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Book Three Pt 1 - The Reckoning

Written by - Ardwen Page 8 Book 3

“Me brash? Nah old chap," That'd be dandy." Sycon said. Ardwen was more puzzled by Sycon’s assumed accent than what he said.

"Ardwen,” the Warlock began again, “just remember when recruiting people. TRY to be friendly or at least in need. Remember that they are actual people that have names. I know that Avari place that is omnipresent in your mind...but you are not there anymore. I know its a hard task to do to remember that, seeing we are here. But one has to face it soon enough. If against your morals or not, consider it."

"Now, if you would excuse me. I have business to attend to." And with that the mage rushed Ardwen out the door, where the warrior saw the maid he’d shut the door on still standing there, looking perplexed. Ardwen turned to go, but before he had taken two steps the door opened again and Sycon ushered the woman inside the room. Ardwen merely shook his head in consternation, Sycon had obviously not lost his “taste” since he’d last seen him.

The problem of procuring a map was, as Ardwen had expected, a minor thing. A few quick questions had him sitting at a large wooden table covered in old parchments. Ardwen handled each document gingerly, his hands still covered in their protective gauntlets, could easily fill the fragile documents with tears and holes if he were not cautious. After a few minutes of shifting through the array of paper Ardwen found his target, a detailed breakdown of Westgale’s municipal districts. Ardwen could not restrain a cold grin from growing on his face, he positioned the candles on the table to provide better lighting and set to studying the map with all the longing hunger of a wolf staring at a wounded fawn.

Westgale proved, however, to be no fawn. The city’s defenses were considerable: thick walls, towers, grain and foodstuff silos, strong gates to bar any easy entrance, and probably much more. Ardwen sighed and ran his thumb and index finger along his chin, the metal of his gauntlets rubbing against his flesh. “The problem,” The Elf muttered aloud to himself, “is that a survey of this city showing all of its defenses and surprises most likely doesn’t exist. Only an idiot ruler would allow such detailed schematics to circulate knowingly. Still, I’ll have to consider the place under heavy guard as well, garrisoned to the brim. This morsel will be a difficult little nut to crack . . .”

Ardwen let his hand fall to the table with a resounding thud, but his eyes remained transfixed to the map. He had to take into consideration every contingency, but he had little to work with. The city was strong, but strong cities had fallen before to Avari hands, there had to be some manner of common link here, something he could exploit. The city was strong, but the soldiers that guarded it, now there, there might be a different story. The men who stood watch on the walls and gates would be men like any other: they would likely be underpaid, overworked, or better yet – disloyal.

Ardwen’s mind began to hatch a scheme now, one that revolved on the very girl he’d criticized not too long ago. Mavigan. The last heir to her line. Surely there were still sympathizers in the city, surely at least one man on that stout wall was at this very moment imagining how much better life would be without the inept little man who now occupied the throne. If his heart did not stir for Mavigan then certainly the prospect of removing that which he loathed would prove almost too enticing to ignore. And all Ardwen would ask in return is that he forget to leave a gate locked, or a little extra laxity on his vigilance. Ardwen’s grin matured into a smile full of malice, it was a damn fine plan!

Ardwen began to roll up the parchment to present to Sycon so he too could study it. The mage might come up with another idea, it certainly could not harm their chances. Ardwen let out a slight derisive scoff, sometimes he thought Sycon relied too much on complex plans and complicated duplicity. Ardwen knew the value of a good plan, but he knew the value of fervor and zeal more. What was inside that city was worth more to him then anything else in this, or any other, world. “And by the Abbess herself,” Ardwen said, his voice low with menace and severity, “I will enter this damned city even if I can do nothing more than laud their graves. Whatever the cost. Whatever the reckoning. I don’t care if I have to kill every filthy human in this world and make a ramp out of their stinking mongrel corpses to-“

Ardwen paused and took careful note of what he had just said. He rolled it over carefully in his mind. It was not a bad plan. “I could pile the corpses so high as to merely climb onto the walls,” he began slowly, “Sycon could move them there with his magic, or we could use the corpses themselves as shields while we construct the ramp. Such a sight would likely cripple the morale of any guards, and the sheer macabre spectacle, not to mention the smell, would mean any weak-stomached fool would be in no condition to fight. Plague might even sweep the city if I’m really fortunate! I wouldn’t have to risk using Mavigan’s name and possible betrayal. Why it’s . . . brilliant!” Ardwen’s smile returned, for a plan of this magnitude and genius could only be concocted by such a versatile warrior as himself. Gripping his new map carefully Ardwen walked off, having satisfied the map and plan portion of Sycon’s demands, Ardwen set out to find the party.

It was, as it turned out, even easier to find than the map. The guests seemed oddly silent, certainly a great deal more so than the Elf would expect from drinking and jubilation. Sticking to one of the outside corridors, Ardwen could see the head of every man, woman, and child swiveled as if to focus on an object of shared fascination. Ardwen could not see what was so interesting, but he recalled Sycon's advice to be affable, and breaking such silence would likely be frowned upon. A small wait for a strong drink, he decided, would not kill him.

