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Book Four Pt 1 - The Eastern Pass

Written by - Agmund Page 7 Book 4

The falls of Amulk received them at the mouth of Lake Glameiruth, and the massive fortress known as Dun-Amulk stood at the waters pinnacle, straddling a large outcropping of rock in the very middle of the crescent shaped cascades. Mountains loomed in the background to both the east and west behind the fortress, while a road traveled along its edge in the foreground. The road reached a large drawbridge to either side of Dun-Amulk, and the rapid assault of the river made it impossible to reach it from any other direction.

Throrgrum and Morthand looked up from far below: still perhaps an hour from the bridge itself, yet they took great comfort. For as long as the five kings had ruled the east, this fortress had stood as a testiment to the kingdoms fortitude. Two separate lines of kings had it taken to build the magnificent keep, and at great cost of life had it been defended since.

‘A hot meal and cold stout awaits,’ the dwarf said, ‘and if’n we’r lucky a good nights sleep, though I’ll wager the later we wont be getting.’ Throrgrum patted the man on the back with a grin, ‘and who knows… maybe that good lookin’ lass ye been eyin’ o’ late will be watching the bridge.’

Morthand chuckled slightly as the two made their way to the southwest in order to reach the road. Both had lost all energy for sprinting, so the last leg was spent walking, but with much conversation.

‘Tell me lad, how is it ye managed that fall,’ Throrgrum asked.

‘I was wondering when you were going to bring that up,’ Morthand replied, ‘honestly it was nothing spectacular, I merely grabbed some of the rigging that was hanging between the canyon walls. I fell a good ways though, going from rope to rope. Still finding you was much more difficult. I ended up in the very bottom of the canyon,’ he said remembering, ‘and it was horrid.’

‘Aye I imagine it would stink down there,’ Throrgrum nodded, ‘but then I imagine we both stink to hell and back.’

‘There was something else besides a bad smell down there… something large, although I never saw it,’ a tingle went down Morthand’s spine as he recalled seeing the large trail in the foulness of the canyon abyss.

‘If’n ye never saw it, then how do ye surmise there is something down there lad,’ the dwarf questioned.

‘Because I saw something, though, it was only the tail end of it. Whatever it was, it did not walk on two or even four legs, and it slithered thru large tunnels. It’s like a honeycomb of massive tunnels at the bottom. There were corpses of all sorts, some half eaten. I am guessing the orcs toss the dead down there, just like the rest of their refuse,’ Morthand said and then added, ‘but there is more.’

‘Eh?’ Throrgrum said curiously.

‘You remember how you used to tell me that Dagafeln was once an ancient city,’ the man said, ‘that some sort of cataclysm befell.’

‘Aye, that is what is written within the Dwitharim, although, even the Runemasters know little of its past. A great race of men, long lived, and long dead was thought ta’ have built it, and supposedly it was above ground. Somehow the earth swallowed it up,’ Throrgrum said, ‘and then the orcs settled it, or so the story goes.’

Morthand tried to put to words what he had seen, ‘the bottom is the city, but it isn’t inhabited by the orcs. They have their own tunnels, smaller ones, but they seem to stay well away from the ruinous buildings and halls. The city extends far out from the canyon, and they had the right of it when they say swallowed. It’s as if the earth pulled it down: splitting the ground asunder, and hiding it from all eyes, but its all still there.’

‘I entered many of the buildings, some thru a window, some thru roofs, and many thru the front door, but each was the same. It was like the people just suddenly vanished, or turned to dust. In some, the tables were set for supper, but the chairs were still in their place. Nothing was out of place, as you would think it would be when people started to scramble to escape,’ Morthand paused for a breath, and to think about what all he had seen.

Throrgrum only listened, fascinated by his son’s tale, but when Morthand stopped talking the dwarf queried him further, ‘what else lad, try and tell me everything you can.’

‘I’ll try, but I was only able to light a torch a few times. I did, however, light a torch for one building in particular. It was at the very eastern end of the canyon. At first, I did not want to enter it. Something about it seemed ominous, as if the spirits of the people who once dwelled there were watching me. In the end though, the large stone entrance, which was covered in some sort of writing peaked my curiousity. It was a throne room of some sort, or an assembly hall, and it was lined with great pillars along the sides. Two doors lead off to north and south. One was a library, still filled with books upon stone shelves, but every book I touched turned to dust. The other was an armory… and all of its weapons were still in place. They were rusted a little, and rather plain, lacking any sort of inscriptions or adornment. That’s I all I can think to tell you, at least it’s all that I saw worth mentioning. I would have explored further, but my primary goal was to find you of course,’ Morthand said.

‘When we return to Kazukthule, you are to give the Runemasters the same account; leave nothing out,’ Throrgrum said gruffly.

The two grew silent for a moment, but Throrgrum spoke up once more, ‘There is something I have been meaning to talk to ye about lad, something that has been weighing upon my mind since the bridge of Dagafeln.’

‘Oh,’ Morthand said curiously.

‘Aye,’ the dwarf searched for the right words, but then he wasn’t sure what they could be, so he came out right out and said it, ‘I want ye to take my place, as the heir to the Icehammer throne.’

