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Book One - The Elven March to Westgale

Written by Turin Wallace - Wed Jul 30, 2003

Ithramir was sitting in his study when an elven ranger knocked and entered the chamber.

Looking up at her approach, he says sternly,

“This had better be important, Umeawen.”

With a salute, she says,

“Aye, milord, I bring dire news from the northern region of Grayshire.”

He studied her for a moment, and saw that something indeed was amiss. It was not like this ranger to overreact. Putting his book away, he looks at her and says,

“Umeawen, what is wrong?”

She answers,

“It seems the civil war raging in the human territories has taken a dark turn. Pallanon and his family have been assassinated. Beridane now controls part of the city, by birthright, and is seeking to crush those who oppose his rule.”

Grimly shaking his head, Ithramir says,

“Pallanon was too kind a man. He lacked the ruthlessness to see what Beridane was planning. We will mourn he and his family’s loss.”

Cutting in, Umeawen says,

“However, milord, he failed to assassinate his youngest daughter. Her whereabouts are unknown at the moment. Until she can be found…”

Ithramir finishes,

“…Beridane cannot complete his victory.”

Pausing for a moment, Ithramir then says,

“So, have the humans asked for aide yet?”

Umeawen replies,

“The rebels have already begun to enter our borders, they seek trade for weapons, food, and lodging. So far, we have aided them quietly and helped them where we could. They know milord that you are a relative, of sorts, to the family. They beg you to aid them and protect them from Beridane.”

Ithramir closes his eyes and thinks for a long moment. Opening them slowly, he levels a gaze at Umeawen, and says,

“If we help them we risk open war with humans…something that hasn’t been seen since the Age of Darkness. Plus, we are the last guardians of the great citadel Lothiel-Gadith. We are the last among our people who forsake our homeland to secure the world against our old foes, the Orcs. And yet, we cannot let such evil go unpunished and allow innocent people suffer.”

It was then that he had the Captain of the citadel brought before him. Looking at the older elf, Ithramir says,

“How many do we number, Captain?”

The Captain looks to him and says,

“Milord, we number two-thousand Silver Glade archers, three-thousand White Lion spearmen, four-thousand Red Moon long swordsmen, and one-thousand of your own rangers.”

Nodding to him, Ithramir then says,

“Captain, make ready the rangers of Sil-Galdur. On the morn we will march to Grayshire to restore order to the kingdom of Westgale. If I have need of more troops, I will send for them. Until I return, I leave you in charge of this citadel. Good day, Captain.”

Bowing to each other, the Captain leaves to follow Ithramir’s orders. Seeing Umeawen looking at him, he says,

“Yes, Umeawen?”

She responds,

“So we are marching to Westgale without orders from the Elven High Lords?”

Ithramir nods, and says,

“You know as well as I that they do not care about us, nor those of us here on this continent. They have not the stomach for war, but rather, the fineries of life. Our people have lost their way. They only hear what they wish to anymore. It is up to us to set matters straight here.”

She responds,

“Yes…yes, you may be right.”

Ithramir then continues,

“Besides, we have other concerns now. Get some rest, we move early in the morning.”

With that, the two bow to each other, and go their separate ways for the night.

Ithramir did not sleep well that eve, but he rarely ever slept well. Seeing the first signs of light, he jumped up and prepared himself for the travels ahead. He too was a ranger, although he was not able to run through the forests as light-hearted and free as he once did. He had spent years at home training, as did all who were here, to come to the continent and to keep the power of the Orcs in check. That was decades ago, however, and the present time had it’s own troubles that needed sorting out.

After outfitting himself with fine elven chain and leather armor, and after picking up his longbow and sword, he made his way down from his quarters to the courtyards below. Seeing to his rangers, they prepared to leave and make their way into the lands of Grayshire.

Before setting out, he turns and addresses them,

“My fellow rangers, we are embarking on a journey that will, I hope, restore order to the lands of our human friends. Many have sought out shelter from a ruthless ruler, one who killed his own kin to claim a second throne. While some of you may not see the wisdom of setting these matters right, be content that what we do today will be for the greater good of all. For if this usurper manages to claim all of the kingdoms in Grayshire, it would not be long before he would turn his attention to us. We will halt his plans now, before he has a chance to act. Now, let us ride.”

At that, the whole of them began to pour through the great iron-oak doors that gave access to the citadel of Lothiel-Godith, and started their journey. After leaving the citadel, Umeawen rode up next to him at the front of the column, and asks,

“How do you plan to come into Grayshire, if we use the normal means we will be spotted for sure.”

With a half chuckle, and a slight look of aggravation, Ithramir says,

“Umeawen, I am no fool, I do not intend to use the main roads. We will do what rangers do best; use the forest and glades as roads. We will stop at the few known refuges that the humans have established in the Blackwood, and further strengthen ourselves from there. I do not intend to fight this Beridane in the open…not yet. We will use the forest to hit his forces when and wherever possible.”

Nodding with a smile, she says,

“I did not mean to imply you were a fool, milord. I just wanted to hear your plan of action.”

Pausing for a moment, she then continues,

“But, milord, there is something else…what of the girl, Mavigan?”

He replies,

“Ah yes, the daughter that was not assassinated. I suppose we need to find her before Beridane does, no?”

Umeawen nods, and Ithramir continues,

“Worry not, I have already given word to a few rangers to go and search for her, and if found, bring her to us.”

Looking at Ithramir, Umeawen gently smiles and says,

“It is my job to ask such things, milord, I never mean offense.”

A rare full smile raced across Ithramir’s face as he replies,

“Yes, I know Umeawen, I take no offense. You may return to your company.”

With a nod, Umeawen moves back to her place in the column, and the elves continue their advance to the Blackwood Forest.

After traveling until dusk, the elves finally reach the fringe of the Blackwood. Content to camp here for the night, Ithramir gives the order, and a camp is setup. The night passes quietly, for this is deep in Elven Territories, and they have no fear of raiders. Then, at first light, the elves enter the deep, dark forest of Blackwood. They travel for over a week, traversing the natural beauty of the vast forest, until they come upon the village of Thornton.

Thornton is on the far edge of the Blackthorn, established by humans and elves in the last few hundred years. Sitting close enough to Grayshire, it is a trading post of sorts, and the river Iseril allows for a modest port. Since the assassination, Thornton has become a hub of renegade activity. If it were not located just inside the Elven Territory, it would more than likely have been burnt down outright. So far, Beridane does not seek to anger the elves, and he has left the town alone…but using an occasional assassin to try and ensure his grip is felt here. Still, the elven guards that Ithramir sent have managed to keep most at bay, and have allowed him to win these renegades over. Keeping most of the rangers hidden away, Ithramir and a few others make their way to the town to see what is awaiting them, to meet the townsfolk as well as some of these renegades…

Written by Aethelwulf

Meanwhile in Port Westgale......

Alaric was bone weary, his body suffering from exhaustion. Only a sense of urgency and an even greater sense of duty kept him on his feet and moving. He had to find her before they did...

The thought brought to mind an image of a crown splattered with blood, and the body of his friend lying at his feet. For earlier that eve, the worst crime in history had been committed. Some unknown assassin had stolen into the palace and slain the King and his family. Well, most of his family. What the assassin did not know, what no one knew but the trusted confidantes of the King was that one daughter was not there.

Alaric followed the memory, the day he stood before his friend and watched him weep as the news that his youngest daughter had run away from royal life, from royal suitors, from royal duty, and from her royal family. The following months were filled with searches conducted by those King Pallanon trusted, all the while maintaining the pretense that she was ill and confined to bed. The irony was that when word of her whereabouts did come, it indicated that she had never left Port Westgale. All that searching, and she had stayed close to home.

"Mavigan", he breathed the word painfully and suddenly, he was again seeing the body of his friend, the body of his King, lying at his feet before him. He squeezed his eyes tightly shut in an effort to banish the image. "No," he said softly. His two companions looked askance at him, and he merely shook his head. They knew better than to pry further.

Alaric had arrived outside a tavern and stood gazing at the door. It mattered little the name of said tavern, it looked just like the nine other bars he had checked already. This place, too, would be dim and filled with suffocating smoke. Loud and rowdy drunks, faded lily barflies, and shadowy characters would each be in their appointed place as if every tavern in town was a theater all showing the same play. And yet, faced with the prospect of one more place to search, he hoped and prayed. Perhaps here is where the search would end.

Taking a deep breath and gaining resolution, Alaric straightened his shoulders and pushed through the door. His companions were skilled in their arts and quickly took their places. Koric, the dark male, with the shaved head and a scar across his cheek stood at the end of the bar, his back to a wall, while Lao, the small woman with short cropped black hair, walked towards the back exit. The evening was still young, but the crowd in the bar seemed to be generally well into their cups. Several small groups of dangerous looking people were clustered around the long wooden bar, and it appeared that every table in the place was full.

"Cheater!" The loud accusation rang out across the room claiming Alaric's attention. Turning his deep blue eyes to a far corner where some sort of card game was going on, he smiled as he saw a lithe, young woman arguing with a burly sailor over something on the table. Making eye contact with Koric and Lao, he moved towards the table. As the two took up positions near the card game, making sure to place themselves between the players and the two exits to the bar, Alaric was startled to see the young woman rise out of her chair and deal a powerful right hook to the suprised face of the burly sailor. He quickly recovered his composure, and smiling to himself, moved closer to the young woman. She started to draw her fist back for another punch when the man toppled out of the chair onto the floor. Around him, the spectators began to laugh, and make cat calls at the fallen man.

"You moron! You should know better than to try and cheat little ol'Brell!" Raucous laughter followed, and the young women referred to as "Brell" smiled. With a swift hand, she scooped up the money from the table and placed it in a small bag that quickly disappeared from view. She turned from the table, a broad smile on her face and spotted Alaric inching closer to her. Her smile transformed to a snarl, and she turned away from him intent on flight.

Alaric's smile broadened as the young woman turned to run and promptly ran into Koric's very stout chest. Coming up behind her, he whispered in her ear, "Surely you wouldn't want me to take you over my knee here in this place, now would you young miss?"

Written by Ariana

Mavigan felt the large man’s hand on her elbow, the pressure not hard enough to hurt, but firm enough to prevent her from escaping easily. She made a low growling sound in her throat and sneered up at him. He merely gazed at her dispassionately and tightened his grip on her shoulder.

Mavigan did not recognize the towering man she had smacked into at full force. No doubt that is why he was chosen to help “retrieve” her. The man whispering in her ear, however, she knew very well. Alaric Aedmon, long-time friend and lackey of her father, sent to return the prodigal daughter to a life she despised.

“Surely you wouldn’t want me to take you over my knee here in this place, now would you young miss?” he whispered in her ear.

Mavigan merely looked at him, her eyes narrow, defiance etched in every line of her face. As she began to open her mouth to let loose some derogatory comments, she heard a voice say, “Hey now, Brell? Is this fella botherin’ you?” Another voice chimed in, “You there! What’s your business with Brell?”. As realization that salvation was near dawned, Mavigan’s expression changed from defiant to sly. Her snarl smoothed into a coy smile and as Alaric watched, the light of triumph gleamed out at him from her eyes.

“As a matter of fact,” she said slowly, “he is bothering me.” She positively grinned up at her captor. “I believe he is upset with me for beating him at dice.”

The surrounding voices quickly turned from inquiring to threatening. Bodies began to close in on the two captors from all sides accompanied by angry shouts. “Let her go mate!”, said one. “You can’t rough up our Brell!”, said another. And as danger gained ground and grew closer, Mavigan looked at Alaric with a cat-like smile.

Written by Teran

A sigh escaped from darkness shrouded in darkness. A solitary candle blazed valiantly attempting to press back the darkness that engulfed the tiny room however darkness reigned supreme and the light from the tiny candle did not reach the walls. A tiny globe of light that balanced precariously on the tip of a wax rod fuelled by a linen wick was all that prevented the room and its occupant from falling into total darkness, total oblivion.

The room’s single occupant could not determine logically why he had lit the candle. His senses were overdeveloped and it was second nature for him to function in complete darkness, yet there was something symbolically important to the assassin about having the candle lit. The globe of light lost its precise clarity as his eyes slipped out of focus, and his mind was briefly somewhere else.

Teran knew that he was not far ahead of his pursuers. Beridane was not a merciful man and Teran imagined that Beridane had already spent more Bloodcoin in his attempt to find him, than he had originally paid Teran to assassinate the beloved King Pallanon and his family. The irony brought a tiny smile to Teran’s face.

The raspy scratch of a quill applying ink to parchment faded into the room as Teran began to write his letter to King Beridane, King of Ironskane, and Teran’s former employer.

“His Majesty, King Beridane –

Even as I write this letter your hired killers are following the paths I have left in my wake. I expect this parchment to be in your possession within a matter of days and it is my sincere hope that you will take these words of mine to heart.

Men that do great acts of evil are remembered as terrible villains, murderers, men that would do anything to feed their personal lusts for power and riches, at the cost of every other living being. You Beridane are an evil man, and that is how you will be remembered long after you are buried and gone.

Men that do great acts of good are remembered as glorious heroes, selfless in their intentions, they are the men that would do anything to feed the needs of the people around them. Lord Pallanon was a kind and just man and he is receiving his reward in his afterlife. It is unfortunate that his kingdom now has only a single heir.

Men that do great acts of both good and evil throughout their lives are not remembered at all. These men are preservers, guardians of balance. They preserve the natural balance that must exist in this world. Guardians do not truly seek to destroy good or evil but we seek to destroy weakness.

It does not matter that Pallanon’s youngest daughter was saved by my folly, nor does it matter that Pallanon’s youngest daughter was saved by my design, all that matters is that she has been saved. She knows that you are her enemy. I did not kill her family, even though my hands may be soaked with their blood. I was a master crafted tool, guided to its purpose by an amateur tradesman.

Beridane, I humbly suggest that you cease wasting your resources in attempting to capture an individual as elusive as myself. You have nothing to fear from me for the time being.”

Teran cocked his head listening, snuffing the candle out in a smooth motion. He heard soft conversation downstairs as some of Beridane’s killers questioned a barmaid. Beridane’s ‘kill teams’ had something of a gruesome reputation these days and were feared far and wide by the common folk. Their murderous reputation certainly assisted them in keeping on the assassin’s trail, though Teran was out of their league. He led them along, hoping to draw Beridane’s attention and resources away from locating Lord Pallanon’s youngest daughter.

Your men are moments away from locating this letter King Beridane. I hope you take these words to heart.

Sincerely, Ramage.”

Teran carefully folded his letter after signing it with the name Beridane would recognize as his. He grabbed the candle and turned it over, pouring pale white wax into his hand. He formed a small ball out of the wax and set it on the center seam of his fold. He recited a brief incantation, and the wax was pressed down revealing a seal that King Beridane would recognize as one of Teran’s.

He carefully set the parchment down, and was gone.

Moments later the door that had so faithfully guarded Teran over the last few hours splintered and shattered and several men burst into the room, dragging a barmaid with them. They found the parchment but did not dare break the seal for fear of Beridane’s wrath. Instead they turned on the barmaid. She began wailing as they interrogated her attempting to discover Teran’s next destination.

Having failed to do that after many hours the barmaid’s body was left in Teran’s bed until it was found that morning. Six days passed before King Beridane received Teran’s letter.

The assassin headed east towards the Ironskane Mountains, though his intended destination was Thornton, a small city or outpost just inside the border of the Elven lands five days to the northeast. He would never assume safety in any location, however he knew that Beridane’s influence had not yet penetrated deeply into the Elven kingdom’s territory.

After a long day and night of travel the assassin stopped at a pub, and thanks to carelessly guarded luggage he became a gambler. After a nights rest the gambler headed east by way of coach. After a day’s riding the coach stopped at another Tavern, rather famous for its gambling.

By the end of the night the gambler was 250 Bloodcoin ahead of the house and promptly retired to a somewhat luxurious suite with a female companion. After a night of hard relaxation, the gambler borrowed clothing from the room next door and became a cleric.

The cleric’s particular sect believed in redemption through physical hardship. The cleric borrowed a few more items from the room and donned his excessively heavy pack and trudged further northeast into the forest reciting prayers of longsuffering as he went. After four days and nights traveling and blessing passersby the priest stopped in another tavern, his last stop before Thornton.

The cleric discarded his clothing, and the assassin went through the pack he had been carrying over the last four days considering his options. Thornton was a place where he would be welcome no matter who he chose to be. It was not a terribly safe place to be for the unwary or fair, but neither was it excessively dangerous. Teran viewed it as a haven for the harmless criminals, the people who were never destined to make a mark much larger than themselves in the world, the people who were happy to simply “just get by”.

Teran selected the outfit the assassin wore during his first night’s travel. He donned well tailored clothing that fit snugly but did not restrict his movement. He also donned the non-descript gray hooded cloak the priest had worn. He let his matted pale white hair spill from the shadows concealing his face, appreciating the aura it loaned his appearance.

To top off his attire, Teran wore the flashy rapier around his waist that the gambler had so liked, while stowing the assassin’s twin blades in their usual place in their concealed sheaths. Teran examined himself closely, and once he was satisfied he prepared to depart.

The assassin left the tavern, leaving the gambler and cleric behind. His only luggage was his money purse because once the assassin arrived in Thornton he could purchase new clothing, clothing that he had never been seen in before, clothing he could use to assume new identities with.

The final day’s travel passed quickly for Teran and he soon found himself in Thornton. He was thankful that the Elves he was certain he had passed had not taken issue with his presence in their lands. He set himself up with a room at the Dancing Pike, a local favorite tavern and began familiarizing himself with the city. He adopted an appropriate personality, and within a few days he seemed like a native.

For the most part he kept to himself, spending long hours every evening in his room, using his quill to write. Often the sound of parchment tearing would interrupt the soft scribbling, and then the smell of burn parchment would follow. Teran attempted to find the appropriate words to put into writing for Mavigan, the sole surviving heir of King Pallanon.

Teran had left enough evidence behind to link the assassinations to Beridane, however in the chaos that followed most of the royal family getting murdered he could not be certain that the evidence had been recovered, therefore his letter was necessary. As soon as Teran learned of Mavigan’s location, he would dispatch a runner to deliver his letter to her… assuming he had found the words to create the letter in the first place. Until then Teran would wait and continue writing.

Written by Aethelwulf

Motioning to Koric to take up position before the crowd, keeping them at bay for a moment, Alaric made a quick assessment of the situation. Making sure of Lao's position behind the raucous crowd that was rapidly forming around them, he leaned in close to the pernicious lass standing next to him, pinning her to the wall. He then whispered to her in a very serious tone.

"Well now Button, it appears that you are in a bit of a fix here. Your Father has been killed," Alaric noted with a wisp of sadness that this news did not seem to faze the lass, "and to my mind you are a very valuable commodity. I see three options before you. One, my friends and I are more then capable of inflicting great harm on your friends here, as you well know, but it the process you may well escape. Two, I am more then willing to announce who you REALLY are, and even more willing to sell you to the highest bidder. Or three, you call off your dogs and come with us." Smiling at the young ladies obvious anger over the use of her childhood nickname, he then continued.

"You life is in great danger, and I am in truth your only friend here. Now then, what's it to be?

Written by Ariana

“Well now Button,….” Mavigan inwardly cringed at the use of her childhood nickname. No one but her Father had called her that, and Alaric certainly had no right to do so. The use of the familiar only increased her rage, and she glared at the man standing before her. How did this go so wrong? Mavigan wondered to herself. One minute she had been sure of escape, the next she was roughly shoved against the wall staring into the blue eyes of the man who had come to steal her freedom.

“Your Father has been killed,” he whispered to her. The words cut into her as surely as if Alaric had plunged a dagger into her heart. Her eyes widened slightly with the news, but her expression quickly regained its defiance. She would be damned if she would let him know how her heart hurt.

Vile words continued to spew forth from the man’s mouth and into her face. “I see three options before you. One, my friends and I are more than capable of inflicting great harm on your friends..” Mavigan knew this to be true, but wasn’t overly concerned. Glancing over Alaric’s shoulder, she noted another companion moving into place. “So,” she thought to herself, “there are three of them. They are still outnumbered.” Satisfied that she could still escape, she turned back to Alaric with a cold stare.

“Two, I am more then willing to announce who you REALLY are, and even more willing to sell you to the highest bidder.” Mavigan’s eyes widened in surprise. “He wouldn’t dare!” she thought to herself. She gazed into determined blue orbs and realized that he was quite serious. “He would!” she thought. “He would expose me without the slightest hint of regret. That bastard! If he blabs who I am, there will be no escape.”

“Or three, you come call off your dogs and come with us. Now then, what’s it to be?” Mavigan inwardly cursed Alaric and the day she was born. She was well and truly trapped. “Amin delotha lle!” she spat at him, “Amin lava.” Anger mingled with defeat filled her eyes and poise. Her shoulders slumped and her head dropped, allowing her hair to hide her face, shielding herself from further assault. Raising her voice above the din, she shouted, “It’s all right! It appears he is here to pay his debt! Let’s leave them alone.”

Her statements took a few minutes to filter through the room. Slowly angry patrons began to back off accompanied by questions of, “Are you sure Brell?” and “You heard her! Let the man pay his debt!” and even more catcalls towards the man who had lost to Brell. Soon order was restored, and Mavigan pushed herself away from the wall, jerking herself painfully out of Alaric’s grasp. She made her way towards the front door of the tavern and before she pushed through the door she turned and raised a hand in farewell to her friends and to her freedom.

Written by Reyk

It was not supposed to be like this.

The young drunkard sitting alone in the tavern was unremarkable, at best. Pissing away the last of his coin and bemoaning his lack of work and any sort of luck at once, to no one and to everyone. At least he was quiet enough to be ignored. The dirtly blond hair and bloodshot brown eyes were forgotten almost instantly... not a terrible loss given that they were as completely false as the rest of his appearance. A mere sketch of a person given life by a dweomer of illusion and lent realism by the subconscious of its observers.

Cloaked within sat the once Arch-Magi of the Azeryani empire, the once High Priest of the Temple of Draconis in Meokolis, the once chief advisor to the Grand Duke of the Empire's capitol city, and now both fugitive and hunter in a city where he was simply an enemy of the state trying to blend into the crowd... while fulfilling the request of a king made fifteen minutes after his death. Reyk shuddered a bit involuntarily, his illusion translating the motion into drunkenly defiant protest against cruel fate. Necromancy was not a tool he chose to utilize frequently, its price tending to remain with one far longer than its benefits, but given the thoroughness and skill of the assassin, it had been the only tool left to him.

He had been watching the girl for some time, led to her through the lens of a Draconian seeking prayer. She was indeed a beauty; it was never clear what a person would truly look like when one had only seen them through the loving eyes of a parent. Her father's memory had in fact underplayed certain assets that would have been uppermost in the mind of another man. That she had no desire or interest in taking the throne, even if the Usurper could be convinced to surrender it, had been clear from both the memories of her father's spirit and from her own thoughts. He had no doubt that she was the last remaining member of the royal house, and thus that the Usurper's security elements would be hunting her with every tool at their disposal.

When the large men so clearly skilled in the control of quarry entered and cornered her, he was quite prepared to simply whisk her away from beneath their noses, but something about the grief that clung to their leader's aura made him pause to observe the confrontation. If he was to aid this child, knowing more about her makeup than a cursory scan of her thoughts and her Father's memories would be a tool he could not pass up. Alaric's pain at the loss of his friend and his desire to aid the girl, despite his gruff manner, led Reyk to observe without interveneing.

As she acquiesced to go with the man, Reyk murmured an enchantment of unbeing and stepped out of the illusion, leaving it sitting where it was. Soon it would get up and go pass out in an alley, before vanishing while no eyes lay upon it. The prayer would insure that no one remarked or remembered his presence, with out the issues of moving through crowds that true invisibility would bring. As he followed the group moving through the door, he engaged his mental sensitivity and reached out to the girl, his thought projected directly into her mind, his mental touch gentle and sure.

"Do not be alarmed, Princess Mavigan. My name is Reyk Mathom and I am a friend of your father's. I am present to be of assistance to you... it was his final request. You have but to wish for my assistance, and I shall render it if I might. You are not alone." Reyk ceased projecting his thoughts to give the girl time to absorb what he had already communicated, but his awareness lay right at the surface of her mind, open to whatever she might wish to tell him.

It was fortunate, he reflected, that he had not yet to needed to engage in any serious sorcery. It seemed likely to be a long night.

Written by Kiradia Afirewen

Kira looked over the town as she rode on the hill top over it. “Such a modest place….. But there is something about..” Kira stopped what she was about to say as she strode into the northern gate. The guards wore armor that, though oviously held many years of work on them, were still in very good shape. As the older of the two looked up to see who was at the gate this time he bowed stiffly and looked up at Kira.

“Hello Ma’am, if I may ask, what do you wish with the city?”

“I come for more foods and water. I work a farm out on the county side, and I am out of both.” Kira said with a dazzling smile on her face.

“As you wish Ma’am, now, if you would please hand me the weapon you hold strapped to your left thigh.”

Kira laughed uproariously at the guard and smiled all the same. “Very good guardsman, but what is to become of my sword if I give it to you?”

“We will keep it in a safe place for you Ma’am, it will not be harmed or touched.” The guard smiled in satisfaction for himself. Kira unzipped the near invisible sheath on the side of her left thigh and pulled out a jagged short sword that glowed blue at the base and seemed to strike black lightning across it’s blade.

Quickly Kira handed it to the guard as he thanked her, “When you plan to leave you may have your sword back Ma’am.”

“Yes, I will expect it to not have a single scratch, or I will be forced to flay your skin from your bones.” Kira smiled serenely as she rode past the gates and quickly came to the closest in, which happened to have a rather lovly looking young woman walking out. “Hhhhhmmmmm….. I wonder….” Kira smiled as she pulled forward and bowed her head to the men and woman.

“Hello gentlemen, Milady,” Kira grinned, this girl may be able to fool common townsfolk, but she walks too much like royalty, Kira thought as she lowered her voice to a whisper, “If you men and Milady do not mind, I have a request of you to make…..”

Kira waited silently for their answer.

Written by Aethelwulf

Koric made his way out of the Tavern, and into the streets, followed closely by the young lass. Alaric came next followed by Lao, whose dark black eyes swept the room once more before she too followed them into the street. The damp night air had a bit of humidity to it, and the streets were still damp from a brief shower that had fallen earlier. Suddenly, Mavigan, uttering a low, gutteral growl, clutched at her head, and almost doubled up as if in pain. In a flash, Alaric, Koric and Lao had their swords out, and their backs to the young lady, ringing her in a circle. Just then a young women approached the four. “If you men and Milady do not mind, I have a request of you to make…..”

Koric moved in a blur and in a split second, was behind the young lady, with his burly arm wrapped around her in a neck lock,his sword point touching her throat. Alaric too responded and had his sword pointed at her heart, while Lao scouted the road around them. All the while Mavigan seemed to be muttering, still seemingly in pain. Alaric spoke to their young captive, in a voice of cold steel.

"I am afraid we are not the kind to dole out favors lass."

Written by Talonmane

....and elsewhere, 250 miles to the Northwest, just off the rocky Yellow Coast of Western Ironskane, a squadron of ships loyal to the slain King were giving fight to twice their number from the Iron Fleet...

The Wavehammer careened into the port foredeck of the red-trimmed schooner. One of the 5 masts of the long Ironskane vessel had had enough, and fell starboardside all the way to the water, resulting in a rotation that only brought her main deck closer to the 'hammer.

"To yer last breath lads, fer Acaenyd! fer Pallanon! FER ANCORA!!!" The bellow came from the command porch, where the Captain stood gyrating with his sword-arm, a bright and heavy cutlass waving the air while his brass pegleg tapped out an accompanying beat on the deck. The crew of the last cruiser of Westgale charged across the gap and into their enemy...the servants of Beridane, the usurper.

"Get those dogs! toss a few o'er the side an' they might live to tell o' their meetin wit the Wavehammer! What're you standin' there fer, boyo? you signed onto the finest Dwarven ship in the fleet and ye best know yer here to do some fightin'! Now o'er that plank an' git those shrumm-eatin' mangy traitors!"

"Finest Dwarven ship in the fleet? don't you mean the only Dwarven ship in the fleet?"

The Captain stopped his motivational rant long enough to cast an annoyed gaze over his left shoulder at the imposing figure who had spoken. "Aye, she be the only...but it don't keep a Dwarf from still callin' her the best."

"As a matter of fact, isn't this the only Dwarven ship to ever serve in the fleet, Captain?"

The Dwarf now made a limping turn to face the passenger, scowling. "Admiral to you, ye barnacle! An what be ye makin oh this, now? She's the best, she's the only, an' she's the only one to ever do it. What're ye doin in the middle o' a fight pressin' me pride?"

"Oh yes, Admiral...I nearly forgot. Admiral of a fleet of four ships that haven't seen repairs in..."

The captain reach out with his free hand and pressed it to the wide belt of the far-taller man. Looking up, he waved the tip of the cutlass to punctuate his words,"If'n ye don't get yer Barbarian hide off'a me bridge and across a plank an' start splittin' some 'skaner 'eads, I think I'm goin'na have to..."

A heavy thud behind them interrupted the jibes, and the two looked over to see a large grappling hook take hold on a rail at their aft starboard. An Ironskane frigate was pulling in, and burning arrows began to land all around the Ancorans. The Dwarven Captain instinctively boomed out his orders to the few remaining crew who were not already engaged in the portside fight, "You two! get those fires out, and keep yer heads down! Bimglin...cut that grappling rope and get the mainsails back up! we'll be..."

"Wait."

"Belay that Bim...the walkin' axe is havin' a thought." Recinding the order to his deck officer, the Captain inquired with a curious stare to his large passenger.

"Let the second one come, Munchadin." The Barbarian's brow tightened as he removed his fur cape and pulled his weapon around from his back to tie at his waist. "I'll take them."

A great smile of anticipation broke across the Dwarf's bearded face, "Now that's more like it! you've been needin te crush some skulls fer this entire voyage, ye sourpuss...gettin' on me nerves and testin' me patience! Hey, Bimglin, keep those fires out, but watch the big man...maybe ye'll learn somethin'."

Jagan Talonmane, Knight Warden to the Royal House of Ancora, explorer to an assassinated King, and now one of the leaders of the resistance movement fighting the King's brother who took the nation through acts of treachery, drew his great axe and stretched his considerable Northman musculature. He inhaled the salt air and savoured the rocking of the ship and the spray, letting himself become attuned to it. The enemy frigate approached, her hungry and eager sailors crowding the rails, each hopeful of a chance at glory and plunder. They were not expecting a fighter - least of all a warbred, land-born Barbarian - to leap the gap while nearly 30 feet still seperated the ships, nor did most expect to die. But one followed the other, under the din of a warcry louder than the sounds of wood meeting wood that heralded the collision.

EDIT: for reference, here is something i just posted elsewhere, a bit of narration:

-The Elves across the sea have indeed just learned of the assassination from one of our fast frigates sent to deliver the news and ask for their help in a letter from Talonmane and one of the last Westgalean squadron commanders, Captain Munchadin.

Munchadin, a Dwarven Captain on the the only ship of Dwarven design to ever serve the crown and the last real cruiser remaining in service, was returning with the Knight Warden after escorting a merchant convoy to the Doledrun Empire...a land on another continent far to the Southeast. Upon arriving near Ancoran waters, they were ambushed by a combination of ships from the Iron Fleet of Beridane, and several squadrons of our own ships who had joined with the usurper for reasons yet unknown. At the moment, it appears these formerly loyal captains were bought off, but there may be other factors. It also appears they succeeded in annihilating the rest of the Westgalean home fleet, through surprise and deception.

Munchadin's ships were reduced from 13 to a mere 6 at this first encounter, and he immediately sent his fastest, the Gossamer Wing, to ask for help from Elven King Elborne, about a 4 day journey even for that ship of Elvish design. Munchadin has been fighting a sea-borne guerilla war ever since, harrying the Iron Fleet at his every chance. He has lost one vessel, and is in serious need of repair and resupply. Talonmane has gone to shore once to speak with the remaining fighting forces loyal to the Crown, and I imagine this included Alaric. But Jagan has still spent most of his time at sea with Munchadin, as they swept North along the Ironskane coast to gather information in preparation for any future movements they might wish to make with a Northerly assault. It was thought the Iron Fleet somehow found a Northerly port to use as a base of operations somewhere on the otherwise rocky cliff coastline, but Munchadin could not find it. My post begins where they are returning to Westgalean area waters. Also, there are some other small squadrons loyal to Ancora elsewhere in the world who have not yet learned of what has transpired.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn yawns....

"What's with all that racket? I thought the afterlife was supposed to be peaceful..." the blue skinned young woman mumbled. She was a rather unusual being, having blue skin didn't help, but the red striped black cat ears and tail made it even more obvious. Her hair was such a bright silver it was almost white, and she wore a form fitting red dress, with matching red bracers and hairpiece, but had no shoes or boots on her feet.

She had been napping you see, and the horses "stampeding" by her resting place had awakened her. Her ears twitched continually at the offending noise, causing her to fully wake rather irritated. "I am going to give whoever is making all that noise a piece of my mind, disturbing MY peaceful heaven like that."

Moving to a crouched position she climbs up a few levels and then starts jumping from tree to tree like a jungle cat, heading toward the sound. It took her some time to catch up, the large party having stopped by that time. There looks to be some smoke a little ways into the distance, though it is hard to make out through the trees. Keeryn just sits there above the group, wondering what to do next. "I wonder who the leader of that band of noisy bunglers is," she thinks to herself.

Written by Pharsalus

Aboard the Ironskane...

Geirik's plans had begun to crumble, and he knew it. In a cabin two levels below the main deck of the Ironskane craft, he hurrieadly applied his chain-and-leather armor and woodsman's cloak, all the while cursing and spitting at the stupidity of one Ironskane captain.

"Of all...the blasted...sea captains...and of all the bloody Ironskanes... He blundered around the room, gathering the rest of his things (a book, a candle, his sword, a small mythril medallion, and some throwing daggers) ...I had to board the one set for war...with the allies of my own employers!

He could hear footfalls scurring down halls all around him as the ship's finest were called to the surface to stave off the slaughter.

Slaughter was exactly what it would become, and this 44 year old Bounty Hunter was getting too old to be a part of it. His cover was blown, his plans ruined, and all hope of getting close to the traitor in power fluttered away like a group of frightened pigeons. He cursed one last time before making his way into the hall outside his cabin and up the steps leading to the main deck.

The door to the outside was already open -- understandable, given the number of men that had piled out of it only moments before. As Geirik stepped out onto the landing, he drew his longsword out of reflex. He didn't attempt to stop himself -- he would have, however, had he realized what information the pommel of his sword revealed to the several dozen men standing around him. An emblem of the former king's royal guard now sat shining in stark contrast with the sword's dark leather grip, a mythril-embelished beakon of Geirik's true alliance.

"Spy!!

Geirik's eyes darted to the source of the cry, hoping beyond all hope it was not directed at him. But all about him turned, and all eyes focused on the only man on board in a woodsman's cloak. The Bounty Hunter became suddenly aware of the precarious situation in which he now found himself. Realizing he had no other way out, he sighed (almost indignantly) and went to raise his sword against the closest man to him when a great THUD and another shout erupted from the same man only yards away...

"BARBARIAN!"

At that, the men aboard the Ironskane suddenly had a much larger cat to tame. Geirik found himself suddenly clear of any immediate danger as all around him stormed forward in a futile attempt to squelch the battle-raging brute.

"Bloody hell! A Barbarian!? On a blasted BOAT!?"

In complete shock of the sight, the Bounty Hunter could do nothing but stand with sword drawn, staring at this sea-faring land warrior who had lept well over twenty feet from, of all things, a Dwarven-made and Dwarven-commanded sea vessel. Geirik shook his head, jaw slightly ajar, silent and stupified before the realization that his once-well-oiled-machine of a plan had gone from bad, to worse, to ludicrous. He brought his blade up with his left hand and unsheathed a short sword with his right. With symbols of the Royal Guard plastered all over him, Geirik Foxfire let loose a bellowing cry and hurled himself into the fray.

Written by Archeantus

The night following the assassination...

Stark grey eyes awoke with a start amid the shadowed forest floor.

"Where am I...?" A fevered voice whispered in the night air. Heaving breaths came out in short bursts in the chill air. Trying to stand the figure found his strength was all but gone and fell once more to the forest floor. A deep and inherent confusion grew rapidly as every moment passed. Question after question seeped through his fingers like thousands of grains of sand. He could hardly see a thing and could barely make out the stars up above. His mind seemed to be in darkness as much so, if not more, than his body.

A memory flashed suddenly for the briefest of moments as he once more tried to stand.

A women....fallen....her heart....shattered....

He grabbed his head and winced in incredible pain. He thought for a moment the danger was still there and scrambled for a weapon of some sort on the forest floor. Slowly his eyes were beginning to adjust as was his frenzied mind. His memory wasn't real, for it seemed so very far away, yet he felt it was threatening, as if it were a hunter and he its prey. Banishing the thought from his mind he turned his attention to his surroundings. Great shadowed trees towered above him in every direction. It was then he realized his didn't have much of anything on. His leather pants were in tatters, and he had no shirt.

He moved in for the kill...

He winced again, and screamed, his voice piercing the night.

...blinding light...and then nothing...

He knelt on the ground, cold and shaking, alone and confused. It wasn't long until voices softly echoed out in the darkness.

He didn't notice until the light of the torch shone upon him. Those livid greys turned at the light and he shrunk away.

A party armed to the teeth eyed a man, looking to be human, his skin deeply tanned, long black hair strayed wildly down across his pained face. He was breathing heavily and appeared to be stark mad.

"Jasper! Porthos! Bind him quickly!" Said a gruff voice.

Two large men jumped forward, one with a large club. They siezed him easily enough for the man seemed to be half there, he hung limply as they drug him toward the others who quickly bound him violently in strong cords.

"What do we 'ave here?" A tall beared man said kneeling down to eye the man in the face.

"What do you make of him Riff?" A stern voice called out from back of the group.

"He's lost it Sir." Riff replied with a shrug standing to address his superior. "Nuthin's upstairs it seems."

"Very well, I'll take no chances, he's coming with us back to the castle." The leader commanded.

"The surrounding area is clear, no sign of the enemy." The leader continued. "Come! Let us make out way back, there is still much more to get done. The Kingdom is ours!" He called out triumphantly.

Cheers spread out among the small group.

"If all we face for now resembles this pile of garbage," he pointed to the bound man, "then what do we have to fear?"

Laughs ensued.

As they moved out, two very alert eyes watched the dark ground move beneith him, and two very attentive ears listened carefully.

"To castle Westgale! King Beridane awaits our report!" The leader called out smugly. They quickened thier pace and pushed hard, laughing and jeering at one another. The man listened as he heard them speak of finding a woman named Mavigan and receiving riches untold. He heard them mention tidbits about what appeared to be a newly appointed King, and heard the name of the past king.

"A bloody takeover" The man thought smiling undernieth his dangling hair. "Perhaps I've fallen in with the right crowd."

The devious plot awakened the man to his rightful identity. He knew who he was, it all came back to him, and felt like a well worn glove that fit perfectly. He still had countless questions that seemed to grow with every passing second, but he now had a purpose, and a man like him was more than dangerous with a purpose.

When they slammed home the jail cell, he distinctly had the impression that he wasn't imprisoned at all, but that he was right at home.

It seemed the Kingdom was now run by a thief, and a thief would surely recognize a man whose heart was black as night, possessing ambition that more than likely rivaled his own...

Written by Ariana

Mavigan had nearly reached the door of the tavern. Her shoulders were slumped and her air dejected and pouting. Outwardly, she maintained the pretense of being the ever popular Brell, knowing that if she failed to convince her friends that she was leaving of her own accord, Alaric would likely leap upon the nearest table and declare to all and sundry her true identity. She didn’t think she could stand to see the hurt in her friends’ eyes as they realized she had lied to them all these months. Fate had indeed dealt her a cruel blow this evening.

As Mavigan found the will to push through the door and out into the damp streets, her Father’s dog Alaric faithfully trotting at her heels, she heard a voice that seemed to come from inside her own head. “Do not be alarmed, Princess Mavigan.”

Mavigan’s eyes widened and she whirled around to face the room, eyes darting wildly from face to face. Was she going mad?

The voice continued, “My name is Reyk Mathom and I am a friend of your father's. I am present to be of assistance to you... it was his final request. You have but to wish for my assistance, and I shall render it if I might. You are not alone.”

Mavigan raised her hands and clasped at the sides of her head, looking at each face near her trying to determine whose words violated her mind. “Am I to be deprived of my mental freedom as well as my physical freedom?” she thought wildly. Gaining no insight, she dropped her hands and turned once again to the door, defiance once again etched in her posture. She angrily thought at the rude intruder, figuring her unknown “friend” would hear her. “If you were such a friend of my Father’s, why weren’t you there for him when he needed you?” As an afterthought, more to herself than the stranger, she whispered, “Why wasn’t I?”

Her mind quickly descended into a churning turmoil, raw emotion eating at her awareness of her surroundings. Rage battled with grief, and both fought against the growing sense of shock and apathy. Her vision was dim and foggy, everything seemed distant and unreal, and she could hear little over the sound of rushing blood in her ears. Mavigan was aware of a sense of cold that seemed to start from inside her and was slowly working its way out. Thinking that cold might be more comfortable than the fire of pain, she let it continue uninhibited. She was only vaguely aware that her captors had formed a ring around her, and that Alaric seemed to be threatening some woman. She could not hear their conversation, and she stared at the scene dully unsure if it was real or not. And after thinking about it a moment, she realized she didn’t much care either way. Her life as she knew it was over. What happened next made little difference one way or the other.

Written by Aethelwulf

Alaric's eyes of flinty steel probed the young lass before him, as he waited for a response. Behind him, Lao whispered that all seemed to be clear. Nodding just enough to signal his companions, he stepped back and lowered his sword as Koric released the girl. Alaric then spoke to the lass in a hushed tone that echoed of cold stone and death.

"I pray that ye forgive us miss. There is trouble afoot,and one can never be too careful. Now then, if ye will excuse us, we will be on our way."

With that, he grabbed Mavigan by her collar and began dragging her towards the stables as Lao and Koric covered his movement into the shadows, their eyes probing the night, and their steel at the ready.


Written by Reyk - Page 2 of Book 1

The touch on her mind seemed unshaken by her turmoil. Mavigan could feel a presence, like someone watching over her shoulder. She also felt the watcher's sorrow. His words continued to flow over the surface of her mind. "I was not there for him because I arrived to late. Your father believed there was a cabal plotting against him, and did not know whom within his own court he could trust. He called upon an old friend from across the seas, and that friend sent me. But before the King and I could meet for the first time, the assassin did his work and escaped. I am truly sorry that I could not aid your father or the rest of your family."

Reyk stood out of the street, under a storefont's overhang across the way. None observed his presence as anything out of the ordinary, and his even being there was completely forgotten the moment he was not being observed directly.

"I know that you have no cause to believe me, and certainly none to trust me. Nonetheless I am here, and shall see to unraveling the mystery that I was brought here to resolve. Out of respect for your father's last wishes, I shall also try to insure that you are neither slain nor taken captive as leverage for future moves in this power play. I shall not travel with you directly, but a spark of my consciousness shall be with you at all times, and I can travel to you instantly at need. Spells of protection lie upon you, and you are not without an ally. Remember that. When your mind is clear enough to once again discipline your thoughts, reach out to me and we may speak further. In the mean time, I shall begin my investigations."

With that last, the man's voice in her mind fell silent and the feeling of intense scrutiny eased, but Mavigan could not help but feel a presence nearby, a comforting presense however unwanted.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn was starting to get bored. This group of loud soldiers had finished setting up their camp hours ago, and now they were just sitting around being even more noisy than when they were marching.

"I wonder what that smoke over there is," she thought to herself, "Well, it has to be more interesting than listening to these strange people boasting about stuff that never happened." Making up her mind, Keeryn starts jumping through the trees headed toward the smoke that marks the village of Thornton.

Written by Ariana

Words again filled Mavigan’s mind. She was sure they did not belong to her, and although intrusive and disorienting, she found them comforting on a level she was not willing examine. At that moment, Mavigan felt a hand grip her collar. Reacting on nothing but instinct, she secured this hand with both of hers and quickly turned around and under her attacker’s arm. She was suddenly behind her attacker with full control of the arm at the shoulder. She pushed against the man, hard, and he was suddenly face down on the pavement. Mavigan attempted to turn and flee, but her legs were unsteady and she was disoriented. She tripped on a cobblestone and landed painfully on her rear end. “DON”T TOUCH ME!” she roared, and sat on the wet stones staring at Alaric with empty eyes.

Written by Aethelwulf

Alaric was taken by surprise at the suddeness of Mavs actions. Pushing himself up from the wet cobblestones, he glared at his companions as they surpressed their smiles. Squatting before the suddenly quite Mavigan, he spoke, this time not in a tones of stone and steel, but in tones of gentleness.

"Mavigan, I know that things are happening far too fast for you. The death of your father, of your family must be a shock and knowing that there are killers after you cannot sit well either. You KNOW that I was loyal to your father, that I served him for many years. I want you to know that I am loyal to you as well, and I pledge my service to you. Time is very short for us M'Lady, and we really need to put as many miles between us and this town as quickly as possible. Now then," Alaroc extended his hand to the lass, " shall we call a truce and be on our way?"

Written by Ariana

Mavigan stared blankly at Alaric as he crouched before her. She knew he was saying something, his lips were moving after all, but she had a hard time hearing him due to the roaring in her ears. Yes, he is saying something - something important, something she should take notice of. What is it? She could feel the message battering away at the mental wall of and indifference she had wrapped around herself. It was trying desperately to catch her attention. As she turned towards it, the message sprang out at her with extreme clarity. Danger! Danger! Act now! Think later!

The thoughts crashed into her jarring her back to herself. She understood danger – she understood survival. Act now! She could do that. Mavigan’s vision suddenly became clear, and the sounds of the night again became distinguishable. She again recognized the man before her, his words understandable, his meaning clear. Danger was near! Must move! Act now!

Ignoring Alaric’s outstretched hand, she pushed herself up from the cobblestones. Noting their direction, she turned her back on her captors, reaching behind her to pull the hood of her cloak over her head. “Headed to the stables, are we?” she said flatly, her voice almost normal. “Well?” she demanded, her voice turning haughty and impatient. “Don’t just stand there! Asca usquenerea!”

Without waiting to see if they followed, Mavigan began hurrying towards the stables. “Pledged to me, he says,” she thought angrily. “The old geezer just doesn’t get it.” She paused in her thoughts and listened to the footsteps behind her. “Although, if worse comes to worse, I can always use him as a meat shield.” The thought gave her an inward laugh.

Written by Archeantus

Stepping down the darkened corridor, the guard, holding a bowl of broth came to the cell that housed the maddened fool that had been brought in two nights ago.

He spat out the usual, "Up and at it maggot--" but stopped in mid-sentence as his eyes adjusted to the shadowed cell. The man stood perfectly erect directly in the center of the cell. No one stood in a cell with all that time on their hands.

"--yer breakfast." He finished a bit mystified at the strange sight.

"Listen." Came a chill voice from the recesses of the cell, the slight glimmer of light ever so slightly glinted upon the outline of his head as it moved upward.

"Eh?" The guard stepped forward slightly barely gleaning the near inaudible word.

"I said listen." It came again.

The guard staring into the maw of the shadowed man inside the cell thought it seemed as if he were the one captured so imposing was the strange man.

"I'll hear nuthin' from--"

"I hold vital information on the whereabouts of Mavigan." The shadow continued coolly.

The old guard almost laughed but he couldn't bring himself to think indifferently of the man. He knew any prisoner would say just about anything to win his freedom, he'd heard every excuse there was, but this one perplexed him. He wasn't a sniveling fool, like the usual lot he received, he was...the guard couldn't finish his thought.

"So tell me." The guard asked skeptically.

"Very well." The man said stepping closer.

The guard inched toward the bars, yet stayed as far away as possible. The man watched the hesitant guard and came right up to the bars.The old guard waited for a response.

"Well?"

He edged slightly closer bending over to listen.

Silence.

The man then laughed mockingly.

"Do you honestly think I would tell you if I knew." The man finally said lightheartedly.

It was then that the old man realized he had been the butt of the joke.

"You mean--"

"Quick, you old mule, I'm hungry." The man interjected teasingly.

The guard stood for a moment coming to his senses so transfixed and intimidated by the man the sudden change and punch line left him dazed, then smiling and shaking his head at himself he handed the bowl and bread to the outstretched shackled hands of the man.

"You had me goin' ya did." The guard said chuckling.

"You should have seen your face." The man replied between bites. He was so animated and cheerful now, it was truly remarkable.

Shaking his head once more he turned to go.

"Guard."

"Aye?" The old guard said turning.

"You forgot yesterday's bowl."

"That I did." The guard piped, limping back and grabbing the empty bowl from the man's outstretched hand through the bars.

"My compliments to the cook, this is fantastic prison broth." The man said with a slight hint of sarcasm.

"Hah!" The old man laughed catching the joke this time as he walked back down the corridor.

"Strange man." He said to himself as he situated himself at his post once more.

Hours later....

Footsteps could be heard from the stairs that led up to the castle down to the catacombs. Five men stepped into the dim torch light of the prison block, one the old Bailiff recognized as the captain that had brought in the prisoner a couple nights ago.

"I'm here to interrogate the man I brought in the other night." He said.

"Aye sir, lemme take you to 'is cell." The bailiff quickly responded.

He led them down the corridor and to the cell. Fumbling to his gnarled hand to his side in the dim light he realized his keys were missing. The captain grew impatient, and looked warningly at the old man.

"Move it or I'll have your head." The captain barked.

"I-I don't seem to 'ave me---"

"Looking for these?" A cool voice broke in, shackled hands held the keys into the light through the bars.

"Sweet merciful--" The old Bailiff began stunned.

The captain stared ever more warningly at the amazed old man and snatched the keys from the prisoner.

"How did you--" The Bailiff questioned.

"Quiet old fool, go back to your duties." The captain commanded. "Which won't be for long." He added under his breath.

The old guard then scuttled away once more from the cell as confused as the first time.

The captain then gave his full attention to the man in the cell.

"How did you get these scum?" He demanded jangling the keys.

"You said it yourself, he's an old fool." The man returned calmly.

"And why didn't you..." The Captain said asking the next logical question.

"Leave?" The man finished.

The Captain nodded.

"To prove a point."

"What's that?"

"That I wouldn't leave even when I could have." The man replied convincingly.

This wasn't the man he'd brought in the other night the Captain thought to himself. Last he saw him he was incoherent, now he was completely together. Raising an eyebrow the captain continued, "Why stay then?"

"Because I hold vital information about the whereabouts of Mavigan and it is in my best interest to gain enough trust that I might share it." The man explained coolly almost a matter of factly.

The Captain chuckled.

"Let me guess, you have her locked up somewhere and was on your way to barter for information and somehow ended up near the castle unconscious in rags."

"It's easy to doubt the unknown, and easier still to remain blissfully ignorant. Disbelieve me all you want, I still remain the only solid lead you have." The man continued impatiently almost angrily.

"You'll have to excuse me if I don't seem too sure." The Captain returned cautiously.

"Understandable." The man responded flatly.

"Why don't you just tell me." The Captain said.

"Because I can't trust you with it. If you were me would you share such valuable information with just any one?" The man retorted. "Let me assure you, I hold the key--He paused noting the irony--to finishing the desire of your Lord and King." He concluded boldly glaring at the Captain disarmingly.

The captain stood there for a moment considering the man's request. If he does have the information we seek he'll most likely want a simple reward, and if it proved true, the captain thought, we simply will deny his request once we find her and send him back to his cell to rot. There seemed no harm in allowing him to relay whatever information he so confidently displayed to have.

"Please, it is urgent, take me to Beridane immediately." The man prodded.

The captain scratched his chin and smiled.

"Very well welp." The Captain said unlocking the cell. He didn't notice the dangerous flash in the man's disciplined eyes as he sent his men into the cell to haul him out into the corridor. They took him hurriedly up the stairs and through the castle to the great oak doors that led to the throne room.

They hardly noticed the slight smile on the man's face as he eagerly awaited his audience.

Written by Turin Wallace

Ithramir spent the better part of two days inside Thornton. With Umeawen and a few other choice companions, they somewhat enjoyed their stay in the small town. On the third day, while they were in the tavern drinking some of the local wine, one of their rangers quietly slipped in and started making his way to the small group.

Leaning into Umeawen's ear, Ithramir says,

"See what he wants, Umeawen."

With a serious nod, she makes her way slowly and quietly to the ranger. Once there she whispers,

"What news, Glyind?"

The ranger then whispers back,

"My apologies, milady, but we have spotted a small force of Beridain's men arriving just to the north of town. We have evaded them and await further word."

Umeawen whispers back,

"Stay here, I shall consult our lord."

As unnoticeable as she could, Umeawen picked her way back through the crowd and gently sat down next to Ithramir. Leaning in, she whispers,

"Milord, a small force of Beridain's men has arrived outside the city. Our rangers have evaded their notice so far, what do you wish them to do?"

Showing no signs of emotion, Ithramir says,

"Have them stay hidden until tonight. We will join them later with new orders."

Umeawen nodded, and made her way back to tell the ranger the orders given. Ithramir watched as the young ranger nodded and then slipped out the door. Hearing a lively tune, Ithramir intercepts Umeawen on the way back and leads her out for a dance.

While dancing close, she whispers in Ithramir's ear,

"What will be our plan of action tonight, milord?"

Ithramir whispers back,

"Beridain's men will not see tomorrow's sunrise. But let us not think on that for too long, let us enjoy the task at hand."

They danced for a bit, then went back to take their seats in the back of the tavern. There they waited patiently for the evening to come upon the land. Soon, very soon, Beridain’s men would know how it is to feel elven wrath…

Written by Wilhelm

The tall cloaked and hooded mercenary, dressed in worn armor, his weapon wrapped in leather, stood in the stable stall grooming a large white riding horse already saddled. A black warhorse stood in the adjoining stall. A silver ring, the signet turned inwards, glinted on Wilhelm's right hand. "Well Argent," he said quiety to the horse, "the lass is not to be found in the countryside and the usurper has not caught her. I had a vision last night of this stable and so we are here. If it is His will we will find her in time." The mare nickered and nodded as if in answer and then pushed her nose into the man's cloak. The red-bearded man chuckled, reached inside the cloak, and brought out an apple which he gave to the horse.

"Ah, you always had a fondness for apples. I remember the lass giving them to you when she thought nobody was looking. She hated the court but she loved horses and could ride like the wind. I remember her laughter the day you first let her ride you, her hair flying in the wind as you raced across the fields. She sang in her joy, and she had such a lovely voice, although she could flay a man with it when she was angry. A bit of a brat, really, but we loved her. I promised her father I would defend her, and I shall keep that promise if I can only find her."

Just then the white mare turned her head towards the stable door, her ears erect.

Written by Talonmane

The crew of the Ironskane frigate were tripping over bodies and slipping on blood in their efforts to reach Jagan. They only numbered around 40, with some below or still running the ship, and of those tasked to fight, a quarter were already dead from the initial assault. The rest feared to approach him now, as he went out of his way to clear a path to any who dared raise a bow to take a shot at him. It was not a large vessel, and that worked in the Barbarian's favour.

He used his Axeslayber like a shield at his right hand, rarely attacking directly with it. On his left forarm was strapped a gauntlet mounted with long bone spikes on which he impaled many with a forward thrust or sideward backhand. He tossed half of them into the sea, bleeding, where they would feed the predators of the waters. When encountering a sailor with some level of fighting competance, the great battleaxe came alive in one hand or both, whirling a balanced dance around Jagan's body as he brought it through the sweeps and strikes and parries that were second nature to him - the art which he had trained in from the first time he could pick up a stick (as Barbarian's hardly waited for a child to even start walking). These were the men who served the traitor who had killed his King. There would be no mercy.

At some point he became aware of a misplaced figure, another man who was fighting against the 'skaners but who did not originate on The Wavehammer. He looked somehow famliar, and now the frigate captain was heading toward the cloaked man with hatred in his eye and curses upon his lips.

Written by Aethelwulf

Shaking his head at the odd behavior of Mavigan, Alaric motioned for Koric to follow, and smiled as he noted that Lao was already on the move, passing Mavigan, and taking up the point position. Lao paused at the door to the stable and placing her ear to the dark wooden door, listened intently for a second before signalling caution to the small party. Koric moved to a wall across the street from the door, while Alaric moved in front of the rapidly moving Mavigan. His sword drawn, he held his hand up to Mav indicating that she should pause. Nodding to Lao, he then moved to the side of the stable door, while the lithe dark haired Lao moved quickly around to the back of the stable. Waiting a brief moment to allow Lao the chance to get into place, Alaric slowly opened the stable door with the tip of his sword.

Written by Wilhelm

Following Argent's gaze, the disguised paladin saw the tip of a sword poking through the opening stable door. Murmuring a prayer and kissing his sacred ring, Wilhelm was suffused with His grace, his worn cloak glowing briefly as if he wore instead a divine mantle. A breeze swept into the stable through the opening door, carrying with it the scents and dust from the street. Argent nickered his distinctive greeting.

Reaching out with his senses as he had been trained in the Abbey, Wilhelm scanned the life forces outside. Two men and two women, with no sign of evil intent. He breathed a sigh of relief as he recognized his old comrade Alaric and then those of Koric and Lao. His breath caught in recognition of the fourth life force. "Praise be to Him", he thought, "His visions are always true. I have found her and she is with friends."

Calling out softly but clearly he spoke. "Don't keep the lass waiting on the street, Alaric. The stable is secure and Argent has missed her."

Written by Pharsalus

Geirik had given up all hope of leaving this fight with a clean suit of clothes, and he now only hoped to leave the scene relatively unscathed and unrecognized. He was never the best of spies, but he would be damned if he was losing his cover over the ignorance and blind ambition of an inexperienced sea captain.

Cromwell, you idiot! was all that ran through his mind as he, bearing two swords of his father's craft, deflected blow after blow from the dozens of men that now scurried about the deck swinging madly in their last dying efforts to score a kill before meeting the Barbarian's blade. The old Hunter 's eyes followed every sweep of the brute's movements.

His blade...his style...I'd almost swear I've seen it before...

Geirik's thought fell to ruin as the glint of steel caught his attention from his right. A scream followed by the sound of blade upon wood...and one very perturbed captain now staring the old Hunter in the face. Geirik had to gather what had just transpired -- he'd heard the sound of metal upon wood, so he couldn't have been injured. And he felt nothing that may resemble a slash wound. With his face only a few inches from that of an enraged boat captain, Geirik darted his eyes about to discover that the little welp's blade had stopped just shy of his ribs, deeply embedded in an adjacent ale barrel.

The two stood silent for a few moments, the captain backing away at the realization that his primary blade was no longer his to brandish. With a grunt and a flash of his blade, Geirik advanced with blades crossed before him. He smiled as he foresaw the death of this worthless pile of a man by his very hands.

But it did not come -- another flash of steel sparked the air about them as steel met steel...

CLING!!!

The two were once again inches from each other's throats, held aback only by a barrier of edged steel and adamant. Geirik's smile defalted into a scour of frustration.

Of all the...! He should be dead! And he will die...sniveling...little...

"WOOORM!!!"

His trailing thought roared into his lunches and flew from his mouth in a seemingly endless chain of hate-filled vulgarity. The two broke their gridlock, only to strike blades once more before exploding into a flury of flesh and steel. And with every impact, Geirik grew more and more impatient, forcing his arms and body faster and faster. He thought about running, but such a thing would be foolish against a man of any swordskill. He would only be struck from behind as he turned to get away, ending his mission and serving only to fail his king...again.

He would not stand for it. This Capt. would fall, and his head would buy Geirik an entire week's worth of prostitutes and ale. But even with two blades to help him, he still found himself bound to a fight that (he believed) should have ended with the first motion.

A welp with spunk! I hate spunk!

As much as he desparately wanted to get off this god-forsaken vessel and continue with his mission, he could only clench his teeth and continue on with the "good captain." The fight ensued for several minutes as all hell fell down around them.

Then Geirik was struck with an idea -- the Barbarian could in this sea-dog's crusade with a single swipe of his blade(s). A sinister twinkle filled the black of his eyes, and he began to move himself closer to the edge of the boat, putting Cromwell between him and the blood-raging Barbarian. He focused his blows on Cromwell's center, forching him to step back every fe w seconds to allow room to defend. Geirik smirked.

Only a matter of time...just a little closer...

Keeping the Barbarian in his peripheral vision, Geirik pushed onward, moving closer toward the slaughter every few seconds. The sounds of battle resounded about them -- men screaming, armor shattering, barrels breaking beneath the weight of the slain. And now another sound of fill the old Bounty Hunter's ears -- the sound of Cromwell wincing and squealing beneath the brunt of a Barbarian's axe.

The time was right, the positioning was perfect. He waited for the Barbarian to reel back for another swipe at some nearby fool looking to grab some glory. A few seconds passed, and the two continued. Geirik stopped his forward motion and let the Capt. puzzle over the nature of his opponent's techniques.

SHLINK!

Cromwell's expression went stagnant and his weapon still. The fight was over, and before Geirik could bag his opponent's head for sale (Cromwell was a wanted man in many political circles for his work against illegal trade in the Northern Seas) the Captain's body went flying to Geirik's right, landing on top of an already mounting pile of corpses. Geirik could only stop and observe the bloodied pile.

Fools...all of them, fools.

Geirik had overstayed his welcome and wanted only the feeling of firm ground beneath his feet. In a passing moment as he turned, he caught his firm glimpse of the Barbarian's face.

Familiar....very familiar...but from where? A target...a neighbor...a relative? Blast it! Curse this cobwebbed memory of mine!

His mind raced with questions to which he hadn't the time to find answers. He darted off toward the edge of the Ironskane craft, looking out over the railing for anything that might break his fall: water, netting, a person would have sufficed at this point.

Damn it all! Nothing!

Written by Aethelwulf

Alaric smiled broadly at the soft sound of Wilhelm's voice. Sheathing his sword, he gestured to Koric that all was clear, and entered the stable. Clapping his old friend on the shoulder, he spoke in a quite voice as Lao made her way thrugh the backdoor and positioned herself in a side stall. "Tis good to see you again friend! You never cease to amaze me with your fortuitous timing!" Hearing the door creak, the two warriors looked up as Mavigan slowly entered the stable.

"Ah, and here is our new Queen."

Written by Reyk

His enchantments in place and the young queen's safety assured, Reyk turned from the group gathered outside the stables and began the walk back to his inn room. As he travelled, he began to review the events that had unfolded in the palace over the preceding hours, combing over Beridane's actions and words recorded in the motes of thought he had hurriedly scattered about the palace upon his discovery of the King's corpse and his immediate departure to find the Princess.

By the time he was once again ensconced in the suite rented for him at the Ivory Crane, his cover as an itinerant diamond merchant seeking harbor rights still in place, he had caught up to present time. As the arch-mage began trying to piece together the beginnings of the story into which he had walked, he relaxed in the sumptuous room's most comfortable chair and observed carefully the Usuper's every move.

Written by Ariana

Mavigan stepped into the stable behind Alaric. She was surprised to hear him greet Wilhelm, but pleased to see Argent peering at her from the stall.

"Ah, and here is our new Queen."

Mavigan winced when Alaric used that title for her as if the word had physical presence and Alaric had just hit her with it. She was no…. no….., well, she certainly wasn’t one of those.

Giving herself a small shake, as if to brush the title off of her, she cast a glare at Alaric and went to scratch Argent on the nose. As the horse nuzzled her hand, she said meekly, “Hello Sir Wilhelm”.

She never knew how to react to Wilhelm, she reflected. He was so….GOOD all the time, and Mavigan simply didn’t understand how such a thing was possible. She remembered how he had tried valiantly to teach her a few simple prayers and had spent many hours extolling the virtues of his god. Yet, no matter how many hours he spent with her, Mavigan just didn’t understand. Spiritual things eluded her, and to her young mind – they just didn’t make sense. Why would any powerful deity waste his or her or its time on mortals? Wilhelm insisted that they created mortals to serve some purpose, claiming that they did it out of love – at least the good deities did anyway. To Mavigan, it seemed suspiciously like the gods had created mortals out of boredom and she and everyone else were nothing but pawns in an eternal struggle for power. “Besides,” she thought absently, “who in his right mind would worship a male deity?” For generations her family had been pledged to the goddess Nagarren, the Mother. Worshipping some male just didn’t seem right, even if he was the Father.

Realizing that silence had descended upon the stable, and that Alaric was gaping at her open-mouthed, she set aside her thoughts for some other day and asked Wilhelm, “Can I ride her?”


Written by Wilhelm - Page 3 of Book 1

Wilhelm looked at the white mare. "Well, Argent, will you bear the lass again?" The horse nodded her head twice and then walked forward to gaze into the young Queen's eyes. "It would appear that she will indeed let you ride, my Queen" the paladin said. The mare then poked her nose into Mavigan's cloak as if in search of something. "However you will need to pay the toll, it seems", he said with a chuckle. Wilhelm reached into his cloak and tossed a small apple to Mavigan, who caught it reflexively. "I shall ride Sable then", he said, gesturing at the black warhorse in the adjoining stall, who bowed his head to the young woman.

"Let me help you mount", said Wilhelm, gracefully dropping to one knee before Mavigan and cupping his hands, revealing the Father's symbol on his inturned silver signet ring which Wilhelm kissed. "No matter how great the Darkness, the Light shall not fail. Ever since the Age of Strife my Line and my Order have served the Hands of Providence and the Royal House of Ancora. The Son of the Father shall always protect and defend the Daughter of the Mother." Wilhelm lowered his cupped hands and waited to assist Mavigan up.

Written by Aethelwulf

Scowling a bit as he pondered Mav's vast mood swings, Alaric took his que, and moved to mount Morion, his night black stallion. Lao and Koric quickly moved to mount their steeds as well.

"Well then, shall we be off ere the wolves pick up our scent?"

Written by Vylia

Keeryn made her way to the edge of the village using the smoke to guide her, keeping high enough in the trees to remain unnoticed by those on the ground. She stopped when she reached the outskirts, crouching on a tree limb to see what this place of strange structures was all about. It wasn't quite nightfall yet, but the sun had just reached the top of the treeline off in the distance. People were apparently walking into the wooden things and moving some slabs back into place like tent flaps almost...

"Well, I GUESS they look like homes, but what an odd way to use wood. All sorts of strange things in heaven today, but I suppose I couldn't expect to keep it all to myself." Seeing strange animals tied up outside of a building that people were still coming and going from she decided to take a closer look.

Making sure nobody could see her she droppped down to the ground and swiftly covered the open distance to the nearest structure. Judging the distance she jumped up and grabbed the lip of the roof, scrambling up the side and lifting herself up. Once there she moved forward slowly, staying crouched, her ears twitching as they listened for any sign of being noticed. Peeking her head up over the top of the roof she looked across the way at the animals thinking, "How am I going to get over there without being seen? Heaven or not I don't trust these people, they look too much like that magic man that came to my homeland..." So instead she stayed there and waited for nightfall, curious about the new sights, but not enough to risk getting caught.

As she sat there looking on with curiosity and cautiousness the sun started to fall below the treeline . . .

Written by Archeantus

The massive throne room doors were slowly opened amid hidden anticipation. The man's white-hot grays went unnoticed as they prodded him manfully along the deep crimson carpet that led directly toward the newly crowned king.

Massive round marble columns towered majestically on both sides of him designed to instill awe as they made their way toward the King, he didn't pay attention for he purposefully fell to the red carpet and was then carried by the Captain and one of his guards. His head lowered and his dark hair masked his sly grin.

"What's yer problem you maggot!" The Captain angrily whispered while giving sideway glances at Beridane and his royal guard in embarrassment.

The man said nothing in return and allowed himself to be dragged. There was no turning back now, as the Beridane had little time to waste in needless ventures. The Captain becoming infuriated swore that if the fool didn't provide concrete evidence of the validity of his information, he'd kill the worm himself.

They came to a circular courtyard beveled in the stone floor which bordered the throne which was elevated slightly above ground level. The meaning was that one must humble oneself while addressing the King. The man wouldn't have noticed this either, so enraptured in his focused mind.

"My liege, I present one who claims to know the whereabouts of Mavigan Brelonna Ancora" The captain called forth in his most courtly voice.

The man closed his eyes.

They brought the man before the king dragging him violently.

"Kneel knave!" The Captain yelled out foolishly.

They threw him to the floor, and in that instant the man opened his white hot eyes which ignited his body to action.

As their soft grip left his arms and he propelled forward, the captain's short sword went with him. The next instant, the man launched directly back at the surprised guardsmen, the captain's gleaming sword in his hands, and eyes that exhumed terror. Where moments before he was a wrench, now he was a panther.

"Rough wind, that moanest loud, Grief too sad for song;" He whispered softly amid his precision flight.

The Captain screamed in pain, and the guard next to him clutched his side.

Wild wind, when sullen cloud, Knells all the night long;

The King's guard rushed the assailant, who now brandished a grin and two dripping swords.

Sad storm, whose tears are vain, Bare woods, whose branches strain,

Amorless, shirtless, he parried every blow, two more fell. Two remained.

Deep caves and dreary main, -

Beridane had stood and was about to flee as he watched in utter astonishment and shock as his royal guard was rapidly decimated.

The last guard fell at the precise moment the Captain toppled over gripping his throat.

Wail, for the world's wrong!" The man concluded eerily.

Beridane was as dazzled at the slaughter as he was afraid. He didn't move an inch in the brief moment he could have. He watched death rush him and yelled silently at it, shutting his eyes at the last moment. The shirtless heathen raised his stolen swords in the air and prepared to rain down death on the King.

The biting pain never came.

Beridane opened his eyes and there knelt the monster before him, his head bowed and in his reddened hand was the sword that was used to destroyed his guard, the hilt was offered.

"My Lord, My sword is yours."

Beridane finally gasped at the near uncomprehendable words as they fell on his understanding.

Quickly taking the hilt he raised the returned sword in shock at the kneeling man preparing to end his life.

But his arm wavered. His head swam in confusion and awe as he beheld the man who nearly took away his kingship and life effortlessly and now offered the same power for him to use.

In the last few days he had plotted and hungered for power, power he had always dreamt of, power he deserved. Receiving it, he now only wanted one thing;

More.

"Your name sir." Beridane commanded, a slight glimmer of fear still in his voice. All he wanted was this man to leave his immediate presence for he was still quite near, still a perfect threat.

Rising, the man stood and looked into the eyes of Beridane, regarding him coolly.

This shocked Beridane even more, for his eyes held no sign of remorse, no sign of bloodlust, they resembled eyes that had just walked across the beach on a cool summers day.

"You only shall know my name." The man commanded in return. "All others shall die in the same manner, for to know me is death."

The newly crowned King understood and nodded, working with many, especially recently who wished to remain anonymous.

"Very well."

The man edged closer, suddenly his other sword arm arched forward, and its blade tasted Beridane's throat. The King dropped his sword. He moved forward and whispered directly into the King's ear,

"The name's Gadianton."

Beridane's eyes were opened wide as he once more looked death in the eye. He'd never forget that name, even when he passed from the living.

The man slowly, ever slowly stepped away.

"Long live the king." He said, a slight glint of mockery in his deathly eyes.

"You mentioned you knew where Mavigan was." Beridane asked as the man turned.

"I lied." The man admitted with a shrug. "Is it your desire she dies?" He continued, his back still turned confidently.

"It is." Beridane also admitted exultantly. "And what will you want in return? I already have my best assassins hunting the landscape for her. Gold?"

"No. I want, them." He whispered.

"Want them for what?"

"To lead them."

Beridane then understand the man, he did not want riches, he didn't want fame. He wanted....

"Power." Gadianton hissed, turning, and glaring at Beridane.

Both grinned wickedly, looking at themselves in an immaterial mirror.

Written by Teran

The throwing knife went wide its target, missing the post entirely, imbedding itself in a hardwood wall near Ithramir and his elven companions. The man who threw the knife wasn't terribly tall or short. He was a bit thinner than most, and his skin a bit paler than most, and apparently he was losing his money to a much younger and experienced (at least at knife throwing) man. He stepped up, and threw his knife into the post, nicking the edge of the playing card they had put up.

Thom celebrated his victory to the cheers of the crowd while the older man's shoulders slumped slightly. He retrieved his throwing knife from the wall, and met Ithramir's gaze with his pale gray eyes, winking at the elf. The older man returned to his spot and threw the knife once more, this time he connected with the post, but he failed to hit the card. The crowd laughed and jeered, as he slapped some bloodcoin into Thom's outstretched hand. the loser turned and began to storm out of the tavern but Thom called after him, mocking "Care to try again old man? How about double or nothing?"

The loser stopped and turned, glaring at Thom, but didn't seem intent on trying his luck again. "Aww, how about triple or nothing?" he called out, raising the pitch of his voice mockingly.

The older man seemed to be considering before he began moving back towards Thom. "Alright, one more." he muttered, his voice devoid of hope.

Thom smiled, and prepared for his first throw. As the winner, he would throw first giving the loser the final throw in the best of three match.

Thom's first throw thunked into place once more nicking the side of the card. Thom retrieved his knife and bowed to the people focused on the spectacle. The assassin stepped up to his spot and prepared to throw. His knife hit the post and card, decidedly closer to the center of the card than Thom's first throw. One or two people in the crowd cheered, clearly the ones who had put bloodcoin of the loser's odds of winning. Thom approached the card studying it closely, making sure that the older man's knife had really hit closer to the icon in the center of the card.

