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Book Three Pt 2 - The Reckoning

Written by - Vylia Page 27 Book 3

Vylia had stood up faster than humanly possible at the sudden command to kill, and saw that it was the city guard the moment she had begun to turn. She had grabbed her bow and just set an arrow to it when a wave of energy flared out toward the guards, slowing them and the surrounding crowd to practically a crawl. She had seen these tricks before and took full advantage of it, loosing 3 arrows in quick succession, hitting two of the guards in the throat, and getting the one who had shouted the initial order in his right shoulder. She grimaced inwardly as she set another arrow, being more particular with her shots now so as to avoid the crowd.

Written by - Pharsalus

Pharsalus dozed in his seat, quiet, statuesque - even more than normal - as the scene unfolded about him. While his slumber would appear as death to any who did not know him, his innards were hardly so still and calm. He dreamed terrible things, as was common since coming to this world. Even now he ran as quickly as his limbs could carry him, terror stricken from a force he, couldn't see, couldn't hear, couldn't know. He did not scream. There seemed no sound at all. None, save for the wind. A bitter wind as cold as the sun was hot blew past him, howling and cackling, carrying to his ears its own voice. It was a raspy whisper, metallic almost in nature, like the rubbing of two swords together, blade to blade.

Pharsalussssss it whistled.

The Priest's fear continued to escalate, though he still couldn't determine why. He was a Dwarf! A Son of Stone, Child of Aerynth, built of Her flesh by the hand of his Father. And he was scared out of his wits. He pressed onward, harder and faster than he ever had, through a forest. Or was it a forest? He couldn't tell. It moved so quickly past, and every time he seemed to focus on any particular feature, it changed and moved and vanished, only to reappear, somehow different than before. He looked down as he felt himself begin to slow, and each lift of his leg became a struggle, each descending step becoming entirely too easy. He could hear more whispering,

...are here for a purpose...Pharsalus...

They grew louder, he grew slower, and he felt a darkness descending upon him greater than any he'd known. He turned, now completely held to the ground by forces unseen that chilled him deeper than any natural winter could. This was magic - dark magic! The Dragon, he wondered? Worse!? He looked at his upturned palms, his face desperate as he watched pieces of his stone flesh begin to twitch and redden and fall into bloody, sinewy piles. He looked in terrible awe as his flesh fell away to reveal a skeletal hand, of bone, caked in a fleshling's blood. Something clasped his shoulder - something warm.

I'll not let you take me! he cried to the wind as he snapped around, fist drawn back, eyes burning with the fury of 4,000 years of compressed anger. What faced him now was not a threat, not the force that held him. He felt his feet no longer on the ground and the air no longer cold. In a disorienting flash, the realm of the real - music, laughter, smoke, sweat, Archeantus, Ariana, Home, an Elf - hit him in the face like the flat of a hammer. He recoiled in his seat, knocking into something - someone? - behind him. His eyes, still groggy, lit up white as all his reflexes readied for battle.

"YOU'LL NOT TAKE ME!, he shouted, drawing back his other hand into a fist, "I'LL...!' He held, panting, trying to focus his eyes on something - anything- familiar. It was warm now, and smoky, and the whole place smelled of meat and old wood. He was surrounded by, and partially lying on top of, inquisitive faces. After several awkward moments in silence, clasping his hand on the wood of the table and seat, looking at his hands, feeling them, loving their stone-form make, he relaxed and returned himself. He looked back at Ariel. She was very calm, given what had apparently just happened. What did happen!? he thought. Her eyes showed more concern than uncertainty, and she held a quiet hand on his shoulder.

"By Thurin's Mercy," Pharsalus chuckled awkwardly,"pardon an old fool, Ariel. It seems my bag of wits has a hole in it!" He turned to a new and very familiar face.

"By my Father! Turin! I..." He panicked, sliding off the edge of the bench to straighten his robes. He looked to Ariel to see she still had his flask before continuing. "I'm not sure... what has become of this old Priest! Pardon my outburst, Master Turin, and..." He paused, his shoulders sinking a bit beneath the revelation he was to make, I am not the Dwarf I was, you see. Sometimes I lose myself!" He forced a smile, and he took the Elf's hand and shook it fiercely. How wondrous it was - faces he knew! Denizens of the Old World. Of Home.

His face turned stern as a presence, grimly determined, entered the room and approached from behind. Pharsalus could not see the man. He didn't have to, just as he didn't have to see the squad of other men immediately outside the tavern's entrance.

"That one over there, kill him!"

The Son of Stone looked up, allowing his gaze to lock with Turin's. It had been a very long time, but the two old veterans smirked with a mutual understanding that was almost comical. And with that, Turin went one way, Pharsalus the other. He forced all emotion from his face and, clasped his hands into fists, dropping into a stance that belied his age and make. Taking a quickened step forward, he dropped, a wind gathering about his feet, a crackle, a flash of light, and lunged. Like a blue-flaming stone hurled from a sling, he was airborne and flying fast to intercept the approaching guards. He landed with a thud and scrape, crouched, fingers splayed and digging into the wood of the floor as he skidded to a stop. He was now behind the first guard and facing the throng of others. Patrons had already begun lining a circle, clearing a path for the chaos that was soon to ensue. The priest stood perfectly erect, feet tightly together, farthest hand behind his back, forehand bent sharp at the elbow and pointing to the guard nearest him.

