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Book Four Pt 1 - The Eastern Pass

Written by - Ardwen Page 10 Book 4

Ardwen turned his head slowly to face Vylia, the Elf’s eyes were distant and his tone was flat, “How acrimonious and utterly unworthy of you Vylia.” Some of the humans that had been brushed aside by Ariana earlier scrunched their faces and shot quick glances at one another. Ardwen knew what they were doing, they were expressing but admirably hiding their confusion at being excluded from the conversation so suddenly. Ardwen wished to keep things as veiled as possible for as long as he could, but he knew the rumors of Ariana would only increase regardless of what he did now.

Still, he had slipped into Elven when speaking to Vylia in the hope that things could be kept relatively silent for the time being if not everyone understood every single word Vylia and he exchanged. Ardwen continued speaking after releasing a sigh, “Do you really think I’d kill our Abbess? Don’t overestimate me like that. My blades could never touch her. No, she attacked first, and who can say they would have done differently? I spoke from my heart. Then I showed her a memory, a real one, one dear to my soul to this day. My name, my real name.”

Ardwen paused for a second before shaking his head sadly, bitterly. “But,” he said, “you don’t believe me, do you? No, to you I’m just an unfeeling killing machine. Not to Ariana though . . . and that is what she saw in me Vylia, what I pray she still sees in me.”

Written by - Vylia

Since Ardwen had spoken in elven Vylia decided she may as well do the same. She shook her head at him before speaking, "Why must you always assume everything I say to you is meant to insult you or attack your ego? I asked you what you did so I could understand how better to help her, not because I was questioning your methods. Even if you told me you had actually gone in there with the intent of attacking her I would not have said anything against it with the positive results you obviously succeeded in getting."

Vylia took a deep breath, as she often did when she was about to do or say something she felt was important, "I think we need to talk, away from all of these people. It will also give Ariana and Sergius a chance to rest from the foray into her mind. This bickering of ours is not helping anything, I admit I've been quite a bit foolish myself. We need to deal with this as much for Ariana's sake as for the cohesion of the rest of the Hands, please. They do not need to witness us acting like children." She blinked slowly before continuing, "And don't give me your usual nonsense of you not doing anything wrong, we've both been in the wrong this time."

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

The man ambled slowly back towards the port district, paying no real attention to his surroundings until he came to it. “I never noticed before,” he thought, “how well the point-ears keep their pet humans. They seem to have most of the comforts of a proper city here, and their masters still deign to allow them in the manor.” The man shook his head in disappointment and hurried back towards the Rassel Trading Company office.

Barging through the double doors to the front office, he stomped up to the desk and loudly demanded, “Where’s the Chairman at! How dare you all interfere with the operation like this! Where is he!? I demand to see him NOW!” He slammed the butt of his spear on the floor at the end for added effect.

“I’ll… I’ll go get him immediately, sir,” the receptionist said sheepishly before scurrying back into the whirlwind of paperwork in the offices.

“I’ll have to remember that,” the man said to himself with a smirk.

A few moments passed, then Haswal’s voice boomed down the offices, “Yes, yes, what is that need?” His expression changed from one of annoyance to concern when he saw his caller. “Come on back. We’ll get everything sorted out.” The receptionist gave a relieved sigh as the two men left.

The two men said nothing as they headed back through the office areas and back up to Haswal’s private chambers. When the entered the parlor, the man sat the spear and shield he had borrowed by the door and placed the iron helm on a nearby table. Haswal threw open the curtains to light up the room. “Well,” he said curiously.

“Well what?”

“Well are you going to tell me what in Slaktor’s name you were thinking?”

“That’s precisely the issue. I don’t think I was.”

“Dammit boy! Of course you weren’t! What gave you that ignorant idea in first place?”

“Again, I don’t know, but I’m fairly certain it was something akin to what Ricimer was going through.”

“Losing your mind?”

“If you must be so crude about it, yes.”

“At least tell me you aren’t going through with it still.”