Written by - Ariana

THWACK!

The sound of a stick striking the trunk of a tree with great force rang out through the forest. This sound was then followed by angry stomping of feet and general grumbling.

“Pompous, arrogant, bastard”, came the low muttering.

THWACK! The much abused stick struck angrily at another unsuspecting and innocent tree.

Mavigan’s voice took on a high, mocking tone. “Perhaps if you can prove your worthiness….”

The bush next to the previously unsuspecting tree suddenly took an undeserved thrashing.

“I’ll show….” There was an odd pause in the tirade that had obviously continued for some time if the trail of battered bushes and trees was any indication. In fact, if anyone were to follow the trail, it would lead directly back to the source of Mavigan’s frustration, calmly sitting on a log. She had not dared use her one question, feeling sure that if she used it now, she would only wish she had it later. Instead she had studied each of the plants on display with tight-lipped intensity. Then, without a word, she had turned and headed out into the forest. Once out of ear-shot, the angry litany had begun, only interrupted by impressive THWACKING and the occasional find.

“Oh look,” she said, then stooped down and began digging in the dirt, her trusty stick being used as a trowel. “Here’s the last!”

She pulled out a bronzeleaf, its metallic coloring glinting in the weak light. Unsure of how much of the weed she was to retrieve, she grabbed two handfuls and added them to the noticeably large pile of vegetation she held captive in the upturned hem of her shirt. Since Teran had not specified how much of each plant he wanted, she had gathered as much as she could find.

Finally satisfied she had completed her task, she stood, readjusted her burden, and hurriedly stepped back the way she came. It wasn’t long before she stumbled into the small clearing where he had stationed himself. Walking up to his seated form, she promptly tipped open her shirt, dumping the entire contents into his lap.

“Here are your damn weeds,” she said, stepping back and doing her best to brush the dirt and small bugs off the front of her shirt. "What do we do with them now?"

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen squinted. It was not for want of vision, but because of pain. For some reason, the Elf’s temples had begun to throb, sending waves of dull but annoying tension racing through his head. Shaking his head in a vain attempt to dispel the sudden headache, Ardwen found it only intensified. “The hell?” He muttered softly as he raised a hand to massage his aching head.

The instant the Elf’s hand reached his head his world went white.

It remained that way too, a vast blank field without a single characteristic to break its snowy hegemony. Ardwen felt as if he were falling, but his environment did not lend itself to detecting motion, there was only the acute and unnerving feeling that there was nothing beneath him and he was spiraling downward to some unknown end.

As suddenly as the vision of a white void had begun though it ended. Instead, Ardwen found his eyes filled with the fantastic vision of a great city: paved streets, houses and mansions, a proud dock jutting out into a choppy sea. Still, something nagged at the edge of the Elf’s mind even as he beheld the grand city, like some invisible miasma clouded his every sight. As Ardwen looked closer he could see trash lining some of those streets, some of the buildings had busted windows or broken doors, many appeared to be vacant.

Suddenly the scene changed again, this time to a narrow stone corridor cloaked in darkness. A few sputtering candles were the only source of light. Ardwen’s “vision” rushed through the corridor, and into a dank and gloomy little holding cell connected to it. At first Ardwen could see nothing but more shadow, but either by some trick of the bizarre vision or by virtue of his keen eyes, the scene inside the tiny cell slowly filtered into focus.

It was his greatest fear. Ardwen tried to jerk aside his head, to squeeze his eyes shut, to move his hands to block his sight, but he could do nothing but look helplessly on. He looked at her, alone, trapped, and abandoned in some gods-forsaken little corner of the world. Bright red scratches crossed parts of her body where her robes had been torn, but they did not seem to concern her. She sat unmoving, the only motion giving credence to life still being in her frame was the slight stirring of breath every few seconds.

Ardwen tried to shout her name, tried to reach a hand forward, tried to do anything, something. He knew he was not really there and was merely observing, but it did not stop him from trying. His efforts met with a voice booming through his mind that plunged everything back into an immutable field of white, “You wish to stand on your own, but how can you do this when you have already fallen? Show me. Show me if you can still stand.”

Ardwen thought in reply, “I’ll show you more than that. I’ll show you what it’s like to be the last one standing!”

With that Ardwen found himself back in the Citadel, and back in his own body. He was on one knee, and one hand was pressed to the floor as if to lend support. The warrior rose quickly, barely noting as those who had seen him sink as if to kneel breathed a sigh of relief. Ardwen’s other hand clasped the map he had brought for Sycon, he unfurled it, and found something strange.

The map he had in his hand was the one showing the way to Westgale, the one he had left behind. But, the warrior was certain the map he had brought with him had been the one showing a detail of Westgale itself. It had been what Sycon requested after all! “Pandarrion . . .” Ardwen muttered, but for the first time in many years no invectives followed that word. It was most likely Pandarrion that he had to thank for that vision, and regardless of the cause, either divine or a simple lax memory; Ardwen had the map he needed to guide him to Westgale on hand. To the ancient warrior, his path was all too clear.