"The Race of Men will never learn, it seems," he started. "Beridane has betrayed you all, and still you throw yourselves at his feet. You are calves to the slaughter." His voice and face darkened with a grim resolution. Even as every fiber of his being wanted to spare them, these men were lost. Pawns. Meat for the grinder. Pharsalus grew angry, blue-white seeping hot from his eyes. Beridane would pay for their deaths dearly.

A guard rushed forward, sword flashing from its sheath. The priest remained firm and poised for war. He stood with the confidence of 200 years of solitary training in the martial arts.

He moved, a gray blur, a whistle, a burst of wind and heat, and was now several paces forward and several over, bent and low to the ground, his forward hand now pointing down and behind, arm perfectly straight. A thud resounded and wood cracked and splintered as a guard slammed to the ground, knocked unconscious by the accelerated force of his fall. A fall was how he'd remember it, anyway.

The old stone man's hands now glowed white. Pharsalus smirked.

First blood.

Written by - Ariana

She sat quietly in the gloom, back supported by the rough-hewn wall behind her, eyes staring sightlessly at the same before her. Hours had passed since her last feeding, and the bruises inflicted upon her skin were now a dark purple. Her body itself was a palate of miserable colors – the yellow of old bruises blended easily into the dark hues of recent injury and both were decorated with bold slashes of red. Pain and discomfort unceasing, she nonetheless paid it no heed, reacting to nothing in her environment save for a wild flailing of limbs when her captors came to torment her.

So, when it came, it took her several minutes to notice. The tiny light appeared as it had done once before – drifting effortlessly through the bars on the door, then dancing and weaving and bobbing first around the room and then around her head. It took several moments for her sightless gaze to focus on her visitor, who was now perched on the end of her nose. Now confident it had her attention, the tiny light began its dance once again and seemed to delight in the fact it could make the corners of her mouth turn up into a slight smile.

Their time together was interrupted, however, by the sound of a metal key rasping in the lock. Two men in strange robes strode into the room. The larger of the two grabbed her roughly, attempting to pull her onto her feet. She resisted, not from an understanding of self-preservation, but from the instinctual need to get away from that which is painful. Gentle touches, ones that could comfort and console or give and receive affection were memories of a time past that she had forgotten.

She was unceremoniously tossed over the man’s shoulder, his bones digging into her stomach. He held her in place with one hand and idly swatted at the light that was buzzing erratically around his head.

“Stupid firefly,” said the brute.

He swatted at it again with his free hand, and was satisfied to see it fly off out the door, its movement choppy and erratic. He then turned to his companion and signaled they should go. Both men moved out the door, the smaller of the two closing it behind him.

She knew not where she was taken. All she did know was that one moment she was still in darkness, and the next she was surrounded by light. Eyes born of darkness have no tolerance for light, and when the light flooded into the depths of her skull with no warning, she whimpered as her lids slammed closed and her body began to wiggle as she tried to escape.

Her reward was a sharp thump on the head and some painful jostling. The man carrying her did not speak his reproach but growled it instead, only serving to terrify and confuse her even more. She did not quieten, but instead redoubled her efforts, but she was weak and unable to break free. Her captor endured this for only a few minutes before he threw her upon a large pile of sticks and wood, several of which created more bright slashes of red upon her mottled skin.

Small tears leaking from the corners of eyes that were still tightly clamped, she was unable to see where she was or what was happening. More rough hands grabbed her, pulling her upright and fastening her to a solid surface with rough coils of rope. And then, the rough hands left her. As the sun died it its omnipresent sky, she was left, for the moment, mercifully undisturbed – displayed as an object of scorn for any who cared to see.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya watched Turin had go over to a corner and greeted some of the people like age old friends. Then in a blink of an eye, an armed guard of around twenty enter the Inn, while more waited outside. The captain looked at everyone, then, with his eyes on Turin, pointed and said, "That one over there, kill him!"

She watched as Turn grabbed a chair and heard him say, "Well, looks like we get the fighting started early!" Kaya stood quickly and smiled and prepared for the fight.

Dorve heard the guard as well and saw the ones outside. Hmm, seems like we have enough in here...don't want any more to spoil the party. She grabbed her staff, and rapped it upon the ground, immediately, it bloomed into a full fledge elder's staff. She spoke a few words and raised her hand; a waft of green energy flowed from her hand and shot outside. Suddenly there was shouts of surprise and she could see that her roots had shot up and entangled those outside. That should keep them busy for a while and out of our hair. Dorve then grabbed her mug of ale, took a big swig, then focused her attention to those inside.

Written by - Ariana

A few moments after she dropped Teran’s dagger at his side, he was on his feet and made short work of the opponents who only a moment earlier had truly been a danger to him. Seeing that he no longer needed her, Mavigan hurried to Keeryn’s side, and together they finished off the last guard.

Releasing a huge sigh, she slowly walked towards the area she thought her other dagger had gone. Placing her back against the wall, she slowly slid down until seated. She was bone-weary, her use of power draining much of her energy. She glanced over at Teran as her hands felt around in the dirt searching for her weapon. He was busy examining some piece of parchment. “Well,” she thought, “that’s better than getting a lecture.”