Rather than moving five paces forward into position the assassin threw from where he stood, slamming the blade home directly in the center of the icon, that was in the center of the card. The old man smiled humbly, looking surprised that he had made the throw, while the assassin smirked. Thom's face turned red with disbelief and fury and started moving towards the older man. The assassin stepped back, bracing himself for whatever Thom may bring. The larger man stopped just short, clinching his fist as if he were preparing to punch the assassin. Instead of throwing a punch though, Thom opened his fist and dropped the appropriate amount of bloodcoin before offering a tiny smile.

"Good show mate." Thom said, before shuffling to the door and leaving for the evening.

The older man stood where he was for a moment, and then smiled again, retrieving his throwing knife, and the card, before returning to the table he had been sitting at before Thom had tried to take his money.

After returning to his seat, he summoned a barmaid and asked her to bring his apologies, along with a few drinks to Ithramir's table.

Written by Turin Wallace

Hearing the loud thunk of metal slamming into wood, Ithramir glances to see that a contestants dagger embedded in the wall next to himself and his companions. Eyeing the man as he approaches to remove it, Ithramir gives him a stern gaze as the man winks at him. Quietly, he thinks to himself,

“It’s not worth starting a fight over. This man is obviously a better knife thrower than he let’s on to be, for if he was truly that bad, it would not have spun properly to it’s mark on the wall. Rather, it would have bounced off harmlessly. This one may need to be watched further.”

Ithramir then contented himself by watching the man beat his opponent. He knew that the man had skill, and he had just suckered his opponent into losing his wager. Turning to a window, Ithramir sees that evening was approaching fast now, and he enjoys the idle chatter of his companions. Soon, the talk is disturbed as a barmaid walks over and announces the man’s apologies and a few drinks. Ithramir simply nods to the man and he and his companions order a round of wine to enjoy as they wait for the evening to completely set in.

Once the woman returns with their drinks, Ithramir and his companions drink their wine and stay to themselves as they wait for the hour to leave. After a bit of time, they can see the darkness outside of the tavern. Calling the barmaid over, Ithramir pays the bill, and they prepare to leave.

After leaving the tavern in Thornton under a haze of thick, moon concealing fog, Ithramir and his companions quietly make their way to the camp where the elves lay in wait for their return. One of the elven rangers looks up in time to see Ithramir and his companions appear out of the fog, making no noise, just as they too had been trained.

Meeting a few of the elder rangers, Ithramir greets them, then softly says,

“The humans still have no idea they are being watched, I trust.”

An older ranger quietly says,

“None, milord.”

Nodding, Ithramir in a hushed tone icily says,

“Good, then our job will be quick. Tell your companies that we will perform a maneuver similar to that of raiding an Orc camp. We will attack on my mark. Leave no one alive.”

Unhesitatingly, the elder rangers softly disappear into the haze to prepare for the night’s work ahead of them all. Ithramir also joins up with his small band of companions, and they quickly prepare themselves. Grabbing his dagger, longsword, and bow, Ithramir sees his people are ready, and most have already begun moving to encircle the human camp.

Making his way to his own spot, companions in tow, Ithramir eyes a sentry posted close to the camp. For a brief moment, Ithramir pauses and thinks on the action he will soon undertake. Brushing the thought aside, he lifts his bow and releases an arrow towards the unsuspecting sentry.

The arrow hit its mark in the man’s throat, and as he falls, the elves begin quietly emerging from the fog, daggers and swords glinting in what little light there was. Soon they begin to enter the camp, quietly assassinating the sleeping soldiers. The sound of flesh being torn open by metal was the only sound that could be heard, if one listened hard enough. Ithramir and Umeawen also engaged in the bloodletting, for they headed to the commanders tent, and once inside, cut the throats of the commanding officers without even blinking. Then they moved to another tent, and continued the work at hand until a ranger made his way over to them.

Tapping a blood soaked hand on Ithramir’s shoulder, he looks at the blood spattered face of Umeawen and says,

“What is it?”

Pointing to the ranger behind them, she says,

“He needs to speak with you, it seems they found something in one of the tents.”

Taking a deep breath, so as to not let himself show his annoyance, Ithramir then says,

“Very well, let’s see what it is that is so important.”

The ranger looked at the approaching figures of Ithramir and Umeawen, and for a moment, shuddered at their appearances. He had heard that Grey Elves enjoyed seeing the blood of their enemies, and as he looked on the blood and gore imbued armor and bodies of the two coming to him, he knew why they were the most feared among elvenkind. Blood, it seemed, was their favorite color…especially that of an enemy.

Stopping before the ranger, Ithramir says quietly and with a tone of ice in his voice,

“Be quick, what is it you found?”

The ranger bowed his head and made a motioning gesture with his hands. Looking behind him, he could see a young woman and a small child being led before them. Ithramir’s eyes blazed red with anger, as he said no one was to live to see the morning, but he had enough sense to hear out the rangers words that he was speaking,

“Milord, our business is with the men, not with this woman and child. She says she was a slave of sorts to the commander of them. The child is his illegitimate son. What would be your wish to do with them?”

Ithramir pondered for a moment. The ranger was correct; he had no quarrel with a helpless woman and her bastard child. No doubt she had been abused enough by the commander of this small force, and was that not reason enough for her to be spared this eve?

Walking over to the woman, Ithramir says,

“Your name, what is it?”

With near lifeless eyes, she says,

“Gennah, or whatever you prefer, since I am my masters slave.”

With a look of disgust that only magnified his horrific visage, Ithramir says,

“Your name is Gennah, and you are no one’s property now. Know that your owner’s blood now drips from my blade and armor, and that no one will abuse you here. The choice is yours, woman. We will let you live, as well as your son, so long as you do not waste anymore time here. Leave now, and I will ensure your safety back into your own lands.”

For a moment, life returned to the woman’s face as she heard him announce her owner’s death. It had been so long since she had dreamed of this day, a day she never thought she would live to see. But she had no home, no place to go. Very quietly, she says,

“I would take your offer, kind lord, if I had a place to call home. But, to be truthful, I was taken as a small girl and raised to be what I am today. So, I have nothing once your business here is done. I pray that you would take me in your care and do with me as you will, so long as my son and I are given the necessities of life.”

Ithramir sensed a strong will in this Gennah. She did not fear him, nor was she overly bold. This pleased him; as such a spirit is not common in these days. But, there was still work to do and he had not the time to ponder what he was going to do with her and her child. Looking at her and then the ranger, he says.

“For now, you will be taken to a safe spot. We will decide your fate later. This ranger will be your guard and escort.”

Turning to the ranger, he says,

“Take her to our camp, watch her, and at the very least get her and her child some food and drink. Now leave us.”

With a slight bow, the ranger softly took the woman by the arm and led her off into the night’s fog. Turning to Umeawen, Ithramir says,

“I really could use less surprises.”

With a smile, she says,

“But Ithramir, life would be so boring without them.”

Shaking his head, he doesn’t reply and the two set off to resume the task at hand.

After a few hours, the slaughter was over. Assembling in the middle of the camp, blood covered elves met to determine the next course of action. Ithramir then speaks,

“Burn the bodies, as well as the entire camp. There will be more of Beridain’s men coming, as I am sure this small force found itself here for a reason. Once whatever else is to arrive, they will look for them, and we must ensure nothing is found. Come, there is much work to be done.”

With that, the Massacre of Thornton was over. They did just as Ithramir commanded, nothing would ever be found of this small army. Only whispers would be told over the years as how this incident, as well as Mavigan’s arrival, would ignite the war that was to come.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn lost the strange animals and their riders in the fog, the sounds of their passing seeming to echo off the air itself. Cursing her luck she headed back in the direction she knew the rest of the camp to be and saw the last of them headed elsewhere. She followed closely, though she was sure not close enough to be noticed.

She watched the event at the camp of Beridain's men with strangely cold eyes, seeming to ignore the slaughter she saw in the place she had called heaven. "Even in death some people are not satisfied with an end to the killing." Somewhat surprised to see the person who was obviously the leader let a woman and child go, Keeryn stayed to the edge of the trees as the bodies were burned. "Blech... you would think in death at least the bodies would smell like roses or something.

Written by Aethelwulf

Leaving Westgale...

Slowly the party made it way out of the stable and onto the avenue that led to the cities gate. Lightning split the night sky as the early revelers hurriedly made their way to the taverns of thier choice. Silently, Alaric led the small party past the huddled gate guards who were stamping their feet and cursing the rainy night. Soon they were out onto the open road, with Alaric at the point, Followed close by Sir Wilhelm and Mavigan. Lao lagged behind slightly and Koric brought up the rear. Once they were clear of the shanties that thronged the gateroad, Alaric and Morion picked up the pace a bit. The party rode hard into the driving rain, and as the evening wore on, the air grew colder. After an hour or so of riding, Alaric spotted a light in the distance. Reigning Morion in a bit, he waited until Wilhelm had drawn near him. "Brother, I fear that this storm will become fiercer as the night draws on. If my memory serves me correctly, there is a small Inn up ahead at a crossroads. Perhaps we should seek shelter for evening, and talk a bit about what options we have before us" Wilhelm Nodded curtly, and moved to speak with Mavigan. As the party neared the Tavern, Alaric guided them to the small stable at its side. A young lad came up to them , and sullenly led their horses into the stable, to bed them down for the night. His demeanor brightened somewhat when Alaric slipped him a golden crown in exchange for the promise that the mounts would be ready to ride come first light. Throwing open the door to the Inn, the party was greeted with the sounds of a maudlin love song being sung by man who was obviously well into his cups.

Alaric motioned to Koric to see about rooms, and then quickly led the group to an empty table against the wall, near the end of the small stage. As the group took their seats, and Lao took up guard near the doorway, Alaric looked into the eyes of Mavigan and asked the question that had been burning his lips for some time.

"Well now...Princess...now what shall we do with ye?"

Written by Caitriona

Rowan yawned delicately behind her hand and took another sip of wine. The music was certainly uninspired tonight. “That lout Vorindel will never learn how to find the back of the beat,” she thought to herself wryly. “Oh well, more money for me, I suppose. And speaking of money,” she weighed her purse in her hand and smirked. “Time to make some, my girl.”

Finishing off her wine, she turned to survey the small stage where the troupe was performing. Vorindel was out in front, as usual, plinking away on his lute and warbling some maudlin love song, his favorite material. He was sweating profusely in the heat of the tavern, his lanky brown hair plastered to his forehead. He was obviously drunk. His companions played along gamely, but they were clearly wishing they were somewhere else. Rowan stood up, unbuttoning her shirt a bit further and tousling her blonde hair into an unruly mass of curls. She slung her lute across her back and strolled nonchalantly over to one of the barmaids, a rather pretty young thing who had the eyes of several men in the room on her already. Leaning close to the girl as she served some drinks to a table of elvish patrons, Rowan whispered: “Come dance for me, lass, and we’ll both go to bed richer.” Without waiting for an answer, she turned and made her way between the tables toward the stage, swaying her hips slightly as she walked, attracting attention to herself like a magnet.

Vorindel had finished his song and was acknowledging the tepid applause with a bow that was unwisely deep considering how drunk he was. He staggered, almost smashing his lute on the floor, but Rowan rescued it from his grasp and grabbed his arm to steady him. He blinked up at her, his face breaking into a grin of recognition. “Rowan! Rowan! Good to … “ he burped. “’Scuse me, good to see ya! How’d ya like my new song?”

“Lovely, lovely as always Vorindel. Look, you must be beat after all that“ – yodeling, she muttered to herself – “ singing. Why don’t you take a wee break, get yourself a fresh glass of … whatever that is you’re“ – swilling -- “drinking. I’ll keep these lads out of trouble for you.”

Vorindel threw an arm around her shoulder and gave her a sloppy kiss on the cheek. “Thass my Rowan, always thinkin’ of others, aren’t ya, lassie? You boys be good to my frien’ Ro, you hear?” Before she could jerk her head away, he reached up to twiddle her delicate, slightly pointed ears. “Sweet lil’ elfie, she is,” he said, laughing over his shoulder as he made his way unsteadily off the stage and toward the bar.

Setting Vorindel’s lute aside, Rowan shook her head in distaste, then turned to face the musicians, leaning in close and murmuring to them conspiratorially. “All right, gentlemen. We’re in a bar, not a lady’s boudoir. Love songs won’t get these folks worked up, now will they?” The players exchanged looks and the drummer spoke up.

“An’ it please you, ma’am, we’re bloody sick of love songs.”

“Love can go hang!” snarled the reed player, spitting with deadly accuracy into Vorindel’s winecup, which sat unattended by his stool. Rowan had the feeling that this was not the first time he had done so. She pretended not to notice.

“Oh, love’s okay, but the key is in how you sing it. My brand of love is a little more, shall we say, muscular?” She answered their grins with one of her own, before raising her lute and running her fingers over the strings experimentally. “We want money, right? So we want heat, we want sweat, and we want dancing. First song is Tlas Marellyn in four, drummer come in on my signal, the rest of you jump in when you’re ready. Play hard for me, boys."

She turned to face the crowd and stepped to the front of the stage, throwing her hands up in the air, commanding silence. She could feel the full force of her charisma flowing through her and she knew she had them. Without shouting, her silky voice filled the room and drew all eyes. “My friends, good evenin’ to ye! I’m Rowan Cor’Ellyn, I’ve traveled far from my home beyond the sea, learned many a song, and with these fine fellows to back me up I’m here to share ‘em with ye. So buy another round, settle back, and prepare to forget your cares and worries. Trouble is past -- tonight, we live!”

And with that she launched into the opening bars of Tlas Marellyn, a favorite dance tune from the south. “This should get that barmaid dancing,” she mused to herself, for the girl’s black hair and dark eyes marked her clearly as someone from the southern reaches of the kingdom. She let the melody lilt under her fingers a bit longer and then brought the drummer in with a slight nod. He responded immediately with a tight, seductive beat. Rowan smiled with satisfaction and looked out over the audience, pleased but unsurprised to see heads nodding, feet tapping, and the barmaid approaching the stage, the music already singing in her hips. Rowan cast a slight glamour over her, not that she needed one with the light shining in those black eyes, but a bit more curl in that glossy hair and a bit more of a swell in her bosom wouldn’t hurt any.

The girl began to dance in the clear space in front of the stage, swaying to the beat, a bit tentative at first, then with more abandon as the other musicians joined in the tune. Soon the crowd was on its feet, stamping on the floor, pounding their glasses on the tables, craning for a glimpse of the dancer as she strutted and twirled. A tall, dark man, also a southron by his looks, fought his way through the mass and grabbed the girl around the waist, sending her into a spin, then pulled her into a writhing embrace before setting out across the floor with her in a complicated series of steps that the girl matched with effortless grace. Rowan laughed out loud at the beauty of it. “Yes,” she exulted to herself, as her fingers flew faster and faster across the strings, “tonight we live!”

Written by Aethelwulf

Suddenly, Alaric's question was lost in the applause of the bars patrons. Alaric looked up to the stage to see a slender elven maiden with blond hair, grey eyes, and soft, full lips taking the stage. The band then breaks into an almost mystical sounding, and very rythmic song that he hadn't heard before, but was bewitching none the less. Looking to his companions, he tried to move closer so that they could talk over the music, when a dark haired bar maid started dancing. Soon the crowd was clapping and making all manner of noise as the bands music inspired a patron to get up and dance with the bar maiden. Scowling at the elven maiden leading the band, Alaric leaned in close to hear Mavigans reply....

Written by Archeantus

The court was a swarm of activity moments after he vanished from the throne room, leaving Beridane little time to explain. Gadianton had whispered the possible explanation in parting, one that would further induce the legend that would follow.

"The truth." The rogue suggested haughtily, as he slipped hurriedly across the court and through the hidden passage between an alcove and a very large painting of a past queen.

Night soon fell across the Kingdom, the moon gleamed high above. There was a chill in the air and a slight fog was present. After an hour spent at the pub where not only did he secure some clothes (from a drunkard about his size who spoke too quickly) but he also gleaned some interesting pieces of information, such as the name of some of his fellow assassins, Gadianton borrowed a horse from the stables and eagerly began his dark hunt.

"A shame." He thought as he made his way down the shadowed road, "even the local populace knows who the assassins are. Yet, then again the situation seems to have turned them into heros. Saviors of the Kingdom sent forth to kill the an heir to complete the coop, much like Knights. How ironic."

A dark smile spread along his tanned face. He marked and cataloged every landmark as he sped along becoming familiar with the terrain. He felt alien, everything was completely foreign, the land, the names, the world. The mystery of his appearence in this place plagued his mind. It was like a poison that was slowly eating him up inside. Yet the antidote seemed to be at the end of the life of this heir. Her death would be the catalyst to his fevered mind. The idea that the more he became who he knew he was, the more he would remember sprang to the forefront of his mind. And that was a killer. Who he was, was the only thing that he could cling to, the only thing that had semblence. This world as he watched it pass across him as he rode was meaningless as far as he was concerned. He cared for nothing in it, he possessed no memory of it. He didn't belong in this place and until he found a reason, he would take as many as he could out with him down a road of pitch none would even dare look at.

He thought of the Captain he'd killed earlier in the day. It was a beautiful sight and one he'd remember in his dreams. He wondered what it was he felt as he watched the whelp's life drain from him. And then it came to him in a revelation.

It was envy.

Cresting the hill, he reered his steed and overlooked the dark countryside. Gazing out across the deepening fog and the bright moon overhead he spotted the lights of the town he sought.

Thorton.

Written by Rowan

Rowan grinned in triumph as the room erupted with cheers at the end of her song, and coins rained down around her feet. One face in the crowd was not pleased by the entertainment, however -- that fellow over there with the black hair who had scowled so at her. Scooping up a silver svalt from the floor she handed it over to a serving girl (after testing it with her teeth) and nodded slightly toward his table. "Buy that man over there a drink from me, and tell him he shouldn't frown so much, it quite mars his good looks."

Written by Talonmane

A ship of this class has a crew of around 40. At least 5 will be above or below for operations, and I've killed 13... Jagan was thinking as he launched himself down onto a half-dozen sailors trying to make their way up the steps from the main deck to the fore. He took several moderate cuts to his body while tumbling through, then came up with a battlecry and introduced himself further with steel....make that 18.

Nearby, the cloaked stranger fought the 'skaner crew too, and Jagan noted that he seemed to do well even amoung many, but that he now appeared to have a bit of trouble against the angry frigate captain. Is the captain good enough to be pushing him back? or does this man deliberately lead his foe this way to either gain help or put the death of the captain upon me? No matter, the servant of the Traitor dies regardl...

!!! The star of Ancora!?

The Barbarian held up the body of a just-killed sailor as a shield in his left hand while he took time to gaze in surprise at the stranger's sword and the silver emblem upon it's pommel: the sword of an Ancoran Royal Guard. I don't have the luxury of trying to figure out just who he is at this moment. First things first... Jagan tossed the body toward two other approaching sailors, turned and impaled another upon his gauntlet, dragged that body with him as a new shield while moving smoothly forward past the stranger and in that same motion he brought the Axeslayber in an uppercut through the flank of the captain. Before continuing further in the direction of the aft pilot deck, he met the stranger's eyes and said "We will talk later." Then picking the body of his latest shield (which had still been dragged along through the maneuver) up over his head, he hurled it into 3 more oncoming foes. Behind him, the captain's lifeless form could be heard meeting the deck with a dull thud.

Backing away from the dying body and seeing the blood-splattered Barbarian approach, head lowered with a gutteral growl deep in his throat, tightening his grip on the massive battleaxe at his right and flexing his fist at his left...one of the three sailors decided his chances were better amoung the sea creatures than here and ran for the railing. This distracted the other two, to their detriment. Jagan continued toward the rear of the ship where he could see several Dwarven and Human crewmembers from the Wavehammer finally engaged with the 'skaners.

"Make that 23..." he said aloud.

Written by Pharsalus

Geirik leaned over the craft's aft railing seeking anything that might get him to shore as quickly as possible. He knew somewhere there was a shore that awaited only to touch the souls of his boots in his continued persued for a dead king's retribution.

But there was nothing, only open ocean that stretched neverending before him for as far as his hungry eyes could see. He cursed to himself as he moved from one side of the boat to the other, fighting off the occaisional Skaner riff-raff, dodging bodies and bloodspatter where necessary.

'Talk,' he says! Geirik's thoughts were almost indignant. A bloody...*grunt*...Barbarian...wants to TALK!? Since when!? Talk, indeed! I've no time for it! My blade is hungry for a traitor's blood, and I've...

His thought fell from the forefront of his mind as he spied the door leading into the bowels of the ship. He had no way out, with all lifeboats deployed (those that weren't cut or burned in the battle), and there were perhaps there was information to be found below that could further illuminate the whereabouts of either Beridane or the Princess Mavigan. The Barbarian's face still sat on the back of his thoughts, nagging his memory into recalling a name, place, situation...ANYTHING to identify him. Judging from the words he uttered as their eyes met and the curious gleam in his eyes, Geirik wagered the brute recognized him as well, at least by the symbols he bore on his sword and pendant.

But there was no more time for such senseless pondering. Raising his blades in defense against a rampaging (and drunk) Skaner mate, the old Hunter quickly dispatched him and darted through the door and downward into the poorly lit lower decks.

Captain's quarters, Captain's quarters... He whispered it over and over again as he frantically scanned the rooms on both sides of the hall. His mission hadn't continued long enough before the sea battle began to grant him access to the Captain's quarters -- he hadn't even been told where it was!

Bloody hell...BLOODY HELL! Like a rat in a box, I am! Trapped..my identity revealed...and being no closer to Ancora than I was 7 damnable hours ago!

Geirik fumed -- he always had been cursed with a short temper, shorter still since the loss of his son. Failure picked and prodded him like a child on a leashed dog, and he hated it. Though, as angry as he could become, he feared it with every fiber of his being. His thoughts became suddenly mellow at the recollection of his son's corpse...

Too many failures...too many mistakes. Beridane...I must get to Beridane!

Had he the ability to cry, his eyes would be watering...but he was not, so his face simply contorted some, half in sorrow, half in frustration at the poor design of the ship through which he now traversed. He turned a sharp right corner, his face passing close to a wall sconce enough so to reveal several scars down his cheek and neck. He passed through, turning this way and that, opening and peering into every door he could find, looking for anything that resembled the captain's quarters. He was almost ready to slam his fist into a wall when he opened the very last door on the hall. As he went to put forward his running momentum, as he'd had to do with all the other secured doors, he became painfully aware that this door was not completely latched. It was already ajar and free-swinging.

Before the Bounty Hunter could catch himself, he was already in full tilt, hand on the knob, and cursing all the way down. If it weren't bad enough that he had fallen prey to overexertion and throwing himself off balance, he felt his toe catch a step on his way in, sending him flying forward with a cry and a grunt as his body slammed into several items of moderate hardness. He felt the weight of books, a desk, papers, ink bottles, and other miscellaneous items falling down atop him, covering him partially in a mound of tumult. He groaned -- it took him a moment to regather his senses. He shifted his head to try to look about -- he saw only the top of a desk and whatever pages of tomes and articles that happened to be facing him.

But from without the pile, a muffled voice cried out unassuredly.

"Who...who are you!? What do you want!? Identify yourself before your superior officer!"

Geirik grinned as the thought streaked his mind.

The first officer...!

He forced his arms beneath him and flexed with all his strength. The items on top of him began to shift and roll to one side or the other, and the great desk began to tilt and scoot away. Geirik was almost up, though he still could not see for all the books and papers covering his head and face, when he heard the thumping of boots in the doorway. They were heavy, obviously wrought by feet borne by a very large individual.

The same quaking voice called out, this time in the direction of the doorway.

"Who are you people!? Get out of my quarters!! GUARDS!"

Written by Teran

Teran watched the elves leave the tavern from under the protection of his hood. He wondered with mute curiosity what business or pleasure had summoned them out of one of the most popular taverns in Thornton. They had an aura of purpose about them, drawing a thin smile out of Teran.

"Definitely business." the assassin thought, offering a mock salute to the backs of the retreating elves.

The night passed quickly and during the next day there were murmurs of fires outside of town. The assassin knew that Beridane was sending small groups of armed men across the border, testing the strength or resolve of the elves and perhaps hoping to recruit agents from the population of Thornton. The assassin smiled in the shadows of his hood finding the fate of Beridane's lackeys to be adequitly satisfying.

The assassin considered exploring the forest nearby to see if he could locate any information that might prove valuable to him at the mass grave the elves had created, but didn't want to risk having to explain his presence to the elves assuming he was given the opportunity to explain anything.

Instead he was content swapping rumors with the locals in a tavern near the edge of town just off the main street. The tavern wasn't the town's best (or worst), but its location was perfect. Teran sat in a corner facing the door shrouded in his cloak. To prospective employers it would be apparent that he was accepting contracts. It was a bit of deception on Teran's part, he wasn't really accepting contracts however he was interested in discovering what was out there, and more importantly who was out there.


Written by Archeantus - Page 4 of Book 1

Gazing haphazardly down into the distant lights on the horizon, Gadianton could have intimidated the whole town of Thornton. Perhaps many felt a chill in thier bones at that moment, but the menacing stare was short lived, for the killer was more prone to do than to fantisize.

Spuring his steed to action, he made his way slowly, fanactically down the long winding hill that overlooked the town and disappeared into the fog.

Meanwhile near Thornton...

"There's the signal" An elven Ranger whispered to his companion from an upper branch of a tree.

Suddenly a division flew forward, silver swords glinted in the moonlight. The elves took the nearby human camp fairly quickly. Masked in the shadows and veiled by the deepening fog they appeared to be ghosts in the night and in later years survivors of the town would speak of the dead taking their friends away never to be seen again. What little resistence there was was quickly dealt with and the fight was over. Taking prisoners, the elves secured the encampment.

"Humans." A young elf spat, eyeing a dispicable example lying sprawled on the forest floor. He was niether conscious, nor was he dead, but he was drunk.

The other elf regarded the snoring human with much the same disgust.

"The smell..." The other implied, but could not go on.

From behind them was a sharp snap of a twig, coming somewhere within the looming fog. The two experienced Rangers silenced and handled thier weapons with care. One motioned for the other to flank, which he did, and the leader of the two moved silently forward.

The leader stepped expertly not to make a sound into the fog, losing sight of his companion. His bow was notched and aimed into the white void.

He heard a scramble off to his left and he swerved his bow directly to the sound, the arrow's deadly point aimed ready to be loosed. The elf's sharp brown eyes made out a vague outline in the fog dart across the clearing. He then heard a sharp intake of breath and the slight figure then moved toward him.

The arrow was loosed, and he heard a cry of pain.

Immediatly, the elder elf worried that he had...

Quickly making a sound that resembled the hoot of an owl, he waited for a response. As every second passed his worry grew.

"No..."

Dropping to his knees, he cried forgiveness to the earth for killing his companion and friend.

Amid his mournful cry, the sound of the owl returned to him. Flashing his watered eyes open he stood and turned only to behold a dark angel explode out of the fog. It would be his last sight in this world.

Gadianton, looming above his second kill, wiping his knife clean with the woodsman's cloak noticed something strange about the dead man that he had never seen before.

His face, eyes, ears, all unlike anything he had ever seen. It wasn't human. Studying this new specimen, Gadianton thought he'd better be careful this night, being that he'd never faced anything like this.

Taking the fallen's cloak, he pulled it over his head and disguised himself as another one of them. Then, he looked and smiled. A bow. Taking weapon from the elf's death grip, he handled it expertly; satisfied, he slung it over his shoulder adding a quiver of arrows to match. Out of the sea of weapons he had used over the years, the bow was certainly one of his favorites. Once he was finished taking what he desired, he stepped casually back into the fog.

Moments later he emerged from the moon filled mist and silently entered the camp. He strayed carefully to the shadows not wanting to be bothered. Many of these strange men were all over the place and many dead littered the ground.

"An ambush, but to what end?" The rogue asked himself beholding the carnage. "Nice work." He mused as an afterthought, now regarding the lithe men with an air of competiveness. Melting further into the shadows, he was now absolutely sure he did not want to be seen until he knew the reason for the attack.

Studying the goings on of the force, he watched these strange men, move gracefully about in a cordinated manner. Eyeing the middle of the camp, where a fire blazed, he beheld a tall warrior who seemed to be directing the movements. By his side was a female. Soon a human woman was brought forth along with her child. The rogue watched with peaked interest, wanting to know what the man would do. He overheard the command of freedom given to the woman. At this, Gadianton sneered, understanding what dictated the commander's heart. Honor. This meant he was in the middle of the hornet's nest. Still he lurched further into the shadows.

It was then that the commander, after a few more moments of business, declared to his followers once it appeared thier task was done,

“Burn the bodies, as well as the entire camp. There will be more of Beridain’s men coming, as I am sure this small force found itself here for a reason. Once whatever else is to arrive, they will look for them, and we must ensure nothing is found. Come, there is much work to be done.”

Deep in those shadows, the rogue grinned menacingly, as he comprehended the value of the information he had just learned to his employer.

He knew where he next was headed. Directly back to where he came from...

Back to Ancora.

Written by Talonmane

"Devil-bird! Off the fore-star'! Make yerselves ready fer mischief, mates, no good can come o' this!" Captain Munchadin hobbled from the command deck hastily. He tried to keep his eye on the flying creature which was gliding around to their right, but lost sight of it as the frigate's flying jib got in the way. This resulted in him loosing his 'footing' on the steps, but fortunately one of the Human shipmates was there to break the fall.

"Blast! You there, stout Feburt, head to me cabin and gather me crossbow. I'll nae have that accursed thing settin' down on us." The man nodded and ran off. "Bimglin, gather our remaining bowmen and get on makin' flyin' difficult fer that abomination!" the Dwarven deck officer seemed omni-present, always where his captain needed him most. For a Dwarf, he spoke little, even whilst lacquered with ale. He'd earned a keg and a half during this trip, Munch wagered, and he promised to himself to see all his men rewarded however he could once they all could go ashore.

And then there was that Barbarian, the Knight Warden to the former Kings of Ancora, now sworn to their last living descendant (living as of last word, anyway). Munchadin had carried him over water quite a few times this last score of years, but only saw him fight at sea a few. The Dwarf put little stock in the pantheon of heathen gods, but the Kingdom rumours seemed to be true - Talonmane might just be the one, a champion amoung his people. He knew the Warden denied this gossip, however, even stridently. But a dwarf had to wonder, watching the combat unfold aboard the 'skaner frigate. His own men were hardly along for the ride in that fight, cleaning up after the stragglers while the savage warrior struck deep toward the aft of the enemy boat.

"By Belingold's anvil, where did that bird go...the blasted, blasted feathered freak...

______________

Jagan heard Munchadin's alarmed bellow, but upon trying to scan the skies from under the frigate's mainsails, he couldn't spy the creature. He had only heard the drunken stories of frightened sailors, a lot the Warden knew to be full to the ears with superstition. The Black Albatross...The Island Harpies...The Children of Hrulga, twisted half-bird goddess of the Atland Goblins. What could this mean? the presence of such a monster?

A few more of Munchadin's men - archers - ran by him to take up positions looking for the devil-bird. Ahead, 5 loyal Ancoran sailors were engaqed with a line of 'skaner fighters who tried to protect the pilot's perch and the only portal to the below-decks. The cloaked stranger was nowhere to be seen.

LURCH

!!What!? Out of nowhere, the ship below his feet shifted and heaved as if something underneath made it so. Jagan found his footing while gauging the surroundings to ensure no attackers had approached.

LURCH...BANG...BANG..................................BANG

This time it came with accompanying crashing noises, again from below. With the last banging, the Barbarian saw the wide double-doors built into the deck amidships slam upwards, nearly cracking the two beams sealing the main hold shut.

"Ahoy! what the devil is goi-" Munchadins words were lost in the explosion of wood and iron as the hold doors blew apart. Two massive arms - one wielding the man-sized haft of a stone-topped hammer - leveraged an equally sizable body out of the remains of the hold-hatch. The ship rocked. Jagan could only shake his head and utter an oath at the appearance of the brute. By Prahna's Blade and Valweh's Bulwark...I hate Ogres...

The sickly-colored, off-yellow monster looked around in the fading sawdust and smoke, and settled its gaze on an ancestral enemy. Gripping the fore-mast in its empty hand, the Ogre heaved his body up and down twice, and the entire ship moved with him as some child's boat in a country pool. Sure that the point had been made, the almost smug look on it's face turned to an ear-shattering howl as it strode aftward to engage the Barbarian.

Overhead, a dark shadow was heard to cackle deviously as it flew out to the Northwest. Arrows sailed by the ugly, deformed black albatross, including a larger bolt of Dwarven crafting.

Shaking his fist at the sky and tapping his pegleg furiously upon the deck, Munchadin cursed repeatedly...but he came to see that his men were now terrified. Even the supposed champion, Talonmane, might not handle this new foe. Denying the expected pleadings from his more inexperienced sailors, the Captain replied, "Nay! we'll not cast off from the battle, and we'll not leave our brothers to the beast! Archers, keep yer eyes peeled fer that blackened, hate-filled devil-chicken...the rest of ye...come with me." Laying down his crossbow and the stave that some jibed was a crutch - Munchadin pulled out a fine Dwarven light hammer, and held it before him with his cutlass.

"Once again mates, we fight on! fer Ancora!, we join her Knight Warden, and the agents of Beradane will rue the day! I dunnae care if it's yer second or third or fourth wind keepin ye going...to the Ugly mates, CHARGE!"

Written by Wilhelm

Sir Wilhelm could see that Mavigan was torn with indecision, which was understnable given the way her life had suddenly changed. Turning away he rested his gaze on the comely female entertainer that replaced the rather poor fellow who had just finished. She was indeed different and led the musicians in several lively numbers, several of which he recognized and enjoyed. While he waited for Mavigan's reply, he motioned over the waitress and ordered ale for the members of the party. On an impulse he ordered one as well for the female singer, sending his compliments on the performance. Sipping his ale, he turned back to look at Mavigan, handing around the ales to the others.

Written by Turin Wallace

The business was done.

As a red dawn appeared over the horizon, the elves had finished their tasks and were back inside their own camps. They had wiped clean every vestige of the human camp, nothing was left to show their presence.

Now was the time for the healers to do their work. A funny thought to Ithramir, especially after what they had just done in the night. "It was for the greater good" he reasoned to himself. Sitting alone in his tent, he opened a bottle of absinthe, and drank deeply from it.

Just then an elven ranger come bolting through the camp, bursting into Ithramir's tent. Levelling a dread gaze at the intruder, Ithramir very calmly says,

"You had best have something very, very important to report. I have a low tolerance for those who disturb my thoughts. Speak."

The elf, bowing low and visibly shaken, says,

"Milord, two of our number have been killed."

His eyes beginning to show more than irritation, Ithramir says,

"Who?"

The elven ranger replies,

"Elrithar and Belamir, milord. It seems Elrithar's cloak and weapons were also taken. We trailed the footsteps of the assassin, he was in the human camp, then he took off for the woods. We trailed him for a ways past Thornton, he was headed back to Ancora."

Umeawen had been standing near the entrance of Ithramir's tent when she heard the ranger's words. Bowing, she came inside and quietly whispered into Ithramir's ear.

"It would seem Beridain will know what happened to his men soon enough. Open war will soon follow between the elves and the humans. What are your plans, milord."

Hearing Umeawen, Ithramir merely nodded in recognition of her words and grabbed a nearby piece of parchment and ink quill. Writing a quick note, and after sealing it with his wax seal, he addresses the ranger first,

"You are to take this to Lothiel-Gadith. Hand this to the Captain and he will instruct you further. Now, off you go."

The ranger took the parchment, bowed, and was leaving when Ithramir stops him and says,

"And Gonduil, you did well. May the wind bare you quickly to Lothiel-Gadith and back."

Ithramir smiled briefly as the ranger stood straight up and saluted him before he left to carry the letter away.

Turning to Umeawen, Ithramir says,

"So, we now have war upon us? Very well then, war it shall be."

Smirking to himself, Ithramir pours another glass of absinthe and drinks deeply. Umeawen says,

"But what are we going to do? Beridain will surely send a vast army to try and take our lands as well."

Still with a half-smug look on his face, Ithramir says,

"I would expect no less of him."

He could see Umeawen's frustration written all across her face. It was then he thought to himself, "She is a good aide to me, however, she must learn to think ahead. It was, and is, her only flaw." Waiting a few moments to see how she would react, Ithramir then gently says,

"The plan, Ume, is to march on Ancora itself. Beridain will not expect this. We will kill any of his troops that we find while we make our way there."

Umeawen looks at Ithramir and replies,

"Then it begins, milord. How soon should we be ready to move?"

Ithramir replies,

"Prepare to move out tomorrow. We shall rest this day."

Umeawen bowed and then left him alone in his tent once more.

Pouring another glass of the halucinogenic drink, Ithramir started to ease into a restful state once again. His thoughts turned to many things, but he was not concerned over Beridain. The man was a fool and he would enjoy removing his head, when the opportunity arose.

After a few hours, another ranger broke his meditations. "Alright, this is enough. Unless we are under attack I am not going to tolerate these intrusions", Ithramir thought to himself. With a commanding voice, he says,

"What is so important that you have need to disturb me?"

The ranger replies,

"Milord, a few rangers have found a rather odd beast in the woods. Catlike, but a rather strange shade of blue. We were wondering..."

Ithramir had enough, his patience at an end he says,

"I don't care about a blue cat running and scampering about. If it is not a threat to us, leave it be. If it wants to play, them by all means do as you see fit, but do not disturb me again this evening!"

Picking up an empty bottle, he flings in the ranger's general direction. It had the affect he was looking for, in that the ranger left as quickly as possible and the others in camp now knew that he had better not be disturbed again.

Umeawen, in a tent close by, stops the ranger and says,

"For such matters, it is best left to me decide this eve. Milord Ithramir has many things on his mind, and we shall respect his meditations. Investigate this cat-beast further, Tadrien, and let me know what you find out."

The ranger bowed to Umeawen and sped off into the forest.

Written by Teran

The news of Gadianton's activities in Beridane's company spread far and wide through the shadowy lines of communication that rogues used to keep up to date. Teran was well connected with these lines, in fact he had created many of them for his own use disguising their value to him by making them public, at least for a select number of people.

It was because of these lines that a young woman approached him with this information as he sat in a tavern on the edge of Thornton. The assassin absorbed the information his contact had for him. Once she had finished, he nodded once and the woman left the tavern disappearing into the streets.

The assassin wondered where Beridane had dug up his new anonymous toy. Beridane was a fool, the assassin was sure of that, a dictator who considered his entire kingdom to be a toy chest. If Beridane were to discover a new toy, a toy that could disrupt the balance Teran was in the process of establishing he would have to re-evaluate Beridane's value.

The assassin sighed inwardly. He knew that he would have to get more information about what Beridane was up to, and if he wanted to get information he could trust beyond a shadow of a doubt, the assassin had to travel back to Ancora.

Written by Rowan

Rowan grinned at Shimur, the reed player, and tossed off another flourish, one-upping his last one, trying to find a combination he couldn't imitate, but he threw it back at her with a vengeance, ending on a trill that took her breath away. Laughing, she dove once again into the refrain at top speed, fingers flying, and the song hurtled to a reckless close, the last few notes completely drowned out in the cheers from the audience. Rowan struck the final chord and threw her hands in the air triumphantly, gesturing to Shimur to take a bow, then joining in the applause that erupted in response.

"Brilliant!" she shouted above the din and clapped him on the shoulder. "Bloody brilliant! And now I've got a real thirst!" She turned around just in time to see one of the barmaids holding up a tankard of ale and gesturing toward the table where the dark haired man was sitting with that fetching redhead and other friends. "Ah, is this by way of an apology for all that wretched scowling?" Rowan asked, accepting the ale from her gratefully and taking a deep swallow.

"Nay, miss," she said, "'tis not from 'im, but from the other fella, the one's got the beard 'at looks like it's afire. 'E said I was to tell you that 'e sends 'is compliments on yer performance." She giggled.

Rowan looked again and saw a tall, red-haired fellow with a beard to match, a solemn face and a bearing that didn't seem to quite add up with his mercenary looks. "I see," she said thoughtfully, taking another drink of ale. "Well, thank him for me. And tell him we take requests," she added with a smile.

Written by Ariana

Mavigan had accepted Wilhelm’s assistance in mounting Argent, though she had not needed it. She gently ran her hands through its mane and patiently waited for the party to get underway. It did not take long and soon Alaric was leading the small group through dark streets and through the city gates. She was momentarily surprised that he was not taking her to the castle. She opened her mouth to inquire, but shut it again as she remembered that she had no family there anyway.

She fell into a despondent silence, not really knowing where they were going and not really caring. The night was cold and the rain poured down on her soaking her hair, her clothes, and the poor horse beneath her. Her breath was visible in the chill, coming in panting gasps. Her mind fervently wished for her to pay attention to the events of the night, to think about how she felt and analyze her circumstances. Mavigan refused to comply and instead spent her time devising tortures for Alaric. This preoccupation kept her entertained and safely away from self-examination and soon they were pulling in front of an Inn.

Mavigan found herself quickly whisked inside, and shoved into a chair at a long empty table. Alaric sat across from her and said, “Well now… Princess… what shall we do with you?”

Before she could reply, however, there was a commotion from the stage. Crossing her arms across her chest, Mavigan pointedly ignored Alaric and instead turned her attention to the stage. The terrible racket that had passed for music had stopped and the musician (and Mavigan used that term loosely) left the stage in a drunken lilt to be replaced by an elven lady who proclaimed herself as Rowan Cor’Ellyn. As she began to play, Mavigan was pleased that at least this musician (meant in the truest sense of the word) knew her way around her instrument. Before long she had a woman dancing to the beat – not too badly either. Her applause mingled with the rest of the crowds.

As the song ended, she noted Alaric leaning forward trying to get her reply. Mavigan snorted and rolled her eyes. “After all this and NOW you want to ask my opinion?” She crossed her arms over her chest and leaned back into her chair. “You seem to be the one controlling my life at the moment,” she hissed, “You figure it out!” She ran a hand through her wet hair and flicked the water in his direction.

At that moment a barmaid approached and placed a drink before Alaric. “Pardon sir, but this is from the lady musician. She says you scowl too much.”

Hearing this, Mavigan laughed. Whether it was from nerves or simply the need to release all the pent up emotion in her, she laughed until her sides hurt and tears streamed from her eyes. Trying to speak in between gasps for breath she said, “It seems…that…even strangers….know….what a geezer you are!” After several more moments of raucous laughter, she finally managed to calm down a large smile still plastered on her face. “Well,” she said softly, “I, for one, know how to have fun.”

With that, Mavigan stood up, tossed off her cape, and made her way to the stage. Rowan was beginning a new song, and Mavigan wanted to enjoy it. The fact that she knew it would tick Alaric off only made it more enjoyable. She was fully aware that her clothes were not dry and were clinging to her body. “Serves him right!” she thought to herself.

She allowed the music to fill her senses and slowly began to move…

Written by Archeantus

"Damn." Gadianton breathed angrily.

Far up in a tree the rogue crouched, staring hard down at the forest floor. The fog was beginning to fade, and the aura of morning soon was approaching. He had spent all night trying to loose the men who had masterfully picked his track up and followed him, deciphering every trick, every ploy he had learned to use over the years. He had certainly mastered the art of shadow, but these strange men, had in turn mastered the art of tracking, the very skill which could take away his greatest advantage. He decided, shifting his weight awkwardly, that he didn't much like these men, and they would pay for his hate.

He had spent far more than two hours hidden high up in the tree, when finally he saw them following his decoyed tracks that led them away from where he had to go. There was a fleeting moment where he thought he'd break his resolve and give in to his urge to attack them. But he had learned to restrain his hunger for blood when a greater cause was at stake. It was the one thing that he loved above all else. Dark love such as his, was the bane of the meaning of love. His love was pure selfishness, and with his unconquerable pride he set his heart upon the one thing that brought him pleasure.

War.

After yet another hour, (the length of his decoyed tracks) he finally edged down the great tree and headed west, just before the morning sun glinted along the mountain peaks.

Carefully, he made his way back to his steed, but to his dismay, the animal was gone. His eyes shot dangerously out into the golden hued forest, lit by the morning sun, and his hate grew for the "long ears" as he called them. Now his journey back would take far longer than he desired. Feeling his anger grow, he channeled it into action and quickly headed west again.

As the sun rose over the canopy of trees, its rays glimmering down through cracks along the high branches, he knew he was once again being followed and his hunger quickly grew past restraint.

The two elven Rangers who had been pursuing the human assassin had discovered they had been led to a dead-end, and knew their target had obviously backtracked. They followed the tracks carefully back and found marks that led up a certain tree, then soon after they found tracks that led west. One of them quickly commanded the other to go to where they had placed his horse and catch up as the leader of the two pursued on foot.

"He is not to be killed Lithian."

The leader glared at his companion.

"You brother's death will be better honored if we further the elvish cause, rather than our own."

"Very well, I shall retain him if I come upon him." The leader whispered through clenched teeth.

The younger elf nodded after a moments pause and disappeared through the foliage.

Lithian, then looked hard down the path and hunted his prey.

In a forest clearing...

Lithian, knew he was close, he eagerly moved forward and abandoned his usual caution. He knew this human certainly had skill in tracking and evading, but it was also obvious that he too had thrown caution to the wind trying to make it to his destination. The elf suddenly found himself in a clearing, where the tracks stopped once more. In one fluid motion he armed himself with his bow, notched an arrow and turned to look his prey in the eyes, directly behind him.

Instantly the human, in a startling motion, knocked the bow sideways with the very sword he had stolen from the previous elf, and the arrow was loosed off to the left.

Lithian threw his treasured bow down and brandished his own ornament sword passed down through generations.

"You hold my brother's sword in your sacrilegious hands." He whispered vehemently.

Gadianton wasn't phased by the comical revelation, he wasn't the first who had come to take vengeance for killing a loved one, neither did he waste any time as he lunged forward seeking to kill the man with his brother's sword.

Lithian was caught off guard, and parried the deadly thrust, he then struck out which the rogue easily parried. The two struggled there in the glade for quite some time. Lithian had a hundred years of experience in swordsmanship and yet this human was outmatching him in skill. He was ferocious and yet methodical, he could see the human's stark eyes planning, scheming for the next move. He lost his revenge amidst the fight and now sought only to survive.

Lithian jumped back at a wild swing that nearly spilled his entrails, and then caught a high strike that nearly reached his neck. He moved further back as another swing darted forward to his arm. Moments later his beloved sword, given to him by his father was knocked from his hands and he found himself on the forest floor in utter shock at the sheer speed and talent this human possessed.

He had little more time to think as the human, with rage in his eyes fell upon him, stabbing him in the stomach.

Lithian screamed in pain, as the blade was pulled from his side.

Writhing on the ground, the human leapt upon him and forced him to his stomach, then he realized what was happening, his hands were quickly bound, next his feet. He was turned on his side once more, and there he gazed into the hooded recesses of his foe. His cloak was torn from his side, and it was quickly engineered to stunt his blood from seeping out of his body.

He had been captured, and beaten by a mangy human. This was more than he could bare and he looked away in disgust.

"Your companion comes soon doesn't he?" The human asked heatedly after his work was completed.

The silence was a clear yes.

"Then we shall wait for my horse to come back to me."

Lithian didn't look back, his will and heart were broken. Destroyed.

"Are you a gambling sort?" The human asked chillingly.

The elf winced in pain and lowered his head dejectedly disregarding the human's question.

"Tell me what you are, and I'll spare your companion." The human asked hovering near him curiously, fingering his elvish features.

This angered Lithian to no end, and he struggled to free himself from the man's grasp.

"You damn fool!" He screamed finally. "I am an elf!"

"An elf?" He asked more to himself as he stood.

"I shall kill many of your kind." He vowed and dragged his captive away, gagging him. Throwing Lithian's dead brother's sword to the ground he then took upon himself this new ornament sword. Lithian's companion was the first elf the sword would slay.

Soon Gadianton was back on his horse, Lithian tied to the stirrup was carried along with him.

Ancora wasn't far, as the sun blazed high over head.

Written by Teran

The assassin rode south on a dusty road towards Ancora. He did not actually own the horse he was currently riding on, but he was gifted at acquiring mounts when he needed to travel faster than he could on foot, but slower than some of his more arcane and taxing methods. He donned a faded gray hooded cloak that obscured his face in a veil of shadow. He was an imposing figure on the road and most people that passed him did so quickly trying to avoid gaining the attention of the hooded traveler.

The assassin studied everyone that he came across on the road from under the anonymity of his hood. He always studied people while he traveled, the roads were far from safe and it would do the land's most wanted criminal to be murdered by common highway robbers. The assassin smiled at the thought, a genuine smile, the kind of smile that only marked his face when he thought of his own demise.

The assassin squinted into the distance after sensing the presence of another traveler. He saw a shadow on the horizon, The assassin quickened the pace of his mount, slowly closing the distance between the two travelers. He could see now that the other traveler had an elf bound to his horse. The assassin quickened the pace of his horse again, approaching the other traveler from behind. As he got closer he eyed the bound Elf, and confirmed his suspicions that the elf was indeed a ranger. Teran knew that caution was required when dealing with anyone who could capture an Elven ranger. The assassin caught up with the stranger and glanced over at him.

"What are you doing?" he asked bluntly skipping any manner of introduction.

Written by Vylia

Continues circling the elven camp in the treetops when she hears something breaking in a tent nearby "I wonder what all the commotion is about." Backtracks a bit to get as close to the tent as she can when she notices two people whispering nearby.

"For such matters, it is best left to me decide this eve. Milord Ithramir has many things on his mind, and we shall respect his meditations. Investigate this cat-beast further, Tadrien, and let me know what you find out," one of them says to the other. The one spoken to nods before running off into the woods to Keeryn's right.

"Cat-beast? Is that what they think I am? Hmmm, that's kind of insulting, I'm much prettier than a cat. They could have at least compared me to a cougar or panther and now a pet," she sighs. "Oh well, at least they are actually going to try to find me now, that should be fun. I wonder if they'd object to being tied up. Wish I had my whip, but I guess one of these vines will have to do."

Keeryn moves off into the trees in the direction the strange light-skinned being went, determined to show that she was a better tracker. "I wonder if he will bother to look up, beasts never seem to," she thought to herself. Looking to the ground below her she notices the lack of tracks to follow and grins, inwardly amused and impressed at how this strange person is able to move through the undergrowth. Instead she starts to rely on her hearing and sense of smell, turning slightly east When she finally finds him he is staring at the trunk of a tree in front of him, her claw marks plain to see. "Cursed soft barked trees, that was just sloppy," she thinks as she smiles at a sudden idea, lopping the vine she carries into a lasso as she moves to the branch above him, "Too bad he is facing the wrong way."

She drops the lasso down around the ranger, pulling it tight as she drops down to the ground, the vine hooked over the branch she was just on, causing him to lift a foot off the ground. "Hello," she says with a grin, "You're not bad, but you need to learn to look...." Just then 3 more rangers appear out of the woods, their bows pointed at her, arrows knocked. "Oh, I see... I guess I need to learn to look for friends first." she let's the vine go, the elf falling back to his feet as she raises her hands. "I wasn't going to hurt him, just having a little fun."

One of the elves lets Tadrien go, who then says, "You will come with us, we can't have spies running around." "Sure... but can I get something to eat? I'm starving," Keeryn grins as one of the other rangers motions for her to start walking back toward the camp.

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm watches the young Queen-to-be toss off her cloak, move to the stage, and begin to dance to the next song. It brought back memories. Seeing Alaric's deepening scowl, he murmured "Let her dance away her troubles. It has always been her way. We will watch the patrons for any trouble, as we have done before. Soon enough she will lose such opportunities when she assumes her duties."

Wilhelm remembered that she had always loved to dance, and not the stately court dances but the wilder folk dances. This disdain for the court dances had been another point of contention with her father. She had often snuck out of the palace after an argument to go down to the faire or a tavern to dance her troubles away. Wilhelm had often shadowed her on these excursions, providing a protective presence while pretending to be out for a night at the tavern. Although, he mused, there was one popular dance tune that both she and her father approved of, although for different reasons.

Just then his thoughts were interrupted by the return of the barmaid, who told him that Rowen thanked him for the praise and the ale and that she did perform requests. Wilhelm remembered his previous thought about the song of the young bride who danced to her stern father at her wedding as her last dance as an unwed maid, upon which her charmed father granted her freedom and his blessing. Mavigan had often charmed her own father with that dance, and his last memory of them embracing was after such a dance shortly before she left the palace for the last time.

Handing the barmaid a silver coin, he told her to ask Rowen if they would perform "The Bridal Dance."

Written by Archeantus

The landscape flashed by as the rogue and his captive galloped hard atop the twice stolen steed. Gadianton, wishing to avoid any sort of questioning due to his "baggage" kept along the edge of whatever cover he could, but was forced to ride out to the road when the forest ended and nothing remained to hide the two.

He had riden his steed hard, and knew the mare had to rest, so he slowed, and grew all the more impatient as he eagerly waited for the horse to regain her strength. It was then that he sensed another traveler galloping down the rode.

Moments later the stranger came from behind and inquired as to what he was doing, obviously refering to his prisoner.

Gadianton, his appearence hidden within his elven hood, regarded this new threat. Before him was a man, also hooded, wearing a nonscript grey cloak. He was no commoner, for no commoner would ask such a brave question on a busy road which was often a place of danger and crime. A man that would ask such a question, more so to a man with a bound captive, was either a dimwit, or could take care of himself if need be. Gadianton decided to test his mettle and find out if the man was truly a fool. Gadianton needed to know who this man was so he decided to take a look. Suddenly the versatile rogue was a bounty hunter who was taking his job in for collection. He looked and annoyingly glared at the stranger, and then replied acidly, "Aint yer business stranger."

And then nodding as if he had gone through this a thousand times, he explained, "There's a bounty on his head."

Shifting his weight, he turned and quickened the pace of his horse.

"Now leave me be."

The matter would normally be closed to the mere inquisitive. If the stranger had deeper suspicions, he would know soon enough. It would then that he would term the man a fool.

Written by Teran

The assassin sensed the stranger had lied when he attempted to pass himself off as a bounty hunter. It wasn't so much that the man couldn't be a bounty hunter, but that the facts didn't match up. The assassin knew that there were elves around Thornton, elves killing Beridane's men. He also knew the stranger was moving south and most likely came from or near Thornton.

Teran also knew the names and appearances of most of the bounty hunters that were skilled enough to catch him, and this man even with his hood Teran could tell that he was none of them. Lastly Teran currently had the largest bounty the continent had ever seen on his head and came across bounty hunters almost daily. None had discovered his secret but he was often questioned especially while wearing a cloak that concealed his true identity.

"Elves do not venture into the lands of man to commit crimes, stranger, and when they do they are not caught. There is no bounty on this elf." The assassin said calmly, matching pace with the stranger.

"Under the laws of my slain king Pallanon, detaining a person, man or elf who is innocent of crime is unlawful." the assassin said quietly sounding like a loyal servant of his fallen king.

"What are you doing?" the servant asked repeating his original question.

Written by Rowan

Rowan had called a slow tune to let everyone cool down a bit, a relaxed but rhythmic chardosh from the desert. She was pleased to see the redheaded beauty she had noticed earlier take the floor, drawing the eyes of all the men in the room. The wench was a fine dancer. "The money will be flowing nice and steady all night at this rate," Rowan thought, satisfied. And with that, she gave herself over to the music, letting the tune sing out and the girl's body keep the time.

Written by Archeantus

The hooded man saw right through his lie. Narrowing his eyes, he reevaluated his next course of action. Intelligence is not something to be trifled with.

Gadianton smiled benieth his hood, upon hearing the next few statements. Within them he learned the man's alignment in the political landscape he was seeking to set at war. The man was a loyal servant to the fallen king, and therefore was a threat. Still galloping onward, he suddenly reared his horse around sideways along the dirt road, just as the man spoke about it being unlawful to carry an elf without a bounty. The setting sun faced behind him far up in the azure sky, his silhoutted figure, set starkly against the sun's fervent globe of light. The sun's parting rays raced directly past him and glared blindingly at the tenacious man.

The stranger was a few yards away, and Gadianton's steel eyes watched his hands like a hawk. He sat eirily gazing from the shadowed hood, almost to the point where the man was about to ask his oppressive question again. Gadianton then spoke and repeated the man's bold claim mockingly.

"Unlawful?" He chillingly said. "A dead kings laws are precisely that, dead."

And with an immense anticipated glare, sitting cold upon his dark steed, he said, "You look upon the law now." And with that, his hand, which was in a calculated move behind the side of him lashed out like a snake and unleashed a dagger which cut through the air directly toward, not the man, but his horse's broad neck....

He sought to upset any immediate attack that would be forthcoming. The man was far too intriguing to finish just yet, and if he proved himself in the next few moments, he wouldn't dream of ever ending him. Too much, enjoyment would be at stake.

In the same instant he darted forward sideways off the road, opposite the man's throwing range, guessing him to be a right hander, and armed his elven bow, gaining precious space by the moment.


Written by Teran - Page 5 of Book 1

The assassin knew an attack was coming, the stranger had something to hide, and apparently nothing to lose. Even as the assassin sensed the stranger's dagger appearing in his hand, twin blades appeared in his own hands.

Teran threw the dagger in his right hand towards the stranger while pulling the reins of his horse around in an attempt to avoid the incoming blade. The assassin's blade went wide and he heard the sick sound of tearing flesh and his horse's cry. He knew what would come next and was prepared for it.

The horse leapt on it's hind legs giving Teran an excellent view of Gadianton. He released the reins and threw the dagger in his left hand down at the elf that had been captured.

After releasing his second blade, Teran pushed hard against his stirrups propelling himself up and away from his dieing horse. The assassin hit the ground hard however his momentum carried him off the road parallel to Gadianton. The assassin wasted no time getting to his feet, closing the distance between himself at the stranger, careful to place one of the few trees this near to the road's edge between himself and his adversary making a shot with his stolen bow that much more difficult.

Written by Archeantus

It was as if lightening had struck leaving a flash of awe. The sudden duel attack had actually stunned the seasoned Gadianton, and more so the blade that skimmed across his face moments after he had thrown his dagger. The man had anticipated his attack. Such intuition was rare in a fighter, Gadianton knew this, and knew it well. A sliver of red streaked across his face, neat and clean. As the moment passed, and the opposite horse reared fully, letting out a cry of pain, yet another blade was launched, this one found its home within the elven ranger’s leg.

Gadianton was dazzled; fascinated by the show of skill, it had been a long time since he had come near death at the hands of another, and he reveled in the challenge. A strange sort of laughter could be heard amid the deepening trees surrounding the road. Though death had whispered in his ear, he had never felt more alive.

Riding outward, taking the bow in his hands, an arrow notched, he rounded the horse's course, and skimmed the area. The man had quickly hid himself behind the nearest tree.

The moment had passed.

He accomplished and discovered what he wished to discover. Reaching behind him at the struggling elf, strapped sideways across the horse, he pulled the blade from his leg, which emitted a muffled scream. Looking at the blade carefully, twisting it in his fingers, he was impressed enough to take it. Quickly he sheathed it beneath his cloak, his dark eyes mockingly anticipating the time it would be used once more...

Then, renotching his elven bow, which was highly engraved with intricate symbols, he fired the arrow at the dying horse, finishing his job. A moment later he loosed another arrow.

Riding further away, he swept his hand across his face and felt the gash, which would soon be a scar that would be with him for the rest of his days. He smiled grimly, but it faded, leaving nothing in its wake.There on the other side of the tree which Teran stood was the second arrow imbedded only a breaths length from his heart.

Written by Teran

The assassin watched Gadianton gallop off.

"Life goes on..." he muttered, promising that he would see the stranger again in the near future.

Teran walked to his fallen horse and removed the blade from its throat. He examined the blade closely, cleaning the horse's blood off on his cloak. He sheathed the blade, planning to hand it off to one of his contacts to determine its origin.

The assassin removed his cloak and spread it over the corpse of the horse. The assassin began walking south, following the path the stranger had chosen.

Written by Turin Wallace

Walking back to camp Tadrien in a rather annoyed, and unplayful fashion, says,

“We will see about some food later. Accosting a ranger is punishable by death, whether you meant harm or not. You’re a strange beast, so leniency may be delivered when we relay our story to the Lady of our camp. But be warned, any trouble or mischief from you and it will be dealt with severly.”

To drive the point home, the rangers following had their bows already knocked and at the ready. This is not to say the Elves are ungracious hosts, but with war on the horizon, the camp preparing to break for the morning march, and a second unknown walking into the camp, trust was in short supply. It was better to be cautious rather than friendly at this stage.

Stopping near Umeawen’s tent, Tadrien enters and in a moment they both re-appear. Umeawen looks over the beast and says,

“It certainly seems harmless enough. Give it some food.”

Tadrien went off to find something for the cat-beast to eat. In the meantime, Umeawen says,

“I apologize if the reception is not a warm one, but we are preparing to move in the morning. If I may, what is it your are called and what manner of beast are you?”

Umeawen listened to the response and says,

“You are welcome to stay in this camp for the evening so long as you do not cause any trouble. Good eve to you.”

The night passed without incident and in the morning the camp broke and left the area of Thornton and made it’s way towards the inner lands of Grayshire. Keeping to the back roads, Ithramir led a few raids on Beridain’s columns, which resulted in very few casualties on their part. The same could not be said for those in Beridain’s service. He wondered how long would Beridain play the fool and how long until news reached his ears about his missing men, and who was fighting against him. But for now, it mattered not. Ithramir and his people had the edge in this game, and he intended to keep it that way.

After a few days of traveling, Ithramir and his rangers closed in on a small hamlet near the port of Westgale. Spying that the place had a small tavern, Umeawen says,

“Shall we go take a look, milord?”

Glancing back at Umeawen, Ithramir replies,

“Yes, perhaps there is some info here we can glean from these humans and our sea-faring kind.”

Ithramir then gives the orders for the rangers to meld into the forest until he calls for them to assemble once more. He wasn’t going to take chances this close to Westgale, and he knew it would be impossible for these humans to even take notice of his people when they were being stealthy. Plus, the night was a miserable one, with a torrential rain pouring down…and it was to continue for a few more days. This would keep most inside except those brave or stupid enough to be in such a downpour without good cause.

As Ithramir, Umeawen, and few chosen rangers rode into the hamlet, Ithramir whispers to Umeawen,

“I trust you will behave yourself this eve?”

Umeawen’s cheeks turn a ruddy color as she replies,

“That question was unnecessary, milord. You know I still grieve over what happened so long ago.”

Softly, he says,

“I know, dear sister. As we all have, in some manner or another. No offense was meant, forgive me.”

Nodding in Ithramir’s direction, Umeawen indicates that she does. No sooner than this is accomplished then they reach the front of the tavern. Tying up their mounts, the group makes its way inside, and finds a suitable table to sit down and dry off.

Their presence does not cause the least bit of disturbance, as there are plenty of their kin already inside the tavern. Ithramir only watched with muted interest as he watched those called Sea Elves mingle in with the humans. This is not to say Ithramir dislikes humans, or that even Elves as a people dislike them, but those that call the sea home are often the most bawdy of their kind as well as the most seen. Ithramir simply chuckled at the thought of the stories these humans must tell about his people.

It was then that the music began and he and Umeawen noticed the two half-elves in the crowd. To human eyes they would appear as one of them, but to an elf their heritage was shown quite clearly. He would never have given it another thought if he had not seen the look on Umeawen’s face. Looking at where her gaze fell, Ithramir almost immediately knew what it was to cause her to look that way…

Written by Vylia

"Umm, I don't want to be rude regarding the food, but I don't suppose you have any meat in this camp? I could only smell a lot of vegetables." Watches as the being named Tadrien walks off into the camp .

"My name is Keeryn, and I'm a Cyatin. What's your name and what are you? And what is with this army anyway, don't you think it's a bit silly to be trying to kill each other in the afterlife?"

The next morning Keeryn woke up just before dawn to see the soldiers readying to move out so she decided to find the elf lady she met last night to see if she couldn't go along and find out what all the fuss was about. After about 5 min it was obvious where she was, directing the crowd, "Hello again Umeawen... I don't suppose I could travel with you for a bit? I was getting bored in this forest all by myself."

Written by Archeantus

By the time the night swept the dirt road, dark clouds had enveloped the sky and soon there was a steady downpour. The Elven cloak he wore had the strange property of repelling the rain, leaving him perfectly dry. He veered off far from the road, and entered the nearby forest, planning to camp there for the night.

Years the rogue had spent alone and had learned to be resourceful, for soon he had a fire going. Seating the elf against a tree, he sat across from him in the fire, and began to set another fire within Lithian's vulnerable heart. For the remainder of the night, Gadianton filled him with hate. He recounted his deed of murdering his brother over and over again, and boasted that there would be far more to die by his hands. When the elf tried to ignore and sleep through his threats, he would beat him with his own sword with the hilt. He spoke with such conviction and contempt that the elf attempted more than once to rush him from across the fire, but his cords bound him to the tree. Soon Lithian's eyes was full of utter rage. Gadianton looked longingly into those eyes and pressed even further as if his hate fed him.

As the hidden sun behind the clouds rose, Gadianton finally stood, having tormented the elf all night, and set forth again, anticipating he would arrive to relate his precious news to Beridain by mid morning. The rain still poured, and the ground was wet and muddy. Gadiaton checked the elf's wounds, dressing them, despite Lithian's eyes which could have killed the rogue by themselves. Soon they were traveling once more and an hour later, they could see Ancora's spires jut through the fog in the distance.

The gate captains saw the strange site far off, a rider that looked to be an elf, and a passenger strewn on the side. They gave him trouble when he arrived at the gates but shut up when he bore the royal symbol Beridain had given him. He went straight for the King's chambers located in the inner section of the city. Captians often stopped him, and they were often shown his insignia, which meant he had free reign to go as he wished. They never saw his face, only the symbol. Coming to the elegant home of King Beridain, he untied the elf, and carried him into the inner court where the King was to be found seeing to his fledgling kingdom.

As soon as Beridain saw the unforgettable rogue approach with his captive, he immediately ordered his servants away.

"What have you found out?" Beridain whispered, still slightly intimidated by the mere act of doing business with the man before him. The past couple of nights he had had nightmares, and his fear heightened upon seeing the real thing once more.

Gadianton stood there for a moment, and then pulled the elf forward and untied the gag that stunted Lithian's speech.

"Tell him where I found you." He commanded the elf with a swift kick to his wound in his leg.

The elf snarled in pain and spat on the ground in defiance.

"I'LL KILL YOU!" He screamed finally. His pent up anger filled the room.

Gadianton simply waited. Beridain waved his guards away as they came to check what was a matter. He had no love of elves, and had received many reports of a possible elven force which sought to rise against him. Yet he hadn't heard anything concrete, nothing to help him determine how he might prepare and where he might send his troops.

Walking over to the elf, who was struggling with all his strength to free himself, Beridain stepped upon Lithians chest and demanded to know what it was he knew. Lithian breathed hard looking the king in the eye and laughed hysterically.

"I killed 10 of your men personally!" He yelled, his mood changing suddenly.

"Where?" The king tightened the pressure of his boot upon Lithian's throat.

Lithian tried to laugh again but choked, and could do nothing else but reveal where he had come from. Above all else, he swore he would survive, no matter what the cost. He could not die at the hands of this upstart human king. He had obtained what he had through murder and intrigue. He was sickened to be in his presence, and his hate grew all the more.

He yelled once more, so that all those in the general vicinity could hear him.

"You cursed humans! I am Lithian of the house Tegeneron!! I am sworn to uphold the balance of this world, like my father before me and his father before him! Your kingdom will be swept from your lifeless fingers!!" He coughed finally as his strength and endurance was no more. He breathed heavily and searched for what inner dignity he had left.

"How many were there?" Beridain questioned Gadianton seeing the elf nearly faint with exhaustion.

"Beyond seven thousand." Gadianton said smoothly. "More than likely more, I came as soon as I discovered this information."

Beridain had a smoldering look upon him, as he was quick to anger and looked at the elf down on the floor as if he represented those who wished to take what he had worked for so long. He kicked the elf in the back savagely. Gadianton watched pleased to see the fires of war begin to ignite.

Quickly now, Beridian ordered his advisers in for knew his time was limited and knew the elves were out there planning an offensive. Gadianton was forgotten in the commotion, and so was poor Lithian. The rogue took the elf once more and left without anyone noticing. He tied him up once more and placed him upon his horse. Then, riding out of the city once more he took Lithian and untied him once he was far enough.

"Go. You have no use for me now." Gadianton whispered through his hood amid the falling rain. The little light there was in the morning haze shone upon his elven cloak, slightly illuminating the glossed elven material. Thunder rolled mightily.

Lithian slowly stood in utter shock. Quickly he then faced the tip of his brother's arrow.

"Leave or die now." Gadianton whispered intensely, holding the bow ready to be loosed.

Lithian lingered not knowing what to do with his freedom.

"GO!" Gadianton hissed ominously, his arm which held the bowstring pulled ever more slightly back. "Go and find your kind, tell them what you have seen and heard, and come in your might!"

The offer was unbelievably tempting, Lithian finally turned, still believing he would get an arrow in his back, but as he walked he never felt the deadly sting. He never looked back, and soon he ran. Ran away from death, and soared to his revenge.

Gadianton finally lowered the bow, and watched the elf fade into the rain. His eyes lingered on the tracks the elf blindingly made.

"They are all puppets." He thought to himself reveling in all that he had done. Gadianton, the silent rogue, and the vicious heart of the coming war.

Turning his horse back to Ancora, amid the slashing rain, he then went to find his disciples.

Written by Teran

Rain poured from the sky with so much vigor that the forest canopy offered hardly any sanctuary from the rain at all. The assassin sat in the driving rain with his eyes closed, he was resting after a day and a half of walking. He hovered in the realm half way between sleep and awake pondering how much farther his destination was. He came to the conclusion that Ancora was only hours away.

He climbed to his feet and continued walking through the night and half of the next day. When he finally reached the city of Ancora he blended in with many of the other well traveled individuals that shuffled past the gate guards. He wandered through the city, seemingly aimlessly.

He first stopped to visit an old "friend", to whom he gave the dagger he had dislodged from his borrowed horse's throat. He doubted he would get any useful information from the blade but it was one of a few options he had.

The assassin's next stop was a tailor where he purchased a cloak, dyed a pale blue/gray. He wrapped himself in his new cloak and continued on his way. Teran had everything he needed, now all he need do is wait. He slowly waded his way through the throng of people clogging the streets, moving towards a poor excuse for a tavern that many of the shadier men and women of Ancora frequented.

He entered the tavern, glancing at the other patrons before finding a seat. He ordered the local specialty and sat back, appearing to relax while he waited for his "friend" to meet him.

Written by Pharsalus

"GUARDS! Arrest these men!"

More thumping of boots resounded from distant halls outside. Geirik was running out of time -- he had to get back to shore, and this first-mate was the means by which that was going to happen.

Geirik stood to his full height at last, brushing off papers, quills, and miscelleaneous dust and debrit from his person, taking a moment to survey his surroundings before making any major decisive strikes. The quarters were small, far smaller than what was normal for such a high-ranking officer. He began to form the impression that this was not, in fact, the first mate's actual cabin. He puzzled only a few moments before a blade was thrust into his face.

"You, there! Who are you!?"

A moment of silence passed as Geirik's temper began to fume. The old scruff of a Bounty Hunter turned his gaze -- slowly -- toward that of obstinant little bastard that spoke. Geirik was not one to think before he spoke, and this occasion was no exception. Before he could check himself, his temper and ego took the reigns as he barked out a retort.

"MY name isn't important, Skaner welp! What IS important is that we have a little.....talk..."

Before his lips finished forming the syllable, his wrist flicked and the sound of blade upon leather flittered faintly. Before the Skaner mate realized what was going on, Geirik had positioned himself up against his person, chest against his, with a short sword held against his neck. The force of the motion sent the Ironskane first mate's sword tumbling haphazardly against the right wall.

"Now," Geirik continued, "I'll tell you what we're going to do -- YOU are going to get me off this light-forsaken boat. YOU are going to give the orders to tuck-tail and run to the nearest coast line. I have a date in Ancora, and I'm not one to be late."

There was a nervous pause -- Geirik's eyez seemed to take on a sinister light in the poorly lit room. Had the first mate not felt the breath his assailant against his cheek, he would almost think this was a walking dead holding a blade against his neck, for his features were tense...clammy...and his eyes black and devoid of any life.

"I...I will do...n..nothing of the sort! This c...craft w..w...will not be used for your....dire purpos...."

Before the man could finish, he went suddenly silent. A great moan resounded throughout the ship....then another...followed by a great rumble and the almost deafening sound of wood and chains shattering beneath the fury of one force or another. Both men began stumbling this way and that, dodging whatever wasn't nailed to the wall or floors, as the cabin began to rock. The very ship seemed to cry in protest as its innards were broken, splintered, and tossed aside. Geirik was the first of the two to regain his balance, being fairly light of foot for a man his age.

Wha...!? Whatever the bloody hell that was, it has come with impecable timing. Time to get off this wreck!

The sounds of war began raging anew above deck, this time with a great gurgling roar. At its first sounding, both men in the small quarters looked up and around them to ensure their own safety. In the same instant, Geirik placed the sound with a specie:

An Ogre...!?!

He hadn't time to question or criticize the overall usefullness (and safety) of having an Ogre aboard a boat in the middle of beast-infested waters with no adequate way of restraining him -- this was his chance to break the will of this First Mate long enough to get himself off the ship. He hated what that involved, and he knew its risks to his person and everyone else's...

It must be done...it is for the good of the Family...

