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Book One - The Elven March to Westgale

Written by Teran - Page 8 Book 1

"Who the hell are you?" Teran asked with practiced calm.

He examined his surroundings cautiously, attempting to gauge what had happened exactly. He hand sensed his surroundings changing as the stranger touched him, but it appeared that he had not gone anywhere. He could still see the closet, though it was distorted by something he could not identify.

The stranger did not respond, and seemed to be focusing his attention elsewhere. Teran would have spoken up to get the stranger's attention were there not guards in the room just outside the closet. He watched silently as the door to the closet was opened and a nervous looking guard poked his head into the closet for a quick look around before he retreated back into the main room. The assassin heard a muted conversation between the guard and someone else before he heard the door click shut once more.

He did not put his blades away, lacking trust in the stranger, however he was not actively threatening the man either. Teran studied the face of the stranger memorizing it.

Written by Turin Wallace

Looking at the girl half in hiding behing the man's cloak, Ithramir found it amusing she demanded to know who he was. Just by looking at her he saw she lacked discipline and was used to doing as she pleased. This would change. Wether she liked it or not. Still, he knew he should answer, seeing as those who were in her charge seemed a bit edgy, and they had right to be.

Looking directly into her eyes, and with a calm and clear tone, he answers,

"Who the hell am I? I am Ithramir Sil-Galdur, master ranger of the citadel Lothiel-Gadith, and your distant cousin."

He let the words sink in for a moment before continuing,

"You have my sympathies regarding the death of your whole family. A tragedy to say the least. But I suppose you want to know why I am here. Very well then, I shall state my business and let you decide your fate."

Pausing, he continues,

"Mavigan, I offer you and those loyal to your family safeguard within our lands. Beridaine has no influence there and we offer the usage of said lands, and resources, to fight him. However, you can expect no response from the elven homelands, this offer is between us and our people here."

"We elves will assist you when and where we can, but we cannot bear the brunt of the coming war. You and your protectors must raise an army, we will aide in this where we can"

"And if you were wondering, we have no love of Beridaine for our own reasons."

Then, Ithramir's tone lowers as he says the next words,

"Or, at your fancy, you may refuse us and we will leave you to your fate and way in the world. We will bother you no more, and not come to your aide if Beridaine manages to find you. You and your men will be alone."

Pausing, he resumes speaking with a milder tone,

"So that is my offer, Mavigan. Either come with us so we can keep you out of Beridaine's reach and give you a chance to strike back, or attempt to continue to hide from him. The choice is yours."

Written by Pharsalus

There the two men stood in the midst of a swirling, translucent dome of light-bending energy. Geirik had long released the man's tunic once comfortable he was well within range of the envelope, and his arm now pressed upward and back against the wall of the sphere. With his arms and torso tensed and eyes lit afire with black and purple light, one would almost guess the "structure" was being held by physical exertion instead of power and focus. His gaze remained beyond that of the cloaked stranger before him, to the door and (ultimately) bedroom on the other side of it.

"Who the hell are you?"

Geirik wanted to answer, if for nothing else than simple manners. But now was not the time. Outside, the muffled sound of metal latches and locking mechanisms loosing themselves and heeled boots thumping on the ornate stone floor of the bedroom. Burly, guttural voices echoed from outside. After several moments of silence, the sound of bed linens being pulled away and furniture being moved about erupt from the shadowed closet doorway. Silence again ensued.

Geirik tensed. He could see through shimmering eyes that the light being cast on the floor from the room outside had begun to widen. At its center appeared the silhouette of a man distorted almost comically by the swirls in his invisible veil. A man....a torch outstretched. Geirik could almost watch as the rays of light wither and die in the impenetrable dark of the closet. Moments passed, and the man finally stepped out of view, the light of his torch bending and twisting and dancing along the walls of the bedroom.

A voice erupted from the bedroom. It was of moderate pitch, thickly accented, and bearing the strained (almost shrill) sound of worry.

"I's ready ta' put deoun gold on'ee table ta' say'ee came in 'ere!! But I dunna' see where'ee went, boys!"

Another voice spoke, this one much deeper. The gut from which it sprang, Geirik imagined, was might indeed.

"By all the...you're about as worthless as sacked pig spit, Roy! Gettin' us all worked up like that! Should be ashamed o' yerself!"

"But I know I saw'm! Roguish-lookin' man, abeou' my height, grey-headed."