Silently he left the hallway and the party behind, without a single word or stop he arrived at one of the portcullises out of the Citadel. Even with festivities going on, and the fact that by now he surely must have been known within the Citadel itself Ardwen was still halted at the gate. An Elf emerged from a small guardhouse near the gate and said, “Where are you off to friend, and at such a hour? Evening has all but faded, but from what I hear the party is yet young.”

Ardwen saw no reason to lie to the guard, “I’m going to Westgale.”

The Elf let out a short laugh before countering with, “A good joke you have swordsman. Westgale is not an inviting place for those who fight on the young queen’s side. You’d be inviting grave danger just by going there, what is it you truly want?”

Ardwen raised one eyebrow quizzically, “I want power enough to withstand the whims of gods and fate. Failing that, I want to go to Westgale.”

This time there was no laugh from the other Elf, merely a sigh, “I’d say you have more hope of achieving the first of those than the later, do you even know how to get there? No offense friend, but if the rumors in the barracks are true there are human children that know more of this land’s geography than you.”

A rueful smile crossed Ardwen’s lips as he responded, “A human child you say? What other hurtful things do you all whisper about in your damn quarters? Well, the child may know more, but I’m not above cheating.” With that Ardwen produced the map he had kept concealed in his cloak. Unrolling it for the guard to see.

The Elf looked at it and nodded a few times before saying, “This is one of the Citadel’s maps.”

“I’ll return it. If I don’t it’s because I’m dead, I figure I’ll have more to worry about than a missing map then.”

The guard shook his head before saying, “A map is fine, but if you don’t know the way . . . wait right here.” With that he withdrew back into the little stone lodging, a few minutes passed before he came back out carrying a small leather pouch with a long sling attached to it. “You’ll find a compass in this. It’s a basic one, but it should keep you pointed in roughly the right direction. If I were you I’d also ask for directions to make sure my course stayed true – Westgale is a big city, and I’d wager every human from here to it knows some way of getting there. Nothing else in the bag, though you can keep the pouch.”

Ardwen accepted it with a curt nod, “I will return all of this should I live.”

The other Elf merely smiled, but his smile was tinged with sadness, “I’m not counting on it, which is why you’re getting nothing fancy – we don’t have resources to waste on suicide missions.” The guard ushered Ardwen through the gate, bid him good luck, and went back in side. The resounding echo of the gate closing and the bolt being rendone quickly left the air, and Ardwen was on his own.

With a brief look at his map, and after spinning the compass around a few times he took his first few steps toward his final destination. “Ariana.” He spoke to the night wind, and then all words failed him.

Written by - Teran

"We sort them" Teran offers her a handful of herbs (A very small amount compared to what was left in his lap).

He began sorting the herbs with practiced ease and after about five minutes he had three neat piles stacked on top of his cloak which he had spread out across the ground.

"After we sort them, we dry them."

He pulls what appears to be a simple pouch off of his belt and begins putting his herbs inside individually. Two things seemed odd about the pouch, first it did not seem to grow as he filled it to what should have been its capacity. The second was that a moment after Teran closed the pouch he opened it and began removing the herbs but now they were dry and brittle. He stacked the dry herbs where they had once been and began filling the pouch with the next pile. Once he had dried all his herbs he handed the pouch to Mavigan and indicates that she should try it for herself.

"I am surprised you applied yourself so enthusiastically to gathering these materials." he says with a thin smile "perhaps you have earned two questions."

He removes a mortar and pestle from his pack and begins grinding his dried herbs into powder.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

Erruno helped the young priestess to the door, where two initiates where waiting to take her back to the Temple to rest. With a deep sigh of relief, he bid her farewell and thanked her again before closing the oaken door and walking quickly back to the small stool beside Lucant's cot. Sitting down with a grunt, he looked over at Lucant's still battered body. He did look better, Erruno, thought; at least he would make it through the night. Another weak cry of "Tempyst..." escaped his lips as he lay there. It then suddenly dawned on Erruno that she was no where to be found. He remembered the two of the locked in each other's arms just before departing for Minas Aure. Surely, he thought, she would want to be here at his side. "Hey, you three... go down the Sacred Grove place all the druids are at... ask around for a girl named Tempyst." Doram immediately stood up and replied "Yes captain." The others quickly followed him out the door. Looking over at Lucant again, he thought of the two young lovers, and said to him "You can't die just yet kiddo, you've got too much to live for."

Lucant, however, was reliving his experiences of the past few days, both pleasant and terrible.

First, he remembered the horror and carnage he had seen at Minas Aure - impaling an orc on A'lanthear, Lienad being thrown like a rag doll against the citadel walls, Kaya's hideous transformation, and the one memory he wished he didn't have... Tirigil's sacrifice.

Then his thoughts changed to those of his home in Almurad; the day his father had dropped dead in his tracks at the lord's manor; the grief and sorrow that consumed his mother for two years before taking her as well; the day the magistrate's tax men stole his whole world from him.