‘I highly doubt the dwarven kings would approve,’ Morthand said without delay, ‘besides I am no king, nor do I wish to be one.’

The dwarf snorted, ‘I don’t give a damn what the others think or approve of; you are my son, and you will make a fine leader. Besides, there are other reasons; far more important ones.’

‘So that’s what this is about,’ Morthand replied with a hint of anger, ‘politics?’

‘Nay,’ the dwarf huffed, ‘its about much more than that; its about balance lad, balance that the kingdom is going to need if it is to continue. You will bring that balance, like it or not.’

‘I’m not a kid any more,’ Morthand spat out, ‘I will make my own path, and do what I think is right. You might have raised me, but that doesn’t give you the right to make decisions for me.’

‘True,’ the dwarf conceded, ‘but I wasn’t tough on you for my own enjoyment, I have raised you to take my place. Not simply for my own selfish reasons, but for the betterment of our people. Think about it for a moment. The dwarves have had the say of things for too long. It is the reason the council has never truly worked. Even though two elves now sit along side them, they still maintain a majority. In order for things to change, one will have to step aside.’

Morthand though, did not think long, ‘What does pop have to say about this? Does he know that your planning on stepping aside?’

‘I told him before we set out,’ Throrgrum grinned, ‘so feel free to question him about if’n ye like, but he already knows my mind, and he agrees.’ The dwarf did not have to look at Morthand, to know that he was uncertain about this course of action, but then he knew his son enough to know that he would do what was right for all, not merely what was right for himself. He was an unselfish man in many regards, and he had shared many ideas concerning the future of Njorundr with the dwarf. Now he had grown into the boots of a true leader: one that would forge ahead in the face of adversity.

‘I know many questions and doubts linger within yer noggin. If I had a son, would you still be in this position? What name will you take upon the throne? Will the other kings respect you? The answers are yes, whatever you wish, and they had damned well better. Regardless of anything else, the decision is yer’s to make,’ the dwarf said in plain words.

The bridge of Dun-Amulk was within site, and a small host of riders had appeared facing them in the distance: bringing the pair to a halt, and to the apex of their conversation. Morthand turned to his father, his face still bearing many questions as he responded, ‘Do you not wish to be king? What of your ancestors line?’

‘Nay, I do not wish to be king, nor have I ever. While I worry about the future of the land, it is not my place ta’ sit upon the throne. My place is ta’ do… well, precisely what we have been doing lad. The throne room is stuffy, and I am not as learned as I raised ye ta’ be. It will take smarts, diplomacy, and a level head within the council, all of which I seem ta’ lack,’ Throrgrum chuckled, ‘as for the line of my for-fathers, it will continue, and the name of Icehammer will remain in the Dwithar as long as Kazukthule stands.’

‘Ye don’t have ta’ give me an answer straight away lad, there is plenty of time fer ye ta’ think about it,’ he smiled at his son, ‘fer now, let’s concentrate on food and drink.’

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan frowned as Sabbatine’s cold finger jabbed her in the shoulder and the suggestive comment was made. Though irritated, she made no comment and followed Sabbatine and Teran as they traipsed into the hallway and beyond.

The discovery of the drained bodies did not surprise her. After all, she had earlier taken a plunge into a giant pool of blood, half of which she was convinced was still caked in her hair and on her body. She wondered idly if blood was good for the skin despite its disgusting feel as she watched Sabbatine take the lead.

Though the bodies had held no interest for Mavigan, the crystalline pipe drew her attention. She could feel… something … tingling on the edges of her senses. Stepping in line behind Sabbatine, she traced the path of the pipe. She thought that perhaps the pipes would lead them back into the room with the blood pool, but these pipes seemed to lead them forward, not back.

Twenty yards out, Mavigan could see …things… in the pipe with the blood, wispy hints something swimming with purpose in the sea of red, and the hair on the back of her neck stood on end. Ignoring Sabbatine, she crouched close to a pipe and tapped on it with a finger. The ghosts inside scrabbled away from her finger like fish behind glass.

Mavigan had already seen Sabbatine attempt to get inside the crystal pipe unsuccessfully, and she frowned at the pipe, thinking. Perhaps, if she could infuse enough power into her dagger as she had done once before, she could crack the pipe enough for them to get a clearer picture of what was inside.

Decision made, she drew her dagger and held it level with her eyes. Focusing, she attempted to call the power within her and shunt it into her blade. She could feel the power hovering just outside of her reach, where it usually resided, and gathering her inner calm she reached for it. Nothing happened. The power she sought remained out her reach. Mavigan was sure it was mocking her, and her inner calm shifted about 3 degrees.

Not one to be denied, Mavigan tamped down her frustration, grabbed her inner calm in a strangle hold and reached again. Still nothing. And this time she was positive the power was mocking her and even threw in a rude gesture. Mavigan’s breath left her in a hiss and a curse, and in a fit of pique she slammed the point of the dagger into the crystal pipe.

As expected, absolutely nothing happened. Without any type of power infused into her dagger, she had no hope of cracking a magical pipe. Sighing with a deep and long exhale she stood, resheathed her blade, and continued to follow the pipe to wherever it led.

