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Book Four Pt 1 - The Eastern Pass

Written by - Talonmane Page 4 Book 4

Rangers, if anything, knew the signs of the type of fear that led to fight or flight, as a beast cornered. He backed away several steps and knelt to one knee with his head slightly lowered and hands out at his sides, visible and empty.

Ollawahoo...reach her! He didn't know what the Grey could do, hoping only in the bird's connection with the Abbess.

In an even but slightly urgent voice, he addressed the others, "Back away Hands, there's as much the chance she'll lash with the instincts of a wolf than a doe..."

But it was too late, Vylia surged forward, her own intuitive reaction to call to Ariana's memories and likely in faith that the All-Father would guide the scene. She always did react in courage.

The tactical situation passed across his conciousness within the immeasurable moment, and the slight downturn of lip and brow on Ardwen's face told him the Elf had already come to the same conclusion: worst case scenario, we may not even be able to contain her...

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen registered the situation as quickly as only a mind that had seen millennia of disasters could. However, he reflected quickly, it didn't take a military genius to deduce that a person with glowing hands and a scowl facing your direction was a decidedly precarious situation. Yet, for all the speed that Ardwen shifted through the situation, Kildef managed to give it voice first. In a steady but decisive tone he urged them all to back away, and Ardwen had to fight the urge to smirk as he had already backed away, placing the others in between him and Ariana.

Even as Ardwen mentally gloated, a scowl crossed his features. He had merely reckoned on Ariana snapping out of her torpor upset, handing out mild recriminations and possibly stable-mucking duty. Now, however, it looked like she was a hair's breadth from blasting them all to hell. To further compound things, Ardwen had a clear idea what he could do in this situation. Normally such clarity would be welcomed, but it brought only sharp disquiet now. The elven warrior knew that he could not swing a sword against Ariana, for of all the people he had killed over the years, for causes both base and sanctified, she was as proof against his blades as if she wore plate and Ardwen wielded a willow switch.

The warrior tried to tell himself differently, a part of him saying that she was as flesh and blood as any other human. Ardwen knew it for empty bombast; he could feel deep inside him that he had no will to kill her. Without the honed perfection of action and thought, it would be impossible to strike Ariana. The elf pushed the thought away with revulsion, unwilling to pursue it any farther.

The next instant only underlined the rapidly deteriorating situation. Much to Ardwen's surprise, it came in the form of a young human throat heralding the return of their "saint". Then, as if to ensure the elves were equally represented in making things go horribly wrong, Vylia dashed forward and grasped Ariana, pleading for her Abbess to not censure them into hunks of celestially radiant dead meat. Ardwen's scowl deepened and his mind raced, he tossed a hasty glance behind him and saw a human boy who looked to have seen no more than a decade standing and pointing with excitement towards them. A group of the natives had joined him, including an older woman that Ardwen assumed was the boy's mother. Ardwen briefly wondered if the All-Father would understand him chucking the annoying child in the path of whatever Ariana was about to do. It would be, after all, in service to His abbess. The elf doubted the god would take it well.

At last, Ardwen decided to act. The first thing the warrior did was twist around to fix the villagers with a stare and shout, "Stay back unless you want to meet the All-Father next!" He then decided to respond to Kildef's suggestion, he did not verbalize an answer; he merely shook his head no. Finally he slid next to Arc and pulled him back a few hasty steps by his shoulders. It was not far enough to do any good, but it at least gave him something to do. The motion also allowed him to remain kneeling without actually looking like he had bent his knees to a human, there were others watching after all. Almost as an afterthought Ardwen spoke under his breath, "I hope she at least makes it quick, I deserve that much."

Written by - Ariana

She had been content to merely place distance between herself and the Others, perhaps find a way to warn them off. But then one of them grabbed her, and her reaction was fear-driven and instinctual. With a yelp of fear, her hands jabbed the Other in each shoulder and with a large explosion of light, the Other was knocked back several feet into a gathering crowd.

She took several more steps back and eyed the remaining Others warily, waiting for the next attack. Only they appeared to be making no threats. On the contrary, those that were conscious appeared to be kneeling and showing her empty hands? It made no sense, and trying to figure it out made her head pound. There was something here, something important, but the more she tried to grasp it, the more it eluded her. If the Other truly is her boy Arc all grown up, then…

It hurt to think – making her nauseous and her eyesight blurry. It was easier and safer to react, to not think, to not remember, but the damage had been done. The pain distracted her from holding onto the power and her hands ceased to glow as she brought them up to hold both sides of her head.

Still cradling her aching head, she dropped to her knees in the grass to find herself face-to-beak with a very angry owl. They stared at each other for a long moment, one set of eyes filled with confusion and pain, the other filled with impatience and recrimination.

And then, the owl reached forward and bit her sharply on the nose.

The gesture was so odd, so out of place that it captured and held her attention, and she stared in wonder at the bird as one hand rubbed her sore nose. After several long moments, she smiled and returned the gesture with one of her own – throwing her arms wide, she engulfed the bird in a gentle, but all-encompassing hug, her aching temple resting on the soft feathers of one large wing.

The screech of indignation echoed through the clearing and into the trees beyond. Her only response was to giggle and to say one word: “Olly!”

Written by - Vylia

Vylia took a moment to clear her head from the daze of being launched back into a crowd of humans, not to mention the extreme pain of the holy blasts, and it took her a few seconds to untangle herself and get back to her feet, wincing with every shifting movement of her arms. Vylia was on the verge of tears at having been attacked by Ariana, even though in her current state she was probably just very confused, when she heard a word that really did make the tears flow, "Olly!" they were tears of joy. Ariana had remembered, even if it wasn't everything it was something, and that gave Vylia a great deal of hope for Ariana's further recovery.