Then he found himself at the doorstep of his oldest and dearest friend, the one familiar thing in an increasingly unfamiliar world. She wasn't the same person either, though. For better or worse, Lucant knew his life would never be the same again.

Then came an unfamiliar, altogether strange expereince. He found himself standing in a vast snowy field surrounded by snow capped trees. He was holding a great sword that, while entirely unfamiliar, felt like an extension of himself. A terrible piercing howl shot forth from the forest as an enormous black skinned monster charged forth at him. He raised the sword to block the monster's falling claw. As it came down, darkness engulfed him.

Thankfully, his next memories were more pleasant: first he was under the massive tree at the stables again, just before he had departed for Minas Aure, locked in Tempyst's arms. Then he thought of the night the two of them had spent together, then of their wedding and soul-binding. Finally he thought of when he had waited for her at the massive oak in the citadel's park.

He wanted to stay with these memories, these happy experiences forever, but the darkness overtook him once more.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen

Life offers happiness… fulfillment… peace. Fate however, offers glory, eternal greatness, and the knowledge that you made a difference in the world. It is ironic then, that Fate is also the one who snatches everything that she offers away time and time again. And when Life turns away from those who turned to Fate, what does that leave left for that poor soul?

Revenge, anger, hate, all the dark emotions that a moral society tells us to keep away from; such emotions are the fuel of those who have nothing left. Such a one was the young girl who sat on an ornately carved throne. Inside a bleak, stone fortress Kiradia Afirewen spoke to a large gathering of men and women within the Fortress’ receiving hall.

“Brothers and Sisters, I welcome you to your new home. In the coming months we will be beginning a new way of life for this region. Forging a new empire that will make this land prosperous again, you all have seen the devastation that has near destroyed this land.”

Looking over the crowd as she paused she saw in more than one persons eye the spark of glory. These people are afraid for their life, and are willing to believe in something more than themselves.

“But I say that this plague does not need to continue, I have seen visions, visions of a wondrous and glorious city erected around this very fortress. A place of happiness and eternal greatness. It is within our reach and I ask that all of you join me in making it a reality.”

Kiradia knew she had won the crowd over with that last little lie of hers. Oh, there would be glory to be sure, but not the kind they expected. No, the only glory to be found would be a pyre of burning corpses, given up to the Dragon and the end of all things, such that even the ideas of life were no more.

However, the people did not know what dark thoughts coursed through Kiradia’s mind, and they cheered her, believing she would deliver them from the horrors they had witnessed these past weeks*.

In the few weeks sense Kiradia’s spell had begun, the land for miles around had become wild. Untamed forests sprouted almost faster than people could cut them down; the animals became more and more ferocious.

Looking over the crowd again, Kiradia asked a question, “Who among you is strong enough to see this dream through? Who among would be willing to walk through fire, and death, and suffering?”

A hush came over the crowd as people stopped cheering, before they had not understood what it would take, the sacrifices that would be asked of them. They thought only of the moment, and not of the hard future. But now Kiradia brought those thoughts to the front, and waited for one to answer her question.

****

Kiradia is atcually a few weeks behind the rest of the thread right now.

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

“Who among you is strong enough to see this dream through? Who among would be willing to walk through fire, and death, and suffering," the young girl asked in a strong, steady voice.

Alarin looked around and saw his friends and family filled with a new strength. For once, they were not afraid of the creeping darkness that had infected their lands. Kiradia had offered them strength, protection, courage, and most of all, purpose.

He stepped forth and knelt down before Kiradia. "I will my Lady. I will suffer any pain to save this land and her people. Allow me to be your sword and your shield, my Lady. I swear to serve you well."

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan sat cross-legged on the ground and watched with keen eyes as Teran shifted the herbs around. Secretly, she preened under his praise, oddly happy she had pleased him, but she carefully guarded this response, not wanting to tip Teran off about her glee.

As she watched him deftly sort herbs, his motions tugged at some fragment of memory. Chasing it, she realized that his attention to detail and the respectful way in which he handled the plants reminded her of the many gardeners at the Castle. The Ancoran gardens were quite extensive requiring year-round care. As a child, she would often approach one gardener or another begging for the chance to help him or her dig in the dirt. The care with which they handled plants, the nimbleness of their fingers as they pulled weeds from the earth, and the swiftness with which they managed to harvest good plants from bad all seemed to be replicated before her very eyes in Teran. She idly wondered if he had a garden he tended at home, assuming he had a home.

Putting idle speculations aside, she mimicked his actions, quickly sorting the small pile he had handed her, and then drying them in the magical pouch. It really was a nifty little gadget, she thought. The uses for such a thing out in the wilderness were innumerable, and she wondered if it could dry meat as fast as it did herbs. If it belonged to anyone but Teran, she would certainly be tempted to steal it.

