiny? Sorry to say, but my civilization long ago ruled out the superstition that our destinies were fixed by the flight of some damn bird." The elf's tone was light, however, and those who knew him realized he had come as close as he ever had to making a joke.

Despite Ardwen's doubt, there was a dissenting opinion, and the swordsman looked up to see Archeantus float gently down to the ground. Ardwen titled his head to the side slightly, glad to see the warlock moving about, but curious as to why he had bothered to fly in. Ardwen did not have to wait long for an answer, though when he got it he wished he had never asked. "It is time to remember." Archeantus said suddenly, and his voice almost seemed to reverberate, as if there were two of him speaking at once. The elven warrior had the unpleasant sensation that Arc's blind countenance was somehow regarding him in a way more keen than sight.

"It is time to see as you used to see." Archeantus had moved close enough now to the statue to run a hand over it. The mage rested his staff on the ground and intoned, "It is time to enter the light." Ariana had seemed relax up till that moment, playing with the owl and the elemental that was Arc's constant companion, but as the warlock finished his words she visibly tensed. Ardwen spat a hasty curse as he realized what Archeatus was doing. He had known Sycon for some time, and had the unfortunate pleasure of meeting many other warlocks in battle. They were mages of the mind, adept at delving into thoughts and memories, able to use their willpower alone to act upon themselves and others.

"If you intend to rip her out of her mental stupor," Ardwen said frostily, "then I advise caution." Oddly, the warrior took several steps back, placing Kildef, Vylia, and Kaya between him and the occupied Ariana and Archeantus. Ardwen said nothing else, his eyes were focused entirely on the unfolding of whatever his warlock companion intended to do.

Written by - Teran

"This isn't a democracy." Teran said gently "All-Father only knows where we would be if I allowed you and Keeryn to make decisions about where we go."

He slipped into the hallway and began heading towards where he knew enemies were. He could feel a fearsome power coming from nearby and he wanted to put an end to it.

"There is something in here and I want to kill it." he declared "You should too!"

He turned without warning and patted her on the head as though she were a child. He leaned over and looked her square in the eyes. His gaze was intense and despite his tone she could see he was completely serious.

"If you have something else you'd rather be doing Princess you may depart my company at any time. I however came here for a reason, the same reason you came here as a matter of fact and if you want to find out what is going on down here I would suggest that you stop thinking of ways to avoid confrontation and apply those resources towards thinking of ways to win confrontation. Specifically the confrontation we are going to have with a lot of angry cultists and their minions."

He spoke in a hushed voice, though he was sure Keeryn could hear him. There was no malice in the way he spoke but the impression that he is short on patience was certainly given.

Written by - Archeantus

Just as his mind linked with hers, a voice of caution entered his ears. Noting its source, he knew Ardwen was right. There was a great danger in what he now attempted. Ariana's disappearance was a mystery and what she had been through none knew but her. Yet locked here, deep in her mind, he sought answers, answers that could help him assemble the shattered pieces of who she used to be, and Archeantus hoped, would still be.

He focused his willpower and channeled all his senses on the task at hand, hoping his companions would make sure he was not disturbed. If the mental link was broken before he could untangle and smooth the path he trod within her, there could be irreparable damage.

It was these thoughts that pervaded him as he first lifted his mind's eye to the scene she had imagined. Out across a sable sea he saw her standing, adorned regally in white, marking a stark contrast with her surroundings. It was poignant in its own way, and for a moment he saw how far she was gone, nearly surrounded in darkness.

He then perceived her sudden anger, which continued to smolder and strengthen. This was highly peculiar. Most consciousnesses were rarely aware of his initial presence. She had immediately targeted him as if she had dealt with such things often. And by the perception of her building rage, he knew that it had not been pleasant--far from it.

Looking down at his form, he was surprised to find she had transformed him into something...terribly dark and horrible. Looking quickly up at her again his ghastly eyes narrowed. Someone or something had been here and had caused her great pain.

He then began to study his surroundings. The mind gave many clues, many of them were far from her own conscious awareness. The tar-like sea bubbled and spewed. The landscape seemed to throb and melt into the sea as if it were bleeding, decaying ever so slowly. He knew then, that her mind was slowly fading into madness. Her situation was far worse than he could have imagined.