Deciding no reprimand was coming, she turned her attention in earnest to the search for her weapon and soon was rewarded. Cleaning both of her daggers, she sat quietly trying to regain some of her energy. All too soon for her tastes, though, Teran had risen and motioned for her to follow – and, like a good little apprentice, she did.

She was unprepared for the sight that greeted her. Sabbatine had a corpse that looked chewed, and Jasmine still appeared to be nibbling. Killing people was one thing, eating them was something else entirely. Nothing in her experience had prepared her for something like this.

Idly, she wondered what exactly one should say in such a situation. “How was your dinner? I hope it was fresh.” or “Should we give compliments to the chef?” didn’t seem appropriate, nor did puking her guts out all over the floor. She had to do something, though. She couldn’t just stand here and watch. It just wasn’t in her nature. So, she did the next best thing – turned her back on the tableau and retraced her steps out of the small room.

Bumping into Keeryn in the hallway, Mavigan grabbed her arm and led them to a place to sit down, not too far from where Teran and the others were. When Keeryn looked askance at her, Mavigan leaned back against the wall and said, “Trust me Keeryn. You don’t want to go in there.”

Written by - Rikshanthas

The morning sun's light filtered through the treetops, reflected off the shallow stream's surface onto the face of the man who rested on his heels beside it, one elbow resting on his knee while the hand cupped his darkly bearded chin in a pensive pose. The man's gaze was on the flowing water, and he frowned slightly as if he saw there something he disliked. His frown deepened as a sudden breeze whipped locks of his shoulder-length dark hair into his face. He irritatedly pulled it back into place, securing the unruly mass with a crude knot. Exhaling with a long sigh, the man returned his gaze to the water, to whatever thoughts continued to trouble him.

They ran blindly through the night, fear bearing them onward despite injury and fatigue threatening to overwhelm them. He could hear their pursuers growing nearer, far closer already than he would have expected, or feared. He grasped her wrist tighter, pulling her on when she faltered. The buildings seemed to blur together -

Buildings? But he could've sworn it was a forest ...

"We're almost there, we can make it," he said with more confidence than he felt, trying to urge her on. "Jak will protect us, we will be safe there!"

Smiling Jak Allister. The half-elven "locksmith" he hadn't seen in over five years. For all he knew the man was dead, or worse, in league with the enemy. Why in all the world would he think to seek shelter there?

She managed to pull herself up, and wrapped her arm around him for support. "I'll be alright," she said weakly, and he heard in her voice his own flagging spirit. If they could only reach old Jak's place, the retired thief would surely hide them until their pursuers lost interest ...

But what about Castle Ancora? Weren't they headed there?

They pressed onward until he could finally see the locksmith's just ahead, the safety it promised giving him renewed hope. He threw his arm about her waist, ready to drag her the rest of the way if he had to, but she managed to keep pace as they stumbled toward the back door still used for "unofficial" business.

They had nearly reached the shop when he stopped abruptly, dragging her to a halt and silencing the beginnings of her protest with a warning gesture. He looked through narrowed eyes at the innocent-looking shop, then his gaze wandered in a full circle, taking in the city as a whole. Something wasn't right, he could feel it. No red glow shone through the porch window, the special candle Jak always kept lit in the old Thieves' Guild warning against burglarizing a fellow member. As they neared the building he could see scorch marks on the roof and walls; someone had tried to burn the place down, though naturally someone like Jak lived in a fireproofed home. Suddenly reluctant to approach further, he ushered his companion toward a small abandoned hovel instead.

A shout made him turn just in time to avoid an arrow intended for his skull. Throwing his arm about her, he pulled her into the building and barred the door, knowing as he did so that it would not hold for long. With a few broken shelves and other debris, he was able to reinforce the door, buying him time to think, to plan. He could hear them outside, shouting at him to come out.

Him? But, they had been after her, he was protecting her. Why did they want him?

His eyes were drawn downward, to the katana now in his hand, the graceful silver blade masterfully crafted in the shape of a dragon's outstretched wing. And he realized it wasn't him they were after.

His gaze shifted to his companion. She was elven; Pureborn, if disinherited. And the men were human. Bandits doubtless operating with the full consent of Westgale's new lord, for their shouts would surely have drawn the attention of the guards. Regardless of their main objective, he knew what would happen to her if they were captured, and he vowed silently that he would kill her himself before he allowed that to happen, praying to whatever deity might be listening that it would never come to that.

The smell of smoke nearly startled him. So they mean to burn us out, he thought. No doubt the same tactic they tried to pull with Jak. Glancing quickly around him, he caught sight of a broken stairway at the back of the room.

Okay, that was new ...

As the walls about them burst into flame he decided a small chance was better than none at all, and rushed to the stairwell. He turned to her, the faint glimmer of almost-hope mirrored in her deep green eyes. He heard the crack, saw the beam fall toward her, yet he could not move fast enough. He was forced to watch as she was struck down, her unconscious body engulfed by the flames.

"SHARRAAH!"