Alas, the pouch did belong to Teran, and Mavigan reluctantly handed it back to him after drying her own pile of herbs. As she waited for her chance to grind the herbs to powder, she contemplated asking him a question. After all, she now had two and it still didn’t seem fair that he knew so much about her, but she knew practically nothing about him. Deciding to take a chance, she asked, “So how old are you really?”

Written by - Archeantus

Cold rain pelted a lone figure on the muddy road to Ancora. The air was crisp and cool, the dark grey clouds that loomed far overhead, as far as the eye could see, seemed to come down and touch the earth, creating a white mist across the sweeping countryside. It was still there on the road, silent except for the rain’s soft pattering. The figure was alone, walking slowly along the street, a long stave in its firm hand. Far beyond those mists, through the grey gloom, Archeantus paused in his march to lift his head toward the dark looming silhouette of Ancora through the vapor. He lifted his free arm to pull his hood from his face. The old grey cloth that was wrapped around his eyes began to take in the rain. Though he could not see Ancora’s walls, he stood there in the rain, his face firmly directed toward it’s spires, it’s massive walls, it’s people. The small glowing ember that hovered sporadically around him seemed to fly about more energetically.

“We are near?” He asked out loud, his voice was tired, raspy, but hopeful. A long wait had finally come to an end.

He seemed to receive an answer; his lips formed a slight smile. The ember fluttered inches away from the graying wet hairs of the old warlock, and began to fly around in excited twists and dives around his feet.

“Patience my friend.” He said with a chuckle. “My feet can only travel so fast.”

The ember flew up to head level and cycled around his stave.

“No, my powers are not be used for my own gain.”

The ember seemed to drop slightly in altitude and then spin about in every possible way as if in exasperation. It then shot up in the air as if to see Ancora’s spires better.

A creased smile was on Archeantus’ lips now as he again walked forward through the rain.

*****

It wasn’t long until he found himself standing upon the large cobbled road that led directly up toward the two massive wooden doors of Westgale. Upon the wooden doors was a large ornate bronzed symbol of a candle encircled in steel. The symbol, its meaning emblazed yet forgotten to those who now inhabited it's walls for it appeared so old, ancient even, it seemed to blend in with the damp wood of the large doors. The doors were closed; the city was no longer open to those who had a will to enter. He paused again, his head bowed slightly. The two guards watched the lone man from the entrance. Soon they found themselves looking at one another as the man continued to stand there for a long while in the rain.

Finally one of them spoke up, calling out, “Hey, you there! Be on your way, the city is closed by order of King Beridane.”

The other guard, following his friend’s lead, called out, “Move on, or we’ll be forced to tax you.” A sickly grin appeared on the guard’s face as he pulled his sword from its sheath.

The man, at the sound of the guard’s voice, lifted his head and directed it toward the two guards. The man’s sightless gaze quickly unnerved them, and then the man’s head seemed to shake as if in shame of the comments. Not another moment passed and the man suddenly flew into the air through the rain, a slight glow emanating around the man’s head, and over the towering walls, disappearing into the fog.

The two guards stood there, and blinked, forgetting they had ever seen him.

Written by - Archeantus

Cold rain pelted a lone figure on the muddy road to Ancora. The air was crisp and cool, the dark grey clouds that loomed far overhead, as far as the eye could see, seemed to come down and touch the earth, creating a white mist across the sweeping countryside. It was still there on the road, silent except for the rain’s soft pattering. The figure was alone, walking slowly along the street, a long stave in its firm hand. Far beyond those mists, through the grey gloom, Archeantus paused in his march to lift his head toward the dark looming silhouette of Ancora through the vapor. He lifted his free arm to pull his hood from his face. The old grey cloth that was wrapped around his eyes began to take in the rain. Though he could not see Ancora’s walls, he stood there in the rain, his face firmly directed toward it’s spires, it’s massive walls, it’s people. The small glowing ember that hovered sporadically around him seemed to fly about more energetically.

“We are near?” He asked out loud, his voice was tired, raspy, but hopeful. A long wait had finally come to an end.

He seemed to receive an answer; his lips formed a slight smile. The ember fluttered inches away from the graying wet hairs of the old warlock, and began to fly around in excited twists and dives around his feet.

“Patience my friend.” He said with a chuckle. “My feet can only travel so fast.”

The ember flew up to head level and cycled around his stave.

“No, my powers are not be used for my own gain.”

The ember seemed to drop slightly in altitude and then spin about in every possible way as if in exasperation. It then shot up in the air as if to see Ancora’s spires better.

A creased smile was on Archeantus’ lips now as he again walked forward through the rain.

*****

It wasn’t long until he found himself standing upon the large cobbled road that led directly up toward the two massive wooden doors of Westgale. Upon the wooden doors was a large ornate bronzed symbol of a candle encircled in steel. The symbol, its meaning emblazed yet forgotten to those who now inhabited it's walls for it appeared so old, ancient even, it seemed to blend in with the damp wood of the large doors. The doors were closed; the city was no longer open to those who had a will to enter. He paused again, his head bowed slightly. The two guards watched the lone man from the entrance. Soon they found themselves looking at one another as the man continued to stand there for a long while in the rain.

