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

Book One - The Elven March to Westgale

Written by Teran - Page 6 of Book 1

A harsh cough rose above the din of the tavern and interrupted the assassin's reverie. He opened his eyes and stifled a yawn. He was catching up on his missed sleep a few minutes at a time while he could afford to, hovering in the area between awake and sleep. The man he was waiting for was weaving his way through the room towards the assassin. Teran could feel all the heads in the room turning to look at his friend as he passed. His friend, Sidgard was dressed in black leather from head to toe, every item of clothing including his cloak, hat, and blade sheaths was indeed black, with dulled silver buttons and trimming. He looked like what a rogue was supposed to look like in the minds and imaginations of royalty and noblemen.

The assassin's "friend" stood to be about 6' tall and clearly kept his body in good shape. His eyes, like Teran's were gray though his hair was black and was cut short. He had a thin mustache, probably an attempt to look dangerous or debonair but ultimately looking as out of place as his clothing. Teran had known the man for more than twenty years and in those twenty years and Sidgard had proven to be an extremely valuable (though unstable at times) asset. Sidgard was perhaps the only soul in the world Teran trusted.

The assassin pulled his hood back revealing his matted gray hair as he offered his friend a thin smile and a raised eyebrow at his outfit.

"What did you discover, Brother Sidgard?" the assassin asked quietly going straight to business.

Sidgard peered into Teran's gray eyes from across the table and mocked a look of hurt at Teran's lack of interest in his latest look. "This blade" he said pulling the blade Teran had given him earlier in the day from a sheath he wore on his belt "was forged locally."

Sidgard pulled a second blade from a surprisingly well hidden pocket that looked nearly identical to the one the stranger on the road was carrying. The assassin lifted each of them up testing their weight examining each of them closely before setting them back down. The assassin's mind pondered the information letting silence linger between the two men.

"This information is not useful" Teran said darkly "What else did you find?"

Sidgard smiled and shrugged helplessly "All you gave me was a blade..."

Teran narrowed his eyes and produced a small pouch that jingled with the sound of currency and slid it over the table top to Sidgard.

Sidgard smiled and took the money. "The owner of your blade turned up dead a few days ago, a local thief from what I've heard" he said smiling just a little "the murderer was not caught, and no one witnessed the crime, at least no one willing to talk about it..." he muttered, apparently annoyed at the situation.

Sidgard watched the assassin closely, concentration etched on his face. "Were you the one who killed Pallanon?"

The assassin nodded.

Sidgard half coughed, half laughed, disbelief visible in his eyes. "How?" he asked.

Teran shrugged "I used a dagger."

Sidgard slid the pouch of currency back towards Teran "I know a guy who wants to know."

The assassin smirked. "I worked there for many months as a servant, I became familiar with the grounds and the people, and they became familiar with me. There were no shadowy invaders the night I murdered most of the family, everything was in its natural place, everything belonged."

Sidgard nodded somberly before changing the subject "Rumor is Destrado's thinking about going back on the hunt for you."

"Let him come," Teran muttered. "Destrado's good, the best perhaps, but I have little to fear from him."

Sidgard smiled and stood up. "It's been a pleasure." he said, before he turned and started making his way back towards the door.

Teran nodded to the retreating Sidgard. He pulled his hood back over his head and stood up, grabbing the pouch of currency from the tabletop before heading out the door.

Written by Archeantus

"Ten o'clock and all is well!" Shouted the gateman from his perch.

The dark clouds finally yielded to the moon. The rain had all but stopped. And in its wake were thousands of puddles amid the cobbled streets, each of them captured the silver moon in their recesses.

The air was dank and cold in the alley as a small padded foot crashed through one of the puddles in a hurry.

"Fin!" A shrill voice whispered from the shadows.

Fin had been searching all day with no luck. Whoever the stranger was he knew the city about as good as he did. A young orphan, Fin had long helped what he termed his "mentor" Vermigard. He was one of many that had become his eyes and ears. Vermigard had personally taken them all in and promised them food and water everyday if they agreed to "work" for him. There was a reason Vermigard had become so effective and one of those reasons was Fin. Fin was the oldest among them; he was also Vermigard's favorite for obvious reasons. He resembled his mentor in more ways than one, in skill, talent, and resourcefulness.

"What news Rusty?" Fin whispered back, his breath coming out in short misty columns.

"No word on Yellow and Derk. Lucky ain't been heard of all day." A mangy youth exclaimed excitedly.

"Shhhh." Fin breathed, hushing the youth, looking sideways down the alley. He hadn't heard from his own contacts either and he was worried.

"Stay here Rusty, I'll be back with word from father." He said quickly and vanished.

Darting through the shadows, he weaved in and out of buildings and back ways. Ducking through guards and patrons, he came to the headquarters, the tavern known to some as the Golden Swine.

Stepping quickly past the bar on his knees, he scampered through a trap door underneath one of the tables, all the while unbeknownst to the patrons who ate there.

"You're late Fin." Vermigard said in a small candlelit room as Fin entered, his back was turned as he was sharpening a long silver Rapier.

"Seven are missing." Fin said reluctantly.

Vermigard paused.

Sensing his master's displeasure, Fin scratched his chin and waited for the orders. Something was wrong about this night, he decided, something terribly wrong.

"Missing?" Vermigard said turning abruptly. He was fully equipped. On his side was his signature weapon, his black whip interwoven with metal thorns laced with a poison that immobilized his prey. His black trench coat made him look dark and imposing. Across his chest was darts secured in a leather strap, each was laced with the same poison. His rapier was then sheathed as he stared down at his prodigy.

"The missing are meant to be found Fin. It's only a matter of will power that finds them." He sagely whispered with a slight smile ruffling the boy's hair.

Quickly the two made their way back into the cold night. Soon they came to the place Rusty had been told to stay, but he was gone. Vermigard was outwardly displeased, a glimmer of worry shot down his face like lightening. They next dashed to another spot where another of his little ones would be posted, once more the youth was gone. And then another and another were gone till Vermigard realized he was up against someone he grossly underestimated. His fool mistake may have cost him his very livelihood. Each of his boys were worth hundreds and thousands of gold pieces. It was then he looked at Fin, his most prized possession of all.

"Boy, you'll need to keep up with me tonight, we're going for a wild ride."

Fin nodded and became his master's shadow.

The bounty hunter then darted down the street and began his own personal hunt. This stranger had no idea what he was up against, he thought as he rapidly splashed through the many puddles.

In the next hour as the moon had nearly reached its zenith, the two had pinpointed a trail. It took them down into the sewers. Rushing water could be heard all round them as the day's rain poured into the storm drains. Murky green waters flowed down the man made tunnel as they followed the trail.

"We are being led into a trap." Vermigard whispered, almost silently as he moved ahead determinedly.

Fin, scurrying behind sensed the risk that was at stake, and the inevitable clash that was bound to happen between the stranger and his master. He'd seen Vermigard fight, and he knew there were few that could best him. One fight between the elusive rogue Teran came to mind. He had remembered his master's words as Teran had gotten away. They came now hauntingly back, "The next time I face such a foe there will be riches untold be at stake."

He had implied that he would best Teran the next time, but never did the youth believe they would ever mean what they did now.

They crept into a small fixture encased in dark green moss and discovered a light flickering deep into the dark beyond. It was then that Vermigard stopped and stood. Fin knew his master was preparing himself now, and knew the stranger was there, waiting.

Slowly, Vermigard stepped forward starkly and made his way toward the light that reflected a sickly green from the murky waters. The two came to an opening in a tunnel and stepped into a large room filled with torches. Above them was a large drainpipe, which was flowing steadily into the stream below. Along the moss infested wall was a whole group of huddled bound figures, their heads covered with decayed sacks. Among them was a dark figure that stood threatingly over them. In its hands was a crumpled figure, held tightly.

