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Book Four Pt 1 - The Eastern Pass

Written by - Vylia Page 6 Book 4

Vylia looked to the woman standing beside her offered aid for her burns, she turned to the woman and smiled as she stood, shaking her head. "I will be fine, All-Father willing the burns will fade soon enough. If he thinks they should stay then they shall, as a reminder for me not to be so impulsive." Vylia listened to Ardwen and Kildef attempting to diffuse the crowd and keep word of Ariana's return from spreading. Then just as she was wondering where their dwarven druid was along with the rest Dorve appeared to solve the mystery and direct them to the Druid Grove.

Vylia turned back to look at Ariana as Ollawahoo took flight and frowned as she noticed the pained expression on Ariana's face. She was just about to bend down to help her to her feet when Ariana stood on her own and stumbled off after Olly, her eyes still clinched closed and Vylia followed along right behind her in order to make sure she didn't have any other problems.

She was mildly surprised at the feast arrayed before them when they arrived, for though she was familiar with the druidic festival after years on this planet, it seemed still too early to have prepared so much, until the old druid that introduced himself as Godrik explained that Nyrondis had told him of their coming. When he mentioned the bath Vylia's face brightened, since after days at sea she most definitely could use one, and so could Ariana but she wasn't sure how she was going to get the frightened woman to goa long with her. Then a wry smile formed on her face as she had a perfectly wicked plan, and she turned to look at Ardwen's back, "Ardwen, I think he was speaking to you about that bath, I can still smell that old armor you were wearing from here."

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen bobbed a grateful nod to Kildef, finally understanding just how and when they were planning to depart The Hands. Furthermore, Ardwen was thankful that the group had seen the wisdom in heading to the Citadel. The Elf was hopeful that some art could be found there to help Ariana, or at the very least she might be better protected to allow for her recovery. The question of their absent druid guide wouldn't remain unsolved long either, as the Dwarf strode out into the clearing in its usual surly and pompous manner. Such behavior was, as Ardwen had come to think of it, utterly typical for Dwarves. They were just another variant of lesser in the final tally.

Dorve was not content to bluster in the normal faux-superiority complex of her kind though, and she actually admonished the group to behave in a civilized manner. Ardwen felt choleric at the rude midget's commentary, and he was about to snarl a comment about how a being whose mother was a slab of granite could never understand true civilization when he remembered Ariana. Grudgingly, Ardwen bit his tongue and choked back his venom at the stunted thing. Most likely, it would be needed to guide them through whatever these "tree ways" were. If his comments endangered their chances of getting through, Ariana's chances, he would not be able to forgive himself.

As Ardwen moved to follow the group he stayed in the rear, trying to put as much distance as possible between himself and the caustic pygmy. The warrior had a scowl on his face, and occasionally his lips would faintly move as if he were muttering mute words to himself. When they finally arrived in the grove an aged druid greeted them, introducing himself as Godrik. The mention of food brought a pang of hunger from Ardwen, and he remembered that the last thing he had eaten was a bowl of thin stew in Westgale. The mention of a bath, however, failed to impress the Elven warrior. Undoubtedly, the natives here thought a hole filled with water constituted a bath, and had no concept of the great water works that the Elven Empire employed in its public sanitation. Rooms of hot, tepid, and then cold water, scented oils, and a strigil to scrape the dirt and oil off. That, Ardwen's thoughts resounded, was a bath and the only method to get truly clean.

Refraining from vocalizing his comments on cleanliness, Ardwen grabbed an apple off a nearby tray and bit down. As Ardwen tasted the flavor entering his mouth he knew the druids could do at least one thing correctly, and that was serve an apple properly, not tart and sour like some with less refined taste preferred them. It was sweet, smooth, and Ardwen almost felt his mood improve until he caught what Vylia was saying.

"Ardwen, I think he was speaking to you about that bath, I can still smell that old armor you were wearing from here." He heard Vylia chirp.

The warrior almost choked on the chunk of apple he had bitten off. With a gurgle he swallowed and used the back of his hand to wipe off the juice from his mouth. He rounded on the archer and said, "Vylia! Y-you dare? How . . . just what are you aiming at? I wager there's not a frigidarium on this whole stinking world!" Ardwen paused a minute before his voice turned hard and he glared at Vylia saying, "Just what do you think you're doing, archer? This isn't the time for games, and I expected at least you to keep your mind on martial matters!"

