Friday, October 20, 2017
   
Text Size
image
Welcome to the home of House Ancora! House Ancora (HA) is a fellowship of online gamers dedicated to promoting cooperation, role-playing, and merriment in company with one another across the varied landscapes of today’s online gaming environment. We firmly believe that friendship transcends any gaming environment and is independent of any specific style, genre, server, or realm.

Book Four Pt 1 - The Eastern Pass

Written by - Turin Wallace Page 1 Book 4 Posted On Wed Jul 11, 2007

Ithramir woke by himself, in his own room. Moving to a window, he peered out into the vast forest surrounding the Citadel. Here, all was quiet and peaceful. At least for now.

In an instant, his thoughts turned once more to the struggle for the mountain pass to the east. His army, and that of the other races, had combined to take Minas Aure from the Orcs. The cost had been great, but the work only half finished. There was one last obstacle in the way:

Minas Uial.

By now, the Orcs would already have heard of their victory and would be reinforcing the garrison at the great tower. Minas Uial was the gateway to the east, and for any move to be made against Beridane, it must be reclaimed. For if it was not, the Orcs could gather in force and draw away precious elf-power from the main army. Not to mention that the elf-forges at the Citadel and at other tower-outposts along the territories demanded wood, iron, steel, and mithril for weapons and armors. Without these, the army would grind to a halt. No, Minas Uial had to be taken.

Moving over to the armor rack, Ithramir chose his armor carefully. Pondering for a moment, he decided on a set of blue dyed mithril chain and plate, with matching cloak. He then armed himself, in the usual manner, and walked into the corridor.

A salute from the guard, a "good morning, sir", followed by a "any news for our army sir?" greeted him.

Looking at the guard, he replies,

"Yes, good morning. What do you mean any news?"

The guard smiles at him and says,

"You know, sir, any news of the type that rings bells?"

Ithramir thought the guard had gone mad, but then realized he meant his proposal to Lithwyn. More annoyed at the question, especially first thing in the morning, he responds,

"No, no news that needs reporting, soldier. However, I do have something else that you can gossip about, tell the men to prepare for departure to Minas Aure. We have another tower to reclaim."

Ithramir then walks off to meet his captains and generals, and those allied with them in the Great Hall of Avandor."

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst and Lucant waited by the large oak, waited for Ceredan the High Elder Druid to summon them inside. It did not take long and soon the pair was standing before him. There was solomness in the air that worried Tempyst. Before either had a chance to speak Ceredan began. "You both have come a long way in a short time. Tempyst, you are now an elder druid, the youngest we have ever initiated. And you, Lucant, there has not been a new stoneshaper to show themselves in a long, long time. For this reasonI have summoned you here. " Ceredan sat down upon a large ivy covered chair. Tempyst plaed her hand in her husband's and listenened to the druid. "As you know Tempyst, you ahve completed most of your training, what you learn now, will be learned as you live. But I am afraid, the same is not for you Lucant. Stoneshapers are rare among us, and you were discovered very very late in your life. This is not to say you are too old, this is to say that normally your training would have begun when you were but a toddler, much like your wife went through. You require specialized training Lucant, and that requires dedication and committment. This will not be an easy path, you will need to leave behind all you know and love and go into seclusion with your teacher."

"What do you mean leave behind all I love?" Lucant's hand tightened in his wife's.

"I mean just that. Stoneshapers during their training, must become one with the stone, and stay there until they are ready to emerge. This process takes years for us on the outside. For you who undergo this, time will seem to barely pass. I know this will be a hardship for you two, but there is no other way. It is your choice Lucant. We cannot force you to enter into this, but know you will be forever thanked for all you sacrifice. I will leave you two to discuss this. You will find me and your new teacher by the great stone out in clearing when you are ready with your decision." With that, Ceredan left the couple alone in the hall.

"What do I do Tempyst? We have only just ofund each other, and now, now I am asked to leave you." Lucant looked deep into his wife's blue eyes.

Tempyst sighed. She knew what she wanted. She wanted to scream and shout and beg Lucant not to go. She knew what would happened if he did and it would hurt too much. But she also knew her husband, and knew his soul, she had to be brave, for him. "Lucant, we have only been together a short time, yet I know you already. You have been searching for your whole life for purpose and when you learned you were a stoneshaper, you eyes were afire with energy and life. You would not ask of me to give up being who I am, and I cannot ask of you to give up being who you are, no matter what the cost."

Lucant hugged her tightly, his heart breaking for he could see in her eyes, feel through their link what this was doing to her. But as he looked at her, he knew that she was right; for the first time in his life he was happy, and he wanted to know more about who he was and what he could do. Yes, he ws one of Nyrondis' avatar's but even that did not compare to the joy he felt when it came to stone and what he could do with it. Lucant sighed and kissed Tempyst deeply. When they parted, he held her tight once more. "You are right, you know me too well. I hate breaking your heart and leaving you, but for once, once in my life I need to do what is good for me, what I need and desire. And I desire this Tempyst, with all my being, more than my love for you, more than being an avatar, I want this. I want this."

Tempyst forced a smile, and blinked away the tears. "Then it is settled, the choice has been made. You are to go and become who you were always meant to be, a stoneshaper. But know this, no matter what, I will always love you and have a place in my life for you."

"No, don't sound like that, I don't want you to wait around for me. You have your own life to lead and I will not stop you from living it..."

"But Lucant, if it is my choice..."

"Tempyst, it was never your choice or our choice, fate did this to us, and I will not allow fate to keep you as a widow. Tell me, tell me you will go on with your life or..."

"Or what Lucant? What will you do? You cannot stop me from waiting if that is my choice."

Lucant took Tempyst by the shoulders. "Stop this, You need to be strong and you need to live your life. Promise me you will."

Tempyst wrapped her arms around Lucant. "I can only follow my heart."

Lucant nodded, his jaw set in determination. He took Tempyst's hand in his and walked to the clearing, towards the great stone. "And I can only follow mine." As they entered the clearing, the pair could see Ceredan standing near the great stone and with him was a stout grey looking dwarf.

"What is your decision Lucant?" Ceredan asked.

"I will go become a stoneshaper, but I have one thing that must be done first. You performed our marriagte, and now, now I wish to renounce that union."

Tempyst gasped. "Lucant, no, please don't."

Lucant took his hand from her, slipping off the wedding ring he had made for her. Then he took off the one she had made for him. "It is what I want Tempyst, I'm sorry for hurting you like this, but it is the only way I will go do this."He took the two rings and placed them upon the ground. Tempyst's eye filled with tears, her whole body shaking. She could feel her soul quaking inside of her and knew what he was about to do. SHe tried to say no again, but her heart ws in her throat and found she could not speak. Lucant placed the rings upon the ground. "I heareby renounce my marriage and soul bond to Tempyst, I no longer wish to be bound to this woman."

Ceredan sighed. "I'm sorry Tempyst, but the words have been spoken in a holy place. If he askes it one more time, then I must bring and end to the marriage, It is his right, and it is how our laws are." He placed a hand upon Tempyst's shoulder and turned to Lucant. "Lucant Dolvan, is this truly what you want? It is not necessary, bond is a sacred thing, it should not be taken lightly..."

"I RENOUNCE THIS MARRIAGE AND SOUL BOND." Lucant about screamed, Please, it is hard enough as it is, I am doing this for her, for the both of us. Please Tempyst...let me go."

Tempyst flung her arms around Lucant, tears streaming down her face. In a quivering voice she spoke. "I wish to renounce this marriage and soul bond with Lucant."

Ceredan picked up the two rings. "So let it be." He whispered a few words and in a flash of light, they disappeared. A soft light then encompassed the couple and within moments, faded.

Lucant pulled back and whispered, "I'm so sorry."

Tempyst dropped to the ground, sobbing. "Just leave, it's what you want."

Lucant leaned down and kissed Tempyst upon the head. He tried to see how she was feeling, but the link there was gone. He didn't know it would feel this empty without her. The tears fell down his face as he walked over to the dwarf. Ceredan introduced him as Ezekiel Stonebrewer. The dwarf said nothing but walked into the stone with Lucant following. And then he was gone. Tempyst looked to the stone and then picked up a rock and threw it at it, but nothing happened, it just bounced away harmelssly. She looked up at Ceredan, her eyes pleading why, but all the High Druid could do was pick her up and carry her inside, laying her down upon one of the many moss covered beds within the infirmary. "It will not be easy child. Loosing a husband never is, and loosing a soul bond is even harder. It will get better, with time, just don't let the sacrifice he made embitter you. You will go on, you have work to do. Stay here as long as you need, but never forget who you are and who you were before him." He patted her on the shoulder again then left. Tempyst just lay on the bed crying, feeling the emptyness of her soul encompass her.

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

The light of dawn filtered through the window and fell across Dartanian’s face, causing him to stir briefly before rolling over and falling back to sleep. Moments later, he was roused by a knock at his door. “One moment please,” he said sleepily as he forced himself from the warmth and comfort of the covers and pulled himself out of the bed. He quickly dressed himself in something more than his night clothes and answered the door.

Standing outside his door was the citadel servant he had spoken to the previous night. “My Lord, you asked that I wake you this morning upon the arrival of your men. The first of them are entering the citadel as we speak.”

“Thank you,” Dartanian answered. He began to turn round groggily but stopped and asked the servant to also wake his officers. Bowing, the servant turned to do as instructed.

Closing the door once more, Dartanian quickly dressed. Forgoing the armor of the previous night, he dressed in a royal blue field officer’s uniform. Simple, practical, and well suited to the battlefield, there was nothing to distinguish his rank as anything other than that of a regular officer. He often wore this uniform for tactical reasons, or when he did not wish to wantonly throw his rank around. Today was the latter. He did however arm himself, sheathing his father’s sword at his side and placing his two daggers in his belt.

Exiting his room, he saw that his men were already assembled. There was a brief exchange of greetings and then they fell in step behind him as he made his way to the entrance of the citadel. As they walked, he issued orders regarding logistics and preparations for the men to be prepared to ride as soon as possible. There was no telling how soon Commander Ithramir wished to march. There was much that need not be said; most of these men were hardened veterans who had served in the Officers’ Corps of the Blue Knights since before Dartanian had been knighted. They knew their men well and knew what needed to be done.

After stopping along the way to retrieve their mounts, the group rode to the entrance of the citadel. As the servant had said, his men had indeed begun to arrive. The great gates of the citadel were thrown wide open and a sea of blue moved quickly inside. Dartanian dismissed the officers to take command of their companies and oversee the arrival and integration into the citadel proper.

Moments later Dartanian made eye contact with his second-in-command, Captain Varion, just as he was passing through the gates. The Captain turned to speak to the aide next to him before riding over to his commander. Dartanian returned the crisp salute as Captain Varion came near.

The Captain was several years older than Dartanian, yet still young. He was a faithful sword arm and a reliable tactician. His family had served House Merquise for many generations, Varion’s own father serving Robert Merquise faithfully until his death. Officially the commander of the Blue Knights, Varion was the acting second-in-command to all of House Merquise’s military forces. Dartanian knew that he could trust Varion to lead his forces in his stead; when the need arose.

“Good morning Captain, anything to report?”

“Nothing needing attention My Lord; we set off early this morning as instructed and all troops and support personnel are present and accounted for.”

“Good, see that the men rest well today and prepare to move out as soon as possible. In all likelihood we will be leaving shortly to assist the elves in the recapture of one of their strongholds which was taken by the Orc legions not long ago.” Varion nodded in response. Just then an elven messenger appeared before them.

“Dartanian Merquise, Commander Ithramir requires your presence in the Great Hall of Avandor with all due haste.”

“Very well,” Dartanian replied to the elf. Turning to Varion he said, “Are your men in order Captain?”

“That they are My Lord.”

“Very well, then you shall accompany me. Now then,” he turned to the elf once more, “I’m afraid this citadel is rather large and we have only been here a short time, would you care to show us the way?”

The elf nodded, and the two men dismounted, passing off their mounts to an aide from the marching column before following the elf toward the Great Hall of Avandor.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Deluwiel and Nica had continued for many days since their departure from Turin. Travelling south, through the ravaged lands of Westgale, they crossed the river Iseril and into the small town of Thornton.

Staying at the local inn, both women found the town a breath of fresh air, as they were with kin again. As much as they dearly loved Turin, the people of the north were not elven, nor had many even seen one. Deluwiel especially relished the chance to speak her native tongue and soak in the ways of her people. After more than a few days of rest and local inquiry about the best path to the Citadel, they set off through the Mori'Taur.

One night, as the two women made camp, the sound of footsteps signalled the approach of another. Nica instinctively grabbed her bow and knocked an arrow, only to have Deluwiel place her hand on her daughter's arm, and giving her a knowing nod. Quietly, she says,

"The footsteps are even and light, this person is not sneaking about or meaning us no harm. Let us see if they show themselves."

It was then a cloaked woman appeared at the camp, her soft features accentuated by the glow of the campfire. Bowing as a sign of respect, the newcomer says,

"Deluwiel Eorwifinia, I bear news of your son, Turin. I would have a moment of your time, privately, to tell you of his fate."

A slight, ever so slight, change in palor ran across Deluwiel's face. It was the fear every mother has, when news of their child comes from another, and with the serious tone the stranger spoke. Answering, she says,

"Very well, let us speak."

At once she began to move toward the cloaked figure, when Nica protested,

"I would know of my brother's fate, stranger. We are family, and there is no secret that should be contained or hidden from me!"

Deluwiel found her words ringing true, abruptly she stops and says,

"My daughter speaks well and true, share your news with the both of us."

The cloaked figure nodded and removed the robe, allowing them to see her as she truly was, an Archon of the All-Father. A golden glow eminated from her armor, her golden hair hung about her shoulders, the white of her wings blinding. Before the archon could speak, Deluwiel gasps out,

"Siluriel! Why have you come? Where is my son?!"

With a voice both sympathatic and sad, the archon replied,

"Calm yourself, Deluwiel, your son yet lives. Though, his fate is far from certain. For the love of his friends, he exchanged freedom for slavery. To keep the Light of Hope lit, he has given himself over to the dark."

Bracing herself on a nearby stump, Deluwiel's repose weakened for a moment, the archon's words hit like steel. Nica rushed to her mother's side, aiding her only a moment, until Deluwiel straightened herself aright. Her elven eyes took on a hardness of purpose as she spoke,

"What is to be done about this?"

The archon replied,

"His terms are not set, so at the moment, there is nothing that can be done. Demons and fiends have their own agenda's, the one that binds Turin has not shown his true purpose yet."

Deluwiel's eyes grew sterner, a stare turned into an angry glare as the next words were uttered,

"And what does your master plan to do? Has He abandoned him to his fate?"

The implication was clear. Deluwiel held very little love of the All-Father, but for the sake of a mother's love, she acknowledged it was Turin's path. She had taught him the ways of the ranger, it had been her wish for him to follow that path, but his own choices led him another. She respected it, but now, in her son's time of greatest need, she wanted an answer.

The archon responded, trying to choose her words carefully,

"Deluwiel, as I said before, there is little that can be done..."

Deluwiel never let her finish that sentence. The forest quaked with power and great, thorny vines encircled and pinned the archon to the nearest oak tree. Rage, like that of a lioness protecting her cub, sparked in the female elf's eyes. Her form shook and shivered with power, and with great difficulty she formed the next words,

"For over a thousand years, my son has sacrificed himself for others, all the in the name of your master. You tell me he traded himself for these others and your master does nothing? How dare you! I will rend you limb from limb, archon, even if you are my son's patron. For you are a coward, as is your master!"

Thrusting her arms out, intent on doing harm and worse, Deluwiel began to tighten the vines around the hopeless archon. Thorns that had been held back by the divinely forged armor began to pierce the flesh beneath. Siluriel's mouth formed words, but the pain reduced them to just a cry of agony. It was only when Nica grabbed her mother and shook her that Deluwiel's rage was broken.

Nica spoke quickly, as her mother's rage was still evident in her green eyes,

"Mother, let her speak. At least, she has told us of him. It seems all is not lost, there may be hope."

Nica turned to the archon, noting the healed wounds and armor,

"Have you any good news? If not, I am doubful that I may abate my mother's rage a second time."

Siluriel replies,

"Do not think that I have left him alone to his fate. There is yet a way to rescue him. But it requires patience."

Deluwiel responds,

"Speak, quickly, and if it is not to my liking prepare yourself..."

The next morning, the two women start out towards the Citadel. There was much to be done, but a smile clung to their faces. They needed to find Tempyst first, then Purgatori, and finally work towards the last piece that was missing.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya and Dorve were the first off the ship and onto what the sailors called Palm Island. Dorve immediately knelt and kissed the ground, whispering, thanking Nyrondis for her safety. Kaya chuckled, but she too was glad to be on dry land. Being on the Call, being on the ocean brought back memories of when she had been captive all those months ago, and set in the hold of one of Beridane's ships. "So now what Dorve?" Kaya asked, helping the dwarf up from her practically prone position.

"Well, there should be a small grove here, I will go and talk to Godrik, the elder druid assigned here and let him know he will have people coming through the grove. You can stay here on the docks, I should not be too long. Godrik is a bit older, hard of hearing and likes his solitude, which is why he is here. It would not be good to surprise him with the entourage we will have." Dorve then turned and took off.

Kaya nodded and watched Dorve scamper down the dirt road. She then sat down upon a barrell and waited for the others to depart the ship.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

The man in the oak tree outside Lothiel-Gadith awoke just as the sun began to rise. He moved to stretch the stiffness from setting in a tree all night out of his bones, but quickly remembered not to do so, lest he fall.

As his senses began to re-assert themselves, his hands hurriedly shot to his left side and gripped the hilt of a sword through the sleeveless ash gray overcoat he was using as a make-shift blanket. His sigh of relief became a low grunt as he lurched forward to grab the pack dangling off the branch. As he did, the sea of blue that was the Merquise army moving thru the Citadel’s wide-open gates came into focus.

“He certainly wastes no time…” the man whispered to himself as he retrieved the pack. “I suppose I should get started as well then… “ Yawning, he turned and slipped off the branch, landing with a thud in the underbrush below.

Standing slowly back up, he put his overcoat back on and adjusted the sword at his side. He was dressed quite innocuously in a long sleeved brown linen shirt and a simple pair of black linen pants tucked into brown cuffed leather boots lightened by weather and age. The sword stood in stark contrast to him, its oversized, elaborate crossgruard resting against an ill-fitting scabbard. The sword’s grip was metal, covered by several layers of shark skin dyed a deep black, and crowned by an ornate rounded pommel with intricate carvings.

After taking a few moments to wake up, the man started toward the Citadel at a slow, meandering pace, hoping to enter with the rear of the army to avoid being detected. During his walk, he relished the peacefulness and ambiance of the forest – the birds singing, squirrels scurrying about the forest floor, the wind whistling through the branches, the morning sunlight beaming down through the countless leaves.

Hiding at the edge of the forest, he waited until the last few of Merquise’s solders moved by then sprinted to a few feet behind the horses, close enough to be able to get in with them, but far enough behind to avoid the soldiers’ notice. And indeed, the noise of an entire army was more than enough to mask the footsteps of one man. Even the gate guards seemed more concerned with making sure everyone was safely inside and accounted for than to notice one extra in the crowd.

Breathing a slight sigh of relief as he ducked into the relative safety of an alley, the man took a few moments to scout his surroundings. Noticing a small inn across the way, the man again whispered to himself: “It’s still too early to wake the old man… and besides, I don’t know where exactly he is to begin with. I’ll just… stop in for a quick meal and some directions.”

After a quick check to ensure the Merquise soldiers had passed, he headed off.

Written by - Agmund

Father Agmund had awoken early, primarily because his legs had already began to kick and move around. That was his typical fashion of waking up. His legs and feet acting as a makeshift alarm clock, calibrated to begin their dance when the first rays of dawn pierced the clouds. A condition of old age perhaps, but a condition that gave him a small measure of comfort. He had grown accustomed, indeed rather fond of the suns rise, and it gave him newfound courage when often times his path was obscured.

As he rose to his feet and stretched, the sound of bones creaking and joints popping sang out in unison, causing him to chuckle slightly. “And good morning to you old man,” he said and began to gather up his belongings, “I pray you slept well? No? Perhaps the chair was not the best place to sleep after all. Yes, well the bed is very comfortable as I recall.” He continued to talk to himself until what few items he had unpacked were safely stowed away in a pair of worn leather saddlebags, at which time he journeyed with haste to the citadel battlements.

There, over the mountain spires of Amlug-Anc, the bitter cold of winters herald and the streaming first rays of the sun greeted him. Gold, bronze, and brown leaves, still clinging to the Mori’taur, stretched out towards the morning light, while Duin en Nwalma seemed to fall directly from it as it carved a sparkling blue wedge into the still green grass of Harathad-Dor. As his eyes moved in admiration, his ears reached past the sounds of the citadel, beyond the first clanks of hammers, and the beat of hoofs. It cleared all obstacles of elven and human design, until at last it filled his heart with the songs of birds, leaves and water.

Lifting the hood of his robe, he stood upon the rampart looking to the west and raised his head high to watch a gentle fleet of clouds. A parade of geese, lined in v formation sailed southeast, though their honking was inaudible at their height. “Running late are we?” he spoke aloud, thrilled to see their choreographed flight. Of course, he thought, the fall had been rather long, and they still had ample time to reach the Smarsh delta. It was their destination that turned his attention from the beauty that surrounded him to the tasks that lay ahead.

“I thought I might find you out here,” he jumped as someone spoke from right beside him. “You could at least give me the decency of a warning, that is unless your trying to kill me,” Father Agmund said gruffly, and then turned to look the elf over. The elf was tall by the standards of his race, at eye level to the old priest, who was in turn very tall for a human. A long braid of dark black hair careened down either side of his face, and cleared his shoulders to rest upon a plain leather breastplate of brown. Pale, marble white skin, his eyes of azure burned like jeweled beacons. “Do you miss it?” the priest said returning his gaze to the east, “The seven boughs of Halueth?”

The elf looked casually to the east before he replied “There is not a day that passes, in which the canopy of the Eirwood, and the shadow of the seven stray from my thoughts. Though, if I were to return would I not equally be afflicted? Would not the dream of Lothiel-Gadith’s towers sing to me? How might one choose between the two?” There was no expression in his response. No curve of the lips or cheeks beyond the breaking for speech; nor did his eyes reveal any emotion.

Father Agmund was not disturbed with the supposed repressed demeanor that the elf presented. In contrast his face was broken by a wide smile, and his eyes maintained a twinkle of glee, if not outright happiness. “I don’t suppose one could,” he nodded, “but then youth brings the benefit and joy of travel.” The bearded priest of Tinorb searched for any hint of emotion from the elf, any movement in his face or body, but still there was none. Only two bright blue flames as the elf spoke rather dully, “I recommend you iron your robes, and perhaps wash them if you wish to make a good an entrance into the hall of Avrandor, or has old age overtaken your faculties so bad as to make an appearance bereft of common courtesy.”

“How glad I am to see you,” the priest laughed. “No, I am being honest, you look absolutely dreadful. The smell alone tells me you have not taken a bath in recent days. Yet your intent is to offer counsel, in such condition, and in the hall of Avrandor no less,” the elf said dryly but without arrogance or anger, “I am glad to see you as well,” he added with sincerity. The priest, however, was still chuckling as he spoke “Come, walk with me, there is much to do… more so if I add in taking a bath, shaving, and breakfast!” His stomach seemed to growl on cue.

Written by - Ardwen

The first thing Ardwen noticed when he awoke was noise. The noise of hurried footfalls thudding against the wooden deck of the Call, the sound of senior shipmates shouting orders to their orderlies to hurry regardless of how fast they went, and of course the constant background static of the ocean itself as it lapped in upon itself and the sides of the vessel. To Ardwen's relief the sea appeared calm, and from what he could tell the preparations to send landing craft to a small neighboring island were already nearing completing. For his part, Ardwen stood up and tried to work the sleep out of his body, stifling yawns and blinking rapidly for a few moments.

Much to his annoyance, the injured arm still felt stiff and the joints in his fingers ached, despite the fact that the wound had been healed. The Elf pushed the nagging throbs aside though, considering himself lucky that he had not come out with worse injuries. The warrior's peripheral vision caught movement, and as he turned he saw one of the healers that had attended to Archeantus the night before approaching. Ardwen also saw the dark bags under his eyes and the slump in his shoulders, but the Elf could not blame him, it had been a trying night for everyone. The man stopped in front of Ardwen, looked at him for a minute and then said, "You're up early. I guess you'lll want to take a boat to the island along with your companions?"

Ardwen said nothing in response, simply giving a curt nod as an answer. The healer motioned him to the side of the ship closest to them, and Ardwen could see smaller side vessels already on moorings, a few were even in the water. The warrior noted Kaya and her Dwarf companion in one of the leading boats that were already heading toward the spit of land in the distance. Once again Ardwen said nothing, and the healer shot him a puzzled glance. "The Abbess," Ardwen said simply and gestured around the ship with his hands. Amazingly the man guessed his meaning, and a few minutes later Ardwen saw a small knot of attendants leading Ariana above deck.

"We just wanted to make sure that the silver-haired loony from last night had not hurt her." One of the attendants offered as an explanation. Ardwen was secretly glad that someone had kept their wits about them amongst the chaos of the previous night. The Elf had been disgusted at what he saw as the crew's lack of attention to basic military protocol and procedure. However, this was a ship and not a land campaign, and Ardwen was content to bundled Ariana onto the rowboat with him and bid the ship farewell. The Elf had a feeling that the crew of the Call was not sad to see him go either.

The quick float to the island proved uneventful, and for that Ardwen was grateful. Apart from his arm annoying him, he had experienced a nearly sleepless night. What little sleep he did get was riddled with nightmares and disturbing, half-remembered visions. The fact that he had dreamed at all bothered Ardwen. As a veteran of five millennia of combat, he had seen his fair share of horrors, but the events of the last night were obviously dire enough to etch a new layer over the patina of his mind. As if his own mind taunted him, the Elf found himself involuntarily going over the list of worries that had assaulted him during the night: Ariana was lost within her own mind, Turin was still nowhere to be seen, Archeantus had been injured, Vylia had seen him trace blades, and last (but certainly not least) Sycon had come barreling out of the sky a raving and rather dangerous madman. While the swordsman was glad to see his friend alive, it appeared that the answers for his absence since the operation to rescue Ariana began were both long and potentially deadly.

Before Ardwen could ruminate further on his lack of fortune, the lookout in the boat announced they had arrived at the island and were preparing to unload and depart. The crew ran the tiny craft in close, but they were worried about hidden rocks, and ultimately Ardwen ended up wading the last few yards to shore. Naturally, this meant carrying Ariana to dry land. The water was clear, but deceptively cold; the rocks stabbed into the soles of his boots and Ardwen gave each one of them a profane epithet in his mind. Nevertheless, the jaunt had provided a very quick way to finish waking up, and Ardwen quickly located Kaya. The Elven swordsman placed his Abbess down as gently as he could on a weather-smoothed slab of rock, and then he took a seat nearby himself.

Written by - Wilhelm

While Wilhelm continued to monitor the reunion of Mavigan and Teran (whose odd heartfire indicated he was now completely healed of his grievous wounds) with Keeryn, Jasmine and Sabbatine, Resini and the others rested. They had been down in the catacombs long enough that it must be about sunrise. Elven travel rations were brought out and the party ate while staying watchful. Weapons were cleaned and polished.

From time to time a Dark Cultist would approach and be quickly and quietly dispatched. (The side room they were putting the bodies into was starting to fill up.) Resini and the other mages maintained an anti-detection ward around them as they rested. Wilhelm was sure that Mavigan's group would move out soon and was wondering which direction they would take. He doubted Mavigan and Teran would simply retreat. Whatever purpose they had in coming here still remained.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst opened her eyes and found herself in clearing in the woods. She blinked a few times, wondering where she was. "You are in the dreamlands again mother, I thought I should come see you." Tempyst stood and turned to see her daughter Tirigil standing there, as beautiful as ever. Tempyst embraced her little girl and hugged her tightly.

"Thank you Tirigil, I feel so alone now."

"I know what father did, and he did it with your best intentions, though I know that it does not take away the pain. But you are not alone, never alone mother. You have me and don't for get Nyrondis." Tirigil smiled and brushed the tears from her mother's face. "And you also have Ithramir. Remember you two are bound together as well, through me. And he is going to need somone like you in the days to come. He is going into battle again and a good healer, especially an elder druid, would be a good thing to have at his side. Nyrondis wants you to accompany him and to watch out for him."

Tempyst put her hands into her daughter's and smiled a sad smile. "I see just coming to see me was not your only task. I shall do as Nyrondis asks, for he is my life now. NO more worrying about this man i dream of, or other silly things, I have loved, and lost and now it is time to move on, no matter how hard it will be."

Tirigil smiled and kissed her mother's cheek. "That is the way to do it. Now, I wish I could stay longer, but I have other messages to deliver."

Tempyst hugged Tirigil once more. "Thank you my dear, for taking the time to see me, it helps me more than you know."

Tempyst sat up in her bed, wide awake. She had not realized she had fallen asleep during her crying. Her throat was raw, her eyes sore, and her whole body ached, but she knew she had to push through. She smiled softly, thinking of the visit from Tirigil; though that too still was painful to deal with in the real world. Losing her, then Lucant, was almost too much for Tempyst to bear, but bear it she must. She stood and sighed, took hold of her blossomed staff, and headed out to find Ithramir.

After a long walk through the citadel, she finally found the great hall (with the good directions from a servant), for this is where she was told Ithramir would be. As she stepped in, she immediately spotted the elf, speaking with some of his men. She did not wish to disturb him outright, so she wandered about for a bit, taking in the bits and pieces of information she could overhear. Finally, she walked up to where Ithramir was and waited until he finished speaking. "Ithramir, please pardon my interruption, but I need to speak with you. Nyrondis has made it known to me, that I should accompany you, and see to your safety during battle. That being the case, I should like to know what you would have me do."

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

The man pushed the inn’s old splintered door open only to find it mostly empty. The morning chill still hung in the air, but it was not enough to drive away a few of night shift guards taking dinner before heading home, nor a handful of dedicated drunks. As he pulled up a chair at the bar, the man yawned and cracked his back in the chair. Spending the last night in a tree had definitely not agreed with him.

“I’m never doing that again…” he mumbled under his breath as the barkeep approached.

“Good morning to you, sir. What can I get for you?”

The man looked up to see the thin elven barkeep standing before polishing a glass. “I’ll have a bowl of chicken soup and… a glass of milk please.”

“Just a moment, sir,” the barkeep said before he turned and headed off to the kitchen. The man dozed off a few minutes, just resting his eyes, before the elf came back. “Your food, sir,” he said with a hint of impatience as he set the bowl and glass down.

“Thank you,” the man said to elf’s back. He was already going back towards the kitchen. The man hastily ate and placed a few copper coins on the bar. As the man was about to leave, he spotted the barkeep passing through again out of the corner of his eye. Turning, he asked the elf: “Excuse me, barkeep, do you know the way to the port district?”

Without looking at him, the barkeep responded, “Go out and follow this road into the main square. From there, the signs should take you right to it.”

He thanked the barkeep again and headed out. The strolled lazily down the wide avenues of the Citadel, enjoying the warmth of the sunlight and ambience of the great city. The man could not help but notice how safe the city felt, even with all the soldiers mulling about, or perhaps, because of them. The seemed much different than the type of soldier he was so accustomed to seeing and dealing with.

After a short walk, the man came to the gates of Port Ancora. Passing through with same lazy stroll, he gave the area a cursory look, then headed further into the town. He wandered up and down the towns numerous streets until he found the building he was looking for – the Rassel Trading Company branch office.

Upon entering, he found the large, open office area in an uproar of activity. Clerks were running around with stacks of orders and invoices. Shipping manifests were piled upon desks waiting for sorting and delivery to waiting ships. Even a few military quartermasters were berating the staff, all but demanding their requisitioned supplies and equipment for what seemed to be an upcoming march.

The man approached the main desk slowly as the flustered girl working it sorted through an enormous stack of papers. She looked up at him just long enough to say “If you’re here to place an order for a company, please give the forms and a written copy of the order to our shipping processors down the hall on your right. If you’re here for the military, please wait for a dockmaster, they’re working as fast as they can to get everything in place and ready. If you’re here to inquire about an order, please go down the hall to your left and inquire at the office there.” As soon as the last word has passed her lips, she immediately went back to her stack of papers.

“Actually, I’m here to meet with the Chairman,” the man stated calmly, “He is here, isn’t he?”

The girl looked back up quickly. She clearly didn’t believe him. “Yes, Chairman Rassel is here, but he’s terribly busy I’m afraid - far to busy to meet with anyone. Please come back some other time.” Again, she dove back into the sea of paper.

She looked up for a third time upon hearing the sound of a coin being placed on the desk. “Please miss, if you could at least tell Chairman Rassel that someone is here to see him, I would greatly appreciate it.”

She stood up and discreetly took the silver piece into her hand. “I’ll tell him, sir. But, please do not be surprised if he doesn’t respond well.” The girl then moved through the hectic office towards the back. A few moments later, she returned with the Chairman behind her.

He was a tall man, broad shouldered and quite fit for his age. Age had, in fact, been quite kind to the Chairman – he bore the countenance of a man some ten years his junior with only a few lines of age on his forehead and the vaguest hints of them around his eyes – bright green eyes that still shone with the fires of youth. His hair – brown in his younger days – was now a deep gray, kept short and well groomed. Likewise, his full beard and moustache were well kept and framed the Chairman’s strong countenance perfectly Even the Chairman’s style of dress gave him an air of power and strength. He wore a sage green leather vest over a gray silk tunic tucked into a fine pair of black cotton pants, which were in turn tucked into a pair of expensive leather boots.

“This is the man who requested to see you Chairman,” the girl said, a bit nervously.

Chairman Rassel chuckled softly and then spoke with a deep, booming voice that carried itself and its intended message quite easily: “Well… look who it is. You’re a bit later than I expected, but still relatively on time. I didn’t expect to see you here, though.” He motioned for the man to follow him. “Regardless, come on back to my office and we’ll talk.”

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

The servant led the two officers quickly through the hallways of the citadel. Finally stopping at a large set of doors, he stepped to one side. As he did so, he bowed slightly and indicated the door. Dartanian nodded his thanks and the elf turned on his heel to attend to other duties. Pushing open the large set of doors, Dartanian and Varion stepped into the Great Hall of Avandor. He could see that there were already several men, elves, and even dwarves assembled, speaking amongst themselves. Whatever it was that Commander Ithramir had summoned them for, it did not seem to have started yet.

Making their way into the hall, Dartanian scanned those gathered. At one end of the room he saw a noble looking elf in a set of blue mithril and a blue cloak. That must be Ithramir, he decided. At the moment he was speaking to a woman who appeared to be of the wilds. With men, elves, dwarves, and it seemed even druids, it was truly a mixed group. Certainly the forces of chaos required all kinds to defeat. It mattered little to Dartanian, he knew they could use all the help they could get. The threat of Beridaine the Usurper was ever-present in his mind, and if the Orcs were making a serious attempt at an invasion of the elven lands, then they would quickly find themselves in a two-front war. Hopefully this latest effort would quell the orcs for a time and allow them to turn their attention to restoring Queen Mavigan to the throne of Westgale.

Not wishing to interrupt the Commander in the midst of his discussion with the Druid, and knowing that the elf would begin the War Council soon, Dartanian and Varion stood off to one side of the room and waited patiently.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir entered the Great Hall to find it already a bustle of activity. Lithwyn had done well and the needs of those therein were already tended to. Making his way around the room, he nodded and spoke few words, just enough to acknowledge everyone's presence.

Soon, he found himself engaged in conversation with some of his generals. They seemed more concerned with his welfare and he was tired of dealing with such things. Turning the conversation quickly, he asks,

"How ready is the army? How quickly can we move against the last tower?"

The generals each looked at each other, then one replied,

"Milord, the army is able, and can move at any time. Losses were acceptable, but if we meet heavier resistance, the price could be even higher this time around."

Ithramir disregarded the concern, and simply said,

"And the price if we do not take it? May I remind you, gentle-elves, that if we do not re-take the tower, elven blood will flow in rivers from there to the sea."

Ithramir, paused, then continued,

"And we have our allies to help absorb some of those losses. The dwarves and humans proved themselves at Minas Aure. A few more battles like that and they'll have my respect."

The generals nodded to each other in agreement. Ithramir was about to move the subject forward when he heard the following,

"Ithramir, please pardon my interruption, but I need to speak with you. Nyrondis has made it known to me, that I should accompany you, and see to your safety during battle. That being the case, I should like to know what you would have me do."

Turning to face Tempyst, as he instinctively knew the voice, he could see she had been crying. No, more than that, she had her heart and soul broken. With an unusual kindness, he responds,

"You and Nyrondis have my thanks, but for the moment, I would rather you sit and refresh yourself. I am doubtful I will be in danger here, unless someone has poisoned the food and drink."

Noticing those in the room came to a kind of nervous silence, Ithramir chuckled evily and went on,

"However, I don't think that is the case. Sit, Tempyst, over there. Catherin will escort you and tell you what you need to know."

As the ladies made their way to the table Ithramir had gestured towards, another messenger made his way over to inform him of some new arrivals to the Citadel. Motioning for the two to come over, Ithramir says,

"So, Dartanian and Varion, what is it I can do for both of you?"

Written by - Tempyst

Catherin led Tempyst over to a table. When Tempyst had sat down, she kept on standing and spoke, her voice a bit icy. "I would assure you and your god that Ithramir is well taken care of and to put yourself in danger is not a necessity."

Tempyst looked up to Catherin, her voice soft and even. "And I would assure you, that it is. I am not here to step on any toes Catherin, I am only here to help. I have a vested interest in Ithramir, in more ways than one. You know the sacrifice that was made to keep him alive before, do you think I would wish to see that sacrifice go to waste? I am not your enemy, but as I am not going anywhere but where Nyrondis directs me, we should put any differences aside."

Catherin sighed, she could see that Tempyst was not going to be swayed easily from her task. "I do not mean to belittle the sacrifice that was made Tempyst, I am concerned with your safety as well. You are not as wellversed in battle as some of us are and thus, you could be considered...a hindrence. Ithramir is very concerneda bout all those who serve under him and I would hate for him to be distracted by a civilian."

Tempyst closed her eyes for a moment, then looked straight back at Catherin. "You are not going to sway me to step down. Besides, it is not up to you is it Catherin." She took a deep breath, then continued. "I do not wish us to be enemies Catherin, life is too short for that. I would assure you, I know the risk I take going into battle, and believe me, I understand all too well what it can cost. I have lost much to battle already, and yet, life goes on. I need this Catherin. I am alone now, Ithramir is the closest ..." Tempyst choked up, anda tear fell down her face. "He is important to me too. I am going with him. We can fight, or be friends and work together. I chose the latter. What do you choose?"

Catherin gritted her teeth, her jaw clenched. She could tell that she would not be able to persuade this druid from her task. In truth, she knew it would be good for Ithramir to have a personal healer, but she hated to admit, she did not like to share the care taking of her commander. "Alright then Tempyst, it looks like you are not to be disuaded from this. I do not mean to sound so harsh, I just do not wish for Ithramir to have any distractions on the battle field. I will set aside my own differences, for now, but if you put him in any danger, I will personally see you escorted back off the field." She held out a hand to Tempyst. Tempyst took her hand and the two women shook.

"Thank you Catherin, now, why don't help me not be a distraction and give me a crash course in your battle tactics." Catherin then sat down and the two began to the future battle.

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

As the ladies made their way to the table Ithramir had gestured towards, another messenger made his way over to inform him of some new arrivals to the Citadel. Motioning for the two to come over, Ithramir says,

"So, Dartanian and Varion, what is it I can do for both of you?"

The two men came forward and stood before the elven commander, Dartanian in front with Varion slightly behind and to his left. Despite sharing a bit of elven heritage, Dartanian was unfamiliar with the rank and custom of the elves, and as such he bowed to a degree indicating a greeting to one of equal status. He hoped Ithramir would not take offense at his presumption.

“Greetings Lord Ithramir. I am Count Dartanian Merquise, of House Merquise, in the Kingdom of Westgale.” Straightening from the bow, Dartanian’s eyes met those of the elven commander as he continued. “Since the assassination of King Pallanon our house has been fighting against those allied with Beridane the Usurper. We feared the worst for Pallanon’s daughter, Mavigan, but heard that she was under the protection of the elves here at the citadel. I have come here in order to pledge my loyalty and that of my house to the rightful heir to the throne and to serve her in whatever way I can. I have already been informed that the Queen is not presently at the citadel. I have also been informed that the orcs are on the move and your forces aim to march soon to retake an outpost which they have captured. If you would allow us, my men and I would aid you in retaking this outpost; as thanks for your hospitality, as a sign of our friendship, and in honor of Queen Mavigan’s alliance with you against the forces of chaos.”