"Looks like you found me." Gadianton said coming slowly into the light. He held a familiar blade to one of the orphan's throat.

"Let's dance." Vermigard whispered skipping the pleasantries. He noticed the blade the stranger held and knew exactly where it had come from. Lifting an eyebrow in thought and unsheathing his gleaming rapier with his left hand, he slashed out with a crack with his whip in his right.

Dropping the orphan with a thud, Gadianton brandished his elven blade and advanced.

What ensued amazed the young Fin as he gazed at the struggle from deep down the tunnel where he had been told to wait and run if it turned sour. The stranger fought like nothing he had ever seen. His master was highly skilled in close combat and used his whip in all sorts of ingenious methods. The whip was quickly shorn and lost in the waters. And then it was a fight of steel. He'd never forget the fight, nor believe there ever was a swordfight that would equal the one he witnessed deep in the sewers of Ancora. He saw his master go down and he almost ran toward him, but stopped still loyal to his order to leave. He saw his master's whip float gently down the waters, and he fetched it before it drifted by. He looked on down into the room where he heard nothing. Lowering his head and gripping the wet leather whip, he darted down the tunnel and disappeared.

"I'm impressed." Gadianton said, his elven blade inches from Vermigard's eyes.

"So am I." Vermigard whispered defiantly, yet helplessly. "Goodbye, my friends." He called out to the huddled figures nearby. "Seems I won't be able to keep my part of the bargain in a few moments."

"Goodbye?" Gadianton asked. "I have an offer for you to consider before you die."

"And that is?" The bounty hunter asked, inching back slightly as the blade touched his throat.

"Join me or die." The hooded stranger offered.

Vermigard laughed.

"Why would I do that?" He chuckled.

Gadianton told him. Told him everything he intended to do. The bounty hunter listened and was transfixed by the utter genius and skill the man displayed. If he were to join him, he knew he'd be richer than his wildest dreams. The coin was his master and there was little he could do to contain his greed.

Vermigard sat there and made the easiest decision in his life.

"I'm in." He said, all the while tapping the sword point away from his throat. He was completely for what this man intended to do, and he truly believed it would happen.

"If you ever decide you aren't, you die." Gadianton warned.

"Easy easy friend, you didn't have to threaten my life." Vermigard explained while standing. "All you had to do was ask."

There was a slight smile that entered Gadianton's face.

"You have a name?" Vermigard inquired.

"No, I only have a face for now."

And with that Vermigard beheld the man, who lowered his hood, that had nearly taken everything away from him.

"Plan on telling me anytime soon? I'll need to call you something."

"Yes, you'll learn it when we've found Mavigan."

Vermigard smiled fiendishly, his eyes gleaming in the torchlight.

"I'll get my boys on it immediately."

Gadianton nodded, intending such an action all along.

"Oh, by the way, you owe me a whip stranger." Vermigard added, untying his minions one by one. Soon they were sent out in every direction, each in search of the lost princess...

Written by Ariana

Mavigan had returned to immersing herself in dance and music once she had dealt with the fella who couldn’t keep his hands to himself. She didn’t know why, but music and dancing always made her feel better. It was almost as if she could communicate through movement what she was unable to communicate with words.

She was still reflecting on this as one tune ended and another began. As she heard the first few strains of The Bridal Dance, a new wave of sorrow ripped through her causing her to stumble. She caught her balance and then stood very still.

She felt as if an icy hand was squeezing her heart, and she found herself gasping for breath. She knew this song. She had danced to it for her Father on many occasions as it was one of the few songs they both enjoyed. Mavigan knew the story behind the tune. An overly stern father is charmed by his daughter’s dance into giving her the freedom to make the change from daughter to wife. Mavigan always thought the story was a bit deceptive. The daughter was merely giving up one form of oppression for another, for now instead of being subservient to her father, she was required to be subservient to her husband. Yet, her father liked the song, and though she was loathe to admit it, she liked performing the dance for him.

Tears were now streaming down her face though she paid no heed to them. “For you Father,” she whispered, hoping that wherever he was in the afterlife that he could see her. Straightening herself she caught up to the music and began to dance….

Written by Talonmane

The thing about fighting large creatures is, you often have to expend too much energy fighting their very weapons. The force with which an Ogre's hammer comes in at you usually requires more than a simple parry, but instead a purposeful attack against the weapon at a parrying angle, hoping you can apply enough of your own power to knock the big thing off course. History is full of now-dead warriors who thought they could raise their swords and simply block such an attack. Jagan had learned a long time ago that keeping your dodging options open was the far better way to defend against an Ogre.

However, there is the small matter of Barbarian fury to consider...which, when active in his blood, usually resulted in his conveniently forgetting defensive wisdoms. Unfortunately for him, Jagan hated these creatures. Really hated them.

The full-bladed weapon of the Barbarian champions known as the Axeslayber met the incoming hammer, deflecting it away and down. The nearly man-sized stone head blasted into the deck wood, opening a hole above some poor sailor's cabin (not that it mattered, as he had already died a bit ago). Jagan brought up a return swing heading for the beast's abdomen, but the Ogre's free hand struck with astonishing speed, enveloping the Barbarian's waist. In this grip of agony, Jagan groaned out in pain as he was lifted up to the eye-height of the opponent. The snearing, yellow-blotched face bared it's jagged, virus-encrusted jaws, and lunged for a bite. Jagan kept his wits, and headbutted the beast in the teeth with everything he could muster. His hardened-bone helm smashed several fangs, and while the big creature howled, the Barbarian brought his weapon down one-handed on his tormentor's hammer arm...not a very forceful swing, considering his position, but it was enough to slash a moderate wound, and the grip loosened. Jagan counter-punched with his left to the beasts exposed neck - the gauntlet thrusting-bones hoping to puncture the right spot - but missed as the Ogre hurled him in a backhand toss that crashed him into a deck closet amidships.

With his lower ribs bruised and wood splinters having cut various lines of blood over his body, Jagan climbed slowly from the rubble next to the open hold door that had originally spawned the Ogre. The beast meanwhile, took a few moments to figure out how to remove it's hammer from the deckhole it caused, sometimes wincing loudly from the pain in it's swinging arm. Finally, it retrieved the weapon and now held it in it's opposite hand whilst advancing again on the Knight Warden, a bit more warily but with a great, savage bloodlust in it's eyes. It's only focus being on the big man before it, it did not care to take note of the Men and Dwarves who had crossed over from the Wavehammer.

Munchadin led the charge to the Ogre's feet, and with a hearty "Fer Ancora!" he slashed and battered about the beasts legs, 3 of his accompanying sailors joining in, though 2 others shied from having to take spots in the Ogre's foward arc. They were ready to bravely follow their Captain into the maw of Hel, but not to look the demon in the eye...so they stood back aways, waiting for an opportunity with the others at the creatures rear.

"Munchadin, no! get out of here with your men while they still can walk a deck!" Jagan knew the ship Captain needed every one of his people. Enough died today takng the two ships, and the Ogre could triple the amount in moments. Jagan positioned himself on the other side of the gaping hold door, and called out to the beast in it's own language, "Gro-oi-B'Rrun-Ghar!!" He only new a few words, this one the Ogre equivalent of calling it the son of a swamp-Goblin and a female half-Troll (while of similar stock to Orcs and some goblins, Ogres were very different than Trolls and the odd creature people had mis-named a swamp goblin).

The beast took one wide swing back through the ranks of Munchadin's attackers, knocking them all over the deck, but for one sailor who jumped up, clung to the arm and clambered up to its shoulders.