Vylia walks slowly back toward Ariana, the holes in her leather jacket clearly outlining the burnt and bloody wounds beneath. She knelt before Ariana and Ollawahoo, tears streaming down her cheeks, a smile on her face.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya watched the events take place, and immediately knew no good could come of the glow on Ariana's hands. She heard Ardwen tell people to stand back and back up she did. She could sense the confusion and anquish in Ariana just by looking at her and wished there was more that she could do to help. But if her own people can't help her, what can I do? She decided it was best just to back up and wait and see what would happen next., though she was sure Dorve would be back soon and wondering where they all were.

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Dawn was breaking, the first warm rays of the sun casting their glow tentatively through the canopy of the forest many miles away where the lone swordsman was camped. Smoke rose from the small campfire which had burned all night long, the orange and red embers surrounded by ash just beginning to cool as the man adjusted the straps of his saddle atop his warhorse. Finally finding the tightness of the leather straps which suited him, he placed his left foot in the stirrup and mounted effortlessly; an action he had done many times before. Taking hold of the reins, the rider wheeled his warhorse around expertly, scanning his campsite for any items that were left. Satisfied that he hadn’t forgotten anything, he encouraged his horse into a trot and headed on his way.

Riding through the forest at a fair clip, his cloak trailed behind him, allowing the crisp morning air to wake and rejuvenate him. He wore a plate mail breastplate as well as a pair of riding boots and trousers. Strapped to his back was a kite shield and broadsword, the hilt of which protruded from a slit cut in the top of his cloak, allowing for easy access at all times.

The man was tall and well built. His short black hair had trace amounts of gray scattered throughout, revealing him to be getting on in years, though he still seemed to have the strength and vitality of a younger man. His ears were pointed, though not as dramatically as those of a pure-blooded elf. No, this man was a half-elf; that much was obvious. His only other distinguishing features were a series of intricately drawn red tattoos that covered his skin sporadically. They appeared to be runes of some sort, intricate symbols of a time and a world long since dead. He maintained a serious expression as he rode through the forest. He rode with a singular purpose, moving toward his unknown goal with a sense of grim determination which only came after years on the battlefield.

As he continued on, in the distance he thought he spied a tall figure standing in his path. Without slowing, the rider leaned forward and squinted, hoping to get a better look at the man. As he neared the figure, a smile of recognition crossed his face. Finally arriving in front of the tall armor clad warrior, the rider pulled on the reins and brought his mount to a stop.

The man standing in the road was an imposing one indeed. Standing at least eight feet tall, his height and build was greatly enhanced by the immaculately kept full plate mail he wore. His gauntleted hands were propped up atop the end of a massive Great Hammer, with the hammer’s business end resting in the grass at his feet. He wore a helmet which concealed most of his features, yet a strange shadow seemed to conceal his facial features.

“I see you are on the move again Tarelias,” the figured spoke with a deep, resonating voice.

The rider smirked. “Indeed I am. I can feel its presence; I’m getting closer.”

“That you are my friend.” The figure turned his head to face the direction the rider was heading. They were near the edge of the forest; beyond which was a vast plain and in the distance the white-capped peaks of a distant mountain range could be seen. “You will find what you seek very soon, just beyond this forest.” The figure turned back to face the rider. “This will be your toughest test yet, Tarelias. My powers have little sway here; I will be unable to aid you directly.”

“I understand,” the rider replied, gazing off in the direction of the plain. “Then I guess it’s just me and him.” The armored figured nodded silently. With that, the rider spurred his horse into a gallop, riding swiftly off.

“Good luck my friend,” the figure said quietly as Tarelias rode off. “All-Father be with you.”

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir watched the two young men leave and find a table to refresh themselves at. One of the group then spoke up, saying,

"Milord, forgive me, but don't you think you were a bit harsh on the young one? It's not my place, but whatever your personal feelings toward..."

The elf's words tapered off to nothing as Ithramir gave him a withering gaze. However, his words were spoken and Ithramir noticed the stares of many now upon him. Smirking, he decides to answer,

"Harsh? No, I don't think so, general. These are harsh times, we are fighting for our existence, and we are fighting to reclaim the Westgalian throne."

Ithramir began walking about the room as he spoke,

"This fight has stopped being just about the elves and our concerns, of which there are many. Humans and Dwarves are now counted among our friends. Old alliances are being reforged. Old evils are aligning. This, mark my words, is only the beginning of the evils we will see before peace settles once more on these lands."

Staring at the host assembled, letting his words echo off, he starts again,

"Now, as for the issue of Mavigan, she herself has refused the title. For now. Her house is in disarray, she is hunted like prey, and she has yet to learn what being a leader means. Where is she now? In this time of need, when her people need her the most, where is their queen?"

Ithramir's voice pounded the point home, but he did not stop,

"We can all admire an independent spirit, I'm sure you will all agree, and a leader must have force of will. But, to run off with an assassin and small party to Avandor-knows-where, well, it does not befit a queen but rather the impetuous youth that she is."

Ithramir paused at a table bearing fruit, picking up an apple, he studies it a moment before biting into it. Looking back to those in the room, he finishes,

"So, in response to you all, no I do not think I am harsh at all. I simply state the facts. I have seen many come here, ready to bend knee to their queen, only to find her missing. Until you get that chance, loyal as you may be, there are other tasks to be tended to that would require the aid of friends."

