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Book One - The Elven March to Westgale

Written by Pharsalus - Page 7 Book 1

Geirik's face maintained the usual calm as the heel of his boot first thumped against the musty, salt-stained wood that formed a dock filled with people of all colors, shapes, and sizes bartaring and borrowing anything they could to feed the no-doubt impoverished families they kept at home. It was a sad sight, to be sure -- since her king's assassination, Ancora had lost much of the pearl and emerald glow she had once boasted. The touch of corruption had certainly left its print, for it was one with which Geirik had become all too familiar over the course of his lifetime (which was far longer than most people realized).

He paused a moment on the dock, tossing a few coins to the man who had skiffed him in from a town about fifty miles down the coast. It had been a slow trip, even more so with the realization that much was happening that Geirik considered in need of his presence and attention. With a bag thrown over his shoulder and distant look in his eye, the grizzled (and soggy) old Bounty Hunter began his treck along the right edge of the dock, turning this way and that as the structure demanded, until his feet touched firm soil. He stopped again, looking out at the gate that separated the main loading dock from the rest of Ancora.

Hmph...no care has been given to city defenses, I see. Sad...truely sad...

Geirik closed his eyes for a moment and averted his head, almost grimacing at the thought that the city he had once sworn to protect had let itself fall to such a state of ruin. But he did not dwell on such things anymore -- he was beyond them. If the city fell tomorrow, it would serve only to prove the ignorance and wretchedness of men and the ultimate mortality of his make. He simply continued walking, his eyes remaining focused on the rain-moistened road ahead, swords carefully concealed beneath his cloak. His hood was down, revealing his long, salt-and-pepper hair and pale complexion. He was tired, wet, and frustrated at Ancora's current state of affairs.

He puzzled and pondered as he walked, nodding distantly at the gate guard as he walked past -- the guard bore the symbol of Beridaine.

"'Ey! You! Back in line!"

Geirik stopped but did not look. What this strange man was thinking was beyond the guard, but it irritated him that the cloaked figure did not do as he had commanded.

"I'm no' goin'ta' ask'ee again, friend...put y'er bags on'the couent'r an' ge' back'n line."

Geirik finally turned to face the pudgy guard that came only to his collar in height. He seemed fairly thick in build and certainly able to hold himself against any gritty street urchin.....but Geirik was no street urchin.

"I'm afraid I cannot comply, sir. You bear the symbol of a traitor -- you hold no power here.

The guard's face changed from frustration to shock to hatred. He unsheathed his sword and waved it furiously in Geirik's direction, nearly slicing the ear off a child walking between them. The guard darted his eyes at the kid -- couldn't have been any older than 11 or 12 years of age -- and raised his blade.

"'Ey! Ge' outta' here ya' li'l wretch!"

The blustering guard reared his blade higher as the child became to scared and confused to move. Geirik's face remained distant, almost uncaring, as he dropped his bag to the ground.

You dare raise a blade against one Ancora's own. You, sir, are a disgrace to the very gate you degrade with your very presence. I will tell you only once -- drop your sword, remove your badge, and walk to the nearest boat available. If you do not, I will be forced to disarm you myself."

The guard stopped and stared blankly at the dank, dirty, foul-mouthed man before him. His face cracked into a smile as he burst into laughter before the crowd of people that stood impatiently waiting to be allowed entrance. The guard could not help but drop his sword and hunch over -- his entire form shook and convulsed with heaving laughter.

"HA HA HA HA ..... you...he he he...you will 'disarm' me, will you? He he he he...tha's...tha's pretty gud, ma' friend! But...*he stands and sighs*....but I'm afraid you're sadly mista..."

There was the whistle of steel, the fleshy splatter of blood, and complete silence. The guard's face was white and contorted with complete disbelief. Geirik stood with a blood-soaked blade pointed at the imcredulous uniformed man before him.

"I warned you -- I tell only once. Here...you will be needing this..."

The guard recoiled as a blunt item was hurled at him. After a few seconds of stunned silence, there was a great blast of agonized screaming as the man fell to the ground next to his severed arm...dead.

Geirik replaced his longsword, wiping the blade against the edge of his cloak as he inserted it into the sheath. Picking up his bag again, he continued through the gate, leaving a throng of stunned onlookers behind him. HE walked for a good half-an-hour before stopping to yet another gate. It was the gate protecting the city's inner court, a collection of small shops, homes, and fields dedicated to the preservation of the royal family. Though they lived on mere scraps themselves, those inhabitants provided the rich and courtly banquet and party foods for the king and his entourage. The Bounty Hunter stopped at the gates, turning his eyes past the rows of cottages and shops to the great stone structure on the hill beyond -- the abode of what once was the royal family.

"Hey! You, there! Stop right there...and just where do you think YOU'RE going? Hm??"

Geirik's expression remained completely devoid of any hint of emotion or concern for the guard that rushed up to his left, sword in hand as he answered in a voice as equally chilled.

"In there, of course. Please -- open the gates and let me pass."

The guard chuckled -- he was a burly man, with grey hair and a beard as thick as a Dwarf's. He was too short to be considered fully human and too tall to be considered the average Dwarf -- but it did not matter to Geirik one way or the other. Geirik turned, half tempted to take the man's head before he could be declined entrance...

But his hand stayed (very much against the wishes of the voice that had begun to whisper ill things half-way through his voyage over). The guard before him was not like the other -- he wore the Star of Ancora upon his chest and sword pommel. This was a guard still loyal to Pallanon -- he was not to simply be done away with. His kind were few these days. The awkward pause was suddenly broken from Geirik's other side.

