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Book Four Pt 2 - The Eastern Pass

Written by - Turin Wallace Page 19 Book 4

Ithramir listened as Varion asked,

“We will not disappoint you m’lord. Regarding the attack, have there been any other volunteers, or should I requisition additional Blue Knights for the task? Also, is there any other specific information or intelligence we should be aware of before launching our attack? The nature of the access hole perhaps or anything else we can expect to encounter once inside the sewer system?"

Ithramir responds,

"I wouldn't worry about disappointing me, if your mission fails, all of these troops you see around us would be the ones that would suffer. I'm sure you'll do fine."

Ithramir pauses a second, then continues,

"No, there will be no others to assist you. A small group will not draw attention to what is happening, a larger group may put you and your men at more risk than necessary."

Pulling out a map, with details of troops and their supposed plans of attack, he continues,

"Once the full army is ready and at the gates, we launch an attack. That is the time you will need to make for this specific location near where the walls of the keep begin and the mountain begins. You will look for a small, metallic solar cross. It can be confused for an old makeshift gravemarker, and it is intended to be that way. Simply stand over the cross and pull hard upwards, it may take two to four men to do so, and the cover over the secret entrance will open. After that, I cannot say what will happen. The Orks may not know of it, in that case, you will progress quickly to near the gatehouse entrance. Again, you will need a few able bodies to press the cover off of it's resting place."

Looking at Varion, he continues,

"However, if they know of its existence, well, you may be hard-pressed to make it into the gatehouse courtyard. Either way, I wish you luck. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must prepare the larger portion of the army for the assault."

With a nod, Ithramir see's Varion off, then turns to Catherin and says,

"Pass the word: We will be marching out in one hour. Have the troops assembled outside, with the mages and healers in the rear. Also, send our skirmishers forward to clear the path for us."

Catherin nodded and Ithramir moved himself and his mount to the forefront of the assembling army.

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Varion gazed intently at the map and listened as Ithramir laid out the plan. Memorizing the map and the points of attack to the best of his ability, his mind raced with a thousand thoughts, though his expression remained calm. When the Elven Lord had finished the briefing and dismissed him, Varion offered a crisp salute, turned, and headed off to see to his men.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan was more than a little nervous. Not only had she not noticed the approach of the three men, but one of them was the actual head of the guild. She had never even dreamed she would be in the same room with the man, and yet, here he was, bowing to her.

Her glance darted between Wilhelm and The Raven as they began speaking in code. As they conversed, she grew more and more uneasy. It seemed that The Raven knew full well who she was and that he and Wilhelm had played her for a fool. Her suspicion proved to be fact as The Raven, one of the most powerful men in Westgale, gave her a scraping bow.

She quickly closed her gaping mouth and shifted uncertainly from foot to foot. Realizing that her whereabouts had always been known and that those she had relied upon for escape had been in on the joke from the beginning made her want to turn the air blue. However, considering they needed his help, insulting him was most likely not the wisest course of action. Mavigan clamped her lips tightly shut swallowing the angry words that were building in her mouth.

She did allow herself a quick glare in Wilhelm’s direction, though.

It took a full count to 20 and 3 deep breaths before she felt calm enough to speak.

“We need to get into the palace so I can gut my Uncle,” she said bluntly.

Written by - Ariana

Ariana was delighted at the influx of little people that seemed determined to join her on her travels to wherever it was that she was going. She had been a little confused about their newest companion – she had claimed a tie of blood to Ardwen – and something about that brushed the back of her mind as not being quite right. But when Ardwen didn’t kill the child outright, Ariana just shrugged.

When the little girl came over and took Elerus’s hand, Ariana just smiled and dropped the hand she was holding herself. She did not notice the sigh of relief from the boy.

They trudged silently along the path, following Ardwen like a flock of sheep. Until, that is, Ardwen kept going straight when they should have veered a little to the left. Really, how could he miss that blazing beacon in the distance? Was he blind?

Ariana gave a huff and corrected her own course – ever keeping the guiding light in front of her.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen kept tossing glances at his fellow travelers; in between observing his companions the ancient Elf’s eyes swept the pathway in front of him. Elerus couldn’t help but notice his friend’s tense behavior, and he was not surprised when Ardwen dropped back to walk beside him once Ariana began to set her own course. Ardwen was the first to speak with a hushed, “I’m worried.”

