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Book Three Pt 2 - The Reckoning

Written by - Vylia Page 35 Book 3

Vylia moved to sit on the cot next to Ariana. She leaned out a bit to look her in the face, pushing the hair back out of the silent woman's face. "What did they do to you Ariana?" Vylia picked up Ariana's right hand, and clasped it between her hands. "Say something to us, please... Turin," when she turned to look at him tears were streaming down her cheeks, "Please tell me you can do something for her, I feel so useless."

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Meanwhile, back at the Citadel...............

A lone Elven ranger who had been out on routine patrol was riding hard to return to the stronghold. His mount was bathed in sweat and its breath a fog in the air. Approaching the gate captain, the ranger reined in the steed hard and dismounted. Passing the reins off to a waiting attendant to be returned to the stable, he wasted no time in explaining himself to the captain. “An hour’s hard ride west of here…humans, mostly heavy cavalry. I estimate at least several thousand.” The gate captain signaled a runner to approach before motioning for the scout to continue his report. “They were making camp for the night, and they appeared to be riding under the banner of the Ancoran Royal Guard, as well as a blue banner with a golden hawk.”

“Did you get all that?” the captain asked the runner. The young elf nodded and turned briskly, knowing to deliver this new information swiftly to Ithramir.

Not more than ten minutes had passed before the gate captain heard the sound, a deep rumbling noise that grew steadily. He lived through enough campaigns to know that sound; horsemen…a lot of them. Not knowing what to expect, the captain called to all those nearest to him to prepare themselves for the worst.

The horsemen emerged from the wood in tight formation, at least several dozen of them. They were heavily armed, wearing full plate mail and each carrying a lance, broadsword, and a heater shield with the golden hawk of their banner emblazoned on a blue background. The group rode under three banners; that of the royal Ancoran guard, the golden hawk of House Merquise, and a white flag of truce, held by the man in the center. As they approached the gate, they slowed, allowing their leader to wave the flag of truce to prevent an impulsive attack by the citadel’s many bowmen, who even now had them in their sights.

The group stopped before the gate captain and the man in the center, obviously the leader of this band, introduced himself, “Hail and well met good sir elf. My name is Dartanian Merquise of House Merquise.” Dartanian was tall and well built, with short cropped jet-black hair and fair skin. None but the most experienced of Elves would have been able to tell by his appearance that the man had at least some Elven blood running through his veins. He wore a stern expression as he spoke, “I have brought with me the Blue Knights. I have heard that the true heir to the throne, Queen Mavigan Brelonna was in hiding here, and have come to pledge my fealty. Tell me, where might she be found?”

Written by - Talonmane

"Ready?!" called the Admiral and Captain.

"....Ready?!..." echoed his 3rd mate for all to hear.

"'Ere we go, mates, this is how the 'Hammer will become an anvil! BALLAST TO STARBOARD!"

"....Ballast to Starboard!...Ballast to Starboard!..."

And Munchadin felt his soul become as melded to the pilot's wheel, his uncanny skill - not at metalsmithing or stonework or even prayer, as were his people reknowned - but at guiding a ship - this ship - in motion that dared challenge the grace of the finest dancer beneath the Elfgreen or eavesthief running flawless along a city roof. The Wavehammer responded, though battered and woodstrained, and whilst her crew laboured furiously in their orders, wonderous awe, and bottomless pride filled their tired hearts to feel the ship lift half herself from the sea, all to the will of the Captain. The great catamaran was now in Port ascension, riding the Starboard hull at flank speed, tilted out of the water as no other vessel in the history of the world. Wonderous awe, and bottomless pride.

With the Fair Sea's Call accelerating slowly, too slowly, from out' the docks, the light boat would not bend heading in time to make it clear of the traitorous danger ahead. Munchadin knew it, and every order he gave, every adjustment to the wheel, every call to tune the sails had one intent: to achieve a maneuver that would save the ancient blood of Ancora. If the timing was right, and if he knew his enemy, they'd live to make it happen. If not, he'd spend his last breath dying to make it happen.

Which of those fates would rule the next minute made itself at least partly clear, as a blinding firelight which moments before had tore from the heavens reached toward his ship.

"Hold yer positions! and HANG ON!!" The Port hull, just reaching its highest angle out of the water, exploded as the blazing piece of Hell detonated upon her. The Port sails now gone, and some mass burned away, the precarious tilt held at the Captian's touch remarkably continued as Munchadin used the change in balance to help him pull an inside turn, cutting the Wavehammer tightly toward her goal.

Munchadin held his determination though his dearest ship was half burning and heading into a crash. His crew would look to him and wonder what thoughts could their respected leader have, what made him able to do what he does? He'd always found it strange that his mind wandered at such times, especially when at the rudder.

He could clearly see the crew and passengers around him, all straining to remain standing whilst the deck was angled over 40 degrees up. On the foredeck far ahead were the Sailmaster, Brogni, and Mizzen-mates Whitefish, Fuller, Redgraft, and the new Dwarf lad whose name Munch never could peg...but he was an Ironbrow, and that was good enough for him. Up in the mainsails and perches he coulds hardly make some out as they held on for life and still guided the rigging. Near the top of the rear mainmast a small figure still watched, pointing out rope problems and urging Man and Dwarf to action and good handholds. Munch didn't have to think twice to know it was Marlie, his niece who always found her way to that basket, and knew no fear of it at all. He prayed an oath to the DwarfMother that the girl would come safely out of this, no matter the final result. On the decks the rest of the sailcrews worked, and only they, as those manning the deckweapons had been ordered below to help with the mighty ballast shift. The last of the sailors who had been manning the Port hull were half-climbing, half-tumbling over the Meso-deck that joined the halves of the catamaran, some doubling up on duties with the Starboard hull crews, a few wounded or burned and being helped belowdecks to the infirmary. First Mate Bimglin managed it all from Starboard deck center, as always his Captain's right hand Dwarf.

Back on the aftdeck around the pilot's station, mates Feburt, Casnill, Doni, Sorbhulim, and Thanduin maintained the rear rigging and aid to their Captain, with Feburt's powerful voice echoing Munch's commands through the horn that relayed the words to those below who worked the ballast rigging and sometimes, the dozens of great mangonel cannon of the ship. But the only person aboard manning a weapon at the moment was the 'Hammer's newest voyager, and land-lubbin' Ranger they picked up three months back. The Man had readied one of the light ballista turrets on the aftdeck and appeared to be waiting for any opportunity to skewer a target. Oh, how he was indeed like his old man, so thought the Captain. And with that, Munchadin could not help but be overtaken by thoughts of the day he took on this passenger, the day he made a promise and said a painful goodbye to the Kingdom's Knight Warden, and welcomed into his company the son of Talonmane.

