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Book Four Pt 2 - The Eastern Pass

Written by - Ariana Page 20 Book 4

Mavigan had nodded along with his plan and his proposal for a deal, but when he brought the dagger out, he nearly undid her. She extended one finger and lightly traced her family’s coat of arms emblazoned on the blade The Raven offered. Her father’s blade.

She could feel the grief welling up behind her eyes, threatening to spill over into public view. She clamped down hard on her grief and drew in a shaky breath. With trembling fingers she grasped the blade and placed it on her hip. Clearing her voice, she attempted a wry smile. “I’ll be sure to tell Uncle that you inquired after his health.”

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen sank deeper into the warm water and let out a soft sigh. The warrior closed his eyes and allowed his thoughts to lap against the edges of his consciousness like the water did over his body. A peal of thunder growled through the air, and in the following stillness Ardwen could hear the dull plink of rain falling on the inn’s roof. Then the door to the room slammed open. Ardwen’s eyes shot open in time with the door and his first reaction was of outrage and indignation at the lack of courtesy. Then the ancient warrior saw who had opened the door, it was Ariana.

Ardwen made sure his back was facing opposite Ariana as she barged into the room and placed her balled fists on her hips. Ardwen said nothing as she shouted that she was going to Westgale despite his earlier protests. The Elven bladeweaver gave no response as she shoved a sheepish Elerus into the room with the odd assurance that Elerus would look out for him now. The only thing Ardwen took special note of was the biting tone of Ariana’s voice, as if during this entire trip traveling with her had been a privilege; Ardwen bit back an angry retort and simply watched his Abbess storm out of the room.

“Close the door Elerus, and if she leaves make sure that Angel is with you.” Ardwen said in a dull monotone.

“Ardwen—“ Elerus began, but Ardwen interrupted with a single word.

“Go.”

Elerus did as bid; he closed the door and followed Ariana down the hallway. The young Elf noted her distraction, however, and Elerus could only choke out a small surprised yelp as she continued to walk downstairs and out the inn’s door and into the pouring rain. Elerus wasted no time; however, recalling Ardwen’s other request. He roused Angel from slumber, and though the girl was still half-asleep he tried to usher her out the door, keeping an eye on the retreating form of Ariana. Elerus kept shaking his head in disbelief, “This has all gone wrong,” he thought, “are you really going to let her go alone Ardwen?” The winged child kept repeating the words “he won’t” mentally until it became a mantra of disbelief – he knew Ardwen – he wouldn’t do this.

Despite Elerus’s thoughts, the three soon found themselves walking through the soaking rain in the forest past the inn’s clearing again. The thick storm clouds overhead blotted out the light of the moon and stars, and the flashes of lightning threw mad shadows from the woods that danced and leapt before the eyes before fading back into darkness. Ariana did not speak a word to anyone but herself, occasionally her hands clenched into fists again and she muttered something starting with “I”, but Elerus was too lost in thought and the driving rain and peals of thunder stole her words from her lips.

The young Elf was so lost in thought that he almost didn’t notice the movement at the edge of his vision. A flash of silver caught the brief flash of lightning, and embedded itself in a tree in front of the group. Elerus blinked and noticed it was not a stray spark or trick of light, but an ornate blade, he also knew to whom the blade belonged. The rain slackened, and moonlight broke through the clouds, and Ardwen was standing next to the sword. Without preamble the Elven warrior pulled the blade from the tree and walked over to Ariana.

The rain faded to a mist as Ardwen stood there, blade in hand, in front of Ariana. While he appeared motionless, Elerus saw his hand clinching and relaxing on the grip of the sword time and time again. “Ardwen, how long have you been trailing us?” Elerus asked softly.

“Long enough.” Ardwen answered. The Elf took his blade and held it across his body, he closed his eyes for a moment, and his lips parted briefly. Elerus thought he heard Ardwen say something, but it was too soft for even his hearing. Ardwen released the blade, which shimmered and vanished, melting like snow in warm sunshine. The Elven warrior walked closer to Ariana, he locked eyes with her and said simply, “Point, where is Westgale?”