Looking at his apple, Ithramir takes another bite as he lets his words echo off into the Great Hall.

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Listening as Ithramir made his feelings on Lady Mavigan known, Dartanian noticed an armored man in front of him who was visibly tensing at his words. His fists were clenched and trembling slightly in anger. Guessing the man to be none other than Sir Johann, and fearing an explosive situation, Dartanian stepped up behind him and gently placed a hand on his shoulder. "Peace brother," he said firmly. "The last thing anyone needs right now, especially Lady Mavigan, is for this alliance to fall to pieces."

Sir Johann seemed to calm himself somewhat, and Dartanian stepped forward to address the room. "While I do not claim to know what drove the Lady Mavigan to leave as she has, I know that she must have had her reasons." As he spoke, he faced Lord Ithramir, with a look on his face which he hoped would not draw the ire of the proud elf. "I can certainly sympathize with the stress and pressure of leadership-having many look to you to show them the right path-especially in one so young. If you think back Lord Ithramir I'm sure that you can as well."

Turning now to face the rest of those assembled. "That being said I'm sure all of you would agree that we have more important things to be worrying about at the moment. Mavigan will do what she thinks she must and come around eventually." Facing Ithramir once again, Dartanian continued, "But as you have pointed out Lord Ithramir, there are certainly tasks which require the aid of friends, and we would aid you if you will have us. Now, what is it that must be done?"

Written by - Tempyst

The music started softly and the circle of druids who had gathered at the sacred grove disrobed. Ceredan stood in the middle near the Sacred Oak and held his arms upright to the sky. "Nyrondis, we call upon you on this day of bounty. We thank you for your guidance and protection and we thank you for the harvest that has been collected this year. For that we give you this celebration of life." The music grew louder and Ceredan stepped back into the circle. The men played the instruments with grace and skill and all listening began to sway to the beat. Tempyst and the other women moved forward around the Sacred Oak and began to dance. Tempyst felt the music fill her soul and take away some of the emptyness that had filled her since the early morning. Her feet began to move and along with the other skyclad women, she circled the Sacred Oak as she danced. Her long, earth brown hair was loose and flowed along her body seductively. She let her mind become one with the flow of music, her body moving instinctively around the oak; the other women there danced with passion as well, feeling the spirit of their God fill them with joy and celebration. As they danced, a warm fall breeze picked up blowing through the Sacred Oak, rustling the leaves to the music and all knew their God had arrived and was watching their celebration. She closed her eyes and let the music and spirit fill her. You have nothing to fear little one. I am here for you always Tempyst, and don't forget you have new family to find and you have Ithramir. You will forever be tied to him because of your daughter. Always rember, you are never alone.... Tempyst felt tears of joy fall down her face as the spirit of her God filled her and she felt the warm of his embrace. The music then rose to a crescendo and stopped; the women fell to the earth breathing heavily from their dance. The men who had been standing in the outer circle, came in and helped the women back into the fold. Ceredan stepped forward once more. "Thank you ladies for the dance, it was truly inspiring and a wonderful tribute for Nyrondis. Now, let us initiate those who wish to travel by the Sacred Oak."

Tempyst and several others stepped forward, still skyclad and melded into the oak. Once inside, Tempyst could sense the change. Instead of the comforting darkness and silence, there was a grayish-green hew to the world. It looked much like the Sacred Grove, except for that. Tempyst took a step and found herself immediately outside of the citadel. She smiled, and began to walk around, wondering where she could end up. But she knew she could not explore right now, there was the festival to be attended to. She turned around and stepped out of the oak, feeling refreshed and inspired. She moved to Ceredan who was now robed. He helped her on with her robe and smiled at the young elder druid. "You seem much lighter now Tempyst, the ritual has helped yes?"

"Yes High Elder Ceredan, it truly has. I still feel the ache and I know it will not go away immediately, but for the moment, it is sated, and I can get on with my life and assignements. I will have good days and bad. Thank you for everything High Elder, thank you." Ceredan hugged her tightly.

"Good Tempyst, I am glad to hear that, for it would be a sad day if we were to loose you to your grief. Now, how about we go find some food, the cooks have been preparing for days for this." Ceredan took Tempyst by the hand and led her to the great table. Tempyst could smell all the wonderful scents. Her mouth began to water and soon found herself delving into the delecasies with her fellow druids. Thank you Nyrondis, thank you.

Written by - Agmund

The seven kings of Njorundr had assembled within the great hall of memory: the Dwitharim. Two kings of elves, rulers of the Eirwood and lords of Halueth; Four kings of dwarves, descendants of the first clans of Graedium; and one king of men, master of the Grimwolven. Each sat upon a simple unmarked throne of gray stone, save one. Together the kings encircled a large round map upon the floor. The map was the focal point of the hall, and while its size and design was immense, the rest of the room dwarfed it in comparison.

Five massive stone statues ringed the thrones; four of the statues were dwarven, and one human, but all had a similar pose. Clad in the finest of armor, each with weapons in hand, they reached up to the very top of the dome as if to hold it at bay. Though in reality it was their forearms and elbows, along with the hammers and swords in their hands that held the circular ceiling in place. The detail cut into the statues was exquisite, from the braided beards, to the pommel of a weapon, or the hem of a chain shirt, the skill was a feat to behold.