****

{flashback to 3 months ago in the icy and rocky Twilight Steppes, home to the nomadic Barbarian clans }

Held fast after his left thrust-punch was parried and turned into a close grapple, Jagan knew what was coming as his body was forced down and around to meet the massive knee which round-housed it's way into his rightside ribcage. Bones snapped for the first time in decades, and with that came a torturous pain. But his opponent had rested his weight on his right leg to do that, and Jagan knew something had been broken in that tree-like thew in previous minutes, and the warlord groaned at his own pain, hobbled back three steps, and fell. But Jagan utterly collapsed.

"Enough!" Munchadin yelled and tried to run forward to his friend, finally ignoring what he had been told about the rules of the bloodfight, but someone kept him back. The Dwarf didn't yet know the whelp who now held him with a strength that made clear his heritage. Munch tried to toss him off, but felt no leverage in the fresh-fallen snow. "Leave me go, ye savage oaf! He's dyin' out there! Custom or no, I'll nae let one of ours come to such harm. Lemme go!" The Dwarf slipped to one knee as the more agile man maneuvered around him whilst keeping him contained. Munch had reached his limits of patience though, and knew enough tricks to pull the man down with him and into an hold braced by the power of a lifetime-sailor's arms. All around Barbarians watched. Thousands of them, from many clans, howling and chanting at times to the action of the fight. Most, it seemed to Munch, were not cheering for the Knight Warden.

"....Mun...Munch, get out...of here." Jagan's words half-coughed their way out as the blood fell streaming from his mouth and nose, his breath wheezing and strained. The state of his ribs made his heavy breathing an agony, especially as he tried to lift himself from the ground before his opponent could continue the onslaught. Glancing back, he could see that the other was rising, but was not yet in any position to keep going. "Get...my son out of here. Go, and ful...fulfill your duty on the waves. I'll live, and will meet you...on Grayshire land again...on a battlefield, and we will down the Usurper..."

"Your son? What in the blazes are ye sayin', man, you told me he was in another place, another..."

"Kildef is right ne...next to you. Take him! Show him our fight, our sea and land, our...people worth fighting and...dying fo - oh-RGH!" Allowing himself to be distracted at this, Jagan underestimated the other's remaining speed. He felt a fist land squarely into his wounded ribs and he could barely rotate with the force and bring a leg around to kick out as he fell upon his back. He connected and knocked the warlord away though probably did no extra damage. "You can't see the end of this, you...stubborn Dwarf. I need you to go! and take Kildef with you. Honour my wish. Leave and get back to help...to help her."

Munch felt the man he held tapping in surrender, and he let go, his face in disbelief at what the Barbarian was telling him.

"Captain, I am Kildef. And I'm ready to follow you to the water, and to the land my father reveres so stridently. I have a history there, I think, and I feel drawn there even now."

Munch stood and picked the other up with him, taking a long look at the Barbarian who was leaner, darker in the hair, but undoubtedly of the blood of Talonmane. They are near the same age...I still cannae believe what the big man once told me, about some event and some place that caused time and agein' to stop, and resulted in his own son nearly catching up to his years. But here he is, before me now and I still cannae believe it.. Kildef held a steady gaze despite his father taking a beating that would kill lesser men many times over, though Munch could see the fury in his eyes with each hit. Munchadin grabbed him by the arm and turned to look away. It took effort to keep walking and not look back.

He called out, "I take the promise to do as ye ask, ye bone-headed fool. But ye best know what is is ye're doin', cause the next time we meet, I dinnae wanna be starin' down at a stoney cairn. Damned Barbarians!" He spit the last words out, annoyed at the trials of the last few days and the ridiculous event going on behind him.

Just before leaving, Munchadin and Kildef would witness the coming of the goddess Prahna and her divine intervention in the battle, but neither would hear the conclusion to the historic day that would set events in motion that would effect the destiny of Ancora...and the world. Munchadin would not forget the sight of the mightiest fighter he had known, who could take on a shipload of men or an Ogre alone, beaten and wrecked, the warlord Xanders standing over him even as the goddess appeared.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan pulled her tongue back into her mouth with confusion. Where she had thought a Teran was standing, there was only empty space. Not quite sure why he would leave her behind, and more than a little miffed at being ditched, Mavigan drew her daggers and quietly made her way down the passageway.

She had a suspicion she was on the right track when she spotted a pair of feet sticking out from a bend in the tunnel. Her suspicion was confirmed when she was able to see far enough to determine that those feet were attached to a now dead guardsman.

“Awww, how sweet,” she thought. “He’s left me a trail of bodies.” Smiling to herself, she followed the macabre trail through the many bends and forks of the tunnel.

She did not know for how long she had wandered through the caves, each step squelching with the blood in her boots, but suddenly an inhuman roar echoed ripped through the passageway and bounced off the stone walls. Mavigan froze in mid-step, the hair on her arms and neck standing on end. She had no idea what monster had caused the ruckus – she only knew that it had come from a point somewhere ahead of her.

Listening for several seconds, there was no repeat of the blood-curdling sound. Suddenly fearing that Teran was facing a fearsome beast alone, her feet picked up speed, daggers at the ready. A few more twists and turns, and Mavigan found herself at the end of a long, straight tunnel. A bright light glowed coldly at the end, providing illumination for the scene before her.

Puddles of a black corrosive substance etched holes in the stone floor, while some of it made an intricate design on the wall. She idly thought the design resembled a spider web. Near one of the puddles, Mavigan noticed two black talons smoldering with heat. She did not recognize them as coming from any beast she had encountered. Thinking one of the rangers at the Citadel would be able to identify them, she kicked them around until they were cool enough to touch, then gingerly wrapped them in a piece of cloth and stuck them in her pouch. As she scooped the claws into her pouch, she saw a long smear of the same kind of substance trailing across the ground and into the light. Realizing she had no other choice, Mavigan followed.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm led his squad across the now-cleansed lair of the abomination, past the hacked body of the dead monstrosity, now freed of its captive souls, and across to a doorway on the other side. Wilhelm's tracking sense had "seen" Mavigan's party proceed down the staircase past the doorway. His party paused for a quick refreshment break and set themselves for battle in tight confines. Then they proceeded quietly down the stairs into the gloomy depths.

The passage spiraled down with many forks and branches. Fortunately, Wilhelm's trackers could easily follow the bloody footprints left by Mavigan's party. Wilhelm's tracking sense noted Mavigan's party splitting up into pairs further below. After they had descended about 80 feet the stairs stopped and there was a short hallway that lead to more stairs.

"Wait up," said Resini, I detect a magical barrier here."