Suddenly he felt a sense of urgency surge through him. He needed to reach her, and so he began to combat her imaginations. Striding forward, he waved his hand and a unstable rope bridge began to form near the area she'd placed him. Small bubbles popped emitting a terrible stench. He could barely stand it, but there was something strange about them. He looked closer and saw what they really were.

Memories. Thousands, millions of them, some were real, some...were not, placed there by whoever had invaded her mind as a terribly clever self defeating maze.

He would have no more of it. With great effort, he shed the dark visage, as if it were costume. He wanted her to see the artificial form remain there on the growing bridge as he stepped into her mind's view as he was then, a robbed middle aged man, with long gray hair, holding a curved staff. He could feel her fuming eyes upon him, but there was something he needed to find before he looked upon her again. He then began to search for one single memory, one that would hopefully be a solid piece in establishing her once unbreakable foundation.

His search proved highly difficult, the bubbles came to the surface quickly and then faded with a pop. The dark sea began to rise and fall.

It was her doing.

Searching more earnestly, holding carefully to the rope he'd imagined, he placed his staff in the dark liquid. Suddenly there grew a change in the immediate area. The dark tar like sea began to shift and circle, slowly motioning around and around. It's color began to lighten, further and further till it had lost much of its mystery. When the warlock had finished, there grew a small circle of white, which slowly circled bigger and bigger.

Now looking even more carefully he finally found what he sought and it was then his eyes met hers once more, but it was not with eyes that had experienced eons in the void as she had done, not with eyes that had grown older and sadder. They were the eyes of the young man who had come to her during a stormy night in the kitchen of the Abbey in Aerynth to answer a question of unique importance. Archeantus reached out to call forth a certain bubble, which came at his command. It floated there above his hand as he continued to gaze at the Abbess.

In a blink, the older warlock was suddenly a young man and the whole of the scene suddenly changed to darkness.

Out of the darkness came the soft glow of candlelight, and then the smell of warm honey mead, and the sound of rain and thunder against the ancient stones of the Abbey's kitchen. The memory was one of the first steps in his great journey and it was her that had set the course of all he'd become.

He had many questions during that time--how could someone believe in something they could not see? Why had the All-Father abandoned them? Why had he lost his family? But there was one question that had burned inside of him and one that he wanted to ask her specifically.

It was as if both of them were watching the memory from afar, yet were now experiencing it first-hand. But the moment the question came as it happened, the old warlock conjured up a soft light that began to glow about the Abbess as she explained her answer that had changed his life.

His question had been simply this, "Ariana, why do you believe in the All-Father?"

Her answer pierced the darkness, "I will tell you that faith manifests itself in different ways to different people. My reason for belief and obedience will not be yours. I can, however, tell you this. Do not fear to ask questions, our Father does not expect blind devotion. By the same token, you must also be open to the answers when they come. Finding true faith is never easy and is often painful, but know that your family here will always be there to pick you up when you fall. And in the end, the All-Father will have molded you into the person He would have you be."

Once the words fell the memory slowly faded and they were again upon the dark sea. The young Archeantus slowly grew before her eyes to become the old man she saw now.

He wanted her to know he was no stranger. Nor was she.

"It's me Ariana," He said over the foul wind of the sea "Archeantus. And as your friend I ask you as you asked me to do long ago..."

He paused then, keeping his voice calm and reassuring.

"Do you remember me Ariana? Do you remember your faith?"

There in her hand appeared a gold medallion, three rings intermingled.

Written by - Ariana

“All-Father only knows where we would be if I allowed you and Keeryn to make decisions about where we go.”

Mavigan mentally snorted. She knew exactly where they’d be if he had left the decision up to them. They’d be somewhere far away, clean, and lounging on a beach, preferably with plenty of cute guys serving them cool (and alcoholic drinks). The image cheered her considerably, so much so that she only made a small growl at him when he condescendingly patted her on the head.