Some thirty feet behind the statues, the walls of the massive round hall had torches at even intervals. They proceeded up and out, end to end, from floor to ceiling, to reveal runes upon every square inch of stone. The runes were broken up into tablets, or quadrants, marked and labeled like an ever-expanding book, and in many ways it was precisely that. From the account of the first five kings to the first laws and oaths, and on to tales of heroic captains and warriors, the runes; know as dwithar to the people of Njorundr, recounted every aspect of the kingdoms existence. Even crop totals, population tallies, death tolls in war, the amount of ore and types of ore that had been mined, were included.

However, the Hall of Memory also shared far more intimate details. The dates of births and deaths of each king and heir to the throne, along with trees of royal lines, were marked beneath clan runes. In addition, it recorded separately what knowledge the kingdom had concerning other parts of Eadarolus. Noting changes of rulership, wars, and treaties with far away kingdoms. The records of the hall were so vast and expansive that they spilled out into ten huge passageways.

Here, within this ancient portal of time, Earane Melwasul, the eldest elven lord stood tall and commanding before his throne. Long silver hair glided down his shoulders, and he wore a tunic of forest green. His voice was alone as it filled the hall, “How many deaths did we suffer at the hands of ignorance?” He turned to look at each king as he continued, “How many of our people perished needlessly, as we their guardians continued a quarrel not of our making? I look at each of you, and I see the same sorrow that I feel within my soul. Sorrow for a thousand years of death and fear!” The word fear was uttered with contempt and near venom, though he did not raise his voice as he spoke it.

“After all of this, are we truly to come full circle? To continue where we left off? Have we learned nothing of what war wrought upon us?” He had barely managed to finish the question, before the rumbling voice of King Ironcrag drowned him out. “Ignorance? Who’s Ignorance… certainly NOT ours!” the dwarf yelled. So the meeting once again drifted into argument, each king picking a side, and shouting out his thoughts, until the hall was filled with the sound of anger.

Out of no where, a dwarven king lunged from his throne and after a quick sprint he leapt onto the middle of the map, drew his hammer, and with one foul swing he crushed the stone mountain of Graedium. The rock, made to look exactly like that of the mountain, including the city walls of Dun-Algur shattered into tiny pieces. The kings all fell silent, and the dwarf who stood in the middle of them, lifted his head and dropped his hammer. Slowly he turned in a circle, glaring at each of his fellow kings.

“Our fathers made the final sacrifice to bring us together, forsaking an oath that has not been forsaken for thousands of years. My son, the last of my line entered the depths of hell… and has not been heard since, and now this petty debate, threatens the survival of all they fight for. It threatens to make meaningless everything they have done!” One lip began to curl into a snarl, “I’ll have no more of it from you Ironcrag,” he points the king out, “or you,” his finger falls to King Foebiter. “If’n the Elven Kings wish to reinforce the mountain range then we will make it so!” he shouted. “Because if we canno’ make agreement here, then this kingdom and all our people shall end,” gradually his voice trailed off.

Written by - Rikshanthas

Leinad arrived too late to prevent the elven scout's rash act, and watched as the woman sailed a good eight feet into the gathering crowd, wincing slightly in sympathy as she was introduced to the ground. Swearing silently, he pushed his way into the large-but-slowly-shrinking circle that had formed around the 'Saint', Astalder held high to avoid skewering anyone. Once within the twenty-foot circle the villagers had formed, he and Shara swiftly took up crowd-control duty, attempting to keep the civilians back a respectable distance. He heard an animal screech and a giggle from behind him, followed by, "Olly!" He glanced over his shoulder to see Ariana hugging the great owl, smiling. As the elf she had blasted managed to stand and walk back to the crouched priestess, who seemed to have made a small start to recovery, Leinad returned his attention to managing the crowd. It took roughly fifteen seconds for him to become dissatisfied with their progress; as a mercenary captain he had been accustomed to being obeyed, and when he wasn't ...

"EVERYONE SHUT UP AND BACK OFF!" he bellowed, at a volume normally reserved for volcanic eruptions. The villagers were too stunned to disobey, shuffling back another five feet and falling silent at the force in his voice. Even Shara regarded him with surprise. "That's better," he said at a more polite volume, though his voice had an icy edge. "Now," he continued, turning to the small group at the center of the crowd, "would one of you -" his brief wave indicated those crouched around Ariana "- care to take the floor here? Now that we've got people's attention." He smiled wryly. "Since I'm as in the dark here as anyone else, and it'd help to get the facts straight before wild rumors end up all over the Greyshire." He dug Astalder's point into the soil, waiting for someone to step up.

****

As Ithramir's scathing comments echoed through the Hall, only one face seemed to bear neither agreement nor shocked offense. Instead, a gleam of genuine curiosity crossed the features of a robed man near the back of the room. He held a quill suspended over the folder of papers in which he had been furiously writing, which had already led most of those present to dismiss him as one of the Citadel's many scribes, doubtless present to provide a transcript of the meeting for the records. Though one might wonder why the man was wearing dark-lensed glasses indoors.

The man frowned as his quill dripped ink onto the page, blotching a good paragraph or so. In a fit of pique he balled up the sheet and tossed it in Ithramir's general direction - far too gently for the projectile to reach its not-quite-intended target - and swiftly rewrote the section that had been on the ruined page, continuing from that point as if nothing had happened.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

The man followed Haswal downstairs.

“Head back down the hall that way. First door on your left is the storage for military equipment. When you’re done playing dress-up, wait in the hall.” Without waiting for a confirmation, Haswal quickly left to go fetch his contact with the Westgale army.