Ariana rolled her eyes as if the answer was obvious, but she obligingly jabbed a finger straight in front of her. Ardwen followed the direction of her hand, extending the line it made out into the shadowed horizon with his sight. Then he picked Ariana up in his arms. The Abbess of the Hands of Providence let out a chortled squeal of surprise and managed to slap Ardwen for his efforts. Ardwen did not react, taking the blow on the face and merely turning his head to regard Ariana and say, “I don’t care if you can understand me or not. Westgale is hundreds of miles away, and if we travel like a pack of humans we will never get there. Elerus and I are of one blood, let us show you what we can do.” Ardwen paused and looked over his shoulder and said, “Sorry, but you’ll have to carry Angel.”

Ardwen noticed Elerus take a half step back and hold up a hand in protest. “Don’t be so melodramatic,” Ardwen said with a sly tone, “she can’t possibly weigh as much as this one.” A second slap landed on Ardwen’s turned head, and he flinched from this one. “I’m beginning to think you can understand me,” Ardwen muttered, “you simply hear what you wish.” Ardwen took off into the mist-wrapped forest, and true to his boasting the pace he set was swift and brutal. Elerus was obliged to carry Angel by having her wrap her arms around his neck and rest on his back. Even then to keep step with Ardwen he was forced to take to the air in short hops, gliding and weaving amongst the thick tree trunks, thankful that the trees were ancient and their branches were far above the ground.

Written by - Sycon

Angel did not have much time to... well anything. She was well asleep in her chair, the warmth of the hearth behind her. It was a nice dream until the pretty winged boy had shaken her awake. "Quick, we have to hurry" he said... All the while muttering under his breath something about, "He won't."

Things were moving too quick for her sleepy eyes. Then came the realization as she stepped outside. Cold rain fell on her, almost freezing her to the spot as it jolted her back into herself and alert.

Ariana was a good distance in head of her now and Angel did not want to lose sight of her. Wiping her nose once, she took off towards her. Still, all she could do to keep up with Ariana's longer legs was stumble behind her in the muddy street. The muddy street led into the forest. There were no signs of life in the rain. She supposed all the animals had taken shelter, exactly what she should have done.

No shelter meant no warmth. And with no shoes, Angel's feet were starting to go numb. The smallest pebble underfoot was painful.

Ariana had stopped. She stared at a weird looking sword imbedded into a tree. Angel looked around, but it was dim and all she could see through the rain was a figure coming towards them.

It was Uncle Ardy. She had almost forgotten about him in the rain. A few quick words and a squeak later, Ariana was into his arms. She watched as he swept her away into the forest. It was romantic.

Elerus looked at her with caring eyes. "Don't want to lose them do we?"

Angel hopped onto his back and the little guy almost matched Ardy's His eyes looked worried as he looked back and forth from Ariana to her.pace. It thrilled her when he had to take to wing to keep up with them.

Angel's eyes teared up. As the rain fell, so did her tears. She did not know why she was crying, and thiking about it only made it worse. She was glad the rain masked her tears though and Elerus could not see her. She just hugged his back closely as they made way further into the forest.

The rain turned to snow...

Written by - Wilhelm

The Raven turned and strode through the doorway, the blad-clad guards bowing to him as he passed. Wilhelm paused to speak quietly to Mavigan, who stood stroking the dagger now sheathed on her belt.

"That was very well done, Mavigan. He made you a great offer, which you did well to accept by accepting the dagger. It is traditional to complete the Honor Pact be offering another blade in return. The exchange of blades constitutes a mutual agreement backed by the honor of both people, as he and your father did many years ago. You thereby pledged your honor to uphold your end of the deal and to protect your people. I suggest you complete the Honor Pact by offering him one of your blades, thereby binding his honor to be your eyes and ears. You will have great need of his service, as your father did before you. Your elven dagger you received at your coming of age party would be suitable."

Wilhelm then led the rest through the doorway into a large underground hall, which was packed with cloaked and hooded people except for a clear path to a raised platform where the Raven now stood. At a gesture from the Raven, Wilhelm led them to stand at the right of the Raven. The bronze door was closed behind them. The Raven looked over those assembled and spoke.

"The time has come to strike back at the usurper Beridane and to begin the return to the throne of the rightful heir, Mavigan, sole surviving child of our murdered king. I call upon you now to strike with me and present to you now Mavigan, your future queen."