Resini moved forward and pulled out a wand with a crystal tip. He pushed this forward and the wand was stopped by an unseen barrier. Muttering quietly, he passed the wand around the doorway, studied the floor, and then stepped back.

"There is a magical barrier across this doorway that appears to be keyed to a single individual, and two persons appears to have passed through, with two others descending through that other door over there. I believe this is the place mentioned by the All Father. Stand close by me."

As they stood close together, Resini withdrew from his pouch the crystal vial constaining the last of the bloody pool with its mixture of the lifesblood of hundreds of people. As he moved towards the doorway the barrier became slightly visible and showed a particular pattern in reaction to his presence. The Mage Adept then extended the vial out to the barrier, which seemed to become confused and began to alter its pattern faster and faster, until finally there was a flash and the doorway was empty. Resini stepped through without harm and tucked the vial away into his pouch.

"Fascinating. The barrier was keyed to a single lifeforce, and any individual identified as different would be denied entrance. The spell could not handle the hundreds of lifeforce traces in the vial and overloaded. Let us proceed cautiously now."

Wilhelm moved up and he and Resini led the small force down the stairs, following the ever fainter traces left by those ahead.

Written by - Talonmane

"We 'ave to eject it, Cap'n! The boys are all across...he's burnin' enough that we'll lose the ascension, an..." First Mate Bimglin's booming baritone called out to his lord over the roar of flame and wind and wave, the flapping of sail, and the palpable stress of a sea crew in war at a history-making moment. He rarely spoke, to the point where Munchadin took it very seriously when the Dwarf did. He tended to show and teach and lead the crew through acts and motions, and each word was to be prized. To get a full sentence was a treasure. Bim knew the ship, and understood as Munch himself that the fire-wracked Port hull was losing mass as pieces disintegrated or fell to the water, and the ship would soon not be able to remain tilted half off the surface. If Munch didn't end the maneuver soon, fate might end it for him, with a crashing descent ending in half the ship as nothing but a drag on the rest, and a possible real danger of pulling the Starboard hull over.

"Nae yet...he'll hold! This may be a funeral dance fer him, mate, but sure as daybreak fog off the Jedden Lighthouse, the lad will stay with her without a trip or a fall! Take heart Bim...we've raised a bonnie couple. They'll nae let us down!" Speaking of 'She' and 'He' was their way of calling the two hulls of the great cruiser, the Port bow donned by the figure of a male dwarf holding up a hammer in both hands, and on the Star, his female partner, arms outstretched, offering a bowl brimming with gold. The crew considered the ship to be a marriage of the two, and from the earliest days of her construction kept up the reference.

Bimglin stared at a his Captain and a slow smile broke across his face beaneath a heavily-furred moustache. Munch nodded, and the First Mate went and made quick rounds to each station on the top decks, pointedly encouraging Dwarf and Man. Mate Thanduin, one of two grizzled seadogs on the ship older than Munch himself, with a face that looked like it had sailed the world and fought in every port and a manner that told of his love for every moment of it, noted the exchange and result, and broke into the Mountain Wedding Song that was often used to raise these sailors hearts...

****

{flashback to 9 years ago, at the Westgale Naval Pier at the far South end of the city's docks}

"....I can promise ye, Sir, we've raised a bonnie couple, and the proud crew of the 'Hammer will nae let ye down!" Commander Munchadin could barely keep the tears from falling down from his otherwise stoney eyes, eyes not yet quite as wrinkled from journeys yet to come.

Pallanon, First Prince of Grayshire, let go a barely perceptable smile beneath his otherwise firm gaze and let go of the Dwarf's hand. He stood back and saluted the Commander and crew of the newest Cruiser of the Westgalean Navy, and they returned it in crisp unison. A bosun called the about face and all turned to watch the twin bows of the dual-hulled capital ship, where Jaedda, wife and Princess to Pallanon, gracefully - the grace of Elvish nobility - stood with a bottle of Dwarven Malt aged over 400 years raised and waiting. Off the Starboard bow was Etewen, trying so hard to strike a near mirror image of her Mother's pose. Not quite yet with the proper poise, she held, with some small amount of shaking, a bottle of the finest wine of the Shrikefeld raised just over the flowing gold pot of the Star's feminine mascot.The eldest-borne daughter of the First Couple of Westgale was just reaching the years where the unmarried crewmates of the ship tried so hard to catch her eye, but the regal girl would have none of it. Tonight would be a ball and the sons of nobles would attend...she would not spare a moment's charms for the sons of dockworkers and seamen.

"My ladies...would you do us the high honour of naming this magnificent ship, may they sail this world as our vanguard to new lands, as a hand to old allies and new friends, and our hammer to both pirate and foe..." spoke the Prince, in every measure the man they would all follow for untold years yet to come.

Munchadin choked back another emotional burst that was screaming to let itself out in a cheer.

Lady Jaedda smiled to her husband and then to her daughter on the dock 70 feet to her left, and recited the words in her bell-clear, magical voice, "In the name of Acaenyd, King, and Pallanon, Prince of Westgale and High Admiral of his Majesty's Fleet, and in the names of our great allies, the Dwarf Lords in the rocky East, we christen thee Wavehammer! May this husband and wife, joined as one, serve the crown of Ancora and explore the hidden reaches of the Seas, unwavering, together until beyond the End of Days!"

And just as mother and daughter swung back the bottles...the crash of shattering glass sundered the moment - the bottle over Etewen's head burst apart, showering her complexly-woven hair and imported finery with its sticky - and to Etewen, smelly - contents.

The Prince was the first to scan the crowd and home in on a bustle behind a stand of dock crates. Munchadin could not quite see what his Majesty must have, but his ears were acute enough to hear the muted giggles, and together, Prince and Captain shouted in frustration and anger...

"Mavigan!"
"Marlie!"

Two figures dressed like any of the typical dock folk, children it looked, the taller of them carrying what looked to be a slingshot, dashed away through the crowd with laughs and whoops, certain of their great victory today over snobbery and pretense...and, over Etewen's high attitude.

Jaedda turned to the Priest and attendents behind her and moved them to continue the ceremony: a symbolic wedding for the 'wife' and 'husband' mascots of the ship, something the yard workers and crew alike had asked for. She then went to her eldest daughter, of course, to attempt to soothe what was sure to be at this moment Etewen's greatest embarrasment, with endless tears and daggers in her eyes for her younger sibling and her Dwarven playmate. Of opposite mood, the Prince excused himself to go have a little chat with his youngest...if she could be found.

Munchadin would laugh heartily at it years later. The ceremony went by in a blur, but he and his crew cannot forget the final part of it, where the Dwarvish tradition called for a Mountain Wedding Song by the whole crew as the Wavehammer fell away from her mooring and let the Sea embrace them for the very first time.