”I however came here for a reason, the same reason you came here as a matter of fact…”

She seriously doubted he had come down here for the same reason she had, and the thought caused her to grimace. The only reason she had ventured into this hellhole in the first place was because he had come here. She chose to stick with him because staying with him was 100 times better than sticking with Ithramir, and Teran helped her improve her skills besides. The fact he was clueless made her grind her teeth.

Truthfully, she would rather be soaking in a hot bath, scrubbing the grime from her skin and hair, not chasing down more people to kill, and she did not truly understand his apparent enthusiasm for the hunt. It wasn’t like they were chasing her son-of-a-biscuit-eater Uncle, after all. If they had been, she would surely be leading the charge. But, Teran was still a better choice than her pompous wind-bag of a cousin, and she still needed Teran to ensure she could get far from Ithramir. She could tell Teran was losing patience, but he wasn’t the only one.

Sighing deeply, she motioned forward with one arm. “Well, if you are going to lead, then stop yapping and get on with it.”

Written by - Ariana

She watched closely as the Other moved, waiting for the trap to spring. She glared at him as he discarded his true form and adopted that of a middle-aged man carrying a staff. Seeing this new visage nearly made her laugh bitterly. If the best this Other could do was take the form of a man she remembered on vaguely from earlier, then he would surely fail in his task.

But then he began to stir the black sea with his staff, and the sea lightened with every stroke. She knew what was to come next and tried very hard to brace herself for it. No amount of bracing, however, could have prepared her for the memory the Other pulled out of the mire. Instead of a body-strewn battle field, or the torture chambers of a Confessor there was only a candle-lit kitchen and a boy.

Confused and distraught, she searched diligently for the monsters that would come waving their implements of torture, but found none. There was only the Other dressed in the guise of a boy she once loved. And as she watched, the boy grew into a man and the man grew into the form now standing before her.

”Do you remember me Ariana?”

The question carried to her over the raging sea, and she trembled with the answer. She remembered. Oh how she remembered and with the recognition came something she had never thought to feel again: hope. Tears streamed down her face dripped off her chin to blend with the swirling darkness beneath her.

She found a gold medallion in her hand, and the other hand covered it, squeezing it between her palms. She remembered, and the knowledge filled her with ache.

There was a sudden disturbance on the tar-like sea, waves that had been rough grew rougher still as had happened in her dream, two large sheets of darkness rose from beneath the surface. As she watched in abject horror, the medallion clutched desperately in her hands, the images from the night before began to form on the surface. When the process was complete, she again faced the two women. Only now, the woman in white was mostly hidden in shadow while the warrior was brightly lit.

Lit enough so she could make out details she had missed before. That the woman who so proudly displayed the head of her last kill wore no emblem of circles. That the woman before her had no hope. That the head speared by the pike the woman held belonged to none other than the boy she once loved.

And she remembered. Where once there had been a warm and safe kitchen, there was now an empty courtyard dominated by a very large tree. Where once there had been conversation, now there was only blood. And where once there had been bread, now there was the body of a young boy pinned to the large tree with a pike through his heart.

Hope was extinguished as surely as water dousing flame, and though she tried her best to hold onto the golden medallion, it began to melt and run through her fingers. Arc was a boy, not a man, and she chided herself for being fooled once again. There was no way her Arc could be here. She should know. She was the one who killed him.

Turning eyes filled with despair to the Other she said in a quite voice, “You are not my Arc.” As she spoke, the darkness from the lake began to creep up her white dress, slowly turning it black. She opened her hands to glance one more time at what might have been her salvation. Only black sludge remained and she allowed it to trickle through her fingers to join with the rest of the darkness at her feet.

A great wind stirred up and violently pushed against the Other. “Get Out!” she screamed and pushed with all her might.

Written by - Archeantus

A darkness formed at the horizon shortly after his pointed question and he lost sight of her for a short duration. But he did not pause in what needed to be done.

The wind picked up and began to blow harder and harder.

Taking the small vulnerable rope tightly in his hands, he balanced himself and focused once more on the countless memories bubbling all about him.

The dark sea grew worst by the moment, with large waves forming.

The warlock knew his time was quickly growing short and so he worked as fast as he could.