"'Ey, Broaley...ye' old coot! Arrest the man, f'er mercy's sake! You, there! Ye'll be goin' nowhere 'slong as I'm 'ere!"

Geirik did not speak or avert his eyes to face this obviously younger guard. His charcoal eyes remained locked on those of the older man in front of him while his hands flickered and flew with a whistle of steel faint gurgling noise. He turned and looked down at the gurgling lad on the ground -- blood bubbled and poured from the gash in his neck as he desparately tried to inlist the help of his compatriot.

But none such aide came. The older man simply cocked his head to one side and stroked his beard thoughtfully.

"You've just slain a guard of Ancora, youngster! (Geirik almost smirked at the thought) But...ehm...I never much liked the lad anyway. And besides....I am loyal to Ancora -- not her king."

Geirik turned only to find the older gentleman smiling with a mischevious flicker in his eye. His hand was outstretched, offering a comrade's embrace. Geirik did not partake in such things -- his hand reached into a pouch on his belt and pulled several platinum coins and rare gems. With lifeless eyes, Geirik turned the man's hand and dropped the goods into his palm.

"I have long been without the warmth of comradarie, not that I particularly miss it. You are loyal to Ancora, and for that you have earned your place as a potential ally. War is upon us friend -- those bearing the Star of Ancora are this city's last line of defense. Farewell..."

He did not give the man time for response of any kind. He simply took up his bag and stood at the gate with an anticipating lean to his form. The older gentlmen could only smile and clutch the assortment of gems in a tight fist. He lumbered back into the gate shack, from which began to chink and clink and clak the sound of chains and pulleys. With a rusted groan of protest, the gate began to open. Geirik did not allow it time to open to its full capacity -- he slipped in as soon as he was able and, for the first time this trip, broke into a full run through the streets. His eyes remained focused on the castle in teh near distance.

"Stealth my boy....stealth is key. Too many of Beridaine's men about...can't cause too much of a ruckus. For the sake of their families...can't get angry..."

Geirk huffed and puffed and panted as he drew closer and closer to the castle's west wall. The sun had begun to set, leaving certain areas of the city almost in complete darkness. The castle was no exception, and Geirik was not one to lose an opportunity. He ducked behind a line of hedges that lined the west wall all the way to the road and gate. A quick survey of the area revealed no guards of any kind, quite unusual for such a regal abode. He threw his bag down and removed from it several items he had procurred on his trip there. His main concern was an iron grappling hook and length of rope he had taken off a thief who had failed his chance to pickpocket. Why the thief had such gear on him was beyond Geirik, but (as customary) he didn't rightly care. His thoughts calculated and formulated as he secured the rope to the end of the hook. Confirming he was still alone in the failing light, he gave a tremendous upward thrust, sending hook and rope sailing over the castle wall.

Confident all was well and secure, Geirik hand-over-handed his way to the top of the wall, poking up his head first, then his upper torso, then legs, and flung them all to the battlements only a few feet below. His boots resounded loudly on impact, bringing shortly thereafter an anticipating silence. Geirk froze completely, flattened against the wooden planks of the upper battlements, ears tuned to even the slightest audible disturbance.

Nothing...only silence...again strange for such a once-fortified palace. Geirik did not like the feeling of it, but he tamed his concern enough to make his way down the ramps and through the main courtyard toward the first window he could find. Finding one suitable for his size, he darted to it and flattened himself against the wall beneath, looking this way and that for any signs of activity. There were none, as were there none in the window. All was dark...all was still...it was then that Geirik remembered that the royal family was dead, and the one remaining daughter was confirmed to be in the presence of an escort. Who knew how far they had gone since Geirik had left -- it was not his current concern. He pulled open the window and crawled inside. He left it open in case the latch was sticky and made his way out of the room (apparently a servant's quarters) and into the hall outside. None of the torches were lit -- it was as if the castle had been completely abandoned. But Geirik could not believe such a proposterous thought -- there were still guards. And where there were guards, there was someone to lead them. Geirik had long acquired his bearings and knew exactly where he was going. The throne room was not far up the way; neither were the council's quarters and, just down from that, the quarters of the king and queen.

The door to the throne room was slightly ajar, allowing a razor-thin line of light to pass through and project itself onto the floor and opposite wall of the hall. Geirik stopped before crossing its beams and dropped almost completely flat against the floor. Constraining his breathing and maintaining that cold, emotionless expression, Geirik slowly positioned his eyes between the crack of the door. His view was restricted, but he could see enough to know the room was relatively empty. He shifted forward, carefully gripping the edge of the door with his thumb and index finger of his right hand, and began to pull gently toward him. The door made relatively little noise and was required little effort to move. Geirik rose to his feet, sliding through the man-sized crack he had made for himself, and stood stock-still in the entrance way to the throne room. His garb was relatively dark, but he had no hood, and the silver streaks in his salt-and-pepper hair would undoubtedly give him away even in the poorest light.

Geirik stepped forward into the moonlight that pulsed and flickered from wall sconces and stained glass windows. He stood there perfectly stiff, shoulder's tensed, feet together, eyes staring at the gold and mahogany throne before him. He remembered when the king had summoned him there for the first time -- he could almost hear the man's voice resounding so youthfully (then) in the same stone walls that surrounded him now. Nothing had changed in the past decade or so -- certainly nothing had changed in the past few years. Even the velvet cushions on the throne were still plush. He stepped forward once...then again...until his hand brushed the polished wood handles of the great chair. At contact, Geirik's mind began to burn and crackle as vile whispers blew through his thoughts like a frosted wind.