Before anything else could disrupt the scene, Geirik closed his eyes only for a moment to unbar the doors that had held his inner demons at bay for so long. In an instant, as wolves released unto the herd, dark energies began to work their dire magiks. The air about the cabin suddenly dropped to well below chill's thresh-hold, and the light from the oil lamps on the wall shuddered and dimmed. A very distraught first mate's jaw fell ajar as he watched the man in front of him become nothing but a shadowed outline in the haze and thick of dark.

Indeed, Geirik had changed -- one would think his form a shadow and of no substance if he had not just witnessed a fleshling man standing there in a dank, dark, and eerily cold cabin only moments ago. But now he was as the shape that played along the borders of vision and blindness, like shapes seen at the edge of the eye in a darkened room. Standinly only paces from him, the First Mate's lip quivered and eyes blinked as his assailant's eyes, once completely hidden in misty shadow, now burned a dim, purple blaze. The hairs on his neck stood erect as he watched this hellish transformation transpire -- he could only imagine what evil had unleashed itself upon his boat and his person. He could only stand frozen...and watch.

On his interior was shown a different scene -- one of desparation and exasperated effort, not evil and malintent. Geirik waged a war against a shadow. On the bleak field of his inner concious, two figures brought blade against blade in battle that had raged for what seemed an eternity. Geirik was hard-pressed to remain focused on the issue at hand as his thoughts and vision jumped between inner thought and reality and back again. Terrible memories flashed before him as they always did -- screams, hissing laughter, darkness, cold...all came as a storm and struck his soul with blasts of unrelenting hatred. As he had expected, his humanity began to grow dim and distant...

His thoughts were interrupted by the stammering seaman before him.

"W...w.hatever you are, p...pp..lease....I...I'll get y..y..ou off...just.....just...don't kill me!"

The first mate's voice became almost a whine. There were a few moments of silence -- even the scuffles between the Pallanonian forces and 'Skaner crew had quieted. Geirik knew why -- the black fire he had unleashed upon himself was not satisfied with only his person, for long had Geirik's body been its temple and caretaker. It throbbed and pulsed outward with invisible tendrils that sucked the courage from any creature within a considerable radius of its center: Geirik.

As through a dark and dusted window, Geirik watched the scene and, realizing the First Mate's state, began fighting once again for control of his own person. After a few moments, Geirik's features became less tense and more tangeable as the light and temperature in the room approached normalcy. His eyes returned to their usual emerald as a smirk etched itself across his face.

"Excellent -- it's settled then. Surrender your men and your boat, and get me off this boat...and I might not take your head for a small profit. Emphasis on small, of course."

The first mate was still rattled as he slowly passed Geirik toward the door. He paused at the portal, looking back, unsure of the nature of this Bounty Hunter that had stumbled into his existance and, by some otherworldly means, shattered his seaman's pride like a maiden's mirror. With a pale face and mouth still ajar, the First Mate stepped into the hall where fighting had once commenced and yelled as loud as his lungs could manage.

"STOP! STOP THE FIGHTING! ...... WE SURRENDER!"

Geirik forced a smile, despite his weakend state. His stomach felt nauseated and his shoulders heavy -- a small piece of himself had become a small price to pay for accomplishing his ends. He shook his head some to clear the mists from his eyes and thrust his sword threateningly into the back of the First Mate as they set for the stairs to the upper decks.

"Very good, First Mate...ehm....?"

"...Whitestead..sir..."

"....Whitestead, then. Very good, First Mate Whitestead...you have saved yourself and your men much displeasure in fulfilling my desire to touch ground. Now...WALK!"

He thrust the blade forward, making the Whitestead yelp and scuddle forward to avoid being run through. They made their way through the halls and up the stairs leading to the main deck.

Chaos met them at the door -- the deck was stained red and laiden with piles of corpses scattered here and there, some still resembling human remains, all mangled by the Barbarian's axe. A very wet Barbarian threw his second leg over the rails of the ship with the aide of men bearing Pallanon's crest, and nowhere could be found the corpse of the beast that Geirik had felt battling for its life only moments ago.

Geirik only puzzled over it a moment.

The Barbarian had long ended his fury, picking off the stragglers that dared charge against him from behind barrels and buckets. More of the Pallanon forces began to board the ship, sliding down ropes and thumping their way across great wooden planks placed between the two ships (which had apparently moved since Geirik had last seen them).

Geirik motioned for the First Mate to stay put and await his return as he moved toward the Barbarian with both blades drawn and hackles raised -- he could not take chances at this point. It was not until he was only paces from the brute that Geirik immediately recognized his face...

"By the...!? Jagan!? The infamous Jagan Talonmane!? I've heard many a story about you, sir! None of them mention you as a sea-faring man, however."

Geirik smiled and sheathed his blades with an almost arrogant confidense. Wiping his hands after securing the hilts, he continued.

"It is not every day I've the pleasure of company with such a skilled armsman -- tell me, about which subject would a Barbarian, of all people, wish to speak?"

Written by Aethelwulf

Seeing Mavigan, her clothing clinging wetly to her lithe form, slowly undulate to the beautiful elven womans music caused a sharp pain to flash through Alaric's head, and Wilhelms words only seemed to exacerbate the feeling. Sighing, he shook his now throbing head and muttered under his breath..

"So much for maintaining a low profile...."

Lao silently moved closer to him and whispered into his ear. The crowd was becoming lively as the music wove its way through the smoky air. Sighing again, he finished his ale, and moved with Lao to be near his queen....just in case a patron or two got the idea that Mavigan was fair game. Glancing up at the mysterious elven lady leading the small group of musicians, he smiled as he noticed her watching him out of the corner of her eye, then an uproar from the crowd drew his attention. Mavigan seemed to be performing some sort of sultry dance that was enflaming the hearts of the drunken host. Grimacing, Alaric leaned against a post and tried very hard not to notice.

Written by Ariana

Mavigan closed her eyes and let the music fill her. She blocked everything from her mind save for the rhythm that now flowed through her. She allowed it to guide her and her body began to unconsciously move in concert with the beat. Her life was filled with chaos and confusion, but here, she was in control and she need not focus on anything but the now. Mavigan was content to throw herself completely into the dance, allowing her emotions to pour out of her through her movements. She was content, that is, until she felt a stray hand caressing her butt . . .

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm saw Alaric watching Mavigan closely, while acting as if he were not. Leaving Mavigan's personal safety to Alaric and his colleagues, Wilhelm turned his attention to the gowing number of patrons in the common room, which was now almost full. Placing himself in a light trance, he scanned the life forces in the room. There was Mavigan on the dance floor, with Alaric, Lao, and Koric watching over her. On the stage was the elven singer Rowan, Shimur the reed player, and Amnor the drummer, and the other musicians. Over at the bar was the affable innkeeper Boric with the barmaid Sonya, who was chatting with the young patron that had just danced with her. Slumped over the bar was the other musician, Vorindel.

In a booth across the room was a party of five elves that had recently entered. The leader was Ithramir and the apparently related female was Umeawen. Before the other names registered, Wilhelm paused in memory. Most of the elves he had met were Sea Elves, who had a distinctive rolling gait from their months at sea, if you knew to look for it. These five instead moved catlike, much like some rangers he knew. That was very interesting. These bore watching.

Written by Archeantus

It was mid-day, and the rain still relentlessly poured. The guards, now recognizing him as one who bore the royal seal, let him through the massive Ancorian gates.

Now it was time to make the large city his own. For the next day, the rogue scoured every nook and cranny, from the large stone walls and battlements, to the network of sewers that ran underneath the city. He followed and discovered secret passages used by the royal family in case of emergency. He tactically plotted escape routes, defense positions, vantage points. When he was finished, he found himself atop the battlements alone overlooking the lay of the land, the rain pelting him. He imagined in his minds eye the eventual battle that would erupt here; he saw the humans and elves fling themselves at each other. The catapults launching their craft. The battering ram booming against the gates. He pictured hundreds and thousands littered across the landscape as the dust cleared. He would stand in the middle of all the carnage and glory in his handwork. Though he felt a shade of satisfaction in what he did, deep down he knew nothing but misery. His heart was devoid of hope for it had died long ago when he was a boy. This left him with nothing to love and nothing to live for. He lived in a perpetual state of jealousy. Looking bleakly at the wet landscape in its dismal state he vowed he would bring this strange realm down with him.

Tired of the scene, he finally turned his attention inward, not to the city, but to its people. They milled about below him, off on their own pitiful lives. Somewhere among them, he would find those who shared his views, and it would be them that would rise above the coming war and enjoy its spoils. Money. Power. Fame. All were the cards he could offer, and to some, if not many, they would do anything to obtain just one. Even sell thier very souls. And so with a determined step and a watchful eye, he stepped down from the battlements and hunted for souls.

Ever since the bloody takeover and King Pallionian's death, Ancora had become a breeding ground for the malicious and ill hearted. In one fell swoop, Beridain had demoralized the whole city. By his own devious actions, he unwittingly robbed its citizens of law and order, for soon, like moths to the flame of sin, came the realm's worst. And it was these that Gadianton methodically watched like a vulture in the sky. To find the realms worst one has to look where they are glorified. The guard’s encampment was littered with past claims of bounties, and these he watched, looking at their sum, and judging the weight of their merit by their bounty. There was one that stood out from the common thieves and brigands. One bounty was worn and tattered above all the others, which meant it had been there the longest. Pulling the newer ones from their nails, he tunneled to his prize and saw a portrayal of the face of a man with rich dark hair. His name was Teran Witherblaze. He asked the guard concerning him and he was told he had yet to be captured.

"They see the sum of money and off they go, but none ever come back." The guard shrugged carelessly.

"Except one." A cold voice interjected. Gadianton turned to behold a man sitting in a dark corner, resting against the back two legs of an old wooden chair. Immediately Gadianton knew here was one who resembled himself. The man was draped in a black leather trench coat, and wore a black hat, which was pulled low to his dark eyes. His boots were propped up on the table carelessly, and in his gloved hands was a smoking pipe, its writhing gray puffs hovered out of his mouth.

"If you raise the bounty, I'll go after the damned fish again." He intoned.

"Fish?" Gadianton questioned, still weighing the stranger in.

"He's slippery." The man explained. "Add another 200 gold pieces, and I'll be motivated once more to find him."

"Why would I want you?" Gadianton continued.

"You don't know who yer talkin' to, do ya?" The stranger nearly laughed.

"No."

"Another damned fool!" He yelled out to all present. Tipping forward, the stranger stood flamboyantly, yet calculatingly. A few street urchins darted up to the front of the growing crowd; apparently this was a common phenomenon.

"I am what they might term, --oh what was it they called me?" He tapped his chin, which was covered with a morning beard. "YOU!" He pointed at one of the boys that watched him admiringly. "Tell 'im."

The boy instantly piped in with a thick street accent. "Dats Vermigard Destrado. And dat's," He pointed. "All da criminals he's brought'n."

Gadianton looked across the room and saw another board that read, "Apprehended." and was chock full of photos.

"I am the greatest bounty hunter these lands have ever seen. No man can run, hide, or outsmart this fox." Vermigard slyly whispered trying to mask his giant ego. Though he appeared to be putting on a show, Gadianton discerned he was no actor.

"Then why isn't this Teran, over there?" Gadianton toyed, pointing to the other side where the captured men were posted.

Vermigard lost his smile suddenly and looked carefully at the hooded stranger. His flamboyant air vanished and his eyes flashed dangerously.

"Teran is worth more than his posted bounty." He whispered, almost to himself.

"I see." Gadianton said. "Tell me Vermigard, why do you hunt dangerous men?"

"Why? The money of course." He responded. "Life would be so dull without men and women who demand society pay to catch them."

Gadianton nearly laughed. The man amused him, which would normally had been dangerous, but he represented one who could further his own ends dramatically.

"If you are the greatest, then hunt me, and we shall see how good you truly are." Gadianton unexpectedly said.

Now it was Vermigard who nearly laughed.

"By midnight tonight, if you have not found me, I'll come hunting you, and one of us will not live through tomarrow." Gadianton said.

A slight smile edged into the bounty hunter's face.

"You don't understand--" He began.

"One thousand gold pieces if you can find me." Gadianton added, playing the rightful card.

"Ah, you catch on quick." Vermigard corrected.

A moment later Gadianton was gone in a flurry of grey-black.

"You die if you don't pay up!" Vermigard yelled out as the rogue dissapeared.

Vermigard shrugged, and took his seat again, eyeing the light outside.

"Boys, get me my shackles."

Ten small figures rushed toward the worn shackles across the room like loyal dogs chasing a thrown stick.

Written by Ariana

Mavigan reacted on instinct. She quickly reached behind her and grabbed the offending hand on her posterior. Bending the fingers of that hand in the wrong direction, she was satisfied to hear a yelp of pain and the removal of the offending appendage from her person. She yanked forward on the hand bringing the body it was attached to towards her at the same time she reached behind her with her other hand preparing for a punch. Striking with as much force as she could muster, she punched the man squarely in the chest watching with satisfaction as the man flew backwards through the air. He landed flat on his back at the feet of a group of elves.

"Pig!" she shouted as she narrowed her eyes in anger. Seeing no further movement from the individual, she turned her back on the scene. Muttering under her breath about how males were little more than animals, she tried to regain her focus on the music as she once again began to dance.

Written by Archeantus

Startled out of his constant scanning of the crowd, Alaric smiled as he saw Mav punching a lout that apparently had accosted her in some way.

"Ah well, if the lass is going to swim about in the muck, she is bound to get a little on her.." Nodding as Koric moved in and grabbed the thug, roughly moving him further away from Mavigan, Alaric watched as his Queen danced a dance that he had thought only ladies of the evening knew. Ach. This lass was going to be a handful, for certian.

Written by Rowan

Rowan was not so carried away with the music that she was unaware of what was going on in the room. Years of experience singing in bars had taught her that she ignored the mood of the crowd at her peril. Excitement was good for profit but disruption was not.

She took note when the dark haired man and two of his friends rose from their table and approached the stage. They were obviously intending to protect the dancer from any kind of trouble. "And the way she is dancing," Rowan thought, "trouble could come along any minute now..."

Which it did. Although Rowan didn't see it, obviously someone had gone too far with the girl, because she startled out of her dance, spun around and laid the offender out flat with a blow that would have decked a horse. Rowan exchanged glances with Shimur who was trying to keep playing, but the grin on his face was making it difficult. As the girl went back to her dancing, Rowan decided this was the time to give the red-haired man his song.

Turning her back to the crowd, she made eye contact with the drummer and bobbed her head at Shimur, signalling a solo in half time. As the sounds of the reed wailed out over the crowd the mood began to shift palpably. Rowan pulled a pair of finger cymbals out of her pack and struck them once, again, and then raised her voice in the familiar words of the Bridal Dance.


Written by Teran - Page 6 of Book 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The assassin nodded.

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

Teran shrugged "I used a dagger."

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Archeantus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Seven are missing." Fin said reluctantly.

Vermigard paused.

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

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

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

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

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

Fin nodded and became his master's shadow.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vermigard laughed.

"Why would I do that?" He chuckled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You have a name?" Vermigard inquired.

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

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

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

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

Vermigard smiled fiendishly, his eyes gleaming in the torchlight.

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

Gadianton nodded, intending such an action all along.

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

Written by Ariana

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

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

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

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

Written by Talonmane

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Pharsalus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sinister cackling sprung from the wells of his mind.

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

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

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

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

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

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

...NOW!

Written by Talonmane

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Pharsalus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Talonmane

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Archeantus

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

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

Gadianton awaited his point, his eyes stern and unwavering.

"...Belongs to Teran."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

”How long?”

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

Gadianton waited for the explanation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Teran

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

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

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

"What do you want?" Fin snarled.

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

"What kind of information?" Fin asked dejectedly.

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

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

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

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

Written by Archeantus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was then the mage turned and finally addressed them.

“Who dares disturb my work?” He hissed.

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

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

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

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

“Or?” Gadianton asked still approaching the mage.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Teran

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A surprisingly pleasant smile creased Teran's face.

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

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

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

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

"Thank you." Teran said.

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

Written by Turin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"'Ow can I 'elp ye?"

Looking into the eyes of the tavernmaster, he replies,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"All is ready, milord."

Pouring a glass of wine, Ithramir smiles and says,

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

Written by Wilhelm

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

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

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

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

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

Written by Archeantus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The mage laughed in delight.

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

“By employing you.” Gadianton returned.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Your brother. Was he an illusion also?”

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

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

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

“I like him.” Came the response.


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…


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.


Written by Pharsalus - Page 9 Book 1

Geirik remained silent as he emerged from the black haze of the closet. The stranger stood only paces away, darting his eyes about...

Habit, no doubt...he is skilled, certainly.

The old man turned his eyes toward the door, his face like hardened leather, his eyes cold and absent.

"How do you plan on getting out of here?"

The rogue's voice sounded almost mute among all the rugs and wall tapestries. Truthfully, Geirik hadn't thought that far. The book he now concealed in his pocket likely contained nothing of any real use. Perhaps it was for his own peace of mind that he even considered taking it at all. But now was not the time for such ponderings.

Geirik began walking toward the door, never making eye contact with the man standing near him. "It matters little to me how I find my way out.," he said calmly. "It is night, the castle is dark, and the powers of shadow are at my beck and call -- it is a nonissue. I must find the whereabouts of the daughter of the slain king."

He paused as his calloused hand touched the cold, gritty iron door latch. "You are a man of stealth and are no doubt one familiar with the Ancoran underground. You may have some use to me yet, but now is not our time to discuss it. I am already behind schedule, and I fear there is far more transpiring here than what my mortal eyes are seeing."

Without hestitation or pause, the matted, wet, lanky old man put down his weight upon the ornate handle. A gring, a click, and the low moan of ancient hinges became clearly audible through the hewn stone rooms and hallways. Geirik knew it was only a matter of time before some wandering guard became curious. He turned to face the hooded stranger.

"You had better find a new hiding place -- that was no doubt heard by any guard within a hundred feet of us. I cannot guarantee I will there for you again."

Geirik nodded one last time before stepping into empty hallway. A nearby wall sconce threw a glow that glistened and sparkled against the polished stone walls -- Geirik smiled. He took a breath, straightened his cloak, and began making his way down the hall. He kept close to the walls and closer still to the shadows. As he moved, one would swear the shadows in the corners and doorfacings shifted and parted like a wake behind him. Geirik had much ground to cover, and he still didn't know in which direction he should turn his attentions. The young heiress would no doubt have a formidable escort, and they had no doubt already left the city gates.

Taverns, whorehouses, the streets -- any may contain invaluable information. Time is of the essence...

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm approached the Elven fortress of Lothiel-Gadith with some hope. Here at last was a place of safety where Mavigan could come to terms with her situation. Her withdrawn silence, while worrisome to the others, was a hopeful sign to him, as it indicated an end to direct refusal of facts leading to a state of introspection. It reminded him of his own state during his vigil and his vision quest. As he was sworn to the All Father, so was she, like all the women of her line, sworn to the Goddess. However, being sworn was not enough.

He was aware of Mavigan's inability to channel the power of the Goddess. To do so required one to surrender completely to the divine being and drop all barriers, becoming a living channel for the divine power. Just as well, because attempting to channel that much power without dropping all resistance to it would likely prove fatal and for that reason the divine withheld their power until the way was clear. This surrender was difficult for anyone, particularlly for a young, independent and rebellious spirit like Mavigan. Or for himself, he mused.

It had taken Wilhelm quite some time to overcome his own stubborn pride and become one with the All Father, thereby gaining access to the powers the All Father provided to his paladins. Fortunately, the gods did try to guide their sworn subjects, resulting in dreams and feelings about certain actions. Giving in to these feelings lowered the barriers to the god, allowing the divine guidance to become stronger and clearer. When one finally reached the state of full surrender and became one with the god, the divine voice became a permanent presence and supporting friend, often providing informative visions and instant warnings of danger as well as a comforting presence. Wilhelm hoped that Mavigan's state of introspection would provide an opening for the Goddess to begin guiding Mavigan towards the union that her mother and sister had achieved.

His musings were interrupted by their arrival at the fortress. He conferred with the Chatelaine and arranged for servants to lead her off to a bath and provide fresh clothing and a meal and excort her to her chambers. He cautioned them to respect her silence. When her clothing had been taking away for cleaning, he borrowed one form-fitting dress that he saw was in need of some repair. "Tell her this needs attention," he said to the Chatelaine.

If she did indeed come to terms with the situation, Mavigan would need to have new clothes suitable for a Queen in official mourning. Wilhelm believed that her first desire would likely be to avenge the death of her family. Adopting formal mourning would also provide a year's respite from any question of alliance by marriage. He also hoped that she would decide that if she was to be Queen then she would rule, rather than be a puppet. The Queen of Ancora was also the High Priestess of Nagarren and subservient to nobody. The last thing Wilhelm wanted was a puppet Queen.

To that end she would also need field clothing, as she would undoubtedly be in the field a fair part of the time. She was a good rider. Her father forbade her to learn manly arms (although Wilhelm knoew she had cheated a little) but hunting was acceptable and Magivan was good with a bow. Wilhelm also knew that a royal sceptre could become a good mace if needed, and resolved to teach her arms if she asked. Light armor suitable for a horse archer would work, giving her protection and a means of defending herself at range, without too much encumberance. There would likely be a need of armor, as assassins would surely be sent against her. Besides, Mavigan had always liked stories of Amazon huntresses, and practicing horse archery wearing light armor would provide the outdoor excercise a healthy young woman needed.

Wilhelm took the dress to the armorer for measurements, explaining his needs, then to the seamstresses for repair and to provide a pattern for the clothing Mavigan would need. The head seamstress assured him the dress would be repaired in time to be sent back with the other clothing and that they would have a comfortable mourning dress ready the next morning, with other clothing to follow.

Wilhelm then attended to his horses in the stable, seeing them fed, groomed, and put out to pasture. Finally he took himself to his own bath, meal, and bed. His chambers adjoined Mavigan's, although they did not connect. Here at last he should be safe. Following old habits, however, he still threw the bolt to bar the door and locked the windows as well. He looked forward to a long, quiet, undisturbed night's rest, the first he would have for a long time. He hoped one morning to be awakened early by the sound of Mavigan once again singing the Morning Hymn to Nagarren as a sign of resuming her devotions.

Written by Vylia

"I'm bored!!"

Keeryn sighs as she tosses another pillow in the corner to join the pile of similarly shredded cushioning. "I wish someone would come and talk to me. Nobody seems to want to say anything to me since I ended up with them, except for Wilhem on the trip over here... I wonder if they'd let me go talk to him." Jumping up she walks over to the door, jerking it open so quickly the guards all spin around to face her, hands on their weapons. Keeryn just stands there a moment, a bit surprised at their reaction before she smiles at them, "I don't suppose I could be allowed to go talk to Wilhelm could I?"

One of the guards makes a few hand gestures, and another heads off down the hall, presumably to ask permission for her to leave her room.

Written by Pharsalus

Geirik moved slowly, room to room, corridor to corridor, stepping in and out of shadows like a child through a series of closets. His face remained almost expressionless as he moved up behind one guard after another. They were posted almost at every room entrance, but Geirik had no trouble quietly picking them off, sucking the very life from their veins and dragging them back into the teeming cloud of otherworldly black that surrounded him. All the while, a low murmur -- almost a cackling -- invaded his every waking thought.

Heh heh heh heh heh....oh, Geirik. I see you have developed a taste of life, hmm? The voice cackled to itself softly. Geirik struggled to ignore it but frowned as the creature's accusation manifest itself in one more guard being tucked away into the shadows. He snarled, but continued working, scouting every room for any sign or shred of information that may give the whereabouts of the young heiress.

I taste it only to prepare myself for the taste of your destruction.

The voice cackled, more loudly this time.

Indeed, Geirik, indeed! Denial and idle threats will win you nothing in this game, mortal. You know no more of me than what you did when I first inhabited you! Not my name, not my true resting place, and not my unsurmountable level of power. You're a worm, Geirik...nothing more...like all humans.

Geirik forced his eyes shut for a moment, pausing in what appeared to be a pantry. He struggled to ignore the creature within him. It was becoming harder and harder for him, regardless of how often he denied it. The Liche was only growing in power. With every use of his abilities, Geirik felt himself slip closer and closer to nothing...to void...cold and unrelenting. He looked around, seeing only sacs of potatoes and racks of salted meats. In a pile to his right was an intricate system of shelves and cabinets, all containing a various assortment of culinary morsels. The Bounty Hunter suddenly realized how hungry he was -- it had been hours, if not days, since he'd last eaten. Honestly, he couldn't rightly remember. He couldn't remember anything anymore -- another side effect of his "cohort."

Geirik slid back against the darkest wall of the room. Only a thin sliver of light cut a path across the floor and up the opposite wall, casting only the glow needed to see the outlines of the objects in the room. Feeling his way about the sacs next to him, Geirik withdrew what felt to be an apple. Without smiling or showing any tint of emotion, Geirik bit into the fruit with a cold indifference. He had to eat. Though his life was greatly extended by the Liche's touch, he was still human and still demanded all physical requirements related thereto.

So Geirik ate, quitely, in a pantry only a hundred yards or so from the main entrance to the estate. Here he wated, eyes closed and head against the wall, as relaxed as a cursed many could be, eating his apple. He could hear whispers and the sounds of boots upon stone and chain upon plate. Through the wall behind him, he could almost make out the sound of guards laughing and jeering...Gambling, no doubt... It was going to be a long evening, he was sure. Had he only known where to direct his attentions, he would have felt much more comfortable.

Written by Feldspar

Feramas jumped somewhat at the abrupt opening of the door which he and a few other Rangers had been set to guard. Not having been with the troupe that 'captured' this creature(?) he set his hands on his weapon hilts.

"I don't suppose I could be allowed to go talk to Wilhelm could I?" It asked.

Looking to his companions, they made a few gestures, and Feramas knew he should go see Ithramir about her. Nodding to his companions, he headed off down the hallways.

Coming to Ithramir's quarters, he spoke with the guards quickly, informing them of what had transpired, and they let him in. He hadn't realized it was so late, as Ithramir was headed for his bed.

"Sorry sir, i didnt realize the hour. If you'll forgive my interruption, our 'guest' the female creature you returned with, she wishes to have word with Wilhem."

Written by Turin Wallace

Ithramir chuckled to himself as he almost made it to bed. Turning to Feramas, with a bit of consternation, he replies,

"Yes, she may go and speak to Wilhelm. Just be sure to escort her there and back."

Once Feramas left, Ithramir slid into his bed and began to sleep soundly.

Written by Feldspar

Feramas bowed out quickly and started down the hall to retrieve the strange creature. He arrived to find her in the doorway, in the midst of conversation with the remaining guards.

"You are allowed to speak with Wilhem, I am to escort you to his room, and back. However the hour is late, and Wilhem may very well be in bed. I suggest you wait until morning." He told her.

"If you are having trouble sleeping, eat this," He pulls some herbs from a concealed pocket in his cloak "they'll help you."

Written by Vylia

Keeryn just looked at the pouch in the ranger's hand before shaking her head, "I guess I wasn't paying attention to the time, but I'm bored enough to go to sleep without using any strange plants. I guess I'll go talk to him in the morning then," she replied, but slowly closing the door with a sigh. Walking over to the pile of sheets and blankets she had stripped off the bed she flops down into them before lying down to fall asleep.

The next morning she was up at the crack of dawn, before they had even brought her breakfast. Stretching she gets up and walks over to the door, pulling it open quickly, "I'm ready to go now!" Looking around to see if the same man from last night was still guarding her door she frowns. These elves all look the same to her.

Written by Teran

Teran moved swiftly through the shadows seeming so naturally in his environment that he could have slipped past guards without alarming them with his presence. A sense of belonging seemed to permeate from Teran while he was shrouded in darkness. Sense of belonging, perhaps the ultimate weapon. A fully armed man could walk past guards ordered to disarm guests in broad daylight if he appeared to belong in the environment, perhaps was dressed like a guard or delegate.

Teran had been dressed like a gardener the first time he had killed within the confines of the castle. He had lived their for months, he made friends, had rivalries, knew some of the guards by name, really the assassin knew everyone by name and face and profile, but the gardener wasn't as sharp as some of his tools. Of course he had changed quite a bit since then, he looked nothing like the gardener he had been, he walked with more confidence, had a softer voice, lacked the accent he had adopted, had paler skin and lighter hair.

A twinge of guilt for what he had done found it's way into his mind, but died when it reached Teran's cold heart. He did what needed to be done at the time, it was unfortunate, he mused, that what needed to be done at the time may not have been needed at all given the new twists and turns that had ensued. Teran had but one regret about his past, and slaying the royal family was not that regret.

Teran moved through filthy city streets with no apparent direction. He only had a destination and he was in no hurry to get there.

A scream pierced the air, so loud, so ragged it sounded like a wounded animal. A man was tied to a pole, screaming, begging, pleading for something. The words come out in a flurry, perhaps in another language. His gray eyes peered into the darkness, crying, shouting, screaming. His black hair was matted with filth, and he is bound to the pole with some sort of barbed rope. Rich, black blood is flowing from his body freely, yet despite the agony it caused, he attempted to squirm free. He was desperate, though obviously not for his own health or safety.

The man continued to struggle, black blood staining his pale skin gray. He shrieked until his voice was hoarse and he could not speak anymore. He struggled to free himself, flaying the skin from his bones, and every time he seemed to come close, the ropes that bound him would shift or re-adjust trapping him once more. The struggle seems to go on for hours, days even before the man's energy fails him and he lays limp in his bonds weeping as puddles of his blood pool under him.

"You know what you have to do." a calm voice said.

Teran snapped awake. He was no longer on the streets but in his room at a local tavern. He looked around and was suddenly aware that the covers on his bed were soaked with his sweat. He stood up, examining himself closely. He was amazed that the only scars he bore from that terrible day so long ago were the ones to his mind. He did not know how his body had healed so completely after being so torn apart.

He was torn from his thoughts by a sound from outside his door. A parchment was slipped through the crack under the door and he heard someone retreat back down the hallway. Without even opening it Teran knew who the ridiculously decorative envelope had been sent by. Sidgard had discovered something. Teran opened it up and scanned the fanciful text. The shadow of a smile creased his face as he paced around the room a few times. Someone knew where Mavigan had gone. He would pay the man a visit and find out just what he knew.

Written by Archeantus

They arrived at Ancora at dawn. Vermigard went off quickly to find out what his underlings had discovered. They had been away for a while and much could happen politically in the space of a short time. The city was nearly deserted; much of the Ancora was still asleep as the sun made its way along the white stone walls. The flag still flowed in the wind as it always had, the shining star glittered, but it felt hollow to those who had known it in the past.

The once grand city and its degenerative state would be a victory for some, but to Gadianton its course was all but finished. He watched as beggars pleaded with the city guards near the city square for food and water. The guards had a small encampment up and actually gave as they were asked, though the offerings were barely a ration. Beridane, Gadianton thought to himself, has finally learned his leadership must have the people’s support. Beridane was a fool. None can lead without respect. And often respect is lost when it is trying to be won.

In a way, Beridane was unknowingly polarizing the people of the land. His charitable actions had come too late and now he was only winning the lame and crippled. To those who still inhabited the city who had a shred of honor would see the act for what it was. A blatant lie. Those that could have worked in his favor had long deserted the city. Yet then again, Gadianton continued to meditate, many have come that were otherwise barred from the city.

They made their way toward a local tavern which had just barely opened, the owner having just placed the wooden sign through the window. As they walked through the door, a soft tug from behind caused Gadianton to turn suddenly. A flash of a blade cut the air as he whirled around. There stood an orphan with rich dark hair. It had grown long and hung just over bright sea blue eyes. The mornings light left a sheen across the boy’s head. He held out his hand.

“Might I ‘ave a silver or two for breakfast?” He asked, fully aware of the dagger inches from his face.

The rogue was about to act, but was enthralled suddenly by sheer light which exploded into his view.

She came from the shadows, her sword dripping with light. The moon was brilliant that night. The fires of destruction blazed all around them, embers showered like rain.

He accepted her duel.

She nearly won, but he had far more ambition to be beaten in skill. His blade bit deep into the magnificent green light that shone from the center of her chest. It shattered in pieces, and unleashed…

…Darkness…

Sight came back to him and he stumbled slightly. The boy still held his hand expectantly. His black heart was pounding in his chest. It was a memory of his past. Only a single memory. Only a thread in a great shadowy tapestry. Who was the woman? And what had happened there that had brought him to this place?

It didn’t matter, he thought as he recomposed himself. But it unnerved him. The memory was the stalking rogue in his heart. What intentions did it have?

Shaking his head he ignored the boy and walked into the tavern. The mage and the woman had found a table in a dark corner and were awaiting him. He did not speak till Vermigard returned to them. The bounty hunter strode into the dimly lit room with a glimmer of cunning in his eye.

“Gather your things, we leave for a small hamlet near the port of Westgale. We have word on a possible lead towards the location of Mavigan.” The bounty hunter announced.

A gold coin was thrown in the air toward Vermigard and he caught it expertly.

“Well done.” Gadianton said after his long silence.

Soon they secured horses and left the city. The Irrithica could not be used this time for Vermigard had never personally been to this particular location. And so they raced to glean what information awaited them.

Written by Feldspar

Yawning, Feramas looked at her. Didnt she realize the time? He guessed not, and so he stood up and adjusted his sword belt.

"Very well," He said, yawning a bit more, and offering his arm to her, "this way."

Written by Teran

Teran left his room hours before dawn, storing a mental note to pay Sidgard for his tip. Teran was headed to Westgale. One of the many refugee's in that city had apparently seen something and had at least an idea where the Princess had gone. The ride was not terribly long, but Teran rode hard, sensing that he was racing against time. When he finally made it to Westgale, Teran drifted into the Dancing Pike Tavern, searching for the informant.

He wasn't too difficult to find, sitting in the tavern with a girl in his lap. He was laughing loudly, shouting to the rest of the tavern. It was a strange sight because not everyone shared in his jovial mood and most tried to ignore him. Teran approached and invited himself to sit across from the main.

"Are you Kanan?" Teran asked in a wispy voice.

The man stared back for a moment, before booting the girl off his slap, slapping her bum as she walked away, feigning disappointment. Teran raised an eyebrow watching her leave before letting a small smirk surface onto his face. Teran dropped a small pouch that was bulging with bloodcoin on top of the table. The room quieted noticeably as many turned to locate the source of such a familiar and alluring sound.

Kanan cleared his throat and paled slightly before he blushed red. He grabbed the pouch and walked up the stairs beckoning Teran to follow him. The assassin did follow him up the stairs and into a room. He noticed a faint odor upon entering the room, and squelched the impulse to show some sort of disdain.

Kanan dropped down onto the small bed which cried out in protest under his weight, and looked up at the assassin.

"I was wunderin' which o' ya would git 'ere forst." he said with a thick accent.

"Who else is coming?" Teran asked?

Suspicion clouded Kanan's eyes briefly before it cleared up. "I didna git aney names, but thare was a lad tha' met with me in Ancora."

"You have my money, what do you know?" the Assassin asked.

Kanan grinned, revealing rows of yellowed teeth and proceeded to tell Teran about a night in a tavern out of town, recognizing the Princess. She was with elves, and they appeared to be heading north. He related bits and pieces of conversation he overheard. Ten minutes later Teran had a pretty good idea where Mavigan had gone. Teran also learned that Kanan was more than he appeared to be... though not much more Teran thought ruefully.

"Thank you for your assistance." Teran said, pulling out a second pouch of bloodcoin. "Here's a little extra." he said tossing it to Kanan.

"What's this fer?" he asked.

Teran smiled like a friend would smile to another friend and leaned close to Kanan and whispered into his ear "If you tell anyone I was here, or that anyone else has this information, I will hunt you down, and kill you while you sleep."

Kanan paled visibly, but the smile never left his lips. "Yer secrit is safe with mee." he said.

"Good" Teran said, and strode out of the room.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn just stared at his arm for a minute, not understanding what the strange gesture was all about, "Why are you holding your arm up like that? I thought you were going to show me where Wilhelm was..." she continues to stand there confused, waiting for him to lead the way.

Written by Feldspar

Understanding the confusion, Feramas just lowers his arm.

"I was stretching" He explained, then pointing down the hall, "Wilhems' quarters are this way."

He started walking, hoping she would know enough to follow.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn follows along after him, her tail swishing back and forth happily as she stares openly at the tapestries and other decorations along the walls. When the elf in front of her finally stops at a door, after a confusing number of twists and turns, she knocks several times rather loudly.


Written by Wilhelm - Page 10 of Book 1

Wilhelm is jarred awake out of his first peaceful night's rest in a long time by loud knocking on the door. Looking out the window he sees that it is barely dawn. Concentrating, he scans the nearby life forces and recognizes Keeryn's life force outside the door. "I should have known!", he thinks. He gets up and looks at his stained and worn bounty hunter disguise and then makes a decision. He opens his saddle bag and pulls out a carefully packed white robe with the three rings of the All Father on the chest. Garbing himself as a Crusader, he says the brief morning prayer to the All Father, then strides to the door. Sliding back the bolt, he opens the doot. "Good morning, Keeryn. What brings you here so early?"

Written by Vylia

Keeryn grins up at Wilhelm as he opens the door before she notices that he must have just woken up, "I've been so bored lately, I just wanted someone to talk to since they won't let me go outside... you aren't mad are you? I'm so used to being up this early, I guess I didn't think about you sleeping late." She stands there shuffling her feet as she stares at the floor, a bit embarrased.

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm grins at Keeryn. It was hard to be irritated with her, because it was clear that this was her nature. "Very well," he said, "but perhaps you would be more comfortable down below in this enclosed courtyard, as it has some nice trees as well as a fountain and benches." Wilhelm pointed out the window, where the courtyard could be seen below. He looked at the Elven Ranger and concentrated again.

"You would be Feramas, I believe. Would you be willing to guide us down to that courtyard below? It is enclosed, and so remains within the fortress. With your presence as well, I believe there should be no objection. Mavigan sleeps next door and I would prefer to avoid disturbing her Majesty. You can help answer Keeryn's questions, and perhaps some of my own. As it is early, perhaps you could also ask for some warm food so that we may break our fast together. Standing night guard can leave one both thirsty and hungry, as I know only so well." Wilhelm donned his fur-lined cloak, reversing it so that the hidden All Father's Sign could be seen against the white fur. Placing his faith hammer at his belt he stood ready, gesturing at the corridor outside.

Written by Vylia

"That would be wonderful," she responded as a wide smile blooms on her face, "I hate being stuck indoors, it's so stuffy, even if they did give me a little outcropping to go out on, it's so small and hard. No grass or trees or anything." At that she falls in beside Wilhelm and waits for Feramas to lead the way.

While they were walking down the corridor she looks up at Wilhelm, "So what do you do all day anyway? You don't sound very bored. And how come everyone seems to protective of Mavigan? She doesn't look weak or anything, and from what I can tell only a little younger than me."

Written by Wilhelm

"It is the custom amongst us humans, as well as the elves, to have leaders who can make decisions that involve large groups of us. Everyone has their own opinion on how something should be done, and somebody has to make the final decision based on the input of the others. In a military group, such as this fortress garrison, that leader is the battle commander, in this case Ithramir. In a village such as the one me met in, that would be the Headman or, in a larger town, the Mayor. For this entire region the leadership rests on the King and Queen." Wilhelm saw Faramas speak to a servant about sending some food to the courtyard, which they were approaching. He turned back to Keeryn to continue.

"In the case of their Majesties, the Gods themselves are involved. The King was anointed by the High Priest of the All Father, thereby granting to him the divine support of the All Father. The Queen was more directly connected with the Goddess Nagarren, because the Queens of Ancora have always been the High Priestess of Nagarren. The Queen's eldest daughter is her heir and becomes the next Queen and High Priestess. When she marries her husband becomes King. Mavigan's older sister was the Queen's heir. The King's brother, Beridane, was not in the line of succession. He grew jealous of them and had the King, Queen and Heir murdered. By luck and the favor of the Goddess, Mavigan was not in Ancora at the time and was not killed. As the sole remaining daughter of the Queen she became the hier and now the rightful Queen and High Priestess of Nagarren. She will be the leader of us all, once she accepts her destiny, and the true representaive of the Goddess. This is why we treat her with such special deference and care."

They reached a bench beneath a large oak tree. Wilhelm seated himself and motioned for the others to be seated. He saw a servant coming with a covered basket. "And now we can break our fast here under the sky."

Written by Feldspar

Feramas just nodded, and quietly led them to the courtyard. He remained out of the conversation, although he did listen. He had learned her name at the least.

Taking the basket from the servant, Feramas handed it to Wilhem. He wouldnt mind having a bite to eat, but not when he was on duty. Perhaps later.

As Wilhem and Keeryn began eating, Feramas wandered towards another nearby tree, it seemed to be a good vantage point to keep an eye on the two, and the rest of the yard.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn ate quickly. She wasn't really hungry, having eaten a large meal the night before, but she thought she would humor Wilhelm by at least having a little. After she had finished she stood up and stretched. She did some flips and rolls before standing back up in front of him, "But why would someone kill their own brother? What is so great about being king that someone else can't do?"

"Where I come from the king doesn't actually do much of anything except sit around and make a few important decisions now and then. The rest of us get to have all the fun, doing the hunting, and playing games and things, while he is pretty much confined to the village since him being hurt or killed would be a big blow to morale. We would still be able to carry on just fine until someone else was selected though."

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm chuckled. "Indeed, your description is similar to a comment King Pallanon once made to me, complaining that everyone else had all the fun while he had to stay in Ancora to deal with all the affairs of state and review endless documents. Indeed, he adopted a stiff formal demeanor to the public to hide his own wish for freedom to have fun. The King and Queen tried to teach their children their duty to forgo their own desires and carry out their duties, and perhaps they were too stern in this instruction. The oldest daughter obeyed dutifully, but Mavigan rebelled against this loss of free will and would often leave the palace to have fun by masquerading as a commoner."

Wilhelm stood up and continued. "A good King rules wisely and gently, convincing the Council and others of the right choice so that they make the right decisions themselves. A good King does this as a duty and a responsibility, and looks to the security and wellbeing of the people as the primary goal. When this is done well, the people see only a gentle guiding hand and the rule of the King and Queen is seen as light and benevolent. And so it was in Ancora, and the King and Queen were loved by the people."

Wilhelm tidies up the remains of breakfast and placed them back into the basket. He stretched, and then leaned against the tree and continued. "Beridane, however, is a Bad King. He desired the crown out of ambition to control others, and looks only to maintain and increase his control of others. He cares little for the people, save only for how they can better serve him and supply his wants. He hired an assassin to slay his brother and his brother's wife and children because he wanted the crown and had no legal claim to it, save only in the case where he was the only living relative left. Had the assassin succeeded in slaying Mavigan as well, then this would have been the case. So long as Mavigan lives, Beridane is an unlawful usurper, as well as a murderer. Already the kingdom is falling apart through lack of guidance and his oppression of the people.

Sadly, he holds control because of the support of a number of lesser nobles who also wanted more power and who combined their forces to assist Beridane is usurping control upon the death of the Royal Family. The only hope for the people is for Mavigan to assume the mantle of Queen and High Priestess and to gather the support of the loyal nobles and people in the countryside, and of allies such as the elves, to form an army able to defeat Beridane's forces and to avenge the death of her family by retaking Ancora and restoring her to the throne that is now her right and her duty to hold."

Written by Vylia

"For people who supposedly follow a God and Goddess, you all seem to have very little faith that people could rule themselves. Seems like an awful lot of trouble over a silly title if you ask me." With that Keeryn leaps up the side of the tree and grabs one of the larger low-hanging branches, swinging around it to land in a sitting position, her legs swinging lazily over the side as she stares down at Wilhelm.

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm looked up at Keeryn. "Indeed, it is a lot of trouble, and if enough people followed the practices of the God and Goddess properly this would not have happened. I can only hope that our young Queen can rally those who do follow the God and Goddess so that this evil can be overcome and the people can once again return to peace and prosperity."

He looked up at his own window, and then over to see the full light of the dawning sun begin to enter the windows of Mavigan's chambers. She would have to face more than just the dawn's light soon enough.

Turning to Keeryn again, and gesturing to the large enclosed courtyard, he said "This is your opportunity for some outdoor exercise amongst these trees. I will see if you can be granted regular access here. You might also like to talk to our young elven ranger there, as he could tell you something about the elven society, which is rather different from the ways of Ancora."

Wilhelm leaned back against the tree to enjoy the dawn sunlight, and the pleasant nature of the courtyard trees and flowers, and to watch for signs of movement in Mavigan's window.

Written by Archeantus

They crested the small hill that overlooked the small hamlet near the rocky coast. They rode hard, determined to rush this world to war. The sun was drowning below the sea off in the distance leaving the landscape lush with dimming golden light.

Galloping down the ravine, through dense foliage, they finally came upon their goal.

Four horsemen, all heavily cloaked, dismounted and made their way to a tavern that had seen its fair share of visitors in the past couple of weeks. The rumors had sprung around the town like wildfire. Many folk had taken wild guesses, some where true, most were false. But one man had it right for he’d seen the princess when she was young. He thought he was clever in selling the information. Thought the gods had finally smiled on him. He was a roach of a man. Fed himself on others work, and planned to eek out his existence with the money he’d pull in from his “choice encounter.”

The sky was a sort of fiery orange red, and as the tavern door opened, Kanan looked and beheld the amber firmament, silhouetted by a dark figure. There was a slight warm gust of wind that sifted in. He watched the four strangers come into the somewhat populated tavern and look markedly around. He watched them ask the bartender a question and then he was pointed out. Smiling a toothy grin, Kanan’s eyes glittered in greed.

Those that knew him wondered what he was up to. A man like that never knew what he was getting into. He often seemed oblivious to certain commonly understood things. The four strangers then walked up to the lone table where Kanan sat. He was transparently feigning his complete awareness of what they wanted.

“You’re Kanan?” A man with a large brimmed hat whispered. The man spoke with a small tinge of amusement.

“That be me.” Kanan blubbered nonchalantly in return, pretending he was an expert in these matters.

The man pointed to a leather pouch dangling from his belt. Obviously the payment requested.

Kanan nodded, and motioned for them to follow him upstairs.

Once they were all in, Kanan looked both ways down the hall, before he shut the door and locked it.

Turning around, he explained with a grin, “Never know who might be listenin’ this ‘ere is big information.”

They said nothing and waited.

Grunting, he continued, “Lemme see yer coin. I trust ya brought da’ asked amount?

The one who had spoken with him loosed the black leather pouch from his belt and poured its contents onto his gloved hand. Seeing his treasure, Kanan smiled once more and rubbed his greasy hands together. He almost licked his lips, but realizing his overabundance of excitement he quickly put on a serious face. The man closed his hands and quickly placed the gold coins back into the pouch.

“A’right, I believe ya wish ta know where the princess is?”

“We do. How did you come to know this information?”

“Well I spotted her about a week ago, jus’ downstairs. It was a lively night, lemme tell yas. She was accompanied with, uh, five armored men, musta been da’ guard. Da’ moment I spotted her I knew her, ‘cause I’d seen her b’fore. She looked ta be angry, if ya ask me. There was singin’ and dancin’ well all of a sudden, this elf with fine plate on, called out that we were to all leave. Then a ton more elves came in. I wasn’t gonna risk my neck, ‘cause I could tell they meant business, but, uh, I may be daft at times, but I knew what was goin’ on. They were takin’ her. I know ‘dat Beridane over in Ancora wants ‘er dead. So I watched ‘em, what direction they took. They went north, more den likely to the elf lands.” He related proudly.

The one that handed him the money looked back to one that stood apart from the others and nodded to him.

“Did you hear anything about what they planned to do with her?” The forefront one asked turning back around.

“Alls I remember was the one elf offering to help and protect the princess from what I heard listenin’ outside.” He answered.

“The elves were swarming all over da place at dat point, so I hid meself and watched what I could.” He added with a shrug.

The forefront one turned once more at the one at the back awaiting approval.

“Give him his reward.” The one in back stated with an odd set of tone.

He was thrown his money pouch suddenly to which he was caught off guard, and it fell to the floor. He jumped to the ground, groping for his payment. And then he thought a shadow was cast over his bulging figure.

The slender hooded one stood over him and in the next instant he squealed like a pig, and fell to the floor with a thud. The last thing that went through his head before the ornament dagger was the idea that he should have charged more.

The knowledge would have been priceless to some. Many would kill to know it…and to keep it unknown.

Jasmine leaned over the oaf’s body and plucked the baited pouch from Kanan’s hopeless fingers. She tossed it back to Destrado, who latched it back soundly.

“How long will it take to get there?” Gadianton asked.

“Two days time.” Vermigard answered.

“Very well, let’s mount up.” Gadianton intoned as he headed to the door.

Hours later, when Kanan’s sad body was found, they also found a large sum of coin tucked far into his leather britches.

Little did Gadianton and his party know, but another had already obtained the precious information . . .

Written by Vylia

"Thanks for worrying about me, but I don't really need the exercise. I just can't stand being stuck in enclosed places. It's nice to just sit out here and relax." She stops swinging her legs as she looks down at him leaning against the tree, "Besides, being let out for exercise makes me feel more like a caged animal than a person."

"I don't think the elves really want to talk to me anyway. They certainly don't trust me, with four guards standing outside my door at all hours of the day. You'd think they expected me to turn feral and start attacking people or something."

Written by Archeantus

“North.” Gadianton hissed in his darkened mind as they rode in the dimming light. Such a small bit of information, yet such a broad road to follow to find the princess.

Vermigard had ventured periodically into the secluded wooden realm, but only in passing. The elves there, he had said, kept to themselves. Their strength was undetermined, as was their intentions in being there. All he did know about these particular elves were that they were far from their homeland.

“Exiles?” Gadianton had asked.

Destrado had shaken his head thinking they had a far more substantial reason for being there.

“They inhabit the land to stay the orcish forces that day by day become a greater threat.” Kishkumen declared suddenly.

Vermigard raised an eyebrow at the usual quiet mage.

“To the north resides an ancient citadel known as Lothiel-Gadith.” Kishkumen continued. “This would easily be the place with which the princess now finds herself.”

Gadianton pondered a few moments upon receiving such pivotal information.

“What is the relationship between the humans and elves?” He asked.

“In ages past there were wars,” Kishkumen interrupted. “Much of the time, it was decided we would keep our race untainted.”

Gadianton looked to the elven necromancer expectantly, waiting for further explanation.

“In other words, we thought we were superior in every form, and believed intermingling would weaken us.” He explained.

Gadianton waited yet for more, finding this news intriguing. The elves, he thought, posed to be a formidable and worthy foe.

“But as I have mentioned, there were wars. Not since the Age of Darkness had the two races clashed with one another.” He further explained. “And not since that dark time, had there ever been an alliance of all three of the ancient races. The elves were betrayed by their human comrades who sided with the Orcish might.”

“How long has this been?” Gadianton prodded thoughtfully.

“Long has it been since I kept track of the years that pass before my eternal eyes. I have lived to see many ages, as have countless of my kindred. Therefore, if you must know, the answer to your question is many hundreds of years.”

Gadianton listened intently, keeping watch ahead as the ancient elf continued to speak.

“Yet, Tura (the elven word for Master) you must know this of the elvish people. My kind reveres life in all forms. Therefore, war is a very delicate matter. You see, when an elf dies it is as if a great oak has fallen to the floor, one that had lived for centuries. When a human dies, most of my kind would view it as equal to the death of a small plant. Hence, my kind believes they risk far more when war is brooding. Especially with humans who grow more reckless and skilled, “He added interestingly. “As the years pass by.“

“And so you see, my people fear their demise. The more they live, the more they revere their lives, the more they fear to lose it. I do not anticipate the high kingdom to get involved in this affair.”

“And what of these elves who have taken the princess?” Gadianton asked.

“I cannot foresee what they plan.” Kishkumen replied after a lengthy pause. “But I will confess, much is to be told of the limitless depth that is the soul of an elf. In some ways, my kind are woefully predicable…”

“And…?” Gadianton goaded.

“In other ways, they are not.” The necromancer said, his darkened eyes flickered in the last of the dying light.

“You speak of yourself?” Gadianton assumed.

“If that is what you wish to believe, then so be it. Yet you must know, I am no longer considered an elf in the eyes of my kindred. I have become something…different.”

“You revere death.” Gadianton declared softly.

The mage smiled.

“I am their worst nightmare.”

“And you know this citadel?”

“I have been there many times.”

Written by Teran

The door clicked shut behind the Assassin as he moved swiftly around his tiny room recovering the items he would need for the next leg of his journey. He needed to travel quickly, which unfortunately also meant he needed to travel dangerously. Teran aligned the objects in a rough circle on the floor, while preparing himself mentally for the journey ahead.

He thought over all the information he had been given about Mavigan's location. He knew of many places to the North that the Elves coule hide a princess, but one location seemed the most obvious to him. It was a fortress, most probably did not even know of its existance. The assassin smiled, hopefully not too many would learn of her location, he did not wish to see her killed and knew that her best hope of survival from the assassins Beridane would undoubtedly send when he discovered her location would be Elven senses and skill, but he did not trust such things to ensure that Mavigan remained safe.

The assassin knelt down and closed his eyes having gathered everything he would need. His breathing slowed and he became completely still and his face became blank. Through his closed eyes Teran saw many gateways open up to him. Threads of reality leading in every direction, passages to specific locations. Teran did not know how or why they existed, but he knew they had been created by someone.

He examined many of the threads carefully, sensing where they led before he found one that was suitable. The assassin reached out and grasped for the thread he had chosen. Searing pain blasted through the assassin's body however he, his gear, and his circle were gone. The only evidence of his passing was a black, bloody handprint on the wall near where he had been kneeling.

Teran woke up, curled in the fetal position, his own blood pooling underneath him. He got to his knees and retched more blood, cleaning out his stomach. His head felt like it was going to explode, and his whole body ached as it began healing from the trauma of the spell he had just cast. He panted for breath and became dimly aware of his surroundings. He could faintly hear water through the ringing in his ears and he could see that he was surrounded by trees.

The assassin spent the next hour becoming familiar with his immediate surroundings while recovering from his violent travel. He discovered the citadel nearby visible from a tree top, though he was at the base of the mountain that the fortress was on. Teran knew he was in the elven lands, and he was sure he was near the Princess. He searched cautiously for a way up or into the fortress and discovered a tunnel. He crept into it and began making his way towards his goal, Mavigan.

Written by Ariana

Bright sunlight streamed through the window and exploded with full force upon Mavigan’s closed eyelids. The painful light was enough to wake her, and she blinked reddened, puffy eyes a few times before sitting up and covered her face with a pillow.

Mavigan hated crying. It made the eyes swell, the nose run, and the head ache, not to mention the fact that it turns ones complexion into a blotchy, reddened mess. As she gently sat up and rubbed her face with her hands, she realized she suffered from each and every one of those complaints. Her head pounded and the morning light felt as if hot pokers were being pushed into her eyes.

Whimpering with pain, she sat still for a few moments, attempting to adjust to the morning. Finally, she removed her hands from her face and looked around the room with squinty, blinking eyes. Someone had been in her room recently, she noticed. And she had been so exhausted she had heard nothing.

That thought appalled her like nothing else would, and she practically leapt from the bed, her eyes darting cautiously around the room searching for the intruder. Finding no one, her heart rate returned to something more akin to normal, and she went to the table to see what gifts this unnamed person had left.

The first thing she noticed was a washbasin, filled with cool, clean water. Mavigan wasted no time taking advantage of this and washed the sleep and tears from her face. The cool water was a balm to her aching eyes and head, and she took her time about her ablutions. Once the pounding had receded somewhat, she turned her attention to the breakfast tray some kind soul had provided. Tearing off a hunk of cheese and sandwiching it in some bread, she turned her attention to the third pile of items placed on her table.

Lying on top of a pile of cloth were her daggers. Lying her half eaten repast down, she picked up one of her daggers and examined it closely. Her guardian angel had seen fit to sharpen them, it seemed. The feel of the weapon in her hand was comforting, and she smiled gently as she placed them in their sheaths. Once that was done, she could turn her attention to the mound of dark cloth. As her mind’s eye finally translated the shapes that were before her, she murmured, “Oh please, by all that is Holy, no!”

Trembling hands reached out and shook out the cloth, its hem tumbling towards the ground. She gazed with horror at the garment in her hands. The dress was simple, obviously created quickly, but with care. The dark folds were devoid of ornament, and the cut was similar to the one dress she had packed when she had left the palace. Though it resembled her other garment, Mavigan knew that this was different. This was a dress of mourning.

Her heart beat painfully in her chest as she stared at the vile thing. It wasn’t that Mavigan was unaccustomed to dresses. Though she preferred trousers and tunics, and practically lived in them when she could, she realized that there were just some times when a girl had to dress like a girl. But this was a garment of mourning. It declared to everyone that she was grieving for the loss of someone close to her, opening her up to the pity of others. Mavigan didn’t think she could bear the pitying looks, the abrupt silences when she walked into rooms, the avoidance of topics thought to be distressing. Yes, she was grieving, but she didn’t want to proclaim it to everyone she encountered. Sure it was custom and “tradition”, but it was a stupid idea. What the hell business was it of theirs anyway?

Panicked, she glanced back to the table to see if there were any other garments lying on the table. There were none – not even the clothes she had worn upon arrival. Her eyes narrowed as she examined her mourning attire once again. She felt sure Alaric was behind this. “That man is too uptight for his own good!” she shouted to the empty room. “When I get my hands on him…..”

She left the threat unfinished, though her anger made her nearly empty stomach churn, and cast a critical eye over her nightshift idly wondering if she could simply wear it around the fortress. The thought of Alaric’s horrified expression as he saw her walking around in only her nightclothes was highly entertaining, but in the end, it would embarrass her more than it would him. Sighing mightily as if she were the most persecuted person on the entire planet, she wriggled into the dress and smoothed it down. Secreting her daggers on her person, she strode purposefully to the doors to her room and threw them open. The guards placed outside her door looked shocked at her sudden appearance, her face flushed, her manner dark, and her eyes burning with anger.

“Which way to Alaric’s room?” she demanded.

The guard did not answer verbally, but merely pointed down the hall. Mavigan turned in that direction and started to march down the hall, the two very confused guards trailing behind her. When they indicated they had reached the right door, Mavigan pounded on it with her fist.

“Alaric! Get out here this instant!” , she demanded, tapping her foot impatiently when the door did not open immediately.

After what felt like hours, but was actually only a few seconds, a half-asleep, bleary-eyed Alaric peered around the door.

“Your highness?” he asked, confusion etched into his face.

The use of the title only served to enrage her further. Just because she was Queen, didn’t mean she wanted to be addressed as such. There he was again, insisting on form and propriety. “You jerk!” she yelled, punctuating the statement with a solid hit to his jaw. As Alaric lay on the ground wondering what had happened, she screeched, "If I want new clothes, I will commission them MYSELF!” She punctuated this statement with a hard kick to his leg.

The two guards behind her seemed to be trying to decide if they should intervene or not, but before they could reach a conclusion, the girl turned on her heel, marched back to her room, and slammed the door. Once inside, she returned to her breakfast, suddenly feeling much better than she had in a very long time.


Written by Wilhelm - Page 11 of Book 1

Wilhelm looked up from the courtyard as he clearly heard Mavigan's shrieks. "Ah well," he said to himself, "perhaps she isn't ready for mourning clothes yet. It just so happened that the mourning dress could be made the fastest. At least the seamstress should be delivering the riding dress shortly, along with Mavigan's cleaned and repaired clothing, and consulting with Mavigan on party and formal outfits. Mavigan would have her say on the colors and designs of those." Wilhelm smiled. "At least Mavigan is showing some spirit again, instead of silence! Poor Alaric, that will teach him to sleep late." Wilhelm chuckled.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn looks up at the castle as she hears shouting. After hearing Wilhelm's explanation she giggles a bit. "She screams pretty loud for someone so small. Who is Alaric by the way? And why does she need different clothes for riding? What's the point of clothes that can't be worn anywhere? Waste of materials." Scratches her head behind her ears as she tries to think through what Wilhelm just said.

Written by Archeantus

The forest yielded only small patches of morning light to sift through to the forest floor.

Jasmine awoke early, ever so slowly. Like a panther she meticulously rose from her leafy bed, and gradually, quickly, she looked to see if any were awake. Her only concern was the hooded man, in the elven cloak. So strange, almost alien. She thought to herself. She didn’t want any part of his plans. Yet why was she here? Why had she agreed to become one of his followers? Why did she kill? She hated herself for what she was, and how her blackened heart pumped the dark red vengeance throughout her veins. If she followed this path, in the end, she would not be able to contain herself. She would kill uninhibited, unrestrained, she would fall and the entire world would spit on her grave.

Like soft darkened amber, her legs moved forward, the morning mist concealing most of the slumbering rogues, leaving her little reaction time. She had to escape; the faintest hope still glittered within her. This, the smallest of stars, had imbedded itself deep into her murky soul. It was a memory, and one she could not kill, no matter the shadow that deepened within her.

The expansiveness of the sheer size of the forest unnerved her. The towering oaks all seemed to be looking down on her with pity, so full of life, and she, full of death. All at once she was a small little girl again, sweet, innocent, pure. And all at once she screamed silently at the ravaging thought that she has caused this tragedy.

No! She thought bitterly. I didn’t create my vengeance. It was handed to me, like a dagger to my innocent heart. I must survive, everything depends on my survival.

She was a soul within a soul…

Suddenly a flock of white birds erupted nearby. A shock shot down her spine and she quickly looked down to see Gadianton’s dark eyes glaring at her.

“Tsk tsk.”

The mage suddenly arose from the mist, his almond shaped eyes outlined with power. His slender hand motioned toward her and suddenly her own hand acted on its own accord!

Then her arm slowly reached for her dagger in its sheath. Taking it now, it turned its point inward toward her neck. She couldn’t believe what was happening, her free arm grabbed her own wrist and tried to stop it.

Gadianton stood resolutely.

“We’ve entered your mind and know the struggle you make to live. We also know of your obsession to satisfy your desire to kill. I can say the word now, and it will all end. Or you may give in to your lust for blood, and walk the fine line of hope.” He said, appearing to be dark and powerful.

She continued to fight, but her heart served two masters, it was impossible to win.

“How can one so beautiful fall so far from its loft, where it is admired and loved?” Gadianton questioned clandestinely.

She didn’t answer, for she hated the question.

“You were pushed.” He whispered slowly. “Pushed.” He said again.

She shook her head and lowered her free arm.

Hope? She asked herself. What is hope?

The dagger fell to the forest floor, and the mage’s hand slowly lowered.

She stooped down and lifted the dagger back of her own free will.

Looking at it oddly, she then sheathed it back to its home.

Gadianton walked by her and mounted his steed.

She followed without thinking; walking down the path she knew would destroy her.

Vermigard awoke suddenly to his companions atop their horses.

“We ride bounty hunter; we shall reach the citadel by nightfall.” Gadianton said, veering his horse around.

They soon rode off, hard toward the rising sun.

As the ground passed by beneath them, Jasmine knew, her chances of escape dwindled the further she went . . .

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm turned to Feramus. "It seems the young Queen is awake. I must go make some arrangements. I suspect Queen Mavigan might want a morning ride. Could you please tell the stables to ready my two horses, and also alert the guards that I may be taking her riding and that we will need to be wary of assassins from Beridane attempting to sneak into the fortress or lurk just outside. Take Keeyryn with you, so she can see some more of this fine citadel. You can tell her about life in the citadel."

With that he hurried off, and arrived at the Seamstress. "Queen Mavigan is awake," he said, "and does not seem to be in the mood for mourning dress. Perhaps later she will realize that a mourning dress is a type of light armor, since Official Mourning provides a year's protection against the hordes of noble suitors likely to descend upon her soon. Please take her the new riding dress, if it is ready, and her cleaned and repaired clothing, as she will want a choice of clothing. This might be a good time to go over plans for party and formal clothing, as she loves to dance and the sight of pretty fabric may improve her mood. You may tell her that I would be happy to take her out riding after you are finished. Here is some coin to cover the expenses." He handed her a jingling pouch, and she assured him that the simple but pretty riding dress was even now being finished and that the traveling clothes were cleaned and ready.

Wilhelm then left to go consult with Ithramir concerning the fact that Mavigan had recovered from her withdrawal, and was not in official mourning. She would likely benefit from activity, and would need to be protected from any assassins that Beridane may send. Those assassins might well have the use of magic to aid them, as well as stealth. As Mavigan's secret Champion and Protector, quietly sworn as such at her birth, it was his duty to ensure her personal safety against all possible dangers. Wilhelm suspected that that was going to keep him very busy!

Written by Vylia

As Keeryn registers that Wilhelm had left her, and what he said an annoyed look appears on her face, "But I don't want to see more flat stone..." With that she drops down from the tree to look Feramas in the eyes. "I don't suppose you could convince them to let me go out when Wilhelm and Mavigan go, please?"

Written by Aethelwulf

Grinning as he rubbed his now very tender jaw, Alaric slowly sat up, and watched the retreating form of his charge. She was a handful to be certain, full of the vim and vigor of the young. Sighing, he leapt to his feet, and with a glare at the guards, who hurriedly averted thir gaze, he walked down the hall after the young Queen. Pausing briefly at her door, he gently rapped against the solid oaken door.

"Mavigan, I would like to speak with you for a moment, if I may"

Written by Feldspar

Somewhat startled by the sudden appearance of Keeryn, Feramas had to relax his muscles. Then he smiled.

"I'll see what I can do, though, you and Wilhem seem to be quite friendly." Feramas told her, "but, the problem is that Lady Mavigan will be with him, and i'm afraid I dont think everyone trusts you just yet."

She frowned at this, but he decided to change the subject.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn frowns at Feramas in response to his statement about not being trusted, but decides arguing wouldn't help her situation any.

"Your name is Keeryn, is it not?" He asked her. "You dont seem like a native of this land, not that I am, I came here by ship, from the Elven lands."

"I don't know how I ended up here honestly. All I remember is a large ball of flame heading toward my village, then everything went white and I was in the forest where I ran into your kind. I had been there for several weeks without running into anyone, so I assumed I was dead and in Heaven. The forests here really are nice, and very different from what I am used to. The trees where I come from are so large that it would take 10 of my people holding hands to circle some of them, and they are incredibly tall with vines hanging from some of the larget branches."

"As far as the humans, I had only met one before I encountered the ones in the village where we found Mavigan. He was an evil man, though we thought well of him at first. He showed us many incredible things, ways to make our lives easier, in exchange for knowledge of where to find some of the shiny stones we had on our island." She stops, thinking for a moment, "Something he called... gold and silfur... I think. We grew to trust him, eventually learned his language. He was very kind for several years. I was only 16 when he first arrived. But then a few months ago he suddenly changed, at first he only told us to leave his tower, but then he started to lay traps, both physical and magical, in the area near it, killing many of my people who used that area to hunt. One day we were awakened by what appeared to be the sun shining in the sky at night, and when I walked outside there was that large ball of fire."

"I guess that would make me the last of my people, since we only existed on that island in that one village, at least to our knowledge. Maybe others ended up in strange places as well, but I've never seen or heard anything about them." Keeryn scrunches her face up for a moment, "What a sad topic... what's your homeland like?"

Written by Ariana

Mavigan looked up from her breakfast as she heard the timid knock on her door. Her eyes narrowed a bit, as if she could see through the door to the person on the other side.

The plaintive request floated to her ears and Mavigan swallowed her biscuit. She supposed she could be a little charitable to the poor wretch. After all, it wasn't his fault he was annoying. She was quite sure he was born that way.

She rose from her chair and walked to the door. Opening it wide, she faced Alaric and glared, gesturing him inside with a curt motion of her hand. Once he was through the door, she slammed it shut.

"What?"

Written by Aethelwulf

With a great deal of effort, Alaric suppressed his first urge to take the young lass across his knee, and give her a good spanking. No. He was here for something else entirely.

"Mavigan, please allow me to speak without too much drama!"

Pulling up a chair, Alaric set down, and looking the young Queen in the eye, he spoke frankly.

"Button, I know that this is a horrid time for you. Your family...your father...," unexpected tears welled up in Alarics eyes, as he felt his throat tighten, "it would be a heavy burden for anyone, much less one who was so used to being free. And now....well....now your path is seemingly marked for you. What I want you to know, is that with the same oath that I swore to your father when I pledged my life to his service, I now pledge my service to you. I am here to help you in any way that I can, and will give my life in your defense if need be."

Written by Teran

Teran spent the next two days mapping the catacombs under the fortress, memorizing the layout should he need to escape through or hide within in the future. He gathered information and resources, and soon Teran was venturing into the fortress at night, mapping it out, getting to know it. Elves were the masters of the forests... but within cities and fortification, Teran was the master. He remained un-detected while creating a beleivable disguise, not that he intended to be seen in the first place, but it was a necessary precaution.

Soon he had located Mavigan, and her retinue, and all he could do from then on was wait, and remain vigilant.

Written by Varg

"Why this place? Why now? What is the purpose?"

I have spent my whole life exacting justice on those of evil. My life's work has filled my bag with riches, why am I being drawn to this place? Why is the name Mavigan filling my head so? I have scouted this place and have seen no signs of evil-doings here. I know there are god-type beings, but I have never bothered with such things. So, why does it seem these "god's" are bothering with me now? Am I to learn my purpose and past here? Is this one of the keys to unlocking who or what I am?

Varg mounts up on Belenus, and starts to make his way towards the gates. "Guess there is no time like the present (sigh). Come on Belenus, lets see what our future holds for us now."

As he makes his way towards the gates he notices two guards slowly moving in his direction. Varg slows Belenus down to a walk, and rides up to the guards.

"State your business."

"I am hear to request an audience with Mavigan."

"Who are you to request an audience with the Queen?"

"My business is my own to discuss with the apropriate individuals. No disrespect, but if you do not mind may I speak with someone of charge? I will wait here for whomever that may be. I do not expect shelter, as I know these are troubled and untrusting times."

Wow, I must be losing my touch. I know I did not scout the area long, but how did I miss the fact that she was the Queen?

Varg sits on Belenus while one of the guards heads back to make the request. The other guard has waited behind, eyeing the visitor suspiciously. The guard is smart enough to know not to mess with him though, after sizing him up he has seen he would be no match for Varg.

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm left Ithramir's suite, having concluded their discussion on Mavigan's security, her need for activity and training, and the likelihood that assassins were on the way, now that Mavigan's existence was known, and most likely her present location as well. This was complicated by the fact that Mavigan's supporters were also going to be coming here, and they were definitely needed, which left the problem of telling supporters from enemies. Wilhelm was happy to leave such securtity matters in Ithramir's hands, as he was the Commander of this fortress. Wilhelm chuckled to himself. "I'm going to be busy enough just dealing with Mavigan" he thought.

Wilhelm went down to the Armory to check on the progress of the horse archer armor he had requested for Mavigan, and was pleased to learn that they had cloth versions ready for fitting, from which they would make the actual light armor, which would be designed to be worn under a riding outfit. The female Armorer would go herself to Mavigan for the fitting and design discussion, as well as a discussion on archery equipment or any other weapons Mavigan wished to learn.

Passsing by the gate, he saw that a possible supporter had already arrived. Taking note of the mounted man's appearance, Wilhelm decided to go up to see Mavigan and Alaric and let them know of the arrival.

Written by Turin Wallace

After his meeting with Wilhelm, Ithramir talks to one of his engineers about the state of affairs at the citadel.

"How do we stand for room in this place?"

Vomir, the head engineer responds,

"I assume you mean how many more people can we hold?"

Ithramir responds,

"Yes."

Vomir responds,

"If we clear some of the older, rarely used structures we can gain room for about five-thousand more. We would be hard pressed to add more."

Ithramir,

"I noticed our river entrance is undefended except for a half-decayed iron gate. Could we..."

Vomir,

"Build an addition to fortify that point? Yes, it can be done."

Ithramir,

"How long?"

Vomir,

"With the materials, I would say in about six months we could have a large structure there. We need stone and lumber, plenty of it is available if we can get the people to gather it."

Ithramir,

"Then I leave you in charge. I want that structure able to house a good few hundred troops. Do not disappoint me."

Dismissing Vomir, Ithramir call for his lead armorer and weaponsmith. Upon arrival, he says to them,

"I know our stocks are low on new weapons and armor. We will soon have many people flocking here to join our allied banner and they will need weapons and armor. I want our forges from this point onward to not cease in making what we need. Our stocks of ore and wood are in abundance, use them up. I want you to start immediately."

Dismissing the elves, Ithramir then gets up to take a walk to clear his mind. Before getting too far, a guard runs up asking about a visitor at the gate asking for entrance to see Mavigan. Ithramir tells him to seek out Wilhelm, as it is he who is in charge of her safety.

"If Wilhelm allows the person in, we will accept them. Now go."

Now alone, Ithramir walks alone to a balcony overlooking the Citadel. Breathing deeply, he looks at the setting before him and he notes the peaceful atmosphere surrounding the Citadel. He knew war was now inevitable. Mavigan may think she knows the path she is on, but she has no idea what awaits her. The weight Ithramir now feels is nearly crushing. He has committed them to a two-front war, and if either front collapses there will be nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. The Orcs to the south and Beridaine to north. Dropping to his knees, he bends his head and says,

"Avandor ah Kaia'hanas beria min."

Written by Pharsalus

An ill rain fell on the city of Ancora and her beleaguered residents. From the urchin-infested docks to the flea-infested slums clouds of fog moved as phantoms, penetrating anything they touched with a cold, grimey dank. It was a sad sight for one who had seen the city in a more glorious state. His thoughts drifted back to younger, more carefree days when he longed to visit Ancora with his father. Geirik stood alone in the middle of a narrow alley that separated a phycisian's office and a stable. He had since purchased a hat to help keep out the rain, treated leather with a broad, circular rim. With his head angled low, one of equivalent height could only see his mouth and chin.

