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Book Three Pt 2 - The Reckoning

Written by - Ariana Page 30 Book 3

Mavigan’s eyes narrowed as another giant wave of red rose up from the cavern floor as the beast brought down its mighty club. She watched the developing scene from her place in darkness near the door, a frown etched deeply into her face. Things were not working as she had first supposed. Instead of retreating as Teran had commanded, both Keeryn and the Bitch were attacking the monstrosity, and Teran….well, to be honest, she wasn’t quite sure what Teran was doing, but she didn’t have time to contemplate it now.

Instead of getting nearer to the door, the fight was taking her companions farther into the room. Mavigan noticed that the room was cavernous – much larger than she had originally thought. Unfortunately that meant that if she were to help destroy the beast she would actually have to enter the room, and that meant she had to deal with the blood pool.

Mavigan uttered a string of expletives under her breath as her keen eyes searched the edges of the room, hopeful for a ledge she could use to inch her way around the blood pool. There was none. The walls were smooth affording no hand or foot holds. She would not emerge from this spotless, she knew. She cast a glance out to those engaged in combat and saw they were now coated with the vile substance, and Mavigan had to fight the urge to retch.

“Damnit!” she shouted with frustration as she left her hiding place and stood in the doorway. She cast a forlorn look at her beautiful boots, a feeling of sadness overtaking her. They were the best boots she had ever owned – smooth and supple leather perfectly proportioned for her feet. She rather thought they were enchanted. She knew they had walked great distances since leaving the Citadel, but she had not experienced foot fatigue once.

Her eyes lit upon the other items she was wearing, the presents she had received for her birthday, and she felt a similar wave of unhappiness. Her sad eyes soon turned to angry ones, however, as she made a heartfelt resolution. “If my birthday clothes and boots are ruined because of this, I will be the biggest pain in Teran’s ass until he replaces them!” she determined.

Resolution made, she placed one foot in the blood pool with a whimper. It was utterly disgusting, but she gritted her teeth and stepped forward, her daggers making a faint whisper as she drew them. She really wished she had not left her bow behind, thinking it would have been helpful if she were able to fire arrows at its many eyes. Maybe blinding it would give them an advantage.

It was then she took full notice of the “Bitch” as she tangled with the creature. A smirk appeared on Mavigan’s face as she took in the skill with which Jasmine fought. “I never believed the pious bit for a minute”, she thought with a smug sense of satisfaction. “Once a killer, always a killer.”

Mavigan moved forward a bit, her eyes keenly trained on the battle. She noticed that while Jasmine’s attacks seem to hurt the creature, she was missing the cracks Mavigan had noticed earlier. “Does she not see them?” Mavigan wondered. Giving a mental shrug, Mavigan charged at the creature, blood splattering her as it had her companions. When she reached it, it was distracted as it tried to keep track of both Keeryn and Jasmine. Sensing her opportunity, Mavigan circled around behind the creature and sunk her dagger into a crack that seemed to separate one of the little hands from the next one.

She wasn’t sure what she thought would happen, but other than a howl of pain from the beast and the many hands trying to grab her, nothing did. The crack got no bigger, and while her strike affected the flesh of the creature, it seemed to do no real damage to the underlying power of the beast.

Mavigan was so focused on the puzzle, she missed it when the creature turned in retaliation and swung its giant club straight at her.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen watched as Turin walked into the building, the Elven warrior had to fight a distinct urge to run in first. Ardwen's brow furrowed as he waited for Turin to exit, fortunately he swiftly did, the house was empty.

"Burn it down." Turin commanded. A few seconds later the Paladin added, "Once it is set aflame, we will head to the square where she is being held. Dishguise yourselves as best you can and remember, once the killing starts protect Ariana, nothing else matters." Ardwen felt Turin's eyes alight on him, the warrior felt his commander's gaze like a hand on his shoulder. Turin had one final thing to say before he turned away and began walking, "My friends, we have faced death before and tonight we shall do so again. We have courage, we have hope, we have faith and we have each other. Now, let's do what we all came here to do."

"Faith." Ardwen thought, turning the word over and over in his mind. Ardwen threw his cowl over his head and used his fingers to push his hair back into it, he even made a half-hearted attempt to position his hair so that it hid his ears, but Ardwen was confident the cowl was enough. He faned the rest of his sable cloak around him, wrapping himself in darkness. The guardhouse burst into flame. Ardwen took a step forward. He stopped and looked at the fire, heard the Phoenix's cry.

He watched as the others began walking, readying themselves mentally and physically for the test to come. "Nothing else matters," Turin's words echoed in the warrior's head. "Nothing else." Ardwen muttered. Realizing the others were pulling away, Ardwen sprinted to catch up and then fell in pace with the party.

