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Book Four Pt 2 - The Eastern Pass

Written by - Ariana Page 24 Book 4

“You…” she whispered with disbelief. Teran had killed her family, but he had also saved her life. Confusion engulfed her, and thoughts and emotions tracked across her fast in swift succession making her entire body tremble.

The clang as his blades hit the floor pulled her from her stupor.

“You!” she said through gritted teeth. Her eyes narrowed and her hands balled into fists as she latched onto the one emotion she understood: anger. She launched herself at him, Beridane forgotten, and sent a fist flying at his jaw. When it connected, her eyes grew wide with disbelief as she felt the impact up her arm, saw his face turn to the side with the blow.

She had hit Teran.

Backing from him, she looked from her fist to his face with astonishment which quickly changed to rage. “Fight me, damnit!” she screamed.

Written by - Wilhelm

Fighting continued to surround the tableau of Teran and Mavigan, with Beridane painfully attempting to use his desk to get to his feet almost unnoticed. The Raven countered a spell from his right with an activated talisman then used a complicated sequence of attacks to deflect his left-hand opponent's weapon enough to run him through. Deflecting another spell, the Raven began to attack the mage's shield spell.

Keeryn had wound up with the mage from the mage & warrior pair at the door and was dodging spells while trying to batter down the shield spell. She discovered that the unbreakable spear could also stop attack spells and began to parry the spells while attacking the same point of the shield over and over.

Wilhelm was engaging in essentially the same tactic, dispelling, countering or simply dodging spells while repeatedly striking the same point in the weakening shield. Not all spells could be dodged, as some consisted of multiple homing magic darts. But as fast as they drew blood the wounds healed over, although the pain and fatigue they caused was evident.

Wilhelm again called Censure down upon his foe, both to weaken the shield and to blind his foe for a moment. He used that time to scan the heartfires in the adjoining rooms and received the grim information that the teams sent to the front entrance had failed to secure it before the Guard Captain could upen the locked door and therefore reinforcements were pouring through to engage the strike teams in an attempt to reach Beridane.

Calling upon the All Father for greater strength, Wilhelm strained his channels to the limit to draw sufficient power. With a great effort he brought his glowing warhammer down upon the cracking shield, shattering it completely and driving the mage to his knees. One further blow crushed his skull.

"The door guard has failed. We must hold the door here.!" he cried.

As Sabattine turned towards the door in time to intercept the first new foe, Wilhelm leapt across the room to shatter the weakened shield of Keeryn's foe, enabling her to skewer him with her spear. The Raven used the distraction to finish off his foe as well and ran to join them. Together the four defenders held the doorway as a crowd of Beridane's royal guard ran up to try to break through.

Written by - Ardwen

The sound of laughter fed on itself, a small chorus of chortles and a panorama of grins that caused Elerus to smile brightly. It was such a pure sound, a sound that seemed to set everything aright, the young elf tried to recall the last time he had heard laughter in mass, but his memory failed him, like a man trying to recall what a single drop of water in a rainstorm looked like. Elerus sat up from the floor as Ariana started to speak, the silver-haired child leaned back on a hand and sat crossed legged, listening to the woman Ardwen admired to the point of adoration.

She was trying. Elerus knew Ariana was trying so hard not to offend, making an excuse for him to stay downstairs - with the other children - when the fighting would be taking place above with Ardwen leading the charge. He had lived for too long, seen too much, not to see through the charade Ariana was presenting him with, but he didn’t care. Elerus found it charming that the Abbess of the Hands was trying to be gentle, trying not to crush his feelings, knowing as she must have that he wanted to join the fight. Elerus’s smile faded, but he forced another one on his face. As he looked up to speak to Ariana though, the sadness in his eyes made a lie of his smile, “Sure,” he said. “I’ll be fine down here, go and help Ardwen, he probably needs a hand more than I do.”

The other children around Elerus watched the odd exchange. Elerus could tell by the looks on some of their faces that they were curious as to why Ariana simply did not tell him to stay downstairs, why was she asking a child as if his opinion mattered? Elerus decided it would be best to distract them, and as Ariana reached the base of the stairs an idea bloomed in his mind. “So, who was it that thought my story was stupid, huh?” Elerus said slyly.

The young boy who had spoken earlier took a step forward and ducked his head. The child scuffed at the floor with a well-worn shoe and said sheepishly, “My name’s Christof, sorry about callin’ your story dumb.”

Elerus nodded and clasped his hands behind him, taking a few strides toward Christof. The young elf leaned forward and hummed thoughtfully as if studying the boy’s features. “You know what I think, Christof?” Elerus said. The human child shook his head no, and Elerus grinned and said, “I think you could never, ever, catch me!” In an instant Elerus had tagged the boy and leapt back. Christof stood still for a few seconds, and then Elerus saw his face light up as he realized he had been duped. To the child’s credit, though, he was swifter on the uptake, and within a few seconds he had passed the unenviable status of “it” to Davin.

Within moments the tight knot of children had spread their game of tag, and the downstairs rang out with laughs and squeals of excitement as each youth struggled to avoid or tag one another. Many of the adults crowded to the sides of the cells and hallway, the sounds of carefree happiness caused many to smile despite their situation, and even the most jaded had to confess inwardly that it had been too long since the sounds of joy reverberated through Westgale.

“Incoming!” Manuel screamed, but he was certain Ardwen was dead. Two mages had stepped out from a narrow alley and had launched dirty orange globes of fire at the elf. The forlorn hope surged forward, intent on sacrificing his flesh for the warrior, but his steps foundered as he lost sight of the Hand. Manuel blinked as he saw Ardwen next to the mages, the bladeweaver’s hand shot forward and latched onto the nearest mages face, a heartbeat later a bladed exploded from the back of the man’s skull, spraying bits of bone and blood all along the front of a nearby building.

Manuel felt his stomach tighten as Ardwen simply rammed his next attack into the chest of the remaining spellweaver. It was a messy kill, and Manuel would have called it unclean had the sword not sheared through the wizard’s armor. Still, the human warrior reflected, it was another kill and one less soldier for them to worry about.

“Thanks for the warning.” Ardwen muttered as he rejoined Manuel in the center of the street. The evacuation of the first wave was almost complete, and while resistance so far had been light, Ardwen couldn’t shake the feeling that what they had faced was simply the advanced wave of a larger force snaking its way through the urban corridors toward the dungeon. “Where is Beridane getting his men from?” Ardwen asked.

Manuel nodded and said, “Well, his elite guard are mostly Ironskaners he’s brought from the north. He’s hired more than a few mercenaries since his overthrow of the rightful king, men of fortune looking to get in good with the new order and all that. Though it pains me to say it, Westgale has had a few nobles and lords side with Beridane, either out of fear and desperation or greed I cannot tell.”

“So we’ve yet to see the best the Iron North can offer?” Ardwen rejoined.

Manuel nodded again and his voice deepened as he said, “Aye, these mages aren’t even using magical shields like the really skilled ones are fond of. I don’t know how you’re making swords fly, but keep an eye open for the ones that can make ‘em bounce off.”