The Bounty Hunter began moving through the alley, feet sploshing and splorking in the rainwashed earth. It had been almost two weeks since he'd heard anything of the whereabouts of the young heiress. He had expended all known resources in hopes of netting any usefull information that may have been floating in the air of the underworld. It was like catching dandelion seeds in a wind storm -- the brothels, Thieves' guilds, and "Protection Agencies" were abuzz with rumors of a coming war between the forces of the new King and the Elves. Of which elves he was still unsure, but the mounting forces that touched down in Ancora's docks every day was tell-tale of impending conflict.

Geirik left the alley and began west down one of Ancora's main thoroughfares -- even it sat, for the most part, silent and destitute of life. As he walked, Geirik noted the bums on the north and south sides of the street, grabbing the occaisional passer-by by the arm and begging for alms. None approached Geirik. As if walking through vabor, men and women parted and scattered in Geirik's wake -- the old man could only maintain his typical cool. He knew his curse. No man would in his right mind beg Death's Harbringer for spare coin.

Perhaps there are advantages to this curse, Geirik thought sarcastically. His eyes were keened and alert for the slightest disturbance, his ears perked for any passing whispers of the Princess's whereabouts. Nothing -- nothing at all. Only rain's murmur could be heard, penetrated only by the occaisional hacking and coughing of a drunken fool.

Geirik continued to walk, mulling over his options, replaying every detail and conversation. Nothing leapt out at him; nothing stood in contrast from anything else. Beneath his darkly calm exterior, Geirik's mind raced and seethed as he fought to maintain focus through the whisperings of his dark stowaway.

Geeeiiiriikkk....

The bounty hunter ignored the calling and jeering and laughing of his counterpart. He focused on walking, listening, watching. He focused on all things material -- the child's cry for his mother's touch, the tavern's lights, the pitter-patter of rain on the street. He had to continue on.

As his thoughts drifted this way and that, the jeering whispers in his mind erupted into squeals and distant, thundering echoes. The sudden force of it made Geirik stagger, gripping his ears as if the pain which he now experienced came from the cold, wet world without. His vision blurred and skin tingled -- there was dark power being used. What he now experienced was the restless cries of the damned as their world suddenly became some mortal's plaything. All Geirik could feel was anger, confusion, rage, HATRED for the mortal realm. His vision suddenly became not his own. He saw several cloaked figures -- the whistling echoes continued to burn and crackle in his ears. A woman....cries of agony...cold.....then silence.

As quickly as it had come, the episode ended, and Geirik stood beneath the covered walk of a local baker clenching his hands against the side of his head. The murmuring rain was all that existed to greet him as he came out of his hypnotic state.

Magic.....Death's magic...but where? he thought to himself, almost paniced. In all his years, he had never quite perfected his apparent sensitivity to Necromantic "pulses." He realized he was suddenly sweating as he lowered his hands and regained composure. His eyes, as if by reflex, looked to the Northern sky.

Gooooo to it. You feel it...do you not? A hiss blew through his mind with chilling clarity.

My world... the voice, continued. It seemed to wheeze, as if fatigued, "...is not for mortal tampering. You men are fools to think you've the deft.... It wheezed again, ...and skill to enter this realm! There was a slight pause. Then, as if the last gust of a dying storm, the whisper finished...

Fools must be taught...

Geirik could not explain what the Liche now experienced. He knew only that the realm of the Dead had been drained of power once again for uses and purposes uknown. Geirik startled as he realized he had felt something he never thought he would: pity. Pity for the thing inside him. Pity for the souls on which the powers of Necromancy fed without their approval or discretion. Geirik turned his gaze back to the direction of the stable. He was faced with options: 1.) to continue his drudgery through the streets of Ancora in hopes of finding intelligence worthy of investigation, or 2.) allow his senses to lead him to the source of whatever dark power he had experienced so vividly only moments ago.

The sun began to set, and Geirik continued to stand motionless, head turned back the way he had just come. He had to decide -- time ticked away with every moment of failing light. After a few moments, he felt his feet begin to move. He almost smiled as he neared a building with warm, glowing windows.

"Ivory Brothers' Stables and Shoe Repair."


Written by Archeantus - Page 12 Book 1

The day was at its peak. The sun was high overhead and they still had quite a ways distance to travel before they reached the elven citadel. Vermigard was still adament they'd make it there by nightfall, or some time shortly after. Their mounts showed signs of being tired and Gadianton decided to stop for a moment to rest them.

The landscape grew ever more green and lush the closer they came to their destination. Large rolling hills grew ever more steeper and formed into mountains. Soon they were traveling through a valley, the walls of stone and rock and brush reached high above them and blotted out the sun. Bird caws could be heard across the dense forest. There were howls of some sort of animal. Gadianton led them off from the common road and entered a clearing where large trees towered hundreds of feet over them and across the area was an ancient stream that must have slowly formed this valley. They set up camp directly off the stream and drank its pure waters.

They all dismounted, and Gadianton told them to stay there. They all sat it silence and stretched their legs. None of them were very friendly one toward another, but each could sense the respect each had for the other. They saw each other as tools, a means to an end. All of them knew this, and accepted it.

Gadianton soon came back with a large pheasant dangling in his hands.

"Lunch." He said, throwing it in the middle of them.

He could come off cold and ruthless, but they realized at that moment that he, in a way, cared about thier welfare. In a strange sort of way, Gadianton considerered himself the father of his hand picked group. They looked at one another and then looked at Gadianton in a new light. They knew he did not give a damn about them, but he apparently did care about their ability to be used.

Vermigard chuckled and stood.

"I'm not one to turn down freshly hunted pheasant." He said, now holding the fowl in his hands.

Once the bird was prepared they all sat around the fire, and ate lunch in the afternoon shade.

Gadianton watched them all and made sure all of them recognized why he had done what he did. He wanted them all to know he was pleased with them.

Together they could change the tide of the whole world, if he noted to himself, they stayed as one.

Written by Wilhelm

On the way to Mavigan's room a messenger from the gate caught up and reported the man's request at the gate. Wilhelm told the messenger that he would handle it. He asked and was told the location of a suitable room for an audience. Wilhelm then reached Mavigan's room, moving with his usual silent tread.

Glancing inside he saw Alaric pledge his fealty to Mavigan. He saw that Mavigan was wearing the mourning dress, but also her daggers as well, and she looked decidedly unhappy. Not wanting to interrupt this situation, he decided that he would go speak to the man and then conduct him to the audience room if he was satisifed with the man's identity and business. Hopefully by then the Seamstress would have delivered Mavigan's clothing, new and old, so that Mavigan would have a choice of clothing to wear for such a meeting and would be in a better mood.

Wilhelm then went back to his room and donned his full regalia as a Paladin of the All Father, as well as attaching to his belt a blue silk scarf that Mavigan had given him years ago as a young girl. "Might as well look the part of the Queen's Champion," he thought. Clad in his white armor and white cloak, he made his way to the gate. He acknowledged the greeting of the Gate Captain and then turned to face the mounted man waiting there. Concentrating, he scanned the heartfires of those in the area and detected no hidden persons outside the gate. The man was alone.

"Greetings," he said to the man, "I am Sir Wilhelm, Queen Mavigan's Champion. I understand that you have requested audience with Her Majesty. Let us withdraw to the side here and you can tell me your business with our Queen." He motioned to a shaded area to one side, away from the guards, and walked towards it then turned and stood waiting in the shade.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn was bored again. They had taken all her guards away without a word, but she still didn't know where to go to find something interesting. Since Feramas hadn't really told her that much, due to what seemed an overly shy personality, she had just taken to wandering the halls and courtyard trying to find something to do. She had gone to see Wilhelm when he walked out of his room and headed down the hall away from her in a set of clothing that made him look like a shiny walking white rock, except for his head and cloak. He was obviously going to do something important, so rather than interrupt him she just followed silently at his heels, waiting for him to notice her.

When Wilhelm got to the gate and asked the man there to move to the side she just continued following him, ignoring the odd stares the gate guards threw at her, and wondered if she was being too quiet and he just hadn't noticed her, or if she was being ignored.

Written by Ariana

Mavigan gave an annoyed huff and flopped down into the nearest chair.

“First and foremost,” she muttered, “You have GOT to stop calling me by that name.” Her eyes shifted their glare from Alaric to the floor and one hand slowly reached up to take hold of a tendril of hair. Her fingers quickly began twirling it in an unconscious gesture of nervousness.

With a furtive glance at Alaric, she continued, “It has been a long time since I was ‘as cute as a button’, and I’m not that happy little girl anymore.” She paused for a moment, her gaze hazy and introspective. “Besides,” she said, “it is disrespectful of your new Queen…”. Alaric could see her practically choking on the despised word.

“Second of all,” Mavigan continued, “keep your life.” She stopped fiddling with her hair and abruptly stood up. “I’m not worth dying over,” she said softly. Alaric watched as she seemed to give herself a mental shake, and then cringed as her hard eyes were once again slapped upon him. “Now,” Mavigan said in a tone of voice Alaric was all too familiar with, “Get out. I have, er… things to do.”

She turned her back to him, and returned herself to her interrupted breakfast, giving Alaric as clear of a dismissal as she knew how to give.

Written by Aethelwulf

Rising, Alaric bowed stiffly, and cleared his throat. For some odd reason it had become quite tight, and there also seemed to be some moisture building up in his eyes.

"As you wish my Queen. By your leave.."

He turned to the door, and paused slightly.

"I shall return to my duties then, and will leave for my patrols on the morrow. Be well my Queen."

With that, Alaric left the room.

Written by Varg

"Hail Sir Wilhelm." Varg bows gracefully to Wilhelm as a sign of respect for his position.

"I have come to seek an audience with Mavigan. I apologize for requesting such an audience, but I did not have the knowledge of her position until just recently. It is hard to explain why I have come, and maybe a little harder to believe. I do not know your beliefs on God, but I believe in Him. For one reason or another He has brought me to this place after a journey of many days. I do not known, nor understand what my full purpose is in coming here, but I have been told by coming here I would be provided a link to both my past and to my future purpose. There is more to tell, but I would rather do so in the presence of Her Majesty the Queen."

Varg bows to Wilhelm once again.

"I formally request an audience with Her Grace Mavigan good sire."

Written by Talonmane

"I hate to see her off again. We just got back up to seven vessels, and sending the Wing on a two-month's voyage with half our supplies cuts us to six ships AND means we'll need to hit shore again soon." Captain Munchadin leaned on the port-aft rail and watched the sleek triangle-sailed frigate dash away South on a mission both desperate and dangerous. The peg-legged Dwarf shook his head, for he knew the Gossamer Wing was fast enough to outrun any normal threat, but a small vessel alone at sea was always under enormous risk. He was also thinking of the strategic plans he would have to reconsider, as he was originally counting on using the extra ship in his continued raids against the Iron Fleet of Beridane in the deep, cold North seas.

And the Wing had only just returned from another rushed voyage to the Elves in the West; she had carried a plea for help against the Usurper and his forces that now seemed to control most of Grayshire. It was the reply from Elborne, Elven King, carried back on the frigate and now in their hands that kept forcing its way to the forefront of Munch's thoughts, and that had resulted in a string of cursing and epithets from the Dwarf for the last 20 minutes. "By all that's Holy or Cursed, how can those pointy-eared, high-falootin, do-as-they-please......BAH! I've run outta curses! Now how's that for a fine cap t'the day! Blast those ninnies!" Yet even as his own anger burst out, Munch could not tell which before him was the darker: the storm clouds rolling down from arctic waters or the ones over Talonmane's brow.

Ninnies? If Jagan were not so absorbed reading the note for the 10th time and if the subject not so dire, he could have had a great belly laugh at Munchadin's choice of words. The Dwarf usually held a very deep bank account full of exclamations that few men could ante, but it appeared he had used them all up this afternoon. With good reason. Elborne had denied aid to Ancora.

Folding the note, he passed it to the Captain again. "Put that in safe keeping. The others will want to see it for themselves once we join them again. And sadder still, it may one day be looked apon as a great historic relic - one more nail into Ancora during her most trying of years. Unfortunately...a very big nail."

He was practically numb with the news. The rock of the boat and smooth, calm, beauty of watching Gossamer Wing disappear beyond the Southern horizon was such a false sense of tranquility. The pain of Ancora was so great it had just absorbed into his soul, and he guessed the mind had ways of keeping itself going rather than succumb to oblivion in the face of such things...and the numbness remained prevalent, ever a reminder that seemed to punctuate their near helplessness at the moment. Help-less indeed. No help from the Elves across the sea, that much was now sealed. '....not involve ourselves with the internal affairs of Humanity...', '....Beridane has made many recent alliances, and war must not sweep from land to land, a fire lit by Man's inability to keep tidy his own House...', '....this is your time of challenge, for all civilizations must win their sovereignty again periodically. Thus, our hand is stayed, and Ancora's trial begins. May you find...'

Blah, blah-blah... And in reviewing this over and over, it was the Barbarian's fury that boiled and prodded him to action.

"We've got to get on the offensive, Munchadin...in bigger ways than the raids we're making now. We could sting them at sea for a year, but the more your squadron grows to become a fleet again, they'll eventually corner us with enough firepower to force us ashore if we're to survive. We've got to be more clever. Bimglin saw enough ships from the world over when he was at Westgale last week, enough to tell us the sea isn't where we're going to mortally wound the Traitor. We'll keep enough ships to get us wherever we need to be and punch through lines, but we've got to go after serious targets that'll directly hurt the 'skaners."

"Aye. Harsh reality fer a sailin' man, but that's the truth of it, at least until the Wing returns. We've got maybe 9 squadrons out there somewhere, and if the Wing can go gather 'em up...I know we can take back the port again, or at least blockade 'em so hard the squeeze'll be felt right 'round Beridane's ba..."

"But we're not going to wait for that day, " the Knight Warden continued. "It's one component of a larger plan, and we'll need much more in place to hit him hard enough to knock him to the ground. If the Elves won't back us up, we'll have to find others who will. We no longer have the luxury of knowing Elvish war support is just days away as we make our grande plans. Let's keep sailing North, Munch...further than you've sailed before. That 'skaner port has got to be up there. We missed it the first time, but it has to be there. And whether or not we find it, I have to ask you to then take us West a bit."

The Dwarf slipped the big man a squinting stare. "The Twilight Steppes? You think the Warlords will care? Hah! or do ye think they'll believe us that we still have a treasury big enough to buy em into it? Almost as unlikely."

Jagan shrugged. "Will you rue the day you decided not to explore every avenue to get support for our side? We must try. And we must remain determined." Standing straight, he pulled the Axeslayber from its holster at his back, turned and rested against the rail. The fingers of one hand slowly traced the fine etchings in the vast blade of the weapon. "This still means something, whether I believe it or not. They'll come to its call...many, anyway."

Raising his eyebrows, the Captain reminded him, "But those who don't...they'll try to take it from ye. Again. The very reason you left in the first place."

Nearly snapping the reply, Jagan corrected his stout friend. "ONE of the reasons. But my true home, my true allegiance, is to Westgale and her royal house. And I'll let no one's petty clan games keep us from doing what we must."

"Alright then," the shorter man nodded in affirmation. "I may have another idea for getting us supplies. Sharp-eyed Bim spotted another vessel at port that day, captain'd by a certain scoundrel I know a bit better than he wished I knew 'im. He sails with 2 other ships, and always carries extra - extra that hardly belongs to 'im. We're goin' to take a short jab East and South again, not far out of our way, fer I'm sure that now the old order in Westgale's seas has shifted, the shrum-eating bum'll be goin back t'his old ways." Munchadin smiled, clearly he was looking forward to this.

"Pirate?"

""'Privateer' he tries to call it. In exchange fer his freedom a few years back he agreed to do a few things for us. A most prolific souce of information and 'acquisitions'."

"And why haven't I heard his name before?" Jagan was curious and a bit surprised...knowing such contacts around the globe was a specialty of his in service to the crown.

The Captain laughed, "Ye've met him lad! Just not by his real name. I'd rather the sight be a surprise..." Looking out over the water, their frigate was now out of sight. "Godspeed lads. Watch yer horizons and forget not the skies overhead."

Jagan knew the Dwarf referred to the mysterious enemy of the week before, the horrible black albatross whose presence had heralded the impossible sudden appearance of the Ogre who sank what would have become their 8th ship. The sailors hardly could keep from scanning above, superstitious lot they were - but in this case rightfully so. Marlie spent every moment not at other duty high on a mast, and her attention was little on the sea. Why hadn't that devil of a bird made another appearance? they could not know, but that suspence was as a shadow upon already-clouded days and brooding especially each night.

The Wavehammer and 5 other ships of varied design - all in service to the continuing spirit of House Ancora, the people of Port Westgale, and truly all of Grayshire - continued North, now over 700 miles from the Elven Ranger Citadel and Mavigan.

Written by Wilhelm

"I welcome you in the names of Queen Mavigan and of Commander Igthramir." Wilhelm bowed. " I accept that the All Father may have sent you here, but there are two things I must know before I present you. What is your name and where are you from."

Written by Varg

"I apologize sire, it has been a long trip and I have had a lot on my mind. My name is Varg Ulbrecht. My origins are unknown to me, but my last place of residence was Burghast. It is a small town several days journey away."

"I have had the pleasure of an introduction form you Sir Wilhelm, but may I ask if this small one here with you has a name as well?"

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm had noticed Keeryn following him. He turned and gestured towards her. "This is Keeryn," he said, "who joined our company on our way to the citadel. Keeryn, this is Varg Ultrecht, who has come to see Queen Mavigan. You two have something in common, it seems, since neither of you knows how you got to this land. Perhaps there is a connection there."

Wilhelm had known Varg's name from his tracking scan, and was relieved that he had given his true name. Wilhelm lacked the ability to detect falsehood by magic, but this was one way he could detect truth. He decided to trust the man for now. Wilhelm turned to the Gate Captain and informed him that he would conduct the man inside while his horse was stabled. The Gate Captain ordered a subordinate to take the horse to the stable, while another took the saddlebags and stood ready to bring them, and a third went off to arrange for refreshments.

Wilhelm turned back to Varg and said "I will conduct you to a reception room where you may rest and take refreshment while I inform Her Majesty of your request for an audience. You can tell me of your business along the way, and perhaps you and Keeryn can compare stories on how you came to be here."

Written by Varg

"Thank you again sire, and Hi Keeryn. Well met oh silent one."

Written by Vylia

"You smell funny... not like the rest of them, and it's not dirt or anything like that. There's something special about you!" With a big smile and bounce to her step Keeryn holds her hand out toward Varg. "I don't think we got here in the same way, since I'd only seen one human before I came here, but it's nice to meet you all the same."

Written by Ardwen

Reality. It's such an interesting concept when one takes time to consider it at all, is reality only what we can perceive? Or are there forces beyond the comprehension of mortals? Does man control his own fate? Or are we puppets destined to dance on the strings of greater beings? Is the destiny of man controlled by some transcendental entity or law, or do the actions of mortals set the motion of the universe?

Such were the questions nagging at the mind of one Elf, as he awoke and found all had changed, his world somehow...shifted. Ardwen focused his eyes, a warrior does not look, he sees. A large citadel near him, perhaps a castle? He could not tell; the architecture was foreign to him, it seemed one part noble estate and one part barracks. Two figures stood aside in the shade, conversing from the looks of it. Ardwen still felt uneasy, his stomach churned and his eyes begged release to wander, he focused, forcing himself to observe his surroundings. He continued to look around, and noted another figure near the previous two, and his jaw nearly fell open. A strange one this had to be! At first he thought it to be a human, but his eyes stumbled over the cat ears, and, "Oh," Ardwen muttered, "By the light it has a tail." Blue skin, and silver fur that seemed to border on white with red garments. Ardwen reached back one arm, his left, to finger the haft of the large sword on his back, a second later he muttered a few choice curses at himself. He had moved, he was not certain the other two gave any sign of it, but he knew that they were aware of his presence...and...guards?

Yes, this place was some manner of fortress or holding on the surrounding land, and yes, those were three humanoids, and as befitting any fort it had guards. But that was not the unusual part, Ardwen was fairly certain that of the three humanoids standing apart from the guards, two were not human. The strange blue-skinned one was certainly not, and the other seemed to compose himself with a grace that screamed Elf to Ardwen's mind, if there were Elves in this land, perhaps he was not entirely lost. There was no hiding now, he knew that someone had noticed him, and if the Elves in this strange land were anything remotely like what he was familiar with, they already had enough arrows trained on him to make him look like a pincushion. Ardwen tightened his grip on the large blade on his back, more of a polearm really, with the blade taking up some 3/4ths of its length. He remembered, as a thought skittering across his mind, that many thought an Elf wielding such a large weapon absurd, but when he took down a horse with a single sweep of the great blade, he recalled how many just smiled and nodded. Smiling himself, if a bit grimly, Ardwen kept his firm grip on the blade and strode near enough to the ones talking in the shade so that they could hear him clearly, but too far away, even with the large blade, to be a definite threat.

Stopping Ardwen begin to speak, making sure to keep his voice steady and his face schooled, "Aiya mellon! Elen Sila lumenn omentielvo! The fact," he began slowly in the common tongue, "That I am not covered in arrows right now does much to hearten me. Perhaps, you could assist me in some way? My name is Ardwen, I've no last name, but you honestly should not anticipate that from one of the quendi aye? I see you've an Elf amongst your company, perhaps you could tell me what this place is?"

He stopped, hoping that the silence did not grow too long. Foolish, he admonished himself, what he'd best hope for is that he could avoid being treated like a quiver, and those he had just addressed did not appear to be slouches when it came to fighting. Ardwen allowed the thoughts to pass, he remained calm, but the knot in his stomach simply refused to go away.

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm looked startled at Ardwen's sudden arrival, odd appearance, unusual elven manner, and his statement. Wilhelm had just scanned the area and nobody had been near the gate where Ardwen was standing. He must have appeared though some magic.

Wilhelm turned to the Gate Captain and said "This elf must have appeared by magic, because there was nobody out there a moment ago. I believe this is for you and Ithramir to deal with. It would appear the the flood of odd arrivals we discussed has truly begun. While you talk to this new arrival I will conduct Varg inside to the reception hall, and I will inform Ithramir of this new arrival." The Captain agreed and headed towards Ardwen, summoning two other elven guards to accompany him. Wilhelm invited Keeryn to come along or to stay and meet the new arrival. He then went inside and conducted Varg to the reception hall, where refreshments were served. "I will inform the Commander and the Queen of your arrival. Please make yourself comfortable."

Then Wilhelm went and informed Ithramir of the new elven arrivals, passing on the circumstances of the visitor's arrivals. "I have left Varg in the audience chamber, and the Gate Captain is speaking to this Ardwen. While Elven, both seem different to me. You would know better. I feel that Varg is a follower of the All Father, but I am unsure of Ardwen."

Wilhelm then went towards Mavigan's chambers, where he saw Alaric leaving, closing the door behind him, and proceeding to his own room. Wilhelm decided to consult Alaric first as to whether Mavigan was up to granting audience to a new petitioner. Entering Alaric's room, he informed Alaric of Varg's appearance and request, mentioning also the other new elf as well, and asked if Alaric thought Mavigan was up to the meeting or if Alaric wished to meet with Varg himself. "It looks like we are getting a number of elves showing up (in odd ways) who wish to see Mavigan. I suspect the human applicants will begin arriving soon as well."

Written by Vylia

Keeryn didn't even notice Wilhelm's gesture to join him, she was too busy staring at the large blade on this Ardwen's back, eyes wide in fascination. "How do you hold that thing? It's pretty big, and looks awfully heavy."


Written by Pharsalus - Page 13 Book 1

Geirik caught himself almost dozing off amidst the audial caress of the wind through the trees of the Elven lands. The rythmic thumping of his horse's hooves was no help either as the two plodded through the ferns and brush toward who-knows-where. The old man was beginning to think he had made a mistake, for he was still unsure as to what he was persuing or where he would find it. He knew only that his sensation was strongest when his eyes met the Northern horizon.

As Geirik and Gunthorp, his horse, made their way through the shaded wood, Geirik's mind drifted back to the stable in Ancora. The stableboy there knew little of the Elven lands but told him positively that they were indeed Northward from Ancora. He remembered distinctly how familiar the boy seemed -- red hair, hazel eyes, relatively tall, lanky, and filled with spirit Geirik could only distantly remember. He did not ask the boys name but paid him well for what little information he provided. The hissing voice in his head jeered even at the scene's recolection.

You cling to passed events and dead ideals, human...

Geirik's face tightened into a bitter frown.

I cling to nothing but you, and only then in the hope of one day ridding myself of you!

Had the being within him had physical manifest, he would have spat in his face. Unfortunately, he had no such luxury. He could only deal with his stowaway's taunts as calmly as he could.

But still...his mind lingered on the face of the stableboy. Geirik felt he reminded him of someone from years' past, someone he knew, someone he loved. But he could not conjure a name or context for this deja vu. It irritated him. After a while he gave up and focused on his surroundings.

The wood in which he now found himself was indeed vast, yielding no sign of exit anytime soon. The branches above almost blotted out the late-afternoon sun comletely, leaving only room for thing slivers of light that shone as dusty, golden bars. Oddly enough, their orientation reminded Geirik of prison bars, only far less tangible.

He knew nothing of his task at hand, or where his journey would ultimately end. The search of the Princess Mavigan's whereabouts had turned up nothing, and he could not ignore the terrible pulses of energy that seemed to throb from the Northern skies. Death, or one of its countless deciples, held a terrible grip on this land. The peace of the whispering pines and oaks around him seemed oddly placed, like ancient jesters smiling through fears of their own imminent demise. There was a strange calm to the forest, also. For the past several hours, Geirik could not recall hearing a single bird or bear or bug. Only the wind provided him company. He welcomed it, for he still had many miles to travel he feared.

He and his trusted horse, Gunthorp, continued their way through the thickets as the hours drew on. The sun had moved noticeably to a position more befitting of early dusk. What he could see of the sky had begun to turn the bronze of evening. He had to find shelter soon, but he knew of no taverns or castles in this area. He had heard rumors of an Elven fortress somewhere north of Ancora, but he knew nothing of its location in relation to where he and his horse now walked.

As he pondered, his eyes drifting downard and focusing on the ground bouncing slowly past him, the light around him seemed to intensify. He returned his attention to present and noticed the distance he had viewed only moments of ago seemed to have blown away in the breeze. Geirik didn't know how long he had lost touch with his surroundings -- last he remembered, he was noticing the bars of light through the oaken canopy. Lo,' before him sat the end of the forest. He pulled gently on the reigns, and Gunthorp complied with a sputter and abrubpt stop. Geirik's eyes, barely visible beneath the rim of his hat, sparkled as their gaze reached out into the sprawling void before him.

He smirked.

It seems the gods would have pity of a forsaken man, after all. Come Gunthorp -- rest for the night. A bed for me, and a stable for you. Fair enough, hm?

Gunthorp bobbed his head and neyed softly as Geirik spurred him onward. As they stepped from the ancient wood, beyond a pair of emerald hills to his left and right, sat a great fortress. It seemed as if carved into the mountain behind it and damned near as ancient. There were great spyres, tipped with flags bearing insignias the Bounty Hunter did not recognize. It was still half an hour's journey away at current speed, but Geirik could see a great gate marking its face...

Crafted by Dwarves, no doubt, he thought wryly.

The rumors were true, and Geirik was thankful for it.

Elves . . .

Written by Ardwen

The first thing Ardwen did was to remove his hand from the large blade on his back, they’d decided not to feather him with arrows, best not to look like a threat now. The second thing was to make an attempt at digesting every word the man…he had the look of a paladin about him, spoke to the Gate Captain. The first thing to catch his attention was the name Ithramir, that was definitely Elven or Ardwen had never spoken a word in his life. So there were Elves here as well, perhaps he was not so lost as he had originally feared. Still, while the name itself seemed familiar, Ardwen had never heard of it, certainly he had never met this Ithramir before. But, this was a good sign, especially since the one with the seeming holy warrior was definitely an Elf, no mistaking it now.

The gate captain along with the two additional guards strode toward him, Ardwen kept his face calm. He was about to attempt a greeting when he heard the odd furred one that the paladin speak as its eyes widened with interest at the blade on his back, “How do you hold that thing? It’s pretty big, and looks awfully heavy.”

The question caught him completely off-guard, he stood very still for a short, awkward second before beginning a response, “Ah, yes, well…” Ardwen glanced at the creature uncertainly, no, he was not even sure it was a creature. True, he had never seen its like before, he knew nothing of them, but it was obviously intelligent, and furthermore he would have to stop calling whatever it was it. He glanced once more, and came to the firm conclusion that the feline-like creature was definitely what he would call a she. He began again still somewhat unsteady, “My lady, the blade is large, and rather heavy. The real trick is, of course, to use both hands! Naturally though, you’ll want to get the full torque of your body behind it, a nice big arc, take advantage of the full length and power of the blade. Weapons such as this one aren’t much use in confined quarters, where a missed swing or a weak one can allow someone with a dagger to tickle your ribs. Really though, it shines when it comes time to take on mounted warriors, take the horse out of the picture and you’ll often remove the soldier from it as well, or you can soon thereafter with any manner of follow-up. Wide-open combat, that’s the trick, plenty of room to move about and use your own momentum to help move the blade, without it…well, yes, rather difficult to do anything with, isn’t that what you said?”

Ardwen could barely believe he had been that talkative over a simple question! He silently berated himself; he’d been such a fool! For all he knew the one addressing him could fly about and shoot fireballs! Well, it seems fortune pitied a fool, for nothing of that sort had happened yet. In fact, he found himself oddly trusting of the wide-eyed feline-eared one before him, it seemed so friendly, and certainly harmless enough.

In any case, Ardwen felt confident enough now to breach his own question, “Forgive my abrupt manner, but might I have your name? I am called Ardwen by most…just Ardwen. I have served for all of my lifetime as a warrior…spending most of that time fighting for what many have chided as ‘lost causes’,” Ardwen paused before adding in a whisper almost too soft to be heard, “Aure entuluva.”

Written by Vylia

"I'm Keeryn," she smiles before intentionally copying his speech, "just Keeryn. I guess what you said makes sense... but even if you had a lot of room, if the one you were fighting was fast, yet held back, you would never know until you had missed, or they were already close enough to gut you." Keeryn shrugs before looking at him with her previous look of innocence, "What does 'Aure entuluva' mean?"

Written by Varg

Varg tells Wilhelm along the way to the reception area a brief synopsis of his past.

As an elf he could only aproximate his age as being around 130 seasons, but since his memory was only of the past 30 years or so he could not tell for sure. He tells of the of the twenty years spent in the glen with Saloren and training in the Ranger arts. Then the ten years spent in Burghast with Erstan and the training in the Thieving arts he had received there. But his training in such arts was not for the purpose of petty theft, more for adventuring and mercenary work. Varg really had little faith in the All-Father as you call Him until recently, he just had no purpose for religion. But he had just leerned many new things about himself recently, which had driven him into the service of the All-Father. Through the many days he made the voyage to Ancora he had learned much through meditation and prayer about the All-Father and His purpose for Varg. About this time Wilhelm and Varg arrive at the reception hall. Wilhelm then informs Varg of what is to happen next, and exits the hall.

Meanwhile Varg decides to look around the area a little and soak in the castle. He had never seen such a large fortification before, he had seen many a castle in his day, but none of such grandeur. After looking around the reception area for awhile, Varg decides to get comfortable. Then he begins to re-hash the past known thirty years of his life. Where his journey began, and pondering on what his future will bring to him. He had already been on so many adventures, and being in the service of a Queen and a castle this size should bring many challenges. He was both excited and nervous at once. His thoughts soon shifted to the All-Father and he began to pray and meditate.

Written by Ardwen

Ardwen smiled slightly, it wasn’t the first time someone had surmised the same about the larger blade. Briefly he wondered if Keeryn had ever tasted the sweet thrill of combat, the thought passed just as quickly, it did not matter really. Ardwen once again spoke to Keeryn, “A question commonly asked, the blade has a wide arc as I said, to dodge it my opponent would have to leap backwards or far off to either side. In any case, I’d be forcing them to go defensive, and if their distancing was not perfect, I could catch them while they went to advance or retreat further. No weapon is perfect, every blade has a margin of safety, as it is commonly called, and if you can remain outside of this margin the enemy’s weapon won’t be able to strike you. Regardless, I’ve got the two blades at my side to deal with my foe if they’re somehow preternaturally fast. Of course, even such a strategy is not flawless, there’s the time it takes to unsheathes the blades, and then adjust myself to a whole new style of fighting. But then again, that’s what my business is as a warrior, training to make sure I’m prepared.”

Ardwen was about to address Keeryn’s second question when one of the two escorts the gate captain summoned interjected, “You seem to know much of the warrior’s art stranger, but you’ve told precious little of yourself. Come, you say your name is Ardwen? That tells us practically nothing, who are you exactly, how did you come here, and for what purpose?”

Ardwen considered the one that had spoken, the gate captain and his two fellows were no strangers to strife, they had the constantly calm look that most master soldiers possessed, but it spoke volumes of their ability to act coolly and quickly. Ardwen considered his words carefully before speaking, “You ask who I am? That would be a tale long in the telling indeed. I am a warrior, first and foremost, I have been since I first drew breath, and plan to be so when I take my last. I am what you might call a patriot, or a zealot, depending on how you view me. I serve no deity directly, but it is difficult to perform any action and not serve one greater power or another, no? I have fought always for my people, the Elven race, the firstborn where I am from, rulers of twilight and the highborn in a broken world. Let me ask you, do the Elves rule here? Are they vagabonds wandering the earth wishing they could die? Do you even care which one happens?”

At those words the guard’s eyes seemed to flash with indignation, but Ardwen pressed on, “Because where I am from, that balance is precarious indeed. We have often fought bitter wars against the treachery of the other races, and we’ve lost much in the passing of time. A scholar of my people once said, ‘To understand the full grandeur of Elven greatness, you must first understand the full scope of Elven loss.’ Never have I seen such bitter words proven so unfortunately true where I come from. And so I fought for my people, and I assisted any that would aid us, any who would extend an open hand instead of a clenched fist, and those people have been precious few. As to how I came here…I am not entirely sure. It was through no direct action of my own, I am no mage or cleric, I can cast no spells at all; ergo I am fairly certain either I was sent or brought here by someone or something else. I don’t even know to what purpose I could be here. From what I’ve seen there are Elves in this place as well, that has remained constant, so I suppose my purpose can remain the same. I am a friend to my people, the sword of justice to those that would threaten the Highborn, any who befriend my people befriend me as well, and any who are the enemy of my people…are a walking corpse.”

Ardwen finished the last statement emotionlessly, it was not a boast, or a threat, or even a promise. It was a statement, a fact, one he intended to prove true regardless of where he was. Ardwen then gave a slight nod to Keeryn before giving her his belated answer, “Aure entuluva? No, I don’t suppose you’d be familiar with the Elven tongue, would you? Aure entuluva means ‘day shall come again’ and it a phrase I oft use as a battle or rallying cry.” Ardwen paused before continuing on, “But come, tell me of yourself, are you a warrior amongst your people? You seem interested in this blade, do you aspire to dance swords with others? Or perhaps your nobility?” Ardwen scrutinized Keeryn further, but could answer none of those questions himself, he still knew far too little.

Written by Ariana

Mavigan’s eyes followed Alaric as he exited the door to her chamber. She sat in silence, eyes unfocused for several minutes after he left. Her thoughts were rudely interrupted, however, by a tentative knock on the door. “Enter”, she said without much enthusiasm.

She had expected Alaric had returned to once again attempt to engage her in conversation. Or perhaps that stuffy distant cousin of hers was coming to give her more disapproving looks and words. Both possibilities did little to improve her demeanor, so she was surprised to see an elegant elven woman enter her chambers, soon followed by a not so elegant and refined assistant, their arms full of what appeared to be cloth.

“My lady,” said the elegant woman with a respectful bow, “my name is Gavarel, and I have been commissioned by your Champion to make some clothing for you. This is my assistant, Talerena.”

Mavigan voiced the question that rang through her head like a dinner bell. “My…. Champion?”, she asked, eyes wide.

Gavarel, had the good grace to look slightly confused, though Mavigan was sure she did not use the expression often. “Yes, I believe Wilhelm was his name. He seemed most concerned that you had no appropriate clothes to wear.” A quick smile crossed her face.

Understanding dawned in Mavigan’s face. So Wilhelm was behind the accursed mourning dress she was wearing. She would have to thank him properly, she thought, a mischievious smirk crossing her lips. She turned her thoughts from Wilhelm when she noticed Gavarel patiently looking at her, apparently waiting for some response. Suddenly feeling overwhelmed with the weight of duty, Mavigan said the first thing that came to her mind. “Ah,” she said.

Gavarel continued to stare at her as if waiting for something more. Mavigan quickly searched her mind trying to think of what she could possibly be waiting for. Panicked, she tried to remember how her Mother handled such things, but no memories came. Casting about blindly for what could possibly be expected of her, she tried the first thing that came to her mind. “Um,” she said hesitantly, “Proceed?”

The uncertainty in her voice and the question in what should have been a command was clearly evident and Gavarel tried to hide a smile. It wouldn’t do to laugh at a new monarch. Instead, she turned a long, slender hand towards her companion and gestured the girl forward. Mavigan watched, her mouth slightly open, and the assistant rushed forward towards the bed, narrowly avoiding a collision with the floor as her foot got caught in a stray fold of cloth. Trying to cover her embarrassment, the girl quickly began spreading the bolts out on the bed.

Gavarel shook her head and gave a long-suffering sigh. Mavigan concluded that Talerena was naturally accident-prone unlike most of her elven kin, and immediately felt a sense of kinship with her. Both of them, it seemed, were out of their element.

As Mavigan continued to gawk rather impolitely at the girl, Gavarel walked around to the other side of the bed and laid out the garments that were in her hands. Mavigan found herself curious and rose from her chair to look at what they had brought.

The first thing that caught her eye was the garments she had arrived in. They were clean and repaired and Mavigan let out a cry of pleasure. Finally! Something she could feel comfortable in. She reached out a hand to snag them from the bed, when she found a slender and elegant hand wrapped gently around her wrist restraining her from reaching her goal. Mavigan looked askance at Gavarel.

Gavarel said apologetically, “I am sorry My Lady. I am pleased to know that you approve of my work, but I have also created this riding habit.” She held up a riding dress in a vibrant green. “If you would be so kind as to try it on, I can determine if it fits.”

Mavigan nodded and took the dress. Not bothering to go behind the dressing screen, she ripped off her mourning attired and put on the masterfully created riding habit. The fabric was soft as it slid against her skin, and Mavigan relished in the feel of it. She was very pleased to notice that the skirts were divided, and that she would not have to ride sidesaddle.

Once she was outfitted, a flurry of activity began. The sleeves were a little too long, and pins, needles, and thread were pulled out from seemingly nowhere. Adjustments were made, measurements were taken, and the next hour was spent with Mavigan choosing a variety of fabrics and outfits that the two seamstresses would make for her. Though Mavigan had never much cared for the clothes she wore, the time passed pleasantly enough, and once Gavarel had everything she needed, she and her assistant bundled up their materials and hustled out the door, anxious to begin work.

Once again alone, Mavigan glanced out her window and noticed the position of the sun. It was about mid-morning, and she still had the rest of the day to fill. Glancing in the direction of the riding habit, which was laying on the bed after having been altered, she began entertaining the idea of a ride.

Her thoughts were once again interrupted by a knock on her chamber door. Unlike the tentative knock before, this one was imperious and demanded entry. Forgetting she was dressed in nothing but her shift, Mavigan bade the person enter.

This new elven lady strode in with a confidence Mavigan had only seen displayed in Ithramir. Everything about her screamed warrior, from her leather armor and swords strapped to her side, to her gait and posture.

She was quickly followed by two elvish boys, each with an armload of materials. Suddenly remembering her state of undress, Mavigan’s first instinct was let out a shriek and dive behind the dressing screen. She stopped herself after taking one deep breath however, after catching the elven lady’s eye. The last thing she wanted was to appear weak before this formidable presence. So, she stood there faking an attitude of complacency as best she could. She only hoped that the nervous knocking of her knees were not audible to sensitive elven ears.

“I am Urithiel,” she stated without preamble. “I was instructed to provide you with armor and weapons, and training on how to use them.”

Urithiel spotted Mavigan’s leather armor strewn on the bed with her newly repaired clothes. Without waiting for so much as a by-your-leave, she immediately started to examine them, her face clearly written with disgust at what she saw.

An endless monologue of comments streamed from her lips as she picked up each piece in turn and tossed it carelessly to the floor:

“Oh, this will never do!”

“Le lakwenien? You must have gotten this from a human crafter.”

“Ed’ I’ear ar’ elenea! When was the last time you cleaned this?”

“Sina feuya ten’ lle! Absolutely disgusting! I can’t believe you wore these on your feet!”

Mavigan stood wide-eyed and unsure as this woman plowed through her possessions and tossed them to the floor as if they were trash. The only thing she owned that Urithiel did not throw away were her daggers and their sheaths. Even those, however, only seemed to be satisfactory, but certainly nothing up to her standards.

Before Mavigan could voice her growing outrage, however, she motioned to one of the boys who quickly heeded her command. Soon Mavigan found herself being none too gently strapped into leather armor. Tugs here, pulls there, soft murmurs of approval, and quick adjustments accompanied Urithiel’s critical gaze. Mavigan herself rather felt like a practice dummy for all the consideration she was receiving.

Soon enough, the ordeal was over. Urithiel was satisfied with fit of the armor down the last stitch. She ordered one of her boys to collect all the pieces of Mavigan’s old armor so she could burn it in the fire. She wanted to ensure that disgraceful armor such as that never graced the light of day again.

Mavigan, angry, embarrassed, and more than a little confused, thought that now she would be rid of this strange warrior and then be able to calm herself in private. Her hopes were dashed when Urithiel laid her stern gaze upon her once again and gestured to the second boy.

“I understand you know something about archery.”, she said. Mavigan could only nod in response. “And judging from the many daggers you have, I assume you know how to use those as well.” Mavigan nodded again.

“Good. We will begin practice right after breakfast. You will meet me in the training grounds.” She turned to her assistant and took from him a beautifully made recurved bow and a quiver of arrows. She thrust them at Mavigan who accepted them clumsily. “Don’t be late.” Urithiel demanded as she and her entourage strode out of the door, closing it behind them with a resounding click.

Mavigan collapsed on the floor where she stood, bow and quiver in hand, leather armor strapped to her body, and tried to collect her breath. Thinking that she now knew what it felt like to be trapped in a hurricane, she let go of her items and laid down on the floor trying to calm her nerves. She was soooo going to get Wilhelm for this.

Written by Ariana

Mavigan remained stretched out on the floor for several minutes, catching her breath and her thoughts. She had spent all morning being poked, prodded, pinned, ogled and criticized this morning, and the walls of her once welcoming chamber were suddenly becoming claustrophobic. Finally deciding upon a course of action, she rose from the floor, removing the bits of armor as she did so. Yanking the riding habit off the bed, she took only a few moments to see herself properly dressed, outfitted and armed. Snatching her bow and arrows off the floor, she strode out her chamber door and started down the hallway.

“My lady,” came a voice from behind her, “can we help you with something?”

Mavigan, her back towards the voice, rolled her eyes. The guards! She had completely forgotten the two prison guards stationed outside of her door. Plastering a fake smile on her face, she turned towards her inquisitors.

“No, I merely wished to go for a ride,” she replied.

An emotion akin to relief crossed the face of one of the guards, and he spoke again. “Then we will escort you to the stables,” he stated.

Mavigan sighed deeply, but figured she would not be able to lose these guys in this narrow hallway. She made a gesture of acquiescence and one guard took his place in front of her while the other stayed behind. Thus, the trio trooped through the halls of the keep, down a staircase, and into the courtyard. Making a right-hand turn that seemed to Mavigan to be executed with military precision, the three soon made their way to the stables.

As they reached the door, Mavigan decided she had had enough of pomp and circumstance and brushed past the guard at the door. Waving a gesture of dismissal, she said with forced light air, “I think I can take it from here. I do know how to saddle a horse after all.”

“Yes ma’am,” was all the response she got, and Mavigan had a brief moment of joy when she thought she was being given her freedom. Her smile quickly turned to a scowl as she watched the guards move past her and begin to saddle their own horses. At least they didn’t add insult to injury by attempting to saddle her one as well.

Mavigan heard a familiar whiney from one of the stalls and quickly made her way to it. There, looking at her with hopeful eyes, was Argent. She chuckled softly and ran her gloved hand along his neck. “I am sorry friend,” she said softly, “but I have no apple for you today.” She paused and glanced at her new “companions”. “In fact,” she whispered to Argent, “nothing seems to be going right today.”

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm heard Mavigan pass by with her guards on her way to the stables. Glancing out after she had passed he saw that she was wearing the new riding habit and was properly outfitted and armed. As always, the elven craftmanship in her new attire and gear was excellent and she looked very good in the ensemble. He was glad she had chosen to go properly equipped for the ride, given the dangers.

Turning to Alaric he said "It looks like Mavigan has taken the opportunity to go riding after the fittings. I should go along and accompany her. After all, it's my turn to get yelled at and I might as well give her the chance. Why don't you go speak to Varg and Ardwen as her representative and see what they want. If you feel it warranted you can bring them out to join us. I expect Mavigan would be more comfortable talking to them outside than in a formal audience chamber anyway."

Wilhelm went by the kitchen on his way out, pausing to obtain a riding luncheon and some apples packed for riding. He arrived in the stables in time to hear Mavigan's comment to Argent on lack of an apple. Coughing slightly to avoid startling her too much, he spoke. "It is good to be prepared to reward loyalty and devotion among your followers. Allow me to be of assistance." Mavigan started and turned to see Wilhelm, looking rather different clad in his formal white plate armor and cloak. He handed the startled Mavigan an apple from the bag.

Argent and Sable both nickered in greeting. Wilhelm gave a second apple to Sable and then moved to attach the supply bag to Sable's saddle and began to saddle the black warhorse. "I am pleased you could accept the offer to ride. Argent and Sable can both use the excercise, and I am sure you would like to get outside yourself. I will be honored to accompany you and allow these skilled gentlemen the chance to stay further off to watch for outside threats. I am sure you must have a few things to say to me." Wilhelm winked at her.

"The new outfit is very becoming on you. You look a most fair Amazon. Gavarel and Urithiel are truly skilled. You would do well to make use of their services. Gavarel is a Master Seamstress. Urithiel is not only a superb armorer but also excels in all forms of combat. I am sure in her hands even a spoon is a weapon. She can teach you the skills you may well need to surive."

"Many folks will be coming here to see you, to talk to you, and to pledge their services to you. Already two elven gentlemen named Varg and Ardwen have arrived at the gates. You may meet with them if you so choose. Beside supporters, enemies will likely come as well, and you must be prepared as well as protected. I have done what I can to make preparations. I must apologize if I have overstepped myself, but you were rather tired last night and so I made some requests on her behalf."

Motioning at the green scarf at his belt, he said "When you were ten you gave me this scarf and asked me to be your Champion in the Spring Tournament. I was honored to bear it in your name then and I have treasured it since. Since you never actually revoked that title, I presumed to speak as your Champion last night in making the requests. I am sure that you will find some means of thanking me for my efforts." Wilhelm finished saddling Sable. "No doubt when I least expect it," he said with a chuckle.

"As Queen you may choose whomever you wish as your Royal Champion, of course. However, until you make another choice I would be honored to continue to fulfill that duty. And now, setting royal responsibilties aside," he said with a bow and a smile, "shall we take Argent and Sable out riding so we can have a little informal chat, just Mavigan and Wilhelm? The day is pleasant and the elven grounds are lovely."

Written by Varg

While meditating and praying Varg was bothered with many visions. Visions had not become unussual of late, but these were of a disturbing manner. His mind was filled with images of a bloody battle, the likes of which he had never seen. They were flashes of images in his mind, images of Elves and of Werewolves locked in mortal battle. He focused on the images, but as quickly as they came they passed away. This went on for several minutes, but seemed like an hour. Varg felts his blood warming in him, and his feral self fighting to take control of him. As he fought off the beast inside of him, suddenly the visions ended. Leaving him more confused than before, until the final image appeared in his mind. It was the image of his signet ring bold and shining in his mind.

He felt him self reeling back, but caught himself before falling over. Varg suddenly snapped out of his trance and began to ponder what these visions meant. He found some water nearby and began to drink and splash his face with it. He then realized how feverish he really felt, and then sat down again to avoid fainting.

"What was that? In the name of the All-Father what does it mean?"

Then Varg settles back down and begins to meditate and pray again, this time with more focus for understanding the meaning of his visions.

Written by Vylia

"I'm a hunter among my people, we don't have any warriors really, because we didn't have anyone to fight," she says in response to his first question, before whispering beneath her breath, "at least, before that accursed wizard arrived." She thinks for a moment on which question to answer next, "My usual weapons are a spear, I can use most types, and a whip, though I seem to have lost them when I ended up here. I'm afraid I don't know what you mean by asking if I am nobility though."

Written by Sycon

Jague stared at a distance to the people seeming to stare each other down. They were surveying each other in an odd manner. There were four of them, seemingly a guard captain, two guards and a warrior of some type. Each seemed armed, or could pull a knife out at any minute, but their conversation didn't have an arguementive tone to it. Perhaps a debate was occurring.

Either way, they would not really notice him if he didn't want them to. It was not that he was stealthy of any sort, but who would stop an unarmed, unarmored, travelling dorf? Almost no one. Jague hoped this was the place he was looking for. He had heard of the terrible deeds done to the royal family and he sought out those who remained loyal to the last member. Perhaps he could do some good here. Perhaps if they were not too perceptive, he could pass off as a healer and he would not have to worry about fighting. He doubted he could get around being known for what he was. It seemed the guard captain up ahead would question him thoroughly no matter who he was, and as a monk, Jague had taken an oath never to lie.

He strolled up close as the warrior, who at this distance, could be obvoiusly seen as an elf. He carried what looked like three blades, possibly more wrapped in the folds of his armor. Each guard looked armed, though to what extent, Jague could not tell yet. He put on his brightest smile and started up a hum as he drew closer to the small group. The closer he got the louder the hum became until he was singing a slight toon. His walking stick clicked against the ground with each step. There was a breeze on the air that smelled of fires and food somewhere close, his stomach answered the reply on the wind.

"Of da lost and acient shores
of da place we like to call home
we look to the books or da lores
for da time we have to pass
before the day we go to mass"

He sung the song with his dwarvish accent. The common tongue was often enough spoke and he could fluently, but he preferred to do it with this accent. It marked him for a dwarf and not a heavy child that he was called sometimes when it grew dark in the cities.

"Oh, uh, hello dere!" One of the guards jumped around in his direction. He had apparently not seen or heard Jague coming. The guards hand was on a weapon, but it never unsheathed.

"I see yous a bit jumpy dere mate." Jague turned his attention to the other three which finally broke their stares with each other and turned to him. Their eyes still glanced back and forth measuring each other up. Perhaps they had just met.

"Hello and well met." The guard captain said.

"Same to ya to mate. Say, I've come to join yer cause. May a bit o'fun, or maybe fer healin' yer wounded." He turned to the warrior elf. "Might ya be new 'ere too? Ya've a bit o'dust on yer heels and ya look awful hungry, but most of ya elves do all the time anyhow." He paused. "I forgot me manners, da name's Jague, and I'm at yer service mates. Might I ask yer names?"

Jague stood there for a second in silence. Silence was something a monk was used to, but he didn't always enjoy it. Jague like to be among people and in the masses. Was better to fulfill his quest that way.

Written by Ardwen

Ardwen was at a loss first, no one to fight? No wars, no enemies, no devious plotting and underhanded deals, in such a world, would there be a need for people such as him? Everywhere Ardwen had traveled had been to wars or on the rumors of war, in his realm, there was always fighting, combat, and power struggles. What would his role be in a world that lacked such things? A brief image conjured in his mind, people like him, who loved the blade for more than just a weapon, would be outcasts surely. Ardwen settled his mind, for this world was surely not that one, he would have a purpose here. Responded in as casual tone as he could muster, “No one to fight you say? But, I note that you did make mention of a wizard? Yes, yes, I heard, and there’s no reason to hide it after all. In fact, I agree with you, wizards of any sort are a dangerous lot! They meddle in esoteric arts and arcane secrets they themselves barely understand, very few have ever earned my confidence, and it would seem the same applies to you as well.”

Ardwen paused briefly then continued to talk, “A spear and a whip? And you arrived here? So you are…not native to this world as well?” Saying those words reminded Ardwen bitterly of how he was yanked here, but he kept his voice smooth, “Certainly though, despite what seeming differences we had, you had nobility! Perhaps…you did not call them such, aye that must be it. The ruling classes were always fond of fanciful titles and obscuring codes so they could obfuscate what they really were to the common person. When I say nobility, I mean a caste of the “privileged” in society, who by birth most often, are elevated to a position of wealth and power beyond that of the common individual. Sometimes these people rule entire countries, huge swaths of land that extend from shore to shore, and sometimes they control vast networks of warriors, spies, and merchants. But one thing is always constant, they control more than any other individual save those of their rank.”

Ardwen was about to stand back and allow Keeryn ample time to consider his inquires, he was after all enjoying the conversation greatly, no warriors! What a fascinating, albeit certainly odd, people! He noted briefly the guards studying him intently again, but it seemed he would be allowed to carry on his talk with no interruption, and then a noise caught his ears. Something was travelling towards them, nothing large by the sounds of it, and whomever it was stepped lightly as if trying not to draw attention, but his ears could not be fooled. Spinning around and putting his hand on his great blade, Ardwen froze as he saw who was approaching.

A short figure with a shaven head and beard approached him; he’d seen this sort before. A brief smile touched Ardwen’s mouth, it would seem that he could be pulled into any universe or world in imagination, where any number of things might be true or false, but Dwarves…well, Dwarves would always be Dwarves! Ardwen listened to Jague speak, he seemed to have startled one of the guards. With a little effort, Ardwen released his grip on the large blade, the Dwarf, Jague is what he said his name is, looked unarmed and proclaimed to be a healer.

Ardwen decided to respond to the enigmatic Dwarf, “Aiya Naug. I am indeed, what you would call, new here. As for the dust of my raiment, that’s entirely a product of too much time away from Court. As for food, I was not…anticipating a long journey today, but it seems my plans have changed. Fear not though, I’ll not drop from starvation unless they intend to keep me out here for far longer than I thought. So you’ve been drawn here as well? A healer? But unless my eyes deceive me you’ve more of the look of a warrior about you than any clergy I’ve ever known.”

With that said Ardwen decided to see what this Jague would do next, this was getting interesting. Apparently that paladin had spoken the truth, there really was going to be a flood of arrivals!

Written by Pharsalus

Geirik squinted and lowered his head, retreating into the shadow it cast on his palid and tattered face. Even the dying light of evening lay too heavily on the old man's eyes. He truely was old, he feared -- far older than a mortal man should be -- and felt his age with every breath and step. The last several decades had proven burdensome and tiring to his already beleaguered form, and he felt his shoulders sinking lower with the setting of every sun.

His eyes remained on his hands that rested casually on the saddle before him. How thin and frail they had become, and yet how strong they felt on the hilt of a blade. He reflected as Gunthorp slowly thopped and swaggered down the dimly beaten path before them how many lives he had taken with them. How many paniced faces were wrenched into being by the power he held within him. Under normal circumstances, such a notion would disgust him. But he felt a strange sense of empowerment in being what he had become, though he would never in an inifinity ofl ifetimes admit it to himself. He lifted his hands, clad in black leather gloves, palms up and fingers bent. He slowly balled them into fists, watching the leather gloss and tighten around his nuckles -- he could not recall where he got the gloves he now wore. They were so distantly familiar, that it irritated him. He knew them: their smell, feel, look, and style were so familiar, as if he had worn them all his life. It was as if he simply awoke from slumber one distant morning in what he currently wore with no memory of its make or origin -- like a dream.

The light of day weigned slowly as he and his rented horse sauntered onward. He tipped the forward rim of his hat upward with his right index finger, moving his gaze carefully up toward the distance ahead of him. The fortress was much closer now than it was only moments ago, but he remained more than a few moments away still. He noticed that throughout his ponderings, the landscape had shifted into a downward slope. The front gates of the Elven fortress stood just below eye-level in a distance no greater than several hundred yards away. He squinted, and the shadowed outlines of figures stood just outside. There were three, maybe four, standing in a haphazard clump below a flag-bearing archway.

His took a moment to shift his gaze to the west, noting a wood -- undoubtedly the same through which he so recently traversed -- not far from the outter walls of the keep. To this moment, he marvelled at the inpenetrable dark Elven woods created within themselves. He could see nothing past the first several feet of trees; it would make a perfect hiding/camping place should he feel the situation turn for ill. As he returned his gaze to the upcoming gate, his mind reeled as it was bombarded by violent flashes, images conjured by unknown forces. He nearly fell off his horse as he pulled back on the reigns to stop Gunthorp's walk. All about him went black, interrupted only by sensual pangs and visions not his own. The forest to his left grew suddenly darker, stronger in presence, and almost forboding. Raspy whispers blew through his mind like an autumn chill, unintelligible but incredibly potent. They seemed to ooze from the trees of the naerby wood and sat heavy, like some dire sap, in his ears. Whatever dark magic siezed him in Ancora siezed him now -- he was close to its source, as this was far stronger a feeling than before.

Like dew before the morning sun, all that afflicted him lifted from his mind as suddenly as it had fallen. He sat in the middle of the road, only ten minutes' travel from the front gates and shelter for the evening. He thought quietly: if he is so close to the force that brought him this far from his search for the heiress, it was safe to assume that this fortress held some significance. His presence there, then, would serve only to endager those innocents contained within its walls. Death had not selected any mortals for the taking in this realm; so, he was not inclined to assume responsibility for any.

He eyed the clump of individuals standing around the gate in the near distance. It seemed to him that tonight was not his night for warm lodgings. He sighed and pulled hard on the left reigns. Gunthorpe, shaking his head in protest, hesitantly adjusted himself to the West. Geirik would camp in the woods not far from the fortress's entrance, close enough to know if this unknown force that toyed with his senses was making a move against this Elven keep. He could not understand why Death's legions were so restless so far into the Elven lands, especially so close to this ancient, unknown keep. Only time would explain. He would camp outside until he knew for certain, for there was apparently more to this place than he was aware.

He paused at the treeline, looking back toward the road. Looking at his hands once more, he clenched them tight around the reigns and, with a twitch of his forearms, bade Gunthorpe enter, flowers and foliage withering and dying in his wake.

Written by Teran

Quiet as a whisper, Teran slips through the corridors and passages of the castle, his very essence hidden within the shadows... not even the elves with their superior senses could detect him in the confines of the shadowy halls. He was soon at his objective... Mavigan's bedroom. He slips inside, knowing that he would be alone.

He examines the room closely, seeking out any traps or poisons another assassin may have set up for the Queen, finding none, Teran disapears into a shadowy nook near Mavigan's bed, and he waits... His intuition told him he would be needed once night fell, in this room.

Written by Archeantus

The shadows crept along the forest floor as night road with the small group, hellbent on an ancient structure to kill a princess to incite world war.

At thier head was a lone stranger, dark and unknown to all, even those who followed him. The sun had begun its descent through the trees, the clouds blazed in reddened hue. It was as ominous as it was beautiful. As it was, it was a good day to ride. The cool wind flowed along thier dark cloaks, sending them flapping behind them. They rode side by side, a wave of doom.

Vermigard pointed as they crested a hill, just as the sun slipped behind the mountians.

There down the lush valley sitting atop the perch of the beginning on a mountain range was the Citadel. It was only a silhouette, but it was impressive nonetheless. A massive waterfall could be seen just above it, seemingly pouring directly down through the structure.

"The question is, how do we get in?" Vermigard said, eyeing the large chasm and the towering draw bridge.

Gadianton's face was emotionless, his dark eyes calculating.

Then he smiled, ever so slightly.


Written by Sycon - Page 14 Book 1

Ah, so the elf did have a keen eye. Jague had heard that most elves did, though he had never really grown to know one. But unlike the elf, he had avoided one of the guards so far. Some type of... Jague couldn't really ascertain what it might be, but it was female none the less. By the looks of her, she was quick, maybe even had the luck that one might say as 'nine lives.' As Jague had not seen anything of the like of her before, he averted his eyes quickly back to the elf with the clumsy looking blade on his back, but not before he dropped her a small wink to be friendly. Maybe he would ask her name later after the guard captain was satisfied.

"Big blade fer an elf wouldn't ya say. Heard a tad bit of yer conversation on da way over, but jus' to see an elf be wearin' dat sort a t'ing is jus' kinda weird in me own opinion. Me thinks all yas need is yer hands. If yer travellin', maybes a leanin' stick at da most. As fer clergy, I don' like dem types. Dey stay in da livin' quaters all day and scribe some useless nonsense onto paper. I'm a bit of an herbist meself, an... an... wat da word... apothocar' of sorts I suppose. So's I guess I look dis way from a bit of gatherin' and bein' on da outside a good bit. I go a pickin' da weeds dat might make a sick person feels a bit better, ers a wounded person numbs the pain. Maybe if I can stay long 'nough, set up a still." Jague's eyes lit up at the word and a wide, broad smile crossed his face.

He had not had a good drink since he left the monks to start his quest. What he quested for he had no idea, but he was moving along the road nicely. The rumors had brought him here for the sick and injured, but for the fighting he was not sure. He would wait to see both sides of the story before he resorted to pledging his fealty in combat.

The guard captian looked him over once more. It did not take long due to his height, but it was still a bit uncomfortable. Jague kept his composure of a smile and leaned on his walking staff. The captain began to speak, "An apothocary are you? You said you stick to healing the sick and wounded. Very well, I understand that, but what of those scars around your neckline and shirtline there?"

Jague was stunned, but he did not show it. He had mastered his composure completely and in a crowd and knew how to go unnoticed and even politic on occasion. "Wells sirs, ya caught me. I used to fight when it was needed. I fight still when it is needed, but I's a lot betters when comes to da healin'. As some of da elves say in dere poetry and songs, I'm a lover, not a fighter dere mate. Not anymores anyhow, 'specially when I can be avoidin' it. I cans read a few different languages when its a needed, do a bit of scribin', but me specialtizes is da potions fer da fighters and da sick." Jague felt around in his satchel and brought out a small herb, not longer than his hand and started chewing it, leaving most of it hanging from his mouth. He went on to speak from the side of his mouth not enclosing the small herb. "If'ns ya don mind, I's a like to stay here fer a while. Maybe's meets a few peoples and gets to know a few folks and areas round 'ere? Might dat be alloweds sirs?"

Once Jague really knew the people, he could find those that he could trust, or those who would trust him. He would never lie to another, but maybe speak in a riddle was mores of his style. As for fighting, he would do it as he needed, and hopefully here he would not need it; he could keep to healing. He served best usually as a bodyguard. He was quite adept at spotting traps set, identifying poisons, and even catching arrows when it was needed. As he had sworn his oath to never pick up a weapon, he would always use his fist, or perhaps this staff if it was near. He leaned on it now quite profusely, looking completely off balance and unguarded, but this was only one of the many styles of combat he had learned in his mastery of his body and soul.

Written by Ardwen

Ardwen smiled at Jague and dropped a slight bow, a smile crept onto his face, so faint it did not touch his eyes. “A bit large for an Elf you say, eh?” Ardwen began motioning to the blade strapped to his back, “Well, you’re not the first to say it, and I seriously doubt you’ll be the last. I’ve already explained to Keeryn," he paused for a brief instance to gesture to his recently met friend at the gate, “That the blade is mainly meant for fighting in open areas, taking down mounted warriors and such.”

Ardwen paused again to glance around, he seemed to shudder slightly and added in an almost confidential whisper, “There’s nothing funny about being caught in a heavy Calvary charge and nothing but a short blade to defend yourself with. While it can be done, I like to look out for my fellows on the field, and this blade can take out a horse much easier than either of the two at my side.” Ardwen patted the large blade on his back almost affectionately. His face reset to neutral, hard planes and angles as he looked over the Dwarf once again. He had met Dwarves before, although they had been slightly different than this, more prone to using an axe and seemingly more distrusting of those they called the “roofless” ones, those who lived on the surface of the world. Still, it was entirely possible that this Jague was not the average example of his people, very possible indeed. Regardless, his statement that he knew both fighting and healing caught Ardwen’s attention, those skills could come in useful, very useful.

Ardwen cleared his throat before addressing Jague, “I’m sure your skills, master Dwarf, whether they be martial or mending in nature will find good employ here. After all, this place appears to be a citadel, some manner of hold. Regardless, there are soldiers here, and they’re defending something, which means they’re defending it from someone. Ergo, there’s bound to be fighting, and where there’s fighting, there’s wounded. As for a still…I attempted drinking Dwarven spirits once, it took me far closer to death than any foe I’ve ever faced on the battlefield.” Ardwen finished with a chuckle before putting on an unreadable expression again. True, he was still probably hopelessly lost, but at least he was not alone, and it looks like he had found some new companions…and perhaps even a worthy cause already!

Written by Varg

Varg hears footsteps in the distance heading in his direction. He quickly jumps to his feet, and puts himself back in order. Although there should be no reason for being concerned, he has learned through his years to be prepared for anything that may fall upon you. Soon he sees the figure coming down the hall in his direction, and seeing there is no danger relaxes his posture a bit to not seem to aggresive.

Alaric speaks as he gets closer to Varg, "Hail sire, my name is Alaric and I am here to escort you to her Majesty the Queen Ariana. Before we proceed I first have a few questions to ask of you."

"Hail and well met Alaric, I am Varg Ulbrecht, please ask away." Varg replies.

"What is your purpose for being here?" asks Alaric.

"To be quite honest I was called to service here by the All-Father. I have a dual purpose; one to search out my past, and two to serve the purpose of the All-Father which I believe to be done through the service to the Queen at this time. As such I felt it was apropriate to seek an audince with her majesty. I have much experience in many skills that would be well suited for the Queen's purposes." stateds Varg.

"This we shall soon see. I would ask that you first hand over your weapons as a precaution at this time. We would not want to put the Queen in harms way. Once you have done this we shall head to the stables to meet with her grace." Alaric states.

Varg reluctantly, but understandably hands over his swords to Alaric. Then he proceeds to re-collect his pack and other belongings and follows Alaric to the stables.

"I am not sure if you are aware or not but the King and his family were assassinated recently. Queen Mavigan just recently stepped into her rightful position as the new leader of our realm. So be careful what you say to her, she is strong of spirit, but I am afraid such loses and changes in her life leave her drained at this time." Alaric states.

"I am sorry for her loss, and the loss of this kingdom. I will make sure to convey my condolences to her, unless you think this inapropraite." Varg replies.

Afterwards Alaric and Varg walked the path to the stables, continuing in small talk until they reached their destination.

Alaric, "Your majesty I am sorry to interupt, but I present to you Varg Ulbrecht. He has come requesting an audience with you."

Varg then bows to one knee in honor of the Queen, "I am honored your majesty Queen Mavigan to be in your presence, and have come to offer my services to you."

Varg stays in that position, which is customary, until told by the person of honor it is okay to rise.

Written by Ariana

Hearing a cough behind her, Mavigan startled, only to find an apple thrust in her hands.

“It is good to be prepared to reward loyalty and devotion among your followers. Allow me to be of assistance,” Wilhelm said.

Mavigan rolled her eyes at Wilhelm as she took the apple and fed it lovingly to Argent. She suspected she would be receiving many more backhanded “lessons” on her “duty”, but after this morning she was in no mood to be a willing student. Grousing a bit, she said in greeting, “Wilhelm, you are certainly looking blinding this morning! Such attire is certainly not suited for camouflage.”

Wilhelm said nothing for a moment, though Mavigan thought she saw the traces of a smile, and offered the second apple to Sable. He continued speaking, ignoring her obvious attempt to pick a fight. “I am pleased you could accept the offer to ride. Argent and Sable can both use the exercise, and I am sure you would like to get outside yourself. I will be honored to accompany you and allow these skilled gentlemen the chance to stay further off to watch for outside threads. I am sure you must have a few things to say to me.”

“Great,” Mavigan thought to herself. “More uninvited tag-alongs.” She paused as she noticed Wilhelm’s wink. “Well,” she thought trying to hide a smile, “at least he knows he deserves a tongue lashing!”

Wilhelm, ever skillful in the art of defusing Mavigan’s bad moods, moved on to compliments before she had the chance to unleash her barbed tongue. “The new outfit is very becoming on you. You look a most fair Amazon.”

Mavigan snickered. She knew full well he was pouring on the charm. Wilhelm was very familiar with her love of stories regarding the ancient Amazons. Comparing her to one of them was Wil’s own subtle way of buttering her up. Mavigan found a giggle bubbling up in spite of herself and quickly suppressed it. If the truth be told, Mavigan didn’t really want to tear into Wilhelm like she did Alaric. Wilhelm was intimidating, always cloaked in an air of righteousness. Alaric was anything but intimidating.

While Mavigan’s attention was directed internally, Wilhelm continued to prattle on. She picked up a sentence every now and again. “Many folks will be coming here to see you, to talk to you, and to pledge their services to you,” she caught. “Ah,” she thought, “going into another lecture on duty and propriety. How boring.” Grabbing a brush out of the stall, she busied herself with heaping attention onto the two horses, listening to Wilhelm with only half an ear.

“I must apologize if I have overstepped myself, but you were rather tired last night and so I made some requests on your behalf.”

That statement caught her attention and caused her to cease her ministrations. She cast a glare in Wilhelm’s direction. “The last thing I wanted to do this morning was to wake up confronted with mourning clothes!” she growled. Wilhelm cast his eyes down in submission, so Mavigan settled herself with a simple, “Just don’t do it again!”

Wilhelm seemed to accept this and motioned towards a green scarf at his belt. Mavigan watched, her anger quickly replaced with curiosity as she heard him say “When you were tend you gave me this scarf and asked me to be your Champion in the Spring Tournament.”

Shock and disbelief crossed Mavigan’s face as she remembered that Spring Tournament. At the time, Etewen had a rather handsome suitor, and the young Mavigan had seen her sister give the man the scarf from her hair as he agreed to be her Champion. Mavigan wasn’t entirely sure what was going on, but she was determined not to be shown up by her sister. Ripping the scarf from her own scarlet locks, she quickly searched the area trying to find a participant to be her “Champion”. The first person she had bumped into was Wilhelm.

Mavigan remembered how inordinately pleased she was that he had agreed to bear her scarf. Wilhelm was a much bigger fellow than the one her sister had bestowed the gift upon. Running to her mother, she had promptly bragged about her deed. Her mother merely hid her smile and patted Mavigan on the arm.

Soon, Etewen’s suitor was forgotten, and there was another childish adventure to be had. Mavigan had completely forgotten about that scrap of green silk, and yet, here it was, still attached to the man she had given it to. Mavigan didn’t know whether to be angry he had attached such significance to a childish fancy, or honored that he had cherished her gift so highly.

“I cannot believe you kept that,” Mavigan blurted. A brief smile of amusement crossed her face. “I was a child. I think it rather funny that you have cherished it so highly.” She resumed brushing the horses as she added, “But if you wish to continue to hang onto it, feel free. I have no intention of bestowing anything like it on anyone else.”

Replacing the brush where she found it, she then turned to grab her saddle. “Now, how about that ride?”

As she uttered that question, the bane of her existence, namely Alaric, strolled into the stable with all due pomp and circumstance. With an extremely formal tone that grated on Mavigan’s nerves, he introduced Varg Ulbrecht, who promptly, and to Mavigan’s extreme discomfort, dropped to one knee and offered his services.

Biting her lip in anxiety, she looked down at the kneeling fellow, who kept his head bowed and his posture submissive. Mavigan quickly wracked her brain, trying to find what she supposed to do now. After many moments of getting absolutely nothing, she stopped. Had she not already promised to herself to be a Queen on her own terms? Why subscribe to protocol, when she could simply be herself?

She cast a quick glance at Wilhelm. She knew without a doubt he wouldn’t like it, and, as she cast her glance at Alaric, neither would he. But then, maybe she shouldn’t care?

Mavigan slowly blew out a breath she didn’t even realize she had been holding. “Ok, Varg Ulbrecht,” she said desperately hoping no one noticed the quiver in her voice, “you can…um…service me.” Mavigan nodded to herself, thinking she had handled that rather well, that is, until she heard the sharp intake of breath from the shiny paladin beside her. Guessing she had said something wrong, she tried again, “Um, you can provide your services to me.”

Judging from the fact that Alaric slapped his hand over his eyes, she guessed that wasn’t right either. She noticed that Varg’s shoulders were shaking slightly, and she suspected he was laughing at her. “Oh hell!” she blurted in frustration. “Just get up off the floor! You can join our not-so-merry band, just stop with all the bowing and scraping! It is truly making me nauseous!”

Mavigan turned her heel on the lot of them and began to saddle Argent. “Oh, and Wilhelm?” she said, “I’m riding Argent!”

Written by Varg

"Sorry M'lady I venture to guess you are somewhat new to proper ettiquette and protocol. I understand, and apologize for my laughter." Varg replied. "I see you are preparing for a ride, mind if I join you?"

"Do as you like." Mavigan quickly responds.

"Yes Varg you may join us, we were about to go on a leisurely ride around the kingdom," Wilhelm replied.

Alaric just stands there and shakes his head in disbelief.

Varg begins to saddle his horse Belenus and asks, "Excuse me for asking but may I have my weapons back?"