"Oh, ye' did, did ye'?? Well, pray tell me lad, where's he gone now?? None of these windows open, and none of'm are broken! Think ye' he blew away in a puff of dust and shadow, then? Think ye he broke tha' window without makin' any noise at all and fixed it before falling to his death on the pavement below? Gaah! Of all the ninnies to work with, Roy, you've got ta' be the biggest!"

Geirik wished to no end these men would take their argument else where. With every passing moment in his current state, Geirik felt the warmth trickle out of his body like a bleeding wound. Though his eyes continued to burn hues of purple and black, Geirik felt the pang of fatigue and spiritual drain become more and more evident. Geirik hoped he did not look as weak as he had begun to feel, and he certainly hoped his Humanity could hold out long enough to end this ridiculous position. He could hear the voices begin to wean, accompanied shortly thereafter by the sound of the doors' latch unhinging itself and the hinges of the oaken portal groaning in protest of their disturbance.

"Neou, 'ere's no need ta' get personal, ye' old coot! I know't I saw, an'at's that!"

BAM!

The door slammed shut -- Geirik's innards churned and mouth watered as he could almost taste the fuming aggravation emanating from the young guard. But he fought the temptation and forced his gaze upon the cloaked stranger. With a great sigh and relaxing of figure, Geirik fell backwards against the stone wall of the dressing quarters exhausted. He was pale, and had he not had his armor equipped he would have look half the mass and bulk he was only moments ago. As quickly as it had descended, the shield around them dissipated into the natural dark of the closet, and what ensued for the next few moments was nothing but awkward silence.

Geirik's mind burned as the power within him licked its ethereal chops.

Yesssssss, Geirik. Tasssste it...TASTE that power you so passionately...so hopelessly deny. It is as the keg's first spout...the maiden's first kiss upon your lips. Heh heh heh heh...you will soon be a most worthy desciple.....

Though his eyes were closed and head relaxed against the stone wall, Geirik's mind lit afire with hatred and disgust.

I will be nothing of the sort, Dark One! These ties of Unlife in which you have bound me will serve you no justice in the end. They will not ebb the tide of my wrath that you, Spirit of the Dead, will undeniably experience! Go back to your hole...leave me in peace! I will hear no more of you!

Geirik relaxed, and all was quiet. It was then that he suddenly remembered he was not alone in the dark. His eyes shot open and and gaze locked on the figure standing only paces from him. Staggering to his feet, Geirik stood and addressed the man.

"You asked a question...and I have failed to answer. I apologize, but you must allow me to recollect my sense."

Geirik stood a moment, working to regulate his breathing, and finally returned his attention to the man.

"I see........I see from your clothes and apparent lack of reason for being here that you are a man of secrets. If I am correct, then we share the same banner..you and I....answer the same calling. As I do not expect you to give me your name, I will decline to give you mine....for now. I can, however, assure you that unless adequately provoked I mean you no harm or hinderance. I am here only for information..."

Have gathered himself and now steady on his feet, Geirik eyed the man up and down quickly, noting his attire and general stance. He was a man of focus and grace, judging from the way he held himself. He knew his way around a blade, too ,apparently. His hands gripped the pommels of his swords like those of one experienced in the dire and bloody ways of war.

"Now, then -- I have told you my reason for being here, to some degree or another. Though I do not expect you to put away your blades (masterfully crafted, I might add), I do expect you to return common courtesy and tell me why you are here. "

As he awaited the stranger's response, Geirik secretly fought to supress the madness of hunger.

He possesses skill unforseeable, Human. Take him.....strike him down....consume his power. Heh heh heh heh....you need only to call upon the powers I have given you, and the battle is easily yours. What is one more life.....?

Geirik could muster only the strength for a single rebuttal...

No. It is you on whom I will feed. It is only a matter of time.

The old man almost couldn't hear the man's response for the demon's laughing.

Ye, gods, if I remain your child....stay my hand. For the sake of my sanity and Faith, please...

Written by Teran

"I am here gathering information." Teran stated in a clipped tone moving away from the stranger towards the closet door. He peaked into the room, satisfied that the guards had in fact left but he never fully turned his back on the man with him.

"All clear" he muttered, stepping fully into the room "How do you plan on getting out of here?"

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm studied Ithramir. He had heard of this distant cousin of Mavigan's, although Wilhelm had not met him before. He saw the female ranger talk to and then embrace the bard. Evidently the bard was indeed her daughter. He thought back on what he knew of Ithrami. A stern but competent comander and one whose word was true, he recalled. This could be a good opportunity to get mavigan to safety and enlist support.

Turning his head towards Mavigan he said quietly, "You should greet your cousin. I believe his offer is a good one that you should accept. We need to get you away from here, as word of this gathering will spread quickly and Beridain's men will be on the way here shortly."