The Raven gestured towards Mavigan and bowed deeply towards her. Those in the audience also bowed deeply or curtsied towards Mavigan, with many an expression of support. Weapons were raised in her honor. The Raven then turned to Wilhelm and, pointing to the right, said,

"Here are some you will be happy to see again."

At this a dozen figures threw off their cloaks and hoods and stood arrayed in white armor or robes, with gleaming triskelion medallions displayed upon their breasts or armor. The surviving Knights, Crusaders and Priests of the Militant Order of St. Lorne within reach of Port Westgale had answered the call of the All Father and arrived in secret. Wilhelm called out to those he recognized and strode to meet them, with much many hugs and handshakes and greetings.

Written by - Ariana

She didn’t like this at all. Rough hands grabbing her tightly resurrected too many dark memories, and even though she knew whose hands they were, she couldn’t stop the panic from clawing at her insides. Her pupils shrunk to pinpricks and she began to tremble from something other than the cold.

Her breath started to come in short pants and she could feel the telltale surge of power well up in response. She clamped her teeth down hard, biting her lip until it bled, desperately trying to hang onto the power, but when it was apparent that Ardwen had no intention of stopping and was going to run them right past it, she gave up.

At the first prickling of power, Ardwen slid to a stop, dropping Ariana as he did so. The ground was wet and muddy and her forward momentum made her slide across the ground several feet to smack into the trunk of an ill-placed tree. As soon as she touched it, the energy discharged with a loud pop and the tree burst into flame, a bright beacon in the darkness of night.

She picked herself up and pushed her hair back from her face. The action left a long smear of mud across her face to match the long smear that now stretched from shoulder to ankle.

Instead of upbraiding Ardwen for his carelessness, she merely turned and gestured to the ground. There, clearly illuminated in the light of the burning tree, was a smaller road. Without waiting to see if the others followed, she marched up the road, her gait only slightly marred by a limp.

The small group crested a hill and in the small valley was a house. It was a home similar to most others in the area, though perhaps demonstrating a bit more wealth than a house of a peasant. Two-storied and constructed of rough-hewn timbers, the only distinguishing characteristic was the very large and ornately crafted three-ringed symbol of the All-Father that hung above the front door.

Ariana’s feet never faltered as she walked determinedly to the house, but they had not reached the front door before it opened. Welcoming light spilled from the entrance back-lighting an older woman who beamed a smile at them. An amulet of a priestess glittered from its place on her chest.

“Oh dearie me,” she said. “Do come in. You’ll get sick if you stay out in this weather.” She waved them in, and Ariana was quick to comply.

“Easal! Come down here! Our company is finally here!”

“Give me a minute, Creda!” came the reply in a deep and aged baritone.

She helped usher Elerus and Angel across the threshold cooing over them like a mother hen. She grabbed a towel and began drying Angel’s hair. “He told us you were coming,” she directed this Ariana, “but we had no idea you would be so late….or muddy. We can’t send you on to Westgale looking like a bunch of vagabonds! This will simply not do.”

“Easal! Start heating water for baths and pull out some clean clothes!” she yelled at the ceiling.

There was no reply this time. Instead they all heard the heavy footsteps of booted feet tromping down the stairs. A large body was soon followed by a grizzled face, kindly but hard-worn. There was a long scar that stretched from his right ear and narrowly missed the right eye.

He was not a man of many words and contented himself with a wide smile for the children and a nod of respect for Ariana. Easal suddenly grew wary, and he eyeballed the elf who remained on the porch and had, as of yet, refused to come in.

Written by - Ariana

So engrossed was she in the feel of the dagger that had once belonged to her father, when Wilhelm’s voice interrupted her reverie she jumped. And when he told her to give her birthday present to the Raven, she colored with embarrassment. She should have realized there was more to it than just receiving a gift. For the first time in her life, Mavigan wondered if she should have actually paid attention in all those long and tedious classes on court manners.

She pulled the Elven dagger from her belt and held it in her hand, the weight nearly as burdensome as the responsibilities that were even now piling upon her. She could feel them as clearly as if there were a hand pushing her down, and her unease began to show as people bowed and scraped before her. She shifted uneasily under the weight of their expectant gaze, and unconsciously, her gaze kept drifting to shadowed areas where she might hide.