Doing as he was told, the man found the military store room and set about looking for some suitable equipment. He took a cloth uniform shirt and pair of trousers from an open crate and switched out his clothes. Putting his boots back on, he spied a veritable mountain of chainmail towards the back of the room and retrieved a proper fitting hauberk and coif, as well as a tabard bearing the crest of Westgale. He then wandered back through the storeroom back to where he has discarded his clothes to retrieve the sword. Cinching the belt around his waist, the man began to look around for a more suitable weapon. On the wall closest to the door stood row upon row of fine oaken and steel spears and round shields. After taking one of each, he went back into the hall.

A few uneasy moments past before Haswal came back down the hall flanked by a tall man in his late 40s. He was stocky, with long black hair that was beginning to turn gray and recede. A thick moustache accentuated his stern face and dull green eyes. “This is Captain Anselm, the contact I told you about. I’ll let him fill you in on everything.” With that, Haswal went into the storeroom to make sure it hadn’t been overly disturbed.

“Like he said, I’m Captain Dorian Anselm of the Royal Ancoran Guard. My unit missed out on the battle for Minas Aure, but we’re being drafted in to help absorb some of the losses incurred there. Just keep a low profile and keep your nose clean and everything should be fine.” The man simply nodded.

Haswal came back out carrying the man’s discarded clothes. “You’d best be off boy, if you’re serious about this. I’ll take care of things here. Do try to come back in one piece though. I’d hate to think of what’ll happen to me if you don’t.” He said the last few words with a joking smile on his face.

With a slight smile, the man turned towards Haswal to say his farewell: “Good bye for now Uncle. Sorry to be dashing in and out like this. Thank you again for all your help.”

Captain Anselm had already started heading towards the front door when the two men gave their final nods of farewell. Haswal’s expression was uncharacteristically serious and he seemed to be staring Anselm down. He didn’t have to say a word – the man knew exactly what he meant.

Captain Anselm was already outside by the time he caught up. He moved remarkably fast for a man of his size. The two walked in silence for a good ways until Anselm finally broke it. Turning to the man, he spoke in a low, angry tone bristling with hate: “Listen here, you piece of ‘Skaner trash! Haswal is a friend of mine, but his nephew or no, if you even give me so much as a cross look, I’ll have you hanging from the ramparts before the next sunrise!”

“Yes, sir. I’ll be gone at the first available opportunity.”

“See to it you little…” Anselm’s voice trailed off into an unintelligible grumble of swears.

The rest of the trip passed in uncomfortable silence. The man did not bother to ask where they were going. He was more concerned with trying to figure out his soonest exit time, along with how to best rid himself of the rather large, surly weight around his neck before it crushed him. Before he had noticed, they had passed out of Port Ancora and back into the elven areas of the Citadel.

They had started up a staircase to an enormous, magnificent building when Anselm interrupted him. “We’re almost there. My unit’s on guard duty for a bit until the deployment begins. The higher-ups are in planning and meetings right now so security’s even tighter than usual.” Anselm pointed to the main entrance. “Now get over there and stay put you little bastard. If you so much as move a muscle without permission…” His voice trailed off into a low grumble of swears again.

The man didn’t say a word. Walking slowly to the massive doors of the Citadel, he flanked the doors to their left, facing towards the street. Another soldier was already on the right side, as well as several others around the perimeter and still more on patrol.

“I’ll be passing through here regularly. So don’t get any ideas.” Anselm grumbled again before heading in towards the guard office.

The man let out a short, exasperated sigh, then resumed his thinking.

Written by - Ardwen

Ariana blasted Vylia. Ardwen had seen the use of holy magic before, but he had to admit Ariana had a most ingenious system of delivery: two direct jabs with her hands, one in each shoulder, and then a resounding burst of energy. In truth, it had not been what Ardwen was expecting, but there was no denying its effectiveness as Vylia was launched off her feet and backwards toward the throng of villagers. There was no time for the warrior to worry about her, however, as it now put Kildef, Archeantus, and himself in her line of fire.

But Ariana did not advance. Instead, she seemed conflicted, the radiance around her hands fading as she moved them to her temples. Ardwen's abbess dropped to her knees, her face hovering near the owl that Kildef had marked earlier as Ariana's shadow. After a piercing squawk that almost sounded of frustration, the bird leaned forward and in a flash had clamped down on Ariana's nose. Ardwen felt his bile rising at the beast for its temerity, and he briefly considered eating the thing right then and there, architect of fate be damned.

Ariana, however, seemed to take it much better, merely rubbing her nose and regarding the fowl. The look on her face was not one of rage, but one of wonderment, and Ardwen reluctantly ruled fried poultry out of the immediate menu. In the next instance the abbess had encompassed the owl in a deep hug and shouted its name. Ardwen thought that was something, at least the exposition to her recovery. Of course, he was disappointed that she had remembered the bird first, but as he considered the situation more he had to concede that outcome was probably for the best.

The next thing Ardwen noticed was Vylia, wounded but on her feet, joining the small throng kneeling before Ariana. The female ranger had been injured, bloody wounds opened in each shoulder, but both sadness and joy clashed in her eyes. Joy won in the end, and as Ariana recited the owl's name tears of relief and happiness trickled down her cheeks. All things considered, Ardwen had thought the situation had resolved itself reasonably well--

Ardwen's thoughts were brought to an abrupt and noisy end as a voice rose above the clamor of the crowd, forcing the gradually encroaching villagers to step back by the sheer ardor and command in it. Ardwen's eyes flickered up to see the warrior Leinad standing before the small cluster of Hands, a female companion at his side as well. More incredible still, he bore an unsheathed sword in his hand, and as he sued the Hands for information he dug the point into the soil.