Written by Archeantus

When the growing crowd had realized that there would be a fight they reverted to the normal procedure when such things broke out, they immediately plunged into an all out brawl. Soon the whole tavern erupted into utter chaos. Jasmine, in the commotion sought to make a quick escape, but Vermigard dashed and flanked her guarding the door.

“You’ll have to go through me love.” Vermigard whispered dangerously, all the while brandishing a broad smile.

She spat, her eyes flashing precariously.

“Very well.” She said warningly.

The two met, their swords clanging rapidly as they seemed to dance across the floor.

Meanwhile, Gadianton across the room had stood and waited for the first fool who tried to attack him. It wasn’t long, and the fool’s death was grisly. Kishkumen simply laughed at the sight, and then began to chant the spidery language of magic. His arms weaved around one another as a putrid energy flowed around him. Moments later, two ghastly corpses, who had lied dormant till now, picked themselves up and mindlessly began to slaughter any and all who came near them.

Bodies littered the floor, blood flowed freely, as those who hadn’t the heart to die quickly tried to escape but to their dismay found the exit blocked by an unusually large pirate who purposefully killed cowards.

Cries of pain ended, and murderous eyes closed. In mere moments the tavern owner watched from behind the bar as his cliental dwindled to a select few. He had engineered a wire frame to encase him for instances such as this and stood wearily by the wall waiting for the fight to end.

Vermigard parried another blow with gritted teeth, as she struck over and over. She was extremely dangerous and was going for the kill with every strike. While he, on the other hand was purposefully on the defensive. His whip cracked to keep her at bay as he lunged backward onto a table. Strange groans slowly seemed to come from all around them. She had slowly maneuvered herself in a position to escape. Finally, her chance came and she dashed back directly toward the door, like a bat out of hell, only to find a dark cloaked man blocking her way.

She wasted no time and went for the kill. Her sword clashed with an elven sword unexpectedly. She then went in with her dagger only to have it struck away masterfully. The man advanced now, his single sword sending her backward forcing her to parry and dodge shoddily. She quickly angered and tried to win back her offensive but the man dominated her. Moments later, her sword flew from her grasping fingers. Her face was shocked, as her hand, which held the dagger went to strike but his sword centered directly in her eyes.

It was then that she gazed into his eyes. Gray and livid, cold and calculating, he was her nightmare, the one who would end her torment. Surrounding the two were the dead, animated and hunched over. One by one all had been converted and now the tavern was in complete control of the mage who held their souls like he would the reigns of a horse carriage. Jasmine saw all the dead, saw the sword in her face and realized she was completely and utter trapped. Vermigard casually stood by the door, leaning against the doorframe. Her eyes darted everywhere seeking an out anywhere. There was nothing. Finally it would end. And she would end it. Taking her dagger, she flipped it inward and sent it plunging into her blackened heart. She screamed in pain finding her hand had been cleaved from the wrist. Blood spewed forth.

“Damn you!” She screamed at her assailant while grasping her arm in pain. Her arm throbbed.

The faintest smile shuddered across the man’s lips as all when black.

She was struck from behind by one of the dead, and she lay unconscious on the red floor.

Written by Turin Wallace

Hearing the humans words, he saw Mavigan agree to his offer. Wasting no time, Ithramir says,

"You are correct, Wilhelm. We should not delay our departure for too long. We have already drew enough attention to ourselves for the evening. It is best we leave right away."

At that, Ithramir motioned his people to make their way clear of the area. As for himself, he and Umeawen's horses were already waiting for them outside. While they waited for the others to get mounted and join them in front of the tavern, Umeawen says,

"My brother, I wish to spend some time with my daughter. I humbly ask that you allow us to take our leave for awhile, we have much to catch up on."

Studying his sisters face, he replies,

"Very well, my sister, go and enjoy what time you can with your daughter. However, do not tarry too long, I do not wish to hear anything happened to you. I will await your return to us."

Nodding, and with a bit of a smile, she thanked her brother and once Rowan arrived they were off into the night.

Sitting there, Ithramir waited as Mavigan and her crew of guards finally appeared out of the stables. Looking at the rather noisy armor the were wearing, Ithramir simply sighed. There wouldn't be any sneaking around patrols with that banging and clanking, but then again, Ithramir realized he hadn't been sneaking around any to begin with. With a semi-smile he says,

"Well, now that we are all together, let us make haste into a more suitable location. Just being in these lands makes one realize the stench Beridain brings with him."