"Alaric are you that worried for my safety? Please give the man back his weapons. Do you really think I am at risk with all of you watching over me at all times?" Mavigan stated as she glared at Alaric.

Alaric then hands Varg back his weapons, and returns a stern look back at Mavigan. "I was only looking out for your safety, after all you are still at risk."

Varg quickly places his short swords back in their rightful place, and mounts Belenus. "Are you ready to go? We can talk more of what has brought me here once we are out of your prison M'lady" Varg then snickers at Mavigan.

He has already found her to be similar in spirit to himself. He can tell she is not much for the trappings of the life of royalty, and is just as comfortable in leather armor and weapons in hand. A scrappy type, this will be interesting Varg thinks to himself. He begins to pat Belenus on the neck and starts to communicate with him using his Ranger skills. Varg asks Belenus to keep a careful ear and eye open for anything strange, since it seems there is a risk by heading out with the Queen.

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm took a deep breath to quiet the laughter he had been holding back. Motioning to Sable, who he had just finished saddling with his war saddle, Wilhelm said, "Indeed, Argent will be happy to bear you and can use the exercise. As you see, I will be riding Sable."

Turning to Varg he said, "Welcome Varg, As you see our new Queen has her own style of court etiquette. Since court etiquette is set by the Crown, we may be seeing much less formality in future courts. A positive change, in my view. Come ride with us and tell us about yourself. We will be riding around the keep, to check on any new visitors at the front gate, then proceed around the grounds."

Turning to Alaric he said, "I and these two guards will watch over Mavigan and ensure that Varg makes no ill moves. Perhaps you would like to come along as well, after you have saddled your horse."

Seeing that Varg had finished saddling his horse, Wilhelm led him and the two horses outside. He well knew that Mavigan could mount by herself and would not appreciate an offer of assistance in doing so. He saw that the two guards lready had their mounts ready. One came with him, then mounted and began to survey the courtyard, while the other remained inside until Mavigan was ready to leave.

Written by Turin Wallace

Interrupting his silence, a guard knocks on Ithramir's chamber door. Bidding the guard to come in, Ithramir listens to what he has to say,

"It seems the half-elven queen is going for a ride and her entourage will be going with her. We have also had a few newcomers ask for permission to enter the gates, and as you asked, the human Wilhelm has allowed them to do so. He has also..."

The guard hesitates momentarily, then continues,

"...allowed them to pledge service to this queen. At the moment, they are preparing for a ride into the forests around our citadel."

Ithramir continues eyeing the obviously fidgeting guard, until finally he says,

"Out with it. I can see you wish to tell me more."

The guard, lowering his eyes, says,

"No disrespect meant, milord, but we saved them. Why do they not bend knee to you? I heard Nagarren favors this girls family, but do they not know that you are favo..."

An angry glance is thrown in the direction of the guard, thus silencing him temporarily. Timidly, the guard concludes,

"It just seems most ungracious of them, milord, to ignore you in these matters."

Leaning back in his chair, he thinks for a moment and says,

"Thank you for your report, Isélas, now return to your post."

Bowing low, the guard leaves Ithramir's chambers.

Attempting to re-engage himself into the book his was reading, he was disturbed yet again, but this time by a female voice that says,

“He is right, you know. These humans and various creatures do not seem too…hmm, what’s the word…thankful…for what you, no we have done for them. What do you think?”

Feeling a light, gentle hand rest on his shoulder, Ithramir replies,

“Ah, I see you have awoken Lithwyn, I had not wished to disturb you. You seemed to sleep well after our council last eve, and with the coming events, we all could use some rest before the storm.”

Pausing, he then says,

“Anyway, to answer your question melethril, I have received some measure of thanks from her subordinates. None from Nagarren’s avatar as yet, however, I realize her attitude is distinctly human and expect nothing from her at this point. Perhaps you should speak to her this evening, nín meleth.”

Getting a smile from the elegant female elf, who was adorned in long flowing red robes that accented her own unique reddish hair, she replies,

“Perhaps I will, melethron. I will see what the goddess wills for me to do. Now, as for you, I suggest you prepare for a ride this morning.”

Opening the door to his chambers, Lithwyn tells a guard to bring Ithramir’s best armor and his personal weapons, the long sword named “Urugdanir” and the great bow “Throssgurth.” From his seat, Ithramir could hear what she was saying, and once the door closes, he asks,

“Am I to expect trouble this day, melethril?”

Lithwyn responds,

“The goddess says ill deeds are awakening, I feel you should be prepared for any eventuality.”

Ithramir nods, then says,

“Agreed. It is rather strange Beridane has waited so long to act. I fear we may have some company soon, but unlike a real threat, this one will be stealthy and secret in its workings. We must be vigilant and stop Beridane’s plans wherever we can until we have the strength to face him head on. I fear it will be a long road ahead, melethril.”

Hearing the door open, Ithramir’s armor and weapons arrive. Lithwyn watches as he is outfitted and gives an approving nod when the guards are done. Walking over to him, she embraces him, and then goes to tend her duties as a priestess of Kaia’hanas. For his part, Ithramir tells a guard,

“Prepare my horse, Dúath, for riding. Also, inform Mavigan’s group that I shall be joining them shortly.”

With a bow, the guard goes off to fulfill his duty, while Ithramir slowly makes his way to the stables. Letting out a slight chuckle, he figures it’s his citadel and that he can be fashionably late on this occasion.

Written by Wilhelm

As Wilhelm and Varg waited outside, they heard Mavigan say, "I do NOT need help!" Evidently Alaric had made the mistake of offering help in mounting Argent. Shortly thereafter Mavigan rode out of the stable accompanied by the second guard, looking pleased with herself. While Alaric and his followers Lao and Koric were saddling their own mounts, a guard came up and told them that Ithramir wouild be joining them presently.

Wilhelm told Varg that he would soon be meeting the commander of this fortress. A groom came out with Ithramir's warhorse about the same time as Ithramir himself, accompanied by Feramus, approached the stable, fully armed with long sword and great bow. Alaric, Lao and Koric also joined the gathering party. Alaric was riding in sullen silence.

Wilhelm performed introductions and consulted with Ithramir, who agreed that they should first ride around to the front gate to see the new arrivals. They set off through the elegant elven gardens at a brisk trot. Brilliantly colored singing birds flew by and serenaded the party, to Mavigan's delight. Ithramir spoke with Varg about his past and his present plans, and Wilhelm could see that Mavigan was paying attention. Feramus and the two other elven rangers formed a trio of outriders, with Alaric, Lao and Loric forming another trio closer in. Wilhelm rode on Mavigan's left, with Ithramir on her right and Varg to Ithramir's right.

The ten riders came around the inner keep and approached the main gate, where Eladir, the Gate Captain, stood with Keeryn, two gate guards, and a dwarf and a tall elf with a greatsword. Captain Eladir reported to Ithramir and performed elegent elven introductions between Jague and Ardwen and the rest of the party. Ardwen, Jague and Varg repeated their stories.

Gesturing to Varg, Ardwen, and Jague, Wilhelm said to Ithramir and Mavigan, "This is the beginning of the arrivals we can expect as word of Mavigan spreads. I detect no falsehood from these three. The names they give are their true names. We should see if there is a common factor in their early and unusual appearance here. I suspect that there is divine will at work here, just as there may be demonic forces at work elsewhere."

Written by Vylia

Keeryn notices as Wilhelm rides up to the gate along with the stuffy Ithramir and somewhat happier, at least happier than she was last time she saw her, Mavigan. She smiled waving at them as they got a bit closer, stopping before the small group of newcomers. "Hello again Wilhelm, where's everyone going, and armed so heavily? If you don't mind me asking anyway..." Keeryn starts rocking back and forth on her heels as she smiles up at Wilhelm, trying to look as innocent as possible.

Written by Pharsalus

Geirik sat irritated near a small pile of ember and a satchel containing various potions, clothing, tools, and other such items handy in crunches. He was irritated because the Liche within him churned and boiled like a black stew within his chest -- something was wrong with this place. Had Geirik inherited the gift (or curse -- he couldn't tell which) of spectral sight, he was certain he could see the walking dead rattling their chains and commanding recognition and acceptance of vengeful, unknown tasks against unknown persons. He hated their hissing and whispering and moaning, and he hated even more the ceaseless discomfort of the monster within him. As he sat flush against a tree, Gunthorpe tied only paces west of him, a long stalk of wild grass lying gently on his lower lip, Geirik tried to make sense of the woods about him.

His eyes stared hard into the dying embers before him, taking in what little orange light they yet contained and twisting it into rings -- rings that, until the embers went out, held back the shadows in his eyes. He sat in silence usually only reserved for dead men until the surface of his mind began to crackle and ache.

Geirik....

The old man attempted once to ignore the calling of his stow-away.

GEIRIK!

He sighed, spitting out the now splintered stalk, keeping his eyes locked on the dying firelight.

What the bloody hell do you want?

Oooooo...heh heh heh heh....touchy, angry little man we are this evening, yesss...?

Geirik's eyes narrowed, a frown contorting across his face...

Indeed, but it is you who have been restless since we crossed into Elven lands. What say you, Dark One? What do you sense?

There was only silence and the first sounds of evening creatures seeping into the dark of the wood around the old bounty hunter and his horse. Geirik's mind grew dim, as if it were now only him present. He was almost ready to accept that the Liche had gone dormant again when when its shrill, chilling voice surged up from within him.

I sense.......Death. Or, perhaps, his minions. They....cry out in woe...pain.....desparation....

Again there was silence. Geirik's face loosened as he fought to acertain if what he'd just detected in the Dark One's voice was...discomfort? It continued.

Be wary here, Human. The dead do not cry like this unless they are shackled my arrogant mortals...Necromancers...Wizards. To the west, far beyond what your mortal eyes can see, lies the source of this....torment....

It paused, as if confirming what it sensed. Geirik could almost see dark and formless tendrils reaching out into the ever-thickening dusk, revealing to their master secrets no mortal was ever meant to know.

Geirik tensed as his vision dimmed and the world about him sparked into a blaze of twisting shapelessness. An image condensed before him like beads of ink puddling on the parchment of his mind. It was a man surrounded in light -- ghastly, searing light -- on a horse of equal splendor. The voice continued.

The gods have sent a messenger, to the East in the fortress beyond the treeline. He...is powerful, skilled in the ways of combat and prayer. As powerful as I may make you, human....Death is nothing before immortality. This one...he is protected by the divine. Crossssss him....and I can guarantee nothing.

The image held itself suspended in Geiriks mind. He could make out no face -- only the emblem of three circles or rings; he could not tell which. Chills ran through Geirik's body as his vision returned to the mortal world. The one within him had gone silent once more, leaving only the sound of insects and the munching of his rented horse on small tufts of grass and flowers.

Geirik removed his hat and lay his head against the tree. He was tired, and his reason for being here still left him confused and frustrated. The image of the One protected by the divine was still impressed in his mind, but why? He had no qualm with this man or his gods. And the shadow that sat to the west -- supposedly his reason for leaving Ancora to come here -- and its source remained a mystery. The old man sighed and allowed his eyes to close.

Giving one last involuntary thought, the shadows around him condensed and thickened in the air about him. He was not invisible, but fairly close to it to any not paying attention. He smiled to himself.

The Elves can keep their cloaks and hooded garments. Darkness is a far greater camouflage...and it matches my boots.

He chuckled softly to himself as he slipped into a light slumber.

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm looked down at Keeryn and smiled in greeting. "Mavigan requested a chance to go riding, and the rest of us came along to provide a proper retinue, and to enjoy the gardens as well. A Queen's Retinue requires a certain amount of formal display, as you see by our armor and weapons. However these are also in response to the serious threat that assassins may strike at our young Queen during the ride and therefore we must be prepared to defend her."

Wilhelm pointed at Varg. "Varg Ulbrecht, whom you have met, was called here mysteriously by the All-Father and has taken service with Her Majesty." Gestering at Jague and Ardwen, Wilhelm said "Unless I miss my guess, the dwarf and elf there have also arrived here in some strange manner to join us in service to the Queen. Keeryn, would you please introduce these two to the rest of us? They can then tell us their stories."

Written by Turin Wallace

Listening to Wilhelm, Ithramir says,

"There is a bit of the divine and the demonic that may yet pass this day. I earnestly hope for the first and am fully well prepared to meet the second."

Casting a glance at the sky, then the forests edge, he continues,

"However, if we are to ride then let us ride. The day is fair, the sun not unbearably hot, and a slight wind blowing in from the valleys around us. A good day so far."

Not wanting to ruin everyone's mood by bringing up a hunch of ill-fortune, Ithramir keeps his facade of pleasantness for the time being. Motioning toward those standing at the gate, he says,

"Care for a ride, gentlemen? If you do not have a mount, one will be lent to you for the afternoon."

Seeing them nod in the affirmative, his stablemasters bring the proper amount of steeds to those assembled. Trotting on Dúath, he comes to Mavigan and says,

"I assume you and your troupe are ready to ride now? Good. Then what shall be our destination?"

Written by Varg

Varg rides up to Ithramir, and introduces himself.

"Hello Sir Ithramir, I am Varg Ulbrecht. I have newly arrived as you may have heard. I was lead here by the All-Father to pledge my services to the Queen. I will assume since my skills are in a the vein of scouting and subterfuge, I will probably be in service to you more directly. As well if you do not mind I was wondering if we could converse a little more privately during our ride. I have some questions that maybe only you can answer being that you seem to be an elf of some high standing."

Varg has noticed the quality of adornments and gear worn by Ithramir. He has assumed from this that Ithramir is either in a position of authority or royalty in the Elven courts.

Varg then bows to Ithramir as a sign of respect due his position, then awaits the response.

Written by Ardwen

Ardwen caught the sound of horse hooves long before he saw any appear at the front gate. Unexpectedly, several people on noble steeds come riding to the gate. Ardwen rapidly looked from one member of the group to another and recognized one of them, the mighty paladin who had seemed so shocked at his initial appearance, almost as shocked as Ardwen was himself. As his eyes move from one to another, his thoughts whirl to utmost shock. Two elves rode with the paladin, and one of them has a noble bearing, obviously some manner of commander, perhaps even something more?

The other was a woman of obviously no simple means, the way she carried herself, the very air screamed of royal blood, but there was something else there too. Ardwen had never been very adept at gauging such emotions...but could it be resentment? Resignation? He was not certain. By this time, the group had finished moving to the front gate, and idled there looking each of them over in turn. Ardwen found himself once again looking at the Elf who rode to the right of the lady, his mind tickled with the brief touches of memory that stirred when he glanced at him.

The gate captain stepped forward, and introductions were formally exchanged between the group. When it was Ardwen's turn, he casted one more quick glance at the group, and bowing he said, "Aiya Eldalie ar Atanatari, elen sila lumenn omentielvo." The blade strapped to his back was so large as to make the bow somewhat jerky and less deep than he had desired, but the formality of his words were great, even perhaps a bit superfluous.

Seeing the group still regarding him, Ardwen remembered the rest, and began again somewhat awkwardly, "My name is Ardwen, and that in truth is my entire and full name. I am a warrior from the northern reaches of my land, the land I am familiar with in any case. In my long years I have always served as a soldier for my people, the Daeriath Midranell. Through the long years, I have served many causes, I am what you might call a...patriot in your tongue perhaps? Where I am from, the Elven cause is grim indeed, we were fighting a war in which there could be no victory."

One by one, the group acknowledged his greetings, he did not see any abhorrence in their eyes, and in fact most seemed pensive, as if examining with great care each word he had spoken. Ardwen seriously doubted any of them were aware of the "causes" he spoke of. Supposedly, the paladin who introduced himself as Wilhelm could detect falsehoods of a sort, and reported that he had detected none from Ardwen or any of the others that stood at the gate. That was certainly a useful ability, and should make any conversation rather interesting indeed.

Horses were offered to Ardwen in short order, to which he courteously accepted. Having no horse of his own, a fine steed was provided for him, Ardwen swung into the saddle making sure to keep the horse gentle and still. He glanced over at the regal Elf again, the captain who had introduced himself as Ithramir, memories once again muttered in his mind, as muted voices straining against a heavy wind. Who exactly was this Elf?

Ardwen allowed his thoughts to drift again to the introductions and conversations at the gates. Willhelm had mentioned that the one called Mavigan was a queen. Ardwen was not intimately familiar with the workings of human rulers and their ilk, but he certainly knew enough to know that kings and queens ruled countries. And usually those countries had armies, and those armies fought for various causes and orders, as decreed by the king or queen. To what end, therefore, did this queen pledge herself?

Ardwen glanced at her, this Mavigan, once again. There was something about her that was unusual, not normal in a human queen. Why, for one, was she in an Elven citadel, with seemingly an Elven force at her command? She had also attracted several powerful champions to her cause, but to what end? Ardwen allowed his gaze to linger; he worked his mind furiously for a possible solution to the puzzle that was Mavigan. At first, nothing came...but then a slight and startling conclusion being to creep upon him. Could it be that this queen had Elven blood in her? Certainly she was not a pure Firstborn, perhaps many generations had passed, but that meant the blood was still coursing in her veins nonetheless. It seemed almost impossible to fathom, and brought more questions with it, but it would explain much.

Until he heard otherwise, Ardwen would assume what he concluded about Mavigan, which had serious implications for him. What has Ithramir and Mavigan weighing when he made his introduction? Suddenly his words about being a patriot and serving the Elven cause and blood came rushing back to him. Ardwen merely nodded, he did not regret the words, as Wilhelm had said they were true, all of them. This world may be strange, but it was not completely alien. He had his cause here as well; he would serve this Ithramir, and even Mavigan. But he would not serve Mavigan because she was a queen. If she had even so much as a drop of Elven blood to protect, it was his cause, his duty. Whether she assumed the highest throne in the land or stayed at the citadel for all of eternity, it made no difference to Ardwen. He would not force her along any path, that would be to violate the freedom of the Eldar, but he could protect her.

Ardwen was a warrior; death was his calling. While Mavigan had champions already, and Ithramir did not look as he needed protection, Ardwen would provide his blade nonetheless. A grin swept over Ardwen's face, he briefly wondered if any of them knew of one of the names he had been given? It was an Elven title of course, given to him for his ferocity in combat. It was difficult to translate into the common tongue, but he had done it once or twice. Macilsul: "The Sword-Wind." Ardwen's grin faded, but he chuckled a bit, first at the absurdity of it all, and then for sheer pleasure. His chuckle verged on laughter as a thought passed through his mind, "Some things never change."

Written by Vylia

"Well, uh... since he seems to have introduced himself, I guess I'll introduce the dwarf. His name is Jague, he says he's an apothikay or something like that." Keeryn mulls the word over in her head for a few seconds before giving up on saying it correctly. "I'd love to go with you, but I don't have the slightest idea how to ride one of those things, but as long as they don't go TOO fast I should be able to keep up. I don't suppose I could get a spear or something first though? If you think there might be trouble I would hate to be unprepared, and it's one of the only weapons I can use well... unless you have a whip?" She continues looking up at Wilhelm, hoping maybe he might have a spare whip, it being her favorite weapon.


Written by Wilhelm - Page 15 Book 1

Wilhelm looked a little startled. "A spear should be easy enough to obtain. But a whip?" Wilhelm thought back, and then remembered something. Turning to Ithramir, he said "Back at the stables I saw your Master of Horse training a war stallion with a whip. Not to strike the horse, of course, but to give signals by the sound of the cracking whip. He was using a full bullwhip so he could place the source of the sound to either side. Do you think that Keeryn might have the use of such a whip, along with a spear?"

Written by Turin Wallace

Hearing the one called Varg speak, Ithramir nods his head slightly to him as he bows, then says

"Varg, some conversation would be pleasant on our ride. Feel free to ask or discuss with me whatever you wish. I will answer all as best I can."

As everyone mounts the steeds provided, the one called Ardwen, who no doubt was kin to his kind, spoke. Smilingly, Ithramir replies,

"Aur elvellon, maer ana tírad pen i pent i iaur peth."

Pausing for a moment, he then continues,

"Though we use either the common tongue or the more easier versions of our language now. Well met, Ardwen. It is good to see a kinsman."

Watching the forests with an uneasy spirit, Ithramir hears Wilhelm speaking. Looking over to him, he answers,

"A whip you say? Yes, the stablemaster has one. If this Keeryn desires a whip then we can provide her one."

Calling a guard over, Ithramir tells the guard to fetch one of the stablemasters old whips. The guard then walks off and returns with the item. Pointing over to Keeryn, the guard walks over and hands the whip to her, then leaves to go back to his post.

Looking to Keeryn, he says,

"You'll have a spear later. It seems we are about ready to ride so you'll just have to make due with that for now."

Glancing back to Wilhelm, Ithramir says,

"I trust this satisfies her request for a weapon. Hopefully now we can be off, at least, once your queen is ready."

Written by Vylia

Keeryn smiles as she is given the whip, bowing in an attempted imitation of the others, though not a very good one. "Thank you... The whip is much prefered since it's less likely to break unless it's directly cut. I can always use my claws if anything gets in close." She holds her left hand up, smiling, and unsheaths her claws for a moment before dropping it back to her side.

Written by Ariana

Mavigan had been excited at the prospect of a ride. A chance to feel the wind across her cheeks, hear the birds chirping in the distance, sense the peaceful serenity she often did while out among nature. So pleased was she with the prospect that she was even willing to ignore the fact that she would not be granted the opportunity to enjoy it alone.

She watched with a slightly critical eye as her entourage continued to grow, content to the allow the chatter surround her fade into background noise. Knowing that escape was not possible at the moment, she guided her horse in the same direction as everyone else, inhaling deep breaths of the fresh air, if not with complete joy, then with resigned contentment.

That is, until He came.

She felt him before she saw him, his presence powerful and intimidating. His aura was soon followed by the Elf himself, astride a horse that matched him in power and grace. Apparently, he intended to join this rag tag band of folk on a morning ride.

Mavigan felt herself cringe, every nerve ending screaming in protest at the touch of his powerful aura. She did not understand why he affected her so. It was not as if she were weak. Mavigan had stood toe-to-toe with many powerful men during her days on the streets, and hadn't even flinched. And yet, when Ithramir walked into a room, Mavigan felt the only thing she wanted to do was run and hide.

Ithramir was an alien presence to her, one she could not understand. He came from a world she had heard stories about as a child, but had never experienced. Supposedly, part of that world resided within her - at least, that was what her Mother often told her. But how was Mavigan to know when she had never been there?

Mavigan cast a quick glance towards Wilhelm, who rode beside her, clothed in an aura of righteousness. He, too, lived in a world alien to her. His world was filled with divine powers and direct connections to his god. Yet, Mavigan, did not fear him. Though she had never experienced such divine power herself, she felt she knew Wilhelm. He lived by a code, and because she understood that code, she also understood that she had nothing to fear from him - even if his god was a male.

Her glance slipped from Wilhelm to the enigma on her other side. He, however, she did not understand at all. She did not know what drives him, nor what he fights for. But she had no doubt that if she stepped wrongly just once, he would pin her to the wall, and make no apologies for it.

She noticed him gazing at her, and suddenly Mavigan wanted nothing but the shadows she considered her friends to come and hide her. She was not ready to face this challenge, that much she knew. And her instinct was screaming at her to run, to hide. Not having that option available, she reached for the next best thing: camoflage. Perhaps if she made herself very small and unnoticeable on this trip, it wouldn't be as horrible as she thought it would be.

That idea was quickly tossed out the window as soon as he spoke to her.

She quickly cast her eyes down and mumbled out a clumsy response. "Please, you choose the destination. It matters not to me." Her voice grew softer with each word as gloved fingers began to idly toy with Argent's mane. "And,...um..., yes, I am ready to go."

Written by Turin Wallace

Hearing Mavigan's reply, Ithramir gently spurs his horse forward and says,

"Then, let us be off."

Hearing someone in the small group ask just "where" it is they are going, Ithramir replies,

"Seeing that the day is fair and most, if not all, are in good spirits we shall ride to what we call the Valley of Gwaloth. Some of our people ride there for peace of mind, others to spend time with their loved ones. It is a quiet place, I think you all may enjoy it."

Pausing in a moment of reflection, he then continues,

"It will take some time to reach this place. Be at ease and enjoy the company. Such moments are fleeting in these days and it would be a waste to not take advantage of this."

Saying no more, Ithramir gently spurs his mount forward, letting the others continue at their own pace for the journey.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn noticed Mavigan cringing before Ithramir showed up, but she had let it pass as the need for a weapon arose in her mind. Once she heard the girl mumble a response to Ithramir her curiosity was piqued again, so she walked over next to Wilhelm to see if she could figure out if he knew what was wrong, since she hadn't really talked to the girl before, and Mavigan seemed a bit deep in thought. "Umm, do you mind if I ride with you since it looks like we're going to be travelling for awhile? And maybe you could tell me a bit more about Mavigan while we ride... she looks like she could use a friend, but I don't want to just barge in on her privacy."

Written by Sycon

Jague looked at each person in turn. Searching each's eyes for any sign of laughter. It seemed that many things in this place were all too serious, but then many places like this were these days. Tensions were always high except among the best of friends so it seemed in this region.

Jague did not speak for himself among the turns, as he watched each speak in their own. It was easier to watch those speaking and judge them by the way they spoke and carried themselves. With new recruits coming in though, it would be hard to judge most personalities for they would be on the alert to judge someone else. Jague would just have to wait it out on his own to see who was really who.

Ardwen was not too hard to figure out thus far. He carried a weight on his shoulders that he could not put down. Either by some haunting memory or some lingering quest, Jague was not sure. Ardwen seemed good natured and Jague liked that about him.

Keeyrn he could not quite judge yet. She seemed to be the more upbeat type of...female. She seemed quite the ready for a good fight as well. Jague suspected her of being quite dangerous in battle. It is always those that enjoy battle that scared him, but females were always so fun.

Of course Mavigan was there. It all centered around her, or so it seemed. There was a difference in her, a regal nature, but it seemed still raw and untapped. Just by walking into a room with her you can tell she has a gift, but if she uses it or not, that is the question...but it was she that did not worry Jague.

It was Ithramir and Wilhelm that bothered Jague. Both men had that look. One that Jague knew all too well. You aquire that look after long hours of mediation, prayer, or whatever some may call it. Both men had it, either by some outside force or inner enlightment, you could only aquire that look after you have found something outside of this world, on any other plane of existence. Jague knew this look but did not see the discipline behind either. Both men tipped toed on a fine line, just on different sides of the same spectrum.

He did not pay too much thought to the others. They seemed to far off in their own worlds to see what was truthfully going on. Nevertheless, it was time for Jague to speak up or get forgotten. "I'm not da one fer horses, mates. But could I's a inquire yas on just jogglin' along? I's a good walkin' stick, and I should be able's to keep up wit' yas, but if not, don worry. Jus' go 'head witout me. I'll find yas if ya stop, won't take me longer dan ya tink." If he had to, he could keep up with them for several miles, but he was not going to show this in the least. He would let them get ahead of him and he could stick to the trees and woods that he knew much better. They wouldn't be hard to find if he stuck to the trees. Heck, he could smell half the elves from a mile away, especially Ardwen. They would not be hard to follow.

Jague let a smile cross his face, the herb in his mouth pointed more up as he did. He took the herb from his mouth and placed it back into his pouch. His walking stick made a soft pat on the ground as he took a few steps up to the front horse. He looked into the horses eyes, legs, then back down to the ground. This was going to be good exercise.

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm noted Mavigan's reaction to Ithramir and wondered about the cause. Perhaps it was the elven sense of recognition coming through their shared blood, or perhaps it was one Goddess Avatar perceiving the influence of another Goddess. Or maybe it was just Ithramir himself. Whatever it was, Mavigan was very unsetled about it. Wilhelm allowed Ithramir to move further away from Mavigan by pointing out some of the local wildflowers and mentioning a few with medicinal uses. He saw Mavigan begin to relax more as Ithramir drew further ahead.

Speaking quietly, he said to Mavigan "Ithramir means you well, Mavigan, for all of his haughty elven manner. You need not fear him. However, why don't you and Alaric go ride with Ardwen and Varg and talk to them, since they have come to pledge their services to you and you should get to know them. I will speak to Jague and Keeryn over here and we can leave Ithramir to ride in the lead."

Mavigan nodded with a weak smile, then took Alaric with her and moved over to join Ardwen and Varg. Wilhelm moved closer to Jague and Keeryn in time to hear Jague's expected comment about dwarves and horses. Some things never changed.

"Aye, Jague, I've never yet met a dwarf who was comfortable with a horse, and the reverse is often true as well. The marching ability of dwarves is legendary, so I have no doubt that you can keep up. You are not the only one on foot, after all." Wilhelm gestured towards Keeryn, then pointed to a nearby elven ranger.

"Yon ranger can give you directions on our path, and also tell you where the healing herbs grow. As an apothecary, you may wish to gather some fresh herbs as you go." Wilhelm did not mention that through his Bounty Hunter training, he would be tracking Jagues' heartfire to ensure he did not stray or divert to some other meeting. So far, at least, he sensed none nearby but their own party.

Jagues went to speak to the ranger as Keeryn came up and asked about Mavigan. Wilhelm was impressed by her sensitivity, and said "Mavigan could indeed use a friend, particularly a female friend. Except for a few female rangers she is surrounded by men of power and may well welcome another female to talk to."

"Mavigan was the younger daughter of the King and Queen, and raised in the city of Ancora as a princess and future priestess of Nagarren. Her older sister was the heir and well suited to the training for both roles. Very like her mother. Mavigan was more like her father, who had been a strong-willed and independent-minded youth who often rebelled at the strictures laid upon a prince until the time he met, loved and married the Queen. For her he forsook his independent ways and devoted himself to the duties of a King, becoming an excellent ruler."

"Like many a reformed rebel, he was determined to prevent his daughter from repeating his early mistakes and to follow instead the more responsible path he now followed. Since she shared his original nature, this naturally led to repeated clashes of will between them as Mavigan was not ready or willing to settle into royal and religious duties. Mavigan took to spending as much time as possible in disguise down in the town, pretending to be a common performer, a role she became very good at. That actually spared her life, because she was away from court, after an argument with her father, when Beridane's assassin slew the rest of the royal family."

"Like her father before her, she now finds herself thrust into the duties and burdens of a ruler. Like her mother before her, she has now become the Avatar and High Priestess of Nagarren. Unlike her parents, she has no consort to share the burden, nor family members to assist and counsel her, nor has she completed the usual training for those roles. She finds herself forced to yield up her treasured freedom of youth and abruptly assume the adult burdens of royalty and religion, while also dealing with the loss of her family and the need to avenge them.

Despite her childhood failure to learn the powers of a priestess of Nagarren, due no doubt to her subborn independent spirit, she finds herself the de facto High Priestess and Avatar of Nagarren without the usual powers and direct guidance from the goddess that usually comes with that title. These burdens will weigh heavy upon her, and so she could indeed benefit from a female friend."

"I suggest you join in the conversation over there with Mavigan, Varg, and Ardwen, and add another feminine point of view to the discussion. I suspect she could use your support. I am sure you had your own youthful encounters with adult male leaders in your village before the Wizard came. Perhaps you could share some stories with Mavigan along the way."

Written by Ardwen

Ardwen reluctantly stifled his laughing a few seconds after it involuntarily began. He glanced about, his face once again a hard plain of angles, as readable as a slab of rock. He truly hoped no one had noticed, and from his glances it seemed no one had. Sometimes though, when he passed over old memories, the emotion and gravity of each made him forget the outside world.

He noticed movement nearby, it seemed Mavigan, the Queen whom his thoughts had whirled around, was approaching. There was another with her as well, a warrior that had called himself Alaric, but why were they coming? The pair stopped close enough nearby to begin a conversation, perhaps that's what their aim was. With a slight nod Ardwen took that as the meaning, after all Varg was riding nearby as well, maybe they wished to know more about them?

A few moments of awkward silence passed, and Ardwen decided he was going to seize this opportunity to confirm his suspicions.

"Hello Mavigan and Alaric," He began, making sure to refrain from using Elven, "would...you, Mavigan, mind answering a small question for me? I'm curious to know something, something that will make a great deal of difference to me in this world."

Seeing no sign to cease, Ardwen considered how to best state his coming inquiry. Seeing no way other than to be overt he began, "If it is permissible, I would like to know if Mavigan has Elven blood. It would not matter if it is removed by many generations, any at all would suffice." Ending his question with a small respectful bow, (at least as much as he could make from a saddle) Ardwen fixed his eyes on the pair and eagerly awaited their response.

Written by Vylia

"I suggest you join in the conversation over there with Mavigan, Varg, and Ardwen, and add another feminine point of view to the discussion. I suspect she could use your support. I am sure you had your own youthful encounters with adult male leaders in your village before the Wizard came. Perhaps you could share some stories with Mavigan along the way," said Wilhelm.

"Problems with men I have had, with out Chieftain actually, I got my sister hooked on him instead," she giggles for a moment at the memory. "Well, I guess if you think she won't mind me over there, and if the dwarf thinks he can keep up then I sure won't be shown up by a male!" With that she jogs over to the group to keep beside Mavigan's horse, electing to just listen to the conversations for awhile until she can come up with something worth talking about.

Written by Aethelwulf

His brows furrowing at Ardwens question, Alaric inclined his head slightly and turning in his saddle a bit, he smiled. "Tell me friend, why is it that ye wish to know?"

Written by Ardwen

The one called Alaric turned in his saddle a tad and smiled, "Tell me friend, why is it that ye wish to know?" he inquired. Ardwen nodded his head, he fumbled with a way to give voice to his thoughts. Further confounding him was his limited knowledge of how humans operated their cities and empires. What would the call what he was about to say in their tongue? An oath, or perhaps a vow?

Ardwen decided the best way was to simply speak and let his emotion guide his words. Coughing slightly to clear his throat, and returning Alaric's smile, he began, "I do not know, precisely where I am on this world. I do not know what fate awaits me. But then truly, what man or woman can say that he ever did? Ergo, it is left to me to do with my time and skills what seems best to me no? In my world I am a warrior, plain and simple."

Ardwen paused a bit to gauge their reactions before continuing on, "That does not say much though, does it? It is hard to explain this...but I am a warrior who has sworn himself to a cause. Ernil is what some called it in my tongue, "one devoted to", one devoted to a cause, an ideal, a place; all manner of things or people. It is unfortunate that in my experience, the Elven cause was the one that needed the most devotion. We were fighting a losing war on all sides, we became grim and aloof. We did not dance in festivity or song, but we said we danced only for vengeance. And dance the dances of death we did, in great numbers.

Ardwen passed a hand over his face, such painful memories, but he forced himself to go on, "I did this as well, devoting myself to preserving my people, their lineage." Ardwen pauses a bit allowing that to register before adding what he intended to all along, "Their blood." Ardwen allowed another short pause but then quickly went on, "I became known for my ferocity in battle, and my devotion to my cause. My people they...gave me names...titles. I did not want them, but they came still. I shall say only one, the most common: 'macilsul', Sword-wind. For indeed I forsook everything else in my passion, I did not study magic as was common for my kin, I even forsook study of the gods. I focused myself on my swords, going even so far as to scorn all other weapons."

Ardwen could see questions, and perhaps responses brewing on his listeners’ faces now, but he decided to finish up, "That is why I must know. Ithramir is obviously Elven, he will have my protection...my dedication. If Mavigan is as well then I extend the offer to her and to all those that she desires me to serve or protect. I am not sure if that is the right word, offer. If Mavigan has Elven blood in her, then she will have my sword, my protection, and even my life if demanded...whether she wants it or no. That, good Alaric is why, this is my cause, my reason for living."

Ardwen allowed a smile to come upon his face before finishing with grim words, "For I pride myself on my skill, if a foe should ever come for her or those under my protection, then they must kill me first." Ardwen finally stopped to allow them time to consider his words, but he added in a small whisper only to himself, "And that is no easy task."

Written by Aethelwulf

"Aye Keeryn, sure of himself Ardwenn here maybe, and indeed in some that would be a fatal flaw. But I would encourage you to look deeper into the heart of one who is willing to give his life so freely in the defense of others." His eyes turning somber with too many ancient memories of brothers in arms long sleeping in the hands of the earths cold grasp, Alaric's mood then brigtened. "Indeed I would put forth that there is no greater gift then to do so. And to do so in the defense of ones Queen and country is a greater feat still."

Written by Ardwen

It was Keeryn who spoke first, "Pretty sure of yourself aren't you? One thing my mother always loved to remind me of was to always assume the one you are fighting is miles ahead of you in skill, and I'm sure those people exist. There may come a time when the person you face DOES kill you easily, so it is best not to let your ego get the better of you. That said I'd like to spar with you some time, it might be interesting, don't you think?"

Ardwen regarded each word and spoke, "Ego get the better of me? I only relate what happened to me truly. I fight because of what I am, it is my duty. Your mother may have taught you Keeryn, and maybe that is fine and well, but such a philosophy would not be well received amongst my kind. True, you must be honest about your own abilities and that of your foe, but by entering a fight with the attitude that your opponent is superior you have already lost half the battle. There is a difference between hubris and serenity in battle."

Ardwen paused, struggling to relate, "To tell the truth, your words baffle me. A time where a foe does kill me easily? Of course a time will come and I will die, as all do. But I will not cast aside my oath out of fear. Allow me to ask you a question Keeryn, you once spoke to me that a mage caused great havoc, even utter destruction for your people. If you knew what that mage would eventually do, wouldn't you have fought against him? Could he not have killed you 'easily'?"

Shaking his head slowly Ardwen still feels as if he is not communicating clearly, when he remembers and old refrain, "There is an ancient proverb that I keep in mind for battle. Perhaps you have heard of it: 'Even when it seems certain you will lose, retaliate. This is not born of great wisdom or great knowledge. You must not think or reason on life. A true man measures himself by rushing towards an irrational death. Only then will you wake from dreaming.' That is the essence of being a warrior Keeryn, though your words still confound me."

Pausing once more Ardwen considers Keeryn's last words, "Sparing?" He intones his voice dripping with contempt, "It has been long since I've engaged in a sparing match indeed. I do not understand why you would want to spar with me entirely; do you have some aim in it? I will not object to a match if you are truly set on it, though I abhor mock battles. I do not know where you will find wooden replicas of my weapons though, I've not seen there like here yet, but perhaps they exist."

Alaric then spoke, and in his words something stirred in Ardwen's soul. For a moment, however brief, Ardwen saw the same pain he felt creep into Alaric's eyes. It passed swiftly though, as frost yielding to the spring, but the memory was pressed into Ardwen's mind now. Alaric spoke of duty; indeed the man called Alaric knew the weight of duty all too well it seemed. Ardwen bowed his head in respect before intoning softly, "Thank you friend."


Written by Sycon - Page 16 Book 1

Jague watched Keeryn move closer to the larger group before he turned his attention back to Wilhelm. Jague then eyed the ranger and started walking towards him. Then he thought he realized he did not know much about this place and turned back to Wilhelm once again. Wilhelm seemed to keep a close eye on Mavigan. What he had gathered so far, Wilhelm was probably Mavigan’s Champion. It was men like this that often became champions of important ladies. He seemed to be a proud man without fear, possibly a man of religion… definitely a man of religion. Yet he still carried the build of a warrior. A Paladin perhaps? Nevertheless he kept a hawk eye on Mavigan and her surrounding and immediate companions.

Jague coughed to bring Wilhelm’s attention back to the direction he was in. “It seems dat we be’s in a group alls our own.” Jague gave a slight bow, keeping eye contact with the man that stood before him. “Likes a congregation, seems dat Mavigan seems to be attractin’ all sorts companions. I’s a feel kina weird, bein’ da only dorf ‘ere, but den again, I’s a used to bein’ alone. Den again, I’d would be feelin’ better if ya could answer me a question er two.” He stared deep into the eyes of the man before him, searching for any sign of a flickering emotion. Jague was surprised at the resilience of him. He was a true man, a man of honor and compassion, yet he seemed isolated at the same time.

“Dere are many gods in dis world, each wit’ dere own views an’ values. Ya seem to have prayed jus’ bout as much as I, I can sees it in yer eyes… and da slight discoloration ‘bout yer knees likes ya been prayin’ a bit.” Jague chuckled at his own remark and gave a broad smile. “Which do ya follow mate, or possibly even granted a blessin’?” Jague did not pause long for an answer to the question, if he was even asking a question. “Dat an’ I was wonderin’ bout da people in dese parts. I know several of’em jus’ seemed to arrived at once, but if’ns ya don’ mind, could ya tell me who da people ya might know round ‘ere? So dat I might know dere names, and greet dem when I’ve time. Maybe’s tell me a bit ‘bout’em.”

Jague reached into his pouch and pulled out two identical herbs. He offered out one to Wilhelm and placed the other half way in his mouth, once again letting the other half hang out. “It be a tasty herb dat doesn’ grow round ‘ere. Only has a few left in me pouch but yer welcome to one. Does not have any odder effect than da flavor it be puttin’ on yer tongue. It is quite good, made fer small ride on da horse? Good fer me on da walks I take, prolly dis one too.” His kept his hand extended with the herb offered to Wilhelm. Maybe he could get Wilhelm to give a smile. Wilhelm kept glancing over at Mavigan, as Jague supposed he would do to check up on her. While his duty was never ending, he could at least indulge in a slight flavor of this herb and just smile. Give a lighter feeling to the air around him.

Written by Vylia

"I think you misunderstand me. I never said you should let fear control your actions. Serenity is only great focus and confidence in your abilities. At any rate I was refering mostly to your comment there at the end, that killing you would be no easy task, and pointing out that for someone I'm sure it WOULD be an easy task. Whether you ever actually run into that person or not is another matter entirely. To answer your question though, yes, if I had been given the chance I would have fought that wizard with my bare hands if that is what it took, and so would the rest of my people. But we did not know what kind of person he was until it was too late, and now that chance will never be given to me."

"I don't know about that proverb of yours though. What is the point of fighting a battle you know you will lose unless there is no other choice? Would it not be better to run and come back at a time of your choosing when the POSSIBILITY, however slim, of victory exists?"

"As for sparring, I'm sure you can ask someone around here to make wooden replicas of your swords if you'd be willing to let them take a closer look at them, mine is easy enough, all I need is a good quarterstaff. I merely wanted to see how your blades work from a personal standpoint, since I've never seen anything like them on the rest of these people, though honestly I'd like to have a sparring match with just about all of them," she smiles as she says this.

Written by Wilhelm

Glancing once more at Mavigan, Wilhelm concluded that Alaric had the situation under control and so he could relax for a bit. Turning back to Jague, he examined the proffered herb. Coming to a decision, he gently took the herb and placed it between his lips as Jague had done. He smiled at the pleasant taste.

"Thank you, Jague. It is indeed most pleasant. You ask about my faith, and those here. Now that is a long story, but then the Dwarves are known for their love of long stories and we have a long ride ahead of us. Walk alongside me and I will tell you. But first, I feel I should offer something in return. I do not have any of the ale that Dwarves enjoy, but I do have this." Wilhelm reached into his saddle bag, felt around, and pulled out a silver flask. Opening it he took a sip, inhaled, and sighed. Passing it to Jague he said, "Dwarven double-malt whiskey from Stonemount. It has many uses, some of them medicinal." Wilhelm said this with a wink.

"As for my faith, I am a Paladin of the All Father, Tinorb, the human God of Justice. I hazard a guess that you are a follower of Inveor, the dwarven God of Wisdom. The Ancora Chapter of my Order is charged with the defense of the our sister Abbey of Nagarren, the Mother Goddess, the human Goddess of Healing. The High Priestess of that abbey is also the Queen of Ancora, and has been so since before my ancestor and namesake came here from another world long ago. He was also a follower of the All Father, although under another name, and my line has been followers of the All Father ever since."

"Soon after I was accepted by the All Father as His paladin and became one with Him, I was asked by the King to become the defender of his youngest daughter, Mavigan. I agreed, and that has been my task ever since. Mavigan herself, as a girl, named me her Champion, although she didn't really understand the full meaning then. She has confirmed that title now. Our king's brother, Beridane, ambitious and envious of his brother, hired an assassin who slew the royal family and then proclaimed himself King, in violation of longstanding tradition. With the help of other evil and ambitious men he took the throne."

"However, Mavigan was not slain. She had left the court after an argument with her father, and I went in search of her. Neither of us was in Ancora, therefore, when the assassin struck. She is now the rightful Queen and High Priestess of Nagarren. The man there next to her, Alaric, was a friend to the king and was also searching for Mavigan. He and I will do all we can to keep her safe and return her to the throne."

"That elf there is Ithramir, the commander of this elven bastion. He has pledged his aid to Mavigan. The others here are also here to pledge their services. The blue-furred female there is Keeryn, who was transported here by magic by an evil wizard who destroyed her village. Varg there is a follower of the All Father from another world, and seems to have been sent here by the All Father to assist the High Priestess of his Consort. Ardwen, whom you have met, appears also to have come from another world in a mysterious manner, but then mystery is often present when the Divine Will is at work. Perhaps he too will assist us. "

"So tell me, stout apothecary, what brings you here?" Wilhelm inquired with a smile and a penetrating gaze.

Written by Sycon

Jague perked up at the thought of another story to tell. Jague loved storytelling almost as much as hearing a good one himself, though this was a little bit different. He had never really told his life's story and he wasn't about to. It was far too long. He could hit on the high points, but the rest of just fiddle-faddle...then again there was the drink offered to him by Wilhelm. That would make for a good long conversatoin! The taste buds in Jague's mouth started tingling... it had been many months since he had taste fine dwarven brew!

"Thank ya Wil! Mind if'n I call ya's Wil?" Jague didn't stop to wait for an answer and accepted the flask from Wilhelm. Jague tilted the flask to his lips and took a swig. He lowered the flask and looked up at Wilhelm with a huge grin on his face. "Ahhhh, jus' the stuff for a story, eh?"

Jague's eyes rested on Wilhelm's and softened to a hearty tone before he began. Jague cleared his throat. "Me name is Jague Steelcraft. I's a be from a monastary close to Stonemount. I come from da Steelcraft clan. We's a usually known fer our smithy skills, but I's a didn't take dat path. Me Fadder, Jerrik Steelcraft, is da chief blacksmith fer da Thane at Stonemount. Our family's been da head of the blacksmith's fer about 218 decades. Seems bout right."

Jague paused slightly and took a breath and another quick swig. "I am da second son of Jerrik. Me older brodder is da one to carry on da family trade. I's, supponsin' you can say, is da outcast of da family. I was never quite as strong as me family, but I's quicker on da uptake and on me feet. While's we dorfs are strong to our clans, I was still loved and not denounced as me brudder thought I should be. 'Stead, dey decided dey were sendin' me to live wit' da monks on da outskirts of Stonemount. Dere I prayed, learned a language er two, and picked up most of me skills. Still, I's was a bit arrogant at da time."

Jague paused slightly, inclining his head. "Nah, make dat I was young at da time. Though I was at da monastary, I wadn't any monk, tell ya dat. But I's a did like to play wit' da staff. I learned to use it along wit' me body and da martial arts to learn to fight. I's a practiced day in a day out for several years, fer we weren't allowed to leave da monastary, least I's a wasn't. Can't blame'em either."

"Still, I's a devoted one to me god, as you must've recognized da tatoo up need me sleeve dere, Inveor. Ya's a keen eye lad." Jague gave'em a slight nod and a smile. "I's a prayed often as I could, but bein' young, I thunk fer me own and didn't pay any attention to what I's a actually doin'. Da monks let me out of da monastary one day... was dat a mistake. Dey found me in a tavern three days later, drunk off me arse. Apparently I had whipped severl of'ems hide out of dere and had made meself a few enemies. None of'em were dorf's a course, jus' visitors passin' through or doin trade, prolly. Eidder way, dat night dey gave me and me brotherin' a bit of a visit at da monastary. Da monks refused to fight back and several were's a killed protectin' me. Dat was when I wised up." Jague's eyes seem to almost furrow, but dropped for a quick second of respect and sadness.

"Several years later, I's a full fledged monk of me faith. I was stout of heart, mind, body, and soul. Dey set me off into da world expectin' somethin' outa me, though I didn' know it den. So's I focused on da only few things I knew. I's a learned a few herbs and dere meanin's at da monastary. I gathered da herbs I knew and sold'em where I could and eventually got me's a job wit' an apothacary. Dat's where I learned me trade." Jague held back a little bit of information on who his actual employer and teacher was. While the name would never be known among any of these, his origins spoke for themselves. It was also something he was not proud of, nor would he ever be.

"I's left dere after a couple o' years, wonderin' what I could see agaain. Dis time I made me livin' not of da sellin' of da herbs, but da potions and remedies dat I could. I's a learned several skills, however meanial from da local taverns, most notable me dart throwin' skills. But I's a found meself losin' a bar fight every now and den. Didn't means to be in'em, but dey jus' broke out. So's I made da money I could and found all da fighters I could. Some I sparred wit', odders I trained wit'. Ya could says, dis took up da majority of me life. While me trainin' didn't make me da best fighter in da world, it brought me peace in da rythme of battle."

"It was bout dat time me quest in life, as a monk, was revealed ta me. I was walkin' by meself one day fer out in da woods. A shadow passed over me head, quick as lightnin' and I didn' catch but a glimpse. I kept on me way when a fellow stopped me by da road several mile from da spot. He was 'lone, same as me, but he had a glow bout his eyes, seemin' unnatural. We's traveled fer several days. I offered 'em wut I had and he did da same for me. We told tale after tale, enjoyin' our time out in da forests. On da fifth day, he revealed to me somethin'. Turns out, he was a silver dragon. Da nice kin'. Never's in me life had I's a seen a dragon, but dere he was, right in front o' me. He told me many tings, some tings I never tought possible. He even taught me one er two. But a'fore we departed, he's gave me a small quest for da tings he had done fer me. Said he'd find me when I's a ready. Wut be me quest? Dat I might tell ya if'n I get to know ya better. We be startin' out good." Jague let out a small chuckle. "Le's see where it goes from 'ere, eh?" Jague looked straight into Wilhelm's eyes. A glow came about Jague's eyes, just as the silver dragon's had been. It was like a thin silver mist covering his eyes and dey glowed a bit with a warm feeling Jague always felt when he showed one he would know he would have to trust. This power was a warm feeling, that spread throughout his entire body as he chuckled lightly to himself and to Wilhelm in a playful and almost bragging manner. Jague blinked and quick as that, the mist disappeared in his eyes and they were back to their normal green. "Ya could say I follow da dorf god o' wisdom, and I do, but I's a follow me quest of da Silver Dragon, too."

Jague reached the flask back to Wilhelm, taking one last swig beforehand. "When dis lil caravan of ours be startin' out anyhow. Me legs are achin' for a stretch." Jague kicked one of his legs towards the ground, seeming to stretch it. He then picked himself up to normal height, as a dwarf could, and patted his walking stick against the ground several times before looking once again over at the larger party forming where Mavigan was.

Written by Varg

"Since it is story time as it seems, this is my story. Forgive me as I speak both in present, past and future. I am not a great storyteller like the great bards of royalty, but shall still do my best. My past is unknown, but that has never bothered me. I live my life by what is before me. The only link to my past is the signet ring I wear which is the head of a howling wolf with an eight-point star behind it.

The earliest memories I have are of my friend Saloren. Saloren was the one who started calling me Varg, he had seen my signet ring and thought it to be fitting. It seemed to fit at the time and has since. I had shown up at his door asleep one morning. He didn’t know what to make of it at first, but didn’t feel threatened. He waited for me to wake-up before introducing himself. We talked for awhile; both with many questions, me with little answers. It was then that he took me in. I was to learn the ways of a ranger under his tutelage. He made sure I learned to hunt, fish and forage for fruits and vegetables. This was the beginning of my training, guess we all have to start small. After I honed and proved my skills he would start to teach my many other skills. It was during this time I learned the way of the wolf, and modeled my life around this. I learned to become cunning and swift. To use all my senses and not just my eyes as many do. I went on many hunts with him; we hunted any being that threatened to throw off the natural balance of our glen. I met and learned under many other druids and rangers that lived in the areas surrounding our home."

After years of training under Saloren, he told me it was time for me to find my path in life. One night he took me to visit the druidess that lived in the same glen as us. Previous to this I had little contact with her on a personal level, but it amazed me to find out how much she knew of me. She prayed to God and used her divining powers to learn what she could of my future. Little did I know then that she was also to give me some clues to my past. She told me the ring was my birthright, and that I am from a sect of elves that were killed for their beliefs. She did not elaborate more on my past except to tell me my surname was Kunibert, which means brave and bright. She told me no more of my past, and instead focused on my future. She told me I would walk the path of darkness, but as such would be a beacon of light for the hopeless. I would become both well known, and unknown. The last item of knowledge she had imparted to me was that I had a secret deep inside of me. That in time I would learn of it, and in fact I had been battling with it for years, but had not come to terms with it as of yet. I knew better than to ask questions in regards to what was said; I knew the visions were flashes, and not lengthy explanations. To ask the druidess to elaborate more on them would be as futile as trying to kill a bear with a switch. After she had finished we ate what was to be my last meal in the glen. It was the best meal I had ever eaten during my twenty-some years in the glen, or so at least that is how I am to remember it. We sat for hours talking of many things, our adventures in the glen, our past, and our dreams. After a long night of companionship Saloren and I made our way back home.

On the way he and I continued our conversation. I asked him for his insight into what the druidess had spoken of. He was pensive for a little while. Then he finally broke his silence and said to me “You know Varg, it does not matter much what I think on the matter. It is important that you figure it out. The only insight I can give you is this. You are a very good soul, and as such you will always do what is right. I know you will have many struggles to overcome, but I am very confident in your ability to do just that. One piece of advice I give to you however is to never become complacent, for to do this you will lose your edge and are apt to take the wrong path. Other than that I have a feeling your life will be one grand adventure after another till one day you finally settle down and have children.” Saloren then bursts out into laughter. I in turn jabbed him in the ribs and started running towards our home. He picked up after me, and somehow as usual he was able to beat me to our home. Both of us soon settled down to sleep that night.

My sleep was restless, for many reasons. First it would be my last night in the glen; I was both sad and anxious. Secondly, I was pondering all the druidess had said to me. What did it all mean? I prayed to God many times on that night, and have since. I had little understanding of what was to happen in my life after that night.

That morning I awoke tired from the lack of sleep, but excited about what was ahead of me. Saloren made sure I had enough provisions to get to my destination. He gave me a map that would lead me to Burghast, the nearest city. He had told me when I get there to find my way to the Inn of the Black Dagger; there I was to ask for Erstan. With that Saloren and I exchanged a hug and a handshake. Saloren had become the closest thing to a brother I had ever known in my life, and I was saddened to leave. But in my heart I knew he was right, I would be wasting my life’s path away if I was to stay here any longer. So with that I mounted Belenus said my last goodbye. As I rode off I took my last look at what had been my home.

I rode several days with little excitement, or distraction. I lived off the land as I had grown accustom to. As I got close to the end of my travels, I decided to spend one last night in the wild. I made my camp collected my dinner, and settled down for the night. I thought and prayed on what my future held for me. That night I was restless, my sleep was filled with visions of a battle. I witnessed a fight between a wolf-like creature and a man. The man was dressed in fine adornment, and put up a valiant struggle. But the struggle was to no avail, for soon the creature overtook the man and killed him. I awoke that morning disturbed by my visions. I pondered the vision while I packed up my camp and got ready to make the last of my journey to Burghast. Once on the road I left behind my vision of the night, and started to prepare myself for what lie ahead.

Within the hour I arrived to the small city. I easily found my way to the inn thanks to the maps Saloren gave me. I lead my horse to the stable and asked the attendant to take good care of Belenus. He looked surprised when I flipped him a gold coin. I then made my way into the inn. I settled myself into a corner table, to try to slip into the background to no avail. As I settled myself I noticed a lot of people eyeing me. At that time I chose to ignore them. I waited for the barmaid to come by, of which she was never gracious enough to do. So, finally I stood up and made my way to the bar. The innkeeper just stared at me.

After a moment I finally spoke up since no one else was going to. “I am looking for Erstan, can you help me find him?”

The innkeeper looks at me and finally speaks, “I know of him, what do you want of him?”

I respond, “A friend of mine has sent me to seek him out, he said Erstan could help me on my adventure.”

The innkeeper responded, “And who might this friend be?”

“That friend would be Saloren.”

The innkeeper visibly relaxes and starts to chuckle. “So how is the old elven hermit? I haven’t seen him for ages.”

“He is well, am I to assume then that it is Erstan I am speaking to.”

“Aye, Erstan is I. So, what can I do you for?”

I respond, “My name is Varg Kunibert, I have come to seek my path in life. Saloren told me to start my adventure by seeking you out.”

From there we had a lengthy conversation. We talked about the adventures Saloren and Erstan had in their younger years. Saloren was the nature nut as Erstan so gleefully put it, and he was the stealthier one. Erstan was always saving Saloren from some misadventure to hear him speak of it. After listening to him for what seemed to be hours, he finally directed his conversation towards me. I talked about my adventures and training under Solaren, and then finished with the recent information bestowed upon me by the druidess. Erstan then thought on my story and offered to teach me what he knew. So, for the next several years I was to learn the ways of a rogue under Erstan’s tutelage. During this time I worked with him around the inn, and spent my spare time learning various skills from the local merchants. Erstan was kind enough to introduce me Frip. Frip was the person in charge of handling local business. I was able to go on many small adventures through the work he provided me. I helped fight off a rogue band of orcs, sniff out a spy from another cities guild, and defend many merchant caravans just to list a few. I quickly made a name for myself. It was here that I realized what the druidess meant by: ” I would walk the path of darkness, but as such would be a beacon of light for the hopeless.” I was quickly learning to handle my business through my experience in stealthy endeavors, but little did I know then that there was more to come.

In the time I was in Burghast, there were many reports through the years of brutal slayings. It was usually chalked up to a wolf since there were many claw and bite marks on the victims. The main unanswered question was why they would go into the house to kill one victim and leave several others unharmed. But not many questioned this since the ones being killed were known to be evil men. The first victim was the city mayor; he was disliked because of the high taxes he levied. He taxed so much because as he said the city needed it to provide basic services like guards. Yet while he lived in a stately manor house, the majority of his citizens lived in squalor. The second victim was the local priest; a lot of people were very concerned after this. When the local officers investigated however they found out much disturbing information about the priest. He was actually a demon worshipper, and had been misleading many of the poor. As well he was using the tithes for his own greedy purposes. He had funded the slayings of many of his superiors through the years in order to move up in the ranks of the church. The third slaying of note was of a local merchant. Through the investigation it was found he was funding a band of thieves. These were the same thieves that had been harassing caravans, and stealing from many people. The merchant was using them to fill his greedy coffers with many artifacts, paintings, sculptures and such. There were several more murders, but with each successive investigation the people of Burghast were less concerned. Everyone murdered was found to have been doing many wrongs deeds.

Soon, I found that I was ready to move on. I had spent about ten years in the town, and had made the city much safer to live in. Through those years I had trained many people that would be more than capable to fill my position. The towns folk were sad to see me go, but knew it was time for me to move on. On the night before my departure, the city threw a huge celebration in my honor. During the celebration I was shocked to get a visit from the local priest, Solas. He had replaced the slain priest several years ago, and had not said much to me through those years.

Solas said, “Varg may I have your ear for a short time? I have some news I would like to impart to you.”

“Is this so important to drag the guest of honor away from the celebration?”

“You should know by now that I would not interfere in such festivities if it were not important. And I am afraid I will not be able to discuss it with you tomorrow before you leave.”

“Okay, let us go for a walk so we can talk in a somewhat less noisy environment.”

I then excuse myself from the festivities momentarily, assuring everyone that I was to return as soon as I was finished with my unexpected business. The priest and I then get far enough away for no one to hear, and for us to have a peaceful conversation. What the priest was to tell me was to strike right to the core of my being.

“Varg I have some disturbing news for you, but I am unsure as to how I should present it to you.”

“Solas you should know me enough by now to know I am not much for stuff and fluff.”

“I know but this will be very disturbing.” Sighs, “Before you leave I must let you know you are the one who killed all those people.”

“What? How dare you accuse me of such things, you know as well as I do that it was a wolf that did it.”

“Varg I am sorry, I knew this would be disturbing to you. It has been very disturbing to me as well. You also know it was no wolf that did it, I am just forcing you to face what your skills had already told you long ago. The tracks were wolf-like but you have always known this was no ordinary wolf. You know better than I that wolves never behave in this manner, they never venture into cities of this size, and they always hunt in packs do. Even I without the skill you have know this much.”

“Okay, so you got me there, but I never investigated further since the ones who were slain deserved what happened to them. Nonetheless, this does not mean I did it. So, what makes you say it is me, we both know I am no animal.”

“Perhaps you should take a seat, and please let me finish what I am about to say before you respond. The night the merchant died, I had been ministering to Pilas. Pilas was on his deathbed, and had requested for me to pray with him through the night. He died within the hour I arrived, thankfully he is in the hands of God now. But afterwards I could not sleep; I was filled with emotion of witnessing the death of a good citizen. As I was walking around I noticed the doorway opened to the merchants house. Just as I started to head in the direction of the house, I saw a being emerge from the doorway. What I saw still chills me to this day. It was what is commonly called a werewolf. I prayed to God to protect me, and as much as I wanted to run away I was compelled to follow it. Somehow it never picked up I was following it, or it didn’t care that I was following it. Finally it stopped outside your house, and then I saw it enter. I followed it inside, and was about to react for fear of your safety till I was shocked at what I saw next. I saw you sleeping where last I had seen the werewolf. I looked around to make sure I was not imagining what I had assumed happened. After looking around for about half and hour, I decided to go and investigate the merchants home. When I got there I had seem first hand what the werewolf had done to him. I had heard how ferocious the attacks were but never expected what I saw. I prayed about it for months, till it happened again. I was walking the streets praying, as I was unable to sleep. As I was walking I saw the werewolf exiting your house. As soon as it had left from my sight I went into your house in fear of finding you dead. To my shock you were not dead, you were not even there. So I decided to wait out of view hoping God would protect me of and when the creature came back. And as I had suspected it did come back. And again to my shock, I saw it lay in your bed then slowly transform into you. It was then that I knew beyond a doubt that you were the creature that was slaying these evil men. I never said or did anything, because I believe you are serving God’s purpose. I am still disturbed that you actually did not know this. I thought you might have had knowledge of your deeds and purpose. I am sorry to be the one who tells you, for I know we have not many opportunities to talk and have not been friends of sort. I have prayed for understanding of this, and God has given me an answer to this situation.”

“Answer? How about this? Questions; how are my questions to be answered. Why me? To what end? I mean…I can’t believe…why me…” I continued to mumble, lost in my own thoughts till Solas snapped me out of it a few seconds later.

Solas then continues, “Look Varg, I told you this would be hard to accept and understand. But I could not let you leave tomorrow without imparting this knowledge onto you. I would have told you sooner but I did not expect you to leave us so soon. I had thought and hoped you were to be our protector, but now I see God has other purposes for you. He has imparted this boon onto you to serve his purpose. I know you are not much of a believer, but we do not always have the decision as to who he is going to use to serve his purpose. He has told me that I was to tell you off this before you left, for He wants you to learn to use this power he has given to you. So I was chosen to be the one to deliver His message. You are to learn to lean on Him, and learn from Him how you are to control this power. You are to become His servant, and deliver His justice.”

“I guess I have no choice for to disobey God is to be destroyed. I know my life is in His hands and it is in His choice as to where I go and what I do. I know I still have a choice of sorts, but if I decide against Him my path will be made more difficult. I will still be forced to do His bidding. Don’t mistake what I say for being against this, but I am not happy about being forced into this. I am still absorbing all of it. I mean why me? I am still in shock…”

I continued to ramble, but after what seemed like forever Salos finally grabbed my attention again. He then reminded me of the celebration. I did return and did my best to be in the best of spirits, but the knowledge of what I am was still weighing on me. After the festivities died down I went to my house and tried to get some sleep before my departure. Try as I may I could not sleep. I spent the remainder of the night between prayer and finishing up on my packing for the trip. I was finally able to sleep once I had completely exhausted myself. I slept for about three hours, but I still felt like I had not slept at all.

That day I awoke restless and tired, but knew what I had to do. God had put on me a path I must take. I said my good-byes and mounted Belenus. I headed out of town, as I reached the edge of town I passed the church. I looked in the windows for a sighting of Salos. I was happy to see him coming outside as I was passing. He said what I assume was a little prayer under his breath, and then he waved and said goodbye. I waved back then had Belenus start to gallop out of town. I had the road ahead of me, and my past behind me. I was not sure where I was going to go, but I knew somehow that God would show me the way. I was lost in my thoughts and prayers for what seemed like weeks. Then one day it came to me in a vision. I was shown the glory of an Elven city. God told me I was to go there, and was to ask for Mavigan for she would lead me to many answers that I would be seeking. And while in the services of her I would be able to exact much justice in the name of Him. So, as I mounted up on that day I was somehow filled with a fervor. I was ready, and for the first time had fully accepted what God had in store for me. Through the many days I learned through prayer how to control my were-form. By the time I made it to my destination I had a firm, but not a full understanding, of the power God had bestowed upon me. My years of mercenary work would now be tested to there fullest.

As I got closer to the Elven city I decided to scout the area for a bit. Using my skills of stealth I found out enough of the city to have an understanding of what was going on. They had a new Queen, due to the murder of the King and Queen. Mavigan was in fact a priestess, which I was not surprised by. I caught tidbits about a war with some one who was trying to usurp the throne. After a couple days I figured I had enough information to be prepared for what was ahead of myself. I then proceeded to dismantle my camp and make my way to the city gates. Thus is my story up to the point I met the gatekeepers and Wilhelm.

Written by Ariana

Mavigan breathed a small sigh of relief as Ithramir rode ahead of the small party, leading them to their destination. As soon as he moved out of range, the incredible pressure she had been feeling lifted, and the slight burning sensation along her skin ebbed. She had tried to hide her uneasiness, but when Wilhelm began his attempts to reassure her about Ithramir, Mavigan realized that she had failed.

With half an ear, she listened to Wilhelm as he offered her comfort. Words describing Ithramir’s loyalty, dedication, and good nature poured from Wilhelm’s lips. Mavigan took it all with many proverbial grains of salt. She had no doubt that her Cousin was a “good” fellow, and she did not view him as an enemy – but she also knew better than to consider him friend. Her skin still crawled with the memory of unfamiliar sensations. She didn’t know what it meant, but she knew to be wary – regardless of family ties.

It was with a sense of liberation that she accepted Wilhelm’s offer to ride in the back surrounded by new faces – and one old one. Besides, she thought, Ever-present Willie was starting to get on her nerves.

Guiding Argent towards the back of the column, she fell in step with the ones called Ardwenn and Varg, and before long, the party was moving at a leisurely pace behind Ithramir.

She listened with interest to the conversation around her, and when Ardwenn rather tactlessly inquired about her blood, Mavigan merely pushed her hair behind two delicately pointed ears, and continued to ride. She figured that this distinguishing feature would be enough of an answer.

She gazed with unabashed curiosity at the little dwarf, who was currently keeping Ever-present Willie company. Dwarves intrigued her, and always had since she was a wee tot. It often annoyed her Mother that she displayed more interest in learning about the Dwarves than she did learning about her own Elven heritage. Mavigan couldn’t help it – Dwarves were a fascinating folk. Hardy and strong, confident and fun-loving, loyal and blunt – all qualities she had heard were traits of the Dwarven people. She hoped she had time to find out if the stories were true.

The debate between Keeryn, Alaric, and this strange Elf was interesting and drew her attention back to her group. She was, for the most part content to sit back and listen. She could not resist rolling her eyes at Alaric, however, when he went on about dying honorably and for Queen and Country. What a load of crap.

"I don't know about that proverb of yours though. What is the point of fighting a battle you know you will lose unless there is no other choice? Would it not be better to run and come back at a time of your choosing when the POSSIBILITY, however slim, of victory exists?"

Mavigan listened closely to Keeryn, and a small smile crossed her face. Perhaps she had finally found a likeminded individual.

“I agree with you Keeryn. In the end, Death cares not how we die – whether it is with honor or not, whether it is stupid or not, whether it is premature or not. The death of my parents certainly proves that. There is certainly nothing honorable about being murdered in your bed, after all.”

“No. To prove one’s worth, one must survive. Because you certainly can’t do anything after you are dead.”

She turned briefly to Ardwenn, “As for sparring, many of us in this land see it as a good way to practice and build skills. Not all of us are as adept with weapons as yourself.”

Written by Ardwen

Ardwen visibly winced at Mavigan's comment about sparing, "Forgive me," he began softly, "I must needs remember that I am in a foreign land, and not all is arrayed as I would see fit. Very well Keeryn, you shall have your match and my apology besides, I shall endeavor in the future to keep clearly in mind that we will most likely serve in battle together, and it is imperative that we know how one another fights, so that we might perform our best for the queen. Forgive me if you can of my earlier contempt at the notion Keeryn, it will not happen again." Ardwen said that, and meant it. Mavigan had revealed her bloodline, strong and true. Her word was now law to him, if she said frog, Ardwen would jump.

Ardwen listened to both Keeryn's and Mavigan's comment about his proverb and ideal and spoke saying, "Bereth Mavigan," he began using his people's word for queen, "it is ever a sad and unfortunate occurrence when anyone must face their death. I grieve for your parents' unfortunate demise; I will dance for vengeance when I meet those who did such a vile deed, gurth gothrim lye! Nevertheless, I beg you consider, if I might be so bold, the implications of a warriors life. We face death everyday, and in more forms than we care to number. It is imperative that a warrior come to grips with death, he must, otherwise the experiences on the battlefield will drive him mad!"

Ardwen paused a bit to make his point clear, "Many do not have the choice of when they are to die. And for some this luxury is practically nonexistent." He paused for a minute to gesture toward himself and Alaric, "We must be prepared with the facts, and that is: while we serve our causes, crusades, wars, kings and queens, any moment may be our last. The only thing we can ask for in our deaths is that we not die in vain. Even that, however, it often beyond our power, so what are we to do? We must make the one decision that is ever ours: to die faithful to what we lived for."

Ardwen glanced about, for some reason he felt he could be speaking in Elven and have the same luck expressing himself. He never was a bard or much of a scholar, but this felt to important to him, so imperative that he be understood. He attempted once more, "It is duty that drives us to this you see. You ask what is the purpose of dying unless you are certain you are going to lose? 'Even when it seems certain you will lose, retaliate.' It does not say to leap onto your foes weapon, what it is trying to prevent is from one dying a cowards death, from surrendering and asking what the purpose of fighting on is. A man often picks up a sword to defend something sacred at the furthest reaches of his memory, a man often wields a sword, so that he may die with a smile, beyond the reach of his memory." Ardwen finished and bowed his head again in respect.

Written by Vylia

"Let us believe for a moment that we have been surrounded by the enemy, and we have no chance of winning the fight, for they far outnumber us. Now let us assume that our enemy has given us the chance to surrender, what you are suggesting is to die like a fool, instead of having the chance to escape and fight again another day. Of course, that is assuming the demands they make are reasonable, living a life of slavery is certainly not something to agree to just to insure your survival, BUT what if you were only a small part of a larger force? Would slavery for a time not be better, trusting in the rest of your forces to stage a rescue, rather than to die knowing you were unable to help the cause you are fighting for in any way, or allowing you to sabotage the enemy from within? Perhaps the Queen herself is a part of this group? If surrender insured her survival, for I know not how your enemy would truly act, would it thus not be better to hope a rescue was staged so that the fight could continue?" Keeryn takes a deep breath and continues, "Of course, if you were the last of your force, or they had no intention of keeping your Queen alive then of course I would fully expect to fight and die, in fact were I in your shoes I would attempt to create a wedge through the enemy that the Queen could escape through, because while dying for no purpose or for a hopeless battle is pointless, dying to protect and save ones home and leader are the epitomy of honor."

Written by Turin Wallace

Ithramir had been content to be left in the front of the group, far enough ahead to lead the group, but close enough to still distinguish their conversations with his acute hearing. His mind wandered a bit until he heard Keeryn say,

"I don't know about that proverb of yours though. What is the point of fighting a battle you know you will lose unless there is no other choice? Would it not be better to run and come back at a time of your choosing when the POSSIBILITY, however slim, of victory exists?"

Yet, the worst was to come when Mavigan obviously agreed with this cat-thing's words, because she uttered,

“No. To prove one’s worth, one must survive. Because you certainly can’t do anything after you are dead.”

A deep anger arose in Ithramir. Was it because she was half-human that she uttered those words of contempt? Was it because she did not know her duty? It mattered not. In a moment, Ithramir wheeled around to level his gaze at her, and the group. He turned around in time to here Ardwen speak,

"It is duty that drives us to this you see. You ask what is the purpose of dying unless you are certain you are going to lose? 'Even when it seems certain you will lose, retaliate.' It does not say to leap onto your foes weapon, what it is trying to prevent is from one dying a cowards death, from surrendering and asking what the purpose of fighting on is. A man often picks up a sword to defend something sacred at the furthest reaches of his memory, a man often wields a sword, so that he may die with a smile, beyond the reach of his memory."

Ardwen's words somewhat cooled Ithramir's indignation yet, with his eyes fixed upon the girl, he adds,

"Again, you have much to learn young Queen. Your words were spoken hastily and no doubt show you have much growing up to do. Ardwen has the gist of it, we fight and die for a purpose. A dream. An ideal. You fight because you have no other choice. You fight because you give your enemy no quarter and you expect none in return. You make the enemy bleed for every inch of ground he wishes to take from you. You do not flee from your enemies, ever. The history of my..."