“No. I can’t deal with this here. I have to go back. I have to. That’s what I came to see you for – to see if you had any ideas on how to get back.”

“Thank the gods you gave up on that stupid plan! I would really hate to have to plan a funeral.”

“If you thought it was so bad, why didn’t you stop me?

“You’re a grown man. You can make and live with your own decisions. But as for a way to get back… let me think on it….” He slumped down in one of the armchairs and scratched his chin.

“You still have my clothes don’t you? I’m going to change out of this armor while you think on it.”

“They’re in the back.”

After the man had changed back into his old clothes, he came back to find Haswal smiling ear to ear.

“I do believe I’ve found your way! The druids!”

“The ‘crazy old men in the woods’?”

“They can walk through trees, boy. Surely you’ve heard the stories even if you’ve never seen it. And there’s a festival of some sorts going on at their grove here, so they’re bound to be distracted. A perfect time to slip through if there ever was one!”

“I suppose so, but going so close into ‘enemy’ territory would likely require a permit or orders of some sorts.”

“If you’re really that concerned over it, just right something up and I’ll stamp it. It’s pretty involved down there, so I doubt they’ll have time to pay much attention to it. If they call you on it, just tell them it’s a naval seal.”

“Those would be spying orders. I’ve never written spy orders before.”

“You’ve still got more experience with it than I have. Just make something up!”

The pair went downstairs back to the administrative center and back into Haswal’s spacious office. The man sat down and hurriedly wrote out a set of orders detailing a quick information gathering mission for the navy to determine the movements of the Iron Fleet. Haswal placed his official seal in the wax, and gave his nephew directions to the druid grove.

“Thank you Uncle. I’ll send you a letter when I get back and get settled in.”

“Good luck boy. If you ever need anything, just let me know. Keep me appraised on the situation.”

“I will Uncle. Farewell for now.”

The two hugged before parting ways again.

Written by - Tempyst

Ceridan was almost plagued with young druids coming up to him and asking him questions about the festivities. He sighed, I wish they would just enjoy themselves sometimes, but alas Nyrondis, you know how to have my patience tested, I hope I am passing your test. He chuckled and turned almost bumping into a human male that had seemingly come out of nowhere. He looked the man over then lowered his eyes. "My name is Ceridan. May I help you?"

Written by - Ardwen

“Fine,” Ardwen said and faced Sergius, “Sergius, can I—“

Sergius crossed his arms and interrupted, “Don’t worry about it, I’ll make sure nothing happens to her. In any case Vylia is right, both I and the lady will need time to recover, these mind walks can be quite tiring.”

Ardwen inclined his head slightly and muttered, “You have my thanks.” The Elven warrior released Ariana before whispering, still in the Elven tongue, “I promise I will return shortly, but for now other matters beg my attention. Please wait for me, Ariana.” That done Ardwen turned to face Vylia and said, “You want to resolve this? Then lead on to where we might talk in seclusion."

Written by - Talonmane

Ollawahoo shifted from talon to talon upon the stone windowsill, the warm subtropical breeze sliding past his feathers and into the room where Ariana looked after the two elven Hands who purposely but reluctantly departed. The bird hooted softly and deeply, twice.

Kildef just watched her. The notion of going about in her mind seemed too private. But he knew the embarrassment was his. His regret and passion would only get in the way. Better to continue doing what he could best: be a sentinel for her and for them all.

The Wardens would already be coordinating with Citadel and loyal Ancoran forces and would report soon on the state of affairs.

Written by - Ariana

In truth, the burning determination to get home as fast as possible, everything else be damned, bowed before the more pressing need to get clean. Trudging through the shadow realm, and growing colder by the second, her steadfastness caved when she reached the lake she and Teran had used to train.

Popping back into the real world, she gave a sigh at the vista before her. Trees and bushes of all shapes and sizes extended as far as the eye could see. Natural caution led her to quickly scout the immediate area. She found no other soul in her vicinity, and sighed with happiness. She then focused on the true cause of her distraction – a deep, shimmering, fresh-water lake. The surface was glassy smooth and the water was clear enough for her to see the rocky bottom.