"Nothing else." He thought again. Ardwen tried to shove the thought out of his head, tried to quell the gnawing feeling in his gut. Here he was about to rush off and rescue the Abbess herself with his most trusted friends and companions. So why did he feel so out of place? He knew Turin and the others did not resent him, no, it was not fear. It was Ariana herself that worried him. Ardwen had the distinct feeling he was running toward something he could feel but see, like walking around a familiar room with his eyes closed.

With a flair of anger Ardwen pushed these thoughts down. "What the hell is wrong with me," he whispered harshly, "no reason to think of that now."

Written by - Teran

"I'm so scared Teran!" Sabbatine squeeked, trembling visibly.

Three days had passed since she had been altered and she had not yet eaten to survive. Teran could see her new kind of hunger, it dwelled inside of her and gave her slightly unbalanced look a terrifying edge. This hunger of hers threatened to shatter her already fragile sense of sanity.

"What are you afraid of?" he asked in his most soothing and fatherly voice while he squeezed one of her cold hands trying to enforce a feeling of security and assurance.

"I'm so cold." she murmured.

"What are you afraid of?" Teran asked refusing to let her distract him from her original statement.

"I... I have never killed anyone before."

Teran caught her gaze with his captivating eyes and held it as he spoke.

"Sabbatine, didn't you kill the man who changed you?"

She nodded.

"Didn't you kill your parents?"

She nodded.

"Haven't you killed dozens... if not hundreds of people? Didn't you even try to kill me once?"

She nodded.

"I'm so scared Teran."

"If you have killed so many people why are you be afraid of one more murder?"

He could see the hunger more clearly on her face. Her eyes were twitching, her hands were fidgeting, she looked eager for something but she also had the look of a caged animal.

"Hu-huxel told me...she gets to keep....wh-whoever I kill from now on." Sabbatine blurted "S-she tells me scary things."

"Like what?" the Assassin asked sweetly.

Sabbatine hesitated and cocked her head as though someone were whispering in her ear.

"She says you are a monster dressed up like a man!" Sabbatine squeeked, terrified of angering the only person she trusted in the world.

"Sabby..." he called her by his pet name for her "Do I look like a monster to you?"

"N-noo..."

"Does Huxel tell you that I am going to hurt you?"

"N-nooo...."

"You can trust me." He whispered as he gently pulled her into an embrace.

He felt her tense up and he realized his mistake as he felt her teeth pierce the side of his neck. He heard the click of her teeth and felt his flesh tear as she jerked away. He felt blood gush out of the wound, soaking his left side even as he watched Sabbatine recoil in horror at what she had just done. She sat on the floor open mouthed, stunned as the realization of what she had done set in.

She choked on his flesh, spitting it out. His blood was the worst thing she had ever tasted, its presence in her mouth assaulted her senses so violently she briefly thought she was going to die. She fell forward on all fours and spat the blood out making awful sobbing noises. After a moment she looked up, terrified that she might see Teran coming to avenge himself upon her or worse... that he might be dead. He sat where he had been, clutching a cloth to his wound. His face was devoid of emotion and showed only a hint of pain. Sabbatine's lips trembled as she tried to explain what had happened but she could not find words to describe how she had felt the precise moment she had bit him.... nor did she want to tell him that Huxel had encouraged her to bite him in that moment of weakness.

"Sabbatine." Teran said gently with only a hint of pain entering his voice "I'm going to go get you something to eat."

"Teran!" she cried "I'm so sor..."

He held up a hand to silence her. "It's ok Sabby. Just wait here."

Teran carefully wrapped his wound and went to the town market. He was gone for nearly an hour but when he returned he had a good sized pig with him. Sabbatine pounced on it the moment it was inside Teran's small dwelling. Blood splashed the walls and soaked the floor as she ripped the poor creature apart while it still lived.

The assassin watched from a safe distance. He noted that Sabbatine was seemingly most interested in the pigs blood and organs, especially its heart. She left its head completely intact. Only after she had consumed all of its organs did she eat the actual meat (the parts it would normally be butchered for) and when she had finished Teran estimated she had eaten three quarters of the pigs body mass.

"H-huxel says t-thank you for the new pet." Sabbatine said sheepishly.

****

Sabbatine's eyes snapped open. She opened her mouth to whimper but only gurgled as blood rushed in. She hurt all over but the pain was rapidly fading... Sabbatine felt comfort or even pleasure.

"I want it." A voice echoed through her mind "I WANT IT NOW!"

Sabbatine felt power surge through her body, her limbs snapped around mending nearly instantly in the blood bath. She sensed all the souls of all the people who were used to creat the blood pool. She heard their voices and felt their fears and shared in their lust for vengeance. She tried to stand but her shattered spine had not yet mended so she waited... soaking up the blood, growing in power every second she remained submerged.

