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Book One - The Elven March to Westgale

Written by - Renalis Page 18 Book 1

This act of deception was not one to Renalis's liking, but he felt it had to be done, he knew something had to be done. Looking around at the other attendants, it appeared that he had gone as an unnoticed addition to their numbers.

"Everything is going well..." He thought to himself.

Looking across the hall, he spotted his wife Crystal, also an unnoticed addition to the small number of attendants present. She was setting a place setting, one of the last, but she made eye contact with her lover for just long enough to send an unsaid message to him. Renalis saw in her eye the same thing he too felt... something was wrong tonight.

Renalis looked up and down the hall, making sure everything was perfect - not for the dinner of course, but making it look so - to find all the entrances and exits.

Another chill run up his spine, "I know something isn't right here, but i cannot place it..." his thoughts trailed off as he noticed a guest enter.

"Ithramir? He is early...no matter, everything must continue..." again Renalis's thoughts trailed off as he continued to look around. Connecting eyesight with Crystal once again, Renalis became distracted. Crystal turns to him and blows him a small kiss but quickly continues on with the final preparations for the meal. Renalis too quickly regains his senses and continues on. Noticing that Ithramir had sat down, Renalis decides to sell his show and walks over to his table carying a bottle of wine and a glass.

"Some wine sir?"

Written by - Ardwen

The ride back to the Elven citadel was relatively uneventful; Ardwen spent the remainder of the ride in a quiet, pensive state. The party rode into the Elven courtyard, Ithramir is the first to dismount and announce his plans for the group to dine in the main hall this night. He first suggests though, that those to attend refresh themselves. Bowing, Ithramir departs for other quarters within the Citadel.

The rest of the group and escort dismount, handing the care of their steeds over to the stablemaster, Ardwen is quick to do likewise. Glancing casually, Ardwen notes that the rest of the group seems more familiar with this routine. Some exchange temporary farewells as they walk off to, presumably, prepare themselves for the upcoming dinning. Ardwen shrugs, his armor making a soft but audible noise as the plates slide from the motion. Walking next to one of the minor exits from the courtyard, Ardwen stands by the doorway, erect and motionless.

A pair of sentries nearby glance at one another, they pull their heads in close, sharing hushed words. Finally, one of them walks over to the warrior. The sentry hails him, "Greetings guest of Ithramir. I would assume that you are eager to refresh yourself before this evenings dine, as was suggested?"

Ardwen continues his stagnant stand, only his head swiveling to respond, "I have been assigned no quarters within the fortress. I am content to stand and guard in return for the kindness which has been proffered unto me so far."

The sentry allows a small smile to grow upon his face before replying, "This is a Citadel of the Elven people. It is well equipped to handle guests warrior. There are spare rooms that you can use as quarters. Complete with a bed no less!" The sentry finishes with a brief laugh.

Ardwen tilts his head and narrows his eyes inquisitively, "Really? It has been long since I've slept in a real bed, sure beats bags of cloth you've tossed together from the remnants of last weeks patrol of humans, carry on then good guard."

The sentry's eyes widen a little before he motions for Ardwen to follow him. In short order Ardwen is assigned a guestroom, which does indeed have a real bed, and is told that he will be informed when the dinning is to commence. Taking a moment to familiarize himself with the room, Ardwen is pleased. It is small but comfortable, with a desk and chair, a few tallow candles and a window give light. And of course there's the bed . . . in fact.

Ardwen throws himself down on the mattress, oh! A simple splendor and delight it is to rest on something that doesn't have other people's blood on or in it. But not a moment sooner than he has lain down, a knock comes from the door. Rolling to his feet off of the mattress, Ardwen addresses the door, "Enter." He states simply.

The door opens and a figure steps into the room, from the looks of him he is another in the employ of the Citadel. Ardwen sweeps a bow, respect to kin first and foremost. The figure returns in kind before speaking, "Greetings, I was told by one of the sentries that you may need some help?"

Ardwen scrunches his face up in confusion, "Help? For what? No, no, I'm fine. Better than fine, the accommodations are superb here."

The Elf who had just entered the room visibly winces and replies, "That . . . was our fear. We thought that perhaps you might want to refresh yourself for the food in the hall tonight? We noted that you carried no spare clothes with you. . ."

Ardwen lets out a reserved laugh, "A fine jest. Spare clothes? What for?"

The other Elf begins wringing his hands slightly, "Certainly you do not intend to wear . . . that to the dinner." He says motioning at Ardwen's garb with a dismissive gesture.

Ardwen straightens with indignation, "And why not? What is wrong with armor to the feast-hall? Are my ways not suitable? Or am I some barbarian to be put on display?"

Ardwen's unexpected guest pads his hands in a mitigating manner, "No, no, of course not. But . . . such garments to a feast are not out of the question. Still warrior, I can see the bloodstains from here!"

Ardwen glanced down at his chestplate, no blood there, his glanced carried down to his leggings, nothing. His grieves and gauntlets were likewise fairly clean. He looked up at the other Elf and raised an eyebrow in question.

In response he motioned Ardwen to a small mirror in the room, having him turn his back to it. He moved aside his cloak, and Ardwen turned his head to glance at the reflection. Most of the backside of the armor had faded crimson stains on it.

Ardwen coughed nervously, "Ah . . . yes. Forgot about that. Must've killed one of them while turning. There's just so many . . ."

In response the other Elf allowed a slight frown to form on his face.

Ardwen let out a resigned sigh, "Very well, bring me some oil and cloth."

The other Elf released the cloak, crossed his arms, and scowled.

Ardwen returned the scowl, if not deeper, "What? I'm not wearing bloody silk to some bloody banquet! I am a warrior, not a flower!"

The other Elf replied with a slight scoff, "And what manner of warrior are you that rides with bloodstains on his armor and crass manners to court?"

Ardwen's face contorted with anger, he spat out in Elven, "Amin Ardwen, ohtar ar'Avari! Tualle Tel'Quessir!"

The other Elf's expression changed not a whit and he replied, "Your dialect is odd to say the least. And I’ve not heard of that order, "Those who refuse?" And how do you name yourself a servant to the Elven people? All of them at once? I think you've taken too many blows to the head warrior."

Ardwen's face went deadly cold, "Fetch the oil and cloth."

The other Elf turned and departed, in a short while another knock at the door heralded the arrival of a pan of oil and some cloth. There was no one there; it merely sat out in the hallway. Taking them into the room, Ardwen removed his plates of armor.

He walked over to the mirror. Small scars covered the upper portion of his arms. His shirt and pants were once fine garments but were now threadbare. Any small holes in the material revealed flesh crossed with scars beneath. All of them were old scar; it was practically impossible to get new ones in the world he was used to now. Not for lack of battle, but for lack of permanent injury.

Polishing the plate, Ardwen focused his mind on making it as regal as possible. Some of the enamel was worn in places, but it was still a fine suit of armor. After a little polish, the stains came off and it shone as it had not since the last time Ardwen had cleaned it . . . which was not nearly as long ago as when he got the scars.

Finishing the task, Ardwen looked in the small desk and found an inkwell with a few pieces of parchment. Ardwen scrawled a hasty note, "Going out onto nearest balcony I can find from room for some fresh air. Do inform me when the dinning begins, I wish to attend." Ardwen paused for a minute before adding, "WITH ARMOR!" A small grin crossed his face as he laid it on the desk's surface and went out the door.

A small door nearby lead him out onto an extended patio probably used by guests to the Citadel for relaxing and reflection. There was no one else there now though, so Ardwen felt this was the perfect place to do what he truly desired. Drawing the large blade on his back, Ardwen began a slow swing to the right, then snapped it back to the left. He increased his speed with every motion, whirling the sword about in mock combat. He finished the motions with an overhead strike that made a distinct "whiff" noise as it arched through the air.

Ardwen breathed in the cooling night air gladly, and went into another set of moves . . .