How fickle a thing, life iss.s.s......hmmm, Geirik? Heh heh heh...How brittle a thing -- broken by so simple a thing as a blade to the throat or club to the head...

Geirik hunched at the sudden presence of the being he had grown to hate with every fiber of his being (that was still his own, of course), catching himself on the arm of the throne.

Go back to your hole, demon! This is none of your concern!

The voice retorted sarcastically,

Tsk tsk tsk, Geirik -- after all this time together, and you still want me in a cage? Come....let us put down this petty bickering. Let us be allies...

Geirik shook his head violently, clearing his thoughts for a moment to plan his next course of action. He had gathered shortly before he left that an assasination was planned, though no details were available as no one knew who was doing it and who was receiving it. Pallanon was the likely suspect, being the most powerful political figure in this region, but it would not have suprised anyone to hear of a businessman of politician being slain in his own bed. Geirik rubbed his chin as he paceda bout the room, keeping an ear out for any who would intrude, keeping his cloak close about him. His thoughts lit a'blaze again.

Poor, poor Geirik. Unsure of where to go from here, mortal? Heh heh heh heh...of course you are. I forget you are not completely mine.......yet....

Geirik's face remained resolute, crinkled in thought and almost sweating beneath the weight of the voice in his mind. He turned and had taken only a step toward the rear entrance when his sullen form haulted in mid-stride. Chills ran up and down every straight line in his body, and his ears and mind crackled with almost electrical intensity. He had felt this several times before over the course of his life, more and more so over the past few decades. The pupils of his eyes widened as images flashed before him -- a man...tall...dark hair...magical...and two others. There was a fight...death....death everywhere, seeming to move about the room like men.

As quickly as the image had hit him, it dissipated. He knew its source, though he did not know the whereabouts. He stood and pondered coldly, folding his arms over his shoulders beneath his cloak...

"A Necromancer..."

Written by Vylia

Keeryn sat pouting in an elven tent amongst Ithramir's rangers, bored out of her mind, "Stuck in this silly "tent," unable to go explore the town or any of the nearby woods. And why? Because they said I'd cause too much of a stir, bah! It took 12 of them to catch me, and they're supposed to be really good trackers from what I understood of all their talking."

She paced around the tent for another half hour, making her complaints known to her guards around the tent. It seemed this Ithramir didn't trust she would stay put. The effect was similar to caging a cat, except this one could tell you what she was thinking. "Can I at least run around the camp?! I can't stand being confined!!"

Written by Vylia

Keeryn giggled quietly to herself as she jumped from a tree onto the roof of one of the houses in the little town. "Silly rangers, good at tracking, but not at keeping watch I guess... Now where did that Ithramir person go to?" Stopping just below the top of the room Keeryn sniffed the air, searching for a familiar scent when she caught one on the slight breeze. "I remember this scent, it belongs to that pretty elf woman who is always around. I bet Ithramir is over there..."

She snuck slowly across the rooftops, thanking the gods for the clouds covering the moon tonight, as she followed the scent to the tavern. She looked down over the lip of the roof, seeing the rangers surrounding the building, and decided it might not be a good idea to go down just yet. Creeping over to the center where she could hear the sounds a bit clearer she listened closely to the melody playing within. What she didn't consider was that the creaking sound she heard was not a part of it, and then she heard a louder crack...

Keeryn fell through the new hole in the ceiling, twisting aside barely in time to avoid a redhaired young woman in the middle of the room. The music stopped as she rolled to her feet, her face turning a bluish purple as she scratched the back of her head, laughing lightly with embarrassment.

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm's study of the common room patrons in general and the elven party in particular was interrupted when his tracking sense noted another life force climbing onto the roof of the inn. It wasn't an elf, although it was sentient, and in fact Wilhelm didn't know what species it was. He wished again that his tracking sense was true clairvoyance, so he could actually see the entity.

His alarm grew when the life force moved to the point of the roof just over the dance floor where Mavigan was dancing. At least there wasn;t an opening up there ... until now!! At the first screech of buckling boards Sir Wilhelm made a great leap away from the table to Mavigan's side, siezing her and moving her away from the falling desbris and the blue-skinned body that fell through the new opening. Wilhelm took care to set Mavigan down behind him away from both the furry-eared being and the elven party. He stood ready for any attack, his hand upon his warhammer, when the furry entity (female he noted) laughed with embarassment. "Who are you?", he inquired.

Written by Vylia

"Sorry about almost landing on your friend, I didn't think a roof made of wood could split open like that... Oh," Keeryn finally looked down at the man's hand, seeing it resting upon a hammer and herself unarmed, "my name... I'm called Keeryn. How about you?"

After a moment she regained her composure, her tail swishing back and forth slowly as she looked curiously around the room, almost ignoring the large man, though in reality she was watching him from the corner of her eye and listening very closely for any response or movement. "Well you don't have to all just stand there and stare at me, you're making me nervous." She giggled a moment before turning back to look curiously into the big man's eyes.

Written by Archeantus

The Irrithica gleamed in the fire's soft glow, as Kishkumen was proven wrong about its existence. He fingered the object like he would handle a loved pet.

"I've read much into the inner workings of this device, I am shocked that you have deciphered how to use it." He said as he caressed the magical object unbelievingly.

Vermigard shrugged. "Anything for gold." He said casually as if that explained it all.

"The Irrithica. The paragon of flight.” Kishkumen shook his head. “You do realize what the elven nation would do to reacquire their artifact?" Kishkumen continued hungrily, almost threateningly.