Teran stepped into the path of the club (Directly in front of Mavigan) blocking the attack with both of his daggers. The club struck with force that few men could have withstood but Teran managed to stand his ground.... almost. The dagger in his right hand cut into the metal of the club as it slowed the weapons momentum however the blade in his right hand had been damaged when Mavigan had altered it through her force of will. The invulnerability enchants had been undone and the blade exploded as the magical energy it contained was released.

Razor sharp fragments of the blade flew in every direction. A dozen pieces peppered Teran and one piece pierced his side and imbedded itself in Mavigan's belly, splattering her clothing with his blood. The force of the explosion tossed Teran back, his right shoulder clipping her left shoulder as he flew past with enough force to spin her around. The beasts weapon was sheared in half making the weapon more or less useless and it shrieked as it was hit by dozens of fragments from Teran's blade. Teran ultimately landed in the blood on his back sinking under the surface, his black blood swirling but curiously remaining seperate from the red blood of the pool they were in.

Sabbatine could not see or hear what had happened but she knew. Hatred filled her being and she clawed at the stone floor as she waited for her body to mend enough that she could rejoin the fight. She gulped down the blood that surrounded her feeling more and more empowered with every passing moment.

Written by - Rikshanthas

The port district of Westgale seemed nearly as busy as ever, despite past events. Merchants plied their wares in the streets, sailors drank and caroused their leave away in the district's taverns, beggars eked out a meager existence on the mercy of the few still in funds. The only immediately noticeable difference was the increased guard presence, all wearing Beridane's colours. One could also note that the clamor was more subdued than in Pallanon's time. The guards kept a harsh discipline, enough so that a trained eye could see that the port was operating by rote - the boisterous life of a truly free port had been all but crushed.

There was one advantage to the new regime, as the two travelers learned - anonymity was easily achieved, if one avoided the direct notice of the guards. The two horses trotted unopposed down one of the less-used avenues, the eyes of their riders sweeping in every direction for the first hint of trouble. Yet none was forthcoming, and the pair made their way unimpeded to the Lucky Albatross, a former cargo barge that had been converted into a tavern and inn on the docks. Far from being the place to be in the Port of Westgale, the Albatross was a more quiet establishment, with more ... discreet, patrons. The perfect place for those seeking information. With a quick glance in either direction, the two entered the dark tavern.

The air was redolent with the smells of sweat, stale ale and smoke, among other odors it was best not to think upon. A muffled choking sound issued from the shorter of the two cloaked figures as they made their way to one of the private booths at the back. It wasn't long before one of the barmaids appeared, a slim, exotic-looking woman with raven-black hair and a provocative swing to her step. Candy to the untrained eye, perhaps, but for an observant person it was hard to miss the stiletto in her boot or the ripcord tautness of her slim frame - marks of a trained and talented fighter. There was no steel in her voice, however, as she asked the cloaked pair for their orders. Quite the opposite, she spoke with such an enticing tone that the shorter of the two figures bristled visibly, until the taller one put a reassuring hand over one clenched fist. Man and jealous girlfriend, Kari guessed with a teasing grin.

"I'll just have an ale, with soup if the kitchen's still open," the taller of the two said without looking up at her, in a soft baritone voice that was oddly familiar. "And a glass of Harlo's special for my friend," he added, indicating his companion. The gesture pulled the cloak away from his body, revealing a glint of silver that nearly made the barmaid gasp. She quickly covered her shock by assuming an apologetic air, explaining the bartender's private stock of 'contraband' elven wine had been confiscated by Beridane's militia almost a week since. The hooded man snorted in disdain. "Do you have any other wine, then? My companion's palate is a little sensitive for ale," he said. The barmaid nodded, wondering why the shorter figure didn't speak for herself. Then with a swish of her skirt she was off to fill their order, hoping her excitement wasn't too obvious.

The Dragonblade! Kari felt a rush of elation as she skipped off to the kitchen. Beridane had agents all over the continent looking for the artifact, was offering a fortune for its retrieval, and it had fallen into her lap! She could care less what the usurper did with the thing, all that mattered was that length of dragonsilver would allow her to live like a queen for the rest of her life. All she had to do was dispose of the nameless traveler who carried it, easy enough in Beridane's Westgale, and her future was secure. She smiled as she went about getting the traveler's last meal.