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya ignored the tiff going on between Ardwen and Vylia and decided quickly that a bath would be a good thing. She grabbed a plate of food and then strode off to the warmed pool that lay beyond the great oak tree. Not caring who saw what, Kaya stripped the sunk herself into the actually hot deep water. The pool was a large natural rock tub imbedded in the ground. It was large enough for several people. Kaya heard a noise behind her and saw that Godrik had come over. "I hope you are enjoying the pool hunter, it is one of my special luxuries around here. Magically heated and magically self cleaning every half hour, I need it for my old bones. Ah, I see you brought yourself some food as well, good! I will leave you be then." Godrik stood there a few moments longer, Kaya could feel his eyes upon her, but decided to leave the old man be. I guess even a druid needs a thrill now and then. She chuckled to herself and began to wash her body of the filth of the last few days.

Written by - Vylia

Ardwen paused a minute before his voice turned hard and he glared at Vylia saying, "Just what do you think you're doing, archer? This isn't the time for games, and I expected at least you to keep your mind on martial matters!"

Vylia couldn't help but smile at his reaction, but she wondered if it was embarassment or annoyance that caused him to answer the way he did, "Frigidarium or not Ardwen, you smell... we all do, we've been at sea after an entire day of nonstop fighting. We were all wounded, there's blood caked on our clothes and in our hair. I for one do not relish the idea of walking into an elven citadel looking like a beggar off the street, nor do I intend anyone outside of our current group to see Ariana that way. You seem to be the only one who can touch her without sparking an incident, so I need you to help me get her there so we can get her cleaned up, and since you're going to be there anyway, you may as well take a bath as well." Vylia stood up, gathering some food on a tray as she turned to glare at Ardwen, "Get up Ardwen, and help me get Ariana to the pool... now."

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen turned to face Vylia. Instead of his usual visage of rage, Ardwen's face was cold and unruffled. Still, the angle of the warrior's head, the set of his brow, and the keen focus of his eyes all gave the impression that he was somehow looking down on those who met his gaze. "You are a fool," Ardwen said, "and you prove it more and more with every wasted breath of air. You assume Ariana will not do anything, only because of the one time I carried her to the dock. Yet, she has just been through a fight within herself, and who can say how she will react now? You trample on my ways without regard, and even then you fail to even think it through entirely. Do you intend to clean Ariana only to have her wear the same rags she has on now? Do you carry an extra dress on you?"

Ardwen allowed a slight pause before he finished. By this time his face was an exemplar of utter contempt and scorn, as if he were regarding an insect that had landed on his shoulder. "But your biggest mistake was trying to order me like some penitent. Did you think that would work, or have you already forgotten that I don't wear the arms of the Hands anymore? Even if I did, you've yet to earn the right to order me, Vylia." Ardwen spoke no further, but he looked straight at the offending ranger. The Elven warrior was hoping Vylia would show some sense, but he was prepared in case she chose otherwise.

Written by - Tempyst

"Would you two stop bickering, I asked you to be civilized here!" Dorve exclaimed. Then she looked at Ardwen. "We may not be as fancy as you elves, but we care about our surroundings, and ourselves. There is hot water, self cleaning pools, healing pools, oils and clean robes to put on while yer clothes are being cleaned. This is a special privaledge don't ya know. Not everyone gets access to our pools and our grove. Now, bathe or not, eat or not, it's up to you, but I will not have any more arguing! Hrumph!" Dorve then went over to the pools to take advantage of their host's hospitality.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia's breath became somewhat labored as Ardwen laid into her with his words, her eyes shifting to a spot on the ground beside him, and her response came out so low that it was doubtful anyone but Ardwen could have heard them, "You're right, I am a fool for thinking you may still have a sense of humor beneath that cold exterior of yours. I didn't think you'd actually be so stupid as to just walk over and pick her up after what she's been through." Suddenly her eyes came up and locked with his, wet with burgeoning tears and the sound of her voice turned cold, "But honestly, I don't know what she sees in a pompous ass like you. You're so lost in your past, in guilt over things you could not control, I think you've forgotten what it's like to deal with people who aren't as unfeeling as you. I shouldn't have tried to order you to do anything, you're right, and you'll be happy to know I have no intention of even bothering to speak to you again." With that she turns around sharply and walks over toward Ariana wiping the tears from her eyes.

When she gets within a few feet of Ariana she stops and closes her eyes, taking a deep breath to calm herself before she says anything. When her eyes open she holds her hand out to the other woman and smiles, her eyes still wet with tears as she speaks, "Come on Ariana, let's go play in their warm pond and see if we can't get that muck out of your hair."

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen knew his words had been harsh, especially to a former comrade in the Hands, but the ranger had gone too far. In turn, Vylia's response was as emotional as anything he might have anticipated. However, if the archer wanted a reaction from Ardwen she was sorely disappointed yet again. As Ardwen listened to her tirade there was little that honestly surprised him, but her cardinal guess as to why he had been so hostile was flawed.