"Marlie! what'r ye thinkin!" Munch was just starting to get up, wincing from a broken finger and twisted wrist - his reward in the aftermath of the Ogre's great swing.

"If the Kingdom's Warden has the gall to call all of us men, he needs to be shown otherwise." Marlie lost her helm in the scuffle, and her long braided hair fell down, revealing the face of a Dwarven woman that while rugged and wind-shot, could still be called lovely in it's own way, and not just by Dwarves. Her eyes set firm and determined, she held on for her life, until her opening came and she plunged a simple steel dagger into the joint of neck and shoulder on the Ogre's left. The blade buried to the hilt, but she was too high, and as the beast reached back to discover the source of it's pain, it found her cloak and pulled her up and over, tossing her into the open hold. A small thud came from within, and no noise after.

Munchadin called his people to the fight once again, this time with the cry "For Marlie!". The old Dwarf fought now only with his hammer, as the other hand could no longer hold anything. Once of his men did not get up to join the second charge.

Jagan taunted the creature from the other side of the hold, and as it came to circle around the port side, the Barbarian jumped down into the dark.

Marlie's body lay unmoving splayed between some crates, but Jagan couldn't be sure she was not alive. There was no time to find out, as the ship rocked in response to the Ogre landing in the hold before him. "Enough is enough, you bastard." Jagan didn't let the beast recover from the landing, and launched into a withering set of strikes high and low and from both sides. The Axeslayber danced in his hands while leaving no area unblooded upon the ogre. He ended on the creatures left side with a mighty two-handed cleave to its leg...and the Ogre dropped, unable to use it's already-wounded arm to steady itself. Now in a sitting position, the creature swung in rage at Jagan, missing and plunging the hammer again into the wood between it's legs. It would have crushed Jagan into death, but instead broke all the way through the hull.

Water burst in through the hole just to port of the keel, and the frigate listed quickly to that side. Munchadin, who had been looking for a chance to jump into the hold on top of the Ogre, fell sidewards through a few of his people as they all rolled down the deck toward the rail. One of the Human men amoung them was able to grab the grappling line that held the 'skaner ship to their Cruiser, and he started helping his mates to grab on and climb. Munchadin cried out for both Jagan and Marlie, but the ship was sinking fast. Then he had an idea.

In the now soaked hold, both parties had been pushed away from the hole in the hull by the force of incoming seawater, the Ogre's weight unfortunately toward the low, listing side, making a bad situation worse. Jagan held onto the stationary crate pallettes, trying to work his way toward the body of the young Dwaven woman. Other crates were dislodged, half-falling, half-floating down at the Ogre, keeping it unable to ascend.

Jagan got to Marlie, who was stirring and coughing and sputtering trying to lift her head out of the water. She's alive! "Stay with me lass, we're not out of this yet. Come on now, cough to get the water out of your lungs, and breath...you might need to hold your breath before this is over." He picked her up over his shoulder, her form but a large child in his arms, and he started to look for a way up to the exit 8 feet beyond his reach.

The ship was filling as it's listing altered angles, allowing the Ogre better chance to climb out of the low area of the hold. It tried desperately to move toward it's despised foe, but could only bellow louder as it slipped, going under. Suddenly, a grappling hook and line splashed into the water next to Jagan. Munchadin you seadog! All the ale in Karak Tor will be yours when we get home! He grabbed for the line and got it, pulling it as taught as he could to signal to the sailors on the other side to pull them up. He could feel Marlie waking as she started to hold tight around his neck.

And then the whole world turned to ocean as the ship went under, water coming in from both below and above. Jagan and Marlie held their breath and held on tight while they slowly ascended and the whole ship descended around them. The force to go down was incredible. Jagan could feel Marlie's nails grasping into him even through his hide tunic, and his hands burned from the rope which sometimes slipped in his grasp. He felt the deck slide by his feet finally, and the canvas touch of watersoaked sail brushed against them too as they were pulled inevitably toward the surface and toward the 'Hammer. Suddenly, a boulder-heavy weight attached itself to his right leg, and he knew the Ogre lived still.

Its strength still mostly intact, the creature pulled itself up along the Barbarian until it too had a hold on the rope. Bubbles blew by Jagan's ear as Marlie screamed in the deep, the thing's face inches from hers. He tried to kick it off, but that was every bit as hard as it seems. He didn't dare let even one hand go of the line, for the weight was just too great as the Ogre continued to leverage himself with a grip on Jagan's leg. It was then that a splurge of yellowish-red blood drifted by Jagan's eyes. Marlie somehow with one hand had found a way to pull her old dagger out of the thing's shoulder. Jagan then took the risk: he let go with one hand and turned in the slight bouyancy of the water to hold tight around Marlie. It freed her to use both arms, and with all her might she plunged the dagger into an Ogre eye. More bubbles assaulted them both as the creature bellowed, faltered, and went down in the drink.

About out of air, the survivors burst to the surface, bodies banging a bit against the hull of the Cruiser. What a magnificent sight it was, Jagan thought...Munchadin barking out orders, looking over the rail of his ship, sailors cheering in the rock of the waves and the spray. And the stranger was there too, shaking his head. The man looked to have a prisoner of some sort.

Jagan and Marlie plopped onto the deck, breathing and coughing. She didn't let go for several minutes, and tears were indistinguishable from the water on her face, and some would say his as well. He did not mind.

"Cheated the devils again, I see. An ye lost me a fine frigate ta boot, not ta mention me daddy's cutlass! Blasted Barbarian." But he said it with a gleam in his eye.

Marlie, with a bit of difficulty, stood and fell into the Captain's arms as well, thanking him. "Don't tell mother, Uncle. She'd never approve of me coming to sea again!"

"She did'na approve the first time, either, lass. Like that stopped ye. And by the Shells and Stars I'm glad it didn't."

Jagan looked up to hear himself being addressed by the stranger who wore the sword of an Ancoran Royal Guard. Standing carefully, he stretched back to pull his long, wet hair away from his face. "So...How do you like this trip at sea so far, Mister...?"

Written by Pharsalus

A rather frustrated Geirik Foxfire sat on the sun-bleached deck of the Dwarven craft with hands bound and resting inert between his legs, salt-and-pepper hair hanging down in his face like a soggy shroud, eyes closed.

Admit it, human! You grow weaker by the moment -- the prison in which you have held me for so long already shows signs of weather. A shrill, hissing voice echoed throughout the inner chambers of the Bounty Hunters mind. Only time, Geirik...only time keeps you from me. And time, as all things temporal, will run out for you.

Geirik's eyes remained shut, but it was as if he fought to keep them that way -- his face contorted as he held his eyes closed with all the strength he could muster.

You lie, demon! His thoughts blasted back into the void With every passing moment, I gain resilience against your sway!

The voice thundered back in a cackle whose hiss rivaled that of a thousand serpents. *cackling* You are a fool of a mortal, Geirik Foxfire! You are a fool to resist me! You become more my slave, even now. I can feel with every beat of your heart...with every thought in your skull -- you know it's true. I...WILL...have you!

QUIET, DEMON! I've no more time for your shallow threats -- your time is nigh, and I shall bring Death itself upon your thresh. You will taste the void as you have never tasted it before....it is only a matter of time....

Geirik heard no response and opened his eyes to the afternoon sun, squinting some as they slowly adjusted to the light. He slowly looked up and around him just in time for his gaze to meet that of a figure standing close by -- the Barbarian from the 'Skaner.

"So...How do you like this trip at sea so far, Mister...?"

The grizzled old Bounty Hunter had long lost his sense of humor, and his face cracked and contorted into a blatant frown.

"Quite honestly, Barbarian, I have acquired more thrills in my life plucking poison darts from my arse!"