Moving off, they began their trek back into the Elven Territories, where at least for a time, they would be safe from Beridain's clutches.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn found out the next morning just how angry Ithramir was with her. The minute she awoke she found herself guarded by four of his rangers, bows drawn and arrows nocked. "So... I guess me hunting for my own breakfast is out, huh?" She smiled weakly at the stares the four men returned before letting out a sigh as they motioned her forward to lead her to one of the nearby campfires for her alotted ration of morning gruel.

Later that day as the army marched back through the forest in the direction they had came she jogged up to walk beside a horse upon which sat the large man that had waved the hammer at her the night before. Smiling up at him, trying to ignore the fact she was still being guarded rather closely, "Excuse me Wilhelm, but I thought I should apologize for startling you and... Mavigan Brelonna, I think Ithramir called her, last night. I hadn't meant any harm, I was just curious about what was going on. By the way, what's so special about her anyway? I mean, she was pretty enough I suppose, but why all the fuss?"

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm smiled down at the capable but seemingly innocent creature. "Almost like a child", he thought. "Keryn", he said, "Mavigan Brelonna is the daughter and sole surviving child of King Pallanon, who was assassinated by Beridane. She is therefore the sole heir to the throne, which makes her the Queen of this land and royal representative of the Goddess. Beridane, who seeks to rule the world, has forces everywhere seeking to kill her to remove the last of the royal line."

"Mavigan never cared for the life of a Princess, and often quarrelled with her father over matters of decorum and behaviour. But there was still a deep bond of love there. Mavigan is now coming to terms with the death of her father and her family. She must now also accept the fact that with the death of her family she is the Queen and her duty is to free the land of the yoke of Beridane, avenge the death of her family, and rule this land in the name of the Goddess, as her family has done for many generations."

"Alaric and I are sworn to protect her and assist her. The elves also do not wish to see Beridane succeed, so they have offered their aid. Other allies can be found. The people of this land will rally to Mavigan when they learn of her survival. Even now word will be spreading from those at the Inn who saw our meeting. We go now to the elven ranger camp to plan for the future and to allow Mavigan to come to terms with her destiny."

Written by Vylia

Is shocked by what she heard about Mavigan's family, she actually stops walking for a moment before she feels a poke from behind. Jogging a bit to catch up she looks back up at Wilhelm, her face creased with worry, "I guess this really isn't heaven then, is it?"

Written by Turin Wallace

Ithramir had been listening in to their conversation, so when Keryn asked her question, he interrupted and said,

"As I'm sure he will tell you, this is far from heaven."

Not trying to listen any farther, Ithramir focused intently on the ride ahead. It wasn't going to be easy getting back, this he was sure of. For the time being, they were to continue on and try and make it back to the citadel as quickly as possible. There they would be safe.

**The group passes quietly and swiftly through the domains of Beridain and his men. After two weeks of hard travelling through dense woods, they finally are in sight of the great citadel of Lothiel-Gadith.

Sitting high atop the beginning of a mountain range, and overlooking the forest for miles around, it is an imposing structure carved from the living rock. It is accessable only by two means, the first is a inclined path to the gates which requires a bridge to be lowered across a wide chasm, and the second is an older, disused tunnel that doubles as a sewer and maze. Also visble is a waterfall that the city was built around. It not only adds an asthetic touch, but a utilitarian one as well, it provides the fresh water necessary to house large numbers of troops and it's end is through the sewer tunnels.

For Ithramir, this has been home for a long time, yet the sight of it always is pleasing to him. With an unfamiliar warmness to his voice, he says to the group,

"Our journey is almost at an end, let us make haste and welcome all of you to our home. Tonight we shall rest and relax, for tomorrow we will talk of what can be done about Beridaine. Come, let us not delay any longer."

Written by Vylia

Keeryn walked around the room she had been lead to, feeling completely out of place. The room was overly extravagant in her opinion, bright colors and rare objects placed all over. Walking over to a door on the left side of the room she found yet another room. This one with a what she assumed was a giant bed, it looked a lot different than the woven mat and blanket she was used to. They even had enormous thick blankets hanging beside the windows.

She decided she wanted to take a look around this huge stone structure, so she walked over to the door and pulled it open. There across the hall was two of Ithramir's rangers. Looking down the hall in both directions she sees two more on either side of the door. They just stare at her with blank expressions on their faces as she smiles nervously before closing the door. "So much for that idea..." she walks over to the window and pushes it open. Walking out onto the balcony she looks over the edge, her face scrunching up at the drop of a hundred feet or so. "Not going out this way either, not without climbing down the wall anyway, and I don't think Ithramir would appreciate that. Not even sure I could find any decent cracks on a wall this smooth," she says as her hand runs down the wall beside the window. She slides down onto her knees and stares toward the setting sun between the balcony railing, letting out another sigh as she waits for someone to come and tell her what she is supposed to do now.