Nevertheless, when Vylia turned to walk away Ardwen did not try to explain himself. The warrior finished his apple and tossed the core into the forest, afterwards he was finally able to eat a light dinner in peace. He did not wish to eat too heavily, lest this "tree walking" not agree with him. Finally, the swordsman walked to the edge of the sacred grove and simply stood there, like some antediluvian statue, a relic of a past era. "First that bearded golem and now Vylia." He thought. "Vylia . . . she is still young. One day, she will learn. She will come to her own sorrows. My heart has already turned to iron."

The soldier's thoughts passed swiftly like water in a stream. His grief came not from events he had no control over, but events he had chosen. Time and time again, he had failed. First it was his own father, then it was the fall of the first Elven Empire, and finally it was Ancora. He had arrived at Ancora too late, he had confronted the leader of the treachery, and they had killed one another. He had spent the next three years extracting revenge alongside his Avari brethren. It was then that he had observed the true nature of the universe, but he had known deep inside how it was all along. The cosmos knelt to only one thing: power. Those with power could do as they pleased. Those without it were damned to suffer nihilistic lives, blunt and without purpose.

Ardwen's thoughts turned again and again on this, revolving like leaves in a whirlwind. He thought of the vision that had flashed in his mind aboard the Call, of his pledge. He thought back to where he had defended Ariana. The Elf rubbed a thumb over his palm. At last the Elf gave his first physical motion since he had walked to stand at the edge of the copse. "Perhaps . . . " He said softly to the wind alone.

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Upon hearing the familiar sound of a sword being drawn, Captain Varion drew steel in kind and stepped forward to stand next to his Count. What little rapport had been established in the room had been shattered. Varion had thought this was a war council, but as of yet the only topic under discussion had been the Queen’s absence. Varion cared little for politics and had honestly allowed his mind to wander while his Count and Ithramir had exchanged words. When the elven commander drew his sword however, Varion snapped to attention and acted on instinct to defend the life of the Count. Holding his sword at the ready he glared at Ithramir and sized up the rest of the room. The other elven generals all moved to the side of their commander, as was to be expected. There was no guarantee that the other Westgalian commanders would come to their aid, and as such they were sorely outnumbered. Varion’s mind began working quickly; he simultaneously sized up each individual general—looking for any sign of weakness—and located the exits of the room in the event they should need to flee. All of this happened in a matter of moments after drawing his sword, but he was soon interrupted by the voice of Count Merquise.

“Stand down Captain,” Dartanian said firmly. His eyes were fixed firmly upon Ithramir, he had made no move for his weapon. His countenance remained calm and collected. Varion turned questioningly to his Count, still holding his sword in front of him at the ready. “Varion,” Dartanian said in a low tone which only those closest could hear. “Sheath your sword and stand down.” Hesitating for only a heartbeat, Varion turned back to face Ithramir and did as he was told. The situation however seemed to be too much for Sir Johann, who had finally found the courage to speak.

“How dare you draw steel on a Westgalian Nobleman!” he bellowed at Ithramir, knuckles white from his grip on his own weapon, still in its scabbard. At his words, the other commanders in the Queen’s Own Division moved to stand behind Dartanian and Sir Johann, mirroring the movement of Ithramir’s generals, creating a clearly divided room. “Lord Ithramir, this stinks of betrayal! You mean to see this alliance in tatters and claim the throne for yourself! Well I for one will not stand for it!”

Before Johann could do anything which he would undoubtedly regret later, Dartanian spoke. “Please, Sir Johann, calm yourself. It was I who provoked Lord Ithramir. He has every right to defend the reputation of his men.” Dartanian turned to face the elven commander now as he spoke. “Indeed I would think less of him if he had not, for no doubt I would do the same were I in his position. My words were harsh and full of malice, and for that I apologize.” Dartanian placed his hand to his chest and bowed slightly, eyes down turned as a way of apology. “Your men are no doubt of fine mettle, having held off the orcish hordes for so long and having so quickly retaken one of your strongholds. I was wrong to question their abilities.”

Straightening from his bow, Dartanian continued. He took a step forward and held his hand out at his sides, clearly showing he had no intent to draw steel. “However, Lord Ithramir, your words have been no less insulting. You have belittled me and those gathered here for our loyalty to the true heir to our throne, and have spoken ill of our Queen. Whatever bad blood there is between you and your cousin Mavigan, it is between you and her. I would never think to make light of you for your firmly held beliefs and values such as your faith in your god Avandor, so please extend us the same courtesy and do not make light of our values of honor and loyalty to the Westgalian throne.”