****

{back to the present}

Rushing forward to destiny, Munchadin joined the rest following Thanduin into their honoured tune...

Step out the cavern and call this mornin'
So grab at yer picks lads, there's gold to be found!
Stout legs still make quick work of these mountains soarin'
No Giant's stolen hoard's safe from this Dwarf!

There's an unopened barrel on the top o' that hill there
So put down yer picks lads, there's thirsts to be drown'd!
Strong arms still make quick work of ugly ole Ettins
No Giant's stolen ale's safe from this Dwarf!

But there's greater treasure I know in passages dark
Oh, the daughter of Pragni - she's tickled me heart
And if I should ever come down from these mountains
I'll wave off the starry world, follow the deep-paths to her
I'll marry that bonnie girl, sure as I'm short!

Written by - Pharsalus

Ariel sat hunched on the side of a cot in a small room on the ship, shivering and wide-eyed, staring at some far-off point across the 10' room. Fear sat about her almost tangibly, an almost visible thick in the air to mix with the already heavy scent of salt and old wood. In the mind of the old priest it hung like a bad perfume; it was anything but the Ariel he knew. He fumbled with the contents of the pouch on his hip, the clinking of small vials and small bits of metal audible over the chaos outside.

"Ariel," he said with a hush in his voice. "Ariel, return to me child. Look at me." He put his earthen palm against her face and gently pulled her eyes to his own while his mind enveloped hers in every soothing, positive thought he could immediately conjure. He still fumbled in his pouch, looking down every now and again to curse and begin sifting anew.

"Do not be afraid, child. I'm..." A grin split his face as he finally found what he sought. "Ah! Here it is. I'm going to give you this - it is a sedative. It is strong enough to calm you, but not enough to render you useless. Thurin knows you'll need your wits about you before this is over!" He forced a smile and chuckle. She was so terribly delicate now, his own personal bipedal vase, and he feared she'd already begun to crack. Her progress had been great over the last several weeks; each had learned much of the other, and Pharsalus noticed long ago a striking aptitude in the young girl that now seemed distant in the face of her current state.

Feet thundered and thudded down halls outside. The priest had closed the door, not knowing if they were even supposed to be on this ship. A quick stretch of his mind revealed that others were on board, others from the Old World, others marked by powers that conjured memories of home. HE did not know if any of them realized their heritage. He himself was blessed enough to retain his memories through the passage to this new world; he did not know if anyone else had been so fortunate. He returned his sapphire gaze to the girl, who was just taking the empty vial from her lips. He continued filling her thoughts with warm things. He stood to his full height; they were now eye level as she sat on the cot.

"You must remain here while I go find the others, find answers to what is happening, and offer whatever services they would have rendered." He dug through his pouch again and removed a vial similar to that which he gave her only moments before, only smaller and more spherical, filled with an almost luminescent mix of oranges, reds, and yellows. He placed it in her palm and closed her fingers around it.

"Should trouble find you, close your eyes as tightly as you can and throw this into the ground in front of you. It will burn brilliantly - you must keep your eyes closed - and make horrible noises. Run away and hide. Wherever you are, I will find you. Of this you may rest assured."

He held her gaze for a few moments longer before smiling and turning for the door.

My Father keep her, he prayed silently as he stepped out into a narrow, dimly lit hallway. He pressed against the wall as men - sailors - came shouting and shoving down the hall, past the Dwarf, and around a corner to the left only paces to his right. Pharsalus focused, and his mind pulsed outward once....twice....three times. Each time, he took in more information from the surface thoughts of all on board. Many were garbled, not much more than noise to his untrained "ear."

Archeantus, my boy - where are you when I need you? he grumbled as he went down the hall from whence the sailors had come. There were more rooms on this ship, some of them containing his comrades. He must find Turin, find the Abbess, ensure she is safe. She lived, but her mind was blank, her memories of the Old World missing. He pushed past sailors as he ventured deeper into the belly of the ship, fighting the urge to call out her name: Ariana.

Written by - Wilhelm

The elven Gate Captain saluted the newcomers, as a portly human cleric came up to stand beside him, and said,

"Welcome, Dartanian Merquise of House Merquise to the lands of Harathod-dor and to the Citadel of Lothiel-Gadith, under the command of Ithramir Sil-Galdur and Lithwyn Ehlonna Deltheron. I am Kenthalon, Guard Captain, and this is Father Jathom, Priest of the All Father and member of Queen Mavigan Brelonna's Queen's Guard."

The priest, who had been watching intently while Dartanian spoke, bowed as well and said,

"Welcome, Dartanian Merquise of House Merquise, to the residence of Queen Mavigan Brelonna and those loyal to her who are hosted here by Commander Ithramir as allies."

Father Jathom turned and said solemnly to the guard captain,

"By the power of the All Father, I confirm that all that he says is truth."

"Thank you, Father Jathom. Loyal allies are always welcome in Lothiel-Gadith. Word has been sent to Commander Ithramir and to Sir Johann, Acting Commander of the Queen's Army, who will meet with you in the morning. Queen Mavigan, her Champion Wilhelm, and Genral Alaric are away at the moment, but Sir Johann is the Queen's Representative and Acting Commander and he can accept your pledge in her name.

Dartanian Merquise of House Merquise, since the Blue Knights have made camp for the night, we will send out provisions for them and their mounts. In the morning they may enter the Citadel, where quarters will be ready for them in the Ancoran Quarter. In the meantime, I invite yourself and your officers to refresh yourselves here before either returning to your men or entering the Citadel for the night."

Several elven rangers emerged from the guardhouse carrying stirrup cups of steaming mulled cider and trays of warm cheese biscuits, which they offered to the visitors.

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Dartanian listened intently as Kenthalon and Father Jathom spoke. So, Queen Mavigan was not at the Citadel as he had heard. Either they did not yet fully trust him, or her presence here was a part of an elaborate cover-up to throw Beridane and his minions off track. In either case, there was certainly no love here for the Usurper, and that meant he was in the right place.

When the Guard Captain had finished speaking, Dartanian called for a courier. “Inform Captain Varion we will be spending the night in Lothiel-Gadith. Tell him to expect provisions from the citadel. The elves are to be treated with the utmost respect and courtesy, they are our allies now. Have Captain Varion prepare the men at first light to enter the citadel. That is all.” The courier saluted and wheeled his horse around, riding off into the night. The order regarding the elves was unnecessary; the Blue Knights were disciplined to a fault, and no harm would befall the allies of House Merquise. Dartanian had added that part more for the benefit and peace of mind of Captain Kenthalon and his men.

Having dispatched his message, Dartanian turned his attention back to the Guard Captain and the Priest. “Thank you Captain Kenthalon for your warm welcome. My officers and I would be happy to accept your offer of hospitality for the evening. My men will arrive in the morning and take their quarters in the Ancoran district as you have said.”