Finally one of them spoke up, calling out, “Hey, you there! Be on your way, the city is closed by order of King Beridane.”

The other guard, following his friend’s lead, called out, “Move on, or we’ll be forced to tax you.” A sickly grin appeared on the guard’s face as he pulled his sword from its sheath.

The man, at the sound of the guard’s voice, lifted his head and directed it toward the two guards. The man’s sightless gaze quickly unnerved them, and then the man’s head seemed to shake as if in shame of the comments. Not another moment passed and the man suddenly flew into the air through the rain, a slight glow emanating around the man’s head, and over the towering walls, disappearing into the fog.

The two guards stood there, and blinked, forgetting they had ever seen him.

Written by - Teran

The assassin continued to grind his herbs for a moment seemingly considering Mavigan's question. He handed the mortar and pestle to her once he had finished and waited for her to start before answering.

"Ninety-three years have I wandered these lands." he answered with a grin "If you wish me to appear younger you need only ask."

As he spoke he mixed all three powders together into a single pile and withdrew a vial from from a pouch on his belt. It had the consistancy of water but was a sickly gray color.

He poured about a fifth of his vial into a second vial and funneled the powder into the second vial. The gray fluid seemed to dissolve the powder very quickly. Within a minute the vial was filled with a bronze colored liquid that was much thicker than water (almost like tree sap).

Teran pulled a second vial of the gray fluid out of his belt pouch and offered it to Mavigan.

"I have taught you half of this poisons recipe, if you remain trustworthy I will teach you how to make this fluid. Until then, this is yours. Use just enough when you make this poison and it could last you a year or two."

He will watch her repeat his actions making sure she does everything correctly.

Written by - Ardwen

It had started to rain. A slight drizzle, just enough to dampen the air and darken the mood of a solitary Elf as he trudged north. At least, he assumed it was north, or rather, northwest. It was some direction anyhow. The warrior muttered to himself as he pulled his cloak’s hood over his head to shield off the rain tapping the world softly around him.

He had not paused since departing from the Citadel, even while checking his bearings he kept his legs moving, knowing that every step brought him closer to Ancora, closer to her. That was all that mattered to Ardwen, all that could possibly matter. But, he was alone, and while the gathering darkness of night presented no difficulty to his Elven eyes, nothing could dispel the gathering darkness in his heart and soul.

He had been betrayed, and yet he himself was a traitor. Every painful thought turned to Ariana, every tormented question was directed at how to meet her, how to save her. Ardwen had no answers, and the heaviness in his heart told him there were no answers. Still the Elf’s feet pressed on, one heavy metal-clad step after the other. The ground became wet, and soon his footprints could be seen in the soft soil. Ardwen was not certain if he was on a minor road or merely a convenient stretch that lacked trees and undergrowth, the only thing he knew was northwest, always northwest.

A sudden gust of wind snatched at his hood and nearly peeled it from his head, cursing he raised a hand to yank it back into place, his feet did not pause. A loud snap resounded from underneath his feet, a twig cried out with protest as it broke under his weight, Ardwen paid it no heed. His thoughts turned again to Ariana, he saw her so clearly as she once was: the indomitable Abbess who had helped pull his life from the wreckage of a fallen empire. He had sold his services as a mercenary after Kierhaven fell: Kingscross, Khar, all the filthy freeholds had their share of sellswords, men and women who were desperate for coin.

Escorting fat merchants, assassinating people he did not even know the name of, fighting in other men’s armies – he had done it all. And he had spent it all on alcohol and prize fighting. He had not cared to do anything else, or to make anything else of himself. He had seen the death of the empire and the culling of his beloved people, and he felt that the noble death that should have been his had been stolen by the Turning. The Hands of Providence had changed all of that.

But in the end, when they had needed him most, he had failed him. Failed them, and as a consequence damned everything he had loved. Ardwen placed his forearm across a tree, he rested his forehead against the cool, moist metal plates of his armor. He had stopped walking; stopped moving forward. He knew what to say to Ariana now, knew what he had to say, and so he muttered the words to the apathetic air and uncaring wood in front of him, “Ariana,” he choked out, his voice and throat tight and high with pain, “It’s all my fault.” Slowly he pushed himself from the tree’s trunk and continued his lonely journey. He was not sure if the water on his face was from tears or rain.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan accepted the mortar and pestle and began to vigorously grind her herbs. Certainly her touch was not as exact or measured as her tutor’s, but she what she lacked in deftness and experience, she more than made up for in enthusiasm. Much like the bushes and trees before them, these herbs stood not a chance against her stone weapons.

So engrossed in pulverizing her herbs to powder, she almost missed Teran’s quiet reply to her inquiry.

"Ninety-three years have I wandered these lands,” said Teran.

Mavigan suddenly went still, half wondering if her ears had deceived her.

"If you wish me to appear younger you need only ask, Teran added.