“Noted.” Elerus said, “Why?”

Ardwen looked around before answering, “When we started, I thought this would be simple. The Abbess would lead us a few yards from the Citadel and that would be it. I only procured a little gold from the gate captain, and that alone we received out of generosity. What’s more—“

“You’ve got a woman and child to protect now, and I would bet you’re not certain about me either, right?” Elerus interrupted.

Elerus watched as Ardwen’s rigid posture became even more upright; his friend looked at the ground to either side of his feet before saying, “Yes, but it’s not so simple. The girl must be kept out of danger, and I know Ariana is in no condition to fight. As for you, well, do you remember the first time we fought side-by-side?”

“Of course I remember.” Elerus said with a nod. “But, you’re not going to fool me, Ardwen. Even now you’re thinking that I don’t have a sword, and that I’m not used to my . . . condition. I agree about Angel and Ariana, but listen to me: don’t play the I’m-the-only-hero bit.”

“I’m simply doing what I was made for, born for. If I’m the only one who can do what needs to be done, that’s just reality.” Ardwen muttered. Elerus shook his head and let out a brief chuckle, “I don’t think even you can believe that, Ardwen.”

The two Elves ceased conversing; Ardwen resumed his pace next to Ariana. As the evening wore on and the sun began to dip in the sky the Elven warrior once again went to Elerus. This time it was the young Elf who spoke first, “Sun’s going down, we have no food or water, nor have we had any rest, and if I’m not mistaken we’ll have rain by nightfall.” Ardwen looked up at the mottled grey sky and said, “Time for a plan then. El, can you take wing and see if there’s a place we could camp for the night or a taberna?”

Ardwen heard a child’s laugh, and had to guess if it was Angel or Elerus. He soon realized it was his friend when the winged boy said, “Right, a taberna. Yeah, you’ll also want a fully developed road system and a series of coaching inns to deliver the mail? Whatever, you’ve got it Ardwen, I’ll take to the skies for a minute.” Elerus broke his handhold to Angel with an apology, explaining he would need speed for his work. Ariana had released his other hand earlier, and while Elerus had tried to be nonchalant about it, he’d released a small sigh of relief as he felt the circulation return to his wrist. With a few bounding steps he took to the sky, spreading his single wing to catch the wind.

The ground shrank from beneath the boy’s feet, the tree branches and limbs were blurs as he ascended upward. Elerus did not bother forming any wings of ice, for the mechanism of flight for him was mostly supernatural – the wings merely provided extra lift and mobility. As Elerus flew higher he could see arcs of light in distant grey clouds and a haze over the land. Far from the group below, it was raining.

Ardwen watched in wonder as Elerus shot up through the sky. He had to quickly quash a sting of jealousy. A few white feathers drifted through the air in front of him, and Ardwen snatched one as it floated past his face. The bladeweaver let out a sullen “hmph”, but he couldn’t prevent a slight smile from flickering on his face. Ardwen’s thoughts were distracted, however, when he observed Elerus descending from the skies. Within a few heartbeats his companion fluttered before him, giving one last flap of his wing before alighting on the ground.

Elerus looked around and dug at the dirt with the toe of one of his boots. “You’re not going to believe this,” Elerus said, “but there’s an inn along this trail.”

“What?” Ardwen barked.

“This little goat trail widens and there’s a clearing in the woods, we can reach it before nightfall no problem.”

“Why is there an inn here, out in the middle of nowhere?”

“Not a clue, but it seems Ariana is on the right course for it. Maybe divine inspiration?”

“Tch,” Ardwen growled, “I’d rather risk the rain.” Ardwen spared a glance at Angel however, and noticed the young girl had no shoes. She was hoping from one foot to another every couple of steps and was brushing the bottom of her feet of with her hands. “I suppose,” Ardwen said softly, “we could use a rest.”

As the four continued with Ariana leading the way, Elerus took advantage of not being lead about by the hand to confer with Ardwen. He filled his friend in on the fact that he had observed armed figures entering and leaving the building. Despite his keen eyes, he could not see if they were Elven or human. The moon waxed pale in the grey-blue sky, the stars were starting to appear, and a heavy wind carried the scent of rain by the time the small group came upon the clearing. Just as Elerus had said, the overgrown forest path gave way to packed dirt and widened into an opening that held a single building.