Ardwen dithered in his genuflecting for a moment, hoping that there was someone else who would rise to the challenge. The elven warrior gritted his teeth and applied his mind to the problem that now faced him: getting out of the crowd, without inducing panic, and getting everyone out alive. The blade weaver stood and faced the eager crowd; he glanced at his companions and the still prostrate form of Archeantus, briefly an idea flickered into form in his mind.

"I've got a man down!" Ardwen said, his voice loud but far from shouting, "I need medical supplies!" That did it. In a mere instant, the lady who had accompanied the child that had first screamed of Ariana's presence pushed her way through the crowd. Ardwen had to admire her bravery, or faith, or whatever it was that allowed her to walk forward on a knot of potentially dangerous warriors. Normally, the elf would have chalked it up to the stupidity of the lesser races, but he needed the villagers to work with him, even if just for a moment.

Ardwen eyed her kit of medical utensils. Surprisingly, he found it in good order, and in ample stock of everything needed for the more mundane healing arts. "Water," Ardwen murmured, "I need water!" The woman looked at him in confusion, but Ardwen merely adamantly repeated the demand, adding that the unconscious man's life hung in the balance. Within a few moments the elven warrior had a bucket of cool water drawn from one of the town wells. Ardwen spared the healer a nod of thanks before kneeling down next to Archeantus.

Without preamble he dumped the bucket on the warlock, whistled loudly, and then shouted, "Wake up! Damnit Arc where's your sense of discipline? Wake up!" Ardwen had gripped the scruff of the warlock's garment and was jostling him with every 'wake up'. Once again without warning the elf abandoned his efforts and muttered to the healer while rising to his feet again that she could give it her best effort now. As Ardwen observed the crowd again he noted smugly that his spectacle had the desired effect. The crowd's attention had been briefly focused on him, away from the Abbess, and Ardwen intended to exploit that now.

"Good people of The Hands," said Ardwen, "my name is Ardwen, a warrior in the service of Lothiel'Godith, the Elven Citadel. Doubtless you have questions, and doubtless you deserve answers. My companions and I arrived here after striking a blow against . . ." here Ardwen's voiced trailed away for a heartbeat as he forgot Beridane's name, but he quickly recovered, "that enemy which we both despise that dares set itself as king in Westgale!"

The crowd let out a brief roar of jubilation before Ardwen waved them to partial silence. The elf continued speaking, "You are here, no doubt, to see Saint Ariana? Then I am afraid I must disappoint you, for I am not certain this is possible."

At that a din of disagreement rose from the crowd, everything from accusations of lying to direct questions of Ardwen's intelligence as the saint was standing "right there." Ardwen had to fight down the urge to simply begin hacking his way through the crowd. However, he had the advantage of knowing that Ariana was standing there, and worse, she would most likely remember if he did any such thing now. "Hold!" Ardwen shouted, and the noise diminished a bit.

The warrior fixed his gaze on the crowd itself, making it appear to the vast majority that he had fixed eyes upon them personally. Ardwen began speaking again, "I did not say that in some vain attempt to deny you access to Saint Ariana, I only said it so that you might be aware that all is not as simple as it seems. This lady here has suffered the depredations of that dog in Westgale personally, and has suffered mentally as well as physically. She barely responds to the name of Ariana, a name doubtless so common as to mean nothing even if it were truly her own. She bears a passing resemblance to this statue, that much is true, but is the likeness really so perfect? Consider still, that if this truly was Ariana, why she would appear in any form that might beguile or confuse? She has worked some small magic, that too is true, but many still can do the same. Moreover, if she was an initiate of the All-Father caught in Westgale, then her condition is readily explained. The current usurper of the throne is impious and vulgar toward the gods."

At this Ardwen bowed his head solemnly and traced the triskellion symbol of the All-Father through the air. The warrior held his breath for an instance afterwards, expecting a bolt of lightning from the heavens, or perhaps a suspiciously large and hale tree to suddenly fall over. When nothing happened and many in the crowd followed his pious gesture in turn, the elf visibly relaxed.

"However," Ardwen said, "it is not important if this is indeed Saint Ariana, or if it is not. What is important is that we found a woman in need, one under the heel of that same tyrant from which this land suffers. Can any man here say he would have done differently? No! But, loyal retainers to the true king, we need your help still! Your aid! This close to the ever-present gaze of that iniquitous traitor we can have no safe haven! This far from our lands and after such fights our resources are stretched thin! We must return to the Citadel . . . for the sake of this lady, whomever she truly is."

Written by - Agmund

“Wake up you!” the orc planted his boot into the dwarf’s chest. When he saw no movement or reaction he leaned down and roughly poked the blunt end of a thin club between Throrgrum’s eyes. Still the dwarf remained lifeless. This brought the eyes of the orc into a squint, and he leaned further in to try and see if any breath was coming from the old dwarf. “Dead?” a voice called over the shoulder of the orc, “Well, is he dead or aint he?”

The orc who was inspecting the dwarf looked back over his shoulder with a proud grin, “Yeaahhh, he’s dead alright. Nuthin but maggot fo…” but the orc was unable to finish the sentence. The dwarf had snapped forward and slammed his forehead into the side of the orcs face. Cartilage caved in, and a horrible ringing sound filled the orcs ear as his drum burst.