“Noted.” Ardwen said. No sooner had the elf and human warrior finished their exchange than a low throbbing sound caught Ardwen’s attention. The two soldiers looked at one another and exchanged a knowing glance, they were both seasoned in the sounds of war, and they both recognized the dull drumming which assaulted their ears now.

“Feet, marching, lots of them.” Manuel spat out, giving voice to both their fears.

“Get back inside the prison!” Ardwen hissed, waving the human warrior to go first. “By the sound of it they’re still a bit off, but they’re coming in force now, we’ll need to be ready. I want you to head inside and organize a defense with whoever is left.”

Manuel nodded in agreement, but as the two passed through the doorway to the prisoner he stopped and asked, “What will you do?”

Ardwen narrowed his eyes and lowered his chin, as if his gaze alone could stem the coming flood. “I’ll attempt to hold them at the entrance.”

Manuel’s eyes widened and his lips flapped wordlessly for a moment before he sputtered, “That’s suicide! You’re strong but if there’s half as many as I think-“

“We have no time for this!” Ardwen said flatly, yet his tone brooked no argument. Manuel shook his head once more, saluted, and began his trek deeper into the prison toward the armory. The former warrior of the Hands of Providence turned to the doorway and listened to the footfalls of the impending deluge, like rain on bare earth. His thoughts turned to Ariana and Elerus, and Ardwen comforted himself with the thought that, at least for the moment, they were both safe with the refugees below him.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Grunfeld's monotone voice continued to ring thoughout the council chambers: "... and furthermore, there is a request from the Council of Lords for an investigation into these so-called... "demon" rumors in Westgale. While this is surely nonsense, I trust that Section Eight will be able to handle the matter."

Falzrahm quickly jumped to his feet. He had only been paying half attention to what was being discussed - something about the occuption, taxes, and the like - but this little request was more than enough to pique his interest. "Chancellor Grunfeld, demons and demoniacs are the purview of the church. My men are neither equipped nor trained to deal with such a prospect." This was a lie - Falzrahm himself and several of his higher ranked officers were well versed in demonic matters - but the Chancellor didn't need the whole truth on the matter.

Grunfeld, however, called his bluff. "Surely someone in your organization has some experience with the field."

Falzrahm glanced at him coldly. "I'll confer with Adele... Lieutenant Mihost... and see if we can work something out." He sat back down with a scowl on his face.

Grunfeld glanced over his papers one last time the glanced around nervously before pounding the gavel. "That is all for this session. Thank you all for coming. I expect updates on these matters within the week!"

The council chambers quickly emptied into the lobby with various groups breaking off and finding their little illusions of privacy to discuss their thoughts and gossip. Falzrahm did his best to avoid his sister and Admiral Luger as he made for the door - he was in no mood to talk, even to family and friends. He was still perturbed that Grunfeld would try to pawn off something onto Section Eight that clearly was not in their realm of expertise.

The Bureau of Arcane Investigations and Regulations was impressive in name only. They primarily assisted the mages in the Academy with their daily duties, experiments, theories, and various requests. Though the lower ranks had little, if any, magical talent, the upper echelons consisted of powerful magic users from all walks - all of whom had been selected by Falzrahm himself. Though they were little more than "glorified librarians and secretaries", they were one of the more feared organizations since they were outside the normal beurocratic structure. All members of the BAIR answered directly to the captain, who in turn answered only to the Grand Marshal. Though Falzrahm rarely did anything rash enough to warrant the Grand Marshal's attention, he was well aware of the power he had. Indeed, Section Eight had the authority to arrest, detain, and even execute any magic user found guilty of violating the regulations that they set down which had been approved by both of the Houses and the headmaster of the academy.

Still, he was intrigued by these rumors. Having been gone for the past month, he was quite behind on the state of the occupation and the feelings of the populace. Falzrahm set off into the winding streets of the capitol, unsure of where to go. He turned a corner heading towards the BAIR's offices at the Academy only to be ambushed by Tyndell.

"You could've been a bit more polite, you know. The council chambers aren't the place to bring your grudges."

He cursed at her in dwarvish. "You sound like our mother. You know as well as I do the council chambers are nothing but grudges and petty little pissing contests.

Seeing she wasn't going to get anywhere, Tyndell decided to change subjects. "Are you really going to look into those rumors?"

"Of course not. I'm not going to waste good men and women chasing down a rumor. If he really wants something done about it, let him go to the Chaplains. Unless it's rampaging though the streets, I'm not lifting a gods-damned finger."

Tyndell sighed to herself and settled into the uncomfortable silence as she followed her little brother.

Written by - Ariana

The sound of laughter as she climbed the stairs lifted her spirits. It had been so long since she had heard the sound of joy, that she paused halfway up the stairs and closed her eyes, treasuring the moment. Ariana knew full well what she was walking into, and if the flashbacks were any indication, she also knew that she would be fighting herself nearly as much as the enemy.

And that just wouldn’t do.

Eyes still closed, she locked the brief moment of joy and anything else she valued deep inside her soul, protected from whatever evils lay ahead. Dissociating herself from everything else, she was acutely aware of the fragmentation of her own soul. Examining each fragment with a detached eye, she selected the one most likely to be useful and anchored herself to it, her own sense of self being buried beneath a wave of holy energy.

When she opened her eyes, they had dulled from their vibrant blue to almost gray.

As she reached the upstairs landing, she overheard Ardwen talking to Manuel, and could feel the slight tremors on the ground. She did not waste any time on conversation; instead, she immediately launched into prayers of protection. Soon, Ardwen, Manuel, and the rest of the defenders were bathed in a nimbus of light.

Written by - Ardwen

Thunder boomed inside the entryway to the prison. At first Ardwen thought a storm was moving in, the sun had hide itself behind a bank of clouds, and the rest of the sky was a window with wispy drapes drawn shut. Then the elven warrior smelled the cloying tang of charred stone, and saw puffs of black whip around the doorway. They were launching spells at the dungeon now, intent to trap or bury those who had dared defy Beridane inside. Ardwen scowled as he realized he wouldn’t be able to sit inside the doorway and use the narrow entrance as a bottleneck, the elf quickly schooled his features though, aware of the other eyes upon him, aware that they were looking to him for guidance.

Then he saw Ariana. Ardwen wanted to scream at her in frustration, wanted to grab her and drag her downstairs where she was assured some safety. Why his Abbess insisted on placing herself on the frontline, in putting herself in danger, when she was so important was beyond him. Ardwen did nothing of the sort though, starting a fight amongst his own ranks would be immeasurably stupid, and even if the bladeweaver had been willing to argue with Ariana there was simply no more time. Another flash of light, and a second peel of thunder rang through the small room, several of the men inside clasped their ears. Ardwen flexed the muscles in his hands and closed his eyes to focus.