Having finished speaking, the young Count fell silent and awaited the elven commander’s response. This was the first time he had ever engaged in statecraft without the guiding presence of his father, and this Ithramir was certainly an imposing figure. He felt a twinge of nervousness, but did not let it show. He hoped that everything he said would be well received.


Written by - Turin Wallace Page 2 Book 4

Ithramir listened as the one called Dartanian spoke. Once he finished speaking, Ithramir gauged the young man, then spoke,

"Dartanian, of House Merquise, save your pledge of loyalty for the one who you seek to pledge it to. Mavigan is away, on some mission, leaving the bulk of the fighting to us. She is not yet a queen, this I can assure you. However, our job is to secure the throne for her, so that she can properly take on that title, when the time is right."

Ithramir let his words hang in the air for a moment before he continued on,

"While your information was a bit off, as Mavigan is not here, it is most accurate about the orcs and our plans to re-take what is ours. If you wish to join us in the re-capturing of the tower of Minas Uial, you and yours would be welcome. Our briefing will start soon, until then relax and enjoy some refreshment."

Written by - Agmund

Having bathed, trimmed his beard, and changed clothes, Father Agmund now stood in a shadow filled corner of the Great Hall. His robe, though clean, was like all of his robes; stained with years of wear. It was mostly white, with a few ruddy spots near his boots, and the edges were outlined in several inches of blue and silver needlework. The trim, although ornate and befitting that of a priest, had become frayed in many places, even coming undone completely in others.

While not apparent to the casual observer, he wore a full length suit of chain mail beneath the robe. Its existence was only hinted at with a single row of links hanging right above his boots, falling from beneath the long sleeves of the robe, and encircling his neck. The suit was undoubtedly thin and light, because beyond those few visible traces, it remained unseen.

Around his waist, a broad black belt cinched the robe in place, anchoring it against his tall frame, and securing a hammer and several pouches. His beard of grayish white spilled midway down his chest before branching eloquently off into two braided paths. Each braid was capped in short silver metal tubes just above the belt. The hood of his robe was down, and out of habit he carried his saddlebags on his shoulder; one to the front and the other to his back.

There in the shadows, he paid careful attention to the entrance of men and elves, and to the ensuing conversations, but he remained silent.

Written by - Ariana

She sat quietly upon the smooth surface of the rock, the coastal breezes stirring her exceedingly long hair. For someone who held the Hope of a world in her hands, she looked an awful fright. Though there was evidence that the healers had made some attempt to clean her up, there was simply too much grime and blood to be erased by anything short of a thorough dunking. Her dress was now patterned with large irregular blotches of brownish blood. Similarly, the life-giving fluid had caked in her hair, causing large mats.

She, however, was unaware and unconcerned with her appearance. Instead, she flicked a glance over at her companion, the one who had carried her with such gentleness it surprised her, and who had placed her in her current spot. Unfortunately, he did not do anything interesting, and did not seem to want to play.

Her eyes turned from him to look below her, at the water lapping at the bottom of her stone, several inches below her bare feet. The water was remarkably clear, and she watched in fascination as the undulating water caused the rocks and sand below to shift and swirl. Smiling, she scooted forward until her toes were immersed, and then kicked her feet to change the pattern of the swirling sea.

Her companion forgotten, she pushed off the rock completely, standing in ankle-deep cold water, unmindful of the rocks biting into the bottoms of her feet or the chill that crept up her spine. Giggling, she splashed around, delighting in the sensations the salty water below and the warm sunshine above created.

She turned, as if to make her way into deeper water, when she was distracted by a great screech. Turning, she saw one of her feathered friends, a gray one, perched where she had once been sitting. Cocking its head at her, it screeched again, apparently delivering a message. Then it took to wing and made its way towards the trees she could see in the near distance.

Not having anyone else to play with, she clumsily climbed out of the surf and followed.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

As the two men headed back towards the Chairman’s office, not a word was said between them. Few of the busied clerks and secretaries even took notice of the pair as they tried their best to avoid the most hectic areas. They finally stopped for a moment at the door to Rassel’s office.

“Just a moment,” He said opening the door, “Let me a get a few things in here then we’ll head to the penthouse upstairs. It’s far to noisy to have a civilized discussion down here.” The man said nothing as the Chairman went in, then quickly returned with a handful of papers and a small elaborate box. Chairman Rassel slammed the door shut, then motioned for the silent man to follow him towards a secluded corner of the building that carefully concealed a staircase to the upper penthouse – the Chairman’s private quarters.

On their way up the stairs, the man finally broke his silence: “Your employees do you credit. I had to bribe that poor girl at the entrance desk to even tell you I was here.”

The Chairman’s laugh echoed throughout the staircase and the halls. “That’s my fault I’m afraid! Frankly, I’ve been a bit of a tyrant lately. I only recently got this branch established and it’s been an exceedingly difficult time trying to get the whole process to run smoothly. I came here from Shrikefield to personally oversee it until matters settled down. And besides, it’s much easier to negotiate trade deals in person – and trade with the Elves and Westgale exiles is far too lucrative to pass up. Gods how I love neutrality and the opportunities it brings!” Rassel laughed again as he swung open a door to his parlor room.

The man entered the parlor ahead of the Chairman and began to light a few of the candelabras in the spacious room. “A tyrant, hmm? Well, you’ve always just been Uncle Haswal to me.”

“That’s damn good to know boy,” he said as he placed his papers down on a small table next to the door then carried the box with him to a large, overstuffed armchair. “Now, quit lighting those things and sit down and have smoke with your old uncle.” He opened the small box and produced a pair of meerschaum pipes, both carved into the shape of a perched dragon and bronzed with age, along with a sizeable pouch of dwarven smoking tobacco.

“You’re always looking an excuse to break those out, aren’t you,” the man said as he walked towards the accompanying chair. Haswal only shrugged and gave a sheepish smile before lighting his pipe. Before he sat down, the man removed the sword he was carrying and leaned it against his leg as he sat down.

“So that’s it,” Haswal whispered, pointing at the sword.

“Yes…” The man’s voice trailed off a bit as he lit his pipe. “How much do you know?”

“Enough. But tell me your side of the story.” A steady stream of smoke blew from his mouth as he spoke.

“Old men and their stories… I might as well start at the beginning then.” He paused a moment to blow a cloud of smoke. “Everything started just a short while ago, right after King Beridane assumed control of Westgale. Ricimer had been made a general by the King himself for his part in quelling some peasant revolts in the countryside and then helping to stabilize the political situation in Port Westgale. King Beridane gave him the sword and promotion as “reward” for his loyalty.” He kicked the sword as he spoke.

“A few weeks went by, and Ricimer was sent back home. I was busy over going over reports one night just after he had retured about potential orc movements to the east and south. – we both see how that little issue turned out – and Saliel just comes bursting into my office. Getting a visit from either of my sisters would be a strange enough occurrence, but one so late at night had me worried, especially when she said father needed to see me.” He paused for another puff of smoke. “So, I dropped everything I was doing and left for home. When got there, the whole place was deathly quiet. I couldn’t find anyone – mother, any of the servants… no one. I’m starting to wonder what’s going on, then I go into the study and see Ricimer and father sitting there, pouring themselves over a table of books.”

The man took one last puff, then sat the pipe down. “He wouldn’t even touch the sword anymore… wouldn’t even go near it. I have never, never seen him so… afraid… of something in my life. He said that he felt… ill… whenever he wielded it, even when he had it near him. He couldn’t sleep at night; he described these horrible nightmares he had been having to me. Then he said he was having trouble controlling his thoughts, focusing them, that he could almost hear something when he was alone… that he felt like something was always stalking right behind him… something he never could quite find. This was what piqued my interest in the whole matter.” He grabbed the sword by the hilt and stood it in front of him, then drew it. The long, wicked blade bore a strange pattern of runic engravings along the fuller, matching on both sides of the sword. “I looked at it… tried my best to figure out what these meant, but I have no clue. “Father practically begged me to help my poor big brother in his hour of need. He told me that if this thing was left to its own devices, he didn’t know what would happen. So, I resigned from my post in Military Intelligence, took the sword and what all of father’s research I could gather with me to figure out what’s wrong with it, and now I’m here.”

Haswal spoke with a light tone, smoke still billowing with every word: “Don’t give me that dog and pony show boy. I was there when you were born! I’ve known you twenty-eight years… more than long enough to know that filial piety on carries so little weight with you. You wouldn’t be doing this if there wasn’t something in it for you, too.”

The man chuckled quietly to himself. “You know me too well Uncle Haswal. You are right. I would have just as soon sit and watched Ricimer descend into utter madness, but his little ‘poor me’ stories intrigued me, as I said, as did these engravings. The more I thought on the matter… the more I realized it was a great opportunity to research something that probably shouldn’t be. And it gives me a rather legitimate excuse to delve into subjects generally frowned upon by the greater academic and magical community.”

“Just say necromancy, boy.”

“Necromancy? It has its uses, I suppose… but necromancy is for desperate old men and first year academy students who think they know everything. I’m talking about the real forbidden magics – soul transfers, spirit bindings, sapient alchemy…”

“Boy, you had better make sure you know who’s around before you go off saying things like that.”

The man only grinned slightly, then forced the sword back into its ill-fitting sheath. “I decided to come here hoping that the point-ears would have some books or scrolls or something that might help figure out what those damned runes are… and to get away the north’s prying eyes… but I have a creeping suspicion that I’ll need a runesmith or a very wise man before all’s said and done with.” His voice began to trail off as he leaned back in the chair.

Haswal rose slowly and put the pipes back in their box. Closing it, he looked over at his weary nephew and spoke: “Well… I’ll tell you what… you shared a smoke and a story with me, so I’ll see what information I can find for you. Just stay here and rest a bit. Besides… you wouldn’t get very far here with damned ‘Skaner accent of yours.”

He left one candelabra burning in the parlor before heading back downstairs.

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Dartanian listened intently as Ithramir spoke. He sincerely hoped Ithramir had not expected him to kneel before him and pledge his loyalty, that was something he reserved for Lady Mavigan alone. From his words on her, it was apparent that Ithramir held little esteem for the young queen. "She is not yet a queen, this I can assure you," he had said. Whether or not Mavigan had been officially crowned meant little to Dartanian. What was important was that she was the rightful heir to the throne and as such deserved the respect and loyalty of those who had loved her father, King Pallanon.

Deciding to hold his tongue, as he did not wish to incite any hostilities with his newfound allies, Dartanian instead nodded politely and headed over to the offered refreshments. He was indeed hungry, having not yet broken his fast.

He was however a bit miffed at some of the elf's comments. His information was not "a bit off" as Ithramir had claimed. Had he not stated only moments before that he knew that Mavigan was not at the citadel at present? Had the elf mispoke? Or had he simply not been paying attention while Dartanian was speaking? In any case, it was obvious from everything that he had said that Dartanian would be fighting an uphill battle in order to earn the elven commander's respect. However, the same was true of Ithramir. Though he doubted the elven commander cared much for earning Dartanian's respect, he had yet to prove himself capable to the young Count. Dartanian was not beholden to these elves and did not intend to stay and aid them any longer than the situation should warrant, or as deemed necessary by Lady Mavigan...if and when she returned.

Turning his mind to other matters such as the readiness of his men, Dartanian bit into a piece of fruit, waiting for the briefing to begin.

Written by - Ariana

Her bare feet first shushed through sand, then scooted across coarse sandstone, and finally emerged upon smooth sun-warmed cobbles. Her winged friend seemed both impatient and accommodating, frequently alighting on a nearby ledge or precipice and screeching encouragement at her. They continued this odd game of follow-the-leader until both had passed through the town and out the other side, her feet finally encountering soft grass. She scrunched her toes several times, delighting in the way the blades of grass tickled her as she waited to see where her friend would go next.

He did not disappoint and soon took wing again, leading her down a small road into the burgeoning forest ahead. The owl did not lead her far, instead following the road into a small clearing that had been converted into a courtyard fronting a stone chapel. The great bird circled once then alighted on top of the mid-sized stone statue occupying the center of the courtyard.

Had she been more herself, she would have noted that despite the priests of this particular order being slaughtered in record numbers, this chapel was well-maintained. The grass was trimmed, the stoop was swept, and flowers surrounded both the chapel and the statue, all speaking to loving care.

She noticed none of this, however, having eyes only for her winged friend thinking that surely he would continue the game. He did nothing of the sort, however. Instead he peered at her with unblinking eyes from his perch on high, as if willing her to take notice of something. He added in a couple of grumpy screeches as well, when sheer force of will did not seem to get the point across.

For her part, however, when he did not lead her anywhere else, despite the raucous noise he was making, her attention soon wandered. She approached the statue upon which the owl sat and ran her fingers along the smooth stone. The rock has been shaped into a woman, wielding mace in one hand and book in the other, the expression on the woman’s face fierce and determined. The form did not bother her, but neither did it stir any recognition.

She slowly circled the monument, gazing at it from several different angles and running her fingers along its bumps and grooves. Upon the third trip, she noticed something in relief at the base of the woman’s feet. Curious, she placed her fingers upon it and traced the lines as they curved and entangled with each other.

The symbol called to her more than the image of the woman did, and her brow furrowed as she tried to place it. This was something she knew, if only she could remember. It was important she remember. This simple symbol before her was the key, she knew, though she could not have stated how she knew. All she did know was that the strange compilation of shapes called to her, and she was helpless to resist.

Gathering herself, she pushed hard against the void inside her mind, desperately searching for anything in the black, a tiny sliver of light in the darkness that could lead her from her current prison. But nothing came. Her fist smacked into the stone as she grew frustrated with her failure, accompanied by a scolding screech from above.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya sat upon the barrell, soaking up the sun, taking in the sweet, salt air and the sounds of the small port. It all reminded her of home and she found herself getting very homesick for Nen A'Naur. She looked out across the water and for a moment, wished she was back home, back before Tahlon had arrived and everything had gone downhill. She brought a hand up and traced the scar upon her face, the scar Tahlon had put there. I swear Tahlon, I shall return one day and rip that forked tongue from your throat for all you have done to me and my family. Then the sound of an owl screeching took her attention back to where she was and out of the past. She looked around and saw Ariana start to wander off through town. Standing up, she decided to follow.

She kept a few paces behind the woman, watching out for any who might cause her harm, but none came forward. there were some odd looks from some of the towns people, but then Ariana still had not been cleaned up from the night before for odd looks were certainly in order. She watched as the woman walked into the chapel area, following the owl. The woman stopped at a statue; Kaya watched her look at the woman in stone, then watched as she smacked her fists in frustration onto the stone. Not wanting Ariana to be hurt any more than she was, she approached carefully, taking no notice of the statue, but only of Ariana. She reached out a hand, feeling a sudden burst of compassion for this woman. "Ariana...Ariana...it's okay, is there anything I can do for you?"

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen threw himself back onto the sands of the beach, facing the sky above. The sand was warm and welcoming after the frigid bite of the coastal water, and Ardwen's eyes closed for a brief instant. Briefly, he imagined he might be able to catch some more sleep, or at least allow himself to dry after trudging through the chill water to reach the island. Such illusions were swiftly shattered, however, when he heard the sounds of splashing water.

The elf bolted upright, looking out at the shoreline for the offending sound. There he saw his Abbess playing amongst the lapping water as if it were the most novel thing in the world. Regardless of her excited and happy laughter, Ardwen found a scowl forming on his face. He had, in his mind, imagined that rescuing Ariana would somehow set everything right instantly. Ardwen shook his head slightly, seeing the idea for how amazingly naive it had been. The swordsman had no more time for reflection, however, as Ariana bolted through the nearby forest. The screech of some bird reached Ardwen's ears at that exact moment, but the Elf ignored it as unimportant coincidence.

Ardwen let out a snarl of frustration and climbed to his feet. The warrior was muttering under his breath, but the only audible part was a practically spat section of speech that sounded like, "Not a damn babysitter." Yet, despite his complaining, Ardwen found himself following his Abbess through the forest and beyond. The elven swordsman paused in trepidation as they came upon a small village; Ardwen's eyes darted furiously between the buildings as he tried to spot a potential ambush. It was, however, a futile effort, the Elf could not cover the entire village alone. The effort only slowed him down, and he saw Ariana running ahead of him, almost to the other side of the village.

Ardwen dashed after her and heard as the sound of his footfalls shifted from stone back to grass. He swiftly caught up to Ariana, but his breath caught in his throat as he beheld what she too saw. It was a pristine little chapel, the yard meticulously maintained, but more importantly there was a statue in prominent display. Ardwen recognized the figure with no effort. The fire in the Elf's blood cooled as he watched Ariana gaze up at the effigy of her former self. Ardwen wondered if it was difficult for her to do so, did she recognize who she was staring at? Did she care?

Almost as if in answer, Ariana's fist smacked into the stone, and the infernal bird that had apparently started this whole escapade screeched once more. Ardwen spared the owl (for now that he saw it he knew what it was) a brief and spiteful glance, but he took a few steps toward Ariana. He tried to walk silently up to her, but his worry that she might injure herself quickened his pace, and he soon stood beside her. Ardwen placed a hand on her forearm, the same one she had struck the stone with. It was a gentle gesture, more to encourage her not to hit stone again than to restrain. The elf looked up at the statue once again and said, "Do you . . . recognize her?" The swordsman received no answer; so he carried on, "She looks a lot like you."

"Ariana...Ariana...it's okay, is there anything I can do for you?" The voice nearly caused Ardwen to jump out of his skin. He spun around and noticed Kaya had followed as well, Ardwen had been so concerned with spotting an attack in the town he had failed to notice anyone else perusing. Selfishly, the thought spun through his head that Kaya had seen him in a moment of weakness, and Ardwen reflexively covered it up with blunder.

"Fool girl," he snapped as he rounded to face her, "do you know where we are or who these people are?" The warriors voiced dropped to a low rumbling whisper, "Do not," said Ardwen, "use her name lightly!"

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya stood her ground. "As a matter of fact no, I do know know where we are except to be on holy ground, and and I do not know who she is. All I know is that she was a queen, you and your friend's queen and that she is important, as for why, I have no clue." Kaya finally noticed the resemblence of the statue to Ariana and she shot Ardwen another look. "I am not from around here Ardwen, these are not my people. I know nothing of their faith or gods. What is she, a goddess fallen to earth? Why don't you tell me Ardwen, fill me in so I know what I am getting into."

Written by - Vylia

Kaya wasn't the only one to follow Ardwen and Ariana as they ran off. While Vylia was the on the last boat to reach the shore, she was close enough to see the three sprint off into the woods, and barely even waited for the boat to stop before she had leaped into the surf to follow after them. When she finally caught up with the trio they had stopped in front of a small chapel, with a very familiar statue in it's courtyard.

She listened to the conversation, not wishing to interrupt until Ardwen growled at Kaya, and in an attempt to curb any arguments, answered the other woman's question, "Honestly, we're not really from around here either. It's a rather long story, but the short of it is no, she is not a goddess fallen to earth. Though the faith we placed in her when she was whole may have been close to what one would expect accorded a god. She was our Abbess, and we were... ARE The Hands of Providence."

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen prepared to answer Kaya, but stopped as he saw Vylia approach. She was as silent and surefooted as ever, but Ardwen at least expected that from the archer. Still, Ardwen said nothing and merely nodded his head at Kaya, assuming Vylia's keen hearing had filled in the rest of the details. The elven archer decided to take the hint and spoke, telling Vylia of their former membership in the Hands of Providence. Ardwen inwardly flinched at the mentioning of the name, and he did so again when she proudly proclaimed they still were the Hands of Providence.

Ardwen finally gave an outward sign by shaking his head slowly, sadly. His former fierce mien seemed to fade and when he spoke his voice was soft but clear, "Vylia tells the story, but in part I'm afraid. We are refugees from another world, a dead world, a world's name I will not speak here. I suppose some of us were brought here because in that world we were great heroes, paragons of virtue and righteousness." Ardwen paused to allow the words to sink in before adding, "At least, that's what the history books most likely say about us here, if they say anything at all."

Unusually for the warrior, he seemed nervous as he spoke, his eyes flitting from the bystanders, to his two companions, and to his Abbess. Ardwen began pacing back and forth, but he spoke on saying, "The reality was a bit different. The Hands were a collection of individuals united by a common vision. The vision was, as you might appreciate had you known the place, to pull our world out of the hellhole it had become. Certain extenuating circumstances made this difficult, namely every little Chaos-worshipping cult, demon, and enemy of life you can imagine. There were many of them, and by various means the situation kept getting worse . . . I for one blame the arrogance and rank stupidity of mankind, but that's just one old soldier's opinion . . . "

Ardwen allowed his voice to trail off; a slight smirk had formed on his face. He continued pacing, but he looked more comfortable now, falling into his role as a pedagogue. Ardwen could care less if Kaya actually learned anything from his ramblings, but it allowed him to flaunt his knowledge. "Regardless, the Hands first convened approximately in 97 SY, that's roughly ninety-seven years after everything went to hell - if you're wondering SY stands for 'Shadow Years'. They were a small congregation at first, but they had the nominal support of being a branch of the Holy Church, an ancient and generally useless institution flounder under its own venerable inertia. However, the Hands did with sheer will and determination what many said was impossible: founding a bastion of tranquility in the very maw of damnation."

Ardwen paused once again, but this time merely to catch his breath. His voice was tinged with melancholy and bitterness as he spoke again, "Those were . . . the happiest times of my life, and I have seen over five millennia. Aethelwulf ran an orphanage and a fine garden; by his diligence many lives were improved and saved. Turin Wallace, whom you have seen, was our first Priest of Battle, by his tactics much was preserved and the scourges of hell resisted. Vylia," and with this Ardwen succinctly motioned the elf herself, "was one of our foremost scouts and rangers, by her eyes we knew our enemies . . ."

The warrior finally stopped pacing and looked Kaya directly in the eyes, his voice somber, "I could stand here all day and toll of the names of the dead or dying. It would elucidate you no more than a trip to the cemetery. Know then, that as the others served, Ariana was our spiritual leader, and it was her faith and compassion that made . . . many of us . . . more than the monsters the world would have created of us." Suddenly Ardwen spun around, turning his back to Kaya and Vylia both. By the end all the swagger and pomp had dropped from his voice, and even their keen elven hearing had strained to hear his final words.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya listened to Vylia, then intently to Ardwen, who gave her the information she needed. "Thank you Ardwen, I can see now why she is important to you, to the others. My own past is not as noble as all of yours, but I do understand loss and being lost. But, she is being hunted by demons, so she is important to me as well and I will help and do my best to keep her well and protected from them, if you will let me help." Kaya looked towards Ariana, understanding and a little bit of sadness in her eyes. "Your mistress seems lost, and I have been there. I was only offering a helping hand. Please, if there is anything I can do, let me know."

Written by - Talonmane

Kildef cleared the thick oak's trunk and gracefully leaped two large roots, strolling ahead slowly into the courtyard.

"I know your memories are nigh endless, Ardwen, so I am not surprised if you don't recognize my friend immediately. Though like you, he is one of the oldest things alive in the world. At least, Salvorah always thought so." The Ranger held out his right arm, and Olawahoo noiselessly alighted from the statue and took place just back from the wrist, wings flapping minimally, the tops of his feathery ear tufts nearly three feet above the arm. "Many a life was saved or slain due to his eyes in the time of Aerynth. Many an ally or foe rose or fell as he scouted for us." Kil walked forward slowly, approaching Ariana and her object of fascination. "And he has ever been her shadow...from the time she first arrived at the old Abbey, and in ways I often never even knew. Who can doubt that his leading her here is not part of some greater plan?"

And the two just stood quietly afterward, watching.

Written by - Archeantus

The night had breathed new life into the old warlock's aching joints. He woke to the sound of shouts of land.

Rising, he stood after a long stretch, and gently took his wooden staff to support himself. He could feel a deep pain rumble in his chest as he walked toward the edge of the ship to listen to the crew of the 'Call prepare to land.

Soon he was guided down toward a small vessel which quickly made it's way toward the small island. The stout sailor that rowed the raft gave the warlock a confused look while he worked remembering what the man had done the night before.

Archeantus noted the sailor's line of thought before he voiced his question but allowed him to ask nonetheless.

"Why d'ya take da raft when you cun..."

"Fly?" The warlock finished.

"Aye." Said the sailor gruffly.

Archeantus did not answer right away, but waited for the man to think about the answer a bit more. The raft rocked in the small waves as the warlock finally said, "Power needlessly used is the beginning of evil" while seemingly gazing out into the sea.

The raft hit shore and the warlock stood and thanked the sailor who sat pondering the statement. He waded into the cool water and then stood upon the shore feeling the warmth of the sun upon his weathered face.

Angelus flew about the warlock's head, moving about the general area to various points of interest as if evaluating this new environment for anything worth investigating.

Scanning he knew most of his friends were already upon the shore, Ariana near Ardwen--which suddenly changed.

She was on the move.

"Angelus, follow her." He commanded and the small ember zipped through the air after her.

It was not long till Angelus followed Ariana, along with the rest to the small courtyard where the lone statue of the Abbess had been erected. Joining Olawahoo who rested on the statue, Angelus anxiously burst around the statue as if trying to communicate to Ariana below what was intensely obvious to them all.

"Who can doubt that his leading her here is not part of some greater plan?"

"Not I old friend" Said the warlock as he floated down among them overhearing Kil's last statement.

As his feet rested on the soft earth he quickly discerned the object of all their attention.

Walking slowly toward the statue, he placed his old hands upon the older cool stone.

He could sense Ariana's frustration, even with her grand form before her, she could not find her way out of the darkness her mind was in.

Turning his head back toward those present, as if speaking for them, knowing their thoughts, the warlock spoke.

"It is time to remember."

His sightless face seemed to look upon them who looked on her as he slowly circled the statue coming closer toward the Abbess speaking as he went.

"It is time to see as you used to see."

Resting his staff upon the statue, as he moved his hand grazed across the symbol etched in the stone.

"It is time to enter the light."

And with that, he entered her mind.

Written by - Ariana

She could hear the commotion around, feel the gentle pressure on her arm, but she was unable to make sense of it. Somewhere, she knew their noises were directed at her, but the emptiness inside her refused to echo with a response. Silent tears of frustration tracked down her face as she gazed the person grasping her arm. The timbre and cadence of his voice hardened and she flinched. He appeared to be scolding her in much the same way that her winged friend has screeched his own disapproval.

But then more people began to arrive, and she found herself frightened. Expectation intermingled with pity was plainly seen in their eyes, and she backed up in response. They wanted something from her, something she didn’t have, something she couldn’t give, and their need threatened to rip her apart from the inside out.

Glancing around quickly, she noted she was surrounded and choked back a panicked scream. Her breathing became quick as the feeling of being trapped began to envelop her, but before it could completely take hold, her attention was diverted as her owl friend descended from his perch to land on the arm of one of the people surrounding her. He flapped his wings once or twice more, adjusting to his new perch, and then turned his unblinking eyes upon her.

Tentatively, still anticipating his disapproval, she extended a finger and drew it slowly down the soft gray feathers of his back. Instead of screeching at her like she expected, moved slightly, as if asking her to rub first this spot, then that spot. She was soon grinning at his antics, her initial panic forgotten, face dry of tears.

Her other friend, the tiny dancing light, soon joined them, and she was content to play. She only vaguely registered the addition of another person to the throng, but she was acutely aware of the sudden pressure she felt inside her own head. Her pupils shrank to pinpricks, and she stopped mid-stroke as she became aware of an Other pushing its way into her.

Her breathing quickly became labored, and small beads of perspiration appeared on her forehead, and as quickly as a heartbeat her scene shifted. No longer was she basking in the sunshine. Instead, her world became that of the dream, and she found herself dressed all in white standing upon the surface of that black lake in the middle of the darkest landscape, tiny waves caressing her bare feet. Only this time, she wasn’t alone.

Standing some distance away was the Other, and seeing him, her hands clenched into tight fists. The Other had come before, and she knew what was to follow. Her eyes narrowed with fury as she unconsciously slipped into a defensive posture remembering the terror and despair the Other had made her feel. Before, she had been unsure and defenseless. This time, she was ready.


Written by - Ardwen Page 3 Book 4

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Teran

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Archeantus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was her doing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He paused then, keeping his voice calm and reassuring.

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

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

Written by - Ariana

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Ariana

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

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

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

”Do you remember me Ariana?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Archeantus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Talonmane

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

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

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

Written by - Vylia

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

Written by - Ardwen

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

Written by - Ariana

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

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

Written by - Wilhelm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

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

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

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

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

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

"It’s a fine fit, uncle.”

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

“What did you really wake me up for?”

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

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

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

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

Haswal nodded in acceptance.

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Tempyst

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

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

Written by - Rikshanthas

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Vylia

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


Written by - Talonmane Page 4 Book 4

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Ardwen

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Ariana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Vylia

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

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

Written by - Tempyst

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

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Turin Wallace

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

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

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

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

Ithramir began walking about the room as he spoke,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

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

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

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

Written by - Tempyst

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

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

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

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

Written by - Agmund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Rikshanthas

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

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

****

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

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

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

The man followed Haswal downstairs.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Ardwen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Agmund

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Talonmane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Written by - Euralia Page 5 Book 4

The dragonlady had been searching the open seas for hours now, with no sign of the ship that carried Ariana. As She flew just under the clouds, Her thoughts became frantic, and She sped up her search, knowing that Sycon had to be close, he must be. It wasn't until the new day dawned that She finally caught sight of her quarry, its inhabitants making their way to the shore. She flew above the clouds, using them as a cover, and scanned the tiny boats, but there was no hint of Sycon. As She swept Her silver eyes from boat to tiny boat, she knew something was wrong. Something had happened, and it had not been long since. Seeing Ardwenn cradling an unconscious Ariana, She could only hope that it was not Sycon's doing.

I cannot be seen. Not now. Even through Her determination to search the boat for Sycon, and Her curiousity as to what ravaged this party, she knew she had to wait until all had gone ashore.

A short while later, one of the sailors on the ship glanced up to see the clouds above him descending in the form of a beautiful woman. He looked over his shoulders to see that, by some chance, he was the only one on the deck to witness the silver-haired, silver-eyed lady approach him. She walked up to him as he stood in pure shock and wonder. She placed her hands on his shoulders and pressed her lips against his. The sailor trembled under her touch, and fell into a deep sleep as he heard a voice whisper in his mind This is only a dream.

She placed the sailor gently on the deck and moved on. She found her way below deck, and began Her quest for Sycon, for She knew he was here. She could feel their bond strengthen as She drew nearer. At last, She found him, bundled in a corner, his tear-stained face the only thing uncovered. From the looks of him, and his surroundings, She knew that he had some part in the madness that overcame this ship.

She kneeled beside of him, and placing one hand on his chest, She spoke so only he could hear. Wake up, Sycon.

His eyes slowly opened and fell upon his dragonlady, and in that glance, She felt his anger and his sadness, and his overwhelming confusion.

He stared into Her eyes, and his mind spoke only one word, Why?

She felt his sadness stronger this time, but all She could do was smile, for he was whole: he was still Her Sycon. Why? He asked again, but this time, she had a response ready. She moved Her hand from his chest and wrapped it around his fingers. As he held on to Her, She opened the bond between them. No, it was no longer a bond, not anymore. She opened a dam, and they flooded into each other. They breathed together, two bodies, one mind. As She thought, He knew: there was no distinction. Immediately, he had all of his answers. He knew where He was and why and what had happened before He left Her, and where They had to go next. He now knew Her plan, Her true plan, and as one, They experienced a great happiness, and a great sadness.

Fai, They thought. Yes, she shall be the beginning.

Ready to face Their trial, They unwound their minds, falling back into their separate bodies.

Slowly, together, they rose, tears streaming down their faces, and left to join Ariana.

Written by - Sycon

Sycon awoke to his lady once again. Her silver eyes shifting over him and he only had one question in his mind... Why? It was more of a question that could not be answered with a simple sentence. So many things were intwined in the singe word his mind grasped to. He felt his sadness, more than that, his lonliness. He had felt her bond, it had almost ripped him apart, but still it was the closest thing to heaven he had ever felt. Now he lay barren in cold in the belly of a ship he did not call his own. He had seen the face of his beloved Ariana, the face of his beloved lady and had at one point and time felt the love of both. Either through religion or something close to it. His mind was always tearing between the two, always feeling the urge to follow each to their oblivion if he had must. Now his mind, this confused, was alone. He felt neither nor understood any of it. Why?

Her mind opened, but now it wasn't the intense cold energy he had felt earlier, but it was so full. Everything he had wanted to know about her and about what was to come. Plans upon plans unfolded in his head... more than plans, reasons for plans, and the emotions that had brought them to be. It was almost too much to understand at once, but still it all seemed to sink in. Fai... I understand... but as the thought passed, or even finished the link had broken, but I still don't understand but the link was broken. He could see her smiling face, as tears ran down her cheeks. Was he still crying... he could not tell anymore.

It was cold in the room now. Colder than it was before if that was even possible. He felt colder now in his life than he had ever felt before. He could feel the link between his lady and him lay dormant, perhaps never to connect again. He could not feel anything around him. He tried to stretch out his mind, but to no avail. He could not see anything but the inside of this room, could not sense anything but the waves washing against the side of the boat and the moldy smell of the small compartment. His sword had shattered the moment she had taken her into his arms, the sword was a part of himself, the very image of his soul... she had shattered it. His soul ripped into many pieces only to reform to what he was now. What was he? He knew there was a change, yet... He let out a long hopeless sigh. He had no link to his former self... even she did not know how cold it was to be without the power to feel others around him... it was what had brought him out of the darkness back then... Ariana...

He stood, feeling perhaps in the best health he had ever been, but it went unnoticed as he could not find himself. He strode forward without a word. She walked behind him as they made their way to the deck of the ship. Lowered another small craft into the water, not speaking a word as it brushed the surface of the water. They made their way to shore and brought the boat up as not to wash away. On he walked... not knowing if this was the correct direction. He could no longer stretch out his mind to tell him... tears almsot welled up in his eyes once more. Further he walked until a clearing appeared and there, stood a statue of Ariana. He was not surprised by this, nor did he care. But there stood his previous companions, as he walked slowly forward, head down.

Written by - Archeantus

He fell into darkness, flowing past what he perceived to be her mind into his, only to find himself somewhere else entirely.

He landed with a thud in a place that can only be described as a nightmare. Slowly pushing himself off the ground, he quickly became distressed and immediately sought to leave.

There was a fear in the air as much as there was the feeling that something unseen was breathing there in the darkness. He could barely make out anything, the place was cold and damp, as if it were deep in the earth, but he could tell the place dripped of everything he abhorred. The warlock stood suddenly sensing he had entered the mind of something terrible, a mind of a being very foreign to him and all he knew.

Then there came a swooshing sound, echoing down from somewhere far past him. He then heard a deep rumble. He could sense nothing, and it scared him.

The swooshing sound grew more and more prominent, seemingly growing closer and closer. And suddenly there was a small light which slowly grew up above him. His terrified eyes gazed upward as the shaft of light grew wider, illuminating his shoulders then his upper body. Yet as the light banished the darkness it also revealed what had been breathing near him.

Archeantus turned just in time to see a nightmarishly black form leap at him, reddened eyes blazing!

Then a splash upon his face woke him up violently and he let out a gasp.

He was back, and he could hear a commotion going on, hearing the last of Kildef's words trying to calm someone down. It came to him quickly what might be happening. He feared what Ariana might have done when he'd been forced from her mind.

Feeling arms around him, he voiced his assurance he was well.

Luckily the worries he sensed about him subsided. He was breathing terribly, having just underwent something he'd never experienced before.

Where had he gone? His own mind? Or something else entirely?

Those questions would have to wait, and he tried to get to his feet.

"Friends," he said with a grimace "we need to talk."

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen felt tense, and he had no idea if his ruse was going to work. He was no master demagogue, and the only speeches he had made that were ever recieved with a cheer had been those on the battlefield. For a minute the elf felt the eyes of the crowd upon him, and the warrior mentally steeled himself for conflict. But then, finally, something went right. Kildef stepped forward, adding his expertise and assurances, seemingly content to continue the ploy of Ariana possibly not being Ariana.

The crowd bent to the barbarian's words, and within moments they had mostly dispersed with only a few of a more zealous nature bothering to stay at the shrine. The human healer and Kildef exchanged a few words, the only part catching Ardwen's attention was when she said that his companions had a noble bearing to them as well. That was technically true, Ardwen reflected, but the woman had probably not meant his ties to the peerage.

More importantly, the women appeared glad to help, though she quickly realized that whatever had laid Arc low was beyond her means. Still, Archeantus was not the only one with wounds in the clearing, and as Ardwen watched another figure was walking slowly across the grass. It was Sycon, and the warlock looked shattered, his eyes locked on the ground in dejection. Ardwen's brow furrowed in concern for an instant, both for his brother in arms, and for the fact that at the present so few of the Hands were in fighting form.

Before Ardwen could think to react, however, Archeantus woke up with a start. Ardwen looked at him to make sure he was coping, he seemed alright, but he looked visibly shaken. Ardwen could not blame him. The elven blade weaver could only imagine what he had experienced inside Ariana's mind. As Arc struggled to rise to a standing position, he gave voice to his first words since waking up. "Friends," he intoned "we need to talk."

Ardwen sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. He did not relish the prospect of learning what madness had gripped Ariana, of revisiting what he took to be his own failing to protect his abbess. Still, he mused sourly, he needed to at least know what was happening. "I think you've got the floor Arc, so long as you think it's safe to talk here." Ardwen muttered.

Written by - Turin Wallace

"I can certainly sympathize with the stress and pressure of leadership-having many look to you to show them the right path-especially in one so young. If you think back Lord Ithramir I'm sure that you can as well."

The young part-elf looked directly at Ithramir as he spoke. If it had been his intention of raising Ithramir's ire, it partially worked. All he could think of was how each of these folks were blindly following a leader who was not there.

It is admirable in animals, not so much when it comes to a nation.

Ithramir let him finish, then he heard a roll of paper land some distance away, but close enough that he could tell it was Vhar showing his opinion as well.

At this time, Ithramir speaks,

"You are right, Dartanian was it? There are many things to be done and since we have an ample supply of friends it should be simple. I shall keep your present suitability for service in mind, and should I deem it so, your company will lead the assault on Minas Uial."

More than a few generals rose to speak, not in defiance of Ithramir, but more so for the sake of the newcomer. In the taking of Minas Aure, the forward companies took staggering casualties. To send these soldiers, as far as they were concerned, was a death sentence. Even the rather rankled Sir Johann rose to speak.

However, before anyone could say a word, Ithramir raised his hands and smiled. Then, sarcastically, he says,

"No, I merely said it was under consideration. Your queen has need of your services, and who am I to deprive her of them?"

Glaring at Dartanian, he growls,

"Whether young or old, wether thrust upon you or not, when your people cry out and ache for leadership, to leave them and abandon your post in wartime, tell me what must be done sir? What would happen if a captain of your men would do so?"

Sir Johann stepped to the fore, then Ithramir turned his ire towards him,

"And you, sir, what have you to say? Before you take the audacity to utter one word, remember that the elves have long been patient, even friends to the Westgalian throne. Just because I have issue with my cousin does not mean I have issue with her people. As you are here as my, and my people's, guests it would do well to think before you act, sir."

He could see Sir Johann's eyes somewhat calm, and Ithramir added,

"You may not like me, hell, none of you may like me and that is just as well. Wars are won and lost in the mind, as well as on the field of battle. Just remember, what is out there is far worse than myself."

A tense moment followed Ithramir's echoing words, a silence broken only by the doors to the Great Hall being opened and a large map being brought in. It was a campaign map, and the time to discuss larger matters was upon them.

Smiling, Ithramir says,

"Now, on to the task at hand, my friends. Let us see how we can secure our flank before we turn our attention to my cousins kingdom and how we dispose of Beridane."

Written by - Tempyst

Dorve stood, hands on her hips and looked around. “Now where on de earth did everyone go? I swear this bunch of folks are the more infuriating I have ever met.” Then she spotted one young woman, dressed in black, her long black hair flowing about her like a storm. She walked up to the girl and smiled. “Hello there missy, you…I saw you with Turin didn’t I? If I recall he said you were a friend of his.” The woman nodded, her yellow eyes filled with a sadness Dorve could see filled her soul. “Well then, I be Dorve Treewalker and you are?” The woman brought a hand up to her mouth and shook her head. Dorve understood immediately. “Ah, ya can’t speak canna? I had an uncle who could not speak. I know a little of the language but only de letters and a few gestures. Ya see, his fingers were short and fat so most of the time he just mumbled, not to mention he was always drunk too.” Dorve chuckled remembering this. “Anyways my young friend, what be your name?” The young woman smiled, be it a sad smile and signed out the letters P U R G I. “Ah, Purgi, well that’s a start.”