Written by Ariana

Mavigan was silent the entire trip to the Elven fortress of Lothiel-Gadith. She clung automatically to the pommel of her saddle, briefly noting that someone else had taken the reins to her horse. “Apparently they do not trust me not to run off again,” she thought briefly. Surprisingly, the thought caused no emotional reaction. Instead, she just felt numb. Too much had happened in such a short time, and she had had not time to process and adjust.

Mavigan embraced the feeling of nothingness, descending into an almost trance-like state. Thoughts briefly skimmed her mind, brushing with a touch as weightless as an eyelash, then disappearing into dark recesses. She stayed this way for the entire journey. Any attempts to engage her in conversation were met with a blank stare. The only way her companions could tell she was not simply asleep with her eyes open was that she threw occasional and seemingly random glares at the people around her.

After a time, her companions were content to leave her alone, and so the trip to the Elven fortress was uneventful. Once there, Mavigan found herself whisked inside. With a rapidity that left her breathless, she was provided with a bath, a long shirt to wear while her clothes were cleaned, and a small meal. And finally, she was escorted to the chambers she would use during her stay.

The bedchamber she found herself in was small and utilitarian. This bothered Mavigan not one whit – she was used to bedding down in all sorts of places much worse than this. She was pleased to note that her room had a fireplace and there was a newly laid fire burning merrily upon the hearth.

Most importantly, however, Mavigan noted that this was the first time since this ordeal had started that she was alone. Well, maybe not totally alone as she could hear the rustle of cloth and the occasional murmur outside her door. She did not know if the guards were functioning as protectors or jailers, but at the moment, it didn’t much matter.

Mavigan dragged the chair in front of the fire and snatched a blanket from the bed. Wrapping herself tightly in its protective warmth, she plopped down in the chair and stared into the flames. Finally feeling secure and safe, she put herself to the task she had hitherto avoided.

Memories gently rose to the surface, and as she examined each one, tears tracked silently and unheeded down her cheeks.

Father.

A tall man stood at a window, gazing out at the setting sun. “My daughter,” he began, his tone stern and deep, “it is the duty of a princess to marry, not for the benefit of herself, but for the good of the people she serves. You will consider the suitors that I present to you.” There was a long pause as the man drew a deep breath. “And if you will not choose for yourself, you will force me to choose for you.”

A gasped “No! Don’t force me Father!” rings out amid the silent room.

The man turns from the window, his face painted with determination… and grief. He held out his arms to his daughter in a gesture of loving acceptance. She stood before him, fists clenched by her sides, defiance in her posture, eyes brimming with betrayal. She hesitated several moments, before running to him and burying her head in his chest.

“It will be alright, Button,” he whispered as he gently stroked her hair. “Our happiness is the sacrifice we must make to better the lives of our people.” She said nothing, and he continued to hold her close wishing he could somehow make the hurt he had caused disappear. The urge to see her smile again possessed him and he whispered gently to her, “Why don’t you dance for me, Button?” She pulled back from his chest and looked into his eyes searching for answers to questions she could not ask. “Please?” he asked again.

She nodded slowly and stepped away from him. She knew which dance he wanted to see. It would be her parting gift. Fixing the music in her mind, she slowly began the movements. She witnessed the approval in his eyes, and gave him a smile….

Mother.

The elegant lady stands before an upright writing slate, her Elvish features clearly outlined by the early morning sun streaming through the window.

“Let’s try it again,” she said, her accented language filling the small room.

Two young girls sat before small desks facing the imposing lady before them. At her command, the smaller of the two students rolled her eyes. They had already completed this exercise twice before, and now she was making them perform it again?

Ever perceptive, the lady walked over to her desk and leaned down, looking the small girl in the eyes. “Daughter,” she asked, “What is the problem?”

The little girl looked up at her Mother and whined, “Why do we have to learn Elvish? We don’t even live there!”

Mother straightened and laid a measuring gaze upon her daughter. The young one began to squirm under the scrutiny, while the older one raised a hand to her mouth to hold back her laughter. Her sister had managed to get into trouble once again!

After many moments, Mother seemed to come to a decision, and she adjusted her gaze to include both of her daughters. “Girls,” she began, “it is important to remember that you are of two worlds and not just one.” She paused, fighting with the desire to protect her young ones from the cruelties of life, but knowing she would not be able to shield them indefinitely. Facts would help them grow strong, so she pushed back the maternal instinct and continued. “You are the bridge that binds the two peoples together, though there may be some who hate you for it.”