Written by - Archeantus

Clutching the gnarled bunches of the creatures various patches of fur, Jasmine lunged upward. Her hands were wet, as was the hulking beast. It made climbing the abomination all the more difficult. The foul smell of the creature brought tears to her eyes. Blood splattered everywhere, dripping across her face. Her vision was a blur, but as she kicked her legs up, avoiding a grab at her, she noticed Mavigan just below out of the corner of her eye. She watched as the young queen plunged her dagger into one of the beast’s arms, directly into one of the seams that riddled the creature’s body. The monster roared in anger. Taking her attention off of Mavigan for a moment, trying to gain a greater area to strike, she again fired a glance back at her, to realize what it was she was doing.

“Clever” She whispered, hanging on with all her might.

It was then she noticed the creature’s attention veer directly toward Mavigan. It pivoted its lop-sided bulk to bring its massive Orcish arm, club in hand, down upon the queen. Jasmine saw Teran dart toward her.

Seeing the opportunity, Jasmine wasted little time. Swinging her legs along what might be termed its sprawling back, she leapt sideways across the creature toward one of its shoulders. Quickly, with the seconds she had left, she brandished her dagger, and brought it downward across the seam between the arm and shoulder. There was quick explosion right before she struck, down below, shards flew everwhere, one planted itself in her leg. But despite the sudden pain, Jasmine was undaunted. Her dagger flared white, leaving a short-lived arc of light as it sliced across the seam. Then came an explosion of blood and entrails which knocked Jasmine directly off of the creature into the pool of blood below.

The arm, and the club bound for Mavigan, that had been deflected by Teran now dangled by a thin strand of skin before it snapped apart, and splashed into the red.

The beast roared, its many faces convulsed in rage. Bringing two of its fists together, it bounded for Jasmine, who was still lying in the blood, her back facing away from what would come. The beast raised its arms, fists together, and prepared to crush its assailant.

Written by - Turin Wallace

As the group walked to the place of execution, the sun lowered itself even more and bathed everything in a reddish glow. “The color of fire and blood,” Turin mused to himself. After a few moments, they ran into the crowds streaming into the square to watch the spectacle. Daring a quick glance upwards, he could make Vylia out on the wall. “She is ready, as always,” he again thought to himself.

As they approached the gate proper that allowed admittance into the square, he could see a multitude of guards surrounding the entrance and stationed at even intervals along the walls and ramparts. Fortunately, luck favored them; since the crowds were so large and so many guards were present they failed to check for weapons among the crowd. It is no wonder, either, since once inside the large square, there were even more guards lining both the inner wall and blockading the place of execution.

Looking up, Turin caught sight of Ariana tied to the wooden stake, surrounded by kindling and bundles of wood and hay. That sight alone would have been enough, but a small shudder went down his back when he saw the condition she was in. She had been brutally treated, bruises and blood clearly visible, even across the great distance that separated them. Her gaunt and pale complexion gave her a ghastly appearance, no doubt from hunger, dehydration, and illness, or any combination of the three.

A feeling of anger and of pity ran through him, but without hesitation his arms discretely reached behind him, drawing them all together. As far as the guards were concerned, they were simply another group of citizens grouping together to chat before the event began. Pausing a moment, with low, barely audible words, he says,

“Calm yourselves and stay your fury, now is not the time to rush in friends. Let us make our way closer, as close as possible, before we take her back from these fiends. Ardwen, when the time comes, it falls to you to become her shield and savior. You’re the most heavily armored; you must protect her and ensure no harm befalls her once we spring into action.”

Looking to Archeantus, he says, “We’ll need you to perform the same feat you used earlier this eve. It will buy us the time we need to grab Ariana and escape. Think you will be able to manage it?”

Turning to the others, he says, “Pharsalus, tend to her wounds when you’re able. Alaric, Kaya and Dorve, I haven’t had the pleasure to work with the three of you before, but that will soon be rectified. Stay close to one of us, our purpose will be to inflict as much damage as possible, causing chaos and confusion. Vylia will do her best from the ramparts to keep us covered.”

That all being said, he could see the look in their eyes, asking the most obvious question: when do they strike? Answering this, Turin says,

“Wait until they start the ceremony. For now, they will be on high alert, looking for anyone who would be trying to rescue her. They are expecting us, be assured. However, if the ceremony proceeds until the point of actually burning her, their guards will be more or less down, for they will think we have given up. Arc, send a message into the mind of Vylia, her arrow will knock down any attempt of putting torch to her pyre. When the arrow strikes, so do we, cut down anyone in your path with no mercy. Once Ardwen and Pharsalus have tended to Ariana, and Arc casts his charm, then let us be away towards the docks. We will commandeer a ship, if necessary, to escape for the roads are too treacherous and we are now too deep within the city to fight our way completely out. Our only non-magical option is the sea, unless someone else has a better means of escape? If not, then this will be the plan.”

Turin waits for an answer before proceeding on.