He was all but oblivious to the heat as the flames swept toward him. He only saw her still form through the haze of smoke, and as the fire hid her from his sight he longed for death to take him ... he lost his footing, fell to his knees. Through the flames, he thought he saw people; among them he recognized the elf Ardwen from the battle for Minas Aure, though the others were unfamiliar. Or were they? It felt like he knew them, though surely they had never met. As he watched them, all else seemed to lose substance. He no longer felt the flames, there was no more smoke searing his lungs. One of the figures took on more substance, the now ghostly flames seeming to radiate around this man as if he were of some as-yet-unknown importance. As the image became clear, he could see this was a tall human of middle years, motes of grey peppering his dark hair, the breastplate of his armor marking him a follower of the All-Father. This crusader did not have anything especially grand or noble in his appearance, yet here he knew stood a man to whom even his mentor, the proud Sir Mathell would bend knee in honored service ...

And just as he thought he could identify the man, he would wake. The same dream three times now, the same dream as he first had on the way to Westgale, but for a few details. Why now? He picked up a small stone and with a frustrated growl sent it flying into the stream, where it sank with a loud plop.

The man's keen ears detected the faint sound of hoofbeats in the distance; his eyes instantly turned toward the source of that sound, coming to rest on the monolithic towers that dominated the countryside: the shining Citadel of Lothiel-Gadith, bastion of Good in these dark days. His hawklike gaze moved downward, settling upon the lone russet-cloaked rider approaching his location at a brisk trot, and his frown once again deepened. The coal-black mare at his side nickered happily, confirming the man's suspicion. "Damn," he said quietly, standing to face the approaching rider.

"You should know better than to go off without me," the rider said without preamble, once they were within speaking distance. "I'll always follow you, Lienad, you know that. So why the deception?" She was frowning at him, halfway between annoyance and concern, her lips set in that petulant curl which always seemed to charm the good sense out of his head. He cleared his throat.

"I needed some time to think," he said as she dismounted, "and I'd hoped by the time you realized I'd gone I would have covered enough ground that you might have reconsidered chasing after me. And I didn't want to have to say this." He put his hands on her shoulders. "Shara, I want you to stay at the Citadel. Where I'm going ... let's just say it'll be a lot more survivable if I only have to look out for myself."

"I can take care of myself, thank you, I don't need a babysitter anymore," she replied firmly, with a dangerous glint in her emerald eyes. Then her expression changed, and she gave a knowing look. "It's the dreams, isn't it. They're happening again, and you're worried ..." After a long pause, he nodded grimly. "What were you going to do?" she queried as she seated herself on a fallen tree, removing her hood and shaking loose the cascade of molten copper she took such care to maintain.

"Confront it head-on," he answered. "What else would I do? Hide in the Citadel until I'm an old man? I'm going to Westgale." Her eyes widened. "Now you see why I wanted you to stay here. I'm just a merc, I can get in and out of there with minimal trouble, possibly even get some useful information for the people here. But you ... "

"I'd be a liability," she finished. "That's what you were going to say, right? Screw that! I'm coming with you." And her tone brooked no argument.

Written by - Turin Wallace

Glancing over to the table where Ardwen, Kaya, Alaric and Dorve were seated, he could see his sword resting upon his own chair. A tad too far to risk running, back towards the onrushing enemy. Wielding his chair, Turin charged towards the slowed enemies.

The first few close to them were, mercifully, downed by the arrows Vylia let loose. She was always a deadly marksman, even on her worst days. The one closest to Pharsalus learned the way of pain when the dwarf unleashed the fury of his fists upon him. Turin smiled inwardly, realizing it was his turn.

In one fell swoop, he brought the rough hewn oak chair crashing down upon the head of one of their attackers. Though of somewhat sturdy conctruction, the chair splintered, leaving him holding onto a rung of wood no longer than a foot or so. Knowing this was better than nothing, for now, Turin swings at the next closes guard, catching him across the temple of his head. As the man falls, he loses his sword, his flailing arms throwing it into the air. With a quickness, Turin grabs it, saying,

"Thanks, lad. I could use one of these!"

Now, properly armed, sword in one had and the rung firmly grasped in the other, he was ready to defend himself. Throwing a look about the room, it seems all of his fellows were already doing the same.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen watched the exchange between Turin and the stranger more closely for a moment. But the ancient Elf could not place the face Turin now greeted so warmly. Ardwen thought it looked vaguely familiar, but . . . "Archeantus?" The warrior whispered to himself. No, he quickly countered his own thoughts, this man was far too old to be Archeantus; it was simply not possible. "But then," Ardwen muttered sadly, his rage slackening in a morose thought, "the years touch them. Time-"

Before the Elf could finish his musing armed soldiers began pouring into the tavern; their apparent captain saw Turin, gestured in his direction, and yelled, "That one over there, kill him!"

Turin reacted almost immediately, grabbing a chair for defense and shouting, "Well, looks like we get the fighting started early!"

Ardwen was frozen; watching the scene around him with apparent disbelief. A ripple of magic vibrated through the air, slowing their new foes for a moment, arrows raced through the air, and a lone Son of Thurin raged into his enemies. But Ardwen set immobile, his eyes not matching what he felt and a palatable sense of displacement settled over him.