Dorve sat down on a crate next to Purgi and patted the seat next to her. Purgi sat down, pulling her skirts up tight to her. “I don’t see Turin around, in fact, I don’t see any of the others around either, did they all go off together?” Purgi shook her head no. “Alrighty then, do you know when Turin will be back?” Again Purgi shook her head no, a tear falling down her face. “Oh dear, I didn’t mean to make you cry hun, did something happened to Turin? Is there anything I can do to help?” Purgi first nodded yes, then shook her head no once more, more tears falling. Dorve took Purgi’s hand in hers. “Is her hurt? Are you sure I canna do anything for him?” Purgie shook her head no adamantly. “Well then, I won’t push it, just know I am here to help if I can.”

Dorve sighed. “Now, since you are here alone, will you be wanting to go to the citadel with us?” Purgi nodded, then started to move her hands quickly, trying to talk to Dorve. Dorve put her hands over Purgi’s. “Wait, wait a moment dearie, I can only read so fast. I get that you want to go to the citadel with us. Is there someone or something there for you?” Purgi nodded yes, the sadness slightly lifted from her face. “Well then, that’s a start, what is there for you hun?” Purgi took a deep breath and signed out the letters T E M P Y S T. “Tempyst huh? I only know of one Tempyst, she is a new elder druid at the grove. Is that who you are looking for?” Purgi nodded yes enthusiastically. “Well then, there is some good news for you then. Today is the harvest festival, I am sure she will be at the grove for the night. If she is not there when we arrive, I am sure the elder druid would know where she has gone.” Dorve then stood up and brushed her skirts, then picked up her staff. “Well Purgi, I need to find the others Godrik has a feast set up for us, to celebrate the harvest, then we can travel via the oak to the citadel. I told him of the need to hurry, but it would be rude to not participate in some of the celebration here. Besides, if I don’t go, they can’t right?” Dorve chuckled. “Anywho sweety, just follow the path that way and you will come to the grove, you can’t miss it.” Then both Purgi and Dorve heard some commotion coming from town. Dorve sighed. “I am sure that will lead me to the others, follow me if you wish, or go to the grove, you will make up your own mind.” Dorve then began walking towards the village and to where some of the villagers were heading.

When she arrived at the clearing Dorve pushed her way through the crowd of villagers to the front, hearing them mumble something about ‘Saint Ariana’. Dorve sighed This will not end well I don’t think, not with the way their queen is right now. Once she made it to the front she could see an obviously wounded Vylia kneeling by Ariana, the one called Acheantus pulling himself up from the ground. She stepped forward a bit and waited with the others to see what Arc had to say.

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Dartanian watched as his hopeful attempt at diffusing the situation withered and died. He listened silently as the elf called Ithramir berated him for his loyalty once again, obviously he wished to have the final word on Mavigan no matter what. Then he went so far as to suggest that the Blue Knights lead the attack. This caused quite a stir among Ithramir’s Generals, as well as Sir Johann. Dartanian took note of this; could it be that there were some among the elves here who did not fully appreciate Ithramir’s leadership?

Very well, if that was how Ithramir wished to conduct himself, Dartanian would play along. Stepping forward towards the campaign map which had been produced, Dartanian spoke. He spoke calmly, without the slightest hint of malice. “That may indeed be a wise decision, Lord Ithramir. My men have not been engaged in combat since leaving for the Citadel and are quite fresh. As it would appear, fighting these orcs has had quite an effect on elvish morale. I can understand fully if your men are too tired to lead such an attack. Therefore, if you deem it necessary, my men and I would gladly lead the charge in your stead.”

Written by - Turin Wallace

“That may indeed be a wise decision, Lord Ithramir. My men have not been engaged in combat since leaving for the Citadel and are quite fresh. As it would appear, fighting these orcs has had quite an effect on elvish morale. I can understand fully if your men are too tired to lead such an attack. Therefore, if you deem it necessary, my men and I would gladly lead the charge in your stead.”

Ithramir almost had missed the young one's words being spoken, but the sudden stoppage of all talking, or even moving, within the hall spoke volumes.

Ithramir, eyes full of malice, stared directly at Dartanian. Straightening himself, hands instinctively reaching for the sword that hung at his hip, he restrains himself barely enough to reply,

"There is much a leader may take, but to question my troops, you are a fool."

Unsheathing his sword, his intention is quite clear as he continues,

"Make no mistake, Dartanian, I am neither humored nor impressed by your actions. If you wish not to accept our hospitality, then the Port is home to your own contingent, and I urge you to leave. If you wish to insult me, and my people further, then we have only one course of action."

Dartanian had insulted not just Ithramir, but the entire contingent of elves in the room. It was then to be noted that they moved to Ithramir's side of the room, almost in unison. Regardless of what he had said, they could not, nor would not, accept the insinuation that they feared battle. Especially not from someone who they knew nothing about. This was their leader, and they would not let him stand alone.

Written by - Agmund

The priest of the All-Father had remained silent, and somewhat unwilling to speak, let alone interrupt the discussion. Although much of it thus far, was in his mind at least, useless and pointless banter, the feeling of discord in the room was certain. Mavigan’s absence left a sting not in the hearts of those who pledged their service, but rather in the ones of those who had fought for her, even though she herself appeared to be indifferent. Her indifference, however, could only be assumed as an extension of her absence. Since Agmund had himself spent little to no time with her as an adult, he could not truly speak for her frame of mind, let alone defend or accuse her. Indeed, he was far more interested in tidings of Beridanes forces, or of news concerning Graelor, or discussion pertaining to the overall war being waged in Eadarolus, or even strategy for the upcoming battle. Yet these were not the topics at hand.

In fact, things had become so heated and off track that Ithramir had drawn his sword, and the room had divided. He pondered getting involved, since he had nothing to do with the dispute, but finally he interjected. Stepping forth from the shadows he walked before the elven lord and bent his tall frame low. “Lord Ithramir,” he said plainly, “I bring news from the east.” His face turned dour as soon as he spoke. Dour because he was upset with his own words, “news from the east,” he thought, as if he could not think of anything better to say in the present situation.

Written by - Talonmane

"It is good to see you up Arch. No doubt you could use a bear's sleep after the trials of the last week." The Ranger turned to face the Warlock and Weaver and caught the gaze of each of the others. He also smirked several times at Ollawahoo's continuing discomfort. You brought it on yourself, old bird. Half of it's an act anyway...you love our Abbess as you have no human being. What? Well, what can you do? Just give her a few minutes...

He admitted quietly to the others near, "I do wish Turin were here. His disappearance is a thing shadowed, and my mind dwells on it. Before she left last night, Salvorah tried to bend her heart to sensing him and found something which disturbed her. For the first time, I saw a fear in her very spirit, something which broke her demeaner with a startled cry and quick tear. She turned from me, hiding her notions, and bid farewell immediately. Aquanimbulos, the great elemental, told me he 'smelled' the taint of brimstone during the last time anyone saw the Priest of Battle on the deck of the 'Call. I suggested that this was merely that of the imps that were fought, but he only shook his head once, and suggested we gird ourselves for truths we may not see coming.

"I've been entertaining the worst of thoughts: What if we were all rused, and Adramelech's real target was not Ariana, but Turin? Might we need to gather ourselves in this terrible time and penetrate The Red itself? None here could abandon Turin to such a fate. Who here would not break the Burning Gates to recover him?

"But alas, what else could have occurred that evening? Is it as simple as him jumping ship to return to the Port for some unknown task?"

Hands behind his back, periodically glancing toward the Abbess and measuring their surroundings, he inhaled and exhaled deeply through his nose. "I apologize for rambling, Archeantus. Tell us there is some hope for Her?" He tried to show even a spark of eagerness for some optimism concerning Ariana's condition, but they could tell the thoughts of Sir Wallace's disposition still haunted him.

Written by - Archeantus

The warlock seemed to regard Ariana who was still entertained by poor Ollawahoo considering what he'd learned.

He scanned the area noting the minds of those present, even Sycon had come, a fellow warlock.

As a moment of quiet rested upon them once more in the grove, Talonmane voiced his growing worry concerning Turin. Archeantus listened intently and nodded in agreement.

"Perhaps you're right Kil. Turin's loss is as poignant as loosing her, and it may have been the fiend's plan all along."

The warlock shook his head, finding his shoulders lowering in growing exhaustion. He gripped his curved staff firmly and made his way to the statue once more, musing as he went.

His weathered hand glided along the cool stone surface again.

"She's worse than we thought."

The warlock let out a sigh, his head lowered.

"Turin was sought by powers unknown, and so it seems with Ariana..." He began. "Not only now, but it appears long ago as well."

He turned then and faced those he considered the truest of friends.

"From what little I could gather, she came here only to soon reenter the gate to bring those that did not make it..."

His voice shifted and lowered. He had been one of them that had not made it through the gate long ago.

He paused, passing his sightless gaze toward Ardwen for a moment and then continued.

"I do not know what happened when she entered, but I know she was held captive, by something or someone for an undisclosed time in the space between realms. It could have been thousands of years..."

The weight of what had happened to her pressed on his countenance.

"That something entered her mind, over and over and over, and shattered the line between what is real and what is imagined. It will take time to bring her back to her former self. What was true is now false. What was cherished is despised. What was loved, remembered, believed, is forgotten."

He sighed again.

"As it stands, she still considers me an enemy, one with the being who enslaved her mind. But..."

He paused, considering something.

"She guards her innermost thoughts, deep within her. She has fought many times...and she will continue to fight until she trusts who I am now, and who we all are now."

He turned to Talonmane, "Kil, I fear this will only be the beginning. Something is gathering. Great darkness looms, more than we've ever faced. It is expedient we discover the threat that has taken Turin and seeks to take Ariana soon. The more time we loose, the less chance we have."

Written by - Ardwen

As Archeantus recovered from his stupor Kildef spoke. Ardwen had imagined that the worst possible news would come from Archeantus, but apparently Kildef had been running the recent events through his mind as well. Even more apparent was that Kildef had come to some hard conclusions. It galled Ardwen that after all their efforts the demons could have still obtained their true objective. He had told the Priest of Battle that if he died, then Ardwen would die with him.

"Surely," the Elf muttered to himself, "he would not have thrown his life away so easily?"

Ardwen had no further time for contemplation then, as Archeantus was finally ready to give his report. As Ardwen had anticipated, the news was bad on both sides, but the most crushing part was yet to come. "From what little I could gather," the warlock said, "she came here only to soon reenter the gate to bring those that did not make it . . . ." As if to further impound the point, Ardwen felt the warlock's blind eyes on him for the briefest of pauses, but it was enough. Ariana had passed through the gate again to try and rescue those Hands who had not made it through. Ardwen had been one of those Hands. The Elven soldier had been right all along, he was culpable for Ariana's suffering. The information did not improve from there: Ariana's mind was still broken, and now it seemed as if the very battalions of damnation were hunting her down.

The Elven warrior had remained placid while Archeantus spoke, but it was a ploy to hide the anger and shame he felt so keenly. For a fleeting moment the Elf wondered how it had come to this. He had arrived on this world and expected to fight a war, a war against the enemies of the Elves, for the Elves. But things had rapidly spiraled out of his control, and now he was once more facing conflict with demons and Chaos. It was a fight Ardwen had fought before, a fight he had lost last time.

Archeantus finished speaking by warning on the impending struggles to come, and urging them to haste. Ardwen snapped out of his reverie with a slight shake of his head. "If I may?" He said flatly after Archeantus was done. "First of all, that was a job well done Archeantus, and I congratulate you on obtaining some intelligence and not dying in the process. Secondly, this confirms much of what we probably already feared was coming to pass; we have faced this manner of foe before. Last of all, I agree with Archeantus that it is paramount we know our enemies. However, as is rather obvious, not all of us are in top fighting form right now."

Ardwen paused to inhale and passed a gaze at the Hands gathered there. "It is for this reason," he continued, "that I advise going to the Citadel as soon as possible. I don't know what is after Ariana, but I want her guarded, and if I can put her in a place where there are stout walls and an army in between her and whatever, then all the better. Plus, commander Ithramir is an honorable and just man who knows how to keep his forces unified and focused."

The last action Ardwen gave before he finished speaking was a shrug while he said, "That's just my opinion. Although I would like to ask where our means to get off this . . . quaint . . . little rock is?"

Written by - Talonmane

The Ranger nodded. "She must take the Druidic route to get to the Citadel. The several day's journey at sea is too high a risk. Clearly we can't leave Her side. For now we should waste no time in following your recommendation Ardwen. Perhaps there are others amoungst the elves who can aid in Her recovery. We have every reason to go that way." He closed his eyes and shuddered just perceptably. "Bad for a Ranger to say, but I've never been comfortable travelling the Druid's road of trees.

"Munchadin has his own course to follow, though we can imagine that in days to come we'll sail with him again. Maybe I can convince the Admiral to send a ship to the Steppes and get Father up to speed. Outside of Sal, none of us have been here longer, and none know this world better. I surely wish he were amoung us - and against our foes his Axeslaber as well. Though Prahna made it clear these months in the North would be necessary to prepare him for events to come. I suppose all we can do is keep him aprised of what's happening down here so he can make the best decision.

After a pause, he turned and only half-peer back over his shoulder. "I'm going to speak to Munchadin and tell him we won't be going with him. Maybe I can have a talk with this mayor too. Why don't some of you see to finding the Druid so we can get this over with."

Written by - Tempyst

"Finding the Druid? I be right here or are yer eyes closed!" Dorve stomped her staff against the ground. "Hmph, anyways, I have spoken with Godrik and he knows of our needs and of our coming, he has prepared a feast for us, to celebrate this day of harvest, and we will leave this rock, after we eat and rest a little. Now, villagers, get back to your own preparations for your own festival tonight." Dorve looked around, her face scowled. "As for the rest of you, follow me and I will take you to the druid grove, and please act civilized for once in your lives, this is a great favor we are asking, to travel so many non druids through our sacred oaks." Dorve sighed and left the clearing, leading the way to the small sacred grove here on the island.

Once at the sacred grove, everyone could see the lavish feast laid out before them. An old human, beard and hair white with age, his staff containing only a few whithered leaves approached them. "Welcome to the Sacred Grove of Palm Island, I am Godrik and all are welcomed here, especially this day of feasting, the Harvest Festival. I know its early in the morning, but I figured you would would not wish to wait all day for the evening ritual so we prepared a special feast just for you. Nyrondis informed me of your coming so it was no trouble, no trouble at all. So please, eat up, rest for a bit, any of you still wounded will be healed, there is a warmed pool for bathing, if any of you are in need. Then, in a a couple of hours, the way shall be clear for you to travel. Now, lets eat!" Godrik turned around, mumbling under his breath, and lead everyone into the grove.

Written by - Ariana

Before long, the small struggles of the owl she embraced became pointed requests for release. With a sigh, she loosened her hold, and Olly was quick to take to the sky. Her head throbbed, and the bright sunlight seemed to send spears of pain directly into her head. Free of the object of her affection, both hands clasped her head and her eyes clamped shut.

As she struggled to remain upright even as the sensation of the ground swaying beneath her stationary form threatened to drag her down, she became aware of Olly. Though her eyes were closed, she could still feel him, his aura beating against her own much like his wings would brush against her skin. Her brow furrowed at the oddity.

She did not question it, however, so when she felt Olly begin to move off, she clumsily regained her feet and began to stagger blindly after him, trusting that he would not lead her astray.


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.”


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!’


Written by - Ardwen Page 8 Book 4

The only part of Ardwen that moved when he saw Ariana was his eyes. The Elf’s pupils swiveled to regard his Abbess, but the rest of him stood as motionless as if shaped from stone. He could see how the robe hung limply on her thin frame. The warrior’s eyes narrowed into a hard glare. It was painfully obvious that Ariana needed far more attention and healing before she would be whole again. Yet, it also felt to Ardwen as if they were languishing on this spit of land, the other Hands were feasting and indulging themselves with seemingly unabashed revelry.

Ardwen looked over his shoulder at the deeper forest beyond the edge of the grove, behind where he stood and Ariana sat. The Elf gave a dismissive humph before fixing his gaze forward again. Where had those times gone when each of the Hands - to a man - would have endured any pain, suffered any wound, and even sacrificed their life for their Abbess? But instead of immediately getting Ariana to safety they catered to their own hunger and vanity. Here they languished in the very backyard of their enemy who only the other day had tried to offer Ariana as a sacrifice for power. They were still too close, too exposed, and to think themselves safe was simply foolish.

The Elven bladeweaver decided to wait for a little longer, and if his compatriots did not enact a plan to do what had to be done, then he would. Ardwen, however, would not ask kindly to be transported off the island whenever convenient. No, he decided he would demand, and the cost of refusal would be high.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Kiradia walked calmly down the charred and blackened streets of Smarsh. Her hair whipping behind her in the hot winds that blew through the burned city. The charred remains of hundreds of men, women, and even a few children littered the streets. Her spell had been devastating to the city and the people.

Arrayed in a half circle around her was a squadron of hand picked minotaurs. Each of them standing 8 to 9 feet tall, rippling muscles and hard plate covering their bodies. Weapons of all shapes and sizes held in their massive fists. Their eyes were watchful as they moved forward slowly. The street was empty except for them. Not even her own soldiers, who were taking control of the town right now, had reached this road yet. This road lead straight to the inner keep of the city.

Kiradia's serenity was broken by the sound of wood snapping under foot as the entire area was suddenly engulfed in the ferocity of battle. Kiradia had expected the last defenders of Smarsh to attempt to hold onto what they had left or maybe attempt to delay her from taking the city completely. It did not matter what they tried to do, Kiradia had only one objective. She would capture the King of Smarsh at any cost.

A dark light radiated from her eyes, a death head smile on her lips as she walked forward heedlessly. Her arms twitched randomly at her sides, each twitch saw a blast of fire shoot out randomly around her. Each time a fireball hit it's target, the man had only a second to scream out his pain before he was immolated in a white flash. Kiradia's soldiers were not spared her wrath either, a number of minotaurs found themselves missing limps or chunks of their body from her fireballs, but thanks to their larger frames it did not mean an immediate death. All the while, Kiradia laughed and laughed and laughed... high and shrill, and men died all around her as the Minotaurs cut a path through the soldiers of Smarsh.

****

As Kiradia came upon the gates of the keep, she saw the doors opened wide as if inviting her forward. Standing there waiting for her was the King of Smarsh, sword and kite shield in hand. Full plate armor encasing his body. Kiradia came to within a few paces of the man, laughing and smirking. “King of Smarsh.... why do you not flee with your people?”

Written by - Ardwen

"Make sure the guides in charge of each encampment leave behind everything that can be spared, you must travel light and remember that the future of Smarsh rests in her people - not in the edifices or trinkets we leave behind." King Gongrane was moving swiftly through an ancillary corridor in his keep. The area was a normally an example of the ordered chaos the military thrived off of, with soldiers and equipment moving through its passageways at all hours. Today, however, it was eerily silent, and the few fleeting figures Gongrane could see were all running with ungraceful haste - men, women, and children all hurrying to evacuate the city before it was too late.

Gongrane had detained only one aide to impart his final instructions to, and even as he spoke he pressed a scroll in the aide's hand. The scroll was encased in a leather tube and bore the royal imprint of the Kingdom of Smarsh. "My lord?" The aide questioned, and Gongrane could see him avert his gaze.

"Our last instructions and wishes for our people, as well as our signet ring. One day, if the gods will it, Smarsh may be reborn, but now--" The King of Smarsh trailed off slightly and his assistance interrupted.

"My king, you must not! I beg you, please go with your people, they will - we will need a guide, the only guide, the rightful king of Smarsh, to lead us through the days ahead." As soon as he had finished speaking Gongrane could see the assistant pale slightly. The king could not help but noting with bemused irony that even now the aide was aware he had violated royal protocol with such an informal address.

"No," Gongrane said softly, "no, you have no need of a king - especially not in the days to come. I have failed my people, failed Smarsh, and the world may burn for it. It is the least I can do to make amends for my failure by buying our people all the time I can. The enemy will not cast aside the opportunity to ensure the 'leader' of their foe is dead, however insane they appear to be."

"Your highness--" The aide started, but this time Gongrane was the one to interrupt.

"No, no more of that Chonatas. I will face my death as a soldier of Smarsh, and in that death I will bear my wounds on the front with honor. I have but one more request for you Chonatas, one last charge - take my letter to my people, present it to the commander of the Elven Citadel. The ring is to remain with the people of Smarsh as a sign of unbroken lineage to the next king, should heaven ordain it so. But first, help me don my armor."

Chonatas did as he was bid. As Gongrane suited himself for combat for the first time in many years he could see glittering tears on the young aide's cheeks. The doors to the keep were swung open, and with a final salute Chonatas bid his king farewell. The King of Smarsh marked that Chonatas had wanted to say something, but grief had overcome the young soldier before he could find words, and he left by simply turning around and running.

Gongrane was alone now.

Out in front of the king a visage from one of the hells promised to the wicked greeted him. Fire and violence had scarred the once pristine and ordered streets of Smarsh, the air was thick with ash and cloying smoke, and the smell of charcoal mingled with the odor of burning flesh. All of this, however, paled in comparison to the figure that stood before him. Gongrane was not sure what to expect of the leader of the enemy forces. Certainly, he recalled the scant reports his scouts had managed to send, but none of them prepared him for what he now saw.

In many respects, she appeared almost ordinary, almost recognizable. She was, or at least at one time was, human with distinct Elven ancestry. Her slightly pointed ears and all but haunting features gave that part of her heritage away. However, the exposed parts of her skin were covered in bewildering tattoos, the swirls and loops seemed to snake with no discernable pattern. Her hair whipped around her face, black with streaks of fiery red.

The being before Gongrane spoke, and as she did Gongrane tightened his grip on his sword. "King of Smarsh . . ." she taunted, "why do you not flee with your people?”

Gongrane had to relax his jaw before he could reply, he had reflexively clenched his jaw when the lady was speaking, "This land is my peoples' land, and the land of their fathers before them, and their fathers before them. It is my charge, my divine duty, to ensure that they live to reclaim it. Do with me what you will, witch, but you must hear my words . . ."

Gongrane paused before sucking in a breath of air and conveying his next words with all the kingly dignity he had learned from years on the throne, "There shall come a reckoning for you. Perhaps not here, perhaps not now, perhaps not until long after we are all naught but dust and ash. But all things under heaven move as they are appointed, and to each of those things there is a time, your tyranny will not endure." Gongrane flipped the helm of his visor down, and his vision narrowed slightly as the metal protector slid over his face, "Come," he said as he limbered his sword and shield arms, "we both know this parley is a mockery."

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Kiradia looked over the man in front of her, strongly built and handsome after a fashion. Full armor, sword, and shield, ready for battle with another warrior, but not a mage of her power. With a hand gesture the minotaurs who were guarding her stepped to the side. Giving a free path for Kiradia and King Gongrane to fight.

With a burning flash that seared the eyes of all around, a spear of fire formed in Kiradia's hand, at the tip floated a solid core of smoldering brimstone. Kiradia's eyes took on a whole new level of insanity as she slid her arm back into place, flexing the toned muscles of her arm as she prepared to throw the spear. In truth she did not need to do so, she could easily propel the spear through force of will alone. However, the earlier spell she used to bring down the city of Smarsh had taken much out of her and she did not wish to overtax her body. Insane... not stupid.

With the tip of the spear pointed directly at King Gongrane's heart, Kiradia smirked as she looked at him with eyes of burning fire.

“You are correct King of Smarsh, one day my tyranny will end... However,” and with a crack of thunder, Kiradia threw the spear of fire with all the force her arm could produce. The spear flew at impossibly fast speeds, straight towards the King. Kiradia was already preparing another spell, not waiting for the King to react...

Written by - Ardwen

The tongue of flame sped through the air so swiftly as to appear a red bar that went from the hands of the sorceress to the king. By the grace of fortune, Gongrane had positioned his shield correctly and the spear of fire struck the embossed metal. Sparks shot when the spear collided with his shield, and Gongrane could feel the heat from the spell as it spent itself against the protective metal. The force of the spell made the King of Smarsh stumble backwards a few steps before he could regain his balance and see the insane woman was already preparing another spell.

Gongrane knew he had to close the distance between him and his foe, his only hope was in getting into melee combat where he could bring his arms to bear. The king had no clue what spell the vile witch was preparing, but it did not matter to him in the slightest, his course was singular and already set. With a roar of defiance Gongrane hoisted his shield in front of him, leveling it so that the top rested just beneath his eyes. His other arm gripped his sword and raised it high, and with another shout of resistance the king ran towards his foe as fast as he could – trying to eat the distance between them before she could loose another spell.

Written by - Ariana

When Mavigan did not receive any response from Teran regarding the nature of the pipes, she shrugged and began to follow them herself, Keeryn following close behind. The crystalline pipes continued all along the hallway. They did not remain in any fixed pattern, rather they branched off and were joined by other pipes that came from grooves cut in the walls and ceiling. The series of pipes intertwined and multiplied, forming sharp angles and intricate grids along the walls. All of the pipes were full of the same sanguineous fluid, and all writhed with trapped souls that stirred beneath the charnel surface of the fluid if one looked for too long.

The tunnel ended abruptly in a large oval room, and Mavigan pressed herself close to the chamber wall in order to survey her surroundings undetected. The network of pipes all led to this point, and they now ran into the floor emptying into open channels that churned sluggishly with blood. She could see that the blood-filled floor groves formed an arcane design, an eight pointed star circumscribed within a circle. Various side channels of blood made half-moons and bizarre loops and swirls that were so maddeningly complex they were almost painful to observe. Set at points around this arcane design were cultists, some shrouded in black cloaks, and other wearing black mail armor that caught and reflected the ambient light of the ritual chamber.

There were three concentric posts of cultists, the outermost having eight, the next one in composed of four, and finally the innermost was simply two flanking a raised dais in the center of the pentagram. However, it was upon this dais that the most impressive figure in the room stood. It was a man, or at least it appeared to be, dressed in the flowing robes of the cultists, but there were ornate and decorative designs covering his clothing. Ironically, despite their affluent appearance, the robes were tattered and frayed at the ends, giving the whole ensemble the appearance of a ragged cloak.

The man wearing the robes was tall, taller than even the largest cultists in the room. He did not wear the cowl of his uniform like some of his compatriots; rather his face and head were open for all to gaze upon. His head was shaved clean, and he had no visible facial hair. Two piercing eyes gazed at the room around him, and there was not one of the cultists in the chamber that dared meet his baleful visage. At the moment, the man's eyes were locked on another stairwell leading into the chamber on the opposite end of the room from the corridor that led to the blood piping.

From out of the shadows of the distant corridors more figures had emerged. One was a deeply tanned man with long black hair and storm-gray eyes, oddly enough he was obviously human yet wore a cloak of clearly Elven make. Next to the man was another figure, another human, but this one had long gray hair and brown eyes, and did not share as deep a complexion as his other companion. This man carried a rapier at his side and a bone flecked whip. There was another with the two humans as well, a third figure that stood behind them and looked like he would not be out of place with the other cultists in the room. As his form was blocked by his two companions it was difficult to see him, but as the light from the blood magic played across his hooded features one could catch the glimpses of a sharp, angular face, not ugly, but one pinched by malice and constant arrogance.

The pulse and thrum of the magic in the room caused Mavigan to shiver. She quietly unsheathed her daggers, but her shaking hands caused the tip of the blade to scrape against the stone wall behind where she and Keeryn were crouched. The metallic sound, though faint, appeared to Mavigan as loud as a thunderbolt, and it was enough to attract the attention of those in the room. She froze as several pairs of eyes, including the ones of the bald guy in the center turned towards her hiding place.

Written by - Ariana

As the sun slowly traced its arc across the sky, she became restless. Watching the Others doing this and that quickly became boring since none made any move towards her and Olly. Rising to her feet with a huff of irritation, she turned her back on the druidic grove and allowed her feet to carry her wherever they wished. Her self-appointed guardian took to the air and watched her closely with a wary eye.

Her feet inexorably drew her back to the large stone statue situated in the clearing surrounding the church. She did not know why her feet had decided to carry her back here, but there were no crowds hemming her in, and that made her happy. Bare feet danced happily in soft grass for several minutes, observed from on high by cautious golden eyes.

As she twirled happily in a circle around the statue, the symbol that had caught her attention before called to her once again, and she stopped in mid-twirl, the edges of her robe continuing its motion before coming to a stop with a quiet swish. Like a siren’s call it drew her, and she stretched out her fingers and gently traced the symbol, fingertips following the lines and curves round and round.

Beneath the pressure of her hands, the symbol began to glow and tiny arcs of light jumped from the symbol and into her caressing fingertips. The sudden influx of power startled her and she tried to pull away. The stone would not release her, and the arcs of light grew in size as she attempted to rip her hands free.

Panic welled up and spilled out of her mouth in a loud shriek as the power grew ever stronger and began to pull her inside the stone. In response, Olly himself gave a loud shriek and took flight in a flurry of wings.

By now, the entire statue glowed with a bright light, and one arm was sucked in up to the elbow. Desperate, she propped her feet against the stone in an attempt to gain leverage to pull herself out, but much like the legend of the Tar Baby, as soon as her feet hit stone, they too began to get pulled in.

Memories of portals and cold, dark spaces filled her mind, and terrified tears began to stream down her face. The more she struggled against the power, the faster it pulled her in, until finally, with one last heave the clearing where she had been standing was empty, though the air still crackled with vestiges of power.

Expecting to find herself once more encased in utter darkness, she was extremely confused when she was greeted not by the Void, but by a wall that seemed to surround a large stone building perched on a hill and gleaming faintly in the sun. But it wasn’t until she confronted by two men brandishing weapons in her direction that her legs finally failed her and she collapsed onto her knees, her entire body shivering in fear.

Written by - Wilhelm

Ethan and Gareth, members of the Queen's Guard, were taking their turn on guard duty patrolling the inside of the wall surrounding the Citadel Keep. While neither expected to see any foe get this far, both were aware that vigilance was called for with the preparations for the second campaign and that supernatural agents could indeed show up almost anywhere.

They came to a series of niches in the wall, each niche honoring a different Deity of Light, with a fountain and formal flower garden offering a convenient place to pause and quench their thirst. Both then bowed before the niche honoring the All Father and made the sign of the triskelion on their chest and saluted the triskelion engraved into the niche.

"Look at that." said Ethan, "The flower offering for the All Father has not been made this morning."

"Tsk, tsk." replied Gareth. "The acolytes must be too busy with the festival to tend to this duty."

"Can't have that. I'm sure the elves can spare some of these flowers then."

Ethan moved through the garden and plucked a bouquet of fresh flowers, taking care to spread the process out so as to not leave any visible effect of the gathering. Returning to the niche, he laid the offering at the foot of the niche, replacing the wilted bouquet left from the previous day. As he turned away, he saw Gareth start and point at the wall.

"Look at that! The triskelion is starting to glow. The All Father must be pleased."

Ethan joined Gareth and turned to see that the triskelion symbol engraved in the stone was indeed glowing. Soon the entire niche began to glow. Ethan and Gareth saluted the niche in respect and awe, then started in amazement as first a hand and then two feet emerged from the stone. This was followed by the emergence of the rest and it was clear that this was not the All Father, but a woman. They stepped back and drew their weapons, prepared to fight if this was a foe.

The woman finished emerging in an awkward manner, almost as if pulled out of the wall by some force, and stared dazedly around. Upon seeing the two guardsmen with their drawn weapons, she fell to her knees, her entire body shivering with fear.

"I don't think this is a foe, and she looks familiar. I'm sure I have seen her somewhere before." said Gareth. Sheathing his sword, he plucked a flower from a nearby bush. "She looks like she needs help. You better report to the Gate Captain and ask him to send a healer over here. I'll keep watch on her."

Ethan nodded and ran off towards the gate. Gareth bowed to the shivering woman, and held out the flower to her.

"I am Gareth, Lieutenant of Queen Mavigan's Guard. In the name of the All Father, welcome to the Citadel of Lothiel-Gadith. You are safe here, whatever you may have fled from in such an unusual manner."

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen’s brooding was interrupted as he watched Ariana walk off. The Elf’s first instinct was to follow his Abbess, but he batted aside the desire. He was not interested in volunteering himself as a caretaker, and furthermore Ardwen thought it prudent to finally rouse the other Hands to get their journey to the Citadel over with. The Elven warrior walked back to the tables of food and grabbed another apple, he took a single bite out of the fruit and looked around for his dilatory companions. It was then that he heard a scream in the distance, her scream.

Ardwen’s eyes narrowed in a fierce scowl and he hurled the apple in his hands, the fruit struck a nearby tree trunk and splattered. Were none of the other Hands watching the Abbess? Ardwen cursed the laxity and dereliction of duty of his companions, but even as he mentally raved he was running through the forest towards the sound of the panicked scream. Unsurprisingly the sound led him back to the statue of Ariana in front of the small church where the group had departed for the Druid Grove. Sure enough, there was Ariana, and also surely enough she was being dragged forcefully through some kind of portal opening in the stonework.

The bladeweaver had no time to make sense of anything, for in the blink of an eye his Abbess had been subsumed by the stone’s portal. Ardwen quickly decided that there was only one course of action: whatever had happened was intended to carry Ariana away, away from this place. If it was benign or not did not matter to the Elf, all that mattered was that he at least remembered his duty. That duty was to protect his Abbess, to repay the debt he owed. Without a moments hesitation Ardwen ran into the gateway that Ariana had disappeared into.

The first sensation was one of utter darkness, Ardwen thought his eyes were closed before he attempted to blink and realized that they were still open – there was simply no light to see by. This alone was a surprise given the superior nighttime vision of his race, but the utter absence of light was the least of the oddities. Ardwen felt as if he was moving through the earth, or rather that the earth was moving through him. It was like trying to cross a ford in a current, there was resistance but it was pliable. Inexplicably though, Ardwen had to exert no effort to travel, something or someone was guiding him to an unknown destination all on its own. The Elf thought he had a good idea who this external force was too, for in the back of his mind he could feel Him watching. A constant presence in the earth itself, a bemused presence, the Elf heard a slight chuckle, and then there was light and shape again.

The first thing Ardwen saw was a human proffering a flower to Ariana and extending his welcome to Lothiel-Godith. “Wise words.” Ardwen spoke, and the man jumped slightly in surprise. The Elven swordsman saw the man inch his hand towards his blade but Ardwen smirked and said, “Don’t bother, I’m an ally. I fought at the battle of Minas Uial, though I wore black armor at the time.”

The human’s eyes widened in surprise and he made a strange throaty gurgle before spitting out all at once, “That was you?”

Ardwen crossed his arms and held his head higher before saying nonchalantly, “Indeed.”

The human soldier quickly regained his composition though, and in a matter-of-fact tone said, “I’ve sent my patrol partner, Ethan, to inform the Gate Captain. He should be returning with a healer soon. Just in case you didn’t hear, I am Gareth, lieutenant of Queen Mavigan’s Guard.”

Ardwen chuckled cynically briefly before noticing the puzzled look on the human’s face. “My condolences.” The Elf said plainly. “Still,” Ardwen continued, “I actually feel grateful for the haste of your kind. After being stuck on that damn tiny island watching people feed their faces, it’s good to see a soldier with a sound head on his shoulders.”

The puzzled look on Gareth’s face only increased, but both the Elf and human saw two figures walking towards them, and both ceased their conversation.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia followed Ariana through the trees as she left the camp, trying to keep out of her sight so she wouldn't be disturbed by her presence. She followed Ariana all around the island, obviously having no destination in mind, before finally approaching the courtyard of the church where she had been blasted by Ariana's holy powers, and proved that Palandramil was still with her.

Vylia smiled as Ariana danced around the statue of herself, unconcerned for what transpired in the world outside where she was now. When she stopped and started to stare at the statue Vylia wondered if something was wrong, but calmed when she saw that Ariana was merely focusing on the Triskellion symbol on the base of the statue. She watched as the symbol began to glow under Ariana's fingers, almost expecting the All-Father or one of his Archons to manifest in front of them when Ariana suddenly started trying to pull away frantically.

As she went to run toward Ariana she heard a voice in her head, "Wait, it will be alright," and Vylia paused. She knew that voice, for Palandramil had spoken to her several times in the last few months, and so stayed where she was amongst the trees. Her heart ached as she saw the terrified expression on Ariana's face as she was sucked into the statue and was about to follow herself when she noticed Ardwen had come running into the clearing and ran straight into the statue behind the Abbess.

Vylia grimaced as he followed Ariana into the statue, but she wasted no time running headlong into the portal behind him. It was like trying to wade a fast moving river she was moving so slow. As she travelled she realized with Ardwen there it was going to be very unpleasant, no matter where they ended up. Just as she thought this she burst back into the light... and right into Ardwen's back. It was like running into a brick wall as Vylia stumbled back, rubbing her cheek where she had slammed into him, her face beet red in embarrassment. She was about to say something when she remembered her earlier words and clamped her mouth shut, her face turning to one of extreme annoyance before she noticed the two figures walking towards them.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn was both amazed and disgusted at the constant flow of blood through the tubes, and the look of tormented souls flowing along with it brought back painful memories. The sight only got worse as they reached an oval room with the blood flowing in from every direction create a grotesque design upon the floor, it hurt her eyes whenever she tried focusing on any particular one.

Her eyelids narrowed at the number of men in the room and she sniffed the air, feeling and then smelling something very familiar. She scanned the room closely before focusing on the bald man in the middle, as she saw him her eyes went as wide as they could go, and she had to stifle a gasp. She knew this man, knew him and hated him beyond all others, but he was also the only person she had met that she truly feared. All of her instincts screamed at her to run.

Just as she was reaching for Mavigan's shoulder to pull her back there was a loud metal scraping sound on the wall beside them. Keeryn flinched at the noise before grasping Mavigan's shoulder and attempting to pull her back down the hall.

Written by - Teran

Teran stepped forward suddenly, shoving Mavigan back with his right arm as he quickly stepped past her into what could only be described as pure violence. Spells of every element converged on the spot Mavigan had been standing, most of them striking Teran who seemed to wither under the violent assault. The armor he had paid so much to have created suddenly proved it's worth and an assault that would have killed him outright simply slammed him into the wall and brought him to his knees. Though the magic had not harmed him directly, the blistering heat, freezing cold, and other nasty proximity effects of spells had run their course on him.

The more carelessly aimed spells slammed into the crystal walls of the cavern which caused the blood within the pipes to boil. A split second later the "pipes" exploded simultaniously filling the long passage with crystal shrapnel, though most of the damage was done further back where the pipes were larger and held more blood.

The ritual room itself was also filled with flying shrapnel however the explosion had also caused the blood within the pipes to crystalize and shatter filling the area with a redish dust. The souls, now free from their prison writhed around and though they were corporeal the blood-dust was sensitive to their presence and would alter as they "slithered" through it seeking a way to escape.

Many of the mages began preparing a second volly while the more martial inclined within the crowd drew their weapons however with the crystalized blood and smoke rapidly obscuring vision there would be little they could do until the fighting got a little closer to them.

Sabbatine roared her battlecry as she leapt over her fallen friend. Her voice was high pitched and so loud it disoriented some of the magi in the room causing their spells to fizzle. Her first victim saw her coming, was painfully aware of every leaping step she took as she charged headlong into the tightly packed group. Her blade caught him coming at a downward angle, shattering his colarbone before becoming lodged against his spine. Sabbatine let out another shriek before ripping her gore covered blade from the rapidly dieing mage.

Teran peered into the chaos as he stumbled to his feet. He was covered in blood, his own and the strange blood that had been in the pipes. He watched Sabbatine viciously kill whoever she could as she ran into the chaos. While his wounds healed, Teran glanced around trying to locate Mavigan and her pet, hoping they could keep themselves alive until he could get into the fray.

"Yaaaaaaaah!" he heard Sabbatine scream, gone mad on blood lust and drunk on the pure soul energy that surrounded her, which was followed by a severed head bouncing out of the dust coming to rest near the assassin.

He sighed miserably, if he had known they'd be dealing with a whole cabal of mages he probably wouldn't have brought her along.

Written by - Vylia

The scent of blood obscured Keeryn's ability to keep track of the bald man, but it was obvious there would be no running here. As Sabbatine rushed into the dust cloud Keeryn followed, going around the opposite side of the room, using her ears to locate the mages as quickly as possible, her spear appearing out of the cloud to gore one as he mumbled the words of a spell. She pulled the spear out and cringed each time Sabbatine screamed, the noise throwing her off-balance. As the scream ended she heard the man coming up behind her and dropped to the ground, her legs folded under as she the blade sliced through where her neck had been. She brought the butt of the spear up into the man's gut before coming back to her feet, she spun the spear around so the tip was pointed behind her and stabbed the man through the eye. He fell with a wail as Keeryn jumped off into the dust cloud.

She landed in the mass of men that Sabbatine had charged, and almost stabbed the undead woman since she was the loudest in the group, until she noticed who it was. Instead Keeryn went into a frenzy of spins and stabs, using Sabbatine's strikes as distractions, her spear coming at the men from over Sabbatine's shoulders or under her upraised arm while still holding off any that tried to attack her directly by parrying with the haft of the spear or the using the butt end to shove them away.

Written by - Aethelwulf

Alaric stepped forth from the portal into the daylight. As the portal's light faded, he muttered, "Now that is a handy thing indeed".