The nonchalant delivery of this comment caused Mavigan’s whole body to jerk. She eyed him with deep distrust and suspicion, certain he has having some joke at her expense. He couldn’t be 93 years old because that would just be… EWWWW. Besides, weren’t most people that age stooped, wrinkled, and missing many teeth? Teran did not appear to be grizzled, walked tall, and had no obvious gaps in his mouth where teeth should be.

She knew that Elves and Dwarves aged differently from everyone else. Ithramir could be (and likely was) as old as dirt (which certainly explained his disposition), but he still looked to be just over prime. Hell, her Mother was in the hundreds before she married her Dad. But Teran did not have any points on his ears, and he certainly wasn’t short and bearded.

But then again, if he could change his appearance at will, then he could look however he wished. He could look like Father Ag, or have two-heads and tentacles, or be the most wrinkled person on the planet, and Mavigan would never know unless he wanted her to.

The thought shook her more than a little, and she scooted away from him a little bit, putting some reassuring distance between them.

Really not liking her train of thought, she reapplied herself with even more vigor to the task at hand. And when he showed her how much of the mysterious liquid to use to make the poison, she paid close attention. Old people were supposed to have lots of knowledge after all.

The thought made her crack a grin as the absurdity of the situation washed over her. Somehow, she managed to keep a lid on the giggles that were threatening to bubble up and successfully finish the lesson: carefully applying the right amount of the liquid to powder and gazing in awe at her creation.

She had many questions: What was the name of this poison? How potent was it? How much would be required to be lethal? What was the best way to administer it? How long would it take a victim to die? Was there an antidote?

None of the questions made it past her lips, however. When Teran, a man who was anything BUT trustworthy, who could change his appearance at will (though she wasn’t entirely convinced of this), refused to share anything about himself, stayed in the shadows most of the time, and was undoubtedly a thief and assassin, stated that she had to prove HERSELF trustworthy, the laughter that she had been trying to hold in erupted.

Through mighty guffaws that brought tears to her eyes and stitches to her sides, she managed to blurt out, “You’re funny!”

Written by - Tempyst

Trinni was overjoyed to see Renalis stirring, but she sure couldn't let them know it. You're both alive! Alive! Don't do th-that again, Isuiln! Ya here me? Never ever ever again! You wait for me, are you listening?!" She hugged him tightly then let him lead her to wherever. Once they got inside, she could smell the wonderful aroma of food. She stopped for a moment, closed her eyes and inhaled the marvelous scent.

Then she felt Isuiln lean close to her and whisper softly in her ear. "I'll wait for you as long as you want me to."

She stood still, his words making her feel very strange, just like his kiss had done. Taking a deep breath, she opens her eyes and turns to the handsome, Wow, when did he get to be so cute...no...stop that, I don't care about....do I... "Well, uhm, you better or there won't be a next time of me waiting over your dead body again!" She stumbled on her words, not knowing if she made any sense or not. Then she sniffed again and wrinkled her nose at the elf. "Uhm, you need a bath. You have blood and orc guts all over you and I don't think the others would find it very nice to be eating when you smell so rank!" She looked down at her own clothes. "I guess I need one too. So, okay then." Trinni took Isuiln's hand and shook it vigorously. "I'm going to go clean up, uhm..." She looked a bit unsure of what to saw, part of her wanting to give him a hug and kiss again, the other part wanting to punch him in the arm. Then her eyes got their mischevious glint back in them. "Race you! First one back to the dining hall wins!" She turned and took off, leaving Isuiln in the dust.

Trinni ran quickly to her room and just as quickly, washed up and changed into a new set of clothes. After making sure all her weapons and everything was back in their place she started towards the door. Then she stopped and pouted.I bet they won't want any weapons at dinner. I seem to remember them frowning at that. Hmm, well, I can leave my bow and sword, but they won't see my dagger so that I will take. After re-arranging her weapons, making sure her dagger was well hidden in her boot and the others laying safely on her bed, Trinni dashed out the door and headed towards the sounds of merryment and rich smells of fresh food.

She walked around the edges a bit, looking out for Isuiln. HAH, I win! Wait, but what did I win? Trinni wrinkled her nose again. Then she saw Isuiln walk in, but instead of running up to him (which is what she felt like doing), she backed away, hiding herself in the crowd, watching him. Then the bardds began to play *Round the Town*, one of her favorite songs. But still she kept back, watching everyone else, and not sure why. Then she found the food table and like a starving child began to find all of her favorite treats. She had just popped a cream puff into her mouth when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned, mouth full, a bit of cream on her chin, to see Isuiln standing there, grinning from ear to ear. She smiled and without thinking, took the creampuff that was in her other hand and brought it up to let Isuiln taste. But as he opened his mouth, she made a quick move and dobbed the cream onto his nose. Seeing him there, with a big ole dollop of cream on his nose made her double up with laughter.

Then, everything went silent and Trinni quickly quieted her giggles. She, along with everyone else, turned towards the center of the dancefloor, in time to see Turin get down on one knee and propose to Lithwyn. Wow! I wonder how big the wedding cake will be? She thought as she awaited Lithwyn's answer.