The former Hand of Providence stepped outside. At first, amazingly, he was greeted with dead silence. In that fleeting instance Ardwen took in the full measure of the force arrayed against them. Men lined the streets to both sides, with a column of soldiers walking up the center, the rooftops were again lined with archers and mages, it seemed as if all the strength of the Usurper’s Westgale had arrived to kill them, and Ardwen wasn’t certain that thought was far from the truth. It was the rope that broke the spell of stillness, coils of dark cord that unfurled with a hiss behind the warrior. Ardwen twisted and looked up, he saw men climbing down from the two guard towers on either side of the prison, repelling down the side with short hops against the stone.

Ardwen moved, and the spot where he had stood was annihilated as arrows and the arcane tore the ground apart. The mages were learning, and the warrior saw only a few balls of fire in the mixture of mana-fueled death. One of the elf’s blades found purchase in the stone above him, and Ardwen was there. He did not bother to combat the warrior on the end of the rope, he simply cut the cord that tethered him and was rewarded as the man fell screaming to the ground, the last sound he made was a bone-shattering crunch as he hit the earth. Ardwen was already moving before he hit the ground, tossing another one of his blades to the opposite tower, flickering for a brief instant, a blur of pale blue and silver as he moved to it. The elven warrior retrieved the blade from the tower with one mighty pull, and was in a freefall to the two warriors below him. Another cut rope sent one sprawling to his death, and a quick reposition of the sword impaled the remaining soldier through the chest.

The former Avari heard one of the men below bellow out, “Target the blades; he’s using them to move around!” Ardwen knew his trick was about to become much more difficult, if the humans had learned he could only appear where one of the blades was, then they could effectively rule out where his next attack would come from. Combined with their sheer weight of numbers, this meant that all they had to do was wait for Ardwen to slip and appear next to a weapon with enough firepower heading toward it to rip him to pieces. As soon as the elven bladeweaver touched ground, he rolled to escape the arcs of lightning aimed at him, the air reeked of ozone and his hair stood on end for a second as the energy tried to find purchase in his flesh.

Ardwen did not care. He had made it to the ground, and he used the momentum from his roll to spring to his feet and run into one of the houses on the left side of the street that had been commandeered by the enemy. The spells stopped, as the Hand’s warrior knew they would, Beridane’s troops could not risk throwing that much force against one of the buildings without risking its collapse and killing their own men. For a few tense moments nothing happened. The men on top of the roof positioned themselves around the opening leading down into the house, but Ardwen did not obligingly rush up. Two of the soldiers looked at each other, their armor groaned as they shrugged in confusion. Then the roof collapsed.

Ardwen had the black bow he had earlier used against Visan in his hands, he dispelled it and looked at the opening he had created, he used the blades to shoot into the air, spells rang out, and Ardwen leapt from sword to sword. He noticed the number of incantations had lessened, the mages either too frustrated or tired to continue their earlier barrage. Abandoning the strategy of flickering from sword to sword, the elf dropped to the roof below and butchered the men on top of it. In melee combat they were simply no match for the venerable twilight elf, caught with bows and crossbows in hand, their only recourse was to hope for a swift death.

From rooftop to rooftop the ancient warrior moved, using the bodies of Beridane’s own men as a shield, using the stairwells as the bottlenecks he had wished for earlier. There were still plenty of the Traitor King’s soldiers left, but the losses they were sustaining fighting a single warrior were horrific. Before the mission they had been told this was to be a simple mop-up operation against some downtrodden revolutionaries that clung to the dead hope of the All-Father. Now, they realized with dawning horror that what they faced was beyond human, a monster that ended life as easily as they might snuff a candle.

“Sivus.” The commander of the force called to his second as he watched the elf cut down another group of archers on top of the roof.

“Milord?” Sivus said with a slight bow.

“Order our troops to withdraw, I’ll not waste my men like this. If Beridane wants to make an impression on the citizens of Westgale then the only one they’ll get from this is that his army can be bested by a handful of the enemy. I imagine that is not the message he wants delivered.” Sivus’s commander said.

“No, lord.” Sivus said carefully. “But Beridane will not be pleased if we withdraw from his prize—“

The human commander raised his hand to silence his adjutant. “I’ve prepared for this. Get a message to Yasim, he knows what to do.” Sivus nodded and prepared to dash, but his lord stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. “Tell him too, that we appreciate his sacrifice.”

They were routing. Ardwen recognized the sound of retreat: bugles rang out, and captains bellowed at their men to maintain order as they ran for their lives. The elven warrior spared none who were slow, showing no mercy to the wounded or the dying alike. As the soldiers ran from the alleyways and buildings, Ardwen did not pursue them. He had been fortunate that they were fleeing. As the elf came down from the adrenaline and rush of combat he could feel weariness settle over him. Muscles ached, his concentration blurred, and the minor wounds he had sustained burned with renewed vigor. As Ardwen scanned the grounds to make sure there were no survivors, he saw a single mage tarrying near an ally entrance, obviously separated from his unit.

The man fell to the ground and backpedaled as he saw Ardwen walk toward him. The elf did not pause, did not listen to his pleas for mercy or compassion; Ardwen pulled a longsword from the air and slid it into the man’s guts. The human gurgled and coughed blood, falling onto his back, legs and arms splayed as the life drained from him. Ardwen turned to leave, but froze as he heard the man’s dying words.

“Thank you, elf. That is all I need from you.”

The former Hand of Providence spun around just in time to see the human erupt in a fountain of volatile energy, pinks and bruised purples swirled through the air, voices screamed out from the ether, and Ardwen was thrown from his feet. The elven swordsman tumbled along the ground before rising to a crouch, as he looked up he saw a sight which stilled his heart. Where the human had died stood a demon, red skinned with black splotches that wept puss like open sores. The best stood from its crouch, stood to fully twice Ardwen’s height.

The beast let out a deep, throaty laugh. Ardwen could smell its vile breath even from a distant, a stomach-churning concoction of rotting meat and sulfur. Its eyes burned like tiny suns, and its skin seemed to glow with a pallid, inner light. “Thank you, indeed.” The demon said with another mocking chuckle. “I must admit, I was not certain there would be enough death to call me to this world, but these humans are clever . . . and desperate.”

Ardwen lowered his face in a scowl and spat out, “What do you mean?”

The demon merely smiled this time, sharp yellowed teeth gleaming against its wet flesh. “You left survivors from your first attack, little elf. They carried word of a single man who had wiped out a garrison. Trying to steal my sacrifices, were you?” The creature roared out the last part in rage, like a trumpet blast it echoed from the surrounding buildings and Ardwen’s ears rang.

“They used the men you killed as the blood price, elf.” The monster continued, “And now I may feast on my prize, starting with your soul.”

Twin chains extruded themselves from the beast's wrists, and the demon twirled and flung them at Ardwen. The elf called his blades to block them, but they wrapped around the swords, and each one the demonic weapons touched shattered in a mournful shower of sparks and tears of mana. Ardwen fell to his knees, trying to suck in breaths of air and overcome the crushing nausea that seemed to roll from the hell spawned monstrosity. He didn’t have the strength left to trace new weapons, so the former Avari held onto one of his blades, the great nodachi he had used against Visan earlier, and used the rest to turn what attacks they could.