Mavigan stood her ground, however, no matter how badly she wanted to disappear. When Wilhelm went off to shake hands and kiss cheeks, she saw an opportunity. Walking up to the Raven, she held out her own dagger to him as an offering. Looking him in the eye, she said softly, “For the pact.”

Written by - Wilhelm

The Raven smiled at Mavigan and bowed before her, saying,

"Well done. I was wondering if you would remember. I hereby accept your blade and pledge my honor to uphold the pact between us and this blade to defend it. From my eyes and ears to yours in return for your protection of our people. May this pact be as strong as these blades."

The Raven gently received the elven blade and then turned it over to examine it, trying its balance and heft and then its edge. With a satisfied expression, he placed it carefully in his belt, and said,

"A worthy blade indeed. This is an elven master blade of the Gentle Wave school. I estimate at least 100 folds. I am indeed honored and pleased to receive it and I will use it in your service. And now I believe you too will find some familiar faces over there."

The Raven pointed off to the left.

Written by - Ardwen

“You going to stand all day out in the snow and let all the warm air out?” Easal said curtly. Despite his rough mien, Easal couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something decidedly wrong about the Elf standing on the porch. The retired crusader squinted as he tried to pick out what had him so unnerved. He could see nothing that warranted his alarm, and Easal eventually chalked his caution up to the fact that the Elven swordsman was so apparently reluctant to come in out of the snow and bitter wind. Without a word the Elf walked into the main room with everyone else, and Easal noted that he at least had the courtesy to shut the door behind him.

No sooner had Ardwen entered the room than the other human, the one that Easal had called Creda continued her verbal assault against the group’s unkempt appearance. The priestess walked up to Ardwen and gave him an appraising glance, “You look a bit cleaner, but your boots are already caked in mud.” She tsked and continued. “And this poor girl’s soaked and chilled, how could you drag children through weather like this?” Almost as if the mention of children reminded her that there was more than Angel present, she wheeled around from Ardwen and turned her attention to Elerus.

The young Elf took a quick step backwards as Easal rounded on him, her crusader companion had brought her a fresh towel and she held it at the ready in one hand. With deceptive quickness she reached a hand out and grasped Elerus’s arm, immediately exclaiming, “This little boy’s freezing too! I know you Elves are hardy, but when they’re this young they can catch a cold as easy as any child.” Elerus opened his mouth to retort that he was not a child, and that he was furthermore nearly immune to the cold. Unfortunately all managed was a muffled, “I am not a—mmphhm!” before Creda began to vigorously rub a warm towel over his face. Much to the winged child’s relief Ardwen kept his restraint through Creda’s constant berating and took a seat near the door, propping his head on the knuckles of his fist. His old friend said nothing, the only motion he gave was his eyes sliding shut. Still, to Elerus it looked as if he was trying to shut out the nattering voice of the old priestess instead of resting.

However, Elerus did not have the luxury of detachment. Creda seemed convinced that the winged boy needed everything from his clothes mended to a hot bath to ward off the chill. Elerus thought about protesting, but seeing that Ardwen was being surprisingly stoic - and afraid Creda would take it as pouting - he simply blushed shyly and tried to inch away when the priestess's attention was elsewhere.

Written by - Ardwen

Ithramir’s gaze swept over the assembled host of Elves and Men. The sight of the combined forces of the two races was uplifting, banners of all colors and heraldry flapped in the wind or hung from stout poles. Ithramir found his eyes darting from standard to standard, here was one with words entirely in flowing Elven script, there another with writing proclaiming revenge for Mavigan; Ithramir blinked and squinted his eyes as he caught sight of a new banner with the heraldry of Harathad-dor and Westgale on a white field. Ithramir merely shook his head slightly, knowing that it was one of the regiments of human auxiliaries that Mavigan’s presence had brought to the Citadel.

The commander of the Citadel reflected on that thought for a moment. He had largely left the instruction of the human forces up to their own officers, and while they seemed eager enough, Ithramir could only hope that their enthusiasm would carry them when their experience failed.

“Catherin, give the order for the army to move out, square formations, four rows deep. We will be travelling over rough terrain as we approach Minas Uial, tell the men to watch their spacing.” Ithramir finished his instructions with a curt nod; Catherin saluted and ran to relay the order to march. A second wave of satisfaction swept over Ithramir as he saw the Elven army swiftly form ranks and fall into marching cadence. It was a fine army, and Ithramir had no doubts as to the valor and courage of those serving under him, regardless of the outcome of the day he swore that this would be one of their finest hours.