There was nothing for a moment -- Geirik realized his was being extraordinairily rude. But he felt no guilt or remorse -- he felt nothing. Only an innate feeling of dread that his time was short and destination far. He jerked his head to one side and snorted, bringing his chain-bound hands up between them.

"Is this the greeting all Ancoran Royal Guards get when they sign up for such "tours"!? I have precious little time, Jagan Talonmane, for your antics or those of any of your crewmates. My place is on land, and I hardly see progress being made while I sit here soaked to the bone and bound like a beast!"

Geirik felt his frustration begin to harden to rage -- his mind fought to keep as cool as possible, knowing all too well what could happen should he lose controll of his temper. It had happened all too many times in the past several years -- he knew the demon was right. And, as such, he knew time was ever more critical.

A sinister cackling sprung from the wells of his mind.

Yess.....let your anger take you. This ignorant beast of a man holds you back...bars your progress....but I can free you...

Geirik haulted his speech and fired inward. Shut up, you! I need nothing from you but silence! He tried to maintain eye contact with the Barbarian and ignore the now-thundering voice in his head.

Come, come now mortal -- such power tempts you, does it not? You want it...you...LIKE it. You have the power of Death itself in your grasp, and you cast it aside like an old glove. I can make you powerful, Geirik...you need only release me...

Geirik could not contain the thought within him...SHUT...UP...SHADE!

In all his focus to repel the temptation his "counter-self" presented, he lost his balance and fell forward, his knees slamming into the deck of the boat. He needed off this boat, and he had little patience left to deal with these lesser mortals. Confident that the shadow within him was squelched for now, he slowly looked up, panting significantly, and spoke in a forced tone.

I....I need off this boat. I need to reach Ancora...to reach Beridaine...

...NOW!

Written by Talonmane

Munchadin, did you order this man chained?" Jagan asked over his shoulder.

"Aye, we had no idea who he was. He came off that ship, and that's good enough fer me. So he took one of the jackanapes prisoner...that can be faked. You heard him right now, he wants to get back to Beridane. What else would ye need to hear? are yer wits as waterlogged as yer ears?"

Looking the man over, it was clear he struggled with some dilemma. "I ask you to release him Captain, on my word. He carries the sword of the Guard as it were his own. My instincts tell me he is one of the Guard, though his story is yet unknown to us. Let's get him unchained and fed, and return his equipment to him.

"Bah! you heard 'im mates, foller through on it.. And you Mister," the Dwarf addressed the stranger directly,"If'n it's off the ship ye want, that can be arranged. The Schooner alongsides will be heading to Port Westgale within the hour. She flies 'skaner colours and won't be suspected. You'll have to take care of yer own way after that. But know this...if the big man is wrong today, and ye be an agent o' the enemy...I'll come ashore meself to hunt ye down and take ye in." Munch didn't mince words and he didn't stay long. He mumbled something to his deck hands about needing some rest and went below.

Jagan watched as the man was released from the containment. "So...do you have a name? And why talk of needing to get to Beridane? Every fiber in me says you aren't with him...so why? And why were you on that frigate in the first place? Your only ride home is sitting in the waves right over there. And I'll be damned if I let you get on it without an explanation, simply based on the sword you carry. If you can't tell me what's going on, then just look me in the eye and tell me your on our side. Let me hear the words."

Written by Pharsalus

The sudden absence of cold, wet iron on his wrists was an incredible feeling -- Geirik hated being bound or restricted in any way. He inspected his wrists, rubbing one hand against the opposite. Confident that he was not permanently scarred from the ordeal, he returned his gaze to the barbarian. He realized he had let the shadow get the best of him -- he had a relatively stressful week, and he wasn't one to take stress well. Gone was his youthful ability to cope with new situations -- he was too old for that now and had become entirely too comfortable with the benefit of using his age as an excuse to be tart. Several gnarly old men emerged from nowhere and dropped his two swords, pack, and belt on the ground in front of him.

He inwardly smiled as the flicker of crystal tickled his vision -- before continuing, he bent down and removed a small vial from his belt. Uncorking it quickly before anyone could question or stop him, he put the vial to his lips.

This will silence you for now, Dark One...

He threw his head back, and the black liquid within in swirld, bubbled, and vanished into this mouth. He replaced the crystall stopper, wiped his lips, and felt an immediate shift in character. It was as if the tarrish liquid had dissolved a weight that had hovered in his gut for several weeks now. For the first time in what felt an eternity, Geirik was able to swallow his pride and smile.

"Good sir...I must admit we have not met under the fairest of terms, and my behavior only a moment ago was far from worthy of the crest I bear upon my blade and neck. Your men plucked me from the chilling waters before the rip of the craft could pull me under, and for that I am thankful. I owe you my name, at the very least."

He knew the water was the least of his concerns, but he felt it good material for softening the situation. He paused to look around, taking in a bit of the scene. He continued once he was comfortable he was in the presence of allies.

"My name is Geirik Foxfire, long-time mercenary and Bounty Hunter for the Ancoran Royal Guard. I bore her banner until only a year or so ago...when I lost my partner. Since then I have remained on the outskirts of these wasteful politics, taking odd jobs, but always keeping a close eye on the royal family."

Geirik had to force air through his throat to prevent choking up on the suddent remembrance of his fallen compatriot. He took a moment of silence to calm himself, then continued, returning full gaze to the Barbarian.

Regarding your concern for my alliance to Beridaine... His eyes became deep and his voice solemn... "Death takes no sides, Barbarian, and I as its vessel I am bound by the same covenant of neutrality. By the slaughter of the royal family, the tables were turned in Beridaine's favor...but, as my father always said, 'what's good for the goose is good for the gander.' The tables must be evened, and mine will be the blade that tips it."

He rested his right hand on the hilt of his long sword. It felt good to have it about his waist again -- he felt complete.

"That...is all I can tell you for now. My mission is not one that conflicts with the goals of your armies or political puppeteers. I ask only that you give me passage to the shores, as close to Ancora as you can leave me. I can handle the rest myself."

Written by Talonmane

"No longer a Guard then." Jagan continued to study the man, trying to determine the nature of his spirit. If only Shaman Tuskarm were here with me now...his sight into the souls of men be true. I will have to make my best guess...

"I hope the royal family still means something to you. If not, and if you are still a mercenary, we've the means of reward to give you a strong interest in the welfare of the royal family still. I'll make no bones about it, I will do whatever necessary to protect them, and I don't care if your aid is from loyalty to Ancora or loyalty to your purse or to some sense of achieving cosmic neutrality."

Deck Officer Bimglin came over just then and nodded to the Warden. Jagan spoke again to Geirik, "This is Commander Bimglin. He will be Captain'ing the Schooner that will take you to Port Westgale. Speak with him about any provisions you need."

The Barbarian nodded once to the man, and turned to walk away. After two steps, he looked back. "Word will be put out to our agents. We will be watching for you, Foxfire. If you need to ever contact the Crown, you needn't look far." And Jagan proceeded below to his cabin to dry off.

(after an hour, the Schooner will sail for port. you don't know what business Munchadin's men have there, and if you ask, you will be told they are trying to pick up some needed supplies under cover. feel free to handle the journey and arrival post however you wish and completely take it from here. just know that as you approach port, it is bustling with business...business with ships and peoples many of which had never been business partners with Ancora before...many unsavory characters...some would even be viewed as pirates. there will be a strong blockade near the docks checking every ship that comes in. they won't board your vessel unless they see something unusual on deck.)

Written by Archeantus

After Vermigard's minions were sent off and the two rogues found themselves alone, Vermigard eyed the long dagger Gadianton had used to threaten him with the life of one of his boys.