Written by - Wilhelm

After leaving instructions for the grooming of Argent and Sable, Wilhelm escorted Mavigan to her suite and left her in the care of her Elven attendants to prepare for the feast. He suspected that there might be some disagreement between them as to how a Queen should be formally groomed versus how Mavigan preferred to dress, and he chose not to be present at the confrontation. He saw the Seamstress approaching, her assistants carrying bundles of garments. Evidently the new gowns were completed. To his amittedlly untrained male eyes they looked very pretty. Wilhelm hope the selection of new finery would provide a choice both sides could agree on.

The Seamstress stopped before him and they exchanged vows. She then presented Wilhelm with one of the bundles, fulfilling Wilhelm's own request. Glacing inside, Wilhelm was impressed. He thanked the Seamstress, who cutrseyed and then proceeded on to Mavigan's suite, her two assistants following behind. Seeing the two guards admit them to Mavigan's suite, Wilhelm entered his own next door, after first scanning it to ensure it was empty.

He was pleased to see that a hot lightly scented bath had been prepared. The Citadel servants were very good at their jobs, he thought. They must begun preparations as soon as they saw us coming. Removing his armor and travel clothes, he bathed and then dried himself, feeling refreshed with the heat from the bath removing the stiffness from the long ride. Donning a robe, he returned to his bedchamber. Hearing sounds in the courtyard below, he looked out and saw the elven warrior Ardwen practicing sword forms below. Warriors have their own way of relaxing, he thought, admiring the perfection of the forms.

Leaving the window he returned to the bundle and opened it to reveal a white silken surcoat with the arms of Ancora on front and rear. As Queen's Champion now he would need to look the part.

He looked at his heavy white crusader plate and shook his head. One did not wear heavy armor to a feast, even a Queen's Champion. The time has come, he thought. Moving to the chest at the foot of the bed, he dug down and removed a bundle that tinkled softy as he moved it. He unwrapped the white cloth covering to reveal a quilted white damask tunic embroidered with the gold linked rings of the All-Father. Lifting that aside, he gazed at the sparkling item below it. With a soft musical tinkling, he lifted out a glittering chainmail hauberk composed of thousands of tiny interlinked rings of brilliantly reflective silvery metal, with golden rings forming the sign of the All-Father at the chest, back and shoulders. The King had given him this Dwarven masterpiece at his knighting, and he had kept it with him ever since although he seldom wore such finery.

Still, a Queen's Champion could not attend her unarmed and nobody could denegrate the appearance of mithril chainmail, armor truly worth a King's ransom. Light enough to dance in, yet proof against penetration by any weapon. He donned the quilted tunic, and then the chainmail over it. Finally he donned the armor surcoat, added his golden chain of office around his neck, and with his white knight's belt he belted his holy sword on. While he preferred his faith hammer for real battle, the holy sword would do better as a ceremonial weapon at a feast while still being emminently usable at need. As a last touch, he tied Mavigan's scarf on his belt, next to his belt pouch, as a sign of her favor. He was ready.

Returning to his entrance chamber, he poured a glass of the chilled white wine he found waiting and sipped it while waiting to hear Mavigan emerge from her suite so he could join her and escort her down to the feast.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir had just finished another glass of wine when he was disturbed by a rather concerned attendant hailing him. Motioning for him to approach, the attendant walks over and says,

My lord, the strange elf refuses to take off his armor! It is most uncivilized. I must protest. He is of our people, he should act as one.

Almost chuckling, Ithramir responds,

It is his right to come to dinner dressed in his own manner. I fear he has seen many battles and lived a hard life. Our lives can afford a small bit of finery, but we force our will on no one, especially a kinsman. Your actions determine how refined and civilized you are, not the cut of your cloth, you would do well to remember this.

The attendant knew the humor was also coldly serious and bowed after being rebuked. Ithramir then asked,

How do we sit with the armory?

Pausing, the attendant replies,

The smiths have overstocked us, my lord. I know they are set to task upon making many weapons and arrows by the bundles now.

Thinking for a long moment, Ithramir replies,

Go back to our new kinsman, bid him to walk in our armory and choose a set of armor and a weapon suitable to himself. His armor is worn and his blade, though fearful, has seen much action. It is my gift to him. Tell him this, and go.

The attendant simply bowed and went off to find the stubborn elf.

Seeing that there was only one hour to go before the feast, Ithramir relaxed and poured himself another glass of wine, and pulled an apple from the fruit laid out as appetizers.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen continued to whirl his large sword around. Grunting with the effort, he brings the blade in a semicircle around him, left to right. The blade skirts the ground, then lifts up and whistles in the still night air. As Ardwen completes the motion, he can do little to stop the momentum of the blade, doing all he can he controls the blow and allows it to hit the ground, the angle twists his torso and his balance becomes precarious.

With expert skill and agility, Ardwen drops the massive blade and pulls the two shorter swords at his side. Before the resounding clang of the large blade hitting the ground reports through the air, Ardwen is already whirling with the two blades, moving them in rapid circles of death. A slight clap interrupts him, spinning Ardwen brings both blades to bear in a middle or “consummate” guard.

At first, the face that greets him brings no recognition as Ardwen’s mind snaps back from the warrior frame. Slowly, details trickle into the warrior’s mind. The person is not in a hostile position, it is a he, it is an Elf, and it is the Elf who argued with him about the armor to the coming dinner. Ardwen lets out a slight grunt and sheathes the two blades, turning he picks up the large blade on his back and returns it to the strap behind his cloak.

A slight breeze catches his cloak and billows it out to his left, the cloak shifts from verdant green to blood red, and then back again. As the wind causes it to travel in ripples, each ripple shits from green to red, red to green, it is unnerving to the eye to say the least. The Elf who clapped clears his throat slightly and steps out onto the courtyard.

“Impressive display warrior, the cloak is interesting as well, magical?” The Elf says in neutral tones.

Ardwen’s face betrays no emotion as he replies, “Magic? No. It cannot shift between any colors save red and green. Also, there is no reason to its shifting, it merely does it whenever, though I’ve noted that it is red almost constantly when I battle. It is useless for stealth as you can well imagine.”

The other Elf nods coolly and replies, “I know you must still be slightly irate over our last metting. As I found this, “he states holding aloft the letter Ardwen left in his room, “to guide me to where you were. I was sent here by Ithramir, and it is once again to discuss your garbs.”

Ardwen takes a sharp breath and furrows his brow, but the other interrupts him before he can speak, “No, I am not here to berate you over wearing armor to dinner. Indeed, in my own concern over proper conduct, I let my own drop as well. And for that, you have my apologies. It is simply that you look so much alike us that I forget that you are not from . . . around here, or so the stories floating about the Citadel say. Would you perhaps care to tell me a bit about yourself? I would desire to know more of one who would fight for us.”

Ardwen nods slightly, pauses, then shrugs, “I am Ardwen, simply put. A warrior who has been on the battlefield since I was old enough to swing a weapon. I have fought in many wars, and lost much. But is this not the story of all our people? The rumors, insomuch as you have told me, are true. I am not from . . . here. I hail from what I believe to be a different . . . world or reflection thereof. I am not sure, I have never dabbled in magic. My concern stems from the fact that in some ways this world echoes of the other, or vice versa as the case may be. It is unimportant though. Some force brought me here, not entirely to my will. It is most likely coincidence. You said you have not heard of Those Who Refuse? It would not surprise me, we are an order of Elves in my world whose foremost concern was the survival of our people, and we’d do anything to ensure it. We are fanatics, plain and simple, though not unjustified in our dire outlook at the prospects of our race. And before that? I do not wish to speak of it, it is a pain still too close to my heart.” Ardwen finished with a slight shrug again.

The other Elf nodded slowly and said, “I see, or at least I think I begin to. You are one who has known nothing but the embrace of a sword. You do not tell me all though, but you’ve your reasons I’m sure. As to your military order, I fault you for nothing, drastic times call for drastic measures. Speaking of measures, I intend to finish my talk to you about your equipment. Ithramir bade me show you to the armory, there you may take your pick of armor and armament.”