Kishkumen raised an eyebrow considering the bounty hunter the stranger had rightfully picked to help wage a war across the world. The mage realized Vermigard was a man who was most likely so talented and multifaceted that he would accomplish nearly anything if the price was right. The Irrithica was a complex device that usually required years to master the intricate workings of its design and mental focus to channel its vast energies.

“Yes, I know full well of its worth. More so than the daft elves I stole it from.” Vermigard began while taking a deep breath of smoke; his long gray hair intermingled with the fervent wisps that strayed into the air. His dark brown eyes flushed intelligently, though a glimmer of humor flashed fleetingly. “The elves grew too pompous, too prideful in their ability to guard it. I simply waited and struck at the perfect time. I spent years in preparation because I knew the inevitable retribution I was about to unleash. Those first few years after I stole it proved to be an interesting time, yet now they believe the device has been destroyed, due to some well-placed hints.” He paused in thought then concluded. “They haven’t been able to produce a mage who could master the magical portals that exist as Orwin had, nor will they ever again. It is a device that would change the world over and establish the elves as the dominant race enabling them limitless abilities, through trade and travel. I knew all of this when I took it, and now, I find it extremely humorous that a lone human bounty hunter is hording it for himself.”

“So do I.” The mage said stepping further into the light. “Especially since I am an elf.”

With a wave of his hand, Kishkumen’s appearance transformed from that of a youthful human to an elder elf.

Vermigard coughed, and Gadianton looked up from a book he’d been studying forebodingly.

“About time you took your true form.” Gadianton said returning his gaze back to what held his interest. The book.

Kishkumen glowered unexpectedly at the comment.

“You may be able to create illusions that cover and deceive the eyes, but it is the eyes that never lie, and it was that which gave you away.” Gadianton said without looking up from the book.

Kishkumen nodded admittedly.

“There are few that could have seen through my illusion.” He said.

“And the legend of the human mage that murdered the noble family?” Vermigard added suspiciously as he struggled to make sense of the situation.

“I would call it a myth, rather than a legend.” Kishkumen said. “It is all part of the many traps I have planned and executed for hundreds of years. I merely manipulate events, which enable me to ensnare the souls from the living. Like you, bounty hunter, I find it humorous to prey upon the moral obligations of others.”

A slim smile graced Gadianton’s lips, unnoticed to the other two.

“I am old enough to remember when the Irrithica was forged, and knew its maker. Though my interests at the time were of far darker nature. I slipped into the dark arts of necromancy and illusion and they have all but forgotten about me. I only relinquish my secret because destiny calls.” Kishkumen looked intently at Gadianton, like a father who knows his son is about to become who he had always hoped he’d be.

“My powers have been stored and locked away for a day such as this.”Kishkumen continued while caressing a solid black medallion hung around his neck. “Soon enough, not even the masters of death themselves will be able to withstand my call.”

“I’ll count on that mage.” Gadianton suddenly interposed. “We have much to accomplish in the days ahead, and one other to invite to join us. If what you say is true Vermigard, the thief assassin we seek, with proper direction, will provide invaluable assets that will open doors that would be otherwise closed, and close doors that we wouldn’t want to be opened…”

“That may be so, but I still have no idea how you’ll win her over.” Vermigard replied.

“I’ll worry about that, where might we find her?”

“She is known to frequent far to the south, near the deserts of Asheruk. If she is there, I’ll find her.” Vermigard promised.

“Open your portal, and let us be off soon.” Gadianton commanded. Vermigard quickly went to work and began to envision the lone desert far off from the cold vistas that surrounded them now. Gadianton sat near the fire and continued to read the book he’d been eyeing before. Kishkumen watched the actions of the man that he believed would see his ultimate plans realized with fervent interest, and it was then he smiled as he read the title of the book. It was of black bound leather, with satin red leafing, and in bold lettering upon the face of the book were the words, “Mastery of the Dragon.”

It was at this moment that the black medallion upon the mage’s neck glowed slightly in response to the hidden secret within the stranger unbeknownst to all, especially Gadianton...

Written by Pharsalus

Geirik remained a statue in the poor lighting of the throne room of the Royal House of Ancora. Tucked away in a corner near a great stained-glass window, the old man's frame faded away into shadow. All was concealed of his form but his eyes which gathered stray beams of sconce light and scattered them outward in shifting swirls and arcs -- like the surface of a lake beneath dawn's first caress.

But behind the darkly calm exterior raged a war that had been waged for generations -- the dying beacon of his humanity lashed out against the ever-growing demon within him. He knew that with every fleeting breath he became more like the beast within him -- it was only a matter of time before he slipped away from the warm comfort of life into the desloate and uncaring void of unlife. But he could not dwell on such matters -- the new lord of the throne room in which he now found himself was currently away, and the daughter of the slain king was yet to be found (by him, anyway).

His eyes turned downward to the pommel of his longsword.

"The Star of Ancora," he said quietly to himself. He had served it for so long, sacrificed so much in its name...and for what? The power to see kingdoms rise and fall with every new horizon, friends and family die away...leaving nothing but himself and the dark power he had worked to suppress for as long as he could remember. Long gone were the memories of his son, whose name he could barely remember, and wife, whose name he had forgotten altogether.

"It is all behind me....all of it...only shadow....sorrow..."

He frowned as he realized he had returned to mumbling to himself. He cursed himself mentally for such immaturity and stepped from the darkness toward the door he had entered through only moments ago. He stepped quietly (though not silently) and squeezed his armored form back through the crack he had originally created, closing the door behind him as he exited. He looked to his left...then right...noting that there apparently were no guard posts at this hour. Staying in the shadows, Geirik shifted and side-stepped his way toward the King and Queen's chambers. The great double doors were closed, but it was Geirik's experience that they were unlocked more than they were otherwise. He reached them after a few moments of tense pause in a darkened corner, listening intently for any sounds of noise, then outstretched a gloved hand to grip the wrought-iron handle. Gripping it tightly in-hand, Geirik gently...quietly...carefully...pushed.