The sun was dipping below the horizon by the time the entire army managed to begin its march to Minas Uial, and as the light continued to fade Ithramir found their progress slowed by the need to dismount and remount to guide the army’s horses over the treacherous terrain. Ithramir’s decision to allow gaps in the infantry formations while marching had proved prudent, and the loose yet fluid formation made the march smoother. The skirmishers and scouts that the Citadel’s commander had deployed earlier had done their work well, and Ithramir heard more than a few hushed blurts of praise as they encountered Orc corpses punctured with arrows up to the fletching.

As luck would have it, the sky was devoid of clouds and the moon and stars shone bright, but Ithramir called a stop before Minas Uial itself was in sight. Wheeling his mount around Ithramir called for his aide Catherin and briefly ran over the plan to assault the fortress a final time. “The left flank will be held by the Blue Knights, Catherin, I need not impress upon you the importance of this: the Blue Knights will be guarding the flank for the entire army – their success is no less vital than the young Dartanian’s mission. I want our units on the left flank to maintain cohesion with the Knight’s right. For the main assault I want the heavy infantry to advance, foot first three lines, have the lighter infantry move up in their wake. We’ll be taking heavy fire and losses until we can get inside.”

Catherin dipped her head in assent and sent out runners to the various units in the Elven army, after the last dispatch she looked up at Ithramir and said, “Anything else my lord commander?”

After a brief pause Ithramir nodded and said, “Yes, inform our forward units that they are to hold even if Dartanian fails. Should the worst come to pass we will use our siege works to breach the defenses.”

Catherin turned her head away slightly and muttered, “I pray it does not come to that.”

Ithramir’s keen hearing allowed him to hear her as surely as if she had spoken right by his side. The Elven commander simply said, “May Avandor hear your prayer.”

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Varion found Count Merquise standing alone and gazing out across the field. The five thousand heavy cavalry were making their final preparations for the coming assault. Warhorses were dressed in plate, lances were readied, and swords were sharpened, the glint of metal still distinct in the fading twilight. “Milord,” the Captain exclaimed as he approached. Dartanian turned to his second and returned the crisp salute. “I have my orders My Lord. I will lead a small strike force through the hidden entrance and take the gatehouse.”

“Very good Captain. Assemble and brief your men just behind our first wave. When we make our assault you concentrate on finding that entrance and securing the gatehouse. We will cover you as best we can and sweep any resistance away to clear your path.” Varion nodded as Dartanian continued. “Once you’ve opened the gates, hold the gatehouse as long as you can. The Knights will likely be the first units through and we will relieve you as soon as possible. Once we do, our main objective will be holding that gatehouse and clearing the surrounding area to allow the main force to enter the stronghold.”

“Understood my Lord. I will assemble my men and see to it.”

Dartanian nodded. As Varion turned to go, he spoke again. “There is one more thing Captain.”

“Yes sir?”

Dartanian extended a hand. “Good luck, and may the All-Father go with you.”

Varion clasped the offered hand and nodded. “With you as well.” Finally, he turned and moved off to see to his duties.

Shortly thereafter a dispatch was received with the order to move out. Dartanian nodded to his lieutenants, and the order was passed. As one, the entire five thousand man force stepped off and began the march to reclaim the Elvish stronghold of Minas Uial. The march was slow and tedious over the broken terrain, but the force made steady progress. Morale was heightened at the occasional groups of Orc corpses. The Elvish scouts were certainly proving their worth.

Several hours into the march, beneath a clear, starlit sky and a bright moon, word was received to halt the advance. Moments later, a mystic fog formed around the group, as the wizards and druids among them worked their magic. This would shield the rest of their advance and finally the assault on the hidden entrance.