Written by - Vylia

Keeryn had just moved in to hamstring the beast when she saw it swing its giant club at Mavigan. She paused midswing as Teran leapt in the way, mostly out of surprise at his gesture, when suddenly there was a huge explosion and shards of metal flew everywhere. Keeryn dodged out of the way as a large chunk of the club flew towards her at the same time that Jasmine had moved in and literally took the creature's arm off at the seams. "I get it, go for the stitches."

Rather than stand in Mavigan's way and suffer the same fate as Teran, who was no nowhere to be seen, Keeryn decided to follow Jasmine's example. Who would have seen that coming, heh she thought to herself. She charged in quickly, and as she ran behind the beast sliced her spear across the stitches running just below the knees. There was a slight resistance as the spear encountered bone, and then it cut through to the other side. As her spear exited the leg she arced it up into the creatures back, cutting along the spot where it's spine would have been in a normal creature, leaping upwards to cut even higher before landing with a splash. Yelling, "Mavi, are you okay?!" as she turned to face the creature once more.

Written by - Ariana

Mavigan’s eyes widened with surprise as the giant club made its deadly way towards her. Her body tensed as it instinctually prepared for impact, and then, before the strike landed, Teran was there blocking the blow. She saw one of his daggers explode on impact a split second before she felt a stinging, burning sensation in her belly. Teran fell back, and as he clipped her shoulder, Mavigan felt herself turning with the blow. Her feet slipped on the blood-soaked floor and she fell onto her hands and knees with a bone jarring crack. Once assured she would not topple over, she rested back on her haunches and pulled the offending fragment from her body with a grunt, tossing it into the blood pool once it was free.

Where she was seated, the blood lapped around her hips in agitated waves, her own red blood dripping from her wound and mixing with the red pool surrounding her. She covered her wound with a bruised hand and cast a wary glance behind her trying to ascertain the position of the beast, preparing to roll out of the way if it was coming after her.

She saw first Jasmine, then Keeryn slice at the creature, and Mavigan was pleased to see body parts fall into the ocean of red. They had apparently figured out the puzzle, and Mavigan was content to let them hack the thing to bits without her aching body there to help.

“Mavi, are you okay?” Keeryn hollered, her voice echoing off the cavern walls. “Fine!” Mavigan yelled back.

It was then Mavigan realized that there was something missing from the tableau. Teran was nowhere to be seen. A wave of fear washed over her, and she plunged her hands into the pool, frantically feeling around for the body she knew had to be there. Her questing hands finally latched onto something not made of stone, and she quickly repositioned herself and heaved with all her might. An arm soon appeared from the murky depths, and with more clumsy shifting and scrambling, she was soon able to pull Teran’s head and shoulders out of the pool.

Hooking her arms under his shoulders, she carefully gained her feet and began to drag him towards the nearest wall of the cavern. The pool was shallower near the walls, and she hoped she could lay him down there and have his nose and mouth be above blood level. The journey seemed interminably long to Mavigan. Teran was extremely heavy, and with each heave the injured muscles in her belly screamed in protest as more of her own blood welled up and dripped down her body onto the man she was trying to save. And as the blood flowed from her wound, so too did words flow from her mouth, each punctuated by a panting breath of exertion.

“For someone so light on his feet, you are damn heavy!” she cursed. “You better not ****ing die on me you bastard son of an Orc!”, she yelled as she made the final heave that got them both to shallow ground. She put him down as gently as she could, hoping that the slight crack she heard when his head hit the floor wasn’t adding further injury. Crouching beside him on bruised knees, her nimble fingers searched for a pulse. Blood-slicked skin made it difficult, but she was finally able to locate a sign of a beating heart, and she released a breath she did not know she was holding.

Her fingers continued to explore, checking for injuries, pulling out fragments of the dagger where she found them, and it was a few seconds before she realized something vital – Teran wasn’t breathing.

“Shit!” she exclaimed with vehemence. “I TOLD you not to die on me!” she yelled as she tried her best to clear his mouth of blood. “Cause when you wake up, I’M going to kill you for being so ****ing stupid!”

Mavigan desperately tried to remember what she had seen that day at the docks as she worked to clear his air passage. She had been casing a warehouse that the guild intended to “visit” later that evening, when she was distracted by a commotion by the docks. She, along with several other spectators, had run to the site, curiosity being something no one could resist. She learned by listening to those around her that the dock worker now wet and stretched out on the planking had been cracked on the head by a crate that had slipped its mooring. He had fallen into the sea, and the other dock hand bending over him had fished him out – only the dock worker wasn’t breathing.