The inn itself was a wooden two-story structure with what looked to be a mixture of thatching and timber for a roof. The sides of the building were coated in a lime wash, which gave the whole structure a dull white appearance in the dim light. A single stone chimney snaked its way up the building’s side, but there was no smoke billowing from the top. Ardwen had halted the group before the trees gave way to the inn’s yard, and it was here he laid out his plan. “I have no reason to expect any of Beridane’s men or spies so far into Elven lands, yet I think it best if I go first.”

Without another word Ardwen strode across the small yard that separated the inn from the surrounding forest. Elerus saw his friend open the inn door and stride in without a second look. The next few moments seemed to stretch on for hours to the child. As absurd as it sounded to him that anything in inside could threaten Ardwen, Elerus still found himself debating if he should go in when the door to the inn opened once more and Ardwen walked out. The Elven warrior waved an arm to signal that the inn was safe.

Elerus found the inside of the inn to be as unassuming as the outside. A large central common room occupied the entire first level, with chairs and tables arranged with no clear pattern throughout. The room was mostly empty, with a swift look only revealing five other patrons. A fireplace blackened with soot sat to the left of a long wooden bar, behind which was the innkeeper. Elerus first noticed the pointed ears, and he then noticed the thick mane of grey hair on the old elf’s head. Once the group was in the inn, the innkeeper looked up, and Elerus saw a lined face with eyes that seemed at once to both smile and weep.

“Welcome.” The inn’s proprietor said while moving from behind the bar with a cloth to wash a nearby table. “So, that’ll be you, the lady, and the two little ones, yeah?” Elerus reflexively tensed at the man’s diminutive assessment, and his wing swept up before he managed to swallow his pride. The innkeeper had picked up an empty mug from a table and was polishing it, but at the sound of ruffling feathers he slowly turned to look at the “little ones” again.

The old elf dropped the glass; it hit the floor with a sharp smack but did not break. “What in Avandor’s name—“ he began, but Ardwen cut him off.

“Enough!” Ardwen said, “We just want a roof over our heads and provisions for a journey, nothing more, we can pay.”

At the mention of business as usual the innkeeper seemed to regain his composure, he knelt down and grasped the dropped mug and began to clean it again. “I understand sir, but you’ll have to keep in mind this is a coaching inn – mainly used for delivering missives and military letters to and from the Citadel.”

“Relax Davnin.” One of the patrons to the group’s left interjected. “I know two of them, the kid and the swordsman. Ol’ Ardwen there managed to snuff an Avatar of Foesta a while back.” The unnamed soldier tilted his head back and drank deeply from a pewter goblet before finishing his story. “All I managed to do was get an arrow in my leg and a lump on my head. Believe me when I say he’s a stalwart sort. The boy arrived at the Citadel shortly before I left.”

“Thanks.” Ardwen said to the Elf. “I’m afraid I don’t know your name.”

“I’m called Kalfrin, friends call me Kal. Think nothing of it. I’d love to catch up on old times, but I’ve got a report from one of our scout companies complaining about round-ears from the Shrikefield. Seems Beridane’s taking advantage of the attack on Minas Uial; knows we’re stretched thin. If you plan to travel further north, keep an eye out. Though after watching you fight before I say Avandor help the poor bastards.” Kalfrin finished his drink with one last lingering gulp, stood up, gave a slight bow, and was out of the door before another word could be said.

“Hmph,” Davnin muttered, “any ally of the Citadel is welcome here. Still, that doesn’t change the fact that this is a coaching inn. We might not have many staying here, but the rooms are being used for the storage of foodstuffs and weapons for messengers and the local patrols. I’ve only got one room that’s free and not cluttered from the floorboards to the ceiling with boxes and horse tackle. If that’ll work for you, you’re welcome to stay as long as you need.”

Ardwen hesitated a moment before answering, “That’s fine Davnin. My apologies, but would it be too much to purchase some foodstuffs from you as well?”

“No, no worries, we’ll see what we can spare in the morning – I hear thunder now, I think a storm’s brewing.”

Ardwen paused once more before saying, “I don’t imagine you could draw hot water for a bath as well?”