Ardwen’s eyes widen in shock, “Truly? This is a gift beyond any I am able to repay. I would ask you something first though kinsman.” The other Elf nods in reply before Ardwen continues, “The blade on my back is unique. No, it is not magical, but it is made of good steel. The nicks and marks that mar it come only from use beyond what is normal, and lack or time or equipment to keep it flawless. Nevertheless, it is dear to me, the last gift of friends who departed this mortal coil, it is all I have to remember them by. I will not put it aside . . .”

The other Elf nods again in response and speaks, “Please, allow me to handle this venerable weapon then warrior.” Ardwen pulls the large blade off of his back and hands it to the other, immediately a loud clang reverberates through the air as the other Elf struggles to lift it from the ground. Shrugging he set is down carefully on the ground and looks it over attentively with his eyes. He looks back up at Ardwen and asks in a pensive tone, “This weapon is immense indeed, not just lengthwise but the thickness of the blade as well, I assume this is to keep the tensile strength of the sword? I have never seen a blade this long, the blade alone stands easily the height of a tall man, no wonder you wear it at an angle across your back, and rather high.”

Ardwen nods and a look of respect crosses his face, “You are no strange to the blade I see, nor its ways. Indeed, the sword needs to be thick else it would not be suitable for battle. But that is also part of its strength, dull or sharp it is an effective weapon due to its weight, more force for the effort. Also, I’m rather fond of using it against cavalry, horse, man, or the horse’s legs will all due as a target. There are drawbacks though, its weight and size make it cumbersome to use even in the open field. In confined combat or with allies in close proximity it can practically useless.”

The other Elf nods thoughtfully at each word and replies, “Yes, yes I see. Fear not warrior. There is skill here to repair this blade. It has good steel at its core, and a well-made sword will always revive like new when handled with the proper skill and craft. I will tell the smiths to work on it anon; it shall be returned to you ere the feast is complete. As for your armor, does it to bear such sentiment?”

Ardwen grins in reply and says, “No, it is merely a suit I have scavenged with time, and has seen much wear. If there be a suit here that can exceed it, I’d proudly wear it into battle.”

The other Elf picks up the hilt of the blade on the ground and hands it to Ardwen, who sheathes it. The Elf then places one arm around Ardwen’s shoulder and begins guiding him back into the main complex of the Citadel, “I am sure mellonamin, “he begins, “That you’ll find our armory strives to satisfy. We hold to the maxim of, “better to have and not be needed than to need and not have.”

Ardwen nods and replies, “A wise and respectable policy.”

The Armory

The Elf guides Ardwen swiftly through the halls and in short they arrive at a pair of thick steel doors. The Elf fishes around for a moment on a key-chain before holding a single key between his fingers, he shoves it into the lock and twists it once. Turning he says to Ardwen, “Welcome to our stores warrior, take your time and pick what suits you best.” With one shove the doors give way to reveal a massive horde of weapons, armor, instruments of war, and a plethora of other battle-related items.

Ardwen walks slowly amongst the isles of armaments, his eyes sweep everywhere, and everywhere they are met by weapons and armor of exquisite quality and diverse make. “Magic?” He speaks in an amazed tone.

The other Elf grins and replies, “Some, yes. Some greatly so, and others less. Magic is not always the answer in war, as I’m sure you’re well aware. If you look for armor though, you’ll find it to our right here along the –“

He is cut off though by a cry from Ardwen who is standing along a row of Elven made longbows. Ardwen’s voice has become charged with excitement, and he runs an admiring finger along the wood of one of the bows, “These are truly marvelous bows! I myself was never much for the bow, and have no great practice with them, though their use is common amongst my people. Surely these are powerful weapons?”

Ardwen’s kinsman walks over and his smile shifts to one of fond memory, “Ah, you do indeed look upon one of the prides of this weapon store. Behold, these are the noble bows of the Rangers of this Citadel. Only a few are in existence at one time, and they are enchanted for each individual Ranger. Such a process is both time consuming and taxes resources heavily, but the result is well worth the effort. The bows can be used with a fraction of the effort of a normal longbow, those not of Elven blood or so specified by the enchantment will find either the bow well neigh impossible to pull, or see it break apart in their hands. Additionally, the enchantments vary from Ranger to Ranger. They are a badge of honor for an elite force, and carry with them great prestige. Alas Ardwen I believe it beyond my calling here to grant you one of these. They must be earned friend, not given.”

Ardwen stands slowly and replies in a soft tone, “Nor could I ask for one friend. I was merely curious as to their origin. I am well satiated and will remember with respect the force that resides herein. Come friend, lead me to the armor.”

The other Elf bows with respect and in short order they stand in a long hall-like room with sets of armor lining both walls. The Elf speaks to Ardwen, “This is our store of armor. Here you will find everything from the light leather suits favored by scouts on patrol and other professions requiring stealth, to the heaviest of protection for frontline and shock warriors.”

Ardwen nods and begins slowly walking down the impressive array. There are indeed suits of every make and type here. His eyes glide along delicate curves and intricate patterns. Some of the suits he finds not to his liking, being too light or ones that would hinder his form of fighting. He continues down the line, passing suit by suit, stopping to examine almost every one of the displays.

Finally he nears the end of the first row, when something catches at his mind. There in the corner of the first isle, almost as if whoever placed it there meant to shield it from any eye in the profusion of armor, is a suit of heavy black plate. Walking closer, Ardwen kneels down to inspect it. It is not ornate, carrying no visible devices or tincture upon it. The black slates of armor over-lock, and were made with obvious skill and attention to function, designed to deflect and absorb blows. Each slate is reinforced, and carries on into the next in an almost shingle-like pattern. Down the back of the armor, attached to the plate itself near the back of the neck flowed a deep sable cloak. It is a fine suit of armor indeed!

Ardwen removes his gauntlets and places them on the floor. Reaching out with his left arm, his sword-arm, Ardwen places it upon the right pauldron of the plate. Almost as if unbidden, thoughts pour through his mind. Oh yes, this is a fine suit of armor! Not just that, but it has known battle, somehow Ardwen knows this, and would serve him well. Better than well, to wear this armor was to wear the mantle of victory! All he had to do was don it, it was so simple! Ardwen yanked his hand off the armor, and looked with puzzlement at his companion who was biting his lower lip, his face creased in worry.

“What . . . is it?” Ardwen asked, equally as puzzled.

His companion took several deep breathes, released them, then continued to chew his bottom lip. He glanced from Ardwen to the armor, and back again, then one more time as if for good measure. Finally he spoke, “No friend. Just no. You do not want that armor. It may look fine, but there is more to it than you could possibly desire to know. Tempt not fate, there are other suits in here that would serve just as well, come and I’ll-“

Ardwen interrupted him with a gruff, “Try me.”

The other Elf squeezed his eyes close as if in worry or thought and said, “I beg you! I will not deny you that armor if you truly desire it. You may think it magical, but I deem it cursed!”

Ardwen let out a small nervous laugh, “Cursed? Come now, why would you keep such a thing here then?"”

The other Elf opened his eyes slowly, let out a sigh and began, “It was a gift, of sorts you could say. Magic is woven into it, as you could probably guess when you touched it. But it is not the normal kind. It is an obscure and rare armor, as it probably should remain, known as a Berserker’s suit. The type was first developed by the Dwarves, supposedly, and only saw any real use with their kind. Nevertheless, the art of creating them eventually came to us, and we crafted a very small number of them. After their terrible affects became known, all but this one was destroyed, at least to our knowledge. You see friend, the Dwarves are fond of fighting what we would call . . . recklessly. They love to fight on even while grievously wounded or exhausted, like many cultures they see this as some sort of mark of bravery or valor. How much grander then, they reasoned, if a suit could be crafted that focused those drives for the wearer? Not only that, but the suit could dull pain, allowing the user to push on past a wound, it could even mend broken bones in combat, allowing a warrior to fight on.”

Ardwen’s eyes widened at each mention of the suit’s properties, he had to refrain himself from throwing the armor on the second the other Elf seemed finished. Breathlessly he asked, “Yes! That seems almost perfect. Cursed you say? I called it blessed!”