He had been keeping a watchful eye on Ardwen for some time. There was something about the elf that bothered him, some manner of darkness in Ardwen that seemed unsettling. When Alaric saw first Ariana, then Ardwen, and finally the one called Vylia touch the ancient symbol and disappear, he hurried to do the same. He was certianly not about to let the elf out of his sight, and Ariana seemed to have one foot in reality and the other placed firmly somewhere else.

Stepping into the area around the nave devoted to the All Father, he felt at once that he was on familier ground, for indeed he was standing on the grounds of the Citadel of Lothiel-Gadith. Gathering his wits about him, he glanced around, and saw Ardwen talking to Gareth, a Lieutenant of Queen Mavigan's Guard.

"Lieutenant", Alaric's words barely above a whisper, "Perhaps we should get this lass to the Infirmary, and summon a healer."

Gareth's head whipped around, and he instantly snapped to attention. "My Lord Commander! Tis good to see you again sir!"

"Indeed Commander, it is good to have you home!" Gate Captain Morgan spoke as he and Ethan approached. "It shall be as you have ordered sir."

Morgan then gently took Ariana by the hand, and with Ethan and Gareth following, escorted her into the Citadel.

Alaric then spoke to Ardwen and Vylia. "She will be well cared for, and if you like, the both of you may stand watch in her room after the good healers have taken a look at her. In the mean time, perhaps we can adjourn to my quarters for a bit of ale, and a bite to eat?"

Written by - Vylia

"I apologize, but I must decline your offer Alaric. I go where she goes, at least until she has recovered." Vylia smiled at Alaric, "Also, I've never been one for ale." With that she jogged off to catch up to the Ariana, though she honestly could not say if it was to keep her safe, or to keep others safe from her anymore.


Written by - Aethelwulf Page 9 Book 4

Alaric's brow furrowed as he watched Vylia hurriedly follow the Guard. He wondered how quickly others would realize exactly who the young lass really was. He smiled wanly, as he turned to the somber elf beside him.

"Well then sir, perhaps your services are needed in the infirmary as well." The smile fading, Alaric lowered his voice and spoke in a dark tone. "Perhaps, for the moment, we should seek to keep the Abbess' identity to ourselves . That is, until she is well."

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya got dressed after her bath and wandered about the grove, waiting for Dorve to finish up her rituals. She watched Ariana wander off, then watched as Ardwen and Vylia, even Alaric, wandered after her. She dozed off under a tree and was awakened by Dorve. "It's time to go." The dwarf said. Kaya looked up at the sun and could see several hours had gone by. She looked around but could see no sign of the ones who had wandered off.

"Let me go find the others and we shall be off." Kaya stood and walked around the grove, but found no sign of her new friends. Then she decided to wander in the direction she saw them wonder off too and soon found herself at the statue once more. But there was no sign of them, sighing she was about to head back when the hoot of an owl caught her attention. "I don't suppose you know where they went do you?"

"They went through a stone portal to the citadel, least that is what he is showing me." Dorve said, making Kaya jump. "Seems like we will have to go on without them." Kaya nodded and trod behind Dorve back to the grove. The druid then went to the great oak and spoke loudly. "Any who would like to go the citadel please come over here, I can only take 10 at a time, so those left behind the first time please wait here." Dorve then turned to the tree and began her magic. Kaya watched as the trunk of the tree seemed to soften and swirl before her eyes and soon there was a door sized portal within the trunk of the tree. Dorve motioned for the first 10 to come forward and step on through. Kaya was first and the sensation of walking through the portal was like the first time she did it, warm, comforting, and filled with life energy.

Soon the first people were inside and Dorve then entered. Taking the lead she walked through the hazy landscape and Kaya with the others, followed. They walked for a few moments , then another portal appeared in front of them. "Here we are." Dorve said, her voice muted by the energy all around them. Kaya walked through the swirling mass of energy and had to cover her eyes from the brightness of the sun in the grove she just entered.

"Welcome to the sacred grove, please come this way and sit down. You will be oriented soon." Kaya felt a hand at her elbow and followed the lead of the man who spoke to her. She sat down on a log and waited, and soon her vision cleared and she could see herself within a grand grove, filled with people, many of which were naked. Kaya smiled and went over to Dorve to tell her she was going to go look for the others. Dorve nodded and disappeared back into the portal for the next group of people who wanted to come to the citadel. Kaya turned, looked about once more, and then headed for the keep.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen felt something bump into his back, the Elf craned his head around to look behind him and saw Vylia rubbing her face from where she had collided with his back. The Elven warrior said nothing and returned his attention back to the two approaching guards when a third and final figure emerged from the portal; it was the human commander known as Alaric that Ardwen had met from the first tower siege. Impressively, Alaric managed to snap off hasty orders regarding the care of Ariana, commending her to the care of the Citadel’s healers.

But of course, Alaric couldn’t understand the full implications of the situation at hand. The commander of the Queen’s division proved this with his invitation for food and drink. Ardwen said nothing, but his hands curled into fists at his side. Vylia declined first, citing her dislike of ale and her need to stay beside Ariana. Once again, Ardwen said nothing, but then Alaric turned to him. The Elf couldn’t help but notice the somber tone of the human’s voice as he spoke the necessity of keeping Ariana’s true identity a secret for the time being. For Ardwen, however, it was the third and final insult.

The Elven swordsman curled his lips up into a sneer and made a soft “tch” sound. “Useless,” Ardwen said, “All this gods damn feasting and drinking! There’s a war that needs your attention. You have your duty, and I mine.” Without another word Ardwen walked away from Alaric, but the warrior did not head to the infirmary where Ariana was being tended. Instead, the Elf asked for directions to the mages’ quarters, and with a bit of walking and more asking Ardwen found himself outside a place called the Scholar’s Tower. The Elven bladeweaver was stopped at the entrance by a ranger who identified himself as Elemir.

“I just need some time with one of the mages inside.” Ardwen said simply. Elemir bobbed his head, opened the tower door, entered, and then closed it leaving Ardwen standing outside waiting. The Elven warrior took the opportunity to lean up against the wall next to the door, but he had just settled his back against the stone when the door opened once again. An Elf in deep crimson robes trimmed with silver was walking next to Elemir and the two were sharing hushed words.

The wizard looked at Ardwen and did not bother with an introduction, the impatience written across his face told Ardwen all he needed to know. “Well,” the warrior said, “I need you to help save a life, a very important life—“

“That’s what the acolytes and the priests are for.” The mage interrupted. “Why do you need me?”

Ardwen let the question hang in the air for a moment, more to irritate the sorcerer than anything else. Right when the mage was about to open his mouth to speak again Ardwen said, “Because the wound is not physical, but mental, and none could think of a way to help – I have.”

The mage placed a hand upon his chin and drummed his fingers, his brow furrowed. “Sergius.” He said at last.

Ardwen blinked and said in return, “Ardwen.”

“Good,” The mage said with a nod, “now I know who to blame if something should go wrong. Elemir, continue your vigil over the entrance until my return. Ardwen . . . lead on.”

Ardwen did as he was bid, staying a few steps in front of Sergius. During their walk back the mage made it clear that he could promise nothing definite. Magic dealing with the mind was a delicate and complicated matter, and to further frustrate matters he did not know the condition of the one Ardwen was leading him to. Ultimately, it was surprisingly easy to find where Ariana had been taken, there was talk and rumor about the “strange lady” spreading already, and Ardwen recalled with irony Alaric’s admonishment.

It helped also that Vylia was standing her promised vigil inside the infirmary. As the two Elves neared each other Ardwen spared her not a glance, and brushed frostily by. Ariana was surrounded by a gaggle of pestering healers and holy men. They had managed to sit her down on a bed, but she was not exactly taking their prodding with grace: she poked at some, grabbed the ears of others, and kept trying to stand up. The entire vista annoyed Ardwen and only strengthened his resolve that he was doing the right thing. It was then that he felt a tug at his sleeve, turning around slightly he saw Sergius had gripped the cloth and was staring at him.

“A moment please.” He whispered and took Ardwen aside from the group of healers. Glancing around he returned his attention to Ardwen and said, “I see what you mean now. Symptoms? Remember, anything that you can tell me will help her and your chances.”

“Well,” Ardwen said softly, she lacks her memory almost in entirety, and cannot distinguish friend from foe. She has forgotten even speech, and at best acknowledged gestures or beckoning. I’m not sure how to describe it; I’ve never seen anything quite like it either.”

“I see,” the mage said with a nod, “and who exactly is she?”

“I . . . “ Ardwen hesitated. He thought of Alaric’s warning, then thought of Sergius’s advice. “Ariana,” he said finally, “a . . . servant . . . of the All-Father.”

Sergius raised an eyebrow at this and said, “A common enough name, but you’re not being entirely forthright. But I’m not running an inquisition here, though it is good you mentioned she has a possibly active channel to the divine.”

“Oh,” Ardwen said flatly, “it’s more than possibly active.”

Once more Sergius nodded and the two Elves headed over to Ariana’s cot. Together they managed to convince the healers to stand aside for a moment. “Now,” Sergius said, careful to keep his voice even and calm, “you said you had an idea on how to proceed about this?”

Ardwen nodded slowly and said, “Yeah, we had a mage do some sort of mind-walk thing to her earlier, and it seemed to help.”

Ardwen noticed that as he spoke Sergius’s eyes widened with each word. At the end of Ardwen’s sentence he sputtered out, “He just . . . entered her mind? Like that? What kind of mage does such a thing?”

“A warlock?”

Sergius sighed and rubbed a hand over his forehead. “I’m afraid,” he began at length, “that what you ask of me I cannot do. This goes beyond my expertise, and to both enter her thoughts and maintain any measure of control over the spellweave is too risky, I’m sorry.”

Ardwen simply crossed his arms and said, “Who said anything about you doing the mental jaunting? I intended to go all along. It is I that she knows after all.”

Sergius raised his hands in a helpless shrug before saying, “She has latent memories of you, does she? Then maybe, just possibly, there is a chance to do this correctly. I must warn you though that there can be dire consequences for even the slightest error. The darkness that veils her mind and soul--“

“You worry about your part, and I mine, Sergius. Whatever darkness is in her world is not enough to stain me.” Ardwen retorted.

Sergius repeated his earlier shrug and asked pointedly, “Are you ready?”

Written by - Talonmane

Kildef and seven of his father's Wardens travelled with Dorve on the second trip. Even the greater nearness to Braialla could not alleve the terrible panic he experienced at times like this, where his normal perception was stripped away and kept in an endless dark for moments too many. Druids had always attempted to explain how he should relax and embrace the event, but for the Ranger the environmental shock was always too awful. At the other side, he tripped out of the event horizon, staggering and striving to put at least a half a league between it and himself. Feeling half blind and sick all over, he finally fell to his knees against a retaining wall in an unknown corner of the new location, and threw up in convulsive heaves into the edge of a tiny garden.

He had forewarned the Wardens that this would happen, and they helped explain to the various Elves - especially guards - whom Kildef passed in his flight from the portal. Some of the inhabitants of the Citadel appeared amused, but most were fairly disgusted by such a display. As Kil always found to be the case in the past, the Druids had no patience for his reactions, utterly rejecting the notion that a person - especially a trained Ranger - should experience anything other than tranquility in the journey. They never wanted to understand. Even Salvorah.

After the nausea passed, he used his hands to dig into the earth of the garden and buried the mess he'd made at least a foot down. Between that, a rag, and a minor blessing enhanced with dried rose petals he kept in one of his many pockets, he cleansed the evidence of his sickness. At least the Elves appreciated this last gesture of courtesy and tradition.

He bid the Wardens to proceed as their normal course, which was to present themselves to the Scout Captain of the Citadel, request updates on the local and regional security situation, and offer their services during the Ancoran's stay. Kil then insisted that a guard take him to their healers, sure that Ariana would have been brought to them. He felt, smelled, and looked like crap; was far from his time and any home he'd known. But these things were of no real concern. He stood again with the Hands, and Ariana's life was endangered. They would go to any place, take any action to change that. But even as he came upon her room as Ardwen discussed a plan of action with an Elf caster, Kildef's mind also wandered to thoughts of his father and of Turin.

At least his somberness was interrupted as Ollawahoo alighted on the sill of the room's main open window. Don't worry, olde bird, I know you'll mock my sickness after the danger to the Abbess has passed. I wouldn't think for a moment you'd forget to... Their mental fencing was an easy pattern to fall into, covering the deep concern they both felt for the woman before them.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia stared at Ardwen as he pushed past her, conflicting emotions of anger and sorrow warring within. She knew she had acted out of turn in the grove toward him, and cursed her foolishness at refusing to talk to him, but at the same time she stubbornly refused to back down first. He would have to apologize first before she would say anything beyond necessity to him.

She listened intently to the conversation between him and the robed elf that had followed him in, who turned out to be a mage after a moment of listening. She agreed with the course of action, but there was one problem that had to be pointed out before he did anything. Vylia promptly walked over to the two men and glared at Ardwen, "I'm not about to let someone as incapable of emotion as you go crashing through Ariana's mind by yourself. If you're going to do this, then I'm going with you."

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Hours had passed since the man had first taken his post in front of the Citadel’s massive doors. Though the beating sun was beginning to take its toll in exhaustion, he was still locked in thought.

“I do believe I’m getting a far bit ahead of myself. I must, or at least, must attempt, to think rationally on this. “ He began to pace back and forth in front of the door in short, quick steps.

“Even with the point-ear army and the Westgale remnants as a diversion, albeit a rather large one, it would be neigh impossible to sneak into the southern kingdom alone. The dwarves have undoubtedly put presented a stalwart defense, but surely the orcs must hold a large portion of the mountain passes, if only due to the sheer numbers of them.”

“And if, by chance, I did somehow make it into the passes alive, I would have nothing in the way of support – no supplies, no safety – I’d be entirely on my own in hostile territory. And I have no guarantee of how the dwarves would react if I managed to reach them.”

He stopped pacing finally and leaned back against the stone wall next to the door. “For the life of me, I can’t even think of how I came up with this foolish idea… I’m not usually given to such rash thought. I wonder… if this is similar to what Ricimer was talking about…” His eyes drifted down towards the sword at the thought. “I wonder if your claws are in deeper than I would like to believe…”

He sighed a deep, exasperated, defeated sigh. “There’s only one real course here if I really want to find out what’s going on, no matter how much I don’t want to follow it. The problem is… how do I get there? I don’t have another month to waste. I could be raving mad by the time I reached the capital and not even know it.”

A human soldier came running toward the Citadel. “Have you heard yet!?”

“About what,” the other door guard said quizzically.

“The… the refugees…” the first man blurted out as he tried to catch his breath. “The refugees down at the druid grove. Also about the portal opening at the inner walls – a strange woman and several others came through, including Lord Ardwen and Lady Vylia. Reports say that General Alaric has also returned. Things are really quite abuzz in town at the moment.”

“I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity,” the man thought to himself. He walked up to the solder. “Really now? I wonder if they need any help? I’ll go see I suppose,” he blithely said as he walked off towards town.

Ignoring the other guard’s pleas for him to return to his post, he again resumed his thoughts. “I wonder if Uncle Haswal would have any ideas on how to get back?”

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen looked at Vylia. The warrior closed his eyes for a second and gave a "hmph" of derision before opening his eyes to regard Vylia again. "You forget your place again, woman." Ardwen said.

However, before the situation could deteriorate further, Sergius waved both of his hands and hissed, "Enough!" Ardwen spared Sergius a glance and saw the mage had crossed his arms and was tapping one foot rapidly on the ground. "I don't know what you two have against one another," Sergius said, "but if either of you are stupid enough to start fighting now I won't send either of you!" The wizard let his threat sink in for a moment before continuing, and he ceased tapping his foot, "Besides, your argument is in vain. I can't send two people into another's mind at once. It would be too difficult to control, and we'd basically be doubling the risks involved, and if both of you care so deeply for this woman then I'm sure that's something neither of you want to see. You have then one option: to proceed one at a time. Now, decide between you who is going first and do so peacefully."

Without missing a beat Ardwen interjected, "I say I go first. It's obvious Ariana needs someone with power to drag her out of the darkness. Whatever she has been through will not make me flinch. As I said, you'd need thrice that amount to stain me."

Written by - Vylia

"The wizard is right, now is not the time for this argument. I may not have the authority to order you around, but you do not have the authority over me either. I wasn't giving you an order, I was merely telling you how things are going to work, whether you like it or not. If he can only work his magic on one of us at a time, then so be it." With that Vylia walked over to the bed Ariana sat on, shooing the healers gathered around her away. "Poking and prodding her won't solve this issue. Thank you for your assistance, but let us try another method."

With that she brushed a stray lock of hair in front of Ariana's face back behind her ear and kneeled before her, lightly taking Ariana's right hand between her own and squeezing it lightly. She turned her head to look at Ardwen again, a tear running down her cheek, "If you're going to go first, that's fine. Who goes when doesn't really matter to me, so long as she gets better."

Written by - Aethelwulf

Alaric shook his head in wonder, as the Elf turned and followed after Vylia. Ardwen's acerbic attitude was beginning to irk him. No matter, he muttered to himself, there was work yet to be done. He gritted his teeth, and stalked off to the Barracks of the Royal Guard.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen watched impassively as the single tear traced its way down Vylia's face. "That being the case," Ardwen said, "I think we'd best get this over with. Sergius?"

The wizard nodded and said, "First and foremost it will be you and you alone that will act as the catalyst within her mind. I cannot do anything more than view memories or thoughts. More specifically, I cannot project anything beyond the 'mental landscape'. What I do is create an ethereal landscape that is a representation of the recipient's mind; that alone is draining enough. Therefore, Ardwen, you must work as quickly as possible to establish some sort of common medium - a memory, a shared emotion or thought, something that you both have in common. It was because you mentioned that you know her that I believe this has any hope of success."

Ardwen simply nodded once, slowly and somberly. Sergius turned to face Vylia and said, "Your pardon, Vylia, but I will need brief physical contact with the host to begin the spell." With that the mage reached forward and brushed his hand against Ariana's forehead, it was all he needed. "Ardwen," he said suddenly, "you'll be both inside your body and inside her mind at the same time, so don't worry about sitting down or falling once the spell begins. All that aside, you'll need to focus your mind and attune yourself out of your own sense of self. Understand?"

Ardwen smiled wanly for a second and said, "Abnegation of self."

Sergius raised his eyebrows and said, "Yes, I'm surprised you know of the concept."

"Any good warrior knows of it, Sergius. Now, on with the spell." Ardwen said.

Without further delay, Sergius pressed his palm to Ardwen's forehead and instructed the Elf to close his eyes and steady his breathing. For Ardwen the immediate sensation was one of darkness, but initially he felt like he was doing nothing more than meditation drills. That changed all at once, and without warning Ardwen found himself standing next to a small sapling on a hill that overlooked a ruined coastline. But whatever terrible liquid had etched that shoreline was not water, for the area beyond the faint shore seethed with bubbling black pitch. Ardwen narrowed his eyes part in consternation and part in concentration as the smells from the ocean brought back more than odor - they smelled of emotions.

As impossible as it seemed to the Elf, each scent called up an immediate feeling. There the caustic and searing scent of anger, there the sweet almost rotten scent of despair, the fleeting biting smell of hope, and finally the bitter and acrid fragrance of fear. "Ardwen!" A voice rang out in the Elf's mind. "Her condition is far worse than I expected, I can barely act as a conduit and won't be able to keep contact, it's up to you alone now. Reme...ever...ere...ood luck." Sergius's voice died out in a strained choppy tone, and Ardwen knew he was now on his own.

He imagined the tree to be the area Archeantus had secured on his previous effort, and probably the one stable place Sergius could find to allow him into Ariana's mind. Regardless, Ardwen knew he was no warlock, and he had no tricks or incantations to spirit himself off the island, nor did he even know how to access one of the "shared" mediums that Sergius had spoken of. The Elven soldier knew he was at the mercy or whim of fate, and the thought caused him to put a hard frown on his face. Still, what he did know was that he was not likely to accomplish anything by standing near what Archeantus had already done. Nodding grimly, the warrior took a single step forward.

Everything changed. Gone was the tranquil setting of the little sapling. Instead, Ardwen found himself standing in shallow brackish water that stood stagnate between dead gray mounds. All around the Elf were rotting trees, broken husks of bloated wood that stood like the age-worn skeleton of a forest. It was a fen, a marsh, and one of the most rank and corrupted Ardwen had ever seen. The water was moving, a sloshing sound as it parted, and as the Elven bladweaver watched a woman in a white dress, stained by the surrounding muck, emerged from behind one of the corpselike trees. It was Ariana. "Finally," Ardwen said with a sigh of relief, "I thought I'd never find you. Do you have any idea how much trouble you're causing outside? You were almost fed on by demons, censured Vylia, and opened a portal to the Citadel without telling anyone! But all that is at an end now. Come Ariana, it is past time you returned to the Hands and led them, for they're all but lost without you." As Ardwen spoke he walked forward, confident strides parting the dirty water. Right as he reached out a hand to grasp Ariana's, he had to twist aside as a lance of light shot by him.

From behind he could hear as a tree exploded, sending slimy shards of wood that were too rotten to pierce anything tumbling through the air. Ardwen had already backed up and assumed a swordsman's stance, for it was Ariana who had thrown the bolt of light. "Oh," Ardwen said with an oily smirk on his face, "you've decided otherwise, have you? That's fine. The truth is, I wasn't happy with such an ending either!" The warrior reached to his side and clasped - nothing. With a nervous glance he saw that he did not have the blades he had lost earlier at his side, even in this false reality. Ariana's hands glowed again as she primed another censure. "Well," Ardwen muttered, "Nothing to do for it, I'll have to stop playing with toy swords."

The next ray of holy energy shot out, but Ardwen was not standing there, the bolt thudded into the ground and detonated, spewing black and rotted matter into the air. As the repulsive rain met the ground, Ardwen at lost crossed his sword with Ariana. To the Elf's surprise she held a pike of some sort. Ardwen had come down in a diagonal slash, holding the grip of his blade with only one hand. The sword was like a T'lanarion, but exceptionally long and with a more uniform curvature, the hand guard was rectangular and a dull metallic gray in color. "Let's get this straight Ariana," said Ardwen, "I hate you."

The ground seemed to moan and shake, and the spear held by his Abbess begin to glow, Ardwen leapt backwards but Ariana was already giving chase, practically flying through the air with unnatural speed. Her spear thrust forward, aiming at the Elf's chest, Ardwen turned aside and it brushed by, the next stroke was blocked by a downward swipe of the sword, and Ardwen circled to get to the side of his opponent. The spear moved in again, and this time Ardwen brought his sword up inverted so that the blade was facing down and blocked. He could feel his Abbess trying to press the edge home, but he held the blow back and spoke again, "I always have. I could never, and can never, forgive you for what you've done to me."

Ardwen broke the deadlock by whirling to the side and bringing the blade up in a circular slash from below, but it was not aimed at Ariana, rather it sliced through a nearby tree, which began to slide towards the ground as the blade's edge felled it. The tree never touched the dirt. Another shock of light illuminated the air and it burst into pieces. Ariana looked around, trying to find her intended murderer, and had to dodge as the point of Ardwen's blade came in. The Elf had turned the blade around, and as he passed his target he flipped his grip and brought it down in an overhead strike. The two were once again in a stalemate. "There was a time," Ardwen began, "When all I ever desired was power. I thought that with enough strength I could grind the world to dust, make it bow before me. Am I not born of twilight, am I not of the blood of the gods, is not all that I desired simply my birthright?"

This time Ariana broke the deadlock, hee spear twirled in her hands, and Ardwen found himself dodging. But the Elf was as arrogant as ever, he deflected strokes meant to kill with sweeping blows of his own, using the edge of his sword to deflect and parry. Sweeping cuts, broad cuts that passed through the ground and water, and where he swung the blade the earth was sheared as well. Still, Ardwen spoke on even as they fought, "Then I met you, and you saw in me something more than a weapon. Throughout my life, that was all others saw in me, and in all my long years I had met only one other person that I dared call friend. But you, you treated me as a . . . human. When I was angry, you calmed me, when I was scared, you fought away my fears, when I dreamed of a life beyond war and beyond death, in those idle daydreams where before I had vainly elevated myself to something other than a blade for others - you listened."

The spear came in low, and Ardwen leapt. The jump carried him into the air and onto the halfway fallen trunk of a dead tree suspended between two others. "Do you see?" The Elf finished, "Just as you flourished in serenity so I devoured the starlight for sustenance, but no longer. When the Hands departed, the pain was unbearable." Ardwen paused here and reached his hands up towards the black sky. "I did not know the reason, you should have been nothing to me. Why did loss tear into my heart with every beat? I'll tell you why . . ." The Elven warrior jumped, pushing himself forward with his feet. As he fell he slashed at the trees, and every cut sliced through them as if they were not there. His blade met Ariana's pike; he had both hands on his sword's grip, his face was hovering inches from his Abbess's. "Because there is nothing in my heart that can replace you."

Ardwen focused his mind, the memory he sought, the first time he had felt that yearning to know himself, and to know others, beyond the point of a sword. Around them the world changed, they were inside a small, cramped clerical room. Books and papers were stacked on a worn wooden desk, polished to a high sheen after years of use. Ardwen sat in a chair, leaning over the desk with a quill in his hand. He was writing on a sheet of vellum, glancing constantly up at his Abbess. With a last furtive glance he finished his writing, stood up and began walking backwards, knocking over the chair he had been sitting on. With a start he spun around and nearly ran out of the room.

In the memory, Ariana picked up the paper, on it were three characters written in a language older than time. Ardwen knew those characters, and Ariana was one of only two people other than he to know their true meaning. It was his name, his real name, and not the broken rendition given in the new tongues. The little note had a translation scrawled next to each character:

"This one means swallow, like the bird - not the verb."
"This character has several meanings: among, between, inside of. It is usually rendered as amongst in names."
"This last one is . . . flower, cherry blossoms. So, together they mean "a swallow amongst the cherry blossoms."

"P.S. Don't tell anyone - ever. Please."

Ariana's spear ripped into Ardwen's chest, drove him back, and pined him to a tree. He looked up, expecting to see Ariana's face a mask of rage, but the Elf could not read the emotions in her face. He did not care. Ardwen reached forward his hand and held the side of Ariana's face. "They say I cannot feel." he whispered, "But, they do not know what it is like to be a comet that has strayed too close to the sun." Ardwen faded, his body turning into uncountable sparkling minute motes as they dissipated into the air.

The warrior's body jerked forward and he fell to his knees, gasping for air. Sergius helped him to his feet. Ardwen could see the mage's face was compressed into lines of concern, and the wizard's eyes were firmly fixed on him. "What happened?" He said hurriedly.

Ardwen let out a racking cough before waving Sergius's supporting arm away. He clutched his chest, expecting to find a messy hole where his vital organs should be, but he felt whole enough. Ardwen said only three words in answer, "She stabbed me."

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan was certain that her shaking hands and the resultant noise would be the end of her. Like a rabbit caught in the glow of a lantern, she froze as several pairs of eyes turned towards her. And then Teran reached forward and shoved her out of the way.

She could only stare in outright horror as spell after spell slammed into him, driving him into the wall and leaving him a limp shape on the ground. The aftereffects of such a discharge of power charged the very air and made it crackle. She attempted to shield herself from the crystalline shrapnel, but wasn’t fast enough. Several shards cut the flesh of her cheek and her hands, and one rather large shard lodged itself into her thigh. Though she cried out, her voice was swallowed by the cacophony of the explosions.

Crouching down, she tried to peer through the fog of blood mist as she worked the shard free from her leg. She could see Teran, but he wasn’t moving. She didn’t know if he was still alive. Both Sabbatine and Keeryn had charged into the fray and were now obscured, though the sounds of battle were quite evident.

Tossing the now free shard of crystal onto the ground, she stood, only to dodge to the side as a frost spell penetrated the red haze and exploded where she had been standing. As the spell faded, she glanced again at Teran. He was still not moving, and Mavigan began to wonder if he was dead, a thought that caused her insides to knot painfully.

Knowing what she had to do, she shifted to the left, determined to make her way to where Teran lay unmoving on the floor. Entering the chamber fully, it was the matter of a few seconds before she again had to dodge – a fire spell this time. Mavigan could not see who was hounding her, but could tell from the direction of the spells that the spellcaster was nearer to Teran’s location than she liked. Ducking low, she charged towards Teran, hoping to reach him before the mage could cast again.

She had nearly reached him when she saw a reddish glow that burned brighter than the surrounding haze. She attempted to dodge, but her feet got caught in something unseen on the floor. Falling on her right side, her shoulder dislocated with a wet pop, and she screamed as the fireball whizzed over her and exploded close behind her, singeing a few strands of her hair. Turning on her back and struggling to regain her feet, she glanced down to see what had tripped her. It was a head.

Giving a grimace, she kicked the disgusting thing back into the main fray, hoping it would trip one of their enemies. Pushing herself painfully to her feet, she grabbed her right arm with her left, gave a huge wrench, accompanied by a scream, and felt the bone pop back into place. Her skin was slick with blood and cold sweat, and she choked back the nausea. Cradling her arm as best she could, she finally reached Teran. Leaning over him, she quickly checked for a pulse and breathed a sigh of relief when she found one. She was given no time to rest, however, as a cultist emerged from the blood fog and advanced on her position. This one bore an actual weapon – a short sword – and it gleamed wickedly in the faint light as her bore down on her with murder in his eyes.

She rose to meet him, armed with one dagger clasped in her left hand and her right arm dangling uselessly at her side. When their weapons collided, Mavigan found herself hard pressed to keep pace with him. Her dagger flew with as much speed as she could summon, blocking his thrusts and trying to get in a killing shot of her own before he wore her down.

It didn’t take long for Mavigan to realize that her attacker had skill that was greater than her own. Her forehead was beaded with sweat and her breaths were short and labored. The exertion of simply defending herself was taking a toll, and Mavigan knew it was only a matter of time before she made a mistake. Her muscles screamed in protest and fire burned up her arm as she deflected a sword thrust aimed at her neck. She immediately made a quick half-turn and deflected another strike aimed at her thigh.

The situation was becoming desperate, and Mavigan was rapidly losing room in which to maneuver. Her concern for Teran had already placed her near the wall, and after a particularly sloppy parry, Mavigan felt her back hit unyielding stone. Gritting her teeth with determination, she managed to deflect another strike to her side while attempting to turn away from the wall. Exhaustion made her movements slow and sluggish. She managed to deflect the next strike aimed at her head, but the one aimed at her gut glided smoothly past her dagger.

White hot pain engulfed her and her hand dropped her weapon, instinctually rising to cover the deep wound. Blood poured out from the hole, flowing over her hand like water. Her legs felt weak and her body slumped against the wall. It was sheer stubbornness that kept her on her feet, but when she felt the world begin to tilt, she scrambled to the side in order keep her feet beneath her.

Only, she didn’t.

Mavigan watched with horror and confusion as her body slid down the rough hewn wall and crumpled on the ground at her feet, lifeless. She glanced down with alarm, and slowly removed her hand from her torso. No blood. No wound.

Unbelieving, she blinked several times and then desperately pawed her skin, searching frantically for the point of entry for the sword. She knew she had been stabbed! The overwhelming pain still shook her form.

Nothing.

Turning horrified eyes to her likeness sprawled on the ground, she could plainly see blood welling out of the very clear, very apparent hole in her gut. The assassin who had been her downfall also stared at the pitiable form, a grotesque smile decorating his mouth.

Mavigan’s mind was screaming with terrified confusion. How could her body be lying at her feet? Panic began to clutch at her throat as she observed the assassin raise his eyes. She prepared herself to run, convinced he would see her and realize his mistake.

Only, he didn’t.

He turned from her and advanced on Teran, still lying on the cold floor, advancing on him as if Mavigan was not there. “What the f***?!”, she thought. She glanced down at her body again and her brow furrowed with the effort of making sense of it all.

“I…”, she thought hesitantly, not wanting or liking the alarming conclusion that was eating its way into her brain. “I…”, she started again, “Am I dead?”

The word functioned as a trigger causing her eyes to grow wide and her body to tremble. In her shock she leaned back, only to rest on something hard. Jerking herself away from the wall, she turned haunted eyes to it and hesitantly touched it with a shaking hand. It was solid. Something about the situation didn’t seem right to her, but her thoughts were interrupted when a body slammed into the wall near her. The victim merely picked himself up and headed back into the fray not giving Mavigan so much as a glance. He did, however, purposefully step over the corpse at his feet. Her corpse.

Her heart began to beat furiously and suddenly the only sound she could hear was her own blood rushing in her ears. Small tears ran down her face and she began to run. She did not know where she was going or what direction she was headed in. She only knew she had to put as much distance as possible between herself and the thing on the floor.

As she allowed her feet to carry her wherever they willed, she took special note of each person who passed her, friend and foe alike. Each brushed past her unseeing and each caused a fresh rush of panic to tear through her. When she could finally run no longer, she dropped to the ground and sobbed. All the tension and unhappiness and grief of the past few months poured out her in large drops of saline and gut-wrenching wails.

When the storm finally passed, she sat quietly for a few moments and took notice of her surroundings. Familiar horses stood nearby, seemingly unaffected by her fit of emotion. She glanced upward and saw nothing but sky. In her panic, her feet had retraced her route in the caverns below, and she was now sitting in the exact same spot she had started this ill-fated journey.

Relaxing a tiny bit, she tried to make some sense of her situation. She was convinced that she was dead, but the actual experience was completely different from what she had expected. There was no bright light or tunnel to guide her. She scanned the horizon quickly just to be sure. No, there was definitely no guiding light.

She could touch things, but she had always thought ghosts were able to walk through walls and floors and were not able to affect things in the physical realm. She patted the ground she sat on and then grabbed a nearby rock, tossing it away and watching it tumble. No, she was quite solid.

The afterlife didn’t appear to be any different from normal life, in fact, except that living people couldn’t see you. Is that what the afterlife is? Were all the stories about the paradise that awaited you after this world simply fairytales told at night to hold the fear of death at bay? When you died, weren’t you supposed to be reunited with your loved ones?

Mavigan’s thoughts ground to a halt. Wait a minute. If she had appeared where she had been slain, then…. Mavigan quickly got up and dusted herself off. She scrubbed her face with her sleeve. Her eyes were red and swollen and felt rather gunky, and her shoulder hurt like a son of a bitch, but Mavigan paid it no mind. She approached Argent and hesitantly touched her. Argent made no response except for the flicking of an ear.

Taking Argent’s lack of response as further evidence that her conclusions were correct, she quickly retrieved her spare daggers, some supplies and her bedroll. Among the things she grabbed were her birthday presents - the short sword, the box of ointments, and the engraved saddle bags. She briefly eyed the horse bow and quivers, and then glanced forlornly at her useless arm. Sighing, she left them where there were along with her tack. She wasn't sure she would need all these supplies, but she felt better about having them. And among the supplies, were medicines for her aching shoulder and cloth which could be used to make a sling. She didn’t know if the dead could heal, but she was damned if she wouldn’t try to ease the pain.

Having fixed her shoulder as best she could and carelessly dropping a bloody cloth on the ground, she gave Argent one last sorrowful pat, and then trooped off, her eyes full of purpose. She retraced the route they had taken to arrive at this place forsaken by the gods until she felt that familiar tingling. She quickly uttered the words and entered the Shadow Realm. Taking a moment, she oriented herself, and then turned her feet towards her goal. Mavigan was determined to reunite with her family, and she convinced herself that there was only place in all the land where she could achieve that goal.

Mavigan headed home.

At the same moment Mavigan entered the realm of Shadows, her corpse flickered for a moment, then swirled and faded into nothingness. The only thing remaining was her bloody dagger.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm and Resini finished their study of the blood pipes and their group moved down the hallway lined with the reddened crystalline pipes. The pipes branched and joined and formed patterns that Resini realized were demonic runes. Other pipes joined in from side passages, and the flow of blood seemed to be increasing as if drawn in from somewhere ahead. Finally they could see light coming into the darkened hallway from a large room ahead. Against that light they could see the forms of Mavigan, Teran, Keeryn, Sabbatine, and Jasmine. Wilhelm halted their advance with a gesture. He was relieved to see that Mavigan's heartfire showed she was not seriously hurt, however his tracking sense seemed to fade out in the room ahead, showing that it was shielded from remote senses.

Wilhelm's relief was short lived, however, when he saw Mavigan draw her daggers and heard the metal on stone sound when one dagger scraped against the wall. He saw Teran step in front of Mavigan to protect her and then all hell broke out as a barrage of spells from inside the room converged on Teran slammed him into the wall and brought him to his knees. There was a blinding flash and multiple explosions as the blood pipes began to explode sending crytal shrapnel flying. As the explosion front moved towards then Resini called out,

"Shield Link!"

The mages joined hands and a wall of force appeared in front of them just in time to stop the cascade of exploding pipes and deflect the flying shrapnel. When the explosions stopped the hallway and room beyond were filled with obscuring smoke. Willhelm's tracking sense told him that Sabbatine, Keeryn and Jasmine had run into the room, where he lost them in the arcane fog.

"Prepare for battle!"

Each member of the party prepared themselves for battle, activating magical weaponry, armor or magical talismans and casting protections. Quieting his thoughts, Wilhelm sought union with the All Father, surrendering himself to his god. He felt the rapture of the union as the power and attention of the All Father coursed through him. In answer to his prayers a shimmering green glow fell on him like a divine mantle, fortifying his armor. His shield and faith hammer glowed as they were consecrated to His name. Another green glow brought strength, and invoking his Knighthood oath inspired the group's spirit. He began a sacred battle chant and a red glow surrounded them as well as they felt himself moving faster. Focusing his will and attention upon the room ahead, he prepared to charge. Red, white and green swirling glows illuminated the corridor, adding to golden glows from the mages.

At a final gesture, the group charged forward and spread out into an arc in the large room, now filled with combat within swirling clouds of smoke. Sabbatine's blood-curdling cries could be heard ahead, along with Keeryn's growl and Jasmine's shout. As cultists emerged from the smoke the group members entered into combat, the rangers engaging in sword combat or firing arrows while the mages cast their own spells into the fray.

Wilhelm turned left along the wall and came to Teran's slumped and seared form. He could see from the black blood oozing out that Teran lived, no doubt due to the armor he wore that glowed to Wilhelm's magical senses. He heard combat ahead and the smoke cleared to show Mavigan backed against the wall, one arm dangling, the other hand wielding a dagger to fend off the sword of a cultist warrior. As Wilhelm began to move he was stricken with shock when he saw the warrior evade a block and thrust his sword through Mavigan's gut. Mavigan slid down the wall and off the sword and lay lifeless. Her heartfire vanished as if extinguished.

Just then a pair of cultists attacked him and he was forced to advance into the swirling mists to gain room. Blocking the attack on the left with his glowing shield he parried the right with his hammer and then brought the hammer overhead to crush the skull of his lefthand opponent. Gathering his will, he called Censure down upon his other opponent and a glowing column of holy fire engulfed the foe. Finishing him with a blow from his hammer, Wilhelm turned and emerged from the smoke.

He found Mavigan's body slumped against the wall, the blood flow stilled and no trace of heartfire confirming her death. To his left he saw the murderer approaching Teran's prostrate form. Blinding rage filled Wilhelm, as he called upon the All Father. His channels burned as he drew power at his maximum rate and his entire body glowed and grew. Leaping to the attack he shield bashed the foe, driving him into the wall, and then smashed his hammer into the foe's helm, followed by column after column of Censure until only a charred hulk remained.

Wilhelm then bent down to Teran, saying,

"No more resting, Teran, it is time to avenge!"

Wilhelm laid his hands upon Teran and a surge of healing flowed through Teran as the Lay on Hands ritual healed the damages from the many spells. Wilhelm then turned and strode into the mists like an implacable avenging angel of death, crushing and incinerating any cultists he could find.

Written by - Ariana

She sat quiescent upon the bed, head tilted forward so her long hair hid her eyes. Slowly, she stretched out one tremulous finger and hesitantly began to trace the symbols she had remembered upon the sheets. As she reached the end, her digit moved to the beginning and she repeated her action, this time moving more confidently, only to reach the end and repeat the series again.

They meant something, these arcane characters she sketched in linen, but saw clearly as if written in ink. Her repetitious motions became trancelike as she focused her entire being upon puzzling out the secrets hidden within those symbols. Eventually, a name bubbled up out of the murky depths, and she heard it, uttered in an unfamiliar tongue. It gained in timbre and depth until she felt it erratically bounce off the walls of her prison, making the structure shudder and vibrate violently.

“Ardwen,” she breathed in Elvish, the word no more than a slight releasing of breath. At the utterance, her finger stopped and the only sound was a sudden harsh intake of breath. Her eyes grew wide and distant, and a long-forgotten glimpse of a long ago era flashed before her eyes. Her world was crumbling around her, consumed by flame and hatred, with only one glowing beacon of hope remaining. But he was not there. He was not there because she had killed him – and unbidden an image of her brandishing a sword in one hand and Ardwen’s head in the other rose before her eyes.