Knowing that the assault was to begin soon, Dartanian put on his helmet, adorned with blue and gold crest, and readied his lance. His Lieutenants ordered the men to ready themselves, and the entire force did likewise. After a few agonizing minutes of waiting, a dispatch finally reached the Count with orders to begin his assault when ready. Dartanian nodded and the man rode off to return to Lord Ithramir. Scanning the men around him near the front of the line, Dartanian raised his lance high in the air and nudged his horse forward, the signal to begin the final advance. Orders were shouted up and down the line, and the Blue Knights began to move. Despite the heavy fog, Dartanian was confident he knew exactly where he was. The Orc encampment outside the walls was sure to be no more than a few minutes hard ride away.

Dartanian was unsure what sort of resistance they would encounter, whether the Orcs would choose to stand and fight, or would fall back to the safety and protection of the stronghold walls upon seeing the invading force. In any case, his objective was clear; he must secure the hidden entrance and hold it until Captain Varion could open the gates. After the entire force was in motion, Dartanian urged his mount into a trot, with his men following suit. Eventually, as they grew closer to the stronghold, Dartanian upped the pace again, and soon the whole force was at a canter. Finally, when he sensed a collision with any Orcish defenders to be imminent, Dartanian signaled with his lance once again. Without hesitation, the Blue Knights formed into a three-pronged wedge formation and spurred their warhorses into a gallop. Dartanian lowered his lance, raised his shield, and made ready.

In mere moments, and almost without realizing it themselves, the Blue Knights collided with a small Orcish encampment. At full gallop, the impact of flesh and steel was deafening. The startled Orcs scrambled to mount any sort of defense, having likely heard the thundering charge of the Blue Knights before they could see them through the fog. Dartanian, at the head of one of the wedges, spied a large Orc wielding an enormous battleaxe bearing down on him and yelling a blood-curdling war cry. He hardly needed to adjust his aim, and skewered the Orc, ripping his arm cleanly from its socket. The sound of tendons and muscle ripping under the strain was sickening. Dartanian maintained his bearing; the Orc would surely be trampled under hoof as the wedge swept through the camp.

The Orc camp seemed to be largely deserted; the charred remains of cook fires and hastily placed tents dotted the landscape sporadically. Dartanian raised his lance and called the men to slow and halt the advance. The group of Orcs they had encountered had likely been left behind to guard against any Elvish scouts. Several hundred meters away Dartanian noticed another group of Orcs in retreat. They seemed to be headed for the stronghold’s main gate. “Lieutenant!” he yelled to a nearby officer. “Organize your company in pursuit of that group of Orcs,” he gestured with his lance. “Do not overextend yourselves. If you come within sight of the walls, return at once.” The Lieutenant saluted and wheeled his horse around immediately.

“Find that entrance!” Dartanian shouted above the din of sporadic battle. The first wave of men were mopping up any stragglers and clearing through the few remaining tents. “Sergeant, find Captain Varion and inform him that we have met no resistance. Tell him to locate the sewer entrance and begin his mission at once.”

As the second wave of men advanced to Dartanian’s position, he ordered another company to form into scouting parties and probe off to the left, skirting any major engagements and avoiding the stronghold’s walls. The group quickly formed up and headed out into the dense fog.

“Here it is!” someone shouted from off to the right. Dartanian wheeled his mount around and headed in the direction of the voice. Amidst a large pile of debris Captain Varion and his men were gathered around a soldier straining over what appeared to be a gravestone. The stench of the place hit Dartanian abruptly as he approached. Besides several dead Orcs laying strewn about haphazardly, it was evident that this area had been used for disposing of waste and digging latrines. The Orcs had probably mistaken the secret entrance for a memorial to a famous fallen Elf, and had felt it appropriate to deposit their filth on the man’s grave.