Written by - Ariana

Two sets of eyes peered into the gloom just beyond the cell door.

“See? It is just like I told you, Delrus” the smaller fellow whispered. “I put the food in her cell, and she doesn’t touch it.”

“Hmm,” said Delrus, a bigger and much hairy fellow than his partner. “Well, Pete, if she wastes away to nothingness we won’t be able to get a ransom for her.”

Pete edged up on his tiptoes to get a better look at the prisoner inside. “I know, Delrus! I’ve tried everything! I even tried to spoon feed her like my Mum used to do ta me!”

Stepping back from the door, he held up his hand in front of his partner, his fingers clenched around an imaginary spoon. “Here comes the galloping horse! Let’s open the barn door!” he shouted and then rushed the imaginary spoon towards Delrus’s mouth.

Delrus frowned and tugged at his bushy beard, a gesture he always made when deep in thought. “And that didn’t work?” he asked Pete.

Pete shook his head. “She didn’t even so much as bat an eyelash at me.” Pete inched closer to Delrus, dropping his voice. “Its unnerving how she sits there staring at nothing all day. Looking into her blank eyes is enough to make me wonder whether or not I’m really here!”

Delrus responded with a thwack upside Pete’s head with a meaty hand. “Don’t be stupid, Pete. Did you mail the ransom note?”

Pete raised a sheepish hand and rubbed the back of his head. “Yes. To Wilhelm at the Temple of Tinorb,” he said in recitation. “We have yer Priestess. If’n ye want ‘er back, bring lots of money….”

Delrus blinked at him a minute, then raised the hand and smacked Pete on the head again in the middle of his sentence. “You fool! The High Priest isn’t at the Temple!”

“I know that!” said Pete hotly. “But everyone has to check their mail!”

Delrus tugged at his beard again, and thought this over. “You’re right, of course,” he said after several minutes. “Every man has to answer his mail,” he agreed, conveniently forgetting that mail delivery in the city had completely stopped when Beridane took the throne.

“Right then,” said Delrus. “Alls we got to worry about is making sure she don’t die. And to do that we have to make her eat.”

“How will we do that?” asked Pete.

Delrus turned towards the doorway, his aura becoming menacing. “We force her,” he said bluntly, rolling up his sleeves. And with that decided, both men pushed their way into the cell, and shut the door firmly behind them.

Written by - Tempyst

Tempyst was between lessons, setting under a tree. She looked down and touched the pendent she wore, thinking about her mother and father, then remembering the words Nyrondis's spoke when she had asked why she felt connected to that elf in black, Ardwen. "As to why you feel drawn to this elf, this creature, only you know that. But my thought is, it involved this.” "How are you connected with this? Did you know my parents? Were you the one who..."

It was then Tempyst heard the anquished plea. "Ariana. It's all my fault." She did not recognize the voice, but she knew who spoke them, she felt she would know that presence anywhere. The elf in the black armor. Ardwen. She stood and placed her hand upon the bark, and felt him, as if he was just on the other side. She closed her eyes and focused, then let out a soft gasp as she could see through the veil, into the real world. She saw the darkness and the rain and saw Ardwen there, alone. Her heart went out to him, feeling his pain, feeling his anguish, though she could also feel his hatred and anger. When she had healed him on that rooftop, she felt his darkness, but she had also felt something else, a light, buried deep, but still there. She watched as Ardwen stood upright, face wet from rain and tears. As he turned to walk off into the night, Tempyst focused and reached through with her spirit and placed a comforting hand upon his shoulder.

"Momma?" Tempyst withdrew her hand, turning to face her daughter.

"Tirigil!" She smiled brightly at seeing her daughter once again. But her smile quickly turned to concern. "What is wrong my little one?" She took her daughter into her arms, her heart racing. She already knew the answer before it was said. Something had happened to Lucant.

"It's daddy, momma. He's been hurt, by demons. The taint in him is strong and eating away at his soul. He needs you momma."

Tempyst gasped, "Is he..."

"No, his body has been partially healed, but he won't last through the night. His link with Nyrondis is keeping him alive, but he needs healing, his soul is hurt." Tirigil stepped back and began to lead Tempyst towards the great oak. "I am here to lead you out. Nyrondis wants you to know that your training, for now, is complete. He will require you to stay at the citadel and sacred grove to finish your training, after you heal daddy." Tirigil kept speaking as she rushed them towards the tree. "Also, daddy is still Nyrondis' avatar, that link can never be severed, but it may take daddy a long time to accept his role in the world. You need to help him momma. Please, help him."

They reached the massive oak and Tirigil hugged her mother tightly. Tempyst hugged her daughter back, wishing she could come with her. "I love your father, with all that I am, I will wait for him and with him as long as it takes."

"Thank you momma. Now hurry. I will come for you again when it is time for more lessons." Tempyst kissed her upon the cheek and stepped into the tree. "Tell daddy I love him!" She heard Tirigil call out as the comforting void of the great oak took her in.

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