Davnin chuckled before answering, “Of course, you know how many trail worn travelers you get at a coaching inn? Just say the word and I can have water from boiling to icicles ready.” Ardwen didn’t answer verbally; he simply nodded and sat down on a nearby stool at the bar. Elerus hopped up on the stool to the warrior’s right, and couldn’t help but notice Davnin tossing furtive glances at him in between cleaning and seeing to the other patrons. Elerus frowned slightly, but he was not certain if it was from the unwanted attention, or the fact that his feet couldn’t touch the ground.

Written by - Ariana

The journey was mostly silent. Ariana would often stop to examine a leaf or stick or rock before continuing on. She only vaguely heard conversation between the other members of the group, instead focusing on reacquainting herself with the world of sight and sound and smell and touch. Everything seemed to have an aura about it, and the kaleidoscope of colors fascinated her. Anyone paying attention, however, would have observed her cast the occasional glance towards the empty space to her right.

Ariana wasn’t sure when the glowy woman had joined them on this journey. Certainly no one seemed to act as if they knew she was there; in fact, Ardwen had nearly crashed right into her. She nearly said something to bring their attention to the new member of their party, but the woman merely shook her head and placed a finger over her lips to indicate quiet. Shrugging, Ariana continued to follow the beacon.

It wasn’t until they were ensconced in the inn that Ariana finally decided she was tired of listening to the woman’s chatter in quiet. She plunked herself on a stool next to Elerus and cast an angry glare at the space next to Ardwen.

“I don’t know,” she said with a huff.

Ariana cocked her head for a moment and then said petulantly, “Why don’t you ask him? You’ve got a mouth! And you've been using it for hours!”

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen spared Elerus a glance when he took the seat next to him, the ancient Elven bladeweaver gave his companion a nod when he saw him frown. Elerus simply shook his head slightly and muttered, “I’m fine, don’t worry.” Ardwen said nothing in response; he just locked his gaze on some distant point in space and remained silent. A few moments of silence passed between the two Elves before Ariana took the seat to the right of Elerus.

At first neither Elf paid her any heed, but when Ariana addressed the air next to her, both Ardwen and Elerus exchanged confused glances. Ardwen stood up slowly and said with a sigh, “El, meet me upstairs, I think we need another plan.” Elerus hopped off the bar stool, relishing the chance to get away from the stares and veiled whispers of the inn’s other patrons. Ardwen waited by the stairwell until his young companion had started up the steps, and then the warrior quickly followed.

Once upstairs, the two Elves leaned against opposite walls, facing each other. They had both adopted similar poses without intending to, but Ardwen did not care to comment, and it was he who spoke first with, “She was talking to nothing, wasn’t she? Ariana is seeing things.”

Elerus nodded and said, “I kept my eyes on her when she had my hand, Ardwen she’s been staring at almost everything as we walked. Still, she looked predominantly to the right, as if there was something there she wanted to keep track of.”

Ardwen squeezed his eyes shut and placed a hand on his forehead. The bladeweaver turned his face up to look at the ceiling before speaking, “El, I can’t do this. I’m a warrior, not a healer. The more I think about this the more absurd it seems. Why did I agree to come along in the first place? I could have kept Ariana at the Citadel, where she was safe. But this? Wandering about the countryside when Beridane’s men lurk in the woods? This is foolish. And now Angel . . . .” Ardwen didn’t finish his sentence, he trailed off into silence.

Elerus turned his face to the right to look down the stairwell and into the inn’s common room. “Ask yourself Ardwen, why did you come along? I’ve known you since we were both children, and now I see you jumping at the whims of a mortal woman?” Elerus paused and Ardwen saw a grin form on his face, “Is it lo—“

“Don’t say it.” Ardwen snapped.

Elerus simply shrugged, and Ardwen realized that his friend had a point. Why had he agreed, despite his better judgment, to come along? What did he feel he owed Ariana? He had already saved her life despite the plotting of the king of Westgale, and here he was getting dragged around while the usurper’s men roamed the countryside. Ardwen crossed his arms and locked his eyes on the floor; at length he said slowly, “I think, I think I feel I owe her more than life.”

“Oh.” Elerus said to urge his friend on.

“She cared about me. I don’t know why, I don’t know what made her see more in me than what the Empire saw. In Ancora she would just sit there, and listen. Listen to me talk about everything; about nothing. I never told her everything, of course, and I regret that. But I . . . can’t abandon her, whatever it means to follow her now. I just want to help her, Elerus.”