Dartanian dismounted, driving his lance into the dirt, and approached the soldier. “Get that damn thing open,” he barked, signaling two more soldiers to dismount and help. They did, and in a matter of moments the large metal and stone marker was removed, revealing a dark and dank tunnel below. All of a sudden, from a pile of garbage and tattered clothing, a rather large Orc rose and screamed a battle cry. Dartanian raised his shield to defend himself as the Orc brought his weapon to bear. The massive club struck with such force that it nearly brought him to his knees, forcing him to brace the shield with his free hand and preventing him from drawing his weapon. He strained beneath the weight of the blow as the Orc sought to drive him into the ground. Mere moments later the Orc was skewered from all sides as the men around him drew steel in protection of their Count. With a grunt and a thud the Orc fell to his knees, releasing the club. As it collapsed onto the filthy ground, Dartanian drew his own blade. The large Orc strained for breath, panting helplessly until Dartanian thrust into his chest and finished him. Blood burst forth as the blade pierced the Orc’s heart, staining the ground beneath him. For a moment the men stood silent, gazing at the fallen Orc as the reality of what had just happened began to sink in. None of them had ever encountered such ferocious foes as these Orcs. After collecting himself a moment, Dartanian turned to his men. “Well then, let’s do what we came here to do.” As Captain Varion and his men entered the dark tunnel below, Dartanian wiped his blade with a dry rag from his saddlebag.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan followed his finger and looked at the crowd of people. She did see many familiar faces, and as she walked over towards them, cries of “Brell!” rose up to greet her. Mavigan accepted the handshakes, the pats on the shoulder, and the good-natured ribbing with good grace, punching only a couple of the big brutes that squeezed her too tight in their exuberance. Even as she was reestablishing ties to her past, however, her eyes raked the crowd searching for one elusive face.

After many minutes of searching she could only conclude that Jonan was not among the crowd. Even worse, none of the comrades she questioned had any idea as to his whereabouts. She was more than a little disappointed, but decided that once this was all over, she would go bust him out of jail again.

Written by - Ariana

The small group quickly learned that Creda was of the ‘cleanliness is next to godliness’ belief. No sooner had she dried them off, that she decided a simple towel would not do to remove the grime. Their heads spun with the rapidity of her motions, and before they could object (or get a word in edge-wise) Angel, Ariana, and Elerus were all dumped in a tub large enough to resemble a large lake.

Elerus was quick to take advantage of the large size and immediately waded to the far corner of the tub and sulked.

For herself, Ariana didn’t mind the hot water so much, it felt good and helped ease tense muscles, but when Creda began scrubbing her hair with a vengeance usually saved for the accumulated grime of a kitchen hearth, she began to squirm.

“I can do it,” she protested, ducking deeper into the water in an attempt to disentangle Creda’s fingers from her hair.

“Oh,” said Creda surprised. “Um, yes, I suppose you can.” She beamed a smile at Ariana and handed her the soap. “Get to it then. Mind you, I intend to check when you are done,” she added with a twinkle in her eye.

Ariana breathed a sigh of relief, thankful that her roots were being given a break.

Unfortunately, the lack of attention to Ariana meant Creda had two other people upon which to lavish her attentions. She smiled at first Angel, and then Elerus who seemed to be cowering in the corner.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen rose from his seat, finding the constant nattering of Creda particularly annoying. The Elven warrior felt a pang of sympathy for Elerus as he opened the door outside to leave. The freak snowstorm from earlier had died down, the temperature had dropped so rapidly, but the ancient Elf did not know the weather of this new world and more pressing concerns had pushed the matter from his mind. Most of the snow had melted in the following rain, and what was left clung in soggy patches of dirty white to tree roots and rocks. Ardwen began to walk out to the tree line at the edge of the two elderly human’s property.

If Ardwen’s sudden and unannounced departure shocked Creda or Easal they gave no sign of it. Creda had an easy enough time guiding Ariana to the large tub that Easal had prepared with warm water, but one of the two children the dour Elf had brought with him was practically throwing a fit. Creda couldn’t figure out what was wrong, the small winged boy hadn’t seemed to mind taking a bath at first, but when she lead him upstairs and he saw Ariana and Angel in the same room he’d started squirming and ran back downstairs. At first Creda just figured it was the resentment most boys his age would show at being forced to take a bath they did not want, but now she was not so certain.

“Look sweetie.” Creda began, but that only seemed to set the child more at odds, the young boy crossed his arms and shot her a defiant look.

“Elerus.” He said.

“Elerus,” she continued with a sigh, “You can’t go into Westgale like that; your friends are getting cleaned up, don’t you want to also?”

“I barely know them!” Creda watched as Elerus’s eyes opened wide in shock. The young Elf uncrossed his arms and pointed at her. “Look, I don't know why we have to all take a bath just to go to Westgale. Ardwen's not going to sneak us into the city anyhow, he'll--“ Elerus was interrupted as Creda shot out a hand and clasped him by the wrist.