Written by - Ariana

She followed the owl, not by the use of her eyes, which were tightly closed against the bright light, but with her senses. She could feel him now that she knew him, a warm radiance leading her into the unknown. Following his guidance, she made her way unimpeded into the clearing. Ollawahoo further guided her to a bench and table strategically placed beneath the shade of a giant oak.

When she first bumped into something hard, she was taken aback. Leaning forward, eyes still shut, she ran her hands over sun-warmed wood, and only figured out that Olly wanted her to sit down after much screeching and flapping of wings. Complying with the grumpy bird’s wish, she situated herself on the bench and leaned forward, cradling her head on her arms, one hand outstretched.

She was grateful for the reduction of light on her eyelids and the consequent reduction of pain in her head. She was just dozing off when she felt something drop into the palm of her outstretched hand. It was only through another series of pecks, screeches, and smacks of Olly’s wings that she figured out she was supposed to put it in her mouth. Dutifully, she followed his instruction and popped the morsel into her mouth and masticated. The shot of juice from the grape into her mouth was refreshing and soothed just a tiny bit an ache in her belly that had been there so long she had forgotten it existed.

After a bit more scrabbling and screeching, the two established a rhythm wherein the owl would place a bite-sized bit of something, meat or cheese or fruit, in the palm of her hand, and she would dutifully chew and swallow. A sort of contentment crept up on her as she lay propped on the table, eyes shut to the world. There was darkness behind her eyelids, but it wasn’t all encompassing, and for the first time since she could ever remember, that constant knot in her chest started to loosen.

And then, she felt an Other approach. It was the same one as before, and she visibly tensed, only to receive a winged smack on the side of the head from Olly. She whimpered and attempted to move away from the perceived threat, but Olly was merciless and smacked her again, adding in a peck for good measure. After a flurry of wings and whimpers, a veritable conversation no one but the two of them could understand, she finally stood, head bowed, posture slumped, owl riding herd on her shoulder. Together they followed the Other to the cleansing pools.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm's band finished their breakfast and prepared themselves to move on when those thee followed did. Their injuries healed and their bodies and glear cleaned by Resini's spell, they stood ready. The dark cultists had stopped coming from behind and the area around them now seemed deserted to Wilhelm and Resini. The danger now must lay ahead.

Wilhelm noticed Teran and Mavigan entering the corridor ahead to rejoin Sabbatine, Jasmine and Keeryn. Mavigan clearly was going to be in need of Resini's cleaning spell, as her birthday finery was soaked in dried blood. Mavigan;s party moved off, with Sabbatine leading this time. Once they had turned the corner, Wilhelm led his party to follow in their wake.

Passing the room, they saw the aftermath of battle there and in the hallway, the dusty floor pitted with small craters partly filled with drying black blood that was clearly not human between drying pools of reddish human blood and the signs of bodies being dragged away. They continued on down the twisting hallway, Wilhelm following the hearthfires he tracked ahead.

They emerged into a large well-lit room, the use clear from the twelve corpses strapped into sinister mechanisms. Resini scanned them and said quietly,

"They were drained of both blood and soul while alive as part of a Necromantic ritual. This may be similar to what was done to make the Abomination's blood pool."

They crossed the room to the next corridor, which seemed to grow unnaturally dark. They halted to one side of the entrance to that corridor, so as to not be seen by those ahead, while Resini and Wilhelm examined the entrance of the corridor.

"The hallway is filled with Black Light!" whispered Resini, aware that Mavigan's party was further down that hallway.

Wilhelm pointed at a reddish crystal pipe that merged into reddish channels that wove down the hallway floor. To his tracking sight it glowed with darkened befouled lifeforce. He whispered back,

"This is where the blood is sent, containing the trapped lifeforce of these and other victims. No doubt it is to be used for foul purposes somewhere up ahead. I suspect we are getting close to the black heart of this foul place."

Written by - Rikshanthas

Leinad listened patiently to the explanations given, though a slight twitch of his scarred cheek gave the lie to his understanding nods. They're dissembling, quite effectively, he thought to himself. Their insistence that the woman was an ordinary priestess, her resemblance to the legendary Saint Ariana notwithstanding, seemed to satisfy the villagers for the most part, as all but a few zealots returned to the village and their own tasks. Having fought beside these warriors in her rescue, Leinad knew that she was more than they let on. She had been accorded far too much reverence and care by these obviously veteran warriors to be dismissed as a mere acolyte. At the least Leinad suspected she was the head of an Order, and probably more than that. He wasn't quite willing to credit the notion that she was, in fact, the legendary Saint, but after the previous day's events, he did not dismiss the possibility either.

He was also reminded of that odd feeling in his sword arm, as if the blade in his hand was 'leaning' toward the priestess. Was the sword hers, then, trying to return to its owner? Leinad had never really received an explanation of Astalder's history when it had been given into his keeping. But if the sword were hers, why couldn't he let go of the bloody thing? Leinad fervently hoped she could recover her right mind so he could find out, because his hand was starting to cramp. He laughed inwardly at such selfish thoughts, but shortly turned his attention to the now-conscious old mindreader. He listened intently to the discussion that followed, only realizing when they mentioned Turin that he really hadn't seen the crusader since the battle. Leinad wondered at this, as the others did. He mulled over every word spoken, and the actions which accompanied them, as they walked to the Grove. His thoughts came to a screeching halt when he saw the feast laid out before them. The sight of food made his stomach ache, and he realized just how long it had been since he'd eaten. The mention of a bath made him acutely aware of just how dirty he'd become in the past few days. Leinad groaned inwardly as he wondered how he was going to eat and get clean with only one hand usable.