So!” The young elf began. “Do you know what she is after, what she wants?” Ardwen simply shook his head no. “Then why don’t you ask her?” Ardwen almost objected, he wanted to cite that Ariana was in no condition to answer, to determine what she wanted, but the warrior stopped himself. Did it matter?

“Thanks.” Ardwen said before starting his walk back to where Ariana was sitting.

Elerus waited until Ardwen was near the bottom of the stairs before whispering with a mocking sigh, “It’s love.” Ardwen’s footfalls ceased and the winged child saw his friend glance backwards over his shoulder. Elerus simply smirked innocently and looked around as if trying to pinpoint where the whisper had come from.

Ardwen went to Ariana, she was still sitting on the same barstool. The Elven warrior sat down on the stool to her left and waited a minute. Ariana seemed to pay no attention to him, but Ardwen said sharply, “Ariana!” That seemed to get his Abbess’s attention, if only for a brief moment. “I want some answers, or we are returning to the Citadel – where you will at least be safe. I cannot risk blindly running around the countryside chasing ghosts and shadows, where are we going? What do you want?” Ardwen paused to give Ariana a chance to answer, but when she did not promptly respond the Elf pressed on, “Please Ariana, just tell me. All I ask is to know your desire.”

Written by - Ariana

She blinked at him for a moment, head cocked as if she were listening intently to something or someone. Unsatisfied with what she heard, she glared at the empty space beside her before giving a resigned sigh.

“She says we have to follow the beacon to some place called Westgale. I’m not sure why, but she says it is important.”

She turned to face the space beside her. “There! I told him. Happy now?”

Written by - Tempyst

It was a massive undertaking, but finally she found them, Sword-Singers. Kaya looked them over, then placed a hand upon Dorve's shoulder. "Here goes nothing." Kaya let out a shrill whistle, one used by her to gain attention of her men back in the homeland desert. At first there was silence, but then there were whistles in return and soon she was surrounded by familiar faces.

The captain, also one of her old troop, came over and hugged Kaya tightly. "We all thought you were dead, least that is what was said. When we heard the news, we took the first boat out of there, to escape prosecution."

"I am glad to see you all, and by order of Lord Ithramir, if you will have me, I am here to lead you once more."

Captain Ah'len nodded. "I would not have it any other way, my men are now yours."

"Thank you Ah'len, you will be my second. Now, also, by order of Lord Ithramir, we are to be on the front lines. It will not be easy and much blood will be shed, but we will prove to them all the might of the Sword-Singers."

Again Ah'len nodded. "As you command Commander Kaya. Now, let me go introduce you to the rest of the troops."

Kaya smiled and followed the Captain, already preparing in her mind, the battle ahead.

Written by - Sycon

Uncle Ardy had kept quite for hours only speaking once or twice to the handsome winged boy. It was a long road, and her feet were starting to hurt. She did not complain though, she had at least Ariana to hold hands with when she felt lonely in the silence.

Ariana was a different story. Every little while she would stop and look at something. She would pick up a rock, look closely at it, turn it on and sometimes even sniff it. It was an odd behavior but it made Angel giggle. Ariana would just turn toward her and smile, then look to her other side and do the same. This struck Angel as slightly odd. Well, more odd than Ariana was. Though slightly odd was what Ariana seemed to be. There was something also not completely right in the air around her. Perhaps this is why she had been so quiet.

When they reached the inn, she was the first inside after the "All Clear" salute from Uncle Ardy. Was he always like this? So rigid.

After Uncle Ardy and the boy, she came to realize was Elerus, had exchanged greetings with the inn keeper she took off for the nearest table and almost toppled the chair and she slid into it. She rubbed her feet... so sore! Way to far to walk in a day! She was glad she did not have to do this every day.

After her feet had had a good rub down, she crossed her arms on the table and lay her head on it. A little later she barely noticed Uncle Ardy and Ariana speaking beside her. Aparently Ariana was arguing with someone, and Ardwen was trying to profess something. She just wished they'd be quite so she could slip back into her dream.