Ardwen saw Turin glance at his chair, and Ardwen saw his blade resting there, beyond his reach. His friends were powerful, of that Ardwen had no doubt, each of them could take care of themselves. But, was it right that he was just sitting there? "What the hell's wrong with me?" Ardwen thought angrily at himself. "Fear." A voice seemed to say within him. You are afraid. Afraid you still do not belong amongst their kind, afraid you will lose them again, and afraid that you will once again be too weak to do anything about it.

"No!" Ardwen cried out, rising swiftly into motion. He looked around at each of them, each of his companions both new and old. "Never again!" He roared. His motion and yells had attracted three armed men toward him, they all carried swords, short blades designed for indoor fighting. Drawing the longer of his blades Ardwen held it with both hands and assumed the stance he had used earlier when questioning Turin.

The three men tried to circle around him, to get a better angle of attack, Ardwen would have none of it. "Show me your strength." He said, his voice now collected and soft. He dashed toward one of the three approaching men, his body a blur of speed, the last thing the man heard was the Elf calling out, "That's enough."

The man dropped to the floor, his throat punctured by a precise blow that he had scarcely registered. Ardwen resumed his stance and turned toward the remaining two, they both came in from the front, swords swinging. Ardwen worked his blade in wide arcs, arms extended to meet their blows. A parry range out, then two, three, then almost impossibly two in rapid succession, Ardwen had gained the offensive. The man to his front and left died quickly as the Elf’s blade descended from a rebounding parry, Ardwen used his entire body as leverage. It was an almost textbook overhead cut, cleaving the man's skull in two.

Ardwen pressed down hard with his right hand, causing his blade to leap from the cut and the dead man's ruined face as he turned to face his last opponent. Only to find the man staring at his dead companions, his eyes wide with disbelief. Ardwen "hmped" in derision and said, "They send children to fight me? Pathetic."

The man's mouth worked in a silent plea, but Ardwen anticipated his prayer for mercy, "On your knees," he intoned coldly, "I want you to beg for forgiveness." The man genuflected, and the second his bent posture was assumed Ardwen flicked his blade out and took off his head in one clean stroke. The headless corpse rested bent-kneeded for a moment, and then the corpse’s muscles relaxed with death and it collapsed onto its side. "Am I not merciful?" Ardwen sneered.

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya stood still, watching and attuning herself to her surroundings. Waiting and seeing who would take what targets. Turin and Ardwen and some others found theirs, and now was her time to act. "A'lanthear give me strength," she whispered. ALways my Mistress The sword replied in her mind. She smiled as she lept up onto her shair, then jumped, tucked, and rolled between the guards until she was at their backs. Bringing A'lanthear up she swung conservatively, not wanting to hit any civilians and also, she ws not used to fighting inside closed quarters. "I wish I had knives," she hissed between her teeth, as she swung awkwardly at one guard. As you wish my Mistress. There was a small flash and she felt the blade hum in her hands. SHe looked down and saw two shining daggers in its place. She smiled widely ad she took the two short blades within her hands, feeling much more comfortable now weilding two weapons. Kaya ducked and weaved tween the guards she fought now, quickly finding their weakness and taking full advantage of the ensuing chaos. Only after she felled a couple did she look up to see what the others were doing.

Written by - Teran

Sabbatine clapped excitedly when she saw that Jasmine enjoyed her present. She seemed so happy that her present was well received and was wearing a big grin on her bloody face. When Teran entered the room he motioned that Sabbatine should join Mavigan up ahead.

"Apologize to the princess." Teran said quietly.

Sabbatine paused for a moment and stared at Teran before she asked "Huh? Why? Did I do something wrong?"

"No Sabbatine, you did everything right but she is not used to your eating habits. She does not understand that you don't kill and eat people because you enjoy it but because that is the only way to sustain yourself." He said in his sternest most fatherly voice.

"But I do enjoy it!" She squeeked back.

Teran gently patted her on the head smiling "Everyone enjoys eating Sabbatine but survival is the real reason everyone eats. Mavigan will understand that, now go."

Sabbatine slumped her shoulders and likely would have sighed if she had air in her lungs to expel but despite that she headed for the door Mavigan had disappeared through. Teran turned his attention to the map he had liberated from the hidden room and committed it to memory. Once he had done that he marked a couple spots he wanted Wilhelm or his men to examine. The first spot was the hidden room he had found and the second spot was the location of a second hidden room, one that likely still had people inside. The final spot Teran marked was their destination, what should be a passage deeper underground.

Teran set the map on the table for Wilhelm to find and turned his attention to Jasmine.

"Let's join the others." he said after a moment, searching for words of encouragement that would not come.

He had seen through the trick that had fooled Sabbatine. It was very clever winning the creature over in such a way. The Assassin wondered if she was trying to relate to her or perhaps turn her to her own will. Teran trusted Jasmine only so far as her survival was at stake and once he had "passed" even if she did not die completely he wondered if she would become unstable and try to kill those around her. He hoped such circumstances would never come to pass but he could not prevent himself from thinking of the possibility.

****

Sabbatine approached the resting princess slowly, nervously even and stood there long enough to probably be annoying before speaking.

"Umm princess.... I'm sorry if I ah... well... if I made you angry it's just... well... I'm only allowed to eat one or two kinds of things to umm... survive." the bloody creature stood before Mavigan clutching her small hands to her small chest obviously struggling over just what to say before she resignedly said "I didn't mean to offend you. I'll try to do better!"