Now both girls were uncomfortable and squirming.

“You must be able to function in both,” she said plainly. “And I will make sure that you are able to do so.”

The older, who perhaps understood more of the world than her younger sister, then asked, “Do you hate us Mother?”

The lady smiled and quickly bent down, wrapping a protective arm around each of her daughters. “Of course not,” she said, kissing each lightly on the cheek. “Amin mela lle.”

The youngest sibling immediately responded, “Amin mela lle, Mama!” She squeezed her arms as tightly as she could around her Mother. The oldest quickly followed with a similar declaration, and the three crouched there, clinging to one another, enjoying the comfort that comes from closeness borne of love.

Before long, the lady shooed her children back to their seats, prepared to resume class. “Now, again!” she commanded.

“One,” the lady said.

“Er,” the children replied.

Sister.

She walked into the room to find her sister sitting at her dressing table, brushing her long, fair hair. She was tired and more than a little vexxed from her training with the temple’s High Priestess, namely her mother. It seemed that no matter how hard she tried, she could not touch the magical plane, yet her sister managed it with ease. It was often like this – things that came so easily to one sister, failed to come to the other sister at all.

The two siblings were so different in many respects. One was tall, fair, and elegant, while the other was short, darker, and clumsy.

“How do you manage it,” she asked softly.

The older sister looked up from her task and offered an understanding smile. “You, too, will get it in time.”

“How can you be sure?” she demanded, doubt and failure etched into every line of her face.

Etewen put down her brush and moved to the bed, patting the space beside her. As her sister joined her, she replied, “Nagarren has always favored the women of our house.” She gently patted her sister on the shoulder. “She will not desert you. When you are ready, she will come.”

When she received no response, she took the disappointed girl into her arms. “Trust me,” she said softly. “Until that day, I will carry the faith for both of us.”

The younger girl acquiesced and returned the embrace. “OK,” she said.

At this last memory, Mavigan rose from her chair and went to the table where her belongings were strewn. Finding her scrip, she opened it and sent questing fingers inside. When she withdrew her hand, she held a religious icon forged of gold, suspended from a long chain. Concentrating for a moment as she had been taught, she attempted to pierce the veil and detect the presence of the goddess – but this attempt ended as all of her previous attempts had ended. She still could not get past the barrier.

A few more tears leaked from her eyes at this discovery. She tried to comfort herself by saying the same thing she did each time her attempts failed. “I suppose this is not the time of my greatest need.” Though she could not understand what in the name of all that is holy, the Goddess was waiting for.

“Well sister,” she whispered to the darkened room, “if you can no longer carry the faith, then I suppose I have to try.” She slipped the talisman over her head and returned to her chair, once again wrapped snugly in the blanket. Her musings had taken many hours and the fire had burned down somewhat, but still produced plenty of heat. Mavigan was tired, but she still had one journey left to make before she could attempt to sleep.

Throne.

Everyone she had met thus far on this journey all had the same goal - seat her upon a throne she didn’t want or deserve.

The list of reasons why she should NOT be Queen quickly came to her as she had rehearsed them many times. She was the complete opposite of what a Queen should be – elegant, tactful, diplomatic, polite, refined, charming, patient, compassionate, selfless, open. Etewen was all of those things and more, but none of those terms could be applied to her. No, Mavigan’s list of qualities would most likely include brash, tactless, irreverent, impatient, selfish, cunning, and reserved.

Those who whisked her away from Ancora KNEW all of this about her, yet they still intended to put her on the throne. Her eyes narrowed as she struggled through her bafflement. She suspected that they were planning to use her as a tool to make their own bid for the Ancoran throne. She scoffed lightly at the idea. Anyone who thought she was biddable simply because she was young must have rocks for brains.

No, she would not be controlled. She could not be anyone other than herself, nor would she want to expend the effort to pretend to be something she wasn’t. She reexamined the list of Queenly traits she had thought of earlier. Perhaps, she thought, I should change that list.

She rose from her chair and made her way to the bed, lying down prepared to allow sleep to finally claim her. Her conclusion was reached, and her inner turmoil had settled. If they intended to make her Queen, then she would be Queen. But she would be Queen on her own terms. Her last thought before she descended into the waiting arms of slumber was that her first order of business as Queen will be to avenge her family.