The other Elf turned a sickly pallid shade and his voice waned almost with each word, “No friend, no Ardwen! Do not say that, for the Dwarves were not only wrong, but their method was flawed. Focus a warrior’s instinct to fight on? Yes, it drives a warrior to fight on, even to his own death! The few who wore these suits found their inner-demons and rage were also amplified by the magic, making them go berserk in combat, only a few were able to hold onto their sanity. And dull pain? Oh yes, according to the records it eliminates it! But it also dulls the senses! Colors become washed, words muffled, tastes die upon the tongue, and the world seems deadened by the user. As for mending broken bones . . .” The Elf gave a visible shudder, and a heavy silence laid upon the air, “It indeed does this as well. But once again, the price is heavy. The armor sends . . . spikes Ardwen, metal spikes into the area where the wound occurred. It supports the bone, and allows the user to continue fighting, but it does not heal the wound as was intended.”

Ardwen nodded grimly with each spoken word, and he asked in a cold voice, “What are the extent of its capabilities?”

The other Elf placed his hands to his temples and responded in a tremulous voice, “As far as I know, none here ever wore one of these Beserker armors. And they were in use for such a short time and in small numbers with our people that their existence is but a footnote in history. Few know half of what I have told you Ardwen, save Ithramir himself most likely. But the records record that the users fought past their own death. The armor removes the sensation of pain, but does not heal as I said! Thus it allows the body to perform past its normal boundaries in terms of strength, agility, and endurance: depending on the users innate ability and attunement to the armor, some wrote they who wore it fought like demons, beyond anything remotely human. After the battles were over, however, the warriors collapsed to the ground. Their bodies were only kept alive by the magic’s and support of the armor, they died terrible deaths, most of their flesh was eaten alive by the spikes driven into them to support their forms.”

Ardwen turned a slight pale shade himself. But his hand once again traced along the edge of the armor, and he could almost imagine himself . . . bloody but alive, wounded but victorious. Oh what he could do! He could master the armor! The other Elf was a coward, cringing at a little blood, bah! Was he not Avari? Was the Elven race not the pinnacle of creation? To scorn this armor was to scorn himself! Besides, what of his duty? Could this armor afford him victory where he might otherwise fail? If he were a coward then why not toss down his sword too! It was dangerous true, but Ardwen was sure Mavigan had plenty of use for chimney sweeps and cravens!

Ardwen yanked his hand away again, rage boiled beneath his skin. He was no coward! Was this armor a challenge? Here for him? He would face it then, and prove himself the greater. He spoke slowly, “I will wear this armor.”

The other Elf shook his head and squeezed his eyes again, “Then you sign your own death warrant. You are enticed by the prospects of what amazing strength it could grant you, aren’t you? Ask yourself this then warrior, ‘If this armor be so wondrous, then why does not everyone wear it?’ The price is too much! Your senses will give way while you wear it, it will become difficult to control any battle-lust that dwells within you, and at the last it will take your body! You would be nothing more than a walking sacrifice to battle with this on you! Do not do it! I plead with your senses friend!”

Ardwen scoffed and stood proudly, “Bah! Listen to yourself! Do you not understand what this could grant me? A price you say? I do not doubt there is a price! Such is it with everything! I can master this armor, and when I do I will be able to serve my people all the more! You say I will become a sacrifice? Fine! I will make the sacrifice!”

The Elf Ardwen spoke to seemed to shudder, and he spoke slowly and coldly, “Very well then warrior. I said I would not bar you from anything in this armory that I could not give. Power demands recompense. All that is given has a price, will you make the sacrifice?”

Ardwen’s face went as cold as iced steel when he replied, “I will.”

The other Elf nodded, he raised his head as if a great burden were upon it. His eyes seemed rimmed with sorrow, “Then it shall be yours. I will begin to carve your grave-marker warrior. I will leave you to don the suit, leave your old armor here. In times to come we will remember the brave sacrifice, or insanity, of Ardwen ohtar ar’Avari.”

He bowed, and swiftly left the room. The door closed softly behind the departing Elf, and Ardwen turned to the armor.

He ran his hand along it again, was this . . . armor truly to be the instrument of his death? Was he being drawn in by the armor, duped by its seemingly false promises of supremacy? His companion had spoken dire words . . . horror-filled images of warriors lifeless husks flashed in his mind’s eyes. Battle-consumed madmen danced in his vision, spurred on by their demonic armor. He said the armor could draw upon a warrior’s deepest reserves, both physically and emotionally, could it be playing upon his even now?

Shuddering slightly himself, and for the first time in ages, Ardwen felt true fear. He removed his old armor and cloak, he set it venerably to the side, it would rest here in no small company. Piece by piece, he donned the black suit in this forlorn corner of the armory. Surprisingly, the suit fit as it were made to him, it did not feel malevolent in any way. It was lighter than he expected, though heavier than his old suit. When he had finished putting on the armor, Ardwen noted there was no helm, something he had failed to notice at first. It did not truly concern him, his old suit lacked one as well.

He shuddered again, but as he did he felt a deep spark from within himself, as if something stirred there long forgotten. It was a strange dichotomy of emotions: mixed between pride and reservation, fear and anticipation. He walked slowly out of the armory, his two smaller blades at his side, the larger already removed to the smithies. He knew that armor or no, he was seemingly destined to walk the path of hell.

Written by - Varg

Varg spent the day lost in his own thoughts and prayers. He did his best to not make it apparent to the others, but was not too confident that he was successful at the task. The visions granted him from God were still sitting heavy on his mind. The short time of frollicking and racing was only a short deterrence from what was sitting right in front of him. The whys, hows and whats still remained unanswered. For some reason these questions of life never bothered him before, but as he has learned more of who and what he was it did nothing else but concern him. Through the divine blessings, training and patience he was able to learn to control his inner beastial aspect but had not learned how to utilize the whole force of this power as of yet. In time, for now though he would have to remain confident that his God would show and teach him his past and the path of his future. It was always that way for as far back as he could remember and he had no reason to think it would be otherwise.

During the whole time following the ride Varg was content on just listening and watching the others from the group. Everyone in the group had qualities he admired; Mavigan's high spiritedness, Ithramir's seriousness, Wilhelms sense of loyalty, Jague's mellowness, Ardwen's battle fervor, and Keeryn's playfullness. This should make for an interesting adventure of sorts he thought to himself.

On the ride back Varg decided to ride amongst the trees to track and stay hidden to watch for any assault that may be planned or monitor those that may have found their way to track the little band. Gerwulf had been hiding in the foliage and was probably getting bored anyways. Along the way Varg found some signs of people who had maybe been tracking or spying on them, but the person who had was very skilled and had done a pretty good job of hiding their tracks. Varg was not able to make a clear descernment of who or what may have been tracking them. This made Varg all the more wary about what was going on around him and the possibility of an attack on Mavigan.

Once back at the fortress Varg led Belenus and stabled him. Belenus was seemingly nervous and made sure to convey it to Varg. Varg in turn did his best to calm him, "Do not worry my friend. This is a well guarded castle, and we shall be as safe here as anywhere else we could have landed. God is on our side, and I am confident we would not be led here to only be led to our death. I know He has put a higher purpose on my life, and I have not reached this purpose as of yet." With these words Varg gave Belenus a pat and made his way to his room with Gerwulf.

Once settled in the room, Varg undressed from his armor and prepared for the feast ahead. He found a bath drawn and it was a welcome site. Varg had not had such comforts for awhile, sure a stream makes an adequate bathing pool but it does not compare to the comforts of civilization. Varg had learned how to walk the path between the wilds and civilization long ago and had learned his niche in both. He started to unpack some of his belongings which included an outfit suitable for such an occassion. Of course he would have to don his light vest of Elven chainmail under his garb, one could never be too careful in times of war and espionage. Once dressed he threw Gerwulf some cured meat from his pack and began to play tug of war with him. It seemed like a short time when a knock finally came at the door.

"Yes, enter." Varg answered.

The door opened to reveal one of the keeps servants. "The time has come for the festivities good sir."

"Thank you, I will be ready in a moment. Please wait outside if you do not mind. You may escort me once I have exited my room." Varg then bows at the servant.