Sabbatine grinned nervously hoping Mavigan would accept her apology and that Teran would not be angry with her.

Written by - Vylia

Vylia had just about given up using her bow when she saw another elf across the room weilding what she thought was a T'lnarion blade taking on first three, then two, then only a single opponent. The skill behind such strikes was obvious, and for a moment she thought she recognized the face, when his opponent went down on his knees as if begging forgiveness before suddenly having his head removed from his shoulders. As the man said a few words lost in the commotion she noticed a few more soldiers coming up behind him, and let loose two more arrows, each one planting itself firmly between their shoulder blades as she yelled out a warning, "Ardwenn, behind you!" She wasn't certain it was truly the man she had once known, his actions were very different, but she had to know for certain, and her surprise hadn't left her with much capacity for thought.

Written by - Ariana

There were times when Mavigan felt that reality was not as firmly entrenched in the world as everyone supposed. She knew that not everyone had the same life experiences, but still, there was “normal” and then there was downright “strange”. Mavigan firmly put the fact that Sabbatine was standing before her apologizing in the latter category.

She blinked at Sabbatine several times as her brain tried to process the situation and provide her with a response. It took longer than usual for someone with such a large repertoire of glib, sarcastic remarks simply because Sabbatine actually seemed as if she earnestly desired acceptance. And somehow Mavigan knew that saying, “By the gods, watching you eat is disgusting!” would only make her mad. It would probably piss Teran off too, and she figured she had accrued enough of his displeasure for the day.

Her mouth opened and closed a few times giving her the appearance of a fish out of water as she struggled to say something.

“Well,…er…Sabbatine…I’m not really angry, just …. I know you have to eat to survive, I’m just not used to seeing…I was surprised, you see, and….” Incoherent sentences seemed to be all Mavigan could provide, so she tried actions instead. Fishing around in her pockets, she withdrew a cloth she had used earlier to clean her daggers. It was already bloody so a bit more gore couldn’t hurt. Handing it to Sabbatine, she gestured to her mouth. “You have a little something…”

Written by - Lucant Dolvan

"Well where is Morning Sun now? Why don't you have it," Larseno asked.

"You don't know how to wait, do you old man? I'm gonna teach you to be patient if it kills both of us," Jonan said as he stood up and went outside to get some more of the food in the cart. As he opened the rickety door, he added as an afterthought: "I really liked that knife..."

"This had better be worth the trouble." Larseno said quietly to himself as Jonan walked back through the door with hunk of stale bread in one hand and an apple in the other.

"Now then, where was I? Oh yeah, I don't know where the sword is. Now wait a minute before you get all upity... I do have a few ideas. Once I got the sword, I made off like... well... a bandit. I hid low for a few days before going to the arranged meeting place. I lounging around behind the Wounded Lion waiting on ol' black-hood to show up. I was there for a few minutes, then the next thing I know, I was face down in the mud unable to move. The last thing I saw before passing out was a black cloak. SO... I know who has it, but not where he's at... I do, however, have two very probable locations. Now, if you gentlemen would be so kind as to accompany me."

Larseno and his companions just sat and stared in disbelief.

Written by - Teran

"A present!" Sabbatine said excitedly taking Mavigan's bloody rag and putting it up to her nose as if to smell it and then nodded her satisfaction.

"Thank you princess!" she squeeled and then promptly rummaged through one of her little pockets and pulled out a clean rag and offered it back to Mavigan. There was no blood on her rag but Sabbatine suspected Mavigan might like a clean rag but she also feared the consequences if she was offending her with her bloodless offering. A more uncertain expression than the one etched on Sabbatine's face did not exist. She bit her lip as though ready to whimper an apology, her eyes darted about between Mavigan and her bodyguard as though expecting one of them to lash out at any moment. She almost seemed to be shaking in fear though it is hard to believe that something that has already died would fear something as trivial as rejection.

Teran's boots scraped the cave floor marking his approach, an uncharacteristically loud noise for him to make. Sabbatine jumped at the unexpected noise and stuffed the rag into Mavigan's hands and stepped back to the opposite wall quickly, shaking her head violently as though tryin to clear it. The blood that coated it flaked off as though all but the dry surface had been absorbed by her skin. Her hair was still stained though it was more difficult to see that it was blood in the semi-darkness.

Teran stopped just short of the group and allowed Jasmine to step past him. He leveled a piercing stare at all of them scrutinizing them for weakness. His gaze paused on Mavigan and he wondered if she realized Wilhelm was watching their rear. He hoped so but chose not to distract her with such information preferring not to bring her royalty to attention right that moment.

"We have most likely slain all the guards in this section. None have escaped and the odds are that our enemy believes our force is much larger than the few of us." His voice was pure and calm despite the chaos of blood and killing they had just created "This means our enemy will most likely build up a larger force before attempting to retake this section which means we have time to move deeper however this also means we will not be able to leave the same way we came in."

The Assassin paused for another moment considering his words and adjusted his tone to sound more fatherly.

"This threat is... ah... unique. Sabbatine and I are sufficiently protected from magical attacks and intrusions. I believe what we saw on this level is merely the very tip of their power, the scrubs in their armed forces. Their users (magic users) have been amateurish but I have seen signs of more advanced spellcrafting and enchantment. We are likely to face more skilled warriors the deeper we go and should we come across an archmage it would be wise to allow Sabbatine to handle the situation, she is the most equipped for dealing with such a threat."