She had observed with keen interest as the rescuer had positioned the unconscious and unbreathing man, and then proceeded to give him breath. The gathered crowd thought the man was crazy and they were angered that he was desecrating a body. So it was with a sense of wonderment that the crowd observed the man suddenly spluttering and coughing up water. They decided it was a miracle, but Mavigan knew better. She had filed the knowledge away, and now it seemed she was called upon to use it.

She quickly checked to ensure there was no obstruction, tilted his head back, pinched his nose closed and drew in a deep breath that sent pain ripping through her. Ignoring the sensation as best she could, she planted her mouth on his and blew. Blood was everywhere, on their lips, inside their mouths, and the bitter metallic taste was enough to make her nauseous, but she did not waver. She watched with satisfaction as Teran’s chest rose and fell in time with the breath she poured into him.

She continued breathing for him, hoping that he would soon wake up and breathe on his own. Dark spots were beginning to appear within her field of vision and the room began to tilt dangerously. She did not know if it was the blood loss or the exertion of breathing for two that was putting her close to passing out, but she determined to carry on until she actually did lose consciousness. For once, he needed her and not the other way around, and she would not fail him.

“Besides,” she thought to herself, “he needs to be awake when I beat him for always trying to be the ****ing hero!”

Written by - Vylia

It was getting darker as Vylia surveyed the courtyard. Ariana was easy enough to make out, even with the beating and torture she had suffered, and it took Vylia a good deal of reserve not to start shooting people right there. She took a deep breath to calm herself, and after a few seconds was under control again. As she continued her visual search she noticed there were sentries placed evenly along the walls both inside the courtyard and up where she was. Thankfully there were only three within range of her bow, and she doubted any of them could hit the broad side of a barn, being human and most likely mercenaries.

It was then that she noticed the group of Hands walking through the gate, and noticed them stop a moment. "I wonder if Turin is lit up like a lighthouse beacon to everyone else, or if it's just me that sees him like that? One of these days, I'm going to have to ask. It seems like one of those things that might make him easy for the enemy to spot... it must just be me." She smiled to herself at the out-of-place train of thought brought on by seeing her old friend again. "Time to reminisce later, where is that demon-worshipping priest of theirs..."

Written by - Tempyst

Kaya walked with the others; no one siad much of anything. She could feel the tension through those she walked with, as well as the tension and anticipation throughtout the throngs of people they made their way through. Then A'lantheer began to hum and vibrate; she could hear and feel the sword throughout her body. The closer to the square they got, the more agitated the sword became. I sense it too my friend, there is foul magics afoot, but we must be patient and hold out ground until the right moment. SHe could tell A'lantheer was not pleased, but he would do as she said.

They stopped walking, and Kaya heard a soft gasp from the normally stoic Dorve. She looked up and cringed with what she saw. That must be their queen, Ariana. By the gods, no one deserves that. But this is Beridane's doing and I am not surprised by anything he can come up with, not after what he did to me. Then A'lantheer spoke to her. Mistress, there is a demonic presense here, I feel it, it must be stopped. She whispered under her breath to her friend. "I feel it and smell it too my friend, but we have to pick and choose our battles. Let us help our new companions, this is of more importance right now. We must save their queen."

It was then Turin drew them in close and spoke to them. When he finished, Kaya looked to the human, once agian feeling his eyes bear into her. When he finished, Kaya spoke. "I think you all need to be made aware. This is more than just a spectacle. There is foul magic afoot; demonic magic. Both A'lantheer and myself can sense it, in fact it is so strong I can smell it. I told you back in the bar what Beridane did to me. It is my feeling now, that he is using this to do something on an even greater scale. We must all be more careful than normal. There may already be demons around us."

Dorve spoke up. "If there be demons afoot, then we all shall fight them dearie, today shall be one of victory for us and their queen."

Written by - Wilhelm

The red rays of the setting sun shining through the smoke from the torches held by the soldiers cast a baleful cast to the execution scene. Ariana's battered naked form was tightly bound to the stone pillar in front of the steps to the now-desecrated Temple of the All Father. The interlocked rings carved at the top of the pillar were splashed with excrement and graffiti covered the pillar. Around the base of the pillar were stacked bundles of resin-soaked wood ready for an execution bonfire. A ring of guards stood around the pillar who openly leered and cracked jokes at her nakedness.

Trumpets sounded from the palace gate across the square. An honor guard of soldiers and dark robed figures emerged and the populace parted fearfully to let them pass. In the center walked Chancellor Damon, robed in black velvet. Damon was a rotund man whose height did not warrant his girth. His thinning hair hung low in his eyes, but did little to hide his rounded and reddened cheeks. He carried a black-wrapped bundle in his arms.