His eyes shifted in color as his mind churned sifting the real from the imagined and as he did so the sea could faintly be seen to change ever so slightly near him.

Suddenly she was back in full view across the raging sea, now darkened by a false memory. "You are not my Arc." She said with a betrayed and disparate tone.

And then the wind became violent, bursting from her hopeless fingers. He could barely hang on. A sudden large wave appeared in front of him which grew higher and higher.

There was only moments now. Only enough time to place a small amount of the truth.

The wave crashed down upon his small frame. Yet within that very moment, he suddenly rode upward out of the terrible wave upon the pinnacle of a grassy hill, his eyes blazing white.

He then released the small amount he'd sifted and as he did so he whispered almost completely out of breath, ""

A small section of blue sky appeared on the horizon, a faint beginning of a coast, and a small sapling of a tree grew from the dark of the sea.

Standing above from the hill, he toppled in utter exhaustion and fell down and into the dark clutches of the sea and out of her mind.

Standing by Ariana near the statue the warlock suddenly fell to the ground as well.

Written by - Talonmane

Kildef tossed the preybird lightly to the air and knelt beside Archeantus, feeling his neck's pulse and attempting to gauge his life's aura. Craning his neck upward, his eyes looked beyond Ariana's face and followed the great owl who again took to the top of the statue and flapped roughly in frustration.

"Arch seems to be trying to reach her mind...I think he has pushed himself far just now. Ollawahoo can't tell how it's going, and that bothers him. He feels this is a critical moment for Ariana." Looking back to the Warlock, Kil concentrated and spoke his goddess' name, and the grasses and weeds around them blew in a slight wind inward to the prone figure. A green nimbus surrounded and infused with Archeantus. "A spell to embolden the Will is all I can do to help him. Braialla's Breath has always had an effect of determination through serenity. I hope it mattered. And I can't imagine what I could do for her...", the Ranger said sadly as he stood.

He looked to each of the others. "Surely amoungst our talents, there is something?"

Written by - Vylia

"Unfortunately, I have no magics that can bolster their will to succeed," slowly Vylia pulled the Triskellion medallion off her neck and placed it around Ariana's, "I have only this to offer, and a prayer to Braialla and Palandramil that Archeantus succeed." She brushed Ariana's hair from her face and leaned in to whisper in her ear, "We are here to support you still."

Written by - Ardwen

Archeantus collapsed to the ground, and Kildef hurried to his side to check if the warlock was still alive. Kildef looked up at his companions, imploring them to use whatever skill or talent they had to bolster the faltering situation. Ardwen's response was as terse and tense as he felt, the elf merely shook his head no slowly. The elven swordsman felt a pang of regret as Vylia had her faith to offer, but Ardwen had none to offer in kind.

Written by - Ariana

Once the Other left, her dream was left to continue to its inexorable conclusion. Though this time there were no hands dragging her beneath the tar-like sea, she was sinking nonetheless. She did not resist this time, but instead kept her puzzled eyes fastened on the small patch of blue sky she could see in the horizon. Part of her wanted to believe the Other was her Archeantus, but if it were true, and he was so much older, then that would mean... She shuddered. And as the darkness closed in over her head she awoke, disoriented and blinking in the bright sun.

She saw the other figures standing around her eyeing her suspiciously and the Other calling himself Archeantus lying upon the ground. If he was with them, then perhaps they were all Others? The thought both frightened and angered her. Her eyes narrowed as she slowly began to back up, trying to subtly maneuver herself away from the potential threats. As she did so, an alarming glow began to build around her hands.

Written by - Wilhelm

Sammy and Lonny were gathering clams on the beach at dawn, chattering away as 10-year old twins will do about the preparations for the Fall Equinox Festival that would be really great now that the islands were free of Ironskane occupation. Lonny looked out at the horizon and then jumped up and pointed.

"Look, look, I see sails. Ships are coming to the village. Could that be the trading ships coming for the festival?"

Sammy climbed up on a rock and looked out. As the hulls became visible he jumped down and exclaimed,

"Those are warships, not traders. The Ironskane fleet is returning. We have to warn people."