Within moments the demon had disposed of his defenses, but Ardwen kept dancing between the chains, trying to get in close. The beast’s great height and weapons gave it the advantage of reach, and every time Ardwen started to close it simply moved backwards. The elf knew he couldn’t keep his advance up, he had to take a gamble. He waited for the demon to take a step back, and then relying on the monster’s backwards momentum to sap the strength from its own attacks Ardwen rushed in an all-out run.

It was a horrendous error. The demon roared in triumph, and one of its chains hit Ardwen in the foot. The elven warrior smiled coldly, the demon’s backwards motion had robbed the blow of any stopping power. Ariana’s swordsman’s smile quickly faded as he felt the chain loop and tighten on its own. The next thing Ardwen knew he was in the air, an impossibly strong pull lifting him off the ground and flinging him about like an angry child with a doll. The demon slammed his prey into the ground, and whipped the chain around, dragging great clouds of dust as he raked Ardwen over the road. Another turn had the elf in the air again, and with a grunt of effort he flung the blade-tracing elf at a wall.

Ardwen fought, an incredible twist in midair had him land against the wall of the building with his feet splayed beneath him, as if the wall were a floor he was crouched low against. The elf raised his head and looked at the demon. Time seemed to slow, Ardwen could see the chains looping in the air again for another attack, like waves on a metal ocean. Then the elf’s senses sped up again, one of the ripples traveled blindingly fast down the chain and pulled him from the wall, slamming him into the ground. Ardwen cried out in pain, and with an almost detached sense of realization he saw the pool of blood that had formed beneath him, it seeped outward in a widening puddle. It was his blood, bright red against the dull browns of the street.

The demon’s chains uncoiled from its crumpled foe. The beast smiled again and let out a contented puff of air from its mouth, fire licked at the air like a tongue. “Amazing.” It said mockingly. “But you overestimate yourself, mortal. All I had to do is wait for you to tire yourself fighting these humans, and move in for the kill. Apologies, but as these fleshwalkers say, all is fair in war.” The demon started walking forward, leaving blackened holes in the road rimmed with fire, a blade composed of hellfire hissed to life in its right hand, the writhing flame bespoke his intentions.

Written by - Ariana

She was out the door shortly after Ardwen, the defenders following in her wake. Divine magic rose to counter the arcane, and her trusted mace swung at the foes with a lethality honed through years of practice.

Ariana herself, however, was someplace else entirely.

It was rather like watching yourself in a play, she mused idly, reality turned into dreams. She watched with detached disinterest as the arm that was and was not her own lifted her mace and brought it crashing down on some poor sod’s skull. She didn’t even flinch as his head cracked open like an egg and blood and brain matter exited the wound with high velocity. The Ariana she was watching didn’t even take time to wipe the gore from her cheek before censuring the next enemy in line.

When this other Ariana turned to face her next foe, she felt a light tap on her shoulder.

“Hmm?”

The tapping turned from a slight gesture to an imperative poke.

“What?” she demanded, turning. She cocked her head at the person standing before her, her eyes wrinkled in confusion. It took a moment before recognition took hold. “F-Father?”

“Yes, child. It is me.”

The statement was a weighted one. This time, He had donned the guise of her biological father – tall and broad shouldered, tanned skin and blond hair. The only difference was the eyes, which burned with blue fire.

“What brings you here?” she asked, her attention diverted. “Did you come to watch the play?”

He chuckled and clasped her tightly to him in an embrace. “No child, I have come to play your part.”

She pulled away from him slightly and gazed into his face. “My part?”

“Yes, if you will let me.” He cradled her face in his hands and waited until blue eyes met burning ones. “Ariana,” He said softly, “are you listening?”

“Yes,” she affirmed without hesitation.

“Good,” He said. “Hold on to me.”

A sudden rush of warm liquid light flooded into her, starting at the top of her head and flowing all the way down to her toes. Her arms went round Him of their own accord and she clung to Him as if He were an anchor in the storm.

The sensation passed quickly, and once she reopened her eyes, she found herself sitting in a grassy field populated with fragrant wildflowers. The ground beneath her was spongy and quite comfortable, which was surprising, but the most impressive aspect of the place sat directly in front of her.

A large stage rose from the field and upon it were arranged the players. Her vantage point afforded her a clear line of sight of the action, and her eager eyes took stock. There was Ardwen, easily recognizable by his black clothing, and he seemed to be fighting some sort of demon, played by some actor wearing a truly hideous mask.

As she watched, the demon hurled Ardwen into a nearby wall, and then slammed him hard onto the stage. The fake Ardwen moaned in pretend agony, as a stagehand ran quickly onto stage, handed the demon a large wooden sword, and then ran off again.

“Oh,” she said to the person sitting next to her, “this doesn’t look good, does it?”

When she did not receive a response, she glanced to her right. There was someone there, but he was fuzzy and out of focus. The only distinguishing thing she noticed was some frazzled red hair.

Giving her companion no further thought, she turned attention to the stage once again. Now there were two Arianas – the one she had seen before, and her Father dressed in an ill-fitting wig that made her giggle. Father in his Ariana costume took over while the other Ariana walked to the side of the stage and sat down, content to let Him do this part.

The Father let loose with a powerful bolt of energy, which slammed into the demon with such force it knocked the creature off its feet.

“You cannot have this one,” boomed the voice of her Father. “He belongs to me!”

Both Arianas cheered!

“You give him what for!” cried the one on the stage.

“Make him pay for hurting Ardwen!” shouted the one in the audience.

The Father charged the demon, mace raised in defiance. From her place in the audience, she thought it was interesting that each rune and sigil embedded into her mace was now glowing.

Entranced, she watched as the Father and the demon engaged in battle. There was never any doubt who would win, but she had to give credit to the actors – they were doing their best to make it a good show. Father even let the pitiful demon get in a hit or two, but it wasn’t long before He engulfed the demon in a blaze of holy energy that could be seen for miles. When it finally faded, all that was left of the demon was a pile of ash.

The two Arianas stood up and began to clap and holler! It had been a wonderful performance.

Father came to the edge of the stage and put up a hand to halt the applause. “Thank you,” He said modestly, “but the story is not over yet. We still need an ending.”

Other actors joined him at the edge of the stage, all except the person playing the role of Ardwen, who was still lying motionless. Even the other Ariana stood with them. All eyes focused on the Ariana in the audience.

“Ending?” she asked a little uneasily.

“Yes,” He said. “Which do you think Ardwen would prefer? To be healed by me? Or by Ariana?”

There was something else lurking in the question. She could feel it flit from shadow to shadow, wanting to remain hidden.

But she knew the answer. “Undoubtedly, he would prefer to be healed by Ariana.”

All the other actors faded from the stage until only the Father and the other Ariana remained. Both were nodding in agreement.