Written by - Ardwen

Westgale. Ardwen heard Ariana’s words, but it took a moment for his mind to wrap entirely around what she had said. It all seemed too absurd for the ancient Elf, too unbelievable. The Elven bladeweaver was not familiar with his new world; he did not know all its regions, cultures, or kingdoms. However, Ardwen knew Westgale, knew it from experience. Westgale was the human city that he had rescued Ariana from, it was his skill and endurance that had ensured the Abbess escaped her fate as a human sacrifice at the behest of the city’s ruler, an upstart mudman named Beridane. Ardwen’s eyes partly slid closed as if from a weariness. The Elf had a nagging certainly that Ariana had just chosen the single most dangerous place in the entire world as her destination.

Ardwen found his thoughts turning to Angel and Elerus. A quick glance at a nearby table showed the young girl was nearly fast asleep, stirring only to switch to a more comfortable position. Could Ariana really mean to drag a defenseless child into the heartlands of the enemy? How could she consider such a thing, or did she simply expect him to obey without questioning? The Elven warrior found his anger rising, and a slight frown broke the expressionless mask he normally wore. “No.” Ardwen said quickly and quietly, “We are not going to Westgale, you are not going to Westgale. How could you even consider such a thing, Ariana? Do you really want to drag Elerus and this girl into a city that you nearly died in?”

As Ardwen spoke his agitation increased, and the warrior stood as he spoke, walking a few steps every couple of words as if to highlight the key points in his speech. “This is beyond ridiculous,” Ardwen continued, “this borders on suicide. Do you not recall what Beridane attempted last time? He tried to sacrifice you to a demon, and the other Hands,” here Ardwen’s tone took on a slightly bitter edge, “were almost more concerned with preserving that miserable pit of squalor than saving you.” Here Ardwen paused again, his back was facing Ariana, and he looked over his shoulder and spoke now, “Now you wish to return?” Suddenly the Elf’s fingertips were resting against his forehead, as if to ward off a headache. “Oh, I see now. Some fool suggested this at the Citadel, didn’t they? Craven dullards crying out for a savior.” Ardwen’s hand moved away from his head and he held his palm aloft, as if grasping the explanation from the air. “They thought you the legendary saint, come to bring them their salvation.”

Ardwen let his hand fall and let out a single dry chuckle. He turned to face Ariana and said, “Fine. You’re interested in Westgale. Good, then Westgale you will have. Here is what we will do: return with Elerus and Angel to the Citadel, where you will be safe. Tell me what you want from Westgale, anything at all, and I’ll deliver it into your hands. Consider your words well; I’ll give you the night to think on it.” With that Ardwen turned his attention to the innkeeper, and ordered the man to draw the water for the bath, with that done Ardwen ascended the stairs to the second floor of the inn.

Elerus sighed and rested his chin on an upturned palm. “Another brilliant moment in diplomacy, Ardwen.” The young boy said with a roll of his eyes. The small Elf spared Ariana a look, and noticed that she sat there in silence, but every now and then her eyes would dart to her right, and her mouth would move. His friend had managed to find out where Ariana wished to go, and then he had jumped to the worst possible conclusion with no evidence, and compounded his haste with his typical unyielding brashness. Elerus rubbed a palm over his eyes and muttered, “And I’m the one who’s a child?” The winged boy considered his next move carefully, there was still a chance he could pick up the pieces and help Ardwen out. For a while Elerus sat and said nothing, wondering how best to proceed, and then he watched Ariana seemingly in distraction with another, and then it all seemed to simple.

Elerus adopted a cheerful tone to his voice, “Can you tell me what your friend is saying? Is that why you want to go to Westgale? Does your friend want you to go? I’d ask her, but I don’t think she wants to speak to a kid.” Elerus swung his feet back and forth as he spoke and looked innocently at the woman, inwardly though one thought kept passing through his mind: Ardwen owed him.

Written by - Ariana

She watched Ardwen’s back as it disappeared up the stairs of the inn, a mixture of emotions crossing her face. One moment her visage twisted into a scowl of anger, and had he turned to see it it would have reminded him of the fire once possessed by his Abbess. This was quickly followed by her mouth drooping into sad resignation.

She heaved a sigh just as Elerus spoke.

”Can you tell me what your friend is saying? Is that why you want to go to Westgale? Does your friend want you to go?’