The more he spoke, his tone increasingly got angrier. Pausing briefly, he then continued,

"The history of our people's has taught us to face our enemies, not flee from them. Ask any elf, ask any dwarf, ask any of your Northmen who have faced the barbarous orcs in battle. Ask them the price they paid for their freedom. Ask them the number of desperate, hopeless battles fought to hold on to their land and their ideals. Listen as they tell you that those lives lost were not in vain. They fought and died so that others, like you may live."

As he spoke his mind recalled the many he knew that sacrificed themselves so that he too could live another day. Mavigan's words had angered him, though he knew she could not grasp the implications of her words, he would not idly sit by and let his blood relation and ally speak of fleeing before an enemy.

He could see the whole groups eyes fixed on him now, his anger plain for all to see. As he finished his pause, he then calmly states,

"I would suggest, dear cousin, that until you learn more of the ways of war you refrain from speaking of them. We will speak more on this later."

Slowly turning his mount, his eyes fixed on the group as he was doing so, Ithramir starts riding again leading the group to their destination.

Written by Ariana

The hair on the back of her neck began to stand on end as Ithramir guided his horse closer to their small group. The expression in his eyes was anything but pleasant.

Mavigan tensed, waiting for his attack.

It came swiftly, a barrage of words charged with anger, contempt, and more than a little disgust. His voice, edged with steel, was designed to cut into her, to make her bleed. And when it was over, he rode off again, leaving her wide-eyed, tense, and unable to reply.

Her eyes narrowed, a glare fixed upon the back of his head and he rode once again to the head of the party. Once he was far enough away, she released a breath she did not realize she had been holding.

She became vaguely aware that an uncomfortable silence had descended upon the small group, each unsure of what to say next. Alaric, must have noticed Mavigan’s distress and attempted to alleviate the tense silence by offering some encouragement. Guiding his horse next to hers, he placed a consoling hand on her shoulder. “I’m sure he didn’t mean….”

Mavigan brushed his hand off her shoulder, cutting his sentence off in mid-sentence. “Yes,” she said quietly, “he did.” With that, she guided her horse a little distance away from the main party. She stayed in sight, though every instinct within her told her to run as fast as her horse could guide her.

Fighting the instinct, she instead began to mull over, her gaze unfocused on the scenery around her. “Well,” she mumbled to herself, “that answers that question.” She now knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that Ithramir hated her, and that Wilhelm was in no way a reliable judge of character. She had noticed his hesitation, and now understood from whence his hatred stemmed. Ithramir was an Elf, a full-blooded member of an elite race of peoples. Wilhelm was a human. Though Ithramir would consider that a demotion in status, at least Wilhelm was still pure. She, however, was a half-breed. Blood from both races ran through her veins; she was a part of two cultures, but belonged to neither.

Mavigan had heard stories about her Mother’s people. Most of them seemed to indicate that they were not happy with her match. They might could have accepted the fact that she had married a human if no children had been born from the match. The plan had been to select one of Jaedda’s nieces to take over as Avatar of the Goddess when the time came for her Mother to relinquish the title. Instead, her sister Etewen had been named as heir. Allowing a half-breed to serve as Avatar was simply unthinkable!

An evil smirk crossed Mavigan’s face. Obviously Nagarren didn’t find it objectionable since Etewen had been blessed with the gifts. No, it was only the prideful Elves that objected. And that was one of the primary reasons Mavigan had never journeyed to the land of the Elves, and had never met any of her Elven kin until now.

An irrepressible anger filled Mavigan and she gritted her teeth in response. She was angry at her family for dying and leaving her to face this burden alone. She was angry at the people who surrounded her, for putting her in this position and robbing her of her freedom. She was angry at the people who flocked to her for no other reason than she was “Queen”. Each saw her as a figurehead and not an actual person. As long as she was present to do her “duty”, they couldn’t give a rat’s ass about her otherwise.

Though, if she were truly honest with herself, she would acknowledge that she was angry with herself for being inadequate to the task set before her.

She had listened to the bits of information both Ardwenn, and Ithramir had imparted. They talked of ideals and causes and reasons to fight. So, what was her cause, her reason? She had none save to preserve her own skin. If her family were still alive, she would have gladly thrown herself into the fray to preserve their lives. But her family was dead, murdered in their sleep. And she had not been there to protect them.

Some would say she should fight to preserve their memory and their honor. Their memory was safely locked away in her heart – a place where none could take it from her, so there was no one to fight. And how could she defend their honor, when she had none of her own? She had failed them, and that in itself meant she was not worthy to fight in their name.

And who should she be fighting anyway? Ithramir stated in his emphatic way that one should never give an enemy quarter? But who was her enemy? Mavigan’s brow furrowed as she considered this. Obviously, Beridane was her enemy. He had orchestrated the death of her family, after all. Any of his flunkies, were also her enemy. They were the ones trying to remove her from this world. And then, there were the others. Those who had pulled her from her life, stripped her of her freedom, and placed her on this pedestal as if she were something special. They, too, had hurt her. By definition, that would make them enemies as well.

Heaving a great sigh, Mavigan leaned down in her saddle and wrapped her arms around Argent’s neck. “Things are so confusing,” she muttered to him, and the horse gave a small sound of agreement.

Sighing once again, she lifted herself up into the saddle and glanced around, needing a distraction from her unpleasant thoughts. Up ahead, she could just see a set of standing stones rising majestically into the sky. As they began to draw closer, she could see many smaller monuments, all crafted from stone. “This must be the Valley of Gwaloth”, Mavigan said to the horse.

Her excitement began to mount at the thought of a new place to explore, and the slow pace began to annoy her. She grunted with frustration as she gazed at the other travelers who seemed content with the sedate pace. “They can see it, why won’t they go faster?” she groused. Argent flicked an ear in response.

“Maybe they just need some encouragement,” she said lightly, a mischievous smirk crossing her face. One part of her mind said that it would be dangerous to simply rush in, that there could be dangers hiding behind the rocks. “Hmpf,” she said. “I will not live my life in fear. If Death wishes to come for me, the let him. At this point, he’d probably be doing me a favor.”

Her decision made, she raised her voice and called out, “Oi, Wilhelm! Race ya!” She then gave a light slap on Argent’s flank and took off at a full run towards their destination.

Written by Wilhelm

Wilhelm saw Ithramir's angry reaction to Mavigan's speech. When Ithramir then rode back towards Mavigan and began to berate her, Wilhelm knew there would be a problem between Ithramir's stern traditional warrior ways and Mavigan's rebellious youth. They would have to work it out between them, but Wilhelm would have to try to keep Mavigan from any physical harm during the process. Turning to Jague he said, "I believe my services may be needed shortly, so we will have to continue our discussion later."

Wilhelm watched Mavigan closely after Ithramir left her to return to the front, and so was not really suprised when Mavigan challenged him to a race and took off towards the distant glade. They had often raced before during Mavigan's youth, and he knew how much she loved the wind in her face while riding a racing horse. Argent was built for speed and Mavigan was light. Wilhelm was clad in full armor, which was a definite disadvantage in initial speed. Sable, however was built for strength and endurance and intelligence. He was not an ordinary warhorse, but rather a true paladin's charger, sharing Wilhelm's link to the All Father. Sable whinnied with eagerness to take up the challenge.

"My Queen commands and I obey!" He called, getting a little of his own back, and he urged Sable forward, gesturing at Alaric to follow as he could. Sable responded with a might burst of speed and they left the party behind. As expected, Argent drew ahead at first with her increased speed and lighter load, but it was a long race and Sable's greater strength and endurance could well even the match. Wilhelm also knew he needed to stay close to Mavigan in case of danger until the rest could catch up.

Urging Sable forward through their link, he let Sable run the race while he concentrated on scanning the area for enemies. Fortunately, the scan showed only themselves and animals. To avoid injury to Sable from the race and the added weight, he began a healing chant. A faint crimson glow enveloped them both, and the aches and pains from the ride began to fade away with the increased healing rate. Sable increased speed and began to narrow the gap.

Written by Varg

"You need to lighten up Ithramir. I understand your concerns, but words spoke in anger do not make your point any stronger." Varg states to Ithramir.

"I have a bad feeling about this." Varg mumbles under his breathe just as he sees Mavigan charge off.

In response Varg quickly puts Belenus to the test, forcing him into the race at hand. Belenus quickly gains pace on Mavigan, and matches Argent stride for stride. At this point Varg is more worried about the safety of the little group, and especially the Queen, then to worry about winning a race.

"I understand you desire to loosen the mood Mav, but discretion is the better part of valor. As well I have a bad sense of things to come. I suspect we are headed into danger, and it would be wise to procede with caution." Varg says smirkingly to Mavigan. "I would so hate to see someone in my protection come to harm so soon after I take the charge." Varg then lets out a hearty chuckle, and winks at Mavigan.

Just then he urges Belenus into a full charge and pushes ahead of Mavigan just for kicks. Varg was not yet sure of when and where the danger was to come from, but kept his senses focused on his surroundings as to not allow the element of surprise from it. Then he slows down to allow Mav and the others catch up, and to not show off too much.

Written by Turin Wallace

All was quiet as Ithramir kept the lead pace of the group. He could sense Mavigan's anger, as he was sure she could sense his. Admittedly, she was young and rebellious, but these were not assets. Scarily, he felt if left to her she would hand everything over to Beridane. Which is exactly what the butcher of Ancora wanted.

Ithramir will not allow that to happen. Patience was not his greatest virtue, and listening was not hers, but if he was willing to try she should be as well. Tough love will be his course of action until she proves herself more adept at her role of Queen of Ancora. Her sworn defenders may stand on ceremony for her, but Ithramir does not and will not. He, and his people, will protect and fight with Mavigan because her war is just...no matter how ill-tempered either may be.

Contemplating more on how to "teach" Mavigan, he hears Varg ride up and say,

"You need to lighten up Ithramir. I understand your concerns, but words spoke in anger do not make your point any stronger."

Meeting Varg's eyes with his own, Ithramir replies sarcastically,

"Shall I do a little dance, or perhaps even sing my words to her the next time she says something foolish?"

Pausing, Ithramir cooly continues,

"Forgive my reply, Varg. I know you mean well, however, Mavigan is not a person who takes well to "nice" ways of counsel. Her family tried that and she rebelled against them. It is obvious pleasantries are wasted upon her at this time. She may disagree with me, you may disagree with me, but what she needs to understand is that there is at least one person here who doesn't bow or cater to her. She must grow up fast, there is no choice, and there is no time for playing nice."

Studying Varg for a brief second he continues,

"A good soldier stands up for his leader, and I respect that Varg. I mean no harm to Mavigan, only to instruct her where I can and to correct her way of thinking in some areas. However, let me say this clearly for future reference, never again tell me how to handle a family dispute. Take this not so much a warning, just simply friendly advice between rangers."

No sooner than the conversation was over than Mavigan darts off on her horse, with Wilhelm close behind. Varg too rides off behind Mavigan and Wilhelm. Understanding the need for them to release some steam, Ithramir says nothing and continues he leisurely pace into the glade. No point in hurrying too much, there is time to relax and unwind soon enough.

Written by Vylia

Keeryn hears Ithramir's words to Mavigan quite clearly, since she is standing right next to her, and when the girl urges her horse away Keeryn silently follows alongside. She was just about to ask what question exactly had been answered when Mavigan instead yelled out, "Oi, Wilhelm! Race ya!” and charges off toward the nearby stones. Quickly checking to be sure the whip is secured around her waist she runs off behind her, lowering herself to all fours to increase her speed. Even though she knows she can't keep up with one of those beasts it would be better if she was at least nearby if anything should go wrong.

Written by Sycon

Jague heard Wilhelm's words and took a quick understanding. He would have a good conversation later when Wilhelm would find the time. As for now, things were starting to get tense.

"Aye....uh..." was all Jague could get out before Wilhelm took off on his mount.

Soon Varg, Keeryn, and Mavigan were also zipping past Jague. Jague just looked at the lot of them in amazement. A good race was fun, but he never did like mounts, and he wasn't going to start now. He clanked his walking stick on the ground and lifted it into the air with both hands. He then put it across his shoulders and the back of his neck and draped both arms over it. The herb still clinging to the side of his mouth, he walked on as he watched the horses steam further and further.

Jague glances at Ithramir who seems to be one of the only ones to not join in on the race. He looks the elf in the face but seems to get no reaction as he watches Mavigan and the rest. His face seemed like stone, but the rest of him gave away he was fuming a bit.

Jague figured that most entered into the race to follow Mavigan, even to protect her while she would be having fun. While Jague did not ever pledge his life to another, he would protect those who needed it, if the time came. Besides, the fools almost left the back of them wide open. No one ever remembers to look behind them for danger, and that is where danger usually lurks. Jague decided he wasn't going to tire himself out, and the danger behind him gave him that much more of an excuse to stay behind.

Jague would keep up with Ithramir for the time being. " 'ello mate. I take it yer name is Ithramir, aye?" Jague paused for a second to no avail. "Well, it seems dat Mavigan has a mind of'er own, aye?"

Jague wanted to see what Ithramir would say... is he the overbearing father figure, or was he trying to be? Was he a proud man of his race, or a foolhardy man of prejudice. This was Jague prime time to find out.


Written by Ardwen - Page 17 Book 1

Ardwen listened with increasing interest as Ithramir, in a serious tone, relayed the nature of duty and fighting one's enemies. Ardwen didn't even notice, but before Ithramir was even finished, his head was nodding in agreement with almost every word. When he was finished, Ithramir resumed his leisurely ride as if nothing had occurred, and an awkward silence lay heavily on the group.

Not surprisingly, Mavigan seemed locked deep in contemplation, and steered her steed away from their small group; perhaps she sought solace in solitude. Ardwen mulled over thoughts in his mind, not paying any particular attention to anyone in the company. It was therefore a bit of a shock when Mavigan called out her challenge to Wilhelm to a race, and went speeding off to their destination. Wilhelm followed suit, with Varg joining in after a few brief words with Ithramir.

Ardwen decided it was senseless to race after them, he had developed his skills fighting on foot, which he much preferred to a horse. He looked ahead as Mavigan, Wilhelm, and Varg continued to vie in their race. Ardwen merely shook his head, no reason to charge ahead, attacks that come from the flank can be especially devastating, and he doubted he could match them with his limited abilities on a horse anyhow. Ardwen resolved to ride in closer to Ithramir, and perhaps begin speaking to him.

Ardwen then noticed the stout Dwarf who had named himself Jague walked beside Ithramir and spoke, " 'ello mate. I take it yer name is Ithramir, aye? "Well, it seems dat Mavigan has a mind of'er own, aye?" Ardwen smiled, he couldn't help it, and for some reason he liked the Dwarf. He knew however, that their rough and jovial exterior often belied a fighting determination, and grim defiance, that was both legendary and terrifying. Such innate traits, along with the Dwarves peculiar training in the arts of war and as an apothecary, could prove particularly useful in combat.

Ardwen interjected a second later, "Your pardon master Dwarf, and Ithramir." He gave a slight bow of his head in their direction as a sign of respect and continued, "But when you are done, might I sue for a moment of your time Ithramir?"

Written by Turin Wallace

Riding along, Ithramir notices the dwarf Jague approach him saying,

" 'ello mate. I take it yer name is Ithramir, aye?"

Nodding in the affirmative, the dwarf continued,

"Well, it seems dat Mavigan has a mind of'er own, aye?"

Looking at the dwarf, Ithramir responds,

"Aye, but then, don't we all? She is inexperienced in many things and thrust into a position that demands much. She must learn to think before she speaks on certain topics.

Ah, and it is good to meet your acquaintance, master dwarf."

Settling down and feeling a bit more comfortable in his saddle, Ithramir hears Ardwen say,

"Your pardon master Dwarf, and Ithramir. But when you are done, might I sue for a moment of your time Ithramir?"

Nodding his head to Ardwen, Ithramir says,

"Of course, Ardwen. Until then, talk with us awhile as we watch the rear of our small group."

Ithramir continued his slow pace and the three began talking. Edging ever closer to their rest spot, no doubt where the others already were.

Written by Sycon

Jague listened to the elf, Ardwen, interrupt him. Kind of presumptious of him to start something like that on a kindly stroll. Why didn't these elves have a sense of comfort, why were they always "get business done now." It wasn't really a sign of disrespect to Jague, and he didn't take it that way... just... those rasky Elves. Oh well, Jague would be satisfied with just sitting out a conversation and sitting over by the tree on the edge of the path.

He was glad to hear Ithramir say they could talk later. Maybe not all elves were pure duty. Good to know when you sit back and have a drink with one or two, if they could hold it.

Acknowlegding Ithramir's words to him, Jague continues.

"Yep, I do see dat Mavigan is a tad bit inexperienced, den again, she's a bit o' a youth too. Seem to me dat she been put in a position dat she don' wanna be, eh? Dose ususally make da best leaders once dey come to reigns wit' dere position. If dey don', look fer hard times ahead." Jague paused giving both Ardwen and Ithramir time to soak in his words. "I's a believe she's a know whats shes to do in'er heart, but she's still a youth. She's a bein' rebellious to authority figures." He winked to Ithramir. "I don' think she needs someone's who'll tell'er whats right, I tink she needs a friend dat might voice an opinion on da matter? Maybe dat would help matters, but who knows, I's jus' a dorf."

He turned his attention focused on Ardwen quickly before anyone could have a chance to speak again. "Jus' wonderin' dere Ard? Don' mind if I call ya Ard do ya? How many of me race have yas met? You seems to be eyein' me from time ta time, like I'm short or somethin'." Jague eyes flashed a sign of laughter and enjoyment as a small smile perked at his lips.

Written by Ardwen

Ithramir acknowledged him, "Of course, Ardwen. Until then, talk with us awhile as we watch the rear of our small group." Ardwen bowed his head respectfully again, and a brief smile of gratitude crossed his lips. He thought carefully and tediously about what he wanted to say, and how precisely to say it. Ardwen listened to Jague's words, and was a bit shocked when he addressed him directly.

"Jus' wonderin' dere Ard? Don' mind if I call ya Ard do ya? How many of me race have yas met? You seems to be eyein' me from time ta time, like I'm short or somethin'." Jague eyes flashed a sign of laughter and enjoyment as a small smile perked at his lips.

Ardwen took a deep breath, it was merely coincidence. No reason to draw unreasonable conclusions, now to address Jague, "Ard? That was a nickname many called me in times past. Though the majority of those who decided to call me that were not Elves, it would be an honor if you addressed me as such master Dwarf." Ardwen paused a minute, satisfied, he thought he had handled that quite well without betraying any tension.

Now, however, he had to answer the more difficult question, "How many you ask? I am no stranger to the Naugrim, though they usually spend their time in the earth where I am from. Recently though they have been coming to the surface in increasing numbers, muttering about the "roofless" world. Forgive me if I take particular note of you, because frankly you are the first Dwarf of your fashion I have seen."

Ardwen thought he'd best clarify in case that was taken as an insult, so he hastily added, "Verily, when I heard you were a Dwarf, I expected you to be...ahh...made out of stone. I mean that most literally, for indeed your nature is a sign that I am no longer in lands I am accustomed to."

Ardwen then turned to address Ithramir; he began slowly and carefully, "You...care deeply for her don't you?" He said motioning with one of his hands in the direction Mavigan and several of the group had gone racing off into. "The words you said, you would not say them if you did not care about her. You care about her as a person and not just as the Queen, am I right?"

Ardwen allowed a brief respite to think before adding, "You're a warrior Ithramir, or my ears are round. You know what she will face as an important figure in combat. While Mavigan may hopefully be spared the experiences of the front, she will have to realize a horrible truth. You know, as do I, that people will die - if they have not already- for her. They will not be faceless soldiers she has never met, they will not die far away and unknown, but they will face her enemies and whilst they perish they will yell her name in victory and triumph. You know that she must be strong enough to accept that, otherwise the experience might well drive her mad."

Ardwen did not pause this time but continued right on, "I mean to make no presumptions friend, but that is what it seemed to me. I am not a terrific judge of character, but I am glad that Mavigan has an Elf like you on her side. I am not used to serving under any but battle-hardened generals; this will be quite the experience I think! But, there is more," Ardwen glanced a bit before continuing, "You perhaps overheard the pledge I offered? To Mavigan and those she deemed worthy to protect? If you did then you can naturally assume that the same is extended to you, indeed, how could it not be given that you and I are of the same people? Indeed, so perhaps you could do me a slight favor? Tell me of the Elven affairs here, you do not have to go in detail, I merely desire to know who are the enemies of our people." Ardwen finished, as usual, with a slight incline of his head.

Written by Turin Wallace

As the others were minding their own concerns, the three made their way to a small outcropping of trees and rested themselves. For the most part, little had been said, then after a few words directed at himself and Ardwen, he hears,

"I don' think she needs someone's who'll tell'er whats right, I tink she needs a friend dat might voice an opinion on da matter? Maybe dat would help matters, but who knows, I's jus' a dorf."

Not losing a beat, Ithramir responds,

"She seems to have many of those, master dwarf. I did not say my way of correction was, shall we say, gentle or friendly. However, as a queen, she must learn to think of others before herself. That lesson is yet beyond her grasp.

Still, it seems most of you are not familiar with our ways and my reply to Mavigan seems to have upset many of you. Very well, I shall keep your words in mind, master dwarf."

There was no need to be at each others throats when there were bigger threats to deal with. Both now and in the future there would be hard times, and there was no need to have bitter feelings now. Ithramir knew he was justified in his actions, yet for now, he would attempt to try and be a little more thoughtful of his foreign companions.

As he was thinking, he heard Ardwen begin to speak,

"The words you said, you would not say them if you did not care about her. You care about her as a person and not just as the Queen, am I right?"

Looking to Ardwen, he answers,

"Care about her? My response was made because she did not care about those who gave their lives in service to greater causes. She does not realize her elven heritage and the weight it brings with it. Yet, she is a distant cousin of mine, so it would be unfair to say that I don't have some concern for her well-being. Like anyone else, one must care for family in times of great need, and I cannot think of anyone else who has a greater need than Mavigan."

After a moment, Ardwen spoke some more, and Ithramir replies,

"Yes, Ardwen, I am a warrior. I command the allegiance of over ten-thousand elven troops. Outside of the elven homeland, I am the law. I am the protector of our people in these lands. I have seen battle more than once and I have seen men and women die for their causes. As a leader, one must realize the enormous weight and responsibility this carries. One does not brush their sacrifices aside lightly, as at any moment we may be called upon to answer such a call ourselves."

Seeing Ardwen glance around and then speak, Ithramir then answers him,

"Your offer of service is most welcome. Your blade shall no doubt find a place of honor in our ranks.

Now, as to elven affairs, I am afraid things are not looking well. The elven homeland is weak and xenophobic. Where once our homeland wished to continue to support our lands here, now we recieve little to none. Our people are a mockery and lack the fortitude to see the plight of these lands. We, the rangers of the citadel, have now had no fresh troops or supplies for months. I fear we are abandoned to our fates.

Our enemies are numerous. The savage orcs, our enemy since the dawning of the world, are knocking at the gates to the civilized lands. Rumors from distant lands have said that a malevolent air brings the undead to life. Beridane and his humans are our new enemies. Orcs to the east, a ghastly swamp and scorched desert lay to the south, and the renegade humans lay to the north. Our only respite is the sea to the west. We are surrounded, good friends, and it is only a matter of time before our enemies come crashing down on us."

Letting the grim news sink in while the three look at the unsuspecting group members enjoy the day, Ithramir then starts up,

"However, we are not the only pocket of resistance against this evil tide. To the north of the human kingdom, in the mountains and glacial lands, dwarves and northmen are holding against the orcs and rumored undead advance. They too, like us, are isolated and unable to even attempt a link up of forces. To do that, the human lands need...no, they must...be retaken. Otherwise, our enemies can annihilate one then move to the other."

Pulling out a small bottle of wine from his steeds travel pack, he offers it around, then takes a small drink himself. Looking to Ardwen, he says,

"I wish I had better news to tell you, gwador."

Leaning against a tree, Ithramir feels a warm breeze play across the field as he hears those with him talk.

Writte by - Ardwen

Ardwen listened to Ithramir's words with interest, especially the part concerning the state of the Elven lands, when Ithramir offered him the wine he kindly refused. "So," Ardwen thought, "The situation here is not much different than the one I recently departed from. I can continue my fight here, and at last I may taste victory!" Turin spoke on about the isolation of the various pockets of resistance, and the critical importance of securing the human lands.

Ardwen nodded his head and began softly, "It would appear that the circumstances here differ little to those from which I came from. Surrounded, outnumbered, with enemies knocking at our very door. Since I'll be serving under you, and since this is likely one of the few calm moments we will have in coming times, perhaps it's a good idea to let you know more about myself."

Ardwen allowed a considerable pause before starting. Ardwen's left hand moved unconsciously to the hilt of one of the blades he wore on his hip, he hastily jerked it away and placed it upon a nearby sapling. Taking a deep, unsteady breath he began, choking out each word as it if hurt, "I was once...a warrior of faith. I fought for the All-Father, whom we named Pandarrion. I am one of the eldest of my people, but for a long time our paths were divergent."

"When I heard that Wilhelm followed the All-Father, I almost went into shock. Pandarrion has been silent for some time in my world. Maybe the All-Father came here, or maybe they're entirely different gods, that I know not. But that's of little concern to me right now. During my time in the Church, I made many friends, loyal allies and adventurers. We did mighty deeds in the name of the light, striking against the growing shadow of our world."

Ardwen paused again, and he slid his hand down the smooth bark of the tree, pity he was wearing a gauntlet, "But...our greatest threat did not rest in the outside iniquity of the world. A threat arose from within; one of our own turned against us, the treachery it brought upon us required a great sacrifice to deal with it. Suffice to say many of those I called brother in battle bore the burden stoically. In the end, by their selfless deeds the name of the Church I followed under was saved, but the cost was high."

Ardwen let his hand wander to the longer sword on his right hip's side; he drew the slightly curved single-edged blade, allowing the end of it to rest in his right hand so the cutting edge faced up. Ardwen let it rest there, feeling it's weight and admiring it before continuing, "Many of my friends perished, I lost so much that was dear to me. It was not enough though; the treachery we had suffered reared its head and occupied the sight of the former Church, though our good name was saved. I became bitter and delusional with the world, but most of all I hungered for vengeance."

Ardwen drew his eyes from the blade to look at Ithramir, "In the north, in the bitter cold I found it. During the long years that had passed since the Elven race first emerged, it had suffered much. By the hands of both the divine and mortal means we had been brought to the final defense. Our empire had been broken, our people slaughtered, and our lands seized. Great crusades in the names of gods that no longer cared for us were led by petty kingdoms."

A bitter twisted smile touched Ardwen lips as he spoke, "I found there, in the utmost north, an answer amongst the ice and snow. A remnant of a remnant of my kin, who refused to yield to the cruel tide of time, who refused to surrender to the whims of fate. In honor of their defiance, their refusal, they called themselves the "Avari". They promised me vengeance against not just the ones who had wronged myself and my fallen brothers in arms, but to all whom had wronged the Elven people! I pledged my blade to them, and became a slayer!"

"Ai, how my soul burned! For there was to be no mercy to our foes, and the deeds we committed we did in the name of our dying people. We had nothing left, those who came to join us, we took the motto that each of us, "danced for vengeance." We raged through the north, claiming the lives of many, entire villages and towns were put to the sword. Ithramir...do you understand me when I say this? I, once a warrior of the light, killed...men...women...and even children."

Ardwen paused once more, his eyes grew misty with grief and tears, "I couldn't believe what I was doing at times, but the promises they gave me did not prove false. I had vengeance, the servants of the false Church came to fear me, and my name became both respected and reviled through all the lands. But our victories were never enough, our numbers few when in times of yore the Elven host stood many. Our foes gathered to crush us once and for all if possible. Their forces began moving into what little land we held, whilst we struck at their supply lines as best we could."

"But it was not enough, soon a massive force supplied with the finest armor and weapons was amassed outside our sole city...little more than a glorified outpost by Elven standards. On the eve of this siege, at the rising of the sun...I found myself...here. I am not certain how, nor am I certain of the fates of those I left behind. It seems I am left to do with myself what I think is best, and so I shall. I sometimes wonder though, if I have always chosen the best course. I will not lie Ithramir, when I looked at Wilhelm I felt an overpowering shame. A warrior of righteousness, like my dear friends were, like I once was, it grieved me to consider how far from that lofty path I have fallen."

Ardwen sheathed the blade and leaned back against the young sapling he had placed his hand on moments before. Ardwen allowed his mind to wander, he felt as if a great burden had been lifted from his shoulders. Closing his eyes he said softly, "Perhaps at last, I can earn redemption."

Written by - Turin Wallace

After listening to Ardwen, Ithramir looks to him and says,

"Every warrior must come to terms with what his duty requires him to do. Our business is killing, not for pleasure, but because it is a means to an end. Every warrior is a contradiction, we love life yet take it when it is necessary. We learn, deep inside, to live with the horrible things we do. That is why we fight, even die if called on, for ideals that are greater than us. That is our redemption, to die knowing we have done our duty for something good and greater than any of us. That is what seperates us from the depraved who fight for themselves and their own interests."

Pausing briefly, he adds,

"If you seek redemption then I hope you find it, Ardwen. I cannot say how you will find it, for each living thing must find it themselves, but I will be glad to have you stand with us. Do not judge yourself too harshly, brother, for all of us have flaws and have made errors. To overcome and learn from them is all that can be asked from us by our gods and godesses."

As the group grew quiet, Ithramir drinks deeply from his glass. Looking about, he says

"If only the world was as it is right here. People at rest, relaxing, safe from harm. It is sad such appearances are so decieving. Outside of our borders armies are being rallied and would destroy all that we have. So let our thoughts wander onto lighter things for the time being. There will be time later to ponder our fates and our redemptions."

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn decided she was bored... they had all had a nice race, of which she came in last of course, dang four-legged beasts were faster than a boar. But now everyone was just sitting there, laying on the ground or against something, and not saying a word. "Time to change that," she says to herself as she gets up and walks over towards Mavigan. "Hello again Ms. Mavigan... do you mind if I sit here?"

Written by - Sycon

Jague had been silent after his last comment. It seems his words brought more discomfort to those he gave them too. He had even refused the wine that was offered to him, a rarity that any dwarf should not be seen doing. If any of his family were here, he'd never hear the end of it.

The mood of the people were changing. From a tense ride, a small arguement, a blood pumping race, to now a slower pace of topic. Jague feared this the most. This was a time which words and emotions could easily fly high, and there was no place to displace their feelings but onto each other.

The conversations seemed to be focused onto the new comers, such as himself... though he was grateful that it was not centered on him. Keryn and Ardwen had made their move to find their way into thier niches. It seemed Keryn was determined to find a way close to Mavigan, whether for good or not, though Jague did not suspect a thing from the feline.

Ardwen seemed to be venting some of his hidden feelings to a companion elf. Both seemed to share many feelings on the topic of Mavigan, but there was a subtle difference between the two... but what, Jague could not asctertain yet.

It seemed, from what he had heard from these people, that the wars they had been fighting were tough and long. It seemed that it would only be a matter of time before one of the allies would crumble and make it that much more difficult for the rest, but Jague saw deeper into the lives of these people. It was not a nation or a war that needed saved as he had first thought, but the people here. Each seemed to be warring with their own inner demons, in one way or the next. Some had come to terms with their demons, others had only supressed them, but in either case, the demons were still apparant.

He looked around, trying to see who else realized it, but found each face determined on some topic, or trying to make conversation. The following time would be rough, he knew, and the worst was yet to come. But now was not the time for him to start, it was not his time to dig any deeper into these people's past. The best thing he could do would keep spirits high. If he could get them to cut loose a bit and release a bit of tension. He'd show them a real dwarven party if they would let him.

Jague started out with a small hum, letting the words of the conversations sink away in his mind as he felt each word as they made their way to his lips and formed into words. It was a popular song among the dwarves, and any that had met a dwarf probably knew the words.

"Jermiah was a bullfrog, was a good friend o'mine, I could never understand a single werd he said, But I helped'em drink his wine."

He continued with his words into the song getting louder and louder, he didn't care if the others followed his lead or if he was simply being the center of entertainment. Either way, he was being noticed and either laughing at him or joining with him, they were hopefully forgetting their differences between themselves, just for a short time...

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir sat atop his horse and pondered the state of things as he rode ahead of the main pack. It wasn't that the company was bad, no, far from it. However, he enjoyed riding alone before the onset of darkness, when the cool evening breeze lifted his spirits.

Breathing in deeply, he empties his mind for a few moments, enjoying the forest trail. He wonders how many times will he be able to enjoy days like these, as the steady cloud of war looms larger every minute. How many have they lost already? How many will soon join them? It is hard to say.

Above all, is the price too high to place Mavigan back on her father's throne?

Breathing deeply once more, Ithramir honestly doesn't know the answer. By taking her in he has taken an awful gamble with his peoples lives. There is no turning back now. Yet, that was not what bothered him. It was Mavigan's youthful naivety about the dire consequences that had him worried. She spent the day frolicking about the glade, and while that may be good therapy, she now has more pressing matters to deal with. So far, she has not given him a reason to continue supporting her in the endeavor to place her back on the throne, yet she was part kin and that is the reason she has his support...for now. In his mind, Ithramir quietly hopes she gives him a reason to send his people to death for more than that. Elven blood is too precious a commodity to waste on vanity in this age.

Tired of thinking on these matters, Ithramir once again clears his mind and breathes in deeply. The scent of the forest now grows stronger as the cool evening begins to form dew upon the vegetation. They should be home before darkness sets in and their meals will be ready when they arrive. Looking back all he see's is an ever reddening sun and a motley assembly of those sworn to Mavigan following him. He then glances forward and smiles a bit as he enjoys his advance position, and the quiet it brings.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen rode calmly, at least he tried to, on his horse near the rear of the group. Ithramir had pulled ahead of the party; he seemed pensive now, as if thoughts bloomed and died in his head every moment. Secretly though, Ardwen fumed on the inside. He was not pleased with himself, how he had confided a large part of his past so readily, he felt like a fool. But the real reason that bothered him was the why of it. Why had he spoken so easily and readily?

Ardwen thought he knew why, but he did not desire to admit it. He trusted Ithramir, he even liked the companions Mavigan had gathered around her! But there was something more, some quality about Ithramir made Ardwen think of those old friends he had seen vanish in the twilight of his life. It was nonsense of course, but the fact still remained that Ardwen had done what he had rarely done before: confide in another.

Sighing, Ardwen reached his left arm around to stroke the hilt of the large blade on his back, it comforted him somewhat. Perhaps, he thought, perhaps he was looking too deep into this. The problem could be he was simply too long away from a battlefield. He had spent the past ninety-eight years of his life fighting one war or another, and now he was in a world where people afforded time to frolic in meadows! Ithramir had said the clouds of war were gathering, no, that they were upon their very gates. Perhaps soon Ardwen could forget himself in battle again, bury his pain in the sweet oblivion of rage and combat. Oh how he hoped it would be soon . . .

Written by - Archeantus

The shadows crept up to the Citadel, as the blazing sun retreated down past the large mountains that framed the large structure. Coming along with the wave of shadow were the dark figures that eagerly, calculatingly made their way closer and closer to the Elven fortress.

Their leader reared his dark mare and halted the rest of the group. They had been traveling away from the common road that led directly to the Citadel, in the recesses of the forest.v

“Master, I can smell the noxious scent of my kind. They are near.” A voice whispered close behind him.

Gadianton looked peculiarly back at the dark robed necromancer. He seemed to consider something and then turned fully to address the group he had gathered from every corner of this strange world.

He eyed each one, leeching their begrudging respect he had earned, he seemed to gather it in his eyes and use it now as if he were playing cards.

“The princess will die tonight. Whoever is responsible for failing me shall be cut down and replaced.” He glowered at them, yet in his glare was an air of respect he had had for them because they had been chosen because they were that good at what they did. “I have come to learn that these…elves…” He said the word as if saying it brought a bitter taste to his mouth. “are not to be taken lightly. Therefore I have taken every conceivable precaution in my plans to slay our target.”

He then looked over each of them again as if considering his plans one last time. He seemed to be weighing their strengths and weaknesses, and combining them, calculating his complex formula with exactness.

He regarded Vermigard, the bounty hunter, master of swordplay, and slipping entanglement and giving it in return.

And then there was the elven necromancer. Kishkumen, had become a sort of disciple of the human stranger believing him to be the chosen one sent to usher in a dark age. The ancient elf had disclosed priceless information about his kind to his ‘master’. The elf was a bitter outlaw to his kind and had personal reasons for his vengence against his kin. He had great power, power that could turn the living to the undead to do whatever his will intended. He also possessed the power of changing his appearance...

Turning, the dark human assassin finally beheld the one that could give him the most problems, yet at the same time could seal his plans together more so than any of them, Jasmine, the beautiful assassin that had eluded the highest skilled bounty hunters, including Vermigard, for years. She was the only one that was not under his complete control. He could not see into her heart like he could with the other two. She was an enigma, but with the right amount of anger she could set fire to the whole world. At this thought he smiled ever so slightly and considered her place in his plans one last time.

“My plans will be disclosed to you at the moment when each of you should know them.”

“You have any idea how yer gonna get in there while escaping the elf's keen eyes and senses?” Vermigard pressed, his long and vividly grey hair hung mysteriously down across his face which was shrouded by a large black brimmed hat that draped down low across his eyes.

Gadianton pointed at the small stream that poured near them.

“The water has a secret to tell.” He said thoughtfully, looking high above the Citadel just off through the dark tips of the trees in the forest.

Vermigard followed his gaze to the waterfall rushing down and through the elven fortress.

The bounty hunter chuckled.

“Not bad” He said, taking one last puff of smoke and putting his pipe away.

The group then continued, edging amongst the ever growing shadows. They abandoned their rides as they came within a mile of the fortress. Soon the group was creeping along the base of the darkened white structure where they found the source of the stream’s exit out of the Citadel. Silently they slipped into the dark of what would be a maze of elven engineering, a maze with which would be no match for Vermigard who seemed to be able to determine direction in pitch black. They soon found the heart of the tunnel, and appeared under a vent that poured down light that led upward into the fortress. It was then that Gadianton turned and looked with cool fiery eyes at his chosen participants….

The elven necromancer and the beautifully deadly female assassin.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm rode contentedly but alertly alongside Jague, passing the time by commenting on the various plants they passed by and discussing their medicinal or culinary or decorative uses. The stay at the glade had been both enjoyable and relaxing. Mavigan had seemed to relax as well, after berating Varg for his grandstanding in the race, and now rode ahead of Wilhelm in discussion with several others.

Wilhelm remained alert for intruders, scanning the surroundings with his tracking sense, but he sensed none and the elven outriders provided an outer ring of protection for the party. Wilhelm was more concerned about security back at the Citadel, as that would be the likely target for assassins now that Mavigan was known to be there. He had discussed this with Ithramir, who had agreed to deal with security matters upon their return to the Citadel. While leaving the broader security to Ithramir, Wilhelm would remain vigilant concering Mavigan's personal safety.

Written by - Turin Wallace

It was not long before they reached the open gates of the citadel. Moving into the courtyard, the sun shining it's last rays in the sky and the moon rising to prominence, the hustle and bustle of the morning was replaced with a quieter type of busy. Blacksmiths were now busy, the cool of night the best time for their work. New sentries were being placed all about, as the day guards were being relieved.

Stopping in front of the stable, Ithramir dismounts and hands the reigns of his horse to the stablemaster. Turning to his the party with him, he says,

Let us all go and refresh ourselves. Word will be sent for us to dine in the main hall this eve. I hope many of you will join with me.

Bowing to them, Ithramir then leaves and heads into the citadel, making his way to his room. Relaxing there, he finds a bottle of absinthe and enjoys a drink of the green liquid as he cleans and changes into a fine robe.

Hearing a knock upon the door, he opens the door and recieves a message stating dinner would be soon. Sending the messenger away, Ithramir goes and stands on the balcony just outside his room. The cool night breeze felt good and it soothed his troubled soul. He sat thinking and praying alone for the time he had left before joining the others in the dining hall.

As he got up to leave, his eyes went down to the two sentries posted at the entrance to the exit of the citadels waterways. Something did not feel right, he felt something odd in the air this eve. Shaking his head, for no one he knew had knowledge of the paths and tunnels in the waterways, he reasoned all was well. Still, he felt uneasy.

Leaving his room, he grabbed one of his room guards and said,

Tell the master of the watch to post another two guards at the waterway egress. Also, pass the word to be extra vigilant this eve and all others to come. We are on a war watch now, the time of relative peace is over. The agents of our enemy move across these lands. Go.

The guard then took his leave, and Ithramir made his way through the citadel into the main dining hall. Entering, the hall was all alight, chandeliers were lit, as well as candelabra's place upon the tables. He was ahead of schedule, for it was just him and a few serving attendants. Making his way to the head of the table, he sits down. He has a bottle of wine and a glass brought to him.

Sitting there, uneasy, he reserves himself to enjoy the evening as best he can. Soon his guests would be arriving and they would enjoy a fine meal.


Written by - Renalis Page 18 Book 1

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Some wine sir?"

Written by - Ardwen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Wilhelm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Turin Wallace

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

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

Almost chuckling, Ithramir responds,

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

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

How do we sit with the armory?

Pausing, the attendant replies,

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

Thinking for a long moment, Ithramir replies,

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

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

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

Written by - Ardwen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Armory

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Varg

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

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

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

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

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

"Yes, enter." Varg answered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Ariana

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Archeantus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“He is not a man.” She had said.

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

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

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

Vermigard raised an eyebrow. Only her?

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

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

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

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

His master pointed back to where they had come from.

“The exit. Secure it.”

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

Written by - Ardwen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Archeantus

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

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

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

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

The Elven ranger peered at her, an eyebrow lifted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ithramir?” She asked as they walked.

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

“And he honors the princess tonight?”

“Correct.”

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

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

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

“We shall make it, do not fear.”

She smiled slightly, embarrassingly.

“How did you come to serve under Ithramir?”

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

“And so you have not been here long?”

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

“Are we near?”

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

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

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

He smiled, glad to give it.

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

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

“Death.”

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

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

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

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

She had taken his appearance.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Turin Wallace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Trinni Shannon

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

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

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

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

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

Written by - Turin Wallace

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Lye na ereb."

Pausing, he then continues,

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

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

Written by - Trinni Shannon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Written by - Renalis Page 19 Book 1

Renalis continues to move about the hall, making it seem as though he is checking on the dinner preparations but continuing to check that everything is still secure thinking to himself "my plan will not fail".

His attention is caught however, as the radiant Lithwyn enteres the hall. As was Ithramir's, Renalis's eyes were drawn to her. Crystal seeing this moves toward Renalis, intercepting his view she moves in an almost mocking fashion, mimicking Lithwyn's posture and confidence in step. She moves close to Renalis and runs her finger along his chest. Noting what Crystal was doing Renalis grabs her hand gently and presses it to his lips - kissing the base of her fingers and whispering in Elven "Amin mela lle ar' ere'lle melamin". Blushing slightly, Crystal moves away to go back to the setting of places, giving one last flirt to Renalis with a subtle kiss and whispering "Amin sinta."

Renalis goes back about his "business" continueing to check place settings, while listening into Ithramir's conversation. Thinking to himself "I wish he were wrong... I wish more of my people would act."

Deciding once more to "sell" his position here, Renalis moves toward Ithramir and Lithwyn asking "Can I get you anything else Sir, Ma'am? Some more wine or perhaps a snack before..."

Renalis was cut off by the loud clatter of banging dishes. Moving in he watches the Priestess heal the young waitress and remembers Crystal doing a very similar act when they first met. His eyes found Crystal's and they gazed at each other remembering that moment, and with a smile Crystal went back to cleaning up the mess.

As Lithwyn walked off Renalis thinks to himself "There is something not right about her, I feel something... but what?" Moving back toward Ithramir and bowing slightly, "Appologies for the interuption Sir, was there anything you or the lady required before the meal?"

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir rolls his eyes and slightly chuckles as he watches the hapless girl tumble over. Watching the chaos, he studies Lithwyn as she moved into action. As his job is the defense and military affairs of the last stronghold of the elves in these lands, so it was Lithwyn's duty to take care of the logistics and healing. As much as he offered his guests a dinner, it was truly Lithwyn who had the feast prepared.

His eyes study her as she calls for Gilraen, he notices she turns her back to him, something she has nearly always done in his presence when it comes time to use her powers of healing, the powers granted by her goddess. Ithramir always thought it odd she did so, he knew she would not be embarassed in front of him, the time for that was over long ago.

His eyes watch and study her, how she get's up and leaves after the healing was performed. That so much never bothered him, but it was the aversion of her eyes when she would do so, that always concerned him. In his mind, Ithramir had an inkling, but he dare not ever say it. As she walked away, he simply whispered,

"We all have our demons, amin uruite er."

Looking up to see the attendant before him asking if he or Lithwyn needed anything, he replies,

"No, not at the moment, I would wait until the lady returns before I partake of any more this eve. I already have a bottle and some fruit to indulge in until she and more guests arrive."

With a slight bow, Ithramir returns to his thoughts.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen continued to follow the attendant at a pace somewhere between running and dashing in a bid not to be late to the feast hall. Ardwen did not bother to pause and examine any rooms around him or anything else for that matter. Time was of the essence, and he had spent enough retrieving his blade from the smithies. Round a corner, they came to an elegant stairwell, surely a centerpiece of design, and doubtless a clue that they were approaching an area of significance. In all likelihood, the dinning hall, or so Ardwen hoped.

The attendant, Eruno, raised a hand to pause, and they hastily corrected their pace to a calm even stride before rounding the next corner. When they did, Ardwen could see why, before them was a set of large doors, carved and ornate. Two almost identical rangers were flanking the doors. Erunno paused to whisper, “These are the doors to the hall, on the other side you’ll find the dinning hall itself. I suggest you try and make your entrance as quiet and subtle as possible, especially given your current . . . appearance.”

Ardwen briefly furrowed his brow before he recalled exactly what his companion was talking about. He was still wearing the suit of Beserker’s armor, and had all three of his swords with him. Ardwen’s furrow turned into a frown as he hissed, “But it was at Ithramir’s beckon that I went to the armory, surely it won’t be that big of a concern, right?”

In return Erunno just grinned and said, “I’m sure you can fine the rest of the way on your own mellonamin. Do try and be cordial, as this would be an excellent opportunity to get to know all the new arrivals at the Citadel better. Try not to worry too much, a first impression is only one type out of many after all. As for myself, I’ve other matters that beg my attention, good luck Ardwen.”

Ardwen detected a slight sardonic tone to the attendant’svoice, but Erunno dashed off down a side corridor before he could respond. Taking a deep breath, Ardwen walked up to the door, and was immediately hailed by two guards posted as . . . receptionists, he hoped, at the door.

One of them bowed and said, “Greetings kin, what business do you have in the feast hall this day?” The guard quickly straightened and Ardwen could feel his eyes looking him over, to the guard’s credit though, he kept a steady face.

Ardwen bowed in return, “Diola lle kinsman, I am here for the feast as per Ohtar Ithramir’s bidding.”

The guard on the opposite side grinned and spoke, “Ah, so you must be the one that refused to wear that, what was it now, ‘infernal silken finery’?” Both guards let out a healthy chuckle at this.

Ardwen waved his left-hand’s palm down in a dismissive gesture, “It is not my custom, nor those of my Court, to do such. But kin, the moment is upon us surely, I must pass quickly or be late to the feast. Despite cultural differences, I wager we both value punctuality.”

The guard who had spoken first nodded and said in a voice lacking mirth now, “True words kinsmen, we had no intention to detain you. Please, pass through and enjoy the feast and revels.” Bowing slightly once more, he opened the heavy door behind him and stepped aside.

The first thing that greeted Ardwen’s eyes was the size of the dinning hall. While not the largest structure he had ever witnessed, it could easily accommodate a good-sized gathering. If hard pressed, he surmised the room could be filled several times over this initial estimate. As soon as he had finished taking the first few tentative steps inside, the guards behind him closed the door. The wood made a slight resounding sound as it echoed from the surrounding walls and ceiling.

Glancing around, he sighed in relief, as he did not see Mavigan or too many other guests gathered in the hall. Still, signs that the feast was already well under way in terms of preparation were obvious. The next two things seemed to come to his attention concurrently: the first was the presence of a fair Elflady, like one of the days of yore. Ardwen could not swear, as she was turned away and seemed to be avoiding eye contact, but she seemed to be some manner of priestess or holywoman. There was certainly no way to be certain though, and Ardwen quickly tallied up the next sight.

Ithramir was sitting at a table already, a small platter of fruit and a goblet of wine in front of him, he seemed lost in thought as was his wont. Then a thought hit Ardwen, he had entered the hall, yes, but he had no clue where to sit or what to do in the meantime. Ardwen bit his lower lip in concern, and then another problem arose, the smell of food – oh gods, real food! – Caused his stomach to ache in anticipation. The picnic in the fields had been satisfying to be sure, but here was real food presented once more to an Elf who had been living off gruel and stolen rations for a long and bitter siege!

Ardwen suppressed his stomach’s complaints though in light of the more practical problem, etiquette. He had already stood just past the closed door’s threshold for longer than normal, and standing there thinking was not helping either. He racked his brain in an attempt to find some protocol for introduction as feasts, but he had naught to go on save a victory banquet after an extermination campaign in Avari, hardly appropriate.

Still, it was better than nothing. Walking forward in even steps, Ardwen approached Ithramir. He paused at his right side, a few paces away. Taking the right corner of his cloak, Ardwen pressed it to his heart with a clenched fist and bowed deeply. He held the bow and kept his eyes firmly fixed on the stonework of the floor. This served two purposes: it traditionally signified that Ardwen trusted the one being bowed to enough to take his eyes off him, and it allowed him to avoid Itharmir’s initial reaction, which may well prove to be a positive thing!

Ardwen held the bow, and intoned in a clear voice, “Amin naa tualle.” He would not rise until instructed by Ithramir, and he would not move from a standing position until instructed to do so likewise. As much as he was still physically though, Ardwen’s mind pitched, he could only hope he had done something properly.

Written by - Wilhelm

As Wilhelm finished the fine elvish white wine, a soft knock on the door let him know that Mavigan was about to emerge. He stepped into the hallway and saw the Seamstress and her assistants leaving Magvigan's chamber. She looked a tthe armorial surcoat Wilhelm was wearing and nodded in professional approval. Wilhelm bowed to her and again expressed his thanks for the fine work. She complimented him on the fine mithril mail, which she felt set off the surcoat nicely, and then left with her assistants.

Wilhelm saw Alaric emerge from his room on the other side of Mavigan's chamber, along with his assistants Koric and Lao. Alaric was dressed in full Ancoran honors as well. Alaric nodded in approval at the mail and surcoat, having been present at the knighting when the mail was presented. Wilhelm told the 4 door guards to remain vigilant in guarding the three rooms, lest someone sneak into them during the feast. Mavigan's door then opened and mavigan and her maid emerged. Mavigan was wearing a stunning blue gown with soft blue velvet dancing shoes and a silver belt. He realized that the gown was the exact same shade as the blue scarf he carried as Mavigan's favor, or rather the blue it had started out as. Mavigan seemed pleased at the effect this had on Wilhelm and Alaric, and at their compliments. Wilhelm offered Mavigan his arm, whiich she took with a grin, and the party of five proceeded down the hall, with Koric and Lao proceeding in front and Alaric bringing up the rear. As they came down the staircase to the ground floor they met up with Varg, and then with Jague and Keeryn. Entering the feast hall, Wilhelm saw Rowan and Umeawen off to the left. Jague and Keeryn went to greet them. Varg and Alaric held back to allow Mavigan to make an entrance, then entered behind. Approaching the head table, Wilhelm saw an elf in full plate, black as night, kneeling before Ithramir. There was something ominous about the sable armor, that fit closely but lacked a helm. He saw by the great sword and then by hnis face that it was Ardwen. "Odd," he thought, "I didn't think elves wore full plate armor to a feast. But then Ardwen is from far away."

Wilhelm escorted Mavigan to her seat at Ithramir's side, and then took his place on her other side. He saw Alaric, Koric and Lao taking other seats spaced out to cover all approaches to the high table. Seeing that Ardwen was waiting for Ithramir's attention, and that Ithramir was watching Lithwyn attend to an injured servant, Wilhelm waited patiently for Ithramir to finish up and then start the feast.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Deep in his thoughts, Ithramir doesn't pay attention to the great doors opening to the hall. Hearing the echo of them closing, his eyes catch sight of Ardwen moving towards him. Surprisingly, he watches Ardwen bow before him and is moved by his words. Ithramir stands, then in answer, he replies,

"Erio, ar' na-creoso. Esta ar' na-meren sina undome, Ardwen en' Tel'Avari."*

Watching him stand, Ithramir makes note of his armor, showing no emotion either way, good or bad. Grabbing Ardwen by where the chest and arm plates meet, and jerking him towards him, only close enough for a whisper between them, he says,

"Ardwen, quel edhel, mankoi um lle dethol sina atost, i'atost en' merka erea? Aa'na lle aa' tura ta, ri ta aa' tura lle, amin sinta il. Na antha, mellon, ar' na-oio no'vakh ten' sina atost cael'ksh tyav a' ta."*

Looking into his eyes for a moment, Ithramir releases his grip on Ardwen, his shock at the armor getting the best of him. Slowly, he says,

"My apologies, Ardwen. The armor took me be surprise. I remember the last elf to wear that armor, I remember bringing him to Lithwyn for healing, and I remember the look in his eyes when he passed from this world."

Clasping Ardwen's shoulder, he smiles and says,

"I sense your fate with it may turn out better, at least I hope so. Come, there is much to eat and drink and your eyes betray you are hungry and thirsty. Now, have a seat and let's not think of such things no more. Tonight is for all of us to enjoy."

Seating Ardwen, Ithramir walks over to the minstrels and has them strike up a lively tune. Then, he walks back to his seat, pours a drink, and waits for more to arrive.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Emerging from the storage room, her emotions in check, Lithwyn continues down the hall towards the kitchens. Passing many attendants rushing from the dining hall to the kitchens and back again, her approach toward the entry is met with the sounds of a commotion. The door opens to a room writhing with life and movement. Serving staff run to and fro, picking up platters, collecting bottles of wine, and casks of ale. They dart between each other and the near labrynth of tables and stoves. The comanding force of the room, is, of course, the cooks: chopping, boiling, grilling, spreading, pouring. They call out orders for this ingredient or that pan, orders quickly carried out by their students who are all too eager to impress. The hiss of water meeting a hot pan, the clang of a heavy pot hitting the counter, a sharp knife running through vegetables, the efforts of preparing the great feast expressed in its own melody.

Walking throughout the room, Lithwyn notes everyone is on task and the main course is nearing completion. A well trained staff, she has no doubt it will be finished precisely when the last of the appetizers have been consumed. Her attention is focused on the head cook, K'Lain. As she converses briefly with him, a sudden hand placed on her shoulder makes her turn with surprise.

"I thought I might find you here, melamin." Nysden flashes his most charming look at her. An average elven male, he wears his finest robes. His appearance is vastly different from what one would think of as a High Priest of Avandor, God of war, vengeance, and light. Nysden is a quietly brooding man, paler than most elves, with eyes that dart around with inner anxiety or perhaps fear...? Her bright smile forcefully hides the annoyance she feels by his touch and use of familiar endearment. Pretending to be playful, she slides away from his grasp and smirks. Speaking softly, her tone deepening seductively, she remarks, "Now, what have I told you about calling me that? I am not your love." Turning, she deftly avoids an apprentice carrying a large pot, and makes her way towards the hallway. Her dress flows behind her, almost beckoningly.

Nysden runs a few steps to catch up with her and places his hand on the small of her back as he opens the door with his other hand. Speaking softly near her ear, he tries his overused argument, "Ah, but you are the High Priestess of Kaia'hanas, and I am the High Priest of Avandor. If ever a match there was, I have not heard it. You are mine as I am yours, by station and the blessing of the Gods."

Stopping suddenly in the hallway, fighting to control her anger, she keeps her face carefully neutral. Taking a breath, she looks at him with a contrived pout, "I am not yours, nor anyone elses. Am I merely a prize? A possession? Surely you do not wish to demean me to that extent." Going so far as to touch his arm momentarily, all to make sure she pushes him to remorse, she watches with satisfaction as his hand drops from her back. "No, My Lady, I would not suggest such a thing. I only wish...," his voice trails off with unspoken desire. Turning away from the look in his eyes, Lithwyn walks into the great hall, surveying the room and its patrons from the small doorway. Nysden quickly walks past her and takes his seat at the high table.

Lithwyn spots a pair of servants, lovers by the looks of it... the way he kisses her hand and the way she bows her head towards his. She stands there and wonders what it would feel like to lead such a simple life. While studying the man she realizes she doesn't know his name. She thought she knew all of the citadel's staff, at least those who directly served her or her guests. She always made it a point to do so and now vaguely worries she is slipping. Sighing, she explains it away by thinking he must have only recently arrived to Lothiel-Gadith.

Supressing an overwhelming desire to walk around the entire room to examine the preparations one last time, she instead walks towards the head table to begin greeting guests and finally introduce herself. Retrieving the wine glass from her seat to the right of Ithramir's, she finds a woman in her place. About to make a comment regarding the audacity of such a move, Lithwyn realizes her to be the human Queen and High Priestess of Nagarren. Sighing inwardly, becoming painfully aware of Human tendencies, she curtseys and bows her head to the appropriate level denoting equality.

Rising, she adresses the fair half-elf with a smile, "Good day, m'lady. You must be Mavigan, the Queen I have heard so much about from Ithramir. Though I am sure it will take time to get used to being called by such. I am Lithwyn Ehlonna Deltheron, High Priestess of Kaia'hanas and Lady of Lothiel-Gadith. I hope you have enjoyed your stay thus far here, in our Elven home away from Alyatol. I must add, your gown is quite becoming. If I am not mistaken, it is Aelwia's work. She is amazing with a thread and needle!" Calling to a wine steward, he fills her glass and a glass for Mavigan. Turning back to her guest, Lithwyn continues speaking with her for a time then excuses herself to continue her introductions. With each new guest, Lithwyn properly introduces herself and her place within Lothiel-Gadith as she has not formally met any of them.

Standing a slight distance off, Lithwyn notices the large figure in mithril mail and a fine white surcoat. Measuring his armor appreciatively as she walks up, she introduces herself with a smile and curtsey, "I suppose you are Mavigan's primary protector, among other things. I hope your travels were not too dangerous or taxing. Please, enjoy the slight relaxation afforded by the citadel. Granted, you nor I can ever truly rest, can we not? It is the price we pay for our station in life."

Turning around, to continue greeting guests, she stops in shock. Somehow missing the surprising presence in her initial glance of the room she is caught off guard. Thoughts rush through her mind, "No! The black armor, the cloak... it can't be. A... BERSERKER SUIT?" Paling slightly, her hand goes to her mouth as she can't help but remember the man who had once worn such a suit. It was so long ago, he was the last to wear it, yet the odd light in his eyes as he finally died, the ominous feel of his spirit, still remains in her mind. She still feels responsible for his death, though knows the armor killed him long before that.

Clearing her throat, remembering her manners, she lowers her hand to her chest and crosses over to where he sits. Curtseying before him, forcing a bright smile, only her eyes reveal her dark thoughts. "Melonamin, creoso a'baramin. I see you have visited our armory. I believe each piece chooses its master just as the master chooses it. Amin kyerm Kaia'hanas onar-lle e' lle tua a' Lothiel-Gadith vee' amin tanak re tyar mart."

Walking back towards the head table, Lithwyn ponders a moment. Ithramir in the center, Mavigan has taken the seat to the left of him, Wilhelm will obviously to the left of her... Nysden is seated to the right of Ithramir... and the only seat left is to the right of Nysden... Sighing with resignation, she walks to the the far right end of the table and sets her wine glass down. Ignoring the odd look Nysden gives her, she simply waves her hand dismisively and tries to enjoy the music as she slides into the chair.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Amusing himself with music, wine, and food, Ithramir hears the doors open and in comes the procession of guests, with Mavigan, Wilhelm, and Alaric in the lead. His sister and his niece have returned as well, unknown to him, and he watches as Jaque, Varg, and Keeryn march in behind.

Ithramir stands to greet each one with a "Mae govannen, elvellon." After their greetings, Ithramir wanders off to check for a few more bottles of wine, his personal stock. Leaving his guests to seat themselves, he comes back to find they have, though perhaps not in the way he imagined.

Taking his seat, he notices Mavigan is next to him, not Lithwyn. Nysden, per his usual self, takes the other seat available to Ithramir's right. It is just then he see's Lithwyn approaching, after greeting everyone, he watches as she picks up her goblet of wine and addresses Mavigan. His eyes do not leave her as she walks to sit next to Nysden. Inwardly, Ithramir would prefer, at the very least, to be sat between less hostile company.

Looking to Mavigan, he says,

"Well, I think I'll promote those seamstresses, they actually managed to clean you up a bit. Perhaps your elven heritage can start to shine through?"

Trying not to laugh as Mavigan's anger flashed across her face, he simply smiles and then turns to Nysden, saying,

"A pleasure, as always Nysden. Rarely do you and I speak, perhaps I'll enjoy some of your witty banter?"

Getting a rather nasty look, he fakes a frown and says,

"No? A pity, then. I had hoped to hear more about how I've not been to your service in so long."

Looking to Lithwyn, his demeanor changing a little, he says,

"I'm glad you joined us once again, nin carad-losker er. Your presence is always pleasing and your attendents have done excellent work. Thank you, Lithwyn."

Standing up, Ithramir taps on the table a few times to get everyone's attention. Once the hall quiets down, he addresses them,

"Friends, I welcome you to banquet this eve that is held in your honor. Enjoy the music, the food, wine and ale, and all the company you can. Let us look back on these times in fondness, for with everything else, nothing lasts forever. Let us have merriment this eve and let your souls rest. We, Hosts of the Citadel, are your servants."

With a bow, Ithramir sits back down, and lets the attendents begin serving everyone all the food and drink they desire. The minstrels begin playing lively tunes, and the conversations begin once more...

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen sat motionless, locked deep in morbid thoughts. The banquet promised to be one that spared no expense; and as Ithramir surmised he was indeed hungry. But his thoughts were troubled, deeply so. Ithramir had spoken to him in a manner that left little doubt as to his new armor's true nature. Ardwen felt Ithramir was not an Elf to be easily shocked, as were most Elves when emotion did not take then, but Ithramir had not hidden his reaction this time.

Even more disturbing was the reaction of the fair Elflady. There was no doubt to it now in Ardwen's mind, she was a priest. Not just the ordinary cleric, if such a term could be used when refer to those that are in the flock of a god, but one of apparent skill and rank. She bore an air of confidence and wisdom, which only added gravity to the doubt she had not voiced in her eyes. She had also spoken of the armor and user selecting themselves. Could this be true? Or mere speculation and proffered hope on part of the lady?

"Marath ar lost'estel," He muttered, "I will abide no empty hope." He had done so for many years now: the gods were ever fickle in their favors, unreliable as he esteemed them. A few taps on the tabled resounded through the hall and a stifled hush fell over the assembly. Glancing, Ardwen saw that Ithramir had risen to address the hall.

"Friends," Ithramir began, "I welcome you to banquet this eve that is held in your honor. Enjoy the music, the food, wine and ale, and all the company you can. Let us look back on these times in fondness, for with everything else, nothing lasts forever. Let us have merriment this eve and let your souls rest. We, Hosts of the Citadel, are your servants." With a smooth bow Ithramir sat down once more, and attendents began moving through the feast hall serving all manner of food and libations.

A few selections later, Ardwen had an array on his plate that made his mouth water. Pushing the armor out of his mind for now, he reached for a fork, and then yanked his hands back. In his haste and pensive mood he had forgotten to remove his gauntlets! Articulated and jointed or no, Ardwen was not in the mood to explain why his dish and silverware had deep scratches on them. Yanking off his gauntlets, Ardwen stuffed them between his armrest and side, it would do for now.

Picking the inside of the two forks arrayed next to the plate at random, he began to eat with a great fervor. Ah - and how the food put him beyond all dark thoughts or remorse - it was his first real meal in many months and his first feast after many years! Ardwen's thoughts turned to more pertinent subjects soon, but invariably they centered on Mavigan.

A young queen, and something more. A high priestess by what he had gathered, which meant she was important not only to the survival of a nation physically, but possibly spiritually as well. But what had caused this gathering here? What was the root cause of it all? Ardwen had heard her speak, on their walk to the picnic area, of her family's murder and how a vile and wicked man had usurped her family’s throne. Was it something higher than chance, no, it had to be. It was something more than a mere mortal force, was it . . . fate?

To his shame, Ardwen had not truly listened to what everyone had said. He needed only the basic details: Mavigan had Elven blood, she had the support of the Elves, her foe lacked both by all accounts. Ardwen wrapped his mind again and again around this seemingly simple quandary. This man, this - what was his name? Beridane? "Bah," Ardwen thought with a mental sneer, "I cannot wait until the various match swords upon the field of battle. Then I will test the mettle of this viper, I will gut his soul, and drink the marrow of his essence!"

Ardwen stopped mid-motion as he was bringing a piece of chicken to his mouth, stopping there with his mouth gaping, Ardwen put the fork and meat down on his plate. Closing his mouth slowly Ardwen very carefuly considered what he had just passed through his mind. He did want to kill Mavigan's foes, indeed the foes of all who had even a drop of true Elven blood in this land: but gutting souls and drinking essence? Where in the world did that come from?

Slowly his eyes went to the sable armor he wore. "No," Thought Ardwen, "the armor alone is not to blame. It’s like it’s acting upon repressed desires and painful emotions. That thought, however wicked, came from . . . me."

Another thought slowly surfaced and reasoned, "Did it truly matter? So long as the enemy died and a warrior earned a glorious death no price was too high! He had done far worse than some thinking about gutting and bones! He was Avari, this armor was a tool: nothing more! This great feast is but a prelude to an even greater war – a practical paragon of slaughter!"

Placing his hands behind his head and leaning back slightly, Ardwen kept his chin level and looked around the hall from side to side, his gaze passing over it in its entirety. He let out a cold chuckle, ah! The warm thoughts on an impending warpath were finer than any meal!

Written by - Archeantus

The kill awoke her senses, she felt alive.

She walked in magical disguise, steadily down the stone corridor leading toward the feast, toward an act that she could not imagine herself doing. She had sworn she would never kill a female. No woman deserved the pain she could give--She stopped suddenly. It had come again. Doubt flung at her indomitable will, dread shook her infinite resolve.

All her life, she had sought vengeance. It started as an unconquerable thirst, a hunger that never died. No one was more justified in deserving vengeance than her, especially after what he did to her. She had killed countless men because of it. All their faces, were his face. All their love, was his love. All their broken, stilled hearts were her broken heart. Deep inside her rested a shattered soul, devoid of worth, wasting away into beautiful oblivion. And it was this oblivion that she wished to go. Yet, to go there, she had to use up the very last drop of the venom of revenge that had become her life's blood. Tonight, she realized finally, the last drop would be burned. And then she would be a shell of a woman, ready to sink into the world's hate.

No redeeming emotion came to her anymore. No guilt, nor pleasure. All she had was memories, exquisite and dreadful. She had become a casualty to her own vengeance, and deep inside her, past her blackened heart, she knew it. And yet, she went, seeking to kill the one single female, whose death would ignite a war in which hundreds and thousands of men would die. That was what he had told her to convince her, and she reveled in it, but inside, even now, she cried desperately; tears that would never reach her beautiful eyes.

"No, I, will, do....this." She whispered in her fevered mind.

Mastering herself, her thoughts quickly melting away in her vengeance once more, she stepped coolly forward.

No woman deserved the pain she could give, except one...

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

The messenger panted as he continued his dead sprint through the halls of the elven fortress, bent on delivering his news as swiftly as possible. The corridors were mostly empty, as the feast was underway, and all were either attending, or seeing to the duties that drew them away from the festivities. As he careened around another corner, he ran headlong into a ranger that was staring at himself in the mirror as if for the first time. The messenger let out a curse as he tucked midfall and rolled back to his feet, popping up and dashing on. His information was too dire to be slowed in the least.

As he neared the dining hall doors, the two gaurds called out to find out what the rush was all about. The messenger shouted but one word, and the two sentries shared a quick look before tearing open the doors, and even then, the gap was barely wide enough as the messenger barrelled through. Several guests turned, or even stood, at the sudden appearance of the elf.

"Ithramir!" he shouted, gasping for breath.

The commander of the fortress stood, pushing his chair back, and calmly spoke through the silence. "If we are not under attack, you will spend a very, very long time explaining this interruption."

"No attack sir," the messenger forced out. He saw Ithramir's eyes widen in anger as he took a deep breath. He forced out his message.

"Reinforcements!" the messenger exclaimed, his face ecstatic. "Reinforcements have come from the homeland!"

Isuiln led his troops into the gates of the elven citadel, all singing an elvish ballad, a popular tale of heroes past. They were met with great rejoicing from the sentries, many of whom joined in the singing of the ballad, until it seemed the stones of the keep reverberated with the sounds of their voices. The last of the elves under his command marched in through the gates, which were then shut behind them, and the song began winding to a close. As it ended, a great cheer went up from all present, and if the stones had reverberated during the song, they now seemed to shake.

But it was not the size of the army that Isuiln led in that made the stone tremble, for they were not enourmous in number. It was the power of their reunion with their brethren, and the enourmous boost in morale that they brought with them, that caused the quaking.

As it wound down, Isuiln grabbed the nearest ranger that looked to be of at least moderate rank. "Where is Ithramir?" He shouted over the din. "I must speak with him immediately!" All he caught from the fellow was something about a feast and a messenger having already been sent before the ranger saw one among the ranks he apparently knew and dashed off.

Well, they know we're here. Guess there's naught to do but wait for someone to find me With that, he grinned as he watched the men he had brought being greeted by those of the Citadel, and there were more smiles than he could count.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan couldn’t breathe.

Gavarel and her assistant Talerena marched into Mavigan’s room with obviously no thought given to her privacy. Soon delicate hands that felt like iron bands yanked Mavigan out of the tub and began rubbing her briskly dry. Then, these same hands, paying no attention to her current state of nakedness pushed, and pulled, and tugged, and stuffed Mavigan into a set of undergarments designed to minimize her waist and maximize her cleavage.

All the while a running monologue streamed forth from Gavarel, each of her statements running over protests from an enraged royal before Mavigan had a chance to voice her displeasure. Of course, cinching her corset tight enough to push the air from her lungs ensured Mavigan could not gain breath to voice her rapidly growing anger before Gavarel plowed ahead with her next placating statement. It wasn’t until Mavigan’s lips started turning blue that Gavarel realized she might have been a bit overzealous in her tightening of the laces.

A hasty adjustment and Mavigan was greedily sucking in great lungfuls of air. Murmuring her apologies, Gavarel reached for the blue dress and began pulling it over Mavigan’s head, effectively muffling the unflattering words that spewed forth from her mouth.

Understanding Gavarel’s game, Mavigan turned sullen. Apparently she was not to be allowed the luxury of dining in her room alone. She sat still, inwardly fuming as she was dumped into a chair and hair was brushed to a dry sheen. When they had finished, Mavigan gave a defiant glare in Gavarel’s direction and walked purposefully towards the metal basin, where her daggers still lay. Picking them up, she sheathes them and then conceals the sheaths about her person. She cast a last, challenging glare at Gavarel, daring her to say something.

Gavarel, wisely remained silent, taking the time to studiously examine her fingernails.

Quickly escorted to the dining hall, Mavigan soon found herself placed in a chair next to Ithramir. “Wonderful,” she thought morosely. Biting her tongue firmly to choke back her retorts to Ithramir’s obvious jibes, she applied herself to her food and attempted to make herself as small as possible. She greeted those who needed to be greeted, plastered on smiles when they were required, gave nods of acknowledgement to those who approached her, and did her best to keep as unnoticeable as possible. No small feat when you were supposed to be a guest of honor – but she tried all the same.

It was with relief that she looked up when the feast was interrupted with the announcement of reinforcements.

Written by - Renalis

Moving between guests and tending to their needs Renalis found himself with only a handful of servants in the room now that the meal was fully underway. Crystal was amung them and they continued sending each other flirting glances as one might expect out of courting youngsters, not out of this pair - who had been wed for nearly two years now. While Renalis was many years younger than his Elven bride, she was filled with youthful vigor when she was around him.

"This is degrading..." Renalis thought to himself, "Having to tend on there every need, but i must keep up this charade, at least a little longer..." Renalis's thoughts were cut off as the large hall doors opened widely.

Seeing the messenger barrel through the doors obviously out of breath, Renalis began to worry.

"Reinforcements!" the messenger exclaimed, his face ecstatic. "Reinforcements have come from the homeland!"

"Blast!" Renalis thought to himself "How many more could be arriving? And who is this Isuiln?" Cursing to himself "How many more things will go wrong before this night is out?"

Making eye contact once more with Crystal and seeing she was a cool as ice, Renalis sighed and thought once more "She is right, no reason to worry about it I guess, just that many more people to keep our eyes on."

Seeing that Mavigan was one of the only people still enjoying the meal, Renalis continued to sell his charade, walking up and refilling her wine glass and getting more bread for her. "There you are M'lady" he said with a small bow.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm could tell that Mavigan was displeased by her set expression and silence when he had escorted her to the banquet. However, the expected explosion never came, even after Ithramir's taunting comments. While quiet and withdrawn, Mavigan did manage the greetings, smiles and nods expected from a Queen. Her reserved manner coud be taken as the aloofness expected from royalty. All in all, Wilhelm was proud of her for the effort, despite her unhappiness. He hoped that she would find the dancing and festivities that were to follow the banquet more to her enjoyment. He made a point of passing various dishes to her to sample, allowing her the excuse to try each dish and therefore not have to speak while she did so.