Dartanian took the offered cider and cheese biscuit. Taking a long swig of the warm cider did much to refresh his mind and body after such a long, hard ride. Taking a bite of the biscuit, he was pleasantly surprised to find it was delicious, quite a change from the travel rations he had grown accustomed to since the King’s assassination, having spent much of his time since then in the field.

When he and his men had refreshed themselves, he spoke to Captain Kenthalon again, “Please convey my regards to Commander Ithramir and Lady Lithwyn. In the morning, after I have met with Sir Johann I would very much like to speak with the commander to discuss the current state of affairs. I have heard rumblings of conflict with the orcs, and I am sure there is much he would like to know concerning the conflict with Beridane the Usurper.”

Written by - Wilhelm

"Rumblings, indeed!" replied Father Jathom with a chuckle. "The orcs invaded Harathod-dor and seized two elven border forts, cutting off communication between us and the Dwarven Kingdoms to the north. An allied army of elves, humans and dwarves has just returned from driving the orcs out of one of the forts and we are soon going to drive them out of the other. Your Blue Knights will have ample opportunity to demonstrate their prowess when you join us in that assault. Many unusual things have happened so far, and I expect there will be more, but I will leave that to Sir Johann and Commander Ithramir to explain.

Now that you have broken your fast, come with me and I will show you and your officers to your quarters. These rangers will take care of your mounts and your saddlebags will be brought to your rooms."

With that Father Jathom led them to the great gates, which stood 30' tall, 3' thick, and 10' wide on each half. The gates opened smoothly before them providing a first view of the inner keep and the vast grounds of the Citadel. Guard barracks, stables, and armories could be seen at intervals along the 50' outer walls, with wide paved paths interspersed with elegant gardens and fountains.

"The spring-fed fountains and gardens, while pretty to the eye, also provide water for the barracks and edible and medicinal plants. The Citadel can withstand years of siege and has never fallen to foes. The Ancoran Quarter lies in the southern quadrant, close to the port now called Port Ancora. The Sea Elf fleet is based in that port. Tonight you will be housed in the main keep on the second floor, which is assigned to Queen Mavigan and her staff. You will find hot baths prepared and fresh nightclothes laid out. The elves are noted for their hospitality to friends. If you have any further needs, just ask any of the servants."

Written by - Dartanian Merquise

Dartanian and his group dismounted, handing off their mounts to the awaiting elves. Dartanian listened to Father Jathom give his assessment of the situation as they were led into the citadel proper. Taking everything in, he saw that Fathom Jathom wasn’t lying when he said Lothiel-Gadith could hold its own against an invader for a very long time. Its sheer size alone dwarfed Castle Merquise. Dartanian mused that perhaps it should be the elves of Lothiel-Gadith coming to reinforce him against the growing number of emboldened Nobles who had sided with Beridane, and not the other way around. The thought quickly flew from his mind however; he had left his land in good hands, his men were loyal to him and to the old King, and would hold out until he was able to return. Besides, after what they had done to the Baron Hayner, none would be very keen on moving against them for some time.

Thanking Father Jathom once more, Dartanian and his men were led to their chambers in the main keep. Before the men dispersed to their adjacent rooms for the night, Dartanian asked that a servant wake him upon the arrival of Captain Varion and his men in the morning, and also that he be alerted thereafter when Sir Johann was ready to receive him. Upon entering his room, he saw that indeed a hot bath and his belongs were waiting for him, along with a fresh change of nightclothes.

His first thought was the bath. In some way, it was a blessing that the Queen had not been present, as he would hate to present himself to his new monarch with the sweat and grime of hard travel still upon him. He didn’t know what to expect from the young queen, but if she was anything like her father, such a disheveled appearance would earn him little respect. Dartanian’s father Robert had always stressed the necessity of the pomp and circumstance of the court, and Dartanian wished to make a good first impression. Stripping off his armor, he laid each piece of plate neatly in the corner of the small room. Next came his padded riding clothes. Taking a deep breath, he stood in the middle of the room, stark naked, allowing the cool breeze blowing through the window to cool his body. Finally the signet ring.

He gazed down at the ring adorning his right hand; a solid gold band supporting a blue gemstone, upon which was set the house seal, a golden hawk. He continued to stare at the ring as he thought back to how it had come into his possession, and how strange it felt to wear his father’s ring. The mantle of authority had fallen to him only a few short weeks before, and by all accounts he had risen to the challenge, soundly defeating the Baron Hayner and his House. Yet it still felt strange, as if his father should be returning any minute from some far off campaign, thank Dartanian for his service during his absence, and reassume control as Count Robert Merquise. Dartanian was indeed the youngest in the history of the House to assume command. He was only 26 years old, far too young he thought to be the Count. Alas, there was little he could do about that now. All he could do was lead his house as best he could. He whispered a prayer to the All-Father that he was leading them down the right path in coming to Lothiel-Gadith.

Snapping out of his thoughts, he swiftly removed the ring and placed it on the nearby table. Slipping into the bath, he allowed the hot water to wash away the grime from his body. He hadn’t had a proper bath in some time, and he allowed himself to soak in the invigorating heat of the water. After he finished washing, Dartanian changed into the provided nightclothes and slipped into bed, falling into a deep sleep almost instantaneously.

Written by - Agmund

“That had to be the finest batch of cobbler you have ever made!” he chuckled and wrapped one arm around her. “I never tire of your compliments,” she replied, looking up into the moonlit sky.

“The stars are particularly bright this evening…. You know what?” he suddenly turns to her and smiles. “This night reminds me of the first night we camped out on the Plains of Falerion… “ His voice trails off, and his brows furrow in deep thought.

“Why am I here?” he lifted his hand and eyed it curiously. It was the hand of an old man, yet the girl beside him was young. His vision passed beyond his hand to reveal he was upon the Plains of Falerion. “You’re dreaming you old fool,” he thought to himself, but just then she replied, “to become whole again.”

“How long have I been here?” he said simply, to which she responded “long enough to remember what it is you fought for. Long enough to remember the man you were and still are,” she continued, “and long enough to grow fat on my cobbler.” Her hand gingerly patted his belly.

“Just how long is that” he grins back at her. “What!” she declares, “you think your spry enough to try and chase me around this hill again!” He stops a moment and ponders, grinning at her before his lips curve into a soft smile. “I wish it were that I could stay, but you know…” her head slowly nods to side to side, and she cuts him off “don’t explain yourself to me, please…” she pauses to compose her thoughts, pressing her finger to his lips.