And yet…. It didn’t feel right, the fit of the memory too large for the hole it was intended to fill. So she searched further, digging deep, sifting through the muck of her mind trying to find the piece of the puzzle that fit, sweat beading on her forehead with the effort. When she found it, gleaming brightly amidst the surrounding darkness, she wished she hadn’t. She had left him. She had left him and to her, that felt worse than killing him.

Her head turned towards Ardwen then, hesitantly, as if she feared what she would see when she looked upon him. He stood there, one hand clutching his chest, gazing at her with hazel eyes she knew. A choked sob escaped her, and then she was moving, clambering off the bed and slapping at the hands of any who tried to stop her. Once her feet hit the floor, she knelt before him, first one knee, and then the other, finally prostrating herself before him, forehead and hands on the hard floor.

“I’m sorry”, she said in Elvish, the words rough with tears. She repeated the words over and over again, not fully understanding why it was so important to say them, but nonetheless knowing she must.

And somewhere, within the depths of her mind, a tiny sapling grew just a bit, defying the surrounding darkness with its light.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen's words did nothing to comfort Sergius. "She what?" He hissed. "You died in her mind! Why in the - do you have any idea just how dangerous . . . ." But the Elven warrior was only partly listening to the wizard, and the swordsman soon held out a hand for silence. Sergius looked on the verge of reaching over and smacking Ardwen in the head, but he had the sense to at least look to where Ardwen had waved his hand. When he did, he saw Ariana struggling up from her bed, pushing away the hands of the healers who tried to get her to remain still. Sergius fell silent and nodded slowly, stepping back a few feet to give the lady and Ardwen some room.

The Elven warrior had no idea what to expect from Ariana. In the brief respite he had between the time when the mental spell had broken and her awakening he had given the matter some thought. Ardwen had thought it best to speak his heart and soul while trying to help Ariana; he had thought it a sound plan. But, the more he thought about what he had done the more uncertain he had become. If his soul was so stained, did Ariana really need the burden of his salvation laid on her? Of course, Ardwen had wanted no such thing, he had wanted Ariana to understand that she was the entire reason for that redemption - however brief it had been. Now though, he was entirely unsure if he had accomplished anything useful.

Ariana's feet touched the cool stone floor. She knelt, first on one knee, then both, finally prostrating herself before the Elven soldier. Ardwen took a half step backwards, his arms partly raised in shock and bewilderment. All his reflections had not prepared him in the slightest for this, he tried to say something, but his tongue clung to the roof of his mouth like ash. He needn't have bothered, for Ariana was already speaking. It took Ardwen a fraction of a second to realize that she was using Elven, indeed, it was pure and venerable in form. However, the words were raw with Ariana's grief, broken and pitched erratically with her tears.

Ardwen finally managed to open his mouth, but the only sound that came out was a stifled croaking noise, as if the warrior had managed to truly swallow his tongue. Ariana kept repeating her apology over and over, as if it was some desperate ritual of contrition. Ardwen closed his eyes for scarcely more than a blink, his mind reeling. When he opened them to look at Ariana again, he knew what he had to do. A few long strides carried him over to his genuflecting Abbess, and with one swift motion he knelt down and grasped her gently by the arms. Slowly at first he raised her to her feet until they both stood.

Ariana was still repeating her apology, so Ardwen just cut in, letting his voice carry slightly, "You must not bow before me. Never in my life have I had such grace that could cause you to even bend your knee. Why? Why do you apologize? You have never wronged me. Please Ariana, please, stop crying, stop saying you are sorry. If you continue with that look on your face . . . I'll be the one suffering."

Ardwen just continued to stand there, holding onto Ariana. He had never had another rely on him for more than his role as a warrior, and he had certainly never earned such a startling apology. Ardwen's eyebrows were folded in concern and his eyes would not leave Ariana. He felt frustratingly useless, and his stomach felt as if it had blocks of ice inside it.

Written by - Vylia

As soon as Ariana began to stand Vylia froze. She wasn’t sure if she should run to the woman prostrating herself on the floor in front of Ardwen, or run at Ardwen and demand to know what it was he did inside her mind. The fact Ariana was in tears and begging forgiveness told Vylia that something important had passed between the two, and regardless of the current result she had obviously recovered something of herself to be showing any emotion at all.

As Ardwen held Ariana to his chest Vylia walked over to stand beside him, waiting for him to release her before demanding to know everything. When he told her he didn’t deserve her apology however, Vylia realized it didn’t matter. What was said between them was for their ears alone, it was what he had delivered that mattered. Did he merely fight her and hope to knock some sense into her, or had he actually tried to summon up a memory the two had shared?

“Other than the fact you obviously fought her, what kind of message did you use in there? Did you use an actual memory, or did you just try to kill her and hope everything would turn out okay? You said she stabbed you, was that before or after you had tried whatever it is you tried?” There was no malice in Vylia’s voice, the question obviously asked for knowledge and nothing else.


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!


Written by - Lucant Dolvan Page 11 Book 4

As the old druid turned to him, the man began his lie. “Yes master druid, I need your help with a matter of… significant military importance. You see, the naval office would like very much to ascertain the recent and future movements of Iron Fleet so as to better counter them. The sooner this is done, the better. As such, I humbly request on behalf of the Westgale Navy your assistance in infiltrating Ironskane.”

As he finished, the man presented the forged orders to the old druid, who glanced over quickly as more and more of his young disciples approached. “Yes… I believe something can be arranged,” he said hurriedly as he gave the man his forgery back. “We can get you there quickly with a tree-walk. Where exactly do you need to go?”

“As close to Greyton as you and yours and can approach master druid.”

“Hmmmmm…” The druid scratched his chin in thought. “Delinar, come here for a moment, please.”

A tall, blonde elven man approached them. “Yes, Master Ceridan?”

“Delinar, I need you to take this man as close to Greyton as you can. And please do so quickly…” As the old druid spoke, an even larger crowd of young druids gathered around him.

Seeing that Ceridan’s attentions where elsewhere, the tall elf turned to the man he had be assigned to assist. “Right this way, sir.” He motioned for the man to follow him as he walked towards the large oak in the middle of the druid grove. When they arrived, Delinar placed both hands on the oak’s massive trunk. “If this is your first time with this, you might want to close your eyes. I’ll take you as close to Greyton as I can.”

“Much obliged,” the man said as he shut his eyes and placed a hand on the elf’s shoulder. He stepped forward into the tree when he felt the elf do the same. A few uncomfortable moments passed, and then he felt the elf step forward again, out of the tree.

The cold mountain wind of the north greeted the man as he stepped forth from the oak. Opening his eyes, he looked around the great forest of oak and pine. A light dusting of snow still clung to some of the tree branches and held on stubbornly to a few shade covered places along the forest floor.

“If we are where I think we are, Greyton should be just to the north,” the elf said, politely pointing the northward way. “Unless you need anything else, I really should be on my way back before Master Ceridan is overwhelmed.”

“No… I believe I should be just fine. Thank you for your assistance.”

With no further words, the two parted company. The tall elf turned back towards the tree and the man started his journey towards Greyton. After a short walk through the forest, the man emerged into the open farmland outlying Greyton and the great city was clearly visible in the distance.

Written by - Vylia

There he was, the bastard who had destroyed her people, standing in the middle of the carnage smiling as the slowly falling blood mist glowed around him from the runes inscribed across his robes. Keeryn was caught between fear and fury at the sight of him standing there completely uncaring, obviously feeling no guilt at all at what he had done to them. Then something inside her snapped, her pupils narrowed to slits, an expression of feral anger came upon her face and she gave out feline hiss that fully exposed four half-inch fangs. She let loose a roar as she charged, intending to impale him upon her spear. He turned to look at the source of this newest sound and his eyes widened in surprise for a fraction of a second before his grin grew even wider as her spear rebounded off of the magical shield surrounding him.

"I thought I destroyed all of you things. I guess there were some of you elsewhere after all. Pity, but you're of no use to me, be gone little kitten." Keeryn swung her spear wide like an axe and again it rebounded, but her frustration only fueled her anger and her swings and stabs came faster as the man continued his arrogant speech, "Your flesh is oddly resistant to use in my experiments, and I couldn't isolate anything useful in your blood. You're not intelligent enough to even make a worthwhile servant, nothing but beasts the lot of you." He appears thoughtful for a moment as he pulls something from a pouch at his waist, "But they did provide an unusually high amount of magical power when they were sacrificed... Yes, that's what I shall do with you," his grin returned as he began casting a spell as Keeryn was charging back in with an overhead swing, she was too focused on killing him to avoid it and received a bolt of energy to her chest that tossed her across the room like a ragdoll. Her whole body slammed against the wall leaving a crack behind her as she slid to the ground.

She stood up slowly at first, shaking her head in an attempt to clear her vision. She saw Sir Wilhelm off to the side of the room fighting that large man she had seen before, and then the wizard again came into view, her had pulled a long dagger from its sheath and begun walking towards her that disgusting grin still fixed to his face. Keeryn gave another hiss as she pushed from the wall, quickly gaining speed despite her injuries, her spear forgotten on the floor as claws extended from her fingertips. She came at him again with her fury renewed, clawing, punching, kicking. Each of her attacks bounced off the shield around him as he kept trying to disable her with blade or sorcery. She learned quickly however and this time dodged his attacks. After what seemed like an eternity the shield around him began to flicker, becoming visible and then not as its protective energies were being worn down. Suddenly the wizard was worried, the grin fast fading from his face. This thing in front of him refused to die and soon his shield would be gone, leaving him open to her rage.

The wizard stopped attacking her to attempt to recast the shield but Keeryn was not so enraged she didn't see an opportunity when it presented itself. She grabbed the man's arm around the shield and swung him bodily in an arc before releasing him to fly straight at the wall. His shield absorbed the majority of the impact but as he stood she saw the shield flicker and die. As he turned around to face her she ran at him, grabbing him by the throat with both hands and shoving him back into the wall, the dagger dropping from his grip as his head slammed backwards. "How does it feel to watch everything you built get destroyed wizard?" Keeryn turned, still grasping the man around the throat, throwing him to the ground. "How does it feel?" He held his arm in front of him as she leapt upon his prone form, her teeth sinking deep into the flesh she ripped a chunk out as he screamed, spitting it out onto the ground beside him. "What does it feel like to know you destroyed everything I ever cared for?!" She clawed both sides of his face and down his chest as she spoke, slowly shredding the robes. "How does this feel to you?!" She continued smacking his now feebly flailing arms as he tried to defend himself or throw off the insane creature straddling him. "How does it feel wizard?!" Her voice continued to raise as she punched and clawed him repeatedly in the chest and face. His nose was broken, face sliced and bleeding profusely from wounds across his chest and arms. Eventually he stopped flailing, no longer having the energy to even defend himself as Keeryn continued to pummel and rake his body, the whole while repeating this new mantra, "How does it feel? How does it feel? How does it feel?" Even after he was dead she kept hitting him, completely oblivious to everything around her. After what seemed like a lifetime, but was actually only a few moments from his death, she stopped hitting him, her arms going limp in front of her as her body was wracked with sobs. Tears spilled down Keeryn's face as every memory she had in her homeland came crashing back at once. She just sat there, atop the body of the man who had destroyed everything, and cried.

Written by - Ariana

“Hmpf,” Mavigan grumped. “This is getting ridiculous.”

She gazed with a mixture of longing and resentment at the solitary farmhouse before her. Mavigan had been traveling towards Westgale for two days, popping in and out of the Shadow Realm as needed for rest and sustenance. In all that time she had seen nary a soul – living or dead – and the eerie lack of habitation was beginning to grate on her nerves.

True, she was out in the middle of nowhere, but she had thought she would bump into someone. It was inconceivable that there was all this space, and no other soul besides her occupied it. Being dead was starting to become a bit of a bore.

Huffing once more, she tread down the hill towards the farmhouse, taking notice of her surroundings as she went. The area certainly looked occupied – livestock milled about lazily chewing on grass, chickens pecked noisily in the dirt searching for their morning meal. The house was well-tended, and Mavigan could plainly see where the roof had recently been patched. These signs bolstered her confidence more than a little, and she strode to the front door and beat on it with a fist. “Hello?” she shouted.

She waited a few moments, shifting nervously from foot to foot, but no response was forthcoming. Sighing, she pushed open the front door and stuck her head into the house. “Hello?” she shouted again, “Anyone home?”

Receiving no answer, she pushed her way entirely into the house. The abode was small, as farmhouses were wont to be, with a few rooms serving many functions. Currently, she was in the living space, which probably also served as sleeping space. Bedding was rolled up and stashed neatly against the wall, while sturdy plank shelves provided storage space. Along the back wall, Mavigan could see an archway that led to further areas of the house.

Convinced she was alone (again), she placed her pack and armor alongside a wall and walked through the archway into the back of the house. Here lay the kitchens, and Mavigan nearly tripped as she was assaulted by the fragrant aroma of fresh bread. She glanced around quickly – if there was fresh bread, surely there was also a baker – but she saw no one. In the center of the room was a long table surrounded by rough-hewn chairs. At one place setting, there was a pewter plate, upon which was a large hunk of cheese, a freshly baked roll, and some fruit.

Mavigan looked around again, but still saw no one. She stared at the food in wonder. Had some other dead soul managed to create breakfast, but then left it behind? Perhaps the noises she had made herself, had scared some living soul away from his morning fast? She didn’t know, and she was never one to pass on opportunity, so she plopped down in the chair and tore into the repast. After two days of living off her own cooking, which was admittedly not the best in the world, she was delighted to munch on fresh bread and fruit and cheese.

She finished the meal in record time and then rose from the dining table. Fishing around in a pocket, she withdrew a silver coin and placed it on the table next to the now empty plate. Mavigan grabbed her gear, then and headed back out into the morning sun. With a full belly, and a healing arm, she felt better equipped to handle the cold of the Shadow Realm, and it wasn’t long before she re-entered it, heading once more to Westgale.

Ten minutes after she left, old farmer Bayle walked into his kitchen, a fresh egg in each hand. He was bald on top, and grizzled everywhere else, and had lost nearly all his hearing. He looked at his now empty plate in puzzlement, and then noticed the silver coin glinting brightly in the morning light. He grinned toothlessly.

“At least the damn fairies paid this time!” he said.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst made herself useful around the grove. There were many followers of Nyrondis here within the citadel and they all seemed to appear on this festival day. To be honest, she was grateful for the diversion, for it let her forget about the loss she felt in her heart and soul. Then there was the matter of the travelers that came through the oak. There were so many of them, all of which were suffering some sort of injury. She helped the other healers there take care of those newly arrived in the grove. Finally it seemed that everyone had been taken care of, she attended to Dorve, who looked exhausted from her trips. Dorve smiled, her eyes showing the appreciation of the energy Tempyst gave her, but told Tempyst that a hot bath and a good night's rest was all she needed. But as she left, she turned back to Tempyst. "By the way lassie, in all of these people I brought back, there was one lass, all in dark colors, who was looking for you. Now be awarned, she canna speak, but if you are careful you should be able to communicate."

"Thank you Dorve, I will look for her, she must seem a little lost in all of this anyways then." Dorve nodded and went to her bath, while Tempyst looked for the mystery girl.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia smiled at the thought of getting put on refectory duty, her hand on her chin as if seriously considering it. "It might almost be worth it to see you scrubbing pots." She paused a moment as she looked at Ariana, still clinging to Ardwen like a frightened child. "Ariana, we need you to sit down on the bed again. Just for a little bit, Ardwen isn't going anywhere." Vylia sighed as Ariana only clung to Ardwen tighter when she tried to take her hand. She stood there a moment before she noticed a large bird on the windowsill. She held her arm out to the side and called to him, "Olly, come here a moment and tell Ariana she needs to go sit on the bed for me, please." With a small hop and a few wingbeats the owl landed skillfully on Vylia's outstretched arm with a clatter of claws against her bracer. As Ariana saw him she started to reach out before changing her mind and clinging to Ardwen yet again. Ollawahoo went into a series of hoots and flutters before taking another short flight to land upon the bed Ariana had been sitting on before, causing a couple people to dodge out of his way. "You've gained weight old bird, I didn't think I could hold you much longer." Ollawahoo puffed up and hooted several times at Vylia's words as Ariana let go of Ardwen to walk over to where he was, "You can call it what you want, but that still..." Vylia couldn't finish the sentence before she started laughing at the sight of Ariana sitting down beside the great owl and hugging him, which caused him to go from dignified to surprised before finally giving up and acception the attention. Before walking to the bed Vylia turned back to Ardwen. "My offer aboard the ship still stands by the way. I know how uncomfortable you must feel without a weapon and you're still welcome to take mine. They're over by the door, their names are engraved upon the blade in the Old Tongue." Without waiting for a response she turned to walk over and sit next to Ariana.

"Ariana, let the old bird go before you break him with your squeezing." Vylia placed her hand lightly on Ariana's shoulder in an attempt to turn her toward herself. "I promise, he will be here when you wake up." Ariana turned to look at Vylia, loosening her grip around Ollawahoo just enough to allow the bird to free himself. Her face turned somewhat pouty as she placed her hands in her lap. Vylia turned to Sergius, "Can you cast that spell again yet, or do we need to wait longer?" "I can cast it again, but you'll be completely on your own, moreso than your friend was." Vylia nodded, "Let's continue then, the sooner we help her the better I'll feel." The mage nodded at her, and once again walked over to brush his hand across Ariana's forehead followed by Vylia's. Vylia had closed her eyes in preparation when she felt a cold chill pass through her body.

When she opened her eyes she found herself standing upon a cliff above the ocean. If the colors had been correct it would probably have been a gorgeous sight, but everything was dark. The ground beneath her feet dark as ebony, the “sea” a horrid pestilent green, and it exuded a disgusting acidic scent. She turned away from the shoreline to glimpse the rest of the landscape and found nothing but darkness in every direction, no discernable horizon line anywhere. The only thing of note was a small sapling, the only object in this parody of a landscape with any quality of reality to it. Vylia took a few short steps to it and bent down to lightly run her fingers down the length of it’s trunk. It felt real enough, and she could sense the feeling of hope and courage within the bark. Vylia wondered how much control she truly had in this place, and closed her eyes to concentrate on the object she sought. When she opened them and looked down at herself, she found she was clothed in nothing but a simple tabard, a single white candle displayed prominently in the middle of a field of royal blue. With a nod to herself, she set off across the plain, and took a step forward, the whole world blaring white forcing her to cover her eyes for a moment.

When she opened them again she found she was in a forest but like the seascape before it it too was a twisted and ruined thing. The bark of the trees was grayed and lifeless, the trunks had almost human faces amidst the bark, and many of the branches held empty nooses as if awaiting victims to be hung in grotesque decoration. Here and there Vylia could see patches of heavy fog drifting through the forest, holding horrors unknown in their depths. Again she took a deep breath before setting off through the forest, her pale skin and bright blonde hair in stark contrast to both the tabard she wore, and the bleak land around her. She didn’t know how long she had been walking through the forest when she finally came to what used to be a lake of some sort. Used to be because now it was empty except for the wet moss that lay along it’s bed. Sitting along the shore halfway around the empty lake sat Ariana. It was hard to tell from this distance, but she looked to just be staring off into space.

Vylia continued her walk around the lake, going slowly to make sure she didn’t scare Ariana into any kind of aggressive or frightened state after what the last intruder into her mind. She stopped a dozen paces from where Ariana sat before finally speaking to her in elven, since that had been the language she had used just moments before in the outside world, “Are you alright Ariana?” The girl looked up, allowing Vylia to see that tears had been flowing down her face just a short time before as her face was slightly red and puffed up around her eyes. Ariana’s visage changed to fright as Vylia tried to approach, she moved away slowly as she stood her expression quickly becoming one of determination as her hands began to glow with holy energies. Vylia stopped and held her hands open in front of her, palms up, to show she was unarmed. “Please Ariana, I do not wish to fight you, and I won’t touch you if you don’t want me to. I learned that lesson the last time,” Vylia rubbed each of her shoulders in turn, where she had been speared by Ariana’s power the last time she had grabbed her when she was frightened. “I just came to talk, I won’t fight you,” her voice dropped to a whisper, sadness written on her face, “never will I fight you.” Vylia decided to sit down to further make it understood she wasn’t there for combat, even going so far as to turn and face the empty lake. She turned her head to look at Ariana again, “Come talk to me, we’ll try to remember a little of your past together.” Even though she smiled there was still an unmistakable sadness in her eyes at the fact that something this horrible had happened to the one person everyone used to rely on the most.

Slowly, like a frightened deer Ariana moved toward Vylia, stopping a few feet away and sitting on the ground cross-legged to stare at her. Vylia repositioned herself to face Ariana directly, “I guess that will do. Do you remember who I am?” Ariana shook her head. “Since you don’t remember me, do you maybe remember talking to someone late at night, in the kitchen of the old Abbey?” Ariana stared at her a moment, before slowly nodding, which Vylia used as a stepping stone.

“I was one of those people, you helped me back then more than you could possibly know. D’Marius was nice enough, but there were some things I couldn’t speak to a man about, even one I trusted as much as him.” Vylia looked up at the blank gray sky as she looked back in her own past, her eyes glazing over slightly. “It was pretty late, I can’t remember if there was a moon that night or not, I had woken up from… I can’t call it a nightmare since it really happened, a horrible memory, one that I had thought long buried beneath other horrific experiences. I had walked down to the kitchen hoping to find something to put me to sleep amidst all the herbs and instead I found you there, baking cheese biscuits.” Vylia smiled at the fond memory, “How everyone loved those biscuits of yours. I never told you before, but I didn’t really like them. I’ve never liked eating anything besides fruit and bread, cheese always made my stomach queasy. But I ate them because you offered them to me, and I couldn’t bring myself to tell you I didn’t like them. That night I came down in tears, you just smiled at me with that caring expression you always had, pushed me to a stool, put one of those biscuits you were baking in front of me, and asked me what was wrong. I don’t know why I spilled my heart to you that night, I hardly knew you then. The fact you had taken me in without any questions when D’Marius disappeared seemed like reason enough I think.”

Vylia paused as everything around them seemed to shift, the scene becoming exactly like the one Vylia remembered from that night, and she was standing next to this younger version of Ariana as her older self baked away in that old kitchen that held so many memories. Vylia watched herself coming through the door that led into the kitchen, her face an absolute wreck, tears still streaming rapidly down her face, her hair disheveled, strands sticking to her face from the nightmare-induced sweat. As she was sat down and nibbled slightly on the biscuit Ariana just sat there looking at her with nothing but care on her face. “Did I ever tell you I had a child once? He was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen, and I didn’t want to give him up but for one thing. He was stillborn. I remember hearing once that most victims of rape don’t end up conceiving, I guess I was one of the lucky ones. During the pregnancy I wanted to die, thinking of the child that grew within me because of the horrible experience I had had, being a sex toy to a group of bandits for I don’t know how long. I was saved by a great man, a crusader of the All-Father, his name was Sir Keriv Danyrion. He saved my life and brought me to Glenwood Abbey, where I repaid his kindness with foolishness. At first I didn’t eat, it took him coming to me to get me to realize how silly I was being. I had been raped, but I was alive and in good hands.” The younger Vylia sniffled, remembering, “I was in labor for the majority of a day, and when it was over all I wanted to do was hold my child. They told me he was stillborn, but I didn’t want to listen. I held onto him for an entire day before I convinced the monk with me that I would give them Kandyr for burial. As soon as he left I tried to kill myself. I didn’t do a very good job of it,” she showed her wrists to Ariana a moment before placing her hands in her lap. “I’m glad now that I did not, I would have missed many things that I would never have wished to forget. That’s what I was dreaming of, my child, my Kandyr. I doubt the grave even exists anymore, even if I could find Glenwood Abbey with Aerynth the way it is now.” Ariana reached across the table and Vyliaplaced her hand in Ariana’s without even thinking. “We can make a new gravestone, if it will make it easier for you.” Vylia smiled, and mouthed the words as her younger self spoke them, “No, that won’t be necessary. For some reason, just telling you about it, I feel like it will no longer haunt me.” With a last smile Vylia gets up and moves to leave the kitchen, but stops in the doorway to turn and look back at Ariana. “How do you do that? Make others feel like everything will be okay just by sitting and listening?” “Sometimes, people just need to know that someone else cares. Sleep well child.” The older Vylia smiled as the vision faded. “I always thought it funny how you always called me child when I was at least a hundred years older than you.”

Vylia turned to Ariana, brushing that persistent stray lock of hair back behind her ear. “Come back to us Ariana, the world needs you, the Hands need you.” With that, she faded away, a smile on her face that she continued to wear as she returned to her own body.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen waited until Vylia and Ariana were engaged in the mind-walk before turning around, casting one last prolonged glance over his shoulder, and walking toward the exit. Inwardly he thanked Vylia for the offer of her blades, but for the Elven warrior it could not be strictly necessary to take them. He had seen Vylia’s blades, and for Ardwen that was enough. The wing in the wind and the song of the sun, those were the names of the blades. The longsword was a type of bane weapon, and the shortsword could reappear in the wielder’s hands. The warrior did not know if he would need to trace them, but he couldn’t help but cataloging swords.

Such thoughts invariably brought Ardwen back to his past, and for a brief moment he hesitated at the threshold of the doorway out of the infirmary. He doubted the others; even Ariana if she were whole, would understand what he was about to do. But he knew precisely why he was leaving, and that terrible certainty drove at the Elf’s mind and spirit, pervading his every thought. The message he had received had been clear, direct, and concise.

“They are not the only ones.”

Still it resounded within the warrior’s mind. Six simple words, but they tore at him. It was true, he reflected, that he could not be absolutely certain what he had heard was genuine. However, even the remotest possibility of truth was enough for Ardwen. He would never be able to forgive himself if he did not at least try. No, more than that, for Ardwen knew he would risk his life, chance everything, he simply had to. There were some things in life that transcended time, and a few that conquered even death.

So the Elven bladeweaver asked for a room to rest in, and a servant readily guided him to one of the guest chambers, then Ardwen ordered wine. Pouring a glass of the red liquid, Ardwen sat down on one of the wooden chairs in the room and allowed his thoughts to gather about him. For the warrior, it was simply a matter of time now, and he knew that soon enough he would have his answers one way or the other.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya waited until Dorve was done with her treewalking before approaching her. "I am going to go look for Ariana, see where the others might have gone."

Dorve nodded tiredly. "You might wish to try the healers, If those that followed her have any sense that is where they will take her." Dorve then gave her direction to where the healing quarters were.

"Thanks, I will do just that. Now, go get some rest, I will be back soon, I hope." Kaya turned and headed towards the healers. When Kaya arrived, she could see Vylia standing beside a bed, looking very worn and tired. Kaya walked up to her and saw that on the bed was Ariana. "How is your friend Vylia and is there anything I can do to help?"

Written by - Vylia

"She's resting for now, we've all had a wearying day. She is getting better though, and I have faith that everything will turn out alright in the end. I'm sorry we left the rest of you on the island so suddenly, I think Palandramil had grown a bit impatient with us and made to move things along at a pace he was more content with." Vylia paused as she looked down at the sleeping Ariana then pulled a chair next to the bed to sit in before continuing in hushed tone meant only for Kaya's ears. "Not that I blame him, she was once one of his greatest clerics and she has been tormented for years untold. If I had known she was in trouble before I would have tried to free her sooner, rather than dallying around Westgale for several hundred years like I had nothing better to do." She sighed before looking up at Kaya with a smile. "How fare the rest of the group?"

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya pulled a chair up by Vylia. "Everyone is well. Well, as well as can be expected. The trip through the trees did not agree with everyone." Kaya looked at the sleeping Ariana then back to Vylia, "I don't know if I can be of any help to her in this state, but if it does help at all, I know a bit of what she must have gone through. I was possessed and tormented by a demon for many months. She must have undergone the torture for many years." Kaya sighed. "I know she is important to you and your friends, and for now, she is important to me as well. If the demons wanted her that badly, they may come for her again. I am a demon hunter, and I will do my best to protect her." Kaya then stood and walked a short distance away as to not crowd the bed.

Written by - Vylia

As Kaya walked away Vylia turned back to look at Ariana and whispered, "I know exactly what she went through. I was tortured by demons disguised as men for twenty years." She closed her eyes for a moment and shuddered at the memories as she continued to watch over Ariana.

Written by - Teran

The battle was winding down. Nearly all the enemies had been slain and those who hadn't were either wounded and would likely soon be dead, or fleeing through the tunnels. He closed his eyes recalling the price they had paid... the Princess.

The red powder was starting to settle. Sabbatine was hunched over a body ripping and tearing at the flesh, crunching bones loudly in her mouth as she ate at a desperate pace. Teran ignored the grizzly sight and moved towards the place he saw Mavigan fall. He studied the ground intently partially to retrace the rout to her body and partially to avoid contact with Wilhelm.

He found the place that her body fell, though there was nothing there anymore. The blood powder that covered the floor was not present in the area her body had been. There were no tracks in the dust leading away from her body, nor was there any evidence the body had been dragged away. Teran looked around for any clue about what happened to her body and there was no physical evidence that her body has done anything except perhaps vanish.

He stood up and walked over to where Sabbatine was still eating, though she had finished with her first body and was now eating what had been a well weathered archmage of some sort.

"Sabbatine." he said softly.

She looked up and grinned at him showing him her bloodstained teeth.

"Did you notice anything odd about the Mavigan's body after she was killed?" he asked softly, still trying to avoid Wilhelm's attention for the time being.

"She didn't die," Sabbatine giggled violently causing blood spittle to spray on Teran, "I had dibs on her body, remember? If she had died I'd be eating her and not this old guy!!"

"I saw her fall." the Assassin muttered as he backed away from her to avoid any more blood spittle.

"It couldn't have been her, I would have smelled her blood! I would have seen her soul! I would have given it to Huxel!!"

Teran sighed and stood up turning his back on her as she continued to feast. He was at last ready to face Wilhelm.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm continued to trade massive blows with his foe, whom he now recognized as a battle mage with a magical shield and a staff of striking. He blocked levan bolts with his glowing shield and swung his consecrated mace with great force, bouncing off the shield. He saw to one side Keeryn's fight with the other mage, and then saw how she cracked the shield and slew her foe.

*That is the way*, he thought.

Wilhelm called upon his Knighthood to Strike True and upon his Commander rank to Take No Prisoners, greatly increasing the force of his attack. Then it was time to Cry Havoc! His blows came faster and faster, always striking the same point, interspersed with blinding bolts of Censure striking that same point.

Wilhelm's eyes glowed brighter and he seemed to grow as he drew further upon his god's power, increasing the power and speed even further. The battle mage, previously contemptuous of his foes, began to look worried. His spells now became engulfing clouds of shards that attacked Wilhelm from all sides, some penetrating his armor and causing blood to flow. But the wounds stopped bleeding almost immediately and healed with miraculous speed.

Wilhelm's blows now sped up to a blur, causing the barrier to waver and pulse, and finally, with a great CRACK the magical barrier failed and Wilhelm's next blow crushed the mage's skull and the following Censure incinerated his body, leaving a charred hulk to collapse to the floor. Wilhelm then placed his hammer on the floor and leaned upon the handle, panting heavily as the power drained away and the channeling fatigue and pain washed over him.

Combat ceased as the last surviving cultists had fled the room. Wilhelm scanned the room, now mostly visible as the red dust settled, and was pleased to see that the rest were still alive, although several of his group were being treated for wounds.

*Only one lost, but that one was Mavigan!* Wilhelm thought this sadly, and looking around at the floor littered with slain cultists, he thought *Well, it's a start at avenging her. I'm sorry, Pallanon and Nagarren. I have failed my charge.*

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

Isuiln had slept a long time. Too long, in fact. He slowly eased into consciousness, keeping his eyes shut, not wanting to let go of the peaceful dreams that he had passed the night with. He was entirely too comfortable to wish to leave his momentary haven. The sheets were silky and smooth, on top of a bed as soft as air. The room was warm, but not uncomfortably so. The body next to him was breathing the slow rhythm of undisturbed slumber.

He tilted his head and cracked an eye, watching the pretty elf maiden sleep. She was very pretty, and had definitely been a big part of his reason to sleep in late. Then he felt a pang, almost of guilt, when the thought of Trinni.

But why should I feel guilty? She did leave me without a dance partner last night after Round the Town. I just happened to find a new one. Isuiln smiled slightly to himself. A dance partner that wanted to do a different dance. Besides, Trinni never has to know.

He slowly and carefully eased out of bed, doing his best not to disturb her sleep. Somehow he managed it, and she adjusted into a new position, her steady breathing never missing a beat. He dressed as quietly as he could, then stopped only to gently caress her cheek and give her a light kiss on the forehead before making a silent exit from her room. He began his trek through the citadel back to his own room, whistling a jaunty tune under his breath.

As he neared his room, he saw one of his men standing outside his door, looking fairly panicked.

"Good morning, Telas! How are you?"

The young gaurd jerked at the sound of Isuiln's voice, looking relieved for a moment, then his face set in worry.

"Yes, morning it is, late morning! And you should be worrying about yourself, not me! Ithramir called a meeting of the commanders about Minas Uial, and it started nearly an hour ago, but you were nowhere to be found!"

Isuiln swore loudly and dashed past Telas and into his door, pulling off the clothes he had worn to the dance the night before as fast as he could. He pulled on some much more formal wear, and tugged the chestpiece of his best dress armor on over it. He waved Telas off as the elf made to grab more of it and grabbed his swordbelt from a nearby table, trying to buckle it while running for the Great Hall. It took him nearly the length of the hallway to do, and nearly sent him sprawling several times. As he neared the Great Hall, he slowed dramatically, trying to regain his composure. Giving a casual salute to the gaurds at the door as he approached, they returned a very formal salute and opened the doors for him. Many heads turned to see the latecomer, and Isuiln grinned a bit sheepishly. Moving towards Ithramir, he waited for the elf to acknowledge him, then bowed and apologized for his tardiness.

"So, my lord, what have I missed?"

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

The walk to Greyton was short and the outlying farmlands were abuzz with activity. Hundreds of farmers and hired hands were out in the fields reaping, hewing, and stowing their crops before winter’s harsh onset. The man felt a great sense of security seeing it all, and smiled to himself at the peaceful ambience of the harvest.

Upon reaching the city’s massive iron reinforced gates, a quartet of soldiers presented themselves. “No one is allowed in without the proper papers or permit. If you have one, please present it,” the apparent lead said sternly.

The man looked as if he expected this. “Just a moment here…” He opened his small satchel and produced a folded piece of parchment stamped with two seals. “Here you are sir,” he said as he unfolded and presented the soldier with it.

The lead soldier browsed over the document quickly and looked down at the seals. “My apologies sir,” he said as he handed the man the parchment. “Welcome home, my lord.”

The man simply smiled and nodded as he placed the parchment back in his satchel and proceeded through the gate.

The man walked lazily around the city, trying to decide which course of action to take. Finding himself in the market district, he sat down and tried to collect his thoughts. “Well… now that I’m here, what should be done first? There’s so very much… I could go check in I suppose – let them know I’m not dead. Or I could go home and do the same. No… I’m doing it again. I came back to find out about his sword, and that’s what I’ll do.

The man rose from his bench and resumed his slow, lazy walk. “But now what to do about that? I can’t very well go ask Tindel to look at it. I seriously doubt she’d be glad to see me after leaving in such a rush. There’s only one other choice, I suppose, but I do hate resorting to religion…” He paused for a moment and watched the long banners bearing the state seal that hung intermittently from the building rooftops sway in the breeze. He smiled, and headed into a nearby jewelry shop.

“Can I help you sir,” the shop clerk said eagerly. She came out from behind the counter to greet the man.

He smiled again, kindly. “Oh, I was looking for a silver chain, you see.”

A sheepish grin slid across the clerk’s face as she spoke. “Shopping for that special someone are we? How long would you like it? Oh, and what would you like on it? I’ve got a variety of fasteners, too!”

“Three feet please. I don’t need anything on it or any fasteners.”

The girl looked shocked, confused, and disappointed all at once. “Yes sir, I’ll be back in a moment.” She went into the back room to cut the chain, and returned quickly. “Here you are, sir.” The man paid her, and then headed off towards the cathedral of the All-Father, chain in hand.

The massive cathedral was all but empty. A few initiates were tidying up, but few others could be found. The man proceeded into the main cloister and yelled. “Ezra! Ezra where are you!?

“Keep your voice down heathen! This is a place of worship!”

The man turned to see a short, fat man dressed in the robes of a priest of the All-Father. He was balding, with a well-groomed moustache, and what hair he had left was a smoky gray. His expression was one of grandfatherly kindness as he saw who had been making the commotion.

“There you are Ezra,” the man said with a smile.

“Well… if it isn’t the Young Master.”


Written by - Ariana Page 12 Book 4

She had been tired from the first visitation by Ardwen to her mind. After the second, she was exhausted, and as Vylia left her mind, her eyelids remained closed as she collapsed against the bed and promptly went to sleep. By the time she awakened, the sun had made its full arc across the sky and the gathering gloom collected as menacing dark shadows in the corners and crevices of the room.

She did not move, the only signs of her awakening her open eyes and the sudden, sharp intake of breath. The darkness felt like a weight upon her body, one that pushed her even further into the mattress upon which she lay. She frantically glanced around, moving only her eyes, looking for some source of light to banish the darkness.

A small glimmer of a candle made her breathe easier and she stirred. The candle sat upon a small table someone had dragged next to a chair. The chair itself was occupied, and as she focused on the tableau, she recognized the man as the one who seemed to be friends with Olly. Thankfully, he paid her no heed as he continued to thumb through a well-worn book.

She shifted a bit and further took stock of her surroundings. She could see Vylia – she remembered her now – asleep on the bed next to hers, and another woman she did not know occupying a chair on the far side of the room. She also took note of even more candles, burning faintly in sconces fastened to the wall, and their warm glow gave her even more comfort.

She felt at peace, and contentedly stretched her limbs. Her brain woke up about mid-stretch and clamored at her that something was missing. She frowned and sat up, eyes piercing the gloom.

Olly was where she had left him, perched near the reading man in the open window. Vylia was there, sleeping on the bed next to hers, her breathing slow and deep. And Ardwen…?

She was puzzled, and rubbed one hand across her eyes as if to clear them. She thought she had remembered putting him at the side of her bed. Why wasn’t he where she left him?

Rising from the bed, she reached up into the sconce nearest her and removed a lighted candle. If Ardwen had misplaced himself, she would simply have find him again. She would be sure to scold him for misplacing himself once she located him.

With this thought, she proceeded to search for him in as thorough a manner as she could. Wandering through the infirmary, she shined the precious light of her candle into a myriad of dark spaces; under beds, behind wardrobes, beneath sheets, under and behind desks, behind curtains.

As her search revealed no Ardwen, her motions became more harried and less logical. She began checking those places where no person could fit. Drawers, inkwells, and flowerpots were all upended in her increasingly panicked search for him. Glass bottles and jars containing the necessary herbs for the healing craft were smashed upon the rough hewn floor, and their contents quickly examined - all to no avail.

Her fear and anger tied her stomach in a knot. “Where?” she whispered harshly. She knew even if no one else did that bad things happened when Ardwen left her alone. In the space of one heartbeat, she was no longer in a safe Citadel on another world. Instead, she was in a city in a long ago era on a world whose name she could not remember.

“Not again!” she shouted, and charged at the door. She shoved it open, her candle guttering and going out. Dropping the now useless candle, she ran barefoot out the door into the dark courtyard beyond. Any who trailed after her could not help but notice the shape of her bare feet burned into the rock floor, and the imprint of her hands burned deep and still smoking on the wooden door.

Written by - Talonmane

She thinks what? You're sure?

Kildef murmured apologies in their own language to those few elves who worked in the infirmary as he exited after her and held the mental conversation with the owl. Ollawahoo was convinced that Ariana equated the physical absence of Ardwen with not only being left alone in the present, but with whatever corrosive terror that held her mind slave to the chaos of the final days of ancient Aerynth.

I can't disagree. Her only spoken words so far have been to him; half ordering and half pleading him to never leave. How she said it was beyond desperation...more like she was convinced that no other course was thinkable. And there was such a mortal fear in her eyes. I guess now we're beginning to see the extent to which she meant it. And it only makes sense that her direst memories would be of the flight from Nagarren when all was lost.

Onward through the maze they followed her as she continued to search ridiculous places for signs of the bladeweaver. But her fury was building, and a nimbus of holy fire now lit everything around her, and together with her periodic cries, began to wake the local population in this part of the small city. Everything she was touching was getting partly destroyed or melted. Two guards and two wardens that had been posted nearby now tried to keep everyone far back from her as she moved from yard to yard, path to path, after they initially saw Kildef warning people off. He had been staying back about 10 yards, hoping to contain the situation while considering how to stop her. Only one way comes to mind. Back me up olde bird.

Ariana had maneuvered into a closed grotto where a statue of three figures stood back to back, facing outwards - a man with an elf female and another man of uncertain lineage, possibly half-elven. He didn't recognize them, but there was a striking similarity to the company of Lorne. The stone figures were raised above a pool where running water made a delicate, soothing sound in the night and brought some coolness to the warm subtropical air. He waited for her inspection of the area to end, when she would have to turn back his way.