She cocked her head at him and stared silently for a full minute, as if scrutinizing his question and the motives behind it. When she answered, the response was softly given. “There is a light in the distance. She says I have to follow it. What was lost must be found. He,” she said gesturing the way Ardwen had left, “does not understand.”

Silence descended again, her attention diverted by the person only she could see. After a moment, she looked at the sleeping child and then back at Elerus, reaching across the table to pat his hands reassuringly. “He is lonely,” she said gently, giving his hand a small squeeze, “and we cannot help. She says that you will watch over them both.”

She smiled at him then, a genuine smile filled with affection and reassurance. It was a smile that brushed over Elerus like a refreshing breeze in spite of there being no wind. And without waiting for a response, she hopped off the stool and started walking to the door.

Written by - Ardwen

Elerus felt Ariana’s gaze on him, and the young boy diverted his eyes away. Why was she studying him so intently? Elerus found himself wondering if he’d said something wrong, if Ariana wasn’t taken in by his act – had he only made things worse? Finally, after what seemed like hours Ariana answered him. The winged child found Ariana’s answer almost as unnerving as her prolonged silence, but it told him something important all the same: Ariana needed to go to Westgale for herself, not simply out of some insane desire as Ardwen had assumed.

The small group fell quiet after Ariana’s words. Suddenly, the lady patted Elerus’s hands, and with a reassuring squeeze instructed him to watch over Angel and Ardwen. Elerus saw Ariana smile, and strangely Elerus felt suddenly shy, the boy crossed one foot over the other back and forth and rubbed the back of his head idly, his white hair clumping around his hand. Then Ariana rose from her seat and began to walk to the door. The young Elf blinked in surprise and wanted to call out, but Ariana’s attention seemed to be entirely fixed on the inn’s exit.

Hopping off the barstool, Elerus ran over to Ariana before she reached the exit. He called out her name, but Ariana ignored him and kept walking. Desperate, Elerus reached out and clasped Ariana’s hand, the Abbess was still walking, and Elerus braced his feet and said, “Wait, plea--“; before he was cut short and tugged from his stance by Ariana’s brisk pace. Unlike at Citadel, Elerus stumbled forward and smacked into Ariana, he reeled back, and thanks to the fact that Ariana still had his hand kept his balance. The sudden movement caused a large lock of white hair to slide forward and cover one his eyes. With an annoyed huff Elerus managed to at least move enough of the offending strand to see out of both eyes, and when he looked he saw Ariana looking at him intently with a bemused grin on her face.

“Um . . .” Elerus began uncertainly, “sorry, I uh . . . .” His face felt hot, and the young Elf found himself inexplicably and intently studying the tops of Ariana’s boots. With a small swallow to settle his nerves and help mend his pride Elerus began speaking, “Don’t go”. He implored. “If you leave he’ll find you, and he can move very, very fast.” The winged child noticed Ariana still had hold of his hand, and with a barely repressed groan he recalled how long it had taken to get free the first time Ariana had taken his hand. Elerus pushed the thought from his mind quickly, however, and focused on the matter at hand – he had to convince Ariana to stay, or at the very least wait for Ardwen. “Ardwen can be difficult at times,” Elerus continued, “but he only did what he did because he cares for you, if he didn’t he would have told you to go on to Westgale and meet whatever end there.”

Elerus paused for a moment, taking the opportunity to move the rest of the offending wisp of hair out of his eyesight. That done he went on saying, “I know him, I’ve known Ardwen for many, many lifetimes of your people. He’s afraid of losing you, and so he’s going to protect you at the expense of himself, it’s just the way he is. Those few he lets in are guarded, and from everyone else he distances himself. But it’s more than that, I believe . . . .” Elerus paused here once again, uncertain how to continue, or even if his words were reaching the lady in front of him. “I believe,” he tried again, “that destiny brought you together, for a purpose. So please, stay, tell him what your friend said to me, explain why Westgale is so important – I know he’ll listen! Don’t leave him again it . . .” Once more Elerus paused here before finishing in a stalled whisper, “it almost killed him last time.”

Written by - Wilhelm

“We need to get into the palace so I can gut my Uncle,” Mavigan said bluntly.

The Raven barked a sharp laugh and then clapped his hands in applause.

"Now that I would like to see, and so would many of the Shadows Guild. Come with me and we will give you the chance."