“Yes,” the Father said, “you are probably correct. Why don’t you come up here and help us?”

The other Ariana extended her hand invitingly.

She shifted nervously, but replied, “Alright.”

Her steps forward were tentative and unsure. When she reached the stage, the other Ariana stood to face her, hand still extended.

He came up to them, an arm encircling each. “You are Ariana Trueblood,” He said in soft warm tone. “What was once whole, shall be whole again. Take her hand.”

Two pairs of eyes turned to her expectantly. Taking a deep breath, she reached forward and grabbed hold.

She felt again the rush of divine energy, only this time it did not abate. She closed her eyes against the sensation, conscious of the Father’s arms encircling her as they did before.

When she finally opened her eyes, she was standing in a blood-soaked street amid cheers and hollers of joy and exultation. She was not sure where all these people had come from, but they were clearly on their side.

But she did not have time to ask questions. Her mission was not yet completed.

Her eyes, which burned with divine fire echoing the bright glow that surrounded her, scanned the street. She quickly picked out Elerus, his white wing serving as a beacon. Her feet hurried towards him. As she approached, she could see that Elerus was crouched beside Ardwen, who laid upon the stones appalling still.

When she reached them, Elerus turned tear-reddened eyes up at her. “He’s hurt.”

“Oh Ardwen.” The words escaped her in a sad whisper.

She knelt down beside him, his blood quickly soaking into the fabric covering her knees. Leaning over, she gently planted her lips on his. Once the contact was made, she poured all that holy energy into him as fast as it would flow. Her vision blurred, shifting from the macro to the micro, and she directed the energy, healing each injured cell she found. Wounds, new and old, began to knit closed, scars began to fade, and on his back, something that was missing began to regrow.

When she finished, she sat back on heels, the glow finally fading from her skin. Ariana found herself extremely tired, and it was only through sheer effort of will she kept her eyes open and focused on Ardwen. When she saw his eyelids flutter, she released a breath she did not know she was holding.

Smiling at Elerus, she said, “He’ll be alright now.”

Written by - Ardwen

“Gotcha!” Davin squealed and then immediately leapt back. Elerus stood there dumbfounded, frozen in place. Davin wasn’t surprised at the strange silver-haired boy’s reaction, since the start of the game he had been “it” only once, and that was because the young elf had agreed to it to make up for hovering in the air to avoid being tagged last round. Davin, and the rest of the children, had all agreed unanimously that flying was definitely cheating. Still, the human child found himself warming up to the odd elven boy – he took the decision with grace and volunteered to be it next round. Davin was grateful, he was slower on his feet than his friends, and he felt that he had spent entirely too much time running after the other kids than the other way around.

Davin furrowed his brow and frowned slightly. Elerus still had not moved, he remained as still as the colored glass pictures that Davin saw when going to church. “Hey, El?” Davin said, his voice thick and slow with concern. “You don’t have to be it, we can start another game, right guys?” Davin turned to look at his playmates, who had stopped their running and were gathered in a tight knot around the winged child.

Elerus still did not respond, the little elf sunk to one knee and bowed his head. Full white hair spilled down his head, obscuring his features. Davin heard his new friend whisper a single word, “Ardwen.” The other youths around Elerus crowded in close, asking if he was alright, and those that had heard him inquired as to who or what he meant. Elerus did not answer. Instead, he rose and turned his gaze to the darkened stairwell leading to the upper level of the dungeon.

The winged child started walking toward the exit, weaving his way through the crowd without a word. As his intent became clear, however, two adults stood in front of the exit and informed him that it was dangerous outside, and that the lady who had tended to the wounded would not want him leaving. Elerus looked up at him, and the group of children and adults who had followed hesitantly behind him likewise froze in their tracks. “Stay or go as it pleases you.” Elerus said. “I go to him.”

The two grown men standing by the door looked at each other, one scratched the back of his head and the other chewed the inside of his mouth. They both stopped and stood still as they heard the sound of an armored figure making its way down the stairs. The entire room backed away from the stairwell then, but Elerus seized the opportunity to dash past and run up the stairs, ignoring the outstretched hands and cries of protest from below. On his way up the stairs Elerus saw that it was a human warrior who paid no heed to him, the young elf did not recognize the man.

Manuel reached the bottom of the stairs, his feet dragging on the stone with every step. Sweat covered his body, and his left sleeve was torn to shreds by a close blow that missed the flesh beneath by a hairsbreadth. As soon as the fornlorn hope reached the last landing the room erupted in a cacophony of noise and action – people pushed against each other to see the warrior, several reached forward to offer their hands in support or to slap him congratulatory on the back for simply living. Manuel just shook his head slowly, sadly. The room fell silent. “It’s safe now,” He said. “Come upstairs, there’s both a miracle and dark news.” Without another word the human warrior turned around and began his trek back up the stairs, this time accompanied by a host of Westgalers.

Elerus saw Ariana first, or at least he thought it was Ariana. The Lady of the Hands was cloaked in such a nimbus of holy light that it pained Elerus just to look upon her. The aura around her seemed familiar though, and a distant memory stirred itself from the dim darkness of the elf’s past, a time when the All-Father walked amongst his mortal progeny. With a start, Elerus realized that was the same feeling he received when he looked at Ariana now, it was as if the All-Father or one of his Archons stood incarnate in front of him. The winged boy resisted the urge to kneel or stare, fought the desire to simply run forward and bask in the presence of the Creator and the woman who had cared for him so much all in one.

No, for even as Elerus averted his eyes from the glory of faith, he saw Ardwen. His friend was broken: red, angry lines crossed his body; one side of him was coated in blood as if he had been raked across a bed of gravel. What unmarked flesh the little boy could see was stained gross shades of purple and blue, bruises that were already starting to swell. Elerus ran forward and knelt next to his old companion, heedless of the wet earth stained with blood beneath him. The little elf spoke with words quickened by his rapid intake of breath, “Remember? We said we go together, no matter what. Please, say something! Don’t you remember? That night in Kierhaven, we watched the stars wheel overhead . . . we faced death then, and we promised to face it together. Get up, please, get up . . . .” Elerus’s voice trailed off into sobs, he could think of nothing else to do but look up at Ariana, who looked through tear-rimmed eyes like a nimbus of light. “He’s hurt.” He said, each syllable broken by a sob.

This was not the torpor laced with visions or dreams that Ardwen had experienced before. All that the elven warrior could recall was the last crippling attack of his opponent, and the disjointed thought that he was back in the War of the Scourge for he saw the All-Father take the field before blackness took him. No, there was nothing after that. The next thing Ardwen felt was something brush against his lips, he did not know who or what, but his blood-starved mind and mist-shrouded wit made him want to call the name Shion. But no, she was dead, though Ardwen felt a brief sense of warmth that it was time that took her, and she had died with a smile on her lips.