Varg then turns to Gerwulf and gives him some commands to stay in the room but keep an ear and eye open for any trouble. If he sensed such he was to make contact with Varg as soon as possible. Varg threw him another piece of cured meat, patted him on his head, then washed his hands in preparation for dinner as he exited the room.

"I am ready good sir, lead the way please." Varg responds to the servant with a polite bow.

Once the servant starts to walk Varg follows him towards the hall for the festivities. All the time he is mindful of the threat of danger lurking overhead, but promises to himself to try to do his best to not let it overcome the mood of the evening. This was a time of companionship, a time to learn of those around him, and a time to relax while the time is afforded them. Soon the time of war would be at their very door, and this may very well be the last time for a longtime before they may be able to enjoy such small pleasures.

Every new turn and room that Varg comes along he tries to memorize as the layout of the keep would be very usefull knowledge. Once an assualt is upon the keep such knowledge could help him to defend from those that would wish to bring harm upon those dwelling inside.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan had enjoyed the outing despite all the unwelcome company. The cool evening breeze lightly caressed her hair as she gently rode Argent to the citadel. Raising a hand to push a few errant strands from her face, she recalled with joy her exploration of the grassy valley.

The standing stones had seemed to beckon to her, and she had answered the call. She had initially been startled by the currents of energy she had felt crawling along her skin. The strange sensation had given her gooseflesh and had caused the fine hairs on her arms to stand straight on end. However, the strange sensations were not uncomfortable and did not make her burn. The feeling was strangely different from what she had been sensing from her Cousin early on.

Thus, determining the stones meant her no harm, she had pushed her cares aside, and had frolicked among them. The high point of the trip had to have been when Alaric tried to follow behind her as she quickly scaled one of the stout rocks. He had failed miserably and had crashed to the ground, landing square on his rump in a rather undignified position. A grin crossed her face at the remembered scene.

Before she realized it, the party had returned to the Citadel and her pompous ~cute fanny~ of a cousin had announced something about dinner. That suited her well enough. She was famished!

She cast a quick glance at herself, half wondering if she could sneak something to eat in the kitchen and not have to worry about another long and tedious session with tall, dark, and angry. Her clothes were quite dusty, no doubt the result of rolling around on the ground trying to soak up the sunshine. Mavigan harbored no false hope that she looked any better.

Sighing, she dismounted and moved to make her way to her room. As she did so, she noticed Wilhelm shadowing her movements. Giving him a particularly nasty glare, she stomped off towards her room, what little composure the time in the sun had given her quickly fading.

“By Nagarren,” she thought angrily, “do they think I am so stupid I can’t even find my way to my room?” Huffing with displeasure, she muttered to herself, “I haven’t had this many babysitters since I was 5.” She smirked as she remembered exactly why she had needed so many babysitters – that was the age she had learned how to use flint and tinder, and her poor Father had been terrified she would burn down the castle.

Quickly making her way to her chambers, she threw open the door and emphatically slammed it shut behind her. Her room appeared to be undisturbed, and a bath had been prepared for her. Wanting to take advantage of the bath, she disrobed hurriedly, being careful to remove her daggers, one sheathed on each wrist and another sheathed on her ankle.

Placing the daggers within reach by the water-filled basin, she climbed in and started the scrub. The water was still pleasantly warm, and helped ease some of the tension that seemed to have taken up permanent residence between her shoulder blades.

Her relaxation was cut short as an imperious knock was quickly followed by her chamber door being thrown open. Being taken by surprise, Mavigan let out a loud “GACK!” and half rose from the tub while reaching for a dagger.

Written by - Archeantus

In the grim darkness of the sewers, standing just below the soft ray of light that shone down upon them, Gadianton pointed to Jasmine and motioned for her to come with him into the darkness.

He turned and disappeared into the pitch black, and she slowly followed him away from the others. They were gone for a long time. Yet when they came back, she appeared determined, her eyes nearly had a glint of---something, Vermigard couldn’t tell. But she looked intently back at the dark shadow of Gadianton with those deadly eyes of hers, and then up into the light through the vent more than once.

Vermigard considered her demeanor. He knew her well, had studied the myth that surrounded her. She hated men. All her victims were male. She never chose to kill any of them, they chose her. She was intensely beautiful, neither man, nor differing race could deny it. Her beauty was a venom, an alluring trap, and all men who allowed it to enter their hearts soon found themselves so intoxicated by it that many men killed themselves because she had asked them to do it. It was whispered magic had something to do with it. But Vermigard, after seeing her actual beauty, questioned that rumor.

Details on what happened to her to cause her to descend from the golden path she had begun from, to the life of murder were mysteriously vague, most likely because she had eliminated all (in this case it was whispered she had killed women, even the children as well) who knew what had happened to her. It was the irresistible question of what exactly happened to cause someone so beautiful, so full of life and hope to lash out with so much venom upon man that seemed to perpetuate her myth over the years. There were many outrageous claims, and many truthful ones, there were many descriptions of her appearance, so many that her appearance became lost in an ocean rumor. It was a rumor so prevalent that many young men courting a lady often wondered in his heart if the woman they loved was not her. She had caused fear to enter into the hearts of a great many men. And that was her appeal. And yet, now that Vermigard regarded her in the faint light from above, she still remained strikingly beautiful, though, her eyes were etched with an inner weight, her shoulders leaned forward ever so slightly. She bore something that was wasting her away. He wondered what kept her going, what drove her to be here, down in the sewers to follow him And what did he say that changed her mind about killing a female?

Vermigard turned and saw Gadianton then point toward the elven mage, Kishkumen, and then disappear.

Gadianton, he thought, he was more of a mystery than her.

While they were gone, Vermigard couldn’t help himself, he whispered ever so slightly to Jasmine, “Why do you follow him?”

Her answer surprised, and yet confirmed something all of them thought.

“He is not a man.” She had said.

Though the statement wasn’t to be taken in the literal sense, there was still truth to the statement nonetheless.

Soon the two appeared back into the light. Kishkumen had an eager smile on his face.

“We will wait here till night has reached its zenith, and the midnight sun has climbed fully in the sky. She will enter the citadel now.” The shadow of Gadianton commanded in the pale light.

Vermigard raised an eyebrow. Only her?

Kishkumen then walked toward her and opened his dark robe. In his pale slender fingers appeared two objects: A silver ring with a black stone, a gold ring with a red. These he placed in a small black velvet pouch. He then pulled a small necklace with an obsidian stone dangled in the center from the inner reaches of his robe. This he pulled forth with great care. He then began to chant, and the necklace began to glow of deep, almost black purple, the black stone itself shone, and then died down completely. Once he was finished, he relinquished the three objects to her. It was then that he explained their properties, and it was then that Vermigard slowly began to understand Gadianton’s plan. He flashed a slight grin at the prospect. The necromancer’s final words were these, “You’ll need to find a lone ranger, do with him as you will, and it shall begin.”

She took the velvet bag, and placed the necklace around her soft neck.

She then was helped up to the vent, and after the way was completely sure, she entered the citadel. Her shadow flew over the light source and blocked the ray of light for the briefest of moments, and she was gone.

The three were left there to wait for the inevitable. Finally as the silence took hold, Vermigard asked after seating himself indifferently, “What about me?”

His master pointed back to where they had come from.

“The exit. Secure it.”

The was a low grumble, and Vermigard vanished into the dark.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen walked out of the armory, the black suit of armor slid on him like a second skin, it seemed made for an Elven frame. A Berserker’s suit, that’s what the other Elf had named it, a cursed armor that would invariably lead its wearer to pain and death. His mind was on guard, trying to measure each stride, monitor each step, for any sign of the armor’s influence.

So far, all was well, Ardwen could tell no difference. Perhaps the suit required the blood lust that came with battle to activate? Or perhaps it had some other enigmatic criteria. For all Ardwen knew, it could be as simple as willing it, and he was in no mood to try that right now. Despite the relief that came from the armor not instantly warping his mind into a fit of psychotic rage, he was slightly disappointed. He’d rather the armor do what it was foretold to do so that he could test himself against it now in relative safety, rather than in the middle of a battle.