Shara rejoined him then, approaching at an angle so that she met him at the curious table on which the feast was set. Leinad noticed the 'table' had not been built, but grown, and he admired the druids' skill for it. Shara gave him a searching look, and he responded with raised eyebrows and a slight tilt of his head. "Feeling paranoid?" she asked teasingly, a smile tugging at the corner of her lips. He noticed the elf woman, Kaya was it?, heading toward the pool and away from Ardwen and Vylia, whose arguing he was surprised he had unconsciously tuned out. Funny, that. Leinad fetched a melon slice and nochalantly took a bite, simulaneously taking the edge off both hunger and thirst. "Hm?" he mumbled.

"Your sword hasn't left your hand since we left the harbour, Shara answered, gesturing at the blade. "Not even when You slept. I noticed." Her expression changed to one of mild concern. Leinad sighed. Well, better tell someone, he thought. "I can't sheathe it," he said quietly, his face showing his growing frustration. "I can't even take my hand off it. The damned thing is magicked on, has been since I drew it in the battle," he continued, thumping the point of the sword softly into the ground in emphasis. "And it has something to do with her," he added, jerking the half-eaten melon slice in the direction of the still-dazed-looking Ariana, who had started toward the bathing pool as well, the great owl urging her on. "The sword seems to 'know' her. I can't be more than twenty feet from her without getting this compulsion to go to her, to ... I dunno, protect her I think," he concluded, finally able to define the pressure he'd felt. "I know I never told you where I'd picked the thing up - truth is, I never quite understood it myself. It's a long story, but if I had the time back I'd never have taken it ... and I'd've probably cuffed the old man on the head for even offering it to me," he added almost inaudibly, before turning his attention to his stomach and the filling thereof, propping himself against his sword in as casual a manner as he could manage.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn stopped when Mavigan did, standing beside her silently as she crouched down to get a closer look at the strange pipes then pulled her dagger out. Keeryn wanted to tell her she didn't think it was a good idea, but when she saw the look of concentration on Mavigan's face Keeryn decided to wait and see what she was up to. Just before Mavigan slammed her dagger into the pipe Keeryn heard her cursing something, but wasn't really sure why. When Mavigan stood again and continued down the strange hallway looking obviously annoyed Keeryn walked up behind her and placed her have on Mavigan's shoulder. "Is something wrong?"

Written by - Agmund

The host of riders, who meet the two at the bridge of Dun-Amulk, had someone along whom neither anticipated seeing. He wore a robe of green, outlined in silver leaves, and his beard of gray was so long as to be tucked into a wide black belt at his waist. Upon his shoulders a darker green hooded cloak was held in place by a small silver chain and clasps, and although he was astride a horse, he carried a staff of plain slender wood in one hand.

‘It does my heart good to see you alive, Throrgrum, son of Morgrum,’ the wizard said with great weight, and an air of confidence. His voice was thunderous in a fashion, matching his height and apparent long life. ‘Though, I see you and your son have suffered some lose,’ he added; noticing the dwarf was missing his right hand.

The dwarf was about to comment, but the wizard Agmond continued before he had a chance, ‘Come, there is much to talk about; let us do so with a full stomach.’

Naturally there was no argument from Throrgrum or Morthand, so they entered the great fortress of Dun-Amulk, along-side the wizard who had turned his horse over to the soldiers whom had accompanied him. The three then made their way to an inner chamber, high in the central tower. Father and son disappeared for a short time, but returned shortly after a change of clothes, and a bath. Though Agmond had summoned a healer to see to the dwarf’s hand, and other wounds, the healer was quickly shooed away by Throrgrum, and had to endure more than one curse before he made good his exit.

Then they settled in before a feast laddened table. Throrgrum hastily snatched up a turkey leg and a mug of ale, and seconds later his beard was drowned in both. Morthand, on the other hand, was taking his time. His stomach was not built of iron like that of a dwarf, and he recognized the fact that he would get sick if he were to eat too much and too fast. Agmond also ate slowly, though it was not food he was truly after, but information, so he waited with what patience he had before inquiring about what the two had learned.

After a loud belch from the dwarf, the wizard could wait no longer, ‘What were you able to learn?’

Throrgrum, however, did not answer, or give a response of any kind, for he was far too busy emptying his mug of all contents. Morthand did, but only after looking to see if Throrgrum would, and of course he was not surprised to see his fathers current endeavor.

‘A great deal,’ Morthand replied, ‘by far more than we had hoped.’ Taking one last drink, Morthand began to recant to the wizard all that they had seen, and accomplished. For killing the shaman and escaping with their lives intact was no small feat, though he did not embellish either.