Heeding the invitation of the water, she quickly stripped, grabbed some soap from her saddlebag, and waded into the water up to her neck. The temperature was cold, but she didn’t care. Water meant she could be free of the nasty gunk that covered her entire body, and as soon as she acclimated to the brisk water, she set to scrubbing. Unbraiding and then scrubbing her hair clean with only one functioning arm was a challenge, but she managed with only a few grunts of pain, and when she finally waded back to shore, she almost felt like a new woman.

Casting a glance at her soiled clothing and noting that the thick gore covering her armor was attracting flies, she grimaced with disgust. The armor sailed through the air to land in the water with a loud splash and was soon followed by every stitch of clothing and every article of armor. She scrubbed each item with the same vigor with which she had scrubbed her body, the cold water helping to erase the bloody stains.

Once her things were clean and laid out to dry, she grabbed a spare set of clothes from her saddlebags along with her box of medicines. She made quick work of dressing and then studied her supply of curates. She was glad the bottles and pouches of herbs were clearly labeled since herblore had never been her strong suit. Choosing something for the pain and swelling and something else for the bruising, she smeared it liberally over her injury, clumsily affixed a bandage, and put her arm in a hastily made sling.

While waiting for her things to dry, she found things to keep her busy – oiling her daggers and the leather of her armor and boots, further examining the contents of her saddlebags and doing her best to repack them. She even tried to braid her hair, but with only one arm, the task proved impossible and she was forced to leave her hair loose. When she ran out of things to do and her clothes were still not dry, she started to pace back and forth in the clearing.

An idle brain would soon turn to sorting through her situation, and Mavigan wasn’t ready for that. Rationally, she knew she was dead, but she really did not care to explore it further. Instead, she wanted to be on the move – always on the move. It was safer that way.

So when her clothes were finally dry enough for packing, she shoved them in her saddlebags. Taking a moment to arrange everything to put the least amount of pressure on her shoulder, she recited the words to take her back to the shadow realm, nearly tripping over her own tongue in her haste.

Mavigan was on the move once again.

Written by - Ariana

He didn’t understand. She knew it the moment he drew her to her feet and held her within his arms. His hold was gentle and light, he afraid of hurting her. He gazed down at her with timeless eyes, and she still did not understand. She had issued a formal apology, why did he not say the words that would absolve her? Was she not worthy of such forgiveness?

He was making sounds, but she did not understand them, and she gazed up at him, eyes pleading for forgiveness. Still he did not release her from the guilt, and instead turned to speak to another, still holding her within his grasp. He spoke to this Other, the words sounding different from the ones he had spoken to her.

And then she heard it, a word that lifted blazing symbols into her mind’s eye, and she gasped. As before, she stretched out a finger and traced the burning symbols onto the surface – the fabric covering Ardwen’s heart. A-B-B-E-S-S she traced. Once she reached the end of the series, more symbols flashed before her eyes, burning their way out of the darkness and into her brain. Faster and faster they came until she was breathless and weak.

When it was finished she could not only hear what they two were saying, she could understand it, and from it she gathered that he was leaving. She swallowed down the bile that rose in her throat from the thought. How could he leave? She had been alone for so long and now he was going to leave her alone again? He would leave her without forgiveness for her crime?

In the blink of an eye, grief turned to rage. She reached up and grabbed one pointed ear and twisted. Dragging his face down to hers she stared deeply into his eyes, her own blazing with anger, her madness clearly visible for any who cared to look. Her mouth was bunched up into a cruel scowl, an expression that those who had known her would say had no business being upon her countenance.

When she was sure she had his undivided attention she spoke slowly, testing each syllable and sound like someone learning a language for the first time. And every word she uttered came out in perfect Elven.