Wilhelm expected a diversion to follow the first remove, perhaps some performance that Mavigan could appreciate, but instead a messanger burst into the room to announce elven reinforcements. A buzz of conversation arose throughout the room at this welcome news. Mavigan seemed relieved to have the focus of the banquet move to the messenger and away from her. Wilhelm and others moved to the windows and looked out to see a sizable elven force enter the citadel. Over the sound of their marching he could hear them singing some sort of ballad. A great cheer arose outside after they had entered. Wilhelm returned to Mavigan''s side to hear Ithramir's response to the news.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir was entered in some kind of various chit chat with a guest or two at the table when he got the news of reinforcements. The songs of his kin echoed through the halls as they marched inside. Standing, he excuses himself and makes his way out of the dining hall and onto a balcony looking down onto the courtyard. There he can see the arriving reinforcements, some few thousand strong, making there way into the large citadel.

Turning to the messenger who followed him, he replies,

"Bring me their captain. Also, ensure these new arrivals are seen to their quarters and are given food and wine. They will rest this eve."

Moving back into the dining hall, the room was abuzz with conversation. Making his way back to the head of the table, his hand not-so-obviously grazing Lithwyn's back, he says,

"It seems we have even more reason to rejoice this eve. More of our kin have arrived to help in this great cause. By Avandor and Kaia'hanas, we will need them in the coming days. Blessed be both of their names this eve."

For the first time in a very long time Ithramir's emotions betrayed him and a genuine smiled graced his face. Sitting back down, he pours himself a glass of wine and awaits the captain of the reinforcements to arrive before him.

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

Isuiln basked in the heartfelt welcome, and his heart was light for a short while as he forgot his cares and worries and celebrated with everyone. After a short time, he saw one of his men pointing him out to another elf, who was dressed in the livery of the Citadel. Well, time to get serious. He walked over to the elf who was obviously seeking him out.

"Captain Isuiln, I presume?" the elf asked.

"Yes, I am Captain Isuiln Fellblade. I assume you are here to bring me to Ithramir? He is still commander of the Citadel, is he not?"

"Yes, he is, and yes, I am to take you to him. Preperations are already being made for quarters for your men. Please follow me." With that, the elf turned, checking over his shoulder once to make sure Isuiln was following. And follow Isuiln did, trying to memorize the twists and turns to get back out to the courtyard from wherever he was to meet Ithramir.

Soon, they came upon a large pair of doors, which were promptly opened by the two gaurds posted there. Isuiln realized it was an extravagent dining hall, and from the looks of it, he and his troops had made their entrance mid-feast. What better time to bring cause for celebration than during the celebration? Isuiln pondered. Then again, I bring with me news that is both happy and sorrowful.

He followed the elf to the head of the table, where he was introduced to Ithramir. "Commander Ithramir, this is Captain Isuiln Fellblade, leader of the reinforcements." Isuiln bowed, and Ithramir bowed his head a touch.

"An honor to meet you sir. I have heard very much about you, and am grateful for the opportunity to serve under you. I come bearing news both great and ill. While I and my roughly five thousand troops are here to aid you... n'uma ner tuluva*. And we are now in exile, for we have come against the will of Elborne, and were told the step before we boarded our ship here would be the last we would ever stand on the Homeland. Nonetheless... we each came willingly."

The pain on his face was obvious as he spoke of his exile. But then his face set, and he went down on his knee before Ithramir, and spoke with his head bowed down.

"We could not abandon our kin. I request only that you put us all to good use." As he said this, he lifted his head to stare Ithramir in the eye. "It would be a shame if my men gave up their homeland for nothing." With that, he lowered his head once again, and awaited Ithramir's response.


Written by - Turin Wallace Page 20 Book 1

Ithramir listened to Isuiln closely, when he uttered the words, n'uma ner tuluva, his eyes darted momentarily to Lithwyn. It was as he expected, this was it, and thus they were resigned to their fates here. Standing up, he motions for Isuiln to do the same, and says,

"Mae govannen, nikerym Isuiln. You and your soldiers are a most welcome sight. Your exile will not be in vain, for here we are needed, and our own lands need protecting. War is coming swiftly, Isuiln, and I hope you and your company are ready."

Pointing to a seat at the banquet table, he says,

"Have a seat, captain. Enjoy the food and wine, your soldiers are being treated as well this eve."

No sooner did Isuiln have a seat then the messenger burst forth again. Not as annoyed as the first time, Ithramir see's a look of concern in his eyes as he approaches. Walking to within a whisper, the messenger very quietly says,

"Milord, a rider has just arrived from Minas Uial. The news is grim, and the rider would only talk with you."

Telling the messenger to bring him in, an elf in full battle dress enters the dining hall, he is bloody and assisted by two citadel guards. Ithramir moved towards the wounded elf to keep him from being dragged across the entire length of the hall. Softly, he says,

"Tell me, what of Minas Uial and Minas Aure?"

The elf responds to the question in short, pained bursts,

"Milord...Minas Uial...is lost...Orcs by the thousands...assaulted us by surprise...many dead. Minas Aure...under full siege...will hold out...as long as possible...we need...aide...Orcs are carrying...human armor...and weapons...they...bare the...mark of Beridane..."

The elf loses consciousness, calling for Gilraen to aide him, Ithramir orders he be taken to the infirmary. Pacing a long, tense moment, he looks at those assembled and says,

"So it begins."

Swiftly, he barks out orders to assemble fifty-thousand elven soldiers to ride in relief of the garrisons come morning. Time is now of the essence, for if Minas Aure falls, there will be no defense against the Orcs from rampaging in elven lands. Turning to those at the feast, Ithramir gruffly says,

"Tomorrow, I and our soldiers will ride in relief of these garrisons. They lay to the east, it is 3 days away at a full gallop, with no rest. Those who wish to join may feel free to do so. I suggest Mavigan stays here, under guard, for this is the safest place to be now. Lithwyn will be in command when I am away, her word is as mine, I trust all will be courteous and respect it."

Pausing for a moment, his eyes meet Lithwyn's and he says,

"Amin cael ant en' lle gur, Lithwyn. Ele amin e' amin sambe manka lle cael i' coiasira.*"

With one last pause, Ithramir says,

"Now I will beg my leave of you all. Enjoy the feast if you wish. If I do not see any of you on the morrow, I bid you all well. Good eve, friends."

With that, Ithramir marches out of the door and into his chambers to prepare for the next day.

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

Just as Isuiln sat down, a messenger came in and whispered something to Ithramir. Shortly thereafter, a wounded elf entered, being supported by two citadel gaurds. Ithramir rose to go to the wounded elf, and Isuiln followed suit.

"Milord...Minas Uial...is lost...Orcs by the thousands...assaulted us by surprise...many dead. Minas Aure...under full siege...will hold out...as long as possible...we need...aide...Orcs are carrying...human armor...and weapons...they...bare the...mark of Beridane..."

Isuiln went pale. He knew little, except that Beridane was the usurper of the human kingdom just south of here, and that Minas Uial and Minas Aure were the only defenses against the orcs entering elven lands. But a human aiding orcs? No good can come of this, for anyone, including Beridane.

Then the wounded elf went completely slack, passing out from his wounds. Ithramir called for another elf to come over, whom Isuiln assumed was a healer, and ordered the wounded elf to be taken to the infirmary.

Ithramir paced for a moment, then uttered "So it begins." Isuiln could not think of anything more fitting for the moment. Then Ithramir turned and addressed everyone.

"Tomorrow, I and our soldiers will ride in relief of these garrisons. They lay to the east, it is 3 days away at a full gallop, with no rest. Those who wish to join may feel free to do so. I suggest Mavigan stays here, under guard, for this is the safest place to be now. Lithwyn will be in command when I am away, her word is as mine, I trust all will be courteous and respect it."

"Sir," Isuiln intoned, "my men are in nowhere near the shape required to travel there and be fit for battle. I propose they stay here, and act as gaurds. It will also give them a chance to become aquainted with the citadel and the area, for it seems that battle may be on it's way here."

"They?" Ithramir asked. "And what of yourself?"

"I shall ride with you to meet the orcs," Isuiln promptly answered. "I came here for the purpose of aiding the elves here, and I shall do just that at Minas Aure. If you'll excuse me sir, I shall need rest to be able to ride tomorrow. Could you kindly point me to where my men are quartered? I must inform them, then rest up as much as I can before the morning."

Written by - Trinni Shannon

At the entrance of the messenger, and the news declared, Lithwyn immediately rises from the table. Even as she rose, various integral members of the staff approached her, knowing they would be needed. Giving out instructions, she can't help but smile with excitement. Reinforcements! Have they finally come to their senses? Have they not left us alone then??

Her thoughts running wild as she makes sure accomodations are made for her newly arrived cousins, she quickly has another table brought in. Watching as the serving staff prepares the seating for the captain and council of the army, she smiles. Confident the soldiers will be immediately taken care of, shown lodging and given a veritable feast, Lithwyn turns back to the head table and stands behind her chair. As people filter back in from the windows and balcony, she turns with a start at the touch on her back. Knowing it to be Ithramir, she feels uncomfortable but hides it behind a smile and only shakes her head slightly.

"I knew we wouldn't be abandoned! This is grand news indeed!!!" Smiling genuinely, with profound relief, she takes her seat once again. Noticing Nysden's seat is empty, she knows he has already left for the temple, seeking the guidance of Avandar, the God of War. Well, he is gone and I cannot sit at the corner of this table with such a gap between Ithramir and I. It looks odd. I certainly don't want to give the impression that we are distant. And the people so want to see us wed... better to at least let them have the hope though it shall never be. Quieting her thoughts, she picks up her wine glass and moves over one seat, sitting at Ithramir's side. Even as she does so, the great doors are openned once again as a man quickly strides through the room. Smiling as he approaches, knowing he brings good news, she turns to face him as he speaks with Ithramir.

"While I and my roughly five thousand troops are here to aid you... n'uma ner tuluva..."

N'uma ner tuluva. N'UMA NER TULUVA???? It cannot be! The color drains from her face as she takes in the full meaning. For a moment she could only sit, dumbfounded with shock. Ithramir's voice bringing her back to the moment, she quickly agrees with him and addresses Isuiln.

"Captain Isuiln, you are most welcome within the citadel. We have been in need of you for some time. And now... well, we will need you more than ever as we truly are alone in these lands. Your bravery in coming here, knowing of your impending exhile, makes me proud to have you all within our walls." Smiling briefly, feeling her heart pounding still, she takes a long swallow of wine.

Raising an eyebrow as yet another messenger enters, whispers to Ithramir, then quickly leaves, she looks at him questioningly. Before the words could leave her lips, a warrior enters the room, obviously wounded and exhausted. Turning behind her, she asks the waiting attendant to run and bring Mila, the priestess that is second in command, so to speak. Upon bringing his news, Lithwyn realizes he is going to collapse and tries to move forward... but too late to keep his head from striking the ground. Kneeling at his side, she is quietly relieved by Ithramir's request of Gilraen. Keeping her head down as he is carried away, her composure returns and she stands to turn towards Ithramir. Trying to not look as worried as she feels, her smile is one of resolve.

As the silence is broken by orders filling the air, her thoughts race to what all needs to be done before morning. Mentally running through the list of supplies in stock, she is momentarily grateful for the order to mass produce these last days. While Ithramir explains her responsibility while he is away, she can't help but feel more than a little odd. It had been so long since the need for such an explanation, as any one living within the citadel knew this. Yet with so many new arrivals, so many new faces to learn, it feels as if she has just been inducted as High Priestess again.

"Amin cael ant en' lle gur, Lithwyn. Ele amin e' amin sambe manka lle cael i' coiasira." "Now I will beg my leave of you all. Enjoy the feast if you wish. If I do not see any of you on the morrow, I bid you all well. Good eve, friends."

Looking into Ithramir's eyes and nodding briefly, she turns to the rest of the room even as guests rise from their seats and prepare to leave. Speaking with various attendants, the room is quickly cleared of the nearly finished meal. Excusing herself from the guests, briefly explaining her need to begin preparations, she quickly strides towards the kitchens. Nearly coliding with the attendant whose name escapes her, she smiles apologetically and places her hand on his back as she moves around him. On a sudden thought, she pauses and turns around to address him.

"I'm sorry, have you only just arrived? Please tell me I am not losing my touch, I thought I could place all of the serving staff by name. In any case, welcome to our home, cousin. I am sure you will be happy here. Now, if you will excuse me..." Turning again, she makes her way toward the door, following an attendant laden with serving platters.

Amongst the buzz of activity befitting such a large kitchen, she speaks with several of the cooks, enlisting their aide to prepare the food stuffs needed for the departure tomorrow. Knowing they will work into the early hours of the morning, she goes to each to ask their help and to thank them for their service. Calling everyone in the room to order for a moment, Lithwyn makes a general announcement regarding duties and necessities in this emergency. Placing orders of food worthy of travel for the soldiers, and remarking upon the newly arrived army, she then concludes the casual meeting. Once everyone begins working again, she leaves the room and slips down a side hallway.

Turning the corner, sure she is alone, she slides behind the great tapestry. Touching the wall in three specific places, she pushes it back. Quickly moving into the darkness within, Lithwyn moves the wall back in place and follows the corridor. With only a small amount of light in the narrow hall, cast by a burning torch here and there, she could have walked the path in complete darkness. Having traversed this passageway so many times, she knows them as well as her own body. Turning right, then left, she finds herself at the entrance to the Citadel's large temple. Taking a deep breath, she pulls open the secret door and walks through to find herself behind the Great Tree of the temple, the altars of Avandor and Kaia'hanas on either side.

Finding Nysden at his place before the Altar of Avandor, she quickly relays what has happened. As the two move to the center of the large circular room, priests and priestesses cease their prayers and move around them. Looking around at all of their faces, Lithwyn explains what is to come, what needs to be done. Many of the followers of Avandor and Kaia'hanas will accompany the army leaving in the morning. Of course, only those well trained in both healing and defensive arts are assigned to leave. Keeping in mind the necessity of the citadel, she allocates an appropriate number to remain behind. Once assignments have been given out, she calls everyone to silence as first Nysden prays to Avandor and then she prays to Kaia'hanas.

During the prayer, the room nearly pulses with the murmurs of prayer. Nearly everyone within the room can physically feel the divine presence. As the prayer continues, tears roll down many as their contact deepens.

Openning her eyes to the view of hundreds of calm, touched faces, she realizes what each of them has just felt by the grace of the Gods. Lithwyn feels a pang in her heart, an ache as she almost reaches out. Wanting more of that calm serenity, the warmth and love of Kaia'hanas, she almost begins to seek beyond herself. Wanting to dwell in that feeling once again, to know it, to fill herself with it, she closes her eyes again. Almost reaching out now... feeling her grip on the here and now falling away... she opens her mind... and then... a movement brings her back. No. Not now, not ever. I cannot ask for myself. I will not. Almost.

Quickly leaving the room, by the normal means, she moves through the halls towards Ithramir's chambers. Arriving at his door, she reaches her hand out to knock but pauses. It has been so long since she was in Ithramir's personal chambers. Sure, Ithramir has been within her rooms many times, but she always made it a point to never come here. Battling with herself a moment, her hand still outstretched, she suddenly feels silly. We don't have time for this, there is too much work to be done. This is not about he and I, or my relation with anyone but the Citadel for that matter.

Pushing her shoulders back, unconciously smoothing her hair, she knocks soundly on the door and awaits his admission to enter.

Written by - Renalis

"Milord...Minas Uial...is lost...Orcs by the thousands...assaulted us by surprise...many dead. Minas Aure...under full siege...will hold out...as long as possible...we need...aide...Orcs are carrying...human armor...and weapons...they...bare the...mark of Beridane..."

The messengers words fill Renalis with horror. "What does Beridane think he is doing!?" Renalis nearly blurted out his thoughts were so loud, "He will be the death of all of us, humans, elves and anything else living."

"Now I will beg my leave of you all. Enjoy the feast if you wish. If I do not see any of you on the morrow, I bid you all well. Good eve, friends."

As the guests began getting up and leaving Renalis looked at Crystal and they both began to clean up, selling their charade one last time. Moving toward the kitchen with a set of dishes Renalis nearly colides with Lithwyn. Nearily ovoiding him she smiles apologetically and places her hand on his back as she moves around him. On a suddenly she pauses and turns around to address him.

"I'm sorry, have you only just arrived? Please tell me I am not losing my touch, I thought I could place all of the serving staff by name. In any case, welcome to our home, cousin. I am sure you will be happy here. Now, if you will excuse me..."

With a slight bow, and more than a small amount of worry in him Renalis replies "Many thanks M'lady, the hospitality of the elves knows no bounds and I thank you for the hospitality, I only wish more of my people, including myself were fighting alongside your bretheren" This made Renalis chuckle inside as he thought "I am more powerful than most of these soldiers. While close, not quite as skilled with the sword, but with Sorcery that more than makes up for that." Continueing on Renalis began ferrying the dishes from the hall into the kitchen.

After bringing the last set in, Renalis re-enters the hall to find Crystal. Seeing her wiping some tables he quickly makes his way to her and pulls her aside. Crystal is worried at first that she has been found out, but upon seeing Renalis's face, her nerves are somewhat calmed, the orcs still prevelant in her thoughts. "What shall we do my love?" she asks him. "The Orcs move and now Ithramir goes to engage them..." Renalis begins, "We must act quickly." Understanding what he meant, Crystal moves forward and up (her Human lover standing nearly a foot taller) and they share a quick kiss. "Be safe my love" she whispers in Elven.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Entering his room, Ithramir opens a bottle of absinthe and drinks deeply. Opening his closet, he pulls his favorite battle armor out and lays it on a nearby table. Polished to a high gleem, the scales and plates twinkle in the candlelight. His long sword and bow, they too are set in their places upon the table, each meticulously cleaned and cared for. A full quiver of arrows is placed next to them, then finally his shield which bears elven runes across the front. All is now ready except for himself.

Grabbing the bottle, he carries it with him as he moves to the balcony of his room. There, in the fading light of the day, as he looks across the vast forest, he wonders if this is fitting. Is this the sunset of the elves here? Will they too fade into nothingness in the coming battles?

Taking a long swig from the bottle, he leans against the hard stone arch between the room and balcony, just staring in silence until he hears a semi-forceful knock on the door. He knew it was Lithwyn, for no attendent would disturb him this eve, and he asked for her presence. She visited his room but a few times, he usually went to hers, though he never understood her dislike of it. Shaking his head clear, he says just loud enough,

"Tul e', Lithwyn, amin cael na duil lle.*"

Hearing the door open, he can hear her soft footsteps on the stone floor as she appraoches him. Turning his head to her, he says,

"Lithwyn, tomorrow myself and fifty-thousand soldiers ride to defend our lands. Never has the situation been so dire since the Time of Darkness, and yet, I cannot call forth our whole army to fight. They need to be here, to protect this place and counter aggression by Beridane."

Pausing, taking a drink from the bottle, he says,

"You are quite a capable leader, Lithwyn, no matter the outcome of our ride I know you will do what's best for our people."

Pointing to two chairs and table on the balcony, Ithramir says,

"Now, let me simply enjoy your company but for a little bit longer. The sun is almost set, darkness closes in, and if we are doomed then let me meet that end with nothing left unsaid between us."

Sitting down, Ithramir and Lithwyn begin talking, all the while the evening sets in and preperations for battle are taking place.

Written by - Ardwen

War. Ardwen could scarcely contain the excitement within him. War. Another battlefield, did it matter why? Another chance for him to fight for whatever reason. The sitting, feasting, and thinking had obviously caused him to go on edge more than once. Too much thinking, too much dwelling on the past and savoring his own suffering.

On the battlefield there is no other thought than how to swing one's sword and kill the enemy. Swing, kill, swing, kill, it had to be more than an idea, it had to be a certainty. Those words Ithramir had spoken though:

"Tomorrow, I and our soldiers will ride in relief of these garrisons. They lay to the east, it is 3 days away at a full gallop, with no rest. Those who wish to join may feel free to do so. I suggest Mavigan stays here, under guard, for this is the safest place to be now. Lithwyn will be in command when I am away, her word is as mine, I trust all will be courteous and respect it."

There was an offer to join him, Ardwen would take it gladly. Not just out of his code, but out of desire. Before he could relate this to Ithramir though, the Citadel's Captain was swept away in a deluge of orders, preperation, council, and contemplation. It was to be expected as it was a commander's role to do such things. And this other captain - was Isulin his name? - Seemed to bring a sizable reinforcement, and even more news.

Ardwen yanked on both his gauntlets again and fastened them as attendants and servants went about cleaning up and storing the remains of the feast. Ardwen did not care, food occupied the least of his concerns at the present. He saw the wounded Elf enter, but he barely noticed, his thoughts were spinning now. Excusing himself he left the feast hall, and sought out one of the soldiers running errands and preparation for the morrow.

"Mellonamin!" Ardwen called out to a passing warrior. He bore the tincture of the Citadel, that was the important part. "Would you please inform Ithramir upon his earliest convenience that I desire to ride with the host tomorrow? Whatever time we depart is fine, I will be ready."

The soldier looked at him curiously for a moment before chuckling, "I've heard of you mellon." He let out one more laugh, tinged with tenseness before continuing, "Whatever hour? Alright macar, it shall be done when Ithramir can spare the time- if he can spare the time. I suggest you simply prepare as best you may though. We will be looking for all the men we can, and I don't think we'll be likely to pass you up."

Ardwen let a slight grin creep across his face, it did not touch his cold eyes, "I would hope not warrior. Diola lle for your aid. Keep safe." The two exchanged bows before departing their separate ways. Ardwen walked back to his room and pulled another piece of parchment from the small desk. This time he wrote, "Please procure whatever provisions for me you can for the coming campaign. I am unfamiliar with the Citadel in its entirety and would fear impeding others' progress. Put the rations on whatever horse you can find, I'm not particular, I will be on the balcony nearest my room sleeping tonight if you need me. May fate smile on you for your efforts."

Finishing the last word Ardwen let the ink dry before rushing to find the nearest attendant. The first servant he could find looked at the letter, looked at him, and then back at the letter. Finally he said, "Well, we're supposed to help the soldiers mustering for the coming battle all we can, and this certainly qualifies. I will do what I can."

Ardwen bowed and thanked the attendant before once more walking back to his quarters. He walked past the door framing the entrance, down the hallway, and out into the cooling air fast turning to darkness. Breathing deeply Ardwen settled himself on one of the benches.

Taking the blade off his back Ardwen rested it vertically on the ground, balancing the part near the hilt on his right shoulder so that the blade extended out in front of him and rested on its edge. Sighing slightly Ardwen took to studying the sky. The last remnants of the day were fading, yielding to the inevitable darkness.

Darkness that was all consuming, and would last until something drove it back. Something stirred within Ardwen, some half-repressed memory. Not sure entirely why and not really caring he spoke softly to the deaf wind that blew in the evening air, "Like a candle in the darkness . . ."

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan watched with curiosity as activity exploded in the dining hall. One moment, guests were quite content to sip fine wine, stuff their mouths full of savory food, and make light, meaningless conversation. The next moment, Mavigan was engulfed in a veritable stampede – people rushing to gather gear and supplies, rest, and generally prepare for the march the next day. Even the servants seem to be possessed of some sense of urgency.

Mavigan felt a thrill of excitement flutter through her stomach. Finally, she would be given the chance to vent her rage and frustrations on a socially accepted target – one she wouldn’t be lectured on later. Rising from the table, she prepared to join the swelling mass of activity, but then the words of Ithramir skated over the general buzz to reach her ear.

"Tomorrow, I and our soldiers will ride in relief of these garrisons. They lay to the east, it is 3 days away at a full gallop, with no rest. Those who wish to join may feel free to do so. I suggest Mavigan stays here, under guard, for this is the safest place to be now. Lithwyn will be in command when I am away, her word is as mine, I trust all will be courteous and respect it."

She slumped back into her chair, the picture of dejection – her shoulders slumped, her face the epitome of disappointment. Reaching for her recently refilled wine glass, she brought it to her lips slowly, and then chugged the contents. “So,” she thought morosely, “they intend to ride off to excitement and fun, and leave me here locked in this citadel, merely replacing my jailer.” Replacing her wine glass on the table, she ignored Wilhelm’s curious stares, and pushed her chair back. She had the awful feeling that she was nothing more than the prize in a deadly game of Capture the Flag.

Rising to her feet, she began pushing through the throng and began the trek back to her chambers. Once there, she immediately stripped off the gown and tossed it to the side, spitefully leaving it crumpled on the floor. Removing a dagger from one of her arm sheaths, she reached behind her and neatly severed the laces of the garment constricting her middle. With a huge sigh of relief, she stripped it off and tossed it to the far side of the room. Making herself a promise to never, ever wear one of those torture devices ever again, she proceeded to change into her night shift and climb into bed.

The effects of a night filled with rich food and alcohol, coupled with emotional exhaustion, soon lulled her into a deep sleep.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm saw Mavigan's excitement turn to dejection when Ithramir announced that she would remain in the citadel under guard. He sympathized with her wish to go with Ithramir and DO SOMETHING. It was hard for an active person to remain behind at a time like this. He felt the call to arms himself, but put away thoughts of glory to attend to his own duty. Alaric would have command of the newly formed Queen's Own Division, comprised of the thousands of human supporters that had flocked to Mavigan's banner, as he had been the one to form and train them. They would accompany Ithramir's forces and uphold the human side of the alliance. While Alaric went off to battle and glory, Wilhelm would remain here with the Queen's Guard, formed from members of the old Royal Guard that Wilhelm knew to be loyal, to act as Mavigan's protection.

He escorted Mavigan back to her chambers in silence, understanding that she was in no mood for conversation. After her door closed and locked behind her, Wilhelm briefed the doubled guard force, now consisting of pairs of Elven Rangers and Queen's Guardsmen. Nobody was to enter her chambers save with Wilhelm present. There were four at her door with a pair each at the adjacent doors to Alaric's and Wilhelm's chambers and another pair in the courtyard below her windows. A last pair would walk a circuit of the adjoining hallways, down to the courtyard and then up to the roof above. The twelve guards would be relieved at four hour intervals using prearranged passwords, although they all knew each other by now. The two at Alaric's chamber would periodically enter and go to the window to check on the pair in the courtyard below. Wilhelm would be awakened at each relief and briefed on events. He lay down to doze, still clad in his mithril chainmail under an outer robe, with his sword at his side and his hammer, helm and shield ready at hand. His plate armor was layed out nearby.

Written by - Archeantus

An inconspicuous young elven male melted in with the crowd at the feast.

He watched and beheld a tall elf, stern and noble, stand and announce the beginning of the feast. The young elf’s deep blue almond eyes held the commander’s every move in their gaze. Those bright, yet dark eyes slowly looked upon them all. And when they were done, they centered back on one. With veiled dejection and youthful demeanor, the sole heir of the throne sat adorned in the finest dress, her golden hair softly fell down around her shoulders. Her arms folded, looking absently out into the vast throng of individuals that had come in her honor. The malice in those eyes flickered at the sight of the young woman. They blinked and looked away.

It was then that a slight commotion interrupted the festivities and a messenger appeared by the tall elf’s side. It was then that most of the guests could hear the singing down in the courtyard. The atmosphere was electric when it was whispered that elven reinforcements had come. There were cheers, and laughter, though as the young elf studied the commander who was now speaking to the captain of the reinforcements, he caught a slight look of disappointment flow over his stern face. However, a smile caressed over those firm features. The feast continued until the doors burst open and a bloody elf was carried toward his commander. Listening intently, the young elf could not hear the desperate whispers of the injured elf, nor could most of the guests. All eyes centered on Ithramir, who then turned and announced to the expecting crowd, "Tomorrow, I and our soldiers will ride in relief of these garrisons. They lay to the east, it is 3 days away at a full gallop, with no rest. Those who wish to join may feel free to do so. I suggest Mavigan stays here, under guard, for this is the safest place to be now. Lithwyn will be in command when I am away, her word is as mine, I trust all will be courteous and respect it."

Those youthful eyes narrowed, as the mind behind them considered this new information, and the elf’s pointed ears perked at the study of his voice. Many stood as the elven commander barked orders and suddenly left to prepare in a wake of whisperings and commotion. Where there was celebration, now was an impending dread that descended down upon every heart in the dining hall. The world was plunging into a war. Frightened and firm eyes began lifting and leaving the banquet hall.

The young elf left with many of them and then disappeared.

***********

Many of the guests entered their chambers, and one in particular, a tall elven ranger who had come with the recent reinforcements, sat down upon the elven bed with a great sigh of relief. He had not slept well for weeks. Yawning, he stood and took his boots off. His feet were blistered and bleeding. Wrapping them in linen, he prepared an herbal salve, his eyes slowly lowering in exhaustion. Finishing, he turned back and slipped into the soft bed, and leaned over to blow the single candle out.

That breath never came. There was a peculiar smell in the air that he had not noticed before. It was the unmistakable smell of blood. His deep brow furrowing, he quickly climbed out of bed, the pains of his feet lost in his curiosity. Deep alert green eyes flew all around the room, and then they spotted something just on the ground where the covers of the bed met the ground. Walking quickly toward the bed, he lowered and lifted the dangling covers.

There was a gasp, and in an instant, the door flew open and the ranger ran down the hallway to report what he had seen.

There under the bed, was the murdered elven male, his pool of blood seeping out beyond the covers.

************

Hours later, as the darkness of night had fully descended and the large round moon reached its zenith; a warning bell rang out where the citadel’s guard chambers were housed. The bell was slightly heard by the acute elven ears of the guards that stood along the hallway protecting the guests and the human princess. One of them exchanged glances with another from across the door that separated them.

Moments later, Ithramir suddenly appeared, turning the corner and walking briskly past the multiple guards toward the princess’s room with a determined glare. Without stopping, he fired an explanation.

“Guards, there has been a murder, and we fear for the worst. I need every man that can be spared to help with the search for the perpetrator. The Princess must be protected at all costs."

There was a great sense of urgency and care to his voice, and the guards looked at one another in surprise.

Ithramir continued, pointing to the pair of guards on each of the opposite doors and to the guards who now were looking down the hall at him, “You six, make haste, go to the barracks at once! There is a party organizing as we speak.”

They hesitated.

“Now.” He commanded, obviously troubled. “Two of you stay here at the door and prepare to escort the princess to a safer location.”

The elven rangers and guards went quickly obeying their commander, yet their human counterparts left more slowly. Yet soon their armored feet could be heard running down the adjoining hallway leading to the barracks.

“Open the door.” Ithramir commanded.

“S-sir,” One of the royal guards offered hesitatingly but firmly. “We have orders to only allow Wilhelm to enter.”

Ithramir’s face deepened in color.

“I do not have time for this, there is no time to waste, quickly man!”

The two guards, one of them of the royal guard, the other an elven ranger exchanged glances, and finally one of them nodded for the other to open the door.

The human guard pulled forth the key from around his belt, and turned and unlocked the door. Slowly opening it, Ithramir held his hand out for the key, which the guard hestitatingly handed over to him. The ranger however was looking peculiarly at his commander.

“You do not smell like--“

Suddenly in one, deadly, precise motion, a blade appeared in their commander's lithe hand and in a flash, the blade had entered into both of their hearts. A look of utter shock and stilled pain danced in their eyes. As they began to fall to the ground, Ithramir neatly pulled them in. Quickly, the door was shut behind them, and the lock clicked home.

Ithramir’s image faded and disappeared and in its place was Jasmine, her medallion shimmering and then fading in the darkness. Working swiftly, she took two of the magical rings from her black velvet pouch and placed them on the lifeless fingers of each of the fallen guards. She then pulled them and sat them upright against the door. The deep red gems in the rings began to glow.

Taking the bloody dagger in her hand, she stopped for the briefest of moments and gazed at the serene sleeping figure of the young human queen. The moonlight shimmered through a stained glass window and bathed the room in an eerie glow. And then walking forward, a single tear escaping down Jasmine’s face, she reached the bed, turning her dagger inward. Closing her beautiful eyes, she raised the dagger, and sent it down…

Written by - Teran

From his hiding place Teran watched the young Queen change into her night clothing. He was completely silent in his hiding place, averting his eyes from Mavigan as often as he thought safe, not comfortable with the thought of being discovered through some sixth sense. In his experiences people had a way of knowing when they weer being watched, especially when they knew they were in danger.

He stiffened slightly as the door opened, squinting against the light... and he knew immediatly that his suspicions had proven correct.

When Jasmine closed her eyes and began plunging the dagger towards Mavigan's still body a myriad of things happened in the room.

The moonlight flickered...

The door clicked shut plunging the room in darkness once more...

What felt like the faintest of breezes brushed across her wrist and hand, brushing it off target. The dagger plunges into the mattress Mavigan is sleeping on. The dagger came so close to nicking her flesh that it pierced her night garmets trapping Mavigan (or at least her garment) in place until she could free it from the blade.

Jasmine could perhaps feel that the space between the queen and herself was now occupied by another being, and if she opened her eyes she would see an old-young looking man with pale flesh, gray eyes, and white-gray hair standing an inch from her. He attempts to use the advantage of surprise to force her back, leaving her the options to step back, lash out, or fall over.

Written by - Archeantus

Her eyes opened the moment the dagger plunged into the soft recesses of the down mattress. In an instant she found herself looking into the steel gray eyes, and pale face of a nameless benefactor. And in another instant, she realized with great tenacity that where she had thought her final moment, her long and painful struggle was through, now was beginning again. And for that reason alone, she grew terribly angry; and the fire of that anger kindled and blazed in the last instant back into those neutral grays.

The princess was forgotten.

Launching backwards, her lone dagger in her hand, she knocked over an ancient vase that crashed on the stone floor and fell to the floor herself. Her vision blurred, memories danced in her head…his smile…the sunset…the flower…the kiss…the golden ring…the baby…the dagger…the gold piece…the door….her blood…the baby…the scream…

Echoing the memories, she let out a woeful scream of rage and desperation that shook the very stones of the small room.

Clutching her dagger as if she it were the very revenge that had become her obsession, she heaved in breathes and looked upon her assailant as a panther looks upon a kill.

They exchanged glances, weighing each other in another instant, and then she darted toward the two corpses that sat upright against the door and seized one of the guard’s swords. In a fluid motion, she flung the sheath off, the blade glimmering in the moonlight, and lunged toward the man that had silenced her final revenge.

There against the door, the corpses eyes opened, aglow, now minions of the elven necromancer who remained deep into the pitch black of the sewers below.

Written by - Wilhelm

“Now.” The loud command penetrated into Wilhelm's chamber, snapping him out of his light doze in accordance with his combat veteran training. “Two of you stay here at the door and prepare to escort the princess to a safer location.” It was the voice of Ithramir, but the words made no sense. There was no safer location. This was the center of concentric rings of guards.

Wilhelm swung off the couch he had been resting on, donned his helmet, and took up his faith hammer and All Father's shield. Something was very wrong, because the Queen's Guardsman outside his door should have been here to rouse him the moment Ithramir arrived. Wilhelm went to his door and listened. He heard Mavigan's door being unlocked and opened.

“You do not smell like-- urk“

There was the sound of Mavigan's door closing and locking. Wilhelm opened his door and noted the empty corridor, save for a trail of blood drop leading to Mavigan's door. Wilhelm quickly concluded that a magic-using assassin was at work, since that could not have been Ithramir and only a true glamour would have so thoroughly deluded the guards.

He focused his tracking sense he had learned from his bounty hunter training. Unlike channeling the All Father's will, this used his own energy and so he used the sense sparingly. He sensed the heartfires of the guards moving away down the stairwell and inside Mavigan's chamber there were multiple heartfires, Mavigan's and one, no two others and two dying heartfires that went out even as he sensed them.

Wilhelm supressed the urge to batter at the door he knew to be locked. He would only get one chance before the assassin knew he was here and he needed to make the most of it. Quieting his thoughts, he sought union with the All Father, surrendering himself to his god. This surrender of his soul had been very difficult for him when he was young, as it was for most, before he achieved unity with the All Father and became His Paladin. Now it was second nature, and he felt the rapture of the union as the power and attention of the All Father coursed through him. In answer to his prayers a shimmering green glow fell on him like a divine mantle, fortifying his armor. His shield and faith hammer glowed as they were consecrated to His name. Another green glow brought strength, and invoking his Knighthood oath inspired his spirit. He began a sacred battle chant and a red glow surrounded him as well as he felt himself moving faster. Focusing his will and attention upon the locked door, he prepared to charge it. Red, white and green swirling glows illuminated the corridor.

Written by - Teran

Teran squinted at the woman... she was familiar to him somehow, he felt as though he knew or had known her. He conciously places himself between Jasmine and Mavigan, and though his back is to Mavigan he is not completely unprepared should she attack him from behind.

"Who are you?" He asked, his voice gentle but forceful.

As he spoke twin blades appeared in his hands, hazy black in color.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan’s eyes slowly opened. Something had awakened her, and she scanned with sleepy eyes the part of her room she could see without actually moving her body. Her sleep-filled mind vaguely registered the fact there was a shadowy, but distinctly male form removing himself from her wardrobe.

“Damn,” she thought herself. “Dad is gonna be so angry at me if he catches me with another guy in my closet!”

The moonlight streaming in through the window briefly highlighted him as he quickly moved from shadow to shadow, and Mavigan dreamily noted , white hair, broad shoulders, strong muscles and sighed. Wowza.

Then several facts registered at once: her parents were dead and couldn’t scold her, she didn’t shove anyone into her wardrobe last night, and she definitely would have remembered this fellow, this stranger was moving at her very fast, and she could feel the presence of someone else behind her.

Shoving one hand beneath her pillow and grasping the hilt of the dagger, she rolled onto her back in time to see a woman standing over her, eyes closed as if in prayer, clutching a dagger glinting in the moonlight as it plunged down at her…

And missed, apparently thanks to the stranger from her closet. Mavigan quickly reassessed her evaluation of the situation: woman, bad guy– man, good guy, even if he was some sort of peeping tom. She'd break his nose later, right now she had more important things to do.

Assessment complete, she rolled herself off the bed and onto the floor opposite from where her enemy and salvation stood. At least, she tried. When she found she couldn’t budge, Mavigan quickly felt about her person trying to figure out what the hell was the problem. Her questing hand encountered the hilt of a dagger deeply embedded into the mattress – and her night shift. Deciding not to take the time to loosen the dagger, she took her own dagger and slit her shift. Once free, she rolled off the bed, swiping her other dagger and some throwing knives from her nightstand as she went.

She crawled back quickly and only stopped when she could put her back to the wall. As far as she could tell, she had two problems. One, that creepy crawly feeling was back with a vengeance, and seemed to be a lot stronger than she had ever felt it before. It was almost like something inside her was reaching for... something, and something else was responding. She didn't know what this uncomfortable sensation was, and it was working a number on her concentration, so she gritted her teeth in an effort to ignore it.

Second, the invaders were between her and the door. Never before had her chamber door seemed so damn far away. Resigning herself to the fact that escape was impossible at this point, she arrayed her daggers around her, and picked up a throwing dagger, fully intending to lodge it in the eye of the first person who moved in her general direction.

So intent was her focus upon the scene before her that she failed to notice the faint glow of the holy symbol hidden beneath her shift, or the fact that the plants on the trellis outside the window by her side began to twitch in response.

Written by - Renalis

After the clean-up was finally complete, Renalis and Crystal retired to the outisde for some fresh air, and a nice view. Holding each other in loving embrace they watched the beautiful sunset and took in the sweet smelling air of the area.

"Do you think the land will ever be the same?" Crystal looked up into Renalis's deep green eyes. Looking back down at her, "I don't know my love, but we must do our best to at least make them safe again, for both our peoples."

As the land was plunged into darkness the two continue to stand there, looking out into the night, content with each others presence and contemplating the future, allowing a few hours to slip by unnoticed until both their thoughts were disrupted by the sounds of the alarm bell going off in the dead silence of night. Looking up again at Renalis with a concerned look he looks down at her, "I do not know Melamin."

Then, they both sensed the great power coming from inside, magic use beyond that of most, and in great quantity. Moving to what looks to be an inconspicuous bush, Renalis removes the guising spell placed there and reveals two longswords of elven craft lying there. Taking his and then passing Crystal hers, Renalis then replaces the guise still hiding the rest of their equipment. Hurrying back inside and taking off their desguises, Renalis and Crystal reveal the breastplate to their indego armors still being dawned underneath the servants outfits and over their normal cloths. The azure crystal focus center-chest in his armor began to dimmly glow as Renalis prepared to draw on the powerful ley energies that the crystal tapped and stored. The violet crystal focus in the center of Crystal's armor too began to dimly glow as she focused her thoughts and called out to the moon goddess for support and protection.

Running full sprint now, Renalis thought to himself "The assassins have struck, I only hope we are not too late."


Written by - Archeantus Page 21 Book 1

“Who are you?” She heard the meddler ask.

The question rained on deaf ears. Her emotion and grief had reached a boiling point. Tears flowed down her cheeks as she ran at him. He was the only thing tangible in her world now; the last thread of will power she had left was to complete the nothingness.

Holding the sword low as she came at him, she twisted and brought the sword across in a vicious diagonal strike…

In that same instant, the two undead guards began to rise, their deathless eyes centered on the queen who now was watching the scene in shock and horror from the corner of the room.

Written by - Teran

Metal rang against metal and the room flashed with sparks as Teran deflected the blow. He spied movement behind Jasmine and though that perhaps the guards had survived this woman's initial attack. His hopes died quickly though as their true nature was revealed. He attacked Jasmine with mostly feints, trying to guide their fight to place them between the undead guards and the Queen.

Teran doesn't truly go on the offensive... something about the woman nagged at his mind, a link perhaps to his past he would not sacrifice unless he absolutely needed to. He seemed to be waiting for her to answer, even if she never intended to give him one.

Written by - Archeantus

She was fighting a losing battle.

Her every move was desperate, and as each of her wild swings was parried, the stark realization of her veritable quest for revenge grew hollow. She had wasted her whole life. Sparks lit the room and died as their blows clashed, much like the lives she’d taken. She was fighting a master, and she knew time was quickly slipping through her desperate fingers.

Yet, with this morbidity, she grew increasingly mystified by her will to survive. Why continue to fight this man? There was nothing to gain, nor to gain pleasure from. Swing after ferocious swing, jab after deadly jab, she realized how futile it all was.

And then there was the look he gave her. His livid grey eyes remained casually fixed on her. They spoke of curiosity, familiarity. It unnerved her. His question suddenly turned tables in her mind. Who was this man? This coupled with her dying will to fight blurred her skill, her reflexes, her mind. Slowly, her vision began to cloud over with a vibrancy of multiple colors. Unbeknownst to her, they came from underneath the crack at the bottom of the door.

And then suddenly there was a sound that rose in her ears, a slow resounding chime of bells. Memories showered within those sparks that sprang from the steel blades, explosions of pain that let loose, bottled up all this time. Her marriage, so long ago, was her final thought, and the words the Priest spoke now came back to her in mind numbing fury,

“Till death do you part…”

It was then that the two undead, with unexpected quickness, darted for the young queen, their gaping mouths open in terrible hunger, their eyes aglow with limitless evil.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm focused his tracking sense on the room again as he focused on the door. Besides the three heartfires he had seen before, that of Mavigan starting to glow with Divine brilliance, there were two blood-red blots, and the mental stench of Undead assailed his senses. He sank further into Unity, becoming the Avatar of his god and awaiting His Word. The Voice of the All Father resounded throughout his being.

"My Sister tells Me that her stubborn fledgeling High Priestess needs your help NOW!"

Battle Fury raged in him as a surge of power right at the limit of what he could channel filled him with ecstacy to the point of pain. As he began his run at the door and focused on the lock he gave a magically augmented Battle Shout that boomed across the Citadel,

"To the Queen's Chamber! Assassins and Undead assault the Queen!"

He leapt up, his body turning horizontal, his legs tucked in then kicking out as he reached the door, his boots thundering into the door just as his prayer for Censure caused a blinding column of white force to smite the lock. The lock shattered and the door crashed inwards with a deafening boom. Wilhelm landed on his feet, took two steps forward, and swung his glowing shield to bash one Undead guard aside as his glowing faith hammer swung at the other. His aura filled the room with multi-colored light. "For the All Father and Nagarren!", he cried.

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

Isuiln leaped out of his bed as the alarm bells tolled. He was out the door in a flash, only slowing to buckle his sword belt around his waist, which he had grabbed as he exited the room. He immediately ran for the courtyard, intent on getting to the front gate, immediately assuming that the castle itself was under attack. He flew out into the courtyard, but those outside seemed confused, dashing about to locate an enemy that was nowhere to be found.

Isuiln grabbed a passing soldier. "Where is the attack coming from? Where is the enemy?!"

The soldier shook his head in bewilderment. "They must be somewhere inside! There have been no reports from the wall, and while we know there is an attacker, no one seems to know where." With that he turned and ran off.

Isuiln stood dumbfounded for a moment. Then he did the only thing he could think to do: run. He ran, hoping that he might bychance find this elusive attacker. Then, a booming shout rang throughout the keep.

"To the Queen's Chamber! Assassins and Undead assault the Queen!"

Where in the blazes is the Queen's chamber? Then a nearby window lit up with a white flash, followed by a multi-colored glow. Isuiln looked to the window and saw that there were gently swaying vines along the length of the wall, reaching nearly to the ground. He leapt upon a bench and swung up onto a second floor balcony, then quickly began ascending the vines, almost as if they were helping him climb swiftly.

As he drew even with the balcony, several of the vines he was holding seemed to come loose, and they swung him over towards the doors into the Queen's chamber. He slammed into the doors, breaking through the glass, and he winced as he felt several shards bite into his exposed flesh. He released the vines and tucked into a roll, then came up into a crouch, and had to pause a moment as his eyes adjusted to the bright glow that was Willhelm.

Written by - Teran

Seconds before Wilhelm shattered the door, Teran moved to intercept the undead. He lashed out, kicking the feed out from under the leading guard as the door shattered. For the briefest moment Teran's guard was open to Jasmine to strike at his right side.

Written by - Ardwen

"Feh, guess I won't be getting any sleep tonight. Battle, Orcs . . . such change in this world. I wonder how my kin here fight?." Ardwen was mumbling to himself in the cooling night air. The night had been fairly quiet, There seemed to be some loud talking in the hallway down from the guest quarters, but Ardwen thought nothing of it.

"Almost sounded like Ithramir for a minute." Ardwen mused, "Ah well, he's probably out getting things ready, if he's shouting a bit I can understand that." Shrugging he let his chin rest on the front of the breastplate of his armor. For a moment, the moon was obscured by clouds and the world was bathed in utter darkness. It was a passing moment, but it caused Ardwen to raise his head again.

Suddenly a booming shout rent the sient air, "To the Queen's Chamber! Assassins and Undead assault the Queen."

Ardwen's eyes opened fully now, he hefted the large blade off his should and held it aloft leaning from one shoulder blade to the next. He glanced about and darted toward the entrance to the corridor outside of the guests quarters. He had to angle the blade to go in length-wise, but he kept up his dash regardless. When Ardwen entered the hallway, his blood ran cold.

Lights. A dazzling display of color danced and twisted in the corridor. The strange light seemed to be coming from further down the hallway, but even at this distance the strange aurora still bewildered the eyes. Ardwen did not, he could not allow this to interfere though. While his mind reeled his feet kept moving, he pushed himself to run as fast as he could in his plate armor.

Rounding a corner the Queen's Chamber came into view. Outside the door streaks of blood marred the floor. The door to the room was completely destroyed and the strange glowing lights that had coated the corridor seemed to eminate from inside. Steeling himself, Ardwen ears rang when a loud shout came from inside the Queen's chamber, "For the All Father and Nagarren!"

Ardwen let out an unconscious growl. He hated the name of the All-Father, even if this was a different one, with a passion. There was no time for this now though, he ran to the door and looked inside. The scene was one of pure chaos: an unknown assassin and an equally enigmatic defender seemed to be sparing off in the chamber, each vying for the upper hand. The paladin Ardwen knew as Wilhelm was already in the chamber, with one shield he was fending off what looked to be a slain guard who had risen from the grave. The paladin's hammer was bearing down toward another undead guardsmen.

Ardwen attempte to shout out some warning or encouragement, but the only thing that escaped his lips was a feral warcry. He began to charge into the room, selecting the undead that had been bashed by Wilhem's shield as his target. Something though, caused him to slow his charge for but a single footfall. He could not feel his armor. In fact, he felt . . . numb over his entire body. Shrugging off the odd feeling Ardwen ran into the room and let his massive sword go into an overhead arc. He was glad the roof here was higher than the typical chamber.

The sword barreled down toward the undead that was stumbling from the blow of Wilhem's shield. The strange feeling continued though . . . and the intense desire for bloodshed began to fester within him.

Written by - Archeantus

The meddler suddenly turned slightly and slashed out at one of the dark figures that passed by them. This allowed her to lunge quickly and slice into his exposed thigh.

Suddenly the door exploded from its hinges, and a soulful blue hue, dazzling and pure, enveloped the room. In flew a large figure, decked in glowing silver, brandishing a massive hammer and shield. He bashed one undead with his shield, who had previously been hindered by the meddler, and swung at the other with his hammer.

Her moment had passed, her life was forfeit. It was all over. She had ultimately become a failure, a vacuum of revenge and hopelessness.

Upon this final realization, left with nothing to slay, nothing to alleviate her vengeance, she did the only thing that was left to do.

Die.

Launching backwards, born of renewed finality of her ultimate resolution, she turned and set her sights for the moon far outside through the stained glass window. Yet as she turned, in that last fleeting moment, she again saw the face of the queen who she had intended to destroy. The look in her youthful face, watching the events unfold, was something that etched into Jasmine’s frenzied mind. There was a distinct thought that permeated above all the chaos that suddenly surrounded her.

Bounding over the bed, flying past a sudden figure that appeared by the window, she leapt head long out through the stained glass. A thousand colored shards, glittering in the moonlight, exploded along with her, falling into a sea of stars…into the unknown…

The last thought that went through her mind the moment before she had jumped, was that she had seen in the eyes of the young queen, the face of a goddess.

And it sent a fear worst than living through her.

All the while the undead, undaunted, born of unnatural strength, wounded, began to lash out at their attackers, their eyes still centered on the Queen.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Enjoying what little time he had in the evening with Lithwyn, it was all disturbed when he heard the shout,

"To the Queen's Chamber! Assassins and Undead assault the Queen!"

Flashing a simultaneous look of concern and a sigh, Ithramir leaps from his chair and grabs his sword, quiver, and bow. Opening the door, he rushes out and begins making his way to her chambers. As he gets closer, guards are already giving him bits and pieces of information, until finally he arrives at Mavigan's bed chambers.

Looking in the room he can already see Wilhelm, Isuiln, and Ardwen engaging the Undead. He also spies two unknown figures in the room, one male and the other female. They seemed locked in combat with each other until the female jumps out the window.

With a strong voice Ithramir yells to a nearby guard,

"She should have only fallen into the garden below. I want her alive, if possible. Kill her only if you need to. She could have information we can use."

Knocking an arrow, Ithramir shoots into the leg of one of the undead, severing the hamstring. As it falls, he watches as Ardwen dispatches it with ease. Advancing, he aims another arrow at the leg of the beast attacking Wilhelm, although missing his mark he watches as Isuiln and Wilhelm quickly finish off the undead.

Without so much of a pause, Wilhelm runs to Mavigan's side to see if she is ok while he, Isuiln and Ardwen turn to the other intruder in the room. Ithramir begins to knock his bow as he looks over at him . . .

Written by - Renalis

Running full sprint down one of the hallways, Renalis and Crystal spot one of the sources of the powerful energies - the bright flashes of green and blue can be seen even from around the corner.

"To the Queen's Chamber! Assassins and Undead assault the Queen!"

The booming voice from around the corner shook Renalis to his center, and Crystal could feel the embodyment of the holy being.

Rounding the final corner Renalis and Crystal approached the shattered door and could see the blood on the floor from the once-dead guards, as well as the shimmering lights coming from within the room.

Approaching the room, Renalis hears Ithramir's commanding voice, "She should have only fallen into the garden below. I want her alive, if possible. Kill her only if you need to. She could have information we can use."

The guards head down the hall away from Renalis and Crystal, but one of them spots the odd pair standing in the hall out of the corner of his eye. Turning towards them he yells, "Lord Ithramir, more intruders!"

Written by - Teran

Teran raced towards the balcony as soon as it was apparent the queen would be safe. His running was wreckless, giving the quicker of the Queen's defenders a chance to lash out at him however nothing short of a deathblow could halt him.

The wound in his thigh cried out in his mind... that leg did not feel as reliable or sturdy as it should, but Teran kept going... to the edge of the balcony, onto the railing and midway through his jump he felt his wound tear open even more. His leg gave out and rather than a majestic jump to safety he fell awkwardly away from the balcony, getting half the distance he was hoping for.

Teran prepared himself mentally for the impact as he twisted through the air on the way down. Prepared to meditate, to attempt to heal the broken tail bone, the shattered pelvis, the crushed legs and back that all could happen if he landed the wrong way. He knew he could not escape at all if he could not get out of the courtyard he would land in quickly.

What Teran was not prepared for a relatively soft landing...

Written by - Trinni Shannon

"Tul e', Lithwyn, amin cael na duil lle."

At Ithramir's invitation, Lithwyn slowly opens the door and steps into the cool dark room. Approaching him, she smiles grimly and takes the folds of her dress in her hands in a slight curtsey. As he says what she already knows, she simply nods in acceptance. Standing by his side, hands clasped in front of her, she listens for a moment, and then...

"You are quite a capable leader, Lithwyn, no matter the outcome of our ride I know you will do what's best for our people."

Swallowing convulsively, she turns her head toward the view as her brow furrows. Ithramir's gesture going unnoticed, she moves towards the balcony and places her hands on the stone, bracing herself. Biting her lip, she simply nods though her thoughts stream through her mind in a torrent. The best for our people... sh is still so young and has so much to learn ... Another handful of cycles, maybe. But now? She can't handle it now. We need time, but we do not have it! ... only so much I can teach ... memories ... Gilraen sees but does not yet see ... so young.

Ithramir's deep voice breaking into her thoughts, "... and if we are doomed then let me meet that end with nothing left unsaid between us." Lithwyn's eyes widen at such a possiblity. To just give in. To accept her past once and for all. To tell anyone, especially him. Tilting her head back, the light of the moon bathing her face, she fights back her emotions. Gripping the balcony so tight her knuckles turn white she only shakes her head as HIS face flashes in her mind. The memories coming fast, unbidden: His smile... his silvery laughter... his withdrawal... his lips where they should not have been... the fateful battle... bodies of orc and elf... his face as life drained away... his bright blood on her hands as it melded into the creases... the grass flying past her... complete and total aloneness... a scream - an awful, sorrowful scream that somehow came from her lips... blackness. She almost screamed again, but the thought of such abandon frightened her. If she released it now, would she ever stop?

Blinking slowly, returning to the here and now, she releases the death-grip on the railing and utters an old name below the sound of hearing, little more than a whisper in her mind. When will the visions of the past die away? Why must it haunt so? Taking a deep breath, she unconciously murmurs a prayer, the first prayer she ever learned. Realizing what she had done, her eyes open widely as she looks inward. No, nothing. It has not been removed. Continuing her vigil blindly, out of shame and despair, Lithwyn does not realize what she truly wants and desperately needs. Turning, pushing her thoughts down where they belong, she moves towards the chair and talks casually with him, as she usually does. Never revealing anything. Not even to him, especially not to him.

"To the Queen's Chamber! Assassins and Undead assault the Queen!"

Even as Ithramir reached for his weaponry, Lithwyn was running out the door, her dinner gown flapping in protest behind her. Making a sound of dismay, she yanks up the thick fabric in her hands to run all the faster. Her thoughts angry by such a breach of the citadel's safety, all thoughts of ettiquette flee her mind as her pale, bare legs flash in the light. Ariving outside the Queen's chambers, she quickly takes in the scene. Blood... dead guards... Wilhelm... the man in possessed armor... Isuiln... Mavigan in a corner, apparently, thankfully, unhurt... a strange man fighting a strange woman, both unknown to her. Realizing she was weaponless and couldn't possibly help in the already crowded room, she ran on, whispering prayers under her breath.

Taking the shortest route possible, she reaches the temple entrance and throws open the door. Panting, she calls out for attention.

"The Human Queen is under attack, make haste, I do not know how many are injured! Where is Nysden??? Gilraen! Take our strongest healer with you, Queen Mavigan appears unhurt, but she cannot die in our care!!!!"

Running from the room again, she nearly flies to the tower attached to the citadel gates, now wishing she had at least taken the time to change before going to Ithramir's room. She didn't even have her bow on her person. The guards, already over alert due to the news of orc invasion, met Lithwyn a few paces before the gates. Gasping for air, a hand on her hip, she leans back to suck in air as quickly as possible. Able to speak again, though still gasping, she quickly informs them of the situation. Even as one guard ran to ring the alarm bells, and a group ran into the citadel headed for Mavigan's room, more guards emerged from the tower as she instructs them.

"No one is to leave the Citadel this night! Wake up reserves, light all the torches. I want the grounds searched, within and without! Only Ithramir's trusted core of rangers are to go outside the walls, I want the forests searched. Absolutely no one else leaves, under any circumstances, got it? The assassin must have a camp somewhere, must have left some trace. Find it! They may have others working with them so be on your toes and stay in groups. I want to know why, for whom, and HOW. By the gods we will find it, and tonight! This will not go unpunished!"

"Yes my Lady, we will not fail you." The captain stepped next to her side and continued with the instructions as Lithwyn dissapeared within the walls of the citadel, running towards Mavigan's chambers.

Even as she ran, more guards arrived. Still shrugging off sleep, they became wide awake upon the news. Outraged by such an invasion into the citadel, they were eager participants. Never does anger give rise to action as assuredly as the thought of a breach to the citadel's safety. Oh, the culprits would be found, yes, they would.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan tried to keep an eye on all the forms bursting into her room at once. Keeping a tight grip on her first throwing knife, she waited to see who would prove to be a threat to her person. Yet, it seemed each time someone moved in her direction, her white-haired savior would move to intercept. She felt oddly safe considering the mass chaos that was in her room. Lights flickered and glowed indicating the use of magic; Wilhelm burst through her door, glowing with divine retribution; other figures piled in behind him and soon her chambers looked less like a bedroom and more like a war zone.

The only close call she had was when someone flew through the window. Shards of glass scattered into the room, several giving Mavigan a few cuts along the side of her facing the window. She paid the cuts no mind and was priming to release her dagger when the elf ran past her to confront an enemy. She stilled her hand and smirked. That guy was lucky not to get a dagger in his ass.

Despite all the figures and chaos surrounding her, however, her flickering gaze kept returning to the main fight between the elf who saved her and the bitch who wanted her life. It was obvious that both fought on a level that was far beyond her own. There was grace and speed in each movement, and Mavigan could only watch with envy.

Then everything changed. The bitch ran and jumped out the window, casting a look at the princess as she went that Mavigan could not interpret. Shortly after that, her white-haired hero followed.

Mavigan was vaguely aware of Wilhelm crouched by her side, carefully inspecting her form for life threatening injuries, but she paid him no mind. She had only eyes for the peeping tom that had saved her life. Brushing Wilhelm aside, she made her way to window, ignoring the bite of glass as it clung to her bare feet. Nearly frantic, she threw herself out onto her balcony and peered over the railing.

The bitch had apparently cleared most of the foliage growing near her window, and was tossed in an unmoving heap on the floor of the courtyard. And there, tangled in a mass of vines, and hanging upside down several yards below her balcony was her benefactor. She couldn’t fathom how he had managed to get himself so tangled from a simple leap, but it didn’t really matter. He stared up at her with cool grey eyes as he swayed gently in the breeze.

Never being one to back down from a challenge, she propped one arm on the balcony rail and leaned over. Looking back at him with a full blown grin on her face, she asked: “Lle anta amin tu?” *

Written by - Isuiln Fellblade

As Isuiln came crashing into the room from the balcony, a figure flashed past him and exited the way he had come. As he landed, he watched the figure, and saw as it threw itself off the balcony with wreckless disregard. But there was no time to worry about that person now.

Isuiln crouched, and as soon as his eyes had finished their momentary adjustments to the light of Willhelm's glow, he saw the paladin and Ardwenn fighting a pair of gaurds. Growling at the gaurds' obvious betrayal, he launched himself at the one nearest to him, whom Willhelm wasa fighting. His twin rapiers flashed out of their sheaths, each glowing softly with a dull blue aura.

He lunged, ramming the sword through the gaurd's back, twisted, and yanked the sword back out, expecting the gaurd to fall over dead. Instead, the gaurd turned and swung a sword at him. Isuin barely got a sword up in time to parry, and fell ungracefully onto his bottom, recieving several more cuts on his hands and hind-quarters. He looked up, and saw the gaurd staring at him in a slack-jawed stupor, eyes filmed over in death. They didn't betray us... not in life, at least. May their souls find the peace their bodies haven't.

This all took a fraction of a moment. Before he had a chance to rise, the undead gaurd was upon him, sword arm raised to strike. Then Willhelm's hammer connected with it's sword arm from behind, causing a sickening crunch, and the sword dropped to the ground. As it turned once again to Willhelm, Isuiln leaped up, and positioning his swords like scissors, sliced through the gaurd's neck, and he fell ungraciously in a heap, head rolling nearby.

Quickly scanning the room, he saw Ithramir in the doorway, bow in hand, having apparently helped Ardwenn with the undead he was fighting. Mavigan was behind her bed, apparently unhurt except for a few small cuts. Then there was a man. All eyes turned to him, and he looked around, then made a dash for the balcony. Isuiln moved to stop him, but the man deftly shrugged off his attempted grab and half leapt, half fell from the balcony. Rushing to the edge, Mavigan close behind him, they saw that he had somehow been caught in the ivy that resided on the wall. There is most definately something odd about that ivy Isuiln thought, remembering his own climb to the balcony. Mavigan leaned over and said "Lle anta amin tu?" Isuiln almost fell from the balcony laughing.

Then he remembered the figure that had leapt from the balcony as he entered. He saw it, down in the gardens, sprawled out unmoving. Looking for the fastest way down, he too launched himself off the balcony... to the next balcony below. Landing, he hopped to yet another lower balcony, then to the ground. Sheathing one of his swords, he held the other one at the ready, and approached her carefully. Seeing that she apparently wasn't conscious, he quickly inspected her for weapons, tossing any he found a safe distance away. Only then did he check her for signs of life.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen’s blade arched through the air, but the undead guard reacted faster than he anticipated. Instead of splitting it naves to chops the massive sword instead lopped off a goodly portion of the abomination’s body from the right shoulder down. Blood and gore oozed from the huge opening, a wound like that would’ve felled any living creature.

Ardwen growled in savage fury as he prepared to lift his blade again for another strike. Suddenly though, out of the corner of his eye, he saw the female assassin who had been fighting with another mysterious rogue make a dash for the window and balcony, leaping off into the space beyond. Ardwen barely registered that, but then a commanding voice called out from behind, "She should have only fallen into the garden below. I want her alive, if possible. Kill her only if you need to. She could have information we can use."

It was Ithramir. A second later an arrow shaft lodged itself into one of the legs of the undead creature Ardwen was fighting. The arrow cleanly severed the hamstring of the monster, and it fell as it tried to drag itself forward. Sweeping his blade in a circular motion Ardwen severed the creature at the waist, watching with glee as it fell into two unmoving halves.

Another arrow whirred by, this one missing the mark of the other undead guard. But in an instant Isulin and Wilhelm had it down. Wilhelm crushing one of its arms with his hammer and Isulin cleanly severing its head with a double crosscut. Grunting with satisfaction Ardwen turned to regard the other rogue in the room, the one who moments before had crossed steel with Mavigan’s would be assassin. Without a warning Mavigan’s enigmatic benefactor dashed for the balcony the other rogue had leapt from.

For his efforts the man received a wound on his one of his legs. It hindered him enough so that when he jumped he did not seem to make it that far past the lip of the balcony. Ardwen attempted to focus, to push the strange feeling in him back. He still could not feel anything, but he knew that the call for bloodlust in the armor would only increase.

Now was not the time. It was only this little instance of battle that had drawn out the power of the armor enough to numb his entire body. His mind briefly reeled at the prospects of its full potential, if he gave in rather than resisted he could – crushing the thought for the deception it was he tried to find his focus once more. He took in a single gulp of air, and looked around the room. He had to focus, his oath to protect Mavigan was on the line!

The floor was a mess of undead body parts, blood, and gore. Kneeling down next to one of the now truly dead guards Ardwen wiped off some of the mess from his blade. Standing back up, he could once again feel sensation returning to his body. It was akin to sleeping on one’s arm and then awaking to find it slack and benumbed. Slowly feeling crept back into all parts of his body.

Standing back up, Ardwen noted Mavigan had brushed past Wilhelm to the balcony, and apparently Isulin had joined her. She was even now stretching a hand over its edge, while he watched the young priestess called out, "Lle anta amin tu?" Blinking in puzzlement, Ardwen watched as Isulin launched himself over the edge of the balcony.

“Damn. “Ardwen said mildly, “I’d get that balcony removed, it’s letting more people in and out than the door.” Lifting his blade he allowed it to point out in front of him, sloped down at a gentle angle till it nearly touched the floor. Ardwen then said to Ithramir, “Well kano*, what needs doing now?” It was then Ardwen noticed that two figures were heading towards the chamber, one apparently an Elf, the other Human. They wore brilliant armor that seemed to glow from two central crystals.

“Interesting.” Ardwen grinned shifting his greatsword slightly. “I do not recall those two.” He said as last waving a hand in their general direction.


Written by - Wilhelm Page 22 Book 1

After finishing off the two undead guardsment with the aid of Isuiln, Ardwen and Ithramir, Wilhelm moved to Mavigan's side to see if she was hurt. He was releaved to see nothing worse than a few cuts from flying glass that did not seem to trouble Mavigan. Indeed, he was impressed with how clam she was in the midst of battle. Truly she was her mother's daughter. He saw her move towards the balcony, accompanied by Isuiln, to check on the mysterious benefactor who had leaped out after the assassin. He moved to join Mavigan as Isuiln then leapt out and down to the balcony below to reach the still form of the assassin crumpled in the courtyard. He saw the two courtyard guardsmen move to join him there.

Looking down where Mavigan was gazing he saw what Mavigan had been talking about and chuckled as he saw her benefactor tangled in the ivy below, which had oddly seemed to wrap around him to halt his fall. Then he noticed the freely bleeding thigh wound.

"That wound is going to need serious healing quickly or he will bleed to death." Wilhelm exclaimed, looking pointedly at Mavigan's glowing holy symbol. As he looked up at Mavigan's face Wilhelm's eyes seemed to glow and his visage momentarily altered and in a different, resonant voice he said,

"My Sister Nagarren could save him if you would only let Her in!"

Written by - Archeantus

There she lay, peaceful, serene….unconscious.

All around her were flowers, red, yellow, purple, orange…it was her funeral…

A spark of consciousness flickered and simmered in her mind. Tearing toward the midnight to embrace her, she screamed and kicked and swore, and then she stopped and watched death slowly fade away. She heard footsteps worlds away come near her. Every sound echoed, even the night’s wind that had brought her here.

There was a music in the air she hadn’t heard before. She did not know what it was.

She suddenly opened her eyes, coming back to life.

And then came excruciating pain.

Her head throbbed, blood dripping across her eyes. One eye was shut completely. It hurt immensely to breathe. Her arm felt numb, disjointed, broken. Yet worst of all, her broken heart continued to beat.

Looking up into the stars, the moon she had sought, she broke under the pain and cried. With tears streaming down her face, she gazed up into the blur of the tears, the glow of the weaving moon, and let go of what she was. Her vengeance left her, and floated upon the music of the echoing wind.

Soon more figures appeared around her, some looked on her with disgust, others had justice flashing in their eyes.

She did not care, she cared about nothing. She was the wind now, listing where fate chose.

*********

Deep down in the pit of the dank sewers, melting out of the shadows, a faint smile could be detected from the dark recesses of his hood.

Kishkumen’s dark eyes warmed in pleasure. His master was pleased with his work…

The two left the place below the sewer vent and headed back into the dark tunnels.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Even as she makes her way back towards Mavigan's room, sounds of the Citadel awakening fill the halls. The alarm bells, true to their purpose, were calling everyone to action. Though a small city, it is an elven city run by elven rangers; the inhabitants do not sit idly when danger is present.

Rounding the corner, fast approaching the buzz of activity surrounding the young Queen's room, Lithwyn quickly takes it all in. Frowning with dismay as she sees Gilraen and Fnynn ministering to the minor cuts and scrapes of some of the men, she looks beyond to where Mavigan stands at the balcony. The bright glow of her holy symbol reaching her eyes, Lithwyn unconciously reaches for Kaia'hanas' symbol between her breasts. Nodding with understanding, she leaves the priestesses to their work.

"Lord Ithramir, more intruders!" Whirling around she notices to whom the guard is refering.

Shaking her head she approaches to explain. "They are not intruders, they are merely serving staff newly arrived." Turning towards the pair, she tilts her head to the side in question. "When did you say you arrived, and I'm sorry but I still did not catch your names. Did you report to the head cook when you came? In these times we cannot afford such a slip to occur."

Gesturing to the guard, she continues, "He will take you back towards the kitchens. Thank you for the concern but you truly have no business near here this night. We have men and women who are more than capable."

Eyeing the young guard, obviously shaken up by the unexpected comotion, she places a hand on his arm. "Please escort these people back, they are new to our home and our ways. There should be staff at work in the kitchens even now."

With obvious relief, the guard bows low. "Yes, my Lady, right away. You can be sure they will make it there safely! I will not fail you. It is my duty and I am happy to perform it. You have nothing to worry about. I am the best man for the job, you can count on me."

Holding up a hand to quiet his nervous ramblings, Lithwyn smiles reassuringly, nods, and gestures he be on his way.

Assured that the situation is under control, at least within Mavigan's chambers, Lithwyn rushes off to her personal quarters. Striding down the hall, her anger building with each step, she barely notices the guards running to and fro or the shouts from outside in the gardens. Reaching her room, she closes the door behind her and deftly begins to untangle herself from the thick folds of the dinner gown. In a ruffle of fabric, the soft sound of leather binding coming open, the dress is draped over a waiting chair. Moving towards her closet, pale skin shining in the moonlight, she quickly steps into her light leather armor. Fingers nimbly latching here, tying there, she is armored in moments. Reaching into the darkness of her closet, a simple robe is removed and quickly filled as Lithwyn steps into it. Grabbing daggers, bow, and quiver, she emerges from the room and quickly walks out to the courtyard.

Using a tapered wooden stick, simply decorated, she pulls her hair up into a tight twist as she crosses the square yard. Face set with determination, she joins the search.

Enter my home will you? Assault my guest will you? You think elven are so easy to fool, so easy to manipulate. We may be cut off out here, but we are far from weak.

Anger building at the audacity, she cries out, "I'narr en gothrim glinuva nuin I'anor!*" and the men and women around her call out in agreement.

Written by - Teran

Teran grimaced as he was caught awkwardly by the vines. He felt the flesh around his wound tear more and gray/black blood splashed out freely, flowing down his leg and dripping into the courtyard. The distance to the ground was not so great from where he hung, he decided he could easily land unharmed if he needed to.

The Assassin slashed at the vines holding him with his daggers and felt their hold on him loosen. When he was confident he could free himself from their hold with another cut or two he closed his eyes and began to concentrate.

The blood flow immediatly slows, a river becoming a stream or less, however he concentration is broken, as he senses someone approaching from above. He looks up, expecting a guard, perhaps to finish him off while apparently trapped but it was no guard.

“Lle anta amin tu?” she asks.

Though the language was not his own, Teran understood everything she said, and though he could have responded in kind he chose to use the more common human language.

"I thank you for your hospitable offer Mavigan, however I think I will be fine." He says in his soft but firm voice using a tongue common to her kingdom.

He cut the last vines holding him and fell away even as he uttered his last word to her.

He landed hard but managed to keep his feet under him, startling any guards near him. He took a few steps leaving bloody footprints in his wake before he could walk no further. He slumped ainst the wall and slid to the ground, his unusually colored blood pooling around his leg wound.

He watched guards and soldiers surround him with his placid gray eyes, waiting for whatever might come.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan started a bit as her hero responded in the common tongue. As she watched him slash his way free from the vines and drop to the ground she noticed that her initial impression of him had been incorrect. His ears did not possess the prominent point attributed to her elven kin. In fact, as the moonlight more clearly illuminated him, she thought he looked human. She frowned. She was certain, however, that humans did not shed black blood. Deciding her eyes deceived her, she attributed the blackness of his blood to the faint moonlight.

As she stared at him, she heard Wilhelm’s voice beside her. “That wound is going to need serious healing quickly or he will bleed to death.” His statement caused her frown to deepen. No, having him bleed to death wouldn’t do.

As the though passed through her mind, she felt a chill wind beside her, and then felt a responding wind inside of her. Surprised, she looked over at Wilhelm only to see him lighting up the night with a divine glow. His voice, as he spoke to her had a deep resonance that made the stone precipice upon which she stood tremble. Wilhelm’s eyes glowed, and he spoke in a voice that was not his own –

”My Sister Nagarren could save him if you would only let Her in!”

Mavigan took a step back from him, suddenly unnerved. Her skin had gone completely creepy crawly again, and her mind simply refused to acknowledge what must be true. She was much too frightened to enter this unknown territory. Instead, she convinced herself that Wilhelm was being spooky in order to frighten her, and her eyes narrowed in anger.