Sabbatine's grin threatened to burst off her face at the compliment she had been paid, it was true of course... Huxel granted her great protection from all things magical.

"Don't put yourself in a situation that will end your life." He said with a terrible amount of irony.

With his inspirational speech done with he moved past his group and headed for the path down deeper. The door was reinforced but unlocked. A familiar smell assaulted their senses seeping through the opened passageway.

"Bloooood!" Sabbatine hissed excitedly.

On the other side of the door things were darker. Teran began to descend keeping his eyes open for traps but there were none. As they neared the bottom a second smell could be detected with the blood... the smell of bodies. Living but unbathed, as they got even nearer they could hear noises and the Assassin began to suspect some sort of prison. He ventured a little further ahead of the group and peered into the darkness. It was indeed a prison but no one race was present. There were humans of all ages in one cell and some orcs in another and elves in another. Teran guessed that there were two hundred people total in various states of malnourishment and representatives from at least eight different races. There were no jailers and Teran did not want to waste time setting them free so he moved past the cages without glancing at the occupants, they may prove to be a valuable diversion later should they need a few hundred bodies to cover their escape.

The group came to another reinforced door. Teran checked it for traps and found only one, a simple alarm device. He disabled it and opened the door and the overwhelming smell of blood blasted them, much to Sabbatine's glee... she loved the smell. The drip drop sound indicated the pool was being added to somewhere though from the door they could not see much. Teran searched for a path through the room but found that the floor was really a pool of blood, Teran borrowed Sabbatine's spear to check the depth and found that it was only two feet deep or so and without hesitation stepped into the thick substance. Sabbatine stepped in right behind him and dipped a finger into the blood and tasted it.

"Thousands have contributed to this, powerful and weak." she hissed as she followed Teran occasionally testing it, obviously liking the taste but very self concious around Mavigan.

The dripping sound grew louder as they approached the center of the room it was as though it were raining blood from above. Teran peered into the gloom and saw bodies, mutilated and bleeding into the pool hanging from vicious looking hooks. Close to 50 in all, all the races from the prison were represented and he even spotted a few children among the "crowd". The Assassin had never seen anything quite like this and the realization that they were likely in a league even he had not suspected. He pressed on through the blood rain pulling his hood over his head to keep the blood from seeping into his hair. It took every ounce of Sabbatine's self control not to raise her mouth up and let the blood fall into her mouth like a child might drink the monsoon rains though to compensate she took more frequent tastes of the blood venturing out ahead of Teran a little bit.

They approached what appeared to be another cluster of bodies hanging from the ceiling however these were not dripping. Teran guessed the cultists bled people out in a rotation around the room to maintain the disgusting pool. Teran hesitated however when he noted an anomoly above... there were patches of fur above, undoubtedly belonging to some sort of animal and slowly he came to the realization that what he was seeing wasn't a dozen individual bodies hanging from the ceiling but one body made up of the parts from a dozen bodies. The Assassin detected movement and called out a warning to Sabbatine who was almost directly beneath it.

"Huh?" she turned and looked at him oblivious to the creature tearing itself free of the hooks that held it above her. Finally she heard a noise and peered upward just in time to be crushed by one of its massive fists. It picked up her shattered and unmoving body and snarled angrily with a dozen different voices when it detected that the fluids seeping from her body was not blood. Sabbatine had been crushed beyond recognition, her chest had been flattened and her legs arms snapped in several different places. She looked as though she had been folded in half and rolled into some sort of grotesque ball. The creature threw her corpse to the side and turned to face Teran who stood between it and the rest of the group.

"I will add your blood to the ritual pool." The beast gurgled sounding both elven and orcish, childlike and beastly, insane and wise at the same time "Run little ones!"

The beast cackled madly as it stood to its full height of twelve feet, more than double Teran's height. The Assassin did not move and drew his pathetically small daggers in the face of this enemy. The beast was massive, sewn together from more bodies than Teran cared to count, some animals, some humanoids, altogether at least 500 pounds of flesh. It had two bear like legs covered in fur presumably ending in a paw though the blood pool concealed too much to be certain. It had several arms, some big and some small, they seemed sewn in at awkward angles but if the creature had the awareness necessary to use them all effectively it would make attacking it very difficult. A pair of the arms were bear similar to its legs resembling a bear and they had wickedly curve claws on each. There were some smaller arms, likely the "grabbers" or maybe used for more mundane tasks like opening doors and the like... should such a need arise for such a creature. The most interesting arm was a very large muscular orcish arm and it wielded a metal rod or bat that was nearly six feet long, Teran kept his eyes on that one more so than the others.

The skin did not appear rotted which indicated to Teran that very powerful magic was involved. The creature swung at him with the bear arms but it was a slow swing and easily evaded and he was able to deliver a shallow cut to the beasts "fist". It hissed indicating that it could feel pain making it a very advanced construct, perhaps even more advanced than Sabbatine. The creature's head was a mish mash of heads. One could not have been older than 14 at the time of her demise, another was orcish, and an older human and lastly there was a bear head. It was as though these faces had been cut off and aligned in a circle to give their new body a full field of vision and then domed with a large skull from an unkown creature. It was a horrifying sight.