“You. Will. Not. Leave. Me. Ever!” she said, shaking with uncontrolled emotion.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen was caught by surprise. In the past, he had lost bits of his body before, an eye here, a hand there, and as he recalled suddenly his final battle in Ancora had seen him eviscerated and then burned alive. But that had been in a different world, with different rules, primary amongst those rules was that disfigurement and even death were not permanent, lasting only as long as it took a Tree of Life to restore your houseless spirit to flesh. The Elven warrior had no delusions about operating under such codes in his present environment, and so he stooped as Ariana caught his ear and forced his attention back on her.

Ardwen's eyes remained surprisingly dull and indifferent as Ariana choked out her order in nearly flawless Elven. Ardwen closed his eyes for a moment and let out a brief sigh before reaching a hand up and clasping Ariana's offending grip, with a slight but quick twist he broke her viselike grip on the point of his ear. Before Ariana could recover enough to react Ardwen spoke hastily, "Is that something you really mean, Ariana Trueblood?" Ardwen stood up straight and continued, "I cannot make such a promise, it would simply be a hollow lie. But, for now, I suppose I can acquiesce."

With that Ardwen kept his eyes fixed on Ariana but smoothed his tone as he spoke again, "Vylia, it seems there has been a change in plans. Why don't we have that talk right here, right now? If Ariana is so intent on being near, that's fine. I have nothing to hide."

Written by - Vylia

Vylia nodded at Ardwen before looking him in the eyes, "In that case I'll start. You were right when you told me I had no right to order you around back on the island. I should have asked for your help instead of trying to tell you what to do, whether I was serious or not. You trusted me with a great secret on the ship when we were heading to the island, and I broke that trust when I tried to make demands of you. Since then I've done nothing but act like a spoiled child toward you in not talking to you, or giving you rude stares that were completely unwarranted. For all of that, I am sorry." She closed her eyes and bowed her head, her hair slipping from her shoulders to hide her face, "Can you forgive me?"

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen tensed slightly at Vylia's words, more in shock and surprise than anything else. He had expected some sort of argument or assertion that he was in the wrong and would have to apologize first, but Vylia's repentance caught him completely by surprise. For a second the thought flickered through the Elf's mind that this was twice in one day people had said sorry to him, and it was twice that he had been surprised. The warrior had never really considered himself a good judge of people, but he reflected that he must be slipping to let this happen.

"I . . ." Ardwen said, "well, in the first place, there was no need for such a formal apology." Ardwen paused again before continuing, "That's not what I wanted to say. I mean, it is part of what I want to say, but what I really mean is there's no need to place yourself in the wrong."

Ardwen broke eye contact with Vylia and turned his gaze out a nearby window before he started speaking once more, "It was just my pride that was wounded; I thought that was the most important thing I had to protect." Ardwen's eyes flickered to Ariana and then he looked up at the ceiling before mixing his next words with a sigh, "I was wrong."

"But, not just about that," the Elf continued, "I also said things completely untrue and caustic to you, and despite my barbarism you kept your word to me. There's no reason for your to lower your eyes to me, Vylia." Ardwen allowed a pause for his words to sink in before he said, "You were correct in saying that Ariana needs both of us, indeed, frankly she needs all the help she can get. We can be thankful that she's not feeling herself, or both of us would have likely ended up on refectory duty." The Elven swordsman allowed himself a half-smile before finishing, "I say we put this behind us, and that the both of us get on with what needs to be done, agreed?"

Written by - Ariana

Her eyes flickered from one to the Other, her body tense, one side plastered against Ardwen. Not only had he not forgiven her, he had refused to stay. Clearly he did not understand the magnitude of her request, nor could she figure out how to communicate her need. She thought she had issued an order, and he always followed orders, but she was often unsure, and doubted her ability to communicate clearly.

The darkness hovered menacingly on the fringes of her mind, just outside of the very small bright spot that had developed, like a wild beast waiting to pounce once the firelight fades. Though she held on as tenaciously as she could, the tiny sapling to which she clung was flimsy, and easily bent. And from her memories of him, she was certain of one thing – when Ardwen was not near, bad things happened. The first time, her world was consumed by fire. She did not want to see what would happen the second time.