As he continued speaking, Dartanian maintained his calm demeanor. If Ithramir wished to bark and growl at him, that was his choice, but Dartanian was determined to remain calm and collected. “Regarding my comments, again I apologize for insulting your men. But do not think that you can order me and mine around. I have come here and—in good faith—offered you my friendship and the lives of my men, two things which I do not grant lightly. I do not know the resolve of those who have come before me wishing to offer their services to the Queen, but I for one will not be so easily bullied by you. My men and I came here as friends and allies, not as subordinates. I am fully willing to work with you and your men to achieve victory over the threats which face us, and will bear my fair share of the effort and cost. However, we are not pawns for you to place on some chessboard, and I will not allow you to treat us as such.

“I realize that you may not like me, indeed the unfortunate events which have thus transpired assure me you do not. But as you have said of yourself, that matters little to me. What does matter to me is that we are able to end the threats which face us on both east and west; the Orcs and the Usurper. What matters to me is securing the throne for Lady Mavigan so that she may someday soon assume her position as Queen and bring stability back to this region. What matters to me is protecting the innocent lives of both elves and men who wish to live in peace without fear of death, rape, and slavery from those who would bring such despicable sufferings upon them. That is what matters to me, and I’m sure you would agree with me in that regard. The only way in which I feel we can achieve these goals is not divided as we now stand,” here he turned, holding his arm out in a sweeping motion to indicate the room, “but united in purpose and in arms.” Having finished his gesture he stepped forward toward Ithramir and the campaign map once again.

“Having given you my sincerest apologies, I ask that you now let us put aside our petty internal squabbling and focus our attention on the task at hand. No more bickering over Lady Mavigan. Certainly our blades would be better served bathed in the blood of orcs than of one another.” Dartanian took one final step forward, now at the edge of the large campaign map. The way it was oriented, Dartanian stood on the western edge of the map on the side of Westgale, while Ithramir—sword in hand—stood on the eastern side and that of Lothiel-Gadith. As he finished his plea, Dartanian extended his right hand across the table toward Ithramir in friendship, a stark contrast to Ithramir’s sword arm. He spoke one final time before falling silent. “What say you, Lord Ithramir Sil-Galdur?” The significance of the placement of the two men across from one another at the table was not lost on anyone in the room, and the sword held in one hand and the empty hand offered in friendship was a striking image indeed.

Written by - Turin Wallace

It took only a moment before Dartanian's captain jumped to his side, steel in hand, ready to protect his lord. Catherin, Ithramir's second, returned the favor and stared Varion down until Dartanian wisely asked his captain to stand to. To say the moment was tense would go without saying.

It was then Sir Johann spoke up,

“How dare you draw steel on a Westgalian Nobleman! Lord Ithramir, this stinks of betrayal! You mean to see this alliance in tatters and claim the throne for yourself! Well I for one will not stand for it!”

Obviously this was meant to unite the fragments of the royal regiment at Mavigan's disposal and it worked. In the first sign of reasonableness shown by the newcomer, Ithramir watched and listened as Dartanian calm the riled soldiery and proffered an apology and more words. It was then that Dartanian moved to the table that contained the campaign map and offered his hand to Ithramir.

Ithramir placed the sword back into its scabbard, then before responding to the waiting Dartanian, he turned to Sir Johann and stated,

"Sir Johann, if you were betrayed and I had wanted the throne, none of you would be in my home this day. Mavigan and your army in exile would never have crossed our borders. Your own quarters will be finished soon at the Port, then you do not have to suffer us much longer, in so much as you can be rid of us in our own land. Remember, our offer of protection still stands, we are people of our word."

Then, turning to Dartanian, Ithramir responds,

"I did not belittle you or those here, I stated the facts. The truth can be a terrible thing, young Dartanian, and while you may not like what I said, it still stands. I never questioned your loyalty, or those of your men, nor your duty in this matter. I stated that she is a queen in absentia, and you take slight at this, but if I were wrong then she would be here today. Unless you already offered your services to Sir Johann, in Mavigan's stead, then can you see that offering them to me was not so prudent a course. I welcome the aide, but I cannot speak for her, as it is not my place."

Ithramir let the thought sink in. While Ithramir had been caustic, he had not asked for allegiance from the newcomers, nor did he say anything about wishing the throne for himself. Because he did not welcome these people with open arms, all for the sake of Mavigan, offense was taken. Or maybe mistrust was rampant in Westgale? In any case, Ithramir nodded towards Sir Johann, giving him some measure of respect for it fell to him, not Ithramir, to account for the royal forces.