Then the elf was plunged into a river of ice. It was one of the most jarring, disconcerting awakenings that he had ever experienced. The energy coursing through him sapped his breath and nailed his limbs to the earth, unable to move, barely able to draw breath. The elf’s eyes shot open and he sucked in a lungful of air, he thought he was drowning for a moment and his eyes rolled wildly about like a sinking man searching desperately for the shore. The first thing Ardwen saw was Ariana. His Abbess was sitting on her heels next to him. Ardwen’s mind rapidly struggled to fit together what had happened, he had fought a demon, lost, and now Ariana was gazing at him almost expectantly.

Ardwen rose to a crouch. He felt odd, like his limbs were made of lead, and he could not seem to catch his breath. Slowly, the elf rose to his feet, and then a wave of searing pain hit him. Ardwen dropped back to a stoop, but the pain did not cease. The elf slammed his eyes shut and tried to block out the growing throbbing that seemed centered behind his left shoulder blade, but could not. What could—

Ardwen’s thoughts stopped and a cold certain so sharp settled over him that his whole frame shuddered. The warrior looked to his right and saw Elerus, he said nothing, but his eyes spoke a simple message to the child with a white wing, “How could you betray me?”

“A-Ardwen,” Elerus choked out, his sentence choppy from a hiccup he’d developed from his earlier weeping. “Wait! No, she knows we—“

The ancient twilight elf rose to his feet, this time smoothly. “We . . .” He began without preamble. “Are . . . monsters.” Ardwen’s left hand rose to the center his face, the fingers gently clasped. The warrior’s left arm swept out to its full length. At first it might have been a shadow cast by his outstretched arm, but as the black wing fully extended there was no mistaking the avian feature. Sable feathers floated in the air, and Ardwen relaxed the newly repaired appendage, allowing the wing to rest near his body. The black of the wing stood in stark contrast to the white of Elerus’s, but it was more than color. Ardwen’s wing seemed to have an extra joint near where it emerged from his back, and whereas Elerus’s single wing was on the right, Ardwen had but one on his left. They were in all respects opposites.

The venerable twilight elf said nothing after his proclamation about their nature as beasts. Ardwen threw one final furtive look at Ariana, his eyes tinted with sadness and resignation, and then he rose into the air. Black feathers trailed through the sky where the elf ascended, for a brief moment the warrior’s form was silhouetted against the midmorning sky; the following instant he was gone, lost amongst the glare of the sun and the clouds above.

Written by - Ariana

Silence descended as Elerus and Ariana both watched Ardwen fly off into the morning sky. They watched until Ardwen faded from sight.

Ariana sighed deeply and glanced at Elerus. He fidgeted restlessly, as if unsure whether he should stay or go, casting glances between herself and the sky.

“It’s alright, Elerus,” she said softly. “I knew he would be angry.” She cast one last longing glance at the sky before looking again at Elerus. “I would not be surprised if he never wished to see me again. But no one should be anything less than whole.”

There was deeper meaning hidden in the soft statement, but she gave Elerus no time to consider it. She rose tiredly to her feet, lurching unsteadily. Taking a moment to adjust her balance, she walked close to Elerus and leaned down. Planting her lips on his forehead, she gave him a chaste kiss that was similar to that a mother would give a fretting child.

Straightening, she said, “Go on.” She indicated a general direction with a slight jerk of her head. “He needs you.”

When Elerus seemed to hesitate, she gestured expansively to the street now filled with people. Some were rejoicing at being reunited with family members, others were grieving over the fallen, some were relating the story of the battle and the miracles that had occurred, and a few were on bent knee, their eyes firmly fastened on Ariana. “I will be fine,” she assured him. “I am far from alone.”

Written by - Ardwen

Elerus’s face burned with hot shame. What had he done? Uncertain thoughts rippled with torn edges through the young elf’s mind, but it was Ardwen’s accusing gaze that settled the matter for him. Whether or not his earlier story had betrayed their origin to Ariana, Ardwen believed that he was responsible. So long as his friend held that belief, he would doubtless continue to hide and avoid them. Elerus clenched his fists together, but for some reason he was not able to summon anger at Ardwen, he tried to think of what to do, but the urge to hide, to seek seclusion himself was stronger.

The little elf abandoned the attempt; he had some idea of what was happening. His emotions and thoughts were through the lens of a child’s body and senses, and it was affecting him. Elerus couldn’t help but wonder just how much though. As the Abbess of the Hands knelt and kissed him on the top of his head, Elerus realized he didn’t care. He had been content to stay near Ariana, she was as remarkable a person as she was compassionate, and around her the winged child found all his concerns about perception and identity melt away. He could be who or what he was now, and that was fine.

As Ariana stood and encouraged him to go after Ardwen once more, Elerus finally came to a decision. The little elf threw his arms around Ariana, he was painfully aware how small he was even in comparison to the lady, and his embrace did not reach around her or that high. Elerus felt Ariana’s hands on his shoulders, and she gently pried the child away. Elerus looked up in confusion before seeing her kneel down to return his gesture. They held the embrace for a few moments before the Lady of Ancora said with a slight sigh, “You’re going to get blood all over your clothes at this rate.”

Elerus simply smiled at her concern and whispered in return, “I’ll return, whatever happens. I promise I will; I’ll bring Ardwen with me too!” Elerus released his hold first, and moved away, he took one last look at Ariana before smiling sheepishly, he still did not want to leave, but he had something he could do for her now. Returning their wayward friend was, after all, the least he could do to repay her care and kindness. The young elf slowly rose from the ground, his single wing flapping in time, before a small voice stopped his assent. Elerus looked around for the source before turning his eyes downward. He saw one of the children he had played with earlier looking up at him, the winged child recalled the name of Torean, one of the boys who had argued with Davin about his story earlier.

The boy shifted his feet uncertainly and shouted up, “You’re coming back, aren’t you El?”

Elerus couldn’t help but let a smile touch his lips and he yelled back, “Of course! I tagged you last too, remember?”

That removed the shyness from the child swiftly. The boy’s back straightened and he crossed his arms, “Did not! Davin got you last!”

Elerus simply shrugged, in an instant he dove toward Torean, the tip of his left foot grazed the ground and with all the grace of a bird in flight he brushed the ends of his fingers against the boy’s shoulder while saying, “You’re it.” Before Torean had a chance to react Elerus was already well out of his reach and circling higher in the air. For a few moments he could hear the child’s yells of protest, intermixed with the other children’s laughter and teasing. Soon Elerus was beyond the noises of the city, high above where the air was swift and cold, it sent a chill through his body, for he loved the sharp taste of the crisp vespers as he breathed deeply. The white-haired boy took one final look at the city below, the people appearing as nothing more than indistinct masses of dots and shadows. With a final wave in spite of the fact that he was almost certain none could see him, he disappeared into a cloud bank to the west.

Written by - Teran

Sabbatine hissed to herself as she watched the confrontation between Mavigan and Teran. Her muscles tensed and she prepared to defend her friend but very suddenly felt as if that would not be wise. She recognized Huxel's warnings though they usually came verbally (within her thoughts). Huxel herself was silent which is allowed her to hear the noise coming from the passage behind.