“I am at peace here, and I await you with loving arms” she explains to him “There will be a day in the future when your tasks are complete, and then we will have all eternity… but until then I will watch over you and wait with patience.” With that said she rests her head against his chest.

“I think I shall take up reading when I return,” he whispers softly to her “and take a lot of naps” he adds. “What about fishing?” she says lightly back at him. “Taking naps by the river sounds nice as well,” he says as he closes his eyes and drifts off too sleep.

Written by - Talonmane

{flashback to 5 years ago - a 7-ship squadron led by the Wavehammer is stopped while inbound in the Straight of Gha'd'lese by a tax convoy fronted by the Diabolene Consortium, who at the time were claiming the Straight against the Treaty of Coral Garden which bound 5 seafaring empires (Grayshire included) to unfettered freedom across the only Western sealane into and out of the Inland Ocean.}

Captain Munchadin stormed across the gangplank, which bobbed up and down and creaked toward snapping as he descended to the flat deck of the wide barge. His own catamaran cruiser towered over these Diabolene cargo haulers, and many observing wondered how even a seasoned sea veteran such as this Dwarf could move at such a gait with just one good leg down a thin rail of wood at that steep angle. Particularly since the waters were not calm. It was mid-summer, when the storms coming down to the Southern rim of the great Circle Continental would whip up the madness of sky god and ocean demon alike. It was cold for Summer, and the wind was wet with more water than could be just called humid but not quite enough to be called rain...but it felt like that was coming.

Most of the barge was bulging with cargo, and on the only clear deck space sat an olive-skinned, mustachioed, fop of a merchant, with wide-brimmed and feathered hat, opulent clothing too effeminate to the eyes of any fightin' Dwarf, who twirled one long end of his lip whiskers amoung fingers too manicured for any sailor, and who tapped impatiently on the butt of a fancy rapier too weak to puncture a fairy's nightshirt, or so thought the dour Captain.

"Oh, do try to take it in stride, Commander. Let not your fragile bearded ego be troubled. Greater seamen have bowed on the deck of the Profinestra...and, before me, for that matter."

Munch strode up to the chair and sneered, "That's Captain to you, ye barnacle! I stopped 'cause I dunnae have the time nor the ammo to send you all to the bottom o' the drink. What in the blazes are ye tryin' to do? Ye've got prime contracts...Prime! Half the Elven trade is yours. No one came out of the treaty in as good a spot as the Consortium. Grayshire gave up alot in that shelakin' of a deal. An' ye could'na even wait fer us to lay poor Acaenyd to rest, may the Father bless his royal soul. Ye manipulated events and forced us all t'the bargainin' table at a bad time, most of us just comin' outta war! You got what you wanted, but that's nae good enough fer ya, is it......lassie?" Munch thought about holding that barb back, but 'Viscount' Tobraine had pushed too many buttons today. Over 400 barges crowded the Straight at its narrowest deeping point, the Slip of Gha'd. While the closest land was over 15 miles out to either side, only 4 miles of water deep enough and safe enough to let ships through at this time of year and it was easily blockaded by large fleets. Numbers of tall seamounts just beneath the surface made the Slip quite dangerous, but it was better than shoring ones self in the shallows.

The merchant ships could pose no normal military threat to the 'Hammer and her three frigate escorts, but the three heavy trade galleons that they guarded were vulnerable, and there were so many of the Diaboles that the larger vessels would be quickly surrounded and boarded if they tried to cross the Slip. Munch figured he could still muscle his way through, but the incident would not be worth the political and economic fallout that Tobraine could bring to bare upon House Ancora at the present time while Pallanon was still new upon the throne and the West still recovering from the war. And the slimy eel knows it too...he has the upper hand and has no compunctions about playin' those cards. He knows, Treaty or not, if Grayshire doesn't give in to a few of these little 'confiscations' in the Straight, the Consortium might end our access to the richest trade ports in the Far West. Munch grinded his teeth hard as he stared down the fop.

But we knew this was comin'. I just hope our special surprise gets here before I blow me top and do us all nae good.

Tobraine played with the rapier absent-mindedly, looking the other way nonchalantly. "Oh, you could always have fought your way through us, isn't that right, my good Dwarf?" He stood and sheathed the weapon in a graceful motion that told there was indeed more to this man than first glance would reveal. "Us and our - how have I heard you say it - our 'sissy little ships'. But I know you're too close, too loyal, to that new princely King of yours to do anything foolish. And as for our fine trading vessels, you would be wise to remember that wealth buys advantage. You have no idea, standing there on your pathetic fake leg, of what capability my 400 ships hide. For all you know we could assault Westgale itself."

Munch rolled his eyes and stood his ground."Get to the point, nancy. I'll nae stand here all day tradin' compliments with ye, no matter how much ye enjoy it. What's the price?" As he got down to business, he noticed a bit of a commotion to aft. He glanced over his shoulder at his First Mate looking down from the rail of the 'Hammer, at this time a man of the Shrike called Evan Yardley. He could see his men carefully moving to make preparations to get under way at a monment's notice, and Yardley made the finger signal that told Munch what he needed to know.

"Price? Oh, my dear Comman-...forgive me...Captain. My dear Captain, the trinkets and baubbles in the holds of those clumsy galleons hold no fascination for me. No, I think it is something else you'll need to do for us today. You see, there is this Elvish fortress I've come to know of, some pretentious point-eared name...what was it? Ah, of course:'The Citadel'." The man shook his head as though tasting something sour as he said it. "Some associates of ours woul-" The Viscount was interrupted then by the captain of the barge, who was pointing South and breaking out in a sweat as he whispered the situation to his lord. "What? Imbecile! You know what to do, now move, you oaf!"

Munchadin saw that as his moment. "Sorry to be so short about it - in a manner of speakin' - but it seems we have some 'associates' as well, though they're a bit cross with us at the moment!" And with that, a long wooden crane arm normally used for loading cargo into the cruiser curved out from the ship and down over Munch's head. He leaped for it, and with one hand grabbed hold of its rope as it lifted him up and away to the fore of his ship. "Haha!" He laughed heartily and for good measure, drew his cutlass and shook it in the direction of the fop. He got his footing, his pegleg on a deck box and his good foot on the railing, looking like a pirate victorious. "The Atlans'll be happy to help ye with yer fine cargo, mate! An they're not known fer bein able to tell the difference 'tween the loot and someone's hide...so you might want to start paddlin'!"

The crew of the Wavehammer was swinging into motion, as were those on the other Westgalean ships. There was enough wind to get moving, but Tobraine's boats weren't breaking and scattering as Munch had hoped, and in fact they were closing ranks on the big ships and trying to pin them in tighter. This should'na be...these squid-bait, scurvey banana salesmen ought to be turnin' tail and fleein' like there's death climbin' their wakes. Munch grabbed onto the closest rigging and pulled himself up high enough to look beyond the high aft deck. Sure enough, the Slip was filling with the primative oarboats and skelns colored in seaweed greens. The Atland Goblins were right on time.