Speaking further, he says,

"Further, take your pride and place it somewhere else for the time being. Have I ordered you around yet? Did I give you anything other than the hospitality of my home, and some lively conversation? Before you level the threats of "bully", such barbaric terms should have basis in fact. The actions and demeanor of those before you have been impeccable and of the highest caliber, I had thought so of you as well. You have a quick temper, Count Merquise, and as I share that flaw I will give a few words of advice: do not let it govern all of your actions. Ask around the Citadel, Dartanian, and then come to me with what you find out about myself and how I value my troops. I throw nothing to the wind, and since you have never fought with me or recieved any orders from my person, to say I treat you as a pawn is a hasty assumption."

Pausing for but a moment, he then continues, making sure to throw a quick glance at Sir Johann,

"However, you are correct in that we can ill afford in-fighting amongst allies. Orcs, evil men, and far fouler things need our attention before peace settles and Mavigan can resume the Westgalian throne. All friends are welcome to the cause against evil. Yet, before I take your hand in friendship, I have one question to ask."

Ithramir waited a second, then said,

"Do you trust me? You may not like me, or enjoy my company or hospitality, and it matters little. Sir Johann seems to have shown his true feelings towards me this day, are you so mistrusting? Your previous responses lead me to believe so, but I will ask again, do you trust me?"

There was nothing malicious in the tone or manner in which the question was posed. As this was to be primarily Ithramir's campaign until the war turned north, he had primary command, and he wished to know if Dartanian merely spoke from hurt feelings or if he truly believed Ithramir valued troops under his command as fodder.

Ithramir, and all in the room, were curious to hear the answer.

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Dartanian released an internal sigh of relief as he watched the elven commander sheath his weapon. Keeping his hand extended in the gesture of friendship, Dartanian listened as Ithramir spoke, addressing both Sir Johann and himself in turn. The elven commander did not recant his earlier statements, which was not surprising. He was obviously firmly set in his beliefs on the matter and nothing that Dartanian or anyone else could say would sway him from them. It made Dartanian wonder what Mavigan was truly like if she had drawn the ire of one such as Ithramir. He wanted to believe in his heart of hearts that she was every bit as filled with righteous conviction and royal demeanor as her father had been, but having never had much interaction with her save brief formal introductions when they were younger, he could not say for sure.

Ithramir continued, and for a brief moment Dartanian felt embarrassed. Ithramir’s tone and words reminded him of being lectured by his father. He wondered what Robert Merquise would say if he were here, how ashamed he would be at how badly his son had mucked up such an important political meeting and potentially ruined a fragile yet vital alliance. Yet the elven commander admitted to also sharing a quick temper, which was a step forward in the effort for the two men to find some common ground.

Ithramir’s final words reassured Dartanian that he had rectified the explosive situation, it seemed that while the two men would not necessarily come to like one another, at the very least they were each willing to work together for the greater good. It was then that Ithramir prefaced a question, which was apparently contingent upon his accepting Dartanian’s offer of friendship or not. Dartanian held his breath quietly as the question was stated.

"Do you trust me? You may not like me, or enjoy my company or hospitality, and it matters little. Sir Johann seems to have shown his true feelings towards me this day, are you so mistrusting? Your previous responses lead me to believe so, but I will ask again, do you trust me?"

The question had caught him off guard, yet it was not without merit. Indeed, if the two of them were to be facing the peril of battle together, there must be some level of trust between them. Dartanian was forced to pause for a moment before formulating his response. Ithramir had spoken the question without any of the hatred or sarcasm of earlier comments; it seemed straightforward enough. His hand still offered to the elven commander, Dartanian finally spoke:

“I see from the way those under you flock to you in such situations,” his eyes scanning the group of generals at Ithramir’s back, falling on Catherin in particular, “that they feel you are worthy of leading them. I believe that the loyalty—or lack thereof—of a commander’s men tells volumes more about his character than he himself can demonstrate.

“I trust that what you said to Sir Johann is true; that if you truly wished to see the downfall of the Westgalian throne, we would not be facing one another in this hall having this conversation but instead would be facing one another on a battlefield. I trust that had you wished such a thing the Lady Mavigan would never have been granted the protection of your house. I trust that had you wished it, my men and I would not have set foot inside the boundaries of your lands without much bloodshed. I trust that the unending hospitality you and yours have shown us was genuine. In short, yes Lord Ithramir, I trust you, and would lead my men into battle with you. I swear to the All-Father, and to your god Avandor as well, that my trust in you is true and will remain so until such time as you give me cause to revoke it.

“However, I cannot in good conscience ride into battle with you without knowing your thoughts as well. I feel I must pose the same question to you. Do you trust me? Before you accept my hand in friendship and we march to meet our foes, I must know that you place the same trust in me that I place in you.”

At this the young Count fell silent, hand still extended, awaiting Ithramir’s answer.