Teran retreated swiftly as the creature surged forward and motioned that the others should spread out and move back as well.

Written by - Archeantus

Jasmine watched as Teran and the rest reentered the room, and upon seeing Sabbatine’s grotesque visage, marred with blood, Mavigan quickly retreated down the corridor. Flashing Teran a look, she saw he’d seen her little maneuver. But she was glad to have pleased Sabbatine.

The undead construct was told to go apologize to Mavigan for her natural behavior, something Jasmine was quickly coming to understand. They waited there in the room, each examining it’s various objects, Teran looking over the map he’d found, Keeryn pausing just out of ear shot of the conversation between Sabbatine and Mavigan, and Jasmine simply standing there, pondering over her own emerging plans.

It wasn’t long until Teran turned on his heel and motioned them toward the other two conversing in the corridor. He deliberately made a sound, warning them of his approach. Once they were all gathered in the dimly lit corridor, it’s smell of blood and rot, Teran delivered a speech of warning. Finishing, they followed him deeper, past a large door, and into darkness.

The smell came upon them the moment they stepped into the darker space. “bloooood!” Sabbatine shrieked gleefully. Jasmine winced at the sound, her survival instincts were beginning to come back to her in full, and she worried about others who might be alerted toward their presence.

As her mind cleared, and they entered into a domain was she used to, her thoughts crystallized. She wanted one thing now. She wanted the mage that had cursed her. She wanted the man who had orchestrated it. And she wanted to kill them both. To get there she would need Sabbatine’s unique ability to track them. Teran would prove useful, as would Keeyrn, but Mavigan would have to be taught how to truly kill and survive. She would do this the only way she knew how, by showing her. Mavigan was far more inexperienced than Jasmine liked. Teran was right, there were terrible things that lay deep where they were headed.

The smell became near unbearable, it was noxious, pervading her keen senses. Her dark eyes watched as Teran went on ahead, no doubt seeking to discover the source before the rest of them had to experience, in case it was something some of them were better off not experiencing. Teran came back motioning them forward.

It took a moment, for it grew even darker as they followed him, but Jasmine had the distinct sense that she was being watched, not by a few, but by hundreds. And then she realized, they were now passing through a prison. Her eyes quickly adjusted and she could make out those in the cells. Thinly impoverished silhouettes sat, lay, stood and stated at them blankly from the dark recesses of the cells. Hewn out of the rock, the crude, rusted steel that held them seemed to have been formed in a very unorthodox manner. It had been shaped not with hammers and fire, but with…she couldn’t tell. The crude bars bent across, sideways, up and down, diagonally, outward and inward. There was no door… Dull eyes seemed to peer from every angle. Yellow, white, large, small, oval, slanted, they all stared in near perfect silence as the small group passed through.

It struck Jasmine strangely and a fear began to grow within her. Something far worst than she thought was here. She couldn’t help but ask within her own grasping mind, “What imprisons every race?” It was unlike anything she’d ever seen and scary because whoever had done it held no allegiance.

Just as they passed most of the cells, and came to another reinforced door, Jasmine was suddenly seized on her arm, not by a strong grip, and not by a large hand, but a very small one. She turned, her dagger flashed quickly in her hand, to gaze hauntingly into the pleading eyes of a young orc child. That act alone had cost the poor figure the near last bit of strength the child possessed. The child sagged against the crude bars, seeming to collapse upon her own weight, the crude steel cut into her face. The small face was marred with dirt and cuts. Blood nearly caked the whole of the pale green face, blood that was not her own.

Jasmine stood there, dagger in hand and felt a rising tide of anger and, against her very nature, compassion. The sheer universal brutality unnerved her. The idea came and went that she should save her from more pain by ending her fledgling life. But something else happened. Her other hand, her free hand, her hand that still held life, timidly touched the little orc’s forehead with a faint hope. To her utter surprise, a soft blue light poured out from her now trembling hands, illuminating a spark in fifteen other figures eyes who watched in the cell and shimmered over the huddled figure. She gasped as she felt a warmth she hadn’t experience since she was—

Quickly stepping away from the cell, hoping none had seen the faint light, she nearly panicked, as her eyes caught a look of peace settled over the orc child. She was aghast as she realized she had healed it. But the alarming feeling burst as Teran opened the second door, the situation had taken only moments. A burst of the smell of blood slammed upon them, and she could hear whimpers from the recesses of many of the cells. A great sense of danger was in the air now, and Jasmine looked on ahead, a grim look in her face.

This new occurrence would have to wait. Gripping the dagger, she followed them into…a pool of blood.

The hunger came then in great waves. She trembled, shaking as they walked through the murky red liquid, willing, and staying her free hand to not touch it. Her eyes were focused upward, often closed, and it was during a moment when her eyes were closed that a sickening thud and a sudden splash sprayed her face with the warm liquid. When her eyes darted to see what happened, she saw Sabbatine’s wasted figure, and there looming above them was a thing of nightmare. Instantly her instincts kicked in, all else was forgotten, and she prepared to rain down with her worst she could muster.

She realized then, that where they had just been wasn't a prison at all...

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