It was obvious though that frustration fueled her anger and stomping and tipping things over and yelling a little was not going to be enough of a release. She turned to storm out of the grotto, and fortunately for Kildef, she focused on the statues instead of on him. Her head tilted in puzzlement as she examined the stone people even while a savage snarl grew across her features. She stalked the perimeter of the pool, staring at them, working herself into a rage - a need to release the uncontainable emotion. Again, she struggled to speak, and the volcano of her power blew as it came out in a scream.

"WHERE!!?"

It may have been the font of the All-Father's energy that she was still able to tap, but the novane blast that erupted from her hands and eyes had no essence of healing or restoration - but annihilation. The wave of power broke over the statuary and the entire citadel shook in a ground quake that felt as though the great fortress were heaved. Instinctually the ranger dropped to one knee and steadied himself with a hand on the tilement. This went on, and between the fingers of his free hand that sheltered his eyes from the magnitude of the flash, he could see that the statue was not breaking, though it should have been blown to powder. The torrent poured over the three figures and there it was absorbed utterly, none of it carrying beyond where it would surely have peeled a river of destruction through buildings and walls for unknown distance. This obviously vexed Ariana, who poured it on, needing to break something...something big, something obvious, something that would get everyone's attention and that would force Ardwen to come or make others bring him to her. Though she stared down the statues, in truth she was hoping to break the entire fortress with her will.

The statuary was obviously a thing connected to immense power itself, something protected. It continued to absorb her energy until she could make herself try no more. As though sapped, she dropped to the ground, partly weaping, partly pounding the ground tiles in rage all the while mumbling or shouting, most of it incoherent. It was only a few seconds before she stubbornly stood again, and her fury blazed into being once more as she looked at the statues one last time and turned to leave and find another target. And before her stood Kildef.

Oh ya...I'm sure this is just what I want to do right now... he thought to the preybird. Ollawahoo landed on the arm of the female elf statue and hooted twice, bobbing his head up and down in that annoying way only owls could do.

"Ariana," he said sternly, trying to look confident and and to address her no differently than he would have long ago, in those same days that he had told her that she was all at once like a mother, a sister, and something much more to him, "I know where Ardwen is. Do you want me to tell you?"

Written by - Vylia

Vylia awoke to the sound of shattering pottery, sitting up quickly and turning instantly to look to the bed Ariana was supposed to be sleeping in. When she saw her missing she turned toward where the original noise had been to see Ariana breaking and throwing things all over the infirmary. She quickly got out of the bed she was in, not really caring how she had ended up there in the first place, and started to follow Ariana out the door. Vylia stopped suddenly at the exit after Kildef charged out following Ariana as she noticed the handprint burnt into the doorframe and then the footprints in the floor. "This is not good... where did that fool go after he made that promise?"

Shaking her head she followed after the two of them, assisting Kildef in warding people away from Ariana as the aura of power around her increased in magnitude. She fell to her knees as the fortress shook with the power that Ariana unleashed upon the three statues, staring in awe at both the energy brought to bare and the fact that the statues simply absorbed it without even appearing singed. Vylia was unable to even regain her feet as Ariana turned to face Kildef with a look of pure rage on her face, and Vylia on her knees behind him. She grabbed her newly acquired Triskellion amulet and, staring at the one she had placed around Ariana's neck, whispered a plea for help, "All-Father protect us so we may save her."

Written by - Ardwen

When Ardwen’s sight faded back into color and shape he found himself in an open courtyard with grass beneath his feet. The Elven warrior realized they were in one the Citadel's interior gardens, decorative stones made pathways through the area and alcoves of plants were interspersed with fountains and statues. It was night, but a pale, full moon illuminated the surroundings.

A quick glance told him the boy had made it through the portal. However, the child had collapsed onto his hands and knees and was gasping for breath. “You alright?” Ardwen asked. The kid tried to answer, but all that came out was a choked cough. “I understand, some kind of binding spell. He’ll come through the portal, and I will end this. But, I want you to get to safety.”

As Ardwen spoke, Visan emerged from the portal and a fraction of a second later the gate closed. The mage took one look around, took a hand off his sword’s grip and conjured a ball of black flame. His eyes shifted from Ardwen to the young elf beside him, and magefire flew forth. Ardwen gritted his teeth as he brought his sword up to block and moved in front of the flame. As the warrior’s blade met with the spell rays of light shot from the impact and an unnatural wind ripped through the courtyard. Ardwen saw arcs of electricity dig into the soil, and the Elf’s arms begin to shake from the effort of containing the attack. The ball of fire exploded. Ardwen was shoved backwards but kept his footing; the ground beneath his feet was rived into two muddy lines.

The Elven swordsman looked over his shoulder and saw the child was unharmed. “Run!” He hissed through his still clenched teeth. The boy took a few steps backwards, but then stopped. The warrior had no more time to spare, and knew he had to take the initiative again. Visan was trying to prepare another spell, but Ardwen closed distance before he could finish, and their two weapons met. Overhead, then low, then overhead again, the two Elves were pouring every ounce of skill, strength, and speed they could into each blow.

Ardwen jumped over a low strike and Visan’s blade passed under his feet. Ardwen’s returning strike was parried and brought to the side, and the warrior was forced to pull his blade back and snap forward into a thrust. Another parry rang out in the air. Their blades were blurs, and the two changed footing and circled so often that the concept of stances became meaningless.

Ardwen’s blade hummed as Visan managed to block a swirling cut to his head that Ardwen rotated and turned into two cuts. Visan crouched low and brought his sword in a horizontal slash that Ardwen countered by swinging his sword down and left, edge against edge. Visan and Ardwen leapt backwards, but Ardwen was a fraction of a second faster and sprang forward first, his blade came up in a low cut that drove Visan’s sword up and split the cloth in a long line up the mage’s left sleeve. Unfortunately for Ardwen, it did not touch flesh. With one fluid motion Visan brought his blade down, Ardwen sidestepped, but the dodge was close. A few strands of brown hair floated through the air, and Ardwen could see a thin line of red following them.

As the two warriors turned to face one another Visan spoke, “Pointless. I nearly killed you with a single spell.” As if to enforce his words Visan pointed a finger and spoke another word of command. Ardwen saw dirt rising like the wake behind a ship, something hard and fast slammed into the warrior and he was thrown backwards again. Ardwen smashed into the wall behind him hard enough to put cracks into it. The Elf collapsed onto his knees and propped himself up with a hand, his eyes were closed in pain and his ears range, only the Elf’s thoughts remained unclouded.

“Now I see,” Ardwen thought, “I have no choice.” The battered Elven swordsman opened his eyes to see Visan still standing there, a self-satisfied smirk on his face. Ardwen rose to his feet slowly, noticing his blade had been broken in half by Visan’s last attack. Despite his wounds, Ardwen had a grim smile on his face as well.

“Why are you smiling?” Visan said. “Weary of life?” Ardwen jumped, it was a leap of amazing height that took him to the railing running along the side of the courtyard. In more peaceful times, Visan guessed it was used for spectators to rest on and gaze at the gardens below. Now, Ardwen used it as a perch. Visan watched as Ardwen crossed his arms at the elbow, bringing his left hand to his right shoulder and vice versa. Ardwen spoke, but when he did it was not with his normal voice. His words reverberated slightly with a timbre eerily like a spell chant.

Fuyu and Haru appeared in the warrior’s hands. “This body is made out of swords.” Ardwen intoned. The Elven swordsman threw the two blades into the air. Visan regarded them with scorn; he raised a hand and erected a magical barrier. The two blades bounced off with twin clangs, but kept hovering in the air, circling in for another strike.

“Annoying.” Visan said with a frown. He looked back up at Ardwen, and saw the warrior had not been idle.

Ardwen had lowered his hands to his sides and was continuing his chant, “Steel is my flesh, and fire is my blood.” A recurve bow appeared in Ardwen's right hand, and a voluted blade appeared in his right. The blade shone and extended, streamlining into a bar of white. The Elven warrior knocked the modified sword, drew back the bow, and loosed.

The spear of light collided with Visan's barrier, it stuck there, halfway in the mage's shielding. Visan's lips curled back as he gestured again to erect a second barrier to strength the first. Instead, the bar of energy exploded as the white and black blades struck it, shattering both barriers and leaving Visan on his knees. The mage stood quickly though, recovering with amazing speed.

If this daunted Ardwen however, he gave no sign; he dismissed the bow, it vanished with a slight shimmer. The warrior brought his arms back into the position he had begun his chant with and said, “Always alone in a wind of swords.” Familiar white and black swords appeared in his hands again. The swordsman held his arms out behind him and jumped down from the railing, running at Visan.

“Standing upon a hill of blades.” Ardwen said right before he was in melee range again. Ardwen brought both swords down in an alternating pair of chops, but Visan had another barrier in place. The blades began to glow. Ardwen let go of the hilts, and then pushed off with his legs to one side. Visan poured more power into his shield, but the resulting explosion still caused his ears to ring, and spewed obscuring dust and dirt into the air. For a moment the wane moonlight was blotted out, and Visan could see nothing but bedimming dust. Then the mage saw movement, a form creeping at the edge of his vision.

“Found you.” Visan said coldly, but then paused. The figure was that of his earlier prisoner, who for some reason had not fled the fighting. Visan considered his next move for scarcely a moment before black flame danced along his outstretched hand. “If you won’t show yourself, he dies!” Visan yelled.

“I have withstood pain to create many weapons.” Visan spun to face the voice, and there in the still obscuring half-light he could see the outline of another figure. All at once a moonbeam broke through and illuminated the kneeling form of Ardwen.

“Predictable." Visan taunted as he adjusted his aim.

Ardwen gave no reply, his eyes were closed, and his right hand was clasped to the opposite side of his chest like an archaic soldier’s salute. “Yet, my hands will never hold anything.”

The ball of black flame grew in size and intensity as Visan prepared to land a killing strike.

“So, as I pray . . .” Ardwen's voice trailed off, and his eyes opened, the two combatants regarded one another. Visan fired, the spell sliding through the air in spectral silence.

“Unlimited Blade Works.” Ardwen pressed his left palm to the ground, and the earth came alight as if the sun were beneath them, a clarion metallic noise chimed in the air. Visan was dimly aware of his ball of flame being swallowed by a wall of advancing energy the same color as that which devoured the ground. Then he felt a disturbing sense of displacement, like being in two places at once, but his eyes could tell him nothing as he clasped them shut to block out the bright light.

Visan thought he was dead. But, he rapidly realized that not only was he alive he was unharmed, and so he opened his eyes to take in his surroundings. The first thing the mage did was widen his eyes in shock, the second was to suck in a deep breath. The world around him had completely changed. He was on a vast barren field, the only break in the terrain were low hills that rolled along the landscape. The ground was stained a rusted red hue. Glancing up the mage could see a pale white disk with a hazy outline broken by dense, dark and rolling clouds. Visan guessed it was the sun, but even as he thought this a small window opened in the clouds and he could see a night sky studded with stars. The glimpse was so fleeting Visan thought it an illusion, but he knew better.

Illusions lost their potency if you disbelieved them; it was a fundamental principle of magecraft. Visan knew Ardwen was incapable of crafting an illusion so precise and detailed, he had read all the data he could find on his foe. Yet, all his research had not mentioned such a thing as what he now beheld. Wisps of fog covered the ground in numerous places, and ephemeral sparks drifted up from the ground like bubbles in water. Visan could not guess what was causing the fog to move, at times he felt a slight zephyr, and then almost as soon the feeling was gone. Yet, all of these things, the red earth, the bewildering sky, and the obscuring mist were all unimportant.

What had caused his eyes to widen in a chilling instance of fear was what was in the ground. All around the mage, in the low hills and hollows, in the soil near him and in the earth to the ever-distant horizon were swords. The blades stood anchored into the soil like grave markers. The sorcerer looked behind him. The scene repeated itself - innumerable weapons - but with one difference. Upon one of the slight hills was Ardwen.

The Elven warrior could see Visan gaping at his new surroundings. Ardwen reached out a hand to his side and grasped the grip of a blade; he did not look as he lifted it from the earth. The swordsman leveled the sword in front of him. It was a slightly curved sword with a swept cross-guard, a saber that any cavalryman might have used. Ardwen smirked and said, “As you can see what you are facing is an infinite number of blades, the finest of weapons. Throw your fears away and fight me!”

Visan advanced, his sword raised. Ardwen’s smirk changed to a scowl of disgust as he ran towards him. Their two blades met once more. Ardwen let go of his sword and another came to his hands, another curved blade, but of Elven design. Visan blocked Ardwen’s attack, only to have the blade Ardwen had dropped shoot through the air into his right leg. Ardwen called another sword to him, and he slashed at Visan with savage abandon. The mage could no longer keep up, and he felt wounds open up under the relentless edges of Ardwen’s attacks.

Suddenly, Ardwen was behind Visan, he had quick-stepped behind him. Ardwen dropped both of his blades, he could leave nothing to chance; he wanted Visan dead. Ardwen reached out with his will, images flashed through his mind of myriad swords and those swords answered. A roar like wind bolting through a narrow cleft pervaded the air. Ardwen roared in a mixture of concentration and triumph as a massive array of blades shot through the air like arrows in flight. The swords all struck Visan nearly as one, from almost every direction. Steel jutted in and out from the mage’s body, blood spilt on blade after blade and flowed in rivulets to the ground. What little of the mage’s body was spared was soon obliterated as the magical weapons reacted to their violent collision and close proximity in a thunderous blast.

Ardwen fell forwards, his head bowed and eyes closed. The world around him vanished as if it had never existed. Of Visan the only remnant was his tattered overcoat, rent with more holes than fabric and stained a dark crimson with blood. Ardwen tried to steady his breathing, but he was completely drained, unable to even move. “Ardwen.” A voice called out his name. It took an enormous amount of willpower just to open his eyes and look at who had spoken. In the rush of battle, Ardwen had almost forgotten about the boy that he had braved so much to save. Still, the Elf was glad that he had managed to save someone, even if he had ultimately failed. It was a bitter reflection, but as Ardwen looked at the boy for the first time he saw his eyes. They were a haunting shade of pale blue, and while Ardwen chalked it up to exhaustion and coincidence, that gaze almost felt familiar. As Ardwen heard movement around him an odd thought crossed his wearied mind – the winged child had called him by name, but how did he know what it was in the first place?

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya woke up to the sound of disturbed pottery and Vylia taking off after Ariana. She got up instantly and followed them, keeping a safe distance behind but yet close enough to close in if needed.

Written by - Ariana

His words thundered in her ears, but by the time they reached her brain, they had been twisted into something wholly different. Her tears quickly dried, and she rose to her feet, fastening the man before with her steely glare. If he knew where her beloved Ardwen was, then he must have been instrumental in his leaving in the first place.

“Give him back!” she ordered, subtly changing her stance.

Before the man before her could respond or comply, however, a great commotion arose from the courtyard to her right. Sparing a quick glance in that direction, she could arcs of magefire light the sky. In one quick motion she had shoved the man out of her way and darted towards the commotion.

Her quick feet carried her there within seconds, the residual magic in the air causing her hair to crackle. As her eyes adjusted, she could see two forms. Ardwen was lying in a heap on the ground, being watched over by a strange looking child. Images of a ruined orphanage stained red with the blood of children quickly filled her vision.

Without thinking she rushed towards them. One hand wrapped around Ardwen and the other grabbed hold of the arm of the child. She attempted to pull them both under her, her movements harried and frantic, determined to protect them against the evil she was certain was bearing down upon them all.

Written by - Talonmane

Kildef's attention was already on the new scene - an unknown second explosion within a span of seconds. Under no suprise that she would move immediately to Ardwen, he allowed her push to rotate him completely and moved gracefully into stride behind her. Aware of a new burning odor, he glanced down to see the left breast of his hide jerkin smoking in the smudged imprint of her hand.

While mostly relieved, his brow still deepened and he scowled. I wish he had not returned this soon. A confrontation with her to bring forth other memories is necessary. Necessary for so many reasons. Oh, is that so? Hardly. The years and wars have left me with any number of tricks up my sleeve...have you forgotten that in your dotage, gray bird? Ollawahoo had offered a rather unflattering image of what he thought the results might have been if the bladeweaver had not returned right now.

Ardwen appeared worn, but clearly would live. The boy was unknown, as was the remains of the foe he had slain. The situation appeared over for the two of them...but not for Ariana. She saw or felt something the rest of them didn't. Kil walked around the immediate area, trying to see if he could gain a sense of any threat or abnormality. He couldn't. Whatever Ardwen experienced was past.

Again speaking in a voice no different than he would have ever used in their years of strife, he reported to her, "Abbess, the area is secure. Ardwen has vanquished whatever threat might have been." He stepped closer to them and knelt, lowering his volume a bit but remaining firm. "Do not fear. Only your protectors are with you now. It is alright now as it was alright a few minutes ago. You should have known where Ardwen was. I shouldn't have needed to tell you. If you think about it, you always know where he is. And where all of us are."

He appeared to get no reaction. She was still too far away. Trying not to show his frustration, he turned and surveyed instead the clouding sky, and uttered softly, his voice falling to a tone nearly as deep as his father's, "We are where'er Providence takes us. Where else could we be?"

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen managed to rise with halted jerky motions to a kneeling crouch, one knee beneath him providing support and the other facing forward. Ariana was clutching him tightly with one arm, and in his condition Ardwen wasn't even sure he could break free if he wanted to. The warrior's eyebrows scrunched together and his face formed a perfect scowl of resentment and grim resolve. "I used all of my strength and still . . ." Ardwen whispered and trailed off.

Not a second after this Ardwen noticed Kildef. The barbarian seemed content to ignore him and his young tagalong, and Ardwen was just as satisfied to turn his thoughts inward. That is, until Kildef began speaking of his "vanquishing" a great threat and being guided by providence. If Ardwen's mouth were not so dry he would have spit on the ground at the words, instead he managed a derisive "tch" and said, "Hell, for one, Kildef." With some effort and a slight grunt Ardwen managed to straighten his back, he was still kneeling but his eyes were focused and keen now, "The All-Father lied to me, tricked me, used me - again! I was foolish enough to believe his pack of lies."

His sudden movement caused Ariana to grip even him even tighter, and the Elven warrior was briefly grateful he was wearing the new breastplate that Talorn had gifted him with. Ardwen spared Ariana a brief glance before he placed a hand on her shoulder, as much to support himself as to remind her that he was in no condition to go anywhere now. "Look at what 'providence' has made of us," said Ardwen, "broken, scattered, lost. But I swear I'll do whatever need be done, I will rip the very earth and heavens if I must, I'll return again and again, I will find him, I will."

****

It was overwhelming; everything had happened in what seemed a few blazingly chaotic seconds, and yet at the same time events had unfolded so slowly boefre him. He had gone from being a prisoner and captive to Visan's twisted ambition, to being reunited with Ardwen, and finally freed only to be caught in a situation even more unbelievable. At first he had no clue who Ardwen's companions were; though half-forgotten names tickled at the back of his mind like moonlight dancing in fog. Still, the recent conversation between Ardwen and his companions had crushed any lingering doubts.

These were, at least in part, members of the order Ardwen had belonged to - the Hands of Providence. Which meant that the lady who was gripping him so hard that it made the steel bars of his former cage seem soft was . . . Elerus blushed and turned his head away slightly. She had to be Ariana, Ardwen had spoken of her many times before. As if in response to his bashfulness his wing folded down and across, as a bird might do to tuck its head underneath. With a slightly annoyed sigh Elerus moved it back behind him, he was used to wings, but not a real one, and certainly not one that was actually an extension of his body.

However, any thoughts about his company or his new avian feature were dashed aside when he heard Ardwen swear against the All-Father. Elerus was tempted to say something then and there, to help ease Ard's suffering. But, he knew him better than that, and knew that it would only further complicate things. He also knew that, potentially, it could lead him to the same fate as Visan - depending on how quickly Ardwen decided he was a "damn lying whelp."

Likely in his heart of hearts Ardwen realized the truth; he just didn't want to admit it. If he believed that Elerus was still out there, still someone and somewhere else, then he could always rush off and save him. By admitting what he knew to be true Ardwen would be admitting to more than failure, he would be admitting to being powerless to help a friend. A Twilight Elf's pride simply wouldn't allow that. Elerus gave a little nod as he mulled all of what was going on over, trying to come up with a plan of action.

Still, there was something even more pressing to take care of first. He gave a slight tug on the arm Ariana was gripping as if he would fly off into the wind if she let go. "Please?" Elerus said while adopting what he imagined was a pleading look. Inwardly he cringed, but he still hoped he could at least get the priestess to loosen her grip. Otherwise, Ardwen would have no lack of fun later ribbing him about how he had squirmed and whined to get out of Ariana's grasp.


Written by - Ariana Page 13 of Book 4

You should have known where Ardwen was. I shouldn’t have needed to tell you.

The words swirled round and round in her head, distracting her from the movement around her and the tugs and pleas for freedom. In the space of a few heartbeats, the words had coalesced into something she understood, and suddenly the woman she once was stared at the woman she had become and found her lacking.

Her arms, once holding on so tightly, suddenly went limp and dropped uselessly to her sides. She would not cling. She had no right. She pushed herself slowly to her feet, as if her body were weighted with ballast. As she did so, her foot grazed a broken piece of pottery. She gazed at it as if it held the meaning of the universe, and then deliberately lifted her foot and ground the fragment to dust beneath her heel.

“She is broken,” she said, her voice little more than a whisper. “Smashed and scattered in the darkness. Hands ripping, tearing, grinding. Black and red. Red and black. They wish to fill her with water, but broken does not hold.”

She cast a regretful glance at Ardwen and the child, and took several steps backwards, her hands clasped tight behind her.

Written by - Talonmane

Kildef's head turned quickly toward her, scrutinizing her expression and words, eyes squinted as though he could see through her fog if he could try hard enough. Slowly his body turned as well while he spoke, "When you've overflowed, it's always been because you took on too much, not because we poured it. If you are broken, then you can be remade again. And stronger. Despair can turn to something better. But you don't have to hold any water if you don't want to. There are plenty of us to carry it, and who always have. That's something you'll eventually remember, Ariana.

"Or will you stay in your personal Purgatory because reality makes you take a few tougher steps than what you cling to in there? Perhaps really living again is scarier than your demons?"

He then walked away toward another section of the fortress, pausing for just long enough to drop one last thought. "I miss your sister. Sometimes quite terribly. At least she had guts."

Olly, I'm going to go see what's happening in the war room. What? Oh, it's not that bad. Sort of like when you bit her on the nose. No, maybe I don't know what I'm doing.

Written by - Ardwen

Ilamir's voice was a whisper to his commander as he relayed what he saw, "Suggest we wait a moment sir, one of them was walking off, the big one, the barbarian. Give him a moment to get out of earshot and we can move in."

Telquin nodded and replied in an equally hushed tone, "The woman is our mark, she's the threat. Who else is in the yard?"

"Two more, one's Ardwen - he's gotten a different uniform but it's him - he's wounded too. The other is . . . I don't know it."

"It?" Telquin said while raising an eyebrow.

"Sir, it's a child, a young boy, but . . . the damn things got a white wing on its right; hair's white too."

"Gray?"

"No sir, white, like milk."

"Anything else?"

Ilmar paused a moment before continuing his report and saying, "Definitely a fight in the courtyard, a big one. We've got structure damage and I saw what looked like a shredded overcoat - torn all to hell and bloody. I don't like it, sir, I didn't see anything there that looks like it could have done that."

Telquin frowned slightly and said, "It's obvious this is that woman's work, it was only a matter of time before someone got killed. Don't let it shake you, we've got a casualty, some freak kid, and a woman to deal with - this'll be simple. Now, on my mark; follow my lead."

The Rangers of the Citadel carried out their next move with all the efficiency and speed that was their hallmark. Within moments an entire platoon of Rangers had materialized out of seemingly nowhere, many took up posts on the walkway surrounding the garden courtyard, but a few squads went down into the courtyard itself. In one of those squads was the commander of the operation, Telquin, who stepped forward and spoke, "For endangering the allied forces under the command of Lord Ithramir, for the unauthorized harboring of dangerous and subversive elements on the Elven demesne, and for wanton destruction of sovereign Elven property, you are hereby placed under military tribunal. Comply fully with our orders as we will not hesitate to use lethal force."

****

Ardwen saw the Rangers make their move. Even as they rushed into the courtyard their actions truly did not surprise him. Ariana had become a threat, and the Citadel did house the commanders of the Elven and human armies. Ardwen closed his eyes in thought for a brief instance. Ariana had apparently gone mad when he left as evidence by Kildef's words to her and her "convenient" proximity to him when he arrived back at the Citadel.

"I left her alone with the other Hands for less than one full day," Ardwen hissed to himself, "and they managed to screw things up spectacularly." Ardwen decided on the spot that he would actually have to share a few choice words with the other Hands regarding duty and vigilance. He also mulled over the idea of stabbing Kildef for his thoroughly ignorant display and then shooting his pet owl and eating it. The idea immediately struck Ardwen as repulsive: if Kildef liked the thing then it would be far more fitting to kill it first.

"Fine," Ardwen said releasing a breath he had not realized he was holding. The warrior took a few moments to stand up, hands down to his side and fingers splayed, he hoped it looked non-threatening. Not for the first time in his life Ardwen was glad he did not technically have to carry weapons to be considered armed, but the Rangers didn't know that. His movement had, however, attracted some attention. Ardwen took the brief moment of regard to look around, he saw an impressive array of weapons but what worried him the most were the longbows. Not a single Elf there had theirs drawn, though each had an arrow nocked. It was a bad sign, only morons tried to hold the draw of a bow for long, Ardwen had figured the elite of the Citadel would be experienced, and they showed openly.

"I can understand," Ardwen said calmly, "your charges against the lady and I, however, you can't be serious about arresting a child."

"The charges," the Elf Ardwen assumed to be in command retorted, "apply to him as well. There have been too many new faces around here, and now we've got what looks to be a war scene and a murder all on the same night there was a war council. It's too convenient and I for one do not take chances. I'm sure you can appreciate that, Ardwen."

Ardwen closed his eyes again and spoke without opening them, "You have me at an advantage, I don't know your name."

"Telquin, and I can assure you I am an officer in the Citadel and fully empowered to carry out its law."

"I thought Ithramir was the law at the Citadel."

"He is, but it is our duty to ensure the safety of those who reside here. This woman released such a powerful spell that it shook the very foundations of this fortress! She is a danger not only to others, but to herself as well. We're not doing this because we like to."

Ardwen said nothing. The only further action he took was to face away from Telquin, turning his frame so that most of the left side of his body was blocked from the Elven commander's view.

****

Elerus saw the two guards approaching him. They stopped a few feet behind him and Elerus turned his head to regard them. They were highly trained warriors, but the expressions on their faces told Elerus all he needed to know: they were at a loss whether to try and speak with him or poke him with a stick. For the second time that night Elerus released a deep sigh at his situation. Apparently the action stirred one of the Rangers to action because he stepped forward and hunched down to bring his face in close. "Easy," he said softly, "this is just a routine, that's all. You're not in trouble, don't cry."

Elerus felt like slapping the Elf upside his head, but he merely nodded curtly instead. Ardwen had fallen silent, which in Elerus's experience meant one of two things: he was lost in thought, or he was furious. Given the situation he didn't have to use any insight to determine which was more likely. "Ah," the Ranger said as his expression brightened, "so you do understand my words, yes?"

Elerus turned his head to the side as if in shyness, but he used the action to mask rolling his eyes in frustration. He quickly calmed himself, now was not the time to provide any encouragement to Ardwen. Besides, he knew his friend was suffering from mana deprivation, and if it came to a fight he would barely be able to move. In response to the Ranger he nodded his head again, this time a few more times and with more energy. "Ha!" The Elven soldier explained in triumph, "You owe me ten gold, Fawlen."

"Cut the bullshit and do your job, Kalomi." The one addressed as Fawlen snarled.

In response Kalomi shot him a resentful glare, "Watch the tongue around the boy, eh? Try and show you've got some class."

"Pfft," Fawlen said with a sneer, "coddling the enemy?"

Kalomi sighed and rolled his eyes, "This is retarded, Telquin sends us to arrest a kid while he gets the glory."

Elerus finally saw Fawlen give a tight smile before saying, "Yeah, well, maybe if you weren't shamming all the time and pulled your weight . . ."

Kalomi ignored him and Elerus saw him return his attention to him. "Alright little fellow, follow us." Elerus saw the two begin to walk away, but they both had their eyes fixed on him, he followed. He knew Ardwen was in no condition to fight, and Elerus knew his predicament was even worse. Still, he couldn't help but toss one last glance back at Ardwen and Ariana as Fawlen and Kalomi marched him off around a corner and out of sight.

Elerus took in the sights of the building as his two wardens lead him through it. The ceiling was high and arched even in the hallway. At least, Elerus thought it was. But as he looked at Fawlen and Kalomi for comparison he realized it wasn't the height of the ceiling that made it seem so far away. Eventually the two took a turn up a stairwell, Fawlen walked in front with Kalomi behind him; Elerus scrapped the idea of running. At the top of the spiral flight of stairs was a heavy wooden door, Fawlen withdrew a key and released the lock.

Elerus found himself ushered inside by another gratingly belittling turn of phrase from Kalomi. The two talked outside the door for a minute, and Elerus found he was almost warmed by the concern Kalomi was showing for him. Their conversation ended abruptly, however, with a gruff dismissal from Fawlen, "There's a blanket in there, it's clean, and it can ask for food or water. Damnit Kalomi we were just told to keep it in containment for a bit, not like this is the dungeon it's just an extra guardhouse room! Now, I'm going to go and report to Telquin and tell him this pissant job is done, and I suggest you come too. Unless, you're worried the brat can't get to sleep without a bedtime story." Shortly afterwards Elerus heard two sets of footfalls gradually recede into the distance. He grabbed the blanket in the room, found it surprisingly clean, and wrapped himself in it for warmth.

In a few moments his eyes began to droop, despite all that had happened his current accommodations were still infinitely better than anything Visan had ever allowed. Surely, he thought even as his thoughts slowed with weariness, Ardwen would take the chance to recover before doing anything brash. Though, he wouldn't complain if Ard stabbed Fawlen - just with a flesh wound, of course.

Written by - Ariana

His words had the opposite effect than he had intended. Instead of riling her up with indignation, she surrendered, recognizing the truth in his words. Her shoulders slumped and her head bowed as she tried to recall her sister, but only gained a vague image of an owl. But with that recollection came another one, and she cast a glare in the barbarian’s direction.

“Friend of the flying one,” she whispered. “Likes the owl not for innards but because she makes him glow.”

She bowed her head again and said more to herself than anyone else, “Broken is broken. Pieces only fit when form and function are known.”

A sound in the darkness interrupted her musings. She heard before she saw the rangers approaching, their swift and quiet footsteps resounding loudly in ears long accustomed to silence. The hands behind her back clamped tightly to each other and she cast quick glances around her into the surrounding black.

As they came into view, weapons clearly raised with deadly intent her breathing grew choppy and she started to tremble. Her movements became more harried as her search for an escape grew more desperate as the panic set in. Finding no easy way out, she took one tentative step towards Ardwen, but then hesitated casting another regretful glance his way. The tightly twined fingers interlaced behind her back turned white with her severe grip, and her shaking became more severe. It was impossible to tell if she shivered from fear, the cool night air, or the effort to keep something inside that was clamoring to get out.

She didn’t actually start to glow until she saw them touch the child.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia came running into the courtyard just as Ariana's hands began to glow. She shoved herself a path between the pair of rangers in front of her, confusing them as she yelled, "Ariana, no! They are not our enemies, they're just trying to protect their home. Please calm down, Ardwen is back and they aren't going to harm any of us as long as we all stay calm." Vylia turned to glare at the ranger that had grabbed her wrist, "I suggest you and your friends lower your weapons. We will all go peacefully, but if she thinks any harm will come to any of us a great many of you could die before you even had a chance to harm her. Your commander doesn't have the slightest clue what he is dealing with here, I'd suggest you give him the same warning."

The second ranger behind her turned to go speak with Telquin, moving up silently behind him and whispering something only he could hear.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm regained his breath, although the feeling of fatigue and buring channels remained. He saw that Keeryn was weeping next to the body of the wizard she had slain, and knew from what the two had said that this must have been the same wizard that had destroyed her people. Leaving her to her feelings, he turned towards Sabbatine and Teran and saw that Sabbatine's broken body was visibly healing as she consumed the corpse in front of her. He saw that Teran was turning to come to him. Looking around, he saw that Resini had organized the rest to heal any wounds and to check the cultist bodies and to heal any wounds.

Finally, he heaved a deep and sad sigh and turned to walk to Mavigan's body, only to stop short when he could not see it. Searching the area where he was sure he had seen her slain, he found her bloody dagger and a pale outline upon the red-dusted floor, as if a body has lain there then somehow vanished. Turning as Teran approached, he said,

"Where is Mavigan's body! I saw her slain!"

"So did I", replied Teran. "But Sabbatine says Mavigan did not die, as she would have known if Mavigan's soul left her body." Teran spread his hands and shrugged, showing his own confusion.

Wilhelm studied the area more closely and concentrating all his senses, he saw some faint disturbances in the dust. He followed them to the passageway through which they came and slowly he saw red dust footprints emerge into view, as if some magical concealment was fading out, leading back the way they had come.

*All right,* he thought pointedly to the presence within, * What happened? Where is Mavigan? What is going on?*

*She lives, thanks to a secret protection cast long ago she was unaware of. You must follow her. Lead the others out quickly and seek out Argent. I must return to the negotiations.* The All Father's presence vanished abruptly, leaving Wilhelm both relieved and irritated.

"The All Father says we must return to the horses immediately to follow Mavigan, who lives. I'll explain when we get there. Follow me!"

Taking Keeryn by the hand, he led her over to the others and she came quietly, the tears still flowing. He began a chant that caused a glow to appear around everyone's feet that caused their movement to speed up and he led them faster and faster back the way they came, until they appeared to be effortlessly sprinting. They saw few cultists, and those they saw fled from them in terror. Evidently, the cultists were demoralized by the elimination of their leaders and the glowing armed party caused those they saw to flee for their lives.

Retracing the long route they had come, the group finally emerged back into the desolate valley and made their way back up to the camp where the horses had been left under the care of Gareth and Hilda. Except that rather than a small camp of 2 rearguards, there was a large crowd of bedraggled but happy people!

Wilhelm discovered to his delight that the prisoner breakout had worked and while there had been many casualties, the majority had lived to escape the clutches of the dark cult and had just reached Gareth and Hilda a short time ago. Leaving Resini to take charge, Wilhelm moved quickly to the horses and found Argent tethered at the edge of the horses. There he found a bloody cloth on the ground. Looking further, he realized that all of Mavigan's gear except the saddle, horse bow, and quiver were missing. Searching the ground around Argent, he found a faint trail of footprints in the soft dirt left by small boots. Looking closely, he made out the initial M he had had engraved in the heels of the boots given to Mavigan.

He followed those footprints a short distance, until they suddenly stopped as if Mavigan had vanished into thin air. *Or into Shadow!* he thought.

* Into Shadow indeed!* boomed the inner voice of the All Father. * And you must follow. I have negotiated passage for you with Huxel. Speak to Teran and Sabbatine and tell Teran that you must be taken through Shadow to follow Mavigan back to Port Westgale. Resini can guide the others back to the Citadel.*

Wilhelm went to find Resini and informed him of the All Father's words. Resini agreed to guide the crowd back to the safety of the Citadel, and wished godspeed to Wilhelm. Wilhelm then found Teran and Sabbatine and relayed the words of the All Father to them.

"It seems we must follow after Mavigan quickly through Shadow. The All Father informs me that Huxel has granted His Avatar passage, in return for a future favor."

Written by - Vylia

Wiping her eyes, Keeryn sniffled one last time before regaining her composure. She looked at Wilhelm as he spoke of someone named the All Father and her face changed from one of confusion to determination. "If Mavigan lives and has gone into danger then I am going with you as well. Twice now I have failed to keep her from harm, it will not happen a third time unless I die in the trying."

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir turned to Agmund as most of the others had begun to depart from the room. Speaking simply, he says,

“Agmund, I wish there was more we could do for our cousins to the east. At this critical junction, with the reclaiming of Minas Uial, with the borders of our land needing patrols, with the reconstruction of the cenedril mindon or port fortress in human tongue, I have very little aide to lend.”

Ithramir paused for a moment, thinking long and hard before saying,

“However, our cousins across the Amlug Anc deserve something. Therefore, a newly minted squad of rangers will be tasked with providing as much aide as they can. I hope this is satisfactory.”

As Ithramir listened to Agmund’s reply, he politely excused himself from the war chamber. Walking through the halls and open courtyard, on the way to his personal chambers, he could see the Citadel in full preparations for the next assault. As he would not be leaving until much later in the evening, he would enjoy some quiet time alone in his own chambers.

Upon arriving in his room, Ithramir meticulously looked over his weapons and armor. Each one was set in preparation for equipping later on in the evening. Once he was satisfied, he entered his balcony and sat down. Drawing a deep breath, he poured himself a drink of absinthe, unfurled a small replica of the map in the war chamber, and looked over the map quietly.

Time passed uneventfully, until a knock came upon his door. Opening it, he received news that some of the party sent to Westgale had returned through a portal. Seems they had brought some guests with them, as well as a severely injured woman. After asking if she was being cared for, and being answered in the affirmative, Ithramir left things go at that.

He should have known better.

What was quiet, still and peaceful was no more. Ithramir’s chambers were high atop the fortress and yet it rumbled and shook with force. His first reaction, as well as the guards who opened the door to check on their lord, was that the very land itself shook. While occasional rumblings were common, none had ever reached the higher chambers or damaged the citadel itself. That is, until tonight.

No sooner had Ithramir donned his armor and swords then the first reports came in.

In the inner courtyard, some woman with glowing hands had unleashed unusual power and attempted to destroy the ancient statue of the triumvirate. An unusual avian child, held captive along with Ardwen, by the very same wounded woman who had arrived earlier. His rangers had first responded, attempting to contain those who were in the courtyard with the woman.

As he moved down toward the courtyard, he could feel the link he shared with Avandor open up.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Avandor’s voice echoed in Ithramir’s mind,

“Be cautious, Ithramir. The woman you will find holding center stage in the courtyard is one of those not from this world. Her bond to her deity, who we call Tinorb, or others refer to as All-Father, is strong. Her mind has been ravaged by darkness, she is a prisoner within her own mind, and she no longer can recognize friend or foe.”

Ithramir’s mind replied,

“Then she is a threat. Look at what damage she has nearly caused! Only the nexus of the three great ley lines saved a partial collapse of our citadel. Tell me then; what shall we do with her?”

Avandor’s response came swiftly,

“Take her to the mage’s quarter, shield and ward her room, and have attendants give her a draught of betony tea.”

Ithramir responds,

“The betony leaf would cause her to relax and sleep at peace, this I understand, but I worry about the wards and shielding. If she unleashes another outburst, I have concerns about the safety of those in the mage quarter, as well as in the citadel itself.”

Avandor assuages Ithramir’s concern by saying,

“To keep her from damaging others and perhaps herself even more, you must require Ardwen to stay close by. She feels a strong link with him. The bird child is protected because she feels those around her will do it harm. I suggest you give orders that all three be held together for now. They, and our people, will be safe enough for the time being, you have an army to lead.”

Ithramir responds,

“It will be as you wish, Avandor. Our people will once more claim Minas Uial and our honor, your honor, will be restored.”

As the link closed, Ithramir found himself now in the courtyard. Rangers, arms at the ready, were being held at bay by the insane woman with glowing hands. If she wanted to do more harm, it surely would have happened by now. More than that, if she was a threat, Avandor would have enabled him to do battle with her.

The ranger in charge of the scene quickly reported the current situation and the “request” of the one named Vylia. Ithramir nodded and said,

“Rangers, lower your weapons, but stand at the ready. Our…guest…needs to be escorted to the mage quarters. There, she must have a room made ready for her and a draught of betony tea prepared for her.”

Cautiously, he stepped forward to the clearly agitated woman before him, her eyes twitching and shifting as if somewhere else. In a friendly tone, and calmly, he says,

“I am Ithramir Sil-Galdur, and this is the home of my people, the fortress of Lothiel-Gadith. I welcome you and your friends, and would bid that you take your rest in a soft bed surrounded by many comforts. Our friend Ardwen here shall lead you and accompany you in your rest, as well as the child. Be at ease, lady, you have no enemies in these walls.”

Ithramir’s gaze then fell upon Ardwen, a knowing glance that let the fellow elf understand what must be done, and awaited a response.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya rushed after Vylia and followed her to the courtyard. She was unsure of what to do for the woman before her. Then Ithramir appeared and gave his orders. Breathing a sigh of relief she waited to follow the woman back to relative safety.