GRRROOOAAAAANNnnnn.....

Geirik winced and drew immediately back into the shadows. Dark seemed to wrap around him like a quilt that entangled even the strongs ray of torchlight. He waited in his sphere of shadow...listened...

"Nothing...always promising..."

He released his focus as the world around him faded back into normal view. The door was standing completely ajar, but no light or sound eminated from within. Taking a deep breath and supressing any want of hesitation, Geirik stepped quickly through the oaken portal and closed it gently behind him. All was dark around him save a lump of dying embers in the hearth several yards to his right. There was a bed of golden frame and feather filling directly in front of him, about fifteen paces from his current position beneath the great stone archway that formed the room's entrance. His darted this way and that in the midnight murk, looking for anything that may give clues to the young daughter's whereabouts.

He moved from dresser to closet to bedside table, perusing through papers, court logs, documents unsigned since before King Pallanon was assassinated. All of it bore the look of papers untouched in quite some time, and none of it yielded the information Geirik currently sought.

"Blast it! A log...a journal...surely this man keeps a journal somewhere?? Papers....papers...junk...pa....wait...."

Geirik froze as he slowly pulled an open book from beneath a stack of other legal papers.

"Well, well, well....how convenient. A journal."

He stood there a moment by the bed, flipping through pages of relatively unimportant banter. Reaching almost the end of the book, Geirik noticed that the quality of ink had suddenly changed, as had the penmenship. The first page that struck him as odd was not addessed -- all the other pages bore Pallanon's signature at the bottom. Geirik read several entries, almost smiling as he realized the words before him had been written by none other than Beridaine himself.

Geirik thumbed through several more pages before the hairs on the back of his neck stood stiff and cold. He immediately turned his eyes toward the door -- nothing. Bending the corner of the page he was reading, Geirik closed the book queitly and stuffed it into an inside pocket of his cloak. Confident he was adequately concealed in the poor light of the room, the old man made his way toward the door, stopping just before reaching for the handle. He held his ear close to the wood, focusing completely on the search for any sound from the other side.

Footsteps, he thought....and voices....chatter....guards? No...a woman....servant girl....and a man....who? I know it...I know the voice...from somew....

Geirik's eyes widened as he realized the intensity of the voices were steadily growing. He listened for only a few more moments before deciding he could take no chances. Finding the closet nearby already open, Geirik turned and darted into its shadowed depths, closing the door behind him as quietly as possible.

He was hot, tired, hungry, and frustrated. He was almost free with information he had longed for for so long while aboard that wretched, rusted tub of iron from the Ironskane. His breathing stopped and heart pounded as the sound of metal unlatching metal pierced the dark and silence in the room. From outside, Geirik could hear a man speaking.

"That's funny....I don't remember leaving this door unlocked...?

Written by Teran

Teran moved swiftly through the darkened corridors, tracing his way back out. It would not take long for Berridane to raise an alarm. Teran wasn't terribly concerned about getting caught, however he was not one to test fate when he did not need to.

He heard booted footsteps coming towards him from down the passage. Teran moved to the nearest door, testing it and discovered that it was locked. He deftly picked the lock, at the cost of a few seconds and stepped into the shadowy confines of the room, letting the door slide shut behind him with a click. He scanned the room quickly and did not see any obvious threat and turned his attention to the guards in the passage.

The footsteps grew closer, and stopped in front of the door Teran had just unlocked. He heard whispering, and he stepped away from the door, scanning the room for a hiding place. It was then that he caught the briefest flash of movement as another man emerged from the closet.

Blades materialized in Teran's hands, surprised to find that he is not alone.

He heard the door handle turn slowly behind him.

Written by Turin Wallace

The song was making it's conclusion and Ithramir was ready to give the silent signal to close off the entrance and exits to the building. However, before he could give it, a blue cat-thing fell through the roof and onto the table.

Ithramir just sat in his seat and shook his head. More than visibly upset, he was near irate at the event.

Throwing a look at Umeawen that could kill, he gives a signal to his people and they proceed to do what they were in place for. Standing up, he says,

"Well, it seems that now is a good time for everyone to go home, is it not? I have private matters with the group at that table, as well as the half-elf dancer and the half-elf bard, and the rest of you are not invited. Please leave at once."

This naturally did not have the effect desired. One rather drunk, but brawny fool, stepped forward to say something to Ithramir. The drunk never even had a chance to open his mouth, for Ithramir had drawn his bow and pointed the arrow tip right between the man's eyes. The rest of the elves assembled also had weapons drawn. Looking straight into the man's eyes, Ithramir says,

"If I have to, I will make you an example. I said everyone except for those at that table, the dancer, and the bard will leave now! Is that clear?"

From all over the tavern heads bobbed in the affirmative and within moments the tavern was empty.

Anger still blazed in his eyes as he looked over at the smashed table. He would deal with this Keeryn later. This "thing" brought unnecessary attention to those present, and drunks are not known for keeping secrets. This was not the time for such thoughts, however. After a moment, his eyes turn to the young half-elf, and he says,

"So, may I assume this is Mavigan Brelonna? Daughter and heir to her father's kingdom?"

Pausing for a moment, he could see her companions look of shock at his words. It was then that he knew what he had suspected from first glance. Yet, he wanted to hear her answer to his question, and he was going to wait until she responded.