That damned Barbarian was right...a few hints here and there to the right shoremen in the wrong bars and word would get back to the lowest of the low. Two weeks earlier they had left the Knight Warden, Talonmane, and a contingent of diplomats and trade leaders and a Warden escort at Chrisanthida, capital of the Bl'Shorn Hegemony. Before leaving they discussed strategy, for they knew the Consortium was likely to try something. So they hatched a plan to lure the Atland Goblins out of their islands and into the Sraight of Gha'd'lese. They'd plant a rumour of a cargo that the seagreenskins could not pass up. They'd stay just ahead of the Goblin pursuers, but close enough that the Gobos would be just as much a threat to the Diabolese if they did try anything funny on the 'Hammer's journey through the Slip.

The goblins came in small boats numbering at least as many as Tobraine's fleet.. They could be heard screaming and yelping and swearing as they closed. So, Tobraine has his men trained after all. And here I thought we'd be leaving them to the Atlands! They've got more courage than I thought... "Alright boys," Munch called to his crew as he jumped back on deck. "Looks like we're stayin' fer a while. They're pinning us in and seem ready to stand and fight the Greens. We'll figure another way out soon enough. Ye can bet opportunity will-"

And the Goblin ships at that moment all slowed to a stop, a stone's throw from the barges of the Consortium. Munch squinted and peered around the scene trying to puzzle this out and looking for gaps through which he could sail his ships. His crew was as puzzled as he was, and getting a bit antsy at the situation. It was then that one Goblin Trireme pushed its way forward from the pack and came alongside Tobraine's lead boat. The Viscount and his aides stood nearby as though waiting. Munch ran to the rail and called out, "Ye foolish sot, don't listen to their lies or trust their deals! let's call it a truce here and mop up these shrumm-eatin bastards!" If he could turn the situation and gain the trust of the Diabolese by standing with them in battle, maybe this could win the moment in a way unexpected. But Munch only then found that the scene was not quite as it seemed.

A chill greater than the Northern cold that they'd been feeling all morning fell all around them then. The air seemed a bit thicker and less clear, and it happened so quickly. The Dwarf Captain then heard a cackling laugh that he would remember in years ahead, but that right now made him recoil from the rail and caused some of his sailors to fall to the deck and others' voices to crack in a sob, but most to pull together for fear of what was descending nearby.

A black shadow came over sail and deck where there should have been none. Some would later say the shape of a bird was seen, others that a female form, dark and vague, but sinister, rose from the deck before Tobraine and spoke to him in whispers. By the Father's Torch! is this... His bones from his jaw to his toes shook to think it. Is this Hrulga? Is this the devil Harpy that commands the Seagreens? He looked up at his sails, fearing for their integrity. The old yarns told of sails bursting to flame in her presense, of sailors lured from their decks, of all manner of seaman's fears of the great unexplored unknowns. This thing is just shy of the gods themselves. Father and Mother have mercy! We've got to get out of here!!

Tobraine then looked back at Munchadin with a twisted smile. Munch couldn't help but say out loud for his nearby crew to hear it, "Those fiends! The gold-slaved fools! They're in league with that she-demon, with the scourge of the seas! How can..?"

And he shook it off. Seven ships of his people had one anchor right now, and that was him. He set his jaw, and as he spoke the trembling in his voice slowly faded. "We are of Ancora, men. We are anchored to the sandy floor and we will not be pulled away by storm. We are of Westgale and serve a proud line of righteous Kings, 'specially one who is depending on us right now to make it back to our port and our families. All of us! Every ship!" Munch steadily walked amoung his men and set each word down as each step. He lifted them one by one to their feet and bade them look him square in the eye. "We are of Grayshire and of the Mountain Halls! No giant, no merchant lord, no sea-demon, and especially no stinking, bloated, goblin son-of-a-blackened hate-filled hell-dame is safe near this Dwarf! Now come lads! We're findin' a way home!"

The Captain and his crews and ships made it out alive and lived to sail another day. Just how is for another tale. But Munchadin and those who served through the years would not soon forget the black terror felt in the presence of the harpy, Hrulga. Some cast the memory off as nothing but imagination. But Munchadin never forgot, and he swore to bring the bird down if it were his dying act.

****

{back to the present}

Munchadin shook off the memory which kept washing over his mind. His effort now was to get the Wavehammer, or what was left of her, to the aid of the fleeing courier. But if they made it through that, then the rest of the seabattle out far from the pier was next. And somewhere out there above that frey he knew flew the monstrosity and whatever it was she pulled into this world to serve her from the depths of molten hell. The legends were true. Sails and whole ships has been bursting into flames all around them, a sailor's nightmare if there ever was one. They did have a plan, hatched by the mysterious magician who had arrived on board the Gossamer Wing. But to pull it off they needed the Hammer to survive. And by me gods and ancestors, I'll be runnin' outta prayers today. I'm wantin' too much fer one Dwarf: The ruin of Beridane's harbour and its defenders, the rescue of the nobility of Ancora, the annihilation of that arch sea-witch! And Father forgive me fer thinkin' it first above others...but the survival of me bonnie lass, fer I cannae live to see her burned and sunk, at least not 'til our duties are fulfilled! And that isn't until the day Pallanon's daughter takes her rightful place in this city and the Usurper joins all these others who made his nightmare happen for us all, and justice rules the day!

Written by - Agmund

The first orc went down hard, his head caving in like a pumpkin, but the second one… was not so lucky. While he had seen the horse coming, he did not expect it to ride him down. His hand was still up in the air as the full weight of the horse bore down upon him. The orc screamed in agony, thrashed about, only to be trampled upon more furiously. His cries of pain stopped abruptly, right before the priest's foot had touched the ground.

Deftly he tied the mace back to his belt, and bent his massive frame downward to have a better look. “Durock’s rabble,” he whispers, reaching up and patting her jaw line “And I don’t think either will be giving us any trouble.” Slipping back up into the saddle, he starts to urge the horse forward, but suddenly pauses.

“Who’s there,” he turns his head sharply to the right, “show yourself!” he shouts out. His hand rises into the air, a soft light erupting from his upturned palm. Carefully he peers from one side of the road to the other, observant to the smallest fallen leaf, twig or blade of grass. He looks over the trees in the same way, and into the shadows of all that surround him.

“Do not fear me child of Harathad-dor, I am after all no orc,” he says in a soft elvish, spying the child in the branches. “Come down from there, and be quick, this place is not safe,” he whispers up, but the child merely shakes his head in denial.