Written by - Teran

Dust swirled over the floor as Teran stepped back into the hallway. The dust had been largely undisturbed on the floor laying in a consistant layer throughout the hallway however the recent movement had gouged the landscape. Craters had been dug out by splatters of black blood, mountains created by red blood, great valleys had been created by the dead bodies and the necessity to hide them. All the sounds had died out, either something was happening or the cultists had moved on.

Sabbatine grinned wildly at Mavigan as she passed to follow Teran. "Did you two have.... fun?" she asked in her most sing-song voice, poking Mavigan in the shoulder with one of her cold, long fingers.

Sabbatine blinked a lot as though the dust irritated her eyes though being a dead woman her eyes were just for show anyways. She nervously gripped at her sheathed weapons, peering into the light ahead. She could see something no one else could... she could feel the power. She licked her lips and stepped in front of Teran taking the lead. He was more than happy to let her body absorb the next wicked trap. As she came nearer to the power her movement became even more jittery and her blinking came in uncontrollable bursts. She even occasionally made excited noises and turned to look back at her companions. Teran motioned her forward and she excitedly took the final few steps into the bright room.

Teran was half a step behind her and his eyes took in the details quickly. The room was clean, aside from the bodies. Teran counted 12 of them, people who had been strapped into some sort of device and bled dry. They had been wrapped in white cloth so the actual source of the wounds was hard to identify immediatly but regardless of how it happened they were all now dead. Teran noted that the scent of blood was not present in the air, nor was there any sign of decay on the bodies. Sabbatine peered at the nearest one, a dead human female with a pained look on her face.

She sniffed the body and turned up her nose as though it disgusted her. "Not even the blood is any good now." She hissed miserably.

Teran ignored her and turned his attention to the hallway that lead out of the room directly across from the one they had entered from. The light died off quickly in the next hall, in fact it was a black light, something Teran had only seen rarely. Sabbatine seemed drawn to it and she knelt down at the entrance peering at the floor. There was a red crystal running through the floor and it climbed up the wall and over the roof, spiralling down the length of the hall. Sabbatine peered deeply into the crystal and licked her lips again.

"It's blood!" she chattered cheerfully.

Teran took a closer look at the bodies, they had been bled dry but the device they were in had forced the blood into a crystal pipe of sorts and through some means he did not understand (probably magic) the blood had been forced to flow down the length of the pipe and into the hallway. Teran could see the crystal "pipe" more clearly now, it glowed a bright pink color in the magic dark-light and it's spiral patterns became more apparent as his eyes grew more accustomed to peering into the strange light.

Sabbatine stepped into the oddly lit hallway without waiting for permission. Her attention was fixated on the blood keeping her eyes on it and reaching out and touching the crystal it was locked safely behind. About twenty yards into the hall there was more than just blood in the pipe. Ghostly movement was visible, it seemed oddly alive. Sabbatine grinned wickedly at it, holding out her hand to try and touch it again but once again found the crystal barrier unrelenting.

Teran allowed her to gain more of a lead, from where he stood she appeared covered in the living mass. He did not know how to describe it save it was supernatural in nature. Teran glanced at Mavigan and then back at Sabbatine who seemed completely absorbed in her surroundings.

Written by - Turin Wallace

“However, I cannot in good conscience ride into battle with you without knowing your thoughts as well. I feel I must pose the same question to you. Do you trust me? Before you accept my hand in friendship and we march to meet our foes, I must know that you place the same trust in me that I place in you.”

Ithramir nodded and took Dartanian's hand, then said,

"You have given me no reason not to trust you, Dartanian. So the answer is yes, I do. You will have further opportunities to gain even more trust in the coming campaign."

Releasing the young part-elf's hand he looks towards Agmund, who no doubt thought he had been forgotten in the excitement. Ithramir says,

"Yes, Agmund, the East. Let us focus on that awhile."

Ithramir leans over the map on the table and thinks a moment. Before he has a chance to say more, the doors to the Great Hall open and the last of the invited come in. Diosr has arrived, with his own captains. After a warm greeting and a few moments of refreshment, Ithramir looks up from the table and beckons the others to come over.

He begins by saying the following,

"Friends and honored guests, everyone proved themselves in the battle a few days ago. With our combined might, and with some extraordinary help, we took back Minas Aure. Speaking on behalf of the elven people, we thank you."

Ithramir paused for a moment, then continued,

"However, our task is only beginning. Minas Uial still rests in enemy hands. The gateway to the East needs to be retaken before we can turn our attentions to the north and Beridane."

Ithramir begins to mark points on the map, while he continues,

"Right outside Minas Aure, there is a valley with high walls of sheer rock, the only path to get to Minas Uial. From gate to gate, it's a two-hour ride. No doubt the Orcs will be waiting for us to come out and would have many surprises and traps waiting."