Sammy and Lonny ran over to a boat drawn up on the beach where a man was mending a net.

"Father, Father!", cried Sammy, as he pointed out at the sea, "the Ironskane Fleet is returning!"

Their father peered anxiously out at the sea, frowned, and then turned and reached into a crate next to the boat. Pulling out a spyglass, he focused on the odd-looking lead vessel that showed clear battle damage. Looking higher he saw the pennant flying from the top of the mast.

"All Father be praised! That isn't the Ironskane Fleet. Those are the colors of the loyal Westgale Fleet! Lonny, run to the Mayor and tell him that some of Admiral Munchadin's ships has arrived with battle damage. Sammy, run to your mother and tell her that the healers will likely be needed to care for battle wounds."

The boys raced off on their errands while their father ran over to a large gong and picking up a mallet rang it loudly to sound the alert. Villagers began to assemble at the docks as the ships set anchor in the cove. Some carried Westgale banners brought out of careful hiding. Others brought medical supplies and an impromptu welcome table with refreshments. Mannon, the acting-Mayor (and the village Innkeeper), directed the activities, mumbling a welcome speech to himself as he prepared for the joyful welcome. Several boats were launched from the ship and began to row towards the docks. A cry went up from the crowd,

"It's a dwarven crew! That must be Admiral Munchadin himself!"

Cheers rang out and folks crowded the docks striving for a clear view. Mannon redoubled his orders for food, drinks, and medical supplies, and sent his daughter back to the inn for his formal robes. Lonny and Sammy found themselves pushed to the back, unable to see. At Lonny's suggestion, they ran back across the beach to their father's boat and climbed up for a view.

"Look," cried Lonny, "there are some boats heading over here."

They watched as an unusual group of people disembarked from the skiffs. A woman dressed in white with dark brown stains was carried off the first boat and laid gently on a large flat rock.

"That's an Elf!" cried Sammy, pointing at the man lowering the woman in white onto the rock. They watched as the woman roused and stood up and then splashed her feet in the sea. Then she started walking inland with the others hurrying to follow her.

"That's blood on her gown," Lonny told Sammy, "she must be hurt. And they are heading towards the Shrine. They must need help. Run to mother and tell her to come quickly. I'll follow them."

Sammy ran off after their mother, the village healer, for the second time that morning while Lonny followed the others towards the Shrine. He watched as the woman walked up to the Statue of Saint Ariana. As the others reached her, he looked at her and then looked at the statue and then looked at her and gasped in amazement at the resemblance. He saw an old man come up to her and then saw her and then him collapse on the ground. As he heard his mother Jennina running up, he saw the woman in the stained white gown wake up and move away from the others. Then her hands started to glow! Turning to his mother, who had just arrived with others carrying medical supplies, he pointed and screamed loudly,

"It's Saint Ariana! She has returned!"

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Haswal stalked silently up the stairs and opened the parlor door to find his nephew exactly where he had left him. He set about lighting a few candles throughout the room and threw back the long silk curtains to let the morning sunlight in. Satisfied that the parlor was sufficiently lit, he walked over to his sleeping nephew and gave him a sharp jab in the shoulder with the empty scabbard he was carrying.

“Wake up boy. No rest for the wicked as they say.”

Haswal jabbed him again, even harder this time, then sat down in the vacant armchair.

The man awoke with a loud yawn, then looked lazily at his uncle, waiting for him to say what it was he had awoken him for. After a few moments of silence and a loud sigh, Haswal finally spoke.

“See how that fits,” he said throwing the scabbard towards the man. He seized it in mid-throw and sat it on the ground leaned against his leg. Drawing the sword from the ill-fitting brown leather sheath he had become accustomed to, he took a moment to look at the runic engravings in stubborn curiosity before picking up the new sheath. It was a fine piece of craftsmanship, made of a single steel casting with the locket and chape plated in gold and the body wrapped in a deep black suede leather. The blade slid easily into the sheath, and even had a bit of room left.

"It’s a fine fit, uncle.”

“Good, good. You’d be amazed what you can find in the markets here.”

“What did you really wake me up for?”