The piercing scream that enters the night air causes both the old priest and the young boy to jump with fright. It was the scream of an orc, but not one that was in pain, instead it was one that stood right behind them, starring with anger at his dead comrades. Then out of the shadows the old priest made out two more to either side of the orc, barely on the edge of Tinorb’s light.

All five were ugly by the standards of any orc, but the one in the middle was obviously the leader. With orcs it was always the strongest, and he bore the scars to prove himself. An ugly hulkish orc, with a twisted nose, probably having been broken over and over again, until at last it was mashed with one gashed cheek of flesh.

But something else had caught the old priests attention as he slide off the horse, because up until that point he had hoped to get the elven child from the tree and beat a hasty retreat. However, there was a sack slung over the big orc, and one small hand could be made out. It reached around in panic, looking for anything it could too release, untie, or pull; that would free it.

Anger smoldered within the priest's eyes, an anger he had not tasted in ages. Brows furled in sheer fury as he hopped off the back of the worn nag, and ripped the hammer from his belt. The faded light, without notice, was replaced with complete darkness; then itself beaten back. For a light ten times brighter erupted like wreathed white hot flame from the weapon he wielded. The sack was summarily dropped, as the orc looked on dumbfounded, but it was not until then that the fire within the priest's eyes could be seen.

This caused the brute to panic, and in that precise moment the old man lunged forward into a running throw. His arm arced back, one long leg hurtling forward, his body twisting back to the right as his left foot hit the ground. Then with a quick abrupt force he hurdles the arm forward, his foot springing him into the same direction, sending the mace spinning out from his hand, cap over handle towards the ugly orcs nose.

The brutes eyes had the time to get very large, and he managed to pull his head to the side just a few inches as the cap connected right to his cheek, or perhaps it was his nose. The force of the blow sent the orc crashing to the ground, falling back just a few feet behind the sack. His comrades only watched with horror, almost frozen in place, but the priest never lost his stride, and had closed the distance quickly.

An uppercut caught the first orc to the right completely off guard. The orc looked up from the brute's lifeless body, just in time to catch it under the chin. He was already clenching, what was by any standards, a long hideous looking tongue, angrily between his teeth. But when his lower teeth were forcefully slammed into his upper ones, his tongue went flying, and he had no sooner hit the ground, before his friends scurried away.

The priest took a long deep breath, almost letting out a ‘whew’ as he breathed out. Then he turned his attention to the sack, leaning down upon one knee, he untied it. Out came an arm, then another, then some shoulders, as he tugged the bag aside, and into his view was a little blond elven girl. “Are you hurt,” he whispered to her in elvish, lifting her completely out of the sack and up into his arms.

“Lets see… you must be around four years old,” he says, reaching down to pick up the hammer. “And you,” he turned around, “must be about eight,” and then leaning down to peer at the boy. The boy merely nodded back his yes, to which the priest responded “A very brave eight, I must say, but let us get to safety now, and quickly, before the scum manages to return in greater numbers.”

“That’s how the orcs work you know,” he slid the children one by one onto the horse “In large numbers, they run in packs, like dogs, or rats even.” He started to lead the horse off the road, but he caught the look of fear in the boys eyes, and realized he was not helping with such talk. “I’m sorry dear boy, do not be afraid, I will let nothing bad befall you, or your sister,” he smiled gently at them both, beaming confidence at them. “We will make way to Lothiel-Gadith,” he continues, leading the horse off the road and into the dark gloom, “to safety,” he added ever so quietly.

Written by - Kiradia Afirewen Part II of Page 35 Chapter 3

Kiradia sighed as she looked out over the field. A black bird flew overhead, carefree as it's long wings were supported by thermals. A soft breeze wove through the grass and flowers, unfortunately for Kiradia, this pleasant day dream was rudely interrupted by a commotion outside her tent. Standing swiftly, Kiradia marched out of her tent, a look of annoyance on her fair face. Once, she would have been called beautiful, but despite her extremely attractive facial features, no one would call beautiful a face marked by sable tattoos and scars, with eyes of such cold hatred as to engulf a world in, along with a not-inconsiderable amount of insanity laid inside the depths of Kiradia's eyes as well.

As Kiradia stepped in the sunlight, two of the Silent Ones stepped behind her, their power was nothing compared to hers, but it was still formidable, perfect for guardians. Standing before her was a tall, lean man, he was not a warrior and wore robes of state, most likely a diplomat. Holding the man at sword point were three of her General's Lieutenants.

With a voice of command, Kiradia spoke, “What is going on here?”

Her Lieutenants nodded to their Mistress as a sign of respect, not taking their guard off the strange man. They knew better than to put their Mistress in danger by dropping their guard. General Alarin, however, stepped forward and bowed to Kiradia before speaking.

“Mistress Kiradia, this man is of Smarsh, and claims to be a diplomat, he rode in under a white flag and wishes to parley.”

Kiradia nodded slightly and looked over the man, he did not appear to be an assassin, or a man of magical means, but appearances could be deceiving, “Very well then, tell me your name, you already know mine.”

The man seemed to keep his cool, despite having three men ready to shove four feet of steel into his abdomen only a few feet away from him, his voice was cold, dispassionate, lacking modulation or tone. He almost seemed bored.

“My Lady, my name is Rish, and I am here representing King Gongrane of Smarsh as a diplomat. My King wishes to know why you have attacked His Kingdom, Smarsh is not a large threat and there seems very little reason for such a needless war.”

“You are right Rish, under any other circumstance, your words might have swayed me, your city is insignificant in the grander scheme of things, but your city and everything inside of it will burn,” the last word Kiradia spoke was said with such intensity that the air around her seemed to glow a white hot. A wind blew across Diplomat Rish, carrying with it all of the burning malice Kiradia had for all of creation. The diplomat barely had time to scream before the wind engulfed him, searing his skin, causing cherry red blisters to form across his entire body, his robes shredded and burned.

Kiradia strode forward, taking the scarred and blistered man by the ring of his neck and holding his body up. The man would not live much longer, even if he survived this moment, the blisters would pop before new skin could be grown, and would fester. Kiradia wanted to make sure the man really understood what his city faced.

“Your city and your king will burn to the ground, just like all the rest of this world, the world will burn by my hand, until it attracts the attention of the Gods themselves. Then, I will burn them as well, and destroy the Gods. I will destroy all of creation.”

Kiradia's right eye twitched madly as she let go of the man, who fell like a bag of jelly to the ground, whimpering and mewling his pain. Turning to one of her Lieutenants, she told the man to return the diplomat to Smarsh.

Turning to General Alarin, Kiradia made a death head grin, which was returned by Alarin, and ordered an immediate march to the walls of Smarsh.

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