Sabbatine became aware that her weapons were not in her hands and she drew them awkwardly as the first of the guards appeared in the door. She felt a great sense of approval in her thoughts, one of Huxel's rare rewards, as she moved forward, unable to keep a wide grin from splitting her face.

She was on her enemies with a sudden burst of speed and strength, cleaving recklessly with her blades, slaughtering the first two guards before they even realized she was on them. Blood had splashed across half of her face giving her a demonic look to match her demonic fury. The guards feared her but they were professional soldiers and undoubtedly knew that even terrifying monsters could be slain and pressed forward cautiously, raising their shield to deflect her blows and lashing out to wound her from relative safety.

There was little Sabbatine could do, she simply was not large enough to knock them aside in the narrow passage, nor strong enough to cleave through their shields so she made little progress... but she had halted the advance, buying the others time.

****

Teran watched Mavigan with his calm, grey eyes. He had expected the blow and knew he deserved more, but the laws of a given kingdom were not his concern. His priority was Mavigan and ensuring that she remained focused on the things that truly matter. There would be time to grieve later, time to punish Teran later, right now she had come to this place to accomplish a specific task and had allowed herself to become distracted from accomplishing that task.

The assassin narrowed his eyes and his frown deepened slightly. His hand met Mavigan's face in a blur of movement. The sound from the slap was loud enough to be heard over the sounds of battle, though he had not struck her very hard... just hard enough to make sure she was listening to him through the turmoil he knew she felt.

“Have you learned nothing from me?” he hissed angrily “If a man kills another, do you blame the weapon he wielded?”

Raw fury burned in Teran's eyes for the briefest moment before he clamped down and forced it to subside.

“I will face whatever punishment you desire, but know I am merely the weapon that was used.” he said solemnly.

He spoke truthfully, though he doubted Mavigan would believe his words about allowing her to punish him. His heart felt as if it had shattered. He knew the feeling vaguely, having felt it twice before at defining moments in his life but he was committed to completing Mavigan's education, committed to setting her on the right path even if it cost him dearly.

Written by - Wilhelm

Sabbatine reached the doorway first and intercepted the first guards. Keeryn reached it next, after finishing off the mage she had been fighting, and speared Sabatine's left-hand foe from the side, then blocked another attacker in front of her with her spear.

Wilhelm arrived then and moved to stand by Sabbatine, blocking one attack aimed at her with his shield and then knocking aside the shield of the right-most foe with his warhammer.

Keeryn ducked a magic bolt cast by a mage in the second rank. She readied her spear for a long thrust, but then spun it to block a different attack when a thrown dagger imbedded itself in the mage's left eye. Lord Raven had arrived to stand between Keeryn and Wilhelm. Drawing Mavigan's dagger as a replacement, he began a deadly dance with the foe in front of him.

A second mage ran up, but before he could cast his spell a pillar of flaming Holy Censure cast by Wilhelm dropped him to the ground. Noting Sabbatine's speed, Wilhelm began to offer openings to her by knocking aside shields or deflecting weapons of the foes in from of them. More foes ran up, only to meet the impenetrable defense of the four at the door. A mound of bodies began to form a wall in front of them.

Wilhelm's battle chants wreathed the four in glowing light, causing their speed to increase and their wounds to heal. Lord Raven added obscuring shadows and bolts of shadow that struck those further back. The two men fought as one, like the battle brothers they had been in the past and were again for this day.

As Wilhelm drew more deeply upon the Avatar bond and the All Father's presence grew, Wilhelm sensed another Avatar of the All Father, an unfamiliar woman, within the city and engaging in battle. An inner chuckle answered his surprise and the All Father's presence grew.

Wilhelm felt a familiar feeling, as if he were a puppet played by the All Father and then as if he sat at a distance watching his puppet perform. Wilhelm's actions sped up further to match the speed of Sabbatine as a divine glow grew around him, his eyes glowed brightly, and he seemed to grow in size and power. The two Avatars began to drive the attackers back before them.

Written by - Ariana

The crack as his hand struck her face seemed to echo in the large room. One hand rose to rub her cheek as she turned narrowed eyes back to Teran. Mavigan said nothing for several seconds, each measure of time seeming to last longer than it should as she weighed each of his words for truth.

Finally, she removed her hand from her cheek only to ball it up into a tight fist. “Bullshit,” she yelled. “Unlike steel, you had a choice.” She moved forward suddenly, her dagger gleaming wickedly as it arced through the air and embedded itself in the wall next to his head. A few strands of his dark hair, sheared by her blade, drifted through the air to fall upon the ground.

“You made the wrong choice,” she said, her voice tight with anger and menace.

She pulled the dagger from the wall and jerked herself back from Teran. It was as if his very presence disgusted her and she could not get away fast enough. Very pointedly, she turned her back on him.

“Wilhelm,” she barked savagely, “when you are done playing around with those soldiers, throw this asshole into a dark, dank cell somewhere.”

Mavigan walked stiffly towards where she had left her Uncle clutching his crotch and groaning in pain. He was not there.

She quickly scanned the room. There was a hole in the wall that had definitely not been there before. Without thinking, Mavigan tore across the room and through the passageway. Anyone near her would no doubt hear the sound of gnashing teeth.

Guilt ate at her insides like rats chewing on a fresh corpse, as she gave chase. She hated herself for being weak and stupid and trusting. She hated Teran for choosing to kill her family. She hated her Uncle for ordering it done. She hated Wilhelm for being so damn perfect and always having answers. She hated Ithramir for being right about Teran. And she hated the entire kingdom for being so eager to follow her for no other reason than the circumstances of her birth.

But most of all, she hated the Goddess that could have saved them, but didn’t.

The passageway was a short one; she found herself outside the main palace on the side that fronted the manor house. She was mildly surprised at the fast pace her Uncle must be setting; she had given quite the low blow. But as she quickly scanned the outside, there was no sign of which direction they had gone. She needed a better vantage point.

Without much thought, her feet began running in the direction of the manor house. Reaching it and pushing her way through the front door was the work of a few minutes, and she immediately ran towards the stairs that led to the tower.

She climbed the circular staircase rapidly, taking the stairs three at a time. Once at the top, she burst out the door and greedily sucked in air, giving the area a quick scan. There – running towards the docks as fast as his traitorous legs could carry him, and there – a large ship blatantly flying the flag of the Ironskane.

She smacked the railing hard with her hand. There was simply no way she could reach them in time. Beridane would be on the ship and out to sea before she could reach the docks. Her argument with Teran had bought him precious time to escape, as he had no doubt intended.

Mavigan’s legs suddenly felt rubbery and she sank down onto the floor with a disappointed sigh. She was sure that this was the reason Teran had slapped her; he knew that Beridane was escaping. Bastard. Smug asshole. Traitor. Her head dropped into her hands as she struggled not to cry.