"That dagger." Vermigard began while lifting a slender finger directed to Gadianton's side.

Gadianton awaited his point, his eyes stern and unwavering.

"...Belongs to Teran."

At this, Gadianton's brow lifted slightly realizing his encounter was of far more significance than he had understood.

"I fought him on the road to Ancora." Gadianton said while pulling out the dagger that he had stolen from his foe. He eyed the blade intensely as if he saw it in a whole new light.

"And..?" The bounty hunter urged impatiently thinking of the irony of some skilled stranger killing his greatest catch and leaving him dead on the road. It had actually been a nightmare of his for years. All that gold laid to waste. Vermigard shuddered at the thought, yet continued to look at his new business associate expectantly.

"I killed his horse so he wouldn't bother me. Had I known what I know now the outcome of the fight would have been different." Gadianton shrugged. "Tell me bounty hunter, what do you know about him?"

"I know he was the one who was hired and killed Pallanon." Vermigard replied while flipping a gold coin up and down his knuckles.

Gadianton was mightily surprised at the momentous knowledge. He now looked at the stolen blade in his gloved hand even more intensely. It was then he spoke after a long moment of thought; the green aura coming from the sickly water illuminated his visage ominously as he smiled.

"This blade, which he most likely used, began what will end up becoming a war that will cover the whole of the kingdom. It is from this singular blade that all the death and woe will be waged. It shall also be the blade that will haunt him, for he intends to reverse the imbalance he has set in motion." Gadianton began while glaring at the dagger incessantly and then he continued. "Just as his blade has left his fingers so has the actions it has caused, and there will be nothing he can do to stop the carnage that will ensue. And then when all has been lost and the scales tip, the blade shall return to him and shall seal his death with it’s icy embrace.”

Vermigard tossed his gold coin at the stranger and he caught it.

“Nice speech stranger.” He said. “Now how about we get out of this cursed sewer and start ourselves a war.”

"Very well." Gadianton said as he sheathed his now treasured blade.

They made their way out and back into the dark streets of Ancora. Vermigard led his new compatriot to his secret hideaway below the Golden Swine, and there they spoke into the night. There they methodically schemed what it would take to truly bring the kingdoms of the realm to their knees. And beyond tactics they discussed future candidates to join them in their efforts. Vermigard knew many far and wide. With each he named, Gadianton would inquire about, searching for the best there were. Many he turned down, yet there were two he became interested in.

“If you can sway either of them to your cause you’ll have some of the more ruthless and cunning lot known in this realm.” Vermigard whispered excitedly. He had become more and more sure of his companion’s ability to make his intentions reality, and beyond his respect he considered himself a servant. A man like him was a fortune waiting to happen. His very methods were priceless. He puffed away at his pipe, sat back in his chair and yawned content with his days work. He had never had so much opportunity open to him.

”Where is the mage known to frequent?” Gadianton finally questioned.

”Far to the icy north is where I hear his citadel is located.” Vermigard replied casually.

”How long?”

"For a normal traveler, it is a six month journey.” Vermigard said letting out a large puff of smoke. ”For us it’ll take about an hour.“

Gadianton waited for the explanation.

Vermigard stood and pulled a large fur from the floorboard revealing a hidden hatch. From this he soon had a small chest, which was of fine craftsmanship. Unlocking its contents and whispering some sort of incantation, he displayed a circular object that appeared to be made of silver and gold.

“Long ago I grew tired of the conventional methods of travel.” He said while he busily twisted the object to his satisfaction. “For a year I expended all my efforts to secure a device which I had discovered in my studies would enable me to triple my business. There is a reason I have become one of the greatest bounty hunters this world has seen.”

Finally achieving some sort of calculation in the device, he set it on a pedestal and unhooked a large rolled up map on the far wall. It swung down in a cloud of dust.

“I present to you the Irrithica as the elves call it, or, translated in common tongue, the Sky passage. I have scoured the world with this device, and hunted countless men with its power. I know little about its origin, but I do know the elves would do just about anything to get it back.” Vermigard said while chuckling. “Problem is,” He continued. “It will take a long while till it is ready to use. It requires its user to concentrate on the destination for a long period of time and so quick escapes are out of the question.”

"Make it happen." Gadianton commanded while gazing at the world map. It was the first time he had laid eyes on the realm he had mysteriously found himself in. Within moments he had memorized directions to many of the larger cities from where he was at.

Vermigard nodded and went to work. He held the device while staring fervently at the map. Soon, as the night was nearly spent a small light appeared in the middle of the circle of the Irrithica. A ray of light burst forth from its iris and expanded into a portal, which glimmered in front of the map.

“There, now prepare yourself stranger, where we go it’s colder than you’re most likely used to.” Vermigard related pulling a large cloak over himself.

Looking through the portal they both could make of the cold landscape of the northeast region of the realm, an area of deathly winds and endless vistas of ice and snow. Gadianton pulled his hood over his face and tightened his cloak. Looking at Vermigard for a moment he nodded in approval and entered the portal. Vermigard entered right behind him grabbing the Irrithica before he vanished.

The cold wind hit them will a violent fury. Before the two was a large mountainous range and far into its misty reaches could be seen the citadel of Kishkumen the mage.

Written by Teran

Sidgard glided through the murky city streets making his nightly rounds. He nodded to each of the beggars he passed, tossing a coin to each one. It wasn't much money, but it could add up after a while, and Sidgard considered it a small price to pay for so many eyes and ears. He had heard whispers that Destrado had been on the hunt that evening. Rumor even had it that he had been slain by the man he was hunting, though no one seemed to know who exactly this man was.

Sidgard ran his own business of sorts, he sold information that people with money considered to be valuable. Sidgard was protected by reputation. When someone threatened, or tried to take some of Sidgard's information for free they often perished shortly afterwards. His business was profitable, there was always someone willing to pay to have their curisity satisfied, or to get information that may somehow make them rich... or dead. Sidgard didn't care much one way or another. He was a neutral entity, refusing to take sides in any war or conflict that might erupt in the underworld.

Sidgard rounded another corner, smiling at the man sitting there, dropping a coin into his outstretched hand without breaking step. It was then that he noticed a second person, further down the walkway. He moved closer studying the shadowy figure, a young man by the looks of him, clutching a coiled up whip. Sidgard recognized the weapon immediatly as Destrado's and stopped a few paces away. The young man became aware of Sidgard's presence and turned around glaring at the intruder before recognition flashed through his eyes.

"What do you want?" Fin snarled.

"I need to speak with Vermigard, I have some information he would like." Sidgard said matter of factly to the youth "Where is he?"

"What kind of information?" Fin asked dejectedly.

"Information about a bounty he never claimed. Where is he?" Sidgard repeated.

Fin's eyes glassed over for a moment, clearly debating something in his head. Sidgard dropped a small pouch of coin next to the young man. Fin fingered the pouch, estimating its value before he told Sidgard all he knew of Vermigard's hunt and its end in the sewers. Sidgard listened closely, ultimately deciding to head down into the sewers to have a look for himself. The boy's description was good enough that Sidgard could find the location of the fight without too much trouble.

Sidgard thanked the boy for his help and went on his way. It did not take him long to find the area Fin had described. He could see signs of a great fight having occured recently. Scuff marks in the mud, the occasional strange mark or weapon score on the walls, but what interested him most was the lack of a body. The vermin that lived in the sewers were not picky about where they ate their food so it was doubtful that the Vermigard's body was dragged anywhere. He examined the area and discovered what appeared to be dozens of tracks heading off in different directions, but along with those two boot tracks heading off in the same direction. He suspected that Vermigard was alive and well, along with the mysterious stranger he had been hunting.