For his part, Agmond only listened, confident that Morthand was telling him everything from the greatest to the smallest detail. His face did not reveal any surprise, or curiosity, or even wonder; even when Morthand recounted his finding of the throne room of Dagafeln, and the strange creature that inhabited the canyon depth, the wizard seemed content.

When Morthand finished the tale, the room became silent: save for the smacking of lips and gulping of brew that emanated from Throrgrum. Then the wizard spoke with the same voice that hailed the pair at the bridge, ‘Two armies marched to the south, and possibly a third attempts to cross Glameiruth, or perhaps one marches south and the other attempts a crossing. Never the less, we are beset.’

‘Aye,’ Throrgrum said after one last burp, ‘we will be hard pressed to repel them, and it will force us to divide the army into two parts.’

Agmond heard the dwarf, but was rather lost in his own thinking. He had no real command; only the ability to counsel the kingdom on a course of action, and in this particular instance he was unsure of a recommendation. Knowing that his brother was far too the west, helping in a similar manner the peoples of those kingdoms, he could only ponder what Agmund might do in this circumstance.

‘Well sorcerer of the mount,’ Throrgrum said, ‘what is it ye think we should do?’

‘I should send word of this news to the west, for starters,’ Agmond replied.

‘What else,’ questioned the dwarf.

‘Patience good dwarf, I must have some time to consider the,’ the wizard was quickly cut off.

‘There is no time to consider,’ Throrgrum said with grit, ‘Graedium has none to spare, and every second we spend in considering what ta’ do, Durok spends moving towards us.’

‘Yes, I am aware of,’ again the dwarf interjected before the wizard was able to finish.

‘I have a plan,’ the dwarf said proudly, and to the shock of both Morthand and Agmond.

‘By all means, let us hear it,’ Morthand said with a roll of his eyes.

That caused the dwarf to get somewhat angry and defensive, ‘It’s a good plan! Better than no plan at all, and besides you two don’t seem very helpful at this point.’

‘Then tell us what it is,’ Morthand grinned.

‘I will, but if’n I see yer eyes roll one more time, I might be more apt to knock em’ outta’ yer skull boy,’ Throrgrum spat out angrily. ‘Now, here is what we could do,’ he said rising up from the table as if his plan needed legs to bear him out. ‘We will divide into two parts, and leave the smallest part here at Dun-Amulk. Since we are aware that from without spies watch the fortress, we dress it up to appear as if it is still fully manned. Then the bulk of our force leaves under cover of night, marching at great haste ta’ the plains of Falerion. There we set an ambush for those that cross Glameiruth, and upon victory we march back here. Simple as that.’

‘Yes, that sounds extremely simple and well planned,’ Morthand said sarcastically.

‘Actually, this could work, and work well if we go about it the right way,’ the wizard said as he looked to Morthand and then added, ‘Give your father the benefit of the doubt, he has after all defended the land on more than one occasion.’

Throrgrum felt suddenly vindicated and could only grin toothily at his son. He shouted out loudly for more ale, and then sat back down beside him, his eyes never leaving Morthand as if to prove a point. ‘I think it’s best if you lead the force upon the plains of Falerion,’ Throrgrum said still grinning.

‘Me,’ Morthand replied with shock, ‘I hardly feel qualified.’

‘Yes you,’ the dwarf chuckled, ‘you who have always told me hundreds of different ways we could utilize the Falerine and its dwarven counterpart. While ye might not feel qualified, I will be with ye ever second of the way lad.’

Agmond nodded, ‘It is a good plan, perhaps not fleshed out fully, but a good one. I will remain here to see to the defense of Dun-Amulk. So it is settled for now.’

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

As Tarelias put distance between himself and the strange armored man by the roadside, the sky began to darken; ominous clouds were rolling in from beyond the great mountain range in the distance. This place was tainted—so much so he could almost taste the demon-taint as he licked his drying lips. His mount carried him beyond the forest and seemed to hesitate for a moment, obviously nervous to be heading straight into the maw of the beast ahead. Sensing that his target was close at hand, Tarelias pulled back on the reins and brought the animal to a halt. Dismounting, he pulled a rope free from one of his saddle bags and proceeded to secure the war horse to a peg which he drove into the earth.

“I’ve left it loose enough that you should be able to pull yourself free without much trouble…if I don’t come back.” Tarelias looked deep in the understanding eyes of the animal and patted his muzzle tenderly. “You’ve been a great friend to me. I’ll be back soon.” With that he turned and continued on. The war horse gazed at his master’s back as he strode away purposefully. For a moment it seemed he would move to follow, as he took a tentative step in his master’s direction. Finally resigning himself to stay behind, the beast instead began to munch quietly on some nearby grass.

Tarelias continued on his previous heading for nearly an hour. The sky continued its unnatural darkening as more devilish clouds rolled in over the distant mountains. He could feel the taint of this place building steadily with each step he took. Finally feeling the taint begin to overwhelm him, Tarelias stopped. He quickly scanned the horizon; he seemed to be alone. Closing his eyes, he took a long, deep breath. “Show yourself, foul one,” he said in a firm tone to no one in particular. Moments later a figure appeared out of thin air in front of him.