Written by Wilhelm

Noting that the odd blue-skinned female was not prepared for battle and did not seem to be connected to the elven party, who also seemed to be suprised at her abrupt entrance, Wilhelm concluded that she was not an overt threat. This many odd occurances could not be mere coincidence, he thought, there must be Divine Will involved.

Seeing that Alaric was moving towards Mavigan while Koric had reached the kitchen door (nimbly moving aside as the angry innskeeper Boric moved towards the dance floor), the disguised paladin took a step back and said, "My name is Wilhelm. Perhaps next time you should use the door. That angry gentlement approaching you is the innskeeper Boric, whose roof you have just caved in. I think he wishes to have words with you, Keeryn."

Wilhelm took a second step back to stand next to the startled Mavigan, folded his arms (letting his cloak settle to hide his warhammer), and smiled at Keeryn as Boric drew near. He whispered to her, "We can get you out throught the kitchen if needed." Just then he saw Ithramir stand up tell the crowd to disperse, and then draw his bow when that didn't work. The bow, and the other rangers did the trick and the room cleared. Wilhelm and Alaric stood beside Mavigan, waiting to see what the elves would do but ready to take her out through the kitchen if required. Wilhelm gave a start when the elven leader aproached and addressed Mavigan by name. He watched to see if Mavigan knew the elf, ready to intervene if needed.

Written by Vylia

"Look what you've done to my roof! Do you know how much this will cost?! I hope you have the money for that!" Keeryn just stood, blinking at the man through his tirade, since she had no idea what these 'cost' or 'money' things were.

"Ummm... I'm with them," she said, pointing at Ithramir and Umeawen. "I'm not really sure what you mean by money or cost, but as far as the roof breaking that was an accident. I never thought a roof made of trees would break that easily, and I was just listening to the pretty music."

Looking back at Ithramir pointing his bow at another man's face a puzzled look crossed her face. "I don't understand why you keep threatening to kill people, why should anyone be afraid when we're already dead and in heaven?"

"If I have to, I will make you an example. I said everyone except for those at that table, the dancer, and the bard will leave now! Is that clear?" yelled Ithramir. "Can I stay? This is getting interesting, I wanna see what it is that makes you get angry so easily, and why you came here in the first place," Keeryn said with an innocent look on her face, completely oblivious to the tone of his voice. "Please?"

Written by Turin Wallace

Ithramir broke the silence after his question by looking at Keeryn and responding sharply,

"You are sitting on what's left of their table, so yes, one would assume you can stay. Now, as for my anger, it is none of your concern. One last thing, if you think this is heaven and that no harm can be done, then you are most sadly mistaken."

She'll learn that in time, Ithramir thought.

During the previous question to half-elf dancer and the response to Keeryn, a few rather out of breath rangers quietly entered the tavern and approached Umewean. After a few moments, she sent them away. No need to tell Ithramir what he already knew, that this Keeryn has left her guard at the camp. However, what he didn't know was that she left no tracks. Still, no excuse for them not to hear her escape, but that would be another matter entirely. Deciding to wait, she patiently watches the proceedings on the floor.

Eyeing the two men beside Mavigan, and their compatriots, Ithramir repeats the question he stated earlier, but this time with more emphasis,

"Girl, are you Mavigan Brelonna? Quickly, speak. We do not have time to waste, as those who seek to dispatch you are closing in as we speak. A simple no or yes will do."

Ithramir then waits for her answer.

Written by Pharsalus

Geirik couldn't believe it: only moments after he'd found sanctuary in the closet of the King's Quarters, the visage of a man tucks and steals his way into the room with him. He was unsure as to how to view him -- the focused calm on his face showed a man of reserve and indetectable skill. The curious flicker in his eyes betrayed him, however, as Geirik mentally cursed at the sound of blades upon their scabbards...

Damnit...

Before the old man could think or react, another sound broke the silence of the room. The sound of metal unlatching metal. Geirik's eyes widened...

DAMNIT!

He fumed and festered, all the while this strange new individual was obviously already aware of Geirik's presence. The Bounty Hunter maintained his outward cool -- there were several options open at this point. He could take this time to break for the door, knocking aside this new individual and killing the person on the other side before given the chance to scream. He pondered the thought for a moment while moving back farther into the depths of the dressing quarters -- he found it much easier to think while in the comfort of the dark. Taking in his surroundings for a moment, he conjured yet another thought: To stay secluded in the closet and let the young man outside handle whoever may be at the door.

But if he has information....he is certainly no palace guard...

THe muffled sounds of hushed footsteps rustled outside the closet door. At any moment, any number of hostile characters could come charging the grizzled old sell-sword, and he hadn't the time to sit about contemplating it all. The sounds of alarm rung outside -- guards shouting, bells being rung in the nearby guard posts, the low murmur of servants emerging curiously from their quarters to investigate all the racket. Geirik was out of time.

Moving to the doors, he saw the strange man move toward his current location -- Geirik figured it more out of interest in the hiding place than an interest in conflict. Geirik sighed silently to himself, praying for the strength to maintain himself after the action he was about take.

Closing his eyes for only a moment, Geirik breathed deep and flung open the door to the closet. For only a brief moment, there was nothing separating the two strangers save shadow and bewilderment (in some part by both parties). Geirik's mind turned inward to the well of power that had been growing and festering in the darkest recesses of his being for longer than even he knew. The Whispers of the dead and damned resounded through his mind as he, by the power of the Liche that cursed him, reached out with both arms. His left grabbed the shirt of the man in front of him, the other extended with fingers splayed and, as if through the center of a pudding, plunged through the image of the space between them. Geirik's eyes burned faintly black and purple, and the air in the small closet seemed to repell any heat in the area, leaving only an eery, biting cold.