Instead to Ardwen it seemed as if the armor was relaxing, bidding its time, like some dark entity looming at the edge of thought and sanity. As he passed through the hallway that he supposed lead back to his quarters, he cursed himself for not paying more attention on the way to the armory. The other Elf had walked out in grief when Ardwen announced his intention to don the armor, and he was a bit lost in the large Citadel. Suddenly, something caught his attention out of the corner of his eye, it was a figure moving garbed completely in sable as dark as a starless night.

Spinning Ardwen saw, himself, reflected in a full length mirror on the hallway wall. He let out an indignant snort, but then remembered the invitation to dinner. With the time spent putting on the armor, and the actual walk to the armory, the time of the feast was most likely sometime soon. Thinking to make the most of things, Ardwen walked up to the mirror to study his appearance, it looked like he’d be wearing armor after all.

Not that this bothered him, this suit was expertly crafted. It was Spartan, to be sure, armor meant for battle and not ceremony, but that was appropriate for one such as he. It was fundamentally different from his last armor though, which had been somewhat piece-meal and of a lighter variety. This was overlapping and interlocked full-plate, designed for peerless protection, even if it was heavier, it didn’t seem like a bad exchange. What struck him most though was the fine sable color of the entire thing, it must’ve been murder to apply the tincture and lacquer to the entire suit. Turning around so that he could see his back, Ardwen craned his neck over his left shoulder. The cloak on the back was of equal quality to the armor, bearing no heraldry or mark, like a vast calm night-sea in which no sky was reflected.

But then again, that alone was strange. Why was this cloak with the armor? Whoever had crafted it had bothered to make one, yet forgot a helm? It made no sense in Ardwen’s mind, and the more he thought about it the more illogical it all seemed. Armor such as this was made for battle, and while a cloak had many practical uses, a helm had many more upon the field.

Shrugging, Ardwen moved farther down the hallway, he looked fine for the feast he determined. He suddenly became aware of a slight echoing noise coming down the hallway, or emanating from the stone. Tom-tap, tap-tom, it almost seemed to ring in the distance. Ardwen took a moment before he concluded the source was a blacksmith’s hammer, busy at work. That’s funny, a hammer . . . he suddenly remembered, his sword!

Letting out a soft curse, he ran down the hallway to where he thought the hammer taps were coming from. Rounding a corner Ardwne passed under a slightly arched ceiling entrance into a great circular chamber. Lining the edges of the oval room were forges, bellows, and troughs full of water for quickly cooling swords and other heated metals. Ardwen let his eyes quickly scan the room, moving from one station to the next, till he saw what he was looking for on the right side of the rounded room.

There was more than one smith, three in total, and they were hoisting his large blade into the air using a small pulley system with a chain on it. One of them was complaining rather loudly about how large and unwieldy the blade was, while the one behind him kept shouting for him to be quiet, the third was completely silent. Ardwen ran over to the area, and as one all three smiths held motionless in their efforts and looked up at him.

Ardwen raised one hand and hailed them saying, “I’ve come to retrieve my blade. I’m very sorry for the inconvenience kin, but it seems Ithramir insists our gear is in top shape."

The second smith took one hand and poked the one in front of him on the pulley chain. When the first one turned around the second had donned a smug grin. Finally the first smith spoke in a strained voice, “We’re knowing this kin, indeed we are. Now if you’ll excuse us for one minute we’ve got to get this slab of metal you call a sword down off the pulley and hand it back over to you.”

Grunting they began to maneuver the blade back over to a large low standing wooden table. Ardwen ran over and grabbed the chain, adding his strength to the task. In a short while they had the blade on the table and freed of the chains. The three smiths all had sweat glistening on their brow, but all of them seemed pleased with the end result of their labor.

Ardwen swept a gracious bow to them and said, “Diola lle melonamin.”

They each grinned in turn and bowed likewise, the smith who was silent before now spoke “You are most welcome kinsman, we know the value of properly maintained gear as well as any warrior. Besides, Ithramir has had us working to overstock the armory and repair that which we could long before you asked us to repair your blade. More like someone took a mountain and beat it into roughly a sword-shape though from what I sat.” He finished with a laugh.

Ardwen grinned slightly as he took the blade up and looked it over. The smiths had done an excellent job in so short a time, with a slight startle he noticed they had sharpened the edge of the blade itself. He looked and them and raised an eyebrow, “How in the world did you manage to do all this in such a short amount of time?”

The three looked at him curiously before the one was complaining on the pulley answered, “We alone did not work on this. We had it handed over to us by a few of our kinsmen, though the one leading their little walk here seemed stricken with grief. He handed us the blade and told us to repair it for one ‘who dons the black armor’. Figured it was you when we first laid eyes on you. No kinsmen, we had a team work on this, we’re just the last ones finishing it up.”

Ardwen nodded with admiration, “Such is the marvelous skill then of the blacksmiths who work here! A team on a single blade? And such an excellent job! But why would the rest leave you when you still had to raise it with that pulley?” Ardwen finished by jabbing a thumb at the chain device.

The three smiths all shared looks of concern at each other, glancing from one to the next. Finally the one standing closest to Ardwen cleared his throat and spoke, “Do you not remember kin? The feast, the rest ran off for preparing and other duties. Many of us have been working here most of the cooler hours of the day, and while we may not be going to a lordlings ball, most were wont to get some food.”

Ardwen bit his lower lip, while at the same time resting the tip of the larger blade on the ground, “The feast? Oh . . . skah! I’m being pulled in six different directions here, and hardly any where I want to go! When’s it supposed to begin? Do you kn-“

Ardwen was cut off by the sound of a rushing set of footfalls entering the room. A single Elf ran into the chamber, adorned in the livery of one of the Citadel attendants. His eyes latched onto Ardwen and he opened his mouth as if to speak, but no noise came out. He ran over to him and began in a panting voice, “At last . . . I found you. I’ve been looking . . . all over for you. You . . . must come, quickly now! The time for the dinner is neigh, we’ve been requested to start gathering guests to the hall.” Finally the Elf paused and raised a dubious glance, “You are Ardwen, aren’t you?”

Ardwen let out a sigh, “Last I checked I was. Yes, we were just talking about the feast. Look, I’ve been busy, and about the whole armor thi-“

The other Elf waved a hand in annoyance, “There’s no time to change even if you wanted to. By and by, I’m called Erunno. And it has been appointed to me to escort you to the dinning hall before the actual dinning starts!”

With that Erunno did a strange combination of bow while turning on his heels and marching out the door. Ardwen said a brief farewell to the blacksmiths before scurrying out of the chamber after Erunno. He remembered that his large blade was still unsheathed, but the old sheath was actually built into his old armor. Sighing he decided to gamble on providence as he swung the sword around to his back. Amazingly he felt it grab snug onto . . . something . . . behind the cloak. Perhaps that was what it concealed, but there was no time for thought on this as he rushed after Erunno down the Citadel halls in a frantic effort to not arrive late.

Written by - Archeantus

Stepping down the hall, not in the shadows but out in the open where any could see her, Jasmine made her way through the citadel, studying its design. Her appearance gave no alarm, or suspicion, it never had. Though masterful in the art of subterfuge, her greatest disguise was her beauty. She had never feared walking among a foreign place out in the open, unless there was a reason to keep herself hidden. She had always chosen to become a part of the environment, rather than hide within it. It was far more deceptive. The moment she had spotted a human female walking with a friend adorned in dresses, she knew she could walk the citadel unheeded, for her presence would not be questioned merely on the basis of her race. She would have done so, except for Gadianton’s command. He would take no chances.

Her heart pounded slightly. She spotted one that would do.

Her face suddenly shifted to a mask of feigned interest. It was a look that made all males fall prey to her whims, her desires. She watched as a youthful elf (most likely still fifty years her senior) walked down the hallway alone. She turned and looked back the way she had come as he came into her view. She appeared to be lost.

“I am truly sorry sir.” She said with a worried yet winning smile. Her mysterious eyes sparkled. “But I am afraid I am lost.”

The Elven ranger peered at her, an eyebrow lifted.

“Were you headed to the dinner hall?” He said, trying to act dutiful and helpful, finding himself entranced by this human female.