The soldiers pushed aside any who did not move away fast enough, and when the procession reached the pillar to which Ariana was bound amidst a pile of wood, Chancellor Damon stepped up to a table close by and from the bundle placed on the table two black candlesticks and a black bound book. He then turned to face the palace.

The trumpets sounded again and the doors at the palace balcony overlooking the square opened to show King Beridane emerging surrounded by fawning courtiers and bodyguards. A herald dressed in a tabard of the royal arms stepped forward and proclaimed,

"All bow before the royal presence of King Beridane, long may he reign!"

Chancellor Damon and his party bowed towards King Beridane and the guards ordered the populace to do the same. Slowly and raggedly the populace obeyed.

Written by - Wilhelm

Wilhelm and Resini gathered their group together and proceeded to follow the path that Teran's group had gone earlier. They were forced to fight once more, and again conceal the evidence, before they reached the end of a long corridor ending at a large door that was slightly ajar.

Passing through the door and into the darkness before them, the party was assaulted by the odor of blood and rot, which grew as Wilhelm, following the heartfires of the party ahead, led them forward.

"I have a bad feeling about this!" Resini exclaimed. Wilhelm nodded and replied "I expect it will indeed be bad, but they are ahead and we must follow. And there are other here who need our aid."

The mages held mage lights aloft in one hand while they maintained their scry shield. The light illuminated the faces of gaunt prisoners in cells hewn from the stone and trapped behind oddly contructed metal bars with no visible locks. The healers in the party began to heal the obviously mistreated prisoners, while the soldiers passed out small amounts of food and water. Resini and his mages proceeded to study the bars.

"They were put in there somehow, and I am sure there is a way to take them out." said Resini grimly.

Wilhelm assisted in the healing, meanwhile monitoring with concern the heartfires of the party ahead, which to his tracking sense seemed to be partly concealed inside a fog while fighting a churning darkness.

Written by - Ardwen

Ardwen's face was stuck in a perpetual scowl as the group continued to walk toward the place where the false king of this land held the Abbess. Ardwen grimaced, spat, and fixed his eyes on the ground in front of his feet. He knew that in a few moments, perhaps less, his entire reason for arriving on this world, perhaps his entire reason for being spared the judgment he so otherwise deserved, would be before him.

Ardwen did not want to face it. He felt a tightness in his gut, a clenching in his chest, and he knew the reason. They had hurt Ariana. The Abbess was far from violent, but she was able to defend herself. Yet there was nothing, no ringing celestial voice from Pandarrion in his head, no brilliant radiance of divine censures, no sermonizing admonishments. Nothing. The fact of the matter was, the All-Father had sent a vision to him, of all people, of Ariana's condition.

True, the All-Father had bet correctly that Ardwen would rush off to try and save her. But that's not what concerned the Elven warrior. What concerned him was that the All-Father had even felt that Ardwen's intervention was necessary. The wily god must have surely known Ardwen would try and extract as great a toll in life as possible, he would be brutal and merciless. Could even the All-Father have felt that such an agent was justified, even needed here?

"Perhaps," mussed Ardwen, "if I were to pray he might answer . . ." But the Elf gave a mental shrug, did it truly matter? They were mingling with the crowd now, and had passed under the yawning shadow of some gateway into a central open-aired plaza. People and guards were everywhere. The party stopped moving, Ardwen almost bumped into Turin, his eyes were still glued to the worn stone beneath his feet. A furtive hush fell over the crowd, conversations were switched to sharp and charged whispers that sped quickly through the stagnate air.

Ardwen sucked in a sharp breath, and looked up. He saw her. Her! So many years, so many trials, so much regret, and all along Ardwen had never thought to see any other living Hand, never dreamed to see the noble lady who had helped him make something of himself, the kind woman who was one of the only people who believed he was something more than a weapon or tool.

He saw Ariana tied to a stake, kindling and hay stacked below her to feed the fire that would kill her. She had been beaten, or worse. More grim still, she seemed distracted, detached, from her own present plight. Had these humans drugged her to ensure she would be silent and compliant, a weak lamb for the flame?

Ardwen let out his breath which he had been holding, it came out in a shuddering hiss. He looked around him, strangely calm and emotionless. He noted the positions of all the guards he could see. He looked at the faces of the people gathered to watch the Abbess die. In his mind, he imagined them all dead. No, they were dead, each and every one of them. These were not people gathered here, these were piles of dust, simply too ignorant to realize what they were.

"Ardwen," Turin was saying suddenly to the Elf, "when the time comes, it falls to you to become her shield and savior. You’re the most heavily armored; you must protect her and ensure no harm befalls her once we spring into action.” Turin spoke on, outlining his plan to save Ariana. He asked for agreement at the end.