Throrgrum managed to hold his head up for just a few short seconds. His broken nose was curled up into a blood-encrusted snarl, and his brows arched in defiance. Battered, but unbeaten, his beard had been hacked from his chin. His right hand had been cut away, and then burned to cauterize the wound, thus preventing the dwarf from bleeding to death. Long had his torture been, but he had refused to relent.

The taskmaster; angry with this defiance, forced a broad spear into the chest of the howling orc, ending the pitiful sound that filled the room. Then he turned his attention to the dwarf, “That arms infected… tomorrow, your going to get feverous, and very very ill, and then, you’ll talk.” As if to send his message home he forced the body of the dead orc over the dwarf and yanked out the spear, “Enjoy your supper!”

“Up,” the taskmaster commanded, and two orcs stepped to either side of him. They both leaned down and wrapped an arm around the taskmaster’s legs: raising him atop their shoulders. “Careful you!” the taskmaster cried out in pain. The inside of the orcs legs were wrapped in bloody rags. “Move it you two, back to the hall!”

Morthand waited as patiently as he could in the shadows of the dungeon, but once the wounded orc was carted off, and Throrgrums cell door closed, he made his move. Cautiously he crept up to the cell, and peered in with wide eyes. There in a shadowy corner he could make out the dwarfs legs sticking out from underneath the dead orc. Morthands fingers began to search thru his pouch as he knelt before the padlock.

Settling upon two small pieces of bent metal, he took one in each hand and began to search for the tumblers. He never looked at the actual lock. Instead he scanned back and forth down the dimly lit corridor, as his hands did the work. Finally a faint click heralded his success. Quickly he moved the lock aside, and left it hanging in the door as he pushed it inwards.

Another fast look down the corridor, and he crouched his way over to where the dwarf lay. As he moved the orc aside, horror filled his face, and undescribable sadness invaded his heart. Throrgrum’s wounds were so numerous and grievous that Morthand thought him beyond aid. The dwarf was, however, still alive, and as he opened one bruised eye to look his son over, he began to speak in a whisper, “Its nay near as bad as it looks lad, in fact its largely an act on my part.” As if to prove his point, his grim covered face spun a strange sort of grin.

“Good act,” Morthand replied with a mischevious expression, “the question is… do you think you have the strength to make it out of here?” Throrgrums grin soured, and his face turned red with anger, “I still have the strength to knock yer teeth out!” This drew a chuckle from the man, though not a very loud one, “Even better, because that’s the kind of grit we are going to need to make it out of here.”

Throrgrum was about to protest, but then Morthand knew he would and he had prepared for it in advance. “Before you begin to argue,” he paused, “I think you should know that I have found a way out, one that may lead us underground all the way to the shores of Glameiruth,” he whispered. Again the dwarf started to disagree, but this time Morthand merely held up a tarnished ring of gold, with a single stone encased within it. He held it aloft before the dwarf’s inspection.

The stone was not a precious metal or gem, instead it was just that… a rock. Though it was far more than just a rock to the dwarf. He recognized its significance immediately, for it was a rock cut from the lone peak of Graedium, and only the kings of the mountain themselves wore them. Even though tiny traces of moss had invaded the lines within the rock, Throrgrum could still make out the single rune that identified its wearer as a King of the Stonebrewer clan. “Sygrolf Stonebrewer… you have found the ring of Sygrolf lad!” He uttered with amazement.

“So it was that he placed the ring of his kingship, and that of his clan within a small crevice near the tunnels entrance. He bore the line of the crevice with loose stone, hiding it in hope that one day it would lead another to freedom,” Morthand said in a hushed whisper, and in near reverence, “and you thought I wasn’t listening when you told those old stories.”

Throrgrum was about to reply but he thought he heard footsteps far down the hallway, so he tried to prop himself up slightly in an attempt to see past Morthand. That’s when he noticed the key hanging from the orcs belt. The orc had rolled slightly down his waist, and now lay upon his lap. Not only did he see a key, but two knives and a short sword as well. The sword was bladed somewhat on one side, and angled like a crescent, but with two sharp hooks on the other.

His wheels began to turn for a moment, wondering how this could end up working out, but Morthand suddenly whispered, “There coming back.” Morthand had heard the sounds as well, though as he began to say something else Throrgrum held up the keys. “Gurt had the key, so how is it his fault?” they heard an orc say. “An he didn’ know the story bout’ how bat turd lost his nuts to tha’ dwarf neither,” another said, “so if anythin’ it was turd that should’ad tha’ spear stuck in his gut.”

Both Morthand and Throrgrum stared at the key in mute shock, before Morthand suddenly held up his index finger, snatched the key, and snuck as rapidly as he could out of the cell. The dwarf, unwilling to leave the cell with out some weapons, pilfered the two knives; shoving them flat underneath each of his legs, before slumping back down into the corner. “Ya idiot, ya didn’t even shut the gate,” one orc said as he stepped in front of the cell. The other scratched his head, “I thoug’ I shut it. Well, ya sad sack of ogre snot, if ya had it would still be shut then wouldn’t it?” The first orc replied in an annoyed tone. “Bu,” the second began to say “Bu wha’ ya idiot? Stop you’re sniveling and go in there and get the key, and don’t forget Gurt’s blade neither,” but he was of course cut off.

“Maybe he took the key and opened tha’ door,” the second said really fast as he tried to keep from being interrupted, however, he then pointed straight to where the dwarf lay in the corner. The first orc, obviously the smarter of the two, followed the direction of the orcs arm and finger right to where the dead orc was. Surely enough he could make out the dwarves stubby legs even in the darkness of the small cell. “Of course, the dwarf just took the key opened the cell, and just when he was about to make his escape, he decided to go back in and take a nap… under Gurt… IDIOT! Go in there and get the key and any weapons, before I slit your worthless throat!” the first one shouted in the others face. The second, with torch in hand, made no more attempts to argue and opening the cell door he rushed inside.