Sidgard made his way out of the sewers heading back to the tavern he lived in. His clothes would need a thorough cleansing and he would need to figure out how to track down Teran. He no doubt had information the master assassin would be interested in.

Written by Archeantus

Two black shadows stood in stark contrast in the white world. Moving slowly, they came to a sheer cliff where an old rickety bridge reached across the divide precariously. Just above them were the towering blackened spires of the mage’s estate.

“Fine place he has here.” Vermigard mumbled as he stepped cautiously onto the swaying bridge. The bitter wind picked up coincidently. Taking a firm grip to the decaying rope beside him, he added yelling above the driving wind. “They say he slaughtered a noble family who had vowed to destroy him and his monstrous experiments. They apparently killed his elder brother in their zeal and in a fit of rage he unleashed his power upon them all, men, women and children. A week later the family estate vanished. Nothing ever grew there and still it remains desolate. It has been a mystery until recent rumors of the living dead near this area. This provoked a hunt to discover the source of such phenomenon and after many failed expeditions the long lost estate was found once more. Many mysteriously disappeared and it is rumored by some, that the old mage has delved into the dark art of necromancy…”

Gadianton listened intently while carefully making his way across the limitless divide. Far below them, the fall was lost in clouds of ice; the mist whirled hungrily as if it were anticipating them.

Reaching the other side, they stood before a massive gate, which long ago bore the insignia of the long lost family. The bars were embraced eternally with clear icy shards. Pushing the gate open, they entered what used to be a great courtyard and made their way toward the main entrance to the estate. Pushing the great doors open, they creaked solemnly as the two rogues beheld the expansive inner chamber of the once noble estate. Entering, they were surprised at the remarkable preserved state of the entrance room. Before them was a large reflective black marble floor which was layered with a great circular royal red rug. Above them lifeless rays of light shone through large windows, and a massive spiral staircase reached upward. Curiously the two examined their surroundings and decided to take the stairs.

“If I were a crazed old mage I’d be up in the towers doing something diabolical.” Vermigard joked yet seemed a bit nervous.

“Even I don’t like the feeling here.” Gadianton whispered strangely.

They followed the staircase far up into the center tower. As soon as they drew near they could hear cries of pain. Horrible tortured cries increased as they moved near the rusted iron door that hid the obvious scene of agony. Suddenly the door opened abruptly and they saw a dark robed figure standing grotesquely above a withered man who was screaming in anguish. A sickly red aura was slowly being sucked into the mage’s hand. There was a slight glimmer of light around the man as he screamed and suddenly he fell lifeless to the cold floor.

The two rogues watched in amazement as now the mage whispered a spidery language and invoked a dark power which then entered into the hallow man. He arose mindlessly and stood there motionless.

It was then the mage turned and finally addressed them.

“Who dares disturb my work?” He hissed.

The mage was old; his wild hair hung in tatters and fell out of his blackened hood. He had a mangy beard, which hideously stretched in every direction imaginable. He was an odd sight and had the appearance of a stark raving old man.

“We disturb it mage.” Gadianton said coolly while stepping forward suddenly.

The room they were in was covered in dust and debris. There were old tombs and spell components everywhere. Along the walls were many just like the newly transformed man. They stared lifelessly at nothing. There were those of all shapes and sizes, races and genders. In the middle of the expansive room was a large pile of remains, years of failed experiments. The room breathed of death, and the old mage seemed to be death itself.

“Do not come any closer human.” The mage warned.

“Or?” Gadianton asked still approaching the mage.

Vermigard braced himself for a fight seeing his brash companion head directly into what appeared to be the maw of death.

The mage’s eyes shifted from a marble black to a fiery red in response. His hand reached out and his gnarled staff flew through the air and came to his clutching fingers. Gadianton immediately drew his bow and notched an arrow, aiming it deep into the center of the mage’s brooding forehead.

“Say another word and you shall go where your minions cannot.” Gadianton warned in return.

The mage snarled seeing he was in a bleak situation. He could not cast a spell, nor could he gain any advantage on his own merits. But he smiled grimly nonetheless. There was far more to him than met the eye. From the corner of his eye Gadianton saw a dead elven archer notch an arrow. Turning his attention he fired his arrow, which entered firmly into the lifeless eye of the archer. It fell silently. This bid the old mage time and he was suddenly surrounded by large knights who used to gallantly serve their king, now reduced to be lifeless servants of a withered mage. And then from every direction they came. Human swordsmen, Elven pikesmen, dwarven warriors, all living yet dead came at the two rogues all at once.

“Great.” Vermigard said sadistically, brandishing his rapier like lightening and joined his fool companion. He stood back to back with Gadianton. Gadianton held his elven blade firmly, his gray eyes watched in anticipation as the dead came.

“They have no minds, fight them with yours.” His master said calmly.

Vermigard seemed not to hear as he eyed a human female who wielded a whip. They fell in and the two experienced rogues tore through them. Slashing and cleaving the dead warriors the mage watched in horror as his minions were quickly being slaughtered. Gadiantion and Vermigard darted like shadows and the dead fell in their erratic wake. Vermigard suddenly had a whip and around it flew sending the dead down as he cleaved them with his rapier.

“No!” The necromancer screamed. He had spent years collecting them. Suddenly the dead stopped attacking. The mage rushed forward and began a chant of power, a small ember of fire appeared above his hand. Gadianton threw his clean sword down and masterfully wielded his bow and notched an arrow fluidly. He wasted no time and fired. It cut through the air and grazed the mage’s neck causing him to fall backward in shock; his spell fizzled in a puff of smoke. The necromancer immediately looked and saw yet another arrow notched aimed at his forehead.

“Call on your minions once more and they will all fall.” Gadianton warned knowing full well where the mage’s weakness was now.

“Damn you!” Kishkumen cursed. “You leave me no choice, human.”

“Brother! Rid the world of these beings.” He commanded.

It was then that one who had not come in to fight stepped down from his perch on the wall.

“It can’t be.” Vermigard said in shock. “He….saved him.”

Kishkumen’s brother slowly walked toward the two rogues, a sword larger than either of them had ever seen was held easily in his left hand. Long midnight blue hair swept down to his waist. His lower half was covered in dull plate mail. His upper body was bare. His skin was a dull gray, yet the most striking feature was the deformation of half of his body. Around his left shoulder and around his upper chest was a reptilian membrane, it pulsed with life and energy and utter strength. It was this deformation that held the massive sword as if it were a toy.

Gadianton backed away and fired his arrow at this new threat, yet to his surprise the arrow deflected off doing no harm.

Kishkumen laughed. “Kill them brother, slaughter them.” He said manically.

The two rogues stood and prepared themselves to fight this monstrosity; Vermigard cracked his whip and slowly circled the lifeless being. Gadianton picked up his sword from the stone floor and stood there motionless, eyeing the being haphazardly.

Written by Teran

The events Teran had pushed into motion were unfolding as he expected. Rumor had it the elves were marching on Berridane, Mavigan was in the process of escaping from Berridane's area of influence and it would only be a matter of time until war spread throughout the continent and potentially the entire world. The world would be in a state of total war with no end in sight, no side gaining any long term advantage, Teran himself would be sure of that. Teran had once heard a "wise man" say that war did not determine who was right, but who was left and he was inclined to agree.

If Berridane somehow killed Mavigan without Teran's help, then there was a problem. Teran's plan couldn't afford the liability a new player and he suspected that the man he met on the road to Ancora was an agent of Berridane's. If this was the case, then Berridane would know something about this man so Teran decided to go ask Berridane himself.

King Berridane was asleep as the assassin slipped into his room but his eyes fluttered open as Teran drew his blade.

"What do you want?" Berridane called out groggily.