The Raven led them out into the passage, where more black-clad figures waited. The Raven said to them,

"Spread the word to the elite. The black arrow is loosed tonight. Gather at the center."

The black figures bowed and several ran off in different directions. The rest formed into an outer guard. The Raven pointed and they all set off. The Raven reached into a pouch and pulled out an amulet which he invoked. A faint gray mist arose from the amulet and spread out to encompass the Raven and Mavigan's group. The black figures could be seen outside the mist but all sound from outside ceased.

"Now we can speak without being overheard or scryed. I am glad indeed to see you again, Mavigan, not only for your father's sake but because I always liked your spirit. Your father and I and Willy here served together in our youth. While we trod very different paths after that, our brotherhood remained. Your family's death was both a surprise and a terrible shock to me. I do not know who the assassin was, but I am now certain who ordered it.

It has become clear that Beridane is both a kinslayer, having arranged the assassination of your family, and a demon worshipper, having tried to summon a major demon using the death of a priestess of the All Father.

We have tried to remove him, but his defenses were too good. Ever since someone somehow got to him and cut off his hand (pity it wasn't his head), Beridane has had every known entrance into the palace both warded by magic and heavily guarded by his Ironskane Elite Guard. He thinks he is now invulnerable, and normally he would be correct.

However, there is one entrance he does not know about, as it is known only to the Raven and to the Crown and has been warded since it was built in total secrecy. Though outwardly I was seen as a thorn in his side, tolerated only because I kept the thieves in check, in fact I remained your father's friend and acted as his eyes and ears, passing on knowledge that came to me through many ways. Wilhelm here was often the go between, but sometimes we needed to meet in person.

I now make you an offer I have only given to two others, your father and Wilhelm here. Do your best to preserve our people and I will do my best to provide you with the information you need. Here is the first.

There is a hidden chamber under the palace reachable by two secret passages. One leads to my inner sanctum, which only I can open, and the other leads to the King's Chamber. That one can only be opened, or even perceived, by a member of the Royal Family. I can get to the hidden chamber, but until now I could not open or even find the second passage.

You, my dear, can find and open it. We can then escort you into the King's Chamber so you can have your sharp discussion with your uncle while the rest of us deal with those pesky Ironskane guards."

They had come to a bronze door embellished with black ravens. The black-clad figures guarding it bowed and opened the door as they approached. Before leading them inside, Raven turned again to Mavigan. The Raven drew a stilleto from its sheath at his hip and presented it and its sheath to Mavigan. She could see it was a master weapon, well used but well cared for, and on the blade could be seen the royal arms.

"Your father and I exchanged daggers when we graduated. I would be honored if you would use this to make your point with your uncle."

Written by - Ariana

She cocked her head at Elerus as he delivered his impassioned speech. When he finished, she heaved a sigh, turning to stare at the door to the inn. It seemed as if she was deliberating her options.

When her decision was made, Elerus did not have time to react before she was pulling him behind her back into the Inn. The door slammed open with a bang, and curious eyes turned toward the young woman with a boy in tow, but she paid them no heed. She stomped over to the stairs and then stomped some more to climb them.

She reached the landing and paused staring at the hallway and its many doors. She really had no idea which one Ardwen was hiding behind, so she started opening them all. One at a time, down the line, she flung the door open and stood glowering in the doorway.

Several upset patrons later, she finally reached the room Ardwen was in. It was the last one on the hall. She slammed this door open to reveal Ardwen soaking in a large metal basin. She propped her hands on her hips and squared off, expecting a fight.

“She-“ she started, then stopped. “No,” she said softly to herself.

Her face scrunched as if she had just tasted something very sour. The hands at her hips balled into fists, and her whole body tensed up. It resembled beer in a bottle that has been shaken till its nearly ready to explode.

She could feel the word there, was reaching for it with all she had. When she found it, it balled up behind her teeth, and when she finally let it go it rocked the air with its force. “I –“ she exploded. “I am going to Westgale!”

She heaved a couple of deep breaths, then pulled Elerus in front of her and shoved him into the room. “He will take care of you now.” Her tone seemingly indicated that the only reason she had allowed them to travel with her was for their benefit, not hers.

Satisfied she had delivered her message, she turned and began stomping her way back down the hallway, leaving the door gaping open in her wake.

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