So she clung to Ardwen, as tightly as she could – physically, emotionally, and mentally -knowing that if anyone could keep the darkness at bay, it was him. She trembled as she stood tucked against his side, her eyes filled with desperation.

Written by - Teran

"Yaaaaaaaaaaaa!" Sabbatine shrieked as she leapt into a robed man, clawing and biting him having lost her weapons in the swirling melee. He cried out briefly before her teeth found his throat. Sabbatine felt a spell hit her, and then a sword get thrust through her but she seemed hardly affected.

She stood up and lunged for the man who was trying to pull his sword free from her gut and foolishly held onto the sword even as she drew him into a crushing embrace, tearing his throat out with her teeth too. She tore the blade from her gut and looked for her next target. Lost in the savagery of the battle and a complete lack of the need to preserve herself she failed to see that the bald man had slipped behind her.

He struck her harder than she had ever been struck by a mere human, her body shook as her spine shattered just above her thighs. Sabbatine screamed out miserably as her legs gave out. The force of the blow threw her across the room splattering the area with rose scented embalming fluid. She landed hard near an already dead mage and dragged herself over to the body and began tearing flesh from bone and eating it. If she were capable of sensing peril, she would have hoped the bald man did not choose to finish her off before she could finish eating and regenerating the damage, at least enough that she could walk again.

She screamed again, drowning out the sounds of battle with her rage and frustration.

Written by - Teran

Teran stirred after he was healed, the fog in his head rapidly vanished. He cringed as Sabbatine's battle cry rattled the room. He got to his feet, glancing over at Mavigan's corpse, overwhelming regret tore at his thoughts, but there were things that had to be done.

He nodded his thanks to Wilhelm and surveyed the battle. He could sense Sabbatine had caused more than her fair share of damage, and Keeryn appeared to be more useful than he would have guessed. He heard Sabbatine cry out like a wounded animal and hoped she was ok, he started making his way towards her but was intercepted by one of the sword wielding cultists.

The woman tried to impale Teran with a quick thrust, believing she had the upper hand on an unarmed opponent. Teran believed he had the upper hand on an opponent who weighed herself down with heavy armor and a weapon that stood no chance at all of killing him. He sidestepped the thrust and stepped into the woman delivering a devestating punch to the center of her chest. She blinked as her body began to die. She dropped her sword and lifted her hands to the now crushed armor and fell to the ground, and died quickly because her heart could beat no more.

Teran stepped over her body peering into the red powder, searching for another enemy. He sense magic discharge a few yards in front of him and saw the flash of magic use. The mage had been focused on Keeryn and never saw him coming. Teran pulled the man back by his robe as he let loose a spell sending it harmlessly into the ceiling before he tore the man's throat out with his bare hands.

The assassin had to remind himself that they needed some of them alive for interrogation and began to search for a suitable person for that end.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm methodically trode clockwise through the red swirling mists, his multi-colored glowing form drawing attacks from those who saw him. His shining shield bashed a mage left into the wall, who slid down the wall into an unconcious heap. He was spared when another cultist attacked Wilhelm from the right, only to collapse in death when Wilhelm's glowing faith hammer crushed his skull through the helm.

Up ahead a group of mages appeared through the mist and sent a flight of spells at Wilhelm. Daggers of light cut him and lashes of fire seared his skin as he vanished into a blazing flash. The beginning cheers of the mages cut off as Wilhelm's glowing figure emerged from the dazzle, his wounds already healing at supernatural speed.

A glowing pillar of Censure incinerated the mage on the left and Wilhelm's thrown hammer crushed the chest of the mage on the right, before flying back to his hand. The third mage saw his glowing eyes and turned to flee, crying out,

"It's an Avatar!"

It was his last words as another pillar of divine flame turned him into a charred mass. Wilhelm heard Sabbatine's screams up ahead and continued his methodical and relentless sweep towards that location. He came upon a bald man, who turned and struck at Wilhelm. Wilhelm blocked the blow with his shield but staggered from the deflected energy. He struck with his hammer and saw it hit but glance off with little damage. Here was a worthy foe to vent his rage upon!

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