With a click motion of both arms, Geirk lunged back into the shadows, pulling with him in his right hand the very light without the closet. Shadows seemed to conjure themselves and wrap the two men into a shifting, swirling, smoke-like void of inpenetrable, indestructable black.

Within their "sphere" of void, Geirik could see the look of alarm in the stranger's face. He released him from his grasp, letting him fall backward some, but continued to "hold" their blanket of shadow with his right. Before the man could raise his blade against him, Geirik whispered softly...

"I know nothing of your background or your nature, nor do I know your reason for being here. But for now, I can only trust that you will put your swords away and keep...very...still...."

The temperature within the void in which they now stood continued to drop, the strangers breath become clearly (and oddly) visible. Geirik, however, seemed unaffected by the sudden chill, and remaind motionless. Though his exterior expression was that of calm of focus, his interior raged.

Hahahahahaha! Geirik, Geirik, Geirik...you deny your allegiance to me...your dependance on me....but expect those powers granted you by me to be ready and abundant at your every beck and call....how typically Human.

Geirik's thoughts resounded back with the bitter edge of denial.

Don't get so comfortable, Liche Lord -- your presence in this tattered old body of mine will prove your undoing! You need only stay in your crypt and wait for me. Your time draws ever closer...

Oooohhh...Geirik....*hissing laughter*...Your mortals are all the same. I need only wait in my crypt as you need only realize that my time on this plane far overshadows yours. Though you are granted immortality by my presence here....you are still...only...HUMAN!

If one were looking closely enough, he or she would almost insist that Geirik's face contorted some with contempt and admitted defeat at the demon's statements. Indeed, he was still only flesh combatting against a being who for untold hundreds...possibly thousands...of years had existed beyond the realm of flesh and bone. The thoughts troubled him...but now was not the time. He pushed such thoughts aside to focus on the present. His blanket of shadow was holding over both of them, though with every moment of its existance, Geirik felt the call to the realm of Unlife grow steadily stronger. But both men were completely hidden, tucked away in a plane all their own where light and physical perception hold no quarter. No torch...no lantern...no bolt of power cast from the churning, storming Heavens could penetrate the layer of shadows over which Geirik had summoned now. He could only pray for the strength to maintain himself...

I hope this man is worth the trouble I expend, he thought almost sarcastically. I am most certainly going to regret this in the morning.

Written by Ariana

No sooner had Mavigan finished her dancing tribute to her father than she heard a loud creaking noise and some...thing dropped through the roof. Mavigan didn't have time to react. Tears stained her cheeks and her mind was elsewhere. She was therefore taken by surprise when Wilhelm's hand reached and yanked her behind him.

Still befuddled, she did not object to the treatment - and instead stood behind him, vainly wiping the traces of her grief from her face. She paid little to no attention to the conversation around her, and wasn't even aware when the tavern suddenly became much less crowded. She pressed her face into the back of Wilhelm's rough cloak in a vain attempt to hide - though she wasn't exactly sure why.

Mavigan stayed like that until she heard her name. Peeking around Wilhelm, she saw a group of elves. One stood in front of the rest, obviously the leader. To her eyes, he looked vaguely familiar, but she could not tell if it was because she had seen him before or that he slightly resembled her mother. Still reacting slowly and completely confused she stared at him, her traumatized brain working overtime in an effort to identify him.

When he addressed her a second time some of her self composure returned and she snapped out of her daze. Still retaining her death-like grip on Wilhelm's cloak she nodded dumbly confirming her identity. Confusion still etched on her face, she asked bluntly, "Who the hell are you?"

Written by Archeantus

Hours later, deep within the study of the necromancer Kishkumen, the fabric of the very air parted revealing the sweltering heat of the desert and before them was the merchant city of Ach’Tul far across the world. As the three stepped into the portal they traversed over hundreds of miles in a matter of seconds, from the cold bitter winds of the north, to the searing southern heat of the desert.

Instantly they felt the burn of the eternal sun high above them. Gadianton looked to Vermigard expectantly and the bounty hunter was soon quickly off doing what he did best. Hunting. Gadianton and his arcane companion allowed Vermigard to scour the city while they waited for word.

“Where will you be?” The bounty hunter asked.

“A fool question for a hunter of men to ask.” Gadianton reprimanded severely, obviously expecting more from his first choice.

Vermigard shrugged catching the drift that he’d simply have to find them and disappeared into the throngs of people.

As the two made their way into the bustling city, they beheld gigantic walls riddled with red brick of every shape and size, each placed chaotically, many protruding outward, some inward making the great walls look as if they weren’t man made, but as if nature had formed them. It was obvious they were designed to keep something very large out. The two headed toward the local tavern to speak of the grim future. There were shops and brigands around every corner. Desert pirates, and harlots filled the streets. Street urchins slipped in and out of the shadows hoping a chance at a spec of bread or a glitter of coin. Ach’Tul was a haven for fugitives, and a prison for the innocent. Con artists gleefully watched each new arrival like a hawk, the harlots bore their legs desperately, and the merchants polished their wares. The moment Gadianton entered the city he could feel the almost mechanical churning of countless schemes and temptations directed at him. He nearly laughed at the sheer delight of the idea of it. He was their king, and here they were paying him homage. They were worshiping him with every lazy smile and flick of hair, with every plan and swindle. He strolled through the market court with an air of dignity, with a demeanor of cold satisfaction. Yet for those who made eye contact with him saw within those gray eyes a threat of skill and intelligence they had no chance of overcoming. They saw death in his eyes and felt death in his wake; for the mage behind him had a presence all his own.