Letting slip a sigh, to then take in a deep breath, he continues further,

"Let's not forget that once you curve around the valley and actually get within sight of the tower, there is no cover to hide behind. Our forces will be exposed to fire from the enemy until the ramparts and inner tower and keep are taken. Not to mention that they will be having reinforcements pour through the back gate that sits on the Orc territories side."

Looking at the gathered assembly, he goes on,

"To re-take this tower will require discipline and fortitude. We won't have the surprise advantage we had before. We won't have as much cover as did at Minas Aure. This will be a head-on collision. However, there is a way to reduce the potential number of losses."

Moving his finger on the map, Ithramir points to a small section right next to the western wall of Minas Uial. He states,

"Roughly here, there should be a small access hole that leads down into the tower sewer system. It is also used as a secondary means of inspecting the archways supporting the entire western wall, since it is built over a large mine. However, once inside, there is a stairway that leads into the courtyard. Once there, a group could potentially surprise the defenders and open the western gate, allowing our own troops to advance right into the fortress."

After pausing a second, he looks up and says,

"What we need is a group of volunteers to make a dash for this hidden entrance. I don't know if the Orcs have figured it out, or even if they know of it's existence. Those who go may find it empty, sealed off, or if things are really bad, guarded by a large number or Orcs lying in wait. Volunteers will see me before we set out to march on the tower."

Stepping away from the table, he looks everyone in the eye and says,

"Unless we have further questions, everyone should start preparing their troops to move through the gate starting this afternoon. All troops should be back inside Minas Aure by nightfall, and we will prepare to immediately move out from there once assembled. A night attack will afford us some measure of cover, though not much. If all goes well, we may be inside Minas Uial tomorrow night.

If anyone has further questions, feel free to ask them, otherwise we should all be dismissed and start preparing our own commands. Our rallying point will be the eastern gate of Minas Aure. I'll see you all there."

With that, preparations began to be made for the recapture of Minas Uial.

Written by - Agmund

Many hours had passed since Morthand had freed the dwarf, and since then they had traveled nearly non-stop. Deep within the lowest tunnels of Dagafeln, the two made there way slowly and carefully. Numerous times there had been close calls; run-ins with orcs and or goblins, but finally the two took an abrupt turn to the right, seemingly disappearing into the wall itself. ‘This is it,’ Morthand whispered, ‘the tunnel where I found Stonebrewer’s ring of Kingship.’

Throrgrum peered around in the darkness for a moment, and then finding what he sought, he leaned down upon one knee. ‘Let us return the ring ta’ its rightful owner, but make the passage known fer others… if there are ever ta’ be any,’ the dwarf said as he placed one of the orc knives in a crevice, and hid it with the same stones that once hid the ring.

Returning to his feet, the two set out once more, although they traveled in a different fashion. Morthand was still in the lead, but since he had not previously ventured down the tunnel, he was no longer leading via memory. He continued to search the walls, but with both hands, just in case the tunnel split. As well, they quickened their pace, moving much faster until they came to a fork… of sorts.

While the small passageway continued onward, directly above them they located the source of the fresh air. It was a very tiny opening that likely went all the way to the surface. ‘Its too small,’ Throrgrum said looking upwards, ‘and I dun’t see any light, but then… I’m not sure if’n its day or night.’ The dwarf squinted, trying in vain to see even the ray of a moonbeam. ‘Listen,’ Morthand said suddenly.

Both became quiet, neither talking nor moving, and being cautious not even to breath to heavily. Then they heard it; thunder, almost inaudible, and definitely very far away, but it was certainly the sound of thunder. There was something else though, another sound that delighted both of them. The sound of water dripping, and as they both breathed a sigh of relief, a drop of water landed on the dwarf’s nose. ‘Lets rest here lad,’ the dwarf slipped down to his backside. ‘I think we should keep moving,’ Morthand replied. ‘Of course ya do,’ the dwarf grinned in the darkness, ‘and we probably should, but neither of us has had anything ta’ drink fer a long while now… and honestly, I’m parched. Besides, its obvious Stonebrewer nay made his escape going up, and its doubtful tha’ orcs even know of this tunnel. So we should be safe.’

After six hours of uncomfortable sleep, Morthand rousted the dwarf, and they drank from a small puddle of water that had collected. ‘Fresh water has never tasted better,’ Throrgrum said, ‘even within the foulness of Dagafeln. Even better than a pint o’ Burt’s Stout,’ he added. ‘The fever has overtaken you,’ Morthand said in a matter of fact tone, and with some measure of worry. ‘Nonsense lad,’ the dwarf rebuked him, ‘I am fine, it is merely that I was thirsty.’