Written by Turin Wallace

Sitting in his private chambers, Ithramir is quietly meditating when a elven guard comes knocking on his door. Allowing the guard to enter, he approaches Ithramir and says,

"She spent all day to herself and has just gone to sleep, milord."

Opening his eyes slightly, he says to the guard,

"Very well then. Keep guards posted and double the watch around the visitors wing. Just a precaution and it's good to give the new recruits something to do for a change."

Smiling, the guard nods and exits.

Alone once again, Ithramir begins to meditate once more. He wonders if his new found friends understand the full danger they were all in. It was not the immediate danger posed by Beridaine, for he could not muster a force so quick to even dent the gate of this place, but if the war was not won swiftly it would give the dolt time to prepare something nasty for them. That unsettled Ithramir.

Still no need to fret over things that have yet occurred, so his immediate thoughts turn to what he will do with the young Mavigan. Certainly she is a Queen in exile, however he will exert his authority quickly and make known to her, if the need arises, that she is a guest in his lands. If she does not understand politics, she will soon enough. If she has the capacity she will be taught how and when to use a velvet glove or the mailed fist. She will learn quickly, at least for the humans sake he hopes so.

Then there are his own pressing matters to attend to. The Orcish incursions to the west of the great mountains are becoming more frequent. There seem to be reports of these nomadic beasts banding together under one leader. The elves and the dwarves have contained the orcs from spilling into the human lands for ages, but from an elven standpoint, they have limited numbers to hold back the tide. Eventually, with the lack of new recruits from the Elven Isles, they will fall in the coming onslaught. Not now, of course, but in the decades to come there will be a power-shift. It will be left to the humans to fight these creatures and to hold their ground against them. This is but a start of what Ithramir hopes to be the foundation for a strong human kingdom. At the very least, allies to whom they could call on in the future.

His body tired, Ithramir opens his eyes and calls for the guard outside his door. Quietly, he speaks,

"Kivin, the next ship is due from our homeland on the morning tide. I expect to be awakened when they arrive. Perhaps there will be a few more recruits on board to greet us this time."

Kivin, the guard, nods and says,

"It will be done, milord."

Nodding to the guard, Kivin then leaves Ithramir to the peace of his bed. For Ithramir, a few hours respite is most welcoming, as he does not expect such nights in the future.

Written by Archeantus

She heard a soft grunt as darkness slowly melted into light. It was as if she were coming out of a black tunnel after weeks of nothingness. The light was blinding, she hated it.

Her eyebrows slowly lifted to see the face of a man whose face was bloodied almost beyond recognition. She then realized she was tied to a pole, her arms behind her back. The man was slowly making his way toward her. There was a moment of confusion as her groggy mind pieced together the reality she faced.

She then spied something in the man’s gory hand. It was a dagger. He was on his hands and knees crawling toward her. She tested the ropes which held her arms, they were slightly loose. Looking back at the man she watched in utter fascination as he movingly etched toward her. She noticed his legs must have been broken, and at least one arm. He could barely see, but he seemed fixed on making it to her. He clutched to his dagger like he clutched to his fledgling life.

What was so important for him to reach her? She struggled against the ropes at bit more. He made it to about five feet from her and started to stand against what must have been immeasurable pain. He screamed as he stood, the grip on the dagger grew stronger as his knuckles whitened resolutely.

He meant to kill her.

She looked at him now like a hawk looks upon a small mouse from high above, there was no way in this cursed world she’d die to a bloody cripple after all she’d been through, all she’d killed, all she’d obtained. She was this world’s broken heart, and it would not be stilled until she had no other option. The world must know of the pain it had caused her!

The man hadn’t realized she’d woken up. Once he had gained his footing he appeared to double his efforts, yet not haphazardly, he stood calculatingly gazing at his target through blood-caked and bruised eyes. Blood oozed down the middle of his face along his shattered nose. He spat occasionally and coughed in pain as each effort expended his remaining strength.

She silently watched him, feigning unconsciousness.

She watched as he edged away from the nearby table, and moved slowly toward her…

He was so close now. All he had to do was kill her and his family would be set free. That was what they had said. He had little else but to trust them. Why must things like this happen? They had no reason to put him to this, no reason to threaten his whole life. He had no idea who this woman was or why they simply didn’t kill her themselves when they were more than capable of it.

He stumbled to the floor and a sharp cry of pain rattled his brain. It came from the other side of the door.

“No! Lenora!” He gurgled out. Looking at the table just behind and off to the side of the woman, he saw the sand in the hourglass slowly sift downward. He was running out of time. Then it would be all over.