“Here I am,” a voice said in a coldly gleeful tone. Tarelias’ eyes opened immediately. He knew that voice. His suspicions were confirmed when he gazed upon the form in front of him. “Hello there brother,” the form spoke in that same cold, evil tone. “It’s been a long time hasn’t it?” The form claiming hereditary ties to Tarelias was of average height and build, yet he was clad in a suit of dreadful blood-red plate and carried a massive claymore. The only part of his body which was exposed was his face. He had fair skin and shoulder length brown hair.

“Not nearly long enough,” Tarelias answered.

“That hurts,” the form replied with a look of mock pain on his face. “The memories of the time we spent together as children have always been very precious to me, my dear brother.” With a half-smirk, the form began to laugh softly.

“If I had known what you would become Valdaris, I would have slain your father in his sleep before he could copulate with your vile bitch of a mother.”

“Heh, say what you will about her, she was of little use to me. And as for our pathetic father, he was a fool. Blind to my true purpose and to the true faith. When I killed him, I was showing him mercy.”

The features of Tarelias’ face tightened in anger for a moment, and in one fluid movement he drew the broadsword at his back and swung his kite shield into position. “Enough talk,” he spat as he lunged forward, sword raised. He brought his weapon down hard in an attack meant to split his opponent’s skull in two. With inhuman speed Valdaris brought his own weapon to bear and blocked Tarelias’ attack. The battle had begun.

For several minutes the two exchanged blows. Tarelias remained on the offensive, while Valdaris continued to counter every attack with his massive two-handed weapon, but became increasingly frustrated at being unable to make any attacks of his own. Tarelias swung his sword in a sweeping arc from the right, aimed at Valdaris’ throat. The man in blood-red armor blocked the attack as expected, but what he didn’t account for was the sharp edge of Tarelias’ shield as it planted itself in his face, smashing his nose. Staggering back several feet, Valdaris attempted to get his bearings. He planted the end of his weapon in the ground and reached up with a gauntleted hand to wipe the blood from his face. Gazing down he saw how his own blood was camouflaged by his armor. He looked up at Tarelias and chuckled softly, licking his lips with an evil grin.

Tarelias advanced on his prey calmly; ignoring the man’s incessant chuckling. As he prepared to launch another attack, Valdaris’ chuckle grew into full blown maniacal laughter. Tarelias stopped just a few feet short of him. “You fool,” said Valdaris once he had stopped laughing. With that, Valdaris raised his armored fist toward his foe. He extended his arm toward Tarelias, and spread his fingers wide. “You are mine!” he screamed, and brought all of his fingers in to form a tight fist.

Pain shot through Tarelias’ temples and he dropped his weapon and brought both hands up to clutch at his head. Backing up a pace, he fell to a knee and desperately fought what he knew was coming; what he knew he could not defeat. He let out a terrible yell of pain as he felt the tainted and vile spirit of his evil half-brother entering his mind.

Written by - Agmund

For a moment the priest appeared perturbed, flustered, or possibly affronted in some manner, and although he maintained his comportment, it was apparent that something troubled him. One might have thought his mind had come unraveled, not merely because the expression upon his face, but because he was staring at the ceiling. His eyes never found their way to the map that most looked over during the new turn of conversation. Instead, one arm was crossing his chest, lending a hand to hold the elbow of the other arm, so that arm could be free to offer its hand to scratch away slowly at his chin. Fingers could be seen snaking thru his beard, and as they worked, one brow had become cocked high upon his forehead. He muttered something unintelligible and his brows changed places, but his stance and piercing glare remained locked upon absolutely nothing but the dark recesses of the great halls height.

‘I will accompany Captain Varion, and offer what assistance I am able,’ he said simply and rather unexpectedly, and then left it at that.

Written by - Turin Wallace

“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.”

Ithramir nodded, and replied,

"My easiest response would be to say "Orcs", but then, that wouldn't do your question justice. Here's the information that I hope you are looking for, Dartanian."

Ithramir stepped away from the map and began to mildly pace, while saying,

"From the beginning of time till now, Orcs and Elves have been at war. Our two races are diametrically opposed. However, for fear of boring you with a long list of the why's and what-for's, know this: Orcs are trained and honed in warfare from infancy. They are bred to have no fear, they do not retreat, and they will take no quarter. The have one law among their numerous tribes, or nations, and that is the law of the fittest."

Ithramir paused, then continued,

"Usually, small war bands make hit and run raids on the settlements just outside Minas Uial. We, in kind, return the favor. In such a way we have kept our own people skilled. However, since these Orc tribes have no overlord, they often hone their skills against each other. In this way, the most cruel, the most vicious, the strongest, the most "worthy" of their society continue on."

After another moment of pause, he finishes,

"When you face an Orc in battle, they are not some mindless brute. They are cunning and surprisngly quick for their bulky frame. They are very skilled and will not hesitate to kill. For our people, to be a veteran of many campaigns against the Orc is an honor. As much as we loathe them, we also respect them, for they are adversaries worthy of respect. Tell your men that they are going to fight against first class troops, a challenge that few get, and even fewer survive. They will be sorely tested, but if your troops perform as well as Varion here, then they will be fine."