Written by - Teran

Teran allowed a look of surprise to appear briefly on his face when Wilhelm told him they were to use the Shadow to travel. Huxel was not one to grant access to her sanctum without reason, and when she did grant access, her reason was not always beneficial to those using the Shadow.

“There is considerable risk, especially for her.” Teran warned, pointing at Keeryn for emphasis. “If Huxel wants you there will be no way out, and you were not kind to her avatar. She is even more unstable than Sabbatine.”

“We could be with Mavigan by tomorrow morning if you know where she has gone, if you do not then perhaps Huxel will tell us, if she is in a good mood.” He muttered darkly. “I will prepare the ritual, it will take some time while I gather what is needed.”

Written by - Wilhelm

"The risk must be taken," replied Wilhelm. "The All Father told me she has gone to Port Westgale, where Beridane was holding court the last I heard. Perhaps she has finally come around to the need to deal with Beridane, and naturally her reaction is to do it herself. Or else she has just followed the instinct to go home. In any event, we have got to get there in time. Tinorb has negotiated passage with Huxel, at the promise of a future favor, so hopefully Huxel will be cooperative. While you prepare for the ritual I will see to getting these others on their way to the Citadel."

Wilhelm went to Sable and Argent and greeted them, offering them each an apple and some stroking. He then took his own gear bags off of Sable and changed into his bounty hunter disguise, filling a backpack with gear and supplies for a few days. After wrapping his Faith Hammer with leather to disguise its nature and placing Mavigan's bow and quiver over his shoulder, he turned the two horses over to the rangers and walked over to Resini.

They conferred about plans to get the large gathering to the Citadel. Resini felt that once they left the polluted region they were in then he and his mages could use the parts they had brought with them to construct a temporary portal to link to the great Gate at the Citadel and then they could pass through to the Citadel. Resini agreed to report all that had occurred to Ithramir along with Wilhelm's mission to follow Mavigan.

When the rest of his forces seemed to have the crowd organized and ready to march, Wilhelm returned to Teran and bowed to Sabbatine as one Avatar to another. Then he proceeded to eat a meal of travel rations while he waited.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen felt a frown creeping across his face before he managed to school his features. It wasn’t that Ithramir’s words displeased him, it was the fact that he was still on a mission very dear to his heart. So far as he was concerned, everything else was secondary to finding his friend who had asked for his aid. If the former Hands had proved so amazingly inept as to allow the situation to deteriorate so far, then who was he to stand in the way of things? Better, thought the warrior, to let them learn duty and vigilance again.

Ardwen was about to voice his displeasure when an unbidden thought caused him to reconsider his words. Like a whisper in the dark the thought danced on the edge of hearing. Might, the thought unfurled, the very boy Ithramir spoke of be of use? Did it not stand to reason, it continued, that the child had been a captive of Visan. While the wizard was slain, the boy might have information, information that could ease Ardwen’s search. It wasn’t an unreasonable assumption, and given the situation the swordsman concluded it was the best course of action.

“Of course commander Ithramir.” Ardwen said in even tones, “However, I’m afraid two of your Rangers have already taken the boy to another area.” Ardwen turned his head slightly to take the aforementioned Rangers into his gaze. “Retrieve him.” Ardwen’s tone was still placid, but there was something about it still that gave the impression that his address to the two Rangers was anything but a request.

As soon as they departed Ardwen walked over to Ariana. His abbess still seemed on the verge of panic, and so Ardwen spoke swiftly, “Looks like we’ve been given a respite. They’re retrieving the boy and giving us quarters in the mage tower.” Ardwen paused, unsure if his words were getting through or what reaction he would receive. Almost as an afterthought the warrior added, “Looks like we’ll be spending some time together after all.”

A few moments later the two Rangers returned leading the winged boy in front of them. From somewhere the kid had obtained a white sheet and had apparently refused to yield it; one of the Rangers attempted to grab it and was met with a reproachful glare. Ardwen shook his head slightly and gave a nearly silent scoff of derision. “Let the boy have the damn sheet.” He said with a sneer. Ardwen watched as the child glanced at him, but quickly looked away and disguised the motion as rubbing sleep from his eyes. The warrior thought this decidedly odd, but he had far larger concerns at the moment. “Whenever you’re ready, let’s go – I’ve got a promise to keep.” He said while turning to face Ariana.

Written by - Teran

Teran gathered up the necessary components to appease Huxel into allowing so many passage into her realm. For a deity she seemed awfully fickle to Teran but there was nothing he could do, she made the rules and he was not willing to break them for fear of her cutting him off, or worse. Even if negotiations had been made between Huxel and Tinorb to travel freely within the Shadow, the cost of entry still applied.

Teran had gathered up a large portion of the blood dust and used it to create an intricate arcane symbol on the ground. He lit three candles he had discovered in the ritual room in a triangle around the circular symbol, three was Huxel's favorite number according to Sabbatine. The candles burned brightly even in the daylight. The final object was one of the pieces of Teran's shattered blade that had pierced his and Mavigan's flesh. Though the item itself was worthless to him, Huxel would appreciate it's significance.

Sabbatine was transfixed on Wilhelm as he ate his meal and stared at him unashamedly. Because she had eaten so recently and had blood flowing through her veins she was able to blush when Wilhelm bowed to her and she tried awkwardly to return bow with a curtsy but she really had no idea how to do it and nearly tripped over herself in the process. She continued to watch him, curiosity mixed with a good amount of fear was evident in her eyes.

It was time to leave. Teran summoned Wilhelm and Keeryn over and threw the blade shard into the center of the arcane design. As soon as the shard touched the ground everything disappeared without a trace. The offering had been accepted. Teran nodded to Sabbatine and then placed his hand on Wilhelm's shoulder and instantly their surroundings changed. Sabbatine in turn forcefully grabbed Keeryn and giggled, transporting them as well.

The Assassin took a moment to check on the others, noting that Keeryn was still with them before getting his bearings. It was cold, but not in a physical sense, no amount of clothing would warm someone in the Shadow. Sabbatine looked uncomfortable but at home. She hated the cold especially because she had just feasted and had been warmed by the flesh she had consumed, but she had spent a lot of time in Huxel's presence and despite the physical discomfort she felt mentally secure..

Their surroundings hadn't changed much, they were still in a clearing and still near the cave entrance but everything seemed slightly off. The Shadow was a place of darkness and though it was not difficult to see, everything seemed to be concealed in shades of gray, even the sun. Everything appeared as though it were coated in dust and there was no wind. Huxel had granted them her favor, and he could clearly see footprints he recognized as Mavigan's marching away from where they stood. Teran motioned that the party should follow him and began what would feel like a long trek through a dead realm. Sabbatine took up a position in the rear.

Written by - Ariana

Her hands ceased glowing once Vylia charged out in front of her, but she maintained a defensive stance and a wary eye. More than a few glances were sent Ardwen’s way as she tried to judge from his actions and tone whether or not they were in danger.

And then he arrived, and she forgot all else. She could see him plainly – pointed ears, a face lined with unkindness and responsibility, but that was not what captivated her. It was the shimmering aura that surrounded him that kept her rapt with awe. It swirled and shifted and changed colors and she felt dizzy merely trying to keep up with it all. Some part of her knew he was speaking to her, but she wasn’t listening, too embroiled in watching the kaleidoscope of colors. Her fingers nearly itched with the desire to thrust her hands in his aura, just to see what it felt like.

Before she got the chance, however, he moved and both Ardwen and the child were returned to her, and they were led off. She meekly followed Ardwen, unconsciously reaching for and grasping his hand. She stretched out her other hand towards the child, giving him an encouraging grin, but he ignored the gesture, choosing instead to cling to his sheet.

She dropped her hand and turned to study Ardwen closely as they walked. She noted the many gashes and cuts that bloodied him and the effort it seemed to take for him to lift one foot after the other. Without conscious thought, a small amount of healing energy transferred itself through their clasped hands – not enough to heal him completely, but enough to seal a few of the more serious cuts.

Soon enough they were escorted to a dormitory within the Wizards’ Keep. The beds were adequate if not luxurious, and she let go of Ardwen’s hand to twirl around the room in bare feet. She then sat on the edge of one of the beds and grinned at them all, swinging her feet back and forth.

A cadre of wizards rushed into the room, and busied themselves with warding the doors and windows of the rooms. Some were chanting, others were painting symbols on the cornices and frames.

Her grin immediately faded. She could feel it – the bars of a cage being formed around her. The walls started to close in on her and her breathing became labored. The more they chanted, the more she felt as if something she desperately needed was being moved out of her reach. She could see it, she could feel it, the power that seemingly churned deep inside and all around, but they were making it so she couldn’t reach it.

Jumping from the bed, she charged towards to the door, knocking over the person bearing a cup of steaming tea.


Written by - Ariana Page 14 Book 4

Hangman’s Hill was a perfect vantage point from which to see the lights of Port Westgale. Mavigan sat on a log, her back to the campfire in which burned the remains of the meal she had just consumed. On the log next to her lay the old bandages she had stripped from her shoulder, replacing them with clean ones. She sat still and was content to watch the flickering lights in the city stretched out before her.

She was glad she remembered this hill. Jonan had brought her many times as he pointed out the “special” areas of the city she needed to learn. The locals considered it haunted, so they never ran the risk of discovery, and returning to it gave Mavigan an odd feeling of irony. Considering her current state, it now truly was haunted. The thought dragged a dry chuckle from her throat.

But as she stared down on the city, the image before her did not completely reconcile with the one in her memory. There were fewer lights than she remembered, and the city did not shine as brightly as it had in the past. The harbor, which was usually bustling with activity even at night, was now silent and dark. She could not hear the sounds of revelry in the streets that had once caught wing on evening breezes, and parts of Port Westgale appeared to nearly be deserted.

“Beridane’s work, no doubt,” she thought with a grimace.

Heaving a deep sigh, she scooted off the log and onto her bed roll. Tonight she would rest. Tomorrow she would go home.

Written by - Sycon

Ever since Sycon had traveled back to the citadel he had been in a haze like stupor. Wandering from path to path, hallway to hallway feeling little more than the occasional wall he fell into. Being engrossed in all the world at once constantly took his complete attention, yet all his attention was so spread out, there was no true coherent thoughts to be made.

He could feel the power running through this place, under his very feet, throbbing like the artery of the world. Those arteries flowed into the many branches, like a powerful current of a river being split into many small streams flowing in many different directions taking his mind with them. They were Leylines. Blood of the world.

This power coursed through his veins as well, that was why he could feel its direction, its current, its mood. And as a part of him, it was still so untouchable. A monster of it own will that tore through his body, burning him and leaving him just as cold as he was before... only to be replaced by the next surge, the next heartbeat. A constant struggle in his body, his mind numb with it and his eyes blank. He was acting like a dam and each passing moment filled up his lake, only letting a portion of the surges that flowed into him to surged back out once more. He was the dam, but there was no regulator.

So on he trudged, not himself, yet only intact by sheer force of will. Not even the will of his true self, but of his instincts.

****

Sycon had been walking endlessly since he had returned. He had wondered through the corridors several times each. Some of the attendants wore wearied faces but still asked if he needed anything. Their voices had only faded into the background of his thought. Several more steps, and several more seconds, and he was into the main courtyard. He did not notice the transition from indoors to out, but it did not matter. The sun was bright today and its warm light seeped into this cool skin. A twitch of a smile crept across his lips and a small sigh to alleviate his clouded mind. Every part of him felt so full, almost to the point where his individuality was lost.

THERE. No... wait... there it was again. A hole... Yet it wasn't a hole at all. It was an absence. A spot in the flow, where there was no flow, or... more like it was flowed around like nothing was there at all. Like all natural forces of the world just went around, never to notice it. To go past it was like walking a straight line, yet you would go around it. Was it actually arcing the Leylines? Arcing light... no, energy itself? A stand alone?

Sycon's attention pooled itself, and pulled itself onto a focus point. The surges through his body abated from his system, but did not fade entirely. His consciousness rose from what seemed his stomach back to his eyes. They focused on a figure standing not but several feet in front of him. It was a dark figure, tall and enormous, yet was cloaked it shadow. It was not a creature of good, yet... it was different. Its eyes turned to Sycon's, staring deep into them. It opened its mouth to speak...

"Hail and well met, good sir. A good day to see the sun, is it not?" It was not the malevolent voice Sycon had expected but that of a normal person. Sycon rubbed his eyes with his sleeve, blinked several times and stared at the figure once again. It was nothing but a normal looking man. A priest in fact. His robes were long and a deep saturated blue. The sleeves almost covered the man's hands and a hood rested between his shoulder blades. The only odd thing about the his apparel was the sky blue sash. And hanging from the sash was the scabbard of a scimitar, and the hilt that rose from the scabbard was transposed with silver and black to create an almost shadowy overlook.

****

Shane followed the confused man's eyes to the sword that rested across the side of his hip. He gave the man a reassuring smile. "A symbol of my god. Though its craftsmanship is quite beautiful. I was blessed to be given such a relic to hold and protect."

Shane had been studying the man for some time now, and had chosen this particular spot for a meeting place. It was well lit with a comfortable air that appealed to him for a 'quaint' talk. Now that he could see him up close he noticed several small things about the man's demeanor. Before, he had only assumed the man had had too much to drink, but over the past day or so, he had realized no man could keep a drunk stupor for that long without a single drink to sustain him. He had the look about someone when the magic had taken hold of them. Forgetting to eat, to sleep, even breath on occasion was a common symptom. It was like watching a big drooling baby.

But now he had the man's attention, though how he had no idea as to how. Shane thought he'd have to physically trip him or bump into him to get though to him. Nevertheless, this was convenient. The man's eyes and hair were of the same silver hue. One that Shane particularly found entrancing... just like his scimitar's. The man had several lines on his face that made him look much older than his demeanor indicated, probably mage lines, as he liked to call them.

"I would hardly call that a symbol. It is a weapon." The man's eyes seemed to shift in an out of focus constantly, like a man gripping to hold on.

Shane gave a chuckle, "Well, can a symbol not be a weapon. By the way I figure, a symbol by itself can be the most powerful weapon." The man tilted his head as if considering then rocked his head back look at the sky and gave a loud roaring laugh. Was this the man out from under whatever spell that had had him?

"Spoken like a wise man indeed, though I cannot say I like the idea of a symbol. While it can be a powerful weapon, if it is destroyed, so can the hopes of those following the symbol. A double bladed weapon then?" The man's whole posture was changing. One of a drunken fool to a man that carried his weight with dignity, as if the whole world could be on his shoulders and he would gladly bear it.

"Ha. I see your point, but I have you there." Shane reached his hand down to his blade and drew it. It shone brightly in the sun. Half of the blade, like a line drawn through the center of the blade, from the hilt to tip, was black and the other side was silver. The blade reflected in the sun, shining into his eyes and onto the ground, casting light as well as shadow. "See, only one blade on this beauty."

"That is true, but it is a symbol with two sides. One bright and glorious and the other shadowed and dark. See the reflection and shadow it gives to the ground." The man motioned to the ground where the lines of light and shadow distinctly merged.

"Perhaps I am not the only wise man here. My god is the god of battle. Battle can be a great or terrible thing, glory and death, light and dark. But enough of this, I could go on for hours. I am late for an appointment and must be on my way." Shane abruptly turned and headed back for cover of the stone halls. Too many questions were being asked and he was the foolish one to have started them. The sword was worth a boast, but not at the cost of losing what he had already gained.

"Wait, I was meaning to ask you something. . ." The man's voice started to trail off.

Shane turned his head but kept his path, "And that is?"

"I, uh... I seemed to have lost the thought... *sigh* .. . ." And with that the man seemed to lose himself again in his own mind. Shane turned and went back into the citadel, wanting to make it to his way back to his own quarters to think about what he had found.

Written by - Tempyst

Purgatory went through the tree walk with Dorve and wound up in the Druid's grove with the others. She wandered about for awhile, picking at the food there, watching the ceremonies and all the people wander about. As she watched the druids, her mind kept wondering, Which one is my sister? Finally, unable to wait any longer she searched out Dorve and found her in one of the bathing pools. Signing to her, she asked the druid if she could help her find Tempyst. Dorve smiled a nodded, telling the young woman she would be happy too. Together the two wandered the circle, asking around for Tempyst. Finally, the young, elder druid was pointed out to them; Tempyst was helping some of the veterans who had gone through the tree walk who were not doing too well from the experience. Purgatory watched her for a few moments, holding Dorve back. Here she is, my sister, now how do I tell her about our father?

Dorve smiled at Purgi, "Dunna worry lass, it will be fine, I am sure she will be happy to see you, from what I hear, she has suffered many losses as of late and will be glad to know she has family." Purgatory squeezed Dorve's hand and nodded. Dorve then led Purgatory over to Tempyst. "Tempyst my dear, can I have a word with you?"

Tempyst turned around, though she was smiling, her shoulders were low and her eyes heavy. "Ah, Dorve, what can I do for you on this fine festival day?" She leaned down and gave the druid a hug.

Dorve smiled and returned the hug. "I have someone here that has been looking for you, who is anxious to meet you my dear. Her name is Purgatory and from her story, she is your sister." Tempyst's eyes grew wide and she started to speak but Dorve cut her off. "Now, before you start hammering her with all sorts of questions, ya need to know, she canna speak, but she can communicate. She knows the sign language, which I also know thanks to my uncle. She also can write and use magics too. But I will be here to get you two started."

Tempyst nodded and sat down, "Please, make yourself comfortable, I feel this is going to be a long story."

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen breathed an anxious mental murmur of thanks to Ariana as she followed along. The Elven warrior led his motley group as swiftly as he dared to wherever the Rangers guided him. They made quite a show, a wounded Elf bedecked in imperial purple and a seemingly permanent frown, an odd young boy who seemed content to let a bed sheet trail behind him like a billowing cloak, and a madwoman who tossed nervous glances at both her companions. Somewhere along the route Ariana grasped Ardwen’s hand and performed a minor healing, Ardwen barely registered it. It was not his physical wounds that troubled him.

When the three finally arrived at the rooms prepared for them, Ardwen took an immediate interest in propping himself up against the wall near the door. The Elf propped one foot against the wall and crossed his arms, he watched for a few moments the wizards busying themselves with arcane symbols and esoteric chants, but he quickly lost interest in their magic. Ardwen’s gaze fell on the boy that had followed them this entire time, seemingly connected and caught irrevocably in this whole muddled series of events.

At another time Ardwen might have regretted that turn of events. The child didn’t deserve to be tossed about like a pawn to placate Ariana’s seemingly bizarre attachment to him. But, Ardwen reflected that he didn’t have that luxury at the moment. He had taxed himself near his limit in his earlier fight and had not had time to recover, and at the moment it was convenient for him to keep the boy near at hand. He needed the information he might provide.

Unfortunately, the Elven bladeweaver’s thoughts were interrupted by Ariana making a mad dash for the door. Ardwen was puzzled at first, she had seemed content when they first entered the room. To make matters worse, the Abbess of the Hands had managed to bowl over the attendant carrying a cup of tea to the room. The little white cup hit the floor and shattered, scattering glass and tea in all directions. Ardwen gritted his teeth. He was tired and whatever goodwill he possessed in his heart had been withered by his failure to retrieve Elerus. He had sacrificed and battled, bleed and suffered enormous pain, and for what?

To bring back some freak child and help a woman who had nearly gotten him thrown into jail. No, he would have no more of it. With a viper-like quickness that belied his wounds Ardwen’s right hand darted out and caught Ariana’s arm. He could feel his Abbess pulling away, but wounded and weary as he was, even standing on one leg, Ardwen had the advantage of a body not born entirely of mortal blood and over five millennia of training and warfare. Ardwen began speaking but did not face anyone in particular, seeming to address to the air. “Here I was hoping we might finally spend some time together, and you’re already running off?”

Ardwen allowed a slight pause here before he released his Abbess’s arm with casual disdain. The warrior held his head slightly up in the air as he spoke, affecting a pose of wounded pride and a tone to match. “Well,” Ardwen said, “don’t let me stop you. If your so sanguine to simply give into the darkness, to not prove that anything I know of the old Ariana is left, by all means do so. I can spare you no more of my strength.”

Without a further word Ardwen walked over to one of the beds and sat down on the corner. The warrior rested his elbows on his knees and bowed his head. “Now,” he said at length, “boy, you have the advantage over me. You knew my name. So you’ll tell me yours, and then tell me everything you know about Visan and his experiments, and everything you know of Elerus.” With the speaking of his old friend’s name Ardwen raised his head slightly and locked his gaze on the child, looking very much like a raptor regarding its prey.

****

The thought crossed Elerus’s mind that he had no idea why he had refused to give up the sheet. Briefly, he supposed it was his way of getting back at the guards for waking him up right after he had managed to fall off into the most peaceful slumber he had gotten in some time. Another part of him rationalized that it was an excellent way to keep up the illusion that he was no more than what he appeared to be, and as the guards led him back to Ardwen and Ariana he was grateful for that illusion. He did not know about the others, but knowing Ardwen as long as he had gave him a decent insight into his mood.

Ardwen was, by Ardwen’s standards anyway, hiding his emotions very well. But to Elerus his thoughts were as plain as if he was a master warlock. His friend wasn’t satisfied with just killing Visan, and his temper was still on edge, Elerus was very certain that if Ardwen had his way right now he’d be stabbing people until he got the answers he sought. Amazingly it had never seemed to occur to his companion that thrusting a sword through someone was generally not conducive to intelligence gathering, but – damned if he had not – Ardwen had gotten results with his method before.

As he followed his friend and Ariana to whatever quarters the Elves of this land had prepared for them, he noted the lady Ardwen had so often spoken of before trying to take his hand. In truth, Elerus did not trust her completely. The fact that something was off with her was blatantly obvious, and so he ignored her gesture, but he came to regret it a moment later. Mad or no she might be an ally to dissuade Ardwen from impaling him when the truth got out. He had no doubts that it would eventually; Ardwen would not rest until he had found out who he was.

Elerus’s stomach tightened in unease as they were all herded into one room. Ardwen propped himself up against a wall and brooded, and Elerus sank into the blanket he had carried all this way, he knew that posture. It didn’t take long before something set Ardwen off, namely Ariana. The only thing that truly surprised Elerus was the fact that Ardwen hadn’t resorted to violence. Perhaps he really did care for the lady, or perhaps he was simply still too low on mana. Regardless, Ardwen quickly turned his attentions on him and asked the question he had been dreading.

Elerus glanced at Ardwen nervously as he demanded a name and his story. In response Elerus slumped against a wall and slid down it until he was sitting on the floor. Making up a false name should be easy, but Ardwen had wisely demanded more. Elerus knew the more information he gave the more chances Ardwen would have of seeing through his falsehoods. Sucking in a deep breath Elerus timidly said, “My name?” He was painfully aware of how small his voice sounded, but he ground the thought to dust, now was not the time to feel sorry for himself.

“I’m Tonashro A’valen.” Elerus said, he had given a surname in direct challenge to ancient Elven customs. The Elves later on, feeling the influence of the human noble houses, had adopted the custom of last names. It was a small touch that Elerus hoped would add a bit of veracity to his lies. The child opened his mouth to speak again but Ardwen interrupted him.

“I don’t recall such a surname in the Empire. Strange that, since your given name takes the old form—“

Elerus interrupted Ardwen with a sharp, “I like my name! Don’t make fun of it!” Ardwen looked taken aback by the earnest innocence of the exclamation, and Elerus mentally congratulated himself. Ardwen merely shrugged and muttered something about impertinence, but he motioned Elerus to continue his story.

“The mage you killed . . . are you really a hero?” Elerus questioned, and once again he was rewarded by a puzzled look from Ardwen. Elerus had to fight down an inopportune fit of mirth that the most effective strategy so far had been playing to Ardwen’s expectations. It was obvious the old Elf expected a child’s responses, but he clearly had no idea what that entailed.

“I . . .” Ardwen began uncertainly, “no. I’m just—“

Elerus piped up with drummed up enthusiasm, “But they say you are. Our book said you are! Our teacher said all Avari are heroes!”

Once again Ardwen seemed unsure of how to answer. At last though a flash of realization dawned in Ardwen’s eyes, “So that’s how you know my name. They really teach that in the schools? Gods damn, we need to reform our education system. Enough, just tell me what you know about Elerus, you must have seen him, he would have been another prisoner. He looks a lot like . . . looked a lot like . . .”

Ardwen had trailed off, and Elerus inwardly cursed to match Ardwen’s outward invective against the gods. In one stroke all he had cleverly crafted had nearly been undone. He had to answer quickly. “Like?” Elerus pressed feigning ignorance.

“Nevermind.” Ardwen said flatly. “He looks like me, but he has white hair and blue eyes. Visan might have kept him separate, he’s a powerful warrior.”

Elerus paused and used the blanket to rub his eyes and stifle a yawn as if combating sleep. In truth he used it to mask a slight smirk at Ardwen’s compliment. But he did not have long to gloat, now came the most delicate moment in their verbal sparring. “I think,” Elerus began slowly, “I saw him, I don’t remember. He wasn’t supposed to go near anyone else. What if . . . I don’t . . . he didn’t . . .” Elerus trailed off, hoping his meek and uncertain tones would convey his meaning.

“Dead?” Ardwen intoned hollowly. “It is of no matter then.”

Elerus had to mentally check himself from standing up in shock, and so his reaction seemed unusually delayed. “What?” He questioned in a voice barely above a whisper.

In response Ardwen crossed his arms and closed his eyes as if explaining something painfully obvious. “I was afraid all along that was the case, I knew that one day he would die, I know that one day I will die. However, in this case I am not to blame, the All-Father pulled me to this world without my will, kept me from his aid. If Elerus is dead then it is his fault, and all of his creation will pay for it.”

Ardwen opened his eyes and Elerus had to fight a shudder. He had seen that look before. It was the same one Ardwen had worn when he killed his own father. “I will burn this world,” Ardwen continued, “and everything the All-Father and the gods have ever loved will suffer.” It was such a simple statement, delivered in such a plain tone Ardwen might have been commenting on the lack of rain or an unusually cold winter. This time Elerus did shudder, and he buried his face in his sheet. Mentally he cursed Ardwen, but he lacked conviction. After all, he of all people should have known how he would react, and he of all people knew how serious he was.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia seemed to be having horrible luck keeping her promises lately. She had promised to protect Ariana and then had let her be seen and confronted by an entire village, then she was pulled into a statue of herself right in front of Vylia's eyes. She then finally managed to get back on Ardwen's good side and told him she would look after Ariana, and look how that turned out. The All-Father must be testing her faith after saving her several times in the last few days, days that seemed like weeks now that she thought more on them. She heard a crash of glass breaking from the room ahead, the one they had taken Ardwen and Ariana to, and sped her steps up, and once again her timing was horrible.

Vylia walked through the door just in time to hear Ardwen's vow, “I will burn this world,” Ardwen said, “and everything the All-Father and the gods have ever loved will suffer.” She dropped the plate of food she had managed to get from the kitchens, the plate breaking upon the floor adding to the tea cup, and food went all over. Vylia hardly noticed it though as her breath caught in her throat and she stared at Ardwen as if he had slapped her. "You can't mean that," she managed to croak after several seconds of silence.

Written by - Ariana

Her headlong rush was stopped abruptly by Ardwen grabbing her arm. She stared at him incredulously as he spoke to her, astonished that he could not feel the cage bars being put into place. But instead of being concerned, he strode further into the room.

Confused eyes flicked between the door, then back to Ardwen and the child, then back to the door as she struggled with the decision to stay or flee. The moment of indecision was all the mages needed. Faster than she could think, one gently guided her to a bed by a hand on the elbow, while another brought a new cup of tea. It was pressed into her hand and she was urged to drink.

There were no rough hands holding her down, pouring the liquid down her throat as there had been before. Instead there was urging and encouragement. The technique was so different from past experience that she found herself complying.

She calmly sipped the bitter liquid, watching idly as Ardwen interrogated the child and several mages cleaned up the shattered crockery and food from the floor. As she sipped, a languid feeling of relaxation stole over her, and her unease the wards caused became as whispers in the back of her mind.

Ardwen’s words traveled to her through a fog, but when Vylia exclaimed in horror, she simply could not contain her giggle. “He does not,” she said. She giggled again and then let loose a jaw-cracking yawn. Placing her cup down, she shifted on the bed until she was lying down, her eyes gazing into Ardwen’s. “He knows she would not allow it,” she added, her voice slurred and sleepy. “Darkness begets darkness. Blood begets blood. She is so tired of the dark. Together they will find light. Besides," she added with another giggle, "the little one lies."

She sighed deeply and yawned once more before the effects of the tea grew too great to fight. Finally, she slipped off into slumber.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm watched Teran complete his preparations and then toss a broken dagger into the flame, whereupon both dagger and flame vanished. This seemed to be a signal, as Teran then placed a hand on Wilhelm's shoulder and the world changed. The ground remained the same but all living things vanished. Wilhelm felt a coldness that seemed to seep into his soul.

Looking around he saw that Sabbatine had brought Keeryn, but nobody else was in view. Wilhelm followed Teran over to look at a trail of footprints. Looking closely at the heels, he faintly saw the capital M that had been engraved into the heels of Mavigan's birthday boots.

"Those are Mavigan's footprints, for sure." said Wilhelm. "She cannot be too far ahead, but we should hurry. That lass can get into trouble faster than anyone else I know. I'll help speed us on our way."

Wilhelm drew on his Commander training and began to chant the Commander's March. A red glow appeared around their feet, enabling them to move quickly without tiring.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya followed Ardwen and his queen, along with the others to the room where the mages were etching the runes upon the walls. She stood back as Ariana tried to make a dash for it, then watches as she was given the tea and settled down upon the bed. Sighing, she found a chair and drug it outside the door and sat down. Kaya sat for a few moments, then stood back up after overhearing a few of the servants talking about the Harvest Festival. The thought of all that food made her stomach growl and she realized she had not eaten for quite a while. After getting directions to the Great Hall, she took off quickly, wanting to get some nourishment. But then she stopped and realized her foolishness; turned around and went back to the room. I cannot leave her like this, who knows what will go one while I am gone. I will just have a servant bring me some food. Kaya sat back down on her chair and stopped one of the servants and asked the young man to bring food for her and the others. The servant nodded in compliance and ran out to get the hunter her food. It did not take long for the servant to bring the food back on a rolling cart. Kaya smiled as the aroma reached her nostrils. Grabbing a roll, she went over to Vylia and pointed to the large cart and motioned for her to help herself. Then she moved over to Ardwen and did the same.

Written by - Teran

Teran led the party through the Shadow, keeping a brisk pace even with Wilhelm's enchantment in place. They crossed the dusty terrain and those familiar with the terrain would note many similarities between the Shadow and the mortal realms. Huxel's crushing presence could be felt, though she took no action against Wilhelm or Keeryn he knew she was tempted because of the way Sabbatine looked at Keeryn. Gone was the look of hunger, it had been replaced by a look of desire. Huxel wanted Keeryn for her "collection" in the Shadow, and Sabbatine wanted to fulfill her master's wish.

Huxel spoke with Sabbatine frequently and though none could hear Huxel, Sabbatine's responses were often chilling.

"Awwww come on... I bet he wouldn't mind if you just took the creature... I mean if you left his knight alone." She warbled to Huxel loudly, turning her eyes back to Keeryn, oblivious to Teran's harsh look.

"She'd be perrrrrrrfict!!" Sabbatine exlaimed, clapping her hands "I bet Teran would let you do it too, just give him some more of your trinkets!"

Fortunately Huxel kept her desires in check. Teran had no interest in revealing that he did have an escape, even from Huxel's realm, to save a creature he did not particularly care for and who he knew cared nothing for him.

The time passed quickly despite Sabbatine's droning conversation with Huxel. When they did arrive to the spot Mavigan had left the Shadow Teran indicated the group should wait where the footprints ended and moved away to speak with Huxel privately. His muted conversation lasted nearly ten minutes before he returned looking fairly grim. He nodded to Sabbatine who attempted to tackle hug Keeryn once more and both disappeared back to the mortal realms. Teran took a breath and nodded to Wilhelm as he placed his hand upon his shoulder, shifting them both back as well.

Mavigan's trail was pathetically easy to pick up even in the darkness and he was embarassed that his apprentice would do such a poor job of covering her tracks. The party approached a hill that Mavigan had apparently climbed and began making their way to the top.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen had not noticed Vylia entering the room when he spoke. As his eyes caught sight of her, he saw her drop a plate of food and express her utter shock at his oath to ruin the world in vengeance. She did not understand; perhaps Vylia did not believe that Ardwen could justify such actions. Naturally, the Elven warrior could not. But, as Ardwen looked at Vylia's aghast countenance, he felt she could never understand.

Right and wrong, good and evil - and the differences thereof - these things were deeply ingrained into the moral foundations of the other Hands. But, Ardwen reflected, what did they truly know of his past? Even Ariana and Turin, the people in the Hands Ardwen confided the most in, knew only bits and pieces. They knew only the snatches of memory and veiled references Ardwen had chosen to share, and why should it be otherwise? Ardwen had seen over five thousand years of life, and to recount every instance in it would be anything but a laconic story.

Before Ardwen could make a reply however, Ariana spoke. While her voice was slurred with the effects of the sedating tea, she still had two important pieces of information Ardwen was keen to pick up on. The first was the accusation that he was lying, and that without her express permission he would not do any such thing as he promised. Ardwen's face set into a scowl at this and he almost spoke, but Ariana's last words before falling off into slumber interested him far more. Apparently, Ardwen had been lied to. The information he had so carefully extracted from the winged boy was somehow false according to Ariana. Kaya came forward and offered him food, but he brushed her offer away in silence.

"Well," Ardwen began in a longsuffering tone. "is this not interesting?" Without further prelude the Elven warrior stood and began slowly pacing the floor. Finally he paused in front of a window with his back turned to everyone in the room. The crystalline glass in the window hazily reflected the Elf's face, but the brilliant moonlight outside obscured most of his visage. "Ariana . . .," Ardwen began with a sigh that bordered on a snigger of contempt, "she speaks only of what she knows of me. For that I cannot fault her, but I can find fault with her answer. This is not so simple, perhaps she imagines her good graces would somehow 'free' my conscious of guilt and let me commit mass homicide?"

Ardwen laughed, it was a single, dry bark that utterly lacked mirth. "Foolish," he continued, "it is absurd just saying it. No, if I have lost Elerus then he is truly gone, and no power that I know of can restore him to life. In that case I cannot endure. It's not a matter of good or evil, or of this god or that god. I blame the whole of creation, the entirety of existence for being so heartless and cruel. Whether it was fate or the dumb random chance of chaos that brought me into existence does not matter, all that matters is what I was forced to endure. Let creation suffer in kind!"

"And so," Ardwen said while turning and walking over to the white-haired child, "let's start with the truth, at the least." Ardwen towered over the huddled form of the boy. "Speak truly or die."

****

Elerus listened intently to Ariana's words, at first he felt a flicker of hope at her revelation that Ardwen was bluffing. It wasn't much to stake hope on, unsure as he was of Ariana's sanity, but it was something. But then his heart stopped. Ariana had somehow seen through his cleverly constructed web of lies like so much chaff, and in four little words she had came dangerously close to disaster for them all. Elerus looked at the new figures arriving in the room, but his attention was still truly on Ardwen. He watched as the first one to arrive, an Elven female with long golden hair, dropped a plate on the floor and stared incredulously at the Elven bladeweaver. He watched as Ardwen waved aside the offer of food from another.

Still he watched as Ardwen gave his speech, restating his pledge and giving his reasons. Finally Elerus sat impassively until Ardwen was right next to him, giving his ultimatum of truth or death. Finally the Elven child stood, his eyes were closed. Even standing he was dwarfed by Ardwen, Elerus knew it, but he didn't care. This was not a battle he was going to win with a sword, few were those who could rival Ardwen with a blade. Elerus opened his eyes and looked up at Ardwen, looking into his hazel eyes that seemed to cast a light not from the moon.

The winged child took a few steps away, keeping his back to his old friend. "I'm partly to blame for this." Elerus began. As he said these words the boy's wing dipped until the tip brushed against the floor.

"But," Elerus said suddenly, "I still can't believe what I've just heard." As he said this his wing unfolded and stretched, the feathers fanning out along the wingspan. "What a noble way to end things. Let all that is and all that ever will be burn. All that matters, in that last syllable of life, is that your will had the final word."

Elerus folded his wing back to his side; he turned it slightly forward and ran a hand along the feathers. The child's eyes nearly closed, only the moonlight caught and reflected them like dimmed orbs. "How proud your father would be." Elerus said softly. Elerus heard a scuffle of feet behind him that punctuated his words, but it was brief, and followed by a heavy footfall. As he turned around he could see Ardwen had taken a half step backwards and had a hand on the wall as if for support.

Elerus walked past Ardwen and stood in front of the window his friend had just stood at. "You want truth?" Said Elerus. The window was high off the ground and large, designed to let sunlight and moonlight through for studying scholars more than for viewing. Ardwen had been able to stand and look out of it, but Elerus's diminutive height did not afford him the same viewpoint. It did not matter. He was not looking to gaze down the sides of the tower or into the fortress and town below. No, even as he looked a cloud overshot the moon and he saw all the more clearly what he sought.

"See that star?" Elerus said, pointing at a random spot in the sky. "Tell me, Ardwen, tell me that star is what you most desire. More than anything else, that star is the sole purpose of your life."

Ardwen did not respond at first, he merely shook his head a little to the side as if trying to dispel a phantom from his eyes. "What are you--" He began in a tone so soft and crushed that he might as well have thought the words.

"Say it!" Elerus said while raising his voice. "That star is your dream. That star haunts your every waking moment and its radiance shines down upon you, you cannot bear to be without it. You know, you know with a certainty more than you know the colors of the sky or the turning of the seasons. You know with more conviction than the looming shadows of the distant mountains, you feel it with more pain than the scattering blossoms, you hear it more keenly than the hammering of waves against the shore. Without that star your soul is not whole. It is pain, ceaseless, without respite, to be without it."

Ardwen stood there, he had stopped shaking his head, and Elerus saw briefly that his left hand drifted forward, as if preparing to stretch out and reach for something. Elerus could only smile sadly and say, "Now, reach for that star. Do it, with all your strength, stretch your palms toward heaven and try to clasp it. You won't? Of course not! How stupid! You can't grasp a star with your hands, the birds in flight cannot touch them; even the clouds in the vaulted sky are below them. It is a wasted effort, a futile gesture."

Elerus stopped here for a moment and turned away from the window, his single white wing raised behind him framed the glass on one side. The child closed his eyes again as if recalling vividly a deep memory. "Yet, if you had but reached for it, by little degrees you would have been closer. No, maybe you can never grasp a star from the sky, but neither can you banish it from your heart. At least if you had raised your hands, for a breath you would have been closer, and your palms would have filled with its radiance. You can ignore what is close to the heart and dear to the soul, and spurn the light you cannot capture or the dream you cannot have. Then you may spend the rest of your life forever loathing yourself and the world that has denied you. Or you can make the attempt, and though failing, hold a piece of heaven. I have nothing more to say to you, make your choice."

Elerus walked past Ardwen, the Elven warrior made no motion toward him. He walked past the blond haired female and the Elf who had brought the food tray. Elerus stopped only to retrieve a roll off of it and take a bite. He savored the warm bread for a moment with a few thoughtful chews and then swallowed. "Tomorrow, dawn, in that courtyard." He said before turning down the corridor.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm looked around and realized they had arrived at Hangman's Hill, overlooking Port Westgale. The sun had set and the lights of the city gleamed in the dark, though much dimmer and quieter than the last time he had been here.

He extended his tracking sense and there on the top of the hill shone Mavigan's heartfire, now dimmed in sleep. Motioning for quiet, he led the others silently up the hill and stood looking down at Mavigan, asleep in her bedroll. The red glow from the coals of the campfire nearby illuminated the bloody bandages laid on a log nearby. He could see fresh bandages where her shoulder poked partway out of the bedroll. Scanning her heartfire, he noted with relief that the wounds from the battle were mostly minor except for the shoulder, which Mavigan had treated well.

*At least she remembered her first aid training. It's a good thing we found her first, lying exposed like this with a glowing fire for all to see.*

Wilhelm noted approvingly that Mavigan had left her daggers close at hand, at least. He silently moved them out of reach than gathered himself. Readying himself to instantly jump back if needed, he reached down and gently Layed on Hands and instantly healed all her wounds, saying,

"Wake up Mavigan. We are here to help you."

Written by - Ariana

As sleep claimed her, so did the dreams.

She found herself walking through a dense forest, trying desperately to keep her bare feet on the faint and ill-marked path. The forest was not green and teaming with life; instead, it was black, filled with dead trees and brush. Shadows flourished in this forest, and she could hear their whispers as they drew near.

The path upon which she trod was treacherous. Uneven terrain seemed to reach out and grab hold of her ankles causing her to stumble. The smoky wraiths reached out misty limbs, clutching at her as she walked, obstructing her movement and often blinding her by camouflaging the path, blending it into the surrounding darkness.