Ardwen looked at him and said, "Yes, good, as always." Ardwen blinked, clutched his armor's sable cloak, and whispered, "You know this is Beserker's plate. There is a monster inside it or me, I know not which. I'm having . . . trouble . . . restraining my - its hunger even now. We're all men here, if this gets too deep, and I can't keep control, do what you have to do. Leave me here, kill me, I don't care."

Ardwen paused and finished, "Ariana is all that matters now."

Written by - Archeantus

He landed upon the lone battlements that overlooked the crowded courtyard. Resting himself from on high, he scanned the crowd, watching them all with his mind. He knew then, that she was there. But there was something very wrong. He could not detect her. In a flurry of panic, he worried they were already too late.

He had been told she would be here, and that they would gather to win her back. The old warlock wasn’t prepared to not be able to detect her. Again, like so many times before, he felt truly blind. And again, he had to rely on the one sense that never failed him: his faith.

Gathering himself, taking a deep breath, he cleared his fears and focused on his companions. Through them, he saw her, reading their thoughts of distain, justice, even…rage.

Broken and battered, she hung, her fate in their Hands.

Trumpets blared, and he focused toward the direction of the attention of the crowd.

In the procession that entered the courtyard, was a dark robbed figure. Archeantus sent out a probe into the mind of the one at the center, but only found darkness, the same darkness that surrounded Ariana’s mind yet remarkably different. The difference perplexed him greatly.

He then heard Turin’s directive through the thoughts of his companions, and mentally whispered to the Priest of Battle, “I will be ready when the time comes. All-Father’s strength be your arm.”

Angelus suddenly appeared, buzzing around his head, again transformed into the small little spark.

It then quickly flew off receiving orders from its master.

Time was short now.

Archeantus lifted his head to the sky, allowed his mind to prepare for what would come, connecting to each of those who were with them. It was then he sensed a growing rage rise in Ardwen’s heart, the type that exceeds control.

With a soft sigh, the warlock again lifted his head to the heavens, and mediated.

Written by - Wilhelm

King Beridane was robed in ermine and cloth of gold and bedecked with the crown jewels. He waved the royal sceptre at the crowd in recognition of the (somewhat ragged) cheers. His oppulence was marred by his corpulence and short stature. His other arm was tucked into his robe (hiding the missing hand). He nodded at Chancellor Damon and then motioned to the herald. The herald unrolled a scroll with large appended seals and proclaimed:

"We, Beridane, ruler and sovereign by divine right, protector of the realm, do hereby accuse and convict this woman of treason against the realm and do hereby order her execution by burning at sunset. Let the sentence be carried out. "

Chancellor Damon bowed again to the king and then he and his 4 assistants began what was clearly a ritual. The twelve guards stood at attention in a ring facing outwards. Two of the assistants each lit one of the black candles with a spell, while the other two proceeded walk thrice widdershins around the bonfire with a smoking censor and scattering what looked at first like holy water, except for the fact that the guards and those closest drew back at the stench from the censor, the scattered liquid, and the smoke from the candles.

Chancellor Damon then took a bone-handled dagger and cut his thumb, applying drops of blood to the blade and to the two candles and to the black book in front of him. The Candle flames turned green and the book opened itself. He began to recite in a harsh unknown language, beginning to show some strain as he did so. A shadow seemed to form in the air close to the pillar and darken until the center seemed like a hole into the void.

Just then a whooshing sound caused him to glance backwards to see the guardhouse across the square and down the street burst into flames. Unable to halt the ritual once begun, Chancellor Damon ordered the guard captain to respond to the fire but to be wary of a diversion. The guard captain led half of his force to the guard house while ordering the rest to maintain guard. The attention of then populace and many of the remaining guards was diverted from the pillar by the sight of the guards hurrying towards the now furiously burning guard house and by the sight of King Beridane being hustled inside by his bodyguards.

Ordering his assistants to continue the ritual, Chancellor Damon continued to chant and make passes in the air with his bloody dagger. Some of the populace gasped when he pointed the dagger at the bound victim and proclaimed the name of Tinorb the All Father, seemingly offering her to the growing dark blotch in the air. His two assistants completed their third circuit and stood by his side, while another held out a bundle that the fourth unwrapped to reveal an unusual torch: a human femur with the end wrapped in a ball of (human) hair soaked in blackened fat (rendered from a living human child boiled alive and mixed with carbon from the ashes of a burned Church of Tinorb holy book).

The fourth assistant handed this to the Chancellor who completed his chant and then held the torch to the flame of the left-hand candle. The torch burst into a bright but sickly green flame. The darkness in the air seemed to grow and move towards the pillar as Chancellor Damon held the fearsome torch aloft and began to walk towards the waiting bonfire.

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