“I know,” Creda broke in with another heavy sigh, “you Elves are different. And in all my years I’ve never seen an Elf with a wing. You age slower than humans, so why can’t you act your age?”

Elerus’s face set in a scowl, and Creda could almost see the same vaguely annoyed expression that Elerus’s older companion always seemed to wear. “I’m not a little child!” He whined.

Creda simply rolled her eyes and said with a condescending smile, “Of course, I’m sure you’re a big boy. Easal, please help me get our little reluctant friend to the tub please.”

Elerus was dragged upstairs to the tub. After some squirming and more hushed protest, Creda set aside his dirty clothes for cleaning, and then picked the young boy up and placed him in the warm water. Utterly embarrassed Elerus sank into the water and leaned against the far side of the metal basin, arms crossed and a dejected look on his face.

Creda, however, did not seem satisfied to let his humiliation end there, and after Ariana’s protest she turned her attention to the winged boy. Elerus knew his hair was unkempt, it was long and he had always kept it so, long hard years away from civilization had left him with the habit of simply letting the locks on his head do as they wished.

Creda seemed determined to brush or pull his hair into some sort of style. With every tug and snag Elerus found his patience stretched further and further. The young Elf closed his eyes and reached out for his blade with his mind, trying to focus and meditate, anything to block out the demeaning misery of his current experience. He found nothing, of course, his mind snapped back to his body with a force that send a small shudder down his spine, which Creda took as a reaction to her pulling on another knot in his hair. She knelt down closer and made soothing noises, but Elerus’s wing dipped in grief, and he started to cry.

Written by - Tempyst

Purgatori heard her new sister pour her heart out with her story, and she felt her heart wrench for her. SHe wrapped Tempyst up in her arms and let her cry...even shedding a few tears with her. Then the sound of a horn filled the air. Tempyst looked up and brought a hand to her face to wipe the tears away. "I must go Purgatori, that is the sound of the army readying to leave and I must help make sure the commander survives this encounter. Stay here with the druids, wait for our grandmother and know I will return as soon as possible." With that Tempyst stood, grabbed her staff, satchel and a horse, then headed through the portal to find Ithramir.

Purgatori looked at Dorve, and signed to her, "Tell me what I can do to help around here." Dorve smiled, took Purgatori by the hand and led her off into the enclave.

Written by - Ariana

“Stop!” The voice was sharp and commanding, and Creda’s hands ceased immediately.

Ariana ducked below the water and quickly rinsed off. Pulling herself from the tub, she grabbed a towel and wrapped it around her middle. Still dripping, she walked around the tub to Creda and held out her hand. “I’ll do it,” she said.

The priestess had not uttered a single word since Creda had welcomed this ragtag group into her house. Creda wondered if perhaps the woman was slow or mentally deficient in some way, and it roused her curiosity. Why would the All-Father give her specific instructions about these people? They were odd, certainly, but did not appear to be anything special.

Obedience was ingrained in both Easal and herself, however, so she did what the Father asked of her without question. If the Father wanted them cleaned up and sent to Westgale, then that is what she would provide.

But now, as the woman stood before her demanding obedience with a quiet voice and the air of one used to being obeyed, Creda found herself cowed. She had not felt such willfulness since her early days as a novice, and she fidgeted nervously much as she had done as a young girl under the disapproving stare of the High Priestess.

“Yes, of course,” she stammered. She clambered to her feet ungracefully and handed the comb to this woman who’s name she still did not know. Creda walked backwards with a bobbing motion around the tub to where Angel rested. Receiving no orders to the contrary, she sank to her knees and began washing and combing the young girl’s hair.

Similarly, the woman sank to her knees behind the boy. She combed his hair slowly and gently, one small section at a time. Silence filled the bathing chamber, even Creda found herself wordless. There were only the sounds of water sloshing, and the gentle swish of skin brushing wood.

It was into that silence they all heard a faint humming coming from the strange woman. She hummed as she worked, her voice surprisingly warm and melodious. Creda did not recognize the tune itself, but it sounded like an ancient hymn.

She continued humming until Elerus’s hair was gleaming and tangle free. Reaching beside her, she picked up a leather tie from the wide assortment of implements Creda had left behind. With a quick and gentle motion, she had tied his hair back into a low tail.

Satisfied, she sat back on her heels and waited.

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