Again, the two continued their journey, to a place that only King Stonebrewer seemed to know. Day and night passed above ground, but its passing was unseen, and they traveled light and fast. Fever never caught up with the dwarf, though he was in poor health. For the dwarves of Graedium were made of stern stuff, surpassing their western cousins in endurance, and in their zeal for both life and death. Even had it set within his body, the dwarf would rather have died than let the illness became apparent to Morthand. Such was his pride.

The tunnel wound in every possible direction, sometimes it shot south, sometimes north, then suddenly east or west, but overall it took them in an easterly direction. Equally they traversed upwards and downwards, sometimes having to pinch thru tight spots, and others coming to large expansive caverns. Strangely, the tunnel never forked off again, nor did they ever see or feel another shaft or passageway leading in any other direction but forward or backward, at least that they could have squeezed thru. In addition, and though they searched often as possible, they never found signs of any other beings: foul or otherwise.

Neither knew how many days had passed since they had journeyed to Dagafeln. Time itself had lost its value. Now, any collected puddle of water, or edible fungus was the prize, and the search for sunlight; the feel of the wind, the view of light, was the mission. They spoke little, preferring to listen for any signal of escape, or any presence of danger. The only things said were born of necessity.

At last they came to a very narrow end of the passage, and slipping past it, they found themselves on a rocky outcrop overlooking a vast moonlit lake. The edge of the lake continued as far as the eye could see to the north and south, and to the east the water disappeared into darkness. ‘Glameiruth,’ Throrgrum exclaimed, ‘hard ta’ belief we have traveled underground all the way ta’ the shores of Glameiruth… yet here we stand. Judging by the position of the stars,’ Morthand said looking up at the star filled sky, ‘we are but a few days north of Dun-Amulk.’ The dwarf nodded his agreement, and both man and dwarf turned south.

They followed the shore of Lake Glameiruth, and trusting nothing to chance, they moved silently, and swiftly from rock to rock. It was in this stealthy mode that they crept up upon the orc encampment. They had heard the sound of mallets, and the axes upon wood from a great distance echoing over the water. Though, it still surprised them to see the activity of the camp. From a vantage point some thirty yards from the shore, they witnessed the foul orcs building their boats. It was all rather methodical, and sectioned off. One group worked hewn trees into planks, as another fashioned the ribs of the boats, while others transferring the planks to the ribs, and still others coating the planks and ribs in a thick black sappy tar. The machines of war would carry Durok’s armies across the great lake, and without obstacle they would march directly to Graedium. Circumventing the fortress of Dun-Amulk, and the bulk of Njorundr’s forces.

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Dartanian smiled warmly and took Ithramir's hand with a firm shake. Thankfully the situation had been diffused and it seemed they could all move on to the task at hand. Behind him, still seething but visibly calmed by the unfolding events, Sir Johann released his white-knuckle grip of his sword and relaxed.

Ithramir was only once again briefly interrupted by the entrance of the group's Dwarven allies. After exchanging greetings and refreshing themselves, the War Council could finally begin.

As Ithramir outlined the approach to the tower, Dartanian's mind worked quickly. He gazed intently at the map as Ithramir marked key points; memorizing as well as he could the pass which would lead them to Minas Uial. In his mind’s eye, small figures appeared on the map, quickly playing out possible outcomes of different strategies of both the alliance and of the orcs. Dartanian had had few encounters with orcs, but from what he knew of them they were fierce, hardened, and bloodthirsty warriors. He did not know what this specific group of orcs brought to the table, nor was he fully aware of the disposition of the alliance’s troops. He would therefore need to rely on Ithramir for the broader strategic planning, from marching order to overall troop movement.

It seemed that the elven commander was not without a plan however, as he quickly outlined the possibility of a small strike force entering the tower via a small access hole on the western wall. Dartanian felt his place was on the field with his men, but saw an opportunity for the Blue Knights to punch a hole through the orcish defenders with a concentrated cavalry charge in order to clear the way for the group of volunteers.

As if reading his mind, Varion spoke quietly from behind him, “My Lord, I will represent you on this mission.”

Dartanian turned to face his second, “Captain Varion, are you sure? It could be quite dangerous.”

The Captain smiled, “Since when have we shirked danger M’lord? Besides, you need representation within that group in order to continue to build rapport with these people. As you said, you are willing to bear your fair share. Therefore, I will go.”

Dartanian nodded, “Very well Captain, if that is what you wish.”

Turning again to face the campaign map, Dartanian responded to Commander Ithramir’s call for questions. “My apologies, Lord Ithramir, but for those of us who were unable to participate in the first attack, could you please describe these orcs for us? I’d like to have some idea of exactly what we’re up against so I can better prepare my men for battle.”

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