"Shhh sh. I want to ask you a few questions" Teran said quietly.

Berridane inhaled sharply and was suddenly wide awake, recognizing Teran's voice. He sat up straight in his bed, and felt the cold pressure of Teran's blade on his throat.

"What is the name of the man who brought the elf into this city?"

Berridane remained silent, but Teran could see that Berridane knew of who he was talking about. The man he met on the road was indeed an agent of Berridane's, and special enough an agent that Berridane would know and recognize him personally, just as Teran himself had been. His blade bit into the King's throat causing him to flinch in pain.

"W-who? An elf?" he asked weakly trying to play ignorant.

A surprisingly pleasant smile creased Teran's face.

"What is his name? Where did he come from?" the assassin whispered.

The king swallowed hard and Teran realized Berridane was afraid of the man.

"What is his name?" Teran repeated, pressing his blade just a little harder against the king's throat.

Berridane clenched his teeth and closed his eyes, sure that Teran would slay him "Gadianton." he said quickly out of desperation "His name is Gadianton, and I don't know where he came from."

"Thank you." Teran said.

Berridane opened his eyes to reply, but the assassin was already gone.

Written by Turin

Ithramir silently slid back into his chair as he gazed out onto the scene in the tavern. He knew who the half-elf bard was on the stage, and he knew that his sister knew as well, and yet he said nothing. He did not even bat an eyelash in her direction.

When a tavern wench finally made her way over to their table, Ithramir ordered a few of the best bottles of wine the tavern had. He figured that he might as well enjoy himself this eve, for it seemed to be a long one ahead of him. It was then that he saw Umaewen's glance, and he finally decided to whisper to her,

"Are you really surprised at your daughter's chosen profession? Like father, like daughter it seems. If you wish to speak with her, then so be it, but for the record I do not think it a good idea. However, I won't stand in your way either."

Ithramir's words were at once gentle, and yet cold as ice. It was no secret he disliked bards on a personal level. They had their place in society as performers and entertainers, that much he enjoyed, but ever since his sister had been seduced by a human bard and left her with child...well, just seeing a bard filled him with thoughts of malice.

Of course, truth be told, his sister was as much to blame for the incident. She knew that as a Ranger she was forbidden to be pregnant and continue to carry the title. This was his secret, he had hid her away, kept her and her child hidden until she bore the half-elf child. Then, he let her choose. Stay with the child and help raise the child with it's father, or continue her sworn duty as a Ranger and give the child up. The decision was hers, and she chose of her own free will.

Now, here they are, and there she is. To Ithramir, she became what he always had figured she would become, seeing that her father knew no better a profession. In his mind, Ithramir raged. Of all the professions in this world, my "niece" is what I abhor the most, a bard who talks conveniently of love and joy...until they have had their fill and wander away to another town to fill their lustful desires on another town of unsuspecting idiots. Yes, to be sure, Ithramir had a distaste for bards.

To Umeawen, she looked on her daughter and wanted to explain why she did what she did. As she looked over at her brother, she saw the look of disgust on his face, and she felt a measure of regret. She knew the awful chance he took in keeping her secret, and for that she will always be thankful. Admittedly, she did love the girls father, but she was not ready for the burden of motherhood. Perhaps if she had found the father and told him before her return to the Order, then she may have decided to stay. However, she could never find him, but instead found his parents and sent the child to them. Quietly, she had kept tabs on her daughter, unknown to her brother. This was her secret from him, in that she continued to look after he child, although the daughter never knew. She gave the grandparents all they asked for to ensure her daughters well being, a secret she made them swear to her as she left the child with them. Perhaps one day her daughter will know, and maybe she can explain why such things were done.

As each were left to their thoughts, the wench returned with the aforementioned bottles of wine and Ithramir helped himself to a glass or two. Looking out, he saw another half-elf get up and start dancing. This one he watched with care. After a few moments, he saw the table she got up from, and noticed he was being watched as well. A smirk ran across his face as he thought.

"So, it seems someone has noticed our presence in the room. However, I too have noticed you. A young lady may be lucky to have an escort, but my, my, my, to have four? Oh, and see how their eyes dart about the room? Yes, my friends, you are drawing much attention to yourselves...although no one else, drunk as they are, will notice."

Ithramir nodded at the human who spied him. He was now confident in who the half-elf was, and who those "escorts" were. Quietly leaning in to one of his rangers, he says quietly,

"I think our search is at an end. Go, get a few of our number and block the entances. Once the dance is over, we will have the owner close up the tavern, and then we will see if I am correct."

The elf nodded and ran off into the night to do as he asked. Getting up from his chair, Ithramir made his way to the owner of the tavern, who said,

"'Ow can I 'elp ye?"

Looking into the eyes of the tavernmaster, he replies,

"You can help me by closing after this song."

His words elicited a hearty laugh from the owner, who replied,

"Ye mus' be drunk, lad. I'll not be a closin' this 'ere even'n."

Reaching into his cloak, Ithramir produced a pouch full of Black Diamonds, the rarest form of gem the world has, and the most costliest. Letting two fall from the pouch, he grabs the owners hand and places them on his open palm, which he then gently closes over the gems. Looking at him again, this time with a dread glare, he says,

"Those are worth more than two years of operating this tavern, perhaps even more. Now, I say again, this tavern will be closed after this song is done."

For emhasis, Ithramir squeezes the man's hands rather forcefully, and the tavernmaster finally says,

"As ye wish, master elf. Af'er this 'ere song is done, we shall close up."

Letting the man's hand go free, Ithramir nods and says,

"Your..cooperation..is appreciated, friend. Also, be sure not to peak outside once you close the bar down, it would be shame to see such an old head removed from one's shoulders."

Smiling, Ithramir walked away and returned to his seat. After a few seconds, his ranger returned and said,

"All is ready, milord."

Pouring a glass of wine, Ithramir smiles and says,

"Well then, let us enjoy the last of this song."

Written by Wilhelm

Sir Wilhelm noted the intense attention paid to the bard Rowan by the elven leader Ithramir and the elven ranger Umeawen next to him. He saw the look of disgust on the leader's face and the look of fondness on the ranger, and then noticed the similarity in appearance between them and the bard, particularly between the ranger and the bard. He had seen no sign of recognition by the bard towards the elves. "Interesting," he thought, "the bard must be a half-elf daughter of that ranger." He noted the leader turning his attention to Wilhelm's own table and realized he had been staring a bit too obviously. While he had gained the Bounty Hunter's gift of tracking as part of his search for Mavigan, he was not yet as practiced in deception as the life-long practitioners of that profession. Besides, all this cloak and dagger work went against his nature anyway.

Turning his head casually to look at the other people in the common room, while finishing his tankard, Wilhelm kept up his tracking trance. He noted one of the elves leave that party and go out to the others in the stable. With a bit of alarm he noted the life forces of those other elves move to block the entrances to the Inn. Visibly noticing his empty tankard, and the barmaid standing at the bar talking to the male patron (who was paying a great deal of attention to her and to her cleavage), he turned to Koric next to him and placed his empty tankard in front of him.

In a low voice he told Koric: "Steady man, but I detect groups of elves moving to bloak the entrances to the Inn. This will likely be interesting, if not outright trouble. Take our tankards over to the bar for refills. Along the way bump into Alaric and pass the word. The kitchen behind the bar is a suitable place for a defensive stand. Stay by the bar for the refills and make sure the kitchen doorway stays open. We may have need of it. If it all comes down we can grab Mavigan and get her to you to take into the kitchen while the rest of us hold the door. The cue to do so will be when I stand up, or on your own judgement as needed."