Not a soul approached the two as they quietly entered the tavern that all knew was a den of survival of the fittest. Hung above the door of the tavern, etched in decaying limestone was the words, “The forked tongue.”

Stepping into the tavern, the two were suddenly attacked by a drunken oaf with a dagger who apparently thought they didn’t belong there. Gadianton deftly turned the blade inward and plunged it into its master’s gut. The portly man dropped to the ground, his blood seeped into the clay stones upon the ground. He was already forgotten, and those who saw this continued as they were, seeing the man was no pushover. Stepping over the body, Gadianton made his way toward a table in the back of his choosing which was already occupied. The table’s owners cursed and threatened at such a request to leave, and soon found they had one less friend. One of them ran and the other about tipped the table over in anger, but seeing Gadianton’s face and dripping sword decided it wasn’t such a good idea.

Minutes later the atmosphere of the tavern returned back to normal. Events such as Gadianton’s appearance were apparently daily occurrences. He sat down quietly and watched the mage bend over the body of the man by the door. His spidery hands reached out and his lips whispered hungrily. There was a small rush of cold air, which was highly detectable by all those present, and then the mage performed the same action on the body of the other fallen, after which he finally sat down ignoring the fact that every eye in the tavern was on him. Many stared grimly at the two, but none dared test them. The two were mysterious as many who came through the thriving desert city, yet these two gave off the distinct impression that behind their mystery was knowledge best left unknown. Getting a chance to survey the surroundings now, Gadianton saw groups of thieves bartering their goods in the opposite corner. Over across the bar, he saw many lone wanderers drinking their life away; old worthless men sat playing dice, and harlots peppered the room with their goods. Off in the middle of the room was a large group of regulars watching some sort of game being played. There wasn’t much here of import and so Gadianton spoke softly to his companion about what he’d read earlier, that of controlling the mightiest of beasts.

It wasn’t long until Vermigard’s silhouette could be seen within the tavern’s doors. Strolling slowly in, appearing to have been here before, he seemed to be waiting for any takers to challenge him and then spotting what he came for, he walked toward the game and slipped among some of the spectators. In his search through the room he exchanged glances with Gadianton but ignored him for the time being. Apparently, he had found what he’d been looking for. His direct attention was directed at one of the players. On his face was a look of self-satisfaction, it was almost as if he’d just broken some sort of personal best. Gadianton following his gaze looked more closely at the game that was being waged. The player in question sat deep in shadow; a black sash was wrapped around the face. The player had a lithe figure, and moved with a slow meditative grace.

“I’m out!” One of the players cried out in frustration. “Who’s in?” The dealer asked in a raspy voice to the crowd.

“I’ll play.” Vermigard said smoothly as he stepped to the table, all the while glaring steadily at the player at the far end of the table. From deep within the shrouded eyes of the player was a flash of recognition as the bounty hunter seated himself.

“A game of cards eh?” Vermigard toyed, all the while peering wholeheartedly at his target. “I do love a game of cards…” He continued, his lips parting into a slight smile. He knew she knew who he was and what he might intend to do.

The player darted a look sideways seeming to be examining the situation, preparing for something. The dealer asked for an initial wage for playing to which Vermigard placed 10 gold coins in the table, three times what was asked.

“I believe I’ll raise the stakes gentlemen.” He said with a smile, winking at his target across the table. The player’s vibrant green eyes narrowed.

The dealer dealt the cards and the players held them examining their chances before placing their bets. Soon, each player was eliminated and the only two that remained were Vermigard and the mysterious player across from him. Each bet the two placed grew higher and higher until the tension build into a furor. Many from the crowd around them had never seen the stakes get so high. Others, seeing the sum total of what the two players possessed handled their blades precariously intending to win their fortune the old fashioned way. It soon came down to a move from the player across the table. Vermigard who had been steadily staring at his opponent, devoid of the veritable maelstrom of anticipation around him spoke the final directive. He took his time; allowing the tension to build and his message to become resoundingly clear to the player across from him. Finally he spoke, his brown eyes numb with expectation.

“Draw.”

Striking like a snake the table was launched in the air, and a flash of steel and gold sliced into the dim light if the tavern. A crack of a whip bit into the air at about the same time, and when the initial shock left the room at the sudden lightening action of the two, all the eyes beheld the face of the player who had up until this point been masked.

The most beautiful woman the majority of the tavern had ever seen stood starkly in the shadow of the corner. Long black hair flowed along her back. She breathed heavily eyeing Vermigard who was slightly smiling across from her. Her face and skin was a rich brown, the whites of her eyes shone brilliantly in the dark light. Already she had disarmed nearly all of the brigands who watched in awe. She took off her cloak that wrapped her body and underneath she wore a tight fitting black leather outfit, which showed off every asset she possessed. Even hardened criminals and murderers such as many in the room would never harm a thing as beautiful as she. Each knew at the sight of her, their wavering consciences would shrink at the thought that they had rid the world of a woman as rare as she. Yet, unknown to them, the only thing that eclipsed her beauty was her blackened heart and the sheer danger it posed to each and every one of them. Dark to the very core, she had killed and laid waste to countless men. They would have known her as the legendary black widow, the assassin wanted and feared in nearly every kingdom; a woman who turned love into death.

She moved seductively, gracefully around the table, her hand held a short sword laced with an unnatural color.

“Jasmine.” Vermigard whispered in greeting.

In response she launched like a panther toward the waiting bounty hunter…

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