“Look you,” she shouted, “I would heal him if I could, but I can’t as you well know!” She took another step back from him, and winced slightly as a stray piece of glass ground into her foot. Not willing to back off from a fight, she unconsciously assumed a defensive position and lifted one finger to poke it repeatedly in his chest.

“I don’t know what’s wrong with you, Wilhelm, but you can cut out with the funny voices and shit. It’s creepy!”

A flutter of movement in her peripheral vision caused her to turn her head. Down in the courtyard, the guards were surrounding her hero, who was slumped against the wall eyeing them warily. When one of them reached for him, an expression of grim determination on his face, her attention completely diverted from Wilhelm.

“Keep your grubby hands off him!” she screamed. Without a thought to her own safety, she hurled herself over the balcony and grabbed hold of the trellis. She quickly climbed down with only minor slippage, and then proceeded to elbow her way through the guards towards the fallen man. There was a loud ripping sound as she tore off a long strip of her now ruined shift and proceeded to bind his leg wound, muttering curses that made several of the guards blush as she did so.

When she was finished, she sat beside him and proceeded to dig a piece of glass out of her foot, her red blood appearing as dark as that of the stranger's in the deep night. As she did so, she inquired with more than a tinge of sarcasm, “Don’t need help, huh?”

Written by - Wilhelm

The Presence chuckled and then the light faded from Wilhelm's eyes and his visage returned to normal. Wilhelm blinked twice and then took a deep breath. Full possession was always unnerving, even though he knew that the Avatar state invited such a possibility. "She doesn't like being pushed," he thought to the Presence within and heard an answering mental laugh as Himself withdrew.

Since matters seemed to be in hand for the moment, Wilhelm released the Avatar state, feeling the fatigue that always followed such a strain. His channels would be on fire for hours from the overload. The glowing aura faded out now that he had ceased the battle chant, although his hammer and shield continued to shine. Turning to face the others, he pointed down to the courtyard.

"We will need the healers down in the courtyard now, as the two combattants are both injured and we need some answers from them. The Queen has some cuts to be attended to as well."

Wilhelm smiled as he remembered Mavigan's swift actions. He knew she was an excellent climber and had not been worried. Indeed, he was glad to see her unnatural silence broken by such a burst of energy and action. She was safe enough for now with Isuiln and the other guards assembling below.

Wilhelm came back into the room and moved to kneel by the two sundered bodies of the guards, making sure they were truly dead this time. He then noticed that each had an unusual ring with a glowing red stone. To his inner sight they shown with dark magic. He wrapped his silk tabard around his right hand and carefully worked the two rings off, then took out his coin purse, emptied the contents into the belt pouch, and used the point of his eating dagger to place the two rings into the purse.

He then moved to Ithramir and gave him the pouch, showing him the rings inside, and said "These are likely the cause of the Undeath spell. Perhaps a mage can use them to trace back to the Necromancer that enchanted them, who may still be in the area."

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir had watched the events silently. He knew the guards below would have everything under control, but raised an eye when Mavigan shouted orders to his troops. As he began to walk away, Wilhelm stopped him and showed him the rings, saying,

"These are likely the cause of the Undeath spell. Perhaps a mage can use them to trace back to the Necromancer that enchanted them, who may still be in the area."

Looking at them a long moment, Ithramir slightly bows his head and says,

"Yes, we should see what a mage has to say regarding these things. I will be unable to find out anything this night, however, you should hold on to them and visit Resini, our mage in the Scholar's Tower. He should have the answers you seek."

Handing the rings back into Wilhelm's care, he moves quickly down to the courtyard and begins assessing the scene. Walking with a purpose, he strides over to Lithwyn and says,

"Take the girl into the lower dungeons. Heal her enough so that she can stay awake to talk. If she doesn't talk, then make her talk by any means necessary. Just don't kill her before I get there."

Throwing an icy glare over at Mavigan, Ithramir storms over and yanks Teran from her arms and shoves him into the wall so their eyes can meet. The moment would have been silent, save for Mavigan's bratty and filthy tongue hurling obscenities at him, but it mattered not. The two just looked at each other, until Ithramir broke their silence,

"I have yet to decide your fate, assassin, though I don't know you personally your look certainly bears the mark of someone who's deeds are well known. Very well known, in fact."

Calling a group of guards over, and still being assailed by Mavigan, Ithramir impatiently says,

"Take this one to the lockhouse until further notice. He is not to be harmed."

Physically restraining Mavigan, Ithramir waits until the assassin and guards are gone before losing his last ounce of patience. Whirling around, rage surpassing her own in his eyes, Ithramir not-so-gently bounces her off of and pins her to the wall closest to them. Still possessed of some form of decency he doesn't yell for all to hear, but forcefully enough says,

"And you, if you ever order my guards around again, you will find yourself bound and gagged as a present for Beridane. I truly don't care if you dislike me, hate me all you wish, but you will learn respect. Let me remind you that you are queen of nothing at the moment, Beridane wants you dead, and the only things standing between you and him is your small band and our army."

Releasing his iron grip, he isn't foolish enough to turn his back on her as he takes a step away, but he just as quickly says,

"As I ordered, he won't be harmed...at least not yet. Your hero may not be who you think him to be..."

Seeing a guard walk by, Ithramir calls him over and asks him to watch her as he walks away, giving the guard orders to shoot her if she so much as touches her daggers or lunges at him. Ithramir's mood is now foul, as he makes his way to the dungeons, ready to extract some info from the female assassin with Lithwyn's help.

Written by - Archeantus

The elven guards took her away. Handling her by her arms, she bit back the pain. Her head swam in a whirlwind of confusion and clarity. She watched blood drip down from her forehead to the stone ground passing below. Tears intermingled with her blood. She could not walk, they dragged her impatiently. She knew what was coming, but did not know how far she would guard the information she had. She had no reason give them what they wanted, nor did she care what they did to her to get it.

With each step the guards took, her mind and wits came slowly back to her. She had desired death, had mentally relinquished her life. Her life as she knew it, the reason she lived was now over. She felt as though she were dreaming, everything seemed unreal. The pain, the throbbing in her head reminded her it was real and her life now hung on a thread. On their terms. She hated that thought. It sickened her. She would die, but not by their hands. Her sharp will seemed to slowly drift to the surface allowing her to think, to evaluate, to plan.

It was then she recalled the one that had sent her here. His presence felt near. His colossal will towered over her, leaving her in his shadow. He would kill her the moment he saw her. She realized now that no matter what she did or whom she found herself with she would finally end. This comforted her, but enraged her, her life was not in her possession, she had lost it when she flew through that stained glass window. She had to steal it back.

Soon the guards stopped before a great wooden door. The air was damp; there were sconces that glowed with flame in the darkness of the elven dungeon.

There was a tall elven woman that walked beside the guards who occasionally looked at her. She had a stern, divided look to her. Jasmine felt a sense of awe in her, much like she felt when she had looked upon the human queen.

Deity, she realized. What have the Gods to do with me?

The tears stopped finally.

She was dragged through the entrance into a long corridor, torches blazed in the darkness, and the large wooden door boomed shut behind them.

Written by - Ariana

After many minutes of painful probing, Mavigan finally located the last shard of glass and yanked it out of her foot. She stared at the bleeding wound for a brief minute before taking a handful of her shift and wiping the blood away.

It had been relatively quiet for a few moments; the man beside her said nothing and the guards merely eyed her as if she were some sort of curiosity in a freak show. Mavigan mentally acknowledged that to them, she probably was a freak – a person who showed some Elven characteristics but was obviously not Elven.

The silence was quickly shattered, however, when the bane of her existence appeared. Before she could register the events clearly, the man beside her was jerked up and slammed into the wall. Mavigan leapt to her feet, a torrent of obscenity and insults flowing from her mouth. How DARE he?! This man had saved her life when all of his Elven troops, who were supposedly the best warriors around could not. This stranger, whose name she did not even know, had made a genuine effort at protecting her when Ithramir’s heavily armored troops had done nothing but stand around like window dressing!

Most importantly, the stranger had saved her. She was honor-bound to return the favor! And yet, Ithramir, with all of his speeches about honor and respect, did not understand.

He eventually lost his patience, as she knew he would, and slammed her against the wall, just as she had predicted. The back of her head smacked painfully against the stone wall, and for a moment she went cross-eyed. Unable to focus on his face as he leaned into her, she listened to his little speech…

"And you, if you ever order my guards around again, you will find yourself bound and gagged as a present for Beridane. I truly don't care if you dislike me, hate me all you wish, but you will learn respect. Let me remind you that you are queen of nothing at the moment, Beridane wants you dead, and the only things standing between you and him is your small band and our army.”

Her heart filled with rage at his words, and the rage gave her the strength to remain standing when he dropped her. She felt like her emotion was something tangible, churning inside her, demanding release. The wind began sweep through the courtyard with an angry force, despite it having been a calm, quiet night. And as the rage inside her rose in a crescendo, so too did the wind until the trees groaned, and the guards struggled to remain upright.

Respect?! What right did he, or any other Elf have to speak to her of respect? She remembered with vivid clarity how her Mother was ostracized for marrying a human. Each look of disgust she ever received from members of her so called Elven family returned to her mind in quick succession. They punished her Mother for obeying the call of the Goddess; they punished her and her sister for being born. Her blood was tainted. She was less than perfect because she carried the blood of her Father as well as the blood of her Mother.

And here her persecutor stood, telling her she needed to learn respect?

In the blink of eye, the rest of his words came to her, and suddenly she understood. He wasn’t here to protect her. He was here to protect his Elven interests. She, as an individual, meant less to him than nothing. She truly was nothing but a pawn to be used to achieve other people’s ambition. To satisfy their requirements, she had only to breathe. She didn’t have to have a mind or soul. She didn’t have to be whole.

With this new understanding came the realization that no one took her seriously. Not Ithramir, not Beridane, not Wilhelm, not Alaric, not her would be assassin, not Tinorb, not Nagarren. Each perceived her as powerless. As if she had to depend on them in order to achieve any greatness. As if she had no qualities or skills that she could call her own. As if she was only a reflection of their desire.

When she spoke, her voice was cold, and did not betray the tornado she felt inside. Despite the churning of the restless wind, Ithramir could hear her clearly. “I do respect you, Cousin,” she ground out. “I pay you the same sort of respect you, and the rest of my elven family, paid my mother.”

She was pleased to see his back stiffen, but he didn’t turn around. Instead he issued an order.

“Shoot her if she so much as touches her daggers or lunges at me.”

The statement caused Mavigan to smile. If he would willingly hand her over to Beridane, he would just as easily kill her. Perfect. She would have her answer.

She turned that cold smile on the guard who now had his bow raised and aimed at her. She was amused to note he had trouble keeping the aim straight in the face of the turbulent wind. Her hair and shift blew wildly in the wind, as she said clearly, “If you intend to shoot me, I suggest you aim to kill.”

She then turned and took several running steps towards Ithramir. Only one thought fueled her actions.

She was no one’s pawn.

Written by - Ardwen

Ithramir seemed . . . distracted. He ignored Ardwen's question, and he even seemed to have his attention diverted from the rings Wilhelm pulled from the two undead guard's corpses. Curious, Ardwen decided to follow Ithramir down into the courtyard. It seemed to be the center of action after all; there was no reason not to be there.

Staying a fair distance behind Ithramir, Ardwen noted that Mavigan had bound the wound her mysterious savior had suffered during his escape attempt. Mavigan was dabbing a wound on her foot with a piece of cloth, most likely from her already torn shift. Stopping at the arched entrance to the courtyard, sword still unsheathed, Ardwen paused to get a better grip on the situation.

Ithramir restrained the assassin, and Ardwen could hear him mentioning something about the assassin's deeds being well known. The guards fettered the assassin and began dragging him out of the courtyard. Ardwen stepped aside to let them pass, and turned himself to leave: apparently the action was over here.

Something made him stop though, and that was the foul language coming out of Mavigan's mouth. Shaking his head Ardwen sighed, "She is . . . human after all. I'm sure Ithramir will take it well enough." Turning to take one last look down the hallway past the opening to the courtyard, Ardwen found his prediction to be direly wrong.

Ithramir had Mavigan pinned against one of the courtyard walls, he was too far to hear what was said, but it wouldn't have mattered as Ithramir was keeping his voice and tone guarded in an effort to just speak to Mavigan. Releasing her, Ithramir begins to walk away.

Then the real trouble started. A strong wind began to blow; the wind seemed to come from everywhere at once and was increasing in intensity with every passing moment. Mavigan stood within the churning wind, her hair and shift tossing wildly in its current.

The trees moaned in the increasing gale, and it appeared the guards had trouble standing. Clad in heavy armor and used to physical resistance, Ardwen found the attempt much easier, but it still did not settle his unrest at how the quiet night air had turned into such turmoil. Mavigan then spoke in a voice as cold as the biting wind itself, "I do respect you, Cousin. I pay you the same sort of respect you, and the rest of my elven family, paid my mother.”

Those words hit home to Ardwen, pushing at the borders of his mind. There was a simple truth in them that brought back troubling thoughts; thoughts he would have rather left buried. What had he been doing with his life lately? What . . . what would they think of him now?

It was not the wind that then made Ardwen shudder; it was something more sublime than any gust of air. He stood there, as if stricken dumb as Ithramir gave the order to a passing guard to shoot Mavigan if she made a move for him or her daggers. He stood there as Mavigan taunted the guard, telling him if he was going to shoot that he'd best aim to kill. He stood there as she began to run at Ithramir.

He stood there as the wind billowed his cloak and tossed his hair . . . this witch's wind which was as chaotic and as troubling as were the thoughts that ran through his shattered mind.

Written by - Agmund

Bringing the horse to a halt before the stables common, his body twists as he dismounts, dull black boots stepping lightly to the ground as he leads the horse within. A soft hum erupts from his lips as he slips inside the stable and prods the old brown mare into a stall. Lifting the aged leather saddlebags from the horses back, he slings it over one shoulder. His hands seemingly blending in with the leather of the bags, worn and tanned from the sun, his travels and age more than apparent in the lines.

A faint smile curls upon his lips as he sees the stable boy. “She’s a tired old lass, so give her plenty of oats and if you have any she enjoys sugar cubes, but mind you… not to give her too much,” his feet carrying him towards the boy as he speaks. Stopping in front of him, he briefly inspects the lad as he replies with a somewhat furtive “Yes… sir.”

“I am Father Agmund, and by what name are you called young fellow?” he asks inquisitively. “Tomas,” the boy merely whispers out. “Tomas, a pleasure to meet you, word of your name and deeds proceeds you,” the old priest looks at him with amazement, his hands and body becoming animated as he tosses them up and out. “In the farthest of lands and the most dangerous of treks,” his tall body folds at the waist as he leans down with a gleeful look “it is whispered that by far you are the greatest keeper of horses, the most prominent procurer of oats, and the finest hand with a horse brush in any realm known to man.”

The boy quickly covers his mouth to keep from laughing, which causes the old priest to burst out into his own laughter. His long braided beard sliding side to side on his thin frame as he leans back with glee. “Now I of course understand that with such a reputation you demand a high price,” his hand disappears into a small pouch resting just behind the handle of his flail “so it is my hope that this simple priest can afford the services of such a Grand Stable Master as yourself!” Settling his hand upon the two remaining coppers he tugs them free and drops them into the boys open hand. “By your leave,” the priest bows low, drawing more laughter from the boy “I am off too see what trouble I can get myself into.”

Written by - Teran

Teran stared into Ithramir's eyes with an unblinking gaze. He listened to what the man said without even the slightest reaction. The guards began to escort him to the lockhouse, however before they made it out of the courtyard Mavigan's wind started. All eyes were on her as she charged after Ithramir and with that as a distraction Teran prepared to break free of his guards and tackle the nearest bowman.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir heard her words, he even heard her footsteps lightly falling on the stone walkway as she charged toward him. He felt the divine wind whipping about him, he waited as he heard the guard being tackled, her footsteps even closer now. Looking up as the stormclouds gathered, blocking the moon, he hears the pit-pat of her feet echoing louder.

Just before she get's close enough to do her work, a crackling sound comes from Ithramir, and he is consumed with flames. His eyes were glowing white hot, his hair brilliant red, his armor steaming and radiating with heat. The courtyard is ablaze with light, the earthly avatar of Avandor confronting the budding avatar of Nagarren.

Deftly, she lunges at him, an awful boom is heard in the courtyard and her daggers fail to pierce the barrier of his armor. A small bit of the divine caused the small explosion, as her attack was somewhat augmented by her innate magical skill. The force was enough to knock her down, yet Ithramir was unfazed and moved toward her, his now white eyes focusing on his target. Kicking her daggers away, he pulls his longsword out and holds it to her neck.

With a voice not entirely his own, the mortal mixed with the divine, it says,

"Mavigan Brelonna, daughter of men and elves, earthly avatar of Nagarren, do not challenge those that hold you safe. Your will may be strong, but you lack refinement. Your will makes you feel safe, but it is your greatest downfall. Your enemy does not lay in these walls points the flaming blade towards the gates they lay out there. My avatar Ithramir goes to battle to protect our dying people, he is harsh, but with reason. We will not allow Ithramir to fall, at least not from your blades, for his fate has already been cast ages ago, when the world was young. Further, I and Kaia'hanas call Nagarren friend. Remember this."

Ithramir's eyes close, his glowing hair fades, his armor quits steaming, returning him to his normal self. Looking down at her, his eyes still registering a heated anger, he manages to say,

"For the record, the only elves who cursed your mother for marrying a human were those from Alyatol. Your family and the elves here were on very good terms. Do your research more properly the next time."

Removing himself before his anger releases the energy of the elven god of war, he manages to look back and say,

"You earn no respect by being a brat, and an ingrate, even if you are Nagarren's avatar. You want me to treat you like an adult, as a Priestess of Nagarren, then carry yourself as one. I would be most impressed if you could do this..."

Walking past his guards, the anger still fresh on his face, he storms off into the dungeons to see what Lithwyn has learned, if anything.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

A calling... pain... rage. The ancient power, twisted by rage and pain. Blossoming down a dark path. The ley lines wound around the distant beating heart; black as sable. “Nargarren, protect the child from herself. I am almost there.”

Her revere was broken by a deep voice to her left, “Lass! Get back to da livin'. Yer goin' ta get your horse caught in them vines!” The deep voice belonged to a dwarf called Diosr. A military representative of the dwarven kingdom with one thousand stout dwarven ax infantry and two hundred dwarven crossbowmen.

“What? Oh,” the Priestess of Nargarren looked up with her eyes open, a faint afterglow in her eyes from the effects of connecting with her Goddess, “I am sorry Diosr, but there is much happening that is hidden from my eyes. I must see, we must move quicker.”

She looked above her at the gathering clouds before turning back to Diosr.

Diosr looked on the Priestess with sadness, being a religious warrior (though not a warrior of any specific God or Goddess) he wasn't one to gainsay the words of a Priestess.

“I'm sorry Priestess Alulael, but we wont be makin' it to the Queen today. Tomorrow morning at the best.”

Nodding Alulael turned and started to ride forward again. She was at the front of the long line of dwarven warriors and a-top her horse she had a commanding view of the forest around her. Still, it was not enough for her to see the elves suddenly sprout out of the forest floor like weeds. Their bows were rased level to her heart and head and the rest of the dwarves around her. Alulael and the dwarves behind her near jumped with suprise.

“Who stands before us and wishes to enter?” A male elf stepped forward as he spoke.

Stepping forward Alulael rested her right hand on the top of her staff which hanged on the side of her horse.

“I am Alulael,” she forgoed her title, not wanting anyone to know what she was yet, “with me is Commander Diosr with one thousand ax infantry and two hundred dwarf crossbowmen. We come to pledge our support to the true Queen of the human kindgom and to fight against the Orcs, we hear they are amassing for another attack soon.”

Nodding the elf had his men lower their bows, “You may stay with our camp tonight, we will send riders to tell the fortress of your arival so that they may make room. Is this agreeable?”

Diosr nodded his head and the two armies began to set up camp. While this went on two riders on fast horses sped their way to the fortress in the distance.


Written by - Teran Page 23 Book 1

Teran watches Ithramir's escapades with a smirk. It was an impressive lightshow Teran supposed. Unlike anything he had seen in quite some time.

Once his "escorts" regained their presence of mind, they stripped him of his weapons and armor and placed him in the lockhouse until Ithramir could speak with Teran personally.

Teran was left with a simple black tunic and pants. Silvery moonlight streamed through some kind of window or skylight high off the ground. The assassin sat on the floor near the door, resting his back against the wall, concentrating on healing his wound.

Written by - Renalis

"They are not intruders, they are merely serving staff newly arrived. Please escort these people back, they are new to our home and our ways. There should be staff at work in the kitchens even now." Sheathing his sword Renalis gives Lithwyn a deep bow as she turns and leaves. Crystal follows suit and sheaths her blade also bowing as Lithwyn leaves their presence.

"These are likely the cause of the Undeath spell. Perhaps a mage can use them to trace back to the Necromancer that enchanted them, who may still be in the area." Turning toward Crystal, Renalis whispers "You must go down to the courtyard, see to it that the Queen remain safe." With that Crystal turns and runs off toward the courtyard.

"But lady Lithwyn said..." The Elven guard is cut off by Renalis "I know what the lady said, but that is because she does not know who we are... and I am truely sorry for this deception, I will speak with Wilhelm..."

Crystal runs down into the courtyard and is immediately assaulted by the powerful winds. She witnesses Ithramir's power as an Avatar in addition to Mavigan's display of power but not once does she fear for either of them. Crystal knows the workings of the Gods are not always clear but their intentions are true and just. Approaching close to Mavigan after Ithramir leaves. Crystal bows low, "My Queen, you know not of my husband and I, but despite the false pretences we used to get into this place, we have come protect and serve you my Queen." Kneeling down beside her young Queen, "May I start by tending to these wounds?"

Pushing past the guard and entering room, Renalis steps up to Wilhelm and goes down onto one knee, "Wilhelm, you know not of myself and my Wife but know this, we are here to help protect our Queen and to protect this land, I know we have come into this place under false pretences but I ask you to give me the chance to prove that I am an honourable person; I know that it was powerful necromancy that animated the fallen guards, and if you would grant me permission to examine the rings I may dicern the Necromancer's location." Remaining on one knee, his head hung low in respect, feeling the immence power eminating from outside in the form of not one but two Avatars, Renalis awaits Wilhelm's response.

Written by - Agmund

Feeling somewhat lost in the throng of activity he came to an abrupt halt off to the side of the Citadel gates. There, placing his back against the cool stone wall, he slowly sunk down, dropping the saddlebags from his shoulder. His mind wondered for a time, pondering if it was merely fate and the tide of war that perhaps brought him here, or if it was something else completely.

The road here was a long one, and it had taken its toll both on body and mind, but Tinorb had drawn him here in his own way. That he decided was certain. Yet it had been many years since he had felt such a pull from the All Father, a stirring he had grown almost unfamiliar with. “You think far to much,” he cursed aloud at himself.

His eyes closed and just as quickly his mind cleared. The crescendo of noise around him was gone. There would be no interruptions to his prayer, no break in his minds voice as he spoke. He asked for one thing, simple and clear… direction for a faithful servant.

Written by - Trinni Shannon

Lithwyn closely follows the guards and their captive, her hand resting on the hilt of a dagger within the folds of her robe. Anger stiring within her heart, even now, she glances cautiously at the would be assassin. Ignoring the tear-streaked face of the beautiful woman, she watches one of the guards unlock the large heavy door, openning on a long spiralling staircase leading down. Walking in front, she takes a torch from the wall to her side. Holding it before her, she glances around in time to notice the wind pick up as the door closes behind the last guard.

Following the stairs down and down, with only the sound of the crackling flame and the footsteps of the small band - two soft pairs and three pairs of heavy, armored steps - echoing off of the curved walls. It had been a while since Lithwyn had traversed this path. There hasn't been a need in so long...

How did she get within our walls unnoticed? She isn't very strong to be crying over being caught. Did she think she would get away with it? This can't be a shock. Who does she work for? Beridane? He would love to see Mavigan dead. Who could follow such a man? How did she get within our walls?

Turning briefly, pausing on a step, she looks the bound woman in the eye for a moment, then glances over her bonds and at the guards. Satisfied, she turns around again and finishes the descent.

Reaching the bottom at last, the awkward group walks through the halls. At the last door, the largest door, Lithwyn reaches within the folds of her robe. Withdrawing a large ring, several keys looped on it, she quickly finds the one she wants and places it within the lock. Turning her hand, the loud sound of the lock turning in its tumbler echoing off the walls, she places her other hand against the door and pushes hard. Groaning in protest, the door moves along its hinges to reveal a large room.

Frowning, hating this room with a passion, she nonetheless moves quickly around lighting torches. Gesturing with a hand, the guards transfer their ward to a board, tilted on its short side. Longer than the tallest within the citadel, strong leather straps at the bottom and top alude to its purpose. Quickly binding the woman, in their anger they tighten the straps too far and pinch her skin. The torches lit, Lithwyn turns to see the guards staring at the bound woman, captivated by her beauty. With a sound of disgust and anger, she strides to them and pushes the closest one away.

"She infiltrated our home, nearly killed our GUEST, could have killed any number of people during her little visit, and you GAWK at her?" Throwing glares over her shoulder, she points to the one who had been standing directly before the woman. "You. Please go and find Nysden. Tell him to bring E'las along and make sure E'las brings his... equipment." The guard stumbles out, mumbling apologies as the other two step back toward the door.

Turning back towards the woman, Lithwyn takes a long look, etching her face in her mind. Brow furrowed, she notes the lithe, strong body, her long hair, the beauty she probably used to trick countless men, the clean lines left amid the smudges of dirt on her cheeks - the path of her tears. Staring into her eyes, Lithwyn's hand on the hilt of her dagger, she drags out the silence for a moment.

"My name is Lithwyn Ehlonna Deltheron, Lady of Lothiel-Gadith. You have broken into my home and attempted to kill a guest of mine." Glaring, Lithwyn's face suddenly relaxes as she controls the anger within. Openning her hand, not realizing she had clenched it, she exhales slowly, her elven upbringing returning to her. Glad, for once, that Kaia'hanas isn't with her to see and feel such anger, Lithwyn levels her gaze into the large eyes of the silent woman.

"You now know my name. What is your name, child?"

Written by - Wilhelm

As Ithramir left the room to go below, Wilhelm moved to the balcony to see Mavigan bandaging her mysterious defender with strips torn from her now bloody chemise, while Isuiln watched and other guards secured the now stirring assassin. Matters seemed in hand down there fore the moment. "She is going to need some clothing," Wilhelm thought.

He went to her closet and took down her travel cloak and then her new riding dress. On top of those he added her light leather body armor, her leather vambraces with empty dagger sheathes, and a pair of soft leather boots. He rolled these into a bundle and secured them with a leather belt with several sheathed throwing knives. While he was doing this he could hear the angry voices of Mavigan and Ithramir below, although he could not make out their words. "Those two cousins just do not get along." he thought. "You could light bonfires with the sparks that fly when they meet." He wished Mavigan would better understand that the Ancorans were guests of the elves and that Ithramir was their host and the Commander of a citadel at war.

As he stood up, bundle in hand, he felt power growing in the courtyard and heard the howling of wind outside. Just then one of the servants came and knelt before him and said,

"Wilhelm, you know not of myself and my Wife but know this, we are here to help protect our Queen and to protect this land, I know we have come into this place under false pretences but I ask you to give me the chance to prove that I am an honourable person; I know that it was powerful necromancy that animated the fallen guards, and if you would grant me permission to examine the rings I may discern the Necromancer's location."

Wilhelm looked at him closely and then extended his senses to scan the heartfire of the man before him. It was indeed the heartfire of a trained mage. While Wilhelm could not truth read, that being a priestly ability, the heartfire shown pure and steady with no sign of deceit. Wilhelm felt again his isolation from others of his Order, and wished he had news of them. A Priest of Tinurb would be very handy just now.

Just then the power below rose to a peak and redoubled. "Wait here!" Wilhelm ordered, and ran to the balcony in time to see the confrontation between Mavigan, who was beginning to manifest as the Avatar of Nagarren, and Ithramir, who was now fully manifested as the Avatar of Avandor. His immediate urge to go down and protect Mavigan was quelled by His Voice within: "Stay! The Others have matters in hand, and no harm will come to their Avatars." "Very well," he thought with a mental bow, "I will trust You all know what You are doing."

He turned and walked back in time to see the missing guards run gasping into the room to report and then shudder as they saw the sundered bodies of their two slain comrades. "About time you all reported to me," he said in a biting voice. "You should have done so when the fake Ithramir first arrived and this all could have been avoided. The Queen was assaulted in your absence, but she surivived. Now you three go down to the courtyard and guard her. If I hear of any further failure to follow orders you will be cleaning out the old privies with a toothbrush. And take this to her, as she will need more suitable clothes." Wilhelm handed the bundle to Ethan, the Queen's Guardsman he knew Mavigan would recognize. The three Queen's Guards saluted and left.

He returened to the mage kneelling before him, but before he could speak he felt again the voice from within. Renalis saw Wilhelm pause and then open his eyes wide and grin with joy. Wilhelm turned to the three elven Rangers remaining from the night guards. "There is an old friend approaching the citadel, a Priest of Tinorb. Run down to the gates and have them invite Father Agmund inside and bring him to me at the Scholar's Tower." They saluted and left.

Wilhelm turned back to the kneeling mage. "Very well, Renalis. I will take you up on your offer. Let us go together to see the mage Resini in the Scholar's Tower and perhaps the two of you together can use these rings to locate the Necromancer and to scan the area for other dark magics."

Turning to another ranger, he asked for guidance to the Scholar's Tower. The ranger, named Elemir, led Wilhelm and Renalis there and knocked on the door. After a pause, a robed elf opened the door and looked out. Wilhelm apologized to Mage Resini for awakening him at this late hour, but explained quickly the events and the need, and handed him the pouch with the rings. The two mages moved over to a nearby scrying table and fell into a professional discussion while Wilhelm and Elemir stood by. The ranger understood Wilhelm's silent signal that he was to keep watch over Renalis.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen watched as Mavigan continued her run toward Ithramir, she continues closer and closer as if all her will was focused on reaching him. Ardwen just watched and waited, his mind was chaos, his dual oaths clashing in his mind and mocking him. Both bore Elven blood, and while Ithramir's was pure, Mavigan had so far alligned herself with the enemies of the Elves in this world.

It did not take long to settle the dispute, Mavigan drew near when suddenly Ithramir changed. His armor began steaming from some unknown source of heat, his eyes became molten pools of radiance, and his hair burned vibrant red. Mavigan lunged and a resounding report echoed from the Citadel walls. The young princess fell backwards from the force, and then the thing that was Ithramir spoke in a voice that was only partly his:

"Mavigan Brelonna, daughter of men and elves, earthly avatar of Nagarren, do not challenge those that hold you safe. Your will may be strong, but you lack refinement. Your will makes you feel safe, but it is your greatest downfall. Your enemy does not lay in these walls points the flaming blade towards the gates they lay out there. My avatar Ithramir goes to battle to protect our dying people, he is harsh, but with reason. We will not allow Ithramir to fall, at least not from your blades, for his fate has already been cast ages ago, when the world was young. Further, I and Kaia'hanas call Nagarren friend. Remember this."

Ardwen turned away and began walking out of the courtyard the instant this . . . avatar finished speaking. It was all too clear to him now; he’d seen this double-edge ploy before. So the thing that stood before him was the divine essence of some god, once he knew this Ardwen had to restrain himself from spitting on the ground in disgust. He’d seen what the gods do before: they use people, like little pawns in some grand game only they can play, and when the game was done they tossed those pieces aside. A voice rang out again, this time it sounded more like Ithramir, Ardwen blocked it out mentally and muttered darkly, “When the game is done both the king and pawn go back in the same box.”

He continued to walk away, his pace neither fast nor slow. His face betrayed his inner emotions though. The form Ithramir had assumed, and the power Mavigan was drawing on, he’d grown sick of watching such things in his time. The power the gods promised always came at a price, a price that was convenient for them! But it was the almost fiery form that Ithramir had donned that concerned him the most. He had seen warriors in his world that could do a similar thing, though their powers seemed to be to a lesser extent. They grew wings of flame and their eyes became the same molten orbs.

This time he gave voice to his resentment in a bitter tone, “All gods are liars. It doesn’t matter where or which one. They’re nothing but puppet-masters that vie for souls and followers. Controlling, condemning, manipulating . . . I know how they can fail even their most “devout” when the hour is darkest. Never again! Never again will I follow their deceptions!”

Written by - Agmund

There against the wall he rested for a time, watching the various people pass by, the gates opening and closing. He even heard whisperings of a Dwarven army moving towards the citadel, but to what end he could not discern.

"Agmund," his name was called out, which caused him to slip the hood of his robe back and peer curiously. Three elves appeared to be looking for him, Rangers he judged by the way they were dressed. After rising to his feet he slipped the faded brown saddlebags over his shoulder once more. “Father Agmund?” one of the elves was looking directly at him as he spoke.

“Yes… I am Father Agmund,” he said with a small amount of caution wondering if he had perhaps broken some sort of custom or law that he wasn’t aware of. He could think of no other reason why three elves would be looking for him.

“We are to escort you to the Scholars Tower,” the ranger was looking at him with no apparent ill will, his hand extending towards the gate as it swung open. His two comrades were there beside him now, since they had evidently found the man they were looking for.

The old priest considered what predicament he had gotten himself into. “If this is about some sort of obscure tax or the like,” he said gruffly. “Then you should know I don’t have so much as a copper.” With that he shrugged and walked thru the gate behind one of the elves who was leading the way. He wasn’t sure, but he could have sworn he heard the two behind him chuckling.

Written by - Archeantus

Upon entering the room, they placed her upon a slanted board, fastening her wrists securely in place. The pain in her broken arm made her eyes water, but she made no sound.

Jasmine had begun to gaze solely upon the elven woman, her mysterious eyes never faltered, never turning upon the males in the room. She knew what would come, and her mind was quickly gathering strength. However, she found herself in a position she had never experienced. She had never been caught, never been punished for her countless crimes. They would ask her questions. There were a great many she would answer freely. Yet, they would never discover, even to death, who she truly was.

As so her dark eyes, deeply passive and defiant, watched the elven woman stand before her, weighing her perceptions, her motivations, her allegiances, her tactics, before she spoke.

"My name is Lithwyn Ehlonna Deltheron, Lady of Lothiel-Gadith. You have broken into my home and attempted to kill a guest of mine."

Jasmine’s keen eyes studied the elf’s temperament, watched her slender hand grasp the hilt of the dagger beside her.

Lithwyn, bore those large almond eyes down upon her, and they seemed to try to look into one another’s souls.

“You now know my name. What is your name, child?"

Jasmine waited to respond, showing a beginning of defiance.

“Send the males from this room immediately. I will shortly have them under my control.”

Her eyes flashed confidence, and one of the guards without thinking, placed his hand on his sword, transfixed.

Written by - Rikshanthas

Kenthalas sighed as he trudged along on his patrol. Like all the elves he knew his duty to his commander and his people, indeed he would gladly lay down his life to keep his people safe. Still, it did not keep him from fervently wishing he were back at the Citadel, and not out in this pervasive drizzle which had started to fall, soaking through his cloak and armour until he was drenched to the bone.

Thank the Gods I shan't have to dawdle around here much longer, he thought to himself as he gave the all-clear signal to the other 3 rangers in his small group. There's nothing out here anyway; I can't imagine anyone, even Beridane, would be fool enough to attack the Citadel tonight. He had heard from another patrol of the reinforcements that had arrived; with their added strength it would indeed take legions to get anywhere near the Citadel, and Kenthalas doubted Beridane would be willing or able to commit to such a siege for some time.

The patrol was about to go off-duty when he noticed something strange. At first he thought it was merely his tired eyes playing tricks on him in the darkness, but no, there was indeed a slight glimmer off to his right side, forming a vaguely oval shape about half a man's size. As he watched, it grew more pronounced; the very air seemed to warp inward like a whirlpool with a faint crackling sound, which was heard by his fellow rangers.

"Magic," Kenthalas hissed. All four rangers drew their weapons nervously. "Alwynne, fetch the nearest patrol, then get back to the Citadel and inform lord Ithramir of this. No doubt the mages there have felt this disturbance and will want to know exactly what is happening. Quickly now! Krythanis, Telin, spread out and train your bows on whatever may come through that thing. Be ready to fire on my order." The two rangers immediately melted into the woods, their bows drawn and ready. Kenthalas himself drew his sword and took up position behind a large oak near the rapidly-opening gate.

The portal was almost fully open by Kenthalas' estimation when another 6 elven rangers arrived, weapons at the ready. After quickly sizing up the situation they also took up ambush positions around the gate, agreeing to wait on Kenthalas' order to attack.

Not in their wildest imagination could they have expected what emerged.

A single creature stepped out of the gate, so unlike anything the nervous rangers had previously seen that it frightened them all. It stood slightly shorter than a man, about 5 and a half feet tall, yet its stance was almost a crouch on legs more like a bird's than a man's; Kenthalas imagined it could well tower over a man, were it to stand at its full height. Its appearance invoked childhood nightmares of demons and dragons: a pair of gleaming ivory horns protruded almost a foot and a half from its head, connected by a crest that matched the deep slate gray of its hide; thick, coarse strands of what could have been hair, but instead looked like black and silver rope, hung in a sort of ponytail beneath the crest, reaching almost to its waist. A long, muscular tail like a reptile's swayed lazily between its legs. Its overly-long, spindly arms ended in four long fingers with wickedly sharp claws.

In contrast to the creature's horrifying appearance, its garments were such that the wealthiest of Ancora would almost seem to be wearing burlap rags. Ornately-stitched robes of an almost royal violet, decorated with complicated patterns in what seemed to be pure gold, hung about its slim figure. Beneath these was a closely-woven, form-fitting garment of what Kenthalas could have sworn was mithril, but for its ebony colour. It also wore an overtunic and thigh and "shin" guards of a glossy azure material similar to cured leather, which the elves could not identify; and a runed bracelet of gleaming gold and platinum housing a blue crystal the size of a small hen's egg was clasped around its right wrist. The bracelet was apparently the gate-opener, as the swirling portal dissipated at the touch of certain runes on its face.

The creature seemed nervous, its glowing cyan eyes darting back and forth among the trees as if expecting an attack. Kenthalas hesitated, not knowing what he should do with such an ... alien creature. He signaled the rangers to be ready to fire at the slightest hint of threat, then stepped out from behind the oak, sword drawn, deciding to confront a possible threat rather than risk what could come if this were a scout of some kind.

"You are completely surrounded," he announced clearly in the common tongue. "You will surrender any weapons you are carrying and come with us for questioning. Any attempt at escape or any hostile action will be met with immediate, deadly force. Do you understand?"

The creature seemed somewhat taken aback at his sudden appearance, then relieved upon seeing him clearly, then confused when he started to speak, cocking its head slightly as though attempting to understand a foreign tongue. When he finished delivering his ultimatum, the creature looked at him with a puzzled expression and said something that sounded like "Zhe'Aus! Velekan riL'en'DraI, xyl'tnaq rIk'Shanth'aS qwitzutch itLaniF." The hollow, echoing voice surprised the elf, as it came from no apparent source: the creature had no visible mouth. Then, as if knowing its words fell on uncomprehending ears, it fell silent, and merely spread its arms in either acquiescence or frustration, Kenthalas wasn't sure.

***

Well at least they look like Light Elves, the Lorekeeper thought to himself as more like the first one he had encountered materialized from among the trees. And they are certainly adapted to the woodlands. However I distinctly remember the riL'en'DraI being a good deal friendlier. He glanced over their armour, and recalled the strange speech of the first one. Perhaps this is why the Gatekeys are so widely maligned, he surmised. This is not exactly where I planned to be; perhaps my pronunciation was off? Still, this "accident" does present many new opportunities for study. I shall have to take notes, he thought excitedly, allowing these mysterious elves to escort him wherever they meant to go.

Written by - Pharsalus

Geirik squatted behind a small shrub in the shadow of a large tree twenty yards or so off a large drainage culvert at the base of the fortress. He was invisible to all but the keenest of eyes, the wide, dark brim of his hat negating any shimmer that his eyes may have otherwise produced. The air was cool but stagnant, held against the forest floor by a thick canopy of leaves and interconnecting branches. What little light was present fell in dim, jagged pieces at Geirik's feet, and the entire area stank of death and magic.

He kept his eyes locked upon the culvert and what of the surrounding area he could see. The back of his mind burned - the beast within him was restless, the disturbance he was chasing undoubtedly close. Geirik had spent the last hour moving up and down the base of the fortress trying to find an easy way in. Though there were several other culverts like the one he now watched and various windows closer to the main gates, to persue entrance there would no doubt reveal his position, especially before the careful watch of Elven eyes. He sighed quietly to himself, unsure of what he was even doing here. His loyalty was to the royal family, and here he sat at the base of a strange fortress chasing a power he knew nothing about. Rubbing his fingers together in a casually nervous motion and taking one last look at his immediate surroundings, Geirik moved to get up. He stood quickly but was cautious to remain concealed in shadow, taking a moment to ensure the brim of his hat still sat low on his brow.

Taking a deep breath and reassuring himself that he was more than able to withstand any threat he may face, Geirik began moving forward. He began slowly, putting one foot carefully before the other and keeping his footfalls soft. His became increasingly confident as he approached the threshhold of light and shadow, his pace and stepping becoming more casual.

Then he stopped. His grip around the hilt of his swords tightened, the squeak of his gloves distantly audible in the cool, dark silence. Geirik's face remained emotionless, his gaze locked upon the ground in front of him, his mind lit up with the liche's presence.

I sense the living...

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Alulael sat on the soft grass. Her legs crossed and her eyes closed, her arms infront of her chest in an intricate design of twisted fingers. Forming the symbol of Nessanomin*.

“Life and life. Death and death. Ash and dust. Birth and eternity.” Her voice repeated the mantra over and over as her mind became tranquil. She felt her Goddess press around her body, laying hands on the trees with gentle care and giving Alulael a gentle reinvigorment to keep the exhaustion of her mind that screamed for sleep at bay.

A soft breeze wafted through the clearing, smelling of flowers. Shortly the encampment returned to it's calm night air. The men wrapped their blankets closer and sat closer to the fire. Over head the stars glittered like a thousand flowers against deep, dark waters. Diosr walked up as Alulael lowered her hands and opened her eyes.

In a whisper he said, “Nargarren gives her blessing lass?”

“Yes, Diosr, she gives her blessing on this land, though hardly needed considering.”

Diosr smiled, “That is good, will you join me in the command tent? While I prefer dwarven food it would be unseemly if we did not attend... do not worry; I have not told anyone what you are or what you are about.”

Alulael smiled as Diosr made an effort to keep his words to a scholarly tone instead of his regular slang. Her deep green eyes sparkled with the radient afterglow of one connected to her Goddess.

“Yes, I would like that very much Diosr.”

Hours later at first dawn...

Two elves road up on the citidel fast, so fast even their fresh horses were lathered. However, their eyes did not show sorrow or fear but excitement. They checked their horses as they came up on the gates one of them threw his voice.

“Open the gates! We are men of the 7th scouting party! We have news for Commander Ithramir!”

Nodding the men at the gates gave the signal to open the gates. Quickly enough the men entered the citidel and began looking for Commander Ithramir.

*Young Widsom

Written by - Trinni Shannon

“Send the males from this room immediately. I will shortly have them under my control.”

Raising an eyebrow in confusion, Lithwyn turns in the direction of the woman's gaze. The guard, hand on his hilt, stares blankly, mesmerized by the woman. Surprised, her hand slides away from her own dagger as she takes in the meaning of the stance. Looking from the guard to the bound woman and back again, she realizes what is taking place. Whirling around, Lithwyn strikes the captive as hard as she can. While the trance is broken, she sends the guards from the room through gritted teeth. Glaring at the smug smile, a welt already rising on the woman's cheek, she then turns to follow the guards out the door.

Closing it behind her, standing in the hallway, a hushed exchange ensues.

"Do not enter this room again unless I specifically ask for you. When others arrive, unless they are female, bid them remain out here until I allow their admittance." Looking from one guard to another, she then continues her admonition directly to the guard who was so entranced.

"And if I should require your assistance within, you are NOT to look at the woman under ANY circumstances. This goes for the both of you, and any other male who should enter. If you have a difficult time following this request," her voice slowly rises despite herself as she utters the promise, "you will have worse things to worry about than an incoming Orc invasion!" Quieting her voice, she glances between them and calmly asks, "Lle rangwa?**"

Looking into the eyes of the swayed guard, she holds the glance and draws out the pause. The guard, feeling guilty, looks away first and stammers, "I...I don't know what... I was just... and then..." sighing forcefully, he takes a deep breath before continuing. "I apologize m'Lady, it won't happen again." Shaking his head, trying to clear the vision of the woman's eyes from his mind, he looks at the ground. Clenching and unclenching his fists, he finally clasps them together in front of him and stands tall, determined though still weakened. Looking up in time to see the door closing and Lithwyn disappearing inside, he sighs and looks at the other guard, gesturing helplessly.

Striding across the room, Lithwyn stops abruptly once she is within a foot of the woman. Staring, searching the woman's face, she addresses her in a controlled tone.

"I will not make that mistake again. Now... I believe I asked you a question. I do not enjoy inflicting pain, but I will if I must."

Pausing, her thoughts begin to whirl in her mind.

Why did she warn me? She could have easily taken full control of that guard, as weak as his mind is, and used him against me. Why did she come here to assassinate Mavigan? She doesn't seem like one of Beridaine's pawns, her will is too strong for that.

Studying her face, hoping for insight, she looks into the woman's eyes again. Sudden understanding dawns on Lithwyn, though she keeps her face carefully neutral. It is the woman's eyes, betraying her. Having tasted such sorrow, being a prisoner to the weight of it even now, it is easy to see it in someone else. The power of the woman's despair nearly drives Lithwyn to her knees as she feels her own pain rising, burning behind her eyes. Pushing her thoughts away, the longing to slip into that silent reverie, she makes a decision.

Lithwyn's left hand slowly rises towards her chest. The slight tremor of her hand is concealed as it vanishes within the folds of white that is her robe. Clasping the holy symbol of Kaia'hanas, she is caught off guard by the warmth of it. Her fingers wrap around the metal as the intricate symbol presses into her palm. Closing her eyes, a thought of worry flares in her mind. Will I remember...? Focusing, she clears her thoughts and begins to whisper the familiar prayer:

"Just as the soft rains fill the streams,
pour into the rivers and join together in the oceans,
so may the power of every moment of your goodness
flow forth to awaken and heal all beings,
Those here now, those gone before, those yet to come.
Here me, Kaia'hanas, and aid your servant."

Pouring her energy into the prayer, into the glowing holy symbol, she accepts nothing in return. Closing herself as much as she can, she feels energy flow from her body. Eyes now openned, she reaches across to the bound woman with her free hand and lightly strokes her cheek. Taking away the sting but leaving the welt, she turns towards the arm bent at an odd angle. Stroking the woman's skin from shoulder to wrist, she controls her power and only dulls the piercing pain to a low throb. Releasing the amulet, and withdrawing her outstretched hand, she intertwines her fingers behind her to obscure the shaking.

The aftermath bringing weariness, Lithwyn feels panic rising in her throat as her heart pounds within her chest. Taking a slow breath, her voice imperceptably hoarse with control, she addresses the beautiful woman again.

"We can do this the easy way or the hard way, nwalmaer**. You did not work on your own, that much is clear. But, you do not seem to be one of Beridaine's toys, especially as you are a woman. So, tell me... What is your name? Who do you work for? How did you get within my walls?"

** Do you understand?
** Tormented one

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan sat there in daze. First she had been subjected to Wilhelm talk to her in funny voices and now Ithramir had just done the same. On top of all that, she ached. Her feet hurt from the glass, her head hurt from being cracked against the stone wall, and her now her butt hurt from slamming it into the flagstones as she fell. The churning she had felt inside her was gone, and so too, was the strange wind that had seemed to come from nowhere. However, she now had a dull throbbing pain, right behind her eyes.

She wasn’t exactly sure what had happened, but she instinctively felt that whatever it was had been important. She would just have to figure it out later when her head didn’t feel as if it were about to burst.

Mavigan heard a soft voice near her offering her healing, but the idea of being around still more magic made her stomach turn. Rising to her feet, she said curtly, “No. No more magic. Just find me some bandages and salve. I’ll do it myself.” One hand rose to press against her temple as Mavigan frowned in pain. “And some tea to fix this headache, please.”

As she moved forward, she found a package shoved into her path. Looking up at the bearer, her eyes squinted with pain, she saw a Royal Guardsman offering her some clothing. She took it, and nodded at him, the movement causing still more pain. She then left the courtyard to find a comfy, dark place to recuperate that was in a better state than her bedroom.

Written by - Agmund

Upon reaching the Scholars Tower, the Elven Ranger knocked once, and then waited for a response. Agmund stood behind him with a somewhat befuddled look upon his face. Befuddled that is until he heard a voice say simply “enter.” The voice was familiar to him, but he could not place it.

As the door was opened by the Ranger, who promptly stepped aside, the old priest knew at once who the voice belonged to. It was indeed someone he had not seen in many years, but someone whom he had thought of often enough. At that moment he wasn’t sure if his travels had taken him full circle, or if the All Father had merely brought him to where he was needed most.

“Lord Wilhelm,” his tall frame bowing low, “words cannot say how good it is to see you.” Green eyes perched beneath thick, bushy gray cliffs slowly inspected the man standing before him. At first he extends his hand, then with a chuckle he embraces his old friend. After which he steps back just a foot or so, clasping him on the shoulders, “I believe you have gotten a bit taller… and perhaps a bit bigger.”

Written by - Wilhelm

"Father Agmund," Wilhelm exclaimed, returning the embrace. "Aye, and I think you have gotten a little greyer." He said with a smile. Gestruring to the two mages working over the two rings on the scrying table, he said "I am waiting here for a report on the source of a Necromantic spell on those two rings that was used to turn two slain guardsmen into zombies. While they work, come over here and sit with me. I have a lot to tell you, and I can certainly use your help. It is very good to see another of our Order. I have not seen any since I left the city before the great coup scattered our brethren."

Wilhelm took him to a nearbt couch, where they sat and were served refreshments by an Acolyte while Wilhelm filled Agmund in on all that had heppened since last Agmund had left the city.


Written by - Renalis Page 24 Book 1

“No. No more magic. Just find me some bandages and salve. I’ll do it myself.”

Somewhat disappointed at this response, but completely understanding Crystal arose with Mavigan and went after her, fetching out of her pack healing salves and bandages, and saying with deep concern in her voice, "Please M'Lady, if you will not take healing by magical means, please allow me to bandage the wound on your foot, you should not be moving on it" Just before heading inside, Crystal runs to where her gear is hidden and grabs the rest of her things. Thinking to herself, "I hope you are having more luck my love..."

******

"Very well, Renalis. I will take you up on your offer. Let us go together to see the mage Resini in the Scholar's Tower and perhaps the two of you together can use these rings to locate the Necromancer and to scan the area for other dark magics."

"He knows my name... intriguing" Renalis thinks to himself and then speaks, "Thank you Wilhelm." Getting up, Renalis walked behind Wilhelm allowing he and the Elf to lead the way. As they passed the entrance to the Citadel Renalis looked over and his eyes and mana gem both flared with Azure light, beyond the sight of Wilhelm or the Elf, and his pack of supplies came flying toward him. Grabbing the pack, Renalis never broke stride and continued to follow Wilhelm to this "Scholar's Tower".

Wilhelm apologized to Mage Resini for awakening him at this late hour, but explained quickly the events and the need, and handed him the pouch with the rings. Renalis moved with Resini over to the table and sets down his pack and sword. Renalis noticed the glance Wilhelm gave their guide and then the stare the Elf gave him as he sat down. "Not fully trusted. Not unexpected either." Renalis thought as moved back toward the table.

Resini took the first try, holding both rings in his hand and concentrating firmly on the power within. Renalis could sense this Mage's power, "Significant, but still nothing compared with me, although his knowledge on the world probably far outweighs my own." Just then the Elven mage snapped out of his trance. "Blast!" he exclaimed, as another entered the chamber. Renalis knew that this would not be easy due to the enormous amount of stray magic in the area, divine, necromantic, sorcery - all would hinder his ability to do this but the others were counting on him.

Gesturing to the two mages working over the two rings on the scrying table, Wilhelm said "I am waiting here for a report on the source of a Necromantic spell on those two rings that was used to turn two slain guardsmen into zombies. "

"Perhaps you can let me try Resini, then perhaps, we may be able to get some results for Lord Wilhelm." Confident in his abilities but not trying to sound arrogant, Renalis extends his had, motioning for Resini to give him the rings. With a "hrm" Resini places the two small rings into Renalis's hand.

Immediately Renalis can feel the power in the rings... dark power. He closed his hand around them and began to focus his thoughts on the power, on its origin. He could feel the strong and chaotic magics all around, like a hurricane that he was trying to see through, but he continued to focus his thoughts. He could feel the source was close, but couldn't quite pinpoint it, it was hidden, masked, the source trying to stop Renalis from finding him.

Deciding that it was worth the risk, Renalis touched his other hand to the mana gem in his armor and it flared with Azure light once more. Resini was a bit taken aback at this, having seen many magic foci before but never one with such power, nor with a mage with such natural talent with magic such as this.

As the storms cleared in his mind, Renalis's thoughts came into focus... he could see the one, he could see the Necromancer with a few others, but could not make out there faces... he what looked to be... The Sewers! then a bright flash of light and a swirling portal erupted in front of them. Knowing he must not let his tract of them fail, he kept with the Necromancer. He felt his mind pulled all the way to a familiar place but then, in his mind all hell broke loose.

Images began to appear in his mind, strange things, unintentional but caused as a result of tapping the ley energy in time with so many spectacular magical events. Another bright flash and Renalis saw another portal, this one in the forest nearby, and he witnessed a strange creature emerge. Another flash and Renalis was witness to another dark energy, this one in the form of a man near a culvert. Another flash and Renalis could see Lithwyn in full hunting gear and could sense her great power within. Another flash and Renalis once again saw into the energies of the avatars Ithramir and Wilhelm. Another flash and Renalis could see Crystal and Mavigan moving through the hallways, he could feel a great power deep within Mavigan, the same power he felt before when the winds changed. Another flash and Renalis's eyes opened - looking like two small sapphires, projecting a bright Azure light - and he was sent back nearly five feet, landing on his back. His eyes closed and the gem's brightness faded.

"That was a mana surge," Resini explained. "His use of a mana focus this close to so much magical activity caused a pouring of energy into him."

Renalis opened his eyes - now returned to their normal colour, "It was worth it thought," Renalis rose up and brushed himself off, shaking his head noting that he felt like an army of Orcs just ran him over, "I saw much." Sitting down beside Wilhelm he began to explain what he saw.

"I saw the Necromancer and his allies, they were gathered together in the sewers but they opened a portal and went somewhere," Renalis strained to put a name to the place, "Close to Ancora, I believe." Renalis stopped for breath but continued, "But that was not all I saw, I saw the powers of the avatar in their hosts... all of you. I had no idea the God's heros held such power but not a destructive power, I could sense the true nature behind it." Renalis paused once more and then remembered the other sights, "There is a strange being that appeared through a portal around the same time as the necromancer disappeared, it was a strange being and I fear that the patrols might do something... regretable given the current state of affairs." Renalis shuddered at the last thing he remembered, "A dark one, a person with dark power within him nearby, I have no idea where, but nearby."

Leaning his head back on the chair, obviosly taxed, Renalis breaths a sigh of relief, "Wow, so much energy in me at one time," Renalis thought "I didn't think it possible to happen, much less for me to survive the encounter."

"What now Lord Wilhelm?"

Written by - Agmund

The old priest listened to the story as it unfolded. With each twist and turn of the tale, he only pondered and remained silent. For him it was a matter of discerning the reason he was here and that required patience and a keen ear. Sometimes the All Father makes it more than apparent why he summons a man or has need of him, and other times he leaves it to the faithful to figure out. This was one thing that he learned long ago.

After Lord Wilhelm finished speaking, the priest sat quietly for a while longer, his mind playing over and over again the events. Mavigan, she is at the middle of it all he thought. When he set upon the road she was but a child of perhaps three years. Now she would be a woman, thrust in a conflict larger than herself, and indeed larger than the host assembled here. He wondered for a moment how she was coping with the problems as they arose. If she had grown up a blend of her mother and father, he figured she was most likely stubborn, brave, angry and confused all at once. She was the reason he was here, but then… she was the reason many others were here as well.

Each faction likely had a different idea of things to come, a different outlook for the war and a completely different view on how things were to be achieved. Likely they also had differing views on the role she was to play and how she was to play it. Mavigan would have her own set of views, and at her age she would play no ones role but her very own. Equally at her age she would not be taken as seriously as she would like to be.

He settled upon her as the reason he was here, and then his mind turned to the next issue at hand. What could he do to change things, to make them easier, to aid the All Father in his will, and at the same time show Mavigan that there was an entire realm of people, her people, whos lives depended on every decision that was made. How could he at his age show her that her people needed her to be strong? How could he possibly convince her that she needed to lead and at the same time listen to the wise counsel surrounding her?

She would likely not remember him he thought, and even if she did he might not be able to gain her trust, let alone show her he had nothing to gain here. The gods themselves were here, using their powers as Avatars, watching and working thru the very bodies of men and elves. All of it became a jumble of problems in his mind, and for a moment, he merely closed his eyes, pushing out the different outcomes, forcing away the various choices and paths before it all became an impossible blur for his mind to separate. Meditation and prayer, this was what he needed, time to further look upon the events, but what time was truly left? That was a question for which he had not even a remote answer for.

He chuckled as he looked back to Lord Wilhelm. “I haven’t carried my age as well as I would like to my friend. But I am here to do what I can, and you may direct me as you deem necessary.”

Suddenly he realized that there was much going on in the tower room that he was paying absolutely no attention to. He turned and bowed somewhat from his position on the couch as a man approached and began to address Lord Wilhelm. Again he remained silent, intent on trying to decipher the events around him. And yet again, his mind became jumbled with new facts as he listened.

“What now Lord Wilhelm?” the man said as he finished. Perhaps… he had already failed Lord Wilhelm, although he had listened to the facts the man relayed to Wilhelm, he didn’t even consider looking into the words themselves, discerning truth from lies. He cursed himself, and with it a look of utter anger crossed his face. Anger that his mind had grown feeble and old, decayed and worried with time, and more so angry that he could not arrange his very own thoughts.

Written by - Archeantus

Whirling around, the elven woman struck Jasmine smartly across the face. The blow stung immeasurably, not because of the pain, but because she could not help what she was and the power she held because of it. Further tears formed, but her rising will quickly suppressed them. The elven woman ordered the guards from the room and left with them. For a moment she was alone, something she was accustomed to, but somehow now, the feeling became uncomfortable, and the unknown dark of the room penetrated a fear that long remained dormant. Suddenly the door swung open and it startled her. The elven woman returned, a determined fire in her eyes.

The woman who called herself Lithwyn came within a foot of the captive Jasmine, the two females gazed into one another’s fervent eyes. Finally the elven woman spoke, "I will not make that mistake again. Now... I believe I asked you a question. I do not enjoy inflicting pain, but I will if I must."

The elven woman was met with silence; Jasmine’s gaze remained locked upon her elven counterpart deep in thought.

Then a small flutter appeared in the bright almond eyes of the elven woman. Jasmine knew at that moment that the elven woman had realized the terrible pain that existed in her heart. Jasmine knew the only way one could recognize such pain was to have experienced it herself…

They continued to look upon each other, lost in the knowledge they had silently gained, and then the tall slender arm of the woman rose and disappeared into a fold in her soft white robes. The dark clouds from her countenance disappeared as well, and slowly, she closed her eyes, taking her left hand and resting it gently upon Jasmine’s throbbing cheek.

It was slow, and trickled through, softly at first, and then more forcefully, like the pouring rain in a thunder storm. The rain glinted in the moonlight of her mind, brightening by the unfolding moment. And then, she could feel the woman’s caress across her cheek to her broken arm, and the cold of the rain warmed until she could feel it in the sweeping emptiness of her heart. Lightening flashed. A small spark of remembrance ignited and a long lost feeling arose upon Jasmine’s understanding.

She felt at peace, a thunder clap pounded, leaving a stark irreplaceable revelation of something she could not determine. Her heart pounded, awakened, alive and vibrant, yet it felt hollow, dead, and meaningless.

A voice showered through her reverie, "We can do this the easy way or the hard way, nwalmaer. You did not work on your own, that much is clear. But, you do not seem to be one of Beridaine's toys, especially as you are a woman. So, tell me... What is your name? Who do you work for? How did you get within my walls?"

The words penetrated her thoughts and they were like a sharply cold splash of water to her cunning mind. Her eyes opened suddenly, penetratingly, the flames of the torches were encased in her pupils and she spoke, “I will not give you my name, for it is dead to me. I do know the name of the one I work with, he purposely and intelligently never gave it to me. I have no idea who his employer is, nor do I think he is the type that is employed, by anyone, especially by Beridane. It is no matter how I came here, nor does my methods matter, what matters is that your precious guest remains alive due to my failure. I am useless to you…”

She spoke firmly, devoid of deception, she had chosen the easy way, yet her eyes gazed perceptibly, cunningly, and she continued, “I know more, perhaps it will aid you, I do not care, but before I tell you, I want to know one thing…”

She paused, capturing the woman’s attention, “What did he do to you?”

*******

Meanwhile, deep down in the far reaches of the sewers, a sable figure steps into the light of the vent, a distinct smile etched in the shadow beneath the hood it wore.

Kishkumen grinned inwardly, his master was pleased.

“Come, it is time we left, our purpose here is finished.” He said.

With that he jumped forward into the light and then through the thick murky waters back down through the tunnels. Kishkumen ran swiftly behind, vanishing into the darkness once more.

******

Vermigard sat upon a small heap above the shallow waters near the entrance of the culvert, his feet propped up on another. Two elven rangers, darts imbedded in their necks, rested, snoring even, as he waited for the others to come. Soon he could hear the quiet splashes echoing down the empty tunnel. The bounty hunter took a long swag of his smoke and stood mumbling something about it being about time. A slight fizzle hit the water as he discarded his smoke.

“So, do we have a war on our hands?” Vermigard asked as the two came near.

“The war begins.” Said the stranger. “We must go to Ancora and inform Beridane what we know. Prepare the Irrithica.”

“Very well boss….” Vermigard whispered indifferently. “And what of Jasmine?”

The stranger looked and answered, “She has served her purpose.”

Vermigard raised an eyebrow, considering the money that would go to waste if she had died. He has planned to take her himself if he had been given the chance, thinking just how valuable she truly was. The only other catch as big as her was Teran, and he was most likely as far from here as possible, he thought as he prepared the ritual of the magical portal device.

It wasn’t long until they were ready, and it was then, as they turned to step out into the night that there stood a lone figure in the light of the moon.

Gadianton had an arrow notched in a take of breath; Kishkumen had already begun chanting, one arm lightly raised, and lightening shot out into the dark of the tunnel toward the figure….

Written by - Wilhelm

"We will need to inform Ithramir and Lithwyn of these findings," Wilhelm said, "However, first we need to have a little talk." He turned to Resini and remarked "Master Resini, What you you say about the power shown in that little demonstration?" Resini looked closely at Renalis and then said "While I have seen and used many magic foci, I have never seen such a poweful one as Renalis possesses, and his natural taent was impressive. From his use of ley energy I conclude that he is a full Adept, a rank possessed by few."

Wilhelm turned to Agmund and made the Sign of the All Father. "Father Agmund, I would appreciate it if you would pay careful attention to Renalis' words now." Lookig at Renalis, he said "The time has come for you to reveal to us your purpose in being here. What is your background? Why is an Adept here at this time posing as a servant? What is your mission here? In the name of the All Father, speak now the Truth." Wilhelm made a signal to the rangers who moved to block the door. He then took a sip of his drink, struck an expectant pose, and gestured to Renalis to begin.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Ithramir didn't really open the door leading down to the dungeon so much as he kicked it aside. Moving down the stairs he heard Lithwyn's voice, saying something rather angrily, then the door being closed and locked. Watching the guards all sitting outside, Ithramir looks at the head guard, obviously wanting to know why they weren't in there with Lithwyn. The guard, quietly responds,

"Milord, we would be, but the lady Lithwyn told us not to come in unless she needs us. The female we captured...well..."

Ithramir's eyes, still registering some measure of anger, stare at the guards as he says,

"Well what?"

Avoiding his commanders eyes, the guards says,

"The female had some sort of control over us. We were dazed...Lithwyn ordered us to stay away lest the female use us in some way."

Closing his eyes and sighing deeply, his patience being worn thin, Ithramir says nothing for a long moment. Trusting Lithwyn, he thinks it best to leave the two alone...for now. Opening his eyes, he says tersely,

"Very well. However if the lady is harmed, all of you will pay the price, you have been warned."

Turning back up the stairs, he leaves the dungeons and out into the courtyard. After a few moments, Ithramir reaches the building where the other assassin was being housed. After gaining admittance into the room, Ithramir sits down and studies the man. Pulling a small pouch out of his pocket, the contents being a single bloodcoin, he places it on the table and then says,

"Not many use this currency, assassin. I have heard some rumors, here and there, about the skilled assassin who did Beridaine's dirty work for him. After Mavigan's family was killed, this currency seems to have, shall we say, popped up in certain areas. I am curious, tell me, do you happen to know anything about this?"

Throwing the coin to the assassin, Ithramir's eyes lock with his as he intently waits on the reply.

Written by - Pharsalus

A small tuft of dried grass crunched softly beneath Geirik's feet as his narrowed eyes caught a gleam in the dark. Opponents he had not seen before now stood dimly illuminated in the glow of magic, the lips of the magic's source clearly forming dark and ancient syllables to bring about Geirik's undoing.

Alright Liche, the old man thought to himself as his gloved hand reached into a small pouch on his hip.

...pay your toll!

Geirik's mind lit up and eyes seethed with a vaprous purple glow. The beast within him was being given a slack chain, and all his body burned because of it. Geirik winced as he tried not to look straight into the bolt of power that now arched and scattered around him. He never could tell if the faint, vaprous form that now stood deflecting the bringer of his demise was his Doom made manifest for all around to see, or if the image simply existed in his eyes. Right now, it was not his concern. Geirik's concealed arm flew forward, loosing a small, round capsule toward the figures in the tunnel. Knowing full well the price of looking into the eruption of light that was about to be loosed upon the scene, Geirik turned his gaze toward the third figure to his right. The man had long gotten up and made quickened pace in Geirik's direction, sword drawn and whip at the ready.

The capsule ruptured, and light as brilliant as the mid-day sun sought to burn out the eyes of any unfortunate enough to have them open. Geiriks eyes burned hot as his blades flew forward against his attacker. Metal sparked against metal once...twice....three times in rapid succession. The old bounty hunter attacked with his longsword, guarded with his shortsword. The blindness inflicted by his capsule would soon be wearing off, and his dark alter-ego had already retreated back into the confines of Geirik's body.

Destroy this one, and be done with it! the Liche hissed. You..have GREATER opponents to face.

The magician, surely. And the other man with him - the bowman. It was time to end this and direct his attentions to far more challenging opponents. Geirik eyed the shadow of the treeline right behind his opponent and saw his chance. With little more than a thought, the world around him suddnely blurred and shifted. He saw the blade of his assailant slash through his own vaprous sillhouette as he rushed the man from behind. He felt his blade pierce leather and flesh and felt the man's body tighten. Geirik allowed his momentum to continue forward, dropping his shortsword on the ground as he stepped, and using the free hand to grab and pull the man against the hilt of his other sword. He brought his face to the man's ear.

"This ends...now!"

Written by - Trinni Shannon

"... I am useless to you…”

Watching the woman closely as she speaks, sensing the truth in her words, Lithwyn can't help but feel vaguely disapointed. Wonderful, what now? What use will E'las be if there is no information to torture out of her? At least it will not have to come to that.

“I know more, perhaps it will aid you, I do not care, but before I tell you, I want to know one thing…”

The curious thought in her mind, the wonder of what this woman might actually know, dissolves instantly as the next words are uttered.

“What did he do to you?”

Staring back, fixed on the woman's eyes, the room seems to spin for a moment. The color draining from her cheeks as her hand moves to her throat, a flood of confusion, fear, and sorrow crash through her mind. The room, the torches, the woman, all of it meld together in her view. Mixing like so many splotches of paint being washed away, she closes her eyes.

What did he do to me? What did he DO TO ME? Why does she care?! She knows nothing, she said as much. Suddenly she knows more? She is willing to talk if I bare my soul?? What purpose does that have? Why does she care?

Opening her eyes, her hand falling away to her side, she raises an eyebrow skeptically. The sorrow being replaced by mild anger and cynicism, she looks at the woman anew. No longer almond shaped, but narrow slits, she measures her captive.

"Why do you care? You have already said you know nothing, the truth evident in your voice and in your countenance. I will not pretend as if my past is filled with sunshine, for you see as clearly as I. But what does that have to do with whether you will divulge information you may or may not have or keep your your so called information in silence to your grave? And it will come to that if you choose."

Falling silent for a moment, she searches for meaning. The woman's words still echoing in her mind, she knows why the question was asked. She knows of my pain as surely as I know hers. Does she find comfort in that fact; she is not alone? Who was she before her heart turned black? Is this in my future? This... empty, vengeful woman? Knowing it would only be too easy to follow that path, her actions already leading her down it, a flash of what may come flares into her awareness. With the powers bestowed by Kaia'hanas, even now, how much easier would it be to control others, control men and influence women? The assassin obviously having some sort of mental powers in addition to uncommon beauty, with the power of a Goddess how much more terrible would Lithwyn be? How much more powerful? There would be no man or woman unpunished for their wickedness. There would be no hiding from justice.

Justice. Her thoughts swirling around that word, she doesn't notice as she mentally reaches out. Subconciously sensing the return of similar thoughts/feelings from her Goddess, old barriers slide away. Unbidden, a fierce heat radiates out from her body, racing through her extremities. As the connection deepens with the Goddess, a heavy presence fills her being. Her necklace burns against bare skin as an overwhelming need for vengeance fills her thoughts. KAIA'HANAS! Even as the name of her Goddess screams in her mind, her eyes go out of focus and two names fall from her lips, over and over.

"Slaktor ... Ael'dain ... Slaktor ... Ael'dain ... "

Staring through the captive, her eyes flare with inner fire, the green burning into red and orange. A familiar voice whispers in her mind, awe inspiring, filling her awareness, beautiful and ethereal... Kaia'hanas...

Kaia'hanas seductively whispers, "So much power can I give you. Vengeance can be yours. Justice. Destroy the men who have hurt my daughters, who have violated and withered their beautiful souls like so many dying flowers."

Shaking her head forcefully, Lithwyn counters in shock, not realizing she speaks aloud. "Why now?"

"From the day long ago, when your mate rejected your heart, and he died as your spirit had died, you isolated yourself from me. Until now, I could not reach you. This woman helped show you what you can become and brought you back to me." The loud voice in her mind falling silent, Lithwyn drinks in the silence and ponders.

"Tell me, my Goddess, why should I go down this path? What will it bring to you? What will it bring to me? How will this vengeance make things better? Am I to become as this woman is?"

Kaia'hanas' light laughter rings in her ears and warms her heart. "No, no my child. Jasmine sought her own kind of vengeance, without bounds, without purpose. She killed blindly. You are after justice, you are my messenger of vengeance. When doing as I ask, who can say what you do is wrong?"

"Jasmine? If I am not to become as she is then I will do as you ask."

Her consent given, Lithwyn feels the presence of Kaia'hanas lighten, though the connection is maintained and stronger than ever before. As her body cools, her eyes return to their normal shade of green and refocus on her surroundings. The fire has receded, but Lithwyn is left subtly changed, revealing her connection with Kaia'hanas. The woman still bound before her stares back at her.

"So Nwalmaer, is your curiosity satisfied now?"

Written by - Archeantus

The question had the desired effect. Jasmine could see the brimming heart break, the intense isolation of the heart, so much like herself when she had plunged into the life of unalterable vengeance.

The elven woman seemed to look blankly back at her, her secret thoughts brewing, nearing eruption. Then her eyes flared and narrowed and she spoke, "Why do you care? You have already said you know nothing, the truth evident in your voice and in your countenance. I will not pretend as if my past is filled with sunshine, for you see as clearly as I. But what does that have to do with whether you will divulge information you may or may not have or keep your so called information in silence to your grave? And it will come to that if you choose."

Jasmine remained silent, waiting for the answer to her question to truly manifest itself.

Moments passed, and then the woman’s eyes glossed over and a mysterious radiant heat shot out from her direct presence. The cold damp of the dungeon melted away at the soaring heat that flew from the woman’s presence. Jasmine turned her face, but not her eyes; they remained fixed upon what was happening. The woman’s eyes went out of focus, eyes that had been staring strangely at the female captive, and then she spoke two names, “"Slaktor ... Ael'dain ... Slaktor ... Ael'dain ... " It was then that the woman’s eyes flared orange, and then a vibrant red.

"Why now?"

Jasmine heard her speak. There was great power in the room, so much so that Jasmine’s heart began to beat rapidly, her skin began to tingle, it was as if she were falling again…

"Tell me, my Goddess, why should I go down this path? What will it bring to you? What will it bring to me? How will this vengeance make things better? Am I to become as this woman is?"

Understanding flared in Jasmine’s mind. No, she thought. This wasn’t her intention in asking what she had asked. No woman should tread the path she had walked.

"Jasmine? If I am not to be