She appeared embarrassed, and her face shifted to a shade of red.

“Y-yes, I was told it would be starting soon, I would hate to be late, your kind has shown such hospitality.”

“Would you like it if I took you there myself?” He asked eagerly.

“You are too kind.” She replied, a genuine note of gratefulness sung from her lips, her hand rested on his forearm for the briefest of moments.

“We haven’t had this many guests in ages. Ithramir isn’t used to entertaining so many.” He said, beginning to walk down the hall beckoning her to follow him.

“Ithramir?” She asked as they walked.

“He is the master of the keep. I have never served under such leadership, nor likely will I in the ages to come.”

“And he honors the princess tonight?”

“Correct.”

“And what of you, had you planned to come to the feast?”

“Of course, it is a rare event here. I look forward to meeting so many from so many lands.”

“Yes, I can hardly wait; I hope we are not late.”

“We shall make it, do not fear.”

She smiled slightly, embarrassingly.

“How did you come to serve under Ithramir?”

“I have recently come at the request of my family, who believes in Ithramir’s cause.”

“And so you have not been here long?”

“I have only been here a fortnight, I intend to become acquainted with my fellow kin and learn as much as I can from them.” He related, and then added, “I am, young, for my kind.”

“Are we near?”

“Yes it is just down the way, and along the balcony. Just you wait till you behold the magnificent staircase.”

She placed her hand on his arm, and she stopped.

“I am so sorry! Could I have the pleasure of your name?”

He smiled, glad to give it.

“I am known as Kaiden, of the house of Tentorian. And you?”

She leaned toward him with an arch smile as if it were a secret. Her soft lips stopped mere inches away from his keen pointed ear.

“Death.”

His almond sized eyes widened as a small dagger plunged into his back.

With a deft movement, she flung him around, so that his blood would not fall upon the stone floor and so that she could hold his weight. She quickly dragged him into the room just adjacent to where they had stopped. She had been prepared to kill whoever was in the room, but luckily it was dark and empty. It appeared to be a bedroom, with no signs of its occupancy. Her sharp eyes darted around the room, and upon discovering a place to conceal the body, she dragged him further across the room and planned to lay him to rest--underneath the large wooden bed.

Before she had done so, she touched the medallion around her neck, and stood over him eagerly, focusing her attention distinctly upon him. It began to glow ever so slightly; its slight red hue lit the frozen elf’s face eerily. Soon it ended, and she then stood up straight and went to the mirror.

She beheld the young elf staring back at her in the mirror.

She had taken his appearance.

Quickly now, she carefully pushed him underneath the bed, making sure the covers draped down to the floor. Satisfied, she eyed the door, hearing footsteps as they passed. Dinner would soon be served.

As she slipped through the door and back out into the hall way, the dark room betrayed her final inspection, there on the floor, near the bed, was a single red drop of elven blood.

Written by - Trinni Shannon Part II of Page 18 Book 1

Stepping out from the secret passageway behind the tapestry depicting the Cairnstones, she silently swivels the wall back into place. Hearing Ithramir’s voice echo from around the corner, she pauses where she stands, her fingertips gently holding the hanging cloth away from her face.

“… force our will on no one, especially a kinsman. Your actions determine how refined and civilized you are… ” Ithramir was obviously admonishing someone or other. Always opinionated, she wonders if he has ever acted contrary to the stoic appearance he portrays. So much, and yet, so very little is shared between them. Her actions have haunted her for so long. The rest of Ithramir’s words are lost to the elven woman as her eyes close and her thoughts unwillingly turn inward, in remembrance.

The sun was shining that day, streaming in through the open ceiling, bathing everything with warmth and light. Tilting her head back, she had tried to absorb it, pull it within her heart, within the cold confines of her body. Every priest and priestess was present, and she had been standing in the center of the large circular room amongst them. So much tension, so much sorrow on every face. Ehlonna Th’Lane stood between the large altars of Kaia’hanas and Avandar, in front of the great tree. A whisper of the woman she once was, it had been so hard to look upon Ehlonna that day, seeing her frailty, her resignation. But the High Priestess of Kaia’Hanas’ complete peace cut the deepest. Ithramir, the Commander, stood to Ehlonna’s left and Nysden, the High Priest of Avandar, stood to Ehlonna’s right as was custom during these proceedings. Though ill and old, her voice had been calm with unbounded strength.

“Time comes to an end for us all. Devotion does not end with our passing, it continues long after our physical self is gone. Our mother, the Goddess Kaia’hanas, calls me to Aina’lond and as her servant I must go to her. Do not fear, Lothiel-Gadith will be well cared for. Kaia’hanas came to me as I dreamt last night; she showed me many things, of what will be. Please, young ones, you must be strong in the coming years. Remember Kaia’hanas’ love for her children. Forgive each other, and yourselves. She will make you strong, she will remind you of her love and strength if you let her, if you ask her,” hearing Ehlonna’s words, the young elf had tried to block them out, afraid of what was coming next. Her efforts were to no avail, for Ehlonna’s striking yet soft voice broke through her thoughts, demanding attention. “And so, by the guidance of our Goddess Kaia’hanas, I have chosen my predecessor. She will lead you as I have,…”

Faltering, Ehlonna had staggered suddenly and Ithramir was quickly at her side to steady her, his brow furrowed in concern. The young priestess could only look on with fear for Ehlonna, for the citadel, for all she could think was, “Please, not me. Anyone else is better suited than I, anyone. Please Kaia’hanas, hear me now, just once more. Have her choose anyone else.”

Regaining her composure, Ehlonna continued as Ithramir slowly returned to his position... how young he looked then..., “She will guide you on your paths, be your strength and wisdom. With the future in mind, with Kaia'hanas' blessing, the choice has been made. And so, Lithwyn Deltheron,” as Ehlonna spoke her name, Lithwyn’s mind screamed “No!” and her eyes flew open. “I have chosen you as my successor, please step before me.” Numb and pained, only her respect for Ehlonna compelled her forward where she kneeled before the High Priestess of Kaia'hanas. Looking down at Lithwyn, Ehlonna spoke quietly so no one else could hear. “I, like Kaia’hanas, have faith in you, voronwer. You are needed in the times ahead, and it will be difficult. What say you, are you up to the task?”

Frowning slightly, Lithwyn desperately whispered back, “Amin il-arme. Amin uuma merna ta!”

Calmly, shaking her head, Ehlonna responded, “Dina, uuma dela. I know more than you can imagine. You think I have made the wrong choice? Do you think Kaia’hanas, bless her name, would show me the wrong path?”

Lithwyn had turned pale at Ehlonna’s words, but she only nodded and replied, “Amin naa lle nai, arwenamin. As you wish, I will trust in your wisdom.” Ehlonna began adressing all gathered once more, continuing the ceremony as Lithwyn remained on her knees, dismay keeping her from hearing the remaining speeches. With that, Ehlonna passed on the necklace bearing the sacred symbol of Kaia’hanas, and so Lithwyn’s inner despair deepened.

Slowly returning to the present, Lithwyn’s eyes focus on the many knots and ties of the intricate tapestry as a single tear rolls down her cheek. Hastily wiping it away, she shakes her head while stepping out into the small hallway. As she turns the corner into the great hall, she spots Ithramir at the head of the immense table with a wine glass in his hand. She walks towards him, forcing a smile. A tall woman, by elven standards, her youthful appearance is betrayed by her gait and posture. She carries the presence of a matured woman, one who has experienced much sorrow and learned a great deal. Always composed, she carries the weight of her responsibilities seriously. Striding across the hall, she appears to glide as she portrays the calm wisdom befitting the High Priestess. Her curly hair, a vivid, deep red, is partially pulled up, showing her long graceful neck and delicate pointed ears. In honor of the many guests, including the High Priestess of Nagarren and her entourage, and knowing it is Ithramir’s favorite, she wears her formal gown of bright green, with white and gold trimming. Symbols of Kaia’hanas hangs from the cord around her waist and from her necklace, the representation of her station. Her eyes shine, interestingly, with the same color as her dress. Her beauty outshines all her predecessors as the High Priestess of Kaia’hanas, the elven Goddess of beauty and love, and she knows it.