Giving a slight nod to both Dartanian and Varion, Ithramir then turns his attentions to Agmund, saying,

"Father Agmund, is it not? I knew you had word from the far east. Would you care to discuss such news with me?"

Stopping back at his table map, Ithramir looks over at Agmund, awaiting his reply.

Written by - Agmund

As he responded, the priests face became animated with genuine amusement, ‘I should certainly hope so. And it is good to see you as well Lord Ithramir,’ he added with a chuckle. ‘I do indeed bring tidings from the east, both good and bad,’ he said not waiting for a reply to his initial greeting, nor expecting one.

Inching thru the crowd at the table, the priest oriented himself momentarily; then pointed one long elderly finger at the eastern side of Eadarolus. ‘Your cousins the Elenshauer have united along side the mountain folk of Graedium. Together they have driven the marsh goblins out of the Eirwood, and now they rally under the banner of Njorundr. That is the good news,’ the priest paused.

‘Rumors abound, however, and few have been confirmed, that Durok’s ranks have swelled, and that his full strength is soon to be unleashed upon both east and west. While we have attempted to garner what information we can, those that have been sent to Dagafeln, have not returned. Neither have they been seen or heard from again,’ he said with some measure of lamentation.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya watched as Vylia led Ariana into the pool. She looked like she needed some help so seh made her way over and helped undress the poor woman, and began washing her body like a mother washing a child. She felt sympathy for Ariana. She knew all too well the tortures of a demon. It was not that long ago she had been freed from its embrace. Maybe...

As she helped to wash the blood from Ariana's hair she began to speak to her in a low, soft, soothing voice. "I feel for you Ariana, I have no clue how long you were under their control, but I have been there too, I understand how easy it is to get lost within yourself to be rid of the darkness and pain. But you can pull through my dear, you have to pull through for yourself, for your friends. They seem to put a lot of stock in you, in your importance, and if the demons want you, it must all be true. But you must pull out of this childlike state you are in, and trust us, it's okay to trust once more. I know its hard, and scary, but in the end it will all be alright." By this time, Ariana's hair wsa clean and shiny and Kaya was able to put a brush through it easily. "Now what do you say Ariana, will you trust us? Can you hear us? do you understand?"

Written by - Ariana

“Is something wrong?”

For some reason, the plaintive question, though well-intentioned, rubbed Mavigan the wrong way.

“No,” she said, her voice laden with sarcasm. “Everything is just peachy.” Turning to see Teran still lingering behind them, she shot, “What the *#@! is this crap?”, gesturing to the pipes in the floor. She stared at him, fully expecting him to solve the mystery.

Written by - Ariana

The treatment she received at the hands of the Others was … surprising. The touches were soft and gentle instead of sharp and designed and injure. The sounds they murmured were soothing instead of rough. But, in spite of it the calming atmosphere, she was unable to relax. Throughout the process she was tense, and only complied with their wishes when scolded by Olly, upon whom she kept her eyes fastened.

The cleaning of her body took no little time, and more than a fair amount of scrubbing, but the chore was eventually completed. When allowed to escape the cleansing pools, those who had not seen her in countless ages could finally get a clear look. Her hair, though clean and brushed, lacked luster and hung limply down her back to nearly her calves. Though her hair was still dark in color, she now sported a stripe of silver that started at her left temple and stretched the whole way down.

As they wrapped a clean robe around her frame, it became horrifyingly clear how emaciated she was. Bones formed hard protuberances beneath her skin where before there had been flesh and curves. Old scars now stood raised upon her flesh showing clearly evidence of past trauma.

But to her, appearances meant nothing, so she reacted not at all to sympathetic noises, and as soon as Olly indicated she could, she moved away from those who had placed hands upon her. Feeling edgy, she wandered in bare feet to the edge of the druidic grove – far enough to put comfortable distant between herself and all the people surrounding her, but not so far that she could not keep a suspicious eye upon them. Choosing a promising spot, she flopped down in the grass, Ollawahoo perched nearby, and watched them with a wary eye.

Written by - Agmund

‘Pray our little bluff works Captain, for we may well be beating a hornets nest with a stick,’ the wizard said with grit and gloom combined. It was easy to see why there would be gloom in his words; because opposite the wall of Dun-Amulk and falls of Glameruith, stood a horde of orcs as far as the eye could see into the west. Though, the column was not wide, it stretched like an arrow of death between the cliff and mountainside, with banners of assorted skulls and tatters; mostly colored using bone ashes. Even most of the orcs were adorned in the white powder of bone ash. Agmond knew why it was this particular army stood before the raised bridge; he knew and feared what loyalty this breed had for their shaman.

But there was far more to fear than merely the assembly of orcs. The fortress was practically unmanned, with nine out of ten of each of the helmets and spear tips that the orcs saw upon the ramparts, being just that: helmets and spear tips. There were men and dwarves, and a small company of elven archers from Halueth, but they were easily outnumbered by several hundred to one. Making matters worse, they were spread out upon the battlements and towers of the massive keep to cover both sides of the river.