Yet still, she walked on. She knew not what lay at the end of the path, or even if she would survive the attempt, but she knew that to cease moving was certain death. So she kept trudging forward, despite the obstructions and the sharp darkness that cut her flesh and made her bleed.

Suddenly, she became aware that she was no longer alone. Never stopping, she still chanced a look to her right. A woman walked beside her, dressed in chain mail and carrying a wicked looking mace in one hand and a shield with three interlocking rings emblazoned upon the front in the other. The woman seemed to glow with an inner light, and as she gaped in amazement, she saw the shadows retreat from the woman, fleeing in terror at the light she emanated.

“Who?” she asked softly.

The woman looked at her then and gave her a small smile. “I am you. And you are me,” she said, her voice steady and sure.

Distracted, her feet stumbled on the path, and her eyes returned to their previous task of discerning trail from the surrounding darkness. It was then she noticed that the light from her companion had a calming effect on the path. Wherever the light touched, the obstacles to her feet smoothed and then vanished, leaving only sure ground behind.

The sight awed her and it was with anguish in her voice that she nearly wailed, “She does not remember!”

“I know,” said the woman. “But you will. We are not what we once were, but we are also not what we fear to become. Together we will become something new.”

“She is lost,” she said, tears clogging her throat.

“Lost can become found,” the woman replied. “The path will take you where you need to be. Go to Westgale. Answers can be found there.”

“Westgale,” she breathed, the word strange to her, but familiar all the same.

“Yes,” the woman said, striking with her mace at a menacing shadow as she did so. The specter shrieked and then disintegrated. “Take Ardwen with you,” she added. “He is as lost as you are, but filled with more hot air. Now,” said the woman, “wake.”

Her eyes popped open abruptly at the command. She shifted on the bed, pulling herself into a sitting position. Time held no true meaning to her, but she did notice that faint sunlight streamed into the room, illuminating the figures occupying the other beds.

Both Vylia and the other woman slumbered on, no doubt tired from the trials the day before. Ardwen and the child, however, were nowhere to be seen. Suddenly frightened, she rushed to the window, anxious eyes searching for his familiar form. Her panic was stopped in its tracks as she saw both of them out in the courtyard in the grey morning light.

She nodded, as if affirming something to herself, and turning from the window, took to exploring their room in a way she had not been able to do last night. Soft scrapes and whispers echoed in the still silence as she opened every cupboard and every drawer. She checked under the beds and rugs and behind all the draperies, picking up anything she found. At the end, her exploration netted her two large dust bunnies, 1 piece of broken crockery, 1 broken piece of flint, 2 small rocks, a fragment of some sort of green gemstone, and 1 sharp piece of metal that could have been a broken dagger blade.

She assembled her treasures on the table by her bed and smiled down at them as if she had found the fabled cache of the Silver Dragon of Ancora. As she reached for the small bit of green stone, a flash from the opposite wall caught her attention. Trinket forgotten, she moved towards the flash. Within a moment she stood facing herself, the silvered glass reflecting her image back at her in the faintly streaming sunlight.

She frowned at the woman in the mirror, and the woman frowned right back.

Words from her dream floated into her mind, as did the image of the glowing woman in chainmail. ”We are not what we once were, but we are also not what we fear to become. Together we will become something new.” Those were the words the woman had said, and the import rang through her mind as clearly as a bell.

She did not know who she was, but she did know who she did not want to be. The woman in the mirror seemed to mock her, showing her only the image of what was, and not the possibilities of what could be. Frustrated, she glanced down at her person and thought hard of how to change the image in the mirror.

White met her gaze, as she was still clad only in a shift. Her eyes looked from her clothing, so similar to the clothing she had worn in her living nightmares, to the clothing Vylia and the other woman wore. Pants and tunic, socks and boots. She had none of those, but she refused to wear the shift any longer. With two swift jerks, the revolting garment was wrenched over her head, and she wadded it up and tossed it into a corner of the room.

Naked, she stomped over to the mirror and glared at her reflection. It glared right back.

The lack of clothes certainly changed the image, but not enough to satisfy her. As she searched herself again, looking for something else to change the image, she became aware of a soft, silky substance brushing against her skin. She grabbed hold of the hair and looked at it sternly. The woman who walked with her had long hair. Not as long as what she now held, but still long.

Resolved, she searched for something to cut it and her eyes fell upon the sharp metal she had recovered from her search. It glinted in the dull light streaming through the windows and she clutched it gratefully. Gathering all the strands together, she pulled the hair over her shoulder and sliced through the mass. The fragment was sharp and cut through the strands like a hot knife through butter, and in the space of moments the long dark strands pooled around her feet, the remnants gently brushing her shoulders.

She felt somewhat liberated as she stood once again in front of the reflective glass. Even once she remembered her past, she instinctively knew she couldn’t go back. ”Together we will become something new.” The words echoed in her mind once again, and she smiled.

And so did her reflection.

Written by - Ariana

One minute Mavigan was sleeping the sleep of the dead (for why worry about being attacked when you are already dead?), and the next she felt as if her entire body had been plunged in ice water. She screamed and instinctively reached for her daggers… which were not there! Instead of panicking, she lashed out with her feet and was mildly satisfied when she impacted with something solid. Unfortunately, tangled in her bedroll, her kick did not do much damage, but it did buy her enough time to roll out of the blankets and pull into a crouch.

Finally able to take stock of her surroundings, she saw someone she was sure shouldn’t be standing in front of her.

“Wilhelm?” she asked, her tone disbelieving.

A movement to her left revealed three more figures she knew should not be able to see her. Her befuddled mind made a quick calculation and came up with the only conclusion she could.

“Damn. They really must have been a bunch of super bad-asses if they managed to gut all of us.”

She then stood and flashed them all a grin. “Ah well. Being dead isn’t all that bad. You’ll see!”

Written by - Turin Wallace

Purgatori took a seat, then began to sign,

"I know his may be a shock to you, but I am indeed your sister. We share the same father and his name is Turin Wallace. Our father thought you lost and did not know of your current whereabouts only until recently. After the visiting druid told of us your fate, we came to find you!"

Purgi signed quickly, Dorve even asking for certain phrases to be signed again. Taking a moment to let these initial words sink in, Purgi continues,

"I can also tell you that you also have a grandmother and an aunt. They should be arriving here soon, if their travels went well. Your grandmother is elven and aunt half-elven, but that we can speak more of later."

Purgi's countenance turned from one of reserved happiness to that of one joyless. Signing much slower, she continues,

"Unfortunately, I wish our father were here to tell you these things himself. However, on the voyage from Westgale...something...happened to him."

Purgi threw a viscious glance over her shoulder at Ariana and her party as it made it's way out of the courtyard. She then continued,

"A demon lord has enslaved our father for THEIR benefit. All would have been lost in the great attack we suffered if he had not willingly allowed himself to be taken to the depths of hell. Our father is a good and selfless man, though I fear for him, for the price of their purchase had yet to be revealed."

Purgi then stopped signing and awaited her sisters response.

Written by - Teran

Teran stood in place like a stone, his hard gaze locked onto Mavigan. His arms were crossed and the expression on his face was a mix of annoyance, embarassment, and more annoyance. How could she have been so careless? When she spoke he choked down his harsh answer and deferred to Wilhelm.

Sabbatine was grinning wildly as she snatched up Mavigan's discarded bandages and was about to put them in her mouth but stopped when she noticed Teran glaring at her. She whined softly alternating her gaze between the delicacy before her and Teran's sour look. After nearly a minute she settled for a quick lick, and then tossed the bandages in Keeryn's direction, snickering to herself.

"Soooo, you're all dead... like meeee?" She asked sweetly.

Teran just stood there resisting the urge to harm the avatar.


Written by - Ariana Page 15 Book 4

The grin started to fade from her face as she noticed Teran biting his tongue. Judging from the stormclouds gathering on his face, he was not happy - though she couldn't figure out why.

"Soooo, you're all dead... like meeee?"

Mavigan's response was hesitant and unsure, not understanding why Teran and now even Wilhelm looked so disapproving.

"No, not UNdead," she muttered. "Just dead. Like ghosts." She paused for a moment and then added, "Why else would I have stepped over my own corpse?"

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn stared at Sabbatine the whole trip through the Shadow. Instinctively she knew who Sabbatine was talking about, but not who she was talking to. The idea she was talking to herself in such an animated fashion sent shivers running down Keeryn's spine. She had almost gotten to the point of shouting at the creature to be silent when she was tackled by her instead. Just as she was about to bite the beast she noticed the sudden change in temperature and the color of the world around her.

She leapt to her feet as soon as she untangled herself from Sabbatine's grip, she could smell Mavigan's trail from here, and would have gone rushing off into the darkness had Wilhelm not been standing there calmly looking around. Soon enough though he set off in the same direction Keeryn knew Mavigan was and she followed close behind him. When they finally found her Keeryn felt a lump form in her throat. She had known for the past several minutes that Mavigan was still alive, but actually seeing her was completely different. She just stood there in near shock as Mavigan tried to convince them they were all dead. Though she was unsure what a ghost was exactly, she could guess Mavigan was trying to say they were all spirits, like those of her people's ancestors that they used to ask for help in times of great need.

Keeryn stood there shaking her head slowly as tears started to stream down her cheeks before she could hold back no longer and leapt straight at Mavigan, hugging her tightly and crying on her shoulder. "We're not dead, and you aren't either. We killed every one of them, even the one who killed all of my people." She stopped talking as she was wracked by another series of sobbing. "I'm so sorry I failed you, please don't hate me! You're the only friend I have left."

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst did not know what to think. Here this young woman was telling her something she had always wanted to hear, but could she believe it? "I knew I had a father and his name was Turin Wallace, but of everthing else I had no clue. I ... I have family!" For a moment, the suffering that could be seen in Tempyst's eyes, was replaced by that of joy. She leaned forward and hugged Purgatory tightly, not wanting to let go of her new found sister. But finally she did let go and set back upright. Then, like Purgi, the sadness set in again. "All of this, all of this is amazing and wonderful, except for what has happened to our father. Is there anything we can do to help him? I have lost so much as of late, I do not wish to loose him now as well."

Tempyst stood and paced a little, the leaves on her cloak trembling as she did so. She suddenly sat back down and turned back to Purgatory, taking her hands within her own. "There must be something that can be done, but perhaps we should await the arrival of the others and discuss this together, as family. But I do not have much time at the moment, soon the army will be marching out to fight the orcs and I was to be going with them, to make sure Sir Ithramir is kept alive. I have much to tell you as well, concerning family, but that can wait too." Tempyst smiled softly at Purgi, letting go of her hands. "Looks like we have some catching up to do, but first, when are we to expect our grandmother and aunt to arrive?"

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan was more than a little taken aback when Keeryn glomped onto her while weeping uncontrollably. After a moment, Mavigan placed a hand loosely around the crying girl and gently patted her on the back in what she hoped was a comforting gesture. When her efforts had no effect, she instead gently tweaked one furry ear.

“Keeryn! You are being daft. You didn’t fail me. I don’t hate you. We are still friends!”

As Keeryn continued working through her emotional outburst, Mavigan looked at Wilhelm, her expression guarded and wary, unwilling to let him know that her hope hinged on his response. “I felt the sword pierce my flesh, saw my life’s blood flow from the wound to pool on the floor, and finally separated from my body. How can I not be dead?”

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm stepped over to the campfire and extracted a stick that stuck out, holding the unburnt end and blowing on the burnt end to bring it back to a flame. He then sat next to Mavigan and held the small torch to her right and then pointed to the ground to the left.

"Ghosts do not cast shadows, and there is your shadow on the ground. You are very much alive, Mavigan, as I can tell from your heartfire. If you check you can hear your heart beat. Yes, you saw and felt yourself die. We saw the same. That was a masterful illusion. The All Father explained it to me on our way here.

Shortly after your father's death, a friend of your father and a great mage cast a secret protection upon you from a distance. He was the Archmage Rejk, whom you met as a child. This spell was set to protect you from a fatal attack by rendering you invisible while creating a very realistic illusion of you that stepped away from you, drawing and then receiving the death blow and crumpling in death. You felt it because the illusion was linked to you, appearing to be you down to having the same heartfire.

The spell also carried a compulsion forcing you to flee the area while invisible, making sure you took yourself out of danger, while continuing to mask your presence down to hiding your footprints and any sounds you made. Even Argent could not detect your presence while you removed your gear. That protection was lost when you entered Shadow, severing the link between you and the illusion and causing the illusion to vanish and your footsteps to appear. All that was left was your bloody dagger."

Wilhelm pulled Mavigan's dagger (now cleaned) out of his belt and laid it on the bedroll.

"That spell is gone now, but it did indeed save your life. It was an amazing feat of magical protection and you owe your life to the Archmage. I had no idea such a spell had been cast, or even that such a spell was possible, but I am deeply grateful for it. I thought I had lost you and that was unbearable. Please stand alongside Keeryn the next time you get into a fight so you can fight as a team and she can truly be your bodyguard. You are important to both of us and we don't want to lose you."

Written by - Turin Wallace

Purgi hugged her sister in return, a broad smile across her face. Most of her life had been isolated and she never knew of a sister until recently. Now that her sister was a reality, one that she could reach out and touch, it brought her much joy.

She listened as Tempyst spoke to her:

"All of this, all of this is amazing and wonderful, except for what has happened to our father. Is there anything we can do to help him? I have lost so much as of late, I do not wish to loose him now as well."

Taking a moment, she then signed,

"Perhaps they will know what to do to help him. I do not know what to do to help or save him. Something must be done, I want to help, but I don't know how."

She watched her sister pace around, her mind also in thought. Then, once again, she spoke to her,

"There must be something that can be done, but perhaps we should await the arrival of the others and discuss this together, as family. But I do not have much time at the moment, soon the army will be marching out to fight the orcs and I was to be going with them, to make sure Sir Ithramir is kept alive. I have much to tell you as well, concerning family, but that can wait too."

Purgi responds,

"I could see that these people are preparing to march out to make war. The Orcs have been the hated enemy of all people's, but other than my grandmother and aunt, I have seen very little of the elven people. I know they call this place a citadel and a fortress, but it is beautiful as well. How can beings of such grace and beauty think of war? I suppose all must fight for something they believe in, my sister."

She pauses, then continues on,

"I would welcome to hear more regarding family and we do have much to catch up on! I'm afraid I do not know when Deluwiel and Nica will arrive, they took a different road, as our father recommended."

Seeing the confused look in Tempyst's eye, she smiled and signed,

"That's our grandmother and aunt's names. Just wait till they arrive! They will be happy to see you!"

Purgi smiled long for a second, then looked around before continuing on,

"Is this Ithramir part family? Or is he just the lord of these lands? I just wonder why you would mention protecting him so."

Written by - Tempyst

"Deluwiel and Nica, what beautiful names, I look forward to meeting them." Tempyst eyes filled with tears as Purgi asked about Ithramir. "I consider him family now, though he is elven and of no blood relation." Tempyst took Purgi's hands within her own.

"A short while ago, there was another battle, one which Ithramir fell. I was pregnant at the time I went to heal him. He was beyond my abilities, but I tried my best to do what I could for him. He is an Avatar, an important being to his people and to everyone here. My daughter, though only days in the womb, through great magics, took it upon herself to sacrifice her soul for Ithramir...bonding with him and bringing him back from the abyss. Tirigil is her name and because of her selflessness, she was honored by the gods and made their messenger, so though she gave up her life, she lives within the heavens." Tempyst took a deep breath.

"I was married as well when this happened, but that has been my loss as well, for my husband, this very day, revoked our vows and went off to learn the ways of the stoneshaper druids. He did not wish for me to wait for him, and now, speaking of it..." Tempyst let out a sob and tried to regain her composure. "...speaking of it helps, especially now to learn I have true family and am not alone any longer."

Written by - Ardwen

Elerus had been busy the previous night. There was simply not doubt in his mind that he had to prepare for a confrontation with Ardwen, he'd really tipped his hand, but Ardwen had forced him. There was nothing for it, ultimately, and Elerus realized he was the only one capable of doing what had to be done. Ariana might have doubts about the means Ardwen would employ, but Elerus did not. He had seen his friend put in grim situations before, and Ardwen did not shirk from harsh measures or outright brutality to accomplish his ends.

But on the other hand, Elerus had never blamed him for that. After all, Elerus reasoned, Ardwen was doing all of this for him - however twisted his indiscretions and dark his means he had his wellbeing at heart. Still, Elerus silently wished Ardwen were less pigheaded about the entire situation. His brooding was interrupted when Ardwen entering the courtyard. The Elven warrior strode forward with measured and calm steps, but the clenched fists at his side bespoke his thoughts. Ardwen stopped several feet in front of him, too far to be threatening, but close enough so that running was not an option.

The two Elves stood silently staring at one another. Elerus took the chance to look his friend over. Imperial purple covered both his arms and formed a short jacket that came down only to the bottom of his ribcage, the front of the jacket was open, displaying a large portion of a grey breastplate trimmed in white. The second part of the cloth was not connected to the top, forming a separate mantle that hung from Ardwen's waist to the back of his calves. Elerus was familiar with the color of the cloth and the mode of Ardwen's armor. The breastplate was flexible, and the imperial purple dye ridiculously expensive, Ardwen seemingly did not care to display such status symbols in this world.

The thought caused Elerus to reflect on how he must look to Ardwen. He had not been idle the previous night, and had requested from the mages a change of clothes. Of course, the stewards and tailors had been happy to comply, ordered as they were by Ithramir to see to the comfort and security of their "guests". Naturally though, a problem was soon encountered: namely that there was not a single garment in the entire fortress that had been stitched to accommodate a child with a wing. Elerus had put on a grand show of being humble enough to accept anything, but that only earned him the pity and admiration (and, gratingly, comments about his good behavior and pats on the head) of the tailors seeing to him. Elerus thought it odd his hosts were embarrassed by their lack of clothes for a form most of them would never have imagined, but they had earnestly begged to make amends by fashioning any garment he wished forthwith.

A few simple directions later and some waiting had netted him a simple but comfortable set of clothes. Unlike Ardwen's vestments he had wanted nothing too ostentatious, but he did want to make a statement, a statement he was certain Ardwen would not fail to see.

"A captain's uniform." Ardwen said darkly.

Elerus had to suppress a slight smile at his friend's swift assessment. He was indeed wearing a version of a captain's raiment: black hakama with a black kimono, the craftsmen of the fortress had even been kind enough to stitch a haori to go along with the garment, though Elerus had not donned it for this meeting. He was convinced his current uniform was more than enough to vex Ardwen. Elerus could only imagine Ardwen's confusion and secreted thoughts. The problem Elerus had presented his old companion with was not the clothes themselves, but their style. It was a fashion that had not been used at the imperial courts for some three thousand years.

Ardwen's fists tightened even more, his knuckles showing white and the Elf said, "You've got something to say, make your point, boy."

Elerus simply reached into the sleeve of his kimono and pulled out a small sphere, it filled the entirety of his palm and Elerus noted with satisfaction that the opaque surface of the orb seemed to dance with ripples of softly hued light. "You wanted proof." Elerus said.

Ardwen frowned, but Elerus noted that he unclenched his fists. "I just want him back, he would never fail me as I have failed him." Said Ardwen.

"Ardwen, you've not failed me. Yes me, open your eyes and stop pretending you've been blind your whole life! I know how you are, I know you think you're strong enough to take the burden of this whole world on your shoulders. But we're not gods, Ardwen, whatever we were taught."

Elerus saw Ardwen waver, he saw him shift his weight as it to take a step forward, but then he stopped. The Elven warrior's eyes darted to the sphere in his hands. "Break it." He whispered.

Elerus shook his head and said, "I won't put you through that Ardwen, you know what this is. I had the mages help me prepare a memory crystal - they were pretty easy to convince once I'd told them who I was going up against. You know what's in here Ardwen, and I don't need to see it."

Elerus was surprised when Ardwen shook his head again and said softly, "Perhaps I have forgotten. I have to be sure, I have to be sure. Whatever it costs me, I have to be certain. If the memories are true then . . ." Ardwen faltered here, unable to find the words, but Elerus could see in his gaze that he had not lost the thought.

Without another word Elerus walked forward and pressed the sphere into Ardwen's palm, the winged elf spun around and said, "It's your choice Ardwen. Either way, you'll know where to find me."

****

Ardwen watched the boy departs. What was he? Ardwen's mind was quick to provide a plethora of answers, but Ardwen did not want to hear them. For a fraction of a second he considered the most obvious, that the child really was Elerus. If so, it would explain the All-Father's words and actions - the god had been truthful. If so, it would explain why Visan had kept him alive, he was a living link to Ardwen.

But Ardwen's senses still reeled from that prospect. It simply made no sense. Elerus was not a child, but an Elf as ancient as he - Ardwen had grown up alongside him. They had been the best of friends, brothers united not by blood or parentage but by something far stronger. So why, why did he hesitate to break the orb and display the scenes contained inside? It was simple sorcery, the temporary storage and display of memories as held in the mind of the one who created the orb. The things only lasted a short time and had limited storage, barely more than a parlor trick so far as Elven magics were concerned.

Ardwen held the sphere in his upturned palm and wondered how things could have come to this. He had been too late in returning to Aerynth, he had delayed and shirked his duty and Elerus had paid for his laxity. Visan was the one who was guilty, responsible for Elerus's form, and guilty for his suffering. But, then what? Visan was dead, Ardwen had seen to that, and if he had only been swifter in executing Visan perhaps none of this would have happened.

Ardwen loosened his hold on the little glowing ball. He had heard of failed resurrections at a Tree of Life before. There had always been rumors, stories of flawed incarnations, but Ardwen had dismissed them as the fanciful and ignorant stories of the lesser races. Even if they were true, surely a Twilight Elf, a being born before the beginning of time and outside its flow, would be above such petty things. Were not Elerus and he more spiritual entities than flesh and blood?

Ardwen's thoughts stopped at that last thought, he latched onto it, pulled it out of the river of conflicting memories and emotions which flooded his mind. So there it was, his answer. They were indeed something different; something removed from the Elves of later eras. Something Visan would have doubtless loved to experiment on, to twist and bend to his own ends. What better way than by the Trees, using the very energies that swirled through life and death. Ardwen let the sphere drop, it tumbled through the air and shattered on the ground, the shards sublimating into the air.

At first the Elven warrior thought that nothing had happened, the sphere's magic must have failed or he had duped himself. But presently hazy outlines began to appear in the air above him and Ardwen heard sounds, so indistinct they seemed nothing but one unbroken noise, but growing sharper by the second. Finally, Ardwen made out a scene in the air, and what he saw nearly sunk him to his knees in grief.

There was a boy prostrate on a sandy arena floor, and all around the pit was a grand edifice of stone and metal. The structure enclosed the coliseum in a full circle, seats were hewn into it and a great awning covered the open air above. The awning reflected the night sky, or rather, it reflected the only sky that ever existed in that distant time. Twilight, eternal and unbroken twilight.

But the image simply blurred through the grandiose structure and all its ornamentation. No, instead of that mighty work of engineering it focused back in on the child. The image moved in closer, and it was obvious the boy was hurt, blood covered his right side and, through the remnants of torn cloth and blood it looked as it three great gashes had been carved all along that same side of his body. The boy's eyes were open, but his breathing was ragged and sharp. His hair was matted with blood and hung down into his face, but the memory that played out before Ardwen still showed those eyes so well. They were hazel eyes . . . his eyes.

Ardwen unconsciously reached his left hand to the upper part of his right arm. He felt the cloth there, whole and unmarked. The Elven blade weaver gritted his teeth and scoffed.

The image in the air shifted again, without warning, and it took Ardwen a moment to recognize the setting. It was still long in the past, but not so long ago as the first. The memory focused on him again, and Ardwen thought it decidedly odd to see himself fighting off what looked to be pestilent humans with stitched on flesh. Ardwen looked much the same as he did now, though he wore the uniform of the imperial army at the time. The little sweeping tips on the armor were unmistakable, meant to resemble the sweep of an eagle's outspread wings. "Ardwen!" A voice called out in the recording "Breach!"

The scene shifted again. The images in the air were becoming hazy again, the little sphere reaching the limits of its storage, but for that Ardwen was grateful. Despite the graininess of the vision, he recognized the scene immediately. For a brief second Ardwen lost his composure and turned his head away with his eyes tightly shut. With a soft curse of personal scorn Ardwen quickly forced himself to watch the final recording in the sphere - he owed that much to Elerus.

It was raining. The same hazel-eyed boy from the first memory sat in a midnight-darkened forest. One could not see his eyes though, for his head was bowed and rested in the crook of his elbow. His left arm, in turn, was supported by his knee, his right arm hung limply at his side. Then came the noise, soft and indistinct, but not because of the quality, but because it was the sound of his sobs mixing with the heavy rain. The wounds on his right side had been bound, Elerus's work, but the tattered state of his clothing and the deep red stains were testament to the earlier fight.

"How much farther can we go?" Ardwen whispered to himself. As soon as the Elven bladeweaver spoke the image showed one final fleeting scene: Elerus was standing next to the dejected form of Ardwen. The boy looked much as he did now, but then they had both been children back then. There was one difference though: Elerus had no wing of feathers, but one made of ice, and it came from his left side. The bluish tint of the frozen water in the wing caught the light and form of the falling rain as it stretched out and above Ardwen - sheltering him from the tears of heaven. With that, the sphere was spent and the images and sounds vanished, Ardwen stood in complete silence as if removed from the world.

Written by - Teran

Teran's expression grew more and more dismayed as Wilhelm relayed his fantastical tale. It seemed as though his face would implode upon itself before he let a little chuckle escape his lips. His gaze was far from pleasant, but it was not nearly as bad as it had been.

"Even in death you should not be so careless as to leave uncovered tracks." he growled "The blade may not have killed you, but your carelessness should have."

His face was etched with dissapointment though the slightest hint of concern showed through. His tone sounded more like a father scolding his daughter than the usual annoyed-master-to-apprentice tone he was so fond of.

Written by - Sycon

Shane had been pondering over several possibilities the past few days and had yet to come up with an answer. He strolled through the halls, mostly enjoying the pleasant conversation with anyone he passed. Most were servants, some soldiers, but all were grateful to have a quick word away from their duties. This morning had a brisk air about it, or perhaps it was just the breezes coming through the window. Either way it was a pleasant distraction.

Down to the end of this corridor and to the last door on the right, his cozy little room. It was cozy, of course meaning small, though it was private. And that is what he needed most. It had probably been a small storage room that had been converted for the overflow of guests. And he was no one important, only a wandering priest of a god most had never even heard of. It had no windows, so when the door was closed, all he had was his candle and what light that spilled in from beneath the door. He would have to correct that. If light spilled in, then the opposite could occur as well.

Only several more steps and a quick glance each way before he could relax his guard a bit. Shane stepped up to the door and stopped. The door was slightly ajar, and he knew he had not left it that way. His hand instinctively drew to the hilt of his sword, his fingers gripping the sword tightly before he swung the door open.

Shane immediately relaxed his grip on his sword and shifted his hand to his lower back where he mimicked rubbing a sore muscle. He let out a yawn, trying to look the worse for ware this morning as he stared at Sycon. He had learned the man's name from the general gossip about him, and the man's incessant meandering the past while.

Sycon sat on his Shane's bed staring at a lit candle on the small table across from him. He seemed intent on its center flame as it danced on in its short life. "Have you ever wondered? Ever wondered about the shadow the light casts? Or the light itself?" Sycon before Shane could finish his drawn out yawn.

Always odd questions with this man. "I know if you douse the light I might get a quick cat nap before midday. I didn't sleep well last night and took to walking out and about." Shane knew that wasn't a complete lie.

"I know, I saw you several times last night. Never saw a shadow move so fast through the halls."

Shane's jaw dropped slightly, taken aback. He regained his composure quickly and looked again at Sycon. His smile dropped from his face and his demeanor changed to one of contempt just as quickly. "Perhaps one should not be following a person about. I believe that would be a very rude intrusion of privacy. What I do is my own business, do you hear me?" Shane had not even glimpsed Sycon the previous night, nor did he even sense anyone watching him at all. He was rather proud of his stealth this morning, at least up until now.

"You speak to me as a senseless child. I mean you no harm, I've just been thinking about you." Sycon's stare left the candle and met Shane's eyes. A solemn expression was almost set aflame on Sycon's features. And his eyes, they were penetrating orbs of mercury that felt almost hot. Like a sun on a summer's day beating down on your face.

It was the heat, the sheer power coming off of him. Shane took a step back, then another. Sycon took a pace forward, then another, keeping pace with his words. "I have lived over a hundred years, aelfborn." Sycon's voice almost rolled like thunder in Shane's ears. "I have seen many candles light anew with hope, and seen many hundreds more extinguish before their flames could even be distinguished. I have been young, I have been ignorant, and have been so most of my life. But there is wisdom in youth as well, there is truth and sincerity. Something to protect. Set aside your prejudices, Pheraton, and follow your heart. For as much as the shadow spreads inside you, it is only a light that can cast it. Do what you must, but heed my words."

With that, Sycon's eyes faded to a pale blue and a smug innocent smile crossed his lips. As he eyes faded, so did his focus on Shane. They stared past him, a thousand yard stare into the wall. His hand was on Shane's shoulder, as he whispered into his ear, "You are right about one thing, to have power... it can hurt so much." Sycon turned clumsily and strolled down the hall. Shane stood motionless, keeping his eyes pinned on Sycon's back until he turned the corner. He realized that he had not breathed in at least a minute and took a deep breath. Shane was breathing hard as he quickly fled into his room and bolted the door behind him. He fell to his bed and rolled to his back and against the wall. Light danced across the ceiling from the single candle.

Shane forced his breath to slow and his thought to quicken. Such a force Sycon was, such power yet... Sycon knew too much. What Shane had suspected was true, and now he had further motivation, further truth... but the truth brought up so many questions. Would he? Yes... but should he? He didn't know. He sat up in his bed and stared at the candle when a shimmer from the corner of his room caught his eye. Shane bent over to pick it up and stopped before his hand touched it.

It was a broken blade. The hilt was still intact, but only a few inches of the blade remained. It was a silver hilt that continually spun the light around it. It reminded him of the shifting orbs of Sycon's eyes. In the center of the hilt was placed a small insignia. It was of a white candle imposed on a blue shield. It was a simple design, but it was powerful and beautiful. Shane picked up the hilt which still felt warm and tossed it onto the table.

As the hilt hit the table the insignia dislodged itself and fell beside the candle. Shane looked back at the table when he heard the clink of the insignia against the table. He picked it up and examined it, as he flipped it over to the backside. Shane's breath caught and he dropped the insignia back onto the table and he stumbled back into his bed.

Laying on the table was the insignia, but on its reverse side was not the white candle on a blue herald, but instead a silver dragon imposed on a deep blue diamond.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

“Stop with the ‘young master’, Ezra. You know me too well to be so formal,” the man said with a broad gesture of his hands. The old priest gave a quick smile.

“Very well, then. What brings you here, of all places? Unless my memory has failed me in my old age, you were never very fond of this place.”

“I’m still not,” the man quietly uttered as he looked around at the church’s dusty, seemingly barren chamber. “But I’m not here to discuss theology or anything of that sort… this,” He tapped the sword’s hilt. “is what I’m here for. Something is… wrong… with it. I don’t have the slightest clue as to what it is, and I’m can’t muster the concentration to even start to think on the subject.” The man slowly unbuckled the belt the sword hung from and held it loosely in his hand. “So I came to ask my foolish old tutor for help.”

Ezra smiled again, then sat down in a nearby pew. It was roughly hewn out of old, knotted maple wood and quite uncomfortable, but the old man didn’t seem to mind. Several long seconds passed in silence. “Why come to me, if I may ask? If something is indeed ‘wrong’ with your sword, it’s assuredly not natural. Certainly, either Magistrix Hanrin or your lieutenant, or even one of your senior chairs would be a better choice to consult with.”

“I’ve not lost my mind entirely Ezra. I only said it’s hard to concentrate. Coming to you wasn’t my first choice, believe me, but in getting your consultation, I have a better idea of what I’m dealing with. If you don’t detect any of the darker arts at work, I’ll know it’s something arcane, runic, or sigilic in nature. If you do… then I’ll work on that.” The man looked at the silent priest somewhat crossly. “And what makes you so suspicious of me?”

“There’s no need to get angry, child. It was merely the idle question of a senile old man no one comes to see anymore. I apologize if it seemed accusative. In any case…” he rose from the pew slowly under the weight of age, “let’s go have a look at your sword. This is no proper place for such things, though. Please, follow me.”

The old priest motioned towards a plain looking hallway off in a corner that led to the rectory.

Written by - Sycon

Sycon walked through the halls no more adherent than his normal self lately. Each stone seemed to sing its own song in his mind. It was so enthralling how the rock was shaped or how it shaped itself. Perhaps over a thousand years of water, wind, and wear shown on the rock. All this and more crept through his mind. Every stone and every crack had its own song as he strolled through the long halls of the citadel.

To the left a door stood open and Sycon's feet led him through it. It was a guests room, that was still literally occupied. It had been Sycon's when he had first arrived at the citadel and now some other was in it. A woman was lying on the bed asleep, her hair covering her face. The way the light reflected and moved over her was entrancing. Everything Sycon could pick out about her, every curve, every freckle on her arms was as significant as who she was. Yet in his own enthrallment, he overlooked the fact that her chest had not been rising or falling, not even in the slow rhythm of sleep. Her face was mostly covered by her own hair but her lips were still visible. They had turned a faint blue and her mouth was slightly open as if whispering its last word.

Sycon registered all of this, but the meaning eluded him. The very thought of death never entered his mind as he ran his hand over her hair once to feel the silky softness that it was. His hand traced up from her hair to the bed post and onto the wall where he traced it around the room. His hand running over the tapestries and furniture against the wall as he traced over them. It wasn't long until he turned the corner out the door following the wall with his hand. Once again in the hallway, not even noticing that he had turned himself in the direction that he had come, he strolled on unnoticeable, unending.

Written by - Sycon

Sycon continued walking down the endless corridors that led from one room to the next. Nothing in particular caught his eye as he continually stared in every direction. Sycon kept his eyes mostly above him. He stumbled. A foot protruding from a supply closet had caused him to catch himself on the door frame. His eyes looked at the body lying on the floor, once again the hair covered the face except the lips. The lips were once again a strange blue color and the chest did not rise or fall with breath.

Sycon recovered his balance and kept down the hall.

Written by - Sycon

Sycon was in the meal hall, looking at the beautiful chandeliers and at the way they refracted light against the tables. They weaved great patterns, moving and dancing as the light breezes in the hall gently rocked the fixtures. It was like a play going on before him, each section of light an intricate character all their own, moving to his own desires and whims.

Sycon entered the kitchens and watched as the cooks spattered at everyone while the maids went about on their own chores. He turned a corner that led down a flight of stairs, the air getting thicker here and lit by candles inset on the walls. Down and down he went until the floor leveled and before him lay a large storeroom that the cooks raided daily. He strolled through the many isles of stores and into the smaller rooms that might have once been catacombs hundreds of years ago. Stores grew thinner and thinner as he moved further into them. Finally there were no more doors to move through and only a barrel in the corner filled with stagnant water. On the floor beside them lay a man on his stomach, his hand outreached toward the barrel in an never ending effort to reach it.

The man was still, so very still. To Sycon he was just another of the stores in the room. Sycon walked back the way he had come, following the pattern set in his mind, though not grasping its dark reality.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan reached for the proffered dagger and tucked it into its sheath at her hip. She said nothing, and her motions seemed automatic and habitual, as if some of the fire for which she was known had been extinguished.

She turned away from the people surrounding her and gazed down at the city below. Mavigan said nothing. There was nothing she could say that would make her sound any less of a fool, and she carefully schooled her features to blankness to hide the maelstrom of grief, anger, and shame.

Teran’s disapproval shoved her like a physical hand, causing her to jerk from her view of the city and start packing few her belongings. “Guess we’ll sneak into the city at night, then.”


Written by - Ariana Page 16 Book 4

Turning from the mirror, she glanced at the two slumbering women. Her mouth turned down in a slight frown. They wouldn’t be much fun to play with if they were sleeping.

Shrugging, she walked - still naked - to the door and tentatively extended a hand. The wards glowed briefly and she glared at them. The bars of cage still held. She wondered how far the wards extended, so she opened the door and stepped out into the hallway.

Two guards, one on either side of the door, looked at her with wide eyes.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm saw Mavigan's mortified look. While he was both disappointed in Mavigan's delusion and lack of caution, and sad to see her spirit so low, he was relieved to see she had not been badly hurt and that the delusional after effect of Mavigan's first real battle was only temporary. Some never recovered from the impact of their first battle.

"Then let us depart this hill top. If we can see the city then they can see this fire on the hill."

They put out the fire by covering it with dirt and then removed all traces of the campsite. As they left hill top, Wilhelm gently laid his hand on Mavigan's shoulders, as if to guide her, and gave a gentle squeeze. He whispered to her,

"You fought well in the catacombs, Mavigan. There is more you can learn, but you made me proud."

As they walked down, Wilhelm used a leafy branch to remove all traces of the footprints going up and down the hill. He led them away from the hill to a secluded grove near the base of another hill, in the center of which was a small clearing with a spring. There they set up camp to wait.

Wilhelm pulled some travel rations from his pack and passed them around, and then unwrapped another bundle and handed it to Mavigan. Inside was Mavigan's horse bow and quiver.

"Now that your wounds have been healed, you will want these. Sometimes it is better to fight from a distance."

Wilhelm ate some of his rations and then looked at Mavigan, smilled, and said,

"So, what is the mission and what is your plan to accomplish it?"

Written by - Teran

Teran turned away from Mavigan once he was sure she felt properly chastised and beckoned Sabbatine to follow him. He spoke quietly to her and pointed at the city eliciting eager nods from his undead friend. He pointed at Keeryn and seemed to be scolding Sabbatine who had a mixed look of disappointment and offense on her face that he felt the need to tell her not to try and eat or even get a little taste of the mysterious and wonderful creature. Lastly he nodded towards Wilhelm as he gave her the last of his instructions and then he was gone.

Sabbatine stood there for a moment as though she had not noticed his departure and then came to her senses and shuffled back towards the group, keeping her eyes on Keeryn wearing an expression on her face that seemed to indicate she was in her own fantasy world.

She nearly bumped into Wilhelm.

"Mister Wilhelm? Teran told me to tell you that he is going to meet us on the inside and that he had business that could not wait until dawn." She warbled in an overly cryptic voice, interrupting his question to Mavigan because she had been daydreaming "He also told me not to eat your friend and to follow your rules until he returns."

She stood there alternating her gaze between Wilhelm and Keeryn while occasionally glancing at Mavigan.

Written by - Vylia

At the sound of the door opening Vylia jerked out of sleep and sat upright. When she noticed Ariana was no longer in her bed she threw off the covers and stood up, frantically looking around the room before her eyes caught Ariana standing just outside the door to the room. She had been the one to open it apparently. Vylia rushed over to Ariana with a blanket in her hands.

"Ariana, what is wrong? Come back into the room before these people get angry again and send their mages." Before Ariana answers Vylia wraps the blanket around her. "At least come back inside until we can get you some clothes."

Written by - Wilhelm

Amalia, mage on duty, turns as an alarm crystal chimes. Seeing that it is the one attuned to the detection wards on the room the powerful but deranged woman had been placed in, she looks into the crystal to see that the woman had managed to open the door and push through the ward, which was impressive although the inner door ward was not as strong as the outer ward at the end of the hallway. She saw that the woman was naked and covered with recently healed bruises.

Just then the other woman emerged and wrapped a blanket around the first woman, saying somethng about waiting for clothing. Well, that was something that could be done.

"Kathana, the woman is awake and needs clothing. She also passed through the inner ward like it wasn't there. We better take her some clothing and calm her down."

Kathena, Priestess of the All Father, runs to the ready room and gathers up an armful of female clothing kept for time of need and the two make their way to the holding room, with Amalia opening and closing the wards as they pass through. Amalia, dressed in blue mage robes, says,

"Greetings. I am Amalia, Mage of the Blue Order, and this is Kathana, Priestess of Tinorb the All Father. Now that you have rested, here are some fresh clothes for you. Dress yourself and then we can sit and talk."

Kathena, clad in white priestess robes with the sign of the triskelion and a triskelion pendant, arrays the clothing choices on the bed. There are underthings, white robes, a couple of dresses, some shirts and blouses, tunics, vests, pants, and several types of shoes and boots.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan looked up at Wilhelm from where she crouched, hurriedly stuffing her belongings into her pack.

“Mission? Plan?” she asked softly. She paused in her efforts, casting her gaze towards the ground. “Whatever I had planned doesn’t matter now.”

Her shoulders tensed for a moment, and then she resumed packing. When she spoke again, her voice was soft and uncertain, belying some inner conflict. “I suppose the new mission is to kill my Uncle.”

Here ends Book 4 Part 1 of the House Ancora saga, which is continued in Book Four - The Eastern Pass Pt 2.

Restore Default Settings