Koric nodded, finished his own tankard, deliberately spilling a little on his shirt, and took the two empty tankards, moving off with a slight weave to his gait. Wilhelm saw him bump into Alaric as if by accident and exchange some words. Wilhelm quietly eased back from the table so he could leap to his feet if needed, making sure his hammer was still hidden by the cloak but ready to be wielded.

Noting that the elves outside had taken position but not moved to enter, he split his attention between the elven leader and the scene around the stage where Mavigan danced to the beat of the Bridal Dance. He saw the tears on her cheek as she thought of her father. Regretting the need for it, and the loss of the freedom of youth, he hoped she was becoming ready for the weight of reponsibility about to fall upon her shoulders. With a prayer to the Father, Wilhelm prepared to ensure that she survived to bear that weight.

Written by Archeantus

The circular upper chamber of the tower was awash with a deadly air as the two rogues prepared themselves to overcome the hulking grotesque figure that approached them.

The scaly skin that encrusted the mage’s brother crawled across his face as if it were a fungus. His eyes were completely devoid of color, and it was those eyes that glared menacingly at the two as he centered his malice at Gadianton who stood in the very center of the chamber awaiting the onslaught. The hulking man raised his massive sword, which outstretched majestically beyond his own height and charged.

Gadianton glowered at the charging monstrosity and raised his elven sword at eye level, pointing it directly at its target. He stood motionless as the horror jumped and swung his great sword down with godly strength. Sidestepping the incredible blow, which smashed down like a hammer against the stone floor deftly, he swung his blade around into the creature’s grotesque arm. The elven blade bit deep but did not do what its master had intended. Surprised at the sheer toughness of the creature’s hide, Gadianton tore it away moments before the other hand had a chance to grab him. This had given Vermigard a moment to make his move. Suddenly the black leather of his whip wrapped around the beast’s legs. The creature had intended to move toward Gadianton yet lost its footing and fell to the ground. Wasting little time Gadianton went directly for the one thing that could turn the tide of the fight, the creature’s wrist that held the sword. Yet to his utter shock, the creature anticipated his design and swung his sword defensively to fend its attacker off. In the same motion it pulled on the whip with his free hand and wrung it out of the bounty hunter’s grasping fingers.

This move was of a being that thought and planned. Gadianton reevaluated his attack and prepared himself for a real fight. He stopped and glared at the mage still encased within his death knights. The old man was smiling treacherously. Gadianton then shifted his gaze at Vermigard who had caught on too. The two exchanged glances as they reinvented their stratagem, all the while communicating what each was thinking: The mage’s brother was far from dead. He was alive and knew exactly what he was doing.

The animated corpselike being stood threateningly while smiling, the whip fell from his legs. His eyes then flared in an iridescent manner. It was as if the flames of a furnace had just been awoken. His wound sealed on his arm and he motioned his attackers to fight him.

Gadianton struck first, and then Vermigard was quick to follow. The creature’s wielded his blade which was almost as tall as himself, like it were a common walking stick, yet its weight must have been great due to the sheer size. The two rogues plowed into the creature, attacking at once and darting away. Slash marks soon covered the creature who swung and parried what he could, but the two masterful swordsmen’s speed was too great. Its wounds seemed to regenerate and heal strangely, yet the sword continued to attack furiously. Vermigard managed to obtain his whip once more as at the same instant the creature intelligently and with surprising agility backhanded Gadianton. He flew across the center of the chamber and crashed into the large pile of old bones that littered the center of the chamber.

Vermigard ran, buying his companion time as the creature then charged him solely. Gadianton rose from the decay with white-hot eyes. His tore his elven cloak off revealing his chiseled features. Despite the lack of his hood, his face was still shrouded with anger. The torchlight glimmered across his rich brown hair, which hung across his face. He now held his blade like he held his unconquerable will to destroy everything his eyes beheld. His tanned arms flexed spastically and he ran toward the creature with all the horror he possessed. Much like the mage who used his brother as an extension of his power, Gadianton used a sword.

It was during this attack that a cry came from the wall. It was the cry of a small girl who was chained to the wall. The mage stood there about to destroy her life, but the very action went unheeded, as Gadianton tore through the air toward his kill. Vermigard noted his companion’s attack and planned his own. The massive creature never knew what hit him. The elven blade pierced through the creature’s chest as it howled in pain. Vermigard swung his whip around and wrapped its clutches around the creature’s neck. With a powerful yank he toppled the beastly man down face first. Gadianton held onto his sword as it was pulled from its home as the creature fell. He was upon the creature the moment it struck the ground and was about to strike the head when all went dark. The image of their surroundings glassed over and shimmered and disappeared altogether in a whirlwind of color and light. Stripped of their bearings and shocked at the change of reality they could only whirl around and wait whatever attack came. No attack ever came, and soon a single clap could be heard echoing in the dark void.

“Death is a test of the greatest warrior, and his life is worthless until he proves he can overcome it.” A chilling, yet bold voice whispered nearby.

It was then that the surroundings flashed before their eyes and revealed they were in a darkened study. A near dead fire glowed in a nearby fireplace. Understanding the whole experience in a sudden revelation, Gadianton smiled as he beheld a shadowy figure sitting in a darkened corner.

“An illusion?” Gadianton asked while sheathing his sword.

“No, a trap.” The raspy voice returned. “Like mice they come, and I take their worthless lives and steal their wills.”

The shadow stood now and entered into the light. The darkness melted from his face and revealed a man who stood tall, much like a youthful king. His face was pale and stern. Long black hair was pulled back and tied behind him. He was the exact opposite of the illusionist mage. He was youthful and intelligent, not mad and old.

“Fools come and they never leave. They join me eternally, and become loyal to my cause. I am a thief, nothing more." He said while stoking the fire.

"None have come to seek me like you have done, they come to destroy me.” The mage persisted.

“How do you know that we do not come to destroy you?” Gadianton inquired warningly.

“Because your hearts are black. The illusion was meant to find one like you.” The mage answered and then continued.

“I know who you are Vermigard Destrado, the bounty hunter,” He said. “But I do not know you.” He pointed toward Gadianton curiously.

“I am the one who will set this world on fire and watch it burn.” Gadianton replied smoothly.

The mage laughed in delight.

“How do you intend to do this?” He asked, while his blue eyes studied the rogue with intense interest.

“By employing you.” Gadianton returned.

The mage cocked his head and appeared to be pleased with the answer.

“I have been surveying the political climate for quite some time, biding my time till I would come down and reap and harvest the souls of this world.” He said eagerly stating his desire openly. “I have long foretold the day would come when a being of great skill would come and unlock the door that I could not unlock by myself. This being would spark the fires of war and unleashed a power unknown. I perceive this being has come and now stands in my study.”

There was a silence as the mage awaited a response, and an acceptance of the responsibility he had detailed.

Gadianton stepped toward the mage and drew his sword. Stopping a few feet before the mage, he raised his sword and pointed it toward the mage’s throat.

“I offer you death beyond your wildest dreams.” He said accepting the mage’s demands, stepping into the shoes of the destined being the mage had dreamt of.

The mage seeing the marked sincerity the man displayed bowed his head in respect.

“Then the world is in grave danger.” The mage declared. “My powers are at your disposal.”

Gadianton nodded expectantly, and then asked the question that he had wanted to ask the moment he had come into the mage’s presence.

“Your brother. Was he an illusion also?”

This invoked another laugh from the mage who followed the stranger’s train of thought, knowing full well how a man would who faced such a creature would then wish to use such a creature.

“No….” The mage chuckled dangerously. “He will provide much of the death you speak of…”

Vermigard who had been surveying the exchange between the two from the wall, puffed his pipe and added angrily, “Why the hell didn’t you fight him?”

“I like him.” Came the response.

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