Agmond, having taken up position upon the gatehouse, watched with cautious eyes as the orc column halted some fifty feet from the rivers edge. Then a line of ogres came forth, and they flanked one large orc, whose entire head was painted black. The remainder of his muscular frame was drenched in bone ashes, and streaks of blood were smeared into them from fresh piercings. He wore no armor, but he wielded two weapons: a spiked mace still bearing fleshy remnants of its last kill, and a sword of black iron. ‘Lower your bridge, and surrender!’ he roared out to the approval of his army, ‘And I will give you all quick deaths!’

Slipping his hand into his beard the wizard grinned, and at that precise moment the Company of the Seven let loose a hail of arrows. The elven archers brought forth the arrow, set and knocked it, and fired it all in one swift motion, and there aim at this range was flawless.

The orc warlord’s reaction was equally swift though, and his weapons crossed before him as he uttered something incomprehensible and arcane. Arrows that came close to him shattered into a shimmering ghostly wall of bones, protecting only him from their mark. The rest sank into the heads of the ogres, and not one remained standing for a second volley. This silenced the orc horde, and their warlord as well.

Agmond quickly filled the air with his voice, ‘You will find no revenge here for the death of your shaman. The two you seek are long gone. Even now they ride north with horsemen as numerous as the plains grass. They will cut down your forces there, while we have been reinforced with our friends from the Eirwood. I believe you have already had the pleasure of seeing their skill with the bow,’ he then paused to let his words sink in.

The wizard then added, ‘Nor will we surrender this fortress to you; the very idea is preposterous,’ and then slide one arm behind his back and made a quick motion with his hand. Laughter erupted, slowly at first, then rapidly from the fortress. The men and dwarves, though few, scurried around from place to place as fast as they could. Some would rattle a shield in one place while laughing, and then drop it and move over to hit the wall with a spear a few feet down. Others would howl at or taunt the enemy from one spot; then move to another and raise a sword or hammer.

When the wizard placed his hand back to his side, the laughter and movement drifted away and he spoke again, ‘Deliver this message to Durok; tell him soon we will bring the war to him. NOW GO!’ he shouted out.

‘No,’ the warlord said with an evil grin, ‘I think we’ll be staying.’

Just then an out breath dwarf appeared at Agmond’s side. The dwarf’s hands rested his torso upon bent knees as he gasped for air. ‘East,’ he managed to say before taking another deep breath ‘King Grimwolf is approaching from the east… but he is followed by another of Durok’s armies close upon his heels.’

The wizard’s eyes grew large with revelation. Durok had either sent two armies across the lake, or the only one that had crossed was never intended for Graedium at all. His eyes moved rapidly back to the orc warlord, and then he realized, it had been there plan all along. They had intentionally drawn out the bulk of the kingdoms army. ‘Alhalis, move your company to the east gate, and take up command there; make haste!’ the wizard shouted and then quickly raised his staff into the air.

He lifted his voice to the mountain, and shouted out with fury to the heavens, ‘I am the father of the mountain, lightning-staff, and storm-caller!’ His voice grew as he continued; echoing even louder than the crashing falls, ‘Some call me Leaf-talker, earth-friend, and others herald of the seven! My shadow falls not upon the ground, but upon the foulness of Dagafeln!’

Then suddenly he struck out his staff into the sky, and as if it were a lasso it pulled the clouds over the sun. Forcing the suns retreat: the light of day faded rapidly, but without fail he continued his onslaught. Now he grabbing and twisting the clouds into a funnel; swirling the staff rapidly in a circle at the skywards end. Then, he pulled lightning from the dark clouds, sending streaks of blue arcs into the crowded column of orcs. Yanking the staff towards himself then abruptly back into the sky several times, each strike sent handfuls of orcs to their deaths.

His gaze began to fill with the raw energy of the chains, and as quickly as the sky had turned dark, so too had his eyes became beams of energy. Smoke erupted in the form of curling wisps from his ears and nostrils, and his body became racked with spasms. His tall frame began to bend backwards, his spine curving as his feet lifted into the air. Hovering just a foot above the stone blocks of the gatehouse, he cried out in desperation, ‘GO!’

The out of breath dwarf had fallen to his backside, and terror filled his eyes as he looked upon the wizard’s new visage. His beard, long and red, was full of static charge, and each hair now went its own way. While Ahalis’ company had already left the ramparts of the gate, the elven lord had stopped short. He had become frozen with a mix of curiosity and horror.

With the howl of the winds, the clap of thunder, and the scream of orcs it was difficult to hear anything. But the ears of the elf became acutely aware that the wizard was shouting something. He strained to hear it, yet it eluded him. He looked to the orc column, but they were in rapid retreat down the mountain pass. Many were being forced off the edge of the cliff by small funnel like winds, while others suffered horrific torture by lightning’s whip like attack, and in all of the commotion he could not catch site of the warlord.

When Alhalis looked back to the wizard, he found that Agmond was looking directly at him; in addition to screaming at the top of his lungs. The wizards face had become extremely pale, with the exception of his eyes and mouth. The skin around his eyes had become dark, almost red in places, and his lips had become cracked: with small lines of blood erupting from the faint wounds.

‘RUN! I cannot hold it!’ Agmond yelled out, and then again, ‘RUN!’

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