After a minute or two she raised her head and sucked in several deep breaths. Rising to her feet, she despondently made her way back down the tower and towards the front door. It wasn’t until she stood in the foyer that understanding of where she was took hold.

Her head snapped up and hungry eyes took stock. On the right wall was a large coat of arms bearing the symbol of a lit candle. Opposite to it was another coat of arms, equally large, depicting the form of an owl.

The history books indicated that when her family originally settled in this world, this manor house was built first. The structure housed the royal family until enough of the palace had been completed to be considered habitable.

Mavigan had never lived here, but she had fond memories of visiting her Gramps Acaenyd in this house. Her Grandmother had died before Mavigan had been born.

After a swift check to ensure she was alone and Wilhelm was not coming to haul her off, she dried her tears on a ripped sleeve and set to exploring. The furnishings were remarkably free of dust, and the air was free of the stale smell of abandonment and decay though Mavigan knew no one had lived here for many years. Vandals seem to have left the stately house alone as well, and Mavigan’s eyes crinkled with confusion. She had seen the state of the palace no matter how hard she tried not to, and she did not understand why the swine would desecrate one building and leave the other untouched.

Wandering slowly from room to room, eyes wide with wonder, Mavigan revisited artifacts from her family history. A large spear once belonging to the first Mavigan, toys that had once belonged to her father, now well-worn with use, a child’s painting she recognized as one she had painted for her Gramps. She could not stop herself from reverently touching each item, as if physical contact would somehow reconnect her to the family that was now lost to her.

Her roaming carried her to the library, and she took her time gazing at each carefully hung portrait. Mavigan the first, her red hair gleaming like fire; her Gramps in his younger days; Pallanon as a young lad; her entire family painted as a group, all with broad smiles.

When she reached the portrait of Ariana Trueblood, she paused. The painter had put his soul into the work, so much so that Mavigan could almost see a holy light gleaming just beneath the woman’s skin. The feature that captivated her the most, though, was the eyes. They reminded her of the ocean – calm and blue on the surface with hints of a gray undertow beneath.

Mavigan knew the stories; how she had appeared on a world torn by war and hatred and had built a bastion of hope; how she had come to this world created a kingdom. What Mavigan didn’t know, but sorely wished she did, was if her Nana had encountered the same difficulties of leadership. And if she had, how had she resolved the problems?

Mavigan sighed. Leadership seemed to be an eternal tangle, one she could never possibly hope to straighten. And she wasn’t sure she wanted to sort the mess. Mavigan, after all, did not have the ability to bring order from chaos the way her Nana had done. No, Mavigan did not possess any of the remarkable qualities of her forebears – not the battle prowess of her Grandmother, or the strength of her Gramps, not the patience of her father, nor the kind-heartedness of her mother.

She couldn’t even manage to kill a traitor.

Sighing again, Mavigan continued her trek both through the library and her own morose thoughts. When she reached a non-descript door, she stopped. If memory served her right, she knew what lay beyond that door.

Throwing it open with desperation, she misjudged the force needed, and the door banged against the wall to rebound and hit her in the side. Mavigan ignored the annoyance, having eyes only for the set of plain stone stairs leading downward. Her heart pumped faster and her breathing grew rapid. If it still worked, she had a perfect opportunity.

She took the stairs so quickly; she tripped part of the way down. Regaining her feet easily, she turned her eyes on the large humming portal that was the only thing in the room. The surface rippled slightly, appearing no more than a disturbance of air and breath, and then the scene before her changed. Shifting easily from a scene of grassy plains, to one of snowy mountains, to one of black and dead earth, the pictures of other worlds seemed to Mavigan to be a welcome mat.

Here was her chance at a new life and a new start. Her family was dead. There was really nothing left for her here. She had certainly proved herself to be a failure as Queen. The people of Westgale were better off without her anyway. Wilhelm would do a much better job.

Without giving herself any more time to think the decision through, Mavigan stepped through the portal. She did not look back.

Written by - Ariana

Ariana watched the little elf take wing until he too disappeared. Sighing, she turned and scanned the crowd. She wasn’t entirely certain, but it seemed to her that the number of people had grown from just a few minutes previous, and from the few snatches of conversation she could hear, Ariana was the main topic of conversation. It seemed there would be no way of concealing her identity now.

She walked with purpose towards the small group of people who knelt on the blood-soaked ground. As she approached, she realized that they were dressed in robes, tunics and armor emblazoned with the symbol of Pandarion. The robes and tunics were rumpled as if they had been pulled out of a trunk and donned with haste.

Reaching the closest priest, she put her hands on her hips and addressed them en masse. “Let’s get this straight from the beginning,” she said in the sudden hush, “I don’t like people kneeling before me, so get up.”

She saw the priests and crusaders throw surreptitious glances at one another, confusion writ upon their faces. Slowly, and with some reluctance, they started to comply.

“Good,” she said, taking a more relaxed posture. “Now, don’t address me as anything but Ariana. If you can’t bring yourself to call me by my name, then call me Abbess. I don’t want to hear any ‘your holiness’ or ‘your excellence’. Are we clear?”

The followers of Tinorb slowly nodded their assent with a ‘Yes, Abbess’ tossed in for good measure.

“Excellent!” Ariana exclaimed. “I think we will get along swimmingly.” She made shooing motions with her hands. “Now get to work. You know what to do.”

Many of the followers of the All-Father were smiling now, joy and relief shining in their eyes. At her direction, they dispersed into the crowd healing wounds, offering prayers, and some even started singing hymns. The more martially inclined gravitated towards the outside of the crowd, alert for any possible attacks.

Satisfied that one issue was cleared up, Ariana scanned the crowd. Her eyes alighted on the man she had seen Ardwen talking to earlier. The crowd parted before her as she moved towards him and laid a hand on his shoulder.

“Excuse me,” she floundered for a minute for a name, “Manuel. Will you walk with me?” When he looked surprised, she hastened to add, “I have been gone a very long time. I’d like to tour the city, and I’d be grateful for someone to fill me in on what has happened since I’ve been gone.”

Written by - Teran

Sabbatine generally approached a battle with very little strategy but she quickly began to recognize the openings Wilhelm provided and exploited them with brutal stabs or slashes, all the while still trying to claw and climb her way over or through the shield in front of her. The sheer ferocity of the combined attacks was more than the guard could take and he was forces back. Sabbatine was eager to move forward and gave little quarter.

****

Teran didn't flinch as the blade came close to wounding him. He was vaguely aware of Beridane slipping away but did not interfere. Mavigan would not learn if he guided her every step, now she would have to fail and learn from her failure. After she had cried out to Wilhelm and fled the room in chase Teran collected the papers where they had fallen and placed them back on the desk, scanning their content as he did. The evidence against him was there, but not so strong that he couldn't have denied it and called it trickery on Beridane's part. It did not matter in the end, he knew this moment had been coming and embraced it fully understanding the potential consequences.

He leaned back against the desk, watching the battle between the guards and and Mavigan's allies, making no attempt to go anywhere.

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