The orcs courage though, did not last long, and he stopped short just as he neared Gurt’s body. Cautiously he reached out with his free hand, and rolled the dead orc over and onto the dwarf’s ankles. “He doesn’t have a key on em,” he said and rolled the orc back to its previous spot to be sure. “Worthless shit!” the first orc made his way into the cell; shoving the smaller second one out of his way. He too searched orc, but unsatisfied, he yanked the dead orc out of the way by his belt.

Slowly he looked the dwarf over, and then without notice he slammed his boot down into the dwarf’s ribs. “Maybe he did take it,” he said with seething venom, “Maybe he aint as hurt as we think he is,” and kicked Throrgrum again for good measure. The dwarf only coughed out some blood in response and exerted all his effort into remaining as lifeless as he could.

Finally the orc patted the dwarf down, and seemingly content that neither Gurt nor the dwarf had the key, he motioned for the other to exit as he moved from the cell. Both had nearly left, when the dwarf suddenly began to beg, “Water… please bring me some water.” His plea had just the right response he was praying for. The ‘smarter’ of the two orcs turned around and made his way back over to where the dead orc lay. Reaching down he hefted the orc up and then dropped him on top of the dwarf, “If yer that thirsty scum, then have a pull of Gurt’s blood.”

Shortly after the two orcs had left the cell, Morthand crept back to the lock, opening it with the key this time. Throrgrum had already managed to get to his feet, though he leaned heavily against the wall, “I’m guessing that the key for each cell is the same for each block. He took a deep breath, “so go rummage thru some cells close by, and grab clothing, skeletons and all… we want to try and make it look like I am still under this orc. Right,” Morthand promptly responded.

Few seconds were wasted as the pair took what clothing they could find, rags for the most part, and stuffed the skeleton of a dead dwarf. They wrapped Throrgrums tunic around it, and positioned him right where he had been when the orcs left. Afterwards, Morthand removed any trace of his footprints on the dirt and grime covered floor, and upon locking the cell door behind them, they set out in the darkness of the prison.

Morthand was relying on the keen skills he had honed in his youth. In search of the strangest shape or the slightest imperfection, his hand trailed along the wall as they moved. Every five feet or so he would mark a peculiarity, while simultaneously making sure his hand remained at shoulder level. He also factored in distance to turns, counting the feet off within his head at each intersection. This was most difficult because he was now going in reverse from the directions he had set to memory. Throrgrum, following close behind whispered, “If’n we make it out of er’ alive, yer goin’ ta’ havta’ tell me how ye survived that fall lad.”

Written by - Talonmane

Despite his partial discomfort, Ollawahoo kept mostly still and allowed Ariana her hug...for a few seconds anyway. He relaxed, cooing softly twice in a way that made the woman smile. He didn't like being hemmed in though with all the increasing commotion going on behind them, and made two louder chirps and began to force his wings open, trying to indicate his need to move.

Kildef nodded, unsurprised, but still smiling a bit at the bite on the nose. Subtle. But we're going to have to get her to a place away from this crowd... he thought at the bird while standing and turning to face the people of the island. Or maybe get them to give her some space for a while... But Ardwen appeared to be dealing with that side of things already. The Ranger was half-splashed with water, and could only shake his head amusingly at the elf's choice of actions. But he understood his intent, and added to what he began, addressing the villagers.

"If there is a leader amoung you, come forward to speak with us. The rest of you we would ask go back to your daily work or head to the shore and help our sailors and Admiral Munchadin. Your defiance in the face of the Usurper, your loyalty, do us all proud. But know your part in this is just at a beginning. With the Admiral's fleet you will now be a cornerstone in our containment of Beridane's sea power, and a lifeline to the freedom of all who fight or are captive in the Port City. Go, and listen to Munchadin, and help him as you can.

"As for this woman, our friend, she needs space. She is as devoted to the memory of...Saint Ariana as any of you, and came here today as you have whenever you wished for blessing. Her recovery after suffering in Iron captivity requires some privacy. I give you my word, as the son of Talonmane - whom you know well - that all will be clear to you in days to come, though war confuses some things now. Now please, go, and render your best help to the fleet. For Acaenyd. For Pallanon. For Ancora."

Kil did his best to remember what Munch had taught him of the land and its oaths. He was the ranking officer present in the old order, and tried to act it, applying his bearing to the people before him. Many in the crowd responded in kind, echoing the words of their oaths, including with a 'huzzah!' or two. Most of the villagers who would be able to help the fleet headed off, keen in their desire to serve. A few of higher religious fervour remained, and perhaps a few spectators. The woman who had stepped up to aid Archeantus spoke while applying her skill."The Mayor be at the wharf to welcome the Cap...the Admiral. You'll find him there to be sure. Is the Knight Warden with him?"

"I wish he was. My father is...in farway lands trying to gather what allies will come to Ancora's call."

"We did not know he had a living son. But it is in yer face and frame and yer spirit...in these I see his blood in you. And these others, they too have a mark o' nobility. It is good...good to know our prayers and our faith dunnae go unanswered. Now, I cannae do else for this one. His hurt is not in his body, methinks. But you there, blond elf, I can help if ye're burned..." The medicine woman stood then and approached Vylia, waiting for her to respond.

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