No! Not for him, and not for his family. If he had to kill to bring his family back then that was what was going to happen. All reason left him as he struggled to his feet once more. He could feel the broken bones grind against his flesh. His eyes filled with tears and they fell intermingled with the blood.

“God help me!” He cried helplessly knowing his strength had reached its end. Yet the man’s love of his family carried him beyond his own limits. He stepped forward and then again. He was within reach now. Holding the dagger with all his might, he raised his arm preparing to end the life of the woman before him. For a fleeting moment he wondered if she deserved death, if he was killing an innocent woman. Whatever the gods knew, he hoped he’d be forgiven of the deed he was about to make. Looking at the area of her heart, he aimed and gripped the dagger tightly.

“For you Lenora.” He whispered as he sent the dagger down.

Suddenly her eyes opened and he was swept to the floor with a sickening crash. White hot pain gripped him as he dropped the dagger to the floor. Heart wrenching cries filled the room as the man rolled on the ground in sheer anguish.

She adeptly brought the fallen dagger toward the pole with her outstretched foot. Twisting around the pole, she knelt down and picked up the blade with her bound hands. Working quickly now, she had the rope cut in a few moments and was dangerously free.

She stood ominously over him, a storm cloud ready to strike.

Kneeling down she held the dagger up to the man’s throat.

“Do you want it to end quickly?” She whispered sadly. She didn’t like to kill. She had to kill. It was much like the water her body needed or the air she breathed. This life was not her choice, it was the world’s and now it forced her to end another life.

He appeared not to hear her, and only looked beyond her toward the pole she’d come from. Following his gaze she saw an hour glass upon a table whose time had just ran out. Then looking back at the man, she saw the last embers that kept him alive flicker and die as the last grains of sand fell from their loft. He died in her arms. Letting the corpse fall to the floor, she stood and looked confusedly at the sight.

Looking down she noticed a key tied to her neck, and then she began to understand. Slowly she walked toward the door and unlocked it with the key the man had struggled so hard to get. The door opened to a scene of carnage. Four fresh bodies littered the floor. The man’s family. He had failed and she had succeeded.

Vermigard, a heavily cloaked mage, and another stood in the dimly lit room.

“Your doing?” She asked.

Only one of them nodded.

“Yes Jasmine, this is all my doing.” A cold voice whispered vaguely. The figure walked toward her and held out its hand.

“The dagger.” It demanded.

She looked for a moment at the request and shrugged offering the dagger in one fell swoop. She planted it firmly into the chest of the one who wanted the dagger and he dropped to the floor with a thud.

Suddenly from behind her a shadow enveloped her and a flash of steel appeared by her throat.

“I meant for you to have the dagger, and I meant for you to give it away.” An icy voice whispered in her ear.

It was him.

The one in the bar. He had held her life in his hands before and now again. It was twice more than any man had ever done.

She looked closely at the one she’d just killed and realized it had already been dead. She looked at the mage fiercely, knowing the art of necromancy was at work.

She was impressed and yet livid with anger. If her end was here, she felt it justified. She had finally met one who could take her.

“Why do you play with your kill?” She asked through gritted teeth.

“I do not want your damn bounty, nor do I want you dead.” The voice continued. He suddenly shoved her away from him so that she could face him.

“I want your skill.”

She laughed.

Never had she anticipated this. It wasn’t a mocking laugh; in fact she was actually amused at such a prospect. Gazing warming at the dark man before her, her smile faded when she was thrown a sword.

“You have one chance to win your freedom. You must kill me. If you loose, I offer your every desire.” He said, unsheathing his own sword.

“How would you know what I desire?” She countered.

“I recognize a heart like mine.”

“What do you want with me?” She asked.

“Beat me and find out.”

She lunged, her sword prepared to cut asunder.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

The night waxed old, and she gazed at the fire hearing the rest of his intentions. She looked at her hand which had been cut in two before she'd been knocked out cold. There was a dark grey mark where it had been cut. Looking at the mage who seemed to hover by the man in black she felt a certain sense of distrust in the mage who had apparently repaired the crippling blow. She’d been soundly beaten, and it still infuriated her. She would most likely never stop hating the man before her. But his mind was her own. After hearing his plans she was soon infatuated with his ambition as much as she was of her own.

“What will you have me do?” She asked dangerously after hours of talk.

“Kill all the men who protect the rogue queen.”

“As you wish, master.” She responded mockingly. She would always rebel against him, but would never alter her loyalty toward him. To do that would change her very nature.

<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<<

Out of the desert the four soon portaled toward Ancora, a silent terror in their wake. For now, his heart was bent on one thing. Find the young queen and slay her.

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