Haswal sighed again, and leaned back in his armchair. “Just… how bad… do you want to find out what those mean?”

The man discarded the old sheath and secured the new one on his belt. “I don’t really have much of a choice.” He sat down, then adjusted the blade. “Father’s research isn’t very specific, I’m afraid, Ricimer didn’t contribute anything remotely useful, and I never was any good with runeology. If I’m going to grasp at straws, I may as well grasp at the closest ones.”

“You said something about a runesmith earlier… are you absolutely, undeniably, unquestionably, incontrovertibly certain that that’s the only way to find out?”

“It’s not as if I haven’t thought about the matter. I imagine the point-ears would be rather skittish with letting a foreigner - especially an Ironskane foreigner – have access to their more sensitive materials and I very much doubt it would take them long to figure out where I’m from. Judging from Ricimer’s little story… it’s likely I’ll need access to some very sensitive materials.”

Haswal nodded in acceptance.

“I could sit here and theorize and postulate all day long, but the fact remains – I don’t know how to proceed until I know what the runes mean; I can’t read them; I need someone who can, hence the runesmith.”

Haswal sighed as he leaned back in his armchair again. He sat there a moment in thought, the stood and walked over to the window.

“Dear Helena would have both our heads if she knew about this – mine for telling you and yours for actually doing it. The army is marching out soon to retake Minas Uial in the heart of the mountains. I have a few contacts in the Westgale army here… and if you absolutely have no other way… I could persuade them to overlook one extra soldier in the expedition. Provided that you actually survive the battle, head northwest into the mountain kingdoms and you’ll undoubtedly find your runesmith.”

“Like I said, I don’t have any other choice.”

“Then go downstairs and get yourself a uniform and some equipment. If the commanders complain about it, I’ll tell them to order more next time.” Haswal started for the door. “I’ll go inform them then.”

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst stood and extended a hand to Catherin. "Thank you again for all the information. I shall do my best to keep out of harm's way while helping to keep Ithramiralive and well during battle. But for now, I must head back to the grove, we have the Festival to prepare for." Catherin nodded, shook Tempyst's hand then went back to stand at Ithramir's side.

But Tempyst did not go back the grove right away, she stopped by her room in the citadel, still filled with ivy along the walls, still filled with memories of Lucant. She sat upon the four poster bed, where hours before she and Lucant had loved each other. She sighed, then noticed one of his shirts upon the floor. She picked it up and smelled it, a tear slipping down her face. The ache was tremendous. It encompassed her almost completely. This man she had dreamt about sine she was little was now gone, for good. Never again would she feel his arms around her, his lips upon hers. They had been together for only a week, but to Tempyst, it felt like a lifetime. She sat there for awhile, then finally, she pulled herself together and dropped the shirt and left the room and headed back to the druid's grove.

Written by - Rikshanthas

A strange feeling of pressure at the back of his mind woke Leinad from the sleep of the dead. He hadn't thought he was quite that tired, but he must have passed out not long after he and Shara had retired to a cabin where they could talk privately. He hadn't even loosened his belt or taken off his boots, which was doubtless why he now felt extremely uncomfortable, sprawled as he was on the cabin's small bunk. He stirred, and movement beside him indicated Shara was there. She had been next to him with her arm across him and her head resting on his shoulder, he realized. He was surprised by the rush of conflicting emotions evoked by that realization, and he barely suppressed an urge to pull away from her, to put some distance between them for her sake - people who got too close to him tended to come down with a nasty case of death, he thought sourly. Shara took the decision out of his hands by sitting up swiftly, though she remained on the cot next to him a moment longer before standing. It occurred to him that she didn't realize he was awake, that she had jumped reflexively when he had moved. Almost as if she didn't want him to wake to find her leaning against him. Ever the independent, he thought affectionately, realizing then how much he truly loved her and wishing even more that he didn't. He swept the thought aside.