Reaching Ithramir’s side, she curtsies to him, a playful smile on her lips, and greets him, “Oio naa elealla alasse', heruamin. I trust you slept well? You certainly look handsome in the armor I requested for you.” Looking him over, she nods her approval. Smiling, she trails a fingertip along the line of his collar, pleased with herself. Looking up from Ithramir, she watches the preparations for the evening meal, making sure all are on task. Satisfied for the moment, she stops a passing servant and requests an additional wine glass then turns back to Ithramir. “May I join you for a short time?”

Written by - Turin Wallace

Watching Lithwyn glide into the great hall, his eyes do not leave her. She moves to him, he can feel her finger tracing his collar. The armor she gave to him was exquisite, and very functional. There were many things she knew about him that others did not.

Hearing her ask if she could join him, he replies,

"But of course, dear Lithwyn. Lle elee na tiri a're. I trust your slumber was well, too?"

Ithramir stands and seats Lithwyn before he once again sits down. Looking at the bottle of absinthe in front of him, he tells her,

"I'll drink what you are having this eve, Lithwyn. I should be in a more festive mood for our guests."

With a slight smile he watches as the attendant hurries back and bows before them.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Inclining her head at the compliment, her eyes sparkle with inner laughter. Taking the offered seat, the corner of her lips tilted up in a half smile, Lithwyn watches as Ithramir resumes his position at the table.

"Of course I slept well. But what I really wonder...," she smiles mischieviously and leans forward, "is how you slept on your journey away from Lothiel-Gadith. Did you find the beautiful bar maiden of your dreams?" laughing softly, she leans back again.

Upon the arrival of the attendant, she gratefully takes the glass and bottle of wine he brought. After he openned it, she pours herself a glass and offers to pour some for Ithramir. Tasting the rich, warm flavor of the fine elven wine, she lets it roll around her mouth. Sighing softly, she can't help but glance around, keeping a watchful eye. Attendants bustled around, here and there. Adjusting place settings, bringing out fruit and bread. Laughter was mingled with the sounds of preparation, even in war these were a happy people. After setting her glass down, she frowns a moment and rubs her temples trying to hold off the headache.

"It's been a long, long few weeks while you've been gone. Nearly the entire cleaning staff was ill last week... my priestesses were able to heal them, but it took much time and prayer. If you had arrived but a few days sooner!" laughs, shaking her head at the thought. Turning serious, she continues, "If that were the only problem. We lose more and more of our ranks due to the blasted orc. Gorgaerea! They are no match for elven, yet the Sondelesta care for nothing beyond Alyatol." Hitting the table with a resounding thud, she slides her hand from the table into her lap. She takes a deep breath, and pauses to clear her thoughts.

"How was your adventure with our guests today?" Picking up her glass, she takes another long, slow swallow.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Hearing her comment about a bar maiden, Ithramir frowns a little and replies,

"Bah, you know how I do not enjoy those places. Necessary evils, though, especially for many to let off some steam. However, the only thing I found was the late human king's heir, Mavigan."

Ithramir said her name with a half-snort, more because he did not see the regalness of her stature. At least not yet. She acts like the spoiled little girl she always had been, but she will need to adapt quickly and earn the respect of her people. Especially her allies.

A look of concern flashes briefly across his face as he watches Lithwyn rub her temples. He hears her concerns and nods. Taking a long drink of wine, he says,

"Yes, we lose many brave elven warrior's to our ancient enemies. With the dwarves and Northmen holding them back, we are the southernmost defenders against a full scale Orc invasion. The humans know, and care even less, that these savages are already knocking at the gates of the civilized world.

Worse yet, the ruling Sondelesta, they have refused to send us aide. They are leaving the world to it's doom, whatever that may be."

Pausing to take another drink of wine, Ithramir looks over to Lithwyn and says,

"Lye na ereb."

Pausing, he then continues,

"Our ride went well. It lasted longer than I thought, but it was good to see them relax a bit before the arduous journies that lay ahead. There will be precious few moments to rest like that soon. Hopefully, they will not be worn out for dinner."

Chuckling, he refills their glasses and takes another drink of wine.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

At Ithramir's tone concerning the would-be Queen, Lithwyn raises an eyebrow in amusement and querry. "Not entirely pleased with this young lady, are we? Did she insult your use of Throssgurth perhaps?" she smirks, noticing he did not bring his named bow to the table. "We were all young once, though it may have been a long time ago for you, try to remember it. Unless, of course, you are... attracted... to her?"

Her laughter is interrupted by the sound of a loud crash, whirling around in her chair, she sees the cause of the commotion. A hurried attendant, overladen with platters and bowls and silverware, had taken a spill in the middle of the hall. Jumping out of her chair, Lithwyn rushes over to the woman lying on the ground, a nasty bump forming on her forehead. Calling out to a nearby attendant, Lithwyn sends for a priestess and a clean, cool cloth. Knelt by the woman's side, Lithwyn gently brushes the hair away from the bump to get a better look, then lightly presses the requested cloth to it. Quickly looking her over for additional injury, her concentration is interupted by a young priestess.

"My Lady..." The priestess kneels on the other side of the unconcious woman and looks at Lithwyn expectantly. Lifting the cloth from the woman's head, Lithwyn gestures to the injury. "Gilraen, this should not be too difficult for you. It is just a slight bump. Remember your lessons, as I showed you." Smiling confidently at the young girl, her gaze is returned with one of doubt and nervousness. "Come now, give me your hand and focus on the injury. Ask Kaia'hanas, she will hear you." Taking the young girl's hand, Lithwyn rests it over the injury and watches closely as the whispers of prayer form on her student's lips. Gilraen's face becomes calm and more beautiful as her contact with the Goddes Kaia'hanas deepens. As Gilraen falls silent, the attendant slowly opens her eyes and blinks then sits up between the two priestesses. Lithwyn nods her approval to Gilraen, both of them smiling.

"Are you alright? That was a nasty fall, but the swelling is already receding. You will be right as rain in no time." Grabbing the fabric of her dress, remembering her attire, Lithwyn carefully stands then holds out her hand to help the bewildered woman to her feet.

"My Lady, I'm sorry... I was rushed, I shouldn't have carried so many plates, I shouldn't have..." the stewardess spills out her words until Lithwyn gently hushes her. "Shhh, there is no harm. Look, not a plate was broken!" gesturing to the disarray at their feet, she places her other hand on the woman's arm. "Although, I would much rather have seen all of our china shattered than your head knocking against the ground like that. Did you not even put your hand down to catch your fall?" Shaking her head, she directs the small group of observers back to work, pulling a few of them to the task of picking up the plates decorating the ground.

"My Lady Lithwyn," Gilraen seems to bubble over as she speaks, "It was exactly as you said! I could feel her so close to me, Kaia'hanas spoke to me as I spoke to her, you know?! I mean, sure, I've prayed to her before but not like this! Her voice was so warm and beautiful in my head, all of a sudden I felt so...so... alive!" Listening as Gilraen excitedly explain her first experience as a healer of Kaia'hanas, Lithwyn nods her head and smiles. To only someone intimately close to her, of which there are very few, Lithwyn's smile does not reach her eyes. Mindful of this, she is careful to stand with her back to Ithramir as she speaks with the exhuberant priestess. Usually careful to shield her thoughts, even from Ithramir... especially from Ithramir... the all too observant nature of the highly trained rangers of Lothiel-Gadith requires her to be specially careful at times.

After congratulating Gilraen again, she sends her off for more studying. Turning to Ithramir, she curtseys before him, keeping her head bowed to avoid eye contact, and excuses herself for a moment. Walking towards the hallway leading to the kitchens, she keeps her pace even, her shoulders back, and head high. Turning the corner, enveloped in the cool dark of a storage room, she leans against the wall and sighs inaudibly. Composing herself, her eyes close... trying to also close off her thoughts, her regret. Whispering in the dark, to herself, she only says, "I cannot.... I will not. It is my choice... my purgatory."

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