The odd twinge that had awakened him once again tugged at his mind, and he sat up slowly, wincing slightly as still-tired muscles protested the motion. Shara raised an eyebrow at him inquiringly, to which he replied, "I need to work out more. That little rescue was harder on me than I thought." He stood with the same deliberate motion, slowly stretching out his knotted shoulders, back and limbs - a task made somewhat difficult by the ever-present Astalder. He really needed to get rid of whatever enchantment had it glued to his hand. The sword gleamed in the soft light of the cabin, far brighter than the natural glint of any known metal. And its weight seemed to shift every time he moved it, always dragging his hand in a particular direction. He felt a need to get up on deck, to see what was going on, though why, he couldn't say. "C'mon," he said to Shara, having worked out the stiffness in his joints, "let's go see how we stand." After a quick check on his trusty mare, who was housed in the small courier sloop's only animal stall and looking none the worse for wear, they proceeded topside.

The fleet was positively buzzing with activity. They had made port at a small island cove; after mentally rummaging through what he knew of the geography of the area, Leinad came to the logical conclusion they were at the isle called the Palm, whose residents had always been fiercely loyal to the royal family. It would be a good place to repair and resupply, likely their only friendly port this side of Lothiel-Gadith. He noticed several longboats and other small craft already making their way to the shore; the island didn't seem to have a proper port, merely a small wharf that could house the smaller boats but nothing the size of the 'Call, let alone the massive Wavehammer. Just as he noticed one boat carrying the priestess they had rescued along with an armed escort, he felt his sword arm extend toward it slightly, almost imperceptibly. In the same moment he again felt the tug at his mind, more insistent this time. It didn't take Leinad long to put two and two together, and he hopped the next boat leaving the courier. "What ... where are you ... why do ... get back here!" Shara nearly yelled, recklessly jumping into the boat after him and almost capsizing it.

By the time they reached shore, the priestess and those with her had already headed inland, so Leinad followed, Shara on his heels, determined not to let him out of her sight after that scare with the demons. They kept their distance, and Leinad noticed his sword seemed to have a 'comfort zone' of proximity to this mysterious priestess. As long as he stayed within it the blade didn't bother him with that odd tugging at his mind and weight in his sword arm. Curious, he thought. Whoever this priestess was, he had seen enough of her behaviour in the past day to tell her mind was broken, or at least she had retreated within it from some unimaginable horror. The woman was almost childlike in her actions, as if her higher reasoning was either gone or had simply shut down to try to cope with whatever she had experienced. He had seen the odd victim of war and other atrocities in similar condition before. Given the condition she'd been in when they found her, and what Beridane must've put her through, he could understand completely. In fact he was mildly impressed that she wasn't completely catatonic. Leinad wondered idly if the others with her understood the priestess's condition and whether they were seeking a counselor or, the better option to Leinad's mind though harder to find, a mindwalker to help her. His curiosity was answered when he saw what happened with the old, blind man who was there. Mindwalker, he thought with appreciation, silently wishing the old man luck in purging whatever darkened the woman's mind.

Leinad hadn't been paying attention to what they had been saying, and realized belatedly that he should have been. Mentally he kicked himself for not listening. Shara had doubtless heard every word, however, for she stood with an utterly dumbfounded look on her face, her mouth moving inarticulately. He was about to ask what the group had discussed, but his eyes were drawn back to the priestess who now stood at the foot of an old statue, her face a mix of confused fear and anger. As her hands began to glow, Leinad spared an unconscious second glance at the statue ... then looked back at the woman, more intently this time, then back to the statue. As realization dawned on him of what Fate had decided to throw him into, Leinad swore, his barely-whispered oath drowned by a local boy screaming, "IT'S SAINT ARIANA! SHE HAS RETURNED!"

"This is gonna be bad ..." he muttered as he walked the rest of the way to the shrine, Shara following a few steps behind.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia saw Ariana backing away from the others, and made a move toward her when she heard the boy's shout from behind her. "It's Saint Ariana! She has returned!" She started to turn to him instead, so he didn't run off and spread the word through his village, when she noticed the glow around Ariana's hands, then saw the expression on her face. She shoved people out of her way and reached up to put both her hands on the side of Ariana's head, forcing the woman to look at her "No, Ariana, please. We are not your enemies!" Her expression pleaded with Ariana as she held her gaze, begging her not hurt anyone.

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